The New Painting

Is photography art? Is a question I’ve reflected on in previous blog posts, whilst studying DPP. That there are varying levels of commitment that a photographer may invest in producing an image. When photographing a landscape, the photographer may take considerable thought to choose the perfect location and waited until the light was at its optimum, before pressing the shutter. On the other hand a street photographer may need to act quickly, on impulse, to capture scenes where people are unaware of his/her presence. Does the lack of time required mean that the street photo is any less ‘art’ than the landscape image? Furthermore, does the digital manipulation of an image make it any less realistic and more artistic than the original scene?
Perhaps the reason for this unresolved debate is due to the fact that the first camera, the camera obscura, was created to assist artists in producing accurate pictures, enabling them to trace the image that had been projected by the pin-hole camera.

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The Camera Obscura [Source: Bridgeman Education]

The camera obscura (latin for ‘dark room’) was a wooden box that allowed the light of a scene to enter a small hole and be projected upside down, retaining perspective. Some examples can be viewed here on the Victoria and Albert Museum website.
Whilst this tool for artists enabled them to reproduce an accurate representation of the scene in front of them, they still had to draw it onto paper in order to preserve the projected image.
Then one summers day in c.1826 a french inventor, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, went upstairs and took the first ever permanent photograph from the window of his country estate near Chalon sur-Saône (Badger, 2007). You would think that such a prestigious, ground-breaking development would be something of great interest, and yet Niépce’s ‘View from the Window at Gras’ is quite mundane.

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‘View from the Window at Gras’ [Source: Bridgeman Education]

Niépce coated a pewter plate with a tar-like substance (a mixture of bitumen of Judea and water). Then he heated the pewter plate to dry the bitumen mixture onto it. Once the mixture had dried, Niépce slotted the plate into a camera that looked out of an upstairs window. After an exposure time of 8 hours, he then washed the pewter plate with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum, which washed away the bitumen that had not been hardened by sunlight. The resulting photograph consisted of light areas, formed from the hardened bitumen, and dark areas where the bitumen had been washed away, revealing the pewter plate. Finally the image was left to dry in the air, and Niépce had successfully developed the world’s first permanent photograph. This had been the culmination of a number of experiments involving his heliography process. Previously Niépce had been able to combine sunlight with lithographic printmaking to expose an image, but had never been able to prevent it from fading.

An animation of Niépce’s groundbreaking discovery can be seen below.

Returning to my original question, ‘Is photography art?’ Niépce’s photographic process was defined as ‘the new painting’ (Badger, 2007), which would eventually grow into it’s own creative field. It would be used to document and decorate, but as Niépce has shown, it is arguably just as much to do with science and maths as it is art.

Reference:

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

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One Day in History

The 2013 L’Iris d’Or/Sony World Photography Award for Photographer of the Year went to thirty-two year old Norwegian photographer Andrea Gjestvang. Her ‘One Day in History’ consists of a series of portraits of those young people who survived the July 2011 massacre on the island of Utøya.
Catherine Chermayeff, the Jury Chairman, praised the winning entry by saying:

‘One Day in History’ is a quiet, thoughtful and ultimately powerful voice for the children and survivors of the massacre in Norway. We were all moved by the dignity and beauty of these images.

Andrea Gjestvang’s subjects have been photographed in what would appear to be surroundings that they feel safe and secure in, such as at home or with a pet. Meanwhile there are also portraits that have been taken in woodland or near water, possibly referencing back to Utøya. Some of the young people engage the viewer by looking directly at the camera, whilst others look more distant and reflective by looking away.

Knowing the context for this work and remembering all the news broadcasts about that one day in history, makes these images all the more powerful. Furthermore, each image’s description includes information about the subject’s own personal experience of the atrocity. This helps to complete a compelling collection of portraits.

The events of modern day life move at such an increasing rate that we are often directed to the latest headline or news flash. Previously news worthy, headline grabbing events gradually slip from the front page and replaced by something fresh and current. We rarely have the opportunity to let the dust settle and return to the scene of the crime and those most affected. Andrea Gjestvang’s portraits offer this opportunity to return and provide an insight into how the victims may be rehabilitating.

Posted in People & Place, Portrait, Project 1: People aware | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Unexpected Opportunity

Out of the blue, way back in January, I received an email via my Flickr from the photo editor of the National Geographic Traveler magazine in Washington. They were planning to write a feature about rail holidays in Switzerland and were keen to include one of my photos in their publication! The photo was of the Beau Rivage Palace. It made me realise the importance and effectiveness of tagging and captioning images accurately. Of course I gave them permission to use the image, still shocked that they had chosen mine out of the many out there on Google images.
Yesterday I received two complimentary copies of the National Geographic Traveler magazine with my photo in it. The whole process gave me an insight into how photo editors and photographers operate and just how long it takes to go to print.

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Being able to contribute to something that has a huge circulation was highly motivating. During my progression through the OCA syllabus I have been wondering which area of photography to specialise in. Editorial work is definitely something I would like to explore further.
Funnily enough, I started DPP with a devotion to all things digital and that uploading to the Internet marked the end of my workflow. However recent events have shown that there can be various opportunities to use a photograph. This will help me to think more carefully about what it is I’m photographing and what I will use it for.

Posted in DPP, Project 5: The Final Image | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Making an Exhibition of Myself

My main intention when starting DPP was to learn more about how I could tweak and enhance my images to look the way I had intended them to look when I pressed the shutter button. Little did I know that it would conclude with me having framed and exhibited some of my work in an art gallery, the old fashioned way!
In an earlier post I mentioned that I was intending to enter the Nuneaton Festival of Arts. It’s a fantastic opportunity for artists, dancers, musicians, writers, and photographers to have their craft displayed to a wider audience.
Photographers are allowed to enter a maximum of 6 ‘classes’, with 1 photograph allowed in each class. Now that the DPP course has encouraged me to archive my images more methodically, I was able to review a variety of different photographs quickly and easily find the ones I wanted to enter.
For me the greatest obstacle I needed to overcome was producing prints from my images. This is something I have to ashamedly admit that I rarely do. Since the entries were going to be displayed in the art gallery I realised that I might need to think bigger than my small HP printer! In an edition of Advanced Photographer magazine there was a feature about the quality of online printing services. Loxley Colour appeared to offer a reasonable quality of depth, colour and contrast. It wasn’t the cheapest, but seemed to worth the money. In other words, you get what you pay for. I decided to choose 16 x 12 prints, realising that they would need to be mounted and framed.
When my prints arrived it felt very satisfying to know I had created them and a sense of completion, in that they would be shared for others to see instead of being stored on a hard drive.
Last Friday the competition was judged and I was overwhelmed to hear that I had won 3 classes, came second in 2 classes, and third in 1! To have had my work acknowledged in that way was highly rewarding. All entries will now be exhibited during May for the public to see, which I find really exciting.
Photography can sometimes be very much a solitary past time, you go out with a particular subject/scene in mind, and invest a lot of thought in how that image is portrayed. If the final image is to remain with it’s taker, then photography would be a very soulless activity.

Charted Decline
Class: Still Life. Position: 3rd

iRead Class: Image Manipulation Position: 2nd

First Smile Class: Portrait Position: 2nd

First Snow of Winter Class: Landscape Position: 1st

Redcar in March Class: Black and white Position: 1st

Developing Media Class: Humour Position: 1st

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People & Place

Continue reading

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DPP Assignment 5 Feedback

Mixed feelings today, I received my tutor’s feedback for my 5th and final DPP assignment. I always find it exciting to find out how my work is perceived by an expert in their field, and also nervous as to whether my work fitted the brief. This means I have formally completed this latest stage on my journey to a degree in photography.

Now in my 5th year I’m not sure whether I’m on a ‘journey’. A journey tends to have a beginning and a final destination, whereas the more I learn, the more avenues that are opened up for me to explore. I intend to build on what I’ve learnt in DPP and explore it further.

Assignment 5 is a culmination of everything I’ve learnt during my DPP course, from workflow to the final image. I had been disappointed with my first assignment since it lacked any real theme or focus. However, this time my tutor felt that my final assignment was:

 A very cohesive body of work responding to contemporary themes.

She really liked how I had used satire in my work and how it had enabled me to explore some complex photographic solutions. One reason why I think my assignment was so successful was because of the amount of time I’d spent on it. Overall it took me 6 months to complete, including time to consider different themes and ideas. This was in contrast to my first assignment, which I photographed in one morning. My tutor also pointed out how these type of photos could be used to illustrate news stories and comment pieces in print. This is definitely a direction I would like to explore further. Many photographers appear to specialise in a particular field of photography, and at the moment I’m spoilt for choice and unsure of the direction I want to go in.

My tutor has guided me to understand that photographic projects take time to complete, involving periods of reflection and alteration. This is something I have added to my workflow. Since we are still economically in dire straits, I would like to extend my 5th assignment further.

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New Additions

It’s not easy having 5 little mouths to feed. The photograph below shows our 8 month quins all looking for their next feed.

Fortunately for us there are 4 too many  babies in this photo. One is by far enough to handle at the moment!

Recently I had seen some examples of multiplicity on the Internet, a technique whereby a subject is copied a number of times in different positions and angles in the same scene. This another aspect of image manipulation which isn’t covered in the DPP material but is a natural extension to Exercise 22: Addition. To achieve this effect it is essential to use a tripod. I bribed my son with a bottle of milk and moved him around the table, taking a photograph of each position. Then in Photoshop each image was located as a new layer. With the other 4 layers unselected, I used the eraser tool to remove all of the pixels surrounding the baby on the top layer. I then repeated this for the other layers  (except the background layer, because this contained the overall scene. As each layer was reselected the babies were revealed.

A tip for anyone wanting to try this is not to have the subjects next to each other. I had to zoom in and be careful not to erase the wrong part of the image.

I really enjoyed the fun element to this process and making people question whether they really are quins. This is a technique I would like to explore further.

Posted in DPP, Project 4: Reality and Intervention | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Clone Wars

One of the main global concerns at the moment is the rising tension and increasing rhetoric coming from North Korea. Fortunately it has been restricted to a war of words, but could image manipulation also be one of the ‘weapons’ in the reclusive state’s arsenal? On Wednesday 27th March, the Guardian reported that an image showing the might of North Korea may have been manipulated to deceive others about how powerful the navy was. The photograph shows a number of hovercraft coming ashore in a mock invasion, however some of the hovercraft appear to be identical and one is missing part of it’s front. I had seen this image earlier in the week and like most people took it at face value, thinking North Korea have a lot of hovercrafts!

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Image manipulation can be an extremely powerful method of propaganda and intimidation. However, it has to be done well otherwise it can have the opposite effect, since it would now appear that North Korea felt the need to over compensate for something that they may be lacking.
Meanwhile it is worth questioning who was it that cloned the hovercraft. Was it someone affiliated to North Korea? Or could the photograph have been intentionally made to look as if it had been badly Photoshopped to support the interests of those who North Korea perceives to be it’s enemies.
When looking at an image it is not just important to try to know if it is a truthful, realistic interpretation of what the photographer saw, but also to consider the process the photograph went through before publication.

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Social photographers

I’m writing this post whilst bobbing up and down on a ferry in the Irish Sea, returning from a trip to Ireland. My wife and I had traveled over with our 6 month old son to catch up with family and friends. Ireland’s beautiful scenery is an ideal place for a photographer to visit, however due to the Tardis-like space needed to transport a 6 month old and his nappies etc, there was not enough room in the car for my DSLR and collection of lenses. Therefore I had to leave my camera at home. Despite this I did have my iPhone with me, so I knew I would be able to take photos and document our trip. Although I wouldn’t be able to take high resolution images at a range of distances, the apps on my iPhone gave me some editing capabilities and the bonus of being able to share my images to social networking sites, such as Instagram, Flickr and Facebook. If I had used my DSLR it could have been weeks before I had uploaded and edited my photos, which would then have been stored on my hard drive. The digital evolution is creating two types of photography: the purposeful documenting of a person, place or event, which the photographer is greatly involved in, determining the exposure, such as altering the aperture of shutter speed; and secondly there is the ‘social photographer’ who invests more thought and time in the output of the image rather than setting it up. Social photographers are keen to distribute their images both quickly and widely on social networking sites to predetermined audiences and also in an attempt to attract a greater following.
Not only is photography an art form it is also a means of communication. It can be both formal and informal. Some photographs can be soulless, used for stock whilst others can be full of energy and life. Whatever the purpose of each photograph there is a desire for all photo takers to own their images and be able to refer to them at their leisure. Unfortunately this security can be uncertain when relying on social networking sites and it is something that ‘social photographers’ need to bare in mind. Hundreds of thousands of photos on Facebook and Instagram are of loved ones and celebrations. Once in a life time moments that can never be replicated. Yet how many of those photos uploaded to web servers have a backed up local copy? If the plug was to be pulled on Facebook or Instagram tomorrow, how many photos would be wiped out? Irretrievably lost. In addition to this the editing process of Instagram leaves you with a lower resolution, square-cropped version of the original image. Whilst social networking offers the advantage of being easy to share, it’s contributors must be mindful that the payoff is low resolution images that exist for as long as their hosting site is live. I must make sure I back my iPhone photos up when I get home!

Posted in DPP, Project 1: Workflow, Project 5: The Final Image, Reflections | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Prints to Impress

Yesterday I received my first ever set of professional prints. I can’t believe that having started digital photography over 4 years ago, this is the first time I’ve ever really done anything with my photos.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I am entering my first photography competition and need to submit prints. It’s made me think more about why we take photographs and that they shouldn’t end up filling bytes of hard drive space, never yo be seen again. Whilst Flickr and my website represent an end-point in my workflow, I mustn’t neglect the original reason for photography. That photographs also belong on walls, mantle pieces, and albums. My new year’s resolution should have been to print more photos! After reading a review of photographic printers in the Advanced Photographer magazine, I decided to use Loxley Colour because they offered good value for money and a wide range of options. I ordered them on Sunday and received them on Wednesday, 16 x 20, lustre finish. I would definitely recommend them for anyone else needing a quick, professional and quality service.

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