On Reflection: Week 10, Module Three

Time to start planning for future projects.

I have an idea for something very different!

Ideas, in fact, for several projects which will be quite unexpected.

I’m keen to get cracking on bringing these ideas to fruition …

There is still a lot of work that can be done in terms of story development – improving my narrative skills. This is a key area for me to work on.

Nevertheless, I feel that there is a discernible difference in terms of the quality of work that I am producing now compared to 12 months ago, not only in terms of the project theme, but also in general terms – I think the overall quality of my work has improved as a result of exploring the visual narrative.

Again, significant time has been consumed preparing the module three assignments, and I’m feeling very positive about the outcome of this week’s efforts.

As the first year of the MA draws to a close, how do I feel with regard to my original intentions for my project.

Time for a review …

In October 2016, I identified my aims as being as follows:

To explore the knowledge, technology and methods employed by the old masters to control light, and how the atmosphere and aesthetics of food images are influenced by light and various lighting styles

To investigate what knowledge of the elements of design was available to the masters

To rationalise the symbolism used by the masters, evaluating their reasons for its use as well as the sources of their information.

I think I have made significant progress towards achieving my goal. My knowledge in relation to these three areas has increased notably, and my ability to evaluate and contextualise has improved.

Admittedly, there is still room for improvement, and for the further acquisition of knowledge – but this is a two-year MA programme and we are only at the halfway point.

So, do I feel I am on track? Clearly, there are two-sides to be considered in answering this question and I can only speak from my own position.

But, yes – looking back over the past 12 months I can identify areas where my knowledge and ability has increased in breadth and depth, there are tasks which I have completed which I would never have dreamed of 12 months ago.

I look forward to the second year with eagerness and perhaps most importantly, refreshed confidence.

WIP Critique

Muffin

Morris, 2017. Untitled #1

Cadbury Eclair

Morris, 2017. Untitled #2

Jelly babies

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 3

Ginger beer

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 4

Ruffles

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 5

Overall, the narrative is of the struggle for an athlete in preparation for competition to maintain a strict ‘clean’ diet, and the desire to consume ‘comfort’ foods as the body depletes stores of fat to fuel the training – cravings.

In support of the main subjects, a variety of tapes, strappings and topical treatments together with a selection of exercise manuals tell the story of an athlete in training for competition. Selective focus leads the viewer’s attention to the main subject, a Black Forest muffin, Jelly Babies, or some chocolate eclairs – items to be consumed as a weekly treat, perhaps part of a ‘cheat’ meal taken as a reward for the effort invested in training, and also to maintain a link with reality. A sheet from a tear-off calendar indicates the dates on which the food items were consumed.

The relationship between the subjects makes reference to an effective diet itself being a relationship: that of a careful balance between exercise and calorific intake.

Technically all five images are well exposed, having good dynamic range with retention of details in both shadows and highlights.

A natural vignette which results from the fall-off of the natural light used to light the various scenes adds to the aesthetic appeal and works well with the black and white images – together creating and enhancing a sense of a drama.

Furthermore, black and white images of food are extremely uncommon and as a consequence this series of images, being a significant departure from the way other contemporary food photographer’s present images, is quite unique. I feel that the monochrome treatment brings a timelessness to the images in addition to focusing the viewer’s gaze on the content and meaning.

The five images follow the same simple formula – a book, supporting props and a main subject. Something familiar, something shared helps ease the viewer into the images whilst providing continuity throughout the series. Variety is provided by the way the elements are arranged – something different in each image to hold the viewer’s gaze. Elements which bleed out of the image create intrigue – suggesting that this scene is only part of a bigger story.

But what could I do differently? Would retaining colour make the image stronger? Could a different composition alter the strength of the image? How can this composition be described? What could be changed, in terms of the subjects, to change the strength of the image?

Images were produced and evaluated in colour, and it was felt that, as a series, black and white had greater aesthetic appeal.

Different combinations of props were tried with each main subject, in different compositions – initially on paper in the form of an Excel spreadsheet ‘storyboard’ before being refined during shooting. With regard to the main subjects, however, these are fixed – change these and the project theme loses its integrity and purpose.

Using a storyboard to plan out the complete series of images proved very beneficial – and provided a way of getting deeper into the heart of the images. I also feel that investigating the use of the visual narrative helped in the successful design of these images. Consequently, I aim to apply these concepts to the remaining images in this series, and also to future projects.

With regard to the visual narrative itself, the images serve a visual anthropological purpose (an area I am becoming increasingly interested in), documenting one aspect of the athlete’s diet. The images also make reference to ‘clean’ eating as a concept – with arguments both for and against this form of diet being topical.

In terms of describing the composition, shooting at a wide aperture places everything except the primary subject out of focus, producing an attractive bokeh – this is the compositional concept of simplification.

The main subject in each image, the obvious point of interest, is placed off-centre, with satellite objects providing balance and further interest. The space between objects varies in both size and shape, also creating interest. Where the primary subject is a group, a triangular presentation creates a sense of stability and strength.

When finalised, the series will comprise 18 images in total. These five images represent those which have been produced to date. These are strong images which work together well as a series.

In summary, the intention was to produce a series of still life images which individually carry a message and together form a narrative whilst having both identity and integrity as works of art in their own right. Czech photographer Josef Sudek produced many beautiful monochrome images which featured ordinary objects photographed in an extraordinary way. It was also an objective to explore Sudek’s methods in using natural light to create the characteristic aesthetic of his images. I think these images are a significant move forward in terms of my understanding of both his techniques and the rationale behind his work.

Have I been successful in capturing light, as an entity with a presence of its own, in a Sudek-esque manner? Have I been successful in recreating Sudek’s aesthetic?

You decide …

Josef-sudek-caravaggio

Josef Sudek, 1956. Still Life after Caravaggio, Variation 1

On Reflection: Week 9, Module Three

As the end of module three approaches, albeit belatedly for me, the shadow of my nemesis grows darker.

Video presentations take me out of the zone in which I feel comfortable. And producing a presentation for module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, examining the motivations for my photography and briefly discussing some methods and strategies for image-making and image-sharing, is something I am finding particularly difficult.

For me, this period in my life will always be associated with the longest case of ‘writer’s block’ imaginable – it is hard for me to see how an idea could be worked on for so long, with so little progress.

Two issues to consider then …

Why do video presentations make me feel so uncomfortable?

And what is it regarding the making and sharing of images that has been so difficult to pin down? Why has it been so difficult to put my thoughts down on paper? I’m making images, and I’m sharing images – so why don’t my activities translate so easily into words? Too much to say? Or perhaps not enough?

Test shots for the Work in Progress portfolio have been very successful. The images, shared with peers who, having completed their own assignments for module three, have been kind enough and generous enough to provide critique which was incisive and constructive, have been warmly received.

Consequently, I am feeling positive about the current project.

Several other factors contribute to this positivity, not least of which I believe to be the analysis of feedback from previous portfolio submissions – examining ‘things gone right, things gone wrong’. It has very much been a case of making small improvements, and much larger, more frequent failures. It is these failures which have, perhaps, taught me more than the successes.

After some significant delays, things are starting to come together …

Sfumato and Other Things

Born in 1452, Leonardo da Vinci grew up in Florence, a city dominated by the work of Early Italian Renaissance artists such as Verrocchio and Donatello.

The figurative frescoes of Masaccio portrayed realism and emotion.

Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, adorned with gleaming gold leaf, featured figures against detailed architectural backgrounds to produce complex compositions.

Piero della Francesca carried out a detailed study of perspective, and was the first painter to make a scientific study of light.

Such artists were to have a profound influence on Leonardo’s own observations and art.

Donatello’s David had a humanist influence which was to be seen in Leonardo’s later paintings, particularly ‘John the Baptist’.

Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden – a powerful expression of the human form, making strong use of light and shade to create a three-dimensional effect.

Light and shade were later developed in the works of Leonardo in a way that was to be influential in the course of art.

Leonardo was also greatly influenced by Netherlandish painting techniques which arrived in Florence with Hugo van der Goes Portinari Altarpiece (1476).

Qualities which define Leonardo’s work are as follows:

Pioneering techniques for the laying on of paint

Exploratory use of alternative substrates e.g. the cottonwood panelling to which the Mona Lisa owes its longevity

Detailed knowledge of anatomy, light, botany and geology

Interest in physiognomy and the ways in which humans register emotion in expressions and gestures

Innovative use of the human form in figurative compositions

The use of subtle gradation of tone

Use of natural hues.

All of these characteristics feature in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Last Supper, and the Virgin on the Rocks.

Da Vinci’s work has had a deep and lasting influence on subsequent art.

Leonardo remained true to the Renaissance tradition whilst incorporating innovative techniques into the production of his art. Techniques which have routinely been adopted by artists since da Vinci’s pioneering first use.

The vanishing point, used to such great effect in da Vinci’s Last Supper, creates a sense of being in the picture – or placement, and is a way of adding drama. Additionally, perspective in a painting produces a feeling of three-dimensionality – giving depth to paintings.

The use of light and shade, or chiaroscuro, also gives art a three-dimensional feel and was used by both Caravaggio and Rembrandt to create drama in their art.

Sfumato, a ‘smoky’ quality of the shadows in a painting, adds realism by blurring or softening the edges of adjacent objects.

Sfumato equates to soft focus in photography and can be observed in the still-life paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin which provide one, two or maybe three perches for the eyes to rest on, with the remainder of each painting being out of focus.

The Mona Lisa is an outstanding example of da Vinci’s use of both chiaroscuro and sfumato.

Figure 1. clearly shows da Vinci’s use of sfumato around the bridge of the nose, the area surrounding the eyes, and under the chin.

Lisa_Detail

Fig 1: Da Vinci, 1503. Mona Lisa – detail, sfumato

Figure 2. illustrates da Vinci’s use of chiaroscuro – note the contrast between the light area of skin on the hands and the dark fabric of the clothing.

Lisa_Detail 2

Fig 2: Da Vinci, 1503. Mona Lisa – detail, chiaroscuro

Ginevra_Lisa 2.jpgFig 3: Da Vinci, 1474 & 1503. Ginevra de’ Benci & Mona Lisa

Figure 3. compares two portraits separated by a 29 period, Da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci (1474) and Mona Lisa (1503).

The use of aerial perspective, chiaroscuro and sfumato can be seen in both paintings, if to differing degrees.

In terms of style, I feel that Ginevra de’ Benci has as much in keeping with paintings by artists both other earlier to and contemporary with da Vinci, for example Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition (1436), as it does with da Vinci’s later work – compare the palette used by da Vinci for Ginevra de’ Benci against the palette used for Mona Lisa and against van der Weyden’s Deposition, Mona Lisa stands out as exemplifying da Vinci’s favoured palette of natural hues.

Weyden_Deposition

Rogier van der Weyden, 1436. Deposition

Mona Lisa represents a refinement in da Vinci’s techniques, and whilst the refinement in technique, the change in the laying on of paint, might be subtle, the result is pronounced – with the refinement comes with realism.

Da Vinci’s influence can very clearly be seen in the work of Caravaggio, for example Sick Bacchus (1594), especially in terms of chiaroscuro.

young-sick-bacchus-1953

Caravaggio, 1594. Sick Bacchus

Sfumato is most readily associated with da Vinci, perhaps because of the high esteem with which Mona Lisa is held. Whilst da Vinci can be credited with popularising the use of sfumato, he cannot be credited as being either the first or the only artist to use the technique.

Christus_carthusian

Petrus Christus, 1446. Portrait of a Carthusian

When described as a smooth transition from light to dark without the use of lines or borders, arguably, we can observe the use of sfumato in Petrus Christus’ Portrait of a Carthusian (1446), noting, in a painting with a high degree of photo-realism, the gradual transition from shade to light occurring across the right side of the sitter’s face and especially between the right ear and right eye.

In terms of significance for my practice, my intention is to explore the use of chiaroscuro and sfumato by producing a series of images which study the texture of food.

Practically, chiaroscuro can be achieved photographically by arranging the subject so that it is bathed in pools of dappled light, light which, in photographic terminology, is ‘shaped’ and ‘hard’. I would suggest that the contrast needed for effective, ’dramatic’ chiaroscuro is somewhere between 6 to 8 stops.

Sfumato can be achieved in photographic images through the use of selective focusing and shallow depth of field.

I see this as an alternative to the ubiquitous, almost industry-standard lighting used in contemporary food photography. Arguably, contemporary food imaging exists exclusively to sell food, or promote food in some way. Images of food rarely seem to exist in their own right as something aesthetically pleasing.

Still-life, as a genre of painting, has thrived on making the mundane seem beautiful. Surely food photography can adopt the same approach?

 

Further Reading:

De Rynck, Patrick (2015). ‘How to Read a Painting: Decoding, Understanding and Enjoying the Old Masters’. London: Thames and Hudson Limited

Hockney, D. (2001). ‘Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters’. London, Thames & Hudson Limited

Leonardoda-vinci.org (2017). ‘The Biography of Leonardo da Vinci’. Leonardoda-vinci.org [online]. Available at: https://www.leonardoda-vinci.org/biography.html (accessed: Monday 31 July 2017)

Leonartodavinci.weebly.com (2017). ‘Da Vinci’s Impact on the Art World’. Leonartodavinci.weebly.com [online]. Available at: http://leonartodavinci.weebly.com/art-impact.html (accessed: Monday 17 July 2017)

Louvre.fr (2017). ‘Mona Lisa – Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco del Giocondo’. Louvre.fr [online]. Available at: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/mona-lisa-portrait-lisa-gherardini-wife-francesco-del-giocondo (accessed: Monday 31 July 2017)

Monalisa.org (2017). ‘The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci: Perspective’. Monalisa.org [online]. Available at: http://monalisa.org/2013/12/15/genius-leonardo-da-vinci-perspective / (accessed: Monday 31 July 2017)

On Reflection: Week 8, Module Three

To begin, group dynamics interests me. So, it was with some enthusiasm that I began to research the characteristics of successful, effective workshops this week.

I felt that it was very important to get my ideas down on paper before looking at anything being delivered by my contemporaries – I didn’t want my thoughts to be influenced by the things I had read before pulling my own ideas on workshops from the back of my mind.

It was quite reassuring to find that what I thought should be included in a food photography workshop was actually very close to anything being offered by my contemporaries. Also reassuring was that any differences were in my favour (or the clients – depending upon how you look at it), for example, some things which I thought should be included as a fairly basic offering weren’t in fact offered by other photographers.

How do I feel about workshops? Or more pertinently, how did I feel about workshops at the start of the week? And how has this changed, if at all, by the end of the week?

I’m a fan of workshops. And I have been in a position to provide training to both individuals and small groups in a workshop type manner on several occasions. In my view success comes down to two basic things: knowing your subject, and preparation. That might be stating the obvious, but I have also been a participant in many workshops, in a number of settings, and quite frankly a lot of these workshops have been found lacking, being far from a positive experience.

From a participant’s perspective, there is an equally simple expectation (at least in my view) – to have more knowledge and experience at the finish than at the beginning, but not having really been aware at any time that you were being taught.

In essence, good teachers effectively impart knowledge without the learning process being a chore.

So, after a week of research and preparation, I have delivered my first workshop covering the basics of the photographic process. I feel it was successful, and those that participated also expressed positive thoughts. There were no problems at any time during the workshop, and at no time did I realise any mistakes requiring correction (there’s nothing quite like a live audience for highlighting technical errors). Of course, there will always be opportunities for improvement.

As seems to be the way at the moment, the exercise generated as many questions as it provided answers.

Which of my contemporaries runs workshops, and how are these set up?

What other offerings do contemporaries have?

What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages?

There are almost as many food photography workshops as there are food photographers. So, the question becomes, how can I differentiate myself from the competition in this area?

Looking to the future, I envisage workshops being both an extremely valuable resource and important revenue stream.

So, a positive experience? Yes, unquestionably.

‘A System of Visual Editing’

‘Photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one’s cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time. Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite’

– John Szarkowski (in Sontag, p. 192)

 

Reference:

Sontag, Susan (1977). On Photography. London: Penguin Books Limited

On Workshops

Starting Photography 2

C. Morris et al, 2017. Starting Photography

Exhibitions and publications share something in common – they both introduce work authored by the artist to an audience in a potentially remote manner.

Workshops, on the other hand, bring the artist and his or her work into direct contact with an audience.

Furthermore, exhibitions and publications both introduce an audience to an outcome – a resolved body of work. Workshops, however, involve the audience in the creative process – the audience is essentially participatory – to the mutual benefit of both the artist and the participants.

I am in the process of producing a workshop which covers the basics of food photography.

In the interim, I was presented with the opportunity to deliver a workshop covering the basic concepts of the photographic process.

My daughter has shown a passing interest in photography over the years. She asked if I would show her, together with a small number of her friends, how to use a camera.

The requirements of this group would clearly be very different to the needs of a group of adults taking part in a workshop introducing the basics of food photography on a fee-paying basis.

In terms of duration, the workshop was scheduled to cover a four-hour timeslot: sufficient to cover all the necessary concepts, but not so long that it would become boring or fatiguing.

The age range of the group was 11 to 12 and consequently content was delivered through a combination of verbal presentation supported by handouts which were designed to be heavily illustrated with minimum written content allowing the intended message to be accessed quickly and easily and without the need to read large chunks of text impeding the flow of the workshop.

A group size of four allowed me to spend time with each participant on an individual basis and to answer any individual questions, whilst being a good size to generate lively discussion with each participant able to contribute equally. The small group size was easily accommodated in a home studio. Equipment was a problem for this group initially, in a way that it might not be for fee-paying adults bringing their own cameras, but it was relatively easy to borrow three cameras from other family members.

Group focus was established by defining and communicating the objectives for the workshop at an early stage.

Lunch was taken together as a group, this time provided an additional period for reflection, and discussion of workshop content and ideas for the hands-on activity.

Each participant was presented with a small pack which contained the handouts previously described. The images which were generated by the hands on practical towards the end of the workshop are being printed out and framed as a keepsake.

Black Stone

C. Morris, 2017. Black Stone

Black Stone was an image taken by my daughter during the practical part of the workshop. In addition to setting up the camera and the still life, she experimented with basic composition and in the creative use of the camera settings to produce a particular aesthetic. She also understood the relevance of using visual imaging to tell a story – the stones she used in this image are quite special to her, having been collected whilst on a nature trail with one of her friends during the summer holiday. Finally, the option of producing images in black and white was made available to the group. My daughter chose to do this because she felt that this made the black stone appear a deeper and richer black.

She is quite rightly pleased with this image.

Aside from the images, what did everyone take away?

Each participant made excellent use of the opportunity to practice the theory presented during the earlier art of the workshop by setting up a small table top still life using objects of their own choosing. Additionally, they felt that the workshop was a fun activity, something different.

The image Starting Photography was developed as a group project, with all group members making a valued contribution – my involvement being limited to operating the shutter.

From a personal point of view, the workshop was an ideal dummy run to test how well my preparations for a workshop involving fee-paying participants have been made to date.

Clearly some aspects of the two workshops differ considerably, for example, the group weren’t interested in an overview of photographic equipment in the way that an adult audience of aspiring food photographers might be. But, in reality, I think there will always be an element of a workshop which will need some degree of tailoring to suit the needs of the participants if the workshop is to be effective.

I think workshops are an extremely valuable addition to my repertoire as a professional photographer, enabling me to engage with an audience, to test out ideas and receive immediate feedback with real-time team-orientated problem-solving.