Assignment 1: progress update

Theme

To recap: I’m doing an assignment on the work of a local pentecostal church. My working title – and one of the guiding principles for the intended narrative thread – is “Not a Building“. This is extracted from a phrase that I picked out of the church newsletter, and have heard repeated by the minister: “A church is not a building, it’s a community“. This phrase gave me the grip that I needed on the subject matter. The phrase inspired me in two dimensions:

  • firstly, the church is its own community
  • secondly, the church works hard to support and serve the wider local community

Shooting

Whilst I’ve been quiet on here, I’ve been busy in real life. I’ve done four shooting sessions with the church, and have several hundred images in the bag. I have taken pictures at:

  • a Sunday service
  • a community café prayer group
  • a food bank
  • a ‘Christianity Explored’ educational course

One final session is planned, this Sunday, at the informal ‘Coffee House Church’ service at the church’s town centre community café. This should give me the spread of activities that I am looking for in order to suggest a narrative about the work of the church in the community.

Selecting

Side-note: in a way this point really belongs partly under the ‘Shooting’ heading above, and partly here… I am trying, as far as possible, to choose interesting compositions (subject matter, vantage points, framing, balance, leading lines etc etc) in camera, and I feel I’ve succeeded on this in some cases. However, a lot of the shooting has been very instinctive and it’s been in the editing process where I’ve identified which images are most visually coherent – and in some cases been kicking myself for not spotting an alternative angle or a crop at the time.

Whether I knew I got it ‘right’ in camera or spotted it on the computer afterwards, I am looking at the images taken and reviewing them against some principles of ‘good practice’ in order to maximise the visual interest in the images – each photo should be A Good Photo as well as supporting the overriding theme.

Three sources in particular are providing some valuable guidance on this:

  • John Szarkowski’s The Photographer’s Eye (1966) and its criteria of The Thing Itself, The Detail, The Frame, Time and Vantage point
  • Larry Fink’s On Composition and Improvisation (2014) and in particular its emphasis on diagonals, depth, layering and edges in their roles of helping lead the viewer’s eye
  • Gestalt design principles such as figure-to-ground ratio, proximity, similarity, closure etc, largely from Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye (2011)

Research

In parallel with shooting sessions I have been looking at how other photographers have captured religious communities. I’m particularly interested in their choices of specific subject matter and visual style. This is the subject of a separate post.

Sources

Fink, L. (2014) On Composition and Improvisation. New York: Aperture.

Freeman, M. (2011) The Photographer’s Eye (digital edn). Lewes: Ilex Press.

Szarkowski, J. (2007). The Photographer’s Eye (4th edn). New York: MOMA.

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