Category: PH0702 – Informing Contexts

PHO702 Informing Contexts Week 4: Independent Reflection

During this unit there has been a need to continue making practical work, this has been carried out using by a Canon DSLR and the iPhone 6 Mobile Phone Camera. The vast majority of new images have been made on the iPhone 6 with these images being concentrated in the areas of my daily journey by train between Carmarthen & Llanelli but also in my main area on interest around the South Wales community of Merthyr Vale. Within the Merthyr Vale area a decision was made, for the length of this unit to concentrate upon two streets, Crescent Street and Taff Street which have been earmarked for demolition. It is intended that this work will form the bulk, if not the whole of the Work in Progress Portfolio for Unit PHO702: Informing Contexts.

It is my intent to photograph both Crescent and Taff Street on the Canon DSLR restricting myself to using two Prime lenses – 50mm/f1.8 and 24mm/f2.4 as these most closely match the focal length of the iPhone Camera which will be used to create the vast majority of new images. All new work made will be in the Monochrome or Black & White format – not because it is seen as artistic but because this is how I prefer to work. The aim is to make the work in as democratic and accessible  a manner with as little post-processing as possible. The decision to use the Mobile Phone Camera will place a restriction upon the size and quality of the final images – I do not intend to print many of the resulting images and those I do print will be restricted to a maximum size of 10” X 8” in either landscape or portrait mode. The final aim of these images is to produce a small handmade volume documenting the last years of both streets but also to produce a ‘talk/presentation’ to be given at the ‘Cymru Mono’ camera club, Baglan, Nr Port Talbot on the 16th of April.

Hopefully the above strategies will produce a successful presentation which the club members will both appreciate and, I hope, provide some important feedback regarding the images themselves. However, the images and the work are being made primarily as a personal project.

At the present time I intend to utilise the poem ‘Gwalia Deserta XXXVI’ by Idris Davies in some way, either has captions for the images or as text to be displayed alongside the images as they are projected – in the ‘book’ form I envisage each image being displayed on a single page with the text being printed on the opposite page to the image. A working title for this project would be something along the lines of ‘Gwalia Deserta XXXVI – walking with Hiraeth’. Another outlet for these mobile phone images will be via Facebook as this will allow me to judge the popularity or otherwise of the project and hopefully also provide some feedback.

It would be interesting to also present the images without any caption, text or title – they would be ‘ambiguous’  with the audience for the work being required to provide a ‘meaning’ for the images from their own experiences. I’m not sure about this idea though, its possible for the intended viewers to create meanings for the images that I have not considered but, if the images are to be placed in the real world then I will have to be prepared to let them lead a ‘life’ of their own and for any ‘meaning’ or ‘interpretation’ given to them by viewers to stand.

Although my intent is still to create a larger volume of working comparing two ex-mining communities in different areas of the UK utilising the guiding concept of ‘Hiraeth’ I need to experiment in order to determine the best way in which to proceed.

PHO702 Informing Contexts: Week 3 Constructed Images

Are all photographs constructed?

As photographers do we actively ‘construct’ the images that we make, after all we select a frame’ to capture from the world around us and then go on to make decisions about exposure, focus, depth of field, what type of film we use or whether we shoot in colour, monochrome, slide or digital and what type of camera we will use to make the image – large format, SLR or DSLR or even a mobile phone. Each choice that we make is a step toward the creation or ‘construction’ of an image.

We may not, as Gregory Crewdson does, build elaborate film-type sets or setup staged shots of streets like Jeff Wall but, surely we still construct our images, either for public consumption or a more personal use. Consider the following three images :-
Ophelia_Gregory_Crewdson.jpgOphelia: Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson has conceived an idea, he’s designed and built a set, added the model and photographed the resulting image but, there is no way that you can visit the scene where the image was taken, it exists outside of reality so is literally an image constructed for display

Bill_BrandtNude on Beach: Bill Brandt

Once again the photographer (Bill Brandt) has conceived an idea for an image he wants to make, but rather than construct an elaborate mockup of a beach he’s actually chosen to go there, to take a model with him and instructed her to pose in a certain way. It is still, I believe, a constructed image but, you could visit the site where this image was made and try to see for yourself the decisions some of the decisions that were made on the day. To me, its ‘real’ in a way that Crewdson’s Ophelia is not.

IMG_6243-photo-full.jpgCrescent Street: Alan Harris (Author)

Finally, this is my own image – don’t think that I’m ranking my work alongside that of Gregory Crewdson or Bill Brandt as this is not my intent. The image here has been captured in a man-made environment, none of the buildings or surfaces are natural. Although the area is derelict (and has been for some time) its still ‘natural’ in the sense that I haven’t built it – its something I’ve seen in the past that has triggered a photographic response from myself. Is it a constructed image? Yes, it most definitely is, I’ve taken the original scene and added to it a sheet of white A3 paper on which I’ve written in black marker the opening lines from Gwalia Deserta XXXVI. Its an image made in a monochrome aesthetic, not produced for mass consumption but for myself. Its not an image that would ever have occurred naturally and therefore, to my mind, its constructed.

However, I cannot say that all my images are made in this way, with this process in mind – many are very much ‘spur of the moment’ or ‘snapshot’ type images made, just to see what the ‘thing’ in front of the camera looks like as a monochrome photograph.

Conceptually and aesthetically I want to create images that are ‘faithful and true’, something that will accurately reflect or represent what was in front of the camera – “The thing itself” if you will…..

PHO702 Informing Contexts Week 2: What Is A Photograph?

What is a photograph?

In my last blog entry I discussed the problems that I have with blogging and my less than enthusiastic love of the process. I also spent sometime looking at a photograph made by Chris Killip at Castleford in yorkshire and how it evoked emotions and recalled memories for myself.

I suppose one of the biggest questions about photographs is ‘What exactly is a photograph?’

I could define a photograph as a flat plane of light sensitive material onto which has been imprinted an image of some sort. This material could consist of a glass plate or strip of celluloid material (both coated with a light sensitive material) or the solid state electronic CCD (charge coupled device) that forms the sensor in a digital camera. In all these cases the nature of the image formed is largely a result of mechanical action – the lens focuses the light being reflected from the subject onto the film or sensor which captures it. This is very different from the process of creating a painting – there at first, appears to be little or no input from the photographer (other than pointing the camera at a subject) in the creation of the image, unlike the process of painting during which the artist process his view of the subject before committing that process to his canvas. That processing by the artist may result in the addition or removal of items to/from the completed painting as the artists interprets the subject. The creation of painting is thus a highly subjective process which may change the nature of the ‘real’ – we cannot be sure that a given painting is an authentic depiction of what the artist actually saw.

A camera, on the other hand, can only capture what is placed before it – the final image is directly related to the subject and thus represents that subject in an authentic manner. Or does it? Just as an artist can change his/her point of view and select what he chooses to add to his/her finished work so the photographer can also select his/her point of view and what he/she chooses to include or exclude from the finished work although with the advent of photo-editing processes, whether analogue or digital one can never be really sure that camera actually captured the subject in an accurate authentic manner or not.

Early photographers certainly changed the nature of the images they captured. Their cameras were bulky and difficult to transport, the materials used to capture the image possessed limited sensitivity to light often requiring long exposure times resulting in blurring of the images – they certainly could not capture the fast action of a battle for instance, often with the result that some element of the battle had to be re-staged in order to capture a successful image.

Thus, although we are all used to the notion that ‘the camera never lies’ and provides a truthful accurate representation of what was before the lens it has never deserved that reputation.

With this in mind I’d like to look at the some of the concepts that we can attribute to photographs as described by John Szarkowski (The Photographer’s Eye) and Stephen Shore (The Nature Of Photographs) :-

In ‘The Photographer’s Eye’  John Szarkowski identified five defining features of the image :-

The Thing Itself

Photography deals with the actual. The photographer had to accept that fact and learn to treasure it otherwise photography would defeat him. He or she, had to realise that the world is an incomparable artist and to learn how best to capture what the world produced. Photographers also have to learn that, no matter how good the camera or the resulting picture was that they made it was very difficult from the original object/scene that they saw – the subject and the image are not the same although they may seem to be.

The Detail

The photographer is tied to the facts of the thing that stood before the camera – it was their problem to force these facts to tell the truth – the subject could only be recorded as it was found, and sometimes these facts would have, in some way, to be be bought together in order to produce and image or seek to tell a story.

The Frame

The camera cannot capture everything that the eye can see, it cannot capture a landscape or scene in its entirety and so the photographer is forced to make a selection from that entirety that will fit onto his plate or negative. The edge of the film became important and you had to choose what to put in the frame and what to leave out.

Time

Each image made represents a moment in time although that moment could never be instantaneous – it will always be some small unit of time but never an exact, absolute, instant. At first, with slow films and long exposures the subject had to remain static or blurring of the image would occur. As film speeds and shutter speeds increased the blurring effect could be almost eliminated but, it could also be utilised to express the frozen moment or demonstrate that a subject was in motion.

Vantage Point

Multiple photographers can capture the same subject at the same instant of time yet the image that each produces will be different – the photographers will be in different positions in relation to the subject, or be said to have different vantage points. Each image produced may have a different meaning that will be produced as a result of that vantage point.

Stephen Shore, in ‘The Nature Of Photographs’ expanded upon these ideas although many concepts remained very similar if not the same. The defining points produced by Shore are indicated below :-

Physical  Level

This, like Szarkowski’s Detail is determined by the nature of the medium upon which the captured image is displayed

Depictive Level

Flatness:

The very act of making an image transforms a three-dimensional world into a two dimensional object – it can create relationships between that do not exist in the 3D world. These relationships will depend upon the vantage point of the photographer – a slight movement on the part of the photographer can make or break them

Frame

The photograph has edges but the world does not – what the photographer selects from the world is bounded by these edges. The Frame can act in a dynamic manner, either causing the viewer to seek to expand the image outward from the center or draw them closer towards the center of the image emphasising a particular object or group of objects

Time

A photograph is static – once made it does not change. However, it does continue to exist in time and moves forward in time just like any other object. It therefore depicts and event or something that existed at a particular time at a particular moment.

Time in an image can be shown as Frozen Time – the movement of an object or subject is literally frozen at a particular point during the capture (although the objects motion continues outside of that point) or as Extrusive Time – the movement of the object in front of the camera continues while the shutter is open resulting in blur, indicating motion or the passage of time itself and finally Still Time – the content of the image is at rest in front of the camera and time itself appears to stand still.

Focus

Where the camera lens is focused determines the plane of focus. This can create a hierarchy within the image giving an importance to a part of the image while diminishing other areas. It can be used to emphasise relationships between objects or subjects.

Mental Level

This may be coincident with the depictive level but it does not mirror it. The mental level occurs solely within the brain of the viewer (that is not to say it did not occur in the brain of the photographer) but acts to elaborate, refine and possibly embellish our perception of the image – it provides the base framework upon which we build the picture and how we react to it.

Like the levels of Szarkowski the levels of Shore do not act individually, each somehow acts together with, or informs the other levels so that all may operate together to determine the nature of the image and how we react to it.

While all these things may act together to determine how we see the image and react to it, there is a further influence upon us that is determined by the context in which we encounter the image.

If I encounter the image in a gallery, for example, I may be inclined to ascribe greater importance to that image than encountering the same image in a magazine – the very fact that it has been chosen by someone to appear in a gallery indicates that it is, in someway, perceived as important and meaningful. Similarly, if I encounter an image in a newspaper my reaction to the image may be determined by the type of newspaper in which the image has appeared – are you more likely to accept an image as true is its printed in The Sun / Daily Mirror or if its printed in The Times / The Guardian?

PHO702: On The Subject Of Blogging And The MA….

When it comes to blogging I’m at a bit of a loss…..

Why? Why would I want to create a blog?

For myself, I’m not sure I have a good reason and, if I’m being brutally honest, I really don’t want to.

So why am I doing it?

Because I have to. As part of the MA in Photography I’m studying for at Falmouth University I have to keep a blog but, I’m finding it really hard (the blogging that is). The MA course is great and, although its difficult with working in a full time job and commuting to work to give it the amount of time it deserves, I’m really enjoying it. I’ve encountered lots of challenging ideas and different theories relating to photography yet I’m still find it extremely difficult to get my thoughts about these subjects and my reactions to the different photographers that I’ve been introduced to written down in a meaningful manner.

If I wasn’t studying for the MA would I have a blog? Probably not….

However, this blog represents some 20% of the marks for the current unit so I’d better get started – even if it is a little late to be doing so….

So I’ll start with this image :-

Chris_Killip_Headgear_and_House.jpg

The photographer is Chris Killip, the image was taken in 1976 at Castleford in Yorkshire. (image source : – http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cam-chris-killip-getty-museum-20170721-htmlstory.html)

It appears in the book ‘In Flagrente Two’ published by Steidl, of which I own a copy. The image itself is a fragment of the past, captured in area very different to that in which I grew up yet the same. The image evokes many memories of childhood and of life in a Coal Mining Village in South Wales.

The photograph is an image split roughly 50/50 into two halves – on one side of the image is the colliery headgear appearing almost ghost like in the dust and murk, the lower end of the headgear disappearing into the mass of colliery buildings, themselves partially hidden behind a fence consisting largely of what appear to be old doors. From the look of the headgear and the way in which the interior of the structure appears to be ‘boxed in’ I assume that it’s the ‘upcast’ shaft of the colliery – somewhere near will be the ‘downcast’ shaft. Your view is led to this via the end wall of the house forming the other half of the picture, along a dirt path worn through the grassy area where young trees have been planted – the leafless state of the trees lead me to believe the image was probably made in the winter possibly early spring.

The house itself is incredibly evocative, possibly on the end of a terrace or street, probably built of red bricks and I would imagine, quite small or narrow. Looking at the door of the house I can see that my original thoughts about the season are probably true – there’s a Santa and Sleigh stuck to the glass and balloons hanging from the ceiling of what might be the entrance hall. Studying the upper window I feel that its quite early in the morning – the curtains are drawn concealing the interior of the room behind the glass although, from my own experiences there will be a layer of ‘net’ curtain in place as well, which must not be moved or disturbed. An alternative explanation may be that the occupant is a miner working at the colliery, perhaps he’s been working on the night shift there and is only now getting some rest. Looking at the ground floor window the curtains are drawn but, the lower ‘net’ is still in place although, this has been lifted by the presence of small child, ‘dummy’ (or pacifier) in mouth looking out at the world – the child in the window appears to be looking directly at the camera, staring intently at the photographer.

I can seen all this, I could be completely wrong in my interpretation of what I have described and the image may be describing something very different but, in the light of my experiences growing up in a place like this, it all fits together to give a coherent and meaningful narrative.

This, to me, is what photography is all about. I’m challenged by this image (and the others like it in the book) to find out more, more about the work produced by Chris Killip and more about photography and how, in the hands of practitioners past and present (as well as members of the public who may not consider themselves ‘photographers’) these flat, two dimensional pieces of photographic paper can evoke such a wide range of emotions and memories.

It’s images like this that are the reason why I’m studying for an MA and why I now find the constant flow of ‘nice’, almost perfectly focused images having the correct exposure and just the right depth of field that I see in Camera Club competitions and talks, uninteresting (not all of the images that I see but probably the vast majority) and ultimately dissatisfying to me.

In the entries that follow this I hope to discover more about how and why this image works for me and how such images achieve the meanings that they do.

References:

Killip, C., 2015. Chris Killip : In Flagrente Two. First revised. Gottingen: Steidl

Miranda, C. A. Seven photos, seven stories: Chris Killip on capturing the declining industrial towns of England in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Los Angeles Times, July 2017.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cam-chris-killip-getty-museum-20170721-htmlstory.html