Friday, August 26, 2011


Finally the wedding we have been planning to shoot this summer.  Tina and Manuel's event was simply a warm up, this was the big one!  Heidi and I again approached the event as professionally as we could.

We started by meeting the couple several times, getting to know them, understanding what they expected from us and how the day would progress.  A key discussion early on was to understand what they wanted from the final product, the wedding album.  The reason they employed us for the day was that Heidi shot the wedding of a close friend of theirs (the best man for this wedding).  I was meant to do it, but work commitments got in the way (it was a Friday), and subsequently Heidi received a crash course in 1. using an SLR, and 2. photographing a wedding.  She did extremely well and from the photographs I produced a Blurb book as a wedding gift for the couple:

They were very keen that we created something similar, in particular they liked the sequences of shots, 4 or 6 to a page and also wanted to retain the landscape format of the volume.  The reason this was very important prior to the even is that the final output heavily influences the way that we shoot the event.  If someone wants a very formal set of individual portraits I will concentrate of a specific type of framing, if they want sequences, then I must keep in mind that I need to shoot repetitively.  In fact the book starts to take on the look of a story board.  In this case the photographs must carry a narrative and present the day as it happened from beginning to end.

Technically we used pretty much the same approach and equipment as in July:

Tina & Manuel

The only change was the addition of a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens as there would be plenty of space to use it at the planned locations.  This was going to be a complicated day as we had 8 different locations at which to shoot:

  1. Couples Apartment - Bride getting ready (Heidi)
  2. Grooms Parents House - Groom Getting Ready (Shaun)
  3. Standesampt - Civil Wedding
  4. Grooms Parents House - First Reception for close family
  5. Nymphenburg Palace - Formal shots of Bride and Groom
  6. Botanikum: Wedding Chapel - For the "religious" wedding
  7. Botanikum: Grounds - Guest Shots (Couple asked for a formal portrait of each couple attending - 36 photographs in all)
  8. Botanikum: Dining Room - Speeches, Cake, and First Dance
Logistically this was a challenge as we needed different kit at each location, item 7 needed off camera flash in a soft box.  We took our car and ended up ferrying the bride and groom around with us.  

In the end we shot 2,400 frames between us which I whittled down to around 500 to put on a DVD and 300 that went into the wedding album.  Planning took about 4 hours, the wedding 12, and post processing 16, a total of 32 hours work for me and 16 for my wife.  Heidi also shot video and is probably looking at a good days work to edit and compile.  So in total I would estimate a commitment of around 55-60 hours work for a single wedding.  Considering that we did not charge, I think this was a good deal:)

In fact I am happy to do this for free, I am building experience and a portfolio, at the same time generating good will and putting myself on the grape vine, should I ever need to earn money from this.

As to the final outcome, well here is the book:

By Shaun Clarke

The couple have seen the online version and the email I received suggests that we hit the spot.

I am not going to comment on individual shots, as this is not a wedding blog, but here are a few:

So what did I learn from this experience, technically not a lot, I had different challenges, the 34 degree heat was one, but nothing that was greatly different than I have experienced before.  What was different was the amount of planning and the fact that we planned the day and shot the plan, without careful up front planning and substantial dialog with the couple success would have been much harder.  Photographic skills are important, however, planning is equally important for a long shoot such as this.  What I need to do now is refine my business plan, I cannot keep doing 40 hour jobs for free, even if I really enjoy it and get a lot from it.  At some point learning must end, and earning must begin.

Assignment 1: Submission - Introduction

As the UK prepares for the 2012 London Olympics, the word legacy is frequently used to partly justify the vast expense of the undertaking, sometimes without a great deal of explanation as to what that legacy is expected to be.  With this photographic study I explore the actual legacy left by an Olympic games nearly 40 years on.  The 1972 Munich Olympics was seen by the then West Germany as a coming of age, moving on from the dark days of the 2nd World War and its immediate aftermath into a brighter more prosperous future.  It was planned as the show case of a nation reborn. Sadly the games will be mostly remembered, not for great sporting achievements such as Mark Spitz’s 7 gold medals in the pool, but for the attack on the Israeli team that left 17 dead.
Since starting my first course with the OCA, the 1972 games site has been a source of photographic fascination, combining a variety of environments with a space in which the people of the city come together to relax, exercise, and live their lives. Although I used an element of the park, the Olympic Tower, in my 3rd Assignment for “People and Place”, I have yet to include the broader expanse of the site in my photographic studies.  When I decided to use this location for the current assignment I needed more than simply a common location to pull the images together, I needed a narrative thread that would enable me to tell something of the story of the site as well as to illustrate its current use. What makes the site so special, is that there is a strong juxtaposition between the joyful use of the landscape and deep sadness that underlies its’ existence. 
Most of the young people who today cycle and roller blade around the site are unaware of where they are and what they are standing on.  In my introduction, I mentioned the attack on the Israeli team; however, there is a far greater tragedy deep within the Olympic Park.  The stadiums are built on a low range of hills just North of the city, but still within the urban sprawl. Just south of the main stadium is a large hill, 50m high, the “Olympiaberg”.  All around the land is flat. The hills of the Olympiapark are artificial; they are literally the bones of the old city of Munich, the remnant of a city bombed into the ground during the 2nd World War. Countless bodies lie in the mounds of rubble that make up the landscape. A cross at the summit of the hill commemorates this human tragedy. 
The site on which these hills sit was once Munich’s airport, Oberwiesenfeld.  From here a plane took off in 1938 that carried Neville Chamberlain back to Britain from a meeting with Adolf Hitler.  He stepped from that plane to make the infamously ill omened “Peace for our Time” speech.  The games was literally built upon the ruinous legacy of the 2nd World War, a conflict with its origins in Munich and which ultimately brought about the destruction of the city. 
40 years on, what is the legacy that we now enjoy? What remains of the site and how is it used? In 12 photographs I can only scratch the surface of these questions, however, I intend that the images selected will illustrate the integral place that the Olympic site has in the hearts of the citizens of Munich.
The Olympic Site divides into 2 distinct, but connected sites; in the south is the Olympiapark, containing the Olympiaberg and the stadium complex.  In the North, just across the city ring road, is the Olympiadorf which contains the Olympic Village used to house the athletes, coaches and officials.  This again divides into two zones, the Student Village and a large apartment complex, home to 10,000 people.  Each of these 4 locations, the berg, the stadiums, the student village, and the apartment complex is represented by a sequence of 3 photographs.
Apart from providing subject matter for this assignment, the Olympic site also has advantages for development of my portfolio. It is no more than 30 minutes away and possesses a wide range of “parkland” and “urban” landscapes that will show distinctive change as the seasons pass.  It is also a place I love to explore and photograph, so presents no hardship to return many times over the next year.
This assignment also builds upon a growing interest in the urban landscape that began with People and Place and continued to develop during Digital Photographic Practice.  I have a long standing interest in the architecture of my city and how the population occupy the spaces created within. At present it is my goal to complete as much of this course as possible within the immediate surroundings of Munich, building upon the Legacy idea. However, it is early stages and I need to avoid artificially constraining my development as a photographer.  We shall see how this develops.
Many challenges presented themselves in pulling this set together, many of them technical and discussed below, but a few artistic/thematic problems needed to be solved.  First of all the assignment was to capture the current season, selecting the site of the “Summer” Olympics was not going to be enough.  Representing summer within an urban site has its own unique challenges, there are few clues to the season in a building.  I needed to include seasonal clues within the photographs. First of all these can be found in the people inhabiting some of the photographs; how they dress, what they are doing.  The second clue comes from the quality of the plant life and in particular the sky in the photographs; deep greens combine with the “Blau-Weiss Himmel” of the sky.  The characteristic puffy white clouds of the southern German summer are symbolized in the checkered flag of Bavaria and the badge of BMW.  Finally the strong summer sun generates sharp shadows and with care bold vibrant colours.
Part of the reason this assignment took a long time to complete was the lack of said Blau-Weiss Himmel, Graü Himmel would have been a better description for most of this summer.  Within the 4 sets of 3 images I wanted to maintain harmony of lighting and colour, which led to many revisits to shoot scenes over again with a more consistent lighting.
A further challenge was to avoid the submission becoming a Social Documentary study.  It was important to populate the images; however, I had to reject many good images that presented more as a study of people than the environment they occupy.  The overall problem of image selection took two weeks to solve, building many candidate sets and then tearing them down. Reducing from over 1,000 photographs to 12 was more difficult than I expected.  I could quite happily have developed this into a book with 50-80 photographs and still have had a hard time choosing. 
Finally I have tried to avoid following any one specific style or approach to these photographs, although I think I can see that beginning to develop.  I am influenced by other artists, in particular German photographers of the Düsseldorf School, but also Stephen Shore and Martin Parr, however, in most cases I have not consciously tried to incorporate their style into my work; again looking at the images I suspect that is happening in any case and will comment where I see this.
Starting out to photograph the area, my intent was to be very systematic, carefully constructing each shot, working with a tripod and prime lenses.  Reality turned out differently.  I did follow the original approach for some of the time, but rapidly found that the weight of equipment coupled with constraints on movement were limiting my creativity.  Subsequently, I left the tripod at home and picked up my zoom lenses for much of the work.  I spent a lot of time walking around the location, exploring different views, trying to understand the structure of the terrain and how the buildings interrelated.  I felt a need to engage with the space and work out what it meant to me personally as well as graphically.  Traveling light helped with this process and subsequently many of the best images were found rather than planned.
All but one of the images was made with my full frame Canon 5D Mark II DSLR, the exception being a concert shot with a Canon G10 compact.  As stated above I planned to use predominantly prime lenses, for their better contrast and colour definition.  In the end I worked my way through 17mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 100mm primes, as well as 16-35mm, 17-40mm, 24-105mm, 70-200mm, and 70-300mm zooms.  Ultimately 10 of the photos selected were made with either the 17-40mm zoom or the 17/24mm tilt-shift primes.  The lesson I learned from this was that versatility frequently won out over absolute image quality, especially when dealing with shots that contain moving people, the shot you capture will always be better than the one that is missed.
When it comes to static architectural subjects, a perspective control lens changes the game, enabling shots that otherwise would be impossible. I learned how to use these lenses without a tripod, carefully aligning the lens with a vertical object in the frame and then manually focusing.  To aid this I switched out the focusing screen in my camera with one that contained framing lines.  This was not a perfect process and some extra work was needed in software, however, I was quite surprised by the versatility of these lenses when used handheld.  The bright summer sky also helped, I was able to shoot at f/11 and ISO 100, but still obtain a shutter speed in excess of 1/125s.
Post processing was challenging, particularly achieving acceptable colour balance.  Every photograph had subtle colour variations, individually not an issue, but troublesome when placed adjacent to other images in the set.  I processed all of the photos in Lightroom, carefully adjusting colour channels in each image to balance the degree of saturation and tonality in the greens and blues, the colours that presented the biggest issues.  When shooting I did not use filters, but in many of the images I have applied grad filters in software to either brighten or darken the skies and occasionally the foreground.
Each shot is sized for printing on an A4 sheet with a 1cm margin for handling, an aspect ratio of 1.46:1, pretty close to the 1.5:1 of my camera. I have sharpened all images for print and checked each print when complete for colour balance and detail – this is an area where I still have much to learn.  The images submitted have been converted from 16 bit Tiffs (Adobe RGB) to medium quality JPEGs (sRGB), which has lost some quality when compared to the prints.
1.     I am a “gear head”; I love the technology and craft of digital photography and am lucky to have a job that supports that passion. However, there is no substitute for being there! Traveling light and carrying a single zoom lens reduced the fatigue of walking up and down hills in 30 degree heat. 
2.     I think too much about what I do, I over worked this assignment, partly because I did not have a clear objective when I started – I need to be more focused, plan the shoot and shoot the plan. There was a distinct risk of continual creep in my goals, never achieving an end.  As a student this is merely a time issue, as a professional it is the road to missed deadlines and disappointed clients.
3.     Although I have yet to understand what I feel landscape to be, this assignment has helped immensely.  I admire the grand vista of the mountains or the delicate softness of a sun rise over the fields, however, my personal taste is tending towards the concrete, glass and steel of the city.
4.     When pulling together a set of images intended to work as a sequence, it is critical to first select photographs that work together, even rejecting more powerful shots in favour of narrative consistency.  Secondly these photographs must have a degree of tonal similarity, bouncing from brilliant blue skies to muddy grey simply doesn’t work.
5.     I struggle with colour, I instinctively reach for the increase saturation control when editing.  For this set I have tried to restrain that impulse and have printed each shot to check for consistency in the final copy.  I have still included bright colours, emblematic of summer in central Europe, but have consciously avoided over saturating the photographs. 
Below is a screen print from Google Maps showing the area in which I worked.  The location is roughly 2km long North to South and 1km wide.  The 4 areas that I featured in the image set are marked out, plus the BMW factory, the industrial “Legacy” of Munich’s past.   I did make a study of this area, but could not make it work within a 12 image set.

Assignment 1: Submission - Photographs and Commentary

I am splitting my write up of this assignment into two parts, this is the second containing the photographs and the individual commentaries on each one.

1. The Olympiaberg


I start this assignment with a view of the complete area, taken from the summit of the Olympiaberg looking due North. The primary legacy of the Olympics has been to leave the city with this fabulous park used by all ages for jogging and cycling or simple sitting and enjoying a picnic.  The stadiums in the middle ground are still all in use either for sports or increasingly for concerts or festivals.  Building continues throughout the area, a recent addition being an aquarium, currently new indoor sports arenas are being built.  This is a living space and one that changes with the years and with the seasons.
This photograph is a panoramic composite of 2 frames shot using a 17mm tilt shift lens mounted such that the shift axis was horizontal.  By shifting the lens fully left and right I was able to create a panoramic image nearly twice the size of a single frame.  Whilst doing this it was key to maintain manual settings and ensure that the tripod was completely static.  I processed each image identically in Lightroom and then output as tiff for stitching in Photoshop.  Once back into Lightroom I made a final crop and adjustments


The bones of a city; a hill rises where no hill stood before
Central to my narrative is the observation that the 1972 Olympics was designed to look towards the future leaving Munich’s Nazi legacy behind.  The fact that the games site is literally constructed from the rubble bulldozed from the bombed out city is very poignant. 
Although far from the most dramatic or complex picture, this was the hardest photograph to create and the one I spent the most time over.  I walked all over this hill looking for a view that would capture the scale of the hill and thus the destruction it represents, but at the same time carrying a message of redemption. It does not have the drama some of the other shots carry, but does capture the creation of a green space out of destruction.
This photograph is a compromise; the trees in the foreground obscure the view, ideally I would want to be slightly higher, that was not possible at that location.  I would also want to provide more detail to the right of the frame, a stand of trees prevented this. I have pushed the reds a little to emphasize the 3 points that lead into the frame and adjusted the colours to align with the two other shots in the sequence.


The previous two photographs were topographical, hinting at people’s occupation of the area, here I have made the use of the space the subject.  With this image I have tried to capture how people enjoy the summer sun, bringing the beach into the city, however artificial the location might be.  This shot starts to transcend the origins of the location and illustrate what it now brings to the citizens of the city.  In constructing this picture I am very much influenced by Martin Parr’s approach to seaside and tourists.
I was drawn to this location by the strong colours of the deckchairs, which I have enhanced in processing.  This was a quickly taken shot; I did not want the people to become aware of me, subsequently I have had to very carefully realign the frame to bring the horizontal lines parallel to the frame.  The deck chairs are slightly cut off, this was necessary, as there was another row behind them that I could only partly frame.

2. The Stadiums


The stadiums that make up the competitive area of the Olympic site were consciously designed to step away from the architecture of the Nazi era 1936 Berlin games.  The suspended acrylic glass roofs are intended to evoke the freedom and space of the alpine landscape just to the south of Munich. In the adjoining landscape there are very few straight lines, all paths curve, all inclines have a smooth contour, echoing the structure of the stadiums.  This is one of Munich’s main playgrounds and a young lad is determined to make it all the way around foreground curve.  Those with a head for heights can also rope up and walk the curve of the stadium behind.
This was another photograph that I sweated over, taking multiple frames over multiple visits.  It works better in portrait taken from a higher point, however, I want to maintain the aspect ratio of the set, and with this photograph captured a moment in time that nicely illustrated the pleasure that people take from this place.  I have darkened the sky and pushed the red to make the boy more prominent in the image, but placed him to the side to prevent it becoming simply a photo of the boy.


Since Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich departed to the newly built Allianz Arena to the North, the Olympic Stadium is now mainly used for cultural events, in this case the final date of the 2011 Take That tour.  Pretty much anyone who has made it in the music industry will have played this stadium over the last 40 years.  With a capacity of 70,000 this is reserved for the really big names, the adjacent Olympiahalle (originally for Gymnastics) captures the next tier with seating for 12,000. Added to this are another few smaller venues, making the Olympic Park a significant global venue for music.
Apart from not being a great Take That fan, this was difficult place in which to take photographs.  First of all an SLR would have been confiscated, so I had to compromise and use a compact.  Secondly there was limited freedom of movement within the stadium; but, I had a good vantage point, so shot this from my seat.  With this photograph I want to illustrate another key use of the site during the summer months, but also to further explore the architecture of the stadium roof and how it encapsulates the audience.  Much processing was needed to reduce noise whilst maintaining sufficient detail and colour.


Having looked at the structure of the stadium and how it relates to the surrounding landscape, this photograph explores the detailed structure of the other venues within the site.  As mentioned previously the stadiums were designed to evoke the landscape of the Bavarian Alps, an architectural legacy that continues to amaze people 4 decades after it was completed.  With this photograph I am making a transition from the Olympiapark of hills and stadiums, to the athlete’s village behind the stadium roof line.
To create this photograph required a telephoto focal length and finding a spot on the hill at the right height to enable juxtaposition of the stadiums with the athlete’s village which is about half a mile behind.  All 3 photographs in this set needed careful management of the quality of the cloudy skies, working exposure to ensure sufficient detail and tonality.  The inky skies are typical of evening here, as the heat of the day builds up thunder showers.

3. Student Village


The athlete’s accommodation divides into two distinct areas, a student village and an apartment complex providing rental accommodation.  The student village is an almost surreal space filled with two story, two room, back-to-back rows of apartments.  These are not the original buildings; they were burned down a few years ago during a large party that turned into a major riot (we have that problem here too).  However, the buildings were rebuilt exactly as they were in 1972, but with more modern facilities.  The students are encouraged to paint the outside of their homes and the place gets more colourful every time I visit.    The crane and building work in the background illustrate the on-going development of the site.
With this photograph I have tried to provide a view of the student housing and how it relates to the rest of the village, using elements such as the bicycles to suggest at the people who live here.  This was also a good test of my ability to hand hold a perspective shift lens.  I have deliberately framed this with the colourful building in the middle and this time avoided over saturating the colours, so that it balances to other photographs in the set.


Stepping into the student village, there is an overwhelming sense of repetition of shape and form.  The pale grey concrete of the walls and flooring are broken by splashes of colour in the doors and vegetation.  The barbeque hints that this is a fun place to hang out on a hot summers evening, having a beer or two with fellow students.

With this and the previous photograph I have tried to illustrate the fact that it is not all about stadiums, the legacy of the games continues in many more prosaic ways, providing interesting housing for students at Munich’s University is just one of them.  I was fascinated by the shapes and forms in this area; I nearly did the whole assignment here, but wanted to say more about the overall space.  Deciding which images to use was not simple.  Here I have used the repeating trees to pull the eye through the frame to the students walking in the background.  The sense of repetition is also echoed in the buildings and the foreground shadows.  I thought about removing the crane using photoshop, but prefer not to make such large changes, it would have cleaned up the photograph somewhat, but I do not find the crane distracting.


Approaching the central plaza of the student village, the architecture takes a bizarre turn, as a large yellow pipe rises out of the ground and heads into the apartment complex.  Throughout the complex overhead pipes in various colours were installed to act as a language neutral visual guide for the athletes through the maze of buildings.  This plaza acts as a party zone, in the left background the yellow wall is in fact a sliding door behind which is a bar.  In the evening portable tables fill the space and the music goes to loud!  The green skip is there for students leaving at the end of summer term to dump anything they wish to have recycled.
This photograph took much thought to frame; where to place the trees, how prominent to make the pipe, include the green skip or not.  This is very much an exploration of colour and structure, the photograph contains very pure reds, yellows, greens, and blues.  I have carefully enhanced all colours except the blue.

4. Apartment Complex


The previous photograph is a link to this one, following the yellow pipe for around 100m has brought me into the village proper. 10,000 people live in the former athlete’s accommodation, making this a small town in its own right, with banks, shops, medical facilities, churches, schools, subway stop, and restaurants; everything needed to sustain modern life.  It also has a large disabled population as all areas are interconnected by ramps; there is rarely a need to use steps.  There are no visible streets in this town of 10,000, the roads run underneath the walkways connecting a complex of underground car parks. 
A very architectural shot, taking full advantage of the 17mm tilt-shift to create a dramatic perspective.  It still has issues, the area to the right is not so interesting and very dark, however, I wanted to maintain the aspect ratio and have the yellow pipe run to the top right hand corner of the frame.  I have tried to place the viewer in the village, providing a sense of being there.


The athlete’s village is vast, stepping inside you enter a maze of walkways and ramps, the coloured pipes frequently being the only way to work out how to return to base.  This photograph is designed to convey the size of the buildings, but also show how a school playground sits within the complex, providing local children with education on their doorstep.  The large number of children growing up within the village is a legacy to the future.
Making this photograph I was very much influenced by Michael Wolf’s studies of the tower blocks in Hong Kong, I wanted this photograph to have some of the sense of scale he achieves, but with a foreground that worked into my narrative.  I have tried framing with the sky eliminated, this makes the photograph much more compressed and oppressive, better in some ways, however, once again it then did not work as well alongside the other photographs in the set.

"31 Connolly Strasse"

Finally I arrive at number 31 Connolly Strasse, the address that more than anything encapsulates peoples memory of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.  2 Israeli team members were murdered in this building, 9 more died alongside 5 terrorists and 1 policeman in a failed rescue attempt at a nearby military base.  Immediately apparent is the lack of any balcony plants, clearly different from all the other surrounding dwelling places.  No one would voluntarily live here, it is now short term accommodation for visitors to the Max-Plank institute.
I find it particularly sad that the games are mostly remembered for this terrible event, Munich badly needed to move on from past evils done to the Jewish community.  Even the recent film about the attack was called “Munich”.  I hope that with this set of photographs I have been able to illustrate another legacy of the games, the creation of a community resource that has a central place in the lives of the inhabitants of Munich.
I was very unsure about including a photograph about the attack, and in particular ending the set on this sad note, however, it happened and is a part of the story of the games and its legacy.  If I was exhibiting this set I would not add any commentary to the shot, other than the title, I think people could figure out for themselves what it is and reflect on what happened without my prompting.  I have chosen this particular angle to emphasize the starkness of this one building in contrast with the almost exuberant greenery of the adjoining apartments.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Assignment 1: Getting There

After much to-ing and fro-ing I have finally selected the 12 photographs that will comprise my final submission for assignment 1.  It has been a more arduous task than I expected, taking the photographs was much work, but the final edit and selection has taken nearly as long as taking them in the first place.  I have gone through a continual improvement cycle, building up sets of 12 and then knocking the down again, each time looking for balance and harmony.

Critical was the view that I want these photographs to be seen as a set supported by a strong visual narrative, for virtually every image in the set I can find another that is pictorially better, but which does not work so well as part of a set.  I have removed whole sections, such as the photographs of the BMW museum and factory complex, again because the story was stronger without them.  I have also constrained myself to landscape format and all photos have the same aspect ration except for the 1st panoramic shot.

A difficult question was the inclusion of people centric imagery, I have opted to limit this, there was the risk of stepping into social documentary, I want to retain a sense of space in the images suggestive of landscape.  I am currently busy writing the supporting materials that explain the narrative and position my intent for these photographs.  This is already more than 3,000 words, good practice for essay writing, but work for my tutor.  I find that the more I progress in this course, context, intent, and narrative are 3 words that recur in my mind as I create the photographs.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Recent Discussions on the OCA Forum about the Nature of Photographic Art

The Photography forum on the OCA Student site has been buzzing recently with an ongoing debate on what is or is not photographic art and a highly heated discussion on the postmodern.  So heated that the thread was removed from the forum, which I felt was a pity as it was getting interesting, but I guess also personal.  Throughout my time with the OCA I have wrestled with these two questions (among many):

  1. What is Photographic Art
  2. How has the post modern movement changed that view
I still feel unprepared to definitively answer either question, I suspect I never shall, however, my understanding of both is gradually evolving.

The question of what is or is not art lurks behind all new art forms and has cursed photography more than most, it took 130 years of photographic practice before the art world finally took photography to its heart and started to put photographs on the walls of museums rather than the pages of newspapers.  I think part of the problem always lay in the apparent ease of taking a photograph, point the camera, press the button, a child can do it.  How can something so simple to create have the same authority as a masterpiece in oils or sculpture.  The answer I think lies in the intent of the photographer, but distinctly not in the technical expertise or craft.  In the recent debate there was a comparison between two technically brilliant images, a grizzly bear charging through water and a pastoral landscape with sublime lighting, and an apparently casual snapshot made by Lee Friedlander.  

The crux of the debate was essentially that the two "beautiful" photographs, were more graphical, capturing them clearly requiring skill and endurance, whilst the  Friedlander was simply a TV at the foot of a bed photographed from a supine position.  The counter argument, the "art" view, was that neither of the nature shots asked any questions, posed any difficulties or worked at any level other than the purely visual, whilst the Friedlander image was difficult to understand, was a little disturbing and demanded greater thought.  The reason that Friedlander image was seen as a work of art lay in the intent of the artist to pose questions and engage in a dialogue with the viewer.  A further dimension to this was not included in the discussion and that is the fact that Friedlander generally shows his images in series as part of a set, seen alone they lack the narrative power of the group.

At this point the postmodern rears its head, in the sense that the image is open to many different interpretations, it has no intrinsic meaning in of itself, it can only attain meaning in the mind of a person looking at it.  This meaning might vary from person to person, it might be influenced by culture/ethnicity, and will change over time.  The charging bear will always remain a charging bear, the landscape a landscape.

I am finding that much of the debate about images takes place against a single picture, rather than the sequence.  Surely the ability of a photographer to create a photobook is a key difference versus more traditional art, the addition of a temporal dimension to the work that can be built through the combination of multiple images. My collection of photobooks is growing by one volume a week, I am in strong agreement with Gerry Badgers often stated view that the photobook is the supreme achivement of photographic art/

Photographer: Stephen Shore

Since starting on the long road towards a BA, one photographer has continued to capture my imagination, Stephen Shore.  His volume on the Nature of Photographs was an excellent visual introduction in the selection of subject and composition of photograph, a book I return to over again to look for ideas and refine my thinking.

I also have a copy of "Uncommon Places, The Complete Works", however, most recently I have been dipping in and out of "American Surfaces":

This is a remarkable collection of what are essentially snapshots taking with a very basic camera and encompassing pretty much anything he saw that interested him.  Many of the photographs are almost banal; insides of motel rooms, toilets, what he had for dinner that day, the building across the road.  Individually the photographs have limited value, except perhaps as a record of a specific place at a specific time; collectively they paint a broad picture of the United States, the geography, the people that live there and the small details that make up the fabric of life. Taken between 1972 and 1973 on a prolonged road trip, they combine to create a collective landscape, a composite image of the United States.

This collection of photographs attests to the power of a photobook, and very much follows the tradition of Walker Evans and Robert Frank.  As I struggle with my own selection of photographs to make up a 12 image submission for Assignment 1, I envy the freedom and creativity that a photobook offers.  I do not, however, underestimate the challenge involved in sequencing and selection that underlies such a project.  Perhaps I have chosen too broad a subject for this first assignment, but that is the bed I made and where I must lie.

The volume is not intended to be seen as landscape photography, I think most people would not consider it as such, but I see it very much as landscape - it is a description of a place and time using the medium of photography.  That place is too large to capture with a single photograph, its' landscape must be built out of multiple images framing the diversity of place and people.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Assignment 1: Selection Challenge

Presently I am struggling to assemble a set of 12 images that work with the narrative I have in mind, but that also meet my aesthetic purpose.  This selection is compounded by the fact that 3 of the images in this set will become part of my course portfolio, so have a life beyond this set.  Another challenge is to balance images between the games site and the athletes village, the former presents a more natural flowing style, the latter a more urban architecture driven set.

Stylistically I have not tried to develop a commonality for these images, preferring to explore different framing and scale.  This makes the set look disjoint, which would not be an issue if I was submitting a larger body of work.  However, the limit on 12 images makes this harder than I expected.  With a large number of images I could start with one approach and gradually merge to another, with 12 this is far more difficult.

I keep thinking about returning and working up some more photographs, but at present I think this would be counter productive, my problem is choosing from a large number of images, adding more would simply compound the problem.  I am constantly moving images in and out of the 12 then walking through them as a slide show - so far I cannot make it work.  The photographs jump from one style to another, it feels very disjoint.  Individually any one of the photos works, collectively not.

My outstanding challenges can be summarized as:

  1. How to include people using the site, without eroding the landscape element in favour of Social Documentary.  Use is a key element of the narrative I am trying to develop.
  2. Balancing between the topographical structure of the games site, versus the architectural nature of the village.
  3. Weaving a narrative about the hill - the cross acts as a great metaphor for the death of the city, but the photograph is stylistically very different from the rest of the set - perhaps it could be used as a full stop to the set.
  4. Whether to include the site of the attack on the Israeli team.  This has great narrative potential, but is not terribly interesting photographically - however, the same can be said of many of Stephen Shore's images, without the joining narrative they are simply snapshots.
  5. How to end the set, on a high or a low - currently I have the Israeli apartment as the final image, does it matter where I leave it - not sure.
  6. The overwhelming desire to include images that I think are cool, but are not such a part of the set - an example could be the BMW pictures.  On the other hand BMW is a fundamental element of the way Munich sees itself and is a vision of future.
One way out of this may be to group the images into 4 sets of 3, each with either a similar narrative or visual style, My thinking is the following:
  1. Landscape - illustrate the structure of the Olympic Park, the hill, the stadiums
  2. Use - illustrate people using/enjoying the site
  3. Student Village - explore the unique architecture of the student housing area
  4. Resident Village - similarly explore the bizarre world of town that now occupies the athletes village
My only concern here is that the balance has shifted too far towards the village, which also brings to mind  a 6 x 2 approach.  I am very much interested in having a rhythm within my presentation, which is why I try to group photographs in twos or threes.   This helps with narrative development and adds a degree of visual coherence to the set.

OH, how I wish the brief was publish a book of 80 images with a strong integrated narrative...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Assignment 1: The Hill

Throughout the development of my ideas for this assignment, the most difficult element to photograph has been the Olympia Berg, the hill overlooking the game site.  As a location it offers the best views in Munich, a climb to the top is well rewarded.  I have taken several good photographs, some of which will make it into this assignment from the hill, however, I am struggling to find a way to represent the hill in an interesting way.  The location has a poignant narrative, that will weave well into my overall discussion, it is built upon the past and offers a vision of the future, it is just in of itself rather dull.

I have tried a number of different approaches, from wide angle to telephoto, in each case striving to capture the size and structure.  Key to the narrative is the sheer volume of debris that must have been accumulated to build the hill.  A wide angle scenic shot from across the lake captures this:

However, in each case I end up with a rather anodyne image that doesn't rock my boat at all.  The sky in the second shot has drama and I do feel that this is not a bad image, it is just not a good one.  Another approach I have taken is to consider the shapes and patterns of the hill, with people adding visual points:

The first image carries some of the scale of the hill, and at the same time suggests the recreational use of the location.  The second, has a sense of height, but carries no scale.  Getting in closer I struggle with the very simple shape of the hill and the fact that as the hill fills the viewfinder it becomes impossible to see the summit and again the size of the hill is missing.

Another tactic is to shoot the hill from its own summit or close to it.  This allows a look down on the surrounding landscape and enables a study of the patterns formed by yhe grass and paths cutting through it.

In these three photos I have managed to capture something of the scale of the location, however, I already have photos quite similar to these that I wish to use to illustrate other aspect of the park.   A couple of days ago I tried a different approach, stepping away from the hill to another lower rise nearby:

In these two photographs I capture something of the scale, but i am not sure whether they are particularly good photographs.  The first again captures the use of the place, a key thread in my narrative, but lacks a sense of scale, whilst the second clearly illustrates the size, but little else.

An alternative approach is the use of the cross as a metaphor for the dead city buried inside the hill, the image below is an attempt at that.

Currently, I think this is the best image I have of the hill, it works in a number of different ways, none of which are direct.  The size of the hill is conveyed only by the clear height above the city behind.  I have used a shallow DoF, leaving the city in the background deliberately soft, reflecting perhaps the sense of a ghost city within (not sure about this).The sleeping lady is also an important part of the scene, she represents the lost people inside the hill, but also adds the "Use" case once more within the photograph.  The only problem I have with this image is that it is portrait, almost all my other images are landscape.  I want to try to keep to a similar framing, however, there is something to be said for varying my style at this stage in the course.

I have posted this discussion, as it illustrates my current dilemma in choosing the final 12 photographs from the  1,000 or so I have taken during my multiple visits to the site.  At present I think I am done with the photography element, it is now down to the edit.  In some respects I wish I was preparing a slightly longer set of images, however, selection is a key skill.  I will post another candidate set soon.