Thursday, June 23, 2011

P3: panorama again

After a few days thought I realized that the images I presented in the original set were basically, well, CRAP!  I created a set of photographs that, I thought, would work in the theme of landscape photography and maybe I succeeded, however, they are really not what I am about.  They were taken in the middle of the city, but I hid that fact to create a kind of odd countrification.


Munich excites me visually, there is so much happening in the brick, concrete, steel and glass that surrounds me every day of my life.  These are places that people inhabit, that they call home or work, this is a used and very much loved place.  There is also, as in all cities, a dark side, dereliction, crime, graffiti, abuse.  Contrasts abound between light and dark, colour floods the streets.  And yet, I went out and created a bunch of photographs that celebrated some kind of pastoral landscape inside the city.

This morning after a couple of sleepless hours I went out with my camera, a 16-35mm lens (16 is the end of value here) and walked up and down 3 or 4 streets all within 10 minutes walk of my front door.  My goal, simply to capture the essence of the streets and the buildings that define them, but constrained into a 3:1 letterbox frame. My task to frame the usual in an unusual fashion, to draw attention to the part of the photograph I want it to be.

As I have mentioned in previous posts I am drawn to strong symmetries, particularly horizontal ones, I find great harmony in photographs that contain straight lines linking the left and right sides of the frame.  Before I headed out this morning I spent some time looking at Andreas Gursky Works 80 - 08 and inparticular the photograph on pages 176-177 "Rhein II 1999".  This is a very simple shot of a flat river bounded by grass and in the foreground a footpath.  The horizon is blank and I am pretty sure this is heavily manipulated as are many of his more recent works.  However, there is such strength in the colours and simple structure.  I wanted to create something similar.

I am not going to comment individually on these photographs, all were taken in the space of an hour, all are 16mm on a full frame camera, each has been cropped to a 3:1 ratio.  In most I have deliberately left out the sky, I want the city streets to exhibit their inherent claustrophobia.  At least one of these might make it into my first assignment, they speak of summer in the city, but in very subtle ways, such as the flowers on the balconies.  I am not looking for drama or bold colour, simply a record of the parallel lives people live in the city grid.

The final shot is the best, the left to right lines define the image, the greens sit well on the grey, it was raining so the grass is shining brightly.  The hint of the cyclist passing through places some life in the image, and yes I did wait until he was at the center to preserve the symmetry.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Looking at other Artists

As I start this course there are a number of best practices that I want to adopt to help me to develop as a photographer and as an artist.  I separate photography and art here deliberately, but understand that they cannot be treated independently.  When I think about photography in this context, I think about handling skills, developing an eye, understanding light, and even mastering the technological workflow.  When I think about art, it is about the intent of my photographic work, its relationship to society, how it fits into the canon of previous photographers, and where it sits relative to existing artistic mores.
In the courses I have so far completed I have tended to focus more upon the photography, adding artistic context whenever I can.  As I advance through the degree it is clear to me that I must start to place artistic context much higher in my priorities.  I still have very much to learn on the technical side, however, focus must shift towards a deepening understanding of the art of photography. 
To this end it is my intent to study  the work of other photographic artists and try to disseminate what their work means to me in this blog.  To date I have read fairly extensively on the subject of photographic theory and practice, particularly around the historical and cultural underpinnings of photography.  This has provided a good groundwork and one that I need to continue to develop, however, I feel I need to spend far more time and effort in studying individuals or movements, particularly contemporary ones.
Fortunately I love to collect photobooks, by far the best way to gain access to other artists work, even though some can be quite expensive, it is a worthwhile investment.  Typically they are well printed and present the artists work in an order and format that they themselves have defined.  Furthermore most well produced books have an introductory essay deepening the information provided. My alternative sources are the web, photo magazines and galleries.  The web is not a bad source, but frequently an artists work is present in limited form, both in size and scope.  I have subscribed to both the British Journal of Photography and Aperture, and find these to be an excellent introduction to an artists work, but only very superficially per issue.  Finally I will try to get to more galleries, although here in Munich I have not been overwhelmed by photographic exhibitions.
Although, in town at present, are two exhibitions, the first in the city museum presents photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher, a couple very high on my list of artists, so am hoping to head off to this in the next day or two.  The other exhibition at the Villa Stuck, overviews many different photographers work, including Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, to name a few that I will be very interested to see actually on the wall.

Supplementing this I need to spend more time looking at the historical development of landscape art through painters and sculptors, Munichs excellent art collections will help.
Finally I appreciate that there are far more photographic artists in the world than I could possibly have time to study and so I need some focus.  I have obtained several of the recommended course books and some of these provide a good overview of the genre of Landscape so will be reading these in due course.  I also have a number of books featuring the work of well established even historical names in photography, such as Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Don McCullin, Robert Adams, Fay Godwin, to name a few.  To these I have added a number of photographers, who might also be refered to as street or social documentarians, Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz, Lee Friedlander, and William Eggleston, all of whose work contains a substantial sense of place, otherwise known as landscape. 
However, my greatest personal interest is in the work of German photographers, particularly those who studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf School of Photography; Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Ruff, plus others such as Michael Wolf and Peter Schlör.  I live in Germany and experience the same landscape as these artists as well as being exposed to similar influences or even constraints in a country noticeably wary of any form of surveillance.  I feel closer to these artists, perhaps by location, but principally their work strikes a chord with me.  Perhaps it is the frequently technical subject matter or the strong use of symmetry I see, coupled with a certain rejection of romantic themes in the landscapes they image.
In any case, I plan to spend much more time looking at and thinking about other artists work and then developing these influences in my own.  Let’s see where this takes me over the next year.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

P3: panorama

A panorama is by definition a picture whose width far exceeds its height. In the open countryside finding such a view would be relatively easy, however, for this assignment I wanted to return to the city and explore another location for photography.  The location I chose is a small island in the middle of the river Isar close to the city center.  The river is an ideal subject for a panorama, providing a clear open foreground against which a clearly defined line (the opposite bank) can be seen.  The area in question is quite heavily wooded on the east bank and as it was early evening this is the direction I was obliged to shoot in. Within these woods stand a number of distinctive buildings providing points of interest within the panoramas.

For this project I picked up my Canon 5D2 and a collection of wide to normal primes, a 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm.  I wanted the higher resolution of the full frame camera and in particular wanted to further test my relatively new 35mm f/1.4.  The location can be accessed in google maps via the following link:

River Isar

The first shot is a broad view of the location taken looking south:

With this and the other photographs in this project I have selected a very wide aspect ration of 3:1 width to height.  In the case of the above photograph this allows me to remove a great deal of the sky and most of the foreground water, both essentially negative space in the image.  As expected this creates a much tighter composition, but most importantly throws added emphasis to the tower and building, the picture has a stronger sense of leading the eye into the group of buildings occupying the center ground.

Simply turning my camera the other way, but leaving the tower in view I have created a similar crop, although this time I feel that this is less succesful, the cropped photograph is not as well balanced as the previous image.  The cut off of the bridge is irritating and the tower is now orphaned.

Swinging my camera even further to the left I can now include some of the structure that I am standing on, a cuaseway over a weir that splits the high and low parts of the river.  The crop works far better.  The causeway adds a lead in to top the rest of the picture anf the cyclist is a much strogner picture element than in the uncropped photograph.  The crop almost appears to be in two parts, the foreground causeway and the bridge.  This framing is more reminiscent of a stitched panorama than a crop, it has a sense of forced perspective that comes with stitching.

Keeping in mind the need to look for framing that included a dominant object in the foreground I moved closer to a blockhouse at the end of the causeway, planning to use this to contrast to the bridge.  Once again the crop produces a better balanced image, particularly with a bridge that spans the photograph.  The concrete building is less dominant in the drop than in the original, but is still very much attention getting.  This is not a pleasant comp, but a useful experiment in placing foreground objects in a crop panorama

From all of these photographs the image with the lady on the bicycle works best, the image combines balance, but also has a sense of movement.

Another thought I had on this outing was to create a long image along the river bank, by merging a number of images taking side by side.  This failed utterly as shifting the camera by location changed the perspective so greatly that CS4 had no chance to align the images.  If a small change in the nodal point of the camera can cause issues then moving it my 10m is a major issue.

The following image was one that I would like to have merged into a horizontally stitched panorama of the river bank.  On its own it is a nice picture, but nothing special. 

Having grabbed the photographs I wanted for the cropping exercise I explored the area of the island and connecting bridges, getting a feel for the area photographically.  This is the west side of the river, where the Isar is diverted into a canal like stretch running parallel to the wilder river of my earlier photographs.

Several bridges cross the river from both sides of the island, this is one, with a group of people waiting for a gig to start at a music festival on the island - made for very loud photography.

I am quite keen on vertical framing for close ups of the city, this is an experiment

Sadly the buildings on the river are the target of manay grafiti artists, although is does add some colour and these little girls did not seem to mind

Heading home I crossed to the other side of the river into a wooded park that runs parallel to the Isar.  The following 3 shots describe the terrain and illustrate the ability to shoot countryside in the city.  The first I like for composition, I a keen on negative space, this has plenty.

As I mentioned earlier this is a popular place for street artists and pretty much everywhere you go there is spray paint on the walls.  This is strange as Munich is not normally much afflicted by grafitti.  The underside of the bridges are favorite haunts, I cannot decide whether this adds or takes away, I am not automatically against this form of expression, just prefer it to be in context:

These bridges are interesting forms and worthy of study, maybe I should think about an Isar project, looking at the parks and buildings against the river.  This would be difficult to tie together, but that difficulty might make it more rewarding.  Finally, and firmly back into the grafitti topic, this is a pumping house along the river, completly overwhelmed by this art.  This I actually like, the juxtaposition of the traditionally styled building with the modern statements.

Learning from this project?  Primarily to think about the frame size and shape in different ways and how linear framing compresses the perspective in an image.  My own practice is to move from the 3:2 of the SLR towards 4:3 5:4 or even 1:1, reminiscent of sheet film, however this opens a new strategy for framing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

P2: horizontal vs vertical

For this and the previous post I am pulling photographs made during an exploratory bike ride to the North Eastern fringes of Munich, an area where industry and city apartment blocks meet the farmland surrounding the city.  I had a very specific goal in mind when heading out to this area, that was to have a close look at the Heizkraftwerk Nord, a power station that dominates the northeastern skyline.  This is a modern facility partly burning coal, but mostly domestic waste to produce electricity and heating water.  In Munich many homes do not have their own boilers, they receive hot water directly from this and other power stations, my own house being one of them.  The emissions are very well filtered, making this a very green energy source, utilizing what would otherwise be land fill to produce energy for the city.

Apart from its green credentials this is also an interesting object in the landscape and called for closer attention from my camera.  When I got there I started off by taking a straightforward reference image, illustrating both the power station and the rail network that delivers its fuel:

Samsung NX100, 20mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO100
(For this image I have provided the exif data, but will generally not do so, unless there is a specific need to discuss the shooting parameters.  For this project all shots were taken with the NX100 and either a 20 or 30mm prime lens)

This scene called out for a portrait approach, the railway lines feeding into the power station in the background, immediately highlighting the fact that I have the opposite problem to that suggested in the text, I am prone to look for scenes that work with a portrait framing.  I like the sense of depth that the portrait format gives to an picture, the ability to include multiple layers of information from foreground to background.  I sometimes have to really force myself to work in landscape.  This has been detrimental to some of my images, I do need to actively consider how I frame photographs and also to consider how I might crop the image later in editing, I often use square framing as an example.

In an attempt to get closer to the power station I followed a bike trail that paralleled the railway heading East.  This brought me into a strange place, a modern low rise housing development sitting in a small depression, bordered in the South by the power station, in the North by a container park and in the East by the railway lines.  Access to the housing estate was to the West and this was then up against the River Isar.  Traveling a little further East led to open farmland and the Bavarian countryside, the subject for Project 1.  The screenshot below shows how these areas relate to each other.

  Red - Container Park
  Blue - Housing Estate
  Red - Power Station

I have always been fascinated by maps, Google Earth simply amazes me and I plan to use this tool to connect my photography to the local geography.  I feel it is important to relate imagery to location, especially in the case of landscape. I want my photographs to be read in the context of where they were created. As I progress through the course I will clearly indicate where photographs are taken using smaller maps and then associate each project to a larger map of the city.

As can be seen in the annotated photograph above the housing estate on Neubruchstrasse is sandwiched between industrialized areas.  This juxtaposition offered good photographic potential, I intend to exploit it fully.  On arriving in the estate I took the following two photographs standing in exactly the same spot, the first North facing the second South:

Both photographs juxtapose scenes of domestic living with the starkness of industry, in particular the child on the swings in the shadow of the massive power plant.  In this case I use the term shadow figuratively, however, as the plant is due South on a sunny day it literally overshadows the housing estate.  Moving around to the East there is a wide expanse of overgrown wasteland.  The following photograph was taken looking back at the housing estate and the container terminal.

The goal of this Project is more than simply exploring a location, it is to consider framing possibilities in Landscape images.  Turning my camera on the side, I reframed my first housing photo using the lead in line of the pathway between the houses.  In this case the photograph is lacking any foreground detail to answer the question of why I selected such a framing.

Landscape format offers the ability to present subjects that sit alongside each other, and permits the creation of strong perspectives when using a wide angle lens such as below (20mm, 30mm FFE).  I have tried with this shot to portray a street flanked on one side by apartments on the other by the container park, it does not work due to the greenery, perhaps this would be better show in the winter.

Taken from roughly the same location, I have pivoted to shoot South rather than West (the grey sky made direction of little import from a lighting consideration).  Using a vertical framing I have been able to juxtapose the flats with the chimneys of the power station.  The chimneys call for a vertical framing, however, this framing also creates a sense of depth in the image.

Moving my location I looked for a few shots that would clearly allow a simple comparison between horizontal and vertical framing.  The first pair try to incorporate the reflection of the power station chimneys in the rain puddle.  The horizontal shot, enables me to include the housing estate, however, the chimneys are cut off in both the background and foreground.  The vertical framing loses the juxtaposition, but gains the ability to see the complete chimney in the puddle informing the viewer of the height of the chimney without actually showing it, making the crop at the top of the frame work better.

With the next pair I have tried to get down low and push some colour into what was a drizzly drab day.  Once gain the vertical framing suits this close up view as it better sustains the verticality of the chimneys

A second photograph taken slightly further away from the chimneys has a better composition, no cropping of the power station and a group of plants that superimpose well with the background.

Another vertical shot was suggested by the nfo-Cente...

I finish with another pair of horizontal/vertical compositions

In both cases, the horizontal framing permits greater context within the photograph, there is more to read in the frame.  However, I still find the vertical presentation better suits the subject matter, enabling me to juxtapose the dereliction of the foreground subject matter with the clean industrial background.

Both framings have merit and convey different messages.  I find that the horizontal frame is better for informing the viewer and works well to establish location and relationships between objects, vertical framing works better in creating conflict between foreground and background, there is more drama in these shots.  Admittedly, the power station calls for vertical framing, however, the containers have a strong horizontal symmetry, but still work well in a vertical frame.

In Project 1 I further emphasized my fascination with horizontal linear symmetries, lines of trees, grass, woods, sky, railways lines...  Here I have effectively turned that on its side and found translational symmetries, comparing chimneys with plant stalks or using reflections.  I also find that I am drawn to bleak landscapes, derelict spaces, and skies with limited contrast or colour.  This is by no means a conclusion of intent at this stage, rather an attempt to develop ideas that will lead to personal style.

A key question that I face  is to what degree I should experiment with multiple styles as I have done in the Level 1 courses.  Should I already be starting to work towards a recognizable style of my own?  The subject of Landscape is vast, there are very many genres, styles, subjects to consider.  I am starting to struggle with the question of whether I should complete this course as a study of the city or extend it to include the landscape surrounding the city.  Without question is the fact that urban landscape will lie at the heart of my work, the question is how far to extend that landscape beyond the city boundaries.  Currently I am using the Projects to explore some of these ideas, Projects 1 and 2 were very much edge of the city locations, exploring the boundary between the urban and rural environments.  However, as I head towards the first Assignment, a decision will need to be made.  My goal in all of these courses is to progressively build skill and understanding, if my work is too broad I will not achieve the level I aspire to.  In particular I look towards Assignments 4 and 5, the study and style of a Landscape photographer, select Ansel Adams and City landscape might be a challenge (although maybe not, his style and working model would fit well to Architectural studies).  With those thoughts I finish this project and start looking for masking tape to modify my camera into a panoramic device, bizarre...