Assignment Five Research: Reviewing the set

With the final submission date (27th May) looming, I took my tutor’s advice and decided to get some cheap(ish) prints of the images I was considering for submission. In the event I found a very affordable giclee printer here in London, so I thought why not and went for some prints on some very nice A5 ‘platinum etching’ paper. The images in question were the Thamesmead set posted in the previous post on the blog, a set of 16 shot on one of the elevated ‘streets’ common to the design of the estates in the area.

Having the images printed is certainly beneficial, particularly in seeing how the images work together (see below) and how I will present them in terms of order, sizing, and aspect ratio. I have already noticed things in some of the images that I haven’t noticed on the computer screen, and I may go back and rework some of the editing. While I will be spending the next couple of weeks reviewing the images and may get some more images printed, the final selection is already starting to take place and I have already cut some images. At this stage I can be 100% sure all the images will be presented in the normal 35mm aspect ratio in the landscape format. I do like how the images shot at a 45 degree angle lend a consistent feel to the set and I may keep this theme in mind when I do make the final selection.

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I also feel the introduction of a wider colour palette toward the end of the set is effective (see the image on the bottom right above), however I am not 100% happy with these images and may return to Thamesmead one more time. These images could be reworked slightly to bring out the colours or to tighten up the composition. It will be worth editing on Lightroom before I make the decision to return to the location.

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Above is a provisional selection for the final 12 images, however there are some changes to be made with certain images and I am not 100% happy with 5-6 at least.

If you are interested in some cheap and beautiful giclee prints and you are in the UK, try Zheeklay printing: http://www.zheeklayprinting.co.uk/

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Assignment Five Research: Reviewing the set

Cities on the Edge: Sandy Volz

Introduction

As part of the “Cities on the Edge” exhibition, designed to contrast various European port cities with Liverpool, Bremen based photographer Sandy Volz was tasked with contributing a set of images. In two cities struggling from declining commercial spheres and hard economic times, Volz chose to focus on photographing the interiors of pubs. Both Bremen and Liverpool have a long tradition of pub culture and so Volz contrasted the interior design of various establishments in both cities.

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The set is a 20 image series that utilises the 35mm aspect ratio with a portrait orientation. Shot in colour with what looks like a standard focal length, Volz focuses the attention of the camera onto the design of the space and the wall decorations. Volz states in the artist statement that the “individual aspects of these pubs’ interior styles are analysed as social and cultural signifiers” (Volz, 2008). In other words Volz reduces the elements of the frame to symbolic devices for the viewer to read  – for instance the viewer could take the Beatles memorabilia as a cultural “signifier” that gives away the pub’s location. Likewise the German flags decorating the walls of the establishment are an obvious sign of location.

Another interesting aspect the photographer touches on is the idea of the pub as “places where the private and public spheres overlap” (Volz, 2008). The interior design of the pubs appears to blend the conventional design of public spaces to that of a private home – mixing the domestic with the commercial. Each pub appears to be well used, the furniture old and worn out in places, the decorations and design also somewhat dated (for 2008). The viewer could perhaps take this as a sign of the economic hardships faced by the respective cities, and perhaps hints at the age and demographic of the ownership in each place.

Conclusions

Similar to Taptik’s series examined in the previous post, the sense of uniformity is a key aspect to Volz’s set. The choice of subject is also very interesting, especially the aspects of the pub the photographer chose to focus on. Volz’s decision to not include human subjects in the frame perhaps gives the viewer a better understanding of the social, cultural and economic context of the establishments.

This is certainly a creative approach that prompts the viewer to question and deduce where each establishment is located. Indeed it is hard to guess the location of some especially those lacking wall decorations. Perhaps the photographer aimed to diffuse the national boundaries that separate the two cities, and to reveal the common heritage and traditions of the communities within Bremen and Liverpool.

When researching and defining the parameters for the assignment five brief, it would be useful to consider the nature of the locations I will be photographing carefully. It would also be helpful to examine what each element brings to the frame, what they could signify to the viewer and how they might be interpreted. Volz successfully analysed each scene and chose to include elements that indicated aspects such as cultural and economic contexts. This in concert with the uniformity of the presentation creates a striking set of images that are somewhat different but no less powerful than others from the “Cities on the Edge” exhibit.

See the full 20 image set on Sandy Volz’s website:

http://www.sandyvolz.com/pages/work/1/2/

Cities on the Edge: Sandy Volz

Cities on the Edge: Ali Taptik

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Introduction

The “Cities on the Edge” series was commissioned by Liverpool Culture Company on the theme of people and place in Liverpool. A group of photographers based in European port cities including Istanbul, Marseilles and Bremen were tasked to produce a set of images that explored connections between these environments. The exhibition was curated by the British photographer John Davies, whose contribution to the exhibit and prior work I will be exploring in a subsequent post. This post will focus on the work of Istanbul based photographer, Ali Taptik, whose contribution to the exhibit caught my attention immediately.

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Taptik’s commissioned work for the exhibit is a series of striking portraits taken in the host city Liverpool and in Taptik’s home city Istanbul. My initial impression of the set is how the photographer utilises a wide angle and deep depth of field to capture the surrounding environment of his subjects. From this choice of technique it is palpable Taptik intends to show the viewer the relationship between the subject and their surroundings.

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Taptik alternates between showing us glimpses of life in Liverpool and Istanbul, and his photos tell us something of the circumstances in which his subjects live. The photos of Liverpool show us ageing, decrepit terraces while in Istanbul we see a variety of environments with clear signs of decay and poverty. In all the images the subjects occupy the centre of the frame, and other elements within the frame hint at a narrative concerning their relationship with the environment they inhabit. The image from Istanbul above shows us a boy in dirty clothes with a herd of sheep behind him. From this the viewer could ask questions about the circumstances of the boy – is he looking after the sheep? What are they doing in the middle of a built up area?

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Likewise with the above image from Liverpool, Taptik positions his subject in the centre of the frame and other elements (the dog, the road, the physical appearance of the subject) help to create a visual narrative. Also apparent with this image and with others in the set is Taptik’s post processing. There is a latent vignette placed in the corners of the frame which helps to divert the viewer’s attention to the subject. This suggests that while Taptik wishes to show the surrounding environments his subjects inhabit, he does not wish us to be distracted by these surroundings. It is the relationship between the subject and their environments Taptik intends for us to focus on.

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I selected the image above as it stands out somewhat in terms of composition and environment. The subject is off centre and positioned in front of a collection of chairs dumped on the street. Again an interesting narrative is suggested by the elements Taptik chose to incorporate in the frame – the viewer again asks questions about the subject’s relationship with the surroundings.

Conclusions

Taptik’s series is a powerful set of photos of people and their surroundings in Istanbul and Liverpool. I think the photographer is successful in showing a connection between the environments he captures in the two cities. In both locations we see urban decay and industrial decline evident in the environments of his subjects. There is a suggestion that the subjects don’t quite fit their environment, particular the shot of the boy with the sheep, and also the girl on the street full of decrepit and boarded up houses. This is the connection perhaps – that in both cities, Liverpool and Istanbul, people exist who struggle to fit in and have become somewhat marginalised by the decline and deprivation of the environments they inhabit.

One point to takeaway from this set is how Taptik employs a consistent visual style – his subjects appear dead centre in the frame (for the most part), the depth of field shows all the detail surrounding the subjects, and the colour and aspect ratio also help to nurture this sense of uniformity. Taptik also does not allow the the background to dominate his subjects; his subjects are positioned against background colours that contrast to the colour of their clothes. He reveals small details that do not overshadow the subject, but the details are significant enough to hint at the nature of the subject’s relationship with their surroundings. It is maintaining this balance along with a uniform visual style that has allowed Taptik to create a strong set of environmental portraits.

See the full set on Taptik’s website:

http://www.alitaptik.com/index.php?/commissions/cities-on-the-edge/

Cities on the Edge: Ali Taptik

Effie Paleologou “The Front”

As a follow up to my previous post on Effie Paleologou’s small exhibit in the V & A, I decided to explore the photographer’s work in greater detail.

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Paleologou’s photo series of Hastings (from an exhibition entitled “the front”) immediately grabbed my attention for its gritty urban characteristics. Her images transform the familiar to something abstract and alien, challenging the viewer’s perceptions of the urban landscape at night.

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A number of possibilities occurred to me. Perhaps the photographer is creating a window into an alternate timeline that exists under our very noses. Are the images suggesting that we overlook our surrounding environment? Another possibility is that the images present to us places “we do not belong. It as if we are coming to spaces that have just been left, as if the action had literally just moved on elsewhere, seconds before we arrived”. (Kent, 2000, P.5)

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The latter idea certainly holds currency when observing the images. The use of artificial light (similar to her series ‘Mean City’) and deep shadows create a menacing and profound use of space. Whilst we see sand on the beach, it is really all about the possibility of space – the light and shadow simply adds tension and suggests to the viewer a feeling of “imminent danger”. (Kent, 2000, P.4)

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What is most impressive about this series is the photographer’s take on simple subject matter and delivering a complex visual narrative. The images are not distinguished by their technical prowess, on the contrary, the photographer’s approach is clearly intentional. The creative use of light and shadows and the angles/perspectives used on subjects as mundane as puddles of water and lonely street lights are really what make this series stand out. These are techniques and approaches I may take forward for assignments later in the course and for further personal projects.

Effie Paleologou “The Front”

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.

Effie Paleologou ‘Mean City’