For this exercise I took three pieces of sculpture: an owl, a hare and the Hindu deity Lord Ganesh. Following the instructions I photographed them against a white background but lit them strongly from the right-hand side with a softbox. One objective was to capture the texture and form of the three items. While I think I achieved this there were some exposure issues caused by the very Ganesh standing next to the pale to mid-toned Hare.
It was probably the most challenging excise so far in FiP. Being somewhat ‘vanilla’ in my approach to Photoshop I lacked the skills needed to achieve what was required. I could have printed out the 20 or so chosen images and made the collage with scissors, scalpel and a Prit Stick but I was determined to have a go with Photoshop. For that I turned to Google and found an Adobe collage tutorial.
Initially, I didn’t feel comfortable with what I was doing. Having looked at Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ I kinda knew what I wanted to create but using photographs rather than paint and brushes seemed to make things difficult. A Cubist could take his or her brush anywhere wanted over the canvas but photographs come pre-formed.
On reflection it was the lack of direct control that bugged me so much. While staring into the screen with steam coming from my ears, however, I pressed on. Strangely, once I got 3 or 4 photographs in place and stared to move them around the canvas I became quite enthralled with the exercise. OK I had some limitations but I had freedom to locate and with re-scaling the size of individual images I had flexibility too. But ultimately I had some fun placing one image next to another and creating different interpretations of my three figures, I even like the overlaps between then that didn’t quite work. I’ve read that Lord Ganesh is a remover of obstacles: his power had certainly helped me with this exercise!
So far FiP has lived up to my expectations. The learning curve has been steep at times but never unassailable. At the same time it has broadened my understanding and appreciation of art photography. I’d not heard of the likes of Tom Hunter before this course, nor would I ever think I would be taking staged photographs as in Assignment 3. Likewise, in Part 4 ‘still life’ as a photographic approach is relatively new to me.
The opening paragraphs of this part ask to look the works of Peter Fischili and David Weiss. Their video of everyday objects rolling along and bumping into other things made me laugh. The way one item knocked another, that set something rolling, that caused a fire, that led to a spillage, gave the work a Warner Brothers cartoonesque feel.
The work of Peter Fraser was quite different. Rather than a cause and effect juxtaposition of Fischili and Weiss we are presented with everyday items, just as they are – pictures on walls, furniture on carpets etc. For the visually curious we start to examine the relationship between the object and the context or environment in which it is placed. To echo the course notes, such work is not about the object in and of itself but rather its placement, juxtaposition or relationship to what’s around it.
I have an empathy towards this approach in photography. Often in my own work I attempt to photograph of objects but consider the space around them to be important. Being close the subject is not a priority, rather, in an objective way, I seek to locate the subject in its own space forming that juxtaposition between the two. Of course I’d not thought about this in any particular depth before, it’s just how I like to reflect the world photographically.
Trees have become a bit of a fascination for me. The trigger was my partner being diagnosed with cancer late last year. How or why that should trigger an interest in photographing them I’m not really sure. I thought the bare trees of winter reminded me of the anatomical diagrams of the blood supply to the bowel shown to us by my partner’s surgeon but when the leaves returned the interest kept going. Around this somewhat difficult time we also visited the Paul Nash exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia and saw how trees played a significant role in his work.
If I was to pin myself down I could suggest the trees seem metaphorical. Older deciduous trees in particular seem to demonstrate they lived a life: despite rotten or broken branches, for example, they return to full leaf each Spring.
And so it was, that earlier in the year I chose a couple of trees to reflect the passing of time in Exercise 3.4: Documenting Change. With 3 images of each I showed the gradual acquisition and opening of the leaves. To experiment further, in Photoshop I combined all 3 images into 1 and while I was happy learning this new technique, I had to admit the final result looked like a bad case of camera shake!
After my even earlier experiments with blurred gulls, my tutor, Jayne Taylor, said “Don’t stop, go back and do it again, and then again…” This simple lesson has stuck with me and so after some rethinking I went back to my trees. When the images for first attempt were made I didn’t know I’d be later layering them in Photoshop. Upon my return, however, I made a more conscious effort to locate the tree in the same position within the viewfinder for each shot, and this is the result:
Several images were made in a 180-degree arc around the tree. 360 would have been nice but on the other side was a potato field and I don’t think the farmers would have like me stomping through their crop. Recognising that the direction of the light would move through the series, I chose to take the shots on an overcast day with rather flat light. I feel the result is interesting in that is represents a move away from the 2 dimensional that I was trying to achieve but it lacks a bit of ‘zing’. So my plan to was re-shoot again but next time when the sun was out. This time it was a different tree and again I got images from a 180-degree arc and here is the much brighter ‘zingier’ result:
I’d be interested to hear what others think of them. I’m not sure the images look their best as small photos on a computer screen. I’ve printed them on A4 photo-paper and the subtle shading and fine detail looks easier to appreciate. I feel they might look better rendered even larger and should try them out on A3.
I feel an explanation is required. Due to circumstances beyond my control I’ve not been able to complete this assignment as per the course notes. It hasn’t been possible to make a link between this assignment and the earlier Part 3 exercise. Realising this was going to happen, for several days I’d been mulling over how I was to complete the assignment. Staged photography is not the kind of work that comes instinctively to me and it felt like an impossible task. I suppose it’s all about the drive and the urge to create and if that isn’t present then what may follow is forced and thus lacks sincerity.
A few days ago I took trip down to London and visited a few galleries. Now this turned out to be an amazing coincidence as one of those was the Gregory Crewdson ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery. (I’ve written about the exhibition elsewhere on this blog: click on the Non OCA Work tab). Another was the National Gallery, which we cut short as it was ‘rammed’ with visitors. Nonetheless, a slight break in the clouds of Italian teenagers allowed me chance upon this:
I turned to my partner and said ‘Look, it’s just like our study!’ I was curious enough to record the event and take these pictures.
This simple act combined with the Crewdson exhibition had clearly planted a seed that a few days later started to germinate. OK, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the assignment as per the book but the assignment also requires a comment or two on the development of my photography at this point in the course. And there I found the solution to this assignment…
Firstly, it’s a self-portrait and it’s a parody. It’s not meant to demonstrate or suggest that cognitive dissonance is occurring. Rather it picks up and plays with the word cogniscenti. Here I am struggling to get my head around Roland Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’ and I’m guessing I’m not the only one ever to have found it a steep learning curve.
I’m sitting in our study with its pictures on the walls and various objects that create echoes of painting by the unknown Flemish artist. The room was prepared for the shoot and this did include using a duster and a vacuum cleaner! The cognoscenti in seventeen-century Antwerp had paintings but I’ve got photographs. They pour over books and so do I: 2 dictionaries and various photography textbooks, all of which were required in my cognitive struggle with Lucida. In recognition that this is Assignment 3 I’ve also included photos from some of the Part 3 exercises and my ‘significant object’. I’ve even placed a suggestion that all of this has driven me to drink!
Technique-wise I had to use a wide angle as the room is small. And I used a softbox to illuminate the shot. Relying on natural light would have left too much darkness in the corners creating a mood that is absent from the original painting.
Even so I had to open the wardrobe doors to get the lighting and camera configuration I wanted. My approach turned out to be quite meticulous. Lots of test shots were taken and examined just to get the props in the right place. For example: the OCA workbook was placed on the printer to break up the large expanse of black in the bottom right-hand corner of the image.
This might not have taken me to the extremes adopted by Crewdson but I did enjoy the directorial role staged photography creates. On reflection, I feel my image owes more to Tom Hunter whose work I researched earlier in FiP. It’s possible to see the influence of early European landscape painting in Crewdson’s work but Hunter actually mimics or recreates works of the great masters of European painting. My attempt at staged photography inverts the Flemish original and renders a parody of the mature student of photography’s attempt to understand one of the key text of the subject.
My FiP the journey so far…
I am so pleased to have signed up for this course. It has opened my eyes to what I could achieve with a camera. For example, while I don’t know if staged photography will ever become part of my work I’ve had a go and enjoyed it. When I signed up for this course I could not have seen myself creating such work. Technically I’ve improved too, both behind the camera and particularly so in postproduction. The exercises have taken me into areas I wouldn’t have generally gone and so given me the opportunity to expand my photographic repertoire.
Looking at the work of other photographers has been an interesting aspect of the FiP. One of my original hopes for the course to was broaden my understanding of photography as an art form and the opportunity to research the work of others has certainly facilitated this wish. Moreover, studying the work of others helped in my own artistic understanding and practice.
Another aim I identified upon enrolment was to develop my own artistic voice with the aid of FiP and I feel strongly that is occurring. It is important to me that in addition to my OCA studies I follow a path of my own. While I have varied photographic interests one aspect that I feel is developing well is that of my relationship with the natural world. Although this feels a little ad hoc at present, it is coalescing somewhere around the intersection between the natural world and the human one. One other thing I have learnt is the importance of research in one’s own work. This came as quite a surprise to me at the time but makes so much sense now.
A friend and colleague is a member of the small independent Horizon Theatre Company. There’s only a few people involved and they tend to mix their roles around. My friend John was acting in the last play I saw but directed the current performance. I asked sometime ago if I could take some photographs and was given the opportunity to photograph them setting up of the Wolsey Studio Theatre in Ipswich the day before their opening night. This felt quite a privilege and for not only would it suit this FiP exercise but the play was having it’s UK premier! It’s called M.A.M.I.L (middle-aged man in lycra) and is a one-man play with a cycling theme to it.
In terms of the questioning this exercise requires, this session offered more opportunities than a basic rehearsal. Witnessing the setting up of the stage and a rehearsal I was able to question and investigate the following:
What is the director’s role?
What is the role of the stage management and how do they set up the stage, its lighting, sound and props?
Moreover, for the actor I was curious about the relationship with the director and his involvement in setting up of the stage.
The exercise implies we should spend several days or weeks with our chosen subject. I didn’t have that luxury. I’d been given the chance to take my photographs on this one, rather important, day for the company, and so I made the most of it. I took several hundred shots and tackled the technical difficulties of working in small often dimly lit studio theatre. As the exercise requires, I have attached a contact sheet of the some of the images I took on the day.
After a short explanation of what constitutes ‘objective photography’ we are asked to produce 4 images as though they were visual evidence. The session was to be of me reading the student notes and as the notes suggested the 4 photos should reflect (1) me (2) reading (3) the notes in (4) this location.
The images have to lack a sense of aesthetic. In a sense they are to look artless, as though the camera was pointed at the evidence and the shutter pressed with little or no concern beyond the technicalities to record a correctly exposed and focused still image.
The set I have produced do exactly that and they look objective, responding directly to the brief in the student notes. But when I consider the lengths to which I went I to produce these images I am left questioning the notion of objectivity or at least casting doubt on my claim towards it.
For example: I chose a location that appears rather utilitarian and functional, it’s blandness reinforcing the lack of aesthetic. Being indoors I needed some artificial light and so chose a direct undiffused flash to give a bright overall light common to all the images. A 35mm lens was chosen, as the room was fairly small and a narrow f-stop was used in order to capture a broad depth of field. The camera was mounted on a tripod and the same distance (and camera height) from the subject area was maintained for 3 of the 4 images. This too was a conscious decision as I felt it would reinforce the sense of objectivity. In the vertical image of me I stand upright making no attempt to ‘pose’.
Objectivity in this way, the sense that we are recording evidence, implies no great thought was applied to the photographic process but as I’ve just demonstrated this need not be the case. Perhaps what I’ve created are some ambiguous images that while falling within a definition of objective are the result of a creative process.
Before attempting to create a formal portrait this exercise asked us to consider the work of Thomas Struth and Rineke Djkstra. Struth’s family portraits look quite objective to the point where they appear almost artless – perhaps they look like a family snap from a photo album. But of course this overlooks how he made the image. The stillness and relaxed concentration the sitters exhibit is due the lengthy exposure his shots required. Their objectivity being underlined by the lack of ‘creative’ postproduction, while the distance he sets his camera away from the group stops any psychological insight into the condition of his subjects – this conventionally, being one of the objectives of conventional portraiture.
Thomas Struth: Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo 1991
A similar objective stance is found in Rineke Djkstra’s work. Her photo series of mothers with their newly born babies is amazingly striking. Here we enter an intimate realm that few people get to observe. The straightforward approach to her subject matter removes any of the romantic ‘babble’ amount motherhood and presents it as it really is.
Rineke Djkstra: Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29 1994
With this in mind it was interesting to read that women generally liked the work for it’s depiction of the reality of early parenthood while many men didn’t like to see women presented this way.
In other series Djkstra has made portraits of children and adolescents. She prefers them to adults as they present themselves as they are and not as they want others to see them. I guess, as we get older we start to react to the presence of a camera (I for example, always pull my stomach in!) and try to control the image we present. In photographing young people she is able to capture the guileless innocence of youth but often tinged with the self-consciousness of the teenager.
For my formal portrait exercise I chose my partner, who has appeared elsewhere in this blog. The student notes suggests using the location of ‘the significant place’ in Ex 3.9 and incorporating the ‘significant object’ from Ex 3.7. So, we returned to Shingle Street and took binoculars with us – which is what we’d do anyway!
I fully understood what Djkstra was getting at when she made the comparison between adults and young people. My partner poses for me, even unconsciously I think, her behaviour and demeanour subtly changing in the presence of the camera. I took dozens of shots in this session and tried to catch her ‘off guard’. A few of photos do achieve this and she is seems as herself, more relaxed and less self conscious. The technique I adopted was to be conversational. Although I was giving some directions of where to stand, which way to look etc., we also had an on-going conversation about a pair of Kestrels that were hunting over a nearby stubble field. Of the many shots I took I narrowed my selection to 4 but really couldn’t decide which one to chose. Several days have passed since the shoot and each day I looked back the 4. Having lived with the selection I can now make a decision. Some might suggest it’s not exactly ‘formal’ as per the brief but them walking along a flood wall in coastal Suffolk while out birding isn’t a formal occasion. However what image does convey is the spirit of Jude on that day and in this ‘significant place’.