Tag Archives: Design Elements

Assignment 2 Tutor Feedback and Reflection

I have received my tutor’s feedback on assignment 2. It is included below along with my comments, reactions and reflections. The assignment was submitted on 14th February and the feedback was received back on the 2nd April. I have quite obviously covered a lot of ground in the intervening 6 weeks so a number of feedback comments have been overtaken by events.

” Overall Comments

Again this was another strong submission Steve, including a diverse range of imagery from the Turks and Caicos Islands.

 The issues raised in the previous report are as follows:

  • Further consider the Monochrome versus Colour debate
  • Look at the work of Josef Koudelka in particular relation to image composition.

I can see you have responded very well to this feedback and enjoyed reading about your thoughts on Koudelka (and here and here and here) posted on the blog.

Feedback on assignment

This was a strong series of images Steve, which took the opportunity to develop a themed body of work via a place already full of visual interest.  From a technical perspective I couldn’t really see much wrong with the way in which you construct an image IE: Composition / focus / exposure etc. I do think some worked better than others in my opinion … I’d guess others would have a different opinion though. ”

A Combination of Vertical and Horizontal Lines

Fig. 01 – A Combination of Vertical and Horizontal Lines (Fig. 4 from submission)

” The imagery that stood out for me was as follows: Fig. 4 – Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point. ”

Distinct Shapes

Fig. 02 – Distinct Shapes (Fig. 10 from submission)

” Fig. 10 – Cruise Ship Through Ruin ”

Rhythm

Fig. 03 – Rhythm (Fig. 13 from submission)

” Fig. 13 – Bottles.  This was not to say the other imagery didn’t answer the brief, but just these images stood out for me with the beer bottle on the left of the first step of fig. 04 being the ‘Punctum’ for me personally. “

Response

The “cruise ship through ruin” always felt like one of the strongest images because it had so many graphic design elements to go with the colour and the juxtaposition of the cruise liner on a perfect sea with the ruined building.

I can see why the bottles in fig 13 attracted particular attention as the subject was odd, I felt that this image was the nearest I came to capturing the unusual hidden in full view and, as I said in my submission, it made me feel that I could have created a more interesting set if I had “found” William Eggleston and Stephen Shore before, rather than after the trip. I believe that my subsequent study of Eggleston, Shore, Ray-Jones and Parr have helped me improve my observation skills and become more alert to potential subjects.

It is interesting that “The Ruined Mansion at Emerald Point” appealed and why it appealed. The beer bottle was the special feature for me as well and the sense of something very normal having happened here in the recent past made the ruin more intriguing as it has moved from a millionaire’s holiday retreat to a ruin and appeared to now have a role as a place for someone to sit and drink beer but instead of throwing the bottle onto the piles of rubbish they had carefully placed it on the step.. 

” I thought the idea of exploring this island was already ahead of the game in terms of visual interest. Many of these assignment submissions come in and do not really leave any kind of comfort zone. That is not to say that a series of images must be shot in an exotic location to be of interest … probably the opposite actually, once you scrape the surface.  I did find that the images that intrigued me the most made reference to an area of abandonment or former glory IE: Fig 04 or Fig 10. I think this might have been the theme to explore as many of these relatively new tourist locations have a hidden or unseen past to explore, with deep significance. “

Response

I am in total agreement and the idea that developed on location was exactly that. I initially wanted to bring together a combination of ruins, abandonment, new developments,  the degeneration of new and old and the restored and unrestored historic colonial buildings to paint a picture of flawed progress. However, and I see this as the fundamental challenge of these assignments, instead of selecting 15 images that told this story I had to find 15 images that told this story and “ticked off” the various design elements. In editing I had to choose between the story, the strongest images and exhibiting the design elements and these objectives were often mutually exclusive.

To satisfy my own need for the story I pursued three themes in parallel. I looked for the design elements, I worked towards a study of degeneration  and looked for ways to document the islands without producing a cliché ridden travel guide. (here and here)

In a few cases the three objectives intersected and where that happened I captured the strongest images in the submission. I didn’t want to shoehorn in an image that fitted the theme of the series when it was a weak answer to the design criteria but I also felt uncomfortable broadening the series to include images that fitted the criteria but were not as strong in terms of the theme.

I do not intend to use this as an excuse to ignore the assignment or to argue that my work would have reached great heights if only I had not been constrained of the assignment. The test is to present strong images, tell the story and meet the criteria. However, I am close to completing my shoots for assignment 3 and know that the images collected so far are tending to place theme above the perfect completion of the assignment criteria so only time will tell whether that is a step in the right direction in terms of feedback and assessment.

Implied Triangle

Fig 04 – Implied Triangle The Conch Fisherman

” I also liked the action portrait of the Conch fisherman, but felt this might have worked better if it had been shot deliberately, with collaboration, in a setting where the background gave significance or context to the image. “

Response

Point taken and accepted. I took half a dozen pictures of this chap and whilst he was willing to chat about his trade and was quite friendly I’m not sure whether I could have tempted him to collaborate. The resident population, or “belongers” as they call themselves, are not especially comfortable with tourists who presumably might be called  “unbelongers”. I recently watched the excellent Bill Nighy drama “Turks and Caicos” and the point was made there that the locals just clean up after rich tourists. 

But, back to the point. I could have used one of the following shots of the same man as these contain far more context but de-power the design element but this does raise another issue which I struggled with when editing the series. In his feedback to assignment 1 my tutor suggested that I should not mix the aspect of my prints, i.e. do not mix horizontal aspect and vertical aspect prints in the same submission. I subsequently used the OCA forum to ask whether this was the general view. The tutors on the forum did express the same view so all of assignment 2 was presented as horizontal aspect prints.

I am still struggling with this inferred rule. Whilst I recognise that the majority of photo books have a consistent format there are many examples where the occasional vertical or square aspect is included in a book of horizontal aspect prints. I also noted that David Bailey did not feel constrained in his Stardust Exhibition where he mixed vertical and horizontal on the same wall or where he created photo montages of related prints in single frames that included square, vertical and horizontal.

If I had not felt bound by this inferred rule I would have used 2 or 3 vertical prints including fig. 05 below.

Fig. 05 Conch Fisherman - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 05 Conch Fisherman – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 06 Conch Fishermen - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 06 Conch Fishermen – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

” When you look at a series of images and one makes you stop, this can be referred to in terms of what Roland Barthes would call ‘Studium’ or a general enthusiasm or interest assigned to an image. This is as opposed to something that might be classed as a rare detail or piercing moment of either pain or delight, which Barthes would term ‘Punctum’.  I have listed a publication below by Barthes entitled Camera Lucida, which I urge you to read in relation to developing your photographic critical position.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

The Blog is working very well for you and you appear to be updating it regularly, which is excellent. It is very easy to navigate and contains some really strong and diverse research, which is excellent at this stage of the degree. Just check the spelling of the ‘Bibliography’ link.

Suggested reading/viewing

Parr, M.2004:Think of England. London. Phaidon Press Ltd.  (see follow up work here)

ISBN-13:978 – 0714844541

Eggleston, W.2002: William Eggleston’s Guide. New York. MOMA Press  (see follow up work here)

ISBN-13: 978-0870703782

Shore, S.2004: Uncommon Places. London. Thames & Hudson  (see follow up work here and here)

ISBN-13: 978-0500542873

Barthes, Roland.1993: Camera Lucida. Vintage Classics. London. (see follow up work here)

ISBN 13: 978-0099225416

Response

I also felt that leading into assignment 3 was the right time to explore Martin Parr. I have seen extracts from “Think of England” in Val William’s book on Martin Parr and have ordered “Think of England” but it is currently out of stock at Amazon. I have completed a review of “The Last Resort” (here) and although my choice of subject for assignment 3 is quite a long way from Parr’s style his approach has helped me understand the key role that observational skills play in photography.

 In his feedback on assignment 1 my tutor suggested that I start to research the banal and this of course quickly led me to William Eggleston and the new colour movement. I have already completed my shoots for assignment 2 when I received this advice but I have spent a lot of time researching Eggelston (here and here) and that led me to Stephen Shore and Uncommon Places (here) and ultimately to Tony Ray-Jones (here) and Martin Parr (here)

” Pointers for the next assignment

Apologies about the late response regarding this feedback, as I note you already have looked at some of these practitioners in relation to assignment 3. Anyway ….. please use the following to inform assignment 03 – Martin Parr, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. Parr is a well known Magnum Photographer, so it may also serve you well to try and become acquainted with what the Magnum Photo Agency [http://www.magnumphotos.com] is all about. The other two [Eggleston & Shore] are very important American photographers especially in relation to the use of ‘Colour Photography’.

Eggleston in particular is cited as being the photographer who introduced the art world to Colour Photography, with his ground breaking exhibition at MOMA in New York in 1976.  Prior to this, most serious photography had been monochrome.

Lastly, regarding work already conducted on assignment 3 – in relation to reflections / portraits, please see the work Tom Wood conducted from Merseyside buses in the 1980’s called ‘All Zones Off Peak’.

I hope this is of help to you Steve and I look forward to your next assignment.

Response

Very helpful pointers and I sense that Parr, Eggleston and Shore are ideal influences at this stage. I have used the Magnum site extensively as it bypasses the frustrations of general image searches on the internet where separating the wheat from the chaff is laborious and frustrating.  Magnum has two massive advantages, they are all photographers at the top of their profession and the site has a powerful search engine so it is very easy to focus in on a single topic across many practitioners. They also provide a historical and contemporary cross section of styles so it is possible to find very different approaches to the same subject.

I will certainly look into Tom Wood, I did see some of his work when I helped take a school party to London last year but I will now search out images from “All Zones Off Peak”. It is too expensive to buy a copy as it is currently showing on Amazon at £165.

Overall Reflective Comments

I would obviously have been happier if more of the submission images had made the “short list”, 4 out of 15 seems a poor hit rate, but looking back on the submission six weeks down the track I fully accept that they were not all strong enough and, if I was to assess them now I would have only added 1 or 2 more to the “short list”. As mentioned above, I feel the key is to ensure the theme and what I want to say is given priority over ticking off the assignment criteria and I need to push further out to test where this takes me. 

There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from my tutor’s remarks and whilst I have collected plenty of test shots and have some potential final images for assignment 3 there is still plenty of time to use his guidance to good effect. 

Eggleston, Shore, Ray-Jones and Parr are influencing the way I observe but I am not seeing a clear influence coming through in my photos. There are fleeting glimpses of the way they see and capture the world in a some very isolated examples of the pictures I have taken in the last month so hope still springs eternal. I would have given myself a better chance of showing their influence more directly if I had chosen a different subject for assignment 3 as I have not come across many reflections or mannequins in their work.

Stephen Shore Uncommon Places

DSC_7282Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore *(1), considered to be one of the most important American photo books, is a diary. The pages of the diary have fallen out and been put back together out of sequence but it is still a diary, a journal in the tradition of the Victorians like Edward Lear who wrote, sketched and painted as he travelled through Italy, Albania and Greece in the 1850’s or of Shore’s fellow American Robert Frank who toured America one hundred years later camera in hand. Each of these men documented a place in time with a forensic eye for detail and no little skill and in the perfect medium for their time.

Lear worked in watercolours which Wilcox and Newall * (2), in Victorian Landscape Watercolours, tell us was considered in the 1800’s to be “a new art” and one that rose to its zenith in the middle of that century when Lear was complaining about poor roads and dirty villages in Southern Italy whilst creating a collection of landscapes that documented the region.

Robert Frank’s work is black and white photographs, considered in the 1950s, and for many years before and after, to be the only possible medium for art photography, and then we have Shore who was one of a small group of American photographers who worked in colour and who made that medium acceptable and then acclaimed.

I believe that this link is key to understanding the work of these documentarists. Each wanted to communicate something they saw as important about the places they visited and the people they found there. If you wish to communicate something it is only sensible to use a language that can describe your subject and that be heard and understood. Each man selected the medium of his time that best allowed them to describe their subject. The difference is that Lear and Frank rode the crest of the wave of their chosen art form whereas Shore was part of the formation of the wave of “New Colour”.

Uncommon Places has been published twice, an original in 1982 which comprised 49 plates and an updated version in 2004 which included around 100 more photographs. This has now been reprinted many times, my copy being the 2013 reprint. Uncommon Places is seen as one of the most important photograph books of modern times and my own research shows that this book and William Eggleston’s The Guide are two of the most quoted and reviewed books in the world of photography. Given its status I wanted to understand, as far as possible, what Shore was trying to achieve when he embarked on his road-trips between 1973 and 1979 so I have spent time finding interviews with the artist in both written and video form so that I started to look closely at Shore’s work with his own thoughts and statements as my guide.

DSC_7284There is, of course, a technical aspect to Uncommon Places which is much discussed and much copied. Shore’s choice of camera was a 8×10 view camera which can been seen in a number of films of him at work *(3). This camera can only be used with a tripod and focussing is carried out on a ground glass backplate. Once the film is inserted the image can not longer be seen so Shore stands to one side of his camera, cable release in hand and waits.

Having worked for a number of years with a medium format Bronica, which could be used hand-held but was far more effective on a tripod, I know that a large camera guides you towards a slow, measured and thoughtful approach to subject selection and composition and, because the tripod enables long shutter speeds, there is the opportunity to use deep depths of field. Shore realised all these things before he started using the 8 x 10 but more importantly he recognised that this allowed him a greater level of compositional freedom than he had known with a handheld camera. In his interviews he repeatedly uses the word “detail” and this is part of the key to his work. He saw that, by having such a wide DoF, he could compose his images with great depth and include detail right to the horizon, as an analytical man he became intrigued with the structure of his images and “how deep space in a picture relates to a picture plane”. * (4)

This depth is one of the first things that stands out in his landscapes and it is not just about DoF and sharp focus from near to far, it is more to do with the fact that the images are often full of detail deep into the picture and that he is composing the background right into the depths of the frame. The huge 8 x 10 negative means that he has precise clarity for this detail when he prints and this means the comparatively small prints that he often displayed overflow with information.

There are many examples in Uncommon Places of these trademarks of his style, the depth of the image in the frame, the immense amount of information that draws us in, and the careful, precise, positioning of every element; in U.S 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, 1973  the telegraph poles disappear so far away from the viewer it is difficult to say precisely when they are still there and when they have gone, the clouds lead us to a vanishing point somewhere behind the billboard and the horizon is fringed with mountains upon which the trees might be counted. Main Street, Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, 1974 is a very different type of photograph, a small urban scene, but like South of Klamath even the more distant objects are carefully positioned and you can sense that he took a step to his right to position the blue building so precisely between the telegraph poles, Gull Lake is also an example of the type of detail that connects with viewer and calls for a second, third and forth look to see the cowboy boot on the Coca Cola sign which in itself is missing several letters, the two street lamps with red shades outside the little white store at the end of the street and is “Wal Wal” really “Wall to Wall” and is it a carpet shop?

This extreme level of detail and Shore’s tendency to exhibit his work with comparatively small prints reveals yet more of his analytical nature. He knew that the 8 x 10 negatives, even when masked in camera to allow him to take two 4 x 10 pictures on one negative, would allow him to produce large prints without any significant loss of quality but he also saw that a large print allowed a viewer to casually look and move on, thereby missing whole tranches of information * (5).  A smaller print, however, demanded close inspection and once we start to look closely at a Shore print we look even more closely and then we reach for our reading glasses and look again. I found myself using a magnifying loupe to investigate the depths of his compositions.

DSC_7264

There is another aspect of detail that makes Shore unusual today and made him stand-out from all but a tiny few in the 70s. His all-in-focus pictures using all the available detail of the 8 x 10 negative allowed him to offer everything and nothing as the subject. In American Beauty * (3) he says ” recording in extraordinary detail allows me to see things but not make them the whole point of the picture.” This idea, of what he calls a “state of hyperawareness” make his pictures a more complete view of a scene than we could have had by being there. He captures everything in a split second but it takes us far, far longer to explore the scene via his image and often, there is no one subject, no item sitting at a “rule of thirds” intersection that explains the composition and I do not believe that he wants us to ask what is the subject? of say “Speedway Boulevard, Tuscan, Arizona, 1976” is it the cars? is it the Mazda sign? is it the road? because it is all of these and the lamp posts and the palm trees and the road signs and … The point is made; he presents a complete and complex view, left to right, top to bottom, front to back that in totality describes Speedway Boulevard.

Stephen Shore embraced colour in much the same way as William Eggleston, he saw the world in colour and documents places that might be described as “dull” using a technicolor palette. He rejects the idea that the colours in his photographs are nostalgic * (4) and the re-print of Uncommon Places supports this position. Plate after plate glows with saturated colours. He choses to photograph people in bright clothes against muted backgrounds so the subject leaps out such as in “Main Street, Fort Worth, Texas, June 17, 1976”, or in “Ginger Shore, Miami, Florida, November 12, 1977”. He revels in the colours of vehicles whether in close- up or as part of his landscapes and when there is little colour contrast he offers beautiful tonal variations as in his photo of the Yankees at West Palm Beach, Florida, March 14, 1978. Colour is never incidental it is front and centre in his compositions.

Having highlighted the depth of his pictures, the detail and the colour there is one further element that  brings everything together and that element is structure. Shore is a scholar, a thinker, an analyst and as much a scientist in temperament as he is an artist. His photographs therefore have many levels, some apparent to the casual viewer and some that are less obvious and this is where I found his words an important guide to his work. Shore tells us that he spent a lot of time exploring the structures of photography and how to organise space in a picture * (3) and it is clear that Uncommon Places, a celebration of colour, a documentary journey across America and a detailed record of what he saw is also part of this exploration of structure. The organisation of space, the careful balance of large blocks of tone and the lines that he uses to direct our view are examples of his desire to show that “structure is not a visual nicety simply over laid on the world but is way of understanding the world.”

Because compositional structure is so important in his images one can select nearly any of the plates in Uncommon Places as an example to prove this point but I am selecting “Miami Beach, Florida, November 13, 1977” as my example because, at first glance, it does not conform to Shore’s other landscapes. This is a picture of a woman sunbathing under a tree on a quiet, nearly empty beach; it is constructed around four large shapes, the road and wall being one, the beach, the sea and, lastly, the pale, blue sky. Each of the four is nearly an empty space but each space is broken by small but relevant points of interest, the rocks in the wall, the trees, two people, huts and shadows on the beach, the ship and the waves and a band of clouds on the horizon. Overall the frame is divided with restful horizontals that match the relaxing scene and diagonals that run both left to right and front to back to create some tension. The position of the huts and trees are balanced and carefully related to each other and the ship sits perfectly both on the horizon and between two trees. The woman is off centre and could be the natural starting point but the lines move us left, then right and at each pass we see a little more, now there are waste bins on the beach, there is another set of tyre tracks we didn’t see the first time until eventually he has led us around this scene and we have seen everything and feel we have an understanding of that afternoon in Florida.

DSC_7297

Shore compositions are painstakingly precise, many are symmetrical with buildings carefully centralised and related to parallel horizontals and verticals. Roads, which are a recurring theme, often cross from bottom left to top right or visa versa, human subjects are mostly centred, and diagonals regularly link with other diagonals at 45 or 90 degrees. His high structure is in stark contrast with his mundane subjects. Shore wanted to photograph the parts of America that were not news, document the heart of his country with forensic accuracy, record the backdrop, the ordinary scenery of the nation whilst most eyes were on New York or Washington, Vietnam or the cold war that was all in the centre of the stage.

Not being an American my emotions are not those of nostalgia when I look through Uncommon Places but my responses are emotional, I love the saturated colours in the sunshine, the voyeuristic insight into a place I can never visit, the ugly middle American architecture of gas stations and car dealerships set against the distant majesty of mountains and arid desserts, the gas guzzling pick up trucks and flat, wallowing, limos stuck in traffic jams.

At its heart Uncommon Places is a dairy but it is a diary about everything that is ordinary and unremarkable about middle America, it is about ordinary people and ordinary places captured in an extraordinary way.

Sources

Books

* (1) Shore, Stephen. (2004) Uncommon Places: The Complete Works: 2013 reprint, London, Thames and Hudson.

* (2) Wilcox, Scott & Newall, Christopher, (1992) Victorian Landscape Watercolours, New York, Hudson Hills.

Internet

Kimmelman, Michael, (2007) Biographical Landscape: Passing Mile Markers, Snapping Pictures, New York, The New York Times. www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2005.100.498

Hodgson, Francis, (2013) Stephen Shore: Something and Nothing, Sprüth Magers, London – Review, London, The Financial Times. www.ft.com/cms/s/2/42423636-5b42-11e3-848e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2tKC0Qo47

* (4) Jiang, Rong. (2007) The Apparent is the Bridge to the Real: Interview with Stephen Shore, New York, ICP. www.americansuburbx.com/2012/01/interview-stephen-shore-the-apparent-is-the-bridge-to-the-real-2007.html

National Gallery of Art, (2009) Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, the National Gallery if Art. www.nga.gov/exhibitions/frankinfo.shtm

Welling, James, (2010) James Welling puts five questions to Stephen Shore, Blouin Art Info International. www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/33591/james-welling-puts-five-questions-to-stephen-shore/

Edvardsen, Simen, (2012) Uncommon Places, on the Road, The Photobook Club. photobookclub.org/index.php/2012/02/10/simen-edvardsen-uncommon-places-on-the-road/

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Collections www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections

Films

* (5) Stephen Shore Uncommon Places, (2012?) Spike Productions interview with Stephen Shore. vimeo.com/32562146

* (3) Stephen Shore American Beauty, (2009) Joy of Giving Something Inc. Directed by Donna Golden. www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRM2X1GnNSQ#t=318

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.

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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.

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.

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Degeneration Collection 2 takes a wider perspective.

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Black and White Caribbean

I set myself the objective at the end of assignment 1 to improve my black and white processing skills. Whilst in Turks and Caicos I endeavoured to “see” in black and white which, as might be expected, is challenging in a place where colours are typically strong. There are a few obvious characteristics of a landscape that impact whether a black and white shot will work, the most obvious being the sky. A single coloured flat sky is even less dramatic, if dramatic is the aim, in black and white than in colour, this is even more true of pale skies. My single Ansel Adams reference book is a collection of his portfolios *(1) that I purchased in the Philippines over twenty years ago and has moved around with me ever since. It is noticeable that most of his skies are either deep blue, rendered as nearly black, or, when cloudy, often rendered in more subtle tones of grey.

The second characteristic is that the shot needs strong contrasts to work. I have found that I can’t force this contrast. It is either there and can be used to good effect or it isn’t and I achieve a flat looking image. I am not suggesting that this is rule for black and white photography just that I do not achieve a result that is satisfactory to my eyes unless I start with a contrasting scene. Using Adams as a benchmark tends to push me towards seeking a high contrast result and I think it is fair to say that Koudelka’s *(2) and Cartier-Bresson’s *(4) images, whilst very different in subject matter, also lean towards high contrast. I also find Koudelka’s images dark in tone (and content) and so far I have not been brave enough to process towards such dark tones but this may change if I start to shoot grittier subjects.

On my trip to Turks and Caicos I took very few books but one that did travel was Michael Freeman’s Black and White Photography Field Guide *(3) which I referred to frequently when trying to think in black and white. I have generally found this little book helpful as it is a very practical guide and quite appropriate reading for a beginner.

I had considered using a small number of black and white prints as part of assignment 2 but having asked about mixing media on the OCA forum the advice was to not mix black and white and colour in the same assignment. In the same vein I have been advised by both my tutor and some answers on the same forum to avoid mixing vertical and horizontal frames. I understand and accept the reasoning but this leaves me slightly disappointed as I feel I have made some progress in black and white processing and using some in an assignment would have given me the chance to hear my tutors views. I did consider submitting a complete black and white assignment but I felt that, whilst this might help me focus on the elements of design, it would be a perverse decision when attempting to document a place with so much colour.

This post is therefore an opportunity to record that progress and the thought processes I have gone through so I can refer back here when I next attempt a collection of monochrome images.

Sky at Chalk Sound - 1/125 at F/11, ISO 100

Fig 1 Stormy Sky at Chalk Sound – 1/125 at F/11, ISO 100

Fig 1 was taken on a perfect day when there were rain clouds blowing across the islands at some speed. I have an emotional attachment to this view as it is a familiar sight for any sailor sailing in bright sunshine whilst watching squalls only a short distance away. I have processed to maximise the contrast between the white boat on the right and the dark landmass in the distance. It was important to leave some sense of the rainbow in the image as this is an important curve linking the two boats. The sky is the real subject so I have framed it to dominate the composition.

Fig 2 Beach Bar - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig 2 Beach Bar – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

In complete contrast to fig. 1 The Beach Bar in fig. 2  is an interior to exterior shot and as such quite challenging to process. I have used HDR Toning in photoshop to get detail into the shadows and to preserve the definition of the woman on the veranda. I am pleased with this shot which was taken in a locals’ bar well away from the tourist areas. The women was very interested in something that was happening out of my view and I was taken by her pose and the fact that she continued to eat whilst looking out of shot. The old-fashoned wall paper and the advertising on the drinks cooler seem at odds with one another and add some tension to the scene.

Fig 3 - Sapodilla Bay - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100.

Fig 3 Sapodilla Bay – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100.

Fig 4 Sapodilla Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Fig 4 Sapodilla Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Fig 5 Sapodilla Bay - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100

Fig 5 Sapodilla Bay – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100

With the three images of Sapodilla Bay I wanted to test whether I could create strong images from sea, sky and beach scenes. Before starting TAoP I would not have looked for a black and white answer to the question of how to make a beach scene more interesting but I reached a point that I was comfortable with after quite a lot of experimentation with the multitude of variables offered by Silver Efex Pro 2, which I purchased after reading about its possibilities in Michael Freeman’s Black and White Field Guide *(3). It appears to offer more creative control that the black and white layer in Photoshop but it is tempting to go too far and drift towards a HDR look which is not what I wanted.

It was quite hard to find a benchmark for this type of shot, I wanted to make the sky the dominant feature because it is the shape of the clouds and the varied tones within them that lift the image beyond “yet another” beach photo. I looked at the sky in Ansel Adams’ “Pinnacles”, Alabama Hills, Owens valley, California 1945 and the sea in “Dunes”, Oceano California and used his processing as a loose guide. I recognise that he would have looked for greater contrast between the foreground objects and the sky and I might have made more of the beaches in Fig. 4 and 5.

Old Timber Taylor Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Fig 6 Old Timber Taylor Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Broken Screen Taylor Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 720

Fig 7 Broken Screen Taylor Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 720

Post and Rope - 1/125 at f/f11, ISO 100

fig 8 Post and Rope – 1/125 at f/f11, ISO 100

Old Timber Taylor Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig 9 Old Timber Taylor Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Ruined Roof Emerald Point - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100

Fig 10 Ruined Roof Emerald Point – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100

The last images, figs. 6 to 10 are all part of a study of decay. Turks and Caicos is in the hurricane zone and even when the weather is more peaceful it is still an environment of harsh sunlight, frequent rain and strong winds. Ruined houses, weathered timbers, washed up wreckage and a few sunken boats were evidence of nature’s fight-back.

Fig 6 and fig 9 are the remains of a washed-up door and frame from something large, I am not sure whether it is from a ship or something like a barn door. It was weathered and sea rolled before ending up at the back of the beach at Taylor Bay.

Fig 7 and fig 8 are details from a large, abandoned house overlooking an idyllic beach. It appeared to have been deserted quite recently as the main fabric of the building was still sound but I was intrigued by the weathering on the details such as the fly screen and the posts that lined the path to the beach. These might be the first signs of the eventual demise of the whole structure.

Fig 10 is more dramatic showing the sky through the roof of another large abandoned house at the other end of the island. I think this was probably first damaged in a hurricane and is now well on the way to collapse so, in some ways is a natural progression from 7 & 8.

Overall I have found these exercises in black and white useful. I feel that I have learnt a little about what works in black and white and I am more confident in using this medium. My tutor suggested that I needed to have a position on the black and white versus colour debate but I am not ready in my own mind to take a position. I have enjoyed my forays into black and white processing and am very interested in the work of the many masters of the art, I see it as a valid medium in the 21st century and would respect anyone who chose to work entirely in this way. If I had to choose I would stay with colour but I would prefer not to choose and to use both. I am increasingly finding situations where I find black and white works best but the majority of the time I want to capture the colour of both the natural and the man-made world.

Sources

Books

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

* (4) Cartier-Bresson, Henri (1999), The Mind’s Eye, Writings on Photography and Photographers. Aperture Foundation, New York

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

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

* (5) Eggleston, William, (1976) The Guide with an introduction by John Szarkowski, New York, The Museum of Modern Art

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.

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Exercise 21 Rhythm and Pattern

Fig 1 Red and White Tin Hut - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 34mm

Fig 1 Red and White Tin Hut – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 34mm

One of my key tasks when in the Turks and Caicos islands was to complete exercise 21 where we are asked to seek our images that use either rhythm or pattern. As discussed earlier in my blog I was seeking to adopt a documentary approach to TCI and endeavour to capture the sprit of the place without resorting to too many clichéd Caribbean travel photographs. The rhythm and pattern exercise was an excellent additional idea to have in my head.

Pattern, as Freeman* tells us, is repetition within an area whilst pattern is directional repetition. Both design elements are used to engage the view by encouraging them to look at an image in a particular way. Rhythm will lead the eye in a prescribed way across the forms and spaces that flow across, or up and down, the composition. Pattern is less prescriptive and suggests that the eye roams around the frame exploring the repetition.  Both are powerful tools to draw the viewer into an image and, for many of us, both pattern and rhythm are reassuring elements as they suggest organisation and structure even when neither really exist. Because rhythm is the directional repetition of pattern there will always be pattern within an image that is relying on rhythm.

Fig 2 Birds Over Salt Pond Grand Turk - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 70mm - 300mm lens at 300mm

Fig 2 Birds Over Salt Pond Grand Turk – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 70mm – 300mm lens at 300mm

Fig 2, in my mind, is rhythmic. The lines of birds were startled by me when I tried to photograph the group at rest in an old salt pond in Grand Turk. I had time for one shot as they moved to another part of the pond and as a result this was taken with a comparatively slow shutter speed which has not frozen the movement of all the wings. This slight blur has meant that each element of the pattern flows into the next and the top line have formed a rhythm across the image. I processed this with a green filter to reduce the definition in the background and then I emphasised the contrast of the birds to make the pattern and rhythm more distinct.

Fig 3 Mangrove Shoots - 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 3 Mangrove Shoots – 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 3 Mangrove Shoots - 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 4 Mangrove Shoots – 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 3 and fig 4 are examples of pattern. Near to where we were staying there was a large shallow pond with a narrow band of mangroves on one bank. I was intrigued by hundreds of mangrove shoots that were emerging from the mud which was covered in a crust of mossy growth. Both these angles enable us to see patterns in the mud, the shoots and the shadows.

Fig 5. Yellow Tin Wall - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 200. 24mm - 70mm lens at 35mm

Fig 5. Yellow Tin Wall – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 200. 24mm – 70mm lens at 35mm

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Fig 6 – Ugly Pink Wall – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 35mm

Fig 5, 6 (and fig 1) are part of a series of images where I used a similar composition on different walls. I was interested in the different textures, colours amount of weathering and liked the composition with part of a window to the right. Fig 5 has a rhythmic flow across the image with the rhythm partially broken by the window shutter. In contrast the strange pink cement in fig. 6 forms a pattern with the stone of the wall.

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Fig 7 White Lattice – 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 7 White Lattice - 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 8 White Lattice – 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 7 and 8 are very simple patterns with little or no variation. Fig 8 being a tight crop of fig 7. I like the straight forward graphic design of these images. The tight crop appeals a little more than the original because the strange piece of metal comes more into the image and breaks up the pattern.

Fig 9 Fence - 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 9 Fence – 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 9 is a detail from the same historic house in Grand Turk as figures 7 and 8. the pattern of the fence posts repeats across the image and thereby becomes a rhythm. As well as the rhythm I like the three strong shapes formed by the sky, the tree and the fence. A simple composition but that captures the place for me quite well.

Fig 10 Tacky Tourist Tiles - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 10 Tacky Tourist Tiles – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 10 is an example of pattern. The shadow at the bottom left spoils this image but I am keeping it here because it is a straight forward pattern.

Fig 11 Cruise Ship off Grand Turk - 1/125 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig 11 Cruise Ship off Grand Turk – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

In fig 11 there is pattern in the detail of the contrasting sunlight and shadows and rhythm in the spaces through which we can see the sea and the ship. This ruin was one of many that I found in Turks and Caicos and they became a recurring theme of my photos. I especially liked this image as the classic caribbean view is from inside a ruined building. The huge cruise shop which I followed down the coast and photographed at anchor makes an additional contrasting point against the storm damaged shell.

Fig 12 Front Street Grand Turk - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 70mm

Fig 12 Front Street Grand Turk – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 70mm

My final rhythm image is of Front Street on Grand Turk where the local men were resting in the shade of a few small trees. There is a rhythmic flow across the different height trees and the men sitting beneath them.

Sources

*Freeman, Michael (2007), The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes, The Ilex Press.

Josef Koudelka and Composition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnum break his work into four periods:

Theatre 1958 – 1968

Prague 1968

Gypsies 1962 – 1970

Exiles 1968 – 1994

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

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

Fig 1 Sketch of Josef Koudelka Slovakia 1958

Fig 1 Sketch of Josef Koudelka Slovakia 1958

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 2 Sketch of Josef Koudelka's Poland 1958

Fig 2 Sketch of Josef Koudelka’s Poland 1958

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

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

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

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

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

Sketch of Josef Koudelka Czechoslovakia. Slovakia. Zehra. 1967

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Books

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

Internet

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