Variations

VariationsVariations of composition (Morris, 2017)

A series of four images seemingly without discernible difference.

This is, however, not the case. The images, produced during shooting for my latest project Cravings, differ subtly.

The first image in the sequence (top left) feels out of balance to me.

Second in sequence (top right) is taken after a small adjustment – the result of some evaluation and ‘what happens if?’ But still the image doesn’t ‘feel’ right – there is still a feeling of imbalance.

Next in sequence, image three (bottom left), shows a further subtle adjustment, carrying on from the adjustment seen in image two. The overall effect is an improvement, but it’s not quite right yet.

Image four (bottom right), extends the change a little further.

To me, this image has the balance that was missing in images one to three.

It is images one to three which have a feel of disquiet about them, something is amiss – things are not in order. Despite only requiring a small, subtle change, these three images don’t feel comfortable. Something feels unnatural – it shows that we seek order in chaos.

Even when things are in a state of disruption, perhaps even decay, there is still an order that we are able to recognise – even in a state of flux we look for patterns, searching out and recognising the familiar.

I feel that this relates strongly to a principle underpinning the work of Czech photographer Josef Sudek, a principle which also guides my photographic practice – that there is beauty even in the banal: the ordinary portrayed in an extraordinary way.

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.

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

 

 

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.

Looking West

Using only natural light, my current lighting set up is dictated by the layout of what passes for a studio.

The large room is lit by a single, large western facing window.

The walls are decorated with an off-white matt – sufficiently white enough to not produce a colour-cast, the ceiling with a soft matt white.

During the day, light enters the room in an even manner. The building is located in quite an open environment, the studio is located in an upstairs room, the view directly opposite is open with no over-looking buildings. Old in character, all the buildings are externally stonewashed. Consequently, the adjacent and opposite buildings bounce lots of beautifully diffused, soft light into the studio. Inside the studio, the light is further softened by the soft matt surfaces of the walls and ceiling. There are no dark surfaces to absorb light and provide negative fill.

In effect, the surrounding environment acts as a reservoir of light – buffering the ebb of flow of light as the sun completes its path through the sky.

Ginger beer

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 4

The images from the series Cravings were taken in this studio arrangement.

They are beautifully lit images, having a richness and a depth.

Are there any problems associated with this arrangement?

There is a brief period, around late afternoon, where the arc of the sun results in a beam of light entering the room. The cause of this is the sun’s lower position in the afternoon sky, together with it falling in line with a gap between two buildings. The effect of this beam is to produce a hotspot of light which transects the still life table.

If I was looking for a particular aesthetic, a warm summery scene with high contrast split between pools of bright sunlight and deep shadows, this would be ideal and I could put this to use. However, for my current projects it is not what I am looking for.

So, when this phenomenon occurs, I sit back, and reflect on the day’s work before packing away the equipment for another day.

It’s all about finding the right light, and basing my judgement on the Cravings images, I believe I have done just that.

It is either that or waiting.

Records suggest that Vermeer’s studio faced north. However, I suspect that at least some of the great artists and photographers didn’t have north facing windows and fantastic light – consistent all day, every day. If I am right, I am beginning to share some skills with great company: the ability to be in the moment, and to see light as an entity with a presence of its own. Oh, and learning to wait …

See also: A View from a Window

Da Vinci on … Self-evaluation

How to Judge of One’s Own Work

It is an acknowledged fact, that we perceive errors in the works of others more readily than in our own. A painter, therefore, ought to be well instructed in perspective, and acquire a perfect knowledge of the dimensions of the human body; he should also be a good architect, at least as far as concerns the outward shape of buildings, with their different parts; and where he is deficient, he ought not to neglect taking drawings from Nature.

It will be well also to have a looking-glass by him, when he paints, to look often at his work in it, which being seen the contrary way, will appear as the work of another hand, and will better shew his faults. It will be useful also to quit his work often, and take some relaxation, that his judgment may be clearer at his return; for too great application and sitting still is sometimes the cause of many gross errors.’

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

 

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

WIP Critique

Muffin

Morris, 2017. Untitled #1

Cadbury Eclair

Morris, 2017. Untitled #2

Jelly babies

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 3

Ginger beer

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 4

Ruffles

Morris, 2017. Untitled # 5

Overall, the narrative is of the struggle for an athlete in preparation for competition to maintain a strict ‘clean’ diet, and the desire to consume ‘comfort’ foods as the body depletes stores of fat to fuel the training – cravings.

In support of the main subjects, a variety of tapes, strappings and topical treatments together with a selection of exercise manuals tell the story of an athlete in training for competition. Selective focus leads the viewer’s attention to the main subject, a Black Forest muffin, Jelly Babies, or some chocolate eclairs – items to be consumed as a weekly treat, perhaps part of a ‘cheat’ meal taken as a reward for the effort invested in training, and also to maintain a link with reality. A sheet from a tear-off calendar indicates the dates on which the food items were consumed.

The relationship between the subjects makes reference to an effective diet itself being a relationship: that of a careful balance between exercise and calorific intake.

Technically all five images are well exposed, having good dynamic range with retention of details in both shadows and highlights.

A natural vignette which results from the fall-off of the natural light used to light the various scenes adds to the aesthetic appeal and works well with the black and white images – together creating and enhancing a sense of a drama.

Furthermore, black and white images of food are extremely uncommon and as a consequence this series of images, being a significant departure from the way other contemporary food photographer’s present images, is quite unique. I feel that the monochrome treatment brings a timelessness to the images in addition to focusing the viewer’s gaze on the content and meaning.

The five images follow the same simple formula – a book, supporting props and a main subject. Something familiar, something shared helps ease the viewer into the images whilst providing continuity throughout the series. Variety is provided by the way the elements are arranged – something different in each image to hold the viewer’s gaze. Elements which bleed out of the image create intrigue – suggesting that this scene is only part of a bigger story.

But what could I do differently? Would retaining colour make the image stronger? Could a different composition alter the strength of the image? How can this composition be described? What could be changed, in terms of the subjects, to change the strength of the image?

Images were produced and evaluated in colour, and it was felt that, as a series, black and white had greater aesthetic appeal.

Different combinations of props were tried with each main subject, in different compositions – initially on paper in the form of an Excel spreadsheet ‘storyboard’ before being refined during shooting. With regard to the main subjects, however, these are fixed – change these and the project theme loses its integrity and purpose.

Using a storyboard to plan out the complete series of images proved very beneficial – and provided a way of getting deeper into the heart of the images. I also feel that investigating the use of the visual narrative helped in the successful design of these images. Consequently, I aim to apply these concepts to the remaining images in this series, and also to future projects.

With regard to the visual narrative itself, the images serve a visual anthropological purpose (an area I am becoming increasingly interested in), documenting one aspect of the athlete’s diet. The images also make reference to ‘clean’ eating as a concept – with arguments both for and against this form of diet being topical.

In terms of describing the composition, shooting at a wide aperture places everything except the primary subject out of focus, producing an attractive bokeh – this is the compositional concept of simplification.

The main subject in each image, the obvious point of interest, is placed off-centre, with satellite objects providing balance and further interest. The space between objects varies in both size and shape, also creating interest. Where the primary subject is a group, a triangular presentation creates a sense of stability and strength.

When finalised, the series will comprise 18 images in total. These five images represent those which have been produced to date. These are strong images which work together well as a series.

In summary, the intention was to produce a series of still life images which individually carry a message and together form a narrative whilst having both identity and integrity as works of art in their own right. Czech photographer Josef Sudek produced many beautiful monochrome images which featured ordinary objects photographed in an extraordinary way. It was also an objective to explore Sudek’s methods in using natural light to create the characteristic aesthetic of his images. I think these images are a significant move forward in terms of my understanding of both his techniques and the rationale behind his work.

Have I been successful in capturing light, as an entity with a presence of its own, in a Sudek-esque manner? Have I been successful in recreating Sudek’s aesthetic?

You decide …

Josef-sudek-caravaggio

Josef Sudek, 1956. Still Life after Caravaggio, Variation 1

Sfumato and Other Things

Born in 1452, Leonardo da Vinci grew up in Florence, a city dominated by the work of Early Italian Renaissance artists such as Verrocchio and Donatello.

The figurative frescoes of Masaccio portrayed realism and emotion.

Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, adorned with gleaming gold leaf, featured figures against detailed architectural backgrounds to produce complex compositions.

Piero della Francesca carried out a detailed study of perspective, and was the first painter to make a scientific study of light.

Such artists were to have a profound influence on Leonardo’s own observations and art.

Donatello’s David had a humanist influence which was to be seen in Leonardo’s later paintings, particularly ‘John the Baptist’.

Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden – a powerful expression of the human form, making strong use of light and shade to create a three-dimensional effect.

Light and shade were later developed in the works of Leonardo in a way that was to be influential in the course of art.

Leonardo was also greatly influenced by Netherlandish painting techniques which arrived in Florence with Hugo van der Goes Portinari Altarpiece (1476).

Qualities which define Leonardo’s work are as follows:

Pioneering techniques for the laying on of paint

Exploratory use of alternative substrates e.g. the cottonwood panelling to which the Mona Lisa owes its longevity

Detailed knowledge of anatomy, light, botany and geology

Interest in physiognomy and the ways in which humans register emotion in expressions and gestures

Innovative use of the human form in figurative compositions

The use of subtle gradation of tone

Use of natural hues.

All of these characteristics feature in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Last Supper, and the Virgin on the Rocks.

Da Vinci’s work has had a deep and lasting influence on subsequent art.

Leonardo remained true to the Renaissance tradition whilst incorporating innovative techniques into the production of his art. Techniques which have routinely been adopted by artists since da Vinci’s pioneering first use.

The vanishing point, used to such great effect in da Vinci’s Last Supper, creates a sense of being in the picture – or placement, and is a way of adding drama. Additionally, perspective in a painting produces a feeling of three-dimensionality – giving depth to paintings.

The use of light and shade, or chiaroscuro, also gives art a three-dimensional feel and was used by both Caravaggio and Rembrandt to create drama in their art.

Sfumato, a ‘smoky’ quality of the shadows in a painting, adds realism by blurring or softening the edges of adjacent objects.

Sfumato equates to soft focus in photography and can be observed in the still-life paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin which provide one, two or maybe three perches for the eyes to rest on, with the remainder of each painting being out of focus.

The Mona Lisa is an outstanding example of da Vinci’s use of both chiaroscuro and sfumato.

Figure 1. clearly shows da Vinci’s use of sfumato around the bridge of the nose, the area surrounding the eyes, and under the chin.

Lisa_Detail

Fig 1: Da Vinci, 1503. Mona Lisa – detail, sfumato

Figure 2. illustrates da Vinci’s use of chiaroscuro – note the contrast between the light area of skin on the hands and the dark fabric of the clothing.

Lisa_Detail 2

Fig 2: Da Vinci, 1503. Mona Lisa – detail, chiaroscuro

Ginevra_Lisa 2.jpgFig 3: Da Vinci, 1474 & 1503. Ginevra de’ Benci & Mona Lisa

Figure 3. compares two portraits separated by a 29 period, Da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci (1474) and Mona Lisa (1503).

The use of aerial perspective, chiaroscuro and sfumato can be seen in both paintings, if to differing degrees.

In terms of style, I feel that Ginevra de’ Benci has as much in keeping with paintings by artists both other earlier to and contemporary with da Vinci, for example Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition (1436), as it does with da Vinci’s later work – compare the palette used by da Vinci for Ginevra de’ Benci against the palette used for Mona Lisa and against van der Weyden’s Deposition, Mona Lisa stands out as exemplifying da Vinci’s favoured palette of natural hues.

Weyden_Deposition

Rogier van der Weyden, 1436. Deposition

Mona Lisa represents a refinement in da Vinci’s techniques, and whilst the refinement in technique, the change in the laying on of paint, might be subtle, the result is pronounced – with the refinement comes with realism.

Da Vinci’s influence can very clearly be seen in the work of Caravaggio, for example Sick Bacchus (1594), especially in terms of chiaroscuro.

young-sick-bacchus-1953

Caravaggio, 1594. Sick Bacchus

Sfumato is most readily associated with da Vinci, perhaps because of the high esteem with which Mona Lisa is held. Whilst da Vinci can be credited with popularising the use of sfumato, he cannot be credited as being either the first or the only artist to use the technique.

Christus_carthusian

Petrus Christus, 1446. Portrait of a Carthusian

When described as a smooth transition from light to dark without the use of lines or borders, arguably, we can observe the use of sfumato in Petrus Christus’ Portrait of a Carthusian (1446), noting, in a painting with a high degree of photo-realism, the gradual transition from shade to light occurring across the right side of the sitter’s face and especially between the right ear and right eye.

In terms of significance for my practice, my intention is to explore the use of chiaroscuro and sfumato by producing a series of images which study the texture of food.

Practically, chiaroscuro can be achieved photographically by arranging the subject so that it is bathed in pools of dappled light, light which, in photographic terminology, is ‘shaped’ and ‘hard’. I would suggest that the contrast needed for effective, ’dramatic’ chiaroscuro is somewhere between 6 to 8 stops.

Sfumato can be achieved in photographic images through the use of selective focusing and shallow depth of field.

I see this as an alternative to the ubiquitous, almost industry-standard lighting used in contemporary food photography. Arguably, contemporary food imaging exists exclusively to sell food, or promote food in some way. Images of food rarely seem to exist in their own right as something aesthetically pleasing.

Still-life, as a genre of painting, has thrived on making the mundane seem beautiful. Surely food photography can adopt the same approach?

 

Further Reading:

De Rynck, Patrick (2015). ‘How to Read a Painting: Decoding, Understanding and Enjoying the Old Masters’. London: Thames and Hudson Limited

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

Leonardoda-vinci.org (2017). ‘The Biography of Leonardo da Vinci’. Leonardoda-vinci.org [online]. Available at: https://www.leonardoda-vinci.org/biography.html (accessed: Monday 31 July 2017)

Leonartodavinci.weebly.com (2017). ‘Da Vinci’s Impact on the Art World’. Leonartodavinci.weebly.com [online]. Available at: http://leonartodavinci.weebly.com/art-impact.html (accessed: Monday 17 July 2017)

Louvre.fr (2017). ‘Mona Lisa – Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco del Giocondo’. Louvre.fr [online]. Available at: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/mona-lisa-portrait-lisa-gherardini-wife-francesco-del-giocondo (accessed: Monday 31 July 2017)

Monalisa.org (2017). ‘The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci: Perspective’. Monalisa.org [online]. Available at: http://monalisa.org/2013/12/15/genius-leonardo-da-vinci-perspective / (accessed: Monday 31 July 2017)

Photobooks and Other Publications

My Books

Morris, 2017. Pilebrary

I am, most certainly, one to embrace technology. Having said that, I feel that nothing can even begin to approach the wonderful experience of reading from a printed book. For me selecting a book, touching it, even smelling it, are as important as the visual interaction of seeing, looking, reading.

Ebooks and the devices which enable them to be read have their place, several textbooks can be loaded on to a reader and make the act of studying on the move, for example, much easier – not least of all because of the reduction in weight which results from not having to transport heavy texts. But still, nothing can replace a physical text.

Books are a thing of beauty. Libraries are palaces of knowledge and mind-expanding entertainment. If printed books should ever come to be totally replaced by electronic forms of media, I think it would be a very sad day for humanity.

The same can be said for printed photographs. Digital images are marvellous things in their own right, and digital media allows for an extended range of expression, the digital artistry facilitated by Photoshop for example.

But what happens when the world of books meets that of the printed photographic image?

I would suggest that under such circumstances, a most popular notion is that of the photobook.

I have previously stated that the intention is for my final project to be in the form of an online gallery. Numerous reasons continue to justify that statement. However, various other ‘surfaces’, or modes of presentation, exist to enable the publishing of photographic anthologies, for making authored photographic work available, to the public, through printed or electronic media. These are referred to in figure 1, which is the output from a brainstorming session.

Publications Brainstorm II_10Aug2017

Figure 1. Publications Brainstorm Output

Consequently, the chosen format for my publication, a means by which I theoretically and practically explore producing a publication, is a photobook.

I feel it is important at this stage to try to determine what it is that distinguishes between a photograph album and a photobook.

What model was used in order to organise the images in a photo album? Were images simply placed into an album in the order in which they were taken? In which case a chronological frame of reference was used, perhaps unwittingly. Can this help us differentiate between the two formats?

Tate.org.uk (2017) defines a photobook accordingly: ‘the photobook is a book of photographs by a photographer that has an overarching theme or follows a storyline’.

Is it really the presence of a narrative in a photobook, and the absence of the same from a photo album, which determines exactly which entity we are looking at?

Whilst it is a good working definition, I don’t think that the situation is so clear cut. Take, for example, our photographs placed into a photo album in the order in which they are taken. These images still tell a story, possibly the story of the photographer’s journey through life, or perhaps the development over time of the subject of the photographs. Such images still provide a trace of something having existed, and it is progressive.

This is currently an exercise to identify questions relating to the process of publishing a photobook.

Some issues are common to all forms of presentation, for example, identifying target audiences, and the sequencing of images.

Again, figure 1 outlines the issues associated with publishing a photobook.

Project work has been subject to a hiatus recently, in practical terms. As a result, a series of images taken during the earlier part of module three have been sequenced in order to produce the dummy publication.

A key task, and a major consumer of time, has been sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’. The platforms for the creation of photobooks are numerous but not equal.

But rather a discourse in what hasn’t worked, focus on what has …

Blurb.co.uk offers an interface which is user friendly, and provides a number of options in terms of output, for example, orientation, type of cover, and paper type. ‘Blurb’ has proven to be a positive experience for me, so far at least.

Currently on order, then, is 1 x landscape 25 x 20 cm, soft cover prototype with 22 pages, to be printed on premium lustre paper of weight 148 g/m2.

I think that the quality of a photobook reflects more on the photographer, who may have only supplied the images and had very little to do with the physical aspect of producing the book, than it does the printer who a major role in this activity.

In terms of photobooks, the printer, who physically makes the book, with images supplied by the photographer, is viewed as remote, almost distant from the process – if given any regard at all, by the viewer.

With regard to outsourced, printed photobooks, price is a reasonable indicator of quality, but it is no cast iron guarantee of a product’s finish – there isn’t a clear correlation between cost and quality.

So, this is a starting point, a point at which to begin the process of photobook publishing. I see it as a dummy run, establishing a formula which can be repeated if successful, but which has parameters which if necessary can be incrementally, individually adjusted in order to reach an acceptable output.

I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product, and determining where we move to next, dependent upon the quality, and how.

Additionally, I am very interested to see how the photobook translates from electronic to printed media? Will any artefacts be created as a result of the conversion process?

What am I taking away from this experience?

Well, I’m starting to ask more probing questions.

Is one format of photobook more popular than any other, for example? If so, what? And upon what is this dependent?

How does format add to or subtract from the narrative? Or the overall viewing experience? What about the other physical characteristics of the book?

What will make my photobook appealing? What will make people ‘reach out’ to my work? I think people want to engage for a few reasons – sharing an interest, which may already be established or which may be new, or sharing knowledge, or both?

How do I want the audience to interact with the book? Do I want them to spend time looking at each image, before moving to the next? Or do I want them to move through the items in sequence before starting the process again? How will reading ahead affect the narrative?

What level of intimacy do I want with the audience? Do I want to tell them everything in images which leave little to be discovered? Or do I use complex, layered images which require the viewer to spend time studying and searching in order to decode?

Photobooks are something which I believe I can successfully incorporate into my offering. A significant amount of information will be gleaned from analysing my prototype publication. Moving forward, this is a body of knowledge I wish to extend.

 

Reference:

Tate.org ca. 2017. Glossary entry: ‘photobook’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/the-photobook (Accessed: Friday 14 July 2017)

 

 

The ‘Context Effect’

‘Context effect’ is a term used within cognitive psychology and refers to the study and subsequent description of the influence of environmental factors upon an individual’s perception of a stimulus.

In addition to perception, cognitive psychology also investigates other such processes as thought, attention, language use, memory, problem-solving, and creativity.

‘Top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ design are both terms used within the disciplines of neuroscience, cognitive neurosciences, and cognitive psychology to describe the flow of information as it is processed.

More specifically, from a psychological perspective, ‘bottom-up’ processing (or data-driven processing) is carried out in one direction: beginning with the stimulus, information is received by the retina and moves to the visual cortex. Successive stages in the visual pathway carry out increasingly complex analysis of the input.

‘Bottom-up’ processing theory suggests that perception is based on innate mechanisms that have arisen through an evolutionary process, learning is not required.

‘Top-down’ processing refers to the use of contextual information in perception. For example, handwriting which is difficult to read becomes easier to understand when it is read, as complete sentences, in conjunction with surrounding words.

Higher cognitive information, either from past experiences or stored knowledge, is required to make inferences about what we perceive. Perception is, according to ‘top-down’ processing theory, a hypothesis based on prior knowledge.

Consequently, the ‘context effect’ is viewed as ‘top-down’ information processing.

De Ville and Foster inform us that ‘the meaning and significance of art is linked to the context in which we experience it’ (1997, p. 9), whilst Hopper suggests that ‘it is clear that meaning is affected by context – where you meet the work of art will shape, to some extent, your knowledge of it’ (Hopper, 1997, p. 18).

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

Whilst the ways in which the ‘meaning and significance’ of art may be influenced by context are beyond the scope of this particular post (for example, what art, in what context?) and are an area for further investigation in its own right, the implications of certain physical characteristics of a context upon the interpretation of art placed within that context are easier to elucidate.

Colour constancy, for example, is a principle which suggests that the context in which an object is seen influences how we perceive the colour of that object. It is a feature of the human visual system, and ensures that colours remain relatively constant irrespective of varying lighting conditions.

Additionally, colour constancy serves to demonstrate that the senses involved in perception are not infallible.

Grey_square_optical_illusion

Figure 1: ‘Checker Shadow Illusion’ (Adelson, Edward H., 1995)

The ‘Checker Shadow Illusion’ (fig. 1) was created by Professor Edward H. Adelson (MIT) in 1995. The illusion is such that the area labelled A appears to be a darker colour  than the area labelled B. However, within the context of the two-dimensional image, they are of identical brightness (that is to say, they would be printed with identical mixtures of ink, or displayed on a screen with pixels of identical colour).

As a result, certain aspects of the environment into which works of art are placed for viewing are generally recommended.

The following extract is taken from the post ‘Putting “Context” into Context’ (14 April 2017):

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

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

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

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

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

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

In terms of relevance for my photographic practice, the interaction between my photographic images and any context in which they may be presented is an area of particular interest and as such is an area for ongoing research.

The intention is not for this post to provide extensive answers to any questions associated with how art and its environment interact. It is, however, intended as a starting point for further investigation – a reference point from which to navigate, fixing some key points in my mind as a precursor to that investigation, not least of which are the models used to illustrate the flow of information as we process our environment.

 

References:

De Ville, Nicholas and Foster, Stephen (1997) ‘Space Invaders’, in De VILLE and FOSTER (ed.) Space Invaders. Southampton: John Hansard Gallery

Hopper, R. (1997) ‘Introduction to Part One’, in De VILLE and FOSTER (ed.) Space Invaders. Southampton: John Hansard Gallery

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

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

McLeod, Saul (2008).’Visual Perception Theory’. Simplypsychology.org [online]. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/perception-theories.html (accessed: 19 July 2017).

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