Part 5 Project 2 Concept in Photography First Post.

 

Introduction

The second project in Part Five is about conceptual photography which is described and defined in a number of ways. The FiP Course Handbook (2014) explains it is “…to do with hunches and entering a process where you don’t really know what the outcome will be and you take photographs that attempt to document that process.” This is the first of two posts. In the second I will present the arrangement of prints asked for in the exercise together with an exploration of other photographic work using flowers as subjects.

First Steps

The Tate defines conceptual photography as “..photography that illustrates an idea” (Tate 2018) and describes the historical development and diversification of conceptual photography over more that 100 years.

Exploring the photographers cited by the Tate I was absorbed by the work of John Hilliard and in particular “Camera Recording its own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors)”, that is described in the following way:

The central image in this work, visible in varying degrees across seventy black and white photographs, arrayed in ten rows of seven across, is the artist’s camera, an East German made Praktica. The camera, which is operated by Hilliard, is reflected in two mirrors, the larger of which presents a reversed image of the subject. Hilliard also holds up a smaller mirror which reflects and makes legible the camera’s setting and controls. The variables governing the making of the work are indicated by the second part of its title, ‘7 apertures, 10 speeds, 2 mirrors’ – the camera has become both the subject and object of the work, in that the seventy photographs show the images resulting from all combinations of aperture size and shutter speed in that camera. Across a diagonal axis, where the exposures are ‘correct’, it is possible to read the camera settings which produced each image. Where the photographs have been sequentially over or under-exposed, the next reading can usually be logically inferred.” (Hilliard, John; 1971, Tate),

The resultant art work is a grid of 70 sequential images that are precisely aligned to form a new image of geometric design with a diagonal gradient of light that falls from overwhelming brightness to darkness. This approach conceptualises the use of the camera in an entirely new way, as an artistic tool in its own right. The resultant composite grid of the images is more than the mere sum of the individual parts and a story emerges that requires individual interpretation.

Hilliard worked with film to create art works developed from his ideas. Digital photography allows for a greater range and diversity as photographs are altered, manipulated, merged, layered and overlaid using post processing software.

In looking ahead to exercise 5.5 I decided to use the tulip as the basis of my study and before commencing the requirements of the exercise took photographs of a single tulip using different exposures and post processing to develop a sequence passing from lightness to darkness as influenced by Hilliard.

 

                                                A TULIP SEEN IN DIFFERENT LIGHT

With this small experiment in mind I commenced the formal exercise.

Exercise 5.5  What is a flower?

This exercise asks that we choose a flower that we observe and photograph over a period of time to create a collection of visual connotations about symbolic and metaphorical associations.  The series to be supported by a formal definition or description of a flower.

I chose to photograph tulips due to my passion for growing them and therefore their availability at the time I took the photographs. So many indeed (nearly 800) that I have left them to rest awhile before proceeding.

Tulips described.

The first part of the exercise asks for a formal description of a flower. Flowers are plant structures involved in sexual reproduction. Tulips are a form of angiosperm flower, a complete or perfect flower that is bisexual, having both androececium or male parts – stamens, and female parts known as gynoececium – stigma, style and ovary. In addition there are sepals and petals that are decorative only, but important in attracting insects that act as pollinators, facilitating the reproductive process and the continuation of the genus over time. A www search for ‘flower diagram’ reveals a plethora of examples of the reproductive system of a flower. The diagram below provides an illustration of the form of an angiosperm flower (codyolserbiology.weebly.co: accessed 10.06.18)

1214153_orig.jpg

Tulips form a genus or perennial herbivorous bulbiferous geophytes (that store food, and allow year on year repeat flowering of the same colour and shape as the original flower). Tulips may also be grown from seed by allowing the seed pod of a tulip that has finished flowering to dry out and undergo a period of cold prior to extracting the seed and sowing. The germination of the seed and growth of the young plant takes several years to mature to the point that it is able to produce a flower that may bear no resemblance to the parent. This factual, biological description of the tulip fails to reach the visual, symbolic and metaphorical connotations developed by artists and fine art photographers .

The word tulip, like the cultivated tulip plant itself, has its origins in the Middle East. The tulip figures frequently in Persian verse, where its red color evokes the blood of martyrs and the fire of love, and in Turkey, tulips are associated with the delicate refinement and luxury that characterized the Ottoman Empire at the height of itspower. (www.thefreedictionary.com). Tulips are associated with spring and love, and formed the subject of two centuries of the genre of Dutch flower painting that is said to have commenced with Jan Breughel the Elder in the early 17th Century (bbc.com 2016).

Following the rise and decline of a tulip flower illustrates the function of an angiosperm flower as it forms and reforms in a constant cycle of renewal and regeneration. I set out to photograph this event using the specific guidance for the exercise without knowing exactly where it would lead.

Exercise Specifics
A macro photograph of the tulip in vibrant full bloom shot against a neutral background.

I chose two, the first whilst in a vase, the second in the garden.

 

TULIP IN FLOWER

A photographic record of the sequence of pulling apart the tulip

I have photographed the natural and beautiful process of decline in the garden for this part of the exercise.

 

TULIP IN DECLINE

Together with a photographs of the gradual petal fall of tulips in a jar in the house.

Petal fall

PETAL FALL

Another perspective is achieved by photographing fallen tulip petals in water.

Tulips in water

TULIP FALL IN WATER

 

An example of other subjects in the same form and colours of the tulip.

I selected favourite knitted silk scarves with some of the multicolours of tulips together with two tulip shaped wine glasses. The colour blue features here. I have yet to grow a blue tulip, but they exist, so here we have aspiration for next spring.

Tulip colours

THE COLOURS OF TULIPS

Individual images of each part of the tulip whilst vibrant and in decline against  a white or black  background.

I experimented on a number occasions with a number of tulips in both wet and dry weather for this part of the exercise. I wanted to use the exercise to develop my macro photography skills using a white and black background. I used a number of different tulips and of different colours.  Over a period of days I took over 700 photographs and then left them, returning after a month or more to edit down to the following contact sheets:

Tulyonb Contact Sheet 1
YELLOW ON BLACK

 

Tulponb ContactSheet-001
TULIP PINK ON BLACK 1

TulponbContactSheet-002
TULIP PINK ON BLACK 2

YelonWContactSheet-001
TULIP YELLOW ON WHITE
PonW ContactSheet-001
TULIP PNK ON WHITE

Printing the photographs as small prints and arranging them in a grid or pattern with the dictionary definition. Then to photograph this arrangement.

I have prepared the small size prints and await their arrival. A second post will complete this part of the project and will include reflection on the project as a whole.

 Comments and critique welcome

References

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/conceptual-photography

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hilliard-camera-recording-its-own-condition-7-apertures-10-speeds-2-mirrors-t03116 (accessed 05/06/2018)

Sooke, Alastair; Tulips and art BBC Tulip mania:the flowers that cost more than houses ‘ 3 May 2016; State of the Art-Contemporary Art-Art history/bbc.com ( accessed 6/6/2018)

Diagram of a flower; codyolserbiology.weebly.co (accessed 10.06.18)

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On the Move

Introduction

In section five of this foundation course we are invited to “show our work” and to explore, experiment and reflect as we pursue a deeper understanding of photography. This involves researching, appraising and learning from other photographers and testing out different ideas and genres.

In my recent post The Bridge: part four to part five I described the challenges I was setting myself as I moved towards the Part 5 exercises and final assignment for this course. These are:

  • to continue to utilise my life experience and environment to inform my photography
  • to set myself small projects to develop technical skills
  • to utilise mobile photography, especially when ‘spotting’ interesting opportunities in unusual or unexpected circumstances
  • to explore the possibilities and limits of what the camera can achieve
  • to expand the range of working with people, especially when permission is needed
  • to utilise on line tutorials
  • to possibly revisit and develop the previous Trunk exercise for the final assignment.

In this post I am sharing photographs captured whilst “on the move” using my iPhone7plus. These are images that I have posted on Instagram, having set myself a “photo a day” challenge some months ago.

As I move through daily life, walking our two ageing dogs I have accumulated a number of photographs of the routes we follow each day.  These are taken in the morning and evening throughout the year and in all weathers. The shots are entirely opportunistic and frequently involve a one handed approach as dogs are, as necessary safely held on their leads in the other.

 

The blossom season was late this year, but the flowering more glorious as a result. With longer days the morning and evening walks no longer gave early light, daybreak being before the walks began. Instead the orchards bloomed, blackthorn and plum, followed by cherry, pear and apple. iPhone mobile camera in hand I took photographs and on return created layered collages, sometimes with filters, using Photoshop phone apps over a morning coffee. A sample here:

 

Not every day is spent walking in the countryside. On other occasions I may be travelling in a car as a passenger, on a train or bus, or walking down a street. Again when I spot something interesting I will capture it.

Here are some photographs taken in recent months at St Pancras International Station as I pass through quickly.

 

An interview with Julian Calverley (https://www.cnet.com/news/pro-photographer-iphone-julian-calverley-interview/) that I have cited elsewhere, argues for the legitimacy of iPhoneography, pointing out that it has its place alongside the use of DSLRs and analogue/film. He notes that there is a view that using mobile photography is “cheating” in some way. However as one tool in the box it does provide opportunity for exploration and testing new ideas, and for me the ability to take photographs in situations where carrying a larger camera is more difficult. Using the phone is entirely spontaneous.

That said it can be a lazy way of going about things and I am endeavouring in the coming weeks to be more rigorous about using my Olympus OMD when on the move.

Reference

Calverley, Julian (https://www.cnet.com/news/pro-photographer-iphone-julian-calverley-interview/) accessed 26.05.18.@15.00

Comments on my work are always welcome.

 

 

Exploring possibilities: developing skills

Introduction

In section five of this course we are invited to “show our work” and to explore, experiment and reflect as we pursue a deeper understanding of photography. This involves researching, appraising and learning from other photographers and testing out different ideas and genres.

In my recent post The Bridge: part four to part five I described the challenges I was setting myself as I moved towards the Part 5 exercises and final assignment for this course. These are:

  • to continue to utilise my life experience and environment to inform my photography
  • to set myself small projects to develop technical skills
  • to utilise mobile photography, especially when ‘spotting’ interesting opportunities in unusual or unexpected circumstances
  • to explore the possibilities and limits of what the camera can achieve
  • to expand the range of working with people, especially when permission is needed
  • to utilise on line tutorials
  • to possibly revisit and develop the previous Trunk exercise for the final assignment.

In this post I am setting myself a small project to enable me to begin to consider expanding the range of working with people, especially when permission is needed, using two events in the summer of 2016 as a starting point..

Event Photography

The occasion of a recent Royal wedding in May 2018 has produced a plethora of photographs published formally and informally that fall into the category of event photography . Event photography records and represents an occasion and the photographer is normally invited or commissioned to record it. This usually includes a significant number of formal arranged shots as well as impromptu photography. One definition of event photography states it is “…the practice of photographing guests and occurrences at any event where one may engage a photographer…” (https//:wikipedia accessed 11.13 20.05.18). In the case of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Windsor on 19.05.18 a very large number of camera crews and members of the public with camera phones were present to capture the event. Formal recordings were made, many yet to be released.

Event photography is arguably closely aligned to documentary photography, that is defined as ” …..a style of photography that provides a straightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects and events that are often used in reportage.” (https//:tate.org.uk-art-documentary-photography accessed 11.13.18).

Event photography may also offer opportunity for candid photography which involves images of moments as they happen, rather than a set piece, avoiding prior preparation and capturing the subject without prior distraction. Street photography is a good example of candid photography, but events usually offer opportunities for this as well.

Photojournalism is closely aligned to event photography as well, with photographs allowed to tell a story without words, or where pictorial representation of the occasion takes precedence over news stories. This is often a feature of local newspaper reporting.

During the summer of 2016 I was  asked to take photographs at two events which I will use as a baseline for repeating the exercise as summer 2018 approaches once again. Both events involved Almshouses, charitable organisations that have a centuries old history of providing housing in a local community for those who are usually older and of limited financial means and no longer employed. (https//:en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almshouse)

Two Almshouse Events

Nicholas, my generous and most frequent model during this course has links to Almshouses.  I am from time to time asked to take photographs of almshouse events.

Eastbridge Garden Party

At an Eastbridge Almshouse garden party in July 2016 there was no formal photography, but I was asked to capture the spirit of the occasion on a bright sunny summer day. This I found difficult because the light was bright and there were a good many tents for people to shelter beneath.

The Almshouse is home to a number of residents who require sheltered accommodation, and the photographs were to remind those present of a moment in time, to be shared with family and friends and act as a talking point. A memory of the sunshine, the company, the taste of summer … of jokes shared.  Essentially therefore they are “snapshots” of the kind many of the residents have in their albums that remind them of times past. These garden party images may sit beside those of summer picnics or trips to the seaside of earlier years.

I include  images that I captured spontaneously that show people laughing, which was very much the spirit of the occasion. I have not undertaken any post processing beyond a little cropping, as I see these as a set of photographs that I can use as a baseline to return to in future, to see how (hopefully) I improve.

Manwood Orchard Almshouse

The Sir Roger Manwood Trust commissioned four new terraced almshouses in the grounds of existing Grade2 listed almshouses that were officially unveiled by HRH the Duke of Gloucester in July 2016. I was able to join the local “press pack” and take a few shots of that formal event.

I do not expect to be able to repeat these events precisely. But with summer approaching I will seek out opportunities to take photographs at similar events in order to develop my skills:  seeking permission; reviewing the location ahead of time; going beyond “opportunism” and considering the shots I would like to capture; to have my camera set up for the occasion rather than in program mode! I hope I would be more aware of composition and utilising  light, and choosing an appropriate background and angle for formal shots. Furthermore to be aware of colour and tone. I will need to revisit exercises from the course and undertake some on line tutorials, and seek out other photographers work.

By the end of the summer I will add a further post, with, I hope, improvements.

This will be work in progress.

References

Event Photography Definition (https//:wikipedia accessed 11.13 20.05.18)

Documentary Photography Definition (https//:tate.org.uk-art-documentary-photography accessed 11.13.18).

Almshouses (https//:en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almshouse)

Comments on my work are always welcome 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Five Project 1 Showing our work

Introduction

Section five is entitled Exhibition :Concept and  is the final part of the Foundations in Photography course. The aims are to firstly share our photographs with confidence, placing pictures in the public arena of a blog so that comparisons and feedback may be given through peer review. Secondly to explore how an idea or concept may guide image making.

The tasks are to:

  • create and manage a blog
  • upload pictures to the blog
  • give and receive comments on our own and other students work
  • use photography to ask questions and explore themes
  • understand and practice conceptual photography.

Project 1 Showing our work

This project is about creating a blog, to include photographs and writing that demonstrate self awareness and insight into my development throughout the course.

Exercise 5.1 Set up a blog

I have kept a blog from the early part of the course. At that stage I had no experience of blogging at all, and was a novice with the camera. As a result I believe the blog does show how I have developed. My skills with the camera have slowly evolved from a novice state, and my post processing too.  My critical awareness, evaluation and understanding of photography and my own photographs has progressed over the lifetime of my study to date.  I have undertaken enquiry and research through the examination of other photographers work, including that of OCA students. I have visited and recorded visits to exhibitions, drawing from other genres, including sculpture and painting .

I have written my blog as an integrated Learning Log from the outset, incorporating photographs, sketches and the written word alongside reflections upon my learning. I have posted my course work and personal photography.

I have used the OCA download for my blog, although I still find it difficult and there are some strange categories in my list that I added and thought would be useful but have not used, and that I so far find I cannot remove. I considered upgrading to a more sophisticated version on WordPress, but at this stage have decided to leave the blog in its current form as it demonstrates my development throughout the course.  I will however revisit some posts to more readily indicate their content, perhaps revisit some existing posts and tidy up the site generally before I complete the course. In considering my time management  I  feel this will initially be better spent on developing the technical aspects of my photography that are my weakest area.

Exercise 5.2 and 5.3 –  Resizing and uploading Images

I have experimented with image size as I have worked through the course, using both Photoshop and apple Photo. From time to time I have used iPhone download. I have enjoyed this experimentation.  I look forward to emulating many of my fellow FiP colleagues and being more adventurous in my exhibition on the blog. But I feel that given my starting point of pen and paper I have made fair progress.

Exercise 5.4 Inviting and posting comments

Throughout the course our lively FiP Group has formed a learning set, regularly giving and receiving comments through each other’s blogs. As the course has progressed I feel I have become more able to give meaningful feedback.  My gratitude for the learning I have received from fellow students is boundless. More recently I have been giving and receiving comments to students who are far advanced in their own degree studies and am learning a great deal from them about technique, concept and presentation. I am an avid user of Instagram, (thank you Lorentz for introducing me to this) committed to posting one image every day, wherever I may be. This has allowed further exchange of comments and views using  #OCA and exploration of mobile photography, which I enjoy and have written about from time to time within  my blog site.

Picture analysis.

In Project 1 of Part Three of the course the work of Roman Signer and Sophie Calle are both featured according to which version of the handbook is followed. The picture analysis I undertook earlier focussed on Sophie Calle’s work may be found here: https://wordpress.com/post/sarahatoca.wordpress.com/2370.

On this occasion I will review the work of Roman Signer.  As with Calle the artist’s intention is to use photography to identify a concept or idea and then explore it by planning and executing a series of still images or film that capture the notion as an event. The episodes, staged in a series of ‘acts’ as Signer refers to them, are unrepeatable and are therefore the only record of the events as they occur. Signer creates the unrepeatable circumstances, whilst Calle places herself in situations where she can observe and record the circumstances as they unfold.

On this occasion Signer’s ‘Zelt’ sequence is the example given for analysis (FiP Course Handbook; version 2014, pp154/5). The images show a man running from a tent which then explodes. Passage of time and movement is depicted in each successive frame, the first being of a landscape with a small green tent in the distance, with subsequent frames recording the increasing conflagration and the emergence of the running man who is apparently unscathed.  It is suggested there is mystery and perhaps even a comic element to the sequence, that is noted by critics as a feature of Signer’s lifetime body of work. (https://frieze.com/article/roman-signer-0)

The influences for “Zelt” could be as straightforward as a personal experience of a camping expedition where a genuine explosion of a piece of equipment occurred, or a representation of an area of conflict or act of terrorism depicted in contemporaneous news reportage. Similarly those of us viewing the sequence are free to interpret it according to our own experiences. Either way the fixed position of the camera is pivotal in giving the impression of capturing the events from beginning to end.

Initially I was not drawn to Signer’s work, feeling more in tune with Calle’s approach to recording events as they unfold. This not withstanding the moral and ethical issues involved that I briefly explored in the previous post. However, further study leaves me intrigued with Signer’s method. The aforementioned Frieze review of the installation of “Roman Signer:Films and Installations,” which occupies the uppermost floor of the Museo d’arts dell Provincia di Nuoro in Sardinia, has caused me to stop and reflect about the possibilities of creating series of images that have no immediate single meaning, but require the interpretation of those viewing. One image included in this display “Due ombrelli (Two Umbrellas), 2016,” is a video depicting two umbrellas pitched in the sand resisting the pull of the waves until first one, and then the other gives in and falls and rolls into the water. The review states:  “Both as sculptural objects and performers without agency, umbrellas distil Signer’s entire practice, the clash of bittersweet melancholy and Chaplinesque humour.”

Experimentation

Whilst both Calle and Signer plan the execution of their concepts the idea of following someone and creating an event through a series of photographs that may be interpreted in a number of ways I find intriguing. In recent weeks I have been exceptionally busy, but have used my mobile iPhone7plus camera opportunistically. I find this form of photography rewarding in its own right. Walking in South Kensington in the rain, I noticed a woman in front of me. I started to take photographs as I too walked behind her. I include the sequence below, entirely unedited. The interpretation about who the woman might be and what she was doing I leave to the viewer to interpret.

 

 

This post concludes my work for the Project 1 in Part five of the course.

References:

Signer, Roman; “Zelt” in FiP Course Handbook; version 2014, pp154/5

Signer, Roman; https://frieze.com/article/roman-signer-0 accessed 09/05/18

Critique and comments welcome and valued.

The Bridge – Part Four to Part Five

Feedback on Assignment Four.

It is a month since I was in conversation with my tutor Lorentz after forwarding Assignment Four. With a necessary break in studies due to other commitments, I now write a summary of that conversation and look forward to engaging in the fifth part of the course.

My approach to the Hangout that Lorentz and I had to discuss the assignment was to write ahead with my own reflections, in addition to those already included in my blog posts. In summary these were:

  • to continue to utilise my life experience and environment to inform my photography
  • to set myself small projects to develop technical skills
  • to utilise mobile photography, especially when ‘spotting’ interesting opportunities in unusual or unexpected circumstances
  • to explore the possibilities and limits of what the camera can achieve
  • to expand the range of working with people, especially when permission is needed
  • to utilise on line tutorials
  • to possibly revisit and develop the previous Trunk exercise for the final assignment.

With this preparation in mind we had a good hangout and Lorentz forwarded his report together with practical pointers about use of light and encouragement to consider onward study with degree modules. This I am keen to do, not because I intend to practice as a professional photographer, but rather as an enriching experience in itself.

Looking ahead to Part Five my intention is to use the remaining months available to me for this course to undertake some self directed learning as well as to continue the established exercises.

 

 

Exhibition

Visits to Exhibitions – Impressionists in London 1870-1904

Viewing exhibitions whenever I am in London for however short a period is always illuminating. During the winter months I was able to visit the EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London 1870 – 1904 at the Tate Britain.

This exhibition presents captivating works by MonetTissotPissarro and their compatriots.

“In the 1870s, France was devastated by the Franco-Prussian war and insurrection in Paris, driving artists to seek refuge across the Channel. Their experiences in London and the friendships that developed not only influenced their own work but also contributed to the British art scene.

The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London, French Artists in Exile (1870 – 1904) is the first exhibition to map the connections between French and British artists, patrons and art dealers during a traumatic period in French history. Highlighting their engagement with British culture, traditions and social life, their art is a fascinating insight into how London was perceived by the visiting French artists and the remarkable works that came from their time here.  The exhibition also features works from Dalou, Sisley, Derain and Legros.”

( source http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/ey-exhibition-impressionists-london)

The exhibition runs until May 7th 2018.

If you are unable to visit a copy of the guide is here:

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/ey-exhibition-impressionists-london/exhibition-guide-impressionists

My impression of the Impressionists

This exhibition taught me a good deal about the crossover between how artists use their paint and brushes, and how photographers use their cameras and post processing to capture their surroundings and prevailing culture and circumstances and create works of art.

Subjects we have studied on the course so far are all here in the exhibition:

Landscape

camille_pissarro_hampton_court_green_1891_national_gallery_of_art_washington._ailsa_mellon_bruce_collection_3
Hampton Court Green – Camille Pissarro 1891

Activity

james-tissot-the-ball-on-shipboard-c.1874-tate-presented-by-the-trustees-of-the-chantrey-bequest-1937_0
The Ball on Shipboard – James Tissot c 1874

Portrait

claude_monet_meditation_mrs_monet_sitting_on_a_sofa_1871_musee_dorsay_paris_france_copyright_photo_musee_dorsay_slash_rmn_3
Meditation Mrs Monet Sitting on a Sofa – Claude Monet 1871

Experimentation

claude_monet_leicester_square_1901_jean_and_suzanne_planque_foundation_on_loan_to_musee_granet_inv._fjsp-998-116_photo_copyright_luc_chessex
Leicester Square – Claude Monet 1901

 

Anna Souter’s review (https://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2017/10/31/the-ey-exhibition-impressionists-in-london-at-tate-britain-exhibition-review/) points out that the exhibition includes:

“……some strikingly emotive paintings of the siege of Paris and photographs of the city in ruins, setting a dramatic scene for the exile of some of France’s most prominent artists.”

This is indeed the case, the accurate portrayals of a city under siege providing a documentary record as striking as any modern photo footage from war torn areas of the world.

She goes on:

“….Unfortunately, however, it quickly becomes apparent that these were early days for Impressionism as a movement. So early, in fact, that when Monet first came to London he hadn’t even painted his most famous work, Impression, Sunrise (1872), which is credited with beginning the Impressionist movement.”

The exhibition ends with a picture by Monet of Leicester Square at night (see above), and a group of six paintings of the Houses of Parliament. These works were painted during Monet’s much later visit to London in 1903-1904, and painted from slightly different angles at different times of day.  As Souter describes “….Sunlight filters through the infamous London fog and ripples on the water, while the Gothic buildings appear to slip in and out of definition.”

As a (very) mature new student of the arts I am drawn to the Impressionists for their adventurous approach, their willingness and ability to break away from capturing every detail and doing exactly what it “says on the tin” … painting an impression of the person, object or scene before them.

References

The EY Exhibition Impressionists in London; French Artists in Exile 1870-1904 http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/ey-exhibition-impressionists-london 

Souter Anna; Review of The EY Exhibition Impressionists in London; French Artists in Exile 1870-1904  https://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2017/10/31/the-ey-exhibition-impressionists-in-london-at-tate-britain-exhibition-review/ accessed 01/04/18

 

 

 

Exhibition

Visits to Exhibitions

Viewing exhibitions whenever I am in London for however short a period is always illuminating. During the winter months I was able to visit the Masters of Photography 2017 Collection at the Beetles and Huxley Gallery in Swallow Street.

Masters of Photography

Masters Photography Beetles 2017

This was the second annual exhibition of rare and collectable prints, some made contemporaneously with the time the photograph was made. The 31 prints ranged from The Brig by Gustave le Gray, an albumin print from a wet plate negative circa 1856 – Tatiana Nude by Richard Leroy, a C-type mounted on aluminium, created in 2012. The exhibition included many items familiar from on line and library studies, and available to view in full size original prints. The catalogue contains copies of each image from which I have made a selection to consider here. The experience of seeing these prints in this way was exciting and inspiring.

From the 31 photographic works of art I have selected three to represent the following genres:

  • Landscape
  • People and portraits
  • Still life
  • Documentation

The landscape by Le Gray Brig on the Water, was made in 1856.

The Brig on the water bay Gustave le Gray

After it was first officially exhibited in 1857 one reviewer of the Journal of the Photographic Society wrote:

“We stop with astonishment before M. le Gray’s ‘Sea and Sky’, the most successful seizure of water and cloud yet attempted. The effect is the simplest conceivable. There is a plain, unbroken prairie of open sea, lined and rippled with myriad smiling trails of minute insulations and sombrous and profoundly calm, over the dead below – smooth as a tombstone”  (cited by Gregory, Thea; Masters of Photography, Beetles and Huxley, London 2017).

Gray was an artist as well as a photographer and an acknowledged master of the technicalities of the photographic medium. He used extra sensitive collodion on glass negatives and then combined two, the first exposed for the sky and the second for the sea to produce a perfectly balanced landscape/seascape print; this being a unique approach at the time. The print I viewed was astonishing in its detail, with the foreground/foreshore in shadow with sheep grazing. The mid ground is the sea as the sun begins to dip in the evening sky. The Brig sits slightly to the right of the centre of the frame in silhouette. The horizon is crisp and the sky above filled with layers of clouds that cast shadow on the water to give a vignetted frame to the picture as a whole.

The composition of the photograph has only a small amount of foreground with the mid ground formed of the sea on which the light falls, the rays of the sun falling on the focal point of the brig and to a lesser extent on the sheep on the foreshore. Two thirds of the photograph are taken up by the sky. This is reminiscent of JMW Turner’s seascape compositions ( source: Turner Collection; Tate Britain) that similarly give the major part his compositions to sky. Turner was painting in the middle of the nineteenth century at the same time Gray was taking landscape photographs.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic portrait Migrant Mother was taken in Nipomo California in 1936.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

This iconic image is familiar, showing a closely cropped portrait of a woman with three young children, one an infant swaddled in her left arm, all in ill-fitting, worn and soiled clothing. The woman’s strained expression as she gazes into the distance captures both her resignation and her despair. The deprivation and austerity prevailing for so many during the Depression in 1930’s.

The text accompanying the exhibition (Gregory; op cit) draws attention to the empathy with which Lange photographed her subjects, sensitively portraying their plight.

“In the early 1930’s Lange ran a small portrait studio on a busy street in San Francisco. She said that as the Depression deepened she could see the tide of homeless, jobless men as they aimlessly drifted by her windows. …..Lange was soon working out on the streets, photographing the homeless (sic).”  ( George Eastman House Collection: ? date).

Subsequently Lange worked with Professor Paul Taylor at the University of California to create a scientific study and report on migratory labour that included statistics, quotes from the workers and photographs that exposed the difficulties many of the workers were facing. The report was commissioned by the Farm Security Association of the State of California to be used to gather support for the New Deal policy of President Roosevelt, and became a model for the documentary practice that followed.

The image of the Migrant Mother appeared in magazines and posters and was used for a postage stamp. Thus this image falls into the genres of both portrait and documentary photography.

The print I viewed was unusually large (20x15inches), a silver gelatine print made in the 1960s. The textures and tones reveal such detail that I felt able to almost touch the woman and her children by merely viewing. The woman’s hands are revealed as at once sensitive and careworn, her eyes and mouth surrounded by creases and lines that although drawn into an expression of anxiety tell of laughter and joy in better times.

Still Life exhibits included Irving Penn’s Cigarettes #34. 1970’s

Cigarettes //34 Irving Penn

A fashion photographer who featured in Vogue Penn began taking still lifes in the 1930’s as personal projects. During the 1970’s he began collecting cigarette butts that he found discarded on the street and that he returned to his studio to photograph.  This image is number 34 in the series. As Gregory notes:

“Penn’s photographs transform one of the most widely consumed and discarded products of consumer society from that of pure detritus into a symbolic representation of contemporary culture.”

The photograph I viewed was made “using the platinum palladium process that allowed for a more nuanced tonal range in the print”, a deliberately aesthetic choice by Penn to elevate this mundane commercial object to a work of art. This image juxtaposes a short, anonymous filter stub against a longer unfiltered proprietary product to give a nuanced and balanced image.

For me the large print (24×19 inches) allowed sight of the detail of the cigarette stubs. The grittiness of the rolling paper, the rough texture of the dried tobacco leaf strands,  the singe of smoke and the marks of saliva and lips. With evidence of a filter tip in one of the stubs there is also suggestion of a thumb nail imprint used to extinguish the smouldering end. The second stub has no filter and pieces of tobacco emerge in such a way that one can imagine them escaping into the mouth of the smoker, emitting strands to be ejected when they landed on the tongue.   The shadowing on the plain background upon which the photograph is taken is suggestive of the smoke the cigarettes emitted when alight. The notion of deliberately inhaling the smoke, the poisons and fragments deep into the lungs is inescapable.

Conclusion

I have merely selected three prints from this exhibition to describe in this post. Each of the 31 photographs warrants careful scrutiny. I have explored for the first time some aspects of the history of photography and the techniques used. This is an entirely new subject for me. Exciting.

 References:

Gregory, Thea; Masters of Photography,Beetles and Huxley, London 2017).

The George Eastman House Collection; A History of Photography, Taschen; 20??)

The Turner Collection;  https//:www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-seascape-n05515 accessed 14.48 03/04/2018