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.

“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.”

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.

autumn-harvest-nov2016-web

Morris, 2016. Autumn Harvest

autumn-mindmap

Autumn” Mindmap

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)

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?

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.

Photography and …

Whilst the subject of my discussion today, food and art, may not constitute a discipline, I feel it does constitute a critical context for my personal practice.

Food is essential to existence and the act of eating engages so many senses: sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing.

It is therefore unsurprising that food has been a prevalent subject for artists since early man began to record his environment in the form of cave paintings.

The following image shows an Egyptian stela depicting, in the upper right section, an altar laden with food offerings.

egyptian-stela

Limestone Stela of Penbuy (19th Century: c. 1292 – 1187 BC)

As man’s ability to portray the world around him became more sophisticated the images he produced became not only more refined but also more definite in terms of the subject being illustrated, in effect becoming less of an environmental depiction and more subject specific. The following image shows a Roman wall painting featuring eggs, thrushes, napkins and vessels – an early example of a still life.

still_life_with_eggs_birds_and_bronze_dishes_pompeii

Roman Wall Painting with Thrushes and Eggs, House of Julia Felix, Pompeii

(Early 1st Century A. D.)

Still life as a genre gained much popularity during the Renaissance. Subsequently, both still life and the food in art movements spread through Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries before ultimately becoming an early global phenomenon. Rembrandt’s “Carcass of Beef” (1657) is a fine example of the kitchen and marketplace type work of which was particularly prevalent amongst Dutch artists.

carcass-of-beef

Rembrandt, 1657. Carcass of Beef

Samuel John Peploe’s “Still Life with Melon” (c. 1920) is a slightly more contemporary example of food and art working in harmony.

still-life-with-melon

Samuel John Peploe, c. 1920. Still-life with Melon

Food has shown great longevity as a popular subject for artist’s and I feel this is due to a number of reasons which include: visual viewing pleasure, a display of status, and a form of documenting life.

I think, therefore, that it was inevitable that food photography would ultimately develop as a genre in its own right.

 

Image 1 http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=177351&partId=1&searchText=egyptian+food&page=1

Image 2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_ancient_Rome#/media/File:Still_life_with_eggs,_birds_and_bronze_dishes,_Pompeii.jpg

Image 3

http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/complete_catalogue/landscape/ox.htm

Image 4

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/artists-a-z/p/artist/samuel-john-peploe/object/still-life-with-melon-gma-1951