Monthly Archives: March 2018

assignment 3 – initial edit

You can create as many pictures as you like but, in your reflective commentary, explain how you arrived at the final edit. The set should be concise and not include repetitive or unnecessary images. Be attentive to this aspect of production.
Some questions to consider are:
• What order should the images be shown in?
• Are there too many repetitive images?
• Do you need to let go of earlier images because the project has changed?
• Are you too close to some of your favourite pictures and they don’t fit the sequence?
• Do you need to re-shoot any for technical reasons?
• Are there any gaps that need to be filled?
IaP coursebook – p.71

Recap: The Initial Idea – A journey in three parts with two entr’acts

Four times a week,  I travel on the tube from Walthamstow Central (a few minutes from where I live) to White City ( a few minutes from where I work). The journey takes around forty five minutes and is broken into two legs: first I take the Victoria line south to Oxford Circus; then I change to a Central Line train which takes me west to my workplace.

Like anyone who wants to optimise their journey, I have worked out exactly where to stand on the platforms and which carriage to get into in order to shave as many milliseconds off my commute as possible. I am sure I am not alone in this…

The previous post details how I got to the point where I had a lrge enough body of photographs to start off a rough edit. My intention was to end up with between 15 and 20 pictures, split into five sequences: Walthamstow; Victoria Line; Change at Oxford Circus; Central Line; White City.

The travelling sequences (two and four) proved easiest to put together…


Sequence 4 – Central Line; Oxford Circus – White City:

There is an obvious linear order here, and a sense of rhythm and movement provided by red pole cutting each image in two vertically. The pole is of course colour-coded to indicate the Central Line (contrasting with the pale blue of the Victoria Line). And of course, I appear in the second image, distorted in the mirror of the window  – another commuter, but one with a camera – while my newspaper appears at the bottom corner of the third, mirroring that of the woman opposite.

Sequence 2 – Victoria Line; Walthamstow Central – Oxford Circus:

This was another sequence that came together early on. It feels much more crushed and dark, with the movement provided by arrows and diagonals an tilt rather than the repetition of poles.

It would have been easy to go on taking pictures like these, but heeding David Hurn’s warning  not to reshoot the “gimmes” but to get on with the other things you were trying to photograph, I tried to concentrate on the bits that didn’t work yet – the ‘in’ and ‘out’ sequences and the interchange at Oxford Circus.

 

Sequence 1 – the start of the journey

I had intended to balance the White City/Destination Sequence with an opening group of pictures located at Walthamstow Central Station. It was all a bit literal and ‘sign-y’.

Pictures two and three both could be re-shot (two needs to be taken later in the day, when the sun has moved round to light the flat, north-facing sign; three to remove the woman walking towards the camera) but overall everything starts out well. On the plus side, the first picture managed to contain a lot of red and pale blue which would establish the overall colour palette from the off.

Sequence 5 – White City:

I began trying to arrange the sequences in a less linear fashion. In part this was to try and get around the way the exchange sequence needed to swap direction of travel from left-right to right-left.

Sequence 3 – Change at Oxford Circus

These work as pictures (I particularly like the radiating lines on the ceiling  in fig.1 and fig.3) but lack focus as a description of how I find my way through the station. There are figures who act as my proxy, the signs point the way, and the two escalator pictures continue the change of direction, but it doesn’t work yet as a sequence. I began to wonder how it could be expanded (and how the other sequences could be contracted to compensate).

I had already taken the photographs that included the markers (bubbling paint and a plaque with a stripey red line indicating something or other to people in a different sort of know from the one I occupied) I used to indicate where I should stand to get onto the right carriage of the second, central line train:

Building Block 1 – peeling paint marks the spot!

What I couldn’t do was to find a way to fit in the other marker  – a bin that is pretty much directly behind the dark haired woman in the paint sequence:

I took other pictures in an attempt to fix it, but they didn’t really take off either. I made more prints and stuck them to the wall. I grouped different pictures into different sequences, organising them into chronological order or other ways indicating movement:

Building Block 2 – a Central-Line train passes through the station

For Example, I had already assembled this linear sequence. I had a lot of material to go between image 1 (train leaves the station, revealing the wall-plaque) and image two (woman in a parka in front of a train entering the station.

You don’t really see people’s faces on the tube, at least in part because of the rules we’ve absorbed about not staring… I tried to pick up on some other people waiting:

Building Block 3 – A growing sense of anticipation

And then, trying to get some pictures to indicate arrival at Oxford Circus, I took these:

Building Block 4 – Arriving at Oxford Circus

And it was with this group of three  – with a window acting as a fantastic mirror and with the camera and the train moving from darkness into light – that I got the final thing I needed; I thought of Paul Graham. There was movement and the station sign provides a definite location for what is happening. It would work nicely as an in media res (opening in the midst of an action) beginning. Could I lose the pictures that had been penciled in before these? Possibly I could drop everything I had planned to put earlier and concentrate on this stage of the story, while I was moving through Oxford Circus.

Perhaps it could move away from a prosaic description of my everyday reality and become something more subjective, more poetic even. I moved more pictures about on the wall, bluetacking them into new groupings…

I needed something to break up the arrival and departure of the Central Line Train. I had a lot of pictures taken while a train was in the station.

Pre-Selection short-ish-list – people getting onto and getting off trains

This is some of them; when you have people streaming both from right to left and from left to right, and you have people moving towards you from a train and moving away from you into a train, it’s quite hard to get a decisive moment but they could be narrowed down into further related sequences, and I had pictures that included quite a few of the people who featured in the ‘waiting’ pictures.

2 More Building Blocks: Narrowing Down Alighting and Boarding



And then, to finish it off, follow the woman in the red coat from BB3:

…let the train exit the station:

 

And close on the beginnings of the build up of people waiting for the next train.

I tried to balance the individual sequences as if they were balanced verses in a poem rather than paragraphs of prose, and ended up with eight sequences of 3, 2, 4, 4, 4, 4, 2, 3  pictures respectively (giving 26 pictures in total). It could still come down a bit, but at this point, I felt I had the good first draft that I had been looking for.

getting there – a work-in-progress installation view (the livingroom, home; 3/3/18 – 12/3/18)

 

 

assignment 3; mirrors and windows – ideas

Choose a community that you’re already a part of. It could be your child’s nursery or you regular gym class, but it should be something that takes up a substantial amount of your interest and time.

Create a photographic response to how this group informs who you are as a person. What aspects of this group or community reflect on you? What do you share? How does it function as a mirror reflection of who you are?

–  IaP coursebook – p.71

‘Something that takes up a substantial amount of your interest and time’  fits in neatly to Maria Short (in Context and Narrative) and David Hurn and Peter Jay (in On Being a Photographer) suggesting that you start by making a list of potential Subjects (Short) or Projects (Hurn and Jay)  that interest you. I took the list of traits I’d compiled as part of my response to Exercise 3.2 and came up with three areas for investigation here.

  1. Food and Drink – I’ve been taking photographs in restaurants, of the staff, the food and the place for almost as long as I have been travelling a lot for work. Also, I spend a great deal of time doing most of the cooking for my family. I have a half finished post (still in note form) putting together my thoughts about Masterchef (BBC) and its extremely satisfying story-arc…
  2. Travel – A lot of my archive (I have been looking back at my output a lot for this course, I think I am much more aware of what it is that I take pictures of and how it has changed over time) consists of pictures taken when I have been away from home, often on my own and usually for work, although holidays feature quite strongly too.
  3. Change – I am aware of how a large portion of the interest of photographs can come with the addition of time as the thing pictured changes or vanishes entirely. The area of London where I live is gentrifying rapidly while other things – failing shops, my garden in winter – decay and become shabbier before they in their turn are transformed into something new…

In the generally downbeat feedback for my previous assignment, a glimmerof hope was offered by the comment:

‘Your approach of searching and collecting images on a journey or holiday is important.
That’s something you can take from this, the fact that your perception to visual sights
is heightened when you’re not in a customary environment. But this searching and
collecting needs refinement.’

To it, I would add that I have long been aware of the need to be able to apply the same approach to my everyday life and surroundings. I have recently changed job and this has reduced dramatically my opportunities for travel (outside the UK at least). If I’m going to progress as a photographer, I will have to apply myself nearer to home…


My first idea  (September – early December) had its roots in food and my neighbourhood. Ever since I moved into my flat nine years ago, I have been eating in (and taking food away from) the Turkish restaurant at the bottom of my road. I used to live on Green Lanes in Harringay (which is well known for its large Turkish community and their food)and have had plenty of opportunity to work out what I like. This restaurant – Bodhrum – is a very good one indeed. I get on well with the family who run it and thought I could possibly do a Life-style photo essay on a day at the restaurant, getting behind the scenes and covering the stuff that happened down stairs in the prep kitchen, the food and the grilling of meat and its service in the restaurant itself.

I got as far as asking the owner if I could come in for a few evenings and take pictures, and he was happy for me to do so, but somehow it never quite happened (the pictures above were taken a few years ago, when I was trying out a new camera while waiting for my takeaway to be prepared one Friday). Perhaps my enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by not really wanting to do something a ‘straight’ as my original idea, and possibly i wasn’t feeling up to the amount of interaction with people that would be involved, once you factored in customers (who I do not know) as well as the restaurant staff. I toyed with doing quite formal, lit portraits of all the people who work there to combine with images of the food and of them in action (missing out the customers entirely), but I’d lost momentum somehow.

And also burbling away in the background, I was trying to move house and this began to occupy more and more of my thoughts. So, my second idea (December 2016 – January 2018) began to form.  Having lived in the same place for a while, I know my immediate neighbours quite well and other people who live a bit further away to a varying degree. Perhaps I could do something around this, to form a commemoration of my time here?

If the pictures were captioned somehow with how long people had lived in their flats and where they had come from, some idea of how the community was changing would be able to be established. The longest-resident person was my downstairs neighbour Bill who – incredibly – had been living in his maisonette since 1960, bringing up two children there with his wife, who had died long before I moved in upstairs. We share a garden and I’d taken photographs of him before, but never quite got it right. I was playing around with redscale (reversing the film in the camera, so its red backing acts as a filter to the pictures) when I took this one of him. As is usually the case when I experiment with ‘alternative film processes’, I rather wish I hadn’t; this project would give me the chance to have another go.

Bill downstairs. Moved from Hackney in 1960. Retired.

I began talking to my other neighbours – no one objected in principle, but I failed to get dates in anyone’s diary – and started working out what lighting tests I’d need to make, to allow me to light portraits quickly using portable off-camera flash. Perhaps I could widen it to include the various small shops nearby where I buy the paper, buy milk, buy vegetables, buy meat; perhaps the Bodhrum idea could be incorporated too…

The project and its idea widened, grew more diffuse, and collapsed in on itself; I was going to have to organise and schedule a large number of individual shoots. In the end, I never really got started. The sale of my flat temporarily fell through because of issues with the chain but now it’s back on again (I hope) and while I’d like to follow through on the idea and take the pictures for this, I realised I needed something I could work on without needing to take more time that I don’t really have from my day-to-day life.

I needed a project where I could just start making  pictures.


Back in June, I had changed my job (but not my employer). Apart from the effect this had on my available intellectual energy as I absorbed what I needed to do my new work, the main practical difference was that my daily commute doubled in length. Instead of simply taking the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus, I now changed there and continued to White City on the Central Line. With a day a week spent working at home, I was now spending upwards of six hours a week in the underground system.

My journey to work was taking up a surprisingly  large part of my time – criterion one of the brief had been met (and I also had one of  Hurn and Jay’s key factors in determining the viability of a project – I had regular access to it). It fell into the travel category of my list of subjects while also occupying a place in the unexceptional part of my life (my criterion – work made nearer to home).

For a month or two, it also had taken up a reasonably large part of my conscious thought while I was doing it (criterion two of the brief, and meeting Hurn and Jay’s need for you to know a lot about your subject) as I had expended a considerable amount of thought on working out how to streamline my journey: which carriage should I get into at Walthamstow Central to so as to be in the right place to change at Oxford Circus? did this change if I was travelling in later in the day? – yes! – where should I stand  on the central line platform to be next to the doors that would let me get off next to the stairs out of White City station? I needed to work out how could I spend the least amount of time on my extended journey possible.

And of course, there are other people who do exactly the same thing, every day. Some of them even can be spotted on consecutive days if you get properly in sync. Could I find people to act as my proxy as I recorded my journey? Could people generally be used to motivate the sequence of final pictures internally by the direction they were looking, illustrating my/our journey? That would give you my community – city dwellers, barely acknowledging each other, but using public transport to get to the same place each day.

I worked out (Hurn and Jay again) that I would need around fifteen pictures: 3 at Walthamstow Station – three covering the journey to Oxford Circus – three for changing lines once I’d got there – three for the onward journey to White City – and a final three as I exit the underground at White City. I realised the number would inevitably rise for some of the stages of my journey, but it shouldn’t rise much beyond twenty.

Technically, my options were limited. You cannot use a tripod or artificial lighting on the underground system. I did not want to use an ostentatiously  large camera with an ostentatiously large lens. Possibly I could make a couple of passes with an SLR to catch details like signs and clocks and direction indicators with a longer lens, or wider general views with a very wide one,  once I had worked out which ones I needed to move my narrative, but for now I would use my nicely unobtrusive Fujifilm x100, with its fixed 35mm (equivalent) lens.

The first picture (Victoria Line)

I made a series of test pictures one morning, establishing that – in the steady light of the underground, I could get the right combination of depth of field (f2.8 in the darker tunnels and f4 or even f5.6 on the trains or the brighter parts of white tiled stations) and speed of shutter (1/30th or 1/60th with the option of dropping down to 1/15th if I wanted obvious motion) by working at an ISO of 1250-1600.

So, my technical constraints had been established and the only thing left to do was to just get shooting!

So I did:

This is a selection of the pictures I took during journeys to work between the eighth of February and the first week of March. As I continued to acquire images, I was creating sequences with them and using the next day’s journey to fill in gaps and replace pictures that didn’t quite work, either because of timing, or for technical reasons like poor focus.

Over this time I also made three trips to Boots to get quick 6×4 prints of good, final set  candidate pictures made. By the 3rd of March, I had pretty much all the pictures I felt I needed, bluetacked in sequence order to the plain walls of my living room…

 


Reference:

  • Short, M (2011) Context and Narrative. Lausanne, AVA Publishing SA
  • Hurn, D and Jay, P (2008) On Being a Photographer, 3rd Edition. Anacortes, Washington; LensWorks Publishing

Assignment 2 – Tutorial + Remake

It was another dispiriting tutorial. I’d been quite happy with the pictures; Robert, my tutor, was not:

“I think what you’re trying to do with regards to the vice versa brief sounds interesting but
is ultimately intractable and over-complicated. […] Your photographs seem to be holiday photos, and so a different project. […]  Actually it isn’t that clear how the concept of vice versa fits with your pictures, but they do seem like candid holiday shots that loosely cover the unaware and the aware categories in Part 2 of the course. […]  They’re very diverse pictures and somewhat ill-fitting as a series.”

I had, in his opinion (and, to be fair, in mine, too), over-thought things without managing to translate enough of the thoughts into something you could see in the pictures…

He did like two of them though (James and Alice in my sister’s kitchen – they’ll be in the assessment set)  but not the other three; he thought  – as with part one – that some of the pictures from the exercises were quite good.

fig.1 –  Alice at her Auntie Laura’s, August 2018

Perhaps  – he thought – I should create a set of varied portraits of James drawn from the mass of unedited pictures of our holiday to replace this set before assessment? Whatever it was that I was trying to say, it did not come across in the pictures. Hmmm…

fig.2 – James at his Auntie Laura’s, August 2017

I think (that word again!) that I was trying to take posed, setup pictures outside and to make un-posed pictures inside. I was also hoping – impressed by the sheer size of the photographs of Charles Snelling’s family album, as shown on Julian Germain’s site, in installation shots of For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness at the Baltic Centre in Gateshead – to do something similar in terms of taking family album shots and, through size ( and context, turning them something, not greater exactly, but different. Of  making the personal, public and giving viewers something to identify with, without their needing to know exactly who the people and places depicted were. What Robert had seen was just my holiday snaps.

There is no denying  that that is what they had started off as; but how could I make them somehow bigger in a way someone else could recognise? How could I transform them into something that other people could identify with, perhaps even into something approaching art?


At this point I went to see two exhibitions that made a big impression on me: Thomas Ruff at the Whitechapel Gallery (with four of his big portraits on display at the NPG by way of a teaser) and the show of Wim Wenders’ polaroids at the Photographer’s Gallery.

In my post about the NPG mini-exhibition (linked above), i included 3 Ruff-inspired portraits of James and intimated that I might include them in a remake of this asignment, at least in part to add more variety to a set of nothing but Jameses. For assessment, I think I’ll use the one of the back of his head, not least because (like surrealists’ photos of people with their eyes shut) this is an impossible viewpoint for anyone to see themselves from in real life, given that (even with mirrors) it is tricky to get anything approaching this clear a view of yourself from behind.

fig.3 – Obverse, James; London; 2018

At the Whitechapel Gallery, at the start of his big retrospective, there were two series’ of appropriated and doctored Installation views from long-taken down exhibitions, one (presumably done specially for the retrospective) at the Whitechapel Gallery itself. Since I would not be able to get James’ Ruff-inspired portraits printed as big as Ruff’s originals (the assessment print will be A4 orpossibly A3) , if I wanted to see what it would look like on a truly grand scale I could do worse than re-working my photograph of the three big portraits at the NPG.

fig.2 – Portraits: J. Gow and S. Chirgwin (with A. Giese); Installation View, The National Portrait Gallery, London, 2017

For good measure I have included one of my base self-portraits for Assignment 3 of Context and Narrative. The most difficult part of this was replicating the reflections in the glass of the pictures, making them feel that they were really there.


Wim Wenders’ pictures at the Photographers’ Gallery were at the opposite end of the scale from Ruff’s – original polaroids, given added dignity by a mask and a frame. You could walk around, listening on headphones to streamed recordings of Wenders reading the relevant section of the text of the book of the pictures. The text turned what could have been mostly seen as insignificant adjuncts to Wenders’ film-making into marvelous chunks of deadpan autobiography. You leant in and peered at the tiny pictures; you smiled and listened to Wenders’ slow delivery of his words. They stopped being a crate of forgotten pictures and became little filmic sequences. Wenders talked about his work having personal relevance for him, but never revealed what was private. This seems to matter too.

fig.1 – Alice, Skaill Beach 2018; Installation View, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, 2018

There’s nothing in between Skaill bay on the west coast of Orkney and America (Newfoundland, actually); looking out, as a kid I wondered if you might just be able to see it if you really, really screwed up your eyes and concentrated…

So, when I saw that one of Wenders’ sequences was titled LOOKING FOR AMERICA, it seemed obvious that that was the one I should appropriate for the three pictures of Alice at Skaill, one of a number of sequences of three related pictures that I had been unable to include in the original assignment set. The woman looking at them was really looking at Gursky at the Hayward.


I think this covers the opposed ideas of ‘street’ and ‘studio’ quite well. You have unposed, candid pictures taken at Laura’s, a carefully lit and posed picture of James and – taking studio to also mean pictures that are consciously put together – two composites, creating an elevated context for my pictures of my children.

I’ll redo my composite pictures before getting them printed – I was working with relatively small jpegs and they won’t enlarge particularly well. Also, since I did a Gursky pastiche for an exercise during part one of C&N, I have been enjoying the process of putting pictures together from different bits and seem to be improving every time I give it a go. I am aware that there are clumsy things that can easily be improved on (the expansion of the mattes from square to rectangular in the Photographers’ Gallery composite for example)  and In another few months (assessment in November, I’m thinking) I should be able to do an even better job, I hope.

But enough for now – I can procrastinate no more! Time to move on to Assignment 3…