Category Archives: Learning

Program Night: The Visual Thinking Series: Who’s Talking?

I attended my camera club, The North Shore Photographic Society’s program night last night. Presenters were Russel and Wendy Kwan. Unfortunately I forgot to take a notebook with me to make notes, but luckily Russel provided some take home notes of his presentation, albeit an abbreviated version so I’ll do my best to summarise his presentation from that.

The topic was on media transparency. What I really appreciate about Russel and Wendy is that they approach their topics as well as their judging from an art photography perspective. They are familiar with studium and punctum, so as a result their reviews are less from a technical point of view and the feedback more meaningful.

Russ’s presentation started off with a quote from Clement Greenberg’s essay The Camera’s Glass Eye: Review of an Exhibition of Edward Weston.

Photography is the most transparent of the art mediums devised or discovered by man. It is probably for this reason that it proves so difficult to make the photograph transcend its almost inevitable function as document and act as work of art as well. But we do have evidence that the two functions are compatible.

Clement Greenberg

I managed to find a copy of the essay online and was interested to read Greenberg’s statement that ‘art is a matter of conception and intuition, not of physical finish’. I rather like that statement! Greenberg states of Edward Weston’s photos that were on exhibit that  they were ‘merciless, crystalline clarity of detail and texture combined with the anonymous or inanimate nature of the object photographed, produces a hard, mechanical effect that seems contrived and without spontaneity’. In other words Weston’s photos were too technically perfect, had the same treatment applied to each and thus rendering them rather cold and impersonal. Greenberg goes on to state that a photographer should become more reliant on his subject and strive to express the subject’s identity or personality and his own feelings more directly. I’m thinking that this is where our voice comes into play. Greenberg directs his readers to the work of Walker Evans stating ‘Evans is an artist above all because of his original grasp of the anecdote’, even though Evans’ photos do not have the splendid finish that Weston’s have.

So back to the lecture:

As an image becomes more transparent, the audience becomes less aware of the image’s medium and maker. As an image becomes less transparent, the audience becomes more aware of the artifact itself and that someone made it.

Russ advised that photographers begin to think in terms of a schema around which to construct their photographs. Listening to his explanation of this, I realised that this is the way OCA urges us to work too.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884-86) by Georges Seurat
  • Transparency is like a sliding scale. It can be dialed up or down during the shoot or at post-processing.
  • Transparency may work differently when the image is viewed up close or from across an exhibition hall – refer to paintings done in the pointillism style – up close one sees varying size dots, but the effect is very different when one stands further back. See also Sally Mann’s Body Farm photos.
  • The snapshot is very transparent, the highly stylized photos not so much. Photographers generally settle for a middle ground between these two poles.
  • Having a well defined schema for a project is essential for coherence.
  • The constraints imposed on your work by the schema will influence the transparency of the photos.
  • The more constraints there are, the more distinctive the work will be.
  • Schema – a break down
    • Subject matter – what are you photographing? What is in/what is out?
    • Technique – how are you going to approach the subject matter? What gear? What lighting? What point of views? What post-processing?
    • Flavour – What do you want your audience to see/feel/learn when looking at your work? Do your choices of subject matter and technique work with the flavour you want to impart?

Russ had three criteria by which one should evaluate one’s photographs: truth, personal mark, message. According to him if one ranks truth important, but personal mark not necessary then the subjects in the photo are doing the talking. This is more in line with photojournalism – the photographer becomes invisible.

If one ranks truth not important, but personal mark important then transparency is not necessarily an ingredient needed. The photograher needs to do the talking here. Examples cited were Andreas Gursky’s work and  Sally Mann’s photographs of her children.

If truth and personal mark are both important then transparency is needed. Different techniques will be necessary to tell the anecdotes – see Erwin Elliott’s dog images.

If message is important then one will be looking of ways to photograph without regard for subjects, truth or one’s own personal stamp. This singular method of working is quite rare because one does need a combination of truth or personal mark at the very least to go with message in order for the photograph to work.

Russ then gave the group some homework and this is where I really had to chuckle – it all sounded so familiar:

  • come up with a message or emotional state you want to communicate – be very specific
  • write down your goals and be precise when describing your visual statement

Needless to say the audience was rather gobsmacked by all this information. To be told that they should throw the rules of composition out the window and concentrate on the transparency of the image instead really silenced them to such an extent that no a single question was asked. It will take a while for them to lose the ‘camera club mentality’ of doing images. I live in hope though 🙂 !!

Reference List

Greenberg, Clement (1946) The Camera’s Glass Eye: Review of an Exhibition of Edward Weston In The Collected Essays and Criticism, Arrogant Purpose (Vol 2) 1945 – 1949 edited by John O’Brian. Available at: http://docslide.us/documents/clement-greenberg-1946-the-cameras-glass-eye.html [Accessed 30 May, 2017]

Google Hangout #3

The Canadian OCA students had our third Google Hangout today. Although only three of us attended this session, it was well worth it as one new student in the Drawing module joined in and she had quite a few questions to ask about assignments and assessment and it was good to welcome a new student into our midst. A few tips were also given on sending materials to OCA to avoid duty costs when work gets returned.

We discussed upcoming exhibitions on the West Coast and back east and there is a possibility of getting together with one of the students to do a study visit which will be great. Even though the hangout group is growing slowly, it is really helpful to connect with a few other Canadian students.

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Coming to grips with flash again

Having purchased a new flash which only works in manual, I found myself having to refresh my memory on the workings of speedlights. I had taken an 8 week course on flash photography back in 2012 but did not have much opportunity to use what I had learned and have forgotten most of what I learnt on the course. So I’m finding myself working through some tutorials again.

I have always been pretty darn hopeless with maths so as soon as numbers get thrown at me I become very flustered. I was watching the video below on flash guide numbers and started to do the prescribed calculation on the computer calculator. Now apparently my Yongnuo YN660 has a guide number of 217 – nowhere in the manual does this number state whether it is feet or metres. Makes a difference, right? On the video the presenter explains that one has to divide the guide number by the distance and this will give you the aperture to use. The example he had was that his flash was zoomed at 105mm, had a GN of 112 and light source was 10 feet away from subject giving him an aperture of f11. Sounds simple enough. Well for the life of me I kept on getting an aperture setting f66 which couldn’t possibly be right. I really don’t know what I was calculating – maybe I threw the zoom figure into the mix, I really don’t have a clue.

Anyway today I decided to tackle this again. Went online and searched for a few sites to find the guide number of this flash and came across a site that stated the GN was 66 metres, and another which stated the GN was 217 feet. So I threw all the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and punched in the formulas. Aha – the picture is looking a little better now. At 3 metres, full power my aperture should be f22. Now I can plug in the aperture settings for 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 power and on.

I also read a couple of Neil van Niekerk’s postings- one on dragging the shutter– balancing flash and ambient light.

  • For ambient exposure there are three controls:
    • aperture
    • ISO
    • shutter speed
  • For flash exposure there are four controls:
    • aperture
    • ISO
    • distance (light source to subject – closer = brighter)
    • power (increase/decrease – affects exposure)

There are two common denominators when we compare the two types of exposure: aperture and ISO. This means shutter speed becomes an independent control for available light source. The shutter speed won’t affect anything because the flash is instantaneous, while the ambient light is continuous.

The other video tutorial I watched again was Neil van Niekerk explaining how he used his “Black Foamie Thing” light modifier. I had made one of these for myself years ago but never actually got around to using it. Written explanations are on this page. I tried it out last Friday and seem to be getting the hang of it but want to get a little more comfortable with it before I post some images.

Reference List

Adorama TV (2016) Flash Guide Number – OnSet ep. 70 [user-generated content online] Creat. Adorama TV. 1 February, 2016. 4 min 48 secs. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TtEoxhE9n4 (Accessed 30 January, 2017)

van Niekerk, N. (n.d.) Dragging the Shutter [online] Neil van Niekerk Tangents Photography Blog. Available at: http://neilvn.com/tangents/flash-photography-techniques/dragging-the-shutter/ [Accessed 30 January, 2017]

van Niekerk, N. (n.d.) Video tutorial – Using the ‘black foamie thing’ [online] Neil van Niekerk Tangents Photography Blog. Available at http://neilvn.com/tangents/flash-photography-techniques/bouncing-flash/ [Accessed 30 January, 2017]

Canadian Students Google Hangout

google-hangoutI set up a Canadian Students Google Hangout a while back and today was the day. In total seven registered for the hangout and four attended. Connie from Alberta who is studying Textiles (currently doing the mixed media module) Daniela who is studying Creative Writing and Robert who is on Drawing 1 and myself.

It is really good to connect to students studying in one’s own country as we share similar problems that students in the UK don’t have. Our access to exhibitions is not as plentiful as our fellow students in the UK for example. The main aim of our group is to support each other, hopefully get a discussion going similar to what happens in the Thames Valley group, but just over the internet. How this is going to work yet remains to be seen. We are also going to share work that we are readying for assignments and have a discussion around that. The idea of collaboration on some work also came up. At the moment there is a little bit of a learning curve happening with the Google Hangout, but I’m confident that once everyone figures it out we will be up and running.

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Making sense of the manual

During my last assignment my Nikon SB-700 speedlight crashed to the ground breaking the battery door hinges. I’ve spent some time since trying to obtain a replacement door but some of the prices run to more than a generic new flash. So in order to shoot my next assignment I purchased a Yongnuo YN660 flash – a great price by the way – only $76! I’ll take my time looking for a replacement for the Nikon SB-700, but I’m not prepared to pay $99 for a replacement battery door.

Yongnuo YN660
Yongnuo YN660

The Yongnuo arrived today and I’m quite impressed with the build. Really sturdy and no plastic door hinges! But the manual leaves much to be desired.  So for some comic relief here are some of the instructions:

  • To avoid any possible safety accident, please do not use the flash on people who is focusing attention.
  • Please take out the batteries and stop using this product immediately in case of the following situation:
    • This product is dropped or shocked seriously and the inner part of this product is bared.
    • This product gives off strange smell, heart or smokes.
    • This product because the internal high voltage circuit may cause the electric shock.
  • Supports wireless master control fucntion
  • One YN660 can respectively accepts the signal transmitted from YN 660 …. with 16 channels for option; when YN660, … used as transmitter, it can realize remote flash parameter adjustment.
  • Please press each button and observe the diplay content on the LCD screen to learn the function of this product. Isn’t this supposed to be the manual’s function?
  • To avoid circuit, please do not use damaged batteries.
  • The meaning of [Sound Prompt]: tick twice = speedlite started/sound switch enabled/flash enabled; three tick, two times = speedlite in charging status; continuous rapid sound = lack of electricity, the speedlite is about to shut down; tick-a long sound = the speedlite is fully charged, flash enabled.

YN660 User Manual

I must confess I almost cracked up when I was reading about the sound prompts – I mean what on earth is a “tick-a long sound”? I guess definitely not something you might mention to a US customs official :-)!

All I can say is thank goodness I have a Nikon speedlight manual where I can get some technical help and hallelujah for Youtube!

Reference

Yongnuo Digital YN660 User Manual

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Ambiguity in Photography continued

I was having a reread of John Berger’s essay “Appearances” this morning when I learnt of his passing. So sad to think that wonderful writing style has forever been silenced! RIP John Berger – the art world will surely miss you.

I’m still exploring the concept of ambiguity and as pointed out by a fellow student, Berger’s essay deals with this topic as only Berger can. Below are just some brief notes from the essay.

  • Every photograph presents the viewer with two messages:
    • a message concerning the event photographed
    • a message concerning a shock of discontinuity
  • Between the moment the image is recorded and the moment that the image is viewed or looked at is what Berger calls an abyss.
  • The ambiguity of a photograph doesn’t reside within the instant of the event which is photographed. The ambiguity arises out of the discontinuity.
  • There is a fundamental difference between images in our memory and the photographic image. Images that we remember are “the residue of continuous experience” while “a photograph isolates the appearances of a disconnected instant” (p. 57).
  • Meaning is discovered in the connections.
  • Meaning is a response.
  • Meaning and mystery are inseparable and neither can exist without the passage of time.
  • While certainty may be instantaneous, doubt requires duration. Meaning is born of the two.
  • According to Berger, all photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have interrupted a continuity. If the event photographed is public, then the continuity is history. If the event is personal, then the continuity is a life story. Even landscapes break a continuity – that of light and weather.
  • Discontinuity always produces ambiguity.
  • Appearances distinguish and join events.  To recognize an appearance requires one to remember other similar appearances. “One image interpenetrates another” (p.71).
  • There is an expectation of meaning attached to the action of looking at images. It is this search for meaning using our own cultural choices/experiences that differentiates the meaning of the image.

Photographer unknown, Man with his horse, date unknown

Andre Kertesz, A Red Hussar Leaving, Budapest, June 1919
Andre Kertesz, A Red Hussar Leaving, Budapest, June 1919

 

  • Berger likens this search for meaning in an image to a literary quotation. In comparing the two images above, it is very obvious that the amount of information one can glean from the second image (Red Hussar) is significantly more than that of the first image. “Looking at the man with the horse, we have no clear idea of what has just happened or what is about to happen. Looking at the Kertesz, we can trace a story backward for years and forward for at least a few hours” (p.75).

This difference in the narrative range of the two images is important, yet although it may be closely associated with the “length” of the quotation, it does not in itself represent that length. It is necessary to repeat that the length of the quotation is in no sense a temporal length. It is not time that is prolonged but meaning.

(Berger, p. 75)

  • The photographic event triggers an idea and this in turn, urges the viewer to dig deeper in his/her memory bank to build on the meaning. The event and the idea are actively connected.
Reference List

Berger, John. (2013). Understanding a Photograph. 1st ed. New York: Aperture Foundation

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Ambiguity in Photography

A lively discussion about ambiguity has ensued on my Facebook posting where I had asked for feedback on my Assignment 2 rework. Although the discussion mainly involved the merits of ambiguity I thought I would do a little more research into what ambiguity is in photography. I always find it is better to create a solid base of understanding and then move on from there.

I came across a very informative article by Mien Thein that explained this very well, which I will summarise briefly. Thein states that photographs can be divided into two groups: a) literal and b) ambiguous. “The defining characteristic of a photograph (is that) it is a recognisable and relatively linear representation of reality, both in spatial arrangement and luminosity” (Thein, 2015). According to Thein there are three items that need to be considered when trying to make a photograph ambiguous:

  1. Resolving power: by using size, light and depth of field, one can render a subject small and insignificant so that one will not realise it is not noticeable; if it is dark, e.g. silhouette, one will not be able to discern any details; if it is out of focus our brain will have insufficient details to discern the object.
  2. Spatial arrangement: the edges of a photographic frame imply a limitation to the composition of the photograph. One is, therefore, forced to consider only what lies within the frame. “It is the spatial relationship between not just the elements within the frame but the frame itself that has implications on causality and story: forced empty space in the center of the frame suggests deliberate avoidance; proximity suggests collaboration” (Thein, 2015).
  3. Conscious exclusion: look around the frame and see what can be removed. Go for a minimal approach. “The fewer distractions there are from your main subject, the more attention your audience puts on your intended focus” (Thein, 2014).
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© Lynda Kuit 2012

Images benefit from having several layers. Apart from the aesthetics of the image, there should be a obvious message to interest the viewer and also a more subtle one that is revealed through more intense study. If we provide too much information, then only one interpretation will be forthcoming. There is a very fine line between being “vague enough” and “too vague”. The ideal is to have the viewer engage with his/her imagination and keep them guessing.

Reference List

Thein, Ming (2015) Ambiguity [online] Ming Thein | Photographer. Available at: https://blog.mingthein.com/2015/11/11/ambiguity/ [Accessed 10 December, 2016]

Thein, Ming (20145) Conscious exclusion[online] Ming Thein | Photographer. Available at: https://blog.mingthein.com/2014/07/19/conscious-exclusion/ [Accessed 11 December, 2016]

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