Category Archives: Assignment 1 Two sides of the story

Assignment one (tutor feedback and my response)

Many thanks to Derek for his response to my first assignment. Below is a summary of his comments:

The good …

  • I was pleased that Derek thought that my work was a good start to the module and my progress in just one year has been rapid.
  • My command of editing images down to a set is competent but there were other choices that I could have made (see below).
  • My images are okay in terms of colour balance, depth of field and focus and they appear to be sharp.
  • My composition is good.

The not as good …

  • I am still finding my feet technically.
  • The sense of danger that I wanted could have been created by camera positioning and by pools of light surrounded by darkness.
  • The change from black and white to colour may not have been necessary and the exclusion/inclusion of people could be the best indicator of ‘safe’ and ‘not safe’ areas.

 

Choice of images and which to keep and which to replace

Derek commented on my choice of images and which ones to keep/replace as below:

Image 1 above – REPLACE this

with this … and I can see why. The replacement image gives a greater sense of view and looks more like a vantage point for any sinister person watching.

Image 2 above, KEEP

Image 3 above – REPLACE this

with this …

although this image is not quite sharp I can see why it is better suited to the set. My original choice was perhaps just a view of a security gate but the replacement image suggests the possibility of someone hiding in the archway …

Image 4 above- KEEP

Image 5 above – KEEP – this is the image that Derek thought captured the sense of a viewer not quite knowing what is waiting round the corner.

Image 6 above – REPLACE this

… with this. Again, not quite sharp but an interesting image. The high viewpoint looking down into the water. I did want to include the water in my series but I was adamant that the water itself should not be blurred by the long exposure. I failed to freeze the water motion however, so I rejected all my water shots from the assignment. I would preferably have included a water image but I need to work on the technical side of this.

In addition, regarding my colour images, Derek commented that the image below could have been considered for inclusion in the second set.

I do like the image above and actually think it fits better than the one below as it has a line leading in to the image like all the others in the set. The image below was the only one that does not have the sense of looking into the distance. So yes, the image with the car provides greater coherence.

 

What I have learned

Derek suggests that a variety of camera positions is an effective way of adding variety and creativity and i am becoming more aware of this as I progress.

Using a corner of a wall that I cannot quite see around  is a way of not fully revealing a scene. This is part of the effect that I was trying to realise and I can see why Derek said that I was successful in image 5 and partly successful in images 1 and 6.

I really wanted to freeze the motion of the water but together with the low light I found this difficult (impossible) without producing  a noisy image. I felt that a softening of the water was not harsh enough to compliment the sinister feeling of the series so I rejected it. In addition I rejected the noisy image as I thought it was technically unacceptable.

Derek asked if I had considered painting with light, using a hand held flash or torch? His description of a technical process of using a flash’s short duration to help me with my intention of freezing the motion of water is very welcome but a bit advanced for me at the moment. I will return to this shortly.

I need to do more research around assignments, such as which practitioners have worked in similar areas and how did they do it and what could I learn from them. Point noted for future.

Derek has made clear what I have been aware of all along, even if I haven’t executed it fully. It is important to concentrate on the WHY more than the WHAT. Noted.

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Assignment one (self assessment)

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I spent considerable time before taking the images on planning what I wanted. I then visited the site beforehand to take quick snapshots to see if my ideas would ‘work’ without concentrating too much on technical skill, for example, at this stage I didn’t spend time setting up my tripod and didn’t seek to avoid camera shake particularly. I just wanted a rough feel for what the images may be like. I gained a lot from this actually so may make it a standard practice from now – a sort of trial beforehand. I then returned to the location when I had much more time available and really slowed down and concentrated on what I wanted to achieve.

Visually, for the two sets of images to work together I felt that there had to be a clear visual link so I made sure that there was evidence of the actual brickwork of the arches in all the photographs, and I purposely included the actual shape of an arch in the outdoor ones. If I had ventured even slightly further from the actual arches to capture more evidence of a social area then there would have been no visual connection between the sets. Both sets had to look like the same place.

First side of the story

The first ‘side’ of the story (the black and white images showing the area as menacing and unchanged) was from under the arches where there was limited light. I needed a long exposure so my tripod was essential. Where I needed to, I used my GorillaPod instead. I chose my wide angle lens to capture a feeling of space where someone could be hiding and watching and waiting. Avoiding people (it was actually quite busy so I had to wait for the right moments for people to pass me by) contributed to the lonely feel. I felt that monochrome was the only option to create a sense of unease as colour would have distracted from the mood. My images have a tonal range of mainly dark and mid, with only a small proportion of white, and I find that this adds to the menace.

Visually I looked for corners and hiding places and lonely areas and tried to create a  voyeuristic feel as though someone was waiting to pounce or someone was  being watched and was in danger.

I took images that included the flowing water of the River Aire but the resulting blurring and softening of the water from the long exposure was not consistent with the feel that I wanted to convey so these were rejected from my select. I did try a fast shutter to freeze the water in motion and though the image was pure black in camera, I hoped to expose it  in Photoshop later. I had some success with this and I was pleased that I tried to capture the image that I wanted rather than accept what was easy. Unfortunately the image (below) was too noisy to include in my assignment.

A photographer friend said that sometimes the images that we want are just not possible but it may work to take two images; one exposed for the water and one for the rest and then merge them together post camera. This could be something to look into in future.

I gained a great deal previously from the exercise I completed on black and white v colour see here and thought that the two mediums would compliment this assignment. The black and white images, I felt reflected the connections that the Dark Arches has with the Yorkshire Ripper and adds to the gloomy ambience. Colour would have been associated with an inappropriate cheerfulness.

Second side of the story

The second side of the story (the colour images showing a popular social hub) was from the side of the arches where there was more light. I kept with my wide angle lens and felt that there was still a need to use my tripod. This time, I wanted to take colour images to show the area as well used and popular. Including people in these images contributed to the welcoming feel and presented a well populated and safe area. Visually I wanted colour to show the coloured lighting in the roof structures that has been used to create a feature of the arches and to give a more cheerful and lively feel to the area.

Visually the primary colours from the roof lighting and the railway lockers and signage add a vibrancy to compliment the more cheerful approach. In my contact sheets there were a few mages that I rejected, but if the people in them had been wearing brighter colours, they may have worked. The images may have been improved if the day had been busier as crowds would have enhanced the social feel.

Quality of outcome

I have produce two sets of images that show very different sides of the same story. Any stranger to Leeds would see very different interpretations of the location. These are both ‘real’ images taken from real life but I have shown how the choices that I have made as a photographer will have a direct influence on how viewers understand the subject and will influence how they think of the Arches.

In both sets of images there is a linking theme as evidence of the arches can be seen in all images. I purposely included some element of the curved brickwork in the outdoor images as otherwise the two sets would have been disparate and not obviously linked. The two sets have a common physical link but their styles are in contrast in order to show their different messages. My consistency with my lens choice adds to the coherent link between the sets.

Throughout this part of the course I have learned that what is left out of the image is just as important as what is included and with the black and white series I purposely left out the people in spite of the tricky logistics of waiting for groups to pass and cyclist to move on. With the colour ones, I purposely included them, waiting for them to appear on stairs, escalators etc.

I feel that I have fulfilled the brief to show two sides of the same story. I have understood how a photograph is a point of view and a manipulation of reality and recognise that neither of my sets of images tells the whole story, or the truth.

Demonstration of creativity

I wanted to create two different scenarios and show two very different sides to the same place. Choosing the first series to be in monochrome and the second series to be in colour is a technique that I have not attempted before, in fact I have not previously used black and white in an assignment.

I have shown a story of the arches based on its link with the Yorkshire Ripper and although I don’t think Sutcliffe actually attacked in this exact area, it was certainly rumoured. As a result it became out of bounds as women feared for their lives in Yorkshire. I wanted to present a side of the arches as being relatively unchanged from the 80s with it still being an unwelcome and sinister place and contrast this with a series showing the development and attraction of the area. The second set needed to show the development that has taken place at the Arches including the new railway entrances and the more modern architecture as well as showing the area in use.

I do feel that my approach to this assignment has been perhaps a little predictable rather than inventive, however, I have attempted different viewpoints and contrasting messages and hope to have shown how the same ‘thing’ can be presented in such different ways as to manipulate the viewer. Interestingly, I do actually feel that I have started ‘thinking in pictures’ a bit more.

In the first set, I took the images from a viewpoint that could suggest that someone was covertly watching someone or waiting for someone. The images with walls in the foreground and those with railings close to the camera gave a sinister edge. In the second set I have used leading lines to drawn the viewer in to the image,  used colour to give a vibrancy to the area and included people and activity to show the area as safe and popular.

Context

My images were taken in the context of persuading a viewer to see the Arches in a particular way and of presenting different versions of the truth. My images tell conflicting stories about the area but both sets  are ‘real’. In reality, for every person that loves the Arches for their quirky uniqueness and social setting, there will be another who daren’t go there alone. My images reflect this difference in viewpoints; for a stranger to the City though, how would s/he decide whether to visit or not?

I feel that my learning in respect of documentary photography, manipulation and reality and truth has shown how it is possible for a photographer to really influence a viewer’s response by the choices that s/he make in camera and post production. Both my image sets are ‘true’ but they are so different from each other yet both equally convincing.

Assignment one – two sides of the story

This assignment is to create two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story in order to explore the convincing nature of documentary photography.

My first thoughts for this assignment drifted to common opposites; night and day, backs and fronts (inspired by Pickering’s series Public Order), dull and interesting, rich and poor, clean and dirty. From this I considered taking images to show each of the opposites. As an example I thought about taking images to suggest affluence in a local area (executive cars, desirable properties, art galleries) and then images to suggest deprivation (boarded up shops, ill maintained infrastructure). The aim would have been to persuade the viewers that this area was thriving as opposed to being underprivileged and vice versa. Clearly night and day wouldn’t work as I couldn’t convincingly argue that it is always night-time!

I particularly engaged with a previous exercise to take 30 images in colour and 30 in black and white and I kept returning to it in my mind and wanted to explore this in this assignment if possible. My work on that exercise can be seen here and was instrumental in shaping my decision to work in both formats for this assignment.

I decided to photograph the Dark Arches, Leeds. My first intention was to compare the sombre atmosphere with the remarkable Victorian engineering. I was going to capture images to show the area as menacing and contrast this with closer shots focusing on the curved bricks, the arches, rivets and detail. However, I found that my images were too similar and I realised that I don’t know enough about Victorian engineering.

So, I thought again. I liked my idea for my first set of images, showing the place as menacing, so I decided to contrast this with the redevelopment that has taken place recently to show the same place as welcoming.

The Dark Arches

Unwelcoming, unchanged and chilling

Leeds railway station straddles the River Aire by means of brick-built arches which raise the railway high above ground level, leaving the ‘Dark Arches’ accessible to the public at ground level.

The arches were synonymous with the serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, and were an area of terror for women between 1975 and 1981. They remain little changed and are as unwelcoming and chilling as ever. They continue to evoke feelings of threat with their hidden corners, doorways, alcoves and the deep water of the River Aire.

 

The Dark Arches
The new railway access and unique social hub

Leeds railway station straddles the River Aire by means of brick-built arches which raise the railway high above ground level, leaving the ‘Dark Arches’ accessible to the public at ground level.

Gone are the days when women were afraid of the Arches; they  have been transformed into a vibrant social hub that compliments the Victorian architecture and exploits the arches’ potential. The Arches are now home to restaurants and shops and to a new  Railway entrance making this area of Leeds a busy and welcoming feature.

 

Contact sheets

Before I went on the shoot for the assignment proper, I went to check out the area and take a series of test snapshots just to get a feel for the way they may work. I took no regard to camera shake or composition particularly, just concentrating on the mood that I could capture. I have included a link to my first snapshots, as well as a link to my final annotated contact sheets.

Contact sheets assignment 1 (dark Arches) initial snapshots

Contact sheets Assignment 1 (Dark Arches) annotated

 

Bibliography

Leedsstories.net. (2017). Granary Wharf | Leeds stories. [online] Available at: http://leedsstories.net/2010/10/06/the_dark_arches/ [Accessed 19 Aug. 2017].