Yesterday I came across the work of Barry Cawston in a small exhibition at Bristol Folk House. I had also briefly encountered Barry’s work at Hereford Photography Festival. He’s definitely a photographer who’s worth learning more about.
I’ve just spend an hour watching the Omnibus film on Eve Arnold (1912-2012). As the title ‘In Retrospect’ suggests, this film covered her entire working life but in this brief post I am just going to pick out two points that Arnold makes.
Firstly, when she talked about her working practices she explained that she starts shooting early, behind the scenes, before the main event. In this way she hoped that when the real action started, people would already have forgotten she was there.
Secondly, quite early on in the documentary, she suggests that the difference between a good photographer and an average photographer is”
“the wit to take advantage of the accident”
i.e. she recognised the role of luck and serendipity in her work.
It’s nice to see that for even one of the greats of photography, a grounded approach can pay dividends.
This is just a temporary draft – I’ll be editing it soon…
This exhibition, at the National Gallery International, in Melbourne, fits in very well with my recent reading of ‘Train you Gaze, by Roswell Angier. The exhibition explores how we look at photographs, their composition and framing; the ways in which the subjects are directed or captured anonymously, and ideas of the gaze between subjects, the photographer, and the viewer. It is concerned with and encourages ‘looking at looking’. The exhibition is divided into four sections:
- ‘Seeing or looking’
- ‘Returning and denying the gaze’
- ‘Looking at looking’
- ‘The observer and the observed’
‘Seeing or looking’
Bill Henson, (Australian 1955- ), photographed crowds on the streets of Melbourne in his ‘Untitled 1980/82 series’. The event is not explained but the faces in the crowd appear anxious. There doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the individuals standing together, their gaze is directed elsewhere to something we cannot see and few are aware of the camera. The photographs are slightly unsharp and fairly grainy and, judging by the depth of field and perspective, look like they were taken with a telephoto. I was left with a sense of a sombre occasion, of people taking something in whilst, for a while at least, being unaware of those around them and of the camera.
‘Returning and denying the gaze’
Anne Ferran, (Australian 1949- ), displays ‘Scenes on the death of nature III, (1986)’, a tableau vivant which traditionally might have invited a predominantly male gaze. However, details within the image and in particular the expressions on the faces defeat that expectation.
Chi Peng’s, (Chinese 1981 – ), work ‘Consubstantiality’ displays white powdered topless men , although gender is unclear, touching hands through, (I think), a glass wall between them. The title refers to the intertwined relationship of the Trinity, and the work expresses the apparent yearning for these bodies to co-exist.
Brook Andrew’s, (Australian 1970- ), ‘I split your gaze’ shows the same face, split into two but with the right half on the left side of the frame and vice versa. The photograph was originally a nineteenth century ethnographic portrait of an Aboriginal man and Andrew’s treatment of it means that the man is no longer subject to our gaze because the attention of the viewer is ‘split’ and viewing has become more involved.
‘Looking at looking’
David Thomas, (Northern Ireland, 1951 – ), photographed the Brandenburg Gate, but a large part of it is obscured by a large black enamel square that reflects back a faint image of you the viewer. Thus you are forced to see yourself within the act of looking.
A large Thomas Struth, (German 1954- ), ‘Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin’ is also on display. See my posting on Struth of dd mmm for a more considered review of his constructed works.
‘The observer and the observed’
This section of the exhibition is predominantly concerned with war zones including Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. Ashley Gilbertson’s ‘Iraqis go about their routines’ shows a very striking image of a soldier and the view through the bunker telescope – it speaks of the power and limitations of each of the two sides. It also reminded me in style of Tim Heatherington’s World Press Photo Prize winning image of an exhausted soldier.
John Immig photographed coverage of the Vietnam war directly from his television set establishing still greater distance between the observer and the observed. His approach makes the viewer think about the channels through which this news is fed – not something that would be achieved by conventional ‘first hand’ images.
Lyndell Brown and Charles Breen are Australian war artists who were embedded in Afghanistan. Their work shows the more human side of war, the interaction between troops and traders. Their approach differs from the news agenda and provides thinking space for the viewer.
Although quite a small exhibition, ‘Looking at Looking’ was well worth visiting. The highlights for me were Ashley Gilbertson and Thomas Struth but as always, I also learnt from exposure to new photographers and different approaches to work.
I suspect that Henson may have su
This assignment will draw together all of the various strands explored so far including the skills in camera handling, observation and reaction, and the underlying appreciation of what spaces and buildings mean for the people who live in and among them. Imagine that you are on an assignment for an intelligent, thoughtful travel publication (not tourism promotion) and demanding considered, in-depth treatment.
Aim to produce sufficient images on specific location to fill, say, six pages. This would mean about six final images as chosen, but at least twice this number of good, publishable images from which to make the final selection. Decide on a place that you know well, or are prepared to take the time to know well, and have sufficient access to in order to complete a strong selection of a dozen images. It could be a town, village, the borough of city, or any area that you can define well enough. Aim to show the character of the place and of the people who live there with as much visual variety as possible. ‘Variety’ should include variety of subject matter and of scale.
When you have completed the photography, write a short assessment in your learning log of:
- what you set out to achieve, including a description of how you see the essential character of the place
- how well you think you succeeded, including opportunities that were not available to you because of lack of time or access
- how you might have approached the assignment if you had simply been taking photographs with no end-result in mind (meaning an article to be published).
SUBMISSION: SIX CHOSEN IMAGES
Click any image to view full size in a new window.
Image A4-A is an establishing shot, it sets the context for the image series. The South Bank is a place for strolling, it’s iconic and bounded by one of the world’s most famous rivers. The Lowry-esque figures provide a sense of business and of scale – similar to the ‘small and many’ people anonymous project. Their clothing communicates the time of year and, the fact that some are pausing to take photographs, tells the viewer that this is a notable destination. The paved path and the receding line of street lights make it easy to understand that this is a pathway. This image was made from a high vantage point on Tower Bridge, I think that it works well as a scene setter.
A4-B is a close up of a temporary outdoor exhibition that took place, albeit on a different date, in the background area of A4-A. I think the individuals looking at the photographs are locals rather than tourists. The fact that the children within the buggy are looking at the children in the display appealed to me. The woman too is clearly paying attention to the display, reading what it is about, and so the image provides a sense that this is a place with thought provoking things to see. The figures in the background continue the sense established in A4-A that this is a popular and well used place. The baseball-hatted foreground shadow, (which isn’t me), adds further interest.
Within my selection I wanted to ensure that both local people and visitors were included. These BMX riders, below the Royal Festival Hall, provided the opportunity both to capture their activity and also its context. It’s my understanding that the graffiti in this area is tolerated and so it provides a great backdrop to the cyclists. I took many many photographs at this location honing my ability to fire the shutter at the right moment. I have chosen this particular photograph because the onlooking participants in the mid-ground and background add a sense of the experience shared by the cyclists. There is some motion blur as the shutter speed needed to synch with the flash was not fast enough to freeze the movement within that part of the exposure lit by the ambient light.
The brief stated that I should use all the skills developed in the course so far and that of course includes candid photography as here in A4-D. It would be easy of course to simply photograph the various street entertainers who frequent the South Bank. Instead, I set out to capture the interaction between visitors and entertainers. This candid shot is open to the accusation of being something of a cliché but the look on the girl’s face and the reaction of her mother convinced me to include it in the series.
In A4-E, I have chosen to change the balance between the people and space. This composition also helps to suggest, as I believe was the case in reality, that these two are so immersed in their conversation that they have temporarily become unaware of the place and even of the temperature – witness the woman’s frozen right hand. In an ideal world I would have preferred the lighting to be reversed i.e. a lit foreground and a darker background – see my notes further below on how well did I succeed.
As the sun sets at the Westminster end of the South Bank, particularly in winter, very long shadows are thrown. This change in the light also brings about a change in the mood perceived within the images. The people seem more relaxed as they stroll in the low sunlight. There is a warmth to the colour temperature of the image and the long shadows add graphic interest. There is a sense that these visitors are calm and content.
SIX FURTHER IMAGES
In order to separate out my ‘second’ six images I concentrated on looking at how a ‘first’ six selection might work as a sequence for the purposes of the magazine article. This proved a helpful technique although I believe that some of the images from the ‘first’ six could be substituted by some of the ‘second’ six and that there would still be a meaningful sequence.
I made images of this scene from a variety of positions including behind the crowd, within the crowd and along the line of the crowd. I preferred this image because the frontal view allows us to see some of the reactions within the crowd, and what they are focusing on. Although the individuals in the crowd are relatively anonymous you can tell from their body language that some are engaged in what is happening on the beach. From the point of view of the travel article I would hope that this image provides the writer with a surprising and unexpected scene to write about.
A4-H is a relatively close 50mm shot showing a visitor literally engaging with a street entertainer! By keeping the image simple and uncluttered I hope to convey the surreal and eccentric nature of this scene. In this example, the river and background buildings are recognisable as London but simple act as a backdrop to the scene set up by the entertainer.
I followed the principles of the ‘a single figure small’ project for this image. It attracts very positive feedback from those I have shown the series to and is one of my personal favourites. When viewed at full size, the inscription. ‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe, the sun in Heaven and the Thames on Earth.’ seems especially apt as the figure faces the densely built panorama in front of him. The red bus, although a small detail on the right hand side, instantly identifies the location as London. I originally took this image because to me it suggested that a little peace and solitude is possible even amidst the hustle and bustle of the South Bank at weekend. I’ve included it in the ‘second string’ because the writer would also need to be covering that angle – which may not be the case.
This ‘close and involved’ image captures something of the nature of Borough Market. In the foreground we see some of the ‘goodies’ that are on sale. The buyer looks pleased with his deal and the crowd in the background suggests the business and popularity of this location. The strip light also serves as a nice compositional device to lead the eye towards the contact point between the two people as money changes hands.
There are many people trying to sell things on the South Bank. The red colour of this woman’s mat, tights and hair immediately draw the eye in this scene, especially in view of the dark winter clothes of everyone else. The fact that the passersby are literally passing her by makes this woman seem even more out on a limb. The similarity in texture and pattern of her fur coat and the background silver birch trees also adds a sense of quirkiness as does the yawning man on the right hand edge. Perhaps this image is a less obvious one to include, but for me, part of the attraction of the South Bank and of the people present there are the slightly oddball scenes that I encounter as I walk along. I hope that this might also be true for some of the readers of the travel article.
I am also taking a slight risk with this final image A4-L. I was keen to capture people eating and drinking on the South Bank – although the winter weather limited my subject matter! The strength of this image is that there is a lot to see both outside and inside -the expression on the nearest man’s face, the man in the window showing photographs on his phone, and the mixed medley of external and internal people and their reflections. The South Bank is a place where people socialise and talk and this image captures quite a number of people engaged in just those activities.
The downsides of this particular image are that its letterbox format may not suit the magazine and the use of a diagonal viewpoint means that there is a considerable amount of unused space on the left hand side. Perhaps the designers could use this for words for the heading – but perhaps I kid myself!
What I set out to achieve
The South Bank is quite a diverse area with many different things happening at any one time. I tend to walk it from West to East and then back again, but with an additional stretch near the London Eye on my return leg. This means that broadly I pass through:
- the formal arts and concert area
- the ‘tolerated’ graffiti and skateboarding zone used by some very skilful people
- the edgier arts area of Gabriel’s Wharf
- the design shops of the Oxo Tower
- the tourist areas around London Bridge and Borough Market
- Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge
- Tower Bridge and More London
- Shad Thames
- The London Eye area.
This meant that I had plenty to go at during each of my visits to the area. I was quite concerned to ensure that I met the magazine brief and sought additional clarification from my tutor. I set out to show people experiencing this place. These people were an eclectic mix, tourists, visiting Londoners and a few locals. Even in January, there are plenty of people out and about on the South Bank and the place becomes busier and busier as the day progresses. I approached the assignment by pre-thinking the range and types of shots I hoped to secure. These included:
- a scene setting wide shot establishing the context
- people interacting with each other
- a person or people interacting with the location – its environment or facilities
- the range and variety of events, activities or pastimes around the location
- a sense of the iconic location
- a close up of someone engaged in an activity in the area.
How well did I succeed?
This project proved more challenging than I expected on a number of levels. One constant challenge was the light. By definition, the South Bank faces north; it is also a relatively narrow strip of open space bounded by dense and high buildings to its south. This means that in January, when I was shooting, most of the South Bank is in day-long shadow with only a few places that have light by virtue of gaps between the boundary buildings. Although, over my visits, I began to learn those places where light does get through, more often than not I simply had to use higher ISOs, wider apertures and try to make the best of the available light. The same was also true for camera positions where the narrowness of the pathway, bounder by river and buildings limits the options and range of backgrounds.
Prior to beginning the assignment I drafted some storyboards of the subjects I might photograph and also brainstormed a list or two of potential topics and ideas. I thought about actually outlining the article in order to make sure my images would ‘flow’. With the benefit of hindsight, I think that it would have been worthwhile writing that outline – however, in practice, I would assume this would be part of the journalist’s role.
In carrying out this assignment I added to the approaches in earlier projects and learnt by doing so. For example, I ‘staked out’ certain areas, pre-framing, pre-focusing and then waiting, hoping for a jogger, a cyclist or some other relevant subject to appear. Non of these images made my final selection but I did learn from the experience, in particular I learnt to compose my images in a way that maximised the chance of a successful image whether the random subject appeared from the left or the right etc. etc. A similar pre-framing approach was used to capture images of skateboarders and BMX riders where trying to catch the action through the viewfinder was simply not possible.
It also became clear to me during the assignment that when I had a clear idea in mind, my photography was more engaged, more productive and more likely to result in a successful image. During those periods when I was less focused, without a developed idea of what I was looking for, the photography was more difficult and less successful. Of course, there were moments of inspiration during such times, luck does favour the prepared!
The final point I would make is that, again with the benefit of hindsight, I invested too much time in certain areas seeking particular shots. For example, I spend pretty much a whole day at Borough Market but in the end used only one image from that long day. I enjoyed myself whilst I was there but by committing too much to that location, I actually limited my options for my final selection – I could have generated more choices and more variety – lesson learned!
If I had approached the assignment with no end result in mind
With no end in mind, I imagine that I would photographed the area in a reactive way, responding to events or scenes that caught my eye in passing. Doubtless some such images would have some visual interest but I doubt that they would be less likely to work cohesively as a whole. Moreover, such an approach is likely to be less telling, in the sense that I would be engaged in reacting rather than communicating my own viewpoint.
Summary and conclusions
I hope that my learning log notes on this assignment are reasonably comprehensive. The key learning point for me was to reinforce the idea of ‘start with the end in mind’ – the clearer I am on this the better my results can be.
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
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
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:
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).
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
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:
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.
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).
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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.
In this project, draw on your photography so far in this course and on the techniques you have learned, to vary the balance in any one picture situation. Aim to produce two images, using the same general viewpoint and composition, varying the balance of attention between the person (or people) and the setting they are in. You can combine this project with any of the relevant earlier ones, if you prefer.
In this first image, which is a ‘subject unaware’ shot, the man in the blue top dominates the scene by virtue of size, placement and colour. (He is posing for a picture by his girlfriend in both these images).
In this second image the same activity is taking place but the viewer’s attention is now more on the scene and especially the sunlit background. The man’s blue top still means the he is a significant figure but , the position and contrast of the man on the left hand third may make him the most prominent figure. The fact that the foreground sunlight has dropped significantly, even though there were only minutes between the two exposures, has also helped to reduce the importance of the foreground.
Both these images were taken from the same position with the same focal length and yet they are quite different – objective achieved.
The purpose of this project is to discover ways of including a person or people in a photograph of a place, while deliberately making them unrecognisable and as a result less prominent. Consider the techniques listed in the course notes, but also feel free to use any other method I might think of. Make between two and four photographs which use different techniques to achieve this. A successful image will be one that is primarily about the place, but in which one or more figures play a subsidiary role to show scale and give life – to show that it is in use.
Using the ‘small and many’ approach, perhaps as many as 100 individuals have become anonymous human traffic passing by the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank of the Thames. Taken as dusk fell in early January, hence the high ISO required.
These two women not only ‘face away’ and so make themselves anonymous but, by peering into the shop window, they draw attention to the quirky shops at this location, Gabriel’s Wharf.
Rendered anonymous by silhouette/reflection, (in a fountain), this man forms only a small part of the image. Perhaps this image could say more about the location as although the wrought ironwork curves interestingly the sky may be too dominant in the image.
Three small figures running through the unusual foreground structures are anonymous due to their actual and relative size within this image. The setting sun provided colour in the sky but also helped to keep the figures anonymous by virtue of the relatively lower light levels within the foreground.
In the context of the course as a whole, these aren’t my strongest images but then again they have been made primarily to satisfy the particular requirements of the brief – and I believe I have achieved its objectives.
Choose a busy location, interior or exterior, and find a viewpoint,that will give a satisfying composition as well as a good sense of the nature and function of the space.
Spend some time watching how the flow of people works – the patterns they make, any surges or lulls in movement and numbers – and how this can contribute to the composition of the shot.
Aim to show the ‘busyness’ of the place, which might involve altering the composition, perhaps changing the focal length of the lens, or experimenting with a slow exposure (the camera will need to be on a tripod) to create blur.
More London has become a very popular location to visit and promenade – even on a cold and drizzly January Saturday. Tower Bridge provides an elevated vantage point and the Thames Path provides a natural path for the eye to follow into the picture. I experimented with a 6 stop and 10 stop ND filter – the flow on the latter proved to be too ‘thin’ for this particular scene and dull lighting. I had many images to choose from but prefer this one in which there is movement in the foreground and relatively sharp standing people in the mid ground. This relatively broad composition also satisfies the brief’s criteria that the image should give a sense of the nature and function of the place.
This second example was made from underneath the Millennium Bridge. It was almost impossible to predict when people would step into the frame and so I took many shots, and many were near misses. I like the fact that in this one, the boy is looking through the bridge deck to see what I am doing. He appears almost stationary but the feet of the man on his left show that he is moving.
This was a fairly straightforward assignment compared to others within the course. One tangental learning point I applied was that knowing how difficult it can be to use a tripod in this area of London, I had calculated my exposure time, determined my composition, attached the cable release etc etc in advance of setting up my tripod so that it was ‘on display’ and in position for the least possible time. On this occasion at least, this strategy worked.
This week, I attended Simon Roberts‘ talk at the RPS Documentary and Visual Journalism group. After working as an agency photographer in the late 1990s and winning the Ian Parry Award, Roberts worked as an editorial photographer for the colour supplements before beginning to work solely on long term projects for books and exhibitions. Roberts covered two of his book projects in this talk:
He also briefly touched on his first project, ‘Motherland‘.
We English (2007)
The theme of ‘We English’ is leisure. Roberts beliefs that how we spend our leisure time say a great deal about us. He shoots 5×4 from the roof of his mobile home in order to obtain an elevated perspective that emphasises the mid-ground and removes the presence of the ‘artist’. Roberts aims to have people one third of the frame size or smaller. He says he is shooting “people with landscape, but the landscape is primary. ” He consciously challenges himself to photograph things he normally wouldn’t, e.g. the car park rather than the beauty spot.
The full ‘We English’ project can be seen here.
The Election Project (2010)
Commissioned by Parliament as the official election artist, Roberts used Egglestone’s ‘Election Eve‘ as his starting point. He aimed for one photograph per day, each on a different theme, although in practice he exceeded this target. Once again he used the 5×4 from the roof of his mobile home enabling him to provide context by capturing the melees of press photographers. He also showed the mundane realities of ordinary politicians fighting for their seats.
Roberts provided an interesting insight into his working practices – he plans meticulously. For example, in order to cover the election, for which he would have no advance notice of its announcement, he spent 3 months pre- planning. This included using google street view to pre-plan which street in Redcar would have a view of the closed steel plant at its end – key to making his point in his image of Redcar.
Roberts mentioned that two of the images in the series were montages. One he discussed, the other has yet to be ”detected’ by anyone – now there’s a challenge to work out which one it is!
The Election Project can be seen in full here. My favourite image from the series is Nick Clegg below.
This project was only covered very briefly. Some of Roberts approach tied in nicely to my current reading of Train Y our Gaze. Roberts says his portraits in Russia were inspired by August Sander and for this reason he ensured he didn’t enter into any dialogue prior to making the portrait. The example he discussed is below.
The full Motherland project can be see here.
All in all this was a very worthwhile evening. Roberts is an engaging speaker and he’s particular good at explaining his aims and thinking processes both for his projects and the individual images.
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.
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.