William Klein [1928- ]

William Klein, 2012 (mobile phone photo)

 

 

 

 

 

On 28th April I attended William Klein’s lecture, made as the recipient of the Sony Outstanding Contribution to Photography  Award. Klein was being interviewed by  Simon Baker, curator of photography and international art, Tate, (ahead of a book and exhibition on Klein in October 2012).     I have put together a virtual  pin-board of a selection of Klein’s images on http://pinterest.com/lightseeker99/william-klein/

After serving with the US Army in Paris, in 1946-48, Klein dreamt of being an artist in Paris.  As a result, he attended art school with Leger. He commented that his art background, and in particular his experience of working with charcoal, meant that as a photographer, he was never bothered by blur, weak greys etc. It also influenced one of his notable techniques of producing images with soft or blurred foreground faces whilst faces in the background remained sharp.
Klein explained that in his book, New York, 1954-1955, he set out to capture the ‘something else’ of New York, not Fifth Avenue etc. He was also responsible for the book’s innovative layout which used a story boarding approach.  Klein stated that he set out to capture the most documented things in the world, Times Square, electric signs etc “in his own way”.
In 1955, Klein was contracted by Vogue, despite ‘having no training or fashion photography experience, and was an outstanding success there for the next ten years.
Klein moved on to talk about his books Moscow, and Tokyo, both published in 1964.  He observed that photo books were uncommon then and recalled that he had to publish in Paris as New York publishers considered his work to be ‘too grungy’.  His recollections of making the Tokyo photographs were interesting.  He commented that when photographing in New York, he knew that he was hitting the ‘bulls-eye’.  In Tokyo, he knew nothing about the culture and didn’t know whether his images meant anything!
Klein’s work attracted the interest of Fellini and he moved into film, becoming Fellini’s assistant, although still working in fashion photography at the same time.  He commented that:
“I thought my books were films and the next steps were to make films”
and in 1966 he directed ‘Who are you Polly Maggoo’  , an ‘excoriating satire of the fashion industry’ (IMDB)
Klein talked only briefly about his well known painted contact print images.  He said that he set out to show the sequence, in order to demonstrate that not every photograph is perfect.
Summary
Klein’s presentation attracted a large and visually sophisticated audience and I very much enjoyed the event.  Klein is one of those photographers of whom I was relatively unaware – but then recognise some of his work when I see it.  Although he is now somewhat frail, he is an engaging and forthright speaker.  In fact one of the things that I will take away from the presentation is his approach, his drive to be original and his determination to present his own view of the world as he sees it.  I shall certainly visit the exhibition at Tate Modern later in the year.

Martin Parr

In writing up my learning log for Assignment 5, I referenced the work of Martin Parr.  My tutor suggested I should expand on this reference, hence this entry which has been prepared following a day researching Parr at The British Library.  I’ve placed the following images on my Pinterest board on http://pinterest.com/lightseeker99/martin-parr/

Pinterest: Martin Parr

  • Badminton Horse Trials, 1988, © Martin Parr
  • Lakeside Tea Room, Southwold © Martin Parr
  • Honister Pass, 1994, © Martin Parr
  • Beijing World Park, 1997, © Martin Parr
  • Galway Races, 1997, © Martin Parr
Relating Parr to my Assignment 5:
Explaining the influence of Parr on my work is not a particularly easy thing to do but I will make an attempt.  In this assignment, I, like Parr, sought to capture the ‘tourist burdened with guide books, equipment and expectations’, [Williams, 2012], although much of the time I was that tourist.  I made images, A5-A for example, in moderately challenging circumstances where relatively few people take photographs – you can see this is in the reaction of the main passenger on the left hand side of the image.  Similarly, I have tried to capture a sense of the incongruous, for example the monk in A5-C and the driver’s reflected face in A5-G.  In some images, I have also tended towards a slightly more saturated colour than my usual taste, notably in A5-K.  There is something more of Parr in my images, although it is difficult to define.  I would not say that I am working in a conceptual way, nor is my work art in the sense that Parr’s is.  Perhaps I am like Parr in that I am one of those:
“who find plesaure through loking at the particular, but always with a mind on the larger social view”, [Phillips, 2007]

Research:
Parr, [1952-], studied at Manchester Polytechnic in 1970 and amongst his contemporaries were Brian Griffin and Daniel Meadows, (see my earlier post here).  Some consider that at this time, ‘Britain was asleep photographically’ ,[Phillips, 2007], but Parr, particularly through Creative Camera magazine, became aware of what was happing in the US and the work of Winogrand, (see this post),  and Friedlander in particular.  John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs (1973), was an important influence on Parr as it included both snapshots and ordinary pictures as well as those by artist – photographers.
“Parr and his fellow students devoured this book [The Americans, Robert Frank, 1959], a copy of which he bough in Manchester although it was generally unknown to his lecturers there. [Phillips, 2007]
In the early 1980s, Parr switched to colour photography and in 1982 published ‘The Last Resort’, arguably a defining moment in British Photography that generated extreme criticism.  However, how views have changed over time:
“At the time, Martin Parr’s series of photographs from New Brighton, a dilapidated seaside spot on the Wirral, were seen as condescending.  But now they look humourously engaged and fond, bringing Bristich working-class nook and crannies into view, and reminding us how unusual that was, (and is), in art photography.” [Badger, 2010].
Parr, a founder of the New European Color Photography School, works in a conceptual way showing in art galleries as well as photography galleries. Parr credits Tony Ray-Jones,  an important bridge between UK and US photography, as his most important influence.  In his more recent work, notably Common Sense (1990, [xref], he openly acknowledges the influence of Nobuyshi Araki and The Banquet .
Parr is often described as  aggressive  photographer, both by the viewer and the subject. For example, the Bristol Evening Standard reported that one of the women in Parr’s The Cost of Living project, from which my first example image is drawn, claimed that she had been ‘photo-raped’. I found Badger’s view on the perceptions of Parr helpful:
“because his various projects have tended to deal specifically with an uncompromisingly direct, even confrontational depicition of social groups [he] is branded as aggressive. which is then conflated in many people’s minds with cynicism.” [Badger, 2010]
Val Williams provides a useful statement that I think summarises some key aspects of Parr’s work:
“He has also honed in on types within society….the middle-aged woman with lipstick very bright or a little smudges, leaning forward for a kiss, is a familiar character in Parr’s documentary cast list, as is the tourist burdened with guide books, equipment and expectations.  People, reading and eating in cars have particularly engaged Parr, as have shoppers, making small decisions, looking, wondering, searching.” , [Williams, 2002].
Further references:

Roger Ballen

On April 3rd I attended Roger Ballen’s presentation for London Independent Photography’s Janet Hall Memorial Lecture.  Ballen’s work can be quite challenging as can be seen in this example, possibly his most well known image.

Image 1: Dresie and Casie, Twins, Western Transvaal, 1993

Ballen describes his work as ‘about memory and consciousness’ and he seeks out ‘enigmatic qualities and motifs’. He is quite a challenging speaker and suggested to the audience that most people do not get the ‘point’ of this image which in his mind is that  viewers ‘know’  that they are ultimately related to these people, that is what horrifies them rather than the subjects within the image.
BJP described him as:
 “doggedly searching for a photography that can expand beyond the individual elements it depicts to provide something much more abstract and introspective that approaches the gut of the human condition.” [Davies, 2012].
Ballen claims that his attention is initially often caught by small details.  For example, he stated that the curl of wire caught his eye before the policeman in image 2 below.

Image 2: Sergeant F de Bruin, Department of Prisons Employee, Orange Free State, 1992

Understandably, I think, this type of work tended to be classified as ‘documentary’, although that was not Ballen’s intent and it has taken him some time to move forward from that interpretation. In the late 1990s Ballen decided not to travel but to concentrate on Johannesburg, in his own words, he “began to think of himself as more of an artist”.  He explains further:
“I’m very much a formalist and like linking aspects of pictures – form driven not content driven.
His most recent work is more conceptual.  As his work progressed, people featured less and less and rats, birds, drawings and paintings began to appear in work that is much more surreal and disturbing, more imaginary than documentary.  He explains the disappearance of people from his images as follows:
“I’ve found that no matter how hard you try, when people look at a photograph, the first thing they go after is the face.  That’s where the meaning is centralised.  If you can pull the face out, then all other aspects of the image tend to play a greater role.  They have a more interactive relationship.  I want to say they can breath; they have their own breath.  “

Image 3: Onlookers 2010 from the Asylum series

Ballen observed that “the best pictures I take, I have no understanding of. …..What you’re seeing here is ‘Roger World’.”  He views himself as coming from a generation who learnt photography on the street and not through conceptual learning at universities.
So, what did I learn from the hour or so I spent with Roger Ballen?  On reflection, I think I learnt more about him than his work.  He has a complex and controversial view of the world and is quite combative.  His work has changed significantly over the years and, without getting into any side debates, is clearly more art than photography, in my opinion.  However, Ballen’s intensity and clarity are both characteristics that I would do well to emulate to some degree as indeed is his ability to progress and move forwards.  For example, his recent video for the group Die Antwoord, ‘I fink you freeky’  has generated nearly six million hits on YouTube at the time of writing, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrwhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrw

Assignment 5: People and place, on assignment

Assignment brief

The great distinction between professional and amateur photography is not competence or special skill or technical quality (although these may play a part, and professional photographers certainly work hard to achieve excellence in these areas). It is that professional photography is performed to order, for a contracted purpose, and in order to deliver results that a client has asked for. The client may be a manufacturer, a magazine or book publisher, an individual who needs specific images, or anyone who is paying for an imaging service. Quite apart from the commercial aspect of this, a well-defined assignment actually benefits the photography because it directs the creative effort. This is what you will explore here.

For this final assignment, the choice of subject is yours, with the only limitation in that the subject should be from this course, which is to say people and/or the places they inhabit.

First decide on a notional client. Choose the kind of client – newspaper, magazine, text book publisher, advertising agency, television graphics, etc; the purpose of assignment – educational, informational, promotional; and how the images will be used: to illustrate a story, to sell a product etc. You choose.

You then need to imagine what the basic brief would be, which will mean thinking from the other side of the fence – what someone commissioning a photographer might want. Write yourself the brief so that you can refer back to it.

Having assigned yourself the brief, you now need to complete it. You need to submit between eight – 12 photographs. Accompany the final images with a short written assessment.  This should include:

• the ‘client briefing’ that you gave yourself

• a statement of how you set about planning the photography

• how well you succeeded, including the difficulties and opportunities you encountered that you had not anticipated at the outset.

Please note that one of the most important aspects of photography is using discernment in your choice of the images you choose to submit. You need to show both your tutor and assessor that you can project good judgement in your choices.

SUBMISSION

The client briefing

Notional client:

A magazine that uses photography to illustrate entertaining articles of the type produced by the photographer Tom Craig with AA Gill for The Sunday Times Magazine.

Purpose of assignment:

Informational / factual / entertainment

How the images will be used:

To illustrate an entertaining article about the trials, tribulations and realities of being a tourist.

Brief:

Most travel articles depict the sights that people might see.  They present locations and experiences in a favourable way providing a context that readers can pleasurably imagine themselves being in.  The purpose of this article is to better reflect the realities of travel and tourism – the queues, the busyness, the mundanity of mass site seeing etc.  It aims to present the view through the perhaps slightly jaundiced eyes of a somewhat world-weary participant in the travel/tourist merry-go-round.  The work should focus on the experience of the traveller/tourist and those around him/her, it may include images of the destination, but it’s the experience that’s important rather than the destination itself.

Planning the photography

Shortly after writing the brief I put together a potential shot list as below.

 Potential shot list:
  • in transit
  • organised excursions
  • crowded locations
  • people interacting with the location
  • people experiencing the place
  • tourist areas, bars, cafes, souvenir shops and trinkets etc.
  • unusual or unexpected travellers or tourists
  • unusual, (to the eyes of a visitor), or unexpected scenes
  • people capturing their own photographs / videos of their experience

In order to better meet the requirements of the brief, I decided that I would visit a location I hadn’t been to before and participate is some of the more typical activities that needed to be reflected in the article.  As I was beginning to plan the work, an unexpected business trip arose which also   provided me with the opportunity to take a week’s holiday and so carry out the assignment.  I therefore draw up a list of activities which included taking a coach excursion, a river trip and visiting an all day festival that would include music, food and markets.  I also planned to visit the key attractions that a typical traveller/tourist might visit both during the day and at night.

As I intended to blend in as much as I could, I decided to minimise my equipment to a DSLR, a wide angle and standard zoom lenses.  I also took a polariser but had no tripod, no flash and far less equipment than usual.

In addition to my shot list, I also tried sketching some ideas – although I found I didn’t use these in practice.  The work of  Martin Parr in ‘Last Resort‘ also influenced my thinking and I suspect that this is evident in the brief I prepared.

The selected images

Click any image to view full size in a new window. 

A5-A

A5-A: 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/100@f4

Image A5-A was made on the City Circle tourist tram and provides the ‘in-transit’ shot from the shot list. In order to make this image I had to make several trips before I was actually able to secure one of the few seats that gave a clear view of the tram.  It took several more trips before the crowds dropped sufficiently for me to be able to secure a worthwhile shot.  This is really quite a claustrophobic environment in which to fire off a DSLR – it would not go down well in London but here, looking like a typical tourist I managed to get away with it.  The man on the left could see what I was doing and the eye is immediately drawn to his slightly confrontational gaze.  The man on the right also saw what was happening and his posture is somewhat more evasive.  Overall, I hope that this is a useful context setting image for the article intended by the brief.

A5-B

A5-B: 45mm, ISO 400, 1/100@f5

A5-B meets the shot list requirement for people experiencing the place.  I took many many photographs in this location on two different visits.  The scene in image A5-B caught my eye for several reasons.  The scene is unusual – in terms of the line of people looking intently, their lack of interaction with each other, the reflections in the glass and the mirror on the right, and the curious lines taped on the floor, (which direct people around the different views).  My feeling was that this scene had enough interest in it to draw the viewer into trying to work out what is happening.  Paradoxically it is an internal view of people looking to the outside.

A5-C

A5-C: 50mm, ISO 400, 1/35@f5.6

Part of my set brief was to capture unusual travellers/tourists.  I hadn’t expected to see a Buddhist Monk hitting the tourist trail and I also felt that his traditional clothing was particularly incongruous in this modern hi-tech setting.

A5-D

A5-D: 35mm, ISO 400, 1/80@f4

A5-D meets the shot list requirements for organised excursions and people experiencing the place.  During this assignment I ‘staked out’ a few locations that I had learnt were popular with the many guides who walk tourists around Melbourne.  This back alley is surprisingly popular with tourists and the guide in the red shirt is pointing out the tag mark of a particular graffiti artist.  I must admit that I hadn’t encountered tours for graffiti before and so I found this idea quite unusual and therefore picture worthy.  For this shot I waited for the guide to gesture and the participants to look before making the image. The fact that the guide happens to be wearing a red t-shirt helps to make what is happening clearer.

A5-E

A5-E: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/4@ f5.6

A5-E meets the shot list requirement for both people interacting with location and unusual/unexpected scenes.  The National Gallery International in Melbourne has a water feature that cascades over the very glass windows/walls.  Quite a number of visitors feel compelled to come up and touch the running water and I realised that this might make an interesting image that would meet the requirement of showing people interacting with the location. Making such a shot proved tricky in terms of anticipating people approaching the glass (which is many yards wide).  It was also technically challenging because the external light was constantly changing from bright sun to shade, which such a significant difference to the exposure that for these ‘grabbed’ candid shots that I could not set a manual exposure and I had to rely on the camera’s metering – which is likely to be fooled, (and often was ), by this fast changing extreme brightness range.

A5-F

A5-F: 25mm, ISO 200, 1/800@f8

Crowds are one of the subjects I had envisioned in my shot list and I soon became conscious of the difficulty that people had in seeing the entertainment on offer.  Quite a number of people resorted, as here, to using the video on their cameras to watch what was happening in front of them.  I was intrigued by this idea of experiencing a live event ‘second hand’ through these screens and could easily have put together an entire project just on this idea.  The bright colour of this woman’s top and the oblique position of her arms help to isolate her from the general crowd at the Japan Festival.

A5-G

A5-G: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/200@f8

My plans included a coach excursion and I duly went on a 13 hr coach trip!  Stops on the trip were relatively few and I realised that all that most of the passengers, myself included, could see was the drivers face in the mirror and the t.v. above his head showing the road ahead.  Image 5-G shows the driver’s smiling reflection whilst the passengers are shrouded in darkness – my attempt at a Barthes punctum!

A5-H

A5-H: 24mm, ISO 400, 1/500@f13

A5-H also meets the shot list requirements for an organised trip.  My second trip as part of this assignment was a late afternoon river cruise.  Image A5-H is suitable for the article because it illustrates the somewhat quirky behaviour of the participants in such an activity.  Although we are in a relatively small space and undertaking a shared experience, nobody is apparently looking at the same thing.  Typical tourist photographs are being taken – a  partner with the background behind and a snapshot of some of the passing scenery.  I think that the viewer’s eye will keep roving around the participants whilst working out what is going on.  This image was at least in part influenced by Garry Winogrand’s  ‘Circle Line Statue of Liberty Ferry, New York 1971’.

A5-I

A5-I: 24mm, ISO 400, 1/200@f8

Part of my brief and shot list was to capture unusual or unexpected scenes.  In this case, passersby would relax in deck chairs whilst watching short films being shown on this giant outdoor screen, (which was very clear despite the setting sun immediately to the right). In this particular frame I liked the juxtaposition between the strange, possibly violent, image on the screen and the serenity of the viewers lolling in their deck chairs.

A5-J

A5-J: 28mm, ISO 3200, 1/200@f4

A5-J meets the shot list requirements  in terms of tourist areas, bars and cafes, people experiencing the place and a crowded location.  The Queen Victoria night market positively buzzed with people and energy.  This gave me an opportunity to capture one of the requirements, a crowded location. The light streaming through the smoke from the grills helps convey the atmosphere of this place which was incredibly busy.

A5-K

A5-K: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/4@f4 hand held (IS)

A5-K brings the project full circle and shows the night-time view to the left of the viewpoint in A5-B.  This shot again shows people experiencing the place but the transformation from day to night means that the place itself is much more prominent than in the day.  There are multiple reflections of internal lights, other people, and indeed myself, within the glass.  You will see from the exposure details that this image was made at the maximum ISO and aperture of my camera and the exposure is 2 stops below the 1/focal length ‘rule’.  Although image stabilisation was used the image is only ‘acceptably sharp’ in the context and would not stand up to being used for a large print.

SELF ASSESSMENT

What I set out to achieve

The brief I set myself allowed a degree of creative flexibility but also required some serendipity.  I sought to provide quite a wide range of images that would in turn allow the writer some flexibility to create an appropriate ‘tale’.  I also set myself the task of being an active participant within the events and situations that I was photographing.

How well did I succeed?

I made several hundred photographs for this assignment and, although the eventual selection would be fairly flexible, after a few shoots I became more confident that I was achieving some of the required images.  Because I was a ‘participant’, most of the images are spontaneous which meant that for most of the time, my mindset was that of a photographer rather than a traveller/tourist.  At times I did worry that this meant I was missing out on experiencing the locations but in fact I eventually concluded that if anything I had got more out of it due to the extra effort and thought I was putting into everything.

I found the selection of the images quite difficult and revisited it several times over a few weeks.  What helped me eventually was to write out a simple ‘narrative flow’ and this made the selection and sequencing of the images more straightforward.  The ‘narrative’ is below.

Many days begin with a trip on the free, City Circle tourist tram.  A visit to the highest public viewing point in the city, the 88th floor of the Eureka Skydeck, enables everyone to take in the view of the city and get orientated – including an unusual visitor.  Moving outside, the local tourism industry has sprung into action with guided walks for everything – including, as here, the best local graffiti sites. Some choose to experience the sights first hand.   Events are running everywhere and for many, the only way to see is to take photographs or even watch videos on their phones – an oft observed phenomena during this project.  Moving on to an organised excursion, the experience was dominated by the travel rather than the place.   Out on a river trip, another common tourist trait is in full swing, photographing oneself in front of the sights or scenery.  As sunset approaches there is the slightly surreal sight of films being watched outdoors in Federation Square, (Melbourne’s second most popular tourist attraction).  As night approaches, the Queen Victoria night market sees attracts huge crowds for food and music.  Finally, the sun having just set, we come full circle back to the 88th floor of the Eureka Skydeck.  

Of course there were a number of images where it was difficult to choose which ones to include and indeed, some of the images in the selection are either weaker or less obvious contenders than others.  I would include A5-E, A5-H, A5-I and A5-J in those categories, however I do have plenty of other images in reserve if required.

The assignment brief also asks for comments on difficulties and opportunities.  Often I find that these two are inter-linked.  For example in A5-E, I could see that in this situation, a potentially interesting image could arise but, I would have little or no control.  On my first trip to this location, the shots were entirely spontaneous.  However, when I reviewed the images on my computer, ‘near misses’ and poor exposures dominated.  This first trip was on a Saturday and visitors and therefore opportunities were plentiful.  On my second trip, I set out to photograph this scene exclusively but, although my technique was better, being a weekday, visitors were fewer and so were opportunities.  In the end I set myself a time limit and ‘staked out’ the scene for one hour before moving on to seek other opportunities. Other difficulties during the assignment included extreme lighting, i.e. very dark as in A5-J and A5-K and extreme contrast in A5-E and A5-G which demonstrate how I coped with these lighting conditions.  One genuinely unanticipated difficulty was a smeared sensor that was not apparent until images were reviewed on the computer.  This meant that I had to reject a number of one-off shots, particularly those that featured expanses of blue sky. Looking back at key opportunities, these mainly related to grabbing opportunities as they arose, the monk in A5-C, the guide’s gesture in A5-D and the particular frame on the film screen in A5-I.  But there again, to some extent you make your own luck by being prepared.

Summary and conclusions

One of my own key observations when I look back at this final assignment in people and place is how far I have come.  Were you to look back at the many tens of thousands of images I have from over the years, one of the fundamental characteristics that you would observe would be the absence of people.  I even have images of some of the most crowded places in the world that are completely free of people.  Yet, in this project I have provided a set of images full of people and I have photographed complete strangers from very close range without hesitation.  I’ve come a long way indeed.

Book Review: Roswell Angier, ‘Train Your Gaze’.

Train your Gaze by Roswell Angier

As I read through this book, I took the time to pause and reflect at the end of each chapter.  I made the notes below during these reflective interludes and they pick out what were for me the main points within each of the chapters.  I have subsequently supplemented these notes with hyperlinks to related sources of information.

Chapter 1:  ‘About Looking’

I found the story about Avedon photographing in complete silence quite fascinating.  I’ve really never thought of that approach before.  The author subsequently relates this approach to the slow process of making early photographs – very plausible.

In his interpretation of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still, #3, 1977, the author neatly summarises the questions the photographer generates in the mind of the viewer:

“What, or who, am I, the photographer, looking at? From where am I doing the looking? How does this position define me? How does my gaze intersect with—or fail to intersect with—the gaze of my human subject? These questions precede all others.”

Chapter 2: ‘self portrait/ no face’

Chapter 2 surprised me, I don’t think I have ever thought about the concept of a portrait with no face before.  The two Lee Friedlander examples used were very illuminating, particularly Lee Friedlander ‘New York City, 1966’ where Friedlander becomes a part of what he is looking at.

John Coplans is not a photographer I’ve encountered before but I found his Self-Portrait (Feet, Frontal), 1984 quite compelling.  As Angier Says,

“Coplans’s engagement with these details takes the notion of the portrait as a “likeness” to an exaggerated extreme, far away from social or psychological notions of personal identity. His self-portraits begin and end with solid surfaces.”

As I said earlier, I haven’t previously reflected on self-portraiture and Angier distils the key differences nicely:

“You cannot see yourself through the viewfinder, you cannot make any of the myriad of small decisions—about framing, about choosing the right moment—that make you want to press the shutter-release button. You have lost a degree of control. Because you are not behind the camera, you cannot previsualize the resulting image. That means that you may make a picture of yourself that you don’t like. Along with increasing the chances for accidents, it increases the chances that you will make a picture that you don’t understand. “

Chapter 3: ‘People at the Margin the Edge of the Frame’

This chapter made me realise the usefulness of this book.  It definitely added to my knowledge and began to supplement my way of thinking about photography.  For example, I have never before thought of framing as being ‘aggressive’, but Angier’s use of this term is perfectly valid in his comment upon a particular image by Eugene RichardsNursing Home Resident, Dorchester, Massachussetts, 1976:

“The act of photographic composition here is aggressive. The photographer’s own gesture, his act of framing, literally marginalizes his subject, implying thereby an opinion, certainly a feeling, if not a judgment, about the nature and quality of her life as represented in this moment.”

The chapter also provides some interesting additional information on famous photographers and their images.  On Cartier-Bresson the phrase, “the decisive moment,” which was the English language title of Cartier-Bresson’s1952 book, was a mistranslation of the original French title, Images à la sauvette.

“A la sauvette is a colloquialism roughly equivalent to ‘on the run,’ but …there is also an untranslatable future element involved. The instant being described is the one when you are just about to take off, the point at which the shortstop is ready to dash in any direction as he watches the batter step into the ball, or when the pickpocket waits for his victim so he can strike. Images à la sauvette is the right title because it characterizes the photographer’s actions as well as his subject’s.”

On contrasting Cartier Bresson and Winogrand

“There’s something porous about the way Cartier-Bresson frames his pictures, as if the edges of the images are being allowed to leak.”

“….Garry Winogrand, whose work is certainly in the tradition of the decisive moment, frames his pictures differently. He is more aggressive than Cartier-Bresson in terms of his willingness to invade his subject’s personal space. …Winogrand believes in the four walls of the frame. They’re solid.  Nothing leaks out. “

The section on Dorothea Lange was illuminating.  Angier’s explanation that

“The desire to communicate knowledge of the subject by means of the image (otherwise, after all, what is the point of making the picture?) leads the photographer to identify with the subject. There is a potential for bonding, which provides the rationale for a certain kind of portraiture, such as that practiced by Dorothea Lange.”

Seems valid to me.  A few years ago, I saw a vintage print of the Migrant Mother, Nippomo, California, 1936 at the Lowry Gallery in Salford.  It was presented side by side with other compositions Lange made at the scene – these paled in comparison to the famous image.  My understanding of this image has been enhanced both by Angier’s explanation but also by the quotes he provides from Lange and, in later years, one of the two boys included in the image.  There is a significant difference between the stories behind the image as told by the photographer and one of the subjects.  However, as Angier’s says

“Lacking in factual accuracy, “Migrant Mother” has nonetheless been thought to possess powerful symbolic and emotional truth”

Finally, one of the things I have noted in reading this book is that it makes me aware of photographers I might not otherwise encounter.  Ironically, the last photographer in this chapter is Boris Mikhailov who I encountered for the first time in my post on 3/1/12 about my visit to ‘New Documentary’ at Tate Modern.

Finally, whilst I do not normally quote from the exercises at the end of this book’s chapters, I will make an exception for this chapter which I found thought provoking:

“You might actually photograph a homeless person, or someone else whom you perceive to be helpless or marginalised.  Think about the implications of where you locate your subject in the frame.  If you situate your subject at the edge of the frame, will that imply something about his or her social position as a ‘marginalised’ person?  By framing a photograph thus, will you simply be adding insult to injury?  Conversely, what might it mean if you place your subject at the centre of the frame?  Is it respectful to engage your subject so directly?  Or do you thereby turn your subject into a specimen?”

Chapter 4: ‘behaviour in the moment: picturing eventfulness’

This chapter focuses upon two main aspects, that photographers select one instant out of a continuum and that viewers ‘skew’ meaning in the act of interpreting photographs.  It considers the difference between taking and making photographs by comparing examples by Weegee, Robert Frank and Helen Levitt.  Taking the first of these, Weegee

‘was just as likely to turn his camera on marginal details as he was to point his camera at the criminal or murder victim’

Robert Frank photographed his own perception of the spiritual and social condition of Americans in the 1950s.  Referring to the ‘Bell Isle, Detroit’ example given in the book:

“while the picture implies a judgement about the quality of these people’s lives, it is literally about nothing much”

The Americans is about alienation.

Helen Levitt’s work from the 1940s is frequently based around visual rhymes.  She predates Frank but her work is all about ‘poise’

“..about her own poise in finding and framing moment of ballet-like precision, and about the poise that seems to inhere in the body language, expressions and spatial disposition of her subjects on the city sidewalks.”

The chapter closes commenting on the carefully constructed work of Jeff Wall, whose work I had enjoyed in my post on the V&As ‘Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism’ exhibition in 2011.

Chapter 5: ‘You spy: voyeurism and surveillance’

I understand that this is one of the more controversial chapters in this book and that some find some of the images controversial. Well, I’ve read it and formed my own  opinion.  Something that surprised me was the number of examples of work on voyeurism made by female photographers – as Angier says. ‘voyeurism is usually assumed to be a male activity’. The presentation of some of the work was interesting – Diane Baylis’s use of small images designed to draw spectators into  intimacy with the images seems very apt – especially given that they would be very aware of people around them noticing what they were doing.

Daniela Rossell’s use of a person’s environment to put ‘distance’ between the viewer and the subject is an interest idea and worth bearing in mind for the future.

I related to Walker Evans’ work on the subway and have tried some of this myself whilst commuting – see my scrap book.  I experienced very similar technical limitations, even in this day and age, and interestingly resorted to the same remedy – waiting for the train to stop, (albeit whilst using an app that minimized any camera shake!).

Harry Callahan’s work surprised me – I’m so used to the philosophy of shooting the street with a wide angle lens that the concept of a portfolio built up using a telephoto seemed different.  Similarly, I was surprised to learn that Cartier-Bresson regarded a 50mm as the only focal length lens for street photography.

Finally, and using the cover image of the book as the example, Shizuka Yokomizo introduced a  whole new take.  Her ‘Dear Stranger’ series involved sending an anonymous letter asking strangers to stand in their windows whilst she photographed them, without meeting them, from the street.  What a clever idea – photographing a stranger, whilst visibile as a photographer, and remaining an anonymous stranger. To quote Angier. “ ‘Dear Stranger’ is paradoxical, because it suggests both intimacy and distance’.

Chapter 6: ‘Portrait, Mirror, Masquerade’

This chapter focuses on the question of identity and its centrality to portrait photography revolves around two questions:

  • Who am I looking at?
  • Who is doing the looking?

It revisits the idea that in the 1840’s, (the daguerreotype era), the photographer was a technician concentrating only on the first point and that Julia Margaret Cameron (linked to my post) was one of the first to ‘try to get under the skin’ of the subject.

The chapter then moves into very new territory for me when it begins to explore the idea that:

“identity is something constructed, something neither given nor found lurking in some ‘inner’ region beneath the social surface.” p80

The more controversial idea that our perception of gender roles is also a construct is also explored at some length.  In particular, examples are provided and discussed, typically involving self-portraits and double self-portraits, to explore the idea that being female is a performance and therefore a constructed role.  I found this particular explanation helpful in understanding this chapter:

“Sex and gender are no longer assumed to be synonymous, the former being a biological given, while the latter, (often connected to racial and ethnic stereotypes), is considered to be a cultural construction.  Accordingly, male may be reflected as male (and white as black), or the reverse.  The two images of identity are deeply connected, as in a mirror, but discontinuously so.  Sameness is difference, and vice versa.”

Later the chapter references the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan who proposed that the initial recognition of the self as an “I” occurs between the ages of six and 18 months.  The child recognises an image or reflection of itself as an “ideal I” and strives for the rest of life to reconnect with this “ideal I”.  This idea as a metaphor of self establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent on external imagery and images of others. Angier suggests that

“some self-portraits’ can be seen as attempts to reconstruct the original mirror-image to transform the Ideal I into something else something like an alternate identity”.

The chapter closes looking into work with which I am more familiar, Nan Goldwin’s ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ (1982).  Angier however, does pull out detail that I had not previously noticed, for example, the inclusion  on one Goldwin photograph in the background of another, frames within frames.  With these examples the author brings us full circle arguing that Goldwin and her circle do not simply live their lives but they perform them.

Overall this was a long and complex chapter – perhaps the most challenging of the book so far.

Chapter 7: ‘Confrontation: Looking through the Bull’s Eye’

After an explanation of zen archery, Angier explains that the point is to make pictures in which the act of framing/aiming becomes invisible.

“If you’re not distracted by the possibility of adjustments to framing and composition, you can concentrate completely on minute variations of gesture, facial expression and body language…..The resulting image will present itself as a momentary seemingly unmediated exchange between you and your subject”

As an example of this approach, Angier cites the work of Manabu Yamanaka whose nude photographs of very elderly women are described by the artist as “a Buddhist exercise in compassionate contemplation.”

The author moves on to the work of August Sander, with which I am more familiar.  Whilst I have thought of them in terms of social types before, the author’s suggestion that they are a throwback to the daguerroypist’s method, rendering the photographer as a technician was new to me.  Although Angier has linked to daguerrotypes several times earlier in the book.  In the previous chapter Angier explored the idea of ‘performance’ and this is repeated here.

“The photographs then read as records of performances – countering the assertion that the bodies are inherently linked to each individual’s profession.”

The Bull’s Eye mentioned in the chapter title refers to the camera viewfinder which is inherently designed to temp the user to position the subject centrally.  The idea of ‘confrontation’ is considered by revisiting the work of Walker Evans and then moving on to Diane Arbus who makes use of centrally positioned subjects within a square format.

Thomas Ruff, whose work I have seen in galleries, is explored at some length, particularly his notion that ‘photography is incapable of accurately rendering reality’.  Interestingly, Angier suggest Ruff’s image of ‘Betty’ is a clear reference to the soft-focus technique of early 20th century pictorialism.

I found the analysis of Rineke Dijkstra’s images most interesting.  I have seen these first hand, possibly at the National Portrait Gallery, Angier’s states:

“It proves that hitting the target – the face in the center of the viewfinder – can have an unanticipated result.  Instead of producing knowledge, or encouraging wide-ranging speculation about the lives of their subjects, the pictures resolutely remain pictures.  We have to dig hard, and mostly on our own, for their social implications.”

The analysis of Dikjstra’s methods is interesting, the lens axis coinciding with the subject’s navel, the upward tilt of the camera (I struggled in part one of this course to work out the best approach to camera height and whether or not to tilt), and the horizon line bisecting the hips.

I particularly like the following statement by Angier concluding his review of Dikstrka :

“I think the key perception here is that the portrait photographer is not obliged to get her subjects to do anything.  The pose should be an empty structure.”

The final element of this chapter that I found useful was the ‘note on backgrounds’.

“In the sense that they contextualize and actively direct our responses to what we see, all backgrounds function as stage sets.  It doesn’t matter whether the settings are carefully fabricated or found by chance.  They should all be treated as constructions, because they are the bearers of meaning.  They are never neutral.”

Chapter 8: ‘Out of focus: The Disappearing Subject’

I found this chapter illuminating.  All my life I have followed the ‘convention’ of having sharp foregrounds, (and often with sharp backgrounds too), and yet here’s a chapter that concentrates on inverting this /convention’.  Certainly I had not thought of examples of Klein’s and Frank’s work in this way before.

I like the logic of the impact of breaking out of this convention:

“…you create confusion and ambiguity….you force the viewer to ask…The experience of looking changes from passive to interrogative.  “

“blurry images often enter into our own interior space, sometimes without our permission.  We become engaged with them; we cannot look at them dispassionately.  They become more like metaphors than expository descriptions.”

As a child towards the end of the 60s and early 70s I had my first camera – it was a Diana and so I was pleased to see the work of Nancy Rexroth using a Diana in the same period.  What most struck me about Rexroth’s work was her thinking.

“For me a photograph of Iowa doesn’t necessarily have to be about Iowa.  Iowa is flat and clean and has a lot of sunshine.  In dreams and memories it becomes distorted.  Dark evenings, hot-cold sunlight, diffused windows and hallways..Through the Diana they become memories of a place I maight have been before.”

However, my favourite images in this section were those of Uta Barth and I shall certainly attempt to make some images of my own in this style.  These images:

‘register only that which is incidental and ephemeral, implied’….slowly it becomes clear that we are presented with a sort of empty container and it is at that point that people begin to ‘project’ into this space”.

Chapter 9: ‘Darkness’

I found this chapter very interesting and encountered both new photographers and techniques.  Gary Schneider’s work and techniques, (he uses exposures of greater than one hour, placing his subjects in pitch darkness and selectively illuminating them with a flashlight), are quite extraordinary.  Schneider’s aim is to

“undermine the tendency of contemporary portrait subjects to instinctively put on their camera face.”

The long exposure time intensifies the collaborative commitment, and because the subject is inevitably moving during the exposure, the image becomes

“an accumulation of the secretion  of all the expressions that they were making during the exposure – what they were thinking, what they were feeling or what they were projecting”

Scheider uses five foot high prints to ensure that these accumulations are visible to the viewer.

The chapter goes on to consider portraits of and by blind people.  Angier explains that:

‘Blind people cannot look back at the camera.  The proof of the subject’s consent, the eye contact that is the usual underpinning of formal portraits is missing’.

He quotes from the writer Rebecca Solnit:

“…Thus the photographer and by extension the image and its viewers are never acknowledged…..Blind people are subjects who shift the power of [the] gaze.  They remind us of a desire to be seen and acknowledged, and they remind us by its very absence.”

The photographer Nicholas Nixon’s work shows him using photography to describe some of the non-visual ways they blind experience the world – a very challenging project.

Finally the chapter closes with work considering a different aspect of darkness – a condition of being.  Joel-Peter Witkin’s work is indeed dark and challenging to look at and interpret.

The chapter closes takes a look at photographic syntax:

“…the syntax is never invisible, Sometimes it becomes a significant part of what the image is about.”

Chapter 10: ‘Flash’

This was perhaps one of the weaker chapters in the book.  Angier devotes too much of the content to explaining basic flash techniques.  There were interesting points – the movement away from ‘the available light credo’ and the use of flash to mimic behaviour of ambient light.  I was of course introduced to photographers new to me; Mark Cohen extremely close (less than two feet), flash lit images are startling, both for the subject and the viewer.  His preference was to photograph at night:

“when you take a flash picture of somebody at night you get a much more distinct and compact event.”

Also of interest was a further development of the idea of the ‘syntax of the camera’.  This was illustrated through Chauncey Hare’s work in which the even spread of bright light ‘obliterates nuance and eliminates the singling out of select details for dramatic emphasis’.

“Open flash”, (the use of a slow shutter speed to capture some of the subject and its movement by ambient light) is discussed extensively and illustrated with Bruce Gilden’s work.  These images are amongst the most interesting in this chapter with darkly shadowed areas contrasting sharply with bright highlights of areas close to the flash. Like Cohen, Gilden photographs very close to his subject in the belief that, ‘I think by geeting closer I say more’.

Continuing the theme of how the use of artificial lighting has evolved, Angier considers the work of Gregory Crewdson – using examples with which I am familiar.  This ‘new look’ emphasises smooth production values, particularly apparent in Crewdson’s staged tableaux (see also my review of Red Saunders).  Angier describes the particular images as:

‘non-events that have a seductive patina of significance’.

Finally, Angier covers the relatively recent work of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia.  These photographs made using a remote strobe are also non-events but the dramatic lighting makes them seem full of ‘enigmatic significance’.

Chapter 11: ‘Figures in a landscape: Tableaux’

Tableaux refer back to tableau vivant the climactic point in a play ‘when the actors on stage formed a clearly composed visual image, (a tableau), at which point they would freeze, and hold their positions until the curtain came down.

In this chapter, Angier covers each of the selected phographers in much more detail than usual.  Beginning with August Sander, he looks at ‘Young Farmers, 1914’ in which the featureless background resembles a stage set for his stationary subjects.  This is an unsettling image with the suited farmers looking uncomfortable in their suits and incongruous in the landscape – this contributes to what Angier refers to as a sense of ‘eventfulness’.

The work of Joel Sternfeld is considered at some length.  I hadn’t previously appreciated that he works in 10 x 8 which explains the more formal qualities of his work.  Sternfeld makes very large prints and the images in the book were too small to easily pick out the quite small details on which they turn.  Again, like Sander, there is a visual tension – the viewer senses that the people in the images do not really belong.  Angier refers to this as ‘a sympathetic dissonance, provided by the tension between pose and surroundings’.  Angier also usefully places Sternfeld into context as:

“less detached than Evans, and less jarring than Frank…..Instead of focusing on socially marginalised people, he worked at the margins of the landscape itself.”

Jeff Wall’s work, an example of which I recently saw at the V&A, is presented as very large back-lit transparencies.  The figures in the images appear to be on about the same scale as the viewer – which makes the viewer feel present in the image. Wall’s images are carefully constructed, the figures are posed and placed, the location carefully researched and, as Angier points out, elements in the image cross reference important paintings.

Angier then considers the work of Tina Barney – whose work is new to me.  Barney uses a view camera to re-enact family snapshots.  Again these are printed very large and present a public manifestation of private lives. The text raises interesting questions about whether Barney can maintain critical distance from her subjects in the context of photographing friends and family, (a witness v a participant).

The next photographer, Barbara Norfleet, apparently succeeds at maintaining this critical distance.  Although I have not experienced the type of project she undertakes I can relate to some of the points she makes:

‘If you’re going to make it successful, you have to interact with the people tremendously while not interacting with them at all’

‘..but yet they’re used to my being there, they will behave as though I’m not there”.

Finally, the chapter concludes with the work of Larry Sultan, with which I have some familiarity.  However, I have only seen individual images in isolation and so hadn’t made the connection of how the images interrelate and ‘encapsulate an entire career’.

“Imagine then, the difficulty of undertaking a portrait project with your own parents as subjects, in which the exercise of critical awareness and compassion alike, become part of a collaborative enterprise.”

Text plays an important role in this project and the iterative ‘conversation’ between father and son about how they feel about the project is key to understanding it.  Clearly a book I will have to borrow.

Chapter 12: ‘Commentary: Digital Personae’

Chapter 12 links in nicely with the work I did on Barthes, by initially considering the studium and the punctum.  The text moves on to consider the way in which some digital artists contradict the perfection achievable through post production by using manipulation to create entirely fabricated life forms, (for want of a better descriptor) and chimera.  The example used is work by Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher.

The chapter moves on to consider the work of Nancy Burson, responsible for developing software that simulates ageing, who has also created images using ‘electronic averaging’ software.  Her work culminated in the development of ‘The Human Race Machine’ which enabled viewers to digitally alter their ages, ethnicities and facial features.  Angier contrasts this nicely with the work of August Sander.  The latter makes thousand of discrete portraits whilst Burson uses thousands of source images to create the single image output from the software.

Jeff Wall is the photographer given the most prominence in this chapter.  I have seen his well known ‘Mimic, 1982’ in galleries and in the press but it remains a striking example of a staged tableaux.  Similarly, I have seen ‘Dead Troops Talk’ but had been unaware of how ie was put together – a similar approach to that used by Red Saunders whose exhibition I reviewed.  Unfortunately, the printed version of this image has much less impact and is considerably more difficult to view than the 4m plus backlit transparency in a gallery.  One of Angier’s paragraphs on this image is worth quoting in full:

“As a photographic object, “Dead Troops Talk” has a peculiar relationship to the physical reality that it depicts.  Not only is it an enactment of the aftermath of a fictional event, it is also an image that has been constructed out of many images.  Although, it may be said to represent a single scene, it does not represent a single instant.  It is a montage of different moments.  This spreading out of time, across the whole field of view, might seem to constitute a challenge to the basic nature of photography, breaking the customary link between the picture and its single temporal reference point.  Wall does not think so.

“I don’t think it’s really broken, because everything in [it] is a photograph.  The montage is composed of acts of photography, even if there is no simple photographed moment.  I don’t think any photographic qualities are eliminated except the single moment in which the entire image was made.  I admit that that may be the decisive absence, but I like to make a picture that derives from that absence and contemplates it””

Angier then links the image back to art historical reference points and then, most elegantly of all in my opinion, takes the chapter as a whole full circle by cross referencing Wall’s work from the 1980s to Oscar Rejlander’s composite print from 1858, “The Two Ways of Life”.

It is of course worth noting that digital imaging has moved on hugely from the examples used in this chapter. The CGI technologies available today make some of the earlier examples used look fairly primitive.  I wonder what an update version of the book would have to say about todays 3D imaging?

P23: Selective processing and prominence

Project brief

Take one image that you have already taken for an earlier project, an image in which the issue is the visual prominence of a figure in a setting. This might well come from projects 19 or 21. The aim of this project is to use the digital processing methods that you have available on your computer to make two new versions of this image.

In one, make the figure less prominent, so that it recedes into the setting. In the second, do the opposite, by making it stand out more. Possible selective adjustments are to brightness, contrast, even colour intensity if you are presenting a colour image.

The actual technique will depend on the processing software that you use, for example Photoshop or Lightroom or Aperture, or any other. The tools available to you will also depend on whether or not you shot the image in raw format. You will need to find out which of several methods you can use.

P23-A Original image


P23-A: ISO 400, 24mm, 1/80@f8

The original image of Shat Thames shows a small female figure, close to an intersection of thirds, but wearing dark clothing and in a shadowy area of the street.

P23-B: Making the figure less prominent

P23-B: ISO 400, 24mm, 1/80@ f8

The figure in this image has been made less significant using adjustment masks in Lightrooom.  The main mask, (for the body) has the following settings:

P23 Screenshot 1

the brightness has been reduced, and given the predominately dark tones of the figure, increasing the contrast has further darkened it.  I have also made a further mask to darken the background immediately behind the figure, (as below).

P23 Screenshot 2

Lightroom allows you to layer multiple masks and so quite a fine degree of control can be exercised.  Therefore further masks were added to make the face less bright, and to desaturate and darken the blue denim jeans.

The overall effect of these adjustments is to make the figure much less prominent than in the original image P23-A.

P23-C Making the figure more prominent

P23-C: ISO 400, 24mm, 1/80@f8

In this particular image, making the figure more prominent is largely the opposite of the steps in P23-B however, I have used slightly different masks.  The values used for this image are:

P23 Screenshot 3

The overall exposure and brightness have been increased to brighten the figure against the background, (which again has been slightly darkened).  Reducing the contrast has brightened the figure, (this sounds counter intuitive but it is because the figure is predominantly quite dare).  An increase in saturation makes the jeans stand out more against the grey paving and a small increase in clarity improves the micro contrast.

Overall, the figure, particular the skin tones and blue jeans are subtly more apparent within the image.

Screenshots

By way of further information, below are screen grabs from Lightroom showing the pins for the relevant masks (screenshot 4) and the masked area of the main mask (screenshot 5).

P23 Screenshot 4

P23 Screenshot 5

sdfsafas sdf j flj fljsd fljkalsf klads fklasj fklaj jsfklasjfdklajsfklajf lajsfdlkajs fdlkaj sdflkj aklf jaklf jasklf jkalfj dklas jfklas jflkas jfakls jfklas fjakls fjkla fjlkas fjkla fjalk fjaksl fjlak fjkla sfjklaf jakl fjlak fjalk fjalk fjalk fjalkf jalk fjalk fjalk fjlka fjalk fjalk fjalk fjkla fjal fjalf jalkf jalk fjalf jlak fjlkaf jlakf jalks fjalkf jlak fjlakf jlkasf jalksf j

Summary

Like the example in the course notes, the figure in this image is a relatively small area within the image.  Despite this, the examples produced, and particularly P23-C, the lightening example, are able to illustrate the effect of selective processing upon prominence.

Project 19: A single figure small

Project brief

Shoot a single person so that they will appear small in the frame. An extreme size relationship is key.  Consider how obvious to a viewer’s eye the single figure will be in the image.  Some delayed reaction adds to the interest of looking at this kind of photograph and there is even an element of surprise if the scale of the place is larger than expected. Pay close attention to where the figure is places, the more off-centre, the more dynamic the composition is likely to be.

P19-A

P19-A: 29mm, ISO 200, 1/50@f8

In planning this image, I knew that sooner or later somebody would lean against or over the balcony at Tate Modern.  It was therefore simply a question of pre-focusing and then waiting, with the camera to my eye and waiting.  I took several images of different people over about 30 minutes and this was the composition I most preferred as it conveys the sheer height of the chimney wall.

Assignment 3: Buildings in use

Assignment brief:

Choose five or six buildings and for each produce between two and four images that describe effectively and attractively the way in which these spaces are used.

For each building, it is important to conduct some research beforehand, either archival or personal, or both, so that I have:

  • a good understanding of how and why it was designed the way it is
  • an opinion on its effectiveness as a usable space.

Try to encompass variety in the choice of buildings including in size and purpose.

Write a short statement in my learning log giving my understanding of the function of each building, the way in which it was designed to achieve that and how well you believe it succeeds.

In addition, describe briefly how I initially set about showing the important features of each building photographically, and what I learned photographically during the course of shooting the assignment.

Planning

The buildings I have selected to photograph are:

  • The library of a professional body
  • St Pancras International
  • Kew Gardens’ Palm House
  • Wimbledon stadium
  • Canary Wharf underground station
  • Tate Modern

SUBMISSION

Building 1: The library of a professional institution

Statement

This listed building, in the heart of Westminster, was built between 1910 and 1913 in a “monumental neo-classical design”.  Many of its rooms have crystal chandeliers, French walnut or oak panelling and fine works of art.  The library that I have photographed is reserved for the use of the institution’s members and contains a world-class collection of specialist books.  The international prestige of the institution that owns the building, together with the building’s Westminster location go a long way towards explaining the quality of the facilities.  This library, whose features are protected by listed status, has evolved over more than 100 years and contains both historical archives and the latest digital information.  However, as a facility for its prestigious members, this library has more than a merely utilitarian function.  It embodies the history and achievements of the institution and its membership.

My opinion of its effectiveness is that as a ‘flagship’, a room that conveys heritage and status to its users, this library is very effective.  It is undoubtedly a world class facility.  Libraries such as this hold knowledge that is not yet, and may never be, available digitally.  However, storage space will always be at a premium and my images also show that from a user’s perspective, the ever growing content may be crowding in on the working space available. 

A3-1A

A3-1A: 22mm, ISO 100, 4s@f8, tripod

Surely this sitting area is the epitome of what many might imagine such a library to look like.  The grouping of leather chairs provides a comfortable location for discussions.  The sitting room like lighting emphasises that this is a private rather than public space.  The highly ornate fittings, especially the fireplace, and the line of busts embody the wealth and prestige of this institution.

A3-1B

A3-1B: 17mm, ISO 800, 1/30@f5.6, hand held

This high level view from the gallery shows the remainder of the room and gives an indication of how the space is organised.  Large green leather topped tables are provided for working.  From this viewpoint we get a sense that although the room is very grand, useable space is at a premium.

A3-1C

A3-1C: 19mm, ISO 100, 1/8@f4, tripod

The view as seen by a standing user of the library.  Journals are densely stacked on top of free standing shelves.  As must be the case for all libraries worldwide, the ever growing collection of knowledge threatens to overwhelm the available space.

A3-1D

A3-1D: 17mm, ISO 400, 1/4@f11, tripod

The user’s view from a seated perspective.  Again, the tradition, values and prestige of the institution dominate the senses.  The atmosphere and apparent functionality of this library contrasts sharply with the digital world in which many of us now live.

what i learnt

The photographic challenges of this location were different than than those of the other buildings I have photographed for this assignment.  There were multiple light sources with very different temperatures which meant that I had to work carefully in post production to try and achieve the best white balance possible.  There were also extremes of contrast and I had to resort to HDR for one of the images, A3-1D.  Fortunately in this location I was able to use a tripod, and although finding suitable points of view amongst the furniture took time, (I spent about four hours photographing the location), I didn’t need to resort to extreme ISO ratings in order to make images.  If I were to shoot the location again, it would be nice to have access to a tilt and shift lens as the use of a very wide angle zoom has meant that inevitably some of the verticals and horizontals in each image are distorted – but as the brief for this part of the course states, this is not architectural photography.

The quality of this location, meant that I was able to experiment with many compositions.  I tried to avoid what I saw as cliches, say a coffee mug alongside an open book for example, and concentrated on trying to convey the aura that users of the location might perceive.  I also deliberately varied points of view to provide both an overview and also the perception of a potential user of the library.  Only one image, A3-1B, contains an actual user of the library but this was helpful to give a sense both of scale and usage.

Building 2: St Pancras International

STATEMENT

St Pancras took over from Waterloo as London’s Eurostar terminus in 2009 after an £800m renovation programme that began in 1996.  The iconic train shed, the arched cast iron station canopy, featured in many of the images, was constructed in the 1860’s and was then the largest of its kind in the world.  The renovated station needed to both to function as an international station, for which very long platforms are required, and as a ‘destination’ or ‘location’ in its own right – calling for prestigious shopping and eating facilities.  The latter have been created within the original station undercroft.  To emphasise  its role as a destination, public art is also displayed within the station, notably the 30 foot  high ‘The Meeting Place’ statue by Paul Day and a statue of Sir John Betjeman who campaigned to save the original station from demolition.  During the 2012 Oympics, St Pancras will provide a shuttle service to the games and this explains the presence of the Olympic circles at the station.

Whilst planning to photograph this ‘building in use’, I have been very mindful of certain characteristics of its function.  It is somewhere that you arrive, wait and then depart.  For those arriving it  perhaps sets their first impressions of the capital and the country.  Travelling is stressful and tiring, this building also needs to be provide some respite for its users whilst remaining efficient.

A3-2A

A3-2A: 28mm, ISO 1600, 1/80@f7.1

A woman and child hurry through the engine shed to reach a domestic departure. The international platforms on their left are glassed off and have an air of exclusivity. The spectacular archwork of Barlow’s engine shed wraps around the scene and makes it clear that this is no ordinary place.  Curiously, the station was surprisingly quiet during this particular visit and so perhaps I was fortunate to capture such an uncrowded moment. 

A3-2B

A3-2B: 24mm, ISO 800, 1/50@f4

To the west of the station is the glorious St Pancras Renaissance hotel and the nearest platform interfaces with those splendid facilities – hence the appearance of a leather sofa close to the platforms – something that surely would be completely incongruous in the setting of any other railway station. One of the uses that  I identified for this building was ‘waiting’ and surely there could be few more pleasant places to wait than that occupied by this gentleman.  Note also the gothic splendour of the former booking office now a wine bar / restaurant within the hotel.

A3-2C

A3-2C: 28mm, ISO 800, 1/50@f4

New arrivals pause to take photographs of themselves by the Betjeman statue – surely evidence of this building’s status as a destination – somewhere that people want to record that they have been.  In the backgound the Olympic rings promote the near future of the station whilst echoing the shape of the famous St Pancras clock by Dent.

A3-2D

A3-2D: 22mm, ISO 800, 1/100@f4

As I worked on this project, a related theme occurred across many of the locations – possible a future personal project in its own right.  Whereever I looked, St Pancras, Tate Modern, Kew and so on, commerce was increasingly heavily integrated into the design and use of the building.  Indeed, in some, I could credibly argue that commerce had almost become too fundamental and had begun to intrude into the buildings’ primary functions.  In this example, I was able to take advantage of the split level design and juxtapose the commercial redevelopment of the undercroft with the platforms in the engine shed above. Perhaps the lure of the shops goes someway to explaining why there are relatively few people in the station’s main areas.  

what i learnt

I took many more photographs of St Pancras than those selected and as in earlier assignments, I initiallly found it easier to include people in the images by using a wide angle lens that meant that nearby people did not necessarily realise that they were included in the frame.  Passengers at a railway station do not expect to be photographed but I found that on the whole, by being confident and looking like I knew what I was doing, I was able to move freely throughout the station and capture the images I was looking for. 

I had a clear idea, before shooting of how I wished to communicate the  function and use of this building and so I was able to structure my approach to capure the ideas of arriving, waiting and using this ‘destination’ building.  I hope that it comes through within my images that I think that St Pancras is a spectacular building and a great success in both its design and its use. 

Building 3: Palm House, Kew Gardens

STATEMENT

The Palm House was constructed between 1844 and 1848 and has gained iconic status as the world’s most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure.  It is a grade 1 listing building.  It was specifically designed for its collection of exotic palms and is topped by an uninterrupted space for the spreading crowns of tall palms.  The design of the Palm House is essentially that of an upturned ship.  Heating pipes beneath the iron gratings provide the hot steamy environment required by tropical plants. The floor layout is based upon planting in beds rather than pots and this enables wider pathways and seats for visitors.  The South Wing contains plants from Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, the main central section houses plants from the Americas, the North Wing shows plants from Asia, Australasia and the Pacific.

In photographing this building I was mindful of its dual purpose – to provide a viable environment for exotic plants to thrive and to provide a location in which people can view those plants.  Of course for many visitors the iconic structure will also play a key role in their visit and so I have also tried to show the uses of the building in the context of that structure.  In approaching this assignment I have also borne in mind that the Palm House environment is hot and humid and is not very camera friendly.  I have had to be careful to avoid condensation problems on the lens and within the body.

A3-3A

A3-3A: 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/60@f5.6

The ground floor of the Palm House is criss-crossed with paths that follow the iron-gridded heating ducts.  The bushy nature of the exhibits means that  it is not possible to frame a shot giving  a complete overview of the glasshouse.  Here I have elected to capture an intersection, showing both visitors and the context of the iron arches and glass of the upturned boat design of the Palm House.  The use of a very wide angle lens has enabled me to show an extreme field of view whilst making use of its optical characteristics to emphasise the geometry of the wrought iron framework.  The abundance of light is an important part of the function of this building and hence it was important to capture that sense of light within this series of photographs. 

A3-3B

A3-3B: 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/250@f5.6

As stated in the research statement preceding these photographs, this uninterrupted space at the top of the building is pivotal to its function as a glasshouse.  However, it is also vital to the user experience, it gives them the opportunity to walk through the ‘canopy’ of these rare palm specimens.  For this image, I pre-positioned myself  and waited quite some time for this family to begin to walk into the area where I had chosen to position them. They provide a nice sense of the scale of the platform and of the trees.  Again, the use of a very wide angle lens enabled me to explore the wrought iron archways and capture the sense of light through the glass. 

A3-3C

A3-3C: 20mm, ISO 3200, 1/50@f4

I was mindful of the need to try and capture the visitors interacting with the main purpose of the glasshouse – the palms.  I had seen this particular specimen from the balcony and I waited for around 45 minutes before some visitors came along and looked up at the plant.  This nicely illustrated both the scale of the specimens and the sense of wonder induced in the visitors.

A3-3D

A3-3D: 17mm, ISO 1200, 1/100@f7.1

My final image at this location once again seeks to capture the interaction between visitors and this place.  Interestingly, my standing by this tree, apparently photographing it, acted as a catalyst and attracted other visitors to come and look at it.  This woman came into frame very quickly and I had a split second to frame and capture the moment as she stared up at the plant.  Again through the use of the wide angle lens, she had no idea that I was photographing her. 

what i learnt

When I first walked into the glasshouse I was concerned that I might not manage to create the images that I hoped for.  Despite it being a glasshouse, light levels were really quite low but more than that it was initially difficult to work out how I was going to frame images given the jungle-like nature of the foliage.  Also, given the nature of the place, visitors were clearly not expecting to be photographed.  I resolved these problems by taking a long walk around, sitting on a bench for quite a while and really focusing my mind on how I might be able to say what I wanted to say.  I then made more progess, albeit slowly, and I also took quite some time to make sure that I thought I had enough useable images before I left.  One of the results of this on-location deliberation is that I think that these images have a more ‘storyboarded’ feel than some of the others in this project.  There are context shots, a middle ground and a (relative) close up.  The weakest of the images is the first one, and were I to re-shoot, this is the one I would concentrate upon. 

Within the assignment, I am asked to comment upon whether this building is a success.  In this case my view that it clearly is – it’s a very specialised place with and international reputation and a considerable history – but is succeeds in use by both types of its users, plants and humans. 

Building 4: Wimbledon Stadium

STATEMENT

I live within walking distance of this stadium and so know it reasonably well.  Built in around 1928 the stadium is England’s premier greyhound racing track.  Weekly races are held on Friday nights.  On Sundays,  the stadium hosts stock car and banger racing.  There is a large glass fronted grandstand as well as a much larger, (and mostly closed), stand for standing spectators. Bars and ‘food to go’ feature prominently in most people’s night out at the stadium.

Of the buildings I have chosen to photograph, this is the one in which people will feature most prominently.  This building only comes to life when it is being used; outside of race nights it is largely a structure without a purpose.  The only time I can gain access to the building is race nights and so I will be shooting in very dark conditions with high contrast from floodlights etc..  Having visited race nights before I know that no flash is permitted as it distracts the dogs and so I will be working at maximum aperture and maximum ISO.  I hope to capture the interaction of people with the event and each other.

A3-4A

A3-4A: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/50@f4

On visiting a greyhound race night at Wimbledon Stadium it is soon apparent that the dog track is the least used part of the building – the real action takes place on the terraces and around the bookies in particular.  Greyhound racing is about money not dogs.  Here I have used a wide angle lens to shoot the punters from amongst the punters.  The left hand side of the image gives a sense of the crowd on the terraces and the brightly lit grandstand to the left.  To the right, the track, and beyond the unused terraces are empty in contrast.

A3-4B

A3-4B: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/320@f4

The terraces are very dark and the track is relatively brightly lit.  However, I soon learned that greyhounds move incredibly fast and shooting an image that combined the spectators and the dogs required patience, a motordrive, and lots of practice.  The spectators only interact with the races in very short bursts of about 2 minutes and so I had to shoot the finish of quite a few races before successfully capturing this shot.  My motordrive was nowhere near fast enough for this type of work nor was my lens fast enough to provide a shutter speed that could freeze the dogs in motion – although some of the sand kicked up by the front runners has been caught in mid-air.  I’m pleased with the way that this image captures the fenced off divide between the spectators, many of whom must peer at the race through wire mesh, and the track.  Separation and segregation were quite apparent to me at this location, the dogs and owners on the side of one fence, the punters in the cold and dark on the terraces and lastly, those sitting in the warm eating and drinking in the grandstand  but very removed from the physical sensations of the race going on outside.

A3-4C

A3-4C: 105mm, ISO 3200, 1/30@f4, image stabilisation

After the race comes the payout.  Punters immediately form queues by the bookies’ stands and cash in their slips.  Large wads of cash are on view.  It’s a fundamental part of the experience of a night out at Wimbledon Stadium.  Note that despite the activity at this stand, the completely empty terraces in the background hint at just how marginal these events have become. 

A3-4D

A3-4D: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/30@f4

Unlike the terraces, the glass fronted grandstand is very busy.  I found this part of the building very interesting because you have people sitting in a darkened space, looking out through glass, trying to see very fast-moving dogs from quite a distance.  Naturally this means that many will watch them on the monitors and so you have the interesting paradox that people have travelled to, and paid, to visit a venue where they then watch the events on TV screens – interesting.  Of course, the social aspects, the betting and the food and wine explain why they are there. 

I decided that the best way to capture the essence of this building was to shoot along the line of the seating area just as a race was finishing.  Photographing inside this area was very conspicuos and so I used the final moments of a race to hide the sound of the camera going off, (I was using a motordrive to maximise my chances of capturing a useable image).  The exif data reveals just how dark it was inside the grandstand. The role of eating and drinking is also captured within this scene, in respect of the latter, note the plethora of beer glasses along the benches.

Note that I can use fill light in post production to produce a ‘better lit’ version of this image but then noise becomes a real problem. 

what i learnt

The other buildings within this series are huge successes, often internationally recognised and acclaimed.  This building is different, it’s a survivor, gritty, marginalised and with an uncertain future.  The success it enjoys is in fact based upon those characteristics – people visit it because its unusual, a throwback to a different time and different rules apply.  I was cautious about photographing it, there was a possibility of being confronted but by being confident and open my visits passed without incident.  Technically, this was really quite a challenging location, very dark, fast moving and very high contrast in the spot lit areas

Building 5: Canary Wharf Underground

STATEMENT

Canary Wharf station opened in 1999 and is used by more than 40 million people a year.  It is said that each rush hour the population of a small city passes through its gates.  As the gateway to London’s financial district, this station was designed to be iconic and Sir Norman Foster’s design is often compared to a cathedral.  The station is connected to two Docklands Light Railway stations by underground shopping malls and in recent years the area has become a major tourist and shopping attraction at weekends.

This is also a building I know well as I use it every working day.  Like St Pancras, (building 2), this is a building you pass through, you arrive, often wait and then leave.  However, the cathedral-like interior and the space age design is quite unlike any other underground station – certainly in London only Westminster underground comes anywhere close.  In photographing this building I have sought to capture its scale, by showing the relative smallness of its users, and also its function.  Escalators feature frequently in my images partly because they are a major feature of this building but also because they represent what it is all about – being in transit.

A3-5A

A3-5A: 33mm, ISO 3200, 1/160@f4

The initial descent into the ticket hall at Canary Wharf is quite spectacular.  It involves some of the longest escalators on the underground, but unlike other stations, it is an experience of light and space rather than a very restricted view.  From this initial image, made riding the escalator, it’s already possible to see why Foster’s design is often referred to as a ‘cathedral’.  The diminishing size of the people as they approach the vanishing point gives a clear indication of the epic scale of this building.  People can be seen in transit, buying tickets and standing waiting this is clearly a highly functional space and its size gives it the capacity to achieve its objectives.

A3-5B

A3-5B: 20mm, ISO 3200, 1/100@f4

Looking back towards the escalators in the previous image, and at a later time of day, emphasises the futuristic design of this location.  The spectacular entrance canopy acts as a focal point for those entering and leaving the station whilst the huge concrete slabbed ceiling suggest that this is engineering on an epic scale.  People seem small and lack individuality in this space, they are transient, passing through and being ‘processed’. 

A3-5C

A3-5C: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/125@f4

Descending down one further level from the ticket hall brings the Jubilee line platforms into view.  This is why people come to this building.  By shooting at a fortuitous moment when people are able to walk straight off the end of the escalator into a departing train I’ve managed to emphasise the idea of transit – the fundamental function of this building.  Note how the building has become much more utilitarian and less of a statement as we approach its functional heart.

A3-5D

A3-5D: 33mm, ISO 3200, 1/30@f4

A part of the user’s experience will aways be waiting – and I’ve spent more hours than I care to think about waiting at Canary Wharf – I have chose to capture that aspect of using this space.  These three people waiting on the west bound platform are completely oblivious of the fact that I took several shots of them.  Like all habitual users of this building and the related transport system they come pre-equiped for waiting and passing time – they have books.  Although the  platform area is highly utilitarian concrete and steel cladding, note how the oversized station sign serves to highlight the this is a ‘destination’, a statement station. 

what i learnt

I was apprehensive about photographing Canary Wharf.  It’s the sort of venue where I need time to ‘get my eye in’ but I also knew that tight security means that I would attract attention and so I needed to photograph efficiently.  I got round this by making several different visits during the course of the day, making shots of a particular area and then going on to mentally shoot and plan the area for the next visit.  Looking back on the selected shots, I hope that my decision to repeat the use of escalators works for viewers.  For me there is a clear connection between these and the efficient transitory experience of using this building – I would understand though if some found it repetitive.

In terms of the assignment question ‘is this building an effective useable space’ then my answer is ‘absolutely’.

Building 6: Tate Modern

STATEMENT

Tate Modern opened  in May 2000 and I can still remember watching the build up to its opening in a TV documentary series that covered its long slow transformation from the former Bankside Power Station.  It is the most visited modern art gallery in the world with approaching 5m visitors annually.  The museum has five levels of which the largest, the Turbine Hall is five storeys high with 3,400m of floor space.  Its success means that it is currently being extended with the additional space opening in time for the 2012 Olympics.

In thinking through which buildings I would choose to photograph I wondered if Tate Modern was a stretch too far.  It’s an iconic and much photographed building – does the world need another photograph of the Turbine Hall and if so, how could I make mine original? Beyond the Turbine Hall I was keen to capure the interaction of the users with the place, this was another building in which people would feature quite prominently.

A3-6A

A3-6A: 17mm, ISO 3200, 0.5s @f4

As I had anticipated, the Turbine Hall was the most challenging space, both artistically and technically, of any of those I photographed for this assignment.  It was made even more challenging by the fact that the current exhibition, ‘Film’ by Tacita Dean, is an 11-minute silent 35mm film projected onto a gigantic white monolith standing 13 metres tall at the end of a darkened Turbine Hall.  I experimented with a variety of viewpoints and, noting the different ways in which people choose to view this film – some sit on the benches, a couple lie on the floor in the middle ground and a solitary man watches from very close to the screen – I chose to try and place these different interactions with the film into the context of the whole of this part of the Turbine Hall.  This was when I ran into considerable technical problems as below. 

Tate Modern’s website refers to a ‘darkened’ Turbine Hall.  In reality this  means incredibly dark and of course tripods are not permitted.  I tried a variety of images and tried placing my camera on the floor, on the benches and on the balcony with with little success – stability was only achieved at the expense of an uninteresting viewpoint.  Eventually, I recalled reading some years ago about the idea of a string or cord ‘tripod’ and so I improvised one using my camera strap and shot the above wide open with a 0.5s exposure.  I’m hoping that the image can be viewed as acceptably sharp in the circumstances, clearly it will not withstand printing at A3 size. 

A3-6B

A3-6B: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/640@f4

Continuing with the theme of capturing how people use this space, this image of the room, containing the installation ‘Staircase III’ by Do Ho Suh , picks out a number of themes that intrigued me as I worked on this part of the assignment.  Firstly, I was struck by how many visitors quickly photograph the exhibit and then move on.  It’s almost as if the acquisition of that photograph has become the way in which they interact with the art – little time is spent looking at or thinking about the art work, the photography, often on a phone, is the trophy – proof that they have been there, that they have ‘seen’.  Secondly, I noticed how many people walk straight through a room, not pausing or discernably ‘looking’ at the art at all – in this case the woman, fourth from the right, did just that.  Does the sheer volume of art on display in this building contribute to these effects?  Is there simply so much to see that quality time cannot be spent? Interesting questions perhaps for another future private project.  

 

A3-6C

A3-6C: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/30@f4

 The ‘Interactive Zone’ at Tate Modern is a relatively small part of the building that makes use of the ‘landing’ space between stairways and galleries.  It’s aim is to offer visitors insight into the art currently displayed from the Tate permanent collection.  Both of my last two images were made in this area.  Interestingly, since making the last two images in this assignment, Waldemar Januszczak has written about the perhaps excessive amount of video in galleries such as the Tate.  I can sympathise with that point of view and that sympathy also makes it more difficult for me to be clear cut about whether this part of the building ‘works’.  It has engaged viewers, its strident colours and shape make it visually striking but at what price?  Personally I find it a shallow distraction from the art but, if the objective is simply to give visitors information about the art, then, as can be seen, it has worked.

A3-6D

A3-6D: 40mm, ISO 3200, 1/40@f8

My final image was made in the same area of the gallery.  Like the previous photograph I felt that the gallery was being perhaps too self-referential in its approach in this area.  The fact that Nicholas Serota appears so prominently in this image reflects my take on this although I should make it clear that I hold Mr Serota and his work in very high regard – and of course, I have made a choice as to who was on the screen when I fired the shutter.  Again, putting my opinion on the content of the gallery to one side, does this part of the building deliver what it was designed to do? The answer of course has to be yes, simply look at the number of people who have paused on this landing, leaving standing room only, to find out more in the ‘interactive zone’. 

what i learnt

Tate Modern is surprisingly photographer friendly.  I made photographs in almost all the galleries and even the shops! It’s also a complex ‘ecosystem’ in its own right – four images are far too few to try and describe Tate Modern.  As I worked many other projects suggested themselves to me.  Two that appealed particularly strongly were a  project to consider how people view the art, especially through the taking of fleeting photographs, and also the commercial machine that is Tate Modern.  The prominence of gift shops, cafes and opportunities to spend money struck home forceably and I made several images of these. 

OVERALL SUMMARY

I found this to be a demanding assignment.  The research and venue selection were quite straightforward but I had to push myself out of my comfort zone when making the photographs.  I made images in places where people would not expect to be photographed, I photographed in iconic locations and sought to put my own point of view across whilst ‘parking’ any memories of the many images that have been made of those places.  The brief itself was also something that I would not have set for myself.  Previously I might have photographed the architecture or the content or the activities but I don’t think that I would have tried to depict whether the buildings were successful.  I would also have been less likely to try and put across my own point of view.  Encouragingly, my sense is that I am making a permanent transition in my outlook.  Some of my previous photographic endeavours are beginning to feel more superficial, less original and somewhat insubstantial.  This is a good thing, I’m making progress.
On a technical level this assignment has also been a learning experience.  I often photographed in very mixed lighting and so have had much more practice at working on the white balance in post production, (I always shoot in raw).  In particular, and I didn’t anticipate this, virtually all these images were shot at very high ISOs.  As a result I have invested literally hours of post production time reducing the noise in these images.  Surely as I have been through this learning curve I will have made some mistakes, for example trading too much noise agaist softness but nevertheless I’ve learnt a lot.  I’ve also reminded myself of what a critical difference it makes to get things right at the point of capture – and I’ve still got plenty to learn! 
 
 

Project 18: How space changes with light

Project brief

Take one or two locations where I can conveniently return a number of times in different lighting and photograph on each occasion.  To get full value from this project, consider making two variations of photograph.  In one, set the camera up in exactly the same position each time.  In the second, see  how the different lighting positions suggest different viewpoints and compositions.

P18-A

P18-A: 17mm, ISO 100, 2s@fll, tripod.

This first shot was lit by a large north facing window around the middle of the day.  The room is a boardroom /large meeting room.  The building is surrounded by a number of larger high rise buildings and so outside of this time of day, light levels, particularly in December, are very subdued.  Like all the images in this project, this was made using a tripod and a two-way spirit level that ensured that the camera was level horizontally and vertically.  Despite this attention to detail, and the use of lens correction profiles in Lightroom, the use of a very wide angle lens has introduced some distortions into the images – although the course notes emphasise that this section is not about architectural photography.

One thing that caught my attention as a result of making this image was the reflection of the books in the surface of the table, (at the far end of the table).  I made a few images of these reflections which worked technically but did not make interesting images – mainly due to the horizon of the black table edge and the fact that the rear wall in this image is not square but runs at an angle.  This latter fact meant that the reflections and shelves appeared uncomfortably distorted.

P18-B

P18-B: 17mm, ISO 125, 1.6s@f11, tripod

When darkness began to fall I moved my camera position.  The window area that would have overpowered daylight images can now be rendered in relatively dark tones.  This has the effect of making the board table seem more prominent and dominant within the room.  The new camera position also seems to make the room more spacious.  The fact that the room is not rectangular has also become more apparent.

P18-C

P18-C: 17mm, ISO 125, 120s@f11, tripod

Whilst making P18-B I realised that there was potential for an unlit shot in which I would have to rely upon light sources outside the room.  A glass panel in the door provided a useful shaft of light across the floor and ceiling.  The relative darkness of the room meant that the relationship with the outside world changed significantly from P18-B and the outside is now brighter and more prominent.  At a stretch, these changes in how the space is lit perhaps communicate that work is over and people are outside enjoying the evening.

P18-D

P18-D: 17mm, ISO 400, 0.6s@f11, tripod

The change to night time also led to a new camera position seeking to highlight the relationship of the room to the external environment.  The lights of Canary Wharf are brightly visible from this room and I have combined two images to accentuate the contrast  in the window area.  The room too, and by implication its potential occupants, now appear more outward facing and potentially engaged with the exciting commercial world outside.  Ideally, I would have been able to move the dying pot plant before making the image but this didn’t prove to be feasible and so I decided to picture the room exactly as it was.  The absence of the background book shelves also helps to add a new sense of status to this particular room.

Overall

I recognise that this isn’t the most interesting of locations – but a part of the overall brief was that I should be able to adapt and make the most of the characteristics of the light that is available at the location.  I hope that I’ve managed to show something of the way that the character of this room and its apparent relationship with the outside world change as the light changes.

Project 17: The user’s point of view

Project brief

For this project, choose two or three buildings or spaces designed for a particular activity that users undertake from a specific, distinctive position.  For each location, take one or more photographs that attempt to capture the user’s point of view.  Consider height, orientation and lens focal length (which controls the angle of view).

P17-A A standing spectator’s point of view

P17-A: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/60@f4.0

This night time photograph shows a greyhound race at Wimbledon stadium from the point of view of one of the punters in the stand.  The race events consist of quite large breaks  between races whilst bets are placed and refreshments bought.  The races are very short and the dogs flash past, (they are just visible in this image).  This means that the crowd gathers quite briefly in the stand, focuses on the race and then dissipates for a while.  This image aims to show both the crowd engaging with the race and the social / night out aspect of the event.  In this context, the stadium becomes merely the venue for the event.  Note that these are extreme conditions for getting the exposure right, it’s very dark, the floodlights increase the contrast range and there is no possibility of using a tripod.  I’m using my camera at its highest ISO, its maximum aperture and relying on noise reduction in post processing.

P17-B A seated office worker’s point of view

P17-B: 50mm, ISO 100, 1/50@f1.8, tripod.

I made this image during the shoot for project 16.  As most of the time in this office is spent on screen based work, I have deliberately elected to use a 50mm lens, to best mimic the worker’s field of view, and I have also chosen to use a narrow depth of field to depict how much of the office space the worker will actually ‘take in’ whilst concentrating on screen work.  The view on the other side of the screen can be seen here. Note if my tutor advises that my decisions in this image do not meet the brief, I also have some wide angle views based upon the user’s sitting position.

P17-C A kneeling worshipper’s point of view

P17-C: 50mm, ISO 1600, 1/100@f2.8

The distinctive position that wasn’t either standing or sitting was, of course, the most difficult to decide upon.  On a visit to Westminster Abbey, I observed that many of the visitors to the Abbey kneel and so I decided to make this image from a kneeling position reasonably close to the altar.  I made the assumption that a worshipper would be most likely to look at the central cross and so this is where I focused.  I again used a 50mm lens to represent the user’s field of view but, whilst realising that a user would see the scene in landscape format, I consciously chose to use portrait format to capture the scene.  I imagined that this would be representative of the human tendency to ‘scan’ the scene.  The extremely low light meant that I had to use a very high ISO and a wide aperture.  This has resulted in very shallow depth of field although I feel that it is a realistic representation of a worshipper focusing on the altar and being relatively unaware of those around him or her.

Overall

Surprisingly, and partly because of the time of the year, (mid-December), this project, along with some of the others within this part of the course, turned out to be something of a challenge in low light photography.  It also proved to be slightly more challenging than I anticipated in terms of translating ideas for images, of which I had several, into useable images.  I made at least two trips in which either the images I had in mind proved impracticable or the results I obtained were not up to the standards I was looking for.  As always, a useful experience from which to learn.