Welcome

BA (Hons) Photography 

I am working towards a degree in photography and am currently studying my third module, ‘Identity and Place’. The degree comprises seven modules in total which I hope to complete in seven years.

My first year was spent studying the module  Expressing your vision under the excellent guidance of Chris Coekin. My second year was Context and Narrative where I have had the privilege of being taught by Derek Trillo.

Two years ago I had never even owned a camera and this course has opened my eyes to photography, the arts generally and creativity. I work in Finance, far removed from photography, and I have a degree in Literature.

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Aware or unaware … and why?

 

Aware or unaware … and why?

Part two of Identity and Place has discussed portraiture taken where the subject is aware or unaware of the photographer. We have learned that some practitioners like Julian Germain and Daniel Meadows have taken images where the subject is aware and other practitioners like Tom Wood and Martin Parr have used the unaware approach.

I thought it would be a good idea to summarise the work and approach of some of the practitioners we have learned about in order to clarify the reason behind their choice of approach before attempting assignment 2.

The ‘aware’

Julian Germain

In his series For every minute you are angry Germain took images of Charles Snelling over a period of eight years. Germain took the time to get to know Charles and befriend him in order to best  portray him and his simple life. Together with images of Charles, Germain has included old family archives to add to the sense of nostalgia and previous life when his wife was alive. The result is a series where both Germain and Snelling have contributed to the work. By getting to know Charles and with him being complicit in the images we get the sense that Charles has happily invited Germain into his life and as such is comfortable and natural enough to allow the photographer to show the details of his life, warts and all.

Daniel Meadows with Martin Parr

In their series June Street Meadows and Parr took images of families in their very similar front rooms. The subjects are clearly aware of the photographer as they are forward facing and posing for the camera. The staged ‘sameness’ of the images provides a documentary feel to the series as though the photographers are making a record of what life was like at the time and commenting on the shared values and lifestyle of the community. For me it comments on the individuality behind the corporate decision surrounding demolition and re-homing and by being complicit, shows that the people wanted their stories to be heard.

The ‘unaware’

Tom Wood

In his series Looking for Love Tom Wood captures covert images of young people in a night club. Being covert they capture those scenes that couldn’t really be staged; the flirting and the boredom and the drunken camaraderie and atmosphere. Wood was a regular visitor to the nightclub so he was generally known to be around now and again. So, even though the subjects didn’t know they were being photographed at the time they moved in an environment where it was accepted that a photographer was present which gave an unspoken consent.

Martin Parr

In his series Japanese Commuters (1998) Parr takes covert images of commuters who have fallen asleep on their journey. Because the subjects are asleep there seems to be something more voyeuristic about these images than those of Wood. These commuters could not be aware that they were being photographed and as such Parr has shown us an intensely private and unguarded moment in each of his images.

 

Photo North Festival 2018 (Harrogate Convention Centre)

Photo North Festival, Harrogate, November 2018

Panel and Audience Discussion: Women in Photography

This was a three day photographic event from 9 – 11 November 2018 and I went on the first day. I arrived in time to attend a talk where a panel of female photographers presented some of their work and then led a group discussion about the female experience of photography.

The women were the panel leader (unnamed), Jo Coates; Carolyn Mendelsohn; Tessa Bunney and Ella Murtha who all presented a brief outline of some of their works which was followed by a group discussion around the challenges that women face in the photographic industry.

The panel and the audience spoke of their experiences, which included one photographer, who had a male assistant, saying that she was usually the one considered to be the assistant, and another lady who had to crouch down to take a wedding photograph only to suffer lewd remarks from a male guest and had to remain silent about it so as not to spoil the bride’s day.

I am reminded here of very early on in my first year of studying, my sister and I decided to take our cameras out for a practice day. We drove a short while to a local country park where there was opportunity to take landscape images. We parked and walked maybe fifty metres and could see the main road at all times but we felt unsafe, especially with expensive cameras and tripods, so we abandoned the idea. I very quickly learned that some areas are out of bounds for me without a male escort.

One panellist, Ella Murtha, talked about the difficulties of having a family as well as a career in photography and how a supportive partner was essential. Someone else said that everything just got done more slowly, but with determination it was possible, just harder.

Joanne Coates Jo is a documentary photographer who is ‘interested in working life and class inequality’ particularity in the north of the country (Joanne Coates, 2018)

Carolyn Mendelsohn Carolyn is interested in the stories of individuals and I was delighted to have seen her exhibition Being Inbetween recently.

Tessa Bunney Tessa’s work concentrates on rural life including farming. She likes to concentrate on ‘observing details which we  usually let slip by unnoticed and aims to contribute to the ongoing debate about the changing nature of rural life’ (Tessa Bunney, 2018). Tessa Bunney’s website

Ella Murtha Ella is the daughter of the late Tish Murtha, a documentary photographer who died suddenly in 2013. Ella’s grief and shock led her to look through her mother’s archives which gave her comfort at that time. Ella then founded the Tish Murtha archives to share her mother’s work online.

 

It was sad that all these hugely talented women said that they felt like ‘impostors that were going to be found out’; such was their general lack of confidence in themselves in a man’s world.

Bibliography

Joanne Coates. (2018). About. [online] Available at: http://www.joannecoates.co.uk/about [Accessed 14 Nov. 2018].

Tessa Bunney. (2018). About. [online] Available at: http://www.tessabunney.co.uk/about/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2018].

Barnsley Photographic Society, Les Forrester

Talk by Les Forrester

Monday 5 November

I went to the meeting of the Barnsley Photographic Society yesterday as Les Forrester was speaking about The Art in Architecture. This subject matter is a little removed from this current course on Identity and Place, where we have been concentrating on portraits, but even so it was a hugely valuable learning experience that made me want to go out and shoot architectural images. These two images below are ones that I took a couple of years ago as a practice exercise in using lines to create an abstract quality.

my own image

my own image

 

Les Forrester travels widely in the search for his images; Berlin, Valencia, London, Singapore and he makes tremendous efforts to get the shots he wants. He may have early morning starts and long rail journeys, and he may wait for up to an hour in the same position waiting for all the crowds to move from his chosen location to give him an image free of people.

Les explained that the ‘Art in Architecture’ refers to ‘interpretation, not representation’ and I understand what he means with this. Much architectural photography has the aim of recording the building as a literal copy of it, Les’s images move away from the literal to the artistic and makes us see buildings from unusual viewpoints, both from the outside and the inside and makes us see shapes and light both colour and monochrome.  The effect is to create an artistic pattern of lines and curves.

I loved Les’s images and you can see some of them on his website here.

Berlin, Germany

Two of my favourite images of the evening are these:

The Octagon Courtyard, image by Les Forrester

(Image reproduced with kind permission of Les Forrester)

Marie-Elisebeth-Luders-Haus, image by Les Forrester

(Image reproduced with kind permission of Les Forrester)

Why do I like them?

The vibrant colour in the Courtyard image, the unusual viewpoint, the symmetry, the blue of the windows that echos the sky. The optical illusion of looking upwards and downwards that plays with your eyes.

The contrast of square and circular in the second image, the huge sense of scale as the eye eventually finds the tiny cyclist at the bottom right; the way that the eye is caught within the frame and refuses to leave it, the sense of depth as the eye is drawn through the window and along the stairs and the way that it is strangely colourful without being, well, colourful.

Les took the time to show us examples of his ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots and how he works on his images post camera. I found this very useful as I have always wondered if what I do/intend to do, is the same as what other more experienced photographers do, only they do it better. And yes, he has images taken in daylight that he has altered to look like they were taken at night, he increases saturation, changes colour and contrast. He removes people, straightens lines, crops and so on. I was always worried that there was some ‘secret’ out there that I was ignorant of! There isn’t, but that doesn’t mean I can do the things that Les does. I will need hours and hours of practice with image editing software to even hope to come close.

Les’s passion for photography was evident in his ‘pernickety’ attention to detail, his commitment to getting just the right shot, his long travels and his unsocial hours. Many thanks to Les for this talk. I enjoyed it very much, and learned a great deal.

Jason Dimmock again

Jason Dimmock

I briefly looked at Jason Dimmock’s work when I started part two of Identity and Place because one of his images was shown on the opening page of the course binder. You can see my initial post here. I promised myself that I would return to look at more of Dimmock’s work as his portraits appealed so much. Link to Jason Dimmock’s website.

I particularly like this image of the lady in the camel coat seen here and the image of the gentleman in open collar and jacket seen here. Dimmock has captured complex emotions in these images. We can ‘see’ these two people thinking.

The image of the lady has a plain and ordinary cafe setting as she nurses a hot drink. She is alone and looks sad. She is clean and well dressed and looks expensive and somehow doesn’t belong at this cheap table with sugar cubes in a jar. Why is she there? What is she thinking?

The ‘gentleman’ image has no background context whatsoever, just a plain backdrop. His gaze is looking out of the frame in the manner that we all look upwards when we are trying to think of something or recall something. We immediately want to know what is on his mind. He looks sad, as though he may have been crying.

I cant seem to find a title for these images like I can with ‘London’ and ‘Playa del Duque’ but if there is one then it could probably guide us deeper into the series. Suppose, for instance, the title was ‘Divorce’ then we would have more context to help us interpret the images.

Playa del Duque, Tenerife

Dimmock’s series Playa del Duque, Tenerife is an example of ‘same background, different subject’ series. All the images are taken of individuals against a beach background. All  we can learn about the subjects is in the way they look, their clothes and their stance. We dont have any differing background contexts to help us in identifying their personality. We obviously assume they all like beach holidays but it is their posture that says much about their personality. Their stances show us whether they are confident or not. A comparison between the man in the red shorts and his hands on hips stance with the young man in the turquoise shorts with his arms folded in front of him indicates a clear difference in their levels of confidence and sense of self.

Project Proposals

Potential projects

I wanted a way of keeping track of my ideas for future work. I have therefore created a Project proposal form where I can record my ideas  along with technical and practical thoughts and make a note of what inspired me. I think they will prove useful as my learning progresses and ensure that I dont forget things that I may want to return to at some stage.

To all my fellow OCA students, if something like this would work for you then please feel free to use my forms as a base for your own.

OpenLearn courses (picturing the family)

The Open University short photography courses

Picturing the family

I have previously studied with the Open University and gained a BA (Hons) degree in Literature. I gained a lot through distance learning and my fantastic experience with the OU was a significant motivator in my taking this current photography degree with the OCA and I have found both to be excellent. So, even though I am studying primarily at the moment with the OCA it hasn’t stopped me looking at what is on offer from the OU.

The Open University offers free short courses via their ‘OpenLearn’ service and I have decided to compliment my OCA learning with a few photography related short courses from this service. After each short course you can download a ‘statement of participation’ which makes it easy to chart your progress.

My first short course is ‘Picturing the Family’.

Link to my OU profile

This course has concentrated on our family albums and what the images can tell us about our past and what a photograph can reveal. Early images were taken by professional photographers in a studio but by the mid 1900s most images were snapshots taken by families.

Victorian photographs were luxury items due to their cost and photographers’ aims were to show their subject at his or her best. Following in the footsteps of classical painting the aim was also to display something of personality and character; always positive though and in keeping with convention. Women had to be modest, and men, strong and noble. In this early practice, the photographer had control and the sitter had to do as s/he was told. Main directions revolved around facial expressions which were crucial in order to successfully capture a sitter’s character. No big ‘cheese’ smiles at this time as this was considered undignified but also exposure times were long and a smile could not be held still for long enough without blurring the image. Is this why we think of the Victorians as being serious and unfeeling? Poses had to be flattering and photographers aimed to hide any ‘less than perfect’ attributes. They also were required to be formal to suggest status and elegance. Men were posed differently to women.

Painted backdrops were mentioned and I was particularly interested after recently studying the work of Clare Strand and how she has used Victorian backdrops in her ‘Gone Astray ‘ series Irving Penn and Clare Strand. From my own personal archives I have a photograph of my Grandmother and Grandfather with my mum and auntie as children. This was taken around 1933. The backdrop is painted and it portrays quite an elegant setting which removes my family from their own domestic setting, adding a touch of luxury. I also note the poses. Grandad is standing, which makes him taller and identifies him as ‘head’ of the family. Nana is seated, knees together and arms circling her daughter, altogether a traditional family scene.

20181031_171129[8149]

Image from my own family archive circa 1933

Lighting was usually from daylight that was adjusted using blinds and reflectors along with opaque glass and so on. Again, the idea was to make the sitter look as good as possible. No wrinkles if possible.

Auntie Joyce

Here is another image from my archives albeit taken much later than the Victorian era, in around 1970. My auntie here, in this studio portrait, is captured free of unflattering shadows and harsh light.

Mum and Dad wedding

Another way of improving a photograph was by adding colour after the print was made. I am delighted that I have an example (above) of this in my family archives. The instructions on the back read ‘hair as on other proof, bouquet as other proof, deep red roses with fern, close mouth on both slightly’. This is an image of my parents in 1951.

Photographs at the time were usually of special events like weddings or to commemorate an occasion or to capture an ideal. They didn’t exactly portray real life, just the good times. Images were also taken then (as they still are today) to record achievement, the cap and gown of graduation, the sports success and so on.

I found this image in my archives and though it isn’t Victorian it reminded me of that era where images were formal.

From my family archive 1944

Compare the wedding photograph above with this

and with this

Images courtesy of Pixabay

 

I have enjoyed this short course and learning about the Victorian conventions that dictated acceptable photography of the time, the expressions, the poses and the backdrops and the intention to portray the ‘ideal’ as it was considered to be at the time. I am also interested in how these conventions change over time and how the ‘ideal’ changes from one generation to the next.

 

here is my certificate.

 

Thinking about future projects

Projects

I have started to think more around projects and having something to say and have therefore started to make notes on ideas when they come to me. I completed  a project on ‘illiteracy’ for an assignment last year in Context and Narrative seen here and I was very pleased with the result, as was my tutor, Derek Trillo. Another project idea that I had, My life in boxes was also used in an assignment  last year seen here and though I was pleased with it, Derek felt that it was not so interesting as ‘illiteracy’. However, I am delighted that I am a) having ideas for assignments and b) being able to use my ideas in my learning.

I keep on returning particularly to the idea of a portrait without a face and to emetophobia.  I will continue to make notes of ideas that interest me with the intentions of articulating them through photography at some point.

 

 

Les Monaghan, Relative Poverty (Sheffield Cathedral)

Relative Poverty

Relative Poverty is a series created by Les Monaghan in liaison with poor families in South Yorkshire.

Monaghan brings the discussion of poverty into the national conversation and raises awareness by highlighting the individual stories behind the national problem.

Sheffield isn’t too far from where I live but I had never visited the Cathedral before. On entering we asked where the exhibition was and the officials didn’t immediately know about any exhibition and said that there was nothing on display at that time. Luckily  another official overheard and wondered if we might mean the display in the bottom left corner though she wasn’t sure what it was exactly.

I had previously tried to find this exhibition in the Doncaster libraries but without success and to be then find it somewhere almost ‘hidden’ and unknown about surprised me. It certainly was something we had to search out; I didn’t advertise itself much.

Anyway, it was there and was well worth seeking out. Small and understated but approachable and humbling. Monaghan’s images were accompanied by narrative which told something of the individuals concerned. We learn that ‘Dave’ has only five pence to last until his benefit was paid. He would then be able to buy cat food and pay his bills.

In his photographer’s statement, Monaghan says ‘I believe that the media invisibility enables the government to continue its neglect’ and continues  by saying that (he) ‘wanted to use photography to lift the cloak of systemic and wilful invisibility’ (Centre for Welfare Reform, 2018)

Monaghan clearly blames Government policy for the plight of the 1.25 million people in this country that live in poverty.  If there is, say, 2% of the population living in hardship I suppose the Government may not be too bothered by this low statistic but Monaghan doesn’t see these people as statistics, he sees them as individuals that are struggling to live in this country.

Monaghan goes on to say ‘as I worked with the families I learnt that they were all in destitution as a result of government policy. (ibid)

Relative Poverty by Les Monaghan

 

my own image taken at Sheffield Cathedral

my own image taken at Sheffield Cathedral

my own image taken at Sheffield Cathedral

Image by Les  Monaghan, Relative Poverty, accessed here

I was surprised at how small the exhibition was both in terms of number of images and in floor space. Small as it was though, I felt that it packed a powerful punch. The single coin in the man’s hand, the empty cupboards and the narrative that brought the people to life and gave them an identity.

I was also surprised at how the narrative was presented. Ordinary sheets of white A4, typed and pinned to the display board. But then, this exhibition was not about extravagance and expense was it?

For me, the exhibition was standing quietly in corner, not making a ‘noise’ until you got up closer and heard just what exactly it had to say.

Bibliography

Centre for Welfare Reform. (2018). Making Poverty Visible. [online] Available at: https://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/news/making-poverty-visible/00377.html [Accessed 31 Oct. 2018].

Exercise 2.4 Same background, different model

Our learning surrounding this exercise guided us to the works of Irving Penn and Clare Strand.

Penn’s plain and neutral backgrounds suggested the equality between his subjects and prevented any prejudice or assumption that could be created by using vernacular backgrounds. Strand’s Victorian backdrops added a sense of disharmony to her portraits.

Exercise 2.4 same background, different model

This exercise required a fixed background for three different subjects. Using the same background throughout the series is consistent with the works of the two practitioners named above.

I decided against a plain background like Penn. Penn’s subjects all represented different ‘types’ whereas  mine represented the ‘same’. Penn’s neutral backgrounds were essential in avoiding distraction from the main subject but I wanted my images to have context; I wanted to show some degree of location in order to provide a setting. Strand’s backgrounds juxtaposed her setting with her subject to provide disharmony but I wanted to portray compatibility. I wanted my miners to be ‘entrenched’ in their mining environment to show how mining is part of who they are.

To provide the required context and compatibility I therefore chose miners against an appropriate industrial background, on location. A couple of years ago, I went to see a mining photographer (Simon) at work. He used an artificial ‘wallpaper’ mining backdrop within a ‘studio’ to suggest a mining context. You can see my learning around this here, watching a professional. However, I have chosen an authentic outside location instead.

My background though a little busier than Penn’s was sufficiently ‘plain’ to not distract from the main subject while ensuring the industrial context was apparent.

Chris, John and Gerry

Chris, left, has been a miner for much of his life but then became a firefighter. He now works at the Mining Museum as a tour guide and an electrician. John, centre, has been a miner all his life. He has worked at Newmillerdam and South Kirkby and now works at the Mining Museum as a tour guide, a ground worker and gardener. Gerry, right, has also been a miner all his life and has worked at Rothwell and Stillingfleet. He now works at the Mining Museum as a Safety Engineer.

All my subjects are standing tall and confident and look at ease. I hope this suggests their pride in their occupation and the industry that was. Like Penn’s and Strand’s they all fall into the ‘aware’ category as all my subjects specifically posed for me and knowingly contributed to the image making. By photographing them in this way I have stressed their importance by singling them out and asking their permission, and having them fill the frame.

 

How successful was this exercise (500 words)

I wanted a mining background without any hint of cliche. I therefore wanted to avoid an easily recognisable structure like the headgear or huge machinery. I feel that my background of chimneys and stables suggest mining, or industry,  without being too explicit.

I know I have made a glaring mistake in depth of field consistency. The left hand image has a far more blurred background than the other two and it is so obvious as to disrupt the series. This will not happen again. I actually prefer the left hand image so If I was repeating this exercise  I would alter the other two.

Regarding confidence building I was hugely encouraged by this exercise. I directed the miners’ positions and liaised with them as I altered my camera settings; I asked them to move forward a bit, back a bit, etc. I then thanked them for their time and told them it was much appreciated. Technically, I had my tripod which drew attention to me. People walked past and turned back to look but I was largely oblivious.

Irving Penn and Clare Strand

Irving Penn (1917 to 2009)

Penn was an American photographer who worked for Vogue Magazine. Other than fashion, his work also included modern still life. Penn travelled the World taking images of  local people. In his series, Worlds in a Small Room, Penn placed his subjects in a portable studio, against neutral backgrounds in order to remove them from any of their natural context.

Penn: Worlds in a Small Room

Penn preferred working in a controllable studio where he was in control of every aspect of his image making. His subjects are therefore posed to his specification and placed against a background of his choice. Penn often didn’t speak the language of his subjects so had to physically move them in the positions he wanted them to be in. He couldn’t just say ‘look left a bit, raise your hand a little’ etc. It makes me wonder, as his images are so precisely constructed; are they almost like still lifes with the human subject being treated as a precisely placeable object.

There are no distractions in the background so we are drawn to the subjects which are the main concern in any portrait. There is so much detail in the clothing, head-wear and props of some of these subjects that a detailed background would draw our eye away from the person and create a confusing image. Penn wanted us to focus on the differences and detail of his subjects and a neutral background ensures that we do. By sharing a background, all these different people are photographed without the prejudice that could be created by differing contextual backdrops.

 

Claire Strand

Astray – away from the correct path or direction

Claire Strand, in her series, Gone Astray,  used painted Victorian murals as backgrounds to photograph her subjects. The painted background is the same in each portrait and her subjects are all a little bit dishevelled; a lady with a ladder in her tights for example. Strand’s modern subjects are juxtaposed with a Victorian style backdrop. Is Strand trying to suggest that her subjects don’t fit in to modern society? or is she trying to illustrate how things have changed. I feel that she created a sense of displacement which arouses curiosity in the viewer. Why are these people being staged in front of an old fashioned screen? What is the connection?

Gone Astray

Gone Astray is the title of an essay written by Charles Dickens that describes how a child (Dickens himself?) became lost on a sight seeing visit to London and spent the day wondering around the city on his own. Has Strand copied this title? Is her work connected in some way? Has she purposely used a Victorian setting to bring to mind a Dickensian era and has she purposely used dishevelled subjects as a reference to some of Dicken’s main protagonists? If so, why?

The backdrops are not realistic or relevant. A woman dressed for the office with her heels and handbag is dressed for the late twentieth century or later. The backdrop suggest decades before, when portrait studios had such preset backdrops. We are drawn to the hole in her tights. She is posing with her right leg in front, drawing attention to the ladder. Everything looks uncomfortable; the clash of subject with the background, the ladder in the tights, the awkward stiff pose. She looks conscious of being photographed even though she is looking away from the camera which adds to the discomfort.

With Strand’s series we see how the background creates tension within the image but I feel the series asks more questions than it answers.