Assignment 4 – Subject Choice

I’ve now completed all but one of the exercises in the lighting section of the course. The one I’ve missed is the impractical ‘lighting through the day’ that required repeat visits to the same spot between sunrise and sunset. Given that there are 18 hours of daylight at this time of year and I work full-time, I’ve just not had the opportunity. My plan is to set up a camera and intervalometer in a bedroom window, I just need a sunny forecast on a day when I’m not shooting anything else.

Reading through other student’s blogs, I was expecting these exercises to be long-winded and time-consuming, but I’ve found them interesting and fun for the most part. With them behind me, it’s time to think about a subject for assignment 4 – Applying Lighting Techniques.

Again, reading through the blogs of students that have gone before me, the majority seem to have chosen a small, portable object, often it would appear, a holiday souvenir, that they have photographed at home using natural and photographic lighting. There is one notable exception in Tim Dunk’s exceptional interpretation of the brief.

Fig. 05 - Light in front and 45 degree above

Fig. 05 – Light in front and 45 degree above

As I mentioned in my post on the lighting angle, I had intended to shoot a small sculpture that we have at home. It has interesting texture, plenty of colour and an familiar shape. I was happy enough with some of the shots in that exercise, despite being my first using backdrops and stand mounted lighting. But, having read the brief repeatedly, I began to think about using a subject that wasn’t moveable and for which the lighting of would have to be natural. It meant that the exercise would be less about equipment and more about investigating which natural lighting conditions best enhanced the various facets we were looking for and adapting to whatever I was presented with.

Bradgate Tree

Bradgate Tree

I live a mile from a country park that began as a medieval deer park and is home to several ancient oaks that are many centuries old. One in particular has a prominent position overlooking the city at the junction of several paths and has always fascinated me. I used a picture of the tree (above) in my second assignment. The trunk has split and twisted over the years and is now only a fragile arc of pockmarked, weathered wood. When spring arrives each year, I’m surprised (and relieved) to see that it is still healthy enough to grow leaves. It seemed an ideal subject.

I’ve taken a few dozen pictures of it so far, across a number of visits and now I’m not so sure. Because the tree is more than a mile into the park (all up hill), a trip to photograph it, especially carrying tripod, lenses and lighting gear) becomes an expedition. I began setting the alarm for 4am to get up and check the sky, hoping for the magical light that dawn can provide. More often than not, I went back to bed. I visited a couple of times late in the day and while it is a beautiful place to be, it can frustrating to give a couple of hours of my day up waiting for light that doesn’t actually materialise. The practicalities of using reflectors and artificial light seem too great for my meagre equipment.

So, I’m thinking of lowering my sights once more.

Dark-field Lighting

Dark-field Lighting

Last night, rather than walking into the park again, I experimented for the first time with dark-field lighting as described in the excellent Light – Science and Magic book that forms part of the course’s reading material. After a few false starts, I began to produce pictures that might be useable in an assignment.

So do I take the easier route and lock myself away in the spare room for a couple of hours and produce the set I need, or do I persevere photographing the tree, getting fitter at the same time? Or should I do both and see which I like best?

The next post will probably let you know…

References

Hunter, F et al. (2012) Light – Science and magic. An introduction to photographic lighting. Oxford; Elsevier Inc.

 

Gallery Visits, Brussels

Brussels (1)

Last week, I was lucky enough to be able to spend a few days in Brussels. I visited with my wife, mother-, sister- and uncle-in-law. While they were busy seeing the sites of a city I’ve visited a couple of times previously, I headed out to see a few of the many photography shows on in the city as part of its Summer of Photography.

I visited the following:

Woman – The feminist avant-garde of the 1970s: Works from the SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

Where we’re at! – Other voices on gender. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

No Country for Young Men – Contemporary Greek art in times of crisis. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

The Belgian Six – a group show for Belgian photography curated by The Word Magazine. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

Regenberg M. Fair use. Foundation Stichting. 27 June 2014

Heinecken R. Lessons in posing subjects. Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels. 27 June 2014

I’m not going to attempt to write up all of the shows in detail, but will concentrate more on the thoughts I had regarding the type of photography that appeals to me and that I aspire to take having seen such a broad variety in a very short time. Much of the photography I saw was very conceptual and brought me right back to that first chapter of Charlotte Cotton’s book. The work demanded engagement, imagination and thought from the viewer and while I am happy to put that effort in, I sometimes struggle to do so when I see such a volume of work in one go.

The major show, Woman – The feminist avant-garde of the 1970s was a collection of 450 works from 29 female artists. Much of the photographic content was conceptual art from Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman’s familiar self-portrait work, through Annegret Soltau‘s Self series, Rita Myer’s Body Halves, Suzanne LaceyRenate BertlmannBirgit Jürgenssen and Martha Rosler to more accessible work such as Helen Almeida’s Study for 2 Spaces. At times it was very heavy going, reflecting the feminist movement’s politics, protest and occasionally fun. It was necessary to remind oneself that these were not contemporary works and probably far more provocative and controversial in the 1970s.

Where we’re at! featured women photographers and video artists of African, Caribbean and Pacific cultural backgrounds and began with some straight-forward but striking portraits by Angèle Etoundi Essamba before moving again to more conceptual work and video work on subjects like genital mutilation that was impossible to watch.

The Greek and Belgian shows had more accessible work that I was instantly drawn to. In the collection of Greek work that is informed by the recent and ongoing problems there, two photographers’ work stood out. Panos Kokkinias‘s images are staged but subtly so. His night time work is very much in a style that I aspire to – this new work ‘Paros’ is magnificent, particularly when shown in a gallery; perfectly printed and impeccably lit. It dominated a cluttered space, not because of its size, but because it had a luminescence of its own. The subtlety of the lighting on the young girl’s face, lit by a mobile phone à la Dan Witz is beautiful.

Alkis Konstantinidis is a photo-journalist who has shot many graphic and striking images of the troubles in his country. A set of these was printed on to newspaper and pinned to the gallery wall. After so much conceptual work in the previous collections, the images were refreshing and a I actually breathed a sigh of relief.

My favourite work of the weekend however came the following day. A long walk across the city brought me to the exclusive Foundation A Stichting and Max Regenberg’s Fair Use show. He photographs the billboards and advertisements that elbow their way into our surroundings and tackles similar subjects of ubiquity of images and the power of subliminal absorption as Tim Davis’ wonderful ‘Retail’. His eye for the way that these huge images can be complimentary or at odds with their surroundings (for example, the Marlboro cowboys riding into a sunset with the orange turned up are presented against snow, bare trees and a particularly unappealing fence) is entertaining, provocative and cleverly presented.

Brussels

Reflecting on what I liked and what I didn’t from these six shows, it appears that I have much work to do on my appreciation of the photograph as contemporary art. I am much more comfortable with documentary or subtly staged photography (that isn’t photographs of performance art) than more complex, narrative heavy, concept driven work. But I question whether I need to apply myself in this way. Why should I? What is important is my ability to express myself and my ‘world view’.  That may take the form of straight representations of what I see in front of the camera, or it may, with time, develop into a desire to challenge myself and my viewers to engage with my photographs in a different way.

It’s back to the bio I wrote when I started the course; I can take pictures that people will ‘like’ and ‘fave’, but maybe photographs need that extra layer, that engagement from the viewer that only comes when the work becomes conceptual and that requires interpretation and effort from the viewer. Perhaps it’s like listening to a song without paying attention to the lyrics. The voice can be just another instrument to one listener who will enjoy the song. Someone else who studies the words, gets the references and applies themselves to engage with the writer will appreciate the work on a different level. But do they enjoy the music any more than the first? Or just differently?

 

References

Cotton, C (2009) The photograph as contemporary art. London; Thames and Hudson

Higgins, J (2013) Why it does not have to be in focus. London; Thames and Hudson

Witz, D. (2010) In plain view – 30 years of artworks illegal and otherwise. Berkeley, CA; Gingko Press