Author Archives: Concentrik1

Exercise 4.5

The balance between text and picture is delicate.  A slight shift of weight from one to the other can cause a disproportionately large change in emphasis.  This is made more noticeable as the text becomes more specific and less obtuse.  The poetic, allusory text seems better able to support and contribute to a photograph without closing down the interpretations available to the viewer.

Here I have chosen snatches of text from the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake.  I made an attempt to read this as a teenager, probably because I thought it would make me mysterious and interesting to girls, a strategy which was distinguished by its profound lack of success.  I’ve gone back to it in later years (the trilogy, not the strategy) and find it increasingly seductive.  Peake was a talented poet and artist as well as the author of these epic novels  – Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone.

His imagery is rich and disturbing but he does make you care about the grotesque characters who populate the work.   Finding pictures to complement the words is difficult because the balance referred to above firmly favours the text; it’s simply too evocative to match.

I did have a stab at it, though, and the results are lower down the page.  Hover over to see the text.  My evaluation follows the photographs, lower down.

 

 

These were taken at Forde Abbey in Somerset, a 12th-century Cistercian monastery. It’s not as moody and threatening as Gormenghast so I had to take some liberties with manipulating the pictures in post.  In an attempt to match the ethereal qualities of the words I made some of the pictures using an inexpensive tilt adaptor between the 50mm lens and the body.  The lens is a favorite – what was the standard 50mm for Olympus analogue cameras turns into a 100mm on a micro four-thirds body and the image circle, originally intended for 35mm film, allows considerable lens movement without vignetting.

Although the results are achieved through true camera movement, they look very much like Photoshop’d imitations, recognised largely as a technique rather than a creative tool.  I have used this on previous work to modify the plane of focus to achieve a different look, which did work quite well but on this occasion I didn’t really like it.

The rocking horse and cobweb picture is a composite.  The cloisters were taken in bright sunlight but manipulated in PS via a colour look-up table to give a moonlight feel.  The wisteria (which looks almost as old as the house) was altered by dodging and burning and the targetted application of green contrast curves.  For me it was a fine line between creative emphasis and dungeons-and-dragons.

I think it works insofar as it fulfills the brief but i think it is much too contrived – not just this particular attempt of mine, but the whole idea of combining text never intended to be augmented with photographs.  The books are mightily powerful on their own.

There’s a project idea here, though;  the characters in the book – Swelter the chef, Steerpike, Fuschia and Lord Groan among numerous others – might make a good portrait series.

 

Assignment 4

A mile or so outside Dorchester in Dorset a controversial housing project has been in progress since 1993, under the aegis of HRH the Prince of Wales, who set out much of his architectural purpose in his book A Vision of Britain (1989). The development is now home to over 3000 people and 120 businesses.

Out-of-town housing estates are nothing new, but with Prince Charles at the helm this build has a visionary mission – to blend as many architectural styles, motifs, embellishments and protuberances as possible in the smallest feasible space, thereby encapsulating the very essence of the English Village in Dorset.  Residents in the adjoining host town, itself no slouch when it comes to historical credentials, largely consider this aim a wild shot, missed by a country mile.

To me it is an astonishing achievement, to have spent twenty-five years in pursuit of a plan, the ineffectiveness of which must have clear as the first chimneypots where appearing – sans fireplaces.  The hope was that by innovative building design a coherent community could be established, one where the traditional values of English country life would flourish. I believe communities generally grow and thrive despite their surrounds rather than because of them, so although there’s no reason why this should not be the case in Poundbury, I wonder whether relations are hampered by the very factors by which HRH sought to achieve them.

The dwellings appear tightly regimented; no brick out of place, no wall or fence dares rise beyond the prescribed height.  Render is uniformly mute, the soberest of Farrow and Ball hues. Georgian sash windows (of 21st century uPVC) are the whitest of white; glass sparkles, letterboxes and hefty door knockers gleam in a superior, brassy fashion.

The very sense of community which was envisioned at the outset is stifled by the precision and orderliness of the place.  I searched in vain for a weed, a discarded crisp packet, a neglected potplant, something to relieve the incessant air of perfection.  No washing hanging out to dry (this is prohibited in the bye-laws, an appropriately feudal restriction), no children’s toys in sight.  Nothing as vulgar as an on-street wheel change or a bonnet-up bit of trivial car maintenance – all forbidden.

The pictures I made for this assignment were taken on a single day.  I knew what I would find at Poundbury, the challenge was to express my feelings about the place in a series of connected photographs.  The text was already swimming around in my head, the result of reading years of news reports, discussions with friends and colleagues along with specifically researched online sources.  I had the basic narrative already and chose to augment it with additional text.

At first I had not intended to include text in the series but whilst wandering round the place I was interrupted by words and phrases I’d encountered previously; I have sourced snippets of text to expand the sentiments I have about Poundbury and its Grand Plan.

I’m not really satisfied with the ‘slideshow’ presentation style but I felt that any attempt to ‘artify’ it would only make things worse. I think it might work better in book form. There’s plenty of scope for the viewer to ‘open up’ their understanding of the venture and I think the words do stimulate connections within the pictures themselves.

Technically things are quite straightforward.  The day was bright, very sunny, so I worked on the RAW files a little to lift shadows and keep detail in the highlights.  I always under-expose by a stop; I know this defies the prevailing wisdom but my choice is purely aesthetic – I get the look I want. Far be it from me to question Olympus Corporation but my light meter is In full agreement with this strategy.

I edited the photographs down to a selection which I felt spoke most eloquently, then mangled them a bit in Photoshop.  Not really – I only spent a couple of hours on the whole lot and that was mainly adjusting perspective for the flat, expressionless look I wanted.

 

 

References

Slides 2, 4, 6 :         Poundbury – Poundbury. n.d. Available at http://poundbury.org.uk/ [Accessed 11 July 2018]

Slide 8:                Poundbury | the Duchy of Cornwall. n.d. Available at http://duchyofcornwall.org/poundbury.html [Accessed 11 July 2018].

Slides 10, 12, 14:           Covenants & Stipulations – Poundbury Manco 3. n.d. Available at http://www.poundburymanco.co.uk/covenants-stipulat ions/ [Accessed 11 July 2018].

Slide 16:        (PDF) Participatory Community Planning, Urbanist Style: Theory and Practice at Poundbury. 2008. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259972613  [Accessed 11 July 2018].

 

4.3 Storyboard

I did find that it was almost impossible to do a storyboard – actually more of a comic in this case – without having an idea about what was going on in the panels.  Fair play to animators, this stuff takes ages to do, even with the help of Pixton online storyboarding.

These characters are so generic that one could write anything as captions and it would probably stick.  Here, our hero manages to avoid being parted from his (unlikely) pocketbook (going all USA here because it was a diner!) by remembering the days in the month.  I would probably have stayed a bit longer as I am loath to walk out on a nice mug of coffee.

IP 4.4 Image and Caption

I’m going to bend this brief right at the start because I don’t want to have to purchase physical newspapers, cut tiny parts out and consign the remains to recycling.  It’s needless expense and environmentally frivolous (sorry).

There’s an almost unlimited availability of picture/caption combinations available online so I will look there for examples.  The use will be for reasonable comment or parody so I’m happy to do screengrabs.  OK, here we go.

This is a straightforward illustrative picture.  It is useful because it shows us what kind of tents are being used; they’re quite big, you can walk upright in them and they look pretty robust.  How unlike the camping experience we endured as children.  But the picture tells us more than that – it looks like it might be quite hot, what with the clear blue sky and the dusty looking ground and there are no air conditioners in sight. It looks like individuals are walking in file, escorted by people in hi-vis tabards – so I will bend the text a bit like this:

Child detainees marched in searing heat through ‘tent city’

 

This is a good example because the picture could be of anyone, in any context, so the caption must anchor the meaning.  Having seen the headline we already know that this man is a gang member and the caption nails him down further.  But without the other contextualisation it could easily be a picture of, say, a Maori community leader:

Maori community leader Atutahi Riki risked his life to save 12-year-old Hannah

With this caption it’s almost possible to detect a slight modest smile on the brave public spirited individual.

Sometimes the nature of the picture contents makes a credible subversion impossible:

Dagenham housewife Vicky Street denies theft of giant pearls

I’m going to leave it at that with the examples because I think I’ve managed to grasp the general idea.  Most pictures can be affected by accompanying text in ways which follow reality or conspire against it.  The extent to which the result is credible will depend on:

  • The viewer.  The less familiar the viewer is with the content the easier it will be for the text to subvert the ‘truth’.
  • Internal contradiction.  The picture must bear some believable relationship with the caption.

Research Point 1

Barthes makes use of two terms, anchorage and relay; these crop up frequently in discussions about what pictures mean and what they do.

I have found many detailed explanations of these terms online, but the graphic above seems to summarise the terms quite neatly.  I do understand that this is quite a superficial view but it’s a good start.

Anchoring describes the effect that the combination of text and contents might have on the viewer.  The effect is not that of the text on the image, but the effect on the way the viewer understands the meaning of the two together.

In the above example some assumptions have been made:  that the viewer can read, understands written English and has a passing acquaintance with fruit.  With these conditions satisfied the text can anchor the meaning of the green thing above it – it is an apple.  This example is a bit too simple here because this item couldn’t really be anything else, so the anchorage is not having to work particularly hard.

The relay examples are better because they serve to direct the viewer to make particular associations – again this assumes familiarity with Biblical teaching and popular electronic devices.

Relay works differently to anchorage because it “opens up” the possible interpretations rather than “closing down”, the anchorage effect.  Newspaper captions are a good example of this, particularly where readers are likely to be unfamiliar with the picture contents.  There’s probably little need for a caption to state “Grenfell Tower” given the widespread visual coverage, but “Gas explosion Riyadh” would be more useful.

I’m more likely to go for a relay function in any use of text with my work.  I feel it is best applied to serve to add intrigue and suggestion whereas anchorage would be more helpful in a factual sense.

Ex 4.2 Advertisements

Being out-and-about affords the student the opportunity to see ‘public space’ advertising such as billboards, posters and bus/tube adverts.  We don’t have much of that in rural Devon but there are many examples online.

The brief asks for comment on how the text informs the image.  Much of modern print advertising uses text to open up the meanings, in some cases almost to the point of incomprehensibility.  The text is designed to evoke a concept, an idea of the effect the product will have on the purchaser.  Since the establishment of the Advertising Standards Authority in 1962, advertising has been subject to more and more restrictions and standards.  This was largely a matter between the Authority, agencies, broadcasters and publishers until ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’ became the mantra, sometime in the early eighties.  After that the public, when outraged, knew what to do and they did it with relish.  The behaviour of advertisers was beginning to be shaped by public morality which was good in one way, because it reflected social appetites, but bad in another because those appetites just kept changing.

Anyway, back to the brief.  I mentioned earlier the tendency for advertisers to concentrate their efforts on conveying a feeling about the product rather than emphasise the qualities of the product or service itself.  We started off with “Our Butter Is Good” (a real example from Heald’s Dairies, Cheadle, Cheshire in the sixties) to this:

Image result for single word adverts equality nike

The ad assumes a great deal of knowledge on the part of the potential buyer.  That simple tick under the word has cost Nike millions to promulgate and protect;  it is recognised worldwide.  The text being used was part of a larger campaign which included various phrases, expanding on the values of equality in sport.  In this case the text opens the effect of the device (the tick) to almost unlimited associations.

This one closes it right down – there’s pretty much nowhere to go, it’s all in the frame.

Image result for single word adverts meat

It painstakingly explains the advantages of meat consumption.  The only slight departure from underlining the obvious it the reassurance that the consumer’s choice is rooted in some fundamental truth.

Our local Tesco has some pretty compelling examples:

Here the text has an obtuse relationship to the image.  The suggestion is that the product has been very recently baked, either in the store or at the consumer’s home.  The intended message is that there is a wholesome connection between the process of production and the quality of the product.  Using the word ‘straight’ implies a more personal connection with the customer, an immediacy.  The mix of typefaces and styles is contrived in an attempt to convey individuality – text style has a serious role to play in print advertising and someone has thought hard about this, I expect, but it’s difficult to assess whether the effort was worthwhile.   In fact the success of advertising as a whole isn’t easy to determine.  John Wanamaker, a nineteenth century American retailer said:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Some Russian Photographers

Much of the photography discussed in the course involves work by western Europeans.  I wanted to take a look at some Eastern European and Russian photography and luckily this is very easy to do online.

Evgeny Makarov (Russia 1967) makes monochrome pictures, most often presented in a square format.  His subjects are young people, mainly in an urban setting. He makes use of architectural features as backgrounds, placing his subjects within the frames generated by such elements.

 

       

Although many of his subjects are teenagers he also includes children in his work.  Some of the pictures depict them in somewhat disturbing circumstances; they are often shown in apparently squalid conditions, poorly clothed with expressions which suggest distress.  Perhaps there is a cultural influence at play here.  In the West these pictures may be viewed as exploitative but social codes are different for Makarov.  There is economic deprivation among many of the inhabitants of St Petersburg and the children are similarly affected.

The interior portraits – I consider them such, since they are posed and purposeful – are daylight pictures, the subjects placed to catch the natural window light.  The shadows are soft and where nakedness is apparent, this serves as a contrast to the harshness of the surroundings, suggesting vulnerability. The subjects return the camera’s gaze, inviting or at least acquiescing to the viewer’s study.

Comparisons with the work of Sally Mann, Rineke Dijkstra and Lara Pannack are easily accommodated.  All seem to convey a connection between the subject and photographer which goes beyond an simple snapshot.  There is an element of trust implied, some commonality between the parties;  the subjects appear to be comfortable in their relationship with the photographer.

Nikolai Bakharev (Russia 1946) began his career working in a ‘service centre’, – a facilty largely unfamiliar to Westerners – where all manner of technical repairs were carried out by skilled staff.  If you wanted your television fixed, that would be your first option.  Photography was on offer too and Bakharev recorded the life events of the local citizenry, their weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.

Until the early 1970’s official Soviet photography as practiced by state employed practitioners adopted a documentary realist approach.  After perestroika, there was a certain liberalisation which gave rise to more individualist portraits, those which dwelled on the subject rather than simply conforming to the state-approved method.

Untitled #35 from the series "Together," 1991-1993  Untitled #27 from the series "Together," 1991-1993Untitled #7 from the series "Relationship," 1985

But Bakharov went further than this, encouraging his subjects to give expression to their new-found ‘freedoms’ by involving nudity, challenging the social mores which had long dominated everyday life along with the censorship which had prevailed since the late 1920’s.  His subjects are mainly young people, the first to enjoy a thawing of government strictures.

 

 

 

Exercise 4.1 – The selfie, the advertisement and the Mexican beer.

 

This post by Dawn Woolley is about how the ‘selfie’ may “disrupt gender and ideal-body stereotypes as well as reinforce them”

I take it from the outset that reinforcing gender stereotypes=bad and disrupting same=good.  that gender stereotypes are wrong and undesirable and that to disrupt them is good..  This is probably a separate argument so I will go with the position assumed by Ms Woolley.

Firstly I’m thinking about what the selfie actually is and how it may differ from what we normally see as a portrait.  The obvious difference is that in the former the picture-taker is also the subject whereas in the latter a second party influences the result.  The decision making process prior to the exposure is in each case similar but for the selfie, the subject themself decides that they are worth recording.  Not only worth recording but worth displaying on social media, mostly.  It may form part of a selfie trait where the activities of the subject are shared regularly in a sort of selfie diary.  In my experience (Facebook) few people relish posting information which renders them in a less than favorable light.  The majority are self-congratulatory and self-consciously extroverted.  They serve to inform “friends” of the richness and pleasure their chosen lifestyle rewards them with.

Woolley cites a Mexican beer commercial in which she perceives the overt message that for a man to take selfies is narcissistic, reinforcing the gender stereotypes ascribed to masculinity.  Narcissism in a male is ‘unmanly’ because that’s what women do, look at themselves all the time.

Woolley then hacks off a chunk of Freudian psychoanalysis to prop up some rather shaky assertions about the origins of gender traits in the infant.  Superficially, such references appear to add a lot of ballast to an argument as long as you just skip over them saying “Ah yes, Freud – everyone agrees with that” but even the most cursory probing will show that for any Freudian view you conscript to support your proposition, several others are available to contradict it.

The post considers selfies in a very specific context, that of a television advertisement made for transmission in Mexico. Unfortunately the link to the Youtube clip is dead so I wasn’t able to view it, but it may say more about the preoccupations of Mexican adverting agencies than selfies as a whole.  I note, though, that Woolley is commenting on a presentation at a conference which looked at this particular instance of the depiction of selfie takers.

I have some thoughts about this myself.  I do have two Facebook accounts, one for photography related matters and one for family and friend connections.  The latter was started so that we could better stay in touch with family whilst we were abroad and at the same time receive crumbs of information about the lives of our offspring.  This worked rather well until we became aware of the ill-disguised competition among some people (other cruising sailors) to show what a fantastic time they were having in charming unspoiled anchorages they’d happened upon, whilst being irritatingly vague about the precise location.  They had invariably enjoyed ‘perfect sailing conditions’ and arrived in fine spirits having covered upwards of fifty miles without ever using the engine.  We, on the other hand, had probably spent the previous night wide awake in case the anchor dragged in the 40kt winds, so the less said about that the better.  Then the offspring began using Instagram and Whatsapp and now I barely visit the old FB pages.

Does the selfie tend to emasculate?  Not any more, I feel.  My son and his pals are perfectly at ease with it, but the pictures do tend to be of groups.  Among our gay friends the single male selfie is certainly more common – I mention this as a matter of fact only, which may offer scope for further enquiry but not here and now.  Selfies taken by young women of only themselves seem to be much more common, which may have led the Mexican agency to rely on an invalid categorical syllogism, or more likely they were just taking the line they always take.

At the end of the post Woolley wonders whether selfies could disrupt gender stereotypes.  I’d say yes but with fewer opportunities to do so as gender stereotyping recedes into the previous century.

June 11th. Still on I&P part three

I’d hoped to continue on my previous timescale and submit for the June assessment but stuff got in the way.  I spent a lot of time on a personal project which collapsed at the very last moment;  I should have spread my efforts more evenly.  I should be able to submit part 3 for September, though, hopefully followed three months later by part 4.  After that I plan to be living in Spain so things may be a little chaotic.  As far as exhibitions go, I will be better off – the Spanish cultural scene supports photography quite keenly, especially in Madrid and Barcelona.  Although we are likely to be living in the campo these centres will be more accessible than London.

Ex 3.4 Memory and the Gaze

This exercise might seem simple at first but as I studied it more carefully it became increasingly problematic.

I wasted quite a lot of time going off at a tangent, producing a lot of unnecessary screed because in researching the subject of the gaze online I inevitably encountered a multitude of writings which were concerned with gender representation in photographs and films.  The terms ‘male gaze’, ‘female gaze’ in these articles refer to the contents if the work and the relationships with societal norms.

This exercise isn’t about that type of gaze, it is about eyelines – whereabouts the people in the pictures are looking.  The Jonathan Schroeder quote at the top of the page refers to power relationships and I think this set me on the wrong track. Power isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the chapter.

I sought guidance and advice from various quarters but none were able to point me at any work which properly meets the brief.

In the exercise we are asked to make five pictures with these qualities:

The pictures must be portraits

The portraits should trigger memory

The people in the portraits should be shown adopting some of the aforementioned gazes

There should be a connective thread in the pictures to imply a narrative

The approach should lean towards the imaginative rather than the literal

The series must evoke a response in the viewer (rather than the photographer) which connects them emotionally to the pictures.

I approach this exercise to consider eyelines and memory.  Various writers have noted the apparent ability of the photograph to offer a glimpse into the past, a quality which seems to parallel our own ability to recall the past using our memory. Every photograph does this, it is inherent in the process.  The ability to elicit memory in the viewer will depend on the similarity of their life to that of the picture content.  The picture may prompt a recollection of the past in the present.

So I have taken a bit of a liberty with the ‘make portraits’ part by not actually taking any pictures.  I have re-purposed some pictures from my archive, cropped them to en-portrait them, concentrating on the gazes employed, the main examples of which are the returned gaze and the intra-diagetic and the audience gazes.  They are certainly connected to memory but on a very narrow primary plane, that of the experience of myself and my two children.  Other viewers may find their own memories stimulated, having had parallel childrearing experience and recognising the apparent content of the gaze.

This set is overlaid with a new gaze of my own making, the curatorial gaze; here the photographs are selected with a particular theme in mind in order to establish some internal coherence – possibly even a narrative.  This is related to but different from the editorial gaze because of the relationship between the subject, the photographer, the curator and the viewer.

I have cropped some of the pictures in a very narrow slit, the better to emphasise the direction and intensity of the gaze where possible.

In summary, this offering does meet the brief requirements but only by major contortions.  I think the requirement combines precision and opacity to the point of bafflement.  It seems I’m not alone in this, having checked out as many peer blogs as I could find.  None of them were able to satisfy the brief in every respect and where they made a good stab at it, the result is clunky and forced.  Like my own attempt.