Tag Archives: Composition

Assignment 3 Self Assessment

Fig. 01 Pescara - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 720

Fig. 01 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 720

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

The choice of subject created a number of technical challenges. Firstly, the project became an exercise in low light photography; it was essential to have as deep DoF as possible to have both the mannequins and the reflections of the street in focus but because I was photographing from the street into shop interiors and through glass covered with reflections, light levels were usually low.

In any situation where low light is an issue there is the option of using a tripod and longer exposures but this has to be weighed against loss of spontaneity and introducing movement blur. Movement blur would not have been a problem in this instance but it was not practical to use a tripod on, often crowded, pavements and spontaneity was essential.

The end result is that a lot of the photographs were taken with a high ISO. I am not particularly concerned about this, many of the set are quite moody and melancholy and any noticeable noise has only added to that.

In summary, at a technical level I feel that I generally rose to these challenges with a few of the images having the desired mix of saturated colours and acceptable noise levels.

The second challenge was compositional. There was a limited choice in viewpoints that enabled me to frame the mannequins, capture reflections and avoid including myself in the frame. This meant that I ran the risk of capturing 16 similar images. There are too many right to left shots and, in this regard, a lack of variety.

Since looking at William Eggelston I have been focussed on improving my observational skills and I believe that a number of these images are based on having seen and captured small details that strengthen the photographs. There is clearly a lot more work needed to refine those skills but I believe assignment 3 is a step forward in this area.

Quality of Outcome

This submission was the end result of, what felt like, a long process. I started looking at the change in the high street being brought about by the opening of large indoor shopping centres resulting in the high street of many towns comprising of small, often immigrant, businesses, charity shops and betting shops. However, when I moved from Basingstoke and Aldershot to look at Guildford the model didn’t hold up because the town is comparatively wealthy and the high street is still full of mainstream fashion names. In effect Guildford High Street is more akin to a large shopping centre than to a high street. This started me thinking about mannequins and how they are created as body shape role models and about fashion in general with its endless new lines that promote cheap “disposable” clothing and waste.

I found the compositional opportunities of the mannequins and reflections and the multiple layers of light visually exciting but wanted a way to set these, hopefully attractive, images against the excesses of a hedonistic and self obsessed industry. Anna Fox’s idea of using relevant quotations from the industry she was critiquing to put her photos in context in Workstations was the perfect answer so, quite late in the day, I adopted that approach.

It is for others to judge whether this has come together to achieve the assessment criteria points but I feel that it has for most of the images. There are still one or two that I am not convinced about and I may yet make some changes. I was interested in Anna Fox’s point that one has to allow enough time between capture, edit and presentation but on the other hand every time I look at the set there is another image that I am not convinced about but I need to move on from this project. She also made a strong point about the role of the curator and I can see how having an independent but skilled review by another person would improve selection.

Demonstration of Creativity

This is the hardest area to self access, I’m not even sure what creativity really is and certainly find it hard to measure. I know that I have had to think deeply on how to complete this assignment, I had to work through several processes and the project demanded experimentation, testing, re-evaluation and re-positioning several times. I believe that it is a step forward for me and a move away from anything I have tried before. My main concern is that a lot of images rely on other people’s creativity such as mannequin artists, photographers and window dressers so how much of me is in there is hard to judge.

Context

The research and reflection required by this course is one of its great benefits. I have enjoyed looking for inspiration, reading to gain understanding, following leads and cross references and writing up my thoughts. Having spent many years in my commercial career writing for specific audiences it is satisfying to be writing for myself both in terms of the pleasure of writing and in building  a record of my thoughts.

 

 

Test Shots and More Thoughts for Assignment 3

Contact-sheet-culled-01

Over the course of the last few weeks I have visited several towns testing ideas for assignment 3. As previously discussed (here and here) I have evolved the idea from reflecting change in shop windows through to looking at the high street using reflections in the physical sense and mannequins in a more metaphysical sense.

To help me consider how best to approach this subject I have looked at the work of a number of practitioners (here) and have seen how they use reflections as a compositional tool rather than setting out to photograph reflections.

I have been looking through the best of the images I have captured in Guildford, Aldershot, Farnham and Godalming and culled a few that will not make the final cut. The above contact sheet contains 20 of the culled images. My process has been to work through the raw images editing those that seem to work and then re-visiting that collection of edited images on several occasions to cull the weakest. I find that I have to create some distance between capture and editing and between editing and selecting to allow me to be as objective as possible in my choices.

For various reasons none of the above will make the final selection although they all had some promise at some stage in the process. A number of them take me away from my main theme (Figs. 10, 11, 13, 18 & 20), they all work as images but I feel and I sense my tutor felt that my series on Turks and Caicos (assignment 2) was not as coherent series as I wanted it to be. This group of pictures are directly about people or objects and, whilst reflections play a part, mannequins and retail marketing does not.

Of the others many have been culled because they are vertically framed. I have considered producing the series as verticals but although this works well when I focus in on a mannequin I often need the horizontal format to provide an appropriate context.

A small number of the culled pictures stand out for me at this point because they are close to what I am trying to achieve.

Fig 01 - Shoulder - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

Fig 01 – Shoulder – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

NK0_5812-shoulder-2-coloursThis image works well for me. In the context of assignment 3 the main colour relationship is between shades of blue and brown/orange with these colours both appearing in a range of shades. The image gains a lift from the small group of red accents to the right of the mannequins head and the golden backlight on the photograph of the model. I particularly like the cross relationships such as the necklace on the mannequin being similar to shades in the model’s hair and how the faded denim is close matched with the tarmac road.

My selected subject matter for this assignment dictates that colours will often be muted as there are, by definition, layers of glass and reflections obscuring the subjects and current fashion colours appear to be quite subdued.

Whilst working on this assignment I have become interested in the relationships between us, mannequins that in some way are intended to represent us and photographs of models that often appear with mannequins in shop window designs. This is a good example where the mannequin has body form but the head only hints at having any features. By removing the eyes and mouth the designer has removed all personality but then a large photograph of a real person forms a backdrop to the mannequin. Often, as in this case, the model’s clothing is the not the same, either specifically or generally, to those on the mannequin.

This is close to the end result I am seeking. The colours are harmonious, the layers are complex enough to demand attention if the viewer is to decipher the image and it asks questions about why we want to buy clothes modelled on a being with a body but no personality, is the model aspirational and is that message about her looks or the beautiful summer’s afternoon she is photographed in.

Whilst these complex layers play out on and behind the window life goes on in the street with an uninteresting white van heading into the distance.

Fig. 08 Holding Hands - 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100

Fig. 08 Holding Hands – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100

NK0_6232-holding-hands-2-coloursFig. 08 is a very different image. It is far simpler, the reflections are faint and not important to the composition and the focus is far more clearly on the hands of these two mannequins.

There are four main colours, blue, red and yellow and brown. The blues of the nearest shirt are linked to the pink trousers by  the strong turquoise of a belt and the left hand mannequin is linked to the right hand mannequin by their brown wooden arms. The colours compliment each other both left to right and up to  down with some tension created in the pick to yellow diagonal.

From a subject point of view I was interested in the mannequins holding hands. The designer has gone to some lengths to de-humanise these artefacts, they are obviously made of wood, their joints are puppet-like, they have no heads. However, they have been positioned to hold hands so we have two, presumably “male” mannequins holding hands in a very conservative (in every sense of the word) town centre.

This opens another avenue  about how shop displays ask questions and, especially in big brand chains, they tell us something about the physiology of marketing and what is perceived to influence us but at a micro level they might reflect something about the window dresser, their humour, or their reaction to the street outside or their sentimentality.

Fig. xx Perspective 1/125 at f/13, ISO 640

Fig. 14 Perspective 1/125 at f/13, ISO 640

NK0_6995-perspective-coloursAfter a fairly fruitless couple of hours in Godalming I came across this combination of reflections and interiors that appealed immensely. For me, the image is made by the perspective of the five mannequins receding into the distance to the child mannequin in the window at the right.

The colours are the blues in the clothes and sky and the reds and browns in the third mannequin’s trousers, the street and the roofs.

This composition lends a lot to my study of practitioners and the way they often use the reflected sky as a frame for the interiors and other reflections. I began to look for this far more after seeing the work of some of the Magnum photographers. It is a very effective device and in this example forms a tunnel of blue that leads the viewer into the picture.

The nearest mannequins have some personality both in their subtle features and their jaunty styling. They are in an independent shop where the budgets are presumably tighter so they have to work in isolation, no expensive model shoots here, and this might require them to be more than a clothes rail, their fibre glass features have to be aspirational and become our role model in terms of style and dress sense.

This photograph is complex enough to hold my interest without asking me to decode it but the diminishing sizes of the models, the ornate window frame in the centre and the blue sky mixed with the shop interior make a strong combination.

Fig. 06 Clock Face - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig. 06 Clock Face – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig. 06 approaches colour differently and, whilst red/orange is prevalent as a background, the most active colours are the accents of green, in two passerby’s clothes, the red dress bottom right and the gold on the clock. My interest in this composition is in the two squares of the clock and the reversed Body Shop sign and their relationship with the mannequin’s head. The mannequin is another hybrid with a human body but a stylised human head that is rather alien in the Doctor Who sense of the word.

As a composition this has a number of the elements I am looking for. The shape of the mannequin, the two squares, the strip of sky acting as a frame or ceiling and a clear picture of the street with two people reflected within the mannequin’s black dress.

At this stage I feel the theme is taking on some shape and that the ideas I have explored are leading me towards a conclussion. The main decision is whether to edit a series based on what I have done so far or whether to look for more variety. I am conscious that trying to tick off the design elements in assignment 2 led me further and further away from the series that I wanted to produce so I am hoping that I can get near enough to the assignment 3 criteria with the images I now have. I feel that, if I start searching for specific colour combinations, I will start to compromise the theme.

Researching Assignment 3 – Practictioners

Fig. 01 Signs - 1/125 at f/13, ISO 1,250

Fig. 01 Signs – 1/125 at f/13, ISO 1,250

In parallel with considering an approach to assignment 3 and working on test shots (here and here) I have been looking at the work of established practitioners. My subject is to look at the changing high street using reflections in the physical sense and mannequins in a more metaphysical sense.

There is a wealth of material available for both window reflections and mannequins and a combination of the two so the hardest challenge was to focus in on contemporary practitioners that were using reflections and mannequins in a way that helped me think about my own angles, lighting, composition and subject matter.

Having said “contemporary” I started somewhere quite different. Eugéne Atget worked in Paris at the turn of the last century and viguorously pursued a personal project to document the changing face of the city. What makes Atget unusual for his time, and especially relevant from my perspective, is that he saw Paris as a complex series of intimate spaces, he photographed the streets not the famous landmarks, the shop fronts and their interiors, the ordinary people not the gentry because he saw that this, close-up of the City, was what was important to document as it changed and disappeared. Graham Clarke in The Photograph (1) describes him as “the photographer as archaeologist” and his huge catalogue of images of a discrete part of Paris supports this view.

I cannot say whether Atget had any particular interest in either reflections or mannequins but he inevitably captured both during his mission to document the store fronts of Paris. I found a small collection of these images at www.atgetphotography.com. (2)

Fig. 02 Eugene Atget Whiteboard

Fig. 02 Eugene Atget Whiteboard

Having tracked down six Atget images that featured mannequins I put them up on a whiteboard to try and better understand his approach. his style is direct and unfussy, there is nothing fancy about his approach, he does not appear over concerned with neat edges but he does keep his verticals aligned to the frame. The angles are quite soft, that is not far from front-on and he takes full advantage of the logic of the window displays to give balance to his pictures. Importantly the reflections appear very intentionally composed, they do not obscure the main subjects in his shop interiors which tends to indicate that his motive is  to record and document either fashion or shops but to use reflections as context and highlights.

When searching for more contemporary inspiration I found references to a photobook by Gary Dwyer. “Window Dressing”  (3) which can be viewed on line at www.openisbn.com/preview/0981884431/. Many photographers have photographed mannequins as part of a wider assignment or project but Gary Dwyera travel photographer and the producer of many photobooks, has made them the central and single theme of a complete collection as published in “Window Dressing”. There are a number of aspects of his approach that I find interesting; in common with Atget he uses reflections to frame the mannequins, he composes the reflections to serve the features that he wishes to emphasise so a white face will appear out of a dark reflected building or bright, reflected lines from the street lead the viewer to the subject inside the shop window. In one image a reflected, blue sky forms an arrow that points in and overlaps the mannequin’s head. As a result many of Dwyer’s images are three dimensional compositions with the shop lights, subject, backgrounds and reflections, both light and dark, creating layer after layer of light but he allows fairly minimal overlay of these zones so the images are quite clean and not especially complex. Interestingly I didn’t find any headless torsos, all his mannequins are complete and quite lifelike.

The key lesson I take from his work is that to be effective in using reflections it is critical to compose both the subject and the reflection in tandem.

Fig.4 Various Practitioner's Whiteboard

Fig.4 Various Practitioner’s Whiteboard

Having looked fairly closely at two particular photographers I widened my search using Magnum as a source.  Initially I searched for window reflections to gain a sense how a selection of established practitioners used them in their work.  Using the whiteboard I looked at screen prints of an initial set of about 35 photographs to gain an overall sense of whether there was any compositional pattern or commonality.

My impression is that the pictures can be roughly divided into four groups depending upon he photographer’s intent.

1. Interiors: Some are about interiors, reflections may play a part in the composition but the photographer is telling a story about or documenting activity within, a room space and does not let the reflections obscure the view. It would appear this this is generally true of Dwyer’s work as discussed above.

2. Exteriors: The other extreme are images that are about the exterior, the outside world and windows or other reflective surfaces are being used as a screen upon which to show an scene or an object. The reflection is fundamental to the composition but is a medium rather than an end result.

3. Context: In some cases reflections are used to put the interior into the context of the exterior so we are show both quite clearly.

4. Complex: The final group are the most complex images where the interior and the exterior blend together to such an extent that they become one but the viewer is invited to dissect the composition to identify the different planes and layers. In effect this is a progression of the third group but where, I sense, the photographer wants us to see the inner and outer world as one.

Whilst there appear to be these, and other, ways of directing the composition it is also important to recognise that the reflection is not the subject but a device for presenting the subject.

Bruno Barbey

Bruno Barbey is  French, Magnum, photographer born in Morocco in 1941 (4). His beautiful and highly colourful photographs of Morocco are reason enough to visit his website (here). But at this time I am most interested in his images which use reflections to great effect. A number of these can be found by using the search engine on the Magnum Photos website (5).

China Kunming 2013 is a good example of an image that fits into my 4th category (complex). The split, plate glass window is reflecting three different viewpoints of the street from three vertical zones with the central zone overlaid by the a large photograph of a women which appears to be inside the shop. As I have discovered when taking shots of this nature the picture is mostly made up of dark tones but the gate pillars of the park (?) entrance opposite provides a bright contrast.

China City of Dali 2013 is an example of my 2nd category (exteriors) and another picture where Barbey presents 3 distinct vertical zones, a rail of clothes, a mirror and the open street. The rail of clothes provide pattern and colour, the mirror contributes the reflection of a woman and child and the street contains a street vendor. Whilst this image uses a mirror rather than a shop window for the reflection it fits into my research because of the way the photographer uses the vertical zones. The image is bright and colourful and gives a compact insight into the street life of this city.

China Kumming Airport 2013 is an exampole of my 1st category (interiors) where reflections from a glass panel near to the photographer act as a visual device to bring additional layers of form and light to a photograph of a large and empty airport terminal. There are a series of images of this same airport on the Magnum site (5) and each uses light and reflection in slightly different ways to bring something extra to the picture.

There are many other examples in Barbey’s portfolio at Magnum Photos (5) and judging on the number of times reflections appear in his 2013 portfolio he obviously uses this device on a regular basis and in different ways. The common factor is that he is using reflections to bring additional sources and intensities of light to his images and by using the layers that reflections provide he captures more detail that would otherwise be possible in a non reflective composition.

Michael Christopher Brown

Michael Christopher Brown is a New York based Magnun photographer whose portfolios (6) are filled with striking images from many different locations. His bird’s eye view of Broadway is one of the most powerful reflection images that I have come across and certainly quite difficult to imitate in Hampshire. It is a perfect example of my 1st category (exteriors) as, looking down from high in a building, he uses the face of the building to reflect the traffic on Broadway. A predominance of yellow cabs provides strong yellow horizontal lines that are complimented by the yellow “V” of a reflected billboard (?).

Another image that uses strong colours and reflections to create a powerful example of my 3rd category (complex) is taken on street level on Broadway. This picture has multiple layers of bright blues, reds and yellow but is made by the single person who stands just right of centre and provides a sense of scale and human interest.

Underpass on Broadway is also given scale by the inclusion of people and is a comparatively simple street or architectural photo except for the large dark head and bright rings of light that are reflected across the frame.

The Broadway collection include many reflections and, like Barbey, Brown uses them in many different ways. Some are very graphic such as Hotel Empire, some very complex like Yellow Taxi and Pedestrians, but what stands out for me is his use of strong saturated colours. He uses bright sunlight or neon signs to add these colours to what would otherwise often be quite low key scenes.

Although the Broadway collection are exciting images and very helpful in seeing how effectively colour can be used in street photography I was originally drawn to Brown by a much more muted photograph New York February 2013 – Street Life (5) which is a complex composition built around a women arranging, what looks like, pussy willow in a shop window. One eye peeps round the window display and she is framed by a flyover, the sky and traffic on the street. This type of image perfectly places the internal activity into the context of the external activity in a way that would be hard to do without using reflections.

 Chris Steele-Perkins

Chris Steele-Perkins is a London based Magnum photographer who is well known for his 1979 book “The Teds”. His website is at www.chrissteeleperkins.com. (7)

Steele-Perkins is another photographer who makes frequent use of different types of reflections. Myanmar Yangon Chaukhtatgyl Paya and reclining Buddha (5) is an excellent example of a highly complex reflection. It is quite an extreme example of my 4th category as the mixture of a grey steel building, the golden buddha and the multi faceted reflective surface are intertwined to the point that the viewer has to study the image for some time to interpret the various components. However, it would be misleading to suggest that it is a muddled composition as key elements such as the two reflections of Buddha’s face are carefully positioned inside the facets. Other Buddha shots such as  Buddha in Yangon (5) and Sewgagon Pagoda (5) show how a similar subject can be treated in quite different ways even when reflections are a common technique. In the first image selected parts of the Buddha are repeated in the frame so there are many hands, and many eyes and in the second there are multiple faces.

In Yangon, Street from inside a Taxi he uses the inside mirror to look back at a street scene which underlines the fact that there are many reflective surfaces available to use.

One of my favourites and the image that originally led me to looking more closely at Chris Steele-Perkins was taken in South Korea in 2013. Soonchin Bay is a complex image but one that also puts the interior into the context of the exterior but whilst this is a carefully composed image that could stand alone it is clearly part of a series about a national wetland area and shows a display of fresh fish being laid out by a fishmonger as a passerby looks on. This is a good example of how the reflections and composition can be used to highlight the underlying subject of a photograph.

Lessons

These practitioners have helped crystallise my thoughts. The photos I have looked at most closely are not about reflections but are where the photographers have used reflections as a compositional tool to present their chosen subject. This is not to say that there are no photos about reflections, there are, but my assignment is about using reflections not about reflections.

Michael Christopher-Brown in particular shows how strong saturated colours can be found either at night or in strong sunlight and how these, often dramatic, swatches of colour can lift a street scene.

Many of the most interesting examples use reflections to lead the viewer to the subject or to frame the subject.

Looking across all the examples also highlights that there are many different ways to use reflections and that I have to be careful to avoid putting together a series of over similar pictures within the theme.

It has also helped to look at how the lighting varies and how these photographers use the light to their best advantage. Most window reflections have significant dark areas, if they didn’t there would be no reflection so it is important to find a balance so that the light tones compensate and contrast the darker tones.

Sources

Books

(1) Clarke, Graham. 1997) The Photograph. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Internet

(2) Atget Photography. Eugene Atget. www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Eugene-Atget.html

(3) OpenISBN, Gary Dwyer. www.openisbn.com/preview/0981884431/

(4) Barbey, Bruno. Bruno Barbey Official Website brunobarbey.com

(5) Magnum Photos – www.magnumphotos.com

(6) Brown, Michael Christopher. Michale Christopher Brown Official Website www.mcbphotos.com

(7) Steel-Perkins, Chris. Chris Steele-Perkins Official Website www.chrissteeleperkins.com

 

Evolving Assignment 3 – Mannequins

Fig 1 Clock Face - complex multi-layered reflections - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig 1 Clock Face – complex multi-layered reflections – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

The theme for assignment 3 is evolving. The initial idea was to focus on the changing face of small southern towns as viewed through the reflections in high street windows but, whilst this offered some interesting results on test shoots, it began to feel too premeditated and potentially exploitive. The most interesting “reflection” test shots feature mannequins and these shots are further lifted when the same window displays include photographs. This gives at least three layers of image – the reflection of the street, the mannequins and the photographs and this complexity is often multiplied when the opposite side of the street or the tops of buildings are included in the reflections. In terms of composition and design I am exploring how these these layers relate to each other.

This exploration has been done by visiting several towns, often just for an hour, to capture pictures at different times of day and in different high streets. To some degree it is easier to think more clearly with a camera in hand and I can test DoF, angles, subjects, and lighting far better on location than by trying to create pre-meditated story boards. The nature of the subject makes planned shots especially difficult as the images are often complex with, by intent, crowded frames containing lots of detail and the multiple layers of subject bringing an equal number of layers of light with differing intensities. The reflections are the common thread that hold the physical aspect of the theme together. In parallel , I am developing  a theme of these displays as reflections in a more metaphysical sense.  The mannequin represents an ideal, an aspiration, a style model for us to mimic and over the centuries mannequins have gone beyond being glorified coat hangers displaying current fashions and styles. These shop window dummies have followed their own fashion trends and thereby reflected society in both an obvious and sometimes quite subtle way.

Fig. 2 Holding Hands - mannequins being given human emotions - 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100.

Fig. 2 Holding Hands – mannequins being given human emotions – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100.

In their article for the Smithsonian Magazine in 1991 Emily and Per Ola d’Aulaire * (1) describe how fashion dolls in the 14th century evolved to become today’s mannequins and how their shape changes to reflect how society wants to see itself. In the 1890’s they were big bosomed with impossibly narrow waists, during the great depression the trend was to appear affluent and well-fed, during the two great wars they were patriotic, in the 1950’s demure, in the 1960’s they became as skinny as Twiggy with short hair and slender thighs (here) * (2).

In the United States the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, one of the driving forces behind prohibition in the 20s, declared mannequins as vulgar and campaigned for their destruction and today the debate still appears to phase in and out of the headlines. The normal female mannequin is a size 8 or 10 and as the average women in Britain is a size 14 it is often argued that these skinny mannequins damage self-esteem by promoting an unrealistic body shape. On the other hand, when the Swedish equivalent of John Lewis used size 12 mannequins it came under fire for promoting obesity * (3). In early 2014 mannequins again made the headlines when American Apparel, a large clothing chain with stores world wide, featured a display of  mannequins with pubic hair, an action that kept this particular retailer front and centre of the debate about whether ever more realistic mannequins court controversy or are a empowering statement of the female body. * (4)

Without intending to take or promote any position in this debate it is an interesting to wonder why the mannequin is the only shop fitting that has the ability to stir such strong emotions. This inanimate model has variously been the subject of films, possibly even the inspiration behind the Wizard of Oz *(1), love stories and, in December 2013, even a music video to promote Daft Punk’s latest release “Instant Crush”, a video that dramatises the love affair between two museum mannequins. The obvious conclusion is that we identify with a paper mache or fibre glass object to such an extent that it doesn’t just reflect our aspirations but has an assumed personality and assumed values. Not all models of people have these attributes so it is not simply the human form that creates this relationship between human and dummy it must also be the setting and the context in which we see them.

Fig. 3 Over My Shoulder - example of photographs being used with a mannequin - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

Fig. 3 Over My Shoulder – example of photographs being used with a mannequin – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

In my current project I can see that the trend, at least in this corner of England, is to de-humanise the mannequin with many shops using headless torsos or wire frame heads but then to display these models with photographs of models wearing the same clothing lines.  The body shape is on display but with no personality but a large backing image shows how attractive or happy we will become if we dress this way. This relationship between dummy and photograph is yet another sub-plot. It is not clear to me whether this fashion for headless mannequins is for aesthetic, marketing or economic reasons. The manager of Reebok Guildford was not sure why his mannequins seemed to have the most personality in town but he did suggest that “personality costs money”.

Fig X Face Lift - mannequins with personality at Reebok - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 2,800

Fig 4 Face Lift – mannequin with personality at Reebok – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 2,800

Sources

Internet

* (1) D’Aulaire, Ola and Emily. (1991) – The Mannequin Mystique, originally published in the Smithsonian Magazine April 1992 and reprinted with the author’s permission on the Manequine Madness Blog – http://mannequinmadness.wordpress.com/the-history-of-mannequin/

* (2) Voices of East Anglia. Mannequins – Brochures for Dummies. http://www.voicesofeastanglia.com/2012/06/mannequins-brochures-for-dummies.html

* (3) Mail Online – Department Store Uses Normal Mannequins – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2299498/Swedish-department-store-hl-ns-reignites-body-image-debate-photo-normal-sized-mannequins-goes-global.html

* (4) Huffington Post – American Apparel Pubic Hair mannequins Stop Pedestrians In Their Tracks – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/16/american-apparel-pubic-hair-mannequins_n_4610688.html

* (5) Daft Punk – Instant Crush Video – http://www.mtv.co.uk/daft-punk/news/daft-punk-debut-new-video-for-instant-crush

Assignment 2 Elements of Design

Introduction

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.

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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 at Grace Bay 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 32mm

Fig. 1 Man on Beach at Grace Bay 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 32mm

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.

Contact sheet of other images considered

Two Points

Fig.02 Two Boys at Wheeland - 1/124 at f/16, ISO 720. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig.02 Two Boys at Wheeland – 1/124 at f/16, ISO 720. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

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.

The alternative crops and some other possibilities for two points can be seen here.

Several Points in a Deliberate Shape

Fig.03 Three Men on Grand Turk - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 560. 24mm - 70mm lens at 26mm

Fig.03 Three Men on Grand Turk – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 560. 24mm – 70mm lens at 26mm

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

A Combination of Vertical and Horozontal Lines

Fig. 04 Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 125. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

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.

Contact sheet of other images considered.

Diagonals

Fig. 05 Ladder on Blue Wall - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 36mm

Fig. 05 Ladder on Blue Wall – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 36mm

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.

Fig. 06 Stairs - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 06 Stairs – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm-70mm lens at 24mm

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.

Contact sheet of other images considered.

Curves

Fig. 07 Small Boats at Chalk Sound - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 07 Small Boats at Chalk Sound – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

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.

Contact sheet of other images considered.

Distinct, Even if Irregular, Shapes

Fig. 08 Weathered Timber - 1/125 at F/22, ISO 200. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 08 Weathered Timber – 1/125 at F/22, ISO 200. 105mm prime lens

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.

Fig. 09 Front Street Grand Turk - 1/125 at f/16, ISO180.  24mm - 70mm at 24mm

Fig. 09 Front Street Grand Turk – 1/125 at f/16, ISO180. 24mm – 70mm at 24mm

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.

Fig. 10 Cruise Ship through Ruin - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 360. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 10 Cruise Ship Through Ruin – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 360. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

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.

Contact sheet of other images considered.

Implied Triangles

Implied Triangle

Fig. 11 Kite at The Bight – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 56mm

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.

Implied Triangle

Fig. 12 Conch Fisherman – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

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.

Contact sheet of other images considered.

Rhythm and Pattern

Rhythm

Fig. 13 Bottles – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

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.

Rhythm

Fig. 14 Conch Shells – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 125. 105mm prime lens

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.

Pattern

Fig 15 Metal Lizards – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 110. 105mm prime lens

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.

Contact sheet of other images considered.

All contact sheets collected together in one post.

Sources

Books

* (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.

Internet

* (1) National Gallery or Art (2008) Misrach Exhibition www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2008/misrach/

Contact Sheets to Support Assignment 2

This post supports my assignment 2 submission. For each element of design I collected a number of alternative images as part of my selection process. These contact sheets which are the unused photographs.

Single Point Dominating the Composition

Single Point Dominating the Composition

As discussed in my submission I was interested in the simple combination of sky, sea and sand which reminded me of Richard Misrach’s “On The Beach” series and tried many compositions with and without a human subject. On the bottom row I have included two wildlife images which I liked but were too weak and generic to use. Also on the bottom row are two examples of the many photos I took of small items washed up on the beach in interesting patterns or in isolation.

Two Points

Two Points

Included within two points are the vertical crops of Two Boys which I used in the assignment in a horizontal format. I was very intrigued with the stool and the concrete block top right and bottom right and might have made more of this subject if I had researched William Eggleston before rather than after visiting TCI.

Verticals and Horizontals

Verticals and Horizontals

Because I became interested in collecting images of openings I had a lot of choices for this category. The first photo in row 3 is a particular favourite with the beach viewed through a broken door and torn fly screen.

Diagonals

Diagonals

The unused images collected above show the wide variety of diagonals that caught my eye. The first two images are part of a study of degeneration in close up that eventually became a central theme along with a wider view of degeneration when looking at damaged buildings as included in the last two images.

Curves

Curves

It was difficult to avoid curved beaches in my short list of curves but a few other opportunities also presented themselves. I particularly like the “triangular” photographer taking pictures of the local wedding set under an arch.

Distinct Shapes

Distinct Shapes

There were a wide variety of distinct shapes ranging from towering clouds to strange little huts and it would have been easy to break my self imposed limit of 15 images and to have included either of the yellow bar (centre row 2) or the green bar to its right. The soft chair outside the green bar was especially appealing.

Implied Triangles

Implied Triangles

There were plenty of opportunities to capture implied triangles but very few dominated the composition or went beyond photographing three things. I am happy with my final choice which was a horizontal crop of the fisherman in the second image on the bottom row.

Pattern and Rhythm

Pattern and Rhythm

As can be seen above I tried a number of different approaches to pattern and Rhythm but eventually focussed in on the items on sale in the tourist markets because they seemed more specific to TCI than the leaves in the intimate landscapes. I was very tempted to use the first image on the forth row, the wavy metal, for rhythm but a variation of the conch shells appealed more because of their unique shapes and colours.

William Eggleston – One Picture of One Thing

NK0_1572-eggleston-guideFollowing on from my earlier post on Banal and the Topographical Movement, I ordered a copy of William Eggleston’s Guide (*1). Having read about the original guide which was published in 1976 in conjunction with the Photographs by William Eggleston Exhibition and having looked at so many of his photographs on-line it was something of a revelation to discover that Guide had been republished in 2002 and re-printed many times since. It is a beautifully presented book, elegantly bound with a faux leather look and we are told, on the copyright page, that the publishers have endeavoured to reproduce the original form.

As I have been working towards presenting assignment 2 I have been thinking about how to capture a place from a personal perspective and how this differs from the type of travel photography I am more used to seeing and, to a greater or lesser degree, mimicking. Because Eggleston’s images are centred around one place I feel it is worthwhile to divert myself once more from preparing  assignment 2 to look more deeply at this collection.

Szarkowski’s introduction to The Guide feeds into my thinking as he talks of how he sees this collection as being very personal to Eggleston as the subjects of Memphis and northern Mississippi were the photographer’s home, he saw them as being as much about his identity as about the places. I question whether the area being his home is the only, or even main, reason that the images are personal or whether they are a personal statement because of the viewpoint he adopts, because of the way he sees the place and because he decided to photograph what he saw in a very direct manner without embellishment and without obvious concern for the perceived laws of subject matter or composition. Perhaps using a place he knew intimately enabled him to more easily create this style as his attention was more on photography and the detail of the place than on understanding and working his way into the location. In a BBC Film interview*(2) Eggleston’s wife makes the point that he photographed Memphis and northern Mississippi because that was where he was and what was there. She tells the story that he asked a close friend what he could photograph as everything was so ugly and his friend told him to photograph the ugly and this is what he did.

Looking at this body of work presented in its original form is an improved basis for review. Review via internet tends to be unstructured and the viewer is not often being led through a collection in the sequence the artist or, in this case the curator, intended. In the same BBC interview *(2) Eggleston hints that this collection was primarily chosen by Szarkowski, they worked together but Eggleston’s son suggests that his father would not have been able to make the choices.

NK0_1552-eggleston-guideComposition

Some reviewers suggest that Eggelston’s style is casual and that part of the sense of banality is created by this style so whereas Shore will photograph ordinary places with very careful and studied compositions using a large format camera, Eggelston’s images are snap-shots in the true sense of the words taken with a 35mm Leica. We know that Eggelston was influenced by and interested in amateur colour snaps so he is probably looking to create some sense of the snap-shot in his images but The Guide is a collection of carefully considered compositions that are anything but casual. In fact I do not believe that it is in Eggelston’s character to be casual.

A number of interviewers report that Eggleston is measured in his response to questions, for example Sean O’Hagan writing in the Guardian *(3) says:

“Eggleston is the slowest and most softly spoken person I have ever met, and the silence while he considers a question is so deep and long that I find myself wondering if he has simply chosen to ignore my fumbling attempts at elucidation.”

In the BBC documentary *(2) when he is being interviewed we see the same carefully considered reaction to questions and, in the same film, we see Eggelston taking photographs around Memphis. He wanders, camera in hand and at the ready, moving slowly whilst looking at the detail of the landscape, he homes in on a potential subject, adjusts his position one, two or three times and then shoots one frame and walks away. It is clear that his photography reflects his personality, slow, measured and thoughtful. He says that he has a personal discipline to only take one picture of one thing. He decided upon this after realising that having multiple shots of the same subject made later selection confusing and difficult. When asked what if the one shot is no good, he shrugs, it doesn’t matter.

Each composition in The Guide is completely intentional, they are the result of this process of spotting a subject, stalking it to find the right angle and finding the right composition to tell the story he sees in the subject. He would argue that he is just photographing what is there but his selection of angles and what he includes and excludes in the frame result in a careful composition that presents something that few people would have realised was there.

My overriding impression of his compositional style is one of balance. Image after image has balanced shapes and tones across the frame, spaces balance shapes as in the jigsaw in Tallahatchie County, or the car on the empty street in Southern Environs of Memphis. Shapes balance each other as in the dog drinking from a puddle in Algiers or the white man and the black man in Sumner and, in other cases, tone provides the balance such as in the low rise house in Tallahatchie County where the horizontal tones are nearly balanced in pairs.

At times this construction seems simple such as the grey door and blue flowers in Memphis, or the child’s coat in the dirty room in Near Jackson, or even the iconic tricycle in Memphis but often, as in the tricycle, the angle of view is key. Eggeston is on record as saying he was interested in unusual viewpoints and the tricycle is a good example of this idea in action with the child’s toy being made huge by the choice of angle.

So my first reaction can be summarised as careful, considered and balanced composition.

NK0_1563-eggleston-guideColour and Light

Eggleston did not accept the colours that were on offer for the amateur photographer who would use print film processed by machines, nor was he satisfied with the more niche offering to the serious amateur of Ektachrome slide film. He wanted his colours to be strong, powerful, dominant and saturated. He used dye transfer printing, previously the preserve of the advertising industry,  to give him this saturation.

As a result The Guide shows us prints with rich saturated colours, not often bright primary colours but more muted tones of brown, orange and ochre. There are, of course, exception such as the lady in a bright red and blue dress sitting on an equally bright yellow, orange and green garden seat but I think here he saw a the similarity of pattern and the contrast of colours as an integral part of the story he is telling. Overall these saturated colours and his regular use of strong contrasts such as in the empty white plastic containers set against the subdued greens and browns of the Black Bayou Plantation or the rusty tank in the same location make sure that colour is an important element of many of the images. I have never been to Mississippi but I sense that he is offering us an exaggerated palette but still a palette that represents the place. Polarised blue skies and bright green grass might seem out of place but pale, mid-day blue skies above a dusty landscape seem right.

Most of the collection is taken in natural light, and whilst a few are obviously captured with warm afternoon light or at early evening I sense that he is not especially concerned with picking the perfect time of day to capture the perfect light. This might even work against the grain of what he is doing; if every photo relied on the golden hour morning or night it might suggest that this place only existed at these times. If the shot presented itself when the sun was high and shadows were short that is when he took the shot. When there is warm light available he uses it to good effect, such as the boy in a red shirt in East Memphis or the sun light in the tree behind the woman in a white cardigan in Memphis. Indoors he uses a variety of styles, natural light from windows, the artificial house lights (giving a warm yellow orange glow) or flash. In the same way that he photographs what is there he seems happy to use the light that is there.

Subject and Narrative

Colour is important to Eggelston and is certainly not a incidental component of his images but, like his composition, colour is a means to an end. The most important component of his images is the subject. I have come to that conclusion more from reading interviews with him and seeing the BBC documentary. I believe that he set out to create art and that is why the composition and colour are fundamental to the images but his sympathetic treatment of  human subjects and his descriptive, documentary style when looking at landscape makes me believe that his is constantly putting into practice his theory of democratic photography. By treating every subject the same he makes every subject as important as his photos of his own family.

He wanted to document without comment and I believe that this is what he achieved but the lack of comment does not mean that there is a lack of narrative. It is just that he leaves the narrative to the image with just the occasional hint in the caption such as Near Extinct Wannalaw Planation which is one of my favourite images in the collection. The ramshackle house, derelict car, dirt road and watchful dog all set in a dull landscape under cloudy skies tells of a past and present with little future. Mostly we are left wondering about where the story ends but we know that we are seeing part of that story. Some images are unsettling such as the boy on the garage floor in Whitehaven or the elderly man with his gun in Morton and some ask more questions than they answer but many are warm images of friends and family.

William Eggelston took photographs of what was there, the sad, the ugly, the ordinary and the homely but, in doing so he documented a place at a moment in time so well that we have a sense of knowing it despite having less than 50 photographs upon which to visit it. His photographs were never casual and as a result they need more than a casual look to unravel but I feel that, by taking the time to look and try to see, I have learnt a lot about documentary photography.

My favourite piece in the film *(2) is when he talks about the c1976 exhibition that The Guide commemorates.  He says of the critics:

“They didn’t understand what they were looking at and it was their job to understand it.”

Sources

Books

*(1) Eggleston, Wiliam. (2002) William Eggleston’s Guide, 2nd Edition, 2013 reprint, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Internet

*(3) O’Hagan, Sean. (2004) Out of the Ordinary, Guardian Newspaper. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/jul/25/photography1

Film

*(2) The Colourful Mr Eggleston, (2009) Directed by Jack Cocker and Rainer Holzemer and edited by Alan Yentob for the BBC’s Imagine programme, BBC Scotland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TdYoithgeI

Josef Koudelka and Composition

In his feedback on my submission for Assignment 1 my tutor recommended that I study the work of Josef Koudelka. This comment was made in the context of composition.

“The term ‘composition’ has been mentioned in your feedback and I cannot emphasise its importance enough at this level of study and in particular at this stage of the programme.  In order to help and support you making appropriate compositional decisions [IE: what you choose to include and exclude from the frame, prior to taking the image] you must closely study the work of other practitioners. I normally recommend the works and writings of Henri Cartier-Bresson to my new Level 4 students … but I note you are already fully engaged with this old master, which is very good to see.  I’d therefore like you to take a close look at another very prolific Magnum photographer called Josef Koudelka.  He rose to prominence in 1968 with his coverage of the Russian invasion of Prague.  He is still an active photographer and very worthy of your attention, especially in relation to his ability to compose an image.”

I have received the first of two books that I have ordered on Koudelka. Koudelka, Josef. (2007) Josef Koudelka: Thames & Hudson Photofile with an introduction by Bernard Cuau. London: Thames and Hudson.

This is one of the Thames and Hudson Photofiles which I am beginning to build a little collection of  having already acquired editions on Sebastiao Salgado and Henri Cartier-Bresson. These publications are a straight forward collections of photographs, 66 in the case of Josef Koudelka. The positive is that they are inexpensive, the disadvantage is that the prints are only 160mm x 106mm and therefore fail to present the artist’s work in the way they intended. However, they are an excellent way to study a series of images as a prelude to deeper research.

Koudelka is one of the many great modern photographers who have been invited to join Magnum and there is a portfolio of his work on their website.**

I wanted to look at Koudelka in the context of my tutor’s comments, that is to look at his compositional skills. There is no silver bullet as even the limited amount of his work that I have seen is varied in subject matter and in style. It would be naive to think that I could analyse a few of his images, identify his compositional techniques, note them down, use them and move on. My first objective is to look at as many of his images as possible and to try to absorb something of their magic, to add to my own mental library of compositional templates. These might be templates based on a single image or on several images.

He has been a prolific photographer and I am only seeing a fraction of his published work so I am not suggesting that my analysis is either comprehensive or worthy of anyone else’s attention but as a second objective I want to look closely at a few selected images to try and understand why he composed them in the way that he did and see whether I can learn anything from this.

Magnum break his work into four periods:

Theatre 1958 – 1968

Prague 1968

Gypsies 1962 – 1970

Exiles 1968 – 1994

Some of the theatre work is ethereal with silhouettes that might be reflections in a disturbed pool, they are dramatic and theatrical and whilst this was where he laid the foundations for his later work they are quite different in tone and atmosphere to Gypsies or Exiles. Bernard Cuau in his introduction to the Thanes & Hudson Photofile* makes the point that theatre photography involves watching the same scenes played night after night.  There is time to experiment and find the decisive moments, the definitive angles, the significance of the scene. Many of the images in his later work that speak most strongly to me have a sense of theatre about them. The man nearly sitting on the shoulders of the women in Slovakia 1967, the two women sitting across a table in Moravia 1967, the three men in Ireland 1978. I presume that Kouldeka was comfortable with posing his subjects and that the relationship he built with the communities he photographed meant that people were comfortable posing for him.

However, also included in his early work are landscapes that bear strong similarities to his much later work, “Chaos”.

Fig 1 Sketch of Josef Koudelka Slovakia 1958

Fig 1 Sketch of Josef Koudelka Slovakia 1958

In this photograph of an oxen car loaded with hay in Slovakia in 1958 he has used a panoramic crop. In Chaos he uses a panoramic camera to capture industrial landscapes. There are three main areas of composition that I can see in Slovakia 1958, tone, shape and line. Firstly to look at his composition of tone. Apart from the puddle in the foreground the lightest and darkest tones are in the oxen and cart. There is a strong contrast between the white oxen, the dark load and the deep shadows in the cart and these tones are not generally repeated elsewhere in the composition. As a result the oxen and cart stand out and are the sharpest part of the image because of these internal contrasts..

Secondly there are five large shapes, in varying tones, that are layered to the left of the oxen. The near white sky, the misty hills, the darker grassland and the mid-toned road make four large areas, each of a single tone. Rather than flowing towards the subject these shapes seem to start at the subject and flow out into the photograph. Apart from the small area of grass to the extreme left all these shapes directly connect to the cart.

Thirdly there are some strong lines created by the junctions of these shapes. the most important being the top and bottom lines of the central grassland which point away from the cart and out of the image on the left giving us a potential direction of movement for the cart when it restarts its journey.

Overall the image is balanced by the large tonal shapes which create four strong horizontal layers with the hills and the road being much the same size. The cart spans the layers and is therefore at the apex of everything.

This analysis makes the image seem complex, which it is not. Like much of his work, that I have seen, the composition is simple, the image uncluttered, everything has a purpose and the tones away from the oxen and cart are subdued and understated and as a result do not detract from the subject. This seems to be an important message when processing black and white. I need to ask myself what the subject is and balance the tones within the subject to make it stand out and then balance the tones outside of the subject to compliment and support the subject but not to distract from it and overwhelm or clutter the image.

Fig 2 Sketch of Josef Koudelka's Poland 1958

Fig 2 Sketch of Josef Koudelka’s Poland 1958

Another image from 1958 and another panoramic crop is of a nun standing on a beach. There are similarities to Slovakia 1958 in the composition. The main subject is in three tones, black, white and one grey. There is therefore a strong internal contrast which makes the subject sharp and defined. There is no other white in the image and the only other black or near black is the sharp triangle of sea behind the nun which points into the centre of the image. The beach has texture but is nearly featureless and at the end of the beach there are people, some sports facilities and, what looks like a small tower. The nun is looking down at her umbrella which lies at her feet.

Similar to Slovakia 1958 we have an isolated subject to the far right of the frame but it is dominant because of the strong tonal contrast and everything starts with her. The beach flows from her to the boats and people, the sea is behind her but points into the same place. You might have expected Koudelka to use eye-line to take us to the end of the beach but she is looking down so we are still led across the image, from her to the umbrella and then up the beach to the tower and striped post and then across to the boats.

Again very simple, nothing spurious, nothing wasted. A lot of neutral spaces and shapes layered from sky to sea to beach. The subject is in touch with the three major layers.

The other key aspect is that both Slovakia 1958 and Poland 1958 are telling a story and asking us to connect with the subjects. Where is the cart going, who is the tiny figure driving it, where did he come from in this empty landscape? Who is the nun, why is she on the beach, is she really all alone and, if so why, why has she dropped her umbrella when we can see it is a sunny day with the sun at its zenith, is she connected or isolated by her vocation from the people having fun in the distance?

The more I look the more I see this is as a theme of his work or maybe it is even the essence of his style. He tells stories, he asks us to connect and he asks us to question what we are seeing. His images do not seem to judge his subjects or pre-judge our reaction to them. He is not asking for our sympathy or telling us what is right or wrong, he is just saying “here it is, look at it, think about it and ask yourself some questions. I’m not giving you instructions or answers either in the images or my captions.” I ask myself whether this is the essence of documentary photography.

Sketch of Josef Koudelka Czechoslovakia. Slovakia. Zehra. 1967

Fig 3 Sketch of Josef Koudelka Czechoslovakia. Slovakia. Zehra. 1967

The next image I want to consider is taken nearly 10 years later and is part of his work documenting Gypsies. This image, Zehra 1967, is one of many Koudelka images that works in threes. He often photographs three individuals and is masterful in how he fills and balances a frame with any three subjects. The two men, one with a violin and a small child in Kendice 1966, the three musicians in front of a crowd in Moravia 1966, the three men with sticks in Ireland 1972 and many more.

In Zehra there are obviously far more than three people but has he arranged his subjects into three areas that balance and fill the frame. In the centre we see a small girl with a significant amount of space around her, to her right a tight group of three and to her left a tight group of 6. The tightness of the groups is important to the composition. It is not 10 people, it is three groups, three shapes that balance each other. Because we first see three shapes the eye is drawn to the centre and the girl surrounded by empty space. However, for me, the artist has created an image that gives one impression on first glance, i.e. we look at the centre but then has a totally different feel when we look at it more carefully.

My sense is that nothing has been left to chance in this composition, for example the eyes are remarkable, only the central subject is looking at the camera, the others are looking either out of the frame to the left or towards the bottom other than one boy who is looking up at his next door neighbour. I believe that these eye lines lead us around the image, Koudelka is directing us in every direction to explore every detail, to look at every face, nothing (and nobody) is unimportant in the frame and he ensures that the sight lines, the broom in one girl’s hands, the hand and arm shapes, even the base of the wall right and left point us to more information  and demand that we keep looking. Obviously we will keep coming back to the central figure who is looking right at us, and whom we are able to study in detail as she is the only person not interwoven with others,  but she is literally framed by all these other people.

Koudelka clearly had an emotional connection with these people, he must have been trusted by them to be able to direct a group pose of this nature. He does not polish them up for the photograph and nor does he hide them. They are shown as they are with empathy and dignity. The variety of expressions communicates individual personalities and I think that Koudelka wants us to see the humanity of these people, mostly children, to recognise some of the expressions and body language, to relate them to our children or grandchildren, to understand that these outcasts of the system are just like us so why are they outcast?

There is a strong contrast in style between these first three images. In the oxen cart and the nun we have a single subject in a large neutral background. With the gypsies in Zehra we have a main subject surrounded by 9 other people. The first two images have a landscape that seems to flow from the subject and there is a sense of space, of isolation that is key to story being told. Zehra is the opposite, we have a crowd, a large group that has been directed, in the theatrical sense of the word, into three distinct groups to give organisation and structure to the story. We see the central subject in the context of the people around her.

Sketch of Josef Koudelka's Czechoslovakia, Slovakia. Bardejov. 1967

Fig 4 Sketch of Josef Koudelka’s Czechoslovakia, Slovakia. Bardejov. 1967

The forth image that caught my eye is Bardejov 1967, another one from his Gypsies collection. Zehra hints of poverty, Bardejov shouts about it. We have a girl in her wedding dress with her bridal bouquet. Like any bride she is happy, perhaps it is her wedding day, there is a faint but distinct smile, a thing I have not see very often in his photographs. However, she stands amongst rubbish, perhaps holding the hem of her dress out of the mud and behind her is a wall of flaking stucco, gaping holes, exposed internal timbers and a damp looking foundation. The wall is pierced by two dirty windows in twisted and skewed frames, through the grime we can see two faces, one older and one younger. The brides’ mother and sister or grandmother and sister?

Looking first at the composition, we again have three subjects, they are spaced evenly and the bride is framed by the the two other women. A balance that is often seen in his images but the power of the photo is in its contrasts, the clean white dress against the dirty and dilapidated background, the bride’s smile set against the dire circumstances of her house and the expressions of the women watching her. The neat floral arrangement against the rubbish under her feet. She is dead centre in the image and the windows are not symmetrically positioned so we simultaneously have a neutral position for the subject and dynamic tension from the irregular shapes and their positions. I find the image to be unsettling, it needs organising, it needs tidying up and I think Koudelka is very consciously evoking that tension in the viewer. A happy bride in an unhappy setting.

The common theme is that we are being told another story, the caption tells us that this is a gypsy family and we can presume that they have been forced into a static settlement that is not part of their culture. The accommodation is dire, damp, dilapidated, nearly falling down. However, we can see that their traditions are not about dirt and neglect, the bride’s dress is perfect, she has a bouquet, her hair is brushed, her shoes are clean. We are being shown the contrast between their current reality and their traditions, she looks out of place because they are out of place. It is photograph of sadness on a day that should be about happiness.

Not all of Koudelka’s images from these early years are posed. The obvious examples being his images of Prague during the Soviet suppression of its bid for freedom in 1968. In the Gypsies collection there is an unposed trio, Spisske Bystre 1966, where a small boy runs from one women to another. This image is more Cartier-Bresson than Koudelka but there are recurring compositional themes. Again we have three people, again one of the subjects is central, again the background is dilapidated and untidy, again there is a sad feeling to the scene. Neither women shows any joy in the moment, no mother or grandmother’s doting smile as the child runs between the two women. The dwellings are of the slum and the earthen street is strewn with rubbish and all the signs of being dry mud.

Clicking through the Gypsy images on the Magnum site my overwhelming emotion is one of sadness. Even when the image is of strong men, posing in their smart suits as in Kaden 1963 (another trio) we see one man seemingly detached from the photograph, projecting defensive body language, looking on, not wanting to be part of the scene. His part of the image seems more run-down, dirtier. The strength of the other two men is being contrasted and through this contrast the overall impression is not one of strength and smart suits. I suspect that the two men in their smart suits believe that they are portraying a strong image, they are proud of their clothes and want to show that they are strong men. However, by showing them in the context of the other man who has not joined in with the display and the tired room we are being told that these are proud people who are not in a good place.

Another example of how Koudelka uses contrast to change the message might be seen in Romania 1968 with the photo of the women in a bright patterned dress in a bleak room with soot from an open fire and badly marked walls. She appears to be smiling, she is in colourful and probably traditional clothing, she seems to be striking a pose but she is in a bleak windowless room where a fire has be made on the floor and has created a large soot stain on the walls. The contrast seems to say that this person is not meant to be here, like a photograph of an animal in a zoo. Put this women in beautiful countryside and we have a classic gypsy image, her smile would become a statement of content. Here in this dirty and bleak room it is a sad contrast that tells the continuing story of displacement and misery.

There are several headlines that I would like to carry forward into my own work.

  • Do not be afraid to use the centre of the image. Koudelka often centres his main subject even when the space around the subject is quite neutral. (Half naked women Vinodol 1969, war damaged buildings and man Vinohradska Avenue 1968, handcuffs Slovakia 1963, hovercraft France 1973) He uses space to help tell the story.
  • Use three. A repeating theme of his work is the use of three people, or three strong shapes. (Half naked boys Slovakia 1967, men with sticks Ireland 1972)
  • Process to achieve more internal contrast in the main subject and less in the surroundings to emphasise the subject.
  • If the intent is to document do not shy away from arranging or directing the subjects for the best visual or documentary effect.
  • Documenting means photographing what is there without comment and without embellishment. (Rubble, Naples 1980).
  • Black and white photography lends itself to thinking in tone and shapes, maybe more than lines.
  • Use line (including eye lines), tone and shape to direct the viewer around an image. Consider how you want the image to be viewed and design around that idea.

Sources

Books

*Koudelka, Josef. (2007) Josef Koudelka: Thames & Hudson Photofile with an introduction by Bernard Cuau. London: Thanks and Hudson.

Internet

**Magnum Photos, first accessed 2013, www.magnumphotos.com

Assignment 1 – Tutor Feedback and My Reflection

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

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

It was good to receive feedback on assignment 1 from my tutor. The feedback was generally positive, which is a relief, and has given me some excellent pointers to help with moving forward. I will combine extracts from the comments with my reactions and thoughts.

“This was an excellent first submission Steve, which was very enjoyable to look through and feedback on.”

“It was excellent to receive actual prints for a change, but I would suggest in order for you to cut your own costs, you needn’t do this for each submission.”

I have extracted this second point because I found it difficult to find out from the forums and from other students submissions whether prints were required or not. However, it was clear that the further one proceeds with the degree course the more important printing becomes. I spent a lot of time considering how to approach this because the Epson 2100 I had successfully used for many years had finally given up the ghost four years ago and I had switched to preparing my work for iPad. After some deliberation I decided to invest in a new printer for two main reasons:

a) I have always found the technology of printers and printer / screen calibration frustrating but I came to the conclusion that I was using the iPad approach as a way of avoiding confronting this challenge.

b) Even if I rise to new levels of image capture and post production my journey is incomplete if I outsource the printing and make no effort to build my skills in that area. I will not say that photographers who don’t print are in anyway lesser photographers. Ai Wei Wei appears to outsource nearly all his works of art* so it is not necessarily a valid measure of creativity. However, for me, it is the third key skill that I wish to master.

I have purchased an Epson R3000 which, despite the extortionate price for the ink, is a very satisfactory machine and is far more compatible with my iMac than the 2100 ever was with my old G5.

“What it does show me in advance though, is your clear ability to be able to professionally present your work, with very close attention to detail in a manner that not only looks very impressive, but gives a clear indication about how seriously you take your work.  This is very important, because if you don’t take it seriously, others will find it difficult to!”

This was probably the most pleasing statement from the feedback. Embarking on a degree course at my age when my life is already full and quite satisfyingly complex was a major decision and one that I did not take lightly. A lot of my thought processes were about having my work taken seriously. After 40 plus years of taking photos for no particular reason I had a strong desire to understand how to capture better images and, perhaps more importantly, to have a clear reason for taking them. That reason is not to complete the many tasks and assignments, those are just steps on the path, it is about finding a way to take photographs that reflect the way I see the world and, like anyone else, I want my view of the world to be taken seriously. OCA talk about students finding their voice and that would be a highly satisfactory outcome.

“As mentioned above Steve, in my opinion this was a very impressive first submission in terms of both your appreciation of theory and practice.  You have certainly set your stall out for future assignments to come now!”

Obviously I am delighted to receive some praise and take much heart from it but I also recognise that I need to maintain the standard of presentation but, most importantly, to improve my creative ability and technical skills and to show a developing appreciation of theory and practice as I move forward with the course.

“All the imagery looked well worked out and shot for purpose.”

I am glad that my tutor valued this. Distance learning is a funny thing, especially for someone who was never very good at non-distance learning. It requires a blend of discipline, motivation and management that can only come from one source. There is little point in cutting corners as   I am only answerable to myself. I wanted to treat each exercise and assignment as an opportunity to explore what interests me through the medium of photography and this means taking on board the objectives, researching where necessary, learning and applying new skills where possible and creating something that is new to me and better than before.

Fig 2 and 3 High and Low as Originally Submitted

Fig 2 and 3 High and Low as Originally Submitted

“Some of these contrasting sets worked really well in my opinion – I particularly liked the ‘High & Low’ pairing which was a clever interpretation.  I will always remain unconvinced about the monochrome / colour isolation used here though (or anywhere for that matter !), as I don’t really understand what purpose it has.  These two images are strong enough without applying any fancy footwork or gimics … my advice will always be to keep things as simple as possible”

Totally fair comment. Over processed and gimmicky. I was definitely trying to be “creative” rather than letting the images speak for themselves.

Fig 4. High (Re-worked) - 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Fig 4. High (Re-worked) – 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Fig 5. Low (Re-worked) - 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Fig 5. Low (Re-worked) – 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Figures 4 and 5 above are re-works of High and Low following my tutors suggestion that combining colour and black and white had not added anything to the originals. They certainly have not become weaker images through a quick re-work and there is now an argument that the digger has become a leading line into the demolition and is thereby adding to the image without being a dominant and inappropriate distraction.

Fig 6 and 7 many and Few as Originally Submitted

Fig 6 and 7 many and Few as Originally Submitted

“The other pairings I thought that worked well would be ‘Many & Few’, which was a very literal representation that simply defined the requirement. (I might have cropped in tighter with the ‘many’ shot though in order to have removed the wall in the bottom right corner.)”

Not being literal was my biggest challenge, I know that I am a literal sort of person and it will be difficult to break that mould. It was a challenge to come up with imaginative interpretations of the pairings without copying other people’s ideas so, in many cases, I settled for literal. It is interesting that my tutor homed in on the wall, I thought about taking it out but felt that there was more of a crowd with it in and it added some context.

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

Fig 8 Many (Re-Worked) – 1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 65mm

Fig. 8 is a cropped, re-worked version of many. I know that the real answer was to have captured more people and less architecture with the camera so this is just about cropping. Even when I was re-working this I was thinking the tutor is entitled to his opinion but I prefer the original. Once I saw the crop I can see he was right – too much irrelevant architecture adding nothing to the image either in the context of the assignment or even just as an image. Which neatly leads to his comments about composition that I will come back to later.

Much and Little as Originally Submitted

Fig 9 and 10 Much and Little as Originally Submitted

“Also, the ‘Much & Little’ worked well for the same reason really.  It can also often be a good idea to try and keep the format of the images identical if at all possible.”

Good point. “Much” could have been a portrait frame and probably wouldn’t have lost its impact. There was not enough clean wall to the left and right of “Little” to have been a landscape frame and the scale was wrong as a landscape crop.

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

Fig 11 Light – 1/80 at f/14, ISO 6400, 16 to 35mm lens at 16mm

“I also really liked the ‘Light’ shot which was really nicely lit … looks like a great place to hang out !”

It is, I wish I could get there more often. One of the great aspects of modern DSLRs is their ability to deal with low light. On film or with an early DSLR I would not have had sufficient skill to get this shot. I love mixing natural light and artificial light and have used it extensively when photographing my grandchildren.

“Lastly, another additional positive point to make about your work is that in general, most of the images show very little ‘dead space’, which is so often found in the early stages of photographic practice – prior to any theoretical compositional considerations being either learnt or absorbed.  Remember that effective photography equals Technique + Composition.  Good or acceptable technique is arguably the first prerequisite for ‘good’ photography, but this alone will not make a ‘good’ image.  Image making must be complimented by composition, not just technique as mentioned before. We all use very similar technical equipment to make images, so composition is often one of the best ways in which a photographer can express their individuality and personal feeling in communicating their thoughts and ideas.”

“The term ‘composition’ has been mentioned in your feedback and I cannot emphasise its importance enough at this level of study and in particular at this stage of the programme.  In order to help and support you making appropriate compositional decisions [IE: what you choose to include and exclude from the frame, prior to taking the image] you must closely study the work of other practitioners.” (for follow up work see here)

Obviously the positive is pleasing, I usually crop quite tight and don’t like dead space in an image. I recognise that this sometimes means that I don’t use negative space to best effect. However, I want to take the tutor’s comments about composition on board and think more deeply about this. Looking at the submission images there is already the specific remark about “many” to consider in this context and looking back over the whole set I can see that I need to consider more carefully what should and should not be included in the frame. I’m of a generation that remembers the famous Bill Shankly quote about the off-side rule “If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be.” I will take my tutor’s advice and more rigorously consider whether all the content of the frame is gaining an advantage for the composition. Study of the great masters is an advised and valid route to help me develop this skill. My tutor has pointed me towards Josef Koudelka as an additional inspirational source in this regard.

I was pleased that I received positive comments about this blog, I am not reproducing them here as they are not related to photography.

Overall my tutor thought that assignment 1 was an “impressive first submission in terms of both (my) appreciation of theory and practice” and that is just the motivation I need to try and maintain the standard and improve both generally and specifically in the next phase. All the criticism was highly constructive with clear guidance on what I need to work on and I will endeavour to carry that forward into assignment 2.

Sources

*Klayman, Alison. (2013) Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry, United Expression Media.

Exercise 17 Diagonals

diagonals

Diagonals, unlike horizontal and vertical lines, are often created by the photographer as the angle of view or camera tilt can convert a line into a diagonal. This gives the photographer greater control over the impact of the horizontal line. All lines in an image will ask the viewer to follow them but a diagonal draws the eye to follow it more rapidly than a horizontal or vertical line and thereby creates a greater sense of movement and speed of movement. For the same reason it is also a stronger directional signpost. It is therefore a more dynamic and less stable line than a vertical or a horizontal.

In exercise 17 I looked for a variety of diagonals to test the way they worked in an image.

Fig. 1 Breakwater - 1/100 at f/13, ISO 110. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 1 Breakwater – 1/100 at f/13, ISO 110. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

In fig. 1 the series of converging diagonals lead the eye quickly to the fort in the distance. This shows the power of the diagonal as a leading line but also shows how parallel diagonals photographed to create perspective converge and draw the eye deeper and faster into the photo and increase the dynamic effect.

We understand that the eye reads a photograph from left to right so the shoreline is well positioned just above the the lower left corner and pointing towards the upper right. Although the fort is not in itself an especially interesting subject  it provides a focal point. If there is no focal point the converging parallels potentially need to extend to infinity so that the distance and depth become the subject, otherwise I felt there needed to be something for the lines to lead me to.

Fig. 2 Eyes Right - 1/100 at f/10, ISO 2,000. 70-300mm lens at 75mm

Fig. 2 Eyes Right – 1/100 at f/10, ISO 2,000. 70-300mm lens at 75mm

Fig. 2 is less dynamic, the perspective is much shorter so convergence is less significant. The main diagonal is created by the matching items on the Gurhkas’ uniforms and all lead us in the direction of the march. Because we cannot see either end of the lines we are left to imagine the length of the column which I think adds some interest to the photo. It is a softer use of lines, our eyes move along the column and there is a strong sense of movement but not rapid movement. There are also a lot of verticals formed by the soldiers’ bodies so there is a sense of stability as well. I find this image interesting because the composition underlines what the viewer already knows, they are marching and moving, they are soldiers so we might already see stable, solid, reliable and organised how ever they were photographed.

Fig. 3 Southsea Fort Lighthouse - 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

Fig. 3 Southsea Fort Lighthouse – 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

In the photograph of the lighthouse on the Tudor fort at Southsea in fig. 3 there are three lines or groups of lines and each appears to influence the image differently. The strong silhouetted lines from left to right are very powerful and lead us quickly into the lighthouse. There is a weaker and less angled pair of diagonals running from right to left and meeting at the same point but they catch the eye because they are brighter. Finally the two sides of the lighthouse converge to give a sense of height. Because the convergence is not dramatic we know that the lighthouse is not especially tall so these lines have acted as a measure. The rule of thirds is also in play so everything draws us to the lighthouse as the subject and then up the lighthouse to the green top.

Fig. 4 Southsea Fort Lighthouse - 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

Fig. 4 Southsea Fort Lighthouse – 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

I processed the lighthouse in black and white as shown in fig. 4 to test whether I reacted any differently to the two versions. The monochrome version is more graphic in design and seems to be as much about different and strong shapes as it is about the lighthouse but I found it difficult to find a tonal balance that gave me the strong whites that are such a feature in the colour version. I had to use a mid-tone grey for the sky to allow the lighthouse to stand out. I find the colour version a more pleasing design.

Fig. 5 Old House in Aldershot - 1/100 at f/8, ISO 110. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 5 Old House in Aldershot – 1/100 at f/8, ISO 110. 50mm prime lens.

In fig. 5 I found a subject where there are opposing diagonals mixed with verticals and horizontals. The dynamics of multiple diagonals can become chaotic but clearly this does not happen when they point towards a single and central point. I wanted to bring out the sadly, dilapidated state of the building and have therefore intentionally left the image with quite a dark feel to it. I have used shadow and highlight adjustment to bring out the structure of the door. My interpretation of the role of the diagonals in this image is that they create a frame for the passerby, lead us to the door of the building and divide the frame between the man and the building.

Fig. 6 Old House in Aldershot - 1/100 at f/8, ISO 160. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 6 Old House in Aldershot – 1/100 at f/8, ISO 160. 50mm prime lens.

In fig. 6 there is no passerby and I have used a portrait crop to bring in more of the building. the diagonals are less prominent and it seems a generally to be a much less dynamic image.

Fig. 7 Winchester Cathedral - 1/80 at f/14, ISO 25,600. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 7 Winchester Cathedral – 1/80 at f/14, ISO 25,600. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

The columns in Winchester Cathedral provided an ideal subject to show the power of converging diagonals to create a sense of height and scale. The use of a wide angle lens and a deep DoF exaggerates the scale of the columns in both breadth and height. The small section of roof gives the viewer a point of reference for the height of the column and tells us that we are looking up.

Fig. 8 Boris Bikes - 1/125 at f8, ISO 560. 24-70mm lens at 58mm

Fig. 8 Boris Bikes – 1/125 at f8, ISO 560. 24-70mm lens at 58mm

I took this photo of Boris Bikes in London last year but wanted to include it as fig. 8 because I think it is a photo of a diagonal or of converging diagonals.  Rather than the lines leading us to another subject the line of bikes is the subject.