Drawn by Light

Whilst working in London, I took the opportunity to visit the Royal Photographic Society’s “Drawn by Light” exhibition at the Science Museum in Kensington.

The exhibition shows a large selection of photographs from the earliest days of photography right though to the work of current practitioners.

The exhibition itself was held in the media space on the second floor which is a complex of three open rooms. Unfortunately the lighting was quite low which didn’t show some of the images at their best, but I can understand that as some of the prints were the result of ancient processes and likely to fade in strong light.

I was particularly interested in some of the very early photographs and the techniques used. The exhibition included three of Niepce’s original photos which were produced on metal plates using his ‘heliograph’ process. In practice they don’t look like photographs as we understand them, but look more like printing plates. The process made use of a type of bitumen which was hardened by light. The bitumen which had not been hardened was then washed away, and the image remained. It required exposures of eight hours or more, so was only suitable for static subjects. The exhibition also housed photographs created by other early methods such as Daguerreotypes and Fox Talbot’s Callotype process. It’s interesting that these early pioneers did not see themselves as being in competition as one of the exhibits was a Daguerreotype of Fox Talbot himself and I understand that he returned the compliment.

The Lady of Shallott © National Media Museum, Bradford

One of the things that struck me in particular was how.many of the older photographs were created imagery, produced from several negatives. A good example is the famous image of the Lady of Shallott by Henry Peach Robinson.

The girl in the boat was actually photographed in the studio, while the background was taken on a rainy day in the Kent countryside. I think this shows how in the early days photography was thought of as a new artistic technique, rather than simply a means of recording reality. This probably has a lot to do with the initial complexity of the medium, with the need to create your own photo sensitive plates as well as chemical processing and printing, all of which took time and effort.

One of the photographs which most fascinates me is Phillipe Halsman’s photograph of Salvador Dali: “Dali Atomicus”.

Dali Atomicus © National Media Museum, Bradford

Taken in 1948, it shows Dali and his easel floating off the floor, whilst cats and a stream of water fly across in front of him. I assume that it was taken with assistants on either side throwing the water and animals whilst Dali himself jumped up as the shot was taken. It would have been very interesting to see exactly how it was done. As a photograph it is certainly successful in recreating the surrealism of Dali’s paintings.

A much newer photograph which was created artistically is “Turkish Bath” by Calum Colvin.

Turkish Bath © Calum Colvin

Although simply a photograph of a bedroom, it is enhanced by the painting of the subject to create a cartoon of two people in the bed. The fact that the painting covers other objects in the room, such as the hot water bottle on the bed, makes it two images in one, one of the bedroom itself and the other of the cartoon, without being exclusively either. This is Calum Colvin’s particular artistic style. He paints images in places which can only be seen properly from the point of view of the camera.
I like the use of lighting in this shot. As well as the main lighting on the bed, the table lamp pointing at the wall and the hanging lamp both contribute.

Coming to more conventional photography we have the famous picture of an Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry.

Afghan Girl © Steve McCurry

I can personally remember this being on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. The photograph was taken the previous year at a refugee camp in Pakistan where the girl and her family were fleeing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (Newman 2002) The most obvious thing about this photograph is her eyes. They show her fear and really do penetrate the viewer.

Christina © Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman

The other photograph which surprised me was the one used on the poster for the exhibition. It looks like a contemporary photo, but in fact it is one of a series taken in 1913.

“Christina” taken by Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman, is a lovely example of an autochrome, one of the earliest means of taking a colour photograph. An amazing photograph for one taken over 100 years ago.

references:

Cathy Newman. 2002. A Life Revealed. National Geographic.

(not attributed) 2014. Drawn by Light. Royal Photographic Society.

Image credits:

Henry Peach Robinson The Lady of Shallott  © National Media Museum, Bradford

Phillipe Halsman  Dali Atomicus  © National Media Museum, Bradford

Calum Colvin Turkish Bath © Calum Colvin

Steve McCurry  Afghan Girl © Steve McCurry

Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman Christina  © Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise 1.2 – Point – part 1

I must admit to being slightly confused how to approach this exercise. I finally settled for shooting a small LED torch in a dark room, so that only the point is visible. I then took several photographs with the point at random positions.

Here is the contact sheet of the photos:

Exercise 1001To me, the most satisfactory position for the point of light is where the position is off-centre in one direction but almost central in the other direction, i.e.:

Point04

and

Point10Also in the direction where the point is off-centre it is quite close to the position known as the golden mean.This is the position where the ratio between the larger part and the whole is the same as the ratio between the smaller part and the larger. The actual position of the golden mean is shown by the line in the image below:

GMAs the GM is close to 1/3rd of the image it is probably the origin of the so-called ‘rule of thirds’.

It seems to me that wherever the point is it is always in some relationship to the frame, but a position too near to the edge of the frame tends to lead your eye out of the frame completely:

Point07

 

 

Should a photographer be just an observer?

This subject was brought to my attention recently when my son was caught in flood water. He noted that a photographer was at the scene and was more than a little shocked a couple of days later to find a photograph of the incident in his local paper. His concern was not that the photograph was taken but that the photographer did nothing to help his situation.

Copyright Essex Chronicle

So should we just be an observer or should we take part?

This is a question particularly relevant to war photographers. One of the most famous pictures from the Vietnam war is that of a young girl fleeing napalm.

http://also.kottke.org/misc/images/nick-ut-vietnam.jpg

Taken by photographer Nick Ut immediately after a napalm bombing by the South Vietnamese airforce, the girl was seriously burned, but the photographer, rather than just acting as an observer, took the girl and some of the other injured to hospital, almost certainly saving her life. He continued to visit her in hospital until the evacuation of Saigon.

What would you do in a similar situation?

 

 

“Heads” by Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

This image is no longer availableAn interesting set of photos taken in Times Square in New York by fitting a remote controlled flash to scaffolding and taking the images of random people who enter the illuminated area. The result is a series of images which show people deep in thought as they wander through the square. Apparently about 3000 people were actually photographed to get the 17 images for the exhibition, which makes me intrigued to see the ones which were rejected. Continue reading “Heads” by Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

Tutor Report

Student name
Gary Bainbridge
Student number
513749
Course/Module
Expressing your vision
Assignment number 1

Overall Comments
Great to see the assignment appear so quickly and it is a promising one. Your technical and visual skills are good, with beautiful grey tonality and thoughtful dodging and burning consistent through-out these photos. And the visual qualities of your decaying subject ‑ texture, shape and form ‑ all stand out well. Focus is often spot on, quite deep and helps draw the viewer into the scenes you depict. The series ‘sits’ well together, being all about dilapidated farm buildings and all processed in the same way.
My main concern about this work is that it is overwhelmingly technical and visual without a meaningful connection to you. You don’t say much about the farms themselves nor about any reason why you chose this as a subject. Your text is mostly about composition and technical issues. That’s fine, but don’t neglect the meaning of the subject. Of course, it may be that it is only the purely visual aspects of photography that you are interested in at the moment, but you will find photographs are rarely purely visual. They depict a subject in a particular way.

Assessment potential (after Assignment 1)
“Formal Assessment: You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.”

Feedback on assignment
1
This wide shot of barn is nicely composed and beautifully balanced in tone. I like the way you can see the inside of the barn as clearly as the outside and the eyes roam around the picture, which is totally in focus.
2
There’s a ‘snooping’ quality in this viewpoint towards the old wooden door, which adds an air of mystery in the overgrown scene.

3
In a few pictures you struggled with strong highlights and this is one. Cameras usually perform better in the dark tones than the whites, so under-exposing can help. You then lift the photo in Camera RAW repressing the highlights. You can also explore using High Dynamic Range (HDR Pro) 32 bit images, which can help with tonal latitude.
I have to say, if your highlights are this blown out, you would probably benefit from waiting a few hours for the light to change or just return on another day.

4
I like the composition of this old tyre and the door. The two shapes stand out well as the two main points of interest. The blown highlights are distracting though, and this could also have benefited from a cloudy day!

5
Amazing tonal quality in this almost abstract vision of decay and neglect. That pole…why didn’t you move it? I realize it may have been there, but it looks quite new and it is visually distracting being right in the foreground.

6
Although the exterior/interior shots are visually more exciting to rove around, this interior is have provided you with a much more sympathetic light for what you wanted to achieve. Lots of shape, form and texture here.

7
This light bulb is an interesting subject, but you’ve framed it against a distracting background – the dark shapes. I think you needed to frame it against either one or the other so that its outline would stand out well. It would also have been good to try to render the translucency of the bulb and it’s fragility.

8
This drain pipe is a good study of a line. I like the way it stands out against the overgrown shrubs behind it.
Doorways and windows make good frames within frames, but here there isn’t much to lead the eye to. It’s good to have a focal point of some kind.

9
Another example of a two-point composition with these two wooden rectangles standing out well with shape and texture. Really good lighting here, no problem at all with the sky.

10
Your framing of the flower pot, lower right, looks a bit indecisive as if you weren’t sure whether to include it or exclude it. But this is another good study of decay, with the white barn doors standing out in quite high contrast.

11
It’s interesting the way the ivy has started to grow around the barbed wire. This is a strong detail that emphasises the prickly barbed wire well. Actually, this may not have been so strong in colour, which can lose the strength of edges and textures.

Learning Logs/Critical essays
Apart from being a bit too technical, your writing is fine, but do try to consider intellectually the subjects that you are photographing. What does a decaying farm building “say” in a conceptual way? It could be something to do with abandonment, or the end or change of the farming industry – more mechanization leading to less work for country people and the effect that has on nature. There can be any number of conceptual reasons to motivate photography, and usually they deepen the meaning of the photographs.
Your blog needs a section on it for Research. Have a look at this OCA blog template https://predegree.wordpress.com/ You are welcome to use it and rename it.
Pointers for the next assignment
You have already started to make a collection of images here. And these views fit pretty well together. Have a look at the series “Heads” by Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Ask yourself, which of the heads stands out, and what does it make you think about what that person is feeling or thinking?
Good luck with the next stage.

Tutor name
Robert Enoch
Date
14th January 2015

Exercise 1.1

This exercise was to take several photographs in a sequence without resetting or moving the camera and seeing the changes in the histogram.

To carry out this task I positioned the camera at an upstairs window on quite a windy day and took photographs at roughly 15 second intervals. The first three images are shown below along with their histograms.

The images are only slightly different, for example the birds in the first image had flown away in the third image, however, the histogram, although similar does show some distinct changes between images.

The histogram is a graphical indication of the number of pixels of each density in the photograph. It is a good guide to the exposure, and the dynamic range of the image. As you can see here, the whites are actually clipped slightly; the histogram curve goes right up to the right-hand edge of the graph, whilst at the same time the left-hand side of the curve is slightly to the right of the edge showing that there are no true blacks in the image. It is implying that the Program mode on my camera does slightly over-expose the image.

Exercise 1.1
Photographs taken in Program mode; 1/100 sec f/3.5 ISO 200. Unadjusted in-camera Jpeg files.

 

In practice this is only true of in-camera Jpeg files. If I use the raw data files, the whites can be recovered.

Here is the first of the above images, reprocessed from the raw file.  The histogram is completely different and the image is much more acceptable.SDIM4628 copy

One Square Mile – edited version.

Realising that the previous entry was too long for actual submission to my tutor, I have now edited the text down. Nevertheless the full text is on here if anyone wishes to read it. Here is the edited version:

One Square Mile

I live in a small village in Norfolk, an area with only a few houses and a population of less than 100.

I started off this project taking pictures of houses, horses in fields and other mundane aspects of the area, but I was intrigued by the abandoned farm buildings at the end of my road. Despite walking past them many times, I had never looked inside.

As this is the winter, with the sun close to the horizon, there was little light which meant slow exposures and large apertures, never a good combination due to camera movement and minimum depth of field. Also there was a massive contrast between the shafts of light which flooded through the missing tiles and the shady areas of the buildings, so I decided to apply some contrast correction to try and get detail out of the shadows.

The contrast correction that I applied consisted of a second layer added to the image, inverted to become negative, softened with Guassian blur, then blended with the soft light option. This works well, but in this case it resulted in excessive colour noise in the shadows, so it was then that I tried converting the image to monochrome.

Having done that I decided that the colours were a distraction as they tended to draw the eye towards the foliage rather than the buildings, so I decided to convert all of the images to monochrome.

Of the 12 photos which I selected, I have ordered them as a walk through the building.

The second and third shots show the external views of the barns from inside the now overgrown courtyard,

whilst the fourth image shows the clutter underneath the overhang.

I particularly like the picture with the sign ‘chemicals’ on one door.

Within the barn this ancient light-bulb was still hanging from the ceiling, which I thought was quite a poignant reminder of when the barn was still in use.

Although the gate draws you through I do feel that it lacks a focal point on the other side.

The shot of the broken door of another barn indicates how the site has been ignored since it’s last use whilst the plant pot shows that someone had cared for it at one time.

What would I do differently if I were to do this project again? First, I would consider doing something to help the dynamic range in the shots. Perhaps using a flash with a softbox to lighten the darker areas and keep the contrast ratio in check

Also I would take a tripod for the longer exposures, so I can get a better depth of field when I want. All the shots taken above were hand-held, and so, even with stabilised lenses, there were some shots that I could not get due to the low level of light.

Gary Bainbridge.

Images at: www.bainb.co.uk/photo/

One Square Mile

One Square Mile

I live in a small village in Norfolk, an area with only a few houses and a population of less than 100. Indeed one square mile more than covers the inhabited part of the village.

As you will see from my contact sheets, I started off this project taking pictures of houses, horses in fields and other mundane aspects of the area, but I was intrigued by the abandoned farm buildings at the end of my road. Despite walking past them many times over the year or so that I have lived here, I had never looked inside.

So taking my camera I gingerly moved aside some of the multitude of vegetation that had taken over the buildings and gained access to the secret world within.

As this is the winter, with the sun close to the horizon, there was little light which meant slow exposures and large apertures, never a good situation due to camera movement and minimum depth of field. Also when the sun finally came out there was a massive contrast between the shafts of light which flooded through the missing tiles and the shady areas of the buildings.

Due to lack of time, I had to return the next day to complete my shoot. Over the two days I used three lenses, my ‘standard’ 17-50mm zoom lens, a cheap 55-200mm zoom and my 80-400mm zoom to get close-ups. In practice, none of the shots taken with the latter lens ended up in my selection.

Once I had transferred the images to my computer, I realised that some of the images had too great a dynamic range, so I decided to apply some contrast correction to try and get detail out of the shadows.

My normal approach is to convert the raw files to 16-bit Tiff files with minimum contrast then adjust in Photoshop to get the final result. The contrast correction that I applied consisted of a second layer added to the image, inverted to become negative, softened with Guassian blur, then blended with the soft light option. This works well, but in this case it resulted in excessive colour noise in the shadows, so it was then that I tried converting the image to monochrome.

Having done that I decided that in fact the monochrome images were a better match to the subject than the original colour shots. In particular, converting to monochrome emphasised the shapes rather than the rather dull winter colours. The colours were a distraction as they tended to draw the eye towards the foliage rather than the walls of the building, so I decided to convert all of the images to monochrome. This I did by adding a saturation reduction layer which enabled me to adjust the contrast and view the result in monochrome.

Finally another layer to adjust the histogram then flatten and save.

Of the 12 photos which I selected, I have ordered them as a walk through the building. The first shot shows the building entrance and the shape of the fallen roof and guttering tends to draw your eye in through the gate.

The second and third shots show the external views of the barns from inside the now overgrown courtyard,

whilst the fourth image shows the clutter underneath the overhang. I’m not totally convinced about this shot, but I’ve kept it in as it shows the winter sunlight coming through the holes in the roof.

The next two shots show the entrance to the main barn. I particularly like the picture with the sign ‘chemicals’ on one door. I took some photographs of this sign on it’s own, but I felt it was a bit odd in isolation, so never selected it.

Within the barn this ancient light-bulb was still hanging from the ceiling, which I thought was quite a poignant reminder of when the barn was still in use, this photo also shows the sky and trees in the background through the now broken roof. I also thought that the shape of the downpipe from the now collapsed roof was a symbol of the decay all around me.

The gate is the way through into the other courtyard. Although the gate draws you through I did feel that it lacks a focal point on the other side. I decided to focus on what was through the gate rather than on the gate itself. The overgrown gate and window of the next shot show the way that nature is taking back the land from man.

The shot of the broken door of another barn indicates how the site has been ignored since it’s last use whilst the plant pot shows that someone had cared for it at one time. The pile of abandoned barbed wire makes me feel that the buildings were left with work still undone.

What would I do differently if I were to do this project again? First, I would consider doing something to help the dynamic range in the shots. Perhaps using a flash with a softbox (something that I don’t have) to lighten the darker areas and keep the contrast ratio in check. If I were in a conventional building I would consider bounce flash, but of course within these barns there is no reflective ceiling to bounce the flash.

Also I would take a tripod for the longer exposures, so I can get a better depth of field when I want. All the shots taken above were hand-held, and so, even with stabilised lenses, there were some shots that I could not get due to the low level of light. On the other hand, with wind blowing through the gaps in the walls and floor, some objects may not be stable enough for long exposures without blurring. Physically getting through the overgrown foliage to access the barns might also be a problem with a tripod.

Gary Bainbridge.

 

Learning log