Photographs become pictures

Whenever you see a series of black and white photographs of industrial structures, laid out in a grid, there is a strong possibility that you are looking at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. They are renowned for their typologies. More information and examples of their work can be found at https://www.artsy.net/artist/bernd-and-hilla-becher

The married couple, famed for their contribution to the New Topographics exhibition, founded what has come to be known as the ‘Becher school’ or the ‘Düsseldorf School’. Throughout their teaching career, Bernd and Hilla inspired many aspiring photographers to discover their own voice. Those students included: Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich. With the Bechers as teachers, it's no wonder they went on to achieve great things in the world of photography!

Between the 27th April to 13th August 2017, the Staedel Museum will be exhibiting 'Photographs become pictures'. It will consist of 200 photographs of the Düsseldorf School students. This event will enable people to determine whether there are any similarities between the work of the Becher class, who shared the same teachers. 

The exhibition promises to address some interesting questions, especially when it is easy to view a photograph in isolation, within its frame. We rarely consider the photograph as a continuation of the photographer's own development.  

Putting you in the picture: A note to my assessors

Welcome to my Landscape Learning Log. Links to all of my coursework and assignments can be found on the right hand side of this blog. Short cuts to my assignments can also be found towards the bottom of the screen.

Each assignment has a link to my tutor reports, and if you click an image, then you will be able to view a larger version of it.

 Supporting this digital submission of my coursework is a package that I have posted to the OCA. It consists of:

  • tutor reports
  • Assignment 4: Critical Review
  • 3 printed photographs as a sample for each assignment
  • Assignment 6 Photo book: Fieldwork

Thank you for taking the time to view my work. 

Assignment 6: Response to tutor feedback

Click here for tutor feedback.

Having completed my final assignment, and received my tutor feedback, it seems like the ideal time to reflect on my learning over the last 2 years.  

Ever since I began studying with the OCA, two elements of photographic practice that I had never quite achieved were: taking risks and finding my own voice. However, over the course of this module, I have been successful in achieving this. Whilst I was working through my level 1 modules, I had always wanted to get to study landscape photography. It had always been my intention to discover 'the secret' to taking a good landscape photograph.  

Fieldwork culminated in a photo book, which my tutor believed showed a strong voice. The images I had created represented a familiar subject in a different way. I had taken risks, and by doing so, enabled my 'voice' to be heard. This has encourage me to explore more possibilities in the future, pushing the limits of my own ability. 

I would like to think that the contrast between my first exercise and this assignment illustrates just how far my own concept of landscape photography has come. From a traditional picturesque view of a field, to a wider range of images and perspectives. 

At the moment, I am thinking of studying Digital Image and Culture next. This will enable me to continue and develop my work on multiple exposures and animated gifs.  

Assignment 6: Fieldwork

Task: Produce a series of images that responds to the idea of 'transitions' within the landscape. 

Fieldwork: You reap what you sow. 

Early on in my Landscape course, I stumbled across the location for this assignment, whilst walking along a public footpath. I followed a route which took me through a field of wheat. It was a place that I had driven past many times before, but never really paid much attention to. Now, I had the time to stand there and appreciate the view. Two very distinctive trees towered above a field of wheat. It was late August, and the crop was soon to be harvested. This moment gave me an opportunity to witness the end result of the field. Once the wheat had been gathered, then the whole process would begin again. Therefore I was able to plan where I would focus my attention throughout the course of this project. 

At first, I visited the field every fortnight, photographing various views, including close ups of the soil and hedgerows. I quickly realised that such a regular number of visits made it difficult to distinguish between any significant transition. So, I started to vary the length of time between trips to the field. As I built up an archive of images, I found myself being more selective about what I had photographed. I started to pursue the views that worked best, based on the images I had taken before.  

When I knew that I would be working on this assignment, I envisaged producing a series of seasonal images. However, as the year went on, it was difficult to distinguish between when one season had begun and one ended. Instead, I found myself observing changes in how the footpaths looked and the growth of the crop.  Whilst there were obvious changes in the crop, there were also constants. Thorny hedgerows were transformed into leafy borders, whilst cyclists and runners continued to make their way along the public footpath, across the field. 

During the year, I used Adobe Lightroom to organise my images into those pairs which showed transitions. On one occasion I was fortunate to have photographed the field after a flurry of snow, so this had an influence on the images I captured after then. The weather was a key factor in the changes that I could see, such as dry, stony footpaths being turned to muddy tracks after a heavy shower. The Blurb plugin for Lightroom made it very straight forward to arrange the images into a photo book. 

In order to achieve the varied images in Fieldwork, it has taken a lot of planning and commitment. The strap line for my photo book, "You reap what you sow," refers to both the endeavours of the farmer and the photographer. The photo book itself is a product of a year's toil in the field. 

I don't often print my photographs, so to receive a photo book in the post was very motivating for me. It has encouraged me to consider printing my photographs more often. Furthermore, following my recent exploration of animated gifs and multiple exposures in my 3rd and 5th assignments, I can see how the same techniques could have been used for this assignment. However, I didn't have enough time to take the necessary photographs. Nevertheless, I would like to continue photographing the field over time, and explore using an audio visual presentation. 

An online version of my photo book can be found below. 

 

Artist's Statement  

Convoys of monotonous traffic hurtle up and down the A5. Meanwhile, a much slower series of transitions are unknowingly occurring in the streaks of green, brown and yellow, which blur across their windscreens. Although the mechanics of farming may have changed over the years, the very essence of it has remained much the same. Our contract with nature enables the farmer to put food on our tables, whilst providing the landscape with a structure and purpose. The field encompasses all that is to do with work, life and death. You reap what you sow.  

Assignment 5: Response to tutor feedback

Click here for Tutor feedback

Assignment 5 had been very challenging because it was very much an open brief, based on the course content. However, I enjoyed the creative experience of starting from scratch and developing an idea. I don't think I could have even contemplated producing this work two years ago. My tutor's feedback has helped me to realise how far my photography has come since starting this landscape module. In many ways this was more than just one assignment. It has been a culmination of ideas and techniques that I have developed over the course.

My tutor was very pleased with how I had used GIFs to merge multiple images. I am glad that this method has been successful, after choosing not to produce a slideshow. I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and creative possibilities of layering images. This is something that I am very keen to develop as part of my own style. Therefore, I am hoping to study Level 2: Digital Image and Culture next because it includes projects that involve photomontage. 

During my time with the OCA, 'takes risks' is something that has always eluded me. I have found it difficult to translate this into my own photographic practice. However, now that my tutor believes that this work shows that I 'take risks with many imaginative and successful outcomes, strong evidence of personal voice'. I believe that I have been able to achieve this by having a greater understanding of the work of other practitioners, and that I develop my ideas whilst out taking photographs, instead of sticking rigidly to a brief. 

Assignment 5: Consume

Being able to determine your own brief can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is very liberating to be able to decide on a particular subject and context, however, this presents an infinite number of possibilities, which at first can be quite daunting. It might make it difficult to decide on which route to take. Being spoilt for choice can limit your choice!

Having researched the work of Frank Gohlke for my critical review, I have developed an interest in how photography can document environmental issues. Whilst Gohlke's work included after-math images of disaster zones, I wanted to focus on environmental pressures at a smaller scale. In addition to this, there have been so many adverse weather events in England recently, such as the floods in the North West, that there is a greater importance in all of us being more environmentally aware. Therefore I am interested in exploring how photography can achieve this. 

"Romantic aesthetics of the picturesque and the sublime have traditionally played on the side of the environmentalists," (Giblett and Tolonen, 2012, loc 2491). These idealised, pastoral views represent how the countryside is supposed to be.  However, with only so many ways of depicting unspoilt scenes, photographers have increasingly been focusing their interest in the 'marginal and maligned spaces of the city' (Giblett & Tolonen, (2012). These places of the wreckage of modernity are referred to by Sola Morales (1995) as 'terrain vague'. It is within these 'anxious spaces' (Picon, 2000) where my photography has become drawn to, especially after documenting evidence of fly tipping in my second assignment, Encroachment

Meanwhile, John Ganis' series, Consuming the American Landscape (2003), demonstrates how photography can be used to address some of these concerns, without the visible presence of people. However, Wells (2011, loc 2488) warns that 'Photography in itself cannot comment on the unseen implications...' of environmental degradation, because the underlying issues are complex. Therefore I needed to think carefully about how I would approach this assignment. I wanted my photographs to say the message that I want the viewer to hear.

Furthermore, Wells (2011) draws attention to the fact that we are in danger of being 'over-awed and disempowered' by the wealth of pro-environmental images that now exist. For example, Burtynsky has produced spectacularly sublime and picturesque photographs in projects such as ' Oil'. Burtynsky photographed this subject because of its huge impact on our society. However, these impressive images almost qualify the acceptability of the environmental concerns that lie beneath the surface. Therefore I needed to be sure about the techniques that I choose to use. The creation and presentation of my photographs should not mask the realities that I wanted to highlight. 

For this assignment, I was concerned with the day to day, un-newsworthy changes in my local environment. How we use and abuse the environment can affect it. Farley and Symmons Roberts (2011: loc 26) alluded to some of these vulnerabilities in what they defined as the 'edgelands': "We know that a long and complex interaction between constant natural processes and more recent human activity has largely formed all the landscapes we can see today." It is within this area, that I would like to explore in greater detail, and it makes sense to pursue this in my own locality. 

During my third assignment,  I used multiple exposures to create my submitted images. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process and the challenge that I had set myself. In addition to this, I believe that it is something that I should be building on in order to develop my own personal voice and style. Therefore I wanted to use a similar technique to convey my message, but in a different way. 

At first, I came across  Andreas Lie's composite images of wild animals with an image of their habitat inside their outline. I explored how to use this concept for my own project, such as bricks within the outline of a tree to show how woodland is being replaced by housing. However, the treatment seemed to hinder my progress, because I needed to combine a detailed image within the outline of a bolder one. I had a mental block and couldn't see any way around it. The outcome that I had in mind seemed to be directing the project too much, to the point where it was not achieving my aim.

After some thought, it occurred to me that, if I went out and took the photographs first, then I would have a clearer idea of what would work best. Bearing in mind Coverly's (2012) advice that "Walking makes for content; footage for footage," I went for my photo walk, towards the town centre. A 'stalker' hunting for pairs of images that could be combined together to show the environmental pressures that exist. As my walk progressed, my series of images started to make sense. For example, the clothes recycling bin, I had found on the outskirts, later contrasted with the pile of discarded carrier bags lying on the canal towpath. 

After using Adobe Lightroom to organise my photographs into pairs, such as metal fencing retaining bushes and a wall with weeds cracking through it, I used Photoshop to create composite images. The intention was that the space between the two illustrates our action, or inaction to prevent the change from the desirable to undesirable scene. I then used the resulting images in a slideshow. However, whilst reviewing the slideshow, I felt that it didn't communicate what I wanted to say. The linear nature of the slideshow did not represent how indiscriminate and continuous the changes are, since it directs the viewer on a visual journey that has been predetermined by the photographer. The environmental change that I was witnessing was indiscriminate and continually occurring, with no apparent beginning or end. I wanted the viewer to weave their way through the material in the same way that I had to make my way through the landscape.

As a result of this, I realised that an online exhibition of animated gifs, each showing the transition from one image to another, would enable the viewer to choose their own pathway to view each pair of scenarios. Therefore I needed to revise my project proposal. 

Revised Project Proposal

Produce an online exhibition, which illustrates how the space between urban and rural is altering. Animated gifs will consist of two exposures (each representing either rural or urban consumption), which will automatically transition between each other. The space and time between both images is intended to represent the environmental change. 

The original photographs will be taken as the photographer walks from the outskirts to the town centre of Nuneaton. The images will then be paired to juxtapose urban and rural aspects of similar subjects and situations. 

Artist's Statement 

At the end of 2015, Desmond and Eva visited England and caused misery for 16,000 home owners. This stormy couple were just two of the many freak weather events that have wreaked havoc with our economy and infrastructure. 

Whenever these unpredictable events occur, I always wonder if we really could have done more. News reporters comment on how the government needs to invest in managing the environment, however, it would be naive to assume that environmental damage is solely the result of large scale events, such as floods and hurricanes. Large scale events need more than large scale solutions.  

A need for more houses, as well as a desire for places to shop and to be entertained, have contributed to the urbanisation of the outskirts. Meanwhile, the overgrown countryside has become neglected and left to devour places that have become abandoned. The interface between urban and rural is a battleground, where it is a case of 'consume or be consumed'.

 My online exhibition for Consume

 

Evaluation

Overall I am very pleased with the outcome for this project. I have taught myself how to create animated gifs, which are becoming increasingly used in today's digital world. Furthermore, by displaying them together creates a sense of urgency for the viewer, in the same way that we should be responding to our own environment. Therefore I believe I was right to alter my project proposal. Furthermore it has made me realise that it is important to carefully think through the entire project to ensure that it is suitable and achievable. However I must also be mindful that the method of presentation should not be the driver for the project, at the expense of the message that is needed to be conveyed. 

As well as that, I had chosen a suitable and manageable location, which enabled me to take a good range of photographs that could be combined. If this hadn't have happened then I would have had to explore a different location. 

Meanwhile, this project has caused me to question where the edgelands are. Do they only exist on the outskirts of towns and cities? Or do they radiate out from the centre of urban places? In addition to this, I would like to pursue how animation gifs and other motion methods can be used effectively in photography. 

References

Coverley, M. (2012) Psychogeography. [Kindle Edition]. Pocket Essentials: Harpenden 

Farley, P. & Symmons Roberts, M. (2011) Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness. [Kindle Edition] Jonathan Cape: London  

Giblett, & Tolonen (2012) Photography and Landscape. [Kindle Edition] Intellect: Bristol  

Wells, L. (2011) Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. [Kindle Edition] I. B. Tauris: London  

 

 

Cinemagraphs

Users of social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram will have noticed that some adverts have started to blur the boundary between photographs and video - cinemagraphs. Even Android and iPhone users are able to replicate this effect, which consists of one or two minor elements of motion in a photograph. 

Although this might seem a recent development, it was first used in 2011 by its creators, photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck. They composited a series of photographs into what is perceived as a repeating or continuous motion. The husband and wife team referred to the resulting images as 'cinemagraphs', and used them in their fashion and news photographs. 

Cinemagraphs include a seemingly endless bottle of red wine being poured into a glass, bacon sizzling in a frying pan, and a woman's hair gently blowing in the breeze. This dichotomy of images creates a melancholy experience for the viewer. 

At first I was very unsure about this technique, especially for advertising, because the viewer could be captivated more by the effect rather than the product for sale. However in this fast-paced digital age, cinemagraphs do provide more information to the viewer in the same screen space as a static photograph.  

In particular I am intrigued by how a photographer is able to communicate at a deeper level than can be achieved within the two dimensions of a traditional photograph. It has encouraged me to consider how I could apply this technique to my fifth assignment. Meanwhile I must also bear in mind that cinemagraphs are only applicable to digital media, therefore the subject must be suitable for this type of image. 

Today was one of those reasons why I enjoy studying photography so much. It always fascinates me, how I can suddenly develop an idea, after spending days and weeks without a clue what to do. Today was one of those days where all of what seemed to be disjointed ideas came together to produce my final outcome. 

With the images created from double exposures and put together in a slideshow, I thought my fifth assignment was almost complete. However, the slideshow just didn't seem right for what I wanted to say. It was too linear, I needed to produce something that was more dynamic. Therefore I have decided to explore how animated gifs could be used to present my images. 

 

Exercise 5.7: Prepare your artist's statement

At the end of 2015, Desmond and Eva visited England and caused misery for 16,000 home owners. This stormy couple were just two of the many freak weather events that have wreaked havoc with our economy and infrastructure. 

Whenever these unpredictable events occur, I always wonder if we really could have done more. News reporters comment on how the government needs to invest in managing the environment, however, it would be naive to assume that environmental damage is solely the result of large scale events, such as floods and hurricanes. Large scale events need more than large scale solutions. 

A need for more houses, a desire for places to shop and to be entertained have contributed to the urbanisation of the countryside. Meanwhile, the overgrown countryside has become neglected and left to devour places that have become abandoned. The interface between urban and rural, is a battleground where it is a case of 'consume or be consumed'.  

Living near a river myself, which has a flood management facility, I am very concerned about what the future may bring. In order to prevent an environmental disaster in the future, I believe that we need to be aware of, and respond to, the human and physical impact on the environment at a smaller scale. For example, the carrier bags left on the canal tow path and overgrown grass on steps are small changes, which can have an impact on the environment. 

Consume is my response to this issue. It involved a local walk towards the centre of town, from rural to urban. During the walk, I collected pairs of images that could be juxtaposed with each other, to illustrate the possible environmental changes, from rural to urban, and vice versa. I combined these images as animated gifs, which transition forwards and backwards to reflect the continual shift between the human and physical environments.

This online exhibition of animated gifs is intended to create a sense of tension and urgency for the consumer (viewer). If we pay greater attention to the small things, and do something about it now, then maybe the bigger picture will be  more palatable for all of us.