Last meeting at the old primary school, though it might have been a little more timely announced by the City Council and the new premises won’t be available till September 4th. We will be out and about in the interim. At least they told us on the day of the meeting and not the day after I suppose. Never mind, time for some location photography, starting next week at Clifton Suspension Bridge with the foul weather alternative the ever steady Langton Court Hotel.
This week, though was a time to practice that which has certainly been preached in this blog, critiquing our own and others photography. Split into groups we all peered very studiously at the donated images from club members which Mark S. had valiantly circulated. Thanks to Mark and thanks to those who brought in their laptops and tablets. The evening was run by Dan E and he gave us the brief of general impression, evidence for that impression (technicalities like exposure, focus etc), suggested alternatives and conclusion framework to with.
As I mentioned in the two WCPF blogs there is no one way to critique a photograph or other art work, but there are general guide lines that are aimed at getting a consistent result in the appreciation of an art work. This doesn’t just apply to fine art, or western fine art. It doesn’t just apply to one era, geography, class or cultural system but it is separate from the rather lazy “I know what I like” school of art critiquing that is generally code for “And I don’t like that”. As photographers “I don’t like that, because…” is part of our own learning processes. We can incorporate, exclude, re-interpret as effectively from that knowledge as we can from “I like that because….”. It is a small but very significant step. We can then use the equipment and facilities at our disposal to create other images. Our images. The processes of inclusion and exclusion, the ability to see the image in the first place some people never seem to acquire. Mostly though it is a matter of trial and error and practice, practice, practice. Those of you here last week may remember our speaker, Damien Lovegrove, saying that he shoots about a thousand frames a week. Then that is his job.
For all that if the image in front of us doesn’t have a plot, it does not succeed, for the most part. The story is the most important thing if we are to make the emotional contact. The story, the strength of the story – not note it’s veracity (truthfulness) – is directly relational to the success of the image (in general). The story can and will vary from viewer to viewer, but that is really the point. It’s what we invest as individuals. Note that no differentiation is being made between the photograph as record and the photograph as theatre. There are expectations on both sides, there is a contract that what is represented is “A truth” not necessarily and in an increasingly cynical world, “The Truth”. There will be a relationship between objects, people, flora, fauna, space. Sometimes this relationship is in shot and sometimes it is out of frame. Even when it’s a straightforward documentary shot of something you found interesting in a display there will be a narrative that has been presented. There will be a structure.
Structure doesn’t happen by accident. That isn’t to say that there cannot be some happy accident in the relationship of objects that draws the photographer’s attention in the first place, but structure in the way that the photographer chooses the view. See the previous posts on serendipity below this article. The structure will isolate the subject in some way, giving it a focus, it will always work better when there is some tension between subjects (again seen or unseen) and that tension will be created by eye lines, diagonals, lead lines, thirds, direction, body language and so on. Tension, if you will is a relationship of the relative gravities of the objects in your image, determined by their pull and sequence on your attention. These are all clues to the rest of us as viewers, we need your help! The tension in a photograph is also enhanced when we can relate to a “Decisive moment“, the tipping point in a series of interactions, framed captured and presented by the photographer.
That doesn’t exclude the idea of a number of frames telling a story. This is probably closer to reality and can be very strong in itself. It doesn’t have to be about something that is complicated. It is very easy to set up and try yourself. So two contrasting suggestions. Take something that you are interested in that requires series of steps. A drawing, baking bread, packing your kit bag for a day out. A bit like those extras on film DVD’s , “The Making of” only in stills (or videography though that is a whole different set of processes). Essential details and steps need to be isolated. sequenced and documented. Try using this 3+1 formula suggested by Michael Freeman. Then try telling a story, maybe the same story but with human or other interaction using the two principles of isolation and candid. by candid I mean natural, off guard, uncontrived as opposed to formal – decisive moments of the same subjects using two different wayd of thinking. It’s a good way of putting all these things together.
Oh, yeah and have fun doing it ….!
I have spent some of your generously donated time over the last several posts talking about the appreciation of an image and in trying to encourage wider participation in competitions. Talking to other people in some other photographic clubs and indeed, some remarks Peter Wheeler made in one of his visits to us this season, there broadly seem to be two focuses: the competition focused clubs and the participation focussed clubs. These are not two mutually exclusive categories, sensibly there cannot be one without the other, but it is the way that the mix of the two is dealt with that determines the nature of the club. BPS, for instance, appear have a set of images that they use for the many competitions that they enter and they are a very successful club. Dorchester appear similarly disposed, and these were the top 2 clubs in the WCPF 2013 competition. We are more participation focussed and either way there would be no club if it were not for its committee. From and on behalf of the floor, thank you. Last Thursday we had our AGM, which had a reasonable turnout by any club standards that I have been to on whatever topic (not a huge number I will admit). There was: discussion of important topics to the club; consumption of tea, coffee and biscuits; reportage on the path of the club; efforts were lauded and decisions arrived at democratically. Overall, I would judge it as a success because people got involved.
Ruth, Mark O and Dan E were voted onto the committee in the posts of Club, Competitions and Events Secretary’s replacing Julie, Ian and Hanneke at the end of the season. A great deal of thanks is owed to the outgoing members for their considerable parts in making this a successful club and thanks due to those incoming for the prospect of its continuation.
The topic on which we were most exercised was that of the competitions, specifically the format and most particularly the lack of and diminishing numbers of prints being entered. Firstly I will hold my hand up and, as a distinctly novice member, admit I have not entered any physical prints in any of the competition rounds this year. Indeed John P. has been the only consistent entrant in this category and thanks to you John, because the novice print category is an issue not a dead letter. There is a decision for the committee to make about whether the novice category continues into next season for reasons I have blogged about previously, but, in essence, boils down to the fact that the border between the two has become increasingly blurred. There is a but and a very important but so worth flagging: this may become a self-fulfilling prophecy i.e. those who enter are benefitting from the feedback and those who are discouraged by the perceived gap between their own and others efforts remain so and do not enter. The reasons were discussed why this is so, the general lack of prints, and reasons included “Faff” (a general term for producing something the individual thinks not worth the effort as measured by the return), time, space, and additional cost – travel (time cost) being the chief issue when using Keynsham Photographic (KPC). As Mark S. pointed out, as part of a different point but one that applies in general, you can’t eliminate the category and still compete – i.e. digital projection only. Yes I know Zen Photo is web based, but they meet physically four times a year and they compete as a club.
Competing is a core value of our club, but it is not the reason for it, in my far from humble opinion, participation is its life-blood but we have an imbalance at the moment that needs to be addressed and that is getting more people involved in competitions in general and in prints in particular. It is getting you involved in competitions in general and in prints in particular. Yes, next season I will be entering the print competition regularly, a little late for New Year resolutions I will admit, but then they are hardly worth making the effort over if you have no intention of keeping them. I have every intention of keeping this one (and only). The ease and relative speed of entering the projected is not in dispute, but the experience of producing and mounting a print is far more tactile and gives a different perspective as Mark O. attested.
So, 10 questions to ask and my own answers (in brackets). The only permissible answers are Yes or No because anything else is a No, all dressed up with nowhere to go:
- Did I join Reflex CC to become a better photographer? (Yes).
- Is entering the club competitions a positive part of this? (Yes).
- Have I learned anything by looking at the entries and listening to the feedback? (Yes).
- Am I looking at photographing subjects differently than before I did this? (Yes).
- Does that effect the way I take photographs? (Yes).
- Has the overall effect of the feedback been positive? (Yes).
- Is there room for improvement? (Yes!).
- Would entering my own efforts personalise the feedback? (Yes).
- Have I made the best of the opportunities the competitions have presented? (No).
- Does a lack of trophies mean I am no better for the competition process? (No).
If anyone of the first 8 is a yes, then there is a personal gain to be had from you entering the competitions. Logically, enter. Logically enter both projected and print. As for the self imposed quality issue then I would point you to the observation that, even in the Olympic 100 meter sprint final, every athlete is not running against the other athletes because they cannot maximise their own performance against them and run their own race. The things that they can control are the things that are in their own race i.e. they are all running against themselves and their own limitations. Same for us in club competitions. And you don’t have to be a “photographer” to contribute to photography, anymore than you need to be a writer to contribute to the essay form. You just need to plan, do and review to get better.
There are a number of questions that might arise surrounding prints, and the first one is, “What size file does it take to make a good photographic print?”. For Reflex CC competitions the mounting card dimensions are exactly 50 x 40 centimetres (roughly 20″ x 16″) and the image can be any size up to that. The decision is yours. The competition form has to be filled in as with a projected image + a digital copy of the image also has to be submitted. This latter part helps with the blog when publishing results and the catalogue I have done with the last couple of rounds and will continue to do as long as its viable. Rather pointless having an empty space where a winning entry should be. So back to the size of the file. If you have bought a digital camera in, roughly, the last 10 years, you should be OK. KPC say that the jpegs they use are to be 305 PPI (pixels per inch) and you can do this through image scaling software (Photoshop will do it, ditto Paint.Net so will GIMP)
Part of the problem I have with the print section of the competition, I admit, is that it is more difficult to see and remember what is which when it comes to the feedback. The big, vibrant projected image is a different experience to the more tactile, focussed print. I sit at the back of the room, I know, but that is so I can use the light to write my notes. This rather puts me at a disadvantage as compared to the projected images, given that the optimum viewing distance is usually given as a 1.5 or 2 x multiple of the diagonal of an image – making a 16 x 12’s prints optimum between 30 and 40 inches (76 to 101 centimetres), though time can be spent walking around, looking at the prints close up. Therein lies a very important point. The relationship between the viewer and the image is different in a print than it is in a projected image, we react differently to it. It isn’t just a question about which is better, because the answer depends upon the context you are viewing it in. The photo-marathon was as much about moving around for the viewing as it was in the taking. The Interaction was different. Broaden your experience and double your chances of constructive feedback by entering both parts of the competition next season and keep practicing by entering the Flickr competition until then. Maybe we need a Flickr evening?
As an evening a very successful AGM. This is a vibrant and happy club to belong to, made so by its members. Yes we need to expand our competition base but that is something we can all contribute to. I look forward to the rest of the year.
NEXT MEETING – Practical, bring your camera and as it is product shot time, feel free to bring a tripod if you have one and anything interesting you want to photograph. Very successful last time, you will probably have some competition entries among these!