Thursday, September 30, 2010

Assignment 4: Planning

In my first comment on assignment 4 I specified the district of Munich that I have selected for this assignment and presented a large number of photographs illustrating possible locations or subjects for the submission.  In this entry I want to set down some ideas about the style and approach that I am currently considering.

My modus operandi for these assignments is to first write down a number of subjects or locations that might provide interesting potential and then to methodically work through most of the list by doing a series of photographic studies.  This assignment should be no different, however, I do want to constrain the stylistic approach and try to achieve a degree of commonality in the look of the images.  My current reading and observation of other photographers work makes me want to pursue two distinct and very different approaches to this assignment:

  • Street Photography
  • Deadpan Photography
Adopting a street approach would mean walking through a specific neighbourhood camera in hand looking for the spontaneous or unusual, images that will frequently include people as well as place. An example (and a photo very likely to make the final selection) is the following:

Photographers that this style brings to mind are Joel Meyerowitz and Martin Parr.

The other approach, following a deadpan stylistic cue, would require careful planning of each image with the objective being to faithfully represent the shape and content of the area, still including people, but not with people as the goal.  The following image might be a good starting point:

Here the combination of architecture, transport and urban decay, contrast to generate a layered image.  I would plan to use prime lenses, particularly my wonderful 24mm tilt shift lens,with my camera tripod mounted, slowing down the creative process and allowing for more thought.  My inspiration here would be Andreas Gursky and Stephen Shore, very different in their own styles, but both achieving a very crafted carefully constructed image.

I also plan to play a little with framing, not always using the conventional A4 landscape and portrait.  I have in mind to experiment with the tilt shift to create panoramic views of the city scape and square frames containing close ups of apartment blocks.  Time of day and weather will be another 2 key variables, some of the steel clad buildings may look better against a grey sky than blue, creating a flat but chromatically harmonious image.  Equally many of the residential buildings will transform as people inside switch on their lights at dusk.

The other aspect to this photographic study or essay will be to tell the story of an historic district combining the old and the new in a way that brings an extra meaning to some of the photographs.  This is after all the home of the 1920's Nazi party and relics of their evil still persist in the landscape.

I have developed a subject list, possibly not all will be covered and others will be added:
  1. Transport
    1. Ostbahnhof - Munichs second largest station
    2. Trams and Public Transport in the streets
  2. Eating and Drinking
    1. The Hofbraukeller beer garden
    2. Cafe Wiener on Wiener Platz
    3. Cafe Atlas - famous place for Sunday brunch
    4. Molly Malones Irish Pub - my old local with a friendly landlord
    5. Escobar - a Portuguese resteraunt surrounded by other eateries
    6. Paros - completely mad Greek restaurant prone to providing free Ouzo - have regretted this 
  3. Places
    1. Orleonsplatz - Haidhausen has many French street names and the layout of the area follows a French style street plan
    2. Weisenburger platz - Munich's only French style pedestrian area
    3. The pedestrian area near Rosenheimer Platz full of cafes
  4. Public Buildings
    1. The Bavarian parliament building - an odd ugly building
    2. Several medieval churches, some plague churches where mass graves were created in the 13th/14th centuries
    3. The Gasteig - Home of music in the city and also containing the cities main library
    4. Museum Villa Stuck - An Italianate building housing an art museum
    5. The Rechts der Isar Hospital - one of the best in southern Germany
  5. Spaces
    1. The River Isar and the bridges crossing it - landscape shot
    2. The park that runs along the river bank, many interesting buildings
  6. Street Life and Private Buildings
    1. Panoramas of shopping streets
    2. Flats - some of the largest blocks of flats are in this district
    3. Haidhausen also has a couple of rows of two story houses dating back hundreds of years and historically very significant
  7. Businesses
    1. The Paulaner Brewery
    2. The bizarre looking Telekom buildings (above)
  8. Entertainment
    1. Two cinemas, one is a famous old English cinema that holds the world record for showing the Rocky Horror every day since it was first released (I guess 30 years)
    2. The Kultfabrik - an area with around 30 bars and nightclubs in an old factory, comes alive after midnight so may be tricky
I could go on, there is huge potential in this small area, but creating a well crafted and cohesive set of photographs will not be easy and will take many visits over the next 6 weeks.

Assignment 3: Feedback

This was the hardest photographic work I have done so far, stretching my creativity, technical skills, and persistence in the face of authority.  For nearly a month virtually all of my free time was spent searching for good locations and then doing comprehensive photographic explorations, followed by substantial sorting and editing.  During this assignment for the first time in the course I started to feel the germination of what in time might become a personal style or at least a distinct preference for subject matter.  The urban environment and all who live in it.  What this style might become, I am not sure, recently I blogged about landscape versus documentary and the fact that both can converge in street photography, whether spontaneous or planned.

It was thus very gratifying to get such a comprehensive assessment of this image set and very strongly favorable remarks:

  • "My first, general impression of your images as a group is of subjects containing buildings which are examples of minimal, exciting contemporary style which are made more credible and practicable by the inclusion of people actually using and habiting their space.  Your commentary is, in my opinion, exceptionally good with not only the exposure data but also a very full description of the building and your method and in some cases your opinion of the result."
None of the images were really criticized to the extent that I would want to make any changes, as I have done in Assignment 2.  Alan suggested Andreas Gursky as inspiration for some images and this was very much the case, his work gets to me in a way I do not find easy to explain.  Jeff Wall, I am still not sure about, I really like his work, but the attention to detail is beyond me at the moment, maybe later and with some help from my friends a Jeff Wall style tableau would be an interesting challenge to construct.

Onwards to assignment 4.  Andreas Gursky!

Assignment 2: Feedback

I have to admit that I was unsure at only receiving an email response as feedback to my second assignment, so was quite pleasantly surprised yesterday to get my Tutor Report Form for both Assignments 2 and 3.  As both reports were very positive I have been in a good mood ever since.  

First of all a couple of quotes from the preamble to the response for assignment 2:
  • "You have provided a selection of bright clear images on subjects which can be interpreted as exciting, provocative, shocking and completely absorbing."
  • "I can say that your work is quite impressive at this level and it robs me of the opportunity to write a critique with too many criticisms."
However it was not all good, Alan pulled me down a little for the lack of self critique in my write up.  I normally try to analyze each piece of work from the viewpoint of how I would do it differently, for some reason this time I chose not to.  I think two things happened, first I was in a hurry, for which there is no excuse as I was way ahead of schedule, but secondly this was a very spontaneous body of work and my normal mode of thinking is that to criticize means to go out, rework and resubmit - clearly not an option for images of a one off event.

However, I will take the time here to critique the images:
  1. Dykes on Bikes - The main issue with this was distance from the bikers, I think I could have achieved a better angle by being closer and shooting across the front line of bikes, however, this would have lost that spontaneous moment in the image.  Additionally I would have lost the sense of the front of the parade.
  2. Guys - I really regretted missing getting more of the guy on the left side of the truck, he was wearing outrageous false eyelashes.  Better thought on shutter speed would also ahve provided greater sharpness in the image
  3. Bored - Not much more I could do with this one, the crop was very carefully done and the image was one of a sequence - I simply like it
  4. Aztec and Devil - Again I suffered here from issues of sharpness deriving from poor equipment selection that morning, I really needed f/2.8 zooms on a full frame camera, not the slow zooms and APS-C camera I chose for the sake of lightening the load.  I should have suffered some more for my art.
  5. Looking at you - No comment, it works
  6. sau - Another that would be difficult to criticize.  This was a moment in time captured on the fly and would never appear again.
  7. Attitude - The key change I would make here would be perhaps the framing, either out to fully include the spray of feathers or in to bring more attention to the face.
  8. Orange - This is the photo that my tutor liked the least and I can understand that.  It is a very conventional portrait of a very unconventional subject.  Alan has suggested a tighter crop to bring attention to the reflection in the sunglasses.  I had also thought about using a different but also very striking close up here.  The two images are at the end of this list
  9. Less than Angelic - I still think this image would have been better if there was eye contact, however, it did not happen and the image presented is still intriguing, what is he reading, why the feathers.\
  10. Preacher -  Difficult to improve as it is a spontaneous capture, perhaps more of the guy with the red shirt in the background to increase the context of the image.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Personal Direction

At this stage in the course I am starting to actively consider how I should steer my path towards the planned for degree qualification at the end of my studies.  In the last few months 2 distinct threads have driven my engagement with the course, firstly a rapidly growing interest in photographing the urban environment and the people who dwell there, and secondly an attempt to understand critical theory and its impact upon photographic form.

On the latter topic I now have a bookshelf replete with works such as (in no specific order):

  • On Photography by Susan Sontag
  • Ways of Seeing by John Berger
  • Photography a Concise History by Ian Jeffrey
  • How to Read Photographs by Ian Jeffrey
  • Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange
  • Photography after Frank by Philip Gefter
  • Between the Eyes by David Levi Strauss

Luckily I have a few long journeys to make in the next few months and so hopefully time to make a dent in this list.  I have just finished reading Crisis of the Real by Andy grundberg and The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton and am currently reading/blogging,  a chapter at a time, Photography: A Critical Introduction edited by Liz Wells.

The question I need to answer for myself is whether to supplement this reading list with a formal course to help me to structure and better understand the historical and theoretical aspects of Photography.  I have read in several places that an Arts Graduate needs a grounding in the history and critical theory of the subject, and coming from a Theoretical Sciences background I can agree with this viewpoint, the question is really how to obtain it, by unguided self study or through following a structured course of learning.

If I was to opt for one of the theoretical courses offered by the OCA it would necessarily slow down my photographic development, although by how much I cannot judge.  My current leaning is towards continuing with my reading program and see to what extent I can development my own thoughts, in parallel to starting to take a greater interest in the broader world of visual arts.  Here in Munich there are superb public and private art collections in accessible and inexpensive locations - the policy of charging 1 Euro to all city museums on Sunday is a gift I should not ignore.

The question is then one of where next for my photography, following through with the level 1 courses would lead to DPP, but I am starting to wonder if this makes sense, the current level 1 courses are fascinating to work on but not terribly challenging, perhaps it would make more sense to complete all three level 2 courses, replacing DPP with PWDP.  I have looked at DPP and some of the blogs of other students and conceptually I know most of what is there and indeed practice much of it already, however, I need better skills in preparing images for high quality display.  I am not at interested in the use of Photoshop to create surreal Digital Art from photographs, but will need a good grounding in image preparation prior to the level 3 courses.

This then leaves the thorny subject of the Landscape course, I have no passion whatsoever about conventional landscape photography, the prevalence of which seems to be the raison d'etre of most amateur photography magazines.  I have Collection 2 and 3 of Landscape Photographer of the Year, it is nice, but it is not me.  I also have a superb book of Ansel Adams' photographs, which I greatly admire, but again have no interest to emulate in any way.  I have access to some pretty impressive landscape, the Alps are a 40 minute (at German speeds) drive away.  However, the thought of using a car to access the landscape seems counter to what the very photography often wants to preserve.

On the other hand what I have seen of Fay Godwin's work is very inspirational, she mixes urban images with the impact of humans on the natural environment.  I am also in awe of Andreas Gursky's work, which has many of the wide angle aspect of landscape images, but it very distinctly urban.  I also admire Alfred Stieglitz's  work in New York and the photography of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston.  All three, in their different way set out to capture landscapes amongst their images, even if they were city skylines or suburban dwellings, they are still landscapes.  If I sign up for landscape it will be the work of these 5 photographers that would guide me, not the work of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, inspirational though that may be.

The 6 million dollar question, is, can I get away with it? I think so and the feedback so far to a couple of questions on the forums has been positive, I guess it might depend upon the tutor I am paired with for the course.

The other level 2 course Social Documentary is a given, my immense enjoyment of People and Place, far greater than with TAoP makes this a shoe in.

I appreciate that it early to speak of personal style, but a concentration on the city and the people that inhabit it seems to be my direction.  I am surprised by this, as I came to the course from the very controlled and detailed world of underwater photography, however, self discovery is a key part of studying.

Monday, September 27, 2010

19. A single figure small

After the long haul of shooting and pulling together assignment 3 it is quite refreshing to be working once more on the simple pleasure of an exercise.  To stop myself from going mad whilst hunting down suitable buildings/space I have been working in parallel on capturing images that would fit into the final series of exercises.  Every time I spot a lonely person I photograph them, or when confronted by a large crowd out comes the camera.

Before doing any new photography, the first thing I did was to look back at my previous work for the AoP course.  Prior to starting the course I would consciously avoid putting people into a picture wanting to capture the object and not the moment.  I realized about a year ago that people add scale, movement, and a sense of place to photographs and so nowadays almost all of my shots include people.  The following are 3 images created as part of Assignment 3 in AoP "Your Neighbourhood".  I did not use any of them, however, for each of these landscapes I very deliberately waited until there was a single figure in the frame.  The third photograph was taken at the same time as the photograph I have included in the header to this blog:

The first and third are pretty much the same vantage point, but taken about 3 months apart.  In both cases the figure in the frame adds scale and some movement.  It also leaves a feeling of emptiness in the landscape.  The second image uses the person as a point of colour in an otherwise very flat image.  He is not very sharp, but is still clearly a person.

More recently I have used the presence of a person to add either a point or a dimension to some of the images I worked on for assignment 3.  The first photograph is a little girl walking up the immense staircase in the Brandhorst Museum, the second is a man emerging from the Neue Pinakothek museum of 19th century art.

As with the man wearing a red coat in the second image, a jogger can add a small splash of colour into an image.  In this case the both people are running out of the frame, their faces hidden, they are anonymous.

Another way to bring attention to a person is if they are caught by the light in an otherwise shady area as this man is reading his paper and enjoying the first beer of the day.  Without the figure the photograph would have limited interest, although even with it I admit it is a poor image.

This gentleman was enjoying a spot in the sun, the brightness is too high for an effective photograph.

 This photograph works far better, the curve of the viewing gallery on the Olympic Tower guides the eye around the photograph to the lone woman looking out over the city

Another grab shot of a man heading home from work at the end of the day.  technically there are several people in this image but the eye is drawn to him as he occupies the point of perspective in the frame

The use of a single small figure in a frame can really add to an otherwise static composition.  However, finding that single person is not always so easy and this is where our friend "Mr Spot Removal" comes in handy, indeed here he is really "Mr Person Removal".  I rejected the following image for this exercise as it had two figures small in the foreground.  The child feeding the ducks is pleasant, but the woman closer to the camera is doing something odd and looks out of place.  I was shocked at how effective the spot removal was.  I applied a single use of the same tool that I would under normal circumstances apply to removing sensor dust spots from images.

In a similar vein I decided to experiment with this image of a young couple enjoying the sun.

As I only wanted one person, spot removal quickly solved that problem

However, she is not where I want her in the frame, so second more careful use of the spot removal tool.  It is possible in Lightroom to move the point from which the fill part of the spot is taken, all I did was remove a non-existent spot from the bottom left of the image and use the woman as the fill.

With the knowledge that I have done this, the changes can be seen, otherwise you would never know.  At full resolution and blown up to 100% it is possible to see artifacts of the copy, but you have to look very closely and even then it is not obvious.  The question of photographic truth has long since been answered, however, we are now entering a very different world in which quite sophisticated image manipulation become easy.  I am not surprised at the advent of use once memory cards that prevent any image manipulation after shutter release - use of photographs in evidence must otherwise be truly dangerous.

On the other hand the possibilities for an artist to use this technology creatively are immense!

Wow you must be good at Photoshop

I wonder how many of us have heard this statement when showing photographs to friends?  I have certainly heard it a few times and it really grates on my nerves, however, it is not really an unfair comment.  I shoot raw and without any processing my images would be in a word, bland!  There is an ongoing debate about the ethics of the cloning tool and the newer more sophisticated tools for removing unwanted objects, now even people from the frame of the photograph.  Currently my working model is to get it right in the frame at the time of shooting and come back and try again if that does not work.  My only use of "clone" tools is to correct for the fact that I have not cleaned my cameras sensor in a year.  However, I do appreciate that an image is whatever the image maker wants it to be; a photograph is a subjective vision provided by the photographer not a record of objective reality.  Presented in context any edit to an image is fine, but only if in context.  Removing an ugly building behind a beach resort and presenting the image in a brochure for prospective holiday makers is deeply dishonest.

This set me to considering my own use of image manipulation tools and in particular how I edited the photo's for assignment 3.  I have developed a personal workflow that enables me to manage reasonably large numbers of images at a time.  To place this in context I have taken 17,886 photographs so far this year, which would be just shy of 500 rolls of 35mm film and is one reason why I switched to digital many years ago.  I can only manage these amongst the 102,000 on my hard drives by adopting a very careful workflow.

My tool of choice is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, I have a copy of Photoshop CS4, but rarely use it other than for printing, Lightroom has all the tools that I need for working on this course.  This is essentially how I work:

  1. I only shoot in RAW and at present use the sRGB colour space for editing as most of my work goes to the web.
  2. I edit on a workstation with two screens, one with the image the other with tools or the images in grid form that I am working on.  I have a 30" HP screen as the main monitor and this is colour calibrated every month.  My camera is also colour profiled and I only use profiled paper in my output.  Not an expert on colour management yet, but learning.
  3. When I have finished a shoot I use Lightroom to import the photographs directly from my CF card and use the very useful feature to make 2 copies to two separate hard drives as I do so.  I have 4 1TB external USB drives for this purpose.
  4. All Images are placed in a folder using the date of the shoot as the first 6 characters and then a useful description, e.g. 100922 Munich Olympic Tower
  5. To my regret I have not set up a keywording system - the longer I leave this the harder it will become
  6. When I want to gather images for a project, I work through all appropriate images and add them to the quick collection if they might meet my needs - this is fast and easy
  7. I then save the Quick Collection to a normal Collection with a label determined by the activity
  8. I group the Collections into Collection Sets, by course or assignment
  9. I then go through a second time and throw out obvious rejects
  10. This typically takes and hour or so and leaves me with a group of likely contenders for the next step of "developing" the RAW images
  11. The actual process I use depends upon the images but I generally use the following workflow:
    1. Automatic Lens Correction (most of my lenses are supported).
    2. Slight adjustments for perspective and distortion if needed
    3. Crop to output dimension - very subjective and depends upon the image and target media, screen, A4, 5x7, etc. 
    4. Set the White Balance either using the clicker or if I was smart using a pre-photographed grey target
    5. Add Sharpening - use 100% enlargement during this process
    6. Add Luminance or Color noise reduction - sharpening can create this, so best to do second
    7. Add Vibrance to richen the colours
    8. Either add Clarity or Contrast - for people clarity is better, otherwise I mostly use contrast
    9. Add Fill Light and Recovery to deal with shadows and highlights
    10. Adjust exposure and Blacks
    11. I use the spot removal tool for any sensor dirt
    12. I sometimes add a gradiant filter if the sky is very washed out - overdone this looks very fake, so I try not to use this often
  12. This is a quick process, taking no more than a minute per image - important images such as for assignments get a second or third careful going over
  13. I then go through again and remove any images that did not work well following the develop process
  14. Now that the images are as I want them, I do two separate exports, one to JPEG to add to the web, such as this blog and a second to 16 bit TIFF.  
  15. If I plan to print images they go into CS4 for printing, I do not like the printing interface in Lightroom. I understand CS4 and get the results I want
Having done all this, what is the difference.  I have created before and after sheets for all of the images that I produced for Assignment 3.  The image on the left is as it came out of the camera with no adjustment other than conversion to JPG, on the right is the image after editing.  The change in aspect ratio is due to the fact that the final destination of these images is A4 photo paper for the grading process.  The images are not large enough to show the impact of sharpening and noise reduction, but the colour, contrast, and exposure changes are quite clear:

Assignment 3: Submission


To date this assignment has been the most difficult to develop, both photographically and in a sense philosophically. During the work up of the initial ideas I even came to the point of wondering if this course was right for me and gave serious thought to giving it all up and returning to a previous life of underwater and macro photography. As the course discusses early on, photographing people is challenging, not only technically but socially. The first building I decided to explore as a subject was a brand new and photographically very interesting shopping/office complex close to my home. I decided to work on a few architectural images using a 24mm tilt shift prime, not the easiest lens to use and requiring careful positioning with tripod and spirit level. After shooting an initial set of images I closed in on the supermarket and shot a couple of frames illustrating the outer area and the checkout area. I was immediately and quite aggressively challenged by the supermarket staff, demanding that I stop (to which I agreed), but also wanting to either confiscate my memory card or have me delete the images. Things started to get heated and in the end I simply walked away, reasoning that to try and stop me would be assault. I wrote this up together with the images taken in a blog entry:

To say that I was disturbed by this is an understatement, especially given that this was by no means the first challenge, although the most aggressive. In the end I came back to an old adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. This was a key experience for me, photography, especially social documentary, cannot be a risk free endeavour, thought provoking photographs cannot be made exclusively within the comfort of my home or with friends. I have subsequently checked out the law in Germany, with a neighbour who is both a photographer and corporate lawyer. It is permitted to photograph the exterior of buildings and people who are incidental to the image, however, it is forbidden to image the inside of a building or to bring attention to facial detail without express permission. This is understandable as Germany has a terrible history of covert use of photography in surveillance and its use to condemn people to indescribable fates. However, it does present a challenge to the budding street photographer. It might also, to some degree explain the distinctly architectural focus of many of the images from the Düsseldorf School of Photography, particularly the Bechers and Gursky.

The result of this mental turmoil was a quick shift in selection of buildings towards “safer” environments in which photography is common and adoption faster hand held techniques in areas in which perhaps I shouldn’t have been taking photographs. This necessarily reduced the list of possible buildings; shops, libraries, or restaurants as an example, would not be possible, however, I still had a broad range of environments to explore. I drew up a list of 18 ideas and set out to photograph 16 separate spaces/buildings. This enabled me to develop both ideas and technique, whilst trying to get to grips with how each space or building is used. I then selected a subset and where necessary revisited the location to improve a given shot or to try a different time of day. The final results make up this submission for Assignment 3.

The buildings selected range in size, purpose, and structure. I have tried to bring variety to the images, but within each building maintain a degree of commonality in style and colour. The buildings selected are all heavily used public spaces, all allow for dramatic viewpoints if desired. I have selected a church, a shopping centre, a subway station, and Munich’s Olympic Tower. In addition I have added two art museums, similar in purpose but differing in both content and structure. As the brief asked for 5-6 buildings, I could have stopped at 5, so I hope the two museums can pass muster. For each building I have selected 3 photographs, 2 did not really tell a story and in most cases a 4th image would not have added anything new.

I have played safe in some images, but in others have taken some risks in terms of framing and the sharpness or lack thereof. In each of the buildings I have striven to explain what it does and how people interact with it. As a result every photograph contains people, sometimes dominating the image, at other times very small. I
have avoided a desire to overuse architecture as a primary theme, but in a few images have allowed the structure to be the focal point.

An early debate I wrestled with was one of style, should I try and complete this assignment with a specific look and feel, perhaps using similar focal lengths, viewpoints, or content. I rejected that in favour of completing as varied a set of images as I could within a single theme, however, I do feel that I need to work with some kind of linking style or theme in one or both of the latter assignments in this course.

A final comment is that all images were taken using a full frame Canon EOS 5D II.

Building 1 – The Pinakothek der Moderne

This art museum opened in 2002 and presents a very stark architecture dominated by tall thin columns and large slabs of concrete contrasting with expanses of glass. Although impressive externally this is a building in which form is surpassed by use. Inside is a light airy series of interconnecting galleries built around a cathedral like central rotunda providing access to 4 wings containing impressive collections of 20th/21st century art, design, architecture, and works on paper. The design section always draws my attention, presenting objects both common and exotic in a manner that allows close inspection. This is a well-designed building that offers visitors an environment to explore as well as simply look at visual art and form.

TS-E 24mm, f/16, 1/90s, ISO 100
The exterior of the Pinakothek der Moderne is dominated by large sheets of glass and tall concrete columns supporting a flat roof. With this image I have tried to capture the essence of the architecture of the building, including people sitting outside the museum café to add scale. The picture is complex due to the reflections and the fact that the trees are inside not outside the building. When taking the picture I worked with views offering stronger perspective, however, I selected this one as it best captured the experience of the building when approaching it.

24-70mm at 24mm, f/2.8, 1/90s, ISO 800
The interior contrasts strongly with the exterior swapping a dull grey for a bright white. The relatively simple exterior structure is replaced by a complex interlock of stairs, pillars and floors. This photograph is taken from a position just opposite the toilets and cloakrooms. I took many frames looking for an interesting juxtaposition of people and background. This image almost looks staged, I find the man in the blue shirt emerging into the image particularly interesting, what is he doing? The left side is a little cluttered and it could be argued that I could have cut out the partial figure, however, this would have brought the three people on the left too close to the frame edge. Photoshop could have helped, but I do not want to go down that route, small blemishes or spots on the sensor are fair game, but people? The image is noisy, it looks very bright, but wasn’t, a low aperture and high ISO were needed to avoid too much blurring of the figures.

24-70mm at 70mm, f/8, 1/350s, ISO 800
If I had to select a single image in this submission, this would be the one. Walking downstairs from the entrance into the design exhibit the visitor is immediately confronted by a huge backlit wall on which are mounted a series of objects designed by Luigi Colani. In this area there are a variety of different places to look at the exhibit, chairs are provided, however, everyone is eventually drawn in close to examine the objects. Realizing this I sat on the steps opposite selected the longest focal length on my lens and waited. Over a period of around 30 minutes I took a number of frames with different groups of people and scales. This was the best. I have cropped this image to deliberately use the exhibit as a frame for the photograph and to place attention firmly on the two children examining what was a very cool bike. This photograph illustrates how people can closely interact with the art in this remarkable collection.

Building 2 – Brandhorst Museum

Just around the corner of the Pinakothek der Moderne and within Munich’s museum district is the Brandhorst Museum. This building is as much a work of art as its contents; I would even contend that it actually surpasses most. This is a box of a building with three levels containing galleries and wide stairways interconnecting the levels. The interior is very simple, large rooms with bright white walls leaving the focus very firmly on the exhibited art. The museum was very recently opened in 2009 and the collection contains a broad range of modern art featuring Cy Twombly, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, among many others. Its very simplicity makes for an effective structure; however, all of the excitement is on the outside.

TS-E 24mm, f/16, 1/45s, ISO 100
This photograph was taken on the same day as PaP3-1 using exactly the same equipment, but adopting a very different approach to revealing the structure of the building. The ability of a tilt shift lens to preserve perspective is unique in SLR photography, but well established more than a century ago in view cameras. Similar to a view camera it forces a slower approach to image making and requires the photographer to carefully consider each and every frame. To take a successful image, first find a location that presents the framing needed, no zooming. Use of large apertures calls for a tripod and successful correction of perspective distortion requires that the camera is perfectly level; a small hot shoe mounted spirit level does the trick. Finally lack of autofocus, means that the camera must be focused manually, live view and the ability to enlarge the image is another highly desirable capability. However, once all these steps are taken it can capture beautiful images.

I have to admit that this shot is unashamedly architectural and that I very much enjoy carefully crafted photographs of impressive buildings. However, I have very deliberately included people in the frame and chose an angle that provided clues to the scale of the building and its position within the street. This building can simply be enjoyed as a work of art and people are always to be found relaxing in its environs, it is simply a very cool place to be. In post processing I have cropped a little and very deliberately strongly pushed both contrast and colour to enhance the visual impact of the coloured ceramic tiles contrasting with the blue sky.

17-40mm at 17mm, f/4, 1/3000s, ISO 400
As mentioned in the preamble to this building the interior is not greatly impressive, although by no means boring. One of the more intriguing aspects of the design is that there are several side rooms offering a view out of the building. In each room can be found seating and catalogues describing the exhibits, enabling visitors to take a break and contemplate what they have seen. This photograph is taken from within one of these rooms and includes the window that is prominent in PaP3-4. The building to the left is the Pinakothek der Moderne and in the distance is the Alte Pinakothek, a classically designed building with painted works from the 15th-18th century. In this image I have tried to capture the external world with sufficient internal detail, illustrating how people can take a break and enjoy the view. The very wide angle 17mm lens means that the perspective could be better, no chance to use a tripod mounted camera in a museum.

17-40mm at 17mm, f/4, 1/30s, ISO 400
In both of these museums I have essentially worked 3 photographs that show firstly the building, second how people occupy the interior space, and thirdly how people interact with the art works. My final photograph from the Brandhorst museum is simply a photograph of an art work, in this case by Damien Hirst, featuring a huge mirror on which is mounted multiple small mirrored shelves supporting thousands of tablets. Anyone looking at this work will see themselves reflected against the pills, a commentary on our dependency on pharmaceuticals. For a photographer it offers an unusual perspective of the museum and its visitors, it is almost as if the art work is looking at you. Inevitable is my inclusion within the photograph, not quite a self-portrait but an image of me the photographer. I can think of how to photograph this without appearing in the image, again careful use of a shifted lens could work, although it might need several separate images stitched together, plus some kind of background to avoid the reflection of the gallery in the image. I have again carefully cropped this to only include the artwork in the final framing.

Building 3 – Munich Cathedral

Munich’s cathedral, the “Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau” is more commonly referred to as the Frauenkirche or simply the Dom. The building was completed in 1525 and has been almost completely rebuilt since the war after bombs destroyed one of the towers and collapsed the roof. It dominates Munich’s skyline and is the highest point within the central city due to a popular law that prohibits high buildings spoiling the city’s skyline. Inside it is quite stark in its simplicity, unlike many of the highly decorated catholic churches elsewhere in Munich. It has recently gained prominence due to the elevation of former Bishop Joseph Ratzinger to Pope. The Dom is a major tourist attraction and this does diminish its effectiveness as a place of prayer and worship, however, the building offers enough small chapels and quiet corners for contemplation and peace. A small chapel with a door is provided in which any noise and especially photography is strictly forbidden.

17-40mm at 40mm, f/4, 1/20s, ISO 400
My goal in photographing within the Dom was to try and capture something of the spirituality of the building and how people interact with it. As a contrast I also felt a need to show the internal structure of the building and its immense scale. The interior is simply too big to image in its entirety so I had to find an angle that conveyed size but also in a manner that had some compositional structure. This image is taken about halfway into the church, showing the main aisle leading to the altar and dominated by the cross hanging from the ceiling. The people in the frame enable the eye to take in the scale; otherwise I have gone for a fairly conventional rule of thirds composition. The light is the dominant feature in the church with the white painted walls creating a very airy open feeling.

24-105mm at 105mm, f/4, 1/20s, ISO 800
This is the first of two low light images that seek to bring out the purpose of the Dom as a place of prayer and contemplation. Photographing people lighting candles to remember lost friends or family must be done with care and consideration, hence the relatively long focal length and positioning slightly to the side and rear to avoid drawing attention to myself. At any given time there are hundreds of people taking photographs in the Dom, however, I still feel the need to be very respectful in such a location. This photograph is a moment in time at which two people are placing candles, the dominant light comes from the candles and provides a warm soft feeling to the image.

70-200mm at 200mm, f/2.8, 1/45s, ISO 1600
Descending a short flight of stairs it is possible to enter a small underground chapel or crypt directly under the altar. This space is dimly lit with a mixture of ceiling mounted spot lights and candles. Entering the room I first sat on a pew towards the back and spent some time thinking about how to create a photograph of this space. My intent was to image the crucifix illuminated on the left wall, but how to meaningfully include people in the shot. As I sat I noticed that there was a small space just opposite the cross directly below a spot light. As people walked through the room they sometimes walked through this light and were illuminated for a fraction of a second. The rest was selection of a long focal length, an exposure that in combination with image stabilization would enable an acceptable capture, and waiting for the right moment. The girl in the resulting image has briefly closed her eyes, most likely in response to the sudden bright light, but that has created an image of serenity, however false it might be. A friend behind her is out of the light and almost seems to be a following shadow.

Building 4 – Fünf Höfe

The Fünf Höfe, translated as Five Courtyards, is Munich’s newest shopping centre, opened in 2003. It is one of the swankiest areas to shop, although not quite at the very top end of what one can spend in a pretty rich city. The five courts are 5 distinctly different zones within the centre, each characterized by a specific architectural style. Whilst very glitzy and fun to wander around, the architecture almost overwhelms the shops and I am frequently left with the impression that I have not really seen the shops. Coupled with a maze like floor plan this means that I do not believe it works terribly well as a place to shop, but perhaps the strangeness of the interior retains people and their money.

Only in German I am afraid:

17-40mm at 17mm, f/8, 1/8s, ISO 400
In common with the third image in this group, I have chosen a slow shutter speed to emphasize the movement of people within the largest of the 5 courts. 1/8s hand held is at the limit of my ability to hold a camera still and so this is not the sharpest of images, even in the non-moving background. Having said that the image captures well the movement of people in the building and the light of the internal structure. A creative risk, but I hope a worthwhile one. Shortly before this frame a group of teenagers passed by deliberately throwing sweets onto the ground to force the street cleaner to continue his job, but enabling me to capture his activity and with a look of sympathy his acceptance of my presence. I appreciate that the use of a dragged shutter to capture movement can be overused, but here I think it is appropriate.

17-40mm at 17mm, f/4, 1/350s, ISO 800
Moving to the smallest, but definitely the strangest of the five courts, this image contains the lower part of a giant latticework sphere hanging in the middle of an open space. The ubiquity of the mobile phone is captured in the foreground. The effect is almost that of some alien ship hovering over the shoppers waiting to grab the unsuspecting for further examination. This is a street capture, carefully framed, but without a huge amount of pre-planning other than walking around waiting for an interesting combination of elements.

17-40mm at 39mm, f/4, 1/6s, ISO 100
Admittedly technically weak, this image still captures the sense of the space and its use, in this case taking a break for a bite to eat. I came back and photographed this scene several times, obtaining better sharpness and using more sensible ISO and shutter speed, but never capturing the combination of people seated and walking, or the lighting.

Building 5 – Münchner Freiheit UBahn Station

Throughout the last year, studying with the OCA, I have become more and more interested in the Munich underground railway system. It provides a fascinating environment for taking photographs combining people and movement with dramatic architecture and strange viewpoints. One of the most interesting locations is the Münchner Freiheit station, located in the heart of the trendy Schwabing district of Munich in which many bars and cafes are located.

What was once a very dowdy dirty environment has been transformed with mirrors and intelligent lighting into a modern temple of transport. The most striking part of the upgrade is that all of the supporting columns have been covered in blue glazed tiles and then illuminated individually. The effect is that the columns appear to glow and are then reflected in the mirrored ceiling. As a station it works as well as others, but is not uniquely functional in any particular way. It gets people to and from the trains in an efficient manner and provides suitable sustenance. If anything the architecture can take away attention from the purpose of the station.

17-40mm at 17mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 800
After taking in the remarkable “glowing” blue pillars the next element of the space that becomes apparent on arriving at the platforms is that the ceilings are all mirrored creating some strange perspectives. In my first image a train sits at the platform and is reflected in the ceiling, the mirror dominating this composition. The bright red SOS box contrasts with the blue and the single person in the frame seems distracted. Taking this and the other photographs was more akin to working at an event, the subjects continually move, I am not really sure if I am permitted to photograph (although nobody ever objected) and there is no way to use a tripod. All of this almost dictates a wide angle treatment and the application of high ISOs.

In this and all the other photographs for this building I have used a grey card and colour checker to try and maintain constant white balance in a strongly coloured environment. Prior to shooting the station I shot a target in as typical lighting as I could find and then copied that calibration to all other images in the set.

24-105mm at 24mm, f/4, 1/15s, ISO 800
Unlike the first image I am deliberately trying to convey movement in this photograph. This started as a straightforward attempt to try and capture the structure of the space, with the blue pillars receding into the darkness beneath the bridge crossing the tracks. When the train arrived I simply continued to shoot as people also started to walk into the frame. The glare of the man in the centre suggests he may not have been happy being photographed, but he did not protest. Use of a slightly narrower angle image stabilized lens has helped to retain structural detail, but can do nothing for movement of the passengers.

24-105mm at 24mm, f/4, 1/15s, ISO 800
When I first entered the station I focused on the architectural elements, however, I quickly realized that successful images of a station needed to include the trains and passengers that support the existence of the building. This image was a fun one to create; I waited until a train arrived in the station, then as the crowd emerged and headed for the escalator I stepped onto it turned around and photographed the crowd following me up the stairs. As a result, virtually everything in the frame is moving as well as my own position. I was quite surprised at the results, testament to modern camera technology and hopefully a steady hand. The resulting image captures a busy station in the midst of the Friday rush hour.

Building 6 – The Olympic Tower

My final building is the least conventional and presented a different challenge to the others. The Olympiaturm is a defining feature of Munich's skyline, it's 291m height making it visible from virtually anywhere in the city and from a great distance away, quite visible from the Alps on a clear day. It was completed in 1968 as part of the complex built for the 1972 summer Olympic Games. It contains a viewing platform, revolving restaurant and even a small rock and roll museum with some pretty cool exhibits (The Olympic stadium and arena being two of Munich's key stages for major rock and roll acts). There are two levels from which it is possible to step outside, the lower wider one has a high fence to prevent suicides, the upper level set back a little provides an uninterrupted view of the city and surrounding countryside. As an observation platform it is unparalleled providing a helicopter like viewpoint, but at the price of being very crowded at the top, with access to and from the lifts needing much patience. I cannot imagine what would happen in the event of fire or similar disaster.

24-105mm at 84mm, f/11, 1/45s, ISO 200
Finally an outdoor subject with plenty of light supporting high shutter speeds and narrow apertures! When we arrived at the tower my first thought was simply, wow what a view and clear air for a change. After taking an obligatory set of scenic shots I turned my thoughts to how to describe this building and how it is used. The use case was very clear, this is an observation platform for people to enjoy the view, so any photograph would have to state this very clearly. I have avoided including a shot of the tower from a distance as a good photo would need to be taken from several 100 meters away losing any sense of personal use and even scale. I have thus selected 3 viewpoints, the first tries to capture the sense of this being a viewpoint. This is shot from the upper viewing platform and captures the act of viewing with a perspective that illustrates the height of the building. By including two of the Olympic venues in the shot I am also trying to fix the location of the image. The aperture is a little too large; f/16 or f/22 would have improved the background sharpness, although the soft background contrasting with the sharp foreground adds some depth to the image. With more time I would have included a little more of the man in the frame.

17-40mm at 17mm, f/11, 1/180s, ISO 200
The second shot turns the camera to shoot along the plane of the upper viewing platform capturing the space available to the visitors. The image is a series of arcs, even the clouds seem to have collaborated in this thematic element. The graffiti is a sad comment on lack of respect shown by visiting tourists. A straightforward descriptive photograph, but not spectacular.

17-40mm at 17mm, f/11, 1/60s, ISO 200
My final image turns the axis of the camera once more this time to point upwards from the lower observation deck capturing two guys enjoying the view. The blue sky is helped by a polarizing filter and I have taken care to try and achieve a reflective symmetry in the image emphasizing the geometry of the building. These three photographs need to be seen together, individually they are OK, but as a set I think they capture quite well the structure and use of the viewing platform.

Learning Points

Coming to the end of the assignment I think the key learning points for me were:

  1. To understand and respect local laws and customs concerning photography, even if I don’t agree with them. This was frustrating and may stand as a challenge when I move onto the Social Documentary course. Art requires bending the rules and I fully intend to keep doing so until asked specifically not to, but it is very important to know in advance what those rules might be.
  2. Respect the subjects of my photography and acknowledge them with a smile, I have a right to take photographs, but they also have an equal right not to be photographed.
  3. Before taking any photographs in a specific location walk around it and try to understand both the structure and the flow of people through the space before getting the camera out of its bag.
  4. Using a wide angle lens to get close in busy crowded environments and that a flash gun is utterly unnecessary for almost all indoor photography, provided care is taken with exposure.
  5. To continually review exposure during shooting and work the exposure triangle to my advantage.
  6. Creating a good photograph takes forward planning and a good understanding of the environment within which I plan to work.
  7. A successful portfolio is a distillation of many shoots and many photographs in each shoot, digital provides the freedom to create more exposures, but at the price of much time spent reviewing in front of a computer, time that could be used being out and about creating images
  8. Although not really a part of this assignment specifically, looking at other photographers work and seeing how this could be incorporated in my images. I don’t want to slavishly copy another’s style, but there is so much to be learned by looking at how other photographers tackle similar subjects.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Photography: A Critical Introduction - 2. Surveyors and Surveyed

The second chapter, written by Derrick Price is more accessible, although at times does descend into a historical list of dates and photographers, again good reference, but making the book harder to read.  This chapter, however, deals with subjects close to my current interests discussing the use of the camera as a documentary tool.

As photography started in the 19th century it was viewed first and foremost as a means of accurately describing reality and thus in effect is by definition a documentary tool, although that term had not yet been coined.  In the early days it was not possible to reproduce photographs for mass publications, the newspapers of the time used etchings.  What I find fascinating is that many etchings based upon photographs were specifically labeled as such, this being believed to add an air of veracity and authority to the picture.

One of the key debates in photography, discussed in Chapter 1of the book, is the question of reality, does a photograph picture the real.  The Victorians took a distinctly scientific view, the camera was an instrument that could only record the reality of the scene in front of it.  However, very early on in its history documentary photography was misused, and by no less a luminary than Dr. Bernado who used photographs as a kind of before and after advertisement to show the benefits of his program.  Although well meaning and charitable his use of the same child at the same time, either dirty or hastily scrubbed up, undermined the truthfulness of photographs and asked questions that continue today.

Although this is clearly incorrect, the selective choice of scene, or moment is just as misleading unless very carefully placed in context. A photograph is defined as much by what is left out of the frame as by what is included.

The chapter deals quite extensively with the use of the camera as a social tool and as a record of the human condition.  In particular there is a discussion of the work of Jacob Riis in highlighting the brutal poverty of slum dwellers in New York at the end of the 19th century.  Although this highlighted their plight and worked to alleviate those conditions, I was struck by the seeming lack of empathy for the subjects.  I think Riis was very well intended, but still distanced himself from those photographed.  This is very much part of the almost voyeuristic nature of much photography, we want to sympathize with the plight of the poor, but from a distance.  This is described in the text as an obsession with the "OTHER".

During my past year of photography I have noticed that this is a recurring theme, professional photography focuses its lens on the edges of society, either the very poor or the very rich.  Photographing the rest of society seems to be left to the mass of amateurs.  I know that this is not strictly true, as Stephen Shore and William Eggleston demonstrate with many images of middle class America, but is definitely an ongoing process.  The book highlights the fact that in the 1880's a few dedicated photographers were penetrating the slums and highlighting poverty, whilst at the same time armies of middle class amateur photographers were shooting everything in sight.  I was very much amused to note that in 1880 photographers were defined as a public nuisance and needed a permit to work - nothing changes.

Colonialism and the use of the camera to depict far away places and far away peoples is also discussed.  Here the camera is almost a tool of oppression, the frequent images of half naked "savages" reinforced the self declared superiority of the western colonial powers, a process that is possibly still going on today, as travel photography is so frequently looking for quaint colorful picturesque locals to illustrate guide books.

War and how it is photographed has interested me from the start of the course, particularly that of Don McCullin. The practice of photojournalism is in an ongoing crisis, due to the ubiquity of television news and the progressive decline of printed news media.  The book makes a point that this is now shifting the emphasis in imagery from a record of what is happening now to more considered images of the effects of war and the impact upon the civilian population. The images produced are increasingly seen as art and are more likely to find their way into a gallery or book, than into a newspaper.

The chapter closes out on the emergence of the of colour photography and the use of the documentary style in the US and Britain, starting with Frank and going through to Martin Parr.  The choice of subject and even the order in which the images are presented has as much to do with the received understanding of the work as the so called reality being represented.

To close this quick commentary, I take away the following statement, paraphrased from the book:

Documentary photography is not a look or style, it is a context, practice, and the way the photographs are used.  Context is everything.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Assignment 4: First Thoughts

I haven't yet submitted assignment 3, however the photography is done and all I need to do now is to complete my write up and email it to my tutor.  As a result I have started to think about what might constitute assignment 4.  I have a subject, but am looking for a linking theme or treatment.  When I first moved from the UK to Munich I found a flat in a district of the city called Haidhausen and lived there for 12 years before needing to move to somewhere offering more living space.  This means that I know Haidhausen very well and have walked along pretty much every street.

Haidhausen sits on the eastern side of Munich, just across the River Isar from the historic city center.  Haidhausen is, however, as old as the city and has existed in records for 1200 years, so has a rich history and heritage.  Much of the district is named after towns and cities in France, due to the fact that Napoleons army used it as a camp for a time.  Beyond the history, Haidhausen also contains a good mix of old and new buildings, is viewed as a great place for a night out, especially for getting a good value meal and a beer or two.  It is a cultural center with both the home of the Munich Philharmonic and the Kultfabrik and maze of industrial buildings containing night clubs and bars.

As such it is a rich environment for a photographer and is only 30 minutes walk from my front door.  Having chosen this as a subject, the question of theme and treatment become moot.  Currently I am looking at a lot of photographs by the Americans, such as Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz, and William Eggleston, as well as Brits such Martin Parr and Fay Godwin.  Adding to this are a couple of books from the Dusseldorf school, and in particular Andreas Gursky.  All taken together, this pulls me in the direction of a very straight approach, using the themes of social documentary and aesthetics from this group of photographers.  I want to portray Haidhausen as a place people inhabit, not visit from far away.  In assignment 3, my photographs all featured people, this time, I may imply people rather than directly portray them, place might be more prominent than people.  I also keep coming back to the idea of constraining the images by choice of a single lens/camera combination, although a sophisticated one using a 24mm tilt shift.  This is harder to decide, it is both liberating and constraining at the same time.  It will force careful image selection and restrict choice of subject, but will provide a commonality to the images and remove the issue of lens choice from the process.  On the other hand it will very much restrict the ability for the spontaneous grab shot, such as the following:

This is intended to capture something of the look of American Street photography and would have been harder to capture with a wide angle from a fixed position - the focal length is 22mm on an APS-C camera so around 35mm in normal terms.  Still much to think about, although I want to complete the photography by the end of October, so I need to develop my ideas soon.

To aid in that process I have been out and about with my camera taking a long walk around Haidhausen and capturing as many aspects/locations as I could.  There is no attempt here at art or even at quality, this is simply an exploration of possible subject matter - some of the images are poor quality, but reflect the location.

The center of Haidhausen is a 30 minute walk from where I live, however, a finger of industrial and commercial land almost abuts to my street.  This is a shopping center and bus station on Einstein Strasse:

Behind it is a small industrial area with a hotel behind it, providing a larger perspective

Walking past this site I found the following sign, maybe I can include some detail in one or two of the photographs

Just south there is a main railway line (series of lines), behind which is the very modern Deutsche Telekom building with its interconnecting bridges.  I was able to get closer than expect, through a convenient hole in a fence.  These images try to balance the modernity of the building with the typical dereliction of land adjacent to railway tracks

Crossing the railway lines I was able to image the same buildings, but this time emphasizing their cleanliness and stark appearance.  Any location documentary should balance the different activities and uses of the area, industry is a key element of that

The modern industry can then be contrasted with the remains of older industry, or the clean with the dirty

Vacant industrial land

This is the Kultfabrik, even more oppressive in daylight than at night.  If you go out on the booze in Munich and 1am rolls along when most bars close, this is where you end up if some bright spark suggests another drink.  I don't think it really ever closes

It is just behind the Ostbahnhof (east station), which is the southern side of Orleans Platz, the French influence I was talking about.  Some people have the audacity to call Haidhausen the French quarter, mostly estate agents - it is very German and great for that

Another key element would be shops, although how to treat them is a question, here are two

A unique aspect of Haidhausen in Munich is the presence of two large open squares, in which a pedestrian area sits in the middle of a road junction.  Typical in France or Italy this is very rare in Munich

The above photo is very photo-shopped, to try and pull some color from a very washed out image!  Continuing south from the above platz is a street with no cars, but plenty of interesting places to sit and eat or drink.  Del Cavaliere is my favorite Italian restaurant in Munich and used to be my local hang out when I lived across the street.

Around Rosenheimerplatz are a number of modern buildings

This is part of the complex know as the Gasteig which houses Munich's Philharmonic, a large library, and this building which is the HQ of the organization that gathers royalties for artists.  This place is also evry historically significant, it is the site of the Buergerbrau beer keller, the beer kellar from which the Nazi party set out to launch the Bierkellerputsch and led to Hitlers imprisonment.  All that remains now is a plaque commemorating a brave attempt to assassinate Hitler with a bomb in on of the kellers supporting pillars.

Another key element of any treatment must be where people live - this is one of the few high rise appartments in Munich.

Germans and in particular Bavarians are obsessed with cars and this is reflected in some of the local businesses

Following the line of American straight photography, these two images need work, but have some ideas in them

Found this painted on the side of the Gasteig

A couple of wide angle forced perspectives

Some of the more popular places to grab a beer or two

I am finishing with a few street scenes taken at twilight, I seriously doubt that I would use anything like this, but who knows

So, first thoughts and a few images to guide my development of the concept.