Sunday, March 25, 2012

Assignment 5: Experimentation and Art

During the writing of my essay on Gursky it began to become apparent that many of Gursky's most famous and valued images contained strong visual influence from modern art of the 20th century.  I am now reading around this and thinking about how this could be worked into my own imagery for assignment 5.  I have already discussed the stylistic cues that I need to consider, however, another avenue to work  would be to also "borrow" from modern art.  This would entail looking for urban landscapes that possess similar structure to key movements or artists.  In Gursky's case I would immediately note the following:

  • Montparnasse - Richter's paintings of palettes of colours
  • Rhien II - Rothko and his broad stripes of colour (although very toned down)
  • The stock exchane images - The ordered disorder of Pollock
  • Race Track composites - reminiscent of cubism and Picasso
  • Untitled series - minimalism

Not something I necessarily plan, but worth keeping in mind.  Heading out to the Pinakothel der Moderne today to actually look at some modern art and see how it grabs me.

In the mean time I have completed my first exploratory shoot for the assignment, more a technical test of techniques that I might adopt for some of the images.  Thematically I am currently planning a series of photographs that speak to the pressures of modern urban life, the crowds, the dirt, the colour, in essence the visual cacophony of a city.  So far my assignments have skirted around the city, looking at the special spaces, parks, places of worship, and sports arenas, now it is time to engage with the reality of city life.  I suspect these will be images that most stretch the definition of what is a landscape photograph.

On Friday I spent the morning at the cities' main railway station, both inside and out, as well as on one of the bridges overlooking the lines running into and out of the city.  In each case I placed my camera on a tripod and mounted a wide angle tilt-shift lens, either 17 or 24mm depending on the location. I then exposed around 20 frames over a period of time waiting for something to happen.  Back in my office I spent several hours yesterday building composite image from the photographs that I had taken.  I was trying to enhance the sense of "business" of the photographs, very much in parallel to the techniques that Gursky's assistants use.

The first composite is of the railway lines leading into the city.  In each case I will show a first and final image in the composite.  I started with a nearly empty scene with a single train heading towards me:

Here I was trying to capture the sense of the energy of a modern railway station, the continual rush of trains in and out of the station.  What I have ended up with is what looks like a parking space for trains.  Technically this has demonstrated that I can fabricate such an image but aesthetically it does not work.  A possible thought here will be to use very much slower shutter speeds which will blur the trains, I can then merge multiple trains into composite lines of flow.  Another improvement would be to be about 10m higher up, but that is not going to work for me.  Gursky could hire a crane for the day, too expensive and I would get arrested.

Inside the station I had more success, the second image is composed of around 10 additional photos.  I did have a problem as I was nervous about my location and the use of a tripod on a station.  I did not use a remote release and so the camera shifted position, not by much, but enough to lose registry between shots, making the overlay much much harder.  In this image I have deliberately included the same person several times, in a sense a symbol of movement through the frame. This has good potential and I may return to try again.  An overcast day might also be better as I would have less contrast to deal with, although to a degree I like the areas of light and shade.

My final composite is a little less ambitious, but similar to the inside station shot.  Again I have included the same person twice, here looking at herself in the middle ground.  This image also added a further twist, the shadows and the stationary objects moved during the shoot, easily fixed, but an issue that must be considered.  This scene also contains a taxi rank, movements within which would also create both challenge and opportunity.

In all of the images I am experimenting with the multiple frame technique of Gursky with the goal of creating metaphors for modern life.  I learned a lot about the clone tool.  It was key to ensure that I had identically framed images that I then cloned between using the same reference point in each image.  I cloned fairly roughly using my tablet and pen, then in finer detail used the erasing tool to refine the edges.   None of these images are perfect, all have some issues, but as a proof of concept I am quite happy.

Next step will be to start building a list of location for similar shoots and also to consider other elements of Gursky's visual style that I can build into my shooting.

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