The first assignment asks for eight pairs of images that express the extremes of different qualities and one that demonstrates contrast in one picture. We are told not to lose sight of the fact that we are aiming to produce 17 interesting images.
My original thought was to create 17 images around a single theme but this quickly proved to be too restrictive so I aimed for pairs that complimented and related to each other. I wanted each image to have value in its own right but to work better because it was part of a pair.
It is quite clear that the assignment is asking for images to be conceptualised and then sought out and captured. This in itself is a lesson in how large a gap exists between the idea and the end result at this stage in the course but it made the assignment challenging and rewarding in equal measure.
Contrast in a Single Image – Black and White
The Victorian section of the Aldershot Military Cemetery is a place of decaying grave markers, monuments from a time of great certainty where, even in death, the rulers of Empire expressed a black and white view of their place in this world and the next. Rudyard Kipling, a man of his time, wrote:
“Blesséd be the English and all they make or do.
Curséd be the Hereticks who doubt that this is true!”
I liked the contrast of the discoloured and nearly black angel against the statue of Christ in the background that is still predominantly white. There is an irony that time and weather is slowly creating a black angel where once a whiter angel stood and will, in time, do the same to the statue of Christ.
Rather than using the, perhaps, more obvious choice of processing in black and white I made the decision to present this as a colour image which better captured the light in the trees and made the angel more distinct against the background. The intent is to move from dark to light, from black to white.
I wanted to capture the Gothic feel of this statue and of the graveyard in general and have therefore processed the image leaving the angel quite dark. I chose a tight frame to capture the upper third of the statue to focus on her sad face and selected an angle that encloses Christ in the triangular space created by her wing.
HIgh and Low
I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to capture high and low. I was helping at Sarum Academy in Salisbury on the day the old tower was scheduled to be demolished and spent the late afternoon waiting for the digger to prepare the site by raising the rubble platform to a suitable height. For the final sequence I chose a low angle to maximise the sense of height.
In high the last part of the old Sarum Academy is about to fall, the mechanical digger has just touched the tower and the first pieces of debris are falling. The tower has been a been a local landmark for decades, placed as it was, on a hill above the largest housing estate in Salisbury. The staff and pupils saw this as an important moment in their history as one of the last remnants of the run-down old school made way for the new academy.
In “low” the tower is falling. A cloud of dust is rising and the bricks are tumbling towards the camera. It is a symbolic moment in the politics of education, an old school brought low by the development of an ambitious new academy.
Earlier in the afternoon there had been sunlight on the site and the tower was lit by a warm evening light but by the time they were ready to bring down the tower the site was mostly in shadow. For these images to work the tower and the machine had to be isolated and stand out so I used a touch of HDR toning in Photoshop to sharpen the contrast and the outlines of the bricks and then created a mask to leave the machine in colour which I then de-saturated to avoid too great a contrast.
I am pleased by the sharply defined bricks, the choice of mixing black and white with colour and the overall composition but a little disappointed that the cloud of dust raised in low makes the sky look quite different to high without it being obvious as to why. Overall I like the fact these images capture a piece of local history.
Light and Dark
For light and dark my idea was based the idea that these terms are often relative. I wanted two subjects with contradictory attributes so that light existed because of dark and that dark was exhibited by the inclusion of light.
The junk room in light is a gloomy corner of the props warehouse at MC Motors but I have endeavoured to focus attention on the light or lights. There are four sources of light, natural light coming from a dusty skylight in the adjoining space to the right, the star, the paper lantern and the small hanging light. Each is a different temperature and therefore a different shade so there is a also a mix of reflected light in play.
The dark font is in Salisbury Cathedral and, from the right angle, acts as a mirror capturing reflections of the brightly lit wooden bust and other artwork. I spent a long time waiting for a moment with no one in the frame but then chose this image with two visitors by the bust because they contribute a sense of scale to the image.
Following the idea of dark being relative I needed a subject where the inclusion of light told the viewer that the scene was dark. As modern cameras deal so effectively with poor light, note the ISO of 6,400, we sometimes need to include a bright light to explain that we are in a dark place. An example of this is regularly seen on televised cricket where the director will show the bright lights in the hospitality boxes to explain how dark it has become in the middle.
Few and Many
You can guarantee to find people sitting on the steps of Teramo Cathedral regardless of the weather and I felt this image worked well, for few. Three couples and a single in front of the huge wall sitting on the broad steps. I like the balance of the people and of the linear steps against the high wall. I know that I am drawn to symmetrical images but there is just enough irregularity here to make the composition work.
Teramo is a small provincial city on the east coast of Italy in the shadow of the Apennines. Very few tourists ever visit here so the subjects are pretty well guaranteed to be local which explains why, even on a sunny afternoon they are all wearing coats.
The other side of the country in Rome you can equally guarantee people at the Trevi fountain and if the sun is out there will be a crowd. I left a little piece of empty space in the bottom right to give a hint of context and to show that the front row were sitting on a wall.
Few asks the viewer to think about a small number of people and wonder what each little group is doing, they are quite distinct and doing something different. Holding hands, making a phone call, chatting and sitting alone. On the other hand many has so much happening you are asked to view the dynamics of the crowd, people videoing, taking photos above their heads, showing their photos to each other, chatting, just sitting, coming and going, drinking, eating and just looking. A real tourist scene.
The less obvious contrast is that no self respecting Roman will visit the Trevi fountain when the tourists are there. There may be some Italians in the photo but you can reasonably assume no one is a local.
Much and Little
The South Bank is famous for its ever changing, fast evolving and constantly replenished graffiti. To such an extent that I considered using this for “continuos” but it was hard to think of a pairing without it becoming too tenuous. Whenever I have reason to be in London I come here as, in the space of a month, the whole place will be refreshed with new street art. Banksy would be sprayed over in a week.
In much this artist was working on a new piece on one of the larger walls. I used a very high ISO rather than flash as I wanted to capture the shabby look, balance and depth is achieved by including the different walls and the big puddle. The fact the artist was hidden beneath a huge hoodie amused me, it is as if being incognito is an essential element of his art despite the fact that nobody cares about who does the graffiti here.
Is graffiti a noun? Can you say few graffiti ? I’m not sure. To pair with much graffiti I wanted a wall that was worth photographing in it’s own right and that had a small amount of street art. I found it on the other side of London at MC Motors which is where I also found the light junk room in light and dark.
In my day-to-day work, MC Motors is a wedding venue but its main role is as a studio that is hired out for fashion shoots and TV shows. The owners also own the venue for Dragon’s Den and I think somewhere’s next model was filmed here last year. The props are brilliant but it is the decaying paint on many of the walls that makes it so popular with photographers.
I selected this subject because it seemed that, at some point in the past, someone had cared about this strange little painting being here and had tried to remove it which was a further contrast against the South Bank. I framed it right down at the bottom to show as much clean wall as possible with the drawing significant but not dominant.
Camilo José Vergara was part of the inspiration for this pair of images. He clearly sees documenting graffiti as a way of documenting social trends and the fact the authorities leave the South Bank as a live art gallery is, indeed, a sign of the times, quite unthinkable even twenty years ago. The other Vergara influence was to leave the artist’s plastic bag in much. I better understand that this type of untidy detail is a key part of the scene.
Rough and Smooth
As discussed in my research I visited the Milestones Museum at Basingstoke twice in the course of this assignment thinking that there would be a number of industrial images in the final set.
In the end rough wheels is the strongest and the only industrial image to make the cut. I wanted to emphasise the rough surface so used a diffused flash gun on the floor underneath the wheel to throw the light across the surface to create deep shadows and highlights. I took a whole series of photographs but chose this composition because of the balance provided by the cogged wheel and its teeth which provided a second type of rough.
Because rough wheels was all about texture and lighting I needed a complimentary pairing that relied on the same elements. I chose these DVDs positioned one in front of each other to offer a similar composition. Because smooth discs had to be about texture and light I used a small LED light from the left and a hot-shoe soft box from above and to the right. This has emphasised the smooth surface and all the reflections (or are they refractions?) have changed the look of the subject and hopefully emphasised the smooth surface.
Rough and smooth are tactile characteristics so, without the ability to touch the subject, I had to use light to show that these were rough and smooth surfaces.
Diagonal and Rounded
These two images are selected from a series taken using a trampoline and an energetic young relative who was happy to try and create the required shapes. A very fast shutter speed was used to freeze the moment. Diagonal has captured her at the top of a leap and in a ballet-like pose. Rounded was a little harder to achieve but the close crop has focussed on her rounded shape while she is in the process of turning round, of becoming rounded.
Moving and Still
The moving cyclist was captured on the edge of the graffiti zone on the South Bank. Taken whilst in mid-air performing a stunt and into the light with a flash gun to fill in the shadows. The artificial light adds to the sense of frozen action but, for me, the picture is made by the spectator on the left. This was taken with a wide lens but I have cropped to balance the cyclist with the spectator.
The still skateboarder was taken in Aldershot. I have left the framing very wide and cropped for width rather than using a 3:2 image to enable me to emphasise the empty bus shelter backed by the white windows and to show him as a isolated and rather lost little figure. His spiderman-like shirt and batman-like hat make him look very out-of-place.
Curved and Straight
I have written up the shoot that led to these Remembrance Day images.
I planned to use poppies for curves and expected to use the wreaths rather than the individual flowers. In the end I liked this near-macro photograph which is a quite abstract representation of the commemorative symbols and full of curves. I wanted there to be strong contrast within the image itself which I feel emphasises the shapes and increases the abstraction.
For straight I had planned to use the lines of wreaths on the memorial. However, I watched the wreaths being laid out by three military policemen. They were laid out in reasonably straight lines leading up to the memorial, the intent being that the people laying the wreaths could collect their wreath and place it at the base of the war memorial when they came out of the church service.
This sergeant was not happy with the ‘straight” lines and kept returning to make minor adjustments until he was satisfied that they were parade ground perfect. I felt this act of straightening was an expression of everything he stood for. His military desire for order and neatness, his pride in the job he had been given and the importance he placed on honouring the fallen in a manner that he believed they would understand. Straighten that line soldier!
To end as I began with Kipling:
“You may talk o’ gin and beer / When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere, / An’ you’re sent to penny fights an’ Aldershot it;
Straightening poppies is indeed to “Aldershot it”.