Tag Archives: society

About Looking by John Berger

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Among my pile of books yet to read as part of my studies I had ‘About Looking’ by John Berger.  I have only recently been introduced to this author through my Context and Narrative Course, I read his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ and watched the accompanying BBC TV program on You-Tube which I found very interesting. I then went onto read ‘Understanding a Photograph’, in preparation for my fourth assignment.  The recent sad news of John Berger’s death prompted me to read this book, ‘About Looking’.

This book is made up of a selection of essays, Berger wrote from the mid 1960’s up to the late 1970’s.

His first essay examines how man looks and sees himself; how he regards animals and his world around him and compares this to how other animals regards themselves, man and the world through their eyes.

His next essay looks at pictures by August Sander the famous farm hands going to a dance photo and another image of a local musical band posing for their photograph and he discusses how their suits give away their status in society despite their smart attire.

Also included is an essay on the works of Paul Strand.  The rest of the book moves away from photography and looks at works by other artists from the 17th century such as Hals through to Artist’s such as Francis Bacon and Giacometti of the 20th.

An interesting read, Berger had his own style of writing and if you have heard him speak you can almost hear his voice coming through the pages of the book.

He was clearly very passionate about art and I am sure a nice guy to have met.  I am sure all who were fortunate enough to have met him will miss him.

Making it up as asked?

For assignment five, I have been given a fairly open brief, to create either a single image or a series of images to elaborate on the same theme.

I have chosen to create a single image.

“As the culminating assignment for the course you may wish to draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – issuing various forms of narrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images.  The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose.  Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five.  This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas.  This could then form the basis for a 300-word introduction to the piece.  You may find it helpful to draw storyboards to help you visualize your ideas.”

I have produced an image taken from a narrative that I found through my research, I then story-boarded to find the appropriate image and I chose this intended picture in order to link it to a metaphor for today’s society.  This image has been created in context of a short story that acts as my 300-word introduction to my work.

“The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image.”

I have used a ‘No Pets’ sign and a pet dog as my props,  I have used two models to act out the characters in my image, The female model was dressed as a business woman and the male model as a smartly dressed man in a country suit with walking stick and hat both suitable for a smart gentleman out for a stroll and a man dressed for his funeral.  I chose to use the location of my local church that I felt suited the image.  I used speedlights, light modifiers, coloured gels and manipulated the white balance controls to achieve my desired affects.

“If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this.  Also consider the symbolic meaning of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach.”

My choice of costume is modern, Graham’s country suit is of a classic style and still popular today.  Ann-Marie, was wearing her normal business suit that she wears for interviews and corporate meetings.  Ann-Marie represents ‘Lucifer’ and I naturally didn’t want her in a Devil costume, holding whips, or sporting a Satanic tail; so I thought that simply dressing her in a sharp business suit and some lighting can imply a hidden layer to her true identity.

I have included snap-shots of my location and lighting set-up with sketches and notes as to how I planned and carried out the assignment.  I have written a 1000 word piece including the 300-word narrative.

Going through the criteria for this assignment, I feel that I have done everything as asked; so I just hope my Tutor likes my final work.

 

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.

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.

Working log-1 for Assignment Three – My father’s character assessment

For this assignment, I am tasked to create a photo or photos that are of a self-portraiture nature.  The brief is fairly loose; but I have had an idea that I first checked with my Tutor to be sure that it would be acceptable.

My idea is to explore the question of my identity,  how is my identity seen from other peoples perspective?

I have asked a couple of close friends and family to write a frank and honest assessment of my character and from these assessments I will extract ideas for creating images that represent Shaun Mullins as regarded by others.

My first assessment is from my father, Barrie Mullins.

Dads Character Statement

Having been given my character assessment from my father, I started to jot down some thoughts and ideas.   Having read it through several times I divided the text into subject matter to develop.

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With these thoughts I narrowed it down to three subjects to use from my father’s assessment and began to think about what each can represent.

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And looked again at the text and how my chosen subjects are used in context to my fathers narrative.

‘High ability’ (“when he wishes to exercise it.”)

‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’

‘A man that one would trust’

I now began to sketch and jot down ideas.

I made the decision to work in black-and-white for this assignment and as these are ‘self-portraits,  I felt that it was more appropriate and perhaps stronger for the composition if the are all framed in a portrait format.

My first attempt was for ‘High ability’ with an idea that immediately came to me and I quickly made it without bothering to sketch it first.

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However, I felt that it didn’t link to my father’s text, nor was it strong enough symbolically.  I also decided that I want to make self-portrait styled pictures that only imply my presence with at most say only a hand, a shadow or just a part of my body, etc.

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This was my next attempt; but I still felt that it didn’t convey the message of ‘High ability’.  Moreover, perhaps even my father’s face was not necessary either.  I moved on to another shot I had properly planned with a sketch.

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This shot is for the last image, ‘A man that one would trust’.  My father is 87 and I thought about how this suggestion of trust could be manifested in an image linking my father and it occurred to me that giving my father a helping hand might work and this is the image I had in mind and I think it works.

My next image that I took was another attempt at ‘High ability’

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However, I felt that this image still wasn’t strong enough and my wife didn’t like it either although she felt that the image of Sir Edmond Hillary conquering Everest was a strong symbol; so I had to organize a re-shoot with my father.  Unfortunately, despite his keenness to help, his patience is very short and due to his age he tires very easily and quickly; so he was quit challenging to work with, particularly when some of the shots I needed were challenging to make particularly as I had restricted myself to a portrait format.

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During this same shoot, I also attempted to get an image for ‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’.  But again I felt that this just didn’t work.

On our next session together I had re-planned and the results for the two needed images I believe are now much stronger and meet the requirements that I was looking for.

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This image is to represent ‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’ and I felt I needed to contrast praise with denial / refusal and I had the idea of simply my father clapping and with myself holding out my hands asking him to stop.  I really only wanted the hands to symbolism the sentiment, this proved more tricky that first thought and when I tried to sketch my mental idea I struggled.  I turned to my camera and fitting it to my tripod and tethering to a computer to see what the camera was seeing I tried different ways of composing the image.  In the end I decided to lay the camera of the ground looking up whilst still tethered to my lap-top in order to see and compose and take the picture.  With my father this still took over an hour to do and in the end I had to merge two photos together in Photoshop to get the desired combined poses in one image.  My kitchen skylight worked to provide a nice blank background with a faint cross which is the frame of the pyramid skylight that also is a nice subtle addition to the image.  Also, my fathers hands in the act of applauding with my own hands out stretched to ask him to stop appears to mimic the faint cross in the skylight.

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By the time I had made some useful images for ‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’ my father was very tired; but my last image was fairly straightforward and easy to make as I could hold the camera in my hand and take the shot over my father’s shoulder for this image of my father holding a photo of Sir Edmond Hillary with my British and American Private Pilot’s Licences that he refers to in his assessment.

I now believe that I have three images that now work and link effectively to my fathers text creating a visual narrative.  One or two of my images may be considered strong enough to stand alone; but they all clearly gain strength as a visual narrative when seen together and are linked to the text.

I have decided to only use the second and third images in my final presentation.