On Reflection … Week Six, Module One

This week has been informative and interesting.

All energies this week were focused on the preparation of a presentation outlining a critical and contextual appraisal of my photographic practice to date, together with the introduction of my final major project, and a rationale of how the two are linked.

It was good to see several weeks of work coming together nicely.

It was a time to introduce my revised project concept, both the idea and the presentation seemed to be well received by an audience of tutor and fellow students.

Ok, there were moments of frustration during the week, many moments. And, of course, many instances of delightful inspiration.

And some comedy … …

I’m still recovering from cold and I’m sure anyone who could have been a “fly-on-the-wall” to observe me trying to narrate my PowerPoint slideshow for what seemed like the 27th time, each time coughing or sneezing at a critical moment and consequently having to start again, would have found it quite humorous.

My mind is popping with ideas of where this project could go, and how to take it there. Not just in terms of being a final major project for the MA, but how it could be developed, or at least the knowledge and experience gained to be used to develop other ideas, in the future.

Next week, perhaps a little bit of “polishing up” for the oral presentation before it’s submitted as part of assignment one, and lots more work on my project proposal.

There’s a lot more work to do for my research portfolio, including some practical experiments to organise and carry out – something I’m looking forward to.

On Reflection … Week Five, Module One

Turning all attention to the Final Major Project has been the task this week.

A time for planning and organising, as well as producing some research photographs.

For most of the week it seemed that the task was expanding to fill the time available, and not just fill it – completely swamp it!

But isn’t that always the case? Why else would C. Northcote Parkinson have written his law…

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

In terms of formulating a “departure point” for my innovative body of photographic work, things are going well.

There has, however, been a few tweaks made to the project concept. Well, not a few tweaks, so much as one significant change – and for the better.

The original project concept was a photographic exploration of British cuisine.

The more I thought about this, and what I was trying to do and why, the more I felt frustrated and constrained.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a brilliant idea with bags of mileage in it. BUT … …

This is an MA in photography and whilst every photographic project needs a subject, this project was in danger of becoming an exercise in cooking as much as anything photography related.

That specific concept is something to look at in another time and another place then.

So, what’s the change?

Well, food is still going to be the subject, or at the very least feature as a subject. But before looking at the revised concept, some important background.

Images of food are an important means of documenting the social history of our relationship with food.

The food we eat, how we produce it and prepare it, and how we regard it has been recorded in works of art since the earliest times: from cave-paintings to mediaeval manuscript illuminations, from Roman mosaics to Renaissance era frescos.

Furthermore, food imagery provides a record of how society is stratified in terms of what foods are consumed by whom, where, when and how.

Using images of food as a display of wealth was especially prevalent among the Dutch masters who developed sub-genres such as pronkstilleven – ostentatious still life and ontbijtjes – breakfast pieces.

Many outstandingly beautiful still-life paintings were produced by the great Dutch masters who were attracted to the subject by the opportunities it presented to display skill in arranging strong, effective compositions and the painting of diverse textures, colours and surfaces and realistic lighting. A wide range of food, intricately patterned cutlery, ornate dining ware and delicate folds of textiles all provided an enticing challenge to artists.

The qualities of these painting appeal to me very strongly. In other words, I am strongly motivated by images, whether they are paintings or photographs, which display these aesthetic characteristics, and want to develop my personal photographic skills in order to produce equally appealing images.

Food as a subject for study through the visual arts has as much appeal today as it did in the time of the great masters.

No surprise then that photographic technology should be used to produce still-life images featuring food as the subject.

Today, however, food photography is largely driven by the need for images appropriate for use in cookbooks or advertisements, images produced using loose composition, strong lighting and selective focus to draw attention to one specific subject.

So, what is the revised concept then?

Well, it is to explore the effect that light, various lighting patterns and the elements of design have upon the aesthetics and appeal of the subjects.

Iconic dishes, contemporary classics and emerging trends from the world’s cuisines will be used to research, develop and refine a body of knowledge, the aim of which is to produce a definitive collection of food images: a masterclass in food photography.

The assessment of photographs is subjective and empirical measurements are not possible. However, a logical system of assessing the photographs produced for the project using still-life paintings by the Dutch masters as a reference point will be used.

In a nutshell, the project concept is about me using the still-life paintings of the Dutch masters as a reference point and food as a subject, taking apart food photography, analysing its component parts to explore the effect that light, various lighting patterns and the elements of design have upon the aesthetics and appeal of the subjects.

So, a significant change – and one for the betterment of the project.

On reflection, I do feel positive having made the change. I feel less constrained and open to implementing my creative ideas.

And of course, one great passion, photography is no longer in danger of being usurped by another, food …

Towards An Ethical Practice

I feel, that as a photographer, I am responsible for producing work that has integrity and is capable of withstanding interrogation. I am responsible for seeking opportunities for continuous improvement as a result of exploring new areas of creativity. Furthermore, I am responsible for working in a way which portrays photography as a professional occupation, adhering to professional and ethical standards.

I am responsible to the public audience for producing work which is unbiased, unprejudiced, informative and which acts to document.

I am answerable to several people in different areas.

Firstly, I am obliged to clients to fulfil creative, technical and contractual requirements within the agreed timeframe and within budget.

I owe a duty to myself to be the very best photographer that I can be.

Finally, I am obliged to my family to offer work of the highest standard at all times in order to secure ongoing revenue.

Power & Responsibility

There are two areas of ethical responsibility relating to photographic images.

The first area relates to the photographer and the making of the image.

The fact that there are ethical issues surrounding the making and use of photographs is recognised by professional bodies representing photographers, at least in relation to photojournalism.

The following is an extract from the National Press Photographer’s Association’s Code of Ethics:

“Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.”

National Press Photographer’s Association’s Code of Ethics

The NPPA’s Code of Ethics then goes on to provide guidelines which, as an example, suggest that photographer should put themselves in the place of their subject when photographing people and, if they themselves would feel uncomfortable being photographed, to look for an alternative image.

Clearly the photographer has extensive control over the photographic process. They control what images they take, when, where and how. Of course, such things may, in part, be subject to contractual obligations: clients commissioning work may insist on some creative input. However, at the end of the day, it is the photographer who presses the shutter release.

The second area, an area where the photographer has much less control, is in the end use of the image.

The control that a photographer can exert over an image’s use is limited to the rights for image usage that are agreed upon at the time of sale.

Once an image is sold, how that image is used is largely beyond the control of the image maker. This is especially true when images are sold to stock libraries and photographic agencies. Perhaps such organisations should be more diligent in terms of determining the appropriateness of an image’s end use?

Individuals or organisations are able to buy more or less any image and use it for any purpose, the only criteria being that have sufficient funds to facilitate the image purchase.

This raises an interesting point. When an image is used for purposes which are perceived as being unethical or controversial, to what extent is that unethical or controversial use still associated with the photographer as the author of the work?

Taking Jeff Mitchell’s migrant image as a point in case, this image was, arguably, used unethically by UKIP in order to further a specific political agenda. Clearly Mitchell had no control over this particular use of the image but, in the eyes of the public, Mitchell’s name is definitively associated as being the image’s author. To what extent, then, is he held responsible by the viewing audience for the end use of the image, if at all?

 

The National Press Photographers Association, NPPA Code of Ethics, https://nppa.org/code_of_ethics

(16 October 2016)

On Reflection … Week Four, Module One

Another interesting week during which I focused on two areas … …

Firstly, preparation of a project situation report. Personally, I feel that significant progress has been made in terms of preparing the project proposal and the associated presentation.

Scope and parameters for the project have been identified and it’s good to see a skeleton, a framework start to develop from which things can naturally and progressively evolve.

A picture paints a thousand words … …

great-british-food-project

Morris, 2016. The Great British Food Project

Secondly, working on a research portfolio. The project will focus on a handful of key areas relating to British cuisine:

Iconic dishes

Contemporary classics

Regional specialities

Fresh, local produce

This week was fun and tasty, working on a local delicacy from my hometown, North Staffordshire oatcakes … …

oatcakes

Morris, 2016. Oatcakes

And other photographs from this week which focus on ingredients … …

bouquet-garni

Morris, 2016. Bouquet Garni

fresh-cod

Morris, 2016. Cod

All in all, I am pleased with the progress made relating to both the project proposal and the portfolio. It’s a relief to get some key information down in writing and start to see the project concept developing, even if priorities were questioned, and the portfolio developing.

The next few weeks promise to be especially challenging, not least challenging of which will be a live presentation of the project proposal.

Lots to think about … …

 

 

The Filters of Citizen Journalism

Damon Winter’s exclusive use of an iPhone and Hipstamatic app to capture images for the “A Grunt’s Life” raises a number of points.

Firstly, in the initial stages of an interview for poynter.org, where Winter discusses the validity of the images, he states that “No content has been added, taken away, obscured, or altered.” [1]

However, Winter then goes on to describe the process of capturing an image using the iPhone: “Every image receives what seems to be a pretty similar treatment, which involves a color-balance shift, burning of predetermined areas of the frame and increased contrast.” [2]

Arguably then, the images presented to the audience are not a true representation of the scene that faced the photographer at the time of taking the image.

The “moodiness” of an image, the emotional response evoked by a photograph, is very strongly influenced by colour, whether an image is predominantly dark or light, and by contrast. All changes being made to the photographs by the Hipstamatic app.

Are we then experiencing the same range of emotions that were experienced by the photographer?

This leads to another point. Should photographs taken to document a combat situation be a true and faithful depiction of the scene that was witnessed by photographer, “as is” and unaltered by the photographer, or should the photographer be free to manipulate the photographs?

Unaltered the photographs should, at least theoretically, allow the viewer to feel at least some of the emotions felt by the photographer at the time of seeing and making the image, to gain a feeling of “being present in the moment” to some extent.

By altering the images, is the photographer denying the viewer these feelings and emotions? As the author of the photographs, the photographer perhaps has an inalienable right to present the images as they see fit, to evoke in the viewer the emotions they feel most appropriate. But isn’t the purpose of war documentary to produce raw and “un-sanitised” images?

Certainly Winter demonstrates some wish to capture “real” and “genuine” candid images, images which he tells us he could not have captured using his SLR. With such a desire to document true-to-life images, it is perhaps a contradiction then, that Winter should choose to use an iPhone camera and Hipstamatic app. In fairness though, Winter does state that he chose to use the iPhone due to its discreteness compared to a much larger SLR and lens, allowing him to capture images which would have otherwise been inaccessible and, having made this decision, the Hipstamatic app was all that was available to him.

There is one further point, to what extent does the use of apps such as the Hipstamatic app remove scope for independent authorship? Does the use of such apps prevent photographers from displaying their own unique style of photography? With individual style being such an important aspect of the aesthetics of an image, do apps like the Hipstamatic app cause a dilution of photographic image quality with their “one size fits all” filters and processing which Bull [3] refers to as “washing out, fading away and obscuration” in an attempt to recreate the nostalgia of analogue photography? Winter himself refers to the Hipstamatic app’s processing as being “pretty similar treatment” [4]. If the treatment of each image is “pretty similar”, aren’t the images produced at risk of also being “pretty similar” with no single image really standing out and possessing individual character?

Photographers, therefore, are faced with a choice. Do they capture images which are then presented to the viewer in a pure and unedited form? Or do they enhance their images aesthetically? If so, does this manipulation apply to all forms of photography equally, or should some forms of photography, such as combat documentary, remain unedited?

 

[1] [2] [4] Damon Winter talking about his series A Grunt’s Life on Poynter.org: http://www.poynter.org/2011/damon-winter-explains-process-philosophy-behind-award-winning-hipstamatic-photos/119117/

[3] Stephen Bull ‘Digital Photography never looked so Analogue’ in Photoworks (Spring/Summer 2012) Available at: http://frameandreference.com/digital-photography-never-looked-so-analogue-retro-camera-apps-nostalgia-and-the-hauntological-photograph/

Re-thinking Photographers

How do we categorise photographers? I think one possible classification is professionals, amateur and non-photographers. The term “amateur” is not intended to do a disservice to anyone falling into that category. There are, in my opinion, as many outstanding amateur photographers and there are poor professional photographers.

This classification is relevant because, I feel, non-photographers hold a number of misconceptions regarding not only professional photographers but photography and photographers in general, perceptions that apply largely to both amateurs and professionals.

The first thing that is overlooked is the ability to “see” an image. Ansel Adams and David Bailey both allude to the ability to “see” an image accordingly:

Photography – like painting, is all about seeing. You have to keep looking until you see.” – David Bailey

You don’t take a good photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams

Photographers have an eye for an image, this is to a lesser or greater extent inherent and it is, perhaps, what draws people to practice photography in the first place. This ability to see an image becomes refined with experience and can be enhanced with training. Picking up a camera and using it to capture images might be photography in the most literal definition, but confers nothing about the quality of the images.

By definition, professional photographers earn revenue by taking photographs. So on this basis, arguably, anyone who can pick up a camera, use it to record an image and then sell that image can be classed as a “professional” photographer. Whether the images they produce meet the criteria needed for people to class the images as being of a professional standard is another question.

Furthermore, I feel non-photographers confuse the ability to recognise circumstances which will produce a good photograph when captured, with technology. Lay people appear greatly mistaken in assuming that it’s the equipment that produces the photographs, the better and more up to date the equipment, the better the photographs will be.

In my opinion, photography is not about equipment, it’s about light. The equipment is, to some extent, just a tool with which to record images. The photography is in “seeing” the light, understanding it, analysing it and having the technical knowledge to be able to use the equipment in order to accurately record the light.

An interesting point, though, is there such a thing as a “non-photographer” given the ubiquitous nature of the camera with many being built into mobile telephones and seemingly recording the minutiae of life?

On Reflection … Week Three, Module One

Post a single line of text or an image which could act as a creative catalyst for a piece of photographic work. That was this week’s brief … …

From this starting point, students naturally formed into pairs or groups of three based on how well they felt pieces of text posted by fellow students resonated with them and responding accordingly with comments of their own.

I find ad hoc projects easier to come up with. I always have and it’s been the same when I’ve been involved with developing business names in my capacity as a business consultant. It’s a sort of “tip off the tongue” thing – try and think of something and it’s almost impossible: you know you know it, but it’s “on the tip of your tongue” … …

So, I was very surprised when I had a “lightbulb” moment almost immediately after reading the brief.

“Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness” – the first line of “To Autumn” by John Keats.

That was my personal starting point.

Fellow students Jo and Kevin posted the following respectively:

“If you have fairy blood, even in the tiniest degree, you must live close to Fairy Land, and eat a little fairy food, or else you will always be hungry.”

three%20fish11

Kevin Darling-Finan, date unknown. Fish – Bradford Abbas, Dorset

From these three initial contributions, Jo, Kevin and myself found ourselves drawn to the common theme of autumn, but viewed with three different sub-themes in mind: fairy folklore, autumnal harvests and autumnal recipes.

Having formed our team of three and established a theme for our micro project, we embarked upon identifying a viable method of presenting our work.

Should the work be presented as three separate themed photographs with appropriate dialogue? Or, a triptych, again with accompanied by relevant commentary?

Kevin suggested that the ideal vehicle to carry our idea would be an autumn themed magazine. This concept met with eager enthusiasm from both Jo and myself and was immediately adopted.

Within 24 hours we had formed a team, agreed themes and sub-themes, identified a method of presenting our output. Within 36 hours we had an initial layout for our eight-page publication.

By Wednesday afternoon all three team members had taken their sub-theme based images and prepared relevant accompanying articles. Jo did an amazing job of using her Photoshop skills to bring the magazine together – thank you Jo.

The following images are taken from our magazine … …

hello-autumn-cover-2

Front Cover

hello-autumn-recipes

Autumnal Recipes

hello-autumn-combined-2

A page clearly combining all three sub-themes: Jo’s fairy folklore, Kevin’s foraging & autumn harvest, and autumn recipes

 

We are all very proud of our magazine.

Working collaboratively with Jo and Kevin has been a pleasure. I would very happily form a team of three and work with them both again in a heartbeat. I sincerely hope that we can find more opportunities to collaborate again in the future.

Several other teams were formed in addition to ours and each presented their own project.

“A place for broken things” was a presentation of three triptychs, each triptych having been produced by one team member using an image of their own and two images provided by their colleagues. Working to a restricted palette, the three triptychs varied in style, maintaining the individuality of the photographers, but clearly conveyed the message of the project’s theme. It was noted that the team felt constrained by time and the question was asked as to whether the team felt this was due to them being located in three separate time zones. Notwithstanding this perceived constraint, the team worked cohesively in order to produce a powerful piece of photographic work.

In another presentation, the human form and its interaction with nature were explored. Monochromatic headshots, taken using hard directional light, subtly blended with images of plants having established uses as natural remedies. I personally found that presenting black and white images gave them significant impact, I did wonder, however, how much impact the images would have had had they been presented in colour. Thought provoking, this presentation achieved its aim in forcing me to contemplate the interactions between humans and the environment. It also made me question why humans see themselves as being detached from nature when, in reality, they are just another member of the animal kingdom.

So, in summary, the output from our micro-project clearly demonstrates that remote working is an effective method for like-minded individuals to combine their knowledge, skills and experience on collaborative projects.

This has been a thoroughly enjoyable activity and an amazing week. I have taken an enormous amount of enjoyment from this project and from being part of this team as have my colleagues and friends Jo and Kevin.

 

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/autumn 

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1311202-if-you-have-fairy-blood-even-in-the-tiniest-degree 

On Reflection … Week Two, Module One

Time has been a particular constraint this week, but purely from a logistical point of view.

Having introduced the subject of time, I found the following statement by the artist and photographer David Hockney to be very thought provoking: “Still pictures can be seen in a different way. You bring time to it (the picture), moving pictures bring time to you” (David Hockney, “Hockney on Photography”, Sky Arts)

Moving on … …

The task in hand has been to consider how interdisciplinary practice is already present in my photographic practice, how I might expand my practice through greater use of other disciplines, media and critical contexts.

The aim of photography in general is to purposefully create compositions that carry a clear message, are visually impressive and influential.

In real terms, the purpose of food photography is to produce images which portray the food’s intrinsic characteristics in order to stimulate, in the viewer, the sensation of hunger and a corresponding desire to consume the food they see.

In order to capture the true essence of the subject, it is essential that the photographer has an in-depth knowledge of the subject. To gain a sufficient knowledge of the subject requires the photographer to look beyond the subject and the photographic process and draw upon areas which lie outside photography.

There is a body of technical knowledge that underpins all photography irrespective of genre or subject. Each specific type of photography, however, draws upon a range of knowledge which derives from a variety of different disciplines. In relation to food photography, skills derived from a knowledge and experience of the culinary arts and design are allied to photographic knowledge.

Distilling this idea, the knowledge and experience that derive from these two areas of knowledge enable the intrinsic characteristics of the subject to successfully make the conversion from three-dimensional reality into a two-dimensional image.

In summary then … …

It has been enlightening to see the extent to which the different genres of photography draw upon other disciplines. Even within a relatively small group of students the range of interdisciplinary knowledge which is drawn upon is diverse and interesting.

Looking at other areas of knowledge that I draw upon in the practice of food photography has prompted me to look at my images, and most pertinently the process of making images, from perspectives other than my own as the photographer.

I think there is considerable scope for the quality of images to be improved if photographers consider the viewpoint of other professionals, in interdisciplinary terms, when making their images. Looking at a subject from differing viewpoints rather than exclusively through the viewfinder may allow the original photographic intention to be challenged and, consequently, improved upon.

Studying interdisciplinary subjects and contexts has not only given me a greater appreciation of the way in which images may be produced but also in the way that they may be consumed: in terms of how an image is used, the photographer’s intention at the time of the taking an image may not match the reality of how the image is finally used and by whom. To what extent is a photograph’s classification dependent upon the photographer’s intention, and to what extent is it dependent upon the end use of the image?

All-in-all an interesting and revelatory week.

Other Disciplines and Contexts

My interest is food photography and so that forms the basis from which I have looked at this topic.

Putting things into context first.

The aim of photography in general is to purposefully create compositions that have a clear message and that are visually impressive and influential.

How effectively a message is conveyed is dependent upon a combination of strong composition and skilful photographic technique.

There is a number of fundamental skills that are essential to all genres of photography, irrespective of subject and type of equipment being used. These are, for example, composition and lighting.

There are, however, types of specialist knowledge which are unique to some types of photography which derive a series of skills which are seemingly unimportant, sometimes understated, quite often overlooked and which sit quietly in the background. These skills are referred to as interdisciplinary skills which draw upon knowledge and experience gained through the study of non-photographic subjects.

In addition to photographic knowledge and technique, two disciplines underpin the practice of food photography: the culinary arts and design.

Such knowledge and skills are essential in order to produce images which are not only compelling but which also withstand the translation of a tangible three-dimensional entity into a two-dimensional image.

garlic-olive-oil-and-tomatoes

Morris, 2016. Still-life with Garlic, Olive Oil and Tomatoes

The culinary arts are defined as “the art of the preparation, cooking and presentation of food” and draw upon such bodies of knowledge as food science, and diet and nutrition.

Food science is: “the application of basic sciences and engineering to the study of physical, chemical and biochemical nature of foods and the principles of food processing” (Food Science).

In real terms, the purpose of food photography is to produce images which portray the food’s intrinsic characteristics in order to stimulate, in the viewer, the sensation of hunger and a corresponding desire to consume the food they see.

Preparing, cooking and presenting food in a way which portrays it in the most appealing manner requires, for example, a knowledge of the way in which the food’s molecular structure will respond to the cooking process.

Whilst food science provides knowledge of how ingredients react during cooking, sensory evaluation, the scientific discipline that analyses and measures human responses to the composition of food and drink, is concerned with such qualities as appearance, texture, odour and temperature and the way that these characteristics interplay with the senses of sight, touch and smell.

In culinary terms, the following qualities and corresponding senses are important:

Appearance – sight: shape, size, colour and surface texture; food needs to look appealing; temperature (yes – you can see temperature, trust me!)

Texture – touch

Temperature – touch

Odour – smell: volatile aromas released from food; odour and taste work together to produce flavour

Taste: bitter, sweet, salt, sour, umami

Sound – hearing: sounds of food being prepared, cooked, served and eaten influence preferences.

Practically, the culinary arts provide food photographers with a base of knowledge which is essential in order to accurately identify and then portray the physical characteristics of food in an appealing and influential manner through the use of a two-dimensional medium.

Additionally, food photographers require such knowledge in order to communicate successfully with other professionals such as chefs, food stylists, art directors and editors on collaborative projects.

caramel-brownie-with-rapsberries

Morris, 2016. Chocolate Brownie with Raspberries and Cream

The art of design is a systematic approach to the construction of compelling images.

The system provides a number of principles and elements which can be studied and then applied in order to produce images which convey a clear message.

Having knowledge and understanding of the principles and elements of design allows compositional decisions which improve the way that photographs both look and read to be made.

It’s practical application in relation to food photography is for food styling, complimenting and supporting the knowledge of food presentation arising from the study of the culinary arts.

sushi

Morris, 2016. Sushi

Two important but often unasked questions related to the making of photographic images are: “who will view my images?” and “how will my images be used?”

There are a number of categories into which a photograph can fall, still life and photojournalism being two examples.

The boundaries between these different genres can be quite grey and undefined and as a result it is possible to place a photograph into more than one category.

But what determines how we class a photograph?

Is it the intent of the photographer at the time of taking the photograph? Or, is it the end use to which the photograph is put that determines its photographic classification?

Why is this important? Well, it’s important because it determines when a photograph stops being a fine art or still life image existing purely to bring visual pleasure and instead becomes an educational tool.

This has an important interdisciplinary aspect because, perhaps arguably, at some point a collection of photographs illustrating a cookbook stops being a body of photographic work and instead become a significant contribution to the furtherance of culinary knowledge.

In conclusion, then, some knowledge is common to all forms of photography, irrespective of classification.

The subject plays a major role in determining into which category a photograph is placed.

In order to capture the true essence of the subject, it is essential that the photographer has an in-depth knowledge of the subject. To gain a sufficient knowledge of the subject requires the photographer to look beyond the subject and the photographic process and draw upon areas which lie outside photography.

In relation to food photography, the culinary arts and design are allied to photographic knowledge.

The knowledge and experience that derive from these areas enable the intrinsic characteristics of the subject to successfully make the conversion from three-dimensional reality into a two-dimensional image.