Sunday, 8 April 2012

Assignment 1 : Contrasts

Final selected images are shown on my flickrPro site at Assignment 1 Images

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From the outset I decided not to rush the first Contrasts assignment and to use it as an opportunity to look at some different types of photography as well as producing images for the course.  Potentially, just producing images that addressed the assignment brief could be relatively rapid, but I wanted to avoid doing that and attempt a more considered approach.  I am doing the course for pleasure and have no specific need to proceed at any set pace, and I also want to enjoy it and go off on whatever tangents seem befitting at the time!

The origins of this exercise lie with the Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany, which was in operation between 1919 and 1933 and which sought to combine the fine arts with crafts and architecture in a holistic approach to design.  The concept was to bring all these skills together in an overall work of art and its participants were encouraged to develop in all areas of art and design using what today we would probably call a multi-media approach; this eventually evolved into Modernist architecture and modern design.  During the formative years of the Bauhaus movement, one Johannes Itten was involved in delivering what was considered to be a highly innovative ‘preliminary course’ to teach the basic knowledge of colour, design, composition and materials.  One of Itten’s student exercises required them to work with ‘Contrasts’ and investigate his contention that composition was indeed founded in contrasts, and although Itten set these as art projects, there is a clear parallel with that which can be achieved in the photographic medium.  In his review of the works of Itten, Freeman (2007) quoted him as asking students to “awaken a vital feeling for the subject through a personal observation” and in the exercises to “experience them with their senses, objectivise them intellectually, and realise them synthetically”

I’m not sure whether I “objectvised them intellectually” or not (sounds like hard work for a scientist!), but I selected nine contrasting pairs from the list in the course notes and therefore had some options from which to select a final submission of eight pairs.  I wanted to use different types of image for this assignment and therefore ruled nothing out in my initial thoughts.  Outdoor, indoor, natural light, artificial light, found or posed situations were all considered as options.  My tutor had no objection to my working with macro for some elements of this task, so I included consideration of that as well.  I also wanted to have another theme running through this in that I wanted to have each one of the pairs linked in some way other than just by visual ‘quality’ – I was really pleased at how this worked out.

A number of the pairs I considered were taken indoors using natural window light.  Lighting crops up later in the course as a major topic, so I didn’t worry too much about my ‘families of angles’ for this assignment as I didn’t want to get diverted from the major purpose of ‘Contrasts’.  I have been preparing for greater use of ‘proper’ photographic lighting by reading Arena (2012) on the Canon Speedlites and Hunter (2006) on setting up studio lighting.

The basic theory behind Itten’s Contrast assignment is to photograph pairs of images that contrast the visual qualities as shown below:
large/small       many/few        transparent/opaque     broad/narrow   diagonal/rounded
continuous/intermittent            long/short        pointed/blunt    liquid/solid       light/dark
hard/soft          thick/thin          smooth/rough              strong/weak                much/little
light/heavy       black/white      still/moving                  high/low           straight/curved
As a precursor to Assigmnent 1 it was required that 4 pairs of images from existing photographs were selected to represent contrasting pairs.  From the exercise which looked at the influence of shutter speed on subject movement I selected a pair of images taken at 1/350sec and 1/6sec to represent ‘still' and  ‘moving'.
Existing image - 'moving'

Existing image - 'still'
My next pair came from the exercise which looked at the influence of focal length on the resultant image.  Both photographs are of the 16th century bridge over the River Blackwater that I used to exemplify that exercise and show the contrasts of ‘large’ for the close up (taken at 200mm)  and ‘small’ for the distant shot (taken at 24mm).
Existing image - 'large'
Existing image - 'small'

Next comes City Hall in London as a ‘curved’ example and the Millennium Bridge looking towards St Paul’s Cathedral as the ‘straight’ contrast.
Existing image - 'curved'
Existing image- 'straight'
Finally, I used another pair of images from London to show ‘large’ – the dinosaur inside the massive entrance hall of the Natural History Museum (so lots of large ...)  – and ‘small’ represented by a close up of the museum roof showing paintings of small flowers.  These can be seen in the roof at the top of the ‘large’ image and can be photographed from the balcony.
Finally, I used another pair of images to show ‘large’ – the entrance archway of the Natural History Museum – and ‘small’ represented by a small ornate arch at South Hill Park in Berkshire.  These were a contrast pair that I had considered for the main Assignment 1 work, but in the end I simply preferred others that had been intentionally shot as contrasting pairs.
Existing image - 'large'
Existing image - 'small'

I was surprised how easy it was to spot contrasts in pictures, even with the limited amount of ‘stock’ that I have photographed for the course so far.  Once I had ‘got my eye in’ it was relatively easy to see contrasts all over the place even without cropping images to pull out suitable elements to represent various contrasts.
So, to the images for the main part of Assignment 1.  My first images explored the contrast of straight and curved.  I considered a number of options including elements of large bridges (Millennium Bridge and Hungerford Bridge over the Thames in London), some simple wooden structures around a local nature reserve and some hand tools.  The tools I rejected almost immediately as they were difficult to light and visually less pleasing in a photograph than they were in real life (bad lighting and composition on my part most probably, but I failed to produce an image I really liked).   The bridges I finally settled on for possible inclusion were as follows, and I also considered some of these wooden structures in black and white.

A soon as I saw the curved wooden bridge in black and white it brought to mind an image of a wooden fishing platform on a frozen lake that I had taken and had already converted as I felt that colour rather detracted from the scene that already had quite dull and misty light.  I converted a couple of pictures of the bridge and spent some while thinking about which to select.  The one I finally picked was chosen because I liked the diagonal in the composition and because that diagonal complemented that in the fishing platform.  So, my first pair were ‘curved and straight’ and were :
Assignment image 1 - 'curved'
Assignment image 2 - 'straight'

The next pair of images took me rather less time to settle on and photograph. I knew I wanted to do something with ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ and was initially looking for something that was traditionally ‘hard’ – which is what lead to some cricket ball photography, which turned out to be just red and dull!  I looked at some feathers as representative of ‘soft’; these were more successful but as they were a brilliant range of colours I decided in the end to keep them for the colour elements of the course.  Powders are 'soft', and as I wanted to include some close up images, I experimented with ground spices (nice colours too).  This naturally lead on to sea salt crystals and dried peppercorns to give me the ‘hard’ contrast;  I say naturally, but it was only a short step to finding these once I had started to demolish the pantry in search of spices!  I selected the spices and pepper/salt combo as my pair of contrasts as not only did they have the contrast in visual qualities, they also had the obvious connection in that they were related foodstuffs.

Assignment image 3 - 'soft'
Assignment image 4 - 'hard'

My third pair was ‘transparent’ and ‘opaque’ and I hit upon the idea of using the relevant page from the course materials as a backdrop and utilising some real leaves that had been ‘cleared’ in alcohol (i.e. the chlorophyll had been removed so all that remained was the physical structure of the leaf veins) and then dyed, as ‘transparent’.  The obvious choice as the opposite contrast was an uncleared leaf as ‘opaque’.
Assignment image 5 - 'transparent'
Assignment image 6 - 'opaque'

I have the transparent leaves in a number of colours and I am sure that these will feature at some stage later in the course.

I will guarantee that many students have used my fourth choice as subject material with which to illustrate ‘sweet’ and ‘sour’, and it is of course fruit – rather obvious, but also rather colourful.  An orange and an apple, cut in half to show the sweet insides, contrast well with a sour lemon and a lime.  However, I do acknowledge that it is a prerequisite that the viewer is aware of the flavours and what the fruits are.  For this reason I decided later to come back to this and consider one of my alternatives for final submission.

Natural materials again for number five, this time contrasts made from wood.  The bark of a tree, strongly side lit when I took the photograph,  made a great ‘rough’ surface and I spent some time looking for the ‘smooth’ contrast that gave the secondary link I wanted other than just being ‘smooth’.  I finally settled on a wooden fish from Africa which was very smooth in texture – the markings on the fish in some ways also replicated the structure of the bark in the ‘rough’ image.
Assignment image 7 - 'rough'
Assignment image 8 - 'smooth'

Rounded and diagonal was the next contrast I looked at and I had the images I took at the London Eye in mind for this right from the outset.  It is obviously a good candidate for ‘rounded’ and also containing a wealth of opportunities to find diagonals in the structure of the Eye and its supporting steelwork.  I looked at a few of options for ‘rounded’, considering vertical and horizontal framing as well as showing the whole of the Eye and just a ‘rounded’ part of it.  This turned out to be a difficult choice, but having changed my mind several times I decided on the close up partial shot of the Eye as ‘rounded’ (if the theme had been just ‘round’ I would have gone with the shot of the whole structure) to pair up with the vertical of the ‘diagonal’ steelwork taken from inside one of the capsules.  I went with the vertically framed diagonals for the final submission as I thought the symmetry in this shot really added impact.
Assignment image 9 - 'rounded'
If it had been 'round' and not 'rounded' ..
A contender for 'diagonal'
Assignment image 10 - 'diagonal'
My eighth pair of images was ‘high’ and ‘low’, selecting one image from my visits to London and one local image as a contrast.  The London shot was the London Bridge Quarter, also known as The Shard.  It is hard to think of a better example of ‘tall’ without taking pictures of people (which I’m saving for later assignments!) as it will be the tallest building in Western Europe, standing at 310m upon completion.  I could think of no better contrast to The Shard than the lowest building I could think of .. a shed down the lane from where I live!  I do like the peeling paint and the contrasts in the brickwork here, so was pleased to be able to fit it in to the final selection for ‘low’.

Assignment image 11 - 'high'
Assignment image 12 - 'low'

A further contrast I looked at was the concept of ‘light’ and ‘dark’.  For this pair of images I drew on some pictures I took during a brief spell of snowy weather.  The subject was a pine tree that has a certain stark quality to it as it is isolated in the middle of a field.  My image for ‘dark’ was taken shooting into the light with a 3 stop ND filter just as a snow storm was approaching, and the image for ‘light’ was taken in a cold and flat dawn light.  I really liked the contrast between these two images and, very rarely for me, have had these printed up.
Assignment image 13 - 'dark'
Assignment image 14 - 'light'

My oranges, apples, lemons and limes for ‘sweet’ and ‘sour’ have been bothering me for a while, so I reconsidered these in the light of a feeling that they demanded too much knowledge on behalf of the viewer to be considered as a true visual contrast.  I therefore added an additional pair of images to those I was considering for final submission and looked at ‘many’ and ‘few’.  For this I looked at beans .. jelly beans.  ‘Many’ was a shot of a tightly compacted group and ‘few’ just a group of four beans.  These four were spread out which I thought added to the concept of there being few of them looking rather lonely, and were also framed in the top corner of the image as I felt the greater space added to their isolation.  If I’m personalising jelly beans it’s probably time to stop and start the next part of the course!!
Assignment image 15 - 'many'
Assignment image 16 - 'few'

The last topic to be dealt with in Assignment 1 was to combine two visual contrasts into a single shot.  For this I have gone back to London, although I wanted to get away from the London Eye as a source of too many images. Instead, I took some pictures of street scenes along the Embankment heading along towards Tower Bridge. I especially liked this scene here where the ‘high’ flats and bridges I felt provided an interesting contrast with the ‘low’ street scene where the pavement passes beneath.  It would make a good shot for contrasting vertical and horizontal lines as well.
Assignment image 17 - 'high' and 'low'

So that’s the final work for Assignment 1 and ‘Contrasts’ until I get some tutor input. Assembling the images for the ‘contrasts’ was an interesting process that really had me thinking, especially where there were a number of options for consideration.  It also made me think more widely about what I was shooting and set some serious objectives when I went out with the camera.  ‘Contrasts’ was quite a fragmentary exercise in that it was largely possible to photograph anything, and that lack of focus caused me to think harder about exactly what I was attempting to do.  Some of the later assignments seem to have clearer goals, but it will be interesting to see whether I still think that when I get there !!  I will be blogging some overall views on the course tomorrow, but for now, that’s it for Assignment 1.

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