Exercise 4.3 The beauty of artificial light

Out of sequence – my camera is at the repair shop and I am catching up where I can.

Feedback from my tutor has a couple of times now included that I need to include more of my workings out, my ideas, my working process. So let’s try it out here, while I try to banish anxiety about not doing a complete blog post all in one go.

I had an awful lot of ideas for this one, I very much like artificial light. From memory, my candidates were:

  • My local Lidl and its bright lighting indoor and out, and the way that bright lighting illuminates a glass fire-door and the shoppers and goods visible through it.
  • Light fittings display in a local homewares shop
  • Portraits of girls inspired by text in a book by Angela Robbie about the “luminosity” of young women and girls.
  • People climbing at a local climbing wall (but this one would need flash)
  • Chippenham railway station, which has a long in-used platform hosting a fully functional photo booth, which is illuminated and has a curtain that blows in the wind.

Some of these are easier to organise than others. My tutor was positive about them all and provided some very useful research suggestions (to follow in another post). I still struggled to feel engaged with any specific idea. Test shoots were a bit meh, especially those taken on a mobile phone. I like situations where you have indoor light outside, especially in small man-made structures like photobooths. I also wanted a concept that would allow me to add layers of meaning. I was curious about how best to interpret the brief. Just photographing light is hard without a subject to show how the light behaves. Yet as soon as you include a subject, or too involved a narrative or landscape, the role of the light can diminish to being just another component in the image. How to find a subject and light that reinforce each other, where the light is an intrinsic part of the subject and vice versa? I suppose neon and LCD/LED signs come into play here. It’s worth saying at this point that I was (and remain) pretty committed to developing this exercise for Assignment 4. I know that technically I should do the other two exercises and then decide, and I’m of course open to the possibility of changing my mind.

Driving through local villages, I was taken by the way that Wiltshire still has an abundance of red telephone boxes, many of which still cast their welcoming glow, even though their functions have changed. They are life landmarks for so many of us, from private calls to boyfriends to illicit drinking. They are landscape landmarks too, still marked on Ordnance Survey maps and often linked with bus stops, or more often pubs. Their light changes depending on the weather – rain and fog – or the way they misted up in accordance with whatever activity was being conducted inside and the external temperature. They have somehow remained resolutely British, as we moved into and now out of Europe. They are treasured by their communities, and many have been taken into community ownership.

So this is the current exploration. My criteria is red phone boxes with a functioning internal light, photographed after dark. They don’t have to house a functioning phone. I want to photograph inside and out, inwards and outwards, in different weathers, abstract and faithful, small details and the whole picture. I don’t want to make a set of landscapes all including a phone box. I might do a bit of playing with flash inside the box, but this will be in addition to the other shots. I’m going to commit to this post with a small set of images taken of a pair of boxes in Calne without a tripod, whilst I waited for my daughter’s class to finish. They are simply test shots and there are dozens more on my mobile, but I think they show some of my thoughts so we’ll start here.

Editing to complete the exercise with thoughts on the difference of the quality of light from the daylight shots in ex 4.2. Daylight varies through out the day, in a phone box the light is on 24/7. That doesn’t make it consistent all the time, but makes it less inconsistent. From the outside a phonebox has a gentle glow, but this is partly because the light is filtered through either dirty glass or dirty plastic. Inside, the light is very bright around the light fitting and ceiling but rather less so in the lower corners and near the floor. It’s quite a harsh light and not one you’d want to be exposed to for long. When you’re in a phone box the outside environment that you see through the glass is also filtered in the same way and that is why external artificial lighting such as signage, car lights and traffic lights can look diffused and softer. When I was photographing inside the boxes I didn’t see any shadows, whereas daylight was full of them. The temperature of the light was quite different too. I think like many I am almost attuned to artificial lights after dark and inside and find it hard to describe the differences. I wouldn’t make a colour portrait of someone in a phone box without substantially adjusting the white balance whereas that would be much less of a concern for a daylight lit portrait.




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