Exercise 2.9 A Night Portrait

My partner’s recent cancer scare has left me feeling intellectually torpid. A think layer of ice has formed over my creativity. And so, with the need to press on with my OCA work, a few nights ago I took a pick-axe to this ice and hammered at it with all my might. I apologise, though it’s a thin shallow apology, but the exact specification of exercise 2.9 has been overridden. The essence of the Night Portrait is present but the methodology and limitation of three photos has been quietly neglected as I used the exercise to confront the photographic equivalent of writer’s block.

The chosen location is important. The question mark sculpture outside the University of Suffolk, in Ipswich, suggests a reflective comment on how I felt about the last few months. The blurring of people as they passed through the shots is also a commentary on how I felt about the world outside of my own recent experiences: figuratively speaking my life had frozen but the world was still moving. Self-portraiture also seemed to be appropriate for the way I was thinking and thus I have placed myself in some of the photos. I look straight into the camera in an act direct communication with myself, encouraging me to grow and move on.

The technical stuff:

  • Slow shutter speeds: between quarter of 1 second and 15 seconds.
  • Correspondingly the ISO varied from 800 to 2500
  • Tripod used throughout, as was a radio controlled shutter release to avoid camera shake.
  • Post production: dodging and burning, particularly the former on the sculpture’s surface to bring out more texture. This helped to emphasise the rather surrealist quality of the photos.
  • How polite people can be: very few would walk in front me when I was posing and even when not in the shot many avoided getting between the sculpture and the camera.

 

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Fill in Flash: Exercise 2.8

Seeing this exercise was coming up, a few weeks ago I bought a flash gun. Flash is something that I’ve never really got to grips with in my previous photography but the point of enrolling with FiP with to stretch myself; try new out new approaches; and to find some kind of ‘voice’ as a photographer. In the past I’ve probably hidden behind the notion of only shooting with available light in order to side step the need to get to grips with using a flash gun. In the distant past I have used one but had varying degree of success. I could get the Weegee style photographs with a big bold flash illuminating everything but never seemed to get the result I wanted when using ‘fill in flash’. To overcome the obstacle flash photography had become I reminded myself that I was no longer shooting with film and so would not have the inevitable delay between shooting and seeing the results. With digital if I wasn’t happy with the result I could adjust the flashgun and shoot again.

The work of Martin Parr has also given me an encouragement to try and master the dark arts of flash photography (pun intended!). I can recall the fuss his work created all those years ago and so too his election as a member of Magnum. Unfortunately, what I cannot recall is my reaction to his work at the time but I’m fairly certain I would not have liked it; being one of those who saw monochrome and grain as the way to record documentary photography. But time is a great healer and now when I look at his work such the Last Resort I don’t see exploitative images but photographs full of warmth, depicting resilient people, proud of themselves and the traditions to which they subscribe and belong. Moreover, they seem to be a testament to a working class that was soon to all but disappear from the English cultural landscape. The more I look at the Last Resort the more I’m drawn to see it as a prophecy as to the consequent decline of the working class, or at least working class identity.

Of course all of this is an aside from my own work and I make no claims to be emulating Parr. Rather his work has inspired me to learn the technique. A lot of guidance on using fill in flash aims readers to achieving subtle effects and while I can understand the reasoning I would prefer to leave an open mind as to how the results should look. In stead I would argue that the context should be the driving force behind the aesthetic and so the relative intensity of the fill in flash results could vary from one photo shoot to another.

Below is a set of photographs that are some of my first attempts at fill in flash. While the results seem OK there was lots of adjustments made to both flash settings and the camera in order to obtain them. My overall impression is that it’s harder than it looks and will take a lot more practice and experimentation to master the technique.

Everything’s Gone Green: Ex. 2.12 Pixel Painting

I can’t say the prospect of Pixel Painting filled me with excitement. This kind of image manipulation is not something that appeals to me. That said in my research around it I found some remarkably sophisticated works – those of Nick Knight for example.

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Nick Knight: Louis Vuitton, 1996

Also I came across other more practical applications that whilst clever I do not warm to – for example ‘colorizing’ black and white photographs.

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IColoureditForYou: Abraham Lincoln – Restoration and Colourisation

For the former they are part of fashion imagery and function as advertising. In this sense the commercialism inherent in the work trivialises it. For the latter the changing of the image into something it wasn’t leans toward the lack of honesty that I don’t like and which I have written about elsewhere on this blog.

Nonetheless, I did have a go at it. With my newly acquired Photoshop CC and the Martin Evening’s huge tome “Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers” I set about manipulating a selfie I took a few months ago. Perhaps I jumped in at the deep end with this aspect of Photoshop but I just couldn’t get it to work for me. I was using layers, masks, lasso tools, channels etc etc. and I faffed and faffed. I spent hours not succeeding! In the end I said ‘sod it’ and gave up.

But I came back and this time kept it simple. I made copy of the jpeg and with brushes and varying degrees of opacity painted directly on to the image. The results are by no means sophisticated and nor do they hint at, or attempt to mislead. It has a D.I.Y punk rock aesthetic about it that appeals to me – it’s the opposite of Nick Knight’s work. Furthermore, I am please that I have worked through my initial misgivings about pixel painting and found my own way of relating to the technique. Anarchy & Peace…

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References:

http://nickknight.com

https://fstoppers.com/video/how-amazing-colorization-black-and-white-photos-are-done-5384

There’s more: I have continued to play around with this image and produced the image below. I can’t say I’m on top of this skill-wise but I suppose I’m learning – slowly…

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Picture Analysis

The FiP workbook (p. 83) asks us to analyse a picture and in doing so answer a set of questions. Though I read through them beforehand I deliberately did not undertake any research into the image or the work of the photographer, Michael Buhler-Rose.

 

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Michael Buhler Rose: “The Conversation”

My plan was to see what I read into the image by answering the six questions in the workbook before addressing question seven which requires looking at Buhler-Rose’s website. I felt it was important not to be influenced by what I might discover on the site but to discover if my thoughts and observations aligned in any way with that of artist himself.

My approach has been to make brief notes on the questions on a sheet of A4 with the image, called ‘The Conversation’, printed in the middle. As can be seen this allows elements within the image to be directly linked to my text through a series of lines and arrows. As a method this seems to work quite well but I acknowledge it is not the same as an academic essay.

This first scan answers Question 1

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The second scan takes on Questions 2 – 6

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Question 7

Having visited Buhler-Rose’s website and looked at all 23 photographs in ‘Constructing the Exotic’ I feel my initial thoughts were not too far of the mark. The notes for the series are reproduced here:

This series explores the conventions of the figure in painting and photography through the lens of historical colonial and Indian art. By placing the unfamiliar within the familiar the door is opened to questioning the identity of the “exotic other”.

In these images western women who were raised either within the Indian subcontinent itself or simply born into its socio-religious heritage become, in one sense, the “other”. Their placement, the familiar contemporary western cultural landscape, draws the viewer into their world and pulls at the seams of the notion exotic.

Some of the series of portraits of women alone – the costumes and jewellery by the way are those of dancers from an Indian tradition. “The Conversation” is one a small number in the series that represent a narrative (or should that be broken narrative?) in the sense that something is going on in the image but we not entirely certain as to what that something might be.

Further insight into the series came from reading a review of it on line from the Bhakati Collective. It would seem my initial thoughts about the work exploring the appropriation of ‘eastern’ traditional cultures by western industrialised ones is perhaps only partially correct. In fact the series far more layered with meaning than I had initially thought. Buhler Rose himself and the women within the photographs, while of European origin actually live in Indian based culture and community in Florida. As such the work’s commentary about the exotic placed within familiar western contexts is complex and nuanced. Moreover, the works of art that inform and influence Buhler Rose’s photography enhance this theme.

We were asked to consider his work along side 19th century photographer Henry Peace Robinson and even earlier artists like Raphael.

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Henry Peach Robinson: “A Moving Tale”

Compositionally there are similarities. The work of Peach Robinson in depicting rural farm workers looks staged but then he would have had the technical limitations of shutter speeds of over 1 second. Photographing people going about there everyday lives would have been almost impossible without a staged approach. However, for Buhler Rose his inspiration comes from a 19th century artist called Raja Ravi Varma. He was Indian and painted portraits in an attempt to depict the intelligence and cultural sophistication of his people to westerners who regarded as lesser beings. As the review of “Constructing the Exotic’ goes on to suggest; we live in a far less homogeneous world compared to that of the 19th century and this is reflected in the work of Buhler Rose.

References

http://bhakticollective.com/2009/09/04/constructing-the-exotic-a-review-of-the-art-of-michael-buhler-rose/

http://www.michaelbuhlerrose.com

Exercise 2.7 People in Light

Over the past few days I have been trying to capture the same person in different kinds of light. The results are shown below. In capturing some of the images I have been adjusting the White Balance on the camera though in general I was quite happy with the results when taken on auto WB. In fact some of the WB settings for ‘red bicycle light’ produced some weird effects whereby the model had white highlights on her face and neck. Still it was good to experiment with this aspect of my camera that I’d not used before.

The same can be said for the flash lit photographs. I recently acquired a flashgun and as this is something very new to my photography I have found its learning curve to be very steep! So this exercise has given me the opportunity to acquire new skills albeit painfully. Two of the images below are lit by flash. I have been drawn towards the work of Martin Parr of late and while I find some his images quite challenging I feel inspired to find a way to use my new flashgun in a similar Parresque way. Skill wise I’m not quite ready and need to experiment some more.

Further technical issues encountered involved ISO settings. Reasonable shutter speeds were required so as not to have my model holding a pose for too long – I think the lowest I used was 40th Sec. This necessitated adjusting the ISO setting (also my lowest f stop is f4) and in shooting ‘candle lit’ I went as high as ISO10000. By contrast in ‘mid day sun’ I used ISO64.

Clearly some of these poses are staged to accommodate the exercise. No one would be surprised to discover that my model doesn’t generally sit with a bicycle rear light on her lap. Others however, do reflect her in her normal day to day activities. The FiP work book says the final sequence should be set out in a grid. To me this suggested some form of linking between each image and to pick up on this theme I had my model wear the same purple coloured fleece in each photograph. By accident it also shows how the same colour changes according to the type of light and camera settings.

Portraiture is not something I done much in my past. Yes, I’ve taken the odd snap but I’ve not approached it with any serious intent to capture the essence of someone. Technically I find it quite hard and have been put off it by not having the right ‘kit’ – lighting, reflectors, soft-boxes, studio access etc. Also, this approach to photography didn’t sit well with my preoccupation towards ‘honesty’ that I wrote about in my feedback to Assignment One. The ‘available light’ would have always been the guiding principle in any portrait I’ve taken in the past. When I set off on this journey of FiP I recognised I would need to bring new approaches to my work and portraiture is one of them. I know this exercise was about taking images in different kind of light. For me, at times, dealing with those technicalities has been at the forefront of my mind and therefore I’m not sure that I have given the capturing of a portrait enough attention. Of course FiP is a learning curve itself and now that I’ve experienced working in different kinds of light next time I attempt a portrait I can give it the appropriate level of attention.

Exercise 2.6 Near & Far…

This is one of those FiP exercises were I say to myself, “I know about this stuff. The relation between f-stops, focal length and depth of field, I’m happy with this…” On reflection when this happens I should pinch myself or do something do more painful (Hold on I did, more of that later…) because knowing the theory is different from turning out quality images that meet the exercise brief.

Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on myself. At the location the light wasn’t really helpful and the dark brooding sky was laden with imminent rain. I had to take the camera way up the ISO scale – 1000ISO at one point – to gain the kind of f-stop I needed for a decent depth of field. While I felt rushed I think a bit more forethought and planning would have helped.

That said we had some fun. While some of the poses are quite regular on some of the shots I asked my model to do ‘finger wagging angry’ and another occasion to turn suddenly as if discovering she was being followed. The purpose of this was to have a practice with the ‘continuous shooting’ mode because I’d not use it much on my new camera.

One thing I did do in the way of preparation was to visit the owner’s manual for my lens. Nikon include a depth of field table for each of the key points of the zoom – 24mm, 35mm, 50mm etc etc. I printed these out, cut them down to size and laminated them. I thought keeping them in the camera case would be useful. While cutting down the lamination sheets to size I sliced through my fingertip with a scalpel. The blood was red but the air was blue! I’ve been using these things for years and was really angry with myself for making such a schoolboy error. As they say, you have to suffer for your art!

While at the location I did hold out my hand with Elastoplasted finger and take a shot but as the background was out of focus it doesn’t qualify to for this series. Postproduction on the images below was fairly minimal. We have some big skies here in East Anglia and on the day (latish afternoon) they were looking very moody. Nonetheless, in a few of the photos the skies were ‘burnt’ a little to bring out some texture in the clouds. Otherwise the photographs were as taken.

Exercises 2.3 & 2.4

Below are the images of the cut up and marked photographs required for ex. 2.3. As the subject was Mike’s activity, in one of the images part of Mike became the foreground. That in itself seems counter intuitive. I appreciate its only his shoulder and upper arm but I would never have considered that unless I run through this exercise. The aim was to photograph the activity and I suppose this then becomes the subject – of course the activity could not exist without the person doing it. So, as the camera was peering over Mike’s shoulder to examine what he’s doing with his hands part of him has become the foreground.

How did it feel to now the image has become an object you can touch? Fresh out of the printer it didn’t feel strange at all – before digital media all photographs felt this way, however, once cut-up it did feel slightly odd. I enjoyed the tactile qualities the ‘dissected’ image brought. The individual pieces curled a little and I had to use a ‘pritt stick’ to glue them down and this added to the child-like fun I was having. Once in place to be photographed my mind was taken somewhere else. This cutting up, repositioning and gluing down was all very analogue. I’m sure it could have all been done with Photoshop but the tactile physical experience and interaction would not have occurred. These transformed images now looked like examples of photomontage and I was reminded of the political work of some of the Dadaists.

The last image in the sequence is for exercise 2.4 and is an example from my recent non OCA Work blog post. I took dozens of photos of this and the best I could come with is in that recent post. It shows the roofline and the sides of the building completely cropped out to bring the eye towards on the centre of the image. Even still I’m not completely happy with it as I feel the bold dark banister on the right of the orange floats is too ‘heavy’ and as such distracts.

I don’t know if this is within the spirit of the exercise 2.4 but I had already dwelt heavily on this image beforehand but as an image it did fit the criteria asked for in the FiP workbook.

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