‘Two sides …’ Tutor feedback and response

My tutor, Garry’s, formative feedback on Assignment 1 is here.

Chas BedfordPH4CN-1

It seems that a bit of rework will be necessary on the driver-view images (but, TBH, I had been considering that myself) and a lot more of what my maths teacher used to call ‘showing your workings’ on the process from camera to final images.

Here is an edited version, covering the substantive points; Garry’s notes in blue, my responses in black.

Overall Comments

A great idea for a project subject and theme – it seeks to show the contrasting realities of documentary through an organisation of ‘points-of-view’ both literal and associational.

Things to improve would include more detailed examination (with annotation) showing the process of using a ‘contact sheet’ to explore different approaches, framing, rendering and the selection for a coherent sequence – we don’t see how you got to the final images as much as we would like (contrast snapshot framing with the more considered viewpoints eventually chosen). This is an aspect of ‘reflective learning’ that you can evidence in the learning log but refer to and cross reference to how you got to the final images both conceptually and in form/technique.

This is the equivalent of the maths teacher saying “Show your working”. I try to summarise my selection/editing process in my blog postings, but framing is something that I present as a fait accompli, because I think about it and do it at the same time.

What I need to do is to break down an instinctive action into smaller steps that can be described (I have an analogy with training sailing instructors – tacking is an instinctive action for an experienced sailor but can be broken down into at least eight steps in order to teach a novice). When cropping an image, I think about the eventual proportions of the print, excluding distractions at the edges, and placing the main picture elements within the frame. For purposes of these assignments, I must try to separate the processes.

In addition, personally I would bring in a little bit more ‘lead-in’ in the self evaluation write up included with your images (almost like a ‘statement of Intent’ ) This could include a short introduction to the notion of ‘point of view’ in general (which could include reference drawn from the blog: Wilkie Collins The Moonstone (reliable) and the more unreliable narrator switching of Gone Girl etc. A theme you might want to return to in the future.

This is trickier as we are only given 300 words for the assignment notes and I did not want to get too verbose. I had assumed that the assessors will turn to the blog for background information – provided it is well referenced.

 

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

I would include your blog in the write up for easy reference (to limit going back to the emails). I like the assignment notes downloadable from the blog. but I would include them as a review after the work is presented in the blog. Research should be refection and summarising – so that an assessor doesn’t have to go and look up the link or the material themselves. This is a hard habit to refine but its coming on.

I need some further guidance on this. If I include blog pages as an appendix to the assessment notes, then I am likely to end up with one page of notes and ten of appendices – something that annoys me when I encounter it in my day job. I will do what I need to, to get the assessors on-side but I would not want to annoy them.

• You might want to consider this diary form of the assignments in the assignment tabs (as you have done) and then in ‘refection’ make that the actual ‘learning log’ as such – the blog is the material you have gathered (including assignments) the refection is the actual summarising of what you have found.

• List if necessary the strategies and conversions you have worked with and then contextual info.

I think this means that the appendix should be a precis of the blog pages, rather than a regurgitation.

Technical and visual

These are strong visually when they are ‘strait’ records of the corresponding viewpoints.

• Fully research this difference in ’visual stance’ between snapshot and a more considered strategy (using the camera as a ‘machine’ ) and relate to the subject matter. 

A topic for a future blog posting.

Would you want to refine these images to show a more ‘haphazard’ framing (like Friedlander) ? – so the they look like the actual fleeting glances.

I don’t see anything haphazard in Friedlander’s framing. All of the images I have seen from ‘America by Car’ seem to be carefully composed, shot from a parked car and using the window and screen edges as framing elements. One reason for adopting the fixed framing of the driver view was to keep that formalism.

• Yours are quite considered views from the point of view of driver and passenger (not ‘wrong’ but different form the snapshot idea). So reflect on these two different ‘stances’ and why you have chosen to go down this formal considered viewpoint.

The formal considered viewpoint arises from my cropping of the passenger-view images; the full-frame views are very much ‘snapshots’, given the limited time available to see and shoot them, with haphazard framing and camera angle. This is a matter of personal choice, influenced by my day-job which is technical and analytical – so I want to present something that is ‘finished’ rather than raw and (in my eyes) slapdash. There may also be a ‘camera club influence’ in play; I want to work each image so that the judge has nothing to criticise.

• Do you need the colourised black and white image? what is the motivation for this (can appear ‘gimmicky’). “colour-popping the things that the driver should be paying attention to (traffic lights, signs etc.)”/ Is this the premise of the photographs?

This was a source of self-doubt almost a soon as I pressed ‘send’ on the assignment. The colour-popping was a late idea; my motivation was to show the driver’s focus within the overall view through the windscreen. On reflection, I believe that I either went too far (should have left in in monochrome) or not far enough (should have coloured the road surface, parked cars and other obstructions). I have worked up some alternative treatments and put them up for peer-review on Facebook. My own inclination is to revert to a pure monochrome look.

• By all means both in colour or both in black and white or (as here) contrast the traditional view of ‘reality’ (from humanist photojournalism – the driver’s view in control) in black and white and the passenger (considered moments and a more imaginative landscape she is free to chose ( in colour).

• Do you want to show that there is a photographer at work here? (for this project probably not). Visually ‘expressive’ or stick to a more ‘objective’ strait recording?

A good question, and thank you for making me consider it. My initial view is that the existence of a photograph automatically implies that a photographer (or at least a camera operator) has been at work. I don’t want my work to look random. On the other hand this subject is not one for excessive stylisation, (HDR, texture layers etc.). The ideal (except that it involves mixing metaphors) is a photographer with a light touch on the helm. An objective view, without going all the way down the Becher route – which is another reason to remove the colour-popping.

Depth of Field/focus

Not sure what went wrong with the zone focussing/‘hyper-focal distance’ setting (its different for different kinds of cameras / chip sizes / film). Outline your process here and in the blog. Could you do some tests and include them. Not sure of your camera type .

I am fairly sure that I understand the problem and won’t repeat it. The driver-view camera was a Canon G1X advanced compact. Manual focus is set in software as a shooting-time option, rather than in the settings menu or via a hardware switch. It appears that, after a period of inactivity, some of these options reset themselves. The answer is to re-check the options before shooting or, if as in this case that is not possible, to use a different camera.

Creativity

I don’t agree. “I am aware that course mates have produced more imaginative, or more socially-aware, work” These photographs are documentary strategies informed by research. The more ‘expressive’ work isn’t necessarily suitable here. It is in dialogue with documentary. Just expand a little more on the context and references to the strategies of other practitioners such as Fiedlander (which you have). Say why they use this particular strategy. Look at Robert Frank and Walker Evans as discussed.

Good to know. Thank you.

Contact Sheets

The contact sheet is useful here. If possible use notations ON the sheet (difficult to do digitally).

Can be done by producing contacts as JPG, then marking up in Photoshop or InDesign but this loses the spontaneity of marking-up physical contact sheets. Also an issue with the number of images shot – I prefer to eliminate the no-hopers and produce a long-list for detailed study.

Show the working processes and annotations in the learning log – how did you chose the eventual images? What criteria did you use?

I usually present basic principles. It would appear that more detail is needed.

• Personally, I would have indicated each image – notated on the contact reference into two camps (each one driver and passenger):

The contact sheets for driver and passenger were created separately (shot with different cameras). Mea culpa; on review, I see that I did not present the driver-view contacts in the blog.

• The more Friedlander points of view include parts of the car (so we can see the photographer at work – see Robert Frank in Papageorge’s essay)

• the more contemplative (‘objective’ so the workings of the photographer are hidden so to speak – links with the external ‘window on the world’ of the passenger.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

Context

Influence from a meditation of ‘points of view’ is really strong. The Guardian and literature references particularly. Make more of this as you include critical refection on photography and the various visual stances (so you chase subject matter followed by the form that its expressed in). Your reflections on documentary photography ‘truth’, ‘reality’ and viewpoint is well informed (wife not seeing the things that were there) . Compare the competing viewpoints on what ‘documentary’ is how it has developed and isn’t and what its function is. It is not what most students think it is (1930s humanism) anymore.

Documentary style photography: question this and expand your understanding of the difference between:

• 1930’s ‘humanist’ documentary – the definition that most students still carry with them

• Challenges by post-modernism. See Paul Graham, Philip Lorca Di Corcia, Larry Sultan. A very readable account of this change in documentary practice is Ian Walker’s Documentary Fictions (see -Readings).

I have read the Walker piece but must read further. Possible future blog posting.

• self evaluation / reflection is honest and critical. It is a great introduction to critical aspects of photography so show the depth of reading and engagement with ‘documentary’ which has ambiguity and contested definitions. You have’t assumed one particular point of view.

There seem to be as many points of view as there are commentators. I am developing my own position on the question, but haven’t got there yet.

• The ‘meaning’ as such is open to interpretation by the viewer as is the best photography (make the viewer work for it!). So don’t be too literal. The strength is this two sides of the coin as it faces the viewer to re-consider their points of view (but also the means with which to express that – make more of this).

Make more of this critical commentary (using sources, critics, theorists and other practitioners/artists) in subsequent work is the key to having a rounded research-led practice. A good start.

Thank you.

Suggested reading/viewing

Visual Stance

A good example being Frank and Evans, who both looked at similar subject matter (even using the same visual motifs and references) but one ‘snapshot’ and one more considered.

Tod Papageoge’s Essay is worth a read on this: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2010/07/theory-walker-evans-and-robert-frank.html

New Objectivity v Expressionist visual language: http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/neuesachlichkeit/arthistory_neuesachlichkeit.html

documentary and documentary style (Walker Evans): http://documentaryfoto.posthaven.com/a-documentary-style

Ian Walker, Documentary Fictions? PDF Enclosed.

Pointers for the next assignment

• Continue this Learning log that records your ‘artistic journey’ which is clearly shown.

• Make more of the developmental and critical choices you make when working with a ‘contact sheet’ study examples (above). Make the contact sheet show the process of decision making and mark making from the different viewpoints Critical analysis of images (as above).

• References to the exercises – and in this particular unit, references to the photographers you have looked at both in the handbook and independently.

• Self Evaluation. Give reasons as to why you believe the outcome is successful/ unsuccessful (see page 19 of the handbook). You have done this but use examples from other practitioners to back up your assertions (i.e. lets see a whole range of work and discussions by photographers on different ways to photograph points of view.

Exercise – alternative captions

All of these images appeared in the Times of 17 April 2017. I have retained the original captions as part of the scans.

The exercise is to write my own captions and comment on how they recontextualise the image. I have attempted to find both anchorage and relay meanings.

Times 20170417003

Surprise winner of Walt Disney lookalike competition.

This caption gives an alternative anchorage, explaining the delight of the crowds but relying on the appearance rather than the identity of the person being celebrated.

“Tomorrow belongs to me”

This caption gives an alternative anchorage for the image, through a relay comment, giving a connoted meaning. It relies on an assumed cultural experience between the winter and the viewer (the crowd scene in the 1972 film ‘Cabaret’) to draw a parallel with Germany in the 1930s and Hitler’s progressive subversion of the democratic process.

There was a young fellow from Ankara …

Another relay comment, relying on some shared cultural experience. In this case, it is a reference to Boris Johnson’s winning entry in the Spectator magazine’s President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition, and is intended to hold Erdogan up to ridicule.

Times 20170417002

Ghost riders in the sky

A relay caption, echoing the 1948 song of the same title. The horses are in the sky and have no riders.

Firefighter hallucinates after blaze at cannabis farm

This caption gives an alternative anchorage to the image, although the viewer would have to share the subject’s hallucination for it to work. This is an image which is not explicable without some sort of caption, whether the original or one of my alternatives.

Times 20170417001

WW1 veteran promotes the anti-ageing qualities of mud-packs

Notionally an anchorage caption, but with elements of the surreal.

“Mud, mud, glorious mud”

Another quotation from a song (Flanders and Swann, 1956). this caption could be taken as anchorage, explaining the subject’s expression, or as relay – linking to the song and the hippopotamus, which leads to:

I keep thinking it’s Tuesday

This is a sort of ‘second generation relay’ caption, referring back to Paul Crum’s 1937 cartoon but first requiring the viewer to pick up a hippopotamus reference via the mud, the subject’s expression and Flanders and Swann.

Exercise – Pictures and headlines

The exercise is to find a newspaper photograph and write our own captions. This is the sort of thing that is done every week on ‘Have I Got News For You’, the ‘Graham Norton Show’ and others, mainly for comic effect. In most cases, these alternative captions form an alternative anchorage for the image. Relay captions appear rare, which fits with Barthes’ own comments in Rhetoric of the Image.

My own attempts will form a separate posting. In this posting I give examples of a surprisingly common phenomenon in the Times. Like most newspapers, the Times likes to put an eye-catching colour photograph on the front page. Often, it is unrelated to the main headline story of the day and, sometimes, the juxtaposition of headline and story give an alternative reading to both – having an element of relay because it is unintentional.

I have gleaned the following examples since mid-February.

Rhetoric of the Image – Barthes (a first reading)

The text of Roland Barthes’ ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ can be found in numerous places online. My version is a book extract posted as a PDF by Georgetown University (Barthes 1964).

Barthes’ writings, to borrow a phrase from Paul Seawright, ‘give up their meaning slowly’. I have been able to extract sufficient meaning for use in this project ‘Image and text’; the deep theory of the latter parts of the essay will have to wait for another day.

The essay centres on the deconstruction of an advertising image into its various messages (significations). Barthes chose an advertising image on the basis that all signification in the image is intentional; we read into the image what its creator intends us to read.

panzani-preview

There are multiple instances of this image online. My source is https://tracesofthereal.com/2009/12/21/the-rhetoric-of-the-image-roland-barthes-1977/

Barthes analyses the signifiers into three parts: the linguistic message and two forms of visual message, the literal (denoted) and symbolic (connoted). Later he notes that linguistic messages can be further subdivided into ‘anchorage’ and ‘relay’. I see an imperfect analogy between the two splits – anchorage can be related to a literal visual message, and relay to a symbolic message.

The literal image denotes what we see at what Barthes calls the ‘first level of intelligibility’. Against a red background is a string bag filled with, and spilling out, the ingredients of a pasta meal. Some are natural produce (tomato, onion, peppers) and some are the manufactured product of the firm (Panzani) being advertised. The products are oriented so that we can read the manufacturer’s name on the labels – which becomes part of the linguistic message.

The connoted message(s) are those things that the viewer ‘reads into’ the literal image. The string bag and the unwrapped vegetables imply a return from market with fresh ingredients. At a second level, this suggests personal choice or selection rather than a ‘Saturday big shop’ stocking-up at the local Tesco. Placing the manufactured goods in the same bag implies that they are as fresh or ‘natural’ as the vegetables, and selected as carefully.

The connoted image, to some extent, depends on the viewer’s cultural background and experiences. Barthes claims to see ‘Italianicity’ in the vegetables and the colour scheme – I only see fresh vegetables, but take ‘Italianicity’ from the labels and the nature of the product (pasta)

There are two sources of linguistic message, the caption at bottom right and the labels on the products. In this case, both fall into the category of ‘anchorage’; they ‘fix’ the meaning of the image, effectively selecting between alternative possible connoted meanings and directing the viewer toward those that the advertiser wants to promote.

Barthes says that every image is associated with some linguistic message, either (as in this example) in the image itself or in the context in which it is seen – for instance, the text in a book, the caption in a newspaper or the wall-notes of a gallery. In the case of still images this is most likely to be anchorage – either the image illustrates the text or the text attempts to fix the meaning of the image; one is subservient to the other.

The other form of linguistic message, ‘relay’ is more common with moving images (for instance a ‘talking-head’ TV broadcast) than with still images; Barthes mentions cartoons and comic strips as likely examples of relay in still images. For me, one of the best examples is Paul Crum’s brilliantly surreal 1937 cartoon in Punch.

The image and the text have equal status and bounce off each other to give an overall meaning that is not complete in either.

Going back to the example picture essays in project 1 (Telling a story), I see Smith’s text and captions as being pure anchorage. Briony Campbell’s picture captions are a mix of anchorage and relay.

Reference

Barthes, R. (1964). Rhetoric of the Image. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: https://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Barthes-Rhetoric-of-the-image-ex.pdf [Accessed 16 Apr. 2017].

Photographing the Unseen – a thought inspired by a quotation.

I came across a thought-provoking quotation in the current copy of B+W Photography (Schneideman 2017, 48)

A pattern is a visible manifestation of an invisible force.

The context is a wide-ranging article about patterns in general. Toward the end of the article Scheideman introduces the concept of pattern as a rule-set, ‘… an unseen hand that controls events.‘ From context, he could also mean an unseen hand that organises events.

I am put in mind of the mathematic concept of fractals, in which complex shapes and patterns can be generated by the application of very simple rules. The same sort of thing can be seen in nature, from the shapes of clouds, the patterns of waves and ripples, or the complex shape of a fern frond.

Schneideman’s ‘invisible force‘ could be the ‘unseen‘ that I have to photograph. It would be interesting to photograph patterns in nature and relate them to the underlying force or rule. A few questions: How obvious should the ‘unseen’ element be? Should I produce a whole set of manifestations of the same rule? How do I make this more than just a set of close-ups of a fern frond?

The concept has definitely ‘clicked’. All I have to do now is work out how to achieve it.

Reference

Schneideman, A. (2017). Thinking Photography. Black + White Photography, (202), pp.46-48.

Exercise – a comparison

We are asked to compare W Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’ with Briony Campbell’s ‘The Dad Project’. I have described each series in my past two blog postings, so this posting can be relatively short.

I believe there are two distinctions to be made: the difference between a photo-story and a photo-essay, and the difference between and insider and outsider view.

Both a photo-essay and a photo-story are what David Hurn (quoted in course notes p52) describes as ‘a group of images in which each picture is supporting and strengthening all the others’. The difference seems to be that a story has a distinct narrative flow but an essay is more free-form, but I suspect that the best projects have elements of both. The Dad Project is primarily a story (charting the progress of Dad’s illness, decline and death) but with non-linear elements. Country Doctor is primarily an essay but has four mini-stories embedded in it.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau (1994) discusses the difference between documentary shot by an outsider (more objective but less ‘involved’) and an insider (probably more detailed knowledge, but a more subjective approach). Campbell was pretty much the ultimate ‘insider’ to the extent that she was, herself, part of the story she is telling. Smith was mostly an outsider; his essay appears more objective – although he clearly has an admiration for his subject.

The other difference between the two series is their historical context. Country Doctor appeared in the late 1940s, shortly after the Second World War and with the Depression well within living memory. Many of his readers will have lived through hardship and approached it with the kind of stoicism and sense of duty projected by Dr Ceriani. The Dad Project is very much a product of the early 21st century, when it is OK to be open about emotions in public.

References

Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Cosgrove, B. (2012). W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait: ‘Country Doctor’. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994). Inside Out. [online] Available at: http://www.photopedagogy.com/uploads/5/0/0/9/50097419/week_5_abigail_solomon-godeau_inside_out.pdf [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].

Briony Campbell – The Dad Project

A man lies on a bed, apparently asleep, in a light-coloured room with open curtains. He wears indoor clothes (rather than pyjamas) and is above the bedclothes, so  we understand that this is a daytime nap. His face is gaunt and his mouth suggests a background of pain. He lies with his head near the left of the frame. At the right of the frame, and partially out of it, a young woman sits at a table eating a meal. She has a worried expression and her eyes are fixed on the camera. Details of the furniture, and the vase of flowers on the bedside cabinet, suggest an institutional (hospital or hospice, rather than a home situation.

These are psychologist and family therapist David Campbell and his daughter, the photographer Briony Campbell. The image is from their collaborative series ‘The Dad Project’, detailing the last six months of David’s life and the period immediately after his death from cancer. Images and captions may found at Campbell (n.d). Briony’s account of making the series and its later exhibitions and other manifestations are available as a PDF (Campbell 2011) and as a video with contributions from David (Campbell 2010). The video includes stills from the series that are not on the website.

It is difficult to be dispassionate in reviewing this project (the deaths of my own parents are recent enough to empathise) so I am not going to try. This is a photo-story about love, sorrow, departure and family. David and Briony are each using it to understand the other and to come to terms with the coming separation by death.

There is a variety of images. As expected, we see David and other family members, some happy times and some pain; there is even a photograph with the paramedic on what we take to be his final ambulance journey to the hospital. Briony turns the camera on herself; we see tears, and we have the image described above in which she finishes his hospital meal. There is also a set of detail pictures, unremarkable in themselves but powerful when taken in context; the empty milk bottle, the drinking glass and straw and the hospital menu with ‘Welcome back to Keats Ward, David’ written on it.

The photography is light-coloured and light in tone, but tells the human story.

The project has been seen in various forms; exhibitions, magazine articles, the video noted above, and as the inspiration for many third-party websites.

The phrase ‘an ending without an ending’ is a reference to David’s death but also to the continuing influence of ‘TheDad Project’ as an inspiration and comfort to viewers, and as a way of keeping David Campbell alive in memory at least.

References

Blackwell, J. (n.d.). The Dad Project. [online] Joblackwell.co.uk. Available at: http://joblackwell.co.uk/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Campbell, B. (2010). Saying goodbye with my camera. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/12600297 [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Campbell, B. (2011). The Dad Project. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].