Category Archives: Part 5: Viewpoint

Part 5 – exercise 5.1

Brief

Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.

Approach

The starting point for my thinking about this exercise was the quote from Alexia Clorinda in the course notes:

I don’t pretend that I can describe the ‘other’. The camera for me is more a meter that measures the distance between myself and the other. It’s about the encounter between myself and the other; it’s not about the other.

The key word in this quote is “encounter”. The important thing is the interaction between photographer and subject – it’s not just one or the other, it’s both. The depth of the interaction is the real measure of importance.

Looking further into Clorinda’s work, I noticed her series titled Music Visions. The photos in this series are very evocative (her word) of being in a particular place, at a particular time. It seems to me that the encounter is intimate and personal. They are subjects that I can imagine she has empathy with.

The online Oxford English Dictionary gives several meanings of the word empathy, but the common meaning is defined as “the ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.”. Dictionary.com has a broader definition, moving away from just empathising with a person: “the imaginative ascribing to an object, as natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself”. This last meaning I found interesting and it brought to mind a long-running project of mine …

Lélex Farmhouse

Lélex Farmhouse

There’s an abandoned farmhouse not too far from where I live, just over the French border outside of the village of Lelex. I’ve explored in and around it, making three visits over several years and taking more than 250 photos. The place has an air of melancholy. It speaks to me of lives lived, loneliness, isolation and ultimately, decay. Like many photographers, these places intrigue me. Items of everyday life are still there such as old wine bottles, crockery, even a hand of cards left on the table. The upstairs rooms have old, dusty beds and there’s a half-destroyed sofa. I make up stories about the people who lived there and try to imagine what it must have been like. There’s a strong feeling of being abandoned and even a slightly creepy feeling which I find hard to shake whenever I’m there. Too many B movies, I guess.

I used this exercise as the opportunity to review the photos that I’ve taken in the past with a different eye. I was never happy with my selects before, so it seemed like a good opportunity to re-think.

Photos

 drg-26apr2015-101 drg-26apr2015-090  drg-26apr2015-087
 drg-26apr2015-083  drg-26apr2015-062 drg-26apr2015-061
drg-26apr2015-058 drg-26apr2015-042  drg-26apr2015-024
drg-26apr2015-015  drg-26apr2015-009

These photos are my picks from an outing in 2015 when I wanted to try out a LensBaby. I felt that a distorted look suited the mixed feelings that the place provoked in me. To emphasise the age and neglect, I cropped to square format, converted to B&W and gave all the photos a gentle warm tone.

Review

When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t 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 (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4). In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way:

Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.

drg-26apr2015-083

My select is based on the feeling of abandonment. The thick cobwebs on the old chain indicate age, but they also touch on the B-movie creepy feelings I have when I’m there.

On examining this photo for this exercise, I noticed something that I didn’t see at the time: that the cobwebs almost look like hands reaching for the chains.

I must give up late night horror movies …

Part 5 – exercise 5.2

Brief

Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?

Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.

Following is my response to a photo by John Davies from his series Fuji City.

Figure 1: John Davies: Fuji 515, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, March 2008

Figure 1: Fuji 515, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, March 2008

Figure 2: Mont Blanc

Figure 2: Mont Blanc

In my photo I am responding to Davies’s stylistic approach of putting a dramatic mountain in an incidental position in the frame. In the area in which I live, Mont Blanc is an important visitor. I say “visitor” because frequently it is obscured by clouds and there aren’t that many times of the year when it is clearly visible. Normally, I’m thinking about getting up high and keeping the foreground to a minimum, or at least making it attractive (the lake, forest etc.). In this case, I had to turn my thinking around completely to mimic the Davies style. I had to think about including railway lines, industrial buildings – in short, something banal – in order to change the context.

Using the Barret (1997) classification:

Internal context: obviously this is a mixture of the mountain and the foreground elements. The mountain is in the background, and is small compared with the foreground – it has a secondary role.

External context: the presentational environment either in the original setting or in this blog is more-or-less the same. The photos are presented simply with only minimal caption information, as might appear in a gallery.

Original context: the causal environment is probably the key context here because of the deliberate choice to make something secondary which most people would see as primary. By choice of camera angle and use of a wide angle lens, the physical environment has been distorted in a way to focus our attention on the foreground. In effect, the context has been manipulated to show that Mt Fuji/Mont Blanc is part of the environment, but it’s no big deal – it’s just there.

References

Figure 1. Davies, John. Fuji 515, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, March 2008 [Photograph] At: http://www.johndavies.uk.com/fuji%20text.htm (Accessed on 9 August 2016)

Barrett, Terry (1997) Photographs and Contexts. At: www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf (Accessed on 9th August 2016)

Part 5 – exercise 5.3

Brief

Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Behind the gare Saint-Lazare

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Behind the gare Saint-Lazare

Pivotal Point

The pivotal point that my eye returns to in this image is the wooden structure in the water, especially the point nearest the man. This is the launching point and for me is somehow the focus – more so even than the man himself. I think it helps that the structure appears to be moving due to the ripples around it. I can imagine the man walking along it and then pushing off to clear as much water as possible.

Context

From a contextual point of view, we can see that the interior context of this photo is quite complex – there’s a lot happening. Not only do we have the central subject of the man leaping over the water, but we also have a figure in the background who seems to be looking through a fence. The poster on the fence contains the word “Railowsky” – apparently the name of a circus. One of the websites I came across even suggested that the leaping man might be seen as a kind of acrobat. Seen in this way, I wonder if Cartier-Besson recognised the potential for humour – not impossible as many of his photos contain quite obvious humour.

There’s not much we can say about the external context except to point out that the image is kind of standalone – it is so well-known that it would be difficult to appropriate it for other uses just with the external context. But marketing people are endlessly creative …

From the point of view of the original context, Cartier-Bresson says in the documentary ‘L’amour tout court’ that he just stuck his Leica’s lens through some railings and couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder because it was blocked by a railing. The hazard of a rangefinder! So the “causal environment” was not optimal and it is a great credit to Carter-Besson’s skill and experience that he managed to capture such an image. Having said that, we can imagine that the photo accurately captures “the way it was” – it doesn’t particularly select a small scene that we couldn’t imagine is not a representative part of the bigger environment.

References

L’amour tout court. (2001) At: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF (Accessed 27 March 2016)