Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Assignment Three – Paris Photo – Progress Report 2

I shot just under 30 images on my first day at Paris Photo and around 100 over a 3-4 hour period the following day, after I had my ‘direction’ planned as explained in the previous post.  Those numbers include a few repeats and re-tries here and there, but I have about 100-120 basic images from which to work.  Day two was more focused, of course, and besides responding to particular opportunities that arose, I was looking for:

·         Some images taken outside the event that would set the (‘grand’) scene; that might indicate the elitist angle; that might position the event as ‘divorced’ from the ‘real world’ – or make a comparison at least.

·         To follow up the ‘elitist’ theme inside the event – the VIP Lounge & its grand staircase; the ‘types’.

·         Possibly some indications that business was being done/discussed – the market;

·         Book signings with opportunities for some ‘celebrity shots’ (!);

·         And, of course, busy photos of activity and movement.

I implemented most of these to some degree, with varying success; and also added detail shots, including some ‘price labels’ to indicate the monetary values being asked; some images to stress the importance given to photobooks in the event; and naturally a few responses to opportunities for juxtapositions etc.

In connection with the latter angle, I spent some frustrating minutes trying to implement what seemed like a good idea at the time – capturing someone’s head against the white central area of an abstract, colourful image that was positioned close to the entrance.  There were always too many people around (including an attendant who was discouraging ‘punters’ from brushing against this particular piece and became suspicious of me ‘lurking’) or I just missed timing it correctly or it wasn’t a very interesting head ...  However, I’ve included some of the results below – partly because it illustrates how easy it is to waste one’s time pursuing what would not have been that great a shot anyway, but also because I think there is a certain something about the shots when they appear together in this way.  Perhaps, chiefly, there is a testament to the folly of trying to be clever!

However, over the last week, I’ve had the chance to review my 100+ images and have narrowed them down, so far, to a long list of 44.  I’m not 100% happy with my handling of the new camera, in truth.  I did admit it was a risk.  It performs well in the lowish light of an exhibition-type environment and was, in many ways, ideal for the job.  But I was less used to handling it and sometimes didn’t quite get my settings right.  More importantly, I think I made a few basic technical and handling errors – even hand movement at times, which is irritating and has been the reason for discounting some of the images.  However, I do feel that there will be enough workable results from this 44 to deliver a satisfactory result on the assignment.  I’ve included that set as a set of contact sheets.  My tutor suggested this approach after Assignment One, so here goes.

Next step is to work out how I’m going to handle the submission; how many to submit; and, of course, which to select from this full set.  They’ve only had some basic processing at this stage, so there will be more work to do on the selected images anyway.

Assignment Three – Paris Photo – Progress Report 1

I’ve been back hone from Paris Photo for about a week and have had chance to do an initial process/assessment of my images.  I’ve also written a short piece for the WeAreOCA Blog - 'Un grand marche au Grand Palais'.  The latter was illustrated with a few images, but wasn’t an attempt to rehearse the assignment.

It is worth recording here what happened on the visit to Paris and specifically how I ended up approaching the making of my photos for the assignment.  I took a risk in relying on an entirely new camera with which I had only done some rudimentary familiarisation.  Attendance at two gallery exhibitions before the main event gave me chance for a bit of a dry run.

Above is a selection from a visit to 'Le Bal'Gallery in Montmartre, where images from two pieces of work by Paul Graham were on show.  I also went to 'Jeu de Paume', where there was a Manuel Alvares Bravo retrospective, but photography was prohibited, and to the ‘Maison EuropĂ©enne de la Photographie’, which had an exhibition entitled ‘Photography in France 1950-2000’.  It was a slight misnomer, since there were images by French photographers taken outside France and images by non-French photographers taken in France, but that aside, it was a big and very interesting survey of most strands of photography in the second half of the 20th century.  I was also able to give the camera a real ‘low light’ run since we visited in the evening.

Of course, I only had the opportunity to review these images in the camera at the time, and no chance to actually process them.  So there was still an element of risk.

My intention all along was to visit the main Paris Photo event on two separate days – the first to actually ‘take in’ the event and to assess my opportunities and options for the photo essay; and the second to ‘work’ the event, photographically, on my own, for a few hours, creating the main body of images for the assignment.  I did, naturally, take some photographs on the first day, but broadly speaking, I followed this original plan.  (I did also consider the possibility that the assignment would cover a range of the events going on across Paris, but came to the conclusion that I would be best to focus on the main event itself.)

What did emerge, when I reflected on my impressions from the first day, was a definite direction that I wanted to go with the assignment.  I would photograph Paris Photo for what it is – a market.  On the evening of that first day, I jotted down a series of bullet points that defined how I saw the event after the visit.  I wrote that Paris Photo is:

·         A top-end art market;

·         A ‘grand’ event at the Grand Palais;

·         Somewhat divorced from reality;

·         ‘tiered’ in its own right;

·         More about money than art;

·         About the ‘great and the good’;

·         A coming together;

·         A public display by dealers;

·         About ‘old’ pictures;

·         About the ‘established’;

·         A reluctant performance by some of the artists;

·         A positive statement of photography’s presence;

·         Something of a high-class car boot sale;

·         Comforting and reassuring for those already ‘there’.

Some of those might have been a little overstated after a long day and a few glasses of wine, but they provided a kind of script for my work the next day.  I had also by then decided to forget about the notion of producing a slideshow as well as the main photo essay.

So as not to make this too long a post, I’m going to continue the Progress Report in a separate blog entry, to follow.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Assignment Three – Paris Photo – A Plan (sort of)

Assignment Three is entitled ‘A Photographic Commission’, and the ‘brief’ is, in essence, to come up with an area of interest, in response to which your tutor will brief you for a ‘commissioned’ piece of work.  This follows a series of projects, written pieces, research etc around photojournalism, the photo-story, page layouts, and so on.  Knowing that I was about to visit Paris Photo, I suggested this as a topic; but my ‘brief’ is more or less non-existent – my ‘take’ on it, a ‘self-directed’ assignment.  That’s fine; I’m not complaining; but I do have to give it some thought and do some planning.  Otherwise I’m in danger of falling into the same situation as Assignment One.  My tutor did point me in a couple of directions – Martin Parr’s work at art fairs and an arms fair (including images in his ‘Luxury’ series) and Nick Cunard’s images of Crufts, which are here.  This latter work doesn’t do a lot for me, actually, and I’m not sure how closely images of a dog show relate to Paris Photo – but it does make me reflect on the possibility of a slideshow outcome; of which more later.

The Parr work is a bit more interesting, albeit difficult to ‘pin down’.  I haven’t looked at the ‘Luxury’ book and am unlikely to be able to get a sight of it before going to Paris next week, but I have dug out a few examples, via the Internet, with images from art fairs. This is a good example – typical Parr use of vibrant colour; a ‘clashing’ image; wit and observation; and there are others in similar vein.  Then there is his visit to an arms fair in Abu Dhabi - here.  There’s a longer collection of images on the Magnum site, but these show keen observation of ‘decisive moments’ and visually interesting juxtapositions.  He did, as the Magnun set shows, take plenty of ‘simple’ photographs of people and things, but his own edit for the blog selects those that work most effectively.  So, what I take from Parr’s work is that I must look for visually interesting images – juxtaposition; colour; visual puns; and so on.

Of course, one aspect of this is to consider what will be the eventual outcome.  Is this photo story for a magazine, a newspaper, me, a photographic journal, an art publication, my friends and family, my tutor, OCA, fellow student, Uncle Tom Cobley?  It seems unlikely – not impossible but unlikely – that a weekend colour supplement would be running a photo story on Paris Photo, unless I can find an angle that would be of interest to that type of publication.  It isn’t the sort of story that one would find in a travel magazine such as National Geographic.  Another factor to consider is that I have not yet had time to complete the exercises & projects – but since several of them are about layouts, they can be done afterwards, providing a create sufficient variety and flexibility of images.  My inclination is to have two different, but no mutually exclusive, ideas in the back of my mind as I visit the show and make my pictures – a photo story/essay for a magazine publication aimed at art-based professional photographers and students who might be interested in what the Paris Photo 2012 was like and might be wondering whether they should go to a future event; and a slide show presentation that is Stan’s take, Stan’s response, Stan’s expression of his experience.  It shouldn’t confuse my thinking too much to have both possibilities in mind, and at the same time, it leaves enough scope to create meaningful and personal images of the show.

I have had one or two other practical issues in the back of my mind as well.  What happens if there is ‘no photography’ at the show?  So, a search on images from Paris Photo 2011 reveals some You-Tube footage, which not only helps me prepare by getting an impression of the atmosphere but also shows individuals taking photographs.  As far as I can tell, therefore, that isn’t going to be a problem.  My second practical issue has been ‘which camera?’. The DSLR would be OK, if perhaps a little obvious when looking to take discrete photographs, but the D80 isn’t great in low-light, indoor circumstances.  It’s acceptable, but one has to use relatively slow shutter speeds or put up with significant noise.  My Ricoh compact is certainly very discrete, very handy to carry around, and I’m used to using it in all sorts of circumstances – but it suffers even more from the low light, high ISO noise problem.  Problem solved – I’ve invested in a Fuji x100.  Haven’t left myself an awful lot of time to familiarise myself with it before next week, but I’m sure I’ll cope.  A new toy!

So, off to Paris on Monday and we’ll see how we get on!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Exercise: Revisit Assignment One

I’ve spent a little bit of time on this process over the last 2 or 3 weeks – looking at the original brief, the images I submitted (and those I didn’t), the notes I prepared and the feedback from my tutor.  I’m confident that my submission for assignment was, at least, a personal portfolio of images.  I took photographs that I wanted to take, with subjects, framing, etc that were of interest to me.  In the notes submitted I refer to quite a range of concepts/themes – stone, dilapidation, history, ruggedness, absurdity, survival, adaptation – and all of those are present in the submitted images.  What I didn’t do, looking back now, was narrow that down to a common theme/concept and explore that through the images I prepared and chose.

The feedback was broadly good – a strong collection of images, a critical investigation of the area, good observation and commitment, conveys the atmosphere, good editing – and so on.  But there was a comment that my tutor ‘would have liked to see more focus on one of the strands’, followed up in a subsequent exchange by ‘articulate the motivations behind your images a bit more ...’.  So, once again, it seems to be a case of trying to get more focus and direction.

Thinking about it, there could have been two ways of doing that – 1) essentially have taken the same images but then edit with a strong focus/intent; 2) do more research and thinking up front, choose a theme, then go out and take photos that reflect it.  Seems to me that either could be acceptable.  The first is along the lines of Anish Kapoor – letting the ‘spiritual’ speak through the artist in the creative process & then the ‘reader’ reconnects.  In fact, these are not mutually exclusive.  My ‘personal portfolio’ for Assignment One was, probably, more akin to the first, but reflecting on the assignment now presents an opportunity to use that process as the ‘research’.  What concepts and themes do I see now, when I review the longer set of images from which I made my choice?  What appeals to me and seems to speak about the local area in a voice to which I best relate?  What, in fact, do I want to say about the area?  And what sort of edit does that produce? What new images does it make me want to capture that further the theme.

I’ve spent some time doing just such a review.  There were 35 images in my long list, from which I selected 15 (probably too many) for the submission.  I already had some prints of the submitted ones, but I’ve printed off the others and been shuffling them around, re-selecting and, I guess, re-reading.  It seems to me that what I want to say about life in this corner of the Holme Valley (and I always intended to focus the assignment into a very narrow geography – bit like painter George Shaw in my earlier posts & his images from within a couple of hundred metres of where he grew up) was/is:

·         Life is tough;

·         Life is absurd;

·         Life is rarely pretty;

·         But we can make something of it.

And, of course, those are ideas that apply to life in general, not just the Holme Valley; universal concepts that are as much about man and his struggle to survive as they are about me creating images that evoke the neighbourhood where I live.  And the ‘making something of it’ is as much about my images being the ‘making’ as it is about documenting what others have ‘made’.  Bringing the techniques of the sublime landscape image to a shot of a pig farm is, in itself, a metaphor for man making the best of his lot.

So, where does that leave me in reviewing my images for Assignment One?  It informs my edit of the images that I’ve already taken and it provides direction for me to continue to create images that will add to the portfolio.  It provides me with a focus, when I’m out with the camera, locally; and I can continue to add/develop, so that by the time I submit for assessment I have a more focused, more clearly directed set of images for this assignment.  It’s something I can continue to work on over the months to that stage – and beyond, of course.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Assignment Two – Feedback

I got the feedback on Assignment Two just over a week ago, but hadn’t had an opportunity, until now, to record reflections in here.  Some of the opening words caused initial apprehension; ‘... you may be disappointed ...’ and ‘... to be quite honest ...’ plus ‘...I’m really struggling ...’ didn’t augur well for what might follow.  But when the latter phrase led into ‘... to think of suggestions to improve upon this ...’ and the words ‘... fantastic piece of work ...’ came shortly after, I realised I was being led slightly down the garden path!! Thanks, Jesse!  I’ve broken with the normal code of modesty and quoted because, let’s be honest, that sort of feedback doesn’t come too often so ‘what the hell’ let’s get out the trumpet and blow it!

There are, of course and despite the intro, a few good suggestions e.g. some other lines of research, some interesting angles on the design, and a comparison that I like – with Edgar Martins’ night landscapes on beaches http://www.edgarmartins.com/ (‘The Accidental Theorist’ project).  I’ve seen and enjoyed Martins’ work before, including some of the beach images, but I hadn’t made this connection.  And I hadn’t really studied him - I need to look more closely.

One other useful thought has come to my mind as a result of this positive feedback.  Looking back over my studies with OCA, I have consistently got this sort of response (maybe not quite so glowing!!) when I’ve been working in this sort of ‘controlled’, ‘studio-like’ manner – strong but controlled lighting.  Way back in ‘Art of Photography’ – photographing a queen scallop shell for the ‘lighting’ assignment and the ingredients of ‘flapjack’ as a kind of still life image, for example.  The Martins’ images have a kind of ‘still life’, constructed look about them.  I do enjoy shutting myself away and playing around with compositions, lighting, framing, and I wonder whether – further down the line at Level Three, for example – it might be interesting to explore ‘conceptual still life’, which I guess is what this book cover amounts to.

Really encouraging to get good feedback; I’m definitely not disappointed; now on to Assignment Three, which is a ‘Photo Story’ or ‘Photo Essay’.  I’m going to Paris Photo week after next, which might well turn out to be the subject matter; but I don’t have the time to work through exercises first.  So it might be a case of capturing the images first – my take on the experience - and then structuring the story some weeks later.