‘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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‘Two Sides …’ Submission and Reflection

I have now submitted Assignment 1 (under the title ‘Two Seats, Two Views’) and look forward to my tutor’s feedback. My assignment notes are here.

The images are in two sets, intended to be read as pairs. In each case, the driver’s-eye and passenger’s-eye view are as near simultaneous as I could manage. For this posting, they are seen side-by-side. When I submit the assignment for assessment, they will be mounted back-to-back. This means that the corresponding viewpoints are inextricably linked but it will not be possible to see them both at the same time, which is true of the car journey as well. The images are presented in the order encountered on the journey, but there is no set order for viewing them.

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Reflection against assessment criteria

Technical and visual skills

I am generally happy with my technical and visual skills. I used appropriate camera techniques and all images are correctly exposed and well composed. I have an issue with the automatic focus of the driver-view camera; despite setting up for manual focus (and a hyperfocal distance) it defaulted to automatic and was inconsistent between focusing on the road and the interior of the car.

Quality of outcome

The images fulfil the brief, showing two viewpoints of the same narrative. My wife (the driver) saw the passenger-view images and spontaneously commented that she had not seen any of the things depicted during the drive.

I believe that my communication of my concepts, ideas and inspiration has been reasonably effective.

Creativity

As ever, my bête noir. I am aware that coursemates have produced more imaginative, or more socially-aware, work. Somewhere between ‘satisfactory’ and ‘competent’.

Context

I am reasonably happy with my level of self-reflection and research. I considered alternative responses to the brief before settling on my chosen project. I found some appropriate and relevant work for inspiration and applied critical thinking to determine which parts to take and which to leave – rather than slavishly following.

‘Two Sides …’ – first edit

After deleting the worst of the unsharp images and those interrupted by foreground, I was left with 152 passenger-view images. My long-list selection cut that down to 60, as seen in these contact sheets.

I have short-listed down to 14 images, which I have laser-proofed and will now spend a few days living with, shuffling, staring at and generally agonising over to select 6 or 7 for assignment submission. I am looking for images that show the environment that we are passing through, but detail that the driver has no chance to take in.

Two of my favourite images (the Headcorn tea room and the man selling Mother’s Day flowers) are unsharp, so will be early casualties of the cull. For the rest, I am looking for a balance between detail and wide views, town and country.

When I showed this set to my wife (who was the driver) she said that, other than the man selling flowers, she had not seen any of the things in the images. This is a nice confirmation that the basic concept of the exercise is sound.

The drivers-viewpoint images will be easier to select, given that framing and basic composition are identical through that set. I will look for the images taken closest to the same time as the selected passenger-view.

‘Two Sides …’ – doing it for real

This weekend saw the first attempt at the ‘two sides of a car journey’ concept. This was a trip from Maidstone, south through the Weald and onto Romney Marsh, with a variety of scenery. The driver’s-eye images were taken with a fixed camera, using a monopod, plenty of string and a remote control.

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With a focal length of 28mm (full-frame equivalent) it was possible to include the top and bottom edges of the windscreen and both lower corners, to follow Lee Friedlander’s ‘America by Car’ series framing. This resulted in rather too much of the car interior showing, so I have cropped the image and also made a moderately contrasty mono conversion in order to emulate Friedlander’s look. One refinement to consider is colour-popping the things that the driver should be paying attention to (traffic lights, signs etc.)

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I operated the remote control from the passenger seat and also took the passenger-view images, mainly through the left side window. It was not as easy as first thought because of practical issues of anticipation, and fast moving objects fairly close to camera, moving side-to-side in frame. In rural areas, I was frequently photo-bombed by hedges.

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While this is reminiscent of some of Elaine Mayes’ ‘Autolandscapes’, I wanted to find better scenery and/or some things that a passenger could focus on, similar to Steve Fitch’s images. My intention is to leave the passenger-view images in colour.

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The next stage is editing. With about 150 images in each set, I hope to find six from each. Also, ideally I want to match pairs to show driver and passenger views from the same place. It is possible in principle, although I may have to exercise a little artistic licence.

‘Two Sides …’ – Research and some decisions

With a self-imposed deadline of the end of March approaching, it is time to make some decisions. The most important is the decision to go forward with the ‘two views of a car journey’ idea. The other two ideas were rejected for the following reasons:

‘Mugshots and portraits’. Producing the ‘mugshot’ images would be a contrived exercise. If my sitters had police mugshots then (a) they are not likely to tell me and (b) I would not have access to them anyway. Therefore, I would have to fake something up in the studio and the whole assignment would be a comparison between two different styles of studio shooting.

‘Glamorous skin and oily workings of a car’ fails because it would comprise essentially similar close-up techniques in both sets.

The car journey has the advantage of genuinely showing two different viewpoints, and there is also the possibility of applying different techniques to the two sets – of which more in a future posting.

I have started some research into photographers who have made ‘road trip’ photography. A suggestion from my tutor, Garry, was to contrast Lee Friedlander’s approach with Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s approach, so let’s start with them.

Lee Friedlander

Friedlander’s 2010 exhibition ‘America by Car’ follows a road-trip format with the conceit that images are shot from within the car, using the windows and mirrors as frames. All images are fairly contrasty monochrome and have good depth of field, allowing the car parts to be rendered as sharply as the exterior view. There is good inspiration here, but my versions would have some differences. First, of the images I have seen, there are at least as many shot through the side windows as through the screen; for the driver’s-eye view (which I think this style suits) I would mostly be looking through the windscreen. Second, my impression is that most of these images have been taken with the car parked; I need to be shooting from a moving car, otherwise what is the point? (If the car is parked, both driver and passenger will get out to view the surroundings)

Philip-Lorca di Corcia

DiCorcia appears to be best-known for his series of carefully-staged and lit documentary-style tableaux such as ‘Hustlers’ (gay prostitutes) and ‘East of Eden’ (post-apocalypse), neither of which will be a good fit with my intentions. According to MoMA (2017), diCorcia has ‘influenced a generation of photographers who work with controlled situations and semi-anonymous portrait subjects’ an aspect that I will return later in my studies (either in C&N or in Identity and Place)

He also practices a form of street photography but, rather than ambient light grab-shots he sets up his camera and pre-arranges flashes to give an artificial and frozen look.

The technique will not fit with what I intend to do, but it is worth noting that (in town, at least) the passenger view is an opportunity for some street photography.

William Eggleston

I include Eggleston primarily for this image, which I saw at his National Portrait Gallery exhibition in 2016. I was not impressed with it as a portrait, but it makes an interesting ‘road trip’ image. Not much can be seen through the windscreen and the notional subject (Dennis Hopper) is unsharp. Eggleston has focused on the the dashboard and instruments, which reminds me that the driver will spend some time paying attention to instruments and controls – which must be the subject of at least one of my ‘driver-view’ images.

Various ‘Road Trip’ photographers

A Google search on ‘road trip photography’ brings up some lists (example1 example2) of photographers who use the genre, including Jeff Luker, Nic Hance McElroy and Venetia Dearden. In the main, however, they use the road trip as a hook for travel or landscape photography. The photographer is out of the car and, often, neither the car nor the road is featured.

Second-generation surfing from the Google results brought up a page about a 2013 exhibition, ‘Landscapes in Passing’ (Gan 2013) which introduces two interesting photographers:

Elaine Mayes

Mayes’ series ‘Autolandscapes’ is based on a car journey from California to Massachusetts, taking a photograph through the window at each change of landscape. It includes other vehicles in traffic jams, open spaces and some motion-blurred close views (similar to mine that I had regarded as unsuccessful). Of course, the American road experience is rather different from the British but the series is a useful ‘proof of concept’.

Steve Fitch

The exhibition included Fitch’s series ‘Diesels and Dinosaurs’ but there are several of his later series, such as ‘Western Landscapes’ and ‘Vernacular Assemblages’ that deal with rather quirky things (mainly advertising signs) seen at the American roadside. Again, the British experience will be different, but we do have our share of roadside advertising, which is worth looking for as a subject.

The exercise has been useful. I am reasonably clear on my driver’s view images, although a strict Friedlander approach may be unsuccessful because it would be dangerous to get into the driver’s eyeline. Having studied diCorcia and Fitch, I will expand my vision of the passenger view from simple scenics to street scenes and advertising signs. I suspect that I will not get what I need from a single trip.

References

Gan, V. (2013). Landscape Through a Car Window, Darkly. [online] Smithsonian. Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/landscape-through-a-car-window-darkly-22480025/ [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].

The Museum of Modern Art. (2017). Philip-Lorca diCorcia | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/artists/7027?locale=en&page=1&direction= [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].

Whitney.org. (2010). Lee Friedlander: America By Car | Whitney Museum of American Art. [online] Available at: http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/LeeFriedlander [Accessed 12 Mar. 2017].

‘Two sides …’ – a dry run

Having generated some ideas, it is now time to do some ‘proof of concept’ work. I like the idea of the alternative views of driver and passenger on a car journey. The following images were made with an iPhone on a recent trip.

Driver’s viewpoint images are reasonably easy, even from the passenger seat.

It was a dull, wet day so the headlights and the rain streaks added nicely to the drama of the situation. I get the impression that the driver is having to concentrate on the road, with no time for sightseeing. Zooming in slightly (the shot with the lorry at right of frame) loses the dashboard details that give away the fact that this is not strictly the driver’s view; it also gives a better impression of concentration on the road immediately ahead.

The passenger viewpoint was less successful (OK, not successful at all)

I had not appreciated how much roadside hedges obscure the view. It is clear that the main aspect of planning this assignment (if I go for this option) will be the selection of a route. I am looking for nearby ‘scenery’ with minimum obstruction. It may be a that a countryside route is not ideal, so my next experiment will be on a drive through an historic market town.

‘Two sides …’ – another idea

Another variation on telling a ‘story’ with two sides, although this one takes liberties with the definition of story. I came upon a classic car (Ford Thunderbird) and shot a set of details to be arranged as a panel for a club competition.

It occurs to me that this is a story about the surface glamour of this type of car, all glossy paint and polished chromework (and rather a lot of it). The alternative ‘story’ would be to look at all the dirty oily bits under the bonnet and below the car, that actually make it ‘work’.

The practicality would be finding a classic car owner who is sufficiently proud of his car to keep the exterior polished, but not up to concours d’elegance standard with the engine bay similarly polished.