Past assignments have required me to write a hypothetical brief as if I were the client. I decided to use this approach and 'invent an event'. I would be asked by the organisers to provide photographic artwork to be included in a programme to promote their event. It would be given away to attendees or shown on poster boards at the venue itself - or both.
I did actually have a project in mind for this. Some months before I had been away in Brussels and visited the Atomium building. I was taken with its quirky structure and 1950 design ethos. Just days before I'd also visited the comic book museum and was inspired by the amazing artwork. I wanted to make a comic strip of my own using photographs. Deciding to combine the two ideas of layout and location I did some preparatory work at the Atomium. I took a number of images, thinking of how they might be incorporated into a narrative that might suit a comic strip although at that time I had no clear story in mind.
Back home a few weeks later I planned out a sequence over the Christmas break and I approached a relative to see if she would be amenable to me photographing her young son in some outdoor locations for my project. They were both quite interested in my concept as I explained it and I was so pleased that I had moved forward - and relieved that the biggest obstacle (finding a young model) had been overcome.
Now that I've found a model I can begin scouting out locations near enough to where he lives with his family. I'm looking for a neutral landscape that can conceivably be countryside close to Brussels but also have enough interesting features. Luckily the Kent countryside and coastline has some good places to look. I spent the morning driving around and found a rusting double gate that will work well for the old entrance to the Atomium. Another good find was a nature reserve fairly close that has all sorts of landscape possibilities.
I think I've hit the jackpot with the nature reserve. The location is fairly quiet so the young model won't feel too self conscious. I will also need to take a number of images with a plain background so I can cut him out of the scenes and into my Atomium shots. At the reserve there is a large white painted tank-like structure. It should be plain enough to give my model a strong silhouette to make my later Photoshopping tasks easier. I can't say that a large amount of image manipulation is exactly my favourite element in photography but, in this case, I have no choice but to just get on with it.
I've done loads of prep to ensure that I've covered everything and that the shoot goes smoothly.
The gist of the narrative is that a young boy wandering around in a rural landscape finds an object that leads him to the abandoned Atomium building. Once inside he is given the opportunity by an anonymous figure on a screen to manipulate some controls and take the Atomium into space. During his journey he encounters a mysterious warping of time and space and rapidly returns back to reality. The notion of reality/unreality, isolation and imagination are key concepts in this sequence of images.
There is also a subtext with single or flocks of birds in the background to some of the images. This subtext isn't fully realised in my mind at the moment. Initially they will be used to represent a sense of childhood loneliness but that meaning may develop as I work on the sequence.
I've worked on my sequence and printed out my images onto 4x6 cards. I've laid them all out on my dining table. Doing this helps me to focus on the gaps in the narrative and sometimes I get a boost of creativity and new ideas occur to me - from experience this is more likely to happen with physical images laid out on a surface than with trying to flick through them on a screen.
My shoot for this assignment is planned for Sunday. I've kept my eye on the weather forecast and it's looking like the day will be dry. There has been a lot of rain the last few days so I will have to remember to take something waterproof for my model to sit on. At the moment everywhere I go the ground is saturated. I've e-mailed to confirm the model is still available.
I spent most of today putting together a shooting schedule so that the images are taken in the most efficient way possible without having to move backwards and forwards around the nature reserve. My partner, Gerry, will be roped in as an assistant to keep track of the shots. I also need to make a list of the props and equipment needed so that nothing is left at home on the day - feeling a bit apprehensive now. But, as I mentioned earlier, my confidence is growing and I know that more often than not I'm able to photograph what I'm trying to visualise in a creative and successful way - to the best of my own ability anyway.
The shoot went really well. We started early by picking up the model and his mum (I'm not using his name to retain his anonymity) and along with Gerry we drove the short distance to the nature reserve. The morning was dry thankfully (I'd been watching the weather forecast all week waiting for a gap in the constant rain.) It did cloud over fairly quickly at one point - meaning I had to up my ISO quite a bit. I was conscious of the boredom factor setting in with ten year old but he seemed really happy and interested to take part. I explained to him, using the postcard-sized test shots, how I wanted him to pose and described the events taking place so he could imagine the scene for himself and act out suitable expressions. This was a bit difficult at times as he was obviously enjoying himself so much it was difficult to get him to stop smiling!
I've selected and processed images from the shoot for the past few days. I am really happy with the images taken at the nature reserve. The model is very natural and my pre-visit to the site allowed me to make sure I had backgrounds that worked visually. My planning has really paid off on this assignment. I have a lot of work to do with image manipulation though as I need to incorporate the model into the interior scenes at the Atomium. I will also be using a comicbook effect filter to pull all the images together into a unified look. I need to do decide on the strength of the filter. Do I go full out comic strip or apply a more subtle interpretation?
I emailed my tutor asking for an extension to my assignment deadline. There are so many tweaks that still need doing to my images it is taking such a long time. Someone more proficient at Photoshop manipulation would probably be much faster. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment but it is what it is and I just need to plough through.
I'm also having doubts about the whole concept. Have I gone completely crazy with this idea? For the moment there has been so much planning and logistics and time put into the project that I'm sticking with it despite my doubts. I've also learnt from past projects that these feelings are fairly typical at some point. In many of my projects my tutor, Keith, has given positive feedback on the work. I think I'm increasing in confidence more and more with this degree course and beginning to recognise the doubts are all part of the creative process. I need to trust my own judgement and work through them.
Whilst I still continue to work on the project my nagging doubts remain. Reflecting upon what I've made so far I can now pinpoint where the problem is. I like all the exterior nature reserve scenes and the shots of the model pasted into the exterior Atomium shots. They feel right to me. The problem is with the space images (my narrative revolves around a young boy that finds an object that leads him to the Atomium which in turn takes him out into space). They feel too "Science Fictioney' too commercial - like a book cover. They don't fit right with the images of a boy in an empty landscape with the wind and the birds and strange industrial structures. The space images somehow veer the whole project off-course. I need to think about how to address this. I don't want to abandon the project. I like more than half of the images and think they hold together well.
The other problem is I have started to look at the comicstrip style layout. I had imagined that I would have three pages with roughly nine images per page. I've done some test layouts and can see that getting them to look like a comic strip with all the different landscape, portrait and square formats will be a problem. Something else to ponder.
I've put together a couple of pages of layouts for the comic strip theme and concluded it isn't working for me. The problem is partly because the images for my layouts do not fit a uniform style. I realise now that when comic strips are drawn it is easy to fit them to a page template that makes up a page. Like the image below for example. The top three images are in portrait format and flow across the page. For visual interest the next row has a square and a portrait. The bottom row changes again and has a single image. There is a symmetry to them that is common with most comic strips. I really should have planned my photographs to fit this format in advance to fit my page design. That's a bit of a tall order on top of all the other aspects of photography. It can be done with photographs but it takes an awful lot of pre-planning and cropping to make the images fit. With drawing, the perspective can easily be changed to fit a given format.
Another problem is that unlike a drawn comic-strip the eye seems to rapidly jump around the page of photographs - taking all the images in at once. The pace and sequence are all off. I'm going to need to rethink how my images are presented - maybe a book? This was my first rough attempt. I realise that with more effort I could make it work but I am just not visualising how the final look will work. Maybe that it a limitation on my part but I definitely think it is time to explore other avenues.
I made a quick mock up of the project in book format yesterday afternoon. I used the Blurb plugin for In-Design. By using separate pages and isolating some of the images the problems with pace and sequence are resolved now and the narrative flows much better. I feel that I have partly abandoned my whole concept though and I did question whether I should also remove the comicbook filter from the images because of this. I've decided against doing that as it's the filter that pulls all the images together and provides the style for the project.
Also, the nagging doubt about the use of the space images has been resolved. I've decided to add a conceptual element to these images by printing them out and tearing or crumpling them. They will then be re-photographed. By marking the surface of the space images they will represent the warping of space and time (enhancing the dramatic element and giving a reason for the boy to leave the spaceship to return to his reality) and also be used to highlight the physical nature of the photographic print. This creates a conceptual parallel between the physical object of a 2D print that is viewed (and reality suspended to enable the viewer to gaze into its subject matter) and the real/unreal elements of the narrative. I've wanted to experiment for some time with mark making on the surface of prints so I'm glad to have the opportunity to practice with this assignment.
I spent a couple of hours making marks on left-over test images to see what kind of effects I can achieve. I used a scalpel to slice and scrape and a pointed screwdriver to puncture holes. I tried folding too but it didn't work so well. I've put the test shots in my physical learning log and ordered some prints to begin working on the originals.
The last few days I've been busy adding my images to Indesign using the Blurb book creator plugin. Indesign is quite an intuitive programme and I kept my planned layout quite simple. I have one or two images per spread with an introduction. Unfortunately I will not be able to share all the images on this blog. In a number of them I've used an iconic building that is copyrighted. The terms and conditions state that it can be used for non commercial purposes and on private websites only. I don't want to take the chance or be in for any aggravation.
I put to use some of the skills I've learnt so far with this book so hopefully it will come out as I've planned. I used the Blurb ICC profiles for the first time and did some extra adjustments to the images in Photoshop before adding them to my pages.
I've written up all my notes and now it is just a case of waiting for my Blurb book to be delivered today. If all goes well my assignment can go in the post to my tutor and that's this module all wrapped up! That is except for my response to tutor feedback for the last two assignments. Oh and some write ups for exhibitions that need doing. Oh, I missed a couple of exercises too...
I just realised looking back over this entry I haven't really mentioned enough about my influences for this assignment. To correct that I'm linking to a post I wrote about a Ruud Van Empel exhibition I visited which gave me the inspiration to do some photo montage experiments. That work played a large part when it came to my thought processes for assignment 5.
My post can be found here - Ruud Van Empel
Edit 17th March:
My tutor feedback for this assignment was good. I'm quite relieved because I really pushed outside of the brief this time and was dreading having to start again if the work was good but not suitable for the assignment. The images were put into a Blurb book and I must say that I am really pleased with the result. Quality wise it is the best book I have made yet. Because of copyright issues and for reasons of anonymity I can't put the images here - well the majority of them. It is difficult to discuss the images without displaying them though so I have uploaded just one that should be okay. This is the last image in the book and can be read a number of different ways. I like that the narrative is open ended as I do find it hard to stray from a linear storytelling approach - but I am working on it...
For me, the last image signifies a few possible endings:
1. The Atomium object is discarded by the boy after his adventure - leaving the bird to watch over it before the flock directs the next person to find it.
2. The boy has dropped the object in the process of turning into the bird before joining the flock of previous adventurers.
3. The bird is a metaphor for release and escape from personal demons.
Other points to note are that I've decided that I won't be using the overly saturated comic book effect again in further projects. I think it has worked well in this small give-away book - designed for a special relaunch event. The book feels very self contained and I have learnt a lot from making it but it feels finished now and I want to move on.
What I will take away is my attempts at mark making. I want to pursue that process in one form or another again. I think I can upload a second image without causing too many copyright problems so I will upload one of my favourite ones from the sequence below. I am also pleased that the problems with the space images that I mentioned earlier were overcome by working through what I disliked about them. By referring to my learning log I was able to come up with the mark making and in the end added another level of complexity to the sequence.