People and Place

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Progress on Assignment 4

All the best plans of mice and men I think that's how the quote begins. Regent's Canal has presented more problems than I had anticipated.  The weather being number one. It is not easy to make a picture that would look good in a glossy travel magazine while pouring with rain.

I have continued to take pictures on days that aren't ideal to see if my ideas will come together.

Weather aside the pictures are looking more like a documentary than something for a travel magazine.

An example of the problems are in the image below. The scaffolding on the building on the left is distracting and not what one would see in a glossy magazine.

I am going to try and find a prettier pat of the canal.  I'm also thinking this wasn't the most ideal place for this assignment.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Exhibition - Burtynsky - Oil

Photographers Gallery 19 May - 1 July 2012

"Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work" is how Edward Burtynsky describes his work. The current exhibition at the Photographer's Gallery is a selection of his project on oil.

 Following what he calls his "oil epiphany" while filling his car with petrol, it struck him that the vast human altered landscapes of the previous 20 years was only possible because of the use of oil and the invention of the combustion engine. For the next 15 years he photographed everything to do with oil. This work is presented in four categories: the extraction and refinement of oil, Detroit motor city, transportation and motor culture and what he calls the end of oil. He presents large beautiful photos to confront us with the contradiction of good living and the cost that we are consciously or unconsciously aware of the environmental impact.

He says - "These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear."

The exhibition is arranged over two floors of the gallery and shows three sections from his oil series (Detroit motor city is not included). Beginning on the top floor with images of oil fields and refineries first impressions are of the size, radiance and clarity of the prints. Most are taken in the muted soft light of evening twilight that lulled me into seeing artistic landscapes.

It is only on closer inspection that the real nature of the scenes become apparent. This is even more striking when looking at the final section, the end of oil, where the beautiful very quickly turns to disturbing. We are presented with what happens when oil fields are abandoned and leave a scarred earth behind, or where oil tankers are decommissioned on once beautiful beaches of Bangladesh. Here the ships are turned into scrap metal by low paid workers in conditions that are unacceptable to those in the affluent west.

Shipbreaking #11 Chittagong, Bangladesh - 

The picture above, is one of the images where the ships are turned into scrap metal taken on Chittagong Beach in Bangladesh. This image is typical of Burtynsky's work in its use of colour in light , golden hues of the fading sun shining onto the rusty hulls of the ships making them positively glow. The other common feature in his work is the wide view as in this image or an elevated view, taken from a crane or helicopter making one aware of the vastness of the space given to oil and its production.

Everything within his images appears as if perfectly planned. The arrangement of the workers and the ship form a triangle. The soft hue of the ambient light and the bright lights of the welding equipment also draw you eye into the centre of the image. The darker oil stained pieces of metal on the edges form a natural vignette. The edges of the frame have nothing distracting, something I find I am frequently guilty of. As with all his images the clarity and sharpness is perfect in every pixel.

The story in the image raises lots of questions for me. What is the man in the blue and white check sarong with a basket doing there. How many ships are lined up behind the two we can see. What has this industry done to the water and sea life. It does make one aware of the negative aspect of our dependency on oil. When will we find a real alternative.

Burtnysky's intention of searching for dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear is successful on one hand as I was seduced into the beauty of the images. I feel more anger toward the oil barons for their abuse of poorer countries and workers rather than being repulsed. I'm not certain what I should fear. The end of oil? Perhaps this would be a good thing.

I can't quite decide whether the beauty of the images slightly over rides the message Burtynsky is trying to deliver. They are all still fine art images and I feel would sit comfortably on the wall of a C.E.O.'s office.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Planning Assignment 4

I was going to Paris for a weekend to support friends cycling from London to Paris. I had the idea of combining my assignment four on this weekend.

I lived just off rue Des Martyrs for four years and consequently know the area very well and have several friends there. Sunday is market day in the street and I thought would be perfect for assignment four.

I planned my pictures and checked with my friends that they would be around. All good. The reality was very different. One friend was sick, another had a sudden change of plans. The weather wasn't great. My cycling friends wanted me to be on the other side of town. It just didn't happen.

 I knew that it would be a bit risky to try and do this assignment on such a tight schedule so had a backup alternative in London. The exercise was still worthwhile. This could very well be reality for a paid assignment. It did help me focus on thinking about what I was going to photograph. I could only do this because I know the area so well.

 Now onto plan B. Regent's Canal.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Selective Processing and Prominence

Take an image that I I have previously used and selectively process twice. Once so the figure recedes into the setting and then the opposite so the figure stands out more.

 I chose an image I had used in an earlier exercise.  I had converted it to black and white to try and give it some depth.  It had been a difficult image to process as it was nearly all the same tone. This was how I presented it back then:

Looking at the image and reprocessing it thinking about making the image blend in or stand out.  Thinking of the various parts of the image. The first process I made global adjustments, making the figure blend into the setting.
Even this is better than my earlier processing.

I then made adjustments to the pavement, the light grey wall on the right and parts of the building on the left.  Using curves and contrast I have lightened the background.  This makes the figure more prominent.  For this image I think this is a better edit.

The last image improves the picture and I have learnt to think a bit more about how I want the picture to look, it is still better to get it right in camera.  The light is flat in this picture so is never going to be a great picture.  Ideally I need to go back and reshoot in better light.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Balancing Figure and Space

For this exercise we are to produce two images using the same general viewpoint, varying the balance and attention between the person and the setting they are in.

In the first image I am standing on the corner looking down the street. There is a cyclist walking his cycle up the footpath.  This image has not made a very strong picture. Although standing on the street corner it looked interesting.  As a picture it is boring.

By crossing the street and moving just a few feet I have taken the image below.  The cyclist is little closer to me and now is a bigger part of the picture.  It is the same light but the reflected light off the lighter coloured walls on this side of the street make the picture lighter and brighter.  There is less empty space in the foreground of the image.   

The horizontal framing enabled me to crop out the sky which on a grey day adds nothing to this scene.
I found this exercise valuable in thinking more about the scene I was photographing and how very minor changes make such a big difference.  Being aware doesn't need to take much time. With these two images I didn't have very long to change my view if  was to include the cyclist in the picture. Two minutes and looking and thinking.