Effie Paleologou ‘Mean City’

Whilst on a recent trip to the V & A in London, I happened on a small exhibit of photos by Effie Paleologou. I hadn’t heard of her before but the content of the exhibit really drew me in. Her “Mean City” series shows a nocturnal urban environment: streets with glimpses of figures, artificially lit urban blocks and creative compositions that make use of the available light, whether moonlight or artificial. The V & A sums up the series as “photographs (that) convey some of the sensations felt by the photographer wandering and observing alone. The result is a subtle combination of aesthetic, urban, social and personal viewpoints.”

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What I really got from the images was the presentation of cold, artificial cityscapes at night. The appearance of the figures in the images gave a feeling of loneliness and vulnerability. Paleologou’s aesthetic appears to disregard technically perfect images, and instead we get grainy reproductions awash with strong artificial light and blurry figures in the distance. This contributes to the vulnerability and dark atmosphere present in the series. If anything I would have liked to have seen more images as the set was a series of 3-4 (see link below), and I thought there was great potential in exploring the concept further.

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O113476/mean-city-photograph-paleologou-effie/

I was particularly drawn to the series as I have been thinking of shooting an urban environment at night for the final assignment (assignment five). My tutor’s feedback on the Coney Island images (shot at night) have had me considering further methods (film, long exposure etc) and concepts to explore that might meet the brief. It may be a little early to be considering this project before assignment four, but now is a good time to start exploring and experimenting with concepts and methods.

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Effie Paleologou ‘Mean City’

A Note on Alexander Gronsky

*This post forms part of my preliminary research for Part Four “People Interacting with Place”.

Linking back to my reflections on my learning experiences from Part Three, I conducted some preliminary research to maintain the momentum gained from assignment three. One of the locations I covered in this assignment to demonstrate the function of buildings in use was a fairground in Coney Island, New York. Although it was a loose interpretation of the assignment brief, I feel I was successful in showing the viewer the function of the space and temporary structures in my images. The use of place for leisure and recreation is a subject that has intrigued me, particularly in light of the brief for the upcoming assignment four.

‘Pastoral’

One photographer I identified as relevant and worthy of discussion is the Russian landscape photographer Alexander Gronsky.

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a) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Pastoral’ (2008-2012) 

Gronsky is a former press photographer who covered events in Russia and the former USSR in the 2000s before moving into advertising and commercial photography for corporations and humanitarian organisations. He has placed more emphasis on personal projects in recent years and conducted a series of exhibitions, published a book and received awards for his work. He is known for his photographs of Russian landscapes, using a Mamiya 6×7 camera with colour film.

One of his series ‘Pastoral” caught my eye immediately (see image above). The series observes Muscovites at leisure around seemingly man-made lakes and industrial wastelands on the edge of Moscow in summer-winter months. What is very striking about the images is how his human subjects make use of a space – neither city nor countryside – not intended for recreational activity. We see people swimming in a river of questionable water quality, people sunbathing among dense entanglements of weeds and thorns, and families playing games next to heaps of sand dug up by industrial diggers. The series has a penchant for the surreal, we glimpse someone shooting an air rifle and someone undressing in some trees. As a kind of backdrop to these leisure activities, which seem to make up the majority of the activity, there is the ever present industrial landscape that overshadows this man-made natural landscape.

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b) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Pastoral’ (2008-2012) 

What this series shows is that recreational activity does not necessarily have to take place in a place intended for leisure. For the Muscovites living on the edge of Moscow, perhaps located a significant distance from the nearest park or unable to afford to travel far, this is the only space they have to make the most of their days off. Although we don’t see the people in his photos up close (often appearing as figures in the distance) we get the impression that the people are enjoying their surroundings. The full set is a long term project that consists of a final 40-50 images and can be found on Gronsky’s website here:

http://alexandergronsky.com/#/portfolio/works/pastoral-2008_2012/26

‘Mountains and Waters’

Linking back to my conclusions from assignment three, another of Gronsky’s projects is also worth looking at. It is interesting to note how he presents his work in the series ‘Mountains and Waters’, a set of images that examines the changing landscapes of China.

Gronskyc) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ (2011) 

What is interesting about the series is the presentation of the works in diptychs, that is two images set beside each other. In the exhibition notes he links the idea behind the series to the word for landscape in Chinese – a compound of two symbols for mountain (山) and water (水). This duality in his presentation is evident in the use of the diptych to exhibit the resulting images. He also links this choice of presentation to Shan Shui painting tradition, where the intention of the artist was not to represent one single place or landscape, but rather to present a ‘metaphor of a human journey through a constant shift between nothingness and form.’ (Gronsky, 2011) It is apparent that although Gronsky presents two images together, there is an element in both that creates a visual narrative (see image above) that unifies and blends the two into something resembling a panoramic landscape photograph (see image below).gronskyd) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ (2011)

While Gronsky was not primarily concerned with leisure or recreational activity in this series, his choice of presentation is something to consider for the future assignments. It is clear that Gronsky thought deeply about his presentation and researched traditional Chinese art and the philosophy behind it. This tradition influenced his choice of presentation, and it works very well in seamlessly contrasting old and new (c) and placing his distant human figures within huge environments that are neither totally man-made nor wholly natural (d). He also cleverly uses the diptych to hint at a story or narrative – has the figure on the boat in (d) become the figure in the smaller boat under the bridge? He also sometimes knits together his panoramas, often loosely as in image (e) as the two images were taken at different times. He is not bothered about disguising this and yet the images feel like they are in perfect harmony.

Gronsky

e) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ (2011)

What his presentation does is consistently ask questions of the viewer and again, as with the ‘Pastoral’ series, has a penchant for the surreal and the eccentric. The ‘Mountains and Waters’ set is again an extensive series and can be found on Gronsky’s website (follow link below):

http://alexandergronsky.com/#/portfolio/works/mountains-and-waters-2011/3

Reflections

A major point I will consider in future submissions is how my final images are to be presented – should they be presented in the same format? With the same aspect ratio? Should one image be made bigger to emphasise a subject? Could an image work better in a diptych or even in triptych? Or do the images work better in a sequential set?

It is clear that the way in which the photographer presents the final set of images could be considered before even a shot is taken, and in Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ series the presentation was at the heart of the project. Considering whether you would like to present your images sequentially with forms of visual punctuation (such as emphasising one subject over another), or whether you would like to juxtapose your subjects in diptychs can inform the photographer’s approach to a location. This could be described as a very measured approach to photographing a place, and it could be harder to include the spontaneous event or the unexpected. It is certainly an approach I will consider for the upcoming exercises and in my research for assignment four.

A Note on Alexander Gronsky

Part 3 Reflections

Having completed assignment three and had some time for reflection, I thought it useful to write up some conclusions I had from the process and provide some more background for the choice of locations and technique. In addition, this reflection should also reveal the rationale behind the final images I chose for the submission. I have included images I chose to omit to help illustrate some of the thoughts and conclusions I had about the final submission.

*Note that all of the images below were omitted from the final submission and should not be considered as part of assignment three

Ironically I found the most challenging part of the assignment photographing the most mundane locations, i.e. the shopping centre and library interior. Whilst working through the exercises and projects, I had set on a couple of locations for the assignment with quite obvious functions – a fairground and housing estate. What was interesting with the housing estate (Barbican set) was that as I got to know the location better, I began to see more uses and functions. I was also very taken in by its form and architectural design and found myself focusing too much on these aspects rather than the functional aspect of the space. Gradually I became aware that this was pulling my focus away from the assignment brief. The four images I selected showed various uses of the space, whereas those I decided to omit were either too similar to the ones I had selected, or were overly focused on form. A selection of those I decided to leave out are posted below.

Barbican-3 Barbican1

Barbican-5 Barbican-7Barbican-2  Barbican-6

One image I might have included was the park and the person walking across it. It shows part of the residential space of the estate but demonstrates a slightly differing function – a leisure space. This is something that could have been included in a larger project or series, but I decided that it was too similar to the residential uses I had shown in the other images. Also I thought it was perhaps a bit wayward of the assignment brief and was not focused enough on ‘building’ or the idea of a structure. However the idea of a leisure space is something that I found interesting and is an idea that I will come back to later.

The images of the Coney Island fairground I chose to omit were not particularly focused on the idea of a building in use. The ones I had chosen to include were rather a loose interpretation of the brief as well, but close enough to demonstrate a functional structure (for instance the ticket office. Again exploring this location again or one that I would have access to near to where I live would be an idea worth pursuing, perhaps fitting into the idea of a leisure/recreational space. A selection of images I chose to omit for the Coney Island location are below.

ConeyIsland-2 ConeyIsland-3 ConeyIsland-4 ConeyIsland

I felt the images of the outdoor cinema and the people on the benches were too loose an interpretation of the brief. I chose to select one image of the ferris wheel, the two I chose to omit were perhaps again too vague but I did enjoy the rather abstract capture of the roller coaster on the left. It would be interesting to see if it could fit into a larger project or more varied series of images focusing on a leisure/recreational space. Experimenting with visual narrative and finding “visual punctuation” in a series of images is something touched upon by Maria Short in ‘Context and Narrative’:

“It can be possible to achieve a certain pace in the series by using a particular size or shape of image at a key point in the sequence, either as a recurring theme or a one-off.” (Short, 2011, P.106)

Experimenting with narrative and presentation of images is something that I will be researching and attempting to do, certainly for the part four assignment and perhaps in a retrospective presentation of the images I made for the part three assignment. It would have been interesting to present the images I made for assignment three in a less uniform way, for example increasing the prominence of one image by increasing its size or messing with its aspect ratio. Observing the presentation of work by other photographers and how this can change visual narrative is something that I will come back to and research later.

My initial approach to photographing the shopping centre in Stroud can be seen in the images I chose to omit. I had the problem of shooting the complex’s obvious function when I first approached it and the resulting images were somewhat flat and uninteresting. It was after I had walked around the entire complex and saw how it fit into the Stroud town centre that I saw a function besides the obvious use as a shopping centre. The omitted images below show this function whereas those I chose to submit in the finished set demonstrate more creativity and a more interesting visual narrative.

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Merrywalks-3

Merrywalks

A takeaway point from this location (and that I considered immediately) is that it is always important to research and consider your location before approaching it. My intention when shooting Merrywalks was somewhat arbitrary, as I was thinking about its obvious function as a place to shop in. After walking around and considering its place within the town centre as a meeting point for young people, I approached the location in a more creative manner and I think the images I chose to submit possess a more engaging narrative for the observer.

This point was also very relevant with my approach to photographing the mills. It was only after I had shot a few frames and had considered how I could create a visual narrative for the audience that I approached the location in a different, more creative way. As I was shooting I found a potential narrative in juxtaposing the modern with the old. I saw the sports car parked under the Victorian railway bridge with the mill in the background, and saw the opportunity to contrast the modern office function with the traditional function of the mill as an industrial workspace. The images I omitted from the submission are presented below, and are devoid of any social/visual narrative I think is present in the set I submitted. Similar to my initial approach in photographing Merrywalks, the first frames I took at the mill are quite straightforward and only really show the original function of the buildings.

stroudmills-2 stroudmills-3 stroudmills-4 stroudmills

To conclude, I feel I approached this assignment in a much more thoughtful and creative way compared to assignment two. I was quite pleased with the submitted images for each of the five locations and I came away with some very useful learning experiences and ideas for future research. Although I have talked about these in the above text, I have bullet pointed the ideas below for ease of future reference.

  • It is important to research and walk around a location before shooting it and to consider how you would present the location in a series.
  • It is useful to ask yourself if there is any narrative present besides the obvious, and if you could approach photographing a location in a unique way.
  • Consider ways of presenting your final images in a set – are there subjects you could emphasise over others? How could you emphasise this within the set?
  • Could you change aspect ratio, size or bring in other visual aspects to achieve a visual punctuation within the narrative?
  • Taking away ideas such as leisure and recreational spaces, and how people interact with these spaces for my work/research in Part Four.

Having already done some preliminary reading for Part Four, these points are relevant learning experiences and ideas to bare in mind for work/research in Part Four. Although I am aware that the research and execution of assignment four may take a while, I am keen to keep up the momentum gained from Part Three and have already begun research for the next assignment and projects in Part Four.

Part 3 Reflections

Assignment three: buildings in use (Set 5)

For the fifth set of images in this assignment, I chose to shoot at the Barbican estate in London. I find the complex an interesting place due to it being a great example of 1970s Brutalist design and still seemingly functioning – at odds with the rejection of Brutalism by contemporary society. It is controversial for many Londoners due to its ugly aesthetic and association with 1970s urban planning. However it is the organisation of the complex and its varied use which makes it an engaging space. I therefore set out to attempt to capture the Barbican’s contemporary functions again using my Rolleiflex camera for the sake of continuity with the other sets of this assignment. I decided to use Fuji Provia slide film in order to obtain as clear scans as possible and also because I thought the muted tones of Provia would be more suitable than more saturated colours of a negative film. I was tempted to use black and white film, but I decided upon colour in order to capture accurately how it is seen by visitors and residents. In hindsight I think I should have used faster colour negative film as the Provia resulted in a lot of blocked shadows and blown highlights.

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I shot a lot of images at the Barbican so deciding upon three or four was difficult. The image above shows the harshness of the concrete structure contrasting with the natural colour of the flower beds laid out by the residents. The image gives a strong sense of an overpowering urban environment, but perhaps in defiance of this the residents seek to create their own space on the balconies of their flats.

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It is easy to imagine that growing flowers in an environment dominated by concrete gives residents a sense of ownership over the space. I shot the above image looking down onto an underground car park beneath the estate. I did not expect to see signs of residence when looking down upon three subterranean levels of concrete.

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Despite the signs of residence and community on the estate, there were points where I was reminded of its location within a busy part of London. The above image shows part of the complex which is given over to offices and the performing arts centre. The bike path was busy and full of commuters whilst I was walking around, travelling between the estate’s offices, flats and nearby tube station.

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The final shot shows an architects’ office with people busy at work. This demonstrates one of the estate’s contemporary uses alongside its original function as a residence for working class Londoners. It’s success as a space seems to be rooted in its continued occupancy by a community of residents who value the flats they reside in, its use as a performing arts centre (one of the largest in Europe) and its occupancy by private firms such as the architects’ office. This set therefore accurately shows the complex’s various functions and how the estate continues to successfully function despite the controversy and divided opinion over its aesthetic and design.

Assignment three: buildings in use (Set 5)

Assignment three: buildings in use (set 4)

For the fourth set of images I focused on a fairground in Coney Island whilst on a trip to New York. This location is quite a loose interpretation of ‘building’, being a collection of temporary structures in use and of course mostly outdoors. However I thought it would be an interesting and challenging place to photograph, and could make for some great images. I chose to shoot at night with 120 colour negative film loaded into my Rolleiflex. I thought shooting long exposures would be an engaging approach in showing how the space and structures are used. Colour negative film is very good for long exposures due to its wide latitude and natural colour reproduction. I had to time my shutter speeds carefully to compensate for reciprocity failure, therefore I checked the Kodak Portra 400 reciprocity charts and made a note of the data before going out to shoot.

ConeyIsland

The first image shows a busy area of the fairground and some of the temporary structures. The long exposure works well here as the group of people walking past the stall on the left is blurred out enough to remove focus away from the people. Instead the viewer is left to observe the structures in the frame. The bright lights, garish decor and temporary structures show us the nature of the space and its use.

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The second image shows the entrance to the fairground. I chose a slightly faster shutter speed here to capture some of the people in the frame. The structure on the right is quite obviously a ticket office and I thought retaining sharpness in the human subjects would be useful in showing the function of the building.

WonderWheel

The image above shows a ferris wheel. I chose a much longer shutter speed for this subject as I wanted to capture the flow and movement of the structure. Whilst the resulting image is quite busy with a lot of elements I liked the addition of the family on the left who remained still long enough to appear sharp in the final image. I was quite pleased with the final images and although it was an experimental approach, I thought the results were effective in showing the use of the temporary structures within the fairground.

Assignment three: buildings in use (set 4)

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 3)

Merrywalks2

For the third part of Assignment Three, I chose the location of Stroud’s Merrywalks centre. A shopping, cinema and multi-storey car park typical of 1960s town planning, I walked around the centre on a Saturday afternoon. I aimed to find a function beyond the obvious shopping and cinema going function, and looked to show how the complex fits into the everyday life of Stroud’s town centre. I again selected my Rolleiflex camera with Kodak Portra for natural colour reproduction, and also for subtlety as I was aware that I would be shooting on the street.

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Stroud is a small market town in the Cotswolds, so Merrywalks is somewhat of an eye sore when placed next to the quite picturesque buildings of the small centre. The complex is so big in comparison that it actually obscures the view of Stroud when you drive in. The construction of the cinema and, much later, the McDonalds saw strong opposition from locals. In the 1970s the Stroud District Council attempted to destroy much of the town’s old centre to make way for further developments alongside Merrywalks. It was thanks to action from local people that much of this was averted but the centre has survived well into the 21st Century despite being somewhat neglected (except for the cinema).

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The interior of the shopping area in the centre feels empty next to the vibrance of Stroud’s centre which is especially busy on a Saturday thanks to the Farmers’ market. The position of the centre right on the main road through Stroud (and so all the bus routes) and the popularity of the cinema of course make it a natural point of congregation in Stroud. Despite its somewhat neglected appearance, it still retains its function as a transport hub and car park for shoppers and market goers headed into Stroud. Being the school holidays I noticed large groups of school children congregating in the half empty car parks and shopping areas of the centre, a telling sign perhaps of its neglect but also of its position in the town centre and proximity to residential areas and bus routes.

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Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 3)

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 2)

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For the second set of images for Assignment three, I selected an old mill complex in Gloucestershire. I was drawn to this location by the juxtaposition of two functions, the old function of the building as a mill and its new function as a modern office space. I chose to shoot with colour negative film on my Rolleiflex to retain continuity with the rest of the assignment and also for the natural colour reproduction of Kodak Portra.

Mill1

The above two images show the building in its previous function during the early 20th century as a mill. The Stroud area around the Severn-Thames canal was well known for its mills and the textile industry, and this heritage is apparent thanks to the preservation and gentrification of the old industrial area around the canal. The mill pond above, and the old Victorian railway arches which fly over the mill complex show the old function of the building as a thriving industrial centre in the area. The complex no doubt employed hundreds of people from the surrounding district, mainly working class and possibly quite poor.

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The final two images attempt to show the building in its contemporary function. The image below shows half of the building’s use as a bike hire shop. The image above provides a neat juxtaposition between the modern sports car and the the complex’s old function. The sports car hints at the demographic working in the mill (now converted to offices) and this contrasts tellingly between the demographic of the building’s workers when it was used as a mill.

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Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 2)