Tag Archives: Portsmouth

Julian Germain – For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness

Portsmouth and Southsea 2013 - 1/100 at f/25, ISO 800

Portsmouth and Southsea 2013 – 1/100 at f/25, ISO 800

My research on narrative has generated many disparate leads so I’ve decided to document my research on individual photographers and narrative series before trying to summarise my overall thoughts in a later post.

Published in 2005, For Every Minute You Are Angry You lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness by Julian Germain *(1) is a collection of 42 colour plates of a single subject, namely Charlie Snelling, an elderly gentleman living alone in a small house in Portsmouth. Both the original Steidl MACK and the later MACK editions are both out of print and second hand copies are expensive so I carried out my review using a combination of the photographs on Julian Germain’s web site, the MACK books site and by searching for images on-line. I believe that I have seen at least 30 of the pictures but, unfortunately, this form of review is restricted by not seeing the published sequence. Given that the relationship between adjacent images is one of the fundamentals of narrative photography this is a shame.

Germain first met Charlie by chance in 1992 and for the next eight years, until Charlie’s death in 2000, he visited him on a regular basis and, on some visits, just had tea but on others built up an intimate record of a man and his relationship with his environment. Charlie had lost Betty his wife some years earlier but he maintained a close link with her through his treasured collection of photographic memories. This is not a sad book, far from it, Charlie is alone but not lonely, he is surrounded by the things he loves, the photographs of his life with Betty, his colourfully decorated house and his small garden and greenhouse. Germain says that he just got on with life taking pleasure from these things.* (2)

In terms of narrative Germain has presented this series using the photographic equivalent of flashbacks. His own technically perfect, simple but elegantly composed, colour plates are punctuated with photographs of the pages of Charlie’s photo albums so, in parallel, we see the layers of Charlie’s current life and his previous life when Betty was still alive. Flashback is more commonly seen in photography when it is used to show comparisons of the same things at different times, a street scene compared after 50 years but it is unusual to see it applied as it is here.

Germain treats his two sources of pictures with equal respect both in the book and at the first exhibition of the collection held at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, 2005 *(3) where he displays pages from the albums as floor to ceiling prints. Germain places great value on amateur photographs, When writing about the War Memorial Exhibition in 2008 he said “it is arguable that the most important photographs are those taken by amateurs, the ones we take ourselves to record significant moments in our lives.” *(4). His own work is sophisticated, medium format photography and through it we learn about Charlie’s current life but it is arguably the amateur photos that fill in the detail and explain the later images. Germain is clearly comfortable to present his own work in this way and to allow some of his images to play a supporting role in double page spreads.

There is a commonality between the two sets of pictures that probably enables them to become a single collection. If we put aside the technical differences and look at the pictures we see two collections of very honest, straight forward pictures, no tricks, no eye-catching post production, no odd angles or irrelevant changes in technique or processing. The other common ground is that both photographers cared for their subject, Germain became Charlie’s friend and says that he never saw him as a project. This empathy shines through and underlines how we take our best photographs when we understand and value the subject.

In effect there are three story lines running through For Every Minute:

  • The narrative of Charlie’s current life. His house, what he eats, how he makes a cup of tea, the Reliant Robin he drives, his walks in the woods or on the beach. Told by Germain’s photographs.
  • The narrative of Charlie and Bettys’ life together. Often covering the same subjects but adding days out and holidays and many pictures of Betty. Told by the albums.
  • The third narrative is the interrelationship between the first two story lines so we see Charlie with is camera alongside a photo he presumably took of Betty, the greenhouse and deck chair in Betty’s day and now, after she has gone.

It is the third story line that holds the most poignant moments. I found the pictures of Betty on holiday and in their garden moving because they document the space she has left in Charlie’s life but the most emotional images are where Charlie is looking at those photos. This is a book that connects directly with the viewer because it explores a common theme, a human condition that we have all experienced or foresee that we will experience. The story line is presented in a sophisticated manner but it is a story we know already and this normality, this sense of the common place is its strength. Germain tells us that we don’t need to look for dramatic subject matter and that if we deal with the ordinary and everyday we will have the opportunity to say something meaningful, * (2) this book does exactly that.

Sources

Books

(1) Germain, Julian (2005) For Every Minute You Are Angry You lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness. Gottingen: Steidl MACK (Reviewed o line via a combination of Julian Germain’s web site – http://www.juliangermain.com/projects/foreveryminute.php and the MACK web site – http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/16-For-every-minute-you-are-angry-you-lose-sixty-seconds-of-happiness.html

Internet

(2) Malone, Theresa. (2013) Julian Germain’s best photograph: Charlie in his kitchen stirring the gravy: ‘I didn’t see Charlie as a project – sometimes I wouldn’t even take photos, just have a cup of tea and a Mr Kipling cake’ – Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/02/julian-germain-best-photograph

(3) Germain, Julian. Official Website http://www.juliangermain.com

(4) Germain, Julian. (2008) War Memorial – http://juliangermain.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/war-memorial.html

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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

Exercise 16 Horizontal Lines

horizontal-lines-word-cloud

Exercise 16 has two parts, horizontal lines and vertical lines. I will post my thoughts and results in separate posts.

Horizontal lines are a strong design element with the capability of communicating diverse and sometimes opposing qualities. Because an image frame is usually comprised of two horizontal lines and two vertical lines any use of a horizontal line will automatically and directly relate to the top and bottom of the frame. The most obvious example being the horizon. However, there are a number of both obvious and subtle horizontals in the landscape and in potential images in general.

As a simple exercise I cut and pasted the words used in a number of web articles about horizontal lines into a word cloud generator and came up with the diagram shown above. It is a crude analysis of the characteristics of this element but it is still interesting to see the word groups that writers have used when describing the effect of horizontals in an image.

There are a significant number of words that are associated with stability. Base, static, stable, stability, anchor, permanency, solid and stand. This group all help describe the use of a horizontal as a stable division of the frame creating something solid, reliable and potentially calming, if I take this idea a little further we can also include the natural elements that might create this effect such as the horizon itself, a shoreline, a road, a fallen tree or someone lying down. Our eyes follow lines in an image and as photographers we use this to create a sense of movement, however, compared with a vertical or a diagonal lines, a horizontal creates the weakest sense of movement and this plays to the calming and stable effect it creates.

Fig.1 Southsea Pier - 1/160 at f/10, ISO100, 70-300mm lens at 116mm

Fig.1 Southsea Pier – 1/160 at f/10, ISO100, 70-300mm lens at 116mm

With fig.1 I was trying to capture this sense of stability and calm by composing the structure of the pier in the vertical centre of the photograph and running for nearly the full width. I have cropped in a panoramic style to increase this effect. I wanted to experiment with this form of composition having seen Michael Freeman’s photograph of the Bayuda desert (pg 106 of The Photographer’s Mind*) where he explains how he positioned the horizon at the centre of the image to “deaden the image rather than inject graphic energy”. I wanted to create a completely  peaceful scene, with the small group of friends enjoying the winter’s sun on a still day on an empty beach.

The exercise asks that we make the graphic element the dominant feature of the image. I made the decision to endeavour to create images dominated by a horizontal line or lines  rather than to photograph a line in isolation. I quickly realised that this was easier said than done. In fig. 1 the pier is sharply in focus and dominant but is it the horizontal that is the dominant feature ? I believe it is partly because I have let it fall short of the frame on the right and therefore the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to it and follows it from left to right and thereby starts with a complex structure and ends with a simple horizontal.

Fig. 3 Men on Beach - 1/400 at f/5, ISO 100, 70-300mm lens at 175mm

Fig. 2 Men on Beach – 1/400 at f/5, ISO 100, 70-300mm lens at 175mm

Fig. 2 is an alternative image of the same scene (not a crop of fig.1). It still has the pier at the vertical centre but by being out of focus and, perhaps because the sea creates a strong triangle, it is less dominant. I think it continues to provide stability to the image and there is still a sense of calmness in the overall scene.

Fig. 3 - Winchester Cathedral - 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 50mm prime lens

Fig. 3 – Winchester Cathedral – 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 50mm prime lens

For my second image using horizontals I want to look at multiple lines as a graphic element. In fig. 3, which was taken inside Winchester Cathedral, I was attracted to the rows of empty pews and the depth that is created by choosing such a low angle. I captured this image as an example of horizontals and am keeping it in this section but in reality it underlines the point that the horizontal line is weaker than a diagonal because I feel quickly drawn into the background of the photograph by the converging verticals of the chair backs. This effect is more dominant than the stability of all the horizontals.

Fig. 4 Rusty Steps - 1/100 at f/22, ISO 560, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 4 Rusty Steps – 1/100 at f/22, ISO 560, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 4 is another example of multiple horizontals but where more impact is achieved by far fewer converging verticals . These old steps just outside Southsea are on the wall of a short pier and probably date back to a time when there were more small fishing boats operating from the town. I was attracted to the decay and the bright colours of the rust but the horizontals created by the rungs and the wall are an important compositional feature.

Fig. 5 Ship at Portsmouth - 1/250 at f/10, ISO 100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 5 Ship at Portsmouth – 1/250 at f/10, ISO 100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

My penultimate horizontal is perhaps too complex a composition to meet the requirements of the exercise with the small boat on a diagonal to the large naval vessel. I took a number of shots of ships in Portsmouth harbour and although some were simpler they were also rather dull. I feel that the dominant feature here is the relationship between the sky and the sea and therefore the horizontal created by the horizon which is hardly broken by the ship and the port buildings.  The yacht adds some foreground interest and balance.

Fig. 6 Dawn Sky - 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70-300mm at 200mm

Fig. 6 Dawn Sky – 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70-300mm at 200mm

The interesting part of this exercise was to actively look at the landscape for lines and to recognise them as design elements. I saw the image in fig. 6 on a Tuesday morning whilst driving to work but had no time to stop. Luckily the banded clouds were repeated on the following saturday morning and I captured the shot. As with most, if not all, of my images for this exercise there are more than just horizontal lines in this picture but I see the horizontals before the verticals and the soft diagonal. There is a strong base in the horizon which is low in the frame. I am wondering whether this position makes it more solid and more of a foundation for the image. Then there are two bands of cloud creating two horizontals and a shallow diagonal and the top of the trees which is another near horizontal. I think the distance from the camera and the dark cloud leaves the impression of horizontal lines even when they are slightly diagonal. I have processed the image to keep everything in silhouette to create a strong graphic design and added a warm filter to bring a hint of sepia to the scene.

A small landmark for me is resisting the temptation to clone away the telegraph pole on the right. Leaving it creates a sense of scale which is probably a little exaggerated as part of the pole is below the horizon. Anyway I think it should be there.

Having set myself the challenge of not just photographing straight things but to find horizontals in the landscape and for each image to have some value I found this exercise quite difficult. However that difficulty led me to gain a better understanding of the relationship between graphic elements. The most significant horizontal was usually the horizon, whether that was the natural horizon or a horizon created by a dominant structure such as the pier but other elements were needed to create a satisfying image. The horizontal on its own was uninspiring.

I have selected black and white where I believe it helps to emphasise the graphic elements.

Sources:

* Freeman, Michael. (2010) The Photographer’s Mind, Lewes, Ilex Press