A Very Interesting Quote …

During the course of my research this week, I stumbled upon the following quote:

“The two most amazing powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.” – William Thackeray (1811 – 1863)

William Thackeray was an English novelist and is known most notably for his satirical “Vanity Fair”.

I can find nothing to suggest that Thackeray was in anyway involved in photography. He was, however, a very skilled artist, which in my opinion more than qualifies him to have made such a statement. Certainly photography was an emerging technology during his lifetime and, as an artist, it is not inconceivable that he may have made the statement.

Whether he held an interest in photography or not, whether he himself spoke these words or not, for me they capture a fundamental truism regarding photography and its purpose.

In researching the provenance of the quote, I spent some time looking at Thackeray’s sketches. The following image is entitled “Coach and Four”.

I think this is a wonderful example of his work.

coach-and-four

William Thackeray, date unknown. Coach and Four

Communicating Practice

I am drawn to still-life photography more than any other genre, and especially to images which feature food as either a main or a supporting subject.

Obviously, a lot of time has been spent recently prepping for the presentation, research proposal and WIP portfolio, and as a result I have asked myself a lot of questions. One question which really challenged me is “why does that particular subject appeal to me so much more than any other?”

Finding an answer to that question which stands up to any form of interrogation has been interesting.

I think the appeal lies in the similarity to art in the most widely accepted notion of an artist using paints and canvas to produce an image. In other words, I research, resource, set-up and then photograph my subjects in the same, contemplative and progressive way that an artist might.

I appreciate art very much, but I can’t draw or paint. Still-life photography allows me to be creative -what I photograph I “create” myself and I can see it develop incrementally before me.

This is what motivates me to take photographs – an enormous sense of satisfaction at what I create. What keeps me motivated is striving for excellence – being critical in the evaluations of my work and how it was produced.

The work of the great masters is an enormous source of inspiration to me. I feel that understanding their work, the “how” and the “why” for the paintings they produced will enrich my photography.

Theory in Practice

 

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved” – Ansel Adams

 

With this statement, Adams is capturing the very essence of photography.

“Photography” is not simply the use of a camera to record a permanent image of a subject. Images that justify any length of time spent looking at them require effort on the part of the photographer. Photography inescapably involves some level of technical knowledge, which expands with experience, and familiarity with one’s photographic equipment means that important images aren’t lost at the “decisive moment” as a result of fumbling about with various controls. But photography is so much more than the equipment or knowing how to use it.

It takes time to develop as a photographer. During that time, the individual is exposed to a huge variety of experiences which shape and refine the way in which they view things. Perspectives are changed, personal paradigms are shifted. Our experiences change the way in which we interact with our subjects. Reflecting on our experiences helps us to grow as we understand not only our subjects, but ourselves as both photographers and individuals.

We are products of our environment and, as is the case with so many disciplines, there is an element of “nature and nurture” (“nature” being that we are products of our environment), how proficient the practitioner becomes in a particular discipline is dependent upon how the individual not only strives for successes, but also embraces failure, analysing it and the reasons for it, accepting ambiguity and enthusiastically seeking as many questions as answers, in other words, “nurturing” ability through enriching understanding.

On Reflection … Week Nine, Module One

In the previous week, I spent quite a lot of time thinking about what makes a photograph “interesting”, something that attracts attention and has appeal.

This had a lot of relevance, as this week’s topic was “critical theory”.

I belong to an online food photography group and, as an experiment, I thought I would throw my hat into the ring by contributing an image and seeing what would happen.

Hopefully, I produce quality images that people find pleasing to look at and which have some point of interest. At least, that’s the intention. But is that what I am achieving?

I had an image in mind, something that I felt would make an appropriate submission – given that this was an informal experiment. But, before making the submission, I wanted to do some editing which is something I haven’t done before, certainly not in relation to my food photography, it’s not my “style” of photography – my images are made “in camera” with post-processing being very limited to tweaking the odd exposure, adjusting colour balance or contrast slightly and some sharpening.

Having invested a reasonable amount of time on editing the image, I was very pleased with the result. And through research, trial and error I learnt a new technique which is effective, repeatable and reproducible.

So, the submission was made … …

And nothing happened.

Well, I say “nothing happened”, it is probably more correct to say nothing happened in relation to my image.

At risk of repeating myself, I don’t set out to take poor quality images. In my opinion, the image I submitted certainly wasn’t poor quality, nor was it my “usual style”, nor was it like any other image being submitted.

In context, there is a decent number of images being submitted to the group by a fair number of contributors.

And the spread of quality is fair too, covering the full spectrum: images which need quite a bit of work being submitted by enthusiastic beginners, through to outstanding images being submitted by photographers who have developed their style and technical ability over a number of years.

And what I noticed has me perplexed. I’ve been left with more questions than answers.

Every single image submitted since my own contribution was made has attracted either at least one “like”, or a comment, or both.

Every image, that is, except mine.

Images which are routine, mundane and can be seen posted by people out for a meal with family and friends where they just point a camera ‘phone at a plate of food and snap away … …

Images where time has been spent thinking about the subject, the lighting and the composition before pressing the shutter.

So, what’s going wrong? Why the abject lack of interest? Where do I go from here?

Well, there’s a lot of analysis to be done even on this very basic and limited experiment.

Something to bear in mind, though, is that the group is just one “audience”, most of which may have little, if any, knowledge of critical evaluation. That’s not to detract from the value of their collective opinion though, in fact it emphasises the need to cast the net wider and canvass opinions from a more diverse range of “audiences”.

I’ve got ideas of how to take the experiment forward in a way which will, hopefully, provide some meaningful data which can be used to reflect upon and develop my personal photographic practice.

“Critical Theory”…

Critical theory. What is it? Why does it matter?

Critical theory is a means by which we consider the contexts associated with art and culture. It provides a system for the identification, investigation and evaluation of the social, historical, economic and philosophical backgrounds, or contexts, which give rise to a specific work of art and which have helped to both shape it and constrain it during its production.

It is a system of evaluation which allows art to be viewed from various differing perspectives rather than being viewed solely from the viewpoint of the creator.

By “critiquing” work, we assume that there is no real pre-determined knowledge relating to a specific piece of art or to the art movement with which it is associated. Instead, we assume that any knowledge relating to a work of art is the subjective opinion of those putting forward an argument at any one particular time. Consequently, the validity of anything that is offered as a “fact” is brought into question as are the motives and methods of the author wishing to establish that fact.

Artists, including photographers, need to research their subjects. However, not all pieces of art have the same level of quality, nor do all sources of information appertaining to those works of art have the same degree of integrity.

Critical theory allows artists, and viewers of art, to evaluate existing works of art and appraise them, together with any opinion relating to them, in a systematic manner.

Critical thinking, the act of applying critical theory, facilitates the difference between “consciously viewing” or “passively consuming” images to alluded to in Presentation One: “Looking at Photographs”.

Hodgson (“Quality Matters”, 2012) states that because photographs are so easy to create (implying in a way that other types of art are not), it is only some form of discrimination which allows us to identify which images are worth “attention, concentration and further distribution”, critical theory provides the “shared vocabulary” which allows different viewers to begin to evaluate and then communicate objectively about art in a standardised way, analysing them in a manner which is free from bias due to previous personal experiences and circumstances.

An important way to develop as a photographer is to study the work of artists and photographers in order to achieve greater awareness and understanding.

Critical theory is a means of realising this technical and creative growth because it provides a vehicle for constructive criticism, criticism which achieves something – facilitating reflection and aiding improvement.

Such reflection could be based on critical evaluations provided by others, or self-evaluation. Whichever the case may be, ultimately the outcome is a greater understanding of one’s own practice. As Presentation One: “Looking at Photographs” informs us, looking critically at photographs:

“Is important for the development of your own practice as the clearer your understanding of what you are doing becomes, the easier it will be to take photographs, edit and reflect on them, as well as talk or write about them.”

On Reflection … Week Eight, Module One

Frustration, some disappointment that my project proposal as it stood at the beginning of the week wasn’t quite as comprehensive, subversive or robust and as able to stand up to interrogation as I had at first believed.

Perhaps I am being hyper-critical in that summary. So what? I see that as a good thing. In fact, it’s a necessity. It’s through stepping back and evaluating and then questioning that improvements are made and we find new ways forward.

So, a lot of looking, questioning, pulling things apart. There’s a long way to go for the project to develop and become a fully resolved entity.

It was a welcome feeling of relief to complete and finally submit the presentation for the project proposal. Very glad to get that out of the way.

A lot of work with mood boards this week, which have developed nicely, giving some more shape to my idea.

“Vermeer’s Camera” (Steadman) has been a very informative read this week and whilst it isn’t directly related to my project proposal, it has given me a lot to think about. In some ways, it has confirmed existing ideas, redefined some others, as well as generating some new ones.

Spent a fair amount of time playing with galleries on various web hosting services. I’ve had some experience of this before and, to be honest, haven’t had a huge amount of success. However, I quite like the features offered by Squarespace (which I hadn’t tried before) and the fact that it is probably the most user-friendly I have come across.

Looking to the future, an online gallery is just one part of a much wider offering. It’s a work in progress, first impressions count so it’s a valuable investment to play around, try out different things and get the “brand” right, giving the offering as a whole some level of standardisation, some uniformity tying it all together. Launching before a brand identity is fully formulated is not an option.

On Reflection … Week Seven, Module One

wk7-notes_60nov2016

Not the most productive of weeks practically, but that was on the cards from the get go … …

But in terms of research and further developing a solid base from which to drive things forward it has been superbly successful with one source leading to another.

It was most interesting to stumble across and subsequently read of the experimental work carried out, independently, by Zeki and Ramachandran into “neuroaesthetics”, the neural mechanisms associated with aesthetics. Made me think of the Gestalt theory of perception.

The little practical work related to the project that was pencilled into the diary generated some positive results and revealed something very informative.

And it was quite refreshing at this stage to work to a brief provided by a fellow student for the “peer commissioned micro project”.

Effort continues to be very much focused on preparing the project proposal presentation. A few more tweaks, again to focus the project on being a photographic project rather than a pseudo-masterclass in cooking.

A little frustrating at times, why do I have writer’s block whenever I sit down to work on the assignment, and yet ideas come flooding in at the most obscure and inconvenient moment (note to self: must invest in a micro notebook and pen because this recording stuff on the back of receipts ain’t working).

It’s good to see the concept for the project developing, being further defined and refined. Deadline for the submission of the presentation is looming (9th November) and, as always with assignments, I’m eager to get the job finished and the submission made. And I’m looking forward to further work on the project proposal – whether I’m as enthusiastic when I’ve spent several weeks working on it is another matter.

Food in Art. A Couple of Thoughts …

“Food in Art” – Gillian Reynolds (Reaktion Books) 

Food in Art

Food in Art” – Cover (Gillian Reynolds, Reaktion Books)

A chance discovery this week has yielded an absolute goldmine of information.

Interesting, informative, absorbing.

Food in Art” by Gillian Reynolds is an exploration of how human interaction with food has been depicted in art throughout the ages.

Beautiful examples of art featuring food in some way are supported by contemporary text in order to examine food within the contexts of myth and legend, religion, and ritual.

We are taken on a journey of food during which we view how our complex relationship with food, it’s production and consumption have changed through time.

A fascinating subject, the author has produced a captivating reference.

In terms of finding this book, timing could not have been better as I define and refine the concept for my final major project. The information contained in this book has made me review the direction in which I want to take my project. Some ideas I had have been confirmed, some have been revised. And a lot of new ideas have been generated.

Being Brief …

The exercise this week was to work to a photographic brief provided by a fellow student.

The brief set for me by Kevin was as follows:

To provide an image which sums up man’s interaction with, and experience of, autumn. This was to be done in a way which created a feeling of permanence, suggesting that this interaction had always, and will always, take place.

I found this simple set of instructions quite interesting, with numerous possibilities for the fulfilment of the brief.

Initially, I thought of some sort of celebratory festival. But any event would most likely be specific to a localised area and/or culture. Perhaps even changing in form and meaning over time.

Clearly not meeting the brief’s requirement of demonstrating a permanence then.

I wanted something that not only met the brief’s requirement of portraying a permanence, but which also had a universal aspect.

After some consideration, I realised that man has always needed to prepare for the long winter months by collecting and hoarding supplies of food.

This is as true today as it was for our cave-dwelling ancestors. The need to make these preparations also largely transcends geographical regions and cultures.

It was an interesting exercise to work on a brief provided by a fellow student, and as always it was a pleasure to work with Kevin who was very pleased with the output of this exercise.

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Morris, 2016. Autumn Harvest

autumn-mindmap

Autumn” Mindmap