This is a summary post for assessment. Original posts can be referenced via the Assignment menu.
“The light emanating from a red phone box in the evening was once a symbol of refuge, a beacon and a place of connection to the world.” (Heathcote, 2016).
The phone box light is part of its identity. For many of us the boxes are landmarks in our personal landscapes as well as our environments. They act as mini-landscapes, often colonised by mosses, insects, plants. They’ve seen us join Europe and now witness our departure, they survived the de-nationalisation of British Telecom and the massive proliferation of mobile phones, yet they live on, albeit in dwindling number.
Nick Turpin was my over-arching influence; I was entranced by his candid, bus-lit passenger portraits (BBC London Radio, 2017). I loved the glow of people behind the windows, and the way the glass was often fogged by condensation and/or rain drops. I wanted to try to capture those same qualities, but without the people. I wanted to show the experience of being inside and outside a red phone box at night in the same way that Turpin captures that night bus reality, both inside and out. Here are my original images.
My tutor was very positive about the work. She felt that my photograph first research later approach, combined with my use of peer feedback via my blog and the OCA discussion worked well for me. She extracted more from the work – referring me to Barthes Punctum and Proust’s Involuntary Memory, both of which I have read into a little. She recommended visiting Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate and Deutsche Borse at The Photographers’ Gallery, both of which I subsequently visited. We discussed Catherine Yass and Stephen Gill, and how if I wished I could follow a similar approach by returning my prints to phone boxes.
Actual rework has been minimal. I chose to remove one image – 6199 – as I wasn’t as happy with the focus and alignment. One of the phone boxes has now been removed by BT, I wondered about removing those images from the set. I do quite like the idea of pinning a photo where the box used to be..
In reflection, an assignment that I was quite nervous about turned out very well. I am pleased with this work. It feels delicate, understated, original and effective, and it starts conversations. It took me out of my comfort zone – it felt odd to be dealing with fixed structures in the landscape and a whole new set of environmental constraints, plus photographing only at night and finding and interviewing phone box experts. I learned to have confidence in my creative hunches, and I now think that maybe the Landscape L2 course isn’t entirely out of my reach.
One of my tutor’s suggestions for reworking A5 was to look at alternate camera technologies such as scanners and old digital cameras. As my old digital camera seems to have been thrown out, I investigated scanning on our basic HP inkjet.
It’s definitely a promising approach in that it gives me something in between the sheer physicality of the Polaroid and the modernity of the macro shots taken with my DSLR . Unlike the Polaroid, it’s digital so I can use it in other ways. I’m thinking more about a photobook, with a modern photo on one half of the spread and a scan on the other, probably offset, possibly with the two images both relating to the same original Polaroid. I could attach an actual Polaroid inside the front or back covers, using either Velcro dots or transparent cd wallets, to allow the photographs to be removed and handled.
On the scanned Polaroids I like the inverted images – it ties in with Fox Talbot’s invention of the negative. More to follow…
I need to do more on this work, neither me nor my tutor is exactly sure what that “more” is.
I think the content is ok, I don’t think I need to shoot more Polaroids.
My tutor suggested the following:
several practitioners to research (this was very helpful in freeing up my creativity once again)
looking at “time” as an aspect of the work and investigating making lower-res digital copies of the polaroids (backs I think) using either a scanner or an early digital camera. She observed that this would develop the idea of photographing Fox Talbot’s home with a camera that’s out of modern production. Thinking about it, I have the macro jpgs to represent the current technology.
thinking about a “perfect bound” book rather than my current loosely associated pages
She said that the fronts of the polaroids (ie the normal side) were rather less important to her on viewing than the altered backs. This allows me to explore other forms of presentation where the front is harder to access.
She liked the acrylic blocks and the way that one of them allowed the objects inside to move slightly. One option is to explore making use of more blocks.
More contextualisation. Her suggestions will help here, particularly the VR artist Mat Collishaw’s installation of a FT exhibition.
She kindly offered more feedback in the summer before I start putting everything together for assessment.
So where next? I have updated my post on the OCA forum. I will do a test scan and see if I can source a very basic digital camera. I need to decide how important the actual physical polaroid is to me in the presentation of this work. Am I happy to dispense with them and present for example scans, using the two acrylic objects to show the physical traces, in their almost museum context of being preserved in “glass”? I am wondering about a photobook, on thick paper, with one side printed with an image and the opposite side holding a polaroid that’s secured to the paper in some way (either removably or not). There’s the potential to match polaroids with the macro shot of the same back.
I need to pull the work together a bit more. I don’t necessarily want it to feel “resolved” but I do want it to feel unified.
Drizzly Easter holiday day, so I promised the girl the rare treat of an afternoon in my den with her pick of pens, die-shapes, and a selected pick of papers. This forced me to sit down with the die-cutting machine and try out a couple of ideas that have been on my mind.
I wanted to work with a rephotograph of an old school photo of me and do some die-cutting, manipulating the cutouts. I’ve recently sadly decided that for the purposes of working with photographs, the most versatile dies to use are not the detailed asymmetric ones of particular objects (manuscript writing, kitschy hearts, fairies, flowers) but the comparatively boring ones of plain shapes. For a woman who is essentially all about the bling, this was a hard fact to accept. But, recent readings and playings around Mobius strips, toroses and klein bottles have got me thinking about the deceptively simple nature of these shapes, and seeing more of the beauty and the potential in the simple. So multipacks of circles, ovals and yes, symmetrical hearts arrived today. I think I need to add in rectangles and squares too. The beauty of these shapes is that you can flip the cut-out shape over and re-insert it in the gap, thus reversing part of the image from front to back and vice versa. Circles and squares add the extra possibility of rotation, which I was keen to explore. I like the idea of an image cut into concentrate circles with the image staggering outwards, though I didn’t get quite as far as that today.
Ovals excite me tremendously, they have such a heritage with the whole vignette thing, the delicately painted miniatures, lockets, and even landscapes – Stefan Schaffeld told me about the landscapes made with the aid of a dark glass mirror and these were sometimes presented as ovals. So I think that will be next.
This is another area that I want to explore. School photos manage to combine the qualities of being both sacrosanct and ubiquitous. I’m going to pick some up from ebay and charity shops and continue my explorations with photos of people other than me. I am still mesmerised by the possibility of presenting both sides of a photograph on a single plane. On the middle photo you can see the Fuji branding on the shapes. It will be interesting to combine cuts from a photograph with for example cuts from a second photograph or other materials (thinking particularly of my atlas here, or combining portraits of myself and my daughter, as I briefly tried a while back, see below…)
Speaking of which, does anyone know the name for the 2d shape that looks like an off-centred polo mint? Would it be an off-centred circular frame?
Another thing to try arising from this work is to try it with Polaroids and seeing if there is any scope to include it in A5. The problem is getting the picture to hold together.
I developed ex 4.3 The beauty of artificial light. I enjoy working in low light, I like the control that you get over exposure, the richness of colours and the sense of otherness compared to the same subject in daylight. My theme was red telephone boxes after dark. I considered (and tested) several approaches but the one that resonated with me was a pure study of the box and the light, using depth of field, focus, and long exposures to add an abstract quality. The work was read by peer reviewers in a number of different ways.
Andrew Hurley of the National Telephone Kiosk Collection at Avoncroft kindly agreed to talk to me about the some of the technical qualities of phone boxes. They have all had 12 watt fluorescent light fittings since 1969 due to vandalism, cost and high maintenance associated with the previous timer-triggered filament bulbs. The fluorescent strips last for about 5 years with the quality of light degrading over time. A new fluorescent fitting has been installed into boxes since 2000. Boxes in well-lit locations have one strip, those in darker locations have two. Power is drawn from the street-lighting grid. Many boxes have also had their glass replaced with polypropylene. This acquires a milky appearance after long exposure to sun, which does make for interesting behaviour with light.
My work process was as follows:
1.Identify local boxes using OS maps and social media
2.Daylight recce of boxes to check for functional light, functional phone and location/obstructions/parking. Noted with evernote and mobile photo. Rough schedule of shoots.
3.Shoot after dark, in manual mode, with tripod and cable release, spare battery and card, plus weatherproof and high-vis clothing where needed. I used a 40mm lens for the first image, others were a mix of a 50mm prime and a 100mm macro prime. There was no flash but a range of ISO settings. Work was processed in Lightroom with adjustments to white balance where needed.
4.Produce contact sheets, basic pp, review shots
5.Produce shortlist and place on OCA forum and blog for peer review
6.Do any follow up shoots after peer review (I did about 7 actual shoots, images were used from four shoots of four different boxes in three different villages).
7.Make final selection and do post-processing.
Normally I research extensively before picking up the camera, but this time I decided to follow a suggestion on the OCA forum of starting the work first, then bringing the research in later. There were two triggers to this work – firstly Nick Turpin’s Night Bus series that shows passengers photographed after dark on the top deck of a London bus, and an article by Edwin Heathcote in the Financial Times.
A post shared by Nick Turpin (@the_nick_turpin) on
“The light emanating from a red phone box in the evening was once a symbol of refuge, a beacon and a place of connection to the world.”(Heathcote, 2016).
The phone box light is part of its identity, and seemed a perfect fit with the brief. For many of us over 30 the red boxes are landmarks in our personal landscapes as well as our environments, with memories of various activities conducted within their illuminated yet somehow still private shelter. The boxes provide their own landscapes too – mosses, weeds, brambles and insects all colonise them. Our red boxes have seen us join Europe and now witness our departure, they have seen the de-nationalisation of British Telecom and the massive proliferation of mobile phones, yet they live on.
Turpin was my over-arching influence; I was entranced by his candid, bus-lit portraits. He worked hand-held, photographing over three winters (BBC London Radio, 2017). I loved the glow of people behind the windows, and the way the glass was often fogged by condensation and/or rain drops. I wanted to try to capture those same qualities, but without the people. I also came across George Tice’s image of a telephone booth in New Jersey, taken at 3am in 1974 (via my critique thread on the OCA). This image I found outstanding because of the ease with which the different levels of light are captured, compositionally it is great too because all of the elements work together and there is no clutter.
It was difficult to consider which photographers in Part 4 had approaches that linked to my work. I enjoyed Sato Shintaro’s work but thought it was on a larger and less personal, less intimate scale than mine. I liked Rut Blee Luxemburg’s city reflections caught in tiny puddles and her jewel-like glowing tones, but again felt that many other images were on a larger, less personal scale. I agree with Bill Brandt’s words about photographing what the camera is seeing rather than what he was seeing, and think this chimes with my approach. It was interesting to move beyond “it’s a phone box” to consider the structure and the light more objectively. Wong Kar Wei’s In the Mood for Love (Dir. Wong Kar-Wai, 2000) was the work that I can best relate my efforts to because of how he casts light and lighting almost as protagonists in their own right, and the attention that he paid to tiny details. Everything was important and shown with careful consideration and lighting.
Developing this work from the exercise was a risk. The idea came from nowhere and I already had a list of perfectly good ideas for which my tutor had suggested relevant practitioners. Yet my test shots for these weren’t compelling or didn’t hold enough promise for a series, and I kept wondering about phone boxes. I felt they could nail the brief provided I could make a cohesive set that concentrated on the light and didn’t stray into broader landscape or documentary themes. It took me out of my comfort zone – it felt odd to be dealing with fixed structures in the landscape and a whole new set of environmental constraints. I felt the exercise set was a little “trippy” so I toned it down slightly and concentrated on light and details. I significantly increased the geographic scope to ensure that I had enough images, reflecting on my tutor’s comments from A3 about needing plenty of images to secure a strong edit.
I am pleased with this work. It feels delicate, understated, original and effective, and it starts conversations. There are some things that I would change – the image with the paint splashes needs to be retaken square on, for example and there’s scope for improving focus in some shots. The change in research approach worked in this instance, and I have been able to submit what I hope is shorter but equally effective writing.
Imagination – wanting to capture the light, the little details of phone boxes after dark, the experience.
Experimentation – taking many photographs over multiple shoots and multiple weather conditions. Trying out different use of ISO, focus, focal length (from wide angle to macro)and camera movement. Considering decommissioned boxes with other uses.
Inventiveness – rejecting the chocolate box views and light trails. Photographing the things that are remembered but not photographed (flies in the light, moss on the sills etc)
Personal voice – I like to explore the familiar and the forgotten and this work fits with this idea. I am sure there is a long way to go however.
Edit – this unfinished book review ran away with itself. I’m posting it to show that I have read the book however as a review it’s unsatisfactory.
This book was recommended by my tutor as part of my A1 feedback. It is an introduction to critical theory for photography. It has found its way into my standard reference set but I would benefit from reading it again.
Once I got past the introduction/Chapter 1 I found it dense but readable, looking back through it I have gained a lot from reading it. There’s a lot of helpful definition and explanation, then into the later chapters I started getting ideas as to how I can apply this reading to my work. The following summarise my notes chapter by chapter.
Chapter 2 The Identity of Photography
The difference between nature and culture and how photography has interacted with them (beginning and end of the chapter)
John Szarkowski’s five characteristics that form the essence of a photograph: thing, detail, frame, time, vantage point (p11)
Postmodernism – context over content. I found this helpful as I’m still trying to find my way with the characteristics of postmodern work.
Indexicality – the idea of a photograph as showing reality
Categories of signs Indexical (eg weathercock showing wind direction), Iconic (looks like but not caused by), Symbolic (does not look like and is not caused by).
Emblaming the instant (Bazin), “cloying melancholia”, a visual only device to either preserve life or remember a life that has passed.
Some images need spectators to exist, such as stereographs, daguerreotypes (need to be viewed from a particular angle). Also, you can’t see yourself in a camera obscura. Digital images are dematerialised – can’t be seen or even exist without appropriate technology
movement from fixed to transient images
Chapter 3 The meanings of photographs
Semiotics, signs, signifiers and signifieds – Saussure – signs make up meaning of language, it’s with signs that the communication of meaning happens.
Hjelmslev: denotation describes how signs communicate at the language level, connotation refers to the cultural specifics associated with that communication.
Photographs used in ads have to be very specific in meaning.
Anchor & relay text (anchor tells us the obvious, relay adds more detail that couldn’t be inferred from each component separately). Discourse is like a new, overarching context.
The gaze – gendered expectation of active male and passive female. Multiple looks supported in a single image.
Chapter 4 Photography for Sale
Much imagery is now to present an ambience rather than a product (contrast with early advertising which was all about the product). selling an idea without showing the product.
About 70% of everyday advertising uses stock images. Just a handful of companies eg Getty and Corbis own the rights to most stock images and many famous images.
Stock images show a harmonised, abstract (sanitised?) world view. Contrast to EBay which has much more traditional product photography. Personally I think this is because returns are harder on ebay so people are more explicit about showing their products caveat emptor.
image messages not always decoded as planned – may be dominant/preferred (understood as intended), negotiated (some meaning accepted, some questioned), oppositional (message rejected).
West – snapshots are the ultimate commodity “possessing the aura of the unique whilst also being infinitely reproducible”.
“no-one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget” One Hour Photo
Instagram is starting to pick up some of the categories that Kenyon says are usually missed out. Instagram is starting to show funerals, including images from funeral directors (my comment not from the book).
People tend to take the same snapshots. and they tend to be limited to the positive.
Chalfen – the decisive 30 seconds (the time it would take to take 3000 snapshots at average shutter speed of 1/100sec. Personally I think there would be more than 3000 images per person now.
It’s not a true representation, how can it be?
Kodak culture – the company shaped what, where and who we photograph. The Kodak girl was the early prototype of the mother recording the family (?my reading). The Kodak moment gave way to the Nokia moment. Instagram seems outside the scope of this book, I would venture that the Instagram moment supersedes both – the shared image is completely agnostic of the device used to make it and the filter presets standardise all images further. Tags allow the sorting and retrieval of images on a global scale. If it’s not on Instagram it didn’t happen” is disconcertingly similar to the Kodak line “A vacation without a Kodak is a vacation wasted.”
The Victorians said “prunes” rather than “cheese” to get a smaller mouth (worth trying?)