“What I was driving at had nothing to do with blurred or sharp”
Alfred Stieglitz (1864 – 1946) was an American photographer and modern art promoter. He was advancing a new vision for a modern world, and the photography was an epitome of the new way of seeing. He is known as the father of the modern photography and for promoting American artists, but also introducing many avant-garde European artists into U.S. What was happening in art influenced photography and vice versa.
He always saw himself as a rebel, even as a young photography student in Berlin in the early 1880’s. His wealthy father who was born in Germany sent him to study mechanical engineering, which he quickly abandoned in favour of photography. He was fascinated and worked day and night photographing and making prints. Always trying new things. With a generous allowance from his father he spent some years traveling and photographing through Austria and Italy.
He wanted to make a photograph equal to a work of art, and he studied and worked as possessed to make it. He sent his pictures everywhere where prize was given.
In 1890 when he was 26 under a pressure from family he was called back to become husband and businessman, and he failed at both. He was anarchistic and full of rebellion against conventional society that his wife hold dear. Their disastrous honeymoon in 1894 resulted in his finest early work.
When he came back to New York he determined that photography would be elevated to art form. He was first to show photography in his gallery next to paintings (than not yet famous French Impressionists). For many it was a threat rather than promise.
“Every photograph has an equivalent idea or emotion attached to it”
“Equivalents” series (1929) – pictures of clouds – is one of the first photographic series based around the idea of symbolism. Technically they are pictures of clouds, but what do they mean to you, what do they represent? It is not about the subject matter.
He constantly pushed the way people thought about photography. To him the picture was a metaphor for another idea, experience or feeling, completely open to the interpretation of the viewer.
For my interpretation of the project I considered such genres of photography as land art, social comment, macro, micro- i.e. workman hands. The one that resonated with me is telling a story without including people in photographs, or include them as a “secondary” object, for example leaving the frame or partially cut off, etc. (reference “genius of photography” car leaving the frame on the edge). The environment in the pictures would be the main point of focus. Also it would have to be man-made or show progress from natural environment to the one modified by humans. I wanted to show the presence of people not directly but by implication, and also the impact on environment and our everyday life as it is now.
Finally I settled on 3 different sets of photographs to represent rendition of my ideas:
First, that I liked the most:
This set represents most abstract version, showing only man-made environment. It also shows only parts of people and in the last two photographs their existence is implied by displaying objects that are clearly man-made. The last picture represents to me the very essence of the assignment. This is how our environment looks now, and the human element is hidden behind the CCTV camera, watching others.
Techniques used to achieve the effects are juxtaposition, isolation and foreshortening of perspective. Possible thanks to the use of longer focal length lens (70-200mm, except the middle picture 36mm). Standing back and using focal length of about 100mm to record parts of the buildings also helped to keep the lines straight. Additional benefit afforded by the longer focal length is a distance from the subject and more chance of recording the scene without disturbing it. Because of the distance from camera to subject, depth of field was sufficient to set the aperture at f5.6 and allow enough light at fast shutter speed without increasing ISO too much. Also in the middle range of apertures lens is at its sharpest.
Second set, my second favourite:
It shows variation on the theme of urban environment. This set showcases graffiti as a main graphical element of the picture. It juxtaposes large human faces or human/animal shapes painted on the walls with relatively small figures of people walking/standing towards the edges of frame. Also having faces occupy most of the frame helps draw attention of the viewer and hopefully keeps her/him engaged to study the photograph for longer and notice other elements.
Techniques used are juxtaposition and isolation. This set was shot on more intimate focal length ranging from wide-angle to short telephoto (24-70mm lens), mostly due to lack of space to stand back. Unintended element of distortion of perspective was overcome by choosing more creative angles and points of view when necessary. Again aperture of f5.6 was chosen for the same reasons. In this case it resulted in everything in sharp focus when the distance from camera to the wall with graffiti and people walking past was the same. In cases where graffiti is close to the camera and people are in the distance, the depth of field doesn’t stretch far enough to render them sharp. It creates nice sense of depth and hierarchy of planes of focus.
Third set, most close to my original intention:
This set is supposed to show the progression from natural to man-made environment. In this case the closeup of dragonfly in the grass would have to serve as proxy for natural environment. Then the tree, etc. I like the third picture because it shows everything – there is a plane flying through the sky, cars and bicycles between trees and people. It is my interpretation of the theme of people and environment.
There are also deer (representing nature) juxtaposed against blocks of flats in the distance, and further down trying to cross the road, or crowded between oncoming traffic and groups of people truing to the photographs (me being one of them)!
In terms of technique it is fast shutter speed to freeze the action and prevent shake on a telephoto lens, with general aperture ranging from f2.8 to f8.0. Some of the pictures are cropped to enhance composition, and to zoom in, as my maximal focal length of 200mm on full frame sensor wasn’t enough for this type of photographs.
After having them printed I brought the photographs to the class and everybody helped to rearrange them! I was very pleased, as my first two sets were separated into vertical and horizontal ones. I couldn’t figure out how to mix them and keep consistent.
No pictures from third set made it to final selection, because they are too different stylistically. No worries though, as my favourites made it!