Exercise 2.3: Typologies

Listening to Lewis Baltz talking about his work on the Tate video, three comments really struck me in what he said.

Firstly he believes that ‘Photography is the only deductive art, every other medium begins with a blank sheet. Photography starts with a world that’s perhaps overfull and needs to sort out from that world what is meaningful’. I hadn’t thought about photography in this way before, but as soon as you hear Baltz’s statement it seems obvious, painting, drawing all start with a blank sheet of paper, whereas in photography you start with what you have in your viewfinder and then frame the image in the way that you think will give the best final result. Having said this, and thought about this a bit more, Baltz’s statement is not totally true, in that with the use of digital manipulation the image can be added to – its not all about deductive art.

The second comment Baltz made was about the worls splitting between those who follow Matisse and those who follow DuChamp. He said ‘I love Matisse but I find DuChamp a thousand times more interesting’. I had studied both artists on previous courses, but had never considered them as a binary option. I don’t think that Baltz means it literally, but the point that I think that he is making is one about making the viewer consider, or think about, the product presented by the artist rather than simply admire the technique or beauty of the image.

Finally Baltz says that he is often asked why there are no people in his images. He replies The place for people in my work is the viewer. I found this an interesting point, he is consciously trying to produce work for viewers to engage with. It would be interesting to know if he thought that by including people within his images, whether that would affect the dynamic of how the viewer interacts with it.

 

Having read Sean O’Hagan’s article I was attracted by the work of Nicholas Nixon. I found a selection of his work at The Fraenkel Gallery  All of the images were of cities and were all taken from an elevated position. This had the effect, for me, of emphasising the geometrical shapes of the buildings and city layout. It is an interesting approach to adopt the same elevated viewpoint for a series of images, it almost gives a bird-eye view, as if one is a third party observer of a conurbation rather than one who inhabits or visits such a place.

It is interesting to study Nixon’s work New Topographics, particularly as it is so very different to what I would have classified as landscape photography before I started this course. It is all impersonal but strikingly geometrical, Nixon has really brought out the shapes in the scenes.

Exercise 2.2(2): Explore a road – review of a film

The Road

I watched this film which is an adaptation of the novel by Cormack McCarthy. It is an unremittingly bleak film of life in a distopian future. It follows the fortunes (or rather misfortunes) of a father and son attempting to travel to the coast in a post-apocalyptic USA. We never know what has happened to the world, but there would seem to have been some kind of nuclear or environmental disaster. There are few, if any, animals and the trees and vegetation are all grey; the buildings have all been destroyed. The landscape is bleak and barren throughout the film. There is little sunlight (apart from in flashbacks) with the sky consistently grey and much of the land covered in a grey ash.

The road presents the only hope to the father and son in presenting them with a route to the coast, which the father seems to believe is their only chance of survival. But the roads are lawless with marauding gangs of killers and cannibals. Whenever the pair are threatened by the gangs they have to flee the road into the barren landscape around them. This produces a dichotomy of the road presenting the hope of the most direct route to salvation but the most dangerous way of getting there. Not that safety is afforded everywhere off the road, in one particularly haunting scene the, seemingly secure, cellar they discover turns out to be an horrific prison where human beings are incarcerated for later slaughter and consumption by cannibals. Later in the film though, another cellar provides a womb like sense of security with plentiful food and shelter. This can only be a temporary respite though (they could not stay there forever). So it is back to the road and their journey to the coast. The road now helps them on their journey by making it easier to haul their cart full of provisions with them.

It seems to me that the road is a metaphor for life, when the going is very tough there is a tremendous struggle to survive, some fall by the wayside, some (like the wife in the flashbacks) choose not to go on, others make herculean (such as the father) efforts to continue. The film explores how good and evil can be brought out by the the most trying of circumstances and the road is the route through which these opposites are examined.

The end of the film presents the nearest we ever get to hope and salvation, not that it is a happy ending, that would be almost unbelievable in the context of the rest of the film. Father and son reach the end of the road (in the father’s case both literally and metaphorically). The father lays down his life in protecting his son but another family then appear and offer to protect the child.

The child has travelled the road and now faces a very uncertain future, but one that has a little more hope than was the case at the start of the journey.

Exercise 2.2(1): Explore a road – series of photographs

For this exercise I chose to photograph Cemetery Lane, a road that leads past the cemetery (unsurprisingly) and on to our local train station. I tried taking photographs that gave a sense of what it would be like to walk down the road. Not of the road itself, but of what lies either side of it Many of the images are what you would see if you looked to the side or above rather than straight ahead. In some ways this reflected what I had seen in the film The Road as the other part of this exercise, although the road was the central part of the film, much of the action took place at places off the road (houses, woods, cellar, etc).

 

 

The exercise was interesting in the way it challenged me to look at a very familiar road from a different perspective. Some of the images are perhaps a little ‘routine’ , those that focus on the road itself especially so. I most likethe images that study the play of light in a particular setting, whether high in the trees or on the leaves of a bush by the roadside.

Exercise 2.1: Territorial Photography

Snyder talks about the changing market for images “I am suggesting that they were produced to meet the demands of a growing middle-class audience” (p179). He goes on to state that this resulted in a change in photographic practice to in which the suggestiveness of images and the picturesque was replaced by real precision throughout the image. He thought that the photographer through technical ability, sought to “record a sight that is understood to be a natural image of nature” (p183). He believed that the aims of photographers were to produce “honest, scientifically sanctioned pictures of nature that somehow were supposed to escape artifice, personal interest and subjective response” (p185).

 

He then goes on to discuss the work of Carleton Watkins and how he diverged from the ruling Landscape practice, derived from painting, by showing the views as they would be seen by other people and not as a constructed or idealised setting. Further Snyder (p187) describes how Watkins attempted to “portray a visual harmony between the land and the new tokens of progress symbolized by the industrialization of the land itself”. He talks of a “broader enterprise of harmonising nature and industry” (p188) and describes Watkins’ images as “essentially invitational in character” (p189). These met the demands of an audience that had been led to expect positive images of technical progress and how the natural frontiers were being conquered and fortunes were being made.

 

Having described Watkins’ images as “invitational” he then considers the works of Timothy O’Sullivan whose work he describes as “contrainvitational” (p189). By this he means that O’Sullivan’s work denies the premise of Watkins’ images in that they portray the wildness and inhospitable nature of the landscape. These are not photographs of technical progress or of a land where man is taming the landscape, rather they show “a bleak, inhospitable land, a godforsaken, anaesthetising landscape” (p191). He summarises the difference between the photographs of Watkins and O’Sullivan as “the difference between the familiar, known, and understood and the alien, unknown and unintelligible” (p199).

 

For the next part of the exercise I have chosen to study Street View at the Hacienda, New Almaden1863 by Carleton Watkins and Cañon de Chelle. Walls of the Grand Cañon about 1200 Feet in Height by Timothy O’Sullivan.

 

The Street View at the Hacienda seems typical of the style of work that Snyder attributes to Watkins. The observer’s eye is led into the picture by the road and buildings that start at the bottom left of the frame. The image captures the majestic landscape in the distance, but in a soft and inviting way. The tones lighten as the image recedes into the distance. The development in the front plane is in sharp focus whereas the rolling hills beyond are soft and gradually merge into the sky. The diagonal line of the track suggests movement and action whereas the soft rolling lines of the hills and faint clouds are more calming. The buildings occupy a substantial part of the building and suggest permanency while the hills provide an attractive and welcoming backdrop. This image suggests that man is in control of his environment within an attractive setting. This is one of Watkins’ mining photographs and I think that it illustrates a point made by Snyder (p187) when he commented on the images of the railroad at Cape Horn “The regular tracks drive the eye toward the background , where they disappear into the land, without a trace”. While the railroad tracks in Cape Horn recede directly into the distance, in Street View at the Hacienda the road and buildings merge into the folds and valleys of the landscape. In both cases this suggests the union of development and environment.

 

Cañon de Chelle. Walls of the Grand Cañon about 1200 Feet in Height by Timothy O’Sullivan is a very different image. The rocks of the Grand Canyon tower over the shallow centre, trees are dwarfed by the scale of the rocks at the edges of the canyon. In the lower left of the picture are three tents, tiny in comparison to their environment. Snyder writes (p194) that figures in O’Sullivan’s images “function most often as indices of a precarious and frightful relationship between explorer and the object of exploration. The rocks of the canyon are in sharp focus in all planes with a clearly marked distinction from the sky. The overall impression is one of wilderness and the inhospitable nature of the canyon, the only human intervention is evidenced by the minute tents and vegetation is sparse. Snyder (p191) notes that O’Sullivan’s images “repeatedly deny what Watkins’ photographs characteristically confirm namely, the possibility of comfortable habitation, of an agreeable relation of humans to the natural landscape”. I think that Snyder’s (p196) comment about O’Sullivan’s work is particularly true of this image, that his representation is “an awed stare into a landscape that is unmarked, unmeasured, and wild, a place in which man is not yet”.

Assignment 1 – Tutor Feedback

I received the first feedback from my tutor which was overall quite positive, but with a number of suggestions that I need to bear in mind when continuing to follow the course.

The main learning points I have taken from the feedback are:
• Need to use research as a way of developing my creative thinking
• Development in more depth in blog comments and reflect on reading and my own work
• Taking time to research work of other photographers and develop projects

I will try to take these points on board as I carry on with the course

Exercise 1.9: Visual research & analysis–social contrasts

The purpose of this task is to find socially contrasting images of the same place, either different images by the same photographer or by different photographers.

It is not possible to show any of these images on an open blog such as this due to copyright restrictions. I have therefore inserted hyperlinks to take you to the appropriate images.

First of all I thought of Bill Brandt who was a great chronicler of his time. They are two images taken maybe 20 miles apart but in a different social world. The first is Sunday Evening, the Kissing Point, Hyde Park, London, 1936 whereas some 20 miles west of the location Brandt photographed Eton Sprawls

The Guardian has a series of photos taken by Jim Goldberg that highlight the social contrasts in America. These are mainly interior shots or portraits, but they certainly bring home the differences. Rich and Poor: America’s great social divide – in pictures

Robert Frank is famous for his publication The Americans. Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian (Robert Frank at 90: the photographer who revealed America won’t look back) describes the book as “perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century”. But prior to that, Frank had been taking photographs in London. I’ve selected two images that he took in the early 1950’s as examples that highlight the social differences of London. Near Victoria Station, London and City of London, 1951.

In London 1951-52 Frank succinctly captures the social contrast in a single image.

Moving west from London to Cardiff, I came across this image commissioned from Magenta Photography for the Central Square Development in Cardiff City Centre. I thought that this provided a great contrast with the images of   Maciej Dakowicz whose Cardiff After dark publication paints a very different social scene such as  Bus Stop Meals.

Dakowicz also produced a memorable photograph illustrating social contrasts in a single image The Night after Mardi Gras Festival.

Johnny Miller is a photographer who uses aerial images to highlight divisions within Cape Town within a single image. Some of the photographs and an article about them can be seen at Photographer Johnny Miller highlights divide between Cape Town’s rich and poor with aerial photos. The images really do contrast rich and poor, but I feel that the use of aerial photography puts such a distance (literally) between the viewer and the image that it is difficult to see what the actual effects are. All of the previous images had an emotional resonance which I didn’t feel with these.

Talking of emotional resonance, my final choice shows a scene at a South African railway station during the apartheid era. I was fortunate in that I saw this image at the Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s exhibition at The Barbican some years ago. This image stood out even from amongst other great photos of the time. Untitled by Ernest Cole encapsulates in a single image the horrors and injustices of apartheid.  Train and and station platforms were divided into separate sections for different racial groups. Cole’s image shows the ease with which white travellers could wait for a train and the huge difficulties black travellers would face in simply catching  a train. Quoted in Badger and Bush (2012 p62) a friend of Cole’s (Struan Robertson) describes it as “the finest visual expression of apartheid I have ever seen. This picture shows the reality of apartheid without the need for any words”.

BADGER, G., BUSH, K. and BARBICAN ART GALLERY, 2012. Everything was moving: photography from the 60s and 70s. London: Barbican Art Gallery.

Assignment 6 preparation

One thing that I have learned from Assignment 1 is the amount of preparation and though that needs to go into a successful assignment.

Therefore I have started to research possible back up locations for Assignment 6 in case my original plan (for a collage of views) doesn’t work.

I have looked at three possible locations, none of the following images would be used in the final version, they are simply research to try to find a suitable location.

The places I have looked at are reasonably close:

Mousehold Heath Norwich

 

Whitlingham Broad

 

Looking towards Wymondham Abbey

 

or even part of the area I was thinking of making the collage from

Toll’s Meadow

 

Colton

 

Long’s Wood

 

Hethersett

Exercise 1.8: Zone System in practice

The purpose of this exercise was to produce three photographs taken in contrasting light conditions showing a high dynamic range and appropriate exposure choice.

In the photo on the left below I used the spot metering function on the camera to expose for the darker leaves on the tree, this has given an overexposed image. In the photo on the right I exposed for the lighter green shades on the tree and foreground.

 

 

 

 

 

In the three photos below the first image was exposed for the darker stones of the building, in image Number 2 exposing for sky has given a dark image overall while exposing for the dark shadows in image Number 3 has made the sky and building washed out.

 

 

 

Finally , in the following images I tried to capture the effect of sunlight passing through trees onto a stream.

 

 

 

Image Number 1 was exposed for the foliage and the bank and gives the best exposure range. Image Number 2 was exposed for the pool of sunlight shining on the stream in the centre of the picture, this has left the foliage too dark. In the bottom left corner of the first picture you can see a very bright reflection of sunlight, I wondered how the image would turn out if I just exposed for this – the answer can be seen in image Number 3 which is almost completely dark apart from the reflected sunlight in the bottom left.

 

Conclusions

I had heard of the zone system before but hadn’t really practiced using it so this was a really useful exercise. I don’t think that I have the exposures spot on in the images above and I certainly need plenty more practice. I read in the course notes about using HDR software to combine images to get the full range of exposures. I will investigate this further to see what I can learn.

 

EDIT

I have downloaded Luminance HDR which is a free HDR package. Still trying to learn what it does ans how to use it properly.

My first attempt is from the second set of photos above.

Exercise 1.7: Assignment preparation

The idea for the first assignment came to me while I was on holiday in Corfu. I had already done a lot of the background reading on beauty and the sublime beforehand. While in Corfu we were staying near what the guidebooks describe as one of the most beautiful views on the island.  What started to intrigue me though was the fact that once something is described in such a way it begins to attract more and more people to come and view it; and that this then ‘spoils’ the beauty initially described. I wanted to explore this aspect, but being away, didn’t get the opportunity to email my tutor asking for comments and input. So I continued to take photographs exploring the theme and hope that my reasons for going ahead are understood.

Beauty in Photography – Adams

One quote in this book by Robert Adams really stood out for me.

“Landscape pictures offer 3 verities:

  • Geography
  • Autobiography
  • Metaphor

Geography alone can be boring, autobiography alone can be trivial and metaphor sometimes dubious. But taken together in the best work, the three kinds of information strengthen and reinforce an affection for life”.

I found this fascinating, not just from the three aspects that make up a landscape image but also how each of these can individually be poor. It helps to explain why some landscapes just don’t seem to work, but that when all combine well then the result can be compelling.

I had often thought of landscape in terms of geography and even sometimes in terms of metaphor, but I hadn’t previously given any real consideration to landscape as biography. I need to start to think more about what I am trying to put into it rather than simply make a record of a scene.

There is an excellent review and summary of the book in The New York Times (Grundberg 1981).

ADAMS, R, (1996). Beauty in Photography. New York: Aperture.

GRUNDBERG, A., 1981. The Point of Photographs. New York Times Online. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/29/books/the-point-of-photographs.html [Accessed 24/07/2017]

Load more