Category Archives: 3 Reportage

Part 1 – Exercise 2 – Colour or Black & White Street Images?

For this exercise the brief was to pick a ‘favourite street’ and take 30 images in black and white and take another 30 in colour. The street I chose in Norwich was Magdalen Street, a street that starts in the historical heart of the city next door to the iconic Anglican cathedral and then deteriorates wonderfully into a world of ‘grungy’ charity shops towards Anglia Square, an area which has bizarrely been threatened with the addition of ’boutique shops’ by the local planners, and a promise which thankfully has not yet been fulfilled.

There were some rather obvious choices for colour – people walking in the low winter sunshine with the light just catching their faces (above top right), some colourful trolleys thrown around by the wind (above top left), ‘busy shop windows and a historic shop front where street signs battle for space with the extended shop floor as the furniture spills out (above).

Along with the ‘trendy’ retro atmosphere of parts of the street, some of the businesses are stuck in a time-warp, including the hairdressers shop below which proudly boasts ‘Appointments not always necessary’.. this image cried out for a black and white finish to emphasise the fact that time has not moved on and the old fashioned hair dryers work just as well as they did 40 years ago.

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Some of the contents in the shop displays  were also quite bizarre and seemed to lend themselves to colour just so that they were noticed… for example in the image on the left the small pink guitar at the back of the shop would have been completely lost in a black and white image.

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Conversely, for some images, I felt that the lack of colour created irony in the photograph and that’s why the colour, however little there was, needed to be retained.  Heading towards Xmas, this sad looking shop front didn’t exactly fill me with Christmas cheer!

Equally, for some images I felt it wouldn’t really matter if it was black and white or colour. In the shot below, a woman cowered behind the sign stuck to the café window, obviously in an attempt to avoid the camera. Her leopard print coat appealed to me, but this also showed up in the black and white version.  The lack of customers apart from the cowering woman also seemed to work well in the image and similarly, it didn’t matter if I’d shown the strewn empty chairs in colour or black and white.

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The Xmas fun-fair in Anglia Square in the image below gave me the opportunity to play with the balance of black and white or colour during post-processing of the image.  I desaturated some of the image to emphasise the grey, dismal feel of the shoppers sitting gloomily on the benches, possibly not relishing the idea of the impending festive season, but I liked the colours of the empty ride and the leading yellow power cables providing the life in the image. I also think the bollard says ‘Danger! Watch out ! You might have fun here !’

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My final comment on the choice of black and white, is that sometimes a gloomy day can be exaggerated using colour and can add to the overall melancholy feeling within a photograph. I think that using black and white can mask that atmosphere, which of course makes it a useful tool to use to combat the UK weather. The ‘Moonlight Cafe’ below sounds like it could be a rather beautiful and romantic location and therefore the dismal, colourless winter afternoon retained in what little colour there was, to me, added to the irony of the image.

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This is far from my best set of photographs on a not particularly inspiring day, which in itself was a good test for me to go out and find images whatever the weather or location. Consciously concentrating on choice of colour or black and white was also a good exercise for something which often feels instinctive and therefore difficult to pinpoint or explain the reasons for choosing one format against the other.

Part 1 – Cartier-Bresson and the move away from Surrealism

Cartier-Bresson was known to have been heavily influenced by Surrealism in his early years as a photographer, he socialised with Breton and other Surrealists in Paris in the 1920’s and was inspired by the idea of allowing subconscious thoughts to create images.

The British Photo History website described how Cartier-Bresson photographed political events in Paris such as the French liberation and the 1962 massacre and the following quote from him seems to imply a certain level of automation in his image creation which of course would link him to the idea of surrealism:-

‘I kept walking the streets, highly strung, and eager to snap scenes of convincing reality, but mainly I wanted to capture the quintessence of the phenomenon in a single image. Photographing, for me, is instant drawing and the secret is to forget you are carrying a camera.’  (Pritchard, M. 2016)

However, further research into Cartier-Bresson and how his work has been exhibited, has persuaded me to ensure I avoid type-casting photographers as belonging to a particular genre or artistic movement:

In her article ‘Beyond the Decisive Moment’, Ellie Armon Azoulay reviews the Cartier-Bresson exhibition curated by Clément Chéroux at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2014. She explains that the exhibition was arranged in three sections, each of which spanning a particular time period :-

  • 1926-35 – Mostly marked by early, Surrealist photographs made during his travels;
  • 1936-46 – Distinguished by his return from the US; and
  • 1947 – 1970s – Begins with the foundation of Magnum Photos in 1947 and ends in the 1970s when he retired from Photography and turned to drawing.

Azoulay is critical of the restriction that classifying the images places on their meaning. She explains… ‘in the second section of the exhibition, “The Attraction of Surrealism,” a large number of photographs are read through the prism of Surrealism, which diminishes their humanistic, social, and political aspects.’ The example she uses is the following image of Livorno, Italy (1933):-

livorno-italy-1933

She explains ‘the wall text reads: “the viewer would dearly love to lift the cloth, but the image cannot be unveiled: that is how our desire to see it aroused.” This invocation of the “veiled erotic” seems out of place’.  (Azoulay, E.A. 2014)

In order to find out more for myself, I visited the Cartier-Bresson ‘Paris’ exhibition at the University of East Anglia where 81 images captured between 1929 and 1985 were on display. I wanted to see if I could distinguish any point in time where the influence of Surrealism started to become absent from his work.

The images were an ecletic mixture of different photographic styles and genres but nevertheless there were some early images clearly influenced by Cartier-Bressons interest in Surrealism:-

Both photographs above were taken in 1932 and the image to the left, harks back to the Surrealist obsession with depicting something which looks alive but isn’t (or vice versa), while the image to the right clearly echoes the Surrealist idea of ‘doubling’ (originating from Freud’s essay on the ‘uncanny’), and ‘inexplicable repetitions’.

la-villette-1929

However, other images in the exhibition from his earlier years as a photographer, appear to be making more of a social statement such as this photograph ‘La Villette’, taken in 1929. There may be a tenuous link to Surrealism in the fact that the lifeless body on the ground appears to have no head and a dark menacing form, but I sense that the essence of this photograph is all about depicting the harsh life on the streets during the years of the Depression post WW1.

It’s true that many of the later photographs curated in the exhibition appeared to have little to do with Surrealism, and more to do with e.g. composition or communicating the sense of a person via a portrait, such as in the two examples below:-

Above left: The Palais Royal Gardens. 1959.
Above right: Jean-Paul Sartre, Le Pont des Arts, Paris, 1946

Both of these images appeal to me. The Palais Royal Gardens photograph is beautiful in its movement generated by the curved rows of trees, framed by the perfectly placed row of houses in the background. The comtemplative portrait of Jean-Paul Sartre is atmospheric with the fog as well as being perfectly composed with the main subject obvious and his companion deliberately cropped out of the frame.

I get a sense that whilst Cartier-Bresson moved away from creating the more obvious Surrealist-typee photographs, he was always influenced by the movement throughout his career. In ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Early Work’, Peter Galassi selected the following quotation which highlighted this idea:-

“Alone, the Surrealist wanders the streets without destination but with a premeditated alertness for the unexpected detail that will release a marvelous and compelling reality just beneath the banal surface of ordinary existence.”

He goes on to express : ‘The geometric formalism of Renaissance painting and the serendipity of Surrealism were two key influences on Cartier-Bresson’s photography…. Over the next half century Cartier-Bresson would travel the world with a Leica in one hand… inwardly he held onto the spirit of Surrealism while outwardly calling himself a photojournalist’. (Springer, M. 2011)

Sean O’Hagan from the Guardian re-iterated this idea by selecting another of Cartier-Bresson’s quotations:- ‘Surrealism has had a profound effect on me and all my life I have done my utmost never to betray it’ (O’Hagan, S. 2014)

Further insight from the man himself can be heard in the following video clip:-

 

Sources

Pritchard, M. (2016) Exhibition: Henri Cartier-Bresson: PARIS / 23 April-29 August. At http://britishphotohistory.ning.com/profiles/blogs/exhibition-henri-cartier-bresson-paris-23-april-29-august. Accessed at 1/9/2016

Azoulay, E.A. (2014) Beyond the Decisive Moment. At  http://aperture.org/blog/beyond-decisive-moment-bresson/ Accessed at 2/9/2016

Springer, M. (2011) Iconic Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson takes you inside his Creative World. At http://www.openculture.com/2011/11/henri_cartier-bresson.html  Accessed at 1/9/2016

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Comrade Cartier-Bresson: the great photographer revealed as a communist. At  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/feb/20/henri-cartier-bresson-exhibition-pompidou-centre-communist   Accessed at 3/9/2016

Part 1 – The Surrealist Movement

The course brief was to comment on the shift away from Surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work), which the research point in the course materials required and whilst I was familiar with Cartier-Bresson, I knew nothing about Surrealism. I’ve made the following notes as part of my research using various sources on the subject:-

André Breton founded the Surrealist movement in 1924 when he wrote “The Surrealist Manifesto.”.

The ‘The Art Story’ website http://www.theartstory.org/movement-surrealism.htm explains:

‘Breton defined Surrealism as “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought.” What Breton is proposing is that artists bypass reason and rationality by accessing their unconscious mind. In practice, these techniques became known as automatism or automatic writing, which allowed artists to forgo conscious thought and embrace chance when creating art.’

The ‘Photography Office’ website http://www.photographyoffice.com/blog/2014/9/top-ten-surreal-photographers-you-have-to-know describes the method:-

‘The Surrealists recognised the artistic potential of écriture automatique, or so-called “thought photography,” in the supposedly realistic recording of the camera….’

‘The work of Sigmund Freud was profoundly influential for Surrealists, particularly his book, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). Freud legitimized the importance of dreams and the unconscious as valid revelations of human emotion and desires; his exposure of the complex and repressed inner worlds of sexuality, desire, and violence provided a theoretical basis for much of Surrealism’ (The Art Story).

There are many descriptions of Surrealism which seem to magnify its power to almost other-worldly proportions:-

‘The images obtained were prized precisely to the degree that they captured these moments of psychic intensity in provocative forms of unrestrained, convulsive beauty.’ (from the Met Museum website http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/phsr/hd_phsr.htm).

‘Their organization writes, “Their efforts to tap the creative powers of the unconscious set Breton and his companions on a path that carried them through the territory of dreams, intoxication, chance, sexual ecstasy, and madness.”’ (https://www.lomography.com/magazine/319536-surrealism-photography-beyond-logic-and-reason)

I think surrealism becomes more interesting when you understand the techniques used to create the images. A number of methods and ideas were used:-

  1. RayographsMan Ray created “rayographs”, or “rayogrammes”. Man Ray placed different objects on photographic paper then exposed them to light and developed the paper. The part covered by the object remained white, while the area around it turns black.
    man-ray-rayograph-ca-1922-865x577   man-rays-rayographie-rayograph-1925-and-untitled-rayograph-1922
    Man Ray Rayograph 1922      Man Ray Rayographs 1922 and 1925
  2. Solarisation – overexposure of the negatives e.g.
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    Hans-Bellmer-The-Doll-1935
  3. Photomontages
  4. Multiple and/or long exposures
    ‘In his 1919 essay ‘The Uncanny’, Freud attempts to analyse why certain things disturb us – things that are not quite right and have a disquieting strangeness. He suggests a number of common examples of this, such as things that reoccur in doubles or many times where there should only be one. This includes the doppelganger or ‘double’, where an exact duplicate of a person suggests a loss of certainty about identity; as well as the apparently inexplicable repetitions such as when an image, word or number keep appearing as if by chance.’ (taken from Stephen Bull’s ‘Photography’).
  5. things that appear to be alive when they should not be and, conversely, things that seem to be dead when they should be alive and most photographs simultaneously bring to life things that have passed and cause what was living to be stilled
    Bull also describes how ‘… after the trauma of the First World War, eerily accurate body doubles of the dead were summoned up by medium-phtoographers and exposed in the darkness of their studios to create spirit photographs for those wishing to see their loved ones again’. This exploitation of grief for commercial ends is something the world is not all too familiar with.
  6. Rotation / Distortion
  7. The Ugly


Above Left:- Jacqueline Goddard Man Ray : 1930. In this image Man Ray solarised the image (black has become white), shadows glow, and gravity is defied. The result was achieved by taking a negative print, rotating it 90 degrees.

Above Right – Dora Maar – Portrait of Ubu. This image featuring an armadillo fetus immersed in formaldehyde doesn’t involve any unusual photographic processes or manipulation but the resulting image is unnerving and gives the viewer an uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what they are looking at.

8. Juxtaposition
‘A very common Surrealist technique is the juxtaposition of objects that would typically not be together in a certain situation or together at all. This has been described as “beautiful as the encounter of an umbrella and a sewing-machine on a dissecting table” (de la Croix 710). Juxtaposition can be used to show a metaphor or to convey a certain message.”’  (https://www.lomography.com/magazine/319536-surrealism-photography-beyond-logic-and-reason)

Having viewed a number of images categorised as ‘Surrealist’,  I’ve decided to add some photographs which appeal to me, one of which is from a founder member of the Surrealist movement, Philippe Halsman, one from a contemporary professional Surrealist photographer, Lara Zankoul, and some other images found on the internet which have followed some of the same Surrealist principles.

salvador_dali_a_dali_atomicus_09633uPhilippe Halsman – Dali Atomicus, 1948

The playfulness of Halsman’s image really appeals to me. Here is an artist who thinks anything is possible when creating an image – its only his imagination which limits what you see in the frame. The hands of the prop man holding the chair to the left is a wonderful inclusion .. imagine his excitement at achieving creating this photograph that he neglects to ensure he remove the mechanical tools/people that are contributing to it. The overhead lighting creating the shadows on the floor was obviously designed to evidence that all the human/feline or inanimate objects were magically suspended in the air, but the shadows also give the photograph almost a menacing feel.

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‘Frenemies ‘- Lara Zankoul
This photograph really resonated with me and seemed to perfectly describe the complexities of female friendships. The linked arms harks back to the simplicity of friendships in early school days and yet the threatening underwater scissors, hidden from viewers at the surface, unsettle the viewer… it is a physical or mental attack just about to happen. Will anyone find out the truth? The twin-like women, dressed alike, hark back to the idea of ‘doubles’ in Surrealist images.

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Heather Buckley
http://heatherbuckley.co.uk/
Heather’s image to the right was used to advertise a street photography workshop she held in the US. I like the expression of the giant grumpy dog looking up into the sky. Has he just had enough of sight-seeing for one day? His owner holding the map seems oblivious… The church is also well placed between the two subjects completing the well thought composition.

My final two images were created by John Meehan. See his art photography at:- http://www.johnmeehanphotography.com/. They are clever examples of contemporary street photography which echo the Surrealist ideas of a century ago.

 

Part 1 – Black and White v. Colour in Street Photography

The course materials suggested researching some street photographers including Helen Levitt and some of her images are shown below. I think that the first two photographs suit the black and white/colour format choice: the image to the left repeats the same green in 3 separate areas of the frame and this really adds impact to the composition. In the second image, the choice of black and white accentuates the shape of the two pairs of legs and allows the viewer to concentrate on the visual curves and form of the entwining legs rather than being distracted by colour.

The photograph below from Helen Levitt is one which I feel might have been more successful if it had been shot in colour; the boy’s face appearing out of a sea of clashing colourful comics would have made him stand out from the background and given the  photograph more impact:-

Helen Levitt - Hide and Seek

In addition to the suggested photographers, I also reviewed images from the popular ‘Street Photography Now’ book by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren. The following photographs are my particular favourites from the book. I’ve included some comments on how I think that the choice of colour or black and white, has added to the overall impact of the image.

Above left:- Macief Dakowicz – Pink Hat, Cardiff, 2006
Above right top:- Matt Stuart – Oxford Street, London, 2004
Above right bottom:- Melanie Einzig – First Avenue, New York City, 2004

Each of these images above is really strong because of the use of colour which has for each highlighted the individuality of the characters depicted. Matt Stuart’s photograph of his ageing subject shading her eyes from the low sun, comes to life because of the repetition of the colour red throughout the image – in her coat, her nails and in the bus. The feminine pink and purple of the ‘Pink Hat’ character in Macief Dakowicz’s image, renders it comical because the colours are at odds with the burly frame and the ungainly pose.  The crocheted character stands out because of his uniformly lemon outfit, which is actually quite regal!

The two images below from Katy Grannan’s ‘Boulevard’ series shot in Los Angeles, California, USA 2008-10, are striking with their stark white backgrounds rendering the characters unequivocally the main subjects; no distracting background or props providing any additional narrative. Whilst I feel that the colour has added some interesting detail especially with the harsh pink lipstick and the ginger tufty sides of the man’s beard, shooting them in black and white could also have been used to accentuate the character and the lines of the ageing, sad-looking Marilyn, and add to the texture of the baseball hat-toting character’s hairy head and body. Using colour for the subjects but blanching out the background gives the images a contemporary ‘minimalist’ feel.

The image below, entitled simply ‘London, 2003’ from the British Street Photographer David Gibson is particularly clever in it’s use of black and white. An obviously colourful object, the Rubik’s cube has been photographed here deliberately in monotone shades so that it mimics the subject’s striking diamond-patterned tie. The man’s walking stick also subtly mirrors the railings and adds to the rhythm of the image as you read it from left to right. Removing the man’s head from the composition also serves to focus on these elements. Gibson wants us to notice how the shapes and patterns are echoed throughout the image without being distracted by colour.

David Gibson - London, 2003

The image below from Raghu Rai – ‘Rickshawman taking a nap in Jama Masjid Market, Delhi, 2005’, is possibly my favourite street photography shot from the book. There are so many creative and clever street photography techniques within the frame that appeal to me beyond it’s obvious lure of it being shot in colourful India. The juxtaposition of the peacefully sleeping, almost ‘giant’ rickshaw man in the foreground against the hustle and bustle backdrop of the blurred passers by behind him with the third layer of the image, the chaotically stocked tyre shop, is so inspired. The image could have been equally as successful in black and white but this doesn’t seem appropriate for a photograph in one of the most colourful countries in the world.

Raghu Rai - Rickshawman taking a nap in Jama Masjid Market, Delhi, 2005

Sources

Howarth S., McLaren S. (2011). Street Photography Now’.