This page holds a detailed timeline of the project(s) undertaken for Assignment 5, the last of Expressing your Vision. My tutor wrote, in the feedback on Assignment 4,
For your last assignment you can bring together all the skills you have learned and reallyTutor feedback, Asg. 4
push your personal voice. Consider location, props, and how best to communicate your
Keep developing a personal voice, and consider how best to visualise what you want to communicate with your images Feedback
[15Jul19] I had had one idea, noted back in May,
I noted from a #9 bus this week that an afternoon with a telephoto lens photographing architectural details at roof level for half a mile around Harrod’s would be time well spentBlog, 3rd May
I spent a morning on that idea on 12th July but was underwhelmed by the results, fig. A1.
There are three ideas in the mix.
2. While returning on 12th, I called into a second-hand bookshop on Charing Cross road which has a good photography section and the browse turned up a book of Friedlander self portraits. I have a copy on order, but it is coming from the US and so might not be here in time to to inform the project. Friedlander photographed shadows. Ilse Bing (see Exercise 5.2) took shadows too, as did Vivian Maier (see Photo London 2019), whereas Peter Cohen collected and curated other people’s photographs of shadows (see V&A, new photography gallery). Shadows of small things was my backup project for Assignment 4 and I might progress that to larger shadows.
3. I have always admired the legend that is Jonathan Miller. While not a photographer, he produced a book nowhere in particular in 1999 that contains photographs of torn posters and other urban decay plus Millers musings on The Arts in general and the Graphic Arts in particular.
Ralston Crawford has an exhibition and a book called Torn Signs, neither of which I have seen (the show is in New York and I am waiting for the price to drop below £20).
I have advertising boards in mind, but the scope could be extended if necessary.
4. I photograph a lot of flowers, mostly in close-up and mostly for their aesthetic value. The notion of flowers as a project came to mind with a recent visit to a lavender “farm”. This could be extended beyond pretty snaps of flowers: given the imperative to demonstrate what has been learned on the course, this would allow all nature of subjects — macro, roadside shrines, shops, B&Q’s unwatered and uncared for killing fields, the joy that is a garden centre, funerals, loaded hearses, cemeteries, weddings.
[19Jul19] another idea:
5. Benches – back in the 1970s, when I used to take the train often between Cardiff and Newport (and sometimes to Bristol when I fell asleep) I developed a habit of surreptitiously photographing people sitting on benches on adjacent platforms. My particular interest was how they chose to arrange themselves to maximise personal space (it is the same effect, though less pronounced, as men’s choice of vacant urinals). I had forgotten all about this until I saw Dieter Meier’s 29 pictures within 5 minutes, London, 14-October-1970, 17:00-17:05, in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum at the V&A last year. Needless to say, my negatives are long gone.
[25Jul19] I’ll keep the shortlisted images for the projects I’m working on – for now, plants and benches – with the explanations below that. If I start a third project the Image Box numbering system will suffer.
[25Jul] The working title for the project is The use, abuse, misuse and misrepresentation of plants. Though that is rather unwieldy and makes no mention of beauty.
[15Sep] The title reverted to simply Plants some time ago. The 21 images in the shortlist were sent for printing today.
[26Jul] the opening entries and my natural selections will all fall into Barrett’s aesthetically evaluative category: a conscious effort will have to be made to go beyond pretty flowers: but that is, by and large, the purpose of flowers in Western society, to be pretty (or to by symbolic in some way) and to generate commerce.
[26Jul19] The only way I found to deal with a crowded station and constant pedestrian traffic was to composite two images together and allow the software to deghost the passers-by, fig. C1.
Fig. C2 captures the sense of crowded isolation of lunchtime in a London park on a a summer’s day.
Lavender, 5th July 2019
This was an organised walk that included a visit to a Lavender Farm that prompted the idea of flowers, or perhaps plants for Asg 5. I had not yet decided on deciding to shoot square format. There were wild flower fields beside the cultivated lavender which are, to my taste, more attractive (fig. D1). There was one lucky shot of a young child running through the lavender, taken as I turned away from photographing the wild flowers. Full frame (fig. D2) it includes another child chasing after the subject that makes a stronger composition, but that will have to be cropped if I adhere to square (fig. D3). As might be expected, many photographs of lavender plants were taken, but more interesting were the way the visitors interacted with each other and with the plants (figs. D4 and D5).
Plants, to 23rd July 2019
One advantage of this sort of project is that suitable subjects can crop up at any time, unlike Asg. 4’s Barbican, which needs a specific journey. As the project develops some specific targets will be identified, requiring more planning, for example, flowers in graveyards.
These are the images taken on and around 23rd July. First, a still life in my front room ( fig. E1, the plant previously appeared in Exercise 3.2). Fig. E2 was taken as an example of how so many objects and events seem to need flowers to legitimise them, here a boundary sign for Warwick.
The outing to London was mainly to start the Benches project, but some Plant photographs were taken along the way.
The display in fig. E1 seemed impressive from a distance, but they are all plastic. This is when I added “misrepresentation” to the working title. On later reflection, however, given that I generally disapprove of the flower industry on ecological and utilitarian grounds, plastic flowers should be viewed positively, except that the frivolous use of plastic is now generally frowned upon.
Returning to my local high street later that day, the bus passed a funeral just leaving the church and so I walked back hoping to see a MUM or DAD or NAN floral tribute. I was not disappointed (fig. E4), but I learned that is difficult to photograph such events tastefully or respectfully and so in the end I put my camera away and pretended to be using my mobile phone for some other purpose. Not my finest hour.
Finally, on the high street, a recent regeneration project saw a fortune being spent on new pavements and flower beds and even a new cinema, replacing shops that had been closed for years. Most of the plants are, of course, dead as councils are not renowned for matching capital expenditure with the necessary subsequent revenue expenditure. This is all grist to the project’s mill, however. [It is likely that plant-based metaphors will litter this project.]
Benches, 23rd July 2019
People on benches are a lot more difficult to photograph than I recalled. There are a few reasons for this:
1. on station platforms there is usually a train on one of the intervening tracks blocking the view
2. on station concourses there are people blocking the view
3. in all locations, it is difficult to photograph the occupants without them noticing.
40 years ago, late at night with only the occasional train and nothing to do but wait this subject was relatively easy.
One (not entirely honest) solution to the crowded station difficulty is allowing a composite HDR image to de-ghost passers-by. Fig. F6 is an Affinity Photo composite of F4 and the next image taken (not shown above). It results in an almost perfect example of what I am trying to illustrate.
Soho Square (figs. 7-14) was too busy to produce illustrations of my main theme and the camera soon attracted attention. Fig. F12 is a nice example of crowded isolation.
One of the churches on the square had a service in progress with just the right number of attenders to illustrate what might be termed the art of separation [that may become the working title of the project].
There is a case to be made for repeatedly photographing the same bench, butt that would be too derivative of Dieter Meier’s series. Another approach might be to use a long lens from a fixed location: where to do this remains an issue, but the South Back complex might work, with balconies overlooking benches.
Plants, 25th July 2019
There is local project to grow edible plants at venue at which I volunteer. It is difficult to make this visually interesting, but some human presence will probably help on a subsequent visit.
While taking breakfast at the picnic table on the, then, hottest day of the year, I noticed a small seed pod with an intricate design on the top. I photographed it later and, quite by chance, a green insect was also showing an interest. This was taken using a standard format lens with an extension ring but the image still needs to be deeply cropped to fill the screen with the subject. I have ordered Fuji’s (relatively) inexpensive 1:2 macro lens to pursue this sort of subject and will also explore flash lighting in order to allow fast shutter speeds, larger apertures and lower ISOs.
All the Box G images were shot at full sensor format as they were taken with cameras not previously deployed on the project and so not set to square. this was addressed in the necessary crop.
Plants, to 31st July
Two sessions with one subject each and so I have selected just one image for each.
On 27th July, a new sunflower emerged and when I went out to photograph it, luckily, it had a tiny, almost translucent snail nibbling the seeds.
In my initial list of possible subjects for this project (see 15th July) I mentioned “roadside shrines” and today, on the way back from work, I noticed one nearby and stopped to photograph it. Close up, it has reached a significant state of decay. The term roadside memorial has been adopted as being rather more respectful.
A few hundred yards up the road there is a memorial which is about twenty years old and commemorates the destruction of a car full of teenagers, killed when the car caught fire after crashing. This was festooned with flowers for many years, particularly on the anniversary, but at the moment it only has football scarves on it.
And half a mile to the west is the memorial to Stephen Lawrence, murdered in 1993: I rarely pass that, but it sometimes has flowers on it.
[27Aug] I noted on the way home today that all traces of this memorial have been removed. It would be interesting to know the protocols that apply to such decisions.
[1Aug] The Friedlander book arrived yesterday. This notion is only just forming, but it seems that there are several ways of establishing an oeuvre.
One is to have a strong, rare, original idea and pursue it determinedly – Cindy Sherman is a case in point, as are the other Nichers. It is possible to achieve some sort of ownership of the idea in this way, such that any “serious photographer”† doing something similar would be on the derivative — plagiarist spectrum.
Another way is to light on a less original idea, (possibly one that is taken occasionally by other photographers, ranging from the iconic to the holiday snapper) and pursue it remorselessly, as Friedlander has done with shadows and reflections. This bestows a lesser degree of ownership, whereby, perhaps, only one serious photographer (in this case Friedlander) is likely to publish a 370 page book of them, but others can still take them and include them in a more diverse exhibit — as was noted in the initial thoughts, Ilse Bing (see Exercise 5.2) took shadows too, as did Vivian Maier (see Photo London 2019), whereas Peter Cohen collected and curated other people’s photographs of shadows (see V&A, new photography gallery).
† subsequent thought will be given to a definition: for now we can run with a photographer that exhibits or seeks to exhibit (though not only on social media).
Starting with the last century, we have one of my son on an unremembered beach in the south of France, (fig. J1) taken in the mid-to-late 1990s. I have always remembered this photograph for its exaggerated shadow (the original 6×4 print scanned was in colour). Fig. J2 is one of the most striking reflections from Friedlander’s collection.
I will add to this store if any opportunities arise before Asg. 5 submission, but it is unlikely to become the submitted project.
[9Aug19] On a trip to Southbank intending to shoot occupied benches, but resulting in more plant images than benches, a pretty shadow shot encountered on the way on the side of the Southbank Centre.
The last few shots, Tree, Warwick and Aldeburgh were picked up along the way.
Plants, to 9th August
[15Aug] This entry comprises miscellaneous local shots and a targeted visit to Southbank.
Most of the trees surrounding a neighbouring private housing development were cut down recently and I have been following the progress of a particularly stubborn tree stump that is fighting back (figs. K1 to K3).
The Nandos seen in the distance in image E5 has its own horror show of neglected plants (fig. K4), seemingly emptied from plant pots and left to die. It will be difficult to crop this square.
B&Q, as expected, produced some keen examples of neglect on their clearance shelf. (K5-K6)
The visit to Southbank was mainly intended to shoot benches (see Box L) but I took more photographs of plants. Many of the trees are strangely bound in cloth: the images of these were shot in several batches, figs. K7-K9 and K27. K10 is of mercifully unbound trees and demonstrates how much nicer they look naked.
Having sought a higher vantage point in one of the layers of the National Theatre for bench shots, I encountered the beautifully gardened Bank of America Meryl Lynch Terrace (fig. K11). It was a mostly bright day but with strong gusts of wind and some of the plants were thrashing in the wind. the first set, K12-K17 were the simplest yet probably the most successful. The slowest shutter speed I could achieve in the light was 1/15 sec and I have bought a set of NB filters for my standard lens to extend the options in future. For the remaining Terrace shots, I tried to incorporate part of the building with a wider range of plants but while the grasses in K18-20 offer some movement, the remainder (K21-25) were disappointing.
K26 is a fruit juice stall being decorated with plastic fruit and foliage. K27 another bound tree, but lifted by the pedestrian entering the frame from the left. Finally, K28, a vertical roof garden above Embankment tube station.
First pass inclusions for the shortlist are L2-L3 as part of a larger set, L5, L15 or L16, L19 and L26 through L28.
Benches, 9th August
As noted the main intention for this outing was to photograph bench occupants, but more time was spent on plants. Nevertheless, there is a not unreasonable haul of serviceable images. Most (figs. L1-L23 were taken in front of of from the National Theatre, the remainder (figs. 24-26) nearer the Southbank Centre.
Frank Dobson’s 1951 sculpture, London Pride, was a continual distraction and at one point I considered starting a new project, along the lines of Sculptural Interactions, or even Dodson Interactions In an effort to maintain relevance, I tried to include a bench in the shot. Of the first group, some make the shortlist, probably L6 (or L9), L8, L10, L12 and L14.
The pair L22 and L23 are sound compositions but outliers on the subject of bench occupation because they are more about the wall and stairs.
L24 or L25 will take the final place from this session.
Plants, to 23rd August
[22Aug] These images were taken between 23th and 21st August on 4 cameras (2 Fuji, 1 Sony and an iPhone). They comprise the tree stump (none selected, try again tomorrow); the peace lily flower first photographed on 23rd July, now dead; dead and dying plants at B&Q; and a roadside memorial.
The roadside memorial was noted in transit last week and I returned this week to photograph it. The subject seems to be a child, Darcy. It is quite elaborate installation, with toys and candles, but few flowers. Fig. M4 is a straight documentary shot from the front. Figs. 5 and 6 are taken from within the cemetery (on the railings of which the memorial is set up): here it is less clear what the subject is and there is the added feature of passers-by looking at the memorial, thereby drawing attention to it.
[24Aug] On 23rd August, I passed the tree stump I have been photographing, charting its recovery. I discovered that the arboricides had struck again and chopped it back. This might be the end of this sub-series and so they will be processed separately in the section below.
Plants —tree stump
[24Aug] As noted on 15th August,
Most of the trees surrounding a neighbouring private housing development were cut down recently and I have been following the progress of a particularly stubborn tree stump that is fighting back (figs. K1 to K3).15th August entry, above
and on 24th August,
On 23rd August, I passed the tree stump I have been photographing, charting its recovery. I discovered that the arboricides had struck again and chopped it back. This might be the end of this sub-series and so they will be processed separately …24th August entry, above
First draft and development
[29Aug19] First draft.
The brief, ten photographs, one subject, each a “unique view”, with a “sense of development through the sequence”; my tutor commented “bring together all the skills you have learned”; 300 words of explanatory text allowed. WC35
“All the skills” suggests technical diversity, as explored in the course: shutter speed; selective focus; lens choice; lighting variation and so on but this alone would not be personally satisfying or ?academically? challenging. The main theoretical component towards the end of the course was Terry Barrett’s contextual analysis and his book Criticising Photographs (2000) uses this to inform definitions of six types of photograph. Thus, in addition to technical diversity, I sought to provide at least one image in each of Barrett’s categories (space limitations prevent explanations of those categories, but this is done on the relevant web pages (Blackburn, 2019a). WC101
Five potential projects were identified (Blackburn, 2019b) and work undertaken on two: Flowers and The Occupation of Benches. Flowers always seemed to present more opportunities and to have the greater potential for variation and an increasing proportion of the time available was devoted to it. The title grew to The use, abuse, misuse and misrepresentation of plants and shrank again to Plants, allowing the images to “speak for themselves” and the viewer to arrive at their own interpretation. WC78
Deciding on a relevant sequence is difficult and my initial inclination is to start with the order taken and then see if some logic imposes itself from there. The brief prompts, “what am I really trying to say?” and the answer to that is “that humans interact with plant life in a variety of contexts” and maybe add “often with little regard for the plants’ welfare”.
And, within that documentary purpose, to produce some subjectively aesthetically pleasing images. WC78
WC 35 + 104 + 77 + 78 = 294
No compelling logical, technical or aesthetic sequence, but see the blog entry for Sep 6th re juxtapositions,
“Given my liking for submitting physical prints in a presentation folder, thereby imposing my display sequence on the viewer, but using only prosaic, factual titles and leaving interpretation to others, I will concentrate on pairings.”
[7Sep] V2 of the last paragraph, resulting in the need for paragraph shaving.
The brief prompts, “what am I really trying to say?”: answer, “that humans interact with plant life in a variety of contexts” and maybe add “often with little regard for the plants’ welfare”. And, within that documentary purpose, to produce some subjectively aesthetically pleasing images. There is no compelling logical, technical or aesthetic sequence, but I have developed a preference for submitting physical prints in a presentation folder, thereby imposing my display sequence on the viewer, using only prosaic, factual titles and leaving interpretation to others: I have been influenced by Lorant’s (1940) views on image pairing. WC97
WC 35 + 101 + 78 + 97 = 311
[16Sep] It was always probable the the Plants project would be chosen for submission. The 21 images in the plants shortlist were sent to be printed on 15th. Final image selection will be based on 5 pairs, following the lead of Stephan Lorant.
Here’s a repeat of the shortlist:
[16Sep] The strongest images, which I am minded to include in all circumstances are B1, B3, B6 and B10. And, perhaps, B16.
B3 and B6 are a possible pair, both macro(ish), both showing a flower plus an ambulatory creature.
B2 and B17 match as two images of the same plant, in life and in death.
B7 might go with one of B19-B21. I had thought to only include one roadside memorial in the selection of 10, but when thinking in pair, this makes sense as illustrating two common formats in such displays.
B1, B10 and B11 have not yet been paired. I need to bear in mind that this is all subject to seeing the final prints.
Perhaps B1 and B10 could go together as portraying movement of different kinds, one frozen, one emphasized.
B16, as plant abuse, could be paired with B18 or B14.
I will write again when the prints arrive.
[17Sep] DSCL were very prompt in delivering the prints. A few a a little darker than optimal, but so it goes. The selection method is shown in fig. O1. The final selection is similar to the above but B14, which I rather like, didn’t make the cut because the striding figure takes too much attention away from the ostensible subject, the plant abuse of tree wrapping. The final pairing and the order shown is:
B3+B6 / B1+B10 / B2+B17 / B16+B18 / B7+B19
|Poppy seed head
|Fuji 35mm †
|Snail on sunflower
|Fuji 35mm †
|Child in lavender field
|Tree stump, composite
|Roadside memorial, SE9
|Sony RX100 Mk3
|Roadside memorial, DA1
† with extension tube
‡ composite of three photographs
Barrett’s book, Criticising photographs (2000 et al.) has been the most influential source I have encountered on the course. I am still (at 17Sep19) in the process of summarising it. I stated at the outset that my intention was to cover as many of the six Types of Photograph that Barrett defines. Briefly, these are:
Descriptive – diagnostic, factual e.g. clinical photography, the Hubble Space Telescope
Explanatory – similar, but with some artistic flair, includes most press photography e.g. Muybridge
Interpretive – staged by the photographer, can be ambiguous e.g. Jeff Wall
Ethically evaluative – factual but also socially judgemental e.g. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange
Aesthetically evaluative – often beautiful things photographed artistically e.g. Ansel Adams’, Edward Weston, Cartier-Bresson
Theoretical — photographs about photography e.g. Cindy Sherman
|Poppy seed head
|Biological specimen, but image with the bug chosen.
|Snail on sunflower
|Photographed as a still life: the snail only noticed late
|Child in lavender field
|A lucky, spur-of-the-moment shot
|Use of slow shutter
|Tree stump, composite
|Roadside memorial, SE9
|Roadside memorial, DA1
As predicted at the outset, there is a tendency to lean towards the aesthetic when photographing plants, but there is a reasonable spread amongst the other types. All except Interpretive: Child in lavender field looks at though it might have been staged (it brought to mind 1970s album covers) but it was not. As Barrett states, the allocation of types should be informed by the context, in this case, particularly the original context.
This is the end of the course.
What has been learned?
I feel that I have made more progress (towards my goal, just defined, of more subjectively satisfying photographs) working on Asg.5 than on previous assignments, but that might be a misperception of the whole, prompted by the relief or satisfaction of an end.
The aim of any course in photography must be the production of imagery, otherwise it is not a course about photographs, it’s about aesthetic theory and judgment.
I came to the course to adjust my snaps after years of circling an aesthetic drain so, for me, the theory was useful, interesting and insightful (particularly Barrett) and will continue to inform my work, supplemented, I hope, by subsequent courses. But the image output is the priority.
It would be good to emerge from the course with a methodology that will suit a variety of projects (OCA and personal) and I think that I’m getting there.
For now, I have learned to (with some overlap):
- Set a subject (or several to run concurrently) †
- Work to a generous deadline
- Work in a single format , often square
- Revisit the subject with a refined shooting plan (e.g. Barbican) or come at the subject from various viewpoints (e.g. Plants) and pursue diversity within a subject
- Produce a shortlist for hard copy printing my workflow has been refined, see below.
- Publish in pseudo book format, enforcing a viewing order (in my case using the convenient if inelegant display folder)
- Select images in pairs after Lorant and
- Order the pairs in some form of coherent sequence
- Shoot fine fine jpeg and raw, preferably on a camera with dual memory cards.
- Use a consistent format, often square.
- Default to black and white, unless there is a compelling reason to shoot in colour.
- One of the keys to a successful image is to have more than one subject, or a subsidiary subject within the frame ‡
- Back up the original images to mitigate data loss and copy the jpegs to a project directory or sub directory for processing
- Make an initial cull of the images after combining any bracketed shots. Straighten and crop (to format) as necessary
- Note that all file names should include the original camera-given name prefixed with a project identifier
- From that longlist, nominate a gradually expanding shortlist
- For all images on the shortlist, retrieve the raw image and process initially through Affinity Photo. Save as tiff
- Subsequent processing will be in Photoshop on the tiff. Recreate the jpeg straightening and crop
- There will eventually be a shorter shortlist and these images will go through final processing of touching up in Photoshop and the addition of a border through Nik filters
- Image titles should be brief and factual
- Order physical prints for the final selection
† On future courses, I will probably start with the assignments and always consider them all from the beginning. Also be aware throughout of assessment.
‡ See examples below from Asg. 5, Secondary Subjects
The processing for DSCL Labs is (working on the tiff):
a) canvas size 115%
b) canvas size A4
c) save as jpeg.
Fig. Q1 is a perfectly serviceable image of a backlit sunflower. The presence of a translucent baby snail elevates it into a higher league. The fact that I did not notice the snail until I processed the images is not relevant, but is a pleasing example of what Fox Talbot (1844-46) described as, “one of the charms of photography”.
Fig. Q2 was taken as an example of plant mistreatment with the intentional inclusion of passing pedestrians. The prominence of the foreground pedestrian has undermined the subject to the extent that it has become a photograph of the pedestrian. The inverse mirroring of the shapes of the two subjects is a bonus.
Looking at the course assessment criteria, firstly on Asg.5,
Technically, the images are technically competent and I have achieved what I intended before pressing the shutter. On the physical prints, some are a little darker than I would have liked. If I printed at home, I would make adjustments, but as I use a lab, they will be submitted.
Quality: As with Asg. 4, I came up with some worthwhile projects and, I believe, chose the correct one to pursue at length. The quality of the prints from DS Colour Labs is good on the whole, but, as noted, some are a little dark.
Creativity: There is quite a broad spread of images but three I would have liked and missed are:
1. a funeral — one shot of a hearse made the shortlist, but I am not comfortable intruding on such sensitive and personal events.
2. a wedding — only after I had sent the shortlist for printing did I realise that I had missed this obvious subject. I would probably have tried to recreate more clinically the chance shot taken in exercise 2.7 of a bridesmaid catching the bride’s bouquet.
3. wisteria — a neighbour on my road of suburban semis has a facade dominated by the plant which has not yet flowered this year. It is a beautiful sight and is entertainingly incongruous, the plant being more often associated with grander buildings.
Context: rather than specific photographers, the influence this time has been more about photographs theory, specifically Barrett’s (2000) types and Lorant’s (1940) pairings .
Taking the course as a whole,
Technically, I have become more skilled in turning ideas into output.
Quality: there is definite progress in constructing a coherent series, thanks most recently to Lorant, but there is still a long way to go in this regard.
Creativity: I make no claims to a personal voice, but am becoming more content with my craft.
Context: I am beginning to recognise and acquire relevant external influences, though my expressed appreciation of them is insufficiently analytical and academic.
Barrett, T. (2000) Criticising photographs, an introduction to understanding images. 3rd ed. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing
Fox Talbot, W.H. (1844-46) The pencil of nature. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans
Friedlander, L. (2011) In the picture pelf-portraits 1958-2001 New Haven: Yale University Press
Lorant. S (1940) Chamberlain and the beautiful llama and 101 more juxtapositions. London: Hulton