Wednesday, February 2, 2011

People and Place - In retrospect

When I came to the end of TAOP I was quite jubilant to have completed the course and excited to be submitting my work for examination, been over 20 years since the last time I have done anything similar.  However, with People and Place I am quite sorry to be completing this course, because of what I have learned and the pleasure I have taken from the activity.

When I first embarked upon PaP I was very concerned about the idea of photographing people unaware and this became a source of much worry once I moved out of the initial portraiture driven work.  However, once I got the bit between my teeth I found that I started to enjoy the thrill of bending rules or grabbing a candid shot of an unknowing subject.  Early on I was challenged when photographing near a supermarket, the staff were quite aggresive and threatening.  My initial reaction was shock and a desire to drop the course.  I took a deep breath, gave myself a break from the camera and then returned with more confidence and a "if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger".  Now completing the course, I wish I could afford a Leica rangefinder and head out into the streets emulating the work of Joel Meyerowitz or Garry Winogrand.

So what did I learn from the course, in no particular order?
  1. To look at the world around me and explore its photographic potential - In my study of Haidhausen I saw more of that district through the lens of my camera than I had living there for 12 years.
  2. To take time to properly understand any opportunity, consider the different angles and compositional possibilities before shooting.
  3. To work around any brief, if asked for 4 themes, develop 10 and select the best.  For most of the assignments I have taken a stepwise refinement process, not only of the images, but also the conceptual base.
  4. That it really is better to ask for forgiveness than permission - a cliche, but in this day and age a critical attitude for anyone photographing in public places
  5. To study practicing photographers, learn from their success and try to adapt some of it to my own style.  Stephen Shore and Andreas Gursky were strongly influential in my choice of subject matter and approach during this course.  The drawback is that my bookshelves are getting heavy.
  6. To think about photographs as they relate to each other, I have tried very hard to deliver photographic essays, not simply the best individual images for the assignments.
  7. Oddly, to take a break from photography, put the camera down for a few weeks and then start again.  Prior to Christmas I was suffering from overload, being unable to shoot for a few weeks has reinvigorated my desire and view.
I still have a huge amount to learn, clearly this is a year 1 undergraduate course, however, my biggest takeaway is a significant increase in confidence and a feeling of being able to handle pretty much any subject matter now.

Assignment 5: Tutor Feedback

Once again Alan has provided positive and constructive feedback.  Overall the set has met with approval and I am pleased with the response.  He makes very clear, however, that now that the course is seen as a component of an Honours Degree syllabus the standard will rise and that he needs to be more critical.  There is also comment about the format for final presentation, I will print and send the images to the examiners.

From the feedback, I do not feel any need to change any of the images, however, there is a very clear concern about the level of blue in several of the images.

To answer this, I need first to comment that the images in this assignment have only been processed in Lightroom, and that the only colour control that I have used has been setting the white balance and increasing the Vibrance of the images. For this assignment I deliberately went for a higher degree of saturation in the images as I wanted to emphasize the dramatic colour of the Munich subway system.  In fact my photo's do not do it justice, in person the colour is far more intense as it completely fills the vision of the visitor.  Blue is one of the signature colours of Bavaria and I wonder if this influenced the system designer.  In image PAP5-1 the blue background is created by the deliberate use of blue light shining on the concrete walls of the subway.  In other places large areas of Blue paint contrast with yellows and oranges.

The only image in which I find the Blue somewhat artificial when thinking back upon the locations or comparing my images with those of other photographers is the final image in the set showing the Christmas market.  This scene was shot around twilight, mixing the fading skylight with tungsten, strip, and modern low energy light sources, a complete nightmare for white balance.  I elected to grab a white point from the snow covered roof of the gothic Rathaus in the background, and then fiddle with the controls to ensure the sky was slightly blue.  In retrospect it might have been better to shoot this in full night and completely lose the blue from the scene.

The other major comment Alan has made is to do with the lack of people in the system.  This was my choice and reflected the hours of day when I was shooting.  I took time of work to complete this when I knew there would be fewer people in the system.  Why?  Two reasons, first of all what I was doing was not strictly allowed and I did not want to shoot when many people and the corresponding authorities might question my activities.  Secondly I wanted to highlight the clean striking geometry of the system, which was better with fewer inhabitants.  I needed some people to provide a sense of place and scale, but not too many. I do have shots with more people, but these were rejected on edit as aesthetically I found the less populated shots to have more impact.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Posters

The objective of assignment 5 was to create a set of photographs that could be incorporated into posters to advertise the Munich Ubahn system to foreign visitors to the city.  I have to admit that I have taken rather a tongue in cheek approach and some of these would not really work that well to attract people, perhaps to amuse?  The colours in the text elements are all pulled from the images using an eyedropper tool. I have used Adobe InDesign to build the posters, all are A4 to make it easier for me to print if needed.

Assignment 5: Submission

I finally got there, after much indecision and thought, I have selected the images for Assignment 5 and sent them to my tutor!


Strangely, this the final assignment, proved to be the most difficult, but not in a way I expected. Planning and shooting was straightforward and I quickly assembled a set of images from which a final selection could be made. The problem came in post processing and selecting the final set of images. The fact that I tried to do this over the Christmas holidays with the usual distractions was not helpful, however, I really struggled with the image selection and edit. This was partly down to mental exhaustion after a long tough working year, but was mostly down to a creative glut following my efforts on the previous assignments. I can now see why University holidays are so long, they provide down time to clear the head (other than enabling the staff to get on with their research without pesky students). I find it very challenging to look at my own photographs and decide which work best, particularly when judged by an expert in the medium.

I have to admit that if I was doing this assignment to a specific deadline provided by a client I would already be in some trouble. Having said this, I have completed the assignment! The brief was the following:

"Produce photographs that can be used in an advertising campaign to encourage foreign visitors to use Munich's underground transport system. We would envisage that the posters would be displayed in arrivals at the airport or in guides to the city. Aim to develop 8-12 different concepts in a mix of portrait and landscape formats. Develop images that include 1 or more of the following properties of the system:

  1. Colour and Architecture of the Stations
  2. How the system integrates with the City
  3. Use of the system by the people of Munich
  4. The facilities available to the traveller

Develop sample slogans and poster concepts to support your imagery"

My inspiration came from my 5 years living in London and the superb London Transport posters of the last 100 years. My intent was to present photographs that captured the symmetries and structure of an underground environment, but also include social elements and humour. The set of images I have selected are intended to interest a visitor, to make them want to discover this amazing underground world and at the same time present Munich as a vibrant contemporary city.

Working in the underground system presented a number of challenges:

  1. Lighting is completely artificial and not terribly bright.
  2. This is a busy area with people moving through the system in a hurry
  3. The authorities would not be terribly pleased to have someone making a detailed photographic study of the system – I asked a policeman about this and was informed not to. My knowledge of German law makes me suspect he was not applying the law correctly, however, I did not want to test the theory

Altogether this meant that I would have to work quickly, without any form of support or photographic lighting. Subsequently all but one of the images presented were taken with my full frame Canon 5D mark II (good high ISO performance) and a 24-105mm f/4 zoom lens with Image Stabilization. A better choice might have been a very fast wide prime (e.g. 24mm f/1.4), however, I do not have such a lens. If I had really been engaged by the MVV (The Munich Transport Authority) I would have been able to use supports and supplemental lighting. This assignment might be better seen as a preliminary study to try and win the business from the MVV.

I pre-planned each outing partly based upon my own knowledge of the system (I have been interested in the underground as a subject for some time), but also purchased a “Trainspotters” guide to the system, to the great amusement of my wife. When taking photo’s I simply rode the system and alighted at each station, spent 10 minutes scouting and shooting, then jumped on the next train to the next stop. I was only challenged once and this was by an old soldier uncomfortable with having his photo taken. I respectfully informed him that I would not photograph him and moved on to the next station. In the spirit of the London Transport posters I also wanted to include some destination shots that combined the “U” of the Underground sign with an interesting above ground backdrop.

As this is ultimately a photography assignment, I am primarily presenting the photographs, each one labelled with a slogan that seemed to work with the image – many thanks to my wife for a fun evening inventing these. However, I have also made up the images into a set of 10 Posters with a simple graphical design showing how I would use the image in a campaign poster, illustrating a different crop or orientation to the “Raw” photographs. These are included in the package of images. I have to admit to not being much shakes as a designer, but wanted to show how the images could be used in a poster.

PaP5-1: Don’t despair, we’ll get you There 
Westfriedhof Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 73mm, f/4, 1/20s, ISO 400

This is probably the least likely image to make its way into an advertising campaign, however, it worked nicely with the slogan. This was taken at the Westfriedhof station, a place possessing some quite striking lighting. All along the platform are a series of hemispheres that glow with bright primary colours. The neat thing is that the colour is from the paint on the inside of the hemisphere, the light is actually normal strip lighting and so presents a relatively simple white balance challenge. The blue side lighting adds a strange atmosphere, which accentuates the misery of the teenager sitting in the foreground.

PaP5-2: Fast, Clean, Safe 
Oberwiesenfeld Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 58mm, f/4, 1/20s, ISO 400

As part of the study I wanted to incorporate the actual rolling stock, but not allow it to dominate the frame. With this image I have tried to juxtapose the two forms of transport, the longish shutter speed adding a sense of movement to the oncoming train. I could have waited for the train to stop, but thought this treatment worked better. This image is intended to convey the safety of the system through the precious cargo in the baby buggy.

PaP5-3: A new Perspective 
Fürstenreid West Station Canon
EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 24mm, f/4, 1/15s, ISO 800

I have always enjoyed strong symmetry and perspective, the underground system has both these qualities in spades. I could have created 12 images of different stations, each offering dramatic colour as well as structure, however, I have limited myself to three such pictures. I am tempted though to repeat this exercise and expand to more stations with a view to creating a typography inspired by the Bechers. With this photograph, I have broken the symmetry by allowing a figure (and a train) to add a point of interest within the frame. Images such as this risk becoming sterile, this is a transport system, not a piece of sculpture, although the architects clearly had both in mind.

PaP5-4: Refresh your Journey 
Münchener Freiheit Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 35mm, f/4, 1/20s, ISO 400

I included images from this station in Assignment 3 and so needed to find a different view of the station that would add to what I had already submitted. Many of the stations have small kiosks on the platforms at which it is possible to buy some food or drink, this image is intended to illustrate that. I have carefully framed it so that in the top corner is the word Münch, a small play on words. This is lost in the posterized version.

PaP5-5: Explore Inner Space 
Olympia Einkaufzentrum (OEZ) Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 24mm, f/4, 1/8s, ISO 400

Beneath the OEZ is a maze of tunnels interconnecting two separate subway lines. This is a series of steps that drops from one line to the other revealing a cavernous open space containing strange structural and lighting elements. This is my second image that tries to exploit the strong symmetries of the underground system. The shutter speed is really too low here, I am not concerned about the blurred figure, in fact I think she adds some movement, however, the image is not sharp enough and I could have better centred myself to fully maximise the symmetry. Room for improvement, but still I hope an interesting composition.

PaP5-6: Colour your Journey
Holzapfelkreuth Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 58mm, f/4, 1/15s, ISO 800

This is one of the newer stations in the system, designed with a wonderful sense of colour. The architect has taken advantage of the curved platform to create a spectrum of yellows turning into the distance, which I find very appealing. In the middle distance two passengers wait for a train whilst a third has unfortunately allowed his posterior to invade my image. I guess that the nominal client would request some Photoshopery, however, I find it amusing.

PaP5-7: Turn the Corner 
Marienplatz Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 24mm, f/4, 1/8s, ISO 400

So far all of my pictures have been on or above the platforms, this one is taken in the interconnecting tunnels at the busiest of Munich’s stations, a tunnel newly created to handle the vast crowds attending the 2006 World Cup. I find this location fascinating, offering powerful colour and shape. Here I have deliberately opted for a long exposure and waited for a suitable subject to walk through the frame. In this case I got two for the price of one, the dark foreground figure coupled with the red figure walking out of the back of the frame. Other images with more people lost the sense of shape and colour of the tunnel.

PaP5-8: In Tune with the City
Fürstenreid West Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 58mm, f/4, 1/10s, ISO 800

In all of my submissions I have identified my personal favourite image, this is the one for Assignment 5. It is the third image exploiting symmetry, however, this time I have gone for as pure a geometry as possible. I have taken the photograph from low down, attempting to over-emphasize the central pillar and the colour of the concert posters covering it.

PaP5-9: Unexpected Exits 
Richard-Strauss Strasse Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24mm TS-E, 24mm, f/11, 2s, ISO 100

Emerging above ground, my technical options increased massively, out came the tripod and tilt-shift lens to create an unashamedly architectural study. I wanted, as part of the theme, to also incorporate some of the above ground elements of the system and superimpose them against what a visitor might find if they travelled to that station. I took this at dusk attempting to balance the artificial and natural light, slightly earlier might have been better. The square crop for the poster better emphasizes the UBahn element.

PaP5-10: Illuminate your Visit 
Marienplatz Station
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 67mm, f/4, 1/20s, ISO 800

My second above ground image still limited me to a hand held camera, as it is taken in a very crowded area in amongst people enjoying the Christmas Market. This is very much a compromise photograph, I would like to have included the crowd, but the lighting on them was either too dark or they were standing in front of brightly lit stalls that would have blown out the picture. I opted to shoot over their heads and try to capture the snow covered Gothic architecture of the cities town hall. The image was very noisy and so I have lost detail in reducing the noise. Clearly this would be more successful with a longer exposure using a tripod, but that would probably have led to the destruction of my camera in the crowd. There has been quite a dialog on the OCA forums concerning Sentimentality in Art, this is without doubt a sentimental image, but is I feel the image that best captures the spirit of the old London Transport posters and if you want to attract people to use your city, such a place helps to sell!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Assignment 5: Above Ground

As well as shooting in the tunnels and stations of the U-Bahn, I also wanted to capture some images of the subway signs juxtaposed with the above ground architecture of the city, a model frequently used in London Transport posters.  The concept here would be to show where the system can take you or what it might help you to avoid.  The following photographs were taken, over the 2 weeks preceding Christmas and so the Christmas theme is very much evident.

Once again I will let the pictures do most of the talking:

This is Odeons Platz:

Munich's equivalent of Fortnum and Mason - Dallmeiers


I also thought of doing some close ups with the lights:

This is an alternative that I deliberately defocused and rather like - the theme would be "If the World looks like this we'll get you home"

Back underground, these are smaller signs in a shopping center

Passing back through the Marienplatz station:

Returning to similar locations, but a little earlier in the day, the light is very different:

Later on I tried a few images in and around the Christmas markets - difficult to get right as the signs are higher than the vantage points I have access to:

Well that's it for the shooting at present.  The question now is whether I have 8 or so images that are strong enough to make a good set and for which I can work up  posters with strong narrative themes.  I suspect, yes, but that will take a little time to finalize.

Assignment 5: U3 and U6 North

BAH, Humbug - Christmas has seriously got in the way of progress on this assignment.  I now have a due date in 3 days, so time to press on.  In fact I have done much of the photography needed for completion, perhaps even all of it.  I have simply not been updating my blog due to travel and other considerations.

A few weeks ago on the 3rd December, I had another day traveling the subway camera in hand.  This time I headed North along the U1, U3 and U6.  I seem to be drawn to these lines, I suspect because they are the busiest and most recently modernized for the world cup.  On this trip my focus was once again upon the architecture and perspective of these modern caves, but with a slightly greater emphasis on the travelers within the system.

I started at Munchener Freiheit on the U3/U6, looking for some images of the food stands at what is normally a very busy late night spot.  I wanted to avoid a focus on the architecture, as this has already been a feature of a previous assignment:

U3 - Oberwiesenfeld

This very colorful station, primarily caught my eye as a result of the lady with the baby buggy, offers some narrative potential

U3/U1 Olympia Einkaufszentrum

This station is a land of dramatic perspectives and bold primary colours

U1 - Georg-Brauchle-Ring

Another very colourful station, but with a strange boxy shape

U1 - Westfriedhof

By far my favorite of all the stations, the strange overhead lighting adds an otherworldly atmosphere to the place, picking people out of the gloom.

I also explored the above ground possibilities offered by the juxtaposition of subway signs with the city landscape.  First of all a very seasonal piece:

Finally I headed home via Marienplatz stopping on the way for the following capture: