Author Archives: catherinefinniganphotography

About catherinefinniganphotography

I am a Scottish female, currently living in Dubai, UAE. I am enrolled in the Art of Photography course with the Open College of the Arts, studying via distance learning. Student Number 510750. This blog will serve as my learning log. The learning log will be where I record, structure and plan my work. It will also enable me to reflect upon the knowledge and skills which I am (hopefully!) gaining.

Assessment Results!!!

I recently received the results from the July Assessment for TAoP.

The final mark awarded was 66%, which was the second highest in the group. Overall, I am both delighted and somewhat relieved by this result. It does make the hard work and stress of study worth it.

To accompany the final mark the assessors have offered some feedback in the form of a comment against the assessment criteria and a break down of how the 66% was amassed.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.33.14 PM

 

While I am pleased with the 26/40 awarded here, the feedback is rather brief. ‘Very competent technical and visual skills’, is encouraging but doesn’t really point to what I could do to improve the result. Perhaps design and composition are the areas, which I should focus more closely on?

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I scored 13/20 against this assessment criterion. I am particularly pleased with the comment on presentation as I decided to send 10 prints along with the digital files. This is the first time I have actually had ‘real’ photographs printed for the course and while it was expensive and involved quite a bit of research and planning, I’m now glad I did.

I’m also happy that the feedback noted ‘effective communication of visual ideas.’ There is always a fear that whoever is looking at your images isn’t going to ‘get’ whatever idea or concept you are trying to convey. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.33.30 PM

 

Again, a 13/20. I’m happy with the mark and the feedback, particularly the comment about the elusive, ‘developing personal voice’

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This area received a slightly higher mark, 14/20, which I am pleased with. I spent a lot of time writing in my learning log about my ideas, thoughts and reflections and while this benefitted my learning it is also good to think someone else had read it.

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The closing comments and feed forward give me some pointers on how to develop my work, mainly bringing more creative/imaginative aspects into it.

On beginning the course I was very concerned with learning the technical aspects of photography and as a result perhaps I have missed some creative opportunities. This is something I should be more aware of as I progress with the course.

 

At the end of TAoP

Preparing for Assessment

I have spent the last few weeks preparing for the July assessment. I spent quite a bit of time tidying up of my blog to ensure all links are working and that it followed the structure suggested by the OCA . This, hopefully, will make it easy for the assessors to navigate.

I was initially unsure as how to present the work for assessment. Should I submit my blog as it stands or would it be better to submit some physical prints? The online option appealed to me for several reasons. It would involve less work, it would require little or no expense and I also have extremely limited experience of what would work well in terms of printing photographs for submission. However, I was also conscious of the photograph’s function as an object/artefact and of what Shore (2007, p15) describes as ‘The Physical Level’ of a photograph’s function. He lists attributes such as the base of paper to determine the texture of the print, the flatness of the paper to establish plane and the edges of the picture to frame and create boundaries. I was also curious to see how some of my work would look when printed professionally on good quality paper. I then found myself leaning towards a submission, which would have all the images from all 5 Assignments on a memory stick but also include 10-12 physical prints. I then approached a Glasgow based business, Deadly Digital,  who printed the A4 images for me on A3 sized matt paper. Overall, I was pleased with how the prints turned out and found it interesting to note that ones which stood out for me most were the two high contrast black and white images from Assignment Two. I gave quiet thanks to Jose Navarro, my tutor at that time’s advice to increase the contrast in these images in post-processing to make the them ‘more dynamic’ black and white.

'distinct, but irregular shapes'

‘distinct, but irregular shapes’

'pattern'

‘pattern’

Tutor input

I have had three different tutors over the period of this course. When I was notified of these changes by the OCA I was slightly concerned that the change in tutor would somehow be detrimental to my learning process. However, as I am now at the end of the module I can now see the positives in this situation. I have the benefit of several different points of view when reporting back on my work and also of when directing me towards sources of research and inspiration.

Next steps

I would like to be able to list the knowledge that I have gained over the period of this module, however I think that this is nigh on impossible due the amount of learning and that I would be sure to forget to list something. When I reflect on where I was at the beginning of this module and where I am now the learning seems considerable.

It has taken me almost two years to complete TAoP and I now realise that had I had more technical knowledge of my camera and post-processing at the onset I could have reduced this time. With out realising it, there were times when I became sidetracked by camera settings and software functions, which meant I tackled the exercises at a slower pace that would have been desirable. This is obviously a major draw back to distance learning and something I need to be more aware of for the next course, perhaps by being more firm with a study schedule or seeking help from fellow students on the OCA forum.

I have looked at the options for the next part of this course and find the new course ‘Context and Narrative’ quite appealing. I like that it builds on elements of what we covered in TAoP such as Narrative while gaining influence from the work of contemporary photographer’s from which to influence my own practice.

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs (2nd edition). London: Phaidon Press Limited

 

 

 

 

Feedback on Assignment Five

Feedback on Assignment Five

I recently received feedback on Assignment Five from my tutor. Overall, the feedback is very positive and encouraging. The main points from this are listed below.

My tutor noted that the assignment was well planned and that this supported the visual work. He also thought that the referencing throughout the contextual element of the submission was useful and helped to shape my intentions.

He felt that looking at a place like Dubai, in an alternative manner, caught the imagination from the outset and makes the body of work more interesting to look at rather than documenting the obvious.

My tutor felt that the actual images worked well together. He notes that while the body of water in the opening shot would have been too large a compositional element on it’s own it worked very well with the text overlaid. I found this feedback very encouraging as, I noted in the submission, this wasn’t necessarily my first choice of image for the opener but I did feel that with heading and text it was more successful. He also liked the postcard image, noting that the postcards depicting modern Dubai, displayed in a very dated postcard rack helped reference the place that Dubai had become, whilst showing a glimpse of its less slick past. Again, I’m extremely pleased with this feedback, as this had been my intention when I took the photograph. I wanted to juxtapose new and old Dubai in a single image for contrasting effect. He commented also on the souk shot, noting that the use of the slow shutter speed worked well and also that the time I spent waiting for the ‘correct’ subjects to enter the frame paid off.

My tutor notes that my blog has progressed well and shows evidence of my research and testing. He is pleased that I have been researching a variety of practitioners and that, after reflection, I offer my own opinion on their work

He also commented that things are easy to find on my blog, which is encouraging, as I have spent quite some time structuring it to ensure easy navigation. I plan on testing the ease of navigation of the blog on a few friends before submitting the URL to the OCA assessors in July.

I am more than happy with the feedback from this assignment and feel that the time I spent planning and preparing helped me to clarify my intentions. I am also very pleased that my intentions seem to have been successfully conveyed.

 

Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative- Progress towards Assessment Criteria

On successful completion of this course you’ll be able to:

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

This section of the course has been quite varied in content, which has resulted in considerable learning. The exercise on illustration showed that, with careful planning, I could tell a simple story in a single photograph by showing evidence of action and that by juxtaposing one or more elements in the frame we create connection which provides the foundation for illustration. When planning both these images I called upon the knowledge I have gained in the previous section, Light. In evidence of action 2, I positioned a continuous photographic light to the side to emphasise texture while in juxtaposition, I used a speed light, diffuser and reflector to create dramatic shadows.

In Rain, I experimented with a speed light and adjusting shutter speed to reduce ambient light, creating a darker, dreary atmosphere and reducing shine on the boots.

For the actual assignment, however, I worked entirely with available light. This was because the light from 4pm to sunset was gold and attractive and also to minimize the attention that I received. I was trying to be a blend into the environment and be an ‘invisible’ photographer. This would have been made more difficult with a Speed light flashing.

When looking at narrative I was aware of the need for visual and emotional variety in the selection of photographs. Therefore I planned to include shots of various distance scales such as the first image in Assignment 5 that was taken from a far distance and image 8, which shows a close-up, detail shot of spices that overfill the frame. Image 1 also makes use of strong diagonal line to inject some dynamism into the establishing shot. I also experimented with aperture, adjusting it to give shallow depth-of-field and emphasis the focal point in image 9, while shutter speed helped to freeze motion in photograph 5 and create motion blur in images 7 and 12.

I have also become aware of the importance of timing a shot, particularly with moving subjects, to ensure they are positioned in the frame where I want them to be.

I believed that the photographs for Assignment 5 should be in colour to help convey the character of the Creek area I was photographing. I did experiment with a few black and white conversions but felt as though these were not as strong as the colour shots.

Quality of Outcome

I feel as though my work in this section has benefitted from the research and planning that I undertook on the subjects. I read in Short (2011, p42) that to be a photographer, you need to be passionate about communicating ‘something’, as this will inform every choice you make in relation to your work. This led to me giving focused thought to the idea of intention, “what did I need, or want to share with the audience?” I used a Picture Script as suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 1335) to develop the idea of a ‘Dubai’ type location story. This script helped me formulate a plan of what I wanted to achieve and came with me in my backpack on shoots.

The presentation and layout of the narrative was an important element of this section of the course. It became clear to me that there is no one definitive ‘correct’ narrative layout. There seemed to be many variations, sequential layout, deliberate variety or visual continuity. In the end I began by using the basic, Opener, Body, Climax and Closer layout as suggested by Freeman (2012 ,loc 190) and tried to plan for visual variety in the rhythm and pace of the layout.

When I am working I often make quick notes and sketches in notebooks and post-its. This can somehow feel quite disjointed therefore I find that writing in my learning log on the exercise and work I undertake, helps me to organise my thoughts, think in a more coherent manner and consolidate my learning.

Demonstration of Creativity

Narrative and illustration needs to be visually interesting or it will lose the viewer. I knew that, photographically speaking, the Creek would be an interesting place to many viewers, however it was important that the photographs worked together to tell the whole story and keep the viewer engaged throughout

While I stated above that I had formulated a clear intention for the assignment in the Picture Essay I still took over 300 images over a period of 3-4 weeks in order to get the images that I needed.

During this time I experimented with creative use of shutter speed, aperture, vantage position, framing, composition and light. I also spent time waiting for elements to align in the frame the way I wanted them to.

Initially, I found the ‘open’ nature of Assignment 5’s brief difficult for me to refine into a subject idea. However, having now gone through the process it had helped me to see that by connecting with a subject is important as this then helps inform the choices you make about how to approach it with your camera.

Context

On beginning TAoP course I spent a lot of time getting to know my camera as opposed to learning about or reflecting upon photography. As my practical skills improved I began to focus more time on reflection and began to use my learning log as a place to write about my thoughts and ideas on the assignments, exercise and reading I undertake.

In addition to this I now, routinely, take time to inform myself of the work of other photographers and consider my thoughts on it.

Recently, at my tutor’s recommendation, I sought out the work of Julian Germain, For Every Second You Are Angry, You Loose Sixty Seconds of Happiness (2005) and Wolfgang Müller, Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg (2003) and made entries in my learning log on this. Both series of work are very different in the narrative they want to convey but I also found them to both to evoke a strong emotional response. I found it useful to consider Karat in term of stadium and punctum as introduced by Barthes in Camera Lucinda (Wells ed. 2003, Ch 1).

In the last few months I have also attended exhibitions showing the work of Roland & Sabrina Michaud and Bruno Barbey, again writing my thoughts on the photographs and the photographer’s approach in my learning log.

In March, I attended a few events at Gulf Photo Plus, a photography festival in Dubai. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar on small lights with Joe McNally, which I found to be very informative. I found it extremely useful to see the practical side of a photography shoot and interesting to note that attractive results could be achieved with a single light as well as a multiple light set up.

During this week I also attended a seminar with David Allan Harvey, where he talked about his approach to work and discussed a slide show of his photographs. I found this seminar very inspiring and felt as this, to a certain degree, inspired my approach to Assignment 5, particularly his advice ‘don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like’.

 

Freeman. M. (2012) The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual

Narrative. Lewes: ILEX (Kindle edition)

Short. M. (2011) Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA

Wells, L. (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge

 

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Assignment Five- Applying the techniques of narrative and illustration

Introduction

For the final assignment in The Art of Photography I am asked to create a series of 6-12 photographs that could be used to illustrate a story for a magazine. The series will begin with a cover picture followed by several photographs that will relay the body of the story. The photographs should also be accompanied by captions to help link each picture. I spent a lot of time thinking about ideas for assignment and considering what kind of story did I want to tell? Freeman (2112, loc 1018-1244) discusses the different kinds of stories that picture essays can be loosely grouped into. He describes these as follows;

  • People Stories
  • Location Stories
  • “Making-Of”- Stories
  • Commodity Stories
  • Activity Stories
  • Collection Stories
  • Institution Stories
  • Concept Stories

Reading about these categories helped me to narrow down my thinking to either a People or Location story as these are the types of stories that generally have the highest interest level for viewers, myself included. Short (2011, p42) notes that when choosing a subject you should be clear about why you want to photograph it and what you want to communicate. She explains that the commitment to your photographs is what makes them breathe. Considering Short’s advise I decided to develop a location, Dubai, as the concept for the assignment. I decided this as I am preparing to leave Dubai, my home for the past 6 years, to return to Scotland. However, I did not want to show the city as an array of towering skyscraper, five-star hotels and beach clubs, as is it commonly portrayed. In previous assignment feedback my tutor suggested that instead of showing Dubai as ordered and precise it would be interesting to photographically seek out the imperfections and disorder of the place. Considering this advice, and that of Short, I eventually decided to focus my attention on Dubai Creek, an area commonly referred to as ‘Old Dubai’. It is a place where you feel as though you have almost stepped back in time, where shopping is carried out in souks instead of shopping malls and where people commute via abra rather than the Dubai Metro. It is an area of the city that is steeped in tradition and I wanted photos that would communicate the noise, activity, colour and diversity it holds.

Preparation

I began by undertaking some research on the Dubai Creek area, including its history, demographics, industries and key features. Freeman (2012, loc 108) notes that when shooting a location story the most well-known aspects of the site should be shot. However, he continues, the key to making a location story work, is to try to capture it’s character. This involves spending time to get the personality of the place and the details. While I had visited the Creek area many times before I visited it again, walking along the Creekside and through the streets to both scout out possible shots and to try to connect with the place. On this visit I also took some test shots as a form of practical research as suggested by Fox and Caruana (2012, p63) to view the subject matter in 2D form. Amongst other things, the research reminded me that the souks that surround the Creek only open for business after 4pm each day. With sunset at around 6:30pm this gave me a relatively short period of time to shoot in natural light therefore I planned multiple visits. I then began to develop a Picture Script using the six categories suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 1335), Events, Locations, Setups, Activities, People and Add-ons. I also included a section on category labeled keywords listed words that I wanted to the overall series of photographs to convey, such as heat, noise and bustle.

Picture Script

Picture Script

Influences

My planning and approach to this assignment has been influenced by the work of British photographer Martin Parr (b.1952). Like Parr’s work, I wanted my photographs to have a bold use of colour and to demonstrate a sense of place through symbols, behaviours and traditions. An example of this is  GB. England. Dorset. Taken from ‘West Bay’, 1996. The photograph  shows 2 seagulls feasting on a discarded tray of chips. Behind them flaps a Union Jack flag and colourful bunting set against a blue sky. The flag informs the viewer that the location is in the UK, while the seagulls and bunting signify a seaside setting. The discarded chips a nod towards the great British seaside tradition of consuming fish and chips. The colours in the image make it eye-catching while the content makes it engaging and understandable to anyone who have experienced a day at a British seaside resort.

I also found the series of work Parr produced for an exhibition in Barcelona title ‘Souvenir’,  that was commissioned by the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona to document the expanding tourist industry in Barcelona, to be of interest. He fulfills the brief by making clever use of objects, behaviours and symbols associated with tourism in Spain, such as close-ups of cliché souvenirs and shorts groups of camera wielding Japanese tourists at tourist attractions.

I also have been looking at the work of US photographer David Alan Harvey (b. 1944). Harvey began taking photographs at the age of 12 and throughout his career he has produced over 40 photo essays for National Geographic. I recently attended a talk with Harvey at a GPP13 event (which I wrote about in a previous post) where he stressed the fact that he wants his photographs to tell a story. He also likes to have a lot going on in his images with the elements juxtaposed in certain ways. This is something that I wanted to achieve in a few of my assignment images in order to show the energy in the area surrounding Dubai Creek. Harvey advises that photographers should not shoot what it looks like, but instead should shoot what it feels like. I believe that Harvey’s ‘Divided Soul I’  and Divided Soul II  projects, which document the Spanish cultural migration to the Americas, conveys to the viewer what the scene would feel like. The use of warm sunlight shows the heat of place, bull fighting shows energy and fervor while religious symbols and festivals relay the passion and spirituality of the people.

The idea of ‘don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like’ was at the forefront of my mind as I planned and carried out the shoot. I wanted to convey the hot desert temperature, the smells in the spice souk and the general street sounds. Short (2011, p55) calls this ‘missing information’ and suggests that we should consider the ways in which we can include or refer to background noise, smells, temperature and climate and people’s accents and dialects in photography to make the experience more 3D.

The Shoot

I initially considered structuring the picture story as a sequential journey down the Creek with stop off points on the way. However, I then realise that this would place restrictions on the layout choice, which I wanted the freedom to organise. I then decided to adopt a more ‘travelogue’ style. Where each picture would show an aspect of the ‘story’ that builds to give an overall impression as discussed by Short (2011, p102). As previously noted, the best time to visit the Creek was in late afternoon as this coincided with the opening of the souks and also would have the best natural light. I visited the area half a dozen times over a period of a few weeks. One of the visits was unfortunately useless as a sandstorm blew in. I shot from both sides of the Creek, in both directions and from onboard an abra. All the images were taken with available light. The lighting in the souks proved to be challenging as in some sections it was quite low while in others there was a garish mixture of tungsten and fluorescent lighting. The photographs were shot using a 18mm-55mm lens and a 55mm-300mm. I also used tripod for the low light, closing shot.

Post-processing was carried out using Photoshop Elements 11.

Layout

Short (2011, p86) states that the way an image is presented is an important aspect of the context in which it is seen and therefore interpreted. She continues by noting that it is the size, shape and ordering that are the main ingredients that inform how a series of images relate to each other or highlight the significance of a single image. Bearing this in mind I gave careful consideration as to how I laid out my picture story. From over 300 images I selected 20 that I felt relayed the story best and printed these off. Taking Fox and Caruana’s (2012, p122) advice on testing scale, tone and colour balances I placed these on a dining table and began experimenting with layouts based around the picture story structure suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 190);

Opener– very important, as in photography this has to grab the viewer’s attention

Body– can be any particular length, but should be appropriate to the interest level of the story.

Climax– the key shot, the highest-impact photograph in the set

Closer– should bring completeness to the story Other factors that I took into consideration where rhythm; visual and emotional variety in sequence, pacing; where key shots are held back until the right time (Freeman 2012, loc 369) and what Short (2011, p106 terms as ‘visual punctuation’; where pace can be influenced by a particular size or shape of image. The pdf of the layout can be viewed by clicking on the link below with individual images following after. The layout was constructed using iStudio Publisher.

double page spread

Page 1

The assignment brief asks that the cover picture should utilise some of the techniques of illustration. Bearing this in mind I selected this image that clearly shows the Creek, helping to establish the location. Alongside the Creek the mooring bollards suggest maritime activity and the orange rust complements the dominant blue colour. The strong diagonal leads the eye up the Creek and makes the composition quite dynamic. Of the potential opening shots I had taken this wasn’t my personal favourite, however I do think it shows an overview of the story subject well and is interesting enough to grab attention and hold it. The water area in the foreground also provides a good space for a heading and opening caption.

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Opener, 40mm, f/19, 1/60s, ISO 100

Opener, 40mm, f/19, 1/60s, ISO 100

Page 2 & 3

For the second image in the series I selected this image to introduce the Dhow Wharfage. I decided to opt for a medium distance shot to vary the scale. This allowed the structure of the dhow to be seen as a whole. The UAE flags on top of the dhows help to reinforce the location.

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Page 2-image 2 40mm, f/16, 1/60s, ISO 100

Page 2
40mm, f/16, 1/60s, ISO 100

I wanted these images to convey the work that goes on at the Wharfage. The top image to show the bizarre assortment of goods that are imported and exported on the dhows and the bottom to show the physical work the men undertake. It is not perhaps as colourful as I would have liked, however the odd position of the car and the man still provide a lot of visual interest. I consciously positioned the image of the man sitting on top of the goods at the top of the page as I felt this helped show how high the goods were stacked. The scene in the bottom photograph caught my eye because of the strong yellows and reds of the containers, fire hydrant and road markings.

48mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100

Page 3 48mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100

f52mm, f/16, 1/125s, ISO 100

Page 3- 52mm, f/16, 1/125s, ISO 100

Page 4 & 5

These two images move the viewer onto another part of the story, abras on the Creek. They also have similar, subtle colour palettes that I think helps to relay the hot 30c temperature of the afternoon. The top image shows abras sailing across the Creek. I left some space in front of the first abra to suggest movement and direction. I also wanted to show more than one abra to convey the frequency at which they sail and the activity on the Creek. The bottom image is much closer in scale, showing an abra driver mid-shift. I consider this to be a key shot in the narrative due to the very direct, intense gaze of the man. I did consider making this a full page shot however the course notes state that our interest in and familiarity with other people’s faces makes it easy to read people images even when they are very small and therefore I decided to stick with this size.

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Page 4- 165mm, f/19, 1/90s, ISO 400

Page 4- 165mm, f/19, 1/90s, ISO 400

140mm, f/4.8, 1/1500s, ISO 400

Page 4. 140mm, f/4.8, 1/1500s, ISO 400

Page 5

This page introduces the souks that sit on the Creekside. I wanted to show the hustle and bustle of the souks therefore used a slow shutter speed to get some motion blur. I also wanted to show tourists, expats and locals in a single shot, therefore I had to wait for quite some time for the right combination of people to stroll past. I liked the alternate back, front, back, front positioning of the four figures in the foreground. The Arabic shop names visible in the background helps to reinforce the sense of place, as does the UAE flag plastic bag the woman is carrying.

40mm, f/13, 1/10s, ISO 400

Page 5- 40mm, f/13, 1/10s, ISO 400

The next images shows a close-up shot of various spices, which adds visual variety while helping to suggest the smells and scents of the souk.

28mm, f/5.6, 1/90, ISO 400

Page 5-28mm, f/5.6, 1/90, ISO 400Page 6

Pages 6-7

I placed these three images together on page 6 as I felt they were linked due to content, merchandise for sale at the souks, and also because are linked by a gold/orange colour. The first image was on this page was inspired by Parr’s ‘Souvenir’ collection which contains many photographs of tourist souvenirs from various places. The idea was to show two faces of Dubai in one shot. The shiny skyscrapers, juxtaposed with the old souks. I included the photograph of the carpet seller at this point as I felt his lowered head and calm posture offers some emotional variety to the narrative. I also cropped this into a square to place the focus more on him and not the carpets behind him. The third image shows the detail of the numerous gold bracelets for sale. I chose a shallow depth of field and to over fill the frame to suggest never-ending rows of jewellery.

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20mm, f/4.8, 1/250s, ISO 400

Page 6- 20mm, f/4.8, 1/250s, ISO 400

185mm, f/5, 1/750s, ISO 400

185mm, f/5, 1/750s, ISO 400

29mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 400

29mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 400

Page 7

As all the image of page 6 were fairly static I wanted the narrative closer to be a little more dynamic. Using a tripod I waited until just after sunset, when there was still a little residual daylight and the lights on the souks and buildings where beginning to be lit. I used a 2s shutter speed to show the movement of the abras while capturing the buildings behind. The idea was to show that even though the narrative was concluded the activity on the Creek would still continue into the night. I consciously framed the shot to include the two lit minarets from the mosques that hopefully helps to cement the sense of place and suggest the sound of the call to prayer that calls out across the city five times a day.

Closer- 65mm, f/22, 2s, ISO 100

Closer- 65mm, f/22, 2s, ISO 100

Conclusions

Carrying out the exercises and assignment for Narrative and Illustration has helped me understand that due to different social, cultural, geographical and topical experiences it is not always possible to gauge how an audience will respond to a photograph. However, as Short (2011, p68) notes the picture making process can be influenced by the photographer’s connection to their subject matter and clarity as to their intention.

As I researched the subject I began to realise that Dubai Creek, as a whole could be a massive topic to capture in 12 pictures. Freeman (2011, loc 875) notes that you can de-focus a story by trying to include too much. I therefore narrowed the scope to the wharfage, abras and souks and planning for this helped me to be more focused when it came to the actual shoot. For the majority of the photographs I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to achieve. The Picture Script as suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 1335) was a very simple but useful tool in planning for this.

What I learned previously in the exercises on symbolism and juxtaposition was also useful in planning individual shots, particularly when I was considering how to include, what Short (2011, p55) describes as, ‘missing information’.

When taking the photographs for this assignment I was probably the boldest I have ever been in taking photographs of people on the street. I have always been a little wary of this before, not wanting to impose on people and concerned as to the reaction I would receive. I was quite encouraged at the response I received as the majority of people responded well to my nod or gesture to the camera as a way of asking for permission.

It seems that when I have previously viewed magazine picture essays I have been solely unaware of the amount of work and thought that goes into the edit and layout. The narrative that I chose was not sequential but it did continue several ‘mini-stories’ such as the wharfage, abras and souks, which required these photographs to be positioned together. I also did not want to change a photographs orientation or shape merely for the sake of it, instead attempting to see how the photographs worked together with the other images in the series. Simply put, I have learnt that when it comes to layout there is not any one right or wrong way to go about it. In this instance I have tried to introduce each section with a leading picture then with others that in some way support it and each other. The task of printing off images and physical arranging and then rearranging them on a table was extremely useful in producing the final layout.

I shall continue to look at the layouts of picture essays in magazines and journals and consider how they have used rhythm and pace in order to achieve visual variety. This will no doubt help me when planning edits and layout for future narratives.

Fox, A. & Caruana, N. (2012) Behind the Image. Lausanne: AVA

Freeman. M. (2012) The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative. Lewes: ILEX (Kindle edition)

Short. M. (2011) Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA

 

 

18. Bruno Barbey, A Scorching Beauty

18. Bruno Barbey, A Scorching Beauty

Last month I attended an exhibition of Magnum photographer, Bruno Barbey’s work at The Empty Quarter Gallery  in Dubai.

Barbey (b.1941) is a Frenchman, born in Morocco. He has travelled across five continents photographing numerous world conflicts. However, he does not consider himself to be a war photographer. This exhibition titled, Morocco: A Scorching Beauty shows a selection of photographs that Barbey has created showing his fascination with and love for the land of his childhood.

The first thing that I noticed about the photographs as I walked around was the strong use of reds, oranges, yellow and brown tones that were present it nearly in all of the images. It was shown in various hues on painted walls, fabrics, and wools and in the light cast by the Moroccan sun. The effect the colours seem to generate is of warmth, light, sand and the earth.

The photographs that I seemed most drawn to where composed quite simply.

One of these was Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes. 1985The image show a two wall of a room, painted a pale orange colour. Around 2/3 of the way across the horizontal frame, the two wall meet and at his point sits an arched doorway. The floor of the room is decorated in a black, ochre, green and white mosaic tiles that also skirt the base of the walls. Beyond the tiling extends towards an orange wall in the distance. What really caught the eye is that walking adjacent to the wall is a figure; head bowed wearing a striped djellaba, a long-sleeved hooded robe traditionally worn in regions across North Africa. The figure is framed in the archway and one can only imagine how long it took Barbey to time this shot. I was also really drawn to the way the black and white of the djellaba seems to mirror the black and white in the tiling. As this is the only figure in the photograph, I did begin to wonder who it was, why where they there and where were they going? The figure has his head down and hands clasped behind his back. Both of these actions seem to give a quiet, contemplative feeling to the photograph.

I also found MOROCCO. Village of Maadid, near Erfoud. 2002  to be quite interesting. It shows a figure walking away from the camera wearing a white djellaba. The figure seems to be walking through a tunnel although slices of light intermittently break through gaps in the roof creating a pattern of alternate shadow and light ending in the white-clad figure silhouetted against shadow. The effect is quite striking and I again got the feeling of calm and quiet.

I considered why this would be. Was it the simplicity in the composition of both images or perhaps the long, hooded robe was evoking connotative associations for me of religion, prayer and reflection.

I also really like Avenue Oqba ben Nafi, Essoaouira. 1987, as it was labeled at the gallery. Although, somewhat confusingly, I found the same image on the Magnum website titled MOROCCO. Essaouira. 1987. Women resting along the ramparts. The majority of the horizontal image is taken up with a well-worn wall, painted orange. Two woman, one dressed in black the other in white, sit on the kerb at the bottom left of the frame. The sun has cast the shadow of castle’s rampart diagonally across the orange wall. While the shadow gives us the clue that they woman are sitting beneath a rampart, it is not the shadow but the woman who are the focal point of the image as a small archway of sunlight frames the sitting women. One does wonder why are they sitting there? I also wondered if perhaps they sat in the same place each evening or did Barbey capture a very unique moment in time?

Overall, the photographs tell the story of Morocco as a fascinating place, full of colour, character and traditions.

While the exhibition runs only until April the 17th, further details about Barbey’s work can be found at;

http://www.brunobarbey.com/index.htm

and also at

http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53Z82A

 

Wolfgang Müller- Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg

Wolfgang Müller- Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg

Introduction

On my tutor’s recommendation I looked at the work of, German photographer, Wolfgang Müller. In particular, he suggested he publication Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg (2003) as a good example of narrative through photography.

The photographs tell the story of various groups of Russian children and adolescents who live on St. Petersburg’s rooftops and in the sewers. While the images show how the children’s daily lives are marred with violence, drugs and prostitution they also show the friendships they have formed and elements of their daily routines. Müller captured the series of work over a period of 10 months between 2000-2003.

I wasn’t able to get hold of a hard copy of the book but did find 25 photos from the series on Müller’s website.  

My thoughts

The opening photograph, 1/25, shows the profile of a statue, Lenin with his arm outstretched. He is surrounded by power cables, which run in various diagonal lines across the frame. In the distance we can see the rooftop of one of St. Petersburg’s decorative buildings. I thought this was a very strong opener for the series for several reasons. Firstly, the power cables and the visible rooftop decoration in the background helps establish the setting as being elevated. Secondly, the statue appears to be of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, which also helps the viewer establish a sense of place. Thirdly, the diagonals created by the power cables encourage the eye to move across the image between foreground and background. And last, the one arm raised gesture the statue holds could be interpreted as friendly and welcoming. Overall, I feel as though the muted colours and simple composition make this an attractive image, which contrasts strongly with the content of the next picture.

The second image, 2/25, shows two boys, possibly in their teens, perched on a red-tiled rooftop, next to a chimney. They sit facing each other, one boy injecting a syringe into the others arm. When seeing this image for the first time I initially felt confused by the out of context location of the children, “Are they really on a roof?” Confusion was then quickly replaced by shock as my eye noticed the blue syringe.

Later, when I looked at the images in more depth the terms studium and punctum, which I have been researching recently, came to mind. Roland Barthes, a French essayist and semiologist first introduced these terms in his 1981 book, Camera Lucida. I read extracts from this in Wells (ed, 2003, Chapter One). Barthes describes the studium, a Latin word, as concerning ‘application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment’. He continues by noting that it is by studium that he is interested in many photographs, participating in them culturally, the figures, faces, gestures, settings and the actions. The punctum, Barthes continues, is what pierces or punctuates the stadium. While the stadium belongs to language or culture, the punctum does not. It is personal, an element that grabs the viewer and is poignant.

I considered that perhaps I viewed the first image-using stadium. I encountered the photographer’s intention of establishing place and interpreted the gestures of the statue.However, in the second image the children on the roof provide the punctum. It was not only their location and actions that both confused and shocked but also the boy’s serious, but relatively calm, expression.

The photographs that follow are none less provocative. Amongst other places they show the children and young people in on rooftops, in attic spaces and in sewers. They are seen playing, fighting and interacting as well as participating in drug use and prostitution.

The eighth photograph, 8/25, in the series focuses on two children inside an attic space. Prominent in the frame is a young girl wearing a green coat. She holds a plastic bag, probably containing Karat, to her face as though inhaling the fumes. Karat, referenced in the project title, is the name of a shoe-polish containing solvents that the children sniff. Her left hand is out stretched and holds a cigarette that a young blond-haired boy is puffing on. The boy looks into the camera lens, his face almost expressionless. One imagines that perhaps he has already partaken in the Karat. While shocking, the image on a whole seems very sad and hopeless.

While recording the lives of these children and young people, it was important for Müller not only to show the children as pure victims but also to show the moments of fun and happiness and portray. I feel as though image 22/25 manages to convey this. It shows a kitchen scene where a teenage girl and boy stand, embracing. The girl’s profile can be seen and she is smiling. There is a stove to the right, on which a pot containing food is bubbling away. On the left of the frame we see the edge of a table, holding plates of food. Behind the couple, someone lies asleep on the floor on top of a blanket. We can see affection, food and shelter. On a connotative level this image suggests to me hope. It also suggests the idea that while these children have been failed by corporate Russia they have, in someway, still achieved a degree of happiness.

Conclusion

While I found the content of these photographs to be quite disturbing, I also found them to be very thought-provoking. Müller has portrayed the children as real people, not only just surviving, but also living. Müller brought the children food and shared the photographs he took, however one can only imagine that it was the time and patience he invested that allowed him to gain the children’s trust. Trust that would have been essential to achieve the candid shots.

I read on a fellow OCA student’s blog , who has viewed the hard copy of the publication, that in the book, the photographs are accompanied by text that relays the individual children’s stories. He notes that the text magnifies the impact of the images. With this in mind, I hope to be able to view a hard copy of Karat in order to note the effect that the addition of text has on the overall narrative.

More information on this project and others by Müller can be found on his website. http://wmueller-photography.de/index.php

Wells, L. (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge

http://www.fotofest.org/ff2006/exhibitions_muller.htm

http://brea.kfa.st/ak47/003/karat/details