Category Archives: The Art Of Photography

My Learning Log for the Level 4 Open College of the Arts’ course, Photography 1 – The Art of Photography

light # 7 – cloudy weather and rain

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An overcast afternoon, looking towards Clapton

“For the first part of this exercise you will photograph the same view in sunlight and under cloud. You can do this at different times or on different days, but the easiest time is on a day when individual clouds are drifting across the sun. If it is windy, so much the better, as the light will change more rapidly. Choose two or three different subjects, such as a building, a person, and a street scene. Note the difference in exposures. Keep the white balance set to sunlight/daylight.”

– AoP Coursebook

Continue reading

light # 6 – variety with low sun

the back garden, early

the back garden, early

“This is an exercise to demonstrate some of the advantages of shooting when the sun is low. Obviously, there is no sudden moment in the day when the sunlight switches between low and high but, as a guide, the sun is low within about two hours of sunrise and sunset, except in winter when it stays low for much of the day. In summer, this may not be a convenient time to go out shooting, but the results from getting up really early can be very rewarding. You can choose any subjects for this project, but they must be in sunlight.”

– AoP Coursebook

So, while he was down for the bit between Christmas and Hogmanay, I dragged James out for a walk down by the River Lea. When we were heading back home over the derelict golf course the light had dipped far enough to try out this exercise. The instruction was:

Take as many pictures as possible, but aim to produce four as a final result. If in doubt, bracket your exposures. If you can, complete all these pictures on one occasion. There is a tremendous variety of lighting, and you can capture this variety by changing your view point.

You can’t just assume with a 12 year old, but James was willing to pose and to turn this way and that so, here are the results: Continue reading

light # 5 – light through the day

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“You will need a sunny day for this exercise, or else sun at different times on differentdays. You are going to photograph one scene from dawn to dusk. The number of pictures you take will depend on the time of year, but get at least one per hour, and more at the end of the day when the light is changing faster. Find a landscape location with a fairly definite subject that will catch the sunlight even when the sun is close to the horizon. It needs to offer a good, clear view that is lit throughout the day – containing an isolated building, perhaps, but convenient to reach, as you will need to keep going back to exactly the same spot. Try and keep the composition exactly the same for all the photographs; either remember which parts of the scene touch obvious points in the viewfinder (such as the corners or any markings on the screen) or draw a little sketch. Keep a note of the exposure for each photograph”

– AOP Coursebook.

I took these pictures over the course of three days, way back in November. I’d set my tripod up, leaning into the velux window in the attic, looking out from my work-room (it’s where I’m sitting typing now) to the northeast. The view was open to the south so the light would pass over the view revealing detail and creating shifting shadows for the whole of the period of daylight. Continue reading

A quick note about what’s going on here….

I have finished working through the exercises from The Art of Photography, but have not managed to write all of them up into post-able combinations of pictures and prose. Similarly there are exhibitions I have been to and books I have read that have generated drafts which still need some work. I’m not going to start Context and Narrative for a couple of weeks (it’s always good to have a breather; I don’t think I could do two courses simultaneously either). And lastly, I need to do some basic neatening to get everything ready to be submitted in September for the November Assessment Event.

So, the next few posts here will mostly consist of exercises and reviews, well out of sequence (either in course terms or in terms of when I did something.

I need to work out how to display (and navigate) the material in a better sequence than the simple chronological by posting date one that wordpress defaults to, and I suspect it has to do with Pages. Let’s see…

Assignment 5 – Personal Review

Course Outcomes

On successful completion of the course you’ll be able to:

  • use the principles of composition when planning and taking photographs using suitable cameras, lenses and other equipment
  • demonstrate skills in the control of qualities of light, and colour, and demonstrate creative outcomes using these skills
  • demonstrate a basic knowledge of the principles of graphic design in photography through a single photograph or a series
  • reflect on your learning experience.

AoP Coursebook

I think, in the terms of the outcomes stated above, I have successfully completed this course.

In the section on assessment in the Coursebook, these outcomes are then broken down into 4 areas, each corresponding to one of the Course Outcomes, above, and then further subdivided. Where I have already covered something in some depth in the posts dealing with how I came to produce my submission for Assignment 5 – 75 Years After – I have only given a brief summary here.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

  • Materials: The physical manifestation of 75 Years After is made up from the cheapest prints I could have made – 6 x 4, colour, gloss, no borders – by Snappy Snaps with the exception of the composite Heinkel/Google Earth picture which was an even cheaper 6 x 4 colour, gloss, no borders print made on a machine in Boots. I had already used the print module in Lightroom to add enough blank space around the prints to make the 5:4 ratio pictures fit on 3:2 paper. The individual prints were connected using masking tape after they had been trimmed down to give an even amount of white around the picture. For the book dummy I have produced and submitted, this works fine I think.
    I have wondered how I could go about getting long strips made with some provision for folding them into concertinas and have come to the conclusion that you’d need to some sort of mass edition with five copies being made on one large sheet of paper. This would therefore presumably have to be inkjet printing (or else unaffordable) changing everything about the way it all would look. If I do go for applying the same process to another two or three streets and putting on a show at the next Walthamstow Art Trail, I may follow this up and, at the same, time get larger prints (á la the Steffi Klenz original) made for the actual display.
  • Techniques: I have gone into great detail earlier about how the pictures were made and processed. I think I have felt in control of the process and am happy with everything apart from my inability to get it right sooner while taking fewer pictures. I am still overshooting dreadfully and need to curb this as the resulting overhead in editing terms is one of the main reasons why my progress through this course has been slower than I would have liked. I realise I should include a contact sheet of the final pictures, before any post production had occurred. I will do as part of my response to my tutor’s notes on the assignment.
  • Observational Skills: I have been aware of the bombsites that punctuate large sections of Walthamstow for a long time, and I continue to spot new ones. I am – I think – capable of seeing starting points for further investigation in the world around me.
  • Visual Awareness: I find it hard to separate this from the previous heading. Possibly this is because this was a piece of work which was planned rather than pulled together on the fly with me reacting to input from my senses.
  • Design and Compositional Skills: As stated in the previous post, I think the pictures work both as individual photographs and together in sequence.

Quality of Outcome

  • Content: I think the subject matter is suited to the i; the treatment may not work in terms of a magazine photo-story, but as a narrative it holds together.
  • Application of Knowledge: I believe that I have applied many of the things the course has been concentrating on  – composition and awareness of light in particular – in this piece of work. There is nothing that sticks out as shoddy or ill-judged.
  • Presentation of Work in a Coherent Manner: As well as the finished narrative, I hope the narrative of how I got there that is found in the posts on this blog makes sense and leads the reader through the development of my submission from the original idea to the finished “book”.
  • Discernment: I don’t think that what I am doing in this assignment is “obvious” to all as a subject. In this sense, I think I am displaying “discernment” while at the same time not really feeling comfortable with it as an ascribable quality.
  • Conceptualisation of Thoughts & Communication of Ideas: comments left on the published posts here on my blog and also feedback I’ve received from people who have looked at my pictures both as work in progress and as a finished narrative suggest that I’m doing alright at this. People have definitely “got” what I’m trying to do in this assignment and have been interested enough to spend time thinking and talking to me about it. At some level at least, what I am doing is managing to communicate with others.

Demonstration of Creativity

  • Imagination: In this assignment, I have taken something that is there and made something from it, rather than plucking something from nothing or putting together disparate elements to create some new synthesis.
  • Experimentation: I have however pared back the elements that make up a narrative, leaving I think something fairly minimal that still tells a story (or two).
  • Invention: Physically, I have made a concertina/book which – while not original –  does show an ability to combine things into something new.
  • Development of a Personal Voice: This is where I think this course has truly paid off. Before the course, I think that while I was comfortable taking pictures on trips to new places either abroad in the UK, I was less able to come up with things that make up my basic surroundings. I have many pictures from Moldova or Kiev or Brazil; my pictures of London (where I have now lived for nearly 17 years) or of Glasgow (a total of nearly 13 years) have never really felt comfortable somehow, particularly in contrast with pictures I have taken in Orkney (20 years; see Assignment 2). Now I think I am finding ways to photograph and present things that are familiar to my; things that make up my day-to-day surroundings. Now I feel that I am beginning to make visual sense of London in a way that I always have been able to when I’m in Orkney.

Context

  • Reflection: I think I have managed to combine viewing exhibitions, reading and the coursework to date into a coherent body of work. I think I have managed to document that process here, on this blog.
  • Research: I am pleased with the way I have taken something I have noticed (a possible bombsite) and fleshed it out into something with a when and a how and a what attached to it. I find it slightly worrying that until the point when I found the Borough Council record of the bombing, that it had never crossed my mind to think of people being killed. I think I had somehow placed everyone neatly in shelters, safely away from the destroyed houses…
  • Critical thinking (learning log): I think I have been able to think critically about both my work and others’ throughout the course. During parts 3 and 4 however I found great difficulty in turning this thinking into critical writing (or indeed into writing of any sort). During part 5, I think I have done better, producing nearly nine thousand words (over 10,000 when you take this into the equation) of quite decent writing, backed up with good pictures from the exercises. I think a good part of my problem here is in striking a balance between keeping a record of personal thoughts and of at the same time creating a published document. There are many posts stuck at draft stage. I will attempt to take as many of them as possible into a state where I am happy to make them public, before this blog must be submitted in September, while at the same time not letting this tendency to revise and fret over posting get in the way of the next course, Context and Meaning

Throughout The Art of Photography I have found these personal reviews consistently difficult to do. iI think I can analyse what I’m doing and how well I do it; putting it into words is somehow much harder. Hopefully, I will get better at it as course follows course…


assignment 5 – narrative

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75 Years After – Installation View; Hibbert Road, July 2015

In this final assignment imagine that you are about to illustrate a story for a magazine. You have a cover to illustrate, and several pages inside (create between 6 and 12 images – you can choose). Even though there may be no text, you should write captions (of any length) to explain and link each picture.

The cover picture will need some of the techniques of illustration that you have been experimenting with. The picture essay will be more of a narrative. This means that, as you will be using several photographs to illustrate the main body of the story, you will have the opportunity to spread the load of the story telling among them. Different images can deal with different aspects of the subject, or you might choose to insert a linked series of photographs that show something happening in sequence. Remember that some of these photographs will be seen together on the same pair of pages. You can use this to set one image off against another; sometimes the juxtaposition of two appropriate images can be telling.

AoP Coursebook

First, before the shouts of “RTQ, Chirgwin! RT bloody Q!” begin, I should say that it was a conscious decision, discussed with my tutor, to move away from a straight illustrated story for this assignment.

Quite reasonably, he pointed out that it was better to take risks, and not worry about assessment marks now, rather than in a few years’ time when hopefully I’ll be making a start to level 3 of the BA and the marks will count for more than a simple pass or fail. The idea of following a path suggested by Steffi Klenz’s body of work Nummianus seemed to give me scope to tell the story while paring the clues about what was happening back to a minimum.

At any rate, I am quite pleased with the results and think that it works as a narrative. It could even work in a magazine as a series of double page spreads, but I’m not sure which magazine would run it.


75 Years After

The hard copy of this assignment (nine 128mm x 102mm Digital C-Type Prints joined with masking tape into an extendable concertina, seen above stuck to the bomb shelter at the bottom of my garden) is the bit I’m most excited about; I still need to do some work on the online presentation of the sequence – the slideshow below is not quite satisfactory, but I haven’t been able to work out how to get  the pictures to flow sideways, like the long opening shot of Goddard’s Weekend (1967). No doubt there’s a widget, or I could write some javascript, or something, but for now, I’ll leave it – like far too many photographers’ sites I have viewed recently – as another slightly flawed online presentation of photographs!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have tried the print version of the sequence out on a number of people now and they all have “got it” which is gratifying. It has been interesting listening to the variety of comments it has aroused – ranging from thoughts of how present bomb-sites were when people now in their 50s were growing up to the way you don’t notice the signs of bomb damage all around you, and more abstract comments of how nice it is to be presented with something physical rather than something on a screen. I think it would be interesting to make larger prints for display (like the Nummianus installation views) and to maybe try another few roads as well. This would lead to something that could go on as part of the annual Walthamstow Art Trail, possibly.

Also, the more I have looked at them, the more I have become aware that there is also a second, softer narrative to be found in the pictures: each individual instance of the two types of house pictured would have started off pretty much identical (there are variations in the Victorian Terrace, but even so, the variations repeat as you go down the street) but now they all are different – doors have been changed, and windows; some of the attics have been converted and had windows let into the roof tiles; 65 has had monstrous things done to it; there are solar panels and there is pebbledash. Individual people have made their mark on the street and that is as significant as the bomb that fell 75 years ago. As well as being a story about death and injury, it becomes a story about life going on and progress and rising house prices and so on and so on. The sequence can also serve as a typography of houses in the street.


Notes on the Pictures:

fig. 1 – A contrail dividing the blue ground of the sky into a 2/3:1/3 composition. Attached to the right-hand side of the string of prints, to wrap back round and seal the “book” when it is fully folded up. When the string of prints is unfolded, the back of this print is visible, which is why it is folded under and not visible in the header to this post. The typed label was made with a manual typewriter and stuck to the print; it contains enough information to allow the viewer to make sense of the whole. “1 H.E.” refers to the single high explosive bomb that fell on Elmfield Road; the numbering of the houses (47-61) suggests a mistake by whoever recorded the damage for the Borough Council as close inspection of the remaining numbers show that number 47 – if damaged – was left in a repairable state while number 63 is missing.

fig. 2-9 – A sequence taken around 17.00 on Sunday 14th June with me 6 foot up a step ladder using a Nikon D50 with a Nikkor 1:2.8 24mm manual focus lens. ISO 200, 1/200″, f8 (underexposed by about a stop to prevent the highlights in the sky blowing out). Contrast was reduced in Lightroom by pulling back the highlights (a lot) and upping the shadows (a bit) and then upping the exposure by one stop. White and black points were also adjusted. The frame was then cropped to 5:4 as this seemed to give the best section of the street per picture, although possibly something even squarer would have been better for the Victorian Terraces as more sky would have been included and the TV aerials wouldn’t have been cut off, but it wouldn’t have worked as well for the wider, lower post-war houses in the gap. I have tried – and generally succeeded I think –  to make each of these pictures a pleasant composition of horizontals, verticals and quadrilateral shapes as well as working in concert with one another. The slight chaos at the junctions between 3 and 4 and 7 and 8 is intended to accentuate the change from original to bombed and back again without being too heavy handed about it.

fig. 10 – a composite made from 2 acquired images: the google earth view of Elmfield Road and the famous picture of a Heinkel 111 bomber over the Isle of Dogs, taken by an anonymous Luftwaffe photographer on the 7th of September 1940. Isolating the aircraft was a relatively straightforward selection in Photoshop Elements, it was then pasted onto the google earth picture and rotated so the direction of the sun matched. I slightly reduced the saturation of the background shot and added a small amount of gaussian blur to match the bomber. The intention was not to make a convincing fake, but rather to link the ‘then’ with the ‘now’ in the picture and in the sequence as a whole. If I was going to make larger prints of the pictures for exhibition in frames, I would probably definitely need to seek out higher resolution source images, and be more scrupulous about the edges of the bomber. Online or in the smaller prints I had made for presentation, I think it holds up. Just. There is also the question of whether its inclusion is just a bit unsubtle, really; I suspect the narrative would be apparent without it, but have left it in for now.

Finally, I took this picture showing clearly the gap between the original and the post war houses, but decided that it both disrupted the flow of the pictures in the sequence and was not necessary to understand what was going on in the narrative. I include it here though as I quite like the view through to the parallel street behind.

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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

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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.

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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…

 

assignment 5 – moving the idea forward

looking north; looking south - elmfield road, E17

looking north; looking south – elmfield road, E17

So, I had agreed during a phone tutorial to follow up the Elmfield Road Bomb Damage idea and to work it in a way which grew out of my understanding of Steffi Klenz’s Nummianus.

Right; onwards!
Elmfield Road is a fairly standard, Victorian terraced street in Walthamstow, the last before you get to the southernmost tip of the reservoirs that sit, obvious from the air or on a map, inside the A406 (the North Circular) as it curls round between Edmonton and Walthamstow. There are only odd numbers in the street with the west side of the road left open, with a wide stretch of grass before you get to a fence and a storm drain, there to cope with heavy rain over the waterworks, I lived in Elmfield Road from 2003 until 2009.

A few doors down from where I lived, the terracing stops and there are 6 much more blocky 50s or 60s houses; then the Victorian housing resumes.The terrace stops at number 47 and resumes at 65; 8 numbers are missing and 6 newer buildings have replaced them. You can see this quite clearly in the two pictures at the top of this post. Quite obviously, this is wartime bomb damage; there are similar gaps in the parallel roads to the east. They’re quite different from the larger splodges of post-war housing in the sites where larger, more powerful V-weapons fell on Walthamstow, or indeed further to the south, in the east end proper, where whole streets were flattened during the Blitz.

Beyond this though, it’s relatively difficult to get more detailed information. But that’s where research comes in, doesn’t it?


Background Research – When I lived in Elmfield Road, it had never crossed my mind that the six “wrong” houses could be the result of anything other than wartime bomb damage. When it came time to get something to bqck this up however, it proved remarkably difficult to get documentary evidence. My first effort had involved borrowing a copy of the book published by the London Archive, reproducing the bomb damage maps produced in 1945 by the LCC from the daily damage reports compiled during the blitz. But of course, Walthamstow was not part of London until some time in the late 40s, so the maps didn’t quite reach far enough. Presumably there were local records, which would be held in the Waltham Forest Archive at the Vestry House Museum, but so far I have not been able to find the time to make an appointment to view the material they have stored there.

What I did find through a google search (how else?) was a reference to an online map of London bomb-sites in an article in the Daily Telegraph, published after an unexploded bomb had been found and defuses (link). This map did include Walthamstow and shows a bomb was dropped on Elmfield Road (and also confirmed other sites, i’d notice nearby and also close to where I now live).
This was confirmation enough for this project, but it would have been nice to have more detail about the particular bomb (or bombs) that I was interested in. I finally got it when I was half-way up a stepladder making my third set of pictures in Elmfield Road. A man was taking some stuff out of his car and into number 47; he was glancing the sort of glances you make at someone up a ladder with a camera opposite your house and then came over. Fortunately he turned out to be interested rather than hostile and once I’d explained what I was doing, nipped back into the house and returned with a copy of a slim book published by the council called War over Walthamstow. It contained map and day by day records of bomb damage. It is of course out of print, but a search online to see if there were second-hand copies available turned up a site that reproduced the text in full, but not the map.
A single bomb fell on the 8th December 1940 at 11.45 pm. It killed 3 people and injured 18 others. 8 houses (47-61) were damaged. There had been a lot of bombing that day, but this was the last to be dropped on Walthamstow.

This gave me my title, referring back to Conflict-Time-Photography: 75 Years After. It also gave a number of links to things that hover around me and the pictures taken for this course. On the 8th of December 1940, my father – a conscientious objector, working with The Friends Ambulance Unit after his tribunal – would have been a 21 year-old, acting as a shelter warden near Bethnal Green; more bombs fell near there. Also that night, N minutes earlier, a bomb fell on Portland Place, damaging Broadcasting House (where I work) and knocking the tip off the spire of All Souls Church. The repair to the spire can be seen in photo 5 (diagonal) of Assignment 1 for this course. Many of the buildings on Flotta in Scapa Flow (Assignment 2) were being built at this time too…


Installation  – Over the last year, I have become increasingly aware of and interested in how photographs are altered by the way they are presented and of the details attached to their exhibition. I had already been struck both by just how small Lartigue’s pictures are and how large more modern prints by people like Gursky are or indeed very old prints like some of the pictures in the Muybridge exhibition at Tate Modern a few years ago. Now I was looking as much at the sequencing and the juxtaposition of pictures, one with another, to add up to more than the sum of the parts.

I realise I quite like the intimacy of small prints – the way they draw you in to peer at them, and gaining a sense that you and you alone are looking. In this sense they become like a book. There is nothing grand about the Egglestons I have seen or most of the pictures in the Harry Callaghan rooms at Tate Modern last year. But you look at them and – despite being in a gallery – manage moments of being alone with the pictures. Again at Tate Modern, the way the Henry Wessels’ series Incidents was laid out – a series of 26 head-height 18 x 12 prints in plain black frames that you were meant to view working clockwise from the door – made links between the pictures in sequence and drew you in to look, and think, and wonder, and move on to the next; of course, you went round the room twice.

I have been struck by things as different as the three huge typographical light boxes that formed the centre of Subotzky and Waterhouse’s Ponte City installation in the Photographer’s Gallery (and made a note that 6cm x 9cm transparencies are really a very fine thing) and also the collaged pictures taking found images and then placing them over new photographs of either the room they were found in or of the room where they had been taken; equally the collaged wall combining a large background picture, writing and smaller framed pictures of Jim Goldberg and Kamel Khalif presented as Open See (Democratic Republic of Congo) in one of the rooms at Conflict-Time-Photography was good for literal laying of meaning – you read the wall rather than just looking at it; I like the way the pictures are arranged into three panels (a bloodline; an explanation; footnotes) in Taryn Simon’s A Living Man Declared Dead (which I’ve seen bits of a couple of times now);  it all adds up, it all helps the pictures tell a cumulative story rather than just show “a thing” and then “another thing”.

And then there is Nummianus by Steffi Klenz. As soon as David mentioned this body of work, I remembered the three pictures(the last two house of a terrace; one and a half terraced houses with the second mid demolition and a third of the cleared land visible to the right of the second picture)  reproduced in the first chapter of Behind the Image. When he sent me a link to Klenz’s site where there are more examples, I was greatly taken by the gallery views, with long lines of  – possibly fictitious – terraces constructed from print after print, some going round corners.

I saw how a bombed terrace could be presented as a series of pictures with the story coming out of the differences in between houses (and types of houses). The story began to take on physical properties and led me to start thinking of those series of concertina-folded postcards you can get. I am still somewhat at a loss as to how to present something long and thing and horizontal on a screen, but suspect that it can be done. The main version of this assignment however, will be physical.

There were other details I should have noticed at this point – most notably around how shallow the houses front facade was in each of Klenz’s pictures; there are no gardens and no cars parked beyond the pavement; the only thing interrupting the plane of the terraces are lamposts – but of course, I didn’t.


Practice as Research – It took me several goes to get something that worked. Some of this was down to not looking closely enough at the Nummianus pictures before I had my first try at approximating the feel of Klenz’s series, but a fair bit of it comes down to something as unsubtle as how taking pictures of a row of houses is much more difficult than it would at first appear!

  • If you shoot from pavement level you get quite a lot of convergent lines from looking up at even a two-story building
  • You don’t want straight lines to be distorted towards the edges either, so you don’t want to use too wide a lens
  • You are limited in how long a lens you can use by how far away you can get from the facades of the houses opposite by the width of the street.

And all this is before you start to try and link two or more pictures together into some sort of sequence, at which point errors or inaccuracies become compounded.

I started off by trying to get an idea of what it would take to get a good, straight shot of part of a terrace. I tried to take a shot across the street outside my front door using my Nikon D50:

Firstly I was able to get around the converging line issue by taking out a folding step-ladder and climbing to the top. The camera was somewhere between the top of the doors and the first floor windows; not quite level with the centre of everything when you take the roof into account, but not bad.

The D50’s 1.5 crop factor meant that my 35mm lens was still too tight from a far back as I could get and not feel I was going to break my neck falling off the ladder (fig 1). But a 24mm lens (equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera) got in enough of the houses to show everything from the road up to the top of the chimneys (fig 2). There was enough space around the focus of the image to crop down to a nice, symmetrical composition (fig 3) and also to correct the effect of not quite getting the camera parallel to the front of the building, the small amount of vertical distortion that still I got even with being up a ladder and the slight bulginess caused by the short lens. Generally it seemed fine and I set out to take a test sequence of another bomb damaged row around the corner.

This threw up further problems that needed overcoming:

Foreground objects are a pest; trees and lampposts either get in the way or force you out into the road. This is not good photographically (you are closer to the other side of the street, so all the bad things of using a wider lens are compounded, even if you don’t need to go even wider) or from a personal point of view (before you get onto being up a ladder on a cambered surface, there is the question of cars using the road even on a quiet side street).

Parked cars are a pain. In the foreground they won’t block you if you’re up a ladder, but vans will. On the other side of the road, they change their position relative to the building further away making it really hard to get anything even approaching a clean composite if you are trying to build up a row of houses seamlessly from a number of pictures, as I was at this stage.

I had partly hoped I’d be able to use this street for the final assignment as this would mean I didn’t have to lug a ladder with me the mile or so to Elmfield Road when I needed to do the inevitable retakes, but there were simply too many vans on the wrong side of the street, trees and lampposts getting in the way for it to really work. Elmfield Road (as you can see from the two pictures at the top of this post) is one-sided, with a patch of grass running back from the road quite a way opposite the built side. There are no lampposts or trees on the unbuilt side either. I should have gone inside and had a good look at Nummianus at this point, but instead, I loaded the ladder into the car and headed up the road…



References:

  • Basics Creative Photography 03: Behind the Image: Research in Photography – Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana (AVA Publishing, 2012)
  • The War Over Walthamstow – 1939-45  – Ross Wyld. (Walthamstow Borough Council, 1945)
  • Nummianus – Steffi Klenz (Exhibitions – New Art Museum Walsall, 2009; Street Level Glasgow, 2010)
  • Ponte City  – Mikhael Subotzky & Partick Waterhouse (Steidl, 2014); installation viewed at the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize Exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery, London (April – June 2015).

All links accessed 30/06/15

a reaction to robert adams’ why people photograph

Orkney – 1967

 I’m not concerning myself here with the review section (Examples of Success) in the middle of the book (covering – amongst others – Atget, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange in short reviews of books, or parts of introductions to books or exhibition catlaogues) but instead looking at the opening section (What Can Help) which looks at the things that can keep photographers going. I’ve also had a good read of the final section (Working Conditions)and its couple of longer pieces, but think I’ll save my thoughts on them for later.

So, a few words about what I can deduce from the book’s contents about Robert Adams…

Continue reading

Tate Modern – Conflict. Time. Photography

I went to see this twice when it was on . I think generally it was very good, but at the same time have needed quite a bit of time to let the ideas settle in my mind into some sort of writeable-about-thing. The exhibition was arranged according to the elapsed time since a wartime event  took place, with the early rooms containing pictures that took place seconds or minutes after an action working up to the final rooms which were distanced from the action by a century or so. I suspect this applies not only to photography focused on war but to anything photographic that is dealing with the past.

What follows are my distilled thoughts, three months after… Continue reading