Assignment 5 – photography is simple

Brief

Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.

In your assignment notes explore why you chose this particular subject by answering the question ‘What is it about?’ Write about 300 words.

What’s it about?

Rue du Marché (Geneva, Switzerland, 2016)

Rue du Marché (Geneva, Switzerland, 2016)

This assignment is about many things, in fact. The obvious answer is that it’s about the Rue du Marché (which I photographed in assignment 3). More than that, it’s about what really makes the street special: the people. The buzz, the diversity, about what makes Geneva special.

This assignment is also about me pushing myself a long way outside of my comfort zone. I don’t “do” street photography. I recognised why, but was determined to push myself. The inspiration came from the assignment 4 feedback given to me by my tutor, Wendy McMurdo. She suggested that I look at the work of Eamonn Doyle. To say I was impressed is a gross understatement. It was one of the driving forces for me visiting Rencontres d’Arles and subsequently writing a blog entry on Eamonn Doyle. More about this in the following section titled “Research”, but it’s enough to say here that I used the assignment to both respond to the street and to tackle my own fears about street photography.

Note: my response to exercise 5.2 can be found here.

Research

My research started with Eamonn Doyle and especially his work titled ON. I love his gritty in-your-face style, and seeing them printed in very large format at Arles really lit the fuse (see my blog post here on his show titled END).

Via another student, I was switched onto the work of Lukas Kuzma. I find his punchy, high-contrast style very interesting. I was particularly fascinated by a Blurb publication that he made called Continuum. Not only are the photos engaging, but on page 11 he writes about his technique and he states that he photographs mostly without looking through the viewfinder. The light went on for me at this point because the idea of pointing a camera at a stranger in the street is something that I struggle with.

The fabulous work of Alex Webb also formed an influence, especially his series The Suffering of Light (Webb, 2011). The style is quite different from Doyle and Kuzma, but the highly saturated, contrasty and multi-layered photos he produces have real depth and interest. There’s a subtle quirkiness – his photos are often of movement in flux and unusual situations which I find very engaging.

Into this mix came the book Diane Arbus:In the Beginning (Rosenheim, 2016). I wrote a blog article about the book in which we can see her earlier work, but in which it is clear that her clear-eyed style was already fully formed some time before the photos which formed the basis of the famous Aperture book.

Concept Development & Process

The work of Eamonn Doyle formed the key aspiration for this assignment. The method of Lukas Kuzma gave me hope that perhaps I could make a small step towards my aspiration. The work of Alex Webb and Diane Arbus formed more of a background influence – I can best describe it as being alert for more interesting people – the slightly quirky characters that are attention-grabbers. For the rest, it was a desire to continue my progression, established over my last four assignments, of not repeating what I’d done before, but to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

In terms of process, I took the part 5 title literally: Photography is Simple. I wanted to replicate the long-established street aesthetic of using monochrome (a nod to Doyle, Kuzma and Arbus although Doyle and Kuzma also create colour work). I also wanted to set the camera so that all I had to do was look and press the button. I knew in advance that focus would be a challenge, so I decided that hyperfocal focusing was the answer. I used aperture priority, set to f/8, set the small zoom lens to 23mm (to give me a 35mm equivalent on my camera with an APS-C sensor) and focused at the hyperfocal distance (about 3.6m). All I had to do was to be at least 1.8m from my subject and all should be fairly sharp. I also set my camera to produce JPEGs using a B&W film simulation mode, something that Fuji have some experience with! I kept the camera at about waist level for almost all of the shots. It took a little while to get used to this position and the impact on framing, but eventually I settled into a rhythm of working. I found it was a lot of fun working this way – it was about not thinking, just reacting. I felt it was a very liberating way to work – photography truly is simple!

I visited the area on two occasions and took over 550 photos in total. The method might be liberating, but it does result in a lot of strangely framed shots! Again, I’m glad that I’m not using film.

Selects & selection process

The process that I followed this time was to print my “picks” as a contact sheet onto a page of A3 and use that to look at periodically to come to a conclusion about my selects. Primarily I looked for photos that were interesting in some way. Maybe they showed an interesting group of people, an expression or some kind of interaction, rather than just “people in the street”.

Contact Sheets

Following are the contact sheets containing the full set of photos including exposure data and an indication of my selects.

Assessment Criteria

1. Demonstration of technical and visual skills

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

The technique I used was more-or-less a given: keep it simple. This allowed me to focus on what was happening around me. The experience was enlightening because it gave me a hint about how much mental processing I’m doing when thinking about photography. I suspect that this isn’t always a good thing because it gets in the way of seeing. The simple point-and-shoot technique was very liberating. Since I could not realistically compose with my camera at waist level, I did a little cropping in post-processing to focus attention where I wanted it. In some cases, I also needed to lighten shadows as the B&W film simulation in-camera could be a little harsh on the contrast. On my second shoot, I used exposure compensation of +2/3 to +1 stop to assist with the shadows.

2. Quality of outcome

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

From a presentation point of view, I believe that the photos form a coherent set with the use of monochrome throughout and landscape 3:2 format. I believe that I achieved what I set out to do: to communicate what the street looks like, to give a feel for the people. I think that there’s enough consistency that this set could also work printed as a grid, in a large format in a similar way to Eamonn Doyle’s works at Rencontres d’Arles.

In exercise 5.1, we’re asked to not “evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame”. Several of the photos nicely link to this point in terms of what I didn’t notice at the time such as the expression on the girl’s face and the way she holds her body in 08Oct2016-004 and the child peeking out of the pram in 10Sep2016-154. There’s for certain a strong element of chance, but perhaps it’s also the case that the subconscious picks up on things that simply don’t register in the conscious mind.

3. Demonstration of creativity

Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice

I believe that I have answered the brief in a creative way, inspired by photographers that I admire. I had to invent my own process for being comfortable at least starting with street photography – something a long way out of my comfort zone. The process was a combination of a technical approach plus pushing myself to get out there and not be so shy. From a personal development point of view, I think the process has been valuable – I have surprised myself my being able to do it in the first place and secondly coming back with (in my opinion) some results of a decent quality.

4. Context

Reflection, research, critical thinking

Of the photographers mentioned in the research section, there’s no question in my mind that Eamonn Doyle had the greatest influence over this work. I had to work out for myself how I might approach the assignment technically to capture some of the feeling of Doyle’s work. The artistic influence of Doyle plus the practical technique of Kuzma allowed me to pull it all together.

References

Geneva, Switzerland. (2016) Google Maps [online] At: http://www.maps.google.com (Accessed 12 September 2016)

Kuzma, Lukas (2015) Continuum. At: http://www.blurb.com/b/6105438-continuum (Accessed 12 September 2016)

Rosenheim, Jeff (2016) Diane Arbus: In the Beginning. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Webb, Alex (2011) The Suffering of Light. London: Thames and Hudson

1 thought on “Assignment 5 – photography is simple

  1. Pingback: EYV: Reflections on the journey | darrylgodfrey

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