A5 Research

eyv a5 vennOne of the areas that has changed the most for me during EYV has been research. I’ve learned to be braver about just starting the work, rather than researching extensively before even picking up the camera. Part of my learning is redefining exactly what research is. It’s not necessarily a search engine inquisition of the internet looking for similar work. It can be exploring tutor suggestions, or just starting the work and figuring out the influences later. I did wonder if I had done any research at all for this work, then remembered the hours spent reading, wondering, and trying things out. Research can be about your influences, but it can also be about testing out gossamer thin threads of logic between things that you think are relevant. Even if I choose not to follow up every artist who’s worked with Polaroid, every Fox Talbot image, every use of a die-cutting machine, I still need the ability and knowledge to place my work in the canon of work that is out there now. I came to the decision that my work is in large a tribute to Fox Talbot but through a vernacular lens – the architecture of his ancient home, captured with a camera typical of the 1970s, processed through a manual system used for die-cutting and embossing that is used as much as a diversion today as watercolours were for Fox Talbot’s family and friends.

Photographing modern day Lacock is by no means unusual and it’s a location that appears in the blogs of several local OCA students, including my own. What I hadn’t seen elsewhere though, was the location photographed with a simpler camera, or a focus on windows, which with their associated frames seem to me to be a very photographic concept and construct. One of the photographs that Fox Talbot is most famous for is the one he made of a window in the south corridor of Lacock Abbey.

Fox Talbot deserves more attention. He is essentially Chapter 1 in most books about the history of photography and it is easy to take him, and his work, for granted. Living just down the road from Lacock Abbey I am also guilty of viewing the ancestral home of British photography as a convenient excursion when the child needs wearing out. Photographing his home with a basic camera gave me some idea of how exciting it must have been for him. Part of this was down to the Polaroid too – for sure, thousands if not millions of photographs are taken at Lacock Abbey every year, but how many of these photographers get to hold their prints in hand, at Lacock, as William and I did? To stand in front of a photographed window, holding its likeness? I do somehow feel as if I understand him, and his legacy, better, as a result of the reading and visiting that I did. I spent some time looking at the Bodlean Library Fox Talbot before photographing, and that helped me to determine what I wanted my Polaroids to “be of”.

Similarly, die-cutting and embossing are very popular techniques with card-making crafters, but I hadn’t seen the techniques applied to photographs, and particularly not to Polaroids, where they allow the exploration of the print, and its integral mini dark-room – as an object. Finally – Polaroid emulsion lifts – again a well-used technique in the field of Polaroid manipulation, but I wanted to explore the link between this fragile, elastic translucent image and the window that it represented. Could I get a Polaroid of a window to actually be see through? Could I mount it in a transparent medium?

I did a fair bit of exploration. I think my key research was looking at the work of Fox Talbot on the Bodleian website, the Fox Talbot Photography Museum and in visits to the Abbey, repeatedly taking Polaroids in colour, in black and white, of everything, of the windows, with people and without people. I talked to the volunteers, taped over the flash on my Polaroid, talked to them again, and kept going. I looked at calotypes, I tried making some ( with the slightly discouraging result that the best ones were of my pants). I drew encouragement from everyone who looked at my Polaroids and said they looked like old photographs (rather than modern photographs of something old).

I read OCA DIC student Stephanie d’Hupert’s critical essay on images as objects. Her work embraces the print, the physical, the old, the cherished, the broken and the repaired. You can see the assignment that bewitched me here – https://stephaniedhlearninglog5.wordpress.com/category/assignment-2/assignment-2-si-tu-veux-que-je-taime/.  Her essay can be read here –  https://stephaniedhlearninglog5.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/assignment-3-critical-essay/ I also followed fellow EYV student Alan’s exploration with a found suitcase full of found images the suitcase.  Again, he was inspired to explore both fronts and backs of the prints, despite being completely unfamiliar with both the context and content of this case of prints. Finally, I looked at Anna Goodchild’s experiments with Polaroid print., where she manipulated them in her work about prisons. You can see some of her trial prints on the OCA discussion board here Despite us both working with Polaroid 600 prints and manipulating them, the results are very different.

I collected all the Polaroids that I was happy to sacrifice and tried out techniques on them, varying the film type, the colour, the age of the print, the shape, the pressure….

I discovered the heartbreaking story of the Polaroid collection – around 1200 images by esteemed artists that were auctioned following the conviction of Tom Petters with large-scale fraud. He had “rescued” Polaroid from an earlier bankruptcy but then used it as a front company for a £2.4billion Ponzi style fraud. He was jailed in 2010 for 50 years, Polaroid went bankrupt again, and the creditors moved in. Artists had often donated work to Polaroid in exchange for film, on the understanding that the works would be maintained as a collection but sadly this was not honoured and the works were sold, despite many believing that the works were not actually the collection’s to sell. You can read a summary here and there’s a detailed set of blog posts on A.D. Coleman’s blog here.

The physical side of the work took some research. The embossing work was all hands-on experimentation. I found various tutorials online on emulsion lifts and accordion spine books, but was still inexplicably nervous about trying out the spine (it was  still untried as I drafted this blog post, some seven days before the work was due to be with my tutor). Recommendations and suggestions were made on the OCA forum, which I followed up. I bought a discounted book on different things to do with Polaroid prints, which punched way above its not insignificant weight and got me thinking that experimenting with Polaroids really is nothing new. Somehow, that was comforting. Much of what I wanted to do didn’t seem to come up in my research, from embossing a Polaroid to using the film carton to make a book outer. It’s unlikely that I’m the first person doing these things, but it does seem to be the case that I’m the first person documenting the work on the searchable internet.

Other influences are still formative. My tutor has spoken twice to me about Walter Benjamin’s writings on the aura. This is the idea that mass production of a work somehow destroys its essence, its one-ness, it’s specialness. Perhaps Benjamin didn’t think this was a bad thing. I’m still undecided, if mass production destroyed the emotive wrench of an image then surely there would be no reason for charities, for campaign groups, for press to use photographers? I do however agree with his comment about how subject matter, in art, can be a ballast that you discard “during contemplation” (Benjamin, 1979 p66-67 cited Campion in (Berg and Gronert, 2011)). I wanted the use of Fox Talbot’s windows to be a simple jumping-off point for my work, something that provided a relevant and cohesive theme that viewers can use to access the work, then make their own explorations, circling back to the familiar if needed. Then there’s Barthes’ Camera Lucida, and his comments that you can’t deconstruct a photograph. “The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object: dualities we can conceive but not perceive….”  (2000, p6).  Clearly you can separate the leaves of a Polaroid, separating out to the negative, the emulsion, the transparent mylar and the strips that form the borders. Separating them does destroy the unit, but I think the component parts take on their own meanings even when separated. Similarly, I would disagree with him on his view of Polaroids. “Polaroid? Fun, but disappointing, except when a great photographer is involved.” (2000, p9).

Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage Books.

Berg, S. and Gronert, S. (2011). Through the looking brain. 1st ed. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

http://foxtalbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

 

Making cyanotypes

These were made in the back garden with sunography kits. You put objects on the paper/fabric, cover with glass or plastic to hold everything down, then leave them to expose. It takes 10-15 minutes in bright sun, the weather turned cloudy when we did ours and the orange one ended up having close to an hour. Once exposed, you rinse the prints under running water for at least a couple of minutes and dry them on kitchen roll/paper towel, swapping for a dry towel after 15 minutes. There is no fixer required.

We found that although you can expose on both sides, the image from one side will show through slightly to the other side.

Fox Talbot and Anna Atkinson were early pioneers of photograms. They tended to be of horticultural specimens rather than underwear, however Fox Talbot made several using lace.

I am exploring this because I want to make a calotype of the Fox Talbot window by deconstructing a polaroid image and using the emulsion as a negative on Sunography paper.

In the Mood for Love

This film was suggested in the course notes as an example of artificial lighting. I had mentioned in a blog post that I couldn’t find it, and Catherine said I could rent it on Amazon, so I did. It is directed by Kar Wei-Wong and was released in 2000.

I found the movie amazingly beautiful. It is subtitled and about 90 minutes long. The story is of two neighbours in Hong Kong who become friends after learning that their partners are having an affair with each other. It’s a fairly claustrophobic film with most scenes taking place within crowded rooms, narrow corridors, small offices… and most scenes are artificially lit too, even the outdoor scenes are generally at night, after dark, so they benefit from artificial lighting too. There’s the tiniest handful of daylight scenes, generally with characters other than the main two.

The lighting is almost used as a character is in its own right, often commanding a scene before characters enter or after they leave. Light fittings themselves are shown often adding structure to the composition of a scene as well as lighting it. Mirrors and reflections are widely used, as are shadows. Characters are viewed through stripes of shadow or frames (either physical frames or of light/shade). The lighting is a thing of joy, adding richness to colour, sheen and texture to textiles, expression to faces. I couldn’t imagine this film in black and white. In one of the final scenes a young boy almost acts as a light in his own right, you can see the sun glowing through the skin on his ears and off his face. I liked how the film gave the sources of the light as much prominence as the characters and scenes that the fittings were lighting.

I learned that light, colour, shadow, shade and reflection are far more closely entwined than I had previously considered. I was reassured that my telephone box concept for A4 should work – the use of a particular light within a physically constrained environment. In the last scene Mr Chow talks about remembering his life “as though looking through a dusty window pane”. This to me is one of the characteristics of a telephone box after dark, one of the characteristics that I want to show in the work. Glass and mirror are used extensively in the film. I liked that the film was so efficient, the subtitles gave a sparse and speedy plot, detail shots were often included and there was some very effective cropping. There is a lot to learn from there.

Getting up after the film, my house looked different. It was like how your vision changes when your glasses prescription changes. I would very much to buy this film, and its beautiful soundtrack.

A4 development notes

This post will be updated as I work through A4. It is based on exercise 4.3 for which I photographed a red telephone box in Calne.

I used an OS map to identify phone boxes and then did daylight recces to check that the box was still there and the light working. Actual shots were fitted in with normal commitments where possible or otherwise I would just pop out at night with my tripod and remote release. I kept notes as I went and uploaded photographs to lightroom as I went.

Here’s a cut and paste from my box log on Evernote.

15/2 Bigbury bay, overgrown. mobile & camera
17/2 Calne precinct, double boxes, one unlit, mobile & camera. Panned shot. There is another box just off the main road, on the right, by the pub.
17/2 Facebook post
18/2 Avebury Trusloe, at the end of a drive, phone, lit
18/2 Avebury – by the Henge Shop, phone, lit, machine behind
18/2 Rushall (parking at village hall), information booth, not checked
18/2 – garage at the roundabout on the way to Pewsey, not checked Turning off the side road.
18/2 – on right as you go into Pewsey, information booth, lit, no obstructions.
18/2 -note from Holly – Wroughton, opposite pub, phone box also food bank
18/2 Lacock – past post office – phone booth but out of order, broken receiver. Ironic given conservation status of village.
19/2 Layby on the road from Chippenham near the garage, just before the turning to Bowood/Rowde Lit vandalised but well located.
21/2 Marlborough bottom end of High Street, different light but good condition and not too obstructed. By PO has no light. On A4 has no light. Photos taken of High St one.
22/2 journey to Corsham and back. One just past the Harp & Moon pub, in a layby. One in a layby near Corsham? One at the end of a garden near Corsham Court. There might be more in Corsham itself, check on Tuesday evening.
23/2 Bath (daytime recce). Most boxes are replicas with no phone and no light. No point in photographing them for this set.
23/2 One by Coconut restaurant not lit. One by the caravan turning/pub well lit and good location
24/2 Chippenham station, well lit, good location, see separate note with image
28/2 Photographed the Corsham phone box near Corsham Court. Others had failed lights. Good shots of top panels and trippy motion.
1/3 Photographed the Bishop Cannings box. It’s pending removal. Pouring rain, full darkness needed hi-vis in dark layby. Unsuccessful photo showing rain, but insect shot was good.
2/3 there is a national telehone kiosk collection at Bromsgrove. Need to email and ask for light details.
3/3  White Hart Calne – good. smeared glass reflected light better. Reshoot moss and Follow On Call button?
6/3 Bowood layby – images not good, road too busy, layby too busy, box overgrown, couldn’t open the box door.
6/3 One by the caravan/pub turning – got there to shoot but realised there was no phone in there even though the light was working (it’s normally the other way round…)
11/3 – conversation with Andrew Hurley of the National Telephone Kiosk Collection about phone lighting. urls are http://www.avoncroft.org.uk/

 

Options are to take straight shots of box in landscape, to consider the differing uses of phoneboxes eg phone, tourist information, defibrillator, mini library (appealing but a bit Sunday supplement) or to abstract/macro slightly and concentrate on the light and the box itself. This latter is the one appeals, but I will take landscape type shots as well.

Need to get all the shots before the clocks change. Need to get lots of shots (see A3 feedback), need to remember hi-vis and sturdy shoes for layby shots.

Start looking at research. There was less research for this one, compared to what I’ve done for earlier assignments. Most people know what a phone box is, especially those who grew up with them. Also, the Nick Turpin work on night buses gave me a very clear idea on what feel I wanted the final images to have, and I honestly didn’t feel as if I needed much else, or if adding more research would improve the final work.

I decided to concentrate on functional red boxes that contained both a working phone and a working light. I photographed details, not landscapes. I wanted to emphasise the light, the red. It became apparent that there’s an ecosystem supported by many boxes – insects, snails, mosses, weeds, brambles, strange green things growing through the paint on the inside of the ceiling. One evening shoot was a complete write-off – the first, beautifully lit box had no phone inside and therefore didn’t meet my criteria, and the second, in a layby/bus-stop on a busy road was over-lit from the traffic. The door had jammed shut and the photos just didn’t work.

About 3/4 of the way through photographing boxes I put a draft set of images up on both my blog and the OCA critique board. I took the comments on board, reshot some images, and decided in some cases to keep the original or at least not change it much. I removed one image that a tutor said reminded him of amateur work. After reviewing my newer work I returned to contact sheets of early shoots and found some images that I thought would work better. Reshooting is actually quite hard – there are different kinds of dark, and the red paint can turn orange or purple at the wrong time. Plus it never seemed to be raining when I needed it too. I’m trying to resist the temptation to over-do this work, it is so delicate and fragile and the set is easily unbalanced with too heavy a touch.

George Tice – link provided on OCA board – mono image of an isolated illuminated box in New Jersey. So beautiful but hard to reproduce here – so much clutter and street lighting around boxes. Layby box could work but would have to be late as the road is so busy there.

I emailed the Avoncroft museum who house the National Telephone Kiosk Collection and asked if they could put me in touch with anyone who could answer some questions on the lighting in boxes. They were very helpful and put me in touch with Andrew Hurley of the Collection who was kind enough to answer my questions over the phone. I was keen to get a bit of background information about the light and the boxes.

My selection process is still something I need to work on. I tend to work in lightroom, flagging the images I want to consider, then using a combination of star ratings and tags to narrow the selection down.

 

 

Project 3 The beauty of artificial light

This blog posts details reading and viewing prompted by the course notes.

I have not yet been able to source the Christopher Doyle film “In the Mood for Love”. His words about “the beauty of artificial light on people’s faces” made me think of a snap I took of my daughter at the weekend, she sat on a huge circular stool in a dark hotel lounge, with a large diffused light right above her (below). It was late, dark, the background too busy, and I really needed a reflector to fill in the shadows. It was still a million miles better than the contingency shot I took with the camera’s onboard flash. This part of the course is changing how I look at light, which sometimes is great and at other times is very inconvenient.

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Rut Blees Luxemburg’s work I found fascinating. It is so precise, and the work glows with a metallic sheen to its colours and the reflections that are contained therein. A broken samdbag shows sand with a glimmering, burnished, mineral glow . Liquid and metallic are words that come to mind. She specialises in urban work, delivered in a vast range of formats from aluminium mounted prints to huge photographs cast in concrete and mounted on the side of Westminster City Hall and even an opera. She shows a completely different side to areas that we probably wouldn’t pay that much attention to in the daylight, and works with tiny details such as reflections in tiny puddles. She uses ambient light and long exposure times. The artificiality of the light becomes her own style, she doesn’t seem to need to “correct” the light back towards daylight tones.

In an interview with Photomonitor she says:

“For me, the night suggests certain flexibility. Darkness allows for the loosening or suspension of habitual behaviour, norms and consraints, and therefore might also allow for a shift of perception.” So she’s recognising that norms change at night and that that change also allows perception to change to, for her to show the world a little differently.

I adored Sato Shintaro’s work. It was easy to view at his website (whereas I couldn’t see very much at all on Rut Blee Luxemburg’s website). Many of his images are large in scale, often panoramic, and the colour is delicate, showing aspects of Japan as almost like a model village. The night lights series shows mainly busy and cluttered alleys which are densely populated with neon signs. The images are busy, but perfectly composed. Many look like a 3D movie, and I found myself longing for a soundtrack or at the very least, an idea of what the street smelt like. There was so much exhuberance in the neon signs that the actual street lights looked rather mundane and tame by comparison.

Response to Henri Cartier Bresson L’amour tout court

I watched this documentary as a sequence of five films on You-tube, uploaded by Rangemastergeneral (O’Bourne, 2001). The final two parts had no audio due to a copyright claim. I found the use of sub-titles with no audio slightly vexing.

I was first struck by the twinkle in his manner and his questions. Discussing his famous image “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris” taken in 1932, Cartier Bresson puts the success of the image entirely down to luck. “What matters is to look” he says, lamenting the photographers who simply identify what they’re photographing rather than seeking meaning in it. “Just be receptive and it happens” he said, pointing out that the image was made by pointing the lens through a hole in the fence; he couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder. I can understand the matter of looking. I struggle with the idea that receptiveness is all you need. You can tell from the film that he is well-educated, curious, presumably he put in a lot of work to learn the crafts of observation, of working his camera, of composition (he seems to rate form of lighting but I’m sure he still knew his lighting). Having faith in your observation (or optimism) is one thing, but I think it has to be backed up with a decent base of skills. Blind luck might work for one, maybe two, iconic images, but I don’t think you can produce an entire iconic body of work with nothing more than luck.

He had plenty to say that wasn’t about photography. “One can be old and outraged” he said. Thinking about this, I wonder what outrages him. He seems very reasoned in his approach; it was important to him that he stopped taking photographs when he had said everything he wanted to say. He comes across as intelligent, impartial, empathetic, enthused by love, all about the process rather than the result. Yet he is very critical about those images of his that he does not think are good enough. He does not observe with a detached eye so much as share with compassion and emotion. His comment “What’s important is what’s next! Erase the past!” made me think – so much photography is about the past, about freezing those moments rather than considering the future.

As he concentrates on drawing a portrait, I watch him blink, and think how much it reminds me of a camera shutter closing and opening.

I would like to learn more about him, his work and his life. I find that I struggle to engage with some of his work, it all feels a little bit “finished”. It documents the moment so perfectly that it is “done” – a slice of time in a perfect moment of humanity motion and geometry. Sometimes it feels as if there are limited places for me to go to in my mind. I found his portrait work more engaging, particularly those where the subjects are fully aware and complicit. Street photography seems to be a well-populated genre and I struggle to identify why I don’t care more for more of it. I have a similar problem with Ansel Adam’s landscape work. I can see the technical and artistic excellence (I think), but I don’t feel overly engaged or wish to know more. There’s definitely more learning for me to do here.

O’Bourne, R. (2001) Profils Henri Cartier Bresson l’Amour tout court. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/user/Rangefindergeneral (Accessed: 8 December 2016).