Tag Archives: background

The Burden of Representaion, Essays on Photographies Histories by John Tagg

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I have just finished reading this book that I began in November!

Tagg looks at how photography has been influenced and how it has influenced history in Europe and North America by examining historical records in the UK and Europe and USA.  Taking examples of photographs taken in the 19th century for recording likeness’ of prisoners, photos of slums such as in Leeds that were used to push to challenge the Local Authorities and fight for improved living conditions for the poor.  Images taken in the early part of the 20th century to document the results of economic rescission in the rural community of the USA.  Tagg analyses both images and back the ground events to produce a strong argument for his book and often makes reference to a French philosopher, Michel Foucault, that who I should perhaps find more about and how his ideas may help in my creativity.

An interesting book, a little heavy and have your dictionary to hand but worth studying as his method of research is good and his idea that arguments that are not fully tested with good background research are weak and likely to be biased.  I think Tagg alludes to this when referring to John Berger and Susan Sontag.

 

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Formal Assessment for assessment V, 3x items, labeled 1 – 3

For this submission I took on board my Tutor’s comments and using Photoshop cleaned up the background altering the crop slightly and made small adjustments with the dodge and burn tool.

I have provided a folder containing my photograph, my 1000 explanation including the 300 word introduction  club-class and my Tutor’s report shaun-mullins-512659-photography-1-context-narrative-assignment-5 and the image.

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Assignment 5 – Making it up

Club Class

from an original story by: Earl Hamner Jr.

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A Traveller and his best friend were walking along a road they were both dead; and looking for somewhere to rest.

Eventually, they came to a high stone wall along one side of the road.  Set in to the wall was a tall arched open door.  Standing in the doorway was a smartly dressed, attractive, young lady.  The Traveller greeted her and asked her where they were.

“Why, this is Heaven!” She replied.

“Wow!” the man replied and they both proceeded to enter.

But the young lady stopped them and said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t accept pets.  There is a place for your dog just up the road, leave him with me and I will take care of him.”

The Traveller thought for a moment and unable to leave his friend outside he decided to continue his journey along the road.  Further along they came to a gate that stood alone, with neither a wall nor fence attached; and it looked as if it had never been closed, he saw a man behind the gate, leaning against a tree, reading a book.

“Excuse me!” called the Traveller. “Do you have any water?”

“Yes, there’s a pump over there, come on in.”

“How about my friend here?”  (Gesturing to his dog).

“You should find a bowl by the pump.”

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was a hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveller filled the water bowl for his friend before taking a long drink for himself.

When they were finished, the Traveller asked the ‘Gateman’,

“What do you call this place?”

“This is Heaven,” he answered.

“I’m confused,” Protested the Traveller. “The young lady down the road said that that was Heaven, too.”

Shaking his head sadly the ‘Gateman’ replied, “Oh no!  That’s certainly not Heaven! That’s the gate to hell!”

“But can you not do something to stop her tricking people in to entering hell?”  Demanded the Traveller.

“No!  We’re just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.”  He replied with a wry smile.

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So much for the contextual narrative!  What do we see?

A man stands in the foreground holding a dog on a lead, whilst gripping a walking stick with the other hand.  He’s looking at the dog that’s looking back, he’s dressed in a suit with a Yorkshire cap; both he and his dog are drained of any warm colours with a distinct cold blue hue tone as is most of the image.  In the background we see a sign indicating no dogs on a wall by an open door, inside the doorway we see a smartly dressed young woman, she appears to be pointing or wagging her finger, her mannerism implies a negative signal and her legs crossed emphasizes this negative message.   She appears to be illuminated by very warm amber light and a red halo rims around her head.

My intention for this image is to create a division between the outside world of the Traveller and his dog with the world beyond the door in which the women stands.  To achieve this I used the white balance settings of my camera, gelled speedlights and made additional enhancements in Lightroom.  The Traveller is between worlds, it is cold.  He and his dog are both dead and I wanted their shades to reflect this.  The young lady on the other hand is standing somewhere that is very warm and I wanted to convey this; I also wanted to hint at danger using rim lighting.

There is another message in this picture, one of temptation.  The young lady represents the fetish pleasures of capitalism; her sexuality is to tempt the man away from his moral values.  The price for this implied promise of luxury and pleasure is that he must be selfish and turn away from anything that could hold him back.  His dog represents his values and socialistic principles of loyalty, trust, responsibility and selflessness.

I didn’t want to create an obvious ‘Lucifer’ therefore I thought that a sharp dressed business woman would act as a suitably modern metaphor for him/her.

When creating this image, I tried to keep in mind Barthes idea of studium and punctum.  The Traveller and dog is part of the studium of the picture punctuated by the warm coloured image of the attractive women (the punctum).  I wanted to carefully construct a single image to project my intended narrative.

This was a particularly tricky picture to make when depending on the unreliability of a dog and using non-professional models.  Further complication was that my chosen doorway was unavailable to me due to a lost key.  The location I chose happened to be my local church which had the ideal doors.  I obtained permission from the Vicar however, on the appointed day the Vicar had taken his wife away for her Birthday and not informed anyone of our arrangement.  No one had the key to my chosen Choir Vestry door; so I had to use a fire escape door instead.  This side door was exposed to the wind and also needed to be wedged open and in the process of the shoot I dropped an expensive speedlight that bounced and although remained serviceable may now need to be serviced by Nikon.  I was unable to get the perfect shot as either the speedlights failed to fire at the perfect time or the dog kept moving around and directing my models is still a new experience.  I ended the afternoon feeling low as I thought that I had failed to get a suitable image.  I gave myself a couple of days space and looked again and I was pleased to find some images that I could collage together to make one suitable picture in Photoshop.

I enjoyed making this image and although it may not have a great wow factor, I am pleased that I was able to achieve my vision.  I would like to make more images based on a narrative theme in the future, perhaps using novels biblical stories, sagas, legends and songs.

Creating Assignment 5

I arranged with our Vicar to take the photos on Sunday, October 17, which was also a convenient day for my two models.  After the last service the church would be free and I would not be in anyone’s way or be interfering with church services.  I made sure all batteries were fully charged, and I made up the light-boxes in preparation for a quick set-up.  I always take photos in RAW and having experimented at home with both lighting and white balance I decided to manually set the white balance on my camera to the lowest colour temperature for maximum effect (2500K).

The equipment for the shoot consisted of:  Nikon D800e, 24-120mm f/4 zoom lens, Tripod, Sekonda lightmeter, Pocket Wizard TT1 and AC3 controller mounted to the camera, 3 x Nikon speedlights controlled by 3 x TT5 Pocket Wizards, 1 x amber gel, 1 x red gel, 1 x dish reflector, 1 x 120 x 40 long rectangular soft-box, 1 x large square soft-box, 3 light stands with tilting brackets, 1 x large black flag / reflector.

Props:  ‘No Pets’ sign (sticker mounted on a white board and stuck to the wall by the door using double sided sticky pads.  My pet dog Honey on her lead, walking stick to imply their journey.

Costume: Business suit for Ann-Marie, County suit for Graham.

The lights were configured as follows:

In side the church I set up a speedlight with a TT5, gelled red and a reflector dish attached then mounted this assembly to light stand and positioned behind my female model (Ann-Marie) at head height in order to create the red rim-lighting.  I then used a speedlight with a TT5 and an amber gel with the 120 x 40 soft-box to illuminate the whole body length of Ann-Marie.

As the weather was overcast, I needed to use the large soft-box un-gelled to illuminate my second model (Graham) with my dog (Honey).  This was fitted to a light stand and stood to the left of the camera above the height of Graham and angled down.

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This test shot illustrated my lighting and you can just see the edge of the rectangular soft-box top right corner of the door above and behind Ann-Marie.

However, the shoot didn’t start as planned.  The Vicar was not around as I later discovered that he had gone away with his wife as it was her Birthday and he hadn’t mentioned my photo shoot to anyone.  I was able to arrange for a volunteer to return to the church after lunch to open it up for me for my photography; but the next problem was when I returned at the appointed time and the church was opened for me we could not find a key to the Choir Vestry (the door I had chosen for the shoot) so I had to use an alternative door that was accessible which was a fire-door on the side of the church.  This presented two new problems firstly I was exposed to the wind which was a little gusty and behind this door which was close to the alter an large stage was set up for the 11am services with musical instruments.  The door wouldn’t stay open and we had to find something to wedge it open that I later had to remove in Photoshop.  The door itself was a fire-door and again these handles would have to be erased and the background behind Ann-Marie would also need altering in Photoshop.

On setting up the lighting I managed to drop an expensive Nikon speedlight on to the stone floor, luckily it still worked but something appears to be loose inside; so I will no doubt have to send it off to Nikon for servicing.  My wife had to hold the large soft-box to stop it from being blown over and Honey was naturally restless.  The other problem was that the speedlights needed lite to recycle; so didn’t always fire with each shot taken.  This is where more expensive studio lights prove superior but at this moment in time I can not justify the investment.

I directed Ann-Marie to stand just inside the church door with the rectangular soft-box directly opposite her and the red gelled light hidden behind her head and holding up her hand to indicate the signal to stop and then to waggle her finger to convey the same message.  I also directed Graham to for two types of pose the first look thoughtfully at the dog and the second to be looking towards Ann-Marie for comparison.  I had to make various adjustments to positioning of the two soft-boxes and power output which eat into the time. We were only able to work for two hours before the weather threatened rain and we had to stop and I was feeling a little frustrated and low as I felt that I hadn’t been able to find the picture.

On returning home I transferred the photos to my computer but then left it for a couple of days before properly looking through them in Lightroom.  When I returned to my work I found that I had taken 290 photos and after spending some time comparing the images I was able to select a six images that I felt that I could merge together to make one suitable picture.

I then selected which images would be suitable for Graham and Honey and which would be suitable for Ann-Marie, I then made the appropriate adjustments in Lightroom to enhance the cold or warmth make any-other fine adjustments before exporting to Photoshop.  In Photoshop I then had to remove the unwanted artifacts from the pictures such as the item used to wedge the door open the fire-door handles and the staging behind Ann-Marie.  When the images were sufficiently ‘cleaned-up’ I merged the two to create my final picture.  As it happened only one image of Graham with only one image of Ann-Marie worked as suitable matches, due to the positioning of Graham and where Ann-Marie was looking; but I had what I was originally looking for which was a moment of decision from the Traveller as the doorman is advising him that he must enter alone.  I was pleased that this image also provided a great expression from Honey as she looks back at Graham.

 24-120mm f/4 @ 38mm, 1/125, f/5, ISO 125, WB 2500K.  Adjusted in Lightroom.

24-120mm f/4 @ 38mm, 1/125, f/5, ISO 125, WB 2500K.  Adjusted in Lightroom.

From these six images only two worked together.

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Planning my assignment 5

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When researching for my last assignment I read ‘One Way Street’ a selection of essays by Walter Benjamin and I read an essay about Franz Kafka, an author I had not come across before and I made a mental note to lookout for his work.  My Tutor picked-up on my comments in my blog and recommended that I read some of his works a.  Therefore I decided to read his works looking for ideas for my next assignment.  To get myself started I made notes on the oxford dictionaries meaning for ‘context’ ‘narrative’ and the suggested rules.  As I read his works, I took notes in order to help me find some mental visions that might be turned in to physical pictures.  admittance-to-the-law

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I have read through from cover to cover ‘The Essential Kafa’ and I have been inspired by a parable type story in the novel ‘The Trial’.   This short story is about a country gentleman who seeks access to the law, but the man is told by the doorman that he can not grant him access.  The country gentleman decides to wait until the doorman is given permission to grant him access, he waits all his life only to learn at the moment of death that the door was exclusively for him.  However, this story led me to another similar story that I thought might make a stronger narrative in one picture.

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A man and his dog  a-man-and-his-dog-were-walking-along-a-road

This story was used in a T.V. episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘The Hunt’,  first broadcast: January 26, 1962, Created by Rod Serling.  I am unable to find a reliable source that can confirm the original author of this story.  Some internet sources suggest that it is an old religious tale by an unknown however, Earl Hamner Jr.  an American television writer and producer is credited for the story of ‘The Hunt’ in The Twilight Zone therefore I assume that the story is his.  The gist of the story is that a man is on a road to Heaven and he is accompanied by his best friend which is his dog.  Along the way he comes to a gate with a man standing by it, the Traveller asks the man where they are and the ‘Gateman’ informs him he is at the gates of Heaven; but when the man tries to enter with his dog he is told that dogs are not allowed and the Traveller is forced to decide between entering the gates or staying with his best friend.

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I believe that this story has a stronger narrative to produce as a single photo.  My idea is an image of the Traveller looking down at his dog as the Doorman or Gatekeeper tells him no dogs.  Also I can use this scene as a metaphor to modern society and how our capitalist life style sometimes tests our moral metal.  The Traveller is faced with a dilemma, should he be selfish and enter the gates alone for the imagined paradise beyond or stay outside keeping company with his best friend and putting his friend first.  I believe that we are currently living in a very selfish world and that this test is being applied in one way or another every day; so I think this story is very relevant to our current life-styles.

For the location, I think that my local Anglican Church is perfect.

My first thought were the gates to the church but this would present problems of traffic, pedestrians and a difficult background; so a doorway is a better choice and the arched style ideal for the implied idea of a Holly entrance.  Choosing a doorway eliminates the problems of traffic, pedestrians background and allows me to move my camera further away if required.  I shall mount the camera to a tripod for better composition control and if I need to resort to Photoshop i can easily merge more images together.

My ideal location is the Choir Vestry doorway, my wife sings in the choir and I have spoken to the Vicar who is happy to allow me to use it as my location.  I have a Labrador dog and a friend who has modeled for me before who can play the Traveller and a friend of my wife’s is happy to model as ‘Lucifer’.  My thoughts for the Devil is a very pretty smartly dressed young lady, to represent the metaphor for temptation.  She will be lit by a speedlight with an amber gel in a soft-box to give her warmth and another speedlight located directly behind her with a red gel in a large reflector dish to create a red rim-lighting / halo to suggest the source of the heat and a hint of danger.  The traveller and dog will be lit by either natural day light or another speedlite (un-gelled) for daylight white balance.  The camera will be set to tungsten or similar to trick the camera to create a cold look to the Traveller and dog.  The Traveller and dog are between worlds and this region of space I imagine to be cold. Hell on the other hand is hot and should reflect this by using the corrective gel to alter the white balance for my Devil.  By taking advantage of the white balance I can create a division between the worlds outside the door and that of inside and this warm contrast to the overall cold image will act as my punctum to the picture.

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As you can see, I made sketches and drew a couple of storyboards to help me with ideas.

The last Tycoon

Photo by William Eggleston.

Yesterday, Saturday, my wife and I visited London to see the William Eggleston Exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery and then go on to see a play.

The weather was warm but wet however, this didn’t dampen our day.  On arrival to Trafalgar square, I mistakenly went in to The National Gallery and after a quick scout around asked a member of staff where the William Eggleston exhibition was.  The young lady gave me a look that one would have expected to get from the head waiter at Simpsons when asked for a Big Mac and fries.  She politely and a little condescendingly informed me that I was in the wrong gallery and directed me around the corner for The National Portrait Gallery.

As I walked around the corner and entered The National Portrait Gallery, I noted that it is all part of the same building but separated and given a side entrance.  Unconsciously perhaps placing portraiture in it’s considered place in the hierarchy of Art.

Photo by William Eggleston, this eligant but prim woman sits legs crossed next to a post wrapped in chain and pad-locked.  The post appears to act like a metaphor you can look bot can’t touch!

Anyhow, having found the exhibition we enjoyed Eggleston’s mixture of black-and-white and colour photos of mostly friends and family.  Some of the pictures on display were seen for the very first time as they had come from his private collection.  Also there was a display of some of Eggleston’s video work that he had made in the early 70’s a genre that I was unaware that he has worked in.  His pictures and video was of his life in Mississippi and it was clear from his images that he is a very good observer a talent that I have always had myself but only now with this photography degree course can I see a real use for it and have a reason to develop it further.  This exhibition was about his portraiture based work and had interesting details about his subjects, such as the dentist who had lost his practice through his use of drugs and later died in suspicious circumstances; his road trip with Dennis Hopper; his friends and neighbors, etc.

Photo by William Eggleston.

This image Eggleston describes as his first attempt  with colour and pleased with it’s success that he felt worked continued.  I agree the low sun from the sun-set or sunrise gives this young man’s skin tomes a very warm hue.  I like the shadow that repeats, yet with what is probably Eggleston’s shadow it also suggests another narrative.  The lady in the corner also works for a triangular formed composition.

My personal favorite photo was of a girl he photographed in black-and-white in a local night club who was clearly had at least one too many.  (Didigiat image unavailable)

Eggleston’s Grand-father with his man-servant at a funeral, photographed by William Eggleston.

I note that many photographers that are recognized in the art world are from privileged or fairly affluent backgrounds, naturally photography is not a cheap past time and for it helps to mix in the right circles in order to get interesting pictures in sometimes exotic locations.  Eggleston is no exception, from a wealthy family background he has been fortunate enough to have the support and subject matter to tap in to.

Following on from this exhibition we ended the day enjoying a good play about a 30’s film producer, called ‘The Last Tycoon’ The play reminded me of my exhibition and the title reminded me of the photo of Eggleston’s Grand-father with his man-servant who is unconsciously mimicking his boss’ pose.

Working log for Assignment 4

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

My task for this assignment is to write a 1000 word essay on an image of my choosing.

I can choose anything I like a from famous art photograph to something from the family album but the image must have scope to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

If choosing a well-known photograph, take time to research it’s context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc.  Add all this information into the essay in order to be able to draw a conclusion from my own interpretation of the facts.

If I choose to use a found photograph, a picture from my own collection, or perhaps one from an old family album, use it as an opportunity to find out something new.  Look directly at the photograph for information.  It may be interesting to compare and contrast memory with the information being seen anew ‘reading’ the picture so intensely.

You must use the facts as a means to draw my own conclusion about what the picture means to me.  I may wish to apply what I’ve learned in part 4 regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc.  Be sure to get the definitions correct!

Follow though association and other images that relate to the discussion. directly or indirectly.  Look at the broader context of the image and it’s background and specific narrative as well as my own personnel interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for me.  Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way.  Enjoy the process!

The first task for this assignment was to decide upon the picture, I had just finished assignment 3 and I was holidaying in Spain where I could relax empty my head and ‘re-boot’.  After the first week I was able to think again and ideas began to come to me, I had taken my laptop with me so that I could use it with my camera and I began to search for ideas.  My first idea was of a photograph that I came across earlier this year taken in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by an American photographer in 1944.  The image shows local Germans forced to tour the concentration camp and I was fascinated by the expressions each of these civilians made, some visibly shocked and ashamed others indignant and cold.  However, one night after a meal in the port we came home to the flat and put on the video and chose to watch Gone-with-the-Wind.  I hadn’t seen this movie in years and I was taken by the photography and some of the scenes that were so good.  I was particularly taken by the last image from part one.  Scarlet O’Hara has returned to Tara having escaped the siege of Atlanta only to find Tara pillaged by the invading Union army starving she eats a raw horse radish that she has dug from the soil with her bare hands.  At this point we see a transition in her from desperation to determination and the scene ends with her standing under a battle scared tree making an oath to god that no matter what she has to do she will never go hungry again.  This was a very powerful scene and a very powerful image provides a strong sense of foreboding for part two.

This was my first idea for an essay.  US Army photograph, 1944.

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This image I photographed in the Spanish fruit and veg. market of Altea that neighbors my holiday home town of Calpe a year or so ago.  I saw this scene and discreetly pointed my point and shoot Canon camera and caught it right at the best moment.

This was the image that I was so taken with in the motion-picture and I was luck enough to find it on the web.

When I returned to England I emailed my Tutor my suggested options and asked for his opinion.  He replied the image from Gone-with-the-Wind.  I was pleased that he had suggested this image as by now this was my favorite option.

After carefully looking at this picture I highlighted the cloud formation to help with my essay.

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I also looked at how this image is composed.

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I then began to make a list of basic information to start the research process which I typed as a word documents. Preperation for assignment 4  I then began researching through websites and for additional ideas on essay writing I  read, Reading Photographs, Basics Creative Photography, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury,  Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, published by Penguin,’One Way Street and other writings’ by Walter Benjamin, published by Penguin, the essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ 1975 by Rachel Rose.  The Bible and ‘Inferno’ by Dante Alighieri, published by The Folio Society.

As I researched I kept a record of the source on a word document that I could refer to again later.  Notes  Having accumulated my reference material I began to write my essay, at this point I was not concerned with the word count as I could cut away as necessary. Working Title I also included images in my basic work.   when I came up with a title for my essay I resaved the document under it’s new name and continued to work on it.  Draft-1-Its a Lilly! I then emailed my Tutor for advice on my word-count and he advised that I was allowed + or – 5-10%; so I made sure that when stripping away I had an idea of my safe envelope; so as not to take out anything unnecessarily Final Draft-Its a Lilly  I then edited down my list of reference material relevant to my final draft and added it Notes for draft .

Finally I checked with my Assignment criteria to make sure that I had understood and followed it.

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I then read it to my wife and she pointed out that the only thing I had not mentioned was how the picture made me feel.  It was such an obvious observation but in my had not thought to mention it!  This is a good example of being too close to the work to be able point out the obvious.  this I easily rectified as the original attraction was the sense of foreboding and unease that this image conveyed.

The idea of the title for my work came through my research in to Technicolor and I watched several very good documentaries on YouTube that told the story of the development and use of technicolor which included an anecdotal story from an aging actor who played one on the Munchkins in Wizard of Oz who was puzzled why the always called out “It’s a Lilly!” at the end of a scene.

This time I only got one response from the Facebook OCA forum when I put out my request to critique my essay, but I took on board the comment that I should change the title for the last paragraph which I agreed with.  I decided to change it from ‘Conclusion’ to ‘So why the title’.  However, I also sent my work to a friend who I could rely on to give a good constructive critique and he came back with some suggestions to shorten a couple of sentences and punctuation corrections sending me his suggested amendments highlighted in red.   ShaunDraftEssay from this I made my final changes Amended Final Draft-Its a Lilly-1