Task: Draw together all you have learned and apply it to a personal project. Think about a subject and treatment for which you have a personal enthusiasm, that over a period of time would build to and culminate in a collection of about 10-12 final images.
Deciding on a subject for this assignment was very difficult, since it was so open ended. This meant I had to take a long time thinking about possible ideas. In many ways this was good for me. I didn’t rush into a particular idea. Some of my blog posts track my thoughts to arriving at my final idea. I love the textures and tones produced from monochrome effects, and I was surprised just how much using the ‘unsharp’ mask improved my images. Therefore this was a process that I wanted to include in this assignment. I also enjoyed how Photoshop could be used to alter and enhance images. This started to make me think about surrealism and the work of photographers such as Jerry N. Uelsmann . With the current economic climate and talk of the decline of towns my thoughts were of using monochrome to portray the degradation of Stockton-on-Tees (one of the most deprived locations in the country). However, I thought maybe I should come up with something more original and focused.
My Tutor really liked my initial thoughts and encouraged me to use surrealism as a way of trying to explain the ridiculous situation we find ourselves in today. Her response had triggered a flash of inspiration in me. It wasn’t so much about deprivation, but the austerity and economic trouble that we are in.
Since my my project will portray the austerity of now I feel that monochrome might not quite fit, however I can see how a minimalistic feel to the image would. Therefore I’m thinking of using low-key, muted colours in my images. The minimalistic nature of the images, together with my own theme, reminds me of the politically motivated cartoons you find in newspapers, such as the one below illustrating the Greek economic crisis.Since the majority of my images will probably have a political element I would like to try to emulate how they might appear in newspapers as cartoons, with uncluttered backgrounds.
English born fine art photographer Paul Graham produced a series of images during the recession of the 1980s titled ‘Beyond Caring’ which depicted unemployment at the time of great economic and political instability.Paul Graham spent a lot of his time slyly photographing people in the dole queue at the Job Centre. He captured the dejection and helplessness of the people up-close. The angle and close framing meant that the view felt as though they were waiting for an appointment too. This was because Paul Graham had not been given permission to photograph in the unemployment offices, so he had to discreetly photograph his subjects from hip level. In today’s highly sensitive and suspicious world, I wonder if he would be able to get away with it now! Paul Graham’s technique enables the viewer to be sympathetic to the subject. It feels as though you are also waiting in the job centre for further rejection. If my project is to be successful then it must enable the viewer to listen to the voice of my images. If a photograph can say a 1000 words, it is up to the photographer to determine whether those are subtle whispers or more obvious shouting from the roof tops!
Simon Roberts’ project, ‘Let This Be a Sign‘ uses a mixture of text, video and collage to address the current economic situation. His images address a very similar theme that I want to explore in my own project. His intention to include shuttered high streets and sale signs have triggered my own ideas of how I can use these symbols of recession. There appears to be a lot of dead space in Roberts’ photographs, which may be a reference to the emptiness and powerlessness of the general public. Some of Roberts’ images are also made up of several images to produce a collage, such as picket placards. This is a technique I’d like to use during this project if possible.
Whilst at Brighton University Victoria Jenkins undertook a project whereby the logical and irrational scientific theories are portrayed in constructed images. The way the subjects were set up reminded me of the work of Fischli and Weiss, who I had referred to in my Assignment 2: Digital image qualities. However the difference with Jenkins’ work is that there was a clear intent to use scientific instruments and materials in a deliberate way to illustrate a divination. For example her image below shows cotton wool to represent smoke, illustrating Capnomancy, signifying a method of divination by looking at the movements of smoke after a fire has been made. Smoke touching the ground is a signal that immediate action must be taken to avoid a catastrophe! More of Victoria Jenkins’ project can be found at http://www.troikaeditions.co.uk/artists/victoria-jenkins (Viewed 24/6/12).
I really liked the simplicity of how Victoria Jenkins’ images were constructed. The meaning of each image wasn’t obvious at first, making the viewer think beyond the frame. Her images were also all in monochrome, one of my favourite image treatments. Because she used traditional scientific equipment to represent age-old divinations, black and white worked well. You could image these images in a dusty old textbook.
Following my 4th Assignment my tutor recommended that I take a look at the work of Sian Bonnell. This is one of the reasons I have been wanting to study with the OCA, to find out about other photographers, beyond the famous ones that are covered in mainstream books.
After a quick search on Google I came across Sian Bonnell’s website. I was very intrigued by her home page (above) showing what looked like a fluorescent jelly peering through the kitchen window. I also liked the minimalistic design of Bonnell’s website, the photos are very much the main feature of the site with only the bare essentials in terms of navigational text and biographical information. With themes such as Forensic Housekeeping and When the Domestic Meets the Wild, Sian Bonnell photographs found objects and household things out of their context in rural and coastal environments. There is nothing over the top or exotic about her work. It places everyday things in mundane locations, encouraging the viewer to think beyond what they see to an event or action that may have happened there. There is also a surreal element to Bonnell’s work which is achieved without the need of computers.
I am interested in the places we go when we are vacant; when we are taking part in the reality of everyday life but drift off, like when I am doing the ironing. I am intrigued by the absurd, life and the reality of our lives is steeped in absurdity so although my images may look surreal, to me they are a kind of absurd reality.
[Source: From an Elsewhere Unknown Exhibition http://www.ffotogallery.org/sian-bonnell-%E2%80%93-from-an-elsewhere-unknown ]
This has made me think more about how I go about producing my images for this assignment and that I don’t have to alter images digitally. I also like the sense of irony and humour that exists in Sian Bonnell’s photographs, which I would like to apply to some of my own images due to the absurd situation we find ourselves in.
Surrealism was an aspect of photography that I hadn’t tried, but was very keen to explore where it would take me. My tutor advised me to ‘not be absurd for the sake of it’ and that I could use the technique to make some ‘powerful, political work.’ I am planning to think long and hard about how I can use this technique effectively, rather than just for the sake of it.
1. Fading Savings
The economy isn’t growing strongly enough for an interest rate hike any time soon. Whilst this is a great situation to be in for debtors, it offers little comfort for savers, who barely get anything in return for being thrifty. This inspired my first image of a piggy bank gradually disappearing into the frame, thus illustrating how our savings are disappearing.
My first difficulty with producing this image was finding a piggy bank to use! I eventually found one in Hobby-craft, which I had to paint myself. Eagerly, wanting to get my first photograph taken, I painted the piggy bank very haphazardly.
It wouldn’t have looked it’s best in full colour! Initially, I had intended to produce an image which showed an inflated piggy bank next to some drawing pins. However it didn’t seem to get my message across. Whilst experimenting with Photoshop I increased the exposure and saturation, and reduced the opacity to produce the image below. I photographed it from a high angle to make the subject look vulnerable in the same way that our savings are.
2. Emergency Loan
Many of my images for this assignment were inspired by current news items that were related to the economy. With government austerity measures starting to take effect, many people are tempted to rely on payday loans to see them through to their next pay packet. These loans offer short term solutions, but their high interest rates can cause long term problems. I wanted this image to mirror Fading Savings, a contrast between the low and high interest rates. Therefore I wanted this second image to be bold, bright and colourful. A fire alarm point that I walk past everyday inspired me to use it to portray payday loans as emergency loans.
For my first attempt (below) at creating this image I copied the image into another layer and then changed it to black and white. I then used the eraser tool to reveal the colour of key elements below. I also added a penny where the button would be pressed. However I didn’t like the unrealistic effect I had produced. It looked more like an illustration than a photograph. Therefore I decided to retain the magnolia coloured wall. I also felt that a penny was too small an amount, so I changed it to a £1 coin.
The image below is my final version of Emergency Loan. I used the clone tool to remove fire related symbols and used the text tool to add references to money, such as a £ sign and some instructions. My instructions were created to reinforce the idea that obtaining a loan can fuel the cycle of debt.
3. Heads you win, heads you lose.
Whilst I was photographing coins for Emergency Loan, I thought about how I could use a coin as the main subject. At first I wanted to use mirrors to create a multiple effect of many coins, illustrating the concept of quantitative easing. That money is produced from nothing. However I found it difficult to position the mirrors at an appropriate angle. Then I decided to focus on just one coin.
I used a macro lens to photograph the ‘heads’ side of a £1 coin. In Photoshop I then copied the image and the ‘flipped’ the bottom layer. By using the eraser tool, I then removed half of the top layer to reveal the Queen’s head facing the opposite direction. I then used the clone tool to copy the coin’s letters and rotated them to create new letters, spelling the words ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Austerity’. The final image shows the Queen looking back in the past to a time of prosperity and forward to an age of austerity.
4. The Austery Tree
Austerity has been one of the most regularly used words over the last couple of years. When I first started this assignment last year I thought I’d be racing against the economic recovery. Unfortunately that isn’t the case and we’re on the brink of a triple dip! An early solution to the economic bleakness was quantitative easing, which basically meant printing more money so people could spend more. However with little confidence in the current climate many people have continued to prudently save rather than spend.
These circumstances contributed to me producing the Austery Tree. It is a composite of 2 images layered over each other, a tree in grass land and 2 chimneys. I reduced the opacity of the top layer of the tree to reveal the chimneys in the background. I then added images of pound coins and altered their sizes to give the illusion that they were being produced from the chimneys. Then I added pennies to the tree and used the selection tool to manipulate their shape to look as though they were dripping off the branches.
5. In a Real State
Now that the banks are under stricter controls for lending, it is even more difficult for first time buyers to get onto the property ladder. With low interest rates and over-inflated valuations, prospective buyers are unable to provide the large deposits needed to obtain a mortgage. This has led to a stagnant housing market that’s in a real state.
To illustrate this situation I looked for an estate agents to photograph. I chose the one below because of the letters in it’s name that I could manipulate to create the ‘In a real state’ shop banner.
I chose to frame it tight and include part of the shutter shop to the right and the tatty net curtains above. Then I increased the contrast and definition, whilst decreasing the saturation slightly, to give the image a grittier, run down look. In order to change the lettering I cloned some of the white of the building and used the text tool to generate some of the lettering. The ‘state’ was created by using the a-t-e-s from ‘gates’. Then I selected the ‘any 2 for £1.50’ and ‘100% extra free’ from a photograph of a shop and pasted them onto the windows. By reducing their opacity, I intended to create the illusion that the signs were stuck to the window. Finally I darkened the light paving slab in the bottom right hand corner, since it was distracting.
6. Shell Out
Even before the problems of the economy hit the headlines petrol prices were on the increase. I can remember the days when it only cost £30 to fill the tank, and now it’s nearer £60! With cuts to the economy and pay freezes, the relative cost of maintaining and keeping a car on the road is increasing. ‘Shell Out’ is my attempt to illustrate this. I photographed a car leaving a Shell petrol station. Then I added pound coins to the car’s wheels and subtly added £20 notes to the road. I also cheekily altered the Costa Coffee sign in the background to ‘Costa Lotta’! This was my first real attempt at surrealism. Hopefully I have got my message across without being too extreme to the point where the image is confusing to the viewer.
7. The iStreet
The inevitability of people having less money has also caused the high street to be quieter. Fewer people have surplus money to spend on non-essential items. An unwillingness to pay the car park prices and using the petrol to get there, many have turned to the internet for cheaper deals and the convenience of having them delivered to their front door. Also, the increase in handheld tablets and smart phones has made shopping online more accessible and frequent. An e-shopping boom spells high street doom. Already this year (January 2013) has seen the disappearance of HMV, Comet and Jessop. Three established high street brands. For the iStreet I chose Billingham as the location, due to it being an area which is in need of regeneration. It’s proximity to the Teesside Park shopping outlet, Stockton and Middlesbrough have made it difficult for this town to compete.
I chose the scene above due to there being few people and an interesting angle to alter a few shop fronts. Firstly I cloned the surrounding areas to remove people from the scene. I wanted it to appear empty, to get across that everyone is at home on the web instead of shopping. Then I cloned out the shop names, leaving no shop branding.
Then I used screen shots from the web of stores such as Amazon and ebay and layered them over the shop windows. The selection tool in Photoshop enables you to alter the perspective of the chosen object, which makes it easier to maintain perspective. I also included Woolworths as a reference to the traditional high street shops. Finally I selected and darkened the sky to make the mood of the image more imposing. Below is my final version of The iStreet.
8. Milking Benefits
In January 2013 the Government announced that they would be stopping child benefit for those households where a parent earns over £50,000. There was widespread criticism of this policy due to the possibility of other households having two earners of just under the £50,000 cap.
Milking Benefits is my interpretation of this. I created a still life composition of a teddy behind a baby’s bottle.
The teddy was smiling, so to dampen the overall mood I selected, copied and rotated it’s mouth to make it unhappy. Then I replaced the measurements with increments of £10,000. I had purposely filled the bottle to just below the £50,000 capped allowance. Then I increased the exposure and saturation to enhance the final image (below).
9. The Cuts
‘The Cuts’ has been a phrase synonymous with anything to do with the economy at the moment. Therefore it was something I wanted to include in this assignment. I had all sorts of ideas of combining scissors etc. There have been cuts to so many areas, such as education and then NHS that I took a while to decide how to go about this image. Eventually I thought about the cuts to pensions. I decided to create ‘The Cuts’ below, a black and white image consisting of a large pair of scissors towering over a pensioner from behind and tapping her on the shoulder. I also purposely chose a vacant shop to be the background for this photograph (below).
10. Money for Nothing
Referring back to Paul Graham’s Job Centre photographs I wanted to include an image that related to the high unemployment that exists at the moment. Bedworth provided me with a perfect opportunity to photograph their job centre, which had been boarded up. It seemed to be the perfect subject to get my message across. At first I wanted to superimpose a large £2o note on the boarded up windows, with the Queen looking unhappy and the monetary value changed to £0. However I was aware that there were certain regulations about reproducing and manipulating currency and so didn’t want to take the risk. However it does raise another issue of the ethics of image manipulation that I hadn’t previously thought of. How far is it acceptable to alter that work of another artist?
I decided to add a cash point machine, a juxtaposition to the boarded up Job Centre.
My fifth and final assignment has taken 7 months to complete! Over that time I have thought through all sorts of combinations of images to finally arrive at these 10. I have thoroughly enjoyed the working through a long term project, unlike my previous assignments, which were much quicker to complete. It has made me realise that there is a lot of value in taking the time to work through a project. That a photographer’s workflow should involve a period of reflection and correction. Trial, error and experimentation are necessary before arriving at a final selection. During the time it has taken me to complete this assignment I have become a dad, moved house and started a new job. I feel that all of these experiences have contributed to this work. It has helped me to realise that the longer a photographer spends on a project, the more they invest of themselves in the images they produce.
Response to tutor feedback
I was really pleased with my tutor’s feedback. My first assignment had lacked any real theme other than to photograph swans, whereas my final assignment had a real purpose and focus. When I started DPP I didn’t think I would be able to achieve what have in this assignment. My tutor enjoyed the satire I had intended to portray.
My tutor had some suggestions as to how I could improve my images. The ‘Amazon’ logo in 7. The iStreet needed some alteration to match the Facebook and ebay logos. I used the warp transform tool to manipulate it as best I could, however unlike the other 2 shops, the Amazon shop board is tilted at an angle which makes it appear slightly different.
Whilst my tutor particularly liked the aim of 9. The Cuts, she felt it could be cropped further to avoid the distraction of the surrounding shops. I agree that this would focus the viewer’s attention on the lady with the scissors towering behind her. However, a closer crop on the right would mean having a smaller space to fit the scissors and on the left-hand side I had intentionally left part of the shop in view because it had a poster with the word ‘Cash’ on it, which has been deliberately cropped so that part of the letter C is missing. This dilemma illustrates that whilst photos are easily manipulated, a lot of the image manipulation is done at the point of capture. If I was able to re-take this photograph then I would zoom in closer to remove any distracting elements.
My tutor has pointed me to further reading about photographers I could have used for this assignment. Tess Hurrell’s Chaology was inspired by her fascination with explosions and created with cotton wool, flour and string. Photographing in black and white, she uses very delicate materials to re-create such destructive forces. In a similar approach to my second assignment, I could have created still-life representations of some of the themes in this assignment. Peter Kennard was another photographer that my tutor recommended. His @earth project uses photo montage to address issues such as nuclear war. This has reminded me to have a wider range when researching ideas for projects. My focus was too narrow, concentrating on economical issues rather than how photographers deal with other types of campaign.