I have now had the feedback from my tutor on Assignment 3 – Monochrome. As usual it was highly constructive and identified several of the points that concerned me at the time of submission, which is good as it means that although I don’t always grasp how to deliver exactly what I want, I do at least recognize where some of the shortcomings may be. The focus of the feedback was on “the parts that I think you could grow in” and I’ve copied the relevant sections of the feedback and added my own responses below. I’ll be doing a couple more posts on specific aspects of this feedback, as I think for the first time I’m beginning to get a few things.
The main comment for me was “I found it a little lacking in conceptual coherence”. I understand this and I knew deep down that it was far from a tight concept from the outset, although I was never sure how to handle this. I was trying to introduce a narrative or at least a temporal sequence anyway, and produce images that went from the rusted out hulk through the stages of the journey from renovation to the final polished item, and I was trying to do this by focusing on close up detail as a different approach to the usual long shots. I wanted to explore the journey through what was involved rather than just produce a sequence of images showing different stages of the transformation, but I have to acknowledge that I have not given a piece of work to the viewer that would allow them to deduce this without guidance, or at least without captions, of which more later.
I enjoyed reading your progress. The assignment itself consists of good imagery and strong use of black and white. I found it a little lacking in conceptual coherence which I will outline below.
Your technical skills are very strong. Your use of black and white, flash and composition are great.
Always pleased with comments on technical skill as its somewhere I can hide when the conceptual and artist aspects of the course, which is what I signed up to it for, are eluding me. ‘Technical’ I’ve been doing for forty years so it has something of a head start over the conceptual.
For the sake of development I’m going to focus on the parts I think you could grow in.
Black and white is a very ‘old’ technique and coupled with your subject matter it certainly takes us back to days of old. I wonder how you could challenge yourself to keep it a contemporary subject matter. You had begun to do that with the contemporary stickers, Starbucks cups which was an interesting take on an ‘old / traditional’ subject matter. What I’m saying is how can you take this subject matter away from the expected approach and surprise us by using monochrome to keep us thinking about today in relation to the past. What relevance does this theme have to a contemporary viewer?
The new/old theme where I have been seeking images of modernity placed amongst that which has been renovated from the past is a subject I have been exploring for Assignment 5 of DPP. The appearance of mobile phones, branded coffee cups etc. and other current day paraphernalia makes an interesting juxtaposition when they appear in situations where extreme lengths have been gone to in perfecting the precise detail of period restoration. I have decided to do this in monochrome as we know, and the challenge of using black and white to keep the viewer thinking about today in relation to the past will be a steep one.
It’s good that you have spotted a route that differentiates your work from a standard Google search of stream trains though. The close up. Try going into more depth with this. What makes it different? Why is it interesting? Is there something to do with ambiguity here? The point of it being out of context and in black and white makes it less familiar. This could be interesting. To almost make it unrecognizable or make it into something else.
What I perhaps need to be doing is getting more abstract with this work and challenging the viewer to identify what they are looking at. Close up details always seem to fascinate people, the need to stop and think ‘what is it?’ and challenge the ambiguity seems to be a strong one, and I’ve not got to that point here apart from the images Former glories and Firebox which maybe on the mark. Maybe.
It’s also great that you love blacks! Try to articulate what it is that you like about them and what they add to the image and subject matter.
I like the deep blacks in these particular images because to me they represent the grime of the original era and from the technical perspective they give the images punch; in most cases there is little detail lost in the black (unlike Brandt’s images which often left me wondering what was lurking there)
In the beginning: I’m not sure why you included this as I thought your USP was the close-up?!
I lacked the confidence to start the sequence with a shot that wasn’t obviously directing the viewer to be thinking “ah, this is about old trains”. I really need to be more aware that if the first shot is more abstract then it would allow the viewer to develop a notion of the concept and direction of the piece as they went through rather than being told what to think. If I’m going to start with the blindingly obvious, then I recognize now that in some way it belittles the values of the sequence. I am considering replacing In the beginning with the following, but is it too not sufficiently close and ambiguous? It was one of my shortlisted images as it had the rust holes and general dereliction and I also liked the holes in the top of the cab that look almost like a face peering down. It also has a circle in it – a common theme in a number of my other images that my tutor pointed out. Sadly, I had not notice that. An alternative would be not to include a ‘starter’ image at all – I’ll need to consider that going forward.
Former Glories is a great shot! Lovely textures and I imagine it will print up beautifully. I think the strength of this is that it is verging on abstract.
Probably my favourite of the bunch and it does indeed print up really well with some striking punch and texture. Certainly one to keep for the final submission (and it too has a circle in it).
Firebox is also very strong and there is something about the close-up and the abstraction that makes the circles work really well in a few of these.
I was pleased with the way that this tuned out as I said in the original submission. The circle of the firebox and the pattern of the flames made a pleasing shape, and although there was a little serendipity involved in the uniformity of the final image, it was one of the strong contenders in this set. Interestingly, this was not an image that I really took to on initial review as it seemed to be lacking in content and detail. However, looking at the coals and the abstract nature of the images, it is because of the lack of obvious content that it works. Although in its formative stages, I think there is a change in the way I am looking at this assignment beginning to emerge.
Finishing Touches also feels a bit too far away. It’s not really in the close-up theme as you need consistency to your theme it would be helpful to stick to your USP!
This was another image where I failed to have the conviction to use a close enough shot and adhere strictly enough to my theme. I want to retain the essential elements of the shot, so the paint, number and painter I felt still needed to be there, so in a second attempt I have gone for a closer crop of the image as below. Again, this is something that I’ll need to come back to after living with it for a while, but at the moment I think that it is aligned with my theme. The focus has moved from the artist to his hand, so the crop has had a radical impact on the image, moving the story from emphasis on the person to the activity.
Captions: Be wary of the obvious choice as it can often reduce your image to a quip. Try to veer away from humour just for a little while and really consider what you want the image to convey. If it is about humour then that’s fine of course but don’t allow a quick comment to make the picture ‘funny’ if you want it to hold weight
Image captions are not an area with which I have much experience, but the tutor comments have reinforced that this is a major consideration, if indeed I am going to use captions at all. I think where I have used captioning in the past I have fallen into the trap of being quite flippant and not giving due regard to the negative impact that an ill-conceived caption can have on the reading of a photograph. I may abandon captions when I finalise for Assessment, but I’ll linger on that decision for now.
I think in general it would be good to put your spin on things in your assignments. Where are you in this work? They are strong images of steam trains and the close-ups are perhaps a little different but I’m not getting a strong sense of your personal vision. What is that vision? What do you want me to get from these pictures? Is there a story in there? A concept you can tighten up?
The thoughts in here are far reaching and fundamental to where I am going with my OCA studies and with my photography generally. I am going to take my response to this into a separate blog post as I feel that to tackle it here would dilute what is the most important feedback point of all. What is my personal vision and what do I want to give to the viewer is big !
Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays
Great to see you engaged with ‘current affairs’ (!) such as Taylor Wessing and also to see you take heed of my feedback and watching and reflecting on Hitchcock’s lighting. I hope it was helpful and will inspire you in future projects.
I have discovered much food for thought in some of my recent research, and the Hitchcock lighting was a valuable adjunct to my previous sorties into Tom Hunter, Mitchell Kanashkevic and Vermeer and will hopefully inform some of the amendments I am in the process of making with Assignment 2.
Your learning log demonstrates a strong sense of your own direction and an understanding of where you wish to progress. It’s good to see you reflecting on your progress and highlighting these areas of success and ‘to do better’. I’m sure it will lead to instrumental progress.
I am pleased with the way that the blog journal is progressing and that it is seen to reflect the direction in which I hope I am heading. I see it in many ways as a continuation of the earlier TAOP blog and I have tried to cross-link the two wherever possible as much of what I did for the TAOP course informs DPP.
New York. Your discussion of the work is insightful and knowledgeable. It was interesting to hear about your personal connection to a lot of the work you saw. In general keep up the level of engagement with galleries, OCA days, seminars, book reviews and maintain a critical and reflective tone to your writing.
NYC was something of a watershed for me in terms of understanding and reading what I was looking at and the personal connections certainly helped to drive that. Brandt remains a photographer whose work I keep coming back to and I find more in the images every time I look. The biggest revelation was William Eggleston where I went from mystified indifference, having only seen it in books, to understanding after viewing the images together in a gallery.
It’s interesting that you seem to appreciate the looming bleakness in the documentary photos of the North etc. but precisely what you didn’t like about the portraiture at TW. Why might that be? What do you expect from a portrait?
There are several interesting challenges here. Some of my upbringing was in the ‘looming bleakness’ of the north in the late 50’s and it was certainly looming and bleak for the most part, or the towns were anyway. I think it is because I recall the feeling of being in many of the actual places that have been photographed in projects of the industrial north that the pictures have such a strong pull for me; I remember the smoke and the grime and the smell of the coal fields and steel mills and these always come back to me when I see the images. The Taylor-Wessing portraits rarely hold much interesting content. A portrait for me has to say something, whether it be gory, gross, pornographic or whatever, it must have a reason for having been taken that I can then relate back to what it might mean to the viewer. Many of the T-W portraits leave me with no sense as to why the shutter was pressed and I find no personal appeal in such usually drab lighting. I’m not saying for one second that I could go and take portrait shots that would do anything other than go straight in the T-W judges bin, only that what they do select generally leaves me cold. I would be fascinated to have a look through the rejects and see whether there were images there that I found appealing and fitted my personal criteria, or whether in an attempt to fit the T-W mold the rejects were all variants on the same previously accepted theme?
Conclusions / Pointers for the next assignment
Really hone in on the concept behind the work. Keep it clear in your mind at all times and make sure the photos back it up, emphasise it or develop it. Keep the concept tight and simple.
I recognize that I need to be sharper in defining the concept behind what I am doing and ensure that I maintain alignment with it. Tight and simple does encapsulate what I should be trying to achieve very well.