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 …

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 … …

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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 … …

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Morris, 2016. Bouquet Garni

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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 … …

 

 

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.”

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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 … …

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Front Cover

hello-autumn-recipes

Autumnal Recipes

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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.

On Reflection … Week One, Module One

So, the first week of studies for my MA in photography is at an end.

It’s been a week with some challenges … …

Trying to identify one image as being a representative of the “global image” was not an easy undertaking and it raised questions as to whether we are desensitised and oversaturated because of the sheer volume of images that are now produced.

It’s been a week with some surprises … …

A theme emerged when I and my fellow MA students wrestled with the concept of the “global image”. There are some amazing photographers capturing images of wonderful things. Moreover, mobile telephones with built in cameras allow everyone to be a “photographer”, as the en vogue phrase informs us, and every kind of celebration and event is recorded: birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries, today’s choice of espresso from a well-known coffeehouse posted to social media … everything. So, I found it strange that so many images that were chosen to represent “global imagery” were images either portraying tragic events or highlighting a darker side of humanity.

What does this say about the way we see the world? Perhaps we are desensitised and it takes an image that we find shocking to jolt us from the routine, lift up our heads and see what is really going on in the wider world.

So, what do I take away from my first week of studies?

Well, I think that images that can be thought of as being representative of the “global image” can fall into one of three categories.

Firstly, images deliberately created by a large corporation or institute with the specific aim of fulfilling a particular corporate strategy. Images which lack aesthetic appeal but which are instantly recognisable, arguably, the kind of images used by corporate giants such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds in the advertising campaigns.

Secondly, the kind of image that arises from people’s desire to document, in a visual form, the world around them. Certainly there is a common interest in the human condition which is not bound by but instead accommodates cultural diversity – whilst the subject may change from region to region the wish to record our lives and our environment remains constant. This common interest has been referred to as “universalism”. Barthes in his 1973 book ‘Mythologies’ argued that such a universal requirement is no more than “ambiguous myth” but, undeniably, there exists a wish, observable repeatedly on a global scale, to capture specific types of images.

Finally, perhaps a “global image” could be defined as the kind of image that shocks us, that stops us from “focusing” on the mundane routine of life and forces us to take stock of events unfolding in other areas of the world.