Thursday, 12 May 2011

Film Noir

Film noir is now a genre of highly recognisable and iconic movies, such as Double Indemnity sporting one of the classic plots, the femme fatal. A genre that has be created from films being classified retrospectively. However, some will argue that film noir is not a genre based on content as most genres are. This is based on style, mainly those of dark long shadows and a moody undertone. Interestingly enough though these were films created without any of this in mind, they were created in a style of the time. Some of the films created addressed issues within society, one film in case is dealing with anti-Semitism in Crossfire.

One elements that I really do enjoy is that of the hard-boiled detective and the seedy underworld, all played out in smoky bars and it’s usually raining. Plus the Dutch angles to add an unsettled quirky feel but not forgetting the sinister and very effective use of silhouettes.

I do feel quite enthused looking at these images and having a go at attempting to, though not reproduce, but imitate the style with references from those types of books, such as Robert Crais, though a modern author, the time setting can be adjusted.

Similarly a photo shoot created from that of a film noir script by Raymond Chandler and from what I have read, key elements from that script have been encapsulated into a set of photographs with A-list actors. The project was created by Annie Leibovitz and Michael Roberts, the final piece was named after the original script - Killers Kill, Dead Men Die.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Visual Communication - Media Product Essay

This essay will demonstrate the requirement of a stage set, no matter how small, for a theatrical performance. This will be referencing my media product, which is a short film, created via time lapse photography, detailing the creation of a set for Sitting Pretty from an empty stage to that of a completed set and a fully lit stage. Though not directly related to the media product, I will be discussing set design and no matter how limited the space, it is there to enhance the situation, and in some cases with just subtle details.

The rule of thirds can almost fall apart, indeed it can be implemented to create a centre line view. However, a theatre set is not viewed from one location, though for an audience, they will interact with the ensemble from a certain static angle, perhaps seeing slightly more than someone two or three feet to the left or right of them, never the less the rule of thirds, if implemented, they will have to be carefully constructed to be aesthetically pleasing from all auditorium angles.

Set design is usually, if not mainly, created with one specific point of view in mind, usually in the middle of the auditorium. The more accomplished and creative set designers, incorporate the whole audience and adapt the stage and all sight lines to create a spectacle for the whole seating arrangement.

The manipulation of the script from page to stage is not of one singular step, it is in fact that of a transfer of digested text, thus from the stage of the mind to that of the stage of the theatre into the space available. However, this has its own pit falls as addressed by Bassnett-McGuire (1985, p.87):
“The two texts – written and performed – are coexistent and inseparable, and it is in this relationship that the paradox for the translator lies. The translator is effectively being asked to accomplish the impossible – to treat a written text that is part of a larger complex of sign systems, involving paralinguistic and kinesic features, as if it were a literary text, created solely for the page, to be read off the page.”
Indeed the golden ration and the Phi Spiral have no place within a theatre set because it is a semi-static environment, each audience member interacting with the signs displayed to them, albeit from a single point of view. Each member engages from a different perspective, be it bringing in their own private background or social standing; however, the audience needs to keep up with the information presented and piece together as the dialogue unfolds, for when an audience engage they are filling in the pauses with their own reactions but also of past experiences, therefore one can say that one play was not seen, the same number of plays have been seen as audience members. A one thousand seat auditorium when filled will actually host one thousand different plays in that one performance.

A theatre stage set is a signifier, hosting a whole collection of signifieds. These suggestions are representing not only the time and place but also the text and when performed, the spoken word. All these elements are analogical, ostensive. Besbes (2007) quotes Roland Barthes description of the theatre as that of a ‘cybernetic machine’, Besbes goes on to describe Barthes statement to be view in two different ways, firstly the polyfunctionality of the theatre and secondly the audience interacting with these ‘cybenetic’ messages. I will be discussing the involvement of the audience later.

The theatre set is in itself a reciprocal sign and self-referring signifier because the audience knows that this is a temporary space, yet it self-perpetuates by defining and strengthening its existence as the movements and dialogue unfold, though not reality, it does indeed take on a distorted quasi-reality, as stated by Elam (1980):
“…the fictional world of the theatre is also, in fact, mediated by discourse and there is merely the “illusion of direct presentation of the constructed world”.”
Also the visual aspect is that of a network of meanings:
“… as Brecht, Handke and many others have been anxious to underline – permitting the audience to ‘bracket off’ what is presented to them from normal social praxis and so perceive the performance as a network of meanings, i.e. as a text.” (ibid.)
Following on from this statement, I believe that Elam could also have referred to the set being read as a text, though contradictorily viewing it in a non-linear ensemble.

Within the set there are varying types and styles of semiotics, obviously depending on the subject matter, be it a Henry V, many will be iconic, however should the play for instance be Noises Off, most will be arbitrary and metaphoric. However, not to be led away by the visual only, sounds, some natural others artificial, are heavily index based, these indices indicate, for example, that the weather has changed, e.g. rain, or a car has passed by and with these indices we can create a deeper picture without the necessary visual aids. Can a set be created all from sound with an actor in front of a black back drop, I do not believe that this is the case; this is a too immersive medium to be created and delivered to only one of our senses though this does open up a whole new discussion about the visually impaired or indeed other senses, though I feel that these issues should be discussed separately.

Paradoxically the play by Alan Bennett farce Habeas Corpus is set in a black curtained set, making use of only 3 chairs, though this does work, the playwright actually wrote with the idea of, is it possible to write and perform a play without a set, or as minimal as possible; this has been tackled here and to my knowledge, not by many. I feel that this is due to the standard, in this case, of an extremely high writing skill and also a carefully chosen cast.

One issue I’d like to tackle here and discuss is the setup of the acting and viewing space, why is it that we the audience are always looking though the forth wall as a seated unit, I do not have an issue with this fourth wall, what I do wish to contest is why this viewing space cannot be fluid, dynamic, from the point of view of the viewer and hand some level of control and personal interaction with the unfurling events creating before them. This you could say is the point of theatre in the round; however, my argument is that this is still static for the viewer. I can only assume that this is intrinsically led from the Greeks and then to the Romans and their staging, handed down and we are locked in a mentality of ‘this is how we have always done it’, for me this attitude does not cut it anymore in the modern age, we can visit contemporary galleries where we are encouraged to look from different angles, sometimes encouraged to touch, interact or manipulate it in some way. I put it to the reader, why cannot this paradigm be extended to this art form.

One other but relating issue following on from the argument above is the performance in the public space, where the stage is the world, to change a famous phrase. Mime and various street performers require the energy and conviction in their art to hold the eye of the watcher and also to be chameleonic within their immediate surroundings, they are wholly dependent on the gestural sign, as Peick (2005) says that:
“Research suggests that approximately 60-65% of social meaning is derived from nonverbal behaviours (DeVito, Guerrero & Hecht, 1999)”

My conclusion from my findings and research is that, although technically whatever a performance is delivered in front of, it is still a set and the mind will enhance this situation depending on the content of the performance, therefore it will always remain that there will be the requirement of a theatre set, even just a smattering of props for the space of a simple set, for the performance to create and the audience to accept the space as ‘real’, fully utilising the suspension of disbelief and the power of illusion.

Bassnett-McGuire, S. (1985) ‘WAYS THROUGH THE LABYRINTH: Strategies and Methods for Translating Theatre Texts’ in Hermans, H (eds), The Manipulation of literature: studies in literature translation, London: Billing & Sons Ltd, pp. 87-102.
Besbes, K. (2007) The Semiotics of Beckett’s Theatre: A Semiotic Study of the Complete Dramatic Works Of Samuel Beckett. USA: Universal Publishers.
Elam, K. (1980) The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. London: Methuen & Co Ltd.
Peick, M. (2005) Dance as Communication: Messages Sent and Received Through Dance. UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research VIII (2005), 8, pp.1-11.

Aston, E. & Savona, G. (1991) Theatre as a sign-system: A Semiotics of Text and Performance. London: Routledge.
Ubersfeld, A. et al (1999) Reading theatre. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Incorporated
Zuber-Skerritt, O et al. eds. (1984) Page To Stage: Theatre in Translation, 48 vol., Amsterdam: Rodopi

Sunday, 10 April 2011

My Media Product - Time lapse photography

My final piece for course work one - a time lapse photographic short film of the creating of full stage set from that of an empty stage, in stage lighting as it appeared in the run, then the morning of the strike to that of an empty stage again. This is to display the creation of a temporary but acknowledged reality.

Pan’s Labyrinth – Hero Monomyth – Semiotics – Hermeneutics & Tropes

The film poster of Pan’s Labyrinth will be the subject of my attempt at combining a few of the elements of what we have learnt in this module and use of previous blogs.
The first order message is that of denotation, the common sense, the obviousness of the image. The tree is one of the first areas that we decipher, it’s gnarled almost muscular branches giving the feeling of unkindly strength and this in turn is cradling the moon, finally the girl stood before this dramatic scene, our protagonist, all of is in a wash of blue dark night. Also the small branches that frame the whole image gives also gives a sinister feel and makes us feel we are looking in to another world that the girl, first hand, is looking into.

The second order message, the signifieds of the signifiers, the connotations, the denotations is what the image is and the connotations is how it is presented, the tree being old, holding secrets, the moon linked to that of lunar activities, werewolves, witches, thus giving us by the connotations of a sense of foreboding. All of this, as stated, is in the dark, giving this the supernatural twist, yet at the bottom of the tree is green grass, the only colour breaking the darkness, giving a sense of hope and fruition.

The third message or third order of signification is that of the myth, these can be described as metaphors, either cultural or social, generated by the layering of older myths; although there may not me a clear historical myth within this film, it is itself a myth created by the knowledge of other myths, the anthology of storytelling, in this case, coming of age, how children think and deal and adapt with the situations around them.

From the Hero Monomyth perspective, using the image from an earlier blog:

The twelve steps:
  1. Ordinary world – The girl living in 1944 with her mother and stepfather.
  2. The Call to adventure – a fairy takes her to see a faun in an old labyrinth.
  3. Refusal of the task – this is not dealt with as the young girl likes fairy tales and follow the fair.
  4. Meeting with the mentor – Meets the faun, explains his and her position and gives her a book plus 3 tasks to complete.
  5. Crossing the first threshold – Into the tree.
  6. Test, allies & enemies:
    1st test -she has to kill a frog to retrieve a key from its belly, get filthy told of by mother and then stepfather.
    2nd test – use the key to retrieve an ornate dagger, but is chased by a child eating man.
    3rd test – take her baby brother to the labyrinth.
  7. Approach to the inmost cave – Finally at the labyrinth but girl has to hand over baby for its blood needs to be used.
  8. Supreme ordeal – Refusal of the handover of the baby to the faun – stepfather takes baby – fatally shoots the girl.
  9. Reward – girls own blood drips on to the labyrinth floor thus completing the task.
  10. The road back – her dying takes her to her parents.
  11. Resurrection – reborn in the fairy kingdom.
  12. Return with the elixir – this is not used however the happily ever after scenario is used.
Regarding the hermeneutics of the story the area and time is 1944 war torn Spain, rebels in the wood not far from the village causing her stepfather problems and the girls pregnant mother, which has its own fatal complications, all adding to crate diversions.

The Syntagmatic structure clearly plays its part here via various kernels, namely the twelve monomythic steps, each crating it's own enigma, plot creation and part resolution, mainly and cleverly utilised by the three internal tests given; satellites are prevalent due to the involvement of the wood based guerrillas and internal conflicts, forged friendships and the revealing of loyalties within the house.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Division Bell

From a pure photographic form ‘The Division Bell’ album, designed by Strom Thorgerson, released in 1994 is that of two huge metal half faces in an upright position in a ploughed field looking at each other but also creating a third face, both not viewed at the same time, as Thorgerson and Curzon state

“Two heads facing, or talking to each other (‘Keep Talking’), making up a third face, which would get in the way both visually and literally, seemed like a good idea. The single eyes of the two faces looking at each other become the two eyes of a single face looking at you, the viewer. It was intended that the viewer should not see both at the same time. One was the single face, or the two profiles. If one saw both it was alternating, like an optical illusion, which was even better because it meant that the viewer was interacting, or communicating with the image directly, viscerally” (1997, p.130).
Oddly enough, this image, which is also on the front of Storm Thorgersons’ book in not displayed on or within the cover of Division Bell album, the subtle difference is that on the album the reference to talking is that of four spotlights and the unpublished image has three red flags.

This image is discussing linguistics, the act of communication either to someone else or from someone to us. The eyes look like bulls eyes from a dart board and in turn can be connoted to that of talking to your targeted audience. When viewing as two faces talking to each other, we feel like a third person, an almost non-entity within that diologue, perhaps also infringing on their privacy, yet when viewed as a full face, the eyes look menacing, due to the slightly lower angle and our looking up give it a sense of domination, one can also see a switch from two people talking to combining into a single joint force about to reprimand the eavesdropper, us.

Thorgerson, S. & Curzon, P. (1997). Mind Over Matter, The Images Of Pink Floyd. London: Sanctuary Publishing Limited.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Hero Monomyth and the Hermeneutic Code

I am addressing a lecture that we had quite a few weeks ago but has just to mind due to a friend of mine and myself have been writing a script, a melange of a few genres, though towards the end more sci-fi, although our script doesn’t follow all the usual tropes or the standard archetypal hero monomyth however we do still cover a few of these elements.

The Hero Monomyth – Joseph Campbell.

This sequence of events can be used with most adventure stories or films, which in turn usually from novels, the big three that are usually referred to, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Harry Potter or before then, Indiana Jones, take the story and character arc and you have pretty much what is above, yet we all love a ripping yarn, we know what’s going to happen, mostly subconsciously, that the above will be played out, albeit in various ways.

The analogy used in our lecture, though in substance far from Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter, was The Gingerbread Man, yet again this structure held true.

Roland Barthes refers to five codes, one of which was drawn to our attention was the Hermeneutic Code, the snares and snags that puts the protagonist off the scent or disrupts the outcome of a section of the story, maybe inducing another enigma to solve. One other element under this banner is the cliff hanger, usually at the end or a chapter or even at the end of the story either to signify the possibility of a sequel or handing control over to the viewer or reader to come to their own decision.

Another writer on the subject of storytelling is Robert McKee and his three act play paradigm, firstly the setting up of the story and therein the disturbance, secondly the struggle and finally the third element the resolution, although this can be associated to various stories I feel that it is a little too simple for a more involved piece.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Walter Benjamin - The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Walter Benjamin’s book The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is one of our core reading books for this module, visual communication, personally I have found this book a little hard going, but have been able to get through a few chapters, he says that art has always been reproducible, anything man made can be reproduced, this reproduction can be used to a an implement for teaching, ultimately it can and will be used to make money. Ancient technological reproductions were usually made from casting or embossing, coins are one such example. Drawings were reproduced long before paintings, due to wood engraving or graphic art. Wood engraving then changed to cooper plate engraving and then lithography in the late 19th century, this was replaced only decades later by photography. Photographic reproductions speed up to a point that is was able to capture images in sync with speech.

Regarding the reproduction, this is still very much unique within its own surroundings, this idea I personally quite like, and also its ownerships and therefore its changes in environments. Manual reproductions were usually written of or branded as fake yet with the modern reproduction, the copy is more autonomous in relation to the original.

Benjamin talks of genuineness and how the very perfection or refinement of its being since its creation to its duration through time and the event that the original holds, for instance a film slide.

This is my reckoning of the first few chapters of the book and one that I have found challenging to digest, however after re-reading elements and adapting to Benjamin’s style of writing, have found some of this to be quite interesting and look forward to reading more of this body of work.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Bradford Grid

For our photography module the first part was that of a mini project of photographing a section of the A to Z of Bradford, referred to as the Bradford Grid, this was about half a mile up Horton Road from the university. On first impression I had all sorts of ideas flying through my head, however these were all erased when I walked to area and found this task rather harder that I had expected. I have to say that I struggled on the first couple of visits trying to get a handle on a style and on a subject, however this part of the project I actually enjoyed, in some sort of masochistic way, as it took out of my comfort zone and forced me think and try, quite literally, different angles. I spoke with some of the people on my course about the images, even though we had cart blanche, was still a concern, one bit of advice was to document the place rather than try and romanticise it but I had a damn good go at doing just that anyway. Feedback was, 'nice and easy on the eye, looked like I’d taken a wander on a Sunday afternoon, gentle and easy going'; well it could have been a whole lot worse.

I have chosen these four images as they all have a pleasant bokeh, be it foreground or background, drawing the eye to the in focus element of the image yet also making the blurry area quite interesting, I think that this attribute causes images to become instantly more engaging and interesting. I feel that these, albeit every day functionally objects, can be made, as probably most objects, quite compelling when viewed from angles not normally seen.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Marla Rutherford

Last semester I was in the university library looking through portrait photography books and happened upon a couple of photographs that, as I am sure you’ll agree, stood out from the opposing pages, I was really quite taken with these images, one of them shown here, the striking model juxtaposed with the chintzy small dining area cum snug, which doesn’t look at dissimilar to that of a static caravan. Having looked into her work, she has quite a large repertoire and this latex fetish side is only one of many facets, however they all have this rich, bright and very high detail quality about them.

One element I really enjoy about this type of work, is that it is so wonderfully playful and quirkiness, for me it is quite refreshing, it touches on an area that is rarely discussed and presented in a non-vulgar way. I have to say that I feel quite inspired and that Rutherford, for me, really stands out as one of the top contemporary photographers.

She has a set of photographs and watching a video of her talking about her work, of putting this often darker side of peoples characters, that is usually only performed indoor in the comfort of their own home out of prying eyes, unless they are either very confident or just don’t care what other people think, and put into all sorts of wonderfully ‘boring’ roles, such as mowing the lawn.

This photograph has a clear structure, from as mentioned, juxtaposed woman against the kitsch setting to the contrasting coffee mug, after all the photo is titled Fetish Coffee, plus the to be read paper on the opposite side, perhaps there is her partner out of view and then on to the yet again striking yellow sunflowers in the vase to finish of the abundant yet contrasting normality. The angle of the bench on the right advertises it’s vacancy save the magazine and hints of a will be soon filled impression.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Roland Barthes – Photographic Message and the Photographic Paradox

I have just read the first part of the first chapter of Roland Barthes Image Music Text, the first chapter is The Photographic Message and the section read, The Photographic Paradox. I have decided to attempt to write this up in my own words, mainly for my own understanding and hopefully I have got this right, there can be a fine line between interpretation and mis-interpretation, hopefully this blog will be the former.

Barthes uses the press photograph as an analogy for this section of text, he states that there are three sections to a press photo, firstly the emission, that is the creation of the photograph and the staff involved in producing it, secondly the reception, the reader and the third and final, the channel of transmission, the actual paper, the physical copy. With the paper, the photograph can change meaning depending the ownership and for the intended reader, be it a left or right wing publication and that all press photographs are shown in conjunction with one other element, a title, be it text or a caption, this is always an accompanying element to all press photos. These two elements are viewed together however they are still separate. Text is the linguistic element and the photo is the visual aid made up of lines, texture and shading, each are equally defined yet are contiguous.

One element is very familiar and that is language but the other is still very much to be learnt about, the language of the photograph. What does the photograph transmit? It is a snapshot of reality, though reduced by proportion and colour; there is no need for a relay, a dialogue between image and supplementary text, this is accepted as reality, even if the perspective is also reduced. There is no code required to decipher the image, it is a continuous message.

Reproductions of reality do not need a code, paintings, drawings, theatre, this is on first sight, the first meaning, or initial message, the initial style of the reproduction and accepted as such. The second meaning is created from the signifier, the physical form, the representation of reality put forward by the creator; the signified is how this representation of reality is decoded and how the message is received by the viewer. So this representation is transmitted via two messages, a denoted, the physical form and the connoted, the message or signs within, however it is, rightly or wrongly, digested by the individual, collective group or indeed society as a whole. This is across all reproductions and interpreted as such, no one thing can be viewed without this duality.

However a drawing, created by human hand, cannot come across without having some sort of style visible; similarly a film has an inferred motive.

Barthes says that a photograph in its very existence is viewed as a picture and the message is clear from what it stands as, this is the first order message and because of this there is no second order message or connotation, its statement removes any further dialogue.

So the photographic paradox, according to Barthes, I think I have this right, is the co-existence of the non-coded, the photographic analogue and the coded, the art or rhetoric of a photograph, the artistic dialogue, so the coded message is created from the message without a code.

‘The photographic paradox can be seen as the co-existence of two messages…one without a code [and] the other with…it is that here the connoted (or coded) message develops on the basis of a message without a code.’ Barthes (1977, p19).

Barthes, R. (1977) Image Music Text. London : Fontana Press.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


I was out taking some sample photos for my photographic project, dealing with folklore and myths, this was taken at Barden footbridge, a bridge noted in a local fantastical poem. I feel that one of the qualities of this photo is the peek-a-boo feel, almost predatory as you can see the walks happily wandering towards us, the calm before the storm, with the weather giving a feel good, vibrant vibe. If the focus had been on the walkers, I do not feel that this would have been quite as strong or charismatic. The eye is being shown to two striking elements, one of the moss and the texture of the wall, for those with an appreciation of Yorkshire sandstone plus local flora, but also the eye is drawn to the two small figures walking towards us, neatly placed within the cut away of the top two stones of the wall. The tones within the wall are darker than the archway in the bridge yet are all still similar enough not to be too distracting. Regarding the rule of thirds this can be divided up cleanly in to the 3 horizontal sections with the aid of the brick work in the bridge and the wall, plus the shadows leading the eye in from various starting points. 

However, ultimately I find the photograph would have been better with the walkers closer than they are and another change I would make if I have the opportunity again, would be to use my 50mm prime lens to get a cleaner more defined bokeh, plus one additional quality is that prime lenses have less distortion.