Portfolio Choices …

Compiling a resolved body of photographic work for an examinable portfolio is an emotive process.

In terms of choosing the images, it is easy to let technology interfere in the process. Culling a certain number of images from a series can become a monotonous task, and the internet makes it too easy to make a few clicks and start to research some aspect of the next project. Printing out small copies of each image gives me something tangible to work with. They can be shuffled like a pack of cards to see what works. They can be pinned to a wall, the order changed around, and most importantly, I can step back to view the images from a distance and gain a feeling of which images work together well, and which don’t.

Intuition plays a part in image choice Some images “resonate” more than others when the shutter is operated. “Sam” is an image which immediately resonated with me: it’s a strong image which benefits from a simple composition, a relatively limited colour palette makes effective use of orange and related hues and provides cohesion throughout the image.

Chicken Chow Mein

Morris, 2017. Sam

It is important to find a theme which runs through the series of images and which can provide a narrative – the storytelling ability of the images as a whole is important. It isn’t enough for the images just to be “strong”. Ten images which demonstrate my style and collectively tell a story are better than 20 images which portray a disparate variety of different subjects.

Images for my Work in Progress Portfolio submission have two themes, both of which explore our relationship with food.

Eyeholes, earholes and …” is taken from the series ““Junk” Food” which focuses on some of the social issues associated with our food and the way we consume it.

Earholes, eyeholes and _

Morris, 2017. Eyeholes, earholes and

Chloe” is an image which has a visual anthropological dimension, recording the meals consumed by “Ten” schoolchildren on the evening of 7th March 2017.

Chicken rolls

Morris, 2017. Chloe

Having initially decided on twenty images, I found it invaluable to have the assembled work reviewed by as many people as possible. This helps to offset any personal likes or preferences, it prevents any “conflict of interest which might arise from a strong attachment to any one specific image.

Each reviewer provided a different perspective, and in several cases the opinions conflicted. This is an inevitable part of this method. It is also absolutely necessary – if every opinion provided agreed, what would be the point?

What I was looking for was similarities in the opinions, some sort of common thread running through all the comments.

Ultimately, the final decision regarding what is and is not included is mine, but having obtained and listened to the opinions of several reviewers, at least the final decision is informed.

Moving forward, areas to investigate include the context in which images are viewed and the interaction between the two, the curation of images, and viewer management.

Da Vinci on … Backgrounds

Of Back-grounds

One of the principal parts of painting is the nature and quality of back-grounds, upon which the extremities of any convex or solid body will always detach and be distinguished in nature, though the colour of such objects, and that of the ground, be exactly the same. This happens, because the convex sides of solid bodies do not receive the light in the same manner with the ground, for such sides or extremities are often lighter or darker than the ground. But if such extremities were to be of the same colour as the ground, and in the same degree of light, they certainly could not be distinguished. Therefore such a choice in painting ought to be avoided by all intelligent and judicious painters; since the intention is to make the objects appear as it were out of the ground. The above case would produce the contrary effect, not only in painting, but also in objects of real relievo.”

Leonardo da Vinci, ‘A Treatise on Painting’, chapter CCLXV

Relevance to practice: Background Analysis

Reference:

Da Vinci, Leonardo and Rigaud, John Francis (2015) ‘A Treatise on Painting’. Istanbul: e-Kitap Projesi

 

Towards a Painterly Aesthetic

German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) first used the term “painterly” to distinguish between Baroque and Renaissance art.

Wölfflin felt that Baroque art was “painterly” and focused on mass, light and shade, whilst Renaissance art was linear, portraying the world in clearly defined shapes.

Linear art emphasizes solidity by using outlines and even lighting throughout to distinguish the individual subjects within a composition. By representing subjects in an objective manner, linear art conveys a sense of stability.

In contrast, the subjects in painterly art are less clearly defined as a result of broad brushstrokes and form is lost in shadow due to uneven lighting, design elements blend together to present a more continuous composition which flows through the painting creating a sense of dynamism.

Consequently, form and pattern are more characteristic of linear art, whilst movement is more readily associated with painterly art.

The term now has a much broader scope, not being limited to critical evaluations of Baroque and Renaissance art. Consequently, its use is now more widespread, being applied to any works of art where brushwork and the medium of the paint are clearly visible. Artists widely regarded for painting in this manner include Titian, Rembrandt, Velázquez and Goya.

Tate.org provides the following definition: “painterly refers to the application of paint in a ‘loose’ or less than controlled manner, resulting in the appearance of visible brushstrokes within the finished painting” (Tate.org, ca. 2017).

Additionally, the term can be applied to the technique or approach of the artist, as well as to the appearance of the finished artwork.

Software applications exist which apply a “painterly” look to photographs – either at the time the image is produced electronically or subsequently. As a result of using such applications, images mimic recognizably artistic styles such as oil or watercolor painting, or are based on styles like van Gogh or Impressionism. Theoretically, the resulting photographs are referred to as having a “painterly aesthetic”.

In reality, however, the term “painterly aesthetic” is widely used in reference to any image which displays at least one characteristic commonly associated with a traditional painting method.

 

Characteristics of painterly art include:

Chromatic progression

Warm and cool tones

Complementary and contrasting colors

Broken tones

Broad brushstrokes

Sketchiness

Impasto.

 

One aim of my project is to produce a series of images which not only bring into question our relationship with food, but which also have a “painterly aesthetic”.

Key areas of research are the use of techniques, both in camera and post-processing, which add a painterly element to the visual appeal of the images.

Silent Killer” is the analysis of an image to which post-processing techniques have been applied in order to achieve a painterly aesthetic.

 

References:

Clarke, Michael (2010) Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Oxford University Press

Nygard,Travis and Wren, Linnea (2003) ‘Heinrich Wölfflin’, in Murray, Chris (ed.) ‘Key Writers on Art: The Twentieth Century’. Oxon: Routledge

Tate.Org ca. 2017. Art Terms entry: ‘painterly’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/painterly (Accessed: Monday 17 April 2017)

Da Vinci on … Composition

How to Study Composition

The young student should begin by sketching slightly some single figure, and turn that on all sides, knowing already how to contract, and how to extend the members; after which, he may put two together in various attitudes, we will suppose in the act of fighting boldly. This composition also he must try on all sides, and in a variety of ways, tending to the same expression. Then he may imagine one of them very courageous, while the other is a coward. Let these attitudes, and many other accidental affections of the mind, be with great care studied, examined, and dwelt upon.”

Leonardo da Vinci, ‘A Treatise on Painting’, chapter CXXXII

Relevance to practice: “Leigha” – Image Analysis

Reference:

Da Vinci, Leonardo and Rigaud, John Francis (2015) ‘A Treatise on Painting’. Istanbul: e-Kitap Projesi

“Leigha” – Image Analysis

Leigha” is one image taken from a series which record the meals consumed by ten schoolchildren on the evening of 7 March 2017.

Pizza

Morris, 2017. Leigha

It is a good image, technically and creatively. I feel, however, that it is not a strong image.

Using Frith’s method of layered analysis, the image has the following characteristics.

Firstly, the surface reading shows a slice of pizza ready to be eaten with the remaining pizza visible in the background, a pink flower which has shed some petals, an ammonite fossil sitting on top of two photography books, and a glass of water.

The intended reading shows a meal consumed by one individual, Leigha – a schoolgirl, at a specific time and date. It shows Leigha’s preferences, at least in terms of this one meal.

The cultural reading aims to reflect society’s relationship with food by recording the meals consumed by a sample group, it is a contemporary record of what food we consume and how we choose to do so.

Using Barthes semiotic system of analysis, the signifier is the slice of pizza waiting to be eaten, the signified is the individual’s choice of food which, by extension, is a reflection of our society’s food culture.

Hodgson informs us that images are about something in addition to being of something. “Leigha” is clearly an image of pizza prepared for a meal, it is about the food choices we make as individuals and collectively as a society.

In terms of meaning, I think the image’s narrative is quite well considered, especially within the context of the series.

The image is well executed from a technical point of view. Deliberately low key, the image portrays beautiful chiaroscuro with rich, deep shadows and the main subject being appropriately lit, maintaining the overall atmosphere of the image.

Where the image’s weakness lies, I feel, is in the composition.

Much has been spoken regarding the use of the golden spiral in composition, and the main subject of “Leigha” is placed centrally around the origin of such a spiral. There are, in fact, many places in which the main subject could be located and still remain the main point of focus. The golden spiral, whichever way it is orientated, is just one tool to help analyse the strengths or weaknesses of an image. Nevertheless, many of the greatest paintings, when analysed against the golden spiral, show placement of key features on significant areas of the spiral.

Leigha_Spiral Overlay

Morris, 2017. Leigha – spiral overlay

The main subject, the pizza slice, also sits on the lower left intersection of thirds, which is significantly close to the lower left intersection of the golden ratio. Again, many of the greatest work of art have key features which are placed on these points.

Leigha_Thirds Overlay

Morris, 2017. Leigha – ‘thirds’ overlay

I don’t think the problem with this image lies in the placement of the main subject. Rather, I think the issue lies in the overall composition, the mise en scene.

Inverting the image in Photoshop allows the background and immediate environment to be dropped out of the image, enabling us to focus on the positions of the main and supporting subjects.

Leigha_Inverted

Morris, 2017. Leigha – inverted

So, what can be done to improve the composition?

The flower and petals could be moved to a more significant position, currently they sit in a compositional “no man’s land”, not being located on a significant point of any compositional tool.

The same could be said for the glass of water, would the image have greater visual appeal if the glass was located more strategically?

Would more peripheral subjects benefit the image? Or less?

Perhaps the subject doesn’t lend itself to such a dark image? Perhaps the image would be stronger for a greater dynamic range? I don’t think the image would work in high key, but it is something to try before dismissing it outright.

These are all areas for further exploration.

See also: Da Vinci on … Composition

References

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977) Rhetoric of the Image in Image Music Text. London: Fontana

Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc accessed 19 February 2017

Frith, Katherine Toland. (1997) Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising. New York: Peter Lang

Putting “Context” into Context

How context affects the way we respond to photographs … …

Shore suggests that “the context in which a photograph is seen effects the meaning a viewer draws from it” (Shore, 1998, p. 26).

So, given that the context, or environment, in which a photograph is placed for viewing greatly influences how it is viewed and interpreted, what are the characteristics that facilitate a positive viewing experience.

Lighting should be subtle in order to avoid hotspots, prevent degradation of art by accelerated aging and assisting with lightfastness. Additionally, from an artist’s point of view, subtle, diffused lighting has significant advantages over strong, specular light. The diffused characteristics of reflected light bathe art in a light which allows subtle colour changes (hue or saturation) and contrast (determined by the difference in the color and brightness of an object compared to other objects within the same field of view) to be perceived accurately and with repeatability.

The background should not be a negative draw on the available light. Ideally, the colour should be neutral (grey works especially well). As a guide, dark walls make paintings appear lighter.

The background environment should enhance the artwork, by drawing attention to it rather than competing with it or being a distraction.

That being said, subtle colours enhance soft artworks, whilst art which is more graphic and has bold lines works well with a contrasting background.

A particular colour from a painting can be chosen and used to create an accent wall, drawing attention to that painting, in which case other walls would be a different colour.

In terms of finish, a matt or satin finish is best so that any reflected light comes from the art, not the surrounding environment. It should also reflect the overall mood of the collection.

 

References:

Jones, Johnathan (2011) ‘What Colour Should Gallery Walls Be?’ in The Guardian (21 October 2011) [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/oct/21/colour-gallery-walls-musee-d-orsay (Accessed: Saturday 8 April 2017)

Kloss, Kelsey (2016) ‘How to Choose the Best Paint Color For Your Art Gallery Wall’ in Elle Decor (12 April 2016) [Online]. Available at: http://www.elledecor.com/design-decorate/color/advice/a8540/how-to-choose-the-best-paint-color-for-art-gallery-wall/ (Accessed: Saturday 8 April 2017)

Shore, S. (1998) The Nature of Photographs Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press

Background Analysis

An ongoing evaluation of background materials and their effect upon the image aesthetic … …

The qualities which denote whether or not a background is a success are difficult to both identify and quantify – they are very subjective in nature.

This post, and all subsequent updates, is an attempt to identify those qualities, and provide a method of quantifying them.

To remove some of the subjectivity, the investigation will adopt a scientific approach: aiming at achieving repeatable and reproducible results, manipulating the independent variable, keeping all other variables constant

As an opener, an attempt to promote further discussion (and investigation), I would suggest that the qualities which make a good background in an image, are similar to those which make a good context within which to view an image, albeit for different reasons. In summary, these are as follows.

The material should be of a nature which avoids specular highlights, unless there is a specific reason why this should be the case.

Colour should avoid competing with the subject.

The background should avoid providing a distraction, for example, by being heavily patterned.

Investigations will, therefore, look at these three key areas: finish, colour and pattern.

1). Slater Harrison Colourcard, “Black Surf”, 260 gsm

Tizer

Morris, 2017. Silent Killer

2). Colorama “Black” (LL CO 568)

Morris, 2017. Hasret

See also: Da Vinci on … Backgrounds

A View from a Window

The following schematic shows a lighting set-up which is very simple but highly effective. It can be adapted, with minimal equipment, to produce either beautifully soft light with gradual transition between light and shade, or dramatic hard light with immediate transition.

Lighting set-up

Subjects, placed in front of a background, are lit by a single source of light, a window (south-west facing) which is 45˚ front left of the subject (viewer’s point of view). Diffusion material (approximately 1.3 stops) is used as required, and light reflected from the room’s interior surfaces provides soft fill.

The key to success, in image terms, is in making the light from this source appear like light from a north facing window.

So, what’s so special about north facing windows anyway?

Direct sunlight, as observed from a south facing window is extremely bright, resulting in washed out colours and high contrast. Additionally, as the sun progresses through the sky during the day, the quantity and quality of the light varies enormously. Sometimes this harsh, volatile light can suit the subject or the mood of a painting and was widely favoured by the Impressionists.

But not always …

Indirect, or reflected light is a more stable in terms of both quantity and quality: having a steady output throughout the day and a colour temperature which is much more consistent.

From an artist’s point of view, indirect light has significant advantages over direct light. Reflected light has a strong diffused characteristic which bathes both the subject and the painting in the same light, greater control over values (the lightness or darkness of a colour), subtle colour changes (hue or saturation) and contrast (determined by the difference in the colour and brightness of an object compared to other objects within the same field of view).

Diffusing harsh, direct south light, giving it the characteristic appearance of north light, is relatively simple – at least in theory.

A variety of diffusion equipment is commercially available, but speaking from experience “one size does not fit all” – whatever size window aperture you have, the diffuser will either be too big, or too small, and whatever fittings the diffuser comes with, they won’t integrate with your window.

And that’s before you even start to consider adapting the diffuser because it only comes as a 1-stop diffuser and you calculate you need at least 2-stops of diffusion … …

As discussed, the set-up shown in the schematic is simple but effective. It is also repeatable.

What it is not, however, is robust.

I need to carry out further research, evaluating systems which are modular so that they can be adapted to fit different window apertures and are easily fitted – to fit into different window types.

They also need to customisable in terms of the amount and type of diffusion – clearly the number of stops of diffusion makes an enormous difference to the finished image, but so does the type of diffuser used.

And the final requirement is that the systems are robust enough to withstand repeated use.

Photographer Sue Bryce is highly skilled at creating mini-environments from wallpaper, textiles and other materials – the images she produces place the viewer in the scene, for all intents and purposes we are in the room with the model – and the room has presence. The reality, however, is that the scene extends only a short distance either side of the model. Bryce is also highly adept at working with natural light, modifying it to be beautifully soft with gradual transition from light to shade whilst retaining its ability to reveal form and value.

The following still image, taken from CreativeLive’s “Natural Light with Sue Bryce” shows one of the various types of diffusers available commercially (possibly a Lastolite Skylite Rapid).

Sue Bryce Diffuser

Natural Light with Sue Bryce” (CreativeLive, Photoweek 2015)

See also: Looking West

“Silent Killer”

Silent Killer” is an image which aims to subvert the form, an image which aims to use food photography to achieve something different – to bring into question a socially relevant issue.

Tizer

Morris, 2017. Sent Killer

Post-processing techniques have been applied to the digital image in an attempt to give the image a painterly aesthetic, that is to say portraying characteristics commonly regarded as giving paintings their appeal.

It is still early in the development phase, but attempts to produce a painterly effect using post-processing methods have met with only limited success – some images have been extremely successful, whilst others not so: pushed beyond a certain point, which is image dependent, the images take on an appearance of having “in-camera” artefacts.

Tizer - error

Morris, 2017. Silent Killer – over-edited

“One size does not fit all” and post-processing success lies in finding the correct treatment on an image by image basis, for example, the most appropriate background, texture or overlay. Greater success will be achieved as knowledge and experience increase in this area.

In essence, some images are more sensitive to post-processing than are others.

This was found to be the case with “Silent Killer”. The image demonstrated a very limited ability to withstand integration with a texture in order to produce a painting-like effect before the image became “corrupted”.

Silent Killer” does portray some of the characteristics which give paintings their visual appeal, post-processing is very lightly applied (for the reasons explained),it does benefit the image and it is best seen full screen, it could take more – I think it is quite a strong image – but only if a method could be found of applying a painterly aesthetic to this image without overcooking it.

Moving this forward, there are two areas I wish to explore.

The first is to clarify how and why some images are better suited to post-processing.

The second is to look for alternative, less invasive methods of post-processing.

Photographer Sergei Sogokon is particularly skilled at producing images which have a painting-like aesthetic – it is very subtle, but it there and it deceives the eye time and time again.

Still-life with fish

Sergei Sogokon, date unknown. Still-life with Fish

See also: Towards a Painterly Aesthetic

Being Informed By … Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer, b. 31 October 1631, d. 15 December 1675.

“The Master of Light”, Vermeer specialised in painting indoor scenes which depicted everyday middle-class life.

Vermeer’s ability to capture the way light illuminates objects, and to portray the texture of materials was astounding. For me, these qualities are awe-inspiring and unsurpassable.

The light fall-off on the back wall of “The Milkmaid” (1658) shows a tremendous level of observation, and a superb degree of craftsmanship.

Sublime … …

Vermeer_Mood Board _11Mar2017