On Reflection: Weeks 13 – 15, Module Three

A consolidated account for weeks 13, 14 and 15 of module three.

Week 13 – w/c Monday 11 September 2017

Spinning plates this week – shooting images for the Work in Progress portfolio, finalising the script for the video presentation, and starting work on the video itself.

So, nearing the end – two weeks to go. Injury and illness have required me to take a slightly different path on this particular part of the journey. But, actually, it quite suited me to have to take that path in the end. In many ways, it was a period to shut up and simply get on with it – independent learning in the truest sense – armed with a list of tasks to complete. Independent study suits some people, not everyone. Some people like the isolation, others find it uncomfortable. Personally, I like it as a way of learning and it suits the way I work.

Week 14 – w/c Monday 18 September 2017

Coming from an accounting/scientific background, as I do, requires a set of skills which is very different to those needed to successfully interrogate art produced by both myself and others.

The critical thinking needed to contextualise art makes very different demands to that needed for scientific examination. Consequently, I have been working developing a more systematic and structured approach to the way I evaluate art.

Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills has been an excellent resource in developing my critical thinking skills.

Highly beneficial during the latter stages of preparing the assignments for module three, the return on investment from this book has been immediate.

Week 15 – w/c Monday 25 September 2017

Perseverance paid off with regard to the script for the video presentation which was able to go through several iterations and a number of rounds of editing before finally being recorded.

As anticipated, the production of the video itself presented a number of challenges. However, these were interesting problems to resolve and with the script (biggest challenge by far) finalised progress was swift – the reality was that making the video became quite engrossing.

Being able to record the audio and video on separate tracks was a major improvement, making production much easier. Previously, (in the earlier days of the course and PowerPoint presentations with audio) ‘fluffing’ a word necessitated the audio being ditched and a new recording being made, and with it the recorded sequence of slide changes – this was a big frustration.

Everything came together in the end. A circuitous route, but I made it: video presentation ‘wrapped’, WIP portfolio complete, and with these last few words the CRJ entries for module three are complete.

Looking back over the past 15 weeks of module three, and the first year of the MA itself, I think there is a marked difference in the way I think, the way I ‘see’ my photography and photography in general.

Clearly an aim of the MA, but to me a defining moment has been reached, the change is something almost tangible.

At the beginning of the course I had plans for a small personal project. The intention was to create a classic English summer dish – summer pudding – and then photograph it.

Summer pudding

Howard Sooley, 2009. Summer Pudding

I loved Howard Sooley’s image then, and I still do – the light is amazing. At the time, my ambition was to produce an image as appealing as the image used in Valentine Warner’s What to Eat Now. I still intend to.

But the difference is this. At the start of the course, Sooley’s image fairly represented how I ‘saw’ images of food, how I imagined them, or previsualised them. I now see them very differently – before, during and after – in effect, the default setting of how I see images in my mind has changed, becoming more refined along with my technique and my artistic style.

Beck's 2

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 18

I am looking forward to the next twelve months …

WIP Critique 2

Torpedoes 3

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 6

Stem ginger 2

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 7

Limonata

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 8

Midget gems 2

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 9

As the Cravings project develops it is clear how well these images are held together by the overarching theme – that of the struggle and pursuant compromises for an athlete to maintain a strict ‘clean’ diet during preparation for a competition.

Nevertheless, individually, these are strong images – technically and artistically.

Presented in monochrome, bringing a timelessness and focusing the viewer’s gaze on content and meaning, the series is a significant departure from the way in which contemporary food images are typically presented and is, therefore, quite unique.

There is a quality of richness that results from the monochrome post-processing of the images. The chiaroscuro as a design element in each image being augmented by this treatment – another mechanism by which the viewer’s gaze is led through the image. The drama brought to the images by the strongly contrasting areas of black and white is reminiscent of the mystery associated with tenebrism.

A very shallow depth of field is exploited, producing a bokeh which adds further richness to the images. This is an aesthetic which appeals to me very strongly. It is also a boundary I want to push – the Cravings series being shot at f2/8. In future projects, I want to push the aperture wider – looking at f1/4 to f1/2.

Who Decides

What are we actually saying when we operate a camera shutter? What statement are we making?

The very act of framing a picture places a photographer in a position of power.

What is included? What is not? Why? And how?

How many people contemplate photography?

Most people, I suspect, regard operating a camera, pressing the shutter, as a simple process. And it is, on a purely mechanical level.

There is always a motive, from fulfilling the needs of a news desk, to filling a family photo album. There is always a reason.

I think the implications of taking photographs escape most people, by that I mean that a significant number of images are generated without any prior consideration. Little, if any, thought is given as to why the image is being taken, or to the value of the image.

But at what cost are images made?

Are the images obtained ethically? Has appropriate consent been obtained? Have trespass laws been broken? Do the images show classified information? Have models been exploited?

Do the same rules apply to professional and non-professional photographers?

I think the same rules do apply, but are not perceived to apply.

Arguably, even the best photographers are only as good as their reputation – controversy is not normally a strong selling point (although of course there are exceptions to this).

But for non-professional photographers, the rules seem to apply only to other people, with photographs being taken in inappropriate places, or inappropriate ways.

MA Photography student Jo Sutherst recently visited Auschwitz. The following is an extract from her subsequent journal entry:

Left almost untouched (except for the planting of trees and green areas) since the Nazi forces left the site in January 1945, the site is now a museum of global importance.

Each block that you visit on the site has a specific part to tell about the story of the events that took place there. The rooms where the victims’ belongings were displayed were the hardest to visit.  The photographs on the walls appear almost banal.  They do not show the true horror that happened. The subjects stare at the camera, or look elsewhere; no violence or death is depicted.

Looking at the suitcases, shoes and human hair left us without words. But not everyone on the tour reacted that way.  Many were happily photographing every aspect they could, taking selfies to show that they had been there. Philip and I discussed later how disrespectful and shocking to us this act was.

The human hair preserved in a darkened room was used by the Nazis to produce socks and carpets.  It is strictly forbidden to take pictures in this room, as it should be out of respect for the victims.  It is a sad sign of our times, that this even has to be specified on large signs at the entrance.  Yet, there are people who sneakily take shots in this room.  I do not understand how anyone would think it was appropriate to take images in such a place.

This prompted a long discussion between myself and Philip later in the day about Auschwitz and photography’ (Sutherst, 2017).

There are ethical and moralistic obligations attached to the way we take images, and to the way those images are ultimately used.

It's Media

It’s Media (Author and date unknown)

The cartoon It’s Media illustrates how images can be used to fulfil an ulterior motive.

The cartoon shows how a situation has been manipulated to produce a fictional reality, in this case by taking an abstract and removing the context.

It also makes reference to the fact that our views can and are changed. Sometimes the change is informed, but not always. Sometimes, we seek to change our views proactively (self-improvement, for example), on other occasions the change is made for us – for example, as a result of the way media reports news, or by skilful marketing which uses psychology as a basis.

What is the relevance of this to my photographic practice? Ultimately, I am concerned that my images present a true and fair view. I want to be regarded as a good photographer, both technically and artistically (whilst bearing in mind that my work will never appeal to everyone).

The question I pose myself is this, is it possible to produce images which have a narrative, whilst also being unbiased and objective? For me, this largely comes down to two things: research – knowing the subject, and personal integrity.

This brings me back to my two original questions: what are we actually saying when we operate a camera shutter? What statement are we making?

I believe that when we photograph, we are making a statement about ourselves, and our motives, and our beliefs, and our culture.

How our images are used can be beyond our control, perhaps now more than ever, certainly digital images placed online are open to misappropriation. That can lead to inappropriate use as our images are used in a context different to that originally intended.

But as photographers we have an obligation to ensure that what we present has some objectivity, unless of course we are intentionally creating escapist art, i.e. fantasy or science fiction art. If we are not in complete control of how our images are used, we can control the integrity of ourselves and our subjects.

As seems to be the case at the moment, this tends to generate more questions, than it does answers.

What am I trying to represent? And why? Who is interested? Is anybody interested? Is there a point at which a psychological divorce takes place between a viewer and an image, in terms of visual appeal, if that image is obtained unethically?

We live in a world where, perhaps more increasingly, we need to ask ‘why is this person telling me this? But shouldn’t we be asking ourselves this question on a regular basis anyway? Because the alternative is that we blindly accept everything we see and hear? And at the very best, that leads to stagnation and, arguably, at worst to prejudice.

 

References:

Sutherst, Jo (2017) ‘Auschwitz and Photography’, Josutherstphotography.blog [online]. https://josutherstphotography.blog/2017/07/14/surfaces-and-strategies-auschwitz-and-photography/ (Accessed: Tuesday 05 September 2017)

On Reflection: Week 12, Module Three

Variations 2.jpgVariations of Composition (Morris, 2017)

Working on the images for the module three Work in Progress portfolio realised an opportunity to explore composition.

More specifically, it was an opportunity to explore subtle variations in composition.

It was a valuable exercise in perceptions.

Furthermore, it enabled me to gather material for a future workshop which is planned.

Playing around with various compositional arrangements took me down quite a philosophical path.

Perceptions operate via various routes simultaneously.

Take, for example, a simple bar of chocolate. In photographic terms, the chocolate itself is irrelevant. Instead, the two factors which are important are the outer wrapping, and the combination of ingredients.

It seems superficial, but from a food photography point of view it is highly relevant. Without a wrapper, and assuming integrity (i.e. the surface of the bar has not been broken in any way to reveal the inner contents), what is there to differentiate between, say, a Snickers bar, a Mars, and a Milky Way?

Consequently, I found myself asking this week, what exactly is it that I am photographing? What is a Snickers bar for example?

Where does the product itself begin, and the packaging end?

Is a Snickers bar the combination of ingredients? Or, is it the combination of ingredients within a unique and specifically designed wrapping?

Francis Hodgson suggests that photographs are of something, and about something, with the latter point often being overlooked. Barthes and Heath suggest that images represent the signifier and the signified.

In these terms, a Snickers bar and its wrapper are the ‘of something’, the signifier. What they imply, the signified – the ‘about something’, can (in my opinion) be one or more of several things.

Firstly, it implies that we ‘beautify’ the food we eat: we need the wrapper to do this – to make the chocolate appear more appetising than it otherwise might be.

Chocolate isn’t eaten for its visual appeal (unless it’s a Black Forest gateaux), it is eaten for its addictive sweetness and the endorphin rush its metabolism causes. Taken purely on face value, does an unwrapped bar of chocolate really look appetising? Does it really initiate a gustatory reflex?

Secondly, it makes a statement about how we live our lives. Busy lives require food in portions that make the task of eating on the go an easily managed task. Discrete little packages of food to be eaten on the go, to be consumed conveniently need wrappers.

Thirdly, it is part of a sanitising process, helping to keep food fresh and clean.

Finally, it reflects the homeostatic (need to eat) and hedonic (eating for pleasure) aspects of appetite.

So much for our Snickers. But we can extend this – steak doesn’t come pre-cooked, it doesn’t come in a form that we accept as being edible. We grill it to make it more digestible (the proteins are broken down by the cooking process, and the cooking process has a sanitising effect). Steak in its natural state isn’t appealing – again, the cooked appearance of a nicely grilled steak is the signifier, the treatment of our food the signified.

Frith writes that: ‘Advertising only “makes sense” when it resonates with certain deeply held belief systems’ (Frith, 1997: vii).

I think that with this seemingly simple statement, Frith is telling us none of this hangs together unless we all buy into it – literally.

All this brings me back to my earlier question: what exactly is it that I am photographing? The product? Or it’s wrapper?

And that is why clever advertising people invented something called the ‘brand’.

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

 

 

A Different Perspective

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

Caravaggio, 1601-02. Incredulity of St. Thomas

Michelangelo Merisi, otherwise Caravaggio, was active between 1592 and 1610. In his own lifetime, he was renowned as a sensitive, capricious and provocative individual. His temperament extended from his personal life into his work as an artist.

His work made strong use of extreme chiaroscuro, or tenebrism, together with physical observation to portray dramatic scenes, quite often violent, heavy in psychological realism.

Innovative in style, he both challenged and influenced Baroque art.

It is widely believed that Caravaggio used some form of optics to produce his images, possibly a lens, possibly a camera obscura – certainly these technologies existed when Caravaggio was active.

But did the use of this technology, still formative at the time, lead to some inaccuracies, or errors in Caravaggio’s work?

Take for example, the Incredulity of St. Thomas (also Doubting Thomas, 1601-02) in which Christ offers his wounds to Thomas as proof of his suffering, death and resurrection. Thomas, seeking confirmation of these events, needing reassurance that the person standing before him is indeed Jesus, reaches out to touch the wounds. But study the painting closely.

Thomas’ gaze does not fall where his hand touches Christ’s flesh.

This shift in perspective is not limited to this single painting.

Supper-at-Emmaus-1024x728

Caravaggio, 1601-02. Supper at Emmaus

Taking Supper at Emmaus (1601-02) as a further example, St. Peter’s right hand, although being furthest from us, is visibly larger than the left which is closer.

Hockney suggests that is ‘maybe a consequence of movements of lens and canvas when refocusing because of depth-of-field problems’ (Hockney, 2001, p. 120).

Hockney goes on to suggest how Caravaggio might have used optics: ‘on many of his canvases, this one included, there are a number of incised lines made with the wrong end of the brush in wet undercoat. These lines do not follow the forms precisely, and they do not show enough to be compositional drawings: only the key elements – the head, the arms – are marked. I believe that Caravaggio used this technique simply to record the position of his models so they could take a break. They could then resume their positions, and Caravaggio could project the image and adjust their pose until they fitted the incised lines’ (Hockney, 2001, p. 123).

‘He would not, of course, have needed all his models there at the same time. The complete tableau would need only to be set up once – to mark out the overall composition. After that, the models could come back one by one, as he worked on different figures’ (Hockney, 2001, p. 123).

1024px-Caravaggio_(Michelangelo_Merisi)_-_The_Cardsharps_-_Google_Art_Project

Caravaggio, 1594. Card Sharps

The Card Sharps (1594) is an excellent example of this. Light would be set up to illuminate only one subject at a time, the lens to focus on only one subject. Each element of a painting would then be presented to the lens in turn. The canvas would be moved to allow the relevant section to be worked on, coinciding with where the optically projected image is falling. For example, the canvas would be moved to the right to allow the projection to fall on the left-hand side of the canvas to allow the model on the left to be painted. This is referred to as compositing.

Do either of the two card sharps gaze convincingly at the cards held by their mark? Or do they more convincingly look past the hand of cards he holds?

Martyrdom_of_Saint_Matthew-Caravaggio_(c__1599-1600)

Caravaggio, 1599-1600. Martyrdom of St. Matthew

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1599-1600) provides a further example of altered perspective. Notice how disproportionate the foot of St. Matthew’s executioner (centre) appears relative to his body.

Did Caravaggio sacrifice true representation of perspective in order to achieve the realistic illusion he so avidly sought? Are the inaccuracies present in some of Caravaggio’s works purely artefacts arising from the use of optics? We may never know.

Hockney puts forward a compelling argument and summarises succinctly: ‘Caravaggio’s models are not always looking where you would expect – but the intended object of their gaze would not have been there!’ (Hockney, 2001, p.123).

So, how do I relate this to my practice?

Analysing Caravaggio’s work has been a valuable exercise in looking, in paying attention to detail, and in spatial awareness in relation to a three-dimensional scene being represented in a two-dimensional medium. These are important aspects to consider during the creative process. I think, in terms of designing an image, quite often it is easy to look, but not always so easy to see.

References:

Caravaggio: Man & Mystery (2015) YouTube Video, added by Steely_Blues_Man [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_s6gj2KB7s (Accessed: Thursday 07 September 2017)

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

Breaking Free

As I progress towards the completion of assignments for module three of my MA in photography, it’s perhaps a good time to take stock, and to ask myself what path it is that my photography is taking.

My current project, Cravings, has met with positive feedback from all those who have previewed the images. Shared between all the comments, is the opinion that the project is an interesting change in direction.

Is it a change in direction? I see it more as a natural progression.

At the back of my mind for some time now has been the need to identify a project theme for both the module four Work in Progress portfolio and the Final Major Project.

The initial success of Cravings has enabled me to do just that, to identify themes for both projects. Work is underway to research the viability of these themes and carry out initial planning.

But what happens if the projects are set aside?

Taking this concept further, what happens if we set aside food photography?

Posed another way, the question could become ‘what other genres of photography interest me?’

Still life which isn’t food related appeals to me very much, as does fine art photography.

I am also very interested in portraiture, and whilst there is a tentative link between the three genres still life (including food photography), fine art and portraiture, the final genre – reportage – can be described as an outlier.

There are, I think, significant advantages to breaking out of a mould and trying other types of photography, advantages which will enhance my skills as a food photographer. Looking beyond a still life table (or kitchen work surface), looking for different subjects, in different areas will, I believe, improve my skills as a photographer – not least of all by improving my skill in looking, and in seeing the potential within a subject for good photograph. After all, I think I am skilled in recognising items of food which will make images with aesthetic appeal, am I adept at recognising the potential, or the opportunity, for equally interesting and appealing images in other genres?

By turning away from my subject, only briefly and periodically, by including other genres in my repertoire, I am becoming more rounded as a photographer, I am becoming more skilled over a wider subject area and acquiring skills I can bring back to my specialism. In turn this will allow me practice my specialism in an innovative way.

Progressing the discussion: food photographer – is that a label that I wish to be identified by?

Wouldn’t it be better to be considered as a photographer who specialises in food photography? In essence, letting the images I create do the talking.

The former is quite constrictive. In artistic terms, it shows that my area of interest, if not my talent, lies in food photography. But in practical, commercial terms, it closes off lots of avenues for potential work.

The latter, however, leaves lots of doors open: both artistically and commercially.

Food photography is my passion and I gain an enormous amount of satisfaction from creating images of food. But there is a lot to be gained from, at the very least, experimenting with other genres of photography. And by doing so I am keeping things fresh.