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

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Assignment 2–reflection on tutor feedback


I was pleased that my conceptual narrative worked and that my strategy of allowing each idea to evolve and suggest  another was able to produce a diverse set of images which work well together. My tutor gave detailed feedback on the use of lighting and exposure techniques and where practical I will improve the images in line with his advice, before submitting for assessment. He also made suggestions about the position of the memorial bench image from the third to the fourth position in the showing sequence.

I have looked in the Hampshire library catalogue for the recommended book The Nature of Photographs but it doesn’t appear. I may try to get a second hand copy. I have looked at Stuart Roy Clarke’s web page and enjoyed the  combination of colour, emotion and humour. A useful pointer to assignment 3.

I have started to think about the next assignment and have several ideas but nothing is decided yet.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Reading –The Digital Eye - Art in the Electronic Age

This book, written by Sylvia Wolf, is not on the reading list for the course but I thought I would take a look at it and have made a few notes below.
Digital photography is the latest in a long line of continuing technological innovations, but out of all proportion to that which has gone before, in scale and scope. The impact of the variety and number of devices now available for making, reproducing, altering and disseminating images is vast and widespread.
In the introduction the author asks several questions:
“Is it a medium in its own right, autonomous and separate from all photographic processes that have come before it, or is it another development in a long trajectory of technological innovations?”
“What impact does it have on how we view, understand and make photographic images”
Photography and representation: A historical perspective.
Photography’s relationship to the real:
1960’s Andre Bazin  photography does not create eternity as art does, it embalms time” (I detect an assertion the Bazin does not consider photography as art)
1981 Roland Barthes “Reference is the founding order of photography.” Again, there is a hint that Barthes considers photography to be an objective medium.
Alterations, collages, manipulation, all have been done before. Oscar J Rejlander’s “Two ways of life” is the most often quoted example having been assembled from 32 glass negatives. In the late 40’s, 50’s and up to the 1970’s the Polaroid system offered “instant” pictures, preceding the digital revolution and progressing Eastman’s “you press the shutter, we do the rest” 20th century revolution.
Art Photography in the Digital World – from the marriage of technological innovation and creative application came digital photography. It emerged from differing creative areas, medical research, video, textiles and photography. Artists took computer based imagery as a tool to develop their creative ideas. Wolf describes the work as belonging to three broad areas:
  • Socio-Political Commentary. I have included just one or two examples of the type of work for each of these areas. The book contains numerous examples. In this area Wolf cites the work done by Susan Meiselas (aka Kurdistan) and Lorie Novak (Collected Visions) to provide on-line forums for images to examine the the relationships between ourselves and our family photographs (Novak) and a forum away from the gaze of a repressive government (Meiselas).
  • Other Dimensions, other worlds. Isaac Layman, (Cabinet 2008) presented a view of how we experience the world, rather than a representation of a particular object, by re-photographing a stack of glasses on a shelf and refocusing each time to bring a different layer into focus, much the way in which our eyes and brain enable us to see a whole scene before us in focus all at once.
  • Reflections on the Medium Itself. Jon Haddock produced the “Children fleeing Napalm strike, Modified – 1972, Huynk Cong “Nick” Ut (2009) by erasing the children from the frame and forcing us to recall the full image from our collective visual memories. In a more bizarre example, he has produced a grid of the digital values of the RGB plot a frame of the film of the assassination of John F Kennedy. Such techniques demonstrate new aspects of the world that has been opened up in the artist’s imagination, providing a unique vision.
Returning to the questions at the start of this review, I don’t think that digital photography is a medium in its own right. It may have seemed that way in the 90’s but is no longer the case as it has become so widely accepted. It has also subsumed and absorbed analogue photography, with digital technology becoming the servant of analogue in some instances. The impact on how we view, understand and make images has always evolved and will continue to do so.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Criticising Photographs–Terry Barrett 5th edition 2012

Introduction: I have started reading this book which is a closely written work of eight chapters. This is my summary for Chapter 1. As I  have now finished DPP coursework I will continue to review each chapter in my Documentary blog here:
Chapter 1 About Art Criticism
The chapter is divided into eight sections. I have made notes on each.
Definition of Criticism
In the mass media, criticism is generally a negative judgement which does nothing to help us understand the work. Criticism is about promoting interest and asking questions about meaning rather than than the work’s aesthetic worth. With photographs, look closely at them and pinpoint in words what the provoke within you that helps to think feel and understand the work and what the artist is trying to communicate.
“Criticism is informal discourse about art to increase understanding and appreciation of art”. A D Coleman
Sources of Criticism
Anywhere art is displayed, read about and promoted or sold. Classrooms, art colleges, the newspapers and exhibition catalogues and specialist collection in books are a good source. The factors that can influence the tone and content of the review can include editorial policies and style, personal preference of the reviewer and politics.
Types of Criticism
The two most valuable types of criticism:
Exploratory  Aesthetic Criticism does not generally provide judgements but does attempt to provide the reader with a full account of the aesthetics of the work to ensure that they can experience all that can be seen.
Argumentative Aesthetic Criticism on the other hand will attempt a full interpretation of the work and  then make a judgement of the work’s positive (or  negative) attributes. There will be a full account of the writer’s arguments based on stated criteria. They will attempt to persuade the reader using these arguments and are prepared to defend their opinions.
Other types may include:
Applied criticism – of a journalistic nature which is directed at the work. Theoretical criticism attempts to define photography and uses photographs to clarify arguments e.g Camera Lucida by Barthes. Connoisseurship is severely limited and is usually limited to pronouncements rather than reasoned argument.
Background of Critics
Varied, many have PhDs and have studied art and photography as art. Others may be artists themselves and/or teachers of art.
Stances of critics towards criticism
This section details the attitudes of certain critics towards their  work. A quote from Grace Glueck sums it up; “inform, elucidate, explain and enlighten”.  While A D Coleman (1975) says that when writing, critics should be…. independent of the artists and institutions, have a regular output, the work must be publicly accessible, be contemporary and about diverse artists. The critic should openly adopt a sceptics posture.
Relations between critics and artists  
The critic is writing for the public not the artist. He should be aware of the artist and his/her work but must not want to ‘be loved’ by the artist. Critique is not a judgement. The critic should provide an opinion and their own interpretation.
Art of Criticizing Criticism
Critics often disagree. This is a good thing and promotes debate.  According to Donald Kuspit, critics should be:
  • honest in their judgement
  • clear in their writing
  • straightforward in their argument
  • unpretentious in their manner
Jerry Saltz on why criticism is often obscure:
Why is it that so much art criticism is indecipherable – even to ‘us’? If art has lost its audience then surely this type of smarter-than-though criticism has played its part. Criticism isn’t the right word for it anyway. Much of this writing feels cut off from its objects. When a critic reports back about what he or she seen it should be in accessible, clear language and not a lot of brainy gobble-dygook that no-one understands. A critic should want to be understood. But the price you pay for this accessibility is dear. You can lose your ‘pass’ into certain academic circles, or it might mean that you don't get asked to be on all those panels that discuss art and its relationship to biogenic whatever and it may mean you won’t get asked to too many CAA conventions – but that’s OK.”
I have a feeling I shall be making good use of that quote in the coming years.
The Value of Criticism
Reading criticism gives you an increased knowledge and appreciation of art. The act of criticism also allows you to consider the work in more depth and think about what the artist’s intentions and meanings are.

OCA TV Group meeting 15/3/2014

  1. I have only made brief notes for this study visit. As I was between courses, I had no current work to show. those that did show were working on TAoP. Unfortunately I can’t recall any of it as it is over month ago. Clive white was the tutor in attendance and gave his usual to down earth practical advice. I have made a note about photographic voice and using a fixed focal length for all of your work as an example of one element of an individual style. Clive also mentioned that using full frame (35mm) sensors gives a greater depth of field. This is something I had not considered and perhaps my next digital SLR should be full frame. (I’ve got to wear out my D90 first but it doesn’t show any signs of giving up the ghost any time soon).
  2. While Eddy was setting up the printers for the afternoon session, Clive gave some valuable explanations and advice about balancing light sources using an electronic light meter and the use of the Inver cone when taking incident light readings.
  3. We had two printers set up for the printing workshop, a four colour Canon and an Epson 2400 which I think was an 8 colour printer. Eddy was able to demonstrate the differences between the the resulting test prints and  the discussion revolved around the differences between results obtained on paper compared with what we see on our monitors. Calibration and colour spaces to use were also discussed.
  4. The final session involved Clive setting up a large  format monorail camera (5x4), proving us with some optical formulae and challenging us to come up with the height of the image on the plate. I’m afraid with my customary speed of working out even the simplest mathematical formula, I never reached an answer before the session ended!
Another enjoyable day and I am looking forward to the next meeting on the 31st May.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Only in England –Tony Ray-Jones with Martin Parr

1st March 2014 OCA TV  Group Study visit
DPP scans030 DPP scans031
This was the second gallery visit for 2014 organised by the Thames Valley study group.
I hadn’t managed to read up very much about this exhibition in advance but I’m glad I didn’t because it is sometimes nice to be pleasantly surprised. Subsequent to the visit, I read these articles from Roy Hammans’ website here: , watched this video and read the Daily Telegraph article here:
I enjoyed this exhibition. The main reason is that I recognised a lot of the characters in Ray-Jones photographs. They were from my past, growing up as I did in a south coast seaside town in the nineteen fifties and sixties, before the package holidays boom to the Spanish Costas. At the time Ray-Jones was taking his photographs in Brighton, Eastbourne, Broadstairs and Herne Bay, I was working during the summer holidays in seaside cafés and gift shops, meeting all these wonderful characters determined to make the best of whatever the day threw at them.
I was familiar with what he was attempting to record. As an outsider, rather than a fellow holiday maker, I found it easy to appreciate the eccentricity of his characters and the humour in his prints. I came away from the exhibition with a small book of sixteen postcard prints. There are several prints that I really liked. The first (Location unknown, possibly Broadstairs, c. 1967) shows a young couple prostrate on the sand, kissing in an intimate embrace, next to a beach hut underneath a sign which reads “HAWKING PROHIBITED”. Standing on the veranda of the hut, a man is looking down at them, with what appears to be resigned bewilderment. In my imagination, his next action is to produce a bucket of cold water from behind the railings………
In his interview with Greg Hobson, Joel Meyerowitz explained that he and Ray-Jones used the parades in New York City as young men, to gain experience in shooting almost unobserved as the crowd was distracted by the passing spectacle. Lichfield Bower Parade 1966 is just such a picture with the crowd absorbed by the passing parade while a toddler held in her mothers arms looks directly into the lens. What was it that was more interesting about a man with a camera, than the scene behind him?
Ray-Jones was capturing what he perceived as the passing of an era of a certain type of English eccentricity. I was looking for a  counterpart that I could match with contemporary life to show that life hasn’t changed much, just that the props are different. Brighton Beach, c. 1967 shows a young woman, dressed in the fashion of the day, mini skirt, short leather jacket, sunglasses pushed back on top of her short hair, sitting on a towel on the shingle. Also on the towel in a portable record player and half a dozen or so seven inch vinyl records. She is looking to the right of the frame, a distant expression on her face as she (and by default, her fellow sunbathers) listens to her music. A male companion (perhaps?) lies prostrate, bare chested with his face covered by a towel a few feet to her right. Behind her in the top left of the frame, another girl sits with a transistor radio, casting what may be an envious glance towards the girl with the mobile disco. Of course, today we still take our music with us but in a less overt and intrusive manner.
As well as Tony Ray-Jones 8x10 prints, also included in this exhibition are a number of Ray-Jones photographs, selected and printed by Martin Parr as well as some of Ray-Jones’ contact sheets.
The exhibition also included Parr’s “The Non-Conformists” exhibition. This exhibition was Parr’s first notable work, made during a period in which he lived in the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge in the 1970’s and features the lives of the community around Methodist Chapels in the town. Like Ray-Jones, Parr could see that this way of life was changing and that it needed recording.before it was gone forever. The subject matter is wide ranging and includes all aspects of life in and around the chapels, local industry, Lord Savile’s grouse shooting parties on the moors. The series shows all of the quirky characteristics beloved by Parr in a traditional area of the country at a time before all day pub opening, Sunday shopping, the cell phone and the universal use of the motor car. I got the feeling of “Prim and Proper” no nonsense, down to earth folk where the women wore the trousers and the men did as they were told. Perhaps I have seen too much “Last of the Summer Wine” but I could see that sort of humour in these images.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Study Visit – An Audience with Fiona Yaron Field 08/02/14

This OCASA organised study visit was held at Thatcham in the OCA TV study group venue. This was a very full session where Fiona shared work ranging from her student days up to her current project. As there was far too much to write up (I have over two and a half hours of recorded material) I have summarised the parts I found useful and written about which project of hers that interested me the most. The audio files are stored on my PC for future access. I’m sure I will find them useful.
The link to Fiona’s website is here:
Fiona's work was just a starting point - the real value of the session was the interaction with the audience. That is what I got the most from.
Early in the discussion, Fiona described her working practice , that her most successful work is born out of her own imagination, from deep within. Interestingly she remarked that ideas that deep are often universal and resonate with the viewer, in most cases. But, not all viewers will get it. She finds that working with an audience in mind distracts her and the viewer is only considered at a later stage in the work, i.e. during the edit. I thought it was good to hear this. My recent project for DPP started in one way and finished up pushed into another direction. It evolved as I went along. I too, found it revealing (in a way) as it evolved into a series which included aspects of ageing and retirement which seem to have surfaced without me being aware of it. Editing - informed by the progress on a project so far. Editing is part of the work and narrative. Interpretation of images is always subjective. Open images work best. If they're too closed - too literal then they only have one interpretation - you stop looking. I now understand why my tutor thought my assignment 4  image was too literal.
As already mentioned, Fiona presented a very wide range of work, a lot of which can be seen on her website (link above) Her main body of work is very personal – about her daughter Ophir who was born with Down’s syndrome which started off purely as a family photo album and journal and evolved into an exhibition, a book and subsequent projects, Becoming, Up Close, Shifting Perspective, Safe Haven. All of which raise awareness of the condition and show how life is for individuals and families affected .
Standing apart from this is her project Beyond the Wall which she claims is her most organised and planned project so far. I chose to write about this simply because it it so different from her main body of work. Before the meeting, I watched the videos in which Fiona discusses the project, on YouTube:
During her talk, Fiona reiterated much of what was in the video interview. To summarise, the project was made in 2008 just before the last war in Gaza. It shows 11 portraits of men in a vulnerable position with their backs to a wall. These men are Palestinians and Israelis although there is no way of identifying each from the other. What the series shows is that these men are more alike than different once the dehumanising differences are removed or forgotten.
Fiona made an interesting observation during the time that she was shooting this project. She identified herself as an English woman photographer to the men and also used a ‘fixer’ to make contact with the men and arrange to take photographs. She observed that when she took the men aside, away from their fellows or family members, to a place to be photographed their personality changed, they became less macho and almost feminine which she attributed partly to their vulnerable position and to the fact that she had taken charge of the situation and was telling them what to do. She also observed that they were compliant to her requests for photographs because they were asked by her fixer and would have lost face with him had they refused. For exhibition, the portraits were hung in a room facing each other, reinforcing the ‘more alike than different’ proposition  although she observed that in fact the men appeared to be looking at the viewer rather than each other.
I found this project powerful in its simplicity. If there is any hope for these seemingly intractable situations throughout the world, constant re-enforcement of the idea that we are indeed more alike than different, makes an essential first step in conflict resolution.
Fiona Yaron Field is also a co founder of “Uncertain States” which is described as “an artist-led project that publishes and distributes a free quarterly broadsheet newspaper showing lens based art” She distributed copies of Uncertain States 16 to the group. I shall read it with interest.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Project - A web gallery


I do have a web gallery but at the moment it has very little on it. At the end of this course and before I start level 2, I will either bring it up to date and add some additional personal work or shift it to a new provider. I am moving my learning log to Word Press and depending on what facilities are offered, I may build a web site there. Updates to operating systems and platforms make a site that can be viewed on all devices essential so this also needs to be considered.

Many years ago I bought a book called “Web Site Design for Professional Photographers”. I looked it out recently but decided that the ideas in it were too commercial although the basic layouts using MS Front Page as a web page editor could easily be adapted and simplified. My web gallery was written using MS Front Page with the slide shows assembled using the Amara slideshow application. I decided on a very simple layout with individual galleries in new windows. Simple black text on a white ground seems to be a good way of presenting words alongside images and a thumbnail bar and central viewing window within the gallery make looking at the images easier. The fewer mouse clicks (or screen taps) the better.

The web galleries I have seen have influenced the way in which I put together my own.

Assignment 5 Personal project

During this period I have been working on the final assignment for the course. A full explanation of the development and progress of this project will be found in my assignments blog here:

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Part five–The final image

Project: Finishing

My back-up regime is as follows:
Download image files from my camera’s SD card to an external hard disk drive. My transfer software automatically backs up the files to my “C” drive. All editing is done with the files on the external drive and when the editing and processing is completed, the resulting folders are burned to DVD.
My printing processes have been detailed in previous posts. I am using a basic four colour ink jet printer and the proofing software provided in the Capture NX2/ View NX editing suite.
I find that this provides adequate prints at A4 size.
Sharpening This is something I do very little of, if at all. Sharpening for print is not something I have considered seriously. This exercise will be interesting.
Exercise: Sharpening for print
This is the image that I chose to sharpen and print. The only adjustments I have made are; resize for print, crop and white balance.

Most of my techniques for post processing come from the book Capture NX2 – industrial strength production techniques by Ben Long. I have learned about the Unsharp mask tool  and the following is a description of the process:
The need for sharpening comes about mainly because the High Pass Filter which sits in front of the sensor applies a very slight blurring to the image (necessary for colour calculations) although a lens that does not produce a particularly sharp image when focussed can also be corrected. The principal behind sharpening is to increase the apparent sharpness of the image by making the edges in the image appear more acute. (an edge being a sudden change of contrast made up mostly of light and dark lines). The unsharp mask identifies these lines and increase the lightness and darkness along these lines making the image more contrasty. There are three controls associated with the unsharp mask:
  • Intensity % (the degree of contrast)
  • Radius % (how many pixels of ‘halo’ are created)
  • Threshold (controls how much contrast change is needed before the filter registers an edge  - by pixel brightness value 0-255)
Experimenting with the sliders determined that the ideal radius for this image was no more than 10% and the threshold was left at zero. I produced four different versions of the image as well as the unsharpened one, changing the intensity from zero to 10, 25, 35 and 50%.
Looking carefully at the prints with a magnifier, I found little appreciable difference until the 50% intensity setting. At 0% the skin of the Julie’s face was smooth but the eye detail was less defined. At 35% the eye detail and the skin texture was acceptable so it looks as if this is the ideal setting for this particular image.
Other features of the image the details of the necklace and the fibres in the scarf became more detailed and defined at 50%.
On the monitor, the differences were easier to see. I have added some cropped screen shots below. What is apparent from the screen and not from the print is the ‘halo’ effect. A balance needs to struck between the different areas of the print and it may be that selective sharpening may be required, in this example, on just the eyes, leaving the skin texture smooth

image image
0% intensity
50% intensity
image image

Conclusion: It appears that sharpening has a very subtle effect and may be used to give definition to the most important areas of the image. As illustrated above, selective sharpening could be used to improve just one area of the image. This is a very important tool and each image must be assessed carefully to decide on how much and to which areas of the image needs to be processed to produce a satisfactory print.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Wendy McMurdo - In a shaded place, the digital and the uncanny

In response to my tutors suggestion, I looked at the work of this artist and in particular this series as I recalled seeing one of the images “Helen backstage, Merlin Theatre (the glance) 1996” in Charlotte Cotton’s book recently. While looking at the series, which depicts young people, mostly children, with a doppelganger or even multiple selves in one frame, I also read Gilda Williams essay ‘Identity Twins – the work of Wendy McMurdo’  in which goes she gives one explanation of what this work is about.
The Title above was taken from McMurdo’s website.  the link to Gilda Williams essay can also be found there:
Gilda Williams’ essay is of course her own interpretation of the series (some images of which do not appear on the website) Broadly speaking I can understand her interpretation and it has brought me another perspective on the work. I can also see my tutor’s point about how digital manipulation does not have to be as obvious and literal as the example I chose for assignment 4.
In summary, the essay explains that the doppelganger is a mythical monster from German folklore who stalks the innocent from the shadows, eventually replacing them, un-noticed by their family or friends.
Williams then goes on to explain the uncanny (uncomfortably strange – arousing suspicion) in relation to the Doppelganger, in terms of Freud’s renowned essay in which determines the uncanny as:
  • being confronted by a being which we cannot be sure is alive or inanimate, mechanical or living
  • fear of losing  our sight or being unable to believe our eyes
  • fear of having to confront our own double (and thus ourselves)
She also cites two examples in early film and literature “The Student of Prague” and Calvino’s “if on a winter’s night a traveller..” in which the protagonists eventually destroy their twin or multiple counterparts and thus themselves. McMurdo’s work is not this dark however. Perhaps it is for good reason that she chooses children with their associated innocence, for her work. In the image in question “Helen backstage, Merlin Theatre (the glance) 1996” the girl seems hesitant but not afraid. Williams suggests that this image represents an initial self awareness and the subsequent image of the same child “Helen Sheffield 1996” she appears to be at ease with her twin although the game they are playing seems to represent a struggle for dominance.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 18th January 2014

We were just a small group this time, me, Eddy, Carol, Alet and Martin. There was no tutor in attendance either so we were self directed although Eddy had told us that the afternoon’s discussion would be about Portraiture.
Eddy showed some work from his Gesture and Meaning course. He explained that his images were illustrating the styles of Constructivism, Conceptualism and Surrealism. I was only really interested in what he had to say about the course as the concepts he was describing are a bit beyond me at the moment. Although I will take advice, I think for level 2, I will stick with my first choices of Landscape and Documentary.
Both Alet and Martin were newcomers to the group and showed work from their Art of Photography course. The discussion that followed helped them with the direction that their work should follow, based on the experience of those of us who had successfully completed the course.
Last year I had tried an exercise photographing actors expressions on stage during a rehearsal for the farce “Trivial Pursuits”. I took 12 prints (3 of 4 different characters) In the hope that it would provoke a discussion about how successful I had been in capturing a range of expressions. (It was one idea for the final project of DPP)
Although the actors were aware of my presence, I was shooting randomly throughout the performance, trying to capture the fleeting moments of emotion. Lighting was difficult and depended the actors position on the set. I suppose it was inevitable that the discussion centred around which set of photographs worked best. Here is the set with the favourite presented at the bottom of the table:
DSC_4188 DSC_4106 DSC_4202
DSC_4089 DSC_4120 DSC_4117
DSC_4125 DSC_4085 DSC_4155
DSC_4050 DSC_4197 DSC_4145

The consensus was that the final set had better depth and worked together better. This is because this character spent a lot of time sitting on a bench at the front of the stage which made him an easier target. Despite the fact that I decided not to pursue this as a project for DPP, It was a useful exercise and I now have some people who are quite relaxed around me and could possibly help with future projects.
Afternoon discussion
I’m not quite sure why we were discussing portraiture again but the discussion took a similar course as last time with the questions of whether or not a portrait needed a person in the frame or was a collection of their possessions all that was needed to identify them. Eddy cited his auntie for whom certain items (I think knitting, a Tesco’s carrier bag and a bag of sweets or a type of biscuit) would all that would be required to identify her amongst family members.
We discussed personas and whether it was possible to find the hidden “person within” in a portrait. I concluded that it takes a fair amount of skill for a photographer to be able to do this and even then, the perception of the viewer may not allow it to come through. We discussed several examples from the recent Taylor Wessing visit but with such a complex and ethereal notion, we reached no firm conclusion.
Extending the idea of the inclusion of a figure in a portrait, the OCA Students Facebook group had posed the question earlier in the week and put up this link to provoke further discussion: I found this artist very interesting indeed. I will write a separate post very soon.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Arno Rafael Minkkinen–Performance Artist and Photographer

This artist came to my attention via a random link on the OCA Photography Students Facebook page.Somebody had asked the question ‘does a portrait need to show a face’ and as Minkkinen’s self portraits very rarely show his face (every other part of his naked body feature in his work) his work was put forward as an example to add to the debate.
I looked at the 40 years of self portraits on his website and and was impressed by the sheer ingenuity of his work, the difficulties he has overcome, the danger he has put himself into and the simplicity of his ideas. Put simply, he inserts himself into the landscape, contorting his body into lines that follow its contours, burying himself in snow, submerging himself in water and all the while using the camera single handed with no assistant. There is no layering of negatives, double exposure, Photoshop or fakery involved.
How he made this work is here:
Minkkinen is also known for the Helsinki Bus Station Theory an explanation of which can be found in this article here:
I’ve summarised it for myself in the hope that I will find my ‘voice’ eventually. “Be true to yourself, make the work that inspires you and when you think it is becoming derivative, don’t go back to the bus station and start your journey again stay on the f’king bus!”
I hope this holds true. Learning about Art is a journey, what we pick up along the way helps our work to grow, mature and eventually enables us to create something that is unique…..

Friday, 10 January 2014

Reading–The Photograph as Contemporary Art - Charlotte Cotton

This one of  the course books for level one. I have now finished it after two attempts. Although informative and a  good overview of the work of a number of contemporary photographers, I did struggle with some of the ideas discussed and some of the language used to express them. Even at the beginning of the fourth year of my studies, I still feel like an outsider, looking in on a world that I don’t understand and frankly leaves me bewildered most of the time. With the work of over 200 artists and only a brief description of just one or two of their images, (reproduced at small scale) I don’t expect to do more than be able to appreciate the diversity of current practice.  Susan Bright’s Art Photography Now (see link below) has done a much better job with a smaller number of artists and a more comprehensive view of their work.
The book divides current art photography into eight broad sections. From each section I have briefly summarised the theme and chosen an image to which I can relate.
Ch. 1 If This Is Art: Dealing with subjects/scenarios which the artist/photographer has directed or deliberately planned.
pp. 20, 46 Philip-Lorca de Corcia “Head” series resonated with me. (I enjoy street photography and have an ongoing project which I call “shooting from the navel” [refers to the camera position] in which my subjects are not aware of having their photograph taken) de Corcia has taken the genre to a new level by using lighting and a long lens to photograph his subjects candidly and selectively. My project is more random with a wide angle lens and a scattergun approach which involves a fair amount of editing. See also my post in reference to Beat Streuli:

Ch.2 Once Upon a Time: Story telling using a single image either by reference to fable myth or legend with which we are all familiar or by a set up that asks us to look carefully and interpret the image using our own knowledge, experience and intuition.
pp. 78-79 Hannah Collins “In the course of time 6” (Factory Krakow).1996  This was exhibited as a massive print (2mx5m) shows a familiar (to me anyway) corner of what could be any workshop tucked away in backstreet factories of post industrial Europe of the 1980-90s. At first I thought it was abandoned but the forge has a fire alight (it’s right on the junction of the two page spread) so it is a working space. Where are the workers? Is there a strike meeting or just a tea break? When they return, what happens here, what is made or repaired? The drum in the corner bears the Polish word for Oil. There is a sense of anticipation and also desolation. The broken window panes, the clothes lockers with their doors hanging open. There is a sense of the past and perhaps the end of something.

Ch.3 Deadpan:  Cotton claims that the deadpan aesthetic is the predominant style of photography created for galleries in the past decade. As I understand the term it is photography showing no emotional or personal involvement of the photographer but has a sense of the beautiful with clarity, detail and often reproduced at a large scale.

p. 87 Ed Burtynsky Oil fields #13, Taft California 2002. I have chosen this as an example because it is one I have seen on a gallery wall at an OCA study visit in 2012 and experienced its scale and detail.  Included in this post is some discussion about the merging of documentary and art photography and possible conflicts that arise. If this is the deadpan aesthetic then the photographer is presenting his subject matter in an objective way. He is leaving it up to the viewer to interpret the truth of the image and raise questions about what is depicted.

Ch.4 Something and Nothing: Everyday objects photographed in an interesting or unusual way which brings them to our attention. This is a genre which interests me. The final project that I have in mind for this course will be a series of images taken from unusual viewpoints with a macro lens to emphasize objects and surfaces we touch daily but may not register or recognise.
p. 117 Gabriel Orozco Breath on Piano 1993 This picture caught my attention because of its simplicity. I recently caught an exhibition of UCA BA students work in Farnham entitled “What we leave behind” .  I have thought about how time robs us of immortality. If we are lucky enough to have a headstone, several generations of our family  remember us. If we achieve fame or notoriety, history may record our passing, otherwise our existence dies with the last person who knew us. For me this image represents  the briefest and most transient trace of our passing….one breath.
Ch. 5 Intimate Life: This is the aspect of contemporary art photography that I have the most difficulty with. In her introduction to this chapter, Cotton writes three pages on Nan Goldin. I’ve read through it twice at least. She had a hard life it seems and if this is her way of dealing with it and expressing herself, that's fine. I find it difficult to be interested in it beyond it being a single aspect of a diverse range of self expression currently practiced. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, I tend to find the American capacity for self analysis and angst tedious. One artist’s work that I did find interesting was Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh:
p. 150 Untitled. More of this series can be seen here:
It was Billingham’s motivation for taking these photographs that interested me. Cotton talks a lot about the way artists using this genre make use of  the vernacular style of the family snapshot, the harsh flash lighting and the imperfection of the machine print. Billingham was to use these images as studies for paintings of his family life. In that way they are unselfconscious and not at all pretentious. Individually the photographs could be dismissed but as a series they show an intimacy that could only come from an insider.
Ch. 6 Moments in History: The introduction to this chapter asks a question. How do art photographers respond to the decline of documentary and reportage photography, its replacement by TV and digital media and maintain its social relevance? It seems that the approach is different to traditional methods with artists staying out of the action (reported by the mainstream digital media in all its forms) and using a reflective and contemplative approach on the long term effects of the event. Using medium and large format equipment ensures that the physical qualities of the resulting images can be fully exploited in the gallery.
From the examples shown in this chapter it is not surprising that I was immediately attracted to the work of Allan Sekula

p. 180 Conclusion of Search for the Disabled and Drifting Sailboat ‘Happy Ending’ 1993-2000 from his series Fish Story. The three images document the sighting and rescue of the crew. I was fortunate enough to find a .pdf of the book on-line. Although I have only skimmed through it, the images and texts promise an interesting exploration of the  ports, people, politics and the current state of global trade by sea.
Ch. 7 Revived and Remade: I can’t pretend to claim that I understood much of the introduction to this chapter but I may be able to summarise: Modernist photography was elitist and in the post-modern era you can do what you like. I’m sure one day all this will become clear but I’ll need help, time and a lot more discussion with my fellow students before it sinks in.
p. 196 Self Portrait as my Father Brian Wearing 2003 Gillian Wearing – Again, I have chosen this image as I have seen the entire Album series on another gallery visit. Here is the relevant part of the post I made at the time:
Album (the family likenesses) I didn’t know how I felt about this at the time and nearly a week later I’m still uncertain. I can understand the idea that you may wish to draw attention to family likenesses and that to wear a mask and body suit of a relative to show an intimate connection  reinforces this. What I do admire is the execution of the idea, a very complex and time consuming process which produced something of interest. As a technical process, very challenging. Is that its own reward perhaps? This work tells us something about Gillian Wearing but I’m not sure what.
Eighteen months later, my thoughts on the work have not changed.
Ch. 8 Physical and Material: The final chapter of the book is about those artists for whom making choices about the execution of their work is more important than adhering to standard acceptable methods. Experimentation with the methods and materials involved has become part of the creative process, whether this is the appropriation and inclusion of existing works into their projects, including photographs in installations or sculpture or simply returning to analogue camera and film technologies.
p. 231 TV Wheelbarrow from the series Analogue 2001-6 Zoe Leonard.

This link shows Zoe Leonard talking about this project which took years to complete in cities around the world using a second hand Rollieflex camera recording urban landscapes to record the streets before they are changed and lost forever.  Using a film camera reinforces the sense of change, using and recording something before it is gone forever. I can relate to this idea as projects that I have in mind for future assignments will include recording changes in the urban and rural environment.
Reflection:  Although I found this book hard work, the photograph as contemporary art is now more relevant and I have come a step closer to considering and authoring my work in with this in mind. There was a least one artist in each chapter whose work I enjoyed reading about and was motivated to do more research on. Other work left me bewildered and did not engage my attention at all. Time will tell.........

Monday, 6 January 2014

OCA TV Group Visit - Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize Exhibition - 04 January 2014



DPP scans026 

With sixty prints to look at, this is a daunting exhibition to review in depth. The five prize winning images (four TWPP and the John Kobal New Work Award) are shown and written about here:

Half a dozen of the images are shown on the exhibition web site here: and I have purchased the catalogue for reference.

I enjoyed this exhibition, there was a wide range of styles used for portraiture and while I don't make a lot of portraits I do enjoy looking at the work of others.

What impressed me about the winners was the simplicity and apparent ease with which the photographer has communicated something about the sitter.

Spencer Murphy's portrait of Katie Walsh, mud spattered, shows a hardness and resolve which I would imagine being a top female jockey requires.

Giles Price’ portrait of Mumta Dubey and her child, taken in a temporary studio in India, captures the pride of motherhood in the way that the child is held and presented for the camera.

Kofi Annan's face shows his character (the commission brief stipulated that his eyes be closed) but also said to me, this is a man who has had one of the hardest jobs in the world . It has taken its toll. (He doesn't like be photographed)

Dorothee Diess' portrait of twins Esther and Ruth is informal and was posed in this way "…. to depict their relationship in all its honesty tenderness and strength" Diess (a paediatric endocrinologist) also talks about parallels between medicine and photography; "As a doctor, I strongly believe in the importance of facial language. Faces are vivid maps of human experience which I have to read in order to understand somebody to some extent. In my relationship with a patient , I depend on what their facial expression tells me about them, beyond their spoken words. This is the same in portraiture"

From the fifty-five images in the exhibition that accompanied the prize winning entries, I have selected these which made the biggest impact on me:

Carmen Ballvé Girls in Barracón Two Dominican girls are looking over a veranda, the older is gazing out at the street, anticipating something or the arrival of someone, the younger is looking thoughtfully in the other direction with her cheek resting on her left arm. Threadbare washing is hanging above their heads, framing the older girls head. The label "Lisa Jo" is clearly visible on one of the garments contrasting a world far removed from the poverty the sugar towns of the Dominican Republic. The older girl's name is Benita and Ballvé has been recording her life for a decade.

John Nassari No 61. East London I found this evocative of the only time I've lived in a city. In a very similar street in Reading I would watch the daily comings and goings of the family opposite. Although I never got to know them, similar gatherings happened on summer evenings and at weekends.

Rosie Hallam Choirmaster. To me, this is one of the outstanding images of the exhibition. It is of Peter, a Ghanaian teacher standing at the head of the class with the verse of a hymn written on the chalkboard behind him. His hands are raised and the expression on his face is one of pure joy and exuberance.

Néstor Diaz Sophia. In the caption for the photograph the artist says ‘Sofía looks us in the eye and tells us who she is and how she lives today: accepting her new reality, valuing a different kind of beauty, more authentic and more profound.’ I found this quite moving. I have known several women who have undergone surgery for breast cancer and have a friend who will undergo surgery this month. As a man, it was difficult for me to understand what this kind of radical surgery means to a woman, perhaps I now have a least some understanding.

Ji Yeo Beauty recovery Room 01. This Korean woman is recovering from elective facial plastic surgery to make her more western looking. I have selected this image purely because its contrast to the image of Sofia.

Paul Dewitte Elise from the series In de Huid in which Dewitte photographed young people wearing their parents clothes. It attracted me because of the quality of the image, the pose and expression of the girl reminded me of an old master's painting from the 17th century.

Proyecto Mirame Lima Hombres de Mar (Fishermen) I was attracted to this family portrait because of its scale and detail . I have pasted the full caption below:

The portrait is of Ventura Gonzales Salazar and his family at Chorillos, Lima, Peru. The work is part of the Mirame – Lima project that consists of portraits made to reflect the diversity of cultures, religions and aspirations of the people of Lima. The protagonists believe that if communities understand each other, they will co-exist more happily.

Proyecto Mírame Lima is a team made up of Jaime Travezan, Morgana Vargas Llosa (photographers) and David Tortora (art director).

John Kobal New Work Award Hana Knizova Elza and Nellie from the series Family Matters

This is the second of three photographs featuring twins in the exhibition. A subject obviously appealing to portraitists. In an interview , the photographer says of the shoot, 'I like how the anticipation of the final image can be read in their pose, leading to a slight awkwardness. They know they are being photographed but they don't know when I am going to press the shutter or what exactly I am seeing through the lens'…………..'it was great to observe the twins similarities and differences and especially their mutual close attachment'