‘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.

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