Monthly Archives: February 2013

Assignment 2: People and Activity

Assignment Brief

You should produce a set of approximately 10 final, selected images, and you can choose between depicting the same person or small group at different kinds of activity, or different people at the same single activity or event.

Concentrate especially on two aspects: on telling moments, and on ‘explaining’ the activity (which means choosing viewpoint, framing and timing to make the actions as intelligible as possible).

– Critically assess you finished work. Consider each piece individually

– Identify what has worked well and what has been less successful and analyse the reasons for this.

Introduction

I recently visited the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition in London entitled ‘A Question of Colour’ where the photographers included within this all in their own ways had captured the decisive moment, Its with this in mind that I prepare for the day’s photography at a local event. Doing some background research into the decisive moment, I was surprised to read that the cover of Cartier-Bresson’s book Images à la sauvette, in English The Decisive Moment had its cover drawn by Henri Matisse. For me, this connection between art and photography is something that I keep coming back to. One of my earliest study visits was to ‘The art books of Henri Matisse’ at the Walker art gallery. I wasn’t sure whether it could benefit me until I actually started looking at his work. Colours, shape, positioning, composition are all transcendent between mediums whether you prefer a camera or a paint brush and again reminds me that I can’t view photography in a silo, separate from other mediums. My aim was to capture a series of images that fulfilled the brief of capturing telling moments or that showed a clear activity which can also be translated to be the ‘decisive moment’

Background

The hardest part of undertaking this assignment wasn’t the photography, but actually finding an appropriate outside event that I could photograph in winter. While I did have a rather generous deadline to get this completed, I was keen to work through and to move on as I don’t like having a gap where I can’t do anything and I’d caught up with all of the exercises I needed to do. I receive a magazine with monthly events in for Chester and Cheshire and saw a celebration called ‘Holly Holy Day’ in Nantwich comprising of a winter fayre and a battle re-enactment.

This was an annual event that was held to celebrate a historical event and as well as entertainment within the town centre, there was a re-enactment of troops marching through the town and then of the 1644 Battle of Nantwich. We’d had some heavy snow fall the day and evening before so I wasn’t sure if this would still go ahead but luckily the troops were willing to fit in these conditions.

Photography on the day

I went with the brief to capture the battle but was surprised to see a troop of Border Morris dancers in the square; these were an excellent subject with different costumes and roles involved as well as a sense of activity and movement. I then moved on to photograph the parade through the town and then onto the battle field. Over the course of the day I took 393 images in total shortlisting to 41 Morris dancing and 47 battle/troops images. While some of the subjects were happy to be photographed, there were some people who seemed less keen. These are excluded from the set only because they were ones that didn’t fit into my theme, however it was a public event, I wasn’t there with the biggest lens unlike some of the people attending but I think the large number of people with cameras might have something to do with this.

Selection and Editing

While both of these events were under the same billed day, and I liked certain images from each set, I felt that if I was presenting these as a series that they had to be either Morris dancing or troops as without the knowledge of the event, it would have been hard for a viewer to see the connection and I wanted to make the series a strong and coherent one that could stand on its own and didn’t need a lot of captioning. I spent some time looking at both shortlisted sets and felt that there was more scope for activity and movement in the images with the troops as there were more roles and people involved within this. After I’d chosen the theme, I then shortlisted a second time getting the images from 47 to 19, I ordered small prints of these and once they’d arrived started the shortlist part 3. I laid out all of the images on the floor so that I could stand back and look at them; slowly removing the ones I felt didn’t stand out or fit the brief. I then left the images and went back to them later to make sure I was happy and just made a couple of more changes.

Once I’d decided on the images, I waited a couple of days and got on with some write ups of a recent study visit and then just went back to the images to start the editing process. I’d ordered the original prints from a straight jpg conversion so now I used Photoshop CS6 to tweak the colours and to give them a little more punch and then to add a border around them. Once saved these were placed into a folder for printing.

Aims of the assignment

I’ve tried to choose a set of images that show both individuals taking part within the parade and the battle re-enactment but also a wider view showing the context in which they are in.

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While we were waiting for the main body of the troops to get to the battle ground, there were two sets of troops setting up their cannons. The subject of this image was walking us through what they were doing and making us all aware of how load they can be when they fire. He is demonstrating where you should put your hands to protect your ears, apparently you should deflect the sound away not put your hands over your ears. I like this piece as a stand-alone as it shows an action that is unusual and one that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as part of a re-enactment or historical event, its also quite humorous. I’m pleased that he has yellow laces in his boots as with the snow on the ground, it needs something to just make the pale boots stand out. Looking at it as part of the series, I feel that it’s the weaker of all the selection, with hindsight, this would have been a much closer portrait focusing on the upper body and head as this is where all of the action is.

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This is one of my favourite images, not only does this subject stand out in his red coat but the light is just casting onto his face. He was keeping a piece of rope lit in order to light the cannon and this involved lighting the end of it and then blowing the flame until it’s just a glow and I loved the effect of the smoke coming off this. As on one of them there was someone else in the background, I’ve cropped this to show just the subject. I think it shows the action well, the subject is obviously undertaking an activity, and the vivid colours really catch the eye. However I feel that the picture is made by the blue smoke patterns, these were only there for a short time before they faded and I’m really pleased that I managed to get it, and it is helped by the background of the trees which is quite dark and helps it to stand out.

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Again another image that caught my eye due to the strong red colour of the flag, it really stands out against the beige of the uniform and the fairly dull January background. With the drummer and other troops in the background there is a sense of context there, of marching into or away from a battle. There are two forms of action here, the flag bearer as he is part of the march and also the flag as it moves about. I think you get more of a sense of the marching through the flag and the people in the background, the subjects expression shows that he is focussed on the task.

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This is one of the favourite portraits that I’ve taken; I took two versions of this, the one chosen above and also one of the main subject on his own. I wasn’t sure which to choose and debated over this one more than any others in the set. In the end I thought this was more appropriate with what I was trying to show and that the slightly wider angle showing the troops in the background but not quite as in focus. This wider angle gives the subject more context and you get the impression that this is a march, an event as opposed to someone just as a static guard.

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In a series of images, I wanted to include at least one wider angled shot showing the battle to give some indication of the scale of the event. I chose this one as it shows the smoke from the musket fire but also the troops fighting with pikes, which to me seemed more like a rugby scrum with very large wooden poles. I feel that this falls into the rules of thirds- horizontally the top has the band of smoke and pikes, then the middle darker band of the uniforms broken up with some colour and then the bottom band of paler snow.

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While this does feature a subject from a previous image, I’ve included this as I don’t think that there can be a better image of an action taking place, of him just moving away with the combustion of the lighter and the black powder in the cannon. I’m really pleased that I managed to get the flames as the fuse was lit and also coming from the front of the cannon, as I had been trying to get this throughout the day and it was a matter of patience, understanding the timing and a very good continuous shooting mode on my camera. This to me really sums up the decisive moment as once the cannon has been lit there is no changing the course of action.

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This is the moment just before the cannon was fired. When they were ready, a member of the troop raised his arm to signal and to get the attention so that there was a clear path in front of the cannon (cannonballs weren’t being fired but it was still maximum safety obviously) and when ready to fire, the shout to alert everyone was ‘have a care’ meaning be on your guard. I like the colour of his uniform and the depth of field that shows the battlefield in the background but the focus is obviously on the man and the action he is about to perform.

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This is a closer image of the troops leading up their cannon and the action in padding the gun barrel. I’ve chosen this for two reason, the first one is the action, they are all there with individual roles, whether its padding the cannon or ensuring that the fuse at the back is ready for when they want to light this. The second reason I chose this is the vivid blue colour of their tunics which stands out against the surroundings, and the expression utter concentration with the tongue slightly sticking out on the man padding the cannon is one of those unposed moments that

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All of the troops in the cannon teams were taking it in turns to light and fire the cannon. This is another member who is looking after the lighting mechanism. As with some of the other images, the colour of his uniform really stood out and grabbed my eye with his yellow cuffs, and interesting helmet he was a good contrast to some of the others. I also liked the repeat action of looking after the lighting coil as they were keeping that maintained throughout the hour and half event

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I loved the expression and arm position of this guy, while it’s not clear what he’s doing, you can see the troops in the background so it has some context. I chose this as I thought it was unusual and a good character portrait, it’s certainly an image of something happening. Looking back on it a few weeks after taking it, I’m wondering what he’s saying and who to.

Thoughts

I really enjoyed this assignment, it was certainly challenging as in the market place there was very limited room in the high street crowds to get a good spot and the dancers did come quite close by a few times. The battlefield was challenging more for the freezing snow we were all stood in and having to persist in getting the composition I wanted when there people moving across the field and undertaking their activities, as well as the loud explosions coming from the cannons which did make me jump.

The hardest part was then down to just editing the images from the large original number to the ones I was selecting but that was no different to any other assignment and as I had undertaken digital photographic practice as my last module, I had my workflow sorted out. This was a good exercise to undertake with plenty of different people and poses, none of whom I know so I just had to get out there with the camera.

Sample of rejected images

To highlight I’ve included a couple of rejected images from the parade as not quite fitting what I wanted to show.

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Bibliography & References

· Berger, John and Mohr, Jean (1995) Another way of telling. Vintage International

· Stepan, Peter (2011) 50 photographers you should know. Prestel

Online Learning Log

All entries into my paper learning log are replicated electronically and are available to view at:

https://saltwickstudios.wordpress.com/

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Study visit 9th February 2013 at the Open Eye Gallery

‘A lecture upon a shadow’- Open Eye Gallery Liverpool

This was a well attended study visit, when I arrived the foyer was full of fellow students all mooching around the excellent but far too tempting Open Eye shop.

As this was a split study visit we spent some time looking at the images, some time discussing them in groups and then a break partway through for discussion and coffee before moving onto the second part of the visit. A lecture upon a shadow was a mixed exhibition between artists with three artists from the North West and three from Shanghai and this had already been exhibited in China. Based on the title of a John Donne poem, A lecture upon a shadow certainly gave us all plenty to think about. For me the work was too mixed and I struggled to see a connection between the UK and Chinese photographers as well as a running theme throughout. Its only now looking back and doing some more reading about this that I can see a link between some, loneliness is very key in the work by Fan Shi San, composite images looking at the one child policy within China and the effect this has on the ‘only child’ of each family. This sense of loneliness and sadness pours out of the images and while it affect people differently- as an only child who has always been content as just me, I didn’t feel moved by this, yet others did, but again it goes back to not only seeing what the photographer wants us to see and feel from an image, but also what we bring to it and also how we feel on that particular occasion. Referring back to the theme that I feel is evident in some of these, when thinking about the standout piece ‘Eldon Grove’ by Liverpool based photographer Tabitha Jussa, it goes from an abandoned housing estate but then gets you thinking about the area, the people who were there and the fact that it’s now fallen silent but traces of life are still there. Not all of the exhibits worked for me, David Penny’s ‘Dutch Paintings’ where the photographs sit behind yellow and blue coloured glass were visually striking but the impact wouldn’t have been there without the colour. Also the work that struck me with a strong visual impact and shape on the wall was ‘Corpus Mercatorium’ by David Jacques, it’s very interesting to look at but for me feels out of place with its mixture of photographs cut out and stuck to different shapes from books. The whole mixture was reminiscent of Victoriana and not only did it not fit into the rest of the exhibition, for me it left me cold (and I did feel it was a bit creepy)

Part one of the study visit

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David Penny ‘Dutch Paintings’

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Liang Yue ‘Numerous Continuation: Summer Autumn Chaos’

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Man Yi ‘Memory of Water’

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Looking at Fan Shi San’s ‘Two of Us’

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Tabitha Jussa ‘Eldon Grove’

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David Jacques’ ‘Corpus Mercatorium’

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After we’d looked around this we then all decamped where the sheer number of us dictated some re-organisation and takeover of the coffee shop! We split into groups and had discussions on many topics not least what we had seen at the gallery, as usual we all had our own like and dislikes and our own take on what we had seen. These discussions are really worthwhile as while we might disagree there is always acceptance that someone else’s thoughts are just as valid as your own.

Archive exhibition- Landscapes by Edward Chambre- Hardman

The second part of the visit was to see the archive exhibition by Edward Chambre-Hardman. I was looking forwards to this as I hadn’t seen any of his work and Keith was able to give us some background information on this as he is working on the archive at the moment and could bring an insight into the work and collection of the photographer. While Chambre-Hardman was more known for this commercial work and portraits, his personal work included landscapes. Amusingly when he sold his collection to the Liverpool record office, he neglected to include some work including his landscapes. I did like some of the images, his use of strong shapes in the images and very heavy clouds (obviously timing is a key component in a good landscape) that give some of the images a strong atmosphere really stood out for me. However I didn’t like the overly yellow tones of the images, which I don’t feel were helped by the warm cream border around them. I like landscapes but I personally prefer strong colours in mine so while these were excellent examples, they weren’t to my taste. The gallery was quite busy while we were there and members of public were coming in and out, one woman spent a lot of time looking at the images while Peter Haveland was giving us some thoughts on Chambre-Hardman, he said something that struck a chord with this visitor who took offence and declared that what he was saying was incorrect and that she knew Chambre-Hardman. Unfortunately she wasn’t willing to stay around to add to the debate and left us all quite amused.

 

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Examples of work by Edward Chambre-Hardman

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Highlights of the visit

Meeting Keith Roberts- we’d spoke via email and phone during my last course

Catching up with some of the other students some that I hadn’t seen since the Leeds study weekend

Being introduced to new photographers- loved Tabitha Jussa- definitely my kind of work

Getting a different take on landscape from a photographer that I hadn’t previously been introduced to

After the visit ended, I wandered around Liverpool looking for suitable buildings and locations to photograph for my next exercises and assignment. On the way back from Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, I just happened to pass Chambre-Hardmans house in Rodney Street which is now owned by the National trust. While it wasn’t open at the time, I’ll certainly make an effort to return and to have a look around

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Jim Mortram ‘Small Town Inertia’ Study Visit

Pre-Exhibition and introduction

This was my second study visit to the Bank Street Arts centre, and was no easier to find this time around! The subject of this visit was an exhibition of prints by Jim Mortram “Small town inertia” which was curated by OCA tutor Andrew Conroy so we had both the benefit of a tutors experience with the background of putting this work on show. We began the visit with a coffee and a discussion, the usual pointers of what we should be looking at, some background on Andrew’s involvement and an overview of Jim and his work. Having already seen Jim’s work in the BJP and on the BBC webpage, I was looking forwards to seeing this in reality. Part of the pre-reading for this visit was to look at Julie’s story by Darcy Padilla and to read comments on the We are OCA pages to fuel a debate on documentary photography. Thoughts on Padilla’s work were varied as expected and there was very much a feeling of exploitation, while a relationship was developed between the photographer and Julie, it seemed to be a case that it was more one sided than the other. We were bearing this in mind as we all then headed upstairs to view the gallery.

The exhibition

Refreshingly the prints were just mounted to the wall with white push pins, no framing or mounting and the simplicity of this certainly gave me hope that putting on an exhibition would be within reach at some point.

The plan was to look at the images and then to get together and discuss a few key prints that had been identified. All the images were monochrome, with the varied ranges of tone adding to the atmosphere with the subjects; it also added a feeling that you couldn’t always date the images. One image had an old silver cross style pram in it but when you looked further, you could see a shop advertising sim cards so putting it in more recent times. I certainly got the feeling from the subjects that they were comfortable with Jim being in their homes and taking photographs, and then later on this was explained further by our discussion with Jim where he explained his process of getting to know them, listening to their stories and then taking photographs when the time was right, not having a set agenda, if it didn’t happen there would be another day.

After we’d all looked around the images, we then discussed a number of images and how we felt about them. Some of us were struggling to feel anything about the series, there was a sense of detachment from the subjects within. I thought that in my case it was because I’d seen quite a few before in my pre visit study, but there was some discussion that it was more to do with the lack of captions (a considered curatorial choice) and information on the subjects. When reading the images, we were very much looking at the camera angles, the positioning of the subject, the surrounding location and possessions and making a view that was influenced by our own backgrounds. The choice behind no text or captions was very much designed to force us to make our minds up and to make the connection.

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Video and Discussion

We then went downstairs to watch some videos of the subjects. The first one was images set to music, the other two were photographs mixed with an audio of the subject talking. At this point I think we all suddenly clicked, seeing images and being able to relate them to a voice speaking about an accident where they went blind, or losing their partner because they couldn’t get an ambulance to come really hit home and when the videos finished there was just stunned silence. That would have been more useful before we saw the images as now we really did have the emotional connection. The highlight of the visit had to be when we were all huddled around an ipad having a skype conversation with Jim, this wasn’t without interruption on both sides as we were moved out of the room we were in, and Jim had his enthusiastic dog wanting to join in but that’s very much in keeping with his photography- fitting it in around his commitment as a full time carer, and for us students who often have to juggle work and family commitments with our studies, snatching opportunities where we can. Listening to Jim wasn’t like listening to a photographer, it was like a conversation with a friend or a fellow student, his passion and enthusiasm came through and having that insight into his work and the processes was illuminating. We got from this conversation information that you would never get as a part of a photography exhibition. Jim gets to know the subjects and builds a relationship with them, not planning the images but just taking them when he feels its right to, some days it’s just conversation and a chance for both him and the subject to have some contact with the outside world. Whereas some photographers have their subject and once they’ve got the image that’s it done, Jim keeps in touch with them. While we wondered whether some of the subjects had seen their images, especially with a debate over the less flattering of images, we discovered that no-one had ever complained. I admit I took pages of notes, not all of them are here, and some are just in my art journal as I don’t think I can do justice to the day.

The people

While Jim was passionate about his photography, what really came across was his enthusiasm and dedication to listen to peoples stories, to document his local community and to provide a positive voice to people who aren’t being heard. This isn’t a short term project, this is a lifetime of work, a collaboration of trust and community, taking and giving back. To hear and see these people brings them to life, I might never visit their town but I can know who they are through this work and it does provoke a desire to do the same in my local area. As Jim said “these are the stories that need to be seen”

Summary

– Conversation with Jim- being able to hear first hand his thoughts and processes around the images and how its an involved process giving a voice to the community

– Seeing images presented in a non framed way- much more immediate

– Catching up with other students