Assignment 2 asks for the elements of design to be incorporated in a set of photographs directed towards one type of subject. My subject is a personal view of a single place based on a week of taking photographs in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in December 2013. In the context of the groups of subjects suggested in the course notes my “type of subject” is a mixture of landscape and intimate landscape with a touch of human interest. I recognise that, in doing this, I have strayed from the path but to have stayed within a single “type” would have limited my ability to express my personal view.
When I first returned from Turks and Caicos I posted a blog article describing my impressions of the islands and how I set out to capture a personal view. The Caribbean in my View.
For the assignment submission my aim was to select a series of photographs that captured my overall impressions which meant I needed to:
- Convey the strong colours, bright sunlight and deep shadows of a typical day in the islands.
- Capture a sense of the constantly changing light as rain clouds rushed across the sea and land.
- Show how these tiny specks of coral are exposed to dramatic weather events that seek to destroy anything but the strongest structures and, even without the storms, that nature is relentlessly degenerating anything left in its path.
- Provide a glimpse of the people who came unwillingly to these islands from the other side of the Atlantic and who can trace their ancestors to the ship wreck of a slave trader off these islands in 1841.
- But, in doing this keep the view wide enough to feature the larger beauty of the place and explain why we escaped here in mid-winter.
Because this submission is a intended to be a collection I would like them to be viewed in sequence before each image is considered individually as included below.
In preparation for finalising my chosen images for the assignment I worked on some specific themes. These are studies of particular visual elements that captured my imagination and seemed representative of the place. Four collections are included in this blog at:
Each collection could have formed the basis of this assignment but I wanted to document my personal view in no more than 15 images and within that view to express my overall feelings about TCI. To tell this story I needed to select images that represented the whole. “Openings” and “Metamorphic” are both important as part of the picture but are too narrow in subject.
Single Point Dominating the Composition
Man on Beach, my choice for “a single point dominating the composition” represents the visitor experience. Emerald sea, blue sky, “white” beach under strong sunlight, a perfect day. I have place the central subject dead centre beneath the largest cloud to create a sense of tranquility but there is touch of tension introduced by the white boat leaving the scene to the left. Colour is an important element of this image with the contrast of the man’s red shorts lifting an otherwise blue image. His body shape, the slight movement blur on his raised foot and the long leading shadow give a sense of movement.
My tutors suggestion to look at the work of Josef Koudelka *(4) arrived after completing this shoot but I think my initial study into his compositional skills (see Josef Koudelka and Composition) has had some influence on the my editing. I realised that he is not adverse to placing his subject in the centre of the frame such as in France 1973 (man and hovercraft) or Slovakia 1973 (man in handcuffs) and this was in my mind when editing my Man on Beach.
I took several shots where the sand, sea and sky dominated the image, some with one or two boats or people in the composition and some without anything other than the landscape in the frame. I was drawn to these simple three tone images and had Richard Misrach’s “On The Beach” * (1) series in mind.
“On The Beach” is a collection of photographs taken from a high-rise hotel room in Hawaii so I could not follow his style on a flat, low rise island but I like his simplicity of composition and the way he often offers us a large empty space with a single small subject. I tried several shots from different angles to try and capture the scale of the TCI beaches, especially Grace Bay which is 12 miles long, and how people are often tiny specks within a landscape of limited colours and textures albeit often with a wide variety of tones. Misrach wants to show how insignificant and vulnerable we are within the landscape and I see this is an important idea at a time when climate change is threatening our complacent view of where it is safe to live.
None of my images following these ideas made it to my final selection partly because the most effective were vertical aspects and did not fit into the collection. Some are included in the contact sheet below.
Two boys at Wheeland introduces two local residents at a bar well away from the tourist areas. Colour is important to this composition with the bright woodwork providing a strong contrast to the shadows and skin colours. The image is given structure by framing the two boys with the yellow doors and the way they are looking into the space created to the right of the frame. These two young men were gambling on fruit machines in a room adjoining a local bar and I caught them enjoying the moment after sharing a joke.
This image as presented is a compromise because it was captured in a vertical aspect and worked well with the doors as strong verticals framing the length of the boys’ bodies but I am mindful of the advice provided by my tutor on assignment 1 and by other tutors on the OCA forum not to mix formats so I re-cropped to a horizontal aspect. I am satisfied that it still works.
Several Points in a Deliberate Shape
The three men outside the general store in Grand Turk tell another part of the island story. The two men sitting down and the one standing form an implied triangle or perhaps more accurately a trapezium. The photograph was taken in quite deep shade and was challenging to process but the three differing poses and how differently each man relates to the camera make this a strong image. The man to the right was willing to talk to me and this is reflected in his direct connection with the camera. The man in the middle covered his face as soon as I rasied the camera and the man to the left seemed oblivious to me being there yet seems to be standing to attention. I think there is a story here, note the empty spirit bottle at the base of the post and the second one under the plastic tumbler.
The image is given structure by the verticals and horizontals that frame and link the men and the implied diagonal formed from the man with a blue hat to the man with sun glasses. In hindsight I can see a link back to Josef Koudelka who I have noticed often works with three subjects to give his images balance.
Grand Turk is visited by cruise ships most days but the ships dock in the southeast corner of the island and few of the passengers trouble to visit the old town where the, now abandoned, salt industry was centred. Apart from a run-down hotel and two dive shops there seems to be little industry in the town and these three men are representative of the male population that appeared to just sit in the shade.
A Combination of Horizontal and Vertical Lines
Moving away from people the Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point is a combination of horizontal and vertical lines. This image has a logical place in the collection but is different to most of the other images not least because it was captured during a short cloudy period. Colour is less important and the lack of saturation allows this image to offer a contrasting sense of place. The composition is consciously central as I want to lead the viewer through the arches, up the steps and across the bridge to the remains of this huge beach house with the symmetrical composition helping to make the steps and bridge the dominant subject.
The building is slowly being overgrown as it collapses and combined with the lack of saturation this makes the photograph quite melancholy. The image asks several questions about who the owners are and why it has not been repaired given its beach front location but I also wonder who neatly placed the empty beer bottle on the steps.
This house was in a small group of other houses that were all equally badly damaged so I presume that Emerald Point, which is on the northest tip of the island, was exposed to a major storm or hurricane at some point in the recent past. This image documents the power of the weather and is therefore an important part of the story and part of a theme of degeneration.
The first of two images using diagonals is Ladder on a Blue Wall. The harsh shadow and dry texture of the ladder and the wall communicate the heat of the sun in a simple graphic design that has become a geometric abstraction. The quirky design of the weathered ladder hints of a make-do-and mend economy.
I have cropped this tight to allow the ladder to break the frame at the top and the bottom, I think that this lifts the image from being purely graphic to “offering evidence”, as Michael Freeman *(3) would put it, that there is more to the ladder and more to the wall than we can see and therefore asks the viewer to imagine where it is coming from and leading to.
My second diagonal returns to the theme of degeneration, the relentless weathering by sun and rain of all materials. This derelict house on Grand Turk is slowly decaying but in the meantime the stairs provided a strong diagonal across the image whilst throwing an interesting shadow that prevents the concrete wall from being dead space. I like the partly open door to the bottom left of the frame and the overall sense of neglect.
Diagonals are the easiest elements of design to find as they can often be achieved merely by changing the angle of view. The two I have chosen are strong diagonals that bring structure and balance to the images and the subjects fit well into the island story.
Small boats at Chalk Sound interests me as a composition, whilst there is an obvious curve in the rainbow there is also an implied curve created by the angle of the boats’ masts and the shape of the clouds.
This is a photograph of the weather, sunlight in the foreground and a large raincloud in the distance with sheets of rain falling on the horizon. The sky and the weather is a dominant feature of these island landscapes and I wanted to include a composition where most of the frame is filled with dramatic cloud patterns but the two boats add just enough interest to the foreground to lift the image above being just a cloud picture.
Distinct, Even if Irregular, Shapes
The first of my three images featuring distinct shapes is of Weathered Timber. This continues the theme of degeneration and is another very graphic composition with three major blocks, rusty red, black and faded blue. This image and fig. 05 probably fit into John Szarkowski’s second category of “failure in colour photography” where the image is of beautiful colours in pleasing relationships* (2). Despite recognising that weakness I continue to like simple graphic combinations of colour as long as there is some context.
Front Street Grand Turk brings together a number of strong shapes including the large triangular block of the stairs and their supports, the rectangular yellow wall of the hut, the red roof and the blocks of shadow, sea and street. This image features several elements of place to give a sense of the elegant, if now weathered, old building contrasting with the more modern, but well maintained, tin hut on the other side of the street. I like the multitude of lines and shapes and the strong colours that together have a mid-day sun feel about them.
The final choice for distinct shapes is Cruise Ship Through Ruin. I think this could have been included as a composition of verticals or diagonals but I see the square openings as the most dominant shapes even though the shadows cast by the remains of the roof are the most interesting feature.
Each day the residents of Grand Turk’s only town watch one or two cruise ships head to the custom built port at the tip of the island. There the passengers disembark to a groomed beach, a duty free shopping mall and the type of Caribbean bar you might find in a theme park, a few hours later they board ship and sail off through the night to another island with more duty free shops to drink cocktails from coconut shells.
The first of two implied triangles returns to the beach and is a simple composition of a man flying a colourful kite against the darkening sky. I have enhanced the grey of the clouds with a graduated ND filter and then deleted the filter over the kite. I took this shot through the grasses at the back of the beach to suggest the location is a little off the beaten track.
I was drawn back time and time again to the different tones of the shallow water inside the barrier reef and the way this divided the frame into horizontal blocks. I think that it is interesting to have alternative implied triangles, the people and the kite might be the more obvious but the triangle between the white sails and the kite are equally strong. I like the calm symmetric composition with the kite at the centre which fits with the calm sea and empty beach.
The conch fisherman is my favourite photograph in the collection. The implied triangle formed by his body and arms as he reaches into his tub to take another conch to clean is a very strong shape. I have cropped tight to focus all attention on the subject but the sea and the specks of sand on his body give the photograph a context. I considered whether to dodge his face to reduce the shadow but because one side of his face is so well lit I think the shadows show the strength of his features and add more texture to the image.
It is fortuitous to be able to include a conch fisherman in the collection as this large shell fish is the staple protein in the islands and appears on every menu. TCI is the only place in the world to have a commercial conch farm and conch shells are to be found washed up on every beach.
Rhythm and Pattern
Bottles is the first of two rhythm images. This photograph of the wall of the local Coca Cola importer appealed at many levels. The ubiquitous nature of Coke is an obvious story but the huge, out of scale bottles were so out of place I wanted to capture them. I have cropped in tight to the bottles to emphasise the rhythm as the eye moves across the row and, in some ways, this tight crop makes the viewer work a little harder to realise that the roof line gives the photo scale.
I have included a wider crop in the contact sheet below. I think that I would have captured this image quite differently if I had studied William Eggleston or Stephen Shore before I left rather than after I got back. I say this because they are so incongruous and out of place but are also such recognisable items that they are, at the same time, everyday and mundane.
Conch shells as mentioned above are emblematic of these islands and in that regard made the perfect subject for the second example of rhythm. It does not have the regular rhythm of the bottles but after several test shots and crops I liked the inclusion of a small area of background and the diagonal lines formed by the edges of the shells.
Metal lizards completes my collection and is included to represent pattern. The lizards are on sale in a local craft market so are destined to leave TCI behind them. Until then they are tacked to boards in their thousands and create striking macro and micro patterns.
* (1) Higgins, Jackie. (2013) Why it Does Not have to be in Focus: Modern Photography Explained, Thames and Hudson
* (2) Eggleston, Wiliam. (2002) William Eggleston’s Guide, 2nd Edition, 2013 reprint, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
* (3) Freeman, Michael (2010), the Photographer’s Mind. Lewes, The Ilex Press.
* (4) Koudelka, Josef. (2007) Josef Koudelka: Thames & Hudson Photofile with an introduction by Bernard Cuau. London: Thanks and Hudson.
* (1) National Gallery or Art (2008) Misrach Exhibition www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2008/misrach/