Monthly Archives: July 2016

Paul Strand at the V&A – A Study Visit

Exhibition: Photography and Film for the 20th Century
Date: Saturday 2 July 2016 @ 11am

Study visit number three took me to the V&A to see Paul Strand’s photographs spanning 50 years from the 1920s through to the 1970s – Photography and Film for the 20th Century. Curated by Martin Barnes.

Paul Strand (b: 1890 d: 1976) “was an American photographer and filmmaker who, along with fellow modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, helped establish photography as an art form in the 20th century.”.

All the photographs exhibited are black and white. So too are the 3 films in the exhibition, the earliest of which, Manhattan he filmed with Charles Sheeler in 1921 and the other two, Redes (1936) and the Native Land (1942) were set to music without dialogue.

Strand used a camera with a fake lens on the side, this was so his subjects did not know he was taking a photograph of them and the results he found were more honest.  He used a prism on his camera right up until he went to Italy, at which point his photography became more direct.

The exhibition in the main covered his travels to: American Southwest and Mexico (1920s/1930s), New England (1945), France (1950), Italy, Scotland (1954), Egypt and Morocco (1965), Ghana (1963), and Romania (1960s).  He liked to embed himself within a place so he could capture the real essence of the place and it’s people.  His wife Hazel traveled with him and the exhibition had a map of Ghana where she plotted the route taken, which was up the gold coast and the wealthier regions.

As as aside, James Barnor (b: 1929), a Ghanaian photographer now based in London, who is only now receiving recognition for his photography, met Paul Strand.  They both took photographs in the same regions of Ghana and although their photography is quite different it makes for an interesting comparison of a place and its people.

The exhibition runs pretty much in chronological order; ending with his later years where he retired to France and took to taking photographs in his garden, however, compared to his other works this was not his best period.

You can see throughout his work that he had preferences e.g. using a frame within a frame, liked to photograph still life especially in nature, used deep depth of field, his portraits had a similar composition (liked to photograph people central to the frame without expression) and used light and shadow to enhance.

The period of his work which I enjoyed most in the exhibition was in New England.  “Strand found that he was able to satisfy his desire to reach larger audiences by presenting his prints in the form of books.  In 1945 the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York opened the first major retrospective of Strand’s work.  His work on the exhibition led to a book project titles ‘Time in New England’.”

There was a passage of a book at the end of the exhibition from which I made a note of a couple of the points made which resonated with me:

1 – “selection becomes the arbiter of content” – I picked this out because as part of our course we are asked to select photographs to submit for assessment and it is these selections that we are judged on.  So the selection process is a really important one for success.

2 – “evolution itself evolves” – this I thought was interesting because we accept things change but with every day that passes a new piece of information is presented to us so where we thought we were heading is revised.  The world is in constant flux and it’s important not to continue doing something just because you have always done it that way.  As new information presents itself, reflection and change should be natural steps in the process.

I’m not sure I’ve done his work justice on my blog but hopefully all the links and references will.

References:

Wikipedia. 2016. Paul Strand – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Strand.

Vimeo. 2016. Paul Strand – An Introduction on Vimeo. [ONLINE] Available at:https://vimeo.com/159045116. (see above)

The Guardian. 2016. I posed for Paul Strand: the day the great photographer walked into my village in Italy | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/mar/16/i-posed-for-paul-strand-the-day-the-great-photographer-walked-into-my-village-in-italy.

Fotomuseum Winterthur. 2016. Paul Strand after Margaret Mead – Still searching – Fotomuseum Winterthur. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.fotomuseum.ch/en/explore/still-searching/articles/26986_paul_strand_after_margaret_mead.

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Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The End

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The End (following on from Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Middle)

Please note: My tutor requests that my final Assignment image submissions are provided as A4 prints so the jpegs below are only of web quality. 

So here are my final selected images for my Collecting – Heads series, together with their technical specs (the text beside each image accompanied my A4 prints):

_MG_3673
Image 1
Technical Details: ISO 100 1/400 sec. f/5 190mm
Gordon is an intelligent, patriarchal and reserved character, so I feel this image reflects his nature well (albeit he looks a bit serious).  I like the contrast of his red shirt against the green foliage and the separation between the dark foliage and Gordon’s white hair.  Although the lighting looks reasonably even I feel it was a bit too bright for the subject.  The shot was taken in the shade with a reflector but in hindsight I could have chosen a different time of day and/or used a diffuser to ease some of the brightness.

 

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Image 2 
Technical Details: ISO 100 1/640 sec. f/4 80mm
Lynne is fun and young at heart and I think her smile in this image gives you that sense.  [Note: she can also be serious, as you will see from my blog exercises.]  I took this shot in front of a bush with blue flowers as I felt complimented Lynne’s eyes and top.  I think the level of detail in this image is good.  The combination of settings for this particular lens works well.  If I was to change anything it would be to have considered the dappled shade more.

 

_MG_3608


Image 3
Technical Details: ISO 160 1/125 sec. f/5.6 100mm
Poppy is a natural beauty and she is very comfortable in front of the camera which I think comes across in this image.  I used earth tones in the background to compliment her hair, which was improved further by the light coming in from the top rear forming a natural hair light.  I used a slightly higher ISO to make sure I could use the camera hand-held at 100mm.

See Note here.

 

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Image 4 

Technical Details: ISO 100 1/1000 sec. f/4 70mm
Fiona is a smiley, caring person who enjoys a life of laughter and good times with family and friends.  I took this image on a bright day and although I used a reflector to help with the shadows, possibly a diffuser would have improved the outcome.  The problem with using too many accessories is that you run out of hands to hold them, especially whilst shooting hand-held.  The shutter speed was high so I could have increased the f-number i.e. a smaller aperture.

 

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Image 5 

Technical Details: ISO 100 1/125 sec. f/5.6 80mm
Craig is very proud of his 6 month beard that he has managed to grow, so was happy for me to document his achievement with some amusement.  This image was taken towards the end of a day when the lighting was more even.  I think the contrast of Craig’s hair against the dark background makes his head pop from the image.

 

 

_MG_3546

 

Image 6 
Technical Details: ISO 320 1/800 sec. f/6.3 115mm
James normally wears Reactolite glasses.  We took some shots with them on but they soon turned black in the sun and we couldn’t see his eyes, so he removed them.  This image was taken on a bright day in the shade.  I had a higher ISO than I needed for this shot (by accident) but I don’t think the detail in the A4 print has suffered.

 

 

Further Development:

“How might the series be improved in the future?
I think I would like to take this into the studio and try the assignment in a more controlled environment using studio lights, or use natural light plus some off-camera flash to even out shadows and get more of a ‘zing’ into the subjects eyes.  I could also do with getting some stands to hold reflectors and diffusers so that I can concentrate on operating the camera and directing the model, instead of trying to balance a reflector whilst shooting.  I guess this is all a learning curve and is one of the aims of the course; to improve your technical skills (as well as developing your understanding of photography as an art form).”

This completes my Assignment two submission from a course requirement perspective and I now await tutor feedback.

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Middle

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment two – ‘Collecting- The Middle (following on from Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Beginning)

Self Assessment / Strengths and Weaknesses:

It’s always hard to judge the strength and weaknesses of your own images as you place a degree of protectionism on them, maybe because it was a technique you hadn’t used before and we’re pleased with the outcome or the subject matter was/is close to your heart.  I do ask my family and friends for constructive feedback, however, for them it’s more about the aesthetics rather than the technicalities of the image they assess, so it’s difficult to get a rounded critique of an image as a whole.  That said by using the specific criteria as set out within the course material you can get some guide as to how you measure up and what is required.  Part of the Assignment requests a self assessment against the course objectives and you will find this towards the end of this page.   I guess experience plays a large part as well in ones ability to critique ones own work, after-all we are all only the sum of our own experiences which could be the biggest limiter.

Now back to the Assignment text, as submitted:

The photograph I like the most from the collection, from an aperture, focal length and composition perspective is Image 3.  It appears to be the most natural using an aperture of f/5.6, a focal length of 100mm (full frame c. 160mm) and a close viewpoint.  These settings give a good depth of field, with the face and fringe in focus and blurred background, and I think it looks like a reasonable representation of face shape and size.  I think all the images in the collection are representative of the people I photographed but as I did not use any extremes of aperture or focal length I expected them to be representative.   As discovered in the exercises for this part of the course, a wide-angle lens used close up for a portrait would have been very unflattering.  If at the other end I had used my lens at 300mm, camera shake may have been an issue.  In aperture priority mode you do not have any specific control over the shutter speed, the only way you can affect the camera’s shutter speed in this mode would be to increase (or decrease) the ISO.  Using a well-lit position would help maximise the shutter speed used in any given situation.

What worked well?  I think the compositional aspect worked well.  I wanted to achieve:  a blurred background and managed this in all cases, natural looking subjects and believe that in the main I have achieved this and, a consistent look and feel and believe the colouration and composition are consistent.

What didn’t work so well? I think I needed to explore taking images at different times of the day or employ another pair of hands to help hold a diffuser.  When the sun goes in and out behind clouds the lighting conditions can change a lot and in a short space of time, so being able to control light and knowing your equipment so you can make quick adjustments is key to working with natural light.

So now to the course criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:
I think I provide back up to technical exercises: confirming the materials and techniques used, what I observed and the potential reasons why outcomes are such. I try to keep responses concise in relation to the practical tasks set but where a more rounded explanation is required this is also provided. I do find I am a bit more controlled when working through the specific course instructions compared to the work I produce for non study ‘for fun’ projects. I think this will change as I become more comfortable with the style of study, understand what is required and learn more about what my camera can do and how I can control it.

Quality of outcome:
I learn quickly from what has not gone well in the past and work to put it right and improve for the next time. I take pride in my work and aim to provide a quality submission for my tutor to assess. Ultimately if the tutor can understand what I have done, the thought process I have followed and can see the results from that process easily, that makes the tutors assessment process more effective. I  think where I am going to struggle is that I do not have anyone at the moment, apart from my tutor, who can give me feedback on the quality of outcome especially when quality relates to physical prints.  This issue comes with distance learning, not having other students or a mentor on hand who understands photography, what is required from it and can help you to navigate any uncertainties face to face. In time I will ask my photography club members to critique my work and although I have entered digital competitions I have not yet entered any print competitions, which I will when the new season starts again.   Saying that the critique is generally more geared to individual images as opposed to a series which seems to be the preference for the coursework on this course.

Demonstration of Creativity:
I felt this instructions for this Assignment were a bit ‘straight’ up.  The parameters to work within were quite specific and I’m not sure there was a lot of scope for creativity, maybe I’m wrong.   I felt I executed the brief as written.  Did I do it creatively?  I’m not sure.  I certainly feel that at the moment I bring more creativity to my non-course photography because it feels freer.  I certainly know what I like in my work when I see it and know I have a lot more to give in respect of imagination and creativity.  How I present this within the confines of a brief, however, is still largely untested.

Context:

I am finding it more difficult than I thought I would to juggle the time I need to do my research and the time I need to write it up on my blog. So far I have prioritised my reading and research as opposed to providing a demonstration on my blog that I have done this. I completely understand that from my tutor’s perspective all they know is what they can see. I have read so much at times my head hurts but I think that’s how study goes. Since February I have been to more exhibitions than I have been to in my whole life to date and have read more about any art practice than I have ever done before.  The problem comes with demonstrating that I have done this and the value which I have no doubt got out of these new experiences and further reading. The next challenge for me in this area is to do more of it so I can improve on the critical thinking and reflective areas that the course requires.

Please follow this link for the next section – Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The End.