Assignment 2. Final selection…

Research & influences

Fay Godwin is a photographer that I’ve been aware of for many years, an interest kindled by her work to accompany the poems of Ted Hughes in “Remains of Elmet”. In a similar vein, George Tice’s work is something I often return to. His book “Stone Walls, Grey Skies: A Vision of Yorkshire” has been on my bookshelf since the early 1990’s, having been lucky enough to have seen his work at the National Media Centre in Bradford. (Back when it was called the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television….)

Both collections have probably seeped into my subconscious over the years. Black and white images have a timeless quality to them, preserving the moment in the raw without distraction of colour. I’m not sure that it is possible to ‘see in black and white’, but I do find myself composing photographs with a view to them being in monochrome.

The work of both photographers offers a singular interpretation of the landscape, and given that I have a job which affords me travel to substantial parts of the county of Hampshire, the ‘collecting’ of landscapes which bear the scars and evidence of human activity began to take shape. Landscapes that despite their beauty were raw, scarred and imperfect. Black and white imagery seemed to enhance the remoteness and isolation of the image whilst the depth of field seemed to support the view that “deep focus gives the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is…given the opportunity to edit the scene…(and) to select the aspects of it to which he will attend” [Andre Bazin: Cited EYV p48]

And if the task of selecting  between 6 and 10 images seemed a little onerous, then I was in good company. ‘It is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States. I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere – easily found, not easily selected and interpreted.’  The words of Robert Frank in his application to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to photograph across the United States. Between 1955 and 1958, Frank spent his time on the road documenting an outsider’s perspective of a country riven by social and racial tensions.

From the many thousands of photographs taken by Frank over this period, he selected just 83 to be published in his book The Americans. Widely celebrated as one of the most important and influential photography books since the end of the second world war, it was met with critical hostility when first published because of “the snapshot spontaneity of Frank’s photographs, and their disenchanted view of America”

The final series…

Eight images which hopefully have some semblance of coherence, and are sequenced in a way that creates a narrative. Although, perhaps serendipitously, I was reading an article in the British Journal of Photography– an interview with David Molina Gadea. The final paragraph seemed too good not to cite here…

“I’ve asked many famous photographers to help me edit and they say, ‘Well, this photo goes with this one, and what’s the story by the way?’, and they put them in a different order and then I go home and do what I fucking want!” [British Journal of Photography Issue 7851: September 2016: p43]

One of the elements of feedback from my tutor for assignment 1 was to select landscape or portrait format, and not a combination of the two. I therefore  applied the following ‘rules’ in shaping this assignment.

  • Black & White
  • Landscape
  • Final image to be 10 x 8 in dimension. (Partly because it mirrors the preferred format of Tice and Godwin, but also because it means I have to think more about composition. I don’t have a camera which allows 5×4 or 10×8 images, and there’s something to be said for framing an image with the knowledge that I have to apply a crop in order to follow my ‘rules’

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Broadmarsh. John Callaway [2016] f5.0: 1/3200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm: ISO 200

f5.0: 1/3200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200. Langstone Harbour

Farlington Marshes. John Callaway [2016] f16: 1/200: 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 34mm: ISO 250

f16: 1/200: 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 34mm): ISO 250. Farlington Marshes

Idsworth. John Callaway [2016] f9.0: 19mm focal length (35mm equivalent @28mm): ISO 200

f9.0: 19mm focal length (35mm equivalent @28mm): ISO 200. Idsworth

Meon Valley. John Callaway [2016] f11: 1/200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200

f11: 1/200: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200. Meon Valley

“Where Nature is ever hidden, and cowers under mist and cloud, snow and darkness, there man feels himself master; he regards his desires, his works, as permanent; he wants to perpetuate them, he looks towards posterity, he raises monuments, he writes biographies; he even goes the length of erecting tombstones over the dead. So busy is he that he has not time to consider how many monuments crumble, how often names are forgotten!”

― Rabindranath Tagore

f13: 1/200: 25mm focal length: ISO 250. Farlington Marshes

f13: 1/200: 25mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 38mm): ISO 250. Farlington Marshes

Wickham. John Callaway [2016] f3.5: 1/25: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 250

f3.5: 1/25: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 250. Wickham

The Nelson Monument, Portsmouth. John Callaway [2016]. f7.1: 1/800s: 16mm focal length: !SO 200

f7.1: 1/800s: 16mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 24mm): ISO 200. Nelson’s Monument, Fareham

Langstone Harbour. John Callaway [2016]

f4.5: 1/800: 27mm focal length (35mm equivalent @ 40mm): ISO 200. Broadmarsh

Technical details:

All images taken with SONY ILCE-6000 camera, using Sony EPZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 lens.

Individual settings shown as captions underneath image

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Assignment 2: Collecting-What to include…

I’m still following my ‘rules’ for how the finished images should be presented. Namely black and white landscape with dimensions of 10 x 8. The rationale for this was outlined in an earlier post. And I’m more or less settled on the idea of what I’m trying to convey. Structures which in some way suggest the passage of time, either through their slow decay, or through their seemingly having been part of the landscape for centuries.

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Meon Valley. John Callaway [2016]: f11.0: 1/200s: 16mm focal length: ISO 200

However, the more I get out and photograph, the more difficult it becomes to make the final selection. Not so much what photographs make it from contact sheet to become black and white images but which ones work best as a collection.

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St. Hubert’s, Idsworth. John Callaway [2016]: f9.0: 1/640s: 19mm focal length: ISO 200

If the two photographs above are archetypes of either slow decay or seeming permanence, then does every other image have to be in the same vein?  How rigorous should I be in following a set of rules?  Although not aiming for a series of near identical images such as those produced by the Bechers, how much compositional variance could there be without compromising the overall coherence of a series of between 6 and 10 photographs?

Does this fit?

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Meon Valley. John Callaway [2016]: f11.0: 1/200: 25mm focal length: ISO 200

…or this? Still a work in progress.

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Wickham. John Callaway [2016]:  f3.5: 1/25s: 16mm focal length: ISO 250

Serendipity:  A couple of hours after posting the above, I was reading an article in the current issue of British Journal of Photography– an interview with David Molina Gadea. The final paragraph seemed too good not to cite here…

“I’ve asked many famous photographers to help me edit and they say, ‘Well, this photo goes with this one, and what’s the story by the way?’, and they put them in a different order and then I go home and do what I fucking want!” [British Journal of Photography Issue 7851: September 2016: p43]

Assignment 2: Collecting- Possible direction…

I wrote in an earlier post about Fay Godwin being a photographer who I’ve been aware of for a good few years, citing as a particular inspiration her work to accompany the poems of Ted Hughes in “Remains of Elmet”.  In a similar vein, George Tice’s work is something I often return to. His book “Stone Walls, Grey Skies: A Vision of Yorkshire” has been on my bookshelf since the early 1990’s, having been lucky enough to have seen his work at the National Media Centre in Bradford. (Back when it was called the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television….)

Chesapeake Mill, Wickham. John Callaway [2016]: f5.6: 1/800s: 16mm focal length: ISO 200

Both collections have probably seeped into my subconscious over the years. Black and white images have a timeless quality to them, preserving the moment in the raw without distraction of colour. I’m not sure that it is possible to ‘see in black and white’, but I do find myself composing photographs with  a view to them being in monochrome.

The Nelson Monument, Portsmouth. John Callaway [2016]. f7.1: 1/800s: 16mm focal length: !SO 200

Nelson Monument, Portsmouth. John Callaway [2016]. f7.1: 1/800s: 16mm focal length: ISO 200

Early days yet, and this may not be the direction that I ultimately take, but I do have a job which affords me travel to substantial parts of the county of Hampshire. Travel which takes me through landscapes which bear the scars and evidence of human activity.

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Bishops Waltham Social Club. John Callaway [2016]. f5: 1/125s: 22mm focal length: ISO 200

At the very least, the broad heading of ‘views’ implies the need to travel and get out and about.

Mindful of the need to reflect a single coherent idea, and that ‘the ….fragments which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details although they need not be like one another ‘ [Walter Benjamin: Quoted in EYV p52], my first sortie out with the camera gave me these three images (amongst others).

I’m not quite sure what the unifying theme is yet, but there’s enough ( I think) for me to continue down this avenue for a while longer.

Footnote: One of the elements of feedback from my tutor for assignment 1 was to select landscape or portrait format, and not a combination of the two. I’ve therefore  decided on the following ‘rules’ in shaping this assignment.

1: Black & White

2: Landscape

3: Final image to be 10 x 8 in dimension. Partly because it mirrors the preferred format of Tice and Godwin, but also because it means I have to think more about composition. I don’t have a camera which allows 5×4 or 10×8 images, and there’s something to be said for framing an image with the knowledge that I have to apply a crop in order to follow my ‘rules’

Fay Godwin

I first came across the work of Fay Godwin through her collaboration with the poet Ted Hughes, in a work entitled ‘Remains of Elmet‘ [Faber & Faber 1979].

“The Calder valley…was the last ditch of Elmet, the last British Celtic kingdom to fall to the Angles. For centuries it was considered a more or less uninhabitable wilderness, a notorious refuge for criminals, a hide-out for refugees. Then in the early 1800s it became the cradle for the Industrial Revolution in textiles….” [Ted Hughes. Preface to ‘Remains Of Elmet’]

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At the time, it was Hughes poetry that drew me to the book. His words offering a bleak imagery which described the impact of industrialisation on the landscape.

“…Farms came, stony masticators
Of generations that ate each other
To nothing inside them.

The sunk mill-towns were cemeteries
Digesting utterly
All with whom they swelled…”

“Remains Of Elmet” Ted Hughes

Godwin’s photographs appeared as political statements, writ large. Landscapes that despite their beauty were raw, scarred and imperfect. Black and white imagery seemed to enhance the remoteness and isolation of the image whilst the depth of field seemed to support the view that “deep focus gives the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is…given the opportunity to edit the scene…(and) to select the aspects of it to which he will attend” [Andre Bazin: Cited EYV p48]

Not that Godwin should be pigeon holed as a black and white landscape photographer, as this excerpt from an online interview with her in UK Landscape shows:

Q. The book “Glassworks & Secret Lives” (Your colour work) had to be self-published! why was that?

A. Because in the dreary British way I had been ‘pigeonholed’ as a black and white photographer, and at my age it was not permissible to move on.

Q. Is your dedication to Landscapes a way to resist against modernity?

A. What a thought! I passionately love modern architecture, design, modern ways of looking at landscape etc. What I loathe is the multi-national conglomerates who must take responsibility for the degradation and pollution of so much of our landscape with their factory farming and greed.

Yet after some 35 years since I first encountered her work, I’d like to think that she still has an influence…

Umkomaas, Kwa-Zulu Natal. John Callaway [2016]

Umkomaas, Kwa-Zulu Natal. John Callaway [2016]

The Distorting Lens. Exercise 2.2

“Select your longest focal length and compose a portrait shot fairly tightly within the frame in front of a background with depth. Take one photograph. Then walk towards your subject while zooming out to your shortest focal length. Take care to frame the subject in precisely the same way in the viewfinder and take a second shot” 

So…first of all, make sure to read the instructions! This is not a background with any substantive depth. So the only real change in the background is the detail in the stonework over LGC’s right shoulder. Still, I like the photos, and it was our 30th wedding anniversary on the day it was taken!

Slightly counter-intuitive in some ways walking towards the subject and zooming out too.

 

 

The Distorting Lens. Exercise 2.1

“Find a scene that has depth. From a fixed position, take a sequence of…shots at different focal lengths without changing your viewpoint” [Expressing Your Vision: P40] 

Exif Data: Camera Sony Α6000 : ISO 200 : Aperture f 5.6

Harts Farm I     : Shutter Speed 1/1600 : Focal Length 16mm
Harts Farm II   : Shutter Speed 1/640   : Focal Length 33mm
Harts Farm III  : Shutter Speed 1/800   : Focal Length 50mm

Not much to add to this, beyond confirming that the ‘perspective geometry’ of all three shots remains the same. The camera is not a DSLR, but a mirrorless camera, so the image that is closest to the perspective distortion of human vision is Harts Farm II at a focal length of 33mm.

From an ‘interest’ point of view, I think that Harts Farm II is the most balanced image. The reeds in the foreground are not overly distracting, the other components of the image seem somehow more proportionate to each other, and there’s not an over preponderance of sky or river. But hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… 😉