Category Archives: Part 1

Thoughts on Part One

What was your idea of documentary photography before you worked on Part One?
How would you now sum it up?

My initial thoughts on documentary photography saw it as a genre documenting truth and reality with fairly strict boundaries creatively. A method to record a story, record history, important social or political events.

I now see it has more possibilities and fluidity creatively. Ideas can be presented in a unique creative way to tell a story rather than simply recording a series of events with a camera, shots could be staged to represent a thought process or message as part of the overall story. I guess that’s where the artistic element seeps in. The work of Paul Seawright was a good example of this, reflecting many years after an event in his documentary photography in an unconventional way.

What are the differences between documentary, reportage, photojournalism and
art photography?

I think the genres were maybe once more defined, they have now become or are becoming less clear which could be a good thing as genre definitions are not always accurate but they do help to understand  a topic when learning.

For me Documentary photography is a more in depth study of a subject matter, a more detailed approach whereas the likes of photo-journalism and reportage relates more to the news media for example in the tabloids, magazines and new channels and used to support a news story. You could say the difference between Panorama and the 10’oclock News on the BBC.

There has been some interesting reading and learning for me through part one of this unit but I have also found a lot more that I don’t like, this is a voyage of discovery and it is always best to be honest with yourself along the journey. I am deeply sceptical of news media, I find like a lot of people these days that I don’t really know who to trust and it can feel that way sometimes with the photography that supports it.My body cringes and tightens with frustration at the thought of Commercial Photography and Advertising. Street Photography….argh! I understand other photographers thrive on it, or its how they earn a living, their bread and butter. That’s totally kewl but its not me and I don’t want to focus my energy too strongly in that direction if I can help it. I have a really strong interest in Wildlife, Nature, the Environment and Landscape photography. It lifts me up and inspires me. I am really developing an interest for Photography that reflects on the Social mood or commentary and the power of self creation through Art Photography.

It is all part of developing a personal voice, a personal understanding of the world and where I fit or don’t fit in,  that really fascinates me.

 

‘The Real and the Digital’

Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography:
A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75. You’ll find this
on the student website.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both
sides of the argument and make some notes in your learning log.

This is an interesting question and makes me query whether a photograph is really a definitive record of truth or just a subjective version of the truth. The editing and manipulation of photographs is nothing new, I recall reading through an excellent photo book Stonehenge:A History in Photographs by Julian Richards, which is a collection of found and archival photographs. Within the book is an old black and white photograph dated around 1910-11 of a plane flying over Stonehenge. The photograph is a composite image with the plane never really flying over Stonehenge. So even back then photographs were being creatively manipulated to produce radically false images. Also as we have seen in this part of the unit the spooky spirit photography created by the likes of William H Mumler in the 1860’s using double exposures.  It would seem therefore that there has always been an ability to manipulate a photograph and create something which wasn’t actually captured in camera.

Digital technology is a useful tool to edit photographs and create some stunning imagery, the imagination has no limits. I consider the likes of Photoshop to be just another tool and very much an element of the artistic side of photography, where you can make the image your own as an artist. I do think its important in what context the use of digital technology is used, I would be more accepting for an artistic piece of photographic work to have been manipulated than say an important part of news coverage where I would expect definitive, pure, real truth. I think that the lines have become blurred a little now and its kind of acceptable to a degree to have some creative manipulation if its for the purpose of delivering the message in a unique way. Ethically as photographers we have to tread a fine line, so I think it depends on the circumstances and context.

The camera itself can also distort reality and perspectives, regardless of the digital technology, certain lenses have the ability to appear to bring objects closer or push them further away, the wide angle lens, the telephoto lens, the fish-eye lens. Also as a photographer I can purposefully manipulate and distort ‘reality’ simply by where I stand and by what I choose to include or not include within the frame, I could turn the camera upside down if I really wanted to or stand on my head and take a photograph (but that would be truly mental and probably intensely amusing to everyone else).

When I look back at the use of photography through history I tend to think of it as a means to record history. Like a historical artefact perhaps like a piece of broken pottery. If you look up in the Oxford dictionary an artefact is defined as the following an object made by a human being, typically one of cultural or historical interest“.  That kind of sums up photography for me in many ways. I think there is a place for truth in current photography, it is important to question who is taking the photograph, why they are taking the photograph and what they are taking the photograph for. But as any good historian (or fan of Time Team!) would tell you, you don’t base your truth, your reality solely on one artefact. So if you are looking for truth about an event you need to collect multiple pieces of evidence. Having said that I do worry that today’s society would believe almost anything you put in front of them if you told them it was from a ‘credible’ source!

Project 5 The manipulated image

Instead of using double exposures or printing from double negatives we now have
the technology available to us to make these changes in post-production, allowing
for quite astonishing results.

Use digital software such as Photoshop to create a composite image which visually
appears to be a documentary photograph but which could never actually be.

4

Twins meeting for the first time

For this photograph I wanted to create a meeting of two individuals, twins. To create this image I set my camera up on a tripod to keep the framing exactly the same. I checked the exposure with a couple of test shots, then took a number of shots in Manual mode, setting the exposure and the camera to trigger from the remote with a 2 sec delay. I selected the two images which I felt fitted best and then blended the images in Photoshop Elements 14 using layers and used the eraser tool with a feathered brush on one layer to reveal the layer beneath. I followed a tutorial I found on line here: How To Blend Images Together EASILY! – Adobe Photoshop CC – Tutorial #11

I blended the two photographs below to get my final image.

As I don’t have an identical twin, this photograph is completely unreal but the blending of the two photographs gives the false impression of two of me within the frame. I can’t think of a situation where I would particularly want to do this but its great to explore the possibilities that are out there with technology. I can see that there would be endless artistic possibilities for doing this, I have seen some amazing composite images on line blending beautiful portrait photography with landscape images. I would avoid this with traditional documentary photography, it just isn’t appropriate in my view.

Sarah Pickering – Public Order

Look at some more images from this series on the artist’s website.

How do Pickering’s images make you feel?

When I first saw the images I thought they were crap (I am just being honest here but stick with me!) however I thought the framing of the images was interesting as its how I would have framed the shots myself. I wondered why someone had taken a load of photographs of a film set, I mean why bother, what’s the point? On deeper observation I started to get intrigued by the images, I saw all the surveillance cameras, the grey dreary Orwellian bleakness of what we might become as a society. The concrete jungle I despise. The apocalypse has come. Its all totally subjective, I know.  The images are all devoid of any people (also something I would likely create myself), shot before or after an event.

I liked the image ‘Semi-detached’ where the photographer has shot head on the front of a semi detached property, the frame almost split exactly down the centre but slightly off, on the left the green door to the property is closed whilst the door to the right is open showing what looks like a green field. There are scorch marks from burning on the kerbs and part of the wall. Something here isn’t quite right. It draws me into the image, I want to go through that door! A great shot.

The image ‘River Way (Roadblock)’ shouts riot to me, anarchy on the streets, the 2 old cars indicate a roadblock ahead, there is more surveillance on the left and much further down the street, every corner of the street is covered with surveillance. It is now clear from the building on the left its just a façade and trickery, these are not real houses and this is a stage without any actors.

The photographs would have a whole different feel if there were Police practising for riots in them and that is clearly the point. It works very effectively.

It was harsh of me to say the work is crap, it isn’t but it is how it made me feel initially, it got my back up, which got my attention and that fascinates me.

Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Its not what you would expect and that’s why it works. Sarah Pickering could have filled the images with Police in the frame practising rioting but it was a concious decision to exclude them. It says more by excluding something within the image than including it. As Pickering states in the video clip I watched, the images show:

‘more power’….they are… ‘more evocative than action shots’

I can see now that including the rioting would have distracted from the message the photographer was looking to portray. I think it is an effective use of the documentary style which has challenged my own preconceptions, which can only be a positive thing.

Reference:

Sarah Pickering website – ‘Public Order’

Sarah Pickering on Public Order and Explosions Series – YouTube

Project 4 The gallery wall – documentary as art

Research point

Look online at Paul Seawright’s work, Sectarian Murders.

How does this work challenge the boundaries between documentary and art? Listen
to Paul Seawright talk about his work at: http://vimeo.com/76940827 [accessed
24/02/14]

I viewed the ‘Sectarian Murder’ work by Paul Seawright on line.

I also viewed another short interview on YouTube with Paul Seawright Art of the Troubles – Artist Paul Seawright

The images document in retrospect sites of sectarian murders of innocent civilians during the 1970’s in Northern Ireland. The images have the date along with extracts from newspapers at the time of the murders underneath, with any indication of religious inclination (Protestant or Catholic) removed. Seawright explains in the YouTube interview how it is also about time, the passing of time between the murders and his photographs, along with the time between his photographs and the viewer seeing the images in the present, about ‘how the landscape repairs very quickly’.

The images take a reflective, retrospective view on the troubles in Northern Ireland, many years after the events. By not recording the actual event or the direct aftermath of the events, it has given the photographer space to add a personal artistic viewpoint where a lot of time has passed by, you could say the work is staged, it certainly feels that way to me. The challenge must be to photograph a subject like this in a different unique way.

There is a definite, predetermined, thought out process in the making of this set of images, the images reflect on the words and the words reflect on the images, the void between the two is the art, there is an additional thought process as the observer trying to pull the puzzle together to find meaning.

What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?

Paul Seawright explains in the short video clip :

‘If it is too explicit it becomes journalistic….if its too ambiguous it becomes meaningless’

So essentially there is a fine line, a balance between the photograph documenting an event as it actually happens and it being art. He speaks of a photograph in a newspaper and the need for writing to give us meaning behind the photograph, a title, a written journalistic piece or essay, one lends to the other in narrating the story.

I agree with the idea that to engage with people longer than a quick glance at a photograph which is lending to the factual recording of an event, you need to deliver a message that will engage the viewer for longer, draw them in to look further around the frame, perceive what is in the frame and what isn’t in the frame, why the photographer has decided to included certain things and exclude others. What isn’t included in the frame can also say a lot about an image. What message is the story trying to tell me, sometimes its like a puzzle or a mystery that you pull together, it unfolds before you in the photograph or in a series of photographs.

I still think that there is a strong link between the written word and photography when it is presented to people. A strong image should draw you in, keep you there but I think a short brief title or a sentence can in certain instances lend to the ‘Context and Narrative’. Maybe there is a strength that photographers develop over time with their work, less need for a written explanation, more visual observation and delivery. I also wonder if photography has to give an explanation or a meaning to everything, some stuff needs to be left for people to consider for themselves.

If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its
meaning?

I would have to query if the photography had an intended meaning/message or if it was simply used as a measuring device to record an event, or both perhaps? At what point is the ‘meaning’ attached to a piece of photography? Was it in the creation, a thought out/mapped, set-up piece of art or did it simply unfold before your eyes (non-fiction) and you recorded it.

As Seawright explains:

‘Construction of meaning is not done by me, its done by the person looking at the artwork’

I would query that however we personally perceive art or photography, it does not take away from its original intended meaning, regardless of our own thoughts about it, the original intent is always there. However, if the message if not delivered in a way that people can understand it, it may as well not exist in the first place, it is ‘too ambiguous’ as Seawright discusses.

It was Ansel Adams that said:

‘There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept’ – Ansel Adams

Reference:

http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian

Catalyst: Paul Seawright

Art of the Troubles – Artist Paul Seawright

Nationalgalleryie – Paul Seawright in conversation

Project 3 Reportage Exercise

Exercise

Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot
30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style.

For this exercise I made 2 day trips to Marlborough town high street in Wiltshire. I used a Nikon D7200 and alternated between a 50mm prime and a 18-105mm lens (which I used the most). I set my camera to RAW and for the B & W images set my picture control to monochrome so I could check the images on the back of my camera screen as I went along.

Having viewed other photographers street photography I knew ahead that it wasn’t  going to be something I found easy being an introvert with Social Anxiety Disorder. I am not a big fan of street photography either, some photographers capture some great shots but its not me. I am not keen on the urban environment in any way, shape or form, the older feel to Marlborough town high-street felt OK I guess. So I have done this in my own way and in my own style.  However I did make some interesting observations during the exercise.

What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why?

For the black and White photographs I was drawn to light and dark, texture, shadow, feel, form, shapes, focusing on composition within the frame, devoid of distraction. In contrast for the colour images I was clearly drawn to the bold colours on the high-street, the use of reds and greens, the festive time of year, symbols, signs, semiotics. I found the colour at times could be distracting, like a moth to the flame at times devoid of any concern for composition. I picked up on this a couple of times and corrected myself, pulling myself back to the brief.

Colour brings a sense of the ‘modern’/current society, commercialism, the use of advertising come alive, life, vibrancy . In my research I loved the colour work of Fred Herzog in the 1950’s the very vibrant use of bold colour (in particular red) and light and shadow.

Do I have to pick which set I prefer? I think I am interested in both for different reasons. My preference would probably be the B & W images but I don’t really like either set of images if I am totally honest. I like the image I took from a high vantage point overlooking the street with the plants either side, its like an opening to a movie where you are peering through into the start of a scene, I can see my hands on either side of the frame pulling back the plants to peer through onto the street. It could be in reflection of my love for nature, looking through the plants to the street scene below. I like the B & W image of the cobbled side street and the image from a high vantage point overlooking all of the roof tops. Compositionally I love the simplicity of the image of a wall with the gutter down the left and the window on the right. I like the image of the father with child walking away in an embrace, this is comforting to me and makes me think of my dad. The image of the father and son (presumably) with the son dressed in old clothing has an interesting dynamic and twist to it.

A selection of B &W:

A selection of Colour:

 

 

Project 3 Research Point – Street Photography

Research point

Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.

What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly
black and white?

Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s
work)?

How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

This was probably the most important piece 0f research I stumbled upon whilst looking up some of the photographers around contemporary street photography, the following quote from Martin Parr:

‘You have to know the crap to get to the good’ That’s my advice to you, take more crap’ Martin Parr

It rings very true with me. I would say a large percentage of my photography is crap… its vitally important to be able to identify the crap photographs and to be honest with yourself. I only ever seem to really succeed at anything in my life when I fail at it, then fail again, maybe fail another time, then I kick its ass or try a different approach!

I can’t say I enjoy street photography, or looking at it. I don’t really engage with a lot of it, I think a lot of it is rubbish and repetitive. Some of them look like holiday snaps to me.  So I approached this bit of research with a lot of trepidation, along with the proceeding exercise, asking myself repeatedly ….‘do I really have to? but I don’t want to!’ dragging my heels.

I researched in a number of books which I have referenced at the end of this section, with some on-line research into the genre/style.

Martin Parr a British photographer reflects in his New Brighton Series during the 1980’s on middle class England with images taken at New Brighton in the Wirral. In an interview I watched on-line he speaks of both his hate and love for England, which I feel I can relate to. There are beautiful landscapes and history here in England but there is also the dull, mundane, dreary grey England, the overconsumption and the disconnect. His colour images capture the everyday, the commercialism of modern contemporary culture, the throwaway culture. It is an interesting study on place as well as people. At times some of the photographs are funny and I recall back to my own childhood some of the holidays we went on, the scrambling for an ice cream with your mates, a nice portion of chips, seagulls everywhere pinching your chips, trying to find a space on the beach, a walk on the peer on a hot (if you were lucky!) British summer day, although part of my childhood was spent living in Australia, so I struggle with a definitive sense of belonging it brings back memories. Some of the photographs are really interesting as social commentary/observation and others feel like holiday snaps to me. This could be what spurred on a new generation of photographers, they related to his vivid colour work, perhaps felt they could do something like this and at it inspired them to pick up a camera, which can only be a good thing.

‘The garish colours evoke a crude and cheap contemporary life-style, the very opposite of the pastoral past….Everything reflects a transient, dislocated and throwaway culture…’ p 71 The Photograph by Graham Clarke

I was intrigued by the colour photography of the American photographer Joel Sternfeld,  his unique capturing of landscapes, the movie like photography. It reminded me of the photography I love by Gregory Crewdson, like the image of the burning house ‘Mclean Virginia, 1978’ with the pumpkins in the foreground and fireman stood holding the pumpkin, its such a great photograph and the ‘American Prospects’ series. The use of colour in the American Prospects series is interesting, slightly desaturated, lots of greens, browns, orange, it has a distinctive style. The photographs that interested me the most of Sternfeld were the images from the series “Walking the High Line” of an old derelict high line railway in Manhattan where nature seems to have reclaimed the railway. I love that, a reclaimed rural environment in an urban world.  I like how the landscape changes throughout the seasons, the rich green of the plants in full bloom, the golden browns of leaves on the turn then the white snow of winter on the tracks all surrounded by the high rise buildings framing the railway. Sternfeld used traditional photographic methods to a modern style, using a large format camera with colour film ‘complete with black focusing cloth and tripod’ (p218, The Genius of Photography’), there is a large depth of field in the images. I wasn’t so keen on his ‘Rush Hour’ series of photography.

I watched a fascinating short interview on YouTube with the American Photographer Joel Meyerowitz where he talks about:

‘The play always being in the potential, its like magnetism…what you put in the frame and where you cut the rest of the 360 degrees in all axis we are looking at….what you put in and leave out are what determines the meaning or potential of your photograph but you must continue to keep in mind there is plenty of stuff off stage and what bearing might the rest of the off stage have on this’

I liked his view on the use of a Leica compared to an SLR, the SLR theoretically blinding you whilst the Leica gives you the opportunity to look through the viewfinder whilst observing the world around you with the other eye. I wever thought about it like that before, I have never used a Leica before but its a very valid point! I note from his website that Meyerowitz was ‘an early advocate of color photography (mid-60’s), Meyerowitz was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of color photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance.’

Having done some research into these photographers, looking back I don’t think my naive view of ‘Street photography’ was reflecting purely on the content. Its with the label. I hate the label. I get it but like all genre labels for me its pointless. Do I want to listen to technical death metal, grunge, stoner desert rock? The labels point you in the direction but the content provides the answer about whether you like it or not, the photograph. If you were to say it was a study of society, of people or place or a historic time capsule peering into the past or another persons life or a group of people, I would have been intrigued and I am, now, intrigued. The idea of getting up in someone’s grill with a camera isn’t me (some people are awesome at it, I’m not) but I get it. I think I would want to try to take a different approach as a social introvert, I would perhaps want to learn something about the person, learn more about them, delve deeper. Surface layer is OK but what interests me personally is the deeper stuff, the weird stuff.

I think colour photography was initially shunned against the more traditional and widely accepted B & W imagery which had a strong sense of form, strong composition and framing, the use of bold shadows and light, texture. As colour is introduced we are bombarded initially I feel with the commercial, capitalist, urban, ‘modern’ environment, advertising which just doesn’t come across so strong an powerful in the B & W photography. I also feel it took some time for colour photography to develop a voice or perhaps be accepted as an art form. Colour brings a new chapter to photography and gives it a new lease of life. Colour brings new emotion not captured in B & W.

Cartier Bresson had a strong leaning to traditional artistic form, the golden ratio for example. Colour imagery gave a looser feel to photography, initially less concerned with composition and more drawn to the magic of capturing colour and life on film. There is a shift from surrealism to documentary, capturing the everyday life’s of people from all walks of life or social background. I will say, having done a little street photography, I can see how colour can at times be a distraction if all you are looking for is colour. You can’t look for colour alone, you need to keep the idea of framing and composition in mind as well. I find the taking of B & W Photography can be quite cathartic.

I think irony is used to challenge our own perceptions about what it is to be for example British or American. The stiff upper lip, the perceived reserved nature of the British is challenged in Martin Parr’s New Brighton Series for example.

Reference: