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!

Paris Photo

This year I finally made it to Paris Photo.  It coincides with my birthday so that's two good reasons to go to Paris if ever I needed any!  This is a brief post about my initial impressions.

Paris Photo is held in the Grand Palais which is worthy of a photograph or two itself.  It is a fantastic glass and steel structure dominated by a huge central dome.  The first thing that struck me was that, although there are curated sections, a large proportion of the exhibitors are independant galleries representing particular artists and selling a lot of older prints.  This was an opportunity to see first hand many famous prints that up to now I had only seen in books; Fox Talbot, Arbus, Cartier Bresson, Brassai and Kertesz to name just a few.  They were also all for sale if you felt like selling your house.  Seeing these first hand made me really appreciate them in a way that I had perhaps not done before when looking at a poor, scaled down reproduction in a book.

Some of the more contemporary photographers that stood out for me were Mikhael Subotzky, Yann Gross and Trine Sondergaard.

Liu Bolin's invisible man series is incredibly well executed and full of humour.  His ability to get the perspective and camera angle just right is quite brilliant.

Du Zhenjun's incredibly intricate and detailed collages facinated me; so much going on creating a surreal but coherent landscape.

Raphael Dallaporta's Antipersonnel series is a collection of images of antipersonnel mines isolated against a black background.  I'm not sure about this as it almost elevates the status of a mine as a thing of beauty.  The flip side is if this raises awareness of the vast number of mines in use.

My favorite picture was Kim In Sook's 'Saturday Night'.  This picture came together over a period of four years so the next time you're rushing something think about that.  From her series Saturday Night, Kim In Sook has constructed the fantasy of every voyeur: The curtains are wide open in all 66 windows of a hotel,  exposing the occupants as they go about their business.  It is a facinating picture that is so full of detail.  I felt that I couldn't leave until I'd checked out every room.  Maybe that says more about me but there was a constant crowd doing the same thing.  We are all nosey to a point.

There was a lot more going on including Acqua by Giorgio Armani which is 'an exploration of the theme of water in photographs', selections from the J P Morgan Chase art collection including such artists as Andy Warhol and Garry Winogrand and much more.

It was a lot to take in and a lot of walking but well worth it.  I look forward to next year!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Narrative and Illustration: Project - Illustration

Exercise: Evidence of action

Aim:  The aim of this exercise is to produce a photograph that shows that something has happened.

Approach and results:  I needed to frame a picture that I took at my tennis club finals day so I thought I'd use this as the subject.  I needed to show that something had taken place so I chose to have the finished artical in the picture along with the the materials and tools.  I wanted the remains of the mountboard in the shot as it is this that shows that something has actually happened.  In fact, the tools, mountboard and picture are all necessary as without any one of them you have to assume more.  I chose this composition as it follows the route of production from measuring to cutting to the final mounted print.  The objects are placed pointing in the general direction of the print creating strong diagonals.  I also like the limited range of colours; orange/browns and shades of green.

Learning points:
It is important to think about the steps in any action.  When you create an image like this, you already know what the action is.  You therefore need to look at it with fresh eyes to decide whether you would come to the same conclusion had someone else created the image.