Monday, January 30, 2012

Reflecting on How Do We Read a Photograph

As part of the course materials a shiny new copy of "The Photograph" by Graham Clarke arrived. I've made a slow start of reading it, it's been a number of years now since I did any serious reading for study rather than for pure fun. I just finished the second chapter referenced in the title above and it really got me thinking about how I read a photo. I've mentioned earlier that I don't have much of a critical eye when it comes to photos. I know what I like and dislike, but hard it hard to communicate and express why. I'm naturally quite a concise and scientific person and I'm trying to open myself up to really examining why I feel the way I do.

This chapter immediately brought to mind an idea from "The Wee Free Men" by Terry Pratchett. The main character Tiffany Aching is a young girl who has decided to become a witch. Her first encounter with another witch leads to her learning to open her eyes and then open her eyes again. Sort of second sight as it were. I feel this is what I'm missing in my critical examination of photographs. I do the initial opening of my eyes and note the colours, composition, overall feel of the photo, but I don't take it further. Why has the photographer chosen to frame the photo as they have, why against a particular back drop, even so simple as why portrait or landscape or colour versus black and white.

My challenge to myself is that for my next Photographer Friday I want to really start developing what I'm now calling my second sight.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, January 27, 2012

Photographer Friday

Hélène Binet is another find from issue 159 of the British Journal of Photography. She takes photos for corporate companies of their beautiful buildings. What helped her make her mark are her photos for architect Zaha Hadid. Her photos are simple in nature with sweeping lines and often in black and white. It must be hard to balance the tasks given by her clients with her own aesthetic.

The photography section of her website is currently under construction but these are a couple I found on the web to give an idea of her style of expertise. She always shoots in film, not digital. It makes me wish I had spent more time when I was younger getting used to film and I was more comfortable with it now. She says it slows her down shooting on film. I can understand this, with digital the temptation is to keep taking photos until you luck into a good one. Using film you have a limited number of shots before you run out and need to replace it. It's something I am working on, getting it right first time.

I just adore the lighting and curves in the above shot. So simple and striking.

Again it's the lines and curves. The escalators look like giant robot spider legs or a massive hand reaching down to grab you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Project Photographing Movement : Exercise Shutter Speeds

For this project I borrowed a metronome from a friend as I thought it was perfect for continuous movement. I set my camera on a stack of books and taped some white paper to the back of the metronome. I tried without the paper first but I found the background too distracting. I used the following shutter speeds :

DCS_0022 = 2 seconds - really blurred with two images of the moving part at each end of it's arc. I actually really like this effect where it looks like two sticks moving outwards
DCS_0023 = 1 second - still very blurred with one image of the moving part on the right hand side
DCS_0024 = 1/3 seconds - the proper shape of the moving stick is starting to take form here. This makes a really cool photo.
DCS_0025 = 1/8 seconds - somehow looks more blurry than the previous picture and I don't really like it
DCS_0026 = 1/20 seconds - starting to resolve it's image
DCS_0027 = 1/60 seconds - this looks like you are looking at it through water or without my glasses on and it makes me feel a bit disorientated
DCS_0028 = 1/125 seconds - shows the first signs of sharpness at the bottom of the moving area
DCS_0029 = 1/200 seconds - three quarters is now in focus, just the top area still looks blurry. It just looks like a bad photo!
DCS_0030 = 1/400 seconds - now completely in focus for the first time
DCS_0031 = 1/640 seconds - clear focus but not very interesting
DCS_0032 = 1/1000 seconds - very sharp but again pretty dull as photos go

Friday, January 20, 2012

Photographer Friday

Hello blogging world. I thought I would (where possible) feature a photographer that I admire each Friday. This is a new thing for me. In the past I haven't made a habit of studying those who have come before me and I thought it would a fantastic way to get more inspiration. The first person I came across while looking at the January edition of The British Journal of Photography, Kate Peters. She does a lot of portrait work looking through her online portfolio, but it was her series on the British dominatrix scene that really struck me as seen in the magazine. It's on her site as Yes, Mistress as well.

My absolute favourite is Maid Francesca II. It shows a maid bent over with her skirt raised and clear whip or crop marks on her buttocks. It sums up domination and the work of a dominatrix in one smile, clean photograph. It's not sensational or over the top, but packs a real impact nonetheless. I like that there isn't any nudity or anything overtly sexual, but the pictures are still full of sex and strong women. The fetish scene is fascinating and I would love to do a themed shoot like this. I will add it my list of fantasy projects that one day I would love to get to.

I think it's really cool that Kate managed to not just meet the women, but to photograph some of their clients as well as where they work. I imagine it has been a very enlightening project and also very difficult to get willing volunteers who will let her publish her work. Reading the interview Kate says "I have recently had issues with women whose circumstances have changed and are now unable to be published or exhibited" which doesn't really surprise me. Many of the women I imagine have children, are married and may have other more socially acceptable jobs. They have local fetish nights near me as well as burlesque events and I will speak with the owner to find out the policy about taking photos at these events. I really hope though that Kate manages to finish her project and I'm excited to see what she does next.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Photography Exhibitions in Prague

Every year my work has an annual European Sales Meeting. Last year was Berlin and this year was Prague. I managed to go out a few days early and spend the weekend doing some sight seeing and exploring. It's such a beautiful city, the Old Town in particular as well as the cathedral of course. I'm a big fan of Art Nouveau and Mucha and seeing the window he designed was really cool! I took a few of the standard shots of the Charles Bridge and the surroundings, but also had time to spend the day in the zoo (lots of bats which made me super happy) watching the Komodo Dragons getting their ratty food. The Jewish Quarter was very interesting as well, although the tribute to the Holocaust especially the children's art from the Ghetto made me cry.

I did take some time to see two photography exhibitions. The first was in Josef Sudek's gallery near the castle. It took me a little while to find and when I finally did I realised I'd walked past it twice oops. There was an exhibition of photos by Ota Hajek. The description on the website and on the back of the flier says :

In the 1980s, Hostinné — a town in the Krkonoše foothills — became an important venue for many Czech artists. The photographer Ota Hájek (1932 Pardubice—1996 Hostinné) was one of the organizers of local cultural events. He started as a photographer in the 1950s, when he befriended Jiří Toman. In later years in Hostinné, he continued his documentary work in collaboration with visiting artists to the Ancient Art Gallery. Frequently remembered is his friendship with Adriena Šimotová, as well as with architect Alena Šrámková, sculptor Jiří Seifert, photographer Bohdan Holomíček and the interpreter of Hájek’s oeuvre, Jaromír Zemina. Besides photography and the fine arts, Ota Hájek had a lifelong passion for jazz music.

I've included the picture form the flier and the adverts for the exhibition below.

The two pictures that really stood out to me where one with a cyclist riding through a triangle of light. The bike had a lovely shadow that had come out really strongly and I liked the contrast of the light area and dark bike and it's shadow on the ground. The shapes made a big impact as well. The second was on a digital screen that alternated between a number of different prints. It was of a man in the kitchen chopping vegetables. I really liked the composition, depth of field and somehow the feel of it. It seemed so homely, the man seemed very comfortable in what he was doing and it made me miss my home.

The second exhibition I was able to attend was at the Museum of Decorative Arts (some information on the Museum can be found here). It's a mixture of different media including an amazing display of clocks (I loved the Art Nouveau ones), fashion, glass and ceramics and graphic arts and photography. I spent most of my time looking at the photography and graphic arts of course and made sure to open all the draws and not miss a thing!

The picture below is Head Mask by Miroslav Hak. The light is just stunning here and the tilt of the mask really brings a feeling of emotion. Each time I look at it I can't decide if the head is looking up or down. The looking down perspective makes me feel they are shy and saying a modest thank you. Looking up to me it becomes an expression of joy.

This picture is Wave by Frantisek Drtikol. I love the shape and lines of the body within the larger wave theme. It's so hard to arch your back that much so I have a lot of respect for the model! Nudes is an area I would love to shoot, it's just finding a willing participant among my group of friends...

My tutor had recommended I check out three photographers who had taken noteworthy pictures in Prague. The only one I was able to find on display was Josef Sudek and they had a series of his prints on display here. These were my favourite three.

Taken from his studio window (he did a series of these including a lovely one called The Last Rose). The different colour roses works really well with the condensation on the window and the lines of water.

A Walk in the Magic Garden - I love the lone hat in this, it's like the owner got lost exploring the magical garden and all that was found was his hat that he accidentally left behind or which flew off by a gust of wind as he was sucked into a fairy portal (hey I can dream).

From a Series at St Victus Cathedral - This was by far my favourite. Look at the lines of both the light and the pillars, what's to to love. The tones and colour of the shafts of light are really evocative too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Project Photographing Movement : Exercise Panning with Different Shutter Speeds

For this exercise I enlisted the help of my first willing volunteer, my friend Farah. I had gone to visit her in Norwich and we went to have a look around the grounds of Blickling Estate a National Trust property (on a side note I also signed up as a National Trust member finally so expect more pictures over the coming year of different NT sites). She was in blue and beige so I asked her to run backwards and forwards in front of a red brick wall and some black railings while I tried panning. I've numbered the pictures from 0003 (the previous post has 0001 and 0002) and I used the following shutter speeds :

0003 - 1s
0004 - 1/4s
0005 - 1/20s
0006 - 1/60s
0007 - 1/125s
0008 - 1/320s
0009 - 1/4000s (the fastest my camera shoots at just to test it out. I didn't change the ISO so it came out really dark)
0010 - 1/800s
0011 - 1/2s
0012 - 1/8s
0013 -1/30s
0014 -1/3s
0015 -1s (again)

Of all of them my favourites are 0004, 0011, 0012, 0013, 0014 as well as the 0003 shutter speed one. If I had to choose my stand out one it would have to be 0011. I love the sense of movement and abstract in this picture. I also really like the colour of the streaked bricks in the background and that you still get the sense of a person running and it's not all a complete blur. It's interesting as I haven't tried panning before but have been seeing the technique used quite a bit recently including an article on how to do it to get really cool abstract lines using a tripod. Next time I get down to Brighton I might try it on the beach and see if I can replicate it.

One thing I've noticed already by doing this course is that it is making me question WHY I like photographs rather than just thinking a simple yes or no when I see them. It's so easy to say that I like or dislike something, but it's still quite hard for me to express exactly why that is. It's something I am sure I will develop as I continue learning and working through the exercises, projects and assignments.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Project Focus : Exercise Focus with a set aperture

These are the results of the first exercise I have completed for TAOP course. I'm doing them out of order as I'm away from home with no access to a printer. The exercise is to look at depth and the effect of focusing on different areas in the viewfinder. For these I used the railings of a flower bed in Lenta Park, Prague. They were bothl taken with an aperture of 2.8f.

This one has the focus point on the top of the first post. You can see that it has a blur out of focus effect on the posts in the distance.

The second shot has the focus point on one of the posts off to the right near the lamppost. This the it puts the foreground into out of focus as well as the posts on the left.

Personally I like the first photograph with the near point focus better. I like that your eye is drawn to the image close up rather than at a distance. Maybe it's because I am very short sighted and find it easier to see objects and text if it is closer to my face than further away. I can read a book without my glasses on but not a computer screen. I also like the aesthetic of the blur at the furthest away point of the photo. It's an effect I've been experimenting with the last month outside of studying for this course as it happens. It makes it look like things are disappearing into the distance and gives the impression of depth and distance much better than a flat photo where everything is in focus. It gives the impression that you are standing at the front of the photo and have the distance to walk into and explore. The second picture gives you the impression that have somewhere to reach and a set goal to achieve.

It's not suitable for everything of course, but it's definitely fun to play about with. In hindsight I would have taken a third photo focused on the back left post as well. Note to self : in future take more photos than I think I need to get better results when it comes to exercises.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Getting Started and Expectations

I raced downstairs this morning when the doorbell woke me up to sign for my OCA course materials for my first distance learning module, The Art of Photography. I'm super excited to get started. Going in to this course I am pretty much an absolute beginner. I have been taking photos since I was around 10 and my gran gave me my first point and shoot film camera. I finally saved up for my first DSLR (Nikon D5100) in August 2011 and found myself completely hooked. I did a one day course learning how to use the damn thing (so many buttons and settings) and a short course in Photoshop Elements. Now I'm discovering new ideas, buttons, techniques and inspiration every day and wanted to take this hobby seriously and see where it leads me. I've often thought about where my creative talents lie being from a family where everyone but me seems to have an art gene of some kind. They are skilled at languages, creative writing, classics, graphic design, drawing and painting whereas I got the science gene. Don't get me wrong, I love science, but I like to think there is more to me than chemicals and formulae.

Going into the course I'm aiming to continue learning until I get to the end and graduate with a BA Photography. I'm trying to be realistic though as I'm nervous about coming in with so little experience, plus I work full time in a fast paced and demanding industry. The initial module is 400 hours of study and I am aiming to commit to 10 hours a week. I think this is realistic if I do my reading and reflecting in the week and most of my practical work at the weekends. I'm again hesitant to make this too solid a promise and will see how the first two months go and if I have set myself too high a goal.

Basically, I'm aiming high but am being flexible and taking it one day at a time!

I think one of my first personal goals is to start reading up on different photographers and finding four or five that really resonate with me and begin studying them in more detail. Up to now all I've been doing is trying different techniques out with the camera with not much thought to the discipline and what has come before me. As I'm off to Prague this afternoon my tutor mentioned three photographers to research so I will start with this while I am away : Ivan Lutterer, Josef Sudek and Josef Koudelka.