Sunday, October 31, 2010


As I have started a new blog to record my work on Digital Photographic Processing, I will document future reading in that blog.  I am not specifically reading around each course, but have put in place a program of reading that will cover all aspects of photography.  I will however, complete my commentary on Photography: A critical Introduction in this blog

Photography: A Critical Introduction - 4. The subject as object

This book becomes harder going the longer I read it, I usually experience the opposite.  Each chapter has such a different feel and approach that I am not finding a sense of a central thread, other than a very strong socio-political slant to the topics.  This chapter deals with the human body as a subject for photography, covering a controversial subject from a number of distinct and in fact quite thought provoking angles.  The most interesting element is early in the chapter, dealing with the attempt to use photography to typify people by their outward appearance, in a visual parallel to the terrifying psuedo-science of phrenology.  The use of photographic images in this manner is terribly reminiscent of the Nazi's attempt to group humans beings into classes by race or culture. I have noted that German photography contains several examples of this practice of creating typography's, the Bechers being a classic example, but in this context it is the work of August Sander that interests me.

browsing in a second hand bookshop, I found this little volume on sale for 4 Euros and immediately grabbed it.  each image is a portrait of someone (or a group) belonging to a specific profession or social class.  At first the fact that these images were created in Germany in the inter-war years is quite disturbing, however, his work was suppressed by the regime.  The book provides the anti-thesis of what the phrenologists were trying to do, this is an honest (well as much as a photograph can be) record of the people who lived in Germany at this time and is like looking into a time machine.  The book is also tinged with great sadness, it is impossible to look at these people without thinking about what confronted them, especially the pictures of student revolutionaries and Marxists who would have ended in the camps.

I digress, however, when reading chapter 4, this book immediately came to mind.  The remainder of the chapter deals with the politics of the body and its use in pornography for the gratification of men (me I guess), the use of photographic images in science, ending in a discussion of the photography of birth and death.  This final element was very interesting, the use of photography to capture and celebrate birth is now almost compulsory, images of new babies are all over Facebook.  However, how often do we see photography of death, other than in the context of social documentary or photo-journalism.  In Victorian times, photography was frequently used to record the face of the dead, much as death masks used to be moulded directly from dead peoples faces.  The most disturbing image is that of a dead infant taken in the modern era (1992) that at first glance would be a cute child sleeping, only the caption reveals that the child is no longer alive.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Assignment 4: Friday 29th October

This was my 7th and I now think last exploration of Haidhausen looking for images to include in Assignment 4.  This time rather than simply look for scenic stuff that worked with the theme I am developing, I was looking to very specifically look at 3 possible photographs, each of which would be an improvement or variation on existing images, the river bank but with Autumn foliage, the Volksbad with a soft blue Autumn sky, and a different view on the fruit stand.

Couldn't resist this one, has nothing to do with the assignment, and no matter how much I dislike highly pictorial images, Autumn is now blazing and this simply screamed photograph.

Although I have not included this bridge in my current thoughts, this is the main artery between the city and the East bank of the river.  Selecting the angle carefully all that can be seen is the bridge amongst the trees.  When Munich was rebuilt after the devastation brought by the USAAF and RAF trees were central to the redevelopment of the city:

Turning towards the Volksbad, I tried shooting into the Sun, this caused a lot of flare in the lens which I have cloned out:

Unfortunately the Sun was already too low and shadows were starting to encroach on the Volksbad, this was the best I could do:

Heading back up the hill the following two shots are of the Gasteig, firstly from the bottom of the hill and then within the building complex.  I wanted to include this building in my submission, but have not found an angle or portrayal that works for me:

Heading now into the districts heart I stopped by the church featured earlier and tries a few images amongst the residential streets:

Finally I arrived at my destination, the fruit store.  This is the best of a sequence, but on comparison with the image already selected, it is not as good, the colour saturation is poorer amongst other things.

As I stated at the start of this blog post, I think I am done now with the shooting part of this assignment,  even re-shooting existing images I am seeing no improvement.  It is time to sit back and study what I have achieved with a view to writing up the assignment.

Assignment 4: Thursday 21st October

A long day sitting in front of my desk looking out at soft golden Autumn light, deeply frustrating.  My final call of the day dragged on and the sun got lower and lower, finally it was over and I raced down to the river to try and capture the last of the evening light - too late!  The sun was already too low and all that was illuminated were the tree tops and higher buildings, not enough light for the scenic images of the Haidhausen river bank that I had in mind.  However, I made the best of the conditions and decided to focus on detail rather than the big picture, using a 70-200mm lens.

Whilst there are a couple of nice shots here, none of them really work into the theme that I am planning for this assignment and so cannot consider this to have been a success.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

23. Selective processing and prominence

The ability of modern image processing software to enable selective dodging and burning in a photograph continues to impress me and in particular the inclusion of these capabilities within my chosen workflow tool, Lightroom, has added significant creative options to how I process photographs.  For this exercise I have limited the processing to use of the adjustment brush in Lightroom, in fact I almost never use Photoshop now for anything other than printing.

The image I have selected was one taken during the development of Assignment 3, an image of a platform in a dark subway station

The target individual is the man in the center standing in the middle of the platform.  I created a virtual copy of this image and then painted a mask onto the figure using a hard edges brush.  I then created two further virtual copies and raised the exposure of the first mask by half a stop and lowered the second by the same amount to create the following two images

I found that going much more than half a stop created an artificial look to the image.  The white T-shirt on the man in the right of the frame was rather distracting, so a second application of the brush and a much greater decrease in exposure brought me to the final version, where the man in center frame is brought forward and the man in the background pushed back

So that was my final exercise.  When I first received the materials for this course, I was struck by the relative lack of content in comparison to TAOP, however, having now completed the exercises I do realize that this has allowed me to bring much more focus onto the assignments, but provided enough learning points to continue to build my skill set.  Well balanced!!!!

Assignment 4: Best so far

Now that I have 6 separate sessions completed, it is time to start to think about what might constitute my final selection of images.  The brief asks for 6 final photographs plus at least twice as many from which to make the final selection.  This had me puzzled for a while as I was not sure whether it called for 6 or 12 to be submitted to my tutor.  Clearly in the age of Digital I would select from more than 12 photographs, my problem is to stop taking photographs.  Should I submit 6 or 12?  Looking at work in other  blogs or on the student site I get the impression that people have submitted 6 images, so I shall do the same.  Currently, however, my pool of "keepers" is down to 20 or more, so much work remains.  The selection of images will also change depending upon the number submitted.  12 images offers greater freedom of expression and also the ability to vary the feel of the images.  Submitting only 6 I may need to keep them more visually coherent.  Not sure.

Currently I am thinking around a series of themes for each of the 6 images and have grouped the 23 photographs into these groups

1. River

The Western boundary of Haidhausen is defined by the river Isar.  This creates a strip of green through the center of the city and also enables juxtaposition of architecture and nature.  The river is also the site for a number of the older buildings in Haidhausen, among them the 100 year old swimming baths featured in the following photographs.

The first photograph has strength as it provides scale and more clearly defines the architecture of the swimming pool complex.  The people in the foreground add interest.  It's weakness is that the river itself is not visible.  The second photograph places the river and building into context and is a far more interesting composition, but is less visually appealing.  The third photo is a similar viewpoint to the first, but includes the river.  The weather is very different, the bright blue sky is typical of a clear day in autumn, but this is too colorful for my taste, but I suspect most people would pick this one if asked.  Doesn't mean they are right, however, what would the commissioning editor of a magazine think?

2. Cafe Culture

My next theme looks at the cafe culture of Haidhausen, a district renowned for its relaxed sophisticated bars and restaurants.

Of these the first image will be in the final selection, I consider it to be one of the best photographs I have ever taken, it works for me on multiple levels.  I also really like the second photograph, the small dramas going on at each table make form a very engaging image.  I may split this topic into Cinema and Bar.

3. Living

Above all Haidhausen is now a residential district and contains a great variety of buildings:

These are very varied images, each is of typical apartment buildings in Munich.  The first is the space between buildings, Munich is very green, the girl reading adds a small but vital point of focus.  The more I look at the second picture the more I like it, there are few places where it is possible to image a row of buildings, such a perspective is normally blocked by more buildings.  The third is an attempt at a very geometric view of one of the very few truly high rise blocks of flats in the city.  The final image is very typical of the colour and structure of inner city housing, drab is not part of the architectural syntax in Haidhasuen.

4. Industry

Whilst Haidhasuen has lost most of its industry, some remains, notably brewing, but also a number of modern office blocks add to the variety of buildings in the district:

I will find it difficult not to select the first image, the space coupled with the cranes and steel barrels is makes for a complex composition.  The second image is a straightforward view of one of my favorite companies, the Paulaner Brewery!  The third image was one I held in high regard at the start of this process, but I no longer feel it works with the theme I am building.  The final image is simply, for me, a very satisfying composition.

5. Commerce

Where people live they must also shop:

Initially I wanted to photograph some of the more modern shops, but could not create an interesting photograph, so I turned my lens to the fruit and vegetable shops that are dotted throughout the district.  In Germany people have not abandoned their local shops for the lure of the supermarket and these small businesses add much to the character of the district.

6. Street Life

The final category is a catch all for a number of different alternate themes that I was thinking through, worship, transport, people...

The first of these is very simple, but I think effective.  A little girl shoots through open space in front of an old church.  The second and third images are simple street scenes on a brightly lit day, which might be their undoing as I am turning away from bright towards muted with most of these images.  The fourth street scene is outside my favorite Italian restaurant, this might work if I take a very street approach to the submission.  The final two are transport related.  The Bauhaus one is joke in a way, the fact that Bauhaus is the name of a German equivalent to DoItAll is rather sad.

I am now starting to think that I have enough strong material to submit a set of 6 images, with a further 6 in backup, the question is which.  Organizing and editing take more time than photographing and are equally important.  At the point that I press the shutter button I make compositional and thematic decisions that might or might not create a good photograph, how I assemble a series of photographs into a coherent group adds meaning and context to the photographs.  A final comment is that I have very deliberately avoided vertical framing for this series of images, I want to present the street world which is very much a horizontal environment.

Assignment 4: Sunday 17th October

After spending a weekend at home in the UK, it was time to hit the streets again and have another prowl around Haidhausen looking for content for the current assignment.  The day was filthy, fortunate that the 5D is weather sealed otherwise I would have been stuck indoors.  The dismal weather seemed to promote dismal photography and I struggled to get my head around the conditions and visualize frames that would work with the assignment.  I like cloudy weather and the muted colours it brings, but shooting in the rain was new to me and I really found I had a creative block.  I persevered and here am presenting the best of what I was able to do.

First of all the rain really took out the colour in the world and reduced contrast to a minimum, brown became the predominant hue in much of what I initially captured.  As I arrived by train into the Ostbahnhof the following wasteland was visible from the train, so I jumped off at the station and backtracked:

Whilst Haidhausen is now a wealthy district predominantly occupied by apartment buildings, its heritage is industrial and most of the area housed factories.  Many of these were damaged by bombing during the war or fell into disuse.  Their removal left brown field sites which will ultimately be developed into more housing, each new building becoming more expensive and more exclusive.The photographs above are from such a site waiting to become new housing.  Running long one side of the open ground is a large expanse of rialway tracks carrying both suburban and regional trains:

This photograph is a another composition dominated by horizontal lines crossing the entire frame, a compositional structure I am drawn to, I think my years of physics and mathematics show through in the desire to create photographs with clear geometric structure.

As I walked through the wet and almost empty streets I captured a large number of street scenes, the following are the best of an uninspiring bunch:

The second of these images is the one that I am most satisfied with, the space in the foreground draws the eye into the frame, and adds a degree of depth, but it is still weak.  During one of the earlier photo shoots I found an interesting juxtaposition between stacked beer bottle/barrels and tower cranes being used to construct yet another new housing development.  I jumped on the tram and headed over there.  Getting off at the Ostfriedhof I had to cross a railway bridge to return to the brewery area and was immediately drawn to the geometry (that word again) of the railway lines contrasting with the random autumn colour:

Drive in! I really hate fast food and the architecture that they bring:

Finally I made it to my destination, the key decision is how much foreground to add to the images

To the left of the frame and out of shot is a lot more detail that I think would detract from the images so I have tried to keep it simple.  One of these images of the cranes and beer will make it to the final cut, not sure which.

If the assignment had been to find somewhere really interesting and make it look dreary I would be quids in, however, that's not the goal, so am not sure where to go with this now.  Some of the images, especially the first few in the small area of wasteland appeal strongly to me, but do they appeal to the examiners - my friends would mostly hate them, not enough colour or brightness and not at all pretty.  Need to think about this and plan my next Haidhausen visit carefully.