Simultaneously everywhere and nowhere

Photography used to be a very ‘hands on’ physical process. The large format cameras that, for example, Ansel Adams, carted around the great American landscape and the chemical manufacture of a final image, it was very evident what was being produced. The photographer would end up with ‘a photograph’ that others may be invited to view. There are hundreds of photographs in my parents’ loft, documenting the holidays and key events of family life. Ironically it was Kodak that first produced the digital camera, which would ultimately lead to the company’s demise. The onscreen existence of the digital image and the ease at which it can be reproduced and distributed makes it very difficult to put a value on the original. If Vincent Van Gogh painted 100 exact copies of the Sunflowers would each one be worth the same? Would his initial painting be worth less because of the 99 other exact representations of the same scene. Bull (2009, p. 27) refers to this as ‘dematerialisation of the image’, that we increasingly live in a virtual world of copies – similacra – for which the real original has been lost.

We live in what Manovich calls ‘the society of the screen’ (Manovich 2001: 94). Previously a photograph taken at a party maight not be seen by everyone in the photograph when it is developed, whereas today photographs uploaded to web 2.0 sites such as Facebook, can be tagged and shared amongst entire groups of people . The ability to look at images on mobile, handheld devices often returns the image to a social object to be passed around and discussed (Manovich 2001: 114). Hundreds of thousands of photographs are stored in the attics of houses, never to be viewed again with such interest and meaning. iPads and other hand held devices have enabled photographs to be shared and enjoyed, easily accessible on social networking sites.

Bull (2009) refers to this digital image as ‘transient photography’. It is able to be manipulated, transmitted and at risk of being erased. It is the kind of photography most people now make, use and view most of the time.
Rather than fixed, physical objects such as negatives, prints and frames, transient photography centres on virtual, changeable elements such as digital files that are produced, reproduced, transmitted digitally and not printed, but viewed on screens. It could also be argued that digital files enable the image to last longer than the life of printer ink. Printed photographs will one day fade away. Maybe in the future people will be campaigning for the protection and survival of the Internet since so much of our lives exist within it.

Photography is a continually evolving media that has enabled great advances in science, technology, exploration and communication. Despite this success, there is a longing sense of guilt within the photographic community that photography has betrayed it’s roots, and that just as the photographer is usually absent for his/her photographs, photography itself is in danger of being absent from its own history.

References

Bull, S. (2009) Photography. Oxford: Routledge

Manovich (2001) The Language of New Media. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Monkeying Around with Camera Settings

An orangutang at Twycross Zoo, enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend sunshine.

An orangutang at Twycross Zoo, enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend sunshine.

Summer’s here! At last! Again! It was a brilliant day to visit the zoo, especially with it being a Bank Holiday weekend. Twycross Zoo, the World Primate Centre, claims to have the largest collection of apes and monkeys in the world. I thought it could be a possible place for some of my People and Place coursework. Or should that be Homo-sapiens and Place?! 

Since I wasn’t taking any photos to fulfill any course requirements, it also gave me a chance to just go out and take photographs for the sake of taking photographs. With the sunshine being so bright I first relied on the AV setting on my camera at f/8, and with the ISO at 100.

Following DPP I have also got into the habit of keeping the ‘highlight clipping’ indicator on, so that I can see if my photographs are going to be overexposed. At first today I tended to think that too much highlight clipping could be corrected on the computer, so it didn’t matter. However, I then thought I’d experiment with the ‘manual’ mode on my camera. Far too often I rely on using the Aperture Priority, but now I understand more about what my camera is doing, I felt I should start to build up my confidence controlling all elements of the exposure, to produce the image in my mind, instead of what the camera sees.

Using the highlight clipping as a guide, I used ‘M’ mode to adjust the shutter speed to produce the exposure I wanted. I used an aperture of f/8 to have a longish depth of field. This was particularly useful in the chimp enclosures where it was tricky having to photograph into the glass partitions.

Chimp at Twycross Zoo.

Chimp at Twycross Zoo.

  Having to use ‘manual mode’ slowed down my photo taking and made me think more about what I was taking a picture of. I will try to use this setting much more often.

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Jerry Spagnoli

After digitally creating my own Daguerreotype, I wondered whether there were any photographers using the original photographic process today. Whilst searching on the Internet I came across the American photographer Jerry Spagnoli. In 1995, after familiarising himself with the technique that was invented in 1839, Spagnoli started his project ‘The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the 20th Century”. His project features views of the metropolis and historical figures. He also photographed Times Square entering the new millennium. Examples of his work can be viewed on his website.

Spagnoli’s images have a rich, timeless quality with a subtle range of monochrome tones. The long exposure times that he would have needed illustrates the hustle and bustle of people passing in front of his Daguerreotype. I tend to rely on altering the aperture setting on my camera, but Spagnoli’s exposures have inspired me to experiment more with adjusting the shutter speed. Maybe one day I’ll have a go at making my own Daguerreotype!

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Settling down with Squarespace

Website update

Website update

I have now been using Squarespace 6 to host and build my website for 10 months now, so I am becoming confident with how to control and construct its layout. The image above is a screen shot for my latest home page. As I progress through the course I am becoming drawn towards travel photography, therefore I wanted this to be reflected in the landing page for my website. I chose the image above of the P & O cruise ship Ventura, sailing on the Mediterranean Sea. I loved the bright colours and the amount of activity in the photograph, making an interesting introduction for my work.

Squarespace 6 is such an easy platform to become familiar with. There are a variety of interesting templates to use for portfolio websites and blogs. I chose to have large images with a traditional navigation menu in a column on the left hand side. All of the key information is there, together with titles for portfolio images. I could have just had a ‘portfolio’ tab, but I wanted the viewer to be able to select a particular area of my work. You will also see social media icons that link to other platforms. Again this is easy to set up on Squarespace 6.

Pages, collections, galleries, blogs, external links, can all be added by simply selecting the most appropriate block. You can also embed video and bits of html to make the most of other parts of the Internet.

Finally, two other features that attracted me to Squarespace 6 were that you could have an unlimited number of pages, blogs and images, as well as it being compatible with mobile tablets and smart phones. You’re not tied in to long contracts and it’s easy to link to a custom domain name. I suppose that’s more than ‘two other features’ but there’s just so much to love about this website builder. You can find out how I’ve used Squarespace 6 to build my website here.

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Reading round the subject

Before starting my People and Place module I thought it would be interesting to delve back through history to when portraiture photography began. Although I have taken many ‘snap shots’ of people before, I have never created a portrait before. This will be a situation way out of my comfort zone, so one way I thought of overcoming this is to take a greater interest in this genre from the outset. To tackle it head on!

Although this will be my third module, I have never really taken the time to consider the origins of photography. I would usually jump straight into my OCA course file and start. Whilst looking through Bull (2010), Bate (2009) and Angier (2007) I realised how there was a natural progression from the Niepce’s heliography and the invention of the daguerreotype to portrait photography. The more I read, the more I realised I needed to split the information up into 3 blog posts: The New Painting; Finding the Right Type; and Photography at Face Value. Researching and writing these posts enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the origins of photography and it’s close relationship to art.

Furthermore, these blog posts also encouraged me to develop good habits when referencing sources of information. I feel I am now able to start Project 1: People aware with a renewed interest and understanding of the genre of portrait photography.

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Photography at Face Value

Images of people are littered all over the Internet and throughout society, for example on social networks, for identification purposes, and to document. Bate (2009, p. 67) summarises these pictures of people as:

a shorthand description of a person.

In a fast-paced world a person’s image maybe the one chance they have to express their identity, to stand out from the crowd. Bate (2009) refers to portraits as being semiotic events, that we can gain a lot of information about a person from how they appear in the frame. Profile pictures on Facebook are a prime example of individuals wanting their ‘friends’ to connect with an image of their self which portrays them most accurately and at their best. A desire which has continued throughout the history of portraiture. A view supported by John Tagg who stated:

the centrality of the portrait is as a sign whose purpose is both the description of an individual and the inscription of social identity.

Daguerreotypomania marked the being of portrait photography in France. 9000 cameras were sold in the first 3 months, after Daguerre’s public announcement in 1839 of his invention of the daguerreotype (Angier, 2007, p. 79).

La daguerreotypomanie by Theodore Maurisset. French cartoon about the rush to try photography after Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre revealed his process in 1839.

La daguerreotypomanie by Theodore Maurisset.
French cartoon about the rush to try photography after Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre revealed his process in 1839.

Before the daguerreotype the only way someone could have their portrait produced was by being painted. To have your portrait painted was a luxury only the wealthy could afford. However the ‘photographic revolution’ of the nineteenth century meant that it was no longer a privilege to have your picture reproduced. Photography was a much quicker and cheaper method of making a portrait of someone. John Tagg defined this as the:

democracy of the image.

Tagg (1988) also believed that the main purpose of a portrait is both to describe the individual being photographed and to inscribe their social identity (Bate, 2009, p. 69). At last those lower down the ladder of society had an opportunity to express themselves and regain their identity. Despite the long exposure time, it was worth the wait, due to the extremely fine details that the daguerreotype manufactured.

Unfortunately not everyone was as easily impressed with this new advancement in image making, believing it to be just a mechanical act of transcription, which involved very little imagination. The photographer was merely a technician, The poet Charles Baudelaire was among this disillusioned group, who complained that:

our loathsome society rushed, like Narcissus, to contemplate its trivial image on the metallic plate. A form of lunacy, an extraordinary fanaticism, took hold of these new sun worshippers.

Charles Baudelaire (1955, p. 228)

In order to adopt this new ‘photography’ concept, photographers relied on the constructs used in painted portraiture. For example:

French photographer Nadar combined the existing formal rules of aristocratic portrait painting with the intimacy of the daguerreotype.

(Bate, 2009, p. 69)

Meanwhile photography also influenced those who continued to paint portraits, for example:

…the hand used to prop up the face to stop it moving in early photography became a conventional pose in portrait painting too, as a considered or thoughtful look.

(Bate, 2009, p. 69)

As photographic craze ensued, so did the development of the technology that went with it., and where photographs were taken. Angier (2007, p. 79) supports this by claiming that:

This rapid advance in the development of the new technology, fuelled by the public’s hunger for images of themselves, led to an equally rapid proliferation of commercial portrait studios.

Portrait studios were practical, with room to store the necessary chemicals, and convenient for clients to visit. Props were also able to be stored for use in portraits, making the commercial studio a place where social identity was a kind of performance for the camera. Bate (2009, 70) expands on this by explaining that:

To be pictured holding a learned book, or photographed in front of the backdrop of a stately home, revealed the aspirations of the sitter more than their actual status.

Stephen Bull (2009, p. 7) attributed this aspirational desire to the new middle-class (a product of the Industrial Revolution) wanting to ‘record what they looked like…and to see pictures of their peers in order to measure up to them’. This would be similar to the profile pictures on todays Facebook accounts, displaying a person’s public persona to the rest of their social network. This image will show how it’s subject wants to be best represented.

The public appetite for consuming more and more photography was a stimulus for refining and advancing the technology used. Andre-Adolphe-Eugene Disderi realised there could be a demand for a portable, smaller version of portraits. He invented the carte-de-visite in the 1850s. It was a pocket-sized calling card, which was cheap to produce compared to whole plate portraits. The cameras had several lenses to enable more photographs to be exposed onto one plate.

Charles Dickens carte-de-visite [Source: Bridgeman Education]

Meanwhile across the English Channel, an amateur scientist and botanist, William Henry Fox Talbot, was using a camera lucida to record the landscapes and plant life that he saw whilst travelling. A camera lucida contained a prism which enabled the viewer to see both what was in front of them and the surface they were drawing on at the same time. However, Talbot became increasingly frustrated with the amount of time it took to trace the images he wanted (Bull, 2009, p. 7). So, in a similar fashion to Niepce and Daguerre, he experimented with coating surfaces with light-sensitive chemical compounds. Talbot used silver halide to permanently ‘fix’ the image projected into his camera obscura to produce a fixed image. The resulting tonal values of the image, or ‘calotype’, were reversed, creating what we would consider to be a negative. By exposing another sensitised sheet over the negative, the photographer was able to develop an image that lacked the hard-edged precision of daguerreotypes (Badger, 2008). Therefore Talbot’s calotype had a distinct advantage over the daguerreotype in that the negative could be used to develop multiple copies, whereas Daguerre’s process confined the image to the plate it was exposed on to. Unfortunately for Talbot, he was reluctant to share his discovery as freely as Daguerre, who gifted the patent to his process to the french government.

William Henry Fox Talbot discovers photographic printing [Source: Bridgeman Education]

William Henry Fox Talbot discovers photographic printing [Source: Bridgeman Education]

Although Talbot’s technique produced images that lacked the fine detail of a daguerreotype, he eventually improved the process in 1851 by using glass as a support in the wet collodion process. Consequently Talbot’s invention became the preferred method for portrait photographers, because it enabled multiple copies of a negative to be developed, ending the daguerreotype as the popular choice for portraiture.

References:

Books

Angier, R. (2007) Train Your Gaze: The Theory and Practice of the Contemporary Portrait. Switzerland: AVA Publishing.

Badger, G. (2008) The Genius of Photography. London: Quadrille Publishing.

Bate, D.(2009) Photography (Key Concepts). Oxford: Berg.

Baudelaire, C. (1955)  “The Salon of 1859”, in The Mirror of Art (translated by Jonathan Mayne). Phaidon Press.

Bull, S. (2009) Photography. Oxford: Routledge.

Tagg, J. (1988) The Burden of Representation. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Online Images

Maurisset, Theodore (1840) “La Daguerreotypomanie” (lithograph). [online image]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington. Available from: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002722650/ [4/5/13]

McConnell, James Edwin (1903 – 1995) “Fox Talbot discovers photographic printing, 1962 (gouache on paper)”. [online image]. Private Collection. Available from: http://www.bridgemaneducation.com/ImageView.aspx?result=2&balid=289387 %5B4/5/13%5D.

Unknown English Photographer (? – 1900) “Charles Dickens (photo). [online image]. Private Collection. Available from: http://www.bridgemaneducation.com/ImageView.aspx?result=57&balid=611472 [4/5/13]

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Making a Daguerreotype

Whilst I was reading about how Louis Daguerre perfected his process of fixing an image permanently, and since I have just completed DPP, I thought I’d challenge myself to use Photoshop to recreate the effect of a daguerreotype on a digital image.
I chose to use a photograph of Fountains Abbey because it had a clear subject, the abbey, that would be large and clear enough as a daguerreotype. I was liked the volume of the trees that surrounded it and how the water in the foreground leads the viewer into the picture.

Fountains Abbey original6
Once I had opened the image in Photoshop I converted it to black and white. Then, because of the long exposure experienced when using a camera obscura, the people in the photograph would not have been so clearly visible. Therefore I used the ‘Healing Brush Tool’ to remove them from the frame. Another problem was that the fast exposure on my DSLR had made the water appear too sharp, so I used the adjustment brush to blur the water.

Since daguerreotypes were exposed on metal, I found a scratched metallic texture on the internet and used it to overlay the image. Once this was complete the image still lacked something, the sky in the original Fountains Abbey photograph was over exposed and appeared too white for a daguerreotype. Remembering the task in DPP: Exercise 22, I decided to find a cloudy image that could be used. After looking through my images I decided to use the one below, taken in Porto. It seemed to have just enough cloud without being over-dramatic.

Clouds5

Once I had uploaded the file into Photoshop I used the Quick Selection Brush to select the clouds, and then copied and pasted them into a new layer, which was placed underneath the image of Fountains Abbey. After that I used the Quick Selection Brush again to remove the over-exposed, blown-out sky of the original image, revealing the Porto clouds behind. Finally I used the ‘Burn’ tool to darken some of the foliage on the trees. You can see my finished daguerreotype below. I enjoyed challenging myself to use the latest technology to reproduce an example of the earliest photo technology.

Fountains Abbey Daguerreotype

 

 

 

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Finding the Right Type

Founders of photography Niepce and Daguerre with photographer (chromolitho) [Source: Bridgeman Education]

In a previous post, A New Painting, I referred to how Joseph Nicephore Niepce made the innovative breakthrough of creating a permanent photographic image in c.1826. Before then painting was the main method of recording an image on paper.

Unfortunately Nicéphore Niépce died in 1833, and so he had very little time to refine and build on his discovery. For a short while he collaborated with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre to refine the process. He was a decorator, manufacturer of mirrors and panorama painter of theatrical stage illusions. Daguerre’s artistic and stage design led him to invent the ‘diorama’. A diorama was a mobile theatrical experience viewed by an audience in highly specialised theatres.

In order to reproduce the large scale panoramas, Daguerre would have used a camera obscura to project an image that could be traced. Luckily for photography, both Niépce and Daguerre shared the same optician, Vincent Chevalier, who was responsible for the two pioneers of photography meeting for the first time in December 1827. It is interesting to note that the partnership consisted of an artist and a scientist. Right from its infancy, photography was born as both an art form and a science. Despite this new partnership, Niépce and Daguerre were unable to significantly reduce the exposure time of the bitumen process. This meant that it was impossible to photograph people without them being blurred and having to sit for unacceptably long periods of time. However between them they had formulated a new ‘physautotype’ process, using tree resins and the residue of lavender oil distillation as photosensitive agents.

Daguerre and Niépce’s partnership was forged by a legally binding contract that stated:

In the eventuality of one of the partners demise, this one will be replaced in the company for the rest of the ten years that would not be expired, by his natural heir.
Source: http://www.niepce.com/pagus/pagus-inv.html

Therefore after Nicephore Niépce’s death in 1833, his son Isidore Niépce, continued to work alongside Daguerre. Unfortunately Isidore was unable to provide the same level of expertise as his father, leaving Daguerre to pursue and refine his own process, which would eventually be known as the daguerreotype. Using his own name in his invention secured Daguerre’s place in history, showing little acknowledgement for Nicephore Niépce’s involvement. Like the first heliographic exposures he made in the early 1820s, the founder of the permanent photograph faded from history.

Offering a much shorter exposure time, the daguerreotype is a direct positive made in the camera on a silvered coppered plate. The plate is mirrored, with the image formed directly on the silvery surface. Fitting lenses with larger diameters to the camera and modifying the chemistry involved, enabled the exposure time to be reduced even further.

After a presentation to the Sciences Academy of the three photographic processes (heliography, physautotype, and daguerreotype) on Monday 19th August 1839, it was clear that only Daguerre’s process would be successful. This innovation would quickly lead to Daguerreotypomania throughout France.

References:

Website
http://www.niepce.com

Image

French School (? – 1900) “Founders of photography Niepce and Daguerre with photographer” (chromolitho). [online image]. Private Collection. Available from: http://www.bridgemaneducation.com/ImageView.aspx?result=0&balid=669233 %5B3/5/13%5D

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The most popular camera is…..

20130430-084258.jpg

Source: Flickr 30th April 2013

 

The graph above was captured from Flickr today. It shows the dominance of Apple in the photography market at the moment, with Apple iPhones being the top 3 cameras for Flickr users uploading photographs. Whilst it is reassuring to see Canon DSLRs still in the top 5, it is a concern that they may be redundant one day. Why would anyone want to carry around a bulky DSLR camera and lenses, to then download and edit their photos later, whereas an iPhone is much smaller, pocket-sized, and enables the user to use a variety of apps to edit and then upload their images at the point of shooting, to sites like Flickr, Instagram and Facebook.
However there still remains the issue of quality not quantity. There maybe more iPhone photos on Flickr, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better than photos that have been taken on a DSLR, where the photographer has had to think about choice of lens and the correct exposure setting.

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We Still Stand

Moira Lovell photographs staged portraits that tackle gender, class and political issues. ‘We Still Stand’ is a photographic project she undertook between 2009 and 2011. It reunites the striking coal miners of the 1980s with the derelict, inoperable mines of now where they used to work. Her photos contain a lot of imagery and refer back to the past, such as the blackness being a metaphor for industry and the power cuts experienced during the strikes. Meanwhile the chiaroscuro lighting creates a seam of light that Lovell uses to merge the past with the present. This enables the viewer to see how the miners have aged now, whilst standing in a setting of times gone by.
One of the things I like most about this work is finding out from the video that Lovell gave the men no direction in terms of how to pose for the camera. It creates a tension between the men and the camera, possibly also a reference back to the feelings experienced on the picket lines. That despite all the disruption that occurred during the strikes, and the pit closures that followed, both the miners and the mines still exist, separated by the passing of time.
Making the subject aware of the camera, but unaware of how to respond, is a technique I’d like to explore further during my People & Place module. Watch the video below to find out Moira Lovell’s explanation of ‘We Still Stand’.

Source: http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/2011/12/lovell/

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