Part 5

Exercise 5.3

The following comments are in response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare by Henri Cartier-Bresson (link).

What attract me the most in this picture at first glance is the reflection on the pool of water. It is created by the man jumping, captured at the right time, but it could have equally been created by a static object, for what matters to me is the clean shape of the man’s reflection against the still water of the pool, almost mirror like. The photograph is unbalanced, with the action happening very close to the right hand side of the frame. The middle portion is quite cluttered and undefined, only saved by the figure of another person and his (less clear) reflection,  while the top  contains some nice recession of tones, but not much else. After surveying all that, my eyes keep returning to the dark silhouette in the front and his reflection. This for me represents the defining part of the image, and what is quite remarkable is that there is almost no information in that part of the image: it is just black or grey, with slightly blurred edges, but the visual contrast dominates the rest of the image and as an element remains imprinted in my mind, like the piece to be inserted in another puzzle. Looking through my old pictures, I managed to find many with reflections, but one of them resonated the most with this feeling:

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1/50s at f5.6. ISO 64. 35mm full frame

Sometimes the dominating part of a picture is the one that contains less information, but also serves an ulterior purpose. As in the case of Sugimoto’s Theatres series (link), which are dominated by a large white space with no purpose other than to shed light on the beautiful interiors, to which my eyes are constantly moving, the black silhouette in HCB’s picture primarily serves the purpose of creating the perfect reflection, to which my eyes keep going back.

Exercise 5.2

The first time I looked at the picture of World Trade Centre by Hiroshi Sugimoto (link), what immediately came to my mind was how unreal the picture looked like. It was like it was made from a model of the buildings rather than the actual thing, the lack of focus robbing the details one would expect to see and reducing the structures to outlines and swaths of solid grey tones. It so happened that I looked at this picture shortly after looking at the work  of Thomas Demand, who builds intricate paper models of places and situations and then takes pictures of them (see for instance here and here) and it occurred to me that it would be possible to still take a similar picture to Sugimoto’s by building a paper model of the World Trade Centre.

I looked at the internet for a neutral, frontal picture of the twin towers, preferably in black and white. The best I could find was this low resolution picture accompanying  the relevant entry into the Skyscraper Museum (link)(1). I copied the front side of one of the towers and enlarged this so that details became blurred and pixelated. I then proceeded to copy this four times and made a tridimensional model of each tower. These were then glued on a paper base on the position of the original buildings.

The background and sky were hand painted on A4 using an electronic illustration application and then reduced to a scale that was commensurate with the paper tower models (the reduction was to about A6). The background had to be widened to more or less fit the position of the buildings in Sugimoto´s. This was done by cutting and superimposing two copies of the background, which were then scanned and re-printed. The set up was illuminated with natural shadow light from the front, and an array of LED lamps on the back of the picture, showing through the paper background.  A picture of the set-up is shown below.

 

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The picture was taken on a full frame camera with a 50mm lens set at f8 and back  focused just behind the plane of background. Sugimoto took the original picture by focusing at twice infinity and in his picture the background looks as unfocused as the foreground. I tried to replicate this as much as possible but in any case, the background was originally drawn without clear building outlines and deliberately blurred to help achieve the effect. My response to the picture was primarily driven by what Barrett calls “Internal Context” – what I viewed in the picture itself, but was also modified by the original context based on how and why Sugimoto took the pictures (discussed here). It also contains elements of original context from Thomas Demand’s work.

The final picture, shown below, had limited post processing manipulation, primarily to correct verticals, crop and adjust the lighting, both generally but also by selectively burning some parts of the picture (particularly the bottom and to vignette the corners). Nothing was cloned out or added in post processing.

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Towers (2017) – After Sugimoto (and homage to Demand)

With this picture I wanted to test both my initial reaction to Sugimoto’s but also to understand whether other people had similar feelings. The final picture still looks unreal to me, although the towers in Sugimoto’s version have less detail than my fake models, and are heavily cropped at the top. The background is perhaps more obviously fake, but the sensation that my towers are slightly more realistic than the original left me a bit startled. I casually showed my picture to a friend and to him it was not immediately obvious that my picture was a fake. It seems to me that, just perhaps as Sugimoto’s original intention with these pictures was, we immediately recognise famous shapes by just a few traces, regardless of how blurred or distorted they are and not always question whether what we see is true or not.

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(1) Skyscraper.org. (2017). The World Trade Center: Statistics and History. [online] Available at: http://www.skyscraper.org/TALLEST_TOWERS/t_wtc.htm [Accessed 31 Mar. 2017].

Exercise 5.1

I took a sequence of shots of my wife while we were waiting for our food at a local restaurant. As usual, she took her sketchbook out of her bag and started to draw, and I took my camera and started to fire away. I had a 35mm equivalent lens on at the moment, which enabled me to have a relatively wide point of view without introducing too much distortion. The shots were all taken at the largest aperture available, f/2. They were only corrected for white balance and exposure.

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1/1000s at f2. ISO 6400. 23mm (equiv 35mm)

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1/60s at f2. ISO 800. 23mm (equiv 35mm)

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1/125s at f2. ISO 1600. 23mm (equiv 35mm)

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1/125s at f2. ISO 1600. 23mm (equiv 35mm)

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1/125s at f2. ISO 1600. 23mm (equiv 35mm)

Of the sequence, my favourite is the last one. The pictures were a mixture of candid and posed shots and at the time I took them I did not notice the expression my wife had on the last one, half way through between disgust and a shrug.  I cannot recall, when looking at the photographs, what we were doing at that particular moment, whether her expression was a reaction to something I had said or if she was thinking about something in particular. This adds a degree of enigma to the photograph that is not there in the other shots, as well as summing up, for me, what the distance between me as a photographer and her as the subject is, not only in terms of what was unnoticed at the time I took the shot (her expression), but also the erosion of information created by the passing of time.