Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Assignment Two – Submission

The brief for Assignment Two calls for images of people in a meaningful activity.  I have chosen to explore ‘People Eating in a Public Place’ as an activity, which perhaps stretches the brief to some extent, but I chose it because:
·         I was interested in exploring the ‘street’ genre, building on the experiences from ‘People Unaware’.
·         This is a common phenomenon in the 21st century, and one practised by most ages/races/genders/’social-classes’; but the research discussed earlier in this blog suggests that it has not been too well covered in contemporary photography.
·         In connection with the latter point, often when it is shown by photographers it is presented in a negative light – Martin Parr’s New Brighton series and Makiej Dakowicz’s Cardiff photos being two good examples.  It is an activity that can certainly have its negative connotations, of course, but I thought it would be interesting to at least try and present it in a less negative manner – the ‘democratic’ aspect of the phenomenon, for example.
These thoughts have helped supply both purpose and direction for the assignment, and I also decided that I wanted to produce images of a sound technical quality, in line with the theme of positivity – no grainy ‘snaps’.
I began exploring this theme during some of the shooting sessions for the Projects in ‘People Unaware’, and have then had two further dedicated 2-hour sessions in Manchester, compiling a wide range of images from which to choose.  I have probably taken around 100 photographs in total, but then narrowed these down to a long-list of around 20, from which 12 have been selected for submission; the selection being based on the criteria implied above – demonstrating the activity, of course; variety of circumstances and ‘telling moments’; illustrating a diversity of people; avoiding the negative; retaining a ‘reasonable’ technical quality.  All images selected were taken with the D80, some with an 18-200mm zoom lens, and some with an 85mm F1.8 prime lens.  (I have found the latter particularly useful for street images.  It is a ‘discrete’ lens and a fast one, enabling, for example, an F2.8 aperture with sharp subject focus and shallow DOF that takes you ‘close in’ but keeps a respectful distance when shooting.)
Overall, I am pleased with the outcome and feel that this submission demonstrates that I have made significant progress through Section 2 of the course.  Whilst I didn’t have great worries in principle about doing ‘street’ work, I was decidedly unclear about how best to go about it.  This assignment, in my view, shows real progress, with a set of images that work successfully together and have something to say.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, whilst these pictures certainly are about people eating, they are chiefly about people; the eating, to an extent, becoming the context for behaviour and activity that is observed, behaviour which might be individual or involve interaction with others.  The following notes are partly descriptive of the images, but I have decided to use that approach to bring out the particular aspects that I find significant, and which contribute to the overall ‘narrative’/structure of the series.  I see this set working as a series, though several images stand up in their own right as well.  I have submitted prints to my tutor as well as the JPEGS (though all images were originally shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom and, in some cases, Photoshop CS5 – primarily for printing).

Image 01

A mid-aged/older man, shot in profile from his right side, is seated, staring across the frame from left to right and out into a public space, where a few indistinct images of other people, and a pigeon, can be seen.  With lengthy grey hair and thick sideburns, and wearing a brown suede jacket, he is apparently in the process of eating a sandwich, the remaining portion of which is partially enclosed in a brown paper bag (in which it was presumably bought).  His expression seems somewhat sullen and serious but, beyond that, we can’t tell much about it, except that he appears to be staring intently.
I have started with this, as an example of archetypal behaviour when eating alone like this – watching, observing, taking in the activity around – but also because there is a kind of anonymity about this picture, absolutely nothing being given away about this man as he eats his lunch alone.  He could be anyone, and the final reason for choosing this as an opener is that his stare is taking the viewer on to the rest of the series.  If, for example, it was hung with the rest of the series, in sequence, he would be looking out towards all the other images.

Image 02
This scene, on the other hand, suggests the observed rather than the observer.  A young couple sit quite close together, on the edge of a wooden bench.  He stares ahead, not looking at her.  He seems to be speaking.  She sits, legs crossed, body turned a little towards him, head turned further his way, and eyes fixed on him as he speaks.  She is eating something from a blue bag held in her left hand.  Their conversation seems intense and, her stare suggests, serious – though they sit in a barren, even quite hostile urban environment, with dull grey walls, dirty louvered ventilation covers, and 2 pairs of ‘portholes’ that seem to look down on them from above and behind, as we look on from the front.  Parked at a ‘discrete’ distance on the left of frame is a street-cleaner’s trolley, with brushes, tools etc, which seems almost to be waiting for them to finish so that it can come in and clean up.
In this picture, I feel one wants to keep one’s distance, to not intrude on their private conversation.  It is as though they have deliberately chosen this public but anonymous place to conduct their discussion – though she snacks on, however serious the situation might be.  This notion of privacy and anonymity in a public place comes across in several of these pictures.  People choose to come and have their lunch in front of hundreds of others, yet they retain their individual or group privacy, as will be seen later.

Image 03
And the theme continues in this third picture.  A woman with long, bright orange hair, dressed in black, with a red bag looped around her left arm, sits alone on a low stone wall, eating a sandwich, and is viewed front-on from a distance behind the tops of the water plumes from a public fountain.  Holding the partially eaten sandwich in her left hand, she is gazing away to her right – perhaps into space, or at something specific, we cannot tell.  Her brow is furrowed, as though she might be troubled in her thoughts, and she seems distracted from her solitary lunch.  By what, we cannot tell, but there certainly seems to be something on her mind.
In some ways, she is like another version of the starer that we saw in the first image, and we don’t really have any more evidence of what is on her mind, even though she faces us.  It is as though she has chosen this public place to mull over something, to reflect on some issue, whilst lunching alone. (I do recognise that she might have just remembered that she left the grill switched on at breakfast time, of course!!)

Image 04
Temporarily maintaining a theme of brightly coloured hair, this shows a young couple sitting cross-legged on the top of a short flight of concrete steps, facing each other, though not making eye contact, as they eat a sandwich lunch together.  We cannot see her face at all, hidden as it is behind her shoulder-length pink-dyed hair, but we see his face in profile, as he sits, hunched forward a little over his sandwich.  He seems to be smiling.  Like the couple in the second image, they have chosen a very public place for an intimate lunch but, in marked contrast, they have also chosen to create an intimate space for themselves by squatting close together, face-to-face, lunch on the ground between them.  I particularly like the expression on the young man’s face.  He seems pleased with himself.  We have no idea why – being with the girl, something he/she has said, maybe his lunch, perhaps even that he has noticed he is being photographed – but it feels to be a smile of satisfaction.

Image 05
Another couple, but a different mood – two males, similarly dressed, similar glasses, similar hairstyles, quite alike (though one older than the other) sit side by side as the younger is eating sushi.  He holds a plastic pack in his left hand and tentatively places a piece into his mouth with his right, looking down as he does so, and not responding to the gaze of the older man on the left.  The latter looks on, smiling, and perhaps commenting, a look suggesting camaraderie, jocular interest in what his companion is doing, maybe even a mocking remark.  The shot is taken fairly close in, just head and torso.  A couple walk behind them, and there is a reflection of buildings opposite, with an ornate balustrade, but these two aren’t taking notice of their surroundings, bound up momentarily in one’s experience of sampling sushi.  We could speculate on the relationship – father/son; brothers; mates; colleagues; partners – but there is a sense of fun and light-heartedness about the picture, a casualness about the way they have parked themselves on a bench to have this experience together.  Whatever the relationship, there is more maturity about this interaction than the one in the previous image.

Image 06
A younger couple again, but this time they are on the move, crossing the street.  The young man on the left of frame seems to be in charge.  He stares intently, with furrowed brow and dipped head – compare the woman in the third image – but he is not reflecting or ruminating, he knows what he is looking at because he points, very directly with the forefinger of his left hand, the direction in which he wants them to go.  His companion, a young woman, casually dressed like him, hair swept back in a pony-tail, signs of significant make-up on cheeks and eyes, does not appear to be taking much notice of him.  She stares off frame to the left, directly in front of her, her eyes either fixed on something totally different or staring into space.  Interestingly (and importantly, in the context of this series!) she is eating.  In her right hand is an almost full pack of cookie biscuits, and in her left, is what remains of the one she has been eating.
It is lunchtime; they are young and on their way somewhere; but it remains interesting and surprising that she seems to be in the process of eating a large packet of biscuits whilst walking through the streets; interesting also, that it apparently leaves her oblivious of her companion.  Compare her intent right-to-left stare with that of the older man in the first image.  She could almost be looking back at him.

Image 07
Staying with the idea of movement and activity, this is another picture of a young woman eating on the move.  One of the striking things in this image is the way she is dressed.  It could almost be a picture from a fashion shoot – smart and expensive-looking blue, white and gold coat with ‘blue peter’ buttons; fancy ‘daisy’ watch; the strap of a leather bag over her shoulder; sleek hair; i-pod in her  left hand & ‘phones’ in her ears  Yet she is eating, sandwich container in her left hand & partly-eaten sandwich in her right, and one can question whether this activity quite seems to fit with the ‘cool’ appearance.  Once again, she stares (the looks and gazes seem important in these images) but she is not looking outward, not watching the traffic as she crosses the tram track; what she looks at is her half-eaten sandwich.  This picture has many attractive elements – composed with triangles effective use of shallow depth of field for example – but it isn’t a fashion shot; it’s a quickly-taken photo of a young woman in Manchester eating her lunch.  I referred earlier to the democratic nature of ‘eating in a public place’ and this image seems to contribute to that notion.

Image 08
A third image of eating on the move, this shows a young, casually-dressed male, crossing the street towards us.  His outfit is interesting in itself – purple knitted ‘hoody’; red rucksack; natty black/navy cap – but he is also grabbing his lunch as he goes, apparently chewing the last bite of one half-sandwich whilst the second is held up in his right hand, ready to go (or he could almost be offering it to the viewer).  In contrast with the previous image, his gaze is directed towards the viewer.  He knows he is being observed and he might be challenging/questioning why we are taking an interest in him.
As well as capturing a moment and a gaze, the image has worked well ‘technically’, isolating the subject from the background (as in the previous) but linking him through the purple colour in the posters and retaining some interest around him e.g. the blue direction signs and the girl on the left (who is also carrying a Tesco bag).

Image 09
There is a very definite dimension of sociability around eating in public space, and the next two images explore that further.  This one sees a group of three, ‘fashionably-dressed’ young people, sitting together on a concrete wall, having apparently reached the dessert stage of their meal because two of them look to be either eating or about to eat, with spoons, from plastic cartons.  The three sit side-by-side, but are clearly interacting strongly together, unaware (certainly in this instant) of what is happening around them.  Attention is centred on the young woman on the right, with her long golden hair, beige mackintosh, flowery dress, and brown shoes, all of which make for a marked contrast with the dark dress and hair colour of her companions.  But the main reason she attracts our attention is that the other two are both looking directly at her as she licks her spoon, enjoying the first taste of her dessert, by the look of it.  The young woman next to her turns her head and leans slightly in her direction – perhaps teasing, perhaps out of curiosity or interest – whilst their male companion, in contrast, leans back slightly, but he is definitely attentive to her spoon licking.  There is a light-hearted, friendly, polite and even genteel interaction between them.  They have met here, in a public place, for their lunch, just as they might have met in a restaurant or bar – though less expensively.  A sign of the times, perhaps?

Image 10
There are obvious similarities between this and the previous picture – three young people, purposefully met for an ‘al fresco’ lunch – but there are also (more?) interesting differences.  The dress and hairstyles are ‘new age hippy’ not ‘fashion conscious city’, and they bring rucksacks, not stylish bags.  They sit cross-legged, facing each other, rather than side by side; and there is almost a sense of ‘picnic’ about the way they have laid themselves out on the wooden bench (even down to a few tufts of grass bursting incongruously out of the bench itself).  They even have what appears to be a clipboard on the bench beside them – though there is no clue to its purpose.  The gender balance is reversed in this group, but once again, the attention of two is directed on one, the man on the left, who appears to be speaking – relating something, perhaps – and from their gazes and body language it certainly engages the interest of the other two.  They are, as in the previous group, fully involved with their own interaction & conversation, not regarding (or, apparently, being regarded by) those around them.  In fact, much more so than the previous group, they have enclosed their relationship and separated it from the viewer.  Nonetheless, this is a similarly sociable and good-humoured scene.

Image 11
This image deliberately opens up a view of a broader area of the public space in which the previous activities have been observed.  On the right is a statue of Queen Victoria, as she sits, crowned and layered in bird-droppings, looking out of the frame and away from the activity going on behind her.  People are sitting on the steps of the statue; in particular, two young women are tucking into their lunch in the foreground facing us.  One is using a knife and fork to eat a meal from a polystyrene container balance on her knees.  A man with long dark hair sits behind them to our left, and also seems to be eating.  And beyond him, we can just see the head of a woman in a chequered headscarf, who is also tucking into something.  Behind that the fountains play, watched by various individuals, but ignored by others as they wander by ... and so on, behind that, to the normal comings and goings of the city.  It is a scene that takes place virtually every (fine!) day in virtually every city around the world. But I also wanted to make the point, by including the statue of Victoria, that it is a relatively modern phenomenon.  The image also re-emphasises the public (and ‘democratic’) nature of this form of eating, whilst at the same time illustrating how individuals and small groups will ‘carve out’ their piece of space in which to perform the activity.

Image 12
Which brings us to the final image – my illustration of the consummate public-space eater.  Wrapped up in a coat and scarf, perched on a concrete wall, he has come fully-prepared.  The sandwich lunch has been brought from home in a Tupperware container, and what remains to be eaten is secured from the pigeons under the lid, as he eats his first piece.  Tissues tucked neatly at the ready in his rucksack, he has brought his own entertainment, an Agatha Christie novel.  He doesn’t gaze into space, or watch the comings and goings.  He isn’t socialising with friends or taking the opportunity for a serious chat with anyone.  He is fully absorbed in his book, in his private piece of public space, within the very public place that we saw in the previous image. He is out and about, observed and on show, but prepared to be private.

As commented in the introduction, although these pictures show people eating, they mainly show people’s behaviour, their interactions, their looks and glances, their similarities and their differences.  I suspect that the outcome might well have been similar even if the activity had been different!  I have chosen to show this activity in a relatively positive light – there might have been litter; some of the people chosen might have looked less ‘attractive’; there could have been drunkenness and less sociable behaviour.  All of those things happen in public space and have often been photographed.  I have chosen a different approach, which I feel also has a contribution to make in illustrating the modern city life.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Assignment Two – Another Session

As planned, I returned to Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, this week, looking to take more pictures of people eating in a public space for Assignment Two.  Whilst I wasn’t restricting myself to particular types of picture, I had decided, after reviewing the outcomes from the previous session, that it would be interesting to look at more people ‘eating on the move’, which had only emerged to a limited degree in the last group, and also to see if I could extend the ‘demographics’ of my subject group – in particular the age profile.  Once again, I worked, more or less, between 12noon and 2pm, to some extent moving around to look for opportunities, but in one period of around 45 minutes, staying in the same place, watching an open area where people were crossing the tramlines and where I had already observed people ‘eating on the move’.  Towards the end of my session, I also looked for ‘scene-setting’ shots, taking in more of the overall setting, but including groups of people eating.  I tried using a wide angle lens for some of them, but have not been happy with the outcomes – too general and with a degree of distortion that didn’t sit well with the other images in the sequence.  As a result, all of the images that have emerged from this session are shot with an 85mm prime lens – it’s pleasantly liberating to not think about ‘zoom-in’ or ‘pull-back’, but to just select shots that will work with the lens and then position oneself accordingly!
The following is a selection of the ‘eating on the move’ pictures.

There were others, but using the criteria that I set out before the last session, these are the ones most likely to pass the test – particularly on the grounds of technical quality and ‘non-negativity’.  They don’t do anything to extend the age profile, of course, but eating on the move seems to be (understandably) more the preserve of the young.
I did, though, find some more examples of people sitting, alone or in small groups, and have selected these four as the best from that bunch (some of which do broaden the age range).

As I have said, I was also interested in looking for some ‘scene-setters’ that could add informative variety to the set that I eventually put together for submission.  The wide angle shots didn’t work too well, as I have said, but these two use the statue and the fountains to provide context/interest.

I think I now have 20-30 reasonable quality images that cover the sort of range that I was looking for when I started out, and which pretty much meet my broad selection criteria.  I need to look at them more carefully in the next few days, but I am hoping that I can select the 10 or so that I need to submit the assignment within the next week.

National Media Museum – ‘JH Engström – In Conversation’

Yesterday, with a Group from the OCA, I attended this event at the National Media Museum.  JH Engström, whose joint exhibition with Anders Petersen ‘From Back Home’ I have commented on elsewhere (here) was talking to the NMM’s Greg Hobson, and showing his film about Anders Petersen, as well as presenting a slideshow of his latest work.  Petersen was also due to be there but is ill and had been advised not to travel.
The event was well-attended, and the conversation lasted perhaps 45-50 minutes, followed by the film, which was also around 50 minutes, and then 15 minutes or so of questions.  The OCA group followed up with c30mins discussion in the NMM cafe.  Engström didn’t seem to be an easy and natural communicator, often looking downwards and failing to make eye contact with his interviewer, but at the same time, he came across as an open individual, willing to open up (as far as he could) about himself, his work, and Petersen.  I wrote quite a few notes during the discussion, from which I draw the following observations:
·         Engström’s work is essentially autobiographical and intensely personal.  He is “always doubting, questioning and soul-searching”.  He says that he “looks for presence” in his work, but that the doubt returns whenever he gets close.
·         The notion of ‘closeness’ came up frequently, meaning, I think, closeness to people.  I wonder whether, to an extent, he envies Petersen’s ability to get close to people – but then that is always likely to be a challenge for someone so deeply bound up in his own doubts and questioning as Engström seems to be.
·         There is a restlessness about the style of Engström’s work, perhaps reflecting the constant questions and doubts, and it came across strongly in the slideshow of his recent work (a narrative based around the love story with his wife/partner and the birth of their children).
§  The mixing of colour and black and white within a sequence;
§  The mixing of formats, from 4x5 on a tripod to disposable cameras;
§  The mixing of clear images with blurred, out-of-focus;
§  The deliberate use of over-exposure (though he says that this idea, which started as a mistake but was then used deliberately, is no longer a surprise, so he doesn’t use it anymore).
·         He says that photography is a language; it isn’t life (and I’m sure Petersen said more or less the opposite in the film!).  He tries to give the photograph some presence, but then realises it’s just a piece of paper.  Clearly he is never satisfied with his work; always, it seems, grappling with the medium and with his own feelings & concerns – but always seeking to challenge the viewer, as well, I would suggest.
There is a temptation, I must admit, to say ‘get over it’; life is for living; stop being so intense and get on with it.  Yet, from the first time I saw his part of the ‘From Back Home’ exhibition back in January something attracted me to it, even though it is a style that doesn’t usually appeal.  I think there is an honesty about it – back to his willingness to be ‘open’, to put himself out there – and an energy that consumes you, if you let it.
His film about Petersen was similar in style – restless, broken narrative, etc – but it was different in one way – in that it was definitely about his friend and mentor and not so autobiographical as his other work.  I think it was Gareth, in the discussion afterwards, who referred to Petersen as something of a performer, and I think there was definitely some of that going on.  We also saw him ‘performing’ with his photographic subjects – drawing something out of them by the way he handles them, by the way he gets ‘close to them’.  Engström and Petersen are clearly very close friends – Petersen as the ‘father figure’ (and Engström referring back to some issues with his actual father, and with the move to Paris when he was very young, and the unsettling effect it had on him, and the notion that it is the source of his art ... and more doubting/questioning ...) – but they are also very different.  That difference is another of the attractions of the combined exhibition, of course.  What a pity that Petersen couldn’t have been present yesterday!
(Random meanderings, these, but they are my honest reflections on yesterday.  Thankyou Alan & Gareth for organising – looking forward to seeing the video on ‘We are OCA’.)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Assignment Two: Progress

Yesterday proved to be a fruitful one.  I spent two hours in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, in the middle part of the day.  The weather was cloudy and cool, but it didn’t deter the Mancunians from eating their lunch out and about in this public space, which created quite a few opportunities for me.  With the principles and objectives in mind – plus, I think, informed subconsciously by looking at and discussing so much street photography over the last week to ten days – I tried to be selective and careful.  I estimate that I probably pressed the shutter around 40 times in those two hours; and that was in relation to maybe 15-18 different scenarios that I spotted and tried to capture.  I’m not saying there isn’t still plenty of room for improvement, but I think I am much better at sizing up situations, taking my time to think about the possibilities for framing, where to shoot from etc – even if that sometimes means missing the shot altogether.
I would say that I more than achieved my objective of 2 images that could make it to a final selection.  These are, probably, the best of the photographs that I took.

But these might also prove interesting.

They need more thought and analysis, perhaps, but I’m pleased that I have managed to get quite a reasonable selection of decent quality images that capture people eating their lunch in public whilst – reading; thinking; socialising; talking; etc.  I feel that these images present this activity in a realistic manner, observing a phenomenon that is very common in today’s world – a quick lunch on the fly – but that they do it in a ‘non-negative’ manner (in comparison with some of the other images that I researched and presented earlier in the blog).  (Incidentally, all have been taken without the subjects being aware, with the exception of the last one above, where I did ask their permission.  I got the impression that this guy was sampling sushi for the first time.)
Some of the images that didn’t make my initial cut appear below.
Nice symmetry, but it doesn’t have enough interest/impact.

I like lots about this one – the sort of narrative between the four people, two absorbed in eating, two reading, and the fourth just appearing on the scene at the edge of the frame, unseen by the others.  Unfortunately, I’m not happy with the technical quality.  There is just a little bit of hand movement, meaning that the shot isn’t sharp enough for my liking.

Another that I like, but the only person eating is the girl on the right; it might illustrate eating alone amongst a crowd, but at the moment I reject it on the grounds that it doesn’t really meet my own criteria – we’ll see.

This one has some good interest, but is also, probably, off-brief.  The girl on the left was still eating as I sized up the scene, but she finished, answered her phone, and then chose to suck her finger, just as I pressed the shutter – an interesting moment to capture, but perhaps not quite in line with what I was after.

So, a productive session, and I think I’m underway for the assignment – perhaps well underway?  I’ll probably go back to the same location, I think, for another session.  At present, I like the idea that all my images might come from the same place, but we’ll see.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Back in Action on Assignment Two - hopefully

With work under control and illness out of the way, I am hopeful that I can get back out into 'the street' (doing it instead of talking about it) in the next couple of days.  It will be the middle part of the day, in Manchester, and the main objective is:
  • Let's get serious about Assignment Two - ".. images of people in a meaningful actvity .." - in my case, people eating in a public place.
So, by way of preparation, I'm stopping to think 'What would be a reasonable outcome from the session?'  I think that, if I could achieve, say, two images that I feel I could use as part of my submission, that wouldn't be bad going.  More would be great, of course, but let's be realistic.  Which begs the question "What would make them usable?"
  • They need to be, very clearly, about 'eating in a public place'.
  • I'd like them to be contributing something to the observation of human behaviour/nature.
  • They must observe not mock, ridicule, exploit ...
  • My conclusion remains that they will record people 'unaware' - that is to say, I'm not going to approach people and ask them to pose.
  • In line with previous posts in this section, they need to be of a 'reasonable' technical standard.
  • And I think they will, so far as possible, look at this subject in a positive manner.
That's probably not a bad set of criteria to work with.  Of course, when out shooting, the main focus needs to be on observation and image-making, but no bad thing to have some basic principles in the back of my mind, I feel.  Watch this space!!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Format Festival - Derby

On Saturday, I spent the day in Derby, attending the Format Foto Festival with a group of fellow OCA students and tutors.  It proved to be a great opportunity to spend time with the group, discussing photographs and photography with like-minded people.  It was hard work, but worthwhile, if only for the stimulus that came from serious conversation with other members of the party.

Full marks to Derby for establishing and building such a marvellous Foto Festival - it seemed well-organised, well-laid-out, well-curated, and all for free (including lunch from the OCA - 'many thanks').

Titled 'Right Here, Right Now', the theme this year is street photography, which is, of course, highly relevant for me at the stage I'm at with People and Place.  Plus, there seems to be a revival of this genre, with the 'Street Photography Now; project, the 'In-Public' Group, and some highly active Flickr groups devoted to 'street'.

I was already familiar with many, perhaps most, of the photographers whose work was on show, and even with a lot of the images.  So, when tutor CliveW asked me mid-afternoon if I'd seen anything in particular that inspired me, my hesitation before answering probably said it all - plenty to inform, but perhaps nothing in particular to inspire.  Some things that I would note, in no particular order:
  • George Georgiou - having enjoyed his work in both Hotshoe and BJP in the last few months, it was good to see the 'genuine article'.  His work is here and I particularly like the tones and colours of his 'landscapes' of the East/West 'frontier' towns.  I was already aware that he often uses quite an early Sony digital camera, because it has a large sensor, giving the images something of the full-format/view camera feel; also that he deliberately likes to shoot on dull days - something that I found myself doing on the Landscape course - for the soft even light and the avoidance of highly saturated skies.  In the context of his camera choice, it was worth noting that his prints were on the whole larger than the others in the exhibitions.
  • Raoul Gatepin was a new name to me (see here) - empty, soulless urban landscapes, responding to the financial crisis of 2008 (the project is called Piramid), and evoking that mood very well, in my opinion.  I particularly recall the image of tracks leading off a road (the system running off course); the containers locked behind wire fencing, all with the word 'Time' on the side; and the beautiful colours of a sunlit scene that wasn't real because it was shot as an out-of-focus reflection in a drab, dirty window pane.
  • The work of Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman in their 'Telepathic Witness' project here was interesting - images created at the site of Tweet messages, which they have tracked via GPS, captioned with the original Tweet.  It's an original idea, for a start, and they have managed to juxtapose text/image in a manner that raises questions and provokes thought e.g. the model of Concorde and a statuette on a domestic window-sill; the surveillance cameras, caged and fixed to an anonymous grey wall.  OCA tutor, Jose, prompted discussion on why the images were laid out in the manner/order that they were - a closely aligned grid of nine pictures.  We never really resolved the ordering, though it clearly couldn't have been random, but it did occur to me afterwards that the 'grid' resembled a bank of surveillance screens - perhaps suggesting that we are spying/prying on the purveyor of the 'private' Tweet - but that nothing is private in todays world.
Which brings me to one thing that I have brought away from Format, in particular, the presentation of street images as prints, in an exhibition.  I feel inspired to print my own street images, and in particular to present my Assignment 2 images as prints.  The style, in general, was to print on board/metal (won't be doing that!), unframed, and bled to (even wrapped around) the edge (might try that).  It's hardly a new idea to recognise that photographic images work most effectively in a real, tangible form as opposed to digital/web images, but looking at exhibitions always reaffirms it for me - and Format was no exception.

I must just add that I didn't feel a very positive response to the work of Bruce Gilden (though I doubt he will be too concerned with what I think!).  I've seen it in books, of course, and even commented on it earlier in my blog - in relation to my concerns about the 'hip shot' - but I have to say that I found his 'flash' portraits less that inspiring.  I couldn't see that he had captured anything of his subjects beyond their (understandable) surpise at being confonted by him, his camera, and a very bright flash.  Discussing that feeling with one of the tutors, he commented, and I understand and agree, that there is much more of the photographer than the subject in those images.

And finally, whilst repeating how stimulating it is to meet and talk with others in this type of event, I will have to go back to Format again before it finishes, if possible.  One spends so much time discussing that one doesn't see everything - so I need to fill in some gaps.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Assignment Two: Why choose this subject?

(Firstly, I have had something of a delay in proceedings over the last week or so.  This is partly down to a virus that has been working its way around our family, including me, but latterly down to another health related issue within our business.  One of my two business partners has been ill this week and I have been supporting activity on his assignments – so virtually no time for OCA work, alas.)
One thing that I have been giving some thought is ‘Why am I interested in photographing people eating in a public place for Assignment Two?’  I think it’s always helpful to have a clear view of one’s motivation and purpose in something like this.
The first thing to say is that this is a very common phenomenon of street/public space in any modern town or city in 21st century Britain, and as such, it must be worth recording.  As summarised in my previous post, it doesn’t seem to have had its just share of attention and so that in itself is a good reason to explore it further.  Initial observations confirm, also, that it is an activity practised by a wide range of people – all ages, genders, etc – and all of those will ‘do it in the same space at the same time’ on occasions!
I have also observed in the previous post that photographers have tended to record this activity in a negative light.  That could be perfectly reasonable – it has its negative connotations e.g. litter and discarded, uneaten food; an association with fast, junk food; the fact that stuffing a hot dog, or even an M&S baguette, into your mouth whilst walking down the street, doesn’t usually look too attractive!  But it would also be interesting to try and explore some more positive (or less negative) aspects – because I think they exist – socialising in the ‘fresh’ air in a public space; the chance to be ‘in public’ but retain some isolation and personal space; it’s inexpensive and quick; it’s flexible and convenient in a busy, modern world; there is (and this is a value judgement, I recognise) something quite ‘democratic’ about all sorts of people sitting out in the open sharing an activity.
So, another reason for exploring the issue might be to try and give it a more balanced presentation than it has had from photographers in the past.  That also gives a pointer to the types of image that I might want to create – try and make some ‘attractive’ pictures of people eating in a public place.