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.

 

 

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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