Category Archives: Learning

Indexicality and the Depiction of Time

I came across a rather interesting paper on indexicality entitled Indexicality and the Depiction of Time on the Radicality of Vanishing Zone by Liat Lavi. The paper specifically addresses works by Roi Kuper, namely Vanishing Zones and Atlantis. I have made some brief notes on the paper and I’m hoping some of these ideas will feed into my assignment.

  • Indexicality refers to the direct relation that a photograph has to reality. A photographic image is a physical trace of the world it depicts.
  • Photography is also symbolic – builds on interpretation. Is usually hyper-iconic – bears an extreme resemblance to the object it represents.
  • Iconic nature of a photograph is not separate from the indexical nature. There is a relationship between the indexicality and the iconic nature of the photo (strong-indexicality).
  • Examples of strong-indexicality – myth of Butades’ daughter – traces the contour of her lover’s face on the wall as he prepares to leave for battle; Saint Veronica who wiped off the blood and sweat off Christ’s face with her veil as was left with an imprint of his face on the veil.
  • The manner in which these myths combine icon and index together serve two purposes: (1) to bridge the divide between the real and the  representation, and (2) to overcome time and defy death.
  • Although straight photography conveys a sense of timelessness, every photography that is produced measures some element of time, as there is no zero exposure time.
  • “Straight-photography … functions out of time by capturing a durationless moment, by reducing the present to a temporal vanishing point” (Lavi). Apart from fixing reality in time, photography also toys with the idea that a “temporal presence could be given eternal form(Lavi).
  • There are two very different ways of dealing with time:
    • time as a succession of momentary, durationless states
      (presentism – only the present moment exists)
    • time as eternal and fixed (4 dimensional – time in all its entirety already exists)
  • Change is illusive and difficult to capture
  • “When photography is abstract, it is primarily judged through this abstraction and regarded as a reaction to the all-pervasive strong-indexicality that is photography’s (‘true’) nature” (Lavi).
  • Photography is either indexical (natural, realistic and in sharp focus) or anti-indexical (vague, blurred or manipulated in any form)
  • This dichotomy affects how time is perceived in a photograph. An indexical photograph “captures a durationless moment and transposes it out of time by giving it eternal form” (Lavi). The anti-indexical image seems to operate outside of time.
  • How can change be captured? Long exposure provide one solution, but run the risk of erasing any moving object in the frame. Only stationery objects can be captured. I would argue that capturing the blurred smear of people or moving objects might constitute change as the traces of their various positions of their journey might be visible so long as the exposure is not too long.
  • Another way of capturing change is re-photography. Examples of such projects are David Taylor’s Working the Line; Zane Williams’ Double Take and Mark Klett’s After the Ruins. Re-photography is using found photos or stock images taken quite a long time ago and then rephotographing the same location from the same view point and presenting them side by side. When differences are very slight the viewer has to work harder to discern the change in time.
  • Lavi concludes his paper by stating that “photography seems unable to capture time as change” (Lavi). He cites two works by Roi Kuper to support this: Vanishing Zones and Atlantis. Both bodies of work are about the passage of time. From the artist’s statement for Atlantis:

The rays of the sun breaking on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, spread before the eyes of the viewer, erase a stretch of water, hide but also indicate an enveloping place that repeats 23 times while only the sparkles on the water vary.

Roi Kuper (Atlantis)

Atlantis project by Roi Kuper
  • Vanishing Zones is an entirely different project. Kuper made these images by printing the images, then separated the paper layers and saved the emulsion, then he contact printed it to create a new negative and reprinted that, repeating the process. He also scrunched up the prints and re-flattened them out or buried them in the garden for weeks, dug them up, washed them in water and rephotographed again, until parts of the original image were erased and eventually crumbled entirely.
  • The images in Vanishing Zones “capture a ‘chunk of time’; they transmute the photograph into an organic entity, giving form to the wrinkled and scarred body of the photograph” (Lavi).
  • Time operates on memory, sometimes distorting or hiding our memories.
Reference List

Lavi, Liat (n.d.) Indexicality and the Depiction of time on the Radicality of Vanishing Zone [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 July, 2017]

Mikulinsky, Romi (n.d.) “And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past”? On Roi Kuper’s “Vanishing Zones” [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 July, 2017]






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: [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.


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: (Accessed 30 January, 2017)

van Niekerk, N. (n.d.) Dragging the Shutter [online] Neil van Niekerk Tangents Photography Blog. Available at: [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 [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.


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!


Yongnuo Digital YN660 User Manual


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