Monthly Archives: July 2017

Part one – Reflection

Part one – Reflection

At the end of Project 5 the course notes ask the following questions in reflection to part one:

“What was your idea of documentary photography before you worked on Part One?”

Before I worked on part one of this course documentary meant street photography; images taken to record events which were mainly about people and places.  Quite basic a definition really.

How would you now sum it up?”

I now realise that documentary is so much more than my original basic interpretation.  I hadn’t appreciated that there were sub-genres to documentary photography and what the differences were; that each sub-genre has its own place in photographic practice for a particular reason.  The history of photography as a document and then as art is again something I wasn’t aware of (or at least consciously) but by reading the texts provided within the course materials and in the recommended reading it’s all starting to come together – a picture is building (excuse the pun).  It’s important to understand photography’s past to appreciate how it has changed, both from a technical perspective but also from a cultural and social perspective too.  ‘Documentary’ photography is a lot farther reaching in its context and narrative than I had appreciated when I started the course.

What are the differences between documentary, reportage, photojournalism and
art photography?”

Documentary is the making of a record or to document. Documentary photography has come to cover a variety of genres, such as those below.  It can of course be street photography but is not limited to.

Reportage photography is a story in images from one persons point of view.  Nan Goldin’s work is a good example of this; very personal and subjective reportage imagery.

Photojournalism refers to news imagery.  It is photography which informs “the public of events and happenings across the world.” (Boothroyd, 2017 : 26)  This could be in the form of imagery taken live (whilst it happens) or in the aftermath (after it has happened) .

Art photography is (but not limited to) documentary images being viewed as part of an exhibition.  So it is more about context i.e. where the photographs are shown.

References:

Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and Narrative, Barnsley: OCA.

Bull, S (2010) Photography, Abingdon: Routledge.

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Assignment one – ‘Two sides of the story’ – The end

Course:  Context and Narrative

Assignment one – ‘Two sides of the story’ – The end (following ‘The middle‘)

Overall I enjoyed this Assignment once I had gotten over the nerves of asking semi strangers access to their private space.

Documentary images for me have to have that ‘just taken and left’ look.  So I didn’t attempt to stage any of the images I took, I didn’t move any of the objects either in the frame or in the space where I was taking the images with my camera, I worked with and within the space I had.  I didn’t direct the occupants to do anything out of the ordinary for the images I just wanted to turn up take the image and leave.

I knew the framing I wanted to use and had this planned even before turning up at the houses.  In my mind I wanted to try to be as objective as possible and to capture a moment in time where I was somewhere I hadn’t been before in the most honest way I could and my own small way I believe I achieved this.

As part of this post I wanted to as a regular part of my reflection comment on the course assessment criteria and provide a few points of more directed reflection:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – with this assignment I wanted to keep all the windows framed the same, inside and out, to give continuity and the viewer the ability to form comparisons.  Both sets had to be exposed differently, the outside shots being natural lighting and the inside shots made up mostly of ambient lighting.  I used a tripod to ensure all images were taken from the same height and distance from the windows (the reference point).  Originally in planning I wanted to use a wider angle to get more in frame but I was restricted with the lens I had and the space I could use to get the shots due to furniture etc.

Quality of outcome – I think the consistent composition aspect of the images worked well.  All the inside spaces had different lighting levels/types so I had to adjust the exposure but in each case I tried to used the largest depth of field I could in each given circumstance and used auto white balance.  I am pleased with the outcome and as I said before it was the social aspect of this assignment which was the greatest area of personal growth for me.

Demonstration of Creativity – Although the resultant photography could be argued to be straightforward imagery, this assignment ended up being more about gaining access to areas not accessed before (or by anyone other than friends, family or a persuasive neighbour!) and pushing my boundaries to achieve an outcome of both insider and outsider.  To make this assignment work I needed to be respectful of people I didn’t know very well and of their private space.  I was surprised they were all very supportive of my endeavors once they knew I was studying a degree and that the images would be used as part of my study portfolio, which was encouraging.

Context – Two different viewpoints representative of the Photo-journalistic inside/out viewpoint.  I needed to be objective when explaining what I was trying to do, so the neighbours who were giving me access felt comfortable about what I was doing and why.  Also one of my aims was to preserve anonymity so I purposefully didn’t include the occupants in the images.  A closer frame around the window also in all but one case excluded the door number of the house.

This concludes my posts for this Assignment submission and I now await my tutor’s feedback and will post this in due course.

Assignment one – ‘Two sides of the story’ -The middle

Course:  Context and Narrative

Assignment one – ‘Two sides of the story’ – The middle (following ‘The beginning‘)

Brief:

“Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story.
Choose a theme and aim for 5-7 images for each set.  …ensure the images are candid and ‘taken from real life’.
Include an introduction of 300 words outlining what you set out to do and how you went about it.”

The images I have submitted for this brief were influenced by the photojournalism section and, in particular, the Inside/Out viewpoint.

I have been interested in the insider aspect of photography for a while and have thought about what circumstances would enable someone to become an insider.

My starting point was to think of a situation where in everyday life I was, in general, an outsider and then see if it was possible to become an insider and compare the two viewpoints.  These two different viewpoints would form my two-image set, of which I needed 5 to 7 ‘sets’ to complete the assignment.

We have a large bay window in the front of my house which I, and my dog, spend a fair bit of time staring out of and as I sat there one day I saw a number of people walk past and look in and it was then that I knew the idea I wanted to pursue.  

I had the viewpoint of occupier looking out in to the street and they had the viewpoint of general public looking in.   So I started by photographing, using the same framing, my front room window from the inside out and then from the outside in.

Great, I thought, that’s one set in the bag.  Then I realised I needed another at least 4 sets to complete my assignment.  This is where what should have been a simple assignment turned from producing a set of inside/outside photographs to a social experiment of meeting neighbours and persuading them to give me access to their inner sanctum to photograph their windows.  This was the toughest part of the assignment, apart from being a weird thing to ask I felt I was asking myself into their private space.  

I was very relived and thankful when I was given access.

And here are my results:

I interpreted the part of the brief which stated ‘taken from real life’ to mean not to digitally manipulate images as we did in Project 5 i.e. using Photoshop or equivalent.

That concludes my official Assignment submission (‘The middle’) please now move on to the next part of the blog ‘The end‘.

Assignment one – ‘Two sides of the story’ -The beginning

Course:  Context and Narrative

Assignment one – ‘Two sides of the story’ – The beginning

Here I am again.  Another diagnostic assignment.  At the start of another course.  Which I’ll probably spend far too much time a) thinking about the creative possibilities for, b) cogitating on the depth and breadth of content, c) pondering on the scope of the required/recommended reading and d) the extent to which analysis across texts would be required, well, I was right….

My mind has been in overdrive since I opened up the course materials and was instructed “Before you go any further, read the introduction to each part of the course to give yourself an idea of the course content.”

I learnt from EYV that each Assignment should be informed by the content of the part of the course it follows, as a result I skim read the whole of part one and the Assignment one brief before I started the first part of the course so I knew what I was aiming for.

Further on in the course notes I noted that a diary would need to be kept to inform another exercise so I decided I would do this from the start and with it I would also keep a ‘list of potential ideas’.  I have light bulb moments when I am least expecting, or prepared, for them so I now keep a notebook with me all the time, this means I can quickly jot down the idea when it comes to me.   Ideas in my experience can disappear as quickly as they appear with little chance to acknowledge and remember them, so the only option is to commit them to pen and paper as soon as possible.

The ideas I have obtained this way are far too many to actually execute but there are some which given time and opportunity they are ‘must dos’ on my photography bucket list.  Hopefully I will be able to bring some of them to life during my photography degree coursework.

Why is all this so important?  Well, I had been pondering Assignment one for some time and had by now 4 different ideas in my notebook for this particular brief.  I had ruled all of them out due to either difficulty of execution, unavailability of resources or having an idea which wouldn’t stretch to 5-7 sets easily, so those were discarded for this assignment (they are still in my ideas list though!).  As I was starting to panic the idea which I have used for this assignment came to me, however, not without its issues but out of all the ideas, this was the most suitable and attainable for the brief.

Of course the added challenge was that it also had to be informed by the teachings from part one…

Format of my Blog response:

Before I start with my ‘Blog’ response on Assignment one I wanted to explain its content structure.  I think the Learning Log is meant to capture more than the official Assignment response to the tutor, or at least this appears to be the general working assumption, so text from my official response has been highlighted in bold to enable you (the reader) to distinguish between what is just ‘chat’ i.e. my thoughts, and what has been ‘submitted’.  This will help contextualize my tutor’s response/critique and any rework that is requested.

As with EYV I have split my blog posts up into a number of sections;

  • The beginning – (this post) my initial thoughts on the brief and any relevant background information;
  • The middle –  my response to the Assignment brief including written submission, my images and technique adopted;
  • The end – reflection on the brief, including a self-assessment of the assessment criteria; and
  • Tutors Feedback – tutor’s response to my submission and my comments in response to the feedback given.

Please now move forward to the next blog ‘The middle‘ which contains my Assignment response.

Part one – Project 5 – Exercise : The Real and the Digital

Exercise – Project 5 – The manipulated image : The Real and the Digital (Wells, 2009)

“Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography:
A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75. You’ll find this
on the student website.”

“Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both
sides of the argument and make some notes in your learning log.”

It is important to note some history before moving on to answer the question asked. Photography has historically been used to officially document and record events as they happen.  The images would have typically appeared as printed images in newspapers which was the main media outlet for news/photographs over the last two centuries and it was these printed images that people perceived as truth.  Photographic film, although it could be and was manipulated in the dark room, and the printed image was generally taken at face value and ‘truth’.

With the advent of new technologies, news is increasingly not delivered by newspapers and instead most people now get their news via the internet.  This means photography has had to follow the technological shift and has had to adapt to providing images digitally rather than in print.  So the argument as to whether digital technology has changed how truthful we perceive photography to be, the move to digital was never in photography’s control it was something it had to adapt to and keep up with.

There is an argument (which I agree with) that all photography is subjective and it is the photographer who is in control of what we see in an image (with the potential for the most rudimentary manipulation of the photographer only showing one side of a story) remains unchanged regardless of whether the image is/has been reproduced in print or digital and as a result eliminates this argument from the answer around digital technology changing how we see photography as truth.

Yes, digital technology does change how we see photography as truth.

Well’s states that as technology has advanced it is now possible to create an image from scratch using computer software, also from many different sources, montaged, altered or transformed. Any change or manipulation to an image suggests a lack of truth/reality, so digital technology has by association and in practice undermined truth in photography.

We are now so used to seeing images of events (there is an expectation) that, for example, when during the Gulf war no photographers were granted access ‘Jean Baudrillard famously remarked that “the Gulf war did not take place.”‘ (Wells, 2009 : 74) Digital technology gives an expectation that we will see the images of events so we expect to see them, without them we question the truth of the situation.

As a result of manipulation software, the ability to change images even after they have been distributed (to redistribute ‘doctored’) and technology providing an expectation that all events will be photographed to provide proof the event happened does change how we see photography as truth.

No, digital technology does not change how we see photography as truth.  

Citizen journalism with improved access to online media streams and social media now reinforces ‘truth’ in real life situations by providing instant feedback and real-time reports during an event.  These images are more likely to be real due to the instant nature of their delivery to social media platforms.

David Campany points out “almost a third of all news “photographs” are frame grabs from video or digital sources” (Wells, 2009 : 75) which are less likely to have been manipulated as they are produced as an immediate front-line response.

As a result of Citizen Journalism, real-time instant reporting via social media and frame grabs the use of digital technology in these examples supports the argument that digital technology does not change how we see photography as truth.

References:

Wells, L (2009) ‘The Real and the Digital’, in Wells, L (ed.) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 73 – 75.

Footnote: 

I have the 5th edition version of the book which has had the text expanded somewhat to that shown in the 4th edition, as a result I have made comment on the 4th edition text, as provided and instructed.

Part one – Project 5 – Exercise : The manipulated image

Project 5 – The manipulated image

Before Daguerre and Fox Talbot were accredited with inventing photography, Hippolyte Baynard invented a photographic direct positive process.  Baynard’s Self-portrait as a Drowned man was his response to feeling injustice.

In Victorian times photographers knew how to blend negatives and a wave of spirit photography became popular, where people could have their photograph taken with dead relatives.

The course notes also refer to The Cottingley Fairies, 1917 which “was part of a set of five pictures taken by two teenage girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, who claimed they played with and took photos of fairies in their garden.” .. “It wasn’t until the 1970s that the hoax was confirmed.” (Boothroyd, 2017 : 41)

Tableau photography was an important step in photography’s history and transition to art status by mimicking painterly techniques and composition.  In 1857 Oscar Rejlander constructed the Two ways of Life by using over 30 separate negative and in 1861 fellow RPS member Henry Peach Robinson also constructed a tableau called The Lady of Shalott based on Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same title.

Exercise – Project 5 – The manipulated image

“Instead of using double exposures or printing from double negatives we now have
the technology available to us to make these changes in post-production, allowing
for quite astonishing results.

Use digital software such as Photoshop to create a composite image which visually
appears to be a documentary photograph but which could never actually be.  To make a composite image you need to consider your idea and make the required amount of images to join together.

Upload the images and decide which image you’ll use as your main image and
background. Use the magic wand to select sections of image from the others
you wish to move into your background image. Copy via layer and drag into the
background. Do this repeatedly until you have all the pieces of your puzzle in place.
In order to make it more convincing, use the erase tool on each layer to keep the
edges soft and to create a better illusion. Be aware of perspective and light and
shadows for the most effective results.”

For this exercise I wanted to create a ‘fairy at the bottom of my garden’ image.  So I took a garden shot and combined this with a portrait shot I had taken:

IMG_9499-1 fairy in garden

You can tell this is a composite image for a couple of reasons (if not more) 1) the lighting on the garden is different to that on Lois ‘the fairy’ and 2) the detail and focus in each of the images is different.  I enjoyed figuring out how Photoshop selection tools worked but I do need to attempt another photo which is more convincing.  Watch this space….

References:

Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and Narrative, Barnsley: OCA.

Bull, S (2010) Photography, Abingdon: Routledge.

Part one – Project 4 – Exercise : Sarah Pickering

Project 4 – The gallery wall – documentary as art (continued)

Sarah Pickering’s series Public Order is introduced in the course notes by presenting an image called Flicks Night Club, 2004.  It is a colour street scene with a cross roads to the right hand side and 3 story (at least) buildings along the road that you can see.  The scene is without people, the windows are boarded up and the traffic lights appear unlit.  It all seems a bit unreal and uncomfortable….

The context to this image and indeed the series is that this is a training ground, where the police and emergency services train for real-life emergencies.

With this context in mind the image no longer seems so eerie, so strange, so abandoned.  However, what the images do is to get you to question why you originally felt uncomfortable.

Then you are presented with another image Behind Flicks Night Club, 2004, and the construction of the ‘set’ is visible.  The walls and windows are just facades built using a basic construction of blocks and boarding.

Exercise – Project 4 – The gallery wall – documentary as art

“Look at some more images from this series on the artist’s website.”

“How do Pickering’s images make you feel?”

Some of the images look more ‘real’ than others,  The ones that clearly reveal the true nature of the buildings as facades are those where I feel more comfortable because the true identity of the place is more obvious.

The images where the signs of ‘construction’ and artificial edifice are less obvious, such as Front Garden, School Road 2005 and maybe Farrance Street, 2004 you might wonder what is this place, what has happened there.  There are signs of fire and abandonment, a siege maybe…  They raise questions and feelings of being alone but also nervousness of the unseen.  Is there anyone else there lurking….

In contrast, the images where it is more apparent the scenes are unreal, a set for a more serious kind of role play, these are less scary.

“Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?”

With the context known it is effective.  Without the context I think some of the shots are misleading in isolation but as a series, as the location and then the set reveals itself it provides more of a documentary story – a progressive narrative where each image tells a little bit more of the story.

I think what would bring it to life and provide some contrast is getting some shots whilst the town is ‘asleep’ and whilst it is ‘alive’ (in action).  And maybe even the two shots precisely overlaid would then venture into the more art realm.

References:

Pickering, S – Public Order, Available at: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/Works/Pulic-Order/workpg-01.html (Accessed: 29/07/2017).