BA Phot

LP&E: Part 1, Page 4

Project 3 - The Beautiful and the Sublime

- Back - Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4

Project 1, Thinking about landscape - Exc 1.1 - Exc 1.2 - Project 1.2 Pictorialism - Exc 1.3 - Project 1.3 The Beautiful and the Sublime - Exc 1.4 - Exc 1.5 - Exc 1.6 - Conclusion - Upsum - Eval

Adams - Alexander - Atget - Brandt - Daguerre - Emerson - Fox Talbot - Le Gray - Rejlander - Robinson - Sear - Seawright - Stieglitz - Steichen - Thomson - Weston - White -

Capon - Crimp - Galassi - Krauss - Grundberg - Meades - Miller - Morley - Papageorge - Vanderbilt - Wilson -

gaze - sublime -

Preamble - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Asg.1 - Asg.2 - Asg.3 - Asg.4 - Asg.5 - Asg.6 - I&P - C&N - EyV -

[ spellchecked 1st November ]

Exercise 1.5 The Contemporary Abyss

[24Oct] Make notes on Simon Morley’s essay ‘Staring into the Contemporary Abyss’.

Write 300 words+ on a body of work you consider sublime.

This is shown on a separate page.

The Zone System

[25Oct p.51] Digital cameras' metering systems are easily confused by wide dynamic ranges such as an interior view that includes a brightly-lit exterior window - whichever area you try and tell it to expose for, it tries to make it a mid-tone. The HDR options (internally processed or bracketed exposures for external processing) can help but, unless handled with care, can lead to clichéd excess.

C19th emulsions were not panchromatic, usually over-sensitive to blue light and this led to burned-out skies. As noted earlier this led to the practice of making another exposure for skies and combining two negatives for the print. The cmat (p.51) notes, "Eadweard Muybridge … made a library of photographs of clouds and skies, which would be layered with a negative where the sky detail was absent in order to make photographs that were closer to human perception".

In an effort to maximise the performance of C20th emulsions, in conjunction with the developer chemistry, Ansel Adams and Fred Archer (best known for his celebrity portrait photographs) developed the Zone System, a scheme I remember wrestling with as a lad. The closest thing in digital photography is manually adjusting exposure using the histogram displays.

The vital point the cmat. (p.52) makes is that while in some styles, notably street photography (but also think of Capa's D-Day landing images), some allowance is made for the urgency of the exposures, where hesitating to compose and make technical adjustments would mean losing the shot, in the more contemplative and deliberate, unrushed landscape photographer would not be given the same latitude. Think On.

Exc. 1.6

Exercise 1.6 The Zone System

[01Nov] Demonstrate camera behaviour in extreme lighting conditions.

This is shown on a separate page.

Photography and the City

[01Nov p.54] Urban environments have been photographed since its very inception, with the famous Daguerre image, Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838.

Daguerre Daguerre Fox Talbot Fox Talbot Fox Talbot Fox Talbot Queen's College, Oxford Queen's College, Oxford
Box A
1. Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838
2. Boulevard du Temple, detail
3. Fox Talbot, Sketch made at Lake Como, October, 1833
4. Fox Talbot, The base of Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, 1845
5. Fox Talbot, The Madeleine Church, Paris, 1843
6. Fox Talbot, The bridge of Orleans c.1843, Plate XII of The Pencil of Nature
7. Fox Talbot, Queen's College, Oxford, 1843
8. Queen's College, Oxford,detail
© the artists, their agents or their estates
img: 1-2. Baphot; 3-6 Lassam (1979); 7-8. Kelsey (2015)

Both Daguerre and Fox Talbot photographed landscapes and still lifes. The cmat. quotes Clarke's criticism of Fox Talbot's urban landscapes (1997). Clarke rather ungenerously describes Fox Talbot's tourist photographs of Paris as "passive and mute" in contrast with Daguerre's which Clarke regarded as "wonderfully modulated … a postcard quality". The Fox Talbot comment seems rather harsh, my initial feeling being that the poor chap invented the method and is jolly well entitled to photograph anything he likes just as he chooses, at least until the medium settles down to some standard practices and conventions.

Cecil Beaton, in his foreword to Lassam's Fox Talbot, Photographer (1979) refers to Fox Talbot's "strong quality of aesthetic perception so apparent in his photographs" (p.7).

Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature (part-work, 1844-46), includes a comment that remains one of the most important made about the medium, describing his photograph of Queen's College, Oxford (figs. A3 and A4)

It frequently happens … - and this is  one of the charms of photography  - that the operator himself discovers on examination, perhaps long afterwards, that he has depicted many things he has no notion of at the time. Sometimes inscriptions and dates are found upon the buildings, or printed placards most irrelevant, are discovered upon their walls: sometimes a distant dial-plate is seen, and upon it - unconsciously recorded - the hour of the day at which the view was taken.FOx Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844-46

That is, of course, one of the key and obvious differences between photography and other art forms — if it were a painting, the artist would have had to consciously and intentionally paint the clock face.

John Thomson
b: 1837 Edinburgh
d: 1921 Edinburgh
LSE - Wikipedia

The cmat. states (p.55) that urban photography is often documentary in nature and points to the early social photography publicising poverty and poor working conditions by John Thomson in London (see also Part 2) and Jacob Riis in the US. (Riis and Hine were covered in I&P.)

Seawright Bridge
Box B
Paul Seawright
Bridge, 2006
img: Seawright

Documentary photography of social issues has continued throughout the medium's history and one later example cited in the course is Paul Seawright and his Invisible Cities project (2007). Seawright's site states that, "engages with the extending and reordering of space in post-colonial cities of sub-Saharan Africa. They examine how peripheral developments and settlements have become a frontier through unconventional and largely unrecorded means". The cmat. (p.55) mentions a specific image from the project, Bridge, 2006 and describes,

The road bridge, presumably an interchange o f m ajor roads on the edge o f a city, cleanly divides the frame in two. A yellow bus heads a long the road towards the city from, we might suppose, the sanctuary of the suburbs, taking children to school or their parents to work. The sky is empty and bleak, which is echoed by the detritus that sprawls below, shielded by the flyover from the view of the bus’s passengers. The composition and social sentiment echoes Stieglitz’s The Steerage, made 90 years earlier. LPE pp.55-56

There is (or was a few years ago) a comparable scene on the M25, just north of the Dartford Tunnel and Bridge, a roundabout with a few cattle grazing underneath it, usually in thick mud and surrounded by litter and agricultural garbage. I could never photograph it because there's nowhere to stop and whenever I passed it, I was going somewhere with the family on board.


[31Oct] The technical expectations for leisurely, deliberated landscape photographs is higher than for some other subjects where urgency may be necessary.


[23Oct] Part 1, Page 1 - There is a tension between the standard histories of photography that, following the lead of Beaumont Newhall characterise it as the work of a series of Great Men (and a few Women), and alternative voices that take a wider view incorporating the worldwide vernacular and other expressions of the media.

Page 2 - In the nineteenth century, two key strands in the medium were the naturalist photographers such as Peter Henry Emerson who pursued straight representational, documentary photography and the Pictorialists who sought to make photography more "artistic" through complex manual and chemical processes. The Pictorialists aim was to gain wider acceptance in the art world. In the US, Stieglitz, White and Steichen as Photo-Secessionists were leading Pictorialists. Stieglitz in particular began to move away from Pictorialist excess in C20th with his version of subjective realism and that's where Modernism began. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and the F64 group continued to develop this approach with Adams being a straight landscapist and Weston "more experimental".

Page 3 - Beauty is aesthetic and sensual, it is subjective, not universal, it has a cultural component.
The sublime is, in my view, the punctum of beauty - a personal trigger that elevates the experience to a higher threshold. Fear, Unheimliche, awe, astonishment may be present but are not prerequisites.
And see the Vanderbilt entries

Page 4 - The technical expectations for leisurely, deliberated landscape photographs is higher than for some other subjects where urgency may be necessary.

LP&E 1.4


References for Part 1 are shown on the first page.

Page created 24-Oct-2021 | Page updated 06-Nov-2022