Monday, November 1, 2010

Assignment 4: Submission


The subject for this assignment, “The Place”, is the Munich district of Haidhausen.  When I first arrived in Munich in 1994, this is where I found my first apartment and transitioned from living in a small Cheshire town to dwelling in the heart of an active vibrant city.  I continued to live in the one bedroom apartment for 12 years, sharing it for most of that time with my then girlfriend and now wife, Heidi.  Subsequently I have a strong connection to the district and returning to produce the photographs for this assignment was a real trip down memory lane.  What struck me most of all was that approaching the area as a subject for a photography assignment, completely changed the way I experienced it; areas that I once took for granted, suddenly became full of character and potential, streets appeared that I had never seen before, and people changed from faceless anonymity to characters inhabiting a world I was trying to create in camera.

Haidhausen is a strip of land bordered on the West by the River Isar and to the East by the railway tracks that pass through the Ostbahnhof, Munich’s second main railway station.  To the North it tapers to a point at the Friedensengel monument to peace and in the South is terminated by the Paulaner brewery.  No more than 2km by 1km, the area contains a wide variety of architecture reflecting its long history.  There has been a settlement in Haidhausen since medieval times, however, the district is best known from more recent history as the site of the Bürgerbräukeller from which the 1923 putsch was launched by Adolf Hitler and in which the first attempt on his life took place.  Once an industrial district with housing for the workers, Haidhausen is now firmly middle class, dominated by residential and commercial developments.  Some industry remains, however, it is now best known to those living outside the district as a good place to go for a drink and a meal.

The challenge photographically was to capture the character but also diversity of the district in 6 individual photographs.  I could have focussed on a single element of the district, housing, entertainment, monumental buildings, street life, however, I felt this would have failed to meet the brief for the assignment.  As a result I am presenting 6 images that together capture a sense of place and the people that inhabit it.  6 photographs is clearly too few, if I was not working specifically to this brief I would have submitted far more, indeed I could have happily created a book with the images captured, and may yet do so for my own interest.  With a larger set I could present a much broader sense of the place.

The assignment specified that the 6 images should come from a strong set of 12 images.  In this submission I am submitting all 12 photographs in 6 pairs of images each with a thematic connection.  The rationale is that a commissioning editor would have a secondary choice, should they disagree with my primary selection.  In reality I would likely submit far more photographs and would work with an editor to select a group of images from a much larger set than this.

Having selected a bounded location for this assignment the next step was to get out and take photographs.  Over a period of 6 weeks I completed 8 separate photographic trips to Haidhausen.  My first trip was a walkabout taking several hours simply exploring the possibilities and taking candid snaps of things that interested me.  At this stage I did not expect to have any “keepers”, however, three shots made it into the final selection.  After reviewing this first set of images, I then made another 4 visits to different areas with specific ideas in mind, the railway station, industrial sites, housing areas, and so on. From this I established a group of 20 or so images that I then proceeded to refine further.  My final visits to the district each had a specific goal in mind, to improve an existing image by a change in perspective or lighting, as an example.  This led to the 12 photographs that I am presenting here.

The 6 themes capture different elements of the district, Cafés, Entertainment, Streets, River, Housing, and Industry.  There is overlap between the themes and some of them are quite loosely adhered to, but each image portrays a different and distinct element of how I see Haidhausen.  I have mixed a street photography style with more carefully constructed compositions, included a degree of landscape and selected different times of day and weather conditions.  Within the 12 images there is enough variety to present a sunny view of the district or a mix of comfort balanced with industrial landscape. I have very deliberately only used horizontal landscape framing for this assignment.  I feel that this is a better way to represent an urban environment, portrait framing could add some drama to the images, but that is not what I am trying to portray here.

In each of the following pairs of images the primary is the first photograph discussed:

1. Entertainment

Anyone living outside Haidhausen but with local knowledge will primarily associate it with being a good place to go out for the evening.  One of the forms of entertainment in the district is provided by a variety of small cinemas, one of which has shown the Rocky Horror Show every night since the day it was released!  However, Haidhausen is best known for its selection of beer gardens, small and large, great places to while away a lazy afternoon or evening.

Canon EOS 7D, 10-22mm, 22mm (35mm FF), f/4.5, 1/15s, ISO 200

I wanted to include a few images in this submission that had a distinctly “Street” look to them, this is the first.  I captured this on my first walk around exploring potential opportunities.  When I passed the front of this cinema I was struck first by the rich colour and then by the framing opportunity provided by the two trees in the foreground.  I did not want to alert the man relaxing in front of the cinema, so quickly shot the frame and moved on.  I am actually surprised by the quality of the image as 1/15s was way below comfortable hand held shooting limits.  I particularly like the depth of the image, several layers of content present themselves drawing the eye into the interior of the small cinema. The image was taken in early evening, at the end of a warm late September day.  With greater foresight I would have wanted a better camera providing higher ISO settings and an image stabilized lens.   However, this photograph paints a scene of the relaxed street life that is such a feature of Haidhausen.

Canon EOS 7D, 17-55mm, 17mm  (27mm FF), f/4, 1/15s, ISO 800

Later on the same day I headed into the Hofbraukeller beer garden looking for a characteristic image of this element of life in the city.  A key feature of Munich are the beer gardens, this is one of the smaller ones with seating for 2,000 (the largest seats 7,000).  Seated on benches at long narrow tables, people pass the time of day, enjoying a picnic or simply a beer; drinks must be purchased, but you can bring your own food.  As beer can only be bought in 1 Litre glasses and is a minimum of 5% alcohol, there is a good deal of merriment, and almost never any violence or bad behaviour – I have only witnessed one altercation that was rapidly and peacefully resolved by the staff.  I know this beer garden well and knew that as the sun set lights hanging in the trees would create a beautiful soft light mixing with the declining day light; arrive too late and there would not be enough fill light from the setting sun to balance the lights.  This time with high ISO and an image stabilized lens I was still at the limit of a hand held photograph, using a tripod would have been better, but tricky in a place full of already quite drunk people.  I posed this deliberately to allow the wheel chair to add a commentary to the colossal amount of beer being drunk at the time.  This is not as strong an image as the cinema, however, this is a more definitive statement about the way of life in Germany and Haidhausen in particular.

2. Street Life

Whilst I set about shooting very specific locations and buildings, I also shot any scene that interested me, so ended up with a large number of shots of the streets and the people enjoying them.

Canon EOS 5D2, 24-70mm, 42mm, f/4, 1/180s, ISO 200

This photograph is of a fruit and vegetable shop that also does a brisk trade in beer.  The building is a remnant of the fact that Haidhausen was once a village not a city district, a few two story buildings still remain among the typically 6 story high apartment buildings.  I have tightly cropped the image to only include the building and retain attention on the display of produce.  In common with many of the photographs I have developed for this assignment, this has a strong horizontal framing with strong lines spanning the entire frame.  Looking at Andreas Gursky’s work has been an influence in this direction. The two bollards in the foreground are a distraction, but do present some depth. Cropping them out might improve the photograph, but at the expense of losing some of the foreground detail, the cobbled street adds to the sense of place.  I went back and re-photographed this several times, using my 24mm Tilt-Shift, but kept returning to this capture as the colour and contrast was strongest on this day.

Canon EOS 5D2, 24-70mm, 24mm, f/8, 1/20s, ISO 200

This photograph is very different, but also a street scene and a happy accident.  I was trying to find an interesting way to frame the church in the background, choosing a very symmetrical framing and playing with the perspective created by the foreground paving stones.  A small girl on roller skates shot into the frame just as I pushed the shutter button.  This added a splash of vivid colour to what would otherwise have been a static shot.  This is another of those images that I simply like and cannot easily say why.  I did hang around and even returned to see if I could improve the framing, but without the roller skater it is just a photograph of a large red brick church.

3. Cafés

A key element to the look and experience of Haidhausen are the outdoor Cafés.  Every street seems to have at least a table or two, even if it is just outside a local bakery possessing a small coffee machine.  Summer or Winter, people sit outside, all that changes is the amount of clothing they are wearing.

Canon EOS 5D2, 24-70mm, 51mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 400

This is the Café Wiener Platz, very fashionable and extremely irritating with some of the least attentive staff in the history of catering – I never go there! But, it is very photogenic and a good example of what a Haidhausen café looks like.  I took many different images of this café at different times and with different framing. Once again I am using strong horizontal elements in the composition; the tram lines dominate the foreground, whilst the lines of the building make up the background.  However, the most important line is that of people sitting outside forming a number of small scenes, I particularly like the man gesturing to the lady on the right hand side of the frame.  Her body language suggests she is not listening.  Behind this line of people can be seen faces in the window looking out onto the street.  I would like to have cropped this more tightly, but would have lost the people in the far sides of the frame; the composition was dictated by their presence.

Canon EOS 7D, 10-22mm, 18mm  (29mm FF), f/4, 1/30s, ISO 200

From one of my least favourite places to my absolute favourite. Years ago when I worked so many hours that food shopping was a rare occurrence Dal Cavaliere sustained me.  This inexpensive but excellent family run Italian restaurant sits in a rare pedestrianized street just off Rosenheimer Platz in the heart of Haidhausen.  Not as strong a composition as the prior image, this is more illustrative of a typical outdoor setting and as such might offer a better bet for inclusion in a travel journal.  It is a pity that the girl on the bike was not fully in the frame, however, the eye contact with the man on the right makes for a thoughtful look to the image.  I have also tried to build a strong perspective with the building on the left leading the eye into the frame and thus along the street, not sure how well that worked.

4. The Volksbad and River

The Muellersches Volksbad sits on the East bank of the River Isar and is a key element in Haidhausen’s diverse architectural heritage.  Built in 1901 in the Jugendstil style, this is certainly the one of the most remarkable looking public swimming baths I have come across.  The river is also central to life in the district, its banks providing a public park and place to relax in the sun.

Canon EOS 5D2, 24-70mm, 24mm, f/8, 1/180s, ISO 200

The photographs presented so far are all close-in detailed images of life within the city streets that make up Haidhausen.  Starting with this photograph I am pulling back a little to present a wider view of other aspects of the district.  This and the next photograph are both of the same subject, but with a different treatment.  The first photograph was taken on a bright but overcast day yielding softer colours and better defined detailing of the building. I have very deliberately framed this photograph to place the baths into the foliage of the trees alongside the river.  The people in the foreground are walking on the riverbed, in winter and spring this will be water.  These figures add some scale to the photograph.  My main compositional error was to place the top of the tower too close to the top of the frame, reducing scope for changing the framing.

Canon EOS 5D2, 17-40mm, 32mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 100
Returning on a day with a clear blue autumn sky, I have changed the composition to include the bend of the river in the foreground and moved the buildings more to the right of the frame.  I greatly prefer the shot with the overcast sky, this one has too much of the postcard about it, however, an editor for a magazine might be looking for some colour in one of the shots.  I also thought it would be interesting to present two photographs of the same building, but with quite different qualities. 

5. Housing

Above all Haidhausen is a residential district dominated by apartment blocks, there are few places to live that have fewer than 6 stories.  Munich’s population like to live in flats, individual houses are much rarer than back home in England.  Rather than take a couple of photographs of interesting buildings I have tried to deliver two photographs that are more suggestive of housing and its development.

Canon EOS 5D2, 24-70mm, 34mm, f/8, 1/45s, ISO 200

A key feature of any housing development in Munich is the provision of spaces within the building complexes for people to enjoy.  This photograph is of a triangle of ground full of small chestnut trees, behind the City Hilton Hotel and in front of Number 14 Keller Strasse, my old address.  Within the space are a number of interesting structures, I think this is a modern interpretation of a temple.  I wanted to frame the shape of the structure within the canopy of the trees, the girl reading adds context making this a public space to be enjoyed by the inhabitants.  In the background can be seen the apartment buildings that bound the space.  I considered cropping some of the bottom left hand side of the frame away, but feel that the empty space in the image foreground adds to the image, it also provides space in a magazine article for text.

Canon EOS 5D2, 24-105mm, 24mm, f/11, 1/60s, ISO 400

A very different use of space; in this case empty land opposite a row of apartment buildings.  On a dreary rainy day the dereliction attracted me, but also offered an opportunity to photograph a row of apartment buildings, not normally possible in the tight confines of city streets.  I have used a narrow aperture to maximize depth of field and have allowed the foreground to dominate.  This is a deliberately bleak image, balancing the colourful cleanliness of a German city, with the post-industrial wasteland on which most of the shiny new buildings have been constructed.  Cropping the photograph to just the line of buildings and passing tram would utterly transform this photograph presenting a “nice” row of typical central European buildings.  Had I walked forward 50m, this would be quaint not grim.  This is very central to much of the reading I am doing at present around the faithfulness of photographic images.  It is frequently not what we put in the frame, but what we leave out that defines the photograph.

6. Industry and Work

With image 10 I stepped very deliberately out of the Haidhausen of bars, beer gardens and restaurants and into one of the remaining areas of unused industrial ground.  Although almost extinct in Haidhausen industry still exists in pockets as do a number of very modern office complexes.

Canon EOS 5D2, 24mm TS-E, 24mm, f/22, 1/30s, ISO 100

I now come to my personal favourite amongst the photographs submitted.  If it was not for the request in the brief for variety of subject matter and scale, I would have included far more industrial photographs.  In the southern corner of Haidhausen sits the Paulaner brewery and a storage area for empty bottles and beer barrels, behind which yet another apartment complex is slowly emerging beneath a forest of cranes.  I spent quite some time thinking about the framing of this image, experimenting with the relative prominence of the barrels, crates, and cranes.  This is the one that worked best.  I worked off a tripod, using the tilt shift lens to preserve the verticals and taking advantage of a good 24mm prime.  Inspiration comes from the style of the Dusseldorf School and the New Topographics books I bought whilst working on this assignment.  I struggle to say quite why I like this image so much.  I have worked and reworked the image and returned many times to the location, but cannot think of a way to improve it!

Canon EOS 5D2, 24mm TS-E, 24mm, f/9.5, 1/125s, ISO 200

In case my own delight in image 11 is not shared by the editor this is a brighter alternate photograph of an industrial/office area.  It is taken from a disused car park (a hole in the fence provided a useful photographic short cut) looking out over the railway lines on the east edge of Haidhausen at the newly built Deutsche Telekom offices.  As with the last photograph I have used a tilt-shift lens to preserve perspective and carefully sited my tripod for the composition that I wanted to achieve.  I have waited for a passing train to add colour and emphasize the railway line, but only in part of the frame, another shot has a complete red stripe across the shot, however, this obscured the buildings too much.  This is yet another highly horizontal frame offering layers of detail but very limited perspective.  The key decisions in the framing and choice of image rested with how much foreground to include (little in this case) and whether to include a train or not.  Without the train the image has greater colour harmony, but would miss a narrative element explaining the scene.

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