Final reflections on DPP
DPP introduced some new elements to my photography as well as reinforcing some old ones. The impact of black and white as a powerful medium was brought back to me, really for the first time since the advent of colour, and in generating material for the final assignment, I experienced a growing willingness to photograph people. No, I’m certainly not claiming to be a full on and fearless portrait or street photographer, but it has grown to be an area of increasing comfort from a position of it having been actively avoided a year ago. I do not think that as a result of DPP I changed any elements of a workflow I was already happy with, but nonetheless, the exercises in that area reinforced current practice.
Study visits and student group
During the time I have been doing DPP, I have had the opportunity to attend two OCA study days (Laura Letinsky, Light from the Middle East, Klein and Moriyama). I went to more OCA study days when I was doing TAOP, but the dates this year did not coincide as well with other commitments. However, I did a greater number of personal visits (see below). Laura Letinsky did not inspire me much at the time, but subsequent thoughts around her work when I was writing my review of Susan Bright’s Art Photography Now did pique a rather greater level of interest in her approach, if not the actual images, and is something I may attempt to look at technically in the future.
The Thames Valley OCA Student Group continues to be a source of valuable inspiration, opinion and discussion and is a forum in which honest opinions are sought and given. In addition, there is great value in being part of a community which represents many levels of experience and stages within the OCA Photography degree structure from Levels 1 to 3 as it presents a ready source of opinion and information about the next course along the road and previous experiences. Having this group tutor lead is of great value both from the perspectives of direct OCA input and artistic guidance and for coincidentally getting direct first hand contact with my own OCA tutor.
Galleries and visits
Throughout the course I have had the opportunity to attend OCA study days (Laura Letinsky, Light from the Middle East, Klein and Moriyama) and also a number of personal visits (Everything was moving; photography from the 60s and 70s, Karl Blossfeldt, Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, Only in England (Tony Ray Jones and Martin Parr). Additionally I was able to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Bill Brandt and William Eggleston), MoMA (Stephen Shore, Paul Graham, Punk: Chaos to Couture, Photography and the American Civil War) and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. I also went to the UCA Farnham degree show to look at current student work. All have been separately blogged.
Reflections on Assignments
The non-assessed Assignment 1 on Workflow got me off to a good start in an area where I have significant prior experience of taking substantial series of images and distilling them down to a final selected few. There was a major breakthrough here in that this was the first time I have attempted to assemble a piece of work in black and white and also the first time I have produced a series of prints. The Super A3 printing I used here and presented at an OCA Thames Valley Student Group meeting was dictated by circumstances and paper availability, and although not something I would plan to do routinely, was a joy to work with and brought home to me the impact of big photographs. I almost never print in my wildlife work and images that are sold are always passed on to an agency or purchaser as either the original RAW file or as a 16 bit TIFF. Another aspect that was rewarding was my experiment using really deep blacks, initially through a love of Bill Brandt’s work, but also drawn by the emotion that it gave to the steam railway images.
Assignment 2, Seeing like your camera, lead me away from the steam theme and into an attempt to try and cover the options I selected in an assignment fashion over a couple of days. I learnt a lot from trying to do this, but going away from the railways was in retrospect a mistake, as I finished with a rather disparate set of images. Shooting exclusively in jpeg mode was an interesting exercise, and as expected the Canon 5DMkIII made an excellent job of recording the image I was looking at, with not much else for the photographer to do other than get the exposure compensation correct.
Assignment 3, Monochrome, took me back to an area for which I was beginning to develop a deep passion and the opportunity to shoot in black and white and learn to ‘see’ how a coloured scene would later appear enhanced my appreciation of the medium. In tutor discussion it was suggested that I consider some close up detail work for this assignment, and although my first submission included a couple of images which were not close enough (too far away gave the viewer nothing to speculate about or generate interest or engagement), I think the final selection allowed me to tell the story of dereliction to preservation in close up detail. I accept that the viewer would need to appreciate the processes involved in railway preservation to understand the narrative, but then I think that is true of many narrative series regardless of the subject. Assignment 3 also lead me into thoughts around captions, and this was debated with my tutor and also by chance within the Thames Valley OCA group. How much should a caption lead the understanding of an image and should images be left to stand without captions? I elected in the end to omit captions as I agreed that my first efforts were a little dismissive of the photographs themselves and perhaps detracted from their worth. I was very pleased with final set.
Assignment 4, Real or Fake, took me through a mixed bag of emotions. I never do anything other than routine photographic adjustments to images and would never use cloning in its many guises to remove or add to the meaning of a photograph, so at times I felt quite remote from the assignment. However, I believe that it is essential to be aware of these techniques and how they have been used by the image industry to change political and social opinion and the impact that this has had on the perception of the photography industry itself. My final output changed a number of times and almost went full circle, as I submitted the original composite image with a rather more mundane and hopefully appropriate title. It has to be said that I felt bereft of any really good ideas for this assignment, whether due to lack of interest in the ‘real or fake’ concept or an in-built resistance to faking content or meaning, I was never really sure. I has been the only assignment so far in TAOP or DPP that I have been glad to see the back of.
The final Assignment 5 took me further with black and white and into portraits and I hope gave me a valuable link into People and Place, which will be my next course module. My first set of images for assessment were based on ‘people unaware’ portraits coupled with trying to work in elements of ‘new’ where I spotted them amongst the intended ‘old’ of the steam railway preservation movement. It transpired that this was somewhat overambitious in that combining what were two quite major themes diluted the final set. It was not easy to discover unintended modern influences amongst the ‘people unaware’ theme and consequently, after discussion with my tutor, I decided to perform the final edit on the people portraits as that gave me a far greater body of work from which to draw. This worked well I thought, and gave me the intended lead in to People and Place later this year.
This aspect of the course has been excellent and at no stage have I ever felt I was being left unchallenged by tutor feedback .. There was always a period of necessary reflection in the light of feedback at each stage of DPP and I think this has helped me to move forward in terms of my thinking about artistic concepts behind image making. The need to go back and reconsider elements of assignments has driven me away from a “that’s done then ..” mentality, and for that I am very grateful. Constant encouragement to photograph what interested me was also beneficial and helped significantly as it steered me away from the thought that I needed to produce the sort of ‘arty’ and in vogue edgy photography that holds little personal interest but seems to be so much encouraged and appreciated in some quarters.
Personal projects and development
The steam railway project has generated a significant body of work, some of which contributed substantially to DPP (Assignment 1, 3, 4 and 5), and some of which will expand and evolve over the coming year. I have taken many images of the workings of the railways and their locomotives and people in action which have not yet featured in OCA projects and it is my intention to assemble these into a photobook.
Moving on from just taking pictures of subjects that interested me and considering different angles, shooting levels and more abstract close ups moved me on as well, and in the future it would be good to experiment with work where the nature of the subject is not apparent to the viewer, whereas my close ups of the railways were fairly obvious to someone with only a little prior knowledge.
I have discovered a whole raft of new (to me) photographers this year to add to the many that came to light in TAOP. The work of Bill Brandt, Bruce Davidson, Ernest Cole, Luc Delahaye and Martin Parr are still at the top of the pile as far as personal affinity for their images goes, but many others have appeared with impact on the radar this year. Paul Graham and Stephen Shore were prominent in my trip to the US and I was surprised that I had not spared them more than a fleeting glance before; I need to consider all artists to a greater degree rather than just focusing on those that have immediate appeal. Sherman, Grannan and Goldin compelled me to look deeply at their body of work, and although I rarely found their images were attractive to me, they made me acknowledge their immense impact as photographers. Sam Taylor-Wood, Sophie Calle and Gillian Wearing forced me to think about the objectives of an image and stop and consider why it was made … although in some cases I am still left wondering ….
William Eggleston was the big revelation of the last year. Looking at his images on separate pages of a book and individually on computer screens left me with the impression of rather mundane and banal images. But that’s the point of his photography, and that finally hit me in The Met when I could see all the images hung together in a gallery in his sequences and positioned relative to one another as was intended, and I finally saw the light and was enthralled.
The final word
So ends DPP. Certainly more peaks and troughs than I found with TAOP, which progressed at a smoother and more consistent pace due to greater personal availability to keep the ball rolling. However, the peaks were higher than anything I achieved in TAOP and at the pinnacle sits a new willingness to engage with people and portraits and a liking for black and white which has driven me down new roads in how I consider any subject before me.