Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Exercise: Captions

This exercise is to select up to five images from our personal library that depict events that are relevant on a personal level. These are to be posted on OCA forums with an invitation to provide a short caption for each one.

The purpose of this exercise is to understand that photographs are mute and do not explain context, they are taken in, John Berger describes this as discontinuity or more plainly "ambiguous".

It is open to interpretation by the viewer.... Here were my five...

The Results / Feedback

I received some good feedback from these five images and I was surprised to find that some of the images had the same viewpoints. This would indicate similar interpretations which suggests a good focal point to the images.

In the first image a reference to "eye tests" was common, or "I can see better with this eye", although my favourite was "behind bars". The second image concentrated on the weather which is not surprising. However I was glad to see one comment "Kings of the Mountain", this was true as it was taken on the top of Scafell Pike in truly awful weather, and yes we did feel like Kings at the time.

The third image picked up on more than one occasion pointed out that two people in the photo didn't have a bike. One comment was "Reservoir Dogs, Iron Man Edition". This I thought was a great description and one that was also made on Facebook. There was no reference to the setting sun, except perhaps for one comment that was "End of a long day". Indeed it was a long day, it was a challenge to ride from dawn to sunset in an aim to "Chase the Sun" from the East Coast of Southern England to the West Coast, some 205 miles. So the fact that the sun is still shining is proof of our success and obvious tiredness.

The fourth image was a basic Grandson and Grandfather picture taken in the early 1970's and this was picked up on well.

The final image had descriptions that used the word "contemplation" multiple time, and that is exactly what was happening. Other comments were a bit darker with the possibility of something much worse, with one comment detailing the mobile phone on top of the bag as if a last call had been made.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Exercise: What Makes a Document?

A quick yet interesting exercise exploring a blog entry made by Jose navarro, the course author. We are to read the article and post back on our reflections on the article and the responses...


Here was mine.....

A thought provoking article with excellent responses... all 78 of them. For me a photograph is always a document, but as pointed out its relevance changes over time. The image of Jose’s grandfather is a remarkable one, the contrast of military and religion question the viewer immediately as to what could possibly be going on? For me it has an air of peace and reconciliation but perhaps that is what I want to believe.

Many responses are triggered around time and context and the two initial examples given will continue to change over time. Recently Fidel Castro passed away, you only have to look how his images have been portrayed overtime to see how their relevance has changed. This is what makes documentary so fascinating in that we do not know what today’s images will reveal or be used for in years to come. In many cases evidence of our failings.

For example images of the unsinkable Titanic, which in themselves are rare, were taken as a record of its magnificence, yet in time they are used as a record of its astonishing failure. Images of the first atomic bombs being dropped on Japan at the end of the Second World War may have had the intention of demonstrating military supremacy, or recording the event as a ‘first’. Now they serve us well detailing the unyielding horror and trauma inflicted by so many as a stark reminder of man’s brutal potential.

Often we record not knowing the relevance of the moment, perhaps every image has a future secret to reveal?

Exercise: Realism

We are asked to read section pp 1-8 of the easy "Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism" by Kendall L Walton, and write a reflective commentary of 200 words.

Walton’s paper got off to a really great start cutting to the chase that photography excels in realism when compared to other forms pictures. This is hardly surprising to anyone, ultimately it is an object’s reflected, or generated, light that is captured and it should be near perfect. Walton makes the observation that there is margin for error, in an incorrect exposure, shutter speed etc., but surely this is a skill that the practitioner and equipment develop. Walton also makes a very important observation in that a traditional artist can create images as realistic as any photograph and is limited only by material and skill.
I remember buying my first large format book by Crewdson, when I opened it I initially believed that the images were artists impressions. Here perhaps is a common example where photography has adapted to take the edge of realism; Walton did not explore this. He did however comment on its authenticity and applications of evidence such as the courtroom where the “camera does not lie”.

Walton spends time to discuss how close we are to the photograph holding it as memories set in time, recalling past relatives. Here the important distinction is that we see our past relatives in our mind-set and not literally. I often wonder though if past images install fake memories or embellish them where our memories are hazy or older? One of the best articles I have read so far….  [240 words]

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Research: Felice Beato

In the first section of this course we are invited to reflect on some of the names mentioned as early practitioners of documentary. Most of them I have heard of and researched on other OCA courses, such as as Timothy O'Sullivan and William Henry Jackson.

I was though drawn for no particular reason to the work of Felice Beato [1832 - 1909] who documented the Crimean War with James Robertson, following the departure of Roger Fenton, another photographer mention in the notes.

Beato, moved on to China in 1860 on his own, documenting the Opium War, arriving in Hong Kong in March of that year, before heading off north to Tailen Bay, Pehtang and Peking. The images taken were certainly some of the earliest of China, quite possibly the first.

The images are quite graphic and document the Opium War in traditional documentary style but also have an air of creativity about them. The images form a narrative recreation of the battles in which forts are breached with Chinese soldiers defeated lying strewn unceremoniously.

As so much time has passed these images play an important role in the preservation of history and a provoking medium as an insight to what may have happened.

Interior of Pehtang Fort 1860

The Entrance of North Fort 21st August 1860

An-Ting Gate of Pekin 1861 occupied by allied forces.

Exercise 1: Review of Miranda Gavin speaking about documentary

This exercise is to review Miranda Gavin's online video and give a reflective commentary giving our reactions of 200 words.

My initial thoughts to this interview are that of agreement. I have often struggled with the classification of photography, so much bleeds over between genres and Miranda has revealed probably the most complex of genres, that of documentary. The comparison was mainly between documentary and fine art, it could have easily also been between portraiture and documentary though. In the case of Steve McCurry, one of my favourite photo journalists, his work although strictly documentary, can also be viewed as fine art art, especially Boy in Mid Flight, a brilliant piece of work, that to me is certainly fine art.

Steve McCurry - Boy in mid flight
Miranda also comments about the changing face of photography. We know that the mediums are changing rapidly with more work being placed online, and she rightly questions that validity for this, especially for fine art. However the accompanying comments regarding more female students is quite astounding with up to 80/20 split in education favouring women.  This as Miranda points out will change and question past working methodologies, I suspect that this is down to women seeing and interpreting art differently. I have always greatly admired Diane Arbus for breaking the mould of documentary.

I liked Miranda's initial definition that Fine Art is commissioned, and documentary comes from the photographer's vision. This is a generalist view and to some extent is a good start but even she conceded that this rule is often broken,

Does it really matter that much then that we feel a need to place varying types of work into boxes? I see all great photography as creating something new that makes the viewer think, its just that documentary tends to be more provoking.

[276 words]

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Head Image of this Blog

I have still yet to open the OCA box of goodies and get started with this module, but I am genuinely excited for this section of the OCA photography courses as it encompasses so much of what I admire about photography.

In creating the blog I wanted an image that would stand out, also one that could be cropped wide and narrow. It was fascinating looking through Google images at a raft of sites and practitioners; that is where I stumbled upon the image used in the header of this blog. It was taken by Vivek Singh [b 1980] as part of a series entitled "Beyond Chicken's Neck".

Vivek Singh is from Haryana, India. Originally he started in television news production, with photography taking over around 2006 when he worked for Local Indian publications in Delhi. He was the winner of the Manuel Rivera Grant for documentary photography in 2013. He continues to work for many major papers and media companies globally as a photo journalist

The series was taken in a North Eastern Province of India known as the Siliguri Corridor or Chicken's Neck, an area consisting of Seven States that are far from peaceful. Vivkek describes this area as one of violence spanning decades that has claimed thousands of lives, with many of the survivors left with scars taking decades to heal.

The series describes the mindless murder and rape of adults, children and the old during the early months of 2014. The images are very vivid and capture a community that is almost desolate, dispensing its own tribal justice, cut off from the civilisation of modern India.

Vivek's work is predominantly B&W and quite raw, that is probably what I admire about it. Many parts of the images are out of focus, including the header but it still works and is extremely powerful. Sadly there is no mention of what the gathering was in the header image perhaps that is left up to the imagination of the viewer.

Below I have selected my favourite three images from the series, they seem to call out the pain that is the never ending circle of their violent lives. The series and all of Vivek's work can call be viewed at:

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beyond_chickens_neck_vivek_singh_india_freelance_photojournalist_delhi (3).jpg

beyond_chickens_neck_vivek_singh_india_freelance_photojournalist_delhi (4).jpg