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.
resh and latticework
diagonal bisecting lines
slowed-down falling water
There are some very strong repeated ideas emerging here – it was an interesting way to look at a single photographers work.
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.
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.”
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.”
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”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Eggleston Artistic Trust. Courtesy David Zwirner Books
The photo of the flying foxes, looking like strange little goblin angels is incredible. I think he must have overexposed it to get such contrast between the animal’s body and wings and make the wings so transparent. The contrast between light and dark makes the image haunting, scary and confusing. It is utterly compelling.
The other photo that stayed with me is of a little boy watching TV inside a caravan. Somehow there are shadows of leaves and foliage projected all over the inside of the caravan, and the TV screen is a glowing centre of light in the image. As with many of his photos, it is confusing, a little frightening and conveys a sense of isolation and danger, whilst also being hauntingly beautiful.
Themes that emerge after looking at lots of his photos:
Use of under and overexposure to create drama, and draw the eye to very bright/dark areas of the photo
Use of shadow/highlight to simplify an image and remove distractions
Strong shapes, outlines and silhouettes created by both shadows and light
Movement captured – a moment of dramatic light frozen
Photos need a second or third look to see what is really happening
Some photos seem ‘impossible’ – how did he see that moment
People in silhouette or bleached out give a sense of isolation and loneliness
Strong narrative elements give the photos a dramatic, story-like quality
The photos evoke emotions – nostalgia, loneliness, fear, wonder
Often taken from unusual viewpoints, above, below etc
Strong compositional lines leading into areas of deep contrast/bright light etc