Category Archives: Coursework

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.

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).

 

Part one – Project 4 – Research point : Paul Seawright

Project 4 – The gallery wall, documentary as art

The section talks about the transition of photography as a document to photography as an art form, with reference to both how it was made and the presentation of it to the public.  “Until the beginning of the twentieth century, general opinion had regarded all photographs as documents.” (Boothroyd, 2007 : 34)

America came to this transition a lot sooner than the UK, with artists such as Friedlander, Arbus and Winogrand.  The UK followed late with the Tate Modern only putting on its first exhibition devoted to photography in 2003, Cruel and Tender, with artists such as Sander, Baltz, Dicorcia and Eggleston.

The Tate shows were instrumental in revealing the shift in a relatively short period of time (2003 to 2008), from photography as a document to photography as art.  “As a result, photography was seen less as a record of reality and more as an expression of it…” (Boothroyd, 2007:35)

Research point – Project 4 – Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murders

Look online at Paul Seawright’s work, Sectarian Murders.  How does this work challenge the boundaries between documentary and art? 

SECTARIAN MURDER

‘Sectarian Murder revisited the sites of Sectarian attacks during the 1970’s close to where Seawright grew up in Belfast. The texts are from newspaper reports at the time and document the murders of innocent civilians, killed for their perceived religion. Reference to Protestant or Catholic background was removed from the text.

Exhibited in more than 20 countries, most recently in Planet Parr in Munich and Paris, The Troubles Archive – OBG Belfast and the British Council Collection exhibition at London Whitechapel Gallery.’ (Seawright, 2017)

Seawright’s work challenges the boundaries between documentary and art because the narrative is taken from the official report of events at the time of the incident but the image is a re-imagined image, aftermath photography, with traces that are informed by the original narrative.  The image is subjective, as it is the photographers response to the narrative, which is objective, i.e. the facts.  So it could be argued his work is a bit of both; it informs you of the incident but is illustrated by an imagined image taken some time after the incident.

For example, the first image titled Thursday 14th December 1972, the original newspaper report states:

‘The sixteen tear old youth was standing at the corner of Dandy Street talking, when a motorcycle with two youths on it drove by.  The pillion passenger was carrying a Sterling sub-machine gun and opened fire on the group.  The boy fell dying in a hall of bullets.’

Seawright’s image is of a street corner, which anchors the location.  It is not obvious if it is the same street corner referenced by the original newspaper report or not but that is not important.  The youth who was killed on the street corner appears to be represented by a stop sign – maybe this is saying ‘don’t shoot’!?.  There is a motorcyclist on the road but unlike the newspaper report it is without pillion passenger but is also an anchor to the original report.  We know it is unlikely to be the same motorcyclist as at the original incident so we know it has been used as a reference point.

“Listen to Paul Seawright talk about his work at: http://vimeo.com/76940827).  What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?”

Seawright when he talks about his work states it can’t be too explicit otherwise it will be journalistic and if it is too ambiguous it becomes meaningless.  It needs to have balance, something to draw people in, to visually engage with them and then let the image slowly reveal its meaning.  He states that the context of the image is important and it is the viewer who finds the meaning in an image not the photographer.   Art photography has a different timescale in which to deliver its meaning to, say, editorial photography whose images have to deliver their message within 15 seconds.

Do I agree with Seawright?  For a document to be art I believe it does need to have the ability to hold a viewer’s gaze for longer than say an advertising image would.  The context needs to be right though to ensure the viewer has the best chance of understanding the images.  In the introductory section of the course notes we are introduced to Joachim Schmid who chose to present his found photography in photo books instead of a digital presentation, the reason he stated for this was “I have seen people who spent two hours looking at books.  I never saw anyone looking at a monitor for more than ten minutes.” (WeAreOCA, 2013)

If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its
meaning?

yes, I think if you define documentary photography as art it does change its meaning.  If you take the original objective reason for taking the image away it becomes subjective and then the truth of the image is brought into question or is given a different interpretation due to a change in context.

Photography wanting to be recognised as art mimicked painting aesthetics which included manipulating images, for example, using gum-bichromate to create a brushed effect.  Steichen did this with his image titled Self portrait with brush and palette, Paris which suggested art by association.  This was one of the instrumental moves in raising photography to the same standing at painting and therefore art.

Once you call into question the authenticity of an image I think it then ceases to have the ability to act as a straight documentary image.  The only thing that could sway the viewer to take an image at face value is the context, for example, the early black and while images of the war were so quickly developed that the images were blurry but knowing the ‘why’ around the aesthetic actually makes the image feel more authentic.

Migrant Mother taken by Dorothea Lange is an example where context elevated a documentary image to art status (or maybe iconic status).  It wasn’t a straight image which showed the plight of migratory farm labour but instead became the image to represent migratory farm labour.  It was not explicit in its representation but from the composition, closeness, subjects in the image and the context given it has become the image to represent that story.

References:

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

Seawright, P (2017) Sectarian Murder – Paul Seawright, Available at: http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian/ (Accessed: 27/07/2017).

Imperial War Museums (2013) Catalyst: Paul Seawright, Available at: https://vimeo.com/76940827 (Accessed: 28/07/2017).

WeAreOCA (2013) An Interview with Joachim Schmid, Available at: https://weareoca.com/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid/ (Accessed: 27/06/2017).

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

Part One – Project 3 – Exercise : Reportage

Exercise – Project 3 – Reportage

“Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot
30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style.”

I decided to use the main road just a short walk from my house as it has a lot of interesting buildings and shops.  It also has a fair bit of colour in places and also it’s quite a length so I wasn’t capturing the same images over and over again.

I took the two sets on different days and at different times with my Canon 70D and Sigma 17mm-50mm f2.8 lens.  The main reason for this was I first wanted to experience the exercise as a colour task and then come back and experience the exercise as a black & white task.  This ensured my mind was reset for each set of images.  I liken this to a wine taster, cleaning his palette with water before moving on to the next wine.

Shooting in black & white is not something I have done a lot of but recently, over the last few months, I have been experimenting with 35mm black and white film, for the first time since probably school (let’s just say a long time ago) and so I wasn’t completely new to what was required.

Please find below my images for this exercise and thereafter my reflection on the exercise:

Colour:

 

Black & White:

 


“In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats.”

Note: When taking both the colour and black & white images the approach to framing and composition were the same.

  • Colour can make an image look busy, cluttered and dirty whereas a black & white aesthetic can simplify it and give it a cleaner look and feel.
  • Lights in shop windows are more atmospheric in colour than in black and white.
  • When shooting colour you are more focused on the colour composition whereas with black & white you focus more on light, shadows and contrast.
  • When shooting colour I felt more drawn to having subjects within the frame (a person, a car) but in black & white the buildings, road and other textures were just as satisfying subjects.
  • Colour can provide a transition from one subject in the frame to another (say from one red thing to another) but black & white requires contrast (light and dark) to do this instead.
  • Colour can date an image where black & white can make the image feel timeless.

“What difference does colour make?

The difference that colour makes is that a colour image needs the colours within the frame to hold the image together. Your eye is drawn to brighter colours so something in the frame which is, for example, yellow is more likely to stand out than something that is, for example, blue.  This is supported in the following images:

 

In the above images the yellow road sign stands out far more than any other part of the image and so easily becomes the initial focal point, so care needs to be taken with colour images where there is yellow (or white) in the frame and in particular on the edge of the frame as it is likely to draw the viewer’s eye away from the main subject and out the frame.

Colour, therefore, can bring a slightly different set of decisions to your photography.  I also found the colour images a bit flatter but I think that was due to shooting them at a different time of day with less contrasting light conditions.

Which set do you prefer and why?”

I actually prefer the black & white set from above, for daytime street photography.  I think the main reason is that they look timeless and simpler than the colour (and I am generally more of a fan of colour).  In the black & white set your eye can concentrate on the forms, lighting and what is happening, rather than being distracted by bright colours, sometimes conflicting and working against each other, of signs etc.  I was also amazed that I needed a very different ‘eye’ to see contrast rather than colour and I enjoyed the process.

That said for nighttime photography I am a big fan of colour and particularly enjoyed the exercise in EYV on ambient lighting which you can find here.

German photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg has taken some amazing images at night with beautiful lighting, which are atmospheric and colourful.  Her nighttime street images have been used on album covers by both Bloc Party and The Streets.

Also from the EYV notes; Tokyo’s Sato Shintaro’s (b 1969) Night Lights series I really enjoyed:

“These shots were taken in the streets of Tokyo and Osaka at night from 1997 to 1999, and in them I have avoided the more aesthetically pleasing locations such as seaside areas and the well-known “subcenters” in favor of the everyday disorder of the streets. Take a brightly-lit busy street bustling with people and remove the people: the purpose of the lighting is lost and only the glow remains – providing a glimpse of the streets we know well from a less familiar perspective.” (Shintaro; 2017)

References:

Wikipedia (2017) Rut Blees Luxemburg, Available at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rut_Blees_Luxemburg  (Accessed: July 2017).

Sato Shintaro (2017) Sato Shintaro Photo Gallery – Night Lights, Available at: http://www.sato-shintaro.com/work/night_lights/index.html (Accessed: July 2017).

Part one – Project 3 – Research point : Contemporary Street Photography

Project 3 – Research point : Contemporary Street Photography

“Do some research into contemporary street photography.”  (Boothroyd, 2017: 32)

In the course notes a number of contemporary street photographers are listed from which research can be done, or there is an option to do research on a contemporary street photographer of our own choice.

To start with I decided to look at a couple of the photographers listed in the notes as, apart from Martin Parr whose work I am already familiar with, the other photographers were pretty new to me:

Helen Levitt (1913 – 2009) an American photographer who was particularly noted for pioneering colour street photography and in particular around New York City.  Her approach to photography was that she “..either sets friezes of polychromatic figures against dark grounds or keys the whole of the picture into a dominant primary blue or red.” (Jeffrey, 1981:229)  

Levitt used vintage dye-transfer color prints from the 60s through the 80s.  “The color is super-saturated and startling in its ability to evoke strong memories from that period. The wonderfully warm and humorous street theater is still present in these photos, but the luscious color itself almost steals the show.”  (LensCulture, 2017)

Levitt reveals her sense of humour and compassion through her amiable and bemused observations which come through in her photography. (Warner Marien, 2014 : 354)  Some of Levitt’s images can be found on the LensCulture site here

How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American Values?

One of Levitt’s images shows an elderly couple crossing a multiple lane road both with their walking sticks, so you can imagine moving very slowly, whilst a couple of vehicles can be seen waiting for them to cross.  This is a comical and ironical juxtaposition between the slow couple crossing and the fast cars having to wait for them to cross.  I’m not sure whether this is specifically either British-ness or American values but instead something most westerners can relate too.

I captured an image previously in my street photography, at a seaside location, where I noticed some graffiti on a wall “Surf the moment” and happened to photograph an old person crossing the street in front of it.  Even now the juxtaposition amuses me.  The image is posted below for your amusement:

surf-the-moment-by-elisabeth-smith-4

I also note that Walker Evans and Helen Levitt knew each other and occasionally conspired on projects together.

Joel Meyerowitz (1938- ) an American photographer known predominantly for his New York street photography.  He switched full-time to colour photography in 1972 and started using large format.

Meyerowitz has had a long career in photography and noted that he was part of a group of photographers pursuing their art at the same time in New York.

In the latest edition of the British Journal of Photography Meyerowitz states that “the camera is like a divining rod and I have lived my life letting instinct show me what I am interested in.” (Grieve, 2017)  A lifetime behind the camera embeds the way you see things through the lens until is becomes like a sixth sense and producing images that ‘work’ becomes second nature.

In the article we are referred to in the course notes, David Campany makes reference to Meyerowitz, notably, in the “…aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Centre…”, “He was the only photographer to have been granted comprehensive access to the scene and the clean-up operation.” (Campany, 2017).  Meyerowitz recorded the scenes using his large format camera.  Taking the images would have been a slow and contemplative process and the resultant photographs have a still and reflective feel.  The composition of some on the images produced have been likened to some of his previous images, which shows and reinforces Meyerowitz’s way of seeing.

Photography used to be at the forefront of breaking news and mainstream media, to record events as they happened – the medium of choice.  These images would be placed in newspapers, the distribution channel of the day.  However, the role of photography has changed over time.  Whereas previously photographers were given access to conflict situations (e.g Vietnam) to provide a record of what happened notably, during the Gulf war, photographers were not given access with the only images being from satellites and instead the role of the photograph was directed to the aftermath of the conflict.  Once portable video cameras came along (late 60s early 70s) video was then the preferred method of recording events, with single images coming from stills from video and not photography.

What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

Meyerowitz noted that colour allowed for subjects in the background to present themselves, whereas in black and white they faded into the background.  This is supported by “He finds the one experience on Cape Cod and the other on the streets of New York, where colour photography makes revelations out of what faded into the background of black and white pictures.” (Jeffrey, 1981 : 230)

References:

Boothroyd, S (2017) Photography 1 – Context and Narrative, Barnsley: OCA.

Jeffrey, I (1981) Photography: a concise history, London: Thames and Hudson.

Warner Marien, M (2014) Photography: A Cultural History, 4th Edition edn., London: Laurence King Publishing.

LensCulture (2017) Helen Levitt: New York Streets 1938 to 1990s, Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/helen-levitt-helen-levitt-new-york-streets-1938-to-1990s#slideshow (Accessed: 23/07/2017).

Campany, D (2017) Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’, Available at: http:// davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/ (Accessed: 26/07/2017).

Wikipedia (2017) Joel Meyerowitz, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Meyerowitz (Accessed: 28/07/2017).

Grieve, M (2017) ‘Agenda: Any Answers – Joel Meyerowitz’, British Journal of Photography, 164 (7863), pp. 22.

Meyerowitz, J (2015) JOEL MEYEROWITZ, Available at: http://www.joelmeyerowitz.com/  (Accessed: 28/07/2017).