Monday, 29 August 2011

Project 19: A single figure small

Have been working on some of the projects in section four of the course whilst planning the fourth assignment and it’s time I wrote some of that up here.

My first example of a ‘single figure small’ is the classic isolated individual silhouetted as they walk across an empty landscape.  This image would be more or less worthless without the figure, and it could be argued that the figure is a bit too small.

Personally, I don’t mind it on this scale.  I feel that it really does give a sense of the wide open space in which this individual is walking.  The contrast between the dark figure and the light coloured sand is important, of course.  An alternative crop might be much tighter, for example.  The water in the foreground could be said to isolate the figure even more by seeming to leave them stranded on an island of sand.

Sometimes you need to have a small figure in the image just to define the scale of what the viewer is seeing.  Once again, in the example below, the figure is very small in the frame, and dressed in dark colours against a dark background.  Presented small in this log, it might be almost impossible to tell that she is there – but, in line with the comments in the notes, there is at least the element of surprise when the viewer does spot her.  The presence of the figure certainly does define the scale, which could be very confusing without it.

I’m also going to include a couple of examples where the figure is much less insignificant in size – still small enough to be anonymous, but big enough to be seen clearly.  I would suggest that, in both these cases, it is the presence of the figure, and their interaction with the environment (and the frame?) that makes the image into something remotely interesting.

A good and effective principle that has both compositional merit and the potential to fundamentally affect the narrative quality of the image.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Assignment 4: pulling together a plan

This isn’t going to be prescriptive but I have a rough plan of how my 12 images could be made up, based on the thinking covered in my previous two posts.

The series might comprise:

·         1/2 broad images of the town, in the context of its valley and its surroundings; I have two potential locations/angles in mind and I know that the best light for one will be a.m. and for the other late p.m.

·         3/4 people-oriented images; not that these will be the only ones including people, of course, but people will be the main subject. I probably will include one from my Folk Festival series, already shot in the context of this course and with this assignment in mind.  Then I hope to go for portraits for the others – 2-3 arranged/posed; probably local shopkeepers, bar/cafe owners; probably outside their premises.  Finally, in this category, I might look for an image that focuses on the tourists.

·         2/3 heritage-style images – and I have plenty of subject matter to go at here, perhaps just re-shooting some that I have already done, but trying to get people into some of them, for added interest and an element of ‘interacting with place’.

·         3/4 town centre images; and again I have some specific ideas – a wide angle image including car park and church that I have taken ‘roughly’ before; something showing the heavy traffic, ideally interacting with people; an angle on the Picturedrome from behind the church contrasting old architecture with names of rock bands; and no doubt 1 or 2 others.

·         3/4 detail shots, for which, again, I already have some idea.

That adds up to 12-17 images and, in practice, I can see how I might end up with a long-list of about 20.

This, on the face of it, looks like a lot of pre-planning, but I refer back to the idea that Holmfirth is a complex place, a bit of an odd mix, and so conveying as much of that as possible in a series of 12 images needs some thought.  Ideally, I will get all of this done in the next month.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Assignment 4: Holmfirth – more research & planning

I have been keeping a handwritten notebook in parallel with this online log for People & Place and, in there, have been doing some more work over the last couple of weeks to plan my approach to this assignment.  Since the detail is in the notebook, I’m not going to repeat it here, but I have scanned one or two pages (below) just give some idea what I’ve been doing.

In line with the conclusions above, particularly the last one, I wanted to have some themes in mind, some view of my subject, Holmfirth, that I could have as my guiding direction with the assignment.  As a first step, I started to do a mindmap, following anything that came to me in relation to Holmfirth.  This was the result.

I havn’t reproduced it here to be read but just to show that it became quite complex & detailed.  We’ve lived in Holmfirth for more than twenty years, so I feel quite familiar with it, but perhaps too close.  I asked my wife to come up with three or four words that she associated with the town.  She paused for quite some time and then said ‘Hmm, it’s complicated.’  So, given where my mindmap ended up, ‘complicated’ seemed like quite a good place to start.  She then said ‘It’s such an ‘eclectic’ place’ – which gave me a second word.  My conclusion is that representing Holmfirth in a series of images is going to be more about variety and the representation of a number of themes than seeking one overall message (apart from complexity eclecticism!).

This complexity manifests itself, potentially, under a number of headings:

History & Tradition – the town/village has been around for more than 1000 years and has been very much ‘on the map’ since the last quarter of the eighteenth century when industrialisation arrived in a big way.

Change & Variety – the last 100 or so years has seen – textile manufacturing, followed by film production (early silent comedies, for example), postcard design & printing (the comic seaside variety), TV location (Last of the Summer Wine); tourism (largely as a result of the latter); arts and music.

Location – at the end of a steep-sided valley; in a scenic setting; equidistant from three significant conurbations.

People – valley-based, hill-farming families that have been here for hundreds of years; industrial worker families that arrived 200 or so years ago; some ‘moneyed’ families associated with ‘ownership’ of latter; some artistic types; and in ever increasing numbers over the last 20-30 years, commuters/professionals and their families.

To that one can add that it is an exceedingly busy place, rarely quiet, with streams of traffic (including heavy vehicles crossing the Pennines), regular coach loads of visitors, an increasingly popular rock music venue, and some very popular bars & pubs that keep things buzzing into the early hours.  Also, one has to say that it has a ruggedness about it – not necessarily quite the right word, but it certainly isn’t genteel – not the architecture, not the people, not the climate and not the landscape!

Having lived here for 20+ years, I’ve already taken lots of photographs of the place – naturally. I will, of course, be taking fresh images for the assignment, but researching what I’d already done seemed like a sensible starting point.  I’ve been selecting all sorts of ideas and have then pasted them into my notebook, under various headings.  It is, I guess, the equivalent of doing some preliminary drawings before designing something, producing an artwork or whatever.  I’ve scanned and reproduced the pages below – again, not to make them readable here on the blog but to illustrate my approach,

It has certainly been a useful exercise and whilst it hasn’t (and wasn’t intended to) produce all the answers, it has given me some very clear directions I can go, as well as pointing up some obvious gaps (pictures involving people, for example).  I do now have a good idea of how the series of images will be structured, but I’ll post that as a separate item, since this one is getting very long.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Assignment Four – Initial thinking & research

After getting somewhat wound up over the brief for the last assignment, I decided that the first thing I’m going to do with this one is to take a close look at it.  I’ll get a bit of thinking and analysis out of the way at the start so that I have a clear idea in my head as what I’m trying to achieve.  That said, since this one is about producing images for a ‘thoughtful travel publication’, I don’t think I’m inclined to go off and do my own thing either.

The title of the assignment is ‘A sense of place’, so everything is going to be geared towards that overall objective.  It is not to be about promoting tourism, but a ‘considered, in-depth treatment’, so a degree of sophistication is required.  There need to be at least 12 images, but in the context that only about six might ultimately be chosen by the magazine – so no good producing twelve that all need each other; the images need a certain amount of autonomy.  But there is also a strong emphasis on variety – visual, subject and scale.  The aim is to ‘show the character of the place and of the people who live there ...’ – in other words, to create a ‘sense of place’.  The brief also mentions drawing together ‘camera handling, observation and reaction...’ – so demonstrating an element of ‘technical’ capability (in the broadest sense) will be important.

I decided that getting my hands on a few travel publications might be a good start – albeit they aren’t all necessarily in the ‘thoughtful’ class.  I’ve looked at four magazines.

National Geographic (August 2011) – I suppose, this would be regarded as the archetypal travel magazine.  It is a very long time since I have looked at it, though it hasn’t changed a great deal, including maintaining its small size. The only ‘place’ feature in this edition was an article called ‘Land of Shadow’, about Myanmar (Burma).

·         Comprised 24 pages of the magazine, with approximately two thirds of the space devoted to photographs.  15 images in total (so an average of about one page per image) but in sizes ranging from ‘double page’, through full page (both in portrait format and in landscape, spreading across two), to half page.

·         The images are credited to Magnum photographer, Chien-Chi Chang, and I was particularly struck by the variety of subject, style and scale.  There are people in most of them, though their presence is itself in quite different scales and serving different purposes.  The subjects range from the slightly sinister and threatening, through people at work or in the street going about their lives, through landscapes, where people serve as the ‘accent’, more ‘recreational’ activities, then the military on the march, girls in a ‘fashion’ show, a man suffering from AIDS, children begging and a domestic scene.

·         Scale varies from two full page ‘intimate’ scale photographs of contrasting images on mobile phones to wide angle vistas.

So, in the context of the assignment, there is an important lesson about variety – and that is variety in all aspects, not just subject matter.  And, also worth repeating that almost every image includes people, even if they are ‘secondary’ to the subject matter.

Lonely Planet (August 2011) – this isn’t a magazine I’ve ever looked at before – published by the BBC, though it doesn’t carry a BBC logo or any obvious branding.  Page size is about 50% bigger than NG.  I suppose it is a direct competitor, though the style is a little different – more, shorter articles, in general.

One interesting concept, derived, I guess, from the bigger page size, is the regular use of what one might describe as a one-page picture essay – typically six images on a page, but in varying sizes from quarter-page down to about 3cm x 2cm (usually a highly selective detail).  Whilst not necessarily immediately easy on the eye, and certainly not helpful in appreciating the detailed merits of a particular image, it does work well in creating a quick ‘sense of place’.

There was one ‘place’ feature on Namibia, which I looked at in a similar way to the NG article.

·         12 pages with a total of around 2/3 of the space devoted to photographs again.  Photographs credited to Mark Read (

·         Picture sizes ranged from double-page spread (1), through near double spread (1), full page images (2), one-page compilations at nine to a page (2), and then a series of very small images in a ‘step-by-step’ guide.

·         Subjects go from a ‘pure’ landscape image of desert sands, through wildlife images, to 3 children posing in a dead tree, and an ‘atmospheric’ portrait of a woman.  There are two or three portraits in the ‘page essays’, plus more wildlife shots, a full landscape, and some ‘intimate detail’ shots.

There is another feature on the Western fjords of Norway, which has a similar overall structure and, once again, a number of posed portraits.  Images by Justin Foulkes.

I took a quick look at two other magazines, neither of which falls into the ‘thoughtful’ category.  Discover Britain is more touristic in its style, with less depth.  There were a couple of ‘place’ type features in the September edition, one on Highgate Cemetery and one on Liverpool, where the concept of variety was prominent again.  Yorkshire Life certainly doesn’t fit the travel category, but I chose to look at it for comparisons in the treatment of Yorkshire towns and villages.  Again, articles were shorter, with less depth; some use of the ‘single-page’ essay as in Lonely Planet; plenty of people shots, but often ‘named’, very posed, and a hint of the ‘snapshot’ about them – a characteristic I would apply to many of the photographs in this magazine.

Also of some relevance to this assignment is the recent Michael Freeman articleon WeAreOCA.  I take three particular messages from this – the level of planning and preparation that went into the feature; the fact that several shots were pre-planned and set up for the purpose of the article; and that there was a point to the feature, something they were looking to communicate.  Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the ‘political’ element underlying the third of these, having a direction, something you want to say, even something as general as a mood, provides focus and direction to the images produced and is likely to ensure that they work effectively together as a set.

In conclusion:

·         Very useful to get a feel for what the magazines use; how images are presented and laid out.

·         It is important to go for variety of 1) subject (and to include some/several people images); 2) scale (including some ‘intimate’ scale shots that can be printed on a smaller scale; 3) genre (with, ideally, some ‘documentary’, some ‘landscape’, some ‘portraits’, some ‘action’, and so on).

·         Must look for ‘different’ and ‘creative’ opportunities as anything else can soon end up like just another set of ‘snaps’.

·         Having a general theme/purpose in mind will help to give direction and cohesion to what I do.