Sunday, 1 July 2012

…coming to an end ( I hope)

As things stand, and assuming I pass this particular course, this is going to be the last post on this blog. If anyone is interested in my continuing studies they can find my future musings over on my Landscape blog.

All my assignments, and the working associated with them, can be found via the links on the right. The assessors have received my documents on CD, but for anyone else who is interested the links to the final assignment submission documents are here:

This is going to be quite a long post, but I want to cover three main areas: My thoughts on the course itself, my personal assessment of my achievements against the learning objectives, and the impact of the course on my personal photography. So first up – the course – and I’ll stick with the same general headings I used at the end of DPP.

What did I want/expect from the course?

Having completed DPP I had a much clearer idea of what to expect from the course material so what I wanted was a course that would effectively force me into my ‘discomfort’ zone – people photography. I think that I was a little worried that it would immediately force me into social commentary – but was prepared to give that a go if it was what was needed. Beyond that there’s not much to say under this heading.

Did it deliver?

Unequivocally yes! The early stages of ‘people aware’ allowed me the escape route of self-portraiture – although that has it’s own set of issues to resolve – but the ‘people unaware’ stage pushed me well and truly into photographic places I’d not tried before. I also found the approach to place quite challenging – it’s easy to snap a place, rather more difficult to photograph it. I think it’s at this point that it finally dawned on me that I was doing a degree course, and that my previous certainties and overconfidence wouldn’t cut the mustard.

I struggled with some of the middle phases – not because of the course material, but because it was so unfamiliar to me as an idea. I also think that my perception (right or wrong) of the UK as a very hostile environment for street photography caused me some problems, because I found the same thing considerably easier in Switzerland during my holiday. In some sense this holiday came at a fortunate time, because I was becoming bogged down on the people exercises and it restored some momentum for me

For reasons explained elsewhere in this blog, Assignment 3 was a bit of a wake-up call. I found the somewhat open nature of the final two assignments quite tricky as well – photograph more or less what you please, but be prepared to explain why you did it and how the photos support that. The first part is easy – that’s what us amateurs do – the second part was new territory for me. It’s a measure of the course’s success however that by this stage I had the nerve to wander the streets of the local town in the dark with a camera – even if I wasn’t quite ready for walking up to people to photograph them in that circumstance.

I think another part of the courses success for me was the way it has developed my understanding of the ability of a photo or series of photos to tell a story or convey an idea or feeling, again the last two assignments feel like good examples of that.

I still found the reading requirements a little vague. I revisited some of the photo theory texts I read during DPP, and this convinced me that I needed a better understanding of the artistic context in which photography has developed, so I’ve tried to work on that as well. Alongside this I’ve tried to look at more photography. The nearest decent gallery is nearly 2 hours away so I’ve tended to rely on the web, and on books, but hopefully these efforts are reflected in the reading list I’ve developed and various posts in my blog over the duration.

How do I think I fared against the learning objectives?

  • Use technical and interpersonal skills effectively to capture images which reflect your ideas – I feel that my last 3 assignments in particular show that I have the technical skills. On the interpersonal skills side, I still have some way to go before I could take a close portrait of a complete stranger uninvited, but otherwise I think I have demonstrated that I can take photos of people with a reasonable degree of success, and use people in shots to emphasise the points I am making, or to add emphasis or interest to a shot.
  • Demonstrate the importance of note-taking, research, ideas and concepts to the process of developing a story – this was a big step forward for me on this course, perhaps most effectively demonstrated by the difference in my approaches to Assignment 2, which was quite spur-of-the-moment, and Assignment 5, which was planned as thoroughly as I could make it.
  • Demonstrate a good level of ability in the effective selection and editing of images to achieve objectives – difficult to make a neutral comment on this, as I would not willingly submit a set of images which I thought did not achieve the objective I had in mind.
  • Show that you can reflect perceptively on your learning experience – again difficult to give a neutral answer, but I believe my response to tutor feedback on Assignment 3 demonstrates that I can react positively to feedback, and take on board lessons learned along the way. I think this is most effectively demonstrated by the way some of my personal projects are developing.

Which leads very neatly to:

What impact has the course had on my photography?

Overall my photography has developed a thoughtful, or experimental, strand that was missing previously. Rather than individual photos I am beginning to think in series or groups, with an attempt at an idea behind them. Clear examples include my reflective self-portraits, my night-time shots and the series on roads that I have just started to develop. Both of the latter I hope to be able to develop further during the Landscape course.

Another major change has been my adoption of black and white photography. My first real experience with monochrome was during DPP, but I have found that it works very well with night time shooting to support the atmosphere I am trying to create, and I expect it to continue featuring in my photography going forward.


I found this a difficult course to engage with in the early stages, because it pushed me so far from my comfort zone, but I’m glad I persisted. Whatever the outcome of this assessment I’m sure my photography is better for it. A key challenge for the next few months is not to lose the momentum on people photography simply because I am engaged in a Landscape course. Whether I’ll be able do this by weaving people into the Landscape module, or by developing some more personal projects remains to be seen, but I’ve gained too much to drop it now.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Two-lane Blacktop

Posting this here because it has emerged from the shots I’ve been taking during the later stages of this course, although in reality I’m hoping to develop the idea as I move through Landscape. Roads are a reality in all our lives, but doing 30,000 miles a year means they feature in mine quite a bit more than the average so I guess, as with hotels, that it’s inevitable I should want to photograph them.

If you travel them enough, roads, even parts of roads, seem to develop personalities – this is a good bit to drive, this bit is just tedious - and you start to develop a relationship with them. The relationship is even closer at night when the countryside is essentially invisible and even the towns seem otherworldly and distant from your car/road bubble. Turn the radio off and the only company is engine/wheel noise and the flashing white lines just head off hypnotically into the distance – it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s just you, the road and the night. I like walking in the dark for much the same reason – the loneliness and the sense of being inextricably linked with the road or path.

So, whether I can weave it into Landscape or not, this set is going to be developing over the next few months and we’ll see where this particular road trip takes me.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Into the dark: A history of night photography - British Journal of Photography

Into the dark: A history of night photography - British Journal of Photography:

'via Blog this'

The May 2012 edition of BJP had the theme of night photography so - given my interest in what they humorously call the 'Dark Arts' - I was more than usually keen to get the wrapper of this particular edition. Inside however I found a bit of a mixed bag - summed up for me by the irony of running a review of two cameras which have sufficiently high ISO capabilities that you can photograph in dark situations as if it were daylight.

A significant proportion of the photos and sets seemed to be about defeating darkness, rather than using its creative potential - one set even used 'artificial' darkness - overpowering daylight by the use of flash lighting. I'm not trying to say that some of these shots did not have merit in their own rights - but I'm not sure they live up to the promise of the headline. James Nizam's Thought Forms set is a case in point - they are extremely clever, well executed and quite thought provoking, but they are more about light than they are about dark.

I was less clear about the merits of the shots which 'reveal' secret military exercises and missile launches. Quite what I'm supposed to make of the revelation that the American military practises night fighting in the dark eludes me.

On the flip side the set by Bill Henson seem to me to catch the essence of night with his dark, murky dream worlds hinting at unseen terrors  - touching on some of our primal concerns, and maybe fantasies, about darkness. Miti Ruangkritya's portfolio of flood shots in Bangkok were given added mystery and poignancy by the dark, and the photographs of Inuit people by Donald Weber using the characteristic light of an LCD screen was a clever take on the challenges facing a people who have moved from the stone age to the digital age in a single generation.

So overall - the usual BJP mix of stunning photos, clever ideas and stuff which I don't get (yet - if ever). Plenty of food for thought though, and it  makes me wish for the earlier night-falls again (sorry).

Friday, 22 June 2012

Takehiko Nakafuji "Night Crawler" 1995

Takehiko Nakafuji "Night Crawler" 1995:

'via Blog this'

With apologies to anyone who isn’t on Facebook, but this was the best link I could find for a selection from Nakafuji’s Night Crawler, which I discovered in the May 2012 issue of BJP. There is a somewhat smaller but more accessible selection here.

It jumped out at me for its resemblance to Daido Moriyama, in that they are night shots in grainy high-contrast black and white, so it was no surprise to find the Nakafuji had studied under him. Night Crawler 1995/2010 is about Tokyo at night and concentrates on the differences between the ‘95 set and the later set. Sadly, it’s rather difficult to make head or tail of these differences in the rather limited viewing circumstances offered by Facebook and the other galleries. However I find the individual photos themselves very striking (not least I suspect because of the stylistic similarity to some of the stuff I’m currently producing).

The lead example in the BJP article is a case in point:


The overall image is dominated by the contrast between the very deep blacks of the shadows and the strangely luminous – almost ghostly – face of the girl under the umbrella. Incidentally, it is placed almost dead centre in the photo, which is contrary to conventional wisdom, but serves to draw even more attention to it. She seems to be huddled against the cold or even hoping to pass by un-noticed – I can’t help wondering what is happening just out of shot. The tilt of the picture also adds to the tension, as does the hint of activity in the background. It’s unclear if the intense white around the girl is a result of the lighting or has been added in the darkroom, but it does add to the shot by hgelping to isolate her from the surrounding shadow. One final thing that stands out to me (punctum perhaps) is the size of her shoes, which seem surprisingly large.

The article does not mention why Nakafuji uses the high contrast treatment, but I’d be interested in his take on this as it might help me understand my own interest in the style. One thing the set does make clear though is that it can be used quite effectively in people pictures – something I’m just starting to experiment with.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Loose ends (iii): Just sitting

Another loose end from my list is that on reviewing this blog I found I hadn’t completed Exercise 8:Varying Pose. Continuing with the rather literal and un-creative self-portrait theme I adopted some 18 months ago feels a little like a tick box exercise at this stage, so I felt it would be more instructive to consider some photos I took during the course of this module in the light of my current understanding of the exercise.

I’m going to start with this pair of photos – taken 20 seconds apart – in York during the early stages of the module.

P4105338.jpg  P4105339.jpg

I especially like this pair because they show that relatively small changes in a pose can reveal quite different things. In the first the woman is clearly talking. From the upright posture of her head and the position of her arm it seems likely that she is being quite animated – yet by the simple expedient of leaning slightly forward, moving her arm to her neck and tilting her head to one side she becomes an attentive listener in the second shot (about 20 secs later). This variation in interpretation is achieved without any recourse to her eyes – which remain hidden in both – and is a good example of the power of pose to affect our reaction to a portrait.

This next shot is another example of the importance of head position in interpreting a sitting pose. This pianist, with his arms forward on his instrument and his head tilted to look at the keys is very clearly concentrating on his music and appears oblivious to the little girl watching at the end of his piano. A more raised head position would have suggested a greater awareness of his surroundings, perhaps even suggesting that he was not actually playing at the time of the shot – unlike in this version.


This final shot is of a group of people sitting listening to a brass band concert and I include it here for the variety of seated poses and their impact on our view of the individuals pictured.


The two gentlemen in the centre are sitting in very formal poses, and seem to be taking listening quite seriously – particularly the one on the left who appears to be craning his neck slightly. By contrast the three people on the left hand seat are very clearly relaxed as indicated by the more slouched position and their leg positions as well – indeed the only way the gent on the far left could appear more relaxed would be by putting his hands behind his head. In another take on a simple sitting position the girl on the right is quite upright, but the twist in her body suggests that she is really paying attention to the child in the buggy rather than the band. So, in one shot, in which the subjects are all in essentially the same pose, the slight nuances in limb and body position provide a whole range of clues about activity and intent which we are free to interpret on the basis of our experience.

It is only a short step from here to deliberately using this sort of variation to allow interpretations of a more formal portrait sitting.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A few loose ends (ii)

This particular loose end refers to Exercise 18: How space changes with light.

I took the pair of shots below on our summer holiday – from the same seat at an outdoor restaurant table in Geneva. They are taken slightly over an hour apart – both on auto white balance, which may have some impact as the colour temperatures are a little difference – and clearly show the impact that changing light can have on the perception of a ‘scene’. In truth ‘scene’ is rather overstating the case for a concrete rendered wall with a hole in it, which to my mind makes it all the more notable that the first appears cold, soulless and drab, and the second, taken just an hour later, seems to speak of warm summer evenings and makes me want to know what’s happening inside.

Restaurant l'Armature, Vielle Ville, Geneva Restaurant l'Armature, Vielle Ville, Geneva

There is no direct light in either picture so the difference is entirely down to the colour temperature of the light.

Ralph Gibson - Master Fine Art Photographer - YouTube

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Ralph Gibson - Master Fine Art Photographer - YouTube:

This video is well worth watching for Gibson's explanation of his background and interest in black and white photography. The following is also worth a look  as he is not only a very good photographer but a competent guitarist as well. This would fit with his thoughts about needing to be 'cultured' - have an understanding of literature, music, poetry - in order to keep finding inspiration.