Category Archives: Learning log

The parent category for research and reflection posts.

Feedback from Assignment 2

Research

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis. Be good to see more relevant and related research/photographers linked to your project – perhaps share this on your learning log – sharing key images by photographers that inspire you with text on why you like their images + what the photographers intention was – how it makes you feel?

I can’t say that any one or two photographers in particular have inspired me directly in the making of this assignment but my research has most certainly fed into my efforts and continues to do so ever more meaningfully as I look closer at the work of other photographers. I’ve been following roughly three lines of enquiry: historical and contemporary landscape photography, in all its diversity (I’ve just finished J.A.P Alexander’s Perspectives on Place, an excellent book that has given me ideas for fresh investigations); photographers who work on very personal projects, in whatever genre; photographers who deal with the everyday in their work, be it gathering images by (apparently) simply walking or hanging around, by engaging with a single location, by attending to a restricted set of themes and topics. Whatever the style, I’ve become drawn to photographers whose work becomes very recognisable as theirs and theirs alone, perhaps because of a few quite distinctive features, colour palette, choices of lighting or techniques of developing/processing their pictures. Fundamentally I’ve chosen to look at artists who make the kind of work that I’d be able to make within my means. I’m not suggesting that I have the skills to make pictures like those I’ve been researching, but simply that, because of where I live, I have easy access to landscape – not just pretty views but the full range of critical problems and topics inherent in the genre – as well as the simple things of everyday life. Finally, like everyone else I have access to my own body and to its movements in time and space.

There are so many excellent landscape photographers to choose from. From the canon of 20th century American artists I’m interested in the work of Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams, primarily for their compositional skills and the consistency of their projects. Form more recent times I’ve taken time to study the work of Ron Jude, whose work at first might appear somewhat bland but on closer inspection reveals an interesting subdued tonal palette and a concern with liminal spaces, the edge rather than the centre. These spaces and places take me back to a childhood fondness for playing in dusty old out-of-the-way sites or yards or railway sidings in the summer months. For example:-

For an ‘everyday’ photographer I should mention Rinko Kawauchi (I bought two of her photobooks) whose work covers so much ground but always looks fresh, spontaneous and seemingly grabbed out of everyday events. There’s a wonderful sense of light going on in all her work as well as a kind of bleached out quality to her prints that appeals to me and makes me wonder whether digital cameras can ever achieve such a palette. Even though her sequences hang by slender threads in terms of a logical narrative, the colours and the treatment of light in particular bind everything together. For example:-

Finally I’ve been following up on the work of photographers who make work around themselves, their body, close circles of friends and so forth. Here I’ll go back to my long standing interest in photography/performing art hybrids –  the work of Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman are excellent examples. Another is J.P Engstrom who, in working with all manner of cameras, techniques and subjects gives the impression of spontaneity experimentation and adventure largely base around his own experiences in life. For example:-

You have referenced Rodchenko and his influence is reflected in the work, but be interesting to see more playful angles / perspectives which are in line to his practice.

This is excellent advice and I took this on board as best I could in my final amendments by incorporating image 6 which has a more playful perspective.

You have referenced photography theory and writing, but it’s also important to look at contemporary photographers – which photographers explore modes of representation, challenge truth and how?

This is something I intend to address more constantly in the forthcoming assignments.

Try to imagine a stranger looking at your images and then reading a paragraph about the work – keep it simple and straightforward – you want most of their reading and analysing to be when they look at your images.

My statement on the pictures from Assignment 2:-

‘This series explores the domestic environment, often ignored or taken for granted as we go about our daily business. But, as if for the first time, we look with fresh eyes, shed fresh light upon these commonplace things, we can learn to be fascinated again, to experience the pleasures of childhood where everything is full of promise.’

Consider simple and straightforward concepts, research artists/theorists that explore themes you’re interested in and write about what excites you about their work / writing and how you will draw/explore from that in your project.

Try to experiment more with genres, potentially mixing approaches but still considering how to keep the images connected – ie. By colour, theme or symbolism.

I’m realising that the most important skill lies in sizing up individual images, then keeping the salient features of theses in mind as you shoot the rest of a series, made all the more challenging by the fact that a series might be spread out across considerable distances in terms of space and time.

Strengths 

The ideas I have are fairly interesting though I need to improve on how these are presented in photographic imagery. Because I read a lot I’m confident that if I keep reading and studying photographers I’ll absorb some good practice and find something of my own.

Areas for development

I believe that I need to plan and research my assignments prior to any involvement with the camera. That’s not to say that I stop taking pictures but that I focus my reading and research around the assignment, take notes and come up with original ideas and concepts, then start taking photographs with what should be more consistency and focus.

Composition 

On a recent overseas trip I took hundreds of photos, many with specific ideas in mind and having briefly looked through I can say that the efforts I made to frame and compose my shots is paying off. I still made several photos in a more free flowing spontaneous mindset but where I take time to look around a subject I’m coming up with some presentable images.

Writing and Research

Following the feedback for Assignment 2 I’ll be continuing my reading but spending much more time looking at individual photographers. I usually begin my making lists of photographers that I find interesting as I read, then read interviews and statements about their work. This results in smaller shortlists of artists whose work I go into in some depth, making notes and cross-referencing as I go.

Lighting 

I don’t know if the next assignment is the right one, but at some point soon I’ll be working with a medium format film camera that I bought used, and reading exposure settings from a light meter. I’ll also be seeking advice and tips from friends at the local camera club on working in low light and indoors. After that I’d like to do some work, indoors and in the landscape, around self-portraiture.

More experimentation

My overseas project is based around ‘The Fundamentals of Architecture’ where I took photos of platforms, canopies, pits, boundaries, markers and so forth – these being the fundamentals. Many of the pictures were taken in Greece which is quite appropriate, not only because of the ancient history of the country with respect to architecture, but also because of the fact that many buildings are only half-completed as a result of the economic crash.

Creativity 

I’m always learning new skills and will use Assignment 3 to get a firm handle on working in shutter priority. Because it’s summer there are many sporting and outdoors events where I can get creative with fast shutter speeds or long exposures. The light is also good early morning and late evening for low light work and I’d like to explore new creative possibilities in this area.

Concept

I’ve learned so much about how to think conceptually (in the wider sense of the word as opposed to thinking only as a conceptual artists) by studying the photos and writing of established photographers. My aim is to be able to form as clear and tight conceptual frameworks as possible prior to a new assignment. To somehow think the photographs before taking them.

Writing

I write and take notes as I read. Over time I want to get round to writing clearly and concisely about my various projects as they come to fruition. The feedback point on keeping things simple should guide me in this area.

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Checking Assignment 2 against the Assessment Criteria

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Materials

I shot all images using a Fujifilm X-T3 with two lenses, 35mm and 90mm (50/120 equivalent). Having decided on my strategy for the project I shot everything first with the 35mm, then took the same shots with the 90.

Techniques

I wanted to capture the images in a spontaneous yet intuitive frame of mind so I made rapid decisions on distance from the subject, framing and aperture settings as I moved from location to location. I sought out things less for their beauty than for their colour and their part in some loose as-yet undefined narrative that tied the locations together. I adopted techniques of unorthodox framing and structuring for each shot (taking stock of previous exercises I visualised a mental grid for each photo), though I selected carefully specific objects and groups which would best represent the things of the domestic environment world that I wanted to represent.

I took stock of the four exercises in Part 2, in particular with respect to depth of field. In fact most of the shots were driven by an intention to use my awareness of depth of field to best advantage, be it by thwarting expectations around what should be in focus, by foregrounding what might be seen as unimportant elements or by leaving possibly assumed important elements hanging outside the frame.

I sought out things (and assemblages) less for any sense of beauty than for their colours and shapes, how they sat together with their backgrounds, their alignment with other elements in the frame (windows, open doors or backgrounds in the garden for example which would blur well at high apertures). I wanted to work in a way that allowed unexpected elements to enter the frame, shooting quite quickly and completing my round trip from house to porch to conservatory to garden quite rapidly, concentrating on a specific task relating to capturing the things in what was a very good outside light that day. I chose to work with the jpegs straight from the camera even though I could have gleaned more detail and a wider range of options across many parameters from the raw images by working with the software application. There’s a freshness and consistency in the Fuji jpegs and the way that the colours are rendered and some of the dark tones flattened lends consistency to the palette. 

Observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

Some of these I’ve covered under ‘Techniques’ but I should add that I wasn’t in any way taking a casual or negligent approach to the shoot. Sometimes a creative project will requires other than slow-paced or rigorously formalised procedure. I wanted as far as possible for the design to emerge from an almost performative process in which I moved towards the subject, framed and set the camera efficiently and effectively (as far as my modest skillset would allow of course), then moved on to the next location where I repeated the procedure taking stock of the new conditions. Considering my intimate foreknowledge of the territory observational skills were somewhat built into the shoot. I intend that whatever quality of design came out of the series should emerge with a measure of pace and flow.  

Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

I took care to apply as much as possible of the knowledge gained through previous exercises, in particular awareness of point, line and frame. Concerning concepts and ideas my primary interest here is in how photography can deal with matters and modes of representation, how new modes might subvert or collude with the dominant modes of realist representation, in how narrative can arise, intentional or not, on the part of the photographer. This is of course a project bigger than any one series of shots but the attempt at producting a coherent set of images with some clarity of intention is a good start to such investigations.

Demonstration of creativity – Imagination, experimentation, invention.

I would hope that these three are evident in some measure throughout my approach towards and execution of the project. I should add that after the work of selecting and editing the images I thought about a title and decided upon Domestic Crime Scene. Although this might seem to contradict some of what I’ve said about spontaneity in the genesis and evolution of the collection, the adoption of a spontaneous and intuitive approach does leave open the possibility of an emerging narrative after the fact. Any given narrative is never set in stone. A narrative can hold some measure of truth contained within a posited ‘real world’ that sits behind the images or it can be a truth (or even a pack of lies posing as the truth) imposed, fabricated, alluded to and so forth. What interests me is that my modest collection of images could possibly be the so-called objective documentation of evidence from an actual or imaginary crime scene, perhaps taken in a hurry, which raises further issues around any assumed harmony of domesticity. I also find it interesting to reflect on the uncertainty around what the results would have been had I thought up the title in advance of the shoot and what might have been lost or gained as a result of an inevitable stiffening up in terms of formalising the structure of the images.  

Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking.

I’ve written and continue to write about my research towards this and other projects in my learning log. For this project I delved into writing that dealt with matters of representation and how regimes of truth are constituted and promulgated.

Revision following feedback

Following tutor feedback and advice here are the three selected images, resized. I’ll rephotograph the three sites at the same time of day and with the same light, as far as possible and I’ll use the same orientation.

Feedback on Assignment 1, ‘Square Mile’

The overall comments were encouraging and have motivated me to move forward with some measure of confidence.

With reference to assignment 1 , ‘Square Mile’, the most important points, for me at least, converged on the choice of images towards presenting a series. I think that once this clicks into place, esatblishing a clear set of basic guidelines for keeping a set of images homogenous in some way, a lot will become clearer in advance future assignments and exercises, with both individual images and a series taken as a whole.

Hanging Tree 2, Drowning Pool 2 and Burning Field 2 were considered to be the better of the choices:-

Hanging tree 2 and Drowning pool 2 – these feel most resolved and feel consistent and connected. Concept behind the church and flower images are symbolically interesting, but the images do not seem to reflect the overall tone and intended concept. Perhaps, placing/composing religious objects / flowers into the landscape in some way would enhance the series, match the other images and add a spiritual element. 

As discussed Hanging tree 2 and Drowning pool 2 feel most resolved in relation to your artist statement. These two images along with burning field 2 share similar palette and tone and evoke a mythical element, which complements your concept. 

This gives me a ‘tight’ series of three along with good reasons for eliminating the photo of the church, despite its conceptual affinity, and an interesting insight into the kind of language I need to be adopting to self-critique my own work. I’m referring in particular to the words ‘resolved’ which I’ll bear in mind for future reference, and ‘palette’, which is obviously important as a binding agent in any series of images.

In video discussion with my tutor I learned that there are two fundamental binary choices that have to be made to ensure consistency across a series – orientation (landscape/portrait) and colour/black and white. The third, palette, hadn’t entered into my thinking, but from a limited knowledge of painting and painters I know that individual painters have a preferred choice of basic colours from which to mix, their unique palette in other words. It makes perfect sense that photography should differ only according to the conditions of the medium. I’d therefore want to ensure that I use the same camera for each image and that I’m consistent in the software and post-processing domains (I use a digital camera) with respect to choice of palette (which implies choices around hue, tint, saturation and so forth) Leading on from this is a desire to review the work of certain photographers to see how this awareness of palette comes across in their images. I also learned to think more critically about point of view. For example looking up at a tree gives more of a sense of proximity to the branches and alludes to ideas of hanging and possibly ropes. Looking down into a pool heightens the anticipation of jumping or being thrown into the water. Foliage can suggest limbs or hair. Simple but effective techniques to remember in future. All the time avoiding the temptation to adopt a pseudo- gothic or other hackneyed generic style to play up an assumed dramatic effect.

To further the project, perhaps consider photographing sites at different times of the day, thinking about how the tone of the light can help convey the dark history of the land.

This one, light, had been on my mind as I visited the sites. Returning to Chloe Dewe Mathews’ series ‘Shot at Dawn’ it becomes apparent that the shots are taken in the early morning hours, around the time that executions will have taken place. This strengthens the work both conceptually and materially in the quality of light that gives the photographs their unique resonance. I should therefore go back to the three sites – tree, pool and field – and shoot as far as possible in similar lighting conditions.

Further creativity is encouraged and intervention, mixing up still life with portraiture or landscape, exploring ways it can still look visibly part of same series but cross genres.

This refers to my inclusion of the images of flowers as votive offerings. The idea is fine as an idea but, as with the church, the images don’t sit well alongside the three central pillars of the series. This led to discussion (and many interesting research references to be followed up) around ways of mixing genres, more exactly incorporating the idea of votive offerings in what is essentially a small landscape series. Physical intervention is one idea, strewing actual flowers around the scenes and photographing that. Because I initially came to photography via an interest in collage and photomontage, where I found myself interrogating found images, there’s scope here for some sort of splicing or blending or merging of images of landscape and objects (ie tree/flowers etc), either in the analogue or digital domain. Or some sort of recursive process where images of one thing are photographed at the site of another, embedded in the landscape, perhaps multiple times. All to be investigated in the weeks ahead.