M2 Wk4: Strategies of Freedom

Week 4: Independent Reflection

It was interesting to consider (very briefly) the philosophy of photography in relation to ‘photographic images NOT taken by a human’ and as I type this, another example pertinent to my work springs to mind, so please do indulge me on a slight deviation from the planned blog…

Forum: Human?

Photo finish technology has a history dating back to the 1940’s, and its use in athletics is now so commonplace that it features in a number of the junior school meetings to which I take competitors.  Indeed, when coaching, if I am required to record alone the times of multiple athletes in a track event, I use a mobile phone app (SprintTimer) that is a fully fledged photo finish solution in my hands.

Photo finish technology allows officials to discriminate between multiple competitors crossing the finish line at nearly the same time.  It is capable of taking 3000+ images per second in order to separate apparent dead heats.  Consequently, it is not uncommon for two competitors to have the same time (recorded to 1/100th second), yet be separated in race position by a photo finish that has a timing accuracy some 30+ times more accurate.

The Omega high-speed video unit below is typical of those used in International Athletics (this being the unit used at the Athletics World Cup, London in July).  The resulting image is familiar to athletes and coaches, but is decidedly unusual as a result of the process used to create the image.  Photo-finish cameras use strip photography, in which a camera is aimed at the finish line from an elevated position. It captures only the sequence of events on that line in the vertical dimension.  Every part of each racer’s body is shown as it appeared the moment it crossed the line; anything stationary is represented as a horizontal streak.  The horizontal position represents time, and time markings along the bottom of the photo can be used to find the exact crossing time of any racer.  The high angle allows judges to see the position of every racer in relation to the others.

The final image often shows a solid white background, which is a continuous scan of the painted finish line.  Racers may appear distorted based on the movement of their limbs and heads as they cross the line; limbs are elongated where they remain static or move backwards in relation to the slit-shutter, or truncated if they move faster than the film moving past the slit.

IMG_5339 (low res)Photo finish

The photo finish image shows Lawrence Clarke winning his heat in the 110m hurdles at the 2014 FBK Games in Hengelo.  As it was captured by a machine, I presume it needs no credit!

Getting back on track…

Relationship between me and my cameras:  My very first SLR was a Canon T70, since when I have only ever used Canon SLRs.  I have moved through the ranks of their professional bodies since the mid 1990’s, when I was using the Canon T90.  Since then, the physical feel and layout of all Canon professional bodies has remained essentially the same, with their design evolving thanks to a close working relationship between Canon and its professional photographers.  As a result, my current main body (EOS-1D X Mark II) fits like a glove thanks to almost 30 years of muscle memory allowing me to use the camera without conscious effort.  I have a friend who uses Nikon kit and bizarre as it sounds, I simply cannot use his cameras effectively – to me they feel odd and unintuitive.  Of course this is not actually the case, but such is the conflict with muscle memory.  Likewise, when I use my Canon G3 X, although becoming more routine, I do still find myself fighting with it resulting in some missed shots.

When does responsibility become a consideration in my approach:  I would hope that I am responsible in all of my photography at many different levels.  I hold an up to date First Aid at Work qualification and carry a first aid kit within my camera bag – safety and welfare would always come first.  Woking long-term with children requires total and unequivocal responsibility first – photography always has to come second.  I have been fortunate enough to teach the children of various A-list celebrities as well as royalty.  This has presented many photographic opportunities that could have been exploited, but not once have I done this – again, my responsibility and loyalty is to my work and the care of the children in my charge.

Can another photographer do what I do /  could I be more original?:  One of the driving forces behind my chosen research project was the woeful lack of good quality images of stained glass.  Indeed it is almost impossible to find any.  I am confident that anyone could do what I do… I am a human carrying out a task and it would be arrogant to presume that I am unique in being able to do what I do.  However, the huge dynamic range found in stained glass windows makes it something that cannot be photographed well by just pointing and shooting – there is a lot of consideration, planning and post-production required.  Perhaps most people simply cannot be bother with that.  It is my belief that the work I am doing with stained glass is currently unique and therefore cannot be more original.  Of course, the reality is that I am doing no more than copying someone else’s art work – an argument that could be levelled at a number of photographic disciplines.

Am I just another ‘button pusher’?:  I would hope that my attention to detail combined with the methodologies I employ label me as a photographer rather than a ‘button pusher’.  Knowledge of my camera; an understanding of light, depth of field, exposure,  perspective and composition, together with post-production skills separate me (I hope!) from the happy snapper.

Experience of the week’s activities:  Happenchance provided me with a couple shots at the ‘Hands off!’ activity, both of which I much enjoyed.  Clearly it is a good thing to put down the go-to tools and push the bounds with less familiar kit.  I was remined of an A-Level photography project that tied me to a fixed focal length lens, having been well used to zoom lenses.  After a short while I became far more at ease with the subject matter because I did not waste time zooming in and out – I had to move to the most appropriate locations.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the close-up work using the iPhone 7’s RedDotCam app: viewing in mono, real-time did change my choice of subject and composition.  While the inevitable limitations of something as simple as a mobile phone’s built-in camera could be frustrating, these were comparatively easy to work around.  I am only saddened that the app does not work on my iPhone X.

Reconsiderations to the core methodology of my project:  This has been another week where work commitments have precluded any project development.  However, it is something that routinely occupies my mind – largely through the anxiety and stress of being able to commit time to it!  It concerns me that I might struggle to photograph (successfully) all of Oxford’s chapels.  More significantly, my plan to include an image of (at least) one stained glass window from every chapel will inevitably require me to commit time, effort and money to some images that might be better left out of an exhibition or book.  I am not very good at compromising my high standards, so that inevitability is going to need careful consideration.

The forms my project / photographs could take moving forward:  It remains my intention to present my work as an exhibition and I am very happy with a selection of double-mounted prints that I have had produced to tout around Oxford’s galleries. The work I carried out in Week 3, producing a travel guide to South Africa reminded me just how much I enjoy desktop publishing. The publication of an accompanying exhibition guide book and/or a visitor’s guide to Oxford’s chapels would be a pleasure to edit and produce and I am well used to dealing with a number of Oxford’s commercial printers.

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