Exercise 3.3: WHAT MATTERS IS TO LOOK

‘If you are not willing to see more than is visible, you won’t see anything’

Ruth Bernhard (1902-2006)

Alberto Giacometti had already mastered the art of drawing when he discovered the problem of seeing both the whole figure and the detail simultaneously. When he concentrated on the whole, the details disappeared and conversely, the whole disappeared when detail took over. He didn’t know how to draw without compromising one or the other. The only reasonable solution was to let the brain choose the right movement without concentration.

Find a good viewpoint, perhaps fairly high up (an upstairs window might do) where you can see a wide view or panorama. Start by looking at the things closest to you in the foreground. Then pay attention to the details in the middle distance and then the things towards the horizon. Now try and see the whole view together, from the foreground to horizon (you can move your eyes). Include the sky in your observation and try to see the whole visual field together, all in movement. When you’ve got it, raise your camera and release the shutter. Add the picture and a description of the process to your learning log.

Getting Started:

From what I have read of the assignment brief, it’s important I display an understanding for visual laws – my interpretation of the brief was that I should display an understanding for the gestalt laws that help drive creative mediums. These laws offer an insight into a deeper understanding into speaking the visual language. The brief also touched on the ability to break a scene down into three dimensions and the ability to view the image as a whole, which is of course different to the sum of its parts. I also want to make this project feel a lot more visually organised as opposed to previous projects I’ve done in which every image has a new meaning. I am not going to be tied down to one specific format, and explore the implications of each format.

Research:

Alberto Giacometti was born in 1901, creating his first oil painting at just 12 years of age. He comes from a family of renowned artists, architects and designers. Alberto would often paint people he knew personally. The painting above is called ‘Caroline’ – She was a prostitute he hired in 1958 in Paris. She apparently had a lot of personality attributes that Alberto found attractive. This painting has an artistic attribute that Alberto would then go on to apply to his sculptures. For example in ‘Buste de Diego’ the head was extended and with incredibly exaggerated shoulders. Alberto would focus on the shape of the head, capturing the ‘essence’ but also the form. Alberto did work for The Surrealists and he would often look to them for inspiration although they would eventually part ways after they found his work became too realistic along with the fact he started taking commissions which essentially allied him with the bourgeoisie.

René Magritte was apart of the surrealists movement in Paris, he was one of the leading figures in the movement. His famous “The Treachery of Images”, at least in my opinion is about the differences between actual objects and their portrayal in images. It isn’t a pipe, it represents a pipe – the same with the actual word ‘pipe’ – the word is not the same as the object. I adapt this philosophy to my photographs as well, often we take creative choices and don’t wish to display a scene exactly as it is in actuality. A lot of scenes are constructed, or sought out in order to fulfil the artists vision. Even Black and white for example doesn’t accurately portray reality because of the fact it’s monochromatic – human beings see in colour. Film itself, as a format, does not accurately portray colour accurately – therefore the images themselves are different to reality – there’s a level of disconnection. The photograph is not the moment, it represents the moment. I want the images for this particular assignment to make you question what you are seeing.

When I read the second part of the brief I thought it would be important to further expand my knowledge on gestalt principles. After reading Roy R Behren’s “Art, Design and Gestalt Theory” I started to gauge an even deeper understanding of these individual principles and their importance in the visual arts. These writings in particular allowed me to trace back the history of gestalt theory in order to have a better understanding of each laws significance. I know they have great significance in almost every visual medium, but for the sake of this assignment I am only going to reference their importance in art and photography. The psychologists or philosiphers themselves weren’t the ‘inventors’ of these techniques, but amongst the first to apply critical recognition to these principles with skeptical analysis in order to garner a deeper understanding of the creative mind but also human methodology and psychological association. For example in 1890 Christian von Ehren published a paper titled “On Gestalt Qualities” which elaborates on this “relationship-between-elements” and man’s ability to naturally attempt to fill in details that aren’t actually there. The human brain subconsciously breaks down objects and perceives them in their most simplest forms, filling in relevant information. Essentially explaining that the whole is almost certainly different to the sum of its parts. Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler then went on and built on this Psychology over time, adding to Ehren’s work and further developing it. Although I do personally like the story behind its inception, for the sake of this project it’s probably more efficient to focus on the laws themselves as opposed to how they first came about.

The gestalt laws.

This logo contains all of the main characteristics most commonly associated with gestalt laws. The use of actual psychology and how shapes are interpreted in the brain in order to create a response is one of the driving factors of this design language. These are incredibly important in photographer because their uses can help further trigger an emotional response in the viewer’s mind – they can also help build on the spectacle. Agus Nonot Supriyanto wrote an article for snapshot.canon-asia.com in which he shot images specifically to help add visual definitions to each of the laws.

Alien Robot

His image featured above follows the law of simplicity, meaning that at a glance our brains look at images and naturally subconsciously perceive them as something alternative to what they are in actuality – that’s why this image is titled ‘Alien Robot’ because the mind can perceive that image as some sort of sci fi killing machine but when you look further into it you actually realise the image is a lot more complex than initially thought. Agus has purposely chosen a scene that can be interpreted in multiples ways and this further aids us in finding a deeper understanding of these rules. These rules don’t have to be followed perfectly, in fact they often come to mind automatically without you even realising. I always find myself looking for the alternate perspective, capturing a moment that can be interpreted in multiple ways, both aesthetically and in a more subtle way.

I feel photographers like Jeff Wall use this technique exceptionally well, even if it’s unintentional. In his photograph “Mimic” he wanted to recreate a scene he could remember from this childhood. He said he left the themes of this image vague to allow the viewer to apply their own meaning. Wall picked the actors, he picked the clothes, the street – ever aspect of this image is staged but it’s done so well it almost looks like real life. If we examine this image closely we can actually see some of these gestalt laws coming into play. Most notably is the law of proximity and the law of continuity. We associate the two people on the right as a couple because of their proximity to one and other but perhaps at a glance we may associate all three of them as one single group – this all comes down to your brains ability to identify these patterns. The continuation comes from the background in my opinion. Like I said, these visual laws often apply themselves.

Finished Photographs:

“Seeds on a Counter”

For this image I simply laid some seeds out on a black surface – I didn’t, it’s actually geese that are shot from above. This shot was incredibly hard to pull off but it was one I’d wanted to take for about a month. I had to wait for the right weather and find a suitable park in which I could achieve the final result without endangering any wildlife. Obviously I don’t wish to disturb animals in their natural habitat, not only that I know there’s often compromises we need to make as artists to make sure we achieve the result as efficiently as possible. This image Is a HDR, shot at incredibly fast shutter speeds using a drone. The idea for this shot came about when I was LSD, I was eating rice and my friend said I there was maggots in my food, because of this I then started believe therefore seeing the rice as maggots – the inability to make the distinction between rice and maggots sounds ridiculous, but you would be amazed how many people still believe this picture is of seeds laid out on a counter. My own mother doesn’t believe it and I wish that was a joke. The proximity and repetition of this image is what makes it uncanny in my opinion, I needed to isolate the water to add contrast – without that contrast the illusion is broken. It is not photoshop, nor a visual trick. In retrospect, I find this image a little too surreal to sit amongst my work – but I think it helps that it is actually a photograph of a real scene without any compositing in using photoshop or any external image manipulation application – only simple HDR conversion methods using Abobe Camera RAW, more specifically the HDR combining tool.

“Last Ones Up”

For this image I wanted to explore “Horror”, more specifically what something has to be to be defined in that genre. It was taken in an area called “Redmires” and over the past few months it’s been repeatedly struck with snow, which then freezes and remains for a considerable amount of time. I was sat on a wet log, at night, in the middle of nowhere waiting in the woods for snow to fall – and eventually it did. It took about 45 minutes of waiting but it was worth it because now I’ve got his image. It was a long exposure, I wanted to capture that in-between moment of the woods before the snow came falling down – that’s why the white of the sky is so surreal, this image was taken in the evening. The white is the now coming down, piercing through the woods. One of my followers once said this photograph reminded them of a movie they once saw a child that petrified them so much that they couldn’t sleep for a whole week, they also couldn’t remember the name of the movie either (which I thought was particularly amusing) but it had me thinking even more about the implications of colour and image. There was nothing scary about my miserable little trip to the woods that night, no phantoms, no monsters – but the image itself may say otherwise. We associate. I shot this using my Leica TL2 with a 28mm F1.4 – I set it at F4 on a tripod using a remote timer so I didn’t knock the camera during the exposure period.

“Bicycle Chain”

This image was built on the law of closure. I had this idea for an image that had the approximation of a circle with missing pieces. I’d driven past this place a few times in the past, and knew that from above it would actually fulfil this idea I’d had. Unfortunately that particular day they decided arrange the skips more sporadically, therefore obstructing the circular formation I’d seen the week prior. It ended up looking like the ship from Star Wars. I do think the imagery of the bicycle chain is still present. I have this obsession with tilting the camera down, looking at the world like this isn’t something we come across in the natural world. This effect can make large structures often appear smaller than they actually are, you’re flattening the visual plane -it’s harder to distinguish depth. The circular formations in the middle of the frame help draw you into the image. The repeating colours of the skips, as well as the rough pattern really sell the image for me. It’s not something I would take everyday, because things like this don’t occur all the time. If I were to do this again, I would probably photoshop each skip to align more with a circular frame – but I didn’t really want to take away from natural human formations.

“Woollens Signs”

This is a historical building for many reasons, this company started in Sheffield for about 100 years, earning many accolades. They would make signs for many businesses throughout Yorkshire until they were eventually bought out by the Sheffield Co-operative Society and moved to a new location. There’s some dramatic irony in the fact that a business once famously known for supplying so many shop fronts hasn’t got a shop front anymore. Notice the sign, rusted and destroyed. I shot this image on my Nikon F5 on Fuji Superia 400 – not by choice, I did attempt to get much closer to the sign using my drone to avoid getting too much of the building in shot, but this is directly across the road from a court house and the security told me stop flying it or he would call the police. There’s a lot I would do differently. Thankfully I shot this on a full frame film camera with a 24mm F2.8 – so I would at least have a nicer viewpoint than if I shot it on a 50mm. I think the fact we can see a lot more of the building, especially combined with the saturation really helps give this photograph a bit more of a painterly feeling. In retrospect I would have focused more on the shutters, as the lines are quite striking and would love quite nice with the sign poking through the top of the frame.

“Picture Frame”

I would always drive past this car when I would drop my girlfriend off for work. I always thought it was cool how the owner of the house had unintentionally framed the nose of the car so well. I think this gives a more secluded viewpoint, it’s an almost invasive angle, as if you’re peering into an environment you shouldn’t be. I shot this on film and it’s gotten quite a response online from a lot of people in Sheffield – I even got a message from someone in the area telling me the story behind the vehicle as well.

I’ve been in two minds of whether or not to delete this image, but for the sake of this assignment I decided to keep it. I think even without the backstory the image it stands for itself, I shot it on my Nikon F5 with a 50mm f1.8 – so I could really isolate the subject and make the plants seem more ‘frame like’. I only shot this from this angle and avoided taking any images of just the car itself – I wanted to use as many visual techniques as possible to make the image feel as concise as possible without coming off too stylised. I wanted each image to say something completely different from the last without them becoming too much of a ‘mashup’ of different techniques. These pictures actually go together because they all have a similar colour temperature with the exception of ‘Last Ones Up’.

Conclusion:

In my opinion, I found that due to developing my skills by learning about gestalt theory and surrealists art I was able to have a more thorough understanding of the visual principles of photography. My work has slowly started to become more conceptual, often starting with brief ideas that I wish to explore first before I then go and execute the photographs themselves. I’ve also found myself trying to pack as much in the frame as possible – filling it, not overloading it. To ensure there’s an even spread of visual information, further conveying the message I’m going for. I still think there’s a lot to be learned, but through further reading I may be able to advance my knowledge and further develop my understanding.

Published by bobbiemeralisarangi

Sheffield based Fine Art Photographer.

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