RPS International Print Exhibition 156 – Museum of Somerset

This exhibition of 115 framed prints covers a wide range of styles ranging from traditional to contemporary in both colour and black and white.  It is a very eclectic set of prints and I found it quite difficult to understand what some were trying to portray without reading the accompanying text and even then, in a number of cases, making the connection still eluded me.  With such a mix of subjects I found quite a few images that caused me to move on swiftly which just goes to prove how subjective such exhibitions can be.  From my experience of the study visit to ffotogallery to visit Michal Iwanowski’s ‘Clear of People’ and Paul Gaffney’s ‘We make the Path by Walking’ some of the images would be better presented in a body of work with a theme as, for me, they did not make for a stand alone photograph.

Notwithstanding my comments, this was a good experience as it exposed me to such a wide range of subjects in a single exhibition and the range of emotions that are generated; in my case from absolute delight to abhorrent.  It also makes one think about how the images are selected, what are the drivers for those who make the final choice when faced with such a diverse selection of prints.

Visit Exhibition – Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 at Mshed, Bristol: A judge’s perspective

I visited this exhibition not only from my interest in wildlife photography but also to gain an insight into how these competitions are judged.  Roz Kidman Cox, a competition judge, wildlife writer and former editor of BBC Wildlife gave a very informative and interesting talk as we toured the exhibition of 100 photographs, the product of some 43000 entries from photographers representing 26 countries. Roz was able to talk from a position of considerable experience having been involved with the competition since 1981 and she did so with evident passion and knowledge of wildlife and what it means to capture the moment but without undue interference.  The competition does not distinguish between professional and amateur, an interesting stance given the quite extensive resources that went into the capturing of some of the photographs, and has many categories.  There is a wide variety of images, some absolutely magical and others quite shocking. Obviously the judges have a mammoth task in distilling such a vast number of entries into the top 100 and the winners of each category but one of the things that struck me is that this is done completely anonymously and my understanding is that it is also without any data relating to the photograph unless there is a concern raised.  Given the strict code of photographic ethics placed on the entrants and the number of miscreants identified over the life of the competition it says much about the integrity of photographers worldwide, at least I hope it does.

I was surprised at the wide range of categories included in the competition, some that I would not have expected eg landscape, but on reflection, and a quick reminder of the definition (“the native fauna (and sometimes flora) of a region”) all would seem to encompass wildlife and provide for a very visually stimulating and thought-provoking collection of photographs.  As to be expected not all were to my taste, not only from a subject matter perspective but I some cases I though they pushed the boundaries just a bit too far with regard to the set up and the potential to disturb the animals.  However, I do accept that, at times, it may be necessary to go to extremes but I believe this should only be done when it is part of a necessary concerted campaign to bring a particular issue to the notice of a wider audience; it is a fine line we tread as photographers.

Whilst there were many in the cast of 100 that floated my boat there were four that I found had a real impact.  The first is a shot of two jaguars (The Spat), a female putting a male in his place, taken by Joe McDonald and won the Behaviour:Mammals category; this is exactly what I would expect to find in such an exhibition, it captures nature at its best, as found, and to my eyes is a technical masterpiece in capturing the moment as well as showcasing what a wildlife photographer, in the most basic sense of the definition, can reveal to us.  The next, the winner of the Wildscapes category, is by Sergey Gorshkov; it is the eruption of the Plosky Tolbachik volcano, a stunning photograph made all the more so when considering he shot it hanging out of an helicopter flying in close proximity to the event.  My third memorable entry is God’s Ivory by Brent Stirton, winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year category; in just six images he tells a story that depicts greed, wide cultural differences and craftsmanship.  The final photograph that has left a lasting impression is one by Garth Lenz, runner-up in World in our Hands category, Oil Spoils, which shows the devastation caused by the extraction of bitumen from the tar-sands in Canada;  I stood in front of this image for quite some time, my eye roving all over it taking in the detail of what is being done to the land, he clearly knows how to compose a captivating photograph that tells a story.  I was also very impressed by the entries in the young photographer category, some made me feel very much at the lower end of the learning curve!

This is an excellent exhibition made all the more so by the talk by Roz Kidman Cox, well worth a visit in my opinion.

Bibliography:

Lenz, G. (2014) Available from: http://www.garthlenz.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

M shed. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013.  Available from: http://mshed.org/whats-on/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year/ [Accessed 20 January 2014]

Natural History Museum. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013. Available from: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/wpy/about/index.html [Accessed 23 January 2014]

Stirton, B. (2014) Available from: http://www.brentstirton.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

 

In the Footsteps of Artists, walking on Cat Bells

Whilst in the Lake District recently I took the opportunity to participate in the National Trust’s “uncovered” events.  As part of the Derwent Water programme I attended the “In the Footsteps of Artists, walking on Cat Bells”, a ramble(!) up Cat Bells in the company of David Unsworth, a photographer based in Grasmere who specialises in the use of traditional large format cameras to make evocative landscape photographs of the Lake District.

Whilst we ascended Cat Bells David gave an insight to the lure of the area which has seen, and continues so to do, many notable artists eg Constable and Turner, tread the ground in order to capture and record the magic of the valleys and fells of this magnificent landscape.  As an artist turned photographer David was able to put this across in a most captivating and inspirational manner.  His passion for his work was very much reflected in the fact that he had brought one of his cameras and associated equipment (a not insignificant load) with him which gave us an insight into this fascinating area of photography and why he had chosen to go down this particular route.  It was a real experience to get up close and personal with the camera and under the cover be confronted by the upside down, reversed image; this brought home the real endeavours of the early pioneers of photography who worked with somewhat cruder versions of this equipment in all environments.  My thanks to David for a truly inspirational event both in terms of the art of photography and the conservation of our heritage.

Bibliography:

Tate. (2013) Art. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks?st=1262 [Accessed 7 September 2013]

Unsworth, D. (2013) lake district large format. Available from: http://lakedistrictlargeformat.co.uk/ [Accessed 7 September 2013]

Visit – Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum

So where did photography start?  Having seen an advert for the exhibition “Arrangements in Black and Grey” it seemed a good idea to visit the Fox Talbot Museum and learn some more about the work of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) and follow up by visiting the exhibition, in effect putting it all into context in one venue, especially as the exhibition was of black and white photographs.  Clearly we have come a long way since 1839 when Fox Talbot announced his process, particularly moving through the 1970s when conceptual photography came into its own and, perhaps, changed our whole thought process when looking at photographs – is it really as it was at that instant in time or has it been manipulated?  What would Fox Talbot have made of this, after all his inspiration came from the desire to find a better way to record accurately the botanical specimens he was intent on including in his book, The Pencil of Nature (available as a free download EBook), having declared his drawing skills to fall well short of the mark.

DC6_1337 - 1/50sec at f/3.5, ISO1600, 50mm

DC6_1337 – 1/50sec at f/3.5, ISO1600, 50mm

The Museum is well worth a visit.  The display provides a real insight into the man Fox Talbot and what drove him to achieve all that he did.  The displays of both the equipment he used and the results of his work bring to life this important piece of history.  Somewhat ironically there was a connection for me with my earlier visit to Cardiff Diffusion and the exhibit “Wait and See” by f&d cartier in which early photographic paper was exposed in the exhibition room; standing in the museum somehow brought meaning for me that was not previously there.

Moving on to the exhibition, Arrangements in Black and Grey.  The work of six photographers was on display with considerable variety in both approach and subject matter.

Deborah Parkin:  Her theme was ‘Childhood’ and the pictures featured children, hers I believe, in various costumes and masks.  Whilst I was taken by the composition of the shots and absence of colour in scenes where I would expect colour to be used to bring them to life, I found myself distracted by the subject matter which was not to my taste; as a consequence I did not spend much time viewing the images, rather just appreciating the use of black and white and the subtleties it introduces.

Katie Cooke:  This was a very impressive series of prints, all the shots being taken with a pinhole camera, stunning. The scenes were from a Morocco trip and, as such, I found it unusual to see the use of black and white when that part of the world is renowned for the vibrant colours in both its buildings and art work.  However, these shots made a real impact on me and woke me up to just what the use of black and white can do for an image and what it conveys.  The composition of the shots allowed the tones to depict the patterns, lines and textures of the architecture.  And all of this with a pinhole camera!

Mark Voce:  Another set of prints that illustrated the power of black and white.  I found myself drawn to two shots in particular, Molo San Marco and Rio Terra Foscanini, which held my attention for some time; the former was technically clever, in my humble opinion, with a line of gondolas out of focus in the middle foreground and everything else pin sharp ( I now know he used a tilt shift lens!);  the latter really conveyed atmosphere.

Anthony Jones:  These shots were striking in the use of hard lines in the majority which really emphasised the shapes and depicted the size of the buildings in the scene.  However, again two shots were exceptional for me, the London cabs and the reflection in a puddle on a wet road.  What I liked about the shot of the London cabs was the fact that he composed the image such that in the foreground, filling the majority of the frame was the back of the cab whilst in the background was the front of another; of course what calls out more for a black and white shot than the good old London hackney carriage!  The image of the reflection in a puddle on a wet street is full of atmosphere and extremely powerful in its use of tones and captures the varying textures of the pavement and road surfaces.

Nettie Edwards:  I never really expected to find a section in this exhibition where all the images had been taken on an iPhone, quite a boost to morale as the header picture on my blog was taken on an iPhone!  I particularly liked the composition of the shots of what appears to be a circular stairwell with the sweeping curves of the stairs and walls and the varying tones giving a certain harshness to the structure and the shadows created.  These shots really showed what can be achieved with that multifunction device that many of us have become wedded to and gives some weight to the ongoing debate about where camera development is heading.

Trevor Ashby:  Not being one who much cares for stuffed wild animals I was at first put off this collection of photographs which was dominated by shots of such images; this perhaps says something about first impressions and, rather like buying a house, you have to look beyond the current owners taste in decor to really understand what is before you.  In this case a second pass made a couple of the remaining images stand out, one of an egg held on the palm of an open gloved hand and the other of pea pods that had snail shells inserted in place of the peas then bound with either wire or fine twine.  The shot of the egg really captured the fragility of the object and the black and white really made it pop.  The pea pods shot was full of interesting shapes and textures and had a certain irony to it being the victim of these creatures in my vegetable plot.

Overall I thought this was a very good exhibition and it really opened my eyes to the power of black and white photography.  I think I am now convinced that the absence of colour does make you you look at the photograph in a different way and some scenes really lend themselves to this treatment.  I do believe that there is a place for these images in 21st century photography, the question posed by the exhibition.  One other thing that struck me regarding the presentation of the images was what a difference the frame and background makes.  Some of the photographs really stood out and caught the eye, drawing you in, as a result of how they had been ‘framed’ and what background they had been set against, while others were quite the opposite.

Of course I could not leave Lacock without going to find “the window”.

References:

Fox Talbot, H. (2010)  Project Gutenberg Ebook the pencil of nature. (Ebook 33447). Project Gutenberg. Available from: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/33447/33447-pdf.pdf [Accessed 8 July 2013].

Bibliography:

Ashby,T. (2013) Trevor Ashby Photographs.  Available from: http://trevorashby.com [Accessed 10 July 2013]

Cooke, K. (2013) Katie Cooke photography.  Available from: http://katiecooke.com [Accessed 9 July 2013]

Freeman, M. (2011) The photographer’s vision. Lewes. The Ilex Press Ltd.

Jones, A.  (2013) Current exhibition.  Available from: http://www.ajphoto.info/pages/welcome.html [Accessed 10 July 2013]

Lumilyon. (2012) The mobile art and photography of Nettie Edwards.  Available from: http://lumilyon.wordpress.com [Accessed 10 July 2013]

Parkin, D. (2013) deborah parkin photography.  Available from: http://www.deborahparkin.com [Accessed 10 July 2013]

Voce,M.  (2013).  Mark Voce Photography.  Available from: http://markvoce.com [Accessed 11 July 2013]

Visit Art Exhibition – “Trash to Treasure” by Melanie Paice

This exhibition, at the Robert Phillips Gallery, Riverhouse Arts Centre, Walton-on-Thames, centred on the use of materials that would normally end up in landfill; the paintings and drawings are on old ceramic tiles and slate and the sculptures are fashioned from broken incandescent light bulbs.  On entering the exhibition I was immediately struck by the urge to photograph the sculptures which were arranged on tables and, more striking, as ‘swarms’ hanging from frames suspended from the rafters.  I saw this opportunity as a challenge as it was in a very bright, white environment lit by a multitude of spotlights, all at varying angles, something I had not tackled before.  Also I had my camera with me “just in case” so was armed with just the trusty 50mm f/1.4 lens and everything was to be shot handheld.  There was also the issue of shooting when there was clear line of sight as people moved around the exhibits.  Having obtained permission to photograph I set about the task.

These two shots seemed fairly straightforward as far as what I was trying to achieve, show the artist with examples of her work.  However, the outcome illustrates the problem I was having  with achieving consistency in the lighting conditions; my after action review points to the advantage of using Manual for consistency.

These two shots illustrate the origins of the sculptures and the intricate detail of winding the filament wires to form the elements of the “bugs”, making each one unique.  As far as the shots are concerned, again the lack of consistency in the whites of each shot is very evident albeit I did use the ‘expose to the right’ principle.  Treating this as a still life photo in an ideal world would have involved use of a tripod and reflectors; this is an area for further practice.

As I intimated at the start, the ‘swarms’ were very striking, forming 3D sculptures; obviously a great deal of effort went into the arrangement to create the effect.  When photographing these I sought to use depth of field to best effect as well as capturing the light reflected off the nylon line used to suspend each ‘bug’ in the formation.  When reviewing these shots after the event I was taken by the fact that each ‘bug’ had, in effect, a face formed by the solder contacts or clever use of the filaments; note to self, pay more attention to detail when viewing things lest you miss an opportunity.

I really enjoyed this exhibition and was very much taken by the innovative use of “Trash” to produce some striking artworks and sculptures.  It provided me with the opportunity to try shooting in an unfamiliar environment as well as capturing some unusual subjects.  Clearly still life is a challenging subject area, particularly when it is attempted in a restricted environment. My thanks to Melanie for inviting me to her exhibition and then allowing me to “get in the way”.

Reference:

Paice, M. (2013) Trash to Treasure. Walton-on-Thames: The Robert Phillips Gallery. 15-26 May 2013.

Bibliography:

Freeman, M. (2009) Perfect exposure. Lewes: Ilex

Prakel, D. (2009) Basics photography 07, Exposure. Lausanne: AVA Publishing

 

 

Study Visit 31 May 2013 – Diffusion, Cardiff International Festival of Photography

I went on my first Study Visit to Diffusion, Cardiff International Festival of Photography on 31 May 2013 under the tutorage of Jesse Alexander who had secured the help of one of the exhibition staff thus making our visits to the individual exhibitions very informative and run smoothly.  The visit took place on what was essentially the last day of the festival so some exhibits had closed but there was still a lot to see, aided considerably by SatNav.

Whilst I have visited a number of art galleries and photography exhibitions, mainly to see specific exhibitions that interested me rather than explore art in the round, I found this to be a full-on experience with a very broad spectrum of images and ideas.  Some of what I saw resonated, others got me thinking and then there were some that completely baffled me.  I have to say at the outset that I have never considered myself to be “of the arts”, so to speak, and I determined to approach this visit with an open mind being at the beginning of a journey of discovery.  What I saw and felt is told as it was for me at the event and with further reflection and no doubt there will be some who will immediately reach for that well known label – so be it.

We began the day at Ffotogallery, Turner House, Penarth and viewed Edgar Martin’s Time Machine project, aptly named as some of the images reminded me of some of the early sets of Dr Who.  The project was undertaken in 2010/2011 in a number of hydro-electric power plants in Portugal, many of which were constructed in the period 1950-1970 when there was a good deal more optimism than now and the grandeur and technical challenges of such projects was an overt display of that optimism.  I was really taken by this work, maybe something to do with my engineering background; it also awakened many memories from my youth of going into work with my father in various sugar factories in the West Indies and seeing similar scenes (somewhat smaller) in the power generating facilities.  Clearly Martin is a man of great detail and I would imagine he spent much time in deciding both on what to shoot to best tell the story and then the execution.  All the shots of the cavernous interiors with their almost cathedral-like construction had been enlarged in sympathy with the subject; in simplistic terms big object/big space equals corresponding big picture, which worked for me.  There was also a broad spectrum of subjects, massive spaces, generating equipment and control panels through basic individual hand tools to crude but well crafted display boards; he was obviously intent on recording the full gamut of equipment.  However, it was notable that there is a complete lack of the human form, desks with no chairs, softened in one image by the fact that someone had painted an outdoor scene on the wall in a generating room and in one of the large hall images of a Christmas decoration appeared to be projected on the wall.   Some of the framing really brought things to life, floating frames made switch panels seem almost real; this says something about the impact of how you display the image.  One particularly striking image was that of a stairwell which completely toppled my internal gyros; my immediate thought was I was looking along a tunnel, then looking down a shaft when in fact it was taken looking up a stairwell (fantastic use of perspective), discernible by the railings – I’d better not sit any psychometric tests in the near future!  My final comment on the exhibition is the fact that, tucked away in a corner, is a small print completely out of character with the rest of the images; it is a landscape which, I guess, seeks to put the whole into context but it did seem a bit bizarre that it was so small and tucked away in a corner, almost as if it is irrelevant.

The next venue was Chapter and Maurizio Anzeri’s “But it’s not late, it’s only dark” and I did find it quite “dark”.  I’m still trying to get my head around the title so the starting point for me is somewhat vague, even given the handout at the start of the tour which gives some insight into his thoughts about the human body!  The collection of “photo-sculptural” pieces are like nothing I have seen before; old photographs onto which he has embroidered patterns.  There was quite a mixture of images/sculptures, call them what you will, and what struck me was the absence of colour in most and the almost sinister character of the majority of the images, especially those where he had highlighted parts of the pictures such as eyes, mouths and teeth; this contrasted with some very intricate embroidery.  Some of the images had been mounted in steel frames which, in turn, formed part of what I took to be steel sculptures. All of this then seemed at odds with two pieces made of synthetic hair hanging from the ceiling and draped over mirrors on the floor, right at the other end of the Rockwell hardness scale, so to speak.  I’m afraid this student left feeling somewhat depressed and wondering just what effect on his audience he was seeking.

A quick visit to “Borth” by Gideon Koppel followed.  This is a 55 minute film made in the “wild west Wales town of Borth”.  There is no doubt that, at times, you felt you were actually there, aided by the almost deafening soundtrack.  For a while I was held by the scenes of the multicoloured houses, in various state of repair, being battered by the elements and imagining living there;  I also wondered how he went about actually making the film.  The film appeared to be shots of the waterfront houses taken from the beach as he moved along it the bit that I watched was very much more of the same; suffice to say I did not stay for the whole film.

We then went to the “Wait and See” exhibition by f&d cartier.  Arranging varying sizes of unexposed black and white photosensitive paper on the walls of a room and watching the outcome, albeit over a relatively long time, would never have struck me as something to exhibit; more something I would expect to see in the lab of some large photographic paper manufacturer and that was my instant reaction on walking into the room.  It was interesting to see that, although it was black and white paper, when exposed to light it developed colour.  Listening to the remarks within the group, most were about this phenomenon and it generated discussion.  So if the aim was to make people reflect upon the unexpected outcome of what was developing before them, then I guess it hits the mark.  Even with some reflection I am still having difficulty with the whole concept and don’t fully understand the totality of the description “…..a subtle interplay with space and light…..”, the light, yes, but the space element has me puzzled unless it is something to do with how the light reflects within the space and the effect that has on the transformation of the individual pieces of paper.  Looking at the postcards we were given I would have said here is a piece of abstract art; perhaps I should have stood back in the room and viewed the arrangements from a different perspective.

Next it was off to the Tramshed.  What a fantastic space, instantly related to the environment, a large old tram workshop with lots of fascinating pieces of its old life still in place.  The exhibition, “The Valleys Re-Presented” was a wonderful collection of pictures of life in the south Wales’ Valleys by a number of eminent photographers  all of which, I thought, captured the moment superbly over a wide spectrum of people and their working and social life.  It was also interesting to see the various ways the images were displayed ranging from a film presented on a large monitor through backlighting, traditionally framed and pasted on tall structures of painted chipboard, all of which seemed to enhance the image being displayed; as with Edgar Martin’s images, it brought home to me that how you present the image can have a real effect on the impact created when viewing it.  I throughly enjoyed this exhibition; it was in a similar vein to a TV programme I saw of David Suchet replicating images taken by his grandfather, James Jarche.

A short drive to another unlikely venue, g39.  I fully expected to walk into the building and find a flat pack furniture factory!  This building housed “Barnraising and Bunkers”, described as “a wide examination of the flagship spaces for art contrasted with the often isolated and separated means of art production; the studio.”.  I have to admit that I was somewhat taken aback by what was on view when first entering, not what I expected from the title at all.  However, the overview we were given did go some way towards providing an explanation of the thinking behind the exhibits, particularly the Barnraising element inspired by the community spirit of the Mennonites as I had come across this while living in Belize; this put the work by Jonathan Powell into context but I was unsure as to whether he was depicting our building planning being somewhat haphazard.  I could also relate to the project by Richard Powell looking at how people create their own paths and shortcuts; pictures of unplanned paths trodden by people seeking to get round obstacles or make short cuts to their destination which says much about human nature.  I also liked the work of Abigail Reynolds and her portrayal of what we are doing to the land.  The exhibit by Dan Griffiths was an intriguing use of video but standing watching a multitude of display screens simultaneously showing footage of street scenes shot from a skateboard was somewhat disorientating; I found myself wanting to concentrate on one screen but constantly distracted by the other screens, I’m not sure what impact is being sought.  Moving on to the  metal fabrication by Angharad Jones; a somewhat unexpected use, from my perspective, of everyday items used in the control of access to spaces.  The street vendor trolley stacked with a variety of plastic items by Geraint Evans stopped me in my tracks; as I sit here writing this I am still trying to fathom this one out and I think this will be long running for me.  Similarly, I found the black cloth structure suspended from the roof, the work of Rich White, difficult to understand.  In retrospect g39 was probably a good place to end the day as it certainly left a lasting impression and I went away with quite a jumble of thoughts about some aspects of “art”.

This was a very enjoyable and informative day, on the one hand looking at photography and other art from a different perspective and, on the other, having the opportunity to meet and talk to other OCA students and Jesse.  I have come away somewhat surprised at the impact the experience has had on me; heavens forbid, I have actually been talking about the works I saw and questioning their meaning (yes, g39 in particular) – this is not engineering, could the Right Brain be coming into play after all, perhaps using Mind Maps does help develop creativity!  Having talked about this experience with my better half who is much more into what I still call “the pink and fluffy stuff” I have had a book put in front of me, The Artist’s Way – dare I open it!  Anyway we are off to the Fox Talbot Museum to see “Arrangements in Black and Grey”.

My thanks to Jesse Alexander for guiding us through the day and all the other students for their exchange of ideas and good-humoured banter which lifted me when I thought I was losing the plot.  Also thanks to the staff at Diffusion who helped to make it an informative and memorable event.

Reference List:

Cameron, J. (1995) The Artist’s Way: a course in discovering and recovering your creative self. London. Pan Books