Category: Assignment 3

Project B – thoughts, submission and evaluation

 

Apart from the main task I also worked on an alternative project, related to transformation of photography into abstract art. I wrote about it in my previous blog post Photography as Art.

For this purpose I tried to focus on textures, patterns and architectural features like doors for example. I was drawn to the old, weathered features like peeling paint and cracked render. They are full of character and very interesting to study as abstract subjects. I like the organic and random nature of shapes and textures it creates. Especially if juxtaposed next to square, rectangular and perfect circles of man-made objects. Luckily, while in Corsica I was presented with the abundance of the above, thanks to the local harsh climate and general distrust of local population to everything that’s new.

There are some select test shots for a potential project:

 

After presenting in the class and getting feedback from our tutor Zig, I narrowed the selection to following six pictures:

 

I think they look fine especially the first two. The texture and play of light and shadows are nice. Light skimming the surface from the side accentuates all undulations and imperfection of the render. Missing chunks of render add to the organic and unhurried feel of nature taking its time. And so it goes.

Im quite pleased with the images and I think there is potential in them. I suppose they would look good in black and white. But they were too literal, a document of a particular place at a particular time. I wold like to transform them into something more abstract and surreal. So after the first round of post-processing in Lightroom I arrived at this look:

 

I liked the effect, but still too bland. Next step, and final (.tiff in Alien Skin) rendered this look:

 

I think overall effect is better. Colours are more vivid and there is more contrast. Light leaks add to the surreal effect. Sense of time and place is even more distorted as was my intention. I tried to keep the same colour scheme to make them form a series, but varied so each one is slightly different and more interesting.

Evaluation

I had both sets of processed pictures printed. To test different printing outcomes I ordered first set in lustre (matt) finish and second in gloss. Initially I thought that matt finish would lend itself to the painterly effect and muted tones of the first set. But upon receiving the prints I was disappointed how flat and uninteresting they looked. Perhaps if printed on a proper fine art paper like velvet or silk it would look better. Something to try later.

On the other hand, second set with more vivid colours came out beautifully on a gloss photographic finish. The prints are full of depth, contrast is crunchy and colours inviting. The only mistake I noticed is the second print that came a little bit too dark. I suppose this is partly due to the texture applied in Alien Skin, that darkened the whole composition and I forgot to compensate for it. It just goes to show that there is no substitute to printing the work and judging it with your own eyes rather that staring at the computer screen for hours! (unless the outcome is digital only).

Finally the prints I ordered were rather small (7,5×5) just proofs really. If this was to become the main project I would have to order bigger versions to do it justice and perhaps try a few different finishes.

Although I like all the pictures in the series, the first one really encapsulates the inspiration behind the whole project. It is most abstract. With a bit of imagination you can see scratches on the surface as artist’s brush paint strokes. There is order and randomness. Square and organic patters. Finally colour treatment really worked rendering the whole composition in red and blue-ish hues reminiscent of abstract expressionists painting. It can be looked at upside down or sideways and no-one would be any wiser.

But not everything is so rosy. It is surprisingly difficult to photograph a really good abstraction. I seemed so easy when I was listening to Art Wolfe talking about it on Creative Live and showing his examples. Just isolate, turn upside down, crop and go crazy in post processing to arrive at strong, graphical composition. Its all very well and true, but what it takes is lifetime of looking at art to learn to see art in mundane and then extract it. He took his inspiration from paintings and cited Ernst Hass as his biggest influence. I think it is wise to seek inspiration in primary sources and constantly build a library of visual content to draw from when the opportunity presents itself.

Finally the thorny issue of post processing. Some people shrug at the mention of it, some love to use Photoshop to the extreme. I think post-processing is the integral part of photographic process. Not as a way of rescuing badly taken pictures, but as a way of making really good ones slightly better. Having the knowledge of what can be done post-capture can inform the way the picture is taken and greatly enhance the chance of producing good results in the end. For this very reason I will need to work on my skills in the area further.

 

 

 

Assignment criteria: 2,3,4,5

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Transformation – Final Submission

For a long time the contact sheet (a direct print of a roll or sequence of negatives) was the photographer’s first look at what he or she captured on film. Now with digital cameras we can immediately see our pictures on the screen, adjust exposure, judge the composition and so on. But this is only one picture at the time. By looking at the larger body of work, photoshoot or a sequence of shots we still, in effect, employ digital equivalent of a contact sheet.

Apart from its obvious role as a tool to select the best photographs, contact sheet can be seen as an entity in itself. It allows an intimate glimpse into photographer’s working process. It contains all the steps along the route to arriving at the chosen image. It is a record of how an image was constructed. It will very likely contain all the outtakes, mistakes, changes of composition or poses, maybe a series of very good images or maybe mostly terrible ones. Did photographer notice a scene with potential and diligently worked it through, or was he lucky to be at the right time at the right place to capture the decisive moment? Was it staged or serendipitous encounter? How much was it staged and how much post production was involved?

I think it is fascinating subject, often overlooked. We marvel at great photographs and assume there was some kind of divine intervention at play. A genius photographer just happened on a scene, recorded it and moved on to create another masterpiece. In reality it takes a lot more work. We don’t see all the wasted frames that went into the process of “working the scene” to finally arrive at potentially good photograph.

Of course this process will be unique to each individual photographer. Some will be very economical with the number of shots and take one or two per scene. Some will shoot a lot and than select the best pictures later. There is no right or wrong way as long as there is some conscious way of working the scene, rather than “spray and pray” type approach.

Now, I don’t try to compare myself to the great Magnum photographers. What I’m trying to achieve here is show the way image is transformed through edit (selection) and post-production to arrive at the final outcome. Just as it was done in the days of film photography – dodging, burning, cropping and to some extend physical retouching was used (and usually not by photographer). Digital images also (and maybe even more) need some kind of work after capture to bring them to life and give them specific feel. In the days of film photographer would use particular film for specific look and feel – the amount of sharpness, contrast, grain, colour – it was all pre-selected. In digital age we have the freedom to decide all of this after the fact, but alas there is more work to be done at the end of the process (and usually by photographer). Unless shooting jpeg, the digital raw pictures are flat, not very sharp and lack contrast.

Transformation-100_600-50q1280px
©2017 Piotr Bednarek. Digital equivalent of contact sheet. Lightroom Library module with grid view of a sequence of photographs in a photoshoot. Selects in yellow, post-production in green and final outcome in green with white flag. Screen shot.

This is my final image for the Transformation project. It is a high resolution screen capture showing Lightroom grid view and within it a sequence of images from a photoshoot. It contains 56 original captures plus 2 .dng derivatives and 2 .tiff versions made in Alien Skin Exposure and re-imported back into Lightroom. (In original sequence there was about 10 more pictures but they were omitted for the clarity of presentation). Pictures are graded for quality with “stars”: 1*- good enough to consider, 2* – better. No stars means that picture didn’t make the edit, and wasn’t selected for further consideration.

The best pictures of the whole sequence were selected from “2 stars” and assigned yellow flags as candidates to post production. Only 2 pictures made it, one vertical and one horizontal.


First they were processed within Lightroom’s Develop module (equivalent to Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop). I didn’t like the look of the vertical one as it came too harsh, but the horizontal showed some promise.


Then both were exported to Alien Skin Exposure – vertical without, and horizontal with Lightroom adjustments. After some subtle tweaking in Alien Skin and experimenting with textures and light leaks they were saved in TIFF format and imported back into Lightroom. As they showed improvement over originals they were assigned 3 stars for quality. Also at this stage they were finished, which in my workflow is green flag.


So in the end there were only two pictures to consider. I did like the composition in vertical one, but pose wasn’t great and subjects faces weren’t visible. A shame as it could be a good one with nice balance, texture and colours. Horizontal version on the other hand came out better in post production, with subtle colours and nice painterly quality to it. Although I preferred the vertical composition, horizontal one was better overall and got the final pick (white flag in the left upper corner in “contact sheet”). To complete the process the print was made using watercolour artist paper.

I hope this shows the transformation process from the idea to the final product – printed photograph. Arguably it was difficult to show the process of forming an idea, a pre-visualisation or pre-production as it were. I think it is more subconscious and difficult to demonstrate and ultimately a product of lifelong exposure to works of others and visual content that surrounds us.

 

Evaluation

Kristen Lubben in the book Magnum Contact Sheets suggests that editing programs on computer can create only a simulation of a contact sheet and are are fundamentally different. It’s hard to argue – there is no physical medium and no limit of photographs that can be stored on a hard drive (in comparison to 36 frames of film at least). Therefore it makes it hard to revisit the work, most of the times there is too many digital pictures to be able to look at comfortably on one screen. But in my opinion the process remains almost the same, and we mustn’t lose the sight of that. It is the transition from the idea to the final photograph that is important.

Pulling a good picture out of a contact sheet is like going down to the cellar and bringing back a good bottle to share.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

And the idea could be than taken to another level. Cartier-Bresson cut up his negatives preserving only images and sequences that were successful in his opinion and discarded the rest. So did Frank Cappa, occasionally editing and reordering the sequence of images by cutting up his contact sheets and pasting them into notebooks. In a way digital process can afford us an easy way of doing that and creating a new entity. We can take parts of the body of work and create a meta-contact, containing the best parts.

I will try to embrace the contact sheet approach in my work to better my photography. Will have to find a way of grouping the photographs into sets and then analysing the whole sets. Preferably in printed form. Also will try to cut down on unnecessary frames to make the contact sheet neater and more purposeful. Than maybe create a contact sheets of various types of post-production styles and analyse them? Look at the variants of colour and how it affects the mood. In the near future I want to concentrate on professional retouching and colour grading. I think that contact sheet approach could be very useful in analysing outcomes as well.

 

Assignment criteria: 1,2,3,4,5

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Transformation Project initial thoughts

Transformation Project initial thoughts

For the final assignment Transformations I had considered following approaches:

  • Italian Futurists paintings – highly charged modern subjects, dynamic collective experience (crowds and riots), movement and speed; memories and states of mind shown as continuous time,
  • Surrealism; abstract expressionism – transformation of a photograph into abstract piece of art; finding something that wasn’t there before; looking at something mundane with a new set of eyes (Seeing Like a Painter – Luminous Landscape),
  • Photoshop compositing – Erik Johansson – photoshopped landscapes,
  • Studio photography – showing how cameras transformed over the years from fully manual through modern film SLR to digital SLR; product photography,
  • Studio photography: clouds of colourful inks in the tank of water,
  • Street photography – transformation between light and shadow on objects in situ
  • Photographing architectural features – for example doors or stairways leading to it; genre similar to Kerbs Photography; somewhat obscure but slowly finding its rightful place among true aficionados.
  • New and old – coexisting next to each other; dilapidation of old and abandoned, but also growth of new, not always in harmony with old and existing.

My favourite subject was and still is the paintings. I try to seek influence outside of photography. The difficulty I encountered with developing this idea further is the subject matter. It proves very difficult to come up with a subject for a total abstraction. I like the play of colours and dynamism of futurists’ paintings, but the ones that I like the most do not represent anything. It is for the viewer to make up the story. The same goes for Abstract Expressionism.

While doing research I came across works of Ernst Haas (Art Wolfe referred to his work as a big source of inspiration and influence). Haas was a photojournalist and a pioneer of colour photography. He was an innovator and used photography as a medium for expression and creativity with great success. Ernst Haas was born and immersed into the grand cultural climate of Vienna before World War II. He became proficient in painting and drawing, and as a painter he had particular interest in an artwork’s formal qualities,  developing a refined sense of composition and perspective. I think this is a very good example to follow, to study art and its formal qualities. Ultimately photography and camera are only tools and whats we arrive at the end is a composition that has to be appealing to the viewer. The contents of the image, subject matter and the likes are secondary in my opinion and not as important as composition, colours and emotions that they convey.

This finding in turn led me to investigate the contact sheets. In unrelated instance I was watching another great Creative Live class about retouching process from conceptualising and shooting the image in studio to the final product. It was hosted by a retoucher Pratik Naik and photographer Felix Kunze. During editing (selecting photographs from the shoot) Felix referred to the book “Magnum Contact Sheets“, that he studied during his time in photography school. He explained how they looked at the whole body of work to find quickly the best composed photographs to develop further. This inspired me to investigate the process and maybe apply to my own photography work. What was particularly striking is the fact that Magnum photographers were often judged by the quality and consistency of their contact sheets, not the individual photographs. What it can teach us is to be more consistent and purposeful when taking pictures. Something that is somehow forgotten now in the age of digital, when each additional frame doesn’t cost us anything. Also looking back and reflecting upon a body of work can be very beneficial. You can look for developing style, weak and strong compositions, mistakes, how many frames does it take to arrive at the one that works, and why did you choose that particular one. Often there are plenty of equally good ones, or everything  is just so-so. It provides an intimate view into individual thinking and development of an image.

 

Assignment criteria: 1,2,3

Photography as Art

Few months ago I had chance to watch Creative Live broadcast featuring renowned nature, travel and art photographer Art Wolfe. He is an author of several books, and featured in two television series: Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe and Tales by Light. He was born in 1951 on the outskirts of Seattle, USA. At the early age he started exploring nature around his town and was in art school drawing and painting. He eventually got a university degree in painting and art education. He attributes a lot of his success to the background in painting.

When we consider art history, painting early on was not considered art in itself, but more of a recording of historical events and portraits. As time went on and styles changed and evolved, painting became more abstract. Subject matter was no longer the literal representation of reality. Painting shifted to abstract art, culminating in abstract expressionism. You respond to it on an emotional level. Similar thing happened to photography. Early on it was copying painting style, than became documentary and eventually evolved into art form in itself, abstract and free from restrictions of previous style.

Art Wolfe – Rhythms from the wild –  impressionistic posters, inspired by paintings by Monet. Technique used: long exposures, slow shutter speed, panning of the camera.

Rhytms From The Wild
©Art Wolfe. Rhythms From The Wild Book cover
Flight, Mallard Ducks, Fraser River, Canada
©Art Wolfe. An explosion of water and wings fills this image as a flock of wild mallards erupt off the surface of a tidal pond along British Columbia’s Fraser River Delta. Wary of both man and predatory falcons and eagles, these ducks instantly react to the slightest movement.
Burchell's Zebras, Zimbabwe
©Art Wolfe. Burchell’s zebra race across an open plain within Zimbabwe’s forested Matetsi’s River region. A long exposure accentuates the graceful motion of the troupe.

 

How To See And Make Art In Exciting New Ways

Wabi Sabi
@Art Wolfe. Screenshot from Create Art Through Photography

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese term referring to the randomness in nature, but also impermanence and balance. It inspires to fill the frame with subject (which is random, not pattern), so your eye can navigate throughout all of this abstractions. The idea is to have the eye move evenly through the composition. Communication, inspiration, surprise. Using the line to fill the frame with content, trying to avoid areas with no content whatsoever.

Another way to achieve balance is playing with positive and negative space. Positive space is (generally) the subject, negative space is what lays beyond. When those two elements play together nicely, balance occurs and viewers eye stays where artist intended it to be. You should start looking at subject in graphic elements, squint your eyes and render them as spaces and shapes. Look beyond the obvious.

negative space
@Art Wolfe. Screenshot from Create Art Through Photography

When foreground and background match each other in space and content becomes graphic and it becomes art. Its easy to say but hard to do. It comes with experience. You start to analyse everything in front of you. The more you can do that, the more you are on your way to achieving more sophisticated, more graphic, more appreciated work. When he critiques and evaluates work he always gives a nod towards people who thought out the subject well. The stronger it is on a graphical level the more he appreciates it.

 

The picture of rocks went into Lightroom to convert into very strong black and white shapes. Playing with shapes, making white (negative) space as important as black (subject, positive) space. To do that he cropped the image tighter, selecting only a part and making it even more abstract. The whites are now as important as blacks. White areas come forward and dark recede, in other words the negative space now becomes the subject. It is playing with perceptions, it is a challenge and not easy to do. It is not the way we usually see the world around us.

 

 

Assignment criteria: 1,2,3

Reference:

Creative Live Create Art Through Photography with Art Wolfe

Art Wolfe website

Magnum Contact Sheets

Practice of making a contact sheet is somewhat forgotten in digital age. In the film days there was no digital display to look at at the back of the camera. So usual practice after shooting a roll of film was to make a contact print. Negative was cut into strips and placed flat and then exposed onto one large print.

No post production was done at this stage, no dodging and burning or anything of that nature. The result was a sheet of positives, where photographer or editor could see what was on the roll of film, judge the composition, select the best ones or refer to it later.

Photo-Oct-03-7-22-33-PM
Henri Cartier-Bresson looking at contacts at the New York Magnum Office. 1959. © Rene Burri / Magnum Photos

Contact sheets would give you real context of time, place and what went on during the photoshoot, especially if there were other things in the frame. By looking at other photographers contact sheets you can follow their process, formation and development of the idea. Than by looking at all pictures together – a process of selection. Most of Magnum photographers were very consistent on quality of shots, composition and expose. Impressive, considering there was usually little or no time to use a light meter.

What we now use is software like Lightroom for example, but there are some crucial differences. Contact sheet was usually limited to a roll of film (36 exposures), whereas digital can contain hundreds or thousands of images. Secondly there is no tactile feel of holding a physical object in your hands when looking at digital representation on computer screen. Arguably it is also easier to revisit and reflect on the printed collection.

A contact sheet is full of erasures, full of detritus. A photo exhibition or a book is an invitation to a meal, and it is not customary to make guests poke their noses into the pots and pans, and even less into the buckets of peelings…

Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

Assignment criteria: 1,2,3

Reference:

Lubben, Kristen. Magnum Contact Sheets. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. Print.

http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/10/03/10-things-street-photographers-can-learn-from-magnum-contact-sheets/

“Art of Photography” – You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAQRZTRAM-E