Although it isn’t mandatory to write an overall evaluation I have decided to do so as I think reflecting on the course will be useful for me.
The EYV course has built upon what I had learnt in the previous year’s FiP course that I took.
One of the features of studying on this course that I often comment on is the exposure I have had and the directed research into other photographers, many of which I had never heard of. I am very appreciative of this exposure, I probably wouldn’t have known of these photographers if I hadn’t taken this course, I feel that this has greatly widened my outlook.
There are certain parts of the course that I have found difficult, one of which was assignment three, the decisive moment. I attempted to take myself out of my comfort zone and make some street photography like images of what I considered to be decisive moments. This wasn’t something I was comfortable with and I think this reflected in my submission. The tutor feedback wasn’t bad but recognised that I had struggled with it.
There were a couple of assignments I really enjoyed.
The first was assignment two, Collecting. I began by looking at the work of Bettina von Zwehl’s images of heads in Profile 2 (2002) and Untitled 1 (1998) where she was trying to capture the “real person”, I tried something similar and wasn’t happy, but viewing the slight differences and nuances of the features in von Zwehl’s portraits made me think about how we recognise people’s faces, whether it was by feature or overall recognition.
Following my research, I used a novel way of photographing parts of a face with a high-quality right-angle prism to isolate each feature in camera rather than trying to use Photoshop in post processing. My tutor’s feedback was good for this assignment which was a big confidence boost.
The second assignment that I really enjoyed was assignment four, Languages of Light. Light is something that I have a bit of an obsession about, but I think that because it really has so much influence on a picture it needs careful consideration. I like using and controlling it to produce an atmosphere in a picture and to shape subjects or objects.
For assignment four, I again started off with something completely different, trying still life images, but decided this wasn’t working for me so I settled on using flash lighting in portraits. I was very pleased with the results and again had excellent tutor feedback for this assignment.
During the course I have learned to slow down a little with my photography and to think more carefully about the composition, meaning and light in a photograph.
I have also begun using film again, in particular medium format film with the encouragement of my tutor. I haven’t used it yet for my assignment or course work but have made posts on my progress and do find it very satisfying, this also tends to slow the process down.
I think my strengths are in my use of light and tutor feedback on both this course and the FiP previously have indicated that I have compositional skills. However, I do need to improve and develop my understanding of what others see in my photographs. I also need to get greater exposure to other photographer’s work and read more about the context and motivation to produce it, I believe this will in turn aid my creativity.
Following on from the feed back I had from my tutor here and my response to that feedback I decided to perform some re-work of assignment five.
The principal points of the feedback were that my assignment didn’t have a “centre or narrative or a developing idea”. Taking on-board these comments and the discussions that I had with my tutor during a video tutorial I decided to re-visit the assignment.
One of the features of the allotments that attracted me to them initially was the way people assemble all kinds of things to re-use them for their allotment purposes.
I am not sure if this reuse is just a cost thing or whether it is a desire to reuse and recycle to lower their impact on the land. During one of my visits I had a brief discussion with the site steward who said that one of the attractions of the allotments is the way people “maccle together” all kinds of things for different purposes. When I performed my initial research it showed that people who performed sessional gardening tend to have better mental health (Wood et al., 2016), so perhaps this desire to adapt and reuse is something to do with getting back to basics and getting close to the land again.
After reviewing the contacts of my original images, I decided to revisit the allotments to see if I could develop a theme of re-use and recycling and specifically looked for pictures and compositions that would develop this theme.
When I carried out the revisit, the weather had changed somewhat, instead of being generally overcast and then raining it was now sunny and then raining, so the light is different in the later photographs.
I reviewed the new photographs together with my original ones again and made a different selection from both the original and new images and felt that these worked better and did have a theme that I was aiming for. I then sent these to my tutor for review.
He thought the pictures did “come together” better, although felt that there was still room for improvement, however, it was suggested that I should now submit these images for assessment which I agreed with.
The pictures are thumbnails so a click will enlarge them.
There are now extra images added to the original contact sheets, all sheets can be viewed here.
I do think that these pictures work better together, there is a more definite theme to them. In my original pictures I tried to simply document the allotments, basically saying here they are, and this is what they are used for.
My tutor didn’t think that this worked well, and after reflecting for a few days upon both the formative feedback and the video tutorial I had had with him, I did agree, hence the re-work.
I do think the series holds together better although, as suggested, they can always be improved. I particularly like the compost heap, showing over produced items, or remnants of consumed items, possibly originating both from the allotments or maybe the supermarket in the background, being composted down to generate nutrients for the next season’s crops.
I have one or two ideas for some longer-term projects and allotments may very well feature again. They appear in many countries and it would be interesting to see what the differences and the similarities in their use is in different countries.
I am still learning regarding editing of my work and also determining what the picture is saying to others and although this is a subjective process, I think that with the help of my tutor together with fellow students comments on my work, I have made some progress in this area throughout the course.
This feedback was received some time ago but I had missed posting it. I am at the end of the EYV course now and so I am tidying up my blog ready for assessment.
I had good feedback from my tutor for assignment two, he felt that
“This is excellent work and strong creative experimentation”. He went on to say:
“What you have constructed is an examination of facial features seemingly concerned with aging. It feels forensic in its treatment. The close facial sections appear to be reflections in a mirror and give the impression that this is the photographer but this can’t be the case! Although, can you understand why this mix up occurs? The result is a strange conflation of subjective and objective. By singling out and placing the facial portions in a space you have objectified them.”
I did enjoy the assignment and glad that the pictures said what I wanted them to say. This final idea appealed to the analytical / research side of my personality and I am pleased with the outcome.
“The final assignment is an open brief. Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject exploring the theme ‘Photography is Simple’. Each photograph should be a unique view; in other words, it should contain some new information, rather than repeat the information of the previous image.”
I have now had both formative feedback and a video tutorial with my tutor and I think it is a good idea to share this information and for me to reflect upon his comments.
To begin with I wasn’t totally sold on my chosen subject for this assignment, I had a couple of other ideas which I thought were much better but as I approached the deadline and began to research and plan for them I realised that there would be significant problems with meeting the required deadline for assignment. I then came up with another idea, which, on the face of it appeared to fit the brief, however, my tutor feels that the execution is somewhat lacking.
“My initial feeling was though the subject matter is clear, the series doesn’t seem to have a centre or a narrative. I mean, it doesn’t develop with a defined visual strategy or build on a theme. Plus it doesn’t seem to have a developing idea, however simple that may be. What is it about other than ‘pictures of an allotment’? Did you approach this project in a documentary or journalistic way?”
The text that accompanied my photographs explained how I was trying to show that the allotments vary in upkeep and are used for activities other than just growing vegetables, how items are recycled or adapted for other uses together with traces of activity, unfortunately, my tutor didn’t think so.
He did, however, think that four of the ten photographs were “good”. He suggested that I should use one of the four photographs as the basis of a remedy for the series. For example, Fig.7, he felt could be developed into a theme on, in this case, sheds.
Ironically, sheds were my original idea when I considered allotments, but I didn’t pursue it because I felt that each picture wouldn’t be sufficiently different from the next one to meet the brief.
“Each photograph should be a unique view; in other words, it should contain some new information, rather than repeat the information of the previous image.”
Perhaps I took this a bit too literally or didn’t think about it deeply enough. Anyway, I intend to revisit the assignment once I have given it a bit more thought and try to develop one of the images as a relevant theme.
The rest of the assignment feedback was fine, and the video tutorial was constructive.
I recently acquired another Bronica medium format film camera. This time the negative size is 6 x 6 cm rather than the 6 x 4.5 cm of the one I already had the camera is a SQ-A model, SQ standing for square format.
I suppose the purchase was a bit of a nostalgia thing, I had always wanted a square negative camera like the Hasselblads, but could never justify the cost.
The Bronica is very robustly built and I greatly enjoy using it. My intention is at some point to start using it for assignments, providing the cost of producing film images doesn’t become too expensive (there has been a recent substantial price increase announced by Kodak).
I have been using the camera alongside my digital one and for my latest assignment I decided to duplicate some of the pictures on film, this is the subject of this post.
The pictures were taken on a cold overcast February day using Portra 400, I sent the negatives away for processing and then scanned them on an Epson scanner using Silverfast software, (I may do a post about this software at a later date), when they came back and then imported them to Lightroom. The main adjustments I made was to straighten the horizon and verticals, I always seem to get this wrong, then some slight exposure etc. adjustments.
I have shot several rolls of film now and I have to say I have always been very pleasantly surprised at the results. I don’t really know what it is about film and in particular medium format film but it just seems to have a special look that appeals to me. Anyway, here are the pictures, you should be able to click on them to see bigger versions.
Please note that I would normally finally process images like this in Photoshop and the last process would be applying a little sharpening, this hasn’t been done with these images.
The final assignment is an open brief. Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject exploring the theme ‘Photography is Simple’. Each photograph should be a unique view; in other words, it should contain some new information, rather than repeat the information of the previous image.
I started this assignment with initially two ideas both of which I abandoned for another time, this was due to the impracticalities of taking the photographs required. A third idea – Allotments was used for this assignment. A mind map has been produced of the three ideas. My photographs show an allotment close to where I live, the structures and land management and uses other than simply growing vegetables.
Response to brief
Having attended several online tutorials for the EYV unit I viewed this assignment with some trepidation. On several occasions, I had heard that ‘this appears to be the assignment that most students have problems with or miss the point’.
My initial ideas for this assignment were.
Photograph ERF (Energy Recovery Facilities) where rubbish that would normally go to land fill is burned to produce electricity. The problem with this was that although I could identify around 20 facilities, they were geographically very spread out. So, I concluded I would be spending a lot of time driving around the country finding these units to see if they were suitable for photography. Any re-shoots would both double the time and cost.
The second idea was to photograph roadside cafes, with, if possible, those who use them and own them. This project was even more problematical in that it wasn’t possible to find out where these cafes were located, so it would be a matter of driving around trying to find them.
I should have thought through these initial ideas more thoroughly earlier on in this last unit. However, I didn’t and in the end, after consulting my tutor, I decided against both of these ideas as not being practical for a time constrained assignment and considered the third idea of Allotments. They original ideas have not been permanently discarded, I have them in my notebook to be considered for future, longer term, projects.
Idea three: Allotments
Whilst taking one of my regular walks recently I passed an allotment site and paused for a while looking at the allotments themselves, how they are worked and how everyday items had been adapted for use or abandoned on the site and thought that this may make a good subject for the assignment.
Initially I thought that allotments were a typically British thing but after giving it more thought I remembered seeing them in most of the European countries I travelled in for work.
Indeed, research showed that in one form or another there are allotments in the USA, Canada, Malta, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia
I also remember seeing them in Italy, Germany and Switzerland so I think they are quite universal.
In the UK they have been in existence for hundreds of years and there is, apparently, evidence of their existence in one form or another going back to Saxon times. (Brief history of allotments – The National Allotment Society – National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd, s.d.)
The system that is in use today has its origins in Victorian times when land was given to the labouring poor so that they could grow their own food due to the lack of a welfare state. There were various parliamentary bills that were introduced over the years but in 1925 statutory allotments were introduced that prevented local authorities selling the land off without ministerial approval. Another bill in 2018 simplified legislation and required authorities to keep waiting lists and take reasonable steps to provide allotments. (Brief history of allotments – The National Allotment Society – National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd, s.d.)
Besides the benefits of growing your own food, knowing how the crops have been grown, treatments that have been applied to the crops and so on, it is also claimed that there are mental health benefits associated with sessional gardening.
Research has been published in the Journal of Public Health that showed that allotment gardeners had ‘a significantly better self-esteem, total mood disturbance (P<0.001) experiencing less depression and fatigue and more vigour (P<0.0083)” Their conclusion was that ‘Allotment gardening can play a key role in promoting mental wellbeing and could be used as a preventative health measure’ (Wood et al., 2016:e336)
Vita Sackville-West, who amongst other talents was a noted garden designer is quoted as saying ‘The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before.’ (Vita Sackville-West Quote, s.d.). I don’t know whether this is just the nature of people who garden or whether it is something that develops as they garden.
Photographic research and influence
Jem Southam (b. 1950)
Jem Southam is a Bristol born landscape photographer. His method of photography is large format film and latterly also digital. He allows the subject to define how he works, so if he visits a place of interest that makes him want to stop to take a picture and he finds it interesting enough to return and take another photograph, he then usually feels that there is something in the subject that could develop into a body of work. He uses his pictures to try to tell a story about the subject. ((1) Sofa Sessions: Conversations with Martin Parr – Jem Southam – YouTube, s.d.)
I looked at a couple of examples of his work, one was The Raft of Carrots that is a series of pictures indicating human presence and influence on the landscape.
Another series that he produced was The Pond at Upton Pyne, which he never completely finished because he fell out with the people who were the tenants of the land. ((1) Sofa Sessions: Conversations with Martin Parr – Jem Southam – YouTube, s.d.) .
Upton Pyne is a small village near Exeter in Devon close to where Southam lived. The subject of the series was a pond which the tenants of the land were trying to turn into a garden. Southam kept returning to the area from 1996 to 2001, photographing the pond and the surrounding area, recording the changes in the seasons and the improvements or changes that the tenants made. (Jem Southam: Upton Pyne | Yale Center for British Art, s.d.)
Although I would not be able to photograph my assignment over a five or six year period of time my intention was similar in that, I wanted to record the impact that allotment holders had on the plots that they worked, so I found Southam’s work very interesting.
Stephen Shore (b. 1947)
When I started the EYV course my tutor asked me if I had read any books and suggested that a good starter would be Stephen Shore’s book The Nature of Photographs. It is an excellent book that explains very simply and in everyday language how to look at and understand photographs.
The book also introduced me to Stephen Shore, a photographer I think is fascinating and has had an influenced on me for this assignment.
I recently re-watched a couple of video interviews with Shore.
He produced a series of pictures called American Surfaces. He says that the work was based upon a tour of the USA and that the purpose of the tour was just to take pictures of the tour, not to get from A to B as such . He photographed everything he saw on that tour, so every TV that he saw, every room he stayed in, every toilet he used, every meal that he ate and so on.
His interest with this series was how to take a photograph that “felt natural, that looked like seeing”. To explain this, he compared it to how we speak and how we write, normally there is more formality in how we write compared to how we speak. With this series he wanted to explore if there was a difference in how he saw to how he photographed. (Stephen Shore: Taking photographs that ‘feel like seeing’, s.d.)
This resonated with me and the pictures that Shore produced for this series are in fact just like being there, not contrived photographs where he has altered his position to make sure he doesn’t get distortion, or removed items from the photograph etc.
Shore said that during the course of the day he would take mental snapshots of what he saw, like a mental screen shot, he would then analyse how this picture was constructed and use that information when he took photographs to get closer to what he saw. (Lecture . Stephen Shore with Melinda Crane, s.d.)
As he was taking pictures of everyday items, then it could be considered that he was making some kind of documentary photography, but he explained that he wasn’t because he didn’t present every picture, not every meal that he ate and so on, only the ones that resonated with him. (Lecture . Stephen Shore with Melinda Crane, s.d.)
This objective style or approach to photography is what I have tried to adopt for my allotment assignment, to say ‘this is what I saw, this is what is there’, although I have to admit I have straightened some pictures and I moved my position to get the angle of the shot I wanted or I felt that it would be more appropriate for this assignment, whereas Shore appears not to have done this, his pictures appear to have been taken just as he saw them, just where he was standing.
Assignment five Photographs
My pictures were taken using a Fuji XT-3 digital mirrorless camera with an 18-55mm variable aperture zoom lens. All pictures were taken handheld.
I also duplicated some pictures on film using a Bronica SQ-A medium format 6x6cm negative film camera and, although I do intend to publish some of these images on my blog, I have not used them for this assignment. Although I am pleased with the film results, the use of the camera was really a confidence building exercise so that at some point in the future I will complete an assignment with film.
My photographs were taken in early to mid-February, so the allotments looked quite stark and empty, there wasn’t a lot of activity taking place. Initially I thought it would also be interesting to be able to see and talk to people working on the allotments, however, I changed my opinion on this later. My photographs show the product of toil and traces of activity rather than the activity itself.
Some of the allotments are kept immaculately and I understand from the allotment website that there is an annual competition for the best allotment. Some look new, others not so and a few look as if they have been abandoned. Perhaps the owners of some of the allotments that aren’t worked so well have made a decision that it is more cost effective to purchase produce from supermarkets or maybe they are just no longer able to work the land.
Although plastic items are ubiquitous on the site, in general they have been adapted from their original use to satisfy the needs of the allotment holders, collecting rain, containers for produce, protections against pests and so on. Other items such as wooden pallets have been used to delineate the allotments, the site is a good example of recycling rather than disposal.
I am sure from both my research and the evidence that I found on the site that the allotments are not just used for food growing, there appears to be quite a strong social element to the site. Sites have been made into places where the holders can sit and relax, there are seats, bird tables, also signs of other activities with cool boxes, biscuit barrels, flags in the window of a shed to perhaps celebrate a new building or maybe just a bit of a party. One of the sites has a plum tree with a bow on it so presumably this was a present to somebody for their allotment.
Sites are being prepared for the new year with new growth already coming through together with last year’s produce stored ready for use.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
I used my usual equipment for this assignment although I also took several photographs on film which I have not submitted for this assignment. The purpose of this is to gain confidence using a medium format film camera.
Compositionally I have tried to produce photographs that show what I saw at the allotments, a bit like Stephen Shore’s work. However, I also did try to balance the image and used lines to lead the viewer into the image as in Fig.5.
The lighting is flat and soft as one would expect from a February day, I think this makes the pictures more objective which was my goal. The way the images are presented are an attempt to show the story of use, adaption of the allotments and traces of activity.
Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
I think the pictures are a good representation of the allotments and help tell the story about their use and the people who tend them and are presented in a coherent manner. Selection of pictures from around 150 or so photographs is something I found difficult and took as long, if not longer, than taking the photographs but I think they communicate the idea that I had.
I chose to photograph in colour because the colours on the allotments at this time of the year are quite muted and other mainly inorganic items stood out. I wanted to be able to show how these items impacted on the visual appearance of the sites and draw attention to their use, for example the red bean poles in Fig. 8.
Additionally, as mentioned in what influenced my style for this assignment was Shore’s comment on taking photographs that “felt natural, that looked like seeing”. I wouldn’t say that my pictures are like Shore’s, his were taken on 35mm film, with a snapshot feel, the pictures being processed on glossy paper by a high street Kodak lab (Tate, s.d.) but my intent was similar and I think this has been achieved.
Demonstration of creativity – Imagination, experimentation, invention
I took approximately 150 pictures for this assignment, these were really a searching exercise trying to show the character and influence of people on the site. There was not a huge amount of experimentation involved as I had a quite clear idea in my mind of what I wanted to show. I haven’t simply shown rows of allotments or sheds in neat order. I have tried to ask questions in my photographs as well as just showing “as is” images. For example, Fig.11 shows an abandoned or neglected allotment, in the background is the signage of one of the low-cost supermarkets, is this the reason for the neglect, is it not worth growing?
Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking
As usual I have tried to be honest in my reflection regarding this assignment. There is limited information available regarding research about allotments but what I did find was interesting, particularly the link to mental health, a topic that thankfully has a higher profile these days.
I found my research into photographers that influenced me on this assignment very interesting, particularly Stephen Shore. When I first saw Shore’s work my reaction was much like the critics reviews of his American Surfaces work which was slated, nowadays however, it is regarded as a significant work in contemporary photography, and after listening to him being interviewed I think I understand that.
What I find most useful is watching or listening to photographers being interviewed. I find this much more helpful in understanding the motivation or thinking behind image(s) rather than reading somebody else writing about the work.
I am now at the end of the first unit of the EYV and I do find that my critical thinking has more clarity and I can articulate my response to photography in a clearer way.
Would I do anything different if I had to do this assignment again? Well, I would have planned a little longer as the weather has been difficult over the last few weeks with storms Ciara and Dennis.
There are no people in my series and at first, I regretted this, but reflecting back on the work I think the series works better showing the traces of activity rather than the activity itself. I think that could be an interesting, different, project for another time.
Finally, the title of this assignment is Photography is simple and I wanted to produce a series of pictures that told a story about the use and traces left on the tended land by the gardeners, a bit like Southam’s two works, A Raft of Carrots and Upton Pyne, but in an objective way like Shore, that simply said this is what I saw and here it is. I think I have achieved this.
If photography is an event, then looking at photography should also be an event.
Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain? Remember that a point is not a shape. It may be a place, or even a ‘discontinuity’ – a gap. The most important thing though is not to try to guess the ‘right answer’ but to make a creative response, to articulate your ‘personal voice’.
Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion, you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 300 words.
Response to brief
Cartier-Bresson is quoted as saying ‘Of course it’s all luck.’ (29 Quotes By Photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, 2014) and ‘…life is once and forever’ (HENRI CARTIER BRESSON – The Decisive Moment 1973_2007, s.d.)
Bresson’s image Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, was captured by placing the lens of his camera through the railings and releasing the shutter button, apparently, he could not even see exactly what he was taking. Maybe a lucky picture but significant and in many ways quite remarkable.
For me the pivotal point is the tension caused by the gap between the heel of the man’s foot and its reflection in the puddle he is trying to jump over.
There is a ladder laying in the puddle and the water ripples away from it indicating that the ladder has been depressed by the man running over it. The ladder also serves as a pointer to the heel and heel reflection gap as do the roof line and railings behind and to the left of the man.
The puddle in what will be the landing place of the man, is like a mirror and for me this provides the tension. Anticipating the heel about to disturb the mirror like qualities of the puddle and the man probably getting his feet wet. My eye is continuously drawn to this.
I took a photograph in May 2019 that I think has a similar pivotal point and tension. The image shows a large stone thrown and mid-air with the smaller of the two boys seems not to have seen the stone that appears to be hovering above his head.
Kawauchi’s image is a still life image of a flower which has been over exposed to produce a very bright image, there is no event happening or about to happen as in Cartier-Bresson’s image instead the image pivots around the bright exposure of the flower
The Sugimoto ‘Theatre’ images are produced by leaving the shutter open for a length of time equal to the length of the film he is recording. The whole film or event is then recorded within one frame, everything from start to finish, the image pivots around the blank screen.
Cartier-Bresson has captured a single moment in time, we can only guess at what took place before and what will take place in the future.