Category Archives: Ideas and Thoughts

Catcalling: Photography and society

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This post, while not specifically related to the course content, felt worthy of saving and reflection.

Noa Jansma from Amsterdam was fed up of receiving unwelcome catcalls as she walked down the street. So she started publishing selfies of herself including the person who had done the catcalling.  The image title was the words they had said to her.

https://www.boredpanda.com/catcalling-selfies-project-dearcatcallers/?utm_content=inf_10_2558_2&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=socialedge&tse_id=INF_5ad22750aaa411e7952ec9abf6008d70

This shows how photography can be a helpful tool in reconciling and healing.  Also, it can become a powerful, unforgiving mirror held up to society, showing it what it really looks like.  The words seem colder and more sinister in print, accompanied by a picture of the person that said thrm.  There are some similarites here to ‘Take care of yourself’ by Sophie Calle who ‘turns things that annoy or hurt her into a game’.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Initial thoughts on Part 5

“The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Starting Part 5 already feels like a bit of a revelation.  Its a shame that it comes so late in the course as it promises to be fascinating.

The emphasis has moved from photographing people towards consciously leaving them out, capturing the much more interesting and curious traces they leave in the landscape, rather than what they look like.

My trepidation towards photographing strangers is well documented in this course already.  But I’m learning now that there is something else going on beyond that: I’m rediscovering what inspires me.  Im fascinated by how we interpret and damage our environment, the traces we leave upon it.

Once again I’m enthusiastically buying books to pour over by Wentworth and Shore to go with others by Godwin and others, instead of feeling ‘I have to learn it’.

I have much greater appreciation of contemporary portraiture now from Lensculture, Hotshoe and the BJP and galleries but, even still, it is very rare that one genuinely ignites my passion and interest quite like photographs that contain no people.  I don’t look at my own portrait photographs or hang them on walls, but I do my other work.

Maybe I have just still not learned to love them.  But I see people everywhere in my day to day life – I want to see the world instead.  A slow shutter speed and ND filter so they blur out of the image – rather than them being the actual point of it…

I look forward to exploring this further through my studies, mindful that it is easy to just photograph what I like rather than to stretch myself and grow.  But ultimately, I have to be pleased with the results.

Power in Simplicity: How This Modern Photographer Mastered His Style – Photographs by Charles SheelerReview by Coralie Kraft | LensCulture

A diversion from my current course content but entirely relevant to the development of a personal style.

Charles Sheeler is celebrated in this Lensculture article by Coralie Kraft as a great example of how to make your work recognisable as your own, ‘putting your stamp on it’, developing a personal voice.

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/museum-of-fine-arts-boston-power-in-simplicity-how-this-modern-photographer-mastered-his-style

I can see how his work carries a trademark sense of grand vertical space, mundane industrial scenes looking like prestigious cathedrals, understated yet at the same time imposing.

Kraft cites Annie Leiberwitz and Alec Soth as both having a strong and immediately identifiable style – I’d quickly add Douggie Wallace and Gregory Crewdson to that list as well.

How does my own work measure against this test?  Clearly I’m still developing a personal style as my studies progress, but some themes are already clear:

  • In an era of natural looking desaturated colour being the norm, i often make use of strong colour and high contrast
  • Abstracts and simple form
  • A sense of lonliness in the landscape, desolate places – especially megaliths
  • Our relationship with the land as a vehicle to explore ourselves and our ancestors
  • Paths, routes, entrances.  A sense of travelling
  • Social justice, the haves and have nots of modern society
  • A slightly quirky view on life.
This post is intended primarily as a bookmark to refer back to, in order to see how these themes develop as my studies continue.
 
 

 

First foray into large format

There’s something magical about film.  Maybe its the way it forces you to get it right in the camera with a more considered approach, the tactile nature of it, or the sense of connection to those early pioneers Fox Talbot and Neipce.

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The sinar F is a monorail-type large format camera taking 4 x 5 sheet film.  Fitted with a Rodenstock 150mm lens this is broadly equivalent to a standard 50mm lens on a normal camera.

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First things I noted:

  • Although not particularly fast at f5.6, the lens stops down to f64 for immense depth of field.  This feature of large format cameras gave its name to Ansel Adams’ famous ‘f64 Club’.
  • Film has to be loaded one sheet at a time in the darkroom at home then slotted into the camera one at a time.  In complete darkeness, it then has to be unloaded again for developing.
  • The camera is fully adjustable on all planes (tilt, swing and rise).  This allows depth of field and perspective to be manipulated in ways impossible for a normal camera.
  • Everything is slow.  Shutters have to be cocked, examining a ground glass under a black sheet is needed to focus the image.
  • Quality is astonishing.  It is impossible to visualise this on screen despite 40Mb scans.

Here’s the first two images I’ve taken, both at f64 with an exposure of 1 second at ISO 125 (Ilford FP4plus).  Notice how the perspective is shifted in the building to eliminate converging verticals by applying some tilt to the front standard / lens board.  No sharpening has been applied nor filters apart from a neutral density grad for the sky:

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First impressions:

  • The sense of achievement – of taking just a single photograph – is significant.  This is arguably lost from digital photography.  It takes a lot of forethought, planning and preparation to get an image
  • One slip, one error, and the work is ruined.  With colour film costing around £10 per photograph to buy a sheet of film and develop it (not print) any mistakes are costly.  Black and White is around £2 per sheet and can be developed at home (these were developed by Ilford Labs to provide a benchmark reference point).
  • Quality is outstanding.  There’s a hard to define tonal rendition.  On inspection there seems to be no end ot the detail held in the negatives.  Room-filling images are a possibility and way beyond even the 36megapixel digital camera I use normally.

Liz Hingley – taking the perfect portrait

Taking someone’s portrait is always a disruptive and often very awkward event. Everyone has their default portrait pose. The role of the photographer is to push beyond, to find that mysterious intimate moment that only a camera can freeze.”

Enjoyed reading this because it acknowledges the discomfort that I’ve been experiencing around photographing people.

Hingley’s message is that it is normal – even for her.  The magic happens when we dare to oush through it.

Full article: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/05/how-to-shoot-the-perfect-portrait-liz-hingley-one-of-the-winners-of-the-portrait-of-britain-2016/

Exercise 3.2 – aspects of personality

This exercise requires me make a list of some unique aspects of my personality then set about expressing these attributes through a photograph.

I noted that the exercise does not use the word ‘portrait’ on this occasion.

I reflected on a few ideas then went for a walk around the city of Derby.  I opted for a gritty black and white aesthetic to echo the darker, more melancholy, shadow-self that resides below the happy, cheerful persona that other people identify with as being ‘Ian’:

_IMG2767 There is a constant conflict within me of wanting structure and order vs. seeking a simpler, less structured life where random fun things happen.

After taking this I also considered that there’s a voyeuristic element to this image – as though a person unknown is watching me through a venetian blind.  I fear our gradual loss of civil liberties caused by CCTV, internet surveillance, and so on as we cannot be assured that those watching us always have good intent.

 

_IMG2766This image describes me on two levels.  I love to be alone in nature, especially near trees and water.  Despite being in the centre of a busy city this rower have found his own quiet space, the image framed to exclude the surrounding buildings and bridges.

Like me, he’s seeking to enjoy a journey as much as the achievement of the destination.  No competitiveness, no challenge.  Just being, moving, travelling.

 

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Is this graffiti reflecting my nature of wanting to help and support people?  Or is it a mirror, reminding me how often I don’t do this?

 

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I’m easily discouraged by obstacles.  I’m trying to learn to step back and see the way around them.

 


I feel very inspired to develop this into a body of work and, for this reason alone, has been excellent at helping me out of a bit of a rut.  Compared to previous OCA courses I am finding the portraiture in I+P to be more challenging, so it was good to be ‘let off the portraiture leash’ for a while and take photos I enjoy again.

My idea is to consider developing this to see how this mirror of self, portrayed through inanimate objects, changes over time.  Perhaps a photobook over a year.  Like keeping a written journal but containing photographs.  It will be fascinating to see how feelings, mood, style and environment work together and evolve over a period of time.  I need to be careful to ensure that this introspective self indulgence doesn’t become all consuming though.   While I adore the work of Francesca Woodman, things didn’t end up well for her, as we know.  There are also aspects of the self-exploration into the troubled life of Claude Cahun here, as already explored in detail by Gillian Wearing: https://wordpress.com/post/ian513626photography1iandp.wordpress.com/1436

Often a fan of bold ‘Martin Parr like’ primary colours and implied humour, it was interesting to explore this darker side of self.  I believe we all have one inside us.  Hopefully the viewer would feel that they knew something of my personal journey when they reached the end of it.  Although it should really be a personal journal that triggers other ideas and thoughts.  My tutor has encouraged the use of a paper-based photo scrapbook and journal for this purpose so I will combine the two some how.   I note that some people engage on ‘Project 365’ and ‘Photo a Day’ projects.

 

Art portraiture: a personal epiphany?

Reading Face (Ewing, 2008), I suddenly realised the required difference of approach between art portraiture and commercial portraiture that I am perhaps more familiar with.  Instead of apologetically trying to make photographs that people will like, art photography has a different mindset – that of seeking to peel back the ‘veneer’ of the mask, makeup or fake smile to reveal the ‘real’ person undernearth.

Yes, it is important to establish trust with the subject through openness, integrity and good ethics towards photography.  But also I have a right – a responsibility I might argue – to get the photographs that I want.  It’s ok to experiment, change my mind direct the shoot and try to peer beneath the mask…and capture what I might be privileged to see.  That’s my role as an art student.  Not just to make them want to buy a print for the wall.

Writing it down in a reflective way makes this all so obvious.  But I can see how I’ve been so ingrained (for decades) in thinking that, above all else, I have an over-riding social / professional duty to produce work that the customer likes.  This stifles my creativity.  It feeds my fear of being ok to be  experimental rather than on the safe side.  Seminars are geared towards creating ‘portraits that sell’.

A small thing.  But something that has helped reorient how I approach my work

Ewing goes on to explore this portrait, Anastasia, by Inex van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin which can be found on page 75 and online at:

http://www.artnet.com/artists/vinoodh-matadin/anastasia-collab-w-inez-van-lamsweerde-BcrIDDLb-mMqxT1OpwZBaA2

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He argues that, at first sight, we are viewing an ‘elegant, refined, Versailles-like decadance, this delicate waif of a woman’.  However, upon closer inspection the mask is not actually a mask at all but black make up.  A mirror rather than a mask?  Is the viewer really looking at a ‘mirror reflecting male lust’ (ibid, p74)?  Clearly this is a carefully constructed portrait image driven by a vision of the photographer to express a personal vision and explore the viewer’s gaze, rather than to produce a portrait that the subject was ‘happy with’.

References

Ewing, W.A. and Herschdorfer, N. (2008) Face: The new photographic portrait. London: Thames & Hudson.

Andy Adams

Adams has the idea of making the internet browser a virtual gallery space, making work accessible to a wider audience than might otherwise be able to visit a gallery of prints.

Whether this is a gimmick in light of the almost ubiquitous sharing and promotional posts on social media is a debatable point.  But there are some great portraits here that I wanted to retain for future inspiration.

Adams’ subjects cover Russia and the gay community, perhaps with a homage to Tillmans in some of the work. There are also gritty monochrome images of curiosly unique people, perhaps some may say freaks and oddballs.  Like Arbus, Adams has clearly built rapport and trust with his subjects before lifting the camera to his eye.

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/andy-adams-making-pictures-of-people?utm_source=fb-social&utm_medium=social&utm_content=ART-16&utm_campaign=PA17-ART&utm_term=PA17#slideshow

Migrant Mother – the wider view

Unrelated to the course but I wanted to save this for future reference. Someone on a forum has allegedly located the other images shot by Lange alongside the Migrant Mother.

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/173-general-photography/339829-dorothea-lange-migrant-mother-back-story.html

In effect this is like looking at a contact sheet, seeing the selected image within the context of the others taken at the time.  The others taken are all wider views taken further away.  On one hand they carry less impact but they do show more environmental context of where these migrants live.

Paparazzi – ethics and covert photography

Confessions of the paparazzi, Channel4 , 9pm, Monday 6 February 2017

This was a tv programme about the working life of George Bamby, paparazzi photographer.  It raised some interesting questions about the ethics of covert people photography that is relevant to the course, especially exercise 2.2.

Bamby is perhaps the most notorious of celebrity photographers, known for his questionable intrusive techniques and acting on the edge of privacy laws.

Many people would start from the viewpoint that the paparazzi occupy the less savoury end of the spectrum of photography.  His earning potential is derived from exploitative images of celebrities without makeup, in compromising positions or otherwise behaving contrary to their carefully honed public persona.  He makes special reference to Dawn French in the programme as someone who has taken court proceedings against him on previous occasions.

Surely everyone has a right to a private life?

Several times in the programme he admits to taking a photograph in an opportunist way then fabricating a story around it to invent context and narrative for a magazine editor.  For example, he photographs a Poldark actor on the set smoking a vaporiser and embellishes it with a story about the crew having an argument on set with him about his constant use it it.  His justification is that the  actor “stays in the public eye, the magazine earns money, I earn money, everyone is happy.”

But he also makes the valid point that these people are very wealthy from being in the public eye.  So surely he has the right to earn a modest income from photographing people who have chosen a career path to be in the public gaze anyway?

I’d add a further point that media photographers often get a bad name for airbrushing models to create ‘perfect’ faces and bodies.  This distorts our perception of reality.  It is argued that impressionable young girls see this as ‘normal’ then suffer mental illness, unnecessary plastic surgery and anorexia as a result.  Isn’t Bamby simply maki g the point that celebrities are just normal people too?

As photographers we must all be guilty of ‘enhanching’ the narrative behind a shot to give it stronger context and meaning at some point?

is the ethical boundary money? Is it ok to take compromising photographs for artistic purposes but not to profit at the expense of others? What about war photographers who get paid for putting dead bodies on our screens?  At the end of the programme I surprised myself by having more sympathy with him than I did at the start.

But while the images make money, can be amusing and act as a natural counterbalance to the inflating egos of the rich and famous, they can’t be said to have any meaning.  They are record shots of someone famous at a point in time but no more.

One thing I’ve already learned to appreciate from my studies is that meaning is an essential component of a successful image.