Tag Archives: Reflections

Assignment 3 Contact Sheets

Assignment 3 has taken an elapsed time of about eight weeks which is probably too long but it took a few initial shoots to develop the theme and then several more to capture, edit and select a final set. I am now in the final stages of selection and presentation and have selected the short list of photographs on the following contact sheets.

To put these images into context, my theme for assignment 3 is based on the idea that shop windows present a fantasy based on stylised and aspirational human forms that are surrounded by distorted reflections of the real world so reality and fantasy are interwoven.

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 1

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 1

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 2

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 2

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Test Shots and More Thoughts for Assignment 3

Contact-sheet-culled-01

Over the course of the last few weeks I have visited several towns testing ideas for assignment 3. As previously discussed (here and here) I have evolved the idea from reflecting change in shop windows through to looking at the high street using reflections in the physical sense and mannequins in a more metaphysical sense.

To help me consider how best to approach this subject I have looked at the work of a number of practitioners (here) and have seen how they use reflections as a compositional tool rather than setting out to photograph reflections.

I have been looking through the best of the images I have captured in Guildford, Aldershot, Farnham and Godalming and culled a few that will not make the final cut. The above contact sheet contains 20 of the culled images. My process has been to work through the raw images editing those that seem to work and then re-visiting that collection of edited images on several occasions to cull the weakest. I find that I have to create some distance between capture and editing and between editing and selecting to allow me to be as objective as possible in my choices.

For various reasons none of the above will make the final selection although they all had some promise at some stage in the process. A number of them take me away from my main theme (Figs. 10, 11, 13, 18 & 20), they all work as images but I feel and I sense my tutor felt that my series on Turks and Caicos (assignment 2) was not as coherent series as I wanted it to be. This group of pictures are directly about people or objects and, whilst reflections play a part, mannequins and retail marketing does not.

Of the others many have been culled because they are vertically framed. I have considered producing the series as verticals but although this works well when I focus in on a mannequin I often need the horizontal format to provide an appropriate context.

A small number of the culled pictures stand out for me at this point because they are close to what I am trying to achieve.

Fig 01 - Shoulder - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

Fig 01 – Shoulder – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

NK0_5812-shoulder-2-coloursThis image works well for me. In the context of assignment 3 the main colour relationship is between shades of blue and brown/orange with these colours both appearing in a range of shades. The image gains a lift from the small group of red accents to the right of the mannequins head and the golden backlight on the photograph of the model. I particularly like the cross relationships such as the necklace on the mannequin being similar to shades in the model’s hair and how the faded denim is close matched with the tarmac road.

My selected subject matter for this assignment dictates that colours will often be muted as there are, by definition, layers of glass and reflections obscuring the subjects and current fashion colours appear to be quite subdued.

Whilst working on this assignment I have become interested in the relationships between us, mannequins that in some way are intended to represent us and photographs of models that often appear with mannequins in shop window designs. This is a good example where the mannequin has body form but the head only hints at having any features. By removing the eyes and mouth the designer has removed all personality but then a large photograph of a real person forms a backdrop to the mannequin. Often, as in this case, the model’s clothing is the not the same, either specifically or generally, to those on the mannequin.

This is close to the end result I am seeking. The colours are harmonious, the layers are complex enough to demand attention if the viewer is to decipher the image and it asks questions about why we want to buy clothes modelled on a being with a body but no personality, is the model aspirational and is that message about her looks or the beautiful summer’s afternoon she is photographed in.

Whilst these complex layers play out on and behind the window life goes on in the street with an uninteresting white van heading into the distance.

Fig. 08 Holding Hands - 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100

Fig. 08 Holding Hands – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100

NK0_6232-holding-hands-2-coloursFig. 08 is a very different image. It is far simpler, the reflections are faint and not important to the composition and the focus is far more clearly on the hands of these two mannequins.

There are four main colours, blue, red and yellow and brown. The blues of the nearest shirt are linked to the pink trousers by  the strong turquoise of a belt and the left hand mannequin is linked to the right hand mannequin by their brown wooden arms. The colours compliment each other both left to right and up to  down with some tension created in the pick to yellow diagonal.

From a subject point of view I was interested in the mannequins holding hands. The designer has gone to some lengths to de-humanise these artefacts, they are obviously made of wood, their joints are puppet-like, they have no heads. However, they have been positioned to hold hands so we have two, presumably “male” mannequins holding hands in a very conservative (in every sense of the word) town centre.

This opens another avenue  about how shop displays ask questions and, especially in big brand chains, they tell us something about the physiology of marketing and what is perceived to influence us but at a micro level they might reflect something about the window dresser, their humour, or their reaction to the street outside or their sentimentality.

Fig. xx Perspective 1/125 at f/13, ISO 640

Fig. 14 Perspective 1/125 at f/13, ISO 640

NK0_6995-perspective-coloursAfter a fairly fruitless couple of hours in Godalming I came across this combination of reflections and interiors that appealed immensely. For me, the image is made by the perspective of the five mannequins receding into the distance to the child mannequin in the window at the right.

The colours are the blues in the clothes and sky and the reds and browns in the third mannequin’s trousers, the street and the roofs.

This composition lends a lot to my study of practitioners and the way they often use the reflected sky as a frame for the interiors and other reflections. I began to look for this far more after seeing the work of some of the Magnum photographers. It is a very effective device and in this example forms a tunnel of blue that leads the viewer into the picture.

The nearest mannequins have some personality both in their subtle features and their jaunty styling. They are in an independent shop where the budgets are presumably tighter so they have to work in isolation, no expensive model shoots here, and this might require them to be more than a clothes rail, their fibre glass features have to be aspirational and become our role model in terms of style and dress sense.

This photograph is complex enough to hold my interest without asking me to decode it but the diminishing sizes of the models, the ornate window frame in the centre and the blue sky mixed with the shop interior make a strong combination.

Fig. 06 Clock Face - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig. 06 Clock Face – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig. 06 approaches colour differently and, whilst red/orange is prevalent as a background, the most active colours are the accents of green, in two passerby’s clothes, the red dress bottom right and the gold on the clock. My interest in this composition is in the two squares of the clock and the reversed Body Shop sign and their relationship with the mannequin’s head. The mannequin is another hybrid with a human body but a stylised human head that is rather alien in the Doctor Who sense of the word.

As a composition this has a number of the elements I am looking for. The shape of the mannequin, the two squares, the strip of sky acting as a frame or ceiling and a clear picture of the street with two people reflected within the mannequin’s black dress.

At this stage I feel the theme is taking on some shape and that the ideas I have explored are leading me towards a conclussion. The main decision is whether to edit a series based on what I have done so far or whether to look for more variety. I am conscious that trying to tick off the design elements in assignment 2 led me further and further away from the series that I wanted to produce so I am hoping that I can get near enough to the assignment 3 criteria with the images I now have. I feel that, if I start searching for specific colour combinations, I will start to compromise the theme.

Researching Assignment 3 – Practictioners

Fig. 01 Signs - 1/125 at f/13, ISO 1,250

Fig. 01 Signs – 1/125 at f/13, ISO 1,250

In parallel with considering an approach to assignment 3 and working on test shots (here and here) I have been looking at the work of established practitioners. My subject is to look at the changing high street using reflections in the physical sense and mannequins in a more metaphysical sense.

There is a wealth of material available for both window reflections and mannequins and a combination of the two so the hardest challenge was to focus in on contemporary practitioners that were using reflections and mannequins in a way that helped me think about my own angles, lighting, composition and subject matter.

Having said “contemporary” I started somewhere quite different. Eugéne Atget worked in Paris at the turn of the last century and viguorously pursued a personal project to document the changing face of the city. What makes Atget unusual for his time, and especially relevant from my perspective, is that he saw Paris as a complex series of intimate spaces, he photographed the streets not the famous landmarks, the shop fronts and their interiors, the ordinary people not the gentry because he saw that this, close-up of the City, was what was important to document as it changed and disappeared. Graham Clarke in The Photograph (1) describes him as “the photographer as archaeologist” and his huge catalogue of images of a discrete part of Paris supports this view.

I cannot say whether Atget had any particular interest in either reflections or mannequins but he inevitably captured both during his mission to document the store fronts of Paris. I found a small collection of these images at www.atgetphotography.com. (2)

Fig. 02 Eugene Atget Whiteboard

Fig. 02 Eugene Atget Whiteboard

Having tracked down six Atget images that featured mannequins I put them up on a whiteboard to try and better understand his approach. his style is direct and unfussy, there is nothing fancy about his approach, he does not appear over concerned with neat edges but he does keep his verticals aligned to the frame. The angles are quite soft, that is not far from front-on and he takes full advantage of the logic of the window displays to give balance to his pictures. Importantly the reflections appear very intentionally composed, they do not obscure the main subjects in his shop interiors which tends to indicate that his motive is  to record and document either fashion or shops but to use reflections as context and highlights.

When searching for more contemporary inspiration I found references to a photobook by Gary Dwyer. “Window Dressing”  (3) which can be viewed on line at www.openisbn.com/preview/0981884431/. Many photographers have photographed mannequins as part of a wider assignment or project but Gary Dwyera travel photographer and the producer of many photobooks, has made them the central and single theme of a complete collection as published in “Window Dressing”. There are a number of aspects of his approach that I find interesting; in common with Atget he uses reflections to frame the mannequins, he composes the reflections to serve the features that he wishes to emphasise so a white face will appear out of a dark reflected building or bright, reflected lines from the street lead the viewer to the subject inside the shop window. In one image a reflected, blue sky forms an arrow that points in and overlaps the mannequin’s head. As a result many of Dwyer’s images are three dimensional compositions with the shop lights, subject, backgrounds and reflections, both light and dark, creating layer after layer of light but he allows fairly minimal overlay of these zones so the images are quite clean and not especially complex. Interestingly I didn’t find any headless torsos, all his mannequins are complete and quite lifelike.

The key lesson I take from his work is that to be effective in using reflections it is critical to compose both the subject and the reflection in tandem.

Fig.4 Various Practitioner's Whiteboard

Fig.4 Various Practitioner’s Whiteboard

Having looked fairly closely at two particular photographers I widened my search using Magnum as a source.  Initially I searched for window reflections to gain a sense how a selection of established practitioners used them in their work.  Using the whiteboard I looked at screen prints of an initial set of about 35 photographs to gain an overall sense of whether there was any compositional pattern or commonality.

My impression is that the pictures can be roughly divided into four groups depending upon he photographer’s intent.

1. Interiors: Some are about interiors, reflections may play a part in the composition but the photographer is telling a story about or documenting activity within, a room space and does not let the reflections obscure the view. It would appear this this is generally true of Dwyer’s work as discussed above.

2. Exteriors: The other extreme are images that are about the exterior, the outside world and windows or other reflective surfaces are being used as a screen upon which to show an scene or an object. The reflection is fundamental to the composition but is a medium rather than an end result.

3. Context: In some cases reflections are used to put the interior into the context of the exterior so we are show both quite clearly.

4. Complex: The final group are the most complex images where the interior and the exterior blend together to such an extent that they become one but the viewer is invited to dissect the composition to identify the different planes and layers. In effect this is a progression of the third group but where, I sense, the photographer wants us to see the inner and outer world as one.

Whilst there appear to be these, and other, ways of directing the composition it is also important to recognise that the reflection is not the subject but a device for presenting the subject.

Bruno Barbey

Bruno Barbey is  French, Magnum, photographer born in Morocco in 1941 (4). His beautiful and highly colourful photographs of Morocco are reason enough to visit his website (here). But at this time I am most interested in his images which use reflections to great effect. A number of these can be found by using the search engine on the Magnum Photos website (5).

China Kunming 2013 is a good example of an image that fits into my 4th category (complex). The split, plate glass window is reflecting three different viewpoints of the street from three vertical zones with the central zone overlaid by the a large photograph of a women which appears to be inside the shop. As I have discovered when taking shots of this nature the picture is mostly made up of dark tones but the gate pillars of the park (?) entrance opposite provides a bright contrast.

China City of Dali 2013 is an example of my 2nd category (exteriors) and another picture where Barbey presents 3 distinct vertical zones, a rail of clothes, a mirror and the open street. The rail of clothes provide pattern and colour, the mirror contributes the reflection of a woman and child and the street contains a street vendor. Whilst this image uses a mirror rather than a shop window for the reflection it fits into my research because of the way the photographer uses the vertical zones. The image is bright and colourful and gives a compact insight into the street life of this city.

China Kumming Airport 2013 is an exampole of my 1st category (interiors) where reflections from a glass panel near to the photographer act as a visual device to bring additional layers of form and light to a photograph of a large and empty airport terminal. There are a series of images of this same airport on the Magnum site (5) and each uses light and reflection in slightly different ways to bring something extra to the picture.

There are many other examples in Barbey’s portfolio at Magnum Photos (5) and judging on the number of times reflections appear in his 2013 portfolio he obviously uses this device on a regular basis and in different ways. The common factor is that he is using reflections to bring additional sources and intensities of light to his images and by using the layers that reflections provide he captures more detail that would otherwise be possible in a non reflective composition.

Michael Christopher Brown

Michael Christopher Brown is a New York based Magnun photographer whose portfolios (6) are filled with striking images from many different locations. His bird’s eye view of Broadway is one of the most powerful reflection images that I have come across and certainly quite difficult to imitate in Hampshire. It is a perfect example of my 1st category (exteriors) as, looking down from high in a building, he uses the face of the building to reflect the traffic on Broadway. A predominance of yellow cabs provides strong yellow horizontal lines that are complimented by the yellow “V” of a reflected billboard (?).

Another image that uses strong colours and reflections to create a powerful example of my 3rd category (complex) is taken on street level on Broadway. This picture has multiple layers of bright blues, reds and yellow but is made by the single person who stands just right of centre and provides a sense of scale and human interest.

Underpass on Broadway is also given scale by the inclusion of people and is a comparatively simple street or architectural photo except for the large dark head and bright rings of light that are reflected across the frame.

The Broadway collection include many reflections and, like Barbey, Brown uses them in many different ways. Some are very graphic such as Hotel Empire, some very complex like Yellow Taxi and Pedestrians, but what stands out for me is his use of strong saturated colours. He uses bright sunlight or neon signs to add these colours to what would otherwise often be quite low key scenes.

Although the Broadway collection are exciting images and very helpful in seeing how effectively colour can be used in street photography I was originally drawn to Brown by a much more muted photograph New York February 2013 – Street Life (5) which is a complex composition built around a women arranging, what looks like, pussy willow in a shop window. One eye peeps round the window display and she is framed by a flyover, the sky and traffic on the street. This type of image perfectly places the internal activity into the context of the external activity in a way that would be hard to do without using reflections.

 Chris Steele-Perkins

Chris Steele-Perkins is a London based Magnum photographer who is well known for his 1979 book “The Teds”. His website is at www.chrissteeleperkins.com. (7)

Steele-Perkins is another photographer who makes frequent use of different types of reflections. Myanmar Yangon Chaukhtatgyl Paya and reclining Buddha (5) is an excellent example of a highly complex reflection. It is quite an extreme example of my 4th category as the mixture of a grey steel building, the golden buddha and the multi faceted reflective surface are intertwined to the point that the viewer has to study the image for some time to interpret the various components. However, it would be misleading to suggest that it is a muddled composition as key elements such as the two reflections of Buddha’s face are carefully positioned inside the facets. Other Buddha shots such as  Buddha in Yangon (5) and Sewgagon Pagoda (5) show how a similar subject can be treated in quite different ways even when reflections are a common technique. In the first image selected parts of the Buddha are repeated in the frame so there are many hands, and many eyes and in the second there are multiple faces.

In Yangon, Street from inside a Taxi he uses the inside mirror to look back at a street scene which underlines the fact that there are many reflective surfaces available to use.

One of my favourites and the image that originally led me to looking more closely at Chris Steele-Perkins was taken in South Korea in 2013. Soonchin Bay is a complex image but one that also puts the interior into the context of the exterior but whilst this is a carefully composed image that could stand alone it is clearly part of a series about a national wetland area and shows a display of fresh fish being laid out by a fishmonger as a passerby looks on. This is a good example of how the reflections and composition can be used to highlight the underlying subject of a photograph.

Lessons

These practitioners have helped crystallise my thoughts. The photos I have looked at most closely are not about reflections but are where the photographers have used reflections as a compositional tool to present their chosen subject. This is not to say that there are no photos about reflections, there are, but my assignment is about using reflections not about reflections.

Michael Christopher-Brown in particular shows how strong saturated colours can be found either at night or in strong sunlight and how these, often dramatic, swatches of colour can lift a street scene.

Many of the most interesting examples use reflections to lead the viewer to the subject or to frame the subject.

Looking across all the examples also highlights that there are many different ways to use reflections and that I have to be careful to avoid putting together a series of over similar pictures within the theme.

It has also helped to look at how the lighting varies and how these photographers use the light to their best advantage. Most window reflections have significant dark areas, if they didn’t there would be no reflection so it is important to find a balance so that the light tones compensate and contrast the darker tones.

Sources

Books

(1) Clarke, Graham. 1997) The Photograph. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Internet

(2) Atget Photography. Eugene Atget. www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Eugene-Atget.html

(3) OpenISBN, Gary Dwyer. www.openisbn.com/preview/0981884431/

(4) Barbey, Bruno. Bruno Barbey Official Website brunobarbey.com

(5) Magnum Photos – www.magnumphotos.com

(6) Brown, Michael Christopher. Michale Christopher Brown Official Website www.mcbphotos.com

(7) Steel-Perkins, Chris. Chris Steele-Perkins Official Website www.chrissteeleperkins.com