assignment 5 – making the pictures

elmfield road - gap take 1

fig 1: elmfield road – gap, take 1

The picture above is a composite of 8 separate images which I attempted to combine to create a little under a half of my finished narrative sequence. It is frozen at the point where I abandoned it and, in my head, committed to doing a reshoot…

I taken 52 pictures of 13 houses. There were some retakes – I messed up the amount of space needed above the ridge of the roof to allow all of the TV aerials to be shown for example – but generally what I was trying to do was take 3 pictures per house – a picture with the dividing line between houses on each side and one taken straight down the middle of each house. The idea was to create a long composite panorama which would then be cut into segments based on either each individual house or each pair of houses.

I had totally missed what was going on in Nummianus.

But before I explain why it is rubbish doesn’t work, I should say what I actually like about it. I like the bird, frozen a quarter of the way in from the left and I like the lamp-post to the right’s straight punctuating line. I like the way the slight differences (in exposure and in positioning in the frame) could make you aware of the constructed nature of the image.

But it still doesn’t work. And it would work even less well if were cut up into 3 images, linked to 4 or 5 others. And the main reason it doesn’t work is the extent to which the road is not two-dimensional. In the previous post, I noted that “foreground objects are a pain”; a better way to put it would have been to note that the effect of different planes, parallel to the camera’s sensor is that points on these planes alter their relationship to one another as you move to the left or the right. An object in the centre of the frame at one point may well vanish totally when you move a relatively short distance along the row of houses. The closer to the camera the plane is the more pronounced the effect. In fig. 1 (below) the grey car exemplifies this perfectly


fig.1 Planes! Agh!

This is the leftmost of the triptych of composite images that I was trying to construct. The house frontage (which is what I was concentrating on as I took the pictures) is fine. With a bit of creative overlapping, the front gardens and the ages can be forced to work. The cars though! If people could neatly park in the centre of their house, that would be super. Tragically, people these days are nowhere near OCD enough for that, so my constructed panorama has mangled car after mangled car running along the front. It adds nothing to the narrative while catching the eye. Similarly tall thin things (most particularly a telegraph post about a third of the way in the new block can be missed entirely. Also, the roofs slope away from the camera, introducing converging diagonals from the divisions between houses and the edges of rows of slates. It looks a mess.

If I could move back far enough for the different planes to be closer to being the same distance from the camera this patchwork approach could possibly be made to work, but that is not feasible here. I needed to reshoot, something that was confirmed by another, better look at Nummianus. i realised that what I had read as collage was actually present in the street pictured, in the form of different shades of brick red painted onto the front of individual houses. Each pane was an individual picture and there were repetitions and overlaps in each of the series. I needed to work out how much horizontal distance needed to be covered by each picture, and then to go out and take photographs accordingly.

I had the six new houses as the centre of the series so needed something to balance this and to give enough Victorian Terrace for the story to be apparent to the viewer. There were two trees in front of the victorian houses; on the left there was one 4 doors from the bomb damage; the other was 2 doors past the end of the gap. That gave 12 houses. If you cut them into two house segments, you had six pictures.

At this point, I was going to have two lengths of picture with a run of blue sky above the run of houses (see fig.2, above) . Above the bombsite there would be an obvious contrail, pointing back to the events 75 years’ earlier. Thus, 6 pictures became 12; the upper limit of the assignment. I already had 6 “skies”. Now I needed the six house shots.

Now, as far back as my phone-tutorial, I had mentally noted that Elmfield Road faces west and so would be better photographed in the evening when the sky above the roofs wouldn’t be much much lighter than the facade of the street. I had also noted that an overcast day with nice uncontrasty light might be better than a bright day with harsh shadows and strong highlights.


fig. 3 – backlit, contrasty and wrong…

So, there was no reason whatsoever for me to be up a ladder at 9.30 in the morning taking pictures in the blazing sunshine. None whatsoever other than as an exercise to confirm the benefits of patience and sticking to your guns. And maybe also confirming (again) that there is a blue cast in shadowed areas.

The blue sky would match the sky + contrail pictures better than an overcast one, but I was already beginning to wonder if this was going to be overkill in terms of clues as to what was going on and also not look as good displayed.

On a positive side, this mis-re-shoot  also allowed me to work out that portrait didn’t work if I wanted to use a 35mm equivalent lens and still get in 2 and a bit houses. I was going to need to take landscape format pictures (like Steffi Klenz) and probably plan for them to be cropped to a different aspect ratio to the 6:4 that my  D50 does by default.

I was moving towards a point where I knew what I wanted to do quite clearly: I would have a simple row of houses, with a degree of overlap between pictures; these would be presented as a concertina-type spread, capable of either being pinned to a wall or of being a free-standing display on a flat surface; part of understanding the narrative presented would be contained in the act of unfolding the concertina. I was less sure about whether I wanted to have a second strip of sky, but knew that I needed some sort of key to unlock the sequence.

The next shoot worked. I waited til there was an overcast afternoon when I could get the time to take the pictures. I loaded the ladder into the sky and headed up the road to Elmfield Road for the third time. This time, i realised that I could move even further back on the grass, giving a more crop-able basic frame with fewer adjustments required to alter distortion etc. I worked my way along from 41 to 73. The man popped out from 47 and showed me his copy of War Over Walthamstow. I went home and edited the pictures, cropping them to each show two and a bit houses and adjusting the white and black points and how the highlights and shadows worked to reduce the contrast between the sky and the houses. I could see I had something I could go forward with.

I had already had 6 x 4 prints made of sections of the original shoot and I could see how they worked together; now I had the third shoot printed along with the sky shots and saw that they didn’t quite meld with the terrace and that if only the 3 above the gap houses was going to show evidence of flight overhead, 3 of them would merely consist of blue sky, but I still liked the idea of sky and planes hinting at what was going on in the other pictures.

Lastly – and there from the beginning in my outline/proposal to my tutor – was the idea of working with the memory I had of the picture of a Heinkel 111 over the Thames, combining the German bomber with a modern (colour) aerial shot appropriated from the internet. The question was how far it could all be pared back while still telling the story I was trying to tell. Realising that my initial idea of buying and building a scale kit of a Heinkel would simply be another form of procrastination, I located the historic picture and acquired the satellite view of Elmfield Road from Google Earth. I’m not the world’s best composite image-maker, but it would be fun to see what I could come up with.

I started playing with the pictures I had, to see what worked and what did not. I made dummies of the concertina joining prints together with masking tape, and showed them to friends. Gradually, it all came together and became a story…


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