Exercise 4.12 Presence/absence

Brief

When we look around familiar environments we tend to ignore or ‘not see’ certain things in them. In this exercise, you’ll explore the absence and presence of an object that you’re accustomed to in order to bring to the surface an altered ambience.

Your purpose here is to convey the trace of the absent person or thing, or to express something of an altered mood by a particular emphasis.

  • Choose an environment that you know well, but one where you can move things around without getting into trouble!
  • Ask yourself what forms the character of that place for you.
  • Take a photograph of the place or ‘scene’ as it is.
  • Now remove an item that strongly characterises that place or scene and take another photograph with the same framing, without the key object. This key object can be anything from a bed in a bedroom to the chairs around a table in a dining room or a particular tree in a landscape.
  • Yes, you can use Photoshop to remove items in images with the Clone Stamp Tool or some clever selecting and masking as in the photo below, where the surgery has been removed. But it may be simpler just to remove them while you take the photo.
  • Place the before/after, presence/absence photographs side by side. But, like the image below, it may not need it.

Execution of the brief

For this exercise my environment was a small part of our lounge, in fact one wall. It sounds strange, but it is a wall that I have gazed at a lot over the last 31 plus years.

We moved to the East Midlands from Cornwall in 1987, the intention was that, with others, we would set up a manufacturing business, make our fortune, retire early back to Cornwall.  Well inevitably this didn’t quite work out, we are still in the East Midlands!

The wall I have photographed has two water colours on it given to me by an uncle that I was very close to and who also lived in the village where I was brought up.  They have always been a reminder of what we left and consequently have a lot of memories associated with them, they characterise the “village wall” in our house.

Interestingly removal of the pictures left behind a memory, this is symbolised by the outlines left on the wall.  I think it makes the wall even more poignant for me and does change the wall’s characteristic and indeed the whole lounge environment.

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untitled-2

Reflection

I wanted to choose an environment or scene that meant something to me which I feel I have done.  I would have preferred to have produced a bigger scene/environment image where I could have created more of an atmosphere change but I wasn’t able to do this.

In the images above I very deliberately included the top of the radiator beneath them, I intended this to be a symbolic “underline” to emphasise the pictures and their absence, others will judge if this works or not.

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Exercise 4.11 Emulation

Brief

Remember, there’s no need to make a direct copy of a photograph, for example a Man Ray photogram; make your own photographic experiment as Adam Fuss did (you can compare their photograms online).

If you chose to emulate Man Ray, you might seek out interesting objects that can be rendered graphic shapes in silhouette by shooting them against a white background. Or perhaps you want to emulate the uncanny, liminal sense of space created in a Laura Letinsky photograph but using landscapes.

Make the image your own. Artists rarely copy each other, but they do learn from each other. Try to identify exactly what it is in the photograph that appeals to you:

  • the visual quality (tones, colours, light and dark)
  • the composition or design
  • the subject
  • the concept
  • the photographer’s viewpoint
  • the way the photographer has influenced or constructed the image.

When you’ve identified these elements, plan what you’ll need:

  • equipment
  • location
  • models.

When you’ve organised all this, make the photo.

Execution of brief

Being exposed to a number of different photographers with varying styles I have found that I have quite an eclectic taste in images that are produced.

I do like staged images and in my last assignment I staged a photograph in the style of Gregory Crewdson.  Following my tutor feedback I thought I could improve upon this, addressing some of the issues mentioned above. However, as I had already produced a Crewdson style image I thought I would also consider an additional photographer for this exercise so I have decided to include a couple of images in the style of Laura Letinsky.

I did not try to emulate Trent Parke  because his images are much to do with “chance, coincidence, mistakes and discovery” I thought that this may be too difficult to emulate for a unit exercise but it may be something I pursue for future work.

Planning –

Crewdson

Equipment used

  • Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens
  • Tripod
  • 4 speedlight flashes
  • Modifiers: Snoot, beauty dish with diffuser, ½ cut CTO gel

Location

  • Lounge

Models

  • Wife and visitors.

Latinsky

Equipment used

  •  Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens
  •  Tripod
  •  Collapsible background
  •  White card, fruit, cup, marble table etc.

Location

  •  Conservatory

Gregory Crewdson.

I used the image below for the emulation.

I had to make my setting a contemporary one as I don’t have access to anything else.  The image is of a small group of people watching something on the TV, having a glass of wine. A door is open and light is coming into the room from the doorway, the man on the sofa is looking to the doorway.  Has somebody just left the room, the seat by the side of the man looks like it has been vacated, or is somebody about to come in?

What appeals to me about staged photographs is the ability to control the setting, the models, the lighting, the narrative.  It is more like producing a painting.

To produce this image I took the exposure down for the ambient lighting by around 2 stops so that only the side light was really exposed.  I then used a light to emulate the blueish white light from a TV screen facing the two women, a couple of other lights to help highlight the two women on the sofa and another CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gelled flash in the doorway to emulate the light from a ceiling light.

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Gregory Crewdson from the Twilight series

Crewdson emulation

 

Laura Letinsky – The image below is the style of Letinsky that I have tried to emulate

I like the sense of space with this image and the fact things don’t quite look right, I do find it a peaceful, restful image.

My image below is similar in feel, I hope! I am aware that Letinsky does not always use solid objects for her images, she sometimes uses other images cut out and then re-photographed, my images are quite obviously actual items.  I chose to do it this way because I like the way the light gives objects form.

I don’t think my images below ask too many questions but I think the light, forms and colours are very pleasing and the first picture in particular has a Letinsky feel to me.

These images were taken using the natural light in our conservatory, the lighting changed as clouds kept obscuring the sun which changed the colour temperature, but I do like the end results.
Untitled #12 ,Ill Form and Void Full series, 2010

Laura Letinsky Untitled # 12,  Series III  Form and Void Full 2011

Ex4-11 Letinsky emulation

Letinsky emulation 2

Reflection

The lighting particularly for the Gregory Crewdson image was very challenging and I still haven’t got it right.  I know that Crewdson has a very large budget for his images and employs a Director of Photography for his images who sets the lighting, he also goes to great lengths to get the composition and content of the images just right.  So, he will have a team of people looking for just the right car, clothing, set etc. so it is quite difficult to emulate this.

In the image I produced for my last assignment which can be viewed here I think my narrative my have been a bit too directional so I have tried to make it more subtle in this image.

The Letinsky emulated images don’t really offer much narrative but I think the styles are similar to Letinsky and I like the subtleness of the images and the feeling of space that they create.

Project 3 Learning from other photographers

Research point – Self reflection

Requirement

Most visual artists learn from one another. Both historic and contemporary photographers and visual artists can teach you new things and by learning from them you can bring something new to the subject.

So how do you learn from other photographers? There’s a tradition of ‘after’ painting, where an artist copies a master’s work – but in his own style rather than theirs. Pablo Picasso often did this for inspiration. Édouard Manet’s Olympia is slightly different in that it’s a critical response to Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus and other such romantic and idealised nudes. Cubism’s visual experimentation was influenced by the work of Paul Cézanne, who had a ‘blocky’ style of painting in daubs of paint. Hannah Starkey’s photographs are clearly influenced by Jeff Wall’s tableau pictures without ever being copies.

So really you take from the artist anything that interests you: the arrangement of characters in a scene, the pose of a figure, the way light and dark interact, the type of subject matter, the mixing of media, the visual strategy, etc…

Research point – Self reflection

Throughout this course you’ve been introduced to the work of different photographers to help give you an understanding of the creative potential of photography. Now it’s time to question your own work and identify anything you think is lacking. You don’t have to be over-critical, just honest.

  • Write down any areas in photography you need to develop. (Your tutor reports should give you some clues here.)
  • Write what sort of photographs you want to take. Just note down keywords.
  • Now look through a book like Hacking, J. (2012) Photography: The Whole Story, or Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd edition) (both London: Thames & Hudson) and try to identify some photographers who have exactly the key elements that you want to attain or just things that interest you. It doesn’t matter if the photographer is contemporary or historic.
  • Make a note of these key elements.
  • Now research these photographers online and choose one key photograph to use in the next exercise.

Self reflection

Areas of photography requiring development –

I looked back over my tutor feedback and also gave some thought to what I felt were areas that I needed to work on to improve my photography, these are:

  • Narrative – how to produce a narrative without being too literal
  • Posing of models
  • Composition
  • Understanding and control / use of light – for me, subtleties of light to evoke a feeling or mood and to help with the narrative.

Type of photographs I would like to take:

  • Photographs that have a narrative
    • Tell a story or
    • Ask a question or questions
  • Photographs with interesting light
  • Photographs that evoke an emotion or reaction

Photographers that have the key elements that interest me

I am interested in so many photographers and styles of photography, my taste is quite eclectic, however I have tried to distil my interests to two or three photographers:

Gregory Crewdson – his staged images are beautifully crafted with great lighting and they tell me a story but I cannot quite work out what it is so I end up asking a lot of questions about the images.   Because I find them enigmatic, they engage me.  The scenes appear to be timeless, they are not usually in contemporary settings.

Crewdson-exmaple Brief encounters

Gregory Crewdson – Brief encounters

Laura Letinsky – I find her images peaceful and create a feeling of space but again things do not appear quite “right” with many of her images, some don’t seem possible, so I find that I am questioning what I am actually seeing.

Most of the images have lovely lighting illuminating planes that merge into each other and have a special spacial feeling that I find peaceful.

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Laura Letinsky

Trent Parke – the light in his photographs is fantastic, it creates great atmosphere and his story telling in his photographs is wonderful. Each of his photographs stand alone but he also puts them together in a cohesive series to tell a story or journey.  He will spend a long time waiting until the moment, the content and lighting is just right and in his own words his images are often the product of “chance, coincidence, mistakes and discovery”.

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Trent Parke – from Dream life and beyond

 

Exercise 4.9 Repetition

Brief

Repetition of one image or very similar images, whether exactly the same or with slight differences in exposure, crop or image quality, elicits an inquisitive eye. Repetition emphasises the sameness and yet paradoxically indicates a difference. Andy Warhol used this strategy in his screenprints and photographs. In the image below, do you notice how the dog’s ‘stare’ becomes more insistent through repetition?

  1. Make a still life set-up of your choice, but you can use any subject.
  2. Try to emphasise your subject with the use of light.
  3. Aim to make around 20 photographs.
  4. Choose the best shot and process it to your liking.
  5. Now create a presentation of that one photograph that involves six to eight copies.

Make some notes on the overall effect.

Execution of brief

For this exercise I initially used a photograph that I had taken some time ago.  The picture is a product shot of a pair of master cubes that my company produced, they are used as replica masters for moulding high accuracy retro-reflectors for laser alignment systems.

Because these cubes are very high precision and surface finish is very important they have a very fine finish and hence are almost perfect mirrors, this of course means there are a lot of reflections which I think makes them interesting photographically.

The picture is of a 2 inch cube and a I inch cube, the three faces of each cube that are presented to the camera are highly reflective, so the smaller cube appears in one of the larger cubes faces etc.  I thought this would make an interesting repetition.

The objects were a bit tricky to photograph because of their high reflectivity, lighting and positioning of the camera were a little challenging.

I also tried another composition using a flask in natural daylight and with a coloured background

 

 

Cubes montage

 

 

 

Flask montage

 

Reflection

I think it is interesting how the reflection of the 1 inch cube in the face of the 2 inch one makes it look like there is another cube inside the 2 inch one (both cubes are solid tungsten carbide), there is another reflection forming on that reflection in the top left corner of that reflection of the 1 inch cube.

I also like the way the 2 inch cube forms a right angle triangle on the top face of the 1 inch cube.

I find the longer I look at the image, particularly on a large screen the more my eyes and brain interprets the image differently, it feels a little like an optical illusion.

There is more to consider in the flask image, different colours and more directional lighting. The flask stands out from it’s neutral background in a single image, and I think the repetition makes this effect stronger.

 

Exercise 4.8 Photomontage in Photoshop

Dreaming of Cornwall

Photomontage in Photoshop

Brief

Now that you’ve seen how to make a photomontage with newspaper cuttings, search through your archive of images to make a photomontage with your own photographs. Photomontage requires a playful experimental attitude to exploring different arrangements so don’t try to be too ‘tidy’ or perfect about your final result.

  • Decide on the different picture elements: the background, the different parts of the environment, objects and people in the environment.
  • Think in terms of depth: f/g, m/g and b/g.
  • When you’ve completed your photomontage, photograph it or save it as a finished image.

Execution of brief

I spent some time going through folders of photographs on my computers and selected a number to produce the montage.

As required by the brief I haven’t spent too much time being super “tidy” about cutting the images out.

The theme for my photomontage is memories of home – Cornwall.

Dreaming of Cornwall
Dreaming of Cornwall

 

Reflection

I did quite enjoy this exercise and although I haven’t been a fan of montages I am coming around!

I tried to select images where I could take elements and place them in the foreground, mid-ground and background.  To make this look a little more realistic I changed the perspective and size of these elements.

I am quite pleased with the results and think it meets the requirement of the brief.

 

Exercise 4.7 Photomontage

Brief

Juxtaposition in photography can be as simple as placing two photographs side by side. But juxtaposition can also be said to happen within the frame in still life when objects are purposely placed together. In photomontage rougher and often amusing juxtapositions result from sticking bits of pictures together. Have a look at the work of John Heartfield and Hannah Höch to prepare for this exercise. Heartfield’s photomontages are politically charged images designed to express social ills: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/heartfield

For more advanced contemporary examples, search for Beate Gutschow’s ‘S’ series.

  1. Get a few old magazines or newspapers.
  2. Decide on a background picture – for example a large view of space or any place.
  3. Now add to it a figure or at least the head and shoulders of a person.
  4. Now find some other images that you can substitute for the person’s head (for example a cabbage) or their eyes (telescopes) or mouth (a pothole). Stick them on the face.
  5. Photograph the result.

As you can see, the process tends to result in bizarre combinations. But there is a deeper meaning to this process. By cutting and pasting fragments of images, you’re choosing how a picture should be made and offering an interpretation of the different subjects you choose. You’re also constructing an image in a way that would be impossible to construct in reality.

Execution of brief

Initial research

I took a look at John Heartfield’s and Hannah Höch’s work and as mentioned in the brief they are quite politically charged.

Höch (1889-1978) was a German Dada artist and was one of the originators of the photomontage, here work was politically charged.

1 A political iconoclast, she actively critiqued prevailing society in her work, and, implicitly, through many of her life choices. Her active interest in challenging the status of women in the social world of her times motivated a long series of works that promoted the idea of the “New Woman” in the era.

Heartfield (1891-1968) was German and born Helmut Franz Josef Herzfeld, his father was a Jewish socialist writer and poet.

2 Heartfield’s pro-communist, anti-capitalist photomontages emerge in a moment of war and revolution, and in dialogue with the late Weimar Republic’s commodity culture. His provocative photomontages aroused both critical acclaim as well as controversy at the time – especially famous are his anti-fascist montages, for which he was persecuted by the Nazis and spied on by Gestapo agents. The capacity of Heartfield’s photomontages to provide a technique through which to conceive alternative views of reality is his contribution to artistic practice across the media arts.

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John Heartfield: AIZ/VI 1930-38

 

heads-of-state-hannah-hoc-001

Höch’s Heads of State, 1918-20: ‘portly German politicians in their swimsuits floundering against a backdrop of fine embroidery’. Photograph: Collection of IFA, Stuttgart

 

Beate Gutschow (1970 –    )

Gutschow’s, images are digitally composed and are quite realistic.  Her “S” series stands for “stadt” which is German for city, they are large black and white photographs and composed from multiple images. Diverse architectural structures and geographical locations are combined within a single picture3

Gutschow- 2014.64_ph_web-1

S #13 © Beate Gutschow

 

My Photomontage

DSCF2860

Although I did not set out with a theme in mind for my montage it occurred to me whilst I was looking through the magazines that I had been given, that our society is rather superficial.

My image evolved around the glitz and glamour of a female model with her lipstick and jewellery etc. located in a modern stylish kitchen but with no time or desire to cook, possibly with no knowledge of food production and preparation symbolised by the chicken egg and potatoes.  I put the wings on the earthy potatoes to signify ingredients just appearing in the supermarket, I feel there is less awareness of food source or production these days.

Reflection

I understood the reason for the exercise, but I am somewhat ambivalent about photomontages, they are not something that I would go to naturally.

I think the works of Höch and Heartfield in particular are very clever and very powerful and must have been quite controversial at the time. Gutschow’s work is very different and although I find the images pleasing they do not generate much response from me apart from enjoying their geometry and composition.

Regarding my montage, this wasn’t an exercise that I was keen to do and I procrastinated over doing it for some days, however, once I had the spark of an idea and got into it I quite enjoyed it although I don’t think it is an avenue that I will go down in future.

 

References

  1. Hannah Höch: https://www.theartstory.org/artist-hoch-hannah.htm
  2. John Heartfield https://www.theartstory.org/artist-heartfield-john.htm
  3. Beate Gutschow https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beate_G%C3%BCtschow

 

Exercise 4.6 Using image layers in Photoshop

Brief

  1. Create a series of photographs that include deep shadow in much of the frame. You could achieve this by using a black backdrop or by exposing in high contrast light as in Part One Project 2 (Shadows).
  2. Choose about four final images.
  3. In Photoshop, place the images on top of one another and change the Blend Mode to Screen (removes the black from the image) of the images above the lowest image. Experiment with Luminosity and Colour blending modes. You may also want to reduce the Opacity of each image. Move them around with consideration for the sense of depth the image represents and try to create a final composite.

The image below was made by making a double exposure with a film camera. But you can do the same thing by using Layers in Photoshop.

Execution of brief

I confess I didn’t go out to take more photographs, instead I used pictures I had already taken.  The background image was taken in April this year during a week break on the Isle of Skye, the others were taken during a recent visit to London.

The layers show the concrete structures in the Barbican area, the use of the ubiquitous smart phone and pedestrian / tourist life of the city, these are juxtaposed with the permanence, solitude, calmness and space of the Skye scene.

Exercise 4-6 Layers

The pictures that I chose to use for this exercise are these:

 

Reflection

It was an enjoyable exercise, as instructed I used the screen mode to layer the images and feel the composite image is close to what I wanted to achieve.

I did try the colour blending and luminosity modes but these didn’t produce the results that I wanted.  I changed the opacity of one or two of the layers and where there were sharp lines at the boundaries of the layers I applied a layer mask and painted these out with a  soft brush.

Finally, I flattened the image adjusted the levels and contrast, reduced the size and then applied a little sharpening.