Sunday, 19 May 2013
This is a picture of a ruined mill in the village of Hawarden, near Chester. I went there recently with my friend Gilly. There are many wonderful places in this area and I will have more pictures to share when I get them processed but I need to start somewhere, so here we are.
We’ve had some interesting discussion on the student site recently about why we are drawn to deserted buildings, with no very definitive answers. There is a sense of melancholy and the passing of time, and in many cases also some visual pleasure in the textures, patterns and shapes made by the process of decay. This isn’t my normal subject-matter but it was such a striking space that I couldn’t resist. I’d brought my tripod along and in some ways this picture is an exercise in improving quality and detail to get the best out of my camera so there will be some further technical reflection below.
Overall I find it quite pleasing – I particularly like the sense of space and light as well as the riot of texture and detail. I’ve noticed that I often seem to go instinctively for pictures with a limited colour range. In this I find the fresh spring greens contrast well with the building details. I have made a large copy of the image (click for full size as it works better for me that way).
This is an HRD composite. I’ve tried to keep it as natural as possible and just to use the blending to capture the full range of tones. I used Nik Software HDR Efex Pro, which I got free as I already owned Silver Efex. Until now I’ve used Photomatix software and I thought it would be interesting to try this by way of comparison. In general I find Nik more user-friendly. It has a much better preview function so you can actually get a good idea of how it will look when finished, which just isn’t the case with Photomatix. That said, this pictures revealed a problem with ghosting. Unlike Photomatix there isn’t any way to tell the program where ghosting is, and although I could see that there was ghosting in one area where some branches had moved – indicated in red below – I simply couldn’t prevent it happening. When fully processed the program had produced some very funky lines and spots of bright colour in that area – see second picture below. This has been very difficult to correct. Some hours working at 300% has produced something that passes muster on a relatively small version such as this but that I’m not truly happy with. I want to try this again in Photomatix and also try perhaps blending in details from one of the originals in that area, but that can wait for another day.
Ghosting aside, I’ve been very happy with the overall quality of this image. I love the detail that can be captured with the D800 sensor, which works very well for wider landscape shots like this – see 100% screen grab below with graffiti detail (click for a full size image). I hope to make a good large print out of this scene, and in general to continue to work on improvements in the technical qualities of my images.
Post now updated with Photomatix version (below - please click on image for full size version). This software dealt much better with the ghosting. It took a few attempts as you really can't tell what is ghosted until it has processed the files, but eventually I selected all the relevant areas and it dealt with it - just a bit of work needed in Camera Raw to remove some chromatic aberration but no pixel-level processing required. I found it overall more difficult to get the fine level of control in other areas that you can have with Nix, and the result is that the image is rather more saturated overall, and at the same time loses more highlight detail. It has a slightly more 'HDR' quality to it, although I selected the most natural options where I could. I don't doubt that eventually I could get some of the highlight detail back in Photomatix, but it is not obvious to me how to get precise control over image qualities even though I've worked with the program for some time. My overall conclusion is that Nik is the more user-friendly software: the Nik image is close to my memory of the scene and what I wanted to capture. I think Nik will be my go-to program from now on, unless I have a tricky ghosting problem.
Posted by Eileen at 17:57
Monday, 1 April 2013
I had my feedback from my tutor on assignment one over a week ago and am a bit delayed in posting my reflections. In line with my normal way of working I wanted to take a little time to think before rushing to print. I also wanted to concentrate on the film editing that I have been putting off starting for some time. Having now posted my Claire and Jackie films and backed everything up (one big learning point about video is that Everything Takes MUCH Longer Than you Think) I am back to stills for a while.
Overall the feedback I got was positive. Norman thought it was an imaginative response to the season and showed strong technical and visual skills. He thinks the blog is well laid out also, which is nice. There are no definite suggestions for change or improvement but there were some interesting observations, which I’ll mention briefly.
Norman didn’t think that photo no. 6 (on the left below) needed further editing, but did agree that no. 9 is perhaps a little messy. He produced an alternative crop that does work well as a comparison (far right below), but as it is a different aspect ratio I can’t use it in the set. Although I don’t think it essential – the photo works reasonably well - I will keep my eye out for an alternative for this slot as I am not completely happy with this picture.
Norman also made an interesting comparison between nos 5 and 8 (left and right below, respectively). The young trees in no. 5 are delicate and intricate and seem full of life against the dark sky. However the trees in no. 8 have quite a different feeling, and don’t have quite the sense of grace and life that the first set had. I hadn’t really noticed that before but do see what he means. Again I don’t think a substitution is essential but I may find a more interesting picture before I have to finally hand these in at the end of the year (just wondering at this stage if we’ll get a break from winter at some point before then).
In conclusion, Norman added that I had shown a good awareness of the subject, researched it thoroughly and shown a good level of critical thinking.
Under suggested reading he drew my attention to a passage in Liz Wells’s Photography: A Critical Introduction (Routledge) second edition, where she expounds ‘considering Landscape as an example of a genre within photography, we are concerned first to identify typical aesthetic and socio-political characteristics of landscape imagery; and second to explore ways in which the genre has accommodated change, reinvented and reinvigorated itself over time’. He hasn't said as much, but what I take form this reference is that this work addresses the first concern – I have considered the aesthetic and socio-political political aspects of this work. What I may not have done so much is to consider ways in which the genre has changed in recent decades. I will bear this in mind. I think that sort of thinking is something that will to some extent occur naturally as I progress through the module in any event. I think it’s natural to start off by finding my feet and developing a general understanding of what landscape means to me and how I want to approach it. As I become more steeped in the subject and continue with the work I think that a more experimental and distinctive approach may develop alongside a wider understanding of contemporary practice.
You mayl have noted my little experiment in a mono version of picture no. 1 above. Which do you prefer?
Posted by Eileen at 18:19
Sunday, 31 March 2013
These three films tell a most remarkable story involving two very special people. They tell the story of Claire, who became so ill with cancer (and 200 hours of radiotherapy) that she almost died. Claire was so ill that she was admitted to a hospice. The care she received there, combined with the support of her primary carer Jackie, helped save her life.
Claire has an extraordinary insight into the experience of moving towards death – she is one of few people who can talk of such an experience from the inside. Jackie is Claire’s former partner. When their relationship ended, Jackie was distraught and for three years they didn’t see each other. But then Jackie learned of Claire’s illness…
The films are consciously not three minutes shorts full of soundbites. They range from 8 to almost 15 minutes long, and repay reflective watching. However if you have time only to watch one film, watch the final one - or even just the last few minutes of it.
The first film tells the narrative story starting with Claire’s diagnosis that an earlier cancer had returned and moving through treatment, the move to the hospice, and recovery.
The second film is Jackie’s story – a reflection on love and their relationship.
In the final film Claire talks of her experience of illness and how it has altered her perspective on life. She discusses her changing attitude to her own mortality, and what she has gained from being so ill. The film, and this set of films, ends with her account of an extraordinary dream.
This has been my first attempt at putting together film from my D800 using Adobe Premiere Pro. There are some learning points and some room for improvement – a few of the transitions could be smoother and I’d like to improve the sound and add titles and perhaps some background music. In a few months time I will upload reworked versions with those enhancements. But I don’t want to delay posting as I think the story in these films stands in its own right and is worth listening to – and it seemed a story worth sharing on Easter Sunday.
This film is part of an ongoing project looking at people who are near to death or are or have suffered from major illnesses, part of the A Graceful Death project. We are all mortal and all have to face the possibility of death at some point. Over time I intend that these films will become a resource showing how people face this, how they struggle and how they cope. I hope that these will become in themselves a reflection on mortality and a source of information and even comfort.
I have two more films to process, another project to start and a lot of learning to do, so watch this space.
Posted by Eileen at 17:30
Sunday, 10 March 2013
Assignment one, Landscape, is finally in. Yaay! It is a month past the date I initially agreed with my tutor. A combination of difficulty initially settling on an idea, terrible weather and then a really bad cold has made this probably my single most challenging assignment ever to complete. I got my cold the day after my shoes ended up looking like this. (I was walking to the side of the road to look at an interesting tree when what looked like solid ground turned out to be quicksand-like mud. It was over a foot deep and I initially left the right hand shoe behind in my struggle to get out, leading to a comical interlude where my friend tried to fish it out with a stick, while I hopped about on a freezing road in muddy bare feet. Mud smells really bad, by the way, and takes a lot of washing to get out.) I also lost an umbrella on another bad shooting day and my trainers have never quite recovered from their own mud bath. Was it worth it? How did twelve little pictures take so much effort? At this stage I am just glad to have finally finished.
I’ve written a lot about the assignment in my note to my tutor and won’t rehearse it all here. In essence the task was to make a set that constitute a response to the current season. I’ve made a set of pictures of trees and houses. The trees are bare but full of life and gesture. The houses are small and geometric. I asked myself why I was making these pictures and the answer always comes back that they somehow encapsulate my feeling about winter, that sense of dullness and hiding and just waiting for spring. I’m not at all sure that this will come across to anyone else, but I felt a strong pull to make these so went with it.
A few sample images:
Here is a link to the folder on Dropbox which includes my full write-up for my tutor, for anyone who is interested. Otherwise the pictures can be found in this folder on Flickr.
Posted by Eileen at 18:43
Sunday, 17 February 2013
I am enjoying the sunshine today, albeit through gritted teeth. I'm making very slow progress with landscape assignment one, and not through lack of trying. To recap: I've decided to do quite a strict typology of winter images. After a lot of exploration, documented in earlier entries, something finally came together in my mind as an idea and I am now quite fixated on finishing this set (I need twelve pictures). The set will continue the exploration from my last two PWDP assignments and is in some ways a different way of looking at two subjects that really interest me (trees and houses).
For reasons that will become obvious when you see the set, I need to take a good number of the pictures in Bognor: indeed that is where the idea first came to me. The set isn’t about Bognor exactly and has some London images; it’s just that Bognor is a rich source of potential material. I was there for four days over Christmas and managed to add a few pictures, but the weather was against me (much rain alternating with occasional bright sunshine) so I made little progress. I planned a trip in mid-January but snow meant the trains weren’t running and I couldn’t get there. I went down last weekend and it poured with rain. I did manage to get two pictures last weekend but if I explain how I got them I think you will see why there are only two. I’d spotted the pictures beforehand, and to get them my friend very kindly drove her car as near as possible to the spot, and then I got out and struggled to take pictures while holding an umbrella to keep the driving rain off the lens. From time to time I had to get back into the car to dry everything off. Eventually the umbrella gave up the ghost and broke (it was seriously windy). I got very wet and rather muddy, but am happy with my two pictures. I just need four more…
So my friend has very kindly agreed to let me stay again next weekend. I have a good idea of what I want to photograph, having reconnoitred the area. I just need one dullish day – even a few dullish hours – to finish the set. I'm not showing the work in progress as I want to show the whole set for – I think it needs to be seen that way for best effect.
Why dullish? why not use sunny pictures, or snowy ones? I took a lot of pictures during the snow and had hoped that maybe one or two would be useful. But they just don’t fit this particular set. The pictures I hope to put forward will be quite severe and not fussy. The snow pictures I took were in the area I live in, which is a densely packed suburb with very little clear space anywhere, so they are really just too busy for this set. I don’t like the idea of never photographing in sunshine (as some photographers do) but this set wants to be in dullish weather and a few sunny pictures in the middle just wouldn't work.
Waiting for the right conditions is of course a landscape photographer’s lot and I have to say that this struggle gives me a new appreciation of the work of the Bechers.
I've been reading ‘Bernd and Hilda Becher - Life and Work’ by Susanne Lange. Looking across the work the rigour of the typologies becomes very clear. Anyone even vaguely familiar with it will know that everything is shot in the same flat light. But in addition the Bechers (Bernd in particular, we are told) are interested in outlines, so that all the pictures show the object outlined against the sky. There are almost no pictures with compromised or messy outlines. In many ways the pictures, whether of domestic half-timbered structures or the industrial buildings for which they are best known, are like an obsessive collector’s prized specimens, row after row, tray after tray, pinned down and flattened out for display against an appropriately neutral background. Thinking about this made me realise how much what I am interested in in this work is contrast and juxtaposition, as well as pattern. In addition the Bechers’ rigour and lack of fussiness appeals to my sense of design and that is something this set will explore. Sometimes I feel a conflict between this patterning controlling tendency and a desire to document the messiness of the world I live in. Resolving that tension satisfactorily will be one of my main challenges in making my books later this year. The desire for beauty and order is a subject that interests Mark Power also, and when I write my essay on his work I intend this to be one of the main themes I explore.
Posted by Eileen at 11:37
Saturday, 16 February 2013
I took the little film above during a wet and windy weekend in Bognor last week. The title Winter Moon came into my head, and when I uploaded it to YouTube a suggestion came up to listen to a rather lovely track of the same name by Stan Getz. I’ve pasted the Getz track in at the end of this post so anyone inclined that way can have it play while they read the rest of this post.
I’ve come across a few interesting articles recently with landscape-related discussions and thought I’d share a few that spark ideas in my mind.
The first is a review of a book called The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane. Macfarlane set out to walk old routes around the UK. You can the whole review on the link below.
One quotation really stood out for me. “ ‘The two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these,’ he tells us: ‘firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? Secondly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?’ And this is a recurring theme in Macfarlane’s work: the idea, as he noted in his Foreword to the anthology A Wilder Vein in 2010, ‘that cognition is site-specific, or motion-sensitive: that we think differently in different landscapes. And therefore, more radically, that certain thoughts might be possible only in certain places, such that when we lose those places, we are losing kinds of imagination as well.’ “
I shall try asking myself that question about both Norbury and Bognor. If I’m feeling really strong, I’ll try answering it. Watch this space…
I found this reflection on weather by Richard Mabey in Guardian Books to be really fascinating – there’s lots of interesting stuff in there, from climate change to famous diarists and their evocations of weather. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/15/richard-mabey-unpredictable-power-nature
The following passage struck me immediately – it’s at once so visual and so full of imagination.
“ The October I moved into a 16th-century timber-framed farmhouse, a mighty wind got up, and was palpable even inside the house. A strange miasma began to drift into the rooms through the beam-joints and knot-holes, an airborne flotsam of rotten wood crumbs, lime-plaster dust, wisps of horsehair and centuries'-old swift droppings, sucked up in the loft and whirled down through the cracks in the ceilings. It was an aerial fossil, evidence that weather, seemingly so much a phenomenon of the now, has currents reaching back into the past and forward into the future – and that it can blow our minds. We forget real good days and invent golden ages, blame the messengers for the bad and then expect to be punished ourselves should we ever be blessed with an inordinately perfect summer. "We'll pay for it," we gloomily predict. When it comes to weather, we're still primitive animists. “
Finally, Sean O’Hagan’s discussion of Alessando Imbriaco’s book ‘The Garden’ is really interesting. http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/feb/15/the-garden-alessandro-imbriaco-photographs# The subject – people living a marginal existence in nature on the edge of the city of Rome - is interesting in itself, as is Imbriaco’s move from a documentary style into something unashamedly romantic for this project. I am tempted to add the book to my ever-expanding wishlist. I do think the subject appeals to an escapist ideal in many of us: my inner child wants to live in a secluded tree house even while I know perfectly well that I am wedded to home comforts such as an insect-free bed and central heating.
Posted by Eileen at 20:01
Sunday, 3 February 2013
|A rarely seen sight - a room full of photographers sewing|
Here are some notes of a course I went to last Saturday on making simple photobook structures. The course was organised by London Independent Photography and was run by Clare Bryan. Clare was a really knowledgeable and helpful tutor, who helped us learn the basics of making simple structures as well as opening our eyes to the creative possibilities of these structures. Clare has an MA in Book Arts from Camberwell College of Art (1997-98). She is a member of ‘FOLD’, a group of four artists working with a combined interest in print and book arts. She has been teaching since 1997 and currently teaches at The City Literary Institute in London. Her work is in both private and public collections, including Yale Centre for British Art, Tate Library and The Government Art Collection.
We started by making a range of simple folded book structures. It was a bit of a revelation to me that with little other than a ruler and craft knife you can make structures that open a range of creative and presentational possibilities. The structure below for example offers possibilities for juxtaposition of images as well as the interplay of internal and external spaces. it could be used with combinations of colours or patterns (I thought about some of my house pictures with patterned details, or seasonal images) or the internal spaces could have internal and the outside external imagery, and so on. Folded structures can be used as normal books and stored flat or in bookshelves, but also offer up a range of options such as a more sculptural 3D display.
We followed the folded structures with simple three hole stitched books with a variety of cover options, and finally on to stitched Japanese slab bindings – that’s what we’re working on in the top picture. You can see from the expression on people’s faces that it was an engrossing session. I really liked the tactile qualities of the little books and the low-fi technology. It made me think of the simple pleasure of making things that I remember from childhood, and it was particularly interesting to me that this simplicity can be a vehicle for quite sophisticated ideas and imagery. The skills we covered are the basic building blocks for book-making. They can be combined and elaborated on to make larger and more complex books but I feel I left with a good overall understanding of the basic principles, which I can build on in due course.
I ended the day with six little booklets which I will be filling in months to come. One is the perfect size for my twelve winter images for Landscape Assignment One. I'll be experimenting with a variety of ways of presenting pictures over the next few months and this will be a welcome (cheap) addition to the range of options. As well as being useful for experimental purposes there is the option to take the thinking further and make more sophisticated artist's books – that is, books where each aspect - structure, cover, paper, printing, colour, etc - is carefully considered and contributes to the whole experience.
We looked at a range of books brought in by Clare and by other members. These covered a gamut from books made to record a memory of a beloved place or person, through simple concertina or flick books, to complex design constructs involving bespoke printing and lettering, cutting and imprinting processes. Clare showed a number of her own books, which use complicated cut-outs to draw us into into an exploration of an image, gradually revealing the whole. Her work often starts from a photographic original which becomes a temple for the final paper design.
Overall I would say this was a very successful event for me personally. Lots of food for thought and ideas that I hope to develop further in the year to come. At £39 for six hours’ intense tuition in Central London it was a bit of a bargain. It was really good to meet other photographers working in London and nearby and to spend time in such a friendly and supportive atmosphere. I’m a relatively recent LIP member and not too active currently but hope to get more involved and get to know fellow members better in future. If you live in London or nearby do check out the LIP website for events and membership details – maybe I’ll meet you at some future session.
Posted by Eileen at 19:42