Month: November 2016

Assignment 3 – Printing and presentation

For this assignment, I printed the final pre-selection in smooth pearl resin coated paper, which provides a bit more lustre than matt paper without being as reflective as the glossy one. The photographs were printed with an archival-quality pigment ink printer. They were printed in A4 paper, leaving a border of approximately 1 inch to each side. This resulted in a printed surface of around 24 x 16 cm. The borders were set specifically wide to allow for mounting.

For storage and presentation, the prints were to be boxed in a A4 portfolio box for photographs similar to this one. The internal area of the box itself is not really A4, but actually C4, which is the envelope size corresponding to unfolded A4 paper, and is slightly larger at around 23cm x 32. I took advantage of this more generous size to cut my mounts to a custom size that would fit the box snuggly.

Every picture was mounted on off-white conservation board, which was cut to size by hand. The board used was John Purcell’s Heritage 1380 microns. This is a good quality white core buffered board of archival specifications that is more rigid than the regular acid-free board available on art shops, yet is priced similarly. The disadvantage is that its smallest size is larger than A1 and consequently it has to be cut to size. Both the backing board and the mat are of the same material.

The window of the mat was also cut by hand using a bevel cutter. The window was sized at 3.5cm per side. Each photograph was mounted using the t-hinge method and acid free removable linen tape. The borders of the mat were glued to the backing board using a small amount of water-soluble clear glue. Each mounted photograph was weight-pressed for 24 hours to ensure the mount borders were sealed.

Each photograph was stored in the box and covered with piece of cartridge paper to separate the plates from the notes accompanying the assignment.

The photographs were mounted to protect them from damage but also because I wanted to explore how to present the photographs in gallery setting, for which they would normally be mat mounted and framed. For a gallery presentation, I was inspired by the arrangement of Sergio Larrain’s photographs of London in the recent exhibition “Strange and Familiar” organized by the Barbican Centre (a picture of how that arrangement looked like can be found here). The idea is to organize the photos in a cluster, a bit closer than that used in the case of Larrain’s pictures, and for that reason the bezel of the mount was relatively thin. The arrangement is still geometric but a little bit less formal than the usual sequential approach, which is aligned with the overall concept of the series, trying to move the viewer away from normal expectations. Clustering the photographs also allows for a quick movement from one picture to the next and permits the viewers to look at the pictures in their own order, rather than the order dictated by the curator. The schematics of how the pictures would be presented is shown below:

gallery-layout

Accompanying the pictures, I propose the following short introductory text:

Traces of humanity

In this series, I wish to explore our relationship with the environment that surrounds us on a daily basis, but that many times we take for granted. Evidence of our influence is provided, but our presence is deliberately obviated through the choice of timing, allowing the viewer to challenge expectation of what they would normally see in scenes they may be familiar with.

 

 

Assignment 3 – Shooting and selection

In approaching this assignment, I was conscious that there are various means of freeing a picture of people which would not be compatible with the idea of choosing the “decisive moment” to take a shot. One of them would be to set a very long shutter speed with the camera on a tripod. Another would be to crop or clone out individuals. I made a conscious decision to avoid those in my process. I set to go out and take pictures during daytime at normal shutter speeds, and wait (sometimes for a long time) until there was a moment where no one was visible in the frame. In a way I was being faithful to my way of approaching street photography, but rather than waiting for a person to walk into the frame, I was waiting for all of them to walk out.

The pictures were taken with wide-angle to normal lenses (equivalent to 28mm, 35mm and 42mm in full frame) at a shutter priority setting with shutter speeds of between 1/60s and 1/500s, to ensure minimum camera shake and/or the freezing of movement in some scenes. The camera was set at medium ISO settings (between 400 and 800) to ensure aperture values remained in the mid-range (around f5.6 ~ f8) but also to maximize the dynamic range for the camera used. I completed a total of 9 photographic sessions for this assignment, with 174 pictures taken in total, all of them taken in central London at various times of the day. Post processing was primarily limited to lighting adjustments, corrections of the verticals and minor cropping.

Out of these, 30 pictures were initially selected and finally, cut down to 10. The final 10 were printed, out of which 7 were selected for submission. The final selection was made on the basis of how the print looked in terms of dynamic range, sharpness, and variety of locations. Most of the pictures selected also provide what I consider to be visual anchors, guiding the viewer’s attention towards certain parts of the images. The final selection in show below. Contact sheets marked to the initial selection can be found here. I have provided some brief notes on the shooting process for each picture in their caption.

dscf2409

Regent’s canal, Islington – This picture was one of the more difficult ones to take because this section of the canal is particularly busy during the day, and specially around lunchtime (when this was taken) when many people run along the path to the left of the picture. I only had about a 5 second window when to take the shot and had to wait approximately 10 to 15 minutes for the right moment to do that.

dscf2543

Cecil Court, City of Westminster – This was taken early on a Sunday when the shops in the court were mostly closed, which helped to have a clear foreground, but the thoroughfare at the far end is Charing Cross road, which is one of the busiest roads in central London, even on a Sunday. I did have to wait a while for people chatting on the pavement there to move along, as well as for the road to be cleared of buses and other traffic.

dscf2443

The Barbican estate, City of London – This was also taken on a Sunday, around 10 am. The sitting area in the foreground is usually quite busy during weekdays, but relatively quiet during weekends.The main challenge in this occasion was people constantly entering the church at the back, as this was taken just before the start of Sunday’s service.

dscf2463

Cheapside, City of London – Again taken on a Sunday, when crowds tend to be more subdued. In this one, I had to wait for people on the shop to the right to move out of the way (there was a smoker who removed himself by hiding behind one of the columns, although you can still see the smoke from his cigarettes if you look carefully). Surprisingly, the owner of the sweeper cart in the foreground did not enter the frame during the 5 minutes or so that I had to wait to take the picture. For this picture and the previous two, the shooting strategy primarily focused on selecting the right time of the day / week when places that would normally be full of people were less busy.

dscf2482

The Barbican estate – City of London. This was taken during lunchtime on a week day, but I did not have to wait long to take this picture, as these gardens are normally only open to residents of the state and consequently not very busy.

dscf2602

Moorgreen house, Islington. Like in the case of the picture above, I did not have to wait particularly long to take this picture because this road actually leads to the back of the estate and consequently not as busy as the main entrance. For this and the previous picture, the shooting strategy centered around finding locations that were urban and played into the expectation of being busy, but that in reality are never too busy, thus facilitating the shooting process.

dscf0613

Golden Lane estate, City of London – This picture, part of the last shooting session for this assignment, was taken during lunchtime, when the tennis courts are particularly busy. On that day, both courts (only one fully visible here) were being used for coaching, and at any given time balls were flying over the net, with players occasionally moving into the frame to hit the balls. In keeping with the theme of trying to use visual anchors for the pictures in this set, I waited until sufficient net balls were accumulated into the middle of the ground, in an arrangement that was both in diagonal and ending on a third, before taking the shot.

Assignment 3 – Initial thoughts

When I first looked at this assignment, my original idea was to do something as close as possible to the traditional realm of “decisive moment” photography: street photography with strong geometrical elements and human presence. I even contemplated at one point, early on my thinking, to either use B&W film and gelatin silver prints, or present the digital prints rendered in monochrome to fit the original aesthetics of the concept. But just as I was starting to sketch the pictures I wanted to take in my notebook, I came to the realisation that this was just the easy way out (after all, I have been doing traditional street photography almost daily for a long while) and started to feel the urge to try a different approach.

After looking a video of Hiroshi Sugimoto talking about his seascape series (1), I found interesting the idea that he considered this series like a “time machine trip to go back to very ancient memories of our culture” (2) because he felt that the first men, when standing on the edge of a cliff and looking at the sea for the first time, would probably have seen something similar to his seascapes, devoid of any human intervention. Trying to translate this idea into a photographic series, and on the premise that what I have most at hand is a city (London), I decided to base this assignment on the concept of human intervention without human presence: to portray the city: its buildings, parks, cars and streets, all evidencing humanity, but without any person being visible in the frame.

The idea behind this is, like in Sugimoto’s seascapes, to translate us to a different era where cities have just been abandoned and the viewer is clueless as to what is going own. Sugimoto, in his website mentions that every time he sees the sea he feels “a calming sense of security” (2), but my intention with this series was to instil insecurity into the viewer by extracting from the images something they were expecting to be there, so that they may question what they see and doubt if what they are seeing is really what the photographer is presenting: is the landscape really devoid of people or are they hidden somewhere, either by the structures of by the choice of frame? This draws from the early work of Keith Arnatt, including his series on Self Burial (1969) and Invisible Hole Revealed by the Shadow of the Artist (1968), which tries to question the veracity of photography as a medium.

_______________________

(1) Krief, J.-P. (2000) Contacts vol 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcbEgEv2kUw (Accessed: 29 November 2016). Posted in YouTube by Ted Tezeu

(2) Idem

 

 

Exercise 3.3

For part 1 of this exercise, I used my Nikon FM2n. This was a revolutionary camera at the time it came out in the early 1980s, at it had a fully mechanical shutter capable of speeds of 1/4000s, similar to the top speed of many DSLRs of these days (over 30 after the FM2 was first launched).

I removed the lens and set the camera on the table, looking through the back of the camera as I cycled through all the available shutter speeds. Only the shutter blades were visible at the highest speed setting, with the movement being imperceptible at 1/4000s, and only slightly so at 1/2000s and 1/1000s, At 1/500s it was already possible to perceive the light at the other side of the camera, but no clear form. It was only when the speed dropped considerably, to 1/15th of a second, that you could start to define the shapes of what was in front of the camera, with it being clearly visible at 1/4s or less. I was surprised when I did this exercise, as I was expecting an image to be clearly visible at a higher shutter speed (I was hoping for something like 1/125s or 1/60s), as recent studies indicate that the human vision can recognise shapes seen for as little as 13 milliseconds (1), which is equivalent to about 1/60s in camera speed rates. A video of this exercise can be seen here 

—————— 000 ——————

For the next part of the exercise, I took pictures at various locations. The first one was in Canvey Island, in Essex. I was standing high on the sea defences looking towards the river Thames, about 6 meters above the sea level. The first thing you see in the foreground is the promenade immediately below the defence wall (which is about 2 ~ 3 meters tall). This is followed by a rock levee of about 2 meters and the beach. In the middle ground, you have the river and then on the background you have the south bank in Kent, with some of the villages and industrial parks in the isle of Grain visible, and the clear blue sky with some clouds on top. I looked at the whole scene, which was tranquil, and decided to focus on the waves breaking on the beach. To capture their movement I decided to set the camera at its top speed of 1/8000s. To achieve a mid aperture, I set the ISO speed at 800 (this gave me f/5). I waited until something else moved in the frame, and when a bird approached to the right, I took the shot.

dscf2286

27mm (equiv. 42mm in full frame). 1/8000s at f/5. ISO 800

I repeated the exercise some days later in a different setting. I was standing on one of the high walkways of the Barbican estate in the City of London, overlooking the artificial lake and the dining area next to it, just outside the cultural centre. The walkway is some 10 meters above the shore of the lake. I set the camera at 1/160s to avoid camera shake and to freeze subjects moving at reasonable speed. ISO is set at 800 to ensure mid-aperture (f/5.6 in this case). Just below me is a clear area of pavement, followed by some tables and chairs, and some more of this into the background, where you have some of the estate low-rise buildings and two of its three towers of flats. My attention goes to a person on the foreground looking at his smart phone while he talks to somebody else on the phone, probably from a hands-free device. Then I notice another person in the mid-distance who at first seems to be having lunch, but quickly starts using her phone or tablet. I wait to see if either of these two characters starts to do something interesting when a third person approaches the scene on the left, almost at the same level of the first person I noticed in the foreground. This new person first sits, uneasily, but after a few seconds she stands again, takes out her mobile phone and starts walking while looking at the phone. At this moment, with the three characters looking at their phones, I take the picture.

dscf0589

27mm (equiv. 42mm in full frame). 1/160s at f5.6. ISO 800

_________________

(1)  http://helldesign.net. 2016. The brain can process images seen for just 13 milliseconds | KurzweilAI. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-brain-can-process-images-seen-for-just-13-milliseconds. [Accessed 27 November 2016].

Exercise 3.2

Going into this exercise, I was particularly curious about Michael Wesely‘s work and wanted to do something that would capture the essence of movement over time. His technique of opening the shutter for several days at the time is not easy to reproduce with a digital camera, so I decided to experiment instead with multiple exposures over several hours.

I tried several sequences at different lengths. The camera was set on a tripod with a 90mm lens pre-focused on my cat, who would take long naps every morning. The first sequence was for a total of 20 frames, at a rate of 1 frame per 10 minutes (3 hours 10 minutes in total). Shutter speed was set at 1/200s for each frame and the aperture fluctuated in mid values of f/5.6 ~ f/7.1 for most of the frames. ISO was fixed at 800. The camera was set to add every picture and average the exposure, so that movement is built progressively. In that set-up, the final photograph, shown below, is an average of itself and all the previous 19 photographs:

imgp3189

Cat taking a nap – 23/10/2016 10:37 ~ 13:47 (3:10) – Average of 20 exposures.

The camera is able to store all the intermediate photographs, so you can see the build-up process leading to the final image. In this case, “build-up” is not perhaps the most appropriate term, as the cat starts perfectly defined in the first image and is progressively blurred until it becomes unrecognisable. I have prepared a short video to show the construction of the sequence, which can be found here.

My next sequence was for approximately the same length of time, but at a faster frame rate: 100 pictures were taken at a rate of one image every 2 minutes, for a total of 3:18 minutes. The camera was set just like in the first sequence. In the first sequence, the cat continued present in the frame for the entire shot-out, but he got up and left about 1/3 into the second sequence, and as a result the final frame, averaged with the previous 99, shows very faint traces of the cat, reminiscent of the more subtle photographs from Wesely, where there is almost no movement.

imgp3298

Cat disappearing – 30/10/2016 11:38 ~ 14:56 (3:18) – Average of 100 exposures.

The build-up video, which shows the cat vanishing through time, can be found here.

——————— ooo ———————

I was also intrigued by the work of Maarten Vanvolsem and how he tries to capture movement, rhythm and acceleration in his shots. My initial attempts at this were rather crude and primarily consisted in opening the shutter for a specified period of time while walking on an escalator, going through the ticket barriers of the Underground, or simply standing on a carriage while traveling between two stations. The results are attractive studies on light and motion, but they do not convey the rhythm that you can see in some of Vanvolsem dance shots.

dsc_0011

Floor of tube carriage between stations – Nikon Coolpix A. 18.5mm lens (equiv to 28mm in full frame) 30s at f22, ISO 100.

dsc_0012

Going up escalator – Nikon Coolpix A. 18.5mm (equiv. to 28mm in full frame) 30s at f22, ISO 100.

dsc_0013

Walking towards the ticket barriers – Nikon Coopix A. 18.5mm lens (equiv. to 28mm in full frame) 15s at f22, ISO 100.

I then experimented with several of the line scan apps that are available for mobile phones. Some of these are set just to give a distorted image and not really to capture rhythm or acceleration over time. The ones that worked the best for me were “Slit-Scan Maker” (link) and “Poloska” (link). Both offer a still slit-scan mode – where the line of pixels that is captured is fixed and the picture is made by moving the phone –  but the duration of the clips in Poloska can be extended for longer periods of time, resulting in long panoramic shots:

img_1210

Commuting to work. iPhone 6 with Poloska.

The Slit-Scan Maker app offers and additional mode, which is that of the moving slit. This operates like a regular document scanner, in as much as the row of pixels that is captured travels through the frame from top to bottom. When combined with movement from the person holding the phone, this mode has the effect of compressing movement vertically, like if the long panoramas from Poloska (see above) were squeezed down, as can be seen in the pictures below.

img_1201

Crossing the road – iPhone 6 with Slit-Scan Maker

img_1198

Walking over the yellow line – iPhone 6 wih Slit-Scan Maker

All the above images were taken while walking to work early in the morning. The images taken with the Slit-Scan Maker delineate rhythm  quite dramatically. In “Walking over the yellow like”, I was holding the phone just above the yellow line on a busy train terminal platform while I walked towards the exit alongside hundred other commuters. The pendular movement of walking is nicely captured as a zig-zag of the line. A similar, but perhaps more subtle effect can be seen in “Crossing the road”, where the different colours of the pavement tiles swirl in line with the movement of the photographer.

  ——————— ooo ———————

While researching the work of Dr Vanvolsem, I came across the so-called Marey-effect and from there I found about the work of Harold E. Edgerton with stroboscopes to capture the rapid movement of subjects in sequences within the same frame  (see link to some of these images here). I set to try to replicate this at home with the aid of three flashes mounted on three separate cameras set next to each other, all pointing directly at the subject. The flashes were set to manual mode and adjusted so that they all had the same intensity. The central camera was set to run in bulb and to open the shutter for 10 seconds. With the aid of three remote timers, I programmed the cameras to shoot one after the other with about 2 seconds difference between them. The end result, when all was in sync, was three short flashes within a 9 second exposure. The subject (myself) was placed about 1 meter in front of the camera and the lens was pre-focused and set to manual mode. ISO was set to 100 and the aperture to f/16 to ensure the subject was in sharp focus and as the background was darkened. To make sure that only the flash light was illuminating the scene the shots were taken in a dark room with no ambient light. The subject moved his head through the 9 second exposure and such movements were frozen by each of the three flashes. Here are some of the resulting images:

imgp3369

43mm lens (full frame). 9.3s at f16, ISO 100.

imgp3370

43mm (full frame). 9.2s at f16, ISO 100.

imgp3375

43mm (full frame). 9.3s at f16, ISO 100.

While the results were close to what I expected, there were some issues that I would like to improve in future experiments if possible. The first one is that the room where I took the pictures was relatively small and I was constrained by the lowest manual setting of 1/4 power in one of the flashes I had on hand. Ideally, I would have chosen less flash power and a longer room, with more distance between the flash and the end wall so that the background wall was less illuminated or pitch black if possible. As it was, because the background was iluminated by the first flash, the image of the head moving sideways appears less defined (because is a mixture of the background and the head). One additional aspect I would want to try is more flashes in a longer shot. This could perhaps be achieved by using a small strobe light like the ones used in disco parties. The problem with this approach is that the intensity of these strobes is probably too strong and cannot be regulated like that of a manual flash.

Research notes – The decisive moment

The following comments are in response to the article “The indecisiveness of the decisive moment” by Zouhair Ghazzal (1)

The fundamental premise of Ghazzal’s article is based on the understanding that the concept of the decisive moment is no longer relevant in the context of the modern globalised city-town, where presumably communities have been homogenised and, in the words of the author “…where not much was happening” (1). Ghazzal’s idea of the decisive moment, in its most effective incarnation, requires the photograph to split time at the precise junction that would elicit from the viewer a narrative spanning the time before and after the moment of the capture, thus giving meaning to what was captured. This coincides with the view of Cartier-Bresson himself, when he mentions that “…photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression”(2). For Cartier-Bresson, the existence of an event was indeed fundamental to his photography, which was only there for the purpose of giving such event a meaning. Ghazzal goes on to argue that the less successful decisive moment-type photographs lack this meaning and primarily rely on the relationship of form, light and gestures to sustain interest from the viewer, without any lasting message.

The confluence of Ghazzal’s view on what constitutes an effective decisive moment image, and his observation that the modern urban landscape is devoid of character and variety, and consequently lacking any events worth  capturing, would sustain his view that Cartier-Bresson’s view of photography is no longer relevant. Yet one has to wander to what extent this premise is sustained by the alleged lack of interesting action (which is subjective in any case) rather than by the lack of ability or desire by modern practitioners to effectively capture (or even seek out) such fleeting but interesting moments that, when correctly captured, could elicit that narrative or meaning that Ghazzal considers central to the idea of the decisive moment.

Ghazzal’s critique of the decisive moment also seems to center on the reliance by that type of photography on gestures, with the implication being that either one would get tired of seeing gestures at one point; or that the photographer would be somehow severely limited in his or her expressive abilities by this. Both arguments may be strictly correct, but I am struggling to see how any of this would explain why the decisive moment seems to have fallen out of grace in recent times (if indeed that has happened). With regards to the second point, Cartier-Bresson never implied that his view of photography was anything other than his own (3), and one would expect that other photographers after him would have developed their own vision based on whatever technique and restrictions they would want to impose on themselves to deliver that vision. For me, the overreliance of the decisive moment on gesture is no less (or more) reprochable than the overreliance of certain Dusseldorf school photographers on the correction of perspective, for example, yet to me both types of photography, with their limitations, are equally valid as means of expression in the contemporary world.

As for the first point, I am left wandering to what extent the backlash against the decisive moment is more a question of saturation? Ghazzal talks at some point earlier in his article about the decisive moment becoming a “legendary didactic notion, something similar perhaps to “the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism”…”(1). I can sympathise with this view to the extent that most of today’s street photography, both at the amateur and professional level, seems to be rooted on the basic formula of juxtaposition of elements, but perhaps, as Ghazzal laments, mostly in a way that leaves the viewer in front of just an anecdote without meaning. This, however, is more that anything else an issue of quality and should not detract from the validity or current relevance of the decisive moment as a means of expression. Perhaps the future, as with everything else, is the evolution of the decisive moment beyond the gestures, but still somehow capturing the essence of that fleeting moment that would merge the vision of the photographer with the elements within the frame.

—————- ooo —————-

In connection with the subject of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the decisive moment, I also read the article “Nothing to Do with Me” by Gaby Wood as published by the London Review of Books in June 2014 (4).

Wood frames her critique of the decisive moment from a different angle than Ghazzal. Rather than focusing on the timing and the relevance of gestures, Wood’s main concern seems to be the excessive formality in some of Cartier-Bresson’s efforts, which rob the final photographs of a sense of humanity and intimacy. Wood notes that Cartier-Bresson himself “…sought to record ‘the emotion of the subject…that is, a geometric awakened by what’s offered” (5), but she doubts there is any connection between emotion and geometry, and then goes on to conclude that some of his most celebrated pictures feel impersonal because they are too precisely composed, with “…nothing raw about them, and you find yourself thinking: would it not be more interesting if his moments were a little less decisive?”(6)

Wood then makes the comparison between Cartier-Bresson approach as a photojournalist, essentially somebody reporting on something as an outsider, to that of his contemporary Jacques Henri Lartigue, who was primarily an amateur taking pictures of his family and close friends. According to Wood, the fact that Lartigue was an insider to the images he was producing allowed him to infuse them with a familiarity and perhaps intimacy that is lacking in some of the “decisive moment” pictures of Cartier-Bresson. Wood hammers this point later in the article when she talks about the photoghraphs that Cartier-Bresson took during the second world war, at a time when he was an escaped prisoner of war and consequently, more able to empathise with the subjects of his pictures, resulting in photographs that were “both powerful and difficult”(7).

Wood´s comments on Cartier-Bresson excessive formalism seems to have an indirect tie-back to Ghazzal critique: the juxtaposition of elements itself without a clear meaning will soon fall flat and bore the viewer. It is consequentially essential to be clear on what one aims to portray and to make sure that the message is given as much importance as the arrangement of the elements of the frame, which in the end must only serve the purpose of conveying that message.

__________

(1) Ghazzal, Z. (2004) Decisive moments. Available at: http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson.htm (Accessed: 9 November 2016).

(2) Cartier-Bresson, H. and Sand, M.L. (1999) The mind’s eye: Writings on photography and photographers. New York, NY: Aperture Foundation, p. 42

(3) In his article “The Decisive Moment”, Cartier-Bresson mentions that he has “…talked at some length, but of only one kind of photography. There are many kinds…I don’t attempt to define it for everyone. I only attempt to define it to myself” (Cartier-Breslin, H. and Sand, M.L., op.cit., p. 42)

(4) Wood, G. (2014) “Nothing to Do with Me,” London Review of Books, 36(11), pp. 23–25.

(5) Ibid, p. 24.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid, p. 25.

Research notes – Maarten Vanvolsem

The following comments follow from reading the article “Motion! On how to deal with the paradox in dance photography” (1) by Maarten Vanvolsem, a Belgian photographer and scholar.

Dr Vanvolsem, which main area of research is the relationship between photography and time, writes on this article about the limitations of traditional photographic equipment (ie cameras equipped with a central shutter) to capture the essence of dance, that is the choreographed movement. He talks about how various other photographers have tried to resolve this problem, including the use of various dancers moving simultaneously (see for example, here), in the same way as the timed sequences of chronophotography popularised by Dr Etienne-Jules Marey in the late 19th century to study the movement of animals (the so called Marey-effect (link)). The problem with this, Dr Vanvolsem reasons, is that none of these attempts are able to overcome the issue of stillness that is inherent to central-shutter photography: you are only able to capture a particular moment of the dance, a specific movement or passage in the sequence, but there is no way to get a feeling of the timing and the choreography. As a result, most of the traditional dance photography is primarily focused on the dancer rather than the dance itself.

Dr Vanvolsem then suggests that one way of overcoming this is by using  the slit-scan technique, which aims to capture a small strip of the frame over time, rather than the whole frame at once. This is, in a way, like a small motion picture captured in one frame of film. The technique of slit-scan allows the viewer to get a sense of not only motion, but acceleration as well, which would then enable the photoghrapher to depict the choreography of a dance. There are, however, limitations to this. Dr Vanvolsem uses some of his own images to illustrate his research and in my opinion, this shows that the technique is not very effective for choreographies that do not require the displacement of the dancer. In his image “Contraction of Movement 3” (link), the dancer seems to be girating on her feet and is difficult to get any sense of timing or acceleration in here. His image “Silent Move 12” (link), as well as another of his dance images available in http://www.kunstinhetdorp.be (link), are actually more effective at showing what the choreography would entail, as they include both vertical and horizontal desplacement of the dancer as well as a sense of the acceleration of her moves.

The slit-scan technique can also be used from a different perspective, which is that of the dancer. In a way that is not different from the use of action cams these days, Dr Vanvolsem explores how the choreography can be depicted by the moving of the camera around the space in the same way as the dancer moves: there is no fixed perspective or central point of view, resulting in an image that resembles a twisted 360 degree panorama (link). In these cases, because we do not have the reference of the dancer moving against a fixed background, is more difficult to decipher the choreography. Nonetheless, the images convey a clear sense of movement and acceleration, and are likely to be more suitable to depict dances where the performer does not displace his or her body too much.

___________

(1) Vanvolsem, M., Motion! On how to deal with the paradox in dance photography. Image [&] Narrative [e-journal], 23 (2008). Available from: http://www.imageandnarrative.be/timeandphotography/vanvolsem.htm (accessed on: 13 November 2016)