This is where the course begins, after the introductory Square Mile assignment.
There is a series of Projects and a number of exercises. This page will form the basis of my Learning Log. How this works alongside the blog remains to be seen. For the Square Mile assignment I also kept text history and image history pages which I found useful - I intend to use a similar structure for the other assignments. I may set up a separate page for each of the intermediate exercises - that also remains to be seen.
This section begins with a nicely (verbally) illustrated suggestion that modern digital cameras are, to some extent, too capable and complex, contrasting the 20-page manual of the 1928 Leica with 368 pages for the 2012 Nikon D600. There is in some quarters an obsession with owning and displaying the latest technology and the importance of the images produced is reduced in significance. [From a personal perspective, I see upsides to this as I tend to buy 2-4 year-old cameras for a quarter or less of their original price, most recently a Fuji X-M1, my current camera of choice.]
Jean Baudrillard's concept of hyperfunctionality is cited,
In hyperfunctionality, the technological object is not practical, but obsessional; not utilitarian, but functional (always in an abstract sense); the object or gadget no longer serves the world, performing some useful task – it serves us: our dreams, desires of what objects can and should do. OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.20
referencing Baudrillard (trans. 1977), The System of Objects
This is why the student is enjoined to "set your camera to auto mode" [ibid. p.18], to avoid the distraction of excessive choice and (as this part of the course continues) gradually learn about what the camera is actually doing.
Take several photographs of the same subject in quick succession without altering and camera settings. Observe and analyse the histograms.
Full exercise text here.
[22Jul18, Sunday] As described in the corresponding blog entry, I had hoped to work this exercise and also begin my Church Congregations project this morning, but the end of services did not coincide with my visit to Tesco and so that will have to be revisited at another time. Upon return, I photographed Kevin (the cat) first in repose and then hurrying off for an early lunch.
The first sequence shows the first three images of five taken. There is relatively little change in the histograms, as can be seen in the summary image at the end. This is especially the case when comparing the second and third images.
Here, although the elements of the picture remain the same, greater histographic differences are caused by the changing proportions of cat and background.
The next few sections deal with aspects of composition. The most common concept in this context is the Rule of Thirds, which I kept expecting to come up, but nothing so far.
Edward Weston's scepticism is quoted, "to consult rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravity before going for a walk" [1, OCA p.22], balanced by Harold Evans, "in photography … the idea needs to be served by technique"[2, OCA p.22].
The coursebook seems to be implying that Weston is dismissing rules of composition, but on the contrary, to me he is stating that such considerations are fundamental to the process, to the point where they become second nature.
The components of composition are defined as, point, line and frame.
Stage 1 concerns 'test' pictures, stage 2, 'real' pictures. First, take several photographs of a single, small point at various positions in the frame and examine the differences in effect.
Second, take some 'real life' images including a small object at various positions.
"Can you find any place where the point is not in relationship to the frame? If it’s in relationship to the frame you can place a point in any part of the picture and the picture is balanced. "
Consider how your eye moves to analyse the picture. Try the same exercise with some photographs from the press.
Full exercise text here.
Logically, there are (I think), at a broad level, seven distinct positions for a point within a rectangle. Centre, half-way and edge, along the horizontal, vertical and diagonal axes. The centre point is the same for all three axes (so seven positions, not nine). The three other quadrants can be accomplished by rotation and/or reflection. With increased granularity, the number increases to more than seven.
I honestly cannot effect an evaluation of the points: to me they are just all dots. If the point is large enough to discern a colour then that would make a difference because of personal associations, for example with red or yellow. If the pictures had a title then the position would make a difference. For example, if the title were "God's Love" or "Lost at Sea" then in both cases a dot at position 7 would have a different interpretation from a dot in the lower half.
I struggled with this part of the exercise, too as the instructions were not clear: "Can you find any place where the point is not in relationship to the frame? If it’s in relationship to the frame you can place a point in any part of the picture and the picture is balanced". I returned to this part later on, having explored past students' online response to this and found some relief in Ian Cocks' web site . Picking up on Ian's idea of a bucket in the garden, I used an orange B&Q bucket at a nearby branch, using an iPhone rather than my camera in an effort not to excite management or security guards. There were several suspicious looks from staff members, but no direct enquiries.
Examining how the bucket as "point" influences the image and the eye traversing it:
The first image (fig. 12) is otherwise orderly with long vertical stacks of wood and horizontal shelving. The bucket, especially when positioned in the corner is continually disruptive and all but prevents an examination of the image as a whole.
This is far less noticeable in fig. 13 where a centrally-placed bucket appears to be just one of the items in the shelves.
In fig. 14, the eye oscillates between the disabled sign and the bucket as they are both placed peripherally and of similar size and colour.
Finally with figs. 15 and 16, the difference between two converging lines and a single non-perpendicular line (which by definition cannot converge) is significant because, whereas in fig. 15 the eye is led through the picture and into the hedge, then distracted by the bucket, fig. 16 becomes a pleasing abstract arrangement of its similar components.
With the newspaper image exercise, I tried to consciously assess my eye tracking the first time I saw an image. In both cases, I first looked at faces.
In the showjumping picture (© Leo Mason / Alamy), after the rider's face the progression was: horse's eye; foreground telephone box; follow the rails to the second telephone box; finally the flowers.
On the tug-of-war (© Andrew Milligan / PA) once again, starting with the main face (is that prince Charles?); the faces of the tuggers; along the rope (noting which parts were in focus); wearing a kilt (what is the name of the thing that holds up socks); back to the tuggers' faces and clothing. [I did not notice until a few days later that the first tugger has a prosthetic leg.]
1. If there is a face in the image I tend to start there
2. a thought process accompanies and/or drives the eye movement
3. while visual triggers (such as leading lines) can influence tracking the thought process can dominate †
4. I seemed to be aware that specific colours and colour contrasts (such as the expanse of blue sky and the red of the boxes) also had an influence, but that would be a complex investigation and is outside the scope of this exercise.
† This is an entirely subjective example, but with the first image, as I have an interest in telephone boxes, my visual exploration was delayed and driven by the question of was the design of the jump based on the K2 or K6 box and I therefore spent longer examining the smaller box as the roof vent is the distinguishing feature.
The next name to drop is Eugène Atget, turn of C20th, French photographer who used several devices to emphasise the depth of images:
1. contrast of object size and overlaps to emphasis distance
2. Converging of parallel lines.
No need to summarise this one.
Full exercise text here.
Take a number of shots using lines to create a sense of depth. Shooting with a wide- angle lens (zooming out) strengthens a diagonal line by giving it more length within the frame. The effect is dramatically accentuated if you choose a viewpoint close to the line. OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.24
In the first image in the exercise (fig. 19), it is true that the lines draw the eye out of the picture but that is acceptable because the train itself will do the same and so the lines reinforce the narrative.
With fig. 21 in particular, the lines lead the eye to the building in the distance, the General Lying-In Hospital.
Although the line in fig. 23 propel the eye straight out of the image, it is interesting that this is ameliorated by the figure with a suitcase cutting across the lines and the effect.
The extremely shallow depth of field in fig. 24 (unintentional as everything is on auto until told otherwise) negates the effect as it becomes a mostly abstract photograph of two nail heads.
Two important developments of the 1920s are noted:
1. the introduction of small 35mm cameras and
2. a change in visual perception attributed to the influence of László Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus whereby photography embraced the abstract.
Use lines to" flatten the pictorial space".
Avoid perspective by shooting lines parallel to the film plane and e.g. de-emphasise the lines of modem architecture by isolating abstract details
Full exercise text here.
The text goes on to note that converging diagonals can lead the eye "out of the picture" and that disturbs the viewer.
The first two images (figs. 25-6) map directly to the previous exercise with parallel-line versions of some of the same subjects, railway lines and pier planking. The absence of converging lines removes the influence on the eye to leave the frame. The remaining four images (figs. 27-30) demonstrate some interesting qualities.
In Fig. 27, there is a degree of convergence, leading they eye out to the right, but the subject matter, an older building reflected in a modern, glass structure is sufficiently diverting to alleviate that.
Fig. 28 has converging, curved diagonals with the viewpoint as close as I could get to the rail. There is some conflict between the sweep of the rails and the (approximately) perpendicular direction of the floor tiles, but the main relief from the convergence effect is provided by the complex detail of the rails as objects in themselves and the arresting effect of the large wall fixings.
Fig. 29 is included for its complexity. It was difficult to photograph on auto because of extreme variations in the lighting. The wall on the left is not upright which results, to my eye, in an optically confusing image. I would normally straighten the horizontal.
Fig. 30 is a pleasingly abstract result from a photograph with no key subject and contrary diagonals which would otherwise lead the eye out of the frame both left and right.
John Szarkowski is quoted cited and paraphrased as stating that
"'the central act of photography' [is the] decision about what to include and what to reject, which 'forces a concentration on the picture edge … and on the shapes that are created by it'". [3, OCA p.26] . More on Szarkowski here.
A distinction is drawn between cropping and framing. To me framing is done in the camera and cropping is done in the darkroom or digital equivalent, but I don't think that's what is meant here. Victor Burgin weighs in with composition as "a device for retarding … recognition of the frame" [4, OCA p.26]. The suggestion is that with a deliberate, successful composition, the viewer will not be aware of the frame.
Using the viewfinder grid, take photographs in which the subject occupies one segment of the grid. Examine each shot, evaluating the whole frame and choose 6-8 that work individually and collectively.
Display the chosen images, provide technical details and a short evaluation of each.
Full exercise text here.
I have gradually filled this in with images replacing the logos, one of which remains in the centre. There were, at one time, four instances of the remains of Brighton's old West Pier: I think this would work in any segment, though bottom right is the initial favourite. I noted in the blog that, "I am uncertain whether the grid exercise 1.4 refers to a grid of 4 or 9. I am inclined to assume 9 and will deliver eight images, one for each slot" (blog, 30th July).
Numbering clockwise from 12 o'clock,
|1. Bucket||5th Aug, iPhone 7+, 1/100 sec; f/2.8; ISO 20||This is an unexpected success from the Point exercise which resulted in a pleasing abstract. Albeit the point has become an object.|
|2. Sunflowers||2nd Aug, X-M1, 1/150 sec; f/5.0; ISO 400||The subject is the sunflowers but considering the full frame, the image becomes a very ordinary photograph of a wildflower garden rescued from mundanity by a pair of unusually tall sunflowers.|
|3. West Pier||30th Jul, X-M1, 1/400 sec; f/11; ISO 200||As mentioned above, several versions of this subject were considered. This works quite well structurally with the diagonal surf line leading to the figures in the foreground then, rather being led out of the frame, the eye goes to the main subject, the pier. The busy sky echoes the sea and, thereby, is not excessive. A longer zoom on the lens might have improved the shot.|
|4. Beer taps||27th Jul, X100S, 1/75 sec; f/3.2; ISO 400||This was the earliest photograph, shot before the decision to use square format was taken and therefore cropped. It works quite well as a colourful composition, but if I were not shooting in auto mode, I would have used a wider aperture to further defocus the background.|
|5. Church||3rd Aug, iPhone 7+, 1/850 sec; f/2.8; ISO 20||This is, perhaps, the least satisfactory image and is likely to be replaced. The photograph was pre-conceived as an unusual viewpoint and perspective, but a better composition of a similar subject will be sought.|
|6. Memorial||4th Aug, X-M1, 1/400 sec; f/8; ISO 200||This is the top of the Fire of London memorial near St. Paul’s. This was also pre-planned as I knew I would be in Paternoster Square for another project. I wanted one photograph comprised almost entirely of blue sky and something eye-catching in a corner: this gold-topped column had come to mind. A longer lens and a passing aeroplane would have improved the image.|
|7. Sky||11th Aug, Iphone 7+, 1/800 sec; f/2.8 ISO 20||The last image taken. I regard this as more interesting than it first appears. I had in mind a distant airplane for the "missing" image (see above) and had my longest lens to hand for several cloudy days with no sign of a subject. This was snatched on the phone while boarding a train. There is a pleasing battle for attention between the small plane on the left which is the ostensible subject and the even smaller plane higher in the frame with the vapour trail. This tension is, quite possibly, only apparent to me as the photographer who knows what was intended.|
|8. Feet||30th Jul, X-M1, 1/280 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200||Another serendipitous result of the project exercises. One might think at first that this is an ordinary wooden pallet, but a closer examination reveals old wood and the sea beneath. The inclusion of feet confirm the vertical camera orientation and provide a subject as an afterthought.|
The section opens with a quote from Papageorge, "Photography investigates no deeper relief than surfaces. It is
superficial, in the first sense of the word; it studies the shape and skin
of things, that which can be seen." [6, OCA p.30]
This assertion is evaluated in the context of an image by Bravo, fig.40. In order to to judge the statement, it is necessary to speculate on the meaning of the image. It is stated that Bravo's approach (as with Moholy-Nagy) is "medium specific", that is, the physical characteristics of an art form dictate its artistic nature or aesthetic.
The principle applies to digital media as it does to film, but whereas the end products, photographs, are ostensibly the same (or, more accurately, very similar) the physical characteristics are very different. This leads to a discussion of Thomas Ruff, whose work deconstructs the digital image.
‡ It is interesting to compare this to Szarkowski  who states that the photograph, "evokes the tangible presence of reality … a simpler, more permanent, more clearly visible version of the plain fact". More on Szarkowski here.
Read the articles by Campany [7, OCA p.32] and Colberg [8, OCA p.32] on Thomas Ruff's book jpegs. Comment in about 300 words. Include an example of Ruff's work and make two of your own work.
Full exercise text here.
Ruff was born in Germany in 1958, developed an interest in photography in his teens and attended Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1977 to 1985 where he studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher (known for their grid presentations of industrial architecture photographs). He shares a studio in Düsseldorf with Andreas Gursky. His earlier bodies of work include large scale portraits (1981-85), architecture ("Häuser", 1987 and 1991), Sterne (manipulations of sourced astro-photographs, 1989) and Nudes (manipulated images sourced from internet pornography, 2003) . In 2009, Ruff published JPEGs, internet-sourced images, reduced (where necessary) to low resolution and then enlarged to emphasise the pixilatory effect of JPEG compression.
Less than 25% of Campany's article  deals directly with Ruff's JPEGs §. He describes Ruff's work as a whole in terms of opposites in tension: "as public as it is private", "as anonymous as it is personal", "at once familiar clichés and estranged visions". He examines at length the use of found objects and "the archive" in various art forms, implying that Ruff's use of other people's images has a long and honourable artistic pedigree. In the single paragraph addressing JPEGs, he suggests that extreme pixel enlargements demonstrate the underlying physical similarity between digital images that nevertheless allow an infinite range of aesthetic expression within the constraints of the medium, again invoking opposites, "to simultaneously emphasize and de-emphasize [the] specific".
The most interesting and incisive part of the article contrasts the analogue "scattered chaos" of photographic grain with the "grid-like, machinic and repetitive" pixel structure in the digital image, noting that nowadays even images that are analogue in origin are usually viewed as digital, pixel-based scans on digital media. He praises Ruff's lead in bringing the "cold [technology]" to public attention through the JPEG series that emphasise its simultaneous "figuration [and] abstraction".
Colberg  notes and dismisses the question of whether Ruff's JPEGs constitutes photography. He quotes an interview  in which Ruff describes the origin of the JPEG project. The failure of Ruff's photographs in New York following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, led to him to look at online images, many of "terribly low resolution" and in turn to explore the effect of pixilation. As noted above, however, Ruff had already manipulated sourced digital images in previous projects.
Colberg compliments the large format book edition of JPEGs, regarding this as a more effective and appropriate scale for publication than the "gigantic prints in the Zwirner gallery" which were "a tad too pretentious" and too large for the image detail available. While acknowledging that many of the manipulated images the the JPEG series are intrinsically beautiful (irrespective of their origins which might or might not have been) Colberg doubts whether Ruff's concept is sufficient to justify the project or, indeed the hype that surrounded it.
In conclusion, Ruff's JPEGs series is a notable example of an artist exploring the limits of medium specificity and a fascinating way to end this section of the course.
§ The article contains 1427 words, the sixth paragraph, dealing mostly with JPEG contains 281 (20%), even including the last paragraph only brings the proportion to 26%.
1. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Ruff [accessed 7th August 2018]
2. Campany D.,Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel http://davidcampany.com/thomas-ruff-the-aesthetics-of-the-pixel [accessed 6th August 2018]
3. Colberg, J., Review: jpegs http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2009/04/review_jpegs_by_thomas_ruff [accessed 6th August 2018]
4. Ruff interview with Max Dax,published in Dreissig Gespräche, edition suhrkamp, 2009, trans. Colberg.
5. The Guardian (11th June 2009), Thomas Ruff's best shot, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/jun/11/my-best-shot-thomas-ruff [accessed 7th August 2018]
My initial reaction to the description of Ruff's JPEGs series was both cynical and sceptical. However, reading the two reviews has provided some enlightenment. Campany's comments on grain and pixels are interesting, although whether Ruff had such considerations in mind is open to question. Colberg remained doubtful on the strength of the concept. When it came to the practical exercise, though, that was immense fun, which could suggest that Ruff undertook the project as a trivial aesthetic adventure. Without knowing the man, it is impossible to tell. The difference between viewing the images at different scales (click the images above) is significant and offers an insight into Colberg's comments on the gallery display.
I remain uneasy about the assertions in the course material regarding points, shapes and frames, their effect and their influence on the viewer. As noted in my comments on Exercise 1.2 above and in the blog entry of 19th July regarding the Tish Murtha exhibition, I believe that the nature of the subject matter can have a far greater effect on scanning patterns than behavioural responses to layout. When confronted with a photograph of police violence or struggling refugees, or a nude study, or even a kitten, the detail of the subject and the viewer's engagement or emotional response will determine eye movement more than proximity to the edge or converging diagonals.
 Weston (1930), Photography - Not Pictorial, p.320
 Evans (1997), Pictures on a Page, p.88
 Szarkowski (2007), The Photographer's Eye, p.4 and p.12
 Burgin (1980), Photography, Phantasy, Fiction, p.56
 Ian Cocks' web site. https://iancocks.com/exercise-1-2-point/ [accessed 5th August 2018]
 Papageorge (2011), The Snapshot, in Core Curriculum, Writings on Photography, p.14
 Campany, http://davidcampany.com/thomas-ruff-the-aesthetics-of-the-pixel [accessed 6th August 2018]
 Colberg, http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2009/04/review_jpegs_by_thomas_ruff [accessed 6th August 2018]
The full references are specified at the end of the course material pp. 115-6.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills:
You have demonstrated a good ability with a camera on location and are developing and thinking through different elements of composition. You have some interesting compositional elements in the flat planes exercise, and I like the orange bucket approach!
Try to push yourself to take some risks, use the exercises to explore a range of locations or different subjects as this will help you to gain a more in-depth process, and develop different approaches in achieving your responses.
Quality of outcome:
Your images are of good quality, and you are reflecting on the comparative success of what you are doing and how they are beginning to achieve what you set out to do. Again be prepared to take more risks and try new ideas after researching existing context.
Your blog is clearly laid out on the home page with headings.
Demonstration of creativity:
For the next assignment you can afford to push yourself to develop and explore your ideas in more depth and experiment with different approaches in order to start testing a variety of ways of communicating your ideas as a set. You understand how to use composition from your work so far, so don't be afraid to push yourself to take risks and try new ideas out in terms of linking images, developing cohesion across the set. Document differing trials and tests as you develop your assignment idea, use contact sheets, and reflective notes to help show how you are thinking though your interpretation of the brief.
You have engaged with the research material in part one and it is great to see you having a go at your own versions using Ruff’s technique.
Good to see you reflecting on feedback about the research section of your blog.
Keep dipping into the further reading suggested in the course materials and reflecting in increasing depth on what you are reading
Try to get to see as many exhibitions as you can and reflect on the work, the ideas and communication, as well as the layout and presentation and how this engages the viewer.