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22 Jan 2011

Planning for Assignment 4, pt.3

I may have gone down the wrong path trying to come up with some interpretation of the brief that would allow me to change the subject of each photo, but I don’t think I’m wrong to limit myself to an inanimate object whatever I chose to use. I have previously stated that the dictionary definition object also includes ‘a person or thing with reference to the impression made on the mind or the feeling or emotion elicited in an observer’.

Sex can easily become objectified, the process of which is easily demonstrated by fashion photographers such as Eve Arnold. Arnold is best known for her photographs of Marilyn Monroe, whom she trusted more than any other photographer. A well known protest made by Monroe reads:

"I do not consider myself a kind of merchandise but I am sure that many people do not see anything else in me… That is what annoys me; a sex symbol becomes an object. I hate being an object.”

This photograph is a highly sexually charged example of Monroe; the frame is centrally weighted by her alluring pose in bed with a minimal flash of skin against the dominate white surroundings, suggesting warmth and sexual desire. The frame is further well balance with implied triangles created by Monroe’s arms, the positioning of the pillows and shape created by the way the sheet is draped. The lighting is soft, flattering Monroe’s features and further adding to the suggested comfort should you be fortunate enough to be embraced. There are no hard shadows or highlights competing for your attention.

Another fashion and portrait photographer that worked with Monroe was Richard Avedon
whose work can also provide examples of sexual objectification (not that his work was limited to this; he also photographed war protestors, mental patients and rock bands, including famous portraits of The Beatles). Again soft light is used, flattering the features and not removing your attention from the model.

I have come to adore Avedon’s ‘Dovima with Elephants’; the model in the Dior dress is juxtaposed with a pair of elephants, creating a contrast of beauty and beast, young and old. The soft lighting does not yield the subjects to their forms, instead focusing on the textures and contrasts that the scene creates.

Sexual imagery is powerful and is far more prolific in current society. The phrase ‘sex sells’ in not an age-old concept, the connotations of which are not wasted in the retail sector. Sex can be exploited for selling products; deodorants, food, drinks and motorcycles to name but a few. Who else remembers the Halls Soothers advert in the elevator or the model cooling himself with a cold can of Coke?

The idea certainly isn't wasted on the photograph below: swimsuit and Sports Illustrated model Marisa Miller is seen
here draped over a Harley Davidson V-Rod. Its jet-black finish is visible against the background only by hard highlights created by top-lighting from a small light source, where as Miller has had the contrast softened around her face and upper arms by use of a reflector, or possibly another light source. The use of minimalist light in the frame with the hard highlights of the V-Rod, in combination with the soft shadows on Miller’s features, creates a low-key chiaroscuro image.

To be honest, I wanted the bike to start with; now I want it more.

19 Jan 2011

Planning for Assignment 4, pt.2

Applying lighting techniques for Assignment 4 is calling for particular physical properties of only one object to be brought out using the knowledge gained from this chapter. As I stated in my previous log entry I find the idea of only one tangible item somewhat dull so it is somewhat unfortunate that I will have to work to this constraint for the object I eventually choose.

The four physical properties at the core of this assignment that are to be brought out are Shape, Form, Texture and Colour which I will discuss individually for my planning.

Shape

Shape refers to the out outside edges of an object instead of any of the surface detail. The first instinct is to use back lighting or edge lighting to silhouette the object and emphasise the outline. However, when you consider the brief more deeply and think back to the lighting angle exercise, flat lighting, or front lighting, eliminates all shadows and highlights that provide depth clues of an object. So, flat lighting could also be used to satisfy this brief.

A few examples of siohouetted subjects can been seen in Kai Fagerström's The house in the woods series for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. In fact, the overall winning photograph was Bence Máté's 'A marvel of ants' that shows silohettes of the leaf-cutters in action in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Form

Here I am going to use lighting to show the volume of an object, its three-dimensional properties. The assignment calls for as much depth as is possible so I not only have lighting at my disposal but also image composition. Right back at the beginning of the course I learnt how I can control the depth of a photograph by varying my position and focal length (see Project - Focal lengths, pt 2). If the assignment wants as much depth of possible then I am likely to be close to my subject using a wide-angle.

The shadows and highlights are going to be massively important: too much and/or too hard then I will create a conflict in the image. Too little and I will loose the depth clues and make the photograph flat. It is likely that this will be the most difficult photograph to produce so I will have to pick my subject carefully.

Texture

The course notes state that revealing the quality of the surface details stands out best with a pattern of small hard shadows however I disagree. Using a small source to create hard shadows is not revealing surface detail but instead highlighting the three-dimensional qualities of a texture, bringing us back to form. I’m not saying that some shadow is not required; some are to reveal the depth of a texture but not hard shadows. I will argue my case with research I did at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum:

Oscar Díez’s ‘Sunning griffon’ (highly commended in animal portraits) shows a vulture backlit on a overcast day: the clouds have created a large light source and soft shadows, highlighting the texture of the bird’s feathers and the moss underfoot.

Similarly, Ken Dyball’s ‘Lookout’ has a backlit caracal, taken in Kenya. The clear skies mean that the sun serves as a small light source and the exposure has burnt out all of the background details. Instead, the reflected light revealing the caracal is soft and reveals the texture of the cat and the tree bark.

So, those were two examples of soft light being used to highlight texture in the subject. Now for the argument against hard light:

Tim Laman’s ‘Night eyes’ is a rare example of a primate called a western tarsier that are completely nocturnal. Laman's goal was “to capture the feel of night” and lit up the scene using Canon 580EX strobes. These small sources have created hard shadows which have, as the artist intended, created a night-time feel. I am not concerned with the tarsier’s texture when looking at this photograph; the shadows have created a conflict for my attention, focusing on mood and form. Of course I can see the primate’s soft fur, but its not the first thing I notice.

Axel Gomille’s ‘A miracle of monarchs’ has absolutely no visual clues to any texture in the scene. The hard shadows and the short focal length show you the depth of this forest scene and Gomille says “The sheer density is unbelievable”. This brings me back to my argument for the form part of this assignment: volume and three-dimensional qualities.

Another example I can think of off the top of my head is a snake. You often see snakes under hard light sources, such as the sun or a single bulb if in captivity. These create strong highlights on its skin and people are often surprised to find that snakes aren’t slimy. The small source does nothing to reveal a snake’s texture as people often assume wrong.

Another difference between texture and form that is apparent in the above photography is the relative size of the subject to the frame: form takes up much less of the frame than texture in the examples given.

Colour

The last part of this assignment will involve using lighting to bring out the colours of the object. Here I will have to make sure the exposure is correct so that the photograpn is not underexposed or burning out the colour with overexposure. White balance will be important to ensure that the colour of light or colour(s)that are relected do not alter the hue of the object. Colour 'temperature' will also be considered. I will probably refer back to a few points on the previous chapter's colour theory when selecting appropriate background(s) to really highlight the colour qualities of my chosen subject.

17 Jan 2011

Planning for Assignment 4, pt.1

I thought I would take some time out to start writing down my thoughts and planning for Assignment 4: I’ve had some back and forth conversations with my tutor and I might as well make a log entry, summarising my thoughts so far…

I studied the brief in depth and looked at submissions from other OCA students’ for Assignment 4 and it all seemed a little too literal. The brief states that the lighting techniques are to be applied to one object, but this seems to be a very straight forward interpretation and conceptually dull.

My first instinct was to use my guitar as the subject so at least I could throw a model in there with it so I could add some extra layers and really play with artificial and photographic lighting. But I had other ideas in my head that may of lead me down the wrong path. Because of these ideas, I ended up getting the dictionary out for a definition of ‘object’……

1. anything that is visible or tangible and is relatively stable in form.

2. a person or thing with reference to the impression made on the mind or the feeling or emotion elicited in an observer: an object of curiosity and pity.


The first definition of object is the literal interpretation of the brief where as the second could be more conceptual. First thing that comes to mind is an ‘object of desire’ and given that we are bombarded with sexual imagery daily, I’m sure I wouldn’t of been short of inspiration!

I wrote a log entry about Cindy Sherman's work that lead me further down the idea of objectification, such as her Centrefolds series. I then looked at her Fairy Tale Stories series and that lead me back to Joshua Hoffine. I further considered ‘Object of Fear’ as a possible start point for Assignment 4, a ‘focus on phobias’ as a challenge that would allow me to change the subject matter in each photograph as the ‘object’ would be fright rather than something tangible.

I was concerned that I was missing the point so I consulted my tutor. He agreed with me: “The same photos of the same object, whole, with the same light only different gels, really does my head in. I didnt realise the world had that many wee small budda statues before I started tutoring this course. Most reasonably well executed but incredibly dull.”

Furthermore:

“I think your arguments are sound but only if you can tie them in with the different types of lighting and can still show the relevant aspects of the assignment brief with regard to lighting the 'object'.The main issue with this assignment is that it is very difficult to produce a panel of images from one subject without putting a notional as well as literal translation on the object. Otherwise you get a series of stick that down there change the lights, click, move lights, click etc.

Its a tough one for me this one, I’d say go for it but I genuinely wouldn’t know how an external assessor would take it, they could love it or hate it and although that shouldn’t really matter I’d say to give them at least one photo in each of the sections that they could refer to. That makes the object selection difficult because to then carry out the rest (all well lit and showing the assignment brief) as an object of fear or phobia would take a lot more thought. I'd love to see what you make of it but I’d still say for you to play safe for some of the photos but still put an interpretation on them.”


Some more correspondence followed, but in a nutshell:

“If you are asking definitely about the idea and the brief I’d have to
come down on the side of saying, from what you have already mentioned, that it wouldn’t fit the brief.”


Bugger. I still have no idea what I'm going to use for this assignment...

16 Jan 2011

Looking at Artists

I managed to squeeze in a trip into London earlier this month to spend some time wondering around a few galleries I had selected online and also spend the evening doing the outdoors at night exercise.

One of the main exhibitions I wanted to see was the work of Francesca Woodman at the Victoria Miro gallery on Wharf Road. The exhibition is due to end on the 22nd of this month I didn’t want to miss it. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Woodman is best known for her black and white photographs featuring herself or other models. Her first photograph, taken at the age of 13, is a self portrait on the end of a sofa with her hair obscuring her face. The cable release at in the foreground is blurred and creates a line dissecting the frame evenly on the diagonal. This as a frame element, creating a leading line to the second element, Woodman’s highlighted upper body, is evenly balanced with the golden section. A light source going from the outside left of the frame has created hard shadows across the scene.
Unfortunately, Woodman suffered some mental anguish early in her life and committed suicide at the age of 22. Only around 120 images have ever been published or exhibited.

Many of her photographs feature nude women as the subject, either herself or a model, though she has also used nude men. The photographs are often blurred by movement and long exposure times, merging with their surroundings, or with the subject’s faces obscured. The photographs are untitled and are known only by a location and date – a table containing her work and descriptions can be found at this Wikipedia entry.

The use of light in her photos varies been hard and soft, dependant on the mood she has intended to portray. Colour is rare in her photography and her monochrome images are often chiaroscuro, particularly when creating hard shadows. This phototgraph, featuring a model ensnared by fly paper, shows the use of a small light source light – you can see the hard shadows and highlights on the flypaper. The model is back-lit by having her face away from the source; her features have been shadowed and created a contrast with the pale walls.

Looking forward in the course material for Assignment 4, Woodman’s use of light could be used as inspiration for my submission. She has used large, open settings for much of her work, allowing her to move the subject around from the light source. However, given that the assignment asks for characteristics of the subject to be brought out using light, the details will have to be sharp and in focus. Long exposure times coupled with motion blur will most likely be unacceptable for Assignment 4. This photograph, though evocative, shows no details such as the shape, texture, form or colour of the subject, all of which are requirements.

11 Jan 2011

Light: Project - The time of day, pt 3

Exercise: Cloudy weather and rain
photographs

Click here to view flickr set.

This exercise calls for a number of pictures to be taken in various weather conditions: unfortunately, the time of year is not giving me any clear days at the moment so some photos are missing: I’ll add them when I can.

I could, however, take photographs of overcast days and rainy conditions. As it is evident in these photos, the clouds have created a large light source in the sky and therefore soft shadows and highlights are cast – there are no sharp or defined contrasts. If you look in particular at the tree bark, the light so far diffused you can see that there are hardly any visual clues to the depth of the tree. Instead, the image looks flat and the emphasis is on the textures of its surface.

The photographs in the rain require special attention as reflections and the less vivid colours offer an interesting compositional challenge. Aagain with just cloudy days, the light is a long softer so there may also be to problem of a lack of depth clues meaning three-dimensional qualities are achieved more through composition. What you do see, however, is more patterns emerging; droplets in puddles, people with umbrellas and symmetry from reflections.

Gregory Crewdson's latest work, Sanctuary, is a series of black and white photographs of the Cinecittà studios in Rome. A step away from Crewdson’s elaborately staged narratives, Sanctuary instead aims to capture the empty and somewhat eerie permanence of the now abandoned studios. All of the photographs in the series have been shot on overcast days, and again we see scenes that are void of hard contrasts.

Light: Project - The time of day, pt 2

Exercise: Variety with a low sun
4 photographs

Click here to view flickr set.

For this exercise I chose to photograph a statue of Christ at Tewkesbury Abby at around 4pm. The sky was cloudy but the Sun did break through on a couple of occasions, changing the scene between soft are hard shadows. This didn't really change the results much and I'm not going to discuss them at length. This exercise is very similar to the lighting angle exercise for photographic lighting, only with less control of the source. Still, I'm quite happy with the results and it's a bit more interesting than the controlled enviroment as the results come with different backgrounds, meaning I could be a more creative with the composition.

Light: Project - The time of day, pt 1

Exercise: Light through the day
12 photographs

Click here to view flickr set.

{content pending}

9 Jan 2011

Light: Project - Availiable light, pt 2

Exercise: Outdoors at night
12 photographs

Click here to view flickr set.

I love photography at night!! I decided to do this exercise whilst I was out and about in London. There are examples of floodlit buildings with the London Aquarium and surrounding buildings at the London Eye, brightly lit store fronts in China Town, crowded interiors at Liverpool Street Station and the Underground and light trails at the Houses of Parliment. Another example of lightrails I have produced was for my diagonal lines submission for Assignment 2.

The exercise doesnt actually call for any examples of artificial light during the twilight to be produced however it does talk about in in the project text. I have included two examples in the album; one of the Commons and one in New York I took last year as the sun was coming up (after partying in Times Square - YEAH!). As the text states, these photos do not loose the shape or outline of the buildings that can be lost in pitch black conditions.

Most of the photos in this set have been taken hand held using ISO 1600: the high setting seems to be ok for noise levels at night. None of them have had any processing done to them. Also, for some reason, I became pretty obcessed with taken candid shots of people silhouetted against bright lights; I think it takes away the lonliness of some of the photos without making the individual(s) the subject of the frame. Good times!

Light: Project - Availiable light, pt 1

Exercise: Tungsten and fluorescent lighting
photographs

Click here to view flickr set.

{content pending}

3 Jan 2011

Looking at Artists

Bill Henson is a contemporary art photographer whose work reflects an interest in ambiguity and transition. The use of strong contrasts between light and dark (chiaroscuro) is common throughout his work, such as this. The two figures appear to be side-lighted using a small source, creating hard shadows and strong contrast. This has given presence to the form of the subjects in order to create atmosphere rather than submitting to the details and textures of the models. There is a strong battle for attention between the shadows and the subject, giving way to the mood of the photograph.

Henson's intention is to use photography for creative expression and often uses juxtaposed relationships between male and female; youth and adulthood; day and night; light and dark; nature and civilisation.

Some of Henson's work and behavior has come under much controversy and police investigation given the subject and nature of particular photographs. More can be read about it here.

Thomas Joshua Cooper is one of the most celebrated and distinctive landscape photographers working anywhere in the present day. The locations are found on a map, tracked down and then photographed, each place the subject of a single negative taken with a weighty antique field camera. They are meditative, almost philosophical images, exquisitely printed by the artist in the 19th century manner with layers of silver and gold chloride.

Here is a high contrast photograph with lots of depth clues created by the strong shadows of the rock formation. The monochrone and chiaroscuro nature of the photograph is extreamly atmospheric and produces a solumn and hauntingly lonely tone to the frame.

More of Cooper's work here.