Monday, 29 October 2012

Making Joiners in Photoshop



About a year ago my Arena friend Tony Worobiec approached me to write an article about creating joiners in Photoshop. Tony is the prolific author of many photography technique books for the publishers David & Charles. This series of books have sold very well, both at home and abroad, and have been translated into other languages. The latest volume Creative Photography Ideas Using Adobe Photoshop is now available, and my piece is one of the final chapters in the book warranting four pages to itself, which is rather nice. I’ve not yet seen the book other than a proof of my chapter, but I expect that it will follow Tony’s usual clear prose and the publisher’s clean layout as in previous titles.





The example described in the text uses the Spring Trees image which I created in Spring 2011 and have written about previously. It’s interesting to see that the designers chose to run an intermediate edit as the largest reproduction and the final edit at a smaller size. I’m not precious about these things; maybe the larger version has a better appeal.




Although the book has a publication date of 30th November it is currently on sale at Amazon, where you also get a small preview by clicking on the Look Inside feature. In fact, if you do this you may be able to read my article as this was one of the preview chapters when I last looked.




It was quite strange seeing this on Amazon recently, because although I’m happy to stand by the method outlined in the book for Photoshop users, I now prefer to create my joiners in Lightroom. But that’s the subject of another post, or maybe a commission?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Looking at Still Films

In Mexico © Noel Myles
In Mexico © Noel Myles

I spent a very enjoyable evening last Thursday at the PV of Noel Myles' new exhibition Paradise which has just opened at the Alison Richards Building on the Sedgwick site of Cambridge University. As ever, it was worth the trip to see Noel’s wonderful images up close, to catch up with Noel himself, and this time to be able to share the experience with my daughter who is currently studying at the university.

I’ve written before about Noel’s work and have to admit I am a very big fan of his work. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about his pictures is the length of time you can be engaged in his still films. Conventional photographs can be seen very quickly. It is a difficult task to create a photo that has many visual layers or interconnections that can hold the viewer’s attention. We tend to see the image, accept the truth of the photo and quickly assimilate the key points, and discard the unwanted information, just as we do when looking at the real world. To lift a photo out of the ordinary we can try a number of different ploys – an unusual angle, reflections, depth of field effects, dramatic lighting, a particularly interesting subject or really elegant composition.

In Mexico © Noel Myles
Olive Grove No 3 © Noel Myles
I would suggest that hand created images – paintings, drawings, etchings, often engender a longer inspection, because we know the image is an abstraction. Every line, mark or brush stroke was placed there by the artist for some reason. We look, we wonder, we interpret, we spent time with the picture.

Along the Stour Valley © Noel Myles
Along the Stour Valley © Noel Myles
With still films or joiners, each cell has been placed there too by the artist. We can’t see the whole picture in one go, so we spend time trying to piece together the story. Each individual cell is a photo, loaded with information which suddenly needs more careful observation than it would do in isolation. Each taken at a different time and place, build up a visual memory of the piece, we see patches where the cells join up and we start to see the whole picture.

Suffolk winter © Noel Myles
Suffolk winter © Noel Myles
Another interesting phenomenon is the way in which the eye moves across the pictures. I find that I will scan the whole still film in different ways each time I look at it; across this row first and then down that column one time, then a completely different route the next time. It is like looking a strip of movie film that is continually being chopped up and re-edited into a new sequence on every subsequent view. The story is told slightly different on each viewing.

Noel Myles has been developing this work for decades now. His pictures are pictures are so fascinating not only for the overall compositions he creates, but also because of the dialogue that he builds into adjacent cells to create an overall narrative. I strongly recommend that if you are in Cambridge any time before Christmas, give yourself a good hour or so to go over to see Noel’s exhibition. And maybe get yourself a very nice Christmas present.

Paradise - an exhibition by Noel Myles, is on display at the Alison Richard Building Friday 12 October to Thursday 20 December









Monday, 8 October 2012

Ger Dekkers: Postcards From Holland


Dike and field with last snow, Holland 1996 © Ger Dekkers


Dike and field with last snow, Holland 1996 © Ger Dekkers


A few years ago we spent a very enjoyable autumn half term with the family staying in an apartment at The Hague in the Netherlands. During our visit we visited FOAM, the Dutch photo museum to see an excellent exhibition of early Hungarian photos by Kertesz, Martin Munk√°csi, Moholy-Nagy and others. In the bookshop I came across some intriguing postcards by Dutch landscape photographer Ger Dekkers. I was immediately struck by the geometry of his work, and bought a few.
 
Dekkers works in carefully orchestrated sequences of pictures, and has two basic approaches. The first is a linear sequence of pictures taken from different, sequential, viewpoints. As we all know from our geography lessons the Netherlands is a highly populated country, so when travelling on back roads through the countryside the hand of man is everywhere to be seen. Fields are carefully manicured and well-tended, often lined with trees and fences. Because the land is so flat, most field boundaries, hedges, stands of trees following straight lines, designed by man. As you travel through the landscape recurrent patterns appear, disappear and reappear. To me, this felt rhythmic and reassuring rather repetitive and boring as you find in larger lands. As you watch the unfolding scene you see that there is no definitive viewpoint, no decisive moment that encapsulates the view. Rather, there are many points that are equally acceptable. Dekkers’ work plays with this concept of views in transit by creating a sequence of five to seven pictures taken from a series of points that describe a similar view. The baseline concept is to place distant landmarks (farmhouses, the horizon) in exactly the same position in each frame, whilst using strong graphical entities (plough lines, stands of trees) to move through subsequent frames. Dekker uses a medium format camera frequently with a widish lens to further emphasise convergent lines.
 
Cycle-track, near Dronten, Holland 1998 © Ger Dekkers

Cycle-track, near Dronten, Holland 1998 © Ger Dekkers

The results are interesting. Because of their linear arrangement the pictures can read as set of very large frames from a movie, giving a dynamic cinematic feel to the resulting set. Individually the pictures are rigorously framed, well lit and attractive enough as images in their own right. Together they often work together to create a pattern en masse. At times he creates an interesting faux-panoramic effect because the sequence looks wide, but the movement around the distant centre of focus is actually quite small. The overall impression is of travelling through the landscape, of building up a visual memory from several viewpoints, to get a better understanding of the subject and the space surrounding it.
 
His second approach is to stand at a fixed viewpoint and slightly vary the direction of view and hence the framing of the scene. The intention here seems to be to create a pleasing or interesting geometric pattern within a 3×3 grid. Dekkers creates a pattern that shows increasing variation diagonally from top left cell to bottom right. It would appear that the ploy adopted by Dekkers was to successively pan the camera downwards in equal increments and then place these left to right in successive rows running top to bottom. Whilst I prefer the narrative of his linear compositions, these grid patterns work, again, by repetition and reinforcement, this time achieved by multiple framings. The linear sequences are ideally suited to regular geometry, but the grid method would work with any subject.
Breakwater, Pietersbierum, Holland 1996 © Ger Dekkers

Breakwater, Pietersbierum, Holland 1996 © Ger Dekkers
These three postcards from Holland have been niggling away at the back of my mind for some time now, so I’ve tried researching Dekkers’ work to understand more about his work, methods and ideas. Dekkers is now 83, and judging from the lack of information about him on the web, no longer an active photographer. He has no website, no entry in Wikipedia and at first the only mentions I could find about him were mainly from secondhand and rare book dealers, and a few art listings that gave little more information other than his age and nationality. I have one book in my little library that mentions his work, but with very little useful information. So I decided to buy a book though Abebooks. I ended up with a very slim catalogue Landscape Perspectives from an exhibition held in 1976, bought from a bookshop in Essex - the only volume of his work that was available in the UK. Although the printing is rather poor and the paper discoloured, it does give a fascinating glimpse in to the work of a man, whose work was quite well known in its day, judging by the quality of the museums that showed his work, and the number of books that bore his name. 

After a bit more rooting around on the internet I did eventually find one good resource about Dekkers and his work at Depth of Field. Google Translate makes a reasonable fist of translating this resource from the Dutch original, and shows that his work was given some very high profile displays, including very innovative large format slide projections in the 70s. In addition to describing his working methods, it talks about his fascination with the new territories created in the post-war polders. The main framework of his imagery was the creation of this new, man-made land, and his work resonated with Dutch in their pride of their national achievement.

Although some of his images are still available as postcards and posters in Holland, there seems very little opportunity today to see any of his work well reproduced. Which is a great shame; much of his work still looks and feels modern, and makes a refreshing change from much of the conceptual and experimental work that gets the attention of curators these days.