Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Assignment 2: Elements of Design: Railway Stations

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Brief:

Incorporate the insights you have learned so far on the course into a set of photographs directed towards one type of subject, which between them will show the following effects:

  • single point dominating the composition
  • two points
  • several points in a deliberate shape
  • a combination of horizontal and vertical lines
  • diagonals
  • curves
  • distinct, even if irregular, shapes
  • at least two kinds of implied triangle
  • rhythm
  • pattern

Submissions:

Small versions below for online viewing. Larger versions and contact sheet in a downloadable zip file.

UPDATE: tutor report uploaded.

I chose as my subject railway stations.

First: a gallery view of all the images. Click a thumbnail to open larger images.

Then: a brief analysis of each image.

The images are grouped according to where they were taken, and in each case I have noted which of the aspects of the brief I believe the image meets.

Pickering, fence

Pickering, fence

The first set of shots are from Pickering station, a traditional old steam train station on the North York Moors Railways line. This image was chosen to demonstrate diagonals, as in addition to the fence itself being made of diagonal slats, there is a diminishing perspective effect that leads the eye along a lower-left to top-right diagonal.

Pickering, signs

Pickering, signs

Fulfilling the brief for an image with two points, this also has as a secondary point of interest a pattern in the brickwork background.

Pickering, tracks

Pickering, tracks

Given the location, this may be a fairly obvious choice of subject matter for a combination of horizontal and vertical lines. I did however work on making it interesting in terms of its texture, which can be interpreted as a pattern of sorts.

Pickering, timetables

Pickering, timetables

The final image from Pickering is to show the effect of implied triangles, predominantly with the timetables to the right, echoed by the longer triangle formed by the two black signs to the left. The triangle formed by the timetables is doubly unstable from a visual point of view, as it is not only an inverted triangle and therefore top-heavy, it is in effect an incomplete rectangle, so the sense of something missing is part of the visual story.

Malton, canopy and lampposts

Malton, canopy and lampposts

The sole image from Malton, a small local station on the line between York and Scarborough, is a silhouette of the ornate wrought-iron canopy that shelters the platform, giving a series of distinct shapes. The repetition of the lamppost heads gives a little secondary point of interest.

York, exterior

York station is a grand old Victorian building, architecturally impressive both inside and out. This exterior shot is an example of a lot of different distinct shapes dominated by the curve of the roofline, which give the eye various points of interest to rest on.

York, waiting passengers

York, waiting passengers

I spotted this family momentarily arrange themselves into an implied triangle before my eyes and took a quick shot. On reviewing it, I saw several secondary triangles dotted around the frame (from left to right): the man with crutches, the girl standing next to her suitcase, the woman sat down with her bags beside her, the woman leaning over her luggage, the man’s legs, the A-frame sign. Triangles everywhere…

King's Cross, great hall roof

King’s Cross, great hall roof

The station with most material for the assignment was King’s Cross, a real mix of architectural styles. This first image captures the curve of the roofline in the original main hall of the station. I also see a rhythm in the diminishing repetition of the lines down the line of perspective.

King's Cross, great hall roof

King’s Cross, great hall roof

To demonstrate how the same subject can produce very different types of lines, by changing the angle I got a picture of the same roof from directly underneath, showing the combination of horizontal and vertical lines that form the pattern of the roof.

King's Cross, lone passenger

King’s Cross, lone passenger

This cool-looking chap standing on his own waiting demonstrates the effect of a single point dominating the composition. As a secondary point of interest you can observe the combination of horizontal and vertical lines formed by the barriers he is leaning on.

King's Cross, passengers and shadows

King’s Cross, passengers and shadows

With this I was attempting to show the effect of several points in a deliberate shape. While it may be a bit of a stretch, in this image I see a circle of people subconsciously conforming to the edges of the circular shadow cast on the ground.

King's Cross, departures roof

King’s Cross, departures roof

The new departures concourse at King’s Cross is an astonishing piece of architecture, whose centrepiece is a mesh-like roof that extends downwards to meet the ground. The curves of the roof sculpture perfectly complement the pattern and rhythm of the diamond grid effect, giving an image that the eye naturally flows around.

Self-evaluation:

I found this assignment more satisfying than Assignment 1, and I am happier with the outcome. Maybe this is because I enjoyed working to a theme and particularly found working in black and white, and focusing on shapes/lines etc very interesting and stimulating. Following tutor advice on Assignment 1, I shot many more photos while working on this assignment (over 200, whittled down to the final 12). The advice was good; having a wider selection of images to choose from, and the opportunity to revisit and reshoot, meant that I could be more discerning on finding the most suitable version of the image to illustrate the effect I was trying to achieve.

Evaluating my submission against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
    • I believe that working in black and white has improved my visual awareness; it helped me to see the design elements more clearly, and after a while I started to understand what photographers mean when they say they ‘see’ in black and white
    • I made an effort to find strong lines and shapes in the viewfinder, and had some shots already in mind before I started; what I didn’t expect was to find secondary elements in several photos, e.g. seeing a pattern in an image originally intended for curves, or an implied triangle in the background, etc; I’m finding that I’m more alert to these design elements appearing in the viewfinder
  • Quality of Outcome:
    • I am happy with the quality of the resultant set of photographs; as well as meeting the brief and applying the learnings from this part of the course, I believe they work as a series of images and hang together well conceptually and visually
    • Whilst the overall theme was adhered to, I made a conscious decision to have a mixture of subjects, from broad architectural sweeps to smaller details and people; as a refine my personal style and preferences I may look back on this set and see it as more eclectic, but I still feel like I’m ‘trying on’ different types of photography
    • In terms of the communication of ideas, looking back on the final set I must confess that it is a bit of a mixed bag, possibly due to my decision to shoot at different stations and choose a variety of subjects; the Pickering ones evoke a feeling of nostalgia, while the King’s Cross ones give more of a sense of vast space, with scale and shape dominating – there is some coherence in sub-groups but as a whole the sensations evoked are a little dissonant
    • I concede that I need to work harder on understanding why I make certain photographic decisions, beyond the aesthetic attraction; I still shoot mostly subconsciously (or purely visually), without having a particular message I want to say through the medium
    • I am generally pleased with the technical quality of most of the images, although there are a couple that are not as sharp as I would have liked; one of the limitations of the choice of subject was that I couldn’t use a tripod, so every shot was handheld, and stations are often quite dark and shady spaces. I did endeavour to get everything sharp but in some instances encountered these limits
    • Two of the shots with people in are not as sharp as I would like (York, waiting passengers and King’s Cross, passengers and shadows), but in both cases the shape I was trying to capture was only fleetingly present and there was no opportunity to reshoot; I felt these images were strong enough visually to get over this slight softness
  • Demonstration of Creativity:
    • As mentioned above, I still feel like I am working out what styles of photography I enjoy (and am good at) and so feel as though I am still a way short of finding my ‘personal voice’
    • That said, I really found shooting in black and white very satisfying and helpful, and allowed me to more strongly emphasise the visual elements that I want the viewer to look at; I’ve been shooting in black and white a lot more in my day-to-day photography and am keen to continue
    • While some of the specific subjects may not show a massive degree of imagination (such as Pickering, tracks), I hope that some of the others are examples of showing some level of creativity in angle, framing and lighting (such as King’s Cross, passengers and shadows and Malton, canopy and lampposts)
  • Context:
    • I put more preparation into this assignment than the first one
    • I re-read the course notes from both parts 1 and 2 in order to make sure I was applying the cumulative learnings
    • I did two learning log posts as part of my preparation, discussing my original choice of theme and my ongoing shooting sessions over the 2-3 weeks that I was working on the assignment
    • Two books in particular helped me during the assignment: one quite practical, ‘Creative Black & White’ [1] and the other more conceptually inspirational: ‘Magnum Contact Sheets’ [2], as recommended by my tutor; this is where I had the realisation that great photos are usually the result of a number of attempts, and this is why I shot many more images for this assignment
    • As per the first assignment I took a look at, and swapped comments with, other OCA students who have completed the assignment or are working on it at the same time as me

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this assignment and am looking forward to the constructive feedback from my tutor.

1. Davis, H. 2010. Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques. Indianapolis: Wiley

2. Lubben, K. 2011. Magnum Contact Sheets. London: Thames & Hudson 

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