Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A study in time and motion

Time shifts. Time continues inexorably, it is an analogue. When the camera defines a frame, opening, shutting, time continues throughout the period of exposure. The photographer will be older, the subject will be older; by a one hundred and twenty fifth of a second or more or less. The subject’s heart will continue to beat, the wind will blow across the landscape, the sun will have risen higher or settled closer to the horizon. How to capture that movement, so many things in flux and yet the camera is binary device, it opens and closes a shutter, recording the passage of time linearly.
Time moves on, it doesn’t stand still, inexorably the grains of sand denote from one moment to the next how the transience of the “present” is turned into the vast sweep of history and how the present lasts shorter than we able to capture. Carpe Diem. There is only future and past, the present is too transitory, too fickle to engage with us long enough to register, what we think is now has gone by the time we register it’s presence in any medium. Our currency as photographers, is to anticipate the future and to deliver its consequence to the past with context. The trade we make as we press the shutter release is with the perspective we provide to the viewer of our own connection with time passing.
Perspectives of history, our personal history are also analogues, we review, we re-write, we add and subtract information to and from our memories distorting and embellishing the view of our times past. I see the past episodically, in banks of memory; the memory starts, the memory finishes – memory remembered, memory faded. The memory is also prone to the vagaries of connection; sometimes the memory is bright, full of colour, of noise, of activity, of joy; sometimes not. Sometimes the memory fades in and out, part of a name, part of a scene, part of a journey. Like the early experimental television links, it isn’t reliable.
Film is a memory, memory is a memory, they both capture a period of time and succeed in something that the conscious mind has difficulty in doing – that is recording the period and holding the veracity of that moment for perpetuity. Whatever the camera, whatever the medium, whatever is captured is memorized for as long as the medium doesn’t fail or degrade, though the decrepidation of memory is another aspect of how a image could be presented, but not not what this post is about.
If everything is constantly in a state of flux and has movement (apart from the oxymoronic genre “still life”), if what we capture in a viewfinder is going to be a memory as soon as it is captured, then my question is how can this be best depicted?
Some time ago I saw a set of seascapes by, I think, Sugimoto, though I may be wrong. Placid vistas of calm grey seas set against a cold grey, almost featureless sky. I found them beautiful but passive, inscrutable but not fearful ‘scapes, whose energy could only be described by me as potential. Wonderful records in a depleted tonal palette, the sea might have depth, it could also be shallow – there were no clues, it was up to me, the viewer, to bring to the image what I have, as an emotion, to the photograph. The very slight swell on the surface of the water prohibited the interrogation of the image – it held me afar, only to glory in it’s transcendent beauty that was clear, on the surface of the water, on the surface of the print. I remember the beauty of the image, the serenity. Maybe my understanding was less but it I remember only the two dimensionality of the image

Movement, “un-still life” has the potential to present energy and emotion and the one of the best examples of this I've seen can be found in Chris Friel’s photographs. A (colour blind) painter, Friel turned to photographry some six or seven years ago and hasn't painted since.

From the "Sea" series. Reprinted by kind permission of the artist Chris Friel
"Sea of blood 6". Reprinted by kind permission of the artist Chris Friel
These images express very graphically the energy of the ocean, it doesn’t seem like a sea, it is too "big" to be a sea as in Sugimoto's photographs. This ocean has a ferocious majesty that would seem to defy any physical entity to try and tame it. There is a huge power in the way the movement rolls and swirls, lifts and breaks. With his use of motion blur Friel seems to capture not only the movement of this elemental force but also to trigger my memory of storms, it invokes within me the strength I have seen in the ocean unrest and the fear I felt when seeing it. It is the memory of it that I find most disconcerting, most significant. Friel not only captures the movement but his images seem to invoke the memory or emotion of a place. 

"Sea of blood 2". Reprinted by kind permission of the artist Chris Friel
The notion that a photograph can invoke, maybe even record a memory is something that I've looked at before in Stefano Bernadoni's work. link to the previous entry here 

From the "memory of the places" by Stefano Bernardoni
reprinted by kind permission of the artist
Bernardoni utilises blur here I think to denote the un-surety of memory. The memory is almost delivering, but some of the detail is missing, it isn't as sharp as we might like, but maybe this lack of clarity warms the memory. Whereas Friel applies blur, movement as well as physically altering the surface of the image with scratches to challenge our perception of the static image whilst probing for an emotional response from the viewer.

Untitled. Reprinted by kind permission of the artist Chris Friel
"Church". Reprinted by kind permission of the artist Chris Friel
Memory and the notion of time are also invoked in these images from Friel. Nothing is clear. It maybe that Friel is colour blind but his colourisation, especially of these first two opposite images - clearly the same subject - invoke different memories.

"Castle 1". Reprinted by kind permission of the artist Chris Friel
I can feel that these transgressive alterations to the sharp image that technology delivers is likely to influence my photography. I am drawn to include people in what I do and will look to start a process that will free my understanding of image making.

Moving pictures is available from Blurb and contains most of the images above by Chris Friel
Chris Friel's Flickr site is here

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Final Dress Rehearsal

I used this rehearsal to rehearse myself for the opening night (this Thursday). I wanted to make sure that the ambient light would be sufficient to take reasonable photographs of the players on stage as well as portraits in the body of the Hall.

I also decided to take some photographs that could be used as publicity shots for a poster, inside the theatre shots and programme, both cover and background information on the production type shots.

 The action of the play centres around a reunion that takes place in a pub. I took these shots of props as potential background shots for a programme or poster. The wine shot is the better - less cluttered, but would perhaps be better if the glass were slightly more to the left.
These two shots have a certain immediate visual appeal. The shot left juxtaposes the three legs - table, woman and chair and is visually intriguing enough to draw the eye to it. I don't think that text - even if overwritten on some of the "legs"would detract from the visual
Perhaps something like this.

Some more "action" shots that could be used to provide narrative in the programme. This kissing scene provides some key action in the play - kisses on a set always seem to. The shot on the left has more of the male character, but more movement - which wasn't intended, whereas the shot on the right has them "locked" but with less of the "kissee".

And here is the aftermath of the kiss. Capturing as many cast members as possible in a publicity shot is a good idea as space may be a problem. One of these has three members of the cast the other four; both have action, one suggests humour. Colour is important as the lip-stick provides some narrative and Dave's expression helps that process a lot.

 A different kind of context shot - more serious, two protagonists in serious conversation and an onlooker providing intrigue as to what they may be talking about.

Some technical shots. The shots above, all on stage with lights "up" seem ok. The shot below left is lights "down" with a "scene-changing" lighting effect. There is barely enough light to make this work f4.0, 1/8th sec at ISO 6400. Irrespective of lens length the shot will be difficult to cope with. I could open the lens up some more - the distance from camera to subject is far enough not to make that an issue, but the lack of light will be tricky and with an audience it is one that I probably won't try. Jean, in the middle of the Hall seems well enough lit to make an attempt on some audience members a possibility and Mike at the desk is caught quite well in the dark to make this shot a realistic possibility.

Saturday, 24 March 2012


Continuing the theme of trying to engage the subjects I shoot without an acknowledgement or request from me. Testing how far I can go. These shots in London - Houses of Westminster & Tate Britain.

I like this one a lot, she could see I was taking photographs and kept an eye on me as she walked past, fits very well into Assignment 8 of Angier's Train your gaze

These schoolgirls were very boisterous, bad technique on my part lost me a potentially interesting shot.

He saw me standing and composing with the camera and he continued to stare as he walked right on by.

Standing on guard outside the Houses of Parliament - I suspect they get quite a few tourists taking pictures of them.

Leading up to Tate Britain - "safe" shot.

Outside the Houses of Parliament, I noticed that he saw me pointing and his expression is just an accident, I don't think he was posing.

One of "The Burghers of Calais" by Rodin seems to be offering a gesture to this lady who had been taking pictures of them.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Back to the street in Bradford

Spending some time on the street before the study visit. I need to spend more time developing some expertise in this area. I took quite a few and started to notice various things as I focussed (in the main) on groups of people rather than individuals. I also tried to be more confrontational, intending that my subjects saw what I was attempting - success and failure in equal measure I would say.

These first  five shots I found interesting in that the subjects displayed a great deal of sychronisity. As they walked they found a kind of harmony. The two girls across the road from the chip shop are walking on the same legs, their bags are on the same shoulders, they feel very together. The four lads walking towards me - one of my attempts, albeit at distance, of indicating that I am taking their photograph - are walking as in pairs of two left hand side/right hand side.

This couple both saw me at the same time (my technique needs work here). But they are in stride together, they incline their toward me together, their expressions are not a million miles apart from each other. The two guitarists eyeing the cyclist have only their guitars out of sync' with each other and the mother and daughter (my supposition) walking out of frame are clearly quite close.

The group here are "on a mission" striding along and not noticing me; by this time I had taken one shot and then decided to squat down and take a picture at "their" level. It might have worked better if the lead female (not sure whether she was a young mother, elder sister or carer) was looking at me or straight ahead.

Another couple of shots where I knew the subject was looking at me, these shots have single people involved and both changed their aspect slightly as I took the shots. With the young girl I purposely moved the camera after taking the shot to indicate I had taken it, I didn't do so with the lad running toward me.
 And lastly my Lartigue moment. This lad was running in and out of the fountains and I was waiting for the incisive moment - jumping, getting wet, something and this was as close as I got.

A Space

Looking forward to Assignment three - "Building and Spaces".

I have had a look around the Ashmolean Museum to see what it might offer. Clearly this venerable building, recently refurbished, is a place to study objects and could therefore offer places to "frame" or to "pose" people, much in the same way that the curators at the museum stage exhibits. Thought to be the UK's first museum, the Ashmolean doesn't mind photography - in most areas of the building - and so it has a great deal of potential. There is a great deal of statuary in museum, which was founded in 1683. I had intended to see if I could position someone in sympathetic pose, but this lady had other things on her mind.

These escaltors offer a number of possibilities. I could stand further back, or use a wider lens to capture the full scale of travel on these moving staircases, or zoom in to develop different ideas. The doorway to a gallery or even the siting of someone on a bench seem to offer possibilities. There is also the potential, in this shot, of having the picture on the far wall "look" at a subject "looking" at the art - or viewing the viewer.

I found a few shots that provided the "overlooking" perspective. The shot on the left appears to me to be slightly more "vertigenous"- the strong lines of the statue and the architecture, with the staircase leading down helps the viewer to be drawn to a place. I thought any subject could be another "objects d'art" and not be out of place in the space. The shot overlooking the reception area has the benefit of both being a voyeur - neither the lady ascending the staircase from the shop/toilet area nor the visitor at reception have any idea they are being captured.

Again, a couple of different spaces to allow either the subject and context to either be sublimated or amlpified. The imploring statue on the wall overlooking the staircase could be utilised as a visual device.

These last two shots I have included, although they are shots that might also be used as part of Assignment 4 in that they show people as "small" in their environment, but equally they provide examples of how I could utilise people within the space.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mark Power: "The Sound of Two Songs"

I had no preconceptions of Power’s work before I came see here. I viewed none of the prep’ documents supplied. I came to this work with a clear mind. I knew of course the broad brush of (modern) Polish history, the German territorial dominance through WWII, the communist territorial and political dominance, the insurrection stemming from the working class of Gdansk and others, the “fall of the wall”, the economic restructuring, the exodus of talent to the Eu. The weather, the heat and the cold, potatoes, Solidarity and Tomaszewski. I had a vague feeling that, like most ex soviet bloc countries, there would be decay/rebuilding, despair/hope, and utilitarianism/wanton post soviet capitalism.

I expected there to be Christian iconographic images in abundance in this largely devout catholic country, but I think that is about all I expected.

The first photograph I made notes on, was on the subject I thought I would see, an image of a cross – this one a “burning/irredescent cross” inlaid in the ground. I thought I had found what I expected to find and I moved on, only realizing later that I had probably not understood it at all. How was that cross glowing in the dirt, this photograph that was possibly a constructed image (so may others seem to have been posed)? I contrived to blend congruence with preconception which led me to “tick the box” of conformity and I moved on to look at other photographs. *

This wasn’t a consistent body of work from many perspectives, there were some portraits, still landscapes, dynamic landscapes, urban, pastoral and documentary shots. However I came away with a strong feeling that there was a cohesive narrative running through the work. Power, it seems to me, has imbued this collection with a sense of how the sacred and profane are interwoven into the psyche of the nation state as depicted. There were references to be observed in many of the photographs that highlight it’s past, it’s present and, in some cases, the future.
I think I was helped by the lack of titling. Typically there would a reference only to the place and month and year e.g. Warszawa 01/2006; if there were people involved they would be named. It left the interpretation to the viewer, it enabled me to bring the narrative to the picture. I’m absolutely sure that I got it wrong on many occasions, perhaps all (wrong in the sense that the intent, pre or post curating, was probably different to that which Powell had intended), but as individual pieces of art they were powerful enough to project an emotional response.

There is little humour in these photographs (series here). There is, however, a lot of beauty; from the expertly printed images that are gently quiet and which invite and reward contemplation, impelling the viewer to question the place that modern day Poland inhabits today, and maybe the challenges that it faces for tomorrow. It is, in it’s entirety, a social document; the series attempts no provision of answers, rather it provokes the viewer to project a future for Poland in the knowledge that it’s past has been kicked from pillar to post, so much that even the great Tomaszewski would have had difficulty in saving Poland.

Rather unfairly – I thought at the time - we were asked to pick our favourite photograph, stand by it and then be prepared to speak about why it was so, to the rest of the group. I’m not really a fan of beauty contests, having a “fave’” smacks of camera club to me, but the time allocated to choose didn’t really allow for too much consideration and the subsequent conversation stemming from each “chooser’s” pitch was very interesting and stimulating. There were times when the speaker found a great deal of empathy with their view, similarly, contra suggestions were made and also discussed. In the end I think this exercise proved quite useful and thought provoking.

There was some talk at the end about the use of exhibitions and monographs; clearly there is a tendency to fetishize images that hang in exhibition halls, maybe more so these days, and maybe it was because this was a “study day” that I sought to derive context and narrative from these images. It may also be that they were mounted as very large prints, expertly printed and framed, well lit and sensitively curated but I did find lots to think about in these photographs and will look again, not only at this series but also at Power’s other work.

Christian illuminating on the art of making books

* post posting note: on closer scrutiny the light appears to come from underneath, the cross seems to have been made in the dirt that covers a light source. The soil around the cross is disturbed, allowing a little stray light to filter through, maybe this is a residue, or overflow that has covered a roof light? There are footprints around the cross - pic 59 - in the link to “The Sound of Two Songs” on Mark Power’s web-site.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Thoughts of time

From the 1st Sequence of Visual Threshold - reprinted with the kind permission of the artist Stefano Bernardoni
I have been thinking about the course and doing a fare amount of research, looking for photographers, talking to photographers, seeking advice and inspiration from wherever I can find it. It has been quite a fruitful exercise. I have found a number of photographic artists, the names of some I have passed onto other students and fellow photographers, some of whom have made me stop and think about my work and where I would like it to go. I am still finding it difficult to “let go” of the years of conditioning, but I am finding some real and tangible thoughts that I want to explore, especially around the subject of “People & Place”; about the presence of a place and the presence or not of a person within that space. The transitory notion of inhabitance.

Zarina Bhimji’s work “Out of Blue” is full of the resonance of “inhabitance” of the real notion of the life once led and how the landscape cannot escape the encumbrance of the life that was had, and how the photographer has inextricably linked them and bound them with her own emotive response to the land and her past.

Stefano Bernardoni has also explored inhabitance and memory “..Bernardoni’s work opens a conversation on how we process our time on earth. His images beg the question: Do we keep memories as they were at the time or in that place, or do we edit and tweak them to our liking? Yes, he might answer. We have two records: one of how we know things were and a parallel – and, in this case, photographic – record of how ultimately we remember them. When it comes to our life histories, our tendency toward image-making performs an important emotional function. It can shield us from the misfortune or disappointments that may have come; whatever we didn’t like then, we can remember through a different lens now. …” Zachary Shtogren  AG No. 50.

From the Third Sequence - Dreams in a Mirror - The Revelations reprinted with the kind permission of the artist Stefano Bernardoni

I was prompted to re-read Julian Barnes’ novel “The Sense Of An Ending” by the Creative Writing group who are interested in views from disparate parts of the OCA. Time is the central motif of this novel (perhaps more accurately and contentiously, a novella), and how the view from one’s memory can either be held, and verified as true, or revealed as distorted. I particularly liked this quote “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation”. In the story the hero decides to confront the larger part of his life – he is now in his sixties and these forced reflections take him back from his schooldays to his present. What he thought was profound is raised painfully into a raw vista for him to confront and make sense of, and what he finds, how he structured his life from those early days now seem questionable on the shifting sand that was a firm and level landscape. Another quote: “How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.”
The key difference between these three artists is the perspective; Bhimji looks to drive the demons from her past by exorcising the ghosts that refuse to inhabit her images, other than by inference and echo. Bernardoni through the transient ghost like images that exist, sometimes only on the edge of the frame. The images that I have chosen of his all contain a strong sense of "Person within the Place", other images of his depict the "Place" with only the memory of a life once lived. Whilst Barnes’ narrator has only memory, a memory challenged by a previously unknown fact that has affected his perspective of those he held near and afar.

Photographers are documenters, the process of exposure traps a moment in time inescapably for review, but as Barnes says, we can, should we so wish, make cuts, sly or otherwise. The photographer can embellish as Shtogren points out by adopting a different lens, by cropping, by adding distortion, removing the harshness of the sharpened pixel, mollifying the truth with sepia toners. As Kierkegaard reminds us, we review our lives looking backwards and it takes a strong constitution to spend more than a reflective moment to discover the wake of our lives.

It is a curious thing that this photographic artist, Bernardoni, employs transgressive techniques to illuminate his work. For preference Bernardoni used a Pentacon Six medium format camera, which has an extremely good reputation for high quality image rendition and then applies image distortion techniques such as, amongst others, holding spectacles in front of the lens as he shoots. I particularly like the association with the use of glasses, the means by which we improve our capability of “seeing” is used to corrupt his “view” of memory, but maybe illuminating it and by doing so providing a very powerful visual metaphor to compensate for, as Barnes puts it “..the inadequacies of documentation”, when it is a document that could be used to shore up the “imperfections of memory”.

From the 4th Sequence of Visual Threshold - reprinted with the kind permission of the artist Stefano Bernardoni

These three B’s work all invite us to open ourselves for that process of self-discovery, the use of reflection – which is what photographers record – both physical and metaphorical and is something I will continue to investigate further.