Assignment 2 – collecting

Brief

Create a series of between six and ten photographs from one of the following options, or a subject of your own choosing:

  • Crowds
  • Views
  • Heads

Use the exercises from Part Two as a starting point to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint for the set. Decide upon a single format, either vertical or horizontal. You should keep to the same combination throughout to lend coherence to the series.

Introduction

I wish I could say that this assignment was a simple, linear progression, but it was far from that. I was initially enthused by the controlled dept of field approach used by Kim Kirkpatrick and really liked the “slice of focus” technique used by Gianluca Cosci which turned everyday scenes into something else entirely. After figuring out that Cosci most likely used a view camera or at least a tilt lens, I abandoned that approach.

To cut a long and not very interesting story short, two things came together. The first part was inspiration by the work of others. I was attracted by the work of Martina Lindqvist and Paul Seawright (see following section Research).  I have always been attracted to the solitude and mystery of night photography. The second piece of the puzzle was a series of days and nights of very heavy fog along the whole length of Lac Léman. The fog gave everything an air of unreality, even of foreboding. So, I got out and started collecting …

Research

In addition to the Part 2 photographers (Kirkpatrick, Cosci etc.), the work of the following photographers referenced in Alexander (2014) influenced me in this assignment.

Paul Seawright

Seawright’s series The Forest focuses on the so-called “edgelands” where street lighting ceases and nature begins.

Paul Seawright - from the series The Forest, 2001

Paul Seawright – from the series The Forest, 2001

Seawright’s work served as a strong influence.  Not only is there the night photography connection, but I also find the “edgelands” concept intriguing. A single image (contact sheet 3 – DRG-17Dec2015-032) was definitely inspired by Seawright, but it didn’t make it into the final set as explained below (see Selection). Seawright’s work in this series has a sinister air. We can’t help but wonder what lies beyond.

Martina Lindqvist

Lindqvist’s series titled A Thousand Little Suns shows the effects of light pollution on the environment.

Martina Lindqvist - Untitled 05

Martina Lindqvist – Untitled 05

I like the slightly eerie, cinematic feel of this series of photos. They represent the unreal air that I was trying to achieve in my own photos, taking ordinary objects but in extraordinary lighting.

Images

The following table contains the final set of 9 selected images for the assignment.

DRG-28Dec2015-012

DRG-28Dec2015-012

DRG-28Dec2015-006

DRG-28Dec2015-006

DRG-27Dec2015-021

DRG-27Dec2015-021

DRG-27Dec2015-016

DRG-27Dec2015-016

DRG-17Dec2015-027

DRG-17Dec2015-027

DRG-17Dec2015-025

DRG-17Dec2015-025

DRG-17Dec2015-020

DRG-17Dec2015-020

DRG-17Dec2015-019

DRG-17Dec2015-019

DRG-17Dec2015-003

DRG-17Dec2015-003

Technical Notes

All images were taken using a tripod due to the low light levels necessitating the use of slow shutter speeds. I used a medium zoom lens (18-70mm) with the widest aperture possible (generally around f/3.5 or f/4.0) because I wanted a shallow depth of field to enhance the natural blur given by the fog.The images were all processed similarly to help unite them. The processing was straightforward: a crop to square format, conversion to monochrome to take out the harsh sodium street lighting, and finally digital split toning. I originally used warm split toning to bring back some of the street lighting tones, but in a softer way. Finally, I switched to cool tones because I felt that added to the sense of unreality.

Selection

The process of selecting 6-10 from a total of 83 was slow and continued right up until the last minute. Following are the contact sheets containing the full set of photos including exposure data and an indication of my final selects.

Contact sheet 1

Contact sheet 1

Contact sheet 2

Contact sheet 2

Contact sheet 3

Contact sheet 3

Contact sheet 4

Contact sheet 4

Contact sheet 5

Contact sheet 5

Contact sheet 6

Contact sheet 6

Contact sheet 7

Contact sheet 7

My selection process was as follows:

  • Firstly I worked through the full set of photos several times, making an initial selection – my “picks” – those which I think are worthy of more effort. At this point, I ruled out any with obvious technical issues.
  • I then edited down this set to remove duplication of content. I picked the strongest in terms of composition, lighting, exposure, focus etc. I still ended up with several containing trees, but they all have different lighting or simply look different, so I feel that they still work.
  • I carried out an initial rough editing: cropping, contrast adjustments to get an idea of what the final result might look like and how the photos start to work together as a set.
  • I refined my selections to focus on the theme of unreality. This resulted in removing one from contact sheet 3 – DRG-17Dec2015-032 which was inspired by Seawright’s The Forest series, but I felt did not work so well with the other selects. It might reappear in the future should I be inspired to think about my own response to this idea of “edgelands”.

This looks like a lovely linear process, but in actual fact, I re-visited my original set of photos several times to see if I missed anything, so it turned out to be an iterative process in practice.

It was interesting to see what worked and what didn’t within the theme of unease. I thought that the images of the church and graveyard might work, but in the end they look too much like an architecture shot for the former and too hackneyed for the latter, so they didn’t make the cut.

Evaluation

What Worked Well

I wanted to portray a sense of unease and I think that the combination of the fog and the shallow depth of field worked. I particularly like image DRG-17Dec2015-019 on contact sheet 2 – it has a working title of “The Church”. The crossed branches in the background remind me of gothic arches and the foreground object looks a little like a monk’s robe. The backlighting though, is eerie and suggests that perhaps what is worshipped here is not good.

What Didn’t Work so Well

I think I chewed this assignment for far too long before the idea came to me. The idea of taking photos in heavy fog has occurred to me several times in recent years, but this is the first time that I took action. Lesson: just do it!

How the Series could be Improved

See Demonstration of technical and visual skills section below for ideas on technical improvements. In terms of content, including people could be interesting. Obviously not front-and-center portrait shots, but it’s possible to imagine glimpses of people – almost on the margins – which might make things more interesting. It would raise questions about what are they doing out on a night like that? Images of Jack the Ripper’s London come to mind …  Practically, it would not be easy – during several nights out, I saw only one person so the gap between idea and execution is large.

Assessment Criteria

Following is my assessment of how I did against the standard OCA assessment criteria.

1. Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

I have worked on a strong, but conventional compositional approach, placing objects in the frame carefully and balancing them where there are several objects. For the exposure, I was looking for heavy shadows and a silhouette effect and also to control the sometimes very strong highlights. I think that overall the exposure worked.

I would have liked to try a larger aperture, but was limited by available equipment. I tried  my 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, but the effective focal length of 90mm with a 1.5x crop factor was too limiting. In addition, due to the lens to subject distance in most of the photos, the depth of field was larger than I would have liked. I would like to try a tilt lens to get better control of a slice of sharp focus – I feel that approach would have added to the uneasy feeling I was looking for.

2. Quality of outcome

Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

I feel that the series well demonstrates what I was looking for and works as a collection due to theme and presentation. The brief refers to a coherent idea – although my working title might change over time, for the moment, the idea is about unease and a surreal feeling even in the middle of familiar surroundings. In retrospect, I think that the series has a film noir feel – which very well describes what I had in mind.

3. Demonstration of creativity

Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice

A lot of my past photography could fit easily into the “Views” category for this assignment. I wanted to do something different which gave a different view of my local area and one that isn’t all that common. There was definitely an aspect of good luck – we haven’t had fog like that since. There was also an aspect of planning – the first night was wandering around my immediate neighbourhood, experimenting. Subsequent nights were planned. Once I had an idea of what the outcome would look like, I was able to visualise how certain scenes might work in the fog. In some cases my ideas worked, but not in all.

4. Context

Reflection, research, critical thinking

In the end, I was much more influenced by Seawright and Lindqvist than by the photographers presented in Part 2. Although the Part 2 photographers initially inspired me, I could not see how I could translate their ideas into my environment and in the end my idea developed along a different path via a combination of circumstances and having the work of Seawright and Lindqvist at the back of my mind.

References

Alexander, Jesse (2014) Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.com (Accessed on 29.09.15)

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