Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Assignment Three - some comparisons

I mentioned, responding to the comments on my last post here, that I had produced a slideshow video version of the Paris Photo images.  Actually, I have also done two 'in the style of' magazine layouts of selected images as well; and I'm also printing a small selection.  It is interesting and worthwhile, I think, to consider all these different forms in which the images might be used.

Starting out with the slideshow video:

This has a very different 'feel' compared with the short movie in the previous post, even though many of the actual images are common to both. The pace is slow, steady and even; there is just about enough time to consider each image in its own right; but there is some degree of flow and structure as well; whilst the selection and ordering is down to me, the artist, there is probably enough 'space' for the viewer to form some of his/her own opinion about the event and the images.  It has no soundtrack, of course, and including one would have made a significant difference - another 'cool' jazz track would fit well, but what if the background had been sounds from Leeds market!

This assignment comes at the end of a section of the course entitles 'Photography in Publishing II'; and many of the exercises leading up to it seem directed towards photo-journalism and the use of images in printed publications.  (Though, to be fair, 'A story in pictures' is a concept open to many interpretations.)  I chose to use some of the images from Paris Photo as the basis for an exercise around page layouts and considered two magazine styles that might have had a feature on the subject.  The first, below (each image being a double page), is 'in the style of' a colour supplement magazine such as the Sunday Times.

Four double-page spreads is probably a bit unlikely, but I have based the style on some research of relevant publications - almost always starting with a full bleed image on the title page; almost always including centrally-positioned image across two pages, as in the second spread above; and very often ending with a half-page image after the 'sign-off'.  Clearly, the overall impact of the 'story' will depend on the words, but despite my overall disatisfaction with the photographs I brought back from Paris, a small selection, such as these, has enough variety of subject, framing and style to support an article such as this.

The other type of publication I had in mind was the professional photography journals.  Of course, many of these tend to concentrate on images as art rather than as supporting material for reportage.  But I did work around the idea of an article in the British Journal of Photography, perhaps as a report in their 'Intelligence' section.  They actually tend to go for very 'simple' layouts and so I produced this:

As I said above, I have also done prints of a small selection, but I keep tending back to the view that I haven't really produced any images that stand up strongly on their own.  Since this section and this assignment is, to an extent, aimed at producing a 'story in pictures', I could conclude that I've 'failed', but I would probably be being a bit unfair on myself.  The selection and layout in the 'colour supplement' style above, for example, could probably do enough to inform a casual reader of the magazine, even if they didn't choose to read the article.  (The images themselves would be captioned too, of course.)

I now need to decide on just what I'll submit to my tutor.  Since the various options are here in my Learning Log, I'm tending towards just submitting the video, since that is the one that satisfies the brief to present my take on the event in a manner that challenges and stretches me from the technical point of view.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Assignment Three - A Complete Video

So, here is a complete version of the Paris Photo video.  The second half uses a soundtrack, plus a few images, from Leeds City Markets, juxtaposed with the images from the Grand Palais.  The point of doing so is, probably, self-evident but I hope it makes the viewer reflect on the relationship between photography as a contemporary creative artisitic activity and the market for photographic art. How relevant is each to the other?  How do they relate?  I'm not sure I can really answer the question, but it was one firmly embedded in my thoughts as I visited Le Grand Palais in November and as I reflected afterwards.

Re-reading my last post on here, I also reflect on the similarity of this video approach to, say, a collage.  I've already commented that I returned from Paris Photo less than satisfied with the images that I collected; and I even considered abandoning this approach to Assignment Three.  Now I'm not sure it would be fair to say that a video enables me to make the best of a bad job, but maybe the point is that it is the collective affect of these images, the juxtaposition, the ordering, the extension through sounds and comparative images, that works.  In a situation like this, maybe it is better not to have some 'stand-out', exceptional individual photographs, but to allow the 'collage', the collective effect do the job.

Anyway, I'm going to put this video up here for a few days to see what, if anything, people think of it.  Meanwhile, I'll also need to think about just what I am going to submit to my tutor for this assignment.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Revised Intro

Having looked at helpful comments from a number of fellow students, I've slowed the early part down, just a little, by introducing a brief, still version of two of the images.  The voice is updated with a better French speaker!  And there is now just one 'cash' image at the end.  It feels like an improvement, to me.

I have also recorded some sounds in Leeds market and am ready to start working on the second half of the video.

The comments made me reflect a little on why I'm taking this approach and what I hope to achieve.  As intimated elsewhere, perhaps the most important reason is that I want to try something different and test myself out.  I also sense that the contemporary version of the 'Photo Essay' concept described in the course notes is, maybe, a short video on You Tube.  An online magazine, for example, could be more likely to include something along these lines, or a slideshow, rather than a carefully laid out picture essay.  The challenges are different.  A viewer of a magazine photo sequence can review the whole set in seconds, flicking backwards and forwards between pages.  Then they can follow the sequence, read the narrative that the creator has put together, and ultimately spend time reviewing any or all of the images in detail.  In the video, such as this one, everything happens much more quickly - like so many aspects of contemporary communications.  The viewers' attention needs to be won in the first few seconds.  They need something to be happening that keeps them gripped, since they can stop the video and forget all about it in an instance.  They're unlikely, certainly in the case of a video on the internet, to watch for longer than a few minutes, so getting the message cross quickly is important.  As I've been working on this and thinking about it, I sense that it has more in common with an advertisement or a music video than, say, a slideshow or physical presentation of still images.  One is trying to create a 'sensation' through a combination of visual and audio stimuli.  It still requires careful thought about sequencing, timing, juxtaposition, pace etc, which has similarities with the photo essay, but everything is happening so much more quickly.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Assignment Three - A test run of the concept

As I said in the previous post, I'm going to 'test the water' with the video concept that I've come up with for Assignment Three.  This assignment, as written up in the course notes, calls for the photographer to take photographs to 'support an editorial feature', and the notes suggest a detailed and focussed brief from the tutor.  I havn't had that; my brief being, essentially, to present my take on Paris Photo 2012 and to challenge myself technically.  I have worked on the magazine article layout approach, and will present that as part of my submission, I'm sure, but I've also been exploring the idea of an audio visual presentation.  As a result, I've produced the following, approximately 50 second long, video.  It has some rough edges, certainly, and it is only a structure for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the finished piece.  But I feel the need for some feedback.  So, I'm going to publicise it on here and to my fellow students.  If anyone has a bit of time to look at it and comment, that would be hugely helpful.  I'm quite nervous about doing this, because I know it is definitely not as slick as it might be and is, as I said, unfinished ... but let's see what happens.

Assignment Three – Progress Update

Looking to fulfil the suggestion that I stretch myself technically with this assignment, I’ve been doing further work on the idea of a video that represents my interpretation of Paris Photo 2012.  As I had already concluded, it needs to have a soundtrack, otherwise it will just be a slideshow, which neither tests my technical capability nor captures the attention of the viewer.  Frankly, I don’t think my images from the show are good enough for that – not in any volume anyway.  I had explored the possibility of using a piece of music, maybe something totally original – but that is not going to happen.  However, the way I’m now thinking might turn out to be even better, and certainly offer more scope for some creativity.

The principle theme is to present Paris Photo as a market for the rich.  So I came up with the idea to blend images and sound from a market in the UK (Leeds Market being an ideal choice – traditional building and environment, with the sounds of stallholders “Sirloin Steak, three for a tenner!” etc) with my images of Paris Photo, and also with some short music clips e.g. ‘Money, money, money’ from the film Cabaret.  I was also thinking about some spoken background e.g. a news article about Paris Photo.  Blending all of these into an interesting audio visual presentation would, potentially, be an effective way to communicate what I want to say, but also provide the technical challenge.  And it doesn’t have to be a long piece.  I did consider the idea of ‘Paris Photo in 60 seconds’, but that might be a bit too short. However, I don’t anticipate anything much longer that, say, 2 minutes.  That gives enough scope for some change of pace and mood whilst retaining the viewers’ attention.  I recall the very clear message from our Duckrabbit presenter at the Leeds Workshop, that you need to get the viewers’ attention very quickly and that most Internet viewers have a short attention span.  (He didn’t quite say that!)

Of course, this soundtrack would need to be of a good enough quality; and I would need to have some means of editing and mixing to a reasonable enough standard for it not to appear too naff and amateurish.  Exploring these issues further, I have acquired a small digital voice recorder; downloaded a free sound editing/mixing ‘suite’; and ensured that I can record, edit and mix.  I do have previous experience of editing video – both moving digital images and stills – using Microsoft Movie-Maker.  So I’ve also trialled combining the sound files from the digital recorder with images from Paris Photo; and have taken that one stage further and uploaded to You Tube.  These were very rough examples, but I now know what format from Movie Maker works on You Tube, and have also learned how to ‘normalise’ the sound into a reasonable consistent level and quality.

In fact, I’ve then taken things a stage further and had a go at what the opening part of my video might be like.  I don’t have any Leeds Market recording or images to work with yet, but I’ve combined music (two different sources), spoken word, some of the Paris Photo images, and a couple of specially shot images, to produce a 50 second piece that tests out the concept, which I’ve then uploaded to YouTube.  It isn’t perfect by a long way but my feeling is that it does certainly work in principle.  The pace changes and builds through the fifty seconds to something of a climax (and I would aim to then slow it again, with the Leeds Market sounds, but I have an idea as to how I want to finish it with a punch).  Now, apart from the need to go out and get my additional images and sound, I’m also wondering whether to test the concept with my fellow students.  I’m thinking that I will do another blog post on here, shortly, with the video embedded (another ‘first’ to be tried), and that I might publicise it on Flickr as well ...

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Have to start again somewhere!

It’s over a month since I posted to this blog – Christmas & New Year, yes OK, but the longer you leave it the harder it is to get started again!  Things have been happening & I do keep up with jottings & reflections in my notebook, but I really need to get back into the Learning Log proper, so this is by way of a starter.  A rapid overview of what I’ve been up to will suffice for now – perhaps!

PwDP – Assignment Three

I deliberately ignored my Paris Photo images for some weeks.  I had convinced myself that they probably weren’t good enough to use & that I should probably find another subject and start all over again; so I figured that some space to reflect was a good idea.  Going back to them between Christmas & New Year, I still had reservations but decided that I would press ahead.  I had consulted with my tutor whose advice was not to worry too much about what the eventual submission for the assignment might be but to make sure I challenged myself technically along the way.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’ve started playing around with some editing, captioning and basic layouts, as per the exercises in this section of the course.  Most of that is fairly straightforward & I’m working with the Paris Photo images so that this work is building for the assignment.  But I will attempt something a bit more challenging as well – maybe a lot more challenging.  I want to try and combine some of the images into a ‘video-based’ presentation.  At the moment, my feeling is that a simple slideshow would be boring and achieve little, but to work effectively, a video made up of still images probably needs a soundtrack.  I have an idea of what I might do and I’m working on it!  (Music – but hopefully something I can use and publicise on here without breaching copyright!)

A ‘Personal Project’

I got a ‘commission’ to do a piece of work before Christmas.  Those inverted commas in the previous sentence are really important!  There is a passageway in our house where three holiday photographs that I took years ago have hung, mocking me, for some time.  The ‘commission’ was to come up with something to replace them – and I was keen to make it something that had some ‘meaning’, not just any old landscapes!  We had decided that a series of about eight, smallish square frames would work well; so what to put in them?

I have produced what I guess would best be described as a ‘still life’ series, entitled ‘It’s a dead leaf!’.  There is some oblique reference there to the tendency we obsessive photographers have to drive friends and family mad by seeming to want to photograph obscure and mundane objects and situations.  However, there was some element of serious intent in what I produced.  I’m always keen to make the ordinary special – I’ve blogged on here before about that.  Maybe there is some deeper meaning in it somewhere.  Perhaps I want people to notice me and the metaphorical version is getting them to see beauty in the mundane through the images I produce.  Not sure – but I went out into the garden on a couple of occasions in early December, and gathered together a motley collection of dead and dying leaves, flowers & general detritus.  Then, over a further couple of days, I photographed them under artificial lighting against a pure black background.  I quite deliberately looked for a variety of arrangements and patterns within the planned square frame – using a small pewter vase for one or two images.  Two of the images had to be produced particularly quickly because I chose to capture objects with frost on them.  I found that process to be significant and symbolic in itself – the ‘decisive moment’.  I was creating still life images, but of something transient, something that could only be there for a short time, something which seemed to go against the traditional idea of a still life.  Of course, the whole series is about transience, briefly stopping the passage of time, capturing something that we mostly don’t even notice.  Taking that dead leaf, which we could just as easily have stepped on and crushed to a pulp as we walked over it, and giving it a starring role.  This is the image from the series that I think captures the idea best of all.

That’s real frost on it, and it flopped over in this way because it was quickly thawing and losing the temporary rigidity the frost had given it.  It is only a dead leaf, but I think it’s standing for a lot in this image.  It might even be partially representative of me risking a step or two towards the darker zone from which I might look back and better understand what I’m trying to do.

So – that’s certainly got the reflective learning log going again!  The images appear in a set on Flickr, here "It's a dead leaf" .

‘Art of Arrangement’ – Exhibition at the National Media Museum, Bradford

I commented, after my ‘studio’ based work for Assignment Two, that the ‘conceptual still life’ genre was something I was interested to explore further. I was given this small book as a birthday present - "Still Life in Photography" by Paul Martineau.  The short introductory essay provides a good overview with pointers to further investigation and a reading list – a nice starting point for further study.  The images then provide a similar visual overview, from Fox Talbot to Ori Gersht and Sharon Core.  Coincidentally, the National Media Museum has an exhibition on called ‘Art of Arrangement’.  Rather like the book, the exhibition sets out survey the part that still life has played since photography first emerged in the 19th century, and to relate that it is stiull alive and kicking in contemporary photography.

I’m not sure the title ‘Art of arrangement’ does the show any favours, especially from the publicity point of view.  Accompanying notes and essays (downloadable from the NMM website, with some videos to view as well) do make reference to the ‘rich and symbolic language’ of still life and the subtle conveyance of ‘complex and spiritual ideas’.  So, to imply, however unintentionally, that it might be an exhibition about flower arranging is not the wisest thing!  Actually, although disappointing in regard to the number of more contemporary examples (partly, I suspect, because the NMM is largely limited to its own collections plus the Royal Photographic Society archive), it does, like the book, give a useful intro to the genre, its historical context, and the deeper meaning and significance of ‘serious’ still life images.  The range goes from prints used by Fox Talbot in his ‘Pencil of Nature’ publication, through extensive examples from Roger Fenton, works by the pictorialists, notably Steichen, on to Atget, Kertesz and the surrealists e.g. Man Ray, via Don McCullin (an odd choice for still life!) to Chris Killip and a projected animated work by Ori Gersht.

My impression is that there is genuine activity in the photo-art world that could most definitely be defined as ‘still life’ (in so far as such definition and classification is of any consequence – which is debateable!).  For example, Hotshoe‘s December/January edition featured Diana Scherer’s Nurture Studies work, which I’d seen at the Nofound Fotofair, in Paris, and liked very much.  So, on the one hand, I’m encouraged that the genre is alive and kicking, but a little put off that this exhibition doesn’t really add to the story – certainly in the contemporary context.  It could be argued that Ori Gerhst’s is subverting the genre, by making it move and exploding its contents.  The credibility of the exhibition wasn’t, in my view, helped by the inclusion of a filmed interview with Don McCullin (again, I say, odd choice!) in which he says that his still life work isn’t meant to be taken seriously and is a bit of an escape to ‘the shed’ for him.  Great photographer that he is, within his field of experience and expertise, I’m not sure that his view, which seems to dismiss the genre as a ‘hobby’ for him, is helpful in assessing the position of ‘still life’ in contemporary photo-based art.  Mind you, some might disagree, I guess.  I’ll keep an open mind and get back to working out how I can best progress with my Paris Photo project.