ITAP Lecture 4

What is key to a reliable and creative process?
Undoubtedly asked frequently by many of us, this question was the subject of our forth ITAP lecture. Two of the most relevant issues on this matter are the ones related to Research and Practice.
“Research” is just another synonym for “Investigation”. It means that just as detectives gather whatever information they can to solve a case, visual communicators must delve deep into their problem in order to find ways of solving it.
I for example have had trouble correctly exposing my negatives. Ever since I started printing my photos, this problem seemed more and more obvious. It was hard for me to determine whether to overexpose or underexpose my negatives, in both cases risking of loosing information. Overexposure would yield good results on the print as long as it wasn`t over the edge (which was tough), underexposure would give the negative good tonality but make me use very short times in the darkroom and thus not get to the “saturation” point needed for printing (more here) .

THE ZONE SYSTEM

I needed a solution for this. I didn`t turn up late as I was (luckily) reading through Ansel Adams`s autobiography. One of his greatest achievements regarding technique was The Zone System. This was relatively simple to understand: it meant dividing the tones of gray in a black and white composition into 11 distinctive zones, 0 being pure black, 5 middle gray and 11 pure white. He relied on the fact that each light-meter was designed to bring the surface it was measuring to zone 5. By making a bracketing test on the film he would use, Ansel Adams was able to determine what exposure compensation was necessary in order to reach the desired

THE 11 ZONES

zone.

Thus one need only frame the scene in his mind, divide it into the different zones, point the meter at one that he was interested (say…highlights) and make the necessary adjustments in order to bring it to the right level of luminance.
Simple enough but this method requires more time in order to get the exact vision of the image.
The other issue is about Practice. Practice is not only about looking at your own work, it`s also about looking up work from other artists and get to know how they managed to realize, what were the steps taken and how could these steps help you improve your own work.

ANSEL ADAMS, MONOLITH

Again I will refer to Ansel Adams`s work because it has proven most inspiring for me. What I was most interested in was finding out how he found the amazing landscapes that were later on to become some THE most amazing images of the American National Parks.
It turned out that the answer was quite simple: exploration. Working, working and working his way up the hills, Ansel Adams would almost inevitably stumble upon a scenery that he then carefully assessed and the immortalize. Carefully disguised in his pictures were signs of ecological awareness regarding the protection of US`s green gold. There was also a target audience of sentimental and sensible people as his photographs had numerous romantic motives (the lake, the moon, clouds).
One of his first successful image was The Monolith. For the first time, he did not try to make a realistic photograph but rather something that he`s mind`s eye was seeing. This was done with a bit of luck (having only two negatives left and just two filters: yellow and deep red) and skill: the red filter managed to give a more dramatic feel to the image.
Both of these tools will yield powerful results in creative hands and it must not be forgotten that each of them is essential if one wants to progress.

Ansel Adams

Finished reading most of Ansel Adams` autobiography…

In short: I found out that he wasn`t as complicated as many people think he was. He was a creative man right from the start of his childhood. He just loved playing the piano and later on, taking long walks through Yosemite. This was what inspired him to take what he saw back home in the form of an 8x10in negative.

He was meticulous and sort of a perfectionist in the many things that he did. He didn`t like his work beaing mishandled of labeled as something else. Also somewhat of a celebrity, meeting 2 US presidents and working as a technician for Hasselblad.

He didn`t have any special techniques for getting the images, he just walked knowing that something will eventually turn up…..and somehow something did eventually turn up, like the Moonrise over Hernandez scene, just as he was going home. I must mention that the final print for this photo was made after THIRTY YEARS!!! of trial and error. Maybe that is why it`s one of the world`s most expensive photographs.

Unfortunately there aren`t many details about The Zone System,  the method which he used to render most of his images in perfect exposure. I`ll have to get The Negative for that.

 

Tomorrow I`m taking some of Henri-Cartier Bresson`s books…

Enter the darkroom

CONTACTS

Finally….

Today I had the Darkroom Printing workshop for which I`ve been waiting the entire week. It was awesome.

What you see up there are contact prints made from my Ilford Delta 100 film. These are images that I`ve been taking for the last weeks. I still have a few films to process, including an infrared one, but I chose this one for today`s session. Here`s how it all came down.

Environment – The first thing I noticed while going in is that red light is very dim. So dim that you can barely see on black surfaces (which are unfortunately everywhere on the walls). This is necessary in order to prevent paper from darkening. Fortunately there is a lot of space so I don`t feel claustrophobic.

Equipment– There are many various enlargers for both 35mm and medium format film. I noticed that 35mm enlargers tend not to cover the entire surface of the frame and so losing information. I`ll try a medium-format-sized one and maybe….some luck. The easels used to crop t

he image on the table are not so great though but with a bit of practice I`ll make it. There is everything from a guillotine to washing tubes for the paper. There is plenty of order so there`s no chance of even coming in contact with the chemicals by using gloves.

Paper – Sara Farrington, the technician, provided us with some 8′ x 10′  Ilford Multigrade RC (resin coated) paper which was very nice. I still hate the reflective surface of glossy paper so I`m definitively going with matt surfaces in the future. Also, I will go for Fiber Based (FB) papers in the future because they give a much more smooth texture and also a fresher tonal range.  One of the bad things that I found out is that virtually every paper type is in 4:5 format and not 2:3, the way 35mm photos come out thus loosing surface during cutting. Another bad thing is that 8′ x 10′ isn`t that big now that I found out I need to cut the paper… The logical answer would be to go bigger but unfortunately this appears to be the threshold after which prices start to soar. This is also the point where packs start to have fewer sheets compared to the 100s that I had. I`ll have to go with this size. And there is also the problem of tone: these prints came out in neutral tone, the question is whether to go with warmtone or neutral. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately 😀 ) wamrtone is 20 quid more so my hand if forced.

Development – After exposing the print it needs to go through 3 baths:

  • developer – it accelerates the darkening process and gives us a usable image, it`s far more merciful than film developer, a stopwatch not being necessary. It`s, as most have told me, an almost magic moment when you see a faint image forming on the paper, appearing from nowhere.
  • stop bath – this is a short 30-sec-bath that the paper needs to go through. It is acidic so it neutralizes the developer completely.
  • fixer – here the image must spend about 4 minutes to ensure that it no longer is light-sensitive.

Finally there is a final wash in water but the prints can be seen in normal light immediately after fix.

Exposure and contrast – Just like film, paper must be exposed to a certain amount of light in order to gain in density and darken. The image will appear positive as the negative of a negative if a positive. What is interesting (at least in this paper`s case)  is that darkening really starts after about a second. This can be seen in the less-lengthy exposures of the test strips that I did. I assume this is caused by the law of reciprocity stating that after a set amount of time, exposures will start to have less difference, a sort of photon-saturation (also seen with film in long exposures). This isn`t a grave factor unless your frames are underexposed (like mine 😀 ) in which case there will be need of a shorter exposure time for the prints.

Another thing to take into account is the contrast of the image. This is probably one of the greatest advantages of working in b&w. It`s done by using filters placed in front of the negative that slightly change the color of the light (from yellow to magenta).  Another way is by using a color enlarger that has color scales embedded in it`s light source so that you only flick a switch to get a certain grade. Grades are from 00 (very soft) to 5 (very punchy). The catch is that the image actually darkens with a higher grade and viceversa thus requiring a different exposure for each grade. I have decided that the best way to find out the best pair of contrast-exposure for each print is to tear an entire sheet of paper into strips, pick the most probable 4 (or by all means all) grades and do exposure tests for each. thus we`ll have an example of each combination and it will be easier to figure out what to use.

Dodging and burning – This is the process of selectively giving different areas of the print (such as the sky) different exposures in order to have an overall balanced composition. This is done by covering part of the print (dodging) and leaving the other part get more exposure (burning). Here I bumped into a problem: the times being so short (a matter of seconds) how the heck am I supposed to cover the areas that I want in time before the print is exposed???

I`ll have to check back on you with this because it`s important.

Drying – Drying is pretty straightforward, the prints needing about 20 min to dry properly. I hear that FB paper needs about an hour🙁 and that is also curls and needs about a week pressed in a book to straighten-up :)). Damn this higher quality.

All in all, the process is very meticulous, especially when cropping. I spent 3 hours, exposed about 5-6 sheets and got just one decent print and 3 other failures.

Practice makes perfect 😀.

It`s beautiful nonetheless, print is heavily underestimated amongst photographers. I can`t wait to see the scan of a good print too.

Tomorrow I`m buying my own paper and not leaving until I`ve got at least one good print so watch out 😀

ITAP Lecture 3

Connectivity was our subject for the third ITAP lecture last week. Although not what you would expect at first glance, the lecture did reveal some interesting facts such as the cultural context in which we create, different forms of historical culture developing relationships etc, of which I will describe two and also use examples to highlight their importance.

PETER KENNARD 1983

JOHN CONSTABLE 1821

A great effect on connectivity is always put on by the cultural context.Depending on the surrounding, both culturally and environmentally two apparently similar works of art can have a very different meaning.

An eloquent example of this is the work of John Constable and Peter Kennard. In 1821 John Constable made a painting of the the beautiful countryside that everyone on that time was dreaming of. More than a century later, in `83, Peter Kennard had theintention of warning American nationalists about the threat of, at that time, the Cold War. He used Constable`s painting of the peaceful countryside and added a single but extremely relevant element to it, something representative of the cold war. Thus he greatly altered the image`s message encodingand also there was another type of target audience involved. This helped send a strong message on the impact that the war had on everyday lives.

Inspiration is always made from half what we see and half what we think. Thus the notion of originality is born. To be original is to create something in a way that nobody had ever though about to. But how can one bring up a new method of work without using what he has learned? Work can have correlations to other types of work from the past, ideas can be reinterpreted and so on.

VINCENT PETERS 2002

This has shaped the work of Vincent Peters on a Dior advertise. While the intention is clear, it`s roots go all the way back to 1892. The image uses signs such as the skull masked in an illusion to induce drama to women, it`s target audience. This approach was first made by Charles Allan Gilbert in the year mentioned before on All is Vanity, however certainly not to advertise anything. This similarity between the two images does not account as plagiarism but of Vincent Peters taking a concept, slightly distorting it in order to create something new, that has a strong cultural context but an entire new meaning. Thus, different notions of originality lead to different outcomes but with basically the same origin.

CHARLES ALLAN GILBERT 1892

The first ones never lie

WAITING FOR THE BREAK

I`ve been looking through some old photos today and I can`t help being nostalgic. Wow….nostalgic at 19? Yes….I guess it`s possible at a variety of ages 😀.

These were my first attempts at film, using a Fuji Neopan film. At that time I had only minimal knowledge of photography, still trying to reproduce some good photos that I saw.

These are films that I never actually scanned, I had just prints made and even if at that time they represented no serious work for me, they`re now testimony of the fact that the first images one takes in a new medium are usually the things that will represent him further on; I had people, landscapes, night scenes and close-ups among mine. Now they bring back to life memories of long gone moments, names perhaps forgotten or, like the above, boring classes spent in the high school`s library with best friends.

This is the first reason that image taking is so important in everyday life. It`s the ability to freeze memories that makes them an invaluable source of both joy and sadness.

The first images that you take never lie. It`s always the truth, be it pixels, silver halides from films, or cassettes with your first day to school.

People constantly neglect this thing, and thus treat images like children sent to adoption, or to a Facebook album named “Old”.

How would you feel if you were able to say 1000 words…just once?

ArtFag

What you see in the title is actually what we came up for our magazine`s name 😀.

If I recall correctly, it`s a deeper meaning of the word “fag”. Interesting right?

On a more intellectual definition: we want to ironise the pretentiousness of many artists in their creativity.

Seems about right…

ITAP Lecture 2

FROM MY RVJ

While the first ITAP lecture was concentrated on the means by which we could lay our ideas on a physical surface, the second enumerated several ways of redefining the ideas that we come up with while improving our creative mind. I shall describe two of the main principles that constitute the Development of Creative Thought ad Structure.

FROM MY RVJ

One of the starting principles in this practice isovercoming mindsets. Mindsets are the things that prevent us from developing new and innovative ideas.

I had this problem when I was trying to sketch the design of an original pinhole camera. A pinhole camera is in fact a small camera obscura: a box with a tiny hole on one side and a photosensitive material on the other. Optics say that light coming through the small hole hit the photo material and imprint a reversed image onto the material. Most peopleusually put photo paper in that box because of the ease of tray processing. I wasn`t happy with this solution because in this case I would have ended up with a reversed image. I didn`t want to use sheet film either because it requires special drums for processing and wouldn`t have given the panorama capabilities that I wanted the camera to have. Instead, while drawing this in my RVJ, I came up with the idea of using regular 120 film taped into a box of the same length. This would give a huge perspective while retaining the original un-reversed image and allowing for simple processing in a development tank. I then went further and asked: what if the camera was slightly curved? why not be completely round to have a 360 view? why not make several holes so that the image could spread even wider?

Although a rather gold experiment, I think it is worthwhile trying.

Another way of successfully developing this practice is by getting rid of assumptions; and when I say this, I mean using an open mind to approach ideas. Thus one can be able to make unusual analogies or compare things that usually have no relationship in between.

I was confronted with this problem when I needed to express in the magazine a contrast between different techniques of portraying  a vision; in this case, the difference between using a camera and using brushes to illustrate a landscape since our target audience are art oriented people. After consulting with Matthew (one of my classmates), we agreed that I shall do the photos and then Matt would use his skill as an illustrator to draw have of the images, which would then be

put together in Photoshop and designed in a double spread. This should ensure that the encoding of the message is easily visible.

FROM MY RVJ

Expectations

I need to write this down before it slips my mind. It occurred to me today, while looking for interesting subjects for the magazine that me and my design team are supposed to do by the end of term. I was at the Birmingham Central Library Square, and I decided that instead of looking for subjects, I should just wait and see if anything happens since the Square is usually heavily populated. It the struck me like the rain that did, half an hour earlier.

Up until now, I believed that in order to get a good snap on the street (otherwise known as street photography), one would have to search for subjects in the most gruesome locations: back-streets, subway passages and so on. When I sat in that square today, I saw what anybody would obviously see in a Friday afternoon: people going home after work, kids running from rain, a guy with a suitcase in his hand and a huge musical note in the other…….wait. That was interesting. I then decided to take a different approach to this “hunt”. Instead of running all over the place in order to see people`s expressions, I leaned next to a wall with the camera around my neck and my favorite audio source of inspiration (Jean Michel Jarre – En Attendant Cousteau); I didn`t know what I was waiting for, the simple view that I saw seemed inspiring. The longer I waited, the more obvious became to me the fact that sometimes you must be patient.

They say that at some point in every creationist`s life the subjects start finding him instead of the other way around. This is true in those rare occasions when you include patience in the equation. You have to wait. Usually when we enter a new environment it takes time to get accustomed and start to actually see what is around us. The 21st century is a time of fast-paces. We never do get to actually stop and look around us because we are always in such a hurry.

After getting accustomed to the environment that you want to photograph, you should find a spot that doesn`t attract attention, with your camera ready and start to observe your subjects. During this wait you may or may not actually photograph anything. But in those rare occasions when you do see something worth capturing…speed is the name of the game.

One thing that is photography`s greatest both advantage and disadvantage is that the entire creation act takes place in a limited length of time. That short interval remains imprinted forever. It is of this reason that a street photographer shoul be quick on the trigger, agile, observant and always ready for anything; because if that moment has passed and you didn`t hit the shutter, then it is forever lost. During my stay at the square today, I came up with some ground rules that I will further respect when doing this again. These are as follows:

  • always dress-up accordingly – today was a bleak rainy day and I started shivering before I could even start to understand what I previously stated.
  • never pack too much – some people take their entire gear in the hope that they may need a polarizer on a cloudy day. I find my bag to be sufficient for both carrying my camera and three lenses and also being lightweight and easily accessible.
  • always be ready – it is important never to have your camera in the bag but around your neck.
  • use long but unconspicuous lenses – because you never want to scare away your subjects, it`s essential that you carry a telephoto. Do not exaggerate by using something that attracts attention. (my Nikon 100mm is perfect for this)
  • use fast ISO ratings – instead of having grain-free blurred images, I prefer using  a higher ISO to be sure that what I get is sharp. Grain has it`s creative effects too.
  • never change the spot – the more you walk around, the more you will lose focus and get distracted; just pick a spot that you know would be suitable for what you`re trying to get and wait. Sooner or later something will come up.
  • finally, be patient – don`t expect to ever get it right the first time.

Similar to a movie that has a sequel, I thought of all this just before I had to go home. I did get some photos though, `will have to see what comes out. I used an Ilford HP5+, pushed 3 stops, so the images should compensate for the low-contrast evening light, while adding a what-I-hope-to-be an interesting grain effect. I have the entire weekend to practice and also hope for some rain because this could make things a lot more interesting.

Hello!

Hello and welcome to my blog!

Although at first glance a typical blog about photography, I will not bore you, readers, with the latest in photo gear but I will try to concentrate my thoughts more on the process of coming up with an image and an idea. In the last months I have found it difficult to keep what`s in my mind all in one place so this blog will also serve as my personal photo-journal.

I am currently studying BA Visual Communication at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design in UK. On this blog I will also post the work related to these studies. I find it interesting that the university has chosen to evaluate us part on our blog. It is an opportunity for me to enter the ever increasing blogosphere and also put my mind in order.

I hope you enjoy reading, I will later on post more information about myself because I want to keep this post ah short as possible. 🙂