On Reflection … Week Eight, Module One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Reflection … Week Seven, Module One

wk7-notes_60nov2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food in Art. A Couple of Thoughts …

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

Food in Art

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

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

Interesting, informative, absorbing.

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

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

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

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

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

Being Brief …

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

The brief set for me by Kevin was as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

autumn-harvest-nov2016-web

Morris, 2016. Autumn Harvest

autumn-mindmap

Autumn” Mindmap

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 …

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)

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 … …

great-british-food-project

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 … …

bouquet-garni

Morris, 2016. Bouquet Garni

fresh-cod

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 … …

 

 

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/