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BoW: learning objective 2 – situating my own work

Introduction

In preparing for assessment, I’m writing a pdf response the course’s learning objectives. I set myself the constraint of 100-150 words for each objective, so as to not overwhelm assessors with words. However, learning objective 2 asks to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of your area of specialisation and be able to situate your own work within a larger context of practice in your field. This is not something I’ve written about discretely since an exercise early in the course, which asked me to consider in which genre my work is situated. I’ve therefore written this separate post that allows a slightly more expansive expression of my thoughts; useful to bring together as I begin to talk about my work outside the OCA, during the SYP course.

Situating my own work

My work is an amalgamation of several areas of specialisation. I’m not entirely comfortable with the term ; ‘specialisation’ as I feel that it is trying to hurd for the sake of a convenient label; I think art is more nuanced than this.

There is the cross-disciplinary genre of psychogeography, connected with the practice of wandering, Ian Sinclair’s writing London Orbital for example, as well as the effect of geography on mood and meaning. Discussions of human geography in my dissertation are also connected to this aspect. In making my work, I walked most of the 127 miles of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, generally with no preconceptions of what I might find along each stretch. While the psychogeographic films of Patrick Keiller, for example London and Robinson in Ruins, were an influence, my style of imagery is very different and aestheticizes the banal to draw attention to what I think of as its unusual beauty. In this respect my video is closer to Deutsche Börse nominee photographer Laura el Tantawy’s video works than Keiller’s that are straight film shots without panning or zooming.

Aestheticizing environmental degradation can be seen as controversial as photographers such as Richard Misrach and Edward Burtynsky have experienced, in essays such as Deborah Bright’s Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men. However, I share the view that it can be used positively to draw attention to places that might otherwise be ignored; I discuss this in my dissertation, referring to Eric Sandeen’s essay Souvenirs from the Landscapes of Modernity, which takes a different perspective to Bright’s on the work of Richard Misrach and others.

My project is readily identifiable as ‘Northern’, and therefore be connected with photographer’s who engaged with the Northern landscape and culture, such Bill Brandt,  Don McCullin, and John Bulmer (who’s use of colour is a direct influence). However, we are separated by time and my work is concerned with the aftermath of the industry they photographed, deindustrialisation. This therefore connects my work to the concept of ‘aftermath’ photography, though the deindustrialisation of the space along the canal is a slow process, often outside directly observable time; unlike a war zone for example where there is sudden and violent destruction of what was before.

Finally, there is a strong connection with photography concerned with water and journeys along that water. Alex Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi has been a long-time influence on my work, with its stillness and observation of marginal places. More concerned with detritus left along the water as marks of human activity is Frank Watson’s Soundings from the Estuary. The absence of people in my work is similar, as is the featuring of detritus.

Quick references

Bright (1985). Essay Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men at: http://www.deborahbright.net

Sandeen, E. (2011) ‘Eric Sandeen’s essay Souvenirs from the Landscapes of Modernity: Richard Misrach, Camilo Vergara, and the Visual Politics of Ruin’ In: Pictorial Cultures and Political Iconographies: Approaches, Perspectives, Case Studies from Europe and America. Berlin/Boston, GERMANY: De Gruyter, Inc. pp.315–354. At: http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/detail.action?docID=736998 (Accessed 02/09/2019).

Laura el-Tantawy website: https://www.lauraeltantawy.com/video

A2.CS: Literature review update

Some housekeeping on my blog, as I prepare for assessment.

When I first wrote my literature review, I was uncomfortable with setting out a defined set of research resources as I knew that the breadth of research I was exploring would most likely take me in new or different directions. The literature review concept felt like it belong to another time, when resources would be limited to what once could access through a library rather than the vast breadth of material now available online. However, as I researched ‘research’ and benefitted from the Zoom discussions hosted by Dr Ariadne, I came to understand the literature review as something that would most likely evolve with one’s research. Something I did not glean from the OCA course materials and threw me off the scent of its purpose. The literature review became something meaningful to me – a way of sharing more information about important research resources used in building the dissertation; a discussion that sits between the references appended to the dissertation and the body of the dissertation itself. I some academic papers, I’ve noted that it is placed in the text as part of the introductory materials.

I completed the final update of my literature review in November after completing my dissertation. It is this update that I will submit as part of the assessment process.

A5.BoW: tutor feedback

Yesterday, I had my final audio/video feedback session with my tutor – assignment submission here. I was delighted with how it went and the positive comments both on the progress during the module and the final outcome. She also kindly read my A5 CS reworked essay and aside from a couple of small things to tidy up, was also positive about that.

One point I do need to investigate is the streaming quality of the video – I think diminished as we viewed via Zoom, so that would have applied its own compression. However, I need to check it is as good as it can possibly be when streaming direct from Vimeo. I recently upgraded to a paid account, so there may be higher quality upload options. As part of SYP, I’ll be looking at methods of ‘showing’ the video to groups of online audiences, followed by a discussion; I’m hoping to tap into fresh aural histories.

We spent sometime talking through the approach to preparing assessment materials and how to link to the learning outcomes, which I found very useful. Key recommendations were to keep reflective summaries for each section short (around 100-150 words – economic and effective) to avoid overwhelming assessors before they have a chance to look at the work; also that a pdf format with links is the most convenient for review, rather than something directly on the blog. She kindly offered to look over the pdf for me once done.

This is most likely my final blog entry as assessment content will be in pdf format and uploaded to the shared drive.

BoW.A5 Tutor submission

For my last assignment, I submit an introduction to my body of work, the body of work itself and an evaluation of the body of work that reflects on the whole of this module.

Introduction

I have written this introduction in the third person, on the basis that it will be taken forward to SYP as a starting point for describing and promoting my body of work.

Leeds and Liverpool is a poignant short film by Andrew Fitzgibbon featuring photographs made over two years, while walking the 127 mile Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The film’s story reflects upon the canal as a marginal but enthralling space trampled with the burden of deindustrialisation and reinvented as a site of leisure. Absent of people, the film shows the marks of humanity left by those who have claimed the water as their own. The narration is voiced by Yorkshire born actor Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty). An immersive soundtrack features layers of ambient sounds recorded from the canal, and samples of sound effects from historic archives, as well as oral histories from those who once worked the canal.

Although the canal is promoted as a place of leisure, it holds deeper interest as a complex space of many different interests: from ruins and heritage, to edgelands and urban gentrification. There are fascinating incongruities, with human culture working at the landscape and marking possession, use and abuse. Andrew sees this as the meeting of worlds within a world; the fluid world of the canal and its banks.

Body of work

For the optimum experience, please view this film in full-screen mode using headphones to enjoy the stereo soundscape. Viewing on mobile devices is not recommended.

Evaluation of body of work

I wish acknowledge the work of both my BoW and CS tutors in providing the insights, suggestions and encouragement that enabled me to reach this point. They have been an enormous support. Credit is also given in the end titles to the film.

I use the same categories of assessment criteria contained in my course materials and that I have used to self-assess my own progress throughout this module.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

 – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

The foundation of this work is photographic image-making based upon my observations during many walks along different stretches of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. In the beginning, the project was envisaged very differently to how it was finally realised; it was intended to be a work of portraits showing how people interact with the place of the canal over a specific 29 mile stretch between the town of Skipton and Leeds. This was revisited when I found that the idea of the canal inside my head as a populous place (like the urban city canals to which I was more accustomed) proved to be a fallacy. This is a mistake I describe in the context of my dissertation. Then, the idea was completely abandoned with the Covid epidemic, which has hit hard the former industrial towns of Northern England along the canal. The project was reimagined as a landscape work that showed the marks of socialisation along the entire 127 mile length of the canal. My CS research focused increasingly on social spatialisation, deindustrialisation and the power plays in shaping space in the context of the canal. This in turn was reflected in my image making. I believe that I have succeeded in making well composed, visually impactful images that show the canal as more meaningful than a simple place of leisure, as it is popularly represented. Also, that I have demonstrated a flexible and creative approach to the changing circumstances around the work.

The images themselves have gone through many edits to arrive at the end selection. There was a balancing act between choosing images with visual impact and choosing those that also fitted the story I wanted to tell. After many iterations, the level was found; my sequencing and editing skills and toolkit improved significantly during the process. I’m a photographer who works with RAW images rather than jpgs, so a great deal of work happens in Photoshop’s digital darkroom. Many of the images have been ‘printed’ several times to arrive at a rendering that fitted the mood of the canal and also highlighted the reflective qualities of water, to add a sense of contemplation to the images. Without going into technical details, my approach to working with images in Photoshop has become clearly defined during this module, with a set of riffs I can call upon to help images sing the song in my head.

The approach to dissemination of the images has gone through a number of iterations throughout the module. One decision I made early on was that I wanted to find an approach that would work for digital assessment and for digital sharing in the Covid world. Given a photograph is not tied to a single output medium, it appealed to make use of this characteristic. The work has evolved through straight digital prints, through a simple ebook, to an interactive ebook and finally to a film.

Enormous effort has gone into the different iterations and final version of the film, beyond the photographs upon which it is based. A narrative was written and initially voiced by myself before a chance collaboration with professional actor Paul Butterworth, who is also an OCA student. Paul visited me and we recorded his take of my narrative. Images were resequenced to echo the words of the narrative. The pace of slides and transitions was experimented with, so they beat to the slow drum of the canal. The narrative was sliced and mixed to the pace of the images. Ambient sounds were recorded on the canal and sampled from archives. I was delighted to locate the aural history recordings that feature in the film. I then practiced and learned new sound mixing skills to post-process the sounds and place them into a stereo mix. I’ve refined a whole skill set in realising this dissemination, and one that will be valuable in future projects, and allows me to combine my love of sound and photography.

Quality of outcome

 – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas

I feel that the final film is a high quality output. One cannot judge one’s own work but I’m please to have also received some enthusiastic feedback from viewers so far, including the poet Ian McMillan who’s words are quoted in the narrative. The film conveys the story I want to tell of the canal described in my introduction, and has the quality of a meditative wander along the canal. The images, narrative and soundtrack all come together to carry the narrative and reveal layers of meaning through sight and sound. It shows that the canal is far richer in meaning than the place of leisure commonly portrayed. I hope it will encourage people to reflect upon broader meanings of space when by the water.

For the presentation to evolve during SYP, I am considering two main areas:

  • Fully developing the website that I’ve already started for SYP as a vehicle to share the film and related work. This seems to a practical way of sharing work in what looks like will be a reduced-touch world until at least mid-2021. The website is www.leedsandliverpool.co.uk. I have already started to use this as a platform for viewers who enjoy the film to donate to my local food bank if they can afford to; I hope that this will allow the work to do some tangible good as well as being enjoyed.
  • I would like to produce a book of the work, using the text from narrative that accompanies the film, ideally in conjunction with one of the small alternative-placed focused publishers that I’m following on line, or through a publish-on-demand service. However, I will have to see how this plays out with costs et cetera.

Within my timeframes, I suspect it is unrealistic to run a small physical exhibition of the work given lockdown and social distancing requirements. However, there could be the possibility of a physical presence that points to the film through a QR code. For example, fliers or posters in places near the canal.

Demonstration of creativity

 – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice

Over the course of this module, the work has gone through many different iterations and experiments; some of which I’ve described above. For sometime, I’ve been interested in work that comments on space and people’s interaction with that space. With my CS research, I now also strongly connect that to meaning and how meaning determines who belongs and who doesn’t in a place; the boundaries put on place. What I have come to accept and embrace is the aestheticisation of subject matter to draw attention to it and the voice of its story.

Context

 – reflection, research, critical thinking

There is significant research that informs this body of work in my dissertation, which is presented separately. In that, I conclude with the same words used in my film narrative, so they act as a portal between the textual research and the visual work. Below, I talk about the research specifically targeted at the creation of the visual.

While I am not enthusiastic about the term psychogeography because of its general obscurity to the majority of people, my work is situated in that genre both in terms of its making through wandering and its dissemination through a film that is a wander with a contemplative narrative. Patrick Keiller’s London is an influence, even if I just appreciate rather than enjoy that work. However, a more significant influence in terms of photography as a video production is the work of Laura El-Tantawy, the Deutsche Börse Prize shortlisted photographer. La Jetée opened my eyes to the possibility of what could be achieved with still images in film but is beyond my capability and perhaps requires the resources of a feature film.

I of course have many photographic influences but I found in making this work Frank Watson’s Soundings from the Estuary and Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi inspiring in the way they photographed banal, marginal places, and in the quietness of their images. The quietness in images is important to me as it seems to allow more space for a viewer to reflect and find their own meaning. I also took some encouragement from the way in which Nadav Kandar works with his image files in Photoshop; when it seems only the use of film is a worthy discussion point among practitioners and critics.

Conclusion

Part-time study inevitably means a very long learning journey. Yesterday, as I finished the final rework of my dissertation, the realisation came that the journey is ending. This sometimes background and sometimes persistent, but constant pressure of effort will be no more. When I began, I had no idea of how much the learning would change the way in I see photography and the world.

Once one realises that photography is a tool that can be used in many different ways and accepts that there is not necessarily a good way or a bad way, but a way that is right for you, one’s own voice can be discovered and expressed. For me, I have learned that photography is closer to literature and music than the other visual arts. At its best, it expresses a story or emotion through a sequence of images. This is an important lesson to me, though I of course could not make successful images without the many image making, editing and post-processing skills learned along the way.

Perhaps even more important is the realisation that photography is mostly about seeing, and seeing-well requires a breadth of understanding. I have found the insights gained of different ways of thinking about the world enlightening and fascinating. The ideas of visual culture, cultural geography, and sociology have taught me how to unpick and understand meanings imposed on both people and place. These and other disciplines have become new friends.

Finally, I have learned what it takes to make a body of work; the dedication, persistence, repeated iterations and perseverance necessary. Importantly, that there is also consistent collaboration, even if not always visible, through the support, advice and suggestions of those around me.

BoW.A4 Formative Feedback

This is a summary of the formative feedback received on A4 during a an audio/video tutorial on 1 October. The assignment submission is documented here.

Very pleasing feedback, with my tutor commenting on impressive progress and enjoying having seen the evolution of the work. Main points to consider in refining further for A5 are noted below, along with how I addressed them:

  • Work further on edit to aim for a series of images that are all as strong as possible. Even go back to contact sheets to look for images that may now better fit within the overall series. This I have done a number of images being removed (including the old bridge, allotment, doll and discarded safe) and a few added in (including the pub and an old blue mini parked by the canal).
  • work on the pacing so that both the slide transitions and narrative sync with the slowness of the canal. I thought of the canal as the beat to a piece of music and experimented with the timing of transitions to arrive at a new pace; slower and with more time to absorb the images. I listen back now to A4 and it seems to be racing along in comparison to the updated version for A5.
  • re-sequence the images so there is a more consistent fit with the narrative. I commented that any alignment is currently coincidental. This I have done by using a storyboard approach to sequencing the images to the narrative.
  • Think about how / whether to create a sense of drift/flow in the viewing experience. As well as the change of pace in the slide transitions, I’ve worked extensively on the sound track to achieve this (documented here). In summary this involved working with the stereo movement of sound (through both panning and volume) and sourcing additional ambient sounds to fill out the soundscape. The soundtrack is transformed in A5.
  • Think about the lead image. My tutor enjoyed the iconic images of the rooftops/chimney. I thought carefully about this and decided I wanted to leave an atmosphere of wandering in the film – of gradually discovery, rather than directly meeting the most powerful images. Therefore, I have made some adjustments to the sequencing of the opening images (as part of the overall resquencing), but left the most iconic images to later in the film.

My tutor commented that as long as the finished work comes in under 15 minutes there would be the opportunity to present it to open calls for short film festivals etc.

CS.A5 Rework

A few months have past since I submitted A5, at the beginning of June. I made a note of the feedback here and have followed the suggestion of letting the work breathe before making the final push. In the meantime, I have completed by BoW and am also about to submit A5 for that.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have worked again on the dissertation. It has changed significantly, although no additional research has been incorporated. I note here the main areas of change:

  • Completing my BoW and working with the idea that the dissertation should in some way help me to better explain / articulate that work (though not describe it) has been a help in restructuring the argument and flow of the dissertation. It was previously focused on an argument around ‘meaning’. However, it is now focused on an argument for the representation of the canal as a post-industrial landscape that is not merely pastoral, as seen in many contemporary images but a representation that both reflects social spatialisation and the continuing effects of deindustrialisation. This both places the canal at the centre of the argument and allows me to explain why I have chosen to include the images I have in my body of work. It has completely changed the flow of the work.
  • In the update, I have removed any of the antagonism towards the Canal & River Trust (CRT) that had creeped in as I researched their treatment of those on the margins of society, hoping to make do on the canal, with a boat as a main residence. The issues are still stated but in a way that also comments on the CRT’s perspective – this way they are presented as another layer to the canal’s story, rather than an attack on CRT.
  • The bulk of my time working on this iteration has been fine-tuning the wording. Adjusting or removing any phrases that jarred against the flow of the argument or the ear. Trying out different words. Removing unnecessary repetition, and so on. This was an iterative process, until I reached the point that nothing seemed out of place – at least to me.
  • I have concluded the dissertation with the same words I have used in my BoW short film. I see these acting as a portal between the written and the visual. It is also pleasing to see how my academic research is reflected in the prose of these words.

I’ve been remined that this kind of writing is hard work. It is no different to writing and learning to play a long musical piece for an audience. It requires practice and many revisits. There is perhaps something deceptive about writing – because writing in general is common place, what it takes to make very good writing is underestimated.

The problem of word counting – Zotero and Word

I’ve just refreshed my literature review and am working on the final-final-final edit of my dissertation. I’ve also been double-checking my wordcounts, which are semi-automated. There was a slight glitch (nothing that is a game changer), so I’m making a note of the process that I finally found works. This is using MS Word and the Zotero plugin for referencing – if anyone reading this wants to reuse, please test it works with your set up before relying upon it.

A widely suggested idea is to create a separate ‘character style’ (not paragraph) called something like ‘references’ and change all citations and inline references to this style. This means they can be separately identified and counted by Word.

For the total word count, simply highlight all the text that needs to be included in the word count (ie exclude index, table of references etc) and see the total word count in Word’s display. Counting the citations and inline references that need to be deducted from the total is not so straightforward.

I initially imagined that I could just use Word’s styles pane to select-all ‘references’ (just highlight a piece of text that is styled ‘references’ and then select-all from the pane). But here’s the pothole. Although the Zotero inline references are marked up as ‘references’, they are not selected and counted. This is because as long as they are connected to Zotero, they are treated as updateable fields rather than text.

To get around this, save a separate copy of the document to work with (don’t mess up the original) and in the Zotero plugin, use the chain icon to unlink Zotero (there’s a warning that there will be no automatic updates in the document). Then follow the previous step to select ‘references’ and the correct number of words is returned to deduct from the total word count.

A fresh look at the dissertation

After a long time away from my CS work and some recent procrastination, last night I read it again. I knew it would not be as a wanted it. Completing my BoW and discussions in the tutor-led L3 hangout have changed my perspective and understanding of what the dissertation can be and how it can develop my practice. Nonetheless, much of the existing content is useful – just not structured around the right argument and with the right focus.

I’ve been asked to feedback on the OCA course (as is standard when at this stage). I need to think about this – BoW and CS seem to me the most poorly structured and lacking in conceptual framework and logic of all the OCA courses. I’ve learned a lot through the struggle but am left with the feeling that the course structure was more of a hinderance than help at many points.

One aspect I reflect upon is the lack of joint tutorial input that might help to earlier encourage the linking of the two arms of the work. A recent idea introduced to me was that CS should help one to better explain one’s body of work. This is essential, with CS then focused specifically on my ‘voice’ – not describing the BoW itself but enabling and explanation of it. Either this idea is not contained in the course materials, or I somehow missed it.

Time to go yet again and finally bring everything together.

Voice over recording session

It was a great pleasure to host Paul Butterworth (OCA painting student and actor) for headshots in exchange for a voice recording of my Leeds and Liverpool narrative. He’s pictured above in the cellar under my house – used as a sound insulated space for making loud music and sound recording.

Photography

While not directly relevant to my body of work, working on the actor headshots was an interesting experience with some specific formal requirements needed to serve up an actor’s face in a small box to get the attention of casting directors. In many ways counter to the type of portrait work I prefer but at the same time hugely enjoyable. The environmental context became the face around the eyes, rather than the place around the person. We talked about what Paul was wanting to convey in his image and worked at shaping that through iterations of shooting, viewing and discussion. At the time of writing we’re working on the final select of 9 images from some 120 images and I’ll then shape those in post-production for viewing by Paul’s agent, who will ultimately decide on whether he wants to use the images.

For my own photography practice, I asked Paul to pose ‘the many faces of Paul Butterworth’. I enjoyed suggesting a range of emotions to convey – the difference between drunkenness and being high were interesting! There are some great images and I’ll work these into a series / possibly a small photo book once I’m clear of this course module.

Voice recording and mixing

I’d set the recording up with a condenser microphone going through an Focusrite recording interface into a MacBook Pro. I used GarageBand as a DAW (digital audio workstation) – it’s impossible to beat for simple and even slightly more complex recording. My plan was to use a separate track for each take and then work on the edit later.

I was perhaps a little in awe of Paul’s vocal performance – whereas my earlier recording had been a painfully slow process, with many retakes of each verse, Paul made it seem effortless (though I know there is always a lot of work over years to make it seem so). I didn’t feel in a position to direct Paul’s performance beyond saying that it needed to have a melancholic feel; the expert use of the spoken word is beyond my experience.

We did three takes – once all the way through, once verse by verse (with a pause in between each) as Paul suggested the rhythm would have a different feel like that, and finally with Paul watching a muted version of my Leeds and Liverpool video – jamming to the feel of images rather than trying to match the original placement of words to images. The first two takes will be useful for promoting the video (eg clips on social media). However, the take with the images really hit the spot with the melancholy. Paul commented afterwards that the images made him feel sad – a space that was once a thriving work place now empty.

Paul’s vocal interpretation is much different to mine and draws out the narrative, making my writing sound poetic. The delivery is also much clearer, which will address the comments on my earlier version that not all the words could be understood clearly.

After Paul left, I spent several hours on post production. This involved applying appropriate compression, EQ and ambience to the voice and then splicing and arranging it to fit to the video. Breaths between verses were edited out and fades in and out were applied to avoid clipping at the cuts. I extended the time for the last shot in the video to fit Paul’s rallentando as the narrative concluded. I think this works really well!

I also made other adjustments to the sound balance in the video and think it is as goods as it can be now. I’ll let it sit for a few days and listen again with fresh ears before putting it out for feedback. I’m feeling excited to find out what people think to the work, with a professional Yorkshire voicing.

Learnings

I intend to make sound recording an ongoing part of my photographic practice and I won’t always have a pro actor to bail me out when it comes to voice overs! Though we did wonder if there might be a commercial application to our collaboration. One simple lesson I learn was that Paul was very familiar with the words (he didn’t need to read them) – while I’ll never have Paul’s vocal prowess, practicing before sitting down to record would help. I would rarely think of doing that for a musical piece and the voice is just another instrument that I am complacent about because of frequent and everyday use.

I also think listening to more expertly spoken word (without visuals) would help me improve, as well as practicing speaking written words out loud.

I feel that I’m nearly done.

Video voice-over with local actor

I’d been thinking about having the voice-over to my video spoken by someone with a Northern English accent, ideally an actor or someone else used to speaking into a microphone. In the draft, I speak and it is clearly not a northern voice and a little imperfect in places, which some have kindly commented adds an authenticity to the work.

By chance Paul Butterworth (https://www.paulbutterworthactor.com), who is an OCA painting student posted on Discuss, looking for a photographer to take fresh headshots in return for a modelling session. I commented on his post that it’s a shame he’s so far away (Cambridge) as I’d love to do the headshots in exchange for a voice over.

After some discussion, and Paul looking at some of my work, he’s visiting Yorkshire (where he is from originally) for a short break and we’ll be doing the headshots and voice recording in my home-studio. I commented when talking to Paul that this closes a circle for me as I’d originally conceived of the canal project as mainly portrait focused – but the absence of people of interest (I didn’t want joggers or walkers in outdoor clothing) and Covid had changed its focus to a landscape based work.

Brief notes on process:

  • I’ll send across a model release form that will refer to the use of photographs in exchange for voice over services. If Paul’s agent approves the photos, they’ll be used on his public profiles and credit to me.
  • We’ll shoot some headshots under studio lighting and some outdoors on the land around my property. He’s also offered to model for some general shots for my portfolio. We talked about what he is looking for in the shots, which are suitable for his actor profile and I’ve also done a little research on this. In essence the face is the context for the eyes in this kind of shot – context beyond that is an unwanted distraction.
  • For the recording, we’ll do several takes with various feels on different tracks. I can then pick and mix if needed. Once done I’ll split the voice-over in Garageband to align it to the video.
  • I talked briefly about SYP and how having a known actor doing the voice over would be a big help when publicising the work. Paul is happy to be mentioned in this context.

This is unexpected and pleasant twist towards the end of this work and I’m very much looking forwards to it. I just now hope that the Covid-demons stay clear!

Paper selection

Yesterday, I ran through a test pack of paper to choose which one to order to print a selection of my photographs at A3 size. I’ll also keep the prints as reference for future paper orders.

Many of the canal images have a wide tonal range and include large areas of shadow – much of the canal is enclosed by trees and hedgerows. I usually print on a lustre paper as it has a larger DMAX than matt and doesn’t have the shine of gloss that seems more suitable for fashion-style images and glossy brochures. My test results weren’t surprising: the matt paper couldn’t sufficiently hold shadow details and the gloss held the shadows but seemed incongruous with the images. Included in the sample pack was a silk Baryta paper, with a slight sheen and warm white (top image above). This retained good shadow detail and its tone worked well with the subdued colours of the images.

With the second test sheet, I printed a different image for my wall.

Seeing the image on the wall (albeit only A4) made me think of putting up a small home exhibition and recording a video walk-about. Perhaps as a promotional resource for SYP.

Website and still images update

A4 prints spread on my floor

Alongside updating my short film, I’ve also been working on the small selection of images to include as still images on the microsite / make available as prints. This I did by printing possible images at A4 size and then narrowing the selection to ten (those above) that seem to make a coherent group with a variety of subjects.

I’ve also updated the microsite to reflect some useful feedback I received on the previous version. The main changes are:

  • Moving all text to a single page
  • Changing page heading ‘ten prints’ to ‘still images’ – this works better alongside the main ‘video’ page.
  • Changing the selection of still images and their presentation. I previously bemoaned the lack of any choice of lightbox options in Adobe’s Portfolio. However, the option I used of embedding a Google slideshow lacked interactivity and viewers felt they would have liked to view the images full screen. I’ve reverted to Portfolio’s standard display to allow this.
  • Added a direct link to my photography website (under development) in the menu of the microsite.

The updated site is at www.leedsandliverpool.co.uk.

Don McCullin at Tate Livepool

I was fortunate to visit the Don McCullin retrospective at Tate Liverpool in October on the weekend before the city went into pandemic lockdown. The Tate’s website features the exhibition – https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/don-mccullin.

The exhibition was vast and took me several hours to take in. The photographs were intense and oppressive; even the landscapes of Somerset where McCullin now lives and I grew up had the atmosphere of the Somme. It is sometimes said that photographs say as much about the photographer as the subject, and in the later landscape works I felt that might in fact say more about the photographer than the subject! When watching him interviewed, I’ve always felt the weight of McCullin’s war experiences cast a deep shadow over his identity.

iPhone snap of Don McCullin Berlin image

For a change, photography was allowed in the gallery. However, I didn’t feel like taking home McCullin’s horrific and tragic experiences; and I felt similarly about the books on display in the Tate’s shop. By intention, many of the images were almost too painful to see. McCullin has said he regrets that his images have changed little; there is still war and famine. I wondered whether if people had seen them on the scale possible on gallery walls, rather than newspaper magazines (or now on small screens), they would have had a greater impact, been impossible to ignore. The images viewed at this scale and in this volume certainly had a far greater effect on my own experience of them.

A section of McCullin’s work was directly relevant to my own project’s Northernness. He had spent time in Bradford, Liverpool and other Northern cities at a time when they were industrialised.

©Don McCullin source: www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk

The images brought home how I was photographing a deindustrialised North, a sense of an aftermath that has been so long coming through a slow decline that the before is beginning to escape living memory. As a separate matter, I talk about the lasting effect of deindustrialisation on communities in my dissertation.

I felt the McCullin retrospective was a huge success – it disturbed and left me speechless for a while, which was McCullin’s intention when taking the photographs.

Video edit for student feedback

I put my updated edit of the video out for comment through the level 3 email list and on OCA Discuss. Subject to a voice-over with a Yorkshire accent (I’m hoping to work with a painting student, Paul Butterworth, who’s also a professional actor) I feel that the video is approaching completion. However, there is often something missed when close to a work, so I value the input of fellow students.

I have one go per week at uploading the video to my free Vimeo account because of its size. I first watched it carefully a few times to identify and correct any obvious issues (this is now quite time consuming at 10 minutes per sitting!).

Edit 4 of video

Comments received by email and on Discuss were hugely encouraging. Unlike on previous edits, there were differing views on what might be changed or what were difficulties, and I didn’t feel a real need to address any of these as important. I think that this is a sign that the work is near done and likes/dislikes are just coming down to personal preferences. I note a few points for reference:

  • A couple of people commented on the differing aspect ratios of the images on the screen and that it might be jarring. This is just down to me being a photographer who crops and is the same situation when I produce a book. However, I can understand that this situation is not usual in the film media. It is part of the photographic nature of the work.
  • There were a couple of comments regarding specific sounds being too loud or that the timing could be shifted a little. In the end I’m happy with the sound volumes and it will be so variable depending on the quality of the audio device playing back the sound.

One astute observer did comment that the ‘over-lap’ of text in the end titles was distracting. I agree with this as they use the same ‘fade’ transition as the image slides, which isn’t appropriate for text. I’ll address this in the edit I submit for tutor feedback.

Sound track works

Having re-sequenced my video and extended the transition time on each image, it reached around 10 minutes in length including the end-titles/information. I adjusted the placement of the voice-over segments so that they associated with the images (process described here). Following this there was a lot more space in the sound track and it felt like more was needed. This was confirmed during feedback from a professional film-maker (see SYP blog post).

Although some relevant sounds were available on from the BBC sound effects archive (http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk), I searched for other sources and discovered a site that collected and shared traditional music from the canal (http://www.waterwaysongs.info/index.html). It was here that I found a 1969 recording ‘Narrow Boats’, released on an LP and digitised on the site. This included some fascinating oral histories from the canal, from which I sampled for my soundtrack (appropriate credit added to the video).

I worked at the mixing of the soundtrack to give an improved stereo effect that also helps with a sense of movement in the film. This was achieved envisaging the movement through and across images and recreating that in the soundscape. For example movement across, or from centre and then off by panning the sound across the stereo field; or a sense of distance/depth through volume fade-in/out. There was also considerable effort in balancing the volume levels across the various tracks now in my Garageband file (20 at current count). Throughout this process, I was reminded of what the Beatles managed to achieve with their mere 4 tracks for earlier recordings!

The sound track can be heard in the latest edit of the video.

Songs & Poems of the inland waterways

As I’ve continued to work on my short film, I’ve be researching sound archives with the hope of finding some historic sounds to sample. What’s been particularly interesting is how these works reveal stories of everyday life on the canal that is scant in detail in official histories.

Songs of a navvy by MacGill, Patrick, 1890- , source: archive.org

The book Songs of a Navvy (Patrick MacGill (1911), Windsor) is available from archive.org (https://archive.org/details/songsofnavvy00macgiala/page/n7/mode/2up) and includes some poignant writing:

Another resource found was the website Songs of the Inland Waterways (http://www.waterwaysongs.info/index.html), which includes the lyrics of many canal songs, along with some recordings. I wrote to the website owner, to thank him for the resource, in particular a 1975 recording by the BBC that includes some oral histories as well as songs and sounds from the canal when it was operated commercially.

I’ve sampled some of the sounds and added them to the next version of my film – this adds to the melancholy of the work but linking to the past and highlighting a place that once was an artery of the Industrial Revolution as a now marginal place. I hope that this will make viewers reflect on impermanence the acceptance of change.

Resequencing images to narrative

One suggestion (significant) from my A4 tutorial was to re-sequence the images so their timeline in the film synchronised more with the words in the narrative. Although any previous synchronisation was by luck rather than design (as the images were sequenced visually), my tutor pointed out that once it is seen, there is an expectation that it will recur and a distraction when it does not. This was a good observation, even if it means all the time previously spent on sequencing images is effectively undone!

After some reflection, I came up with the idea of a halfway storyboard – saving the narrative to pdf with large line spacing and scribbling key images against the end of phrases. This would then act as a map to direct the re-sequencing.

A copy of my pdf is attached for the record.

Leeds-and-Liverpool-storyboard

Patrick Keiller’s London

In my recent tutorial I commented that I found Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins a hard watch. My tutor suggested that his ‘London’ (1994) was a more interesting one to watch. This I did on the BFI viewer.

An interview with Keiller and further information about the film is on the BFI’s website: https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/interviews/patrick-keiller-london-robinson-trilogy.

There is a melancholy in the work that carries from the sentiments in the narrative to the backing music. To me the atmosphere centres around difficulty in determining the identity of London – at one point Keiller suggests that it is absent. Perhaps the reason for a sense of absence is that there are many voices clamouring to state its identity and meaning, undermining any singular sense of identity. As clever and insightful as the narrative is, I found 1 hour 40 minutes of melancholy hard to digest.

I my own work, I’m thinking more about the sound as the images are now settled. I listened carefully to how the narrative was layered with the background sound, relative volumes play a part in the separation but the volume differences are not as pronounced as I’d expected. Separation in the stereo space is also important. On occasions it seems that additional ambient sound is added to reference a subject in the image – however, this is not done with a frequency that allow predictability. The ambient sound features throughout the film and is more present than in my own work; I’d already been thinking that there didn’t seem to be quite enough sound in the latest edit (v3).

I’ve learned more about effective use of ambient sound alongside narrative by watching this film.

Erik Knudsen – upcoming ‘portfolio’ discussion

RedEye network emailed members advanced notice of 30 minute portfolio discussions with renowned practitioners. Free for members. Erik Knudsen is one of those practitioners (https://www.onedayfilms.com/photography/) – a film maker and photographer and professor of digital culture at UClan (https://www.uclan.ac.uk/staff_profiles/professor-erik-knudsen.php).

From the Doubt Project ©Erik Knudsen, source: www.onedayfilms.com

I’ve been lucky to book one of the few available spots with Erik in early October and am using this post to note the preparation for the discussion, the discussion itself and the outcome.

  1. Erik’s own work. I spent time browsing his website this afternoon. What attracted me to having the discussion the focus of his photography and film on the ordinary, along with a feeling of psychological tension – perhaps the anticipation of change or the downtrodden acceptance of slow change. His work ‘Doubt Project’ is described in the context of doubt being part of his creative and spiritual development – something he has learned to recognise an embrace. There is always doubt in art, perhaps an equivalent to doubt or anxiety when putting one’s own children out into the world. I feel doubt, but I tend to brush it aside rather than embrace it.

This discussion is continued on my SYP blog

Dr Ariadne’s September Meet

Yesterday’s Zoom session was a general discussion about research, opened out to the group to raise discussion points. I note here areas of interest to me personally:

  • Methodology was mentioned at several points during the discussion. I observed that my dissertation was not so much about photographic representation but was interested to hear about another student who had started their research, focussing on images. She mentioned the reference – Visual Methodologies : An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials by Gillian Rose . I’ve downloaded a copy from the OCA library to scan through – it sounds interesting / important enough to read through even if I don’t need more source material for my dissertation.
  • There were a number of helpful comments on the reasons for research and what makes for a good research document. I note some of these here as reminders to take inspiration from during my rewrite:
    • CS needs to allow one to better express one’s practice.
    • Research brings meaning into a world that already has meaning. It is the brining together of pieces of meaning to make something different through the lens and voice of the researcher.
    • Research involves ‘a conversation with your sources’. The interaction between two minds.
    • As one moves on to finalise the research, it becomes more of an internal conversation between the researcher as writer and the researcher as reader. The academic voice reflecting the way the researcher’s mind works.
  • On a practical point, there was a discussion of how much of CS material needs to appear on the blog. Much of mine is contained within Zotero, along with notes on various sources. Ariadne explained that its form didn’t really matter, as long as it was accessible, eg as a separate pdf document and clearly sign posted.

Another useful session to keep the CS fire burning!

A4.BoW: assignment submission

Introduction

This assignment is a multi-faceted submission. The main work is in the form of a narrated video of photographs, featuring ambient sounds from the canal. This is accompanied by a selection of 10 prints (represented on a website for the purposes of this assignment). The psychogeographic narrative that accompanies the video is a supporting work. Finally, I developed a website that houses the different facets of the submission.

The submission can be viewed online here: https://leedsandliverpool.co.uk. Please use this link to view the work.

Snapshot of contents at time of assignment

As the website and content is likely to evolve as I progress to A5, a record of the main components at the time of this submission is below. This is for the record and the website’s presentation cannot be recreated in this post.

Video

Prints

Chimney

Image 1 of 10

Prose

A locked in flow moves through memories, land and time.
A world connects with a space inside my head, where thoughts wander freely.
Stumbling upon experiences real and imagined.
Layers of histories and hopes, some owned and some borrowed.

Two hundred years of time are trampled
and worn into the paths along this watery route.
The heritage of a grand project and as a dead poet from God’s own country said, ‘a gloomy memorial of place. The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution that had flown’.

It is a hotchpotch of a space.
There are shipshape gardens and drowned shopping trolleys.
Lovers’ graffiti and the anger of the disillusioned.
Those living the grey dream, afloat 50 footers.
Those subsisting on the margins. 

There are no celebrities on barges,  and no café culture along these banks.
But there are ‘stories and songs that hang in that space between memory and water.’
There are doors that once were, land cut with shovels, relics of industry and bird song.
There are makeshift shelters, and childhood memories encrusted in rusty bicycles.

Whoever shouts the loudest claims a space. The water calmly reflects. 
It’s from Leeds to Liverpool where my mind wanders.
Through worlds within a world. Between presence and memory. 

Andrew Fitzgibbon

Quotes from poets, in order of appearance. Ted Hughes from Stubbing Wharf . Ian McMillan from Canal Life.

Self-reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (30%)

I’ve swapped from an ebook presentation in the previous assignment to a video presentation in this one. My rationale for the change and experiments in video are documented in my learning log: Experiments in film making #1 and Experiments in film making #2: Sound; in summary the change is down to the medium specificity of video better fitting the inclusion of sound with work.

For the video, I researched various tools that would enable the video production and in the end settled on a simple solution that used Apple’s Keynote to create a video-slide of the images and then added layers of sound within Apple’s Garageband. In the past I’ve used Adobe Premiere Pro, but it is over-specified for making a simple video from photographs and the tools I used offer a simpler and streamlined workflow. Decisions on tools are documented here, Prose and exploring Apple Keynote. I obtained feeback from fellow students on the video draft, which I’ve noted for discussion in my tutorial, A4.BoW: Video draft for feedback.

The production of the video involved creative challenges and decisions in several areas. Including the selection of images for a video flow, the pace and overall timescale of the video, the timing and sound processing of ambient sounds and narrative added to the images, the development of a narrative script. The script was a significant additional work and I blogged on my approach here, Narrative – rough draft and discussion.

In addition to the video, I produced a website to disseminate the work. This was made using Adobe Portfolio by customising one of the standard themes to project and industrial/canal vibe through the typeface and colour scheme. Details are discussed here, A4.BoW: website draft for feedback, along with a summary of feedback from fellow students. I describe my technical work around to Portfolio’s poor lightbox options here, Google slide show embed.

Quality of outcome – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)

I believe this is a significant step from A3. Moving from the ebook format to the video format for digital dissemination has been transformational and also allowed me to indirectly introduce my own reading of the photography work with the inclusion of a narrative. I enjoyed revisiting my passion for sound and recognise that this should become a habitual aspect of my practice, which I’ve noted in my reflective journal, Thoughts at BoW A4 – sound. I feel that the website brings the content together in a clean coherent place.

There are a number of points to consider when refining the work for A5. The timing of the images / overall duration – a number of observers have commented that they would have liked longer to view the images and found themselves rewatching to take more in. If I were to extend the timing it would allow longer and also more time for quiet observation between the narrative. However, the work is already 6 minutes long and I’m not sure about extending it further. A couple of fixes will be to split the end titles onto separate slides so they are easier to follow, and to shift the narration to avoid clashes with slide transitions. Something, I’m more certain of is to work on the selection of prints presented on the website – I discuss the decision making here, A4.BoW: Ten Prints workings, but feel I need to revisit a broader range of shots to consider which might be of interest for display on walls (versus series in video or photobook).

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (30%)

This assignment is a continuation of refining a digital dissemination of a work that in pre-Covid times would have most likely taken the form of a book – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m likely to revisit the book format during SYP. However, looking for an alternative solution and eventually ending up with a video has provide a specific output that stands in its own right, without just being a record of a physical object for digital sharing. Video, I conclude can be a useful way of both showing the work and expressing my intent for it through a narrative in quite an indirect way.

Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (20%)

Lot’s of activity on my blog that can be skimmed through here. Two pieces or research that strongly influenced the video production are British psychogeographic cinema and Video — LAURA EL-TANTAWY. My work sits firmly in the psychogeographic genre and examining this helped shape my own output. At one extreme is the rambling production in Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins and at the other is Laura El Tantawy’s short and fast moving videos. The former, I’ve noted is not to my taste.

Google slide show embed

One drawback of Adobe’s Portfolio site builder is it’s poor slide show options – to use a lightbox the individual images need to be included on the page (either as single images or as a grid), which takes away from the clean look I was aiming for.

However, Portfolio does support a number of different embeds through iframes. After some research, I found that Google slides are a good solution without additional cost. For it to work cleanly, the embed code from Google slides needs to be edited so the Google logo and viewer controls are not displayed. This is done by adding the code &rm=minimal after the delay time set for the slides. So my embed code looks like this:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/e/2PACX-1vR1uyaJEUcbKHXKRDbE9pJ_CrYMHYwTNsK9uIKeQ4GkKmM19yS75R41AyElUPvCC07zRACtdUYL8hN0/embed?start=true&amp;loop=true&amp;delayms=5000&amp;rm=minimal&amp;" frameborder="0" width="960" height="350"></iframe>

And here is the slide show now embedded on my Portfolio site (https://leedsandliverpool.co.uk/prints):

A little experimentation is required with the pixel dimensions to avoid a thin line appearing inside the frame – however, this has not been entirely successful on the Portfolio website for reasons beyond my technical understanding!

A4.BoW: Ten Prints workings

During my last tutorial, we discussed the idea of a multifaceted presentation to the BoW. My tutor suggested the idea of a small number of prints to accompany the video. I liked this idea but it has proven to be surprisingly challenging to realise.

The difficulty is that the work is not conceived to include the types of images that one might want to display on a living room wall. I realise that is not the only use of prints but in this context, I feel it should be kept in mind as a possibility. Especially if I ask people to consider buying prints.

After experimenting with a range of different possibilities, I decided on the images below at this point. I feel that using diptychs in some images helps add something of the series to the representation and that added dimension makes them more wall-worthy. There are number of images that I could use in this way from the large number I have collected (ie beyond those featured in the video) and I’ll continue to experiment with these and print, up to the completion of A5.

I’ve blogged separately about presenting ‘prints’ on the web. Having not been a big user of LR print module in the past, I found it very useful for quickly working up different layouts and exporting as web-ready jpgs. I wrote about sizing of these on my website post.

The gallery view of the images is against black for a similar experience to the website allowing the white framing to be visible. On scroll below the spacing appears off because the white framing is not visible.

Click image for gallery view

Thoughts at BoW A4 – sound

I write when A4 will soon be ready to send to my tutor. Much of my time recently has been spent working with video and sound. In particular this reminded me of how much I enjoy working with sound – I find voice over particularly challenging but this is perhaps because I only attempt it once in a blue moon. I enjoyed putting together a sound scape from my field recordings. Much earlier in my OCA course I produced a video around a visit to Orkney and the story of HMS Royal Oak. I also found this enjoyable. I’ve been a life-long dabbler in music and have several guitars. I think the making of work with sound taps into this other passion.

Photography is such a multifaceted discipline – a tool that can be used for many things. I earlier reflected that I see myself as a photographer working primarily with prints, rather than an artist using photography to make objects. I enjoy the experience of interacting directly with the world and people through photography, rather than working with found images and archives for example. I now realise that I should habitually use sound with my work, both for enjoyment and a potential differentiation. It is an area for further research.

I’ll also remember to put my Roland sound recorder in my kit bag as the results from the iPhone were poor in comparision – some work was required in post production to reduce noise levels, which cancelled out the convenience of just using a phone.

A4.BoW: website draft for feedback

Click on image to visit website

While waiting for feedback on my draft video, I’ve been working on finishing the draft of the microsite for the body of work. I’ve been experimenting with Adobe Portfolio for a while now, so this is not new to me. It offers a quick way to create websites based on standard templates and without the full functionality and opportunities for tailoring of a WordPress site, for example. It is suitable for microsites and portfolio sites (its design purpose) but not sites requiring CRM, e-commerce, blogs and community interaction. Different templates offer slightly different layout capabilities and it takes some experimentation to become familiar with the layout elements.

I’ve created a simple site and used the custom domain name www.leedsandliverpool.co.uk. It uses the ‘industrial’ typeface I’d chosen to work with during the ebook experiments and a simple black and white layout – to echo the colours of the canal’s equipment and machinery, to provide a backdrop to the video work, and to allow framing of ‘prints’ against a contrasting background.

Contents are fronted by a full page landing page featuring a full-bleed image. There are then pages for the video, ‘prints’, video transcript, book (intended to be worked upon during SYP), canal information, and an about/contact page. It deals only with my BoW material. A separate full website will be (re)developed during SYP also.

For now, I’ve not initiated SEO or submitted the site for search engine referencing. I’ll wait until everything is complete to do that.


Conclusion

There were some helpful suggestions received on my blog, by email and through OCA Discuss. The version of the website linked above now reflects those. Main changes were:

  • Avoid use of significant areas of white on black text by alternating the webpages between black backgrounds and white backgrounds. This allowed for black behind the video and prints for contrast. It also further develops the black/white theme of the website, which echoes the traditional colours of the canal architecture.
  • Changed button to enter website from ‘HERE’ to ‘WAY IN’ – someone rightly observed ‘HERE’ sounded a little abrupt!
  • Resized picture elements and text width to ensure it sits well on mobile devices and tablets. I find this a drawback of working on a large monitor that is not the typical viewing platform. Next time I work on a website, I should undock my MacBook Pro and work on that screen.
  • Reduced image file sizes to speed up loading time over 4G and slower internet connections. Now at 1500px on the long side. This leads to a compromise in quality when images are viewed on very large monitors but I think better that than a potentially laggy loading experience on the Ten Prints page.
  • I’ve gone through various iterations on the ‘prints’ selection and blog about that separately.

The photographic print on the web

On my microsite, I am including a selection of 10 still images as a foil to the video and a space where viewers can linger on individual images. These images will also be made into physical prints. I thought about how to convey the impression of prints on the website and concluded that they should somehow be separated from the background with borders. The background on my website is black – partly to echo the traditional black and white colouring of the canal furniture (and also the buildings in the past) and partly as a suitable backdrop to the video that is included on the site

Lightroom’s print module (export to jpg) seemed an efficient way to manage this without resizing images individually in photoshop to fit on white backgrounds. It allows for multiple image to be output in one go.

One problem did take some working at – there is no specific setting for the pixel dimensions on the jpg export and it appears to default to around 900px on the long side. This is insufficient for large screens and I found it resulted in blurring of the images. I found that changing the ‘file resolution’ setting from the default 75 ppi increased the pixel dimensions for the exported file. 150 ppi gave me files of approaching 2000 px on the long side, which is enough.

This is a quick / neat solution to obtaining bordered jpgs where precise pixel dimensions are not important.

A4.BoW: Video draft for feedback

I’ve spent too many hours experimenting, tinkering, listening, watching, recording and repeating the cycle. It’s now time to put it out to a limited audience of fellow students and friends.

The finished video will be included in a microsite that will also include a selection of still images and some text.

Best enjoyed with headphones © 2020 Andrew Fitzgibbon

The work is an evolution of the ebook format I was previously working on and I have explained the reasons for the change in output medium on my blog. Some of the feedback I received on the ebook has been used to shape the format of the video, in particular for those wanting to know more about the canal information is included in the end titles.

The technical process for making the video is noted in contextual practice and research section of this learning log. It used Apple’s Keynote and Garageband. Ambient sound recordings were made either on iPhone or Roland R-05 recorder (more effective than iPhone). Voice over recording was made using a condenser mic, interfaced into Garageband.

More information on the narrative, including the poets quoted is here.

Please leave any comments and suggestions below.


Update – summary of feedback

I felt very appreciative of the encouraging feedback received (recorded on the blog and by email). Thank you!

Here, I note some points to take to discussion with my tutor and potentially address in A5.

  • Timing of transitions. A few people commented that they would have liked longer to view images or certain images. As currently configured some images have longer on screen than others – mainly the ones that are more complex. However, only longer by a few seconds. I see the video as part of a broader dissemination presented through a microsite that allows other ways of interacting with the work. I’m not convinced that increasing the viewing time would benefit the work – I enjoy the transitory experience of video and feel it part of the specificity of the medium. It leaves me with an appetite for more, in contrast with the long film stills in Robinson in Ruins that left me feeling like I’d sat through 1 1/2 hours of 7 minute guitar solos.
  • End titles. A mix of comments between the inclusion of too much information and not enough time to read the information. I deliberately placed this at the end as I’m aware that some people welcome this sort of context and others can do without. Those who don’t want it can then simply stop the video. People read at very different paces and I timed the transition at a slow read for me. I’ve also included further information on the website, so I’m not minded to make changes to the end titles.
  • Image processing. One comment suggested that they found too much red in the images. In a number of images, I have enhanced colour because to my personal taste it was lacking (a product of often overcast skies in northern England). This is a subjective area but one to sound out with my tutor.
  • Timing of narrative. One person felt distracted when the start of narrative phrases coincided with slide transitions. I didn’t notice this myself but can understand it being a distraction and will address it in the next iteration. Obviously any question about the timing of slides and transitions needs to first be resolved to avoid tail chasing.

A4.BoW: Prose final draft

The challenge with multi-faceted works is that they require multiples of work in addition to the work of photography. The time needed then seems to grow exponentially.

I’ve gone through several iterations of the prose to accompany my video and also had another exchange of thoughts with my writer friend, James Wall. The process of recording the narrative also highlighted areas that sounded fine when read inside one’s head but awkward when articulated on a recording – sometimes the combination of word-sounds or rhythms, other times the realisation that the meaning wasn’t coming across. As I worked, there are a few things that seemed increasingly important:

  • Clarity, without over-explanation.
  • Ambiguity, without confusion.
  • Simplicity without emptiness.
  • Overall, something that wouldn’t distract the viewer from the images when watching the video but would also add to the experience.

This has proven to be a difficult thing to attain, and a reminder that we don’t ‘just add another facet to our work’ – it is another work in itself to achieve anything approaching worthwhile.

A locked in flow moves through memories, land and time.
A world connects with a space inside my head, where thoughts wander freely.
Stumbling upon experiences real and imagined.
Layers of histories and hopes, some owned and some borrowed.

Two hundred years of time are trampled
and worn into the paths along this watery route.
The heritage of a grand project and as a dead poet from God’s own country said, ‘a gloomy memorial of place. The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution that had flown’.

It is a hotchpotch of a space.
There are shipshape gardens and drowned shopping trolleys.
Lovers’ graffiti and the anger of the disillusioned.
Those living the grey dream, afloat 50 footers.
Those subsisting on the margins. 

There are no celebrities on barges,  and no café culture along these banks.
But there are ‘stories and songs that hang in that space between memory and water.’
There are doors that once were, land cut with shovels, relics of industry and bird song.
There are makeshift shelters, and childhood memories encrusted in rusty bicycles.

Whoever shouts the loudest claims a space. The water calmly reflects. 
It’s from Leeds to Liverpool where my mind wanders.
Through worlds within a world. Between presence and memory. 

Andrew Fitzgibbon

Quotes from poets, in order of appearance. Ted Hughes from Stubbing Wharf . Ian McMillan from Canal Life.

An afternoon of digital printing

© Andrew Fitzgibbon, 2016. Casablanca.

Technology and applications are continually evolving – Adobe seems to release significant application updates every 6 months or so! I thought I’d reassess my printing workflow, which has been from Photoshop. A few interesting points discovered during the afternoon:

  • Marrutt, the ink and paper supplier, posted a series of videos on output dpi for printing. They say this was based on discussions with printer technicians and industry experts (including Martin Evening, the multi-book Photoshop author). Until now I’ve been following advice in oldish books that there is little point in outputting at beyond 360dpi as it makes no difference to print quality. However, it seems that this was an arbitrary number, possibly from when computers and printers were slower, and best results (ie with clearest resolution) are obtain by outputting at the maximum possible dpi based on file size for the print size. The rationale being that this preserves the maximum actual camera-pixel information in the print, rather than digital approximations. A series of tests seem to prove this point. So, a change in my workflow will be to stop limiting my output dpi to 360 when I have pixels to spare.
  • Lightroom print module seems to have evolved since I last used it. It seems to be straightforward to create soft prints using ICC profiles and also save these versions as copy images. It seems to me a more efficient workflow doing this in LR rather than switching on/off additional layers in PS for different output formats. The PS version then remains a straight, print master. I’m swapping to LR for printing. I’ve also heard good things about LR’s AI output sharpening for prints – for my basic requirements, I think this should be more than sufficient.
  • Out of gamuts – this has been a source of frustration in the past, trying to fix OOG warnings in soft prints. An option is to ignore them and let the printer bring the areas back into gamut but this feels counter intuitive, given the manual work put into honing print master files. I experimented on one image that included significant shadow areas and saturated highlights as a test (the image above). I found best results by adjusting the black point to the paper by using a curves adjustment and leaving the printer to deal with the saturated highlights itself. The blacks adjustment is important on lustre paper to avoid the loss of shadow detail – there was a significant difference on my test prints; without correcting gamut the shadow areas were close to completely flat. Of course, the result will depend on the image. An advantage of printing at home is being able to make test prints and reprint if necessary. I’ll consider the OOG warnings critically and possibly ignore them depending on the specifics of the image.

Overall time well spent printing with an old image that I’m not as involved with as my current BoW – allowed for a dispassionate view! I’ll now put into practice with my BoW prints.

It’s art but is it photography?

While away on holiday I’ve been enjoying Gerry Badger’s essays The Pleasures of Good Photographs. Today I read his thoughts on Photoshop (p234). I’ve also recently read Ansel Adams’ The Print.

Badger questions whether works that are manipulated beyond that of the traditional balancing and dodging and burning can still be considered photographic – joined at the hip to a referent. The craft that Adams worked at tirelessly using a few simple tools to produce exquisite prints (whether or not one is a fan of the subject matter). Badger bemoans that it is the works where the intervention of the artist (or photographer?) is most apparent are those that receive the greatest attention (and market value). Where there is a clear conceptual angle in play rather than just the phenomenological. He concludes that technology has may have spawned another type of photography through the photographer-painter that is more concerned with making than ‘taking’. Images elaborately constructed through photoshop composites, like Gregory Crewdson’s for example. Art yes but photographic, perhaps not.

I’ve been considering for a while whether this kind of distinction matters and I think it does in terms of communicating what one’s work is about. For example, as much as I dislike genre labels, they seem to be useful for explaining the intention of work. Similarly, it is not my intention to make work that involves the transformation of photographic images through elaborate processes and the crafting of new physical objects beyond the print or book. I think this puts me in the camp of being a photographer, rather than ‘an artist working with photography’.

It is the taking and the crafting of the image that interests me, rather than the making of objects using photographs as raw materials. I’ve also recently started to pull back from the detailed tuning of images using PS masks, and instead reverting to broad brushes over areas that would seem more akin to the traditional dodging/burning approach. It seems to avoid images taking on the look of graphic art and loosing their photographicity.

So, I should describe myself as a photographer. If photography is also sometimes called art, that is a separate thing.

Narrative – rough draft and discussion

I want to add a narrative to the sound of my video that conveys something of my experience of the canal, including the psychogeographic. I was awake early one morning and started writing, quickly getting something down, to make a start. I made a few quick edits afterwards but didn’t spend time thinking to much about what was there. I also recorded the draft narrative and added it to my video and ambient sound to get a feel for how it sounded and fitted with the rest of my work. I felt there was enough to continue with analysis and improvement. I dropped a text to a writer friend, James Wall, and asked if he would read and give some input to help me move the draft forward. The rough draft is attached at the foot of this post (more as a record of work and progress than anything else). I spoke with James for about an hour about the words and video and this triggered some very useful ideas on how to take the narrative forward. The main points from my written notes are:

  • Use objects to evoke meaning and connect to the images – for example, instead of ‘neglect’ use rusty bikes.
  • Use a constant throughout the stanzas, for example the journey (place and history) or slow, still water.
  • James commented on the idea of ‘time lapse’ in photography and wondered if this might be used as a metaphor. I had considered using time lapse photography at an earlier stage of the project. I think a verbal reference to it without any inclusion of a time-lapse could be confusing?
  • A couple of places where the narrative became muddled because of a change in voice or expressions that were unclear. Including ‘trampled’ in connection with water, without mentioning the tow path. Also the only place where there was a very direct reference to an image re the Yorkshireman – didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the narrative.
  • Noted the double meaning of ‘reflection’ and how that could be used. Also of the work ‘lock’ – the physical locks on the canal and the idea of being locked in time and place.
  • Suggestion that each stanza could reflect different stages of the journey (physical, metaphorical, or psychological).

The discussion left me with lots to think about. However the narrative is concluded, it should remain in the shadows of the images – I think this is achieved by allowing plenty of space around the spoken words.

Experiments in film making #2: Sound

Garageband screenshot, with movie file uploaded as separate track

Having successfully sequenced, added transitions and exported a movie file from Keynote, I turned to Garageband to add sound and work around Keynote’s very limited sound capabilities.

I was already familiar with sound recording from forays into music recording but had previously used Logic Pro when Garageband was a much more basic tool. It has developed significantly over the years. After some experimentation I arrived at a method for putting sound to my movie.

The ambient sound clips I’d recorded on my iphone while walking the canal, were saved as files from the recording app on my phone and then simply dragged into GB, where they were automatically created as separate tracks. These were then cut to size and placed under the desired image frames. Automation of volume, panning and so on is possible for each track in GB – so I made adjustments to these.

To record the narrative, I used GB on my iPad – using a separate section for each verse to make it easier to do several takes without re-recording the whole narrative, and also to make it easy to place each verse separately against the movie frames. The track sections were then copy/pasted into the main GB file.

What wasn’t as easy to spot in GB was the overall sound mastering – it is perhaps a recent addition as some YouTube tutorials were suggesting bouncing the entire track down and then reimporting to master. However, there is a separate master track but it isn’t shown by default. Mastering allows the addition of overall compression, EQ, adjustment of stereo spacing, and limiting. This is important to bring the sound together in a coherent whole when building from different sources. One tip I found was to turn off the preference for automatic sound optimisation on output – this takes a cautious approach and reduces dynamic range and volume.

When done, it is easy to ‘export’ the movie with the sound added to the file with no loss of quality.

I found that this approach offers a way of creating movies from photos with simple transitions that allow the photos to remain centre stage. This was important to me – I wanted to used the movie format to show the photos to good advantage, rather than to use the photos to make a movie, in which they would be more like raw ingredients to be chopped and added to the mix. The workflow is also much quicker for me than using more complex tools like Premiere Pro.

Talking about work: Chris Killip

My tutor suggested that I think about how I talk about my work and recommended looking at Chris Killip introducing his work Skinningrove.

Oddly, I haven’t really thought much about talking about my work but rather showing it without the distraction of me talking. However, I do enjoy listening to photographers talking about their work and what it means to them. I suppose I’ve got into the habit during my time at the OCA of being ‘tutored’ and placing more importance on listening and learning, rather than talking myself. However, it’s time to move on from that. Perhaps I also think of the CS work as being the ‘talking part’ of this course.

Killip talks intimately about his images and stories connected with making them. In a similar way to how someone might talk enthusiastically about their holiday photographs. I have felt a growing intimacy with my selected photos as I’ve continued to work with them and in my mind is to revisit my CS work before submitting A4 BoW – testing where the two faces of the final year join. This would be a good opportunity to also consider how I might talk about my work.

A3.BoW Tutor Feedback

Another fruitful discussion with my tutor with some encouraging feedback. Details are in the feedback form but I summarise the main points that will shape my ongoing work.

  • The discussion helped me realise why I was finding it difficult to settle on an ebook format for the work. My tutor mentioned the ‘specificity’ of the media and thinking about this, what I am aiming to produce is more suitable for a video format. I considered specificity more here. I am going to shift my efforts towards making a video for the BoW, which will be accompanied by a website to allow viewers to pause on images.
  • Conceptually, my tutor observed the psychogeographic aspects of my work and encouraged me to expand my research in this area to ensure my own work is set solidly in context. She also suggested I reflect further on the metaphorical theme of my work – the ‘constancy and change‘ that a channel of water represents.
  • In terms of dissemination of the work, it was recommended that I consider how the more compelling of the images might be separated out, pursuing a ‘multifaceted approach‘ to the BoW.
  • Usefully, it was suggested building up a ‘lexicon’ and quotes and words that resonate as my work continues and that might be used to shape the statements around the work.

I realise that the BoW is significantly different to the assignments in previous levels in terms of possibilities for dissemination. This adds a whole layer of additional work and thinking to the project and it becomes a core part of the process of realising the work. It is a great deal of work and sustained effort beyond the making and editing of photographs.

Prose and exploring Apple Keynote

As little as I’m a fan of genres and labels, my work sits solidly in the domain of the pyschogeographic and I suppose that is a useful indicator for anyone who understands what that term means. As I’ve started to work on a video production to show my work, I have also thought about what that medium offers and how to distinguish a video comprising of still images from a straight photographic slide show. I see this as resting in the use of sound and the conveying of a narrative. For example in the work of Laura El-Tantawy explored in a previous couple post and in the Robinson series of films by Patrick Keiller.

Feeling some creative force this morning, I drafted my own psychogeographic prose to accompany my video. I’ve asked a writer friend to review and suggest edits to avoid working on sound recording only to find there are unseen flaws in my own prose.

Yesterday, I spent time with Apple’s Keynote application to gauge its suitability for my production. I was surprisingly encouraged with what I found. It is easy to manage the placement of images on the black screen space, has a number of suitably subtle transition options, control over individual image timings can be accessed and adjusted (though it was clearly not designed with this in mind as bulk editing isn’t supported). A weakness is in its management of sound, which are not editable as separate tracks but attached as files. However, I’ve found a simple way around this by not adding sound in Keynote but exporting the video and then importing to Logic Pro (or Garageband desktop) where sound can be added and managed in separate tracks. The finished production can then be exported as video and sound. It is completely unsuitable for more complex video production but for what will essentially be a slide-show, plus it is perfectly adequate when used with a separate sound application. It’s ability to export to html could also have other uses – for example, page turning of a book for a website. Premiere Pro cannot export to html, understandably.

British psychogeographic cinema

In my last tutorial, I was encouraged to revisit the genre of psychogeography. As I’m now planning to make a video of my work, I thought it would be interesting to focus on film. The British Film Institute (BFI) have a useful blog post: Your next obsession: the drifting explorations of psychogeographic filmmaking. (www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/where-begin-british-psychogeography-cinema).

I watched a few of the films mentioned. Curiosity drew me to Ringo Star’s wander around Camden during the film Hard Day’s Night (clip on YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIvEc4yhdpM). I also watched some of Peter Greenway’s A Walk through H (clip here: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7axivb) and rewatched my own copy of Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins, part of the Robinson trilogy that the BFI consider defines British psychogeographic cinema.

All convey a strong sense wandering. The wander for wandering’s sake, with no specific purpose in mind, other than an intuitive response to the environment. I confess that I find Keiller’s work a hard watch – I think I would enjoy Robinson in Ruins more if it was 30 minutes long rather than 1.5 hours. The same fixed frame film shots are frequently revisited, cropped in or out. The narrative is deliberately unexpressive tonally.

All works make use of ambient sound to connect the auditory sense with the physical act of wandering. A signifier introduced through sound. This seems important in placing the works and is something I intend to incorporate into my video. The other strong attribute of the works in the sense of the ordinary or banal – there is zero chance of National Geographic featuring them. There is a a sensory revel in the everyday.

Where there is narrative present, it tends to deal with psychological response to what is seen, rather than a traditional plot. This too enhances the sense of ‘wandering’. I’m developing some prose to go with my own work and will keep this idea in mind. The words should not be descriptive of what is shown in the images but suggest a psychological response to the urban environment.

Video — LAURA EL-TANTAWY

Video and multimedia works by Laura El-Tantawy.
— Read on www.lauraeltantawy.com/video

When Laura El-Tantawy published her In the Shadows of the Pyramids work, I was impressed by the video presentation, including the narrative in her own voice. I had a look at her website to see if there was new work.

I found the powerful piece, Beyond Here is Nothing. In this post, I’m concerned with the video production of the work. This wasn’t done entirely by the artist herself as the credits show other names for multimedia productions. A sign that this is not straightforward to make as a professional production.

The images pulse rhythmically on the screen, only present for a second or so. They are projections onto the black space of the screen – making no attempt to fill it but stand as photographic images projected onto a dark space. This works very well, conveying something that is photographic. It also doesn’t make me think ‘slide show’. Images appear in different positions in the dark space, creating a dynamic movement on the screen without panning or zooming. Some images appear side by side (they are mostly a portrait aspect) – there is consistency in their placement across the screen, so the comfort of knowing what to expect.

The sound track includes ambient sounds across the production space and Laura’s voice centered. ‘Best listened to with headphones’ indicates that care has been taken over the stereo placement of sounds. It is immersive but I found myself not listening to the words after a while, they became another part of the the overall sound scape. The sound of a voice rather than the meaning of words.

Watching this has particularly influenced me in the use of the black space as a screen for projection of images. As if within a darkened cinema. I suspect some may complain that the space is too dark and they would prefer white (like a photobook), however, the specificity of video involves darkness and shadow. The projection of whiteness from screen to eyes is a distraction from the image and uncomfortable to the eyes, like a blaze of light. In my next experiment, I’m going to embrace the darkness rather than try to mask it.

Slide show maker research

I concluded in my previous post that I needed to get over any deep rooted trauma about ‘slide shows’, both from childhood 35mm and many deaths by PowerPoint in a business context. This got me think about other technical solutions to production – Adobe Premiere Pro is after all over-engineered for slide show production and is aimed at professional movie making. Could I obtain what I need from a simpler tool without too much compromise and make a much quicker workflow?

I looked into a number of options.

  • There are a number of online applications, which I quickly discounted as I want something that can manage large photo files easily without uploading/downloading.
  • KeyNote – I’ve never used KeyNote but note that it has some useful output options, including as a movie format and as html that can be uploaded to websites. The latter is interesting as the output wouldn’t require hosting on Vimeo or YouTube and could be embedded directly. It also offers a record function for timing of slide movements (and voice over if needed), which seems to be adjustable manually. It’s free with Macs.
  • PowerPoint – One that I’ve suffered heavy trauma through tedious ppt shows. But have used extensively, if not for photos. It is essentially the Windows equivalent to KeyNote but also works on Mac. I have access included in my MS Office student membership.
  • Premiere Pro – it would be possible to use this in a simpler way without getting into all the fine tuning it offers; using it with a slide show in mind rather than movie from stills. This may not turn out to be an issue but Premiere Pro is a video tool so obviously does not export to html like KeyNote and PowerPoint.

For my next experiment in ‘film making’, I’m going to make slide shows. I’ll try both KeyNote and Premiere Pro. For KeyNote, I’ll also see whether exporting to html and embedding in a website is a advantage over pure video.

Experiments in film making #1

Intro

After discussing A3, I decided to make a ‘film’ of my photos to show them rather than an ‘interactive ebook’. My initial draft ebook was too busy / distracting in retrospect and I’ve already tried pulling it back towards something more paperbook-like. However, this felt like a pale imitation of the physical object. I may ultimately make a paper book (perhaps as part of SYP) but for now I’m working within the restraint of digital only assessment and how to show the work to the best effect.

Research

Animation

My starting point was ‘how to make something more interesting than a slide show’. There are some interesting examples of people animating photographs using After Effects but this seems to be a major project in its own right. Oh to have the resources of U2 …

I looked into the basic technicalities of putting a simpler version of this together – separating the elements of each photo into layers, filling in holes in the background, and animating within After Effects. As well as the time required to do this for a large number of photographs, it became clear that shooting would have to be done with this end in mind – photographs would have to contain elements against clean backgrounds to allow effective animation.

A lower-tech solution is to make use of panning effects around photographs to suggest movement. The 1962 film La Jetée seems to be a reference piece in this kind of approach …

La Jetée (1962) [english subtitles] from D. Brion Ebey on Vimeo.

This is more than ‘showing photographs’ it is making a narrated film using photographs but I chose this as a starting inspiration for my first experiment.

Experiment #1

Tools – I looked at and quickly dismissed a number of tools for video making, mostly because they offered very little control over the movement or aimed at providing quick output for social media content: Photoshop, Adobe Spark Video, Adobe Premiere Rush, Lightroom slideshow. I have Premiere Pro as part of my Adobe subscription and have used it before, so I went with this.

Photo edit – when making this kind of series the edit changed from my preferred photos to something that would allow continuity of movement throughout the frames. This is the first hazard, it potentially becomes something other than showing the best photographs and more about making an ‘animated’ flow work.

Adding movement – after some trial and error, it is not difficult to add movement by panning and zooming using key-points, though it does seem to be very heavy on computer resources. Premiere Pro also offers a range of ‘transitions’ to move between stills. For this kind of approach, image files need to be large so that detail is retained when zooming.

The curse of aspect ratio – similar to the ebook the aspect ratio is dictated by standard screen dimensions and making the most of the display area, so 16:9. This raises challenges in respecting the original crop of the image, versus making the most of the screen. In experiment #1, mostly tried to make use of the full screen.

The outcome

It was unsuccessful because it was too much about movement and not enough about showing the photographs. This also meant a number of photos that were not my first choice were included. Lessons for the next experiment:

  • Stick with the best edit of the photos for the photos themselves, not for creating movement. It must be primarily about showing the best work.
  • Respect the crop of the photos to show them to best effect. This means finding a way of dealing with the black space in the frame around them. Leave it black or layer it with something textural / video – there will be a fine balance between creating visual interest and making distractions.
  • Movement quickly becomes tiring / annoying. The most successful clips were those with very little or no movement. For the next experiment I will avoid large experimental movements such as panning down an element and zoom through doors into the next frame!

In conclusion, I think I am in effect after something more akin to a slide show than a film and just need to make it as interesting as possible. Perhaps I’m still wounded through hours of sitting through slide show projections as a child and need to realise the form in a way that is contemporary with the benefit of new technology over 35mm colour slides.

Quick refs

New Territory Media blog – https://newterritory.media/5-ways-to-use-still-photos-in-movies-that-are-not-the-ken-burns-effect/

Learn about Film blog – https://learnaboutfilm.com/use-still-images-film/

LAB colour mode

I’ve been spending more time with my images and noticing things that require attention – either over-done or certain elements requiring further work. There is of course, a huge chunk of subjectivity in this. Unexpected, starting to use Instagram again and cropping images to output as 1:1 or 4:5 (so cropping to the main elements) has helped with seeing.

One of the challenges shooting in the generally subdued northern English light is that colours loose their intensity. Our human visual system seems to compensate for that as we give attention to elements that interest us. The camera cannot, unless light is artificially added or we return to locations again and again in the hope of brighter days.

In RGB processing mode, I’ve found that colour information is improved to a degree as the monochromatic contrast in images is adjusted. Sometimes this gives me enough, other times I would like still more colour. However, colour saturation adjustments, unless used sparingly, look too artificial and obscure texture details.

Raw neg and after post production. Photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon

The before and after above shows the RAW negative and image after production. It was a challenging shot, as I wanted to retain some detail in the brighter shadows that could be recovered in post and didn’t want to blow the sky completely. My RAW neg was reassuringly flat, suggesting to me that there would be some balance in the information across the image to work with. This is actually the upside of flat ambient light as in bright sunshine, it would have not been possible.

After my usual post production work, I still found the colours a little disappointing. So decided to revisit the LAB mode to add more colour intensity. In this mode the lightness (L) is completely separated from the colours. The ‘a’ channel is the green-red continuum and the ‘b’ channel is the blue-yellow one (for PS colour modes – https://helpx.adobe.com/uk/photoshop/using/color-modes.html). This contrasts with RGB where the lightness is dealt with through the combined RGB channel (and therefore also affects colour).

I stamped a new visible layer in PS and duplicated it to another document, which I changed to LAB mode. By adding a curves adjustment, the colour intensity was increased without altering the contrast or saturation – it is effectively like adding light to the original scene. Extreme effects can be obtained in this way, so care is needed. However, I can see how this type of adjustment will become a regular riff in my bag of tricks for managing poor light.

Specificity of media

Emma Bee Berstein’s essay for the The Chicago School of Media Theory discusses medium-specificity in terms of the materiality and form in which are is made (https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/medium-specificity/). I’ve often thought of this in terms of physicality and form, for example the mark of an acrylic painter or the sounds of poetry. Photography has always been a chameleon in this respect because of its malleability and it being such a broad church. Berstein comments that it had difficult in establishing itself as an art form because it wasn’t treated by its proponents as a specific media but attempted to mimic painting for example. There are ‘artists working with photography’ who’s work is a hybrid of a traditional photograph and other mark-making. With digitisation the pixel has become the common media of digital art and photography and the blurring of boundaries stronger than in the past. With digitisation also comes the malleability of output – there is flexibility at the press of a few keys. This is the aspect I’m interested in for this post.

I’ve been wrestling with the form of an ebook for my body of work and while enjoyed experimenting with the possibilities it didn’t quite feel right – I couldn’t escape the idea of a paper photobook. Adding interactivity disrupted that quiet space that is a paper book, taking away the possibilities of interaction left a pale imitation of a photobook an its materiality. My tutor made an important observation as I ran through the ebook during our last meeting. She said, ‘I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at here; is it a book or a slide show’. We talked around this and I also commented that I was not enthusiastic about the ‘virtual degree’ shows I’d seen – they made it difficult to see the work and pretended to offer an experience akin to a gallery when in fact it was more like a virtual car show room on low budget tech. Perhaps an ephotobook is similar. My tutor suggested that a ‘film’ might be a better format. I’ve reflected a lot on this and agree – we understand the specificity of film and are not distracted by wondering what it is. One day, the same might be true of photo ebooks but that possibility needs a change in technology too.

All of this has encouraged me to think about specificity of other outputs for photography. I wrote about Instagram here but having worked a little with it, watched established photographers, galleries and publishers, I’ve changed by mind in some respects. I thought it was a good idea to maintain the original frame of the photograph, including it within a 1080×1080 or 1080×1350 pixel box if necessary. However, I now realise that the specificity of the output is a small mobile phone screen with limited pixel dimensions and format determined by the app. Unless the most is made of the 1:1 or 4:5 aspect’s space, viewing is not comfortable for many photographs. There is an incoherence with the specificity of the output.

I’ve deleted my Instagram feed (I don’t keep my photographic history there anyway so not a big deal) and will now only post 1:1 or 4:5 crops. I now think of media-specificity both in terms of input and output.

Print workflow: practice and adjustment / out of gamuts

In a previous post, I said that I would try out the approach of editing the ‘print proof’ in the same colour space as its intended output. The idea being that it would require little further adjustment when it came to printer output. I put this into practice with one print, using a proofing paper and three different test papers. I found that the approach didn’t work efficiently for me in practice. The main drawback was that I often output to different media (including screen and paper types) – this resulted in creating different PS proof files for the same image. This could make for unwieldily file management and complete reworking of adjustments for each colour space.

Print made ignoring OOG warnings for yellow butter cups dotted across the field. By Andrew Fitzgibbon.

After some experimentation, I’ve settled on an approach of developing the proof image in full Adobe RGB space and adding a group of layers for each set of adjustments for different colour spaces / papers. These can be activated/deactivated as needed.

I’ve battled with the out of gamut (OOG) warnings in PS (also LR) in the past having been convinced that they always need fixing to ensure a good print (no doubt through YouTube tutorials and Adobe’s own videos). It is a process that can be tortuous when small OOG areas pop up all over an image. Common print adjustments I tend to make are bringing up the brightness (to compensate for the brightness of the screen deceiving about the brightness of the printed image) and selectively raising blacks if needed (to stop them blocking out in print). Both these things make sense and help the print quality. Another thing that can trigger an OOG warning is heavily saturated colour – the image above was flashing all over with yellow buttercups. An option that I’ve not tried before is to ignore the OOG warning – if it relates to small areas where detail is not important this seems a sensible option. The conversion on printing does its best to bring OOG elements into gamut. This is obviously a very quick way of dealing with the warnings and resulted in the best print (above) after a couple of tries at desaturating yellows in selected areas, leaving the print looking flat and too cool.

For the print file itself, I stamp a layer from the proof file layers and copy that to a fresh file for resizing and sharpening before outputting. I envisage keeping this flat file separately for anything where making consistent print re-runs is important.

Reworking post-production

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d revisited my workflow and approach to post-production. After experimenting with a few less important images for Instagram posts, I worked on one of the more important images.

Below is a before and after, showing my previous edit and the current edit, under my updated approach.

Before & after post-production method change

I think the main things that have made a difference are:

  • Separating the preparation of a digital negative from preparing a print proof (I treat a digital print to sRGB as a proof also). I read Ansel Adams’ The Print yesterday (more on that in a separate post) and one take away was to treat the negative as full of possibilities for realising the end image (much in the same way as capturing the original photo). By optimising the negative (including recovering detail and balancing) as a separate step, without considering the finished output, there is a much stronger raw material.
  • Have a disciplined approach to adjusting broad areas of the image using rough masks (rather than fine selections) gives more subtle contrast throughout the image.
  • Making fine adjustments on a single layer using the history brush seems to encourage more effective evaluation of the image (without the distraction of masking etc). In the reworked image, attention is better drawn to the chimney, where I want it.
  • Editing the print proof in the relevant colour space (or print profile) – in this case sRGB. By viewing the gamut warnings in Photoshop before exporting this image, it was clear where the image would become blocked up in the shadows once converted to sRGB. I was therefore able to make a levels adjustment to some shadow areas and avoid the sRGB blocking.

Nairn Across Britain: reprise

I watched Ian Nairn’s 1972 trip on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal (BBC iPlayer – https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01rwfkm/nairn-across-britain-2-transpennine-canal) at the outset of my CS research. It was interesting to watch it again having covered the entire canal during my project. Nairn’s narrative is that of an architect and critic of town planning.

Putting aside the pleasure of time travel in watching this, I have a few observations:

  • Nairn hoped that the canal would be transformed into a leisure place with proper footpaths. It is encouraging that this has been largely achieved and a credit to the work of the Canal & River Trust and its predecessor.
  • The canal was empty of traffic on his journey apart from moored pleasure craft. I found it often empty too – what has changed is the lycra-clad cyclists and joggers; a look and activities that would have been rare in 1972.
  • Nairn expressed hopes for the redevelopment of the canal where it passed through towns – specifically Skipton and Leeds. This has been delivered in both towns’ canal basins. He also hoped that homes would be built along the canal, enjoying the water rather than ignoring it. This too has happened in some areas.
  • Importantly to my sense of the canal, he mentioned the feeling that it existed as a place apart from its surroundings (echoes of heterotopia again). In 1972 the canal was more open to its surroundings and not bordered by trees and hedgerows. I think I would have enjoyed it more how it was.

Post production workflow

Background

Now I’ve more or less done collecting images, my thoughts again turn to getting the best results from files in post production. This isn’t a significant focus in the OCA courses which, in my view, are more focused on conceptualism than formalism. I realise it is an area I revisit towards the conclusion of each course as my approach evolves and I see others working in post (mostly on the internet) and revisit books on the subject. George DeWofle’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop is useful to me, even if dated. He was a student of Ansel Adams and Minor White, and uses Photoshop to continue the craft of print making in the digital age. Midway through his book (p160), he observes:

The key to this process is perception, not a technical trick. If you can’t see the problem – brightness, contrast, color, softness, sharpness, or whatever it is – then no technique in the world, will make your print better.

He describes six aesthetic qualities of a digital print (there is no concern with contextualism in his book) that need to be worked on to develop the form: cropping, contrast, brightness, colour, defects, and sharpness. And discusses at length why the order of work is important and his approach to that work in Photoshop (and some other tools).

Recently, while fine tuning images (after making image-wide adjustments), I’ve felt my process a little mechanical – with adjustments and layer masks to target the adjustments, using a mouse. I’ve been feeling the pull to draw on the fine adjustments. Using the hand and pencil with years of learned control is very different to using a mouse and somehow more satisfying. DeWolfe has such an approach in his practice, which I’m going to try in my workflow as I finalise my project’s images.

Image ‘printed’ to sRGB, by Andrew Fitzgibbon

Work flow

Here I describe my current work flow and how I plan to adjust/refine the approach. I do this mainly for my own record and to find clarity through having to write it down.

1) Input – negative and base copy (with broad adjustments)

I use Lightroom as file library. After importing a file, my current practice is to apply a tone preset (from the ‘film types’ available for Fujifilm cameras), make basic adjustments to exposure, add input sharpening, slight curves adjustment and image straightening if needed and sometimes cropping. So, the original file is adjusted non-destructively. This creatives complications if I want to rework the image later. In future, I’ll create a Photoshop copy and adjust using the camera RAW filter.

This will create two files that I’ll call negative (ie untouched apart from ‘film’ toning) and a Photoshop base copy (broad adjustments, white balance, and cropping if needed). DeWolfe emphasises the importance of first working on contrast and light (suggesting image is viewed in black and white to see this) before working on colour/colour balance – any changes in contrast and light also affect colour tones. I don’t always do this in order and find myself sometimes working circularly as a result. So, a discipline to introduce.

2) Optimising base copy – details and balance

DeWolfe uses a separate step in his workflow to optimise the base copy and retains this version separately from the version worked on for printing; more on that in the next step.

Optimising entails recovering any lost details in dng files and balancing the image (correcting broad areas that are either too bright or dark and adjusting contrast if necessary). To recover details DeWolfe uses external applications (eg nik sharpener) but technology has moved on since the book was published in 2006.

Lightroom now has an ‘enhance details’ option (takes around two minutes to process an image on my MBP) that can be used successfully on dngs from any camera. I also have Iridient X-transformer, which I bought when I was having problems with Fuji RAW conversion in previous versions of LR. I’ve not generally used either but could do so for selected and important images that contain significant details. I currently tend to balance later in my post processing process but now realise that this makes little sense as it disrupts any fine tuning of an image. From now on, I will enhance dng details where appropriate and always balance images in advance of detailed adjustments. I’ll check the Iridient vs built in LR options.

At this point one has a ‘base-copy’ image that has had broad exposure and contrast adjustments, has possibly been cropped, and has been optimised.

3) Proof – setup, overall contrast and colour balance

Contrary to common practice, DeWolfe recommends viewing the image in the correct proof set up at this point – otherwise it needs to be colour balanced again when printing. This is a bit of a revelation to me having spent time in the past wrestling with proof copies that required another lot of work before printing; it felt like going around in circles. It also occurs to me that if intending to output an image for screen (website, video, ebook) it perhaps makes sense to proof view in sRGB; I’ve noticed that some of my own images are not quite as satisfactory once converted on export and viewed in web browser. This would however make for an expansive workflow, given the steps that follow.

Levels adjustments are suggested to adjust overall contrast, brightness and colour balance. Any colour cast is corrected in a colour balance layer Local adjustments are made in the next step of the workflow. Once completed, an evaluation of a first print should be made before proceeding.

Working in this way would be a departure for me – proofing usually comes at that end and lead to no end of frustration.

4) Proof – local contrast and colour

This is the step where I’m dissatisfied with my current layers / mask approach. DeWolfe advocates using the ‘history brush tool’ to make marks (like an artist) and ‘move forward in a positive, courageous way’. It is the tool he uses for dodging, burning (through different blend modes); painting on local adjustments from snapshots of adjustments; and outlining to separate objects in detailed images; applying local hue/saturation adjustments. I’ll experiment with the techniques suggested but am wary of the time it could take when editing a number of images.

If subsequently printing on different paper profiles, the existing proof copy could be used as a base for a new proof copy and adjusted as necessary.

5) Final preparation for printing

This involves using a fresh copy of the image since it will be be resized and flattened for printing. I’ve never flatten my images prior to printing, but from what I can see online there are advantages in speed of printing and also output sharpening. It would also leave a final print file without layers – a print version that could be reprinted consistently.

DeWolfe first cleans up the image and then saves a flat version. He addresses any noise and sharpening. He doesn’t specifically address resizing images down (it was perhaps not a thing in 2006). However, there is a sound logic to applying sharpening after an image has been resized down, since its pixel dimension will have changed and the sharpening algorithms applied differently. His final steps are edge burning and final contrast tweaks using a gradient map (if he feels necessary).

6) Recap of files in workflow

  • Neg – unprocessed in LR apart from application of camera ‘film’ tone.
  • Base copy – cropped, broad contrast and colour adjustments, optimised detail, balanced image
  • Proof copy – viewed using output colour profile, contrast & colour corrected, local adjustments, and cleanup
  • Print – flattened, denoised, sharpened, final contrast adjustments, edge burning. Permanent record of a specific print.

Conclusion

A fellow student commented on a previous post about outputting to Instagram – observing that it sounded like a lot of work. They are partially correct but things perhaps always look longer when written than acted out. I don’t think it’s realistic for me to apply this kind of workflow to all images, just the ones destined for fine printing and large screen viewing. I’ll see how things turn out once I’ve worked through the process. I hope to arrive at a routine workflow that fits how I personally like to work with images before the end of the course!

Instagram workflow

Background

I have a couple of Instagram accounts and have been active on neither for months. I’m now beginning to re-engage in a considered way. The few people I talked to on the canal sometimes asked if I had an IG account where they could see the work – I replied ‘no’ as I haven’t been using the accounts.

One account I use for experimenting with iPhone photos and apps (@snappedpixel) and the other is intended for more ‘serious’ photographs (@thephotofitz). For the former, I’ll just continue to upload direct from the iPhone without being too considered about formatting etc – as the name suggests, these are instant photos. For the latter, I need a more considered approach to resizing and formatting for the images to display well on IG. I don’t want IG auto-compressing and cropping images that I’ve spent some time working on.

Technical

Here’s what IG says about photo file formatting:

When you share a photo that has a width between 320 and 1080 pixels, we keep that photo at its original resolution as long as the photo’s aspect ratio is between 1.91:1 and 4:5 (a height between 566 and 1350 pixels with a width of 1080 pixels). If the aspect ratio of your photo isn’t supported, it will be cropped to fit a supported ratio. If you share a photo at a lower resolution, we enlarge it to a width of 320 pixels. If you share a photo at a higher resolution, we size it down to a width of 1080 pixels.

help.instagram.com

Considering what might an aspect ration between 1.91:1 and 4:5 mean in practice. The former is the optimum for landscape photos. My photos are 4:3 native, but the maximum IG ratio against 4, would be approximately 4:2. So the options are to either loose 1/3 of the image’s height (a lot!) or place the image in a 4:2 (3.82:2 to be exact) frame so a border is created. The choice needs to be a creative decision that will also affect the look of the IG grid. The later doesn’t optimise visible image space but perhaps gives a more considered look – the image not the frame takes priority. For portrait images the equivalent situation (for my native 3:4) is an IG maximum of 3:3.75, so much less of a crop and more likely to be manageable through cropping on many images. Once ratios are taken care of then the photo needs to be resized to a max of 1080 pixels wide, and maximum of 1350 tall. Or in ratios: landscape – 1080:565, and portrait: 1080:1350.

It is clear that IG favours the square or portrait image over the landscape. So, if making images specifically for IG (which I don’t) landscape might be better avoided.

In practice

I’ve set myself up a private IG account as a test site – perhaps a good idea to use one anyway to test ‘serious’ photos before putting a public space. I experimenting using a single portrait image that had already been processed in PS.

  • Cropped in LR, resized and converted to sRGB on export. Weakest result, cropping didn’t suit image content and colours were dull on IG. The LR automatic output sharpening also didn’t seem as effective as manual sharpening in PS.
  • Image reworked in PS by creating a duplicate of layers (presharpening), resizing image, turning PS background white (as IG), processing image by viewing at a similar size to iPhone. Sharpening applied to resized image. Then finishing / exporting in different ways:
    • Without cropping – IG cropped and form of image wrecked on upload, though full space on IG grid used.
    • Canvas size changed to IG 4:5 and margins left around 4:3 image. Full image retained on upload but looks squashed to top / bottom margins of IG frame.
    • Canvas size changed to IG 4:5 and image transformed to fit with border all around. This was my preferred result by a long margin but also the one that took more work.

Conclusion

This exercise was useful to me. In terms of my workflow:

  • If an image doesn’t look right cropped to IG ratios, then put it on an IG sized background and leave a border. Unfortunately this is going to be the case for most of my landscape work.
  • For screen try to recreate the end display environment when working on the image (eg IG is on white and image about the size of an iPhone).
  • Manual output sharpening in PS after resizing is much more effective than automatic LR export sharpening. This has implications for other outputs too, where I have tended to rely on LR for resizing and sharpening image on export. I’ll revisit the images in my BoW ebook, website, and slide show.
  • There are no shortcuts for optimum results.

Microsite: Adobe Portfolio

For the past couple of days, I’ve been working on a micro website to accompany the photobook I intend to produce for my BoW. I’d like this to serve a couple of main purposes – something to point people at when discussing my work, and supplement the book with multimedia content. I’d pulled back from including multimedia in the ePub as it was bloating the file size and it was creating a busyness to the book when, in this context, I wanted something more contemplative.

Microsite (work in progress) – front page. Click image to view site.

Adobe Portfolio is included with the Creative Cloud subscription so has no additional cost for me. It is used as a WYSIWIG web application, rather than desktop and all files are hosted on Adobe’s servers. It comes with an Adobe domain name based on the user account but it is easy enough to point an external DNS to it so a custom domain name can be used. Importantly, in the past I’ve found it reasonably straightforward and quick to tailor one of its preset templates to the look I was aiming for, including typefaces from Adobe Fonts. It does allow a direct interface with Lightroom Cloud but I prefer to upload images resized down for web viewing. It is possible to disable right-click of images (ie some guard against unauthorised download) but downsized images seem to be the best protection.

I needed a bit of reorientation after some time away from Portfolio but in the end arrived at a format that seems to work. A plus was that Portfolio now supports its own hosting of video and sound – there is no need to embed from Vimeo, so the branding that is present in free accounts is avoided.

The content of the microsite needs further thinking and work and will inevitably be updated as my BoW progesses. However, it is straightforward to update and the main work of layout is now mostly taken care of.

I haven’t yet worked out how best to distribute a book as an ePub, which is the next thing on my research list.

Vimeo vs YouTube?

I need to host a couple of videos for my BoW on a streaming service. My personal viewing of online videos is mostly around YouTube – for example if my lawnmower stops working, how do I clean the carburettor, or how do I do something technical in InDesign. I’m very much aware of Vimeo and notice that most creative content is hosted there, but have never really looked into the difference between the two platforms. As I’m about to start hosting, now is a good time.

Some good online comparisons are easily found and I settled on one from the excellent WPbeginner website (https://www.wpbeginner.com/beginners-guide/youtube-vs-vimeo/), since most of my videos will be embedded in WordPress. I decided to start working with Vimeo because:

  • It does not make money through advertising – YouTube (like the ‘free’ WordPress accounts) significantly disrupts communication with advertisements, over which there is no control. It makes no sense to me to spend hours refining creative output to only have ads obliterate the viewing experience.
  • Vimeo’s free account is limited in respect of uploads but sufficient for my needs for now. Also the first level premium account, should it be needed, is not expensive at £7 per month.
  • Video quality is better on Vimeo as its model focuses on quality over quantity and therefore doesn’t have to quickly process the huge volumes of video that YouTube deals with.
  • Vimeo’s user base is smaller but apparently more engaged creatively. The size of user base isn’t a concern for me.

Today’s task will be to get up and running on Vimeo.

Photo-video making

Today I’ve been working on a short video using a selection of my photographs and the piano music that was in the previous edit of my ephotobook but won’t appear in the simplified next edit. I’m planning to use the video on the project website.

The last time I made a video from photos I used Premiere Pro, which seemed a little like using a food processor to beat an egg. Since, Adobe have released Premiere Rush – a mobile and desktop app aimed at production for online sharing. I took a quick look at this and again thought it over-designed for what would essentially be a slide show to music. Though it does look like a useful tool for lightweight moving image production.

At some point while browsing Adobe’s site, I noticed that the Lightroom CC slide show (I’ve never used) now has the capacity to output in mp4. After initial attempts when the application kept crashing when rendering images from the LR library, I exported resized images and then reimported them to try again with the slide show. It worked! By importing images as graphics for the beginning and end slides and asking LR to automatically match the slide show during to the music, I have a clean and simple mp4 for the project. It will also be easy to swap in and out photos if I change my mind and re-export.

Always nice to find an unexpectedly simple but effective solution. Next step is to upload the video for display on a website for the project.


UPDATE – after working with this approach, I found the process of exporting and then reimporting to LR unsatisfactory; it would end up filling my LR catalogue with duplicate images at different file sizes. Not the clutter I want.

An alternative solution was found in Apple’s Keynote – Prose and exploring Apple Keynote

The anatomy of a photobook cover

I posted a draft of my photobook cover to the Discuss forum for comment and request for input from a graphic design perspective. No graphic design input at the time of writing this, but some willing suggestions from other students that were much appreciated (link here).

Original draft cover not quite hitting the spot for me. Photograph, Andrew Fitzgibbon.

The element I was struggling with was the placement of my name – disconnected from the rest of the title and a little lost in the sky. One suggestion was to use the dark bridge, which helped with visibility but not with my feeling of disconnection.

I made an online study of photobook covers (including Dewilewis’s back catalogue – https://www.dewilewis.com/collections/back-list) and noted the following for photobooks that feature photographs on their covers:

  • Monochrome is more straightforward as there are more options for placing text that will stand out from the image, including the use of colour text.
  • Some books have images inset, which allows for a large border for placement of text. Importantly, the original aspect of the photograph can also be retained – this is a factor for my ebook cover, which is 16:9 for screen viewing, versus my native photo aspect ratio of 3:2 (or approx 16:10.6). Perhaps that is why I read these kind of covers as more photographic in form, rather than graphic design driven.
  • Some books have no text at all – possibly for famous photographers who’s work needs no introduction?
  • The covers featuring full-bleed colour photography that worked well for me were the ones where the text had been designed along with the image, creating a whole image/text. This invariably mean text placement over areas of a selected cover image that would allow the text to stand in contrast to the image. Some designs featured text that was coloured to fit with the image – a quieter effect than heavily contrasted white or red text for example. However, full-bleed is not attractive in my context of the difference in aspect ratios between screen and photo.
Source: dewilewis.com
  • The movement of the eye across the page is affected by the arrangement of image and text. In western culture we are used to reading from left to right and also generally spend more time looking at text than images (since it very clearly needs to be decoded). Looking at various book covers, I notice the text is either placed centre (ie neutrally balanced) or to the right so the left-centre image has priority in reading. Where text is place to the left, unless it is lightweight, it tends to dominate the viewing and almost put a break on looking at the image.

Using these observations, I tried various new layouts and arrived at the cover below. I’ve now used a border all around to maintain the photo’s aspect ratio and placed the text to the right, vertically as this better fits the available margin space. I’ve retained the original font/colours for the heading but reversed the direction so it flows from top to bottom (taking the eye off the page to the next page). I’ve added my name under the header text so it is connected and differentiated it with a different colour (picked from the image’s sky).

I’m much happier with this but I’m sure others will have their own perspectives!

Or maybe this way around?

Text placement: ebook

Having decided to remove sound from my ebook, I wanted to try placing simple locational text alongside the images to see whether it encouraged a pause on the page, or would just be distracting in the context of my work and in ebook format.

Experiment with text placement, photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon

I placed text on all pages to take in the effect fully. While it encouraged a pause, it was also a distraction from the image – the form of an ebook is more closed than paper. This is a contrast to a small amount of text on the opposite spread of a paper book as something I find unobtrusive and even useful.

I will move the locational text to a separate page after the photos.

Text and audio: use in BoW

The course material described Karen Knorr’s use of image and text to put across a political perspective, and asked me to reflect upon my own use of text in the BoW. I also consider the use of sound (in the ebook form).

One aspect I’m aiming to convey is the stillness of the canal as a contemplative space that underpins a stage for socialisation of a deindustrialised space. To allow for this stillness, I’ve avoided the use of text alongside individual images. However, for A3 I did include a foreword (an artist’s statement) and ambient sound recordings and music alongside the images.

My thinking since A3 has evolved. There are a number of areas:

  • Ebook title: I’d used the title Air Land Water: a canal as a world within a world. The main title connected to graffiti on one image and described very generally the materiality of the subject matter. The subtitle was a working attempt at hinting at the heterotopic qualities of the canal. I think it requires more precision to allow the viewer to know something of what the book is about without being too directional. I’m now thinking along the lines of Leeds and Liverpool: worlds within a world. It seems important to locate the work on this particular stretch of canal as viewers come with their own very different experiences and perceptions of canals, which for some seem to suggest I’m misrepresenting the space of a canal, whereas I’m concerned with a specific canal that travels through some rugged landscape and deindustrialised northern cities. I’m also minded to avoid the use of ‘canal’ in the title for the same reason – in the UK, it is now loaded with connotations of slow boat trips and celebrities on boats. Whereas I’d like to hint at the socialisation of space, without bluntly prescribing ‘the socialisation of a deindustrialised canal’.
  • Sound: Since A3, I’ve invested considerable time and effort in the operation and appearance of sound buttons in the ebook. However, I now feel that they may be a distraction from the work – for much the same reason as I’ve avoided text alongside individual images. I’ve decided to remove sound for now and just use it on a website to complement the book. The website would then also give a different experience to the work, rather than simply reproduce the images and sound already featured in the book. For the piece of music included in A3, I’d use it to accompany a video of some of the images.
  • Foreword / artist’s statement: by including this at the beginning of the book, it risks leading the viewer towards my own interpretation, and interferes with their own shaping of meaning. Therefore, for the next version I’ll move the text to the back of the book and include something simpler at the front, more akin to the text on the inside cover of a paper book.

I realise the importance of considering the specific effect of text and music in an ebook – perhaps for A3 I was more interested in using it to compensate for the lack of tactility in an ebook; to give a different kind of viewing experience. However, I’ve found that the best intentions do not always make to enhance a tried and tested form. There are also practical issues with sound files bloating the size of the ebook and making it difficult to download on slow connections. I’ve concluded that a website is a more appropriate format for the multimedia experience.

A late night with Walker Evans: sequencing

I rarely struggle to sleep but I did last night – possibly my head churning with thoughts after a day out collecting images, followed by a level 3 tutor lead hangout. I was drawn to revisit Walker Evans’s American Photographs over a cup of lemon and ginger tea.

The book was originally published in 1938 and has been hugely influential on subsequent generations of photographers, including Stephen Shore. It is no frills photography, where subjects are photographed straight on and themselves banal. For me it conveys the experience of being in the places, what Gerry Badger has described as ‘thereness’. They are very still, contemplative works.

I was interested in what ideas I might glean for the next iteration of my own book (even if an ebook). The photos are printed on one side of the spread only and page numbers are on opposing pages, without additional text. Place and dates are listed after the photos, avoiding the distraction of words. The prints are not uniformly cropped, creating variety of layouts as pages are turned. Some are landscape format and others portrait. There is something about the positioning of the page that gives weight, lightness or breadth to the images. It is not completely consistent, with only the right margin strictly respected. Perhaps a layout from an age that predates the precision of digital design tools. Anachronistic? I noticed how my page-turning hand comfortable rested on the empty page while I viewed the image. I realised there is no turning hand to obscure images in ebooks – the only space needed is that to separate the image from what surrounds it. The ebook acts as a one-sided spread and the illusion of relationship to paper books through the ‘book’ word shouldn’t be held too tightly.

The book’s inside cover advises that the photographs were painstakingly selected and put in series by the photographer and they should be viewed in that order. The images flow through in different ways; groupings of similar content, connections between elements, and the form of the images. The end of a grouping is often marked by a discordant image as punctuation.

There is a quietness in the book that allowed me to become immersed in the photos. The book’s title is clear and unremarkable – they are American Photographs. Does anything else need to be said? The reader is left to realise the nuances.

I was left feeling that my ebook might include too many distractions from the photographs – do I need to include sound, just because I can and to compensate for the lack of materiality of an ebook. Would this additional material be better left for a website. Is my working title only tenuously attached through its connection to a single image. What about simply Leeds and Liverpool plus some subtitle. Do I really need to include more than one image on a page to emphasise their connection – does this just labour the point. The connection can be made between subsequent images and individual images left to breath quietly alone.

Just because we can do something with digital, we don’t necessarily need to do it. In the end the work should be left to speak for itself. Perhaps it is time to pull back from the experimentation and save it for another context. I’ll be spending time with other photo books (perhaps sited broadly within the landscape genre) and reflecting further in advance of A4.

Dr Ariadne on Contextual Studies

I enjoyed a very useful tutor lead work group yesterday evening. The discussion focused on what makes a good CS submission, including making appropriate uses of supporting materials (ie theory and other references). It covered thinking that is absent from the CS course materials and possibly the OCA’s current approach to teaching research. Dr Ariadne Xenou is an OCA assessor and moderator amongst roles in other institutions. A sign that any advice is to be highly valued. While late in the day for me, it will still be useful as I work on the final adjustments to my CS work.

The most important points for me:

  • The ‘first and last things looked for in CS submissions are cohesion and coherence.’ That the work flows and is carried by a main thread, and that it makes sense.
  • The use and value of supporting materials was discussed at length. I have found it difficult at times to avoid the weight of supporting voices drowning out my own and I think this still needs further work in my final edit. A common issue in submissions is sources replacing the writer’s own voice. Whereas they should be used to amplify the voice by adding a chorus or making it stand out by offering a counterpoint; using an opposing voice to make one’s own point.
  • When using sources it was recommended to introduce the context and person, bring in the source and then analyse – this way the writer’s voice comes through. The same approach is suggested when using images – treat them as a different form of text.
  • Ensure that theory is not used to tick boxes – it should be part of the design of the argument.
  • Finally, I raised the question of bibliographies (so research examined but not referenced) as my current draft does not include a bibliography. No definitive answer was offered in the context of the OCA but their value through their influence on thinking was noted. Concluded that it is unlikely that one would be penalised for including one, and it could always be ignored by the assessor if they weren’t interested in it.

There was a slight diversion in to Literature reviews versus dissertations. Noted that key is to engage in why the resources are useful, but that it is not necessary to develop an argument around them.

Blackburn, Leeds & other thoughts

Since submitting A3, I’ve been out on a couple of long photowalks as I bring collecting to a close. Blackburn last week – a poor former textile town that I read this week is under risk of a local Covid 19 lockdown – and Leeds and its suburbs yesterday. It was my second trip to Leeds, needed as the project’s direction has taken shape since my first trip about a year ago. The contrast in affluence between Blackburn and Leeds was palpable. For my final trip, I’m planning to visit Wigan (of Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier, which refers to the canal wharf) and Liverpool, at the far end of the canal from my location.

Totem Doll, near Blackburn by Andrew Fitzgibbon

All the walking and seeing has also been good for thinking. I thought yesterday that I’m looking at ‘worlds within a world’; people trying to impose their own identities on a place whatever level of resources they have at their disposal. ‘Identity and Place’ to recycle that course title. The few people that I talk to while walking – most cycle by at speed or run past, sweating and breathing heavily (alarming in Covid world) – often talk about ‘the nature’, meaning the wild life and plants. I’m not sure that many give a thought to or even notice the ‘human nature’ on display – as I commented in my dissertation, it is not easy to be aware of a culture in which one is immersed.

I talked about the canal as a ‘contested space’ in my dissertation; a phrase that verges on an academic cliché and art-speak awash with ‘spaces’. It has an abstract feel to it. What I am really dealing with is humanity shaping places and the contest between people in asserting their identities – space is just the stage on which this very human contest is played out on.

The continuing BoW is proving fruitful thinking ground for finalising my dissertation. I think in hindsight, I should have paused at A4 of CS and moved BoW closer to completion before working on A5. The courses are meant to be completed in parallel, but things conspired against that. On the plus side, I’ve still plenty of time to tidy up A5.

Expert feedback on the canal as a heterotopia

I’m grateful to Peter Johnson (a leading expert in heterotopias) for sharing his thoughts on the canal as a heterotopia (original post here) . Peter replied through my question on his blog (https://www.heterotopiastudies.com/art-inspired-by-heterotopia/), which I’ve quoted below.

He suggested that the barge might be more fruitful than the canal for a study of heterotopia, which I understand. I’m not necessarily interested in making a study of heterotopia and it’s enough for the ideas that underpin it to help with my thinking. But Peter’s comments are helpful in guiding me to avoid stretching the meaning of heterotopia to fit the canal and confirm my earlier doubts about using it directly as a reference.

Blog extract – Peter Johnson

Peter, thank you for maintaining this fantastic resource. I’m a very mature student in my final year BA (Hons) Photography and came across the word heterotopia in an article on a photography project, Fordlândia (https://americansuburbx.com/2020/06/jm-ramirez-suassi-fordlandia-interview.html?goal=0_1ed269ba08-36e91063d6-204573077&mc_cid=36e91063d6&mc_eid=36a150e9ca) – from there I soon arrived at your website. My photographic body of work is concerned with the deindustrialised Leeds & Liverpool canal as a contested space and I’ve found the ideas in heterotopia helpful in articulating what draws me to the space. However, I’m interested to know whether you would consider the canal a heterotopia. I’ve put a short post on my study blog with my thoughts (https://oca3.fitzgibbonphotography.com/is-the-canal-a-heterotopia-and-is-the-label-helpful/) and if you are willing, I’d love to hear what you think.

REPLY

 Andrew Fitzgibbon July 3, 2020 @ 1:55 pm

  •  Peter Johnson July 8, 2020 @ 10:39 amHi Andrew, thanks for getting in touch. Your project sounds very interesting. I will look at your blog, have a think and get back to you. PeterREPLY
  •  Peter Johnson July 13, 2020 @ 5:09 pmHi again The article by Diane Morgan might be helpful. It’s about the changing role of a barge on the Seine. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304550152_The_Floating_Asylum_the_Armee_du_salut_and_Le_CorbusierI think concentrating on canal boats rather than canals generally would be more productive in terms of heterotopia, although you cannot have one without the other! They have different uses (work, home, garden, play, shop …); they change use and appearance; they hide secrets perhaps. They are private but at same time they are often by public walking paths, cycle paths, very exposed. There is also a sense of freedom but at the same time you are part of a very rigid system. Certainly worth pursuing. best wishes PeterREPLY
    •  Andrew Fitzgibbon July 15, 2020 @ 12:12 pmHi and thanks Peter. The article was useful. I don’t find the boats interesting for image making and they are very difficult to access in these strange times! I see what you mean and how they would make an interesting heterotopic study for someone out there. Regardless, I’ve found some of the ideas of heterotopia useful in thinking about social constructed spaces more broadly. Best, Andrew.

Indesign: gallery view for facing images

InD learning has continued and I’m finally developing some familiarity areas that are difficult to penetrate. I’ve been working on simplifying the layout of my draft book by dropping the facing pages layout and adding the possibility of viewing facing images as full screen images on their own (like a gallery or close look into a physical book spread). Also some other cosmetic enhancements.

I went through various iterations of trying to get the gallery view working and when I eventually thought I had, it didn’t work when exported as an ePub or online using an iPad. It seems the touching requires a different design approach to mouse-clicking. After more trial and error, I found that a multi-state object containing the images and a separate button (I used simple text) to move the object through its states worked both with mouse and iPad (hopefully other tablets too). I persevered with this as I agreed with feedback that the smaller facing images were not always easy to view on screen. The gallery seems a good way of allowing certain images to interact, while also allowing the viewer a closer look.

Screen grab of gallery view in ePub

ePub file size and image optimisation

Context

For A3 I simply resized images to target monitor viewing at full-size and didn’t experiment with jpg quality. The ePub file size quickly bloated and there was some evidence of lag when using Adobe’s online publish facility. I realised that this was something that would require further thought and I perhaps have a mental block when it comes to deliberately degrading image quality.

The target output is important – for the purposes of my ebook, I am initially focusing on monitor displays (as this will be the assessment platform). However, if I later produce a book for iPad (arguably the only mobile screen appropriate for viewing ephotobooks), I will also need to reconsider image optimisation.

From my research, there are two areas that require some practical research.

I currently use Lightroom user presets to export images to a size / quality and think this is probably adequate for online purposes. I use Photoshop when working with printed output. However, apparently Photoshop’s ‘export for web’ allows for the previewing and comparison of up to four different export settings. This is ideal for testing what Jpeg quality / file sizes are optimal for the ePub. I think they are currently over-specd. Something also important when I start to move images on to a microsite.

My image long-sides were targeted at just over 2000 px on the long-side. For iPads with retina displays, 2048 px on the long-sided is recommended by Apple (here – https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT202751) so this seems a good compromise for monitor and iPad that would avoid the need to generate fresh images for an iPad version of my book.

There is plenty to be going at here to optimise the viewing experience. With so many variables at the viewing end (including internet speed) I need to do some testing an make some changes in this area.

Practice

Screen grab – export for web from Photoshop

I found ‘export for web’ useful for comparing jpg quality with various settings, using a preview of the resized image. Having examined the whole of the image ’80 quality’ works well for me – less than half the file size of 100 and little discernible different (though I think a little subtlety is lost in the sky details).

For image resizing I chose ‘bicubic sharper’, which apparently retains sharpness when image sizes are reduced. However, when exporting from LR there is no user choice of resizing algorithm. I couldn’t locate official information on this but read ‘Adobe Photoshop Lightroom resampling is a hybrid Bicubic algorithm that interpolates between Bicubic and Bicubic Smoother for upsampling and Bicubic and Bicubic Sharper for downsampling.’ (from – https://www.digitalphotopro.com/technique/photography-workflow/the-right-resolution/2/, who seems to have had technical involvement with Adobe). In any case, a test export from LR at 80 jpeg quality resulted in similar file size to PS’s and a good quality image.

The final point I considered was pixel dimensions. If 2048 on the long side is recommended, there is also a maximum short size to fit on a 16:9 screen. A quick calculation determines this to be 1152. Depending on the dimension of the image, it should either be restricted to 2048 long side or 1152 short size to be optimised for full screen viewing on 16:9. I found with my uncropped images this turns out to be 1152, which gives a small additional reduction in file size. I’ve set all this up as a LR export preset for future exports for ePub purposes.

Quick references

Different file types / compression – https://matthews.sites.wfu.edu/misc/graphics/formats/formats.html

Optimising images for ebooks – https://blog.kotobee.com/optimize-images-ebook/

Indesign: interactive buttons

Having made an ePub with basic interactivity for A3, I’m researching other functionality that could be useful. A few people commenting on the draft mentioned they would prefer to see full size images, rather than images sharing a page. For some images, I want them displayed together because their interaction creates an additional meaning. However, I understand the frustration of not being able to easily look closer at an image – something we can do instinctively with physical materials.

A solution to this in an interactive ePub is the interactive button – the images are converted to buttons and actions programmed that are triggered when a user clicks on an image. Using different sized images on a page, converting them to buttons, and using the ‘hide until triggered’ option gives the possibility of a user clicking to view each of the adjacent images full screen. So the best of both types of view.

This is something I’ll incorporate in the next draft.

Photography & Racialisation

I attended this online event (9th July) hosted by the Open Eye Gallery – https://openeye.org.uk/whatson/open-rooms-8-photography-and-racialisation/. The background and speakers are introduced on OE’s website.

Image: Patrick Hutchinson carries the man now identified as Bryn Male to safety. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters, source: openeye.org.uk

Three images were presented and discussed by the speakers and the dialogue continued separately on another platform (I attended the presentation only).

I don’t summarise the whole discussion here, but note a couple of areas that interested me in particular.

  • The important difference between ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ was discussed when unpicking the meaning and significance of images. In particular, not just looking at the image but seeing by looking into it and what is happening. I of course agree that this is important but it is difficult to escape our own cultural perspective when deciding upon meaning. For example, one of the speakers (person of colour) observed that the ‘white halo’ could be seen in the image above – as if the man being carried was an innocent. I remark that seemed racist in itself to me; a perspective based purely on skin colour. I saw calm black man carrying a white man with a thuggish appearance, who looked like he was injured. Even if we see, it is not easy to escape our cultural background but it is important to remain open to different perspectives and alternative meanings.
  • A different image was discussed along with the idea of ‘in making images, we make ourselves’. This of course relates to the well-trodden ideas of meaning that are part of the study of visual culture.

Aside from the subject matter itself, I’ve noticed that many people (including professionals in the field) seem to find it difficult to talk fluently about images. There often seem to be frequent ‘uums and ahhs’; perhaps it the challenge of translating the verbal into the visual, combined with a lack of rehearsal. Something to be aware of when I come to talk about my own work!

Terms of meaning

The course material discusses meanings that go beyond the literal into the metaphorical as a ‘richer mode of expression’. I’m asked to consider a number of terms and think how I might apply them to my own or another photographer’s practice. I’m considering my own work (even if I’m stretching things a little) to help me reflect on how it might be interpreted. This is an interesting exercise for words that are easily expressed and demonstrated in writing but are less familiar to me in the visual domain.

  • Metonym – a single characteristic of something substituted for the whole but they are so closely connected that the whole can be understood (eg calling business people ‘suits’). I’m not sure that this works so well visually as many different objects can have similarities and don’t have the same precision of meaning as words. One example in my BoW are the posts in the overgrown field. The posts can be understood as a game of football, even in the absence of people. In that image the game would be ludicrous because of the overgrown grass. If it was just a fence post in the field, it would have had little meaning or interest.
  • Rhetoric – in language this is concerned with speaking or writing effectively to communicate a point of view persuasively. In my BoW I aim to show the idea of the canal as a world within a world; separated from the outside but a reflection of it nonetheless. While it is a work in progress, it conveys the idea of a place apart from its wider environment and the range of human activity played out within the separated place.
  • Symbol – this is where one thing represents another, even though they are not directly connected (so different to a metonym). Still water is present in many of my images. It is a symbol of tranquility and somewhere we can feel safe; there is water to sustain us (though I wouldn’t drink from the canal) and likely to be food nearby (there are fish in the canal). Like a waterhole on the savanna.
  • Connotation is where an idea or feeling is invoked beyond the literal meaning of a word. In my images, the cracked open safe on the canal side connotes robbery or criminal activity.
  • Innuendo – often hints indirectly at something impolite or negative, without naming the thing itself. Perhaps in a way that is intended to be rude. There is no intended innuendo in my BoW. I mostly associate this with sexual innuendo in advertising and fashion images.
  • Euphemism – hints similarly to innuendo but in a way that is polite and not intended to be harmful. I wonder if photography has a general tendency to euphemise through its aesthetics and safe distance from the actual. In particular in my BoW, I think about the discarded possessions dumped along the canal. One individual asked how I feel about them and a short version of the answer was a mix of disgust and disappointment and fascination. However, the photograph euphemises them because we can look dispassionately at a distance and be interested in the form of the discards and what their stories might be.

These kind of words help us explain the visual. This isn’t always helpful – words risk distracting from the visual, when I prefer to enjoy the ambiguity of the visual. They have their place but should, I think, be kept well away from the visual experience itself. Unless of course, one is wanting to illustrate with photographs.

CS.A5 | Tutor Feedback

My tutor’s feedback on A5 has been sitting in my inbox, while I’ve been focusing on my BoW. Here I summarise the aspects of the feedback help with further refinement before I submit the work for assessment.

Overall a good draft with lots of ‘really engaging stuff’ with the potential to be improved by further editing. Key points are:

  • Further attention to flow of the work and cutting out some passages that may not be essential. ‘Don’t be sentimental’. At the same time ensure that which remains is fully unpacked. I’ve been conscious of the word count limit throughout and weeding out some areas would allow the remainder to grow.
  • Introduction needs to be more engaging and give the feeling to the reader they are in safe hands. This is partly related to the current structure and argument around meaning. I’ve since been considering the notion of heterotopia, which would centre work around the canal and allow the work on meaning to become part of the analysis, rather than introduce the work.
  • Need add more nuance to the depiction of the Canal & River Trust and check substance in areas that are retained in the final work.
  • Watch out for areas that are being lead by assumptions and either reframe them / look for evidence to support if they are important to the argument, or leave them out if not.
  • Make sure each section is meticulously argued and evidenced.

When I spoke with my tutor, he recommended to leave submitting for assessment for as long as possible – let the work breathe and keep refining it as more things come to mind, including through the BoW. For me, this would mean submitting in January 2021. This makes sense to me and I’m in no rush to finish, so will wait until then.

I’ll have a last catch up with my tutor prior to the final push towards assessment.

I really must look after my printer

I’ve been here before – spend a while away from printing for one reason or another and up with clogged print heads. Last time it happened, I promised myself I’d at least print something a couple of times a week but I’ve neglected it again.

After a few head cleans and print purges of the cyan, I’m still not getting a good print head test for that colour. I’ve spend the morning watching an reading about printer maintenance for an Epson SC P600 and note a few things I need to do regularly. Really should be part of professional practice, keeping tools well maintained and ready to go.

  • Pigment based ink jets dry out if they are not used regularly and ultimately clog. The ink sets on the print heads and even print head cleaning won’s shift it. Like my cyan this time. I’ve order a cleaning kit and will use the approach suggested by Marrutt (and others here – https://www.marrutt.com/find-my-printer/epson-surecolor/epson-surecolor-sc-p600-printer/epson-surecolor-sc-p600-printer-support#unblock). General advice seems to be to print at least twice a week, or if you’re unlikely to do this, don’t buy a printer in the first place.
  • Other parts of the printer also need maintenance and I’ve never done this – cleaning the paper feed mechanism, cleaning the printer’s head wiper blade, and cleaning the spill pads (used when printing full page images).

Marrutt provide rather dry videos on the subject but they are to the point. For a more conversational approach Jose Rodriguez’s YouTube channel is full of useful information, providing one has time to listen to the chitchat – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz9YXaSulpM90vC24lmAeZA.

I’ll check in with myself monthly to see how I’m managing my printer discipline; reminder added to phone!

Update – eventually managed to clear print head blockage using cleaning fluid and jay cloth cut down to put on platen under print heads (1st thin strip soaked and left overnight, then folded strip used to physically wipe by moving print head over it). Now I need more ink and was shocked to find the Epson EOM inks are now over £200 for a set. Going to revert to trying Marrutt refillables that are on offer and £155 for almost three times the quantity of ink. I tried them unsuccessfully in the past but it could have just been my inexperience as they do seem to be very well reviewed.

A3.BoW: assignment submission

Introduction

I’ve made good progress since A2. Following up on the useful suggestions from my tutor here. I’ve reworked the theme of the work, which is explained in the foreword to my ephotobook; in summary, it is based around the canal as a world within a world, drawing on Michael Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. I discuss this in more detail here. I’ve gone on three further half-day shoots in new locations as I’ve expanded my outlook to the whole of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, rather than the stretch between Skipton and Leeds. The contacts for potential keepers from these shoots and previous shoots are here. I’ve also explored and worked at an ephotobook as a means of dissemination in the contactless world that we will suffer for the foreseeable future. I’ve written about the challenges and opportunities of the format a number of posts under my practice-based research menu. I’m interested the possibility of using multimedia in this format, which will hopefully compensate in someway for its missing materiality.

The Work

Below is a link to an online version of my current edit of the ephotobook. Depending on internet connection, there can be a lag. However, I can provide a link to a downloadable ePub if anyone wishing to view the draft is experiencing difficulties. The book is configured for viewing on a monitor (16:9) rather than a tablet device but should be readable in the browser of a tablet also.

Next Steps

I’ll continue to shoot with an eye for the ‘world within a world’. I have a second trip into Leeds already planned and have in mind a trip to the top of the Pennines where the canal flows through high open moorland. Other options under consideration are Liverpool (with some trepidation as I’m reliably informed the canal flows through rough areas and has become a no-go zone for boaters) and Wigan (of the famous Road to Wigan Pier, which was a wharf for the canal).

I’ve had several ideas for the multimedia content of the ebook. A microsite linked from the ebook (probably created in Adobe’s Portfolio application) – I have the domain name airlandwater.co.uk, so would use this. As well as images the site could include multimedia content. For example sound and video collected on iPhone as I photograph (Adobe’s Media Converter allows iPhone files to be converted to a useable format for Indesign and website use), an interview with the artist (me), some conceptual content around the ‘world within a world’, which would draw on my dissertation. Some of this multimedia content could be included directly in the next iteration of the ephotobook but I want to avoid it becoming too busy and distracting from the sense of quiet and calm I’m conveying through the photos.

Self-reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (30%)

Ebooks are not entirely new to me, but there have been significant technical obstacles to overcome in even getting to this stage. These centre around multimedia content and the deprecation of Flash Player which, not obviously, is used in some of InDesign’s tool set without it being clear they are legacy.

I’m pleased with the additional photographs included in this edit of the project and have some clear ideas about locations for upcoming shoots, including for street portraits in areas less likely to be dominated by lycra and blue-green outdoor clothing. I believe the photos are well observed and worked in postproduction.

The layout of my initial draft that I posted for student feedback was a little more experimental but given the quiet nature of this work, I’ve settled on a something easier on the eye. The draft also allowed me to iron out some technical difficulties with the publication that were not apparent on my own computer.

Quality of outcome – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)

Following A2, I’ve rethought the theme of the work. The main header Air Land Water is general but has a specific link to graffiti featured on the last image in the book – bookends. I bought the domain name for £1.20 so will used this for the microsite to be developed in the next phase of the project. The subtitle a canal as a world within a world reflects my experience of the canal and relates to Michael Foucault’s concept of heterotopia (discussed on my blog). The sense of the canal as an enclosed watery microcosm set apart from the world around it has given my work a stronger sense of direction. I think this is beginning to come through in the draft book and will be built on in upcoming shoots. The idea of heterotopia could also be the link I was looking for in CS to allow the concepts of socially constructed and contested spaces to be pushed to the background while the substance of the canal is foregrounded.

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (30%)

In different times, I would have made a paper book of this project without giving much thought to a multimedia ebook. For this project, I’m experimenting with the form (and will continue to) and embracing the touchless world, rather than making something physical and then having to represent it virtually. An approach this is more possible with photography than other disciplines. At some point in the future, I may make a physical book also.

I believe how I experience the canal and my personal interest in the canal is showing through in the work. There is a bleak beauty in the landscape and urban environments of the Leeds & Liverpool canal – it is different to many of the canals represented on popular television – and I am drawn to this and not representing it as an idealised place of leisure.

Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (20%)

Lot’s of activity on my blog that can be skimmed through here. This includes reflection on the direction of the project, research on other photographers working with water, and the practical technicalities of working with ebooks.

Taking stock on epublishing

Frankly, this has been a bit of a nightmare! I previously wrote about my plan for exporting the ebook so it was readable on several platforms. It didn’t really work.

One problem is that multimedia PDF is not being supported beyond the end of 2020 (per Indesign warning on export) and doesn’t reliably enable reproduction. This seems to be connected with flash player based content – effectively a deprecated technology. ID includes other legacy functionality, but unless aware of this, it is easy to come unstuck. For example inserting audio using the simple media player and built in icons is also unstable – particularly on Windows. It took hours of messing around to find the problem and then finding out how to use button objects in InD.

However, the 16:9 format seems to work well enough in the web-browser of any device (even the tiny screen of the iPhone) – so publishing and hosting on Adobe’s servers for online viewing works. It can be laggy on slow internet connections but there’s little I can do about this apart from exporting at high (rather than highest) resolution settings – I don’t want to put low res files up.

To overcome the PDF issue (for a downloadable book), I’ve reverted to fixed layout ePub. I’ve successfully exported in 16:9 format, which is good for using ebook readers on a monitor. The limited interactivity I’ve used so far works (for me at least). This would be a backstop for any issues with internet connections when viewing online – ultimately, I’m thinking about assessment. Unfortunately, my efforts at using InD alternate layouts and targeting the 4:3 ipad format came to a grinding holt – my media buttons simply would not stay on screen, despite anchoring, grouping and swearing loudly. I’ll have another go now I’ve moved to button objects – perhaps in the next iteration of the project.

The ePub format seems necessary for offline viewing, with the demise of interactive PDFs. I’m reluctant to try other tools like Powerpoint as its layout and formatting possibilities are relatively limited and it’s not conceived as an online publishing tool – I hope to eventually become a competent InD user as I do have an interest in making books and photobooks. InD’s alternate layouts offer the possibility of efficiently turning an ebook into a paper book (and visa versa). However, the nice page turn effects are application/device dependent – so the iPad and Apple Books is effective. I’ve not seem similar effects on laptops – the ebook does end up looking disappointingly rather like an interactive slide show.

In conclusion, I’m sticking rigidly with 16:9 format for online publishing through Adobe and ePub for offline backup. For the next iteration I’ll revisit the iPad. It’s been a huge learning curve, including remembering things I once did without thinking – there’s little hope of just reviewing the book on a large photography monitor and expecting to get the font size right! Thankfully, I’m left with some appetite to explore further interactivity, but also mindful that I want the book to be a quiet experience. Perhaps other stuff might end up on the microsite, which is also in my next phase.

eBook sizing dilemma

When I put my draft ephotobook out for student feedback, a technical issue with displaying the online published version was identified. I’d tested it on my MBP and I’d tested the ePub download on a iPad, but the online version wasn’t displaying correctly on the iPad (not opening to fill the full screen and not good). I’d used ID’s own iPad Pro sizing for the book.

Research

I’ve done some research on fixed flow ebook sizing and summarise here.

  • Different mobile devices have different screen dimensions and my own ebook will hopefully be viewed on a large computer screen more than a mobile device. Rather than sizing specifically using an iPad preset, it is better to size for 16:9 as a ratio that works better across different devices (including conventional laptop screens). For side by side pages, this becomes 8:9.
  • ‘You could be forgiven for assuming that setting your page to be the same size as an iPad screen or Kindle Fire screen is all you need to do. However in order to create files that retain quality and definition when the reader zooms in, both Amazon and Apple recommend that you produce pages larger than the actual screen size.’ (ebookpartnership). Glad I’m forgiven and surprised that ID’s presets didn’t allow for this. Apparently Amazon recommend double the pixel size of the device (to allow 2x zoom) and Apple 1.5x. Painfully, this also has implications for the sizing of my image files that were resized to an iPad’s pixel dimension. I need to find a compromise for laptop screens too (where I wouldn’t see a need for zooming in). The same guide recommends a long side of at least 3840 pixels. My ID preset has 2224!
  • Page numbering – I noticed that the device reader’s own page numbering is different to that I’ve put on the pages. I paged as I wanted the numbers displayed as a paper book – it is better to page as they will display in the ebook reader (ie cover is page 1). Another example of an ebook being a different animal.

I’ve also thought more about the format of the ebook. My original idea was to make it available as an ePub, but there may be disadvantages of using a fixed layout ePub against a PDF, given I’m not planning to sell the book online. The main one being that the ePub is device/application dependent for the viewing experience, whereas the PDF is not. This would seem to offer more control over the viewing experience. The other consideration is the use of ID’s online publishing – essentially this is a web-based viewing experience and if many people are going to simply view online, formatting for that space perhaps needs to take precedence. It does give the option of allowing the viewer to download a PDF directly from the online view, which could be a neat solution for my purposes.

Practice

Having researched and thought this through, I’m going to try the approach of sizing for online display at 16:9 with long-size pixel dimensions of 2560 as somewhere between HD and 4k. I’ll aim to create the illusion of a spread, so will split this into two 8:9 facing pages. I’ll then test how well ID exports from its web viewer to PDF (including multimedia) – viewers can then download if they wish to / I can include the PDF in the submission for the work (as an alternative on online viewing, which can be affected by poor internet connections).

The outcome / any adjustments will be included in my submission for A3.

Quick references

Tech sizing guide – https://ebookpartnership.com/support/knowledge-base/preparing-files-fixed-layout-ebook-conversion/

Pixel dimensions for screens – https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/common-aspect-ratios-photo-image-sizes

Apple device pixel dimensions – https://developer.apple.com/library/archive/documentation/DeviceInformation/Reference/iOSDeviceCompatibility/Displays/Displays.html

On monitor resolutions – https://www.digitalcitizen.life/what-screen-resolution-or-aspect-ratio-what-do-720p-1080i-1080p-mean

Note – other information is available online but it seems surprisingly sparse, with much of it based around self-promotion of own platforms.

A3: Draft ebook (for student feedback)

I’ve spend so long in front of this, that it seems a good time to ask for some feedback from my fellow students. I’m posting it here with little explanation to see how it stands ups for itself. It includes photos from additional shoots as well as some old friends that have stayed with me – others have fallen out of favour for now. Shooting continues in other locations, so the content will continue to evolve.

Click to open and select option to view full screen

Conclusions

Main issue is a technical one of viewing and display on different devices – I describe this here, along with addition research and a potential solution. This has probably affected the feedback to some extent as in some cases, won’t be on the work as I see it on my display (eg multimedia content not working).

A few people left feedback (email/here/on OCA Discuss), which was generally positive and offered some useful ideas for development of the next edit. In summary:

  • Some layouts were confusing to viewers – I need to reconsider how I create variety in the layout, without obstructing the viewing experience.
  • Some people said they wanted to know more about the work (eg how it was made, where, the experience of being on the canal). I think this could be something for the video of the interview with photographer that I will make and include in the afterword (though not for A3).
  • Some confusion about the title and subtitle but divided opinions here. Air Land Water – mixed between likes and dislikes. I’m sticking with it for now, because I’m keen on the reference to the closing graffiti image. A canal as a world within a world – this is my reference to Foucault’s heterotopia, which I plan to use in shaping my dissertation to be more canal-centric rather that build around the concept of meaning and social spacialisation. So, I think it important as a bridge between the dissertation and the BoW, as well as being a reflection of how I experience the canal.
  • A general sense of the work moving in a positive direction

Is the canal a heterotopia and is the label helpful?

Since reading JM Ramírez-Suassi: Fordlândia Interview – Heterotopia, I’ve been mulling over the concept of heterotopias and doing some further research. Academic, Peter Johnson’s website is an excellent resource, containing his own essays, critical reviews and signposts to Michel Foucault’s original writings and explanations of heterotopias.

My draft dissertation examines how meaning is formed in the context of space and the social importance of meaning. It uses various narratives of the canal to illustrate a contested space and how dominant narratives shape the understanding of it. However, I’m still wrestling a little with the structure of the essay. It is centred around a conceptual thesis relating to ‘meaning’, with the canal positioned to illustrate; the concept before the concrete perhaps. My CS tutor observed that it would be better centred around the canal and its specifics, with the conceptual trailing . As I’ve returned to my BoW and the materiality of the canal’s space, this suggestion feels more important than it did when my head was in books and theory. It would breath more life into the writing. It could be that the ideas in Foucault’s heterotopia help me bridge the gap between the concept of meaning and the materiality of space; laying the ground for a restructuring of the dissertation. It may also help articulate my feelings about my BoW and its relation to the dissertation.

From my reading of Foucault’s Of other Spaces and Peter Johnson’s materials, I consider heterotopia and the canal. Underlines denote Foucault’s characteristics of heterotopias:

Johnson observes that Foucault doesn’t closely define heterotopia and so it is open to interpretation (and misinterpretation). I’m only concerned with how the ideas might apply to the Leeds & Liverpool canal that is the basis of my photography body of work. That is, heterotopia as an ‘enacted utopia in which the real sites, … are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’ (Foucault). I understand this as discrete sites brought together in the place of heterotopia, which sits outside of society but reflects that society. To me, the canal brings together sites along its route, yet is obscured from society by its embankments and screening trees, with limited entry and exit points. Heterotopia has diverse forms; the example of a train as an ‘extraordinary bundle of [spacial] relations’ as something that one goes through, goes from one place to another, and also goes by. It is the strangeness of the spatial relations along the canal that draws me to it – its watery materiality carries us along its flow and moves us between sites. It is a deindustrialised highway of another time but has mutated and is represented as place of leisure where ‘life is better by the water’ and celebrities go barging. The materiality of the Leeds & Liverpool canal ‘juxtaposes in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible‘ (Foucault). Making-do in the aftermath of deindustrialisation, gentrification, second homes on boats, only homes due to unaffordability of conventional housing, a place of leisure, a place of work, a place of history, a place of heritage. And so on. At over 200 years old, the canal ‘encapsulate[s] temporal discontinuity [and] accumulation.’ Foucault outlines further characteristics that I’m unsure apply to the canal:a) ‘presuppose an ambivalent system of rituals related to opening/closing and entry/exit’ – arguably this applies to boaters and the locks, but I’m not so sure about general use of the canal. b) ‘function in relation to the remaining space, for example, as illusion or compensation’ – a place of leisure?

I wouldn’t presume to state the canal is a heterotopia, but the ideas seems to help unpick its meaning and interest as a place. I’m unsure that I would want to use the term in the context of my BoW as it wouldn’t be widely understood and therefore, its main purpose would be to add the weight of an academic reference. However, some of the thinking expressed could be useful in explaining the place of the canal.

References

Ephotobook suffering and progress

After many hours in front of Indesign and Photoshop, I’ve finally made progress with the first edit of my ephotobook and will share for comment before the end of the week. Here I reflect on the experience in the hope of less suffering next time around.

It’s probably over a year since I used Indesign having gone through a period of making zines and ezines. As for most things I haven’t used for a while, I feel a rustiness and a lack of fluidity. The technical stuff is important – if I don’t feel on top of it, it can frustrate the creative work. I’ve said it to myself before but I must use these tools regularly to avoid the pain of refreshing and relearning.

Just as a photograph is a new and separate reality from its referent, so a ephotobook is to a photobook. I was able to create more readily once I’d really understood this. For example:

  • While it has ‘spreads’ they are very different to pages in a paper book. With paper, we are sure of its form and its mechanics of use; pages are turned, spreads reveal, the gutters obscure. With an ebook, different reading applications give different viewing experiences (eg page turns or spread viewing). If your spread doesn’t open as a spread, your images won’t make sense. Eventually, I though of a ebook spread as a single page, but worked to create the illusion of a spread as a useful and familiar layout form.
  • Screen space (particularly on mobile devices, like iPads) is limited compared to a book. There is a temptation to make all images fill the screen so they can be clearly seen. Then the book just becomes like a slide-show, which lacks the visual nuances and rhythms through layouts. Once I’d let go of the significance of the gutter (it is just imaginary for an ebook), layout possibilities seemed to come more readily.
  • Attachment to photographs can hinder a good ebook layout – I’d spent time working the images within their frames and was attached to showing the whole of each image. After putting this aside, there were more options for how to place photos together and work the layout.
  • Attention to detail is vitally important and even that sometimes doesn’t save you from frustrating rework. With the book, the photos are the ingredients and if they are not quite right, it becomes clear when eating the cake. Looking a photos closely as a book develops and in context next to other photos reveals flaws. Despite looking closely at images before exporting for ID use, I found some problems later. It does suggest I need to be more rigorous when finishing photos in post. I won’t even get into the pain of cover design and text!
  • The multi-media possibilities of ebooks add a dimension that possibly compensates for their lack of physicality. There can be user interaction with that. So far I’ve added soundscapes that the viewer can activate, a piece of piano music for the canal, kindly composed and played by my son, and a map of the canal’s route. I also plan to add a video interview with myself (once the work has progressed further) and a link to a microsite for the project.

Next, I need to revisit what the work means to me after the additional shoots and spending time with the draft book. This will inform the brief foreword to the book.

The name again

You have to live with things a while before deciding whether they are a good fit. I decided to change the project name to Slow Water Tales when I re-engaged with my BoW. There was always a slight niggle that this would sound like a children’s book – often seem to be called ‘tales’ and of course there is Tales from along the River Bank! When out shooting last week, I came across some graffiti on the boards around a building site – ‘Air Land Water’. I think it’s a broad description of what the canal is about without being directional. It would perhaps need a subtitle. I have an image to include in the BoW with the graffiti and as a plus, the domain name airlandwater.co.uk was available and I bought in a LCN sale for £1.20.

The text in the header was extracted from the photo in photoshop. I’m going to live with this name for a while and see where it takes me.

Ephotobook ideas and experiment 1

For a while I’ve been thinking about making a book of my BoW. However, a significant part of the experience of viewing a book is tactile and with the OCA’s move to digital only assessment this would be missing. I can only assume that this approach will continue for the foreseeable future. If I made a paper book I would be left with videoing a page turn through it and probably also submitting a digital version in any case. At this time making a paper book for the purposes of OCA BoW assessment doesn’t feel like a worthwhile endeavour. While I will make one at some point, for now I’ll focus on making an ephotobook.

Online research offered nothing specifically about ephotobook design, though there is good information about photobook design and there are paper photobooks to view. The importance of space around the photos, and sequencing and pace are emphasised. The ideas of gestalt, using double page spreads to display two photos together are powerful. There is the tactile experience of holding the book and the choice of materials that helps to make that.

However, some of this ideas don’t translate as I expected to ephotobooks. I experimented making an ebook in Indesign. A key finding is that the ebook experience is device dependent – particularly problematic when working with spreads. A spread might work well when previewed in Indesign or uploaded to their online site and viewed through Adobe’s platform. However, it quickly falls apart when viewed on mobile devices (I tested on an iPad) where the spread might not display as a double page (reader app dependent) and if it does, the images are simply too small to read and it becomes an annoyance. Particularly, if a single image is place across two pages! I learned that spreads must be designed to also work as single pages for the ebook to be portable between platforms. Back to the drawing board for v2.

The ePub format has different qualities and some advantages over paper through its interactivity. It seems important to explore this and play with the ideas of an ebook being a different experience, rather than a compromised experience to a paper book. For example a link to an online map or inclusion of sound files could be tried. The sounds of the canal could make an interesting accompaniment to the images as it is its relative quiet and separation from its immediate environment that is important to the place’s ambience. There is even the possibility of including video.

From my first experiment, it has quickly become apparent that I need to think of an ebook as different to a paper book, not a simple replacement. Otherwise, the ebook just becomes a lesser paper book.

What about The Frank Album?

The course material asks me what my thoughts are on Alec Soth’s Frank Album and whether there are any ethic issues with it?

Soth’s information about the concept is here: https://thefrankalbum.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/help-us-create-the-frank-album/. Nothing is shown of the finished work but I found this on Vimeo ..

The concept is interesting but not innovative; asking a public to contribute a story to a found (purchased) collection of photos without a history. Soth didn’t mind if contributions were fact or fiction – it seems an exercise in putting together the story of a stranger. I find the process more interesting than the outcome, which reminds me of looking at the lives of others on a soap opera or reality TV. The album is a collectable, commodified artwork, produced by the artist through his commercial business. Obviously, possessing something curated by Alec Soth is attractive for collectors. I suspect that it is this provenance that makes the work attractive, rather than anything special about the photographs themselves, which could have been taken from any family album.

While there are ethical codes for news and documentary photography, the ethics of art works seem to more fluid and must be taken in their own contexts. Frank is clearly identifiable from the images but it seems he was not traced, which is unsurprising given the limited circulation of the project. Therefore, it was not possible to ask permission from Frank or his family. There is nothing in the photographs that would seem to be harmful to Frank if published.

If I were Frank, I wouldn’t mind the photos being used in this way; a personal acid test. However, I don’t think there can be a blanket ethical position on the use of found photographs – they should be considered in the specific context of discovery, use and content.

JM Ramírez-Suassi: Fordlândia Interview – Heterotopia

Fordlândia is a place I’ve previously not heard of – it reminded me of Saltaire (Titus Salt’s workers town situated on the canal) but in the Amazon forest and built to supply the Ford Motor Company with rubber. The experimental town was short-lived and unsuccessful. Ramírez-Suassi’s discussion with American Suburx is a good read (Read on americansuburbx.com/2020/06/jm-ramirez-suassi-fordlandia-interview.html), but I mention it here mainly because of the way he talks about place (and an old industrial place at that):

“The photobook is a balance, at least its the intention, between this utopia (or maybe call it heterotopia, a concept made up by Foucault) and a life experience…”

From Fordlândia ©JM Ramírez-Suassi, source: americansuburbx.com

Heterotopia is a new word for me and seems pivotal to the book which, like my work aims to, pulls together different perspectives and ideas of a place. The word isn’t defined during the interview but it is explored in academic papers, for example, Heterotopia and Actor-Network Theory: Visualizing the Normalization of Remediated Landscapes . The concept is apparently not easy to interpret from Foucault’s original words ( referenced as Of other Spaces, 1986) but is concerned with the idea of incongruity within a space and contested meanings ‘enabling an out-of-placeness‘. This would counter attempts to place order on space. Even at this late stage, it is something I will explore further within CS as it has the potential to act as a glue between my writing on the disparate narratives of the canal and the concepts of how meanings are formed.

For me, heterotopia is a word that explains how I feel about and perceive the canal. It has the potential to help in articulating both my BoW and dissertation.

References

Old school editing

I’ve been guilty of mostly editing on screen in the past – placing my images in a Lightroom collection, shuffling their order and flagging / unflagging as I went along. It was convenient when I was travelling and also saved ink and paper!

I now have a good number of photo resources for the project, so I’ve broken free of the screen and printed draft images to shuffle and get an in-one-take view of how things are looking. I’ve known that this is the best way to do it but it’s the first time I’ve printed lots of draft images. I set up LR print module (single image/contact sheet format) to print 4 images on an A4 sheet in ‘draft mode’ (whatever that does) and it runs through all selected images, renders and prints them in one go.

Even with draft prints, it is much easier to see which images don’t quite fit or need reordering. I’m a convert. I’ll also use the same prints to play with book layouts.

A3.BoW: Contacts

As well as editing my 3 shoots since A2, I’ve been back through previous images to create a long-list of potential shots for A3. I now have a total of somewhere over 1,000 images (and I don’t use burst mode). I’ve made a long list of 54 images and as I’ve tweaked the processing, it’s already become clear that a number of them are not suitable. However, I’ve included all here to help with discussions on A3.

I’ll pause further shooting for now to see what comes out of my long-list sort. After eliminating non-starters, I’ll make some small low quality prints to shuffle.

Click to view larger size

Landscape sharpening

Some of my images contain the level of detail that is typical of landscape photographs. It’s not an area I have focused on in the past and I’ve been struggling a little with selective sharpening in Photoshop – my default tool is the unsharp mask, but I’m not happy with the results for some of the landscape details; I see hints of haloing and then when backed off, the details are not as sharp as I’d like.

This morning I looked at the newer ‘smart sharpen’ filter and am happy with the results.

Screen grabs (unfortunately not the same size) that show the difference. I’ve learned that smart sharpen is better at detecting edges (based on lens blur) than the unsharp mask based on gaussian blur. The control over fading sharpening in shadow and highlight area helps in automatically refining the areas for sharpening.

I’ve found that using smart sharpening on a smart object layer, with a mask to hide sharpening on areas of the image (eg background) gives the selective clarity to the image I was looking for.

The deception of postproduction

I’ve been thinking conceptually about post-production partly because of my look at Nadav Kandar’s work and partly because I’m aware that some of my own work is taking the prints someway from what I saw. Helpful to my reflection were comments of fellow students by email and on the Discuss Form (discussion is here – https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/postproduction-and-the-dark-line/12369). A particular important concept mentioned was deception. We don’t like to be deceived unless we give permission, for example in the context of the arts like cinema. But the multiple and varied uses of photography can confuse the context for the viewer. As I approach the end of my studies, I feel it is important to succinctly articulate my own position on aspects of photography that can be contentious. Of course, these views may well continue to evolve. So, on postproduction:

Photography is a tool that can be used in a wide range of contexts. In some, such as news photography, being true to what is seen is important. The use of tools like Photoshop to alter images can be contentious but like photography itself, needs to be taken in context of its use. In some of my work, I use Photoshop to enhance images from beyond what I saw to what I imagined and felt. I rarely add new elements but emphasise or disguise certain parts of images. I might sometimes remove distracting elements.

Andrew Fitzgibbon

Crossing the border

I’m just back from the third of my half-day shoots to build material for A3. Up at 5am this morning and crossed the border from Yorkshire into Lancashire to walk the canal around Burnley. I enjoyed the soft morning light and it was great to be done before the summer heat kicks in. A lot to be said for bed early and up early at this time of year – just need to persuade the rest of my family to avoid it becoming antisocial!

I have a feeling that there is enough material to start pulling together A3; intuitively while out this morning. So will make some small prints of possible selects and have a play. I plan to pull the work together in book format – something that can also be shared digitally while Covid restrictions continue – and have already started revisiting texts on book design / self-publishing.

Feeling enthused about the project having got back on the proverbial bike.

Postproduction and the Dark Line

My BoW tutor suggested I look at Nadav Kandar’s The Dark Line, as a contrasting interpretation of the same estuary as in Frank Watson’s work.

From The Dark Line ©Nadav Kandar, source: nadavkandar.com

Kandar’s project is shown on his website (https://www.nadavkander.com/works-in-series/dark-line-the-thames-estuary/single) and Photoworks has an interesting interview with him about the work (https://photoworks.org.uk/interview-nadav-kander/). Whereas Watson’s interpretation of the estuary is quite literal, Kandar’s is more about the creation of atmosphere and the artist’s reworking of the referent to express something of himself.

It is this different approach to the process of photography that interests me in the comparison between the works. In the interview Kandar comments:

NK: It’s in my studio that the most decisive moment of this process takes place. You can’t make a great print without a good photograph but I must say that for me it’s not in the picture taking. There’s a lot of layering of colour and weight, and the editing and printing process is what takes these prints a further distance than the photograph itself.

This is particularly evident in some of Kandar’s works that take on a painterly quality. While he may not have artificially added new elements to the photos, they are worked to the extent that they possibly bear only a passing resemblance to the unprocessed image. Whereas the images in Kandar’s work on the Yangtze appear worked to a lesser extent, in interviews with Kandar, it is clear that he views his work as an expression of how he sees and feels, including in his portrait work.

There is an artistic decision in the extent to which postprocessing possibilities are used, and this has become more accessible with digital images and tools. I explored the possibility of working images when I was restricted to iPhone photography for a long period. I enjoyed this work and expressing how I felt about subjects. When I work now, I use Photoshop heavily after a period of abandoning it for Lightroom and very straight work.

An example of an unprocessed file and the processed output are below to illustrate.

Blue-green algae near Nelson ©Andrew Fitzgibbon

The colours and areas of focus have been worked to make the image visually compelling. Some might say that the resulting image doesn’t look like it did in reality. However, that is not relevant as my work is not intended to document reality but add my own interpretation and create visual interest.

What I’m still working on understanding is where the line falls in image enhancement. I suspect that there is no fixed line, but it is a combination of personal voice and appropriateness for the subject matter. Kandar’s more abstract estuary work seemed to allow him more licence than the Yangtze with its obvious human and man-made elements. It is clear that a similar treatment needs to be applied across a series if it is to maintain coherence. This has significant implications for workflow and decision making if extensive rework of individual images is to be avoided.

Soundings from the Estuary: a parallel universe?

My BoW tutor suggested that I might find Frank Watson’s Soundings from the Estuary (the Estuary) of interest. Watson shares images from the project on his website (https://frankwatsonphotography.com/soundings-from-the-estuary/).

From Soundings from the Estuary, ©Frank Watson, source: frankwatsonphotography.com

The Estuary shows expansive, bleak landscapes without people. Buildings tell the stories of past and present uses of the landscape, and detritus washed up on the shore are tales of property carelessly discarded. This is no beauty spot, but I am drawn to its uncommonly represented space. A fascinatingly ugly place embellished by the scars of human activity. It is almost monochrome antidote to oversaturated blues and greens. Looking at work that has similarities but has no personal connection, helps me articulate what I like in the canal. There is perhaps space for thoughts to breathe more easily.

A striking difference to the canal is the Estuary’s expansiveness. While shooting yesterday around an urban area, I thought about how enclosed the canal is; often screened by trees and hedges from the open landscape that surrounds it, sometimes constructed along the lower sides of hills and enclosed by terraced housing and old industrial buildings. One cannot easily leave the canal without following a formal pathway. There is a narrow, 2 meter wide towpath as the only route between mirky water and overgrown hedgerow; it could become oppressive in places. When it passes through open countryside, the vistas broaden and can become expansive. This contrast might be used in sequencing images.

There are ideas here for how I might articulate my own project and I’ll revisit these for A3.

Benjamin’s detritus

Paul Klee’s ‘Angelus Novus’ & photo of Walter Benjamin, source: Versobooks.com

My BoW tutor suggested that I might find Walter Benjamin’s references to the ‘ragpicker’ and ‘the angel of history’ of interest in the context of my images showing the remains of the industrialisation along the canal.

The ragpicker, lived in rags and made a living from the discarded rags of consumer society, sitting at the foot of the material ladder. Benjamin suggested that the way to understand history, from the ‘refuse and ‘detritus’, through chance rather than the formality of a historian . He used the ragpicker as an analogy. I can see that this relates to how I’m photographing the canal, even if ragpickers no longer exist in the original C19th sense of the word. It’s not that there isn’t poverty, it’s that waste collection is highly organised as is recycling and charitable giving. The wandering ragpickers are also analogous to psychogeographers, who picking through the myths and histories of urban landscape. While it is a good analogy, it is an analogy from a different time, which reduces its currency.

Benjamin acquired Klee’s drawing Angelus Novus and considered it amongst his most precious possession, seemingly treating it as a muse. He referred to it during several writings but most profoundly in this passage from Theses on the Philosophy of History:

His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back his turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. The storm is what we call progress.

An interesting thing about the backwater of the canal is that the storm of progress does not erase traces of the past so thoroughly as in other urban environments that are built over – some canals have been filled-in but many remain, often sited away from the main routes through places. The industry has gone but the canals stand as monuments to deindustrialisation and accolades to making-do. The storm of progress comes to some places with the gentrification and privatisation of places along the canal banks.

References

Sandra & Alan : it’s in the words

I struck up a conversation with Sandra and Alan by commenting on a newly started greenfield housing development alongside the canal at Gargrave. They’ve lived on the canals for 34 years and are still in lockdown – The Canal & River Trust (CRT) have ordered that the locks should not be used during Covid lockdown and have also advised to minimise use of the canal towpaths by walkers. There are large numbers of moored boats where one might normally see very few.

I found out useful things through talking with them. They were careful to say that their experiences cover many years and things may have changed since they last visited places.

  • The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is generally quiet (not like some others they visit). I asked what about Liverpool end, as I’d not yet visited it. Apparently, until 5 years ago a police escort was required to take a boat into Liverpool, as vandals would throw bricks at the boats. This surprised me and I made a mental note to be cautious when I venture to that end.
  • It is difficult for boats to get on and off the canal – either the Aire and Calder Navigation, which is tidal and difficult for narrow boats that were not designed to be steered in fast currents. Or at Wigan, which I was told has a flight of locks that are painfully slow to pass through. I silently wondered if this is one reason it isn’t populous.
  • What about Rochdale Canal I asked (since it is within driving distance)? They don’t go there after an experience many years ago when they were threatened by drug dealers and advised by the police that it is best treated as a no-go zone. Another mental note to be careful if I venture onto that one!
  • I asked what they like about the canal, was it just the travelling? They have met some wonderful people over the years and enjoy the freedom of wandering. They don’t necessarily move everyday, but when the feeling takes them. It is difficult to move freely in the winter months as many locks are shut for repair. They tend to moor near Gargrave (where they have family) and find work for the winter.

Sandra and Alan’s appearance was similar to many along the canal, sporting ‘outdoor clothing’. However, their willingness to talk did make me think that even if I don’t manage to find people that are visually interesting, it might be that I can bring people into my work through their words.

Back to the Mississippi

My tutor suggested I revisit Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi, unpick what makes it successful and see if there was anything I could draw from it for my own work.

The canal and the Mississippi are obviously two very different types of waterway, with ‘water’ perhaps being the only commonality. The latter dominates the landscape and shapes the places around it, providing and threatening life with its expansive waters. The canal is contained and calm, with people often oblivious to its existence – it can be easily overlooked.

I looked through Soth’s book several times over the weekend and a number of things struck me.

  • There are no signs of affluence in the photographs, but a sense of making-do and the make-shift. This is embraced in the work. The canal also flows through many areas that are not affluent but is also diverse, passing through picturesque open countryside and more affluent rural communities. There is a choice to be made here – a focus on the less represented margins or a more democratic view. One might be seen as a ‘broken Britain’, the other as a place of contrasts.
  • The portraits included are of ordinary people who seem to embrace distinctive identities or have characteristics that are out of the ordinary. This makes them visually interesting. They are connected by their connection to the river, which dominates the landscape. The canal does not form the same type of broader connections between people as it is not a dominant feature of place. Those that use and work the canal are mostly indistinctive – men and women dressed from the local ‘outdoor shops’, practical synthetic clothing to protect from the elements. I have struggled throughout to find a visual people angle that grabs my interest, but last week had the idea of drawing people in through their words, their tales.
  • While Soth’s theme is the river, he often looks away from it and water is absent from many images. For example, empty interiors, preachers, construction workers. They are held together by the overall sense of water in the book; the juxtaposition reminds me that there is water nearby, even though I don’t see it in the image. It occurred to me last week that I was restricting my images to those that included water, even when there are subjects looking away from the water that are visually interesting. This is an unnecessary constraint – as long as the overall series conveys a sense of the water, I can broaden the range of images. I don’t just see the canal, I see from the canal.
  • Soth’s editing and sequencing of the images creates a varied and interesting visual impact. One thing I particularly noticed was alternate warm and cooler mini-sequences within the overall work. That particular aspect is not necessarily relevant to my work, but the importance of visual variety is.

Jessa Fairbrother Snapshot

I listened in on a Redeye photography network hosted a 30 minute live ‘snapshot’ with Jessa Fairbrother (http://www.jessafairbrother.com/), an artist who embroiders her photographic prints. She talked about her work ‘conversations with my mother’ and demonstrated her stitching technique. It can take her up to 3 months to complete a single work and she works on a small scale (mostly A4 from what I understood).

Jessa Fairbrother on Vimeo

While I personally would have no interest in, or capability for such intricate work, it was enjoyable hearing her talk about her work and process. In particular Jessa mentioned she has rigorous intention for her work and mentioned the symbolic use of knot making; showing attachment and a private act. In contrast she has work where prints have been stabbed with needles to make patterns, which she sees as being detached. She also talked a little about the use of the photographic print being important to her as a referent to the subject.

What struck me is the conviction with which Jessa discussed her intention – that knots could have also suggested confusion or restrain didn’t matter. She was convincing in her interpretation because that is what it signified to her personally. Something I will keep in mind, once my intention finally settles down!

A change of path

Recent tutorials on A5 of CS and A2 of BoW and the post-lockdown move back to outdoor image making have prompted me to rethink the direction of this project. A2 BoW was a restart after my time away and it focussed on the idea of showing the overlooked banal in the context of the popular picturesque. This was a response to the contested narratives of the canal explored in CS and how the dominant story can push others to the margin. I now realise it doesn’t translate well into visual representation and my BoW tutor has encouraged me to have a rethink, with some suggested ways of thinking.

Putting to the back of my mind the conceptual research and study of the canal’s narratives in CS, what attracts me personally and enthuses me about the canal? I talk about experience on my local canal rather than the very different experiences that are to be had elsewhere in the country or the world, which others inevitably bring to bear when discussing the project. Firstly, it is the quiet and a sense of being outside of time – the slowness of the water and the movement on the water is a counterpoint to a modern quest for efficiency and speed. The calming, reassuring presence of the water’s materiality adds to this experience. It is the search for this kind of more considered experience that has led to the slow food and slow city movement (Cittaslow), so I’m not alone in this interest. Secondly, it is the unforeseen beauty in relics of industry along the canal, whether preserved or falling into disuse and ruin. There is also often something of the kitsch in the repurposing of the canal. For example, the faux wharf housing or objects of domesticity brought to permanent moorings. All of this not only has a visual appeal but pricks a sense of wonder about what happened in and to those places. This links to the range of narratives unlocked during my CS research.

From now, the work will focus on conveying my sense of slow pace, and intrigue for the stories of places along the canal. Exactly, how will be worked at over the next few weeks, but I’m making a couple of significant changes to my approach. Firstly, I’ll no longer focus just on the 29 mile stretch of canal between Skipton and Leeds, but expand it to anywhere on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal or Rochdale Canal (both within striking distance) that takes my interest. I’ve realised the constraint is unhelpfully self-imposing geographical limits, when there are other places I’m drawn to visit. For example Ted Hughes’ Mytholmroyd, which is referenced in his poem Stubbing Wharf. Secondly, I’m going to put effort into engaging with people along the canal to include portraits in my series and uncover their narratives for the canal, with a view to including text with images. Adding to sense of ‘tales’ in my work.

The words of poet Ian McMillan, quoted in my dissertation, come close to reflecting my personal experience of the canal. I realise the work needs to recentered to be genuine, otherwise it risks reading like a disinterested theoretical exercise:

The canal tells you stories
The canal sings you songs
They hand in that space
Between memory and water.

From Canal Life, Ian McMillan

A2.BoW: tutor feedback

The feedback on this assignment was useful and thought provoking and has resulted in a change from a conceptually oriented work towards a more poetic direction, which I’ll discuss in my self-reflection.

I felt that this assignment was almost like a restart on BoW after so long away from making images and in the meantime, while working on CS, my thinking about the canal has been heavily conceptual and textual. I’d used the assignment to try out an idea and kick back into BoW. However, a criticism was that the concept didn’t feel sufficiently substantial and clear to support a full project and that I hadn’t treated the assignment as a staging post in developing a BoW but more as trying out a discrete idea (perhaps like the assignments in L2).

While there was encouraging feedback on some of the images, a stumbling block was the concept of showing the banal as a counterpoint to the picturesque. This was considered too binary and also that it is likely a mute point on which side of the divide individual images would sit. I can see this, now I’ve let go of my attachment to the concept. I think this a risk when spending time thinking conceptually – it often needs a flexible interpretation in practice. I’m reminded that one can’t improvise on a musical instrument by simply using scales – there is a pushing of theory to the subconscious and creation of something spontaneous.

My tutor had some useful suggestions in approach a rethink of direction:

  • Consider what draws me to the canal personally and what makes it distinctive from the places around it. What aspect enthuses me?
  • Consider whether it is really about a specific stretch of waterway or something more universal.
  • Suggested making some small (cheap) prints of possible images and exploring how they might work together / inform further shooting. Also making larger / quality prints of key images.

Some ideas for contextual research were recommended; some writings of Walter Benjamin and other photographers working with waterways (Alec Soth, Frank Watson and Nadav Kandar).

While the assignment itself may not have jump started my staggering project, the dialogue around it has. As in so many things, it is the journey or working through a process that help understanding.

Unforeseen beauty in our shared landscape

BJP’s July 2019 issue looks at projects that ‘celebrate unforeseen beauty in our shared landscape’. I first read this as ‘unseen’, which I understood as unnoticed or disregarded, but ‘unforeseen’? I suppose surprising or unusual. The article features 3 projects with unusual takes on the landscape and perhaps a source of inspiration as I shape my own perspective on the landscape. I found all three interesting, including still lives built around objects collected by retracing London bus routes on foot and views of the Eiffel Tower from many different houses. But I look a little closer here at Caleb J Adam’s work on Menorca’s fiesta of San Joan (https://www.calebjadams.com/santjoan).

From Sant Joan ©Caleb J Adams, source: calebjadams.com

The work records the island’s spectacular horseback festival, but doesn’t just focus on the spectacular. Adams includes quieter moments away from the action, including indoor scenes that are completely removed from the action. This gives an expansive view of events and seems to break ‘the tyranny of linear perspective’. I suspect some viewers might find the work disjointed but really it is just ‘unforeseen’ – not what we have come to expect.

I have a number of quiet photographs, not over-looking the canal, that I’ve been wondering what to do with. In an earlier post I wrote about an idea for contrasting the banal landscapes with the picturesque but these moments seem to sit outside that contrast. Perhaps I could include them as occasional interludes, isolated on the page as they are in space.

Canal shop window ©Andrew Fitzgibbon

The Emperor’s New Clothes?

The course material refers to a number of examples where artists use their mistakes to make art, sometimes using verbose explanations to explain their intentions and justify the work. I am asked to reflect on artists’ mistakes and make the case for and against ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ argument. The course material is framed mostly in terms of photographic technical errors (eg overexposure or accidental exposure of photographic paper) and I didn’t immediately appreciate that it can refer to any error throughout the making process.

Before looking at the pros and cons, I put my hand up to thinking I don’t believe it is that important what an artist says about their intention. Intentionalism is only one aspect of how one finds meaning in a work. I suggest that it is over-emphasised, perhaps because it is the default mode of much journalism on photography – I rarely read a critical perspective in the BJP for example. Terry Barrett writes about this in his book Criticizing Photographs . An artist’s intention is only one interpretive strategy and only a part of how meaning is found. For example a work could be interpreted through a feminist or a marxist lens. Some artist may not offer explanations of the intention behind their work, either out of choice or because they recognise subconsciousness comes into play – there can be no yarn of The Emperor’s Clothes if there are no words.

I start by considering two examples picked during a scan through of BJP.

©Aikaterini Gegisian, source: gegisian.com

The Handbook of the Spontaneous Other is a work by Aikaterini Gegisian (https://gegisian.com/portfolio/handbook-of-the-spontaneous-other-2019/), who was interviewed in the April 2020 issue of BJP by Diane Smyth. Arguably the broken images made into collages are as much as mistake as David Bate’s deliberately broken and carefully photographed crockery in Bungled Memories that is referenced in the course material. What is interesting is the apparently contradictory intensions of the artist. Gegisian says the book attempts to stem the consumption of the other and is ‘a figure of resistance against this commodification of pleasure’. However, she also says that it should be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’ and as a ‘mechanism’ to say it is acceptable to enjoy looking at the images. To me, this is incoherent and conspires to make the viewer an ‘Emperor’.

Hinge ©Garry Fabian Miller, source: garryfabianmiller.com

I skimmed through a number of BJP back issues, with little sign of reference to mistakes informing work. Much of the featured work is about serious social narratives and represented with more or less straight photography. However, the critically acclaimed photographic artist Garry Fabian Millier is featured in the November 2019 issue of BJP. He works experimentally without a camera using Cibachrome exposures (down to his last 100 sheets of the discontinued paper). It seems to me that working experimentally as a modus operandi is akin to continually working with mistakes. One person’s experiment is another’s mistake? His work is based on abstract representations of Dartmoor and his experiences while walking it. He has continually experimented with his materials to discover different ways of making marks. However, listening to him speak (interviews are on his website) there is no pretence about what his work means, it is simply an emotional response.

From Brighton Picture Hunt by Carmen & Alec Soth, source: Dazeddigital.com

Alec Soth is mentioned in the course material and, being a photographer I enjoy, I explore the Photoworks project referenced. Alec Soth is interviewed by Martin Parr and this tells the story of how the work came about (https://daylightbooks.org/blogs/multimedia/16937645-brighton-photo-biennial-daylight-multimedia-alec-soth-martin-parr-podcast). To cut a long story short, Soth was invited on a two week commission to photograph during the 2010 Brighton Biennial. He didn’t apply for a working visa and was told by customs authorities he wasn’t allowed to work while visiting the UK – reasonable, though it is framed as a problem with bureaucracy, rather than Soth’s lack of understanding of visa requirements for most any country. This was the ‘mistake’ in his process. To recover, he used his 7 year old daughter to make the photographs, with some suggestions and encouragement from himself. Alec Soth also edited a selection from the 2000 photos.

That a 7 year-old would offer a refreshing perspective on any place is probably not a surprise to any parent who has handed a child a camera (my own children were the same). What is more interesting is some of the angered responses to the work on forums. One example is the aPhotoeditor website (https://aphotoeditor.com/2010/09/23/7-year-old-exhibits-her-work-at-photo-biennial/). The general thrust of the arguments against is that no other 7 year old would have been allowed to enter the Biennial and was only allowed because Soth’s work is canonical. This is like the Emperor – most would not mention his nakedness because he is held sacred. While there is truth in this, another truth is that Soth’s visit had been paid for, he was billed on the Biennial and the organisers needed to recover costs – it seems like a creative work around when faced with economic realities. Also, it is not just any random 7 year-old, it is a 7 year-old working in collaboration with a famous photographer; that adds to the story and interest. What is fascinating about the analogy here is that the child is conspiring with the Emperor’s nakedness, rather than calling it out!

Rather than clothed or naked, I like to think of the analogy in terms of subtler states of undress. I perceive very few things as binary as there are often complex, alternative perspectives at play. At one extreme the viewer is fed contradictory gobbledegook to justify and explain work, at the other an honest explanation of a mistake and the creative work around. I listen to the artist, if they share thoughts, and make up my own mind in context.

References

Obscured by the pastoral

I’ve done more thinking about Paul Graham’s visual signalling through overexposures (https://oca3.fitzgibbonphotography.com/american-nights-unseen-landscapes/). For landscape, the banal is obscured by the picturesque in popular culture. For the canal, the water and its reflections connect to the pastoral as it flows through the open countryside. I could use water to obscure my images of the banal to mark them in stark contrast to the deliberately picturesque images, rather than A2’s picture in picture approach. It would be a visual play on them being unseen and obscured by the picturesque.

After some experimentation, my first attempt is below.

A number of similarly treated image would be interspersed with the picturesque. For example …

Then, borrowing from Paul Graham, the series would be concluded with a few fully visible banal photos. Hopefully drawing the viewer in to give them full attention.

American Nights | Unseen Landscapes

Since looking at Paul Graham’s American Night work again, I’ve been reflecting on my own approach to ‘disrupting linear perspective’ in assignment 2. I’ve not had a tutorial on this yet, but received some feedback from other students. Some liked the insets, others weren’t so sure.

Paul’s work makes the ignored divides in American society visible by using whited out (overexposed) images of the poor, interspersed with full colour images of affluent housing (without people). The whiting out asks a visual question and the full colour images drive home the answer. Towards the end of the work, street portraits of the poor in full colour add a second assault to the senses.

© Paul Graham, source: paulgrahamarchive.com

There is a similar idea that I’m trying to convey in my BoW – marginal landscapes that are shaped by culture but not often represented in images of place, which tend to be more interested in the spectacular or the pastoral. A kind of denial or ignoring of their existence that misrepresents space and therefore culture. Making things seem brighter than they are – ignoring the darker corners. When shooting an old building yesterday, a passerby asked, ‘what’s over there then?’. When I explained, he jokingly commented ‘ah, each to his own with weird photography’.

Having sat with my ‘insets’ for a while, I have a number of concerns:

  • Scale is required for visibility – this is likely to be difficult to achieve in the world after lockdown and for any digital assessment of the work.
  • I thought that the insets were an effective way of disrupting the linear, having been unconvinced by using diptyches. However, Paul’s work successfully does this in a succession of images in a book, along with his over-exposure motif.
  • Condensing two images into one does not allow them to breath and perhaps hinders a viewer being able to reflect upon them – too much going on in one space.

Graham’s work has given me the cue to look at other options, including how I might work in book form, which also allows digital contactless sharing.

Quick refs

Photoshop x-book Zine

After the Zine workshop yesterday (https://oca3.fitzgibbonphotography.com/red-eye-online-zine-workshop/), I made a Photoshop template by dividing a A4 blank document using guides, drawing squares for the pages and converting them to smart objects so images could be added to size later. I worked out the orientation for the numbers by making a blank x-book, numbering it, and then opening it out to see the numbering on a flat page; used this to add numbering/orientation in PS.

My xbook zine template in Photoshop

I made a quick x-book with some images from A2. It’s the featured image for this post. I wasn’t aiming for a high quality output, but something that I can keep to hand and reflect on the development of the work. It is already helping!

Red Eye – online Zine workshop

This week, I enjoyed an online Zine workshop hosted by the RedEye network and delivered by Shy Bairns (artist collaborative). Good to see a couple of other OCAers there too! It was a 30 minute demo of making a folded book. Similar to the one in the embed below.

I’ve made these in the past as well as bound books, so I learned nothing new. But it did remind me how much I enjoyed making these things and that one of my intentions when beginning BoW was to produce tangible items, rather than just digital images or straight prints.

I’ve dug out my reference books (making handmade books, Alisa Golden and Self Publish Be Happy, Bruno Ceschel) to read through on this wintery summer’s day and will be making something while the weather keeps me indoors!

Quick refs

https://www.shybairns.co.uk

Paul Graham’s ‘mistake’

The course material discusses Paul Graham’s over-exposure mistake that triggered his concept for his work American Night. Graham describes the work as a way of representing America’s fractured society. It occurs to me now with current events, that the overexposure can be read as whiting out and blindness through white privilege.

© Paul Graham, source: paulgrahamarchive.com

I am asked whether I’ve ever made a mistake that I didn’t know how to recover and then, what would I do to turn it into something useful.

I’ve made mistakes in life and allow myself to make mistakes as part of learning. However, I find it difficult to recall many photographic mistakes. I think this is because shooting with a modern mirrorless camera it is difficult for a mistake to get to the point beyond redemption , unless one is not paying attention. Even if something is poorly framed, there can be a change for a second bite of the cherry. There are many in camera aids, such as accurate spot-metering that it is difficult to make catastrophic photos, even if it is easy to making uninspiring ones! I have on more than one occasion dashed out with a camera only to find that it was missing a battery – but there is simply no photography then.

The course material goes onto to discuss another mistake involving light sensitive photographic paper. These kind of mistakes just can’t happen with inkjet paper.

Perhaps my mistake is over-control. If I improvise on the guitar a mistake is spontaneous and out in the world; I play through it or play on it to make something fresh. I’m not sure that this situation can be replicated on a digital camera, unless shooting blind. For street photography in the past, I’ve set the camera on manual exposure and focus and rolled with it, just stopping every now and then to check settings, which gave some interesting exposures. But I’m not sure that level of inconsistency would be welcome for work during this course. Of course, Paul Graham made a mistake and then applied it consistently to a whole series of images, so it was no longer a mistake.

When I do make mistakes, I try to use them to explore ways that may not have previously occurred to me. That I rarely make mistakes with a digital camera could mean that I’m treading too carefully with it.

Back at it

Back onto BoW after a long time away for various reasons. Still have plenty of time to finish, my original plan was to have been done by now! C’est la vie.

Good to be back out shooting yesterday. A long walk to Winterburn Reservoir in the Dales – built by the Victorians, as traffic volumes increased, to replenish the canal from its high point. The reservoir features on Historic England’s website as an unusual example of canal waterworks being given the architectural treatment. I thought about the navvies who built the reservoirs and canals – it’s difficult to find out much about them, but they started work as young as 7 years old and seem to be just a footnote against the great works of civil engineering.

I walked through a field of horses on the high ground – I later read that the livery yard had complained to the Canal & River Trust about the reservoir leaking onto and ruining large areas of crazing land. Reflecting on my dissertation as I walked, I decided it would be wise to let it sit for a while and make final adjustments to reflect the experience of shooting the BoW.

I took a few shots from the wrong end of the reservoir from an isolated private field. A morning’s work for a few photos! I think one is a keeper and will include it in A3. When processing, I discovered that I’m now running Photoshop 2020 so had a look into the improved functionality and had a bit of a play with it.

Discussion point: chance encounters

The course material asks if there is anything I feel compelled to do but cannot see a way to incorporate it into my project. It also asks whether I would be comfortable using opportunistic encounters in my work.

I would like to incorporate portraits into the work – they rely on chance encounters along the sparsely peopled canal and so far, I’ve had few opportunities. With the current direction of work focusing on alternative perspectives on space, location or activities would also be important. I also would need landscape orientation to fit with my picture-in-picture presentation that I’ve become keen on. So far I have a few portraits from the canal but have not yet used them. The question reminds me that I should redouble efforts in this area!

Staged photo: man using canal as footpath with shopping. We talked for a while and I asked for a photo.

I’m comfortable using opportunistic encounters as I’ve done a lot of street photography in the past.

A2.BoW: The same place, a different perspective

Assignment two of B0W comes an eternity after A1 – last year a business project made it near impossible for me to visit the canal. This year, the first few months were a washout then, as I was about to restart, Covid-19 lockdown. It’s not all been wasted time, as I’ve completed the contextual studies module and have my final tutorial tomorrow. This has filled my head with ideas for taking the BoW forward, which is what A2 is about.

This assignment submission includes, seven composite images, a draft artist’s statement and self-reflection.

The images

Click to view images in full screen

A2 -1

Image 1 of 7

Artist statement (v1)

The same place, a different perspective

The canal was quieter than I’d imagined, short of people. They’d sometimes jog by in go-faster lycra or race past with bell-less bicycles, claiming towpath territory with their speed and metal. Those on boats are in private spaces, floating living rooms or holiday homes; a space where gongoozlers are suspected as if  strangers lurking in front gardens. But the 200 year old waterway carries signs of culture as it joins people, places  and times along its watery flow. De-industrialisation and ruins, relics of the UK as the ‘workshop of the world’ preserved as heritage, the signs of making-do in an absent “knowledge economy”; the sprawl of bland mass development bloating the commuter belt. Most visible of all, is the normalisation and regulation of the canal as a place of leisure.

In my photographs, I have used a series of pictures-in-pictures to disturb linear perspectives of space and to consider how the canal is shaped and contested through culture. The photographs are not objective, they contain exaggerated elements that counter popular (mis)representations of the canal as a pastoral leisure space.

Self-reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (30%)

Use of PS techniques to isolate image elements by adding contrast and intensifying colours – particularly to the non-picturesque images. Use of PS techniques to exaggerate the picturesque in the pastoral-like images, including bringing out reflections in water.

Use of picture-in-picture design to break linear perspective (what I’d referred to as the ‘tyranny of linear perspective’ in my dissertation) and draw out conflicting narratives in the landscape. Attention to design layout to ensure consistency across image series.

Quality of outcome – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)

This assignment is a stage in BoW, therefore a work in progress. I’m happy with how I’m starting to visually interpret the concepts explored in my dissertation. Presentation is only images on a blog at this stage, but I’m also printing the work so I can begin to think about presentation as the work evolves.

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (30%)

While away from working on the canal, I’ve been making images with an iPhone and manipulating them with apps. This has acted as a point of departure from straight photography towards using it to express an interpretation of subjects without being overly mindful of the referent. I’m embracing the possibility of photography’s creation of a ‘new and distinct reality’.

Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (20%)

Much detailed research and contextual thinking has been a part of my dissertation work (final draft emailed separately to BoW tutor). I’m now beginning to assimilate that into the visual and package some of it into a brief artist’s statement.

Connective waters

The materiality of water was discussed in my dissertation – as a connecting flow between people and places and in terms of an existential relationship with humankind. I had the idea of using a picture-in-picture approach to connecting water visually to what I photograph on the canal. Water, becoming a connecting theme visually, as well as a connecting sociogeographic aspect.

An experiment involving Iron Bru is below.

The Bru trumps the pastoral. While reflective water is beautiful (as is a sunset), we perhaps don’t need more photos of it to remind us.
Bru as an aside to the pastoral. This way round, the less photographed are marginalised – I read as litter spoiling the view, rather than look at the litter (or other less beautiful object).

Perhaps this is an interesting way to showcase the important spoils of activity connected along a watery flow. It also allows for a less straight approach to the work, which I find more difficult when dealing with a ‘natural’ landscape.

Could be a way forward for A2. Will need to work up a PS template file to ensure a consistent layout.

Escaping linear perspective?

‘We suffer from the tyranny of linear perspective’ and it is as problematic unpicking meaning from what we see in the world as it is from representations in images. I’ve explored in words the idea that space is shaped from culture and is contested and normalised by dominant narratives. How might this be represented in images?

I’ve experimented with the idea of unpicking meaning through composite images. This is as much about testing process as outcome at this stage.

Privatisation of the canal bank and alternative lifestyles: image blending

Urban development : simple collage using PS layers
De-industrialisation: using found image, resizing and perspective warp, blending

I’ll put this out for comment before taking it further – could be an approach to A2 BoW as a play on the thinking in my CS A5. These test images are still more or less straight images – I’ll experiment further with more extreme collages. There is perhaps a connection to Dada in the thinking – a protest against the normalisation of space?

Quick refs

CS A5 | Self-reflection

A5 is a significant refinement of A4 – I don’t like to think about hours work input to this, but with Covid-19 lockdown at least time has been more on my side than normal. I had planned to get out shooting for BoW put after some deliberation decided to wait out lockdown until I can return to the canal, rather than reimagine the BoW. I think that is now going to be okay.

I’ve submitted A5 for tutor feedback and have a meeting scheduled for next week to discuss. I’m slightly over word count plus 10%, but will address that after discussion. I’m pleased with A5 (and hope I still am next week!). The organisation and flow has been reworked and the theme tightened. I read it with a sense of being more or less done, in contrast to A4 which I felt was a good start but needed more work.

I need to update my literature review to reflect the final direction of the dissertation and the works I ended up placing more emphasis on. I think some of the original review contents perhaps didn’t make it into the final draft of the dissertation – a sign of how far the work as evolved. I’ll do this after next week’s feedback, so it is all still relatively fresh.

The self-reflection is below – a bit odd since it become reflection upon reflection upon draft upon draft. To help me understand the progress, I’ve just updated A4 comments with red text.

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding – Broad and comparative understanding of subject content; knowledge of the appropriate historical, intellectual, cultural or institutional contexts (25%).

Additional research was carried out around the narratives of crime, death and regeneration, which sat outside the narratives covered in A4 – odd befellows in a liminal space! I also tracked down a reasonable priced copy of Rob Shield’s Places on the Margin and read that. It provided not fresh put additional impetus to existing content. What I found more personally rewarding was additional research on de-industrialisation and its impact. This generated interesting parallels with navvies and counterpoints with industrial heritage.

My research folder contains over 200 references to various books and other media that have all been considered in the dissertation. While academic materials in relation to cultural geography were readily available, canal specific materials were challenging to find – other than engineering based ones. However, with some determination, I did track down a PhD dissertation based around living on a boat as a main dwelling; research into social / health concerns of travelling communities (including boatees); and a book of essays concerned with ‘thinking with water’. I’ve also drawn in broader cultural references to illustrate the difficulties in locating meaning.

Demonstration of research skills – Information retrieval and organisation; use of IT to assist research; ability to evaluate IT sources; the ability to design and carry out a research project, locate and evaluate evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources (visual, oral, aural or textual) (25%).

Not much more to add here – I’ve become very comfortable with research tools and using them to help my assimilation and analysis. This is a long way from when I first started, when I felt slightly overwhelmed by the huge amounts of disparate information on a wide range of subjects. The pain of photography being about everything! I’m also grateful for the automation this allows when creating citations and a bibliography in Word!

I continued using Zotero to organise and retrieve information. However, I took some time to restructure my folders to fit the various framed narratives in my work; eg canal, visual culture, industrial heritage (originally around essay chapters, which enforced a linearity to thinking and blocked creativity). I also, increased the level of tagging of material to aid retrieval and came up with the idea of ‘meta-tagging’ to flag items that might be included as quotes for example. Zotero has also acted as a store for my reading notes.

Because it is such a large element of my academic activity, I’ve reintroduced a separate page about my research folder to this blog.

Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – Engagement with concepts, values and debates; evidence of analysis, reflection, critical thinking, synthesis, interpretation in relation to relevant issues and enquiries (25%). 

The focus has been tightened and refined significantly in A5. It has evolved to link the culture in visual to the culture in geography and reflect upon the source of polysemy in images. I think doing the additional research and then letting things sit for a while helped me. I came back with fresh eyes and energy. One acid test is that my wife said she found it very interesting (being from Lancashire, being blunt rather than nice is her default mode). The second acid test comes from the Evertonian next week.

The dissertation is critiques hegemonic perspectives on space and how power is used to shape meanings. It evaluates representation and the filters at work when meaning is attached to place. I believe it brings in relevant cultural and sociological materials concerning the specific us of a canal as space, but these also have a wider application.

Communication – The ability to communicate ideas and knowledge in written and spoken form, including presentation skills (25%).

I think that the formal presentation will remain in writing. However, it is interesting to begin to think how snapshots of it might be brought into spoken communication, alongside the photography perhaps.

Assignment is in draft written form. I have yet considered how this might be formally presented – something to start thinking during A5 work.

Dissertation – and next, preparing for A5

Having received positive feedback for A4 (the dissertation 1st draft), I’ve continued reflecting on the next steps in my process, what I found challenging and what I might do differently for the next draft.

While I’m used to reporting writing and editing in a business context, the experience beyond the basic skills of written language, seems of limited use when it comes to an academic dissertation. The dissertation is a creative, messy, open process that requires synthesis of different ideas and the expression on my own voice, while substantiating what I say with references, without drowning out what I have to say.

Here’s my 10 step route map:

  1. Collect additional reference material (areas suggested worth further research in my tutorial)
  2. Update PPS&Q (problem purpose statements & research questions) – a useful technique I came across online (https://cecilebadenhorst.wordpress.com/carnegie-african-diaspora-workshops/problempurpose-statements-ppsqs/) – I’ll make a fresh mindmap based on my first draft for this.
  3. Refresh outline of essay (mind map)
  4. Work through next edit of dissertation in one sitting and avoid editing at this stage – I realise that I wasted time editing draft 1 as I went along, which interrupted my flow and also gave time to areas ultimately dropped.
  5. Leave rework of introduction until after main body – most difficult part and since it needs to sign-post direction of work, makes more sense leaving it.
  6. Let sit for a while
  7. Hard critical edit
  8. Write conclusions
  9. Hard critical edit 2
  10. Proof reading and submission (in advance of 9th June tutorial)