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Introduction

I was made redundant from my role as a Senior Claims Negotiator in the City of London.  Although I had worked in Insurance for 20 years, I became disillusioned with the industry, and it became apparent that I wished to pursue another path. 

I have always enjoyed taking photographs and had an eye for detail, which I was able to capture on the old point and shoot digital cameras.  However, it was during a holiday to Iceland that my interest in photography really started.  Partly due to my husband and I being competitive and wanting to take the best photograph. I found that although I was able to take ‘good holiday snaps’, I was unable to capture the essence of Iceland, reflect its incredible beauty and ever changing scenery. 

Once we returned I took an online photography course, which I completed and was awarded a Diploma in Photography.  The Diploma was based on theory alone, with no practical work being submitted.  Following this course I continued my interest in photography, through mainly taking photographs of wildlife and pets.  I found that the more I learnt how to use the different settings on a DSLR camera together with the post production of RAW files in Lightroom, the more I was able to convey the scene at that moment in time.  This has culminated in me wanting to take my photography to the next level, through learning different styles and genres.

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Assignment 3 – The (in)decisive moment

Brief

Create a set of between six and ten finished images on the theme of the decisive moment.  You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’ or you may choose to question or invert the concept by presenting a series of ‘indecisive’ moments.  Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, event or particular period of time.

Decisive Moment

After researching some photographers I decided that I wanted to try something different to the usual street scenes for this assignment. Coinciding with this assignment I discovered that a traditional steam fair was going to be in the area. I thought that this would make quite a different and challenging setting for my assignment. I wanted to create a photographic series capturing peoples reactions and expressions in an unusual but fun scenario. After walking around the fair I decided that I wanted to concentrate on the reactions of people on the Waltz.

Although my original location changed the overall concept stayed the same. I wanted to pick out people from the crowd. I found that Philip-Lorca DiCorcias was very influential to me in this photographic series. Similarly he took the concept of street photography down a different path choosing to concentrate on the individual rather an entire street scene. His work had an intimate voyeuristic element to it. The individuals he photographed were unaware their image was being captured leaving them unguarded with a natural expression reflecting their personality and inner thoughts.

This type of street photography is in contrast to that of Henri Cartier Bresson, who tended to capture images of groups of people behaving naturally rather than picking out an individual. However, both photographers tried to make themselves merge into the background allowing them to capture peoples natural behaviour, rather than the subject being aware that they are being photographed which naturally leads to the subject posing.

Although Henri Cartier-Bresson and Philip-Lorca DiCorcia tried to stay unnoticed when capturing their images I took a slightly different approach. Because this event was a family event and there would be a number of children around, I decided to take on board something that Don McCullin highlighted in his exhibition at the Tate. Don McCullin would ensure he was noticed by his subject prior to taking their photograph as a way to obtain their permission.

‘… he nevertheless describes having sought approval from his subjects, ensuring that he was close enough to his subjects that they knew they were being photographed; even trying to look them in the eye to gain their tacit permission.’ (Mavlian, 2019:15)

Having this in the back of my mind I made myself obvious to the people on the rides as they got on. I did this so that any parents or teenagers may approach me and ask for their images/images of their children to be deleted. However, I didn’t feel that being obvious in this situation altered peoples reactions once the rides started due to the speed of the ride combined with their adrenaline and excitement.

In order to capture the images I was looking for, I remembered Philip-Lorca Dicorcia saying in the Youtube video we were directed to watch in our course literature, that he set up his focal range and then waited for people to enter the focal range in order to capture the image. This is something I had taken onboard. Prior to the ride starting I set the focal range with a high shutter speed and then released the shutter when a cart entered the focal range. To enable me to do this without changing my focal point I used back button focus.

One thing that I had not realized on the day was that the in camera Noise Reduction had been switched off resulting in the images containing more noise in the shadows than anticipated. When processing the images I was only able to increase the shadows by a fraction in Lightroom as it was altering the skin tone. However, I was able to increase the shadows in Photoshop allowing me to maintain the skin colour.

Fun at the Fair

Reflection

Whilst I do not feel these images are as successful as my previous assignment I believe I have managed to achieve what I had set out to capture and have obtained some good images.

As discussed previously when processing the images I struggled slightly with bringing up the shadows and reducing the noise. This is due to the in camera noise reduction being switched off in error. Although I restricted the ISO to ISO 2000 normally the D850 can handle a higher ISO without too much of a problem. This mistake challenged my processing skills and I learnt a new way to increase the shadows in Photoshop without damaging the skin tone too much, which is a useful skill to learn.

If the steam fair had been in the area for longer I would have spent more than one afternoon there focusing purely on the Waltz. This would have allowed me to review the images at home enabling me to to pick up on any errors, for example the Noise Reduction being switched off, and to see where I could improve when I returned.

I took a large amount of photographs during this assignment. I did this, so that if the images from the Waltz didn’t come out how I envisaged I would have images from various rides to use. Due to the limited time I had I was acutely aware that this was a one time opportunity to use the fairground for the scene of my assignment and I effectively created a back up photographic series.

I found the light quite challenging as the daylight ranged from bright sunlight to very dark cloudy overcast light. The artificial lighting on the Waltz was created by warm incandescent lighting in contrast. I wanted to capture the effect of the warm lighting on the ride so I decided to set my white balance to midday sun without any clouds using a grey card. I feel that this has come out well without making the skin tone of the subjects too yellow/orange.

Overall this assignment has been quite challenging for me. I have not used shutter priority on the D850 before and struggled with the lack of control I have had with the aperture not allowing me to choose the exact depth of field I would have liked and envisaged for my image.

I have made a significant improvement in my confidence when it came to photographing strangers on the street. However, I still have a way to go before truly start to relax.

Contact Sheet – Waltz

Bibliography

Mavlian S
(2019)
Don McCullin
London
Tate Enterprising Ltd

Robert Frank

I came across the work of Robert Franks while researching street photography.  Robert Frank took a different approach to other photographers.  He photographed the everyday mundane drudgery of life, without setting up any compositions in the way that Walker Evans did, although Robert Franks did work alongside Walker Evans earlier on in his career.

Trolley, New Orleans

Fig. 1.

The image above was taken just before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person.  The image clearly shows the separation in America between White people and Black people at a turning point in America’s history. 

The people on the bus appear to be aware that their photograph is about to be taken with everyone looking at camera except the lady in the last window.  The two children in the middle of the frame draw your eye in straight away with the girls white top. You are then drawn to the man in the window to the right of the children who has a a lacklustre to his expression.  He looks tired and browbeaten almost demoralized and in despair.

In the City of London, you are herded onto public transport and packed in like cattle.  Some people make friends who travel on the same transport at the same time ending up in a huddled group chatting.  Others just stare out the window watching the world go by as they try to switch off from work with normally with a blank/vacant expression on their face. This would be a possible image to consider when photographing in the City, either on a bus, train or tube.

Canal Street, New Orleans

Fig. 2.

The above image is of a busy street in New Orleans. Franks has used a dark black and white tonal range in this image. By using the darker tonal range the detail in the shop window has merged into the background and does not cause a distraction from the passers by. It has also created a separation between the passersby and the backdrop allowing your eye to concentrate on the people in the crowd. The framing of the image also conveys the hustle and bustle of the street. Franks has not worried about people being chopped by the frame leaving your imagination to continue out adding more people to the scene. The height that he has taken the image also creates a deep pavement that is approximately 3 to 4 people deep reinforcing the how busy the scene is as you are unable to see he whole face or body of each passerby. Although this could be seen as a mundane image it captures a social aspect and fashions of the time.

Former actress Edna Wallace Hopper, now in her mid-80s, exiting Wall Street subway en route to her office, NYC

Fig. 3. 

I’ve picked up on the above image as one of the images I am considering trying to capture is of the City workers coming out of the Underground on their way to work or home depending on the time of day I choose to take my images.

In the image Franks has positioned himself slightly to the right of the center of the subway exit, which has allowed people to walk straight up the stairs rather than having to separate in order to walk around Franks. The angle he has used looking down into the ticket hall allows fractions of the detail from the ticket machine and booth in the highlights informing you if what is h=behind without creating a distraction. By looking down into the subway when taking the image everyone is on different elevations, which draws the eye down and then back up to the forefront of the image.

Illustrations

Fig. 1.
Frank R
(1955)
Trolley, New Orleans
[Photograph]
https://www.phillips.com/article/15343481/through-his-lens-robert-frank-s-america
(Accessed 7 June 2019 2019)

Fig. 2.
Frank R
(1956)
Canal Street, New Orleans
[Photograph]
https://www.danzigergallery.com/exhibitions/robert-frank-s-america?view=slider#17
(Accessed 7 June 2019 2019)

Fig. 3.
Frank R
(1953)
Former actress Edna Wallace Hopper, now in her mid-80s, exiting Wall Street subway en route to her office, NYC
[Photograph]
http://www.howardgreenberg.com/artists/robert-frank?view=slider#7
(Accessed 7 June 2019 2019)

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer who documented social change through his photography.  He was inspired to take photography seriously after he saw a photograph by Martin Munkácsi titled ‘Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika’ saying ‘I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant’ (Pogrebin 2007, cited in Wikapedia, 2019)

Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika, circa 1930

Fig. 1.

He used a Leica 50mm covering up the shiny parts of the camera to enable him to remain anonymous in the crowds.  He wanted to stay anonymous, so that he could capture peoples natural behaviour rather than those who are aware of the photographer tending to alter their behaviour, composure and expression.

Henri Cartier-Bresson used a Leica camera with 50mm prime lens for his work. He would cover the shiny parts of the camera so that it would not glint or reflect the light drawing attention to himself. By doing this he was able to merge into the background allowing him to capture peoples natural expressions, reactions and behaviour.

Henri Cartier-Bresson explains his approach to photography as questions and expressions.

“For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.” Cartier-Bresson H (s.d.)

His first photojournalist images to be published were of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.  During this event he took a different route and did not take any photographs of the Royal Couple, but instead concentrated on the crowds lining the streets.

GREAT BRITAIN. London. Coronation of King George VI. 12 May 1937

Fig. 2.

Henri Cartier-Bresson sets the scene leading up to the above photograph saying:

People had waited all night in Trafalgar Square in order not to miss any part of the coronation ceremony of George VI. Some slept on benches and others on newspapers. The next morning, one who was wearier than the others, had not yet wakened to see the ceremony for which he had kept such a late vigil.’ Cartier-Bresson (s.d.)

The image shows the public in the morning, prior to the coronation of King George VI, stood on a London Monument with a sea of newspapers strewn across the floor. Some members of the public are stood up while others are sat on the edge of the monument. There is one gentleman asleep on the ground in front of the monument.

Cartier-Bresson has captured a moment of anticipation in the air prior to the Royal Family arriving for the Coronation. You can feel the anticipation in their air by the different directions people are looking and craning their heads attempting to get their first glimpse of the Royal Procession. The exception to this is one little boy who appears to have spotted the camera and is looking directly at you.

The image informs you that you are witnessing the lead up to a special event, which will be covered by all news outlets, by a sea of newspapers discarded on the floor revealing that the spectators have been there for some time. Also at the foot of the monument there is a sleeping man, who had slept there overnight, not yet awoken when the image was taken. Both of these elements reinforce the the fact that this is the lead up to a special occasion.

The composition of the image is in the reverse to the more traditional composition. Although Cartier-Bresson has used the rule of thirds in this image he has positioned the main crowd in the top third, which would traditionally be the skyline. On the bottom third he has singled out the sleeping man, who is lying on a sea of newspapers with no other member of the public on his level in the bottom third. This has created a triangular tension drawing your eye across the top of the image along the crowd of people down to the sleeping man who is central in the bottom third, back to the crowd.

During the second World War Henri Cartier-Bresson was captured by the Germans and was put into a prisoner of war camp.  He made several attempts to escape from the camp and was finally successful on his third attempt. Following his escape, he worked secretly with others to document the occupation and liberation of France.  Post War, he was commissioned by the American Office of War to document the returning French prisoners and citizens who had fled.

In 1947 Henri Cartier-Bresson founded Magnum Photos, which is a cooperative agency owned by its members and still runs today. He set up Magnum Photos with Robert Capa, David Seymour, WIlliam Vandivert and George Rodger.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was assigned to India and China by Magnum Photos.  His assignment was to create a photographic essay on the country capturing its essence at a time of huge significant social change.  India had recently gained independence from Great Britain and had descended into unrest and violence splitting the country between Hindu’s and Muslim’s.  It was during this time that Mahatma Gandhi was campaigning for the end of the violence, most famously going on a hunger strike. 

Whilst Henri Cartier-Bresson was working on his photographic essay he had exclusive access to Gandhi, during which time Gandhi was assassinated. Henri Cartier-Bresson found himself witnessing a pivotal moment in India’s history.  He continued his assignment by documenting Gandhi’s funeral, which brought him international recognition. 

Two examples of his work during this assignment

INDIA. Delhi. 1948. GANDHI leaving Meherauli, a Moslem shrine. This is one of the last appearances between end of his fast and his death.

Fig. 3.

Although Henri Cartier-Bresson has placed Gandhi centrally in this image he is flanked by two woman, one of whom is carrying notebooks and an inkwell. They appear to be in deep conversation with Ghandi who has his head bowed down listening intently whilst holding on to the woman on their outer shoulders to him. The three of them are then further framed by scholars/followers. On the right side there is a soldier who is side on to the photographer and is facing away from the camera looking towards Gandhi. On the left side the two men framing the trio appear to also be listening intently to the conversation with the man on the right dipping his head slightly to listen.

By placing Gandhi in the center of the frame and framing him by other people Henri Cartier-Bresson has emphasized Gandhi as being the central figure in the image even though you don’t see his face in full due to his head being bowed own. This is further enhanced by the people flanking Gandhi looking at him drawing your attention to him as the central figure.

INDIA. Delhi. 1948. Crowds wait to pay last respects as GANDHI’s funeral cortege approaches the cremation ground.

Fig. 4.

Henri Cartier-Bresson has managed to obtain a high advantage point in order to capture this image of the crowds waiting to pay their last respects to Gandhi. You are immediately drawn to the group of men sat up in the tree on the right third of the frame, who have managed to obtain an advantage point for when the funeral cortege passes. Your eye is then drawn to the sea of people below them, starting at the forefront slowly moving the eye up to the horizon, across the frame and of the frame on the left side.

Henri Cartier-Bresson has not used a full depth of field in this image, but has kept just enough detail to define the outline of individuals in the crowd stretching back to the horizon, which then leads out of the frame. By not using a full depth of field he has avoided the image becoming too chaotic and overwhelming with fine detail, rather that he has used the depth of field more like brush strokes depicting many within the crowd stretching as far as the eye can see. He has also used the oval shape of the shade combined with the lean of the tree to the left to enhance the composition. This has created a curvature from left to right in the foreground, which then leads you up and around with the crowd, finally leading you out of the frame on the left side reinforcing the sense that the crowd stretched as far as the eye could see.

The chose of depth of field used by Henri Cartier-Bressons combined with the use of the shade in the composition and positioning of the tree, this image informs you that you are witnessing an outcry of national mourning and beyond, which will have a profound effect on the days, months and even years to come.

Illustrations

Fig. 1.
Munkácsi M
(Circa 1930)
Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika
[Photograph]
https://www.artnet.com/auctions/artists/martin-munk%C3%A1csi/three-boys-at-lake-tanganyika
(Accessed 16 May 2019)

Fig. 2.
Cartier-Bresson H
(1937)
GREAT BRITAIN. London. Coronation of King George VI. 12 May 1937
[Photograph]
https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2K1HRGRDL32
(Accessed 24 May 2019)

Fig. 3.
Cartier-Bresson H
(1948)
INDIA. Delhi. 1948. GANDHI leaving Meherauli, a Moslem shrine
[Photograph]
https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZO4902XL3R&SMLS=1&RW=1536&RH=754#/SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZO4902QM0I&SMLS=1&RW=1536&RH=754&PN=2
(Accessed 24 May 2019)

Fig. 4.
Cartier-Bresson H
(1948)
INDIA. Delhi. 1948. Crowds wait to pay last respects as GANDHI’s funeral cortege approaches the cremation ground.
[Photograph]
https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZO4902QM0I&SMLS=1&RW=1536&RH=754&PN=2#/SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZO4902QM0I&SMLS=1&RW=1536&RH=754&PN=1
(Accessed 24 May 2019)

Citations

Cartier-Bresson H
(s.d.)
https://mediastore.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN
(Accessed 24 May 2019)

Cartier-Bresson H
(s.d.)
https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2K1HRGRDL32
(Accessed 24 May 2019)

Wikipedia
(2019)
Henri Cartier-Bresson
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Cartier-Bresson
(Accessed 24 May 2019)