M2: The nightmare unfolds

So little time…

The summer months have always been my busiest, as during term time, in addition to the routine full days and six-and-a-half day working weeks, I gain substantial other responsibilities leading groups of students for numerous assorted trips, visits and sporting commitments, which also extend into the holiday period.  Consequently the up-coming Module: Surfaces & Strategies will undoubtedly be a challenge, not just in terms of potentially demanding content, but through a dramatic lack of available time.  Hindsight shows that even my annual holiday is shockingly poorly timed!

Module 2 - Calendar PNG

M2 Wk1: Introduction – Segues in Time

Forum: Looking Back

Find an old image that has some meaning for you.  Scan / take a photograph of the image somewhere that either contributes further meaning or contradicts it.  Post a short summary of that experience.

Lawrence Clarke (low res)Original image: Washington Post (2012) – Jason Richardson Hurdles (semi) 2012, London

The original image, taken during Heat 1 (Semi Finals) of the Men’s 110m Hurdles at the London 2012 Olympics, is a masterclass in the flight phase of hurdle technique.  As Head of Athletics, it is something that I show upcoming athletes to stress the importance of maintaining the trail leg at right angles (for both the knee and the ankle), when above the hurdle.  Richardson went on to win that heat and then gain a Silver medal in the Finals.  Interesting and technically brilliant, but for me, little of that has particular meaning.

DCP_0362 fbDominic Price (2012) – Olympic Games, Men’s 110m Hurdles Final, London

I was in the stadium on that day: 08 August 2012, sadly without a pass allowing me to look down the straight.  Nevertheless, I was well positioned, immediately above the television interview booths, just beyond the finish line; able to capture an image that encapsulates the winning moment for Aries Merritt while showing the top five positions in the race.  However, photography was not my main interest… in the lane to the left of Richardson, during the semi finals, was Team GB’s Lawrence Clarke, someone I have known since he was eight years old and to whom I introduced the hurdles in 1999.

At school, Lawrence showed promise (clearly!) and went on to win the event at Sports Day in subsequent years.  We remained in contact as he rose through the ranks of GB athletics and he was always kind enough to send me tickets when competing.  On that day in 2012, against all expectations, Lawrence qualified for the finals with an impressive PB of 13.31s.  In the final he came fourth, 0.27s outside a podium place.

My composition shows Lawrence Clarke competing at the London 2012 Olympics, on the grass track where he learnt the discipline, with the addition of his bib label and running spikes from the 2012 Olympics.

Interestingly, neither my image nor the Washington Post’s are particularly flattering of Lawrence – of course he was coincidental to the latter, with an American newspaper keen to promote their athletes rather than ours.  To neither have I given wall space, but that does not detract from the fact that they mean something to me: content and meaning in this case being more important than composition.

M2 Wk1: Introduction – Segues in Time

Activity: Place Over Time

  • Step One: Choose a previously made image that relates to your project / subject of interest. You might wish to select a few images as alternatives.
  • Step Two: Revisit your chosen image. Feel free to approach this in your own way or make use of / adapt one of the strategies introduced.
  • Step Three: Display the original image and the new one together in a space / place of your choosing. Photograph the result and post it in the discussion box below.
  • Step Four: Describe your approach and experience in no more than 180 words. Perhaps talk about how the image was chosen, why a specific strategy was adopted and what compromises you had to make in achieving it. Perhaps also mention the impact that the space had / has upon the two images and their relationship.

I am the slave of time on this activity as I am about to head off to the Somme with a group of Year 8 pupils!  This prevented me from focussing on a chapel or aspect of stained glass, however, I have managed to produce a crude interpretation in the style of Ahn Sungseok (I am not including this in the 180 words!):

The original image was an 1898 postcard of the main school building – a façade that is almost unchanged to the present, barring some alterations to the grounds.  This I placed digitally within the current view, including two generations of new buildings to provide a sense of change.  It was interesting to note how wide the original lens must have been, as I needed to shoot at 17mm.

Unable to use a projector in the available time and in the absence of a screen, I was forced to print and matt-laminated the image.  This I planted in the appropriate location and quickly realised the error of having used a 17mm lens: I now needed something for the final step in which I intended to replicate the style of the original postcard.  At just 30cm from the print, a 12mm lens at f/22 just about coped, but I would have liked to include far more within the final picture and without the significant edge distortion.

It was surprisingly windy this morning which proved demanding when photographing a laminated card sheet.

DCP_7060 Edited (low res)

A couple afterthoughts… the original colour image:

DCP_7035 original (low res)

Following feedback requests, here is more technical data relating to the shoot: Unless I am travelling light, in which case I use a Canon G3X, I always shoot full-frame, with a Canon EOS-1DX MkII.  The 17mm shot was taken using a Canon 17-40mm f/4 L.  The 12mm image was courtesy of a Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM (who decides upon these names?!).  I don’t use the Sigma lens very much, but in controlled environments (i.e. indoors) the image quality is pleasingly good and distortion surprisingly minor).

Despite my best efforts, and perhaps unsurprisingly, research in the archives has failed to reveal any record of who produced the assorted school postcards in the 1890’s and as a result, I am unable to elaborate on the kit used for the original image.

Displaying Stained Glass

Moving stained glass window

In my investigation into the display of stained glass, I was drawn to the work of Bill Viola who has brought the some of the magic of Harry Potter’s wizarding world to stained glass.  St. Cuthbert’s Church in Edinburgh (Kirk of the Castle Rock and Princes Street Gardens) is currently home to a video art installation by the American video artist.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_2fb35a34-5d38-11e8-a5a8-017dcfd37dc1James Glossop (2018) – Three Women by Bill Viola, St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh

‘Three Women (2008)’ haThree Women (2008)s most recently been on display in the Grand Palais, Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  It forms part of the Edinburgh Art Festival 2018 and is installed until 1st September.

‘Three Women (2008)’ is part of the Transfigurations series.  In this work, the mother and her daughters enact a transfiguration when they choose to pass through the threshold of water and briefly enter an illuminated realm.

St. Cuthbert’s is one of two buildings in the UK exhibiting a Viola piece.  The other is St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, which houses two permanent video installations ‘Martyrs (2014)’, and its companion piece, ‘Mary (2016)’.

Bill Viola (2008) – Three Women (2008)

M2 Wk1: Strategies of Looking

Week 1: Independent Reflection

In keeping with much of Module 2, my ability to follow the prescribed path will be determined by my work commitments during the second half of the busiest term of the year in a boarding school.  It is almost certain that I will be unable to carry out any photographic work specific to my project until early-mid July.  However, I will be carrying out assorted other photographic tasks relating to my work, which as likely to be the focus of these initial blogs.  Thus I will maintain my CRJ and carry out weekly Independent Reflections, but they may not tick all of the anticipated boxes.

In the academic world of prep. school education, we have come to exam week for all but those who have succeeded in passing into their future schools by way of scholarship entrance.  For that lucky group, the majority of the week was spent in the Somme Battlefields, learning of the lives and deaths of Old Boys from the school who fought in The Great War.

My part was, as always, to recorded images of the sites visited for the school’s social media, its archives, and also for a post-visit project being put together by the boys.  In addition, I provided the technical background to the weapons; the intricacies of warfare, and advice on identifying the various artefacts found on the field trip.

Sadly GDPR precludes the inclusion of some rather poignant images, but below are some that are rather more generic…

IMG_5046 (low res)IMG_5060 (low res)

My current practice:  For this week it has been predominantly one of reportage photography.  This is probably my preferred discipline or at least, the discipline with which I feel most at home.

What did I do / feedback received / response to feedback:  Throughout the week, my photographs were tailored to different audiences.  The school required something akin to picture postcards of the trip for social media purposes.  The image gallery for the boys’ projects necessitated views of each site visited; images of any significant artefacts and images of any war graves of our Old Boys (something also required by the Archives).  Beyond this, I am always keen to improve the composition of pre-existing archive images (I have visited and documented battlefield sites across the globe on some 20+ school trips) and also bolster my own portfolio.  The feedback was entirely positive largely because I have a good long-term understanding of the needs of the various target audiences.  However, from my own point of view, I am still hunting that ‘perfect’, if clichéd, image of poppies in a field – typically thwarted by the time constraints of supervising children.

My methodology:  This is something to which I rarely give a moment’s thought.  So much of photography has to be instinctive and as such, the methodologies of my work are inclined to be almost subconscious.   At least I think that is true of my methodologies, but to ensure that I can tackle this requisite appropriately, I have just Googled ‘photographic methodology’ which produced the following pretentious drivel…

Photography-led research demands a methodology that embraces the implicit in order to generate results that inform practice by making unconscious mental constructs explicit: i.e. a methodology that is able to support an objective theory utilising a subjective medium.

Notwithstanding, I will take a retrospective stab at the methodologies I have used – throughout I hold tight to the importance of composition, with the rule of thirds being a significant consideration whenever possible.  I am always conscious that any faces seen in images for school use should look appropriately for the situation: two children laughing while in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery would not make a usable image, for example.  Because almost all of my work is candid, the wastage is not insignificant – children are never predictable, and where composition is concerned, they are rarely where you want them to be.  So often I miss the ‘perfect’ shot, because as a school master first, I am dealing with a child, rather than looking through a viewfinder.

The forms my project / photographs could take moving forward:  For this week’s work, I am unable to relate the comments directly to my project.  However, thinking of the images I have taken, I know that some will feature in a new gallery that I am creating along a corridor within the school.  For ease of updating and to ensure a reasonable level of child-proofing, the picture frames will be permanently mounted clip-frames typically associated with commercial point-of-sale applications.

Reflection on Week 1 Forum: Looking Back

I much enjoyed this mini-project – it gave a pleasing, holistic glimpse at two aspects of my work that coincide so well.  The post was well received by the small number of colleagues who commented, but feedback was unable to prompt any response from me besides a warm internal glow.

Reflection on Week 1 Activity: Place Over Time

Another enjoyable, if frantic mini-project.  With a tiny window of availability for this work, I had to think quickly and clearly on what I could achieve in a matter of hours.  The results were pleasingly true to Ann Sungseok’s composition, although I took my work to a third level of image which may have been superfluous – the largest image was certainly the most challenging!  I am very happy with the outcome and the idiosyncrasies of the lenses used happened to play to my favour.

It was useful to receive feedback relating to the need for more technical information – rather a foolish oversight on my part.  Such information I duly added and I now take much more care in commenting upon this important aspect of my work.

M2 Wk2: Strategies of Meditation

Forum: ‘Joywar’

Joy Garnett is known for her paintings inspired by accessible digital images. Following an exhibition of her work in 2004, Garnett received a cease and desist letter citing infringement of copyright, from a lawyer representing Susan Meiselas. After a debate, which became known as ‘Joywar’, both put forward their perspectives in an article for Harpers Magazine titled ‘On the Rights of the Molotov Man’.

Think about how you would feel if someone created an artwork that appropriated, referenced or remixed your image. Other than legal action, how could you use your practice to resolve the issue?

Post a concise summary of your thoughts.  Try to think about the debate at different scales as well as in different contexts.

It is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, although Oscar Wilde was rather less sympathetic of imitators in his appendage to that adage: “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

How many times in this course have ween been asked to produce an image in the style of, or inspired by a particular artist? While not necessarily the same as mimicking work, there could be a fine line between the two. ‘Research’ is a useful get-out for such works.

Clearly there is always the chance that reworking of an image could be unflattering, inappropriate or damning of the original. However, if the copy is not defamatory to the subject or artist, and its usage or sale is not detrimental to the market value of the original image, then such mimicry may prove beneficial in drawing a wider audience to one’s photographic work. I would always wish to ensure an appropriate credit to my image in any usage of the artwork, but beyond that I would not be overly concerned.  Perhaps such actions could be used to foster a mutually beneficial collaboration with photographer and artist each promoting their own work as well as that of the other’s.

There is a notable caveat to one field of my photography: a significant part of my portfolio is for the school in which I work, depicting the pupils therein. GDPR and a host of other limitations would render the use these images inappropriate and necessitate firm control over any such appropriation, reference or remixing.

The origins of photography were often heavily influenced by classical art. Oscar Rejlander mastered the very complicated process of combination printing to produce an image that harks back to the Renaissance tradition of multi-figural paintings such as Raphael’s School of Athens. Perhaps it is fitting to go full circle with art now imitating photography.

The Two Ways of Life, Rejlander (original)Oscar Rejlander (1857) – Two Ways of Life

M2 Wk2: Strategies of Mediation

Week 2: Independent Reflection

Can a photograph be considered finished?

My research project is based entirely on the copying of other artist’s work. Driven by the wants of Oxford University and the Colleges, whose permission I require in order to photography their stained glass windows, my intentions are to represent accurately and precisely the stained glass found within the chapels of Oxford, in contrast to almost all existing reproductions of the windows.  Consequently, the published results need to be truthfully representative and with minimal opportunity to be interpretative.  That said I am disinclined to wish to reinterpret works of world renowned artists – I lack the arrogance to think that I could produce something that was ever anything more than a bastardisation of the excellence exhibited by  William Morris, Henry Holiday, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, et al.

With the majority of artists whose work I am photographing no longer alive, I am happy to consider their artwork ‘finished’ – perhaps ‘completed’ would be a better word.  However, the nature of stained glass is such that it is brought to life by an ever changing medium: daylight.  Their appearance is changed dramatically by the weather, seasons and time of day, but equally by foliage and the ever-changing construction of buildings around them.  If my aim is to recreate perfectly an image of a stained glass window, I believe that this can only be done with the window removed, cleaned and backlit by a uniform daylight-balanced light.  Until that is achieved, none of my photographs can be considered truly representative and as such, until then , the work cannot be considered ‘finished’.  The best I can achieve is to aim to photograph windows in the optimum light: bright, but overcast conditions where they are lit by diffused, full-spectrum light (a colour temperature around 6500K).

I have already photographed some of the lights within Harris Manchester College, but am yet to focus upon any of The Days of Creation series (1895-1899) by Edward Burne-Jones.  In keeping with almost all stained glass, prior to commissioning drawings and watercolours were produced, but in this case, they themselves became famous works of art.  From 1870 to 1876, Burne-Jones’ composed using various media depictions of God’s six days of creation.  He designed modelli in pencil cartoons for watercolour paintings on gouache, containing shell gold and platinum paint.  In turn, these modelli were employed to compose stained glass windows and porcelain tiles for several chapels.  When I do revisit HMC, it will certainly be interesting to see the similarities and differences between my photographs of these stained glass windows and Burne-Jones’ watercolours and ceramic tiles.

Following my research this week, I will try to find the time to investigating how significant is the impact of differing daylight on a stained glass window.  It would be fascinating to make such a study throughout the seasons of a year, but this would be far from practical or practicable.  However, more achievable is a day long study which might disprove my beliefs that I should only photograph the windows in bright, but overcast conditions.

Thus far, I have only viewed my stained glass window images on computer screens, in a book or printed on 310gsm standard fine art paper.  Despite the nature of the originals, I am very much taken by the art paper prints.  However, it would seem foolhardy not to investigate assorted backlit options.

M2 Wk4: Strategies of Freedom

Forum: Human?

Photographic images NOT made by a human… are humans truly not involved? 

In my twilight years, as I lounge on the veranda of a retirement home, I am confident that I will bore the socks of my contemporaries, as I postulate photography’s philosophical frivolities.  While time is significantly more precious, I will move straight past the semantics of whether a camera or an operator takes a photograph.  However, this Forum did inspire me to conduct research in order to reconfirm my belief that no natural entity is capable of recording an image… therefore all photographs are ultimately made by humans as cameras (and all such recording devices) are man-made.

David Slater’s infamous ‘black macaque self-portrait’ has received far too many column inches to be included here, but throughout photographic history far more technically significant photographs have been taken by animals: that is to say, the animal has triggered the shutter.

It was Eadweard Muybridge who pioneered what we now refer to as ‘camera traps’, using wires that when tripped, trigger the shutter of a camera.  While he can be attributed to a host of fascinating motion studies, and his stop-motion technique was an early form of animation that helped pave the way for the motion-picture industry, it was a wager that first brought him to the attention of the public:

The Horse in Motion.gif

Eadweard Muybridge (1878) The Horse in Motion, Palo Alto

When a horse trots or gallops, does it ever become fully airborne?  This was the question photographer Eadweard Muybridge set out to answer in 1878.  Railroad tycoon and former California governor Leland Stanford was convinced the answer was yes and commissioned Muybridge to provide proof.  Muybridge developed a way to take photos with an exposure lasting a fraction of a second and, with reporters as witnesses, arranged 12 cameras along a track on Stanford’s estate.

As a horse sped by, it tripped wires connected to the cameras, which took 12 photos in rapid succession.  Muybridge developed the images on site and, in the frames, revealed that a horse is completely aloft with its hooves tucked underneath it for a brief moment during a stride.  The revelation, imperceptible to the naked eye but apparent through photography, marked a new purpose for the medium: it could capture truth through technology.

130 years later, camera traps were again in the public eye as a result of the Grand Title Winner 2008, Wildlife Photographer of the Year.  This proved a contentious decision, as it was argued that a camera triggered by the animal in photograph should not earn such a prestigious title for the owner of the photographic equipment.  However, the background to Steve Winter’s exceptional image ‘Snowstorm leopard’ makes it abundantly clear that had he not committed more than a year to the pursuit of this image, it would never have happened:

Snowstorm leopard.jpg

Steve Winter (2008) Snowstorm leopard, Ladak’s Hemis High Altitude National Park, India

For more than ten months, Winter had been using remote-controlled cameras placed along the Husing Trail, in Ladak’s Hemis High Altitude National Park, India, hoping to capture a snow leopard in a snowfall with a backdrop that conjured up the atmosphere of its extreme environment, but to no avail.  While he had captured a number of images, they all fell short of his aim.

Warmer weather forced him to relocate the camera traps to higher altitudes along the trail.  Here he found an ideal location where three trails converge.  Sadly the winter of 2007 was bitterly cold with hardly any snow, and it seemed that his hopes would not be fulfilled.  However, on checking the camera one May morning, he found the composition exactly as he had hoped, with a snow leopard gazing back in blustery conditions, composed perfectly.

Photographs taken by camera traps are a significant part off Winter’s work, making up 10-20 % of his images.  Huge patience is required – often many, many months, together with a comprehensive understanding off the behaviour of the animal in order to place the devices appropriately.  These devices are not remotely controlled: you cannot react to a developing situation by changing the angle of view, for example.  The camera traps need to be set perfectly, with the anticipated image being composed with painstaking precision prior to leaving the camera to work its magic…. or more precisely, in the hope that an animal will trigger the trap.

I have used camera traps for assorted purposes… most trivially in order to monitor a mouse that had taken up residence in my home, so that I could target the most opportune location for placement of a humane trap, in order to relocate him.  Here, almost no composition was necessary, I was shooting blind, simply hoping to capture an image of the rodent. For this work, I definitely did not consider myself as the photographer off a mouse – I simply facilitated a mouse selfie.  There was infinitely more human involvement in the development of the equipment being used.  Perhaps had I committed the best part of a year towards capturing the perfectly compose image, then I would hope to claim ownership.

While all of these photographs have been captured thanks to the (inadvertent) intervention of ‘non-humans’, returning to my opening point, I remain convinced that it is not possible to capture a ‘photograph’ devoid of human involvement, since there is no natural process that can do this.

M2 Wk4: Strategies of Freedom

Activity: Hands off!

Week 4 saw me leading a Year 8 Adventure Activities Trip to Dartmoor.  Opportunities to detour via anything stained glass in nature, with 50 teenaged children, were few.  However, for the trip I ditched my EOS-1D X MkII and travelled with the (relatively) diminutive Canon PowerShot G3 X in an effort to fulfil at least a small part of the Week 4 activity brief.

With the boys in the safe hands of a team of instructors, and having fulfilled the bread and butter photographic obligations for the school, I had the opportunity to appreciate the immediate surrounds.  Stepping just 10m back from the noise and bustle of 50 teenaged children enjoying rock climbing and abseiling on the Dewerstone near Shaugh Prior on the edge of Dartmoor, the sound soon dropped off leaving me enveloped in the beauty and tranquillity of the woodland.

Even on a bright sunny day, the woodland floor can be surprisingly dark, but shafts of sunlight penetrate the canopy to highlight the details of the native ferns.  This provided me with the chance to experiment with the macro settings on my point-and-shoot camera.  Although I was constantly wishing that I had travelled with my DSLR, the Canon G3 X coped pleasingly well, limited only (I suspect) by my lack of familiarity with its controls… that said, in the gentle breeze that was constantly playing with the plant life, it was a nightmare trying to focus on the tip of a frond!

IMG_5143 lrIMG_5148 lrIMG_5155 lrIMG_5159 lrIMG_5164 lr

M2 Wk3: Strategies of Sharing

Activity: Making Zines

In keeping with many aspects of this module, school work and commitments have kept me from committing to this activity in the appropriate timeframe (or manner).  In the case of making zines, this precludes my ability to collaborate with colleagues or come close to meeting the deadline.  Necessity dictates that some of my coursework will have to follow, and hopefully, enhance the work that I have to produce in-school. Pleasingly, not all of my work is unrelated.

For a school trip to South Africa, it seemed appropriate to produced a guide book for the pupils. The design brief is to help limit the countless questions inevitably raised by the children prior to and during the trip.  An important part of the conceptual work is collaboration with those travelling: what are they unsure about?  What concerns might they have?  What information would it be helpful for them to know?  Consequently, they provided the questions that fuelled the majority of the content.

To that end, the zine takes the form of a guide book to support a school trip to South Africa in mid July.

Hard copies have already been produced in-house through Reprographics, using high quality 100gsm paper stock.  These have been distributed to the children, with plenty spares or the trip itself.

A flipbook version is linked below:

SA2018 - KZN (low res)