Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts - Completing Project 3

This is one of the segments of my OCA experience that I would happily have extended, I still have much to learn about Black and White as a medium and to my surprise have discovered that I really enjoy working this way.  B&W imagery has liberated my photographs from the challenge of colour management and contrasts, enabling a clearer focus on the formal structure of the image within the frame.  Even if I ultimately do not do much further B&W this exercise in photographing the shape of things rather than the colour of things will inform my image making in any style.

Whilst doing this segment of the course I also had the time to complete my reading of Ansel Adams classic series on photography.

The Negative (New Photo)

The Print (New Photo)

These books continued in much the same vein as the first, "The Camera".  Moving into the chemistry of developing and printing they are not easy to read and much of the information is of limited direct value.  The zone system is interesting as a model, however, not easily understood and I think to some extent obsoleted by the capabilities of modern digital cameras.  What as immensely valuable, however, was the philosophy and approach taken, the emphasis on craft coming before art is particularly important.  I see many fellow students questioning the point of some of the more repetitive exercises in the courses, this is the nature of building skills, repetition and reflection.  Adams continually suggests that photographers go out and take test shots to calibrate film or metering, repetitive tasks designed to build deeper understanding of both equipment and medium. I have to admit I skimmed many of the more chemical discussions, simply glad that I could avoid building a dark room containing a sump drain to wash away dangerous chemicals.  I sometimes romanticize the traditional practice of photography without really adding the context of the time and patience required.

The take away from these books for me is to take more time over each stage in the photographic process from first capturing the image, through the software based development process to the final print.  In particular I plan to spend more time looking at the print process and managing the quality of my output, particularly at larger sizes.

I now move onto the 4th project, "Reality and Intervention", once again with the same troubled thoughts as when I approached B&W,  I have always had to do a degree of correction of images, particularly the removal of sensor dust marks or water born particulate matter reflecting in my underwater strobes.  I also do a little selective dodging and burning, modification of perspective, and application of filters to darken or brighten skies.  I apply these techniques to improve the quality of the image, to better present its tonality, and to correct for lens introduced distortion.  Each is analogous to analogue film processing or camera control.  However, none of the actually changes the content or overall structure of the image.

I do not have a philosophical objection to large scale image change, I just find it rather pointless in the context on my own photographic goals.  Photography for me is the challenge of looking and then using the camera to translate my vision onto something that can be shared with others, hopefully to interest or challenge them.  If a figure needs to be removed, be patient wait for the bugger to move out of the frame.  If an artifact exists go back and shoot again.  Admittedly I confine my photography to my immediate surroundings so it is always possible to return to a place, however, in the case I cannot then the image is binned.

Once we step beyond the basic tools (clearly this boundary will change subjectively and is open to debate) we move from photography into graphic art, a fine and interesting discipline that uses photography as a key tool, but is not in itself photography.  The final element of this project is to design a book cover, something I am looking forward to, however, photography is the production of the base image, the final cover is graphic art and I suspect that in the book publishing world two different departments will handle these tasks.

On a final point of perceived truth, photography does not reflect reality, it simply captures a version of reality in a finite space that existed for the time it took the shutter to open and close.  It is the publisher of the timage who then pretends that this is reality , and the audience who believe this.  An unaltered photograph has not pretense to be reality, what difference if it is altered?  Provided no claim is made for the "truth" of the scene why should we care.

On a final note I am currently reading "The Cruel Radiance:Photography and Political Violence", by Susie Linfield, a book which asks searching questions about how photographs of cruelty and exploitation should be viewed or indeed used as evidence.  I am only a couple of chapters into the book, but it is already providing a fresh view on Sontag and Barthes, postulating that photographs can influence our thinking and that we have not become desensitized to violence through repetitive images.  I will write a more complete review later, however, I mention this book here, because it addresses the issue of photographs as evidence, but also does not accept that they portray reality, rather the reality of the person taking the photograph, not the victim in the photograph.

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