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

Thursday, 4 July 2013

OCA Photography Thames Valley Group - Study day

Introduction: This event was held in Thatcham and attended by seven OCE Photography students at various stages in their degree course and tutor Sharon Boothroyd. The agenda  was simple, a morning looking at each other’s work, critique, advice and discussion. After lunch we discussed the book by John Berger “Ways of Seeing”
I will restrict my write up of  the morning’s sessions to brief reminders of the work seen and summaries of the discussions.
John is working on a project with friends who help with an orphanage charity in Thailand. He is looking for ways to use composite images to show the plight of the orphans, their likeness, what they produce (toys, soap) and what is sent to them to help them raise funds (knitted garments made in UK). He had produced several images using photographs aand text using the different elements described. We discussed his ideas and added our own.
Steven showed his images for the “Elements of Design” module for TAoP. He had used the interiors of his local church and Guildford Cathedral which gave his submission a strong link comparing the simplicity of his local church with the grandeur of the cathedral. Steven had produced some strong images of crosses and the alter with candles. We discussed his use of the starburst pinpoint light filter in his images. Some for and some against with no clear outcome.
Brian  is just starting the Level 2 Landscape module. He presented many different exterior scenes and posed the question; what is a landscape? After looking at his examples (naturalistic, elemental, city and town, water and sea) we concluded that landscape could mean whatever you want. Personally, I would add the caveat that part of it it needs to be outside, under the sky although not necessarily including  the sky.
Keith is working at level 3 on portraiture. He showed us the start of his idea that he would make a portrait of a landscape photographer in the landscape and include alongside a picture they had just taken in that landscape, linking the two images with a common theme.
Sharon showed us the initial image of her latest project in which she plans to construct scenarios illustrating lines from prayers she has read from an on-line forum. She told us she planned to remove the spiritual wording (God, Lord etc.) from the lines. The example she showed was captioned something like “give me the strength to get through the day” and it showed a young woman sitting inside a cafe at dawn or dusk(?), texting on a mobile phone. The picture was taken from the street. I think we are all looking forward to seeing the completed project.
Vicki is working on TAoP as well and wanted help in selecting images for the “Elements of Design” module. She showed some very good images and with the help of Sharon and the group I think she was able to make a good selection for her submission.
I took along my selection of street photography images that I wrote about earlier in my blog here.
This is a personal project which is on-going. I wanted to share the idea with the group to get their reaction to it. It was pretty well received but as I only had images to show on my laptop, the impact of some of the more interesting compositions may have been lost. Keith made a suggestion which I will take up and print off a series of 6x4 prints so that next time I can add some more images (I have plenty to include) and we can sort them into interesting or themed groups. I think there was some confusion about my images. Sharon thought that a cropped landscape image had been taken by using the camera sideways but I pointed out that I shoot more or less blind using the 18mm setting on my zoom and compose the images by cropping later if required.

Ways of Seeing
Sharon led the discussion on this book (and TV Series) from the 1970s. After reading it I wondered if it was too far out of date. Luckily John had the same thought and wrote an updated version of the final essay in the book which is about publicity photography, which is here.
The discussion centred mainly on the representation of women. Since the discussion I have reread the section in the book and watched the TV programme. At the end of the session, Sharon handed round a question sheet so I have attempted to answer the questions in the light of the discussion as far as I can remember. (I still have difficulty with the language used and the ideas expressed in some Art texts so I may have misread or misunderstood some of it.)
Representation of Women
What does this picture essay convey to you about representations of women?
In terms of the oil painting tradition, I think women are shown as available, to be owned by the spectator. Similarly in publicity/advertising it seems that women’s sexuality is used to titillate and flatter the male viewer  
What is Berger's argument?
Men act and women appear, men look at women and women watch themselves being looked at. In so doing they objectify themselves.
Would it be helpful if he offered an alternative?
At the time the book was written, this may have been true. I didn’t really understand this argument so I don’t know if there is an alternative. 
How would you craft a picture essay on representations of women? What images would you include?
I think I would include images of all of the things that women do in contemporary society. Beyond this would need care consideration to redress the imbalance of Berger’s argument.
How would you define the difference between naked and nude?
The dictionary definition for both words is broadly similar. In the contexts of painting, publicity and photography my understanding is that the terms are linked to the purpose of the image. Going back to Salgado’s controversial images of naked indigenous women, they live without clothes so they are naked. The argument that illustrates the point is the suggestion that they have been framed and lit in such a way as to make them into nudes, i.e. that their bodies have been reduced to objects solely for the viewing pleasure of the spectator. (In this particular instance I happen to disagree with the argument – see my previous post).
In the narrower context of photography I have always thought of the nude as artistic as long as the model does not engage with the viewer by looking directly into the lens. If they do, then it becomes a different genre – glamour. After that there is a whole new argument about the erotic and the pornographic which will go on for as long naked people are the subject of photographs or paintings.
Is there such a thing as an ideal spectator? (Is it generally a man?)
I didn’t understand the question.
What might a real woman look like?
I asked a woman friend this question, she laughed.
A helpful picture of a woman?
I think I’ve spent enough time on this.

Conclusions: A difficult book to get to grips with although the TV series made it easier get through. I’m still struggling with this type of reading because I find it difficult to retain ‘non facts’. I’m a visual kinaesthetic learner, unless I can apply what I have read immediately, I lose it.
Study Day: A very worthwhile day in which I was able to share some ideas, receive ideas and advice but most important, I felt part of something which is so valuable when you study alone at a distance.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Study visit – Genesis Exhibition - Sebastiao Salgado

28 June 2013 – Natural History Museum, South Kensington
This is a massive exhibition of 200 monochrome prints from diverse parts of the world depicting landscapes wildlife and indigenous peoples.
Before we  attended this exhibition we were told that Salgado has his detractors. This is hardly surprising for such a well established and high profile photographer who produces works on a massive scale with total commitment to what he believes in. I browsed around his Amazonas images website, looked at the videos of him working with the Zo’e Indians in Brazil. I also read Ian Parker’s extensive article, ‘A Cold Light’ published in the New Yorker in 2005 at the start of the project. This was about Salgado’s journey to Antarctica in that year. Both gave some insight into his way of working and his commitment to this daunting undertaking.
I’ll quote from the Amazonas images website which summarises the Salgados’ (Sebastiao’s wife Lelia runs the agency in Paris) objective for the project:
“Genesis is an attempt to portray the beauty and the majesty of regions that are still in a pristine condition, areas where landscapes and wildlife are still unspoiled, places where human communities continue to live according to their ancient culture and traditions. Genesis is about seeing and marvelling, about understanding the necessity for the protection of all of this; and finally it is about inspiring action for this preservation.”
After spending only an hour looking at the images, I came away with the feeling that  there was too much to see in such a short  time. I found myself crying out for some colour by the end! Of all of the pictures, I found his work on indigenous peoples the most fascinating and interesting. Looking at the quote above, reading Jose’s post and the subsequent discussions and with a limited grasp of the language of visual culture, I can say that I was bowled over by the size of the project, impressed by the quality of the images in terms of lighting and composition and unsure if Salgado has fulfilled all of his own objectives.
Jose Navarro said  “Salgado seems to ignore the complexity of contemporary visual language. In today’s visual-led society, that’s more than just a little reckless”
I am left wondering if Salgado has missed a trick here ..”and finally it is about inspiring action for this preservation.” If he was really serious about inspiring the young into action (it is them who will need to act with us, both now and for the future), perhaps he should have moved away from the traditional monochrome photojournalistic style and made more use of colour, especially in photographing animals and birds. I’m afraid to admit that I glossed over most of the wildlife photography in the exhibition for this reason. I’ve seen it done better and with more impact elsewhere. Monochrome still has a place but in a world where colour images are used for virtually all visual communication on a daily basis, Salgado’s message in in danger of being lost.
At the discussion after the exhibition and the talk by Parvati Nair (which gave some background on the Salgados the Amazonas Agency and their “Green” credentials) Several point were raised.
  • I think the majority of students remarked on the post capture digital processing that had been applied to many of the images. The predominant feeling was that some of this was too obvious and detracted from their purity. From reading, and Parvati Nair’s talk, my understanding is that during the course of the project, Salgado changed from film to digital capture. Certainly, in the 2005 article, Hawkins makes reference to Salgado using film. During the discussion, tutor Robert Enoch demonstrated how extremes of contrast can be dealt with in Photoshop, giving an insight into the techniques that Salgado may have used.
  • The discussion then focussed on the depictions of some of the indigenous women. Some students felt that these images objectified the women and were included as titillation. There was a feeling that Salgado should have thought more carefully or taken local advice before including these images, especially in view of the predominant position of recent child sex abuse cases in the national press recently. Without the detailed knowledge of how these images were made (lighting, cropping, deliberate posing etc.) and having watched the video on Amazonas of Salgado working with the Zo’e  people, I think we have to not look at these through European eyes. I like would think that they are depictions of the female form, drawing the comparison between their vulnerability and innocence, and that of the people, threatened as they are, by global culture. Interestingly, this topic came up again at the Thames Valley Group Study day when discussing Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” in particular the depiction of women. See separate post.
One the whole, a worthwhile visit to a good exhibition. My admiration of Salgado remains strong and this discussion of his work has reinforced the maxim that you can never please all of the people, all of the time.