Assignment 3. The Decisive Moment

“The sectors of a city are decipherable, but the personal meaning they have for us is incommunicable, as is the secrecy of private life in general, regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents …”  (Debord. 1961 : @ 8m 37s)

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Ghazzal (2004) suggests that because any object, moment, event or scene can be the subject of a photograph, that the decisive moment may be thought of as a vehicle for the identification of a unique moment, a moment realised by gesture. “The decisive moment is therefore that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated, and that only the photographic lens can capture”.

But what if the moment was time itself, and the day that the photographs were taken was not an ‘ordinary’ day, but one that was, if not unique, nevertheless a day where the absence of human activity was evident. The aftermath of Christmas, on bank holiday Monday…

A small series of moments which individually may provide little more than the pitiful documents referred to by Debord, but when viewed together might offer something  more substantive.

I visited the Nicholstown area of Southampton, which is well known to me, being an area in which I have worked for over 20 years. It was a conscious decision to choose bank holiday Monday as I was fairly confident that human activity would be at a minimum, and that I would therefore have a very different perspective from the usual hustle and bustle of a multi-cultural inner city area.I  wasn’t disappointed. The streets, devoid of people at 10.51am when I first started to take photographs, remained largely empty throughout the time that I was walking around the area. To this end, I subsequently started to look for juxtapositions which might suggest indicators of small and unique moments in time.

Although taking photographs digitally, I decided that I would allow myself a maximum of 36 shots, to simulate a roll of analogue film. Although not particularly profligate when photographing digitally, I wanted to minimise the opportunity for ‘point, shoot and see if it works later’. I also elected to use a prime lens (Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN prime lens) with a fixed focal length, with the intention that the images when presented would be un-cropped.

The final selection of photographs were sequenced in the chronological order that they were taken. On this blog post I have presented the images in the form of a slide show in order to highlight the sequence. Each of these images therefore captured a moment that was a stop on the journey. They became moments along the way from which something more substantive might emerge. This process was akin to something which Bauer (2016) referred to, when describing how she approached the decisive moment in her work.

The photographs and my rationale for them ‘fitting’ with the notion of a decisive moment:

  • @ 10.51am. The first photograph of the day, and the start of my walk. Derby Road, ordinarily a bustling street, with a vast number of local shops open, all serving the local community. Not so on this day, and therefore, if not unique, then at least a very unusual occurrence.
  • @ 10.53am. The invisible hand that pegs the washing out on the line. The bin containing household waste. Both impermanences in a street view which might otherwise be considered to be relatively unchanging.
  • @ 11.00am. More bins, as above. However, I was struck by the sign on the phone box, saying ‘heartburn?’, which within the context of the Christmas period, seemed somewhat ironic.
  • @ 11.17am. Solitary man on his way through the underpass. Something of a rare occurrence on the day in question…and with the light behind him, it just seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
  • @ 11.20am. Plastic bag containing a shopping trolley at the side of the phone box. Lighthouse centre fenced off from the public, and inaccessible. Further impermanences in a street view, and the idea of the lighthouse, a beacon of light to guide others, being unavailable suggested another ironic counterpoint.
  • @ 11.49am. Zone Ends. Despite all of the seemingly permanent fixtures of the Zone Ends sign, the brick wall and the fencing at the end of the road, the small, portable road sign on the pavement opposite facing away from the camera, suggests the invisible hand at play
  • @ 11.53am. Shopping trolley against a fence bearing the logo ‘primesight’-anything but!

Contact sheets

Of the photographs that didn’t make the cut, the rationale for most can be ascribed to one of the following:

I felt that landscape orientation offered stronger images, regardless of subject matter, and therefore these were rejected from the point that I reached the decision. This therefore ruled out 3815, 3816, 3824 & 3825.

I did like the portrait (3826 & 3827), but self evidently it didn’t fit the narrative. I was however delighted to meet up with AB, who I knew as a former resident of a supported living scheme in the area that I used to manage, and was keen for me to take his photograph .

To my mind there was very little story in images 3807, 3808, 3811, 3812, 3813, 3814, 3817,3818, 3828 & 3829.

3821 was badly out of focus, whilst 3832 & 3833 were closer crops of the final image chosen.

With hindsight I probably didn’t need to have had the camera set up to take a 2 shot ‘burst’ given the static nature of the photographs.

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In any event, as HCB himself suggests in citing from the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1717) in the epigraph of his first major book of photographs (Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. 2016), “there is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment”. 

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Citations:  

Bauer, A (2016) Cited in ‘In Experimental Photography, Is There Ever a Decisive Moment?’ – Aperture Foundation NY. Available at: http://aperture.org/blog/summer-open-decisive-moment/ (Accessed: 3 January 2017).

Debord, G. (1961) Critique de la séparation / critique of separation (1961). Available at: http://www.larevuedesressources.org/critique-de-la-separation-critique-of-separation-1961,2205.html?lang=en (Accessed: 3 January 2017).

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (2016) Press Kit for Exhibition “Henri Cartier-Bresson-Images à la sauvette” (2016) Available at: https://www.henricartierbresson.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Press-Kit-Images-%C3%A0-la-Sauvette-FHCB-GB.pdf (Accessed: 15 January 2017).

Ghazzal, Z. (2004) Decisive Moments. Available at: http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson (Accessed: 27 December 2016).

Assignment 2: Collecting- Post submission reflection

So…first video tutorial following my submission of Assignment 2, “Collecting”, and I’m pleased that my tutor thinks there’s potential for submission if I continue to apply myself. Her feedback has signposted a few things to build upon, and perhaps most importantly she’s challenged me to get out of my comfort zone….!  (I think its a fair assessment in truth).

Narrative is important to me, and the ‘collecting’ of landscapes bearing the scars and evidence of human activity was what underpinned my final selection, but with more reflection I recognise that some of the images selected for inclusion have been ‘safe’, and perhaps my choice has been influenced by an over attachment to a photograph. The church at Idsworth (below) is a good example.

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

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

With hindsight, its probable that I was always going to include the image, or at the very least struggle to find a good reason to exclude it. I planned to go and photograph the church, and having done so, well I was going to make it fit. Don’t get me wrong…I like the photo….but, as my tutor said, some of  (my) ‘images are currently too quiet and simply a document’.

And maybe that’s the next step on this journey…recognising that although the image might be balanced, well composed, and have subject matter that might be ‘interesting’, its not enough within the context of this course. I don’t believe that means that I have to explain and justify everything to the viewer, but I recognise the challenge of provoking a response that is more than ‘nice photograph’…

I was pleased that the image below was identified by my tutor as being one of the strongest images, in that it suggested unease, and prompted questions as to what the story was. The idea of margins has always appealed to me, and the blurring of boundaries between what is ‘man made’ and what is ‘natural’, was what I was trying to convey. But there are other layers to this photograph that don’t appear in the church photograph. What does the barbed wire signify? What is to be found amongst the reeds. Not exactly Heart of Darkness, but you get the idea.

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

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

And why black and white? Has it become something of a default setting for me? Quite possibly. I’m comfortable with black and white, and although on the face of it, I didn’t think that I shied away from colour, my portfolio over the years might tell me otherwise. Would this assignment have been ‘better’ in colour. I don’t  necessarily think so. Did I select influences and subject matter that would steer me down the black and white route? Quite possibly!

So…for the next assignment… “…work in the now, show me your technical skills and challenge the way that you think, by shooting in colour”

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

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.

20160719-DSC03123

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.

image

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’