Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Part 5 Narrative and Illustration – Project: Illustration

Exercise: Rain

The brief for this exercise was to produce a single photograph illustrating “rain”. I have developed an idea I put forward in part four and used raindrops on a window but this time I have used the specular highlights of distant street lights and traffic signals as a background abstraction while focusing on the droplets on the glass. I think this works particularly well especially with the green traffic light. I have to admit to providing the “rain” myself with a misting bottle. I waited but the rain didn’t come at the right time. I used a portrait format as it was intended for a cover page with space above and below for titles and copy.
8951: 13s f5.6 130mm ISO200 White Balance Auto, tripod mounted
Conclusion: I think this image works very well even as an abstract. Though the colours are mainly warm, I do get a feeling of cold and damp and being glad I’m on the inside.
That is the final exercise for this section. It will be some time before I can undertake the final assignment (Jan 2012) I am planning to complete some of the recommended reading and write up some notes. I may also attempt some practice assignments which I will add to my blog, just in case my final assignment does not work out for any reason.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Course Reading “The Photograph” by Graham Clarke

I have finally finished reading this book. It has taken me nearly a year. I have only understood about half of the text. Written by an academic, for academics, the language is very obscure. I was constantly referring to a dictionary. For an author with such a large vocabulary, Clark’s constant use of the words “indeed” and “thus” was irritating. I learned much more from watching the excellent Genius of Photography series (my learning style is audio/visual/kinesthetic) and a lot of Clarke’s book became clear as a result.
It was not all bad though, in conjunction with the TV series, I learned a lot about the history of photography,  the development of the different genres and the way in which the medium has changed and is perceived in modern (today’s) society. What I didn’t understand was how so much indifferent photography can be accepted as art just because the so called artist or critic strings together a lot of big words and vague notions. I’m not saying the work has no validity, if the photographer believes in it, that’s its own validation. I just find it incredible that so many people seem to fall for it. If a photograph needs too much wordy explanation then perhaps the “artist” should become a writer or poet.
Cleverly, the whole gist of the book can be summarised by the penultimate sentence “…….the photograph is, in the end, open to endless meanings.” The flyleaf describes Clark’s book as a “clear and incisive account”. Not for me. While the book does communicate successfully in some areas, it obfuscates equally in others.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Part 5 Narrative and Illustration – Project: Illustration by Juxtaposition

Exercise: Juxtaposition 1

I chose a fairly routine example for the juxtaposition example of the project. At my work in a Learning Centre, I quite often photograph students being presented  with their certificates of achievement. On this occasion, my colleague Allyson is pictured with a recently presented award. Normally these photos are made with the department’s compact digital camera in a fairly predictable way. I have used my DSLR and posed Allyson at a desk surrounded by all of the paraphernalia of “e-learning”. I removed the glass from the certificate frame to avoid reflections. I have lit the scene with window light from the left and fill-in flash from my on-camera flashgun. I have included both landscape and portrait orientations.
8864: 1/60s f5  ISO 400 40mm, Flash bounced  from white ceiling.

8862: As above but lens at 32mm
Conclusion: This was a fairly straightforward exercise and although it was interesting to do, I didn’t find it much of a challenge. I will include the book cover illustration still life option too. That will be my next post.

Exercise: Juxtaposition 2

I’ve had a bit of fun with this one. I’ve started off by doing a bit of beachcombing down on the Sussex coast to see if I could find anything interesting to photograph. Within 45 minutes I had collected an assortment of string, plastic, seaweed and a Polish beer can. I bought it all home and decided reproduce a beach set for a still life using a bag of pebbles that I had bought for the garden, some shells I had collected over the years and a blue cotton backdrop to represent the sky. I thought the bright saturated colours would add impact to a magazine cover for a fictional periodical. I added some text to put the image into context.
Lighting set up:
As shown below; two soft boxes, one above the set, the other to the left of the camera. An additional foil reflector was hand held to the right of the set to improve the highlighting of the bucket.

8895: 1/125s f29 ISO200 32mm Manual mode, WB: Flash
The final image was laid out using MS Publisher and saved as a .jpeg image.
Although this mock up was a bit of fun, there is a serious message here about plastics in the oceans. The sheer volume out there is staggering and the impact on wildlife can be horrendous. See more here:

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Part 5 Narrative and Illustration – Project: Narrative

Exercise: Evidence of Action.

The object of this exercise is to produce one photograph in which it can be seen that something has happened. I discounted the suggestion of something broken or empty. Instead I went out for a walk, hoping to find evidence in nature. To be honest, I had something in mind and was not disappointed and came across two situations, both grisly in which something has clearly happened:
DSC_8850_edit01_web DSC_8851_edit01_web
The first, a predator, probably a fox has killed a bird and made off with most of the corpse. The second was the remains of a deer which appears to have become trapped by the  antlers in sheep netting and perished while trying to get free. Of the two, I have chosen the first as it is enigmatic and poignant while the second is overwhelmingly macabre and has little implied movement in the composition.
8850: 1/125s f5.6 31mm ISO800

Illustration: The learning notes made reference to concepts which are abstract and need imaginative treatment when put forward in a photograph. Such ideas would include; happiness, love, wealth, poverty, anger, satisfaction and envy. The symbols listed for protection were fairly comprehensive and I couldn’t think of any more obvious ones. Symbols for growth would include plants, trees bearing fruit, different size money piles or bags (financial growth), babies, children and adults together, spawn, tadpoles and frogs, tree rings buds and flowers.
Exercise: Symbols
For this exercise I have to list symbols (more than one) which could represent growth, excess, crime silence and poverty.
Growth: see the list above. In a photograph, I can see a quadrant section of a tree trunk with prominent rings, superimposed over it would be the objects at differing stages of development in a chronological progression from the centre outwards.
Excess: (greed?) Symbols for excess could include shows of ostentatious wealth, large buildings, cars, boats, aircraft, all of the symbols of wealth, gold, silver, jewellery – bad taste. Excess could also be depicted with over stacked supermarket shelves, the results of excess in a lifestyle, drunkenness, obesity and related  health problems. For a photograph I can see a juxtaposition of any of these symbols with symbols of poverty (see below)
Crime: Obvious ones, police fighting crime, jails, prison bars, handcuffs, arrested criminals, scales of justice, courts, scenes of devastation (property and human) resulting from crimes, misery, desolation. In a photograph; an anguished face (victim), a desolate criminal  alone in a cell.
Silence: Index finger pressed against the lips is the classic symbol, in some cultures a rose can replace the finger. A period of silence marks respect and silent prayer. In a picture, still water can represent silence. In a photograph, sitting or standing figures with heads bowed and eyes closed are redolent of silence. Empty streets and low sunlight, long shadows invoke a feeling of peace, perhaps silence.
Poverty: Sadly there are too many. An empty bowl, an emaciated child, ragged clothes, tin shanty houses, bare feet (in context) In a photograph any single one or a combination of these would symbolise poverty.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Reading a photograph – background notes from reading Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

I decided to read this book as I have seen references to it in the OCA Student Forum and other texts on the course reading list in relation to the reading of a photograph. It was hard work. I'm not sure if it was because of the translation from French or, more likely, my lack of experience of the language and concepts of philosophy. Luckily, it is mercifully short.

What did I gather from the book? I made some notes.
The two ideas from the book most often quoted in connection to the reading of photographs are:
Studium: described variously as, the field of cultural interest, a kind of general enthusiastic commitment. The studium is passive.
Punctum: wound or impact, an unexpected flash, a sting, speck, hole, a little cut. Allows for the formation of a critical reading, it enables an active reading of the scene.

From Graham Clarke's book, The Photograph:
Clarke refers to Barthes's assertion that the photograph is a transparent envelope.
...misplaced assertion that the closer we look at a photograph, the more we see.
…when we look at a photograph we see something that no longer exists. The moment has passed.
...When Barthes declared that "photography evades us" and is "unclassifiable" , he alerted us to the paradox of something seemingly so obvious and yet so problematic.

I found this summary from Wikipedia:

Photography and Henriette Barthes
Throughout his career, Barthes had an interest in photography and its potential to communicate actual events. Many of his monthly myth articles in the 50s had attempted to show how a photographic image could represent implied meanings and thus be used by bourgeois culture to infer ‘naturalistic truths’. But he still considered the photograph to have a unique potential for presenting a completely real representation of the world. When his mother, Henriette Barthes, died in 1977 he began writing Camera Lucida as an attempt to explain the unique significance a picture of her as a child carried for him. Reflecting on the relationship between the obvious symbolic meaning of a photograph (which he called the studium) and that which is purely personal and dependent on the individual, that which ‘pierces the viewer’ (which he called the punctum), Barthes was troubled by the fact that such distinctions collapse when personal significance is communicated to others and can have its symbolic logic rationalized. Barthes found the solution to this fine line of personal meaning in the form of his mother’s picture. Barthes explained that a picture creates a falseness in the illusion of ‘what is’, where ‘what was’ would be a more accurate description. As had been made physical through Henriette Barthes's death, her childhood photograph is evidence of ‘what has ceased to be’. Instead of making reality solid, it reminds us of the world’s ever changing nature. Because of this there is something uniquely personal contained in the photograph of Barthes’s mother that cannot be removed from his subjective state: the recurrent feeling of loss experienced whenever he looks at it. As one of his final works before his death, Camera Lucida was both an on-going reflection on the complicated relations between subjectivity, meaning and cultural society as well as a touching dedication to his mother and description of the depth of his grief.

Now, having read the book and understood at least this much of it, I was pleased, on reflection to suddenly find a connection to a question in my mind that has been there ever since I read the chapter "How do we read a photograph?" in Graham Clarke's book.
The question was; if we view an seemingly ordinary photograph cold, i.e. with no information of the of the author or of his intent, is our reading of the image more, or less correct or valid than his? And is it right to colour our perceptions with our own experience, or hold back in our interpretation knowing that the photographer's experience and emotions may , in all probability , override our own if they become known to us?
By way of illustration, take a look at the following image:

You might say," interesting sky, reasonable composition, looks like a monument to the poet Tennyson, the empty seat could indicate absence (of the poet, long dead) and the railings, preservation or protection of his memory. If you are a meteorologist , you may interpret the cloud formations.
On the surface, a picture with some narrative given the limited information available. If we add a bit more information and confirm that this is indeed the Tennyson Memorial on the Down that bears his name at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight not much changes unless you equate the sense of place with Tennyson and his contemporary Julia Margaret Cameron. If I add the photographer's name; Richard Down, it will mean nothing because neither I, nor my work are known to any significant number of people.
But this image has an emotional significance (to me) beyond the obvious, so much so, that it has hung above my desk ever since. It is probably the first image that I have made where I can recall exactly how I was feeling at the time, why and how I chose the viewpoint I did . For you to share some of that emotion, I can tell you the date: 12th September 2001. The narrative now changes from what you can read from the photograph to what I now tell you about the circumstances of its making and why it means so much to me.
Still numb after the shock and horror of the previous day's events and not having slept well, I planned a walk from the hotel in Freshwater where we were staying, along the Downs to the Needles walking east to west.  As I walked past the monument, the sky ahead to the west was filled with the dark clouds of approaching rain. In my mind at that time I saw them as a metaphor for the terrorist threat approaching us from the west.  I happened to turn and looked at the sky to the east with these very different cloud formations as a backdrop to the monument. The scene was a distinct contrast and I was compelled to photograph it, not only to record it but to capture the sense of optimism for the future. That was my immediate response and I made the image with very little thought beyond that initial spark.
To me, this picture of a monument has itself become a monument to the events of that day in 2001. The empty seat marks the absence of the thousands who have died on that day and since, as a consequence of those events. That is my personal reading.
To return to my question, has your reading of the photograph changed having read my explanation?
From the highlighted section above, I’m not sure that I agree with Barthes. (assuming of course that I have understood his argument)  Having communicated my punctum, I don’t feel it has been lost (to me) or diminished. Subsequent personal events have reinforced the emotional attachment I have to this image, symbolising as it does, remembrance, absence and optimism. 

Part 5 Narrative and Illustration – Project: Narrative, continued

Exercise: A narrative picture essay – continued

I managed to research and plan this project fairly well but there were a few details which left my coverage of the events of the day a bit hit and miss. My idea was to cover the assembly of the procession, the judging and prize giving first, the parade next and to finish with the fireworks and bonfire. The judging was very low profile and although prize winners were announced over the PA system, I wasn’t sure when and where the prizes were given out so I missed that bit.
The most difficult part was selecting the photographs from the dozens that I made. I decided on six from the afternoon’s preparations, six from the parade after dark and just three of the bonfire and fireworks (It was raining by this time, as forecast)
I have arranged the selected images onto a couple of contact sheets with exposure details. (these are not a final selection and could change)

Liphook Carnival, Bonfire and Fireworks

My next task was to arrange the photographs in a interesting way to provide a narrative of the day. Using MS Publisher, I found it easy to resize, caption and position the images. I then saved them as .jpeg files so I could display them on this blog. My final selections are displayed as two images shown below.
Liphook Carnival and Fireworks
Liphook Carnival and Fireworks02
What did I learn from this exercise?: The most important lesson from this exercise was that you can never do too much planning. I gathered all of my information from the Carnival website and walk around the route. I think I would have been better prepared had I spoken to the organisers to find out about the judging. With regard to the fire works, a visit to the park in daylight may have given me a better idea of the best viewpoint for the firework display. I had my tripod set up out of the way but as you can see from the pictures, I had  a row of trees on the left of the frame. As mentioned above, editing over 100 images down to 15 for the essay was difficult. Arranging them effectively was also hard. I will  find out more about the design and layout of pages to make the task easier for future projects. Overall I think this is a reasonable first effort.