Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Anna Fox

I checked out an OCA link on their forum to an exhibition by photographer Anna Fox. Her work comprises a series of images taken at the Butlin's Holiday Park - not sure if they are called "camps" anymore. I watched a video of the artist at the exhibition explaining the concept behind her work and the difficulties she faced with the technical aspects of working mostly indoors with fast changing environments and issues of consent from both individuals and corporations.

I was fascinated to listen to her working method and how during the course of the project she changed camera formats and switched between film and digital as the need arose. I like the freedom of this method and the ability of the photographer to use whatever tool is required to achieve a creative goal. I posted my thoughts to the forum thread regarding this.

Forum thread discussion

The images themselves are printed large and contain bright colours and graphic shapes. People inhabit the spaces and can be seen at leisure doing recreational activities like swimming, playing pool or eating. They are on holiday and relaxed and appear to be enjoying themselves. What struck me most about the images is the artificiality of the environments. Brightly coloured plastic in all sorts of geometric shapes appears to be the main construction material. To me, as I viewed the images, the people looked out of place. They were juxtaposed against hard surfaces that were probably selected for their ability to survive countless encounters with many hands and feet and able to be wiped clean easily. In the video, Fox has said that the type of camera format, used together with the choice of lighting, has highlighted the intensity of strong colours and details. Of course, the reality, is that the people didn't feel out of place at all and were thoroughly enjoying their time away from home and work.

With that said the image of the family eating at a table in a fast food area caught my attention the most. The family has a young girl and she alone is looking directly at the camera. Her face has been painted with an animal design and this struck me as interesting. She is in effect wearing a mask. The girl makes me think about our need as humans beings to adopt "personas" for different aspects of our lives. Her mask represents play and leisure. So, are all the people in the images in fact wearing a mask? When we are on holiday we quite often wear different clothes with brighter colours. We may have a relaxed, carefree attitude or get very drunk. We are displaying ourselves to the world - this is me. I am on holiday and having fun. So if the people are in fact all wearing a kind of mask or visual contsruct then are they really so out of place in this plastic artificial world that the photographer has portrayed?

It is interesting that Anna Fox references the old postcards of John Hindes. Images that were taken of Butlins in the 60s & 70s. The images look over-processed with gaudy colours and again depict an environment of people having fun. The images remind me of my own childhood. I spent a few holidays myself at Butlins during this period. I remember being very happy there and the artificiality of the environment mattered not one bit. Butlins was a huge adventure playground of exciting sounds, colours and new experiences. But at the same time I was thoroughly miserable and lonely as a kid. The short breaks to Butlins were an escape from that existence. But if I analyse those memories now in the light of my interpretation of the Fox images I could say that I was wearing my own kind of mask back then. I was dressed in brightly coloured holiday clothes. I participated in activities like swimming or going on fairground rides. But at the same time I was unconsciously masking the reality of my situation.

My thoughts may seem a bit garbled or open-ended. That's because I am still working through them and they are not yet fully defined and subject to change. But, in conclusion, the Fox images raise a lot of questions in my mind about the nature of being human and how we adopt personas to portray different aspects of ourselves. The Fox images in their intense brightness and artificiality show the reality that we adopt these strategies wherever we are. It is in the images very artificiality where there is nowhere to hide that we are forced to look and our masks are highlighted. Our need to integrate, co-exist, and survive with others in our culture is ingrained. But our outward visual perception of reality is not always as real as we think it is.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Portraits - Narrative

I've decided to continue working on my portrait skills alongside the other elements of the course. I will post the results here so that I can easily update the post with new work. I may even try to split the posts into further categories, narrative, studio, informal, etc.

Updated Nov 22nd 2012:

Gerry, sleeping.

Updated Nov 1 2012:

The Train to Ghent

March 19th 2012:

Vera 1

Vera 2

Vera 3

Vera 4

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Project 15 - Public space, public activity

For this project I used some more of my London shots that I took during a recent walkabout. Trafalgar square and the nearby streets are a great place to people watch. A lot of people hang out in the square and use it as a meet up point.

Image 1: This girls red trousers caught my attention and the people make a nice grouping to photograph. I like the angles that the three sets of legs make in the composition. From the few minutes that I had to study them it was clear that the hooded girl is obviously the boss of the group. That clearly comes through in this image.

Image 2: I processed this image in black and white as the competing colours didn't help the composition.

Image 3: Taking a break. Photographed just up the road from the square.

Image 4: I spotted this cute couple across the road. The husband(?) is holding his wife's bag while she sorts out her shoe. Very cute.

Image 5: Chatting in the queue around the square.

I need some wide angle images of the square to unify these as a set. As they stand the images don't yet hang together. I'm working on different projects out of sequence at the moment in order to catch up on my three month delay. I will come back and finish this set later.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Project 13 - a standard view

As described in the notes, images taken at a standard focal length (50mm full frame and around 34mm for my crop sensor Nikon) do not tend to distort images. This means that as scenes are approximately as the eye sees them they kind of have to stand on their own without an added graphic emphasis. If not careful then the images can look a bit flat. They have to rely on the composition or have interesting enough detail or activity for the image to work.

Some images taken at approx 34mm (crop sensor.)

Boy with flag.

Electric buggy.

Two dogs.

I find these types of images the hardest to evaluate. Sometimes I am fascinated by a detail or a composition - and then sometimes I find them bland. Also as I change and progress through the course and become more interested in the work of contemporary photographers I find the evaluation all the more interesting and complicated.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Annie Leibovitz

At the suggestion of my tutor I've been looking in some depth into the work of Annie Leibovitz. I took out a number of books from the library (everything they had plus some inter-library stuff too.) I began by looking at her portrait work - the kind of images that she is most famous for. She has produced some very accomplished images. A lot of varied compositions and interesting viewpoints help to make her work in this genre stand out. I've posted some of my favourites below including the Demi Moore shot that was so controversial when it appeared on a magazine cover.

Whoopi Goldberg

Lance Armstrong

Demi Moore

Reading about her earlier days at Rolling Stone magazine and the move from film to digital was interesting. Like most top end pro photographers she has a team that works for her. Most of the post production work appears to be done by the team (relying on their specialised digital skills) rather than doing it herself. I should imagine this is pretty common amongst the pro's allowing Leibovitz to concentrate on the photography.

I have also looked at some of her project work away from celebrity portraits. The style here is much looser and some of the earlier black and white images have a vitality to them that can be lost with studio work.

The book "pilgrimage" where she went out and photographed her favourite things and places has variety and depth to it. The lighting is quite dark in most of the images whether it be Niagara Falls or a dress worn by Emily Dickinson and an atmosphere of sombreness sets a pervasive tone throughout. The project was originally conceived with her companion Susan Sondheim before she died and I wonder if the sombreness was part of the original concept or if it has found its way into the book in a more organic way.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Project 11 - Standing back

For this project I used my telephoto lens to capture people from a distance. It was a cold grey day in London and as I wandered around I came across some colourful lanterns being set up for Chinese New Year. I moved away to a set of steps leading down to Trafalgar Square and waited for some interesting activity. As usual an assortment of people came and stood by the lanterns but it took some time for anything to catch my eye. Interestingly I knew these compositions would work as I was shooting them. I just got a feeling (like I'm sure most photographers do) that the shot was right. It is the combination of glance, gesture, or just an interesting juxtaposition that makes an image. Henri Cartier Bresson knew what he was talking about...

Image 1 - 82mm

Image 2 - 135mm

Image 3 - 92mm

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Project 10 - Moment and gesture

On a recent trip to Brussels I came across this mural on a busy urban street. I knew that real people in the composition would liven it up so I waited across the road for someone to appear. I spent ten minutes photographing all manner of passersby completely unobserved. Most of the images are not suitable as there are too many bodies in shot or they aren't doing anything remotely remarkable. This is a quick contact of an assortment of them. I have another fifty or so images like this!

This one made it to my final selection. It's not bad as the couple are relaxed and more interesting to look at. The composition as a whole is also much cleaner without all the other competing people.