Why 35mm?

I felt the 35mm focal length would be best to fulfil my brief for Assignment 1 – Documentary for a number of reasons. I took into consideration the space I would be working in for the majority of the project: namely the brewery and its surroundings. I knew from photographing in the brewery before that it was quite small as breweries went, even I imagined for a local brewery. Therefore I envisaged a longer focal length would not suffice as this, while providing subject separation, would also typically only isolate particular parts of the brewery. I wanted the viewer to identify that the space was a brewery and because the space was confined I felt a wider field of view and so a shorter focal length was more prudent. However, I still felt it would be beneficial to take some portraits/group shots so some subject separation from the background of the portrait subjects was desirable. I settled on 35mm on a full frame camera eventually because in my eyes it offered a good compromise between portrait/group shots and wider, setting-establishing shots. With this focal length I saw the potential shots as having character while still making clear it was a brewery setting.

 

Another, less obvious reason was that I already possessed a 35mm prime lens which was quire fast in maximum aperture setting (f/1.8) and so I could open up the aperture if needed for the aforementioned subject separation in portrait/ group shots and/or for the likely low light levels within the brewery at night. I had to take the low light levels into consideration because of the time of the year -winter – where the nights arrived earlier and when the brewery was open on Friday night and on Saturday day and night. Nevertheless, regardless of whether I possessed a 35mm lens or not, I would still probably have utilised the 35mm focal length for this assignment. I did consider other focal lengths like 50/85mm when considering at one stage to take a series of portrait shots only (one for each member of staff at the brewery), although I decided against this when I changed my mind on producing a set of such similar and therefore not very varied photographs. Also I considered a much wider focal length like 24mm because I knew the brewery to be so confined in space so I could fit more in of the brewery but I felt this would restrict me to environment/setting shots only because of the amount of distortion evident on a wide angle lens in the corners for people shots. Of course I could have decided to keep the people in these potential 24mm shots in the centre of the frame to avoid the distortion but because the brewery was often full of people I didn’t think this would be very feasible.

 

Lastly, I had been looking at why I found the 35mm focal length to appear so natural when rendering subjects to the viewer’s eye and it seemed I wasn’t the only one. While 50mm (or 45mm if you wish to get technical!) is the focal length closest to the human eye in terms of perspective, this isn’t taking into account the peripheral vision. I discovered this after reading Making the Best of a 35mm Lens – (Gampat, C. 2015). The link for this article can be found at: http://www.thephoblographer.com/2015/05/07/making-the-best-of-a-35mm-lens/#.WFFeauGLQUF and was accessed on 13/11/2016. Here, Gampat argues that: ‘The 35mm lens is arguably mort akin [than the 50mm lens] to the human perspective since it focuses on what’s directly in front of you but also includes your peripheral vision’. I found the rest of the article useful in preparing me for this assignment too with regards to thinking in the 35mm focal length field of view and its attributes.

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Research into Henri Cartier-Bresson and Lewis Hine

Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of my favourite photographers before starting documentary and I had recently come across Lewis Hine, where I appreciated his connection with the subjects of the environmental portraits and admired his dedication to photographing the children working. Because I could foresee myself attempting to capture decisive moments at the brewery, Henri Cartier-bresson’s work became of more interest to me. Also, because I could see a connection with some of the children’s environmental portraits in Lewis Hine’s work, I felt this could help me show my connection to the brewery workers for Assignment 1 as part of the brief was to show my engagement with the people and their context.

 

The reason I felt the decisive moment would be important in the brewery was that it was quite a confined space. I would have to choose the right backgrounds and wait for a decisive moment or else work quickly and efficiently in finding a good composition for my photographs with the people in or outside the brewery. Henri Cartier-Bresson in my eyes was the master of the former of these two options and although I didn’t feel I would capture such charming decisive moments as he did, I could at least take the more literal sense of the phrase and press the shutter at the exact moment I felt the decisive moment was occurring. Also, I could move my feet especially seeing as I was using a prime lens to get a more decisive moment. While he worked exclusively in black and white (presumably to bring out the compositional elements, I was fairly adamant I would be working in colour. This was so the vibrancy of the brewery was evident which was the case in the times I had visited before.

 

‘Cartier-Bresson clearly saw photography containing a capability to document everyday life, where even mundane scenes can be defined through their decisive moments’ – (Errington, R. 2014) found at: http://the-artifice.com/history-within-photographic-concept/ accessed on 18/11/2016). This quote for me typified what the decisive moment stands for in my head. This concept would also be useful to me in regards to the assignment because although the brewery and its people were special to me, they wouldn’t seem special to the viewer in any way without the addition of a decisive moment for the photography. My documentary photography would be improved by the decisive moment because it was me who pressed the shutter at that particular time and so my interpretation the scene. Therefore, it would potentially show some of my engagement with my surroundings, in this case my community.

 

Another quote form the same article I found interesting: ‘photography illustrates the capability of documenting decisive moments in any scenario, due to its universal quality’ – (Errington, R. 2014) found at: http://the-artifice.com/history-within-photographic-concept/ accessed on 18/11/2016). This is in relation to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s concept of it and makes the decisive moment a powerful tool unique to photography in my eyes because it can capture a split-second unlike painting for example. I would try to utilise photography’s capabilities of the decisive moment by applying it to my local brewery in order to record moments not possible by other media. In doing so I could elevate what to others may well be everyday activity to instead offer an insight into my community and my engagement with it.

 

I had discovered the work of Lewis Hine when looking for documentary photographers. His photographs stood out to me as him having a very strong connection to the subjects, where a bond was palpable especially where eye contact with the subject was present. This was true even though most of the photographs I looked at were environmental portraits and as I envisaged taking photographs of this kind, I felt this was something I could learn from.

 

I found at: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/hine-photos (accessed on 18/11/2016) a fascinating article by National Archives (n.d.) entitled Teaching With Documents: Photographs of Lewis Hine: Documentation of Child Labor concerning Lewis Hine’s reasoning when taking the child labor photographs and his thought process while taking them. I ascertained he realised context was crucial for his photographs to become useful documents, therefore: ‘To obtain captions for his pictures, he interviewed the children on some pretext and then scribbled his notes with his hand hidden inside his pocket.’ – (National Archives, n.d.). Also insightful for me was that ‘Hine defined a good photograph as “a reproduction of impressions made upon the photographer which he desires to repeat to others.”’ – (National Archives – n.d.). I found this insightful because the photographer’s work is then subjective rather than objective and by offering an insight into the world of the photographer’s subjects, the viewer is given an opportunity to gain an understanding of not only that world but something of the photographer too.

 

By combining both Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ and Lewis Hine’s ‘photo-interpretation’ – (‘Because [Lewis Hine] realized his photographs were subjective, he described his work as “photo-interpretation.”’ – (National Archives n.d.)), I could perhaps begin to create my decisive moments with my own style in the photos I would be taking for the brewery. Therefore I might give insight for the viewer into my interpretation of the brewery.