Thursday, February 16, 2012

Assignment 5: Getting Started

Given that I have yet to start on Assignment 4, this is very much getting ahead of myself.  However, Assignment 5 is directly related to the subject of Assignment 4.  In my case this means that Assignment 5 is going to be a series of photographs in the style of Andreas Gursky, the subject of my as yet unstarted essay.

This has led to a few sleepless nights. Whilst I can fully comprehend the structure of an essay discussing Andreas Gursky and the impact he has had on the art world, emulating his style is very challenging.  First of all Gursky uses medium and large format cameras, then composites multiple frames together to build truly gigantic images of great complexity.  The technical challenge of doing anything remotely similar cannot be underestimated.  Secondly and more importantly Gursky's work is now almost a cliche, something art students are prone to emulating and if done badly will simply look unconvincing.

My challenge will be to channel Gursky's approach and visual style into my work, but retain the sense that this is my work.  The assignment states "In the Style of an Influential Photographer", I am going to choose to interpret that as influenced by, rather than in the style of.  So what does that mean for me.  First of all I must distill the elements that make up Gursky's style and understand what they are.  I must then find a subject that I can work with over a sustained period of time that incorporates some of these stylistic elements, but one that also drives my passion and joy in photography.

I will evolve my thinking about this over time, however, I plan to work on the essay and the photographs in parallel, the rationale being that I will be better able to write a critique of Gursky once I can translate his visual language into mine.  This might delay my essay into April, not sure about that, but it does bring forward the start date for my Assignment 5.

With this in mind, what does Gursky's style say to me now:

  1. Symmetry - Most of Gursky's work exhibits distinct symmetries, either horizontal reflectional symmetry or multiple translational symmetries.  By this I mean that many frames contain strong left to right lines or are composed of large numbers of similar repeating objects.  Rhein II or the shoes on shelves are examples of left to right symmetries, whereas the many shots of masses of people have the translational symmetries.
  2. Complexity - Although some of his images are very simple, most are very busy, very complex
  3. Colour - More recent work uses very deliberate and bold colour, this can be through strong contrast, saturation or even selective removal, but a clear decision has been made
  4. Precision - Gursky does not wander the streets with a hand held camera and allow serendipity to drive his decisions.  He plans every photograph very carefully and demands complete control over the shots 
  5. Post Production - Although not a visual style in itself, the way he creates his art strongly influences the visual statement.  Recently he has exploited digital technology to create final images that combine multiple individual photographs, sometimes very overtly, at other times with amazing subtlety.
If I bring that back to myself, it means that I need to look for very strong geometrical material, exhibiting richness in colour and complexity.  In other words a city.  Munich.  Well if you had read any other part of my blog, you would have seen this coming.  Thus far I have taken my camera into 3 distinctly different areas of Munich, starting with the Olympic Games site, then focusing in on the Jewish Quarter, and most recently exploring the green space that is the Englischer Garten.  I want to finish my course by tackling the downtown area, the equally beautiful and grimy inner city.  This is a colourful, complex, ever changing, ever moving place, replete with visual material, but not the easiest place to work.

This weekend after my weekly jaunt around the Olympiagelande, I headed into the city to play with some ideas based around this theme.  The area I chose was around the main station, very colourful as well as very dubious, typical european blend of red light district, cheap hotels and small shops/cafes.  Whilst my first example image has nothing to do with the theme, I thought it quite funny and wanted to post it here

They did not come out of Sexyland, but they look like they did!

OK, back to my exploration of ideas.  The concept I have in mind is a series of photographs at street level or elevated if I can get access of rows of buildings typical of Munich.  These should exhibit strong symmetry and interesting content.  For my exploration I had a FF camera with a 16-35mm zoom, not ideal for this, the following required a great deal of perspective management, but again this was a conceptual process, not a final shoot.

The previous two photos exhibit the in close compressed view that Gursky sometimes shoots, there is no sky, the buildings should look endless.  An option here might be to extend the photograph by adding additional rows of windows via photoshop.  Maybe shooting at different times from the same place so that the windows show variation.  Dusk may make this work better.

Another possibility is the above here the bicycles and taxis are the repeating form standing against the banality of the 1960's edifice of the main station behind.

The final shot has the strongest potential, this is the front of the station with tram tracks running along the bottom of the frame.  This is a strongly horizontal image with symmetry only broken by the cars and street furniture. 

Taking the final shot as an example, my current thinking would be to return with a tripod and my 17mm TS/E lens which will enable me to correct for perspective.  I would then plan to take maybe 20 identical shots over a period of an hour or so watching how the constellations of people and cars inhabit the space in front of me.  I could then fill that space by cloning to and from the various photographs to create a single composite image that brings together a multitude of people in the same photograph.  A similar technique could work in several spaces that people move through in the city.  I would also like to try this in the station if security permits.  One idea will be to use the main station as a subject creating several large photos with multiple frames.  One aspect of the TS lenses is that by shifting left and right, up and down I can move the image circle by 12mm, not much, but compared to a 36x24mm frame this doubles the image size converting my 35mm FF 5D2 into a 42MP almost medium format camera.  There are issues in doing this, but it expands my possibilities.

So  have a start and an initial idea for this work, I now need to build out the concept and plan the photographs.  That will be a major difference for this sequence.  Each final photograph will have to be scouted, with test shots and then decisions made about time of day for lighting or weather conditions.  I may need permission for some potential shots.  The biggest question will be one of coherence, essentially avoiding this becoming a set of technically interesting but unrelated photographs.  That is the part that still bothers me about this exercise.

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