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Monday, 25 February 2013

The Photograph as contemporary art

I have been reading Charlotte Cotton's book 'The Photograph as contemporary art' which at times has been a little hard going. However when I reached the chapter on Deadpan I could hardly put it down. Deadpan I thought always described a portrait, which it often does but this section was describing a deadpan location with some fantastic examples from artists I have yet to hear of.

Many of the photographers concentrate on economic or industrial landscapes that describe a here and now of man made structures, all of which seem to have a lot of open or empty space. Yoshiko Seino concentrating on man made structures that have been abandoned and returning to a new form of nature was an interesting subject.

My favourite image of this section, shown right, was a clear one. Dan Holdsworth's [b. 1974] untitled image from A Machine for Living 1999, is fascinating in its use of light. Here he captures urban areas, especially car parks at night time in out of town shopping malls, to capture the radiating light. Using long exposures the light (or pollution) comes through radiating a soft flowing light. I may have to try one like this. The high vantage point has worked well also.

Visit to the Henri Cartier Bresson Gallery

In December 2012 I visited Somerset House, London for an exhibition to what I thought was for Henri Cartier-Bresson. However when I arrived I discovered that although it did cover some of Henri’s work it also covered many of those that were inspired by his early images on what today is more commonly known as ‘Street Photography’. This I found to be the best of both worlds and an excellent exhibition for this new course on People and Place.

The first image that I came across that I really liked was by Joel Meyerowitz [b. 1938] from his collection ‘Fort Lauderdale Florida 1968’. This has three great poses of young ladies from the sixties, only one looking directly at the camera, another looking moodily away and the third smiling. The colours are great here and the matching white stilettos bring the girls together in common fashion, the must have accessory for the late sixties. The framing of the image in a door way makes for an interesting location, one that is frequently used as if also putting the people in a box.

The second image Fred Herzog [b. 1930] is widely known, entitled ‘Man with Bandage’ it is referenced in several books I have looked at. For me this image questions many things. Why is the man looking so shabby, not wearing a clean shirt, just his vest? Yet he has just shaved and cut himself more than once. His bandage may suggest he is accident prone, but he is not conscious of standing out in a crowd, with cigarette in hand. In contrast the lady behind him looks on apprehensively. She is well dressed and presented, obviously part of another era where presentation of oneself was viewed to be of great importance.

Harry Gruyaert [b. 1941] had a couple of images on display, as did most artists. In this black and white image he captures the obscure portraits of two people wearing dog masks staring directly back at the camera suggesting that it is the viewer who is out of place and not the subject of the photograph. Strangely intimating that we do have an animal side to us and that we often disguise this or chose to ignore it. The fact that they are holding hands also suggests that animals too have relationships, echoes of ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell also come to my mind in viewing this image.

Finally Trent Parke [b. 1971] an Australian Photographer had the following image entitled ‘Today Cold Water’. The copy I found on the Internet does not do this one any justice in print but I was taken with this image's framing and colour, especially as most of Trent’s work in monochrome. The image has great balance with so much happening I wonder if this was staged or just one moment in time. The prominent signage, and title, being the focal point make me wonder what the price of water will be tomorrow?

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Exercise: Eye contact & Expression

In this exercise we are tasked to explore eye contact and expression. That is eye contact with the subject and whether it is off camera or on camera. For this exercise I combined it with one of the main session for the assignment, concentrating on head / torso shots.

For most of the shots I used a static tripod moving it around from time to time and varying the focal length a little and lighting.One of the advantages I found that was talking to the subject without having to look through the lens was a lot more comfortable and easier to see and create expression, regardless if this was on or off camera.

This is definably a more creative way of performing a session that I thought went well.

My favourite image of the day was the following. I know that this does not show much of the subject but it has a candid quality to it that is quite warming and unusual. In processing I gave this a high key effect and boosted the contrast.

Preparation for the First Assignment

In preparation for the first Assignment I looked at many examples of portraiture, including artists [Patrick Earle] and magazines, these gave me very good ideas which I have tried to replicate. Patrick Earle also led me to one of his influences Édouard Manet [1832–1833] a French painter with a post-modern approach to portraiture. I too like his style and can see this influence in Earle’s work. 

The following images appealed to me showing great pose, composition and detail not to just a single person but to many.


Figure The cafe concert 1878 [Manet]                                 

 Figure 2 Berthe Morisot, 1872 [Manet]

My favorite though from Manet’s vast collection is the The Plum [1878]. This to me gives an image of boredom, the pose looks almost lifeless, accompanied by an untouched or unwanted desert, whilst smoking a cigarette. The eyes, looking outside of the frame, in combination with everything else make a wonderful head and torso portrait. I will keep Manet in mind and perhaps try to replicate this image in some way as a photograph.

Figure 3 The Plum, 1878 [Manet]

Friday, 22 February 2013

Exercise: Varying the pose

In preparation I looked at a number of magazines as well as looking at some portrait paintings by Édouard Manet [1832–1833].

Most of these came from women's magazines and are crude captures taken with my phone. I found that this was a good source of inspiration and gave plenty of additional ideas. I was also pleasantly surprised how many times I came across similar poses, there must be a standard repertoire within fashion photography!

Varying the pose becomes a lot easier when there are a number of examples to get the subject to try.

Here were the fourourite poses I tried to emulate.....

[Images to be inserted]

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Exercise: an active portrait

I was asked by a friend to photograph two young magicians, this I thought was a great opportunity to gather some portrait images for this course, especially as the young men didn't really know what they wanted.

On the day though it was very chaotic due to photographing a live event. Although I was happy with these images it did not fulfil the remit if this exercise in producing a portrait and not a series of images of reportage. The day was also a very sunny autumn day that made the lighting too harsh....

The first couple of images did not involve me in any staging, just trying to catch a natural moment....these didn't really work for this exercise...

The next two were staged, but I much prefer the second image in which I took one of the magicians aside got the right light and told him exactly what to do. I think this image has more intrigue into what the young chap is doing whilst making a nice portrait. In processing the final image I dodged the face a little to bring out the light, almost as if I had a reflector. Moral of this lesson is to plan more and have staged ideas for shots, they seem to work much better!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Exercise: Focal length

This exercise is reminiscent of an exercise from the Art of Photography course, experimenting with focal length; here though we are to investigate the effects on a portrait.

Wide angle lenses (shorter focal lengths) distort the perspective of a subject and can be of great use to inanimate objects, and especially good for landscapes with sweeping skies giving the image a greater depth of feel and awareness as if we were almost there. This effect of perspective change on portraits, or faces in particular, will look a little unnatural and therefore I am expecting close up shots with a wide angle lens not to be at all flattering. Faces may appear 'fatter' and facial features stretched with extreme differences in focal length.

For this exercise I took several images with the same lens at both ends of the zoom (24mm-70mm) trying to keep the same framing. All ISO and aperture settings remained constant at iso 100 and f/3.2.

Below are the best two examples, the first of which is at 24mm, here the width of the face has been changed and the mouth elongated with quite broad cheeks and the nose looks bigger. As an image it almost look 'too hard'.

The second version taken with the same framing is at 70mm and shows a much more natural perspective, that is much softer. This leave me to wonder if a wide angle lens could be creatively used in a portrait to give a more menacing portrait of a man? One to investigate.

In summary it is quote obvious that a more flattering image can be taken at longer focal lengths. As the standard lens is 50mm or 35mm on my camera crop, I am guessing that this would be the minimum focal length to use. I do have a lens with longer lengths and have taken great portraits with this in the past, getting really close without prying into the subjects space, as these have worked well I am guessing that there is no or little limit to using focal lengths beyond 100mm. I will have to break out the bigger lens for other images.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Exercise: Experimenting with Light

For this exercise  we are to create 4 to 6 images of the same model under different lighting conditions. I could have used photographic lighting but refrained from this as I need to explore natural light in portraits more.

The first set of images were taken on a sunny day with light pouring in through a window. I placed a large reflector opposite the window so that it would act as a fill light, I also used the golden side of the reflector to add more warmth. In some of the post processing I thought that this was too golden and reduced it slightly using the temperature slider even though I had the camera set to the correct white balance for these conditions.

The first image I have kept although I am not sure about it. The problem is that the eyes are not lit, it would have been a better image is the majority of the face was in direct light rather than shade, it leaves the viewer guessing where the main eye is.

The next image taken from the same sitting has a lit the face up more, this I achieved by moving the reflector around a little and slightly closer. Here I was playing with props and thought a cup of coffee may work. I am not sure about the cup, it may be too much, but really like the light on the face in this one, and as this is what this exercise is all about  I have kept it in.

For the final image from this sitting I closed the blinds to the window so that they cast a shadow of horizontal lines over the sitting. The warmth of the reflector didn't work for this one as well so I reduced the warmth post processing giving it a cooler effect. I like this one as it looks more serious. The left hand side of the face is well lit in this one leading into the left eye with the slatted light creating interesting shadows on the right hand side of the face creating a form of mystery.

And finally I took a shot using 100% natural light on a sunny room that had nothing but white walls, so that the light was brilliantly diffused. The strongest part of the light was behind the sitter which has helped to light the outside of the hair. If I was producing this as a final image I would have to remove that annoying strands of shown in the second version....this was done easily with the spot brush tool in Photoshop.