1.11: Capturing stillness and movement

Choose a subject that includes both stillness and movement. Create a series from a
variety of different instances of this subject.
When you’re assessing your photographs, try not to think in terms of what is ‘photogenic’ in the usual sense of the word. Go beyond that. Ask yourself if your photographs communicate what you intended: stillness and movement peacefulness and energy.
Do your photographs communicate any other ideas? In other words, are they symbolic or metaphorical? This capacity to take something unintentional and make something out of it is a sign that you’re developing as a photographer.

Still at Hermitage Basin, the water was partly frozen over, and a flock of seagulls were making the most of the opportunity to stand around and argue over scraps of food.

There was stillness – the frozen stillness of the water, the motionless gulls standing hunched against the cold.

There was movement – the rush of the fountain water, the sudden swoop of a landing gull, the flurry of motion when a piece of bread was thrown onto the ice, the acrobatic fight for possession.

 

Reflections on the photographs

I had not brought my tripod, so was hand-holding the camera and resting it on the railings, changing from slow to fast shutter speed as events played out.

I was pleased with the results, despite realising I would have been better to use a tripod. I think the unpredictability of the gulls lent itself to the handheld approach and I think some of the unintentional camera movement has added to the blur effect in the slower speed shots, which I really like.

I think if I was looking for a symbolic or metaphorical angle then there is something there about stoic waiting turning into chaotic conflict, but that might be a little too anthropomorphic. There is also a feeling of slightly hallucinogenic confusion in the blurred images that I also quite like.

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1.11 Research Point: Toshio Shibata

These are the first two screenshots of a Google image search for Toshio Shibata. After doing the search, before I began looking at individual images I was struck by the themes that emerged from seeing the thumbnails laid out like this.

  • triangles
  • red/Green
  • resh and latticework
  • diagonal bisecting lines
  • interlocking shapes
  • slowed-down falling water
  • vertiginous perspective

There are some very strong repeated ideas emerging here – it was an interesting way to look at a single photographers work.

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Looking at some of the images more closely, I really liked the juxtaposition of slowed-down soft misty water against monumental, solid, immovable concrete dams – it makes for thought-provoking contrast. The water becomes almost like a silky veil draped across the solid concrete.

1.10: Shutter Speed

Make a series of experiments bracketing only the shutter speed, for example by
using1/250th sec, then 1/60th sec, 1/15th sec, etc. You’ll go from freezing movement to blurring movement.
Think about interesting moving subjects and note down some ideas: people, nature,
machines, etc. Note the most effective ways you could photograph them: by panning the camera with a moving object or by holding the camera still.

It’s been hard to get out and about in the recent weather apocalypse, and too cold to spend hours outside waiting for things to whizz by at a useful speed, so I ended up visiting Hermitage Basin, a small enclosed body of water near Tower Bridge and very local to where I live in Wapping. I have spent many hours there, admiring the waterlilies in summer, watching the resident heron fishing from his platform, and enjoying the endless bread fights between the ducks, swans, moorhens and gulls that frequent the place.

There is a fountain in the middle of the basin (to keep the water fresh and oxygenated I presume) and I used this for some work on shutter speed. I used shutter priority mode and went to the extremes of fast and slow shutter speed the light conditions would allow, with the aperture changing accordingly.

Fast Shutter: f/5.4 1/1000 sec           Slow Shutter f/20 1/8 sec

You can clearly see the droplets of water in image one, and the water is nicely misty and ethereal in image two.

Notes and ideas on moving subjects.

I had done some thinking about what I could photograph for this exercise, and had thought of the following:

  • A busy car-park
  • people getting on and off a bus
  • traffic from a high vantage point
  • Clipper boats on the Thames
  • snow falling (I tried this but the snow was too fine to show up well against the sky)
  • a tap running
  • reeds/wheat blowing in the wind

In the end the weather restricted me as I wanted to get this section done and get on with the first Assignment.

1.9 revisited: Basilico inspiration

So, after looking at lots of work by Gabriele Basilico I wanted to revisit Exercise 1.9: Soft Light Landscape and today found myself in the perfect spot (Trinity Buoy Wharf on the Thames) on a grey day for a little urban archaeology!

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I like this one in quite a contrasty black and white, I have darkened the shadows and increased the clarity and sharpness to draw out the shapes and textures.

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Basilico did some work in colour towards the end of his career, and I loved the mixed up colours of the cranes – like someone had put them together with Lego!

 

1:9 Research Point – Gabriele Basilico

“Research point – Diffused light

To prepare for the next exercise, look online at the cityscapes of Gabriele Basilico. Notice the smooth quality of light, the sense of space and the way architecture seems more like sculpture, with its shape and form emphasised.”

Obituary from the Guardian

I had never come across Gabriele Basilico before this course, which is a shame, as I really like his work. The Guardian obituary gives a really good insight into the way his work developed through his life, and how similar themes emerged.

“According to the photographer and writer Italo Zannier, Basilico’s place in 20th-century Italian photography was assured by his style of “1930s sophistication”, his “controlled and knowing metaphysical tension” and his achievement in “combining a postmodernist taste for peripheral architecture with an archaeological approach … documented in an intense chiaroscuro”. Although Basilico latterly explored colour and digital photography, his lifelong passion was for often ominous shades of black and white and the use of classic cameras, particularly his large-format Rolleiflex.”

I like the reference to archaeology in the quote from the obituary above, it really describes his work, the sense of emptiness – as though people once inhabited the places but are now long gone. This is particularly poignant in relation to his images of Beirut after its destruction, and he remarked upon it himself after his first visit there:

“It seemed to me some people had just left and others were about to return. All in all, the situation seemed almost normal – the city had just entered a long period of waiting.”

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Beirut, Libano, 1991. (Gabriele Basilico)

I also noticed that many of his images are defined by a strong line – either diagonal or horizontal that breaks the image up into abstract spaces. There are also lots of edges and corners – a coastline, the edge of a building, a railway track, rooftops. Another compositional theme is symmetry. This careful delineation of spaces in his work is part of his own definition of his work as  “a measurer of space

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Finally some of Basilico’s smaller scale images are also defined by a sense of people who have just disappeared. Compare his lovely image of a bicycle in a doorway with Bresson’s famous Hyéres, France 1932 where the cyclist is very much present…

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Hyéres, France 1932: H Cartier-Bresson
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Novi, 1970s: G. Basilico

I shall definitely follow up this photographer, as his themes and style resonate with some of the things I am hoping to achieve in my own photographs.

Some thoughts on Assignment 1: Square Mile

I have been thinking about the Square Mile assignment, and hatching plans and scheming schemes! When I signed up for the course way back in April last year I read through all the assignments and started thinking about the first one straight away.

I had some clear initial ideas based on the childhood theme:

  • Go back to where I lived as a young child
  • Take photos of places that were important to the five-year-old me (front porch, cul-de-sac, school, sweetshop, library, grassy bank on the side of the road)
  • Take the photos from a low angle, to simulate the point of view of a small child.

I am a primary school teacher who specialises in supporting schools with using technology, and have worked with many Early Years practitioners to encourage them to hand the class camera over to the kids, and have always been struck by the surprise generated by staff seeing the child’s-eye-view of the Nursery…it looks very different from down there!

Anyway – this idea solidified in my mind and I was quite excited about going on a ‘shoot’, potentially having to talk to local residents to explain what I was doing snooping around their front gardens etc.

I had written a series of poems based on photos and events in my childhood as part of a Poetry course, and the idea seemed a natural extension of this.

HOWEVER…

I lost the plot with the course, and have been procrastinating until very recently. (Let’s not even go into why I would spend money on something I love doing, and then not do it for seven months.)

Now I am approaching the Assignment, I am having a bit of a radical re-think. I have re-read the brief, and although the places of childhood are integral to the idea, there is scope for using any familiar place as a ‘square mile’…and so Maz Walks has emerged as the new good idea.

http://www.mazarak.com

 

William Eggleston: Looking for colour…

I was lucky enough to get this book for my birthday a few weeks ago – I spotted it on Amazon and hadn’t seen this collection before. It is gorgeous – the printing as marvellous and manages to do some justice to the rich colours of the images.

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Not sure why I like Eggleston so much – I don’t love everything he does, but the ones I do like take my breath away…something about the stillness he captures, and the colour palette, and the point of view.

The colour particularly is so memorable – he must have been looking/waiting for just the right colour contrasts and juxtapositions to come together in a scene – a bit like Trent Parke looks for drama.

One of the images in the book

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Eggleston Artistic Trust. Courtesy David Zwirner Books