I wasn’t very happy with my first attempt at this (here). It did the job, in terms of showing how the light changed over a day, but it wasn’t successful aesthetically and there wasn’t enough of a narrative there for me.
So today I re-shot. I have probably gone more the other way now and sacrificed light for narrative. My washing machine broke down a few days ago. I’ve made the choice between repair and replace and now I’ll never know if repair would have been cheaper.
I decided to make a sequence of images documenting the machine in its broken state, a requiem to its nine years here. One image from every hour or two through the day. The changes in light are more or less incidental (ba dum tish) to the work rather than the subject of it. I used ISO100, F8 and a tripod/beanbag throughout; working in manual mode the required shutter speed is longer when there is less light and shorter when there is more light. Lens was my 100mm macro. I need to say that I detest these exercises where I have to talk about my settings. I’d rather let the images do the talking. I’ve taken out the sensor mark in Lightroom, cropped where needed, and applied auto levels in Photoshop. I’m still not wild about the work, but it is better than the last version. My utility room doesn’t have the broadest range of light, and the weather was mainly overcast. It does have plenty of light, plenty of shiny white surfaces and I thought it would be interesting to see if the changes in light were as minimal as I expected. I hadn’t realised that my camera clock hadn’t been changed to BST, and the half-past after sunset was just too dark to get a focussed image without faffing around in bulb mode, and I’d had enough by then. Anyway, in darker conditions the white has a purple cast to it. Even though the day was cloudy I could see the light getting brighter as time went on, the brightest light was mid afternoon.
Click to go large.
Contact of selects showing shutter speed, aperture and the hour (GMT) in which each image was taken. ISO was 100 throughout.
Why yes, this exercise is rather late. I did try it at the time, and encountered every problem listed in the blurb. I started wondering if my camera was cleverly engineered to ignore the laws of optics and physics and be the only budget dslr to offer bokeh at f22. Now looking down the barrel of A5 and willing to do anything other than attempt making a handmade book (what if it doesn’t work?) it was time to try it again.
My first attempt was with the array of my daughter’s Disney Infinity figures. Tripod, remote shutter release, long exposures… results not bad in terms of front to back focus but not really a decent image. I put the camera in the back of the car along with my climbing gear, and took a few images of the traverse wall and lockers after a climbing session. It was busy, so I didn’t use the tripod but instead upped the ISO and braced myself against the wall. I worked with my wide-angle lens and the narrowest apertures I could. I tried to remember what I’d learned about hyperfocal distances – basically if you focus in between the scene and you, the in focus distance will be greater than you expect.
My selects are the following two shots, though the focus is still nothing to write home about. I need to retry on a quieter day with a tripod.
Which of the shooting modes did you use to shoot the final practical exercise of the course (Exercise 5.2)?
I flippantly want to say “All of them” due to the number of passes I had through this exercise. The reality was two – aperture priority mode and manual mode. I started in Av and then switched to manual to get more precise control over the exposure and more consistent tone and colour from one image to the next.
If each preset could give you a perfect photograph in any category, which categories would you have on your mode dial?
No hesitation here, I would have “child portrait” that would be able to cope with a blur of child, often in poor lighting; and “Identical” to give me matching backgrounds and framing between shots.
Cartier Bresson said that the image was down to luck. He had his camera lens stuck through a hole in the fence, and this is what he ended up with. A suited man leaping athletically over a large puddle with circus and acrobatic signage in the background. I wonder if we know how many other shots he took at the same time, what his contact sheet looked like for this shoot?
Elements of the composition delight me, like the two part circles of scrap in the water, the ladder laid across the puddle to no useful purpose, the inverted V of the man’s legs as he leaps and the V of the reflection, the way his shoes are just clear of the water, indeed the way the surface of the water sits so neatly between the heel of his real and reflected self. The way the ladder in the puddle has led him neatly to what could well be just the middle of the puddle, his leap continuing the path. The shadows and reflections make me happy, including those joyous acrobat silhouettes. The contrast between his motion and the man stood stationary by the fence. And yet. I wish I could see more of him. I wish that he wasn’t on his way out of the frame. I can’t imagine why this well-dressed man would take a short cut that looks so impossible without soaking one’s shoes and trousers. Perhaps he was running late for his train.
Cartier-Bresson set a lot of store by luck. He makes the excellent point that you have to have your camera with you, and be open to possibility, to serendipity. I do get this, but personally I would much rather create my own images and welcome luck into the more technical and/or editing aspects of the work. Perhaps this is because street photography has never enthused me, perhaps it’s a function of my limited development as a photographer. I do know, though, that when I look at this image I get distracted by all my questions.
We are asked “..what kind of information is included in the photograph on the front cover of Rinko Kawauchi’s book Illuminance, shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Prize in 2012?”
The image is in colour. It is unfocused, overexposed and there is lens flare evident. Yet we can still see that it depicts a rose, a pink rose, in the early stages of opening. We can see the stem, the leaves. It’s a bit like a pink shadow because we have more information about the edges than the centre, though we can see bits of the whorls of petals. In the background, which is largely pink, we can see some more very pale green leaves and a bit more lens flare.
Yet it’s still an image that speaks. It somehow, to me, still captures what makes a rose a rose. It makes me think of roses that I’ve seen, roses that I’ve been given, of the richness of their scent and the softness of their petals. Of the sheer unremitting pinkness.
It’s a gentle image. It’s not sharp as you would see in a garden catalogue, and there’s hardly any depth of field to speak of. It conveys touch. Clearly, a photograph can’t convey touch without a print, and even then it’s unlikely to be the same texture. So I think that this photograph carries the information that I’ve detailed above, but also the idea, the concept, of a rose, for the viewer to decode and extrapolate from as they wish. I think the image relies on the viewer knowing what a rose is, otherwise it is just some gentle pink and green splodges.
I went around the houses on this one. My first choice was Copperhead by Moyra Davey. She photographed 100 one cent coins, the head side, and cropped the result to the profile of Abraham Lincoln. I struggle to document just how intriguing I find this work. She took the lowest denomination US coin, at a time when the economy was in recession, and she photographed 100 of them, all the same way. Originally the work was presented as prints. Some of them were printed, folded and mailed, which is another aspect of her work that I find mesmering. Later on she reworked the series as a 10 x 10 grid.
I was very inspired by this work and it was on my shortlist of ideas for A2 Heads. My plan evolved into following Moyra’s methodology but working with counterfeit round pounds. At the time of writing our round pounds are in a 6 month phase-out period. They have been replaced by a different design partly because of the high levels of counterfeit coins in circulation. I first thought of photographing some of the fake coins several months ago when my purse was full of them, but somehow I failed to follow through. I thought it would be interesting to photograph the head side of these coins, in macro, and that way I could pay homage to both Moyra Davey, via the coins, and Taryn Simon, via the collection of counterfeit subjects. I drew a blank on collecting enough (any) duds though, after approaching friends and retailers. The next step is to talk to my local bank but I didn’t want to slow the exercise down any more.
Drinking coffee at the local climbing wall, I picked up a dilapidated penny from the floor and was once again reminded of Copperhead. That evening I tipped out our bowl of loose change, sorted coppers from silver, domestic from foreign, and then sorted the pennies according to the portrait of the Queen on each one. The penny is our smallest coin, but unlike the cent it features a subject who is still alive. All cent coins have the same portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the obverse – the same person, the same portrait. Our Queen has been depicted via five different portraits on our coinage (the first was pre-decimalisation so is not on any current coins). So we see her aging through the portraits, and on a much smaller but more personal scale we see her aging physically on every single coin in circulation, each instance of each portrait becoming unique as it ages (and wears) differently. This appealed both to my curiosity about objects that we think are all the same but that are actually all unique, and also my curiosity about front/back of objects, and of course the idea of image as object. In this case the image helps to identify and validate the currency object. So there were my subjects, how to show them? Context is a huge determinant of what these photographs could show, as well as the coins themselves. Each US coin shows an aspect of their presidential tradition, each of ours shows a monarch at various stages of her long reign. She’s actually reigned for so long now that all the coins from my childhood featuring her father have been decommissioned. Unlike the presidential portraits she is not necessarily shown at her best with one portrait chosen from a lifetime of images, unlike them she can not handle a bit of change without seeing random reminders of her public persona. Will Obama ever grab a few coins and see his own portrait? Apparently not:
“The program was to issue coins featuring each of four presidents per year on the obverse, issuing one for three months before moving on to the next president in chronological order by term in office. To be eligible, a President must have been deceased for at least two years prior to the time of minting.” (source Wikipedia).
The more I think about it, the more interesting it seems, this use of portraits on a tactile object. In the US you have to be a dead president to see your profile on a coin, in the UK you have to be a living monarch. Indeed, George Washington was reportedly against using presidential profiles on coins as he felt was too similar to the British monarchy.
Moving onto the photos, I worked with a tripod, a macro lens and a plain paper background. I was set up in my north facing kitchen and although I did have flash set up I didn’t use it in the end. Exposures were round about a second, at ISO100. Moyra cropped her photographs to include solely the profile, I decided to crop mine to outside the circle so the wear to the outer edge of the coin was visible. It is tempting to try a tighter crop, I am confident my lens would allow this and I think it could be interesting to abstract the work out a level. Her context was about “filthy lucre”, the nature of money whereas mine was about profiles, people, wear.
So there were my subjects, how to show them? Context is a huge determinant of what these photographs could show, as well as the coins themselves. There’s a variety of different ways to present this work and the context is different for each. All images below can be clicked to view at full size.
Topical – comparing pennies from the year Britain joined the EEC to those from the year when Britain voted to leave the EU.
Faithful – use one cent coins (I had a few).
Who cares – any mix of pennies regardless of the portrait (this bothered me). I actually couldn’t bring myself to do this – I felt that if the grid featured different portraits then its “the same but different” ness would be compromised.
Pennies sorted by year. I couldn’t face this level of sorting out, but you can see it in the EEC set above.
Organised – same year? same portrait? line by line? This set was the best compromise for me. It’s of UK pennies only, and features 3 lines, each line showing 3 instances of a different portrait of the Queen. If I was going to redo it, I would take a bit more care to make sure that all the profiles were lined up. Edit – the last row was removed because it had a mixture of profile pictures. I will reshoot when I have 3 pennies with the most recent profile and then update here.
So what context do I think my work demonstrates? Well, all of them really. I think it’s hard to have an image that only has one context. The internal context here is the Queen, and the coin. That identifies the work as about British pennies from the 1970s to the present day. The external context is the explanatory text that I’ve included in this blog post. To get the third and final layer of context the viewer needs to be familiar with me as a person or me as an artist. Some reading this will know that I collected coins as a child. Others will be reading this and thinking of the work that I’ve made as grids, from Katebook and Contraband in the Foundation course, to the grid of telephone boxes for A4 Language of Light. Still more will know of my strong feelings on Brexit and the changes that it is likely to give rise to across our economy, our society, our arts, our science….
16 May update
Following a conversation on the OCA Forum I’ve been working on improving this exercise. The main issues with the original were consistency of position, framing, white balance, and colour. I reshot once with flash, which went so badly it’s not worth posting the images. Following some guidance from Clive, I then tried to set up a light box which despite a promising start didn’t help. I returned to my flash units but took rather more care and the results are promising I think. They are however a bit dark. The technical side of my skill set is lacking for the kind of work I want to do – I need to continue working on this.
The post guided me to what I needed to do without too much detail of how to do it, and I learned a lot. I used selection, levels, masking, exposure and drop shadow techniques to refine the work further, and I created a paper background in Photoshop. The next step is to photograph the coins again with better lighting and focus, and then repeat the post processing with slightly sharper selection. I didn’t get the gradient to work at the end so I need to do that again.