Sunday, 22 May 2011

Workshop – Cornerhouse, Manchester, 19-05-2011

On Thursday (with fellow students Janet & Rob) I attended a workshop at the Cornerhouse Gallery in Manchester.  Entitled ‘Do You Really Want to Do This?’, it was presented by Paul Herrmann of the Redeye photography network, and was subtitled ‘Projects and Art Photography’. It was aimed at ‘those who want to make a living from exhibiting or publishing self-generated projects’.  There were two guest presenters as well as Paul Herrmann – artist Dinu Li and Lucy Johnston, a gallery manager (whose gallery, the Ceri Hand Gallery, didn’t appear to represent photographers or be that interested in those at the early stage of their career!).

My comments on the day are going to centre on the first session, with Dinu Li, which to my mind was the most enlightening for anyone with a desire pursue contemporary art on a ‘serious’ basis – and certainly for anyone hoping to ‘make a living’, as referred to by the workshop ‘blurb’.  Li is a leading Northern based contemporary artist whose work includes film and video as well as photography.  His session, part presentation and part Q & A, was particularly interesting because he did genuinely talk about the process of promoting and funding his activities rather than just presenting his projects, which was entirely appropriate for the workshop.  I particularly draw out the following points from what he had to say:

·         Described as ‘one of the most successful contemporary artists working in the North of England’, or words to that effect, he teaches photography (or art, not entirely sure which) at a College in Chester, runs training courses every summer in Spain, and has recently invested in a restaurant.  My impression is that he certainly doesn’t ‘make a living’ from his art, but largely ‘lives’ on the income generated by these other activities.

·         That said, he also pointed out that ‘it costs a lot of money to make work’ (note this alongside regular comments from Peter H. on the OCA forums), and made it clear that he doesn’t finance any of his art himself.  Through his career he has developed relationships with the Arts Council & other funders that have enabled him to develop his projects.

·         He stressed the importance of networking & building relationships to support you – not just financially but emotionally, and through promotional activities etc.  He said that he has around ten key contacts and maybe 50-60 other people outside that immediate circle who are important to his work.

·         It also seemed clear to me that he has had a personal vision/drive to be a successful artist from the very start – identifying the agencies he needed to work with, not being put off by negative experiences, and having very clear goals of things he wanted to achieve & how he would go about it.  He is a single-minded and highly focused individual (though he seemed a thoroughly nice guy as well, I have to say).

·         The art he creates is somewhat responsive and eclectic (he more or less said that himself) but his career does not lack direction.

I am struck, not for the first time, by the similarities between the art world and the consultancy environment in which I have been working for the last 20+ years when it comes to the requirements for success.  You can have the talent you like, all the ideas and creativity, but it is the clear direction and focus, the single-minded determination, the willingness to get out there and do what is necessary that distinguished the really ‘successful’ (though I put that word in inverted commas because it probably refers to ‘commercial’ success).

Food for thought.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Project 17: The user’s point of view

It proved harder than I might have expected to come up with suitable ideas for this project.  The brief says “... a particular activity that is undertaken from a specific, distinctive position.”  Taking that literally (and I’m not saying one must) there aren’t too many places that fit the bill – toilet (no!) ...  However, I think I’ve come up with three suitably diverse situations – one domestic; one ‘public’; and one that is probably best described as art.
Starting with a fairly obvious, domestic space, this photograph is taken from the point of view of a diner in a kitchen/dining room (one could obviously do something similar in a restaurant, bar, or whatever).

The camera is on a tripod, more or less at eye level, where someone would be sitting, looking out across the room.  Height is a fairly straightforward decision here, but there could be variations on the camera angle and the focal length, and both might vary depending on whether one included other people in the picture.  In an otherwise empty room, and maybe even if there was someone cooking in the background, the wide angle (this is c16-18mm in 35mm equivalent terms) seems most appropriate here (and indeed, most of the time when simulating the human viewpoint in a room like this).  If there were other people dining at the table on the other side, then the user is more likely to be focused on them, with the room somewhat secondary in the background, and one might come up with a different answer  (albeit it might not then be about the use of the room – or maybe it would?).
The second example goes out into the public domain.

This is a bus shelter in the centre of Holmfirth.  It doesn’t totally fit the brief, in that there is a choice of places where one might be sitting, and the ‘user’ might even be standing.  However, I do think it illustrates the user’s point of view.  Height-wise, I have gone for the sitting position again and the camera angle is, naturally, looking in the direction from which buses would be coming.  I did think – should I wait until there is a bus in view? – but truthfully, the user spends most time looking at an empty road, waiting.  The camera angle is quite a wide one again – 24mm equivalent.  Again, one might say that the user would be looking out onto the road, so I could have used a longer focal length, leading out of the shelter.  Apart from the fact that this would have made for a messy composition, I think it’s also fair to say that the user’s line of sight would be taking in the electronic sign in the top of the frame, and that they would also be aware of the graffiti on the seat.
And the final example, I suggested, is a work of art.  It is James Turrell’s Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – see here – and I have photographed it from the point of view of the human ‘user’, not the deer!  It is a space that provides an opportunity for cool, quiet contemplation (most of the time – never been in during a thunder storm, for example!).  Appropriately for a photographic project, it creates art out of light – changing light.  I did consider photographing it for Project 18, but I don’t anticipate spending a whole day there, interesting as it might be.  The ‘skylight’ is square, of course, but its shape is distorted by the wide angle – 16.5mm equivalent – and the patch of light on the right hand side is the direct sunlight penetrating the space in the roof.  I have tried to capture the softness of the light in the space that is then broken most strikingly by the sky through the roof void, and the harsh sunlight on the side.

Quite an interesting project, this has focused attention on a viewpoint that one doesn’t always consider when photographing a ‘space’.  All my examples have ended up using a wide angle, which, as I mentioned above, feels like the natural route to go when simulating human eyesight.  I was trying to think of exceptions, and I guess that if one was taking a photograph that looked into the space occupied by the user, and then onward into his/her line of sight, then a longer focal length would work perfectly well.  The following is a terribly ‘noisy’ and uninteresting example that I have just shot in the living room, but it illustrates the principle – 72mm equivalent focal length, but still representing, more or less, the viewpoint of someone sitting on the sofa that is just visible in the foreground because it is shot from a distance behind the sofa.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Project 14: An organised event

I spent a large part of yesterday taking photographs at the Holmfirth Festival of Folk, an annual event that takes place over an early-May weekend around the streets and venues of Holmfirth.  It’s a big event with a lot going on, so I made the decision to concentrate on what was happening outside rather than going into the pubs etc where performances were taking place inside.  As the brief on ‘Structured situations’ says, this is about ‘explaining’ as well as finding telling moments.

Setting the scene right from the start, the ‘outside’ element of the festival involves people dressing up in colourful fashion and dancing/performing in public spaces – and having/giving fun, of course.

The performers come in all shapes & sizes, and from a photographic point of view, one can capture general scenes, such as the one above, or this one.

Or, there are opportunities to go in close and capture the performers faces in various states of concentration or performance, as these.

In the ‘explaining’ context, both of the above are self-explanatory, but I also took this one of a young man seemingly concentrating hard on what he is doing, but there are few, if any, clues as to what it might be.

He was performing along with a number of colleagues, and I did take a picture of the group, but they were all dressed black, performing in a line, with relatively little body movement involved, so it wasn’t especially interesting.  However, if his head and shoulders shot is combined with a detail image, such as the one below, it all becomes clear, and in a visually interesting way.

There are outdoor musical performances, as well as dance.
Though sometimes, these performances produce impromptu engagement by members of the audience.
And, picking up on the audience theme, that is a crucial part of the explanation of an event such as this.  The audience is present in a number of the above images, of course, but there is opportunity to turn the camera on them specifically, demonstrating the varied nature of the watchers, and also their reactions to events.

The audience pictures could be ‘portraits’ or groups such as those above, or they could be more general ‘crowd’ scenes ‘scene-setters’ so to speak.  This one includes part of the town and the streets, so providing a contextual aspect.  Pity that the church was covered in plastic this year, but nothing I could do about that.

Of course, there are opportunities to include ‘mini-narratives’ within the overall context.  One might follow the image above with the following ‘story’.

Actually, I realised afterwards that I hadn’t captured the end of the story!  Which is, of course, that he caught it!

The event ends with a parade of the performers.  I had not intended to stay for that, and capturing it properly means picking the right spot(s) along the route where you can get a clear enough view to get the right images.  However, I did watch the start, and these, although not well-planned in terms of positioning, add some further colour and flavour to the overall series.

Great fun – and it is a splendid event to photograph.  I have put a lot of pictures into this series because it was necessary to give a full explanation.  The project brief doesn’t specify a number and so I have not been as selective as I might (though I did take over 100 images in the day).  Picking, say, eight or ten would be quite a challenge, and I’m not going to spend time doing it, since I don’t need to!!

One other thing – I probably didn’t satisfy my tutor that, in Assignment Five, I had done enough ‘explaining’.  This project has, I hope, given an opportunity to explore that side more thoroughly.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Project 16: Exploring function

So far, I have to admit to feeling underwhelmed by the ‘Buildings and spaces’ section of the course.  I can’t quite put a finger on why, but it may be that I havn’t found too many interesting/stimulating buildings or spaces to photograph; or alternatively, that I have not yet got myself fully engaged with the subject. However, I have been working on it over the last couple of weeks.  I started out looking at this project in a domestic context, but I have also been looking ahead to Assignment Three & photographing some other potential buildings and spaces, one of which I thought might fit well into the context of this project – Huddersfield Queensgate Market.  There is a bit of history here, which might come out again in the assignment; but, here it is in brief.  Huddersfield used to have an old Victorian Market Hall, which was replaced in 1970 by the current Queensgate Market Hall.  Some argued at the time, I believe, that it was a tragedy to lose the character of the old building, even though I’ve also seen it described as soot-covered and dominating the local environment.  They almost certainly did not like its replacement, which was an ‘iconic’ contemporary building with unique architectural features and specially commissioned artwork on both the inside and outside walls.  That building was itself threatened by redevelopment in the last ten or so years, but survived, and is championed by a pressure group looking to preserve its unique qualities.

Now, this project is about function, not architecture, so what might be the primary functions of a Market Hall?

·         Provide a flexible and convenient space in which trading can take place;

·         Make it easy for traders to bring in and display their goods, at relatively low cost and with minimum ‘fuss’ on a daily basis, if necessary;

·         Attract customers to visit easily and regularly to view the goods on display;

·         Provide a convivial atmosphere in which successful interaction between trader and customer can take place.

The project asks for a personal opinion of how effective the selected building/space is in delivering its function, so I havn’t been canvassing opinion, just looking at it and forming my own judgement.  Having visited a few times in the last month or so, I have to express my doubts about it, certainly in a contemporary context – and that is mostly based on the observation that there don’t seem to be large numbers of people in there buying goods.  It is a large, well-lit, clean and modern-feeling space.  Whilst I get the impression that there is a turnover of traders (evidenced by the occasional mis-match between signage and what is on sale, as well as by some empty spaces), it is, on the whole, well-stocked with a variety of goods (though relatively little in the way of fresh produce).  But, there are very few people around buying anything.  Positioned on the edge of the town centre, just inside the ring road, it is, I would think, convenient for the traders to access, and there is a public car park attached, so consumers don’t have any difficulty either, albeit there is no obviously inviting public entrance to draw people in.  The frontage onto the ring road is much photographed for its artwork, but it is essentially a solid wall with sculptures on it rather than an invite for the consumer.  And the inside has, to me, more in common with a sports hall than a retail space.  It lacks the intimacy and obvious hustle and bustle that I would associate with a market.

So the challenge is to sum that up in a single photograph.  Well, I’ve taken a few recently, and I think that some will feature in Assignment Three, but this, for me, illustrates my impressions most effectively.

I wanted to find an angle that would include some of the architectural features, simply because so much is made of them by those who praise the building.  For the record, they are ‘inverted freestanding rectangular asymmetric hyperbolic paraboloid umbrella shells in reinforced concrete’.  And I’m not making that up!  But, is it anything at all to do with encouraging a convivial atmosphere for market trading.  Or does it just make the same big open well-lit space that one could find in any modern out-of-town shed?  Look at the clean shiny floor – fantastic!  But there is just one customer around at about 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon!

Project 15: Public space, public activity

There are two projects from section two of the course that I have not yet completed/written up.  Project 14: An organised event has been waiting for a suitable event, and is planned for next weekend, but this entry is intended to cover Project 15: Public space, public activity.  Actually, I think Assignment Two and a lot of the images that I took around the process of completing that assignment have pretty much covered this topic, and I’m not going to spend time doing further ‘public space’ sessions.  I will though just bring together a few images that were not necessarily part of the submission/planning for Assignment Two, but which illustrate the ideas mentioned in the brief for this project – “how people make their own personal or small group activities within the same general area” – though I stress again, the ‘personal space’ in ‘public space’ was very much part of the theme in Assignment Two anyway.

There are six or seven people grouped very closely together in a confined space in this shot, yet in very few ways are they interacting with each other or even showing apparent awareness of each other.  We have two young men on the left, probably in conversation as one smokes a cigarette; one young man sitting very close to them, also smoking, but concentrating on his phone; just far enough away to be separate and clearly interacting, is another couple, also looking at a phone; and finally, another young woman sits close by eating her lunch.  Not nearly as good, but I’m sort of reminded of the Garry Winogrand photograph of a group of people sitting on a bench – ‘World’s Fair, New York City 1964’.

These three are quite similar, indeed the first and last are taken close together, as the background in the last one shows.  The next one is a familiar activity in city centre environments.
And, finally, here is one showing a very different activity.  These people were busy making a film.
As I said above, I’m not going to spend any further time on this project because I think I’ve done enough over the last couple of months to explore the activities of people occupying public space.