Month: September 2016

Collecting – Self assessment

Looking at the end result of my second assignment submission, I summarise in the following table some personal notes in relation with the course’s assessment criteria:

Assessment criteria

Personal views

Demonstration of technical and visual skills I believe the final selection pictures are reasonably well composed in line with what my perception of the subject matter was, and in nearly all cases focus is also correct. The one exception is picture number 6, where the focus should have been on the girl standing by the post on the left of the frame. I wanted to re-take this, but by the next frame she had changed position. I nonetheless ended up including this picture (and is one of my favourite ones in the series) because the girls gaze just made the picture for me, even if she is slightly out of focus.

The choice of focal length for this assignment resulted in a tight framing of many of the subjects, particularly when I was relatively close to them. In some cases this resulted in the subjects being partially cut-off, particularly in situations when I wanted to include background information. I appreciate that this may not always be aesthetically pleasing and may lead some viewers to conclude that some of the pictures are not well composed. Ultimately, this is the risk I took when I decided to go for telephoto lenses, and I assume the consequences for it.

Quality of outcome I am generally pleased in the way the pictures go together as a collection, and I believe the pairing of the central 8 pictures works well in as much as I believe these pictures have common aesthetic values that bind them, even though they portray different situations. While I also generally think that I managed to capture a wide variety of crowd situations, I also recognise that the gatherings portrayed are relatively close in class (eg most of the pictures represent crowds engaging in leisure activities) and this somewhat undermines the variety that I wanted to achieve with my collection. Either because of lack of time or insufficient planning on my behalf, there are no pictures of crowds engaging in political activities, for instance, which addition I think would have allowed me to create more contrast and add “tension” to the collection.
Demostration of creativity I do not think that any of what I did for this assignment was particularly revolutionary, but I did push my normal way of shooting to a certain extent. I am usually more comfortable with normal-wide focal lengths, and use telephoto lenses for reach only. In this case I was working at distances slightly longer than usual, but visualising the frame through a much tighter angle of view. This required me to constantly reposition myself to find an angle that worked, or to crop the scene to show only the main elements that caught my attention. One think I wanted to experiment with but ended up discarding was using extreme low and high angles (some samples of this can be found in initial testing post – link). In the end, I was afraid I would not be able to find sufficient locations to make an assorted collection of these pictures, and I did not want to mix extremely different points of view within the final selection, so I decided not to undertake this idea for this project. This may be the basis for another crowd collection project in the future.
Context  I believe most of the pictures in the final selection reflect the aesthetic codes which I have researched for this assignment and I have referenced these in my final notes. With respect to the research process, I believe I need to deepen my understanding of what influenced some of the photographers I reference in my work. This requires a lot of time and preparation, and I will try to improve this during subsequent assignments.

Research note – aesthetic codes and reusing images (Project 2)

Gianlucca Cosci and Mona Kuhn both used shallow depth of field to focus the attention of the viewer on what they think is the main part of the subject. Looking back at my old catalogue of images I found one in particular that I feel can be used with the same effect.

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This picture was taken in mid-2011, shortly after the beginning of NATO’s intervention in Libya against Gaddafi’s regime, in which France, then presided by Nicolas Sarkozy, played an important role. It is in this context that I remember taking this picture, focusing on the headshot of the French president, as he was the man of the moment. A long time had passed since that picture and for a long I though that Sarkozy was going to be out of politics forever, particularly given the way he lost his presidential election and the corruption scandals he was involved shortly after leaving the presidency. But these are strange times, and it does seem that Sarkozy has again a good chance of returning to the fore and become the French president once again. I would like to re-imagine my picture in the context of this process of political death and redemption, like a project covering personalities that fell out of grace and managed to return to the limelight. The picture I took shows a man in the news, but the context is not clear (you cannot read any text in a normal print of the image) and the setting, on the handle of a slightly run down door for a non-specific establishment, could be interpreted as either the news being delivered to your door, or somebody discarding an old newspaper because he or she could not find a bin nearby. In that respect, this could either be used to illustrate Sarkozy’s old political demise or his return to power, if that ever materializes.

Collecting – shooting, processing and selection

I tried to represent different types of crowd gathering for this assignment. Some of the pictures were taken during my workday, and they show people commuting en masse to and from work, by foot or by bus, but I also wanted to show the same crowd on a different setting, which is when they wind down at the end of the day and go to the Pub. The Pub crowd is clearly more organic and fluid than the commuting crowd, which is very organized, focused and ruthless.

I also went into specific locations where I expected to find crowds: in museums, popular public places and coffee shops. While all the crowds I encountered in these places were essentially undertaking leisure activities, they ranged from the chaotic to the highly organized in terms of behaviour, and from being quite compact to being essentially scattered. Many of the people in these crowds show highly individualistic behaviour while being part of a group or class of people (eg  people reading or playing games on a mobile phone). The challenge for me was to find those who stood-out within the crowd, sometimes subtly, to capture that moment.

The pictures were taken across 8 separate photographic sessions from the 8th to the 24th of September. As previously advised, only telephoto lenses were used (a 90mm equivalent and a 100mm) and all were set at an equivalent aperture of f/5.6. Post-processing was limited to minor cropping, correcting of perspective when desirable, and correcting for highlight / white / black point issues. No cloning was used and all pictures are presented in their original colours.

In making the final selection for this assignment, I wanted to show as many of the different types of crowd that I managed to capture and to try to connect them both aesthetically and functionally (with the latter being in the context of what the people were doing within the crowd). One of the deciding factors in making the selection was to identify in the pictures those shoots where there is something unusual going own, eg somebody looking back at the photographer or looking in a different direction from everybody else (this is being influenced by Alex Prager and Garry Winogrand’s work, which I researched for this assignment). Another deciding factor was to find pictures were the subjects are “layered” in as much as they appear in different planes of the picture, differentiated subtly by the relatively narrow depth of field used (inspired by Allan Sekula’s work, which I also researched for this).

The final selection includes 10 pictures. Two of them are presented individually and 8 are paired. The pairing was done primarily on the basis of pictures sharing common aesthetic elements, but I also tried to show them together as classes (for instance, there are two pictures together of tourists crowds). The pairs are anchored by two pictures of city workers, first commuting and later relaxing at the Pub, which also happen to be sequence of events (morning rush and evening wind down). This again was inspired by Allan Sekula’s work researched for this assignment. The final selection is included in the PDF attached below, and it is best viewed by setting the PDF reader to show two pages side by side.

Collecting final selection PDF

Collecting – initial testing

In order to decide the preferred focal lenght and point of view for this assignment, I took a series of pictures with various cameras and lens combinations over several days. All the lenses used were primes, and ranged from 28mm to 100mm equivalent in full frame format.

I started with a 18mm prime lens on an APS camera (equivalent to about 28mm). This allowed me to include a reasonable amount of background. I was using a moderate aperture of f/5.6 (equivalent to a depth of f/8 in full frame), which considering the fact that most of the shoots I took with this were at relativelly long distances, allowed me to have most of the people in the scene in focus. I quickly decided this focal length was not going to work for what I wanted, because the distance with the subjects was too great, and I did not want to be too close to my subjects to avoid perturbing their behaviour. This focal lenght was also only going to work with large crowds, as otherwise there were going to be too many gaps, as in the pictute below

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Pic 1 – 18mm (28mm equiv) at f/5.6 (equiv f/8)

I subsequently moved to more normal angles and tried both a 40mm equivalent and 43mm prime lenses. These were tested again at the moderate aperture of f/8 (equivalent). As the focal lenghts increased from wide-angle, maintaining moderate apertures while focusing in nearer subjects resulted in a “layering” effect, with objects further away from the focus point becoming slightly blurred. I tried both portrait and landscape orientations with these lenses

 

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Pic 2 – 43mm at f/8

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Pic 3 – 43mm at f/8

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Pic 4 – 43mm at f/8

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Pic 5 – 43mm at f/8 (walking closer to the crowd in picture 4)

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Pic 6 – 20mm (equiv 40mm) at f/4 (equiv f/8)

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Pic 7 – 20mm (40mm equiv) at f/4 (f/8 equiv)

The normal focal lengths were working better for me in terms of the prominence of the crowds than the wideangle, but I was still needed to be too close to the subjects in order to achieve the desired proportionality between subject and background. Pictures 6 and 7, for instance, were taken almost among the crowd. This was not what I wanted, as I intended to portray the subjects as an outsider.

At this point I decided to take all subsequent pictures on a landscape orientation. Crowds seem to spread naturally on a horizontal way and many of the pictures I took on a vertical orientation looked strangely unatural to me, as if they had too much unnecessary information at the top and on the bottom (compare pictures 2 and 3 above, for instance). Besides, I am more naturally inclined to take vertical shots, so sticking with the landscape orientation was also in part to challenge myself to look at a scene differently.

I finally moved to telephoto prime lenses. I used both 90mm (equiv) and 100mm lenses, but reduced the aperture to the equivalent of f/5.6. The compression of the view combined with moderate to wide aperture acentuated the “layering” effect, particularly when the subjects were relativelly close.

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Pic 8 – 45mm (90mm equiv) at f/2.8 (f/5.6 equiv)

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Pic 9 – 45mm (90mm equiv) at f/2.8 (f/5.6 equiv)

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Pic 10 – 100mm at f/5.6

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Pic 11 – 100mm at f/5.6

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Pic 12 – 100mm at f/5.6

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Pic 13 – 100mm at f/5.6

 

 

 

At this stage I also tried different points of view, both elevated (eg pictures 1 and 11) and from below (eg picture 10). Most of the pictures, however, were taken straight at eye level, and in the end I felt that this resulted in the less “menacing” representation of crowds, so I decided to stick to this point of view.

In the end, I believe the best approach was for me to carry out the shooting sessions using a telephoto lens at a moderatelly wide aperture. This enabled me to maintan crowds as the focal point of the image while keeping some elements of background for reference. More importantly, it enabled me to maintain a reasonable distance from the crowd and remain as an anonimous outsider most of the time, in satisfaction of my previoulsly stated objective of trying to distill the social identity elements of the crowd.

Research notes – Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991) was a French photographer.

Famous for his fashion shots, Bourdin was particularly interesting as a photographer in as much as he used, while alive, magazine and advertising photographs (ie, what we would normally considered his professional work) almost exclusively as the medium for his artistic expression. While one would perhaps see this as nothing out of the ordinary, after all, even when shooting professionally one always expects a certain aesthetic to be maintained as the photographer’s distinguishing style; Bourdin commissioned photographs were heavily charged with social commentary, or even in direct contradiction with the promotion of goods (which one would consider to be the primary goal of advertisement). One gets the impression that in the end his primary consideration was the concept behind the pictures, rather than the specific promotion that the commissioned work was supposed to undertake (see for instance these examples from the Charles Jourdan campaign here and here, which purport to be advertisements for women’s shoes). Bourdin photographs contain, in many cases, direct or subtle elements of violence, often accentuated by the use of saturated primary colours (see previous examples, but also here and here) which are in direct contrast with the glamour one would expect from fashion photographs and which generates uneasiness  in the viewer.

Bourdin is particularly famous for his colour work, which was often overly saturated and full of contrast (see . It is fascinating how much he managed to achieve with a medium that, according to many, offered less control over output and manipulation than B&W before the advent of digital photography. His black and white photographs, while lesser known, are equally full of symbolism and veiled social critique as his latter colour work.

“Guy Bourdin was an image maker, a perfectionist. He knew how to grab the attention of the viewer and left nothing to chance. He created impeccable sets, or when not shooting in his studio rue des Ecouffes in le Marais, in undistinguished bedrooms, on the beach, in nature, or in urban landscapes. The unusual dramas that unfold in these seemingly everyday scenes and ordinary encounters pique our subconscious and invite our imagination. Moreover, he developed a technic using hyper real colours, meticulous compositions of cropped elements such as low skies with high grounds and the interplay of light and shadows as well as the unique make-up of the models.”(1)

Again, preparation of all the photographic elements in advance seems to be a recurring feature. It is not surprising given that Bourdin’s background was fashion photography, that requires meticulous preparation of every aspect.

Many of Bourdin’s photographs show only parts of women, particularly legs and torsos. The faces are missing or obstructed in many of these pictures, devoiding Its subjects of identity and reducing them, quite literally, to the minimum required to sell a product (in this case footwear). This is particularly poignant in a series of picture of legs, cut under the knees, walking down the streets (see here, for instance). Bourdin may be deliberately doing this to objectivise its subjects, perhaps as a commentary on the fashion industry or society’s attitude towards women. The point is more directly made in one of his black and white prints entitled “Polaroid” (1978), in Which a woman appears to be part of a property for lease (see here).

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(1) Bourdin, G. (2016) Guy Bourdin – Louise Alexander Gallery. Available at: https://www.louise-alexander.com/artist/guy-bourdin/ (Accessed: 21 September 2016).

Research notes – Fay Godwin

Fay Godwin (1931 – 2005) was a British photographer.

The following notes are taken from a viewing of the book “Landmarks” – a retrospective of Fay Godwin work (1). As customary in other research notes on books, I make below some general observations on layout and presentation.

  • The book contains both portrait and landscape pictures.
  • Both orientations are combined, presented together.
  • There is no specific reason why they are put together in this order. No evident connection, except for broad categories (landscapes, portraits, etc).
  • There are both colour and black and white pictures .

Some of the landscape pictures (most of which are B&W) are quite interesting because they include both natural and man-made features. In some cases (road markings, farm fences), the effect is complementary, but some of the features are not expected or incongruous (buses, theme park posters, security fences, earth moving equipment) and create an effect of shock in the viewer. These pictures and the way they are presented remind me of the A.O.N.B. series by Keith Arnatt, which has the same aesthetic values. Godwin makes very clear her views on the subject matter by her titles. One picture of an otherwise tranquil Welsh mountain track, with a mechanical digger in the middle of it is titled “Welsh Water Authority bulldozing Bronze-age tracks, Snowdonia National Park, 1988” (see here). Other pictures show dying trees and cut down forests. There are no man-made features in these pictures, but the impact of man is clearly shown by what is missing.

The pictures seem to be taken with normal perspective and a small aperture, as most seems to be in focus, from beginning to end.

Another interesting series of pictures, also reminiscent of Arnatt’s work with rubbish, are the glassworks series. These are in colour and show various subjects through layers of glass, some of which appears broken or steamed. The defects or water drops in the glass create additional shapes which, combined with the softening of the light from the translucent effect, creates a series of abstract, ethereal pictures, full of beauty. Like in the case of Arnatt’s work, it is quite remarkable that this is achieved with discarded rubbish and weeds, items that one would not normally consider particularly beautiful, but that are transformed by the treatment, thus challenging the spectator’s preconceptions.

A follow-up series entitled “secret lives” seems to follow from the above concept and tries to focus on details of various objects, often shot through obstacles such as mesh. These also show the artist’s desire to explore views which are often missing and pushing the boundaries of what is real and what is abstract. These are all presented in colour.

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(1) Godwin, F., Armitage, S. and Taylor, R. (2001) Landmarks: Photographs by Fay Godwin. Stockport: Lewis, Dewi Publishing.

Research notes – Mona Kuhn

Mona Kuhn (b. 1969) is a Brazilian / American photographer.

The following notes are from pictures of Mona Kuhn’s book “Evidence”, appearing in an article by Doug Stockdale that can be found here, as well as other pictures of Kuhn found online.

Two interesting aspects of Kuhn’s work in “Evidence” is the use in some pictures of glass and its reflective / translucent properties to add elements to the frame (eg her reflection, the sky, trees) and to diffuse her subjects by mixing them with the reflections, in a process that creates new images that are neither faithful reproductions nor entirely abstract, but stay in between.

The other element that is interesting, and this ties with exercise 2.6, is the use of wide apertures / narrow dept of field in the pictures, sometimes in a counterintuitive way, eg with the main subject being completely out of focus while some seemingly irrelevant object like wild flowers appearing sharp in the foreground. To add to the effect, Khun skilfully composes the pictures to ensure that we are under no doubt as to who are her subjects, placing the sharp flowers or the leaves on the edge of the frame, as if they were there just to provide a context to the subjects, in a confusing way.

Kuhn also creates “layers of softness” by placing the subjects at increasing distances from the focal plane (see here, for example). This is done in a way that provides sufficient separation to allow the viewer to distinguish each shape, in spite of the softness, thus providing a clear path for the eyes to go deeper into the frame by creating a sense of story. This is a remarkable achievement given that the subjects are each presented on their own and, far from interacting with each other, seem to be lost in their own minds.

The use of intense natural light on many of the photographs, not only delineates the bodies of her subject but also, and perhaps as a conscious byproduct, generates large blown-out areas without any details, in some cases approaching 50% of the picture’s area (as in here). It is generally not pleasant to watch, but it does add to the idea that the photographer is more interested in showing her subjects in the best possible way and background considerations come second, which is not necessarily a risky approach given than in many cases the subject themselves are an integral part of the background.