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Saturday, 10 September 2016

Japan in Photos

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Japan

Day 1

 

Our flight was an hour delayed though all right thereafter. One thing notable, that whilst Premier Economy is Ok, it still screws your back when trying to sleep / get comfy on a 12 hour flight.  Japan immigration and customs is dead efficient; out to the station in no time. Getting the JR rail passes was OK, though began to realise they don't cover everything - the Skyliner into Tokyo would be extra so we opted for the Narita Line....whoa....to top the humidity, a monsoon is passing through!  Torrential downpours and we’re held up on the tracks for over an hour due to rain.... as compensation, first sightings of a few storks and cranes in the rice fields.  Tokyo station was bustling when we finally arrived; and yes, it's a little bit of a culture shock…though found the option of buying a one day subway pass (access all areas).  Hotel (Hyatt) just one line / ten stops away.  Checked in easily and spent the rest of the day walking around the nearby park, settling there to watch an impromptu music festival, with street stalls for food (noodles and chicken).

 

Day 2

 

It's become evident we may need to pay for some of the Shinkansen on top of our JR pass, specifically the fast trains to and from Fukuoka.  S's in a mood as I wouldn't let her open the curtains at 5am...I've got a well detailed jet lag regime that seems to be working despite the three hours of interrupted sleep on the plane... S is not impressed. Today we're off to Nagano, then on to Yaramouchi.  In trying our 24hr subway tickets this morning, neither work...they're only for the day of purchase...annoying as we specifically asked.  Nonetheless, it forced us to walk a comparatively short distance to Shinjuku station; from where we were able to take the Chuo line to Tokyo station with our JR passes. From here onto Nagano on the Shinkansen, former centre for the Winter Olympics... Cool revolving seats on the Shinkansen!  Arriving at Nagano Station - tourist guide, check; bag drop, check; onward train to Yudanaka, check.  All organised we grab a coffee and then head the mile and a half to Zenkoji Temple.  Our first, so a lovely array of Buddhas, artifacts, incense and artwork.  A long pitch-black corridor underneath the crypt was fun, but for the screaming baby in front.  After a couple of hours we head back to catch the Monkey Express - it's a fare not covered by our JR pass, taking us to Yudanaka and our only authentic Japanese Hotel. A short walk (that I'd already googled) later, to receive a warm smiling welcome, a green tea and broken English outlining the authentic dress, setting, how to use the spa and the room layout. We head to the spa..., which is hot...after a brief respite, heading out to find some food. It's a comparatively poor town, a little ramshackle and not as ordered as I'd imagined. Clean and very polite, we happen upon a small 'restaurant'; more of a family home conversion, with knick-knacks all over. Whilst rustic, with hand written menus, dad, mum and grandma rustle up a lovely rice and fish dish for me, noodles for S.  A1, if I hadn't thrown my soup all over the table and myself. Strolling back to the hotel, which is close by, I book a massage.  Whilst specifying 30minutes I don't even question the extension, mid pummel of the back. More of a kimono clothed osteopathy session...no doubt tomorrow will determine the success or otherwise.  Separate futon beds tonight, though we may fall out over the air-conditioning....

 

Day 3

 

Slept OK on the futon, though could have done with an extra and softer pillow...definitely felt the results of last night's massage...all being well in a good way?!  Decided over breakfast that the Snow Monkeys were a must; so close it would be a shame not to see the park, even if we get into trouble for missing our reserved train to Kanazawa.  Despite the lack of English spoken at the hotel, we managed to hitch a lift up to the park...rather than leaving our bags at the hotel, we swung by a cafe next to the station and were told to leave them at a table...trustingly obliged.  A quick 7k up to the park entrance followed by a 30minute pathway through the forest...lovely and uneventful save for the snake that gave a little surprise before diving into the foliage...then monkeys! Very cute, especially the littlest amongst them...not at all affected by all the fussing tourists and at times even appeared to be posing for the camera. After an hour, strolled back down to a cafe and jumped in a cab to Yudanaka...collecting our bags, we felt a little awkward that we didn't have a coffee or grab a bite to eat.  At this point S figured she'd left nearly all the cash in her clothing, fortunately Japan's pretty law abiding!  Nice train guard helped with tickets from the machine before boarding quaint little trains, with one change, back to Nagano.  No trouble switching our reserved tickets and managed to hop onto the next Shinkansen, getting us into Kanazawa around 4pm.  Hopping into a window seat that we hoped would stay free, we had to return to our original allocations in favour of a small boy; just as well we 'met' him as he was sound asleep and needed waking when we arrived in Kanazawa. A short walk to Hotel Nikko, we dropped our bags in the room and headed for the Samurai district. A lovely walk around the Castle and paid to get into the Kenrokuen Garden for an hour before closing at 6pm...Japanese flora and fauna as imagined, beautifully manicured spaces with pretty trees held up by intricate wooden supports...lots of locals drawing up also which made for a few permitted images. Starting to rain heavily in the gardens, we got even more soaked on our way past a kids band performing under a marquee, arriving at (bemusedly) October Fes in Kanazawa?! Big beers, some ‘oompa’ songs, and a free packet of cigs (from a promo Cigarette girl) later, we hopped in a cab back to the hotel; popping around the corner for a tapas style meal (including lovely sushi Tuna) and drink before bed.

 

Day 4

 

Not the largest of beds, still grey outside (Kanazawa is known for being rainy - the cigarette girl had informed me) we popped out for breakfast (simple affair at the station) before a return round trip via the Hotel to check out, in time for our 10h58 train onwards to Kyoto. Sufficient 'in time' to forward reserve our seats to Fukuoka via Hiroshima, and our return from Fukuoka to Tokyo on the 3rd September. I'd always imagined the latter would take around six hours and it's covered by our JR pass without surcharges, so hurray, our plan worked. Fast Shinkansen to Kyoto, watching the many mountain ranges go past....my, they've some pretty long railway tunnels! Passing the enormous Lake Biwa (670km2 to Geneva's 580km2), loads of fishing villages, Watersports and beaches. Arriving Kyoto the subway is much simpler than Tokyo...3 stops on one of the two lines and we make our way to the hotel with ease. A small, simple though serviceable room, when we've decanted our stuff, we head out on foot to take in Nijo-jo Castle and the Imperial Palace Central Park. 20,223 steps and a quick stop in the hotel...onward stroll along Nishiki Market and the Geisha district for some dinner. No Geishas, though lovely arcades down by the market, onto narrow rows of bespoke restaurants...end up in an expensive, though very authentic (no English menu) restaurant with a deck outside overlooking the river. A lovely nine dish mix of sushi and fondue style food, washed down with some Japanese beer. Strolling back toward the hotel, Kyoto is still bustling at 22h30...a nightcap in a very Japanesey 'Irish' bar before bed.

 

Day 5

 

Up and off, no hanging about...Himeji Castle, Rokko and Osaka... Heading out of Kyoto, succumbing to the ease of a McD breakfast, take the train to Osaka, changing for Himeji.  Spot in timing wise, to be expected, we arrive at Himeji after a seamless change at Osaka. A 1km walk to the entrance it's everything as expected; tones of tourists taking photos that will be inferior to the many already caught and publicly available online. A 'show' castle, it's nonetheless impressive and there is a sense of the centuries it has been around. Climbing up the five stories inside is steep (socks or bare feet only of course; might be an appropriate adoption at interior sights world over)...S's gullibility knows no bounds - Taken in by the suggestion that 400 more soldiers died falling down the many staircases than in battle. Overall OK, though not sure I'd recommend if someone were on a tight schedule.  A local train back to Kobe, a little faffing in continuing onto Sannomiya, then locating the Hankyu line to Rokko; a very cute burgundy shiny with green highlights train, eventually found. A bus to the cable car station and...an old creaky vennicular up mount Rokko. From height it's easier to appreciate just how much of a sprawl this Western side of Japan is, Osaka, blending into the next suburb and again and so on into Kobe and beyond; impressive man made islands, one to accommodate an entire shipping cargo operation, another Kobe airport. 'On a clear day, through those peninsulas and out to sea, you can see America in the distance'...'Really?', replies S?!?! Deciding not to loiter, we take the rickety old train back down the mountain, opting to walk further down through the suburbs to Rokko railway station.  Continuing with the Burgundy Hankyu all the way to Osaka, it's great to people watch ... Japanese kids are expressively cute and quite amusing. I then take us on a 7km schlepp from the central station, out through the projects (there is another side to Japan) over the river and onto Shin Osaka station...bugger, just missed the hourly Shinkansen back to Kyoto; faced with a wait until 19h43, I suggest we grab a bite at one of the eateries. I'd had in mind a sit down noodle affair; S in her wisdom, selected some 'tapa naky'?...quite horrible and much like KFCs back home, devoid of any use to the digestive system....oh well, dieting won't hurt and I had an apple earlier...

 

Day 6

 

A little more relaxed baring in mind we stayed local to Kyoto...Higashiyama Walk, then onto the fish market equal to around 19,000 steps. We start with a light and lovely breakfast at a cafe opposite the hotel, grabbing our things thereafter to head out. Trekking down the main Karasuma Road as far as the Higashiyama Hongan-ji temple we take a left and walk through the backstreets and across the river. Architecturally I like Kyoto more that the other cities so far; between the main drags and towered offices, a grid like system of small two story dwellings - cute and homely. We find a shrine near the Museum before checking the map to get bearings for Kiyomizu-Dera (KD)...my, the mosquitos like S! Walking up into an impressive graveyard we have to head back round due to a diversion. KD is surrounded by tourist outlets, a spattering of true art shops amongst them...just as we arrive, the heavens open and the rain (torrential) sets in for the day. Brollies at hand I'm struggling to hold a steady camera at 1/60th...the photography becomes more and more frustrating as we traipse along the route past more and more shops, to Ryozen Kannon, Kodai-ji and Choin-in...all in all a wet and less than exhilarating walk - sure the quaint streets are more attractive than many though I get a sense that it's contrived, all a little too picture postcardy! Heading back across the river past our first night restaurant, we pass through the shopping district and into the fish market arcade, Nishki-koji...by contrast this is fun, an assault upon the senses and the only way to avoid putting on 20,000 calories is to keep moving! Washing back at the room before dinner...a fab little restaurant around the corner, dinner made up of salad, skewers, noodles and ginger ale...back to the room and Netflix a movie before sleep...

 

Day 7

 

What a difference the weather makes! We'd already noted earlier that the Japanese don't seem to wear sunglasses?!...needed them today; a little less humid and temperatures in the sun would have been well in excess of 30. We arrive in Arashiyama (west Kyoto) via the 5 minute JP from Nijo.  Pretty much everyone is heading for the monkey park. After a little deliberation, we hire bicycles for the day (an outstanding decision) heading south to the Togetsukyo Bridge, we take the river pathway route west upstream. At the end there's a shrine to some workers (after crossing paths with another snake, the first in Nagano province). The shrine looks really small in the photos so we pass and return to cross over the Togetsukyo Bridge, spending a few minutes viewing the bridge from downstream.  A little temples out and not as keen as the hoards of local tourists we skip Tenryuji Temple and head straight for the bamboo groves behind. Stopping for an ice cream we chatted and exchanged experiences with a lovely couple from Sydney before continuing.  Passing Jojakkoji (best in Autumn) and Gioji, we continue north, arriving at Saga-Toriimoto, a historic street lined by traditional townhouses (machiya). Exploring one of the shops we're greeted with a refreshing drink by the lovely shopkeeper and this is as good an invitation to buy a few gifts for people as any!!  Bearing right, suckers for punishment, we head up the mountain to discover the top is inaccessible with our bicycles.  The walk up is rewarded with a cycle down though!  From the junction we split we from, we continue North, onto Otagi Nebutsuji, a temple whose grounds are covered in hundreds of small stone statues.  A comparative highlight, there are only half a dozen other tourists there, shaded amongst trees with every stone face, pulling a different, occasionally humorous expression. From the exit of Otagi Nenbutsuji, we cross over to the larger, two lane road. Heading down the hill for a mile, we veer left and head through the rice fields and residential neighborhoods toward Daikakuji Temple. Decidedly closed we find some lovely panoramas on the outskirts of Kyoto, as well as a little lake warning of snakes (they're evidently venomous). Winding our way back through side streets, prep school kids smile and play with water hoses after school. Returning to the bridge for a quick coffee in the afternoon sunshine, we drop the bikes back at the station, jumping on the train to Nijo, before strolling back to the Hotel. Dinner at the same place as the night before, I take my camera this time to grab some shots of the place and guys who run it.

 

Day 8

 

Neither of us slept in so decided to disregard the planned alarm call of 07h30 and after a quick shower we were on our way to Kyoto station for a revised 08h00 departure to Hiroshima.  Arriving in a little less than two hours, we swiftly deposited the bags in a funky electronic locker; quickly finding the local train to Miyajima-Guchi, strolling straight onto the ferry to Miyajima with only a minutes pause. Picturesque, nay idyllic, Miyajima delivered that expected...a hilly island with a sandy beached promenade upon which dozens of tame deer are happy to be petted and stroked. The shrine itself, impressively standing in the bay, stilled, serene and calming. A lovely little detour and a welcome moment upon the Pacific Ocean (no paddling though).  Heading back the same way (the ferry it's worth noting was included in the JR Pass), we stop off on the outskirts of central Hiroshima and walk south, past the castle and onto the Memorial Gardens past the A Bomb Dome. Still standing ruined, it survived as the bomb detonated 100m directly above it, all around obliterated in a man instant. Killing no less than 140,000, it's cause for much reflection and the park and Dome, with the ground zero area behind, amongst a city rebuilt in 79 years, are testament to the Japanese; a kind, forgiving, humble and hardworking people. Heading back to the station, we continue our journey to Fukuoka, catching the 15h26 and arriving in Hakata, bang on time, at 16h34. The train journey gave way to a change in landscape, densely urban built up, set continuously amongst a mountainous skyline as a backdrop; giving way to more countryside, paddy fields interspersed with singular wooden houses, hills rather than mountains.  Station stops along the way remain very developed, Kokura heavily industrial, concrete and ironwork. A Train guard catches a loose wasp, over and above, dutiful.  A shame the staff at the Nishintsu Grand Hotel were not quite as on the ball...30 minutes waiting whilst they found the Expedia (paid) booking and not so much as an offer of a coffee. Moreover, when we'd made our own in the room, finally, they refused to replenish it?! Fukuoka is an odd city, clean by UK standards; it's nonetheless untidy and unkempt in relation to the other parts of Japan we've visited. Essentially it's a provincial shopping capital, with all the usual brands. We found a row of 'pop up food stalls', an effort to become more bohemian, and had a pleasant bowl of noodles and dumplings by the river, chatting to a Canadian couple based from Osaka as English teachers.

 

Day 9

 

We breakfast at the hotel, very pleasant. Book our trip to Mount Fuji for Monday at the concierge; pop in the bank to withdraw some more cash on the way to the subway. A short trip on the wrong direction before returning to Hakata.  Jumping into unreserved seats on an earlier train to Nagasaki than that planned the train window reveals far fewer tower blocks and offices; flat farmland of paddies and vegetables, canals and waterways every so often. Some of the houses quaint and traditional, the towns’ smaller and spread out. All the while there is a small range of hills to our north, between the Shinkansen line and the Sea of Japan. Otherwise the lowlands are flat enough to match the Netherlands. Then suddenly alongside the hills, misty and taller, one by one. The Nagasaki coast and the sea is in our left as we pass around the south side of the peninsular to Isahaya, then onto Nagasaki. A coastline of fishing villages, rocky coves and occasional small beaches. Unzen Dake towers on our left; the bay beneath seemingly has some kind of controlling barrier stretching across the mouth. Passing a radio controlled helicopter being used for crop spraying. Nagasaki; a good-sized harbour town, though not so large so manages to maintain a sense of itself. A promenade beside the main ferry harbour reveals a large bay with a toll suspension bridge in the distance, an ice cream stall amongst the restaurants nearby...had an ice cream not sufficed, the fish dishes and sushi looked expectedly fresh! As with Fukuoka, a little unkempt, tired, seen better days, when compared to the central Japanese urban sprawl. Walking along the river past a large property development (one of many) we head to the Nagasaki Ropeway; a cable car rising to an observatory where a far greater sense of the scale is appreciated, including how the city has developed upwards along the hillsides, similar to Kobe. Heading back down up upstream to the Memorial to the 1945 bomb, as with Hiroshima, it's hard to imagine the devastation and complete destruction.  Schoolchildren are visiting in an ever-orderly fashion. S is limping a little so we opt to take a cab back to the station and catch a train arriving back into Hakata at 18h20. Worth mentioning that the trains continue to amaze; they're speed, cleanliness, punctuality and design (the seas all swing around in either direction!). Knackered upon our return, I opt for an evening in the hotel room, making our own sandwiches from the 7/11 cheese and bread, enjoying a movie...

 

Day 10

 

Breakfast is a mixed array...the Japanese seem to enjoy a choice that would be as familiar for an evening meal as at the start of the day - salad, rice, fish and noodles, complimented by the more European scrambled eggs, sausages and breads, etc. Overcast, we opt to stay in Fukuoka and whilst there's less to see, a day mooching seems a reasonable option before return to Tokyo for the final assault. We wander from the newer commercial district to Ohori Park, with its large lake and bridged central walk through. From there, up to West Park for some of the views of the harbour; eagles and stray cats also. Heading down to the marina, we meander to the ruined Castle; rustic and picturesque in its own way, with wide stoned walkways. Back to the hotel, past warnings of Australian red back spiders, we pause before heading outboard the shopping district. A wet and lazy afternoon, mostly in the room, topped by a lovely evening meal at a small restaurant around the corner:

 

    Rice bundles under thin slices of raw beef and seasoned rice vinegar

    Salad with dressing

    Sweetcorn tempura

    Soya with an egg yolk

    Chives and avocado wrapped in thin slices of beef

    Beef slices with mustard and wasabi

 

Day 11

 

Up early again, we grab a light breakfast and head out ahead of our itinerary, amending our journey to Tokyo, we cannot get reserved seats for the earlier, first part of the joined. Arriving on platform 13 in good time for our revised itinerary, we, slightly naughty, semi-accidental, board an even earlier Nozoni 08h38, bound all the way to Tokyo; a super fast Shinkansen for which our rail card is, on its own, insufficient. A little concerned we may be challenged by a guard and have to pay a supplement...we settle into unreserved carriage seats. No real need to fear, we were never asked to show our cards. Just over two hours to Himeji, the halfway point of the 670-mile journey. More agricultural than expected beyond Kyoto, giving way to the alpine like landscape, then industrial outskirts of Nagoya. Toward Shizuoka is almost Provence like, partly the sunshine outside the train window, likely the more affluent spacing between the larger properties set on lower hillsides, greenhouses, neat allotments, winding rivers, elevated freeways and neat Tarmac a-roads. Fujifilm, Panasonic, Yamaha and Sony factories alongside the tracks every so often. Just past Kosai, an amazing bay of high end marinas and resort accommodations. Then Mount Fuji, mammoth, rising and rising, from the valley floor below upon which we traveled, clouds forming on its southwestern side. 40 minutes later we arrive in Tokyo, 4hrs and 15 minutes after leaving Fukuoka.  Fortunate that we travelled back to Tokyo today, a notice on the train warns that some services on the Sunday may be diverted or cancelled due to the approaching typhoon. Using our 'insider' knowledge from the start of our journey, we hop on the Chuo JR Line to Shinjuku Station, checking into the Hyatt Regency for our last three days in Japan. After settling, we head out for Shinjuku Gyoen via Map Camera. As expected the Leica items are expensive when compared to Europe (I'm not quite yet ready to return to Nikon). A good walk through the side streets, Shinjuku Gyoen is closing so we continue on to Yoyogi-Koen, whistling around the park before heading back to the hotel to discover this was one of our planned walks for tomorrow. Heading out to an area S fancied, we eat in a less than savoury restaurant, though it's fuel and I'm not too fussed. Personally I've been underwhelmed by the cuisine overall; too much choice and often a little disappointing. Heading back we grab an ice cream from the 7/11 before hitting the hay.

 

Day 12

 

A fab day. Heading down to Shinjuku first thing we jump on the Chuo line to Tokyo Station. It's overcast though promises to brighten up. Missing opportunities for breakfast along the way, we're in the middle of the 'city' on a quiet Sunday morning heading to the Imperial Palace and East Gardens. Whilst up before most tourists, the crowds are building as we head toward one end, before happening upon a marathon relay...looks like good but hot fun!  Walking against the flow of runners we pass the National Theatre and British Embassy, circumnavigating the palace and most. Cutting northeast I have in mind to visit the Tokyo Bowl and then on to Euno and the Zoo.  We stop for a coffee and a croissant, opting for a small restaurant as opposed to Starbucks or McDs. 15 minutes in we arrive at the Bowl and theme park....fast obvious that there's a Baseball game playing in a little while.  What the hell...I buy a baseball cap and we get a couple of tickets!  Naturally going in to support the home side, Tokyo Giants...note to self...buy two caps in future and alternate between the side that's ahead / wins!!!  We gradually learn about the innings, how the scoreboard works, most of all, that the Japanese love Baseball. It's good fun, lasts a little over three hours and I get lots of shots of the cute drinks girls. Befriended by a couple of giggly Japanese gents next to us, supporters of the Bears they were chuffed when they one in the last two innings of nine...a turnaround from the stalemate in the midst of the game. Cute cheerleaders and kids, lots of noise, fun mascots...a memory for certain!  We stroll the 4K back to Tokyo Station and hop on the Chuo line back to the hotel - opting for a lazy Sunday evening in and a set of 7/11 snacks!

 

Day 13

 

Laborious getting out of Tokyo and did a loop on us past Shinjuku 1hr 15 later. Got to see the parliament building, learned that the average delay of a Shinkansen last year was 6 seconds. We were also told that drink driving is severely penalised with passengers fined the equivalent of $3,000 each, the driver losing their license instantly. A little bit reminiscent / like a Benny Hill sketch, the coach makes its way out of Tokyo into the hills. It's now that we see a little more of the towns and habitats away from the Shinkansen lines and costs; hillside villages and towns, much as you might find or see in the European Alps. More motorbikes! We pass the new Shinkansen line - underground, magnetised, to travel at 567kph underground and due for completion in 2027 - new journey time to Osaka, 1 hour. An American grunts that they find Japan too hot; maybe they should have researched the holiday a little more! We get a small Japanese lesson before details on Fuji.  Japanese people are overwhelmingly both Shinto (Shrines - life and good health) and Buddhist (Temples - afterlife) - two religions; far fewer Christians though the Japanese love Christmas, gifts and meals, when many Japanese become Christian for the holiday. 3,776 m height for the past 10,000 years, developing from Little Fuji 200,000 years ago. An active volcano, we journey up to the first (fifth) level at 2,400 meters; our guide starts to sing a quaint little number paying tribute to the mountain; then the whole f***king coach learns a Japanese song. Thankfully they don't sing the whole 30 minutes to the stop.  Fu (rich)..,ji (Samurai)...san (Mountain). Of course, the closer you get to a mountain, the less mountainous it becomes; moreover, at 2,400 feet, you're subject to weather - Fuji was foggy, very misty indeed, any photo oops restricted to a couple of portraits and a shot of some mountain ponies. Amusing that the Americans hadn't counted on drop in temperature....again, perhaps they should have carried out a little more research?!  On to Hakone for lunch...there's a better chance of photo opps as they day progresses...  Hakone is a town based in the larger crater of a former volcano; enjoying many osen spas, it's a popular resort town surrounded be tree lined 'hills'. A nice lunch of chicken, potatoes, shrimp, salad, bread, with a modest dessert and nice coffee...setting us up for the rest of the day. Travelling up a cable car (Ropeway) to an area of volcanic activity, I couldn't get close enough to a geyser in which to push S; so alas, we have to settle for shots of the sulphur quarries and distant atmospheric depth landscapes of Fuji.  We head back down to the lake, receiving a brief on the Japanese average daily, boarding a 'pirate' ship for a boat journey on Hakone lake, Ashi?! It was lovely, quite serene if you ignored the garish decked out cruiser...30 minutes crossing the lake before heading into the coach for the journey home and Stephen Fry on my headphones.

 

Day 14

 

Heading out early to Shinjuku, jumping on the train to Tokyo station we walk the 3.5k through Toyko's equivalent of Regent or Bond Street down to the fish market. Already hot and sunny, humidity never letting up, we work up a sweat before arriving at the outer market.  Continuing to the inner warehouse area, I capture a couple of shots before being escorted out by a policeman - it's not open to the public until 10h00 (already only 08h00)...small wonder - the HSE would have a field day and I'm sure there must be a number of daily accidents from all the vehicular movements.  Completely mad and disordered with bicycles, three wheeled flat beds and mopeds whizzing around, seemingly with no regard for anything except they're destination in mind. A few selects, though as always, shooting with S in tow is a nightmare, often making my intentions obvious to potential subjects.  Moving on, we trek another 6k with a brief stop for coffee; up into Roppingi Hills... The residential quarter is lovely, reminiscent of Belsize Park set on steeper hillsides in a built up community.  Hitting the Main Street...Turkish restaurants - familiarities to the Edgeware road develop, before arriving at the Tower observatory.  A bit of a queue to get tickets, unusually without air conditioning to start...a 15min queue and we're on our way up!  To be fair, the views are pretty wonderful, showing the city in all its glory, a pretty clear, if hazy day. Most amazing is the size of Fuji in the distance, almost in waiting, over the south side of the city. Despite being two hours away (by coach as we know) it is still huge, putting the size of the infrastructure of Tokyo into perspective. Tokyo, for its part, is massively developed, though green spaces are obvious within each panorama. Staying aloft for around 45 minutes we descend and continue towards Shibuya crossing....passing through the university and some cute side streets, it takes around 30 minutes (3k). As advised online, we head up to the second floor of Starbucks on the north side; whilst the perspective isn't really the rooftop views down as in the movies, nor night (it's the middle of the day), it is a sight to see... Crazy, people passing in all directions - the one time where it's worth every pedestrian waiting until the little green man illuminates and everyone proceeds to swarm across the striped diagonal walkway. A brief stop but fun nonetheless. We climb up to Yoyogi Park once again though accidentally enter the public park to the south, as opposed to the separated shrine and temple park. It's a lovely outdoor space nonetheless and we'd already visited the Shrine after arriving on Saturday.  Strolling back to the Hyatt, S is flagging a little. Arriving back after, we calculate that we've trekked 18k in six hours, plus the sights.  We check-in online; thankfully sitting in a windowed two-seat part of Premium Economy... Off to the last nights 's hotel, Nikko, out at the airport. Uneventful as far as Tokyo, one Narita train departs and we let it go as it looks like a local subway train; whilst it was travelling to the airport, the next Express arrives in quarter of an hour...aside from being somewhat shorter, requiring a quick trip down the platform, the journey out to Narita and the short hotel bus to the hotel thereafter are uneventful.  Arriving at 16h30, whilst the location isn't sexy, the hotel is perfectly fine and the proximity to the airport makes for a simple and hassle free start to the journey home. Offered an upstage for ¥4,000 to include breakfast we decide to accept. After the usual items are on charge we spend the evening watching Netflix, having a drink in the SkyBar and munching on convenience store salad, crisps and muffins!

 

Notes:

    Extremely polite and courteous

    Cleanliness and punctuality rule

    Railway tracks are dead smooth and quiet

    Trains are fab and the seats swing round 😉

    Food isn't as impressive, OK, though not groundbreaking

    August / September are humid

    No more expensive than Europe, though by no means cheap

    Should have planned a couple of the walks in advance, maybe climbing Fuji

    Wi-Fi's great in the hotels

    Maps.me was invaluable

Day 3 (Part 1)

Day 3 (Part 1)

Day 4 (Part 1)

Day 4 (Part 1)

Day 5 (Part 1)

Day 5 (Part 1)

Day 6 (Part 2)

Day 6 (Part 2)

Day 7 (Part 2)

Day 7 (Part 2)

Day 7 (Part 3)

Day 7 (Part 3)

Day 8 (Part 1)

Day 8 (Part 1)

Day 8 (Part 3)

Day 8 (Part 3)

Day 9

Day 9

Day 12 (Part 1)

Day 12 (Part 1)

Day 12 (Part 2)

Day 12 (Part 2)

Day 13 (Part 2)

Day 13 (Part 2)

Day 14 (Part 1)

Day 14 (Part 1)

Day 14 (Part 2)

Day 14 (Part 2)

Day 14 (Part 3)

Day 14 (Part 3)

 

 

Friday, 17 June 2016

Alps Adventure

Motorcycles & Mountains

Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc

Steeds

Steeds

Twisties

Twisties

Annecy

Annecy

Alps

Alps

 

 

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Copenhagen

 City Break...

Copenhagen Day 3

Copenhagen Day 3

Copenhagen Day 2

Copenhagen Day 2

Copenhagen Day 1

Copenhagen Day 1

 

 

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Val d'Isere

 Val d'Isere selects

Solaise

Solaise

La Grand Motte

La Grand Motte

 

 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Polsden Lacey

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/polesden-lacey

Polesden Lacey

Polesden Lacey

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the view

 

 

Friday, 06 November 2015

Subway

 with the Leica M...

Subway on a grey day...

Subway on a grey day...

Smartphone Society

Smartphone Society

 

 

Monday, 31 August 2015

GS Adventure

The Alps 

Lower Alps June 2015

Lower Alps June 2015

 

 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Pressure

 Theatrical Release

Pressure

Pressure

 

 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

GS Adventure...

...maiden solo journey

GS Adventure June 2015

GS Adventure June 2015

 

 

Thursday, 05 February 2015

'Pressure' Release

It has been announced that the film ‘Pressure‘, starring Danny Huston, Matthew Goode and Joe Cole, will debut at Glasgow’s Film Festival next month. This film is about about 3 saturation (sat) divers who get stranded at depth when their tether to the topside DSV is severed.

 

 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

British Journal of Photography

OCA advert feature in BJP

BJP 0414

BJP 0414

 

 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Erik Almas

Interviewed in Professional Photogrpaher Magaine, April 2014, Erik Almas tableaux strikes a chord; similarities to that of Crewdson and other cinematographic photography.

Erik Almas

Erik Almas

 

 

Wednesday, 09 April 2014

Budapest

Travelling by train from Meidling to Keleti...

Meidling to Keleti; Casati Hotel Budapest

Meidling to Keleti; Casati Hotel Budapest

City Regeneration

City Regeneration

 

 

Wednesday, 09 April 2014

Anna Tihanyi

Anna is a hungarian born photogrpaher who studied in Budapest. Describing herself as a storyteller, fiction plays an important role in her photography, a mixture of reality and imagination. Each of her pictures is a contemporary tale.

 

"I spent four months in New York City participating an art residency. It was a very intense period - I felt a permanent fluctuation and that everything is in a transitory state. I found myself with some instant relations, with feelings and connections that happen on the surface. The inhuman existence of New York created a homogenous vision for me. For the urge of being more of an insider I started documenting my experiences through people I got to know and surrounded me, with a rabbit mask that I found in a local store. I wanted capture New York how I - as an outsider, but not a tourist - see this Disneyland-like city. The mask represents the surrealism of the city, and the distant impersonality I felt. Surprisingly, during my project the mask changed its shape, and the homogenous mass became heterogeneous, and more and more personal."

Anna Tihanyi

 

Struck by Anna's work when discovered in a recent magazine, I was delighted to find that work from her series, Bunnylink, was on display at the ajoining Hotel Casati Gallery, on my recent trip to Budapest

 

 

Bunnylink - Saul

Bunnylink - Saul

 

 

Tuesday, 08 April 2014

Associateship

ARPS confirmation... 

ARPS

ARPS

 

 

Sunday, 06 April 2014

Photographing a Legend

"We near the tearoom and something, no someone catches my eye. It takes a moment to process the fact that there sitting in the window is Terence Stamp…His looks are so striking that I cant help but stare, its the eyes that I find so captivating, they are incredible, piercing, icy, metallic and now pointing directly at me…‘you make your own luck’. The urge to photograph Stamp is overwhelming, ‘he is an icon’…"

 

Clive Booth

http://clivebooth.com/terence-stamp/

 

 

Saturday, 05 April 2014

Vienna

 Vienna, 5th to 7th April 2014

Metro - Prater

Metro - Prater

Wiener Riesenrad

Wiener Riesenrad

 

 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

BA (Hons)

Awarded following four years of distance learning, a BA (Hons) First-Class, focusing upon unit stills for advanced.  Thanks to all my friends and family for their patience and for the OCA for their continued support throughout.

 

 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Riverpark Abattoir

Banished Build Space, Manchester

Riverpark Abattoir

Riverpark Abattoir

 

 

Friday, 07 March 2014

Cotswold Wildlife Park

An afternoon keeping S away from the impending birthday celebrations... 

Cotswold Wildlife Park

Cotswold Wildlife Park

 

 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Retort House

Gas Street, Birmingham, home to the potential regeneration of a Grade II listed project...

Retort House

Retort House

 

 

Thursday, 02 January 2014

Shard

As the clouds cleared momentarily, reflections of sunlight upon the Shard isolated London's tallest creation...

Shard

Shard

 

 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Digital Fusion

A camera that might have a little personality, awaiting complementary and manual 50mm f1.2 and 24mm f2.8 lenses, shooting with the New Nikon DF feels intuitive...

A night out...

A night out...

 

 

Wednesday, 04 December 2013

Q Stage Pinewood

Screen Interational Article: Pinewood Studios has officially opened its new Q Stage (By Wendy Mitchell)

Ben Whishaw, the latest actor to play ‘Q’ in the Bond franchise, formally opened the facility today. Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were also in attendance.


The development comprises a 30,000 sq ft stage and 15,000 sq ft of production accommodation and workshops. The first production to move into the stage is described only as a “large inward investment film.”


Pinewood’s Andrew Smith said: “We are thrilled that Ben took time out of his busy schedule to formally open ‘Q’ Stage. Pinewood continues to invest in its infrastructure to ensure it offers all types of production the most state of the art, secure and flexible stages possible. It is even more special to have Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson here to help celebrate and it underlines the very special relationship Pinewood and Eon Productions enjoy.”

Ben Wishaw

Ben Wishaw

Hollywood Reporter

Hollywood Reporter

 

 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Refections

“I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

(F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)


With studies drawing to a conclusion the opportunity arises to reflect upon efforts to improve my photography, my craft based practice, alongside wider inspirations, creative developments, ‘voice’, judgment, thoughts and approach.


Personal motivations have been a little duplicitous; exploring the theoretical relationship between photography and cinema intended to afford me the vocational opportunity to photograph motion picture.  Fortunate projects have arisen during the past twelve months, experience vocational attributes through practical assignments, drawn directly from actual film production.  Whilst finding it necessary to deviate from my original course outline, true to original plans I have concluded with a return to a more personal style.


Fortunate that my career history has afforded me a comprehensive insight into filmmaking, critically informed practice has remained crucial throughout.  Theoretical studies and contextual research have developed my deeper understanding of the genre with ready access to example materials and associated articles.  Whilst an established understanding of the context proved useful, further time spent researching and discussing techniques and methods necessary to photographing on-set, has been essential for focus   Conversant with the procedures involved in Production and an appreciation of set discipline, I have occasionally called upon colleagues for further advice.  Any success throughout has been reliant upon self-evaluation, analysis and reflection upon the work I have produced, drawing comparisons with other film stills, a means by which to identify and record strengths or weaknesses.  


Outcomes include a range of practical examples, from documentary style ‘behind scenes’ imagery to ‘picture stills’, captured on set; those that pretend “the camera is not present…action in the realm of fiction…always haunted by movement and estranged by its own fixity.” (Campany, 2008, p139).   Powerful storytelling through photographs can be equal to film, using a universal pictorial language to communicate scene, convey a sense of intensity or intimacy, capturing urgency or emotion.  


Informing my personal exploration into photography as art, I no longer merely document and take greater time and effort in showing how elements are interconnected.   Whilst assignments have developed a practical understanding for the variety of techniques available, they have continued to prompt philosophical and critical thinking.  No longer content to simply to capture an image as presented, I’ll more often challenge or question why I am attempting to document, over ways I might change perspective, to passionately use the ‘stilled frame’ as a means to undo or to reaffirm assumptions.


Vocational responsibility to deliver powerful pictures has demanded an ability to quickly recognise elements within a picture that heighten a moment, new ways of looking in an effort to produce a sense of harmony or amazement.   Developing a greater respect for the role of light, I have a better appreciation for techniques that can be engaged to generate a sense of dimension, atmosphere and drama.  Interpreting a variety of different components, my aim has been to produce compelling images that reconstruct performance from which they were captured, or to establish a sense of scene.


Accompanying commentaries and my journal have provided the opportunity and means to recognise issues, to challenge assumptions, actions and outcomes.  Helping to evaluate and analyse experiences, I have been able to identify personal thoughts that have informed subsequent work.  Not to underestimate the power of individual stills to promote reflection or to engage, I have found it invaluable to annotate my interpretations and responses to compositions.  A supplemental form of self-expression, my journal has provided me a space within which to collate examples and materials; more recently a resource to gather and develop materials relating to ‘Specials’ and Tableaux work.


Photographs have the power to affect change, engaging the viewer, promoting reflection.  Equally, the process of photographing affords me as a photographer the heightened opportunity to witness what is on the other side of the lens, to be both “within and without” simultaneously, increasingly difficult to remain impartial.

 

 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Tableaux

Using aspects of the surreal to create moody, mysterious and theatrical imagery, I have sought to convey a sense of the underlying anxiety within the text.   The comic narrative of Taming of the Shrew is routed in social inadequacies.  For my simple imagined tableau, there were a variety of considerations.  Mindful of the favours being afforded by the location and two actor friends, I needed to strike a balance between my imagined outcomes and the necessary resources to produce suitable work.  Whilst both friends were keen to assist, they were nonetheless engaged in separate theatre productions themselves; finding a mutually convenient date was in itself somewhat difficult.  Keen to avoid any sense of apathy on the day, I sought to make the process ‘painless’, spending time to prep location and lighting in an effort to limit the time required to photograph; location had to be arranged well in advance, lighting planned and pre-lit, the scene set so that shooting time might focus upon the interaction between the two protagonists.

Winter constrains resources even further, exterior locations limited due to shorter daylight hours and less predictable weather.  Two moody location options materialised; exterior woodland, with all the consequential issues of access, protection, keeping subjects warm and enthusiastic; and an industrial underground backdrop, less defined, a moodier setting within which to place the subjects.  Opting for the latter space in Vauxhall, London, emphasis would be upon a sense of the eclectic as originally imagined; interplay between the two focusing more upon the tensions between the two characters rather than upon any comic content.  Had resources and timing been no issue I might perhaps have sought to set the scene in period costume, within a disused rustic barn or similar setting for a backdrop.  Lighting once more a critical element in establishing the mood and any corresponding filmic atmosphere.


Utilising continuous lighting as a means by which to accurately pre-light and mould the scene, I hired a variety of new energy efficient lamps being trialed for ‘film’ lighting.  Producing the conceived filmic look to the work, lighting was critical to conveying a sense of drama within the scene, highlighting the textures within the location and focusing the viewer upon features such as the pillars of the underground environment.  Reviewing sketches allowed me to imagine and map the positioning of lamps in advance; an LED panel light equivalent to a 4k as key, though positioned to one side for the main tableaux.  A further two LED based lamps, a Hexagalight and new ‘green’ Zylight fresnel, acted as fill for the artists and focus upon the background.  In the closer shots that aimed to mimic iconic lover stills of the 1920s, a different set-up extended to use of a range of diffusion, honey-combs and black wrap to soften and focus respectively. 


Without a large cast of characters, the simple setups based upon my sketches allowed focus to be upon the performance, relevant gestures and expression.  Tension imagined between the fictitious characters of Petruchio and Katherine, themes ranging from frustration, confusion and defiance, to submission, the unlocking of a passion between the two; pre-described roles, courtship and the social dysfunction of love and obedience, misgivings that litter the original Shakespearean text.


Wardrobe proved less critical than in my former series A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the eclectic scene allowing a greater degree of poetic license; crucial was that both characters were dressed to match.  Suitably contrasts with the location, without distracting from the performance.  Choice was between two alternatives; modern wedding attire that I found too contemporary save for one single; a subtler choice was for a lacey dress and long jacket that were more difficulty to date, provoking more of a sense of the staged and twentieth century timelessness.  As always, professionalism remained important, especially shooting in a commercial location and an appropriate set of call sheets, risk assessments and movement orders were produced for all those involved.  All the different elements were pre-agreed and arranged in advance of the shoot including wardrobe and lighting hire.


Intended as tableaux imagery that can be enlarged for gallery exhibition, a means of declaring the fictitious intent, my aim throughout was to preserve the frame as captured at the highest resolution.  This enables future enlargements that rival medium format.  Photographing as always in RAW, all images were backed up before making conversions, minor level adjustments; preservation of highlighted areas whilst increasing some shadow details.


Never seeking to disguise the ‘creation’ of an artificial world, this fictitious staging is a style for which I am becoming increasingly familiar.  Underlying the project is the use of photography to make rather than take photographs.  Photographs that have a sense of the epic and staged; a subjectivity in the manufactured, that gives rise to philosophical issues surrounding documentary versus art.  Light is key, balancing artificial lamps to create a little mystery and drama to the aesthetics of the scene, pools of illumination that generate a representational photograph with a slightly surreal sense of my cinematic inspirations.  Conceptually and stylistically I hope that outcomes might be described as cinematic, partly as a consequence of deliberate production techniques.


Unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream, my purpose here has been to isolate frames from any sense of sequence.  I have sought to explore the enigma of photographic stillness, a single moment captured in the stasis of photography, quiet contemplation both within and for the subjects.  Subjects are held in a moment of transition, centered with all sense of movement removed.  Disavowal of the camera in both, intentionally unnatural, a deviation from documentary and a declaration for the staged.

'The Tamer & The Shrew'

'The Tamer & The Shrew'

 

 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Lenny Zakatek Shoot

Lenny's Ablum Selects for Love Songs

Lenny's Selects

Lenny's Selects

 

 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Creative Writing - Screenwriting

Delighted to provide an image for their Creative Writing course, the Open College of the Arts have asked to use one plate from my series A Midsummer Night's Dream, photographed for Your Own Portfolio in 2012.

An Introduction to Screenwriting

An Introduction to Screenwriting

 

 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

'Taming of the Shrew' Specials

Opportunities to photograph Pressure in August and September have led to a variation upon my original course outline.  Whilst work based upon The Taming of the Shrew was originally imagined across several assignments, in this final piece I have sought to explore the conceptual practicalities of ‘Specials’ photography alongside cinematographic imagery.  As with past tableaux, the preparation and process has been based upon film production practice, inspiration partly drawn from work on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, produced for Your Own Portfolio last year.

Redressing my fascination in the capture of character and performance through stills, the second part focuses upon gesture and expression, ‘action stilled and documented in the realm of fiction’.  As in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I have drawn heavily upon the subliminal influences that iconic black & white movie stills have had upon me, addressing ambiguities at the heart of photography, captured somewhere between reality and fiction, between subjective performance art and objective documentary.


‘Cinematographs’, including those by Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson, continue to have a profound impact upon the way in which photographs are experienced.  Whilst standalone tableau do not generate the wider narratives afforded to film, individually they can nonetheless promote a sense of imagined action, often at transitional moments.  Exaggerating the enigma of photographic stillness, heightening the drama and atmosphere, momentarily dispelling underlying photographic ambiguities somewhere between before and after, reflection that ironically encourages a sense of the present tense.


Routed once again within a narrative and theme found in the work of Shakespeare, flirting briefly with The Winter’s Tale, the selection of Taming of the Shrew was made, a suitable foundation for further eclectic conceptual adaptation and pre-visualisation.  Compositions emerged that might centre upon two central protagonists, Petruchio and Katherine, both for the ‘Specials’ photography and as tableau images.  Working through the text to produce a synopsis of the narrative enabled me to form a sense of character, personalities, a particular scene in which moments could direct gesture and interaction, interplay between the two.  


As with much of my A Midsummer Night’s Dream series, the rationale behind black-and-white imagery sought to emphasise the eclectic; wishing to avoid colour distraction, it is more difficult to date, having an added benefit of paying homage to older film iconography.  Previsualising shots through simple sketches helped focus thoughts in relation to composition, subject placement, eye-lines and the arrangement of characters in a two-dimensional form.  Imagining each ‘plate’ in advance; as photographer; and as the subjects as they might react with one another; and as the viewer; all assisted in producing and coordinating the outcomes.  Providing the basis for further preparation, it enabled me to consider choices over location, lighting, wardrobe and other aspects relating to production.


Imagining a film production of Taming of the Shrew – the fictional creative brief was to produce conceptual photographic pieces that might suitably be reproduced in both portrait and landscape formats, across a range of media from print to billboard.


Often commented upon, the art of character reaction within film is ironically not to over-perform.  Rather than producing expressions acceptable and appropriate to theatre, film relies more heavily upon editing, a blank expression interpreted in a variety of ways when interlaced with other dramatic cutaways.  Perhaps ironically ‘star’ qualities have emerged is a direct result, Hollywood favouring the aesthetically attractive to the character actor.  Perhaps a generalisation, this relatively simple theory may explain a trend in poster imagery away from earlier portrayals of character, toward ‘star’ driven portraiture.  Within the latter, any sense of facial expression is often extremely subtle, portraiture focused as much upon the actors rather than the protagonists


Important to incorporate a hint of character, it was equally essential that facial expression shouldn’t detract from direct address, a means to engage the viewer and potential audience.   To be shot with two actor friends, one depicting Petruchio, the other Katherine, I sketched two separate faces and storyboarded them upon different formats, ways within which two separate head and shoulder portraits might overlay or sit side by side.


Electing to shoot two separate images would allow for a variety of arrangements.  Low key upon a black background, the viewer continues to perceive a relationship between the two figures portrayed, close or farther apart, routed in the compositional principles of simplicity and closure.  Important at the time of capture would be eye-line placement.  Imagining Petruchio marginally behind Katherine I had originally envisaged his eyes drifting toward her.  Whilst this would have been possible for one single image of the two subjects at fixed positions, it would not work for the separate composites.


A versatile set of images, a range of further adjustments and modifications remain possible.  Imagined as a variable series with which to promote a single project, they meet the brief.  Critical to the success was working closely with the subjects when photographing, directing them carefully with the desired outcomes in mind, focus heavily upon the subtleties within the facial features; a sense that both characters, whilst paradoxically shot separately, appeared aware of the others close proximity.  Slight determined shrew-like qualities in Katherine, Petruchio with undertones of a stern smugness.  A raised eyebrow in one, a slightly furrowed brow in the other; both directly engaging the viewer in direct address drawing the viewer in to the image, filling in the gaps between.

 
'Taming of the Shrew' Specials

'Taming of the Shrew' Specials

 

 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Power of a still frame...

Never underestimate the power of a still frame…the power of photography as a tool to undo assumptions, to change perspectives, to inspire, to horrify, to stop time for a moment, to promote reflection…


Witness – experiences of what’s on the other side of the lens, impossible to remain indifferent to powerful emotions, incredible beauty, desperation, raw and unexpected moments

 

Prove – through exploration and attempts to document passionately, taking the time required to show how elements are interconnected, creating a sense of harmony or amazement


Relate – engaging with others, communicating through a universal language, powerful storytelling with intensity or intimacy, capturing a sense of urgency or conveying emotion


Reveal – connections, recognising elements within a picture that sharpen or hone vision, unblinkingly recreating the world


Celebrate – a responsibility to deliver powerful pictures, reflections that provide compelling images, new ways of looking at reality

 

(Inspiration and headings drawn from the National Geographic Magazine 125th Anniversay Photography Issue)

 

 

 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Screen International: 'Pressure' Set Report

Danny Huston, Matthew Goode and Joe Cole just wrapped the shoot at Pinewood Studios and in Scotland on underwater thriller Pressure, which is directed by Ron Scalpello and sold by Embankment Films. Screen visited the set to take a first look.

“Claustrophobia. Paranoia. Four men. Incarceration. Survival.” These are the words director Ron Scalpello uses to describe his follow up to last year’s prison set thriller Offender.

 

Pressure centres on four deep sea divers who become trapped in their saturation bell at the bottom of the ocean off the Kenyan coast. Based on an original story by Louis Baxter, the script was written by Alan McKenna and Paul Staheli.


Origins and influences


Producer Jason Newmark set up Bigscope Films together with Laurie Cook to “produce low budget, high-concept genre movies.”


Newmark explains: “Laurie and I sat down and worked out what kind of films we wanted to make. We hired a researcher called Louis Baxter and Pressure is actually based on a story by Baxter. They then approached writer Paul Staheli with Baxter’s treatment who wrote a first draft of the script.

 

Having previously worked with McKenna and Scalpello on urban drama Here Comes The Summer, which had Studiocanal attached but unfortunately failed to complete financing, Newmark approached them for Pressure as he was keen to get “a director’s voice”.


With Scalpello tied up in another project, McKenna ended up as the sole writer on Pressure creating the second and subsequent drafts, an opportunity he truly relished: “What I liked about it was the survival aspect of it and it felt to me very much like a horror, but a true horror […] a psychological horror.”

 

After Jason approached him, McKenna set about conducting meticulous research, including meeting several saturation divers. They gave him plenty of ideas for how the plot could develop as they all knew someone who had been in a similar situation as the characters in Pressure. 


Despite the involvement of various script writers, the period from McKenna taking over to the first day of shooting on August 19 was about 11 months, a surprisingly quick turn-around for a feature film.

 

The script of Pressure is reminiscent of films such as Solaris and Apollo 13, with its setting in an environment that offers no escape for its protagonists. And surprisingly, as McKenna reveals, even Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours served as an influence as “what I thought was really interesting about Simon Beaufoy’s script was, he went into more impressionistic worlds in James Franco’s character’s head. He took us to those places that he was thinking about and I tried to do that in this a bit, although not in the same way.”


Scalpello adds that what attracted him to the project was that it’s a “great story, full of suspense” but at the same time not too niche as “on one level it was working as a genre movie and I think what we are trying to achieve with it is not Tony Scott, but also not European art cinema. We wanted to be a bit more expressive with it and more expansive.”


McKenna admits that they were keen to keep a masculinity to the film, even harping back to 70s movies, such as The French Connection. And while there is no direct comparison, McKenna is fascinated by the masculine world [of those kinds of films] and contemplates that “we sometimes shy away from that now and always put pretty people in [films].”


Despite the lack of female characters in Pressure, they insist that there is femininity in the film, “in the surroundings, the sea is almost female”, McKenna points out and also in the exploration of their relationships with their partners. They are “all somehow pining for their women”, ventures Huston.


The cast


Huston as well as Goode were first choices for the project and Huston reveals that he usually approaches a film from a story point and not the role necessarily. What attracted him in this instance was Scalpello’s debut directorial effort as well as Pressure’s script. “What was fascinating about the script was that it struggles with the concept of faith and logic, and it has this wonderful, sort of quest about it. […] And there’s something cosmic about the story.”


Starring alongside Danny Huston, Matthew Goode and McKenna is Joe Cole, who made his big screen debut in Scalpello’s directorial debut Offender. Scalpello mentions that Cole was “in his mind” pretty early. Cole relished the chance to re-team with him as “he’s very bold, thinks about every detail and visually, I just knew he’d create something that we’ll want to watch on the screen”.


And because they had worked together before, Cole says: “he [Scalpello] knows he can push me to the limits”, which meant that Cole, overseen by stunt co-coordinator and co-producer Nick Chopping, performed the majority of the stunts himself for the underwater scenes, which were shot on Pinewood’s underwater stage. “I ended up doing 90% of the stuff, which was partly down to the fact that Ron knows I can”.


Scalpello concedes, coming from Offender, where he worked with a lot of “untrained actors” that he had to adjust his directing style, which was a learning curve. While in Offender he could be “quite forceful, strong and very vocal”, working with trained actors on the set of Pressure he learned to “stand back and observe what they’re offering up”.


He adds: “it’s almost like you’re a football coach, you’ve got to stand in the tactical area and let them play […] and resist the urge to go in there and get your vision of it.”


Funding


The film’s relatively quick realisation was helped by Embankment coming on board “very, very early on” from the treatment stage according to Newmark. And as a result of Embankment’s enthusiasm, Newmark felt confident to invest “a modest amount from the company [Bigscope] to develop it further”.  As the shoot required a week on the underwater stage and two weeks on a dry stage with Pinewood offering all those facilities, they seemed a perfect partner.


Pressure just finished its Pinewood (and Aberdeen) shoot and Pinewood Group’s Steve Christian points out that with the Studio being immensely busy, Pressure [with a budget below $5m) was the “smallest film on the lot by a significant way” at the time.


Thus, it presents one of a number of low-budget projects that have recently shot at the Buckinghamshire-located studios, which also included Belle, Dom Hemingway and Our Robot Overlords. It forms part of the Studio’s commitment to “produce four films a year, which are each budgeted between two and four million,” as Christian revealed to Screen in May. However, speaking to him earlier this month he adds: “we probably exceeded our four a year for the last 12 months and are looking somewhere between six or seven projects”.

 

 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Workflow & Delivery

Asked to 'tag along' for a couple of days location filming in Aberdeen, I fly up to Scotland on the Wednesday and return on the Thursday.  Lots of documentary shots on boats in the North Sea combined with afew Picture Stills in a set piece on the harbour. Schedule changes to meet circumstances make other stills difficult on the second day.  

When delivering Unit Stills, consideration needs to be given to an appropriate format.  Whilst many designers are conversant with RAW and accompanying EXIF data, many Production and Distribution personnel are not.  Anecdotally, instances have occurred when photographers’ adjustments have been lost, resulting in images published directly from the original digital negative in an unprocessed form.

Final stages of my workflow have been to convert all selects to high resolution TIFF files, generally over 7000 pixels along the longest edge.  This format and size locks in minor adjustments made personally, whilst providing sufficiently malleable images for further adjustments or graphics prior to their inclusion across a range of media.


In addition to more the formal Unit Stills requested I made the further suggestion that it might be good to create spherical VRs of the interior of the Bell.  Photographed after WRAP one evening, the additional processing and rendering have proven worthwhile, enthusiastically received with an appreciation for the potential website and media usage they enable.  Further spherical images captured on the stage, intended more for documentary purposes, provide a welcome addition. 


Whilst the opportunity to shoot ‘Specials’ hasn't been plausible, a request from costume was made to possibly photograph our lead with a Product Placement piece of wardrobe, a brief moment in the Bell providing an opportunity.  On one of the latter shoot days on F Stage, a 2nd Unit provided welcome relief to the claustrophobia of the Bell interior - an in a car 'dream sequence', a pleasant Californian ‘lit’ variation upon the low flickering lit interiors of gritty Divers within a confined space.  Importantly, the Producers, Director & crew have continually commended, acknowledging the very difficult circumstances with which we have had to film and photograph.

 

 

Thursday, 05 September 2013

Picture Stills & Behind Scenes

Increasing familiarity with the set routines, an appreciative crew and stronger relationships with the cast, allows me to capture a range of selects, picture stills and behind scenes.  Focus can now turn a little more to processing, the style and adjustments necessary to match that of the ‘look’ of the film.  Interestingly, whilst many RAW negatives appear initially underexposed, all that is often required is minor selective processing of the subject, a ‘half stop’ brushstroke, recreating the conditions and atmosphere of each scene, enabling attention to the performance.  Favouring black and white treatments for many of the behind scenes stills captured under mixed lighting, I generally pull more detail from the shadows and blacks to ensure images print more pleasingly.  


Seeking to match Richard’s lighting, most of the images have relied upon my faster prime lenses – remaining 'two stops faster than the cinematographer', requiring real attention to sharp focus both in camera and when making or reviewing selections.  We are shooting at daylight colour temperatures, a white balance fixed at 5600; despite matching the WB of the motion camera (a Red Epic), I’m finding a slight green hue in many of my photographs and am compensating with minor tint adjustments during RAW conversion.  Some of the shots taken in the hatch-chamber appear ‘warmer’ in tone than those of the main-chamber; partially I suspect because of the variation in fluorescent fittings – again occasionally these are requiring some colour channel and minor saturation shifts.


Whilst I would’ve liked to capture a greater variety of group and wide-angle scene shots, circumstances have weighed towards selects more portraiture in style.  Faced with the tight environment, photographing ‘through’ the crew with the Blimped 85 mm has been essential, occasionally cropping further to remove an intrusive boom or similar.  Camera techniques have been largely dictated by photographing with the Sound Blimp, favouring 35, 50 and 85mm primes over the comparatively conspicuous and consequentially audible 70-200 zoom.  


Utilising the zoom for a sequence where the Bell was submerged and another featuring a 'dream sequence', built in vibration reduction allows for slower aperture and shutter speeds, steady shots set to f2.8-4 at anything as slow as 1/30th.  Whilst low lighting or intermittent flicker effects have occasionally demanded I photograph with the Primes at 1/30th-1/60th, anything less than 1/125th is more ‘hit and miss’.  Blimps are cumbersome at best, often challenged further by awkward stance or having to crouch in a tight space when steady hands might ordinarily prevail.  Under such circumstances, narrow depths on a longer 85mm inevitably lead to frames that suffer from unwanted motion blur.  I’ve found it’s generally best to compromise, opening the blimp and revising to a higher ISO, discovering reasonable tolerance for noise, sensor sensitivities still respectable at 3200.

Pressure Picture Stills

Pressure Picture Stills

 

 

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Technique & Discipline...

Moments that occur are few and often ‘indecisive’, captured between takes from outside the Bell shooting telephoto through the portal, all shots demanding relatively high ISOs and narrow depths of field; partially to match the motion camera and lighting, mostly to cope with the low light from a set lit entirely by ‘practical’ LEDs and daylight fittings.  Rare occasions that allow me to shoot with a wider lens suffer from consequential flaring, unnatural and undesirable, impossible to avoid completely.  Some nice solo portraiture is possible, although often reliant upon shooting considerably more images than usual, spending hours each evening discarding poorer images before more selective processing can start.


Adapting to the circumstances my focus has to be upon gesture and expression, concentrating upon the eyes of the artistes, seeking out catch-light, catching performance, the sense of urgency and heightened drama.  Many of the difficulties are offset shooting alongside a great crew; increasingly working well together I have ensured lots of ‘behind scene’ imagery and have been disciplined in producing prints each evening for various individuals; it goes a long way to establishing good working relationships, worth the additional few hours spent each evening after a 12 hour shooting day.


Essentially it's only a preparedness to show up each day, awaiting the off chance of an opportunity, that it is possible to capture any selects; set discipline and waiting patiently for occasions have remained crucial aspects in terms of approach.

Pressure Documentary Stills

Pressure Documentary Stills

 

 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Pressures of 'Pressure'

Filming is predominantly taking place upon F Stage, Pinewood Studios; fast and furious, requiring me to keep an eye out for every opportunity, there is little time to reflect during photographing.  Opportunities to capture Picture Stills on set have to be offset against the complexities of filming.  Most of the drama and action takes place within a diving bell, suspended over the water tank in the centre of the sound stage.  The diving Bell itself is suspended using four substantial chains and tackle rigged in each corner, ultimately to allow for the suspended set to be jolted and lowered into the water below using an electronic control system.


With a maximum payload of eight persons, a very tight space and working environment, such complexities combine and conspire against getting into the set to take photographs.  An extremely tight portal with an aperture barely 3 feet across makes getting in and out of the Bell difficult, often blocked ahead of each ‘take’.  In the first few days all four actors are ‘called’; add the DP / camera operator (Richard), focus puller (Anka), clapper loader (Matt) and boom operator (Kyle), there is frustratingly little opportunity for me to get inside.


An ambitious schedule of four, six day weeks of filming, whilst ordinarily you might find opportunity to photograph during lineups and rehearsals, or to ‘go again’ after a poignant scene, they simply can’t afford me any opportunity…the pressures of Pressure.

 

 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Recces

At Pinewood we head down to the Underwater Stage to see some of the prep and rehearsals…  Plenty of opportunity to get some dramatic shots, the schedule starts with the underwater work before moving onto a sound stage to focus on the drama within the diving bell.  At the Studios I have the opportunity to recce the Diving Bell set - it will be a tight squeeze with camera team and cast.  Critical will be sustaining good relationships with the whole film crew throughout, establishing those with the artistes as a priority and not being overly zealous to get shots at the expense of set discipline.


Turning attentions to some of the practicalities I spend some time ahead of filming checking equipment, sound blimp and lens tubes, preparing paperwork and insurances, checking unit lists, reading a revised screenplay and schedules, and subsequently the first Callsheet that prompts me to photograph some ‘behind scenes’ around the Underwater Stage work.

 

 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Unit Stills Enquiry

Receiving a call asking if I can shoot the Unit Stills & possibly the Specials on Pressure, I readily accept, not least as I've been recommended by Pinewood.  Filming is due to commence on the 19th August with underwater work on U Stage although there's no expectation to photograph underwater work.  This does however prompt me to consider whether there is any future commercial viability in converting my old Advanced PADI Licence to a commercial diver qualification for future underwater Stills opportunities…


Emailed a copy of the script at 08h30 the following morning before the scheduled visit to the Studios at 11h00.  A suspense filled drama starring Danny Huston and Matthew Goode, the plot is character driven, revolving around four professional divers who are sent to the bottom of the seabed to repair a pipeline during a storm.  Their contact with the surface is severed, developing into a disaster movie with connotations of Apollo 13, the drama develops as the men desperately fight to survive in the hope they may be rescued...

 

 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Special Unit Stills

“…while cinema is attracted to (photography), it cannot properly account either for photography or for its own attraction.” 

David Campany


‘In Vision’ Imagery


Photography within film is often portrayed as a form of symbolism, in which the photograph is represented as a means by which filmmakers can express or advance a film’s narrative.  Alluding to a moment past, the photograph can be used as an intransigent object that has a fixed time; to emphasise the evidential in photographs can become a narrative mechanism of proof or reflection upon earlier events.


DREAM ON, Scene 21, I/E. GARAGE – NIGHT

…Stooping to pick them up, John eyes the box curiously then rummages inside to discover … He greets his find with mixed emotion when his eyes suddenly settled on a framed photograph of him and two friends, one of them Rob, shaking hands with Severiano Ballesteros circa 1983.


Handling it with clear affection, JOHN rests back on an old threadbare sofa staring at the memory through a wave of nostalgia.


A key aspect of the narrative of Dream On is driven by one such piece of photographic symbolism - a scene in which the lead actor reminisces over a fictional photograph taken of him as a child.  Featuring heavily in the opening scenes of the film, use of the prop was scheduled for the first day of Principal Photography, options for such a photo only redressed at the Production Meeting with only one week’s notice.  


Describing a variation upon the scripted photograph, the Director explained that he wanted a photo where the real Seve stands centre with him arms upon the shoulders of young ‘John’ and ‘Rob’ either side.  The first hurdle in creating such a composite ‘special’ was finding a suitable image of Seve for which clearance of copyright might be purchased worldwide in perpetuity.


Making several calls I was able to obtain a range of options from the press Association, the choice then made for an image taken circa 1980 in line with the back-story.  Our 2nd Assistant Director sourced three supporting actors, one similar in height and build to Seve together with two younger child actors to portray the teenaged ‘John’ and ‘Rob’.  Arranging a suitable time with costume and make up on hand for the photographing, and having found a neutral exterior background at the Studios, the actual shoot took no more than 20 minutes.


Fortunate on the day that clouds provided a soft and overcast ambient light to match the image for which clearance had been obtained, Director approval was sought for the final photograph from a small selection of selects.  Cutting it a little fine, photographs taken on the final Friday afternoon, I took the lead in processing the composite over the weekend ahead of the first day of principal photography.  Delivering an image of the three subjects together against the original background, I generated a further version of the three superimposed upon a golf course photographed on the Saturday.  The Art department made a few further tweaks and inserted the final print into the prop cardboard frame in time for filming.


During prep a requirement arose to capture some stills of Dream On’s lead actors, Richard Coyle and Sienna Miller.  With less than a quarter of an hour allotted for photographing on the penultimate Monday, the brief was to produce a few ‘in vision’ stills of the two characters for ‘set dressing’ purposes.  With a week of domestic sequences scheduled for the first days of filming on location, the interior design for their fictional house needed to feature a range of framed photographs.


Actors often provide ‘snaps’ of themselves to be used accordingly; in this instance it might have looked strange that there were no photographs of the fictional characters together as a couple.  To this end we used the bar and two exteriors spaces at Elstree Studios as locations together with a couple of crewmembers as extras that might supplement photographs already provided by Richard and Sienna.  


Our Designer Cat specifically asked that some be ‘out of focus’, amateur in look rather than too beautiful!  As noted before setting off, we would have ideally liked more time with options for wardrobe to add variety, however simple treatments during processing created sufficient visual diversity given the small window of opportunity.

Publicity Stills


Editing a scene or the action into a single frame, the film still can allow the viewer or audience to access the underlying narrative or emotion in his or her own time, a brief or prolonged encounter.  Often specifically used for publicity and marketing, scenes can be condensed into a single ‘cinematograph’, seeking to encapsulate a plot or subplot into a comprehensible still photograph.  Whilst the staged narrative ‘tableau’ may never quite achieve naturalism, the techniques and set-up for ‘filmmaking’ can be employed by the photographer to portray the appearance of narrative, conveying story and the essence of a scene.


Whereas the moving image controls the audience experience, the viewer of a photograph has more time to study, to reflect upon interactions, to explore the underlying narrative, to consider performance, relationships and cultural associations.   On the look out for such moments it is not always possible to capture such a photograph during an actual ‘take’.  ‘Going again’ or replaying for ‘stills’ can provide the opportunity although it needs to be weighed carefully against the principal activity of filming, considerate of an often demanding schedule.


Keen to announce Dream On’s start of shoot in a press release across a variety of publications, good stills can often increase the uptake, a welcome visual enhancement to any article.  Considerations included capturing suitable shots that conveyed the film’s genre, in this instance an offbeat comedy drama with an underlying sporting theme.  Still photographs needed to convey the human aspect, have a visual reference to golf, whilst at the same time holding sufficient aesthetic appeal for magazine editors.  Two opportunities arose in the first three days of filming, the first demanding that a request to ‘go again’ an opportunity to step in and capture the still, the second arose from a chance moment with the leading actor whilst the crew were busily lining up the next shot.


The first of two selected images is a dual portrait of both leads amongst the clutter of their garage, the everydayness of their costume alluding to the domestic narrative.  Eye lines were essential to the selection of this still from a series, ‘Lesley’ looking longingly at her husband ‘John’ who in turn is focused reminiscing upon the symbolic photograph.  A further ‘implied triangle’ exists, the two faces juxtaposed with the golf clubs behind, subtly indicating the underlying sporting narrative, central to the story.  Stilled, the viewer has time to consider a range of underlying narratives from the frame, expressions, scene and location.  Promoting reflection for the characters portrayed, the actors themselves, the performance and an imagining of story.  


The second photographic opportunity arose when the lead actor Richard Coyle invited me to take an ‘out of character’ portrait with him posing with a putter during a scene that involved a cluttered room of golf paraphernalia.  The sporting theme within a domestic backdrop again clear indication of the underlying drama, as a captured portrait the original photograph was taken in a vertical orientation, framed against the window behind.  Working equally well a magazine later chose to crop this image for their online article, perhaps favouring the more cinematic frame.


Start of shoot coincided with the Cannes film Festival and there were practical considerations over the timings of such a release.  Seeking approval for both images as a priority, real credit is due to our Unit Publicist, Julia, with whom I collaborated closely.  She performed a tremendous job of promoting the film and both photographs appeared alongside two articles, in key separate industry publications, Screen International and Variety Magazine.


Poster ‘Specials’


Accompanying any film and critical to the marketing, advertising and distribution of any film is a range of further ‘special’ imagery.  Often posters varying in size and orientation are used extensively across physical and other forms of media.  More usually taken separately, away from filming, these images seek to expand upon the narrative theme, isolated designs or a staged tableau produced in high resolution that can entice potential audiences.


Whilst filming on Dream On was suspended before any real options to shoot bespoke photographs, a brief opportunity arose whilst filming took place at an exterior golfing location.  Relating to the practical care necessary for filming on an actual golf course led to a prolonged line-up between takes; quickly pre-visualising an option I requested ‘John’ pose for a shot that might deliver a ‘teaser’ image.  Richard kindly obliged and I captured three images in sequence from which I could later make a selection.  


With the benefit of hindsight and if a ‘specials’ shoot had been viable, a variation upon this might have sought to incorporate a sense of movement using motion blur, a ‘frame’ worth replicating with greater attention to other details including costume and lighting.  Happy that the outcomes delivered an image that allowed further design and processing of a ‘Poster Special’, I have supplemented this subject based option with another, a design created from an golf hole taken on separate assignment. 

'Dream' On Specials

'Dream' On Specials

 

 

Sunday, 09 June 2013

Picture Unit Stills

“More people will see the stills of the movie than will ever actually see the movie”

David Puttman


Unit photographers are clear to emphasise that cooperation and collaboration with all involved in the filmmaking is essential in producing images that communicate a sense of the mystique.  An aptitude for film production, an appreciation for set discipline, the filmmaking is the canvas upon which the unit photographer can capture the range and variety of skills required.  Focus is as much upon the use of the  ‘craft’ as it is upon any individual voice, establishing relationships with cast and crew essential to the success of capturing ‘picture stills’.


Enthusiastic to develop my own personal skillsets, I have had the advantage of selecting an approach to the Stills and publicity during the course of filming Dream On; whilst ordinarily a feature of this size might allow only a couple of days engagement for a stills photographer, assuming this responsibility personally allowed a variety of photographs to be captured across three intensive weeks of production.


Specialist Equipment & Settings


A necessary evil, a ‘blimp’ is a ‘housing’, enclosing the camera and lens, that reduces the sound caused by the shutter - primarily used in film production when noise can prove crucial or distracting’ (Aquatech).  Having deferred purchasing an expensive ‘blimp’ for several years, I have finally opted for the relatively new Aquatech housing.  Weighing up the choices, until recently there was only one option, the Jacobson.  Aquatech, recently having developed an ergonomic case and lens tube system, have provided a welcome addition for the profession.  Anecdotally ‘blimps’ have always been a hassle, both to set up and use, relatively cumbersome and time was spent practising with this new equipment in advance of filming.  This proved invaluable when it came to use ‘on set’ with the associated pressures and the importance of camera handling.


Particular settings relating to the capture of Unit Stills assist with film still workflows, achieving desired outcomes especially when shooting with more than one camera.  These include synchronising the dates and times, resetting the image numbering counters for continuous numbering, and assigning separate names between the camera bodies (DOA0001 / DOB0001).  Avoiding Auto WB and manually setting for each shooting condition helps in later determining the correct conditions under which images were captured; photographing RAW and in an Adobe 1998 colour space allowing for the greatest degree of flexibility during any subsequent processing.  Imperative is the avoidance of duplicate image references with leading zeros, to which end favouring underscores and hyphens when folder or file naming helps organise the delivery of images into day folders or batches by shooting schedule.


Camera Handling


Working with a camera blimp has its own complexity, the first of which is the loading and unloading of the camera itself.  Externally you only have control over three aspects - shutter speed, focus, and the shutter button itself.  Focusing manually with the tube can be very cumbersome and my found preference was for a mix of spot auto-focus with further manual fine-tuning.  Some action scenes demand continuous/multipoint focusing, although on the whole it is preferable to select single servo/spot, and to reframe when happy that the focus has been found.


Manual focus and functions are especially necessary at night or in lower light, when ‘stopping up’ is also an absolute.  In brighter conditions or daylight it is possible to select the alternative shutter priority mode, in which instance it is possible to balance/adjust depths of field utilising the external shutter speed control wheel.  Allowing you to review through the rear window screen, the Aquatech ‘blimp’ enables the displaying of the histogram, an instant test when it comes to considering exposure accuracy.  Favouring prime lenses, not necessarily easy to switch between ‘film takes’, alternating between these is a cumbersome and consuming exercise.  Awkward to access the lens release even after removing the tube, it also requires that the camera be switched on inside the ‘blimp’; inevitable dust spots demand regular cleaning and maintenance.  Whilst all of these aspects combined conspire against taking stills during filming ‘on set’, they are necessary for the benefit of noise reduction and limiting distraction; key to the capture of any images ‘in camera’.


Using the quick release to open the blimp enables access to the camera menu adjustments, specifically to ISO and white balance settings.  Whilst aperture and other adjustments require the full removal of the camera, access to the menu and sensor sensitivity proves invaluable, especially when working in low light conditions.  Shooting in RAW format, whilst fixed colour temperatures can match those selected by the Director of Photography, in the digital age it is possible to refine white balance whilst shooting or during processing - a welcome development in negating the need to switch film stocks.


Approach & Capture


An appreciation of filmmaking practice is not only essential in relation to behaviour ‘on set’, it is also necessary to gauge the suitable opportunities and to anticipate moments that may prove especially worthy of a still image.   As well as considering colleagues, the movement of equipment, risks associated with filmmaking, stunts and special effects, the photographer has to remain ever mindful of cast ‘personalities’, personal preferences and other individuals whose eye-lines may be distracted during performances.


Naturally the best position for the still photographer may often be alongside the motion camera itself, however here the photographer often has to content with others including the Operator, Focus Puller, Loader, Grip and Boom Op.  Add to this the inevitable equipment, dollies, track and cranes the available space is often, at best, tight.


When positioned beside the main or B camera, actor eye-lines are less of an issue, less likely the cause of distraction; there is a risk when in a different position ‘on-set’ of disturbing cast and crew.  Imperative it should always be remembered that the filmmaking takes priority, and whilst an opportunity may exist to capture an alternative or amazing still image, this needs to be weighed carefully.  Inevitably, on occasions, the photographer has to step aside.  It is always best to make positions known, to seek approval from cast and the 1st Assistant Director in advance; often, a simple thumbs-up or down can suffice and it is always best to be on the safe side.


Whilst in other forms of stills photography or to an outsider, 300 to 500 exposures per day may seem extraordinary, 10 to 15 rolls of old 36 exposure films were never uncommon and in a digital environment similar quantities allow for minor variances in expression, gesture, performance, frame and exposure.


Starting production of Dream On with night shoots was not only physically and emotionally exhausting; it required a particular attention to detail and specific consideration for acceptable levels of noise.  With thought for the media in which the images might be viewed, it would have proven unacceptable to shoot above speeds of 3200.  Whilst natural to favour larger portions of blacks and shadow at night, especially in a motion camera, it was equally important to retain sufficient mid and highlight detail for the variety of stills and their subsequent uses online and in printed media.


Lighting levels are often very low and there seems to be increasing acceptance for a very ‘dark’ cinematic experience.  When competing with a digital motion camera that has a 15 stop dynamic range combined with styles that may be content with only the smallest of mid tone movement in an otherwise blacked out frame, remaining ‘two stops faster than a cinematographer’ is pretty demanding.  


More generally erring on the side of caution, favouring well-exposed highlights, I found I was photographing anything up to 1 stop below normal.  Safe in the knowledge that I could bring back acceptable levels of shadow detail at a later stage during processing, my protection of highlights in this instance is somewhat opposite to the methodology of Ansel Adams - shooting for the highlights and printing for the shadows.


Establishing a strong relationship with the Director of Photography is always essential.  Specifically intending to complement their intended look, whilst the film may be graded at a later date, colour temperature is essential when matching picture stills to the likely finished ‘look’ of a film.  Fortunately throughout Dream On we seemed to favour three particular temperatures; 5600 Kelvin for daylight, 3200 Kelvin four nighttime and 4300 Kelvin under unique or fluorescent conditions.  Indeed at times the stills camera was useful for the DP in establishing the better colour temperature, where in the absence of a colour temperature meter exact choice was less apparent.


Workflows & Processing


Workflows become extremely important when demands for still photography may come from a variety of different parties, where contractual approvals need to be factored, and when so many image negatives are produced on a daily basis.  Potentially very time consuming, the selection of stills can be made more efficient, simplified by using online approval and management processes that ensure contractual and promotional deadlines are met.  Allowing for a range of individuals to search and organise, regardless of their location can enable proactive publicity both during and after a film shoot.  Beyond their use during filming, longer-term management systems can govern further distribution, recording usage and managing photographic promotion, project by project.  Broken down such systems assist in the following way:


1. Shoot - possibly in excess of 4-500 images per day

2. Seconds - controlled by the photographer (removal of ‘blinks’ and first pass processing)

3. Uploading - FTP (Daily or weekly)

4. Backups - Converting, tagging, sorting, storing and watermarking

5. Indentifying - Principal Cast, Ensemble, Crew, Equip

6. Approvals - Actors Contractual rights (‘Kill Rates’ for individual and joint still images)

7. Reporting - Snapshots of projects (notes for further retouching)

8. Captioning - Unit Publicist additions


On a low budget feature film such management systems may become relevant once filming has completed and the distribution is able to finance their use.  Costs however are preclusive during the course of production.  Whilst every intention existed to use ‘Photokill Online’, a Burbank managed software solution, at the end of Production, during filming a more conventional approach was the best available option.


Using general standards and settings outlined for the capture and filing of images, steps 1 through 5 above were managed manually by myself.  Rather than seeking online approvals, printed Contact Sheets were provided for the two leading artists with contractual rights – both allowed to ‘kill’ up to 50% of images where they appear individually and 25% of those where they appear alongside another actor.  The manual selection process (1 and 2) must have worked, as from over two hundred images only four were ‘killed’ by both actors combined.  Of course the inclusion of some poor images can steer the approvals toward a favourable outcome.  In each instance both actors remarked how refreshing it was to use a conventional printed Contact Sheet, loupe and permanent marker pen.


Steps 7 and 8 then became a manual and collaborative exercise for me with the Unit Publicist.  Further approvals somewhat academic now that Dream On has been placed on an extended period of hiatus, start-of-shoot releases during May required manually approved photos.  In the absence of a formal Unit Stills contract and with filming suspended all copyright reverts to me and approvals are now less of a concern.

'Dream On' Picture Stills I

'Dream On' Picture Stills I

'Dream On' Picture Stills II

'Dream On' Picture Stills II

 

 

Friday, 31 May 2013

Documentary Unit Stills

“The indexicality of a photograph combined with its stillness tends to produce not just a fixed record of the world, but a fixed pointing at it…’look how things were at this moment’, whether that moment is fiction or fact.”

(Campany, D. (2008) Photography and Cinema. 1st Edition. London: Reaktion Books p.143).


A ‘supplemental’ discipline and requirement of the unit stills photographer is to document the process of filmmaking, to record the filmmakers themselves.  Remaining very similar to other forms of social documentary photography, ‘behind scene’ stills demand a variety of skills and techniques, a keen eye for opportunity with quick reflexes.  Producing images that allow some insight and sense of film set ‘mystique’, my focus here has been upon a variety of photographs throughout prep and filming that capture more candid or documentary opportunities.


Allowing a greater degree of subjective engagement, this style of photography focuses upon capturing the creation of the film, behind scene stills where my own ‘performance’ and voice as a photographer becomes more important, focusing upon the documentary functions of photography between takes and line-ups.  


Producing stills that are declared more openly as reportage, anticipating chance moments both on and off set vary between depict cast and crew preoccupied with performance and script to crew engaged in the process of filmmaking.  Distinct from and supplemental to other staged or previsualised forms of film photography, they quickly become a representational record that captures the process, glimpses into the involvedness of filmmaking.  Not least they have proven a welcome means of strengthening my working relationship with other crew-members on set.


Although not exclusively, I have remained mindful that gesture and expression remains key to the success of many individual images; where focus is often upon subjects reacting to action outside the frame, it is important to provide the viewer with some information as to what might be taking place.  


Whereas composition, subject placement and a sense of narrative remain important, unlike ‘in vision’ picture stills, where movement and performance are rehearsed, these documentary photographs are often a more candid form of portraiture.  Difficult to foresee every moment, rather than switching lenses I have found that I vary the style to suit whichever prime I have on the camera at that time. 

'Dream On' Documentary Stills

'Dream On' Documentary Stills

 

 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Two Stops Faster Than A Cinematographer

Photographing Cinema - The Seventh Art In Stasis


“A definitive still describes a film’s emotion in a single image.” (Bailey, 2009, p.77).  In discussion with Keith Hamshere, unit photographer, he proposed that the key to capturing film stills is to remain “two stops faster than a cinematographer”; described in relation to technique, perhaps as much significance can be drawn metaphorically.


Introduction


Examining the relationship between photography and cinema, not only develops an appreciation for their many shared aesthetics, disciplines and technical attributes, it encourages a wider philosophical debate surrounding the influence that the ‘film still’ has upon cinematic culture.  Limited literature expands upon such theory, personal affinity for photography’s use within the motion picture industry providing motivation behind this extended study.


Considering the role that photography, photographer and photograph play alongside cinema, although not exclusively so, focus has been upon the ‘film still’, narrative and documentary.  An area of study worthy of significant development, within this critical essay it is only possible to touch upon key aspects, to form a sense of a more expansive premise and debate.  


Unsurprisingly, whilst the relationship between photography and cinema remains a central theme, theoretical and philosophical study promotes a return to and reflection upon many wider issues surrounding photography, not only upon use for portraying subjective narrative, its industrious use for publicity, practical applications and cultural influences, also upon the very essence and underlying ambiguities of the medium.


Philosophical Associations


Notwithstanding recent emergence of a vibrant inter-disciplinary environment, studies into the influence photography has upon cinema are conspicuously scarce.  Theoretical focus remains principally a preserve of film studies - photography considered and discussed primarily as a means by which filmmakers can reflect upon, pause or advance a film’s narrative; in which the photograph, camera or photographer are manifestly represented as a form of cinematic symbolism. 


Rather than exploring an extensive photographic tradition alongside cinema, sources that do consider the association between photography and cinema focus heavily upon more profound philosophy; how despite both mediums sharing many visual and indexical characteristics, they differ dramatically in relation to the portrayal of narrative time.  


Tension generated by the ‘stasis’ of the photograph a key consideration, filmic photography’s multiplicity and malleability raise yet further ambiguities.  Not only facilitating the purposeful promotion of fiction, images are created duplicitously, for both the depiction of subjective narrative alongside more objective documentary function.   Narrative fictive stills attain further documentary status, retrospectively.  Ironically perhaps photography has become the principal source of cinematic reference, favoured over motion picture itself?  Through close association with such a populist medium film stills have generated their own independent iconography.  


Arguably photographing motion picture may now qualify as a genre in its own right.  Drawing upon a range of traditional techniques, a certain specialism is required for such practical versatility; capturing fictive ‘decisive moments’ in camera, previsualised cinematographs, extending to behind-the-scenes documentary stills, iconic portraiture of actors and filmmakers, alongside commissioned commercial imagery for posters and marketing.  


Connections & Contradictions


“Photography, cinema and painting, have been interrelated since the appearance of the newer arts, and the aesthetic criteria of each are informed by the other two media to the extent that it could be claimed that there is almost a single set of criteria for the three art forms.  The only additional or new element is movement in the cinema.”  (Jeff Wall, 2003, cited Costello, 2007, p.80)


Finding their individual balances, between the technological and the compositional, similar aesthetic principles underlie both photography and cinema, an overlapping connectedness despite many individual characteristics.  Filled with their own independent philosophical complexities, the photograph and moving image remain inextricably interwoven; both have an underlying indexicality, incorporating aspects of the representational documentary, both promote varying degrees of reflection in their viewers, equally capable of evoking an emotional response, both are accomplished at pictorially conveying narrative.  Culturally coded, artistic based and visual mediums, routed in craft, purposefully communicating with their viewers, transforming images into connotations.


“…photography and film are exposed to each other in the exposures of film that each of them is…how does one mediums incorporation of or intersection with the other challenge our understanding of the specificity of each medium?” (Kaplan, 2008, p.196)

 

Subtle yet important contradictions exist.  Despite more obvious cinematic use of duration and motion, photography too has its own complex associations; photographs are about the instantaneous arresting of time and movement in a single frame, generally perceived as alluding to something past, a stasis, perhaps at the heart of photographic ambiguity.  Cinema is about the fluid depiction of time and movement, through successive multiple frames: it may portray a period that has past, yet the experience takes place in the ‘present’.  


Developing their own independent visual language, syntax and grammar, photography continues to articulate stasis and motion through alternative lengths of exposure, sequence and juxtaposition.  Cinema in exploring the physiology of film has developed alternative techniques, zoom to tracking shot, dissolve to split screen.  A strong premise has existed for both to evolve in new ways, technically and artistically, not least in cinema’s disruption of the visual through the use of sound, dialogue patterns and music.  Yet both often return and revert to more basic aesthetic and compositional principles, provoking questions over how the different mediums can reflect upon one another.


Between Stasis & Motion 


Alluding to a moment past, the photograph within cinema is often used as an intransigent object or symbol that has fixed time.  Cinema finds a certain impenetrability, “…while cinema is attracted to (photography), it cannot properly account either for photography or for its own attraction.” (Campany, 2008, p.118).   Prone to emphasise the evidential in photographs, they become a narrative mechanism of proof or reflection upon earlier events.  Culturally a sense of time at a standstill can be read photographically.  Campany considers two such uses, the first in particular respect of avant-garde, exploitation of the long ‘take’ within cinema as a ‘continuous stare’, something between movement and stillness, providing space for philosophical expression or reflection within a film.   


Use of the freeze frame is the second, an illusion of multiple frames employed to disrupt the continuum of cinema.  Invariably film finales portraying the death of protagonists are recalled as examples that have employed this technique: Gallipoli (1981) and Thelma and Louise (1991), perhaps most notable is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)1.  Reference to the photograph in the latter not only made through intransigent stasis, also in a dissolve to an evocative sepia colour treatment, encouraging a sense and association for an earlier era of photography.


Theories considering the relationships between the two mediums are fixated upon the tension between stasis and motion is expanded upon in (Beckman and Ma, 2008) “…the play of motion within still images and the insistence of stasis within moving images…” (p.5).  Examining this fundamental distinction not only reveals insight into differences between both mediums, it promotes reflection upon the essence of a moment captured in a single frame.  Photography’s sensibility and struggle with stasis and motion, movement stilled as a critical aspect within photography.  When should the photographer arrest or fix, how long to expose, the duration over which to suspend, subject placement, framing and other compositional considerations.  In turn such debate invites contemplation of how to encapsulate cinematic narrative, a central theme in considering how the two mediums interrelate.


Whilst conditions relating to its stasis may often frustrate the viewer of a photograph, unable to objectively access inferences beyond the frame, paradoxically, photography provides time to consider and access the moments portrayed, those that might otherwise go unnoticed, untold or unseen in motion.  Both mediums promote reflection.  Often taking place when viewing a photograph, film is more reliant upon retrospective contemplation, principally a consequence of the real-time engagement of the viewer during exhibition.  


Aesthetically both mediums place emphasis upon the visually representational, employing objective craft based composition, seeking the communication of a narrative, either real or imaginary.  Profoundly this invites further exploration of their shared principles, pictorial and cultural strategies within both mediums that have developed alongside one another; construction, communication, codification, technical and aesthetic concerns.  Deeply impressed by particular films, Henri Cartier-Bresson acknowledged himself within the introduction to The Decisive Moment (1952), “Then there were the movies. From the great films I learned to look and to see.” (Cartier-Bresson, cited Campany 2008, p.25); suggestion even that he “contemplated abandoning photography to concentrate on cinema.” (Cheroux, 2008, p.45).  


Despite Wall’s assertion that ‘photography, cinema and painting have been interrelated since the appearance of the newer arts’, theoretical studies that consider the relationship between photography and cinema seem to obsess: either weighted in favour of the photograph as simple symbol or ‘cipher’ within films, or over philosophies focusing upon the ‘reconfiguration’ or interpretations of cinematic time.   Little emphasis upon how photography’s flexibility, free from screenplay and other constraints, can inform, portray narratives, comment upon filmic culture; the way in which film stills are represented and perceived; how they have often become inherent terms of reference.


Narrative Stilled


“…the isolated film frame is what is most cinematic about cinema and, in its unintended details, what is most photographic about photography…All the pictorial procedures open to making film are open to making still photographic images” (Barthes The Third Meaning 1970, cited Campany, 2011, p.58-59).  


When experiencing film the viewer doesn’t receive a stream of individual images, rather they read them collectively and interpret a flow of narrative that the filmmaker controls.  Despite an enveloping sense of narrative, the complexity described ensures that individual frames within the film are instantaneous, often forgotten, and rare for them to be ‘burned upon the retina’; heightened emotions are momentary and overwhelmed as the overall story evolves. 


Describing Barthes argument as ‘counter-intuitive’, Campany (2011) describes the narrative tableau or film still, as an ‘enigmatic’ fragment, suggesting that, “The narrative complexity available to cinema is not available to the still photograph…” (p.60).  In cinema the viewer has no command over how long they look at a moving image, even where to look within that image, yet when isolated or distilled into a single frame, narrative fragments condense a scene or performance, intended and unanticipated moments can be enhanced or transformed -  “the still dissolves the constraint of filmic time” (Roland Barthes, cited Beckman and Ma, 2008, p.11).


Drawing upon the earlier example of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)1, ‘frozen in motion’ the film frame itself is perhaps less familiar than the accompanying narrative tableau, a still or ‘special’ photographed by Tom Beauvais (b.1932)2.  Utilised extensively across wider media to promote the film, this photograph expands upon the motion frame, conceived and captured for higher resolution reproduction.  Enhancing the narrative, ironically the still is not only resonant of the image from the motion frame finale, rather it has become an iconic image with which film is more readily and culturally referenced.


“The obvious difference between moving and still images is that the latter allows for time to look at a single moment…” (Baron, 2008, p.131-132).  Whereas the moving image controls the audience experience, the viewer has time to study the film still, to reflect upon interactions, to explore the underlying narrative, to consider performance, relationships and cultural associations.   Clarke (1997) cites John Berger as having noted, a photograph ‘isolates, preserves and presents a moment taken from continuum’ (p.220) arguing that whilst the moving image celebrates that continuum, the photograph ‘privileges the moment’.


Performative Photography


Considering the language between photography and performance, chance can be replaced with repetition, rehearsal and intent.  Objectivity is suspended in favour of declared subjectivity.  Yet despite the staging of a scene, rehearsal and careful design, as a device of discovery the camera is always ‘dislocated’ from pure duplication, adding another dimension.  When seeking to arrest a single moment of gesture or expression, the auspicious moment may well arise during an otherwise discarded ‘take’, resulting in a ‘decisive moment’ that conveys a sense of the narrative or performance.


Photographs provide a means of reflection, documentary attributes, whilst displaced by the process, are nonetheless retained in the recording, the stilled trace of a performance.  Loaded with gesture and emotion, conceived and staged, motivations may be subjective, yet photography still encapsulates an expressive moment with indexical objectivity, never entirely sure of the outcome.


Whilst the primary intention may be the purposeful capture and communication of a fictive scene, nothing is certain when photographing performance.  Referencing an article by Liz Cotz, Language between Performance and Photography, Iversen (2007) proposes that, “The performance follows the score, but the outcome in each instance is unforeseeable.” (p.95).  Campany (2011) suggests that emphasis upon the photograph as ‘made’ versus the photograph as ‘taken’ can never be absolute.  “To stage an image is to set up a fictive time that ruptures that continuum, producing a photograph as imaginary as it is lucid.” (p.64).


Editing the action into a single frame can allow the viewer or audience to access an underlying narrative or emotion in his or her own time, a brief or prolonged encounter.  Often specifically for marketing and advertising purposes, scenes are condensed into a single ‘cinematograph’, seeking to encapsulate a plot or subplot into a comprehensible still photograph.  Photographic stasis and associated ambiguities emphasised, replicating in a still, a moment or period from a fictional continuum.  Whilst the staged narrative tableau may never quite achieve cinema’s naturalism, the techniques of ‘filmmaking’ are employed to portray the appearance of narrative classical cinema.


The ‘Fourth Wall’


Avoidance of direct address and disregard of the camera at close proximity3, manifest within film stills, is clear indication of the ‘staged’.  Campany (2011) likens cinema’s mainstream use of such technique to the implied ‘fourth wall’ of theatre, unnatural, “…an unspoken field into which gazes are rarely permitted to fall’ (p.80).  As with theatre, cinema seeks to promote the suspension of disbelief for a narrative; performance taking place in front of the camera, rather than directly to it.  Subjects contemplative, withdraw or relate to that beyond the edges of the frame.


Paradoxically, such ‘disavowal’ of the camera when viewed in stasis demands greater reflection upon the extent to which it can be believed.   Subjective pretense over documentary realism, rather than suspending it can force disbelief in the photograph, declaring the underlying performance.  And yet rather than remaining unique to filmmaking, it has become an acceptable technique, often encountered in fashion, portraiture, advertising and art photography.  


Full suspension of disbelief in cinema may be denied within the photograph, yet the pictorial technique has become increasingly recognisable and familiar, often emphasising underlying narratives.  Such acceptability is clearly a reflection upon the significance and influence the film still has had upon popular culture, informing the basis of certain post-modernist art photography.


Whilst perhaps falling short of cinematic complexity, in ‘stasis’4, the viewer of the still photograph has time to reflect, not only upon underlying narratives, upon frame, character and actor, scene and location.   On one level, captured expressions can promote contemplation for the character, the performance, an imagining of story, of the ‘present’ portrayed.  On another, there is inevitable consideration for what has past, the moment captured, inviting reflection not only upon the subjective intent, also upon the objective record.  Film stills uniquely chronicle a place somewhere between fiction and reality, a place between present and past.  Photography’s fundamental documentary impetus remains.


Crossing Genres


“The indexicality of a photograph combined with its stillness tends to produce not just a fixed record of the world, but a fixed pointing at it…’look how things were at this moment’, whether that moment is fiction or fact.” (Campany, 2008, p.143).


Stylistically distinct from many other forms of photography, at times difficult to classify, photographing cinema demands that unit photographers negotiate their way through a variety of established genres.  Actively adopting a range of techniques, they simultaneously engage in the promotion of fictive scenes alongside capturing those that depict the production of cinema.  Equal bearing, both upon an engagement in narrative storytelling, and in the documenting of a fiction.  Whilst remarkably duplicitous, intentions and outcomes are culturally acceptable, expected and familiar.  


Photographic theory often enthusiastically engages in the subjective ‘performance’ of the photographer.  Motivation and interpretation underlying many inherent ambiguities associated with the medium.  Varying degrees of objectivity and subjectivity have evolved across different photographic movements, from early ‘documentary’, through ‘new objectivity’, ‘modernism’ to ‘post-modernism'.


Demanding an acute and heightened sense of temporal narrative, visualisation and storytelling, the role of unit is less focused upon the photographers’ own ‘performance’, more upon their approach and versatility.   Significantly, focus is upon capturing of the filmmakers’ motivations, the ‘look’ of particular projects, inventiveness and ingenuity in communicating the process of filmmaking.


Produced as impressive stylised visual stimulus, narrative stills convey both a sense of story or scene, whilst at the same time containing an inherent documentary significance.  Photographs become a silent record or comment upon the protagonists, the process and the filmmakers involved.  Images, even those entirely fictive at the moment of capture, attain retrospective documentary value over time, developing interest in aspects and detail, the half-realist aesthetics behind otherwise fictional narratives.  


Behind scenes shots declared more openly as reportage, catch chance moments both on and off set; depicting actors preoccupied with their performance or lines, crew engaged in the process of filmmaking.  Distinct from and supplemental to other staged and previsualised forms of film photography, all combine to form a comprehensive, representational record.  Whether interest is for specific projects, particular actors or stars, widespread fascination in the film still has evolved alongside cinematic myth, perceived glamour and magic.


Undoubtedly photographers influence outcomes through their own individual style, approach and technique however, whether carefully staged as ‘cinematographs’, candidly captured portraiture, chance glimpses into the process, all become a wider tribute to the filmmakers and the involvedness of filmmaking5.  Widespread cultural significance, images ultimately feature on posters, in books, websites, editorial, captioned for other promotional, distribution and sales purposes, engendering interest and increasing in ‘value’ decades after their capture. 


Iconography Captured


“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” (Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist, 1891).  Beneath the mask the character is revealed, capturing not only an image or performance, also the actor.  Whether declared as staged or otherwise more documentary, capturing persona through gesture and expression remains a key aspect of the film still.  


Focusing upon the actors and filmmakers within their cinematic environment, iconic images portray narrative performance, more contemplative insights caught away from the motion-cameras, to more traditional styled portraiture, often depicting moments of real life whilst engaged in the process of fictive pretence.  The “criss-cross between filmic character and the excesses of staff persona, somewhere between acting and posing.” (Campany, 2008, p.48).


Populist cinematic culture demands imagery that captures a sense of both the character and the actor, an expected measure of iconography.  Consequently film stills derive a degree of interest from the engagement in the actual process portrayed, as well as from the individuals they depict.  Much like forms of fashion photography, Hollywood’s aggressive promotion of stars has often portrayed an improbable perfection, evolving alongside cinematic mythology this is distorted further by the blurring of boundaries between fiction and reality.  


Stilled narrative scenes and portraiture are often steeped in sexual tension, innuendo or other connotations, the power of photography designed as a means of promotion or stimulation.  Captured in stylised portraiture or previsualised scenes, ‘specials’ depict ‘stars’ looking directly through the lens, speaking to potential audiences and viewers.  Becoming aesthetic monuments, remaining visually symbolic of realism, they’re stylistically distinguished from reality, both by the engagement in fictive backdrops, and by photography’s suspension of time.  


Cooperation & Collaboration


Focusing upon variety, narrative, iconography, celebrity and the capture of more candid or documentary opportunities, intuitive images6 demand a great degree of adaptability and anticipation.  In conversation, unit photographers are clear to emphasise that cooperation and collaboration with all involved in the filmmaking is essential in producing images that communicate a sense of the ‘mystique’.  An aptitude for filmmaking and an appreciation for set discipline, the filmmaking is the canvas upon which the unit photographer can capture the range and variety of stills required.     


“In much the same way as an understanding of the mechanics of film production is important, even more so is an in-depth knowledge of the workings of a film set and the relationships that the stills photographer will need to develop.” (Bailey, 2009, p.97)


Environment, strength of personality, pressures both on, and off set, can often generate heightened emotions and turmoil.  Aware of the influence and iconicity associated with the photograph, subjects may be ironically and unexpectedly wary or distracted by the camera, demanding a greater degree of sensitivity and discretion.  Relationships are reliant upon a strong sense of empathy and trust.  Previsualisation and collaboration with others involved in publicity becomes especially necessary for ‘Specials’, previsualised photography commissioned by the distributor’s marketing department, portraiture and elements designed specifically for posters and key artwork.  


Entangled in subjective and philosophical complexity, in seeking to suggest superficially fictitious yet plausible images, film stills demand particular independence of the viewer from questions relating to the intention of the photographer.  Anecdotally established photographers can struggle in such a unique environment.  Perhaps more than in other forms of photography, balancing the wishes and requirements of the Producers and or ‘studio’, focus is as much upon the use of photographic ‘craft’ as upon any individual voice.  Desirable affinity with the filmmakers extends to matching technical aspects, colour temperatures, ambience and atmosphere.  


Ordinarily in photography the viewer is too late to witness that, that has already happened; too early to witness that, that is about to happen, an ambiguity and disturbance often difficult to resolve.  Uniquely challenged by the film still, inextricably linked to the medium of cinema, it is possible to re-encounter subjects, ‘re-awaken’ actors6/7, re-experience scenes and narrative, regenerate photographic stasis into motion.  Collaboration that underlies and accounts for the film still’s enduring iconicity.


Inter-Disciplinary Legacies


Campany (2008) cites Jeff Wall as saying “no picture could exist today without having the trace of the film still in it, at least no photograph” (p.127).  “Wall’s interest…was stimulated by…the published stills in film histories, to present an expressive image that acts as a cipher for the convergence of subjective as well as social and pictorial meanings.” (Ian Wallace, cited Campany, 2011, p.58).


Photography and art regularly find comparisons for aesthetic decisions at the surface and philosophical connections beneath.  Beckman and Ma (2008) propose that “created by the intersection of photography and cinema, we find a model for simultaneously looking forward and backward at vicissitudes of the media in question, and see that new media do not simply displace what came before, but rather shine a light onto older media, permitting us to see them differently.” (p.10).  


Aesthetically and indexically interwoven, photography and cinema remain more than purely imitative of one another.  A dialogue has emerged, visual exchanges between filmmakers and photographers taking place upon gallery walls.  Increasingly considering the apparent overlaps of interest, many provoke exploration of the similarities and differences between the two mediums, replaying the representation of motion and stasis, narrative fiction and performance within photography.


In her series of the late 70s, ‘Untitled film stills’ Cindy Sherman had an acute eye for costume, setting and pose8.  In a personal essay designed as an accompaniment to the publication of the series, Sherman spends a considerable time discussing the role of performance.  Encouraged to be experimental at the time of photographing, much of her work focused upon characterisation, self-reflective portraiture, and consideration over costume, make up.  Photographically documenting moments of pretense.


Despite trying to actively destroy any sense of continuum or connection between stills, underlying narratives within each frame emerge, to “…imply a story without involving other people, just suggesting them outside the frame…” (Sherman, 2003, p.6).  Many of her scenes are as much about a sense of story and atmosphere, as for those characters depicted.  Sherman describes the heavy influence of avant-garde cinema upon her work, more than coincidental; perhaps a further philosophical significance can be drawn from the genre’s underlying ‘fascination’ with photographic stillness.


Framing of the tension between stasis and motion for the gallery wall, tableaux photography, formerly isolated and repressed, has increasingly become an acceptable form.  Single fictional narrative images, contemporary art photography is as indebted to the film still as it is to cinema.  Campany (2008) proposes that Sherman and Wall “were attracted by this compact power that seemed to set in motion meanings that could never be resolved fully” (p.135).  Others including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Julia Fullerton-Batten9, particularly Gregory Crewdson through recent series Twilight and Beneath the Roses, have since increasingly engaged with staged Cinematography, exploring underlying philosophies for role-play and mimicry.  “The use of actors, assistants and technicians needed to create a photographic tableau redefines the photographer as the orchestrator of a cast and crew, the key rather than the sole producer.  He or she is similar to a film director who imaginatively harnesses collective fantasies and realities.” (Cotton, 2009, p.51).


Constructed images, often epic and meticulous, no attempt to disguise their fictitious staging or aspects of the surreal or theatrical imagery.  Making rather than taking photographs, exaggerating the enigma of photographic stillness, skillfully isolating a single moment within the stasis of photography.  Displayed large on gallery walls, they are designed to project the imagery towards the viewer, enveloping them in a participatory experience, in much the same way as cinema is experienced on a ‘big screen’.  


“…artists are increasingly turning to projected and moving images through the channels of installation art, multimedia, and “time-based” work…blurring the boundary between spaces of theatrical exhibition and museum or gallery spaces.” (Beckman and Ma, 2008, p7).  An example of such being Tacita Dean’s recent project Film at the Tate Modern in which she specifically turned to the medium of ‘35mm motion film’ to produce an abstract piece of motion installation.  Specifically concerned with the demise of physical film in an increasingly digital age, more widely such inter-disciplinary comments are designed to provoke subjective reflection.  “What is most important is not so much what people see in a gallery or the museum, but what people see after looking at these things, how they confront reality again” (Orozco, cited Iversen, 2007, p.105), 


Tableaux photography, manifestly influenced by narrative film photography, has in turn influenced ‘documentary’ photography.  Losing its place to television as a primary source of visual information, recent developments have witnessed a shift towards increasingly allegorical forms of communication.  Rather than partaking in the action for immediate print, preference appears to be shifting toward the recording of the aftermath, subjects portrayed through the immersive use of the large format.


Considered and previsualised scenes are staged to promote reflective or contemplative narrative upon what has passed.  Exhibited long after the news crews have moved on, increasingly upon gallery walls.  Whilst maybe this change is in response to a variety of influences and inter-disciplinary developments, perhaps some origins lie in use of photography to promote cinematic narrative.  Acknowledgment of photography’s inherent ‘stasis’, as a means of complementing, rather than competing with motion media. 


Conclusions


Belief that the film still has a unique and extraordinary ability to endure may be prejudiced somewhat by personal experiences within feature production.  Apparent is that the fascination for and familiarity with cinema is likely as rooted in the film still as it is in motion picture itself.  Intentionally designed to promote and document, photography has become a primary means with which to reflect or reminisce upon the medium.  Perhaps ironically, the photograph as a readily accessible device, is favourable as a form of reference to the motion version from which it was taken.


Surprising is the extraordinary absence of related critical thinking; vast collections of culturally familiar imagery continue to be published, yet any theoretical writing seems wanting.  Whilst inextricably linked with cinema, film photography remains distinct in its own right.  Mutually exclusive of one another, limited studies referenced clearly demonstrate that stilled fictive narrative is far from purely imitative.  Moreover it becomes apparent that the film still has had significant influence upon the development of post-modernist art photography.  Indeed if Wall were correct, every photograph taken today owes something to the film still.


Photography and cinema remain fundamental to their continual development; inevitably their affiliation shall continue to confound and confuse.  Campany’s perception that the film still is “…haunted by movement and estranged by its own fixity.” (2008, p.139) may ironically be at the route of photographic theory.  As Barthes infers, the isolated frame taken from many is what is most ‘photographic about photography’; perhaps the ability to experience both stasis and motion versions of the same provides a form of resolution to something that has passed.


Afterword


Beginning with reflection upon conversations with several unit photographers, this extended study has provided an opportunity to consolidate extensive critical thinking into narrative, filmic and documentary photography.  Clarifying some of the underlying principles and clear in my appreciation of wider photographic ambiguities, complex and focused philosophical aspects have not always been easy to access, perseverance in re-reading and re-writing often necessary.


Combined with my keen personal interest in the vocational and professional practice of unit photography, study has formed the basis for all forthcoming practical assignments.  Reflection upon how a range of theoretical and technical aspects may complement and inform my own practice, I can begin to apply both in terms of more conventional filmic photography, and for personal projects planned to focus more upon tableaux.

 

 

Reference:

  • Abbott, G. (2012) Hollywood Unseen. 1st Edition. Suffolk: ACC Editiions
  • Bailey, A. (2009) Movie photos. 1st Edition. London: Imagebarn / Independently Produced
  • Baron, R (2008) The Idea of Still. Interviewed by Sarbanes, J. In: Beckman, K. and Ma, J. (eds.) Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography. 1st Edition. U.S.: Duke University Press
  • Beckman, K. and Ma, J. (eds.) (2008) Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography. 1st Edition. U.S.: Duke University Press
  • Beckman, K. and Ma, J. (eds.) (2008) Introduction: The Changing Face(s) of the Field. In: Beckman, K. and Ma, J. (eds.) Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography. 1st Edition. U.S.: Duke University Press
  • Campany, D. (2008) Photography and Cinema. 1st Edition. London: Reaktion Books
  • Campany, D. (2011) Jeff Wall: Picture for Women. 1st Edition. London: Afterall Books
  • Cheroux, C. (2008) Henri Cartier-Bresson. 1st Edition. London: Thames & Hudson
  • Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph. 1st Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Costello, D. (2007) After Medium Specificity Chez Fried: Jeff Wall as a Painter; Gerhard Richter as a Photographer. In: Elkins, J. (ed.) Photography Theory. 1stEdition. New York: Routledge
  • Cotton, C. (2009) The Photograph As Contemporary Art. 2nd Edition. London: Thames & Hudson

 

 

 

Monday, 01 April 2013

Quotation

'More people will see the stills of the movie than will ever actually see the movie’ - David Puttman (cited)

 

 

Saturday, 02 March 2013

Tenors of Rock

Commercial shoot on a shoestring...a favour for a friend who's invested in the band, made up of six great guys with fabulous voices.  Meeting at Elstree Studios for an intensive threee hour shoot one Saturday afternoon in March, I'd had to seriously pre-visualise the shots we were looking for.

Elstree kindly providing a rehearsal room that doubled as a studio, ELP provided three redhead kits to illuminate the group interiors.  Setting up alone in the morning the virtues of an assistant became apparant throughout the day, whilst I managed to capture all the plates imagined, I may not have been quite so exhausted...

Tenors of Rock

Tenors of Rock

 

 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

RPS Journal March 2013

Editorial Feature

Coming Up Feature

Coming Up Feature

 

 

Saturday, 02 February 2013

The Society of Motion Picture Still Photographers

http://www.smpsp.org

"Founded in 1995 as a nonprofit, honorary organization dedicated to the art of motion picture still photography.

Interests include the promotion of archival preservation of still pictures shot during the production of motion pictures for their historical and cultural importance and to provide a forum for our members to exchange ideas and discuss the ever-changing issues facing photographers today.”

 
 

 

 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Unit Stills - Skillset

http://www.creativeskillset.org

"Unit Stills Photographers take the vitally important photographs of film sets or studio shoots that are used to create the press and publicity for feature films. These arresting images, if they are used well, can genuinely contribute to a film’s box office and international sales success. Unit Stills Photographers usually work on set, recording scenes from the film; alternatively, they may be required to set up photographs in the style of the film in a studio environment.


Many big stars have a clause written into their contracts enabling them to “kill” any images of themselves which they do not approve – often the bigger the star, the greater the “kill factor”, which can be as high as 75%. Unit Stills Photographers must therefore be prepared for the rejection of what they may consider to be their best work. Unit Stills Photographers are employed, on a freelance basis, by Producers, Film PR companies, Film Sales Agents, or Distributors, and usually combine unit stills work with a variety of other professional stills photography (portraiture, travel, beauty, editorial, film festivals and special events). The hours are long and they often spend considerable periods of time away from base.


What is the job?

The number of days Stills Photographers work on set depends on the budget and scale of each film. On medium sized films, they are usually employed for at least 15 days; on big budget films with A-List casts, they may be required to be on set every day of the shoot. Their first responsibility is to run through the shooting schedule with the Film PR, and decide on the best days for them to visit the set.


Once these days have been approved, Unit Stills Photographers make their own way to the set or studio with their equipment, including 4 or 5 different cameras (both manual and digital) which enable them to shoot concurrently on different kind of film stocks, lenses, tripods, etc. Unit Stills Photographers must be patient and sensitive when working on set, because actors may feel that having another camera pointing at them could adversely affect their performance. In these circumstances, Unit Stills Photographers use the morning blocking rehearsal to attempt to capture some good shots.


Usually, however, with the actors’ permission, Unit Stills Photographers position themselves as close to the film camera as possible, and shoot every scene in detail using a piece of equipment called a Blimp, which houses the stills camera and cuts out any noise it might make.


If a studio shoot is planned, they work with the actors to create the desired shots, usually based on a brief from the Poster Artwork Designers. Once their work is completed, all the images are sent to the Sales company, Distributor, Film PR or Publicist, who use them for the P&A (Press and Adverting) campaign.


Typical career routes

Although there is no typical career route to becoming a Unit Stills Photographer, it is vitally important to build a strong portfolio of work. While some are self-taught, others are Photography graduates who have been employed as Photographic Assistants to experienced Photographers working in corporate, fashion or editorial photography, which enables them to learn on the job whilst building an impressive portfolio.

Broadcasters sometimes advertise short contracts for Stills Photographers which provide opportunities to enter the industry and to meet Publicists and PR professionals who also work on feature films, and who may want to build up a list of good freelance Photographer contacts.


Essential knowledge and skills

The basic requirement for Unit Stills Photographers is a good technical knowledge of photo-chemical and digital processes, and of all camera equipment. They should also have an understanding of photographic composition and an interest in how stills are used in film publicity and advertising. They must be able to drive, and be computer literate.


Key Skills include:

  • A good sense of visual composition and perspective
  • Sensitivity and tact when working with actors
  • Adaptability and patience
  • Precise attention to detail
  • Good organisational skills
  • Ability to work quickly under pressure
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures"
  •  

 

 

Monday, 17 December 2012

'Seduced by Art'

Extracts from RPS Journal, December 2012, 611


Jeff Wall's first foray into art history was a large-scale colour photograph, The Destroyed Room, inspired by Ferdinand-Victor-Eugene-Delacroix's famous painting The Death of Sardanapalus. Wall recreates the diagonal sweep of Delacroix's composition in wrecked furniture and scattered clothes, while a woman's high-heeled shoe, poised in the centre of the scene, stands in for the central figure of Sardanapalus' slave.


Delecroix's canvas shows the beginning of a violent event, vividly peopled with the throes of life and death. Wall presents the aftermath of destruction; the scene is still and the protagonists are absent.


Work such as The Destroyed Room quotes historical art without directly imitating it - that intention is important, for comparisons between works of art should be more than imitative. The exhibition is not a child's game of 'spot the difference', rather an argument for shared causes and effects, aesthetic decisions at the surface and philosophical connections beneath.


In an interview with Els Barents in 1986, Wall spoke of 'wanting to make pictures in the traditional way', describing his work as an attempt to 'recuperate the past - the great art of the museums'.


His photographs strongly correlate with the forms and subjects of fine art. But should a new medium has its own pictorial codes? Many have thought so and, in the 20th century, practitioners and critics rejected what was believed to be photography's parasitic dependence on fine art models. The old discussions about art were fruitless, elitist and, most importantly, untrue to photography's fundamental documentary impetus.


By insisting on photography's unique properties, practitioners presented it is a worthy visual form distinct from fine art. But autonomy brought isolation, and Wall has described the self-contained world of the 1960s and 70s, of galleries and publications devoted exclusively to the medium, as a 'photo ghetto'.


The segregation has waned, in part through the work of artists such as Wall and Tom Hunter, whose pictures operate on a theatrical level that pushes back against the tendency toward a resolute ordinariness of subject.


In Hunter and Wall's photographs, as in Delacroix's painting, colour lends a beauty to the pictures which is at odds with the grim subject matter.


Today, we may not to notice colour, for it is the default mode of contemporary photography. However, colour is a relatively recent presences in the medium. In the 19th century it was not integral to the photographic process but was added to monochrome images as hand tinting. The results were clearly artificial, and some believed that colouring photographs undermined their authenticity.


Large pictures are pictures are participatory - they thrust the image out into the spectator's perceptual space. The scale suggests that what we see is more than just a picture on a wall; it is a window onto a 'real' scene.


Wall made purposeful use of this in 1978, when The Destroyed Room was presented as a nearly life-size transparency mounted behind the window of a Vancouver gallery's street frontage. It was an unconventional window display, replacing a neat arrangement of merchandise with a chaotic tumble of goods in the wreckage of a room.


When the photograph was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 1979, it moved into a setting where the art historical references were more insistent. This early integration of photography into a public art gallery set the stage for the medium's ever closer relationship with fine art.


Wall has described his large colour photographs as a means to 'participate with a critical effect in the most up-to-date specularity'. In such ways, artists renew old modes and themes in the currency of their time - the subjects do not change from one medium or century to the next, but the context alters, as does the technology.


For each genre, we are faced with the same question: what can photography do relative to what has been done in fine Art? How does it fit itself into what is old, what is new, what is accepted by the establishment and what suits an experimental medium? The juxtaposition of media and time periods challenges our perceptions of the status of photography, and the qualities we look for in a 'photographic' work of art.


Hope Kingsley - RPS Journal, December 2012, 611 (Curator, Education and Collections, at the Wilson Centre for photography)

 

 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Forest Giant - NGM Magazine Dec 2012

It was sitting there for that Michael Nichols made his portrait of the President in snow. Nick and Jim Campbell Spickler, an expert climber and rigger came up with a plan.  With a crew of assistants and climbers drawn heavily from Steve Sillett's team they arrived in mid-February, when the snowbanks along the plowed road were 12 feet high... they got the shot.  (Actually there were many individual shots, assembled as you see on the poster.)

NGM Magazine December 2012 (p40)

(c) Michael Nichols - Giant Sequoias, California

(c) Michael Nichols - Giant Sequoias, California

 

 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Ideal Wife

Shooting a short film with Philip Saville, a director famed for so many projects, at 82 years it is quite amazing that he continues to conceive, write, produce and direct.  A career that includes work I myself studied whilst at school in the 1980s; ala Boys from the Blackstuff, Yozza's 'Giz'us a job' quite appropriate; an opportunity to work with a delightful Publicist, Moira, and three lovely actors, Andrew-Lee Potts, Jeany Spark & Camilla Arfwedons.

Ideal Wife 5

Ideal Wife 5

Philip Saville

Philip Saville

Ideal Wife

Ideal Wife

 

 

Friday, 09 November 2012

Pinewood Studios

 Television & Post Facilities & Spherical VRs

Pinewood TV & Post

Pinewood TV & Post

 

 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

When in Rome...

Once again enjoying the simplicity of carrying a couple of rolls of 400 ASA B&W film with a small 'antique' Nikon folders, was as much a break as the long weekend in Rome.

Four days and three nights required a pretty hectic schedule.  Arriving around midday on the Saturday, after checking in to our hotel, a whistle round the station allowed us to pick up our Roma passes.  From there we made it to the Colosseum for guided tour that extended to the Palatine.  More casually making our way around the Roman ruins of the Forum, we headed back from Rome Centre stopping for dinner before calling it a day.

Day 2, miles of strolling around the historic Rome Centre.  Starting with the Spanish Steps, making our way through the Trevi Fountain area, past the monument of the Unknown Soldier, down to the river through the runied Fish Market, we transversed through another quiet part of Rome along the river and back into the historic centre.

Crossing over the Tiberna, we made our way to the  Campo De Fiori, the Rotunda and Pantheon. Four further hours spent in the Musei Capitolani, before another leisurely Roman evening meal.

Always reserving Day 3 for the Vatican.  The Papal Castle closed to the public on a Monday, our guided tour started with the Vatican museum.  Focusing upon the Greek and Roman areas of the museum, we made our way slowly through to the Sistene Chapel, whereupon we spent an hour admiring the works, as best as was possible given the crowds; the 500th anniversary of the Chapel.  From there to St Peters, before strolling back through the 'antiquity quarter' of Rome, to the Spanish Steps, and our hotel.

Ahead of shopping and departure, we headed to the Order and chapel of the Capuchin Monks, an opportunity to visit the friars' crypt, adorned and encrusted with human remains, an experience that makes you consider your own mortality...

 

Rome

Rome

St Peters

St Peters

 

 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Return to the Arkansas Delta

In an article in the November 2012 National Geographic Magazine (p125), Charles Bowden describes the return of photogrpher Eugene Richards to teh cotton picking south, documented earlier in his life through stills.  

"The Delta west of the Mississippi River was once a place where sharecroppers live in segregation and poverty yet forged a vibrant community.  Industrial farming has erased a culture, leaving behind endless sky and few people.  Eugene Richards documented their world for decades ago.  Now he returns to where is pictures began. 

Personally I was struck less by the contemporary images accompanying Richard's retrun, more with the earlier black and white stills in which Richards portrays earlier the "Soul of the South".  With one exeption, the Red Shoes: 

Charles Bowden, NGM November 2012, p 125

(c) Eugene Richards: Ruby Slippers

(c) Eugene Richards: Ruby Slippers

 

 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Locations Lecture & Workshop

Invited by the UCA to give a day long Lecture & Workshop on Locations and Production, preparation beforehand was essential to success.  After two weeks of planning, the Lecture went off extraordinary well; all the students feedback was exceptional, some inviting me to return and discuss their own student projects in more depth...

Almost simultaneously the Production Guild Great Britain have asked me to prepare a photographic workshop for location managers.  Whilst we have yet to confirm dates, as with the UCA lecturing, an exciting opportunity to give back some of that learned during my career.

UCA Lecture Guide

UCA Lecture Guide

 

 

Friday, 05 October 2012

Hallmark PR

Highcross & BizSpace

Hallmark PR

Hallmark PR

 

 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Tim Walker HonFRPS (Storyteller)

In an article for the RPS Journal (October 2012, 463), David Land speaks with top fashion photogrpaher Tim Walker.  Exploring some of teh work in his retrospective exhibition, Story Teller is open at Somerset house form the 18th October.  The article covers Walker's career from a teen assistant at Vogue, through studies at Exeter and ssisting Martyn Thompson in London and new York.

Walker desscribes his big break when he took a portfolio of images to Vogue fashion Director, Lucinda Chambers.  "the mood of my pictures was right for fashion at the time...I wouldn't say I was necessarily directional about being a fashion photographer.  I would have been quite happy doing portraiture or illustrated photography, but fashion is the only aspect of photography that allows any sort of fantasy."

Originally I rejected Digital because I knew and understood my cameras and there are certain old lenses that I like... but now I realise that my reluctance to change has been very good for me, because it's about my relationship with the person I'm photographing which is very much one-to-one."  Describing an unusual awareness and empathy of vulnerable subjects, as models frequently are, Land says that the idea of working digitally and tethered became particularly unappealing.

Discussing synergy with filmmaking, and becoming successfull in an oversaturated marketplace, Land allows the article to close with Walker's referencing Daine Arbus:

She'd sees someone on the street, and she have an immediate affection for them, to such a degree that her pictures still touch people today.  It's very important now more than ever to be true to yourself about what you love."

David  Land, RPS Journal, October 2012

 

(c) Tim Walker HonFRPS

(c) Tim Walker HonFRPS

 

 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Macallan Campaign 2012: Annie Leibovitz

Resonant with my own recent work and more general aspirations, coming across an article devoted to the recent Macallan Capmaign 2012, in late 2011, Macallan commissioned the world's best known photographer - Annie Leibovitz - to shoot a creative campaign featuring Scottish actor Kevin McKidd.

Extremely 'filmic' the series is framed around 'The Macallan. The Last Word.' reflecting a fictional 'day in the life' of the actor Kevin McKidd (Grey's Anatomy).  

RPS Journal, October 2012 (p459)

(c) Annie Leibovitz / Macallan 2011

(c) Annie Leibovitz / Macallan 2011

 

 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Nearly nine months of conceptualisation, preparation, collaboration, photography and processing I have this week received final prints for A Midsummer Night's Dream.  A busy few days of collation and the fine tuning for presentation.

...feedback received - "truly outstanding and exceptional work from inception, to planning, to execution, to presentation and delivery.  Characterised by a professional approach, intellectual maturity and a remarkably high level of critical engagement."

Dream iii

Dream iii

Dream ii

Dream ii

Dream i

Dream i

 

 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Salvador Dali Exhibition

Arranged locally by Sunflower Framing and invited to the opening, the exhibition consisted mainly of original signed etchings and lithographs dating from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, a range of topics, weirdness and surrealism permeating them all.

The most interesting pieces came from the 1960’s, several with mythical connotations such as a personal favourite, the horse Pegasus flying through the sky or the wooden horse of Troy.  Others depicted more typical Surrealist scenes such as a giraffe expelled from a high tower or the vast threatening figure of a colossus emerging from the horizon.

Robert Descharnes, the noted Dali expert and world recognised authority on the subject was on hand to explain a little more about the exhibition including freestanding examples of Limited Edition bronze sculptures providing an interesting adjunct to the show.

Several photographs were also displayed, some by famous photographers who knew the artist well and are signed by artists such as Lucien Clergue, Andre Villers and Philippe Halsman. They show the artist in suitably zany poses

 

 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Reflections

“Photography can suspend the world but not the disbelief. Consequently, the staged narrative photograph that pretends the camera is not present, that depicts action in the realm of fiction, never quite achieves cinema’s naturalism. It is always haunted by movement and estranged by its own fixity.”
(Campany, 2008, p139)

In support of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, herein a detailed account of the photographic project outlines the actual process; from personal influences, initial concept, through design & preparation, the photographing itself, processing, refinement, to generating final prints. A process that came together as originally imagined, drawing upon a range of influences as well as creative and practical experiences developed through work on feature films, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was produced in much the same way that a movie might be developed, from conceptualisation of a script, through storyboards, meticulous planning, carefully scheduled photographing, to editing and prints. Emphasis focused increasingly upon multiple ironies emerging from the creation of stylised fictitious film stills. 

Influences 

Inspirations were inevitably drawn from personal experiences; whether from the enjoyment watching black-and-white reruns as a child, subliminal effects from the vast number of black & white stills that adorn the corridors of film studios, or more recent fascination in the way Unit Photographer colleagues capture the essence of an entire scene in a single still. I have sought to develop greater appreciation for the relationship between the photograph and moving image; understanding symbolism behind stills captured on or just off set, as well as wider considerations including motivations behind the use of photographs in motion picture itself.

In seeking to capture a sense of filmic iconography I have inevitably had to address ambiguities at the very core of photography; its ability to still movement, recall what has past, promote reflection, as well as to raise questions relating to interpretation and reliability, of changing perceptions for a form that was previously seen as honest and representational. ‘Cinematographs’ by others, including Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson, have had a profound impact upon the way in which photographs are experienced, from objective document to subjective art. The film still is perhaps an ideal example of how the two are inextricably interwoven, ironically often captured in an entirely fabricated environment, ‘action documented in the realm of fiction’.

My idea to produce a whole series of tableaux seemed a natural progression. How still images are experienced was another aspect that I wished to address; that the moving image is experienced in ‘real time’ whilst the still image fundamentally focuses upon what has past. In producing a series of images my hope was to generate a sense of narrative in much the same way as a film tells a story, promoting relationships between scenes. Tableau images that could be selected individually, promoting reflection, as well as a sequence within which it is possible to experience a story from image to image, in the present. 

Conceptualisation 

Decided upon motivation, attentions turned to the selection of a suitable story around which to produce such a series. Initially as a source for pre-visualising sequenced compositions, creating structure for each individual tableau, as well as chronicling scenes that could create a body of work. Imagining I might conceive my own ‘screenplay’ seemed supercilious; Shakespeare provided an appropriately broad basis from which to select a narrative for further development; A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented itself to me early one morning as wholly suitable, full of its own complex internal irony. 

Shakespeare’s focus upon character and action provides a flexibility that allows the plays to be continuously re-conceived in new ways. Steadily working through the text, I began to imagine yet another layer of irony behind the creation of a series of fictional film stills; a film production of the play, based within a film studios; my ‘lovers’ became film stars, my ‘players’ film crew, and my fairies ‘ghosts of the studios past’. Producing a synopsis of the play, breaking each scene down into stilled scenes that would satisfactorily carry the narrative, the emerging visual possibilities, added a wealth of symbolism and yet more irony. 

Rationale behind the desired mix of black-and-white and colour was threefold - to emphasise the eclectic, introducing Oberon, Titania and Puck as a basis of older film iconography; to differentiate between night and day; and to question whether or not the events of the former actually take place, or are simply 'a dream'. Use of colour was to become the aspect over which I deliberated most. Many of the found colours were too different, distracting despite careful attention to colour temperatures and mixes within each location. An eclectic concept, setting, plot and treatment, all adding further ambiguity that heightens the underlying 'estrangement' of the movie still. 

Foundations 

Having revised the text into a simple synopsis of my own adaptation, careful and extensive storyboarding provided the basis for every further aspect of preparation and production. Sketched from reference photographs of real locations or known spaces within film studios, suitable backdrops were created. Imagining myself as director and performers, I blocked each scene’s action until an appropriate option presented the ‘decisive moment’ for character placements within a single still. Using a range of compositional techniques I considered the need for balance or eccentric dynamics through the use of proximity or separation, continuation and closure, focus very much upon eyelines between points, structures formed using implied triangles, strong diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines; arranging each character on paper naturally as they might react with each other and the viewer within a ‘moving image’. 

Synopsising and storyboarding served to clarify requirements for cast, costume, set and design; lighting would ultimately generate much of my imagined style. Having already envisaged utilising continuous lighting as a means by which to accurately mould each scene, use of ‘film’ lighting would also provide much of the iconography. Reviewing storyboards, it was possible to determine that the style might be achieved using a range of 2kw Fresnel lamps for key and fill, supplemented by Redheads for accenting particular elements, facial expressions, rim lighting and strong shadows.

Initially asking Pinewood if I might use their Studios, Elstree were the more forthcoming, agreeing to payment in kind for use of available spaces. Scheduling each photograph as I would a scene for a film production, it was possible to start breaking down each in terms of location, cast, wardrobe, prosthetics and make-up, props, dressing and lighting, rearranging thereafter into a practical order. Ideally the series would have been photographed across six separate days, determined firstly by location, followed by characters required, and then other aspects such as prosthetics. Asking a range of professional actor friends whether they would be happy to play particular characters, it became apparent that whilst willing, few could commit to so many days. Revising elements accordingly, I settled upon an ambitious two-day schedule. Cast and crew started to become attached for provisional dates two months in advance.

Responding to further advice I tried to split the revised two-day schedule across separate weekends. Originally storyboarding eighteen shots, sufficient to convey the narrative, in the process of preparing for this further revision it became necessary to add two further shots without having to call individuals for a single scene in one day. Throughout I remained conscious of goodwill everyone was showing. At this point I reached an impasse – several cast could not make the revised dates and dropped out; fearful the production was becoming too complex. Faced with this and possibly losing locations I might have to defer for several months, or worse still, indefinitely. Faced with such a momentous decision, the solution was to revert to the original ambitious plan of filming across two consecutive days. The fifth and final schedule now reflected the revised twenty images with an added pressure of finding four new cast members to play the ‘lovers’. 

A critical and stressful period, it was necessary to remain mindful of the extraordinary kindness and support whilst preparing a production that was feasible. Indebted to those already committed, and the assistance of further friends, after a great deal of messaging and many lengthy phone calls, only a week ahead of the shoot I found four fantastic candidates prepared to play Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius. Throughout, my synopsis, storyboards and schedule had proven invaluable when communicating my aspirations alongside the practicalities for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

Preparation & Photographing 

I have since calculated that if produced on a commercial basis, A Midsummer Night’s Dream should have cost in the region of fifteen thousand pounds, possibly more if shot over several separate occasions. Assuming the multiple roles of Director, Producer, Designer, Production Manager, Set Dresser, Location Manager, Wardrobe, Make-up & Runner I was able to produce the series for a fraction of this cost. Special thanks to the entire cast, alongside close friends Keith, Andrew and Foggy, Elstree Studios for providing the locations, and Elstree Light and Power who supplied the lights free of charge. Having purchased the prosthetics from Canada earlier in the year, other essential costs included insurances, costume, prosthetic make-up artist, some props and of course catering, managed by my fantastic fiancée.

Final preparations were made alone in the run-up to the shoot. Spending every waking hour at the Studios during the preceding four days, two were spent dressing the Sets, moving furniture, sweeping the stage and workshop, blacking out windows to allow ‘day for night’ shots. Confirming final requirements with the prosthetics-artist first thing on the penultimate day of prep, taking delivery of the lights I started pre-lighting the available workshop and wardrobe locations. Regrettably there was simply insufficient time to do this for every scene, although opportunity arose to agree lighting plots with Keith, Andrew and Foggy before commencing photographing on the Saturday. Remaining prep was spent arranging wardrobe, dressing and green rooms, hanging out costumes hired and making final checks. Trusting that cast members would bring elements of their own contemporary costumes as discussed, I distributed Call Sheets, Risk Assessments and other documents to everybody involved via email.

Arriving four hours ahead of the call-times on both the Saturday and Sunday, after making sure the urn was switched on for coffee I blocked each scene to be shot alone in situ. Schedules allowed for forty-five minutes for each image, multiple shots in some locations before moving or redressing between frames. 

Electing to photograph the entire series with a fixed frame, I felt this would provide a clearer sense of continuity throughout the series. 24mm wide allowed me to capture a sense of each space as well as the action depicted, producing the intended tableau style. Each frame was captured from a tripod, occasionally allowing for exposures of as much as 1/8 second. In one instance it was necessary to increase the sensor sensitivity to allow for faster exposures. Photographing with the new D800, whilst delivering incredible quality at thirty-six megapixels, it has a minor back-focusing issue, since confirmed by another photographer friend with the same camera. Whilst this didn’t impact upon the final series, at one point I began to doubt my camera handling.

Scheduling shots incorporating prosthetics at the start, capturing the initial images in a timely fashion would be essential when Matt was fully made up as the Donkey. I came to rely heavily upon Keith, Andrew and Foggy in helping me move lamps and pre-lighting each set. Spending as much time with cast members as possible, discussing the narrative within each scene as I positioned them, further tweaks to each set-up would then be applied, rim-lighting, kickers and other effects. Keith’s years of experience and acute judgment alongside Andrew’s on-set professionalism provided me a necessary safety net when photographing so much in so short a timeframe, making minor adjustments to barn doors, positioning flags or poly, creating ‘charlies’ or courtesy masks when necessary.

Scheduling proved most ambitious when photographing exteriors; unfortunately the heavens opened as we moved outside for the nighttime photographs on the first split day, delaying for an hour or so, nonetheless; I am delighted with the range of images captured. Perhaps later on the second day I became a little too pressured and hasty. Conditions less than ideal for the exterior establishing shot; whilst I had spent the morning arranging for the relocation of extraneous vehicles and other distractions, the weather was overcast and windy. The only scene portraying all twelve cast, I should have taken greater care when blocking character positions, rushing, increasingly conscious that we were nearing ‘wrap’ and that everyone had given me so much time and effort. Whilst unable to capture the ‘magic hour’ originally conceived, greater care might have resulted in a more striking composition. Other aspects may also have been varied with extended schedules.

Notwithstanding, success should ultimately to be credited in large part to the remarkable patience of the cast alongside the dedicated professionalism of my three-man Film Unit. Close collaboration led ultimately to the quality of the lighting, Foggy regularly carrying 2kws up and down stairs on the stage to throw light from above, Andrew constantly croc-clipping f1, Keith’s creation of snoots from black wrap; assistance that freed me to focus upon every aspect, from framing to positioning subjects, minor adjustments to lighting shadows and highlights, attending to details within gestures and expressions, as well as aspects of costume, props and dressing.

Reviewing, Selection & Processing

With such a clear pre-visualisation of the series, I could not have been more delighted with the photographs achieved. Enthusiasm in spending so many hours reviewing and processing the final images was as much a reflection upon the overall success, as it was upon any need to apply finishing touches. Initial selection of seconds and selects was perhaps hardest; with so many versions to choose from, narrowing down final images was largely based upon minor variations in gesture and expression.  Ordinarily preferring to remain true to the shots as captured, limited processing and adjustments that may be easily achieved on film in a dark room, rarely do I need to use Photoshop. Declared from the outset as a fictitious series of art, with no intention to deceive the viewer in this instance I was happy to make an exception. Applying photo-realistic retouching, layering alongside minor adjustments was in keeping with the series and imagined from the outset.

Intended as tableaux that can be enlarged for gallery exhibition, a further means of declaring them as intentionally fictitious art, post-production workflow would aim to preserve captured resolutions, enabling future enlargements that might rival medium formats. Having photographed everything in .raw, all were backed up before making conversions, exporting as .psd files. Minor level adjustments were applied more generally, preserving highlighted areas whilst increasing some shadow details, cloning and brushwork sufficient when removing ‘found’ distractions, wires, marks and blemishes. Further artistic adjustments included the smoothing of harsher prosthetic elements.

Where applied in all but one instance, composite images created from multiple exposures were planned, either from conceptualisation or owing to circumstances when photographing. Scene 1, the exception where no single negatives was adequate. Narrowing the selection to three frames it was possible to produce a composite within which I was happy with the gestures of all three groups; in the foreground, the ‘Lovers’ left and ‘Producers’ right, in the background ‘the players’ center right. It is a shame that the very first image of the series is that I am least happy with, if resources were no issue I would reshoot it entirely.

Composites planned from the outset included the insertion of separately photographed plates for Scenes 19 and 20. Smoke and high dynamic range is Scene 16 established and determined the best result would be achieved as a composite generated from two separate images. Careful use of the selection and eraser tools in Photoshop ensured realistic merging. Saving every amended image with corresponding suffixes, the series was re-imported into Lightroom for final monochrome and colour treatment. All were saved as .dng before exporting high-resolution .tiff files, allowing for re-application of treatments to any amended composites.

Found colours proved very different and non-complementary; even after manually adjusting for colour temperatures, particular elements within locations were difficult to balance with one another, distracting overall. The series works fully in black-and-white, yet I was keen to include the colour for the rationale outlined above – to emphasise the eclectic aspects; differentiate between night and day; to question whether the ‘dream’ is real or imagined. Grading of colour within the ‘daytime’ images remains very subjective, reducing the intensity of the reds, oranges and yellows, whilst de-saturating all other channels. Results have sufficiently reduced the colouring so as not to compete with those photographs represented in full monochrome, subtly creating some of the intended variation without 'over-punctuating' the series. 

Moiré patterns appear in the highest resolution tiff and jpeg files, initially of real concern as mention had been made of this in relation to the resolution of the D800, more specifically the D800e camera where the anti-aliasing filter has been removed. I have since established that this is a result of the resolution being greater than some monitors, of little consequence when producing either prints or lower file sizes for viewing online.


Introducing captions required careful consideration. Whilst each image works as an individual tableau as much as in series, without ‘signposting’ full appreciation of the sequence relies upon either the viewer’s pre- existing knowledge of the play or imagination surrounding the narrative. In response to advice, I have taken time to create captions for each photograph, revisiting the original text. During the course of captioning it became apparent that shots thirteen and fourteen were out of sequence; a result of revising schedules and adding two new storyboards during preparation, whilst having little impact upon the narrative, they were reordered to remain true to the text.

Having made maximum use of the 2:3 aspect frame when photographing, after trialing a number of variations, a revised 4:5 ratio seems to incorporate the text whilst remaining in keeping with established photographic formats. Careful processing and learning about the ‘actions’ facility in Photoshop allowed for an accurate increase in canvas size, maintaining identical high-resolution file sizes throughout. Appropriate selection of dialogue assists the viewer in the interpretation of each scene; whilst purposefully a little cryptic, the captions represent the poetry underlying A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

Reference:

  • Campany, D. (2008) Photography and Cinema. 1st Edition. London: Reaktion Books

Bibliography:

  • Beckman, K. and Ma, J. (eds.) (2008) Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography. Kindle Edition. U.S.: Duke University Press
  • Dance, R. (2008) Glamour of the Gods. 1st Edition. Germany: Steidl / London: National Portrait Gallery Publications
  • Bailey, A. (2008/9) Movie Photos. 1st Edition. London: Imagebarn / Independently Produced
  • Campany, D. (2011) Jeff Wall: Picture for Women. 1st Edition. London: Afterall Books
  • Campany, D. (2012) Precedented Photography. Aperture 206 Spring 2012, p.46 to 51
  • Cotton, C. (2009) The Photograph As Contemporary Art. 2nd Edition. London: Thames & Hudson
  • Crewdson, G. (2003) Twilight. 1st Edition. New York: Abrams
  • Crewdson, G. (2008) Beneath The Roses. 1st Edition. New York: Abrams
  • Crewdson, G. (2011) Gregory Crewdson 1985-2005. 1st Edition. Germany: Hatje Cantz
  • Sherman, C. (2011) The Complete Untitled Film Stills. 3rd Edition. New York: MoMA

 

 

Living the Dream (c) Mark Pegg 2012

Living the Dream (c) Mark Pegg 2012

 

 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Paradise

Assisting photographer Nick Wall on some 'specials' for Paradise began with a long five-hour drive up from London on the Thursday evening; Nick having already had a full day's shoot on Downton Abbey.  Friday was an early morning start, heading down to the set just outside Durham.  'Paradise' was in the midst of filming the final episode and we set about lighting the main shop interior.

Calling in the artistes when available into an extremely reflective dressed interior, balancing colour and brightness was always going to be tricky.  Using the reflective elements of the wallpaper enabled us to bounce light back indirectly, extremely soft and very fitting.  Wrapping up at around 5 PM sharing the drive home, all in all an extremely tiring 24 hours.

The Paradise (c) Nick Wall

The Paradise (c) Nick Wall

 

 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Elstree Studios

 Spherical VRs & Panoramas

Elstree Studios

Elstree Studios

 

 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Shooting "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

I can safely say that the past fortnight, especially the last week, has been one of the most exhausting I can remember.  As intense as producing movies, in this instance I was ambitiously prepping or adopting the many roles of Producer, Director, DP, Designer, 1st Assistant, Location Manager, Make-Up, Wardrobe, extending as far as Caterer.

Absence of any safety net was always in the back of my mind. Extremely fortunate to find four ‘lovers’ to replace those formerly lost, I spent a considerable amount of time bringing them up to speed with my project, before launching myself full throttle at the prep.  Revised scheduling and development ensued where after, every waking hour from last Tuesday has been spent fully focused / reflecting upon the shoot (there have been far fewer hours of sleep than normal!).

 

I’m delighted with the results, satisfying my ambition of producing a narrative sequence of tableaux. Influences have helped me finally discover a real voice. Moreover the imagined ambiguity of the film still “…estranged by its own fixity…” (Campany), seems clearly evident.  My aspiration to convey three levels of irony, the dramatic contained within the narrative; that of ‘film stills’ captured in the absence of a motion picture; and post-modernist photography that heavily references the ‘tableaux vivant’, will hopefully invite some contemplation by the viewer. 


Whilst I would be the first to find criticism in specific shots or details, many of these were simply insurmountable given the circumstances.  In particular the first image within the sequence is less dramatic than originally imagined – weather, wind, schedules, fatigue and the sheer number of cast involved conspired against the perfect external ‘magic hour’ shot conceived. 

Entirely reliant upon the amazing collaboration of everybody involved, I remain a little overwhelmed by the final scale of the project in terms of space and people, preparation, coordination, design, dressing, costume, prosthetics, direction, lighting; every element right down to feeding the troops.   I reserve full and proper reflection for the forthcoming weeks and between now and September I shall be carefully reviewing selects, processing, grading and arranging prints.
 

 

 

Friday, 06 July 2012

Shooting on Film

Purchasing a 1980s Nikon FM and f/1.8 50mm prime early June, intentions behind photographing on film are largely sentimental.  There is a practical aspect behind carrying a smaller body, lighter for vacations; discipline over when to take a shot, I find enjoyment in discerning whether an opportunity is really worth a photograph.

Every conceivable piece of digital equipment accessible for commercial assignments, anything from unit photography to property VRs, the simplicity of carrying a couple of rolls of 400 ASA B&W film with a small antique body and lens is almost a holiday in itself.  There's real delight in waiting for films to be developed, unsure a couple of weeks later of what shots were taken.
Sailing

Sailing

 

 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Storyboards for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Storyboards

Storyboards 1

Storyboards 1

Storyboards 2

Storyboards 2

Storyboards 3

Storyboards 3

 

 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Chinese State Visit: Li Changchun

Chinese State Visit

Chinese Pinewood State Visit: Li Changchun

Chinese Pinewood State Visit: Li Changchun

 

 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Seventh Art in Statis: Photographic Ambiguities

 “Then there were the movies.  From the great films I learned to look and to see.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

“Many of the navigation points that once allowed us to recognize our disciplinary spaces and proper objects of study have either disappeared completely or changed dramatically, demanding of us a fairly radical reassessment…” (Beckman, 2008, loc 25)

Beckman (2008) describes a defining feature of the relationship between photography and film as being their overlapping ‘heterogeneity’, underlying connectedness despite individualism.  Filled with philosophical complexity, both are visual mediums that seek to create the ‘artistic’ from the ‘craft’ based technical; both are ‘indexical’ in nature and yet, influenced by the subjective.  The photograph and moving image are inextricably interwoven, a strong premise for both to evolve in new ways, technically and artistically, yet return and revert to more basic aesthetic and compositional principles.  A range of other more obvious and subtle similarities exist, the underlying difference is the tension between stasis and motion, between the fixed and moving image, however even such a fundamental distinction becomes less clear upon closer examination.

Conceptualising the relationship between photography and cinema has greater significance, assisting me in exploring the very essence of a photograph as a subjective form; documentary versus art, surface versus depth, reality versus imaginary, past versus present, still versus motion.  Stasis, ‘still’, is perhaps at the heart of photographic ambiguity; photographs are generally about ‘stillness’, or motion ‘stilled’, something that has passed; this very nature promotes reflection, upon aspects apparent on the surface and values that may lie beneath.  Exploring the relationship with film reveals fundamental similarities, whilst declaring subtle contradictions.  Cinema can be perceived objectively or subjectively, as documentary or art, promote obvious value or provoke underlying theme, it can appear representational of the real or wholly imaginary; yet whilst it can portray a period that has passed, the experience takes place in the ‘present’.  Moreover, whilst not exclusively, the film largely relies heavily upon motion.  Cinema, even documentary film, nearly always begins with a narrative script where photography generally does not.  Both place emphasis upon the visual, photography exclusively so; cinema, however, is as much concerned with sound or soundtrack as it is with ‘look’.

Aesthetically, rather than contradicting, both create ‘spaces’ for reflection upon one another “…the play of motion within still images and the insistence of stasis within moving images…” (Beckman, 2008, loc 75).   Notwithstanding the rise of the inter-disciplinary environment, much theorising over the relationship between photography and cinema remains the preserve of film studies.  ‘Stasis within moving images’ considered by Campany (2008) extends to the role of the ‘stilled’ cinematic image such as the freeze frame at the end of iconic movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Gallipoli (1981), the use of the photograph as an intransigent object that actors reflect upon, or the ‘photographer’ within motion picture as character, such as in La Dolce Vita (1960) or Rear Window (1954).

Whilst an appreciation of cinema is essential to my own critical thinking, examination of the ‘filmic’ photograph is concerned here as much with the ‘cinematograph’, ‘remodeled motion’, within the context of photography that is ‘made’ and not ‘taken’ as a form of contemporary art.  How “The narrative complexity available to cinema is not available to the still photograph, which must find other approximations…photographic sequence, the isolated and enigmatic narrative fragment and the condensed tableau in which the essence of a situation is distilled.” (Campany, 2011, p 59).

Wider ambiguities underlying the photograph become apparent in the ‘cinematograph’ or tableau photograph; emphasis upon a narrative or storytelling caught in stasis never quite achieves naturalism, an enigma described as being ‘estranged through its own fixity’ (Campany, 2008, p.139).  Reliance of the photograph upon stillness encourages reflection.  Wall’s Mimic (1982), had it been produced and experienced at ‘twenty four frames per second’, in motion, as within a scene from cinema, may evoke an emotional response.  Such a response however will likely be defined as much by what precedes and succeeds it, often affected, forgotten or superseded by what is yet to come.  Rarely is a split moment burned upon the retina and recalled as vividly as a ‘still’.  “Echoes of the ambivalent status of the film still itself…‘the still dissolves the constraint of filmic time’ and demands a rethinking of what constitutes the essence of cinematic mobility.” (Barthes [n.d] Cited in Beckman, 2008, loc 241).

“Cinematic images are essentially photographs, but viewed in an exceptional way that does not allow you to see their stillness.  All the pictorial procedures open to making cinema are open to making still photographic images.” (Campany, 2011, p58).  Mimic as a cinematic photograph, ‘dissolves’ this mobility, amplifying the emotional charge; the viewer has time to study and reflect upon character, interaction, the underlying cultural issues; as a ‘stilled’ frame, a pre-visualised, staged tableau, it raises far wider questions, particularly why does the photographer choose to depict this moment?  Is it reproduction of an experience or purely a means of expression?  Pensive reflections are not reserved for the artist; the viewer is invited to experience their own emotional response in their own private time.  Produced with a sense of naturalism, pictorial procedure that is familiar yet motionless, it moves beyond the merely representational and addresses the very ambiguity of the photograph, the essence of the indexical objective versus chosen subjective, the experience of an image, individual and varied perspectives.  “…here the camera lens itself becomes both a physical and metaphoric interface upon which the commentator engages a radical shift in the expressions of the self and in its relation to a world and a history.” (Corrigan, 2008, loc 631).

Documentary functions partially suspended, “to stage an image is to set up a fictive time that ruptures that continuum, producing a photograph as imaginary as it is lucid.” (Campany, 2011, p64).  Made not taken, loaded with gesture and emotion, conceived, staged and rehearsed, ‘disavowal’ of the camera’s presence, obvious in Mimic, and fundamental to the work of Sherman in ‘Untitled Film Stills’, produces another level of complex ambiguity, often an uneasy effect.  A common cinematic mechanism to promote the ‘suspension of disbelief’, routed in theatre’s realist ‘fourth wall’, such disavowal often produces a gaze aimed off centre, neither making contact with the viewer nor engaging with the scene.  Difficult to suspend disbelief in ‘stasis’, “…a trace of a face orientated directly toward our own...” (Campany, 2011, p81) falling short of ‘direct address’, whilst culturally familiar in motion, is uncomfortably unnatural stilled.  On one level such expressions can promote quiet contemplation both within and for the subject, imagining of a wider narrative, as in the characters of Sherman.  On another, disavowal of the camera paradoxically forces disbelief, a marked deviation from the expected and a declaration of the ‘staged’.  In ‘stasis’ the viewer has time to reflect, not only upon the unnaturally familiar ‘filmic’ form, also upon complexities over the objective versus subjective essence of all photography.

Filmic photography is by no means exclusive to the ‘cinematograph’, although perhaps most relevant when considering the photograph as post-modernist art.  “The stark superficiality of film sets has attracted many photographers independent of the industry.” (Campany, 2008, p.120).  Application of the ‘film still’ extends throughout the history of cinema to the ‘film still’, broadly used to describe a variety of publicity images.  Often skillfully ‘remodeling motion’, condensing a scene, performance or emotion into a single frame, into tableaux, similar to the ‘cinematograph’.  Less obvious perhaps is the significance of the ‘film still’ as an extension of the documentary form, highly emotive photographs captured ‘off set’.

Such photographs, ‘taken’ rather than ‘made’, have greater ambiguity, somewhere between performance that might ironically be described as objective, partially ‘in character’ within the real world, moments that are extremely subjective.  Iconicity may relate to the many infamous and ‘attractive’ subjects photographs, well versed in gesture and expression, their place in popular culture.  Campany (2008, p124) describes the ‘strained relationships and emotional turmoil’ between Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits (1961).  Eve Arnold’s Marilyn Going over Lines for a Difficult Scene, depicts a vulnerability or fragility in the actress, somewhere between character and actor, a photograph that “work(s) equally as film stills and reportage since we cannot tell if she is in or out of character.”  Irrespective of motivation, the very essence of such a recorded moment grows significance the older it becomes, reflection upon that which has passed, the historical.  Unlike motion experienced in ‘the present’, a ‘still’, even one surrounded by superficiality, encourages reflection upon social and pictorial meaning, as such it gathers significance as a form of ‘documentation’.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks a distinct change in direction for me personally as a photographer.  One in which I begin to consider the photograph more as a means of personal expression, that satisfies both the viewer and cultivates greater self-awareness as a photographer.  Having formerly focused upon the photograph as a ‘documentary’ form, in a somewhat more artistic environment, it will draw upon a range of experiences and ‘filmic’ influence in the creation of a Portfolio that considers and reveals photographic ambiguities.

“Precedent becomes so retroactively...many of the challenges that face progressive photography today have been faced in the past…we need not succumb to the anxiety that ‘it’s all been done before’.  We should be grateful and learn from the situation.” (Campany article 2012).  Some precedent for A Midsummer Night’s Dream exists in the tableaux of Jeff Wall, the ‘Untitled Film Stills’ of Cindy Sherman and cinematic serials of Gregory Crewdson, amongst others.  To some degree exploration of wider movements in photography, studying the work of others and considering the photograph as a means of expression has enabled me to pre-visualise the Portfolio more clearly.  Desiring to maintain an element of originality, it remains equally appropriate to build upon what has come before.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream may be considered a thematic approach to contemporary post-modernist photography, a slight reshuffling of theories.  Using story as would a filmmaker, to generate still photographs ‘in motion’, in series.  A profound project that considers enigmatic forms for both the photograph and film, a dual dedication to both photography and cinema.  Articulating stories visually, ‘vestiges of the literary’ as in the sequential photo-essay.  Hesitations between motion and stasis, perhaps then “to take delight in seeing a photographic image of a familiar world skillfully and imaginatively distorted in an unfamiliar manner” (Gunning, 2008, loc 398).

Cinema may have reconfigured photographic stillness; can photographs reconfigure filmic motion?  Motivation here is to apply the qualities and codes familiar in the ‘film still’ in an illustrative sequence that creates a sensual experience, somewhere between a musical score and live performance; between a storyboard and film.  Witty, provocative and rhetorical images that comment upon ‘filmic’ culture.  Staged as a photographic series, seeking to animate the experience, suspend disbelief, motion between ‘stillness’, the potential to move forwards and backwards between tableaus, promotion of a ‘real time’ narrative, involving and engaging the onlooker, influencing interpretations and contemplation for the spaces between.  Between motion and stasis, a principle ambiguity and paradox of the ‘filmic’ photograph.

 

 

Monday, 09 April 2012

Talking Pictures: Post Modern Affinity

“No picture could exist today without having a trace of the film still in it.”

Jeff Wall

“It has been said and said that there is too much theorizing in the visual arts.  Contemporary writing seems like a trackless thicket, tangled with unanswered questions.” (Elkins, 2011, pVII)

Photography remains an enigma, a subject for which the more studies made, becomes increasingly difficult to resolve theoretically; balancing its duality as both a means of representation, ‘documentary’, and as a form for interpretation or expression, ‘art’.  Philosophically, the photograph remains suspended between rational and emotional states, subjected to a range of moral, political, sociological, cultural and aesthetic considerations, significantly influencing experiences and responses, both for the photographer and for the viewer.

“The Photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating.  A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his head a fraction or a millimeter…he composes a picture in very nearly the same amount of time it takes to click the shutter, at the speed of a reflex action.” (Cartier-Bresson, [n.d], cited by Clarke, 1997, p207)

Often almost subconscious visualisation occurs when photographing, instinctive, intuitive, perhaps seeing a series of shapes, my mind seeks to transpose them into a visual record.  Until recently my personal photography has been focused upon consideration for composition, style and the development of a personal ‘voice’.  With minimalist tendencies, I have an inclination toward black-and-white imagery that concentrates my eye upon graphical qualities and tonality.  I have often sought to ‘remove’ as much as ‘include’ aspects within a scene.  Is this ‘documentary’ or ‘artistic’?  I have favoured unobtrusive techniques to create sensitive, ‘realistic’ imagery, to create a sense of an emotional state through reflective detachment, in either myself, or my subject, or to depict a narrative aspect within a scene for my viewer.  I find myself increasingly pre-visualising an image before lifting the camera.  This forces contemplation of my motivations; perhaps I have been embellishing a sense of the objective moment to impart a subjective perspective.  Artistic choice and style may now overrule any ‘essential truthfulness’; reportage even in its simplest form can often be affected by aesthetic codes, techniques and subjective perspective.

Having avoiding wide theoretical studies of movements and philosophy, now many of the questions and ambiguities associated with the photograph begin to have real significance.  By my own admission I remain relatively ill informed; formerly sceptical of value or significance placed upon ‘iconic art’, whether renaissance painting, cubist or surrealist movements.   I have taken comfort in the ‘indexical’ nature of the photograph, although even here I have favoured the ‘documentary’ over more ‘conceptual’ work.  ‘Art’ is something for which I now have an increasing appreciation, particularly where experiences complement studies in composition, character, expression, gesture and narrative, a sense of equilibrium or tension.  Extending to ‘imaginary’ photography and painting, often with an apparent ‘intensity of vision’, they are nonetheless examples that continue to aesthetically impart a sense of the real.  Any intuitive enjoyment I formerly had is becoming increasingly informed, in turn leading to improved articulation for and within my own photography.

Can a photograph ever be truthful or is it illusion generated from reality?  Whilst the simplest of intentions may exist, purely pictorial representation associated with the recording of space and subject, efforts to create a frame of order, the very act of photographing forces philosophical reflection upon motivation, intent and perspective.  Seeking to isolate aspects within a scene to generate an aesthetically appealing frame, or adversely to promote ‘imbalance’, emphasises the subjective ambiguity of the photograph, contemplation not just for what is shown, also what is absent and why?  Purposeful production of quiet or discomfort invokes a profound appreciation for values placed both upon the included and also the excluded.  Is the photograph ‘taken’ or ‘made’, and can this ever be absolute?

No matter how ‘straight’ and ‘pure’ the photograph when created, the photographer does not simply record, they make choices through the use of ‘indexical’ based craft, forming, or more precisely creating, a visual stimulus that, on the surface is often perceived as being representational.  Depth beneath this surface reveals the potential for cultural or sociological significance, relating to motivation, expression or interpretation by the photographer or viewer, for wider photography theory and the very ‘status’ of the photograph.

Until recently the preserve of compositional and stylistic analysis, study of many ‘founding fathers of photography’, Strand, Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Frank, and Winogrand amongst others, has developed and influenced a personal enthusiasm for the ‘documentary’ photograph.  Greater understanding of ‘subjective ambiguity’ forces another level of consideration for ‘modernist’ photography.  Perceptibly objective, forms of photojournalism profoundly influenced a sense of ‘assumed accuracy’, the ‘truth’ instilled in the photograph.  Ably assessing and recording moments unfolding before them, all these photographers nonetheless had a subjective appreciation of each scene and photographed from an individual perspective, motivation routed as much in personal expression, as in any aesthetic values.  “The simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression…” (Cartier-Bresson, [n.d.] Cited in Cheroux, 2008, p96-98).

Szarkowsky, other critics and theorists began to investigate how and why we look at the photograph. Concerned with traditions and styles in photography they provided the foundations of photographic theorising and analysis, considering a variety of underlying aspects including ‘the thing itself’, ‘the detail’, ‘the frame’, ‘time’ and ‘vantage point’, “…to assert the aesthetic value of the photograph against the mass culture of journals and magazines.” (Kriebel S, 2011, p16).  Cotton (2009, p 191) goes further to suggest that the effect of modernist criticism:

“…in terms of its authorship and the aesthetic and technical developments and innovations of the medium, which was seen to have a discrete and inner logic to it…was to create a canon of master practitioners, a history of trailblazers driving photography’s capacities, the ‘few’ who could be distinguished from the ‘many’ everyday producers of photographs…”

Regardless of whether these critics are singularly responsible for the creation of iconic ‘master practitioners’, a new language associated with photography developed, one with its own vocabulary, grammar, syntax and vernacular, one that began to describe the photograph as more than purely representational, an emergence of the photograph as art.  “[I]f Photography was invented in 1839, it was only discovered in the 1960’s and 1970’s – photography, that is, as an essence, photography itself.”  (Crimp D, [n.d.] cited in Kriebel S, 2011, p.15).

Drawing parallel, personal progression as a photographer has taken me on a similar journey.  Formerly my photographs were largely illustrative, often left to chance or intuition, some mimicry; enjoyment in the work of the others restricted to aesthetical or discernible narrative aspects.  Study into the work of others, including those described as ‘master practitioners’, has developed a personal appreciation for compositional technique, use of the craft as a means of purposefully capturing photographs with greater intensity.  Alongside these studies has developed a wider understanding of how, when, and more specifically, why the photograph can work.  Considerations over context, narrative characteristics and motivations have led to personal reflection upon the work of others and that of my own, how both photographer and viewer interpret the photograph.  Progressively moving from an objective appreciation, more towards the subjective, has led me to reflect upon the photograph as much more than merely representational; increasingly upon ambiguities and philosophy within photography.

“Postmodernism, in contrast, considered photography from a different standpoint, one that was intended to serve the construction of a pantheon of photographic creators that mirrored those established for painting and sculptures.  Instead, it examined the medium in terms of its production dissemination and reception, and engaged with its inherent reproducibility, mimicry and falsity…determined only by reference to other images or signs.” (Cotton, 2009, p191)

A wider understanding not only of modernist work, style and composition, I have developed more empathy for the photograph as a means of personal expression and discovery, specifically an affinity with pre-visualised narrative post-modernist photography, ‘the photograph as contemporary art’, especially in relation the use of photography in tableaux and consequently my personal portfolio.

‘Highly fictional images’ specifically the collaborative work of Jeff Wall, as described by David Campany in his critique, ‘Picture for Women’, were to be a significant deviation from more conceptual photographic art emerging in the 1970s.  “The form Wall has explored most is the singular photograph, conceived as a pictorial tableau and presented in the space of the Gallery, at a scale that engages directly with the body of the spectator or beholder.” (Campany, 2011, p2).  Wall investigates concerns and relationships between photography, classical painting and cinema, the ‘cinematographic’, how directors were informed, camera placement, position, realism, illusion, light and illumination, the experience of an image.  Campany proposes that Wall was not simply an advocate but founder of large-scale ‘tableau’ photography, ‘at that moment when the dissolution of Conceptualism was giving way to ‘postmodern art,..’ (2011, p3).  Wall began experimenting with the artistic potential for the photograph as opposed to engaging with applied documentary that he felt had already been ‘achieved’.  Significantly ‘in colour’, photographs were exhibited on the gallery wall, presented within the even less familiar backlit light-boxes, ‘a new aesthetic form’.

Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ produced in the late 1970s, whilst purposefully less pictorial and ‘tableaux’ than the work of Wall, have equal significance, both in terms of the development of photography as contemporary art and more specifically the cinematic still.  Sherman’s work is described as “one of the most original and influential achievements in recent art.  Witty, provocative and searching…inspired by the movies it touches a vital nerve in our culture.” (MoMA, 2011, Inside Cover).  Reading her essay, accompanying the complete series, it becomes clear that her motivations, similar to Wall, explore the ‘made’ as opposed to the ‘taken’.  Conceived the imaginary work with consideration for the many ambiguities that surround the photograph, Sherman, rehearsed her roles in real life, staged and performed within minimalist stills.  Whilst playing down the quality of her negatives and printing, seeking to “…get away from the preciousness of the art object…” (Sherman, 2011, p10), her work became equally suited to the new form of exhibited photography.

For me it is perhaps a resonance with this ‘filmic’ style that appeals; personal affinity developing for the ‘cinematographic’ techniques of Jeff Wall, the motivation behind the work Cindy Sherman exploring the essence of the ‘still’, the mimicking of culturally recognisable styles, performed and choreographed, emphasis upon a narrative photography that echoes with my own concept for the creation of a visually dramatic alternative reality.

Cotton (2009) describes development coinciding with this narrative, an explosion in the 1990s of the ‘gallery wall’.  The photograph was revised, produced with new motivations, experimentation, considered from different philosophical perspectives.  Conversions of photographs that resulted in scales rivaling installations and sculpture.   Photographs emerged that questioned aspects within photography itself, as well as reflecting upon the subjective, social and pictorial meaning and a ‘mapping of contemporary life’.  With print media in decline, documentary photography being overtaken by video and frame grabs, from modernism more recently has emerged a post-modernist documentary style, one in which photographers capture traces of the aftermath…“that propose a qualifying perspective” (Cotton, 2009, p167) “Sharp reflexes have given way to careful strategy.” (Campany, 2008, p.44)

“The term Documentary Photograph can be contentious…(it) shouldn’t be considered as a genre or type, but rather as a style.  For photographers to think of it this way encourages a freedom in which developments and visual experimentation can take place.” (Midgen, 2012, p92)

‘New documentary forms’, describes an evolution of an established photographic form that whilst continuing to explore the cultural and political, it does so more aesthetically perhaps, from illustrated press to gallery wall.  As with examples recently exhibited in the Tate Modern, incorporating works by photographers including Luc Delahaye, Mitch Epstein and Guy Tillim, documentary photography seems to be adopting many ‘post-modernist’ philosophies.  Most notable in relation to the scale and gallery environment within which their work is presented.  Whilst maintaining focus upon images ‘found’, they seem to emulate many of the images and dimensions associated with ‘post-modernist’ photography; “…ostensibly the archetypal subject of photojournalism represented in the grand ‘tableau’ format of art photography.” (Cotton, 2009, p184).

This ‘new’ form of documentary, similar to pre-conceived work by post-modernist artists such as Wall, places weight upon the space within both frame and the environment within which it is viewed, the gallery encouraging more pensive reflection.  Emphasis is much more upon the photographer’s subjective pre-visualisation, less upon a chance ‘decisive moment’, a sense for more ‘declared’ positioning, that of both photographer and subject.  “The personal politics of the photographers come into play in their selection of subject matter and their anticipation of the viewer’s analysis of it, not in any explicit political statement…” (Cotton, 2009, p88).  Ably continuing to negotiate sensitive political issues at the core of the imagery, accent is upon the subjective nature of the photograph, reflection as much upon composition and motivation as upon content.  Perhaps this is a natural response to the progressive developments in both photography theory and pre-conceived art.

‘Photographer as Artist’ or ‘Artist as Photographer’?  In much the same way that photographers have become filmmakers or returned to routes in painting, such as Robert Frank or Cartier-Bresson, there is little surprise that developments of the photograph as ‘art’ have led to a recent interdisciplinary explosion, one where ‘artists’ cross over from painting and sculpture to photography and film.  Form to form, ‘an expected seizing of opportunities’; contemporary artists like Tacita Dean and Steve McQueen have explored the ‘still’ or ‘stilled film’ as a means of personal expression, art.  Conceptual, less representational, Dean expresses as much passion for the texture of the medium as for the medium itself.  Distinctions between photography, film and art, once clearer have become hazy, McQueen recently crossing over to the direction of more mainstream cinema.

Developing philosophies for the photograph have thrown up many questions, philosophical and technical, including the values of analogue versus digital and vice versa, too detailed and technical for inclusion here.  It may be possible to argue that the fundamental distinction between ‘photographer’ and ‘artist’ is routed in the representational.  No matter how contrived, isolated or detached, the photograph remains as such through a sense of realism, “maintaining something of the original image’s visual accuracy and recognizability.” (Gunning, 2008, loc303).  However photography is unmistakably subjective, often reflecting the emotional state of the photographer.  Artists may more easily explore the fabric or texture of photography, in a non-representational, conceptual or surrealist form.  Both continue to experiment with the photograph as a means of expression.

 

 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

3D Conference

3D Conference 

3D Storytelling, Ravensbourne

3D Storytelling, Ravensbourne

 

 

Tuesday, 06 March 2012

Relais & Chateaux

Following photographs recently published in Relais & Chateaux's Inspirational Chefs series, following the award of 3 Rosettes, Rupert invites me to photograph some fantastic new menu items at Gravetye Manor Hotel.

Relais & Chateaux

Relais & Chateaux

 

 

Monday, 05 March 2012

Refurbished Elizabethan Manor

Refurbished Elizabethan Mansions

Elizabethan Interiors

Elizabethan Interiors

 

 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Celebration of Film

Battling in the dark of the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, Tacita Dean exalts of the values of Film, not to be discarded in an increasingly digital age; reminding many of the UK's leading filmmakers that they are blessed with two mediums with which to produce art and motion picture.

Wolfgang Suschitzsky (Cinematographer & Photographer); Chris Dercon (Director of the Tate Modern); Guests; Tacita Dean (Artist: Unilever series: Film); Dean's Installation

"An informal reception at the Tate Modern attended by filmmaking professionals ... touched by the magic of capturing images through a photochemical analogue process.  An opportunity to see the Unlilever Series: Film, ... (Tacita) Dean's expression of analogue film's distinguishing facility and singular, analogue texture."

Celebration of Film

Celebration of Film

 

 

Wednesday, 08 February 2012

Arri Media Grip Training

Arri Media Training (Skillset)

 

 

Thursday, 02 February 2012

Warner Bros support Skillset, Centre Point

Centre Point Party

SIF

SIF

 

 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Skillset Craft & Tech 3D Training

3D Training

 

 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Number 10 - Lights, Cameron, Action

David Cameron, Julian Fellowes and Ed Vaizey welcomed to Pinewood Studios by Ivan Dunleavy, Chief Executive of Pinewood Group

David Cameron at Pinewood Studios

David Cameron at Pinewood Studios

 

 

Tuesday, 06 December 2011

Garry Winogrand

Ahead of further studies of the work of Garry Winogrand, this extract has been drawn from an earlier journal entry in response to the publication Time: Documentary Photography, Life Library of Photography.

Entering the era of Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, a new generation of documentary photographer emerges along with an alternative approach. An emerging tendency to record with resignation, not seeking to reform society through photography, as previously hoped, rather to simply question, to document; greater emphasis upon politics and economics from an personal, subjective standpoints...As with the work of the other three photographers here it is not simply the advent of 35mm film, a change in scenery and to fashion that comes from the picture essays...Subjective perspectives of the world differ markedly from the more objective earlier studies; a philosophical change in approach to photography...


Referred to as a 'bluntspoken, sweet-natured native New Yorker, who had the voice of a Bronx cabbie and the intensity of a pig hunting truffles' Garry Winogrand, similar to Robert Frank, won a Guggenheim fellowship and figured prominently in many exhibitions and publications.


Aware of expectations over his own voyage across America in 1957, work published later in Winogrand 1964, follows that of Walker Evans' American Photographs and Robert Frank's seminal publication, The Americans, produced less than five years earlier and published around the time Winogrand was photographing.


"Garry Winogrand was born in 1928 in New York. There he studied painting at City College of New York, photography at Columbia University, and photojournalism with Alexey Brodovitch at The New School for Social Research. He photographed while in the Air Force, and did magazine work throughout the 1950s and 60s for publications like Life and Sports Illustrated. Winogrand has become known for a street-style of photography characterized by a wide-angle lens and 35mm camera, available light and unposed subjects, and countless exposures. Winogrand’s photographs have been widely exhibited, including a major retrospective organized in 1988 by The Museum of Modern Art, New York"

(Museum of Contemporary Photography Website, www.mocp.org)


Some commentators suggest an 'under-appreciation' for Winogrand's work, perhaps due to his untimely passing at the age of 56 in 1984.  There are obvious similarities in style with the work of Robert Frank and others, a style that seems loose, commentary upon ordinary people in everyday circumstances.  Perhaps in a style that suggests his approach was somewhat more obtrusive than that of Frank's, the images produced a commentary upon American society equal to that of his contemporaries.

 

Central Park Zoo is an extremely difficult image to resolve.  A key feature must be the racial undertones generated from the mixed race subjects.  That both are holding baby chimpanzees, dressed in human clothes, hints towards connections between the species as well as perhaps commenting upon our common origins.  


Striking is a relative ambivalence towards the extraordinary couple; a lack of interest from the crowd behind or the small child lower right.  Shot as through depicting an ordinary couple walking their small children through Central Park, any viewer's awareness of context and American 1960's society forces this image into the extraordinary.  Yet the impression is one of a moment caught rather than posed.  What were they doing, did they work for the zoo?


Whilst amusing, neither character is smiling, their unemotional, resigned features gaze out of frame, eye-lines opposing those of the chips that gaze in the opposite direction.  Neither seem aware of the camera despite Winogrand's obvious proximity given away by the wintery shadow at the bottom of the frame (not an unusual inclusion across his work, a purposeful hint of his presence perhaps).  The following extract was found on the J Paul Getty Museum website.


I think part of the aim was to unsettle people's ideas, whether his own or other people's. To move people out of an unquestioning space and to some less settled space in which the authority of rules and structures was broken up a bit.
-Eileen Hale, Garry Winogrand's widow 

Garry Winogrand confronted tough issues like racism with a sense of humor, as he did here by photographing this black man and white woman holding apes. The chimpanzees are dressed like children and resemble the human child standing behind the couple. The photographer's close vantage point, the crowd, the dramatic winter light-all add a sense of spectacle. 

Winogrand was not simply reacting to a strange moment, but probably also to racial tensions sweeping the country at the height of the Civil Rights movement. The year this picture was made, black actors won Academy Awards, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state laws banning interracial marriage. It is not clear whether this man and woman were actually a couple, but Winogrand must have known that their togetherness was as unsettling to some people as their circumstances were comical.


Already touched upon in an earlier journal entry, this image holds some graphic resemblances to that of Lewis Hine's photograph of workers pausing for during the construction of the Empire State Building four decades earlier.  


Here again there is a purposeful comment upon racial tensions of the time, the girl far left speaking with a black subject at the edge of the frame.  At far right a middle aged man 'bookends' the other side of the scene, detached from the action, reading.  The photograph invites comparisons between each girl, a wealth of different, yet extremely feminine gestures and mannerisms, remain unique to each, whilst paradoxically creating connections and a sense of similarity.


Reference to Winogrand's work tells of focus upon the momentum of the Women's Rights Movement of the 1960's, something upon which he focused in his 1975 book, Women are Beautiful. In the preface to a monograph published after the photographer's death, Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski commented: "Winogrand's view of women was perhaps outrageous, or was perhaps saved from outrageousness by its simplicity and openness, and by its reckless enthusiasm."

J Paul Getty Museum website


Evidenced also in the preceding selection, World's Fair, the framing here of an image from an American Football match might be described as flawed.  The strong diagonal slanting of horizons another feature common to Winogrand's work.  Undoubtedly this implies photographs were often taken without time to compose, such a common feature leads the viewer to consider it is a purposeful trait, emphasising the involvement that the photographer had for each scene.  


With many of the subjects moving from right to left, the angle of the camera creates a false sense of the pitch sloping, emphasising movement and the direction of travel.  Together with the loosely positioned foreground players and referee, the enormous crowd in the stands on the opposite side of the stadium, real involvement in the action is generated.


By contrast, Staten Island Ferry is level, graphically considered, symmetrical and composed.  Focus here is very much upon the two central characters.  Their mirrored, almost symmetrical, postures and coffee cup holding hands, either side of the supporting column, their lack of interest for their surroundings, their attire, possibly dressed for a night out, all at odds with the other thirty or more subjects.


Comment here is possibly upon class, Staten Island socialites.  As likely, it is emphasising the ambivalence of natives for their surroundings, at odds with the enthusiasm of tourists.  Two of the latter, unsurprising given the numbers, are looking towards the camera, the foreground girl at the railing right and a man centre on the balcony above.  All others appear engrossed in the sights and water surrounding them.


El Morocco was one of New York's hottest nightclubs in the 1950s—a perfect site for Garry Winogrand...this photograph of a couple dancing explodes the idea of the snapshot. Focusing on his subjects' telling responses (here the face and hands revealing a ferocious animal spirit), Winogrand introduced a new, exceedingly confrontational style of 35mm photography. Direct, invasive, yet intuitively choreographed, this approach soon placed the artist alongside Robert Frank as one of the preeminent street photographers of the day.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org

 

 

Friday, 04 November 2011

'Chim and The Mexican Suitcase'

An article entitled Chim and The Mexican Suitcase published in the Royal Photographic Society Journal details a find on the 19th December 2007 when three leather bound boxes arrived at the International Centre for Photography.  Containing negatives of work shot by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David 'Chim' Seymour taken over fifty years previously, it is thought that a range of circumstances and subsequent 'couriers' preserved the 126 rolls of film.

The Mexican Suitcase appears to have been entrusted to a Chilean consulate by Imre 'Csiki' Weiss, photographer and darkroom assistant, after which they may have resided in Marseilles before falling under the charge of the Mexican Ambassador to the Vichy regime in France during the war years.

Their remarkable preservation is no less than the details recorded in the images themselves, four prints of which have been made in the RPS Journal.  Perhaps the most poignant is that of a destroyed typewriter that despite its surroundings having been levelled in some wartime blast, stands upon a pedestal taking the form of a 'monolith' upon a stone block rubble of the Spanish Civil War all around.


Speaking of the ability David Semour had to 'encourage a viewer's response through the use of metaphor and symbolism' is a key aspect of social documentary photography.  'In historical terms, (the image) is a s significant representation, and reminder of the mass media coverage of the Civil War.'


Differing from other images that focus upon the human face, this simple photograph of a simple object is contextually just as profound and revealing.  Succinctly, considering 'Chim's' infamous image of a women breastfeeding her baby while listening amongst a crowd of would-be revolutionaries, the RPS article surmises the the appeal of the social documentary photograph.


"...perhaps simple in composition and purpose, the photograph's complexities and effect go far beyond what might be perceived at first glance.  It is an example of that most delicate and elusive of processes, where subject - albeit unknowingly - and photographer converge, to produce an image that is both luminous and poignant...layers of detail peel back to reveal a deep potency: a truth that spears the conscience, forcing you to ponder both the fragility of hope and the vulnerability of the individual.


A striking comment...ability to relay the photographer's thoughts and ambitions...no less significant than its strength of meaning.  As an archival document, it not only informs...audiences of the essence...but narrates the development of photojournalism and the motivations of those who (contribute) to its evolution..."

(John Migden, Pages 542 & 543, Royal Photographic Society Journal)

 

 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Guys & Dolls

Terry O'Neill's exhibition at the Little Black Gallery in Fulham complimented the earlier visit to the National Portrait Gallery.  Here again the images were of household 'names', the obvious difference being the capture of 'stars' caught in scenes away from sets and studios.  Remaining candid, the artistes were nonetheless at least vaguely aware of the photographer.

Ranging from a shot of 'Pete & Dudley' ludicrously floating in a pool on inflatables fully clothed, to shots of Connery leaning over his leading lady and photographing her on a bed, to the lead print, the iconic image of Bardot on set, hair blowing across a cigarette filled mouth, to a more unaware reflection of Ursula Andreas in a dressing room mirror, towel clutched around her before stepping into a shower.


All provided a little more depth and sense of underlying character.  In particular a shot aboard a bot of Peter Sellers engrossed in a script, whilst Brit Eckland looks up from the deck 'longingly', seeking more attention than Sellers is prepared to give; an indication perhaps of the turmoil in their relationship arising from his passion.


Across two very different exhibitions patterns begin to emerge, narrative, simple studio portraiture and moments off-set telling a story that in documentary terms has certain value.  Undoubtedly many iconic 'social documentary' images of the twentieth century capture their story within one frame, others however, rely upon sequence, as in Robert Frank's The Americans.  An example of how technique and art can evolve over time becoming more historical and documentary in form.

 

 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Glamour of the Gods

Exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, Glamour of the Gods: Hollywood Portraits Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation was an exhaustive collection of stills from the silent movies of the 1920s to iconic images of 1960s actors and actresses.  Whilst not immediately documentary in style, the majority of those prints included being studio images, as a retrospective and combined, the photographs provide a clear narrative of Hollywood in the first half of the twentieth century.

Ranging from early shots of Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and Mary Pickford, to iconic images of Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and the exhibition's promotional image of Rock Hudson, the gallery sequenced the images chronologically.


An 'essay' in lighting techniques, some of the wider images had been taken on set, most were close portraits of stars, softly focused and lit to flatter.  Most of the actresses seemed to have a quality that is better described as 'striking' rather than beautiful; an indication of the features and versatility necessary to appear on screen across a variety of roles.


Whilst the main feature was this paid exhibition, a small adjacent gallery had a variety of portraits detailing television comedians from the era of Morcambe & Wise, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore through the alternatives of the 1980's, Lenny Henry & Jennifer Saunders, to more contemporary acts such as Matt Lucas.  Most notable is how approaches have varied; earlier images, whilst incorporating more of the subjects 'character' than the main exhibition, remained reasonably 'soft', as the photographs became more contemporary, the shots appear truer to reality, less gratifying - an attractiveness emerges from more 'flawed' characteristics.

 

 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

RPS Journal - Salad Days

Relevant to Social Documentary an article in October 2011's edition of the Royal Photographic Society Journal focuses upon the photographic career of John Chillingworth HonFRPS, specifically his time at Picture Post between the 1940s and 1950s.  Including three poignant images of children that forms some of his portfolio, Claire Protherough considers his influence and the way in which the publication placed emphasis upon the photograph over text.

"Unusually, the writer and photographer were sent on assignment as a team, Chillingworth working closely with journalist Trevor Philpott.  Because the story was told in pictures as far as possible, the photographer's needs came first, and the writer filled in the gaps afterwards...every photographer had to bring a new perspective to the story they were covering.  If one produced images that were too similar in technique to another assignment, the editor would send then out to shoot the whole thing again." (Page 476)


Protherough goes on to discuss how 'emotional connections' with the subject were described by Chillingworth as key to their approach.  Covert techniques not dissimilar to those of Robert Frank used "in true undercover fashion, he concealed his camera and pretended to read a newspaper, taking pictures only when he was sure no one was looking" (page 478).


Interestingly two photographers working on the same assignment was not unusual, often leading to some confusion over whose images belonged to whom; reference to contact sheets often the only way to discern.  Concentrating upon the image photographers might find themselves in the Far East one week covering a humanitarian story and a European Capital the next photographing fashion.  Coming to an end with the advent of televisions in the home, Picture Post had 'responded to what was happening in society at that time'.

 

 

Friday, 30 September 2011

Marrakech

Confession - less diligence as a photographer whilst on vacation in Marrakech, too many books read beside the pool leaving too little time out photographing.  Two instances arose, the first on a trip into the Medina of Marrakech itself one evening and a day trip into the mountains with a location manager friend.

Striking was the general objection to cameras, or more accurately objection on the part of subjects to having their photograph taken.  Having chosen Robert Frank upon which to base personal studies for Assignments three and four, the surroundings allowed the opportunity to capture a range of images 'in the style of' - from aggressive money seeking subjects in Marrakech's main square, to unwilling subjects and less 'aware' subjects in the mountains.


Seeking to remain unobtrusive and avoid individuals asking compensation for an image, sequences of images were captured; a road trip that in part captured a polarised society.  Upon further review and alongside comparable work by Frank in The Americans some success is apparent; from the perspective of a stranger in a foreign land, the sense of loneliness in many subjects, affluence versus poverty.  Good general social documentary images captured by 'stealth', photographs loosely taken from the hip.  Most importantly, the capture of different classes and a disparate quality - social commentary.


With varying degrees of success, the Fuji X1 camera proved less responsive than the more familiar Nikon bodies in both terms of shutter delay and accurate focusing.  Frustrating features for such a costly piece of equipment.  Whilst sensor sensitivity is good, these slow functions lead to very inaccurate results when shooting moving subjects, some acceptable, most less so.  Great results when time allows to fully focus and frame.


Discovering that the X1 fell short of the reviews given and rangefinders upon which it is modelled, the fixed 35mm focal length is something that I have also to become comfortable with.  Generally preferring a 50mm for standard photography and 24mm for wider work, I found myself wishing I had taken the more cumbersome and intrusive SLR and am already considering trading in the camera.  One feature that is extremely effective however is the panoramic setting a saving grace that perhaps makes the Fuji a worthwhile investment as a light travel companion.

 

Morocco

Morocco

 

 

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Atlas Gallery of Photography at Snape

Atlas Gallery of Photography at Snape was a welcome surprise on a trip to Suffolk.  Exhibited were a number of photographers studied, the opportunity to view prints, small and large, a departure from online research.  Examples from several Magnum photographers, including Nick Brandt, Ernst Hass, Robert Capa, Elliot Erwitt, Jeanloup Sieff and Dennis Stock, many encouraged reflection upon personal work produced thus far, cause to pause:

"The photographs I like are those that you can look at for longer than two minutes, which is a long time.  But photos that you can keep looking at again and again?  There are few of those, very few."  (Henri Cartier-Bresson)


Several fell into this category and should budgets ever allow I might imagine purchasing one or two.  In particular a photograph of Audrey Hepburn (During the filming of Sabrina by Billy Wilder, 1954) carried a number of compositional and geometrical elements to which I was particularly drawn, his more infamous image of James Dean in Time Square (1955) displayed alongside.


Hepburn's facial feature the subject of interest in the former is placed perfectly in a golden section, her pale complexion light in an otherwise frame of darker tones.  Dual reflections of bystanders on the street in the car door intrigue; the windows in the upper left reveal further indications of her surroundings as well as serving to draw the viewer to her contemplative expression.


California Kiss by Elliot Erwitt another example of both geometrical use of the golden section with focus upon another reflection, this time a car mirror, depth of field held ever so slightly to provide the viewer a sense of the coastal scene beyond.  Perceptibly choreographed, having worked with a number of feature film stills photographers it is as likely that the images were stolen moments as presented.


A single included print by Jeanloup Sieff, Boardwalk, complemented a recent photo book of his work recently purchased.  A strong diagonal drawing the viewer through a cornfield to the silhouette of a prominent house behind, a perfect example of landscape and documentary work that intersperses his more evocative study of the human form through nudity and portraiture.  Focus upon wildlife images by Nick Brandt less relevant in terms of social documentary was nonetheless striking, a photograph of two Zebras of particular interest for many visitors.


Perhaps the most famous 'Picture on a Page' image was that of the student standing in front of the tanks, Tiananmen Square by Stuart Franklin; an iconic symbol of defiance and peaceful protest in the mid 1980's, poignant for me personally as it coincided with a personal awareness of global politics and teenage interest in current affairs.


"Vintage, editioned and contemporary works by the world's most celebrated photographers", portraiture of iconic figures including Einstein and Castro mixed with images of everyday people, variety in social documentary from artists extending to Rene Burri, Alec Soth, Floris Neussus and William Klein.  Really adding both context and inspiration for studies in Social Documentary photography, the exhibition at the  Atlas Gallery served to complement everything learned adding further inspiration.  A Radio 4 program yesterday imagined Shakespeare's likely reaction upon being transported to late 2011, suggestion being that his initial thoughts might involve royalties! - below is the price list that accompanied the exhibition.

 

 

 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Clement Cheroux, Thames & Hudson, London 2008

Deciding upon Robert Frank as the subject of an extended study for the third Assignment, A Critical Review, whilst in an Oxford book store on the 23rd I happened upon a Thames & Hudson publication a biography by Clement Cheroux focusing upon the life and work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.  Forming part of a wider series by the author, a photographic historian and curator at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the aesthetics of the book, size and clarity of the narrative and layout all influenced the purchase.  Here I have recorded in quotations aspects of the book highlighted whilst reading, less a review, more an annotation of personal notes taken from the publication, chapter by chapter.

The Formative Years


"Born on 22nd August 1908 in Chanteloup, Seine-et-Marne...he spent his childhood in the Rue de Lisbonne, one of the most affluent areas of Paris...given a good education...a governess named Miss Kitty,..instilled in him his love of - and competence in - the english language.  His uncle, the painter Louis Cartier-Bresson...who had the greatest influence on him...this 'mythical father' largely instrumental in his decision to...devote himself to art." (Page 14)


"In 1926, at the age of eighteen...Cartier-Bresson was accepted at the art academy that Andre Lhote had recently opened.  Lhote's major obsession was with composition.  He would talk constantly of the 'golden section', 'divine proportions', 'the ideal measurement', the 'laws of composition' and 'universal harmony'...imposing geometrical structures on reproductions of different masterpieces.  (Cartier-Bresson) readily acknowledged that Lhote had 'taught me to read and write. That is to say to take photographs'." (pages 15, 16 & 17)


Pages 17 to 19 outline Cartier-Bresson's involvement with the Surrealist artists of the 1920's and reflection upon some of Cartier-Bresson's paintings influenced by Cezanne and Joan Miro "not without influence on the developing vision...a taste for intuition, for insubordination, for the role of chance and coincidence, and perhaps above all for the prime importance of first-hand experience."


Through friendships with the American couple Harry and Caresse Crosby, later Gretchen and Peter Powel, Cartier-Bresson was able to develop connections with many individuals including Salvador Dali and Julien Levy, who "was to play a major role in (his) career and in establishing his reputation in America." (page 21).  Introducing him to photography and the work of Kertesz, friendships with these Americans not only established an appreciation for the form as 'art', also encouraging him to take his own photographs, "Until then he had never regarded photography as anything but a hobby for dilettantes'.  'In these early years, armed with a borrowed Rollieflex, Cartier-Bresson also experimented with rectangular, more abstract, formal compositions." (page 22)


Henri Cartier, Photographer


"Not long after finishing his military service, Cartier-Bresson embarked on a journey to Africa...The call was partly that of adventure, and partly that of the 'Dark Continent'...Photography, then, was not the principal purpose of this adventure...it seems most likely that it was on his return from Africa that Cartier-Bresson decided to give up painting and devote himself to photography...Berlin, Budapest, Warsaw...Then it was Italy.  In 1933...Siena, Trieste and Venice...Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues (a friend) to say later...'I witnessed the emergence of the greatest photographer of modern times.'" (pages 28-31).


The South of France and Spain followed before "he boarded a liner heading for South America.  After a short stop in Havana...Mexico...Under the Mexican sun, he played with combinations of light and shade..fascinated by the omnipresence of death and by the casual choreography of bodies in the steaming sexuality of the city....Then once again he packed his bags, and this time headed for New York, where he disembarked in spring 1935. (Pages 31-36)


"The photographer ernst Haas...described him and work as 'the paradoxical mixture of a sensual purist'...Cartier-Bresson's photographs are the most obvious manifestation of his fascination with geometry...the photographer looks for a background that seems to give him an interesting form.  Sometimes it is a wall running parallel to the foreground of the image, or a space proportional to the graphic lines already supplied.  Then he waits for one or more living, moving creatures - children, a man, a dog - to take their place within this constellation of forms, in what he calls a simultaneous coalition.  Thus one element of the picture's geometry is predetermined, while the other - in fact, the more important element - comes about by sheer chance.  Contrary to what one might expect, then, Cartier-Bresson's compositions have not been carefully thought out in advance, but are seized instantaneously as a  result of an intuitive awareness." (pages 37-39)


"(Cartier-Bresson's) 'anti-graphic' pictures as Levy christened them...gave precedence to chance, coincidence and, horror of horrors, even seemed out of focus.  The photographer Walker Evans...proclaimed (him)...'one of the few innovators in photography'...With five exhibitions in three years in three capital cities...he also began to publish photos for the first time in illustrated journals...Vu, Voila, Regards and Ce Soir...no distinction between images destined for the press and those made for exhibition, between those commissioned and those made for his own personal satisfaction." (page 44)


During the pre-war years of 1935 to 1939, Cartier-Bressson turned his attentions toward film-making, collaborating with Paul Strand in America before returning to France to continue this journey; all the while he never ceased to take still photographs and continued to work for a number of publications.  Pages 45 to 51 outline affiliation with the communist party and sympathies for the revolution in Spain.  At the start of the war he was called up to work for the cinematographical unit, shortly after taken prisoner by the Germans where after three years he successfully escaped and returned to France under false papers.  He photographed portraits before then accompanying the Allied Armies on their march east.


Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Great Reporter


In 1947 Cartier-Bresson "co-founded the agency Magnum Photos and went on a long photographic tour of America.  It was a hectic period that typified his versatility as a photographer, filmmaker, artist and reporter, and it was during this time that he decided to devote himself almost exclusively to photojournalism." (page 55).  


"He did not abandon completely his personal studies in which chance and the unconscious played their joint role, but from now on these were carried out under the cover of photojournalism.  The photographs he brought back from his American journey are clear testimony to this new approach.  Together with enchanting pictures that recall the little instantaneous miracles of the 1930s, he went out of his way to create more documentary images, like those of the docker's strike or, in more detail, portraits of the people he visited." (page 59)


In 1947, Cartier-Bresson's role in the foundation of the Magnum Photos agency, together with Robert Capa, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert, took him one step further along the road to professionalism...Magnum was able right from the start to help 'moralize' the usage of photographs by the press."  Assigned to look after Asia for the agency, shortly after their arrival in Bombay in 1947 the Cartier-Bressons "obtained an audience with Ghandi on the 30 January 1948...Less than an hour later, he was assassinated...Cartier Bresson's photographs were the last to be taken of the Mahatma alive....Now he was no longer the provocative, surrealist photographer, but a photojournalist responding to the need for information...In India (he) took photographs in Kashmir, the Punjab, Java and Ceylon...when he was asked by Life magazine to travel to China...(He) reached Beijing at the end of 1948, and proceeded to make a detailed pictorial record of the collapse of Imperial China and the beginning of the communist era.  Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nanking - he went everywhere...


..the gravity of the situation: several people were trampled to death in the stampede...this image was published on 29 March 1949 in the first issue of the new illustrated magazine called Paris Match." Travelling to the Soviet Union in 1954, after Stalin's death the year before, Cartier-Bresson "collected an array of pictures focusing mainly on human activities...the first internationally known reporter to cross the borders...was determined to satisfy this understandable curiosity. (Pages 60-72).


An 'ambivalent' attitude towards commissioned work, alongside images for publication, page 73 eludes to the commissioning of much of his portraiture, some of which is captured in a series of Life magazine illustrations on pages 74 to 77.  "...rarely using more than one roll of film per portrait.  The duration of the sitting was variable.  With Ezra Pound...he...stayed for nearly an hour crouching in silence before the poet.  'Taking a portrait is the hardest thing for me.  It's like placing a question mark over someone.'" (page 78).


Conscious of and frustrated with the lack of control over how commissioned work was published together with the accompanying narrative, unusual for the time, Cartier-Bresson had an affinity with creating photo books, collaborating with Teriade on a collection from work produced in the 1930's.  Meeting Robert Delpire of Neuf magazine established a relationship that produced over ten further books across five decades.


The Aesthetics Behind the Work


"The choice of a small, light, maneuverable camera...that allowed for a fast operation was therefore anything but a stylistic whim.  It was the precondition for the flexibility that was (Cartier-Bresson's) hallmark.  The relationship between photograph and subject...also based on flexibility and discretion...'a good fisherman does not stir up the water before he starts to fish.'" (page 94)


Imperceptibility seems to be the common thread throughout the chapter, from his choice of the Leica, both maneuverable and discreet, enabling him to capture 'whatever caught his eye'.  "An ardent defender of black & white, Cartier-Bresson made no secret of his lack of enthusiasm for colour photography...despite these somewhat radical statements, Cartier-Bresson did in fact regularly take colour photographs at the behest of the magazines that commissioned him." (pages 91 & 93)


The 'Decisive Moment' receives due mention, as much in the form of photographic examples as in text: "at one precise moment, things arrange themselves in an order that is both aesthetic and meaningful.  It is a kind of photographic Kairos (Greek: 'opportune moment') in which there is a formal balance and at the same time a revelation of the essence of things.  Cartier-Bresson himself said that it corresponded to 'the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression'....a single moment in which the narrative is entirely concentrated, while respecting the unity of place...sometimes this attribution was carried to excess, since not all his photographs were based on this concept, and his work cannot be reduced to that one formula...Above all, Cartier-Bresson understood that behind what he had considered to be a collection of technical operations, there was in fact a true philosophy of life...


...Where the decisive moment focused all attention on a subject, reducing the act of photography to simple technical dexterity, the idea of the photographic shot made it possible to view the photographer in his relationship to the world...


...ethics are not...forgotten as soon as the picture has been taken; they are also to be applied throughout the postproduction phase...a point of honour for him to write his own captions according to informational criteria...'I attach great importance to there being no changes to my compositions'...it was essential for his negatives to be printed as they were, without cutting even a millimetre, or enlarging or modifying in any way. (pages 96-109)


HCB: Fame and Posterity


'Photography is an immediate action, drawing a meditation' (pages 124 & 125).  Awarded countless distinctions and prizes, he is revered as one of the finest photographers of the twentieth century.  Ironically he increasingly became the focus of attention for photographers after a life of 'unobtrusive discretion'.  Described as a 'veritable institution', an alternative perspective afforded little enthusiasm for his ethics, "...young photographers no longer identified with the decisive moment, with obsessive geometry, or with Cartier-Bresson's hatred of cropping.  Indeed they very consciously based their work on their rejection of these principles." (page 117).  


Through perceptible shortcomings of 'Vive la France (Cartier Bresson's France), 1970,  Cheroux discusses how he further alienated him from a generation of emerging photographers.  "In 1974 he sent his colleagues a letter indicating that he no longer considered Magnum to be a cooperative, but it had become a commercial establishment with aesthetic pretensions.  He therefore resigned his associate membership, although he left the management of his rights and archives in their charge...he had still not parted with his Leica.  He continued to take his furtive photographs occasionally and unofficially, in a spirit which if anything recalled that of the 1930's...however there were longer and longer intervals between shots. 'My Leica sleeps most of the time,' he wrote in December 1988 to his friend Sam Szafran...Then, encouraged by some of his friends...he returned to the passion of his childhood: drawing." (pages 122 to 124).


Closing paragraphs consider the 'Fondation HCB', the preservation and exhibition of Cartier-Bresson's work as intended whilst also promoting the works of others.  "For such an institution to have been dedicated to the work of a single French photographer is an extraordinary phenomenon.  Once again, Cartier-Bresson led the way. (page 127).

 

 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Imperceptibility

"The choice of a small, light, maneuverable camera...that allowed for a fast operation was therefore anything but a stylistic whim.  It was the precondition for the flexibility that was (Cartier-Bresson's) hallmark.  The relationship between photograph and subject...also based on flexibility and discretion...'a good fisherman does not stir up the water before he starts to fish.'"

(page 94, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2008, London)


Imperceptibility, a key technique evolving with the use of wide angle and telephoto techniques, practice, trial and error, remaining unobtrusive when out taking photographs is a skill that requires development.  All too often it is not for a lack of observation or speed in preparation that leads to missed opportunities, rather the size and noise of an SLR.  Bulky, even with the fixed 50mm, leaving the camera behind may lead to missed opportunities - "Halsman saw Cartier-Bresson picking up his camera and asked him, 'Do you expect to take pictures?' 'No' answered Cartier-Bresson, 'but I am never without my Leica.'" (page 91).


Faster 1.4 primes recently developed in the Nikkor range include a 35mm lens that is perhaps not as great when wide open as others.  Receiving mixed reviews, personal preference for the wide 24mm or standard 50mm is owed to the 35mm's size and weight, cumbersome and conspicuous.  Rarely using this focal length for commercial assignments, has led to a 'decision moment'; difficult to justify a rangefinder, impractical use for client work as much as in the high costs, the 35mm f1.4 has been switched for a Fuji X100.


Whilst the 3/4 sized APS-C CMOS sensor is a compromise, the fixed 23mm lens gives an equivalent 35mm single focal length; the camera light, versatile, silent, small (fits in a pocket) and far less conspicuous than the Nikon.  Taking time to assess the functionality and handling, camera techniques will vary when using the new body, specifically in a reliance upon the automatic focus; manual focusing is not particularly accurate nor easy, single point focus and recomposition the sensible choice.  Aside from some additional attributes such as a panoramic function and HD filming, the camera is designed from a retrospective perspective.


Manual settings can be overridden however it is designed with photographers in mind, individuals more familiar with composing an image to the fixed focal length, judgement for how combinations of sensor sensitivity, aperture and shutter can result in the imagined photograph.  A couple of additional features such as exposure compensation and a built in ND filter add greater versatility.  Perhaps the most innovative feature is in the viewfinder - choice between a fully electronic image and a hybrid analogue / electronic version that's not dissimilar to looking through an SLR.  A robust little street camera that should easily rival all but the professional SLRs in terms of quality.  The aim - to carry a camera more often, adding flexibility and discretion into the mix when out photographing.


In the field the camera is certainly light and less conspicuous, whilst in Suffolk over the course of a day a couple of reasonable selects were produced.  Versatile the X100 is reasonably manageable; easily slipped into a pocket, generating some interest it was certainly more inconspicuous than an SLR.  It took some time to assess and adapt to the Fuji metering system, manual adjustments of the shutter and aperture to compensate became natural very quickly.  The 3/4 sensor is most apparent during processing RAW files, DNG files smaller, a little less tolerant of manipulation than images produced by an SLR.  Noise at higher ISOs and overall quality remain extremely good.


Contrast and options for different jpeg in-camera colour processing will require a little more experimentation.  Bracketing is redundant as exposures below and above are generated as exposure adjustments from the preset shutter and aperture settings - no more flexible than processing RAW files.  Access to the ISO and built in ND filter are fiddly.  Fixed equivalent 35mm focal length takes some getting used to, personal preference for 50mm produces less distortion in vertical and horizontal lines, the Fuji lens also falls short of the techniques a 24mm wide-angle allows.  The viewfinder, either partial or fully electronic is where the camera excels, accurate for framing and providing all the necessary information required when photographing.


Absence of any reasonable control over focus manually is frustrating and the automatic function is slow - not a camera for moving subjects.  The panoramic feature is subject to some trial and error, manual settings for every aspect including a preset WB essential for a seamless stitch in camera; whereas there is no obvious parallax, closer buildings suffer a high degree of fisheye-like distortion on both the 120 and 180 degree settings.

 

 

Friday, 19 August 2011

Time: Documentary Photography (Part 2)

Honoring Humanity


A Commitment to Inspire: More biographical than earlier chapters, here the publication focuses upon five photographers described as holding many values of their predecessors in conveying information accurately and provoking responses, including a desire to 'influence people's basic attitudes'.  Deemed to differ in motivations that 'might end the desire to oppress and exploit, that they might instil tolerance, respect, even love among men.' (page 122).  A common belief in the power of the photograph to change.


Whilst four decades have passed since publication of Documentary Photography many equally influential voices in the world of photography emerging since writing, the names of these five remain synonymous with the study of documentary photography and, despite having begun to build a picture of three in other posts, it seems appropriate to consider and build a brief biography for each in turn.


Andre Kertesz - described as the 'father of an informal, personal style' his camera favoured in terms of keeping a journal of his life.  He recorded scenes from World War I as an infantryman, capturing the ordinary in soldier's lives.  Moving to Paris in 1925, his style of capturing people and places throughout his life remained unchanged and subtle, recording natural images of subjects and their activities.


Paul Strand - Using his camera to aid the cause of the ordinary person more aggressively to end exploitation, to 'convince the viewer of their dignity and nobility'.   Greater focus upon expression, his tendency towards natural portraits allows for a very real connection.  The evocative image of A woman of Gurna, Egypt, 1959, her eyes peering back into the soul of the viewer as much as the camera records her; her hand resting upon her chest respectfully; a strong triangle of shadows upon a plain textured background.


Henri Cartier-Bresson - developing his work from that of Kertz with a greater sense of time, the 'decisive moment, the instant when a mood is best expressed....when a combination of expressions and postures communicates his message'.  A tireless traveller he is described as having an eye that 'may be the closest thing yet to a human camera.' (page 139).  In a short picture essay of five images it is easy to appreciate the continuation of the work of Kertesz, capturing the ordinary, greater emphasis however posture and expression that allows the viewer to imagine what has taken place before and after each frame.


Dorothea Lange - commencing her documentary career with the FSA she is described as being more comfortable with the ordinary American; recording them 'most ably when their circumstances were painful'.  Evoking a great sense of personal affinity with her work, her photographs embody a quality that remains today in the likes of National Geographic, partly due perhaps in the more unfamiliar locations of her later travels. Graphic simplicity in the Korean Child, 1958, right; facial expressions pivotal to her natural portraiture, wider photographs vividly capturing an essence of place and activity.


W. Eugine Smith - intrigued by all of those before him, he sought to capture heightened emotional connections through his work; to promote empathy for his subjects, provoking feelings from vulnerability to violence.  Much of his work is darker than that of others, a mix of shadows; greater compositional strength through a variety of graphic techniques.  His work also contains a study of animals not previously explored.


Critics of Complacency


Entering the era of Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, a new generation of documentary photographer emerges along with an alternative approach.  An emerging tendency to record with resignation, not seeking to reform society through photography, as previously hoped, rather to simply question, to document; greater emphasis upon politics and economics from an personal, subjective standpoints.


Robert Frank's work might be a briefer encounter with photography before losing his Leica and becoming a teacher in Cinematography, his work revolves around the Paris published 'The Americans', previously considered.  As with the work of the other three photographers here it is not simply the advent of 35mm film, a change in scenery and to fashion that comes from the picture essays.


Subjective perspectives of the world differ markedly from the more objective earlier studies; a philosophical change in approach to photography, demonstrably below, one personal select from each of the aforementioned.  Comments in turn upon segregation, suburban clutter, a different line of New Yorkers three decades after Lewis Hine's photograph up the Empire State Building, 'children's expressions, smug beyond their years'.


The Personal Document


Recording the Private World explores the work of Christian Sunde, Tom Zimmerman and Arthur Freed and in so doing comments upon a later evolution in documentary photography, a transition from the 60's to the 70's that explored the photograph even more subjectively than Arbus and Friedlander.  Capturing everyday life from a private perspective they seek to comment in small 'soundbites' upon society, '...their emphasis upon visceral reaction gives their work a distinctive quality. The pictures appear random, more than snapshots, less than conventionally accepted photographic art.  They stand as documents of a state of mind.' (pages 214-215).


Truthful, uncomplimentary insights into the ordinary - at the time of writing all three photographers were actively working, friends with one another, receiving little economic reward for their work.  Consequently, despite their publication here, examples of preferred images are difficult to source.  Thos that stand out in particular are Sunde's Liz at Bailey's Mistake, 1970; it appears more intrusive than other images included.  Tom Zimmerman's work is more abstract, a series of highways captured whilst on the road, little or no human involvement in the mundane landscapes.  Arthur Freed's shot in a motel room of Leslie is equally awkward for the viewer, extremely personal it captures a tense private moment that is normally never shared.

 

 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Time: Documentary Photography (Part 1)

Published by Time Inc. USA, 1972, Documentary Photography sets out to demonstrate that the genre is not limited to recording the "...world's ills.  For there is much more to document than suffering and poverty: faraway places and exotic peoples, quirks of nature and of society, the whole gamut of emotions and relationships." (Introduction, page 7, The Editors).  Seeking to define the documentary photograph, this introduction implies that to fit the genre an image needs to impart a 'significance' that affects the way the viewer perceives the world, that a still should contain it's own narrative, more than a portrait or landscape.


The Authentic View - To See, to Record - and to Comment


Whilst much of the photography undertaken more recently applies the styles and techniques employed throughout Social Documentary, not all of it seeks to 'communicate something of importance'.  Perhaps a result of having considered the work of Robert Frank, the more ordinary, many images captured would not necessarily meet this definition as outlined in the first chapter of Documentary Photography.  And yet the opening paragraphs proceed to consider that something of importance might as readily be the ordinary; personal work has undoubtedly been a visual commentary upon the world as found; whilst not all contain individual commentaries, in series they create a narrative - conveying ideas 'beyond the two-dimensional, black-and-gray image of shadows and light' (page 13).


Communicating whilst commentating is inferred as the second stage in the history of documentary photography, the publication proceeds to cover much of the history of the genre, from Jacob Riis, through Lewis Hine to Andre Kertesz and W Eugine Smith.  Ironic that focus upon suffering, intending to stir consciousness, should evolve into commentary around the more ordinary 'tedium of daily life' (page 15).  Perhaps the impression that the Editors give in this chapters introduction is a little out of date; they conclude that it is the subjective involvement on the part of the photographer, rather than simple objectivity, that defines documentary photography.


Unique in that the photographers and images incorporated should stretch back to the 1860's a study of the work produced by John Thomson, Benjamin Stone, Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Eugene Atget; China in the 1860s, life and family in Britain and France at the turn of the Twentieth Century through to the start of the First World War, and Parisian landscapes from the early 1900's documenting buildings and parks.  Interesting that all predate the definition of documentary photography (Riis and Hine), many however provide a very clear social narrative or commentary.  A personal favourite:

 

Crusaders with Cameras


Seen as the defining moment of Social Documentary Photography, the second chapter focuses solely upon the work of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine and the FSA, beginning through a series of images, in the context of how Riis used his camera as a tool for social reform of New York's slums and schools.  Focusing upon Hine's documenting of child labour; 9 included from a possible 5,000 images produced fro the National Child Labour Committee between 1908 and 1921, many through the use of subterfuge to gain entry to factories.


Introduction to the work of the Farm Securities Administration concentrates upon the role of Roy Stryker, recruited to manage a team of photographers to record the agricultural crisis of the 1930s.  Images included are some of those produced by Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange & Russell Lee.  Some infamous, not all produced depict suffering however there is a common thread in that every image contains a sense of resignation, expressions of foreboding.


The Photo League


Familiar with some of the photographers that form the focus of a chapter on the Film & Photo League, many were less familiar as was the pre-war formation of the semi-professional organisation, soon to split from the motion-picture cameramen, specifically intended to 'record events of social significance'.  Attracting a variety of more established and acclaimed photographers to sit on the Board and speak at events, the integrated School appears to have introduced the first workshop in documentary photography taught by Sid Grossman.


Much of the work funded by Unions, many photographers drawn from Manhattan, their affinity with their surroundings produces a picture essay that demonstrates the sensitivity with which many approached their work.  Whilst strengths lay in much of the work produced, post-war politics inevitably exploited 'weaknesses' in both  the organisation and its membership.  Fear of Communism and accusations at the start of the Cold War leading to its demise, in 1951 the League no longer existed.


Here a list of those photographers attributed in the publication a reference for future use.  Sol Libsohn; Walter Rosenblum; Sid Grossman; Jerome Liebling; Jack Manning; Morris Huberland; Aaron Siskind; Ruth Orkin; Elliot Elisofon; Arthur Liepzig; Morris Engel; Dan weiner; Lou Bernstein; Nill Witt; Lester Talkington.


Of particular note are the photographs that accompany a biography of Sid Grossman, cropped subjects unique and very contemporary in style; two of his quotations worthy of inclusion here: "The function of the photographer is to help people understand the world about them." "you don't (take pictures just for yourself)...though I have boxes of pictures nobody wants to buy...I know the time will come that they will be usable and I will have won." (page 95).  One picture within the chapter's photo essay seems best when considering the first of these, '...a study of the bleak decaying streets in an old section of Greenwich Village...the picture just as a gust of wind came up and blew grit swirling around the people who were sunning themselves on the corner.  They were Polish and Irish, very poor...' (Ruth Orkin)

 

 

 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Black & White

Social documentary has afforded a more concentrated study of black & white photography, and consequently a personal strengthening of interpretation.  Improving awareness for the variety of compositional elements alongside techniques when capturing images, choice to concentrate in monochrome has necessarily required continual development of an appreciation for both colour and black & white.

Admittedly, when intending to produce in black & white there is less concern for white balance and the depth of colour, there is however greater need to focus interpreting colours into tones and contrast, real appreciation for perspective, shadows and volume.  Consideration for colour versus black & white has developed from Digital Photography studies at both Levels 1 & 2; some reference to white balance, colour temperatures, tints and HSL variables within 'Working in low light'.  

 

Selecting to photograph RAW digital negatives allows for adjustments and development to enhance tonal values, reduce clipping and to lighten shadow details.  A range of digital manipulations exist for black & white conversion, many aggressive; lightening individual hues, lowering saturation and brightness of particular tones can emphasise texture and contrast more effectively.


Regardless of the possibilities, efforts are made to capture images in camera that require little further manipulation.  Focus here within the context of social documentary has been upon a desire to produce honest images with graphic simplicity, processing limited more often than not to a simple desaturation of colours and a review of contrasts.


Formerly tending towards the simplicity and impact of silhouettes until more recent years, development of a personal style and preferences has included the presentation of a fuller range of tone, seeking to minimise values beneath 0 and above 255.


Motivations and incentives will continue to preside over choices for black & white or colour.  Producing images in both formats for commercial clients, uses will often vary dependant upon context and intended publication or presentation.  Developing focus for the personal portfolio, intention is to produce the series in black & white.  Consideration for colour remains, in some circumstances, as outlined in 'City at Night', colour becomes almost essential, in others, as below, judgements vary.


Producing well proportioned complimentary blues and oranges is not reserved to landscapes at dusk, the example here was caught under the mixed lighting conditions beneath Waterloo Bridge and produces a strong case for a colour treatment.  Undoubtedly the aesthetic qualities of such are powerful, interestingly the levels and colour temperature are as captured in camera and in no way manipulated.


Does this diminish any narrative; personal opinion is that the viewer may be distracted by these aesthetic qualities.  True enough the colours indicate the time of day.  In an image where tonal values are sufficiently subtle to generate an equally powerful black & white still, in the context of social documentary should more interest be focused upon the subject through form, composition and shape - Who is the figure? Where is he going? Where has he been? Why is he running?

B&W versus Colour

B&W versus Colour

 

 

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Telephoto Technique

Focusing studies of social documentary upon the more difficult photographing strangers has developed a variety of techniques with which to remain unobtrusive. These vary from shooting 'from the hip', manually focusing and taking fast snapshots, to continuing to photograph after the subject has passed through the frame, to stepping aside into doorways, to more recently using wider focal lengths of 35mm and 24mm than the standard 50mm.

Photographing with a telephoto lens allows a further technique in an ability to step back.  Having the added benefit of isolating subjects it adds a different perspective and variety to the style of images produced.  Whilst a lens of 200mm or more would have proven more illusive, selecting to use the longest lens available, a 105mm Macro produced a range of images that example the technique of a telephoto lens.


Whilst regrettably looking more like a paparazzi, a disadvantage that comes with any more obtrusive large lens, the opportunities for capturing 'people unaware' increase. As such the results are more objective than with a wide-angle alternative. Compressing the perspective, as in the first image below, adds strong graphic qualities, the ordered angles of the bicycle frames forming a rhythm, punctuated by the absence of one bicycle that is being lifted from the stand by the figure, right of centre facing into the frame.  Remaining uninvolved, the photograph depicts a figure and her action.


Candid portraiture another benefit, longer lenses are more flattering.  Add to this the aspect that they have an effective of drawing the background farther forwards, in an image such as second above, the subject, whilst purposefully isolated within the composition, is inextricably linked to his surroundings.  Another objective effect, here again graphic qualities of the telephoto perspective draw the viewer through the frame along the undistorted diagonals.


Selecting to isolating extraneous elements and other 'clutter' from a scene allow for more considered compositions.  Standing back allows a little more time to plan and frame a photograph, here an example of an opportunity to divide the frame into thirds, the first containing a shadowed menu upon a stone wall, the remaining two thirds, a dark background within which to frame the subject.


An issue in the use of telephoto techniques is that it becomes all too easy to become detached from the subjects, a strong disadvantage when photographing social documentary.  In the similar way to capturing wildlife, remaining unobtrusive provides greater freedom to capture unsuspecting subjects, a natural  consequence of this however is that the camera becomes too detached and objective in a genre where it is often appropriate to become more involved.


Telephoto enables the photographer to supplement a more subjective style with objective alternatives; to isolate subjects within their surroundings as in the last of the images above; to record 'more with less' as discovered in earlier projects including details and hands; to emphasise found graphic qualities and natural rhythms; or simply to remain unobtrusive as in all the images included here.

 

 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Wide-angle Technique

Returning to preferred black & white treatments is particularly useful when exploring the compositional values of different focal lengths.  Removal of colours allows more focus upon the compositional aspects and their relevance within the context of Social Documentary photography.

Ordinarily photographing with the less intrusive and more inconspicuous 50mm lens, varying the focal length provides advantages and produces qualities more difficult to overcome with a standard lens.  That a wider lens holds greater depth and lets in more light than a standard or telephoto alternative is particularly useful to capturing images quickly; one small consideration is that even with extremely fast lenses, subjective focusing is harder, the depth of field naturally wider with a wide-angle lens.


24mm is the widest prime in the range of lenses available; a new f1.4 fast lens, the design of this new Nikkor holds a great deal of detail in the edges and whilst some rectilinear distortion is still evident, photographing a range of subjects has shown it to be fast and accurate.  Ordinarily processing images and personal workflow includes the correction of lens distortions.  Here, in all but one image, no correction nor crops have been made to the series of images.


No doubt over the subjective style that a wide-angle introduces, the greatest benefit has proven to be photographing people more discreetly.  As on earlier occasions carrying out similar exercises, giving the impression that the camera is pointed a little to the subject's left or right has real benefit in capturing candid 'people unaware' style shots.


Varying between the vertical and the horizontal in terms of frame, the first wide-angle image above is the only exception in terms of workflow.  Whilst all the other images included within this project are as captured, this image has been cropped to remove extraneous litter and the elbow of another figure to the right.  Whilst recreating an image as might have been photographed with a 28mm lens, the subject and image seemed deserving of enhancement.


Trafalgar Square, full of tourists, an easier location within which to become less obtrusive, raising a camera at a stranger nonetheless generates interest on the part of the subject, sometimes nervousness.  Whilst subjects often lift their heads at the arrival of a camera, that the lens is pointing a little to one side of them often alleviates any concern, use of a wide-angle perfectly suited to candid photography in a social documentary context.


As can be seen from the seconds that accompany this post at the end, the vertical frame was neither the first nor preferred choice for the first photograph below.  Had other foreground figures not been present then a frame as in the 'second' below would have likely been preferred.  Containing many of the same compositional elements, the diagonals have greater strength in the horizontal frame, a strong implied triangle exists between the girl, the National Gallery and Central St Martins Church upper right.


An obvious choice, the girl's quiet activity, stillness, posture and expression lending themselves to a photograph.  The implied triangle in her posture complemented by another created by the perspective diagonals within the fountain wall, a third implied between her, the fountain and the National Gallery above.  Compositionally the image works well, the lighting soft, the choice of a narrow depth of field isolating the girl from her surroundings.


Considering inclusion of this select within the 'personal portfolio' the only unsatisfactory element is at the peak of the fountain where the water appears as a grey mark within the otherwise bright sky.  Selective processing should allow for the introduction of a graduated filter effect over the sky or alternatively the removal of the detail altogether.


Similar in quality to the first image, this second shot of another girl reading on the steps of Central St Martins makes great use of the perspective diagonals formed from the stone steps and in the leaning pillars.  Purposefully placed off centre, wide-angle technique in remaining unobtrusive as well as intentional for the composition, that her back is partially turned toward the camera has a subjective quality - that if she were to look up, we would share the same view.


Seeking out a crowd, Covent Garden's street performances present a wide range of alternatives.  Initially strolling around and capturing images of crowds, many from the rear carried little interest; remaining subjective and often with a focal point through the bodies towards the centre, they did not create the desired sense of involvement.  Until...


At the end of one such show, the opportunity to enter into a crowd, whilst costing two pounds in small change, provided a sequence of shots from which the image above is the best select.  Limited sky, absence of ground, the larger foreground performer holding out his bag, the half a dozen strong perspective diagonals in the out-strectched arms, the variety of eye-lines and a sea of faces and expressions, young and old, produce a captivating photograph.  Wholly subjective, lacking any formal composition, extremely natural, the viewer is propelled into the scene with an impression that the action takes place beyond the frame.


Whilst rectilinear distortion is usually corrected when using the 24mm lens for photographing architecture or interiors, in the second image it gives an impression that the photograph was stolen, a rough edged imperfection implying that the photograph had to be taken quickly.  Although not the case as can be seen from the 'second' below, the choice to crop the figure 'aware' of the camera is purposeful.  Seeking a position and anticipating a moving figure, the trolley was less planned; clearly a person at work, the object does contrast a little with the diagonal of the railing, selective focus to create a natural frame; these inconsistencies all add to a subjective sense of reality that the wide-angle lens emphasises.


Indicating reasons for selection when considering two of the four images above, two variations are included below for comparison purposes.  One issue with a wide focal length fully open at f1.4 is accuracy; in the central image it is possible that the subject moved her head mid shot; although as subjective as some of those above, an added feature is that the girl is crying.  Such a strong emotion was of real interest, regrettably her expression is not pin-sharp, possibly wiping a tear away, and for this reason the image has less prominence within the series.

 

 

 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Concerned Photographer (Part 3)

Dan Weiner (1919-1959) 

"His work reveals not only the man's deep seriousness but his child-like wonder, his quick laughter - in a word, his eager delight in the business of the planet." - Arthur Miller

Weiner's work is strikingly contemporary in terms of reproduction than the former Photographers included in 'The Concerned Photographer', this despite being of a similar age to some, perhaps a reflection upon choice in the selection of more American subjects; a Time / Life approach to reportage.


Greater emphasis upon scene and clothing, a social documentary style that appears to focus more broadly upon 'people at work'.  Even through the photographic work in South Africa, 1954, there is more of a sense of daily life, some focus upon cultural diversity.  Smiling faces within the NY Police Officer, 1948, and the South African mother, 1954, a dramatic deviation from the more austere images of Bishof, Kertesz and Seymour.


Here inclusion of varied subjects and setting holds a great deal of interest.  The figure far left, background centre, and beside the car door, and figure at the back of the vehicle are all looking right out of frame, in the direction of movement of the animated central character.  Clothing, street furniture, signage and car all place the scene in terms of era, the juxtaposition of the 'Parking' signage at odds with the direction of movement a hint of the humour to which Arthur Miller was referring in the above quotation.


Leonard Freed (1929-2006)


"Suddenly I feel I belong to a tradition." - Leonard Freed, October 1967 on the opening of the New York Exhibition, a legacy of The Fund for Concerned Photography.


Concluding with a series of Freed's images, a sense for the familiar within his very contemporary style can likely be attributed to comparative youth and changes in camera / technique.  His Social Documentary style having focused at the time of publication upon the Hassidic Jewish community, German Jews in post-war Germany and Black in White America; clearly defined and planned social documentary with focus that leads to a clear narrative; and often humour as in the image below.


A series of wide focal length reportage images from 1967 covering the aftermath of the Six Day War in Israel could as easily have been published in yesterday's Sunday Times, indicative that Freed was instrumental in laying some of the foundations of modern documentary photo-journalism.

 

 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Concerned Photographer (Part 2)

Robert Capa (1913-1954)


"It's not easy always to stand aside and be unable to do anything except record the suffering around one...The last day some of the best ones die.  But those alive will fast forget." - Robert Capa


Poignant in part as Capa's own fate from a land-mine in 1954 cut short his career; reflective upon the style of engaged War and Social Documentary photography.  When a desire to improve circumstances is paradoxically at odds and contrary to any form of personal intervention; recording of moments requiring suffering, to raise an awareness and seek to effect long-term change.


Harrowing documentary photography within Capa's work, such as in the American soldier killed by German snipers (April 18, 1945) above, requires no suspension of disbelief, rather an empathetic appreciation for the circumstances and time at which his work was undertaken.  Pausing to consider the impact of black & white photography, it becomes the viewer's responsibility to translate tone into colour, and in so doing trauma within and for the scene becomes apparent.  This is not voyeurism, it is not a desire to look at the suffering and consequences of war within Capa's work, more a sense of responsibility.


Andre Kertesz (1894-1985)


"The camera is my tool through which I try to give a reason to everything and to every happening around me.  Everything is a subject.  Every subject has a rhythm.  To feel this rhythm is the 'raison d'etre'.  The photo is a fixed moment of such a 'raison d'etre' which lives in itself." - Andre Kertesz


A real sense of social documentary, individually as reflective of the times as within a wider chronological series.  Many of single figures wide within their setting, some of courting couples or depicting relationships between different groups of individuals.  A range of eye-lines, strong compositional elements of design, images taken from a high viewpoint containing lots of movement.


Kertesz' work is a general commentary upon the lives of people within the locations at the time.  Individual images contain their own individual story.


David Seymour (1911-1956)


"Chim picked up his camera the way a doctor takes a stethoscope out of his bag, applying his diagnosis to the condition of the heart; his own was vulnerable." - Henri cartier-Bresson


A sense for 'Politics' more apparent in Seymour's work when compared with Capa's raw war reportage, his images often imply a second side to the story contained within.


Suffering, whilst evident in a range of photographs, has less emphasis than in Capa's work.  Social commentary upon the lives of culturally diverse peoples within a series varying from natural portraits through family gatherings to the portrayal of relationships of ordinary people.  Whilst Capa concentrates upon soldiering, Seymour reflects upon the impact that conflict has upon groups within society both during and long afterwards.


Interspersing images that carry political and social significance with more humorous comments as in the second image above.  It is in the variety of subject and different treatments of them that stand out when viewing his photographs within 'The Concerned Photographer'.

 

 

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Concerned Photographer (Part 1)

Difficult to acquire, The Concerned Photographer (Grossman Publishers Inc, New York, 1968), enables insight into the work of some of the most influential photographers of the Twentieth Century.  An Introduction by Cornell Capa, brother of Robert, outlines his intention, to maintain awareness for Photography, not simply as commercial communication, rather as 'demonstrably the most contemporary of art forms'.

To follow the publication, Capa was instrumental in establishing a 'Fund for Concerned Photography' in 1974, dedicated to encouraging and assisting photographers, providing 'space' within which to exhibit their work.  Evolving over more than three decades, The International Centre of Photography is the funds legacy and home; in mid-town Manhattan, New York, fortunate to visit the Centre during 2009, it continues to celebrate the work of photographers, past and present, alongside a range of educational activities.


Simple in design, each of the six infamous Photographers is introduced with a brief biography, sadly four of the six, epitaphs at the time of publication.  All black & white, presented on alternating black and white backgrounds for each 'artist', more or less produced chronologically, images are simply accompanied by place and date.  Allowed to communicate directly to the reader all are notable and a detailed study of every photograph is not relevant here.  Making two personal selections from each of the six, explaining what they communicate privately, a means of committing all the works to both memory and journal.


Werner Bischof (1916-1954)


"The secret of Werner Bishof's photography rest in the pairing of a rigorous aesthetic with this own great humanity" - Manuel Gasser


Both selections from a series produced by Bishof whilst in India 1951, the first Photograph holds personal interest in the context of Social Documentary in the juxtaposition of three traditionally adorned characters placed within a modern industrial setting.  As much relevance today as to the time of photographing, the wider social connotations include changes in society, poverty, the environment within which people live and cultural variations across the world.


Hailed a modern Madonna image at the time, the second selection, a natural portrait, has real personal relevance, a photograph taken recently in London's Edgware Road having many incidental similarities.  Taken six decades apart, the second before reference to Bishof's work, both are photographed from the 'hip' unobtrusive.  Children involved in the camera and photographer, adults looking outside the frame, anxiety of different measures in all four faces.


Bishof, India 1951 & Edgware Road, July 2011

 

 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A City At Night

To study a city at night within the context of Social Documentary seems to invite a study of people rather than place.  Having produced landscape images of London previously, opportunity arose to capture some wider shots of the Thames whilst waiting for night to fall completely.  As with all images to follow, all are handheld using higher ISO sensitivity to 'still' subjects - tripods inappropriate.  Flash, reserved for shadow fill or catch light, excluded as an option as far too intrusive and unnatural.  As here, many are as effective as capturing the 'night' in black and white as in colour.

Sufficient depth within the tonal range and insignificant 'found' colours, both of these selects are suited to a black & white treatment.  The inclusion of the alternatives to compare and contrast the former, containing a more flattering expression, with the latter that benefits from the absence of other middle ground characters.  The decisive moment falls between both, capturing a natural expression without distraction.


Alternative treatments suit a 'City at Night'.  In the first of the three images below, the extreme shadow and highlights serve to emphasise the silhouetted subjects existing the Underground.  Captured for Level 1, Art of Photography with no need to repeat the shot, a colour alternative contained too many different temperatures that proved a distraction.


Two figures, almost silhouetted outside the Apple Store, Covent Garden, benefit from the introduction of colour, subtleties in the lamplight reflected in the walls emphasising the time of day.  The wide range of tonal values in the final of the three allows for a black & white treatment that removes less appealing colours from the strong perspective image.  Anticipating the distant silhouetted moving figure, passing through the centre of the frame, here the diminishing lamps in the ceiling and cold reflective quality of the flagstone floor inform as to the time of day.


Other selects lend themselves in equal measure to treatment in either colour or black & white.  Interest is held in the following photographs from the quality of the light falling upon the faces, generated from the adjacent store window.  Whilst the focus for the viewer is upon the faces of the subjects, their relationships and the setting, complimentary proportions of blue and orange work to ensure comfortable resolution of the colour version.  The reflection of the right hand figure in the window adds further interest, the absence of a more symmetrical composition rightly implies the image was a candid opportunity rather than an anticipated or planned moment.


Colour becomes more of an essential element in some of the following images, selections here seeking quality in the contrasts between light and shadow of a 'City at Night' versus the vibrance of colour serving to focus interest.  All seek to explore the variety of ways and activities in which people interact with their city at night; meeting and socialising in a range of spaces.


Simple spaces to sit and hold a conversation such in the first two examples.  The first making use of the range of tones and contrasts between shadow and light, both figures interestingly lit from the fluorescents underneath the handrail, the second a low contrast image taken through the window of a 'yogurt bar', reliant upon colour to indicate the nighttime.


Juxtaposed against the signage, the blues of the club exterior shine some light upon the club's members.  Relatively well lit passages offer opportunities to anticipate moving figures, the absence of too much shadow holding details in the subject's form and expression as well as the shop signage.  A small figure of a bouncer right, dimly lit by the glow of the deep qualities of the purple neon lit angular 'W' close to London's Leicester Square.


Intending to consider further the variations between colour and black & white treatments within the context of Social Documentary, the quality of colour within nighttime photography cannot be ignored.  Whilst when working in low light the contrast between light and shadow is in itself intriguing and worthy of exploration, the range and effects of different lighting within a 'City at Night' often provides context, informing the viewer, commenting upon and enabling further interpretation for the way in which individuals behave within their surroundings.

 

 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Urban Life

As much an exercise in the discipline of a 50mm lens and shooting from the hip as it was in capturing urban life, selection of the location was primarily to focus upon the multi-cultural aspects of the Edgware Road.  Returning with an array of poorly focus seconds, certain selects naturally stand out from others.

Angles resulting from the unobtrusive shooting add strong diagonals to some frames.  Consequently lacking the imagined variety in scale, three of these style stand out in particular.  Unattractive as a backdrop the Edgware Road was less conducive to wide establishing shots, selecting a shot outside the underground station instead to set the scene.


Most have been photographed in a vertical frame, largely owing to the human aspect.  Striking in the cultural significance of the street.  Favourite of all the selects, the first image below could have been produced in any one of many cities.  The striking diagonal of he underpass and building above give away its urban setting, all of the interest significantly and sensitively placed in the human aspects.  A father keeping his child close in a potentially hostile environment.  That the child is looking towards the camera adds to rather than detracts from the image.


A close second is the image above that was captured 'from the hip' so as not to attract attention.  Uniformed police indicate the London location, the roadway above dividing the frame and providing a background for the younger officer to the right.  The woman's outstretched hand gives the shot animation and relevance.  Less 'designed' the photograph still works compositionally, perhaps due to the division of the frame into thirds.  Little interest existed from the waste downwards, the 'ceiling' more dynamic.


Seeking an establishing shot, the Underground station provided a suitable setting.  Here producing direction of movement and a sense of motion in the foreground figure, signage the only real reason for the selection.  A nearby underpass provided a strong diagonal creating two halves within which to place individuals at opposing points.  Several photographs were captured, some with figures in the foreground, others in the upper half of the frame, small.  A grandfather and grandchild climbing the steps added great humanity to an essentially urban backdrop.


Establishing the location proved to be more difficult than imagined.  Street clutter made wide shots of the urban setting less favourable.  Following a family along the street presented a possible opportunity; isolating two parents and four children with a narrow depth of field seemed appropriate.  Later reflection discarded the photograph in favour a narrative through a series of images.


All of the four following photographs depict the variety of culture and vibrant street life that the Edgware Road contains.  From the conversational horizontal frames, the one in a branded coffee shop the second outside a shopfront on the street, both hint as to aspects of a close community.


Demonstrating diversity, the Chinese man, a Moroccan gentlemen smoking the Hookah and Arab couple confirm proximity between strikingly different cultures.  The first unaware, from the hip, a second natural portrait incorporating the Hookah and Moroccan crockery, the third wider adding a sense of setting.

 

Variety of scale a desirable element, pausing outside the paper shop added further information.  In isolation not in itself significant, as part of the narrative here, the stand filled with arabic newspapers including a translation of the Wall Street Journal brings confirms the multi-cultural backdrop.


A clear relationship, the animated select of two girls captured whilst walking along the road introduces teenagers into the mix.  The better of five potential selects, centred characters brought together by a symbolic hand placed upon the shoulder makes the photograph worthy of inclusion.

 

Many of the male characters along the Edgware road seem to spend their day drinking coffee and watching the world pass by.  The first of the images below is a simple image capturing this pastime.  The second, captured from the hip captures the figure in the far corner of the frame, the viewer drawn to him along the writing of a hoarding sign.  Significance is in the juxtaposition of an Arab looking character beside the arabic translation.


The final image, not unlike many of those preceding it, gives less weight to standard elements of design and composition.  Placed right, facing the edge of the frame works here, perhaps due to the contemplative expression and pose.  The 'open' sign and 'Halal' signage add interest, the attire worn by the subject eclectic, almost contrasting with the contemporary neon materials and typeface.


Never particularly uncomfortable, in such a multicultural urban setting remaining unobtrusive was difficult.  Despite dressing to look like a tourist, the camera attracted attention.  Shooting from the hip in many instances has proven the best technique for producing better 'unware' and candid images.  As a collection of photographs there is a very clear thread, sufficient variety of scale albeit perhaps not as great as might have been achieved using additional lenses.  Sufficient to rearrange in a narrative photo essay, successful in capturing a sense of 'urban life'.

 

 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Pictures on a Page (Part 2)

 

Picture Editing


“Many of the young pupils who come to me… have been led to believe there is something wrong with cropping.  I tell them they must do it.  I crop all my own pictures in the darkroom.” 

(Bill Brandt quoted discussing students from the Royal College of Art, page 185)


Naturally a desire exists to maintain all the detail within an image.  Firstly this ensures maximum quality, secondly there is a satisfaction in perceiving to have precisely framed a photograph at the time of capture.  Cartier-Bresson appears as an advocate of preserving the ‘full frame’, reportedly commenting on the process of cropping as ‘vulgar’.  Undoubtedly a heavy crop of a medium format image does raise questions, especially if a 35mm alternative may have proved greater versatility in capturing the final frame as a whole.


However, film and sensors in themselves have an aspect ratio, if the desired result is 1:1 reproduction it makes little sense to crop ‘in camera’, much simpler during processing.  Consideration of alternative crops at the time of shooting might be the most appropriate approach.  This may be especially true of fixed focal lengths where the rigidity of a standard lens may not provide a close enough frame at the time of photographing.


Just as with varying the ground glass of a motion camera, imagining the desired outcome when looking through an SLR or rangefinder enables the photographer to make an informed judgment.  In some cameras where the viewfinder only reproduces 90-95% of the final image there is always an issue in framing; small straightening of a hand held horizon an instance where this marginal ‘extra area’ becomes useful.


Evans considers cropping from an alternative perspective, suggesting that whilst extremes exist in both the preservation of an original negative and in the ruthless cropping of an image, for the purpose of picture editing most are only moderately altered, often in an effort to ‘fit’ more appropriately within the wider context of a newspaper page.  Some marginal amendments to the frame improve composition or emphasise an aspect of interest, some preserve publication space and focus the eye more closely upon detail, and occasionally results may produce a poorer version than the original.


Generally seeking to edit for a point of emphasis, context must remain a key factor.  Given that Evans proclaims to ignore form in favour of content at the start of the publication, it is a little ironic that all the examples her provides appear to be as focused upon design, cropping to produce shape for instance, or emphasising a pattern and size.  Discernable elements such as content, legibility and impact require consideration, some images providing sufficient information in a small image, others, the detail requiring larger space.


Evans suggests two styles of newspaper crop, routine, which emphasises the main subject, creative, where alteration creates a new point of interest.  Stating the latter approach is less widespread, examples of both raise the question as to whether small changes are necessary and might even be noticeable.  Suggesting that choices are not always natural, Evans also explores the uplift, reproducing an enlarged aspect of detail within and alongside the original wider photograph.  Another proposition is the production of portraits from smaller figures from within a photograph, often for a completely different story at a later date.


“over-riding any consideration of art is photojournalism’s obligation to the truth.” (page 223).  Considering cropping problems, complexities surrounding the inclusion of extraneous detail or clutter that may be relevant to a story, or occasion and place issues suggest that the crop is not merely a tool for emphasising an element or producing an improved composition.


Specific to the publishing of newspapers and magazines are the timing of images, top stories rapidly becoming secondary to a newer headline, photographs that may have suited larger full frame publication a day or two earlier need to be revisited and potentially cropped to isolate a human interest from within the scene that better relates to the smaller editorial or by-line.  A tool in attracting the reader to an article, cropping needs to remain considerate of impact upon emotion or context, Evans declaring that after every such instance “there should be a pause to ask: what has been lost?...A failure to appreciate the significance of space is probably the commonest error…” (page 227).  Again Evans paradoxically provides a series of examples where form and content are intertwined inextricably.


“The camera cannot lie: but it can be an accessory to untruth...” (introduction).  ‘Document or dramatisation’ eases into a consideration for unscrupulous propaganda.  Selective cropping might change the meaning of an otherwise reasonably un-contentious photograph into something entirely more controversial or provocative.


Juxtaposition, ‘the third effect’ “When two pictures are brought together their individual effects are combined and enhanced by the reader’s interpretative and evaluative reaction.” (page 237).  Perhaps reducing the need for the written word in the context of publishing, Evans declares that this practice provides a range of opportunities, “Where creative flexibility ends and manipulation begins is a matter of judgement.” (page 242).  Relatively simple use can prove extremely forceful however risks might involve repetition where one image might suffice, appearing too ‘ponderous’, merely an unproductive waste of time.


‘Beyond coupling” The picture page and the picture story’ advocates the benefits of expressing a story through images.  Such a narrative or essay, whilst impressive may appear as “a parking lot of pictures” (Eugene Smith, page 245).  Evans discusses multiple images upon one page and the issues arising from relationships between the different photographs, relevance and too much or too little variety.  Four key processes are considered – preparation; photography; selection; and combination – research of place and subject, interpretation, angle, relationships prior to processing, linking themes, balance, sizing, storyline afterwards. 


“Layout shapes should basically be determined by the shapes of the photographs” (page 248).  As well as photographing content consideration should include a variety of scale, sequence, perspective and proportion.  The four processes are summarised:


1.  The basic idea should be clear.  In layout this almost always means opening with a key statement.  2.  There should be flow.  It should be orderly so that it makes sense but it should not fall away.  A good magazine story ends with a statement almost as powerful as the opening.  3.  Design techniques, notably of coupling, sequence and contrast should be used.  4.  The layout should be simple.  (page 248)


A variety of examples consider the form of the publication, daily, broadsheet or magazine all of which effect the options for picture editing – a double page spread in a high quality magazine might be manageable as one single page image within a broadsheet.


“Photography is not photojournalism” (page 255).  ‘Words with pictures’ begins with Cartier-Bresson’s suggestion that if “a photograph is really evocative it carries its own message and the only caption it needs is a label of when and where.”  Although potentially contentious an issue, often poorly incorporated or patronising, a clear theme emerges, that any inclusion of caption or heading should be complementary.  Rather than competing for the reader’s attention, words can elaborate upon an image or provide confirmation.  A headline might substantiate or explain an otherwise ambiguous scene.


Less compelled by arguments for labels and idiom they seem crude in comparison to all other picture editing techniques.  Evans suggests that where such use adds sound to a still image, their use is acceptable, the key to remain considerate and in tune with the mood of the photograph.


Undoubtedly the use of Photoshop and other digital enhancements and design programs has rendered many of the aspects discussed in ‘Print to Page Ethics’ redundant.  Remarkable advances have been made in the fourteen years since publication and aspects concerning selection, contact sheets, reproduction, handling, image combination and scaling have become redundant.  Photoshop existed in 1997 and even Evans refers to the processes it then provided as ‘a joy’.  Interestingly there seem to be no objections raised to reversing, retouching or angle cropping other than retaining a keen eye for aspects that might disclose such ‘deceptions’; ethically acceptable?


Combination is scrutinised more closely and when produced from a series of images to generate a scene that never occurred Evans declares that the determining question should be “whether the composite misleads” (page 284).  Concluding observations focus upon four areas of sensitivity: violence; intrusions into privacy; sex and public decency; and faking.  In relation to the latter declaration of manipulations helps preserve the integrity of photojournalism.  Decency appeared to be less of a consideration even in 1997.  Privacy is often a matter of jurisdiction and ethics, perhaps timely, debate over phone hacking is still a matter of media attention, recent developments having included the demise of the News of the World and an erosion of the Murdoch empire.  Relevance to photojournalism is natural.


Violence is perhaps the most interesting.  A recent Channel 4 documentary on some recorded executions during the Tamil war in Sri Lanka came under specific scrutiny.  Most important to the debate was the decision to show footage of the actual moment of death, less the preceding moments or the bodies afterwards.  Perhaps the still image is uniquely placed, timing of the essence, as appearing more documentary than moving footage.  However, both mediums need to consider morality here and remain mindful of the whether there is “a contribution to understanding the world we cannot see for ourselves” (introduction) or simply a morbid curiosity.


Supplementing the photograph with illustration or labeling can be “effective for marking key features” (page 291).  Sometimes photographs might supplement a map, combining fact and diagram an effective tool.  Interestingly a case is made for many examples where abandoning the photograph altogether in favour of a traced illustration can prove even more effective, graphics used to better explain events.  Demonstrating the power of the still to lodge itself permanently in the memory, Dallas Texas, a hand drawn ring around a figure and an arrow, the location captioned below – ‘grassy knoll’.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Pictures on a Page (Part 1)

Pictures on a Page, Harold Evans (Pimlico, 1997 edition)


Within his preface, Evans speaks of immense developments between his original publication in 1978 and the 1997 rewrite.  Technology has since accelerated tenfold; Evans’ underlying stance remains unequivocal.  That despite practical aspects of delivery in an electronic age and the ability to process and enhance images immediately the photographer is the essential element and that ‘progress’ had not caused Evans to “lower (his) voice in the cause of the still image and the advocacy or more analysis – and appreciation” (Preface).  Evans reserves his debate for the documentary photograph, stating despite consideration for ‘photography as art “it will be a pity if concern with technique and the externalisation of inner fantasies suborns the value of content.” (Introduction).


Evans comments that the still photograph has ‘enduring vitality’ as against other forms of media precisely from the still silence it conveys; it can be easily recalled, as can any emotional impact, from memory, unlike many other forms of media.  Interpretation, juxtaposition and selection remain aspects of photography that can distort perception, in print a picture editor having far-reaching impact upon which images are given greatest significance, which suppressed.  “The camera cannot lie: but it can be an accessory to untruth...To warm of the risks of being deceived by a photograph is not to admit that photography is symbolic, is not to deny its uniqueness as a contribution to understanding the world we cannot see for ourselves.” (Introduction)


“..emphasised: the primacy of the story.” (page 4).  Evans begins his debate with an assumption that content supersedes all else, demonstrated in a series of images he believes to have little virtue in terms of composition.  Appreciative that as an editor or viewer, content is undoubtedly a key focal point; there remain elements of design in all his examples.  He dismisses them in terms of form, justification only in subject matter.  Paradoxically all have key aspects in technique and design, accidental or otherwise that emphasise the subject or scene; discernibly the best compositionally if viewed alongside other frames from the same roll of film.


“…you will visualise not a cine-sequence but a single still news photograph which has been absorbed in the mind.” (page 5)  “…the capacity of the single image to lodge itself permanently in the memory…” (page 6)  In a series of pages Evans appreciates the value of a single image, the memories these convey, the news shot versus those more ‘ordinary’ images that convey symbolism and gesture, and the capacity of the black and white photograph to convey detail and graphics, isolating aspects within an image.  Ironically given his preceding argument, all photographic examples employ design techniques, shape, form and frame that aid in the depiction of the event, implying motion, leading the viewer through eyelines, that purposefully resolve or add tension to a scene.


This is not to say that Evans is wrong in suggesting that the content and documentary aspects are primary.  In this context no doubt the selection of a single frame rests entirely with the message in favour of the composition.  Rather that composition is a vehicle that alerts the viewer to this content, more often than not evoking emotion and encouraging interpretation.  The two elements go hand in hand, the medium dictating that the former aspect is essential.


Appropriately Evans proceeds to the matter of timing, that unlike a writer the photographer rarely has a second chance to tell a story pictorially.  Many images have to be set up, careful planning calling upon a picture editor as art director to imagine the image before capture.  Moreover Evans argues that there is nothing unethical about preparing a news image “if the picture is true to the spirit of the story and the reader is not deceived.” (page 23).


Discussing an appetite for images in ‘print’ Evans discusses alternative styles, benefits in varied angles, opportunities to portray a narrative through images, the scheduled news event versus capturing an unplanned story, the commercial value of ‘fillers’ to satisfy this appetite, softer images of animals and pictures that evoke different emotions.


Three Tests for Selection - animation, relevant context and depth of meaning as perceived by a picture editor, as opposed to the photographer deemed to emotionally involved to make clear judgments aside from the lack of appreciation for a wider context including space and position.  Evans proceeds to outline the first, animation, in a series of examples that convey not merely movement or action that include expression, gesture, grimace - life.


Relevant context follows the former, ensuring the photograph is “presented in the storytelling environment…it is better to have a straight-o-camera picture in the right context than a similar picture in without any background information.”  (pages 53 & 54).  The third, meaning, Evans describes as more subtle than the former selection criteria, that of significance.  An image that provides a question that only the article or accompanying words can answer, referring to John Szarkowski’s suggested that photography’s value is “intellectual and literary as well as visceral and visual”.  A variety of examples draw meaning from comparison, groups and symbolism; for example an image of two gloved hands holding plates, in line – Meal time, Forest City, Arkansas 1937 by Walker Evans – more with less the absence of faces adds rather than detracts in allowing the viewer to imagine the circumstances.


Action as opposed to animation is how Evans approaches direction of movement and the conveyance of motion.  Concentrating upon aspects of focal length discussion surrounds a requirement for blending action with emotion, that consideration for a pleasing composition is insufficient and that in addition to any sensation of movement must be one of energy – suspense, agony or climax.  Purpose is to freeze a moment for information rather than aesthetic appeal.


Two impactful images are included on pages 75 and 76, interesting views relating to selective seeing; the eye sees subjectively in a way that a camera needs to be directed.  Whereas the physical eye may discard information from a wider scene in favour of a particular element, timing aside, subjectivity versus the objective frame relies upon lens and technique, both vitally relevant to action and suggestive.   Making movement flow deals with the simple principals of motion blur for effect.  “angular lines, notably diagonals give a sense of motion…a dynamic quality…” (page 80). 


Developing upon the importance of composition and that “it can assist in communicating more effectively”.  Initially Evans seems to ignore elements of design in favour of ‘scale’ alone as the most important feature within a frame.  Steadily introducing aspects relating to depth, angle, shape, rhythm and pattern, somewhat ironically the ‘form’ of the image – more important than initially implied in his introduction.


“The Decisive Moment…has become commonplace of photo-journalism and corrupted.  Cartier-Bresson did not, in his prefatory remarks, attach a definition to the phrase, and it has come to be used to describe a dramatic rather than a visual climax, a story rather than a picture.  Cartier-Bresson’s emphasis was on the visual – on the organic co-ordination of shapes, lines and values.” (Page 106)


Qualification of the decisive moment is a subjective matter of interpretation.  Evans implies that it has come to describe a good news picture, despite often being of a moment before or after – ‘the decisive moment or the best picture’.  That some may satisfy criteria as defined by Cartier-Bresson, including ‘facts expression and significance’, many however do not, concentrating more upon precise visually appealing or symbolic moments that work within a wider context.  ‘The decisive moment’ as described, more often than not, emerges afterwards upon reflection and review, rarely obvious at the time of capture.  Perhaps Cartier-Bresson concurred - “Think about the photo before and after, never during…” (page 59, Social Documentary course notes, Open College of the Arts).


Pursuing this theme in ‘Minutiae of Time and Space’ Evens refers to James Agee’s statement “Luck is one of the cardinal creative forces and the photographer has unique equipment for collaborating with it.” (page 127)  Dealing with moments, sometimes split seconds, Evans explores the advantage in a sequence of images that provide narrative, and the often-subtle nuances that impact upon the selection of one frame over another.


Pausing to consider ‘People’, ironically intervening Time and Sequence, Evans discusses the alternative portrayal of individuals through styles of portraiture.  Some coherence in approaching alternative portraits captured moments apart; the study also relies upon photographs captured at varying times and upon different occasions.  Considering some more fundamental techniques of frame and lighting, the underlying discussion surrounds alternative charaterisation, differences between public and private images; perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the alternative portraits of Noel Coward by Snowdon and Steichen respectively.  Reserved for appropriate inclusion, alternative portraits may be adopted by picture editors to better accompanying images dependant upon relevant context.


‘Sense in Sequence’ considers how successful communication relies upon the use of two or more images.  Meaningful frames that together make sense where singularly they have little or none.  Considering two types, the first is more cinematic, series that depict smaller variations or a story in ‘frames’ the latter more fragmented perhaps the moment before and after the decisive moment, sometimes inclusive.  Here Evans does concede to accepting newsreels may have an edge over the still.  Considering the Challenger disaster, no one still image is as clearly recalled as the motion footage of the space shuttle exploding.  Devoting a small section to narrative sequence some consideration is given to depicting a story more completely, clearly and in visual images.  Often the climax of a recorded series is produced in a larger, main picture.


Dealing with the aspects of capture and photographing comprises a little over half of Evans’ publication.  Chapter 10, ‘Picture Editing’, begins to consider aspects relating to the print and publication of news photography.  Understandably more concerned with content, Evans nonetheless covers many aspects of design, form and composition; whereas he does not dwell upon the “externalisation of inner fantasies” nor linger upon particular mechanisms for their artistic merit, much of that discussed has as much relevance to ‘photography as art’ as to ‘photography as documentation’.

 

 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Americans - Robert Frank

With an introduction by Jack Kerouac, written in 1958, The Americans, republished by Steidl of Germany in 2008 contains Robert Frank's works of 1955 and 1956.

An overwhelming sense of sadness that Kerouac finds in Frank's series is befitting of his poetic style within the preface, resolved and apathetic "This is the way we are..."  No surprise to find Kerouac concludes


What a poem this is...Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film,.. You got eyes."

(Preface to The Americans, Jack Kerouac, 1958)


Working through The Americans, all the images appear particularly poignant, relevant to the time if not still applicable to middle American society today.  Seeking elements and aspects that particularly strike in the context of current personal work, there is much to draw upon.  'More with less' for instance in the shoes upon a desk in 'Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office - Butte, Montana'.


Strength exists in the balanced tonal range throughout the work, harnessing light and shadow in every image.  Shots such as 'Motormart - Los Angeles' stand out for the depth of the blacks and selective focus of attention within the frame.  By contrast, black within white carries racial undertones in 'Charleston - South Carolina'.


There is obvious variety of scene, many shots captured wide, some are composed more symmetrically or with a perceived consideration fro design, others are more loosely photographed implying the action or surroundings extend beyond the frame; more candid, appearing as though chance has played a greater part, 'Yom Kippur - East River, New York City'.


Huge variety exists in the range of subject matter and content, nonetheless a narrative emerges, apathetic acceptance of 1950's America, a the polarised society; 'Assembly Line - Detroit' at odds with the affluence demonstrable in 'Public park - Ann Arbor, Michigan'.


Despite obvious wealth in some such subjects, there seems to be more focus upon acceptance of the status quo, a 'Catcher in the Rye' quality, absence of ambition.  Personally in no position to make judgements or criticism, it seems reasonable and appropriate to select three favourites.


Bank - Houston, Texas:  The small solitary figure; the hat, absentmindedly cast upon a desk; foreground paperwork; shapes of ad between the unordered chairs; natural quality within the many midtones - so much interest within the scene, a strong sense of perspective draws the viewer subjectively into the room.


Elevator - Miami Beach: The natural division in the frame; the two motion blurred figures; the subject, central; her eyes; her gaze and expression captivating - a snapshot revealing some of her soul.


Rooming House - Bunker Hill, Los Angeles:  The detail in the fabric; texture almost tangible; the strong shapes and design, dominant diagonals, obvious vertical and horizontal lines; tonality; shadows; the partially hidden figure, his walking stick and hat providing a final resting place for the eye.

 

 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Photojournalism (Time-Life)

 (Life Library of Photography, Revised Edition, Time-Life Books Inc. 1983)

 

“Carry a camera…go where the action is…multi-picture stories and to anticipate events…be critical of the results…” (introduction)  Describing the disciplines of photojournalism there is a fifth less objective angle – to capture the critical moment that summarises the emotion or sense of the circumstances.

 

Reporter with a Camera

 

Opening pages deal with developments between the photograph and print, interest from a historical perspective, background in artistic woodcuts through technological advances in ‘flash’, Blitzlichtpulver, to processes for reasonable print reproduction, the most notable aspect is the relevance of Joseph Pulitzer.  “Revered today for his endowment of the Columbia School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prizes, he was also the grandfather of all sensationalists.” (page 14).  It appears that his recognition for the form of the photograph in print, together with realisation of an overwhelming appetite for such images, led to the success of his New York World newspaper.

 

Halftones (photographic reproduction) superseded copy (hand crafted illustration), more slowly than might have been imagined.  It seems to have gripped the American public in two ways.  As much through sensationalist use, the tabloid exploitation of crime and sex as in the photograph of Ruth Snyder dying in the electric chair, as in global photographs from unfamiliar cultures for National Geographic.

 

Referring to Paparazzi as a sub-species arising from this appetite, the name developed from a character in Fellini’s feature film La Dolce Vita – Paparazzo, taken from the Italian word pappataci for ‘gnat’.  Leading to questions over limitation and ethics within photojournalism, the debate continues; despite the view that celebrity breeds curiosity and a public ‘right’ to information, questions remain relevant today, such as at the time of Princess Diana’s death whilst being chased by Paparazzi, after the date of this publication.

 

As legitimate news reporting, photojournalism affords respect and admiration.  As well as the lengths to which they achieve the photographs, often at considerable personal risk, it is the instinct with which they capture sensitive and emotional images, unobtrusive, “Standing invisible at the heart of human drama” (page 20).  Discussing a decline following the emergence of television news, resurgence in the ‘stills’ popularity is as much due to the silent recollection and any emotional impact it conveys from memory, as to the photojournalists talents.

 

Somewhat entertaining given the significant advances since the time of publication, this opening chapter closes with – “The camera industry promises new equipment that captures images in a light sensitive electronic chips…” (page 21).

 

In two sections, ‘The Critical Moment’ and ‘The Impact of Colour’, a series of famous photojournalism photographs move through shocking aspects of war, domestic atrocities, political and social commentary to a tragically ‘colourful’ air collision, natural disasters, and sporting highlights.

 

Undoubtedly subject, scene and timing transmit greatest significance, composition remaining key throughout, muted hues assist in highlighting the important elements of those photographs produced in colour.  ‘The Portrayal of Personality’ considers differences in style between photojournalists covering ‘personality’ and those of breaking news.  Contemplation for angle, detail, frame, interpretation and atmosphere seems more important in a series of political portraits, celebrities, artists and actors.

 

The Photo Essay: A New Way to Communicate & The Professional Assignment

 

“…what matters is that the pictures work together to enrich a theme.” (page 92).  Forming a professional coherent narrative involves more than simply the photographer.  Less sensational, often pre-conceived and potentially scripted, as discussed in Pictures on a Page (Evans), the Picture Editor and sometimes designer play a significant role in successfully communicating the narrative or development upon a wider theme.  Produced chronologically or organised thematically, such essays can revolve around people, place, ideas or a specific subject.

 

It appears that elements of modern photo essays developed over a period of time, arriving at techniques of contrasting scale, mood and organisation upon a page; focusing attention upon specific images, larger, whilst adding to narrative with chronological or supplemental details, for instance.  Coming of age is assigned to the manifesto of Life magazine, published in1936.  Assigning a reasonable biographical account of Robert Capa’s rise to fame as a photojournalist, some time is spent subsequently exploring the contrastingly post-war ‘Private Life’ of Gwyned Filling, through the eyes of Leonard McCombe.  Through examples, mechanisms and design, two-page spreads, scale and accompanying text draw attention to the detail; both in essence chronological accounts.

 

Contrasting these with Eugene Smith’s ‘Spanish Village’, Smith’s account is not fixed in sense of a timeline and concentrates more upon the essence of a place.   Images vary in scale, sufficient in detail, all appropriately conveying a sense of life in this space, meaning for its inhabitants.  Another example of observational style photojournalism is demonstrated through a narrative picture essay of Bill Eppridge upon two heroin addicts in the mid 60’s.  Both influenced by ‘story’, a reflection of ideas and emotion seem essential.

 

Interesting is an exercise suggested in examining a series of photographs produced by Brian Brake on an Indian Monsoon.  Inviting the reader to consider how they might reorder and sequence his images to produce a narrative, emphasis naturally favours a wider establishing shot, followed by the people, juxtaposed with detail and lastly some reference to effects of the monsoon; not dissimilar to any one of four subsequent treatments actually produced.

 

Instinct, intuition, sensitivity and common sense seem to describe the prevailing qualities of successful photojournalists.  In a biography of McCombe, mention is made of adventurous exploits, arriving at more mundane technical obstacles or human issues.  An ability to sense an appropriate, possibly unplanned narrative and to produce evocative stills seems to prevail.

 

Techniques of Photojournalism

 

‘Being Prepared for Anything’, ‘The Intricacies of Light and Film’ & ‘Camera Manipulations’ go someway to exploring the different technical alternatives available to photojournalists.  Film types, colour manipulation and camera functions such as the motor-drive have evolved into a different species from the time that ‘Photojournalism’ was published.  Attributes of a film-based medium have been mimicked in a digital arena, these chapters providing an excellent insight into choice of film, filter and techniques.  Some aspects remain relevant whilst others provide a useful point of reference.  The general study of black & white versus colour techniques for instance remain applicable, as do shifts in position or perspective.  The use of different film types however needs transposing into sensor sensitivity.  Many aspects discussed still have real significance such as the “…close-up…for guiding and shaping the viewer’s perceptions…” (page 170).

 

In discussing ‘Narrative Sequences’, the Bryan Wharton coverage of the Osoppo Earthquake aftermath is used as an example, as in ‘Pictures on a Page’.  Proceeding to discuss the benefits of a motor-drive and ‘Cropping for Impact’ covers in brief important aspects more fully considered in Harold Evan’s publication.  Time-Life’s publication ‘Photojournalism’ touches upon a series of ideas, in terms of photographing and for presentation in narrative form.

 

Ending with the suggestion that “Some of the most affecting and memorable images produced by photojournalists emerge from stories about everyday life…portrayals of moments or states of being that are universally familiar.” (page 206).  This is appropriately followed by a final series of appropriate example photographs.

 

 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

New Documentary Forms

Visiting the Tate Modern on 15th July several exhibitions provided real relevance to Social Documentary. Diane Arbus (1923-1971), is noted as an influencial documentary photographer of the post-war era. Work displayed in an exhibition includes better known portraits of circus performers, transvestites, twins and midgets.

Drawing parallels with subjects shot by another Photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, many of the Arbus' pieces included were drawn from more formally posed portraiture; individually less documentary than the Ellen Mark photographs with which I am familiar, as a series they very much serve to comment upon the subjects in a social sense.

 

Within the 5th floor exhibition, Photography, New Documentary Forms, were included the works of several photographers including Luc Delahaye, Mitch Epstein, Guy Tillim and Akram Zaatari and Boris Mikhailov.

 

Between them they cover subjects as diverse as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, studio photography in Beirut, elections in the Congo, everyday life in pre- and post-Soviet Ukraine, and power production in the United States. Each room concerns one discrete project, in which the artist calls into question the relationship between the documentary value of photography and the museum as its proper context. 

(Tate Modern Website, July 2011)

 

Less enthused by the candid, almost snap like colourful shots of Boris Mikhailov, I managed to derive some interest from a series that focuses upon 'the politics of everyday life in the Ukraine during the Soviet era and its aftermath'.  Three pieces by Luc Delahaye were depicted as forming parted of a unique large format series of single plate shots taken in inhospitable locations such as Afganhistan.  Personally I could not see sufficient detail in the prints to justify the means, although large the sharpness and clarity of detail was far less that the medium format c-prints of Mitch Epstein in an adjacent room. His photograph of the Ocean Warwick Oil Platform, 2005 was particularly striking in terms of colour and composition.


Striking in terms of size, detail and composition were three 'landscape' photographs by Guy Tillim, a South African born photographer, including the shot below from Mozambique, sufficiently similar to remind me of the concrete interior from a Dubai Dark Lens photograph by Cedric Delsaux's studied for my last course. 


Other photographs displayed were more in keeping with my perceived interpretation of Social Documentary.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Social Documentary

Fitting perhaps to concentrate on this style of photography at a time of economic hardship, from domestic issues, through turmoil in southern European states and extending to the spring uprisings of the Middle East.

Objectivity may vary between photographers however context and subjectivity seem to remain key throughout.  Social documentary photography focuses less upon technicality, more upon subject; communicating scene and life, techniques serve to emphasise intention and influence perception or interpretation.

 

Resources are quick to relate social documentary to the 1930’s depression, correlating its emergence with Lewis Hine (1874-1940), Walter Evans (1903-1975) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) amongst many.  Routed in the first half of the twentieth century, the U.S. Farm Security Association and similar socio-political patronage was superseded post-war by Life Magazine and other publications, employing amongst them staff photographers such as Gordon Parks (1912-2006).  Myself a subscriber to National Geographic, social documentary plays a significant part in terms of content today.

 

Often chronicling groups with social, economic or cultural similarities, often in conditions perceived as unjust, dangerous or unfair, social documentary photography has political consequences.  Perhaps more easily defined during its earlier twentieth century inception, less clear now are its boundaries.  Where does photojournalism begin or war correspondence overlap, how has it been harnessed in commercial contexts and how is it recognised as part of the social realism art movement.


Images range, commenting upon more personal relationships and family through to geographical, cultural and socio-economic plights.  Researched well, the purpose is to engage through the photographer’s eye, encouraging a sense of consciousness from the viewer for the subject.

 

 

 

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Headshots continued...

Switching agents, an actor friend had received a specific brief for a range of new portfolio headshots.  All natural, a mixture of colour and black and white, some more 'commercial' and father like to accompany the more standard theatre program and Spotlight shots.

After mutually deciding upon natural lighting outdoors, the different clothing options and finding a couple of different backgrounds close by, we spent an hour or so shooting a variety of different portraits.  Seemingly the agent are very happy with the results - interestingly and as expected, preference is for unedited originals versus any softening; perhaps a sign of increasing photoshop fatigue, certainly an indication that the casting agent audience do not wish to be misled...

 

 

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pinewood Panoramas

An ongoing project, Pinewood Group continue to redesign their website and are seeking to incorporate a series of VR's for spaces and stage alike.  

Using an RRS full spherical head and 24mm fixed focal length several hours were spent at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex; a series of 360 rows were captured and processed to generate both working Quicktime movies and Spherical images from which the web designers can animate.

Alongside these were opportunities to capture six shot panoramas from which wide, almost fisheye, images can be created.  Complimenting the interactive versions, these work especially well in instances where the space doesn't easily allow a VR, specifically the boardroom where only one, non-mirrored position presented itself.

Old House

Old House

 

 

Friday, 27 May 2011

HRH Selects

A Royal Rota press pass whilst shooting His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at the request of Hall & Woodhouse.  Visiting the White Horse in Stourpaine, Dorset, a large crowd gathered at the loccation, recently developed to incorporate a Post Office and local store, part of an HRH initiative.

Following a meeting with the PR Representative from Clarence House, we walked through the planned thirty minute event.  Pressured both in terms of timing and the tight location, alongside a national press photographer and TV crew, over one hundred images captured provided the Brewery with a range of selects.

Heading off to Dorchester

Heading off to Dorchester

 

 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Last Minute Lakeside

A little rushed, the call came in to shoot some press photos for a release arranged by Hallmark.  Focusing upon a south coast property development, the brief was for a celebratory shot of three individuals that represented the completion of a new and significant property deal.

Photographing exterior portraits was never going to be particularly viable, the good weather too bright and the dynamic range too great for a reasonable composition within the time constraints; the atrium interior however provided a number of options; well lit, minimalist and spaceous. The key was to capture reasonable selects in a matter of moments grabbed between hectic meeting schedules.

 

 

 

Sunday, 08 May 2011

Ebru Elruku, "Fires Over London"

...Ebru Erülkü started her series About London in early 2004. A newcomer to London, she found the noise and clamour of the city both disturbing and inspirational. Her photographs reframe familiar city sights with fictional coloured clouds, altering our perceptions of well-known landmarks. In "Ravens Flying Upstream" we see St Paul’s

from the south bank of the river, the new pedestrian bridge a bold slash across the Thames, and a cloud of ravens gathered in flight just above the surface of the water. Are they heading west from the Tower of London, signaling the imminent fall of the monarchy? More disturbing,

though, are the red clouds obscuring the City, as if the Fire of London has been reignited. Another portentous shot shows the Palace of Westminster under a hovering red cloud, an ominous view of a city under siege from terrorist attack. 

(The Times, 2005) 


Taking familiar scenes and scenarios through to the fantastical, combining documentary style images, with a glimpse of absurd fictions, altering reality in a photographically representational form. Ebru Erulku, through perceptive and creative use of digital photographic techniques, represents known scenes whilst questioning aspects of reality and detail.

 

Elruku's style makes particular use of colour manipulations, burning to emphasise the dramatic skies above familiar scenes.  In so doing she creates a series of images that through simple enhancement are true to the scene whist extremely representational.


Having made revision, recreating and rebalancing Regis Roof, further manipulations, similar in both colour and tonal value to Elruku's style, generate a similar effect; dramatising further an aleady evocative tableaux.

 

 

Wednesday, 04 May 2011

Revisions & Paul Smith's "Artist Rifles"

Noteworthy and relevant to the theme of altering reality, coming to Paul Smith's work after having revised Regis Roof, there are many parallels that might be drawn.  Retrospectively, opportunity to mimic Smith's  might have proven an interesting approach, placing himself several times within each scene as all the soldiers and characters.

Panoramic slices of military life, training exercises, bloodless battle scenes, more intimate vignettes of brothers in arms, stylised and full of irony but with a message that remains serious.  Images representing war, debate as to whether real or acted out.


Although no claim can be made that Smith's work influenced Regis Roof and One New Change, an obvious parity exists.  With hindsight, limited resource has made fine attention to the texture of a war-zone implausible - shattered glass, looting and other aspects too detailed and obscure as source images for detailed inclusion; 'element' photography would be required, specifically shot for the scene.


Concentrating on a rebalancing of Regis Roof seemed a better approach.  Drawing upon introduced images within both originals, this final scene seems more comprehensive.  Two foreground 'players' complement one another; layering two jets, repositioning aircraft and adding motion blur has developed a stylised, yet more realistic skyline; additional characters including those deposited by a distant helicopter upon a rooftop an introduction that seems to work.  Software permitting the desire remains to generate the intended QTVR!

Regis Roof - Revised

 

 

Thursday, 14 April 2011

'Girl in the Woods'

Girl in the Woods is a short film made on a Canon 5D Mark II.  Asked to come along and take some stills during production, a series of over two hundred photographs were captured.  Working with professional actors, all of the shots captured utilised available light, occasionally with the aid of some reflectors.

Requiring little manipulation save a small amount of tonal adjustment and compensation for the use of Adobe 1998 colourspace, many images captured concentrate upon the action as it unfurls.

 

Requested to develop a series of images that can be further enhanced for 'poster' and advertorial purposes, I took the title actress, Arabella to a spot nearby the filming and created some images that provide the basis for further manipulation along with possible insertion of text and graphi

 

Processing all as colour, temperatures within the shaded location seemed to favour a white balance measurement of between 4000 and 6000, the intention at a later stage to match any colour temperature of the moving images with the stills.  All images seem to work as effectively in black & white, some processed as such to provide some variety.  Angles are similar to those 'in camera' although schedule constraints precluded any specific retakes for stills.

 

A final flash image for the final scene caught in camera may be replaced by a subliminal few frames from this still of the Girl as made up below.

 

 

 

Monday, 04 April 2011

Tower Bridge Reception

Through old colleagues a request was made to photograph an American couple for their special day.  Ordinarily keen to steer clear of wedding photography, the location of Tower Bridge provided sufficient interest and the arrangements were made for a simple approach erring in favour of a more candid style.

Taking some stills the day before beside the river, a subtle placement of the subjects within their setting seemed most appropriate, resulting in a series of images that when desaturated focus upon a set of softer blues and creams that seek to soften.


Having developed a relationship with the couple it fell upon me to capture some images of a pre-wedding party.  Favouring a higher ISO to flash produced some candid and effective black & white images.


Fortunately neither groom nor bride were overly keen for formal portraiture on the day and the ceremony resulted in a series of reportage styled shots that captured the events as they unfurled.  Again, reducing some of the more vibrant colouring resulted in more subtle and attractive finals.

 

 

 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

Whilst out photographing some locations in Devon, a close friend asked for some reference images of a development at the Royal William Yard, Plymouth.

Experimenting with the VR head and software recently acquired, the series of images captured both reflect the space and style of the architecture.

Detail in the buildings, greater for the stitched imagery, allowed for a series of successful QTVRs that allow the viewer to envelop themselves within the space.

Any slight distortion in snapshots from processed cylindrical panoramas offset against the wider perspectives achieved, no real requirement here for further manipulation or processing.

 

 

 

Monday, 21 March 2011

Actor Headshots

Asked by a couple of old friends and colleagues to produce some new head-shots, a simple lighting set-up was adopted for some interior studio portraits.  Selecting an 85mm prime with which to take the photographs, very little processing was required for the 'natural' images required.

Happy with the results we decided that it would be nice to capture some shots outside using natural lighting.  With sufficient catch light from the sky there was no need to use an off-camera flash; the results natural utilising a very shallow depth of field to pin point the character through the eyes.


Ever such a small amount of processing was requested, specifically to the areas underneath the eye.  Using the clone and selection tools it was possible to soften the skin and disguise less desirable shadowing.


 

 

Tuesday, 01 March 2011

Fast Lenses...

Many might argue against the need for fast lenses, especially in 'light' of advances in digital photography where sensor sensitivity is easily increased.  Nonetheless there are many opportunities where they still provide a significant edge over higher ISO's and image stabilisation, especially in the wider focal lengths where sufficiently more detail is held in focus.

Trialling a set of f1.4 primes recently acquired has produced some impressive results and flexibility both in terms of edge to edge sharpness and speed when capturing interior angles awkward for a tripod set-up.  Really keen to explore the 85mm options in terms of portraiture.

 

 

Friday, 25 February 2011

Commercial VR

Having invested in a full VR rig from the U.S., hope remains that Pinewood Studios do indeed choose to shoot a comprehensive set across the portfolio.  By way of introducing the options for both single and multi-row shots, together with a marketing exec, we spent a few hours photographing a number of facilities.

Having eliminated parallax with the RRS system, using Stitcher still took some considerable time to process, specifically where line details running perpendicular to one another, as in ceiling tiles, are upset by other elements such as spotlights!

 

Having spoken with the website designers they are very enthusiastic with the resulting images from Friday's trials.  Requested all are provided as high res spherical images, in advance of animation, allows for further selective processing should needs arise.  Where logos are inserted as in the above image, editing can be applied, using Photoshop, directly from Stitcher Unlimited.


All of the above produced from full spherical 38 shot set-ups using a 24mm lens, the comparatively simple 5 shot single row panorama provides equally impressive opportunities for photographing spaces that can be displayed as banners or in a widescreen 3:1 aspect ratio.

 

 

 

 

Monday, 21 February 2011

Thoughts on style and theme...

Cedric Delsaux’s Dark Lens trilogy lies between fact and fiction, utilising a style of cinematic futurism, a tool to emphasise aspects of urban landscapes.  Describing his feelings whilst walking around the UAE in 2005 as a gigantic set for a science fiction film: "I instantly knew that all the characters from the Star Wars galaxies would be at home here."  Dubai appears ironically well suited to the scenes developed.

Inserting fictional characters and spacecraft into photographs of existing locations almost appears 'real', inclusion acceptably natural in a world where Lucas’ earlier trilogy and latter series of prequels are common to the viewer.  Notwithstanding, it should be remembered that many of the feature sequences for filmmaking were shot in Tunisia.


Exploring the potential that natural landscapes provide is very similar to the role of film Location Manager or Scout.  Where Delsaux takes this a step further is in adopting the roles of conceptual artist, designer and director.  Finishing the pieces to a point at which the declared manipulations do not detract from the photographically representative, there is a visual language that is shared by both advertising and film.


"Since I cannot convey reality, I'll show the perception, the fiction, I have of it….I photographed ordinary places, warehouses, harbours and houses that I tried to render extraordinary by setting them in a particular frame and experimenting with lighting. I continued this project in the suburbs of Paris, but realized there was something missing, since the images no longer seemed that extraordinary. It was at this point that I decided to introduce sci-fi characters. Star Wars was a part of my childhood like many kids my age, but I wasn't a fan. It wasn't necessarily my chosen genre - nevertheless, the power of Star War films overtakes the sci-fi genre by a mile." (Delsaux)


Blurring the boundaries and realms of reality and fiction, the relationship we have with our surroundings and common perceptions are challenged and questioned, forcing us to contemplate through selective use of the digital, to reflect more upon what we consider to be known and fundamentally real.  Hard to resist experimenting, it is possible to image alternative landscapes providing a backdrop for similar scenes:


Coincidentally, another french photographer has developed a similar style of imagery made possible by digital photography, demonstrating that war doesn’t only happen to others, it can also happen at home.  A respected war correspondent and photographer he has used the manipulation of familiar 'safe' landscapes to force contemplation of violence and suffering as if it were on the front lines of a foreign territory.

 

Chauvel created “War Here”, exhibited first in Bayeux at the annual war correspondents’ festival, a visualisation of Paris under siege that has been finished with a 'clarity' and eloquence derived from his own experience.  Possibly prophetic, he has re-mastered images taken throughout his career within urban Parisian backdrops, above a scene from a 1982 Israeli conflict forming the foreground of a scene across the Seine.  


Obvious similarities between Delsaux and Chauvel extend from the techniques adopted to the suggestive undertones; connotations through illusion.  Both question and challenge familiar spaces and landscapes; differing somewhat in their individual motivations, both reflect in their own way upon the scale and fragility of the world we live in; one in a surrealistic and imaginary way, the other in a humanist reflective sense.


Keen to explore a similar theme in my final assignment, the aim is to consider and develop ways of utilising digital photography to provoke the viewer; to challenge reality, assumptions and perceptions of the urban landscape we live in; unreal scenes, declared yet photographically representative, in which enhancements promote reflection and contemplation.

 

 

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Photography and Cinema (David Campany)

Reading the recommendation above, part of the Exposures series (published by Reaktion Books Ltd, London 2008, reprinted 2010), an interesting exploration of the relationship between stills photography and film making emerges.  Initially finding intrinsic similarities between the two disciplines, Campany quickly develops upon underlying differences, determining how they have inextricably diverged.  Over the course of the book he analyses the ways in which each have impacted upon the other.

Focusing more upon the 'still', comprehensive references and examples are drawn from a catalogue of 'movies'.  Campany discerns the ways in which the photograph, and photographer as subject, have been used to great effect in Cinema.  A fundamental underlying principle that the moving image represents present, the photograph by comparison, past, in the capture of a 'still'.


Making little reference to the 'photograph' in a representational sense, Campany also fails to expand upon an underlying 'fiction' that forms the basis of Cinema, a missed opportunity to balance his argument that the 'photograph' cannot fully portray reality.


Many references made to 'photographers' utilising the moving image in an effort to be more 'Cinematic', more emphasis might have been made to 'cinematographers' that seek to employ the techniques of 'still'.  "The photograph may be summative, but it is in the end compelling only in its fragmentary incompleteness" (Page 29).  Campany considers how photographers have sought to redress this issue through a number of mechanisms - double printing, multiple exposure, cubist collage, constructivist assembly, surrealist juxtaposition, ceaseless inventiveness by photographers in an effort to 'mobilise' their subjects.  

 

It should not be overlooked that many cinematographer's seek to 'still' their subjects, applying slow tracking shots across a single panoramic landscape, or lock off a single position with little 'in-frame' action - "The shorter a film's shot the more like a photograph it bets...the longer the shot the more like a photograph it gets too, the continuous stare of the lens..." (Page 36).


In my opinion too much emphasis is made upon peripheral aspects of film making; the advent of talkies in the 1930's references an apparent polarisation between film and photography; it is possible to argue that rather than diverging, cinema simply adopted attributes beyond the photographic, the close relationship with 'stills', continues to this day.


'Picture' is a significant yet single feature amongst many within any production.  Campany gives little consideration to script, design, performance and editing.  If viewing film purely as 'theatre for the masses', cinematography may simply be the vehicle for distribution; less effect than the 'Still', where the image is wholly significant?  Moreover, it is surely possible to add sound to a series of 'stills' within a modern online environment.


Despite the context, too much effort is made seeking artistic aspects within 'film stills'; all too often such images are decidedly and intentionally more documentary in nature, catching the 'moviemakers' in 'action', purely representational.  Rankin's recent TV documentary, where efforts were made to recreate 'iconic' Hollywood stills, gave little thought to a reality that most are unplanned and 'accidental', stolen moments to the side of the set.  An art historian's view may be very different from that of a practitioner.


As a vehicle to progress narrative within a movie, is the 'still' any more momentous than any other aspect of production design?  "Cinema tends to dwell on the photograph as a mute and intransigent object from the past." (page 97).  Perhaps, though maybe no more than any 'prop', equal and considerable talents taken to produce costume around which a story may unfold.  Are the held frames of Gallipoli (1981) or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) any more significant than a 'frozen tableau' of actors at the end of an Act as the curtain closes?


"Most of the photographs that surround us operate somewhere between fact and fiction, between history and memory, between the objective and the subjective." (Page 98); surely as true of the movie as it is of the 'still'?  In a short burst perhaps the moving image adds sequence to a context; as part of a whole or series however, both are a means by which photographer and filmmaker seek to develop narrative, possibly evoking an emotional response.


Extrapolating photographic aspects from within film making - scene first, fictional or representational; this is followed by lighting (DoP), frame (Operator), focus (Puller), format (Loader), processing (Editor).  Every one of these elements is proportionally considered by the Photographer.  All other aspects of movie making, whether they be location, set, performance, wardrobe, make-up, sound or special effects can be applied or ignored accordingly.


Campany himself seems to admit to a greater similarity through inclusion of Gregory Crewdson's Dream House photograph of Julianne Moore (Page 140).  The simple, fundamental difference between Photography and Cinema is that the former seeks to convey everything in one 'still' image, the latter through many frames that can be made to move.

 

 

 

Monday, 14 February 2011

Unreal Colour

Whether debating optical accuracy or wider consequences of its role upon photography and art, colour is a complicated issue difficult to determine. As significant in its absence as in its inclusion, colour is both subjective and objective, incidental to every scene.

Preferring to focus upon form, composition, subject and frame, I have yet to resolve personal prejudices.  Admittedly, reasonable accurate colour inclusion can perceptibly add ‘realism’. As previously learned many advantages arise from appropriate white balance settings, appropriate exposure, and correctly recorded colour and tonal values.


Nonetheless ‘Black & White’ formed the backdrop to my interest from an early age. In the same way that Van Gogh deliberately set about using colours to capture mood and emotion, I find removal of colour can be equally evocative.


Reading around it seems that Van Goch made a significant contribution. Rather than using colors realistically his style was particularly adventurous. Arising from exposure to the ‘impressionist’ works of the nineteenth century he adopted similar characteristics including small yet visible brush strokes and emphasis upon an evocative depiction of light.


Uniquely he applied a more vivid “arbitrary use of color to express (himself) more forcefully". There are striking uses of complementary colours, using yellows and oranges with blues, and reds with greens.


Notwithstanding reverence with which his work is acclaimed, I personally do not find his painting and manipulations aesthetically pleasing. Grateful of his preference for ‘complementary’ combinations, I find distortion of colour too explicit, uncomfortable also with the impressionist style brushwork and unnatural exaggerations to form.


Appreciative of the role colour has to play in accurately presenting natural history or for agreeable scenes of sunrise and sun-set, I am nonetheless unappreciative of colour clutter. Susceptible to distraction by colour when viewing vivid Kodachrome like photographs, more at ease with less saturated imagery, focus more or less upon contrast as necessary. Admittedly occasions arise when more forceful colouring can harness a particular aspect; closed studio environments allow close control assuring complementary combinations.


In personal work there is a marked favour toward subtlety and de-saturation. Digital processing is equally powerful in achieving this, providing techniques for two-tone, bleaching or the highlighting of individual elements; more to my taste.



Applying the techniques to Gecko as illustrated, colour manipulation and effect was focused primarily upon choice of background.  Selecting a stock shot of some coloured glass, cutting and pasting a selection into the Gecko was too pronounced.  Even after applying Gaussian blur, colours were too dull and detail from the background image too pronounced to provide a reasonable effect.


Using the colour picker tool to isolate four colours, applying broad handheld vibrant brushstrokes was the first stage of a process that achieved reasonable results.  Content with the colouring, using the 'darken;' blending option seemed to best preserve detail in the Gecko; flattening, the selection was then lightened before layering onto the coloured glass.  Free transform and some rotation found a suitable position, all four feet placed upon individual glass pieces.  Burning some of the highlights in the Gecko reduced the outline suitably, the finished effect one of a lizard struggling to keep up with the changes of colour in the environment.

 

 

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Composite, multi-facetted views

Burnham Beeches, a woodland area preserved and managed by the Corporation of London, provided the setting, seeking out a solitary tree for a composite treatment.  Ambitious in terms of the scale and potential complexity, I had a clear idea in mind as to the style of cubist image I wished to create.  Having found a suitable subject, options were considered, studying the shape and form from all four sides.  

With a fixed 105mm lens, initially several shots were taken from a reasonable distance with which to stitch a reference image.  Although unnecessary for this scale of treatment, the macro features would have allowed a closer more detailed study of one aspect; intention however was to generate a composite, 'cubism' joiner that evokes feeling, more than merely representational.   A sense of the solitude, age, complexity, shape and form.  Shooting in excess of 200 images, well over 100 were incorporated within the final piece.


Purposefully out of focus, a series of fames were recorded from the floor, middle distance, treeline and sky to produce a 'true' tonal background upon which the composite tree would be placed.  Further selecting different angles and focusing upon individual aspects captured the multi-facetted elements; six series of shots photographed from different perspectives.  Significant elements included a rotted hole in the centre of the bough, strong routes and the ever complex network of diminishing branches.


Learning through experience, despite reducing the size of the individual files to 600 pixel wide images, with every layer Photoshop found it increasingly difficult to render and process.  Despite merging and flattening, as advised by a colleague, I am planning further consideration to consider partitioning the hard drive specifically for use by Photoshop.  In this instance, carefully saving work as it progressed through each stage protected the developing piece although each save or render was time-consuming.


Beginning with the background, large, original sized jpegs were used to form the de-focused palette, a cubist canvas was created upon which to build the tree.  In itself relatively crude, the simple intention was to imaginatively record the general tones of surrounding woodland, sky and floor.  Building the tree from the ground upwards, selects were chosen, trialled, twisted and transformed one by one to create the composite image.  Different angles and aspects fitted loosely together, limiting any use of erasing, the preference was to place pieces together where similar tonal values existed.

 

Seeking the almost surreal effect, branches took on a specifically loose style.  The multi-facetted nature of the mosaic and original angles of view dictating some images be used more than once.  In overall composition, different elements within the branches and sky emphasise individual shape and similarity at the same time; fitting reasonably, not precisely, the exercise focuses more upon 'cubist' inspiration than purely representational photography.

Burnham Cubist Tree

 

 

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Digital Mosaics

Choosing to produce a digital mosaic from a series of overlapping images, the subject selected was a local church in Beaconsfield.  In the first instance, on an overcast day, a set of images was taken handheld.  Seeking a loose approach, focus was locked, all other parameters were left open, each individual shot exposed as a single frame.  

With varying degrees of success both in Photoshop and Stitcher Unlimited, two styles of digital mosaic were possible.  Utilising the former, with opacity levels reduced as each image was layered in succession, a general pattern emerged; further selective processing and refinement generated a reasonable image.  Stitcher unlimited had more difficulty in recognising variations between exposure, several images unincorporated; gaps between frames are acceptable, the narrowing lines of the top left almost adding an additional spire.


Returning a second day, a more controlled method proved more successful.  Mounting the camera upon a tripod, no need for single row panoramic heads, three rows of overlapping images were taken.  Producing fourteen images with a 105mm lens.  Moving closer to the subject a further series was captured, this time in fifty-five separate frames.

 

Still enthusiastic to see how readily Stitcher might render the sequences, both automatically generated seamless digital mosaics, colour and joins very well matched in each.  Rendering the first series, a spherical version was produced.  Truer to the scene, the image is reasonable.  Conscious choice to follow an outline of the subject whilst photographing the various shots, here reflected in the shapes of the two final joined images.  Particular attention has to be paid to aspects that may move, rendering of the flag initially included four different versions and further selective processing was required to delete some layers.


More dynamic, selecting a snapshot from Stitcher renders the final image well.  The subject centred upon the horizontal lines of the knave, all others converge in diagonals from each corner.  Shape of the mosaic reflects those of the subject; the manipulation is wholly declared, remaining true in terms of photographic representation.

Beaconsfield Church Snapshot

 

 

Friday, 11 February 2011

"Bizarre Cubiques"

Convinced that I have neither a prerequisite appreciation for nor sufficient insight into Cubism upon which to pass any critical judgement, dipping into the twentieth century ‘movement’ has proven fascinating.

Cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism's distinct characteristics. 

(online resource: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubism) 


Developing into ‘Synthetic’ work utilising a variety of materials from the preceding painted ‘Analytic’, Cubism appears to extract aspects, elements and multiple viewpoints from a single subject, reconfiguring them in such a way as to remain ‘faithful’, abstractly accurate.


Seeming to evolve rapidly in the early twentieth century whilst continuing to fascinate art, sculpture and architecture today, there is some sense of contextual irony here in that roots of Cubism may have essentially been a reaction to photography; an increasingly viable method of image making.


Apparent exploration of the abstract through photography is somewhat paradoxical, perhaps a reflection more upon the acceptance of photography as ‘art’ rather than in its original representational form.


Unqualified to studiously analyse the merit or skill of particular artists, personal commentary is limited to a simple appreciation. I find the less saturated colours of famous work by Picasso, Braque and Gris uncomplicated. There is undoubtedly a three dimensional quality in the attention to shadow; such brief exploration has thrown up a work of Picasso’s that stands out for me...

 


Photography as absolute objectivity, unmanipulated, unsentimental and sharply focused, if indeed such non-interpretative form exists, might be labelled "straight" and essentially photographic. A question I cannot answer is when photography ceases to be acceptably representational and elements of abstract and surreal dictate its labelling as 'art'. Whether this be in the form of Hockney's 'Joiners' or examples more obviously rooted in cubism, the mixing of multiple photos from the same scene seems to add a new dimension, especially in a pixel cubed digital arena, a conversational reply to the like of Picasso...

 


“Photography only lets you capture instants (even long exposures are only blurred instants). So, I hacked the idea of photography, mixing together many photos of the same scene into a single one, slicing and dicing the images and putting them back together, chronologically. I call the grammar behind it ‘chrono cubism.” – Diego Kuffer

 

 

Tuesday, 08 February 2011

360 Panoramas

A taxing and costly day.  Basic principals behind VR and 360 panoramas learned out assisting in November, having taken delivery of a suitable single row panoramic head, measured set-ups to eliminate Parallax, trialling of a sequence was straightforward.  Debating over whether to purchase Stitcher Unlimited took considerably much more time.  With no student versions available, credit cards facilitated expenditure; reading around the software, user guides and other literature began.

Happy with the theory behind a 360 panorama, applying the advised sequence of nine images to a 24mm focal length at 40 degree intervals in my Studio did not render an image as seamlessly as had been hoped.  Whereas acceptable stitching was achieved when applied in Photoshop CS4 'photomerge>automate', Stitcher Unlimited seemed to struggle with insufficient reference points.


Whilst providing insightful use of manual stitching techniques, results were unsatisfactory.  Twelve images at 30 degree intervals provide the appropriate level of detail with sufficient overlap.  Selecting the area to be rendered, less unrecorded space above and beneath, a bicubic cylindrical QTVR was produced, the best quality ratio seems around 75%.


Hoping to develop this style and, cash flow allowing progress onto full spherical images.  Heading to the local church a further series of panoramic images was taken in an effort to refine my handling.  Key consideration needs to be given to the dynamic range and exposure; unlike a single frame, thought for the tonal values and exposure needs to be applied throughout the 360 degrees.


Finding a reasonable balance, photographing in RAW, it is possible to make further adjustments whilst processing.  Here it is key that, selective processing aside, all adjustments to highlights, shadows and colour is synchronised across the series.  Although Stitcher finds a uniform balance for colour and lighting, an even sequence of images is preferred.


Reducing the black clipping and recovering highlights has better preserved shadow detail and some colour in the stained glass windows.  Reading the user guide, it is possible to take multiple bracketed sequences of the same series, enabling the production of an HDR panorama.  The last remaining issue is how to publish QTVR work to this journal?!...flat cylindrical jpegs will have to suffice for now.


 

 

Monday, 07 February 2011

Recommendations

Gregory Crewdson's Sanctuary is a series of wonderful Studio scenes, personally reminiscent of some in Sofia with which myself and Ealing Studios were involved. Personally never having worked out of Cinecitta, I am aware that the Rome based facility still works today. Famed for the movies of Fellini, Orson Wells is associated with having worked at the Italian studios.


The dilapidated exterior sets included in the photographic series are exceptionally subtle; 'black and white' almost inapplicable where tonal values seem only to fall within a range of greys between. Catching an essence of desertion, many images contain broken set pieces, weeds having taken root between aged slabs and footpaths; personal affection for an image of the Studio entrance, a solitary, evocatively-lit individual framed centre in the security office, looking to his or her left at a lone classic italian vehicle pulling in; storm clouds above offset against the wetted and puddled foreground.


“It was one of those moments when I saw the entire project in my mind,” he says. “Black and white, small format, emptied-out sets. I wanted to make a connection back to the tradition of landscape photography, to try to drain the pictures of any drama, in a sense.” ... the sensationalist became quiet, documenting rather than imposing, looking rather than showing....on display at the uptown Gagosian gallery...(Online Resource - Nowness; www.nowness.com/day/2010/9/23/979/gregory-crewdson-sanctuary#replay)


In contrast, Chauvel's recent work of digitally manipulated montages, war placed near famous Paris monuments, Fears on the City, turns 'quiet' into sensationislm:


To demonstrate that war doesn’t only happen to others, it can also happen at home, there could be the same violence, the same suffering and the same frontlines, Chauvel created “War Here”, exhibited first in Bayeux at the annual war correspondents’ festival. Two years before September 11, he envisioned an intifada at the foot of the Twin Towers, tanks and deadly battles in Madrid and London, never imagining that these capital cities would all be terrorist targets. (Online Resource - La Lettre; www.lalettredelaphotographie.com/entries/patrick-chauvel-the-war-is-here)


Particularly striking is Le Trocadero, an image in which a solitary distant Eiffel Tower sits centre, a fallen soldier lies in the foreground, a destroyed tank a short way into a war-stricken landscape.  There is a degree of realism in all, produced as forceful comment and to invite the viewer to consider a range of possibilities.  Manipulation of the foreground particularly effective here against recognisable backdrops.


Patrick Chauvel (born 1949 in France) has been an independent war photographer since his youth. He went through more than twenty war conflicts all over the world, including the Vietnam War and the Six-Day War. He is also author of some documentary movies. On 21 December 1989 during the Invasion of Panama he was critically wounded in cross fire.

(Wikepedia)

 

 

Monday, 07 February 2011

Close-Up Photography

Still life is commanded by attention to detail and full control.  The photographer chooses the subjects and constructs the image". (Page 7)

Some interest for how things work and appear in relation to still life, natural history close-up provides opportunity for me personally to explore vibrant colours that appear naturally, composing complementary and aesthetically attractive images from the greater graphic possibilities.


Technical aspects covered in the opening chapter very interesting, the mathematics, aspects covering loss of light, diffraction and aberration helped to clarify terminologies that are often used, if not fully understood.  Hints over creative uses for depth of field, adding to experience and a fast developing arsenal of techniques.  


Creative alternatives in the use of soft focus as well as composite applications adding options for further consideration.  Complemented by welcome and explanatory case studies, useful illustration of juxtaposing wide and macro side by side, elements of composition and a means of exploring interest in the ordinary.


Bellow and tilt approaches are perhaps a little too 'scientific' for practical application at present; useful to appreciate, the examples provide accessible reference for any future requirements.  Similarly aspects of "micro" hold interest, some interesting of the detail and technical.  Together with fibre optic photography, all provide options for further exploration and a good overview of a fascinating area.


Exacting standards for scientific photography spill over into the creative standards of magazine and poster advertising.  Here a practical 'artistic' application for close-up and still life is obvious.  A minimalist approach is not something with which I am unfamiliar, personally liking the simplicity of symmetry and and pure use of key compositional elements.


Lighting techniques, enhanced shadows, digital composites and other alternatives provide revision and enlightenment in equal measure, refreshing use of techniques and aspects applied over the past year.  Of particular interest are sections relating to reflective surfaces and shiny objects.  The need to observe the 'family of angles', apply wide, angled diffusion of light sources, consideration for tents and other 'tricks' - most apparent is the level of improvisation in each individual instance, drawing upon former experience and known facts.  On occasion where bar pumps were overly reflective in a spherical panoramic sequence, an interesting tip I learned is to liberally smooth liquid soap over the offending area, a similar yet available alternative to dulling spray.

 


Food is an application of close-up and still life with which I am becoming increasingly familiar.  A personal preference for shots evenly lit within a light tent, alternative set-ups include simple off camera flash and a reflector for fill.  Appreciating the focus upon lighting, texture and impression, I have found colour is also key.  Often shot for web use, the aspects in the book covering white and black backgrounds ring true.


Scaled models and toys reminded me of photographs composed by my stepfather at the Natural History Museum; employing rubber dinosaurs from the gift shop, clever yet simple macro work outdoors often provided large 'realistic' images for exhibition.


When approaching the limited copy work requested of me, careful use of grey cards and Gretag Macbeth colourcharts have proven invaluable.  Here a step further, in simple narrative, Freeman expands upon the need for accurate lighting.   Particularly useful, lighting from all to each of the four opposing corners can  produce an even spread, measured by equal shadows cast by an object held centre; key is to avoid highlighting any one area and fall-off.  Another great hint in terms of mirror alignment.


Concluding with a series, Nature in Detail, parallels can be observed with another publication, Landscape and Nature.  Personally less focused upon colour in general, here it becomes obvious and unavoidable in terms of 'macro's' ability to focus upon hue and saturation.


Useful tips for wet sets and encouraging wildlife to 'perform' for the camera conclude a great read.  As with the other books in the series, excellent case based narrative alongside succinct illustrative examples works really well.  Explored in a logical sequence, the commentary expands relevant to the subject discussed.  Always pictorially stimulating.

 

 

 

Sunday, 06 February 2011

A sequence in one image

In this instance I was keen to explore both an obvious sequence in time together with a series of layered events over a longer period.  Choosing to shoot hand held at around 500 to 1000, the former following action from left to right in 30 seconds required far less processing than the latter, where individual images were recorded over an hour.

Both utilising helicopter and plane activity at a local airfield, a fixed 105mm focal length (my longest telephoto) was selected as the more appropriate lens.  Straightforward in terms of layering, reducing opacity when aligning, as suggested, proved very useful.  As a means of comparison, with the first of the two sequences I applied the automate>photomerge application - interestingly, when set to cylindrical, Photoshop distorted the horizon by way of a dramatic curve, here the preferred option very much to assemble a manual sequence.

 


Simple in terms of background, after layering, simple softening of vignetting was all that was necessary.  Selecting approximately half of the frames shot during the sequence, fewer aircraft might be more believable; artistic aspects giving way to the technical in this instance.  Relatively unexciting, I was keen to explore a more dramatic composition.


Compiling a selection library images for exhibition with Getty, a colleague is currently producing a series of montage shots drawn from plate work for The Battle of Britain.  Some 'true' photographically, others utilising Photoshop to replicate dog-fights, his images are unique in terms of 'in flight' photography of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters.  Photographically representational, the multiple sequences in one image below generates a more dramatic, if a little unrealistic, image.  A greater sense of perspective and depth is evident here, unlike the relatively flat example above.

 


Over twenty separate images were layered to create the scene.  When reviewing, the emphasis upon action to the left of the image led to a revised crop.  This has added benefit in removing some noticeable joins, inaccuracies within lower third.  Partly a result of photographing handheld, further processing could remove, here the preferred option in such a declared manipulation was to crop.


In all instances, each included aircraft is located within the scene as captured.  It is easy to see how an Apocalypse Now style scene might be generated from multiple exposures, a useful tool if continuing in the style of Fears on the City by Patrick Chauvel. 

 

 

Saturday, 05 February 2011

New worlds of imaging

No stranger to panoramas, sequence, joiners and montage, I vividly recall my stepfather producing an enormous 'joiner' for exhibition at the Natural History Museum in the 1980's.  A member of the NHM photography team, his final piece stood over six feet tall and four feet wide; careful use of glue the then preferred means of pasting individual prints together.

Often called upon to create panoramas as a location manager, the art department and designer would request that a series of images be sequenced left to right creating panoramas of potential locations.  On particular occasions we might utilise a longer telephoto when photographing buildings in order that texture detail might be better recorded.  Attention was always, regardless of the size, to reflect a scene accurately ahead of lining up further recces; the purpose, to photographically represent a possible space for further consideration.


In personal work I have enjoyed taking a sequence of images.  As early as 1985 I recall scenes created from a Brownie of Croatia and Paris where I used this technique to generate wide and tall images of coastline and the Eiffel Tower.  Having acquired Photoshop more recently I have experimented with the automate>photomerge application:

 


With varying degrees of success, each experience develops the skills required.  A little premature, I have already trialled the Autodesk stitching software for some hotel room photography.


A form of immersive imaging, early in the autumn, I was asked to take some archival shots for a hotel before refurbishment.  Although not full cylindrical nor spherical VR, Stitcher Unlimited provided more accurate, seamless joins than Photoshop provided.  A notable benefit when applying this style for reference purpose is that, when shot in a vertical frame, detail is preserved.  Sufficiently to select specific areas without significant degradation in image quality.


Shot without a panoramic head there was some noticeable parallax in the series; spirit levels aside, my tripod head alone was less suited to panoramic work and I am currently awaiting delivery of a 'single row' mount accordingly.  Conversant in some aspects such as manual settings, metering and levelling, experience also taught of a necessity to utilise a wider lens when panning wide - with a 24mm focal length, 9 frames at 40 degree intervals seemed to work best.


Later in November and December I was fortunate to assist a photographer in a 'virtual reality' project for Wembley Stadium.  Over two days we captured over forty cylindrical and spherical shots.  Not present during processing I have yet to experience the development into 'quicktime'.  On several occasions we made further duplicates at varying exposures in order that we might show exterior detail more fully in high dynamic scenes.

 

 

Thursday, 03 February 2011

Photographing People

Freeman's publication is predictably accessible and informative.  Photographing People, part of the Digital Photography Expert series, published by Ilex Press Limited 2004, is the fourth of five supplied as a bibliography for Progressing with Digital Photography.  Reaffirming many elements from Level 1 courses, some aspects revise methods from the Level 2 exercises; throughout, fresh interest is found progressing through the chapters.

Having originally made efforts to avoid 'people', personal preference for 'place' and natural history, it is only in more recent years that I have explored and enjoy a human interest in photography.   'Portraiture', naturally and studio lit, has proven a welcome challenge; more candid work equally rewarding, often a strong comment upon scene or action.  Self-reflecting, through study and practice, I have developed a personal liking for drama; finding the human form extremely effective in achieving this.


Pictorially excellent, Freeman's work provides a wealth of example; a comprehensive and wide variety of work.  That the opening pages of 'People Posed' focuses upon human subjects within their surroundings, almost fifty pages before introducing 'lighting', is a refreshing approach.  Particularly striking for me are the early three images of 'An architect and his work' - subject, although central to the scene is placed appropriately within a wider frame; greater weight upon context, focal length and expression than upon a simple full-face frame.


Lighting thoroughly explored, applicable in all instances, examples reference ways in which the face reacts to light.  Techniques and practicalities from distance to subject, focal lengths, lighting applications and portability extend to make-up and digital processing, all following a natural sequence.  As well as reviewing better known aspects of portraiture, inclusion of example is very welcome, for instance Lighting for beauty and the application of make-up.


Digital techniques reaffirm many of those already explored during Progressing with Digital Photography, from simple enhancements that follow more acceptable practice into the debate as to a level of realistic manipulation.  Tonal range and colour space are specifically referenced including adjustments to black & white.


Approach, anticipation, frame and sequence form the backdrop of a comprehensive range of style and case study.  Interspersed with advice on techniques, exposure adjustments, processing capacity (fps), equipment lists and preparation, options for setting, range of subjects and methods for capture, only a flavour; many more possibilities exist and the book successfully whets the appetite.

 

 

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Extreme Distortions

After some thought, a musical theme provided interest, running through the application of extreme distortion and the blending of body parts.  Neither intend to deceive, both declare themselves as degrees of manipulation, no attempt to convince the viewer otherwise.  Continuing on from the critical review, altering reality, applying such techniques in an obvious way alleviates any ethical concerns.  A little surreal, both illustrations are firmly based upon representational photography; whether wholly art or still acceptable within the genre of photography remains subjective.

Photographing some sheet music as a 'still life', I sought a page with sufficient spacing of notes, avoiding a 'busy' frame.  Simple in composition, shot with flash, the choice of a narrower depth of field and soft diagonals was intentional; the former allowing any further distortion to focus upon a central section, the latter to add a sense of movement through the frame.


Well exposed in the central sections of the histogram, contrast was increased as a first step by reducing the white and black points.  Clear in my mind of the effect that I wished to achieve, careful layered selection, cutting and pasting of specific notes was made, each one in turn tidying before a number of transform applications made.  Each in its own separate layer, when positioned, applying individual warp and skew transformations achieved the desired effect - that the notes sit up form the page, begin to float away, musically dancing into the air left to right.


Keen to continue the theme into the lower right stanzas, use of the liquefy tools, turbulence has created a further sense of movement and agitation.  Cleaning up of the pasted notes was achieved through the careful use of a small soft brush.  A flat sheet of music takes on a three if not four dimensional sense "musicality".

 

Routed in animation, perhaps reminiscent of the scene in Pinocchio where inert object within the household come alive, the theme here is by no means original.  Rather more that using selective applications it is possible to take alter the photograph to provoke thought and imagination or to evoke further feelings.


Staying with the theme of music for the blending of body parts, the following image, with effects movies in mind, is perhaps reminiscent of Terminator 2, where metal and body meet, blend, flow and can be manipulated to appear seamless.  Quick to imagine the illustrative image, time was taken to achieve semi-realistic finishes with careful use of the liquefy tool.  As with the former image, the preference was to take one image and create a series of separate layers, rather than combining two.  An added benefit in the avoiding resizing, here the complexity of human and instrument are such that a single shot was appropriate.


Again the use of a diagonal within Fugue Fusions draws the viewer into the scene, adding to a sense of movement and flow.  Utilising the liquefy tool alone has achieved several successful aspects.  After some selective processing to 'flatter' the subject, starting with the lips, the intent for the mouthpiece merge with the lips; more affected use could have seen other facial features enveloped, a conscious choice to avoid such extremities.  


Focus upon the trumpet buttons merging into the figures was intended and here much more time was spent blending the separate fingers smoothly to maintaining recognisable separation.  The sense that liquid metal is only just enveloping the little finger works.  Less noticeable is the blend lower between the left hand and trumpet; using the shadows as a basis for the extent of blend works well and subtly compliments the other aspects.


Personally seeking suitable alliteration for the caption, spellchecking Fugue online revealed further relevance 'contrapuntal composition in two or more voices'...

 

 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Image Fatigue

As part of the London Art Fair at the Design Centre in Angel, London, Photo50 provided an opportunity to view some contemporary work. Of particular interest were the number of visual artists that utilise photography as a medium with which to promote their work. Alongside the smaller selection of 'photographers' there were a variety of 'stills' forming part of a wider body of contemporary art, or forming a section within a series.

Ranging from traditional film, to digital, to paper exposure and overtly manipulated pieces, a number of contemporary artists provided me with insight, that might be further considered supplemental to my next Assignment, Altering reality, A Critical Review...to be continued.


Image Fatigue: Can photographs still be a catalyst for positive social change in a world saturated with images?

Leading photography professionals discuss past and present campaigns that use socially driven imagery and ask whether they still have an impact in today’s media, and if so what makes these images successful in driving social change. The discussion is led by Marc Schlossman (PhotoVoice Trustee and photographer) with Monica Allende, (Picture Editor, Sunday Times Magazine), Liz Orton, (PhotoVoice), Adam Hinton (Photographer and Photo50 artist) and Jessica Crombie (Film and Photography Manager, Save the Children).


Of particular interest given my aspirations to turn a passion for photography into a working career, this panel discussion debated several interesting questions surrounding the trend towards a world where even the most deprived have access to some form of camera.


Jessica Crombie, first to speak, had an interesting perspective upon the debate.  Along with her colleagues she felt that photography was not necessarily suffering from fatigue (an expression more reserved for the profession), but rather that the medium is evolving.  Together with Liz Orton, there seems to be a shift on the part of charitable organisations towards empowering the subjects to tell their own stories.  Historically photographers that 'loosely' photograph in an effort to promote social change have pursued this as a career; the profitable motive justified by the benefits that their work brings to the subject and alleviation of suffering.


Charities, a staple for reportage style imagery, seem to be weathering economic downturn, continually upping their income from savvy strategic fundraising.  As part of ongoing developments in this world, NGO's are keen to promote subject led image-making - perceived as more authentic, more grit and less gloss - in an age where the photograph is no longer viewed as an absolute truth, there is appeal in a blurred, quickly composed, low res mobile phone upload.  An example being the dead Iranian girl photographed by her friend, moments later to become an iconic image of 2010 uprising for every western news channel.


Expanding upon this view, Liz Orton explained that Photovoice were looking to communities traditionally subjects becoming the authors of their own imagery.  These NGO's seem to feel, possibly with some justice, that the professional 'eats, shoots and leaves' to coin a phrase, is too superficial.  By allowing communities to photograph for themselves, there is a greater sense of reality.  This does not diminish the documentary capacity of the photograph but does change the perspective.  My question, had the opportunity arisen, would have been - do you foresee a day where the BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent' is a thing of the past?


Fortunately for aspiring photographers, Monica Allende and Adam Hinton had a different perspective.  Whilst appreciating the trend outlined by the first two speakers, it struck me that despite their honourable intentions, not everyone is a good storyteller.  To expand upon the analogy, I have recently enjoyed the novels of Stieg Larsson and suspect that if any of my neighbours have penned a thriller, they are unlikely to match the well developed and closely edited fictions that line the bookstore; equally I am less likely to ask a neighbour for a print of his 'facebook' profile image whereas I may well choose to purchase a print of Alex Hunter's Self Portrait in the mirror in 1977.


Monica Allende accepting of social change, felt that readers and viewers still enjoy the familiarisation of 20th Century reportage style.  The Sunday Times may introduce new imagery where possible, however the staple diet still consists of similar images to those taken over the past three decades.  Moreover, she felt that image fatigue, where it exists, is limited more to professional discussions amongst artists constantly striving to produce and promote different styles.  Bluntly, if it still sells, it is unlikely that substantial change will occur.  It was worth noting however that there are many more cameras in the world and more likelihood that the front cover may carry a photograph captured by someone other than the professional - assuming they have the address of Reuters to hand?!  


Not so much image, but rather information overload does exist.  As consumers we can tire of a series quickly, or a story that may only be a few hours old - quick to move on, it is perhaps the saturation of story as opposed to an overloading of images that should be reviewed.


From Adam Hinton's perspective it is very much about how to harness ever developing technologies to ensure that it is 'your' particular image that makes the article, if not the front page.  There are as many images as ever, many more in all likelihood.  The issue is how to circumnavigate an increasing complex world to get 'your' work out there.


Subject led photography, empowered by the NGO's to include the high points as well as the hardships, may ironically damage the impact that these very charities rely upon. Would potential donors donate should the one impacting image be cocooned by a series of happy subject led scenes from within an Afghan village?  This returns to my sense of story.  Despite eating, shooting and leaving, the professional has an understanding of the need for 'story'...


An interesting debate for another day, Photoshop having become the adjective of choice, a source of mistrust in photography?  This over discussed subject might better consider that editorial content surrounding an image and its context is just as, if not far more so, dangerous in terms of misrepresentation!?

 

 

Monday, 10 January 2011

Rankin: Shooting Hollywood Stars

 ‘Hollywood’ is perpetuated by photography; photography in associated media and iconic stills images has sustained the magic.  Promoting stars to newspapers and magazines; photographers in the film-world are skilled at drawing out character from within as well as the natural attractiveness of the subjects.  Early Hollywood capitalised upon soft lights and diffused lenses to produce dreamy and romantic images; a further creamy, soft effect heightened by shooting wide open.

Filmmaking is born out of attention to detail and ritualised preparation, especially in terms of make-up and design, visual stimulus.  A person beneath the mask; to capture not just an image, but a performance…to inhabit the character of the subject rather than being obsessed solely by form…‘give a man a mask and he will show you his true face…’ (Oscar Wilde)


Escapism.  America was hooked by movies.  Developing in the 40’s, sexual innuendo and connotations was used to sell movies.  Lighting, both critical and delicate as an aspect of photography, adapting to set-ups for different environments adopting different techniques and equipment. 


Carefully constructed images of the method acting post-war period, a break from the elegant, to the outcast – statements made as much with wardrobe and style as with performance.  Lighting techniques changed to suit dramatic shifts in production, more dramatic, sharpened images versus the earlier soft lens. 


Stills often maximised by the relationship between photographer and subject.

Subjects would look at the camera as though they’re looking at somebody, or look through the lens and speak with their eyes.  Stars recognise the power of photography to further a career – epitomised by Marilyn Monroe.   Bert Stern’s portraits of Marilyn, high key, few shadows – ‘she was the light’; still the superstar today, owing largely to the iconic photographic images of her taken before she died.


Reportage style became the new look of the 60/70’s – what was the story behind the image?  Actors liked 35mm for the opportunity that the cameras provided rather than the burdensome medium studio shoot.  Some photographers have a natural ability - Annie Leibovitz makes a star look like a movie star – nobody looks ‘poor’ in her photographs for Vanity Fair, the new Hollywood glamour.


A photograph should take you on a journey with the person, albeit possibly for only a few moments; to scrutinize what may be going on with the photographer or the photographed.  Portraiture – ‘to capture an essence of the person that endures…’

(Notes taken from the BBC2 documentary, 8th January 2011)

 

 

Friday, 07 January 2011

Paul Strand

Fortunate to receive an Aperture Foundation publication, part of the Masters of Photography series, Paul Strand (Published by Aperture, New York in 1987) includes a forward by Mark Haworth-Booth, then curator of photography at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.  Believing myself unfamiliar with Strand as an artist, it was quickly apparent that I have witnessed and viewed his photographs many times.

"Paul Strand took infinitely great pains to preserve the wondrous fragility of the world in his work." (M Haworth-Boot, Page 7).  Born 1890, Strand studied art at the Ethical Cultural School in New York.  Studies extending to the fast developing Cubist movement, it is appropriate that he was recognised by Alfred Stieglitz, of whom he produced a candid portrait at Lake George in 1929, Stieglitz responsible for exhibiting in the U.S. early work by Braque, Picasso and other protagonists of Cubism.


On page 6 of the forward by Haworth-Booth, reference is made to "mastering an extended range of middle tones almost unique in twentieth-century photography."  Evidence obvious when exploring the published images, all of his work incorporates a tonal range that almost 'declares' colour upon which the shades of grey are based.  Famous images discussed include "Blind Woman" and "The White Fence", New York 1916 and 1915 respectively.


Taking time over each image, three apparent genres become clear; portraiture, all of which goes beyond the superficial into the minds and emotions of the subjects; still life, abstract in form and very likely innovative of its time, an amazing attention to detail and form as in "Akely Motion Picture Camera", New York, 1922; and landscape, a balance between images from his home in New England and travels abroad.


From work in Mexico in the 1930's, to post-war Europe in France and Italian photographs from the 1950's through Egypt, to Africa and Romania in the 1960's, his imagery honestly seems to capture the people and place; reaching far beyond objective documenting, artistic qualities are self-evident.

 

One particular photograph caught my eye: Tir a'Mhurain, South Uist, Hebrides, 1954.  An evocative range of tones and detail in a far reaching landscape; from the foreground horses across the bay to the silhouetted home on the small peninsular, to the hills behind and onto another faint island in the distance, details preserved in the clouds of the sky above.  Reflecting further upon the pony bottom left surveying his friends on the beach, it becomes clear that the reflections of the three in the sea beneath is of particular significance.

 

 

Wednesday, 05 January 2011

Light & Lighting

Standing apart from other publications, Michael Freeman's series of 'Digital Photography Expert' books have a specifically example based and practical approach.  Light & Lighting, first published in 2004 by Ilex Press Limited, covers a range of regularly found realities, providing excellent usable reference when out photographing.

Whereas Light: Science & Magic (Hunter Biver Fuqua) predominantly focuses upon studio lighting applications, The Essential Colour Manual for Photographers (Chris Rutter) provides a wide technical approach to colour gamuts and tonal range, rather more in keeping with Peterson's Understanding Exposure (2004, Amphoto Books, the Crown Publishing Group, New York), Freeman's series progress from The Photographer’s Eye, ensuring a better understanding of environments common to the photographer.


A fine line between seeing the world as an 'indexical documenter' and as an 'artist'; both require seeking an interesting perspective by the photographer upon 'ordinary' scenes.  Simple use of high speed shutter to freeze a moment, depth of field to isolate a subject, application of HDR and multiple exposures, choice of polarising or graduated filters can generate effect.  Simply manipulations of light, rather than dictating, they should assist by providing 'materials' the photographer can use when commenting upon a scene.  Photography is after all, 'writing with light'.


As well as touching upon the technical in the opening chapter and throughout, the book considers a variety of techniques inevitably saving time, if not enabling the capture of otherwise missed opportunities.  For example, undoubtedly trial and error would have resulted in some success when next caught in a storm, simple direction for long exposure ensures a quick set-up when next opportunities to photograph 'lightening strikes' arise.  


Promoting alternatives, often finding scenes flatly lit, in mist, dust, under cloud or haze, greater appreciation for digital techniques provides knowledge that processing might generate an interesting image from an otherwise uninteresting scene.  Timing, understanding of environmental and engineered lighting, together with options for enhancement during processing enfranchise the photographer.


If self-critical, formerly poor at reading around, better use of literature and online resources have benefited me greatly; constantly provoking contemplation for the styles of others, as well as approaching subjects and scenes with an improved confidence and skill.  Supplementing personal familiarity and experimentation with learned techniques and the experiences of others can only improve my understanding and overall results.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Movie Stills: Alex Bailey

A colleague from my feature film days, Alex is a contemporary movie stills photographer whose credits, too numerous to list, include The Boat That RockedThe Other Boleyn GirlAtonement, Phantom of the Opera, Enemy at the Gates and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the latter of which we both worked.

Many of his images are immediately recognisable as iconic images from recent British Feature Films starring Keira Knightly, Jude Law, Rene Zellwegger and Angelina Jolie.  Making contact in late 2010 in the hope that I might assist at some point in the future, Alex kindly pointed me towards a book he authored, published independently by imagebarn, Movie Photos, The guide to marketing and publicity photography.


Extending from Alex’s own background in photography through scientific, press and pr work to his first experiences on the set of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, the book deals with all aspects of feature film work.  Having personally worked in a range of departments, his insight into the roles and daily aspects of those on set, as well as how this translates to the movie stills photographer, is extremely succinct and accurate.  As a ‘department of one’ he has carefully observed our mutual colleagues and surroundings.


Most welcome are his thoughts, suggestions, advice and experiences in relation to capturing images of artists and crew alike.  Confirming many questions over approach, technique and timing, emphasis is a much upon the discipline of feature sets as it is upon the role of photographer; sheer determination, hark work as much as talent alone.


Alex’s talent is obvious; experiences extensive; insights accurate and thought provoking.  Relatively new to the world of commercial photography, perhaps the comment most akin to me: ‘to confirm my own self belief and determination to conquer my insecurities’.

 

 

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Adding Shadows

No doubt more ease of task is derived from a selection such as watchface where individual component elements are available, the key to shadows are in direction, perspective and depth.  Some consideration toward the ordering of layers and background necessary to produce the correct sequence, when all the levels are available, realism and effect are very much down to personal considerations and preference.

Manipulating watchface, each step applied as described, the measure of distortion, blur and shape of the shadow were the primary considerations.  Lighters by contrast was more challenging, a number of accurate selections and layers needed to be created from the original jpeg with which to make a number of different shadows.  Selection, fill, pasting and layer ordering complete, to render the final image was then a matter of measure and personal imagination; adding a gradient filter as in the examples.

 


Selecting trumpet, an image photographed from above and behind, shape through silhouette, some decisions as to the perceived lighting effect and shadows needed consideration before starting.

 

l image, increasing of the canvas size was necessary before duplicating layers and generating a white background.  Despite the contrasting original, selection of the subject proved more tricky and fine-tuning at 300% was necessary to make a sufficiently accurate copy with which to 'cast' the two shadows.  Choosing a dramatic diagonal to the left and a smaller right as potentially created by a closer top light generated an interesting three pronged effect.

trumpet with shadows

 

 

Friday, 10 December 2010

Nadav Kander

A London based photographer, his portraiture and landscapes form part of the public collection at the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A. One of the most successful and well-known photographers of today. His work ranges from portraits, advertising, magazine covers, music album artwork to landscapes, interiors, and nudes. Missing Kander's exhibition at the Flower Gallery in October 2010, reviewing his work online, it is easy to grasp the essence of his photography.

Particularly striking are his more recent series of Yangtze Photographs, a pictorial narrative of Kander's journey, divided into four chapters entitled "The Mouth", "The Upstream", "The Flooding" and "The Upper Reaches". Having personally visited China back in 2006, the images strike a chord with me; he has captured an essence of China that depicts a 'current industrialist' society, many undertones of poverty, pollution, a scale of proportions between the Chinese people and their vast overpowering surroundings.


Colourcasts within many images of the series, almost limited to unsaturated sepia effects, emphasise the foggy river landscapes and lack of sunlight, adding atmosphere and depth, highlighting specific elements, most notably the human subjects within their industrialised settings.


(Sources: www.nadavkander.com; Google; Flickr; Wikepedia)

 

 

Monday, 29 November 2010

Wembley Stadium

Assisting on a VR shoot upon a return visit, the weather was bitingly cold in the Stadium bowl.  Internals more comfortable all locations captured were cylindrical or spherical panoramas captured from an effective 18mm field of view.

 

 

Friday, 26 November 2010

20 years in business...

Already attending an old friend and agent asked if wouldn't mind capturing some images of the company's 20th anniversary drinks reception.  Obliging, the real issue throughout concerned the low level lighting conditions that prevailed; opting to remain inconspicuous and shoot without flash, suitable ISO levels ranged between 3200 and 128000.  In processing a little noise reduction and curve adjustments produced some moody exposures; all images capturing the mood of the event.  Reducing some saturation and raising the colour temperature produced a uniform grade throughout the sequence of forty selects.

 

 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Gravetye: advertising and archives

A really productive two days shooting hotel room interiors for Gravetye Manor - some for advertising, others ahead of substantial refurbishment, to provide archival reference.  A bitterly cold morning on the second day enabled some fabulous misty dawn shots across frosted West Sussex fields.

 

 

Saturday, 06 November 2010

Back to business

When asked to photograph for Pinewood Studios I couldn't have been happier.  The brief to capture some shots of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport whilst on a visit to the facility.  Nerves might have nearly got the better of me...after having spent 15 years in the movie business as a manager, revisiting in a creative capacity was at the least daunting, feeling the pressure to deliver images that the client, my former peers, would like and be able to put to good use.

Workflow and preparation were key; deciding to carry two separate bodies, one with a 24-70, the other with a 70-200 I had most focal lengths covered.  Arriving early I met with my contact and we recced the three locations - a sound mixing studio, motion capture facility and the underwater stage.  Bumping into numerous old colleagues started to settle the butterflies, my new challenge the ambient lighting, low levels.


Flash was not going to work; the moments to catch shots would be fraught and limited in time; 'hack' style news photography that relied heavily upon dialling up the sensor sensitivity.  Each location recorded acceptable exposures at between ISO 3200 and 6400; mixed lighting suggested that using the automatic function was best, a little lowering of CT after during processing to remove the incandescent tinting.


As expected I had as long in each space as it took for the subject to chat with the resident technician or client.  Quickly moving on from each part of the Studios in advance to ready for the next:


Specifically after the second shot of this sequence, Discussing techniques, the client was keen to have an image that captured the variety of facility at Pinewood.  Here capturing the Secretary in animated discussion, unaware, the mixing desk drawing in the viewer, an image captured on the screen top left.  Assorted elements of design provide for an excellent image as envisaged.


Unforeseen after the recce was an increase in temperature and humidity on the Underwater Stage.  No sooner than stepping onto the the gantry, the lenses steamed up dramatically.  Working my way around the waters edge and using the longer focal length lens, this image captures well the moody lighting, reflections from the water as lit by an 18k, atmosphere generated by steam from the tank, laughter between Politician and Producer, 'people unaware' of the lens.


No sooner had I finished the photography, jumping in the car I raced back to my studio, uploaded in Lightroom to convert the RAW files to high and low res copies for the client.  Photographing between 11am and 12, any selects were scheduled to be forwarded onto trade and local press alike that same afternoon.  A little selective processing was necessary, reducing luminocity of the noise generated by the higher ISO settings and some white balance adjustments; the client had the images by 2pm and a call to carry out further photography the next week indicated their approval.

 

 

Thursday, 28 October 2010

VR - Cylindrical & Spherical Capture

Wembley Stadium the setting, in this instance I was assisting the most experienced Stills photographer I know - our brief, to capture a shot list of images for the Stadium to utilise in pitching to Producers and Location Managers alike with a view to attracting film and television work.

A sixty plus shot list, many requesting 360 degree set ups, the decision was made first thing that, given the brief, all images should utilise VR in a cylindrical format, some spherical.  From these, any simple elements, views and static frames can be selected from a high quality panorama. Previously having managed twelve set-ups in one day, the desired thirty was ambitious, some locations requiring multiple exposures to provide HDR options between shadow and highlight areas.


Initially setting up the spherical head in the main entrance to the Stadium, a lighting stand with flag arm was utilised as a guide and measure for vertical and horizontal alignment as against 'found' markers; fine adjustments to locate the lens nodal point taking some time before we were happy that no movement occurred in frame between the stand and markers.  


Equipment utilised was a D300, 14 to 24mm DX lens at equivalent 18mm focal length, Manfrotto Spherical Head and tripod.  Selecting ISO 800 for the interiors the preferred focal length was f/11 across the majority of images.  Delayed shutter setting and a remote cord ensured minimal movement and maximum clarity.  A choice to shoot RAW and medium jpeg was made.  Owing to the need for identical colour and focusing within sequential images, Manual Focus and appropriate White Balance presets were chosen for each VR shot, avoiding variables that automatic settings might produce.


In every instance precise measurements were taken in order: horizontal levelling of the head; vertical levelling of the lens; exposure adjustments; focal range.  More often than not, cylindrical VR shots were captured, in approximately a quarter of set-ups, spherical was the preferred format.  Along each cylindrical rotation, 8 frames were captured through 45 degree points of the 360 rotation; for spherical set-ups, eighteen further frames were recorded - 8 at 60 degrees up, 8 at 60 degrees down, top and bottom.


Throughout, consideration was given to reflections - the family of angle issues and details within the scene.  On occasion, several repeat shots were taken; extensive note taking of each set-up with a hand space frame recorded at the end of every position.  Accidental knocking of the tripod and a slip of the head early on required the resetting and shooting of the same scene.


Between 8am and 6pm twenty-five set-ups were achieved delivering twenty-nine of the original shot-list, several more options, and countless static frames within each image besides.  A long day well worth the effort.

 

 

Monday, 18 October 2010

HDR

HDR image manipulation - a series of three photographs were taken from within the Studio looking out through a window.  Simple in composition and keen to remove any colour clutter, all three, within Lightroom, were converted into a two-tone format before continuing.

All three captured from a static tripod position, the first was captured three stops lower than the metered conditions of the external grass to avoid all clipping in the windowsill and brighter highlights; the second exposure set for the interior walls; and the third purposefully overexposed to provide greater detail within the window blind.

 


Importing the amended files into Photoshop CS4, the initial step was to select the two higher exposures.  Layering the lighter on top of the mid tone version it was possible to make a quick selection of the vertical blind elements.  Feathering and inverting accordingly, all except the protected centre blind area was brushed back to the original exposure using a large background erasure at 100% opacity - a version of the middle tone image was effectively created with increased shadow detail.  Flattening and copying this revised image into a new layer of the original image (exposed for the exterior), a number of selective adjustments were performed.


Initially selecting the entire window frame, at 25% opacity a broad sweep of the clipped window sills and exterior was made.  Concerned that despite feathering this burning may have bled unnaturally around the frame a second eraser brush sweep was made after having refined the edge further.  Happy that a better overall exposure of the external and window frame had been achieved, selection of the individual three frames was made one by one.


Feathering and contracting each selected window in turn by six pixels, with opacity set at 100% the background of the upper layer was erased to reveal the well exposed exterior beneath.  Happy with the overall results, flattening the image I then increased the contrast a little to add greater depth to the details within the frame.  Experimenting with the dodge tools, I added a little more tone in the lightest regions of the window sill before saving.


I need to be personally more disciplined in saving versions of images as I make changes.  The history tool appears to only record a finite number of amendments, a simple click of a brush adding a new backward step.  Unlike Lightroom which seems to record more or less every adjustment from the start, in Photoshop data is lost beyond approximately twenty state changes.  This can be extremely frustrating, in particular when experimenting with different adjustments, finally to decide that they do not achieve the desired outcome and the earliest recorded state is not far back enough!

 

 

Monday, 11 October 2010

Landscape & Nature

With ‘seasonal colour changes and a variety of outdoor photographs to capture in succeeding projects, it seemed appropriate to read Michael Freeman’s Landscape and Nature, part of the Digital Photography Expert series.  All quotations below are taken from the 2004 edition, published by Ilex Press Limited, Cambridge.

My own photography began back in the eighties with landscape, always reluctant to photograph people, as a young photographer I always concentrated on scenically interesting compositions, often involving wildlife and farming; developing from this was a passion for panoramic compilations, manually stitching and overlaying photos – a good discipline when later photographing for Location Managers and Film Productions.


Retrospectively I will have more often placed the horizon and subjects centre within the frame.  More recently and with some learning I have experimented more with elements of design, features and stylised compositions.  Striving to capture the images ‘in camera’ I have erred away from over manipulation, looking to available light and weather to provide atmosphere and an impressionistic image of a realistic scene.  My experimentation with abstract has been wholly limited to closer shots of texture and naturally found shapes.

 

location or holiday; whereas satisfaction exists in copying known images, a personal voice is increasingly desirable.  Digital processing has allowed degrees of correction and individual stamping of shots, as in a holiday ‘snap’ above where it has been possible to treat the assorted colour channels in a black and white image to emphasise the clouded conditions and sharpen city features.


Finding panoramic style images, including those to which Photoshop stitching can be applied, best captured with a 50mm fixed focal length on manual settings from a tripod, I have often asked of assorted suppliers what they deem to be an acceptable ‘landscape lens’ – wholly subjective, they’ve always erred toward 24mm or less.

 

Whereas there remain a number of benefits from the dynamic perspective this provides, I have become increasingly convinced that there is no rule; more often than not heading out with a fixed 50mm captures much of a scene, an option always existing to turn the lens into a vertical frame and achieve a stitched effect as described above.  Moreover, a telephoto lens as a landscape too often allows me to isolate preferential features and frames (sometimes a frame within a frame as might be naturally found) – “A long focal length…is an essential tool in landscape photography for closing in on details and compressing perspective.” (Michael Freeman, page 18).


Creating a scene that is intelligible from all too often a chaotic starting point often leads me to select specific items of interest upon which to focus.  Finding more natural compositions in foreign locations and coastal landscapes may be in part a reaction to unusual spaces; the familiar woods and fields closer to home all too often overlooked.  Perhaps higher viewpoints are more easily found in foreign parts, easier to imagine an image from a found scene?


Magic hour is something familiar, all too often having an early or late call in the film industry so that the camera can maximise drama and effects of the lighting.  “It allows completely different kinds of image, from the deep colour saturation with the sun behind the camera, to crisp silhouettes when shooting into the sun.” (Michael Freeman, page 45).  Moreover I have personally found that when including water, the often-stiller conditions are to be found at these times of day and provide opportunities to catch glass like surfaces and reflections in lakes and streams.

 

From an early age, much of the landscape photographs I have captured comment more upon the weather or light than upon the scene itself.  Instinctively I have looked for a personal view of a particular scene, keen to capture the moment at which I am photographing, rather than recording a shot that contains lots of chaotic detail.

 

Of particular interest to me within Michael Freeman’s publication was the section ‘Packing and carrying’.  Personally preferring to travel as lightly as possible I have recently invested in a monopod and slingshot style of camera harness.  Whilst enabling me to travel with only the essentials there are undoubtedly times when I wished I had more than a limited selection of lenses or perhaps a tripod – my personal style and voice somewhat affected by the tools at my disposal.


I have a couple of canvas bags, one smaller allowing me to carry-on if travelling, the other for day-to-day use.  Combined with a roll-on rigid case, most of my equipment is readily portable and well protected.  With every piece of extra equipment comes a range of additional consumables including batteries and chargers.  I try to keep these to a minimum when out on foot, for instance preferring the self-timer mechanism to a release cord or infrared trigger.

 


I have only experimented once or twice with photographs from the air, the first in ’96 when shooting Leavesden Studios from a helicopter…a lesson learned is that a chopper can bank in the air easily when appearing stationary – always use a camera strap to prevent dropping kit out of the window!  No doubt providing many more options in terms of perspective, this is a medium of photography I remain keen to develop, expenses permitting.  Underwater is similarly of interest although I often found waters murky when diving and appreciate the need for specific locations or use of specialist lighting to capture the most dramatic elements.


Woodland I read with particular enthusiasm – surrounded by options, I all too often overlook local opportunities.  Empathising with the passage “…composing woodland photographs generally involves finding clear viewpoints and simplifying the image. A mass of branches, trunks and leaves can make confusing patterns and get in the way of middle-distance shots….when the trees are in leaf, the shade deep inside most forests is deep. This is a lighting problem….shafts of sunlight are interesting….but when it simply dapples the scene, it adds to the visual confusion.” (Michael Freeman, pages 94 and 95).  Making order out of chaos seems to be the talent required.


Developing in his narrative to discuss man-made Cityscapes, rhythms within city life, street furniture and architecture, takes me immediately back to Level 1, People and Place.  Having already stated that much of my early photography excluded people, more recently I have begun to develop a keener eye for urban photography and landscapes.  More satisfaction when recording places with people than I had previously imagined; architectural details providing interesting graphic elements, street-life and markets providing canvases upon which to develop personal style

 

Covering an enormous range of photographic styles and opportunity, Landscape and Nature, the Digital Photographic Expert by Michael Freeman is a text to which I shall return.  Consolidating much of that learned and experienced, there are many useful passages that advise on approach, timing, context and equipment.  In particular it has allowed me to confirm planned aspects and develop approach for certain assignments and projects planned over forthcoming weeks.

 

 

Monday, 04 October 2010

New Deli - food, not Commonwealth games...

Shooting for a new startup Deli company, utilising a D3s and 105mm macro, selecting ISO 200 seemed prudent to maximise the dynamic range.  All high key shots as per the client brief, a little processing was necessary to emphasise the white backgrounds, bringing in a graduated filter accordingly from each corner where appropriate...

 

 

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Ethically acceptable blending...

Ascertaining that many blending modes within Photoshop produce very stylised results, applications are likely to be artistic in trend.  Further to the entry below, 'Real or Fake', is it reasonable to merge images in such a way?  My opinion here is divided.

Fundamentally, any form of manipulation is fakery.  To adjust colours and white balance, a little dodging or burning is nothing new to photography; to achieve an image that fairly represents the scene as caught.  Presentation is key...fiction versus non fiction - the overriding factor.  A painting is by definition an artist's impression, why different for a photograph?  A still life or composed scene are by nature fabricated, for an end result.  How might this be acceptable in either medium?   Is the purpose to deceive, moreover to trick the viewer unfairly, possibly leading to behaviour that would otherwise be unnatural - for instance to purchase a product, unfairly represented in a photograph as purer than in reality?!


I have been asked to photograph a hotel whilst scaffolding works are taking place, to photoshop these elements out during processing; given the normal state of the property is without works, the choice is maybe dependant upon how realistic any intervention may be.  Marketing, the purpose on this occasion, viewers making an informed decision for a weekend break upon the basis of a series of images that communicate general ambiance and setting.  No doubt scaffolding would put people off and conflict with desirable outcomes; versus preference for photographs that remain 'true' - the commercial application is at odds with ethics.  Any final choice or selection will depend upon fair and truthful representation of the property as it would, and will, appear when the scaffolding is taken down.


For 'Arts' sake, perhaps blending and manipulation are more acceptable.  A gallery context for instance where impressions, provoking thought and contemplation, as opposed to 'sales', are intended.  Within such a setting, space often allows achievement of this through a series of images; therefore is there any need to over manipulate or blend two photographs into one where they might be viewed side by side and the viewer able to blend them using their own imagination?


Taking two contrasting images taken for Art of Photography, Heavy & Light, and increasing the canvas size of each toward opposing corners produced to versions that lend themselves well to blending:


Here the original 'heavy' image' before the canvas extension, the weight sits well lower right in frame.

 


'Light' by contrast benefits from a position higher in the frame, the feather seemingly floating downwards; this image benefiting from the extended canvas to the right and bottom.  After some dodging of the sharp top left images of the first photograph, the latter was copied to create a second layer.


Assorted blending methods add little value here, most favouring the background image of the weight; indeed in contrast to the tinting of black and white and colour images in earlier instances, with both images placed upon a black, low-key, background, limits options.  'Dissolve' at 50% opacity produces an even image, combining and blending both contrasting elements into one.  Much pixelation and distortion, the resulting combined images appears reasonable if more artistic, suited to a canvas print or similar.


Difference "Subtracts either upper layer colours from the lower layer or the vice versa, depending on which has the greater brightness value. White in the upper layer inverts the colour values in the lower layer; black in the upper layer produces no change."

OCA Notes, Progressing with Digital Photogrpahy, Page 66


Clearer than the faded 'dissolve' blend where blacks from both layers cover the objects, 'difference' produces a more realistic effect.  Both contrived still life, the combined 'contrast' Light & Heavy image may have been as easily captured in one shot, more effective from one frame; also truer and ethically more acceptable?


Juxtaposition of two opposing objects is a powerful communicative tool.  Some found scenes produce obvious and natural juxtaposition; in art and photography manipulation at both the point of capture and / or during processing are regularly adopted to present dramatic contrasts through two or more objects.  Visual metaphors provoke reaction and can be a strong tool in both art and advertising.  Perhaps the mere inclusion of an attractive model can be interpreted as a form of manipulation; very few 'ordinary' people have corresponding figures, clothes and jewellery misrepresented?


Living in a contemporary world dominated by images, whereas we might desire nature and natural, nurture and experience have taught us otherwise; as a child we accept much more at face value hence the stringent rules on advertising before watersheds on television; as an adult we begin to subconsciously evaluate all images, starting from a point of scepticism, striving to make sense and and prove reality....healthy?

 

 

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Thoughts on Aperture

Undoubtedly a thoughtful read, having recently subscribed to Aperture foundations quarterly journal, issue no. 199, Summer 2010 has some provocative content. Several images and articles stand out, the first of which Federico Fellini, March 1965. Photographer unknown.

Remembering little of Guido Anselmi's trials whilst studying 8 1/2 at the Faculty of Film & Drama at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth in 1993, Fellini nonetheless sticks in my mind as one of the early artistically influential motion picture directors. The image above, although of Fellini himself, has clear parallels with his film, itself semi-autobiographical.


'Aspects' came to the forefront when viewing the published work of Josef Koudelka. Previously inclined toward a conventional 3:2 frame, I have on occasion produced 10 x 8 prints, panorama's have been limited to wide horizontal scopes. Two of Koudelka's images follow this format - Lingotto, former Fiat factory, test track, Turin, 2004. & Nivolet pass, Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, 2007. All four others by contrast have been produced in a vertical aspect (3:1); the subjects are all emphasised greatly as a consequence and looking back over some of my work, it has never registered that such experimentation might add real value.

 


An example that immediately springs to mind is of The Orwell Bridge in Suffolk, and of old harbour cranes in Ipswich, photographs taken for Level 1: Art of Photography - some similarities present the subjects as a natural choice.

 

Photographs by Kelly Poe strike a chord - considering a range of options from which to photograph four selects for a seasonal assignment, her series incorporates a variety and style that provoke inspiration. Most notably that woodland need not always incorporate every aspect; to date my tendency has been to photograph in the vertical concentrating upon trees - variety of shape, colour and drama are as easily conveyed in a horizontal frame - Jeffrey "Free" Luers, "Happy," Fall Creek, Oregon, 2007.


Of all images in Issue 199, I find myself returning to Pittsburgh (Man Cutting Grass), 2004, from the series "a shimmer of possibility" 2004-6 by Paul Graham.


Perhaps it is the near silhouetted individual, the obvious action, the unambiguous scene, the isolated rainfall, the haze covering the sun with flare...unexceptionally exceptional!

 

 

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Scenes from Gravetye...

Scenes from Gravetye

 

 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dynamic Range revisited

"At the Lo 1.0 ISO setting, which represents an ISO equivalent to 100, the dynamic range can be more restricted compared with the range attainable at the base ISO level, as the sensor has a tendency to become over-saturated quite quickly, which results in highlight detail being clipped.  If you need to drop the sensitivity to achieve a wider aperture and / or slower shutter speed, I would avoid Lo 1.0 and use ISO200 in combination with a neutral density filter instead.

(Simon Stafford, The D3S Review- Page 28, Nikon Owner Magazine; Issue XXXII; 2010)


Increasingly appreciative of dynamic range capability and resulting camera performance, it was very interesting to read the extract above as part of a review on the Nikon D3s.  Given the Nikon D3 and D700 have identical Lo 1.0 ISO settings, it is inferred that previously assuming ISO100 would provide a platform upon which to measure dynamic range is not correct.  Selecting ISO200 and retesting the D700's performance as in Project 1 resulted in a very similar dynamic range of approximately 9 full stops; not much discernible difference - a semi-controlled environment within which the performance was measured, when photographing a dynamic range within one image, this new advice is worth bearing in mind.


Interestingly, as advised and discovered during testing the article continues to identify that the dynamic range of the D3s has

 

"a highlight limit at least 3.5 stops above, and a shadow limit around 5-stops below, middle grey (assuming accurate exposure of course!)....Setting an increasingly higher sensitivity...causes a progressive reduction in the usable dynamic range...to be expected due to the amplification process associated with a raised sensitivity setting..."

 

(Simon Stafford, The D3S Review- Page 28, Nikon Owner Magazine; Issue XXXII; 2010)

 

Clipping highlights feared over losing shadow a noticeable trait, correct exposures are definitely more easily measured alongside histograms.  Nonetheless the extract above confirms earlier findings that -

 

'an effective, practical dynamic range of the D700, the mid-grey is indeed one stop above centre confirming the risk of burnt out highlights...mentioned previously, I have a tendency to underexpose by up to one-stop when photographing...I suspect that to a large extent this is also a semi-consious trait in an attempt to preserve the highlights in favour of shadow detail.'

 

(www.jp-journals.blogspot.com, Project 1, 18th August 2010)

 

In discussions earlier this week, a colleague suggested that there are more occasions where he likes to preserve shadow detail, less concerned with losing highlights; different perspectives perhaps, albeit this was in reference to important clothing and dark detail within a scene; sky or lighting can be lost, there is a point at which clipping within facial detail might render an image unusable.

 

 

 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Real or fake...

 "Instant Composition. Question: How do you make a candid animal even more photogenic? Answer: Find one background by something dramatic or majestic, like soaring jets or clouds and mountains. Whatever you shoot, send it to us: we want to see what you saw..."

(Page 14, National Geographic Magazine, UK Edition February 2010)


An extract on a seemingly well timed photograph of six fighter jets flying past in the sky, upper left of frame, over a residential home in the US, the householder's pet dog captured looking to camera in a perfect candid portrait, balanced lower right?


"Getting Real.  We get a lot of letters at National Geographic.  We received several from readers insisting that William Lascelle's photograph on the February 2010 Your Shot page was a fake. Our readers were right....


The Your Shot rules specify, "Please provide only the original unmodified camera image."...Lascelles told our writer the frame was a "once in a lifetime" shot...Lascelles has now admitted that he fabricated both images he sent to us. We apologize for publishing his work...


Now we're looking more closely at all Your Shot pictures. We recently discovered that Ivan Dobrev's December 2009 Your Shot photo of a blue sky in a dim warehouse was faked as well. We're sorry for publishing that one too....


...So go out and capture what you see. It'll be better than anything you can make up and paste together on a computer screen...We want to see what is real."

(Page 12, National Geographic Magazine, UK Edition june 2010)


An important lesson in relation to digital manipulation?  Perhaps more a comment upon truth and honesty - albeit the images would not have been published in the first instance, declaring the process behind the image as a processed 'illustration' rather than a genuine 'photograph' might have saved public naming and shaming!?

 

 

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Evaluation of blending modes

Of the 22 blending modes within Photoshop's layer adjustments many are so stylised as to provide little regular benefit for realistic photographic processing.  Opacity applied to the images provided only served t place greater emphasis upon the background, diluting the Pelican subjects.  

Obvious that many of the layer blending options are designed for a range of design applications and not specifically for photography, a selection add value to potential photographic processing and all with degrees of selective manipulation and adjustment can be applied to achieve certain stylised photographic effects.  

 

Returning to Colour blends and options for colouring monochrome or tinting colour images, selecting the image of Notre-Dame two new jpeg versions were created, the first black and white the second colour.

 

Selecting the black and white version image, a solid blue adjustment layer was added in the layers palette.  Applying the 'Colour' blending mode and reducing the opacity to 50% has coloured the monochrome image whilst preserving the grey levels. 

 

Many applications might be appropriate for this simple blend; gradient colour layers affect the relevant areas selected.  Basing the same alterations upon a colour version of the same image, a solid orange layer was added and 'Colour' blend applied; resulting in a 'warming' effect, specifically adding colour to the buildings, here some definition has been lost that would need to be recovered using unsharp mask and levels; moreover it was necessary to reduce opacity to 12% so as not to overpower the existing colours.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Comparing notes...

Spending the best part of a day with a professional friend and colleague, much time was spent learning best practice regarding workflows, back up and comparing notes on the benefits of different software.  Personally a devotee of Lightroom I shall either win a few brownie points, alternatively I may find myself owing £76 in kind!  ACDSee is software that I had not seen previously and seems a valuable alternative to Lightroom or Capture NX; virtues of the latter when photographing with Nikon RAW became obvious -

When processing a RAW image in either Photoshop and Lightroom and saving as such, the software attaches a linked file preserving the processed data accordingly.  This system has potential to fail however when provided third parties the images, a risk that they may open them independently, thus seeing the unprocessed original.  Safest in terms of high resolution formats seems to be TIFF where all of the processed data is recorded alongside within the image file.


Still deciding upon the merits and cost of Epson's P-7000 Multimedia Storage Viewer, our get together provided me an opportunity to see one in the flesh.  Excellent in almost every aspect, the only criticism is an inbuilt function that renames any amended image; a real danger if saving or exporting from the device as  reference to the original file is lost accordingly.  For the purposes of a backup and review in a portable device, the real issue comes down to cost and personally, although a little more cumbersome, I am likely to opt for a laptop and portable card reader in preference.  In contrast, looking at the latest photo papers from Epson, I was really impressed with the matt finish and overall quality.  Inkjet certainly rivals any commercial alternative for smaller prints; I have been very happy with results to date and am keen to experiment with different papers.


I have always been led to believe that as a rule, the lowest shutter speed for a lens is equal to it's lowest focal length.  Looking over years of outstanding photography I was really impressed by some shots taken on 'Spygame' handheld at 1/15th.  Generally we agreed lenses with vibration reduction work best handheld, around 1/60th maximum, 1/125th or above safest for most other prime lenses; these images however were remarkable, shot at night, albeit on a reasonably high speed film.


When we last met I meant to ask about sourcing a sound blimp, JPI really the only option for motion picture stills photography....I'm looking forward to the day I can justify purchasing one:


The Jacobson Sound Blimp is a housing for professional 35mm Canon and Nikon cameras which effectively eliminates the noise created by their operation. Silencing is essential in areas where extraneous noise cannot be tolerated or would prove distracting; i.e., motion picture and television sound stages, theatrical plays, surveillance, wildlife, and sporting events such as golf. Furthermore, the Sound Blimp provides protection for cameras where environmental conditions can affect delicate camera mechanisms. It helps protect cameras and lenses from the adverse effects of sand, dust, and sudden changes in temperature and humidity. 

(http://www.soundblimp.com)


The camera sits in the case, adjusted so the viewfinder and lens are centred when the Blimp is closed, Closing the cover, a lens tube is fitted completely over the lens and clamped in place. A switch at the bottom enables control of the autofocus and viewfinder information....I'm looking forward to a day that I can justify purchasing.

 

 

Monday, 06 September 2010

Trio of differing sessions...

Over three days, three sessions required different approaches.  Workflows remained much the same in each instance, processing specific to each client, outcomes all good and feedback very positive.  Wednesday centred around a commercial shoot for a brewery; Thursday a kids and family portraiture session as a favour for a colleague; Friday further portraiture with a commercial angle.

Photographing a series of public houses regularly for a brewery, approach and preparation is becoming satisfyingly straightforward.  Early starts ensures any opportunity to catch a low daylight 'magic hour' shot, whilst ensuring that all interiors are photographed before business commences at around midday.  On this occasion, north facing, most externals were better photographed later in the morning (ideal lighting in this instance would have been in the evening - cars in the car park and time constraints didn't allow).  Taking some time to explore the surrounding fields and woodland a shot of the property was possible from behind captured approximately seven thirty in the morning.


With an abundance of flora in the hanging baskets a couple of clear sky shots provided the client with the necessary selects of the front; fill adjustments for the shaded fascias were necessary, a little increase of hue and saturation within the sky also; a slight increase in colour temperature from the automatic WB generated the desired photographs.


Interiors ideally require considered lighting, a luxury not available for these sessions.  Utilising a flash for fill only, much reliance is upon long exposures and choice in terms of which areas acceptably suit shadow and highlights.  Key is to provide a full range of interior images that the client can use for websites and other promotional material.  Less clutter, time is spent tidying away table furniture, rearranging chairs and lighting candles for a little atmosphere; in this instance the fire was lit for a series of images.  If a hotel or guesthouse, bedrooms and reception areas become a requirement, on this occasion greater daylight made these shots relatively straightforward.  In processing the primary aim is to provide full scaled images with a range of appealing tonal values; happy to clip windows in favour of shadow detail, any colour adjustments are reserved for a slight lowering of RGB saturation so as to remove any colour clutter.


Food by contrast is more reliant upon good exposure and vibrant colours.  Some time is taken to select appropriate dishes from a relevant menu for each venue, timing essential to capture any dish whilst still fresh.  Formerly using a product tent photographing against a white backdrop, a specific client request for more 'atmospheric' placement has led to a shift in approach - for simplicity and again to meet time constraints, a single flash is used as a key light, a reflector for fill, cautiously monitoring the histograms and making output adjustments accordingly.  When processing colours, most reference is from memory although the intention is to start using a Macbeth colour chart more often than not.


Thursday by contrast involved photographing a family of three children with their parents.  Provided as an auction prize by a colleague, intention was to produce a number of selects from which a canvas or print might be chosen.  Opting to use available light and 'found' backdrops at the family home, weather allowed for the entire session to take place in the garden.  Utilising flash set two stops lower than the exposure enabled subtle yet clear catch light in the eyes of the subjects.  Selecting a 105mm focal length for individual portraits ensured comfortable space between the camera and the subjects.  Late afternoon sunshine provided some options for shooting with the sunlight creating a natural rim light behind the subjects, flash for fill.  Whereas ISO is set lowest and shots are caught form a tripod for the shots above, with portraits, flexibility and manoeuvrability take precedence, on occasion amplifying the sensor sensitivity to compensate.


Processing the selects to provide the maximum choice for the clients, from the variety of presets upon offer, two further styles were applied - creamtone (near black and white) and cold tone (a softer bleach bypass effect) both of which lend themselves well to contemporary style canvas and prints.  For the full colour versions, colour temperature adjustments were applied in some instances to add 'warmth', small adjustments to saturation if necessary.


Friday's client was a hotel for which photographs have been taken on two earlier occasions. Initially shooting images for a brochure, the second session had been for food photography - as a Chateaux and Relais venue, the chef and marketing team were keen for shots of the entire menu and a selection of al fresco style images.  Providing over two hundred selects, these images have subsequently been used in a number of articles ranging from those for the Royal Horticultural Society, to the West Sussex Times and Chateaux & Relais' own website.


Portraiture of the new head gardener and two of the management team was the brief for today.  As for Thursday's family session a choice to photograph in available light seemed appropriate, seeking out a number of shaded locations within which to shoot a series of differing expressions and poses.  Both children and adults are responsive, patience and concentration levels a little more favourable when photographing the latter.  Nonetheless considerate of photographing in a working environment, approximately forty five minutes was allowed for each subject.


Two series of portraits for members of the management team worked well with natural backdrops, interior and exterior.  Some wide shots with the hotel in the background providing some variety.


Photographing Tom the gardener first, a request had been made for more candid and job specific shots as well as natural portraiture.  Covering several areas within the beautiful hotel grounds, bright sunlight often proved too strong and contrasting, a few instances however where a mottled or clipped effect worked well.  In processing some recovery was necessary, with flora of real relevance, an opportunity to experiment with the HSB channels provided some stylised results for the client.

 

 

 

Friday, 03 September 2010

Journals for the digital age...

Always intending to keep a diary for the sake of memories, an online journal helps to record, structure, reflect upon, plan and develop thoughts, skills and development. It is not just a diary or record of ‘what I have done’, but a record of what I have learned, tried and reflected upon. Its content can be very loosely structured and need only of relevance to 'you', albeit in the wider world... Personal reflection is important, a learning process and a habit of recording, analysing work and evaluating decisions never bad.

Succumbing to Facebook, my many years of scepticism, I confess to finding the network unexpectedly satisfying; touching base with close friends, colleagues and acquaintances with whom I had previously lost touch...much amusement derived from those friends who regularly post humorous exploits and links.

'Twitter Twats' (to quote John Cleese) I just don't appreciate yet - perhaps it's the self gratifying assumption that stangers will follow your musings avidly?  Undoubtably there are benefits for 'stars' and other people in the media who wish to keep their profiles high.  Obvious attraction in following the developments of theatre through Kevin Spacey's; Eddie Izzard's a little more 'check out this video' than expected; where most follow a handful of Tweets themselves, Stephen Fry with his own following nearing 2 million, is amazingly signed up to follow 53,385...?!  Almost 'tabloid' in format, small wonder it has tripped up so many celebrities and politicians in recent years.

 

 

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A weekend in Paris

Travelling for three nights, the journey was broadly split into three - sights on day one; Versailles and the Arc de Triomphe at night on day two; Sacre Coeur and Canal St Martin day three.  With much ground to cover a few selects are worthy of inclusion in the journal - degrees of processing vary from image to image, some utilising dynamic range, colour adjustments and alterations to the HSL accordingly.

Photography in The New Russia 1990-2010, an exhibition at the Maison Eurpeenne de La Photographie Ville de Paris, noteworthy in large part due to the contrasting stills of domestic Russian family life and the streetscapes that capture pro Stalinist demonstrations circa 2000.

 

Polaroid work by Anna and Bernhard Blume perhaps too stylistic for many; whilst extending to a massive collection of images, both the format and self portraiture approach appealed to a narrower audience?

 

Amongst several other galleries of interest, were a set of eight images captured over a two year period by Leonid Tishkov and Serguei Bendikov - La Lune...; a number of nighttime scenes and photographs, all containing a purpose made ligbtbox in the shape of the moon.  Both a wonderful concept and brilliantly executed set of stills, images were both poignant and comical - a highlight! - http://www.cm art.eu/PAGES/UK/tishkov_photos_moon_uk.htm.

 

 

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Altering colour with hue & saturation

Taking an image captured last spring in central park seemed an appropriate subject upon which to apply meaningful changes, altering the colours with hue/saturation levels; the intention was to produce a series of four images, focusing upon the different seasons.

The original image, photographed in spring, contains a reasonable degree of pink blossom; mixed with green leaves, a faint blue sky, an acceptable tonal range between the dark tree and lighter sky, this photograph captured the 'feeling' of spring well.


Limiting manipulation to those elements controlled within the Hue / Saturation / Brightness adjustment layer, each season was created manipulating the RYGCBM channel, by varying degrees.


Some necessary choice as to desired outcome was necessary before applying adjustments for the 'summer' scene.  Most notably how light, saturated or contrasting the image should appear.  Given the original was taken close to midday, a decision was made that each image should depict the scene at a similar time.  


With daylight particularly strong in summer, a hotter feeling within the white balance seemed appropriate - washed out, whitening with a hint of blue in the sky generates a sense of midday summer sunshine - early or late in the day might be depicted cooler in temperature, a saturated blue sky, more vivid orange colouring throughout.


Given the original contained quantities of red and magenta value within blossom 'pinks', unnatural elements in respect of the subsequent seasons, these tones were particular areas of focus for hue and saturation manipulation.  Detailed alteration to the shape and texture of the blossom would be necessary if a fully realistic retouch, robust removal of the blossom necessary.


Focusing upon the intended summer 'colour cast', by increasing the hue and saturation of the reds, a lighter yellow tone is attainable, replacing the saturated pinks of the blossom.  Reducing the saturation of the magenta in the fallen blossom followed by further, less aggressive, alterations to all six channels produced the lighter, green and yellow scene; generating a sense of summer.

 

Small increases to the red tones with more violent adjustments to the yellows achieves the red and orange tint within the leaves of the autumnal scene.  As with the summer version, the blossom cover on the floor has been desaturated and brightened, formerly a distracting pink hue.  As with all seasons, slight alterations to the blue and cyan levels manipulates the sky colour accordingly, here a decision to decrease the natural hue to a desaturated yellow seemed to compliment the reddish autumnal feeling.

 


Anticipating that winter might present the biggest challenge, in particular the leaves that would ordinarily be absent from such a scene, removing all the RYGM saturation levels, saving the blue of the sky, has in created a sense of a frosty snow covered scene; remaining shapes of the leaves and blossom almost pass as clusters of snow.  Retaining the blue cheats the observer from viewing the scene as pure black and white, achieving a sense of the intended season.


Certainly incomplete in terms of realism, the manipulated scenes would when analysed show themselves to be 'fake'.  At a glance the hue and saturation alterations have achieved the intended meaning; the requirement here to amend colours using hue and saturation and generate a sense of four separate seasons from a single image.


With considered choice in relation to subject matter and scene, other colour and level adjustments ought to make realistic seasonal variations possible.  Colour focus needs to be predominantly in any sky, trees, and other natural subjects.  Neutral tones in the images above have shown the shadow, mid-grey and highlights more difficult to manipulate realistically - well exposed images with necessary detail will lend themselves to better seasonal manipulation.

 

 

Monday, 23 August 2010

Silver Pixels

Silver Pixels, an introduction to the digital darkroom, Tom Ang (published by Argentum, London, 1999)...

On an effective sabbatical from serious photography at the time of writing, it is amazing how many advancements in digital photography have been made in a little over a decade.  Conversely, it is interesting how so many digital techniques, largely those established and developed by Photoshop still exist and have evolved.

 

Digital equipment, techniques and work flow now equal most forms of silver-based photography, it can be argued that the form surpasses some conventional photographic aspects when considering ease of sensor amplification and white balance adjustments, no need for different stocks and numerous filters.  Almost a piece of history, Silver Pixels by Tom Ang harks back to a time when hybrid photography seemed the norm; the conventional capture harnessing newly heralded forms of processing.

 

A general introduction to many of the fundamental aspects of digital processing, several subjects were of particular interest:  More general are a number of references to technology, software, processing capability, memory and resolutions - both display and print; all have developed to an extent where they are now 'robust' and with thought through work flows, as 'stable' and 'secure' as any film roll or negative.

 

Whereas many ink-jet prints may not have the longevity of conventional photographs, they remain versatile.  Photographic data stored with precise details of processing, can be replicated to near exact matches in the future; silver based processes always carrying an element of chemical conditions.  Moreover, digital may be more durable in the long-term, physical negatives may perish where data may be continuously archived and refreshed as new technologies supersede existing.

 

'Contrast and levels' (page 31) introduces levels, a standard that seems set to stay.  Alongside Curve adjustments, newer forms of data analysis are based upon older photographic conventions, such as the Hurter and Driffield curve, films response to light and development.  Reinforcing much that has been learned and revised in recent years, conventions for analysing and manipulating digital images have remained consistent:

 

Practically speaking, the value of the Curves control is being able to extend the apparent tonal range of an image.  Typically, film records at low contrast at two main regions - in the shadows (the so-called 'toe' region) and in the highlights (beyond the so-called 'shoulder' region).  Here the curves run close to horizontal, so there is minimal gradient of contrast.  This means that changes in the brightness values in the scene...With the curves control, you can lift up the curve at the shadow end to make it a little more steep in the shadow region as in the highlight region while leaving the mid-tone 'gamma' the same...

(Page 33)

 

Sections on Channel Mixing, Levels, Hue and saturation, reiterate much of the developments explored in recent posts...manipulation of colour extending to enhancements that mimic older techniques such as infra-red and mimic art.  Published over a decade prior to today's date, correction of distortion, compositing, cloning and layers appear basic; a particular benefit of Silver Pixels being that the time of writing ensures few assumptions as to the reader's knowledge of digital techniques - a very coherent introduction.

 

There is nothing new about compositing but thanks to digital technology, it is now much easier and more powerful than ever

(Page 82)

 

True of so many conventional techniques outlined throughout the book, digital techniques are described throughout as complimentary to former processes - 'you can now recreate them all with minimum fuss and expense' (page 42).  A comprehensive glossary at the back reinforces terminologies still relevant.  Written intuitively and in a conversational style an appropriate quotation summing up the publication is found in the first paragraph:

 

It seems natural to call it 'silver pixels' as it (the book and process it describes) is a hybrid of silver-based photography with the pixel-based structure of digital images.

(Page 10)

 

 

Wednesday, 04 August 2010

Aspects & frames

Vertical versus horizontal....and which aspect?

Stills photography as a medium more often than not engages a horizontal frame with an aspect ratio of 3:2 or 4:3.  Portraits often suit the vertical; specific subjects 'tall' in appearance also seem to work well.

Becoming increasingly popular for clients to request different crops and frames, some serious consideration for these elements are essential when framing.  With monitors and screens increasingly supplied in a 'widescreen' aspect, websites and other forms of presentation are requesting formats that were formally reserved for anamorphic filmmakers.

The example below indicates due consideration for the intended final format whilst out photographing on a commercial shoot for a brewery website; the ceiling was largely taken out of the final frame in a 970 x 475 aspect:

 

 

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Meet Pursuit Delange

Invited by Howard, headed to Leicester Square for the screening of an interesting new style of film with regards film financing....deviating somewhat from the more conventional Product Placements found in feature film, the idea is definitely worth further development and exploration.

30 July, 2010 | By Sarah Cooper - Screen International

Journalist turned film-maker Howard Webster has come up with an innovative way to fund his first feature, a British musical comedy called Meet PursuitDelange which began life as a column in Broadcast magazine.

Webster is inviting advertising companies to integrate their campaigns into the film, which he is billing as a “male Bridget Jones”, in return for a part investment in the finished feature. 

There are up to 11 slots available for advertisers to fill, including the title and end sequences and during the song and dance numbers which form natural ad/viral breaks.

Advertisers will have the chance to recoup the money it has spent on buying the slots, as well as sharing in the film’s profits.

Webster has already shot a 25 min pilot for Meet Pursuit Delange, which he screened to film and advertising execs at the Empire Leicester Square in London yesterday. Based on his own experiences of the London media set, it stars James Callis, alongside ex EastEnders star Craig Fairbrass.

Since the screening, he has already had an offer of a distribution deal for the 25 minute short promo alone. Cinema advertising company Pearl and Dean are onboard to put together the deals with the advertising agencies and brands.  

“Think of the Cadbury’s Gorilla, the Drench Hamsters, the Evian Babies or the Shake and Vac ad appearing as bespoke song and dance numbers within a Four Weddings and Funeral type movie and you’ve got what we’re doing,” said Webster.

He added: “The film business in the UK has become too reliant on public subsidies for too long. It needs to evolve and become relevant as a commercialised activity. We’ve introduced one new business model working with advertising agencies and media agencies that actually puts the needs of the investor (in this case the brand) first.  We have two more models to bring on stream later in the year.  It is about making money and making sense commercially from the start.”

 

 

 

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Quotation - David Levi Strauss

"It's not that we mistake photographs for reality; we prefer them to reality. We cannot bare reality, but we bare images - like stigmata, like children, like fallen comrades. We suffer them. We idealise them. We believe them because we need what we are in them"

 

 

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Two stops faster than a cinematographer...

Extremely fortunate, today brought a pleasant lunch with a very friendly, familiar face; one of the most experienced stills' photographers in the Film business for whom I carried bags as a runner on Goldeneye.  Good conversation and an opportunity to catch up combined with some advice and notes worthy of further thought.

Workflow was an area where notes were compared - the benefits of Epson's multimedia storage and reviewing devices along with a 'three backup' system, especially worthwhile when additional degrees of human error might occur through third party involvement.  CF to Epson to PC/Mac to Disc to External Hard Drive to Archive - maintaining several copies at any one time Lightroom forms the basis of much processing, interestingly therefore to be reminded that camera chips are designed for data transfer by manufacturers not Adobe and therefore through bespoke manufacturer's software - as a result Nikon Capture has been reloaded and will likely become the primary import program of choice once more.

Touching upon calibration, conversation moved toward colour casts and temperatures - exposure meters less important with digital reviewing capabilities in camera, temperature accuracy is paramount in an business where skin-tone and colour are all important.  Although a good meter costs £600 upwards, they are a worthwhile investment, many having the duality of ambient and flash light recording features.  Several readings can be recorded for each scene, the photographer's 'eye' best placed to judge which element should form the primary focus for a manual Kelvin setting in the camera.

Reminiscing, anecdotes for plate set-ups in dangerous conditions, conversation moved to new technologies, including Virtual Reality set photography developed in the last decade - if nothing else this provided an interesting education away from the primary role of a Stills Photographer.

In an industry increasingly saturated by inexperienced individuals with no sense of set-discipline or etiquette, lower budget Productions favour daily engagements than stills professionals on a weekly basis - a false economy often worsened by unforseen schedule amendments.  EPK's may become a thing of the past with Photographers expected to make use of in camera HD Video - duplicity that eventually dilutes expertise.

Ending on a more positive note, there are some very innovative technologies worthy of watching - the Sony NEX-5 - employing features from DSLR's including sensor size, interchangeable lenses, focusing systems and rapid frame per second shooting, whilst considering some of the point-and-shoot benefits including portability and functionality; 'sweep' panoramic functions may well be complemented by 3d capabilities as new software develops - although 'gimmicks' currently aimed at enthusiasts this may well form the basis of new professional DSLR development over coming months - watch this space.

Discussing the ISO range of the D3s, sensor amplification developed in the last three years has proven really beneficial.  Stills' photographers aspire to be two stops faster than the incident key light and T Stop used in cinematography - having to capture gesture and expression fast enough using set lighting provided by the Gaffer; in an arena that naturally precludes the use of strobes or flash, higher ASA and now ISO proves an invaluable tool, sensor developments ever useful.

You know that you are in excellent company when contemplating the avoidance of wedding photography and your luncheon partner agrees, only ever having photographed two - one as a favour to Dicky Attenborough and the other for Val Kilmer!  Six degrees of separation and all that!


 

 

 

Monday, 12 July 2010

Candid Anniversarys

Having been asked to take some pictures at a family occasion there is a certain degree of pressure to deliver whilst feeling a little on the touch line in terms of the festivities...a blessing in disguise as there is always a reason to excuse oneself from a lengthy conversation with great aunt 'whatshername'...

All captured with the D700 and f/1.4 50mm I found myself selecting more candid images from those captured, looking for expression or a sense of scene more than stock portraiture....some success:

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 08 July 2010

Lighting for food

Somewhat experimental the commercial brief was for a different style of food shot from the generic white backed stock style image; ideally placing the dish in context.  To date the simplest set up has been to photograph items from a menu within a light tent using a flash to generate a brilliant white background, the dish semi visible, the food heavily contrasted - using a narrow depth of field to pick out texture, colours or succulence.

Trial and error, for a shoot a couple of weeks ago, adopting a full studio lighting for the interior selects, a little flash fill for the exteriors delivered a series of images that placed the individual menu items within a hotel setting.  Interestingly the chef still erred in preference towards the white stock style results.

With constraints upon time and limitations within the scene on this occasion an alternate method of lighting the food with a simple off camera flash bounced from an umbrella to the left and a reflector positioned to the right of the food, creating a moodier, low key image.

Whereas it was necessary to stop down to compensate, the implied detail in the background has delivered shots that the client likes.  A possible progression or development would be to employ a simple second slave flash to lighten the background more than provided by ambient conditions.  Lifting the dishes toward the camera might provide a better angle as the necessary 'profile' angle' to capture the background does not maximise the presentation upon the plate as much as an image positioned forty five degrees above.

 

 

Tuesday, 06 July 2010

Self portraiture...

It seems less than honest continuing to use a portrait taken seven years ago?!? Business partner Foggy and I have been threatening to spend an hour or two capturing 'current' shots for the website.  Finding myself with an hour to spare and dry weather I found some shade and reeled of a self-selection from which to choose...

...feels uncomfortable as an exercise, a little vanity driven although my reasons were justifiable; to use an older 'flattering' image from yesteryear finally seems dishonest.  I looked at a few example shots in magazine publications for inspiration. Utilising the D700 it made sense to have the 3s body in hand given most requirements of the portrait will be 'photographic work' driven....

...available light in the shade with a reflector and a 105mm lens at f/2.8!  Easy! 

 

 

Thursday, 01 July 2010

The journey home

No rush, the flight delayed by an hour, a half day is stolen by the pool before closing suitcases and saying farewell to the Nacional.  Keen to return, the week has provided an insight into Havana and a taste of Cuba, more experience, less exhaustive.

Jose Martin Airport is efficient, friendly and well serviced, more than can be said for Virgin where expectations were dashed.  At least it was not full and a couple of hours shut eye was afforded when the passengers spread out.  An uneventful last leg through UK customs and a simple drive home.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Farewell to Havana...

A relaxed final full day with less planned, the usual egg breakfast followed by a couple of hours in the hotel enjoying the morning sun.  The first occasion to visit ‘Plaza de la Revolucion’ was as part of a fact-finding mission, the second, and the memorial tower was closed, third time lucky the lift open allowed access to the top.

One hundred and nine meters up the views confirmed that Havana sprawls as far as the eye can see.  Not the best of weather, storm clouds to the south were steadily engulfing the city and it was only a matter of hours before the heavens would open.

Walking westwards to the seafront the leafier suburbs of the city, with wider avenues and separated gated properties (some containing driveways) demonstrated that there are more affluent aspects of Havana; still poor compared to western standards, the suburbs might nonetheless draw parallels with European cities, represented in both style, layout and architecture.

As promised, the rain began violently, rumbles of thunder added a soundtrack and shelter was sought beneath the canopy of a wide old tree.  Locals gathered to wait out the storm; a quarter of an hour later, as wet as had no shelter been afforded, the rain continued to fall, although a little lighter now. 

Walking to the seawall via a small café, the streetscape changed; turning east toward the ‘Nacional’ poverty became evident once more, a dilapidated sports arena, along old soaked sidewalks, past degenerated tower blocks broken by crumbling renaissance houses, the landscape punctuated heavily by neglect.

American paranoia extends to every corner of the globe and never ceases to amaze – embargos aside, the US maintain an ‘office’ in Havana, mirrored by a Cuban equivalent in D.C.  No embassy nor consulate and no diplomatic relationship, their existence is a result of 1963, their purpose if necessary, to maintain communications and avoid another ‘crisis’.  Ever fearful of attack, even obvious tourists posing no threat, are marshalled by armed guards over a busy four-lane street with no safe place to cross.

Flights are checked and check in is made online before taking a final evening meal at the Nacional.  Returning to ‘Plaza San Christopher’ one last time, the evening unwinds outdoors in the courtyard watching a local ‘jester’ dance frenetically to the Salsa played.  Skies having cleared to reveal a few stars, temperate humidity, a couple of mojitos to close.

 

 

Monday, 28 June 2010

Panoramas and cathedral squares

Faith and romance restored, Havana provides two highlights that stand out...

Two forts overlook the port and Havana city from the west, the first an old colonial space that is home to Havana's lighthouse, one of a dozen or so around the island; the second, built by the Spanish to protect Cuba after a brief period of British rule; the defeated Spanish felt Cuba of sufficient significance that it was worth trading for all of Florida, the Philipines and several other islands.


The later fort was a refortification, impressive in both size and scale.  Easy to imagine many garrisons housed within the barracks, guarding up high on the battlements - more interest in the architecture than the museum artefacts.


Panoramas were captured with fixed settings for exposure, focus and ISO range – the most effective with the circular polariser at around f/8 to f/11 around 1/250th, ISO 100-400.  Cloudy and during the midday, a high dynamic range works well with a bleached processing.  Facing westwards, early mornings would likely provide the most dramatic images.


Preceding and succeeding the midday venture to the forts, time spent at the Nacional, especially in the gardens is reminiscent of the hotel lawns on the French Riviera – many similarities with the Grand Hotel, Cannes in particular.


A brief stroll around adjoining blocks, details within the run down streets are photogenic; abstract images, phone boxes, graffiti all work - even strays make for 'cute' images.


An early dinner, the old town beckons and a cab to the ‘Plaza San Christopher’, a short walk and a mojito in Hemingway’s favourite hotel are followed by another in the Cathedral square.


A group of student musicians provide en excellent, eclectic mix of electric and traditional music in a concert of Middle Eastern origin.  Complete with belly dancers, adding a little of their own body popping style to the movement.


Little fault or criticism to be found in the old town and Viejas by night, the hustle and squalor are replaced with cooler and relaxed undertones.  Even the wild dogs come together to form natural packs, begging and playing with one another in the streets.   The tungsten lit cobbles and walkways pose little threat, peaceful nights broken by the variety of music echoing along narrow canyons formed by the old colonial architecture.


Taking a taxi along the seafront, couples court and young groups meet; interspersed between them are the occasional nigh time fisherman stood on the sea wall, rod and bait close to hand.  The evening ended as it began, on the veranda with a mojito watching container ships come and go upon the horizon.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Street market mornings and parisien nights

Discovering the monument to Jose Martin was closed on Sundays a hot sticky and less pleasant walk to the old town of Cuba followed.  Highlight was found in a street market close to 'Plaza de la Revolucion', bustling with locals obtaining their weekly rations and other produce.

Seeing the squalor and poverty from a vehicle is emphasised on foot.  Certain that many Habaneros come to the city in search of work and social benefit, many end their days more destitute than had they remained in the countryside.  Small buildings with opportunity of restoration by the state remain broken, residents fearful that if they vacate they will become homeless - all of old Havana spirals downwards to 'favella' like status.

Returning to the hotel around eleven the day slows beside the pool, seemingly busier at weekends.  The afternoon broken by an impressive thunder storm and prolonged downpour, many hotel guests shelter under the canopy of the poolside bar.  Tickets are purchased for the Club Parisienne.  A little like a cruise ship show, more entertaining that Buena Vista Social Club, the dancers and costumes are amazing, the singers only reasonable.

A nightcap beside the seafront looking down upon the promenade to a fiesta heaving with teens and restored shiny classic cars.  Retiring at one in the morning the day has been one more or less without the camera and looking forward to opportunities for the Monday.

 

 

 

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Habana Veija...

Breakfast at eight; burns turning to tan, sort of!  Able to spend an hour by the pool with David and Becka before we say our final farewells; they head off to pack before their beach break.  Midday comes quickly and after a change, catch a taxi to the craft market.

The artistic talents are wondrous, captured most notably in the paintings, colour and variety extensive.  Surrounded by dilapidated warehouses the market is a vibrant pearl in the midst of a broken down and defunct metallic shell.  Stallholders hustle although remain courteous, withdrawing from the 'hard sell' when obvious - altogether an enjoyable experience.  One black and white painting of two intertwined bodies as seen from above is particularly striking.


Strolling along through the northern tip of Habana Veija, west along the seafront of Centro Habana and Vadero - kids playing in the fountains and up trees; broken streetscapes to the left intersperced by leafy gardens; motorcylces and sidecars break the continuous flow of old motor cars; a girl in costume; fisherman all along the seawall; a grandfather flying a kite with his small grandson; local kids and teenagers in rock pools swimming and diving...


an old man washing in the sea; teenage couples paying hopscotch; a free diver beginning to gut a worthy sizable catch...


...the seafront provides endless opportunity, the horizon flat facing northwards interrupted by a wild tall cumulus formation.


Past a broken 1940's Ford, headed past the rotting 1960's towers turning left toward the Nacional, the cinema opposite is all a bustle - Saturday afternoon and teens all dressed up hang around, the popcorn stall beside is a hive of activity.


Heavens open and a siesta is followed by a swim before dinner.  Reaching for some bottled water the mini bar is well stocked - Red Bull and Coca Cola (Mexican imports). Relieved by the storm a drier evening promises the sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club.  Relaxed and charming the tables in the 1930 hall of the Nacional were laid in cabaret style.  Around ten musicians - guitars, double bass, clarinet and percussion, musically the songs were very similar from one to the next.  Greater appreciation of the lyrics and lower expectations of the 'entertainment' value might have been prudent.

 

Dozens of South American fans from Columbia, Venezuala, Argentina, a highlight were two Salsa dancers, Santos, who dazzled in three routines, rhythm and control both amazing.

 

 

 

Friday, 25 June 2010

Plaza de la Revolucion through Hemingway's Ranch...

Although the previous day had clouded over, the rain had held off until the early hours and waking to a reflective, 'wetted' street scape the day promised to be particularly humid.  7am - definitely burnt and time for breakfast whilst the sun gains strength.

Meeting with Miguel and jumping into a taxi we head West then South, past a few hotels, the American 'office' in Havana and assorted embassies and consulates in the more leafy suburbs.  Alighting at the 'Plaza de la Revolucion', complete with communist architecture, this smaller version reminiscent of Tienanmen has a memorial to Jose Martin at the heart; shaped as a star as seen from above and standing one hundred and nine meters in the air above an eighteen meter statue.  At the base, a museum.

Miguel, a young former English teacher is thoughtful in constructing each sentence; only having guided for two years the prospects are more financially rewarding than schoolwork.  Complete as a family with a pre school daughter, his wife works for the agricultural ministry and the live nine miles to the south of Havana towards the airport.
 
Four hours follows split between taxi, horse and carriage and the old town by foot, creating much flavour for the city, people who live there, hustles of many tourists amongst the bustles of local life.  Cubans seem to spend much of their time making ends meet.  Flashing past bars, museums, markets and the mixed architecture some dating back as far as the sixteenth century.

Whilst on foot, Miguel describes the difference between local Pesos and Convertible Cuban Dollars; that simple construction materials, books and cosmetics are only available to locals at high conversion rates making them ill affordable to Cubans.  

Yellow plated taxis risk heavy fines for collecting tourist fares in CUC's from more affluent occupants.  A Peso bookstore limited mostly to second hand copies faces a more commercial well stocked CUC counterpart.  Increasing his vocabulary he hangs on the word for 'stationary', only ever sold in CUC's.

Heading out to Hemingway's ranch it is possible to take in the simpler surrounding countryside.  The house itself ironically restored and preserved as left in 1960 by the socialist state.  Conveying the lifestyle Earnest chose, much of the decor, his fishing trawler and leafy gardens reflect the atmosphere created in his writing.  A few stills captured render a half dozen notable photographs, switching between 'tourist' mode and more thoughtful captures.

Lunch at Hemingway's old Havana haunt, Bar Floridita, is a simple affair, honoured to share a meal with Miguel and our driver, we compare nation statistics, lifestyles.  Simple but enjoyable it is obvious that Cubans are a proud people; there is naturally an underlying desire for more access to commodities, juxtaposed alongside a love of their country, relative equality introduced after the 'glorious' revolution - honest if a little faded.

Whistle stopping at a rum factory, a chance meeting with David and Becca on a separate tour allows the comparing of notes over the missed meeting the night before - Cassa de la Musica had opened late and they had Salsa'd into the early hours - a little jaded as a consequence.  Meeting again a few hours later by the pool we enjoyed dinner together before a late evening was had enjoying drinks on the hotel lawn.  Addresses were exchanged so that photographs might be exchanges back in the UK.

Although not photographing wildly, I am comfortable with the fixed focal length making much use of the wide aperture and the range afforded by the ISO is sufficient in the circumstances.  A few people unaware shots and a portrait of David stand out in particular; ever hopeful that more pictures will convey the sense of place and people within the tumble down colonial landscape.

 

 

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Havana

Slept very well.  Up at six thirty local time in large part due to the east coast time zone. Opting for the 50mm f/1.4 with a circular polariser I suspect that the week's photography will be a mixture of holiday snaps and more thoughtful compositions.


The skies have cleared, storm clouds replaced by a few wispy clouds above a light tropical breeze.  Great breakfast and a short stroll around the block on which the 'Nacional' is sighted provides the first shots of the holiday - sun already strong at eight am a fisherman and two construction workers at the sea wall form the first of the week!  Orestes the fisherman comes over quickly, keen to explain his children are based in Paris and language barriers aside I understand that he would like me to forward the still to them via email - he writes their details in pencil on a scrap of paper.

 

Deciding to relax by the pool for the first of six days, a personal guide is arranged for the following day.  enjoying the tropical sunshine conversation starts with two fellow travellers, David and Becka - a young couple, he is a banker and she has recently started working for the Foreign Office, explaining that a reasonable amount of thorough form filling was required to acquire permissions for the pre-booked holiday. Spending three days in Havana they would then be travelling on for a further ten in Varadero at an all inclusive resort.


Mojitos flowed beside the pool and we passed the time chatting until six we arranged to try and meet up at the 'Musica Del Cassa' after they finished at the club Tropicana around midnight.  Burned!  A late afternoon siesta was followed by dinner at eight; moving to the Moorish veranda time was spent with chatting with another English couple - Upper Class frequent fliers, hopeful of some free air miles, evidently the flight had run out of free champagne!


Taking a 'blue number plated' taxi at just before midnight, only to discover the 'Cassa' was seemingly closed, the venture turned into a round trip back the 'Nacional'.  Missing David and Becka, after waiting another hour beside the bar bed seemed the sensible option - the personal tour of Havana scheduled to commence at 9am.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

UK to Cuba...

Not keen on airports!  Flight not so bad and watched 'The Ghost' amongst other movies starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan (very good).  Benefited from Upper Class service by pre-booking economy seats on the Upper deck, well worthwhile remembering for the future as much less crowded, last on and first off.  Otherwise Virgin not a whole lot different from other airlines and the food provided really wasn't up to that much!

Jose Martin Airport Cuba - simple enough, no real issues although the luggage did take an eternity to arrive.  Visas and entry pleasantly uncomplicated; surprisingly there were no checks regarding medical insurance cover despite much having been made of this in the media in recent months.


Green tropical lush countryside unfurled gradually to reveal a happy although poverty stricken social landscape; stopping at crossings, locals collect at bus stops or hitchhike their way along the roadsides.  Vehicles and cars live up to expectations - mostly Lada's or large American 'boats' maintained for over four decades.


Stopping at three Havana hotels on route, the crowded streets and narrow lanes a mixture of renaissance architecture and socialist blocks, most crumbing away, washing on lines, little thrown away with collections of junk piled on verandas, roofs and outdoors.


Arriving at the 'Nacional', the hotel lives up to expectations, faded grandeur of the thirty's icon preserved, rooms and service simple yet welcoming.

 

Thankful for the tropical breeze, June is humid and after the fifteen hour journey the evening feels particularly sticky.  Amazing cumulus cloud formations litter the horizon, rising a mile up out of the sea.  Rains have arrived hours before us and the smell of wet is still evident in the air, darkening around eight pm there is a sense that the rain was overdue and welcome.


Shattered from the journey, food was a necessary affair in the hotel restaurant - simple grilled meats, fish, paellas, some breads, along with a wide variety of salad, fruit, vegetables and desserts.  Dinner consumed, the evening taken in over a drink in the gardens, bed beckoned in the moderately air conditioned hotel room.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Postcards from Havana...

None as yet posted, due to arrive at the Nacional, Havana around 6pm local time tomorrow!  After much deliberation I have opted to travel light - just the D700, 50mm f/1.4 and 20mm f/2.8 - here's hoping that this covers the candid opportunities Cuba has to offer.

Aware that the streets of the capital unfurl like an illustrative opera, I'm excited to explore any scenes that may present themselves.  With trusty notepad and pencil to hand I'll keep a record of each day and intend to post a few selects upon my return...

 

 

 

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Saviour of the White Swan

"In a peaceful location on the north bank of the Thames, opposite Eel Pie Island, stands the White Swan, a traditional pub, built in the 17th century. From the pavement, steep steps lead up to a small veranda, where patrons bask in the afternoon sun. The unfussy interior consists of one L-shaped bar with simple furnishings and a bare wooden floor. A deep recessed bay window has an open view across the river."

(www.pubs.com). 


A last minute call on the Friday, could I head over to the White Swan on the Saturday morning to take some portrait shots of the new Venture Capitalist owner, Anthony Miller. Ever keen to oblige I arranged to meet with him a little after nine thirty and we spent an hour photographing both inside and out. 


To be incorporated in an article fro Property Week, Anthony explained their revolutionary approach to free house management, an alternative style to more formal ownership and tenancies that, albeit not entirely accepted by the locals as yet, is well suited in an environment where forty pubs are going to the wall on a weekly basis. 


Quintessentially set alongside the river, in the end I preferred a series of selects looking upward steeply to Anthony with the pub above. Steep steps leading up to a small railed garden essential as when I arrived the river had spilt onto the road at the front - a regular high tide occurrence. 


Adding a little catch light with the flash off camera achieved the style I was after complimenting the natural daylight with a little boost to colours and contrast also.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 02 June 2010

Quotations

 "It is the powers of silence and immobility which belong to and define all photography" (Christian Metz)

The doctrinaire right contends that politics has no place in art, while the doctrinaire left contends that art has no place in politics' (David Levi Strauss)

"The photograph is a meeting place where the interests of the photographer, the photographed, the viewer and those who are using the photographs are often contradictory. These contradictions both hide and increase the natural ambiguity of the photographic image" (John Berger)

"The camera never manages to record what your eyes see, or what you feel at the moment. The camera always creates a new reality" (Alfred Jaar)

"We do not talk to say something, but to obtain a certain effect" (Goebbels)

 

 

 

Thursday, 27 May 2010

On assignment...

Client Brief - Gravetye Manor Hotel, West Sussex - photography for a retrospective brochure as a commission for Edward Symmons, Property Consultants, Surveyors and Valuers.  Recently sold into new ownership, for internal marketing purposes, the Valuation Department are keen to produce a brochure.  Permission has be granted by the new owners on the proviso that they can use the final images for their own marketing and website.

Specific images have been requested of the hotel exterior, three interior reception rooms, and a selection of guest rooms in the old manor and in the new wing.  In addition it has been proposed that some textured surfaces may be appropriate for pages that contain text.  There is no brief from the hotel although to supplement the more ‘generic’ room images requested by the valuation team, I am hopeful of photographing some staff in the course of their duties as well as specific elements or features within the hotel that may be more aesthetically attractive than simple space.

Carrying out some basic research online, I considered the old Hotel website, afterwards discussing the particular requirements with my contact at Edward Symmons, Philip.  Explaining that they wanted ‘attractive’ images, their intended use for the brochure was to show potential clients a style of marketing material that they might produce.  The photographs did not need to be architectural, a little more consideration for aesthetically pleasing photographs; Philip warned that the bedrooms were likely to prove difficult in terms of framing and composition.

Speaking with the designer, a four-page portrait brochure was their intended format; their wish for a range of images to select from including, portrait, landscape and 1:1.  Earlier photographs from the website were low resolution and no longer available; for reasons of new ownership a new portfolio had to be arranged.  Many earlier shots had concentrated on landscapes surrounding the property; the preference here for images of the interior and garden.

Advice received from my Tutor included a ‘…recce before shoot day…Cover everything to fit the brief in a generic style… then also shoot some…where you push it a bit further and take some risks. Perhaps that could be hand held, more photojournalistic in style. Try and get as much people involvement in the images as you can….Don't be reticent about directing people if it's going to improve the shot…’

Having already seized an opportunity and made arrangements with Gravetye Manor for a suitable date and time I did not have the luxury of an advance recce.  I arrived with plenty of time and whereas on a commercial basis ‘time is money’, I tried to pace myself and at no time did I feel rushed by the team at the hotel.  Nonetheless feeling pressure to capture photographs as set out in the brief, I felt a little anxious to start, a frenetic first hour before finding some rhythm.

With a sizeable space to cover, photographing, for reasons of room availability was restricted to daytime and it was apparent I would experience mixed lighting from the natural windows and interior incandescent lamps.  Less than ideal, I decided that longer exposures from a tripod would produce the most detail and natural ‘style’ and that despite some blown highlights, would provide an attractive and uniform look across the brief.  I was not keen to introduce a third colour temperature in the form of a flash.  Had my equipment extended to some large reflectors I might have utilised them to ‘bounce’ the natural light into shadowed areas.  An ideal approach would be far more control, placing gels across the windows to balance the temperatures evenly.

I made a conscious decision to photograph in RAW, with an automatic white balance, wherever possible sticking to a low ISO providing me the greatest flexibility for any processing.  Although I bracketed a number of similar images, with hindsight an enhanced technique I might have considered would be overlaying differing exposures in Photoshop.  With less experience I will trial this technique so I am better prepared in future.  Preferring the sharpness of a middle aperture setting, I narrowed and widened depths of field for creativity or detail respectively.

I had envisaged that the subject would be dated; I hadn’t anticipated such a bespoke variety of rooms, none of which appropriate or suitable to wide angled photography.  Despite being well kept and very comfortable, many had an eclectic mix of furniture, dated décor and an assortment of pastel coloured fabrics and curtains; busy corners and large open spaces of carpet, no rooms alike.  I determined my approach should convey a ‘sense of place’ rather than the defined lines and clean angles that might be better suited to a modern or recently refurbished Hotel.

Continuing throughout the downstairs and exterior, much of the photography is more ‘floral’ in style.  Although not necessarily to my taste it does accurately depict the hotel, a bespoke independently owned manor house with a small team of staff.  Keen to include people as well as place, when I had generated a selection of images within the bedrooms, I was more comfortable with dialling up my ISO to capture images of staff within the building, alongside more general photography in the public spaces.

Overall I considered the opportunity thoughtfully, prepared thoroughly and executed the photography well.  A key challenge and concern throughout was lighting, from the bright daylight streaming through many windows to the dimly lit and heavily contrasting interiors.  Externals were reasonable, waiting for the period an hour or so before sunset; regrettably, an overcast day, sunset didn’t produce the most amazing low lighting effects that I’d hoped.

Throughout, in part owing to the third party introduction and arrangements, I was conscious of the need to remain discreet.  Had I been commissioned by the owners of the hotel I might have been quick to consider a more thorough approach to lighting; dependant upon time and budgets, additional ‘studio lamps’ in the bedrooms and reception with an ability to ‘dress’ scenes could have produced more controlled results.  Given this flexibility was not available, I am happy with my results.

In processing I paid particular attention to exposure, reducing and light spillage and highlights around window frames, adjusting lines within the frame, suitable crops and a consistent colour cast throughout all the images.  Ironically, whereas initially I was intending to focus upon the ‘place’, some of my favourite shots include staff carrying out their duties; this reflects a theme running throughout the course – previously averse to photographing people, I have really begun to enjoy candid portraiture and find that ‘person involvement’ adds a real sense of purpose.

 

 

 

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative

A literary scholar I am not, and for this reason my approach to this assignment may be slightly abstract and at times loosely fitting!  Comfortable with the theory of illustration and narrative, I am familiar with their use and application, a keen reader of the pictorial content within magazines and articles.

Seeking some challenge in application, I had decided early on that I wished to concentrate on a semi social-documentary, semi industrial-landscape style.  My ‘voice’, I have great enthusiasm for obvious juxtaposition of man-made within a natural environment.  Confident in my ‘studio’ photography I wanted to explore wider scenes within an obvious narrative.

Deciding upon a lesser-known location, preferably beside water I planned three days in Suffolk at the family home.  “George Orwell took his name from the river” a friend remarked when I was considering a variety of options.  My mind buzzing with possibilities, I knew that Ipswich Harbour has been regenerated in recent years and that the mouth of the River Orwell incorporates the enormous industrious container yard at Felixstowe.

Imagining a sequence of images taken along the river I was hopeful of two key elements, gradual degradation along the waterfront as the estuary flowed out to sea, and a natural timeline, ‘dawn to dusk’, that perhaps bore some relationship to Orwell’s chronological bibliography.  Photographing over three days along the river, early starts at 3am and late finishes through twilight at 10pm, my hope was for an obvious, if abstract, Orwellian caption for each and every image selected.

I should note at this point that although I have a limited knowledge of Orwell’s writing, an appreciation of Animal Farm and recall my O’ Level studies of Nineteen Eighty-Four, I have only loosely related the captioning with dates to Orwell’s writing, sources for bibliographies and title captions found online.  If I were more learned then the images captured might better resemble the content of each writing – an accurate depiction of the story, poem or essay.  For the purposes of this narrative picture essay the titles add another aspect to the real theme – changing socio-documentary landscapes along a river.

Giving serious consideration to how the sequence may be presented in the finished form, I have recently completed an assignment in People and Place that similarly centered upon a magazine article.  Applying the techniques learned, I sought out single ‘telling’ images as well as more detailed photographic ‘elements’ that when combined would suit the overall narrative.  Shooting more selects than I could incorporate, the twenty-one final images worked best together when composing the finished article.

Although I am exploring the options for pdf creation in Microsoft Word, I remain more comfortable with the flexibility that Powerpoint provides for layout and have included a ‘pdf package’ of my perceived article alongside the individual images.  It seems appropriate that I explore each double spread one by one, including the individual images included, my reasoning and choice for the captioning, layout and relationships.

Pages 1 & 2 - Cover

Orwellian Novella – triumph in regeneration or the tragedy of neglect (an illustrative narrative along the Orwell River, Suffolk) – it seemed appropriate to add this text to the front illustration introducing a sense of the narrative inside.  This was desirable more for the common ‘George Orwell’ thread running through the sequence of images, the selection, layout, time of day and relationships of the images successfully telling a story in their own right.

‘My Country Right or Left’

I selected this image as a cover illustration after some deliberation.  Alternative choices for the cover included a sequence of images, a selection of those incorporated within the article, or a more contrived photograph that would not likely sit well within the piece.

Photographing at dawn, the cloud was initially undesirable and I had hoped for a clear sky.  Here the definition in the sky has served to emphasise the stillness of the harbour water and the reflections, most definitely desirable.  Noticing an opportunity for a panoramic sequence (captured at a fixed focal length of 50mm in portrait, using a tripod I measured the exposure and fixed the settings overlapping each image to produce the finished version in Photoshop).  Although my choice here is that the ‘cover’ is better suited to a two-page spread within a magazine, it might as easily lend itself to the outside of a publication wrapped around the front and back covers.

Reasoning behind this selection is four fold.  Firstly the scene is dynamic, the composition reasonably well balanced, the water, reflections, included diagonals within the corner harbour walls, centered boats and masts, all generating a symmetry that is dynamic and eye-catching.

Secondly there is an ironic sense of movement within such a still scene; left to right or right to left, the photograph takes you from the neglected industrial end to the regenerated harbour or vice versa.  Emphasised by the format, the frame incorporates a shifting scene and singularly fits with the implied narrative of extremes.

Thirdly and from an illustrative perspective, the inclusion of more affluent lifestyle sailing boats alongside the remnants of the older industrial mechanisms left and right are well juxtaposed in one naturally caught shot.  An introduction to the narrative picture essay, there are some elements that receive greater attention within, the illustration providing a taster of what is to come.

Fourthly and finally I couldn’t have hoped for a better Orwellian caption: ‘My Country Right or Left’ an essay of Orwell’s (1940) would be appropriate even had there been no obvious connection with the writer.  An implied ‘question’ behind the caption adds to the wealth of symbolism within the picture.  Wholly uncontrived, when all these elements came together I could not have hoped for a better cover illustration.

Pages 3 & 4

Beginning with dawn upstream, in the Harbour, ending at the mouth of the Orwell with dusk enabled me to plan my three shoots.  Although requiring dedication and restricting opportunity for sleep over the three days, I am happy with the intent and was reasonably fortunate where the weather was concerned.  The concept of this timeline seemed to fit well with both the imagery in the narrative and the underlying Orwellian theme.  Regrettably the captions do not all follow a chronological sequence from George Orwell’s life in writing, perhaps a little more research or time might have allowed a more contrived sequence.

In a few instances I have had to ‘cheat’ the sense of ‘timing’ as my schedule dictated I photograph back to front and although not obvious, some photographs were taken at ‘incorrect times of day’.

‘Down and Out in Paris and London’

Although not automatically lending itself to the caption here, the photograph is in itself a well-composed image with a number of key features.  The intentional orange flare from the 4:30 am lamplights, complementary colour from the blue sky and water produced by balanced lighting conditions, generates a moody scene.  The strong use of diagonals in the foreground left is balanced well against the horizontals of the building and reflections on the right of the frame; strong sense of scene perspective, a great deal of harmony and stillness overall.

Excusing the caption for ease, the more I think about the inclusion of the Orwell novel, there are symbolic connections – dawn at this time is often only witnessed by those people who are ‘down and out’ whilst both Paris and London definitely have similar adjoining backwaters along the Seine and Thames.

‘Why I Write’ and ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’

The Salthouse Harbour Hotel is both significant to the regeneration of Ipswich Harbour and prominent within ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’.  Fortunate to be invited to look around, the juxtaposition of the two images employed well within the context of the narrative.

Their inclusion helps with the context here at the start of the narrative: art and eclectic furnishing a significant feature of luxury hotels in an enviable waterfront location.  The non-traditional style is well captured in the two photographs and although taken later in the day, the bright light of the window behind the opulent hotel bathtub could as easily be a bright morning light.

‘Why I Write’ is a self-analytical caption, the simplicity of the cropped lamp, warm reading light and contrasting materials personal to images I like to photograph.  ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’ needs little explanation.  Both essays of Orwell written in 1946 and 1947 respectively they work extremely well.

Pages 5 & 6

Simple, more formulaic photographs utilised to bolster the contrast of the regenerated harbour over the dilapidated waterfront further downstream.  Juxtaposed well with one another, the three images here are well suited to the two pages, all showing the renaissance of the quayside.

‘Romance’

Originally intended as a ‘people unaware’ photograph, shouting up for permission resulted in a posed photograph.  A more desirable shot would have been for my two subjects to appear unaware of the camera however the strong photographic features are deserving of its inclusion.

Placing my subjects off centre with strong vertical and curve elements, the brickwork serves to separate the photograph into thirds.  Although not worthy of a more prominent inclusion, juxtaposed on the same pages as the two other images is works well, the more orange colouring complementary to the blues.

A better frame would have been possible from the same height, slight distortion generated by the camera angle.  The caption here again needs no explanation, taken from a George Orwell poem of 1925.

‘Summer-like for an Instant’

It was a beautiful May day, the light well suited to this stock image of boats with a strong diagonal running through from lower left to top right.  Working well with the adjoining image, all were captured late afternoon; although outside my intended sequence, less knowledge of the place and the lighting conditions could lend themselves as easily to early morning.  The caption here is taken from a 1933 poem.

‘Burmese Days’

Perhaps the loosest fitting of captions, the strong diagonal of the telescope upon the strong triangular tripod adds further sense of regeneration.  The sunlit harbour outside the window, definable by the juxtaposition of ‘Summer-like for an Instant’ adds much imagery to the photograph.

Pages 7 & 8

Simple use of diagonals.  Underlining elements found within the harbour, string features within the photographs justify their inclusion as part of the sequence.

‘Awake, Young Men of England’ (George Orwell Poem 1914)

What better reason for a young man to awake than the view of a Clergyman’s Daughter!  In this first primary photograph I looked up from a coffee to see the simple yet wonderful contrasts and textures in this photograph.  Closest to the way in which my personal voice and taste is developing, most interest from the small open wooden window within the brickwork elevation of the Salthouse Hotel, my perspective was one of an acute angle and I framed the shot to generate a perfect diagonal from corner to corner.

‘A Clergyman’s Daughter’ (George Orwell Novel 1935)

Obvious juxtaposition within the overall essay narrative, this is perhaps a scene from the preceding small window?  This is a crop of a larger image taken with an 85mm lens.  Angles precluded me from including the full shadow of my left subject (a car bumper would have been evident otherwise); I like the strong contrasts here.  My subjects are travelling through frame along the powerful diagonals.  The jetty and quayside are similarly coloured, contrasting heavily with the almost black water, shadows and ironwork detail.  The life belt establishes the context, adding an extra flash of colour.

Pages 9 & 10

Venturing along the river and onwards with the narrative, a short way toward the Orwell Bridge signs of former activity become evident.

‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’

‘…first published 1936, is a grimly comic novel by George Orwell. It is set in 1930s London. The main theme is the protagonist's romantic ambition to give up money and status, and the dismal life that results.” (Wikipedia).  No doubt lacking in luxury, this scene includes a sense of more prosperous times.  Keeping something flying could equally refer to the imagery of a flag, conspicuous by it’s absence on the ships mast.   A simple photograph of the harbour a little way downstream, the colouring and reflections bring us back to a ‘dawn’ timeline within the overall narrative.

‘A Hanging’

Here greater sense of dilapidation in the unwanted green foliage and rusting metal, the ‘two points’ symbolism is purposefully juxtaposed to the warning signage.  A closer shot of a skyline feature from the preceding photograph, in sequence this photograph helps to serve the common theme running throughout.  A 1931 Essay, ‘A Hanging’ works well, imagery of a gallows an end to life is both representative and thought provoking.

Pages 11 & 12

Containing three of my favourite photographs, the series of the Orwell Bridge are dynamic and imposing.  Capturing the essence of late 1970’s early 1980’s architecture. 

 
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