Exercise 3.1 – The frozen moment

This post represents a bit of monolithic dual avicide. First, there is the exercise itself, using fast shutter speeds to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject. Second, it gives me a chance to discover something that I have long been curious about, just what does the beginning of a stream of water running from a tap look like?

This was my first attempt. The set-up appears simple, an outside tap and an Olympus E-30 on a tripod and set to ‘machine-gun mode’ (rapid sequence). I would start a camera sequence and turn the tap on and off while the camera is running. As always, the devil is in the details.

P4238918.jpg

As noted in the brief, there is a trade-off between shutter speed and ISO. My first set of images were taken with the kit 14-42mm zoom at the 42mm end (84mm full-frame equivalent) and its widest aperture, f/5.6. The image above was taken at ISO800, 1/320 second, which is not fast enough to freeze the water emerging under pressure. I also tried 1/800 at ISO1600 and 1/1250 at ISO2500, which was too noisy. After that I switched to the 50-150 telephoto zoom which opens to f/2.8 at the short end and allowed me shutter speeds of 1/1600 and 1/2000.

The second issue is timing, which is largely a matter of luck. Although 1/1600 is fast enough to freeze the water flow, the 5FPS sequential shooting speed is not great for capturing the fast-moving leading edge. Here are a few images in full flow, and we see that it is not a simple symmetrical cylinder of water.

Another issue was getting the full stream in focus with a shallow depth of field. This is the reason for the later images being more side-on, but including the white pipe in the foreground.

With the tap turned off, the last dregs of water fall under gravity and rather slower.

And, yes, I did manage to freeze that leading edge.

This final image is my favourite, from 150 total shots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Advertisements

Slices of time

We are asked to consider John Szarkowski’s comment, quoted in the course notes, and consider whether fast shutter speeds capture movement or fragment it, isolating thin slices of time to reveal something new.

… there was a pleasure and beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening. It had to do, rather, with seeing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within the flux of movement. (Szarkowski, 2007,10)

Szarkowski was referring to Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 sequential images of a horse in motion which, very clearly, slice time into small segments and present them all for our viewing. Famously, this set of images was the first to show how the horse’s legs moved in a gallop  which was previously unobserved and unknown.

The same comment can be made when we are only presented with one image, effectively a single slice of time, such as the milk-drop coronets and bullet-through-apple images of Harold Edgerton (MIT website here). Edgerton’s high speed captures relied on flash technology rather than shutter speed, but the principle is the same. The position of the picture elements at a given instant is defined but I get no sense of movement, except where there is blur.

Another photographer using high shutter speeds to freeze motion is Eyoalha Baker (website here) whose ‘Jump for Joy’ project was a mural compiled of some 200 photographs of people jumping.

The common factor seems to be that the picture elements are fixed in space, but they are in positions that are statically unsustainable. Either levitation or motion must be involved. Intellectually, we know the subjects must be moving but, somehow, it is easier to believe in levitation.

I recall a similar or related impression when viewing ViewMaster 3D images involving water. Waves, ‘frozen’ in a 3D image, appear to have been cast in clear resin rather than being in motion.

References

Baker, E. (2016) Jump for Joy! Photo Project [online] at:https://jumpforjoyphotoproject.wordpress.com

MIT (s.d.) Harold “Doc” Egerton [online] at: http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/galleries/iconic

Szarkowski, J. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye – 2007 reprint New York: MoMA

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day

The last Sunday in April is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (website here), an opportunity for everybody to go out, cut loose with the most basic image-making device available and contribute to a world-wide gallery of images. This is the fifth year running that I have participated.

PinholeDay16 002-2

The camera was balanced on the sundial in my front garden. Pinhole has a unique image quality being, in principle, uniformly unsharp with an infinite depth of field. In practice, there are good reasons why elements closer to the pinhole than the hole-to-film distance become less sharp. Also, with a 40-second exposure, some subject movement blur is inevitable except on a very still day. This image is no.307 in the 2016 gallery.

I take a slightly purist view of pinhole photography – it only counts if you have made the camera yourself. This is my MkII camera, built of foam-core board and taking 5×4 film backs. Effective ‘focal length’ is 65mm and aperture is f/150. This image was shot on Fomapan 100 and developed in Rodinal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Collecting • Drivetrains – submission and reflection

These are the assignment notes for ‘Collecting’

EYV ass 2 Collecting analysis

We are invited to reflect on the assignment, checking the work against the assessment criteria. This reflection is tricky; if I were not happy with my work, I would not be submitting it, so it is difficult to be self-critical.

Technical and visual skills

I am happy with my technical skills (materials and techniques), having been making photographs in one form or another for over 40 years, and some successes at club level in the past few years. The images are sharp and well-exposed, displaying well-balanced histograms.

I am less happy about my visual skills. However, this assignment seemed to design itself and the use of a typology grid lends a high-level organisation to the images.

Quality of outcome

Given the brief, it would be difficult not to be coherent in presentation ( the brief is designed to promote uniformity). I believe I managed to conceptualise my thoughts (choice of subject and approach) and communicate them.

Demonstration of creativity

I tried to show imagination by adopting the ‘none of the above’ option. My journey from concept to a rather different execution was a process of experimentation (and failure)

Context

In developing this assignment, I forced myself to consider more deeply the concept of typologies and deadpan photography, than I had when reading the ‘deadpan’ chapter of Charlotte Cotton’s ‘The photograph as contemporary art’  and to appreciate it more. I already knew about the Bechers but discovered Tabuchi.

Sergio Larrain at Magnum Print Room

I was inspired to visit this exhibition by an article in Black+White Photography ( Evans 2016,7) which was illustrated by his image of the girl and pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Based on the article, I was expecting a surreal and ‘mythical’ set of images. I had viewed the Strange and Familiar exhibition at the Barbican earlier in the day and Larrain’s images there do fit the description.

The images at Magnum are rather different, particularly the South American images, in a more documentary style, appearing more considered and ‘photographic’.

Children living around the Mapocho river and sleeping under bridges.

Children living around the Mapocho river and sleeping under bridges. source:http://mediastore2.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR2/f/6/a/d/PAR102871.jpg

The whole exhibition experience is very different from the normal gallery experience. The Print Room is part of a working environment. Access to the building is by entryphone and half the prints are simply resting on the workbenches rather than hung on the walls. The overall feeling is of being a guest rather than a gallery visitor.

The first ten images are from London in 1958 and ’59, mainly street scenes (including the pigeons image) but also a private party and the Chelsea Arts Ball. The other 36 are from South America, mainly Chile.

The Chile images give a striking impression of small-town back-street life. there are photographs taken in bars but my favourites are those of the street kids. In one, we see then climbing and playing on the steelwork beneath a bridge. In others, we see them rough sleeping. As noted earlier, these are much ‘straighter’ and more documentary in style than the London images.

References

Evans, A.B. (2016) ‘Exhibition of the month’ In: Black+White Photography 188 p7

Larrain, S. (1957) Children living around the Mapocho river and sleeping under bridges. [online] at: http://mediastore2.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR2/f/6/a/d/PAR102871.jpg (accessed 19 April 2016)

Strange and Familiar • at the Barbican

‘Strange and Familiar’ is a sort of portrait of Britain as seen from the outside. Curated by Martin Parr, it shows the work of international photographers viewing Britain between the 1930s and the present.

The venue is hard work for a first-timer, the Barbican being the archetype 1960s concrete complex with a maze of multi-level walkways and poor signposting. Inside the Arts Centre is pretty similar but we eventually find the third floor gallery and the start of a great two hours or so viewing over 250 images from 23 photographers.

Photography is not allowed in the exhibition. These installation images are from the Barbican Centre press download Dropbox.

The exhibition is arranged on two floors, with most photographers assigned a full gallery space (the others had a complete wall or two) so the images are grouped by photographer rather than thematically or in chronological order. On the whole, the historic/nostalgic images are on the upper floor and the more contemporary images are on the lower floor.

I have to say that I was more comfortable with the upper floor images than with some of the more contemporary stuff, which will probably show-through in the following paragraphs. Given the size of the exhibition, this review cannot be comprehensive but will consist of edited highlights.

Edith Tudor Hart documented social issues of poverty, unemployment, children and her husband’s patients during the 1930s. Images are mainly of backstreet London, but also some from the mining areas of Wales and Northumberland. Her treatment of the subjects is not as hard-hitting as we would expect from a modern photojournalist, and I had the impression of a sanitised or pictorial view.

The Henri Cartier Bresson space mostly showed the English enjoying spectacles from the 1937 Coronation of George VI to the 1977 Silver Jubilee. It is fascinating to see how crowd behaviour is unchanging through the decades, dressing up, finding vantage points and (most interesting) using cardboard periscopes and mirrors-on-sticks to get a better view. I am reminded of the modern phenomenon of selfie-sticks and of holding up mobile phones to ‘view’ open-air concerts; technology changes, human nature remains constant.

Away from the pomp, we saw people on park concert benches in the rain and one memorable image of a woman at London Airport, dressed in a mink coat and Margaret Thatcher hat, reading the Telegraph special edition covering Churchill’s death.

Robert Frank photographed in London and Wales, 1951-53 (before ‘The Americans’). The images of the Welsh mining community record a hard life, not glamourised but not playing for pathos either.

Paul Strand photographed in the Outer Hebrides in 1954. The set was a mix of posed environmental portraits, some building details and a few landscapes. All of the portrait subjects are gazing directly at the camera and I got a feeling that we know these people and their environment.

Something very different, and difficult to categorise, is the Sergio Larrain work in London during four months of 1958-59. His photography of that period is described as a ‘spontaneous response’ to what he saw, often from unusual vantage points and with blur. The view of the girl and pigeons in Trafalgar Square seems to be the signature image in any article about him – with good reason.

Gian Butturini, Frank Hubicht and Garry Winogrand showed us the ‘Swinging London’ of the late 1960s, although with slightly different treatments. Butturini looked behind the scenes and showed us the poor and homeless, and conventional commuters, as well as a few stereotype 60s hippies. Hubicht concentrated more on youth culture, haircuts, fashions and peace demonstrations. I particularly enjoyed “Time, Gentleman, Please!”  with a bowler-hatted City gent telling the time for two mini-skirted girls – suggesting an amused mutual tolerance of two different cultures sharing the same city. Winogrand also contrasted the youth boutique culture and clothes with the much staider older generation. However, I got the impression that some of his subjects were trying too hard, maintaining a pose. In one case, a young man with cravat, circular sunglasses and immaculate hair, I had to look twice to be sure he was not a mannequin.

Candida Höfer photographed Liverpool in the late 1960s and , apart from noting that a no.73 bus goes to Penny Lane, there was no evidence of a “Mersey Beat” culture. We see staid clothes and industrial scenes.

Gilles Peress and Akihiko Okamura photographed in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. The Peress images are a monochrome ‘work print’ for a project entitled ‘The Prods’, dealing with the Orange Order, ceremonial, parades and crowd reactions. Okamura’s colour images are more disturbing, taken during fighting or its aftermath. The floral tribute and black flag next to a bloodstain on the pavement has its own menace.

I did not ‘get’ the Bruce Gilden exhibit (seen in the montage at the start of this posting) of enormous, closely cropped and rather grotesque faces. Golden tells us that he was looking for subjects ‘whose faces, and particularly eyes, scream a story’.

Hans van der Meer showed a set of large colour photographs of football matches in the lower leagues, played on village and town pitches, with no grandstands and few spectators. The image titles named the teams and the league, with delightful examples such as St Bedes 3 v Heckmondwike Reserves (score 0-5) in the Yorkshire Old Boys League Division 2. It is sad that it takes a foreigner to remind us that the national game is played at all levels, for the sheer enjoyment of it, without the money and glamour of the Premier League.

Raymond Depardon shows us Glasgow in the 1980s, a time of transition for the city. It is a difficult set to view, with colour images of poverty and the tenements, but it also shows us Brits doing what we do best, making the best of things. The signature image is also on the cover of the exhibition book, a pair of elderly newly-weds, posing with the wedding Rolls-Royce, and tower blocks and industrial chimneys in the background.

Tina Barney looked at the other end of society, making ‘posed informal’ portraits of the upper classes with and 8×10 view camera. These are environmental portraits, using locations and props, and do not name their subjects, preferring titles such as “The Two Students” or “The British Cousins”

Finally, given my interest in typologies for Assignment 2, I have to mention Axel Hütte and his typology of housing estate architecture from the brick buildings of the 1940s and ’50s to the concrete jungles of the 1960s and ’70s. These are rather sterile images of exteriors and the interiors of common parts.

Overall, the exhibition is a fascinating view of Britain as seen by the outside. I get the impression that the majority of the photographs selected are the ones that Martin Parr would have taken himself, had he been there at the time.

 

 

More typologies • Herwig and Tabuchi

I have recently been introduced to two further photographers who use typologies.

Christopher Herwig (website here) is a traveller and documentary photographer who has worked in some of the world’s remoter places and deserves a separate blog posting at some time. He is also the author of a photographic typology of Soviet bus stops (web page with carousel of images here).

The local bus stop proved to be fertile ground for local artistic experimentation in the Soviet period, and was built seemingly without design restrictions or budgetary concerns. The result is an astonishing variety of styles and types across the region, from the strictest Brutalism to exuberant whimsy. (Herwig, ibid)

The bus stops are collected as a book, rather than shown as a grid, so we tend to view them in series. Herwig explains that the project started during a long-distance cycle ride in 2002 where he had set himself a target of taking one good photograph every hour. He became aware of roadside furniture and particularly of the variety of bus shelters. There is considerably more variety in the series than we see in anything from the Bechers or Tabuchi (below) but everything is quirky enough for the humour element to hold the series together.

Eric Tabuchi (website here) is a French photographer who seems to out-Becher the Bechers in the variety of material he has used in typology grids and books. For instance, he has two series of ‘Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations’ and a further ‘Twentysix Recycled Gasoline Stations’ in which these structures get a new lease of life in various retail or restaurant uses, or just as canopies for covered storage. These projects appear as an homage to Ed Ruscha’s 1963 book, ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’. The treatment is different from the Bechers, the structures being seen with perspective, rather than square-on and formal.

As with the Bechers, there are other typologies of buildings, e.g. ‘Smalltown Chinese Restaurants’ or ‘Concept Stores‘ (shopfronts with the word ‘concept’ in the signage) but it is when he breaks away from buildings that he gets really adventurous. For instance, there are two books of ‘Alphabet Trucks’, shot on motorway journeys.

A particularly moving set is ‘Roadside Flowers’, documenting the small posies that appear at the sites of fatal accidents. This set is quite formally arranged, as befits the subject and is treated with some  respect.

Overall, I have spent a very pleasant hour or so, exploring Tabachi’s website and appreciating the combination of obsession, observation and good humour that underlie his work.

References

Herwig, C. (s.d.) Christopher Herwig Photographer [online] at: http://herwigphoto.com (accessed on 15 April 2016)

Tabuchi, E. (s.d.) untitled website [online] at: http://www.erictabuchi.com (accessed on 15 April 2016)

Wikipedia (2015) Twentysix Gasoline Stations [online] at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twentysix_Gasoline_Stations (accessed on 15 April 2016)