Part 5 : Narrative and Illustration
Preparing for Assignment 5 (3) : Subjects and cover illustration
From the beginning I’ve wanted to base this Assignment around Horsell Common. I live opposite and go there just about every day with our dogs. It was good that I also managed to have a go at Geocaching which was something else I wanted to do, and combine this with the Common as well. I enjoyed playing around with the images and it was good practice for putting a sequence together. I decided they wouldn’t be right somehow for the Assignment though.
The author H. G. Wells had a connection with the Woking area. He had the Martians landing on the large sandpit on the Common in his book “War of the Worlds”. All paths lead into the Sandpit. It is still a ‘stage’ – a place where walkers and dogs often congregate; people picnic; children play and horses skirt around it. I photograph there regularly and decided to use images taken during January and February this year – mainly of one particular event. This was so that I could stay to some extent within the ‘sequence’ theme in terms of action and also confine myself somehow – otherwise I would just go on and on taking photographs because I find the Common so interesting. The overarching theme though is the use that people make of the Common:-
The event began for me at the point where there was suddenly a large file of children coming down one of the paths, shepherded by adults. The children were all dressed in green, chattering gaily and skipping around but in a fairly orderly fashion. We followed along after them.
I’m not going to include any more of the images at this point but wait until I’ve decided upon all the ones I want to use for the Assignment ‘story’.
I’ve been working for some time on a personal project of mine which involves putting together some letters and photographs from the 1940s, writing a commentary and compiling a book. My ambition was to do it all myself rather than using software like Blurb and, to this end, I acquired Adobe InDesign. Vicki, one of my fellow students, is an expert on InDesign and kindly put together a 1:1 training session to put me through the basics. Knowing that I was approaching Assignment 5, Vicki also suggested I collect some magazines together to have a look at layouts and covers. Big thanks to Vicki for all her encouragement and support.
My aim for the cover illustration was to have something inviting, colourful and interesting which would set the scene for my overarching theme of how people use the Common. My idea for the title would be “Let’s Meet on the Sandpit”. I immediately ran into some challenges though when I looked through the photographs. The Common is quite heavily wooded and so is often shadowed in places. Colours tend towards brown and green and there is a darkish blue tinge to the soil. It was winter so there was less sun/light. Photoshop can obviously help with all this but there was another challenge. A lot of the photographs I take on the Common are in landscape format but images on magazine covers are usually in portrait format. This meant I would have to do some careful crops.
With the photograph above I would have to choose between horses and people with dogs because the people are almost at the edge of the frame. Also, I’d been using a new Canon G12 quite a lot at the beginning of the year which meant that the quality of cropped photographs would be more compromised than with my 500D.
This crop was the widest I could manage but the people look confined.
I wanted to keep the white dog but when I consulted my husband he said that this crop made everything look too cramped. I reluctantly re-cropped so that the white dog was no longer there and now people, the other dogs and horses had room to move.
The next image was actually taken at the side of the Sandpit where people were gathered together under the tree:-
This had potential as it cropped quite well, fits the theme and could be intriguing. It seemed static though, I looked for others that had more action and were also actually taken in portrait format:-
These didn’t grab me in quite the same way as the first images.
The one above is just a tree. The silver birch gives contrast with the green leaves, plus there is some blue sky, but there is no action. Interestingly enough, at the weekend I showed all my cover ideas to a friend of mine asking her which ones would attract her to buy if she saw such a magazine in a shop. One of her comments was that some people don’t like dogs or horses so might well give that type of cover a miss and, therefore, the tree was more neutral.
I wanted to have a go at a title and the one above was my first attempt. I was reliably informed that in design circles it’s generally frowned upon to put a different coloured outline (stroke) around text – I’d put a yellow stroke around the black magazine title. I’ve now changed all the wording to yellow and it stands out against the background. That was another aspect I realised – that you have to think carefully how the colour of the cover image background will affect any wording.
I’ve spent much longer on this Assignment than on my previous ones. One ray of hope came from listening to a recent interview on the Radio 4 Book Programme. Alan Hollingsowrth, who wrote The Line of Beauty was telling his interviewer that he wrote between 200 and 300 words per day. There are 300 pages in the edition I looked at so at the rate of 11 words to a line and 32 lines to a page it means it took him around a year to write this book.
I’ve found all this process quite challenging and felt stressed-out at times but have been determined to work through it. I’ve learned lots as a result about formats, backgrounds and placing text. Now I have to sort out the images to use for the ‘story’ and make a final decision on the cover.
14th March 2012
Part 5 : Narrative and Illustration
Following my tutor’s suggestions on other photographers to look at
In her feedback on assignment 4, my tutor suggested that I have a look at the work of Chris Steele Perkins and Josef Koudelka (both with Magnum) during my preparation for Assignment 5.
Chris Steele Perkins (1947-)
I had looked before at his work having read feedback on the Study Visit to the Open Eye on 2nd January this year in We are OCA . His Exhibition there was The Pleasure Principle 1989. I wasn’t able to go on that particular Study Visit but the student feedback/discussion was interesting and varied in terms of how the Exhibition was mounted; the photographer’s motivations for choosing his particular subjects, and how this might be connected with his own experiences as a non-white, non-English person. Chris Steele Perkins was born in 1947 in Rangoon and came to England with his father in 1949. His first book The Teds was published in 1979.
I couldn’t access the images from The Pleasure Principle on his personal website but they are on the Magnum website . They are acutely observed, bright , and colourfully vivid – complementing a, maybe, wry view of the exuberant way in which some of us enjoy ourselves in this Country. They certainly invite me to raise my eyebrows at some of the events portrayed.
However, he has photographed many other situations, including in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was published in 2000 in collaboration with the Afghan poet Sayd Bahodine Majrouh. The Magnum site states he “…has created a profoundly personal homage and celebration of Afghanistan” and that he felt the appropriate response to the Country was a photography book that transcends journalism. The photographs (taken over several visits to Afghanistan) are black and white and the tones are beautifully rendered. They show the people in their everyday lives, at work and play. Yes – the soldiers are there and one can see crumbling/damaged buildings. Overall, though, there is that sense of the human spirit surviving and everyday life continuing despite it all. I have ordered the book because I want to touch and feel it.
There we have almost polar opposites of ways in which one photographer creates narrative through photography.
Josef Koudelka (1938-)
My tutor first mentioned Josef Koudelka when we had an introductory telephone conversation at the start of this course. She said that some of the photographs of mine she had seen on my Flickr site reminded her of him. Obviously, I eagerly looked him up on the web straight away but I just couldn’t see any resemblance. I still can’t although I wish I could! I couldn’t find a personal website but an internet search informed me that he is a Czech photographer, born in 1938 who is particularly famous for his work on Gypsies (in Czechoslovakia, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece) and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Russians in 1968. I am old enough to remember the invasion – how I had rejoiced when the Czechs appeared to be successful in claiming their nationhood and my dismay when it failed. I can actually still remember hearing that news on the radio that day and then seeing the film on (black and white) tv. Koudelka’s images of that time are excellent of course, but what they don’t do for me is portray that sense of dismay, defeat and fall from hope that I experienced at the time.
Photographs by Koudelka appear in Magnum Magnum (2009). This is a book in which, “… current Magnum photographers select and critique six key works of another of the 69 photographers featured, with a commentary explaining their choice”. David Hurn has chosen photographs from the years 1960vand 1964 (Prague), 1968 (Romania), 1968 (Prague), 1987 and 1989 (France). If I think of narrative, the third one leaps out at me. A man and a horse in Romania (1968). The man, a gipsy, squats looking up at the horse. His hands make eloquent gestures. His left hand is pointed downwards, between his knees, to the ground. His right hand, forming a diagonal with the left, is slightly cupped with the fingers slightly splayed and his thumb appearing to be pointing to the horses head. The horse stands looking motionless; head looking downwards, seemingly towards the man’s right hand – ears forwardly erect as if listening. They are communicating somehow. I think it is a beautiful image – silvery looking horse, with rough striped dark blanket; lower legs dirtied. This is a working horse. The darker, mustachioed man, wearing even darker hat and clothing, but his fingernails gleam. Was this posed? I don’t know and the commentary doesn’t say. Even if it was, the horse still appears to be in communication with the man and the viewer can speculate upon their story. Here’s a link to the image on the Magnum site.
In another book, Eamonn McCabe (2008) discusses the techniques and approaches employed by his chosen photographers. There is another photograph of Gypsies taken around 1970 – three men indoors, gazing directly at the viewer. They form a backlit triangle framed by the dark doorway against light streaming through the window which appears to have a half-drawn blind against it. McCabe conjectures that they were maybe showmen of some sort and describes their mood as one of defiance, linking it with “….a culture in decline and the way Koudelka has boxed them into the dark space” which makes them look penned in (p. 44). The image is again perfectly composed and I assume it has been staged – for light, shade, make a statement, set a mood? The photographic acknowledgments at the back of the book (p.143) state that the prints reproduced are held in the Collection of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, Yorkshire. I have searched the site several times but been unable to locate this one.
Andre Kertesz (1894-1985)
This is another photographer who recently commanded my attention when I went to an Exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath, organised in partnership with the National Media Museum, entitled Art of Arrangement: Photography and the Still Life Tradition . The image is a poster for the International Museum of Photography in New York. We are looking through a doorway towards the foot of some curving stairs with a handrail to match. On the left of the doorway there is a bowl of flowers on a table. A simple, elegant composition in black and white, showing the contrasting interplay between light and shadow. I appreciated this image so much that I looked up Kertesz and discovered that, between 1915 and 1970, he had collected together a series of images on reading which had been published as a book. I love reading and the idea of this book really appealed to me so I bought it.
On Reading was first published in 1971, but reprinted in 2008 with a preface by the curator of his Estate – Robert Gurbo. It is a small, slim book (portrait size) containing 66 black and white photographs taken in places in the United States, Japan, France and Venice. There are no captions (they don’t need them), just a photograph on every page in a variety of formats. The images celebrate the ‘power and pleasure of reading’ and are a joy to look and ponder upon. Each one tells a story as I see the people reading; the locations; the clothes they are wearing and wonder what they are reading.
I’ve realised that I’m spending much more time now when I look at photographs – enjoying them (of course) but also analyzing exactly what it is that appeals to me and how the effect is gained. I move back and forth between colour and black and white trying to decide which I prefer but then do I really have to make a choice? For me colour celebrates the vibrance of life and reflects what I can see around me. Black and white distils the essence of an image down to light, shade, tone and form. People can often end to become archetypes in its fine art form and represent continuity of emotion and experience. I hope I’m now becoming more able to reflect upon what it is I want to achieve with my photography and how I might be able to go about it.
13th March 2012
- Kertesz, A (2008) On Reading, W.W. Norton & Co, New York and London.
- Lardinois, B (ed) 2009, Magnum Magnum, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
- McCabe E. (2008), The making of great photographs, David & Charles Ltd, Cincinnati, OH
Ideas for subject themes
Last month I wrote about my two ideas regarding a subject for the Assignment. These were Geocaching or my local Common. My first experience of Geocaching arrived soon afterwards (see earlier post) and I enjoyed it. The photographs I took were more of an experiment to see if it was possible to photograph something while I was more of a participant than an observer. The idea was okay but the photographs weren’t that exciting. However, I had another opportunity a couple of weeks ago when Doug and Ollie came to stay again. This time I decided to use two cameras. I’ve been experimenting with the Holga lens I bought recently for my Canon 500D. I thought that could be good for producing more dreamlike images of a treasure hunt. Additionally, I decided to take my Canon G12 as it should be quicker to use and need less attention on focussing. I had an idea of using photographs from the latter to make up a story for Doug and he liked that idea.
Entering the wood
Let’s have a lookout to see if anyone is around. I can see that lady there with her dogs. She looks very busy with them so maybe we shouldn’t ask her any questions about the treasure and where we can find it.
There are more people here, but I think we should just carry on walking.
I think this is a magic tree. Maybe the treasure is buried under its roots.
Are we ever going to find this treasure?
I like the Holga lens as it can give a good effect with light and shadows. The sequence of events is as it happened but I’m not sure it would be suitable for the purposes of the Assignment. We were in a wooded area and the images are quite dark on the whole.
I turned then to look at the photographs from the G12. The idea in my head was to see if I could make them look more like story book images by using the dry brush in the Artistic filters.
Off they went into the wood. Ollie found a piece of wood which he said would make a good gun to frighten off any monsters. “I think we’re lost.”, said Doug. “Oh dear!”, Ollie said What shall we do now?”. Ollie felt a bit scared in this dark wood. He was glad Doug was with him.
There were all those people on the sandpit. What could they be doing? Doug wondered if they were looking for the treasure as well because they had so much equipment and what looked like sand diggers. He decided not to say anything to Ollie about it in case he got more scared.
“Oh, look Ollie!”, said Doug, “That looks like a policeman on his horse. I’m sure he’ll keep an eye on us from a distance. Let’s just pretend we’re playing in the sandpit and our mum and dad aren’t so far away”.
“I’m sure that treasure is somewhere near here because this looks like the place I saw on the map on the computer”. Doug really wasn’t too sure but he wanted Ollie to cheer up.
“What’s wrong Doug?”, Ollie said. “I’m getting a bit tired and hungry now and I think we’d better go back home because mummy might be getting our tea ready”, replied Doug. “Oh that’s a good idea”, said Ollie. “Let’s go back now”.
I probably haven’t got quite the right wording for a seven year old but I can ask Doug to help me. We can make up the story together and then Doug can read it to Ollie.
WordPress hasn’t behaved itself in allowing me to position the images as I wanted to. I’ve re-edited several times but it still won’t co-operate!
These are only a selection of the photographs I took so, either way, I can create a longer story. The magazine could be a children’s magazine or maybe a monthly magazine for parents containing short picture stories they can read to children at bedtime. The holga images have an interesting effect but probably don’t fit so well into the idea of a treasure hunt, unless I make it more of a dreamlike, almost nightmare story (not too good for bedtime). My preference from these two would be the second set. I’ve given them a more artistic effect though than pure photograph. Does that make them unsuitable for the Assignment? I need to think about that. There is also the cover illustration to consider which would take me more time than I want to use.
I’m already over time with this Assignment – my last one for The Art of Photography – and I don’t want to make it too late for the submission date for the July assessment. I will definitely do the story book for Doug and Ollie though. Oh yes. I forgot to mention that we didn’t find the treasure, which was why the boys were getting tired and hungry. My GPS stopped working for a while and we went off the track. I went back the next day and found it so will have to take them back. I think they deserve to find a special treasure.
9th March 2012