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.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Media Product Proposal and Ideas.

My media product is a time lapse video of the set of Sitting Pretty at Ilkley Playhouse, being created from an empty stage to that of a full set and then some stills of the set in its stage lighting then the morning of the taking down of the set or ‘strike’ as it is usually, or one of the main terms, referred to. My media product is to show the amount of work that goes into the creation of a theatre set as this is usually, looking at most critiques of a show, very rarely referenced or noted. This I think for the set designer and the team building it a real shame, but no I’m not bitter believe it or not. One element that I haven’t shown in the video is that of the setting up of the stage lighting also called the ‘tech’ or technical rehearsal, this was sadly missed due to timing issues, however with this addition this would have made the video almost unwatchable due to the running length.

A sample section of footage from the building of the set.

 A photograph of the finished entrance hall/living room of the set in full set lighiting.

The second peice of course work is a critical and analytical refelction of our media product, however my essay will not be directly relating to the media product rather I will be discussing set design and how, like a painting or photograph it is there to enhance the situation sometimes with just subtle details, sometimes this can be a mention of something, a light dancing around the set signifying a bird. The imagination, when in the right frame can be drawn in by itself, convince itself and believe in a temporary fictitious space as being reality and seeing the image as it is intended to be, obviously you can’t really have a live bird in the auditorium as it’ll fly off, seek sanctuary in the rafters and crap on everyone.

Image Music Text the title of one of Roland Barthes books, these three are the most influential of the senses when at the theatre and all three together or the very lack of them can be incredibly powerful when the mind is in a receptive state, almost knowing that it is being deceived and yet in turn willing to be deceived and also importantly deceiving itself.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Giorgio de Chirico

The first time that I saw this I painting by Giorgio de Chirico the first thing for me that I thought was seeing the two men shaking hands, my immediate thought was that of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album cover of the two businessmen also shaking hands, though one is actually on fire, the reasoning of this as stated by Thorgerson
“People often shy away from emotional commitment for fear of rejection. Absent through fear of being hurt, of being ‘burnt’” (1997, p88)

Obviously this is not the case in Chirico’s painting, these are two people, perhaps friends meeting in a square, however one could argue that maybe Storm thorgerson has seen this painting and had been influenced, wittingly or not. I have, from looking at Chirico work online, obviously not originals, but copies of copies, see John Berger blog for more on that, but I have come to really enjoy these; one element is the re-emergence of the two figures shaking hands or standing next to each other with long shadows, this comes across as almost a signature motif, though not used extensively through his whole work. In contrast to the 35mm transparency that the album cover was shot on and giving it its light tones, de Chirico uses very strong colours, reds, oranges and greys turning to almost black in the shadows. His paintings and this one in particular, can be split up into the rule of thirds or golden thirds, if overlaid possibly even fitting into the rule of the Phi Spiral, in this case the inner most spiral finishing on the two figures. The composition leads the eye in both directions, if reading like a book from left to right one could follow the shadows from the fountain diagonally right to the figures, across the back and finishing down the arched building on the left, however if looking left to right the eye follows a slightly different track and lead up the building with the arches to the grey building at the back and then down to the figures finally resting on the fountain. Regarding the men in this painting you could assume that the two figures, instead of meeting are in fact departing company, denoted by the train top right, when we think of a train, it is always going somewhere as opposed to coming in from somewhere. The tapering sky, darkening quickly, again a recurring theme, lends depth as does the perspective of the train.

One other painting of de Chirico that most adolescents and adults alike maybe familiar with, is that of ‘Melancholy and Mystery of a Street’, used as a cover image for Philip Pullman's ‘The Subtle Knife’, part of His Dark Materials trilogy.

Monday, 14 March 2011

White Wells

I took this picture a while ago at White Wells in Ilkley, I have several of the building from the front and back looking out over the moors and also over Ilkley itself, however I find this one more interesting than the conventional photographs; I think this is due to the fact that there isn’t that much going on or to see and so drawn into it, in an attempt to actually find something, one starts to wonder what is there that can’t be seen. A couple of friends on my course mentioned that on initial viewing it looks black and white due to the white wall and black drain pipe, an obvious conclusion but there is a fringe of green at the bottom and also through the archway, so this could be classed as a small, very small, reward. What you see is not always the full or correct picture, a misrepresentation yet corrected when viewed a little deeper. It’s simplicity as a photograph is quite striking; mainly due to the textures giving it is strength plus the vanishing point created by the walls and also the roof.

For some of us, this type of photograph is a frustration due to the lack of answers, ‘What is on the other side’, isn’t that a question we all want to know. For some, the multitude of fantastical places it leads to is so much more than actually knowing. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

Semiotics - The Reading Of Signs

This is, with a help from the lecture slides, my reasoning of semiotics, which having got into now, have found to be really quite interesting. I have to say when I got home I thought about the lecture and I was a little confused especially with the keywords and thus their meanings, so as the cloud of doom and despair rained on my parade I decided to revisit the slides and attempt to piece it all together.

Semiotics is relating to the visual language of sign systems, first coined by Ferdinand de Saussure in 1916. 

According to de Saussure a sign has to have three elements or characteristics:
Must haves:
1) A physical form.
2) Refer to something – not itself.
3) Be used and recognised as a sign.

Signifier is the physical form
Signified is the content or concept it represents

For instance a signifier could be a rose and the signified is love. However there is a further element attached to this ‘dyadic’ or two part model. Arbitrary or Iconic.

Arbitrary – where there is no natural link or relationship between the two. However the signifier, the physical form, takes on a signified concept by agreement.

Iconic – this is where the signifier resembles or imitates the signified.

Two examples, one from above, a rose (signifier), in relation to love (signified), arbitrary or iconic; it is arbitrary, it’s just a plant; love has been attached to this plant over time. However is a crown in relationship to sovereignty arbitrary or iconic; it is iconic, though the connection could still be classed as arbitrary, this is a metonymy, as the crown actually refers to and stands for something, as in the monarch.

Denotation – The signifier and the signified together make up a ‘first order semiological chain’, the first order of signification is Denotation, the relationship of the sign to its referent. The sign is what the sign or word stands for.
Connotation – The ‘Second order of signification’ is initiated once the first order has represented is values. This is a more complex relationship between sign and concept, producing expressive shades of meaning.

So finally, signification, the first order of signification denotes or stands for the meaning of a sign. The second order connotes or implies the meaning of a sign.

For further reading
Barthes, R. (1977) Image Music Text. London : Fontana Press.
Benjamin, W. (1936) The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London : Penguin Books

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A Night At The Theatre

Accidental Death of An Anarchist, a political farce, written by one of the best, Dario Fo. This blog is mainly about the composition of the theatre set and the ideas getting there as opposed to the content of the play, although the content does have a direct impact on the set.

I was asked if I’d like to design another set, a comedy, a political farce; I like designing for comedies, as I actually enjoy reading the script, not that you have to enjoy the play to design but I tend to have more ideas floating around when interacting with the characters in my head. The director had a few ideas and asked me if any of them were goers, most were, almost anything is possible (within reason), the initial idea was to have the set unfold in front of the audience, the anarchist would talk to the audience and unveil the office from behind graffiti hinged walls, setting up the office in the police station giving the illusion of creating a space for the entrapment, however the final set was static, no moving parts, apart from the rolling building outside of the window, a ‘going up to the fourth floor’ visual play on words, which the audience responded to and found amusing. So the set was approved, a set within a set. For those in the know, the graffiti was separated stage left and right, Right wing and left wing slogans for the parties then active.

So the set had to have enough room for dashing around, doors opening and closing, plus a conga chain involving most of the stage management. Compositionally the feeling is to give the small, in comparison, office space intentionally a boring grey, set prominently in the middle and forward of a mass of anarchic graffiti, both representing that of the anarchist but also that of the instability of the police and the corruption within, heightened by the boldness of the red and black and white. This is as you can see a very simple set drawing the eye into the middle, yet joking comments of 'the actors better perform or they'll be out performed by the set', this most certainly was not the case as the bold slogans brought out and extenuated the performances.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Wheatfield With Crows – The Last Painting of Vincent Van Gogh (maybe).

Vincent Van Gough was not rated when he was alive, unlike, though maybe a tenuous link, Jimi Hendrix, yet through death both are still very much alive and have become house hold names. It seems that death can be the making of you, hell maybe if I croak with a fantastic photo to my name, maybe I’ll go down in the history books, but I very much doubt that, I refer to the history book of course, not the dying bit, that’s a given. I was looking at the print in the wall of my living room of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night Over The Rhone’ and then thought of the first episode of John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, he showed a couple of painting in silence and then told the story, background information or in this case, that of ‘Wheatfield With Crows’, some say that this was the last painting of Van Gogh and that this was the place or similar to where he shot himself in the stomach, dying 2 days later in his bed, however I have read that others say that there were several more paintings after this one. Looking at a photograph of the original, and again referring to John Berger, the painting has such texture and atmosphere, but is still unlinked when viewed on a computer screen; I can only imagine what it must be like to stand in front of it, seeing the thick heavy brush strokes put on over one hundred years ago. Also how the image changes from giving vivid imaginations of running through it, or an image conjured up from reading a book to having an air of sadness that is quite troubling, yet like looking at an optical illusion, the mind can only concentrate on one image or in this case one set of emotions, flicking, even if it is just for half a second, from wonder and awe to sadness and possibly even an emptiness knowing that this was the last one or one of the last and the circumstances that lead to the end, but then flicking back to joy of thinking of all the other wonderful paintings he created. This I feel is the power of a painting or a photograph, a film or moving picture is static and a photo is constantly moving, shifting; a film dictates how you should feel with colour and music or sometimes that lack of both, we watch a comedy to laugh or cheer us up or a thriller to be whisked away into life of espionage that 99% of us can only dream of or read in books, yet a photograph depending on your mood, the weather, the lighting on the surface, even our age and life experiences from one day to the next, year to year can change how we interact with a ‘static’ painting or photo, so next time when looking at a painting you like and have seen before, think how you are reacting or interacting to it from last time, I’m sure it’ll have changed in your minds eye.