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Category : Landscape

Assignment 5 : In the style of an influential photographer – Josef Sudek

For assignments 4 & 5 I’d looked at the list of suggested photographers such as Godwin, Adams and Weston and could relate to all of them but I wanted to choose somebody different and that person was Josef Sudek. My reasons for choosing him were varied. Firstly I came across him in a book that I’d bought as background on an earlier course “50 Photographers You Should Know” and was struck by the way he was referenced as a “poet” and also by the fact that the book made such a big issue of the fact that he used light. Subsequently I kept coming across his name, often in the same sentence as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Bill Brandt etc  but, unlike the others, there was no other detail on him. In fact there was far less on the web about him than the others despite the fact that all references to him classified him as a “great” of photography (whatever that is !).

It was this absence of information that interested me to begin with, largely because it meant that it would be impossible to just regurgitate information from the web, something that I thought my tutor and assessors would be delighted with :-), but also it represented a challenge to understand him and his work. As I look into him and his work I was struck by how many photographers cited him as an influence and especially commented on his use of light.

For example Martin Parr said “His feeling for light, weather, and space in combination has never been surpassed.” and his friend, the poet Jaroslav Seifert recalled  “He wrestled with light like Jacob with the angel.”

Given that light was something I really wanted to get to grips with on this course it seemed an ideal choice of subject for me.

His portfolio was interesting in that, like Adams, Weston etc, he started off with more studio work where developed his use of light. Also he gradually became more adept at inviting the viewer to share his view . Furthermore it was the consistency throughout his career that gave me something to focus on in the review and meant that I could almost develop a story almost in the same way that he developed his images.

His most famous landscapes came towards the end of his career in two renowned portfolios. Praha Panoramaticka (Panoramas of Prague) is probably the most famous and beautifully shows his grasp of composition and light as he explores his home city. Interestingly many if not most of the panoramas are composed against a gentle arc which focuses the viewers perception into the key areas. This subtle steering of the viewer’s perception is a characteristic of much of Sudek’s work.

A Walk in Mionsi 1 img018 - A Walk in Mionsi 2img014 - Ancient Woodland img015 - Mionsi ForestHowever, whilst the panoramas would have suited my main criteria for this exercise it was his other major landscape work, Mionší Forest, that interested me more. I’d wanted my whole portfolio for this course to be based around Windsor Great Park, both for consistency and the story that I wanted to tell. (Assignment 3 was a major blip in this concept !!) For that reason a series on the forest areas of the park appealed to me.

In these sample images can be sen what Mari-Mari Sutnik, curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario said

“Sudek was a continuously innovative photographer, whose explorations of various techniques and materials set him apart from his contemporaries. The key to appreciating Sudek’s work is to take note of his insightful use of light and dark illuminations, which add a distinctly moody and poetic tone to his subjects.”

As well as the quality of the individual images what appealed to me was the way Sudek had explored the forest and the portfolio was to reflect his love for the area that he came to regard as his own patch.

I tried to do the same for a part of Windsor Great Park that contains some of the original woodland that the kings used to hunt deer in, exploring it and trying to capture the play of light and the weird shapes that could be found.

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The full gallery can be seen at my website in the gallery “Windsor Forest”.

One of the most difficult decisions was in deciding what Sudek’s style really was. I knew that I wanted to capture his use of light and of shapes but his style also included the way he tried to get across his love and fascination for the area. Also, I decided that his style didn’t include his use of black and white, that was a necessity born of his time. besides using colour would allow me to use more complex light ans tones to emphasise some of the shapes and patterns.

Gaz

Photography in Indochina

 

Rain in ancient town
copyright Tran Thi Tuyet Mai

The title of this entry sounds like an academic exercise exploring the history of photography in the region. Instead it’s the musings of a tourist  (me!) who spent a few weeks there and was fascinated by the sheer number of photo exhibitions that I saw.

In Saigon was an exhibition marking Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day with the aim of depicting Vietnam’s customs and beauty. Many of the images such as Mua Tren Pho Co (Rain in an Ancient Town) just showed the daily lives of the local people. These were exactly the type of images that I’d wanted to capture during my time in Indochina but never quite managed !

In Siem Reap ( Cambodia) I caught the Angkor Photo Festival 2012. The first annual festival of its kind in the region it now attracts entries and photographers from all over the world.

In Hoi An I came across the work and exhibition of Thai Tuan Kiet whose gallery can be found online. His work, both colour and black and white, is full of the character of the people and the surrounding countryside. I left his premises full of new ideas and aspirations for the rest of my trip but never came close to his work.

In addition there were more serious aspects to the photography in the region. The work of MAG (Mines Advisory Group) was a prime example. The organisation exists to to provide a safe and secure future for communities affected by war and violence. In particular to raise awareness of the dangers of forgotten mines. In a number of places in Indochina I came across photo exhibitions publicising their work. These exhibition showed the work of a number of photographers who were either hired on a commission basis or were permanently attached to the Group. Many of the images were basic publicity stills but the work of Sean Sutton really stood out. Just take a look at some of his work at the MAG Site – in particular, from my point of view, the gallery entitled “Cambodia – making an impact”.

Vietnam War (Kyoichi Sawada, Japan)

Kyoichi Sawada, Japan

In a similar vein the exhibition of images from the Vietnam War is an incredible experience. I’m sure that everybody has seen Kyoichi Sawada’s image on the right but when you see it at its full size in the context of the other images it’s an incredible experience. In addition, just reading the tributes to the photographers  including Sawada, who died in the conflict in both horrifying and inspiring. Much has been written about how these photographers can stand and capture horrific scenes without moving to help but without that, sometimes temporary, detachment the rest of the world would not know about the events. In doing so the roll call at the exhibition testifies to the risks and dangers involved in that task.

There were numerous other exhibitions that I visited or could have visited while I was there but one that stood out was John McDermott’s gallery in Siem Reap (Cambodia). McDermott first visited Angkor, the world-famous “temple region” of Cambodia, in 1995 when there were few tourists. He timed this visit with a total solar eclipse to try and capture the temple of Angkor Wat in the calm colourless light of the eclipse. Lovong the effect he experimented with infra-red film and found that the results were very similar, bathing the temples in an otherworldy light.

Five years later he returned for an exhibition of his work and found the place busy with tourists. At that point he decided to return and capture the essence of the temples before the tourist trade irrecoverably altered the scene. The result is a comprehensive series of images that capture the jungle temples in a form that’s both permanent and ephemeral at the same time. His portfolio has been compared to that of Ansel Adams in the sense that he has done for Angkor what Adams did for Yosemite and shaped people’s perception of the area. His images can be seen online here.

Angkor Wat - IR

Angkor Wat – “Infra red”

Angkor Wat - Colour

Angkor Wat – original

Looking at McDermott’s work I started playing around with IR conversions in Lightroom and found some interesting options though not as good as the real thing I hasten to add: especially when taking into account the excellent and fitting silver gelatin prints ! Still it brings back some memories, both of the temples and of McDermott’s work

Luckily for us McDermott has turned his attention to Myanmar and is trying to do the same for that country’s temple and tribal areas before they are lost among the tourists hordes – me included.

Gaz

Assignment 3 – A linking theme

I don’t normally bother writing up my assignments in my online blog since I send them off with copious notes, thoughts, research references etc to my tutor and to the assessors but I found this one so interesting, both in its content and in the way that the theme expanded and changed as I got deeper into it. In fact it expanded so much that my tutor commented “Your project has developed beyond the scope intended for this level two assignment. It is perhaps comparable to that expected at level three, certainly for the Portfolio module.

Originally I wanted to portray the Thames around Windsor so that all my assignments and the course portfolio were of a consistent theme or area. Also, I didn’t want to show the tourist views, more some gritty or decaying images. The trouble was that I couldn’t find any or at least not enough interesting ones! My next thought was to base the theme on the Thames again but go further afield  but still not the “pretty” views that are so common, including in my portfolios. Instead I wanted to try a selection based on the theme of “Industrial Decay on the Thames” but I came to realise very quickly that this was also a very common subject. There are a number of portfolios out there, all said to represent that theme. Most are average at best and many are very similar but the problem was how to differentiate my portfolio from them. Obviously improving the quality was one thing but that still meant that I was just following in other peoples’ footsteps. I know that to some extent this is inevitable in most photography genres but it doesn’t have to be so obvious.Legacy of the Thames

Whilst researching the subject material, wandering out to take some trial images, it soon became apparent that “Industrial Decay” meant something very different if you were east or west of London. It was fascinating to view the different issues as I traveled along the river from the rural neglect caused by changing industries or even the route of the river changing over the years leading to the more obvious decay of London’s original wharves and finally the heavy industry of the east. In the end I decided to try and depict this but it involved walking most of the length  of the river to get the full story and the variety – definitely beyond the scope of the assignment but hugely worth it ! At this point in time I’ve still got the final 15 miles or so to go to the source but weather and holidays mans that that final bit must wait until the Spring, still that’s about 170 miles done so far.

As I explored further afield the title very quickly got changed to “The Legacy of the Thames”  since much of the interest wasn’t in a state of decay but rather had been cared for and adapted into new functions.

It’s obviously impossible to fully cover all of this in a portfolio of 8 images whilst maintaining a coherent theme and sequence. However … that’s the requirement so what to do ??

In the end I produced a covering map (see right) that showed the location and thumbnails of my final 30+ images with a forced selection of 8 images highlighted. These 8 images ranged from a deserted fence post out towards Lechlade, via the warehouses of Oxford to the Thames Barrier but were of necessity a snapshot of the much fuller story shown by the full portfolio. At least the map could put the images into a fuller context.

The full portfolio I uploaded onto the web and a slideshow is available at my home page above but I’ve embedded it here just in case anybody is the slightest bit interested 🙂

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As I mentioned above the transition from the early, rural images of the west to the industry of the east was a fascinating contrast and some of the stories uncovered along the way would have been a project in themselves. Incidentally, one of the early choices that I had to make was colour vs black and white. I decided on colour after wandering along the Thames Path east of Greenwich where the lines of the deserted gantries and wharves cried out for a black and white graphical treatment. Further west the derelict brickwork of the bridges or warehouses were similarly suitable for black and white so that was the decision made for me.

Gaz

 

Project 29 – Re-photographing a well-known image

It’s a bit of a recurring theme here but I’m going to deviate from the brief slightly.

The notes suggest taking a well-known photograph and finding an alternative viewpoint. Instead of going with a well-known image I’m just going to use something that exists in millions of images around the world – Windsor Castle. These are probably the two most common viewpoints, the first taken from the Long Walk by the slightly more adventurous tourists who are aware of this part and the second for those tourists who just stay in the town. Together these viewpoints probably account for the vast majority of images taken by Windsor’s millions of visitors each year.

Given that the purpose of the exercise, by intent if not by letter, was to step outside of the preconceived box and look for alternative views I thought that I’d just include a couple of less obvious angles.

The first follows on from project 28, Intimate Landscapes, and gives an idea of some of the fascinating patterns and textures that can be found by looking more closely at the detail rather than at the overall building. This is the outer wall of the post office that lies within the walls of Windsor Castle and I originally took the original image during one of my earlier OCA courses but I went back to retake it for this project.

Windsor Castle in the Haze

The second image shows a more commonly viewed outline but from much further away in the early morning haze.  Taken from three miles away in the park it shows the line of trees framing the Long Walk and places the Castle much more in the context of its surroundings than does the image above taken from the Long Walk itself. Finally, the last image approximates one of the most beautiful and historic views (along with the view at Greenwich) on the whole of the River Thames. If

Windsor Castle

you’re lucky enough to be on a boat travelling from the west then the river just opens out at this point presenting a beautiful view of the Castle overlooking the river and it’s easy to understand why William I started building work here. Since I couldn’t walk on the water and didn’t have a boat available this is the closest that I could get to another view that, in my mind, is superior to the typical views of the first two images.

Anyway, hopefully I’ve understood the intent of the project and produced interesting alternate views to the more commonly published ones.

Gaz

Project 28 – Intimate landscapes

I’ve been drawn to intimate landscapes ever since I saw an exhibition at the OXO Gallery in London a few years ago entitled “Intimations“. The photographers exhibited were Anna Booth and David Ward so it’s not surprising that I enjoyed it. The two small volumes that accompanied the exhibition “Man & Nature” by Booth and Ward’s “Form & Motion” still have a prominent place on my bookshelf and are frequently studied for inspiration (which rarely arrives !).

Anyway, the notes suggest looking at Eliot Porter’s book “Intimate Landscapes” for inspiration – certainly no hardship for me as I enjoyed it when I first had the opportunity to browse it a year or so ago. Many of the images can be seen here though I’m not sure how permanent that page is.

One of the common definitions of an “intimate landscape” is that it doesn’t go all the way to the horizon but this, to me, is a long way off the truth., even some of Ansel Adams’ vistas don’t have a real horizon in them. Anyway, trying to categorise images into genres is something that I gave up on a long time ago. I’m not sure where landscapes, wildlife, reportage etc can be delineated so I’m certainly not going to get hung up about sub-divisions 🙂

Having said that many, if not most, of the images that I’ve taken for this course don’t include the horizon. I guess that part of the reason is that the areas that I’ve chosen  for the portfolio and those that have been convenient for the projects aren’t in the areas that lend themselves to grand, traditional landscapes of the Romantic tradition.

The first image which was taken for Assignment 1 is, I guess, the type of image that causes me a problem with categorisation. It’s obviously not a vista but it’s not a detailed image in the way that the two images of sea rocks are. I think that it comes from the fact that my first exposure to the term came from Ward and Booth (see above) and they are very much in the latter camp, or at least were in the exhibition and in their respective books. Anyway, moving on, the two “Sea Rock” images are very definitely in the camp of intimate landscapes and were taken during a stroll along the shore in Cornwall. The project notes call for 3 or 4 relevant images but I ended up with about 20 different ones just from this stroll as I was fascinated by the patterns and colours.

I’ve included the two woodland images here since they emphasise the way that colours and patterns can be used in intimate landscapes. The cascade and the icy stream were two images that concentrated n the detail with a much wider landscape. Both the stream and the cascade lent themselves to wide open views, much more typical of traditional landscapes but, in both, I wanted to focus in on the key element within the scene rather than on the complete picture. I guess that it’s like wildlife photography where the photographer has the choice of capturing just the animal or capturing the environment as well, both can work well but produce two very different shots.

Anyway, I just thought that I’d finish with a teasel in the sunlight after the rain – something that’s been photographed once or twice before I believe 🙂

Gaz

 

Project 26 – Shooting the moon

The subject of this exercise is pretty obvious, even more so when you consider that it follows numerous exercises on the sun. However, I’m going to cheat here since I hardly saw the moon when I reached this stage of the course.. Instead I’m going to show “one that I prepared earlier” for aged followers of Blue Peter like me 🙂

This eclipse was 4 or 5 years ago and the separate images were made at decreasing intervals from 40 minutes to 5 minutes between the last two. The images were then stitched together to form an arc closely resembling the true arc of the moon in its path.

Eclipse

The exposure recommendations in the course notes would have been useful for the first image (f5 and 1/400 sec, ISO100) but not much use for the later images which, unsurprisingly, were a lot darker. So much so that the last image of the complete eclipse was 3 sec at ISO400.

All of the images were taken with a 600mm lens  to make sure that I got as much detail as I possibly could.

Gaz

Project 20 – Sun stars and diffraction

 

The aim of this exercise was to look at sun stars and diffraction – basically to investigate the star-like patterns that surround the sun when shooting directly at it. This pattern is caused by diffraction when using a small aperture so the effect should be more noticeable when using the smaller aperture – something that should be obvious to anyone with a maths and physics background (i.e. me !) so why hadn’t I thought about that before ??

Anyway, the first two images here show that effect quite well. Looking at the extent of the star burst it should be no surprise that the first image shows the more well-defined star effect given that this was taken at f22 whilst the first image was shot at f11.

The third image, whilst not showing the starburst effect, does show a useful effect as the sunlight is diffracted and diffused by  the clouds in the line of sight and appears to glow around the tower. Having said that, I’m still surprised that there’s no starburst effect around the windows of the pagoda and that’s something I’ll look into when I get time.

 

 

The issue of how well defined the starburst was puzzled me so I took a series of images to clarify it for myself

 

These images were taken at increasing apertures as shown – ranging from f25 to f10. The difference in the clarity of the star shape is obvious as you look through the sequence and easily understandable if you go back to optics lessons in school physics lessons – just not sure why I hadn’t registered this before 🙁

Anyway, I’m not sure how useful this added exercise will prove to be but it interested me.

Gaz

Project 25 – Snow

Snow is so unreliable in my part of the UK that it was just luck that I was able to take some snow images for this project. I live just outside Windsor Great Park and one of things that always irritated me before I retired was that I never got the chance to walk in the Park in the snow. Every time it snowed enough to cover the area, which was rarely, it happened during the week when I was working and by the time that I had the chance to enjoy it there was a dirty grey and brown sludge left in the few places that weren’t sheet ice. Then having retired I could dive straight out and enjoy it hence these images.

There’s very little to say about these images really. The first, of a tree just rising out of the early morning mist, is probably my favourite because of its simplicity whilst the last shows how colour can be found even in the middle of winter. Obviously exposure is trickier in such conditions compared to most – this is simply because there’s so little latitude between the blown, featureless white of the over-exposed image and the muddy grey of the underexposed version. Obviously shooting in RAW and utilising the software gains some leeway, as does bracketing the shots, but I found myself adjusting for the subject on almost every composition depending on how much of the image was snow. This was a great exercise in that respect, forcing me to think in advance how the image would be exposed.

Gaz

Project 24 – Clouds and Sky

Not surprisingly the aim of this project is “to raise your attention of the sky and the part that it can play in the design of the image, rather than just as a source of light“.

Some of the images that I’ve used to illustrate earlier blog entries have, I believe, used the sky in this way. This is especially true in the entries on dusk and sunrise and that on reflections. This image from Project 16 is a good example of the former.

The notes suggest that the sky should dominate in each of the examples and that there should be a distinctly different cloud formation in each. As usual I’ve interpreted this loosely to the extent that the first image has no cloud formation at all ! Here though the sky does dominate so it’s a useful counterpoint to the remainder of shots even if it is a well-worn cliché.

 

The second isn’t much better at following the brief of the exercise but the small clouds do stand out and break up the otherwise obvious contrast between the gold and blue. Image 3 is another way of looking at the brief – here the cloud formation is an almost unbroken storm cloud but it’s useful in providing a background and contrast to the otherwise tranquil scene which is lit by the sun, itself about to be overtaken by that cloud.

The remainder of the images would appear to be more in keeping with the text of the notes, not that that was ever my aim 🙂 The last one was an experiment with the chaos of clouds providing both a contrast and a metaphor over the City of London. I’m not sure that it worked but the sky certainly dominates as per the brief.

Gaz

Project 23 – Soft light

The purpose of this assignment was to use soft light, something which seems to split landscape photographers many of whom are only interested in the Golden Hour or in dramatic landscapes. I’ve always liked using soft light since I’m not too keen on the timing of the Golden Hour for most of the year 🙂 and I live a long way away from any dramatic landscapes. Besides, photographers such as Simon Roberts have made a success out of using flat light in many of their images.

@ Simon Roberts

 

Incidentally I came across this image by Simon Roberts from the “We English” series whilst writing this entry and was struck by the similarity to a couple of images that I posted in the previous blog entry. The position of the sun and the pattern of the tree trunks is almost identical – the main difference being that he’s an award-winning photographer 🙁

On the subject of Simon Roberts’ images I’m still torn, most of his images I really like but some I find over the top in their message. I guess that I want the viewer to have to think about what the message or concept is before going on to think about the concept itself.

Anyway, back to this project. Most of this series were taken with this project in mind but a couple come from my archive, a grandiose term for my inefficient catalogue.

The first couple of images below have been included to show the difference in the effect of the light against a well-known Acer tree from Westonbirt arboretum. The first is a classic view that most people in the UK will have seen. This must be one of the most photographed trees around and it’s always taken from this angle. It’s then published in a particular daily newspaper every year which announces it as though it were a new discovery each time !  The second image really needs to be clicked on to see at a larger size but it’s the same tree taken in flat light. Notice that it merits a lot more inspection than the “classic” image as details emerge and new patterns or textures reveal themselves. I’m not claiming that it’s a better image than the first shot but, for me at least, it is more interesting and subtle.

The other images all show different aspects of shooting on soft or flat light. The two mountain images, Lake Iseo and Raise Oars both have a monochromatic feel to them through the hazy sunshine. This monochromism brings out the different shades in the background mountains, giving a feeling of depth which would be missing in strong light.

The bicycle isn’t exactly a landscape image by most people’s definition but it shows again how soft light can be used to bring out the many textures and tones. Harsh or direct light would have destroyed the colours of the bike and washed out the rich colours of the wall leaving the whole thing looking grimy rather than colourful.

Coastline and Waterfall and similar images in that they rely on the soft, overcast light to bring out the colours and textures of the scene. Harsh light would have destroyed the subtle colours in both, especially the greens of the waterfall vegetation.

Finally the Rice Fields – there’s not much to say about this one that hasn’t been said about the previous images. The soft light allows the viewer to wander through the rural scene without being distracted or sidetracked by highlights (visual or light). Such highlights would jar the tranquility and interest of the scene.

To summarise my personal view (which is probably obvious from these images) I generally prefer to shoot in soft light as the variances in the subject material become more subtle and delicate. The viewer then looks at the whole image or concept rather than a particular highlight … unless of course the composition is intended to draw the eye to a particular point of the image.

Gaz