‘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.

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‘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].