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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