Content for assignment 5: Exhibition concept
- Introduction to the theme
- Theoretical basis for project
- Main assignment photos and revised photos based upon tutor feedback. Title: ‘The state we’re in’ (9 images in slide show)
- Tutor feedback and comments
- Learning log for assignment
- Bibliography and Illustrations http://wp.me/p5YgoM-lL
Research and analysis (important) Assignment 5: Follow link below:
1. Introduction to the theme
In assignment five (exhibition concept) I’ve chosen to work within the social documentary genre of narrative but also I have combined three staged images to the theme. I could have chosen any one of the genres of photography for a project because in truth they all interest me for different reasons. However, on this occasion I wanted to explore using photography in a broad socially conscious way to inform and hopefully stimulate questions or thoughts about our values.
Physical exhibition April 2016
I plan to exhibit these photos end of April in a meditation and cultural centre on polyboard printed 30×40. Once that is done and mounted I will include a photo here in this section.
I had chosen the theme entitled Distracted till death which later turned into The state we’re in. The idea is to explore social collective values and loss of meaning in contemporary life.
I am presenting a series of images that aim to follow a story line through narrative.
The narrative has a somewhat questioning tone. What have we lost, what are we distracted by (what is that state?) and what is the solution? In order to prepare for the assignment my research took a meandering route through Great awakening, buddhist social theory ( Loy, 2003) and photography and narrative:what is involved in telling a story? ( Campbell, 2010). (Hariman, 2010) says in one of his essays: ‘Things speak louder than faces’. Therefore my photos depict a combination of people in situations, doing the things that humans unwittingly do and things that depict the result of that human activity. Later in the sequence there is a change of tone that moves towards something of showing an alternative and then possible resolution; that of which is to go inwards. To get to know oneself from the inside out and therefore be able to reconnect with the value of being human and using this short time each of us has to make positive change. This goes against the grain of an obsession with accumulation and material possession for its own sake.
2.Theoretical basis for the project.
In the beginning of the famous buddhist text Hundred Thousand songs of Milarepa (Chang, 1962) the author starts the introduction by telling us that modern man is lost. The problem is one of disconnection. Disconnection from the natural world and disconnection from a sense of social responsibility. Mostly,the issue is one of disconnection from deeper values or spiritual values which implies an ethical sense and a sense of acting from wisdom, not ignorance.
The business of talking about loss of meaning is difficult as meaning can have different interpretations and different people place meaning in different ways to the values that they hold. What I am aiming to depict here is that meaning cannot be found in the external world in any lasting and satisfying way. We are troubled by change and we place our meaning on impermanent changing phenomena. This leads us into difficulty, namely, suffering.
We are distracted in the sense of ignoring these facts or simply ignorant to the facts that are in front of us. Habitually we digress and put our energy and attention increasingly into material valuesthings. Consumption is the new religion and what you have says who you are.
In The great transformation(Polanyi, 1944:page not known) states: ‘Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system’ This is the way things have become due to a dominating capitalist system which encourages wealth and obscene levels of preoccupation with material comfort that go way beyond the necessities of every day life. This model for living seems to be driving us as a global community further away from each other and from a deeper meaning.
In the end what all humans want is to be well and happy. It is a common value throughout humanity. No one wants to suffer. However, we go about things in a way that causes suffering. This is based on views and attitudes that never really get questioned or explored. We live by assumption and habit. One question I’d like to ask then throughout these photos is: What are the real values that matter to us? Perhaps we need a deep reappraisal and collective questioning as to what is the value of so much accumulation and endless activity, if in the end it really does not bring wellbeing, or lasting happiness.
I have taken quite a bit of inspiration from a book Great awakening (Loy, 2003). A passage I quote here is an example of how he writes:
‘For us material wellbeing has become increasingly important because of our loss of faith in any other possibility of fulfilment.’ (Loy, 2003)
I couldn’t help noticing as I was preparing for the project that it was difficult to research a topic that is evident in some ways but in other ways quite abstract for a lot of people: a loss of values is only possible to see if you have another point of reference. If you are ensconced in worldly activity and aims, it may be that simply there is no notion of higher values or meaning and that it does not even occur to us to think about it. So why and who is this exhibition for. Primarily for those that already have some notion of these other possibilities or at least are perhaps questioning what values they have. The context of display for the physical exhibition will be a meditation centre which also serves as a cultural centre.
So returning to the story that I wanted to tell with this series, it is one of a loss of deeper meaning. However, I did not want to show down and outs in the street or poverty-stricken faces that make people sigh when they look at them. I wanted to show simple daily actions that we are all doing but perhaps not connecting with as an issue or a problem. Modern life is so established and yet many have a deep sense that something somewhere is not quite right.
As I moved from photo to photo I had in my mind where I was trying to go with the series. There needed to be a narrative unfoldment and there needed to be a sense of some drama and perhaps to provoke some questions. Do people look at art and feel that they are provoked to question? This is one of the questions in my mind as yet not fully answered. Or do we just look for more entertainment? What makes an image have impact without necessarily being overly explicit? Should there be something left for the imagination to follow and work with? These are some of the questions that I have been working with over the duration of the course this year.
Near the end of the sequence I was keen to include some reference to death. Death being the final decider in our life scheme and plan and the element that we can neither avoid, delay or pay off. It seems important to me in a photo sequence like this to include the theme of death. The cars in the scrap yard are a symbolic gesture of death in material form. It is a depiction of the way death can be seen as sort of discarding of the old and then the following photos are about if you like, renaissance or rebirth into some other possibility. There the series of images attempts to resolve itself with this open-ended image of the tunnel. Coming into light was another theme I wanted to portray.
5. Assignment 5 images followed by tutor feedback
Slide show format with stills beneath. The first image in the sequence is the boy with the sword walking past applemac.
Assignment 5 Stills set out below
REVISED ASSIGNMENT PHOTOS BASED UPON TUTOR FEEDBACK
After some thought I reworked the images based upon my tutor feedback. At first there was resistance to changing the images. The main issue was one of aspect ratio and questionably, unnecessary elements in the pictures that did not serve the purpose intended.
What are the changes?
The images now have a square format and so the aspect ration of the images has been drastically changed. This means that I have cut out a fair bit of detail from the images, some of which formed part of the composition and the story for of the set. What has been gained is less ambiguity within the images and more close in detail.
Also I have changed the photo of the woman staring into the mirror and face-to-face with her fate. This was based upon a suggestion to change two aspects. One, the skull was not looking into the face of the protagonist but instead into the camera. I have made a substantial adjustment to the image to correct this. Also it was suggested that the image would be best with the detail of the roof missing from the building.
I was questioned about the use of the concept of time. I was asked whether time was the main point of the sequence or, as the title suggests, one of unrest and social distraction leading to a loss of awareness of the fact that death is looming over us all. My question was are we wasting our time? Are we in pursuit of the things that can’t and don’t give us lasting happiness? Time therefore has an important element in the assignment as time is the final decider of what we can and can’t do in our lifetimes. We have limited time. If this was not brought out sufficiently in the theme in the explanation then that is a fault. However, for me there is no contradiction in the theme.
It was also commented that there could be mis-interpretation of the sequence as the theme was towards being metaphysical, not something immediately graspable. I comment about this in the explanation about the assignment in this page so it was no surprise to me that this was brought up as an issue. I was taking a risk! However, as yet I await some feedback from peers and friends to get their impressions.
Learning from this feedback. As always the feedback makes one think things through again. I see that the images in a few cases were not working as well as I initially thought. I have eliminated one image from the set as I realised (again based on feedback) that doubling up (although different images) did not serve as they were too similar (see above original slide show). Cutting the images back to 1×1 has given the sequence a uniform feel. As I intend to print and hang it as an exhibition this will serve well. Also the cropping of the scenes draws the eye more immediately to the detail of the image that is important. I have seen that there are times when a broader image with more content can serve well but in the case of this sequence it seems better to keep the frame tight and to the point.
REVISED IMAGES IN SLIDE SHOW FORMAT
The process of producing this assignment has been at times cathartic and challenging. Like being let loose with a gun and being asked to come back with a dead wild animal. The process took two months from conception to completion and involved various changes and setbacks. There was a strong idea in mind from the beginning of what I wanted to do but how I was going to do it took some working out. I started as stated about with some ideas and then let my reading and research guide the unfoldment of the process. Finally my tutor’s words start to make sense. Research and conceptual clarity are two things I’ve had feedback on all along. I can now see why although still have a way to go to getting where I want to be.
I worked hard on this assignment. It was noted by all around me, my obsession and disappearance into a pensive world. I’ve realised that photography has a much deeper value for me than I first realised. I think that what drives my inspiration is a deep sense of urgency and desire to see change in the world. This seems to be my muse. Therefore this theme of values is something of a photographic test. I was exploring the possibility of saying more with images than words. It is easy to say: ‘yes we want change in the world’ but how do we provoke action in one another? There is such a collective inertia in our modern societies. So this is why I wanted to make reference to death as death is a great motivator if you really see what it is saying. All things are impermanent, all is subject to change.
So my research really began with trying to clarify my concept as noted from my tutor; get it clear in your head! Defining terms even if need be. So I thought about that and used a book by the author mentioned before by David Loy the buddhist social writer. This book stimulated many ideas…too many! It also touched on values of my own so I wanted to use this as a basis for my work.
I went to some lengths to get permissions and in one case took a risk of not getting permissions but just bolding getting the photo. I spent some time in apple mac trying to see the look on peoples’ faces that you often see when they are making a purchase that they know somewhere, someone else in a sense will be paying for. I don’t say this to make anyone else feel guilty but simply to highlight this phenomena that applies to us all if we are honest. A sense of temporary elation followed by a dullness in the gut. I was trying to capture those moments in the shop without getting thrown out. I knew I would not get permission as I tried several times in several stores. In the end I just went the mischievous photographer route and did it anyway. The conditions did not allow for my usual more contemplative approach whereby I like to be a good while just looking and taking in the scene or the atmosphere.
The scarp yard images were by permission, although a bit of a challenge as at first I got told no. I waited and asked again explaining ‘look I’m a student not the tax authorities’. I managed to win the confidence of the owner but had to work quickly as the environment was a bit dangerous with cars hanging over my head.
Later on I move towards an attempted resolution of the work by placing a meditating person in the sequence and then a scene of a woman looking into the mirror to see her inner fate looking back at her. This was a staged photo and my favourite in the whole sequence.
I had some misgivings at first about placing staged images into the context of a narrative about loss of values. Some self-doubt. Is it manipulating something to do it this way? However, I could see that these doubts might have genuine questions that needed answering. I went ahead and made this photo based on the inspiration of the above images already mentioned in the analysis.
The final image is that of a person walking towards the light. For this photo I experimented putting a plastic bag over the rim of the 85mm lens that I was using to give a blurred dream like effect. However, in the end I decided to use a little motion blur in photoshop. The light in the other images did not give the effect that I wanted.
Samples of tunnel images
Sample images from the penultimate photo in the sequence.Why I chose this image is because I wanted to focus the viewer into the reflection on the mirror on the skull without distracting the attention.
The research that I have done for the project has already been mentioned above, including analysis of two images and the inclusion of a drawing that was the trigger for some ideas in the penultimate image.
For all of the photographs I needed to use film processing. I have applied this to all of the images to give a uniform feel. I used this post production because I wanted the feel of observing a movie. Seeing life happening as if it were a film through the lens of the observer. I also added to each image a degree of noise to enhance this feel in the photo. I shot the images using mainly 28mm and 85mm lenses at fixed focal length. Since my previous studies of photography always insisted on using fixed focal lengths I have become habituated and convinced that this is a good way to work. To my surprise I only used the tripod for two of the images which where the final two in the sequence. And for sure some of the images lack a bit of sharpness. However, as I was working more with the style of film production and then placing in noise I have to say that pin sharpness has not been my priority for these images. In others that I have done, it has been.In terms of lighting for the photos there are two that have special lighting that I wished to emphasis.Firstly, the scene of the woman looking at her mobile in the darkness. I chose this setting to emphasis lighting the face from the screen of the device. The photo of the woman looking into the mirror was lit using the speed light that I have with a small soft box placed on top. I used very low power on the flash, just enough to bring the main subject out a little into the frame.
Other symbolic meanings of the photos
What I want to say and what gets understood might be two different things. One thing that my tutor pointed out early on in the course is that we have to choose what to put in and leave out of the frame. It is our responsibility and indeed it is! I wanted to portray two sides of a story. One actual and the other potential. The actual is the one of consumerism as a replacement for perhaps deeper values; that the consumerist philosophy is flawed. The other, the fact that we can move on from it, there is a possibility to not fall into this mill of views and have our lives dominated by that.
The symbolism in my mind at least for the first two images is quite straightforward. Perhaps too straightforward. Maybe an allusion to materialism could have been more interesting. But I did not want to lose my viewers right from the start so I thought that I should at least portray to some extent the problem. As I waited outside of apple mac, along came a youngish man with a very big mock sword. This was my moment. The sword is a symbol for the wisdom of cutting through and I later interpreted it as a somewhat juxtaposed image with applemac in the background. One could also interpret it as the struggle. A symbol of war of forces.
Inside the shop you see time, three different aspects of it being portrayed in digital format. This was a shot that I was not intentionally focused on but one that I am pleased that I used in the sequence although the image itself has its failings in terms of dramaturgy (Campbell’s second set of principles for photographic narrative). Time is the great decider and like death, we can’t own it or control it.
6. Learning log for this assignment:
The learning log for this assignment covers all the areas related to the assignment but not the exercises for part 5.
In the beginning I was working with the concept and idea for the project I wanted to carry out. Much of the explorations that I have been doing as part of the learning are documented here in these pages in the above sections. Exploring the idea of narrative in photography took me beyond the exercises of the narrative and communication section of this course and into the hands of David Campbell’s article on narrative in photography which I have talked about above and left a link to the relevant article. The main features of learning here for me, which are of course guide lines, are those of the four aspects of narrative namely:
4 elements of narrative:
With these elements as I guide I set out my narrative and tried to use it as a frame-work for the series of 9 pictures. My tendency is to want to add more images when working with sequences and series. A conversation with my tutor about a particular exercise made me re-think this when he proposed the idea of saying more with less! And even being less explicit within the photo – alluding to a point, reflection idea or concept as opposed to pointing it out directly. For me, this is a huge area of learning. To be able to see and read into the image and interpret it at different levels seem like a powerful potential thing to be able to do with a photograph. It also requires a lot of the viewer in terms of their imagination and capacity to engage.
I had various questions in mind whilst working and tried to use these to clarify the project: 1. Is the sequence harmonised and unified? 2. What should the proportions be within the photos? Rhythm and balance in the photos and the sequence?
These are some of the questions that come into the course early on in terms of thinking about our work and examining that of other photographers. I referred a fair amount to the book Photography the whole story (Hacking, 2012) as a resource for reviewing narrative and exploring the difference in genre.
I think that in the photos of this assignment I have gone in with the idea of making strong compositions. I think I might have succeeded in some of these images but not all. If I were to re-shoot I might look for more drama in the first and second images in order to make a stronger impact more quickly. As it is it seems that the sequence gets going more from about picture 3 or 4 and then culminates in terms of climax in the penultimate image with the girl facing death in the mirror.
What I have wanted to say in the work is ‘look, we are wasting time we need to be looking at more important things here!’. That actually life can’t be about accumulation, earning and spending, it is too narrow a vision to live by, but this is what we believe in at some level because this where we are putting much of our energy and time. Its seductive but illusory.
So I have learned but not perfected by any means, quite a lot about narrative. Then there was learning that took place in terms of framing the pictures. I wanted to avoid a purely evidence style and so tried to bring in a drama to the images by choosing angles that accentuated the subject. So for example I shot the first photo of the boy walking past the apple mac store (which is pure street photography shot in 1 minute) for a low angle. I was practically on the floor. I had already framed the doorway and I waited for a good participant to involve themselves unwittingly in the photo. This moment came with the figure. I was not quite sure what I was going to get. I think that I could of thought through a bit more this first shot. What I had visualised actually was something a bit different but then it was starting to look like a cliché. I wanted a heaving shopping scene, but you don’t get that in apple mac because people are spending big money. It’s all a bit more tentative (second shot). Black friday does not happen in apple mac stores, but that is the kind of thing that I wanted.
I also wanted to portray conflict and some resolution. The conflict being a way the desire for things and the distraction that we see in the face of the woman looking at her mobile in the dark. As for the resolution, I feel I could have done better here. The image of someone meditating is fair enough, but it might be too misinterpreted. What I wanted to say with this photo is that the answer is more inward, not about more accumulation. However, I think that I could have used a subtler portrayal of something else to give maybe even a stronger message. Maybe something like the face of the portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Beatrice taken in 1866.(hacking, 2012:126) Here there is a look of utter simplicity in her face, of letting go.
In terms of lighting I think that I still have a long way to go. Especially with optimising lighting in the outdoors arena. Some of the photos that I took I could not get to them at the times of day that I wanted to take them and at times there was too much light. At others not enough. What do you do when you are trying to take a clandestine shot in an apple mac shop when you can hardly use your off-board flash and tripod? I need to work with what I had but learning to work faster and more precisely in terms of exposing the image correctly and framing optimally is work in progress.
7. In conclusion I have tried to use this template for my assignment of the four elements below given by David Campbell (see link above).
4 elements of narrative:
Sketches done for the assignment. The original idea was to produce a set of ten pairs of images making twenty photos. Each initial photo in the pair would have been juxtaposed or presented with a connotation of the first. I reviewed the idea with my tutor and he thought it to be a bit excessive. It is an idea that I would still like to develop, but would require some more conceptual development.
Also two of the images changed and one more has been added. In the second sequence I decided to abandon putting in an image of a casino. The idea was to portray as it were, time being wasted. I also wanted to have a photo of a collection of coffins that would be a sort of connotation of the scrap yard with the cars piled up one another. Unfortunately I could not gain access to this particular photo. Instead I settled on using two images that portray the consumerist fascination in the form of the apple mac shop and latter another image from the scrap yard that is at least in my view a reinforcement of the idea of waste, dumping and in a sense not focusing on perhaps what really matters. The second set was to be eight images but in the end I included a ninth as I felt it to complete the sequence.
FEEDBACK ON ASSIGNMENT 5: Overall Comments
“Many thanks Steve for your last assignment. You have given this a lot of thought and preparation – well done. This has been a key improvement as you have progressed through the course – the crystalising and clarifying your thoughts about the what and why behind a project.
You have done well to persevere with the project and I’m impressed by how much thought and preparation you have given to it (taking a leaf out of Taryn Simon’s book) as well as the pragmatic effort to get access to situations like the car scrap yard.
You have good technical ability – you can use a camera to produce a well exposed, composed and focused images; what needs further work is the analysis of imagery and the recognition of what works, what doesn’t, why and what could be done to improve how the image could meet your aim/objective or communicate your idea. This applies both to your own images and to the work of others when formulating your ideas.
Feedback on assignment
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity
Technical and visual Skills
As I’ve said you have good skills here – you can spot the potential of a situation – I like how you have used the ruined building setting for the penultimate image – it strengthens the notion of decay as an integral part of the lifecycle. The composition of the cars in the frame of your fourth image leads the eye into and around the frame. The differential focus used in the meditating figures image.
The variation in aspect ratio of the images could be an issue. You mention printing to 40×30 for hanging as an exhibition. As you have the images – they won’t all fit this; there are multiple ratios. I suggest a re-think on two counts. First, to give the set of images a coherence the same ratio should be used. Second, consider using a square crop this can tighten up the images and focus attention on important elements by excluding extraneous ones. This will help communicate your idea. I’ve included some suggestions as attachments in my email.
Some specific points/suggestions:
•Straighten up the pillars in image 1 – I’d use transformation tool in photoshop •Are all the figures in the apple store important? – if the idea is time then I
suggest some could be cropped out to concentrate on the time signifiers •The lady surrounded by shopping on the mobile – is this the key element of
the blurred figures in the background. I suggest the former and the foigures in
the background a distraction for the viewer.
•The skull in the mirror is looking at the camera/viewer not the lady. I think it is
stronger if the lady is confronting at her nemesis looking at her not the viewer. Also to fit my suggested square crop I’d use a different image – one the shows the building without a roof and brings the open window closer to the lady.
I addressed the above based upon comments from tutor. The idea of cropping the images at first left me a bit bewildered as of course, it felt like ditching a lot of work by reducing the frames. In the end I followed through and I am pleased I did. It seems to intensify the viewing experience somewhat. However, If I were to re-shoot, I would tidy up the way I took each picture and maybe would have employed the use of a longer focal length in some of the shots. I used 28mm to shoot a number of the scenes, but actually the way that the images have worked out here, it may of been better to have shot with 85mm.
In the revised sequence I have replaced the image with the one suggested and edited that image so that the skull now looks more towards the protagonist instead of into the camera lens. I meticulously set the angle of the skull in the mirror so that it reflected the position of the woman’s face,in the original photo, however it seems that it subtracted itself with the lack of eye contact! The replacement image is in my opinion better from the point of visual communication although aesthetically I prefer the original image that I put into the original sequence.
Quality of outcome
It’s really good to see you story boarding notes as this gives a good insight to what you are aiming at. You have chosen a huge and quite a metaphysical topic which has the concomitant level of risk of misunderstanding or a misconnection with the viewers. You have used symbolism and metaphor well to convey your idea but what I think needs attention is your editing to improve the successful communication of your idea. Over and above my comments above concerning use of a square format to tighten up the images, I think you need to look again at the images:
looking at your log you do seem to be unsure of what you want to say sometimes. For example with your second image, at one stage you indicate that time is the important feature while elsewhere you refer to blank and distracted consumerism – which is it?
I see what is being said but I am not sure that I agree. Time was to play a part in the sequence and by and large I think I made it obvious that the theme is to do with, as it were, distraction. Distraction from the pursuit of deeper values (indicated by the meditation figure) and the loss of time therefore. It was intentional as part of the theme. However, as is mentioned, one could mis-interpret a theme like this as it is leaning towards the existential and metaphysical. However, I have based this to some extent on previous comments from my tutor about the use of ambiguity or at least not always stating explicitly what the image or series/ sequence of images wish to say. In other words, as I’ve understood the idea it is desirable to leave some room for interpretation for the viewer. If there are multiple readings of an image, perhaps one could argue that this is a boon. However, generally speaking it seems better, as in the learning process, to follow a concept through to clear execution of the image.
You repeat themes – A person looking at mobile phone – one in the dark and another surrounded by shopping, also two images of the scrap yard. Does this apparent repetition convey sufficiently strong separate ideas in viewers‘ minds? I have my doubts. Referring back to your story board gives an idea of what you are aiming at but I’m not convinced that the duplicated images you have used succeed in conveying different ideas. One option would be to try the images out on colleagues and friends to see their reaction. This is an important aspect of your work – getting others to review.
Yes I looked again at this and decided to do away with the second mobile phone image and just use the more potent of the two. In the scrapyard scene thought I have persisted with using two images. I am working with a conviction that using two images might reinforce the focus of theme. However, this is my conviction which is open o debate.
This is where you have scored well. You have been bold and experimented with your imagery – as you will have gathered from comments above some are more successful
than others but putting this to one side full marks for using your imagination with this assignment.
This is fine – you show good imagination in the ‘What is a flower’ exercise. Good to see you realise the importance of giving time to seeing. I’d include separate images in your blog as well as the composite so that each can be viewed separately.
Your research has got better – or at least you are referencing it more in your blog as you have progressed through the course. Remember my point about analysing images – both yours and others. You need to improve your recording of critical thinking about the images as well as just saying who you have looked at. You do this in your analysis of Stern’s images in your research carry this through into others.
This also has improved over the course you are including lots of information – good. What you need to do when referencing other work is use the Harvard referencing system – info on the student website . For example your useful reference to David Campbell’s essay and work – you reference just his website which as it happens is a dead link.
As previously suggested you need to improve navigation on your blog. For example under research there is minimal info – it is buried in the copy concerning the assignment. Separate this out or at least duplicate and put in links under the research headings.
You’ve done well with your reading. For navigation and other blogs I suggest you look at other students’ blogs available via the students’ website.