Martin Parr at FirstSite, Colchester

An excellent exhibition and well worth a visit.

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Last week I had yet another visit to Suffolk/Essex but this time a made a special effort to stay an extra day and visit Colchester’s FirstSite gallery on my way home. the FirstSite building has been open about three or four years is currently hosting its first major photography exhibition, Martin Parr’s Work and Leisure.

The whole gallery has been given over to the exhibition that is on until early October and it displays photographs taken throughout Parr’s life.

Within the entrance area is a selection of images displayed in a grid from Parr’s ‘Common Sense’ collection taken between 1995 and 1999 they make a striking and sometimes lurid display. Parr’s trademark style comes across clear and bright in the display of closely cropped cups of tea, cupcakes, sandals and lots of other ordinary every day items that I generally wouldn’t bother to document. Together though, they are very striking and really do give a taste of modern consumerist culture.

Parr CS

 

Along the gallery is Work and Leisure taken around the world between 1986 and 2015 these photos show people doing their normal every day jobs and also relaxing. The first group of photos show people at work dong what needs to be done to prepare products or services while the second group shows people relaxing and consuming. I was particularly drawn to a photograph of a large indoor swimming area/beach. It is a vast space full of people laying out on towels, sitting on the sand, paddling and swimming. It looks like a Where’s Wally picture.

Parr WL

 

Further along in the next gallery space are photos that Parr was commissioned to take of the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire. The bright rhubarb colours clash brilliantly with their surroundings. I particularly liked Parr’s image of a grower holding a large bunch of picked rhubarb which glowed against his navy overalls and muddy boots.

Parr RT

I have looked at Parr’s Last Resort photos in the book so often that they were very familiar when I saw them up close and for real in one of the next galleries. I was very pleased to see that most of my favourites were there on display.

Parr LR

I was pleased to see a few images from The Cost of Living collection. These were all taken between 1986 and 1989 in response to criticism of class voyeurism of Parr’s Last Resort photographs. It is a similar documentary effort to that of the Last Resort but about the middle classes, conservative gatherings and floral wallpaper.

My favourite exhibition though was The Non-Conformists, a collection of black and white film images of the people and places around Hebden Bridge taken between 1975 and 1980. I particularly like to see the elderly ladies at church, one where they appear to be asleep in the pews and another of a lady having a cup of tea below a representation of the last supper.

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Parr HB

Other displays included a series of self-portraits and some ‘boring postcards’, both are worth a look but didn’t really do anything for me.

All in all I thought this was an excellent exhibition and it is well worth a look around, there is so much to look at and some of it is quite thought provoking. Parr really does have a lot to say about our greed and consumerism.

Camille Silvy

French photographer Camille Silvy was born in 1834, near Chartres. He began his career as a diplomat having trained in law.

Silvy took up photography as an amateur in 1857 while he was a government diplomat. He was sent to Algeria to draw and document buildings and scenes but soon realised that he couldn’t actually draw very well and turned to photography.

Like Constable, Silvy liked to represent his local countryside and one of his most famous prints is called ‘River Scene, France’, taken in 1858 from a bridge over the River Huisne that runs through his birthplace Nogent-le-Rotrou. It was described as a “triumph of the art” when it was exhibited in France the same year at the first exhibition to include photography as fine art.

“One critic said of his landscapes: “It is difficult to obtain a greater finesse in the details with such grand and well combined effects of light.””

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Elizabeth Martin, Senior Conservator at the V&A explains that two negatives would have been used to make the image, one for the foreground and one painted with the clouds and river reflections (this was because the wet collodion process was overly sensitive to the blue part of the colour). Under high magnification she located the join in the poplar trees. She was also able to enhance the two figures in the image so that their outfits could be dated. She says that, “Excitement set in when a hitherto undetected ‘man in the bush’ was found.” What a naked man was doing in a bush can only be speculated about but perhaps a nude sunbather chose to save any blushes when a photographer began setting up nearby.

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The farm workers (actually railway workers) and the wealthy couple about to go boating were paid to be in the picture. It was an idyllic scene set-up to illustrate the division between rich and poor.

Another well-known photograph is of men reading an Order for the Day sent by the Emperor Napoleon III from the frontline in Italy and posted on the streets of Paris. It was to his army and reminding the people that he was still in charge.

Silvy gave up his diplomatic career in the late 1850s and moved from Paris to London where he opened a photography studio at 39 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. The yard at the back was used to print the photographs out using sunlight. The building included finely decorated recption rooms, a dressing room and even a ‘Queen’s Room’ in case Queen Victoria ever came to call. Although she never came herself Prince Albert was photographed by Silvy as were other royal friends and relations. It was close to Hyde Park where, as a keen horseman he was able to make equestrian portraits which were particularly fashionable at the time.

When setting up, Silvy needed people to take photographs of, so he sought out actors and performers who wanted to sell their photographs to fans. this was a great tactic and helped spread the word about him across the city and beyond. One of his most famous performer subjects was opera singer Adelina Patti who he photographed in many of her roles at Covent Garden recreated in his studio.

Generally, two poses were recorded, three times each, on one glass negative. When the sitter had chosen which they preferred, the portraits would be printed, gold-toned, trimmed, mounted on card and dispatched by post. Over 17,000 portraits were made here (up to 30 a day) between 1859 and 1868, and over a million prints produced for sale.

“The great French photographer Nadar described Silvy as a “formally clad, white-tied charmer who – as each client entered the studio – would negligently cast a pair of white gloves into an already overflowing basket, and don another, irreproachably new pair… “”

Silvy took many of the portraits for carte de visite or calling cards. People would create albums of these cards and show off about who they knew. Some of Silvy’s photographs were even of people involved in creating these albums.

A series of 3 photographs taken in 1859 called ‘Studies on Light’ used a number of groundbreaking photographic techniques and manipulations to create them. Scholars suggest that up to four negatives were combined to create the photograph entitled Twilight. It is also thought that this picture is one of the first to deliberately use blur to suggest movement.

Photographic portraits was not Silvy’s only business venture. He established a Librairie Photographique in 1860, photographing and restoring manuscripts. He also published a magazine called the London Photographic Review.

Silvy met and married Alice Monnier in 1863.

Silvy’s self-portraits show him, and his wife, to be very handsome and fashionable. One particular portrait shows him four times, reminding viewers of an Andy Warhol print and like Andy Warhol I understand that Silvy turned his studio into a bit of a photography/portrait factory.

Silvy developed a panoramic camera in 1867 and demonstrated it by taking a 360 degree panorama of Paris taken from the Champs Elysees. Most cameras prior to this involved swinging the camera around and taking a series of photographs that were then stitched together in the darkroom. There were many problems with this so Silvy’s design involved a photosensitive sheet that was slowly unwound from a spool through the camera.

Silvy ended his photographic career early, in 1867 due to ill health. The London smog didn’t suit him and photographic chemicals didn’t agree with him. Still at aged just 35 years he returned to France and fought in the Franco-Prussian War.

In his later life Silvy suffered from manic-depression and spent many years in and out of psychiatric hospitals before he died in 1910.

References:

 

Hugh Hastings

At the weekend I dropped in at the Photography Show at Birmingham NEC where I went along to a seminar by Hugh Hastings about landscape photography.

Hastings has an impressive resume including being an official photographer for Chelsea Football Club for more than 10 years. He mentioned a number of projects he has worked on including photographing the people he met in hospital when he had an operation, creating badges of a deceased relative for their funeral and giving single use cameras to the homeless.

He has a real affinity with the outdoors having been inspired by the photographs on Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother LP. Although most of his work these days is architectural he believes them to be landscapes with building (or rooms) in them.

He is a Leica ambassador, shoots solely with Leica cameras and travels around giving talks on behalf of Leica. He said that we would pay for a Leica, financially and physically, through lugging it around, but that its quality was unsurpassed.

He has released a number of books and is currently working with a publisher on a book of photos of Cornwall for which he requires around 300 photographs. The publisher, Ron Johns of Mabecron Books, would like traditional blue sky, postcard images but Hastings has other ideas. He wants to find some some new angles and is negotiating with the publisher about what he can do. For example he showed us an image of St Michaels Mount taken with a long lens from a distance, at sunset. Although this particular image is a little too abstract for the publisher, these lesser seen views are what he wants to take. Now he is simply using a 30-90mm lens so that the photograph will portray what you might see with the naked eye.

Hastings urged us to check out lay-bys! He showed us an view of daffodil fields that he came across after parking in a lay-by and walking just a few yards.

We were also urged to consider health and safety. Hastings had a piece of rope with a carabiner clip attached to the end which enables him to hook onto something and lean out when photographing cliffs or steps and get that angle that others can’t.

When photographing the sea, Hastings says that he could take the traditional 15sec exposures but would rather see gritty photos that show the water as it really is. He likes to take photos on 50/50 days when there is both sun and cloud as he says the clouds give interest to the image. He mentioned Kilian Schoenberger as further inspiration for his work.

When asked about how much post production he does he explained that he turns down the contrast in the camera so that the image is very flat. This gives him the opportunity to increase the contrast in post production. He usually shoots jpeg images as the quality of the jpegs from the Leica camera he uses is better than any RAW conversion he has seen. He will shoot RAW images at night though where there is some uncertainty about the final image. He does add a small amount of HDR effect using Aurora software.

Hastings said that he likes to see people in his landscapes telling us that he is inspired by Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, by Casper David Freidrich. It gives a sense of scale and introduces something new and different to the landscape.

Finally Hastings urged us to get out there and take photos of the landscape as it is changing so quickly. Solar and wind farms are appearing at an incredible rate and we need to record what is unspoilt so far. To help us, he recommended an app called PhotoPills that helps you plan any photoshoot, anywhere, giving information about where the sun or moon is, depth of field, exposure and location tracking.

Final Major Project Reflection 13

I had some good feedback this week from my tutor who seems to like the photographs that I have produced so far. In my 1 2 1 on Thursday we talked quite excitedly and could have gone on for another hour! He said he particularly liked the Lincoln Cathedral images.

49 photograph pano made of 5 rows of 7 images
49 photograph pano made of 5 rows of 7 images

We talked a bit about this image that he really liked and which I like too but sadly it hasn’t stitched together well and particularly in the bottom left corner it appears unfocussed.

I will receive written feedback from the meeting in due course with a few more hints and tips for research.

For most of this week I have been in Essex in order to take some more photos at Flatford however the weather has been so dismal that I have been unable to do so. In order to fill my time with something useful I decided to go over to Ipswich to the Christchurch Mansion where the website says they have a gallery which houses a permanent display of the largest exhibition of Constable paintings outside of London. Sadly that gallery had just closed so that they could install a temporary exhibition in their!

 

Irene Kung

My tutor suggested I check out Irene Kung, a Swiss photographer who photographs during the day time but in post processing transforms her images into haunting night time scenes that are often described as dreamlike but I think are more reminiscent of horror films or nightmares.

Talking about her process, Kung says “Each photo follows its own course, but in general the starting shot has to engage me in the way I spoke of earlier, as well as have the right light. In post-production I use Photoshop, exacerbating light through contrast. Then I eliminate what I’m not interested in to concentrate on the subject: I let it inspire me in a process that can be very time-consuming, but fascinating. What really counts is the final image you obtain, not what tools you use.”

I thought this short video was a good introduction to Irene Kung and her work.

As well as these photographs of buildings, Kung has collections of images depicting trees and animals.

I find Kung’s work interesting and like the way that she isolates the object that she wants to focus on but I don’t think I want to do that to my images for this particular project. I find it interesting that she converts the sky and the space around the object to black. This gives her images an unexpected and eerie feel.

I have chosen to produce my final works in black and white because I think it highlights the detail in the scene much more clearly than in colour and Kung’s photographs certainly emphasise the detail in the building, tree or animal that she has photographed.

I wonder what Kung would do with a photograph of Lincoln Cathedral or how she would edit a photograph of Constable’s Haywain?

References:

http://www.lanciatrendvisions.com/en/article/light-in-the-darkness-interview-with-photographer-irene-kung

Lois Connor

Lois Connor is a New York based photographer that is known for her black and white 7″ x 17″ large format panoramic platinum prints. She has photographed and exhibited internationally but she has a real affinity for China and has photographed the country extensively.

Connor sensitises all of her paper with platinum in order to print the photographs herself. With the ease of digital this is part of the process that isn’t often focussed on these days.

These are a few of my favourite Connor photographs.

This is a nice video interview in which Conner explains her background and how she became interested in the Ming Dynasty and came to photograph so much in China.

I really like the look of these large panoramic, black and white film photographs. The detail is incredible, the large scale is impressive and because they are in black and white they have a timeless quality. Many of the images include movement because of they have a long exposure which gives them a sense of fluidity.

I wonder if I can do something similar with my FMP Constable images. I’d certainly like to do something that includes this kind of detail and is viewed in large scale. It would certainly solve the problem of me not being able to fit everything I want to into the camera frame.