Tag Archives: DoF

Assignment 3 Self Assessment

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

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

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality of Outcome

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

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

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

Demonstration of Creativity

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

Context

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

 

 

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Assignment 3 The Reality and Illusion of Mannequins

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Background and Influences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mannequins

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

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

The Ultimate Role Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Photographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography Notes

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

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

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

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

Links to Blog Posts for the Development of Assignment 3

Planning Assignment 3 with Tony Ray-Jones & Martin Parr

Developing Assignment 3

Evolving Assignment 3 – Mannequins

Researching Assignment 3 – Practitioners

Test Shots and More Thoughts for Assignment 3

Steal Like an Artist

Assignment 3 Contact Sheets

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolving Assignment 3 – Mannequins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Internet

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

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

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

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

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

Planning Assignment 3 with Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

Fig. 1 Cafe in Aldershot 2014 - Primarily influenced by Vegara in the sense that I am drawn to capturing the changing shop fronts of Aldershot head-on but with a touch of Parr in that I am interested in the two customers who represent the changing population of the town. 1/125 at f/16, ISO 720. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 1 Cafe in Aldershot 2014 – Primarily influenced by Vegara in the sense that I am drawn to capturing the changing shop fronts of Aldershot head-on but with a touch of Parr in that I am interested in the two customers who represent the changing population of the town. 1/125 at f/16, ISO 720. 50mm prime lens.

Working through the exercises in the third section of the course I have been thinking about my approach to assignment 3. Each of my shoots for the part 3 exercises has given me one or two pictures that fit into a pattern that is leading me towards a potential assignment 3 submission. I am not quite ready to finalise my plans and start shooting but my current idea is to find my colour combinations by photographing people in front of contrasting and colourful backgrounds. I am not certain whether the backgrounds are shop fronts or cafés or beach huts  or a combination of all three but I am looking for significant blocks of colour to contrast, compliment or clash with people’s clothes. I am putting this post together to help me crystallise my thoughts and to bring together some test shots in one place.

People and place will be the most important elements but the colour cannot be incidental, it needs to play an essential role. I have reached this point partly because I have found a selection of shots that hold some promise and partly as result of the work of a number of artists who are influencing the way I am looking at locations.

Since Christmas I have become increasingly interested in the American colour movement of the 70s and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the work of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and their approach to documenting a time and a place by focusing on the ordinary,  this has influenced my thinking and hopefully in time will influence my work. I have also drawn inspiration from Camilo José Vergara whose work documenting the changing infrastructure of urban America is a refreshing approach to street photography where the street is often more important than the people in it, I like the way he allows the architecture to dominate the image. so that he photographs the influence of people more than the people themselves. Each of these men work in colour which is appropriate to this part of the course and, more importantly, is my favoured medium but their work is fundamentally about America which is not an issue in terms of appreciating their art but, culturally and locationally is removed from where I want to focus.

Fig. 2 Polish Deli in Aldershot - Similar to fig. 1 with the shop providing a colourful backdrop to a lone Nepalese passerby. In 1975 Ray-Jones could view the English as a, generally, single race, in 2014 we are a much more exciting cultural mix so we have a Polish Deli in a Hampshire town with a Nepalese resident. - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 200. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 2 Polish Deli in Aldershot – Similar to fig. 1 with the shop providing a colourful backdrop to a lone Nepalese passerby. In 1975 Ray-Jones could view the English as a, generally, single race, in 2014 we are a much more exciting cultural mix so we have a Polish Deli in a small Hampshire town with a Nepalese resident. – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 200. 50mm prime lens

The test shots I have included here do not represent the work of the artists I am mentioning but it is work that is coming from the same direction or where I feel the result is a direct result of having explored the work of Eggleston, Shore, Vergara, Ray-Jones or Parr. Most of these photos are current test pieces for assignment 3 and I want to take some of these ideas further over the next few weeks as I build towards that assignment. Some are older photos that I have gone back to as a result of studying the aforementioned artists but are photos where I feel I was on the edge of the kind of observational skills I need to move forward with assignment 3.

Many of my photos here are taken with deep DoF, this is a very conscious decision based on the work of Shore and Parr, I am actively seeking detail and am willing to sacrifice a bit of quality and use a higher ISO to be able to pack as much focussed detail into the frame as possible where all the information is playing an active role. I have some ideas that will be best achieved with a tripod and playing the waiting game al la Shore but when I am working hand held I will accept the high ISO.

Since starting this course I have held back on getting too deeply into Martin Parr’s work because I felt that a time would come when his approach and his subject matter would be especially relevant. I thought this might be towards the end of TAoP but I sense the moment is here and now because my embryonic ideas for assignment 3 have strong links to his exploration of Englishness and the types of locations that he has often been drawn to.

Fig. 3 Man In Cafe on Rainy Day Clevedon - Typical English seaside resort on a wet cold day, there will alawys be someone having a cup of tea in the rain. 1/125 at f/8, ISO 400. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 3 Man In Cafe on Rainy Day Clevedon – Typical English seaside resort on a wet cold day, there will always be someone having a cup of tea in the rain. The lack of colour makes it a poor image for assignment 3 but I like the empty café and the wet pavement. 1/125 at f/8, ISO 400. 50mm prime lens

I can see Eggleston and Shore’s influence in Parr’s work, especially in his indoor shots of cafés, meal tables, cups of tea, the trivia of everyday life but more than that it is his intent to document a way of life more than to take photos of places or things or even people. However, I think that there is a fundamental difference in his work and that is his sense of humour and his ability to gently poke fun at something that he is part of, his Englishness. This desire to photograph the English being English is something that Parr shares with Tony Ray-Jones and to understand Parr’s work better I started by looking at Ray-Jones who Parr cites as a major influence.

Fig. 5 Café in the Sun Clevedon - Another person wrapped up against a cold wind enjoying a cup of tea at the seaside - 1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 4 Café in the Sun Clevedon – Another person wrapped up against a cold wind enjoying a cup of tea at the seaside, the colour of the sign works well but there is not enough human interest – 1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Tony Ray-Jones tragically died very young and, as a result, there is a limited amount of his work available to see and much of it is in black and white. A small selection of his colour work can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-24142421 * (1) and Martin Parr’s selection of his black and white pictures can be seen at www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-24826739 * (2). In the context of this discussion the black and white prints are the most relevant but I was very interested in some of his American colour work especially where he is using shop fronts as a backdrop to his studies of people. Parr says that Ray-Jones approached his project, that was posthumously published in 1971 as A Day Off, with “anthropological skill and rigour” * (3) and this phrase reveals something of both men. They both worked to document a place and a time and approached their work as a study. The power of their work partly lies in the sets of the images and the context of the sets. We are used to seeing individual Martin Parr photos in isolation but they lose something when they are extracted from the context of the set and this appears to be equally true of Ray-Jones’ work. In A Day Off he sets out to show, in his words, “the sadness and humour in a gentle madness that prevails in people” and he focusses his attention on his own race to communicate “something of the spirit and mentality of the English”. To achieve this he visited places and events in the late sixties, traditional and ritualised events such as Glyndebourne, one off events such as the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival and places where the English were being very English such as on the beach.

Fig. 3 Dog in Rome 2008 - As an ex-resident of Italy I find this very Italian, a stylishly dressed couple photographing their dog at the Trevi fountain. 1/200 at f/5, ISO 140

Fig. 5 Dog in Rome 2008 – As an ex-resident of Italy I find this very Italian, a stylishly dressed couple photographing their dog at the Trevi fountain, this is sort of lucky shot I need to find to explore Englishness, more colourful clothes would help assignment 3. 1/200 at f/5, ISO 140

He captured people dressed in strange costumes for competitions or because a specific mode of dress was the uniform for a particular event or because a visit to the beach was such a special occasion for the working classes that they sat in the sun in their best suit and tie. This is so emotive for my generation, my mother would insist my father wore a tie to dig the garden in case a passer-by mistook him for a labourer. Ray-Jones photographed a lot of people drinking tea and often this very act was totally at odds with the backdrop. The well-to-do couple drinking tea at Glyndebourne with cows in the adjoining field and people on deck chairs drinking tea from china cups. This gentle madness documents a generation who were constrained by convention and by custom.

Many of Ray-Jones’ compositions are crowded, even cluttered, packed with information and this style is important with this type of documentary photography. An interesting beach, festival or street is often a busy place and to capture the sense of place the image needs to contain plenty of information. The skill of Ray-Jones is to make sense out of all this information. A good example is his photograph of the Salvation Army on Brighton Beach * (3) where the frame is packed with people but the composition is designed to carry the viewer deep into the group and focus on the flip chart before spreading out to all the band members. Parr said of Ray-Jones’ pictures “They had that contrast, that seedy eccentricity, but they showed it in a very subtle way. They have an ambiguity, a visual anarchy. They showed me what was possible.” * (4)

Parr picked up the baton and has been running with it ever since. His earliest black and white work published as the Non-Conformists documented a small Northern industrial town with sympathetic humour. I have read blogs where writers find Parr’s work distasteful and, in some cases, offensive; they interpret his photos as being cruel, suggesting that he is laughing at his subjects. I believe that this is far from the truth, I think Parr is comfortable with being British and that there is affection in his portrayal of, what he sees as, people being British.

Another aspect of Ray-Jones’ work and Parr’s early work is that in the 60s and 70s Britain was becoming a multi-cultural country but most, if not all, the photos in The Last Resort and those that I have seen from A Day Off and The Non Conformists are of Anglo-Saxons. 40 or 50 years later we live in a different England where being English means something quite different and this is something that I want to explore.

Fig. 5  - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 360. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 6 Indian influences in Aldershot, a Nepalese women walks past two Indian restaurants, I was looking for colour combinations and found them in the women’s clothing, the signage and the yellow and black scaffold poles and it further explores modern England,  there is no clue that we are in Hampshire – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 360. 50mm prime lens

I am going to write up a review of The Last Resort in the next few days but, here I want to concentrate on how Parr’s approach can influence me in assignment 3. In Last Resort there is the same warts and all feeling that I see in Eggleston’s work, the same acceptance of seediness without focussing on it in the way that many modern street photographs tend to do. Parr shows that observation needs to have no boundaries. Looking back at my own work I see that, whilst living in Asia, I saw and photographed the world as it was but in England and when living in Italy my photographs have been about the way I want the world to be. In the Philippines I wanted to capture a real sense of place and its people but in Italy I appear to have wanted to produce calendar shots. There is no doubt an underlying reason for this but I now want to get back to observing and photographing what is there and not what I want to be there.

At this stage I am letting myself be influenced by the small group of photographers who have really caught my attention and am consciously letting their ideas impact the way I work. For example Cartier-Bresson and Eggleston work with compact small cameras and by using a 50mm prime lens much more often I am realising that I work faster, less intrusively and with less distractions that I did with heavy zoom lenses. Vegara has taught me that the architecture tells an important part of the story; Parr and Ray-Jones are great observers and work in sets and I can see that a good set is worth far more than the sum of its parts, five photos working together to tell a story is far more exciting than one great picture. Shore shows that you can pick a good spot, compose a picture, thereby creating a stage and then wait for the players to enter.

Fig. 7 Dogs Waiting - A man waits with two dogs outside a shop , the colours in the window display drew me to this shot but it is the man and two dogs both looking in the same direction that makes it interesting - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 7 Dogs Waiting – A man waits with two dogs outside a shop , the colours in the window display drew me to this shot but it is the man and two dogs both looking in the same direction that makes it interesting – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

At this stage assignment 3 is probably a progression of the type of images I have used here. I am not satisfied with any of them which is okay because they are only test shots. There is too much empty space in too many of them and because of that they lack the punch of Parr’s New Brighton shots and I have to work on my angles when trying to include shop or café fronts, the lines of doors, signs and pavements need to work better with each other to avoid becoming a distration. I need to use the architecture as a structure to frame the people more effectively.

However, on the positive side I feel the idea developing:

  • background colour from shops or cafés and I still want to explore beach huts
  • foreground interest and colour from people
  • explore modern Englishness
  • concentrate on observation and capturing the sense of a place and its inhabitants in a positive way without being judgemental
  • create a set

Sources

Parr, Martin (1986) The Last Resort. Revised edition published in 2013. Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing

Parr, Martin (2007) Martin Parr. 2013 Edition. london: Phaidon Press

Internet

* (1) BBC News – Tony Ray-Jones in Colour  www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-24142421

* (2) BBC News – Only in England: Photographs from a bygone era (Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones) www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-24826739

* (3) BBc News – In Pictures – The English by Tony Ray-Jonesnews.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/04/in_pictures_the_english_by_tony_ray_jones_/html/6.stm

* (4) Amateur Photographer – Tony Ray Jones, Iconic Photographer http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/how-to/icons-of-photography/534741/tony-ray-jones-iconic-photographer#JWIau4qOtRYovXFo.99

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

Exercise 17 Diagonals

diagonals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exercise 16 Vertical Lines

vertical-lines-word-cloudIn terms of their graphic qualities vertical lines have certain characteristics in common with horizontal lines. Because they will be seen in the context of a frame it is critical that they are aligned in parallel to that frame and through this relationship they can also express stability.

Vertical lines can be used to create a sense of strength and power, they are associated with standing, perhaps with standing tall and potentially with standing over or dominance. If they extend far into the image they will also denote height although I suspect the opposite is equally true so perhaps it is more correct to suggest that a vertical line acts as a measure within the frame. Generally I saw more verticals than horizontals when capturing images for this exercise. This may be me or it may be that human beings provide obvious verticals and there are plenty of those about. Trees, posts, walls, buildings and many other aspects of the landscape offer dominant verticals. My challenge was to find four distinctly different examples whilst continuing to avoid just photographing one straight line.

Fig.1 Farnham Church - 1/500 at f5/6. ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig.1 Farnham Church – 1/500 at f5/6. ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig.1 is my safe choice that plays to tall, strong, dominant and powerful, a church tower. I wanted to dominant the image with the tower but to include soft shapes and other lines to create an interesting image. It would have been easy to select a viewpoint that isolated the tower but I wanted it to “tower over” something other than an empty churchyard. Churches were designed to stand out in the landscape, churches like this one, when built, would have dwarfed every other building in the town other than the lord’s castle. they might have been the only non-military building constructed in stone. I wanted to capture this dominance and to show the tower as being dramatically larger than its surroundings and filling the whole vertical perspective of the frame.

St. Andrews Church in Farnham is a favourite location in my home town. It brings back memories of my elder brother parading the scout’s colours for the annual remembrance day services, my first and certainly my last live performance as part of the school choir and the site of William Cobbett’s grave. Cobbett is my political hero, a man who championed the rural poor, battling  the urban centric politicians of his day.

Fig. 2 Statue in Winchester - 1/100 at f/7.1. ISO 180. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 2 Statue in Winchester – 1/100 at f/7.1. ISO 180. 105mm prime lens

In fig. 2 I wanted to balance the statue against the many verticals in the old house. I have used a moderately shallow depth of field and processed for high contrast to focus attention on the many tones of bricks and the strong lines of the chimneys.

Fig. 3 Old Wall - 1/100 at f/5.6. ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 32mm

Fig. 3 Old Wall – 1/100 at f/5.6. ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 32mm

Still in Winchester I took a series of photographs of the old wooden framed buildings around the cathedral. The wooden frames are quite constant and repetitive but the way the bricks have been placed inside them varies. Where the bricks were neat and horizontal the vertical beams did not dominate the image. However, in this one section, in fig. 3, where the bricks were laid at many angles the vertical beams became much more important as dividers of the frame and as frames within the frame.

Fig. 4 Cathedral Crypt - 1/50 at f/8. ISO 25,600. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 4 Cathedral Crypt – 1/50 at f/8. ISO 25,600. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 4 is one of a series of photographs of Antony Gormley’s self portrait statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. I had gone to Winchester to specifically photograph this statue thinking it would be an interesting take on a person being a vertical line. I had hoped that the crypt would be flooded as the statues often stands with its feet in the water but it was not. I hadn’t realised that the crypt had railings across it but this gave me an image of many verticals. In this version I have used a mid-range DoF on a 50mm lens to have the railings just out of focus but strong in the image. This seems to have him imprisoned.

Fig. 5 Crypt Statue - 1/125 at f/3.2. ISO 9051. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 5 Crypt Statue – 1/125 at f/3.2. ISO 9051. 50mm prime lens

In fig. 5 I tried a shallow DoF but cropped a little wider. The statue is smaller in the frame and the railings less significant. He seems less imprisoned because the iron bars are less dominant and he might be a man taken through park railings, a more comfortable and gentle composition.

Fig. 7 - Crypt Statue - 1/125 at f/4.5. ISO 20,000. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 6 – Crypt Statue – 1/125 at f/4.5. ISO 20,000. 105mm prime lens

My third interpretation of the statue in fig. 6 is taken with a 105mm lens through the railings so that they are excluded and we see the statue as a strong vertical framed by another vertical and the arch. It is interesting how different framings in exactly the same light impart different moods. Imprisoned in fig. 4, distant, isolated and remote in fig. 5 and strong in fig. 6.

Fig. 7 Portsmouth Landmarks - 1.200 at f/9. ISO 100. 70-300mm lens at 120mm

Fig. 7 Portsmouth Landmarks – 1.200 at f/9. ISO 100. 70-300mm lens at 120mm

I wanted something quite different for my third study. Fig.7 is an exercise in how strongly multiple verticals can dominate the composition. The bandstand at Southsea stands between the naval war memorial in the same town and the Millennium Tower representing a curved sail on the edge of the naval dockyard in Portsmouth. I believe the distinct vertical lines are the main element. The Millennium Tower is a strong vertical and looks powerful in the landscape despite having a clear curve on its left edge. Perhaps, because it is deep into the image we ignore the curve or the message of strong, high reaching, straight-up and vertical outweighs any other impression.

I see the curves on the roof of the bandstand long after seeing the vertical frame and the two towers but this is probably partly because I wanted the white towers and the frame to be prominent and have processed to have crisp whites against the grass and the sky.

Fig. 8 - Girl on Phone - 1/100 at f/8. ISO 180. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 8 – Girl on Phone – 1/100 at f/8. ISO 180. 50mm prime lens.

I wanted a real person as my last vertical. In fig. 8 I was lucky to find a women standing between a black post and the verticals of the door frame with her back to more straight lines and even a near vertical row of books in the window. A composition containing lots of verticals. I seem to have a large collection of doorway images, some were taken because the fabric of the door was interesting, rusty metal or cracked timbers, some are because the door is impressive in some way but now I am taking more that are only interesting because someone is standing by them. The portrait shape of a door appears to be a strong compositional feature that I keep including in my photos.

I am beginning to think that a series of open, ajar and closed doors with glimpses of their occupants or hints of the occupants would be interesting. In the famous “Open Door” by William Henry Fox Talbot (1844)* we see a broom leaning by the partly open door but no sign of the broom’s owner or the building’s occupant. We are told that people were here, probably quite recently, we are shown what they were probably doing before they left but we know nothing more about them. I like this sense of a partly solved mystery.

Does the women in fig. 8 live behind the white door or is she just standing there to take her phone call?

Sources

*McCabe, Eamonn. (2008) The Making of Great Photographs, Approaches and Techniques of the Masters. Newton Abbot, David & Charles