I found Assignment 1 to be challenging partly because I am quite literal by nature and nurture, forty years in IT has to have some effect.
To try and overcome this limitation I spent a lot of time thinking about and planning this project. I found that slowly leafing through the work of several photographs helped. I have mentioned Camilo José Vergara as a specific inspiration for my pair of graffiti images and, although I did not use the images as part of the assignment, I took several photographs in Aldershot that were influenced by his work.
Sweet shop is one of those photographs and shows two Nepalis outside an Asian fast food shop in Aldershot.
One of my earliest ideas was to base many of the images around an industrial theme. This led me to seek out artists who had used this theme extensively and this took me to Lewis W. Hine. I found a copy of “Women at Work” second hand but I’m still looking for an affordable copy of “Men at Work”.
Hine’s work is remarkable, in his introduction to Women at Work, Jonathan L. Doherty points out that Hine saw the American Worker as a heroic figure. Many of his photographs focus on the skill and application of his female subjects even though he is known to have held strong views on poverty and exploitation. As a result his images are very positive, I do not believe that he intends us to feel sorry for the workers, he wants us to see them as people with ability and strength, to celebrate and admire them.
I sought out Hine to see how he photographed machines but came away more influenced by the way he portrayed people in a positive light even if their circumstances were clearly unsatisfactory. An example of this is “Italian Immigrant, East Side, New York City 1910” which is of a women in a run-down district, carrying a heavy load but instead of this being a depressing image it emphasises her strength and purpose. His ability to emphasise the positives has made me think more deeply about street photography and how important it is not to fall into the trap of type casting people by the way you photograph them.
Overall I spent a lot of time looking at black and white photos from great photographers but lacked the confidence to bring much black and white to the assignment. My trip to the military cemetery in Aldershot was to look for many and few or large and small contrasts. I thought the gravestones and the memorials might offer these comparisons. But, I also thought that the older sections would provide strong gothic images that would work well in black and white so I could include this technique in my final set.
I think I captured several images that fitted those criteria but in every case I preferred the colour version.
I found Michael Freeman’s Black and White Photography Field Guide immensely helpful and looking at the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Lewis W. Hine and Ansel Adams is also a great help but I have to make major step up in terms of technique to produce even average results in black and white.
As a result only high and low had a monochrome element and I feel those images have several processing flaws. I have asked myself why I included them if I knew they were flawed but I like them as images and believe a “good” print is hidden in there but that I don’t have the black and white processing skills to extract it. It is therefore helpful to post them as a marker that I can look back on to measure whether I am improving these skills.
My first objective moving forward is to improve my ability to capture and print work in black and white so that I am confident to present it in an assignment.
I am very conscious that I lost momentum in the course of completing this assignment. I knew that my instinct would be to produce very literal representations of the contrasts and therefore spent a lot of time looking at the potential meanings of the words, brainstorming ideas, planning locations, taking and analysing test shots and selecting images. This all sounds very positive and it would be easy to spin it as a diligent and efficient process but it wasn’t.
I actually used very few of the dozens and dozens of ideas I had on my mind maps. I spent a second day at Milestones Museum to get one usable image and know that most of the unplanned “test” shots were better than the planned versions. In reality the process was flawed and it took at least three weeks of elapsed time before I changed tack. I was far more effective when I picked locations that might offer opportunity and just went out and took photographs or by just having my camera with me when I had to be in places for other reasons. Italy, MC Motors, Salisbury and The South Bank were all places I went to for work or social reasons; the three locations I used in Aldershot were more planned and the trampoline photos in our back garden were staged.
Overall I feel that I have been working on this assignment for far too long, I was defiantly bogged down and have my daughter, who teaches photography, to thank for getting me out of a lot of blind alleys and onto a clearer path. It is hard to define exactly what I need to do to address this going forward but I do not want to move steadily through the exercises and then stall when I reach the assignments.
My current thoughts are that I need to carefully manage the time spent planning and the amount of process and get out there with a camera more quickly. I feel that my best work was when I put myself in a good location, with the assignment objectives in my mind, and just took photographs that felt right. By doing this I took some photos that I liked but that didn’t fit the assignment but also found photos that did both.
The desk work that really did help was looking at top photographer’s work. Looking at the thousands of images that Google can find only helped to confuse the issue. I need to focus my attention on gaining inspiration from great photographers and to strive to learn from their skills. Although it didn’t directly impact the assignment I felt that reviewing Vergara’s work on a Saturday led to me taking better photos on Sunday morning.
My second objective is to focus my research on gaining inspiration as a creative fuel and to use this fuel by moving quickly to capturing images.
Hine, Lewis H. (1981) Women at Work. New York, Dover Publications