Tomorrow morning, I commence the final semester of my degree in photography. I enter the last leg of this long 4-year process of learning and practice, of development and progress, of self-reflection and realisation of limitation and ability over a naive yet enthusiastic ambition.
The execution of the coming work will eventually take the form of a polished and self-published photobook for submission 12 weeks from now. The work is already underway, with many negatives still to scan and many rolls of film yet to shoot. The narrative is conceptual and yet to take shape but is getting there, while the work + life + study balance is more constricted than at any point in my studies thus far. Balanced with my major degree essay also commencing tomorrow, a certain level of stress is currently being felt at time of writing. But I shall get there, and my project will be awesome.
One week or thereabouts into the final 12 of this degree and I discover my job situation has evolved, again, causing all sorts of as yet unknown turmoil. A further commute, an unknown boss, an unknown project, but hopefully less
half-witted incompetence being mucked about ... time will tell tomorrow when I meet the new team to understand their project and ways of working better. To paraphrase what my 35mm film development guy said recently - in a year from now, I'll have forgotten the old ways. Wise words.
On a more positive note, I've begun to eating into the backlog of developed negatives over the last week, scanning, organising and retouching (some) as I go. There are still quite a few to get through and also quite a few undeveloped medium format rolls that need processing. I recently began to label the negative sheets 'tourists' when I sleeve and file the negatives away which has made it easier to select the correct ones from the unscanned sheets. I have a lot more unrelated negatives sleeved that are as yet unscanned and very likely won't be for some time, given the priority with this work.
To keep the creatives juices going and yet give myself a break from 'the tourist landscape', I went out on Saturday morning to shoot Aldgate in the style of straight photography in medium format and using a tripod, something I haven't done for a while. It slows me down and I enjoy it.
Over the last couple of days, as I've been scanning my backlog of film in the evenings after work. I find my hit-rate of 'good' shots is dissapointingly low - maybe 1-2 frames per roll.
As mentioned on the 24th June, my medium format negatives are yet to be developed, so I'm hoping there are some gems in those. I recently bought fresh C-41 chemistry to get these going (I recently fell out with my go to lab for medium format *cough* shit customer service *cough* puncture holes through frames in the film *cough cough*... So I must get that going soon ...
All 35mm negatives shot to date have now been scanned. As with yesterday, perhaps there are a couple of shots that might be OK, but I'll take my time to print out and review them soon. I'm going to head out tomorrow and also on Saturday morning to get some more shooting in. Not sure if I will shoot 6x6/6x7 medium format or more 35mm.
I will crack on with my essay in the meantime.
With a job lot of around 30-40 medium format rolls (at a guess, for now) currently sitting in the fridge and awaiting development, I have collated my scanned negatives in Lightroom to date. I have an initial broad selection of 107 photographs that make the initial cut and these are mostly 35mm frames (though some 6x7 medium format ones too). I still plan to shoot much more, as if I'd ever stop.
Here I present just two of those photographs ...
It only just occurred to me yesterday, I also have a small number of instant-film photographs that I shot some time back that require scanning. I intend to use them in the book if they come through OK.
The following is my major degree project concept and rational, backed up with methods and methodology of execution, as well as processes, techniques, presentation and audience.
Concept and context:
I intend to observe and document interactions and behaviours of contemporary tourists in London, using readily available colour film. The project references and pays homage to the 'Golden Age' of street photography, mass tourism, and the ubiquitous nature of cheap colour film and film processing from the mid-to-late-twentieth century. A time when film bore witness to holiday 'snaps' captured on sightseeing trips around the world, where recognisable patterns and interchangeable tourist behaviour occurred, regardless of the location.
Mass tourism to London equates to large numbers of visitors, all of them eager to see London's famous sights as they 'lumber' along well-trodden 'tourist thoroughfares' rarely venturing off them. The 'tourist' comes to see the uniqueness of London, yet unwittingly recreates the altogether 'same-ness' of massed tourists everywhere. Who are these people, what are their motives, what do they do while here? Can photography expose the behavioural juxtapositions of the city's visitors?
The work is intended to sit alongside historical and contemporary street photographers, adopting humour, irony and subversion similar to: Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Martin Parr; the juxtapositions of Tony Ray-Jones; direct observations by Simon Roberts, Vivian Maier, Joel Meyerowitz, Tod Papageorge and Sam Gregg; and the close-proximity of Bruce Davidson's work; the straight documentation of the landscape similar to Stephen Shore or Eirik Johnson, and the overlapping styles of Fred Herzog, Alec Soth and Harry Gruyaert.
Methods and Methodology, Processes and Techniques:
I will seek to photograph tourists as well as the wider tourist industry, in London, and the observed interactions between these subjects in the context of their wider London surroundings. The narrative focus will be on a satirical observation of the ‘tourist’. I hope to convey a sense of humour through these observations, from the point-of-view of a ‘local’ who inhabits the city and otherwise must contend with the ‘tourist’. The work will also convey a direct observation of the wider tourist landscape.
I will shoot in colour on 135 and 120 film which will be processed in a lab.
The work will be captured using zone focusing in the street photography style and shot candidly in close-proximity to its subjects, with broader scenes of the tourist landscape incorporating more considered framing and composition.
An analogue and digital workflow will be used with negatives scanned into a computer for digital production.
To develop the ability to conceptualise and execute a body of work.
To develop the skillset of the street photographer.
It is also important for me as a photographer to build a portfolio that builds upon who I am, taking on the tone of my personality, helping to define me and my work, situating it amongst the many other works by the many other documentary photographers. If successful, the experience gained in formulating and executing this body of work will define my place in photography as a graduate and artist photographer.
Presentation and audience:
The work is intended as a standalone photobook, with an eventual attempted launch through Kickstarter, and concurrently published on my online portfolio in a smaller select sequence, and selectively on Instagram. The audience will be Photobook, Art and Magazine collectors, Galleries and Curators, online publications and London subject matter enthusiasts.
Most of my as-yet developed 120 film is now scanned and I'm nearly through developing the rolls I shot in May, with maybe five rolls to go. However, the rolls from June are still to be developed (and then scanned). So far in July I haven't managed to get out and shoot, so hopefully this coming Saturday 13th will happen.
I recently purchased a larger Paterson tank that fits two 120 reels, so I've doubled my productivity, or halved the time it takes to develop in my current workflow, whichever way you want to look at it. Doing so has allowed me to make this progress.
Sometimes I have doubts about the work, or more accurately, about my ability. As I've been scanning my work, reviewing images and so on, I've recently become frustrated at (some) of the output.
The most enduring triumph of photography has been its aptitude for discovering beauty in the humble, the inane, the decrepit.— Sontag, 1977 p.102
This morning I finished developing the last of my medium format films, I think that was 16 rolls in total. I'm in the office tomorrow, and then we're off on holiday on Saturday for the week, so not much progress between now and the following week on this. However, I'll spend some time on my essay during this downtime.
A final push with some recently shot rolls of film and I've now got my final first-draft selection of 190 photographs. As I type, I'm currently creating my contact sheets that will allow me to begin the process of selecting frames that will make it past the initial cut.
It's a natural time in the project to begin this, as I could happily keep shooting, but I'd run out of time for refinement and photobook creation. I also note the last two rolls I began to scan show that the chemistry has run its course and so a new batch needs to be mixed up anyway. So, as I say, a good natural point to call a stop to the shooting phase.
The initial selection of images has refined the work down from 190 to 98 images - some of which are near duplicates and will be culled on further review. My next step after that will be to consider the number of images in total to be incorporated into the photobook - selecting the strongest photographs that define the work, for inclusion.
I've selected my final 44 photographs for inclusion out of a refined set of 59 photos. The 59 images were selected from the 98 selected on the 3rd. I've also spent some time sequencing these 44 and am fairly happy with what I have, for now.
I'm now in the process of digitally editing the 44 images (in Adobe Lightroom) to remove artefacts from the scan process and imperfections from the development process and readying them for print. It is time consuming work but part of the analogue - digital workflow.
Previously, I'd already commenced the book design and need to make sure these final 44 images are in the Adobe InDesign file, then I'll order the pages accordingly, as per my sequencing. I'll then focus on the finishing touches, design or otherwise, copy check the locations of the photographs, and finally, make sure no typographical errors exist.
I've selected some of the successful images and printed and pasted these into my workbook, adding some scribbled thoughts around them.
Reflecting on my work, I note it has taken the form of straight photography rather than the initial intention of a sardonic and satirical Martin Parr Small World-esque approach, where I wanted to highlight the absurd and infuriating tourist behaviours and the god-awful tackiness of the tourist landscape. The sort often observed and encountered by those who live, work and commute here - at least to me. Is this a fault in the work? Maybe. Yet somehow, I don't feel that the work is lacking, and is even quite accomplished. At least to me, and that is all that counts.
Perhaps a longer-term work where (much) more time was able to be spent observing and capturing (as well as mostly being in the right place and the right time) would lead to the original aim of documenting the absurd and infuriating. I think this just goes to show how much skill there is in Parr's work.
I call back to my other stated intention with this work, to develop as a street photographer, and I feel as though I have, absolutely so. From Dutch-couraged-up nervous close proximity photography of strangers to Dutch-couraged-up less-nervous close proximity photography of strangers - through to capturing the landscape effectively. I've enjoyed shooting the 6x7 aspect ratio for these landscape images, as well as 35mm for closer people shots. I found myself using the square aspect also for close detail shots but as it happens, few square shots made the final body of work. There is a roughly even split between the 6x7 and 35mm work, incidentally.
Shooting analogue has meant a slower, more refined approach to creating the work in my opinion, rather than the machine gun-like approach of spray-and-pray digital photographers with their fancy-pants silent shooting modes, near-infinite-capacity memory cards and auto-focus eye detection mumbo-jumbo etc. etc. Having to capture a moment manually, as in, using manual focus and manual, slower control over the aperture, shutter speed and ASA/ISO, means being on-the-ball so to speak, more so than a digital photographer would need to be.
I'm also happy to say that I've just now, uploaded the PDF files and have ordered my photobook from Blurb! I selected Blurb's 'oatmeal' linen cover which will sit under the dust jacket, and I selected the 'charcoal' end sheets. Blurb have the option to remove their logo for an extra cost, which I did, and space for an IBAN number, which I didn't do as I don't have one.
The book awaits processing, printing and delivery - estimated to arrive by 21st August. All the hard work is done. Next steps - to document the physical book for assessment submission and also to prepare all supporting work to evidence the creation of it all. Not sure if I feel relieved yet however ... I'll likely relax when I have it in hand and am ready to submit everything for assessment.
Today it occurs to me that I haven't stated the name of the work on here formally as yet. The work, born of much research and development in a previous module, is called 'Super-normal stimuli', a reference to human behaviour from The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris.
On a completely separate note, I've had post-launch design thoughts around what the direction the dust cover design approach could/should have taken. I photographed using instant film earlier in the project (evidenced 3rd July) and it occurred to me that I could have used these as part of the design - picture in your mind: a selection of two or three, stacked so as to overlap one another, complete with subtle shadow and positioned above the book title font, scaled accordingly as per design reasoning. Oh well.
Post-academically, as this work evolves, I will bear design considerations such as this in mind. I also imagine the image selection and sequencing will change, with new work coming in and old work being relegated to the back catalogue.
Ithought I'd provide some further insight into my work and journey during the creation of this project. I shot this body of work on film - 35mm and 120 and started out with the early stuff being developed in my local lab. Towards the end, I'd decided to develop it myself for reasons previously documented on the 26th June.
My chemistry is designed to mix up 5l worth of developer, bleach, fixer and stop, respectively. Yet because I'm limited by the 1l capacity of my Winchester bottles, I had to divide the measures by five. This task was made easier with the help of children's medicine syringes that come with bottles of Calpol, some of these are marked to the millimetre. 1l of each chemistry mix saw me good to around twelve rolls of 120, with the last four (or so) suffering a bit. Streak patterns became evident in these during the scan process, and seemingly tiny sections of the negatives having spots on them that weren't dust - as if chemistry had eaten through. I had to exclude some of these images from the selection as they were too far gone that even rigorous post-processing wouldn't fix them to a desired standard.
My lesson in all of this is to only process a batch of ten rolls of medium format before mixing up a new batch of chemistry. This will allow some leeway before the chemistry begins to degrade. Also, the cost of the 5l of C-41 chemistry equates to having ten rolls of medium format developed at my former lab. So this is five times more cost effective, with fifty rolls being developed for the price of ten. There is of course the cost of equipment, most of it already owned (I purchase an additional Patterson tank to speed up my workflow) so that is pennies in the pound, really. A huge saving, so not bad at all ...
Anyway, the film I was Kodak Colorplus 200, Fujicolor 200 and Fuji Superia 400 35mm films and Fuji Pro 400H medium format film during this work. The original proposal talked of 'cheap colour film' in line with the concept of the work, so only the Pro 400H film deviated from this. Given the state of film these days and the comparative cost of say, Kodak Portra 400, Pro 400H is 'cheap' colour film. It's also lovely fine-grain film.
I want to describe the two approaches used; my 'street photography' approach, using the 35mm format camera (with 35mm and 50mm prime lenses) to stalk and capture close up observations of unsuspecting tourist behaviour, and my medium format (6x7) approach (using 80mm and 65mm lenses) to documenting the landscape. It was these two methods that form this work.
Early on in the work, it was mostly the 35mm work being undertaken. As I honed the skill and the nerve to photograph strangers in close proximity, I grew more confident as a street photographer. The nature of analogue manual cameras meant I had to be prepared and ready or I'd miss the shot. I found most missed shots came down to not being able to focus quickly enough, as subjects would adjusted their movements and positions in between me 'seeing' and getting the frame ready (composition and focus).
As the body of work built, I moved onto capturing more of the landscape with the medium format camera/s, and it's these images that form the majority of work in the book.
Today it occurred to me that if I was to take this work further (or perhaps where I should have taken it in the first place), beyond straight photography, that I'd apply my sardonic wit (what?) to these images and begin to alter the scenes. My thoughts were around playing with signage and really poking at the 'super-normal stimuli' that litters the London landscape.
With time on my hands today, I've worked up an image to illustrate an example as I see it.
Yesterday, I received notification that my book had been dispatched and is now in transit. Luckily the book has been printed and shipped from within the EU and so will avoid customs charges/duty fees etc. that could have arisen had the book been printed by Blurb's US-based printer. Delivery is expected Tuesday 20th August.
Here I present the book's dust jacket cover design, complete with flaps, spine, back and front (each not really being discernible here) and an example page spread layout for 'super-normal stimuli' (likewise, the fold isn't discernible).
- - Skuthorpe, E. (2019) 'Degree Project Proposal', 6FTC1200: Concepts and Planning. University of Hertfordshire. Unpublished essay.
- - Sontag, S. (1977) ‘The Heroism of Vision’ In: On Photography. London: Penguin Books Ltd, pp.85-112.
List of Illustrations