Category Archives: Part One

Reflections of part one

I began this course not ever having thought much of what documentary photography was, in fact if asked I would have guessed and suggested that it was a form of photojournalism and probably a title given to a number of images pertaining to a news of magazine story.  I now understand that documentary photography has a much broader meaning and is very much linked to the Art photographer as describing their project work and I look forward to my next section.

I also learned that street photography / photojournalism is not that easy or straightforward, as I learned when I went out and about with my DSLR to take street style photographs.  Planning is always essential even if it is just arming yourself with some compositional ideas to find and photograph.

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Exercise, Project 3- Street Photography

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In this exercise I am tasked to take 30 colour images and 30 black-and-white images in a street photography style and then comment on the two formats.  I prepared my shoot by first making a list in a small note-book of ideas for composition which helped motivate and provide aims and objectives.  I set about altering the settings in my camera for JPEG and familiarizing the setting between monochrome and colour.  I altered ISO settings from auto to manual throughout the shoot and I did the same for white balance and the shooting modes (manual, aperture-priority, shutter-priority).  I used just one lens a 24-120mm zoom f/4, hand-held, no flash.

Street photography

I am using a DSLR and would normally take my pictures in RAW and process them through Lightroom.  However, for this exercise I feel that to do this properly I must work as if I have only colour or black-and-white film in my camera.  Moreover, it would add to the challenge if I limit my shots to 36 each, the most from a reel of 35mm film.  So for this exercise I set my camera to JPEG, Fine, and made 36 images set to Monochrome and 36 images set to Colour – Vivid.

I find working with a DSLR on the street to be very awkward.  The camera is heavy and bulky and it is difficult to take candid shots because as soon as you lift the camera to your eye people become aware of you.  Moreover, I had an incident when a busy-body manager from the local Mall came out and tried to interfere with me working outside in the street but he backed down immediately when I told him that I knew my law.  I am sure that if I was using a smaller camera or a mobile-phone I would have been left alone and ironically would probably have been able to work in the Mall without anyone taking any notice.

Black and white

Out of 36 shots some I duplicated to get the correct exposure and some didn’t come out as I was experimenting with times exposures.

Colour

As with the black and white images, I made some duplicates to try to improve on the colour or composition.  I would have liked to have been able to have taken some of my colour images inside my local Shopping Mall to make use of the white balance feature for lighting effects but I was told that I wasn’t permitted to use my camera inside the Mall.

My preference has to be monochrome, I personally found this a more challenging and rewarding medium for this project.

Remaining monochrome images that made up my 36 image limit.

Remaining colour images taken that made up my 36 image limit.

Assignment One – Two sides of the story.

The Report

The Report

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1# My mother was posing for her photograph.

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2# A lady looking the wrong way and another pedestrian sees the danger and rushes to prevent an accident.

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3# The gentleman grabs the lady before she steps out.

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4# He saves her just in time.

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5# He then rushes off and catches a Bus.

The Statement.

The Statement

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1# My mother posing for her photograph with the attacker in the background.

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2# The attacker rushes to attack the lady.

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3# The assault

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4# The attacker runs away when he realizes that we witnessed it.

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5# My mother helps and comforts the lady.

 

Exercise, project 5, it’s a fake!

In this exercise, my task is to create a fake documentary photograph.  An example of what now has become a very famous if not iconic phoney is that of the Tony Blair selfie, see  http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/15/tony-blair-selfie-photo-op-imperial-war-museum

In order to conduct this exercise I first decided that rather than simply find pictures off the internet and blending them into a montage it would be fun to take a number of photos and create my own ‘constructed narrative’.

I first put down some ideas on paper, Ideas

from these I sketched out a couple of ideas, Sketches

I then chose from the sketches my preferred idea and as it was a single image I wrote out a rough storyboard.

Storyboard

I then set about preparing my set.  De-cluttering my kitchen, selecting various clothes to wear, additional lighting from a speedlite in a softbox and camera set on to a tripod.

I took a separate light meter reading using a handheld lightmeter that can measure ‘incident’ from flash and ambient to choose a setting for my speedlight and camera to give 30% from the speed light to keep a natural look.  Camera was set to manual, JPEG normal, W.B. – Sunny, ISO-250. 1/20sec, f/6.3.  Speedlight was connected via a Pocket Wizard and positioned left of camera approx. 45 degrees from subjects and I made some notes.  Storyboard

I usually photograph in RAW and use Lightroom to finish off; but as this was a montage I decided to let the camera save me the work and produce lower res imaged to work with.

I then loaded all these shots in to Adobe Photoshop Cloud and starting with the empty table and the background I loaded each image in turn using Open, select image to open and opening, Ctrl A, Ctrl C, Ctrl W, Ctrl V to add each image and create layers.  Then imaging if you will that the image with the empty table is at the bottom of the pile of layers, starting from the top layer and working down I then used the eraser tool to erase all the surrounding area around the subject or subjects introduced to the empty table until I had cleaned each up to only show the subject.  This I did by clicking on the eye symbol for all the layers I was not working on so when I used the eraser tool I was left with a chequerboard background.  When I had cleaned up all the layers except the last when I turned the eye symbols back on for each layer the subjects in each layer all started to appear on to the final untouched background layer.  Some final erasing in some small areas tidied up the full image.  I then flattened all the layers and resaved a JPEG version.

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A documentary picture documenting Shaun brainstorms ideas for a documentary picture for his exercise.

Exercise, Project 5, ‘The real and the digital’.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth?’

In the book Photography a Critical Introduction (4th edition), Edited by Liz Wells  and published by Routledge, it is agued that digital technology is challenging the concept of the ‘real’ in modern photography.  With the development of digital media technology it is now possible to construct convincingly realistic images on computers.  Photographic manipulation is not new, it’s been around from the very beginning but what is new is the extent of what is now possible which also co-insides with the loss of a hard original negative.  With the ability to construct an image from scratch Roland Barthes‘, excepted conception of the nature of the photograph, that it is the result of an event in the world, evidence of a passing moment of time that was once but no-more is now becoming harder to defend and perhaps a new formal conception must now be linked to the nature of the twenty-first century digital image.

Liberation, 1991, Jean Baudrillard wrote, ‘the Gulf war did not take place’.  He was making a comment on the nature of the ‘real’ his argument that the Gulf war was in fact a combination of political, social and military action acted out in a kind of social and technical space.  David Campany also comments that almost a third of news photographs are from frame grabs off video film footage.  The point being made is that photography is a medium that is not autonomous or self-governing but inter-related to other medias and is more influenced by culturally than technologically.

Without an autonomous and self-governing system there is a lack of rock solid unchangeable definitions in photography which are now beginning to challenge some of the existing definitions in photography. For example the photographic practice of documentary photography is changing and a sub-genre of photography is now well established in the USA calling itself, ‘wedding photojournalism’.

Exercise, Project 4, Sarah Pickering

I have just been looking at the work of Sarah Pickering on her website: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/ much of her work on the website appears to have been with the assistance of the Police and Fire Brigade.

All her images lack people, all her images are totally empty of people in the streets, rooms, exhibitions spaces, etc.

For me Pickering’s project, ‘Public Order’ produces a feelings of silence, vacancy / emptiness, stillness and either implied or suggested impending doom.  The images from the Fire Brigades training facilities, ‘Fire Scene’, are disturbing images of disaster and menace, in so much as they are scenes of house fires with all the victims personal affects in place and it is easy to imagine the victim or victims asleep near by and that these are real events.  In her project ‘Incident’ she examines the charred, smoke damaged and scorched interiors of rooms and corridors that the fire brigade practice searching through under fire conditions with the recovery of victims.  Again these images produce a sense of stillness, and menace the use of black and white also adds an ‘atmosphere’ that I think Pickering wanted to convey in these images.

Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Yes, I believe ‘Public Order’ is an effective use of documentary.  The images have been set out on her website and the viewpoints that she has selected to take her pictures it is very easy to quickly realise that what you are looking at is either an Army or Police training ground.  The very first image of the entrance to the railway station and the fictional town name of Denton (made famous by ‘Inspector Frost’) clearly shows a station entrance lacking any turn styles and what appears to be film set like building fronts.  As you view each image we are taken on a tour of this training ground and we see signs of recent past use, the two cars blocking the road, make shift barricades with tires and shopping trolleys all tell their story as to the past action.  She takes us behind the scenes to where riot helmets are kept and other scenarios can be acted out.

Is this possibly misleading?

This question  is subject to the context that the images are placed with, are they not?  If we were to say that these images are of a training installation purely for the welfare for us all to protect us from Aliens, Zombies, and Vampire hoards then we would clearly be misleading.  Moreover, to suggest that these facilities could not be used to train a security force to subdue an unhappy population would also be misleading.  We can only except its existence and trust our society that in its openness to allow access and publicity for such sites we are assured that they have no other agenda than the protection public.  should these images have been taken covertly and leaked on to the internet to expose the existence of this facility then the whole context and narrative would be different.

 

 

 

 

Research point – Paul Seawright’s ‘Sectarian Murders’.

The work of Paul SeawrightSectarian Murders‘ (http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian) is and interesting example where a photographic artist has challenged the boundaries of documentary photography by taking images that are only linked by extracts from newspaper reports and the locations in the images.  The images themselves don’t offer clues to their context until the text and images are tied together.  However, the photographers choices of view points creates both an interesting design element to the pictures for an art point of view and the linking text creates a context for a narrative that the viewer can construct themselves.

Seawright’s argument is that to create good documentary photography for an art gallery he must produce interesting images that do not give up their full meaning in one glance.  He suggest such images are advertising or journalistic editorial images chosen for their impact.  He argues that a good artist never makes plain the message in a picture and by leaving a ‘space’ in his images he allows the viewer to construct their own narrative to the images meaning.  This is not a new idea, a visit to any art gallery and viewing many a painting by masters old and contemporary will demonstrate this practice in use.  This is a cleaver and imaginative form of documentary photography.

I do not necessarily believe that by defining a piece of documentary work as a art will change its meaning.  We can define anything as art, I think that what we currently term art is something that is considered suitable for a public display in a gallery or a book.  Therefore, images of the burning Hindenburg, Neil Armstrong on the moon, a starving Ethiopian child suitable framed and displayed becomes an image of art and exhibited in a  chosen context these images can build their own narrative subject to that context and the viewers own imagination.