Saturday, 31 March 2012

Turner and his Contemporaries: The Hickman Bacon Watercolour Collection: Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal


Current Exhibitions | Abbot Hall Art Gallery:

Popped along to see this exhibition yesterday, mainly out of curiosity – its not often that someone of Turner’s stature gets exhibited in Cumbria, so it would be foolish not to take the chance while I have it. There’s a Guardian review here for further info

The Hickman Bacon collection, at least the bits of it on show here, consist of a collection of watercolour sketches by Turner, and a number of larger works by some of his less famous contemporaries (none of whom were familiar to me). They are seldom shown so they have not faded , as I am led to believe is typical of watercolours. The interpretive notes made much of the ‘brilliance’ of the colours and the ‘virtuosity’ of Turner’s technique – but I would have to say they were not as bright as I expected (to much exposure to Kodachrome/Fujichrome perhaps). I am also in no position to judge the virtuosity of the technique – watercolour painting is a black art to me – so all I can do here is give a view personal observations.

  • The first is that the Turner’s were much smaller than I expected. It became clear pretty quickly that this was a collection of watercolour sketches, and there was some suggestion in the notes that Turner used these as the basis for ‘exhibition’ artworks. Not being an artist this approach to how they work had never really occurred to me – but it is obvious that he would take himself down to the beach at Margate – or wherever – whip out a sketch pad and a small selection of paints and set to work- which seems to humanise a giant of art very nicely to me.
  • There were lots of cloudscapes, seascapes and sunsets – Turner was obviously a collector of sky effects. To me this emphasises a key philosophical difference between painting and photography. Turner could collect skies and water effects and marshal them into a single painting – while Photoshop makes this possible for photographs it is generally less convincing.
  • The sketches were surprisingly modern – which reflects my understanding of the history of art. In my mind the time span between Turner/Constable and the Impressionists was quite significant, when in reality it was very short. Turner is contemporaneous with pre-impressionists such as Corot, and on a couple of occasions I was struck by the similarities between a Turner sketch and Corot – although as far as I have been able to discover they never met each other. I was expecting a lot of fine detail, but what I got was sweeping brushwork, clever use of the brush to produce spray effects, layers of colour and so on – in other words a move away from realism to a more impressionistic approach.
  • My final observation is about my fellow gallery visitors. There seems to be a view amongst them that the best way to see a painting which is 9-10 inches across is to stand with your nose 6 inches from the glass. Why is this? And why does anyone think it’s right to do this when I am stood 3-4 feet back and am obviously already looking at the same painting as they reach it. Aaaargh!!!

That’s it really. The exhibition was quite an eye-opener for me. I had always assumed Turner to be a bit of a fussy landscape painter – which just shows how wrong you can be.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Assignment 4 submitted


An interesting assignment in which I have tried to capture a sense of small town Britain by night. I’ll probably be posting some of the also-rans here later – it was an interesting conundrum trying to decide whether to chose shots I liked or shots which worked well together. Went for the latter in the end as it fitted better with the ‘produce an article’ theme of the assignment- we shall see how it turns out.

If you are interested in the submission you can read it here and see the pictures – including those that didn’t make the final cut – here.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Ted Forbes on Brassaï on Vimeo

Episode 65 :: Brassaï on Vimeo:

'via Blog this'

A useful if brief insight into the night photography of Brassai. Some useful historical perspective, explaining that this sort of photography was something of a novelty in its time, and that the slow emulsions on the glass plates used in the camera provided some serious technical challenge. Had to chuckle when Mr Forbes mentioned that the photos were 'not perfect' and mentioned their graininess - for me that is part of the attraction.

As one of the tutors has pointed out on the Flickr group, in response to the photo here,  there are some interesting similarities between Brassai and the stuff I'm currently doing.

1000/738: 27 Feb 2012: Co-op Car Park

I'm clearly not Brassai and Maryport isn't Paris, but if I can achieve a similar sense of place and people I shall feel reasonably satisfied.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Seven Discourses on Art: Sir Joshua Reynolds

This caught my eye in the free books on Amazon’s Kindle and seemed worth a read. It is, very obviously, a book of its time – with lots of references to Italian and Dutch painting – one of which Reynolds admired (in parts) the other he didn’t. It is quite a fascinating insight into the personal tastes of Sir Joshua, who is clearly not backward at coming forward when he thinks something is of little value.

More pertinently, because they are lectures to groups of students passing through the Royal Academy, the discourses have quite a lots of Sir Joshua’s ideas on how to develop into an artist – some of which still ring true today for a photographer.

My favourite quote:

“ is but poor eloquence which only shows that the orator can talk. Words should be employed as the means, not the end: language is the instrument, conviction is the work.”

This seems to encapsulate a lot of what the tutors who frequent the forum say – it’s about not being a slave to technique, or judging a work of art on purely technical grounds – which, given it was delivered in 1771, is quite a post-modern idea.

He rails against the use of copying as a method of progression, effectively suggesting that it gives you technical competence but no more, and suggests that a good method of progress is to look at a scene and imagine how a master would have painted it. This could be considered to stifle inventiveness, but Reynolds argues that “A student unacquainted with the attempts of former adventurers is always apt to overrate his own abilities, to mistake the most trifling excursions for discoveries of moment, and every coast new to him for a new-found country”. He is clearly of the view that a decent understanding of the canon is essential to the development of creativity and that a willingness to build on this history is a pre-requisite of being considered a genius.

I could go on – there are many quotable quotes in this vein that seem pertinent to the kinds of discussions we regularly have in the student forums – but I’ll finish with just two more: “ is enough to pursue his (the Masters) course; you need not tread in his footsteps, and you certainly have a right to outstrip him if you can” and “Be as select in those whom you endeavour to please as in those whom you endeavour to imitate”.

In spite of it being rather quaint at times, and in spite of Sir Joshua’s occasional tendency to spend too long bashing those he regards as sub-standard, I can recommend this as an interesting take on how to develop as an artist – in whatever medium. Some of it is still relevant, some of it appears in the light of modern opinions as errant nonsense, but it is none the less, thought provoking and engaging. And, as if that weren’t enough – it’s free.

Callanish: William Horwood

Certainly not a book about photography, or even a book in which photography has any meaningful part, but Callanish by William Horwood does contain this great passage (Minch and Creggan are caged eagles at London Zoo)

..a party of visitors began their walking stare along the Cages. They were laughing and talking and putting black square things to their faces, pointing them at the eagles, and clicking them.

“It’s a ritual”, Minch had once explained. “The visitors have been doing it as long as I can remember.”

“What’s it mean?” asked Creggan.

“Well, they find something to click at and when they’ve clicked at it they don’t look at it any more but move on and click at something else.”

This seems to be something that Sontag or Henry Bond would observe, and moving my photography beyond this simple harvesting of images was a primary driver for signing up with the OCA. Seems particularly resonant as Assignment 4 requires me to explain how I’d have done the assignment differently if I hadn’t had a clear brief.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Change of heart - again

Ok – I’ve been wondering for sometime about the how to incorporate some of the stuff I do in parallel with the course into the course itself. I guess it wouldn’t matter except that I simply wouldn’t be shooting some of the stuff I’m currently doing if it hadn’t been for the course, and it seems a shame not to capture that in some way.

In particular the black and white night shots seem to be where my mind is at the moment, so why would I be thinking about something else for an assignment? The answer is that i don’t know. I’ve tried shooting for my original ideas about showing the two sides of Allonby – the tourism and the residents, but it simply isn’t coming together in my head – it feels like random shooting in the hope that I’ll be able to extract a theme, which is scarcely the point. On the other hand, I find myself leaving my photo-a-day project until the evening every day so that I’m ’forced’ to shoot in the dark if I want to do something interesting (or resort to indoor diary shooting)

With that in mind it seems wisest to shelve the Allonby plan for a while and concentrate on the night stuff – which actually interests me - while the evenings are still reasonably dark. Obviously it has to fit with the theme of shooting for an intelligent travel publication – whatever that may be.So I’m going to shoot a chapter on ‘Small Town Britain’ for an illustrated travel book called ‘Britain at Night’, and I’m going to concentrate on Maryport. This should put some of the ideas/techniques I’ve been working on to better use than my photo-a-day blog.

While I’m at it here are a few of the night shots In wont be able to use, because they aren’t Maryport – and there’s little point in cheating. Perhaps ironically they’re actually of Allonby.  First up a couple linked by the constellation Orion:

 Orion and Allonby      Orion visits Jack's Surf Bar

And as Orion was visiting Jacks Surf bar in the second – here a shot of the bar as well:

 Jack's Surf Bar .

And – finally – a shot of The Square. The rather grand building is the old Bath House, which seems oddly out of place in a small cobbled street full of tiny cottages.

  The Square, Allonby.

I may have to put up some daylight shots to show how different the atmosphere is

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A small ‘Wooyay!’ for me

My tutor sent me his feedback for my resubmitted Assignment 3 today with the conclusion: “You have challenged yourself with this assignment and have successfully brought it to a close with convincing statements and well-composed photographs.” So – given the struggle I have had to complete the assignment I think I’ll permit myself a small cheer and a large sigh of relief.

I have no idea why I found it so hard – even allowing for my false start and determination to use the ‘invisible man’ theme. Think I’ll be putting him on the back burner for a social documentary project about the impacts of long-distance commuting or similar – depends what the course offers as options to some degree.

I’m going to try to complete the shooting for assignment 4 this weekend, and the shooting for assignment 5 is already in the bag so progress may at last be possible.