Tag Archives: Degeneration

Brighton Photo Biennial 2014

Fig. 01 Birds - 1/500 at F/10, ISO 200

Fig. 01 Birds – 1/500 at F/10, ISO 200

I spent a day at the Brighton Photo Biennial looking at the various exhibitions that were scattered around the town. There was quite of variety of exhibits and picking ones that would help me move forward in my studies was challenging. My favourite art quote is included in Austin Kloen’s wonderful little book, Steal Like an Artist *(1) and is from André Gide, a French writer:

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” *(1)

But, the problem with this truism is that sometimes trying to say the same thing in a different way results in uninspiring  work. Perhaps I’m a little too old and too conservative to understand where some contemporary photography is trying to get to. As a consequence the highlights of my day, apart from a walk on the pier, were generally rather old school.

Fig Elvis on The Pier - 1/180 at f/11, ISO 200

Fig Elvis on The Pier – 1/180 at f/11, ISO 200

Real Britain 1974 looks at the work of the Co-Optic group who were pushing out the boundaries of documentary photography in the 70s. Many of this group went on to become highly recognised practitioners but at the time were mostly still classified as “emerging”. The group included Gerry Badger, Martin Parr, Fay Godwin and Paul Hill and some of the photos on show are instantly recognisable. The idea was to create a set of 25 postcards from around Britain that represented the real Britain of the day. Not exactly contemporary to most of the population but within my lifetime so it is to me. Great little and rather nostalgic exhibition. As a aside I find it interesting that Parr continues to be interested in postcards.

The Photo Book Show in the Jubilee Library was excellent. Two tables were laid out with hand-crafted and unique photo books. I especially liked Degeneration which lead me to the Human Endeavour *(2) website once I got home. Human Endeavour is a collaborative project or, what they call, a photographic collective, that is documenting the degeneration of urban buildings. I found their dummy photo book inspiring as this is a subject I have explored on a regular basis. It is a shame that the book appears to be limited to the single copy on display here.

My overall impression of the books on show was to be astounded by the quality and creativity on display. Some are artworks in their own right, although some are not particularly  functional as books and a small number were reminiscent of an art student’s final degree work rather than a publication.

Fig 2 Aldo Moro - Amore E Piombo - 1/10 at f/7.1, ISO 800

Fig 2 Aldo Moro – Amore E Piombo – 1/10 at f/7.1, ISO 800

Amore E Piombo (Love and Lead) was of particular interest as we used to live in Italy and have watched a number of Italian television dramas and read a few histories about the 60s and 70s when Italy was nearly torn apart by violent criminal and political factions. This exhibition includes a selection of the work of the Rome based agency Team Editorial Services and it showcases a very specific genre of photo journalism. It presents violent death in an unrestrained way, hard hitting photographs that must have shocked the Italian public when they were first published. This is war photography undertaken on the streets of Italy’s largest cities and is reminiscent of photographers such as McCullin or Griffiths but is also photo journalism at its best, determined photographers getting close to the terrible events that were unfolding and bringing back beautifully composed photographs to the news desk. The exhibition documents a dark period in Italian history and reminds us that many parts of Europe have tottered on the brink of anarchy in comparatively recent times.

Fig 1/300 at f/11, ISO 200

Fig 1/300 at f/11, ISO 200

A Return to Elsewhere *(3) shows the work of two photographers (Kalpesh Lathigra and Thabiso Sekgala), one based in the UK and one in South Africa, who have photographed the influence of Indian communities on the towns in which they now live. Given my recent pondering on whether contemporary photographs need to desaturated and flat it was something of a relief to see an exhibition of high contrast and saturated pictures. There is great variety in the work of these two photographers, street photography, urban landscape in the style of Camilo José Vergara, contextulised portraits, appropriation of old photographs and text and intimate landscape.

This is an exciting study of belonging and not quite belonging, of heritage and new horizons, transported and modified culture, identity and shared histories. The juxtaposition of two very different landscapes housing people originating from the same place is very powerful and effective. The photos also confront and question stereotypes and challenge us to consider the subjects quite carefully.

A highlight of the day. Their website is also well worth visiting and quite unusual http://elsewhere.thespace.org

Fig. 03 1/60 at F/13, ISO 500

Fig. 03 Looking into The Family Album – 1/60 at F/13, ISO 500

Looking Into The Family Album is an important exhibit showcasing the work of year 10 and year 11 students from two local Academies. Three artists collaborated with the students to create giant backdrops, costumes and staged photographs and the results are quite remarkable. I feel strongly that more photographers, especially professional practitioners should be investing time in helping young photographers. This most accessible art form is already a dominant feature of young people’s lives and the more young people that take this subject up at GCSE and A’ Level the more exciting the future of British photography becomes. We need to help students go beyond repeating the same old boring projects and to start pushing their creative boundaries but to do this within an academic framework so they start to see their work in the context of a wider photographic world and to make sure that they acquire the basic technical skills that will need if they are to get the best from the discipline. This work is a great example of this being done so I congratulate James Casey, Alex Buckley and Marysa Dowling who mentored these students.

Fig 5 Solitude - 1/300 at F/10, ISO 200

Fig 4 Solitude – 1/300 at F/10, ISO 200

Overall Impressions

Brighton is a great place and the perfect location for a festival of this kind. I was disappointed with the guide / catalogue which needed a better map that named the exhibitions so I didn’t have to pick a gallery off the map and keep turning the pages back and forth till I found what was on there. It would also have been nice to have better information available at some of the exhibits to learn more about the artists. Some of the signage once you found a location was very poor and I spent ages wandering around the Brighton Museum looking for Amore E Piombo.

Lunch and a walk on the pier was excellent. I have started to find my DSLR camera bag far too cumbersome and heavy and best used when I am in a “studio” environment or working near to the car. I recently treated myself to a Fuji XT 1 mirror-less camera and am carrying it everywhere I go. It is perfect for street photography because it is as discreet as Leica (just much cheaper!) , brilliant at handling poor light (such as inside the Amore E Piombo exhibition), and ridiculously portable. All the photos here were captured with this little gem.

Fig. 05 Sunday Stroll -  1/120 at f/13, ISO 200

Fig. 05 Sunday Stroll – 1/120 at f/13, ISO 200

Sources

Books

(1) Kleon, Austin. (2012) Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.New York: Workman Publishing.

Internet

(2) Human Endeavour – http://www.humanendeavour.co.uk

(3) A Return to Elsewhere – http://elsewhere.thespace.org

 

Advertisements

Photography as Archeology

Fig. 01 The Old Dairy Weydon - 1/100 at F/18, ISO 1,000

Fig. 01 The Old Dairy Weydon – 1/100 at F/18, ISO 1,000

For 6,000 years we have built structures, places to live, to keep us safe, to work, to store the product of our labours, to preserve our ideas or to give structure to our beliefs, to remember our ancestors and commemorate our successes. For much of that time we have made durable things, weapons for hunting, attack or defence, tools to ease our labours, vehicles to transport goods and people, and for a myriad of other purposes. Since the first farmers stopped following the game herds and selected a place to settle in the landscape humans have changed that landscape by collecting raw materials, by farming, by building and by scattering the things we made.

The things we build start with clear structures and purposes but as civilisations evolve our creations lose their purpose and their structure. Nature is always waiting to reclaim every element of every thing we make. We might stave her off for a few years, a few generations or a millennium but eventually she degrades and degenerates everything. Some objects settle into the landscape over time and we come to terms with their demise to such an extent that, as ruins, they define or are thought to beautify the greater place in which they stand but others sit defiantly ugly, never able to gracefully decay, remaining as eyesores, a blot on the landscape. Some temporarily find new life but time will tell and the greatest of our achievements eventually become dust.

Archeologists seek out these abandoned structures and objects to document their existence and to study their context before nature removes their trace. We mostly associated this science with the distant past, the discovery of something that is lost, the process of putting flesh onto the bones of history but all around us there are structures and things in the early stages of their demise, the abandoned buildings and discarded objects of the recent past that might become the archeology of the future but more often are cleared to make way for the next great idea. The documentation of these recent relics can be as compelling as an episode of Time Team, in each building or discarded object there is the history of people, of failed dreams and social change, of seismic shifts in our politics, habits and desires.

Assignment 5 has taken me back to the houses, villages, heaths and woodlands of my childhood and in searching for the past I have found shadows of my generation and the generations that preceded me. I have captured some of these with my camera.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photographically these objects offer interesting subjects but I find myself torn between using the saturated colours that I love, black and white graphic representations that remove the distraction of colour or desaturated and muted colours that might offer the best of both worlds. I was mildly critical of Tong Lam’s Abandoned Futures because I felt there were too many inconsistencies in his style and that this made his narratives slightly disjointed and I envy the certainty of style that can been seen in the work of Stephen Shore or Josef Koudelka who, I assume, never question whether to change their colour palette or, in Koudelka’s case, lack of colour.

There are examples of colour and monochrome being used together in a single presentation, David Bailey worked in both mediums and his Stardust exhibition showed his colour and black and white work, if not side by side, at least in close proximity. Irving Penn’s Still life includes examples of both and there is the sense that he moved freely between them. Most recently I visited Russell Squires’ Landings Exhibition where panoramic landscape photos in colour alternate with square format, black and white, intimate landscapes. These examples don’t necessarily set any precedents and the reasons that each artist mixed media in this way might need to be more carefully considered at some later date. At this stage and for these photos from around Farnham, I am switching between desaturated colour and black and white based on the approach that best suited each specific subject. A few months ago I conducted a similar study in Turks and Caicos and selected saturated colour as the approach that best suited the subjects and the warm Caribbean light. I may subsequently review this work and criticise myself for the lack of a consistent style.

Tong Lam and the Use of Essays and Appropriations in Abandoned Futures

Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point Turks and Caicos 2013 - 1/250 at f/8, -1/3 stop, ISO 100

Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point Turks and Caicos 2013 – 1/250 at f/8, -1/3 stop, ISO 100

A Short Review of Abandoned Futures

Tong Lam *(1) is interested in using photography to examine industrial and post industrial ruins around the world. This is reflected in his published work which includes Abandoned Futures which looks at the abandoned places of current civilisations and asks whether, in time, these will outnumber functioning places and offers a vision of what he calls the post human world. It appears self apparent that governments and developers prefer to build on green rather than brown field sites so across the world we can see post industrial wastelands being created and abandoned whilst we build on prime agricultural land, clear virgin forest and put increasing pressure on the remaining areas of wilderness.

Abandoned Futures *(2) follows the traditions of social documentary photography by focussing attention on environmental and social issues that should concern us, at one level we have mountains of waste, cars and planes dumped on virgin landscapes to decay slowly as new rubbish is rapidly added to the pile, and at another level more monumental forms of waste in the shape of abandoned buildings, industrial complexes and housing. The photographs of these buildings are archeological in nature, recording such a recent past that, at first glance, deserted amusement parks look closed for the night and books line dusty shelves in abandoned offices. Many individual photographs are complete narratives where the audience can easily add the past and the future to the image imagining the inhabited space and its eventual collapse into a cloud of concrete dust.

Overall the book is a single narrative, a story of unrealised dreams, failed projects, bad ideas and the degenerative processes of climate and nature but it is structured into chapters that investigate specific places or types of decay and each of these can be seen as an independent narrative.

The subject matter holds great interest for me as, over many years, I have collected my own library of photographs of abandoned buildings and decaying man-made environments partly because they often offer graphic and abstract subjects and partly because I am intrigued by the ability of nature to take control of the most resilient of man-made or shaped materials and slowly transform them into something organic, returning cement to rock dust, brick to clay, wood to rot and iron to rust. Trees and walls become a single organism as roots weave their way through lime based cement or twist around rock to find moisture and even though we can only see a fraction of the lifecycle we know the beginning and the end.

This meant that I would inevitably enjoy Lam’s work and I was taken with his simple compositions and unpretentious approach that often elevates the subject over the photograph. When looking at concerned photographers such as Koudelka and Jones Griffiths there is an sense of artistry and consistency of style to their photographs that is perhaps less obvious here. Lam’s style moves from plain landscapes that only make sense within the contact of the overall set to bright dessert scenes that are reminiscent of Stephen Shore in both composition and colouring through to deeply saturated daylight colours and soft long exposures. The book also falls down in the sequencing of the images so that we are often presented pictures on facing pages that have no obvious relationship – an abandoned car in the snow and an empty swimming pool in bright winter sunlight. However, overall I found the photographs engaging and full of intriguing detail.

Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point Turks and Caicos 2013 - 1/125 at f/8, -1/3 stop, ISO 100

Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point Turks and Caicos 2013 – 1/125 at f/8, -1/3 stop, ISO 100

The Use of Text in Abandoned Futures

Essays

There are 11 very readable essays included within Abandoned Futures. Lam uses these essays to discuss a range of related subjects from why people paint or photograph ruins right through to contextualising sets of photographs in the same way that Jones Griffiths approached Vietnam Inc. The overall context of this book is quite different than Vietnam Inc. or Wall where there is a sense of the photographer feeling that they need to educate the audience to understand the photographs. Jones Griffiths, probably quite rightly, believes that we will miss the point of his photographs of Vietnamese villagers if we don’t understand the inhabitants’ underlying culture and beliefs. In Abandoned Futures there is a different feel to the text, the photographs of thousands of dumped cars in the Mojave Desert do not call for education, most of the audience will understand the subject, the issue and the problem without further education so the text has to play a different role. His writing is not journalistic, is not laden with facts, is not even evangelical in style, it is elegantly written prose with an artistic rhythm that describes the car culture of the USA and acts as a background, another perspective on the scene we see in the pictures. It would be fair to say that it addresses the “why?” that Jones Griffiths states is so important but it is a broad brush explanation rather than an analytic discourse.

Appropriation

There are also a few examples of appropriation. Unlike Fox and Burgin (see Victor Burgin and Appropriations) his use of quotes is not ironic, he uses them to illuminate his own message so a quote from Victor Hugo “For, to make desserts, God, who rules mankind, begins with Kings, and ends with the work of the wind.” with a photograph of a ruined castle.

Old House Grand Turk 2013 -  1/125 at f/8, -2/3 stops, ISO100

Old House Grand Turk 2013 – 1/125 at f/8, -2/3 stops, ISO100

Conclusion

Lam’s text is integral to this book, he wants to tell the audience as much as he can in the constraints of the book and the photos and the words, whilst complimentary, often provide different information so as well as contextualising the images he is adding to them with his essays.

Sources

Books

(2) Lam, Tong (2013) Abandoned Futures: A Journey to the Posthuman World. Great Britain: Carpet Bombing Culture.

Internet

(1) Lam, Tong – Official Website – http://photography.tonglam.com/#/about/description

Assignment 2 Self Assessment

Marleys 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100

Marleys 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100

Self Assessment

Quality of Outcome – My  concept was to provide an insight to the islands in no more than 15 images based on a cross section of subjects held together by a common style that represents me and the type of images I want to create.

The collection is no better than half way to achieving this objective. The positive is that all 15 images are very personal and reflect my sense of the place. I believe there is a common style but it doesn’t flow through all the images in a consistent enough manner to give me the sought after cohesiveness.

I now question whether a more narrow perspective of the place might have resulted in a stronger and more coherent collection.

Technical and Visual Skills – I am reasonably satisfied with the technical and visual skills I have employed in assignment 2.

Having made the decision to use the trip to Turks and Caicos as a shoot location for the assignment it was important to observe and photograph what was there rather than what I wanted to be there. I wanted images that went beyond the obvious and to do this I had to be visually aware. The first two months of TAoP has made me more aware of potential subjects and viewpoints and I know that I approached this location quite differently than I would have done before starting this course. My only regret is that I found the work of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore after completing the shoot as I believe I would have been better prepared to find the mundane and everyday things that would have more uniquely described the islands.

I believe that my compositional skills are evolving as I research the work of more photographers and Josef Koudelka has influenced my photographs of people in terms of how I thought about what to include and exclude and where to position my subjects. I generally continued to crop fairly tight and only took a wider view when that added to the image. I would criticise a lot of my pre-TAoP work as being too conformist and over reliant on the rule of thirds so I believe I have made a step forward by being more willing to break the rules to achieve the right emotional effect.

Technically I believe my images are generally competent although I struggled, as I always have struggled, with getting the right overall exposure when photographing black skin tones if there is strong light and shadows.

I have not introduced any new techniques in post processing the assignment collection but, in my testing and preparation, I processed a black and white series using NIK Silver Effects Pro after reading Michael Freeman’s description of its features. (see Black and White Caribbean).

Demonstration of Creativity – Perhaps as a result of 30 years of Kodachrome slide photography before completely switching to digital in 2000 I respond to saturated colours and strong contrasts. My challenge is to create images that use my love of colour positively without producing clichéd travel photographs. My subject selection and composition endeavours to counter-balance the use of strong colour and I feel that I have achieved the result I wanted in most of the collection.

Judging my own creativity is very challenging. My studies of openings and degeneration are progressional and built on ideas developed photographing rural Italian villages but on this shoot I was searching for and testing how to bring a common thread to these fairly narrow subjects. A little of this work has found its way through to my final selection and I am pleased by that. I would say that I have approached nearly all these images in a “new” way and that half of the final collection are of subjects that I would not have photographed prior to starting TAoP. In those terms I see this set as being developmental.

In thinking about whether I am developing a personal voice my main conclusion is that it is too early to tell so I will talk a little about my current creative thinking as I begin to build a clearer picture of my next steps based on the images captured as part of TAoP that interest me the most.

The first idea that crystallised by being focussed on the TCI shoot and that is influenced by Koudelka’s “Czechoslavakia, Slovakia. Bardejov. 1967. Gypsies” and William Henry Fox Talbot’s “The Open Door” is to start looking at openings, windows and doors, as an insight into a community, sometimes with the occupants included and sometimes using everyday objects to suggest occupancy.

I continue to be interested in degeneration by the forces of nature but need to significantly develop my ideas to avoid becoming over focussed on “pretty” colours and patterns.

Context – I am enjoying the research and reflection aspect of this course much more that I had expected. My tutor suggested that I looked at the compositional skills of Josef Koudelka (see Josef Koudelka and Composition) and to investigate “The Banal” (see Banal and the Topographical Movement  and  William Eggleston – One Picture of One Thing).

It is quite clear that this type of research is an essential part of the course and key to my personal development. I want to delve more deeply into Eggleston and Stephen Shore’s work in particular as I am particularly interested in their ability to capture a sense of place by documenting the ordinary. I see no particular link between their work and mine but I find their images of America compelling and want to understand them better as an enabler to being influenced.

I have booked to see David Bailey’s Stardust exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, it has had mixed reviews but I am keen to see his work close up. He was a man who helped change photography in Britain by invading a world that had hitherto been the preserve of the “right sort of chap”.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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/

Metamorphic Elements of Design

1/125 at f/22, ISO 200

1/125 at f/22, ISO 200

Continuing to work towards assignment 2 “Elements of Design” based on a photo shoot in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In seven days I wanted to capture a personal view by developing and following simple themes that flowed through the whole shoot. One such theme was the effect of the climate on structures. Living in the north of our hemisphere we think of places like the Caribbean as having an idyllic climate but the reality is that a mixture of strong sunlight, rain, salt laden wind from the ocean and autumn storms create a harsh climate that will alter all but the toughest materials.

Time and nature relentlessly break everything down; wood becomes soft and weathered , iron rusts and crumbles, paint cracks and flakes, walls crumble and fall, glass clouds and breaks. Eventually an object becomes a collection of simple elements that can be scattered by the wind or tide.

This relentless process degenerates the original, desirable properties of every material and in so doing creates new textures, colours and forms  and in these we can find great beauty. Many of the elements of design are here and there was a temptation to build assignment 2 around these collections.

Degeneration Collection 1 focuses closely on the textures, colour and forms.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Degeneration Collection 2 takes a wider perspective.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Openings in the Islands

Fig 1. A Study in Openings Turks and Caicos 2013

Fig 1. A Study in Openings Turks and Caicos 2013

On my visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands I was capturing images for assignment 2. My objective was to develop an assignment portfolio of, no more than 15 images, that expressed a personal view of the islands. As discussed in an earlier post “The Carribean in My View”  I wanted to build towards a visual description that captured my sense of place and told my story of the islands.

My tutor’s feedback on assignment 1 arrived soon after returning from the trip so his advice and comments were not taken into the week-long shoot but they have strongly influenced the way I have looked at the raw, captured images. His comments have led me to start a process of understanding the banal and topographical movement of the 1970s.  My image selection and editing has undoubtably been influenced by beginning to study the photographs of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. I am drawn to the idea of documenting our surroundings on the basis of photographing what is there and not entering a place with pre-formed ideas of what will be there to photograph or only capturing the grand or the beautiful. This approach opens the mind and eye to new possibilities and removes some shackles that might otherwise limit subject identification.

My key point here is that my original objective of finding a personal view, photographing what was there and the Eggleston/Shore ideas have come together whilst I was editing and selecting images. The perfect scenario would be to start the shoot again with these new influences in mind but in, many ways, I am more comfortable with the thought that my original idea has loosely  fitted into an framework that was established forty years ago by these and other great photographers. It is important to declare that I am not comparing my work with theirs in any qualitative sense, only that I feel that my thought processes fit within their broad ideas.

I approached the week by letting themes develop through my viewfinder, allowing me to see links between different locations. Following those links helped me develop some structure to my shooting and made my work more progressional even in such a short timeframe.

One theme that I took into the week was “openings”. Doors and windows humanise a wall. A wall is one dimensional, a barrier, a division, a unyielding surface. It is an analogy for preventing movement, preventing communication, a barrier. Opening a wall with a door adds a dimension; for there to be a door there has to be something beyond the wall, a place to go to or leave from. A window goes a step further because it means someone needs light or to look out or wants others to see in. Doors and windows transform a wall from a closed barrier into something that can be opened and by doing that they tell a story about the building.

In Turks and Caicos I became interested in the state of openings. Cared for architectural statements, with designed shape and colour, strictly functional openings to let in light and breeze, openings that were once cared for but are now neglected, some to the point of being holes without form or substance.

Photographically there is an abundance of horizontals and verticals but the verticals that give strength to some are part of the decline and decay of others. Occasionally a diagonal joins the mix as a shadow or a broken shutter hanging on a thread until the next strong wind comes through. Each window has a history, some have a future, some are only a trace of what once was and will soon be gone. None are grand or glorious, none are important or notable but they are there and tell part of the story.

Collectively, as seen in fig. 1 they document a tiny aspect of the island story. Individually, as shown in the gallery below they are a study of form and colour, of texture and line, of decay and weathering. The cracked wood, broken glass and flaking paint tell a much more personal story of one house, one place and one opening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.