Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Assignment One - Assessment Submission (from 'Tied')


The second major topic of discussion with Jesse was the nature of my assessment submission for Assignment One.  My impression is that he would be perfectly happy with me submitting some mildly revised and re-edited versions of the images I sent to him back in May 2012; but I shared what I had been doing with the 'Tied' project, and he agreed that the work is 'interesting' and that I will submit a set of prints from this series, as a 're-submission' - "Entirely by your own choice".  I think the latter phrase was more an indication that I was voluntarily doing more work rather than a hint that I might be wise to leave well alone!  He did, quite rightly, encourage me to 'contextualise' this new submission in writing (coming up below); also to think about the sequencing (also coming up below); and to go with the simple 'deletions' on their own rather than the diptychs and triptychs.

My last post on this subject did do some contextualisation, but here is a more considered attempt to set out where these images come from and what they are about.

·     They do originate in a documentary-style interest in the phenomenon of the knotted strings, ropes and wires that adorn and fix almost every field gate in the neighbourhood - and indeed beyond this neighbourhood, as I have subsequently observed.  That idea alone had, and still has, potential for an interesting and visually effective set of images, which also have potential for broader, metaphorical readings - as hinted at by my title 'Tied'.

·     Working on that project and considering its presentation, I found myself thinking more about the 'craft' and 'process' of the image-making, and more about how others might read my presentation than about the subject and my intentions.  I spent time, for example, pondering what form of light would work best for these images - not untypical for this form of documentary/landscape work.

·     In parallel, though, I was researching and reading for my Assignment Four essay on contemporary still life image-making - the work of Lucas Blalock, for example; his use of post-processing and manipulation but also, coincidentally, the presence in his work of loops of tubing and other materials.  And I had also seen, for the second time, Mishka Henner's Less Americains, in which he has digitally removed parts of the Robert Frank images 'Les Americains'.  As Henner says in this interview, he was "... questioning the nature of photography and the nature of documentary photography".  He also says "I realized I was actually creating something new".

·     That led me to think about alternative ways of moving forward with my 'Tied' project.  Instead of the 'traditional' approach of getting the lighting and other 'craft' aspects right, were there deeper questions to be explored by, for example, taking Henner's lead and, in my case, deleting the very subject I had set out to photograph.  (Perhaps also worth adding that I began the process of selecting the string in one of the images as preparation for some other form of processing, but the idea of deletion partly grew from that.)

·     The six images presented all involve the deletion of the string or rope that was 'tied' to gates, fences or whatever in my original photograph.  In one case, the deletion has even gone a stage further, 'revealing' something that was not present in the original. The outcome is certainly something different from the original.  There are clear echoes of what was there before, but the images are now, potentially, also reflecting on the photographic process - the layers of influence of the photographer, the issues about truth and reality, for example.  Some of them open up new 'formal' ideas - the deleted subject seeming to come forward in the composition, as though it was a paper cut-out.  But there could be scope for new meanings and metaphorical readings.  Does the series raise questions about 'absence'?  Might there be reference to the gaps in life, missing aspects that we long to fill?  Chiefly, I have been interested by the ways in which this processing and manipulation (which has required considerable time and care!) has 'rewards' in evoking new and potentially more complex images than the original 'documentary' project might have revealed.

So then to the question of sequencing; how best to lay out the set of six images that I have selected for submission?  I have actually laid out two different sequences below - with quite different intentions.

The first format might be described as my Formal Sequence, ordering the images in a manner that seeks some formal progression of shapes, composition, framing, etc.  Here it is:







 
The second sequence could be referred to as a Narrative Sequence, and picks up on my idea that altering the images as I have opens up the possibility of more complex readings.  Without commenting specifically on any particular narrative, I present the following option.

 
 
 
 



This is quite an interesting comparison, for me, and it takes me right back to some issues in my own mind at the very start of this module, which have been partially but not entirely resolved.  I have, I would say, become very interested in what I might term the 'intellectual' exploration of photography, maybe at the expense of its 'emotional' potential.  That dilemma was troubling me, to an extent, as I started out on PwDP, but the 'intellectual' choice seems to have suited me well as the module has progressed.  It is, I would say, where I headed with Assignments Four and Five, and where this 're-make' of Assignment One has led me - until I look at the second sequence!  That could very well be read at an emotional and personal level.  I will make a choice between these two before sending in my submission - but I note that the dilemma is still not entirely resolved as I contemplate Level Three!

 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Assignment Five - Printing for Assessment


Amongst other matters that will come up later on here, my telephone tutorial session on 15th November included discussion about the form of my submission for Assignment Five.  Since the last post on here, I have:

·     Had a trial professional print made of image 5, Sydney Cricket Ground (chosen because it had the most 'challenging' shades of white in the background), done by Peak Imaging, a C-print, at 393mm by 588mm, on Fuji Matt, mounted on 2mm card.

·     Compared that with my own inkjet prints, made on the Epson R2880, with its Ultrachrome pigment inks, using Epson Professional Matte paper, at A3 plus.  Beautifully printed and finished as the big C-print might be, I conclude that the inkjets are marginally better for this assignment:

§  Better contrast, giving very sharp edges and a greater sense of 'physicality' in the 'assemblies'.

§  More vivid colours, which also suits these images, I believe;

§  A wholly non-reflective surface.

 
Comparison of the surfaces - Epson Matte left & Fuji Matt right

2mm card mounting works well & provides a highly professional finish 
The combined effect is that the inkjets get closer to the sense that this is an actual collage, rather than an image of a collage.
·     Discussed this conclusion with my tutor, who can understand the reasoning and who has discouraged me from agonising too much about the issue and about the size of the prints, at this level of submission.
·     We also discussed the idea of doing my own mounting and maybe experimenting with dry-mounting, using an iron!  Having watched some videos (admittedly not professionally presented) on You-tube, I have some doubts, but will come back to that.
·     Considered professional inkjet printing & had a sample pack of papers from Printspace.  Interestingly, only two papers from the pack caught my eye.  One was the Fuji Matt that the Peak trial was done on - with the issues above - and the other was Hahnemuhle Photorag, for its wholly matte surface.  The Hahnemulle is beautiful paper, but it also has a cream look, compared to the strong white colour of my Epson Professional Matte.  The Hahnemulle sample print is a mono, and I can see how it performs superbly for that purpose, but I am concerned that it will not be so good for the vivid colours in my own images. 
So, all-in-all, I end up back with my own prints, but with the need to try doing my own mounting - perhaps.  I do not want the result to look amateurish, obviously, but I plan to do some experimentation.  I also have some spray mount, so might give that a try, too.
 
 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Assignment Five - feedback

I received my feedback on Assignment Five at the end of last week, and I'm pleased to say that it was good.  Some of the highlights were - "... a really original and challenging take on the brief ..."; "... feels thoughtfully executed but is also irreverent and fun ..."; "... solid content and ... sound analysis ..."; and "... only criticism ... might have tried too hard ... (some images) ... have a few too many elements ...".  The latter point was accompanied by two qualifications - that he wasn't entirely convinced that it was an issue but it's a possible criticism some might see, and the clear advice that I certainly shouldn't do any more work on it.  Actually, I do agree with the comment.  Having never done anything like this before I was, even after looking at others' work, learning as I went along.  Some of the busiest pieces were amongst the first.  This was the very first, for example.




As the assignment progressed, I began to see that simpler and cleaner compositions worked best.  The one below is probably my personal favourite - and that is partly down to its simplicity.  Stezaker's collage work usually involves the juxtaposition of no more than two photographs - but it still leaves plenty of scope for 'reading' - and, whilst I wouldn't compare the image below to the quality of what he has produced, it does share the simplicity and it does still have plenty to say.
 
Interestingly, Jesse selected the one below as his favourite of the set.  In some ways, it is quite a busy and complex image, with lots of elements.  But the difference, I suspect, is in its 'cleanness'.  There is a lot of white space; the composition is more careful and structured; and it has more of an abstract look.  This one - although very different in subject matter and content - is closer, in a formal sense, to the recent Laura Letinsky work that partly inspired me.  That too combines lots of clean white space with intense patches of colour.


 
Feedback on my prints is also encouraging.  The "... quality is good ..." with the inkjet "... providing ... crisp resolution and vivid colour ...".  That's pleasing; I wanted to get a crispness into them.  My idea is that a casual viewer should be drawn by the visual attractiveness but also, initially, slightly unsure as to whether they are 'real' physical collages rather than photographs.  He has a very good suggestion to make - that they should be printed to the edge of the paper, with no borders.  I have already re-done them in that way - and it works well.  We are, of course, encouraged to leave small borders on prints for assessment submission, to aid handling.  But these images are different, with plenty of 'white' space around them that can easily be handled.  I hadn't really managed to work it out for myself - perhaps because I was locked into the need for border - but the multiple frame effect that results from there being white bordered images within the frame of the overall composition resulted in some unnecessary confusion for the eye.  Printed large with no borders, they look much better. 
 
The other suggestions on prints are - that I should at least experiment with lab printing, and that having them dry mounted on card would be good for assessment submission.  Again - agreed on both counts; unless the print feedback had been 'these are amazingly good, don't bother any further', I had all along felt that I should try the professional print approach.  And the dry mounting certainly makes good sense.  So - one image has gone off to Peak Imaging to be printed at around A2 size and card-mounted.  I've chosen one that has some very subtle shades of off-white in the background and some vivid colour as well, so it should be a good opportunity to make a comparison.  I don't mind the cost of going down the professional approach and I like the idea of a further 'push' in size, but I don't want to lose the crispness I referred to above. 
 
There was an issues with the background of one image.  One of the early ones, it had been assembled on ivory card rather than the white paper I used for all the others.  It is this one.
 



I don't mind the ivory, but I did mention its difference in my notes, and Jesse comments on it too.  So, I have used a combination of Photoshop and Lightroom adjustments to get it to look as follows.  I needed to retain contrast in the background, though, partly to keep the shadow effect and also because there are faint (and deliberate) traces of the tape that fixed some of the images to the board, which would have been lost had I brightened it too much.
 



Another small factor that arose from printing to the edge of the paper was the realisation that I had used two slightly different size ratios.  I've now amended those so that all six match - particularly important if I do get them all professionally printed and mounted. 

And finally, I've arranged to have a telephone tutorial next week, to discuss my assessment submission and to also discuss my move on to Level Three.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Study Visit - Tim Hetherington - Open Eye, Liverpool

Liverpool, iPhone image, definitely not by Tim Hetherington!
 
On Saturday, I attended an OCA Study Visit to the Liverpool Open Eye Gallery, where there is an exhibition of the work of conflict photographer, Tim Hetherington, who was killed whilst working during the Libyan conflict, in 2011.  The show is entitled 'You Never See Them Like This' and comprises still images, video and audio visual presentations taken mainly from his book, 'Infidel', published in 2010 and originating from his time embedded with American troops in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.  I am not, let me say from the start, greatly interested in or by war photography; and studies and reflections on truth and photography leave me with a degree of cynicism and concern about the genre of documentary photography - so I went along to the gallery expecting not to be particularly moved or inspired by what I saw.  In the event, whilst that basic assumption turned out to be broadly correct, there was more to take away from it than I had expected and I'm glad that I have seen it.
 
The exhibition is in three rooms.  In the first is a series of still images that provide a hint of the context but are chiefly about the young soldiers away from actual conflict.  They may be wrestling with each other; displaying unexplained wound-like marks on a bare stomach; slouched in full combat gear, clearly utterly exhausted; or curled up on small, uncomfortable-looking beds, fast asleep - but they are not, in these images, engaged with 'the enemy'.  One shows a roughly cut wooden outline of a 'well-endowed' naked man, propped at what looks like a sentry post or look-out point. There are no captions with any of these images, and so we are left to read them as we see fit.  The second room is devoted to an audio visual display comprising three sizeable screens, side by side, the centre of which mainly displays a series of further still images of 'Soldiers Sleeping' (the title of this piece), whilst the outer screens, and the accompanying soundtrack, show images of the men out on patrol, or of shell/rocket fire onto hillsides.  In one sequence, a soldier is confronted with the news of his friends death and we see/hear his distress and despair.  There is no text or commentary; we have only the images and the soundtrack; and we are left to draw our own conclusions, respond with our own emotions.  The third room has further stills of the young men away from conflict - almost always tightly framed images of more than one person, in close proximity, playing video 'games' on child-size plastic guitars, leafing (with no great enthusiasm) through magazine photos of naked women.  There are some close-ups e.g. of a tattooed arm, of a bullet lying on the ground in a strange red light - and more of young men 'larking about' e.g. one with a handwritten sign 'I love you' held in front of his face.  Again, there are no captions, but also in this room is a TV screen displaying Hetherington's video 'Diary' - a loosely assembled montage of stills and moving images, with soundtrack, providing a kind of 'stream of consciousness' narrative of the nature of his life as a conflict journalist.  There is, I should mention, an introductory text board at the start of the exhibition, in the first room, and a short video, that includes Hetherington himself speaking about his work and comments from some of his friends and associates.
 
·      My impression - based partly on comments in the introductory video but also in response to the images themselves - is that Tim Hetherington was genuinely trying to do something different  here.  He more or less said that he was not interested in photographing the conflict but in capturing what it was like to be a group of young American blokes spending this time, together, in a combat zone.  That might partly have been a response to the restrictions associated with the policy of 'embedding' journalists, but the outcome, for me, was a more interesting and more human piece of work.  I was left, strangely enough, with the thought that images resulting from a period 'embedded' with an urban 'gang', or even with the local football club, might have produced a not dissimilar set.  It isn't necessarily a particularly surprising outcome - that these young men share many similar characteristics with other young men - but it is, perhaps, worth saying in the context.
 
·      There have been suggestions that the photographs of these soldiers sleeping lends them a kind of innocence.  That I didn't see and don't accept.  They did not come across as any more or less innocent than any other group of their peers.  We never see 'the enemy' and we never see the global or local context of the conflict in which they're involved - so, in that sense, they are presented as 'innocent' of what might be perceived in some quarters as brutal acts of international bullying, meddling or whatever - but taking this exhibition at its face value, they are not innocent, just normal.
 
·      I referred to the lack of accompanying text earlier; there are no captions, titles, or anything with the still images.  It was very clearly the intention of the curators to allow viewers to respond to the images in whatever way they chose - a sound approach, I'd say, in this case.  It does encourage the viewer to dwell on their visual and emotional response, I think, rather than focussing on a particular narrative directed by the photographer or curator.
 
·      The 'Sleeping Soldiers', audio visual piece was the outstanding work, for me - and clear evidence that Hetherington was working with a broad range of media and techniques.  This was confirmed by his colleagues speaking in the introductory video, who suggested that he was ahead of most others in his thinking about conflict image-making and presentation, with, probably, plenty more to deliver when he was killed.  Which leads to another thought - the iconic status that an early death brings to artists; rock and pop musicians being the classic, but not only, example.  Would this exhibition have been different if he was still alive?  Well it would obviously have had more input from him - but would it have taken place at all?  How is our reading of his work changed by his death?  Do we judge it more or less harshly?  One hopes it might make no difference, but I sense that it does.  For one thing, there is an end to his oeuvre, a completeness, a box of work to look at and form a judgement, uninterrupted by new and ongoing activity.  It probably doesn't make a huge amount of difference, but it inevitably came up in discussion on Saturday.
 
·      But also inevitable, I guess, are questions about the whole genre of war or conflict photography.   Is it necessary? What does it achieve? How meaningful is it in the context of 'embedding'?  Is it sometimes more about the photographer than the message/subject?  As I said above, it has never been an area that greatly appealed to me and I could easily take the more 'negative' line in responding to all these questions.  This exhibition didn't change any of that - but then I'm not entirely sure I would classify it as 'conflict'.  What it did change, I think, was my view of Tim Hetherington.  Presented in the media as a war/conflict journalist of high standing and bravery, somewhat glorified after his death, he had, I admit, seemed like an 'alien' type of artist to me.  That was wrong.  Better informed and having seen his work at close quarters, I can see that he was a thoughtful, creative and caring individual - addicted to conflict, yes, by his own admission; inevitably sanctified by an early death, yes, probably; but deserving of the praise and respect that others have bestowed on him, yes, I think so.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Assignment Three - Fine-tuning the Video

My last post on Assignment Three was way back in April - here - when I'd just spent some time making further improvements to my video response to Paris Photo 2012.  I did get some further helpful comments from my tutor, but had simply had enough of the assignment by that stage and decided to leave any further work until I was getting ready for assessment.

Jesse felt that it was definitely stronger, but that there was still too much movement; that the use of an image of 'Leeds Market' was a bit 'too obvious'; and that the shot of the fish on a stall, which had previously looked rather like it had dropped in by accident, was now on screen for a bit too long.  Looking back at the video some months later, I can agree with all those points; and I also felt that the start was a little too abrupt, with the 'coin drop' sound coming in more or less immediately at 'play'.  So, I've made a few more amendments and the latest version is here.

Assignment Two - Preparing a 'mock-up'



Whilst awaiting feedback on Assignment Five, I've spent some time thinking ahead to work that needs doing before my Assessment Submission. I've got in excess of three months before then, but there are a few jobs that can usefully be dealt with.  One of those was to go back to Assignment Two - my book cover for 'The Outsider'.  The original feedback was very positive, so there doesn't appear to be much more to be done to improve the image itself, but I decided to 'mock-up' my own version of the book, using an old copy from my own bookshelves.  So, the version illustrated above now has the original 'blurb' from the back of the jacket; and I've added 'Penguin' logos to the front, spine and back - sized and coloured to work with my design.  It seems to work well and I'll make it part of my final submission next year.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Looking at the art of Abelardo Morell - and making connections

The name Abelardo Morell did not, I have to admit, seem familiar to me when I opened the article about him in October's British Journal of Photography - more shame me!  The first of several 'connections' was made as I looked at the first image featured in that article:

The Empire State Building in Bedroom, 1994
(Courtesy of Abelardo Morell and Edwynn Houk Gallery)

My very first thought was of 'collage/montage/inversion' and a link to John Stezaker, about whom I had written only a few days earlier - here.  It isn't collage, of course, as I could quickly appreciate, but the connections were underway!  And, collage or not, the juxtaposition of two seemingly dissociated 'images' to arrive at a new meaning is certainly in line with Stezaker.

Reading on about Morell's Camera Obscura works and exploring his range further online, I was (and remain) puzzled as to why I don't find references to him in the considerable array of photography and art books in my collection; but the use of swathes of black plastic to convert a room into the camera obscura did ring a bell somewhere - and led me to the 'Genius of Photography' series that the BBC did in 2006/7.  Sure enough, there he is, in the first few minutes of the first programme, right behind Kert├ęz's 'Meudon' photograph, draping a palatial Venetian interior in black plastic, cutting that crucial small hole, and creating this:


Santa Maria della Salute in Palazzo Livingroom, Venice, Italy 2006
(Courtesy of Abelardo Morell and Edwynn Houk Gallery)

I am reassured!
 
'The Universe Next Door', a recently published monograph, largely picks up the story of Morell's photography from 1986 onwards.  He was 38 by then, a father for the first time; was teaching photography, with a Masters from Yale; and must have had some seriously formative life experiences since being born in Cuba, seeing his father arrested by the post-revolutionary government, moving to New York (with little or no English) at the age of 13, and studying under Tod Papageorge at Yale - to mention just a few.  But 1986 seems to have seen a significant change of direction.  In a sense, he came indoors, from street photography, to create different, more thoughtful, more contemplative, more experimental images.  He accredits the change to becoming a father - both from an attitudinal viewpoint (seeing the world through new eyes) and from a practical one (spending time caring for his new son).  Since then, as is illustrated in the book and on his website, his range has included images of books, artworks, museums, 'still life', photograms, paper cut-outs, as well as the camera obscura and its more recent descendant, his 'tent camera'.
 
What comes across very strongly to me, as a student of, and late-comer to, photography, is an ever-present enthusiasm and fascination for the process of photographic image-making.  All these images seem to interrogate the medium, probing and seeking out the possibilities.  So, in that respect, there is an intellectual quality to them.  But at the same time, they are interesting images in their own right - as though there is something for the casual beholder as well as the curator and the academic.  These two, quite different, examples demonstrate the point.  Light Bulb, 1991 was created to illustrate the optical principles of photography to his students (and to delight them in those principles, too, as with the camera obscura).  I like the use of a crude cardboard box on an old table top - the 'homely' physicality feels close to some of my own efforts in the last few months (here).  Yet the image appeared in a poster and brochure cover for MOMA in 1992.  That seemingly simple, homemade set up has something fundamental to say about photography's ability to transform and re-present.  Likewise - albeit in a very different way - Nadelman/Hopper, 2008.  On the face of it, another apparently simple juxtaposition (of two artworks) - but the 'magic' of the photographic transformation, the careful framing and lighting, produce an image that is both attractive in its own right but also open to multiple readings.
 
At a personal level, I am encouraged by a quote from Morell in the BJP article.  Referring to his 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' illustrations, he says, "I thought I would make pictures that are very low tech, with pages taken out of the book and stuck together with tape."  I wish I'd read that a few weeks ago when I was thinking about my most recent assignment - here!  This is a good example:
 

It Was Much Pleasanter At Home, 1998
(Courtesy of Abelardo Morell and Edwynn Houk Gallery)

 
Looking at the 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' series, I can feel the physical delight in cutting, copying, resizing, cutting some more, juxtaposing, assembling, lighting, etc ... and then, eventually, seeing that finished outcome - turning out, perhaps, even better than he expected.  I had thought about attempting to create three-dimensional 'assemblies' for my own assignment and this encourages me to go back to that idea at some stage.  However, one can respond to the process of creating these images in a broader and more fundamental way.  These may be illustrations for a children's story, but they confirm to me the immense scope that exists for experimentation in different manners of 'photographic' response to the world around us.
 
Abelardo Morell's own experimentation has taken him on to the 'tent camera', a moveable camera obscura equipped with periscope, prisms etc, that has enables him to go out into the landscape and create images of the world projected onto the ground within the tent.
 

Tent Camera Image on Ground: View of the Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California 2012
(Courtesy of Abelardo Morell and Edwynn Houk Gallery)
 

So, once again, two very different images/elements are combined to seek a new meaning.  Interesting as they are, I feel less of a personal response to these images - truthfully.  They have something painterly about them, which Morell himself identifies; and there is a possible reference to pixels in some, such as above.  (He does now use digital methods.)  But most significant of all, for me, is the ongoing desire to explore the possibilities and the different ways in which photography can look at the world - 'The Universe Next Door'.  In her introductory essay in the book of that name,  Elizabeth Siegel, Associate Curator in the Department of Photography at The Art Institute of Chicago, says that "... Morell has watched developments in contemporary photography with interest and has at times, he says, felt like a defender of photography to those who proclaim its demise."  She goes on to say that, "He maintains his belief, even in the present age of digital convenience, that the photograph must be worked for and earned; he continues to delight in conceiving pictures and laboring towards their execution." Coming as I do, from an entirely digital introduction to photography, I sometimes wonder whether I have missed out by not pursuing the detailed exploration of its original methods.  Chances are that many - perhaps including Abelardo Morell (and certainly some OCA tutors!) - would say that I have.  But I have neither the time nor feel the inclination to do so at present and, crucially, it is in those notions of 'working for' and 'earning' the image that the key lessons lie here, whether it is executed by digital methods or any other.
 
It is good, as a student (even a decidedly mature one), to study artists that are new to one and to feel some sense of connection with what they are doing and their approach to their art.  There are reassuring, inspiring and, also, challenging connections in looking at Abelardo Morells work, and I will continue to look in more detail as I press on with my own journey of exploration through the medium of photography.
 
'Postscript Connections'
 
I'm tucking this away as an anecdotal 'postscript' to avoid any idea that it is anything other than a light-hearted reference to my own work in the context of Morell.  But - I couldn't help recalling some photographs that I made almost seven years ago, a few weeks after acquiring my first digital SLR camera.  Having played with it for a while, I made myself put the camera on a tripod, turn the dial to 'Manual', point it at a few 'objects' on an old table, and begin to think more carefully about what I was doing.  Honestly, these are two of the first 'thoughtful' photographs that I made!