‘There are two fundamentals in all picture taking – where to stand and when to release the shutter … so photography is very simple.’
(Jay & Hurn, 2001, p.37)
So photography is simply viewpoint and moment… but what about subject? The simplest subject is the moment. You can record the moment with a snapshot, but when you review the photograph later you find you didn’t actually record the moment, you just recorded the ‘event of photography’.
It might take a very long time to simplify the whole world and its infinite framings into a subject that makes sense to you. Robert Adams said, ‘Sooner or later one has to ask of all pictures what kind of life they promote’ (Grundberg, 1999, p.34). For now, though, you should just feel comfortable with your subject. It should say something about you and, in the end, you like it!
The final assignment is an open brief. Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject exploring the theme ‘Photography is Simple’. Each photograph should be a unique view; in other words, it should contain some new information, rather than repeat the information of the previous image.
In your assignment notes explore how you think you’ve answered the brief. This is a chance for a little philosophical reflection. EYV student Tor Burridge:
‘I have reconsidered my standpoint that fundamentally photography is simple. When I shoot for the pure enjoyment of it photography does indeed feel simple. But really it is the product of layers of knowledge – on composition, on light, the technicalities of my camera. It is also inevitably influenced by the work of others, the subtle lessons that I have unknowingly committed to memory about angles and viewpoints. So taking into consideration the effects of context, the mindset of the viewer and also the subtleties of what influences a photographer to make an image in a particular way, I think it can be concluded that photography is simple – until it isn’t.’
Make sure you word process and spellcheck your notes as QWE (the Quality of Written English) is an important part of presentation. Include a ‘Harvard’ bibliography to reference your reading and research for this assignment. The quality of your references and how deeply you’ve responded to them is more important than the quantity.
You may like to request a video tutorial for this assignment. As well as the opportunity to discuss the development and/or resolution of the assignment work, your tutor will be able to answer any questions you may have on assessment and progression to the next unit.
Photography is simple
In 1886 George Eastman released a new camera (Eastman Kodak Camera) and an iconic advertising slogan ‘You press the button and we do the rest’. His business model was based on the idea that photography had the potential to go mass market if the process of both taking and developing the film, was simplified. The claim ‘to do the rest’ took care of developing the film (and buying a new one) as both a new roll (installed in the camera) and the prints and negatives were sent back to the customer. The service was a huge success and Kodak became an iconic brand that developed many of photography’s innovations for decades to come.
The notion that photography was simply about pressing the button has persisted throughout the history of photographic marketing and concepts-the iconic Polaroid was based on the same idea, only this time speeding up the development of photographs and providing instant gratification. Mobile phone manufacturers soon included a camera on their phones and compete with each other based on the quality of the phones with each model release. The combination of integrating a camera into a mobile phone and the means to broadcast images to platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Flickr etc, sharing what they had for lunch to exposing police brutality or political strife-all with the click / tap of a button, means photography or image-making is more ubiquitous than ever before.
For me, photography can be simple or not. One thing is certain though, whether it’s a ‘snapshot’ or a planned and expertly executed image, the fact that that that particular moment of time has been frozen and is there for all to see from that moment onwards has always drawn me in. Our lives are framed by time-from our first breath till we die, and a photograph is a window into the past that leaves us to reflect on what went before and what came after, a window into many worlds albeit frozen one moment at a time. As I write this piece, I have a box of old photographs on my desk, rescued from my mother’s apartment after she passed away-they take me across the generations into her world, people, places, things- this is a fundamental ‘gift’ of photography that inspires me to photograph on a daily basis.
When I started this course I came into it with preconceived notions about photography including (not exhaustive!), that all photographs were documents of truth, decisive moments were a higher calling and to be pursued, and photographs must be ‘tack sharp’. After doing the assignments and immersing myself in different points of view, this has now changed. In ‘Photography A very short introduction’ Steve Edwards talks about the interpretation of photographs, he says, ‘Jeff Wall provided a good formulation for this conundrum when he said there are two prominent myths about photography: the myth that it tells the truth and the myth that it doesn’t…Alan Sekula has suggested, however, that, at least, for intellectuals and media professionals, in the contemporary ideological climate these myths do not hold the same cultural weight: the old myth that photographs tell the truth, he suggests ‘has succumbed to the new myth that they don’t’ ‘ (Edwards 2006: 117)
When making photographs my decision to select a moment is personal and this combination of moments, frame, lens choice, aperture, ISO, and composition has infinite permutations, and I never tire of playing with that fact. I don’t see photography like Michael Schmidt or subscribe to the view as expressed in his interview “Thoughts About My Way of Working” where he comments, ‘I prefer black and white photography because it guarantees the viewer a maximum amount of neutrality within the limits of the medium. It reduces and neutralizes the coloured world to a finely nuanced range of greys, thus precluding an individual way of seeing (personal colour tastes) by the viewer. This means that the viewer is able to form an objective opinion about the image from a neutral standpoint independent of his subjective colour perception. He is thus not emotionally distracted. In order to achieve a maximum of objectivity and thus create a photograph which possesses credibility and authenticity as a document (factual information), I prefer to work with neutral diffused light, i.e. to produce an image without noticeable shadows.’. ( https://americansuburbx.com accessed March 2021). This for me is too extreme a point of view and limiting in terms of the creative possibilities that photography has to offer. Like most things it’s a balance and ‘the most productive way to view photographs is to hang on to the contradiction or tension between the two myths’. (Edwards 2006: 117). One could easily substitute ‘view’ for ‘create’.
To answer the brief, I choose ‘Bread Making’ as my subject, as like photography and making images, it is relatively easy to get started but more difficult to master. Bread is made from flour, water and natural yeast. A simple bread can be made quite quickly and produce reasonable results but it requires lots of practice and in-depth knowledge of different combinations of flour and hydration- also known as the ‘baker’s percentage’- to produce complex flavours and types of bread-nutty, sour, light, heavy etc. The sourdough starter is the camera, flours are the lenses, water the aperture, and the time dough is left to prove is the durational element that determines the character of the final bread.
I decided to isolate and show different moments and tools of the bread-making process using different lighting arrangements to add dimensionality and atmosphere to the shots. Each image was considered and I applied my photographic knowledge to the process. To further answer the brief, I also took a series of polaroid images in parallel, based on the notion that ‘photography is simple’ so I simply pointed the camera and pressed the button to release the shutter. All images were done in black and white to both lend atmosphere and make use of the lighting and shadows and the spaces in-between.
Before I did this course I would never have considered bread-making as a subject, and would have been looking for ‘decisive moments’ to photograph-instances pregnant with meaning, but as Nick Waplington’s opined in the ‘The Indecisive Memento’ ” …yet his idea of the decisive moment, in which you have one chance to capture an image and you either get it or you miss it, seems dated. We live in a post-modern age where non-moments have become as relevant as moments. Everything has validity and yet this idea of the decisive moment is still given credence within photographic circles. What I’m trying to do is address this preconception and say that every and any moment works. You can take a picture of anything and it still holds resonance. If you like, it’s a Beuysian understanding of the world where the indecisive or chance encounters of life have become the decisive act.” (Walpington: 2001 18) and so by abandoning the Cartier-Bresson notion of decisive moments, I have been able to expand my creative pallet and consider creative moments I didn’t before. I was also struck by Guido Guidi, and his comment that “All moments are decisive – and none…after all, a photograph is a frame, and if you put a frame in the picture, you are suggesting that this is not the whole world, that there is something outside…“.(https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/nov/05/guido-guidi-interview-photographs-suburban-italy Accessed 1/06/2021)
Creativity & Reflection
I shot in black and white and used combinations of lighting, sometimes one, sometimes two, to add dimensionality through the use of shadow. I also used different lenses and apertures to selectively highlight different parts of a photo. As a set of photographs, I paid attention to achieve visual consistency and tried to incorporate large areas of ‘black space’ whenever possible. I had a rough plan of what I wanted to achieve but the detail and actual shots unfolded once I started and got into the workflow of reviewing my contact sheets, selecting or re-shooting, printing and living with the shots for a few days before making a selection of which shots to include in the series. Using the polaroid camera and resulting photographs was an interesting experience. A polaroid camera is very basic but the act of taking the image, getting the physical photograph immediately coupled with the aesthetic of the medium, sometimes meant that I preferred the ‘simple’ result over the considered and crafted images.
I printed out my selected images and they follow the bread-making process in terms of the sequence. The polaroids follow the same logic and for the most part, are shots of the same setup-but just as you can never step in the same river twice, the flow of time means no two photographs can ever be the same but the meaning is communicated well enough. The images are personal to me in that I made the creative choices and decided what to show within the frame, but once released into the world they will find their own way, and that’s another gift of photography, all those moments, frozen, waiting to discovered and or triggering a response in the present.
In terms of displaying the series, I would envisage hanging the series horizontally in the sequence at https://blog.andyofarrell.com/?page_id=3054 but printed larger so they are life-size and at eye level. I would want the viewer to feel they can almost reach out and touch the subject and would include the polaroid series and print them in a small book for viewers to take as a memento (if they wanted).
Overall I’m happy with the outcome in terms of creativity, craft and workflow. There is a durational aspect of living with photographic output and I may feel different in a few weeks or months when I come back and see them through new layers of learning and experience. But for now, I’m content with the output and where it has taken me.
Further reflection based on tutor feedback
Upon reflection, and having lived with the photos for a longer period, I feel I partly achieved what I set out to do. The polaroids didn’t work out the way I intended as I wanted to mimic each photograph in the series with a similar polaroid and highlight the difference between a well-composed and planned image versus one where I just pressed the button. Two things held this concept back, the first was that mimicking a well-composed image is, well, mimicking a well-composed image just with a different camera. The second was it became quite expensive as I changed my mind after reviewing my contact sheets and sometimes had to recreate the composition. In the final analysis, it is either or-either the A4 prints or a sequence done just in polaroid-that in itself would be a good challenge pushing a polaroid camera to its limits. I would not add further images to the sequence but have swapped out two images to give it more coherence and balance (image 4 & 5).
I did the series in black and white to enable me to highlight each aspect of the bread-making process and use lots of negative/black space to isolate each part. I felt it suited the subject matter well-the white flour, starter, utensils etc. and using flash and different lighting combinations enabled me to experiment and highlight texture, contrast, shadows and tones, helping me achieve some lovely prints.
The printing of the images was done by hand on Hahnemuhle FineArt InkJet Paper Photo Rag in conjunction with a Photoshop high-pass sharpening technique. I enjoyed the whole process, craft, and workflow immensely-starting out with an idea, developing it, and then having something real to touch and hang on the wall,-it taught me that the craft of photography is about the entire workflow and how one part builds upon the other.
For the presentation and sequence of the final images, I envision presenting them using life-size light-boxes (a nod to Jeff Wall) aligned horizontally and at eye level following the bread-making process.
Berger, J, 2013, Understanding a Photograph,London, Penguin Classics
Berger,J, 2008, Ways of Seeing, London,Penguin Books
Edwards,Steve, 2006, Photography A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press
Higgins, C, 2018, Interview Guido Guidi https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/nov/05/guido-guidi-interview-photographs-suburban-italy (Accessed 01/05/2021)
Salkeld, R, 2020, Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images, Oxford, Routledge
Schmidt, M, 2010, https://americansuburbx.com/2010/10/michael-schmidt-thoughts-about-my-way-of-working-1979.html (accessed Dec 5th 2020)Waplinton, N, 1998, The Indecisive Momento, London, Booth-Clibborn EditionsWell,L, 2019, The Photgraphy Reader history and theory, Oxford, Routledge