ASSIGNMENT 2

Assignment 2 – Feedback and reworking

Tutor feedback on assignment 2 can be found here. Based on the comments received I changed various aspects of this assignment.

  • My original submission was prepared on 3:2 landscape crops. I originally choose this format because I believe crowds naturally fit into a horizontal orientation. My tutor suggested that I try the square format, which allows the framing to be tighter and the attention of the viewer to be more focused. I tried to re-crop some of the images in the square format and while it worked well in some (in particular for images 2, 7 and 10 of the original submission (see below)), I was not convinced it was adequate for all the images, which would still benefit from some extra space on the sides. I then decided to re-crop the series on a 6:7 aspect ratio, which I think achieves the best compromise in terms of focusing the attention of the viewer while still providing that horizontal orientation that I originally wanted for the series.
  • In addition to re-cropping, the lightening and contrast of some pictures was adjusted for optimal results when printing.
  • In the feedback, my tutor makes the comment that some of the images are weak and that they may be there just to fit the brief, rather than on the basis of their strength. A related point in the creativity section my tutor suggested that I needed to distil what I wanted to say and then look for stand-out images that concentrate on that. I had a long think about both the spirit of the brief and what I wanted to say with this series and decided to re-shot part of it to better fit both:
    • The brief was about “collections”. In the physical world, a collection is a group of items that may have the same function or are aesthetically similar but not exactly the same. They are usually different items, each one of them perhaps unique. Looking back at my initial submission, I now realised that I repeated several elements in the original images (for example, there are two pictures featuring a red bus, two pictures of tourists taking pictures) and did not properly explore other ways of connecting the pictures other than by common visual elements. I tried to address that by re-shooting new images as well as revising my original pictures selection.
    • My idea for this assignment was to show a diversity of crowd activities and the social behaviour of people within those crowds. Looking back at some of the images included in my original submission, I have realised that there was perhaps a lack of action in some of the shots, where it was hard to discern what was going on in particular or what actually made the shot. I tried to address that in the re-shooting session by scouting my potential subjects (commuters, tourists, people relaxing at coffee shops, etc) and observing for a while to understand what is going on before deciding on the correct moment to capture. This process fed a trial and error process, whereby some preliminary images were taken and then I decided to re-shot them with different elements changed or added (like the angle of view, distance to the subjects, etc).

The original submission, alongside the re-worked assignment is shown in the table below in the sequential order in which they should be viewed:

Image number

Original submission

Revised submission

1

Assignment 2 - Picture-1 IMGP2562

2

Assignment 2 - Picture-2 DSCF1459

3

Assignment 2 - Picture-3 IMGP2320

4

Assignment 2 - Picture-4 IMGP2514

5

Assignment 2 - Picture-5 IMGP2652

6

Assignment 2 - Picture-6 DSCF1418

7

Assignment 2 - Picture-7 DSCF1402

8

Assignment 2 - Picture-8 DSCF1624

9

Assignment 2 - Picture-9 IMGP2495

10

Assignment 2 - Picture-10 DSCF1441

My original submission included a booklet showing how I intended the pictures to be viewed. There were two standalone pictures – 1 and 10 – and 4 pair of pictures in the middle. I have maintained the same format in the reworked assignment. In the feedback I received from my tutor, one of the comments was that in the PDF of the booklet included in my original submission some of the pictures were out of sync. I have corrected this in the revised booklet, which can be found here. The original booklet, for reference, can be seen here.

As part of the re-working, I took some additional pictures. The revised annotated contact sheet can be found here.

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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.

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 those pictures 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 tourist 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 length 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 relatively 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 the subjects to avoid perturbing their behaviour. This focal length was also only going to work with large crowds, as otherwise there were going to be too many gaps, as in the picture below

dscf1179

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 lengths 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

 

imgp2134

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

imgp2146

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

p1480192

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

p1480194

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 wide-angle, 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 from within 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 unnatural 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 accentuated the “layering” effect, particularly when the subjects were relatively close.

p1480197

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)

imgp2219

Pic 10 – 100mm at f/5.6

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Pic 11 – 100mm at f/5.6

imgp2197

Pic 12 – 100mm at f/5.6

imgp2236

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 moderately wide aperture. This enabled me to maintain 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 anonymous outsider most of the time, in satisfaction of my previously stated objective of trying to capture the social identity elements of the crowd.

Collecting – initial thoughts

For the second assignment, I have decided to work on a collection of crowd pictures. The majority of my pictures contain a human element, but it is usually an individual or a small number of persons. I normally do not shoot crowds, so this is both a challenge to my shooting approach and an opportunity to develop my visual palette.

If you Google the definition of crowds, it gives you the first entry from the Oxford dictionary: “a large number of people gathered together in a disorganised or unruly way”(1).

Crowds and their behaviour have long been the subject of theoretical study by psychologists and sociologists. Early theories in the late 19th century tended to de-contextualize crowd behaviour and assumed that individuals, when being part of a crowd,”…lose all sense of self and all sense of responsibility. Yet, at the same time, they gain a sentiment of invincible power due to their number”(2). In the context of these theories, crowds are seen as irrational, uncontrollable and violent. This conceptualization of crowds seems to be somewhat aligned with the definition of crowds as “unruly” from the Oxford dictionary. Yet in casual observation, one sees many cases of crowds acting in a rational and controlled way.

Latter approaches to model crowd behaviour tended to be built around the concept of “social identity”, which refers to “…an individual’s self understanding as a member of a social category”(3). The behaviour of crowds in these theories was more a function of the self-classification of individuals in social identity groups, where actions in context were determined by either norms and routines known to all class members, or derived from observing the actions of those considered typical group members.

Living and working in London, I have experienced crowds on a daily basis, from commuters to pub-goers. These crowds can seem unruly, but often times they have their own rhythm and find a way to peacefully coexist with the city. In many cases, they exhibit the behaviour and inferred norms of the “social identity” models for crowd behaviour. It is this group identity concept that I would like to explore with this collection of images.

___________
(1) Crowd (no date) Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=crowd&rlz=1C9BKJA_enGB708GB708&oq=crowd&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i61j69i65j0j69i59l2.2333j0j9&hl=en-GB&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8 (Accessed: 11 September 2016).

(2) From The Psychology of Crowd Dynamics, by Stephen Reicher, as published in: Hewstine, M. and Brewer, M.B. (2001) Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Group processes. Edited by Michael A. Hogg and Scott Tindale. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. pp 186.

(3) Idem, pp 194.

.

 

Research notes – Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand (1928  – 1984) was an American photographer famous for his street work.

Winogrand shoot primarily black and white film using a rangefinder with a wide-angle lens (28mm). The photographs are primarily made on a frontal plane (ie not from above or below). The short focal length used means that he had to be close to his subjects when taking the pictures. As can be seen in the short film below, that sometimes meant that his subject will notice (and occasionally object) to his presence, but in general he had a very stealthy way of shooting, often simulating that he was checking his camera’s dials and then shooting the next second. Watching him in action is a delight, as he fires away without almost being noticed. This allowed him to obtain candid shots in spite of being in the middle of the action.

Many of the photos made by Winogrand contain crowds, both from the streets (in NY, Los Angeles) and from organized events (eg political conventions, balls ). In the crowd pictures, you would normally have a person / group standing out (for example, the girl with the white dress in the Centennial Ball picture (link), or the man shouting at the microphone in the Elliot Richardson Press Conference picture (link)) or groups of people joined by their actions where no one really stands out (like the Point Mugu Naval Air-Station picture (link)). Winogrand pictures have a naturalistic, uncontrived nature, representing a slice of “life” as it was happening in front of him. He was a very prolific photographer who seemed to enjoy the act of shooting more than other aspects of photography. While he died unexpectedly, barely a month after being diagnosed with cancer, he left behind thousands of unprocessed film rolls. In the short video above one can see that Winogrand would take several frames of the same scene and had little regard for economy of shooting. His style of shooting was not very far from what we experience today with digital cameras, in which we can rack hundreds of shoots in a single photo session.

It would be tempting to assume that part of his success was down to taking so many different pictures of each scene, but the reality is that he was not using a motor drive and although he could rewind the film quite quickly (his domination of the camera as a tool is very clear), there is no way his final results were down to luck. Some of his pictures show people seemingly doing different things in one frame, or looking in all sorts of directions (see for instance his JFK at the DNC 1960 picture, for instance (link)), but the framing and timing used brings harmony to the chaos and provide a clear path for the eyes to travel.

Research notes – Allan Sekula

Allan Sekula (1951 – 2013) was an American photographer, theorist and critic.

Sekula’s series of crowd photographs “Waiting for Tear Gas [white globe to black]” were taken during the street protests around the 1999 WTO conference in Seattle. From the text accompanying the exhibit (1), Sekula took the pictures with “…no flash, no telephoto zoom lens, no gas mask, no auto-focus, no press pass and no pressure to grab at all costs the one defining image of dramatic violence”. Sekula defines this approach as being “anti-photojournalism” and indeed, one would think that his technique would have implied being quite close to the action, perhaps even in its midst, rather than take a more cautious approach that one would expect from a normal press photographer.

Sekula’s work is presented as a slide show of 81 images. As the title mentions, the first picture includes a white globe (with a glimpse of a black globe in the background) and the final picture is a close up of the black globe. In between, Sekula presents a chronological account of the protest, starting in daylight, moving into the night, with light again and  finishing in the night. The pictures include a range of individual portraits, close-up shots of people in crowds, and crowds themselves. He shows the protesters, the police, some of the WTO delegates and some action shots, purposely of the police trying to contain or repress the protest, although there is no attempt to show explicit violence. The shots of crowds contain a great deal of tension. Even before the confrontations with the police began, you can see the crowds marching on purposely and dead serious, either resigned to their immediate fate (confrontation with the police) or with little hope of influencing the matters they were protesting on. Sekula himself noted that there were “…people waiting, unarmed, somethings deliberately naked in the winter chill, for the gas and the rubber bullets and the concussion grenades.”

Sekula seems to be using a normal lens. As he is close to the action, a normal lens in this case does not allow the inclusion of significant background information and consequently, many of the shots, even when including crowds, have a tunnel-like / cropped view point that adds to the tension and feeling of claustrophobia.  Furthermore, Sekula seems to be using a relatively wide aperture, even during daylight shoots, and this produces a “layering” of the crowd shots were the eye is forced to focus in a particular person or plane. He chooses this person or action as an “anchor” to the crowd, as if defining everything else going on in the frame, thus directing the attention of the spectator to what interests him. The effect is sometimes crude and other times more subtle: in a picture where protesters were sitting holding hands in front of a line of police officers, Sekula’s focus is clearly on the protesters, with the police being rendered slightly out of focus. This is preceded by a photograph of another line of police officers, now clearly in sharp focus, against the background of indistinguishable people, perhaps including other police officers and or protesters.

Due to his chosen angle of view and position vis-a-vis his subjects, Sekula’s crowd pictures feel more like portraits in which the remaining elements of the crowd act as background, which in this occasion is not “creamed out for bokeh”, but subtly left less defined to provide enough information to contextualize the actions of his subjects. This is an approach in stark contrast with Gursky’s crowd pictures, in which aperture is deliberately closed to render everything flat, as if it were in the same plane, with the spectator unable to fix his / her gaze at anything individual but forced to interpret the picture as a whole.

Sekula’s slide show, in its entirety, can be found here

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(1) All quoted text in this note comes from Sekula’s accompanying introduction to “Waiting for Tear Gas [white globe to black]”, which can be found here