Tag Archives: Abruzzo

The Role of Olive Trees in Koudelka’s Wall

Montefino, Abruzzo 2008 - 1/100 at f/5.6, ISO 100

Montefino, Abruzzo 2008 – 1/100 at f/5.6, ISO 100

It often takes a small detail for us to totally connect to a photo book. In Josef Koudelka’s Wall it was plate 42 Off Route 1 East that shows one large olive tree stump and hundreds of smaller stumps disappearing over the horizon

We own a small farm in central Italy, half the land is planted to about 400 olive trees ranging from hundreds of years old to trees we have planted in the last 10 years. For a number of years we lived on the farm and tended these groves, it’s back breaking work, pruning half the trees each year, cutting off the dozens of suckers that spring from the roots throughout the year, clearing weeds that invade the trees’ space and, in Italy, endlessly cutting the grass. Once a year for a few weeks there is a frantic dawn to dusk harvest to collect the fruit before it starts to degrade and haul it to the press . The end result is two fold, firstly perfect untainted, real olive oil that is only found in olive producing regions that follow the old inefficient methods of production and secondly the farmers fall in love with their trees.

They are glorious plants, full of vigour and energy at the top whilst developing slowly and gracefully at the base to form gnarled, twisted trunks that tell the story of generation upon generation of farmers who have pruned them into their regionally preferred shape. Olive farmers know every tree on their land, they have spent hours every season with that one tree, they remember the useful rock they use to weigh down their harevesting net that fits perfectly into the hollow at the base of the tree or the hole in the trunk that tempts hornets to nest or lizards to hide or the low branch that tries to brain the unsuspecting farmer when moving a ladder or cutting the grass. My wife and I both had our own favourite trees, ones that we looked forward to working under, or sitting under or just admiring. I was deeply upset when the farmer on the other side of the valley cut down his ancient trees to clear land for arable crops so I cannot begin to imagine the distress of a farmer seeing his own olive trees all cut down to create a demilitarised zone, to see them trying to sprout again every spring and to see the shoots cut off to keep the view clear for the soldiers.

Palestinian trees, whose branch is still a symbol for peace, have been uprooted, stolen (they have real value as a mature tree), vandalised and abused. The impact on the families that own them is not just economic, it is psychologically scaring. Trees are diligently tended by each generation to be passed on to the next, these plants are a family’s heritage as well as an economic asset their livelihood.

Koudelka instinctively understands the intense relationship between the farmer and his trees and repeatedly uses the olive tree as a symbol of victimisation in Wall. The stumps of trees cleared for military purposes are also a symbol of brutal prioritisation by the Israeli government who understand the wider role of the olive tree in their own culture, the Kings of Israel were anointed using olive oil and it plays an important part in the celebration of Jewish festivals.

The olive tree is important to each of the three main religions of the region, the name Christ is derived from the Greek work chrism which means “to anoint with oil” and some Christian churches still have a Chrism mass when olive oil is blessed to be used in various church rituals. In Islam, it is a holy tree and both the tree and its oil are frequently mentioned in the Qur’an. It is believed to be one of the first plants to have been farmed by man and as it originates from this corner of the Mediterranean it is deeply embedded within the culture of the region.

By using the olive tree as a motif Koudelka simultaneously reminds us of the common ground that exists but that is rarely recognised by the antagonists, the destructive impact of the wall’s construction and the juxtaposition of beautiful trees and reinforced cement.

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Assignment 3 The Reality and Illusion of Mannequins

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Background and Influences

The aim of Assignment 3 is to show a command of colour in photography. To show this command we are asked to take a series of pictures that exhibit:

  • harmony through complimentary colours;
  • harmony through similar colours;
  • colour contrast;
  • colour accent.

In addition to this brief I wanted to build a series of pictures that challenged me at a creative and technical level and that felt progressional. It is nearly five months since I finished assignment 2 and, in that time, the main focus has been to start studying the evolution of colour photography from William Eggleston in the USA through to Martin Parr in Britain. I have discussed these influences in a separate post (here) and each of the studied artists is separately discussed elsewhere in this blog. (EgglestonShoreParr – Ray-Jones and Parr). I also researched a group of Magnum photographers to understand how they dealt with reflections and, in some cases mannequins (here).

The study of contemporary colour photography is ongoing with many other paths to explore but I have established a simple list of attributes that stand out for me in the work of Eggleston, Shore, Vergara, Parr, Fox and others and that I want to bring to my work:

  • photography is communication, say something;
  • explore strong, saturated colours;
  • have the freedom to use colour in a bold & uninhibited way;
  • work in sets or series and don’t chase single spectacular images;
  • recognise the photographic potential in the banal and in everyday life;
  • remember that every part of the frame has a part to play in composition;
  • create layers of detail that ask the viewer to pause and look more closely;
  • use depth of field to fill the frame in terms of depth as well as vertically and horizontally.

Beyond these general points I am interested in the specific technique of daylight flash or artificial lighting that are notable features of Martin Parr’s and Anna Fox’s work. It brings an additional layer of depth to an image by creating a distinction of light between foreground and background. My choice of subject matter in assignment 3 did not lend itself to this idea so I am exploring it as a personal project (here) with the view to devleoping it in a later assignment.

Tutor feedback on assignment 2 suggested that I could have focussed on developing the theme of abandonment and decay and I have noted several tutor’s comments on the OCA forum about using assignments to create cohesive sets of photographs. In assignment 2 I put achieving the list of design elements ahead of developing a cohesive series of images and feel the submission was weakened by that decision. In this assignment I have come nearer to putting the images and the cohesion of the set first.

Finally I like the idea that Anna Fox used in Workstations of collecting text and images about a single subject and (only) bringing them together in the final edit. Workstations is a collection of photographs taken in offices in the post industrial era of the Margret Thatcher premiership. Fox is quite clear that the photos are a critique of the Thatcher-influenced society but by using quotations from various sources she simultaneously underlines the message of the picture and adds an element of satire and humour. I have chosen to use this idea in assignment 3 and, without any specific pictures in mind, have collected quotations about fashion and by fashionistas which I have only paired with the photos as I placed them into the final presentation.

Mannequins

The mannequin, in its modern form,  started to appear on the high streets of Paris, London and New York in the 1870s and quickly became an essential part of any window display. They have always been much more than an elaborate coat hanger parading the fashionable clothes of the day, but also mimicking the fashionable body shape of their era and appearing in displays that reflect the en-trend topics of the times.

In their day they have been modelled on royalty, film stars, musicians and fashion models; they have been the target of the same campaigners who helped push the American Government into passing the alcohol prohibition laws; there are museums dedicated to them; they star in novels and films; they are an ever present feature of every high street and shopping centre in the developed world.

The Ultimate Role Model

I became intrigued by mannequins when working on my first test shots for assignment 3; shop windows present us with an illusion based on idealised human forms standing behind distorted reflections of the real world so the reality and illusion become interwoven in complex patterns.

From the street we see layer upon layer with varying intensities of lightthe interior of the shop, the mannequins in the window display, the reflections of the street, the shop fronts opposite, and in this mix of interior and exterior, of reflection and reality, of mannequins and people we have the sharp end of a fashion world that uses fibre glass role models to sell clothing designed for super models.

The high street is the public face of an industry employing nearly 1 million people in Britain and contributing more than £21 billion a year to the UK economy and, at the other end of the supply chain, a trade that represents 80% of Bangladesh’s exports? But, behind beautiful mask there is an ugliness.

  • It is an industry built on waste with this season’s lines inevitably destined for next year’s landfill; sustainability and durability are its enemies; fad, whim, self indulgence and disposability its allies.
  • Fast fashion, the rush to bring cheap copies of catwalk designs to the high street, generates a scramble for ever more cost effective supply chains so the rich buying world exploits the poor supply world driving down costs and consuming depleted resources.
  • Sweat shops abound from Asia to the Americas; children, prized for their nibble needlework, make up a substantial part of a workforce housed in unhealthy, dangerous and often deadly factories.
  • Wages in many parts of the world are so low NGOs talk of slave labour.
  • Badly managed farms, being paid the bare minimum for their crop, consume 2,000 litres of water to produce enough cotton to make one t-shirt. A t-shirt that quite probably will be dyed in a factory that blends toxic chemicals with scarce water supplies before discharging poisonous waste, untreated, and often running denim blue, into rivers and oceans.

Closer to home young people are offered abnormal body shapes as desirable, perhaps even essential, so they pursue the “thigh gaps” and “concave stomachs” of unhealthy fashion models who themselves can be suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia or from substance abuse and alcoholism.

This is the background to my short study of mannequins. In layers of direct and reflected light I set out to capture the cocktail of illusion, fantasy, reality, truth and untruth found in shop windows in every high street. Mannequins mindlessly promote a self obsessed, egotistical and hedonistic industry in denial; a global industry under increasing pressure to address fundamental issues of environment, sustainability, ethics and fair trade on one side of the equation and the physical and mental health of consumers on the other.

The Photographs

Layers are the common thread that link the mannequin series . These can be seen as layers of space or layers of light. For example in fig. 01 there is a “real” layer that includes the mannequins and the shop’s lighting, a two dimensional layer comprised of the photograph of the two models and a reflected layer which appears to be behind the photograph but is, in fact, the nearest layer to the camera. The three layers are presented as a photograph “flattened” into a single two dimensional image.

The three spacial layers often have differing intensities of light within them so there are more layers of light than of space and the relationships and interplay between the layers becomes more complex with similar levels of brightness or tone linking across the spacial layers. The reflections often appear as a backdrop as we sub-consciously decode the layers and place them in logical positions; the mannequins and the photograph are placed in front of the building.

The shop window display presents a world that we know to be an illusion but by consistently associating particular brands or styles with a specific fantasy the fashion industry adds data to, what Walter Benjamin called, our “optical unconscious”. We learn these links between brands and social categories so we know that Ralph Lauren represents the polo set, that gentleman farmers wear brown and green checked shirts, that “Twickenham man” wears a Barbour jacket. Having learnt this code we can dress to tell people how we want them to see us and we can de-code the way a stranger dresses so we know how they wish to be viewed. We don’t assume a person in a Ralph Lauren shirt plays polo with Prince William but we know they want us to see them as a person of style and taste who aspires to drink Pimms at Cowdray Park.

These photographs try to express the complex relationship between society and fashion and between reality and illusion by exploring the layers of space and light in shop windows.

"body attitudes bespeak a visual language that is an integral part of visual merchandising" Marsha Bentley Hale Fig. 1 Pescara - 1/125 @ f/11, ISO 1,600

“body attitudes bespeak a visual language that is an integral part of visual merchandising”
Marsha Bentley Hale

Fig. 01 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 1,600 – Colour Accent 

Headless mannequins are often combined with photographs of models to deliver the marketing message. The classic Italian architecture acts as a projection screen for the models and the yellow jacket stands out as an accent in the foreground. The models and the mannequins form a tight central group whose lack of faces allows the ethereal faces of he models to dominate. The tattoo on his right hand looks suspiciously like Margret Thatcher who would be an unlikely, but intriguing, role model for an Italian model.

"we try to use organic fabrics and low impact dyes but we won't do so unless we can achieve a high quality product" Stella McCartney
“we try to use organic fabrics and low impact dyes but we won’t do so unless we can achieve a high quality product”
Stella McCartney

Fig 02 Guildford – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 220 – Colour Accent

The faceless mannequins and the plaques on the wall of the white shop front create wide-mouthed silent screams while the the crossed highlights suggest a more angelic interpretation.  The beams of light are the accent. The seemingly broken mirror might offer a punctum. This is one example of a number of this series where I have looked for very subtle tonal variations rather than dramatic, bright colour variations.

"the shop mannequin sees endless activity that passes for human existence" British Film Council
“the shop mannequin sees endless activity that passes for human existence”
British Film Council

Fig. 03 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 10,000 – Colour Accent

A summer clad mannequin watches shoppers huddled under a bright umbrella to escape the rain. The translucent turquoise blouse adds to the mysterious layers in this low light photograph. The bright shop’s lights contrast with the darkening street which is lifted by the splash of colour accent from the umbrella.

"there is a sense of movement, a feeling that someone is there" Tanya Ragir - Mannequin Artist
“there is a sense of movement, a feeling that someone is there”
Tanya Ragir – Mannequin Artist

Fig 04 Guildford – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 450 – Colour Accent

All of the photographs are about mixing reality and fashion but it was difficult to capture real people in a way that worked with the shop displays. In this picture the two photographs and the young women are neatly positioned so each face looks towards the camera. The photographs provide a ghostly presence over the women. The till to the right might be a punctum.

"at each of the six stages to make a garment the negative impacts on the environment are as numerous as they are varied" Bangalore University
“at each of the six stages to make a garment the negative impacts on the environment are as numerous as they are varied”
Bangalore University

Fig.05 Godalming – 1/125 at f/13, ISO 640 – Colour Contrast

Colour contrast between the blue sky, signs and dresses with the red brick buildings on a perfect spring day, in a perfect Surrey dormitory town where the mannequins and models project the classic Surrey “yummy mummy” look onto the quaint, old, town centre shop fronts. The target market for these type of clothes are almost certainly blissfully oblivious of how cotton dresses are produced. As a photograph this is one of a few where the angles, lines and perspective create a sense of movement so we could be passing Godalming on a train. The small figure top right seems to be perched on a window sill looking down on us.

"black is modest and arrogant at the same time, it says I don't bother you - don't bother me" Yohiji Yamamoto
“black is modest and arrogant at the same time, it says I don’t bother you – don’t bother me”
Yohiji Yamamoto

Fig. 06 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 6,400 – Colour Contrast

Contrast is between the muted greys, greens and blacks with the bright strip of yellow light from the shop’s interior on a wet day in Pescara. Warm colours dominate the centre and contrast with the many cool colours and tones in the rest of the image. . The perfect mannequins dressed with elegant style in summer dresses contrast the woman wrapped up against the unseasonal spring rain. In addition to the contrasts there is a strong sense of left to right movement created by the perspective and the lines and the women’s direction of travel.

"you know she has been touched by human hand and interpreted by human feelings" Cyril Peck - Mannequin Artist
“you know she has been touched by human hand and interpreted by human feelings”
Cyril Peck – Mannequin Artist

Fig. 07 Guildford – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100 – Colour Contrast

One of the simplest pictures with only a hint of reflection. Blue, pick and yellows are all strongly contrasting. The psychology  of window displays is complex and could be a study in its own right. There are complete mannequins, headless mannequins limbless mannequins, mannequins set in the context of photographs of models, faces with personality, featureless faces and everything in between. Most designers seem to be de-personlising their models yet every now and again there are “human” touches like these two mannequins holding each other’s stylised hands.

"a cosmos of heavenly bodies set in a complex orbit" Prada
“a cosmos of heavenly bodies set in a complex orbit”
Prada

Fig . 08 Citta S’Angelo – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 560 – Colour Contrast

The very bright sunlight has helped create an ethereal scene where it is difficult to distinguish between mannequins and humans and to de-cipher the various layers. The main contrast is between blue and orange but the violet/purple is so strong it creates tension with all the other colours. I think this adds to the other-world feeling. The punctum for me is the silhouette of the boy on his scooter under the eye of the taller silhouette who might be human or mannequin.

"only in an imaginary world can the unexpected and irrational intertwine with spontaneity and naturalness" Dolce and Gabbana
“only in an imaginary world can the unexpected and irrational intertwine with spontaneity and naturalness”
Dolce and Gabbana

Fig. 09 Guildford – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800 – Complimentary Colours

The greens to the left blend into the reds on the right in a gentle way so the combination of the elderly couple, the empty road, the angle of the photographed model and the two mannequins create a relaxed, Sunday morning (it wasn’t) feel to the composition. This particular shop had large plate glass windows providing sharp reflections and I picked this one partly because of the human couple and partly because everything seems to fit so perfectly together. A “comfort food” sort of photograph.

"avoid the masculinity problem by producing mannequins that are abstract or even completely headless" The Mannequin Mystique
“avoid the masculinity problem by producing mannequins that are abstract or even completely headless”
The Mannequin Mystique

Fig. 10 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 10,000 – Complimentary Colours

It was important to me to explore less obvious colours and this is one of a small number of my selected images that are predominantly monochrome. I was looking for tonal relationships away from yellow/blue or green/red and this shot is about these subtleties. The harmony is between the greys and brown/oranges. The composition has a lot of the features I was seeking; the bicycle, the people with umbrellas and the suited mannequin are all in stark contrast with the seemingly incongruous matching bag and shoes.

"they must convey idealised images of ourselves, what we aspire to rather than what we are" Fashion Institute of Technology
“they must convey idealised images of ourselves, what we aspire to rather than what we are”
Fashion Institute of Technology

Fig. 11 Guildford – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 450 – Complimentary Colours

For many years the fashion industry has identified minority sports that few shoppers can or even want to engage in but the private school exclusivity of polo, sailing, rugby and rowing make them attractive as statements of good taste or breeding or manliness. The pale greens and pinks work well together and the interior and exterior combine to create lines of movement from the background into the foreground which seems to work especially well with the sporting theme. The punctum for me is “oars 21% off” – who wants oars and, if they did why would they buy them from a fashion boutique? why 21% not 20% ?.

"able to claim a unique duality in its brand positioning pairing modernity and heritage" Gucci
“able to claim a unique duality in its brand positioning pairing modernity and heritage”
Gucci

Fig. 12 Guildford – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 500 – Complimentary Colours

One of my favourites. with the Modigliani head positioned between the gold clock and the Body Shop sign staring, with no little attitude, into the far distance. The complimentary colours are the red/orange bricks and the blue sky but they are really just a background to the white model in the black dress which are equally complimentary. After all the headless mannequins and the ones with featureless faces this one is creatively sculptured. As often is the case there is also a sense of movement created by the camera angle and the receding perspective.

"androgyny and ethnic diversity rule the creative landscape" Rootstien - Mannequin Manufacturer
“androgyny and ethnic diversity rule the creative landscape”
Rootstien – Mannequin Manufacturer

Fig. 13 Guildford –  1/125 at f/11, ISO 1,100 – Similar Colours

This photographs is in yellow to brown tones and is representative of a common window display where the monochrome and severe lines of thin mannequin are softened by the warm colours of the photographed models. The yellow tape on the scaffolding creates interesting highlights.

"unique mix of innovative audacity and legendary Italian quailty" Gucci
“unique mix of innovative audacity and legendary Italian quailty”
Gucci

Fig. 14 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 450 – Similar Colours

I used shop mirrors in a lot of photographs but this was the one that worked the best. The reflection of the piazza is mysterious to the right and left but with window-like clarity in the mirror which also increases our view of the mannequin. The position of the head, just on the skyline, was important to allow her lips to become a focal point. I like the way the street lamp on the right seems large enough to be a large tower. I find a lot of the interest in many of these images is the way in which the reflections can distort scale and shapes which helps my objective of asking viewers to linger and study the image.

"available in male, female or child sizes and any skin colour" Red Beau Mannequins
“available in male, female or child sizes and any skin colour”
Red Beau Mannequins

Fig. 15 Guildford – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 320 – Similar Colours

All the colours are from the quadrant of pink through to yellow and are therefore harmonious. I wanted the photo of the child to tower over the two mannequins which might have been selected to offer ethnic diversity. The old houses opposite create a neutral backdrop.

"models are there to look like mannequins not real people" Grace Jones
“models are there to look like mannequins not real people”
Grace Jones

Fig. 16 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 11,000 – Similar Colours

This nearly monochrome image works very well for me. If it is possible to have multiple punctums  there could be two here with the group sitting at the street cafe to the left and the ice cream tricycle to the right and the way that both are framed by the model. I very consciously framed the model to exclude her face as I wanted to reduce her human presence to reflect the idea that a large black and white photograph is probably the cheapest mannequin you can buy so her role is as a mannequin not a woman.

Photography Notes

The subject matter and my approach posed a number of technical challenges. It was essential to use deep DoF to bring out the detail in all the available layers and typically I was photographing from a light place into a dark place through glass and reflections. On the rare occasions when there was a little more light, I under-exposed by 1/3 of a stop to help saturate the colours. The combined result was an exercise in low light photography and I was regularly using high ISOs to get the result I wanted. This doesn’t over-concern me as the images still work at 10 x 8 and whilst a few are grainy this might increase the mystery of the layers. I have post processed to maximise contrast and saturation either by using curves in Photoshop or pro-contrast in Color Efex Pro 4, but I didn’t want the images to look “over-processed” and hope my changes were within the realms of a “light touch”.

I looked at photos of reflections taken by Magnum photographers (here) and this taught me a lot about angles and on how to photograph through glass. I had no wish to include myself in any pictures so straight on (90 degrees) was usually a poor option, 45 degrees or less worked well but very few shots were successful when the “real” street as opposed to the “reflected” street came into the frame. Framing was often quite time consuming as I had to train my eyes to see all the layers at once and frame to combine the shop interiors and the exteriors effectively.

The best results were on days when it was bright enough to have a reasonable difference in the strength of light between the sunnier and shadier sides of the street. The best reflections were obviously achieved looking at the reflections of the sunny side in windows of the shady side. However, on one shoot in Italy the sun was so bright the contrast became too great and very few of the pictures worked (fig. 08 above is one of the few that I think did). Some of best layering effects came when the day was dull and the shop lights started to play a role. I undertook one shoot in an indoor shopping centre in Pescara Nord but there tended to be brighter lights in the shop windows than in the aisles and the reflections were minimal.

I have strayed some distance from the brief both in terms of not varying the subject matter, not creating movement diagrams and not using filters. In my opinion none of these ideas would have added value to what I was trying to achieve but I look forward to hearing my tutor’s views on the matter.

Links to Blog Posts for the Development of Assignment 3

Planning Assignment 3 with Tony Ray-Jones & Martin Parr

Developing Assignment 3

Evolving Assignment 3 – Mannequins

Researching Assignment 3 – Practitioners

Test Shots and More Thoughts for Assignment 3

Steal Like an Artist

Assignment 3 Contact Sheets

Sources

Photographer sources are detailed under each of the blog posts listed above. The following are a list of internet sources that I researched to provide background to the text.

Academia.edu – Fashion Industry and Media Today: The Negative Impact on Society by Ali Malik Al-Azzawi – www.academia.edu/1172572/Fashion_Industry_and_Media_Today_The_Negative_Impact_on_Society

The Daily Record – Damaging effect catwalk models are having on young women – www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/fashion-beauty/damaging-effect-catwalk-models-having-1729385

Greenpeace International – Dirty Laundry: Unravelling the corporate connections to toxic water pollution in China – www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/dirty-laundry/

Ecologist – Fashion’s Impact on the Earth by Safia Minney – www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/clothing/1055961/safia_minney_fashions_impact_on_the_earth.html

Mannequin Madness – The Mannequin Mystique by Emily and Per Ola dAulaire – mannequinmadness.wordpress.com/the-history-of-mannequin/

Not Just a Label – The Slow Fashion Movement: reversing environmental damage by Maureen Dickson, Carlotta Cataldi & Crystal Grover – www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/the_slow_fashion_movement

The Guardian – Britain’s rag trade revival – www.theguardian.com/fashion/2014/feb/15/britains-rag-trade-revival-marks-and-spencer

The Guardian – Britain’s fashion industry now worth nearly £21bn a year, report reveals by Imogen Fox – www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/sep/15/british-fashion-industry-report-business

The Guardian – To Die For: Is fashion wearing out the World? by Lucy Siegle – book review – www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/12/to-die-for-lucy-siegle-review

Unicef – Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse – www.unicef.org/protection/57929_55452.html

Assignment 1 Contrasts

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

Fig 1 - The Dark Angel - 1/100 at f/9, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Black and White – The Dark Angel – 1/100 at f/9, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

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

Fig 2. High - 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

High – The Standing Tower – 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Fig 2. Low - 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Low – The Fallen Tower – 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

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

Light - 1/80 at f/14, ISO 6400, 16 to 35mm lens at 16mm

Light – The Junk Room – 1/80 at f/14, ISO 6400, 16 to 35mm zoom lens at 16mm

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.

Dark Font - 1/20 at f/2.8, ISO 6400, 24 - 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Dark Font – 1/20 at f/2.8, ISO 6400, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

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

Few - 1/125 at f/6.7, ISO 100, 24 - 70mm zoom lens at 40mm

Few Locals – 1/125 at f/6.7, ISO 100, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 40mm

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.

Many - 1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 24 - 70mm zoom lens at 65mm

Many Tourists – 1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 65mm

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

Much Graffiti - 1/125 at f/6.3, ISO 5600, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Much Graffiti – 1/125 at f/6.3, ISO 5600, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

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.

Few Graffiti - 1/125 at f/14., ISO 4000, 16 to 35mm lens at 35mm

Few Graffiti – 1/125 at f/14., ISO 4000, 16 to 35mm lens at 35mm

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

Rough Wheel - 1/60 at f/6.3, ISO 100, 24 - 70mm zoom lens at 36mm

Rough Wheels – 1/60 at f/6.3, ISO 100, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 36mm

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.

Smooth Discs - 1/60 at f/3.2, ISo 100, 105mm prime lens

Smooth Discs – 1/60 at f/3.2, ISo 100, 105mm prime lens

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

Diagonal Arial Dance 1/1600 at f/4.2, ISO 400, 70 - 300mm zoom lens at 70mm

Diagonal Aerial Dance 1/1600 at f/4.2, ISO 400, 70 – 300mm zoom lens at 70mm

Rounded Tumble - 1/4000 at f/4, ISO 250, 70 to 300mm zoom lens at 70mm

Rounded Tumble – 1/4000 at f/4, ISO 250, 70 to 300mm zoom lens at 70mm

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

Moving Cyclist - 1/125 at f/2.8, ISO 360, 24 to 70mm at 24mm

Moving Cyclist – 1/125 at f/2.8, ISO 360, 24 to 70mm at 24mm

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.

Still Skateboarder - 1/100 at f/8, ISO 640, 24 to 70 zoom lens at 35mm

Still Skateboarder – 1/100 at f/8, ISO 640, 24 to 70 zoom lens at 35mm

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

Curved Poppies - 1/100 at f36, ISO 2500, 105mm prime lens

Curved Poppies – 1/100 at f36, ISO 2500, 105mm prime lens

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.

Straight Poppies - 1/100 at f6.3, iSO 100, 105mm prime lens

Straight Poppies – 1/100 at f6.3, iSO 100, 105mm prime lens

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”.

Exercise 13 – Finding Contrasts

Look Many - 1/250 f2 ISO 100

Look Many – 1/250 f2 ISO 100

In exercise 13 we are asked to look back through our existing photographs and identify pairs that represent contrasting subjects.

Pair 1 – Still and Moving

Fig. 1 - Still Waters - 1/160 at f/5.6 ISO 125

Fig. 1 – Still Waters Findhorn Scotland – 1/160 at f/5.6 ISO 125

Fig. 2 - Crashing Waves - 1/500 at f/8 ISO 125

Fig. 2 – Crashing Waves Queensland Australia – 1/500 at f/8 ISO 125

These two images exhibit, both of the sea, are strongly contrasting in many ways. Still as in calm versus wind blown, moving, crashing, surf. There is also a good contrast in light, a summer’s evening in  the north east of Britain and the backlit very early morning  light behind the waves and the surfer in Queensland Australia.

Pair 2 – Spring and Winter

Fig. 3 - Spring in Monti della Laga - 1/200 f/4.5 ISO 100

Fig. 3 – Spring in Monti della Laga – 1/200 f/4.5 ISO 100

Mountains-winter

Fig. 4 – Winter in Monti della Laga – 1/125 f/12 ISO 100

The contrast in fig. 3 and 4 is simply Spring and Winter at the same place in Abruzzo Italy. The large mountain in the background, Corno Grande, is crowned with fluffy white clouds on an otherwise clear spring day but stark against a cold winter sky in the second photograph.

Pair 3 Fake and Real

Fig. 5 - Fake Black & White Skin - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 110

Fig. 5 – Fake Black & White Skin – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 110

Fig. 6 - Real Black and White Skin - 1/180 at f/6.7 ISO 125

Fig. 6 – Real Black and White Skin – 1/180 at f/6.7 ISO 125

A contrast of real skin against fake animal print skin. The mysterious man in fig.5 is watching the dawn on the winter solstice at Stonehenge. The monitor lizard is waiting out the hot afternoon in a tree at Noosa in New South Wales.

Pair 4 – In and Out of Season

Fig. 7 - August in Pineto - 1/180 at f/8 ISO 125

Fig. 7 – August in Pineto – 1/180 at f/8 ISO 125

Fig. 8 - September in Positano - 1/15 at f18 ISO 100

Fig. 8 – September in Positano – 1/15 at f18 ISO 100

I am intrigued how the summer holiday season in Italy is defined primarily by the calendar. In August the beaches are packed with people, sun loungers and umbrellas. On the 1st of September, regardless of the weather, they are handed back to foreign tourists and dog walkers. In Positano it is still early enough in September for the umbrellas and sun loungers to be optimistically set out on the beach every morning and packed away, unused, at the end of the day.

Researching Black and White and Some Thoughts on Digital Capture

The Maiella from Roccacalacsio October 2010 - 1/125 at f/6 ISO 100

The Maiella from Roccacalacsio October 2010 – 1/125 at f/6 ISO 100

I sense that this is a subject that I will return to time and time again during this course. For me, black and white images have always had a strong effect, I respond to the qualities of tonal breadth and graphic design that are often present in landscape and architectural photography; the gritty, timelessness of old Life magazines or the frighteningly, brilliant and moving war photography of Don McCullin; the intimacy of the best contemporary street photography or the work of the great masters of the art that crosses many genres.

However, it has never been my forte and it is a key objective of my learning journey to start to “see” in black and white and to produce well thought through, technically strong black and white images that work. Lofty ambitions indeed. To this end, and over the last few weeks, I have been starting to read more of the thoughts of people who have mastered monochrome and to spend time just looking at great black and white photographs. On-line, second hand book shops are a great source of material and that combined with a couple of books I already own and a visit to the local bookstore has given me a starting point for research.

For many years my interests lay with Landscape so the first book from my own shelf is The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, a book I purchased in a Manilla bookshop that recycled books from American libraries. As the title suggests this is primarily a collection of Adams’ photographs, in fact seven portfolios selected by Adams himself to show his work across many different subjects. There is a preface written by Adams where he makes the intriguing comment that he has worked with much the same approach and the same general techniques for forty five years.

Ansel Adams lived from 1902 to 1984, and I wonder whether he would have said the same if he had been born 50 or 60 years later? In the very late 20th and early 21st Centuries we have seen photography turned on its head by the “perfect storm” the need for digital image capture, transmission and storage created by, amongst others, the space race, the rapid development of that technology converging with a quantum leap in computer processing power for the home user and the coming of the ubiquitous smart phone.

The first commercial digital camera was patented as early as 1972 by Texas Instruments but I would argue that few professionals or serious amateurs would have considered a full or partial switch to digital until Nikon launched their first digital SLR in 1999, the D1, and Canon quickly followed with the EOS D30 in 2000. The Nikon D1 boasted 2.7 megapixels and the Canon D30 3.25 megapixels. This compares with the 36 megapixels offered by the Nikon D800 launched last year. I am not technically qualified to answer whether Ansel Adams could have created the subtle tones of his masterpieces with 36 megapixels, Photoshop CS6 and modern papers and printers but I am certain that he would not have been able to do so as recently as 2000.

It is not for me to say what Adams would or would not have done but many, most (?) or a sizeable proportion (?) of working photographers and a high percentage of amateurs born in the 50’s and 60’s discarded a significant amount of the technology they grew up with sometime after 1999. For some, such as press photographers, it might initially have been an enforced change and for others an act of faith to climb onboard the digital revolution and to explore the possibilities. I wonder if, in the year 2030, when like Adams they are 79 or 80 and publishing a portfolio of their life’s work, that any of this generation of photographers will write that they have worked with much the same techniques and the same approach for the whole of their career.

But, that is all about technology. Adams chose to use black and white, long after colour processing became available. Initially his reservations could have been analogous to using the limited ability of a D1 in 1999. According to Richard B. Woodward writing in the on-line Smithsonian Magazine (2009) Adams wanted to control the whole process from capture to final print and the complexities of colour processing from the 1930’s to the 1950’s meant that processing occurred in laboratories and the results were, in Woodward’s words, a “crapshoot”. However, Adams this icon of black and white photography, did use colour and captured many Kodachromes in the 40’s and consulted to Eastman Kodak and Polaroid in their quest to create accurate colour film so he was obviously no Luddite. We know that Adams continued to predominantly use black and white long after colour was available and, indeed practical, so this was clearly an artistic choice.

The answer to why he made this choice lies in his work. His famous American Western landscapes are more about tone than shape. The range of light captured, for example, in Lower Yosemite Fall where the highlights on the leaves leap from the page, defined and textured above the dark waters of the river with its glistening reflections and sense of deep waters. The towering peaks subtly receding into the clouds above the pine valley in Winter Storm includes a tonal range as broad as the valley he photographed.

My research this week has helped me understand that his technique of processing the minute detail of his prints, selectively managing every tone to create the desired effect would have been impossible in colour then and is still impossible now. To reach this understanding I needed two key pieces of input, one was obviously to look at the work of a master of his art but the driver to take me to that point was my local book store purchase; Michael Freeman’s Field Guide to Black and White Photography is a compact and informative introduction to the subject. His practical comparison of the broad limits of post production processing of black and white versus the narrow limits of processing colour and how detail filled highlights and deep textured shadows can more easily coexist in a black and white world begin to explain why, for the right subject, managing tonal range can provide a more compelling image than the best processed colour original. Freeman (2013) explains that monochrome is not what we normally see, it is “distanced from what we take in through our eyes”  and that allows us to manipulate it in post processing in more extreme ways without breaching any norms of acceptability.  Understanding this is an important step for me to have taken on the road to understanding when and why to create black and white images and hopefully to discovering how to create compelling monochrome images.

Sources:

Adams, Ansel, with an Introduction by John Szarkowski. (1981) The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, New York, New York Graphic Society, Little, Brown and Company.

Freeman, Michael. (2013) Black and White Photography Field Guide, The art of creating digital monochrome, Lewes, The Ilex Press Limited.

Nikon DSLR History – www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/dslr.htm

Canon DSLR History – www.canon.com/camera-museum/history/canon_story/2001_2004/2001_2004.html

Texas Instruments – inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bldigitalcamera.htm

Ansel Adams and Colour Photography – www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Shades-of-Ansel-Adams.html

Exercise 09 Balance

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

This exercise involves selecting 6 of my own photographs and deciding how the balance works in each one. For each photograph it was necessary to identify the main points of balance, which could be shape, colour, tone, lines or any other elements. Then to draw a sketch of these parts and show how they relate to each other with a balance scale.

Having studied the course text and Michael Freeman’s (2007) ideas in The Photographer’s Eye and having spent a considerable time just looking at other photographers’ images I still found this a challenging task.

At one level I understand the concept of balance whereby a dominant large feature to the left can be balanced by a smaller feature to the right regardless of whether this is achieved by shape, colour, texture or tone but I feel I still need to better understand how this works when there is also depth to the image.  Here I have selected some images where the answer is simple and some where it appears harder to determine.

Fig. 1 Tractor

Fig. 1 Tractor

Tractor-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X5282

To start with Fig. 1 and a simple image of three men with a vintage tractor and harvester. I see a clear balance between the group of men on the left and the two large machines on the right which can be seen as one object or two. In addition the machinery forms a dominant triangle from bottom left to top right and the men and hazy background are in a balancing triangle on the left.

There is also a curve formed by the feet of the men, the tractor and the harvester which runs from front to back in the image.

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

dog-in-Rome-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X8214The dog in Rome photograph in fig.2 appears relatively straight forward. There are 4 shapes left to right, the dog, the couple and the two flower salesman. This gives a balance across the image. There is a strong line, the wall, running front to back and connecting the groups. This may be an over-complication as I can also see the image as just two groups, the couple with their dog as one group and the two salesman as the other.

I see the white shirt of the salesman as a balance to the nearly white dog and because all the other tones are much darker my eye moves back and forth from left to right between these two areas of brightness.

Fig. 3 Doorway

Fig. 3 Doorway

doorway-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6644In fig. 3 I specifically wanted to explore balance in a portrait frame. I sense that with many vertical compositions there are balances working both horizontally and vertically. In this example it is mostly horizontal with three strong groups left, centre and right but I also see the green window at the top as a counter balance to all the shapes in the bottom of the frame.

There are many textures in play here with a decaying stucco wall, the hard, dull, metal lamp post and the trunks and leaves on the trees. Complimentary colours also have a role with three shades of green left, right and top centre but overall I think it is the nearly symmetrical layout that is the most powerful feature.

Fig. 4 Chillies

Fig. 4 Chillies

chillies-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6628Fig. 4 is another vertical frame but seemingly simpler. There are two large blocks of colour and contrasting texture with the chillies at the top and the stone seat at the bottom. The man-made seat is nearly positioned in the horizontal centre but the chillies are off centre and a less regular shape so there is some tension between the solid/regular and the irregular pattern that is natural and less solid.

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

sheep-dog-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6264With Fig. 5 I have moved to an image that I found harder to analyse. To my eye there are two clear shapes – the dog and the sheep to the left as one and the sheep to the right as the other but because dog is distinctly  whiter I think he stands alone as an element and thereby making three elements in total. The dog is looking out of the frame whilst the sheep are intent on quenching their thirst and this strengthens his role as the dominant feature.

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Shephard-&-Flock-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X5761Fig. 6 is harder still. There is one long shape formed by the shepherd and his flock and a second, smaller shape made by the left hand dog. This seems to be the main shape balance even though the long shape fills 70% of the horizontal plane.

However, I am more drawn to the direction the dog on the right is moving and the perception of direction that is formed by the receding flock. The dog to the left and the flock form a curve that flows away from the bottom right. This movement might be strengthened by the triangular mountain top right. I think this is an image that is balanced mostly by lines.

roccacalascio_D2X7552

Fig. 7 Roccacalacsio

roccacalascio-with-shapes_D2X7552I found fig 7. the hardest to analyse. There are 4 strong shapes. The sky, the triangular rock and sheep to the left, the mountain ahead with its ruined castle and the white road complete with yet another shepherd. (If you photograph in the Abruzzi mountains you tend to have sheep and shepherds in many of your shots whether you wish to or not). I found it difficult to draw a balance scale and think that the balance comes from the two blocks of mountain and rocks divided by the white road which leads into the image and perhaps to the castle.

This was an excellent exercise that made me think long and hard about shape balance. I looked through a number of books and found that Freeman (2007) was the only author to hand who had anything to say on the subject. Internet research added little to my sources.

However, looking at photographs was far more useful and it is interesting to see how accomplished photographers instinctively seek and find shape balance. It is obviously clearer in black and white prints where shape and tone are dominant and the distraction of colour is removed. Cecil Beaton’s photograph of Quintin Hogg has a very clear and simple balance of the subject in a left hand frame and his smaller hat in a, more narrow, right hand frame.

Frederick Evans, On Sussex Downs, has divided the frame horizontally with the white road making a small dark area to the left and a large dark area to the right. His sky line is placed higher than the centre so we have three differing sized blocks divided by the road and the horizon. the trees break this skyline and stop the photograph being purely geometrical.

Robert Adams’ The Farmyard, has many elements spaced across the frame with a large building partly included to the left, then a telegraph pole, a tree and a silo. The last three are quite evenly spaced and the pole is linked into the tree with a white cylinder. Behind all of this the horizon is placed 2/3 down into the frame and everything is knitted together with the telephone lines. There are a lot of elements but the overall effect is very simple and restful, it is a tranquil scene.

Research on Positions in the Frame

Fig. 01- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 1- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Having completed the image capture and preparation for the exercise of positioning an object in different places in the frame, but before logging the results, I want to spend some time researching the basic principles of composition.

The Mind’s Eye, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1999), includes an essay on composition in which he makes some fundamental points of principle, the first being that composition must be one of our constant preoccupations and that it can only stem from intuition. He goes on to say that application of the golden rule is made by the photographer’s eye and not by geometric tools. This is the key, we survey a scene, point, compose and shoot using our instincts, yes, we do now have the option of dividing the view finder into the rule of thirds, a day that Cartier-Bresson hoped he would never see, but it is still our eye and our instinct that sees the shot.

I am only now discovering Cartier-Bresson’s work beyond the most recognisable and iconic images. I am intrigued that image after image follows a pattern of composition where the golden rule or golden section has been applied and, no doubt, applied instinctively. I understand that he did not crop and thereby re-compose his photographs in the dark room so what we see is what he saw in his viewfinder. Sir Ernst Gombrich (1978), the eminent art historian, wrote in his introduction to the Victoria and Albert Museum archive of Cartier-Bresson’s work that nearly all his photographs exhibit the visual balance and the secret geometry of a formal composition. We know he trained as an artist and Gombrich (1978) tells us that, in his older age, he painted and sketched more than he used a camera.

It comes as something of a relief that Michael Freeman (2007) reassures us that the photographer does not need to be concerned with the exact proportions calculated by the ancient Greeks and the painters of the renaissance, the golden rule. The important point is that each of the ways, generally devised by painters, to divide the frame recognises that we respond positively to certain proportions in a picture, a harmonious division. The photographer seeks a balance in composition, a balance between the space occupied by the subject or subjects and the space not occupied by the same.

The easily understood basis of the golden rule is that it is what nature appeared to have intended we use, it is apparently repeated time and again in natural design but, perhaps, the most telling fact is that the human face is divided into sections that follow the rule. Regardless of the mathematics it seems obvious that the human brain will be geared to recognising the human face and that we feel comfortable looking at something that mimics those proportions.

Fig. 01- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 2- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 1 is a picture I took in 2006 and shows my original crop of a photo of a neighbour in the middle of his field which had become an ocean of poppies. As a reference point I have re-cropped the image in Fig. 2 to place Pepe on the intersection of golden sections.

The rule of thirds is sometimes described as a simplified version of the golden section. It was apparently named much more recently, most sources I found cite John Thomas Smith (1797) in his book Remarks on Rural Scenery quoting a previous work by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It appears that Smith (1797) was making an observation that great painters tended to divide their canvas into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The sky often occupied a third and the land two thirds, he continues to say that he found that the ratio of two thirds to one third more pleasing that the precise formal half or any other proportion. For the none mathematician this is instantly more understandable and I am drawn to the idea that it was an observation on existing work rather than the application of a formula.

Fig. 3- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 3- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

In Fig. 3 I have moved Pepe to the vertical intersections created by the rule of thirds.

My summary of this short piece of research is that the golden rule and the rule of thirds have more similarities than differences. Both say that we respond positively to visual balance and that we can divide a composition into proportions that are harmonious and satisfying. However, neither can be a rigid rule of composition, and neither will direct us to a single perfect point to position the subject. In a scene where there is a single subject within an even background there are many potential points of position that follow the rules.

To bring this back to the exercise in hand Michael Freeman (2007) says that when we are photographing a single and “obvious subject” and where we have made the decision to allow free space around the subject, we have to decide where to place that object within the frame.  Assuming that the subject is going to take up a reasonably small part of the frame we are left with many choices. The golden section and the rule of thirds are useful tools to help make these choices but we are reminded by Cartier-Bresson (1999) that the camera is an instrument of intuition and spontaneity. The message must be to hone our instincts to find the harmonious balance so we point, compose and shoot without tedious calculation and delay.

Fig. 4- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 4- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

This little research project has given me a reason to revisit my original photo of Pepe and his poppy field and I have concluded that the most pleasing crop is the one in Fig. 4. Although as Freeman (2007) points out, free placement is never guaranteed, I wish I had included more poppies to the left as I would like to see a crop with Pepe even further to the right with the red poppies stretching further out behind him in two directions. However, I am pleased I was reminded of this image and came back to it and maybe even improved the composition.

A a small piece of non photographic information. The amazing display of poppies proved to be a once off event. Pepe had ploughed this field in preparation for planting young oak trees whose root balls had been impregnated with truffle spores. He must have ploughed at the perfect moment for poppy seeds as early next summer this wonderful display appeared. Soon after the photograph was taken he turned the soil again and planted his young oak trees. I am not sure whether the truffles have arrived yet, they say it takes seven to ten years, so maybe soon.