Assignment four – Reflection on feedback

Although it was a struggle, and even at the end I was not entirely confident about the outcome of this assignment, it seems the effort was worthwhile as my tutor has given some very positive and supportive feedback.  As ever though there are some challenging questions that I now need to reflect upon.

Despite my own misgivings it seems there might still be potential in the images that I took as the first attempt at this assignment, that they have some narrative potential, and that this might be enhanced by taking a lead from Christopher Doyle and experimenting with different coloured lights.  This is something that I am going to have to think about as it is not immediately clear to me what that narrative might be or where it might go.  I had not approached this shoot with any sense of narrative as such in mind, although I was interested in atmosphere and ideas of concealment and only partial exposure of each scene, so I am going to have to completely change my mindset when looking again at these images.  Because I have enough else on my plate at the moment this is not going to be very high on my list of priorities but maybe once I have got the next assignment out of the way, and worked out the practicalities of producing different coloured light, I will have another go and see what comes out.

A major issue that needs to be addressed is the framing of the final images and why I have presented them in this way, with irregular dark borders.  I have had to go back to the original, pre-processing pictures to work out what has gone on here and must now admit that it is the result of little more than carelessness on my part.  I was clearly in such a hurry to get this finished and posted before I went away on holiday – I would have struggled to finalise the assignment in time for the date I had agreed with my tutor if I had waited until my return – that I simply did not pay enough attention to such details.  Indeed, looking back, it is not clear that I actually processed them at all.  Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

This is annoying as it does relate to an issue that was very important to me when approaching this final set.  Clearly I had got myself into quite a state about it as although I had thought a lot about approaches to presentation of the final images, and spent a good deal of time composing explanations in my head, it is now clear that I did not in fact write anything down!  The blog post for the final submission went through so many changes and tweaks that I obviously lost sight of the ball and did not realise that I had not actually addressed what for me is a very important question.

When I embarked on this final set I felt that there were three possible ways of presenting the images that would relate to and have an impact on what I was trying to achieve.  One approach would have been to do what Sugimoto did and include not just the screen but also the wider context of the movie theatres and drive-ins.  This approach I rejected because Sugimoto was shooting different locations and those locations were as much the subjects as the films that were showing.  I on the other hand was shooting in the same place for each film so the context and surroundings would have been the same in each picture.  That would not have been very interesting in its own right and would also not have added anything to what I was trying to say about light.

Another approach, which is the one that I ended up with by default of not having done anything different, was to keep some element of framing.  The intention while actually making the pictures was to give an element of context and to acknowledge, if that is the right word, that these images are made from moving pictures shown on a screen.  It seemed important to me at the time to recognise the artificiality of the light, of the images, and their presentation, by including at least hints of the fact that they were being shot while displayed on a TV screen.  In a way I think I wanted to make it explicit that whilst making something new with my photos my raw material was the work of others.  What I failed to do though was to ensure that in the final set this element was consistent throughout.  As a result this initial intention has not been properly fulfilled.

The appearance in some shots of a control menu on screen is also part of this approach.  It is also partly serendipitous as for some reason the menu showed up only on some of the films but not all and was difficult, if not impossible, to turn off so that it did not appear.  This is something else that needs to be consistent to work properly and unfortunately it does not and as such those that remain should probably be cropped out.

The third approach, which I was not keen on at the time, would have been to crop out everything that was extraneous to the main part of each image.  At the time I was perhaps more influenced by something like Sugimoto’s approach and felt that some limited element of context and framing was desirable.  Now I am not so sure, not least because of the need to make the final set more consistent.  Also, I can now see that what is more important to me than all else in this set is the light rather than any sense of physical context.  I have therefore now cropped the pictures properly to create a more coherent, not to mention neater, set below:

This not only looks neater and more coherent but I think also works better at getting towards what I was trying to achieve.  In retrospect I can now see that the elements in the original set that hinted at the physical medium of the television were actually a distraction (if only because of the lack of consistency).

Another question relates to the appearance of subtitles in some of the pictures.  Again I ummed and aahed about these, whether to keep them, their possible significance and what they bring, if anything, to the final set.  This is a tricky one but I decided to keep them despite the fact that they do not appear in all of the shots – not all of the films were subtitled and not all of the sequences that I photographed had subtitles.  The primary focus and point of interest in the assignment was of course light.  The subtitles appear quite by chance.  I had no idea that they would show up as clearly as they do and I was more interested in the particular sequences in which the appear from a purely visual point of view.  They do though reflect the fact that these film sequences also included sound, specifically speech.  (I was struck by how important music was in the Wong Kar Wai films in particular – it was a while since I had seen any of them and I had forgotten what a significant role music plays in each of those that I chose for this assignment.  Apocalypse Now also of course starts with a sequence where the music, “The End” by The Doors, is every bit as important as the visual imagery. Music is famously central to 2001. Oddly though, apart from The Sacrifice (and even then not a great deal), music plays much less of a role in the Tarkovsky films.)  At one level that fact is not relevant when viewed strictly from the point of view of light.  However it might also be said that the subtitles are also a product of light and are simply part of the image and as such are also worthy of consideration and inclusion.  

In truth I am not sure what the subtitles really add to this specific set in so far as it deals with light.  Nevertheless I decided to include them as they offer a hint of a potential alternative set of images – it would be possible to put together a different set where the text is the more important element and construct a new narrative across scenes from the various films, though that would need a lot more thought to identify chunks of appropriate dialogue.

More than that though I feel that the first two captions, “Call me what you decide” and “I have a secret to tell you” add an extra layer of mystery to what are already quite enigmatic images.  They emphasise that the images are open to interpretation, and are not easy to decipher.  They are an invitation to find in the pictures whatever you can.  The third one, “Just love me”, might be said to work in a similar way, though inviting acceptance of what you see without having to interpret too much.

Or is it a cry from my own unconscious reflecting my struggles with this assignment and an anxiety that the outcome be found to be acceptable?  No, let us not go there!

Could the subtitles themselves act a captions of the images?  Yes, but I do not think that really works here when not all of the pictures include text. Otherwise I am not sure the set really needs captions at all.  The names of the films appear throughout the final set more to simply identify where the image has come from rather than for any other purpose.

I explained in the last post why I chose the order in which the final set appears.  In so far as the focus is on light I remain happy with this sequence and do not feel any strong urge to revise it.  I can though see that other arrangements could also work.  One would be to order the images by reference to where they appear in each film.  I think this is an interesting possibility that opens up the chance to create a new, different dialogue or narrative across the sequence as a whole.  I do not feel this really fits where the brief is concerned with light but would certainly be valid if the temporal elements were more important.  Just for the sake of argument though I have had a go at reordering them on this basis to see what such a set might look like.


The effect is very different.  I do not immediately get a sense of a new narrative nor a visual logic to this sequence.  Thinking about the events in the individual films at these points does not help me much either.  On balance therefore I think I prefer the straightforward chromatic approach that I chose originally.


Assignment four: Languages of light

After the disappointing first two attempts at this assignment I decided on a complete change of tack.  I have been encouraged to be more adventurous and to take more risks when shooting so that is exactly what I have done this time; perhaps not so much of an artistic risk but a risk of pushing the brief a bit too far?

What I have been brought round to thinking about is the nature of light and its physical properties.  The white light that we see is made up of different frequencies of light and we see those colours because the white light is refracted, reflected, diffused, and so on, in various ways.  What I have therefore decided to explore is light, particularly artificial light, effectively put through a prism in reverse to take those refracted frequencies of coloured light back towards white.  That reverse prism is achieved by seeing light in the context of a particular period of time.  Time itself becomes a sort of prism.  What we see from moment to moment is coloured light.  Over time, rather than in the moment, what we see tends back towards white.

I have already mentioned the work of Michael Wesely and what appeals to me particularly about his work is the extended periods of time over which he exposes shots.  It is the changing of light over time that he records.  To an extent a similar influence is also to be found in the early work of Niépce and Daguerre in so far as their exposures were very long.

There are though two particular artists who have influenced my choice this time, one mentioned in the course material, Christopher Doyle, and one I mentioned in my own research, Hiroshi Sugimoto, specifically his movie theatre and drive-in pictures.

Doyle is a master of lighting and his cinematography is largely responsible for the very particular look of Wong’s films.  Here though it is not so much his mastery of lighting that caught my imagination but what he did with time in the opening sequence of ‘Chungking Express’ which featured in Part Three of the course and how that affected the look of the light.  I decided to take long exposures of certain sequences from a number of my favourite films, starting with ‘Chungking Express’ and ‘In the mood for love’ to see the effect of time on light and its tendency back towards white.

It is not realistic for me to emulate Sugimoto and his exposures that span the entire length of the film.  His photographs though are in any event more about the cinemas and drive-ins in which he shot rather than the films that they were showing.  For me though it is the film that is the key but I can at least use a similar approach to capture part of the film and see how the passage of time affects the light.  What I do not want is simply to capture a screen of white but in the changing of the light to find an image that is itself interesting and, hopefully, has some aesthetic merit.  To that extent the idea is not simply to record in a single shot a sequence from a film but to create a new, fresh image that can stand in its own right, but one more abstract.

Otherwise I did not feel any great affinity for any of the other artists mentioned in the course material for this particular project but in fairness I think I am exploring something quite different from them.  I can though see that if I had, for example, gone down a more conventional night-time street scene approach there might have been more of a link to Sato Shintaro and Ruth Blees Luxembourg in particular.

In each case, apart from ‘In the mood for love’ which I chose because it is referred to in the course material and is in its own right a masterclass in film lighting, and from which I have taken just one short sequence from the opening for its colour if nothing else,  I have chosen films, or sequences in them, that play around with time, either by speeding it up, slowing it down, or as part of the story play around with and distort time itself or how it is experienced by the characters.  I could easily have chosen a number of different films, almost at random, that would have suited my purpose in this assignment.  However, to give the choices a degree of coherence and to give an extra layer of philosophical complexity to the project (if that is not too pompous a way of putting it) I thought it would be useful, or at least interesting, if time, its effects and distortions were also relevant elements.

All pictures were naturally taken using a tripod.  I used my trusty 50mm lens and set the camera to Shutter priority, using its maximum exposure time of 30s.  I could have taken longer exposures by using Bulb mode and a remote shutter release but it proved too difficult to control exposure times properly and keep them consistent.  In any event longer exposures simply resulted in a blank image of just white light, as with Sugimoto, and I wanted to try to capture something of the film in question and the qualities of its light.  With 30s exposures the camera defaulted to an aperture of f/22.  The  room was darkened so that the primary source of light was only from the film itself.

For the sake of completeness I will mention that there were three films (Minority Report, Arrival, A Zed and Two Noughts) that I included in this shoot that nevertheless do not appear in the final set for the simple reason that they just did not work in the way that I wanted!  All that I got for each of them was a series of completely blank, white frames.  Paradoxically, to this extent these might be said to be the most successful shots as they amply illustrate the reverse prism effect and the reversion to plain white light.  This is though, as I have already explained, while linked to Sugimoto’s work, not what I wanted.  They are though still there in the contact sheets though it is by now hard to tell which shot is from which film!

From these I have chosen ten images that I feel comfortable with and that are approaching what I was hoping to achieve:


In the mood for love


Apocalypse now






The sacrifice

Chungking Express

Why this order?

This is a tricky question.  There is no, to me at least, obvious sequence for the final pictures that I have chosen and I tried various combinations before settling on the order above.  In part, because of what I have written about prisms and the elements that make up white light, I thought this arrangement would not be inappropriate, and would make a degree of sense, by following the overall trajectory of refracted light from red at one end of the spectrum to violet at the other.  I do not think this works completely for every image but I feel the overall structure is right.

Why two images from Stalker?

This film is the only one represented more than once, simply because there were two sequences in particular that I wanted to capture, whereas for the others there was mostly just the one, and because I liked to two pictures that I have chosen – I did not feel I wanted to lose either of them.

Chungking Express?

One of my favourite shots from this assignment is the one that, quite by chance, shows the title frame from “Chungking Express”.  However, as it does not really capture what I was striving for I have not included it in the final sequence of ten images.  For me though it does at least warrant an honourable mention.


As I indicated at the outset of this post I feel much happier with this third iteration of the assignment.  The first two attempts were lacking in imagination or any creative spark.  In this third attempt I feel I have made much more of an effort and tried to produce something that is new for me and quite different from any of the work I have previously done for this course.  It has certainly involved experimentation and a bit more invention.

Assessment Criteria Generally

Overall I feel this makes a decent stab at all of the assessment criteria.  There other ways that I could have addressed the brief, and I might yet still try some more conventional night-time shots by way of further experiment if nothing else.  Doing so would if nothing else involve a different approach to, for example, composition and observation.  Composition, in the sense of the formal arrangement of elements in the picture, was not so much involved on this occasion, though the pictures are still “composed” in a sense in so far as I was careful and quite particular about choosing the sequences from each film that I wanted to capture.



Coppola, F.F. (2001). Apocalypse Now Redux.

Greenaway, P. (1985). A Zed and Two Noughts.

Kubrick, S. (1968). 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Spielberg, S. (2002).  Minority Report.

Tarkovsky, A. (1983).  Nostalgia.

Tarkovsky, A. (1972).  Solaris.

Tarkovsky, A. (1979).  Stalker.

Tarkovsky, A. (1986).  The Sacrifice.

Villeneuve, D. (2016).  Arrival.

Wong. Kar-Wai. (1994). Chungking Express.

Wong, Kar-Wai. (2000).  In the mood for love.

Wong, Kar-Wai. (2004).  2046.

Assignment two: Collecting – Redux

Right from the beginning I was not entirely happy with either the approach that I found myself having to adopt to this assignment, nor indeed with the eventual outcome.  With the encouragement of my tutor I have therefore gone back to the brief and reshot entirely.  This time I have gathered a set of portrait shots and I am much happier with the outcome this time.

All of the subjects were photographed at markets in Hexham.  All agreed to being photographed, though some more willingly than others!  Mostly I was able to catch my subjects candidly without them posing – a couple were very uncomfortable with the idea of posing though still happy to help out by taking part in the shoot.  A few though did pose but I tried to keep proceedings as informal as possible.

All were shot using a Canon EF 85mm 1:1.8 lens that I like to use for such work as this.  It captures light really nicely even when, as over the course of these shoots, conditions proved to be quite variable.  It also has the advantage that you can step back a bit from the subject and not be right in their faces, an important consideration given some of their misgivings.  For this reason if no other I prefer it to the equivalent 50mm lens for portraits.

For the sake of consistency and to reduce the amount of background in focus, aperture was set throughout at f/5.6.  Shutter speeds varied mostly between 1/60s and 1/500s.  ISO 100 and no flash.

All pictures have been cropped using Photoshop to cut down on background but have not otherwise undergone any processing.  Having tried a number of different crops I settled on a square format for consistency (which also made the workflow easier) and because I felt it suited most of the pictures well.

I kept the number of shots for each subject down to no more two or three to reduce the distraction and interference.  A couple of shots were poorly focused and so have been excluded from the contact sheets below.

On these sheets I have marked two sets:  one where the subject is looking off to the side so the face is shot in full or three quarter profile; the other has the subject looking directly at the camera.  I have put together this second set simply as an example of another way of selecting and presenting a set.  I have chosen these particular images as they do not feel too posed.  There is a degree of naturalness in them which I caught by waiting for the subject to look up to me .

My primary choice though is the profile set.  I particularly like that I managed to capture each of them while smiling, which creates a nice warm set!  Quite coincidentally they are all also facing in the same direction!

Much more satisfied with this further attempt compared with the first time round.

Assignment four: Languages of light – second attempt

Second attempt and still not very happy with this!  This time I tried a series of shots of a single view at different time throughout an afternoon and evening, effectively repeating the process of Exercise 4.2 but including artificial light as well, and ending with a low light shot with what little ambient light remained and no artificial light.

Some sense of the passage of time is gained by the movement of the shadows from shot to shot.  Nevertheless this still does not work for me.  The result is pedestrian, uninspiring, and still does not have anything very interesting to say to me about light.

Although I regard this attempt as a failure I nevertheless include the contact sheet below – not annotated as there does not seem to me to be much point as I am using none of the images – to show at least that I have done some more work on it and have thought about it further.  If nothing else it has forced me to think differently, in a more creative and adventurous way and deliberately move away from an obvious or easy approach or subject matter.  I do have something a bit more radical in mind now and will post again once I have experimented a bit more.

For the sake of completeness, all were shot from a tripod with a wide angle 10-18mm lens at 14mm, f/18.  Shutter speeds varied with the light.  The last shot could have benefited, as a stand alone image, by having a longer exposure than 30s but by this point it was clear to me this approach was going nowhere so I did not feel the need to experiment further.