Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Narrative Picture Essay

 For this exercise I decided to photograph the process of making a pizza at home in the style of a magazine or cookery book, I wanted to practise the lighting skill learnt in the previous assignment.
 I set up a single light with a soft box and a large white reflector for infill when required, I had decided to keep things simple. Throughout the images I tried to include a sense of movement and a light airy feel.

Add 500ml of hand hot water

Add a teaspoon of sugar

Add a teaspoon of yeast

and 900gms of  strong bread flour


Mix until smooth

Add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt

Knead for 10 minutes

Test that the dough springs back when prodded

Form into tangerine sized balls

Sprinkle with flour, cover with a damp teatowel and leave  in a  warm place for 2 hours

Meanwhile prepare your chosen toppings

Tear up a ball of Mozzerella

When risen stretch out the dough until thin

Spread with tomato sauce, I use passatta

Sprinkle over topping

Bake in a very hot oven, gas mark 9, until cheese is bubbling

Enjoy !!!!
  I then took these pictures and laid them out as I felt they should look if printed out as an article, I varied the size of the images to vary the importance of the content and make it more interesting and engaging to view.

  I have enjoyed this exercise it has helped with previsualising what the finished article will look like and the importance of planning , but also an element of capturing what is happening in front of you and not trying to control it too much.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Ernst Haas, A World in Ruins 1945-48, Rupertinum, Salzburg

  Whilst on a recent visit to Salzburg in Austria I was lucky enough to be able to view an exhibition of photographs taken by Ernst Haas (1921-1986) taken after the end of the Second World War in Vienna. At this time much of Vienna was in ruins as it had been the subject of fifty two air raids and the Battle of Vienna which raged from the 5th -13th April 1945. ( Lichtblau,A,2005).
  Haas was advised to photograph this world around him by the publisher of DU magazine, Alfred Kubler, who Haas had shown his early, more pictorialist, work to in the hope of getting it published.( Chardin,V, 2010 ) Kubler showed Haas the work of Swiss Photographer Werner Bischof ( 1916-1954 ) who was documenting the destruction of Berlin in a much more straight photographic style.

Werner Bischof, Reichstag Building, Berlin 1946
   Spurred on by the power of Bischofs' work Haas took his camera out on to the streets of Vienna, many of these early pictures show Haas' use of bright sun and deep shadows to deconstruct the shapes of the ruined buildings, which echoes his later work in New York where he skillfully used colours and reflections to a similar end. His most successful pictures of this period show the people of Vienna trying to carry on with life in their devastated city, sometimes the people are tiny figures in an overwhelming sea of broken bricks and masonry, but the most compelling are those which juxtapose the devastation with ordinary life, even trying to find a small amount of pleasure.

Ernst Haas, Sunbathers, Vienna 1946-48
  In the picture of the sunbathing family above Haas has managed to find an element of humour, in what must have been dreadful circumstances, which makes it all the more touching and effective.
 Haas photographed many of the invalids returned from the war with missing legs, once again using clever juxtapositions to highlight their loss, rows of wheelchair users watching a foot ball match, whilst others spectators legs dangle into the top of the picture from the seats above. The young legs of a group of boys retreating from a burnt and discarded false leg. Still Haas manages to find a kind of black humour in this situation.

Ernst Haas, Homecoming Prisoner, Vienna, 1946-48
    This picture has a certain humour, but it also causes you to start asking questions, who is he waiting for, why isn't he wearing his leg. Also because of how he is carrying his leg, he has a kind of awful symmetry.
   Haas also photographed the soup kitchens that were springing up all over Vienna, there were terrible food shortages, the daily ration was limited 800 calories per day and rationing did not end until 1953. These images tend to show a thoroughly demoralized population, all the structure of their society has been destroyed and they were also confused, were they as Ernst Fischer states " Liberated Austrians or defeated Germans ", as approximately 800,000 Austrians had fought alongside the Nazis.
  It is for pictures of these returning soldiers that Haas first found fame, he was apparently waiting at the station to collect a model when he noticed a crowd gathering. The crowd was waiting for a train bringing returned prisoners of war, Haas mainly concentrated on the faces of the waiting crowd, which is mainly wives and mothers. The tension in these pictures is palpable as is the relief of recognition, Haas cleverly uses a beam of light to single out one old woman, eyes closed in prayer around her head a halo of white hair, this use of light would become a trademark for haas' later work.( Zuckriegl,M, 2005) Part of this set of images became one of Haas' most famous.

Returning Prisoner of War, Vienna, 1946-48
  Once again we see Haas' use of the tension between the happy and relaxed returnee and the worried and despairing mother holding up the picture of her missing son, the man is totally oblivious to her.
   The photograph that affected me the most shows the sheer raw emotion of a mother embracing her returning son.
Ernst Haas, Returning Prisoner of War, Vienna, 1946-48
  The mothers face seems to show all the complex emotions that we all feel at these times of high drama.
  I find it interesting that a photographer who in his later career was probably best known for his more abstract colour images, should have started his professional life with such a set of very human photographs. It is easy to see why this set of images catapulted Haas into the limelight and opened the doors to the Magnum agency, I have read them derided as snapshots, if that is true it shows that an empathy with your subject is more important than technical knowledge.

  References : Lichtblau.A,2005,Ernst Haas A World in Ruins,Vienna 1945-1948, A Photographic Essay,Verlag,Weitra
                     Chardin,V,2010,Ernst Haas,Thames & Hudson,London.
                     Zuckriegl,M,2005,Ernst Haas A World in Ruins, Vienna 1945-1948, A photographic Essay,Verlag,Weitra,

Monday, 24 October 2011

Assignment 4, Applying Lighting Techniques

  For this assignment I decided to make a series of portraits of my daughter, Hope, I obviously needed to fulfill the brief of the exercise and show texture, shape, form and colour, but I also wanted to find out how lighting would affect the mood of the portraits.
   Portrait photography has a very important place in the history photography as it was its' first great commercial success as the huge popularity of the carte de visite in the 1850's, where small photographic portraits were used as calling cards, or as collector cards of the great and good.(Badger,G 2007)
  It was not until I started to research portrait photography for this assignment that I realized that it was such a complicated and contentious issue. The debate seems to revolve around what should and does a photographic portrait, portray.We have all heard terms like "the eyes are the window to the soul" and that a portrait should capture the character or the secret inner being of the sitter, but David Bailey(1938-) states that " should you set out to portray ' inner character' in a photographic portrait you will find aim is a will-o'-the-wisp"(Hughes,G 1981). He carries on to say that the best you can hope to achieve is a caricature of the subject and that by close examination of the sitter the photographer should try to exaggerate their prominent features or gestures.This seems a rather shallow approach and seems unlikely to achieve a flattering result. Here we must remember that Bailey is a celebrity portrait photographer so his subjects are well known and so the public have a preconceived perception of them that Bailey has to deliver, they come with a back story. This highlights the two types of portrait, the society and the social, the society relates to the portraits of the aristocracy and high achievers and the social is of the man in the street. If we look at some of the social portraits of the past, such as those of August Sander(1876-1964), Walker Evans(1903-1975) or Paul Strand(1886-1976), we have no idea who the subjects are, we can make assumptions from the attached titles and their clothes and surroundings but we are unlikely to find out their names or backgrounds, we therefore see them as types. If we take Strands' Young Boy, Gondeville,France 1951 as an example.

Young Boy,Gondeville,France 1951
  We can see from his clothes and surroundings that he probably lives in the countryside, that he possibly works on a farm, so he becomes a type, he is a young French farmhand from the 1950's. Strand is devolved of any responsibility to try to get beyond any surface appearances, to try to get the boy to drop his guard, in fact it is boys' direct, impenetrable gaze which gives the picture its power.( Hoffman, M 1976)
   The camera is seen as a very impassive tool, " the camera never lies", so does that mean with these social portraits that the photographer has no effect on the outcome, Strand chose this particular boy, possibly told him to stand in front of the old wooden building, possibly to get out of the sun, maybe for effect. Even with the secret, candid portraits taken by both Strand and Evans, they both still chose their subjects. In Evans' famous series of New York subway pictures he took truly candid pictures of his fellow travelers in an attempt to capture unposed portraits, because it is the pose that which the photographer is trying to strip away, as Roland Barthes(1915-1980) states, " once I feel myself being observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of  "posing," I instantaneously make another body for myself , I transform myself in advance into an image."( Barthes,R 1993)

Subway Passengers, New York City, 1938
  Although Evans has achieved his aim of the completely unposed portrait, the decision was still his as to when the exposure was made, and his preferred type of subject shows very strongly, Evans states himself that "The secret of photography is that the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler. The mind works on the machine." (Bosworth,P 2005). This problem was finally resolved by Phillip-Lorca diCorca (1953-) in 2000 with his series Heads, the portraits were taken automatically as the unaware subjects passed over a predetermined spot, diCorca says that he was trying to capture individuals rather than types.
   Generally when we take a portrait we will try to influence its outcome, even at its most basic who has not been asked to smile for the camera, the problem with this approach is that it reinforces the "pose", how do we get beyond this. The most important thing is that the photographer must maintain control of the situation and then use that control to their advantage, the aim is to get the sitter to drop their public face, I do not think that any of the best portrait photographers would claim to uncover anyones' soul, Irving Penn(1917-2009) wrote " In portrait photography there is something more profound that we seek inside a person, while being painfully aware that a limitation of our medium is that the inside is record able only insofar as it is apparent on the outside . . . I have at times seduced myself into a mystical belief in the penetrative power of the camera, but reflection always brings me back to accepting the picture process as simply the bounce back of light from a momentary arrangement of atoms that are a face.But that is not to say the power of a tender word, or a clumsy one, to affect those atoms, can be overstated. When  light and the situation of the portrait picture are found and the sculptural arrangement made, it may be that the word is after all at the heart of the whole thing . . . Very often what lies behind the facade is rare and wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe." (Keaney,M 2010). 
   Portraitists have different methods of getting a subject to drop their facade, Penn would make a session last until his sitter was too tired to keep it up, Richard Avedon (1946-2004)  would sometimes use the same trick or he would quickly shock his sitters with a few words. He said to the anti-Semitic poet Ezra Pound, " I think you should know Mr Pound, that I'm Jewish " as he took his pictures, he did something similar to the dog loving Duke and Duchess of Windsor, telling them " I'm sorry I'm late. My taxi hit a dog." (Lahr,J 2008)

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor; Edward Duke of Windsor, 1957
 As you can see the words had their effect, the royal veneer has been stripped away and we see expressions of concern and angst.
    Lastly I want to look at the way Diane Arbus took her portraits , she told one of her students she would " stop at nothing to get the picture I wanted." and then this from Germaine Greer " She kept asking me all sorts of personal questions, and I became aware that she would only shoot when my face was showing tension or concern or boredom or annoyance ( and there was plenty of that, let me tell you), . . . It was tyranny. Really tyranny. Diane Arbus ended up straddling me- this frail little person  kneeling, keening over my face. I felt completely terrorized by the blasted lens. It was a helluva struggle. Finally I decided. " Damn it, you're not going to do this to me, lady. I'm not going to be photographed like one of your freaks! " So I stiffened my face like a mask. Diane went right on merrily photographing- clickclickclickclick- cajoling me, teasing me, flattering me. This frail rosepetal creature kept at me like a laser beam. . . . It was a battle between us. Who won? It was a draw. After that afternoon I never saw her again. I never saw the photographs either."
  All of this bullying and cajoling and wearing down to the point of fatigue, might give us interesting portraits but does it show us the true person, or just a scared, bored or tired person. Or can we never really capture a person in a photograph, will any portrait only ever be as Barthes states ' a likeness of another likeness ad ifinitum '
  As I stated earlier I have taken a series of portraits of my daughter to see the effect of different types of lighting.
Covered Alley, Side Lighting
  I have taken the portrait above in a covered alleyway, which has given a short lit effect with a nice triangle of light under the nearest eye, which is reminiscent of Rembrandt lighting, named after the old master. The deep chiaroscuro gives good sculpting to the facial features and the side light reveals the texture of the skin, although you do not necessarily texture in a portrait.( Prakel, D 2007)

Covered Alley
  By moving Hope to the other side of the alleyway and closer to the entrance, I have achieved broad lighting. Now most of the face is lit, there is still nice gentle modelling to the face, which fits with her age better and because of the more frontal light texture is reduced.
Silhouette at the Bus Stop
  This nice crisp silhouette was taken in front of a local bus stop which had had its poster taken out, I had my white balance set to auto and it came out with these lovely blues and greens.This obviously shows Hopes' shape, luckily it does not show the face she was pulling at having to pose in front of a bus stop outside the local shops.
In Shade, In Hall just inside front Door
   This is the technique I normally use if I am asked to take a portrait, sitting the subject in the hall with the door open and shooting from outside, keeping them out of direct sunlight, gives a lovely flattering light. I have set the white balance to cloudy to get as much warmth and colour into the picture as possible.

Large Window, Gold Reflector
   Here I have stood Hope next to a patio door, which has given quite a strong side light and the I have lowered the contrast across her face by using a gold reflector as an infill. The gold reflector has added some warmth to her skin and lifted the colour in her eye.The side light has provided a good modelling light.

Flash Head, Barn Doors, No Diffusion
  In this image I have used a flash head  with barn doors and no diffuser aimed at the back of Hopes head to show the texture in her hair, a small light at a low angle should reveal texture, so I have tried to get the light to glance the side of her head.( Hunter,F. Biver,S. Fuqua,P.2007) . I have placed a white reflector facing the light to bounce some light back onto Hopes face.

Rim Light, Undiffused flash
   Once again using an undiffused flash head with barn doors to create this rim lit portrait, the light was placed slightly forward and to the side of Hope and the camera lens was flagged to stop flare as the light was pointing almost straight at the camera. This lighting shows a good outline to the face and nice texture in the hair.

Single Flash, No Diffuser
  I have used a single flash with no diffuser here to try to recreate the kind of high contrast portraits made by Irving Penn and E.O Hoppe (1878-1972) in the early Twentieth century. The single small light has created real texture on the skin and the deep shadow has created some drama.

Facing out 6 feet from patio door
   This is similar to the picture taken in the hall, only Hope here is standing about six feet in from the patio door on a bright sunny day. As you can see the light is quite flat with very little modelling, but it is very flattering, because the light is bouncing in off of the wall it has become a large light, even though the sun itself counts as a small light.
Single Flash, Diffuser
  For this portrait I have used a single flash with a soft box fitted, the light is placed about four feet to the right of Hope, angled down at about forty five degrees above her. This set up approximates the normal angle of the sun, this has given a bright, modern feel to picture, with gentle form and not too much texture. Here I have influenced Hope to do something, I mentioned she has a slightly lazy eye and this was her response, I know its  
not bearing her soul, but its a start.

  I have included this last picture just to prove it was not all hard work for Hope, she loves it really.
  What I have learnt from this assignment is that portraiture is a very complicated subject and that just when I feel I have grasped all the different arguments and implications there seems to be another twist to throw things back into confusion again, and when I look back at this blog in a few days or weeks time I will think of all the things I meant to say and haven't.
  As for lighting portraits, I have so much to learn.
 One last picture, this was why Hope was so upset down at the bus stop in front of all the shoppers.

Oh the Shame for a Thirteen Year Old
                  Badger,G,2007,The genius of Photography,Quadrille,London.
                  Hughes,G,1981,David Baileys Book of Photography,J M Dent & Sons,London.
                  Barthes,R,1993,Camera Lucida,Vintage,London.
                  Bosworth,P,2005,Diane Arbus A Biography,Vintage,London.
                  Hoffman,M,1976,Paul Strand Sixty Years of Photographs,Aperture,New York.
                  Keaney,M,2010,Irving Penn Portraits,National Portrait Gallery Publications,London.
                  Lahr,J,2008,Performance Richard Avedon,Abrams,New York.
                  Hunter,F,Biver,S,Fuqua,P,2007,Light Science & Magic, An Introduction to Photographic Lighting,Focal Press,Oxford.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Outdoors at Night continued

  Sorry about the break in this Blog, I pressed the wrong button. There follows some more pictures of my local Chinese takeaway.

China Palace
China Palace
  I like the way this series shows the way you can work your way into a subject, from a fairly weak opening shot, to the last two which I think are pretty strong. The first with the reflection has a nice variety of angles and the second has a nice connection with the lady working behind the counter, but shows here in her environment.
   This was a sticker on a Subway shop window, I decided to use a long lens and a wide aperture to isolate the hand from the background and really boosted the colours to give a strong graphic image.

Marriages Mill
 This mill was the closest thing I could find to a floodlit building locally, the building has an interesting combination of textures but the lights from the windows over power the picture.

Salvation Army
  Our local Salvation Army building has this neon cross on top so I decided to try and combine it with some light trails of the traffic passing in front of it.
Railings and Light Trail
  Taking pictures at night and being able to use light trails makes ordinary scenes into something more special.

Shoes Poster
  This is the sort picture I really like, you have to look twice to work out what is going on, the juxtaposition of the giant shoes and the light trails makes for an interesting image and brings to my mind the work of Walker Evans.
Neon Reflection
  This is a straight forward reflected light in a puddle of the type we have all seen before.

  This image is very noisy because it was taken at a high ISO on a compact camera, but it is a nice bright, colourful image and I like the repeated stop sign.

  Most of these pictures were taken late at night so they show a deserted world, which in itself is quite interesting, because they show all the traces of a human world without the interaction of people.

The Queen Bee
  I was drawn to this scene by the coloured lighting and the silhouettes of the tree branches triangulating the frame.
Shopping Trollies
  This is another scene that would look completely different during the day, the shadows cast by the streetlights add the extra dimension.

Lone Figure
  I love the long shadow thrown by this lone figure cast by the street lamp above, and the fact that because of the complete silhouette you have no idea of the sex of the figure or whether they are walking towards or away from you. It brings to mind the lone figure that was used by Andre Kertesz throughout his career ( Dyer,G 2005).
Self Portrait, Bus Stop
  On my way home one night I spotted this bus shelter with its poster missing and thought I could use it as a giant light box and make a silhouette, so using my cameras timer I took this self portrait.
  I think that this series of pictures show the huge variety of different types of image available after dark, especially now with the excellent high ISO capabilities of the new crop of cameras allowing the user to hand hold in quite dark situations allowing the kind of street photography that was only possible during daylight.