Saturday, 9 October 2010

Andrew Sanderson - Home Photography: Inspiration on you Doorstep

This book was recommended to me by my tutor after assignment 3 "My Neighbourhood". I managed to grab a second hand copy from Amazon (which came all the way from India??!) and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It's a very easy book to read (unlike a lot of photography books that can be very verbose and abstract in language) and is well illustrated with lots of inspirational ideas. What was particularly interesting is that although the book was written in a time of colour photography, most of the images are not in colour. It was also written before the explosion of digital photography but makes use of a number of post processing techniques to add creativity to the images. Heavy use of photoshop is often criticised in photography circles, and yet creative image processing was used long before it's invention. It simply moves the processing from a dark smelly room onto a pc. I know which one I prefer! I tend not to use many of the creative features of photoshop because I think of it as graphic art rather than photography. In particular, I have not used it much in this course. However I have taken the liberty to try some digital processing techniques in this post.

The book was written after the author became a new father. Like myself, he often found himself staring out at the beautiful skies but unable to head out to make the most of it in stunning landscapes because he was looking after the children. If I had a pound for every time I experienced that frustration, it could pay for my entire photography habit.

I set myself the objective of trying to open my eyes and find inspiration around the home. This included making use of interesting light, creative depth of field or post processing. I also included taking the dog for a local walk in my definition of "home" and a wander around the garden to see what I could find. I also used a free download from Poladroid to create "poloroid" look photos. Finally I included a post processing experiment on a popular view from my local city of Newcastle. Ironically, once I had set myself this objective we had the most beautiful sunsets which I had to capture from inside the house.

So here's the fruits of my labours - inspiration on my doorstep.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A Star in the Sky - Thomas Lekfeldt

I viewed these photographs some months ago, and have been unable to revisit them since. I am still haunted by them, as they document my greatest fear. However I have decided to write a blogpost to try and get down some of my thoughts. They are the most powerful images I have ever viewed, and as a sequence they tell a story in a way that words never could. The photographer captures details as they would be captured in your memory, and even months after looking at the pictures I can still recall their details as if I had been there myself. I have flashbacks of the images in my mind, as if they were my own thoughts. I cannot find words to describe the talent of that photographer, and his bravery at capturing something so emotionally raw, and, dare I say it, taboo. Although I would never have the emotional strength to capture a story like that, I hold his work as the highest calibre to strive for when completing a picture narrative.

The images that struck me hardest were:

The first one, where Vibe is receiving her injections. It is very distressing. Placing it first in the sequence gives it greater impact.

The pictures of her back at school and playing with her sister when she is well. The sense of hope & joy is tangible.

The shot of them leaving the hospital after hearing bad news. I keep seeing it in my mind, and if I had been in their position it is what would play out in slow motion in my thoughts.

The image of the family eating dinner while she is in her bed beside them in the kitchen.

Vibe's father choked with tears.

The image of her twin sister playing with her cat at the end. It is so moving.

If you are reading this blog and want to take a look, the website is below, but please be aware that the images are very upsetting, and may be too much to take if you have children and/or are a worrier (I am both).

Byker & Byker Revisited - Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen was one of the founders of Amber, a photography and film collective that came to Newcastle in 1969. The Amber website can be found here:

At a recent visit to the Side Gallery in Newcastle, I purchased one of her books entitled "Byker". There is also a sequel called Byker Revisited which has an excellent picture on the front cover of a Staffordshire Bull terrier trying to catch bubbles. I also purchased "Step by Step" as well.

"Byker" is an precious collection of an area, and a culture, that have now been demolished and rebuilt. Similar to the Gorbals in Glasgow, I am of the view that the demolishment & redevelopment of those areas was a mistake.

Sirkka-Liisa moved to Byker when Amber came to Newcastle, and integrated herself into the community. Her personality and "foreignness" (she comes from Finland) enabled her to win the hearts & minds of the community and they allowed her to immortalise Byker and a way of life that has gone forever, replaced by something more material & cold.

The book is an excellent collection of images, and some of them can be seen on the Amber website above. Where some social documentary images can be lacking in aesthetic qualities, hers are both deep, insightful, often humorous and beautifully composed. She makes use of the now demolished rows of terraced streets, which provide delightful repetition and lines as a backdrop for the narrative. Patterns of light & shadow contrast are also capitalised to stunning effect, and I particularly like the appearance of dogs & cats in some of her shots.

Her interiors are also beautifully lit & capture a fashion of clutter that is rarely seen nowadays. Walls are cluttered, carpet patterns are cluttered and mantelpieces cluttered and laid out for visitors. My favourite interior is a shot of someones wall, where they have a picture of a lovely view, complete with pelmet & curtains, and more clutter along the "windowsill" so it looks as though they have a window looking out to the Italian Riviera. The book also contains text, in the form of stories told to the author whilst capturing the images. These add to the photos, in that they capture the spirit of the community in a touching and lightly humorous way.

Stateside Exhibition at the Side Gallery

On Saturday 8 August, I visited the Stateside American Documentary exhibition at the Side gallery in Newcastle. The exhibition was nearly all social documentary, and was entirely in black & white.

By way of background, the gallery was set up by Amber, a photography & film collective. I have found their website to be a rich source of thought provoking material, all the more interesting to me with it being local. A link to the Amber online website is here:

Amber came to Newcastle in 1969 to create its own "social document" - an exploration of working class and marginalised cultures and of the lives and landscapes of northern communities. It thus had a lot in common with many of the featured photographers in this exhibition, which included Lewis Hine, Russell Lee, Walker Evans etc. They were part of the FSA commissioned photographers to document the lot of poor farmers and sharecroppers brought to the brink of starvation by the Depression. Under Roosevelt's New Deal, the agency was headed by the economist Rexford Tugwell & Roy Stryker. Both men were convinced of the power of photographs to give a human reality to economic arguments, and how right they were.

Russell Lee in particular was well suited to this task as he was happy to spend many months on the road, and had a straightforward "Lets get on with it" attitude. He took honest, decent, non invasive pictures that said to the viewer "These folks have a problem here, lets give them a little help so they can solve it". Russell Lee himself came to Side. I was particularly taken by 2 of his images in this exhibition. One was titled "Weslaco, Texas, 1939" and showed a mother and her 3 children sitting in the dirt; none of the children had shoes. Whilst this was not dissimilar to "Migrant mother" by Dorothea Lange, the most striking feature of Lee's shot was the empty eyes of the mother and her daughter. The soul had been drained right out of them. Put another way, they look utterly pissed off. It is a very natural shot and captures the negative emotion in an empathetic way. This is a link to the photo on the Amber website.

The other image by Russell Lee that I was drawn to was "Christmas dinner, Smithfield, Iowa, 1936". Here's the link to the photo:

Although the children have shoes, it is evident that they are in great poverty, yet they look quite content - the excitement of Christmas has washed away their worries for the day.

The exhibition also contained an interesting display of children's photography - Wendy Ewald's Portraits & Dreams. Although I confess I did not personally like the images, I though the concept was pure genius. When Wendy Ewald arrive in Kentucky, she wanted to document her new community in a way that would capture the rhythm & soul of the place, but the camera seemed to get in the way. By teaching children photography and helping children "to see", she was able to achieve this document, through the images of the children.

The exhibition also contained some of Berenice Abbott's buildings (even though she is best known for portraiture) - I particularly liked her use of shadow play and strong graphic compositions in those shots.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Project 67: Rain

I consider that one of my weaknesses is imagination, and I often need to "research" a theme because I'm stumped for ideas. My more imaginative shots are often found by accident. This project is such an example. However, it also illustrates the classic problem where the purpose of the image is to leave a reader in no doubt about the subject, in this case rain. The least imaginative subjects (a street shot in the rain) will also be the most suitable for leaving the reader in no doubt about the subject of rain. Conversely the more imaginative shots will likely convey other meanings. For example, a shot of a child looking out a window at the rain would be a more imaginative shot. However it could also convey the meaning of sadness, depression, youth. An abstract shot of rain patterns on a surface, or a macro of a raindrop, could also confuse a reader who may not be able to see what it is. My first assignment contained a macro shot of a honeycomb to illustrate the concept of "sweet", which I thought was obvious, however several people commented that they didn't know what it was. It reminds me of those pictures made of dots, which appear abstract until you "see" and then it's obvious. The honeycomb was obvious to me, because I had taken it, but wasn't obvious to a fresh pair of eyes.

There is then the additional "problem" of choosing something that is attractive - clearly a magazine cover has to be aesthetically beautiful.

One of the nicer aspects of rain (apart from the obvious fact that it is needed for life) is the clean sparkly freshness of a wet garden. This has been capitalised by Arran Aromatics in their fragrance "After the Rain" (it rains a lot on Arran!). So I decided on a shot of a flower after the rain. Although this will also convey the message "flower", I think a white flower is a neutral enough subject to carry a greater meaning that would be suitable for this brief. The brief doesn't state whether a landscape, portrait, or square format is required. This particular flower suited a landscape format, so I have assumed that this would be suitable for a magazine front cover.

Project 66: Juxtaposition

I chose to illustrate a book cover using a still life arrangement. The idea of juxtaposition is to include key elements which provide a "mini narrative" within a single image. I chose to illustrate "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" using 3 key elements - a cup of bush tea, her jotter & pencil and a ladies scarf to add a "feminine touch".

Project 65: Symbols

This project required us to think of more than one visual symbol for the following subjects:
  • Growth
  • Excess
  • Crime
  • Silence
  • Poverty
It states that we don't need to take pictures unless we feel suitably enthusiastic! Well, as someone who has persevered with every single project on this course, I couldn't very well not take pictures could I? Any assesors reading this, please take note! It was also a good discipline to see if I could turn an idea into a visually attractive reality. Sometimes an idea doesn't produce the picture you thought it would.

  • Acorns under an Oak Tree (may need a super wide angle lens for this)
  • Acorns made of gold (requires some photoshop)
  • A tall person
  • A child standing next to a measuring chart
  • Plus some of my ideas on the previous post (project 64)
  • Images of obesity
  • A mass of junk food
  • Close up of a high spec car badge (jaguar/ mercedes), perhaps using a wide angle lens again
  • City boys drinking champagne
  • A shot of the nouveau riche at the races, particularly drawing attention to an over the top hat
  • A celebrity with all their designer labels dripping off
The only accessible photos from this list are the junk food and the car badge (if I can take it without getting arrested). As I haven't done much food photography in this course, this is a good opportunity.

  • Police tape (not feasible for me to take, but is a classic shot used on the news pages)
  • Graffiti
  • Broken windows/ smashed phone boxes
  • Knife/ Gun
  • Drugs
  • Bars on windows, indicating jail.
  • A very serene landscape, empty of people. For example a jetty over a lake at sunrise/ sunset. Add in a figure in a yoga pose, meditating.
  • A graveyard
  • A person holding their figure to their lips to say "Shhhhh"
  • An empty purse, with a few pennies scattered nearby
  • A scruffy child with no shoes
  • A picture of a cage with the phrase "The poverty trap"
  • A fridge with just one thing in it - e.g. value branded milk
I can't think that any of these will be considered very original, but they provide plenty opportunities to produce visually attractive images. Not all of them are accessible - however if I lived in Beverley Hills then there would be plenty of images of "excess" and celebrities to take.

Anyway, here's some of my symbols: