Monthly Archives: April 2016

Francesca Woodman


Photo by Francesca Woodman. This linked image is available to view on: http://www.heenan.net/woodman

I have just been reading about Francesca Woodman and looking at her images sadly Woodman died at a very early age and I am sure that had she lived she would have been successful as an Artist.

Susan Bright, comments, “It is difficult not to read Woodman’s self-portraits as alluding to a troubled state of mind.”

Looking at Woodman’s images I see a mixture of fantasy with pathos.  There is a feeling of melancholy and vulnerability in her poses.  There are a lot of nudes, but the images are not about the nude body but the nakedness and perhaps this was a reflection of how she felt.

I can only guess at her thoughts based upon her tragic end and not having read her diaries but this is what I read from the photographs.

However, I find Woodman’s photos both a little erotic and disturbing.  Woodman clearly had a lot of pent up sexual-tension with an artistic voice wanting to be heard.  If I was to say that there was an element of narcissism in Woodman’s photos I think I would be wrong.  I think that she was probably insecure about herself and her looks, yes she was very self-indulgent which may sadly have lead her to her death.  I think that Woodman’s images don’t need accompanying text for the images to be appreciated.

I wonder however, that Woodman clearly had mental-health issues and perhaps the wider issue is the stigma attached to this form of health-issue and the lack of understanding and help for sufferers.  Many artist suffer from depression as many artists by there nature are bipolar in some degree and perhaps educational institutions such as schools and colleges / universities should also watch for this and offer counselling and support.  Woodman committed suicide in 1981 and over 30 years later we are still loosing talent through our lack of understanding of how to help.

Assignment II – The Unseen

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 The Unseen

 

I HAVE RECENTLY BEEN MADE REDUNDANT……

I have found that companies are generally now looking to recruit from a headhunting point of view with candidates having to bring customers, and business contacts with them.

Eventually I found another job in a new industry, the learning curve was steep.  I spent a lot of time away from home travelling.  I worked tirelessly to achieve my goals.  Tasked to introduce a new engineering concept, the product I was selling was expensive and required time to persuade industries to change their long established methods.  However, after only nine months my company decided that I was not meeting their objectives and sacked me.

This came as a huge blow, I felt that I had been set up to fail and totally deflated.  At first I thought I could cope but this second redundancy so soon after the first took its toll and my confidence began to evaporate with every new rejection.  It wasn’t long before I didn’t want to switch on my computer in order to job search and as a result of having attended some absolutely dreadful job interviews, I began to dread the prospect of going to any more.  My health began to suffer.

Fortunately, my wife, a trained therapist, recognised my symptoms of clinical depression and encouraged me to consider a complete change of direction in my career.  She also persuaded me to adopt a dog from Battersea to keep me company.  I have now had the time and space to consider alternative options and I have returned to my love of photography.  I realize that this is what I want to do more than anything.  I am now making a fresh start with new hope and optimism for the future.

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I WAS RECENTLY MADE REDUNDANT.

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Candidates having to bring customers, and business contacts with them.

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I found another job – the learning curve was steep.

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I spent a lot of time away from home travelling. Then they sacked me.

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My health began to suffer.

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She persuaded me to adopt a dog from Battersea.

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I am now making a fresh start with new hope and optimism for the future.

Film Noir Part One

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D800e, 85mm f/1.4, 1/400, f/2.8, ISO-125.

On Saturday, I attended the Nikon School in London for their ‘Film-Noir, Part 1’ course.  The day consisted of lighting techniques just using portable speedlights with demonstrations and practical hands-on exercises with between one and two speedlights to create stylized ‘film-noir’ images, typical of the Hollywood age of the silver-screen.  This is a shot using two remote speedlights, one in a soft-box the other naked.

Some more examples of the work I made on this great day!

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Working in Black & White

Working in Black and White

Working in Black & White, by David Prakel, Basics Photography, Published by AVA.

I have just read this book on black-and-white photography which covers both for film and digital with advice on developing and darkroom techniques for those unfamiliar with it and for digital post-production editing with Lightroom and Photoshop.  The book covers all aspects, including going about thinking about tones rather than colour; but explain a bit of colour theory to help with understanding the mental and physical grey-scale conversion.  If using film cameras there is also an explanation of filters for both cameras and darkroom enlargers, how and why they are used and how digital software that mimics filters that can be used and again why.  This book also looks at returning or adding colour to black and white prints either digitally or manually for various artistic effects.  This book offers allsorts of fresh ideas that can be brought to your work.

I began photography with a Pentax K1000 SLR working with Ilford Black and White film that I used to develop and print myself.  I would recommend any modern photographer who has only experience with digital cameras to have a go converting some images to black-and-white and playing with the effects.

The main reason I chose to read this book now is because I am going on a couple of courses at the Nikon school in London doing Film-Noir style black and white portrait photography.

Making Photographs

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Making Photographs by Mike Simmons, Basics Creative Photography, published by Bloomsbury.

I have just re-read this book again for my Context and Narrative course.  I first read this around September last year when I was preparing for my fifth assignment for the Art of Photography course.  This book is a great asset for planning you picture making.  It has good tips of brainstorming for ideas and story-boarding, using symbiotic and text.  The last chapter is useful tips for the presentation of your work for exhibitions, book or web.

I would say that this book is a must and one to refer back to from time to time.

A good book about semiotics

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This Means This, This Means That, by Sean Hall, Published by Laurence King Publishing.  ISBN: 978-1-85669-735-4

I have just finished reading a good book on the subject of semiotics, this is a comprehensive that looks at how and where semiotics can be found and used.  As semiotics is fundamental to communication this book illustrates how it can be employed in practically any field of study.

I am currently working on me second assignment, the subject being ‘The Unseen’ and this book has helped me think, a little more, outside-the-box.

This is a book I would recommend to anyone studying the Arts, literature, Photography, Cinema, Theatre or even Sales and Marketing.  Perhaps OCA should add it to their list of recommended books to read.

I will keep this hand for future reference.

Hitchcocks, The Lodger.

Ivor Novello

The trailer to ‘The Lodger’.

Last week I watched an interesting documentary at the cinema about the interview and resulting friendship between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock.  The documentary was about Hitchcock’s genius as a film director, which until Truffaut sang his praises was largely being ignored and undermined.

After watching the documentary, I purchased, ‘The Lodger‘ which is Hitchcock’s first film with his recognisable style. (he had made several others films before this one; but this is the first movie that was all his own.)

This was made in 1926 and is silent.  Hitchcock, keeps the text to a minimum, using clever composition and symbols to carry the narrative.  This is film making at it’s purist and at the height of it’s craft.  Although I am a still photographer, I look for ideas from the film makers who were inventing ideas that still photographers are today discussing and adopting.

In this image taken from the film, the lodger who is suspected as a serial killer looks out from his window and Hitchcock has cleverly cast a shadow of a crucifix on his face.

The film begins with this image, a girl is drowning, a victim of ‘The Avenger’.  Hitchcock set the camera facing up under a plate of glass and got the girl to lay facing down over the glass a lens.

In this scene the lodger, Ivor Novello, is pacing up and down in his room disturbing the others in the house.  Hitchcock, used a glass floor for Novello to walk on and super-imposed that image with the chandelier rocking by his heavy steps.

This was a cleaver idea, but Hitchcock didn’t think that it worked too well, he wanted the van to look like a face with the heads of the driver and mate as the eyes, the newspaper sign for a nose and the cars chrome bumper as the mouth.

As a story, perhaps a little naïve for today’s standards but enjoyable all the same.  If you are interested in film making it has to be one to watch.  Hitchcock couldn’t understand why with the advent of sound so much visual film making skills were quickly forgotten to be replaced with too much un-necessary dialogue.  He was always the believer that if you could tell it in pictures why explain it with dialogue.  It has been said that with a Hitchcock film, even his later ones, the story can still be followed with the sound turned down.  Now that is an artist in my book!

 

Project 3, Exercise.

In this last project of this section, I have looked at the concept of creating images that convey a sense of the unseen, for example feelings and emotions.  I have already started to think about this form of art with my last exercise of creating images for a  poem and this project is moving this theory forward in to use of every day life and personal experiences.

I have been introduced to three different projects by photography students as examples of creating images out of the unseen.  The first is by Peter Mansell (My Space) who has taken photos of objects and even of empty spaces that represent his disability and his life.  I very much like these simple but well thought out and composed images.  I got a very real sense of his visits to the hospital and Peter’s life at home.

The second project is by Dewald Botha (Ring Road) I liked the interesting perspective and sense of being on the outside.  The timing of the photos suggest early morning with a cold mist and overcast looking skies this could of course just be smog but it evokes a sense of cold and the unusual locations of not belonging almost like trespassing.

The third project is by Jodie Taylor (Memories of Childhood) the link for this only illustrates three photos but I was able to understand the sentiment and sense of nostalgia as we see these places of her childhood.  I think that all of the photos from all three projects are cleverly conceived and nicely composed.  The project that resonates most with me was Dewald Botha’s, ‘Ring Road’.  I have been in sales for much of my life and I was a Territory Sales Rep. I was working from home; so I was always a little bit of an outsider even with my own company as I would only visit their offices for sales meetings and training days.  I have often found that we set boundaries for ourselves in both our professional and personal life and boundaries is the subject that Botha explores.  I often used the M25 to travel to all compass points of my sales territory and his choice of subject matter struck a cord.

Authorial Control

This concept of loss of authorial control doesn’t mean a lot to me.  The point of creating an image, sculpture, music or literature is to express your ideas in to something of substance; but how other people choose to interpret the work is up to them.  Hopefully if you have done a good job the meaning of that idea is obvious and will be experienced as you intended it to be.  (Unless the idea was to be deliberately ambiguous and to enjoy watching others make interesting interpretations.)  A photograph can be easily re-used re-labelled and re-contextualized and perhaps as students and later as photographers we will do this to other peoples work and one day others will do it with ours.  That’s life.  Moreover, if a photographer is employed by a magazine then that employer must have rights over the editorial decisions.  A wedding photographer on the other hand has more control; but at the end of the day the Bride and Groom can always re-frame the pictures and add their own captions etc.  In my opinion it’s not worth loosing our hair over this idea of authorial control.

 

Project 2, Exercise – Metaphor – working log.

For this exercise I chose the poem ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ by Stevie Smith, 1902 – 1971.

I first read this poem over 20 years ago and re-discovered it when searching for a suitable poem for this exercise amongst the books on my book-shelves.  This particular poem was published in, The New Oxford Book of English Verse, Chosen and edited by Helen Gardener, Oxford University Press.

Not Waving But Drowning, immediately resonated with me as my wife is going through a very difficult time with her family. However, I will not attempt to produce images that make reference to my personnel issues in this exercise; but I will explore other ideas to complement this poem.

I have discovered an interesting short recital by Stevie Smith of this poem on YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKHWEWOrL9s

My idea is to take this poem and turn it in to a narrative of my own.

I began by writing down key words and phrases and then looking for ideas.

I also typed and printed the poem which I analysed and looked at each line and each paragraph

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The first paragraph of this poem for my story is a man who is drowning but is not aware of his peril.  Nobody heard him, because perhaps, he didn’t know how much danger he was in.  However, his friends and family may have been able to see the danger; but dismissed it, thinking that he could cope.

For the second paragraph I interpret that our hero has now met his fate and his friends and family are making excuses for themselves.

In the final paragraph our hero has now drowned and is protesting against the excuses and as he now realizes – all too late, just how much danger he really had been in.

As I have thought this through, I was originally thinking of producing as many as 7 or 8 images.  But then having discussed my ideas with my wife, she reminded me that I am searching for metaphors to convey my feelings.  After a nights sleep I returned to my notes, re-read the exercises criteria and focussed on, “develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones.” “Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.” Re-reading these lines and referring back to my notes, I realized that I only needed three images in total – One for each paragraph:  An image to represent his drowning in his own folly and an image to represent his friends discussing his fate; and a final image representing his loss.

I decided that before I could go any further with this exercise, I had to do some more reading to research ideas.  I first turned to a book that I read when preparing for my last assignment with Art of Photography course, Illustration and Narrative, The Fundamentals of Creative Photography by David Prakel and published by AVA.  I re-read the chapter on Communication which briefly covers semiotics.  I then read Photography by Stephen Bull, published by Routledge.  Chapters 3 and 4 helped me formulate my final ideas for this exercise.  Chapter 3 provided me with a better insight in to the theory of semiotics; but it was chapter 4 on advertising that the proverbial penny dropped and I saw my solution in how to use semiotics for this exercise.  The answer was the theory of relay and example mentioned in this book (page 68) a bank using images of conveying a feelings of joy with the caption, “This is what saving feels like.”  This one passage provided me with the answer to my problem of finding the idea of simple images that can work in relay to my poem.  The first two images will be relay and my last image will be both indexical and relay.

I then went back to my notes and the ideas began to form.  The first image that began to materialise was the middle image and I thought of a wake.  I wanted a fairly simple representation and all the wakes I have ever been to include a fair amount of booze; so I thought of just a picture of a mix of half filled glasses on a bar to represent the mourners.

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I originally had an idea for my drowned victim having been overwhelmed by debt and thought an image representing brochures, catalogues, and unpaid bills pilled up high might make a good representation and so I sketched it as in idea; but on reflection I didn’t feel it was strong enough.  Then I had the idea that drowning could be a metaphor for being overwhelmed by success or the pressure to succeed and drugs are becoming more and more common in the professional high flyer corporate world, with the use of cocaine becoming very common.  I then sketched out some ideas and also looked on the web for images of drug use in order to provide a realistic looking image.  My final image came to me when I was sketching the drug ideas, I thought of a body in a morgue and I found an image on line of naked feet with a label attached to one of the toes.  This I could re-produce easily myself.  Not my idea, but I doubt there is such a thing as an original idea anymore anyway.

I decided that with the resulting images, I would turn then from colour to black and white as I feel that black and white conveys more atmosphere / sense of feeling and emotion that colour does not and was best suited for this poem.

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This is the first image I made.  I used a silver and crystal cocktail tray, icing sugar, a razor blade, a rolled up old Turkish note and my mobile phone with a suitably chosen image downloaded from the internet.  I first tried using strobe lighting but couldn’t get a good image due to the reflection; so I used natural light and two reflectors to direct the family-of-angels for the reflected light off the star etched in to the crystal tray.  I used black felt material under the tray to get the jet black background.  Camera was on a tripod, 105mm, f/2.8, prime-lens, 1sec, f/11, ISO-125, manual focus.  Adjustments made in Lightroom and converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

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This is in fact a self-portrait, using a white mattress cover and sheet on my bed, I set my camera on a tripod, set to self-timer, 20 seconds, manual focused using edge of the bed as a focus point.  Marked mattress cover with Cello-tape to indicate the boundaries for my feet.  I used my Sekonic light-meter to get an incidence reading for a correct exposure, with my feet pointing towards the window; so using just natural light to keep it simple.  24-120mm f/4 zoom, @ 70mm, 1/125, f/4.5, ISO-320, manual focus.  Adjustments made in Lightroom with grey-scale conversion made in Photoshop.

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I had an arm-band from previous funerals that I draped over a picture, re-introduced the mobile-phone with the same image and added the drinks glasses and bottles to suggest the people  chatting about the dead-man.  Again I kept it simple by using only natural light.  The camera was mounted on a tripod, 105mm f2.8 prime-lens, 1/5sec, f/5, ISO-320, manual focused.  Adjustments made in Lightroom and converted to grey-scale using Photoshop.

My original idea was to start with the image of the drugs, then the image of the drinks and finally the image of the feet; but when I uploaded the images and reviewed it I felt that it worked better by starting from the point of view that he is already dead with the explanation of his death being the last picture.

Project 2, Exercise – Metaphor.

Not Waving But Drowning

by Stevie Smith, 1902 – 1971

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NOBODY heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

“I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.”

 

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Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

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“Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

“I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.”