Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old dog, new tricks

It is possible to teach an old dog a new trick, but I was so befuddled by using the new gismo to talk about JR, that I really flubbed that discussion...and though I'd done most of my homework (except to prepare seamless visuals for discussion), I did not realize that the train passing by twice a day created those three completed portraits..I did know that the tops of the shanties were only visible from above.  I'll do better next time.

I'm really sorry that there's no class next week...please feel free to e-mail me images and complaints..melissa.shook@umb.edu

Let me try to explain again what Photo I and Workshop projects are designed to get you to think about. If photography is a visual language, then one photograph would be a sentence. To show the viewer that you know what you're doing (and that you really want to convey an idea or emotion), you want to make a series of photographs....that's the equivalent of putting sentences together into an essay (documentary), a story (narrative) or a poem (abstractions.)     In the olden days, before I began taking photographs, it's was sufficient to take separate interesting photographs....and if you're a commercial photographer or a photographer who specializes in editorial work, it's still possible to take single interesting photographs.   But for the purposes of classes in the Art Department, it's necessary to string them together, creating a group of related photographs.

I know that Margaret taught lighting last semester and emphasized that, but, in general, the Workshop has not emphasized adding new skills to those you already have just using your camera as the tool. You were pushed you to explore an idea, a subject, further, to order to build up a small body of cohesive work...10-20 images for each of two projects. I'm positive that Margaret also does his.  

When I was teaching photography full time, there was barely enough budget to buy additional cameras to rent to students. Margaret has been able to buy lights and the light box for alternative printing and has added those possibilities for different workshops, but she has the same principle of creating a body of work...    

Hopefully, you will leave this class, even if you've had to struggle through it, with images that hang together and give a cohesive sense to what you want to achieve. By 'wanting' to achieve, I don't mean that you have to know what your end 'product' will be when you begin.

So, you may not have an absolutely clear idea of where you'll end up, but you have to start by taking 4 or 5 rolls of film...or several hundred digital images and then editing down.

So, I'm going to take the liberty of discussing, in general terms, a bit of the work I saw yesterday that's really moving along... because these are really good examples of successes at this stage...   (If I didn't include yours, please don't feel bad...I'll probably add more thoughts to another blog...this is what I was thinking when I couldn't sleep last night..)

1. if you're photographing at night, inside a dark club which is probably noisy, it's terrific if those images convey that quality of shimmer and movement. Unless you're Larry Fink (you could check out his work) and using flash at high society banquets to isolate individuals, the sense that I think is absolutely FINE AND APPROPRIATE is slightly out-of-focus, dark and noisy (even with the large pixels that you'd get if you were using 3,200 black and white film)....         so, if you got four or five slightly out-of-focus, a bit shimmery, dark images, out of 60, that's great, keep going. Please don't think that crisp images would better convey the atmosphere of that situation.

2. If you're trying to photograph strangers, something you've never done before, and you get one, let me repeat ONE photograph of an older woman reading the newspaper which shows her concentration and is nicely framed...that's terrific.  If you've also taken photographs of strangers in different settings and you've gotten two or three that work graphically, showing an isolated person in a well-composed environment, that's also terrific.   Don't worry that they may represent two different visual ideas! You're moving along nicely....     Photographers are like sharks, circling around, waiting.... it takes a lot of time and a lot of pushing the shutter release... a 'working' photographer will take an endless amount of photographs of the same scene, picking one... you can afford to wait, appear to be leaning there and thinking, and take a lot of photographs...

3. If you've taken one roll of film of different angles of a wrought (spelling? damn, I can't spell and am not going to look that up in the dictionary) iron fence and the river, make a contact sheet and some small images and see what you've got...feel good about how much work you put into the different angles and distances... then go back out and take more images of fences, concentrating on the graphic detail and how the background plays into the overall design of your photograph.

4. If you're taking portraits of friends from different cultures, you won't know whether images that take a more documentary direction will fit in with them...but keep going, doing both..  If you get two interesting portraits out of one session, good...and it's really interesting that you've asked them to supply text..you'll figure out how to best put that on the photographs..

5. If you've gotten four to six well composed images while following someone leading a tour...terrific, excellent.......the only suggestion I have is that when you go on the tour again, take more photographs, from different angles of each site or stop. One or two isn't enough even though you did very well in choosing the successful images from the 50 or so that you took.

6. Yes, it will work if you make a book (I've often taught a workshop on bookmaking and will be happy to demonstrate how  to make one..it's time consuming, but will add a lot to this presentation) using the photographs you took last summer.    (In general, it's much better to take photographs during the semester because then you can update your ideas, change direction...but since you are doing something complicated with book-making and text, that's fine...)

If the new camera you just got in the mail doesn't work, I'M REALLY SORRY....

And if you didn't check that your film was securely wound on when you started taking pictures and your rolls was blank, I'm also sorry...but check to make sure it's securely attached to the spool and that the rewind button is moving when you advance the film.

It's a long time between classes...please take a lot of photographs, work in lab or on your computer for the four hours a week....and make a page in the lab book...

again, you must have work to do in class, if you don't, it's the same as being absent......and stay until 5:00...it's a three hour class... I'll be there at 1 if you want to talk with me early and I'll happily stay after 5....


  1. I wanted to comment on Melissa's wisdom in directing that we take lots and lots of photographs, which i thought was unnecessary at first, but now i realize -- it opens up your head a bit! also, the idea of being fairly flexible about what your final project will look like. (if youre interested, i just wrote about this on my blog: http://streamingalife.blogspot.com/)

    are other people posting on blogs? i'd love to see...i did check out Simon P.'s facebook page--thanks!

  2. I like that you commented on each of our ideas! I just wanted to clarify that I took my photographs in Arizona the week before this spring 2012 semester started. I was there jan14th to 22nd and was completely aware I'd be taking this workshop class. I know you told me the brand of materials to buy but if you could remind me and give me any pointers before we meet in class again it would be fantastic. Thanks!

  3. Carrie, I'll show you how to do it on Monday, but here are some initial hints.......

    the first thing is to decide the size you want your book..one way of doing that is to take a couple of large sheets of paper and cut them to different sizes...and you could take a photograph, if you have printed one of the size you want..and see how it looks on the pages sized...

    once you've decided that, you'll buy BFK Reeves paper, heavy weight (I usually buy the largest, but the problem is that it's hard to carry and you don't want to ding it..)

    and then buy a package of book board (I think that four come wrapped in plastic..)

    You'll want to buy some cover paper to glue on the boards, but why don't you think about that next Tuesday so that I can help you with the basics and talk to you about possibilities...

  4. Thanks for commenting on our ideas. I think i might have just figured out how to fully incorporate the text on to the photograph. Hoping for the best.