Looking at the Work of Other OCA Students

I have mainly concentrated on the work of photographers unrelated to the OCA, either from independent learning or the suggested documentary-related photographers referenced in the course. However, I have been asked to look at some other OCA students work whose projects are about to reach their intended audience. I would say I was quite looking forward to this project as not only do I get to see some projects which have been produced by fellow students but more importantly, the work is to a standard that enables it to be appreciated by its intended audience.

Not Our Time – Penny Watson (2012)

First of all I looked at a project by Penny Watson entitled Not Our Time (2012). This project was obviously very personal to Penny and I felt the decisions she made in terms of aesthetics and composition allowed this to be reflected in the photographs. I found it very touching and one of the reasons for this was that the majority of the photos were environmental portraits, without losing the intimacy of Penny spending time with her grandmother. Other aesthetic decisions made included minimal post-processing, advising her grandmother not to smile or look at the camera and not employing flash at all. All of this and the fact she shot nearly 400 images for the project enabled her to portray her grandmother in a very convincing manner. One of the questions she posed in her book was: ‘I am intrigued to see whether photographing a family member rather than a stranger affects the images taken and whether any emotional connections are evident.’ – (Watson, 2012). The answer to this was I felt yes, although not directly. For instance there was no eye contact between the grandmother and the camera/Penny (one of Penny’s aesthetic choices). Instead there was a great deal of intimacy in the compositions of the environmental portraits which for me showed how Penny cared for her grandmother. Here Penny allowed the camera to do the talking in a subtle way rather than any direct intervention.

Behind the Scenes – Beth Aston

Beth Aston has sensitively documented her own illness and recovery. I felt the black and white medium worked well, turning the self-portarits into more abstract form and helping to disorient the viewer’s gaze in combination with the unusual camera angles. I thought the images I saw were highly effective in their communication with the viewer of the photographer/subject’s illness, with the considered lighting adding to this vision.

A Dozen Eggs – Harry Pearce (2012)

Another highly personal project involving his siblings, Harry Pearce documented members of his family. I felt this was clever because sometimes photographers overlook photographing something like siblings. I would say it was a project that finds extraordinary in the ordinary and interesting things from the banal. The photographs were again environmental portraits and again (like Penny Watson’s work) it was quite intimate, perhaps reflecting the photographer’s natural kinship with his siblings. By including extracts from the siblings, about random facts that were on their mind, the project was given more context.

Feet – Omar Camilleri (2010)

Who would think (or dare!) to do a project on something as seemingly trivial as feet!? Omar Camilleri managed to capture many different feet in a variety of ways, often in scenarios I wouldn’t have thought of. Some were humorous but many showed the toil of life and the burden that feet take on throughout this toil. I was impressed by the quality of the black and white images. In my opinion the choice of black and white was a good one; it showed off the stark nature of how feet were used as well as isolating them more from their respective backgrounds. Lastly the exhibition itself must have been amazing with massive pavaljuns displayed across streets.

The Dad Project – Briony Campbell

I found this project to be quite harrowing to look at compared to the others so far. It was most similar to me to Penny Watson’s Not Our Time (2012) except it documented moments leading up to and including the death of her father. For me the photography for Briony Campbell was a comfort for her during those times; there were also some happier pictures among the sad ones. I liked the fact not all the pictures were of her dad but some more abstract or of herself. I was glad she used small font for the captions under each photograph because I sort of would have liked if there were no captions at all. I thought the pictures could speak for themselves; however the captions did add context sometimes.

Living on 100th Street – Tanya Ahmed (2010-2011)

I liked the black and white treatment of Living on 100th Street anyway but when I realised that Bruce Davidson used the same treatment for his East 100th Street photos 40+ years prior, I felt this was a nice touch. The images were very good technically and quite a different approach to the other photographers I’ve looked at so far. The majority of the photographs for Living on 100th Street were environmental portraits (like some of the other projects I’ve looked at) but they were much more formal, without seeming staged. I would suggest Tanya Ahmed achieved this by what she called ‘collaborating’ with her subjects. This is something I could learn from, talking with the subjects first as when I tend to photograph people it tends to be quite rushed.

 

My thoughts after looking at the work of other OCA students whose work has reached or is about to reach their intended audience was that I was very inspired. The presentation methods used by some of the students were very imaginative but most of all I was struck by the personalised messages their projects were giving out. This came from generally diligent reactions to their briefs and incisive methods of working which allowed them to engage with their subjects intimately. This has then been reflected on me as the viewer and I would imagine many other viewers of each project.

References:

Ahmed, T. (2010-2011). Tanya Ahmed: Living on 100th Street. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/43594038 [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project – Briony Campbell | Photography & Film. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Camilleri, O. (2010). Feet- Photographic Exhibition. [online] Omar Camilleri. Available at: https://omarcamilleri.com/2010/09/23/feet-photographic-exhibition/ [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Pearce, H. (2012). a dozen eggs: Harry Pearce. [online] Harrypearce.co.uk. Available at: http://harrypearce.co.uk/gallery_515190.html [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Watson, P. (2012). Not Our Time. [online] Marmalade-cafe.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://marmalade-cafe.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/not-our-time.html [Accessed 12 May 2018].

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Study Hangout – 6th May 2018

Today I attended a very informative and for me productive study hangout comprised of three attendees. We were myself, Bryn and Anne and it was informative because we were all at similar stages of the Documentary module although Bryn and Anne were slightly ahead so I could gain some insight into how they were preparing for assessment and finalising their blogs.

We talked in depth concerning each others assignments; particularly Assignment 5 which I have nearly completed and Bryn and Anne had completed and were reworking/amending. I mentioned I was now much more comfortable with the direction my Assignment 5 was heading and was nearly complete.

Both Bryn and Anne were feeling positive about their Assignment 5’s; Bryn’s assignment Experiencing Space consisted of taking on the self-initiated task of completing a project within a one-day time frame. He’d prepared extensively for this one day so that he could document his experiential and contemplative visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see the work of James Turrell’s Deer Shelter Skyspace (2018). I liked the way the whole integration of photography and behind the scenes video worked together to form Bryn’s experience of the day. In terms of the photography I liked the progression from day to night and how it transformed the Skyspace. Here Bryn’s choice of black and white for me accentuated the interesting compositions he found in the Skyspace.

Anne had been completing her Assignment 5 Accident on the Line which was based in the Gloucester Docks as well as reworking other assignments and posts. She was pleased with the eventual outcome and I felt she had produced a well-researched and intriguing project which provided a very different perspective on the docks she is familiar with. Anne did have to make several decisions on the production of her book but it seemed she was satisfied with these decisions in her final version of the book.

In terms of preparing for assessment, Bryn and Anne’s approaches contrasted somewhat. On the one hand Bryn was a fan of letting the assessors see how his study workflow had developed from Assignment 1 all the way to Assignment 5. He felt Assignment 5 and the work leading up to it was a much more cohesive way of working but wanted it to be obvious how much it had come on as his ideas and methods for conceptualisation and research had matured. On the other hand Anne also wanted to the development to be obvious but had a different style of making this apparent. Here she reworked certain posts or exercises or assignments and kept the original so it was possible to compare and contrast the original with the rework to see how it had improved. Of course Bryn reworked some assignments also and kept the originals so they shared some aspects of reworking style. For my own preparation I could foresee myself working in a hybrid of both these styles. I would be reworking the assignments in separate blog posts while keeping the originals like Anne. Meanwhile I would be leaving the exercises and research so the development in how I documented my experience of the Documentary course was obvious.

While talking about my Assignment 5 so far, one of the points we brought up was the issue of ethics surrounding photographing strangers. Bryn was quite adamant about not photographing strangers as a matter of principle unless they were a small figure used for scale appreciation within a landscape. The other occasion he would be okay with photographing people would be if he had their permission and was on a commissioned project. Anne was of the same opinion concerning the latter occasion; she would always ask a person their permission for a portrait and basically do the opposite of someone like Bruce Gilden. This prompted an interesting comparison of the styles and ethics of Bruce Gilden, Sebastião Salgado and Martin Parr. On one side of the fence there was the work of Bruce Gilden, who obviously doesn’t care about ethics when photographing people. Also his style is very crass, often making people appear less beautiful than they look ordinarily. Martin Parr followed close behind in regards to ethics and style although he works in a less brash way. His work has often been a kind of caricature of British life and so for me there was more vindication for photographing like this. On the other side of the fence was Sebastião Salgado’s photography which aims to bring out humanistic sides to people in his photographs and he works closely with the people in the photographs to produce the photographs he does.

© Martin Parr (1985) Holidaymakers Queuing for Ice Creams - The Last Resort
© Martin Parr (1985) Holidaymakers Queuing for Ice Creams – The Last Resort

I discussed with Anne and Bryn during this debate about these three photographers that I sometimes felt intrusive when producing my Assignment 5 as I had photographed strangers without their permission. My saving graces though were that the tourists were either from a middle distance so that they appeared relatively distant in the frame or the smartphones they were holding to take their photos/selfies were covering their faces. Therefore I felt quite comfortable with the ethical side to my project even though the style of photography was closest to Martin Parr out of the three photographers mentioned above.

Further Development of Assignment 5 – Documentary

I have since contacted my tutor regarding my ideas for Assignment 5 as outlined in the post: Development of Assignment 5 – Documentary

To recap my ideas were varied and strongly conceptualised without having much to back them up. They consisted of: a parody on tourists where I acted the role of a spoof tourist, first-person perspective through the viewfinder of a smartphone (captured with the outer framing of my DSLR), photographing my local area from the standpoint of a tourist and lastly highlighting the repetitive nature of tourist activity in the hotspots they frequent. I posed the following questions to my tutor:

Me: Could you offer an opinion on whether parodies are usually hard to pull off and if you think applying a crude strategy for photographing the tourists or in mimicry of tourists works?

My tutor responded quite succinctly with the following comments:

Tutor: I would say, don’t over conceptualise, start to shoot it because the process of working is the best place for new ideas to form. Don’t try to stick to the original plan, for me that’s not art, it’s conformity. Go for subtlety over crudity every time. Parody of course is great, and it often appears in the edit, Parr’s work can be very subtle in this respect, sometimes so subtle its not there at all! The first person can also be ‘authored’, it doesn’t have to be subjective.

I listened to my tutor’s advice and started shooting but also I responded back to let him know how it was developing. Since I had been to visit Simon Roberts’ exhibition Merrie Albion on 10/3/2018, I had become aware of the act of performance in the landscape. I had begun wondering whether it was possible to do this with the subject of tourism but with an aesthetic style distinct from Roberts’s work. I was also influenced by a fellow student’s post on Richard Long’s art A Line made by Walking (1964) which I mentioned also. I was interested in this post because of the performance aspect of Long’s work with the photograph being used as a way to record it ( and incidentally the only record left of it):

© Richard Long (1967) A Line Made by Walking
© Richard Long (1967) A Line Made by Walking

Me: Thanks that did help a lot and I have since started shooting photographs. One plan I’ve come up with after shooting and reading up about artists and photography as well is now my Plan A although I have another Plan B in case is as follows: My current plan is to be a more active kind of performer in the photo by interacting with the tourists at the hotspots. I’ve tried the idea out (once) and it works in my opinion. I firstly take a self-portrait, then wander around talking to different tourists with the camera set on an intervalometer (with the exact same framing as the self-portrait), asking them if I can photograph them. Finally if they say yes I take their portrait in the same position as where I took the initial self-portrait (and with the same framing). I’m then left with a triptych of photos for each of the five tourist hotspots I will visit. It was influenced by a fellow student’s post on Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking (1964), where Long’s trace of his performance is left on the photograph, whereas mine is ‘in’ the photograph(s). The problems I’m experiencing is a lot of the tourists or passers-by say no and it affects my confidence and the rainy weather a bit. However, I feel it is worth persisting and I have attached a series of photographs from one location so you can see how I’m getting on.

The alignment in position of myself in the self-portrait and the portrait of the tourist is not very good so I’ll make sure it is better in the future. For now I like this concept and I will try it out more while I would look forward to your response hearing whether you think this functions well as a documentary concept. The documentary aspect of it is that it is a series of documents of a scene with the same framing. However, because of my interventions within the scene, an effect (the portrait) is caused and this is also evident within the photographic triptych. For me this shows a kind of behind the scenes in front of the camera and intersects the viewer’s usual gaze. For the second part of the triptych (me interacting with the tourists section), I was thinking of either choosing the best photograph or scaling down the photographs for this section and putting them into a grid the same size as the other two photographs for the triptych. My Plan B is to take photographs of tourists and the way they behave but with a more snapshot aesthetic, mirroring their style of photography and gaze on the places they visit.

References:

Davies, B. (2018). Research: Forest, Field & Sky – Art out of Nature. [online] Available at: https://bryn515919.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/research-forest-field-sky-art-out-of-nature/ [Accessed 30/4/2018].

Simon Roberts – Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island [Exhibition] 19 Jan – 10 Mar 2018. Flowers Gallery, London Kingsland Road.

Simon Roberts – Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island – Study Visit – 10/3/2018

I took it upon myself to make a study visit on 10th March 2018 to see Simon Roberts’ Merrie Albion exhibition on the last day it was open! I am glad I did because it made me realise a few things about Roberts’ approach (by seeing his massive prints in person) that I hadn’t completely grasped when I wrote a post about We English a while ago.

Merrie Albion - Landscape Studies of a Small Island Exhibition
Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island Exhibition

The main thing I came away with was that Roberts doesn’t just choose any random subject and photograph it from above. Invariably he chooses events to document people interacting with the British landscape and obviously feels it is more effective to adopt an elevated position in the majority of his viewpoints of such events. I would have to agree that his approach in choosing a high vantage point works for his subject. Viewing his beautiful and consistently huge prints in person was a rewarding experience. This was because it was appreciable the amount of skill that went into taking the photographs in the first place (on a large format 5×4 camera) but also the print quality rendered lots of detail and pleasing colours. More importantly however I could take in the scene from a perspective which allowed me to see relationships between the different people but also juxtaposed with the setting they inhabit.

An Old Photograph Taken from a High Viewpoint But with No Real Subject or Event Taking Place
An Old Photograph Taken from a High Viewpoint But with No Real Subject or Event Taking Place

If Robert’s work didn’t concentrate on events in the landscape would it be as effective? I wouldn’t say so for the reason it would still look nice but it would become more incidental and the tableaus wouldn’t have as much meaning. While this might seem pretty obvious what I am trying to get at is that this is a niche that Roberts’ has found and used to his advantage very well.  If I were to imitate Roberts’ work in my own it would have plenty of meaning and pleasing aesthetics but the style is quite rigid and I couldn’t foresee much different I could do to make it my own. However, by looking at his work on the study visit I started to wonder about how the people in the scenes looked almost like they were part of a performance. It might be possible to play upon the performance aspect of his work in certain ways.

One way I could envisage this working would be to choreograph some kind of (random, not yet an event) performance in front of the camera and have the camera be set up at eye level (unlike Roberts’ approach). The reasoning for the camera being set up at eye level rather than from a higher viewpoint would be in order to subvert the fact that the performance isn’t happening naturally anymore; it’s being choreographed. One example of a choreographed-based performance I could imagine occurring in front of the camera would be myself moving around in front of the camera (while it is set on a tripod and an interval timer) and perhaps interacting with people in the vicinity. This kind of performance intersects the usual gaze of the photographer being behind the camera which is documenting the scene in front of it.

© Simon Roberts (2008) - Broadstairs Dickens Festival, Isle of Thanet, 2008
© Simon Roberts (2008) – Broadstairs Dickens Festival, Isle of Thanet, 2008

Therefore by visiting Simon Roberts’ exhibition on the very last day it was open I have been able to find a new idea that differs in many ways from his style of photography but yet shares one key feature; that of performance in the landscape. Admittedly I am yet to try out this idea but I will endeavour to do so and see how it pans out.

References:

Simon Roberts – Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island [Exhibition] 19 Jan – 10 Mar 2018. Flowers Gallery, London Kingsland Road.

Photographs Inspired by Chris Dorley-Brown and Peter Funch

I had started developing a tripod-based composite approach to some of my landscape photographs, most notably for Photograph 1 – Assignment 5 – Landscape. I was fascinated by the way it was possible to composite people in different places of a scene while using a tripod to maintain the same framing. By adopting such an approach I was able to alter the meaning of the scene in relation to the people it contained as well as between the people themselves (all of them were holding smartphones).

© Johnathan Hall - Photograph 1 - Assignment 5 - Landscape
© Johnathan Hall – Photograph 1 – Assignment 5 – Landscape

As I have been going though the documentary course I have come across many artists. A couple of them I have found employ a similar approach although to varying degrees of people being composited into the final photograph. Peter Funch is on the extreme side where he composites very large numbers of people into the final photograph; often who are similar to one another in their attire. They are similar to each other so the viewer can establish a connection based on juxtaposition of all these people in the same frame. Although much of his work lacks believability, because each image is put together into a single frame there is still a moment of your eyes daring you to believe what you are seeing is not real. This I believe is because we have traditionally always seen photographs as evidence of a reality and I would suggest Peter Funch takes advantage of us not wholly being able to prove otherwise.

© Peter Funch (2008) Memory Lane
© Peter Funch (2008) Memory Lane

On the less extreme side being more photo-realistic is the work of Chris Dorley-Brown. Much of his photographs are based in Hackney and I felt there was something to learn from his dedication to one area, presumably his local area. I don’t have evidence to be certain he used a tripod and composites some of his photographs other than by analysing his photographs. Quite a few of them have people in the scene who are juxtaposed with other people in meaningful manners that I could discern couldn’t be possible without the use of composite work on a tripod. The reason this was important to me was it informs my practice. I could begin to understand how Chris Dorley-Brown had achieved these visually appealing and yet meaningful photographs, almost in the style of a tableau.

© Chris Dorley-Brown (2009) Rio Cinema 2009, Corner of Sandringham Road and Kingsland Road, Hackney, London UK
© Chris Dorley-Brown (2009) Rio Cinema 2009, Corner of Sandringham Road and Kingsland Road, Hackney, London UK

Using the same techniques I had used in Photograph 1 – Assignment 5 – Landscape but looking at the subtle way Chris Dorley-Brown had used similar techniques in his practice, I tried to capture tableau by juxtaposing people with their surroundings but also with each other. Telling a story like Chris Dorley-Brown had managed I found was a much more difficult task than creating a visually appealing photograph for each scene. However, I tried multiple times anyway with varying degrees of success.

© Johnathan Hall - Brick Lane, Shoreditch I
© Johnathan Hall – Brick Lane, Shoreditch I

Choosing suitable locations for the framing of the photographs was more challenging too than I had imagined. I found it was desirable to search for intersections of roads or at least a scene which offered some kind of depth to it so the people didn’t appear superimposed and any potential story was more forthcoming.

© Johnathan Hall - Brick Lane, Shoreditch II
© Johnathan Hall – Brick Lane, Shoreditch II

One photograph in particular I felt was quite convincing in telling a story through a single image as I came across a scene in Green Park, London where couples liked to walk. By patiently waiting I was able to juxtapose various couples holding hands walking in Green Park. This was in the style of Peter Funch in the regard that the people all shared a certain trait (they were all couples) but in my opinion was more photo-realistic like with Chris Dorley-Brown.

© Johnathan Hall - Couples in Green Park
© Johnathan Hall – Couples in Green Park

Going forwards I could see this approach being a useful technique for capturing tourists using their smartphones for selfies at famous landmarks in London (for Assignment 5 – Documentary). The style of these shots would be less photo-realistic, more like Peter Funch’s because you would be unlikely to get lots of people taking selfies simultaneously. Having said that, there are a lot of tourists taking selfies in London!

© Johnathan Hall - Spital Square
© Johnathan Hall – Spital Square
© Johnathan Hall - At My Local Park
© Johnathan Hall – At My Local Park
© Johnathan Hall - Whitecross Street
© Johnathan Hall – Whitecross Street
© Johnathan Hall - Underneath Bridge Beside Waterloo East Station
© Johnathan Hall – Underneath Bridge Beside Waterloo East Station

Study Hangout 10/12/2017

On 10/12 2017 Bryn, Anne and myself attended a study hangout.

We talked in detail about our respective critical reviews. Anne was quite pleased with her feedback for hers as it was quite positive with some changes necessary, thankfully not as many as she’d feared.

I admitted I was partly stuck with my essay but was awaiting a response from my tutor regarding some questions I’d come to realise were bugging me about my writing and investigation into aesthetics in photography.

Amendment (22/12/2017):

I have since received an email from my tutor regarding my questions about my critical review which I found very helpful and have commenced writing the critical review, while taking into account suggestions based upon my questions my tutor had made.

Bryn communicated that he had read up quite a bit some of the primary resources from the course which was helping to inform his critical review and was starting to look at secondary sources to further back up these readings. Also he discussed how he might include in his essay something about how it was desirable to have a larger project to work on and have continuation with instead of having to constantly reinvent the wheel for each project. Hiroshi Sugimoto has this large project continuation in his Seascapes project which he works on in combination with shorter projects which Bryn admired.

Bryn asked Anne whether she might go back to the Gloucester Docks again for Assignment 5 so that her projects had a continued theme and she said may consider it. Also Anne described her interactive exhibition for the Somerset exhibition of OCA students which sounded very interesting. Here she asked exhibition-goers to reorder a set of photographs into the ‘right’ order that she had in mind and take a photograph of their perceived ‘right’ order and put that photograph in a guest book to document their participation.

Bryn asked Anne if she might consider doing something interactive in the Gloucester Docks similar to this and she said it was a possibility.

Lastly I talked about my ideas for Assignment 5 with Bryn which concern tourism in the city I live in of London. Here I would basically be taking a spoof tourist role, documenting my experience in the city from the perspective of a tourist in London, with myself falling for the usual tourist traps and hotspots/landmarks that a usual tourist would but with twists in the photos used to document this act. The twists would be present in order for the viewer to be able to discern it was a spoof tourist role I was taking.

Study Hangout 19/11/2017

Today I attended a study hangout with Anne, Bryn and Michael. We talked about very in depth subjects surrounding the ethics of photography including authentication of photographs as documents, subjectivity in photography related to the myth of objectivity, the death of the author and manipulation of the message. We related these in depth subjects with photography artists; the most prominent of these artists being Sebastião Salgado, closely followed by Don McCullin and then Martin Parr. Michael introduced us to the work of Simon Norfolk briefly who I aim to look at more closely as his work at first glance looked very interesting. I was not sure why our conversation was so theoretical but it may have been something to do with 75% of us having commenced work on the critical review or having just submitted it!

Balloon Vendor in Kabul - 2001 - From the Series: "Forensic Traces of War" © Simon Norfolk
Balloon Vendor in Kabul – 2001 – From the Series: “Forensic Traces of War” © Simon Norfolk

My opinions on the listed subjects were that it is very difficult to authenticate documents like photographs 100% as the viewer can usually interpret the evidence of photography being an indexical medium differently. This is even if supporting documents like text or (to a lesser degree) geotagging are included. I felt objectivity is a myth yet it is still possible to shoot in an objective style. Ultimately all photography is subjective (as even objective photography has its own aesthetic) but I would suggest some photography is more subjective than others. Relating to the death of the author, my stance was that this is true nowadays much more with the proliferation of images and ways of sharing them. Now it is not about who took the photograph but what the photograph depicts. The message of any photograph can be manipulated by means of supporting documents and other context like the photographer’s oeuvre.

We talked about the contrast in transparency of message between Salgado and McCullin where McCullin was very decisive in why he took photographs of war while Salgado’s reasoning seems more layered and less clear. We touched upon how my own critical review was going and I divulged that maybe the topic I’d chosen was proving to be too broad and therefore lacking direction. Finding relevant quotes and supporting work or photographs to back up my particular argument seemed like a way of tackling this.