‘Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details although they need not be like one another.’
(Walter Benjamin,  1999, p.79)
The Walter Benjamin quote above expresses the idea that a collection should reflect a single coherent idea, but you’ll also need technical rigour to match the photographs to each other ‘in the smallest details’. Start by choosing your focal length, aperture and viewpoint combination in advance.
Visually, similarities correspond so they’re easy to look at, but be careful of duplicates because repetition is boring. Differences are interesting because they contrast, but randomly changing your framing or allowing a confusion of detail into your backgrounds will distract from the viewing.
Create a series of between six and ten photographs on one of the following subjects:
Albert Renger-Patzsch’s photobook ‘The World is Beautiful’ upset Walter Benjamin when it first appeared in 1928 and he railed against it in his famous essay ‘A Short History of Photography’ (easily available on the internet). He thought that this kind of photography denied social contexts – ‘the world is beautiful’ because that’s all you’ve got to say about it. However, Renger- Patzsch’s book was originally called ‘Things’ and rather than present a superficial beauty the point was more to let things speak quietly for themselves.
After reading Walter Benjamin’s ‘A Short History of Photography’ which details the short history of image capturing technologies – I’ve decided to focus on Views as the subject of this assignment. My main reasoning for this is predicated around the fact Benjamin’s understanding of photography doesn’t just touch upon the technological advancements of the craft, but also the artistic implications of photography as well. Now, in 2021 social and economic factors have affected photography so much so, to the point where we all have cameras, photography is now humanitie’s most favoured means in which to communicate. From Daguerreotype to the introduction of Front Facing Cameras on almost every Entry level device, nearly every citizen in the first world has the ability to take photographs. Obviously Benjamin could never have foreseen this, but those revolutions in early photography were merely the tip of the iceberg. The leather-bound coffee table books to which he Benjamin reflected on have now evolved into Facebook Photo Albums which can be uploaded and viewed by people all over the world. Cultural significance, the rise of Instagram as well as the major technological landmarks that followed, nobody could have foreseen photography’s importance in the modern world. That’s the reason I am going to use a Drone for this project, it embodies almost everything Benjamin spoke of. The Drone is the next step in expanding the art of photography to the masses. It’s going to be a lot less about the gear as it is the photographs themselves, what they say and what sort of feelings they invoke.
We live in a different world now, a world accustomed to violence and tyranny. We look back on history everyday, we see things for what they are. We switch on the television to see Planet Earth from its most unflattering angle. See, angles are important, angles tell a story – We don’t tend to see the world from above. And as cities get denser, the planet gets hotter – we see the natural world less and less. What would once be known as a metropolis, may now look more monolithic as the days progress – as characterless boxy buildings are erected, knocked down, erected. This cycle continues.
After reading Rosalind Krauss’s work on the differences between Views/Landscapes and the technical differences between the two. I wanted my images to hold up to a certain level of technical proficiency whilst still being explorative in nature. To capture is to create, but I didn’t want the images to seem pretentious at all. Landscape photography is the art of capturing an entire land mass complete with all of its defining features – to my understanding at least. I don’t really like capturing technical landscapes as much as I like seeing them in media. In fact, I tend to focus more on individual elements of the horizon. According to Flickr, there’s almost a million photos of the Eiffel Tower on their platform alone, this figure doesn’t include how many times the tower has featured in the background of an image – how many images do you think have been taken of this one landmark in total? How many of those images look almost identical? These are questions I want to ask myself when exploring these ideas. Upon reading Twentysix Gasoline Stations by Edward Ruscha, I knew I had to act little more nuanced as I had done previously – Ruscha would often paint his photographs after their execution, he would perfect the inconsistencies in their structure in these paintings by adjusting the perspective and straightening lines. These photographs were taken in 1962 and printed on low quality paper, this would mean the photos would lack detail but Ruscha took this into consideration, as the distinguishing shapes and striking fonts (as he started was fascinated with typography) were visible in almost every composition. Ruscha had an affinity with single word catch phrases, that contrasted with the rudimentary cuboid construction of each of the gas stations. Words like ‘TEXACO’ and ‘STANDARD’ almost jump out from the page. He captured each photograph during his journey to Oklahoma, the book also being a ‘Mass Produced Commodity’ like Fuel and Gas stations at the time – each of them very similar in design and construction, I think he also adapted this ideology when producing the photographs as well. Each of them express a very laid back approach to composition, one in particular being under exposed.
When researching Ruscha’s cultural impact, I came across another artist that encapsulated the creative approach I want to take for this particular project. Joachim Schmid actually referenced Ruscha’s quite heavily in his book: “Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Nine Swimming Pools, A Few Palm Trees, No Small Fires“ Joachim Schmid took great inspiration from Ruscha throughout his career, as Twentysix Gasoline Stations had immense cultural impact during the 1960s, Schmid is an acclaimed photographic connoisseur, he’s famous for looking at as much as ten thousand photographs in a single day And Ruscha’s book is considered one of the first great Modern Artist Books and inspired many great artists to release similar books in similar formats. Joachim’s approach was significantly more contemporary, the pictures were colour and all featured an almost unnatural ‘Top Down’ perspective on the world. They feature a lot of consistent patterns, take the rows of cars seen below. You can see the the art in the age of mechanical reproduction to which Benjamin speaks of, you can see Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline stations – this is modern photography. But at a more technical concise level, because not many people are capable of capturing the world from this particular angle.
This ‘Top Down’ approach flattens the image. It’s harder for us to work out the depth between each layer of the images. I like this approach, but for my images I’m intending to zoom in a little further. I do like how this is composed, but I think there’s too much of a disconnect. The scale on the cars is great however, there’s something quite satisfying about seeing the world from this ‘shrunken’ point of view. I think if anything, Joachim was referencing some of Rushca’s panoramic work, less like Twentysix Gasoline Stations.
This photo reminded me of video games from the early 2000s. This particular aesthetic, the way the colours look and everything really appeals to me personally. I like the aesthetic, the tones in the shadows. I do think the compositions are a little boring though, obviously they’re using a more limited form of Ariel photography, which is to be expected. It would perhaps benefit from being a little bit closer to the ground.
“Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It” taken by James Wallace Black is considered by many to be one of the greatest Ariel photographs ever taken. Gaspard-Félix Tournachon was indeed the first photographer to take Ariel photographs, pioneering the use of Hot Air balloons to capture immense images with a fantastic sense of scale. James used this same method, but I believe he also used Arthur Batut’s invention as well. Obviously aviation laws are different these days, you’re not allowed to go that high today with current Drone Photography laws – in fact the highest you can go is about 400 feet – now in ‘The Queen of the Air’ hot air balloon (owned by Samuel A. King) you could go as hight as 1200 feet, this would mean James would have a much larger image.
These technologies were particularly inspiring to me and helped me a lot in the development stages of this particular project. I couldn’t be straight forward, I wanted to paint an honest painting of my hometown, whilst also feeding into the monolithic and destructive themes of modern day society. Walter Benjamin once wrote a book about Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he once stated that when an object has been replicated by machine it loses its authenticity, it loses its ‘aura’. It rises from an object’s uniqueness. Like the environments depicted in this project, the camera is also mass produced – however each photographer has a unique vision, and even when their ideas are similar the results will still vary. Photography has been mass produced as well, you look up hashtags on Social Media platforms such as Instagram and Flickr, there’s thousands of photographic works published every minute of every day – there has been for over a decade at this point. Photography has been ever so present in modern day society. Everyone knows a photographer and they all each have an individualised perspective on the human condition. Everyone’s lives are completely different in almost everyday. How do these environments contrast against these themes? Do they at all? If there are neatly a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower alone, how many are there of the same tree?
James Wallace took this technique and crafted one of the most intriguing images of its time. A perspective like this wasn’t often seen from photographers like today, the use of drones in creative work is often commonplace in even some of the most low budget of productions – but back then it was completely different. People would see images from above and almost be blown away at the impeccable view, and beyond sitting on a tall hill or standing atop a moderately sized cottage there wasn’t really a way of reaching such high altitudes. I do however find it interesting how the means in which these images are captured aren’t actually that different from how we do it today.
The NCAP are an independent organisation that have helped archive aerial photography throughout history. For my project I chose to research imagery from the first and second World War. These historic examples would act as more of a foundation for me to start implementing my ideas creatively. These images aren’t particularly high resolution, but that Top Down perspective is present throughout almost all of the images, there’s also an astonishing sense of scale when you see these images, obviously because of their historical attributes. A lot of the images on the website don’t feature the Photographer’s credentials, in fact a lot of the images are ambiguous in nature.
This is an aerial shot from Auschwitz, you can see these images give that intense sense of scale that I was referencing earlier. There’s a lot of depth, the historical importance of these images is present in every single exposure. The only information we have on this particular photo is that it is taken above the nazi concentration camp. The uniformed lines, low contrast Black and White, that flattening of the pictorial place are actually the main reasons I like this form of photography. Nobody really sees structures like this from directly above. The image itself is really haunting, obviously because we all know what happened here.
This is an image taken of Britain during The Blitz, again this image is packed with historical significance. There’s an astonishing amount of detail in these images. I love the way the roads flow through each other to separate each section into individual segmented pieces. Obviously the quality of these scans could be better – the website actually limits the quality to avoid copyright infringement. The smoke cloud is what gives us that sense of scale, especially when you compare how large it is compared to the many roads and buildings in this image. The lack of colour makes it quite hard to distinguish each feature, in fact I think if you showed this someone without them knowing the historical significance they’d have a hard time trying to distinguish what it actually is. Obviously a lot of these images weren’t actually taken by trained photographers, the pilots had very limited control over the photographic capabilities, so a lot of these images speak for themselves in terms of quality. It’s more the subjects of these images that give them more importance. When looking at my project, I want my intentions to be quite clear, obviously I will have a lot more creative control when compared to the photographers above. I have said ‘historical significance’ quite a lot, that’s because a lot of the images I’ve researched for this project aren’t technically brilliant by today’s standards – what sets them apart is that significance, a lot of these pictures are great because of their situation. Ruscha for example, he was one of the pioneers in modern art, his perspective changed the way we look at pop art. If we look at Black’s examples, these images have significance because we have using very experimental techniques which have evolved overtime.
Photographer Karolis Janulis creates really high contrast images that take advantage of HDR functionality. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, this essentially increases the camera’s range between the darkest and lightest parts of the image – meaning? You can retain immense detail in both the shadows the the highlights of the image. Everything has a sort of hallucinatory amount of detail. I wasn’t ever really a fan of this particular style until recently. Initially I thought it was often used tastelessly like putting the Adobe Lightroom ‘CLARITY’ feature unto 100% but I couldn’t have been more incorrect. As you can tone down the look of the HDR, so it isn’t as overkill. This is going to be the main tool in my toolkit.
Using this and combining it with complex settings with a lot of repetition, you can produce striking results. This is a style I do like to see, and I do actually follow a lot of pages like this on my Instagram. But, for this particular project I want to make it more relevant to my setting. I would consider this somewhat of an improvement over The Square Mile project, as I didn’t particularly like the way I edited those photos. think the colours were a little off, too green I’d say. Not only that, The themes of the Square Mile weren’t particularly clear. These images couldn’t be just the straight forward Drone photographs we’ve become so accustom to seeing on a regular basis. And as Wes Anderson as these images appear they do lack that social commentary that Ruscha, and Benjamin speak of. There’s also a sort of visual authenticity that Joachim’s take on Ariel photography has over images like this. I am not saying this is a bad image by any means, but upon researching contemporary Ariel photographers the variation between the images does seem to dwindle.
Amos Chapple is another ariel photographer. There’s a lot of contrast, the intentions of the photographer are clear and it creates a very wonderful image. Ariel photography has the benefit of creating a supremeluy cinematic shot out of almost any scenario, and because this is a lot easier it makes it incredibly hard to craft something more nuanced than a high energy photo such as this. This was shot using an incredibly high end camera drone – as you can see using a vignette really helps imply the scale of the structure as well. These images are great for depicting that Discovery Channel aura.
Zekedrone was another example, although the intensity is on the same level – the camera is clearly a lot closer to the ground, so get his feeling that the camera could be snatched from above at any moment. This is sort of the effect I am going for, although I’m sure you’re aware there’s no hippos in Sheffield. But adapting this methodology to my own work will prove useful.
I wanted that Gaspard/Betut vibe in these images, just to get used to capturing images from heights like this, at first I didn’t really have much confidence. I also wanted to test the camera’s capabilities. Usually in drone cameras, like the DJI Mavic 2 and Phantom 2 used below have very limited colour depth – they do shoot raw, but the image often lacks detail especially the more textured parts of the image. For example, in the image above you can see very little detail I’m the blacker areas. Now, it was misty on that day and the camera was actually working incredibly hard to produce a bright enough image, not to mention the wind speeds meant I couldn’t keep the drone stable enough to do a long exposure. Wind speeds are one of those things you don’t have much control over, it is impossible to line up a shot that contains multiple exposures If the camera is moving.
For this I wanted to reference ‘Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It’. As you can see it does actually look sort of like a snowy rendition of that image. I didn’t use the HDR functions at this point, I still wanted to rely soul on singe exposure photography. Using the drone like you would use an SLR, using the exposure triangle. My first attempts were just to get used to flying at higher altitudes, these images utilise the manual functionality of the camera. It’s basically controlled the same way as a normal camera. You input your ISO, Shutter Speed – the only main difference is the locked aperture, basically meaning you’ve got to use Variable Neutral Density filter with Polariser capabilities to get proper exposure during sunny and overcast settings. I for all of the following images I switched over to HDR capabilities and exposure bracketing. This is the art of combining multiple different exposures with varying incremental differences and combining them all into one editable exposure – This sounds technical, but it’s much easier than it sounds in practice. This is with itself is a very basic shot, not much planning went into it, I was just playing about. It had recently snowed and I wanted to see how far up I could fly without being affected by wind. To my surprise the done handled these situations fine, I am no by no means an experienced drone technician. I only really started getting into them a few years ago and there’s a lot more practice to be done just yet. Environments such as these you have to be incredibly careful, there is a significant amount of planning and preparation that goes into each flight. You need to make sure the aircraft is in sight at all times, that I do NOT accidentally film any person’s face. You need to stand back from the drone and make sure that there is NOBODY near by during take off – the blades on these devices spin incredibly quick and things can easily go wrong in weather situations like these.
As far as locations are concerned, I tried to stick to overgrown industrialised areas. In the Kelham area of Sheffield there’s a lot of collapsed buildings that for one reason or another had been knocked down in the past and left. There’s a huge fly tipping problem in areas like this. The video below shows you a good idea of the types of environments I have been working in. This further goes into that ideology mentioned earlier – these cuboid buildings are erected, destroyed, erected, destroyed – It’s a cycle, this will continue. This particular environment is ugly, but amongst this ugliness there is beauty. The moss and plants piercing through and fighting against the cold, through the trash, through the rubbish. This is another example of a HDR image. There’s a lot of definition in this image. Throughout this area alone there was at least ten mattresses, this image alone features four of them. I liked the strong lines in this shot, you’ve got the slabs on the floor in contrast with the mattresses, it really gives you a sense of scale. Look at the size of one of those slabs for example as opposed to the mattresses – How many people would have had to lift each one of them?
This essentially works out the exposure bracketing settings for my chosen ISO and Shutter speeds. That is a technological revolution within itself, the camera then produces three different images at three different exposures.
Then in Lightroom you combine the three images using the HDR Merge too. This takes the dynamic range from each individual exposure and combines it together to create one very flexible RAW file – this is edited like you would edit a regular image.
This RAW file is edited like any regular image, you have increased detail in almost every area – up to three times the amount of visual data. Obviously for this particular image, I wanted it to be the most visually stylistic. I wanted there to be a lot of depth in the image. As you can see below there’s an after, and then before – if you use the slider and slide left you can see how much visual data this three step process adds to the finished image. Obviously the finished image on the left is more of an accurate representation of what I saw in the real world as well – where as the image on the right looks washed out and dull, there’s also a ‘soft’ look as there’s limited colour information. There is no depth to the image on the right, there is no character. You could probably make arguments for either image if you wanted. If we were to talk about the brief history of modern photography, the word Adobe would probably be used over a hundred times. I wanted modern editing techniques to be utilised, there’s nothing analog about the image at all. I am not saying combining multiple exposures in post processing is a new technique, but as far was combining multiple .DNG files together to create a more flexible and visually compelling Image – this is still a relatively unknown technique.
As you can see we’ve got the finished edit on the left and the original unedited image on the right, the level of detail retained over the original image is almost unparalleled. Drone’s camera sensors are usually very small. It’s very hard for a camera sensor the size of an ant to produce an image anywhere near as detailed as that seen on an APS-C or 35MM camera. But combining multiple images, with varying exposure brackets can help bring back a lot of that detail that would otherwise be lost. Take the black ice for example, as you slide right you can see how much of that texture is actually lost on the original. This image was important for the project for many reasons, the main being the symbolic nature of it. I think the image, regardless of whether if it was shot on a 35mm or a Canon would be equally as striking. A manufactured item, a Bear, laying dead in the middle of a derelict man-made landscape, terraformed beyond recognition – but it’s impossible to escape nature’s fate. The greenery grows through it. Whether it’s the moss forming on the bricks, the weed piercing through the slabs, or the ice that acts as a dark void consuming the bear. These discarded landscapes have been left baron, forgotten for years. This looks more like something from 1984 that it does the rural city of Sheffield. These themes are heavy handed yes, but Sheffield has been heavily affected by this carnage, as more and more buildings in industrial areas are left to waste, as people pile up their rubbish – it’s a real issue.
These environments carry on for at least a mile, you can see how the industrial areas of Sheffield have been left almost completely barren. This area was integral for the majority of this particular assignment. They had a lot of the visual aspects I needed. As you can see there’s trees and bushes growing amongst the mess. This entire area used to be a building, as you can see from the wall in the video. This type of shooting is fun for a few reasons, the main being the level of freedom. There were no pedestrians about, so I have complete freedom to line up my shot wherever I saw fit. Some of them turned out really well, I usually like to keep my selection small – I am actually very selective over which shots stay and which don’t.
On the image above, I feel as though the effect doesn’t work as well. This what I meant earlier when I was talking about scale. It is incredible to be able to differentiate every single one of those bricks you see above, but is it always necessary? In certain situations the HDR can produce an almost Deep Dream effect – Where things look too ‘real’ if that makes sense. We’re not used to being able to see all of these details, so ultimately they don’t suit any real purpose. I think what’s most important about this image, is the fact that there’s grass growing through these bricks. But it isn’t as clear as id probably like. I want to be consistent with all of the images, not in colour but in texture – And in this, there’s no real reasoning behind having that much visible texture. In terms of the Bear picture, you understand why it was taken that way. You can also see me in shot, and although this is a relatively small detail, it is unneeded. You cannot particularly identify that the smaller aspects on the left are indeed bricks. From a technical point of view, the picture is fine, I just think it lacks the visual quality of the other images in the selection.
I feel like this image suited it perfectly, there’s an immense amount of depth in this image. Those trees felt a hundred feet high, and I think this image really does do a good job of shrinking it down. I wanted the more natural world to be emphasised in VIEW. I wanted every detail of the natural world to be visible. That’s why I think the high detailed look of this one really works, as I said previously we’re working with a sensor the size of a single grain of rice – this camera needs to be pushed for you to experience it’s true capabilities. You can have all of the gear but still have no idea. I wanted this to be striking, I wanted those textures in the snow to really shine through. There are a few problems in this particular shot I would like to recapture again in the future (If we indeed have snow anytime soon), the main reason would be the lack of snow on the trees, the wide angle lens of the drone doesn’t really depict this level of depth that well, it pushes the elements in the middle away from the lens because of it’s wide focal length. This particular image was only a couple of meters above these trees, but on the lens it would appear they look even further away – this sort of takes away from my initial plan of being closer and more intimate with the subjects. I think this particular shot is way too wide. For this project there would also be no real way of capturing it again at this level of visual quality, all of the snow has now melted.
This shot only really had two exposures, now, I like the purple I think it works. We don’t really tend to see purple light naturally. For example, the sun doesn’t shine blue or purple. But modern cars, their headlights often cast a blue/purple light. And in this scene in particular, it worked really well in conveying that monolithic theme I was discussing earlier. It does have a sort of Cyber Punk vibe going for it as well. I like the way the light interacts with the frost and the cracks in the ground. Ideally I would have liked this image to stick with the winter theme – Although I am a fan of this particular image, I am deciding to eliminate it from the final project, as I have produced similar images to this in the past, not to mention I don’t really think it fits in that well amongst the other pictures I have chosen. Initially I wanted the project to represents the monolithic and almost dystopian amounts of destruction these manmade structures have, there beauty also – as Ruscha depicted the Gas Stations, I would also depict my city with the visual tenacity of Joachim’s homage, this image would sooner fit in a car advertisement that it would a visual representation of these particular themes. This series would cover the effects of humans and their losing war against nature – not a celebration of it.
We first walked through this area, as the snow was still relatively fresh we needed lots of tiny footsteps across the main walkway in this area. It didn’t take much time to create this effect, I wanted it to be clear that people had been through here, that people had explored these regions. As this was miles away from previous locations, I needed there to be visual contrast. Tonally, the man made landscapes featured earlier aren’t too different from these. I didn’t want any contextual shots, I didn’t want to establish any sort of difference between these different environments, I wanted the physicality of each image to speak for itself. The foot prints in the snow are symbolic in that it also speaks about man’s effects on the environment, even all the way out here you can see people have been through here. Technically, the grass did keep moving between each exposure. You can see the grass in the bottom left has an overly dense effect – This wasn’t intended, this actually is because grass naturally aways, and when it does you can’t perfectly align each layer of the HDR. The detail on the rock really comes through though, you can see the texture in the snow really well as it’s not actually that blown out.
I take a lot of these photos at sunset, simply because I don’t have to spend as much time colouring them. I do like colouring my images, but for this particular set I just wanted to take advantage of the elements and colours already present in the settings themselves. I could have easily just boosted the orange channel to replicate these colours but that would take away from that sense of authenticity I was speaking about earlier. A lot of the colours in The Square Mile were artificially replicating expired Cinestill 800 – as a result I would boost the green and blue channels, I would also push the red channel – this did work, but overall I think I could have executed the project a lot better. The only real tool I used on this project was the implementation of HDR, this is more of a tool as opposed to a creative choice – there’s less room for error when you’re not using filters. I wouldn’t end up using this image though, if you look at the way the sky interacts with the top of the pylons, you can actually see this image is made up of several layers. The colours and exposure values change dramatically between the land and the sky – I don’t like this, it is a technical error which I have tried to avoid throughout this entire project.
This is another industrial photo, I first showed this image to a few of my friends from afar and they though the trucks were the lines in the middle of a road. I really like how small those trucks are, how that tiny stack of tyres, they’re almost minuscule. I really wish this particular shot was more of a HDR, with at atleast perhaps 2 exposure combinations combined together. There’s not as much intensity in the highlights, I do plan on retaking this image for a bit more visual intensity.
In conclusion, I’m really pleased with how the finalised images turned out. This project allowed me to tap into a higher plane of creativity (quite literally) by forcing me to think outside the box. I could have taken this assignment in numerous different directions, many of them would have satisfied the brief – but I think this exploration of this never ending war between humans and planet earth would be more intruiging. You can see a clear contrast in the images above, you can see subtle differences between both the complexities of humanity and the natural world – and how even the natural world isn’t free from humanities destructive capabilities, but the same could be said on the other end – for every pile of rubbish was a weed piercing through. The only image that sticks out and perhaps doesn’t belong is the one of the car from above – the main reasonings for backtracking on my previous statement about this particular image stems from the theme itself – there are at least one or two images of the natural world in all its beauty – but almost every image I took of these manmade environments would feature vegetation as if by design. This image acts as an opposite to these images. Obviously a lot of my ideology going into this project stems from Walter Benjamin’s work, but I didn’t want the work to feel too ‘edgy’ in that a lot of people my age tend to make these almost pro marxist statements by listing all of the things they hate – but I don’t think it leads to a very constructive discussion, in these images you can clearly see the effects of capitalism and almost a direct result of humanities growing obsession with mechanical reproduction. As a photographer who uses modern technology to capture my images, I know it could be considered almost hypocritical to talk about mechanical reproduction when I use factory built cameras made in the hundred thousands to produce my art. The aura of my art however is more in the images themselves as opposed to the means in which I’ve captured.