Monday, 27 February 2012

Assignment Five – Update

Progress remains slow, but it looks as though March will be an active month in the context of this assignment, and might even see it close to completion.  This note is just to pull together a few developments.

·         I made the decision earlier in the year to keep things simple.  In the first shoot, I did experiment with some different poses but came to the conclusion that a straightforward ‘facing the camera’ style was the way to go.  It fits with, for example, the Martin Parr Oxfam examples that I referred to earlier; it fits with what I saw in the Taylor Wessing portrait exhibition; and it takes away one of the variables when dealing with the subjects during a shoot.  As it happens, it’s also the approach that I like best, personally, so I’m not going to worry further about that but just stick to the simple approach.

·         I did, briefly, experiment with the idea of using Google Streetview as a source for the background in the images.  The attractions were a) it could give me complete flexibility of ‘place’ or ‘context’ and b) it could introduce an element of true/false/real/unreal into the narrative and a further question in the mind of the viewer.  I had a go at a self-portrait, with a Newsbook that I kept when I was around 5-6 years old, superimposed onto a Streetview image of the school where I made it.  This was the best version of the outcome.

It took a bit of planning.  I’m kneeling on the floor, in front of a black background, in order to try and get the camera angle somewhere close to that in the Streetview image; and getting the right lighting balance between me and the background, even to this standard, took some doing.  (I’ve aimed at something resembling fill-in flash that would have isolated me from the more distant background, had I actually stood in front of the school.)  It isn’t right – though I’m quietly pleased to have got it this far!  But, as a few people intimated when I shared this will the OCA Flickr group, it is a step too far at this stage – back to the ‘keep it simple’ principle.

·         I have now completed two shoots, and I have enough volunteers in place to complete the assignment, when I can get further sessions organised.  I’m expecting that to be done by the end of March or very early in April.  In an earlier post, I used one of the images from the first shoot to trial the image/text combination, and I expressed some dissatisfaction with the image.  Having looked again at some others from the session, I think this one is certainly usable – less flattering as a portrait, perhaps, but potentially as interesting, if not more so.

This is my chosen image from the second session.

·         The earlier experiment with image and text together suggested that the text needs to be shorter rather than longer – more like 50 words than 100 – which gives me good guidelines for the final format.

It is now just a case of completing six more of shoots, hopefully within the next 4-5 weeks.

Edit 29-02-12

Following Clive's very kind & helpful input in the comments, I've done some minor 'tweaking' in PS, with these results.

I havn't changed them dramatically, but I can certainly see an improvement - more in the originals than in the small versions on here, I'd say.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

New Course

Just a short post to say that I have started my next OCA Module, 'Progressing with Digital Photography' and the new blog is set up, with a link here, on the right.  I'm aiming to make a steady start with that one whilst completing Assignment Five of this one.

Monday, 6 February 2012

London Visit – two other exhibitions

Whilst in London a couple of weeks ago, I also took in two other exhibitions that I’ve not yet written up in here.

The first has been running at the Tate Modern for some time now - Photography: New Documentary Forms.  Set out in five different rooms, it is made up from the Tate’s in-house collection and explores the ways in which five contemporary artists have used the camera (or more specifically photography) to ‘explore, extend and question the power of photography as a documentary medium’.  I have to say that, for me, it works successfully – five artists, five quite different approaches, none necessarily fitting what one might expect from the term documentary.

Mitch Epstein – large format camera; big colour prints; ‘deadpan’ landscape images; a touch of the ‘Dusseldorf’ school about it; but each image, in its own way, documenting the impact of US power companies within the landscape.

Luc Delahaye – similar form of picture-making & presentation; this time in combat zones but not showing the combat; capturing, in a reflective way, the everyday happenings (compare Donovan Wylie in earlier post here).

Guy Tillim – comparable presentation – large colour prints – but much more immediacy about the subject matter; events surrounding an election in the Congo; more like the ‘newsy’ documentary photography.

Boris Mikhailov – older work; most notable, for me, the ‘Red’ series, depicting Soviet Russia with images linking (for obvious reasons) via the colour red; a wall-full of images that worked together in a seemingly random way to create a single piece of artwork, whilst at the same time documenting the specific; I was reminded of Anders Petersen’s exciting and vibrant presentation of large black & white images in ‘From Back Home’.

Akram Zaatari – the artist, this time, isn’t making images but using them; a selection and presentation of photographs from the archives of a Lebanese studio photographer, Hashem el Madani, covering 1940s-1970s; directly comparable in approach, and even to an extent in content, with Jeremy Deller’s ‘Poking About’ at the Impressions Gallery, Bradford.

This was a cleverly and provocatively put together exhibition, making interesting use of existing images in the Tate’s collection.  For me, it was particularly interesting to be able to draw comparisons with other work that I’ve seen in the last year or so.  It informs the awareness of  both similarity and difference in photographic styles e.g. to link together Mikhailov/Petersen/Engstrom, in a kind of emotional, energetic group, where the images grab your attention and assail you, even if they aren’t always comfortable or easy to deal with.  Then one can put together Epstein/Wylie/Roberts/Delahaye in a more reflective, much less invasive, rather studied approach.  The first set will use the visual impact of many images (apparently, but of course not actually) thrown together to impact on your senses;  whereas the second set will carefully construct individual images that invite careful study of their detail and individual analysis.  Reflecting on my own approach – I am probably more at home with the second group, but can also sense, as I’ve hinted before, how I might benefit from a little more of the former.  It occurs to me, though, that it perhaps requires an awful lot more confidence to do what the first group do – the confidence to allow yourself to have an emotional reaction to what you see and to capture that reaction, honestly, and to be prepared to present that reaction openly for the viewer.  It’s another variation on a theme I’ve reflected on here before, of course, and not one that feels easy at my stage in life.

Then there was the visit to the V&A’s new Photographs Gallery.  This is a permanent exhibition, just opened in October 2011, and featuring dozens of prints from the V&A photography collection.  It includes lots of the ‘big names’ from the history of photography – right back to Fox-Talbot & Fenton, through Emerson, Stieglitz & Cameron, via Cartier-Bresson & Man Ray, to Cecil Beaton, Harry Callahan & Diane Arbus ... etc, etc, etc.  This was a surprisingly effective presentation of photographic history and well worth a visit.  It is history, not theory or even remotely contemporary, but with a little pre-knowledge and some time spent genuinely looking and thinking, one can see very well the development of photography as art, science, document, and so on.  It was good, for example, to see something like Robert Howlett’s 1857 portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (there’s a link on the page I’ve linked to above).  I couldn’t help thinking that it would have stood a good chance in the Taylor Wessing Portrait competition, if it had been in existence then!