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Introduction

A bit about my photography and me

I have been interested in photography for a number of years. Until last year I used my camera on Auto. I hesitated to use any of the other modes because I didn’t understand them.

Last year I stepped outside my comfort zone and took an evening class in photography which challenged me to produce a set of 6 photos on a theme, mine was dance. At the end of the course a selection of the images I produced were included in the college end of year show, along with a couple of the other students on the course.

At the start of this year I returned to college and took a further evening class on black and white film development.

Both courses increased my enthusiasm for photography and pushed me to explore what I was able to do.

MDG_1076
Interaction with the audience, Hoots n Hooters, 37 Club, Puriton Somerset – 8th April 2017 (Nikon D7200 ISO 6400 1/30 sec, f/1.8 50mm)

I considered doing A Level Photography at the local college but it’s during the day time so would mean juggling work. Then I discovered the OCA and gave serious thought to doing a photography degree. It’s still what I would like to do but discovering the Foundation course gave me the chance to try out studying again and see how I get on. With luck at the end of the course I’ll be ready to go on and do a degree.

 

Thoughtful Snowy
Thoughtful Snowy (Nikon D7200 ISO 400, 1/640 sec , f/2.8, 40mm)

 

I have plenty of subjects that are willing to let me take their photos and I live in Somerset so have a lot of wonderful countryside to explore with my camera.

Camera equipment wise, I have a Nikon D7200 with a number of lenses, and a Nikomat EL 35m which I’m still getting used to; the set of photos I had developed from it had some flaws which might be due to the cameras age and condition. I also have an electronic flash, some filters, tripods and a monopod. Oh, and last year I had a portable camera studio set up for my birthday.

So to end who am I?

Well I’m a 50 year old married woman with a grown up son, who has terminal cancer. He is my inspiration in life. I work full time as a computer consultant, photography is one of my main creative outlets; that and the occasional bit of writing and dancing (burlesque and hopefully soon pole). Being able to photograph my friends who dance, and even other performers, to a high standard is one of the places I want to get with my photography.

 

 

Diane Arbus Revelations

Diane Arbus Revelations (2003). Exhibition Catalogue. Random House Publishing Group.

This book accompanies the exhibition of Arbus’ work by the same name that occurred between 2004 and 2006 in the U.S.A, Germany and London.

The book can be broken down in to three main sections and contains  illustrations based on many of her photos, as well as extracts from her notebooks and correspondence.

The main part of the book is almost an autobiography as it includes extracts from Arbus’ correspondence with family, friends and colleagues; including some of the most renowned photographers and editors of her time. This section covers from 1923 though to her suicide in 1971.

The other main parts of the book are an essay concerning the significance of her work and a description of the techniques she used and the attempt to replicate these by Neil Selkirk following her death. This replication was done as part of producing a book and exhibition that followed her death.

The exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco in 2004 contained roughly 190 of her prints.

Diane Arbus was fascinated by people, particularly where there was something different about them. The body of her work clearly shows this, with very few landscape or still life images. I can’t imagine myself producing work likes hers, simply because of the amount of interaction that would be required with individuals and groups of people.

For me the best part of this book is the opportunity to read Diane Arbus’ own words from postcards, letters and notebooks. Reading what she wrote gives an insight to her mind and personality. Something that hasn’t been as apparent from other works I’ve read about her. The opportunity to read her words provides a chance to try to understand the thought processes and urges that drove someone very important to photography. Being able to do this without going through other people’s filters gives a different perspective.

The other part of the book that I found interesting to read was the extract from her autopsy report. Reading this adds another dimension to her story, something that has been missing from other books and articles.

Seeing the autopsy report contrasts with reading her words in that it turns Arbus into an anonymous female and then into a pile of human organs, devoid of any individuality or personality. It brings home the fact that, regardless of who we are, how wealthy we are, how talented we are; we are at the heart of it a bag of skin that keeps a jumble of bones and organs from flopping all over the place. An organic mass that when animated allows us to move about, manipulate things and shape the world around us; as well as allowing us the chance to document that world through a variety of means that link to our senses.

Feedback on Assignment 4

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

You’ve identified a topical theme (plastic waste) and approached it in a consistent and methodical manner.

From the contact sheets I can see you’ve tried moving the image around in the frame and settled upon a central composition which firmly situates the object but leaves little room for the eye to move around the scene. Whilst this can be a strategy within your work, consider how changing the angle of view might have led to a different relationship to the object.

I’m thinking here of Andy Hughes’s images of waste from beaches around the world. In one image, a lighter is discarded and left upright in the sand, shot from ground level looking up towards the lighter it becomes a kind of monolith and has an impending sense of doom which echoes Hughes’ concerns as an environmental advocate.

The image of the dead bird is very striking as are some of the more abstract compositions of waste from the beach. It would have been good to change the set up a little and add some visual interest to the series by including some of these.

The dead bird was something I would have liked to use but I didn’t think it would fit in with the theme, especially with the number of images we were able to use. I had been contemplating using it as part of a series on dead wildlife/road kill. However, by changing the emphasis on the project to things that are abandoned means I could utilise the images of the bird as well as some of the images of feral cats that I took in Cyprus.  Contrasting things that have been abandoned by man with things that have been abandoned naturally through death, like the bird, or allowing things to get out of control, like the large number of feral cats.

Some of the images look a bit on the dark side and could benefit from some brightening – consider applying a curve and cleaning up some of the yellow/brown tones that spread across the set.

Curves are a really powerful tool for doing this in Photoshop. Have a look through some of Adobe’s online tutorials (beginner > advanced) and find one suitable. Start practicing the application of curves and keep track of before and after shots to see how much better your images becomes once you learn to use them.

The changes I make to images using the curves tool in Lightroom are quite basic so I really need to look at getting more proficient with using tools like this if I’m going to get the best from my photos.

Have you thought much about how you might present or showcase this work and what format would best suit it?

I’d not given thought to how to showcase this work. Contemplating how to showcase it I think I’d want to go down the exhibition route. At the moment I have two sets of images, one from Norfolk, the other from Cyprus. I think it would be good to have another couple of sets of images from other places, preferably countries in order to highlight the global scale of the issue. I also think that continuing with the link to bodies of water: the sea, lakes and rivers, would be a good way to link them together. Taking into account the suggestions above about changing perspective and composition there would be an obvious progression to the images produced.

I also intend to complete a PADI open water diving qualification over the summer and following on from there a 2 day Underwater Photography course, when it’s next run at the diving centre. Diving is something I’ve not done since I was at Polytechnic but it was fun and I enjoyed it. Combining that with my photography seems like a great way to take things forward and add a new element to my work.

Learning Logs

Context

It would be good to see reference to some contemporary examples of photographic work (see recommendations below) and your thoughts in response to it. Beware of reading too many technical/how-to style photography books. Whilst these are helpful in mastering technique, they rarely discuss the wider context of the work produced or the language of photography itself.

I’ve noticed that in recent months I’m picking up more books that highlight the work done by various photographers as well as giving some background to their lives.

I’m currently working my way through Diane Arbus – Revelations, which in addition to a chronology of her work based around her notebooks, letters and other writing, also includes essays concerning the relevance of her work and another on the techniques and methods that she used. This carries on from my earlier interest in Arbus and her work.

I’ve also  just finished reading Women War Photographers: From Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus, something I picked up after coming across the work of Gerda Taro. I have books about Taro and her relationship with Robert Capa on my current reading list.

Also just added to my reading list is the exhibition catalogue for Mandy Barker’s Altered Ocean exhibition, which I didn’t manage to visit when it was on in Bristol. In September I’ll be visiting the Cindy Sherman retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery as I have to be in London for a workshop related to my day job.

Suggested reading/viewing

Context

Andy Hughes – http://www.andyhughes.net/

Looking at Hughes website and the particularly the projects page (http://www.andyhughes.net/site/projects-2-2/) there are a number of images that leap out at me.

The first is the image of the figure that is surrounded by orange paint splodges. The splodges remind me of caterpillars or millipedes. Looking at this image it reminds me that no matter how great mankind thinks it is, even the smallest of creatures will overwhelm us eventually. We might be able to shape our world to suit us but we all face the prospect of being “worm food” eventually.

The second image that leapt out at me was of the discarded condom. Looking at it reminds me of Lampreys. The abandoned condom could be seen to symbolise how mankind attaches itself to the planet and feeds on it. If we are careful we won’t destroy our host, if we aren’t then we could kill it and then have to find another host to latch on to. Except in our case, we don’t have another host to move on to.

Like the lighter image mentioned in the feedback above, the image of the lightbulb (http://www.andyhughes.net/site/portfolio-2/uncategorized/italy-cities-cultural-heritage-digital-humanities/) shows how changing perspective alters how things appear. I love the way that the curved shape of the bulb mirrors the curved ceiling.

Finally I love the images where Hughes as placed an upside down bottle on a object, like a stick, giving the impression that something is pouring out of the bottle.

I think Hughes’ book Dominant Wave Theory will be something I add to my reading list.

Edward Burtynsky  – Anthropocene Project: https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/the-anthropocene-project/

The trailer for Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is interesting and brings the effect that we are having on the world around us, and the creatures that inhabit it with us, home. The final show of the piles of elephant tusks being burned is particularly shocking. How many hundreds of elephants perished just so people could have the ivory from their tusks?

Mandy Barker – Altered Ocean: http://www.rps.org/exhibitions-and-competitions/mandy-barker

 I can’t really comment on Barker’s Altered Ocean exhibition. From the little I’ve seen of it, image-wise, it looks impressive. I’ve ordered the exhibition catalogue and am looking forward to viewing the work that she has produced that way.

Dead Bird

I had a bit of time to take another look at the images of the dead bird. In the end I decided that only one of the ones I’d originally used I still liked and two of the images that I’d rejected I preferred.

I’ve included these below.

Assignment 4 - Bird-7917

This is one of the original images I considered using but didn’t include in the final selection. I’ve adjusted the image so that you can see some of the markings.

Assignment 4 - Bird-7915

This image was one I rejected initially but on revisiting decided it was better than the full body image. I like this image because it has the whole of the birds head and you can just about make out some of the ants that were crawling on the dead body. Again I adjusted the image so that the white and black flecks are visible.

Assignment 4 - Bird-7916

If I was to select one of these images to use then it would be this one. Although it doesn’t have the full beak and one of the ants from the previous image has moved out of shot, you can still see other ants, particularly the ones that are crawling over the eye area. You might have to look closely to see them, black ants on black feathers don’t stand out massively.

Once again I adjusted the image so that the white flecks among the black are visible. I think the level of detail with the feathers and the inside of the beak are something I’m really happy with and if I was to display this as part of an exhibition then I’d want it to be at least A4 size in order to allow for some of the details to be seen clearly.

Comments on other people’s work

Here are links to some of the comments I’ve made on other student’s work, courtesy of WordPress “Comments I’ve Made” feature. I’ll aim to build on this as I comment on people’s work or find other comments I’ve made that WordPress isn’t showing me.

A Question on Gender and Identity

Narrative – Exercise 3.3 – Sequence

The Pain of Making Self Portraits

Assignment one – Square Mile: rework final images

My Anorexia Recovery and Self Care

 

Ideas – a personal project

Right now I’m in the middle of part 3 of the course but as part 5 could easily be on me before I realise it, depending on progress with parts 3 and 4, I thought, and following the example of one of the other students, that I’d make a start thinking about the project.

I’ve broken this entry down along the lines in the course notes and as I think about things will fill each bit in. Hopefully as I think about this project things that I need to practice may come up and I’ll be able to make use of the exercises in the early parts of the course to learn and practice those skills.

Your personal project

Genre

Of all the different subjects and approaches you’ve worked on and read about during this course, which attracts you the most?

Which feels most natural to you?

Photography where I don’t need to direct people in how to behave, where people are behaving naturally.

Which feels the most challenging?

The thing I find most challenging is portrait photography, particularly more formal styles.

Idea

You’ll need a spark, an idea, subject matter, a place or some ‘lead’ to start you off.

  • Do you already have ideas you want to pursue?
    • When Rhys died in 2017 I had just submitted my first assignment for the course. In the course of preparing for his funeral I went back through all of the photographs that we’d taken of him over the years and got a friend to put together a photo montage that was played at the funeral. I also produced a separate montage using a much larger set of photos that was played at the wake.
      I also produced two folders with photos from the last 6 months of Rhys’ life, showing some of the things that we’d done.
    • Shortly after the funeral I decided that I wanted to turn some of those photos into a photobook that told what it was like to live with a terminal disease, and to show that it’s still possible to have a life, even when faced with death.
  • Can you clarify them by defining them?
    • The idea for the book developed from just a selection of photos into telling Rhys’ story in such a way that it was as if he was telling the story. Each image used was accompanied by some words that explained what was happening at that point in time.
    • Early on in the development of the book, I had the idea that I wanted friends who are artists to turn the photos into drawings. Although I had three artists lined up, I never went down that route in the end.
  • Could you ideas be best developed through visual or intellectual research?
  • Have any genres, subjects or areas of visual experimentation interested you more than others throughout the course so far?
  • Are there any skills you want to hone in your final assignment?
    • Book production.
  • Is there a theoretical notion connected to photography (e.g. an ideas-motivated series of pictures) you want to explore in more depth that could result in both written and practical work?
  • If you’re struggling, set up a brainstorming session with your family and friends to get the creative juices flowing.

 

Mulling it over

Talk about you ideas with friends, family and your OCA peers.

  • What is the possible visual outcome? Remember that your aim is to make photographs, so your ideas need to be visual or you need to find a way to visualise them.
    • The outcome of this project is the production of a photobook that gives a flavour of the last 6 months of Rhys’ life.

 

Research

  • Investigate photographers who have done work in a similar genre or with the same sort of subject. Or just investigate photographers and artists you want to learn from.
  • Research the subject itself. For example, if it’s a photo project about an elderly couple, you could do some research on the changes age makes to people’s lives. You may want to investigate the visual milieu of the elderly, the sorts of things they like to have around them, or the things they need to use because of frailty. Be observant; identify character traits and physical gestures – and the responses of young people to set up a contrast.

All of this should give you some ideas for photographs, e.g. an old lady in her high-backed chair surrounded by memorabilia from her life and photos of her grandchildren; an old man carefully getting into a car; an old lady in a mobility scooter in a crowd of teenagers. you may or may not be able to realise your ideas, but it gets the imagination running to think of them.

 

Preparing to shoot you assignment

Access and permissions

This is probably the No. 1 difference between amateur and professional photography: gaining access by asking for permission to make photographs frees you up to get on with the job of making pictures.

For example if you want to make a cutting-edge police documentary, you’ll need to ask the police for permission and investigate the legal requirements around photographing offenders who may or may not want themselves photographed.

Photography often gives the viewer a ‘privileged’ view of some event or phenomenon. Research Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar at tarynsimon.com/works_americanindex.php. A work like this can’t be made without extensive research and co-operation.

This means:

  • contacting people
  • explaining your circumstances as a photography student
  • explaining your project and requirements.

 

Presentation

Think about how you want the project to be presented.

  • Prints, slideshow sequence, postcards, book?
  • If prints, then how big? What shape?

The work will be seen on your blog this time, but think about other options:

  • Gallery, website, café, etc.

The project takes the form of a photobook.

Who will see it?

  • This time you’ll be showing your work to your tutor and to your peers. But you can think very specifically about this if you aim to make a work for a particular group, for instance the police or newspapers in the above example.
  • A lot of photography is produced for special interest groups, some is more commercial and some is aimed at gallery type spaces.

Think how you will present the work most effectively. Even if you’re making photos of your family on holiday, no-one will see them unless you consider how to make them available.

I produced the book using Microsoft Publisher and then converted it to PDF before uploading it the Blurb and then getting 20 copies of the book produced by them. Copies of the book have been given to family and friends as presents to say thank you for all  the support they provided Rhys and us over the years. I also gave a copy to St Margaret’s Hospice as a thank you for their support in those last weeks.

Equipment

What equipment will you need? Consider the kind of photographs you want to make and the circumstances you’ll be shooting in.

  • Will you need a tripod to keep the camera steady for long exposures?
  • Will you need a wide-angle lens for shooting cramped interiors?
  • Or should you test the results of using a small camera (like a mobile phone camera) for candid street photography?

Make a list of the ‘ideal’ equipment you’ll need for the assignment but be realistic about what you already have.

If you’re missing  vital piece of equipment, try to borrow it or hire it from a photographic supplier like Calumet.

I didn’t need any more equipment than the camera and lenses I already had. I used the standard kit lens for my Nikon as well as a 40mm fixed lens that allowed for macros shots.

None of the photos were taken using a tripod.

Skills and practice

Consider the skills you’ll need to make your final assignment:

  • Will you need to practise you’re fill-flash skills if you’re planning a reportage project? You can look up online tutorials on many technical practices and Photoshop skills.
  • Do you need to know how to make High Dynamic Range 32-bit images for a landscape series?
  • Are you confident you can find strong compositions of your subject? Do some research into other photographers who have covered the same topic and analyse how their compositions work.
  • Contact your tutor if you think there are skills you lack for the assignment and he or she will guide you to suitable resources.

Practise your skills!

Think of a pianist in the weeks before an important concert; he or she will practice that concerto that they’re confident they can perform on the night.

The majority of the skills I needed I already had from previous photographic experience. The new skills I worked on and developed were around producing a book.

These skills involved learning how to use Microsoft Publisher to create a book, add photos and images and manipulate these until I’d produced something I was happy with. I also developed editing skills as I proofread the text, spotting typos and correcting grammar, while trying to maintain the appearance that it was Rhys who was speaking.

Early on in the course I attended a book binding workshop run by the South West student group. From this I was able to produce the first drafts of my book which were hand bound using a stab binding technique.

Production

Post-production

Post-production is a film industry term that is now widely used in photography. It refers to everything you do after shooting the photos to arrive at the finished result. This may be very little other than basic editing, printing and mounting; on the other hand, it may involve composites or special processing to achieve a certain ‘look’.
Post your final assignment on your blog under the category: Assignment Five.

A copy of the book is linked to in the post The Final Journey.
• After posting the images, write about the process you’ve gone through to make this work, and summarise what you learned from the course that helped you with it.

The process I went through with this project has been described above.

The things I’ve learned during the course that helped with this project are how to compose an image, how to edit photographs with Lightroom, choosing the right camera settings for the photographs you are taking and patience; the need to take a number of photographs in order to get the one you want, and also pragmatism; knowing when to accept that you’ve got the shot and aren’t going to improve on it by trying to take it over and over.

• Now spend time looking at other student blogs, in particular their final assignment. Make comments on their blogs and invite comments on your work by giving them your blog address. Be sure to post links to your comments in the OCA student blogs section under Research & reflection.

 

 

Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle’s work exists on the borders of photography and conceptual art. Her work is rarely aesthetic in the pictorial sense, but setms from her curiosity at realising an idea or action.

At the core of Calle’s work is a child-like curiosity with life and people. It’s not so much about making art as allowing herself to be taken on an adventure by an idea.

  • Her work sometimes raises ethical issues related to privacy, and in return she is very open about her own life.

I think that if you are going to intrude on someone else’s privacy, even if you are doing that in a public setting like a street, then you have to be prepared for other people to do the same to you.

  • What are your moral feeling about following a stranger to make photographs of him?

I feel that following a stranger and taking photos of him is something that I would not be comfortable doing.

Taking photos of people without them realising it, is the basis for Street Photography. Actively following someone in order to take photos of them borders on stalking them.

If you worked for a newspaper or magazine then taking photos of people without their knowledge is part of the job but for someone who doesn’t work in that profession or following someone who is ordinary, is an intrusion on their privacy.

It’s something that I’d feel morally uncomfortable doing.

  • Can you think of an adventure you could go on – however banal it may seem – that would put you in a different position than you are accustomed to when making photographs.?

In a few weeks time I will be travelling to Finland and staying in Lahti in the Lakeland area. After I’ve finished the triathlon I’m there to do I’ll have a chance to explore a bit of the area by taking a boat trip. Taking photographs while afloat isn’t something I get a chance to do on a regular basis.

  • Is there a job you could take that would give you access to a certain kind of subject that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to?

At work our communications department make use of photographers for some publicity work. Changing role and taking on one in that area would provide me with access to aircraft, ships and other vehicles, at various stages of development, that I wouldn’t normally have access to.

101 Days

For the final post utilising the techniques in exercise 5.2 and 5.3 I’m using a final series of photos from when Rhys was in hospital.

At the time we were going into hospital, I’d come across a photography challenge called 101 Days. The idea behind the challenge was to take a single photograph each day that summed up how that day went. With nothing better to do we settled down to take at least one photo from when we started our stay. There were a few days that we didn’t manage to take a photograph for one reason or another, but we managed to capture something for the majority of them.

One of the restrictions on bone marrow transplant patients back in 2008 were that you could only have four named visitors while you were in hospital. We chose Tracey, her Mum, my Mum and myself. Of course Rhys being Rhys, he managed to get an extra few visitors. Tracey’s aunt was one of the hospital friends and so could pop in and see him when the rota scheduled her to be on. In addition to her, Rhys also had visits from a couple of the nurses that looked after him in Yeovil, when they happened to be in the area. The hospital school teacher, chaplain, play specialist and a music therapist also visited. Some days it was like Picadilly Circus in his room.

One Rhys left isolation and was able to leave the hospital, even if only for a short while, the number of people that could visit him increased.

The entire experience was blogged about from before we went in, to the time he got home. Rhys’ Treatment Blog can be found at: https://treatingrhys.wordpress.com/