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Category : Documentary

Section 6 : Rework – General Presentation

In many ways I found this section to be the most interesting part of the module since it involved going back over the first five assignments and re-evaluating them, both from the perspective of my tutor’s comments but also, more interestingly, from my revised perspective. This revised perspective is what convinces me that I have actually learnt something from this module.

Probably the most important “lesson” that I’ve learnt is to maintain my focus throughout any body of work, not to lose track of my objective. I found that in some of the assignments I’d set of with one idea and this would develop as I produced the portfolio. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this approach, in fact I’d say that it was essential. What I did do wrong was that the final portfolio might contain elements of both my starting concept and my final, revised concept with any number of diluted elements in between.

Presentation for the assessment is something else that I obviously need to focus on at this stage. Originally I was going to print all of the assignments on the same paper at the same size (A3) but, on reflection that’s not the way that I’ll do it. I’ll use Permajet A3 for all of the assignments but each will be printed slightly differently to suit the portfolio.

Assignment 1 works well with Permajet’s Fibre Base Royal with a 3cm border. The border gives a good sense of isolation for handling and inspection whilst the semi-gloss brings out the detail.

DoccTemp1

Assignment 2’s images are square but again work well with the same paper but the square format lent itself to a slightly larger print (in height) but with larger side borders. Again the slight gloss finish enhances the detail and gives a good contrast with the shadow that is in all of the images.

DoccTemp2

 

In many ways I prefer my portfolio for Assignment 5 to the others and, as such, the automatic reaction would be to print it larger for the assessment to bring attention to it. Instead I found that printing it slightly smaller on Permajet’s Fibre Base Gloss enhanced the concept of isolation or abandonment, focussing concentration on the image. The gloss finish, not being over the top, also helped to make the image stand out from the wide borders.

DoccTemp5

 

For this assignment I’ve only printed 15 images as required my the course. The complete portfolio has been included within a photobook which I’ll include with the submission. This was the first photobook that I’ve produced where the blank space, both margins and complete pages, seemed to be as important as the images themselves.

The Assignment that caused me the greatest problem with presentation was Assignment 3. As I described in the earlier posts I originally felt that the presentation worked best in black and white which gave a consistency to the portfolio. Having experimented with numerous formats, both monochrome and colour I reverted to colour which was probably a good thing given that the course asked for it to be in colour !

For assessment the images would be printed on A3 to maintain consistency across the assignments but the size of the individual images took a lot of experimentation to achieve the impact that I wanted. The balancing act between the size of the images being small enough to become part of the tableau rather than an individual image against being large enough so that they could be inspected was one issue which then had to be balanced against the overall size of the tableau within the A3 print ! Doing it on cheap paper only took it so far and a lot of paper was wasted trying to get the correct balance shown by the example here !

Tableaux-1

Now to pack it all up to be couriered to the OCA for assessment !

 

Abandonment

Section 6 : Rework – Assignment 5

There’s wasn’t too much to do in the way of rework on this assignment. The feedback was generally OK with the main issue being that I had to have a diverse set to reflect different peoples’ views but perhaps had too diverse a set in the prints. I’ve countered this by tightening the core images that will be printed for assignment but left the broadest set in the printed book and the electronic version that can be seen here :-

As it says on the page, a page curl effect can be seen by clicking and dragging the corners. It might be trivial but I think the effect is effective and it appealed to my childishness when I found it 🙂

The puppy image from the original set was interesting since my tutor felt that it was too well kept to be abandoned but the dogs at Battersea look just as well-kept. I also intended for the image to reflect the “fear of abandonment” as well, something that possibly over-complicated the message so that one did get the chop. The only other significant change that I made was to adjust the white balance on a couple of the indoor images which had been affected by artificial light and now they are more in keeping with the rest of the portfolio.

For assessment the issue of printing was interesting. I’ve printed all of the previous assignments on Permajet A3 paper so I wanted to do the same with this set for ease of handling at assessment but was interested in my tutor’s discussion with Maja Daniels on the size of printed images. For this assignment I felt that a smaller print on the A3 paper increased the sense of abandonment and, contradictorily, made the images stand out more for inspection.

The final element required for the assessment was the receipt of the photobook which has now arrived and is ready to go. This was the first time that I’d printed a book with as many blank pages as there are images. As can be seen in the mockup some of the images are grouped together on successive pages where there is a clear link whilst others stand alone with empty pages around them. I feel that this approach has worked well, emphasising abandonment and, at the same time, encouraging more detailed inspection.

The final images can be see here.

Gaz

Reference

  1. Interview with Maja Daniels, Online at http://weareoca.com/photography/maja-daniels/

Section 6 : Rework – Assignment 4

As I mentioned in my blog entry responding to my tutor’s comments I was generally happy with the feedback, especially as I’d tried to be innovative / original in my writing – always a risk!. The biggest problem was that I directly contradicted the views that my tutor espoused in a blog post about Diane Arbus. Rather than expand my views in the revised essay and then go above the requested word count I justified my comments in a separate post at Diane Arbus – A Viewpoint. I told my tutor that I’d written a blog post totally disagreeing with her and, unsurprisingly, she took it well 🙂

Other changes to the review were largely cosmetic, just making it easier to follow, expanding a couple of sections slightly. One section that I expanded was on voyeurism but, because of word count I couldn’t cover this as thoroughly as I’d like without losing something else. As it is the word count without the bibliography comes out at around 2,500, right on the limit that my tutor suggested would be acceptable !

I’ve posted the final version at The Reflexive Gaze but included the text below for convenience.

Gaz

 

The Reflexive Gaze : How Does Culture Affect Photojournalism ?

The subject of a “Gaze” describing the interaction between photographer and subject has been analysed extensively over the past two decades. In 1991 The National Geographic published The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins [18]. In this article the authors presenting a simplistic typology of seven kinds of gaze.

The authors admitted that “Recent critiques of these views of the gaze take issue with its …. tendency to universalise its claims and to ignore broader issues of social and historical context, as well of its neglect of race and class as key factors determining looking relations“.

The sociologist, John Urry, partially addressed this criticism when he looked at the relationship between the tourist and the local population in The Tourist Gaze [3]. In this work he looked at the commoditisation of the local community and the way the behaviour of both parties is affected by this commoditisation. In this book Urry describes tourism as resulting “from a basic binary division between the ordinary/everyday and the extraordinary” creating the opportunity for this behaviour. In many ways this could be used to describe the role of a photojournalist, either recording the extraordinary or finding and depicting the extraordinary in the everyday but the photojournalist must be aware of the potential for commoditisation and avoid it or risk losing the necessary objectivity.

To enable this, a photojournalist must, by necessity, go beyond Urry’s simple, uni-directional Tourist Gaze and be aware of a number of other aspects, primarily the fact that, according to Erik Cohen et al [8], the interaction is multi-faceted, involving both the photographer and the subject.

Figure 1 - McCullin, West Dinajpur, 1971

Figure 1 – McCullin, West Dinajpur, 1971

Alex Gillespie [4] discusses this in depth, developing the concept of a Reverse Gaze where the tourist’s own gaze is reflected upon himself, often causing embarrassment or discomfort, much as a subject of the Tourist Gaze might feel in the first place. This will then question motivations and trigger a re-positioning, allowing the photographer to develop a more sympathetic and informative viewpoint.

Dean MacCanell [5] takes this further, developing the concept of a Second Gaze which “is a part of tourists’ subjectivity that has as its object the tourist gaze. It …. asks how tourist experiences have been constructed ……  and asks what has been left out”.

It’s that last element “asking what has been left out” which is fundamental to a tourist becoming a photojournalist, going below the obvious photographer-subject interaction to portray the extraordinary or just the important.

The analytic approach necessitated by Gillespie’s Second Gaze would complement Sontag’s view, the analysis overriding any personal viewpoint that the photographer might initially develop.

As an example of this similar approach both Don McCullin and Margaret Bourke-White spent time in India photographing the horrific aftermath of a cholera outbreak.

McCullin’s image (above left) was taken in 1971 at West Dinajpur on the India Bangladesh border. Presumably of a cholera victim being carried by her husband, the viewer is spared nothing. The image is almost confrontational and there is no attempt by McCullin to conceal the fact that he is there. If it wasn’t for the open gaze of the man it could almost be considered voyeuristic in its grief.

On the right, Margaret Bourke-White’s image of a cholera victim feeding her child was taken 24 years earlier in Kasur, Pakistan. As in McCullin’s image nothing is spared, the viewer is left with a

Figure 2- Bourke-White, Kasur, 1947

Figure 2- Bourke-White, Kasur, 1947

similarly voyeuristic view of the mother’s despair.

The two images are very similar in approach, reinforcing Sontag’s view that the works of photojournalists are similar. When Lange’s Migrant Mother is compared to Bourke-White’s image the viewpoint is further consolidated.

Lange’s image was taken on the other side of the world and the subject matter was not disease and instead was the Great Depression  but the emotion and message of the images are similar. The impression aligns with Sontag’s view in that all great photojournalists are aware of the best practices to ensure that their images deliver the correct message. Additionally it almost appears that the message is the same whenever human suffering is the subject.

Figure 3 - Lange, Migrant Mother

Figure 3 – Lange, Migrant Mother

McCullin’s later, personal work in India, initially at least, again tends to reinforce this view. His work as a photojournalist is very different to his later, personal, work for his book India in which he describes [2] the country as “like a kaleidoscope of beautiful colour”. Certainly not a term that would be used for his journalistic work in the country and contrary to the analytic approach necessitated by Gillespie.

Looking again at the original two images differences in approach do start to become apparent. Compositionally both are similar though the background figure in McCullin’s image gives his image more of a feel of a public event than does Bourke-White’s. The primary difference is in the gaze of the husband; direct and challenging.

Solomon-Godeau [13] in Inside/Out builds on some of Sontag’s ideas and differentiates between those images taken from the “inside”, full of inside information and context versus those taken from the “outside” which can contain elements of voyeurism or seem to be removed from the subject, almost dispassionate. The two images above can be categorised in this way but she is more concerned with categorising photographers in this way rather than individual images.

Two photographers that she uses as examples are Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin, the former regarded by Sontag as a “morbid voyeur”, very much known for lack of involvement with her subjects and content to photograph from the outside [1].

Conversely Goldin is known for the empathy that she shares with her subjects [14] – ‘There is a popular notion that the photographer is by nature a voyeur, the last one to be invited to the party. But I’m not crashing; this is my party. This is my family, my history.

The issue of voyeurism in photojournalism is something that has been debated in depth by many academics other than Sontag and would require a whole essay to summarise just some of the issues. However, one thing that seems constant is that blatant voyeurism detracts from any message or context of the photojournalistic image.

As an example of this Sebastian Salgado and Martin Chambi are another pair of photojournalists that have shared a subject. Both are South American and have taken extensive collections of the continent.

Chambi was an indigenous Peruvian, noted for his sympathetic portraiture of indigenous communities, mostly using available light. His images depicted the culture and lifestyle of his compatriots, showing the poverty and pride in equal measure.

Figure 4 - Salgado, Mexico, 1980

Figure 4 – Salgado, Mexico, 1980

In Other Americas Sebastião Salgado similarly portrayed the indigenous cultures of Latin America but, as an outsider, seemingly voyeuristic, many of his images show no rapport with the life of the subject. Over the course of the complete portfolio it becomes apparent that Salgado isn’t part of the culture, he is merely standing outside and recording it dispassionately, often overlaying religious symbology. His emotional contact with the subject stems from his desire to romanticise or ennoble the subjects [6],

“If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things.” Sebastião Salgado, 1994

Conversely Chambi’s view was [7]

 “I feel I am representing my race; my people will speak through the photographs.” – Martín Chambi, 1936

Figure 5 - Chambi, Kanchis, ca 1936

Figure 5 – Chambi, Kanchis, ca 1936

These two viewpoints do begin to contradict Sontag’s view of the absence of a personal vision but don’t completely dismiss it. Both viewpoints could be executed dispassionately to deliver an informative image. However what does contradict Sontag’s view is the fact that the viewpoints of the two photographers directly reflect their culture. Chambi is photographing his own race, fully aware of both the negatives and the positives, recording the poverty and the pride in equal measures.

Conversely, Salgado is photographing the indigenous people through the eyes of his own people, the conquering settlers. Almost like a tourist he is keen to emphasise the “nobility of the conquered savage”, emphasising how the conquered people have not been forced to lose their dignity.

Here we can refer back to Nan Goldin’s quote above and replace Goldin’s “my family, my history” with Chambi’s “my race, my people”. Chambi, in this regard, would inevitably be considered an “inside” photographer in Solomon-Godeau’s classification but now we have an inherent reason for the approach rather than a deliberate methodology. Here we have Chambi utilising his knowledge of his own culture to produce a different image from that produced by the outsider, Salgado.

By analysing McCullin and Bourke-White’s images in a similar way the difference can again be attributed to the cultural differences of the photographer. McCullin’s early background [2] was in a hard, racist environment; gang warfare was all around. The direct confrontational approach of his cholera image is reminiscent of gang members confronting authority and could reflect McCullin’s early relationship with his neighbourhood.

By contrast, Bourke-White came from a comfortable, affluent environment with a stable caring family. Bourke-White’s image above and others from the same study demonstrate this caring, non-confrontational view. Again her images reflect her cultural background and upbringing and are differentiated from McCullin’s by their culture even though both came from similar, Western societies.

In general terms, to link the culture and background of the photographer to the resulting images we need to analyse those images in the context of Urry’s statement in the Tourist Gaze where he states [3, p3] “The gaze is constructed through signs”.

In the context where Urry makes this statement he describes the example of two people kissing in Paris denoting “timeless, romantic Paris” so we can assume that he is referring to signs in the Peirce’s triadic model rather than Saussure’s dyadic model of semiotics where the sign refers to the relationship between the signified and the signifier. Utilising Peirce’s model requires an interpretant to impart meaning to the sign.

Fiske [10, p42] refines Peirce’s definition of an interpretant by defining it as the sign that is created for the interpreter by the original sign of the document or, in this case, of the photograph. Note that Fiske argues that it is created not just by the original sign but also by the experience and culture of the interpreter and, also, that the interpreter can refer to both the final reader (viewer) or the original writer (photographer). Fiske also stresses that the interpretant “is not fixed, defined by a dictionary, but may vary within limits according to the experience of the user”.

Looking again at the cholera images of McCullin and Bourke-White we can see that at the first order of signification according to Barthes, denotation,[2] the two images are similar, both show a scene which can be described in exactly the same way e.g. A relative holding a cholera victim on the Indian sub-continent.

At the second order the two images become discrete. Connotation is one of the three ways in which signs interact in the second order and is when the sign interacts with the feelings and background of the interpreter, driven by the interpretant, which, as we suggested earlier, is created, at least partially, by the culture of the interpreter. The confrontational pose of McCullin’s subject partially overrides his grief and, together with the observer in the background, connotes intrusion, aggression and blame. Conversely Bourke-White’s image connotes empathy and sympathy.

These second layers of meaning are explained by Fiske [10, p86] “denotation is what is photographed, connotation is how it is photographed …… largely arbitrary, specific to one culture”.

Given that the connotation is largely driven by the interpretant and that the interpretant is first noticed in the scene and then interposed in the image by the photographer we can see that the culture of the photographer is critical to which interpretants are utilised and hence the connotation of the image.

Also of the second order of signification is Myth which Barthes uses, not to suggest fictional histories but perceived truths about a culture or how a culture perceives itself. Hall [12] suggests thinking about culture as “shared conceptual maps … and the codes which govern the relationships of translation between them …To share these things is to see the world from within the same conceptual map”. In effect these codes are analogous to the Myth of Barthes and Hall suggests that concept of culture is sharing of these codes (or myths) .

Again an observer brought up in the myths of a culture is more likely to understand which codes are valid and which are fictional perceptions or false stereotypes. Effectively this presents different opportunities for those inside and outside the culture of the scene but again it allows the culture of the photographer to affect the decision-making process.

The final second order of signification in Barthes’ analysis is Symbol which is often replaced by Metaphor or Metonymy. In each case the symbol is dependent on the viewer’s understanding and, as such, is not fully under the control of the photographer who may or may not make the same associations. However we have argued that two out of the three second-orders are potentially driven by the culture and background of the photographer.

Bate [15] deliberately paraphrases Eco and Burgin when he suggests that the differences between the actual photograph (the signifier) and the real scene (the signified) are what photography brings to the viewer. Now we see that the culture of the photographer enables the photographer to introduce or create many of those differences by activating the relevant codes.

This mechanism is similar to that described by MacCannell when he describes the Second Gaze and how it enables the photographer to utilise his understanding of the tourist-local interaction to introduce codes or symbols into his tourist images.

Here the mechanism can best be described as a “Reflexive Gaze” or a “Cultured Gaze” as the photographer utilises reflexive elements from his cultural background to modify the message of the image.

Solomon-Godeau [13] suggests that “we frequently assume authenticity and truth to be located on the inside … and, at the same time, we routinely – culturally – locate and define objectivity in conditions of exteriority”. By utilising the Reflexive Gaze the photographer can activate the cultural signifiers whilst remaining distant or impartial.

In summary we can say that the culture of the photographer can affect an image, particularly its connotation, by noticing and using culture-specific interpretants which might not be accessible to photographers of different cultures. By consciously utilising this “Reflexive Gaze” the photographer can demonstrate empathy with the subject while simultaneously demonstrating objectivity and truth.

 

Footnotes

[1] This viewpoint is disputed by, amongst others, my tutor in her article at [17].Rather than go into detail here as to why I concur with Sontag’s viewpoint I have expanded this argument at http://www.gaslight.me.uk/blog/archives/4783

[2] Barthes later changed his view and suggested that denotation was not of the first order but instead that “it pretends to be so”. This does not impact on the current discussion

 

Bibliography

  1. Sontag, Susan (1979) ‘On Photography’, 3rd Ed, London, Penguin Books,
  2. McCullin, D., 2002, “BBC Radio 3 – Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with Don McCullin”. Accessed August 2014
  3. Urry, J. (2002) The Tourist Gaze. 2 ed., London: Sage
  4. Gillespie, Alex (2006) Tourist photography and the reverse gaze. Avaliable online from http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/38652/[Accessed August 2014]
  5. MacCannell, Dean, 2001 Tourist Agency. Tourist Studies 1(1):23-38.
  6. Salgado, S., . 1994. “Sebastião Salgado,” an interview by Ken Lassiter. Photographer’s Forum, September 1994, p. 26.
  7. Chambi, M., 1936, Available online from http://www.martinchambi.org
  8. Cohen, Erik, Yeshayahu Nir and Uri Almagor, 1992 Stranger-Local Interaction in Photography. Annals of Tourism Research, 19:213-233.
  9. Don McCullin , Sleeping With Ghosts : A Life’s Work in Photography by Don McCullin (Photographer)
  10. Fiske, John (1982): Introduction to Communication Studies. London: Routledge. Available online at https://www.academia.edu/2237045/Introduction_to_Communication_Studies
  11. Chambi, M., The Perennial Light, Available online at https://readymag.com/u14729800/8183/
  12. Hall, ed. l997c Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices.London: Sage and Open Press. Available online from http://www4.ncsu.edu/~mseth2/com417s12/readings/HallRepresentation.PDF
  13. Solomon-Godeau, A. (1984), “Inside/Out” in Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
  14. Nan Goldin (1986). Nan Goldin:The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency . New York: Aperture. 1-144.
  15. David Bate (2009).The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg.,
  16. Lutz, C., Collins, J., (1991), The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes, in Visual Anthropology Review, Spring 1991
  17. Boothroyd, S., (2013). The Pain of Looking. Available online at http://weareoca.com/photography/the-pain-of-looking/
  18. Lutz, C., Collins, J., (1991), The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic, Avaliable online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/var.1991.7.1.134/abstract

Figures

  1. Don McCullin, Woman with cholera, West Dinajpur, Bangladesh, 1971
  2. Margaret Bourke-White, Infectious Disease Hospital.Kasur, West Punjab, Pakistan, October 1947
  3. Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936
  4. Sebastião Salgado, Mexico, 1980
  5. Martin Chambi, Organist, Chapel at Tinta, Kanchis, ca. 1934

Section 6 : Rework – Assignment 3 (cont)

The first post on this subject became too long so, to recap from the earlier (lengthy) post

  • This might look like “A Day in the Life of” at first glance and, indeed, it is if you go through an individual tableau.
  • Going across the different tableaux narrates life in the town. In particular it narrates the interaction of tourist and local community
  • More importantly it tries to narrate the transience of the tourist experience when compared to the constancy of the Castle and the Thames
  • Expands on the local community images of Assignment 1. Not all of the sites in that assignment were suitable for this treatment
  • Some, such as the bus stop, have elements other than “A Day …” . This reflects numerous research studies into the psychology of where people sit on a bench, social interactions etc
  • The coach park, not the most exciting imagery, provides a framework to the series, giving a sense of scale to the visitor numbers

One issue with the complexity of the final portfolio is that the narrative can become diluted through having numerous “sub-narratives”. Conversely this complexity lends itself to further inspection of the images, again complemented or encouraged by the small size of the individual images. However, throughout the tableaux the key narrative remains constant and describes the transient interaction of tourism within the constancy of the environment, particularly the castle and the river.

In her 2001 paper [1], Anthropology of Tourism, Amanda Stronza looks at the impact of tourism on the hosts, how the tourists impact on the local culture or history and many other pertinent questions. Although Stronza was primarily looking at 3rd world tourism this portfolio does show that the same questions can be asked about 1st world tourism, particularly at historic sites such as Windsor.

Interestingly, in answering these questions Stronza refers extensively to the work of MacCannell whose work was a key element underpinning my critical essay for Assignment 4, The Reflexive Gaze. One of my key aims in changing the direction of this portfolio was to create a strong link to Assignment 1. Inadvertently I’ve also created a strong link to Assignment 4 making an interesting trilogy !

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Finally the course asks that we create a PDF to demonstrate the narrative sequence. Since, deliberately, this portfolio does not have such a constrained or definite sequence as would a typical narrative a PDF isn’t quite as valid since the viewer can perceive the narrative in a number of different sequences but, for the sake of completeness, the PDF can be viewed via a Flash file here.

References

  1. Stronza, A. 2001 Anthropology of tourism: Forging new ground for ecotourism and other alternatives. Annual Review of Anthropology 30:261-283.

 

Section 6 : Rework – Assignment 3

This was the assignment that I was least happy with. I ended up losing track of what I was trying to do which meant that I delivered a”brochure” as my tutor described it i.e. all subtlety was lost and the images wrongly processed for my objective. However, that did give me the opportunity to modify it and try to reflect some of the things that I’d learnt since then.

I still felt that the narrative was strong, it told the tale of the gravel pit, the local issues and what became of the site so I could have continued with that narrative, tweaking the portfolio, but I wanted to start again with other ideas. I was lucky enough to do a lot of travelling in the months after I submitted the assignment for the first time so my first thought was to “go big”. One option was to look at the plight of the polar bear and its disappearing habitat e.g.

Polar Bear-2Polar Bear-3Polar Bear-1

But the brief asked us to engage at a local level so, despite the issue of climate change (I’m making no comment as to the veracity of either side’s claims) being felt at a local level the portfolio couldn’t be considered as such without squeezing it to fit.

A related local issue with global ramifications was “water” given the flooding that occurred here last winter and I developed a narrative tracing water issues through various countries such as the plight of the fisher people of Vietnam  ending with the flooding here in Windsor – a long convoluted link I admit but it made a good narrative

WC-3WC-2

WC-1

 

 

 

There were numerous other “large” narratives but in the end I decided to stay emphatically with the local theme but didn’t want to take any of the easy and obvious options such as the State Visits in Windsor or the Eton Wall game even though they lent themselves to the local aspect especially when behind the scene elements were included such as the workmen preparing the road for the horses in the early hours or the empty, rainy streets before the event.

State Visit-1State Visit-2

 

The problem with each of these events was that they weren’t of everyday life whereas all of my other assignments were. It could be argued that including assignments that encompassed both everyday life and grand events showed breadth but I wanted the combined portfolio of the course to work as a semi-coherent whole with a consistent feel so, in the end, I concentrated on the local aspect and went “small”.

I wanted to follow on from Assignment 1 which also asked for  a local element so I took one of those images and followed it through for a day or, more accurately, at different times over a series of days. I used this image on the right which my tutor had likedBus Stop-1, “I also thought the ….. lady waiting on the bench were interesting subjects – clearly unimpressed by the grandness around them“, since that comment had given me the focus for Assignment 1. You could say that the narrative element was simply “a day in the life of a bench” which would be true but I was more interested in the succession of people waiting at the bus stop, ignoring the “grandness”, the social interaction or otherwise and the use of the public transport system for various forms of journey. For me this formed a simple but effective narrative and was similar to Walker Evans’ subway images in “Many are Called“.

However, it still didn’t narrate the key element that I wanted to develop from Assignment 1 which was twofold – the interaction of the locals with the tourists and the transience of the tourist when compared to the permanence and history of the town’s key features, the Thames and the Castle.

This left me with two issues that I had with the portfolio as it stood.

Firstly I felt that using a number of the images from Assignment 1 in the same way would give a much broader and deeper narrative, describing the flow of people and the community across the town, including both locals and tourists. The trouble being that would take me up to 120 images, rather more than the 10 required for the assignment.

Secondly I’d become intrigued by my tutor’s interview [1] with  Maja Daniels which she’d referred me to. Here the two photographers discuss the size of a print and how it becomes material to the way that image is viewed. Critically the point was made that a small image can lead the viewer to examine it in more detail.

Tableaux-1The second point provided the answer to the first point. By creating tableaux of 12 images each from the locations in Assignment 1 that gave me the required 10 images but allowed me to include numerous locations. Not all of the locations in Assignment 1 were suitable for this treatment so some were changed, after all, a series of 12 images showing different people entering a local post office would not add much to the narration. Having said that for one of the new locations I used one of the coach parks with Windsor Castle in the background, not the most interesting of views but it provides a framework or reference point for the other series, graphically displaying by the number of coaches just how full the town is. At the same time the other images narrate how the tourists and local use the town whilst the views of the Thames and the Castle emphasise their constancy compared to the transience of the visits.

This does create one final problem – the tableaux look much better in black and white rather than colour for two reasons. Firstly the smaller size of the images means that detail is more difficult to perceive but a black and white treatment allows this detail to be more apparent. Secondly the variety of colours across the images creates a patchwork effect which detracts from the narrative, especially when taken across all of the tableaux. The black and white treatment gives a consistency to the portfolio which encourages inspection.

It’s worth mentioning that the idea for the tableaux came from my tutor’s mention of the works of Bernd and Hiller Becher [2]. I found their grid images to be effective for comparing the variations across the images and adopted that here to compare the changes (or not) at each site. Critically the Bechers made a strong play of the objectivity of their images and here it allows a degree of objectivity into the study whilst retaining some of the subjectivity of the individual images.

This post is getting too long so I’ll finish it in a second instalment.

Gaz

Reference

  1. Interview with Maja Daniels, Online at http://weareoca.com/photography/maja-daniels/
  2. Bechers – The Collection, Online at http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=8095

Section 6 : Rework – Assignment 2

My original assignment portfolio was based around the concept of “byddall” which I described to my tutor as :-

As a child in North Wales I used to lose myself completely in whatever I was doing – especially reading. My parents used the word “byddall” to describe this state but it was only later that I realised that it was a contraction of “mewn byd arrall” (in another world). It’s not a regular Welsh word but I’m unclear if it was just a family word or whether it came from the rural area of my parents’ childhood.

Irrespective of its pedigree I started thinking of all the other states that led to “byddall” and the result is this short portfolio.

The first image, “50 Years On”, is intended to bridge the gap from the time that I first heard “byddall” to the current day, replacing my 2s 6d book with an eReader. This is the state I used to find myself in all those years ago – all that’s changed are technology and 50 years of ageing.

Whilst I was quite happy with the original portfolio and, with a few tweaks, felt that it could have been developed into a strong portfolio something that my tutor mentioned in passing struck a chord and I redeveloped the portfolio into a much tighter and, in my opinion, much stronger portfolio. Still based around the original image “50 years on”  which is now the first image in the portfolio I asked people, friends and strangers, what put them into their own world where the real world just passed them by. I ended up with a strong variety of images which allowed me to create a very tight portfolio by selecting a few of them as shown here.

I found it interesting how my approach to the assignment had changed as the course progressed. I felt that the original approach worked well but the more focussed final portfolio conveys exactly the same concept but in a much more personal way, enabling the viewer to come up with their own version of “byddall“.

Gaz

Section 6 : Rework – Assignment 1

 

 

 

This is one of the assignments where a tighter focus would have worked much better. My original theme related to the way that the locals in Windsor interacted with the millions of tourists that visit each year or, more accurately, didn’t. My focus drifted during the exercise and these three images demonstrate this

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The first (which my tutor was unsure about but I still feel is very descriptive of the original theme) typified the way the locals would continue with their lives whilst the tourists thronged around them. Here the commuter just ignores the tourists getting excited about a decorated telephone box outside the castle. This was the theme that I started out with. During the course of it my theme drifted and the middle image shows two local businessmen next to two tourists but the shop sale distracts and introduces another layer or concept which dilutes the original theme. As a statement about the economic climate it would work well but the contrast between the local businessmen and the tourists gets diluted by that concept.

The last image (my tutor’s favourite from the series) introduces a further element i.e. how the local community exist, surrounded by the trappings of history and wealth. All three images describe a variant of the original theme but the series needs to be tighter and just concentrate on one of those. As my tutor summarised

I think with a little bit of work, a stronger theme, a tighter edit and perhaps a few reshoots this work could be submitted as an interesting take on your local community, which is in itself quite unique

With that in mind I concentrated on the last image above and based a series around that, using many of the original images but with the theme of “Living in the Shadow of Grandeur” to paraphrase another of my tutor’s comments. To do that I concentrated on a series of images that showed “normal life” with the grandness of Windsor and Eton in the background. The resulting set is shown below.

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I’ve tried to get a mixture, showing both the contrast in housing together with individuals going about their normal lives but in the end I feel that it’s a much more focussed set than the original. Let’s see if the assessors agree 🙁

Gaz

Abandonment

Assignment 5 – Response

Generally I was happy with my tutor’s response to this assignment which is a rare event for me. I usually just notice the (constructive) criticism and ignore or miss any positives. This time her only real criticism was something that I was well aware of before I submitted the assignment, namely how to construct a coherent portfolio when, at the same time, I wanted to demonstrate the variety of responses to the question “What is abandonment to you?”

With apologies for quoting without explicit permission her comment on this was

I know you are dealing with different reactions / responses to the term abandonment so it’s a difficult task to make the images all sit together in a consistent way as each one will be slightly different. However I think you have a mixture of image styles here and I would like to see them more consistent. For example some of them feel very evocative and it is these ones that I think work well with the theme – the wool on the fence and the moss on the trees are details that take on connotations of loss or pain when read with the title. Some of the other images, like the widow and the grave stone, seem less emotional and more literal and obvious.

I know exactly what she means but I’m still not sure how much I want to “tighten” the portfolio. Some people’s responses were very simple and uncomplicated whereas others were more abstract. The latter certainly make the better images but can I make more abstract images of the simple responses without losing that very simplicity which was at the heart of those responses?

My book format and presentation seemed to be a success with the large amount of white space helping to connote “abandonment” as well as allowing the viewer time to contemplate. My tutor agrees that it’s OK to print the main portfolio of 15 images as required by the course but to extend the portfolio in the book to develop the theme further and to give more context to the key images. That works to my advantage with regard to the question of tightening since I can tighten the printed portfolio whilst still allowing some leeway in the wider series in the book but how far to go?

This question of a coherent portfolio raised its head in Aperture’s 2010 awards when the magazine commented about the portfolio of its runner-up, Jordan Tate, as [1] “In another über-contemporary nod, Tate adopts a mode of working in which the traditional idea of a coherent style or artist series is dismissed, allowing room for seemingly disparate image-making modes to coexist within a single body of work“.

The Denny Gallery [2] also references Tate’s work as “His work is based in ongoing research/meta-photographic critique concerning the visual and conceptual processes of image comprehension.

I’ve highlighted part of the quote and this section is something that I need to  work on. By understanding that process I should be able to improve the evocativeness and subtlety of certain images to portray the simpler concepts – that’s the theory for the next three months until assessment. The process doesn’t just encompass semiotics as I understood it but also the underlying process as to how semiotics works for the photographer and the viewer. It’s still a bit vague in my head but it’s something that I can work on.

Alternatively the Aperture quote has set me thinking that it might be fun to loosen the portfolio instead of tightening it. That way I can explore how the process of image comprehension is different for different people and, at the same time, emphasise how abandonment is also viewed differently. It’s a good job that I selected the assessment date to give me plenty of time to revise my portfolios !

Gaz

References

  1. Aperture Awards, 2010, Available online at http://www.aperture.org/portfolio-prize/2010-winners/jordan-tate/
  2. Jordan Tate, Denny Gallery, http://dennygallery.com/artists/jordan-tate/
Windsor street

Assignment 5 – Abandonment Image Gallery

One I got going on this assignment I found the mixture of concept and documentary to be an interesting exercise. some of the images were pre-planned, some were totally spontaneous as I suddenly thought that the scene matched one of the “sub-concepts” and others were a weird mixture of both. One advantage of this approach has meant that I haven’t ended up with the hundreds of images that I normally have to sift through at this point. After each shoot, impromptu or otherwise, I had to edit down to see if my intended sub-concept was portrayed, if the symbology of the image triggered the correct association. Here, by “sub-concept” I mean the particular form of abandonment relevant to one of my interrogated subjects!

Conversely I keep coming across other instances of abandonment that would be suitable but I need to stop at some point. Leonardo da Vinci allegedly said “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” so I now need to rationalise the 25 or so images that reflect different forms of abandonment down to the 15 required for the assignment. This has led to an interesting problem because of the overlapping nature of some of the images. As described earlier some of the sub-concepts can be portrayed in a single image and some require more than one. The images are the same, some portray a single sub-concept and others portray a multitude. For that reason a book seems the best approach to display them and, at this stage, I’ve created mockups rather than have one printed. I know that I’ll be making extensive modifications after my tutor has responded 🙂

For those with Flash there are two version

As it says on the page, a page curl effect can be seen by clicking and dragging the corners. It might be trivial but I think the effect is effective and it appealed to my childishness when I found it 🙂

 

The images can be seen at http://www.gaslight.me.uk/abandonment

Given the subjectiveness of conceptual photography it’s worth, at this point. looking at some of the sub-concepts symbolised in the images from my point of view. Some are obvious ( I hope) whilst some come from personal experiences and might be unclear or unshared (is that a word?).

Images 3&4 are a case in point. Yes, they relate to an abandoned community but to some it’s more contentious since the community is in the Hebrides and a symbol, to some, of the abandonment forced on villagers by distant politicians.

Image 5 is obviously an abandoned churchyard, neglected as it is overgrown but 6&7 continue the story to the abandonment of those left behind and to the abandonment of the elderly.

Some such as 8-10 tell of abandoned ways of life and abandoned technologies whilst others (11-13) hint at a greater picture.

To some people image 14 tells of the abandonment of our troops during war and later by the people that they serve whilst 15 tells of the abandonment on their return.

Others tell of the abandonment of childhood or of animals, 23 tells of the daily abandonment of a commuter street as well as the change of life since those houses were built for Queen Victoria’s court.

Most heartfelt of those questioned was probably the staged image 24 which attempts to tell of the abandonment by a parent or spouse whilst image 25 tells of the final abandonment.

In actual fact, my interpretation of the symbols as described here is irrelevant – it’s whatever the viewer makes of them that’s important but I felt that it was useful to at least explain that I had some reason for the images !

Gaz

 

Assignment 5 : Personal Project – Abandonment

I’d like to have produced a wildlife portfolio for this assignment, partly because I haven’t noticed one in the OCA before but primarily because that would have been my ideal. Unfortunately I don’t have six months available to get to know my subject well enough and that’s probably the minimum that it would have taken for the subjects that I’d have liked to follow even if I could get access. Access to the Rwanda Gorillas was for one hour and very expensive, involving a three hour trek uphill. Doing that for long enough to get a genuine portfolio together would destroy me both financially and physically !

I then thought of working with one of the water charities in Africa for anything up to two or three months but none of those that I tried to contact deigned to reply so I think that I failed on the gatekeeper aspect of my planning !

Instead I needed something closer to home. Two subjects that had interested me during the course module were, firstly, boundaries. I’d found a couple of portfolios that I’d researched that were heavily influenced by boundaries whether they be physical, mental or cultural and I’d liked to have developed this further.

Simon Roberts - We English

Simon Roberts – We English

One of these portfolios was Simon Roberts’ We English where many of the boundaries are very subtle but no less present. Roberts’ portfolio also made me think of doing the equivalent for “Us Welsh“, possibly in the form of diptychs to contrast the two cultures but by the time that I thought of this we were heading into late autumn / winter. The thought of numerous treks across the Severn Bridge into winter weather in Wales was too much to consider, especially as I had to finish the portfolio before spring arrived.

Finally I decided on something even closer to home and more accessible since I was running late on this module. I decided to look at “Abandonment” well aware that it had been “done to death” in the past. However, most of the photographic work that I’d seen in the past concentrated on one aspect, usually rural or urban decay. Occasionally the subject would be more personal such as the break up of a marriage leaving a spouse or child to feel abandoned but all of the examples that I could find concentrated on a single aspect.

What I wanted to do was explore what “Abandonment” meant to different people, not just the clichéd examples (though some were stunning), but at a personal level. I became a nuisance to many people, mostly friends but with a few comparative strangers included, and asked what abandonment meant to them or what frightened them about abandonment.

Some of the answers were obvious involving rural decay or discarded rubbish. Some were expected –

I still remember the pain that I felt when my father left us when I was seven, nearly 50 years ago“.

Others were less expected but understandable. Two related ones come from living in a barracks town –

It really p****s me off to see how some of us are treated after leaving the army with no support

And after Remembrance Day “Much of this wouldn’t have happened if those idiots in charge hadn’t abandoned their people

A dog lover could only think of their pet, abandoned at Battersea Dogs Home in Windsor, needing a new home that was, fortunately, provided by her.

Windsor street

Windsor street

A deserted daytime street in Windsor’s commuter area spoke of daily abandonment but also spoke of the changes since the area was built for Queen Victoria’s court.

As I progressed with some rough images and ideas I found that some images or concepts overlapped within a single photograph, others needed multiple images to fully cover the concept. A child’s deserted sandcastle about to be swamped by the tide was an example of the former. The deserted beach spoke of abandonment at a basic level, the sandcastle spoke of childhood being abandoned, the tide spoke of the sea abandoning the land and vice versa.

Because of this complexity the method of presentation became almost as important as the images. Just printing a portfolio of the 15 images required, even when kept in strict order, lost some of the complexity and interactions between the sub-concepts. The Francesca Woodman exhibition provided a partial solution to this problem. At the exhibition I’d spent some time in the middle of the room, just admiring how the curator had subtly placed the images in discrete groups of 1-4 images, grouped according to subject e.g. shadows, shapes, comedic effect etc.  Being unable to drag my tutor and the assessors off to a gallery that was conveniently hanging my images a book seemed the ideal method of presentation. Using this method I could similarly group the images, separated by blank pages, into conceptual categories. In addition the irregular blank pages added to, or enhanced, the sense of abandonment.

Another area of research that this exercise led to was the area of conceptual photography, what this meant and how it aligned with documentary etc. Rather than make this post even longer I’ll continue in a second post.

Gaz