Assignment three – The Decisive Moment – Assessment criteria

How do I feel the work I have produced for this assignment meets the assessment criteria?  This is something that I always find a difficult question and of course i do not yet know what sort of “eye” an assessor would look at the work.  That might be easier once the current module has been completed and I have submitted it for formal assessment, something that I feel I need to do to establish a clear and reliable benchmark for current and future work and study.  For now though, taking each criterion in turn:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – I think I have a reasonable grasp of the technical side of things.  I am comfortable with my camera and increasingly confident in what I can achieve with it.  I feel I am also becoming more visually aware and better from a compositional point of view.  I think this particular assignment has helped a lot with my thinking in this regard.

Quality of outcome – Though there is clearly work to be done I feel quite comfortable on this point.  Although the fifth image in my post on the final set is a bit more out on a compositional limb than the others, I nevertheless am happy that the set is fairly consistent in conceptual and compositional terms and that I have expressed my ideas on the topic as well as I currently can.  No doubt with further thought and research and reflection I can refine my views on the decisive moment more but for now I am comfortable with what I have produced.

Demonstration of creativity – Whilst I am aware that I have been quite heavily influenced by a number of great photographers (perhaps oddly though, least by HCB himself) I have tried to bring something of my own to this assignment.  I have certainly experimented and tried to be inventive, judging from the different approaches that I have tried and the amount of work that I have put in this time.

Context – I think I hit this one quite well, though somewhat prone to being over-critical with myself.  I certainly though feel alive to, though massively in awe of, the tradition within which I am trying to work.

Could well do better over all but I feel I am making a decent stab at things and am actually quite happy with what I have come up with this time.

Assignment three – The Decisive Moment – Choice of prints for the final set

As this is a print assignment a number of questions arise and need to be considered about the production of those prints: who is to produce them,on what type of paper, with what sort of finish, with or without a border, and so on?

With regard to the first question, whilst I have a decent all round printer, it is not a dedicated photo printer.  Although from previous experience the results are not bad I feel I would be better served by having the prints made commercially.  I have had a few prints made professionally in the past and the results have been noticeably better, not to mention consistent, than anything I can produce at home.  There is also the practical issue that my printer uses up ink like there is no tomorrow – which itself means that home produced prints are a false economy – and I do not presently have access to an adequate range of good quality papers.  So, who will I use?  There have been a number of companies recommended by fellow students, none of whom I have tried so far.  There is a decent printer locally in the Tyne Valley who has done some decent work for me before.  For now though I am going to use LumeJet.  I have had good prints from them before and I now want to try their new process, L.Type, and updated approach to silver halide printing.  (it helps that they have a special offer on at the moment!)

Whilst for present purposes I expect that the paper I do have at home, made by Fuji, would be more than adequate given that I understand there is no requirement at this stage that prints be of gallery/museum quality, given that physical prints are called for I want them to be of the best quality that I can manage at the moment.  I have recently had some prints made professionally on Fujicolour Professional paper and have been very pleased with the results.

Finish is a tricky one.  At the end of the day does this just come down to a matter of personal taste?  My prints are going to be in black and white.  From experience, and having run a couple of test prints at home on some glossy paper, I can see that you can get some nice ‘contrasty’ effects and rich, dark blacks.  On the down side though I find the reflections that you can get with glossy paper distracting and even counterproductive; there is no point having a nice rich black if a reflection then turns it into a grey.  My taste inclines more towards a “lustre” finish, not completely matt but not too shiny.  For me this keeps the richness of the tone without the distracting reflections.  The prints I have had made recently have been on matt paper and have worked nicely.  I am also influenced by the fact that Magnum (who know  thing or two about these things!), from whom I bought a couple of prints recently,  use a fairly flat paper.

Border or no border?  It seems to me that if prints are going to be mounted or framed it does not make a great deal of difference as any mount board will form a border.  However, as these prints are going to be seen without any mount my feeling is that a border will be useful to give the image something of a frame.  I have a couple of prints that do not have borders (they have not yet been mounted or framed) and to an extent the images look a little bit lost or adrift.

Almost forgot: what size?  The limit for this assignment is A4 and for now I would not want to go beyond that anyway (not to mention it starts to get expensive!).  That is a size that I think will suit most of my chosen final set anyway.  There are though a couple that are squarer, as a result of cropping, so I guess the largest I can go with them is 8″x 8″.  I will need to work out the respective costs before deciding exactly what sizes to go for.

So that is where my thinking is at the moment.  Let us see what the results are like and then think again.

Postscript

The prints are here.  I decided upon four A4 sized prints, three portrait and one landscape to suit the subjects, and two 8″x 8″, in a lustre finish.  As I expected the degree of contrast is not as strong as on the trial print I made on glossy paper.  That said the range of tones is wider and more subtle, more natural.  More detail has also been preserved.  They are not as impactful but I think I still prefer them.  Certainly I do not miss the distracting reflections that afflict the very glossy finish.

By the way, although the LumeJet website can at first be a bit fiddly, once you get the hang of it it is easy to upload your chosen images and the finished prints then came back really quickly.  The prints were evidently made the day after they were uploaded last Thursday and arrived today, Monday.

Assignment three – The Decisive Moment – Assignment notes and final set

As previous posts show, I have tried a number of different approaches to the decisive moment.  Not all of them have been successful and I have not found it possible to put together a coherent set of half a dozen images from just one shoot that meets the criteria of the brief.  There have been a few images from each shoot that do say something to me about the concept and which I do like. Mostly though I do not feel they hang together as a set.  I have though settled on six images from across the shoots that do have something in common and that I feel do work as a set.

f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 100

f/6.3, 1/50s, ISO 100

f/4, 1/50s, ISO 100

f/6.3, 1/100s, ISO 100

 

f/16, 1/125s, ISO 400

f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 100

Each of these images was, at one level, taken “on the fly”, which is consistent with HCB’s original idea of “images a la sauvette”.  Of perhaps one of his most iconic images, ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’, HCB said “it’s always luck.”  On the basis of my own experience with this assignment I would tend to agree, at least in part.  Each of the pictures in this final set are the result of chance; the chance coming together of the various elements of the composition to create something with visual interest.  That said, despite the element of chance – I could not control the coming together of those elements – they are all the result of a decision to shoot in a particular place, in a particular manner, with the hope that something of the sort would be the outcome.  They are all the result of looking, seeing potential in a given location, and seeing the potential offered by the fleeting conjunction of a number of elements to create a picture.  With the possible exception of the last of the final six, each picture was taken with a deliberate choice of framing by a building or buildings around the chosen scene.  In that last picture the subject is also framed by the structure in the background but that was more by luck than judgment.  In the cases though of the two men ascending the steps in the rain I could see there was the potential for something interesting although I was not at all sure what it might be until I caught the image that I have chosen.  In the case of the man in front of the narrow gap between two buildings I was actively hoping to capture something like this being aware of the potential of the site and influenced, as I have mentioned previously, by the work of Matt Black.

Although I do not fully buy into HCB’s ideas about the golden section, a sense of geometry or of arrangement of the elements of the subject are what appeal to me in these images.  Although taken across the three shoots at different times and locations what these final pictures have in common is an element of framing of the subject by the built environment and a certain symmetry, or otherwise to some extent a geometrical arrangement of the subject(s).  It is this arrangement of the elements that relates these pictures to the concept as explained by HCB.

I have commented briefly on each of these photos in the earlier posts on this Assignment, with the exception of the third one above.  What appealed here was the fact that for a fraction of a second all four subjects were in line and the man on the left who had until then been looking out into the street, looked back through the archway towards me, contesting with he other figures whose faces cannot be seen.

I have, I must admit, added to a sense of coherence by choosing to print all of this set in black and white.  There are a number of reasons for this choice that are relevant.  One is, simply, that it does help with a sense of coherence.  Another is that in none of the chosen photos is colour really that important.  Colour does not add anything of substance to the composition of any of these pictures.  It does in some of the pictures I took – I would dearly have liked to put together a set based the “colourful dining” image I posted in Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 1 which remains one of my favourite individual images – but I am not happy that there are enough  photos that would have the right sense of coherence.

It has perhaps become a cliche but nevertheless I also feel that black and white is the appropriate medium for ‘street photography’ and the decisive moment.  HCB’s own work was monochrome and eschewing colour feels like an appropriate homage to him.  I am also influenced in this choice by a number of other photographers that I particularly admire who also happened to shoot almost exclusively in monochrome and whose work might be regarded as having something to say about the decisive moment, without necessarily being explicitly linked in any way to HCB’S work.  To name just a few I would cite Walker Evans and some of the pictures in the first half of American Photographs, Robert Frank in The Americans, Lee Friedlander’s street photography, and much of Vivian Maier.  Just about everything by Robert Capa! Joseph Koudelka  during the invasion of Prague. Photos do not necessarily have to be monochrome in order to say something of the decisive moment as William Eggleston’s work amply demonstrates but, such is the strength and power of the cliche that black and white just feels right.

It is purely coincidental that a number of these American photographers are mentioned in the article by Zouhair Ghazzal referred to in the course material and which I have only just now revisited having written the paragraph above.   Their work perhaps goes some way to reinforce the view, expressed in my earlier post on where I stand on the concept, Part 3 The decisive moment – where do I stand?  that it has perhaps been stretched too far beyond being a description of the particular way that HCB worked.  I have to confess I do not find Ghazzal’s essay very useful or enlightening.

Evans, W, (2016).  American Photographs.  New York:  The Museum of Modern Art

Frank, R, (2016).  The Americans,  Göttingen: Steidl.

Koudelka, J (2008).  Invasion Prague 68.  London: Thames & Hudson

Whelan, R & Capa, C (eds) (1985).  Robert Capa: Photographs. London: Faber & Faber

http://www.vivianmaier.com

Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 3

As the third projected shoot at the Northumberland County Show did not work out, as mentioned in the previous post on this assignment (Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 2), I decided to try another approach the following day.  This was the day that I had chosen to go to Sunderland to see the Taylor Wessing prize exhibition (Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016, Sunderland – Exhibition).  The easiest way to get there is by train from my village straight through to Sunderland where the station is just a couple of minutes walk from the museum – much easier than driving and trying to find somewhere to park.  What I therefore decided to do was to take shots of people on the platform as we stopped at each station, and also try a few more pictures in Sunderland in similar vein to those I had initially taken in Newcastle, taken from within the station looking out.

The biggest challenge presented by shooting from the train was trying to get a decent focus on subjects through the glass windows and while the train was still moving.  Needless to say not many worked out well.  All of the on-board train shots were taken with a 50mm lens, shutter priority at 1/125s, ISO 400.

From a compositional point of view I like this one, with the progression of the subject and the next two posters, and the fact the subject’s face is obscured by an internal reflection on the window.  It does though suffer from not being more focused.

This one is better from the point of view of focus.  I like the juxtaposition of the subject and the police on the poster.

Perhaps the most successful of the these is though perhaps this one:  good focus, framing of the subject, and the almost abstract patterning of the right half of the picture:

Of the street shots there is only one at the moment that really catches my eye:

Still shutter priority, 1/125s, f/9, but ISO 100.

I feel this works from a geometrical point of view.  Each of the five standing characters is in front of a poster of some description.  That behind the main subject in the white top, which is almost like a halo, helps mark him out as the main subject and provides contrast for his head against what would others be a dark background, in which his own dark hair would become lost.  I also like the symmetrical, diagonal placement into the field of view of the two litter bins.  This was all pure chance and, as with some of HCB’s own work, only becomes apparent after the event once the photo is analysed.

Ultimately I do not feel there is a great deal here that works, and certainly not enough alone to make up a coherent final set, which will be the subject of the next post – the last one for now as I do not feel much purpose would be served by just taking more pictures in this vein.