Assignment 1 – Off the baby blanket – notes

Brief

Starting point for assignment one is a concept within Welsh culture called Y Filltir Sgwar (The Square Mile). It is the intimate connection between people and their childhood ‘home’ surroundings.

Thoughts

I had several ideas before the one developed I’ll describe in the section ‘off the baby blanket’

I thought about making still life pictures of childhood memorabilia in square format. One composed photo with a big square with all memories together and around the main square little squares with photos of all memories separate.  And then make for each memory a composed photo with in the main square the memory and in the squares around it details.I didn’t go through with these idea because I would like to do this with studio lighting and a nice background. I don’t have such lights and background (yet).

The second idea that came up was to make pictures in my parents’ house. My parents live where I was born. The house is renovated and enlarged. Except the location not really containing the spirit of the square mile anymore. This idea grew into putting my father in situations I remember from childhood: in dirty clothes in a greenhouse, working on a bike or car, coming out of the basement, working in the garden and then finally sitting on the couch on an old newspaper drinking coffee. I had an idea on how these pictures had to look, my dad in the same position in each photo with a similar arm movement while working and reaching for his coffee. The series would have been a story with multiple themes. I might have converted the pictures into B&W. I actually might develop this idea for a later assignment or project. I didn’t go through with it because I like the idea too much. I want to use it when I’ve more experience in portrait photography. Also I would have needed a lot of time to plan, organise, execute and the cooperation of my parents.

My next idea was to find a more familiar subject, nature, but use unfamiliar techniques, for example using a lens I hardly ever use. I would have gone to a nature park I didn’t visit in the 12 years I’m living near that area. I’m only discovering that area since a couple of months. This idea evolved into ‘Why i avoid nature in the Netherlands’. Civilisation is never far away, always there is the noise of a highway, a village, or a farm. And you’re never alone. Nature also isn’t authentic, trees are planted, canals dug, farmland reclaimed. I always try to exclude the human hand in nature from my pictures. The idea I had was to include the human influence directly in the picture or by using titles, juxtaposing seemingly unspoiled nature with mankind who has taken over. So far I use titles to identify and index photos. The inspiration with regards to pictures and text came after seeing some pictures of Karen Knorr.

Me moving part-time into a  studio in Antwerp could have been a subject, but I didn’t want to wait until I was settled and start directly with the assignment.

Off the baby blanket

The square miles starts as a baby blanket. First the baby only lies on it, then it starts turning by itself, it goes on hands and knees, before the first steps are set and the baby goes off the blanket. The very first discovery of one’s environment is what I aim to capture in this assignment.

‘From the first gesture of a child pointing to an object and simply naming it, but with a world of intended meaning, to developed mind that creates an image whose strangeness and reality stirs our subconscious to its inmost depths, the awakening of desire is the first step to participation and experience.’ (Ray, M. 1980:167)

I started to photograph with a 14mm wide angle lens. The idea was to capture something up close, but see around it as well. I tried a 70-200mm zoom lens to focus on a subject and portray the surroundings vague. Both from the idea that the span of interest of a baby is short. I settled for macro shots. Babies can really go up into something. I used a tripod, locked the mirror, set the camera at Av priority and shot with a remote shutter.

Some new things I tried: I didn’t use my macro lens a lot before, live view, did some staging of scenes, shot indoors, subject wasn’t nature.

Research

Keith Arnett, Gawain Barnard . Not a type of photography that inspires me. I don’t mind purely conceptual photography, but in my humble opinion in the execution of photography must be shown that the photographer is technically capable.

Tina Barney. Photographing friends and family also isn’t my style. I think too many contemporary photographers have followed this path. I think its admirable if someone can commit him or herself for such a long period to such a project. The dividing line between art and snapshot is thin.

I had a quick look at in the course recommended websites of Gawain Barnard, He didn’t inspire me, Tom Hunter, I like his way of thinking, and Karen Knorr, I like her use of text.

I looked during the project also amongst others at pictures of Brassaï, Jeff Wall, Robert Capa, Georgess Rousseau, Steve McCurry, Jennette Williams, Richard Avedon, Spencer Tunick, Cindy Sherman, Joel-Peter Witkin, Jan Groover, Harry Callahan, Sally Mann, Jerry N. Uelsmann, Manabu Yamanaka, Lauren Greenfield, Cheng Yu Yang, Fazal Sheikh, Katy Grannan and Janine Antoni. Although they had no direct influence on the execution of this project most of these photographers do inspire.

Reflection

The most difficult parts of the assignment were to make nice compositions of items that aren’t photogenic subject matter and light. Crawling around on a living room floor with ever changing light and reflecting items was a challenge.

I think I managed a couple of really nice photographs, a couple okay for the purpose of the assignment. And a lot unworthy of actually uploading on the computer, still these can be found in my contact sheets.

The strengths and weaknesses of particular photographs

8d7a01163 chair legs. Diagonals, implied and actual make for strong composition. Lighter part of the wood, where direct sun hits, is a little distracting.

8d7a0136Photo albums. red, 2x green, blauw. Like the Bayer filter. Simple planes, colours are same brightness.

8d7a0139Poufs. Static subject matter, but diagonals give dynamic, I like the implied triangles and color contrast: light vs dark. Bottom part of picture a bit too dark.

8d7a0143Drawer. Material contrast metal vs wood. Basic forms, squares and quarter circles (handle). Horizontal en vertical lines vs circle parts (handle). Lesser part of picture are imperfections   in the wood.

8d7a0146Floor boards. Triangles. The grain of the wood gives a dynamic.

8d7a0164Clock. Circles.contrast Black en Grey-white. The way I cut of the figures are a bit of a doubt.

8d7a0167Colour Vase. The composition of the photos I like. The light wasn’t perfect which can be seen in the shadow on the left.

8d7a0183Ring on floor. Diagonal grain of the wood vs
the quarter circle

Serrated coasters. Circle parts vs serrated edges. All coaster edges come from top to bottom except one. Some doubt if a complete ’tile-motive’ wouldn’t have looked nicer.

All through the different shoots I had my doubts on what I was doing. I liked the idea, but struggled a bit with the execution. I had too low a “success rate” to my own liking. I stayed true to my concept. Assessing myself I think the selected individual pictures demonstrate at the start of this course sufficient technical and visual skills. The quality of outcome is sufficient. The context is good. It’s a good idea and adequate researched and prepared. My doubts are on the coherency of the selected pictures as a series and although I put effort in the assignment, I’m not sure my creative is seen enough, or even if I’m creative enough.

Not just depicting, Not that people only think “oh beautiful bird”. I want my pictures not just to give a feeling of recognition. I’ve started searching for that ‘extra’ what I want to include in my pictures. Right now I like formalism. And with animals I look for some action and/or hope that people can conceive a human emotion.

I can continue the project with where ever I come  to look for basic forms and color planes at maximum knee level.

Bibliography

Ray, M. (1980) ‘The Age of Light’ In: Trachtenberg, A. (ed.) Classic Essays on Photography Sedgwick: Leete’s Island Books. pp. 167-168.

Barrett, T. (2012) Criticizing Photographers New York: McGraw-Hill

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