Assignment 5 -presentation and reflection

My tutor’s feedback after Assignment 4 suggested thinking more about how my work is presented. For Assignment 5 (where we are supposed to have a clear sequence of images) I have chosen to bind them into a book. Here it is.

OK, I confess, it is also something that I have been meaning to try for a while. This is a sidebound book, which is more appropriate for heavy paper pages than a folded book would be. Just for fun, I have covered it with used Christmas wrapping paper – to continue the Christmas theme.

Reflection – assessment criteria

Technical and visual skills: I am satisfied with my photographic technical skills. My book-crafting can best be described as ‘OK for a first attempt’

Quality of outcome: I believe I have identified the content, applied my knowledge of it and presented the  work in a coherent manner. Whether I have communicated my ideas is a judgement for the reader.

Creativity: This is fundamentally a documentary exercise, so there is little invention or imagination required. There was a fair amount of experimentation, to find a way to shoot the interaction images.

Context: Reflection occurred both during and after the shooting phase. Research is more difficult to define because I picked a familiar subject; effectively, I have been researching it for the past 3-4 years.

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Assignment 5 – final selection

Editing is now over and I have selected my final 10 images (in order):

This gives me a narrative flow for a notional collecting day. The first two images are about preparation and set-up; the final two are about collecting-in the money and counting it. Most of those in between are about interactions (or, in the case of no.3, non-interaction).

Only one image of the musicians (as I was one of them, I couldn’t take any with the band playing) as, ultimately, they are a sideshow to the main event.

Interactions between collectors and the public were challenging to photograph. We were inside a large glazed lobby, so space is restricted and people are continually moving past. In addition to being ‘photobombed’ by other shoppers with trolleys, there was also a tendency for people in conversation to turn away from the crowd, and away from my camera. There are a lot of backs of heads among my contact sheets. However, I am pleased with the final selection.

Assignment 5 – the first cut

I came away from the Rotary charity collections with 292 images and my first cut at editing has reduced them to 40. Some of the cuts were easy; I was in the band, so any images of performances were taken by other people. Others were more difficult.

I have also applied a first approximation post-production to all of the short-listed images. I have made mono conversions, then increased ‘clarity’ and opened-up the shadows in Lightroom. Contact sheets below.

 

I have made laser proofs of all 40 for final selection. They sort into six headings:

  • The band
  • Preparation
  • Individual Rotarians
  • ShelterBox
  • Interactions with the public
  • Dealing with the money

To reduce this to 10 images, to meet the brief, majoring on interactions, means using a maximum of two (and probably only one) from each of the other headings and losing a few favourites. For instance, the image from the band rehearsal room (seen in the previous posting) does not fit the narrative, and will have to go.

One unforeseen bonus that has come from this exercise is a growing confidence in ‘street’ or ‘candid’ photography. It helps that some of the people involved are my friends, but everything involving the public was unstaged.

 

Exercise 5.3 -Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

Unfortunately, this photograph is no longer on permanent display at the V&A. It is in a study collection, available by appointment only, so I was unable to view it on a recent visit. However, there are numerous reproductions in print and online. This is one of the better examples.

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source: pinterest

This is a curious image, not one of HCB’s best – I prefer the keen observation and humour of his 1937 photos from of the crowds at the coronation of George VI that were exhibited in Strange and Familiar. It is not even that good technically, with its motion blur, clogged-up shadows and heavy grain. However it is pretty much the image that defines ‘the decisive moment’.

Look at the action. The man is crossing a large puddle or flooded yard. He is the first to have come that way for a while – the water is almost entirely unrippled – and has taken two or three rapid steps (we know they were rapid because the water has not rippled far yet) along the makeshift ladder and launched himself off the end.

HCB catches the action with the man’s foot about a centimetre above the water – only a few milliseconds before touching down and causing another ripple or a big splash to destroy the pristine surface. What happens next? Will he keep his feet dry or will the water overtop his shoes? We don’t know how deep it is. Sometimes I imagine a ‘Vicar of Dibley’ chest-deep puddle.

If that were all there is to the image it would be interesting enough, but there is a Barthesian ‘punctum’, or what Michael Freeman calls ‘the reveal’. Not immediately obvious until one has spent a bit of time viewing the image is the figure in the background poster mirroring the man’s leap. Was he conscious of it? Probably not. Was HCB conscious of it at the time of taking the shot, waiting for the man to poise himself in imitation? We don’t know, but he would have seen it when examining his contacts – and had the genius to print it.

HCB tells us (in L’amour tout court) that this was a lucky shot, grabbed blind through the railings. To some extent that is true (he cannot have timed his shutter release to the millisecond) but I am reminded of the great golfing put-down (variously attributed to Gary Player, Tom Watson or Ben Hogan) ‘Yes, it was a lucky shot, and the more I practice the luckier I get.’

Assignment 5 – getting into it

At  the time of typing this post, I am three days (out of four) into shooting Plan A, the Rotary tin-rattling exercise. With 250 images so far, I have got something for each of the topics on my list. Therefore, this will be the subject for assignment 5.

A few notes:

Presenting the images as monochrome is the correct approach. I have used three cameras, in a variety of natural and artificial light conditions, so reducing to mono allows me to present a set of images with a consistent ‘look’. The examples below are representative of what I have been taking, but are not necessarily the final choice or the final treatment.

Overall, the ‘feel’ of the set is a bit like a Picture Post photo essay. It is tempting to mock-up a double-page spread with captions, but I have done pastiche once during this course and I would not want to make a habit of it. The final form of presentation is yet to be determined, but I am still considering a photo book format.

There is an unexpected ‘topic’, allowing me to bring new information into the set. For two days there was a display of a ShelterBox, a Rotary project for providing basic human needs in disaster areas, which will appear in my final set.

The trickiest part, which I could not pre-plan (and do not want to stage-manage) is the interactions between tin-rattlers and the public. It is also the part where, unsurprisingly, I have most images. The interactions come in various forms (money thrown in passing, long chat, child choosing balloon) so I can legitimately use more than one, showing new information in each. For a proper balance, I will probably select 4-5 of this type, leaving 5-6 for preparation and closure.

Assignment 5 – more first thoughts

OK, Time to narrow it down. Of the ideas introduced in my previous posting:

I don’t think that a saxophone has enough interest to sustain 10 images, each introducing new information. Although the keywork has interesting details – producing 4-5 different-looking images is easy – they would all have the same concept.

A series on my accumulation of old cameras (not ‘collection’; that sounds too organised) carries the risk of repeating the typology approach that I used in Assignment 2, something which my tutor has warned me against. This can be avoided in part by shooting details, perhaps contrasting similar parts of different cameras (the controls of a Box Brownie are different in type, function and appearance from a Rolleicord, for instance). This would be ‘plan C’ and I see it as a studio-lit macro exercise.

A series on using a view camera is a distinct possibility, and is my ‘plan B’. There is a definite progression: introducing the kit, loading film into holders, lugging a big bag around on location, setting up the camera, setting up the shot (making sure it is one using movements in a definite way) developing the negative, scanning and printing. The final image would be a copy of the resulting print. The main question is whether to (a) do it as still-lifes, (b) set up a series of selfies or (c) use a model as photographer.

The local band rehearsing and gigging has attractions but, I fear it will founder on logistical issues given the 30th December deadline.

Plan A is to cover the Christmas tin-rattling exercise for local charities, which will be happening at a  supermarket over four days next week. The stages, or different aspects of the exercise include:

  • The core activity of the collections. Members in silly hats and uniform tabards, carrying balloons and buckets. Interactions with the public (remember to get permission for shots with children). Money going into buckets. Handing over decorated balloons.
  • The behind-the-scenes activity. Members signing-up for duty slots. Large pile of boxes of balloons in a garage. Setting-up on site. Picking up and counting at the end of the day.
  • Musicians playing carols, including rehearsal sessions.

This gives me scope for at least 10 decent images, starting with the carols rehearsal tomorrow. The main shooting will take place Thursday to Sunday, which gives me time for editing and post-processing (or changing over to plan B or C) before the deadline.

I envisage a monochrome set for several reasons. The backgrounds will be drab, and the weather dull; mono gives me the chance to play with contrast. There will be mixed lighting across the set; mono will give uniformity. Finally, mono will give a more ‘reportage’ feel to the exercise.

Assignment 5 – First thoughts

There are two fundamentals in all picture taking – where to stand and when to release the shutter … so photography is very simple. (Jay & Hurn, 2001, as quoted in EYV course notes p113)

And of course, Jay and Hurn were wrong, as pointed out in the course notes. Where you stand is important, but you also have to decide what direction to point the camera. In other words, the subject is as important as the viewpoint and the moment.

Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.  (EYV course notes, p113)

Wow, this must be the most open brief that ever was. When I first read through the course notes in February, I thought this would be a fairly simple assignment. Now that I am on part 5, with a deadline of 30th December, I am faced with a certain amount of trepidation. Proximity may be part of the cause, but I think it is mainly a shedding of innocence and ignorance over the past 10 months. A straight ‘ten different angles on a pepper’ is not going to cut it.

I have been reading coursemates’ blogs, particularly those ahead of me, and have worried about the number of high-concept projects that have been done (or at least contemplated). Is a simple physical subject, like a saxophone (my first thought in February) not going to be ‘different’ or ‘creative’ enough. How complex does a subject have to be in order to generate 10 discrete pieces of information?

I have just completed a new trawl of EYV blogs and identified 10 from coursemates who have completed, or are currently working on, assignment 5. Their subjects are:

A very diverse set, as one would expect from ten creative minds. There are a couple of smallish single objects (although presented with a twist), four building-sized objects, street photography, a typography and two high-concept projects. Therefore, it seems that whatever I select will fit somewhere into the spectrum of student responses to the brief.

A policy decision: I don’t want to repeat anything from previous assignments nor(ideally) anything that I majored on in the coursework exercises. Therefore, not sailing, bikes, pavement reflections or general urban views.

Some possible subjects, not a final or exclusive list:

  • Saxophone (plan A!)
  • Old camera(s)
  • Using a 5×4 view camera
  • Local band rehearsing or gigging
  • Rotary tin-rattling collection (with behind-the-scenes)

All of these things are ‘safe’ and accessible subjects. Ideally, I would like to come up with something a bit more challenging.

Presentation will be as a photobook, possibly in concertina form. This fits the idea of having a fixed sequence of images, and also gives me another opportunity for bookcrafting.