This is my learning log for the OCA Ditigal Photographic Practice course

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Reading: Ansel Adams - Trees

I’m sure I’ve looked at this book before because subconsciously I have mimicked Adam's compositional style over the years. I’m lucky enough to live in a wooded part of the country – whether I look to the front or rear of my home, I see dozens of trees. Trees are probably our most visible and constant companions in nature and arouse great passion. This is shown by  the breadth and depth of literary quotes which accompany the photographs in this book. It’s a shame the images aren’t bigger – barely 7 inches on their longest side. They would have more impact on a gallery wall.
This book is a veritable catalogue of trees, large, small, alone, in forests, in leaf, bare, tall, short, straight, twisted, deciduous, coniferous, alive and dead. In detail and in distant vistas, all aspects of the form and shape of trees seems to be covered by this volume.
It is tempting to dismiss Adam’s work as old hat because it has been around for so long. His style has been copied and mimicked, his photographic locations have been re-photographed thousands of times. Despite this there is still a lot to be learned from his meticulous  nature and extraordinary mastery of exposure, remembering that the zone system he pioneered is now taken care of instantaneously in incredibly sensitive digital systems. I may be able to seek inspiration from his style but never produce prints with such tonal range using just sheet film, paper and chemicals.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Study Visit: Brighton Photo Biennial

  It has been over a week since the OCA study visit to Brighton. I thought it was about time I put finger to keyboard and summarised the weekend. (lots of other stuff has been going to distract me, some course related, some not) The title of the biennial “Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space” is reflected by work of the widest possible interpretation of the theme. The effectiveness of photography as an agent for change is an on-going debate, beyond the scope of this review but all of the exhibitions we saw provoked thought and comment. At the end of the review I will attempt to summarise my own feelings on what I understood and gained from the weekend. Descriptions and images from the collections can be found at the BPB website: The introduction and first morning was at the University of Brighton Galleries and we looked at three exhibitions here: 1. Jason Larkin and Corinne Silva "Uneven Development" (Comprising images from Larkin's Cairo Divided and Silva's Badlands)
Cairo Divided was a collection of photographs pointing at the differences between the haves and have-not's in Egyptian society despite the recent revolution. Picturing the new overspill development in the western desert of new suburbs for the wealthy of Cairo, the differences between the wealthy developers, the building workers and security guards is shown by large houses and apartment blocks, golf courses, concrete walls  and iron gates put up to exclude the undesirable. This seems to be a new community out of the reach of the majority, a world away from the overcrowded slums of the city. I was impressed by the quality of these images, printed in a square format. Badlands Corinne Silva’s work is similar in that it deals with the development of south eastern Spain and contrasts the plush new mansions built for the wealthy with the plastic shrouded shanties occupied by the African immigrants who are labouring on them. Also included are photographs of billboards showing Moroccan landscapes erected in southern Spain. I’m not sure why. The explanation in the Photoworks BPB edition made no sense to me and I read it four times! 2. Five Thousand Feet is the Best: Omer Fast
This was an interesting video with a chilling message. This looped film shows the dramatised interview with an American drone “pilot” cut with redacted footage of the actual interview. Essentially, the film maker has subverted the narrative of claimed peripheral civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan by setting his story as if it were close to home. A family leave home for a trip and the father takes a wrong turning and they pass through a military checkpoint. The road becomes less busy and turns into a track. Ahead, some men are digging up the road and stop what they are doing as the car approaches. The driver slows but continues to travel forwards. As he accelerates past the men and their pick-up truck, the missile strikes and their car is caught in the blast. The men are killed and the family’s station wagon is damaged. The four occupants continue their journey on foot. The clip shown on We Are OCE is not looped as in the exhibition but the film maker tried to show the troubled nature of the drone operator’s state of mind (he claimed to be suffering from virtual stress) not only from the post traumatic effects of the job but also from his unease at talking about his former job to a journalist in the light of threats from the CIA/FBI. The editor showed him constantly leaving the room to smoke and to pop pills to relieve his stress. Usually at this point the film looped back to another similar start point making the viewer question what he was seeing, reflecting the unease and uncertainty in the mind of the drone operator. I considered  this a very powerful narrative, one which poses more questions than it answers. 3. Control Order House: Edmund Clark
The prints for this project seemed very ordinary images of the inside of someone's house. However, in the context of the occupier and the circumstances under which he/she lives in the house, they take on a different meaning. The house is occupied by someone under and Anti Terrorist Control Order. The photographer is working under strict conditions and must not give any clue as to who lives there and where the house is. Documentation is displayed relating to the Control Order and the conditions under which the photographer must work which gives a disturbing insight into this grey area of control and legislation.
Continuing after lunch:
4. No Olho da Rua: Julian Germain, Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy
“The Eye of the Street” This exhibition was shown at Fabrica, a gallery in a disused church. Essentially the three photographers worked together with children of the streets in Belo Horizonte in Brazil over a 17 year period amassing an archive of thousands of images taken by the children themselves to picture their chaotic and fragmented lives. The photographers did no more that distribute the loaded cameras, collect them the next day, process the films and distribute the prints back to the children. Apart from basic advice on the operation of the cameras, they gave no lessons or instruction. The resulting images are the spontaneous creations of the children and their friends. The objective of the project was to engage the children in some creative endeavour and to see what would emerge from it. The project has been running for 17 years and has produced some telling images which have been fly posted in the city and produced as free newspapers handed out in the street. There is a feeling of inclusion from the youngsters, being surrounded by photography and now having the means to make their own photographs have them printed and perhaps posted up or reproduced in a newspaper gives then a sense of themselves, a record of their past and something to share. This was a large exhibition with individual enprints on display on the wall and in collections of boxes. Some larger exhibition prints has also been made which were displayed on the curved dividing walls in the gallery.
5. Brighton Public Library
Again, as part of the Biennial there was a display of various books, folders, portfolios showing the wide variety of methods that can be used to present photographic and artistic collections.
Sunday: Started with a meeting at the Brighton Media Centre for group discussion. I took some prints to discuss (my first DPP assignment)  and received some valuable feedback  from my fellow students and tutors. The aim of the collection was to show the differing textures that were to be seen in the saltmarsh landscape. I came away with the impression that although individual images found favour with the viewers, perhaps the collection as a whole lacked impact. I think I need to look again at what makes a collection hang together. There is an awful lot of work that can be done as a project in the nature reserve.
We also looked at work from Eileen on trees and the course of a stream in suburban London and Catherine showed some very interesting images of pylons from a DSLR that was converted to Infra Red. Amano showed us a series from life in his village. Keith  then told us briefly about choosing units for the Level 3 section of the degree.
On view at the Media centre was an exhibition of Phil Taylor’s “The Day of the Dead” which also incorporated his multimedia presentation “Urban Ghosts” I watched some of this on the day and I have watched it all again today. It was based on Taylor’s three month stay in Arizona, around the setting of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “Blood Meridian” but I must have missed something because I found it a bit dull and over long. Nothing jumped out at me.
After lunch there was a distinct change for the afternoon as we made our way to the Phoenix Brighton (a squatted office block now used for an artists centre). There was a lot to see here including a quirky exhibit entitled: THIS IS A PICTURE I DID NOT TAKE OF A DEAD MAN IN PHOENIX in which artists described photographs they didn’t take.
Also interesting, Ghost by Cathryn Kemp “………..Kemp works with reclaimed and reconstructed vintage garments to signify emotional genealogy……”  The exhibit, photographs of four of her mother’s nightdresses, full size in display cases almost as if the garments themselves were on display, back lit.
The major (in terms of space) exhibit at the Phoenix was On the Surface of Images by Korean Jinkyun Ahn. Again surreal and beyond my understanding although beautifully shot, the photographs “..explore the relationship between Ahn’s parents and in turn his family’s relationship with death and the afterlife……….”
What was good and provoked a lot of discussion was from Glasgow Effect by Alex Currie, Chris Leslie and Richard Chivers. The link to the video by Chris Leslie about the feelings of the former resident's of 55 and 75 Plean Street is here: This is a multimedia video documenting the demolition of two tower blocks in the city accompanied by commentary from former residents about the demise of the flats. It is unusual for a documentary in that it deliberately uses the primary colours seen inside the flats as the exterior is peeled away, to contrast the customary bleak  monochromatic depiction seen in similar situations. The former residents speak in glowing terms of their excitement of moving here from the Glasgow tenements and their sadness and disappointment that the buildings were allowed to decline because of mismanagement of the housing stock. A powerful indictment.
What did I get from the weekend?
My overall impression of the weekend and  the OCA organisation of the event was very good in all respects. I was pleased to be able to see so much in such a short time. Had I bee left to choose my own programme of exhibits, I’m sure I would have missed an awful lot. I am progressing in my understanding and appreciation of all types of photographic work (some faster than others) and I am adding to my ideas list of projects as a result. I now have a definite date for retirement so some of these projects may see light of day sooner than anticipated.  Most valuable of all is the interaction with students and tutors. My five study visits this year have done more that anything else to keep me motivated.

I also have yet to edit my video of the weekend which I hope to do very soon and will post it to Vimeo.