May 21, 2012
May 20, 2012
Fairy tales—they are such happy, pretty, pretentious little things; insect-singing, bird-chirping, flower-blooming, wind-whistling, almost-disaster-but-not-quite little darlings. Oh! And happy endings. Disney is ever the altruist. But what I am interested in are the sinister gems that inspired these modern counterfeits. In these earlier largely vocal stories, Little Red cannibalizes Grandma alongside the Wolf before being devoured, Sleeping Beauty is raped and impregnated by the Prince while in her coma, and Repunzel is seduced by an adulterous and uxoricidal king. These scare’em straight stories seem to say, “Yeah, I ate a baby for lunch but there’s still room for a Snickers bar.”
This matter-of-fact violence cannot be captured by representation, but instead only by essence. In these photographs, mood dominates role-play. “At Grandma’s” projects a predatory essence before revealing the narrative. “In Beauty’s Bedroom” gives the atmosphere of a musty brothel. “Below the Tower” suggests a larger, sinister environment before identifying the characters. Because the materials are not direct representations (toy soldier representing the Prince), the photographs become mercurial and speak about many scenarios simultaneously. The use of found objects provides a familiarity that, in the context of the lighting and scene, is at once difficult to place and strangely appropriate, because they were chosen for their material properties and history. For example, the “wolf” is crumpled sandpaper, which is materialistically rough, harsh, and associated with eating into wood. Similarly, the “Prince” is a used moldy sponge and the “king” is literally a tool. Although it usually takes two images to tell a story, these single photographs convey a back-story, a cause that led up to these situations, because they are not locked down by strict representation and are free to wander and imply a bigger world with separate laws and inner workings.
May 3, 2012
May 1, 2012
Abandoning the iris and the holes on West Campus idea, I decided to pursue miniatures. It seemed the natural direction, as my project with Kwame focused primarily on construction and creating abstract miniatures using found objects.
Figuring out the subject of the photographs was the difficult part. After some deliberation, I decided to go back to what I’m fascinated by most—fairy tales. I am especially interested in the evolution of fairy tales, how they change through time. The most familiar versions of these fairy tales are without doubt the Disney or the Brothers Grimm versions, but the earlier oral versions are even more engaging.
These earlier stories were morbid, sinister, and gruesome. They weren’t meant to entertain, but are moral stories told to scare children into good behavior. In the context of these earlier stories talking on new details as they are told through time, using found objects made sense, because there is also a history associated with each found object. The combination of several objects with various histories built up a kind of potential.
The one thing I was certain of was that I did not want these miniature sets to be literal representations of scenes from these stories. I wanted them to imply a kind of fantasy/fairy tale atmosphere without explicitly telling the viewer that was what it was. The title will fill in the gaps.
The above photos are taken by other artists who use miniatures and fairy tales as their point of departure.
April 16, 2012
Because we all came relatively unequipped with props or costumes to the first shoot of our flash photography project, we were forced to overcome some camera-shyness without material cues. After designating roles (model, lighting director, photographer), we played charades and told childhood stories instead of engaging in any overt directing. This strategy definitely created relaxed expressions and some very animated gestures. Though props and costumes might have been useful, the playing charades and retelling stories definitely created alternative and perhaps more subtle suggestions of personality in the images.
We all found modeling/directing to be one of the most difficult positions. Once we opened the space a bit and were able to get up and move around, we began to get more successful shots. Our shots became much more playful and energetic when we began using confetti and the large red backdrop. The ability to move around and respond to certain props made job of modeling significantly easier.
In introducing us to flash photography, this project demonstrated the difference between how things appear in the studio, and how they appear on camera. The incredibly bright and contrasty red fabric was a delight to work with, and the methods we were using – two monolights in the case of the White Lightning confetti shots – really emphasized the vibrant and almost unnatural quality of the colors.
The flash also allowed us to capture a high-speed motion, in this case the shooting of the nerf gun. This was more fun than anything, but it taught us the advantages of flash lighting.
April 11, 2012
I think that the Sibley flash photography shooting was the perfect project to end the flash photography session. I never expected the photos to come out so well. Some of my favorite pictures resembled photos of film sets. The dramatic lighting and the drapes were the causes of that. Actually, I felt that the whole shooting session felt similar to movie production. Individuals were divided into group and give jobs. The director oversaw the whole production and each group contributed new ideas and experimented to find the best effect. I feel that this was the gem of the course right here. We each had responsibilities and needed to compromise, but we also had enough creative freedom to explore. In other words, if felt like our project instead of the professor’s or the TA’s. I was a member of the lighting group. I did not look at the photos being shot during the actual photographing, but rather focused on experimenting with different lighting conditions. For example, during photographing, I decided to take the color filters out and used multiple different color filters to light the scene from different angles. The mood of the photos varied drastically depending on the color of the filters. The combination of green and red transformed the location into a horror scene. Gold, pink, and red gave it an unifying reddish pink hue and gave a softer, more relaxed feel. The last four colors, two of which were actually not selected by me, were my favorites. It is this combination of red, pink, purple, and blue gels that gave the photos their theater feel. The deep red reminded me of Shakespearean plays. I think that if we ever decide to make this collection of photos into a piece, the title “Shakespeare” might be interesting. Anyway, great experience.
April 10, 2012
On the first day of shooting, I brought wooden blocks that I had previously cut into interesting designs. I arranged them some distance apart, totem pole style. The resulting photographs reminded me of desolate rock formations in the Nevada Desert. Kwame then surrounded them with thick metal wires.
With a few tweaking that involved stacking a tall (and very rickety) tower with the blocks, the result looked like an abandoned abstract cityscape. During the next few meetings, I brought more wooden blocks of various designs while Kwame brought toy soldiers. We then proceeded to construct a more elaborate city complete with skyscrapers and people. During a scavenging trip in the Foundry, I found some leftover elements of one of Piotr’s artworks—a few hundred square wooden blocks—and started using them as basic building blocks to construct larger landscapes. Furthermore, when we were taking our Polaroid photos, Jen accidentally knocked down the skyscraper, which then toppled pretty much everything else. Ironically, these two misfortunes inspired me to suggest we make our project completely using found objects. Kwame then extended that idea to the reconstruction of a city after a disaster.
As we walked this path of found objects, everything seemed to make so much sense. Because much of the reconstruction of a city is about recycling, using found objects seemed, in hindsight, the perfect choice. After a week of improvements, we eventually settled on a design that resembled a half constructed city consisting of abstract buildings, skyscrapers, houses, workers, and rubble. The setup was ultimately a miniature, but that was not what I wanted. I aimed for something that, although was made on a small scale, transcended being a mere model of the real thing. Obviously, it was easy to tell that the setup was a miniature when looking at it using my eyes, but that was where the difference between seeing something through my eyes and seeing something through a camera came in handy. I believed that we could blur the sense of scale and imply a space that, although being a small model, simultaneously transcended the feel of miniature through the correct use of lighting.
We devised three methods of blurring scale. Firstly, Kwame suggested we set up the light to imitate the light conditions of different times of day: morning, noon, sunset, and evening, so as to make the setup seem like it existed in the natural world instead of on a table. To explore the different lighting conditions, we used foam boards to block part of the light, reflectors to channel the light onto certain core areas of the image. After taking a few more Polaroid’s, I noticed that our positioning of the light created interesting projected shadows on the backdrop, namely the skyscraper casted the shadow of a cross. That then remained an important element in our subsequent shootings. Furthermore, when setting up the composition for the first time, I noticed the similar texture between the wooden platform and my wooden blocks. So, I chose to incorporate not only the objects, but also the platform on which the composition was built as a part of the material for the piece. Instead of covering the support with a smooth, monochromatic sheet of paper, we agreed to expose the raw, textured wooden plates and include them in the composition for their resemblance to the wood theme of the overall construction. Finally, we adjusted the lighting positions to specifically create and capture a triangular shadow below the wooden support platform. This shadow released the entire structure from the ground and seemed to elevate the piece, making it float. The result was an abstract cityscape resembling a floating half-constructed utopian city.
I personally learned a lot through this process, which is odd, because I hate teamwork so very much. However, I have to admit that the exchange of ideas, even the disagreements of two stubborn minds, means that I never had artist’s block; the idea flowed constantly. What I found most rewarding is that we taught each other things we otherwise would not know. For example, I learned from Kwame the spirit of compromise. He was very good about listening to my ideas and even when he disagreed, he did so respectfully. On the other hand, I believe that I taught him attention to detail. For example, I would constantly check that the camera was leveled, count the grids on the screen to ensure that composition was correct, and use the magnifying glass to get sharp focus. In the end, I was glad that I went through this experience and found it extremely productive
We began with ideas of complex architectural designs and people working in a machine-like space. The theme then moved to the construction of an extreme environment that would not exist in real life. We wanted to move away from the organic to a more rigid and strict composition.
On the first day of shooting, we brought steel wires and wooden rectangular prisms. We placed the wooden blocks some distance apart in a fashion that resembled totem poles. We then surrounded them with the metal wires in an attempt to find common ground between what we each brought to the project. The final addition of bookstands jumpstarted our idea. We brought more wooden pieces and rubber figures to the next meeting. Through experimentation of different compositions, we ended up with the theme of construction. As we explored the various setups, the idea of cityscapes emerged repeatedly. We eventually narrowed this concept to the abstract reconstruction of a city that has been struck down by a natural disaster (say, a flood or an earthquake). In such an event, the inhabitants would have recycled the rubbles to save money and time. So naturally, we decided to perform our reconstruction using found objects. Since city reconstruction does not only include the reuse of rubbles but also the implementation of new objects, we chose to create new forms as well, namely the assemblage of organic landscapes using small wood squares that served as the background. We also realized that the need to have people in the scene was also eminent to the concept, as a shattered city cannot be rebuilt without the community.
We faced a few technical difficulties in taking the photographs. In particular, finding the right F-stops and shutter speeds after adding the filter proved to be an issue. We showed our biggest strength in handling the cameras. The manipulation of the camera was our most interesting advancement; the camera itself became a composition of sorts as we moved it in all direction to find ways to take the most interesting pictures. At one point, we removed the camera from the tripods, turned it upside down, placed it on the table, and made all the adjustments to the bellows in order to take the necessary shots.
Since we wanted to simulate different day light conditions (morning, noon, sunset, evening) our lighting technique was very interesting. We used cardboard to block light, semi-closed barn-doors to direct light, umbrellas to filter light, and reflectors to project deflected light and channel it onto certain core areas of the setup. We also intentionally chose lighting conditions that would project interesting shadows (a cross) of important structures (skyscraper) of our setup.
Finally, we decided to not only use the objects, but also the platform itself as a material to compose our city. Instead of using a backdrop, we chose the wooden board as the platform because it resembled the theme of the overall construction. Complete with the right lightening angles, we created a triangular shadow just below the platform. This elevated the whole piece, making it float as though defying gravity, creating the illusion of something that is physically impossible.
Working with a partner was very productive. The sharing of ideas was vastly fruitful. The disagreement and agreement of ideas enhanced the production of the work all together. We learned little things about the process of photography from each other that we would have otherwise never learned. The height of the project was when we found our work developing into exactly what we wanted it to be. Photos and videos of laughter and (in some cases) rapping proved that our tireless effort came to a joyful ending.
Carleton Watkins was a California photographer who was born in 1829. He was most famous for his photographs of California Mines and of Yosemite Valley. Since he was living in a time when photography was still in its infancy, Watkins experimented with many photo techniques and cameras, including the “Mammoth Camera” and stereoscopy.
Much like Burtynsky and Adams, Watkins was also a landscape photographer. However, the concept behind his photographs was slightly different from the other two artists. Whereas Burtynsky saw the industrialization of landscapes as an abomination, and Adams saw it as neutral inevitability, Watkins, once a part of the gold rush, saw it as a source of fascination and inspiration. Lacking color and resolution, Watkins achieved a sense of space and weight through stereoscopy. He photographed from both the bird’s eye view and ground level. Being one of the earliest landscape photographers, he definitely inspired both Burtynsky and Adams.
February 27, 2012
Robert Adams is an American photographer who was born in 1937. His work focuses on the changing landscape of the American West. Although his photographs seldom depict people and generally exhibit large empty spaces, they always contain subtle signs of human habitation and contamination. Adams is represented by the Fraenkel Gallery and the Matthew Marks Gallery. He is a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow and has received the MacArthur Fellowship and the Hasselblad Award for his contributions to photography.
Like Burtynsky, Robert Adams can be primarily considered as a landscape photographer. Burtynsky’s takes more colorful, paradoxical photographs and uses a bird’s-eye visual approach. Adams, on the other hand, makes photos that feel more personal and solemn due to the lack of color and ground height perspective. Where as Burtynsky’s photos say “what industrialization is doing to the landscape is terrible,” Adams’ just seem to say “it is changing and it is inevitable.” However, their photographs conceptually speak about similar ideas: a changing natural landscape in an industrializing world. Seeing as how the two artists are both internationally recognized and have both exhibited works in the Guggenheim, they undoubted influence each other’s works.