Evaluation

My work in this project so far has been quite good. I started research early, from a variety of sources and had a general idea of what I wanted to document. This was further refined through group and individual tutorials as well as through research. I used a variety of sources – more than I have ever used for any one given project. This included a range of photojournalistic/narrative photography sources, where historical and contemporary practices are implemented. In addition, TEDx talks, videos/documentaries, Magnum Contact Sheets, traditional photography, books, Professional Photography magazines, the BJP, art based multi-media practitioners as well as material from exhibitions (for example Photo London) informed my research and practise.

I found it quite difficult to get a balance between commuting to attend so many lectures and finding time to take new material. It is common that final year students only attend taught sessions for 2 days a week in order to allow time for creative processes but our course is different from that approach. Whilst we are creative practitioners in training and still developing our own styles, it has been argued that trying to emulate other established photographers work can help discover techniques faster. Conversely, photographers such as Peter Marlow highlighted (in the November 2016 issue of Professional Photography) that his style began to develop when he stopped trying to copy Henri Cartier-Bresson and did his own thing. Balancing all of this industry advice as well as more traditional tutor advice was a little difficult. Lastly, in the same magazine, an art director anonymously cited the gender imbalance in industry photographers being on agents lists for representation and how the emerging photography style of today is too homogenised – “we need creative and fresh thinkers”.

Documentary projects of this nature, are at best, very time consuming and are rarely completed in a year. Some of the photographers I have analysed have spent up to 8/9 years on a personal documentary project whilst I barely have 9 months to realise and execute mine. One must also consider the ethics of the research I am doing and the type of photographs being taken, potential and past eviction experiences related to gentrification are not topics in a petri-dish, they are real, and those who experienced it will naturally have feelings about it.

Living in London (born & bred), in particular, the borough I am in, engenders interest and a reputability more than living where my University (Hertfordshire) would have. The project has developed quite nicely, considering all of the above factors, and I will capitalise on making further contact with the relevant potential subjects before everything slows down for the Christmas holidays. This will be with a range of people gentrification affects/involves and not just ‘victims’ will help to widen the story a bit more, an provide access to more people. Lastly to continue developing the story, shoots need to be occurring more regularly so that I can have more material to refine the ‘final story’ – especially continuing my spatial arrangements of printed photographs.

Test Images 2

Below is a combination of some test images I have been able to use to refine my approach and practice over the past couple of months. (These are not the same images that were physically submitted).

Please note, there are some photographs which are ‘perfect’ in their edit and how they were captured but they have not been included here as they give me nothing to talk about and improve for the next few months.

Points of improvement

  • Image 1 – will have to be replaced with a ‘straighter’ architectural photograph, the clouds in the background produce a nice moody effect and the contrast is quite nice. Possibly brighten up the area at the bottom a little bit.
  • Image 2 (top right hand side) – the lamp post and the building behind have been aligned, the bottom of the picture has too much cropped out of it. Try re-shooting with more ‘grounding’.
  • Image 3 (right, middle) – this image is quite powerful on its own, possibly re-shoot with bars in focus to imply the feeling of being locked out, or not supposed to be there.
  • Image 4 (right bottom) – brilliant use of natural light in this portrait, as well as showing the environment (kitchen), possibly get in closer to the subject.

Overall, these images go well together, and even without the above advised improvements, go well visually as a series. A building connected to a person/people is being suggested here through these photographs. To refine my work visually, I will be/have taken on board the above criticisms and will be posting ‘finished work’ from the middle of next month.

 

Artist Study – Alec Soth

Alec Soth (b. 1969) is a photographer born and based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has published over twenty-five books including Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), NIAGARA (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2015). Soth has had over fifty solo exhibitions including survey shows organized by Jeu de Paume in Paris (2008), the Walker Art Center in Minnesota (2010) and Media Space in London (2015). Soth has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship (2013). In 2008, Soth created Little Brown Mushroom, a multi-media enterprise focused on visual storytelling. Soth is represented by Sean Kelly in New York, Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis, Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, and is a member of Magnum Photos.

Hi most recent solo exhibitions were in Douglas Hyde Gallery (Dublin, Ireland) 2016 and
Scotiabank CONTACT (Toronto, Canada) 2016 with an upcoming one in FotoMuseum (Antwerp, Belgium) 2017. His most recent press review was in April 2012 by Decter, Joshua for the Sean Kelly Gallery. Soth is also a visiting artist lecture in 46 venues across America and Europe.

Customers waiting for Walmart to open on a Sunday afternoon. Williston, ND
Walmart. Williston, North Dakota, Songbook, Alec Soth, 

Alec Soth who was notorious for his more isolated portraits has recently turned his lens toward community life in the country. To aid his research, Soth assumed the increasingly obsolescent role of community newspaper reporter. From 2012-2014, Soth travelled state by state while working on his self-published newspaper, The LBM Dispatch. Whilst doing this, he was on assignment for the New York Times. From upstate New York to Silicon Valley, Soth attended hundreds of meetings, dances, festivals and communal gatherings in search of human interaction in an era of virtual social networks.

With Songbook, Soth has stripped these pictures of their ‘news context’ in order to highlight the longing for connection. Fragmentary, funny and sad, Songbook is a lyrical depiction of the tension between American individualism and the desire to be united. I find this a very inspirational project. I was unsure what I was looking at when I saw the exhibition last year and after an internship at Magnum, I feel my understanding of this project has deeply improved. My project is long term and of a personal nature which is why I will be looking at Songbook, in my last artist study.

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Facebook. Menlo Park, California, Songbook, Alec Soth, 

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

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Execution. Huntsville Prison. Huntsville. Texas. Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 1

  • This is a brilliant image.
  • The lighting in this image is even – it was taken at night time, though the light reaches the subjects closer to the photographer (left hand side of the image).
  • The main focal point is the line of men in uniforms. The whole picture in focus allows the reader to picture the next parts of the story or even what happened before. Moreso, than a picture of an electric chair or a noose would.
  • The light in this image appears to be artificial  – flashgun or continuous lighting. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the viewer allowed to engage in the photograph to piece together a story from what is happening.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre rule of thirds approach combined with leading lines (the men and the cables above their heads) has been taken. Without the light illuminating the left hand side, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
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The Key Hotel. Kissimmee, Florida, Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 2

  • This is one of my favourite images.
  • The lighting in this image is quite beautiful – possibly taken at sunset. The lighting draws attention to the top of this building and slowly the eyes fall to absorb what is happening in the picture.
  • The main focal point is the clouded skyline. The whole picture (the details of the building and parking lot) plus the woman going into the hotel, form part of this urban environment and this is justification for not blurring out the background or getting closer.
  • The light in this image appears to be natural – coming straight from the sky. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter insinuated cleverly – the theme of loneliness and vast surroundings – in nature and in the town/places in it.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre and slightly cropped. Without the skyline, or lady in the photograph, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
Off Highway 23, ND (Williston Basin)
Near Williston. North Dakota. Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 3

  • This is my favourite image.
  • The lighting in this image is quite beautiful and idyllic. It frames the house more interestingly than an evenly lit photography would. The subject matter is clear by the emotion it connotes – loneliness.
  • The main focal point is the house. The whole picture (the details of the grass, skyline and the land around) form part of this country environment and this is justification for not blurring out the background.
  • The light in this image appears to be natural – coming straight from the sky. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated not by what is in the image but by the feeling it evokes. Getting closer, further away or changing perspectives would have utterly altered the image and its meaning.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre rule of thirds approach has been taken. Without the light illuminating the building, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
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Brian. Williston. North Dakota, Songbird, Alec Soth

Artist materials and processes

Soth is quite a ‘slow’ car photographer. He uses large format cameras like Wista and sets up in spaces he feels curious about. He fits his personal work around his commissioned work and this gives him the freedom and flexibility to explore. In a Vimeo interview, he says “the great thing about photography is what it can communicate when you let it”. All he does is set up the parameters in which he will operate. He will go to a place he is curious about, go an knock on a door he wants to know what is going on behind and that, he says is when the rewards start to come.

He left the photography style quite open, there are close portraits where he considers spatial awareness between the subjects and then there are photographic ‘miracles’ like the picture with Jesus in the skyline or establishing photographs where the distance matters a bit more. When the images are placed together in a gallery, there is something for everyone to take away from it – the more alone pictures related to human instinct or the contextualised portraits (oil worker).

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at Songbird, I will:

  • Become a bit more creative in my photography practise. I will not worry about the type of materials I am using or how I photograph things to the point of obsession. I will allow my curiosity and instinct to guide my documentary photography.
  • Consider how else I can communicate in photography – leaving the story wide open and at other times quite closed, say things by how the photographs make people feel as opposed to focusing more on visual arrangements?
  • Consider which other publications – besides a book, can used to present the story of the people and communities represented and initiate a positive change

info (no date) Songbook (First edition. First printing) by Alec Soth. Available at: http://mackbooks.co.uk/books/1057-songbook.html (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Gallery, F. (2016) Alec Soth: Songbook. Available at: https://vimeo.com/120211809 (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Soth, A. and LensCulture (no date) Songbook – photographs by Alec Soth. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/alec-soth-songbook (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Written and Davies, L. (2015) Alec Soth – songbook. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2015/03/alec-soth-songbook/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Artist Study – Thom & Beth Atkinson

Beth & Thom Atkinson are a brother and sister in their early 30s who after three quarters of a century, have revealed their mysterious reinterpretation of the effect of the Blitz on contemporary London. They combine aesthetics from old paintings and tell a part fictional narrative of the terror of war on London’s landscape. They aim to preserve the physical and psychological landscapes of the Second World War landscapes in London. According to The Independent, Tonkin (2015), “the Atkinsons uncover… hollow monuments, as sites of memory, and, in Benjamin’s premonitory words, as scenes of a crime.” Beth was educated first as a fine artist and then as a photographer at the Universities of Leeds and royal college of Art respectively.

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Copeland Road, Thom and Beth Atkinson

Atkinson’s work appeals to me because it is quite simple yet profound. When I viewed these images I was thinking, okay I am looking at buildings, but what is so special about these ones? Then it hit me, when I saw the imprint of a building on a wall and an empty space. Something used to be here and now it’s gone!

They were chosen for my study because I am examining why everyone fears the wave of gentrification that is happening in London and what people do not want to disappear. The threat of something no longer being there draws in documentary photographers, like myself. I suppose it’s the thrill of being a part of history before it has happened. Missing Buildings, is a series comprised of 42 large format photographs and has been presented with other material to create a photobook. This appears to be a long term personal project.

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Florence Road, Thom & Beth Atkinson

Over a million of London’s buildings were destroyed or damaged by bombing between 1940 and 1945. Some of the types of buildings ranged from a suburban terrace, to the incongruous post-war inner city estate. Missing Buildings reveals London as a vast archaeological site, which still has the visible scars of its violent wartime past. The artists combined knowledge from books, images and grandparents’ memories to make more than a simple record of bombsites. They retell the story of an epic battle.

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

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Hackney Road, Thoma & Beth Atkinson

Image 1 – Hackney Road

  • This is a road I have passed on many occasions. The lighting in this image creates a silently eerie photograph.
  • The main focal point is the building with the pink sign but this is overshadowed by the lamppost.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat, with the absence of clouds.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to initial training as a fine artist.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (buildings).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. I would have considered the image without the lamppost in the foreground but maybe it adds to the overall narrative.
  • In addition, the line of the pavement is not directly in the left hand corner but again, these composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, but the story is stronger as a series instead of this image on its own.
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Dingley Place, Thom & Beth Atkinson

Image 2 – Dingley Place

  • This is a road I have also passed on many occasions.
  • The lighting in this image creates a silently eerie photograph.
  • The main focal point is the building behind the tree, where there is a contrast between the shade of brown and the type of material the building has been made with.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to initial training as a fine artist.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (buildings).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting and this image tells a story, both on its own and as part of a series.
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Brunel Road, Thom & Beth Atkinson

Image 3 – Brunel Road

  • This is a road I have also passed on many occasions.
  • The lighting in this image creates a silently eerie photograph.
  • The main focal point is the building behind the naked tree, it is also interesting to note that the tree is not in front of tall buildings.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to initial training as a fine artist.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image’s foreground (tree) in contrast to the background (buildings)..
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting and this image tells a story, both on its own and as part of a series.

Artist processes/materials used

They have used colour film and a large format camera which alters the way the colour scheme the photographs have compared to a DSLR. Traditionally, footage related to the war has been shown in black and white so this is another opportunity to see it in colour. Given that Missing Buildings searches for mythology/strange apparitions as part of its narrative, this blurs facts and fiction and may have been too complicated to produce in black and white.

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at Missing Buildings, I will:

  • Produce an edit of both analogue styled colour and black and white work
  • Combine other elements into the final story besides photographs
  • Develop a consistent (fine art) approach both in aesthetics and content

Beth Atkinson (no date) Available at: http://www.bethatkinson.co.uk/ (Accessed: 20 November 2016).

Tonkin, B. (2015) Missing buildings: Thom and Beth Atkinson’s photographs capture the scars left on the London cityscape by the blitz. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/architecture/missing-buildings-thom-and-beth-atkinsons-photographs-capture-the-scars-left-on-the-london-cityscape-10475272.html (Accessed: 20 November 2016).

2016, T.A. (2016) Thom Atkinson photographer. Available at: http://thomatkinson.com/ (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Magazine, F.-S. and contributors, its (2010) Contemporary photography: An informal movement. Available at: http://www.fstopmagazine.com/pastissues/43/milbrath.html (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

What is fine Art Photography and how to do it? (2015) Available at: http://digital-photography-school.com/what-is-fine-art-photography-and-how-to-do-it/ (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

 

Personal Photography Briefs decoded

When coming up with photographic ideas a personal photography brief is always a good starting point. It helps you describe your ideas/how you want your images to look before you have taken them. It can serve as a reminder for what you are doing, how you want to do it and sometimes, why. Once the shoot is over, you can reflect on this document to see what you followed or didn’t follow and why. It helps in your evaluation, and you find yourself growing a lot faster a photographer. Once you move forward from the previous project you become more intentional with how you work.

Sections to break your photography brief into:

  1. Aims & Objectives – what are you doing/going to do and why?
  2. Location – where are you shooting, why? Include sample images here.
  3. Equipment – list here
  4. Influence – who are your key influences and why, what are you taking from their work and injecting into yours? Include every element and use visual language. Include key images here to demonstrate what you wish to achieve.
  5. Light – how should it look in your images, mood and atmosphere you wish to create? How will you achieve it?
  6. Lighting diagram – use it to show your setup and consider your subject and location. Include any good test shots you have here.
  7. Look and feel – how would you describe your images in words – use descriptive vocabulary.
  8. Genre – what genre are you working in – how will this affect the way your work looks visually?
  9. Audience – where do you want your work to end up? Who will view it and how will you make money from this work? Will this affect how you complete your project and the decisions you make?

You don’t have to write paragraphs for any of these sections. aim to answer in bullet points. This will help you absorb what you are doing faster and make planning the consequent shoots/projects easier. I’ve included my example brief in another post.

Idea Moodboard

Moodboards are very beautiful things for visual people but sometimes, even these need a bit of moderation. For my Final Major Project (which will be a stepping stone into the photographic industry) I decided to limit my initial moodboard to just 2 artists, yes 2!

Following my summer placement at Magnum Photos, I decided it would be a good place to start. This moodboard incorporates a ‘traditional’ photographer and a contemporary one who work in different ways – colour and black and white but are both documentary photographers who employ location and natural lighting in their work. In addition, they fit into the sub-genre of street  photographers. Their names are Alex Webb (the colour photography) and Matt Black (black and white).

blogmoodboard

(filename is lecturers name – ignore that bit) – picture references available separately

When I was opened up to the influences that Webb had when studying and learning photography (Professional Photography magazine) he studied masters such as Cartier-Bresson who did not work in colour. This was a critical point for me. Whether or not a photographer has the same working practice as you – either in content or aesthetic there is always some principle that you can take away.

I had the privilege of assisting the setup of the New Blood Magnum exhibition and I was immediately drawn to Black’s work. The pictures he had on display were documenting the ‘Geography of Poverty’. For these he used poignant pictures and a key statistic/caption. The way he presents his work and his approach help give this series and unusual and more profound meaning than stereotypical documentations of poverty and hardship so frequently employed.

This moodboard was a good starting point for me because it challenged me to find similarities/differences between two photographers, whether it be in their work, practice, aesthetics or their approach. It allowed me to dig deeper and to challenge the way I work. I would recommend making a moodboard with a limited amount of photographers, artists (whatever it is you are looking at) as a starting point for a new project. It will force your eyes to be opened.