Tag Archives: Barthes

The Photography Reader, edited by liz Wells

the_photography_reader

This book is full of famouse / influential essays for photography and a particular essay of  interest is ‘See Photographically’ be Edward Weston.  In his essay under the section ‘Recording an image’ he describes an image being a piece of art when the artist has pre-visualized his intended work and selected the elements, composed and framed his picture through a planned process.  This I feel simply sums up true art and can be applied to music, painting, sculpture any medium that can be hailed as art.  additional good essays to read or re-read are Barthes expects from ‘Camera Lucida’ and Rhetoric Of The Image, Walter Benjamin’s extracts from ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’.  Also there are some good essays on fetishism which helps to understand the full meaning and use of this term, which would typically be only associated with sexual deviations.

Again this was a book listed as recommended reading of my Art of Photography course which had no bearing to the subject matter covered in the syllabus.  However, this book made sense with connection to the course on ‘Context and Narrative’ as many of the essays had been referred to or covered, yet it is odd that this book is not on the reading list.  I found the book a little dry at times as the essays differ in style; but overall this is a book that I am glad to have read.

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Assignment 5 – Making it up

Club Class

from an original story by: Earl Hamner Jr.

club-class

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.

no-dogs-1

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.

Assignment 4 -“A picture is worth a thousand words” (It’s a Lilly)

It’s a Lilly!

A still image from the end of the first act of the epic movie ‘Gone with the Wind’, Selznick International Pictures, Metro Goldwin Mayor, (AOL Time Warner Company).

It’s a Lilly!

The image

This image is fabricated, created from scratch in a Hollywood film studio.  The sky is hand painted using a technique called movie-matte-painting The tree and fence are just props.

The first impression I have, looking at this picture, is a sense of foreboding and a feeling of uneasiness.

What we see: a sunset, a triangular shaped cirrus cloud, a very low horizon, a picket fence and a small female figure.  We appear to be looking at her from in front and to her right, so as to see the silhouette of her chest.  Her left arm is just out of view, but her posture suggests that it must be mimicking the right. To the far right of the picture stands a tree. Its branches are naked.  One branch leans over towards the female figure and ends in a shape reminiscent of a hand-held scythe, with the tip of its blade pointing down on the figure below.

My interpretation

This is the final image from the last scene in Act 1 of the motion-picture ‘Gone with the Wind’. The audience has just witnessed this lady turn from desperation to determination; and the final image is made to look satanical with its fiery sky a witch like figure and a scary looking tree.  We are encouraged to draw parallels from our imagination.  I see Dante’s imaginable idea of ‘The Inferno’ and to quote from Canto III, lines 1 -3, ‘Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye.’ I am also reminded of the lines from psalm 23:4, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me…..

I see a lot of symbolism in this image:

From the point-of-view of the movie, The American Civil War was still within living memory of an elderly American generation; and perhaps because it was made with access to living witnesses some of the scenes are so remarkable (the siege of Atlanta for example). Therefore, the movie makers intended that this image translates that fences still need mending between the North and South.

However, I see the picket fence on several levels:

1, As representing home, family and her life; it is rickety and in need of repair.

2, Seen with a stripped tree, the broken picket fence also appears to suggest destruction and hardship.

3, The fences denote a road; and the setting sun behind her, with the fence leading to the foreground, connotes a journey.

The horizon has been set very low to give emphasis to the sky above Scarlet’s head, she stands as a small figure, as if under heaven or a damned soul at the bottom of the pit.  The sky is like her name Scarlet; and it is also acts as a signifier for many ideas: the unholy oath she just made in this scene, loss of innocence, war, and a sun setting over a disappearing civilization and way of life.

I see 1939 in this picture, war had been declared in Europe.  For many people watching this film, their own civilization was in danger of going the way of the South and the sun was setting over their world and their way of life.

The space for the sky on the left is filled with a triangular cirrus cloud with a faint suggestion of a crucifix in its pattern, strengthening this idea of heaven and earth.  This iconic symbol can be identified for denoting, love and peace; but it also connotes hope, forgiveness and unity under one faith.

The lone female stands like the tree leaning back angled in symmetry with its trunk.  Her arms hang down by her sides and her visible hand appears clenched.  Her posture suggests that she is standing to attention, just as a tired and battle weary soldier might stand.  For the American audience of 1939, the woman could be regarded on different levels, depending on who you were:

1 For middle-class white Southern and Northern citizens she is the fair and defiant but beaten and battered South.

2, She could also be symbolic for many working class Americans who suffered during the 1930s economic recession; and could be regarded as a figure denoting a nation that is getting back on to her feet and standing defiantly against her adversaries; thus connoting National strength and endurance.

3, In 1939 many people were still denied equal rights.  For the audience, this figure in silhouette could therefore be black, white, yellow or any cast the viewer chooses.  She is a woman, considered the weaker sex, but seen here to be strong and encouraging hope. “I know I have the body butt of a weake and feble woman, butt I have the harte and stomack of a king, and of a king of England too” Elizabeth I, 1588, Tilbury.

The tree is stripped and broken, yet it still stands, heroically defying the ill winds that have stripped it.  In his book, ‘Camera Lucida’, Roland Barthes described a feature in a picture that is a focal-point that he calls a ‘Punctum’ something that makes a nice picture an interesting picture.  I see the tree as the Punctum in this picture.  The silhouetted woman against the sunset and cloud makes a nice picture which Barthes calls the ‘Studium’ but the sinister tree with the branch hanging over her head turns this in to a more engaging photo (in my opinion).  The branch immediately above Scarlet’s head looks like a bony finger; it appears to point down on Scarlet like a condemning finger that is passing judgment.  In the context of the movie the tree could also represent the Union with its terrible judicial judgement on the South.

So why the title?

As the Technicolor movie camera began to photograph this scene a technician would have held a card with different colours printed on it in front of the camera to assist for colour calibration later on in development. The Technicolor team referred to it as a ‘Lilly‘ card if the filming was successful at the end of the scene the technician would call “It’s a Lilly!”

Word Doc.  Amended Final Draft-Its a Lilly-1

References

Link to Image http://dearmrgable.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/gwtw5555.jpg

The trailer to Gone with the Wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFu-jemU-bA

Selznick International Pictures  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selznick_International_Pictures

David O. Selznick Biography  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_O._Selznic

MGM history  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

MGM website:  http://www.mgm.com/

MGM  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

AOL Time Warner http://www.timewarner.com/

Movie matte painting video – Gone with the Wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idQOBhiF-DM

Movie matte painting video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_kaA6250S4

Met Office / Cirrus Clouds:  http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/clouds/high-clouds/cirrus

Dante Alighieri Inferno, Canto III Lines 1 – 3.  Translation by Henry Francis Cary, Published by London Folio Society (MCMXCVIII)

Dante’s Biography:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dante_Alighieri

psalm 23:4 – Translation from the original tongues being the version set forth A.D. 1611 Revised A.D. 1881 – 1885 and A.D. 1901 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised A.D. 1952 (The Bible Revised Standard Version Published by WM Collins Sons & CO Ltd. For The British & Foreign Bible Society)

The American Civil War https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War

Atlanta  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta

Scarlet O’Hara  Biography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarlett_O%27Hara

The South  http://docsouth.unc.edu/

Confederate Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_States_Army

1930s economic recession  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression

Elizabeth I Tilbury speech http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/elizabeth-i-tilbury-speech

Rolland Barthes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Barthes

Union Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Army

Technicolor https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technicolor

Technicolor color card ‘A lilly’  http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Technicolor

The three strip Technicolor process  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technicolor#Three-strip_Technicolor

Technicolor Film Camera https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-T8MVrw1L0

CMYK https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CMYK_color_model

Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images.

Reading Photographs

I have been reading this book whilst on holiday, in preparation for my next assignment, Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury.  This is part of a set of about x10 text-books that are very good and this appears to be last last one of the series for photography that I hadn’t read.

This book  is divided in to 6 chapters covering the following topics:

  1. What is a Photograph – Briefly covers the history from invention and marriage of chemistry and optics, through to the evolution of photography and its practice. Case-study.
  2. Reading the signs – Briefly covers the theory of meaning, language, semiotics, ideology in an easy to understand way.  Case-study.
  3. Truth and Lies – Considers images reflecting truth in what is real, representation and reality, facts and fiction.  Case-study.
  4. Identity – Covers people and portraits, signifying identity, looking,the body.  Case-study.
  5. Big-Brother – The modern world, the bad, the mad and the other, surveillance society: and Panopticon (originally a 19th century idea to watch prisoners in a specially designed prison). Who is looking at whom? Public spaces – private lives.  Case-study.
  6. Aesthetics – Is it Art? What is art? Photography as art the history of an idea, into postmodernism.  Case-study.

This is a very good and useful book to read, in fact I read it twice.  An easy read and very well illustrated with profiles on key authors for further reading such as Roland Barthes and John Berger to name just a couple.  I would strongly recommend this book and I am surprised that it is not listed as either recommended or essential reading for my OCA course covering Context and Narrative.

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers

Basic_Critical_Theory_for_Photographers

This is a must have book for any degree student for photography!  Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange, published by Focal Press.

This book debunks the sometimes baffling academic language from the likes of Barthes and Sontage and summarises the message that authors like these are trying to put across to the poor half comatose reader with assignments to help the student explore these theories more thoroughly.

The books covered: John Berger’s Way of Seeing; John Szarkowski’s The Photographers Eye; Stephen Shore’s, The Nature of Photographs; Susan Sontage’s On Photography; Roland Barthes’, Camera Lucida; Martin Rosler’s essay, ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts’; Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s essay, ‘Inside/Out’; Clive Scott’s The Spoken Image: Photography and Language; Andy Grundberg, The Crisis of the Real; Raghubir Singh’s River of Colour; Bertand Russell’s Appearance and Reality; Iatalo Calvino’s The Adventures of a Photographer; Poems by Felix Morrisseau-Leroy and George Szirtes.

Exercise-Project-2-Masquerades-Childhood memories

In this exercise I have created an image to represent a childhood memory.  I have based the idea of this project on Roland Barthes theory of mythology.  It struck me that our memories are a form of myth.  Our memories are never quite as they really were.  We recall through rose-tinted-glasses, our childish imaginings were myths both good and bad. My memory is of being scared of the dark as a child, particularly after having watched a scary episode of Dr. Who.  I was most scared of the Cyber-men and I recall dreaming of being chased and caught by the Cyber-men, I would hide under the bedclothes and peek out and being afraid of the shadows.  The myths of the Bogieman, monsters, ghosts and goblins haunted my dreams and imaginings to such an extent that as a very young child I could not go to sleep unless a light was left on in my room.

Resized-0391

D-800e, 24-120 f/4 @24mm, 1/125, f/11, ISO-6400, WB-Auto.  One remote speedlight operated via Pocket Wizard, converted to grey-scale in Lightroom and cropped.

I planned this idea out first on paper, putting my thoughts down which helped me quickly find an idea.  My thoughts initially were the usual happy memories of sunshine and ice-cream; but as I considered the theme of myth and I considered the darker side of childhood fancies.  The final product was converted to black-and-white as I felt that this made the image more dark and sinister, I also was not concerned about high ISO for this image because the grainier the image appears the better to imply a memory.

Exercise-Project-1-The Language of Photography

Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1974.  Titled, ‘Dog legs’ This linked image is from: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk

At first glance the joke in this picture can be easily missed, simply a small ‘cute’ dog on a lead with it’s owners in a park.  The image has been taken at a very low angle from the level of the small dog cutting off the rest of the owners bodies from the frame.  But a second look and something is wrong with the two pairs of legs.  The nearest (probably) the dog’s mistress in her high length boots and now we notice the second pair of legs belong to another dog that appears to be only standing on it’s hind legs like a man.  (In fact with very close scrutiny you can work out that these are a tall dog’s front legs and the dog is standing diagonally to the photographer with it’s belly and hind legs cropped from the frame.) The subjects are positioned approximately one-quarter of the way up the frame with the cute dog to the right looking in to the lens; so drawing the viewer’s eye away from the left side of the picture.  The small dog is what Roland Barthes would call the ‘punctum’ in the image. The mistress stands in the middle and our eyes naturally glance at the boots which we expect to see the second pair of legs take third place in our visual priority and so don’t stand out until we take a closer look at the picture.  The image is also in black-and-white this also helps with the deception.  If it had been in colour I am sure the tan fur legs would have appeared more obviously in the image and the joke would have been weaker.  Erwitt had used a structure of vertical lines in this image which has an element of design. The image is backlit which makes his subjects stand out from the background.  The composition draws the eyes from the bottom of the picture through these vertical lines to the top.  The placement of the tall dog’s legs next to the lady’s boots looks natural, as if two people were standing posing before the photographer with their dog.  The depth-of-field is kept fairly shallow to keep the eyes from looking deeper in to the background that is unimportant.