Epilogue to EYV

Dear Assessors,

This is my final posting in this blog, before it is ‘frozen’ and my coursework is submitted for assessment. Therefore, it is the post that will appear first when the blog is opened and I take the opportunity to draw your attention to some features.

Basic navigation should be obvious. The menu structure approximately follows the OCA standard template. All postings relating to a particular assignment will be found under the appropriate submenu of the ‘Assignments’ menu above. Similarly with coursework, but there are two levels of submenu, drilling-down to individual ‘projects’ as set out in the course notes.

Book and exhibition reviews can be found in the ‘Books’ and ‘Exhibitions’  submenus of the ‘Research & Reflection’ menu. In the ‘Other Notes’ sub-menu, I have collected some postings that are peripheral or supplementary to the course.

In addition to the course notes, there are three pieces of self-directed work that I invite you to consider:

A note on the concept of originality

A note on lying by photography

A three-post series on colour theory and symbolism: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Chas Bedford

 

PS. My blog for Photography 1: Context and Narrative is (will be) here.

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Assignment 5 – rework

My tutor’s feedback on assignment 5 recommended reviewing and re-editing my choice of images. He had specific criticisms of prints 1 and 10, which I take on board, and more general comments on some of the others, where I differ, for reasons outlined in a previous post.

Having reviewed my long-list, I find that I have retained 7 of the images from my original set. Here are the changes:

My original image 1 (Peter loading boxes into the car) did not fit well with the rest of the sequence. I wanted to show some of the preparation and set-up, but also wanted another outdoor image, so image 4 (musicians) was not isolated. The right-hand picture (Clive posing with the ShelterBox display) becomes the new image 2.

My original image 5 shows a ‘different’ interaction (Clive describing ShelterBox to a customer) but it was the least clear of all the images in the set. I have replaced it with the right-hand image, showing customers ignoring collectors which complements image 3 of the original set.

My tutor considered my original image 10, showing money bagged-up after counting, to be unnecessary as image 9 showed coins being poured from one bucket to another. I disagreed as I consider it important to show that the collection was properly counted and accounted for (image 9 would have been too gung-ho as a final image) but I have selected another image from the counting, which focuses on the calculation and recording aspect.

All 10 images were reprinted on Permajet Oyster paper, which has a semi-gloss finish and is slightly contrastier than the original Portrait White, and were rebound between the original covers.

Thinking about colour • 3

Knowing how to use colour can aid your ability to communicate meaning through your images. Colour photography is most successful when you work with the colour for a specific meaning or effect, rather than simply using photography to record colours. Tom Ang (2008, 204)

The symbolism of colour in art appears to be a relatively recent concern. According to Gage (2000) artists before the mid 19th century were more concerned with light, shade and contrast than with colour per se. Colour palette was, in any case, limited by the availability and cost of pigments.(‘Imperial purple’ was expensive both for dyeing clothes and for representing them in paint, hence the modern association with wealth and power)

Gage (2000,109) notes that it has proved difficult to establish anything like a basic universal system of colour symbols because symbolism belongs to metaphor rather than perception and is, therefore, a linguistic (rhetorical) rather than psychological matter. With the improved availability of pigments, and the scientific work of Newton, Goethe and others, by the late 19th century,  artists were developing elaborate schemes of symbolic correspondences, but they were individual to the painter in many cases.

There are also cultural differences in the meaning of colours. For instance, in western cultures, black is seen as the colour of death and white as symbolising life; in eastern cultures this is reversed. In western culture, red is a symbol for danger or for penalties but, as a 2003 HSBC advert pointed out, in China it means good luck and it is the colour of Asian wedding dresses.

In an attempt to discover any consensus on colour symbolism in western culture, I have tabulated comments from the four books and six websites noted in the references below. The books are on my shelves. The websites are all from the first page of a Google search on ‘colour symbolism’, from self-proclaimed colour consultants. This infographic is typical.

Black has a variety of meanings. Death and mourning are noted above, and there are negative connotations in language (‘blackmail’, ‘black list’ …). Possible because of the death connection or because of an association with shadows, black is seen as mysterious, hidden or secretive. However, there is also an association with power, formality and elegance (‘black tie’, ‘little black dress’)

Conversely, white has a clear positive connotations, with a strong consensus meaning of purity, innocence and cleanliness. White is the colour of fresh snow, operating theatres and bride’s dresses.

Falling between the two (at least in colour science terms), grey is the colour of compromise (‘grey area’). It is seen as modest, mature and unemotional, but also as heavy, boring or sad.

Red is the colour of fire and blood, so its connotations are of life, energy, heat and passion. It also represents war, danger, violence and anger. It is a very intense colour which is obvious even in small quantities (cf. Magritte’s comment about a ‘thimbleful of red’). Freeman (2005) notes that it can appear three-dimensional, floating above a dark background; I have seen it suggested that this is because long-wavelength light focuses behind the retina and the movements the eye has to make to bring it into focus are the same as for viewing a closer object.

Pink, a light red, means love and romance. A saturated ‘hot pink’ can be exciting and was once associated with extreme sports. A light pink is feminine or ‘girlish’.

Orange is another colour with mainly positive meanings. The colour of flame, incandescent light and late afternoon sunlight, it symbolises warmth, joy and optimism. Two of the websites, however, point out that it is a ‘love it or hate it’ colour and can denote superficiality or ‘brassiness’

Yellow is the colour of sunlight and symbolises optimism and energy. It is the brightest colour (and the most visible at sea). Secondary meanings are health, happiness and idealism. Paradoxically, it is also the colour of cowardice (‘yellow belly’) caution and some forms of physical illness. Yellow denatures rapidly when mixed, and shades into brown.

Brown is an earth colour (literally) and denotes stability, reliability, ‘hearth and home’, comfort and endurance. One website (colour-wheel-pro) suggests masculine qualities. In its lighter form, as beige, it symbolises quiet and pleasantness but is also rather boring.

Green is another earth colour, the colour of plant life and Mother Nature. Ecologists are ‘green’; gardeners are ‘green fingered’. It denotes growth, harmony, freshness and fertility; also youth, spring and renewal. On the negative side, it depicts inexperience, envy (‘green-eyed monster’) and some forms of sickness. There is a enormous range of greens from forest canopy to strident ‘acid green’ (Kawasaki motorbikes). Green in a flesh tone can look sickly, and an overall green cast to an image becomes unpleasant.

There is no real consensus about cyan (called turquoise in the sampled websites)

Blue is the colour of the unclouded sky. According to Gage (2000), Goethe considered it calming, quiet and nostalgic while Kandinsky considered it spiritual. The colormatters.com website says that blue has more complex and contradictory meanings than any other colour, but this depends on the particular shade of blue; dark blues are more serious, while pale blues are cool and reflective. The consensus view is that blue represents trust, loyalty, integrity and stability – which may explain why it is a popular corporate or ‘branding’ colour. Blue, especially very pale blue, is a cooling colour. Unlike red, it tends to recede and therefore is a useful background colour.

Purple (or violet – only one website called it magenta) is, according to Freeman the most elusive of all colours. I suspect this is because it is not really a spectrum colour at all but encompasses the artificial range of colours between red and blue, created by linking the two opposite ends of the visible spectrum together. It is notoriously difficult to agree on the mixing and naming of purple, mauve, magenta, violet etc. There is a consensus (probably associated with the old idea of ‘imperial purple’) that it represents wealth, nobility and luxury. There are secondary meanings of mystery, magic and spirituality. In its lighter forms, it is a favourite colour of young children. In a very light form, as lavender, it represents femininity, grace and elegance.

References

Books
Ang, T. (2008) Fundamentals of modern photography. London: Mitchell Beazley

Freeman, M. (2005) Colour: The definitive guide for serious digital photographers (digital photography expert). London, United Kingdom: ILEX

Freeman, M. (2007) The photographer’s eye: Composition and design for better digital photos. London, United Kingdom: Ilex

Gage, J.D. (2000) Colour and meaning: Art, science and symbolism. Berkeley: University of California Press

Web pages

http://www.colormatters.com/color-symbolism/the-meanings-of-colors

http://www.incredibleart.org/lessons/middle/color2.htm

http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaning.html

http://www.color-meanings.com/category/color-symbolism/

http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/meaning-of-colors.html

http://www.sensationalcolor.com/color-meaning/color-meaning-symbolism-psychology/glimpse-meaning-symbolism-psychology-color-080#.WH_n8rF0eHo

Assignment 5 – tutor feedback and response

I have now received, and had time to consider my tutor’s formative feedback on this assignment. Some rework is required and, as usual, he makes some pertinent and tangential points for further research. I have made some preliminary responses below, and I have some things to consider further and follow-up during my next course, ‘Context and Narrative’. Tutor’s comments in blue; my responses in black text.

Overall Comments

As this is your final assignment for this module I took the opportunity to look back over your learning log. This clearly evidences a sustained growth in your thinking and what I feel may be a willingness to explore and experiment with challenging ideas and themes in future modules.

I hope so. I enrolled with OCA with the intention of being challenged (OK, maybe challenging back a little as well) with a new approach to a familiar activity.

There are many interesting observations throughout the log particularly in your responses to the exhibitions that you have visited. I was amused by your honest description of your experiences at Chartwell House and can sympathize.

In the exercise viewpoint you selected Bresson’s Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare to discuss.

Actually, that image is selected for us. It was a useful exercise, as I had to look deeper into an image that I have previously glossed-over.

The interesting thing about this is that it is one of the few images that Bresson admitted to cropping. The analysis and reflection that you have engaged with since starting the module indicate a growing awareness of contemporary photography and a developing personal practice.

There was quite a lot to cover in this final assignment and it is clear that you engaged with a number of ideas prior to formulating your final piece. The photo-story that you shot covers the Christmas collection activities of the Rotary Club for charitable purposes. The location that you have worked in provided good opportunities to develop a theme and to cover the requirements of the assignment however the work has generally followed a formulaic pattern and perhaps needed to be considered in greater depth to develop and generate ideas that can move beyond the clichéd or immediate.

That worried me as well. I was following the advice usually given to writers, “Write about what you know”, but perhaps I was too close to the subject. I had some constraints in that I was supposed to be working as well as taking photographs. I believe that what I produced was a good reflection of my feelings and experience of this event but I have been doing it for so many years that reflection seems no longer necessary.

I would like to have seen you consider the implications of meaning surrounding the event. This could have been from a social, cultural and experiential perspective.

At present, I am not sure how I would do that. I will be looking for answers in future courses: Context and Narrative at level 1 and Documentary at level 2.

Is it appropriate that a collection like this take place in the first place? Is charity the answer to solving the problems that exist?

Yes, to the first question. The second question is more complex; charity may not be ‘the answer’ but it is certainly ‘an answer’. Rotary identified particular needs, and particular organisations working to fulfil those needs. It makes sense to work with existing structures rather than to attempt some sort of limited hands-on response.

Are the recipients empowered in any way by the event?

Yes. The recipient organisations have resource needs, some of which can be satisfied by purchasing goods or paying staff. Money donations indirectly address those needs.

How does the work reflect the diversity of ethnicity and its relationship to the event?

Not a relevant question in this context. Ethnicity is transparent to both the problem and the agencies working fora solution.

On the surface a simple enough event yet it can contain complexities of meaning that are not immediately apparent. Add to this the problem of how to communicate such issues through photography and you have a challenge.

One to follow up in future courses, as noted above.

You mention that it has the feel of a Picture Post story but this magazine also ran numerous stories that delved below the surface of the topic most notably in the reporting of the plight of the Korean prisoners of war by Bert Hardy and James Cameron. Overall very good development within the learning log and strong potential for development in the practical work.

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

The work submitted is of good technical quality. You have followed a standard construct for the photo-story and in general this has worked. The image of the man with the boxes is out of place with the other sequence of images even though you know that it is part of the process of the event.

I agree. I wanted to show some of the pre-event planning, but this one should have suffered the same fate as the musicians’ rehearsal, and ended up on the metaphorical cutting-room floor.

As viewers the images show us interactions between people but in a number of these images the subjects are not always establishing a strong connection as one head is slightly turned away and there are also distracting balloons. In particular images 6 and 7 of the sequence.

Tricky, for reasons mentioned in the blog. The only three set-up images were 1, 9 and 10. Everything else was shot as ‘candid’. Images 6 and 7 were each my picks from short sequences. I was looking for interactions between the subjects which, of necessity, means that they are looking at each other rather than the camera.

I disagree that the balloons are distracting. I regard them as an essential part of the process.

I do not think that the image of the money on the table is necessary as the image of the money in the bucket already gives the information and is visually more interesting.

Again, I have to disagree. Image 9 is graphically good but it would be the wrong image to end on. Pouring coins from one bucket to another may appear a bit slapdash, and I consider it important to finish with something showing that the money is carefully counted and accounted for. I have other images from the counting process and will consider substituting one of those.

Having looked at your contacts I would suggest that there are stronger images there that could be used. Again it may be the case that the editing process needs to be critically thought out prior to selection. A good deal of time does need to be spent on this process.

I did spend a good deal of time on the editing process, including laser-proofing of the 40 in the short-list for final selection. I will go through the process again but expect many of the same images to appear again.

 

I was interested in how the image of Georgia O’Keefe prompted you to think of the image of Antelope Canyon and your analysis of why this might be. I did wonder if perhaps at an unconscious level the canyon image may have been triggered by O’Keefe’s paintings.

[Some example images]

The shapes, forms and colours in these paintings are strikingly similar to the canyon image.

Unlikely, as I have never consciously been aware of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings (a shortfall that I have made a mental note to address) so this is a happy coincidence.

I do like the images from the previous assignment that you have made into icons and these work well together in this format.

Thank you.

The first attempt at making a book was very brave and good. However I would remind you of the old design adage of form follows function. The external binding with string would obviously cause problems with placement on and off bookshelves. Also the stuck down image on the cover will get frayed at the edges. Nevertheless a good attempt.

I will stay with this book (subject to renewing some pages) for assessment. A partial slipcase, stopping short of the lacing, would serve to protect it but would make it slightly too bulky to fit into the clamshell box of assessment materials.

Overall this project feels unresolved at a visual level and I would suggest reviewing the contact sheets and perhaps rethinking the images.

Noted as above. 

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

There has been very good development in the learning log over the period that you have worked on this module. There is good reflection upon your own work, of other photographers, exhibitions visited and books read. Always some interesting comments from you some of which need to be questioned but this is something for you to engage with further in future modules. As a starting point I would suggest developing such comments as re Martin Parr

“As a viewer, I felt more like an insider than a voyeur. I also suspect that his City subjects are happier with the results than his Merseysiders.”   Why?

Badger tells us of controversy around Parr’s early work, including ‘The Last Resort’. He was an outsider at New Brighton (and, therefore, so are his viewers) but was working as a commissioned photographer for the City images. The improved access and contact with his subjects must influence the result.

“Much of it is fascinating and makes us think beyond what we see on the surface, but after a while I got bored with looking for the gimmick behind the performance.” What is the gimmick is it related to one piece of work, a particular artist or a genre? Why do you think it is a gimmick?

The whole paragraph (from my review of the Conceptual Art exhibition at Tate Britain) likened the exhibition to a talent competition for conjurors. ‘Gimmick’ is a technical term in conjuring, being the device or sleight that makes a trick work. What I meant (which I believe is clearer in context) is that I had to look for the central idea/concept/trick behind each piece.

“To what extent does our acceptance of a photograph as ‘art’ depend on its being presented in an art context – printed large and hung on a white gallery wall?” You seem to be interested in this question and it is worth pursing. Consider also what if work is presented in an art context but is described as not being art? As we commemorate in 2017 a century since the first showing of Duchamp’s Fountain it is perhaps a good time to re-visit the question of what is and what is not art.

 This is the central question that has been troubling me. I came to this course with a view of ‘art’ similar to the first part of the definition in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “Skill, esp human skill as opposed to nature; skilful execution as an object in itself; skill applied to imitation & design, as in painting etc.;  thing in which skill may be exercised”. Essentially, I have seen art as a supreme expression of a craft or crafts – which explains my impatience with ‘artworks’ that appear to lack or deride the underlying craft skills.

During this course, as a result of the course notes, tutor feedback and social media interactions, I have come to understand that OCA are working to a different definition, probably related to the next part of the COED definition, ” (pl.) certain branches of learning serving as intellectual instruments for more advanced studies…”. I have started the process of adjustment but suspect that, while adding to my understanding of ‘art’, I will not let go of my view that a level of craft skill is involved.

The Radical Eye

The Radical Eye is an exhibition of modernist (approx 1920-1950) photographs from the Sir Elton John collection, on display at Tate Modern until May 7. The collection has been built up since 1990 and now has some 8000 items, of which about 150 are on display here. Images are displayed thematically: portraits, bodies, documentary, still life and experimental.

Photography in the exhibition is forbidden, but there is always the chance for a few sneaky iPhone shots before getting the tap on the shoulder.

Let’s get the only real criticism out of the way quickly. Everything is displayed in the heavy gold and silver frames used in Elton’s homes, and some are really over-elaborate and tasteless. Thankfully, he has a better eye for a photograph than for a frame, and there are some beautiful images here, and some very important ones (e.g., Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’) He also has a real enthusiasm for his collection, as seen in the walkthrough video which is played on a loop in a side gallery.

Perhaps the least effective display is in the second gallery space, showing portraits. The wall-notes explain that artists and sitters used photography to push the connections of portraiture by innovations in pose, composition and cropping. Apart from the Steiglitz portrait of Georgia O’Keefe (all in the left-hand part of the frame and looking left) I thought the images rather conventional. However, as with my reaction to the Donovan exhibition last year, I recognise that this is because the portraits of the 20s to the 40s have laid the foundations for modern portraiture.

In that space, I particularly enjoyed six ‘corner portraits‘ made by Irving Penn in 1948, where he placed his subjects into a tight acute-angled space formed by two stage flats, causing them to respond to the shape of the space.

An associated section, titled ‘Bodies’ is less conventional, including unusual poses, angles and perspectives, and isolation of body parts. Movement is emphasised by use of shutter speed, either to freeze or blur.

For me, the most interesting section was the documentary photographs, mainly social documentary including some of the FSA images by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. ‘Migrant Mother‘ is iconic, but I was particularly struck by the similarity between the girl in Lange’s ‘The Damage is Already Done’ and Evans’ portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs. Both stare straight out of the image with a look somewhere between pain and disapproval.

The introductory wall-notes tell us that the exhibition ‘charts the changing emphasis from the subject of an image to the visual qualities of the photograph itself, irrespective of what it represents’. This is particularly seen in the still-life and experimental photography displays. Images are double-exposed, distorted, montaged, solarised and generally manipulated in creative ways. There is experimentation with perspective, including the birds-eye and worms-eye views by Moholy-Nagy and Rodchenko.

Arguably the most effective (well, my choice anyway) of these, because of the way that it emphasises both the subject matter and the photographic process, is Man Ray’s image of Max Ernst, contact-printed from a shattered glass plate negative.

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source: pinterest.com

An enjoyable and though-provoking exhibition. The catalogue is worth buying as a reminder of the images and also for two major essays and an interview with Sir Elton on connoisseurship and collecting.

Thinking about colour • 2

In this posting, I look at colour harmony, the question of which colours ‘go’ with which. I had thought of this as a fairly universal concept, so was surprised to read in ‘Colour and Meaning’ (Gage 2000) that art history has little discussion of colour harmony until the 20th century, having been more interested in ‘value’ (shades of dark and light) hitherto. Earlier discussion of colour was between scientists rather than artists. I will be returning to Gage as a main source in the third posting of this series.

Colour harmony is a popular (frequent) topic in hobby magazines and technique books, which all take very similar approaches. My sources for this posting are Tom Ang (2008) and Michael Freeman (2005 and 2007).

There are two basic strategies, adjacent colour (restricted colour palette) or contrasting (complementary) colour.

Adjacent colour combinations use colour tones that are next to each other in the colour circle, such as desert landscapes (yellow/brown/rust) or seascapes (blue/cyan/green). Ang comments that these tend to be restful on the eye and can be viewed for long periods.

Complementary colours are those directly opposite each other in the colour circle, such as red/cyan or blue/yellow; these big colour contrasts can be exciting in the short term but lead to visual fatigue.

For Freeman, this is a special 2-colour case of a more general principle. Harmonious colour contrasts of three or more colours are possible provided the chosen colours are symmetrical in the colour circle.

colour001

source: Freeman (2005)

The proportions of colour in the image are also important. Henri Matisse is famously quoted as saying ‘A thimbleful of red is redder than bucketful’. There is a camera club in-joke that claims the abbreviation ARPS stands for ‘a red patch somewhere’

Freeman draws on Goethe’s 1810 ‘Zür Farbenlehre‘ (Theory of Colours) as modified by Schopenhauer, to codify suggested proportions of the colours. Starting with Goethe’s brightness values (yellow 9, orange 8, red 6, green 6, blue 4, violet 3) he suggests that, for balance, the colours should be used in inverse proportion to their brightness values, thus:

colour002

source: Freeman (2007)

The third posting of this series will look at some of the symbolism of colours.

References

Ang, T. (2008) Fundamentals of modern photography. London: Mitchell Beazley.

Gage, J.D. (2000) Colour and meaning: Art, science and symbolism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Freeman, M. (2005) Colour: The definitive guide for serious digital photographers (digital photography expert). London, United Kingdom: ILEX.

Freeman, M. (2007) The photographer’s eye: Composition and design for better digital photos. London, United Kingdom: Ilex.

Hello, is this planet Earth?

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source: amazon.co.uk

We have seen photographs from space before; the ‘Blue Marble‘ image of Earth as seen from Apollo 17 by Eugene Cernan (known to trivia quiz buffs as the last man to walk on the Moon) is one of the most-reproduced photographs ever taken, and with good reason; it demonstrates how small and fragile ‘spaceship Earth’ is in the cosmic context.

Major Tim Peake had a closer view: low Earth orbit. For six months in December 2015 and early 2016 he was a crew member aboard the International Space Station. ‘Hello, is this planet Earth?’ is a collection of his photographs from that unique viewpoint.

A brief introduction describes Peake’s inspiration from his subject matter, and also some of the problems involved in photographing from space: cosmic radiation causing sensors to deteriorate, zero-gravity means that dust gets everywhere and, of course, shooting from a platform moving at 30,000kph. After that, we are into the pictures.

The images are thematically arranged: Night and Day shows how human influence and constructions are difficult to see during daytime, but dominate at night as our towns and cities (and even our individual fishing boats) are lit up. Oceans and Rivers was the most fascinating section for me – with an abstract quality to many of the images. Mountains and Deserts reminds me of the relief maps of my school atlas. Towns and Cities was mostly shot with very long lenses; most detail of human habitation being too small to see with the naked eye. Space and Home shows us astronomic and atmospheric phenomena.

This is a book of beautiful images, and worth seeing for that alone, but is also thought-provoking as we see how insignificant is man’s mark on the planet and how thin is that strip of atmosphere that we live in compared with the vastness of space around it. Peake had a privileged viewpoint; we are privileged to share it.

Reference

Peake, T.(2016)Hello, is this planet Earth? My View from the International Space Station. London: Random House (Penguin)