Friday, 29 June 2012

Assessment - Notes for Assessors

Having followed the URL on the CD or in the assessment file you should have arrived here.

The navigation of this Learning Journal is based on the Index on the right hand side using Labels.

The various assignments and projects are listed together with other categories covering exhibitions, reading etc in alphabetical order.

All of the photographs will enlarge for better viewing with a mouse click. The differences in monitor gamma / calibration may introduce slight variations to how you view the images. The photographs were prepared using an Eizo CG241W monitor calibrated with a Eye One Display 2 with screen brightness set at 100cd/m2.

Assignment photographs are included in the Learning Journal to illustrate the text. None of these images are included here for assessment. Assignments have all been reprinted and these prints are contained in the print box for assessment purposes.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Magnum Exhibition.

A week or so ago I had a rare trip to London. Rare because although I live within a mile or two of a train station I am not attracted by the place very much and the cost associated with the journey. Occasionally though I am attracted by an exhibition and as Chris Beetles (CB) was showing work by the 62 (should be 63 but there is no work by Philip Jones-Griffiths which is curious) Magnum photographers I incorporated this with a trip to RG Lewis who were selling some of my Nikon equipment to chew the cud. The day had its highs and lows, one of which (not sure if high or low) was being question by the police about taking photographs "for too long in one place".

Magnum 62.

After the second world war, four photographers saw that there was an opportunity to start a new agency run by photographers. Robert Capa, Henri Cartier Bresson, George Roger and David Seymour wanted to change the way magazines of their generation were monopolising the photographic industry, so in 1947 they set about building a cooperative agency that would be wholly owned by its photographers and who would retain the copyright of their work. During the last 65 years Magnum photographers have contributed many thousands of photographs to the history of photography, often from places of conflict but always with innovation and integrity. The gallery is bright and airy place and the 62 images fitted well in the space, although one or two were awkwardly positioned. Those who have read past postings know my love of the fine art print and it is for this reason I had to see this work "for real". All of the images (I assume) can be seen on the internet ( I have found most of them)but seeing the work as prints with thick matte mounts and classic black frames makes all the difference to my reaction to the image.

There are too many images to go through them all here although some of the iconic work is of note when seen at arms length. It is at that time (not when sat here at the desk with the catalogue) that I get a fleeting connection with the photographer and his image. I am sure everyone is familiar with the HCB image "Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932". If you are not then look here and you will see a man crossing an area of water, a ladder in the water and a shadowy figure behind a fence. The man crossing the area is in mid stride and will shortly splash into the puddle. In 1952 HCB published a book called "The Decisive Moment" and the photograph has become associated with this phrase and in a way a genre of photography has followed where the significance of capturing a single moment from the ever ticking clock of time has defined still photography. I have know of this photograph for maybe 20 years but never spent that much time to consider it. Being inches away from a Silver Gelatin print (with a £15,000.00 price tag) at the gallery gave the space and time to examine it and draw my own conclusions as to why this image is a icon of photography almost 100 years after its invention.
There is no singular aspect of course that identifies this image as: fantastic, awesome, sublime etc. From a technical aesthetic it has issues that could be better. The light is very flat, the shadow and mid tones are dark and it is not pin sharp. The slow shutter speed (the main man is blurred) is not in this list as the movement of his limbs contribute to the power of the image. I wonder whether HCB intended this or whether the dull day had dragged down his shutter speed and the speed of the man exceeded his expectations. These are not issues that need to be dwelled upon.The image is surreal. The location is off the beaten track, we know its "Behind" somewhere, it is an area under construction with rubble and a wheelbarrow, it has a circus poster, a shadowy figure and a large puddle reflecting all of these in the water. So, The Decisive Moment, that fraction of a second before the man touches the water. Is this luck is it massive amounts of skill ?, well maybe some or none. Firstly HCB had to be there and this is the crux, you make your own luck by hard work and being in places and occasions where others are not. Sometimes this results in the world class image to be taken, the R Capa images of The Omaha Beach landings, Stuart Franklin's The Tank man, Tienanmen Square etc. Looking at this image and then the rest of the Magnum work in this exhibition this is what strikes me the most. Most of these photographs were of course assignments for the agency, so one would expect to be there but "Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare" was a chance made by the photographer because he was there as part of a plan. It is said that HCB would anticipate a photograph by waiting at a location and then work quickly and discreetly when the right juxtaposition of people filled the scene. So here he sees a puddle and waits. The intent is humorous, maybe the splash is what he intended and he took the image too soon, I don't know.

The documentary and reportage images were thought provoking and sometimes sad to look at. People in a crisis and their fate at the hands of oppressors, lonely people and those trying to make a difference to their society always have an untold story. When the photographer left, what happened next ?, did the 11km pipeline in Guatemala bring drinking water ? Man with daughter and kitten 1972, what happened to her ? she would be 45 now.

As photographers, whether working for Magnum or not I think we have a responsibility to respond to whatever we see, photograph it and look after the past with images of today.

Later that day I am watching people, using my Leica, feeling inspired by HCB and his Magnum friends when asked to identify myself by a PC because a security guard thought I had been taking photographs for too long in one place.  I offered no explanation.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Project 33 : using the tripod

The Tripod.

It is difficult for me to imagine my photography without using a tripod or some form of camera support.

The reasons why I use a tripod have changed over the past 30 years. To begin with my lenses were slow and with slow film the shutter speed was slow in poor light and in order to remove camera shake the tripod was used as support. During my stint as a trackside photographer at motor sport I used a monopod, mainly due to space restrictions but also at that time I had faster telephoto lenses and the amount of camera movement was less, although with 600mm on 35mm the weight of the lens needed support and was difficult (almost impossible) to hand hold.

Lately with the introduction of the DSLR and improvements in digital noise it is possible to shoot at much higher ISO and retain higher shutter speeds and the elimination of camera shake. The situation with the 600mm lens regarding weight and support has not changed and for wild life and sport there is always a need for support. The 600mm lens was on a tripod for project 26 : shooting the moon together with a monopod to gain maximum rigidity for the camera.

I occasionally use a 5x4 field camera and due to the nature of how this is used I know of no way of using it without a tripod. The Graflex 5x4 is a handheld sheet film camera with a rangefinder type of viewing / focus device so it is possible to use this format without support but my Wista certainly needs it. With a larger format (or even a larger sensor) we create a file (assuming we scan the sheet film) with high levels of detail and ability to print at larger sizes. On the downside with this the amount of depth of field for a given focal length is smaller and it is necessary to stop down to a smaller aperture with the resulting slow shutter speed. Using say ISO 100 film, an aperture of f16 this could result in a shutter speed of 1 second.

Aside from the issues of supporting long heavy lenses and bulky sheet film cameras the tripod has an important part to play in the taking of images, especially within the landscape genre to slow down the process and allow reflection, contemplation and the abilty to take a step back and wait.

It is important that the photographer becomes engaged in the location where he is working. This indeed not be a large area, within the acre of assignment one was plenty of space to engage with the land and the sky. Previous as a Press photographer I literally ran around shooting everything that moved or looked slightly interesting but now within the landscape I like to be static and let the image come to me. This is especially appropriate with the view camera where composition changes are difficult especially if tilt and shift is being used.

The photograph above was taken using 5x4 on a large tripod during early morning. The front is tilted forward to bring the whole image in focus from foreground to background. The micro adjustment needed at the focus stage (using a loupe) requires a solid platform with no camera movement.

On occasion when movement can be captured the camera needs to be on a sturdy tripod. In this example a 10 stop ND filter was used with a resulting shutter speed of a few minutes.

This is the setup for 5x4 on a tripod.


With the advent of DSLR cameras that produce low noise images at ISO 1600 there are good reasons not to use the tripod so much in low light and retain no camera shake.

For long lenses and 5x4 there are weight and stability issues that cannot be resolved and the tripod is still to be used.

For work where precise composition is required, time can be spent to wait for light and further contemplation is required then a tripod is certainly required.

It is unlikely that one tripod will cover all situations. I have a lightweight carbon fibre type for walking long distances and a heavier carbon fibre (as above) when stability is paramount.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Project 29 : re-photographing a well known image

I photographed the power station at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire soon after it was constructed for a stock image that is on Alamy and as there are no other license free images I will use my own as the base image. It is similar to many others and is the default view used by many newpapers and websites to illustrate the site. It is a gas fired plant and sits on the East bank of the river Nene in a wide expanse of Lincolnshire Fen.

Original Stock Image

The Stock image shows the power station as a clean bright piece of engineering, shot on a sunny day with blue sky and virtually no cloud. There is obvious architect involvment to make the buildings have a clean line and the use of red steelwork offers some relief in an otherwise bland facade. An impression is created whereby the need to have such a building is made as palatable as possible and in isolation this image has a good feeling with plenty of good PR opportunities.

The images below offer a different impression. They are in monochrome and maybe a little flat and illustrate how such a building sits in a flat landscape and close to the village of Sutton Bridge. I have perhaps gone out of my way a little to exagerate the less flattering aspects of the complex and its juxtaposition in the landscape. This is I suspect how the residents of Sutton Bridge see it every day. It could be labelled as a "Blot on the Landscape" or to some it is a source of employment and gives them financial security in an otherwise less than prosperous area of Lincolnshire.

Within agriculture

Close to residential housing

While looking at the shapes I was reminded of the work of Bernd and Hiller Becher, particularly their work photographing blast furnaces and water towers.