Monday, 30 April 2012

Pillow talk and Equivalents; Stieglitz and clouds

I have just been introduced to Alfred Stieglitz's  'Equivalents'; a series created when his mother was dying, with the intention of showing that it was not , as had been suggested, the hypnotic power of Stieglitz over his sitters that created the power within his photography. By photographing clouds, over which he had no control and which are free to be experienced by anyone, he hoped to disprove this theory. I described one of my images of chaos in the woods as self expression. A friend repsonded with a mention of Steiglitz and his series of clouds.

Abstract cloud photographs were created with the described intention of allowing the viewer to experience the equivalent emotion to that which the photographer experienced.

What emotions does the image below convey? And how can I know what effect it will have on different viewers. The idea that the viewer will experience the same emotion as mine is not something that I would ever have considered to be likely.

bed © caroline fraser 2012
I know that I felt angry about this discarded mattress, and a desire to express my feelings about the littering of my favourite place; but what makes an image powerful enough to create equivalent emotions in the viewer? Surely it depends on who we are and what we believe.

And why didn't I feel the angry about the abandoned pillow that I described in an earlier post?

the abandoned pillow story

I followed the changes to a pillow left in the undergrowth. It remained there for several weeks just off the path where I walk dog. Through rain and snow it lay undisturbed, and then one day, just as quickly as it came, it was gone.

 I am fairly sure that the kind people who do litter picking will have removed it to a more appropriate place, but in a way I have missed it and the chance to consider why it lay where it did. Nestling in the ivy it had a certain beauty of its own. Despite my indignance that someone would abandon it in the woods, I came to enjoy the flights of fancy that it triggered as I trod through the mud. I was unable to feel anger, only thoughts about what words I might use to describe it's presence ....

a place to rest © caroline fraser 2012

Pillow talk

If I were to rest,


in these woods,

my head on
cool cotton 
polka dot
remains of another's life

What dreams would ensue?
Would I dream differently?
What would I become?

Who would I be?

It seems to me that it is unlikely that another passer by will experience an equivalent emotion on viewing this image of the pillow. Does that make the image less worthy? The untold story remains untold; we can only create our own stories from what we see.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Topaz filters and a little tree therapy

thicket © Caroline Fraser 2012
I have had a busy week, and have restored my equilibrium over the weekend with two long walks in the woods with dog.

I took a proper camera and a monopod; a compromise over the need to carry a tripod for decent depth of field, and my need to walk and feel unburdened by my equipment. As always I carry just one lens, and see what I can do with it. This weekend I have rediscovered the fun of a wide angle lens. My Sigma 10-20 mm has not been out for a while, but for my current project on chaos in the woods it is perfect, allowing a wider depth of focus than most of my other lenses, and better  quality images than a standard telephoto lens.

I have downloaded Topaz B&W effects for a one month trial, and am experimenting to see if it is something I would like to buy. I already have Lightroom which has a number of monochrome options, but am struggling to use the programme efficiently. Topaz can be used from within Photoshop, and is therefore simpler to use.

So what have I found?

I am wary of producing images that look overcooked. So many journalistic photographers seem to use Topaz filters for portraits, and the overall effect is to over accentuate the pores and wrinkles to a point where they look unatural. Likewise landscapes can have too much 'venetian' effect or 'pop', and the effect immediately destroys the image in my eye.

I like to use black and white layers within photoshop to enhance the contrast in an image without creating an obvious filter effect. I copy the background layer and convert the layer to monochrome. The blending mode is then changed to soft light or overlay and the percentage opacity altered according to taste.

black and white overlay on a colour image using soft light as the blending mode

Here is the first image unadulterated

and here with the Topaz diffusion filter applied as  a layer with some additional blur

with diffusion and blur

and here with no blur

with diffusion and no blur

Some images work better in black and white, especially for conveying nature's chaos.

original image

with high contrast monochrome effect and vignetting

colour image with  monochrome overlay in soft light blending mode

same image using Topaz BW  infra red effect, exaggerated grain and vignetting
One could play around for hours and  probably create all of these effects without Topaz, but the ability to preview many different effects, and then to fine tune the effect is attractive. 


aged effect

You just need to be careful not to overcook the albumen or go overboard on the 'grunge'. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Spring is here.........on blue skies, clean sensors and David Hockney

hedge © caroline fraser 2012

I made it to see David Hockney at the Royal Academy on the last day of his recent exhibition. I had been put off by the garish photos of some of his recent works shown in the newspaper, but couldn't ignore the fact that everyone I knew who had been had loved it and several had been two or three times.

What struck me most about the exhibition was firstly the sheer volume of work that he has produced, and secondly the joy that he clearly takes in the changing of the seasons. His works from East Yorkshire, and in particular the 51 prints and one large painting that are 'The arrival of spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011' display quite clearly his love of the locality and his pleasure in the changing vegetation from winter to spring.  His love of hawthorn and wild flowers is blatantly displayed in the ipad drawings made into larger prints that filled a whole room of the exhibition.

Walking around Hawkwood in the last week or so my pleasure in the vivid greens that are appearing has been heightened by  memories of the giant TV screens that conveyed Hockney's multiple views of narrow lanes in winter and spring simultaneously; viewers transfixed by the slowly moving views of trees and hedges gently blowing in the wind.

I love hedges, especially the layered hedge that has been created at Hawkwood over the last 2 years and shown above and below. With Hockney in mind I decided to record it bursting into life after winter. A blue sky day today shows it off to good effect, not least because I have finally discovered a sensor cleaner that does what it says on the tin. One sweep of the sensor with my new Arctic butterfly and the myriad of dust spots that show so dramatically in a clear blue sky are no more. It is worth every penny and relies solely on static with no fluids to damage the sensor. You swizzle the brush using the battery, create a static charge and then wave across the sensor, picking up dust without any worries about damaging it.

spotless sky thanks to arctic butterfly © caroline fraser 2012

I had my wide angle lens with me today, and was torn between order and chaos...........

beech © caroline fraser 2012

cloud © caroline fraser 2012

This fluffy cloud popped into view and wouldn't go away.

The inevitable litter caught my eye; I was pleased to see that David Hockney also showed litter in his TV installation as part of his idyllic scenes, cast from the vehicles of passers-by. When I am old and grey I will be seen tramping around with a large black sack and a grabber stick.........

Budweiser © caroline fraser 2012

Bring on the rain and let the hedges grow; there is a lot less hawthorn blossom this year than last.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

making books on a rainy Sunday afternoon

Still Waters © Caroline Fraser 2010

I finally got around to making a record of a holiday taken in New Zealand in November 2010. Better late than never.

This book is for my other half. My next task is to make another book with all the photos that my other half doesn't really rate as holiday snaps........... something a bit more arty, without text, and definitely without people.

I agonised over one or two images; torn between creating a holiday album and something more aesthetic....

........this one is definitely not suitable for today's book ........ ( but I put it in anyway)

Okarito©caroline fraser 2010

This one maybe............. but not enough blue sky or people

Okarito also; ©caroline fraser

I was going to show you the book, but in order to preserve the anonymity of those who wish to keep it, I will have to abstain.

You'll have to wait for the arty one that is people free.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

the art of living dangerously......... collaborating with a stranger

my life-your life

I have been engaged in a photographic collaboration with a stranger; we have never met, but have seen each other's work on Flickr. I responded to his invitation to take part in an experiment with double exposed film.

I volunteered out of curiosity, and as I have been experimenting with double exposures already, this seemed a natural progression of my experiments.

My other half was not informed. Being naturally suspicious he would immediately have told me to withdraw for fear of invasion of privacy/ putting myself at risk of 'stranger danger' or just because it isn't the sort of thing that his other half should do.

Maybe I would meet this person and fall in love? Or maybe they would draw me into a trap and something bad would ensue. The possibilities for disaster could be endless. So he doesn't know, and I am still alive and other half and I are still together.

Stranger and I agreed to each shoot a roll of film, then post to the other who would re-shoot the entire film before developing.

Having agreed to take part, my own anxieties took hold. What if the images that I had developed were unsuitable? What if it really was a trap? What if the film I received contained 'unsuitable' content? What would the man in Snappy Snaps think? Would the police get involved? I had no control over what was on the roll of film that I received in the post, and that added to the fun. I discussed these anxieties with my second born, who suggested that I pre-empt any unsuitable content by creating my own unsuitable content. Clever, but not something I chose to do. I trusted my instincts and got on with the job.

Wandering around with a  film and my old Fujica I started to think about what I was trying to convey about myself with the images that I took. I made the mistake of shooting the first roll on a Canon EOS. The rewind is electric, and before I knew it the end of the film disappeared into the canister, never to be seen again. So I tried again with my old manual rewind camera, and felt the joy of one of my first manual cameras that I hadn't touched for years. I still have the first roll, undeveloped, and have been considering developing it to see exactly how I had represented my life to a stranger. This might be the most interesting part of the whole experiment.

So what was on my roll of film?

my life-your life 2

I had shown small details from around my home ; not enough to give away my identity, but enough to show a little of my life and immediate enviroment. I showed books, nick knacks, old photos and scenes from the streets around the block. I showed Camber Sands, and the sea (ref. my need to escape suburbia).

Stranger showed me his vegetable plot, his home, bed, shadow, hands. it struck me that there were a lot of similarities in our choice of personal details whilst maintaining anonymity. The shots were not lined up, and the developer had chosen stranger's frames to show as complete images. Mine are therefore cut in half, creating the need to see a strip of images to understand what I had photographed. I am not sure how one gets around the problem of ensuring that both frames are overlaid precisely when the film is removed and reloaded before re-shooting.

my life-your life 3

my life -your life 4

my life-your life 5

What to make of all this?

It was fun; I am still looking forward to seeing the product of the process in reverse, shot in black and white.

There are techincal dificulties to be overcome; much of the roll of film that I received failed to show both parties' images for reasons that are unclear.

Which way should the film be spliced; or should it be viewed as a complete roll, uncut and thereby telling a better story?

The issue of ownership is to be agreed; it seems that we should both own both films, and in due course we hope to scan the negs and share them. What we do with them after that is another question. I am not expecting instant worldwide celebrity as a consequence of this experiment, so the question remains more theoretical than practical.

My thanks to Stranger  for suggesting this.

It has been fun.

 I'll let him decide whether to reveal who he is!