Category Archives: ASSIGNMENT 5

Assignment 5; Narrative – Notes for the Assessors

I have remade the dummy book for this assignment following the suggestions in the tutor’s report. Now, instead of a series of individual prints, hinged together with masking tape, there is a single strip of pictures, scored and then folded to make a “concertina” book. The colour temperature of the pictures has been reset back to the original, cooler setting of the files created in my camera. If time and money permitted I would do one more edit, making the final, appropriated image/page darker, to match the others.

I would use this assignment as the basis for further work, creating other series of pictures of streets in Walthamstow that have obviously been damaged by wartime bombing. It may even build up into a stand-alone exhibition forming part of the Walthamstow Art Trail, either next year or the year after.

Tutor’s Report – Assignment 5

I have included  a dummy book containing all of Assignment 5 – a concertina of 9 prints –  in my physical submission for assessment.


High Resolution Files of the Assignment picture are on dropbox in the folder: Assignment 5 – Light

This contains:

    • The 9 full-size jpegs that make up the composited book ((512973-PH4AoP-A5-nn.jpg)

All Related Posts can be found either Here or by using the link in the main menu at the top of each page. I have removed all “Read More” commands, to reduce the amount of clicking you have to do.

 

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Assignment # 5 – Tutor’s Comments

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Another sky over Walthamstow

“Conceptually this assignment was a success. You have experimented with an interesting idea and have created a critically interesting body of work looking at this place.”

Another set of positive comments (Tutor’s Report – Assignment 5) came back from my tutor,  a couple of weeks after I had submitted the physical book dummy and a link to my recent posts for the assignment. I was glad to see that David had thought the work was successful and the description of it as a body of work (rather than a bunch of photographs) showed that I had hit the spot I was aiming at here.

It would have been nice to get a bit more explicit praise, but moving onto things that can be improved makes sense in the context of a course that I am following and which itself forms a part of larger scheme of development.

“Rather boringly I’m afraid I have concentrated most of this feedback on a few technical issues that do need to be ironed out as soon as possible to allow your outcome to match your critical thinking. Hopefully this will put you in a strong position both conceptually and technically for the next module.”

Onto the specifics. First: “There is an overall red colour cast in all of the street pictures.” This is followed by a detailed description of how to correct while editing the images.

I find this useful and annoying in equal measure! Useful, because my use of Lightroom is very much self taught in a very hit and miss way. One of the things I’ve noted as a possible side-project during the level 1 courses is to work a bit on my workflow and how I work with images after they have been created initially and a particular area of focus would be how I deal with colour. The techniques outlined here are instantly applicable and can be incorporated into my expanding repertoire of standard actions while preparing pictures for inclusion on the blog or for individual assignments. It’s annoying however, because I actually applied the basic Lightroom “Cloudy” white balance setting to all the street images as they seemed a bit cold. The easy way to achieve much the same result as via David’s method would be simply to revert the pictures to “As Shot”.  How embarrassing!

Chromatic Aberation reared it’s ugly fringe again too. All the street shots were taken with the same rather old 24mm f2.8 Nikkor prime. Leaving aside the fact that I should have spotted this myself (and corrected it in Lightroom), Level 1 of the BA lays the most emphasis on the straightforwardly technical aspects of photography, and I should definitely review my basic kit and replace the worse bits of it with something better as I work through the next two courses before moving onto level 2. Generally, my set of lenses is good, but old and second hand, chosen as much for price as for performance; There have been issues with some of the other lenses I’ve used with my D50 during TAoP and this may be the next place for me to focus my attention after replacing my DSLR body with something that is less ten years old…

The other area for focussed criticism was the presentation of the assignment: “I was pleased to see you include a dummy for the book. This demonstrates well your thinking concerning potential presentation of the work. I realise this is level one and as such this is unlikely to have a huge bearing on marks but you might consider producing a slightly more polished version for assessment.”

I’ll also redo the Assignment 5 book dummy following the method detailed in the feedback: I’ll print the pictures as a strip and then fold them into shape rather than connecting individual prints.  The scoring board and tools are sitting in my Amazon basket, ready for me to click submit. I have worked out where to get it printed and just need to make up the composited file for printing.

I will also take some time to look at how pictures can be displayed online, both in WordPress and more generally. I have a basic knowledge of web design and it shouldn’t be beyond me to play about with the Javascript & the CSS styles around them. I’ve noted a couple of times during the course that photographers’ websites can often be shocking to navigate or even just as a platform for pictures; it would be good to turn this carping into something positive with regard to my own work!


And that – bar some best wishes for the future and a nice general appreciation of my work over the course – is that.

 “I would suggest enrolling on the ‘Context and Narrative’ module next.”

And so I shall. I have enjoyed this course, and feel ready to move on. I’m booked in for the November Assessment Event. I’ll spend the next couple of weeks tidying my learning log – turning unfinished drafts into published posts; writing up missing exercises; making sure the metadata is consistent across posts; doing a final proof-read for typos, spelling and just simple stupidity – and making a final selection of assignment pictures to send as prints. It would be good if the assessment report would be able to feed into the next course sooner than November, but that can’t be helped. I shall assume that it won’t differ radically from what David has been saying over the last year.

Assignment 5 – Personal Review

Course Outcomes

On successful completion of the course you’ll be able to:

  • use the principles of composition when planning and taking photographs using suitable cameras, lenses and other equipment
  • demonstrate skills in the control of qualities of light, and colour, and demonstrate creative outcomes using these skills
  • demonstrate a basic knowledge of the principles of graphic design in photography through a single photograph or a series
  • reflect on your learning experience.

AoP Coursebook

I think, in the terms of the outcomes stated above, I have successfully completed this course.

In the section on assessment in the Coursebook, these outcomes are then broken down into 4 areas, each corresponding to one of the Course Outcomes, above, and then further subdivided. Where I have already covered something in some depth in the posts dealing with how I came to produce my submission for Assignment 5 – 75 Years After – I have only given a brief summary here.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

  • Materials: The physical manifestation of 75 Years After is made up from the cheapest prints I could have made – 6 x 4, colour, gloss, no borders – by Snappy Snaps with the exception of the composite Heinkel/Google Earth picture which was an even cheaper 6 x 4 colour, gloss, no borders print made on a machine in Boots. I had already used the print module in Lightroom to add enough blank space around the prints to make the 5:4 ratio pictures fit on 3:2 paper. The individual prints were connected using masking tape after they had been trimmed down to give an even amount of white around the picture. For the book dummy I have produced and submitted, this works fine I think.
    I have wondered how I could go about getting long strips made with some provision for folding them into concertinas and have come to the conclusion that you’d need to some sort of mass edition with five copies being made on one large sheet of paper. This would therefore presumably have to be inkjet printing (or else unaffordable) changing everything about the way it all would look. If I do go for applying the same process to another two or three streets and putting on a show at the next Walthamstow Art Trail, I may follow this up and, at the same, time get larger prints (á la the Steffi Klenz original) made for the actual display.
  • Techniques: I have gone into great detail earlier about how the pictures were made and processed. I think I have felt in control of the process and am happy with everything apart from my inability to get it right sooner while taking fewer pictures. I am still overshooting dreadfully and need to curb this as the resulting overhead in editing terms is one of the main reasons why my progress through this course has been slower than I would have liked. I realise I should include a contact sheet of the final pictures, before any post production had occurred. I will do as part of my response to my tutor’s notes on the assignment.
  • Observational Skills: I have been aware of the bombsites that punctuate large sections of Walthamstow for a long time, and I continue to spot new ones. I am – I think – capable of seeing starting points for further investigation in the world around me.
  • Visual Awareness: I find it hard to separate this from the previous heading. Possibly this is because this was a piece of work which was planned rather than pulled together on the fly with me reacting to input from my senses.
  • Design and Compositional Skills: As stated in the previous post, I think the pictures work both as individual photographs and together in sequence.

Quality of Outcome

  • Content: I think the subject matter is suited to the i; the treatment may not work in terms of a magazine photo-story, but as a narrative it holds together.
  • Application of Knowledge: I believe that I have applied many of the things the course has been concentrating on  – composition and awareness of light in particular – in this piece of work. There is nothing that sticks out as shoddy or ill-judged.
  • Presentation of Work in a Coherent Manner: As well as the finished narrative, I hope the narrative of how I got there that is found in the posts on this blog makes sense and leads the reader through the development of my submission from the original idea to the finished “book”.
  • Discernment: I don’t think that what I am doing in this assignment is “obvious” to all as a subject. In this sense, I think I am displaying “discernment” while at the same time not really feeling comfortable with it as an ascribable quality.
  • Conceptualisation of Thoughts & Communication of Ideas: comments left on the published posts here on my blog and also feedback I’ve received from people who have looked at my pictures both as work in progress and as a finished narrative suggest that I’m doing alright at this. People have definitely “got” what I’m trying to do in this assignment and have been interested enough to spend time thinking and talking to me about it. At some level at least, what I am doing is managing to communicate with others.

Demonstration of Creativity

  • Imagination: In this assignment, I have taken something that is there and made something from it, rather than plucking something from nothing or putting together disparate elements to create some new synthesis.
  • Experimentation: I have however pared back the elements that make up a narrative, leaving I think something fairly minimal that still tells a story (or two).
  • Invention: Physically, I have made a concertina/book which – while not original –  does show an ability to combine things into something new.
  • Development of a Personal Voice: This is where I think this course has truly paid off. Before the course, I think that while I was comfortable taking pictures on trips to new places either abroad in the UK, I was less able to come up with things that make up my basic surroundings. I have many pictures from Moldova or Kiev or Brazil; my pictures of London (where I have now lived for nearly 17 years) or of Glasgow (a total of nearly 13 years) have never really felt comfortable somehow, particularly in contrast with pictures I have taken in Orkney (20 years; see Assignment 2). Now I think I am finding ways to photograph and present things that are familiar to my; things that make up my day-to-day surroundings. Now I feel that I am beginning to make visual sense of London in a way that I always have been able to when I’m in Orkney.

Context

  • Reflection: I think I have managed to combine viewing exhibitions, reading and the coursework to date into a coherent body of work. I think I have managed to document that process here, on this blog.
  • Research: I am pleased with the way I have taken something I have noticed (a possible bombsite) and fleshed it out into something with a when and a how and a what attached to it. I find it slightly worrying that until the point when I found the Borough Council record of the bombing, that it had never crossed my mind to think of people being killed. I think I had somehow placed everyone neatly in shelters, safely away from the destroyed houses…
  • Critical thinking (learning log): I think I have been able to think critically about both my work and others’ throughout the course. During parts 3 and 4 however I found great difficulty in turning this thinking into critical writing (or indeed into writing of any sort). During part 5, I think I have done better, producing nearly nine thousand words (over 10,000 when you take this into the equation) of quite decent writing, backed up with good pictures from the exercises. I think a good part of my problem here is in striking a balance between keeping a record of personal thoughts and of at the same time creating a published document. There are many posts stuck at draft stage. I will attempt to take as many of them as possible into a state where I am happy to make them public, before this blog must be submitted in September, while at the same time not letting this tendency to revise and fret over posting get in the way of the next course, Context and Meaning

Throughout The Art of Photography I have found these personal reviews consistently difficult to do. iI think I can analyse what I’m doing and how well I do it; putting it into words is somehow much harder. Hopefully, I will get better at it as course follows course…


assignment 5 – narrative

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75 Years After – Installation View; Hibbert Road, July 2015

In this final assignment imagine that you are about to illustrate a story for a magazine. You have a cover to illustrate, and several pages inside (create between 6 and 12 images – you can choose). Even though there may be no text, you should write captions (of any length) to explain and link each picture.

The cover picture will need some of the techniques of illustration that you have been experimenting with. The picture essay will be more of a narrative. This means that, as you will be using several photographs to illustrate the main body of the story, you will have the opportunity to spread the load of the story telling among them. Different images can deal with different aspects of the subject, or you might choose to insert a linked series of photographs that show something happening in sequence. Remember that some of these photographs will be seen together on the same pair of pages. You can use this to set one image off against another; sometimes the juxtaposition of two appropriate images can be telling.

AoP Coursebook

First, before the shouts of “RTQ, Chirgwin! RT bloody Q!” begin, I should say that it was a conscious decision, discussed with my tutor, to move away from a straight illustrated story for this assignment.

Quite reasonably, he pointed out that it was better to take risks, and not worry about assessment marks now, rather than in a few years’ time when hopefully I’ll be making a start to level 3 of the BA and the marks will count for more than a simple pass or fail. The idea of following a path suggested by Steffi Klenz’s body of work Nummianus seemed to give me scope to tell the story while paring the clues about what was happening back to a minimum.

At any rate, I am quite pleased with the results and think that it works as a narrative. It could even work in a magazine as a series of double page spreads, but I’m not sure which magazine would run it.


75 Years After

The hard copy of this assignment (nine 128mm x 102mm Digital C-Type Prints joined with masking tape into an extendable concertina, seen above stuck to the bomb shelter at the bottom of my garden) is the bit I’m most excited about; I still need to do some work on the online presentation of the sequence – the slideshow below is not quite satisfactory, but I haven’t been able to work out how to get  the pictures to flow sideways, like the long opening shot of Goddard’s Weekend (1967). No doubt there’s a widget, or I could write some javascript, or something, but for now, I’ll leave it – like far too many photographers’ sites I have viewed recently – as another slightly flawed online presentation of photographs!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have tried the print version of the sequence out on a number of people now and they all have “got it” which is gratifying. It has been interesting listening to the variety of comments it has aroused – ranging from thoughts of how present bomb-sites were when people now in their 50s were growing up to the way you don’t notice the signs of bomb damage all around you, and more abstract comments of how nice it is to be presented with something physical rather than something on a screen. I think it would be interesting to make larger prints for display (like the Nummianus installation views) and to maybe try another few roads as well. This would lead to something that could go on as part of the annual Walthamstow Art Trail, possibly.

Also, the more I have looked at them, the more I have become aware that there is also a second, softer narrative to be found in the pictures: each individual instance of the two types of house pictured would have started off pretty much identical (there are variations in the Victorian Terrace, but even so, the variations repeat as you go down the street) but now they all are different – doors have been changed, and windows; some of the attics have been converted and had windows let into the roof tiles; 65 has had monstrous things done to it; there are solar panels and there is pebbledash. Individual people have made their mark on the street and that is as significant as the bomb that fell 75 years ago. As well as being a story about death and injury, it becomes a story about life going on and progress and rising house prices and so on and so on. The sequence can also serve as a typography of houses in the street.


Notes on the Pictures:

fig. 1 – A contrail dividing the blue ground of the sky into a 2/3:1/3 composition. Attached to the right-hand side of the string of prints, to wrap back round and seal the “book” when it is fully folded up. When the string of prints is unfolded, the back of this print is visible, which is why it is folded under and not visible in the header to this post. The typed label was made with a manual typewriter and stuck to the print; it contains enough information to allow the viewer to make sense of the whole. “1 H.E.” refers to the single high explosive bomb that fell on Elmfield Road; the numbering of the houses (47-61) suggests a mistake by whoever recorded the damage for the Borough Council as close inspection of the remaining numbers show that number 47 – if damaged – was left in a repairable state while number 63 is missing.

fig. 2-9 – A sequence taken around 17.00 on Sunday 14th June with me 6 foot up a step ladder using a Nikon D50 with a Nikkor 1:2.8 24mm manual focus lens. ISO 200, 1/200″, f8 (underexposed by about a stop to prevent the highlights in the sky blowing out). Contrast was reduced in Lightroom by pulling back the highlights (a lot) and upping the shadows (a bit) and then upping the exposure by one stop. White and black points were also adjusted. The frame was then cropped to 5:4 as this seemed to give the best section of the street per picture, although possibly something even squarer would have been better for the Victorian Terraces as more sky would have been included and the TV aerials wouldn’t have been cut off, but it wouldn’t have worked as well for the wider, lower post-war houses in the gap. I have tried – and generally succeeded I think –  to make each of these pictures a pleasant composition of horizontals, verticals and quadrilateral shapes as well as working in concert with one another. The slight chaos at the junctions between 3 and 4 and 7 and 8 is intended to accentuate the change from original to bombed and back again without being too heavy handed about it.

fig. 10 – a composite made from 2 acquired images: the google earth view of Elmfield Road and the famous picture of a Heinkel 111 bomber over the Isle of Dogs, taken by an anonymous Luftwaffe photographer on the 7th of September 1940. Isolating the aircraft was a relatively straightforward selection in Photoshop Elements, it was then pasted onto the google earth picture and rotated so the direction of the sun matched. I slightly reduced the saturation of the background shot and added a small amount of gaussian blur to match the bomber. The intention was not to make a convincing fake, but rather to link the ‘then’ with the ‘now’ in the picture and in the sequence as a whole. If I was going to make larger prints of the pictures for exhibition in frames, I would probably definitely need to seek out higher resolution source images, and be more scrupulous about the edges of the bomber. Online or in the smaller prints I had made for presentation, I think it holds up. Just. There is also the question of whether its inclusion is just a bit unsubtle, really; I suspect the narrative would be apparent without it, but have left it in for now.

Finally, I took this picture showing clearly the gap between the original and the post war houses, but decided that it both disrupted the flow of the pictures in the sequence and was not necessary to understand what was going on in the narrative. I include it here though as I quite like the view through to the parallel street behind.

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assignment 5 – making the pictures

elmfield road - gap take 1

fig 1: elmfield road – gap, take 1

The picture above is a composite of 8 separate images which I attempted to combine to create a little under a half of my finished narrative sequence. It is frozen at the point where I abandoned it and, in my head, committed to doing a reshoot…

I taken 52 pictures of 13 houses. There were some retakes – I messed up the amount of space needed above the ridge of the roof to allow all of the TV aerials to be shown for example – but generally what I was trying to do was take 3 pictures per house – a picture with the dividing line between houses on each side and one taken straight down the middle of each house. The idea was to create a long composite panorama which would then be cut into segments based on either each individual house or each pair of houses.

I had totally missed what was going on in Nummianus.

But before I explain why it is rubbish doesn’t work, I should say what I actually like about it. I like the bird, frozen a quarter of the way in from the left and I like the lamp-post to the right’s straight punctuating line. I like the way the slight differences (in exposure and in positioning in the frame) could make you aware of the constructed nature of the image.

But it still doesn’t work. And it would work even less well if were cut up into 3 images, linked to 4 or 5 others. And the main reason it doesn’t work is the extent to which the road is not two-dimensional. In the previous post, I noted that “foreground objects are a pain”; a better way to put it would have been to note that the effect of different planes, parallel to the camera’s sensor is that points on these planes alter their relationship to one another as you move to the left or the right. An object in the centre of the frame at one point may well vanish totally when you move a relatively short distance along the row of houses. The closer to the camera the plane is the more pronounced the effect. In fig. 1 (below) the grey car exemplifies this perfectly

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fig.1 Planes! Agh!

This is the leftmost of the triptych of composite images that I was trying to construct. The house frontage (which is what I was concentrating on as I took the pictures) is fine. With a bit of creative overlapping, the front gardens and the ages can be forced to work. The cars though! If people could neatly park in the centre of their house, that would be super. Tragically, people these days are nowhere near OCD enough for that, so my constructed panorama has mangled car after mangled car running along the front. It adds nothing to the narrative while catching the eye. Similarly tall thin things (most particularly a telegraph post about a third of the way in the new block can be missed entirely. Also, the roofs slope away from the camera, introducing converging diagonals from the divisions between houses and the edges of rows of slates. It looks a mess.

If I could move back far enough for the different planes to be closer to being the same distance from the camera this patchwork approach could possibly be made to work, but that is not feasible here. I needed to reshoot, something that was confirmed by another, better look at Nummianus. i realised that what I had read as collage was actually present in the street pictured, in the form of different shades of brick red painted onto the front of individual houses. Each pane was an individual picture and there were repetitions and overlaps in each of the series. I needed to work out how much horizontal distance needed to be covered by each picture, and then to go out and take photographs accordingly.

I had the six new houses as the centre of the series so needed something to balance this and to give enough Victorian Terrace for the story to be apparent to the viewer. There were two trees in front of the victorian houses; on the left there was one 4 doors from the bomb damage; the other was 2 doors past the end of the gap. That gave 12 houses. If you cut them into two house segments, you had six pictures.

At this point, I was going to have two lengths of picture with a run of blue sky above the run of houses (see fig.2, above) . Above the bombsite there would be an obvious contrail, pointing back to the events 75 years’ earlier. Thus, 6 pictures became 12; the upper limit of the assignment. I already had 6 “skies”. Now I needed the six house shots.

Now, as far back as my phone-tutorial, I had mentally noted that Elmfield Road faces west and so would be better photographed in the evening when the sky above the roofs wouldn’t be much much lighter than the facade of the street. I had also noted that an overcast day with nice uncontrasty light might be better than a bright day with harsh shadows and strong highlights.

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fig. 3 – backlit, contrasty and wrong…

So, there was no reason whatsoever for me to be up a ladder at 9.30 in the morning taking pictures in the blazing sunshine. None whatsoever other than as an exercise to confirm the benefits of patience and sticking to your guns. And maybe also confirming (again) that there is a blue cast in shadowed areas.

The blue sky would match the sky + contrail pictures better than an overcast one, but I was already beginning to wonder if this was going to be overkill in terms of clues as to what was going on and also not look as good displayed.

On a positive side, this mis-re-shoot  also allowed me to work out that portrait didn’t work if I wanted to use a 35mm equivalent lens and still get in 2 and a bit houses. I was going to need to take landscape format pictures (like Steffi Klenz) and probably plan for them to be cropped to a different aspect ratio to the 6:4 that my  D50 does by default.

I was moving towards a point where I knew what I wanted to do quite clearly: I would have a simple row of houses, with a degree of overlap between pictures; these would be presented as a concertina-type spread, capable of either being pinned to a wall or of being a free-standing display on a flat surface; part of understanding the narrative presented would be contained in the act of unfolding the concertina. I was less sure about whether I wanted to have a second strip of sky, but knew that I needed some sort of key to unlock the sequence.

The next shoot worked. I waited til there was an overcast afternoon when I could get the time to take the pictures. I loaded the ladder into the sky and headed up the road to Elmfield Road for the third time. This time, i realised that I could move even further back on the grass, giving a more crop-able basic frame with fewer adjustments required to alter distortion etc. I worked my way along from 41 to 73. The man popped out from 47 and showed me his copy of War Over Walthamstow. I went home and edited the pictures, cropping them to each show two and a bit houses and adjusting the white and black points and how the highlights and shadows worked to reduce the contrast between the sky and the houses. I could see I had something I could go forward with.

I had already had 6 x 4 prints made of sections of the original shoot and I could see how they worked together; now I had the third shoot printed along with the sky shots and saw that they didn’t quite meld with the terrace and that if only the 3 above the gap houses was going to show evidence of flight overhead, 3 of them would merely consist of blue sky, but I still liked the idea of sky and planes hinting at what was going on in the other pictures.

Lastly – and there from the beginning in my outline/proposal to my tutor – was the idea of working with the memory I had of the picture of a Heinkel 111 over the Thames, combining the German bomber with a modern (colour) aerial shot appropriated from the internet. The question was how far it could all be pared back while still telling the story I was trying to tell. Realising that my initial idea of buying and building a scale kit of a Heinkel would simply be another form of procrastination, I located the historic picture and acquired the satellite view of Elmfield Road from Google Earth. I’m not the world’s best composite image-maker, but it would be fun to see what I could come up with.

I started playing with the pictures I had, to see what worked and what did not. I made dummies of the concertina joining prints together with masking tape, and showed them to friends. Gradually, it all came together and became a story…

 

assignment 5 – moving the idea forward

looking north; looking south - elmfield road, E17

looking north; looking south – elmfield road, E17

So, I had agreed during a phone tutorial to follow up the Elmfield Road Bomb Damage idea and to work it in a way which grew out of my understanding of Steffi Klenz’s Nummianus.

Right; onwards!
Elmfield Road is a fairly standard, Victorian terraced street in Walthamstow, the last before you get to the southernmost tip of the reservoirs that sit, obvious from the air or on a map, inside the A406 (the North Circular) as it curls round between Edmonton and Walthamstow. There are only odd numbers in the street with the west side of the road left open, with a wide stretch of grass before you get to a fence and a storm drain, there to cope with heavy rain over the waterworks, I lived in Elmfield Road from 2003 until 2009.

A few doors down from where I lived, the terracing stops and there are 6 much more blocky 50s or 60s houses; then the Victorian housing resumes.The terrace stops at number 47 and resumes at 65; 8 numbers are missing and 6 newer buildings have replaced them. You can see this quite clearly in the two pictures at the top of this post. Quite obviously, this is wartime bomb damage; there are similar gaps in the parallel roads to the east. They’re quite different from the larger splodges of post-war housing in the sites where larger, more powerful V-weapons fell on Walthamstow, or indeed further to the south, in the east end proper, where whole streets were flattened during the Blitz.

Beyond this though, it’s relatively difficult to get more detailed information. But that’s where research comes in, doesn’t it?


Background Research – When I lived in Elmfield Road, it had never crossed my mind that the six “wrong” houses could be the result of anything other than wartime bomb damage. When it came time to get something to bqck this up however, it proved remarkably difficult to get documentary evidence. My first effort had involved borrowing a copy of the book published by the London Archive, reproducing the bomb damage maps produced in 1945 by the LCC from the daily damage reports compiled during the blitz. But of course, Walthamstow was not part of London until some time in the late 40s, so the maps didn’t quite reach far enough. Presumably there were local records, which would be held in the Waltham Forest Archive at the Vestry House Museum, but so far I have not been able to find the time to make an appointment to view the material they have stored there.

What I did find through a google search (how else?) was a reference to an online map of London bomb-sites in an article in the Daily Telegraph, published after an unexploded bomb had been found and defuses (link). This map did include Walthamstow and shows a bomb was dropped on Elmfield Road (and also confirmed other sites, i’d notice nearby and also close to where I now live).
This was confirmation enough for this project, but it would have been nice to have more detail about the particular bomb (or bombs) that I was interested in. I finally got it when I was half-way up a stepladder making my third set of pictures in Elmfield Road. A man was taking some stuff out of his car and into number 47; he was glancing the sort of glances you make at someone up a ladder with a camera opposite your house and then came over. Fortunately he turned out to be interested rather than hostile and once I’d explained what I was doing, nipped back into the house and returned with a copy of a slim book published by the council called War over Walthamstow. It contained map and day by day records of bomb damage. It is of course out of print, but a search online to see if there were second-hand copies available turned up a site that reproduced the text in full, but not the map.
A single bomb fell on the 8th December 1940 at 11.45 pm. It killed 3 people and injured 18 others. 8 houses (47-61) were damaged. There had been a lot of bombing that day, but this was the last to be dropped on Walthamstow.

This gave me my title, referring back to Conflict-Time-Photography: 75 Years After. It also gave a number of links to things that hover around me and the pictures taken for this course. On the 8th of December 1940, my father – a conscientious objector, working with The Friends Ambulance Unit after his tribunal – would have been a 21 year-old, acting as a shelter warden near Bethnal Green; more bombs fell near there. Also that night, N minutes earlier, a bomb fell on Portland Place, damaging Broadcasting House (where I work) and knocking the tip off the spire of All Souls Church. The repair to the spire can be seen in photo 5 (diagonal) of Assignment 1 for this course. Many of the buildings on Flotta in Scapa Flow (Assignment 2) were being built at this time too…


Installation  – Over the last year, I have become increasingly aware of and interested in how photographs are altered by the way they are presented and of the details attached to their exhibition. I had already been struck both by just how small Lartigue’s pictures are and how large more modern prints by people like Gursky are or indeed very old prints like some of the pictures in the Muybridge exhibition at Tate Modern a few years ago. Now I was looking as much at the sequencing and the juxtaposition of pictures, one with another, to add up to more than the sum of the parts.

I realise I quite like the intimacy of small prints – the way they draw you in to peer at them, and gaining a sense that you and you alone are looking. In this sense they become like a book. There is nothing grand about the Egglestons I have seen or most of the pictures in the Harry Callaghan rooms at Tate Modern last year. But you look at them and – despite being in a gallery – manage moments of being alone with the pictures. Again at Tate Modern, the way the Henry Wessels’ series Incidents was laid out – a series of 26 head-height 18 x 12 prints in plain black frames that you were meant to view working clockwise from the door – made links between the pictures in sequence and drew you in to look, and think, and wonder, and move on to the next; of course, you went round the room twice.

I have been struck by things as different as the three huge typographical light boxes that formed the centre of Subotzky and Waterhouse’s Ponte City installation in the Photographer’s Gallery (and made a note that 6cm x 9cm transparencies are really a very fine thing) and also the collaged pictures taking found images and then placing them over new photographs of either the room they were found in or of the room where they had been taken; equally the collaged wall combining a large background picture, writing and smaller framed pictures of Jim Goldberg and Kamel Khalif presented as Open See (Democratic Republic of Congo) in one of the rooms at Conflict-Time-Photography was good for literal laying of meaning – you read the wall rather than just looking at it; I like the way the pictures are arranged into three panels (a bloodline; an explanation; footnotes) in Taryn Simon’s A Living Man Declared Dead (which I’ve seen bits of a couple of times now);  it all adds up, it all helps the pictures tell a cumulative story rather than just show “a thing” and then “another thing”.

And then there is Nummianus by Steffi Klenz. As soon as David mentioned this body of work, I remembered the three pictures(the last two house of a terrace; one and a half terraced houses with the second mid demolition and a third of the cleared land visible to the right of the second picture)  reproduced in the first chapter of Behind the Image. When he sent me a link to Klenz’s site where there are more examples, I was greatly taken by the gallery views, with long lines of  – possibly fictitious – terraces constructed from print after print, some going round corners.

I saw how a bombed terrace could be presented as a series of pictures with the story coming out of the differences in between houses (and types of houses). The story began to take on physical properties and led me to start thinking of those series of concertina-folded postcards you can get. I am still somewhat at a loss as to how to present something long and thing and horizontal on a screen, but suspect that it can be done. The main version of this assignment however, will be physical.

There were other details I should have noticed at this point – most notably around how shallow the houses front facade was in each of Klenz’s pictures; there are no gardens and no cars parked beyond the pavement; the only thing interrupting the plane of the terraces are lamposts – but of course, I didn’t.


Practice as Research – It took me several goes to get something that worked. Some of this was down to not looking closely enough at the Nummianus pictures before I had my first try at approximating the feel of Klenz’s series, but a fair bit of it comes down to something as unsubtle as how taking pictures of a row of houses is much more difficult than it would at first appear!

  • If you shoot from pavement level you get quite a lot of convergent lines from looking up at even a two-story building
  • You don’t want straight lines to be distorted towards the edges either, so you don’t want to use too wide a lens
  • You are limited in how long a lens you can use by how far away you can get from the facades of the houses opposite by the width of the street.

And all this is before you start to try and link two or more pictures together into some sort of sequence, at which point errors or inaccuracies become compounded.

I started off by trying to get an idea of what it would take to get a good, straight shot of part of a terrace. I tried to take a shot across the street outside my front door using my Nikon D50:

Firstly I was able to get around the converging line issue by taking out a folding step-ladder and climbing to the top. The camera was somewhere between the top of the doors and the first floor windows; not quite level with the centre of everything when you take the roof into account, but not bad.

The D50’s 1.5 crop factor meant that my 35mm lens was still too tight from a far back as I could get and not feel I was going to break my neck falling off the ladder (fig 1). But a 24mm lens (equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera) got in enough of the houses to show everything from the road up to the top of the chimneys (fig 2). There was enough space around the focus of the image to crop down to a nice, symmetrical composition (fig 3) and also to correct the effect of not quite getting the camera parallel to the front of the building, the small amount of vertical distortion that still I got even with being up a ladder and the slight bulginess caused by the short lens. Generally it seemed fine and I set out to take a test sequence of another bomb damaged row around the corner.

This threw up further problems that needed overcoming:

Foreground objects are a pest; trees and lampposts either get in the way or force you out into the road. This is not good photographically (you are closer to the other side of the street, so all the bad things of using a wider lens are compounded, even if you don’t need to go even wider) or from a personal point of view (before you get onto being up a ladder on a cambered surface, there is the question of cars using the road even on a quiet side street).

Parked cars are a pain. In the foreground they won’t block you if you’re up a ladder, but vans will. On the other side of the road, they change their position relative to the building further away making it really hard to get anything even approaching a clean composite if you are trying to build up a row of houses seamlessly from a number of pictures, as I was at this stage.

I had partly hoped I’d be able to use this street for the final assignment as this would mean I didn’t have to lug a ladder with me the mile or so to Elmfield Road when I needed to do the inevitable retakes, but there were simply too many vans on the wrong side of the street, trees and lampposts getting in the way for it to really work. Elmfield Road (as you can see from the two pictures at the top of this post) is one-sided, with a patch of grass running back from the road quite a way opposite the built side. There are no lampposts or trees on the unbuilt side either. I should have gone inside and had a good look at Nummianus at this point, but instead, I loaded the ladder into the car and headed up the road…



References:

  • Basics Creative Photography 03: Behind the Image: Research in Photography – Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana (AVA Publishing, 2012)
  • The War Over Walthamstow – 1939-45  – Ross Wyld. (Walthamstow Borough Council, 1945)
  • Nummianus – Steffi Klenz (Exhibitions – New Art Museum Walsall, 2009; Street Level Glasgow, 2010)
  • Ponte City  – Mikhael Subotzky & Partick Waterhouse (Steidl, 2014); installation viewed at the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize Exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery, London (April – June 2015).

All links accessed 30/06/15

Assignment 5 – Ideas & Initial Research

barcelona teleferique - 13/04/2014

barcelona teleferique – 13/04/2014

For this last assignment, I arranged a phone tutorial at the end of April to go through the ideas I had for narratives In preparation I sent him a quick summary of the 4 ideas I wanted to examine: they covered a reasonable spectrum of stories and possible treatments ranging from total control through to recording an event.

Idea 1: Alice – Birth to 2 year-old in Clothes

My daughter is newly two, and we still have not got round to passing on the clothes she no longer fits.

I quite fancy the idea of doing something that shows what she would have worn typically (with increases in size) at 3 months intervals.

There would be body suits, sleep suits, shoes, trousers, coats etc etc to document into some sort of typology. Also, plenty of colour, opportunities for framing to get some idea of growth over 3 otherwise identical tops say etc etc

Idea 2:  Crosswords

Taking 3 of the different sorts of clues (anagrams, read throughs and conventional codes for example) and illustrating them with one day’s crossword as it is solved and filled in.

Opportunity for a nice wide cover shot; opportunities for time to be indicated in various ways like changing light through the window, the crossword being filled in, coffee rings on the paper etc etc as a lazy day off is spent doing the puzzle.

Idea 3: Why is Elmfield Road in Walthamstow an incomplete terrace?

Because there’s a small range of 50’s houses in the middle; because a bomb was dropped sometime in late 1940/early 1941…

A mixture of constructed shots:

  • a silhouetted bomber over Walthamstow at night say;
  • details of the bomb damage maps held in the Waltham Forest Archive

And more documentary stuff:

  • the Heinkel bomber at Duxford
  • Elmfield Road (good for this as it’s one-sided allowing you to get far enough back for a wide shot)
  • Possible other missing-tooth bombsites in the area

Idea 4 – A trip over the Thames in the Cable Car from Canning Town to the 02

  • Queuing
  • Getting In
  • The people you share the gondola with
  • The view.
  • Exterior shots of the ride (near/far)

Stuff like that – giving a simple journey narrative thing, probably taking two journeys to get all the pictures.

Also maybe include some pictures of the Olympic Teleferique in Barcelona, that I took a week ago (and got the idea for this from) but which don’t add up to a full narrative.

The tutorial passed over ideas one and two to concentrate on either the bombed terrace or the cable car. The crossword idea is technical and safe, consisting of a series of constructed shots; Alice’s clothes could look like a series of catalogue shots and again would equal a good commercial photographic commission rather than something to stretch myself (although I’d still like to do this as a personal project – I think it could be a lot more interesting than the outline above suggests).

David made the point that this stage in the Photography BA  is a good one to take risks with as the only pressure to get marks is the need to get 40% or over, allowing you to move onto the next module. Working on from this he pushed the second two ideas in a more experimental direction than I had been considering up to that point.

For the cable car idea, I had been thinking along simple “journey as narrative” ideas, done with a mixture of of 1st person POV stuff, taking in waiting to get on, crossing the Thames and then getting out at the other side and 3rd person shots of the cable car, the gondolas and the wires overhead. They would not have been radically different from the Barcelona pictures, but would be more comprehensive than those I’d managed to take over the course of a single one way journey with only one, 12-exposure roll of film in a 50 year old folding camera after the last battery died in my digital (one of which is the header for this post). Instead, David suggested a series of pictures taken from a static point of view looking out from the moving gondola. An interesting idea, but not one that jumped out immediately as the one to do.

But then, for the filled in blitz-gap in the middle of a row of terraced houses, David’s idea clicked instantly! He suggested doing something along the lines of Steffi Klenz’s Nummianus, a piece I was familiar with from Fox and Caruana’s Behind the Image, where three of the pictures are used across pages 12 & 13 to illustrate the idea of choosing a title to add meaning to a body of work. While following this approach would move away from the magazine article part of the assignment, arranging pictures in a printable sequence would still be possible (I think I will produce a postcard-sized concertina-type book which would be capable of being displayed as a free-standing sequence on a shelf or of being fully opened out and pinned to a wall.

Excited, I moved onto more detailed research and planning…

References:

Behind the Image – Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana (AVA publishing SA, 2012)

Nummianus – http://www.steffiklenz.co.uk/work/nummianus/?lang=en (link accessed 17/06/2015)