Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Exercise: Rain

Brief:

Create a magazine cover on one subject: rain. You have the entire cover space to work in, and you should produce a single, strong, attractive photograph that leaves no one in doubt about the subject. This is first an exercise in imagination, not always easy, and second an exercise in producing a photograph to a specification.

Results:

Rain Magazine Cover

Rain Magazine Cover

I thought about this for a few days, and looked at the work of other students. Last time an exercise required shooting in the rain, I found it quite a difficult thing to do well. So this time around I tried to think more creatively. What kind of image of rain would be interesting enough to grace the cover of a magazine?

I decided early on to go for humour. One phrase that’s been used a lot to describe the recent extreme wet weather is “biblical”, clearly alluding to the story of Noah’s Ark. Not having access to pairs of real-life animals, I fell back on toys from a farmyard play set. Rather than waiting for a real downpour (and risking my equipment) I faked the rain with a watering can. I know the exercise is predominantly about the photographic imagery, but I felt that the light-hearted treatment deserved a pun headline…

What I’ve learned:

As per the last exercise with the book cover, I found this interesting, but am not sure that such graphic design-led layout work is really my forte. I am however happy with the photograph itself, and I am satisfied that it meets the brief. It alludes to very heavy rain by way of a known allegory (animals two-by-two = Noah’s Ark = heavy flooding = RAIN!) and as long as the viewer makes that cultural-symbolic association then the message gets across.

This exercise has furthered my interest in, and my increasing experience of, pre-visualisation. I had in mind the image of the animals in pairs, with focus on the front pair and shallow DoF to imply them trailing off into the distance. The actualised image is pretty close to how I saw it in my head.

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Exercise: Juxtaposition

Brief:

Take any book you like and make a suitable cover illustration using two or three relevant juxtaposed elements.

Results:

I chose “Kill Your Friends”, a novel by John Niven. It’s a very black comedy about the UK record industry in the 1990s, and centres around a hedonistic A&R man struggling to stay ahead in his career at the height of Britpop. He turns to violently murdering his rivals in a desperate attempt to rescue his failing career.

Kill Your Friends

Kill Your Friends

The two elements I felt needed to be illustrated were (a) his career and (b) the murders. So the juxtaposition of the CD (not vinyl, not cassette, it was the CD that dominated the 1990s) and the knife sprung to mind. I also thought blood-red for the text supported the imagery.

What I’ve learned:

Whilst this kind of illustrative work is new to me – it’s more like graphic design than pure photography – I quite enjoyed it. If I’m honest and self-critical, I’m not at all convinced that it matches the quality of real paperback covers, I am happy that the juxtaposition aspect of the CD and the knife works in terms of illustrating the contents.


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Exercise: Symbols

Brief:

The idea of this project is to find symbols for a number of concepts. Complete it by listing more than one symbol for each of the following subjects, and add short notes saying how you might use them in a photograph. You do not need to take actual photographs for this, although by all means do if you feel enthusiastic about one of your ideas. The subjects are growth, excess, crime, silence and poverty.

Results:

A weird one, this: a photographic exercise without any photographs! Here goes:

Growth:

  • Height chart – image of notches on a door frame signifying growing child
  • Balloon – being inflated, maybe with wording or image printed on balloon to emphasise specific subject
  • Sunflower – image showing very tall sunflower extending higher than surrounding flowers

Excess:

  • Indoor footprints – top-down shot of bathroom floor as person walks towards scales, leaving visible footprints embedded in the lino (e.g. as an advert for post-Christmas dieting?)
  • Pie trays – pile of empty pie trays (evoking the colloquialism ‘who ate all the pies?’)

Crime:

  • Prison bars – head and shoulders shot with vertical stripe shadow effect falling on person imitating prison bars
  • Handcuffs – close-up of woman’s arm, glamorous evening dress, lots of bangles, lowest one being handcuff, connected to police officer (perhaps in an ad campaign about the dangers of excessive drinking leading to criminal behaviour?)

Silence:

  • Sewn lips – close up of mouth with lips sewn shut (cliché?)
  • Monk – more humorous execution, monk sitting in library setting

Poverty:

  • Begging – child’s hands holding out begging bowl
  • Piggy bank – skinny, scrawny piggy bank, denoting lack of savings

What I’ve learned:

I found this to be quite a thought-provking exercise. It took me a while to get in the zone of thinking ‘symbols’ rather than ‘examples’ e.g. for crime I was originally thinking ‘broken window’ or ‘black eye’… but these depict the subject rather than evoking it. To get into the right mindset I had to imagine that these were briefs for an advertising agency and I had to come up with a pithy image that communicated the concept wordlessly. I think I did OK, but probably wouldn’t get a job in an ad agency on the strength of this!


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Exercise: Evidence of action

Brief:

Produce one photograph in which it can be seen that something has happened. As a suggestion, include in the photograph something that has been either broken, or emptied.

Results:

Empty wine bottle

Empty wine bottle

What I aimed to get across here is not simply that a wine bottle has been emptied, but the context in which this happened. Two glasses, subdued lighting, hint of candlelight, jaunty angle implying participants are slightly tipsy… I was trying to conjure up the image of a couple enjoying a romantic night in. My intent was to get across not simply that the wine-drinking had happened, but furthermore that the evening had happened.

What I’ve learned:

This was an interesting exercise. I wanted to go beyond simply showing a broken object / empty vessel and put more thought than I usually do into working through elements of the image that would convey the message (or more the mood) that I wanted to get across to the viewer. The constraint of getting this across in a single image is making me think more about the intent I have in mind when I first visualise then realise the image.

[update]

The second part of this exercise was to think about examples of symbolism used in advertising to depict abstract concepts.

These are the examples I came up with:

  • Bravery, fearlessness (e.g. in investing) – Barclays example using lion
  • Solidity, toughness – Mitsubishi ad featuring a rhino
  • Fuel economy – VW ads showing clever examples of how long a car can go between trips to the petrol station
  • Sexual activity – a Durex condom ad showing a broken bed, a Viagra ad showing a very tired elderly woman at a bus stop in the morning
  • Speed – Audi ad featuring a cheetah
  • Authority – numerous examples of people (usually men) in white lab coats
  • Online security – universal symbol is the padlock