Study visit: Prix Pictet 2013

I finally got to attend my first OCA study visit when I joined a group of students on 24 May 2014 in a visit to the 2013 Prix Pictet exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.  The study visit was hosted by tutor Clive White who was happy as always to impart his knowledge, observations, wit and humour.

The stated aim of the Prix Pictet is ‘to harness the power of photography – all genres of photography – to draw global attention to the issues of sustainability, especially those that concern the environment’ [1].  The exhibition is now in its fifth year and this year’s theme is Consumption.  Text at the entrance reminded us that we are all consumers and are guilty at times of sustaining our appetites for consumer goods through the exploitation of the world’s poorest people an around us.

Eleven artists had been shortlisted for the Prix Pictet prize and their works were displayed in one of the exhibition halls (which to be honest I felt was a little small and cramped).  Many of them were names that I had come across so it was a treat to be able to see their work first-hand rather than in books or on the internet.

The prize winner was Michael Schmidt with a work entitled Lebensmittel, an interesting display of sixty individual images that represented the food chain from beginning to end.  Of all the artists, Schmidt’s work seemed to most reflect the exhibition theme and his images were cleverly laid out in a random order which made you look at them closely to establish where in fact their place was in the food chain.  Interestingly, Schmidt mixed both black and white and colour images which is something I understood to be frowned upon but in this instance I think the combination worked well.  This was a piece of work where the whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts; I’m not sure that any of the images would particularly work as a singleton but displayed together the result was impressive.

It was therefore quite a shock to read a few days later that Schmidt had passed away on the very day that we were viewing his work. [2].

Adam Bartos – Yard Sale

Bartos showed a series of close-up images of items that were being sold at yard sales in America.  The tightly composed and very clean images were documentary in nature and focussed on the items themselves; there were no people or other signs of yard-sale life to be seen.  I found this idea, the passing on and reusing of unwanted items, an interesting yet relevant take on the exhibition’s theme.

Motoyuki Daifu – Project Family

Daifu’s artist statement read ‘My mother sleeps every day.  My dad does chores.  My brothers fight. There are trash bags all over the place.  Half-eaten dinners, cat poop, mountains of clothes: this is my loveable daily life, and a loveable Japan’. [1].  Daifu photographed the consumables in his home for this series. His images were very cluttered and chaotic and also over-exposed. Was the latter deliberate or did he not care?  I am assuming the former as the over-exposed areas could have been addressed in post-processing.  Not really my sort of images to be honest, but I can see the point that Daifu was making in showing a large number of consumer possessions in a small space.

Rineke Dijkstra – Almerisa

Over a period of fifteen years or so, Djikstra photographed an immigrant girl from Bosnia, starting when Almerisa first arrived in Holland at the age of five as a refugee, along with her family.  Djikstra subsequently took a series of studio portraits of Almerisa, each of them with her sitting in a chair, as she adjusted to her new life in Holland and eventually became a Dutch citizen and also a mother.  A simple series of images I felt that Djikstra’s images were well composed and thoughtful although I couldn’t see a link to the topic of consumption.

Hong Hao – My Things

Hao’s exhibit consisted of three very large acrylic prints of collage – scanned and collated images of items that Hao used or consumed in everyday life; a visual diary that he had been working on for twelve years.  The thing that I immediately noticed was how clear the images were.  The three prints were very different from each other, which added interest to the series but also made me ask the question why (and I’m not sure that I came up with a reasonable answer to this).  ‘Book keeping of 2007’ was a very ordered and well-arranged image whilst ‘My Things No 1’ was in the main chaotic, albeit containing areas of organisation.  I never did work out why there was a hand in this image …  The overall impression of the third print was of a mass of beige shapes, which turned out to be the bottoms of electrical goods and bowls.  An interesting exhibit that I spent quite a long time just looking at and considering.

Mishka Henner – Beef & Oil

Henner’s images are aerial images of America’s beef production and oil fields.  Like the work that I’ve seen of Edward Burtensky, David  Maisel and Daniel Beltra, these were stunning images which start to become disturbing when you realise the photographs in fact show the damage that man is doing to the landscape in his thirst to provide consumables.  My particular favourite is Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas, which to me resembles a dissected heart from a distance and has a stunning abstract beauty.  Unlike  Burtensky, Maisel and Beltra’s images Henner’s exhibit was appropriated;  his prints are made from high-resolution Google Earth satellite images.  Whilst Henner is known for, and is honest about, his appropriation of images, I can’t help but wish that he would exhibit his own compositions for a change.

Juan Fernando Herrán – Escalas

In his artist’s statement posted on the Prix Pictet website, Herrán writes ‘What happens when there are groups of people that hardly participate in the consumer society?  How do you live in the contemporary world when excluded from one of the concepts that underlie it?’ [3].  Herrán chose to show how the city of Medellin in Colombia is expanding into the countryside, and where growing groups of people are falling into the space between urban and rural, through exhibiting a series of images of steps (‘escalas’).  The theme running through the series of images is that the steps (or in one case a wooden plank acting as a bridge) lead nowhere, providing a very thought-provoking narrative. Along with Henner’s exhibit, Escalas was my favourite set of images, both aesthetically (simple and beautifully lit) and for their narrative.

Boris Mikailov – Tea, Coffee & Cappuccino

Mikailov exhibited a series of street-style snapshot-sized images taken over a period of ten years in his home town of Kharkow in order to document the changes in the town since the onset of Western capitalism. [1].  The images were presented in pairs in order to show the changes brought about by rampant consumerism, but to be honest I wasn’t that keen on this work (in my view it seemed amateurish which didn’t appeal but I guess this was a deliberate tactic on the part of the photographer) and I found some of changes difficult to see.

Abraham Oghobase – Untitled 2012

Oghobase had chosen to enter a series of six images of street walls in Lagos, all covered in graffiti, handbills, signboards or posters.  Shot in a rough and gritty style in black and white the images also show Oghobase interacting with the ‘advertising’ on the wall.  Whilst I liked the rough urban style of the images I wasn’t quite sure how Oghobase’s presence added value to them and I was even more unsure of how this work linked to the exhibition theme of consumption.

Allan Sekula – Fish Story

Sekula’s series of images focused on distribution and documented the shipping of container boxes around the world from the last unionised shipyard in Los Angeles.  As I work in shipping this set of images was right up my street and Sekula had captured some stunning photographs of large container ships as well as of the shipyard buildings and the people who worked there, some taken in a deadpan manner and others in a more metaphorical style.

Laurie Simmons – The Love Doll

Simmons’ work comprised a series of images of a life-sized ‘Love Doll’ from Japan, documenting her growing photographic relationship with the latex doll through a series of ‘actions’ [1].  This was not my cup of tea at all to be honest and I found Simmons’ artist statement slightly disturbing: ‘The Love Doll  is originally produced to be a mute surrogate body … I began to tease out a personality from this commodified subject and allowed her persona to emerge’. [1].    Like some other works in this exhibition I didn’t really see how this series of images linked to the topic of consumption.  Maybe as I progress in my studies all will become clear.

I found this an interesting exhibition.  Some of the works I really liked and felt drawn to, some I didn’t like at all and there were a few where I couldn’t see how they fitted into the exhibition theme of consumption.  It was very helpful having an OCA tutor present and I found it useful to have Clive’s insights both during the exhibition viewing and later over coffee with the student group in the V&A restaurant.

The main take-aways from this exhibition for me were the following:

  • Discovering the work of Juan Fernando Herrán.  I liked the simple style of his images  and the way they were full of unanswered questions.
  • Try taking a visually appealing subject and make it into something more compelling through the use of narrative and more context.
  • The importance of narrative unless each individual image can support itself
  • The realisation (which hit me when looking at Allan Sekula’s work) that metaphorical images really are more interesting and have more to say than deadpan ones.

I also enjoyed meeting up with fellow OCA students, some of whom I already knew as well as some new faces.

References:

[1] Prix Pictet Secretariat. (2013) Consumption. London: Victoria and Albert Museum

[2]  Hagen, S. (2014) Michael Schmidt obituary (online). The Guardian.  Available from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/28/michael-schmidt  [accessed 29 May 2014]

[3]  Herrán, J.F. Artists’s Statement [online].  Prix Pictet.  Available from http://www.prixpictet.com/portfolios/consumption-shortlist/juan-fernando-herran/statement/  [accessed 23 May 2014]

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Exhibition: Steve McCurry – ‘Afghanistan’

Back in May I went over to the Beetles + Huxley gallery in London to see the Steve McCurry exhibition ‘Afghanistan’.  Showing his work from 1979 to 2006 this beautifully-curated retrospective presented forty of McCurry’s images of the Afghan landscape, culture and people.   An informative and well laid-out catalogue accompanied the exhibition.

I have been aware of McCurry as a photographer for many years due to ‘Afghan Girl’, his iconic cover image for National Geographic magazine back in 1985 and heavily used since, and I am familiar with some of his work both in books and online, but until this exhibition I had not seen any of his work first-hand.

The exhibition comprised forty images covering many aspects of the life and culture of Afghanistan including city and rural life and of course the war.  The first surprise for me was seeing five images in black and white.  I have always associated McCurry with vivid colour so I was a little taken-aback at first.  There was no explanation as to why McCurry had chosen to shoot these images in mono however they reflect McCurry’s trademark ability to tell a story within a single photograph.  Of these five I particularly liked ‘Mujahideen Fighters Watch Convoy’ as an example of this; I felt that the story being told here is all the more powerful as the viewer cannot see who the fighters are looking at (we are told it is a Russian convoy).

Moving on to the colour images, it was noticeable how McCurry often applies the textbook rules of composition to his images and that he is a master of using light and space as narrative tools.  I felt that this use of light and space is particularly well applied in his image ‘Salat at Blue Mosque in Mazar-E-Sharif ‘  where the lighting creates a certain smoothness as well as directing the viewer’s eye to where McCurry wants them to look.

My favourite image in the exhibition and one of the strongest compositions in my view was ‘Man in Bamiyan Mosque‘.   A simple subject yet beautifully executed I find this image very inspirational with regard to what I would like to achieve from my own work.  The repetition of colour and strong architectural lines creates a receding depth to the image and also injects energy whilst the lone man sitting and reading provides the opposite emotion of tranquillity.  By looking through an open window the viewer becomes a voyeur, yet such is the calmness radiated by the man reading that the voyeurism does not feel intrusive; the viewer is not interrupting the man who is completely engaged in his reading.  This image is yet another take on ‘looking at looking’, a theme that I am finding myself repeatedly attracted to.

McCurry is not adverse to including wry humour in some of his images and one that illustrates this well is ‘Afghan Women at Shoe Store‘.  Here women in traditional Afghan dress (abeit in different colours, away from the traditional blue often demanded by the Taliban) [1] are shopping for Western sports shoes which makes for an incongruous image.

I felt privileged to view McCurry’s iconic portrait of the young green-eyed Afghan girl.  Having seen this image many times in books, I found the image even more mesmerizing to look at in real life, from the tiny specks of dirt on the girl’s skin to the reflections of distant fields in the catch-lights in her eyes. Not forgetting the range of emotions emanating from those large green eyes.   Although it could be considered a trifle hackneyed now with all its publicity, this is one image that I will never tire of.

McCurry’s portraits have a distinctive style being for the most part in bold colours, well lit and very sharp, with strong eye contact from the subject looking directly at the camera.   ‘Farmer in Jalalabad‘ steps away from this style slightly as McCurry has chosen to create a very atmospheric portrait with darker colours and tones.  A shaft of sunlight lights the lower part of the man’s face and his beard to give a real feeling of texture to the image.

Whilst there was no artist statement accompanying the exhibition, McCurry has visited Afghanistan on many occasions over the past thirty years and his work presented here was an interesting mix of travel and socially aware photography.  Whilst Afgahanistan is a country torn apart by war, McCurry does not appear to make any form of political statement, allowing the viewer to make their own judgement from his work.  Whilst the topic of war and its effects is apparent in some of the images, the bulk of this series focusses on the culture of Afghanistan. There’s a certain stillness, a quietness in many of his photographs that separates the viewer’s mind from the war troubles.

Having looked at McCurry’s work when researching for the colour section of the Art of Photography course, I was quite surprised to find a number of the images were in more muted colours than I expected.  Once I had got my head around this, I found that these images were in fact more poignant, more thoughtful as I looked more deeply at the detail rather than just the colour;  I feel that his colours can sometimes be so visually strong that they actually pull away from the composition rather than adding to it.

I really enjoyed this exhibition and I found it both stunning and thought-provoking.  The two main take-aways for me that I hope to bring into my own work are McCurry’s effective use of composition which is so visually striking (the more you look at how he he has structured the image the more you see how he has used the composition rules to make the image stand out) as well as his ability to tell a story in a single image.

References:

[1] McCurry, S. (2014) Afghanistan.  London: Beetles + Huxley

 

Exhibition: Harry Callahan

I’m lucky enough to work about ten minutes walk away from the Tate Modern in London so was pleased to be able to visit the Harry Callahan exhibition there in May this year.  I must admit that whilst I had heard of Callaghan before my visit and am aware that he is considered to be a photographer of some renown, a ‘name’ in photographic circles.  I hadn’t come across his work before.  Doing a little research before my visit I found out that he was a self-taught American photographer, joining his company’s camera club.  A photographer with a very precise and technical skill-set, he would walk every morning around the city where he lived taking photographs and would then spend the afternoon producing print proofs from his morning’s work.  He was conservative with his final selections, commenting that he would produce only around half a dozen prints each year [1].

The exhibition at the Tate Modern comprised of over seventy images (both colour and black and white) and was laid out through four rooms, each designate with a specific title; ‘ Introduction’, ‘Urban Visions’,  ‘Eleanor’ (his wife) and ‘Nature and Form’.  The Introduction display held the most interesting images for me; the two stand-outs were ‘Vogue Collage’, a photograph of a collage painstakingly created from hundreds of female portraits and bringing to mind the age-old questions surrounding the male gaze, and ‘Providence, ca 1966 (Shepards)’ which at first glance seems to be of reflections in a street scene yet on closer examination proves to be a double exposure.  Callahan liked using different techniques and throughout the exhibition one finds double and multiple exposures and strong use of light as well as the compositional aids of lines, rule of thirds, points (often as spots of colour), different angles of view etc.

‘Urban Visions’ was my overall favourite section, which is not surprising really given my love of cities and architecture.  An information board in the room told us of Callahan’s interest in the relationship between architecture, design and photography and how he sought to transform the urban landscape into formal compositions.  However there were abstracts here too; reflections in windows and geometric patterns of tower block.  Callahan’s use of colour also stands out, sometimes bright, sometimes desaturated.

A third room was devoted to his wife Eleanor, filled with images of her as portraits and studies and both nude and clothed.  Having recently seen ‘Bailey’s Stardust’ where in my view Bailey’s pictures of his wife Catherine were sometimes blunt in the extreme, almost representing her as an object in some cases (although Catherine stated that she was always in control), I found Callahan’s images much softer with a gentle, tender feel to them.  I got the impression of a definite partnership between husband and wife, a ‘meeting of minds’ as it were.

The final room contained nature images.  These were not all what I would call traditional nature images; Callahan captured detail as well as the broader view. There were quite a lot of abstracts here which appealed to me, particularly for their use of pattern, texture and movement, but I was drawn to Callahan’s more simple minimalist images of grasses and other plants in snow which looked almost like pen and ink line drawings.

Whilst this exhibition does not stand out in my mind as one of the best that I have seen over the past few months, there was a lot to like about it.  Firstly it introduced me first-hand to the work of Callahan and it is always helpful in the learning process to be able to study the work of artists that are new to me.  Whilst I wouldn’t say that his style inspires me to any great degree, there are certain aspects of his work that will have a direct influence on mine, in particular his use of light and composition and the use of his camera to simplify the objects around him.  Several images in his ‘Urban Visions’ section particularly caught my attention for their use of colour and their design elements for example  ‘Ireland, 1979‘ shows good use of colour desaturation and I appreciate how the kerb and telegraph pole create a divide in the frame; I see a metaphor here for the Irish north/south divide.  I also like the way the red doors in  ‘Calais, Maine‘ form a point to attract the viewer’s eye, ever-so-carefully placed on the Rule of Thirds line.

References:

[1] Cassidy, V.M. ‘ About Harry Callahan’ [online].  LensCulture,  Available from https://www.lensculture.com/hcallahan  [accessed 10 July 2014]

Callahan, H. (1979) ‘Calais, Maine’ [online image].  Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Available from http://collections.lacma.org/node/195267  [accessed 11 July 2014]

Callahan, H. ‘Ireland, 1979’  [online image].  Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Available from http://collections.lacma.org/node/218326 [assessed 11 July 2014]

Callahan, H. ‘Providence, ca. 1996 (Shephards) [online image].  Jackson Fine Art.  Available from     http://www.jacksonfineart.com/harry-callahan-2410.html  [accessed 11 July 2014]

 

Assignment 5 – tutor feedback

I received my feedback on my fifth assignment from my tutor a couple of weeks ago and I was again very pleased with his comments.  I will now highlight below the salient points from his report and provide my thoughts.

My blog post and images for Assignment 5 can be found here.

I had major concerns about this assignment on two counts; firstly that my lack of graphic design skills would let me down badly when presenting the assignment and secondly that my images would not convey the passion, expression and emotion that I felt when shooting and which were at the heart of my narrative to the viewer.  My tutor’s initial comments allayed my fears on both counts:

‘You have demonstrated your ability with your technical and visual skills in this assignment. You have also shown consistency in your presentation and communication of your ideas. You have pointed out your lack of experience in producing graphic design layout but your assignment does show a sense of ordered presentation that is clear and easy to follow….  You have created a passion for documenting this episode that is mixed with emotion and desolation of the area that clearly encouraged you to record this subject in Suffolk’.

Overall I felt that the feedback was very positive.  I won’t discuss my tutor’s notes on each image here in detail but will comment where he has made salient points.

Whilst he liked my cover image  – ‘It is indeed a strong statement to begin the story.  The image is eye-catching and invites the reader to turn the pages’  – he felt that the page could be improved by adding the date and the author’s name and we exchanged some email correspondence on possible embellishments.

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Cover page as submitted

I agree with this feedback and will make the suggested changes before submitting for assessment.

He also commented favourably on my second image; he felt that the cover page linked to it nicely, covering the old and new buildings, and he also remarked on the lighting, commenting on how the sunlight has accented the new build whilst the neglected buildings match the sombre sky.

_DS21325-Edit sRGB 1000

As I have written about in previous posts I became emotionally involved with this project which grew far beyond my initial planning. I was therefore gratified to see that my tutor, as a detached reader of my photo essay, could feel the expression that I was trying to convey: ‘I believe that your pictures have given the reader much thought and certainly impressed a sense of urgency to move things forward.  This was a good theme to have chosen and the illustration and narrative have come over strongly’.

Sketchbooks/Learning Logs:

My tutor commented favourably on the layout of my blog and also took the time to look at some of my exercises for this part of the course.

Formal Assessment:

‘I understand your aim is to go for the Photography Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course.  From the work you have shown in this assignment, I believe you have the potential to succeed at assessment’.

It is nice to see that I’m still on track to hopefully pass TAOP when I submit my work for formal assessment.

Conclusion:

I am really pleased with the feedback to this assignment.  Of the assignments that I have submitted so far, this was the one that I connected with and enjoyed the most and I was happy with all my images.  It was therefore gratifying to read that my tutor thought that ‘The assignment shows an imaginative and thoughtful approach to the task, which displays a personal voice’.  I have been looking for this elusive ‘personal voice’ for a while, without  completely understanding what it was and how it differed from ‘personal style’ so my tutor’s comment in this regard really made my day.  Having now found it, I feel that I finally understand it and I must take care not to mislay it.

My next task is to prepare for assessment in November and my tutor has provided some helpful tips with regards to the submission of my work.

New course – and new blog

I’ve decided to enrol on the new Context and Narrative course for my second Level One module and my new blog is here.  I’m both excited and nervous about the new course; my study pack arrived today and I’m looking forward to getting started.

Not that I’m done and dusted with The Art of Photography by any means – there are still some loose ends to tidy up and I need to get my work ready for assessment in November – so I will still be posting on here for a while.

 

Assignment 5 – reflection

My images for this final assignment of ‘The Art of Photography’ course, together with some supporting notes, have now been sent to my tutor so I am going to take some time to reflect on how I feel the assignment process went.

The final part of the course is all about narrative and illustration and for the assignment we were asked to illustrate a story for a magazine.  We need to shoot a series of between six and twelve images, creating a cover picture as well as the main body of the story, and also use captions to help explain and link each photograph.

Using photography to tell a story rather than just create a set of visual static images was a completely  new concept for me so this assignment was a huge step into the unknown, terrifying and exciting in equal measure.  Earlier research on photo essays had impressed upon me the need to choose a topic that I enjoyed, but I think the move from terror to excitement came when I realised that the assignment gave me the freedom to shoot pretty much what I liked.

After discussion with my tutor I settled upon the regeneration of Ipswich waterfront and marina as the topic for my photo essay.  My original plan was to show how a run-down area has been improved and I was completely unprepared for the feeling of sadness and sense of loss that came over me on my recce when I looked at the old remaining buildings and the half-finished newer buildings that were never completed due to the onset of the recession.  So I changed tack slightly in order to try to weave this emotion into my story.

Influences on this assignment:

I was influenced by the work of the photographers Albert Renger-Patzsch, Eric de Maré and Gabriele Basilico.  In particular I identified with the industrial images of Renger-Patzsch which lean towards documentary in their objectivity and which gave me direction with the style of my work.  Other influences included David Lynch’s exhibition ‘The Factory Photographs,’ which showed me that a series of images of disused buildings could be interesting to the viewer as well as providing a connection, and also the exhibition ‘Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now’  which helped influence the direction of the assignment, not through the subject matter, but through the emotion, the feeling of sadness and desolation that I took away from my visit. This exhibition ratified my decision, gave me permission in my mind to go with my gut feelings of what I wanted to convey in my assignment images; a sense of loss, of what has been left behind.

What went well:

  • I really enjoyed this assignment.  After Assignment four (light) it was great to be able to research and plan a project again.  I think I enjoyed this as much as the shooting itself
  • I was really happy to be given a free rein by the assignment brief.  When my tutor suggested that I look at architecture as the subject for my photo essay I thought I might find this restrictive but once I got my thinking cap on the ideas started flowing
  •  I feel that I really connected with my topic and I hope that that this shows in my images, although I am conscious that the viewer does not always see what the photographer experienced (Freeman, 2012, p.119)
  • I enjoyed doing my research and I am pleased to have found some new influences.  Albert Renger-Patzsch’s industrial images in particular stood out for me when researching for this assignment
  • I was extremely lucky with the natural light that was present when shooting; the cloudy weather made for some interesting skies and lighting and I tried to make the most of it in my compositions.

What didn’t go so well:

  • Timing was once again a bit of an issue, although at least I did not have to ask my tutor for an extension this time
  • I got a little bogged down at the start of the post-shoot process due to the number of images I had to sort through (548).  It was useful to have a wide range of images to choose from but I had lost the will to live a little by the end which took away some of the enjoyment at that point.

What I’ve noticed:

  • Although I plan to continue learning and practicing studio lighting techniques, I’m still much happier shooting outdoors using natural light
  • With this assignment I feel that I’m moved on from just taking ‘pretty pictures’ and have managed to shoot some images that show expression rather than being purely descriptive.  However, I need to have some honest feedback from viewers to find out if I’ve  managed to achieve this.  If not, I’ll just have to keep trying and transfer the process that’s in my head into my photographs
  • I was quite taken aback at first by the emotions of sadness that I felt when scouting the area but found that ideas came flooding in to me when I started shooting and I let them take me along in the direction they chose.

The course notes ask us to review how we think we have done against the assessment criteria so here are my thoughts:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

Overall I am pleased with this series of images and think that I have done ok here.  I tried to incorporate what I had learned from the previous parts of the course into this set of images and feel that I achieved this by including careful framing and compositions, various elements of design and also using the natural light to its best advantage.  Specific colour proportions weren’t so easy to incorporate, particularly as I wanted to convey a sombre mood in  a number of my images so that I feel was my weakest area in this regard.

Quality of outcome:

Certainly my planning and a preliminary recce to the area helped me to conceive some visual ideas and I feel that I have executed my images accordingly.  I put a lot of thought and effort into what I wanted to achieve overall and think that this has come off as the series hangs together as a coherent piece of work.  I think that I’ve managed to successfully tell the story and communicate my ideas to the reader and initial feedback from a fellow student on my blog suggests that I’ve succeeded in getting my theme across to others.

I believe I made the correct judgement call by not attempting to design a magazine layout.  I feel that my lack of graphic design skills would have let me down in a big way and would have led to an unprofessional-looking presentation.  I was happy just to present my images in a coherent and sequential format.

Demonstration of creativity:

A photo essay needs to be visually interesting throughout. However I was aware that the reader would expect to be informed by the article rather than dazzled by a range of special effects so I deliberately used a mix of images that were documentary in nature with those of a more creative style in order to keep the reader engaged.  I tried to keep my creativity simple using composition, framing and light and looked to Renger-Patzsch’s industrial images as an influence here.  I’ve found that researching other photographers has helped me look for my own creative opportunities when out and about.

Context:

Prior to shooting the assignment I spent quite a lot of time researching photo essays (with regards to planning and structure) and I also looked at the work of a couple of photo-essayists, namely W. Eugene Smith and Bruce Davidson.  Whilst the latter did not directly influence my assignment I think that they had a bearing on my overall thinking.  I routinely research and consider the work of other photographers that I think will be relevant to the piece of work that I am engaged with and the images and style of Renger-Patzsch, de Maré, Basilico and Lynch were a definite influence on this assignment, both in the planning and the execution.

I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of exhibitions in London recently and I feel that this has certainly helped my practice, both through looking at the work of other photographers and writing about it, the latter making me crystallise my thoughts.  I feel that my critical thinking and reflection skills are improving but there is certainly still room for growth here.

I am really enjoying the research aspect of the course, both in the planning and preparation of my own work and also looking overall at contemporary photography.  The importance of proper and careful research in my own practice was sharply brought home to me when shooting this assignment; an image that I took of wasteland next to the Waterfront in Ipswich at first glance (and the reason why I took the shot) appeared to be another abandoned site that had fallen victim to the recession.  However, during my research on the Waterfront, I discovered that in fact this fenced-off area will be developed as a multi-purpose outdoor sports area due to funding received by University Campus Suffolk from outside sources.  This was a bit of a wake-up call as  as I could have so easily mis-represented this piece of wasteland with an inaccurate caption to the image.

Conclusion:

Without doubt this has been my favourite assignment of the course so far, mainly I think because of my emotional involvement with the project.  Whether it contains my best work I’m not sure (I’ll let the assessors be the judge of that), but I feel very proud of it as it is the first time that I feel I’ve been able to use my practice successfully as a means of conveying expression rather than pure description.

Assignment 5 – notes and discussion

Assignment five asks us to use the techniques of narrative and illustration that we have learned during this part of the course in order to illustrate a story for a magazine.  We need to shoot a series of between six and twelve images, creating a cover picture as well as the main body of the story, and also use captions to help explain and link each photograph.  My assignment submission can be found here.

Theme

In my previous assignment feedback my tutor had suggested that architectural photography could be a good subject for this piece of work and, after discussing a number of initial ideas with him, I settled on creating a story which looked at the regeneration of Ipswich waterfront.  The idea of photographing the architecture and buildings around the waterfront and marina originally came from my husband and I then developed this theme further by thinking about documenting the actual regeneration of the waterfront, from the old commercial warehouses through to new sought-after residential apartments.

My original idea was to tell the story in a positive way, to show how a run-down area has been improved.  However on my first research visit I felt that there was much, much more to tell.  I thought that I would be uplifted by the transformation of the old to the new, the regeneration work that has taken place giving rise to new bars, cafes and modern university buildings  but instead I felt an emotion of immense sadness looking at the old remaining warehouses and the half-built, now desolate newer buildings that were started in the early 2000s before being left unfinished due to the recession. I then decided to try to weave this emotion into my story, although I felt it important to show also the positive steps that are being taken in the area.

Research

I began by researching the location, its history and regeneration.  However I found that there was a lack of information about the recent progress (or otherwise) of the redevelopment of the waterfront and that other information was contradictory and not necessarily from reliable sources. I therefore took the decision not to document this part of my research in the assignment.

I then researched a number of photographers who are known for their images of industrial architecture. Leading up the assignment I also looked at the work of W. Eugene Smith and Bruce Davidson who are well known for producing successful photo essays.  Looking at the production of a successful photo essay, ‘The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative’ (Freeman, 2012) and ‘Context and Narrative’ (Short, 2011) were both useful books and ‘Pictures on a Page: Photo-journalism, Graphics and Picture Editing’ (Evans, 1997) was very helpful with regards to looking at image presentation.

The outcome of my research can be found on my learning log at the following web address:

https://carolstreetphotographytaop.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/assignment-5-research-photographers/

Influences

I was influenced in this assignment by the work of the photographers Albert Renger-Patzsch, Eric de Maré and Gabriele Basilico. In particular I identified with the industrial images of Renger-Patzsch which lean towards documentary in their objectivity and which gave me direction with the style of my work.  Other influences included David Lynch’s exhibition ‘The Factory Photographs,’ which showed me that a series of images of disused buildings could be interesting to the viewer as well as providing a connection.  The exhibition ‘Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now’ also helped influence the direction of the assignment, not through the subject matter, but through the emotion, the feeling of sadness and desolation that I took away from my visit.  This exhibition ratified my decision, gave me permission in my mind to go with my gut feelings of what I wanted to convey in my assignment images; a sense of loss, of what has been left behind.

The images

Cover

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Ipswich Waterfront: regeneration interrupted

The assignment brief asks that the cover image should include some of the illustration techniques that we have learned on this part of the course.  Although not my favourite image of the series I deliberately chose to shoot this composition for the cover as it establishes the location of the story and suggests the theme with the juxtaposition of old and new.  I’ve also included symbolism, using the rusting pillars to signify decay and lack of money whilst the yachts speak of wealth and excess.

I am pleased with this image as I feel that I have achieved a strong composition through the use of graphic elements and yet have created an image that is sufficiently interesting to grab the reader’s attention and maintain it.  The rusty pillars encourage the reader to look through the spaces to the yachts and modern buildings beyond and the paving area at the bottom left of the image provides enough space for a text caption.

Having taken a test shot of this composition during my recce I was pleased to subsequently find Renger-Patszch’s image Ruhrlandschafen, Hafenabstraktion’ [1] in my research which encouraged me to refine the shot for the cover image on my next visit to the waterfront.

I shot in RAW using a tripod and processed in Lightroom 5.  As with most of the images in the set I straightened the perspective and applied light processing.

Image information: 56mm, f/20, 1/25, ISO 100

Cover mock-up

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The intended outcome of this assignment is to create a story for a magazine so in order to see how my image would work with a header and captions I have mocked up a cover using Photoshop to give me an idea of what it would look like.

I would have liked to have presented this assignment in a magazine format, beautifully laid out and captioned, together with interesting and relevant text alongside.  However, given my current graphic design experience (zero) and the amount of time I had available to learn how to create a professional-looking layout (not much) this just wasn’t going to happen.  As I have Adobe CC I did toy with the idea of learning and using InDesign, or alternatively iStudio Publisher but decided that this was not a realistic option given the short timeframe available to me.  The one thing that I want to avoid is submitting an assignment that looks amateurish in presentation so I have decided simply to present an ordered series of images with captions. My judgement with regard to the assessment criteria ‘Quality of Outcome’ is that I would rather present my work in a clear coherent manner than submit a layout design that is poor in appearance.

Pages two and three (double page spread)

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Ipswich Waterfront and marinas are a strange juxtaposition of the historical, the modern and the desolate

I decided to open my narrative with a wide shot to introduce the marina and waterfront to the reader.  As a documentary image it establishes the theme of the story and leaves the reader in no doubt of the location.

This is another image I am pleased with.  Whilst not being particularly creative it plays its part well in the essay and conveys my intent of showing the geographical context of the story.  I was very fortunate with the weather as the overcast cloud and silvery light both add interest to the image. The lead-in line created by the jetty takes the reader into the image and the quayside edge also acts as a visual pull across the picture.

I shot in RAW using a tripod and processed in Lightroom 5 straightening the perspective and making other minor development adjustments.  I also removed the tip of the prow of a yacht at the very front of the image using Photoshop.

Image information: 26mm, f/16, 1/125, ISO 200

Page four (top) 

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University Campus Suffolk, offices and new apartments dominate the north and eastern quays

Having set the scene with the previous two images, it was time to introduce the reader to the newly regenerated area of the waterfront.  I opted for a medium shot here as it moves in closer to the points of interest and yet still allows the sweep of modern buildings to be seen.

I am happy with this image although it is not one of my favourite shots, being purely descriptive in nature. I was anxious to capture some yachts in this image as I felt that this enhanced the modern, vibrant feel I was trying to achieve.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5, straightening perspective and cropping slightly to remove a car on the left hand side.  Using Photoshop I removed a bollard at the bottom left of the image as I felt this grabbed the attention and stopped the eye following the curve of the pavement in front of the buildings.

Image information: 22mm, f/13, 1/160. ISO 200

Page four (small image, bottom left)

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Modern apartments on Neptune Quay

I wanted to reflect the fact that the Waterfront is a place to live as well as to work and play so for my next image I’ve chosen to show some residential development on the waterfront.  To vary the scale I took a close-up shot of the apartments recently built on Neptune Quay.

A simple image, I have tried to be a little creative here and I feel that the difference in style adds a visual punctuation here to the series, as described by Short (2011, p.106).

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  The original image had a distracting bright blue patch in the sky due to a break in the cloud so I softened this in Photoshop using the Dodge tool.  In a magazine layout I would place this smaller image in the lower half of the page on the left hand side in order to allow space for some text.

Image information: 18mm, f/13, 1/200, ISO 200

Page five

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A stay of execution: due to the recession, old buildings remain unrenovated and live alongside the new

Following the lines of my original storyboard, it was now time to introduce the concept of old unkempt buildings living alongside the new.  Looking up through the rusty steel supports of the Mill allowed me to show this juxtaposition and to also use elements of design to create a visual framework.

A detailed shot, I am really pleased with the composition I’ve achieved in this image.  At first I wasn’t sure about the gaps at the top right and bottom left corners as I felt that these could be distracting, however I took the decision to leave them in as I wanted to give the reader the feeling of looking upwards through a grid, rather than through a hole.  Renger-Patzsch used a similar concept in the framing of his crane image ‘Industrial Harbour View, 1920’s’ [2].

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  I adjusted the angle of the image with the crop tool and also cropped the image to create an aesthetic frame.

Image information: 28mm, f/14, 1/125, ISO 200

Page six (top)

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Work on the ‘wine rack’ (right) was put on hold when the developers went into administration

Another image showing the juxtaposition of old and new, this time with the wasteland between the buildings adding a sense of desolation.  A medium shot allows the surroundings to be visible.

I was really pleased with this image.   It was a totally ‘found’ shot, taken with my 35mm prime as this was the only lens I had with me that would fit through the very small gap in the surrounding wooden hoarding.  I was particularly pleased to find the chair ‘in situ’ as I feel that this gives a poignancy to the image. Its positioning also helps keep the eye from leaving the frame, bouncing it back up through the image along the diagonal fencing.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5, straightening the perspective and giving the image a slight crop to improve the balance.

Image information: 35mm, f/14, 1/80, ISO 200

Page six (bottom)

What remains - boarded-up  warehouse on The Island

What remains – boarded-up warehouse on The Island

The Island is the triangle of land formed when the New Cut channel was dug and a thin strip of land linked it with St Peter’s Quay and is home to both boat builders and a yacht club.

A factual image and more of a detail shot, I included this in my series as it encompasses the sense of loss and desolation that I felt when shooting this essay.  The new apartment block on the far right adds to the sense of abandonment of this building, a feeling that it has been left behind.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5, straightening the perspective and cropping the image.

Image information: 29mm, f/13, 1/125, ISO 200

Page seven (top) 

Unfinished and waiting for the financial upturn

Unfinished and waiting for the financial upturn

A close-up shot, this is a simple image to demonstrate how so many of the unfinished renovations on the waterfront are standing still – victims of the recession and waiting for better days after the original developers went into liquidation.

I was able to pull some elements of design into this photograph and the frame pulls the reader up into the image, to become involved in the picture.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5, adjusting the crop angle.

Image information: 36mm, f/13, 1/30, ISO 100

Page seven (bottom)

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The ‘wine rack’ – the half-built 20-storey skeleton of unclad concrete on Regatta Quay was started in 2007

I chose to include this image as it continues the sense of abandonment in the story.  Another detail shot it allows the reader to get in close and focus on the unfinished building. The buddleia bush, so often  found on large open wastelands adds a feeling that this is ‘edgelands territory’ (Farley and Symmons Roberts, 2011, p.137)

I was really pleased with this image.  Another one taken with my 35mm prime as this was the only lens I had on me that would fit through the very small gap in the surrounding hoarding, I like the way the light takes the eye right through the image, helped by the diagonal lines on the left.

I shot in RAW and initially processed in Lightroom 5, correcting the perspective.  Using Photoshop I then removed a stick in the foreground and also part of a light fitting at the top right which was distracting.  I could have lifted the shadows more in post-processing but chose not to as I wanted to keep a sombre mood in the image.

Image information: 35mm f/13, 1/60, ISO 200

Page eight

Trying to move forward - both retail and residential areas in the Mill are being marketed for sale or lease

Trying to move forward – both retail and residential areas in the Mill are being marketed for sale or lease

A detail shot, I feel this image provides a poignant moment to the story, one of sadness for an unloved building and yet also maybe one of hope for the future.  I am pleased with this image as I feel it manages to convey emotion to the reader and also provides a juxtaposition between past and present.

Shot in RAW and processed initially in Lightroom 5, I corrected the perspective and also cropped the image to tidy it.  In Photoshop I then corrected lighter areas in the advertising banner that were caused by the light coming from the right hand side and reflecting off the plastic.

Image information: 35mm, f/13, 1/40, ISO 200

Page nine (top)

Moving forward - wasteland next to Orwell Quay will become a multi-purpose outdoor sports and physical activity area for University Campus Suffolk students and staff as well as the local community thanks to Olympic legacy funding from Sport England’s Inspired Facilities fund

Moving forward – wasteland next to Orwell Quay will become a multi-purpose outdoor sports and physical activity area for University Campus Suffolk students and staff as well as the local community thanks to Olympic legacy funding from Sport England’s Inspired Facilities fund

Moving towards the end of my story now I felt it important to reflect that progress is being made.  Another medium shot, this image focuses on wasteland next to Orwell Quayside. At first glance (and the reason why I took the shot), it appeared to be another abandoned site that had fallen victim to the recession and it was originally going to take an earlier place in my sequence of images.  However, during my research on the Waterfront, I discovered that in fact this fenced-off area will be developed as a multi-purpose outdoor sports area due to funding received by University Campus Suffolk from outside sources.  This has really brought home to me the importance of carrying out careful research as I could have so easily mis-represented this piece of wasteland with an inaccurate caption to the image.

Shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5, I corrected the perspective and also cropped the image. I saw the small triangle of grass at the bottom right of the image initially as a distraction and cropped it out however I realise that in fact it anchors the image; without it the image appears to me to be floating and there is no sense of grounding.  So it stayed in.

Image information: 2mm, f/13, 1/100, ISO 200

Page nine (bottom)

Moving forward: affordable and extra care housing under construction on Stoke Quay, formerly the site of commercial and industrial units

Moving forward: affordable and extra care housing under construction on Stoke Quay, formerly the site of commercial and industrial units

A medium shot, this is also the closing shot of my photo story as I feel that it provides an uplifting conclusion. Despite the problems that the Waterfront and adjacent areas have encountered due in most part to the recession, progress is being made and I feel that this image provides positivity for the future, showing how socio-economic benefits can be brought to a previously run-down area and the process of regeneration is starting to continue from where it was interrupted in the early 2000s.

I was really pleased with both the composition of this image and the statement that it makes.

Shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5, I straightened perspective and carried out basic processing with a minimal crop.

Image information: 18mm, f/13, 1/50, ISO 100

Image gallery

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Conclusion 

I have so enjoyed this assignment.  From the early days of planning when I was looking to tell the story of the regeneration of Ipswich waterfront in a positive way, to show how a run-down area has been improved, the project then developed from a different viewpoint and grew, almost uncontrollably at times, taking on a life of its own and absorbing me emotionally.  There are so many angles to this story that I could easily have used many more images – but that is not what the assignment asked for and I have learned that critical selection of images is a very important part of the photo essay process.

Using photography to tell a story rather than just to create a set of visual static images was a completely new concept for me as up until now the majority of my photographs have been purely descriptive, in a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of way.  However, with this final assignment in The Art of Photography course I feel that I have at last managed to break through the barrier of just taking ‘pretty pictures’ and have been able to incorporate expression into some of my work, rather than producing  purely descriptive images. I hope that this is visible to the reader, although I am aware of an important point noted by Freeman (2012, p.119) who writes that ‘whilst we ‘experience’ our images at the time of shooting … the audience sees them as part of a laid-out show ….’  I will be interested to hear people’s reactions to this piece of work.

In choosing my subject matter, I made the decision that my narrative would not be linear; rather it maps out an area although I have created a definite ordered outline beginning with an introduction (old alongside new) then moving to the modern buildings through to the old and unloved ones before closing the story on a positive note by showing how the development of the Waterfront is now beginning to move forward.

Image layout presented its own set of problems.  As I wrote earlier in these notes, I would really have liked to have presented this assignment in a magazine format, beautifully laid out and captioned, together with interesting and relevant text alongside.  However due to lack of graphic design knowledge or experience I have decided simply to present an ordered series of images with captions.  My justification for this decision boils down to my judgement with regard to the ‘Quality of Outcome’ assessment criteria being that I would rather present my work in a clear coherent manner than submit a poor layout design.