[5Nov19] I have two immediate ideas, both relating to subjects encountered in EyV. The key phrases in the scope are, in my view, “two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story” and “explore the convincing nature of documentary”. Documentary, to me, means factual and dispassionate (explanatory, or possibly purely descriptive in Barrett’s terms (Barrett 3rd edn. p.66)). Alternatively, the second quoted phrase might be interpreted as challenge the convincing nature of documentary.
My first idea is the way different sects choose to worship their particular deity. I documented the form and contents of St Stephen Walbrook for EyV Asg.2, Collecting. Here, the notion is to explore the interior decoration of churches, contrasting, perhaps the ornate detail of a Catholic church with the relatively austere contents of a less flamboyantly decorative sect. Or perhaps it would be possible to photograph inside a mosque — I have no idea of the protocols involved. Alternatively, I have the impression that a Quaker meeting house will be plain and that should be accessible. I will pencil in visits to the Catholic cathedral near Victoria Station, if it is cost free. There’s a Quaker place on Charing Cross Road, and I’ll look up the Finsbury mosque as that is the only one I can name.
[For new readers, my background is a severe Welsh evangelical upbringing in the 1950s, rejected in my teens and a strong antipathy to organised religion ever since. That said, I enjoy church buildings and photographing them. That is sufficient Barrettian original context for the moment.]
My second idea is to return to protests, previously examined in EyV Asg.3, The Decisive Moment. If there is still time (The House of Commons closes today for the December election — the duration of Brexit controversy is almost certain to continue and for a few years, but the daily show on College Green may not resume until after this Assignment is submitted). If possible, I would like to make the obvious but aesthetically interesting contrast between pro and anti Brexit protesters.
Although I have said in the past that I would default to black and white, unless there is a compelling reason to shoot in colourd, both these subjects suggest colour to emphasise the contrast. I am inclined to continue with the intention of trying everything in 6×7 format.
[24Nov] I called into Westminster Cathedral on a grey, overcast day. My expectations of a Catholic cathedral have been conditioned by experiences in France. Westminster (completed in 1903), by comparison with French medieval splendour, is dull both in terms of the lighting and the contents. There were a couple of pleasant shots, but another venue will have to be found to illustrate religious excess.
10th Jan 2020, St Lawrence Jewry, EC2V
I at last managed to get inside the church today, but was (as with the RC cathedral) disappointed with the lack of ornamentation.
My central (intuitive and presumed) thesis (i.e. that some Christian churches are elaborately decorated and that one of these would make an interesting contrast with an alternative faith building (mosque, synagogue, Quaker meeting room, or other sect) with is, by comparison plain) is in danger of crumbling, leaving me projectless. One might suppose that the Lord Mayor’s church would be quite posh, but like many other city churches, it is dominated by dull (in several senses), hard-to-expose-for dark wood.
As with Westminster, above, I think there might be a couple a pleasant shots (one not dissimilar to the railed tomb above, but with organ pipes), but nothing like a series.
[24Jan] A lacklustre group of snaps. I quite like the opulence of fig.2, but there is not enough of substance here. I might have a chance of another church tomorrow if the weather is decent, but I’ll come up with a backup project this week after returning to the drawing board. Two weeks left before submission.
13th Jan 2020, Southwark Cathedral, SE1
A much more successful day — the first day since starting C&N that I have enjoyed the course photography and been pleased with the outcome. Southwark Cathedral, as might be expected from a large building of age, has a pleasing number of small(ish) photogenic details that can depict one of the sides of Comparative Religious Symbology, as this project is /might now be called. There is enough material for 6 shots: the problem is now finding a second subject to contrast Southwark’s riches.
A reasonable batch of interesting snaps that go some way to capture the visual interest and varied symbolism of the subject.
The next issue is to find another subject, spare and austere, to contrast it with. Which of the above images make the final selection depends, to a large extent, on the outcome of the next session. I intended to pair up images in an effort to emphasise the difference.
I am in town in two days and there is a Quaker Meeting House on Charing Cross Road that might be worth a try, otherwise it’s local churches and alternative religions (mosques synagogues etc.) where I’ll have to discover the protocols.
Top 10 Most Fabulous Faith Buildings In London [i]
Top 5 Religious Buildings London [ii]
Both list the Shri Swaminaryan Mandir (Neasden) and the Bevis Marks Synagogue (Aldgate) so they will be worth a look and I also want to try the modern religious building near the V&A which I think might be a mosque. The second list also mentions the Aziziye Mosque in Stoke Newington.
Westminster Quaker Meeting House – appears not to be open on Thursdays [iii]
Neasden Mosque – no interior photography allowed [iv]
Bevis Marks Synagogue – “Photography is not permitted within the Synagogue” [v]
Aziziye Mosque – web site (supposedly http://www.aziziye.org.uk/) non-responsive
The Ismaili Centre (near the V&A) – it is a Shia community, but the visiting protocols are not made clear [vi]
The results above are a little disappointing. It could be argued that a little prior research on the viability of this project would have been appropriate before restricting my eggs to this basket.
It is currently late on Saturday 18th Jan. The assignment will be submitted for receipt on 31st Jan. Allowing a week for printing and postage, the work must be finished by Friday 24th Jan. I am working Tuesday and Wednesday, have a meeting in town on Friday so that leaves just Sunday, Monday and Thursday to come up with a new idea, shoot it and process it. I’ll have a brainstorm tomorrow (Sunday) and ask Mrs. B for any ideas then aim to get at least half the work done by c.o.b. Monday.
I will not look at what other students have done.
I had a notion when I signed off last night, but I thought I would sleep on it. I need two subjects that I have some control over. One on those is my body – I have mentioned elsewhere on the site that I attended a presentation by Ray Spense and Tony Worboriec 20 (maybe up to 30) years ago. Spence said something along the lines that, ‘if you need a portrait subject, your fallback is yourself’ and showed some examples. I had been keeping my body in reserve for Asg. 3: so it goes. Tomorrow, I will visit the V&A and photograph details of statues. On Thursday, if not before, I will photograph matching bits of me. I will tend to avoid the more controversial areas (of mine, if not the statues).
The main problem with this solution is the specification, ‘ensure the images are candid and ‘taken from real life’’. While it is the case that the statues will almost certainly have been created from life models, this vicarious real life does not fit the brief. Nevertheless, a submission is (in my view) better than none (and it might be 50% closer to the brief than my original plan).
I did wonder about checking out a few churches as I wandered to the High Street this morning but concluded that my failed project needed a contrast of faiths: differences of internal decor between two Christian churches would be as much a consequence of the passage of time (given that Southwark Cathedral has been accumulating religious symbols since at least 1086) as matters of religious principle and would not illustrate my theme.
[23:44] An early draft of the accompanying text (300 max).
I struggled to engage with the suggestions for this assignment and (taking liberties with ‘images…taken from real life’) fell back on an old favourite: churches. I intended to contrast the decor of an ostentatious Christian church with a relatively austere example from another faith. I eventually found the former in Southwark Cathedral but then failed to find a mosque, synagogue, temple or other place that would allow interior photography. Poor initial research.
With a week to go and 2 days of shooting available, I decided on a day at the V&A photographing body parts on statues, then a day at home photographing my corresponding bodily locations, while avoiding controversial areas. This again ducks the specification, but submitting something is better than nothing.
[20Jan] While working in the V&A, I thought that restricting the exercise to a single statue might strengthen the concept and having decided against Canova’s Three Graces, opted (probably) for a Rodin of an older man, John the Baptist.
20th Jan, V&A, SW7
A good day at the V&A. On the way there a new idea occurred to me, contrasting hands doing sign language with a face indicating the same thing: there could be some adventure there with the limited vocabulary of BSL [vii] resulting in a degree of precision which the subjective interpretation of facial expressions lack. There is insufficient time to run with this idea.
While working at the V&A, a refinement of the project came to mind, would there be advantages in using a single statue for the purpose? it might even be possible to superimpose the human bits on a full shot of the original. I toyed with the notion of using Canova’s Three Graces (see right) in this way, attracted by the incongruity of the flawless, youthful bodies compared to one creaking and old, but Canova’s work, although attractive from a distance, is surprisingly featureless close up with large expanses of smooth marble: it is also displayed on a high plinth and so difficult to photograph any details in hands and faces.
A far more suitable candidate is Rodin’s John the Baptist: more height accessible (though the head was a stretch) and plenty of texture and detail. Another possibility is Rodin’s The Age of Bronze (see left) which is entirely accessible.
22nd Jan, Self portraits, SE9
I made notes this morning on what V&A images to match with partial self portraits. The list is,
probables — arm, navel, hand, eye, knee, foot
possibles — armpit, ass
One of the main reasons for favouring John the Baptist is that he has an old man’s bottom: if I do indulge in a matching pose, John’s is less dissimilar.
The main drawback for John is that the images of the eye are not ideal because even at full stretch, I struggled to get a shot.
Colour or black and white will have to be asked. If the stepping ring arrives in time to use the ringlight, probably colour: otherwise I might have colour balance problems.
[22Jan 17:54] The first experiment with a foot works quite well. A plainer background will be better. Four done now and it looks ok. Arm, eye and ass tomorrow, maybe chest too, then rework the lot.
The hand shot, fig. K4 brings to mind a languid Mona Kuhn image
23rd Jan, Self portraits, SE9
[12:48] A morning shooting partial self portraits. Shooting a selfie head shot looking away from camera (glasses on, press the shutter on self timer, glasses off, resume the position, glasses on, try to find the playback button on the wrong side of the camera, repeat ad nauseam) is not a pleasure. I have incorporated a colour checker card in setup shots – I hope that will not be necessary as I have never learned the process: note to self – page 151 of Kelby [viii] might be easier if just a few images need colour correction.
The plan now is to select the SP images then switch to the RAW files for today yesterday and the V&A and reprocess the lot. If possible, do that today and send for printing tonight.
[15:17] Here’s the selection (I’m not sure the world is ready for a photograph of my ass, or weather I am ready to unleash it, despite what Ray Spense said):
[17:43] Processing complete. I will try to get them to the printer tonight. I have some other stuff to send too that isn’t ready yet – DSCL’s printing is cheap but the postage is not.
[23:26] I noticed that three of the images, face, arm and particularly bottom, had an unpleasant yellow cast and fixed these using Kelby’s cure [viii] before sending them to print. This results in my bedroom wall in the background now has an unusual pink hue, but that is the lesser of the colour evils. With more time, I could have been more selective with the Kelby effect, but more time there was not. I have also printed the whole set in black and white in case that is preferred: it is better in some ways because it (obviously) de-emphasises the colour differences between the two images and concentrates attention on the differences and the similarities in form. (And as a beneficial side effect removes all the colour differences between the partial self portraits.) I suspect I will go with B&W, but we’ll see.
24th Jan, accompanying text, v.2
[03:15] I interpreted this project as the illustration of contrasts. My intention for much of the time allocated was to shoot Worshipping Gods, depicting an ostentatious Christian interior detail and an austere (or alternatively elaborate) other faith. This foundered when, having photographed Southwark Cathedral, I failed to find a synagogue, mosque or temple that allows interior photography.
With little time remaining for an alternative project, I opted for subjects manifesting availability and chose Representing Bodies (??), comparing details of V&A human sculpture to my own body. While working at the V&A, I thought that concentrating on a single work might offer clarity and having toyed with the idea of using Canova’s Three Graces, chose Rodin’s St John the Baptist.
By this time, I had moved some distance from the original assignment brief which specified ‘images…taken from real life’.
I printed the images both in colour and in black and white and will probably decide to submit the latter. This allows concentration on the differences and similarities of form, without the distraction of colour (and incidentally sidesteps issues with colour casts).
25th Jan, The snaps are back
DSC Labs have turned these around pretty quickly. They are a little darker than I would have liked, and I will try to allow for that next time.
I am going to send the B&W versions as, I think, they group more cogently. I will send the colour version of Hand as well for reference purposes.
‘5-7 images’ is the spec. There are eight. I am not sending my bottom: while it might not be illegal under Sexual Offences Act 2003 [ix], I am not comfortable with it. The Arm, ok on screen, is featureless in the print and does not make the cut. That leaves six.
1. finish the text;
2. finish and print this log;
3. write a covering note;
4. send it next week.
A draft of the introductory text was written yesterday. The Asg spec asks for, ‘an introduction of 300 words outlining what you set out to do and how you went about it’ but comments on the assessment criteria and some reflection were always required for EyV and I assume that still pertains, so here we go.
Already written –
I interpreted this project as the illustration of contrasts. My intention at first was to shoot Worshipping Gods, depicting ostentatious Christian interior detail and an austere (or alternatively elaborate) other faith. This foundered when, having photographed Southwark Cathedral, I failed to find a synagogue, mosque or temple that allows interior photography.
With little time remaining for an alternative project, I opted for subjects offering availability and chose Representing Bodies, comparing details of V&A human sculpture to my own body. While working at the V&A, I thought that concentrating on a single work might offer clarity and having toyed with the idea of using Canova’s Three Graces, chose Rodin’s St John the Baptist.
By this time, I had moved some distance from the original assignment brief which specified ‘images…taken from real life’.
I printed the images both in colour and in black and white and decided to submit the latter. This allows concentration on the differences and similarities of form, without the distraction of colour (and incidentally sidesteps issues with colour casts).
Technically, they are reasonably competent. The images are rather darker than intended when printed, especially the black and white versions, and I will try to adjust for that in future assignments. The project idea was interesting conceptually and also in practical terms to execute. I realised throughout that I had drifted from the assignment brief. This cannot be an original idea, although I have not found anything like it online. After finishing the shooting, I found in Marcoci’s The Original Copy (2010) a juxtaposition from Lorraine O’Grady’s Miscegenated Family Album series featuring a human portrait with an Egyptian statue of Nefertiti’s sister. I believe that the project concept is stronger (and closer to the brief) than my first effort and, O’Grady’s work notwithstanding, might merit further exploration.
Marcoci, R (2010) The Original Copy: Photography of sculpture, 1839 to today. New York: MoMA.
[word count 300]
(i) SALLYB2 (2011) Top 10 Most Fabulous Faith Buildings In London [online]. londonist.com. Available from https://londonist.com/2011/08/top-ten-most-fabulous-faith-buildings-in-london [Accessed 14 January 2020].
(ii) easirent.com (2015) Top 5 Religious Buildings London [online]. easirent.com. Available from https://www.easirent.com/top-5-religious-buildings-london/ [Accessed 14 January 2020].
(iii) Westminster Quaker (n.d.) Westminster Quaker Meeting House [online]. westminsterquakers.org.uk. Available from https://westminsterquakers.org.uk/ [Accessed 14 January 2020].
(iv) Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (n.d.) Visitor Guidelines [online]. londonmandir.baps.org. Available from http://londonmandir.baps.org/visit-us/visitor-guidelines/ [Accessed 14 January 2020].
(v) S&P Sephardi Community (n.d.) Visit Bevis Marks [online]. sephardi.org.uk. Available from https://www.sephardi.org.uk/bevis-marks/visit-bevis-marks/ [Accessed 14 January 2020].
(vi) the.ismaili (n.d.) About Us, The Ismaili Community [online]. the.ismaili. Available from https://the.ismaili/about-us-0 [Accessed 14 January 2020].
(vii) British Sign (n.d.) British Sign Language Dictionary [online]. british-sign.co.uk. Available from http://www.british-sign.co.uk/british-sign-language/dictionary/ [Accessed 20 January 2020].
(viii) Kelby, S (2016) How do I do that in Photoshop?. San Rafael, CA.: Rocky Nook.
(ix) Bedfordshire Police (n.d.) Sexting law [online]. bedfordshire.police.uk. Available from https://www.bedfordshire.police.uk/A-Z/Sexting-law [Accessed 25 January 2020].