Friday, 24 February 2012

Narrative and Illustration: Project - Illustration

Exercise: juxtaposition

Aim:  The aim of this exercise is to put together two elements so as to suggest a relationship (juxtaposition).  The options were to illustrate a book cover or photograph someone with a possession, or the results of their work or hobby.  I chose the latter.

Approach and results:  I tried a number of different ideas for this.  I spent time at a stables where a friend of mine looks after the horses.  I took a number of shots of her working but they were all a bit static and not overly interesting.  Also horses are very dark when in the stables as the lighting is dim and they do what they fancy when they are outside (I'm not a big fan and wasn't getting that close) making the shot a bit hit and miss.

I changed tack and I finally settled on this image which is Ed working on an amplifier with the finished product in the foreground.  This links what Ed does through the job he is photographed doing through to the finished product.  Between Ed and the finished amplifiler is a checklist and pen suggesting an order of events.  There are lines from the amp and the workspace leading into the frame pointing towards Ed.

Learning points:
I found it quite difficult to meet the brief and get an interesting picture.  There need to be certain elements to make the picture work for the brief and certain elements that make the picture interesting.  Making a more eye catching picture often resulted in losing the reason for taking it.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Narrative and Illustration: Project - Illustration

Exercise: Rain

Aim:  The aim of this exercise is to produce a magazine cover shot on the subject of rain.

Approach and results:  As the course materials state, I didn't want to go for a rainy middle distance street shot as it lacks impact.  I tried a number of shots in the rain with varying degrees of success, mostly taken in the back garden.  These were close-ups of raindrops hanging on various objects; pine trees and a washing line.  The washing line was a rotary line folded up with a cobweb on it which created quite a nice illustration of a long wet summer but it lacked any impact or vibrance.

I decided the way forward was to create my own rain.  I chose to create a drowned place setting on a patio table.  This was small enough to 'rain' on and still look authentic.  Doing this in the back garden at -2c had its challenges.  First off the hose pipe sprinkler head was frozen so I broke the ice on the watering can and used that instead.  I used a dark glass table and I chose a glass plate and two glasses for the set-up, keeping the main colour blue with a corresponding orange accent.  Funnily I've blogged before about my dislike of orange/blue combinations but I hold my hand up and say this worked well.  To light the subject I used natural daylight (it was actually a bright sunny day) as I thought flash might make things a little too phony.  I arrange the scene so the light came from the side, capturing the raindrops.

For the composition I chose a simple set-up with lines leading to the top left hand corner and the orange accent of centre and slightly raised.  The fork leads the eye to the accent.  I chose a depth of field that would drop the blue glass slightly out of focus to maintain interest on the orange glass.  the inspiration came from Andre Kertesz 'The fork' 1928.  That said, the composition could not be too contrived as I wanted it to represent someone being caught out by the weather.  You can imagine someone dashing for cover as the heavens open.

I took the shot with a cable release in one hand and the watering can in the other, using 8 frames a second and waving the can around to ensure a good mix of pictures.  The shutter speed was slow enough to create movement in the 'rain' (something that was missing from my earlier attempts).

However, as you can see from the split tone shot below, the fantastic reflections that were present in the set-up, disappeared when I started pouring the water; obvious really?  This was a shame because the shadow and reflection of the fork travel through the glass plate and are particularly effective.  I love this shot but there is no rain!!

Stop press!!  It sudddenly dawned on me that I have the test picture 'sans rain'.  All I needed to do was combine the two.  First I cloned the fork shadow into the rain picture but this was too well defined even with the opacity down at 50%.  For the final image I used a gausian blur on the test picture and then cloned the blurred shadow at 50% into the rain image below:

If you compare this image to the first rain picture you can see the subtle but important difference the shadow makes, returning a depth that had been lost.

Learning points:
With shoots that involve any kind of action it is important to run it through to get a clear idea of the result; the disappearing reflections being point of fact.
Even if a picture illustrates your point this does not make it interesting, dramatic or eye catching.  My early attempts were perhaps more illustrative but were static and dull by comparison.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Narraive and Illustration: Project - Illustration

Exercise: symbols

Aim:  The aim of this exercise is to find symbols for the following subjects and add short notes on how you would use them in a photograph.  The symbols are growth, excess, crime, silence and poverty.

Growth: A seedling.  Cupped hands full of earth with a seedling growing out of the earth.  A simple, natural, face on portrait of someone with cupped hands against a white background.

Growth : A height chart or marks on a wall with dates by them.  Two children, one taller than the other with the smaller one reaching up to the older ones height marks enviously.

Excess:  Lots of the same objects.  I would represent them stuffed in a suitcase so full it won't close. It couldn't be anything expensive, such as watches as this would just look like theft!.This also has connotations of excess baggage.

Excess: One of those excessively large and unnecessary 4x4s being filled up at a petrol station, preferably by a smaller person to help represent how unnecessary it is.

Crime: The classic white outline on a floor suggesting a victim of a crime with a reason or motive in the background to create a juxtaposition.

Crime: Bars on a window.  This could be an individual window or a building with a line of barred windows or even a prison.

Crime: A homeless person outside a bank (corporate crime/crime against humanity).  I would use a recognisable high street bank rather than say, the Bank of England.  In the current climate bankers bonuses are still in the news and are becoming a byword for legalised crime!

Silence: A face with a zip for a mouth.  This can be easily done in Photoshop or just by taping it in place. A finger to someones lips,

Silence:  A shot of a space that is supposed to be quiet such as a library or monastery with people obviously not making noise.

Silence:  The opposite to the above.  A place that should be noisy but isn't; a football crowd that has just been relegated or is waiting for that vital penalty in the shoot out.  Or an empty shopping mall that you would normally expect to be full, perhaps with a lone figure walking through such as a security guard.

Poverty: Homeless person - Here is a shot I took in Paris of a homeless person complete with  crutches either side, beer cans, posessions hanging on the railings phone.  I took it with the camera by my side so not to be noticed.  The AF picked up the chain in front.  Call it serendipity but it seems to highlight the trap that homeless people find themselves in, especially with the padlock hanging on the chain.

Poverty: A top down view of a weathered hand with a few pence in it.  A simple shot, outdoors with nothing else in the frame.  The juxtaposition of the weathered hand linked to the small change suggesting a life of poverty.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Open Eye study visit

I recently attended an OCA study visit to the Open Eye gallery in Liverpool to see exhibitions by Mitch Epstein and Chris Steele-Perkins.

Mitch Epstein: American Power (2003-9) examines how energy is produced and used in the American landscape, exploring the effects of mass consumption and the interaction of nature, government and corporations.

There were eight photos from the American Power series on display at the gallery which may not sound much but they were approximately 4x4.5 feet and extremely detailed.  Some of the pictures were difficult to view because of reflections due to their location in the gallery.  One part of the gallery had a high ceiling which provided a better lighting angle.  Galleries with low ceilings tend to have the lights reflecting in the photos.

Biloxi, Mississippi (2005) shows the result of hurricane Katrina.  Cars overturned and matresses in trees showing the ultimate power of nature that cannot be stopped or reasoned with.  Martha Murphy and Charlie Christian, Mississippi (2005) also shows outcomes from hurricane Katrina with the two people sitting behind remaining posessions.  This picture also brings in to play the power of religion and government symballised by the clear dog tag and cross round the necks of the main charachters.

Martha Murphy and Charlie Christian, Mississippi (2005)

The same 'ultimate power' also exists on other levels; the ultimate power of corporate vs the individual.  If you take Poca high school and Amos coal power plant, West Virginia (2004) you see the town in the shadow of the huge coal power plant, literally in peoples' back gardens.  Epstein discovered this corporate power to his cost on a number of occasions when being moved on by police with the excuse that the power company didn't allow pictures, enforcing corporate law rather than constitutional.

Poca high school and Amos coal power plant, West Virginia (2004)

BP Carson refinery, California (2007) pictures the refinery with a US flag draped over one side pointing to the link between oil and politics and the power struggle that goes with it.  Interestingly the power of nature is still underlying in the form of the line of trees bent by the wind reminding us that it has ultimate power.

BP Carson refinery, California (2007)
Chris Steele-Perkins: The pleasure principle, is a portrait of England in the 1980s.  There were a greater number of smaller prints compared to Epstein giving the opportunity to capture a wider spectrum.  Though difficult to view after the impressively large Epstien offerings, Steele-Perkins' images proved to be a bit of a trip down memory lane.  Being in my 20s and living in London in the 80s I can recognise some of the images.  I was very into the indie music scene so the shot of the 'David Sylvian look-a-like' in the night club brings it all back.  The hypnotist at the college ball; they were very popular at one point but what happened to them all?  They're probably helping people quit smoking these days!  He has captured trends that were very much of the 80s and do not seem apparent today.

I found this picture of Margaret Thatcher rather disturbing.  Over time Thatcher has become a characature in my mind (helped in no small part by Spitting Image).  The white face and large mouth in this shot remind me of Jack Nicholson when he played the Joker in the first Batman film!

The pleasure principle is the psychoanalytic concept describing people seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering (pain) in order to satisfy their biological and psychological needs.  It is also the title of a Gary Newman album who is synonymous with the 80s (the album was in fact released in 1979).  Steele-Perkins has caught the element of having a good time (the pleasure principle) but has done so with a certain unsavory tackiness about it.  That said, there is more humour than, say, Martin Parr for example.  The best example of this is probably Blackpool beach; a place that is always going to provide a rich vein of opportunity.

I warmed to the Steele-Perkins images the more time I spent looking at them.  Time that was necessary after looking at Epstein's large and beautifully produced prints.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

thermal portrait

In the current  (autumn 2011) issue of Photoworks there is an artical on Kenji Hirasawa whose uses a thermal imaging camera to capture portraits.  A few months back I visited Jodrell Bank where they have a thermal imaging camera.  I took this picture of myself and my partner by photoing the display from the camera.

I used the fold out screen so that the camera was not in the shot.  What captured my interest was the difference in temperature.  I'm much warmer than Katya and she has a conspicuously cold nose having been outside!  It's an interesting way of looking at people that I've only seen before in airports in China (when the bird flue was scare was on).

Friday, 9 December 2011

Narrative and Illustration: Project - Narrative

Exercise: A narrative picture essay

Aim; the aim of this exercise is to capture an event or assignment in pictures using them to tell the story of the event.

Approach and results.  For this exercise I chose to use a wild food foraging event run locally.  I contacted the organiser in advance to arrange this.  I also met up with the organiser early to scout the area for opportunities before the walk started.
The pictures used tell the story of the event and have been chosen specifically.  I planned the article by drawing it out on paper, breaking it down into the different components that I thought made up the essence of the walk.  I developed my idea of these components on the walk and took pictures that I felt captured this.
This was originally done in Word and exported.  Word is not ideal so the layout is not quite how it would look in, say a magazine.  I have been unable to get it into the blog in a viewable size so have created this version for the blog.  Some of the pictures cannot be sized how I want because of the limited options and not all the pictures show up in the slide show for no good reason!!  The pictures have captions in italics and my notes about their choice in blue.

Learning points;
The main lesson to take away from this is to plan and research in advance.  I already had the stages of the walk and what I wanted to capture in my head before the event.  This ensures that you actually get the shots you were looking for.  It's the difference between being proactive and reactive.  Some things you can go back and capture but others you can't.
Take plenty of pictures.  The more you take the better the choice.  A picture that may not seem relevant may contain what you want when cropped.

Wild food foraging

Recently I arranged to join a wild food walk in Fletcher Moss Park in Manchester.  The Park has a range of different habitats including woodland, fields and marshland. 
In the United Kingdom we have a considerable array of plants and fungi that have the potential to make delicious wild foods. In fact once you get to know what is and what isn't edible, there really isn't much excuse for passing up on this great free food, especially since many wild foods are as good if not better in taste than the foods we buy in supermarkets.

 ‘Chicken in the woods’, a large edible mushroom, growing freely on a fallen tree. Notes: this picture does not have to be too big as the subject is clearly recognizable. I wanted the first shot to be something actually growing wild. There is no sense of scale here but this is dealt with later.

I have been on these walks before and I know the area well.  The person running the walk was Jesper Launder.  Jesper is a consulting medical herbalist. He has been collecting and eating wild mushrooms for over 25 years and has a great interest in the food potential of Britain's field, hedgerows and woodlands.  He not only knows whether you can eat something but also the potential of just about everything in front of you, including all the medicinal properties.
The walks are usually made up of a mix of people who (at the start) don’t necessarily know each other.  However it doesn’t take long before people start talking and sharing their mutual interest for wild food.  The walks are informal with Jesper talking to the group about a particular plant or mushroom and then everyone having a try at finding it.
Left - Wow; it really does taste of aniseed!  Notes; this picture shows Jesper explaining and people trying things.  It is important to capture people actually trying things for themselves.  The ‘love food hate waste’ bag is a nice prop.Right - Jesper in full flow captivating his audience with his encyclopaedic knowledge.  Notes; Another example of instruction and interaction showing the teacher at work and also showing bags full of plants.

Members of the group searching for a range of edible wild plants.  Notes; I wanted to capture the group rummaging around at random in a less structured way.

Foraging in full flow; surrounded by a type of wild leek.  Notes; I particularly like this shot of the girl with the basket.  It has an almost fairy tale feel to it.

The highlight of the walk for most people is finding and identifying the vast amount of wild mushrooms, actually knowing that you can eat them without worrying.  There do seem to be more poisonous ones out there though!
Baskets brimming with an amazing collection of wild foods.  The huge ‘chicken in the woods’ mushroom was the star of the show.  Notes; I wanted to capture the scale of the mushrooms and the excitement it created.

There is always a great atmosphere on the walks generated by Jesper’s enthusiasm.  People always get involved and there is a great sense of fun from toddlers to pensioners.

There is a great atmosphere and a sense of fun throughout the walk, with a wide range of ages.  Notes; I wanted a group of pictures that captured the atmosphere of the day.  The picture on the left shows people interacting and having fun.  It needs to be larger than the other two to preserve detail.  Top right points to the age range of the group and that it is a child friendly day out.  Bottom right reinforces the sense of fun.
The end of the walk results in a cook up of all the edible mushrooms.  This takes place on the wall of the park using a couple of gas burners.  This is rare for a wild food walk as most people who run events like this do not have the professional indemnity that Jesper has as a consulting medical herbalist.  It’s also one of the best bits!  You also get to go home with some as well.

Preparing a pan full of freshly picked oyster mushrooms (left).  A quick brush and chop and their ready for cooking(right).  Notes; the picture on the left shows the simple preparation on the wall of the park and the right shows the pan full and ready to go.
And now for the bit you’ve all been waiting for! A pan full of oyster mushrooms fried in butter (left) quickly devoured (right). Notes; I wanted to make these look good enough to eat!  The left picture needs to be large for the subject to be recognizable.  The right picture shows people digging in.  I like the anonymous hand coming in from the right grabbing a handful.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Big Issue

Over the last few months OCA have been working with The Big Issue in the North to get students' photographs in on a weekly basis.  So far I have had four published.  Originally the brief was something topical from the previous week but this has since changed to any image.  My first picture in the magazine was from the week of the royal wedding.  An interesting subject bearing in mind it was to go in the Big Issue which had just run an article questioning the relevance of the monachy the previous week.  The image used raises the question 'were we patriotic or did we just want something to celebrate in the current climate?'

The next two shots were general interest/topical pictures that are quite clear and striking for their own reasons; the dedication of the Bob Marley fan with the design and the artist in the background and the results of errosion on the coastline creating sculpted patterns between the sea defences.

This shot was one that I took on the day of the pensions march in Manchester and uploaded straight away so that it could meet the deadline for the magazine for the next issue.  I was mindful that this was the sort of shot they would go with so I put forward a selection from the march. 

Here are a couple of images that didn't get in.  There is a learning curve in working out what an editor prefers or will go with.  This first shot wasn't used because the editor did not want any post modern industrial images.  The second shot was too contentious.  I thought this might be the case but put it forward to get the reaction.  As an editor I can see why it he did not want the headache of the possible backlash but it did make me laugh that it was too contentious for the Big Issue.

Other things that need to be considered are the size and format of the image.  Because of the position in the magazine, landscape images are preferable.  Portrait is ok but there's more chance of getting in using landscape.  The image is not particularly big in the magazine so the subject generally has to be large and clear.  A busy detailed picture will be more difficult to see.

It has been and still is an interesting challenge and now I often think about shots that will work for the Big Issue when I'm out.  If I'm in it then I always buy an extra copy to send to the folks down south!