Unreal Composite image

I’m no stranger to composite images, I do them all the time through my work with children.  Children are very good at wanting to be seen in the context of fantasy situations!  The challenges with composite images are the different elements need to gel together well in terms of perspective, colour, light and sharpness.

I generally include an overlaying filter to these types of images to make them appear seamless.  In the image below the dinosaur was far more vibrant than the background so included a filter and it seemed more subtle albeit a strange atmosphere.  The four elements I combined are

  • the background (steps and children)
  • the sky
  • the trees
  • the dinosaur

I really wanted the children to look scared but they had such a good time during shooting they kept laughing.  However, I don’t think it makes the photograph seem any less real as there’s a dinosaur chasing them!

 

dinosaur-in-the-park

Digital Technology in Photography

We live in an age where digital technology has affected most aspects of our lives.  We now shop online, control our heating from our phones and our cars park themselves, it seems there isn’t one aspect of life that hasn’t been changed by digital technology.  The world of photography is no exception.  Where film cameras are no longer the most popular medium, digital cameras are ‘cheap as chips!’  Most of us have a digital camera in one form or another especially with the widespread use of mobile phones.

Aside from hardware there’s plenty of post production editing software readily available and anyone can get a form of this for free.  It’s little wonder that most of the photographs we see have been manipulated in some way but what impact has this had on the way we view photographs? Do we still view them as documented facts or has the reality been taken away?

I carried out some research on the internet and found an article in The Guardian Newspaper  (Jones, 2004) where David Hockney, the English painter and photographer talks about the ‘truth’ in photography.

The Guardian Interview with David Hockney

Hockney states that ‘Everyone used to assume photographs of war were “true” in a way photography can’t be. Then, goes on to say ‘[the] digital age has made such a conception of photography obsolete. You can change any image now in any way you want’.  What Hockney is talking about here is that the photograph is an interpretation of what the photographer wants you to see.  A different angle may tell a very different story.

He also once saw what a famous LA photographer’s portrait of Elton John looked like before it was retouched. The difference, he says, was “hilarious”. And now everyone can do this.  Again a reference to how ‘reality’ can be manipulated.  Here we have two very different outcomes, one to make a situation look worse and another to make a person look better, either way how can we trust what the photograph shows.

This brings to mind the unattainable results we see in magazines that many of our teenage generation are literally killing themselves to achieve, which is due to the encumbrance of the photojournalistic community.  A clear example of where there is little truth in that genre of photography.  On the flip side and quite perversely if you want to look good you need to use the photo editing techniques that photojournalists are killing our confidence with.

I read an extract from Liz Wells, Photography,  a critical introduction, in The real and the digital section, where she puts forward and argument about the consequence of digital technology:

‘One significant consequence of this has been a new merging and lack of definition between photographic genres.’

This is something I’ve been thinking about, especially when I’ve researched and challenged a classification of a photograph.  It can be a confusing subject and sometimes what started out as documentary in the camera can end up as photojournalistic in print.  In a previous post I talked about Paul Seawright’s interview regarding his style of documentary and he stated that ‘if it’s [documentary] too explicit, it becomes photojournalistic’.  Seawright is referring to the manipulation in his photographic process without the use of digital technology.

So where wells is saying a consequence of digital technology is a merging of the genres, Seawright is saying that this can be obtained with thought and technique.

In conclusion, digital technology hasn’t caused us to distrust the photograph, manipulation has been around almost as long as photography itself.  What it has done is give us the ability to be more creative with digital imagery.  There is no difference between a photograph that has been manipulated through the camera than one thats been altered through digital process, we can be fooled by both.  When post production moves into a fantasy or unrealistic realm then its a deliberate manipulation thats obvious to all.

Bibliography

Jones, J. (2004) ‘Disposable Cameras’. In: The Guardian (online) At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/mar/04/photography (Accessed 17 February 2017).

Wells, L (2009) ‘The real and the digital’ Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: routledge, p73-75.

Sarah Pickering – Public Order

Sarah Pickerings Public Order series gives us a very clear insight into a different world.

Sarah Pickering – Public Order

We wouldn’t normally see streets that are devoid of people but series shows us exactly that.

sarah-pickering-river-way-roadblock
Fig 1, River Way (Roadblock) 2004

From the first glance I’m wondering what happened here, theres chaos but no people.  I then notice that the building on the left is merely a facade and suddenly it dawns on me that this is a place used for some sort of practice.

The photographs instantly made me feel on edge because they made me aware that threats exist out there.  The sight of two smashed up cars creating a road block emanates chaos almost as if I can’t get past the photograph myself.  I also feel empty which is likely to be a reaction to the streets being empty.

On reflection I’m not feeling grateful that there are people out there who train in mock towns such as these to keep us safe.  We never think about how or where professionals are trained to keep people safe we really just take for granted that they do.

I don’t think the public order series is misleading.  There are enough clues in the photographs to know that this isn’t a normal town.  In fig 1, we can clearly see that the building on the left is a facade  which demonstrates a good documentary style.

 

Fig 1. Pickering, S. (2004) River Way (Roadblock). At http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/Works/Pulic-Order/workpg-01.html (Accessed 16/02/2017)

Street Photography, Black & White or Colour

I chose the main route through Ironbridge for this exercise as it’s easy to access and theres always people around.  I didn’t really have a theme in mind although looking back at the photos, I must have been in a death and decay kind of mood although it wasn’t intentional!  Well, most of the photos I took are like that but others are ironic so maybe I was in a funny kind of dark mood.  Not that that is the purpose of this exercise which is actually based on the arguments for and against the use of colour in street photography.

As street photography started out exclusively in black and white, it is largely seen as the standard for this genre of photography.  I discussed in a previous post about how Martin Parr was one of the forerunners in the use of colour in street photography and how it worked to his advantage, especially at the time his work became known.

What I need to work out is the differences between colour and black and white in street photography and which I prefer.

Going back to my ‘funny dark’ set of images, which I shot in colour, I also made black and white versions and compared the two.

Where colour triumphs over black and white!

Out of the 30 photographs I took, this is the selection I chose where the colour version is better than the black and white version.  Most of these photos contain a red element that is detrimental to the story I could see in photograph.  In the first photograph the red post box seems to be overshadowed by a huge sale board and it appears (or I made it look that way) that this small post box is for sale using the largest sign possible.  The contrasting colours of red and yellow really jump out in the colour version but in the black and white version the post box is lost against the brick wall.

Again in the ‘superfast broadband is here’ photograph the colour version makes the superfast broadband sign and the no entry sign stand out.  I found the combination quite ironic but one is saying ‘I’m here’, ‘come in’, ‘welcome’ and the other is saying ‘don’t come in’, you’re not welcome’.  This doesn’t translate very well in the black and white version.

From the above selection I think what becomes apparent is that colour separates details and makes certain elements stand out more. The flowers on the bridge are barely noticeable in black and white however in the colour version your eye is drawn to them.

Neither here or there?

The next selection of photographs seem to be impartial to any colour differences.

This set of photographs don’t seem to make any difference being in colour or black and white.

Where black and white triumphs over colour in street photography.

There are two distinct advantages to black and white in this set of images.  The first being, when a photograph consists of similar colours i.e mainly browns, then the black and white equivalent will bring out the varying tones and make details stand out more.  The photograph of the foot demonstrates this perfectly.  Ok, you can see the foot in the colour version but the black and white version highlights it as the main focus.  Secondly black and white versions removes any distracting colours.  The photograph of the shop front, with it being valentines day, distracts away from the main purpose of the photograph, again irony; it’s a second hand shop raising money for charity using items people no longer want or need and outside (from a different company) is a bin with the slogan ‘waste matters’ as of in collusion.  This is what I wanted to translate into a photograph although the window display distracts from that message.

Another advantage of black and white photography is the mood setting appeal which is where the surrealist movement started in street photography.  The photograph of the spiritual event sets the scene better in black and white.  I was going for irony here as the van, I thought at the time, read SShhh…….

Theres also the timeless quality in black and white photographs where colour photos can be dated via the tones of the time.

I’m afraid the last photograph is very cheeky!

To conclude, I have to say, I’m quite surprised by my findings.  Not by the differences i found but how they can be classified.  I will know in future that similar colours are going to look sedate and would be far better photographed in black and white to show up their tones more.  In contrast if the main point of the subject is accentuated by it’s colour then colour is the better choice. There are exceptions to the rule as in most cases but these are good guidelines to stick to.

Which do I prefer?

I’m a life long fan of black and white photography.  I grew up looking at my mum and dad’s photographs from their wedding and honeymoon followed by by eldest sibling.  They were shot and developed in 1963 when Kodak introduced their first instamatic camera making colour photographs more popular and attainable than black and white.  Despite this (my parents wouldn’t have invested) all their photographs are in black and white and I absolutely adored them.

There weren’t any more photographs in my family, other than school ones, until I had my first camera, a polaroid instax camera when I was 10 years old.  I believe my mum threw it out without my knowledge because thats what she did, although I would love to still have it in my possession now as it was possibly the best present they ever bought me.  I couldn’t use it very often though, the film cartridges were too expensive.

So what I mainly knew up until around 1983 is black and white photos and they shall remain my ultimate favourite.  However, in the case of street photography, I really think it depends on what you’re shooting and ironically its the colour that is going to determine that decision.  Looking at my sets and counting the photographs in each section there are more in the black and white section so if this is going to get the most consistent results then it would have to be black and white for me but ultimately it depends on the subject.

 

Paul Seawright – Sectarian Murders

In Paul Seawright’s exhibition entitled ‘Sectetarian Murders’, Seawright revisits the scene of the crimes and photographs each one in his own style.

Paul Seawright – Sectarian murders Exhibition

What type of images do we conjure up when thinking of the scene of a murder?  We would expect it to be quite gruesome, with a body, lots of blood and hopefully some evidence as to how the crime was committed and by whom?  Seawright’s photographs show none of these expected subjects.  Instead the photographs he produced show the scene as it is intended to be used.  Is this a way of documenting the scene or is it an artistic view of the scene?

paul-seawright-sectarian-murders-play-park

paul-seawright-sectarian-murders-waste-ground

As the subject is ‘the places sectarian murders took place’ then it suggests that these photographs do serve as some sort of documentation however, the way it which the scenes have been interpreted aren’t in a documentary style.  In the two examples above (fig.1 and Fig.2) a subjective approach has been taken and lots of consideration has been given to how the viewer will interpret the meaning.  I think this is pushing the boundaries of documentary photography but in a very clever way.  The facts are given underneath each photograph so I can imagine how the scene looked as the crime took place and the scene of crimes officers would have taken the photographs I have in my mind.  Seawright has removed those images and given me an idea of how the scene looked after the murder and probably isn’t dissimilar to how it looked before.  The photograph is no longer documentary and is classified as art.  I’m now wondering what the message is.  What is the meaning of photographing a scene in this way, given the information in the newspaper article written underneath the photograph?  My train thoughts had such a subtle transition form documentary for art that I was barely aware.

In an interview (which can be viewed in the link below) Paul Seawright was asked the question , ‘much of your work is not explicit in its context or narrative, the viewer has to piece it together, can you discuss this?’

Paul Seawright interview

Seawright is basically trying to create a fine line between documentary and art.  In his words he creates this by not being too explicit and not being too ambiguous.  He goes on to explain that if the photographs are too explicit then it becomes journalistic and if they’re too ambiguous then the meaning is lost.  He believes that good art gives up its meaning slowly.  I agree with this statement because objective photography is meant to give you the story instantly as in advertising or journalism.  You would stare at an advertising photograph for very long so the meaning has to hit you in the face.  With more thought and consideration going into a photograph the meaning needs to be eased out.  You need to look for hidden messages and see something new with each view.

In Fig.1 and Fig.2 I’m not entirely sure what the meaning is by looking at the photograph but each time I look I’m building a picture of what the photograph is trying to say.  We are given the facts of murders taking place at these spots however we are shown how life goes on despite horrific events especially in fig. 1 where  a child is being pushed on a swing by it’s father.  Everything returns to normal eventually.  This is now making me wonder what the point of the murder was?  A loss of life, for what?  What’s changed? Nothing!  In Fig. 2 the wasteland is still waste land.  Theres still rubbish dumped everywhere.  Nothing has changed.

If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change it’s meaning?

I don’t think it changes it’s meaning although in Seawright’s case it makes the images more meaningful.  The way in which the scenes have been interpretted are open to suggestion for instance, are the viewpoints the same as those of the murdered victims?  This has a whole lot more meaning that of the documentary type photos.  It’s seen from the eyes of the victim and not the eyes of the investigators.

We have become so desensitised through images on the news of war torn Syria and the senseless waste of life left in the streets for the world to see.  What seawright has created is far more shocking by telling us what happened in one place and showing how normal life happens in that place.  The two are too much of a contrast, seeing a child being pushed on the swings and reading a man had been shot in the head three times, same place, different time, two very different deeds.

Defining a piece of documentary photography as art in my opinion increases it’s meaning however the speed in which it’s delivered is slowed down considerably and therefore is much more considered and lasting.

 

 

Contemporary Street Photography

Most of the research I have carried on street photography starts with a very simple view on the subject in that it’s traditionally shot in black and white.  It all seems to start with Henri Cartier-bresson, famous for his identification of ‘the decisive moment’ and above all a street photographer.

Fig 1. A man jumps form a wooden ladder (1932) Fig 2. Man cycling down street (1932)

Cartier-Bresson worked exclusively in black and white, not always by choice, and this became a tradition amongst fellow street photographers.

Is Black and white the best format for street photography or is colour now acceptable?

When colour photography became widely available it was initially linked to snapshots and mass produced.  When colour became an acceptable art form it also became a new medium for street photographers, pioneered by contemporary street photographers such as, Martin Parr (known as a documentary photographer)  and Joel Meyerowitz who I talked about in a previous post for his photographs of 9/11.

Martin Parr’s work I had the pleasure of seeing in an exhibition, opposite my house, last year.  The exhibition was about ‘Landscapes with machines’ but Parrs contribution was from his ‘Black Country Stories’ project.

martin-parr-factory-father-and-sonFig 2. Untitled (2010)

Ok, so this isn’t strictly street photography but what strikes me is Parr’s bold use of colour.  In an otherwise bleak setting Parr has found vibrancy and this is a good use of colour in documentary, reportage or street photography.  It adds to the story.  If this photograph were in black and white it would portray a very different story and in the context of the black country certain connotations can be applied.

Looking at Parr’s street photography specifically and applying his use of colour we start to see a very different style emerging.

These images were taken during Whitby Goth weekend:

Fig 4 & 5. Untitled (2014)

I chose these images specifically in favour of using colour in street photography because they represent an ‘appropriate’ use of colour.  Black is the main colour associated with Goths so it might seem fitting for the photographs to be in black and white but lets imagine they are.  How well do you think the blackness of the goth (fig.5) would stand out against the other people?  An identical black and white image would make the goth simply blend in.  The point here is to make the goth stand out and to do that Parr needed to show the contrast between the black goth and the surrounding colour.  It’s the colour that tells this story.  In Fig.4 notice the ghostly ship in the background which is perfectly fitting for the subject and a great viewpoint chosen to capture this.  Would the ship be more or less noticeable in black and white?

I think the point is that theres no right or wrong when considering the use of colour in street photography, it all depends on the context.  In the example of the goths, colour is needed to highlight their lack of colour and therefore an appropriate use to maximise the story.

Black and white works well when theres a lot of contrast in light and shade as it accentuates the details and in this case a good use.

Rui Palha, a Portuguese street photographer and one of my inspirations, shoots exclusively in black and white.  You can view his online gallery here Rui Palha . Black and white works well when theres a lot of contrast in light and shade as it accentuates the details.  Rui Palha is particularly good at seeing this contrast almost as if he sees in black and white himself.

Moving away from surrealism

The street photography we know today is a far cry from Cartier-Bresson’s surrealist ideas.  We seem far more concerned with telling the truth through or work today.  This honesty further champions the use of colour in street photography, making it more real.

The use of irony

I keep coming across certain images throughout my research and one photograph that sticks in my mind is by Robert Frank from his collection, The Americans.

robert-frank-flag-on-the-paradeFig 6. Parade Hoboken, New Jersey, (1955)

The irony in this photograph is the American flag is on display, proudly flying in the wind with people watching from their homes.  However, one person is having their view blocked by the very symbol of their pride.  Frank had a knack for spotting these opportunities and it reoccurs many times in his work.

Martin Parr, who I’ve been referencing throughout this post has a very good eye for British irony.  In Fig. 7, we have a photograph of what is the quintessential British holiday.

martin-parr-cry-baby
Fig 7. From The last resort (1983-85)

The sun is shining and people are relaxing in the least relaxing environment.  Theres a baby crying and litter everywhere and mum doesn’t seem too bothered.  I find a lot of irony in this photograph alone as the British, stereotypically, don’t know how to relax.

 

Fig 1. Cartier-Bresson, H. (1932) A man jumps from a wooden ladder. At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/henri-cartier-bresson/ (Accessed 09/02/2017)

Fig 2. Cartier-Breson, H. (1932) A man cycling down street. At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/society/henri-cartier-bresson-the-world-of-henri-cartier-bresson/ (Accessed 09/02/2017)

Fig 3. Parr, M. (2010) Untitled At: http://www.martinparr.com/2010/black-country-stories/ (Accessed 09/02/2017)

Fig 4 & 5. Parr,M. (2014) Untitled At: http://www.martinparr.com/2014/whitby-goth-weekend/ (Accessed 09/02/2017)

Fig 6. Frank, R (1955) Parade Hoboken, New Jersey. At: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/robert-frank-the-americans#slideshow (Accessed 09/02/2017)

Fig 7. Parr, M (1983-85) The Last Resort At: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2S5RYDYDHEB9 (Accessed 09/02/2017)

Research:

Surrealism: www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/surrealism

Edgar Martins – Ruins if the second gilded age(2009)

In my previous post I was talking about ‘late photography’ and how it misrepresents the true story, here, Edgar Martins has found and appropriate use for such a method.  Martins, a British photographer, produced a photo essay for the New York times and showed large format (for extra drama) photographs of houses that were either unfinished building projects or abandoned empty shells.

Given the context of ‘wasted houses’ using a late photography approach to the subject would further it’s meaning as the longer the houses are left, the more neglected they look.  The point being put across what the severity and effects of the house price crash in America so the aftermath method worked in Martins favour.

I tried searching for Martins images in this series but it would appear they have been taken off line.  On further inspection it would appear that Martins had manipulated some of his images and a debate ensued.