The Art of Photography
Assignment 3: Response to Feedback
I had overall very positive feedback on this Assignment: –
“Your presentation and printing are excellent. Your work shows your confident technical control, your willingness to experiment with new ways of working, a sharp ‘eye’ and the development of a mature approach to image making…………
You have a good ‘eye’ and as in the previous assignment, this is particularly evident in your people/ documentary photographs. When composing, you are becoming much freer with composition, using the whole ‘frame’ and not always placing the subject bang in the centre of the image.”
I felt very encouraged by this, together with the fact that no changes were suggested to any of the images.
However, my tutor commented that she did find my blog a little hard to navigate (as at 4th September 2011) and that it would be helpful to have any experimentation, research, and reflections relevant to a particular assignment grouped together in one folder. I took the point and, for Part 4: Light, did include a Summary of Learning at the end of the Exercise Section – She also asked for a little more information on my assignment photos such as decision making, camera settings etc and my evaluation which, again, I included in the next Assignment (Assignment 4).
I’m aware that I still haven’t written-up all the work I did following my looking up of Robert Mapplethorpe which then led me on to John Blakemore and his tulips. My set on tulips is on my Flickr site and, if there is sufficient time before Assessment, I will endeavour to complete the promised write-up as it would be a shame to lose a written record of my learning.
30th May 2012
The Art of Photography
Feedback and changes to Assignment 2 : Elements of Design
No. 2 – Two points
My tutor commented that this was the only image as such that she had a slight problem and I agree with her as it’s the one I had difficulty with at the time. She had agreed with me that 4b) Verticals and Horizontals did fit the brief for Two Points also but thought it fitted better in Verticals/Horizontals. My tutor reminded me of an eye image which I had put on my blog in one of the exercise write-ups. These are my dog’s eyes where I can see two me’s.
The reason I hadn’t submitted it at the time was because it didn’t fit into my theme, which was London. I’ve been back to London several times since then but still haven’t found ‘two points’ which fit my brief i.e. two singular subjects which are small in the whole composition but catch the viewer’s attention.
4a: Combination of Vertical and Horizontal lines
It was pointed out to me that the sky top left weakens the image and needed ‘pulling in’. Using the ‘burning in’ tool didn’t work quite as well as selecting that part of the sky in Nik Viveza. It’s now improved, has been reprinted and will be included in my Assessment submission.
Although commenting that this was an original way of interpreting the brief, my tutor also pointed out that the window is paper white. She suggested either tweaking Levels, Highlights or using a slightly tighter crop. The highlights have now been tweaked and the reprint will be included in my submission:
Learning log/critical essays
Comment made that it would be useful to have a link to images I decided to reject, print or contact sheet. From then onwards I did include such prints in my submission where appropriate.
30th May 2012
Whitechapel Gallery : 28 April 2012
Gillian Wearing Exhibition
Study Visit with OCA
I felt very well-prepared for this visit, with a good briefing from OCA concerning ‘Looking and Reading’. A video to watch; Guardian interview to read, and suggestions for some thinking to do beforehand.
Gillian Wearing has a degree in Fine Art, is a conceptual artist and was a member of the Young British Artists Movement. This group rose to fame in the 1990s; its members often used shock tactics; used new materials to produce art and were from the East of London (e.g. Tracey Emin). I’m assuming they were part of the postmodernist movement.
It’s obvious that the Guardian interviewer, Tim Adams, had difficulty in getting her to speak as freely about herself as she achieved with her own subjects. I gained a sense of an unsettled, shifting ground between them with Wearing using words to elude and the interviewer trying to pin her down. Wearing describes herself as a listener and I’ve found that people who are more used to listening can certainly find it hard to talk about themselves – and vice versa. There is another interview on the Guardian site (talking to Kira Cochrane) where she describes her own inarticulacy and problems she had at comprehensive school in Birmingham that pioneered large class sizes. Thinking about it, there’s a ‘listening’ mask and a ‘talking’ mask we wear when we’re interacting with others and we switch between them with greater or lesser facility according to our intrinsic personality and whom we’re with at the time.
After my preparatory reading I noted down masks, sense of self; many different selves; unexpressed selves; boundaries; verbal/non-verbal; Erving Goffman; Eleanor Rigby, and showing yourself through your art. I read Goffman many years ago and was entertained by his notion of the front and back stage personalities – that we all enact multiple roles in our lives. That was the biggest question I took with me to the Exhibition – is Gillian Wearing going to show me herself through her art – ‘communicate an inner life by proxy’ as her interviewer writes?
It was good to meet up with everyone from OCA and link some more names to faces. As before, we were greeted by Michael Lawton of the Gallery who provided a commentary as we walked round. He gave us his introduction whilst standing under a monitor playing a video of Gillian Wearing singing to herself in a shopping mall. So far as I could tell, none of the other shoppers actually paused to look at her so she was in her own inner world there. Maybe they thought she was madly eccentric. Michael Lawton drew attention to her use of colour; her switch into films and the performance element in her work.
We looked at one short film before we went to the upper gallery. This was of a girl called Lindsay, a street drinker who subsequently died. The film is grainy, in slow motion and synced with Lindsay’s twin sister speaking about her. Thinking about it now, the graininess and slow motion added a slightly drunk effect. I wonder if this was Wearing’s intention.
Whilst Michael Lawton had been talking to us I had had this odd thought that maybe Gillian Wearing was actually with us; playing the part of one of the group and observing us. Maybe it was because I’d caught sight of her self-portrait at the bottom of the stairs – wearing a mask of her own face with just her (real) eyes looking through. The smooth rigidity of the expressionless mask combined with those large eyes was quite unnerving and, throughout, the rest of the tour it was the eyes within masks that were the most compelling yet weirdly skewed to me.
The early series, ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ was the most ‘traditional’ to me. 600 portraits ranged around the room with the subjects holding signs. It was the sheer number of them that was impressive. Some of the signs were at odds with the subject such as a woman smiling whilst holding a sign ‘I am depressed at the moment’, and a man unsmiling and with eyes closed stating ‘Queer and happy. The latter made me think of how small children can often believe that if their eyes are closed people can’t see them. My other thought was, “How do I know that the signs are telling the truth in any case?”
There are further films where the subject’s words are synced with someone else’s voice. The twins and their mother for example. How often do I now hear my mother’s words coming out of my mouth. My daughter and I were only talking about this a few weeks ago and she said sometimes she almost horrifies herself by doing this. Sometimes my grandchildren say things in such an old-fashioned way that I know it’s a parent speaking – out of the mouths of babes and sucklings and all that!. I find those occasions amusing but it was odd to see here – not knowing whether to close my eyes and listen to the words or watch the non verbal behaviour of the now muted subjects. Maybe it was harder because these were strangers I was watching and listening to.
There were further portraits – again with the use of masks. Gillian Wearing as her favourite photographers, and also as members of her own family. Again it was the eyes that seemed weird, like those films where aliens take over humans or The Midwich Cuckoos. You know there’s something not quite right about their behaviour but it’s hard to work out exactly why. Gilllian Wearing attempting to get behind the skin of other people – is this because she thinks she can or because she wants to know what it’s like to be them? I don’t know what her living family thought about the portraits but there’s another interesting Guardian piece on the creation of the masks.
Beyond this were booths where one could watch film of more people in masks giving intimate details of their lives and secret thoughts – some of which I really didn’t want to hear! One of my fellow students Julia has compared this to confessional booths, whilst also raising an important point to me concerning the ethics of this kind or work. What effect do these confessions have on the speakers; how do they deal afterwards with any feelings raised. I think it’s fine to say, “Well they volunteered to do this”, but people don’t always take into account what the consequences might be.
There were some harrowing stories as well in ‘10-16’. Volunteer actors, trained in method-acting, lip-synced to the voices of children and young people. Reminding me of how so many adults carry the bruising of their childhood within them.
I might not like her methods but Gillian Wearing is certainly full of talent and creativity. I suppose I’m left wondering how she felt about the stories she heard and whether they helped her to express or make any connection with her own feelings and thoughts. I certainly didn’t get a sense of the real Gillian Wearing behind all those different masks – even her own.
I think that in speaking as yourself from behind a mask you become an actor in your own drama and so, in a sense, unreal. Also, how real do you feel when you speak as someone else? I know I’ve certainly engaged in role plays in the past where I found I was identifying with the person I was portraying. This kind of projective identification also gave me more of an insight into them as a person – I found clues and answers I hadn’t been aware of before. This brings to mind the role of empathy in our lives and the effect of confluence. If we enter into someone else’s thoughts and feelings then the boundaries between us become a little blurred and we sometimes have to work hard to distinguish between self and other.
In the Exhibition itself seeing through masks actually distanced me from the person behind them, despite their often tragic stories. Their stories were just that – not quite real and so I felt both slightly troubled yet uninvolved at the same time. Thinking of theatrical tradition I’m reminded of Greek tragedies and the masked actors. The masks de-personalize and so the subjects become Everyman and their stories take on a universal resonance.
There’s a lot more of a philosophical nature concerning self, aspects of self and how all those different possibilities of our birthing gradually become distilled into a central core, so that we know when we are, or not, ‘being ourselves’. If we don’t then we can become psychotic or suffer various personality disorders. I want to re-read Goffman to remind myself whether or not he touches upon this aspect. What comes through in Gillian Wearing’s Exhibition is a view of life which seems to believe that we take on these ‘masks’ to hide something negative about ourselves. I don’t remember that coming through to me when I read Goffman all those years ago.
I’ve been given a lot of food for thought here, including how as a photographer I want to interact with my subjects. I certainly don’t want to de-personalize them yet, in the very act of pressing the shutter button, I do freeze them in time.
1st May 2012
Weekend Workshop at The Photographers’ Place, Wirksworth
13th to 15th April 2012
This Workshop had originally been planned for September last year and I’d booked to fulfil two purposes. Firstly, I thought it would get me up to Derbyshire to start some work on a personal project I’d had in mind for a while but kept procrastinating on. Secondly, I thought it would give me some confidence in advance of Assignment 5 of AOP. Unfortunately, the Workshop was postponed due to low numbers, but I still went to Derbyshire, with some new motivation for my personal project.
The Photographer’s Place was first set up in the 1970s by Dr Paul Hill who was the first professor of photography in a British University . It isn’t a place so much as a concept because the leaders come together to run the residential Workshops and they are currently Paul Hill, Martin Shakeshaft and Nick Lockett .
The theme for this particular workshop was on documentary photography and environmental portraiture with Stephen McLaren, street photographer, as guest speaker. Before I left I went through the workbook for ‘People and Place’ and made notes so that I had some of the requirements of the People and Place sections in my head. The Venue was the Glenorchy Centre, – a self-catering centre managed by the United Reform Church –, which is in the small market town of Wirksworth on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Wirksworth was a town built around lead mining and is also near to Arkwright’s Mill. I learned that it has quite a thriving artistic community and also that all the shops are owned independently.
There were around 14 participants most of whom were quite experienced photographers, which was somewhat daunting for me as I reckoned that I was one of the least experienced. The timetable and my notes are in my paper log, but the shape of the weekend was: –
Course leaders introduce themselves and show their approaches to making portraits and documentary work. Then each participant would show two or three of their own photographs on a data projector screen. I was aghast when I saw the size of the screen, which looked huge! I was immediately worried that my images would look pretty rubbish to be blown up as they were, especially as I’d sized them up as around 8”x6” and one of them, at least, was from a smaller compact camera. Still, I had to go for it – it wasn’t as if there was a critical atmosphere in the room (nothing like I’ve read about ‘Masterclasses’ recently). I had taken along a few of my photographs on a memory stick, which I thought were ‘street photography’ style and I showed three of them
Some of the others had actually taken in a series of images on a theme, which, really, was much more of what the Workshop was about. It made me realise just how many of what I consider to be my better photographs (relatively speaking of course) are one-offs rather than part of a series – something that will have to change for ‘People & Place’. I was asked why I’d chosen to process the first photograph in black and white – a good questions because it made me think about it again. It was to do with contrasts and juxtaposition – wealthier looking, man; in a hurry; dressed in a light, smart, outfit as opposed to the lady musician all dressed in black and being virtually ignored. I said that if I were to take this photograph I would actually have spoken to the lady to make a connection with her and, maybe, find out more about her.
I actually got up very early, for me, and went into town at 7am to see it waking up. I took quite a few photographs but won’t post them now. They do give a sense of the town but they are too static I think. On with the rest of the day…
Preparing for the ‘documentary’ project
Martin Shakeshaft talked to us about the history of the picture story – the first photo story being credited as the 1948 photo essay by W. Eugene Smith, for Life Magazine, on the ‘Country Doctor’ Dr. Ernest Ceriani (brought to my attention by the WeareOCA Blog last August http://www.weareoca.com/photography/country-doctor/).
He then went on to suggest three questions which one could ask oneself before starting out on something – “Why am I doing this? What interests me? How will it be used?” I think these are very important questions, which is why I’m putting them in bold. The questions will help me to examine my interest more closely. For example, I constantly take photographs on our local Common but I hadn’t worked out what exactly it is that attracts me. It’s having access to this countrified space, encircled by busy main roads, on the edge of town. I can walk across the road and immediately be amongst greenery and trees in an area that has been used in similar ways for generations. It gives me a sense of my own place in time and a connection with what has gone before. Additionally there are the people who use the Common and how we all have different lifestyles and yet we come together there.
Martin then covered aspects such as how many pictures will be needed and key elements like the establishing shot; the pace of the narrative and different perspectives (focal length; aspect etc) so as to avoid visual boredom. He exampled these through showing us W. Eugene Smith’s photo essay, ‘Man of Mercy’ on Albert Schweitzer, Life Magazine, 1954.
There are many different types of picture story, such as sequential narratives; diptychs; triptychs; poetic/abstract/mood pieces; the use of a rostrum camera to move the camera across an image; still image with sound, and digital story-telling (short films usually less than 8 minutes). Here are 7 elements to consider as well: –
- Point of view/purpose
- Dramatic question
- Emotional content
- ‘Your’ voice
- The power of soundtrack to support and embellish (or the opposite of course!)
- Economy/Just enough content
Some good resources are: –
We were given a brief to produce a three-picture story, making sure that we obtained an establishing shot. The opportunities were to visit the old railway station where a lot of renovation work is being done on old engines; a Spring Fair being held at the Derbyshire Eco Centre; to walk around in town; photo opportunities around the town, or a nearby quarry which has been reclaimed for the community. I chose to go to the railway station and then the Fair.
a) The railway station
Due to health and safety concerns we had to wear a reflective jacket and we also had a brief safety talk from the health and safety officer. Then we were set loose onto the volunteer workers who were working a little further down. One of our group, Chris immediately got talking to them and, really, he laid the ground for us – so thanks very much indeed Chris. The volunteers were so friendly and eager to talk about what they were doing and it didn’t take long before they were calling us over, and closer, to look at what they were working on. I started to feel much more confident about talking to people whilst getting close to take photographs. I’ll discuss some of the photographs below. We spent so long there that we actually missed the next train to the Eco Centre and had to walk there. It was cold, threatening rain and very hilly!
b) The Fair
The Fair was very popular, despite the poor weather, and had lots of interesting demonstrations, exhibits; course information and eco-inspiration. I felt a little more inhibited because there were more people around but still felt able to walk around taking photographs, especially as there were so many other people doing the same thing.
It was well into the afternoon by then and we had to be back at the Glenorchy Centre to download our images and begin to edit them, before the talk by Stephen McLaren.
Processing our ‘documentary’ pictures
We gathered in small groups with the course leaders, although some people had brought their own laptops so worked alone. Myself and another participant worked with Martin Shakeshaft. I had already looked through mine and chosen three but Martin said, “let’s look through all of them and flag likely ones”. It was interesting to sit there and see how his finger hovered over the track pad on some of them, either hinting he wasn’t sure, or stopping at some I hadn’t thought were good enough. I’m only going to show a few here because I want to concentrate on learning points and will be using some later towards the exercises in People & Place.
If you feature someone’s eye-line then the viewer need to be able to follow it to see what that person is looking at. If you focus on something in their hands you need to get in closer to see what it is.
I think this one is okay
I tried to make this one grittier – seemed more in keeping with his character somehow – and I desaturated the colour slightly to add to this.
The overall feedback from Martin was that I can ‘see’ the image but I need to get in closer. That was advice already given by my tutor for AOP after she had seen my initial images from the Illustration & Narrative exercises. Honestly, I do go in much closer now and I don’t take so many photographs of the back of people. How close do I need to be without shoving my camera right into people’s faces – which is something I don’t want to do? That’s the challenge for me. My AOP tutor and now Martin, suggested using a prime lens around 28mm (full sensor size). Martin also suggested, alternatively, to stick my zoom lens by using tape so I couldn’t zoom. This is all obviously a whole new learning area for me.
There was a lovely lady there, Anne Menary who had created some quirky cards, which I really liked. She had some books there, which I thought where for sale but, sadly for me, were not. These are her working tools and Anne had created them by using old book covers and then inserting her working sketches and materials. We had quite a long chat and she also said that, every time she goes on holiday she creates this type of book inserting various souvenirs etc. Of course, they all reminded me of the wonderful sketch and logbooks I’ve seen both at the Farnham UCA end of year show and on WeareOCA, which make me feel so uncreative as well. I bought some of the cards Ann has produced (although I’ll probably keep them) and, using my new- found confidence, I asked her if she would pose for me:
Here she is and you can just about see the books in front of her. Anne does lessons at the Centre and, if I lived in Wirksworth, I would certainly go on one of them.
My final photograph here is one that I thought could make an establishing shot for the Fair
I was in two minds about it because I also took more general shots of the fair but this one appealed to me – as if the lady was having a conversation about what to look at next.
Stephen McLaren, Street Photographer
Stephen co-edited Street Photography Now (2010), which presents 46 contemporary street photographers, together with four essays and a ‘global’ conversation between leading street photographers which explores issues within the genre. By sheer chance my husband had bought me the book for Christmas, before I even knew that Stephen would be guest speaker on the Workshop. It is full of vibrant, candid shots which exemplify street photography as it is now.
Only one of Stephen’s own photographs appears in the book (the first page) and he told us that this was by chance as it fitted what was needed. this was by chance. It features the back of a young woman who is walking along with chestnut-brown, glossy hair flying around her. Stephen‘s talk was informal in the sense that he showed/talked about some of his personal, favourite photographs and showed us how he had been putting images together to produce books. As you can see from his website, his images are colourful and quite striking and you can see how closely he gets to people. We didn’t get to the discussion I would have liked to have had regarding the ethics of street photography, e.g. taking photographs of people who don’t want you to do so and taking photographs of people who are injured (see ‘Coupling’ on his website).
This was a more low-key day which I needed really because the previous day had been intense and tiring. I went off outside with a small group and Nick Lockett showed us various ways of using remotely-fired flash in natural light. One interesting effect was gained by setting tungsten light in WB, whilst putting an orange/warm gel on the flash. This gives a vivid blue sky whilst warming the subject’s face.
Once back inside, Martin Shakeshaft talked to us about Blurb books; ebooks and more aspects of digital story-telling using sound.
It’s a shame that the Workshop couldn’t have been held last year because I can say quite definitely that it would have been a wonderful lead-in to Assignment 5, Art of Photography . As it was, it was a very useful refreshment/reinforcement of what I learned in Art of Photography and a good lead-in to People and Place. I gained more confidence in asking people if I could take their photograph and took a lot of photographs which will be appearing in my new People and Place Blog. I also made a link with Mo, another OCA student who is currently studying People and Place and it was good to share notes with her.
I’ve looked at the resources given by Martin Shakeshaft. They are all excellent and I particularly like Photobus, (which is clear, user-friendly, informative and with lots of free content) and the Digital Story Telling Project.
Howarth, S & McLaren, S (Ed), Street Photography Now (2010), Thames & Hudson , London
Anne Menary: http://www.annemenary.com/
BBC Wales Digital Story Telling Project: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/yourvideo/queries/capturewales.shtml
Magnum in Motion: http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essays
30th April 2012