Assignment 4: Wish You Were Here

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are predominantly in the cover image and the general presentation.


About the work

The city of Nice has been my second home for the last 15 years or so and I was quite affected when the July 2016 Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I have visited Nice since and seen the memorials still covering parts of the city.

At the time of writing this, three months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; Nice is simultaneously attempting to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honour the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Côte d’Azur Tourism Board, in collaboration with the victims’ charity Promenade des Anges, with two objectives:

Firstly, to help to restore Nice’s tourism reputation – by reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is; and:

Secondly, to honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims – by naming all of them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The result is a multi-layered ‘magic realist’ piece of work that first of all presents the viewer with traditional ‘picture postcard’ scenes, then reveals itself to be a respectful tribute to the victims. Each the scenes was also selected for its subtle connotations to the city’s response in the aftermath of the attack.

There is a loose narrative to the sequence that says: we’re mourning; we miss people; we wish we had our loved ones back; but we’re resilient; life is a journey; life goes on.

Submission

Prints have been sent to support the assessment submission.

Click on the first image in each set to start a full-screen slideshow. The images benefit from being viewed as large as possible.

“Wish You Were Here”

First as standalone images:

Secondly in the calendar format as requested by the brief, with the addition of a cover page (click the cover image to start a slideshow):

Notes

With the exception of the touristic cover photo, the scenes were chosen to signify aspects of the city’s reaction to the attack:

  • Flowers: a metonymic device to connote funeral arrangements and therefore bereavement
  • Chairs: the couple of the left juxtaposed with the single woman on the right is to signify the loss of a spouse
  • Postcards: a linguistic association, bringing out the double meaning in the phrase ‘wish you were here’ – holidays/bereavement
  • Trees: metaphoric connotations of strength, resilience, defiance, survival (I also felt it important to include a picture of the promenade, the actual scene of the attack)
  • Boats: this is maybe the most tenuous/ambiguous of the associations but it’s intended to reflect the metaphor of sailing for life – an adventure, a journey etc (note: the fact that the boats are moored could be interpreted in a poignant way, as in the journeys are over for these people – this wasn’t my original intention but a potential reading that I realised after the event)
  • Bakery: the French buy fresh bread daily, bread is a metaphor for life, so this image is intended to connote ‘life goes on’

The name of each of the 86 victims is included once in the overall set, and groupings of friends and family who died together have been presented together in the same image.


Self-evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

This assignment was a test of my observational skills and visual awareness as I needed to first visualise and then find locations and vantage points that met my criteria: representative of Nice; contained relevant connotations; had appropriate space for approximately 15 names – which required careful compositional skills at both the shooting and processing stages.

Another important design consideration was the calendar format; I chose to mimic the overall aesthetic of a generic calendar but also to subvert some key elements of the format, in as much calendars tend to be light and positive in tone, and tend not to have additional layers of more sombre meaning. The balance I needed to find was to work within the overall graphic parameters of calendar design whilst still communicating my underlying message.

In terms of materials and techniques, to achieve the desired effect of the embedded names required using Photoshop to a much greater degree than I had previously. I was pleased to see a comment from peer review that asked whether the names were already in place and I’d photographed them, which means that my Photoshop work must have been convincing. I explain my production process in a separate post.

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the quality of the content and presentation as these closely matched the conceptualisation of my visualisations. I got comments from other students which reassured me that the communication of ideas and discernment of images worked effectively in what was quite a delicate balance to achieve:

  • “The subtle referencing is emotive, but without being maudlin”
  • “great concept and just subtle enough not to be overpowering”
  • “beautifully done, so evocative and respectful”
  • “a well judged project”

These are exactly the kind of responses I was going for.

Although this isn’t a corporate calendar as implied by the brief, I still wanted to show application of knowledge acquired during the advertising section. I wanted to include symbolism in the images that made them work at a connotative as well as a denotative level, as this is the essence of photographic advertising.

Demonstration of creativity

This is an area where I often judge myself as lacking, but I am more satisfied with this assignment than the previous three. I feel that the concept and execution show a greater degree of imagination and experimentation than my recent work.

In terms of my developing personal voice, I had a realisation recently that my own work is tending towards ‘expressive documentary’, or in John Grierson’s words, “the creative treatment of actuality”. I am attracted to subject matter that is rooted in reality, and often has a societal aspect to it. I feel that this assignment aligns with this evolving style.

I consider this a work of ‘magic realism’, to borrow a term from literature.

Context

This assignment gave me pause for reflection on what kind of photographer I want to be, and having wrestled with other ideas I alighted on this concept. The coursework and this assignment gave me further insight into the application of photography as a visual language, how one can embed intended messages in a visual format for the viewer to ‘read’.

Although as a highly personal project I tried not to directly and consciously base it on any previous work I had seen, I am aware that it exists in a context of related works, and that I have taken some indirect influence from some of them. This is summarised in a ‘context and inspirations‘ blog post.

In terms of critical thinking, I got the most useful foundations on advertising photography and semiotics from three particular books: Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1980), Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements (1978) and Hall’s This Means This, This Means That (2012).

I freely admit that I didn’t produce a ‘corporate calendar for a product’ in the way the brief suggests, but I believe that I have applied the underlying concepts of this genre of photography to an intangible cause rather than a corporate brand.

To me the end result works firstly as an art project to communicate an idea, and is still close enough to resembling a traditional calendar that people might actually want to put it on their wall.


Sources

Packard, V. (1980) The Hidden Persuaders (2nd edn). Middlesex: Penguin.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics (2nd edn). London: Laurence King.

Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. New York: Marion Boyars.

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Assignment 4: tutor feedback

I had the video tutorial on this assignment with my tutor Helen a few weeks ago, so this is very belated due to various delays between me and my tutor, plus a holiday in between. Better late than never.

I will post the full report as part of my submission prep but here I summarise the key points from the feedback.

Assignment

  • Generally successful online presentation
  • Print submission had acknowledged colour matching issues (printed by external lab)
    • Lessons already learned in terms of mistakes made
    • e.g. colour profiling, soft proofing workflow
  • Calendar construct distracted from images a little, maybe work better as standalone images
    • Tweaked to lead with standalone images in online presentation, with calendar format pages as a secondary presentation
    • Will determine combination of standalone and calendar format prints before final submission
  • Cover image needs some rework re sensitivity of subject matter
    • Re text presentation and in terms of its tone jarring with the inside pages
    • Need to prepare the viewer better for inside concept and tone
    • e.g. phrase ‘Wish you were here’ needs to come across a less tongue-in-cheek – try different typeface styles
  • More information needs to be provided about the planning and production process
    • Need to provide more preparatory information, more “layering up the pathway to the final work”
    • Particularly around the post-processing work to embed the name text into the images – very important, as the method of producing the digital manipulation was not initially clear
    • I did a post explaining how I’d planned and constructed the images, after posting the assignment itself (I wanted to see how successful the image manipulation was…)
  • Research into external context and related works needs to be documented:
    • other responses to tragedies (generally)
    • other responses to Nice attack specifically
    • text embedding/manipulation techniques
    • visual language of calendar format etc
    • I wrote this up after the tutorial and it can be found here
  • Generally – need to see more reflection on assignment-specific:
    • Planning
    • Ideas development tests
    • Workflows

Coursework & research

  • Good to see exhibition reviews but must make sure that standard of visual analysis evident in section 3 is maintained
    • e.g. Eggleston review could have featured deeper analysis of observations made: he’s “good at capturing facial expressions” but why, what’s the evidence/ examples – how does he achieve this? what does it tell us? etc
    • Identify different qualities of photographs and photographers and draw conclusions
    • Identify commonalities with contemporary practitioners e.g. some of Eggleston’s portraits resemble Alec Soth’s aesthetic – analyse how and why E. might be an influence on S., etc
  • Keep the same (high) standard of visual analysis and level of detail of ‘enquiry’ throughout all research work
    • Try to carry through the standard of stronger analysis posts across to all research

We also briefly discussed Assignments 5 and 6 and agreed that these are progressing OK at this stage (indeed, Assignment 5 is already submitted).

Assignment 4: context and inspirations

Whilst I tried to avoid any direct, conscious influences on this assignment – as it was a very personal project that I wanted to deliver in the way that felt right to me – I am aware that it exists in a context of related works and it is inevitable that some will have provided some inspiration to me.

In this post I look at such context and inspirations under four headings:

  • Photographic responses to tragedies
  • Artistic responses to the Nice attack specifically
  • Concept of embedding realistic text in photographs
  • Calendar design

Photographic responses

Whilst there is a significant body of work built up over the years around the response to, of aftermath of, specific tragedies, I was more specifically interested in those that are in some way centred around the people impacted by such events – either in terms of honouring the direct victims or examining the impact on those left behind. My project is intended to be simultaneously a memorial to the dead and an expression of the emotions that the survivors and the bereaved might be going through.

My tutor Helen gave me a few pointers. Paul Fusco’s 1968 RFK Funeral Train series is perhaps a touchstone for this kind of photography.

NYC2635.jpg
RFK Funeral Train, 1968 by Paul Fusco

It focuses on the mourners lining the route more than it does Robert Kennedy, and the movement of the train gives a motion blur to the images lends an air of bewildered sadness, whilst simultaneously speaking of the transience of life. It’s hard not to see the people mourning not so much the death of an individual but of an ideal, a potential future.

OCA student Stéphanie d’Hubert (who coincidentally commented on one of my preparatory posts for this assignment) did a photographic and video project The Crowd about her individual response to the Paris terror attacks in January and November 2015. It’s a very personal reaction to being away from her home country at the time of the attacks, as evidenced by the subtitle Je suis trop loin (I am too far away).

Stephanie Dh.jpg
The Crowd (2015), 2016 by Stéphanie d’Hubert

Stéphanie uses photos and video to communicate “the profound sense of disorientation and disconnection that ensued in the aftermath of these events”. It’s expressive, visually poetic and experimental. It is though a very different approach to the one I ended up taking. It’s good to see however the many different ways there are to react to events such as these.

These two examples both express the emotions of the bereaved, the left behind, the indirectly rather than directly affected. I wanted to dig further to find examples of work where the victims themselves are more prominently referenced.

Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murder series (1988) came to mind. In this he does not name the victims of the murders but describes them using text from newspaper reporting of the time. Each image is about a particular murder, and the text description is key part of the photograph.

Man+in+Bushes.jpg
Sunday 9th July 1972 (1988) by Paul Seawright

As an aside, one of the most powerful aspects of the presentation of the images is the deliberate use of white space around both the image and the text; it gives a sense of silence and thinking space that enhances the sensation of considering the death of an individual.

Faces of Srebrenica (2015–ongoing) is a collective project by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty to bring together photos of those killed in Srebrenica in the massacre of July 1995. So far photos of about 2,400 of the estimated 8,000 men and boys have been collected.

srebrenica
Faces of Srebrenica, 2015-

It’s an extremely simple but potent device. Each image is cropped to a headshot (with a few exceptions) and the name and age of each victim is given. It’s the accumulation of similar-but-different faces that gives this its power. One can simultaneously consider the scale of the massacre (and therefore the wiping out of a couple of generations of a community) and of the individual stories behind each picture, since these are predominantly edited from family snapshots donated to the project.

Responses to the Nice attack

There were (still are) a huge amount of memorial responses around the city itself, most of which are individual spontaneous expressions of grief (flowers, candles, toys etc) –  in huge numbers though they form a kind of accumulated visual expression of public and private grief, almost sculptural in look and feel.

Some more intentionally ‘artistic’ works also started appearing:

The city’s official response was a pair of banners outside the mayor’s office listing the victims’ names.

ATTENTAT DE NICE
Banners at the Nice Mairie, August 2016

Though very simple and without any particular artistic intent, it was the only act of memorial I saw that was built around the victims’ names en masse*. Looking back, I think seeing this is most likely what planted the seed of the idea of using the names in my project. I had seen individual names as parts of the huge public displays of grief, but this was where the scale of the attack really sunk in.

* EDIT: the Nice football team subsequently designed a commemorative shirt with the names of the victims formed into a heart:

nice-1-480x279.jpeg
OGC Nice football shirt design

Aside from the inclusion of names, the other thing I took from the public memorials was that I didn’t want to produce work that actually depicted these memorials themselves – I wanted to perform a kind of temporal shift to depict a future Nice where these memorials are no longer in sight but the victims are still being remembered.

Embedded text

jc_www_714_408945412
Road safety campaign by Julian Calverley

I’ve been wracking my brains to come up with examples of where I’ve seen photographers manipulating images by introducing fake-but-realistic text into them. I’m sure I’ve seen projects like this (certainly advertising campaigns) but am really struggling to bring details of specific examples to mind… So I tried some research to come up with examples that I hadn’t seen before but illustrate that the concept isn’t entirely revolutionary. A fellow student suggested that some of Julian Calverley’s advertising work fits the description, although I think this is a little heavy-handed and I was looking for more subtle examples.

I did find Jenny Holzer’s 1990s Marquee images working in a similar visual style, but hers are examples of real-life text that she had placed there, then photographed – so a different execution, even if a similar outcome.

marquees-holzer-08
Times Square Marquee, 1993 by Jenny Holzer

Taking a sideways look at this, one of my acknowledged inspirations for this idea was the work of Charley Murrell in Constructed Childhoods (2010), in as much as that used the device of inserting a realistic element (albeit imagery not text) into a scene that on closer inspection is proven to be a composited construct to make a point.

murrell.png
from Constructed Childhoods, 2010 by Charley Murrell

This is the kind of thing that I’ve been calling ‘magic realism’ (a term borrowed from literature) in a photographic context.

Calendar design

The last context in which I position this work is that of calendar design. To me this is the least important context, as I see my main set of six images first and foremost as a self-contained art project, and a calendar as second priority to meet the brief. I am however aware that calendars do have their own visual vernacular that I should either follow or knowingly subvert.

In terms of photographic imagery, calendars – especially those pertaining to places – have a distinctive look. They are technically high quality, free of blemishes or other distracting elements, often feature quite bright and saturated colours and are generally aesthetically pleasing – an idealised depiction of the place being portrayed.

I did try to follow these norms, generally speaking.

In terms of layout, the predominant style for a wall calendar is that in which the image and the month data are the same size, as per examples below:

However, I wanted as much as possible to downplay the calendar aspect of the presentation and focus on the imagery. Also, the brief asks for one page to cover two months, which led to odd potential layouts bearing in mind I wanted to keep a standard (landscape) ratio for my images, as they are first and foremost ‘scenes’. Arbitrarily cropping to a non-standard ratio in order to fit in the month text wasn’t a viable option.

So I made the decision to deploy a reasonably unorthodox (but not totally unknown) design approach of having the dates run in a linear style rather than the more normal tabular one.

calendar-11-12

This was an instance therefore where I acknowledged the design norms of the medium but decided to deliberately avoid some of them in order to better achieve my communication objectives.

Sources

RFK Funeral Train pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx (accessed 12/10/2016)

The Crowd (Je suis trop loin) stephaniedhlearninglog4.wordpress.com/…/assignment-5-the-crowd-je-suis-trop-loin (accessed 12/10/2016)

Sectarian Murder paulseawright.com/sectarian (accessed 12/10/2016)

Faces of Srebrenica rferl.org/a/27114531 (accessed 12/10/2016)

Julian Calverley http://www.juliancalverley.com/commissioned/ (accessed 12/10/2016)

Constructed Childhoods charleymurrell.wix.com/charley-murrell-photography (accessed 12/10/2016)

Jenny Holzer http://interiorator.com/jenny-holzer-marquees/ (accessed 14/12/2016)

Assignment 4: the making of

I submitted Assignment 4 a few days ago but haven’t yet gone into any detail on my production process. There is a reason for this! The whole construct of my images is based on embedding text (names) into otherwise normal scenes, and I wanted to find out if viewers (including my tutor) had worked out how it had been done:

  • Was the text already there?
  • Did I vandalise public places?!
  • Or was it done in post-processing?

One of the responses I got in peer review was:

“I think it works very well. Am fascinated to know whether you inscribed all the names or whether they are what you saw when you went there?”

Also, even my tutor who looked at A3 prints thought that one of the images (Flowers) was real text that I had taken a photo of.

The actual answer is… all of the text in the names in the images is Photoshop work.

Before I go into that part, I’m going to rewind a little and explain the overall production process.

Research and planning

Once I’d settled on the concept the first practical piece of work was to compile the names of the 86 victims that I intended to honour in the images. A number of different newspaper sources had partial lists, some with first names only, some with initials, some with alternative surnames (a fairly common occurrence in France where women sometimes use married names interchangeably with maiden names for different purposes).

One thing that the newspaper reporting helped with was that they grouped together the victims that were connected either as family or groups of friends – something that I subsequently built into the final work (explained later).

The breakthrough came when I discovered that the mairie (mayor’s office) in Nice had put up banners to commemorate the victims. This became my official reference point to check the other lists against.

ATTENTAT DE NICE

This featured the initial 84 victims but two further people died later from their injuries, one that was named and one I had to include as ‘Anonyme’ (anonymous).

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-08-10Once I had a finalised and cross-checked the names (a surprisingly emotional experience to be honest – knowing that 86 people died is one thing, reading biographies of 86 individuals is another) I made a master list so I could work out which names needed to go into which photograph.

The family and friend groupings was the main method of allocating names to images – I wanted to present together the people that knew each other. It’s a small detail, and one not obvious to most, but I felt it to be more respectful than randomly scattering the names.

The secondary consideration in allocating names was that the images each had a slightly different number of text opportunities. Dividing 86 by 6 meant an average of 14 or 15 images per image. Some images had fewer or more spaces (Boats only accommodated 11 names, Postcards took the most with 17 names).

The final practical point was that some spaces allowed for long names and some only for shorter names, so this was a way in which I tweaked the naming allocation as needed.

Image selection

I had various ideas for usable scenes before I narrowed it down to a shortlist. The criteria were:

  • A touristic, representative scene of Nice that would not look out of place in a calendar
  • Where I could embed names into the image in a subtle way

A few ideas met the first criterion but stretched the second as too contrived:

  • Shutters with graffiti on the slats
  • Beach umbrellas with names stitched into the fabric
  • Shop/restaurant signs
  • Wine bottle labels

I eventually settled on six ideas, three of which I had candidate images (or at least test images) for at the point of shortlisting and three that I needed to go back to Nice to shoot – more detail here:

  • Flowers
  • Beach chairs
  • Postcards
  • Boats
  • Bakery / cafe / restaurant
  • Pebbles

This last one, the pebbles, didn’t make it into the final cut – it was replaced by Palm Trees. What’s interesting about its exclusion is that it was the only execution I did where the text was real – I actually wrote names onto pebbles on the beach with a marker pen and photographed the result.

Ironically, the only image where I had done the names ‘in real life’ is the one that I felt looked least realistic! So I’m glad I took the palm trees shot as a fallback.

Photoshop processing

I am not generally a big user of Photoshop. For general processing I tend to use Lightroom as it has enough controls to tweak images in terms of optimising colours, fixing highlight/shadow issues and simple cloning out of unwanted elements. I only use Photoshop when I really need to – and I really needed to here!

For reference, here are the original six images before Photoshop work (click for larger):

For each of the selected images I followed the following workflow:

  • General optimisation in Lightroom per my usual post-processing routine
    • Exposure, curves, little bit of vibrance boost, white balance adjustment etc
    • Until the image looks just how I want to it to as a ‘pure’ photograph
  • Import into Photoshop
  • Spot healing and cloning work to remove distractions
    • Small (dust spots, cigarette butts)
    • Large (bicycles, people)
  • If replacing existing text – remove existing text
    • Via a combination of spot healing and cloning
  • Apply new text layer
    • Matching font as appropriate to the context
  • Various layer adjustments in order to make the text look as realistic as possible
    • Decreasing opacity, applying patterns, adding drop shadow etc

Examples of the last three steps can be seen below.

I just had to do that 86 times…!

One more post coming on this assignment – a roundup of the visual and conceptual inspiration and research into related projects to place this work in a wider context.

Assignment 4: Wish You Were Here [original]

This is the original version of the assignment as submitted to my tutor. The reworked final version for assessment is here.


About the work

The city of Nice has been my second home for the last 15 years or so and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I have visited Nice since and seen the memorials still covering parts of the city.

At the time of writing this, three months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; Nice is simultaneously attempting to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honour the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Côte d’Azur Tourism Board, in collaboration with the victims’ charity Promenade des Anges, with two objectives:

  • To help to restore Nice’s tourism reputation
    • By reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is
  • To honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims
    •  By naming all of them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The result is a multi-layered ‘magic realist’ piece of work that first of all presents the viewer with traditional ‘picture postcard’ scenes, then reveals itself to be a respectful tribute to the victims. Each the scenes was also selected for its subtle connotations to the city’s response in the aftermath of the attack.

There is a loose narrative to the sequence that says: we’re mourning; we miss people; we wish we had our loved ones back; but we’re resilient; life is a journey; life goes on.

Submission

Full size images and a contact sheet are available separately. An A3 printed version has been sent to my tutor.

Please note that to get the full effect it is necessary to view the images as large as possible.

“Wish You Were Here”

First as standalone images (click the first image to start a full-screen slideshow):

Secondly in the calendar format as requested by the brief, with the addition of a cover page (click the cover image to start a slideshow):

Notes

With the exception of the touristic cover photo, the scenes were chosen to signify aspects of the city’s reaction to the attack:

  • Flowers: a metonymic device to connote funeral arrangements and therefore bereavement
  • Chairs: the couple of the left juxtaposed with the single woman on the right is to signify the loss of a spouse
  • Postcards: a linguistic association, bringing out the double meaning in the phrase ‘wish you were here’ – holidays/bereavement
  • Trees: metaphoric connotations of strength, resilience, defiance, survival (I also felt it important to include a picture of the promenade, the actual scene of the attack)
  • Boats: this is maybe the most tenuous/ambiguous of the associations but it’s intended to reflect the metaphor of sailing for life – an adventure, a journey etc (note: the fact that the boats are moored could be interpreted in a poignant way, as in the journeys are over for these people – this wasn’t my original intention but a potential reading that I realised after the event)
  • Bakery: the French buy fresh bread daily, bread is a metaphor for life, so this image is intended to connote ‘life goes on’

The name of each of the 86 victims is included once in the overall set, and groupings of friends and family who died together have been presented together in the same image.

Self-evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

This assignment was a test of my observational skills and visual awareness as I needed to first visualise and then find locations and vantage points that met my criteria: representative of Nice; contained relevant connotations; had appropriate space for approximately 15 names – which required careful design and compositional skills at both the shooting and processing stages.

In terms of materials and techniques, to achieve the desired effect of the embedded names required using Photoshop to a much greater degree than I had previously. I was pleased to see a comment from peer review that asked whether the names were already in place and I’d photographed them, which means that my Photoshop work must have been convincing. I explain my production process in a separate post.

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the quality of the content and presentation as these closely matched the conceptualisation of my visualisations. I got comments from other students which reassured me that the communication of ideas and discernment of images worked effectively in what was quite a delicate balance to achieve:

  • “The subtle referencing is emotive, but without being maudlin”
  • “great concept and just subtle enough not to be overpowering”
  • “beautifully done, so evocative and respectful”
  • “a well judged project”

These are exactly the kind of responses I was going for.

Although this isn’t a corporate calendar as implied by the brief, I still wanted to show application of knowledge acquired during the advertising section. I wanted to include symbolism in the images that made them work at a connotative as well as a denotative level, as this is the essence of photographic advertising.

Demonstration of creativity

This is an area where I often judge myself as lacking, but I am more satisfied with this assignment than the previous three. I feel that the concept and execution show a greater degree of imagination and experimentation than my recent work.

In terms of my developing personal voice, I had a realisation recently that my own work is tending towards ‘expressive documentary’, or in John Grierson’s words, “the creative treatment of actuality”. I am attracted to subject matter that is rooted in reality, and often has a societal aspect to it. I feel that this assignment aligns with this evolving style.

I consider this a work of ‘magic realism’, to borrow a term from literature.

Context

This assignment gave me pause for reflection on what kind of photographer I want to be, and having wrestled with other ideas I alighted on this concept. The coursework and this assignment gave me further insight into the application of photography as a visual language, how one can embed intended messages in a visual format for the viewer to ‘read’.

Although as a highly personal project I tried not to directly and consciously base it on any previous work I had seen, I am aware that it exists in a context of related works, and that I have taken some indirect influence from some of them. This is summarised in a ‘context and inspirations‘ blog post.

In terms of critical thinking, I got the most useful foundations on advertising photography and semiotics from three particular books: Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1980), Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements (1978) and Hall’s This Means This, This Means That (2012).

I freely admit that I didn’t produce a ‘corporate calendar for a product’ in the way the brief suggests, but I believe that I have applied the underlying concepts of this genre of photography to an intangible cause rather than a corporate brand.

To me the end result works firstly as an art project to communicate an idea, and is still close enough to resembling a traditional calendar that people might actually want to put it on their wall.

Sources

Packard, V. (1980) The Hidden Persuaders (2nd end). Middlesex: Penguin.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics (2nd edn). London: Laurence King.

Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. New York: Marion Boyars.

Assignment 4: second shoot plan

I am shortly nipping back out to Nice for a couple of days to get some more images for the calendar assignment ‘Wish You Were Here’, so I thought it a good idea to articulate what shots I am missing so that I don’t need to go back a third time!

The brief requires seven images:

  • A cover image
  • 6 images for inside pages, each to cover two months

As a reminder: my concept is a series of ‘touristic’ scenes of the south of France resort Nice, with a secondary layer of significance of the embedded names of 86 victims of the Bastille Day terror attack.

My communication intentions are threefold:

  • First reaction: I want viewers to see aesthetically pleasing scenes (‘pretty pictures’)
  • Second reaction: then look closer and see the dedications inscribed in each image
  • Third reaction: I want there to be connoted meanings in the images, pertaining to emotional responses to the incident, e.g. loss, grief, resilience, optimism, peace, harmony, love etc

I need to get 14 or 15 victims’ names embedded into each of the six inside images – I intend to leave the front cover image as a generic ‘pretty picture’ scene. I have a few in mind from last trip but will equally keep an eye out for new opportunities.

Shots in the bag

So far I think I have three usable images from my last trip (when I was only half-thinking about this assignment, if I’m honest – otherwise I could have got it all sewn up in one visit) but would look to shoot better versions of the same scenes if time permits:

1. Blue Chairs

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Blue Chairs
  • Name embedding method: as graffiti on the slats on the back of the chairs
  • Connotation: loss (implied by the couple on the left and the solo woman on the right)

2. Flowers

flowers
Flowers
  • Name embedding method: price tags
  • Connotation: bereavement (signifier flower = signified funeral)
  • I may reshoot this one, or if not then crop on to the right

3. Postcards

Postcards
Postcards (work-in-progress)
  • Name embedding method: as resort names on postcards
  • Connotation: missing a loved one (‘wish you were here’)

Planned shots

I have in mind three further executions of the concept. I’d prefer to have four so I have a spare! Maybe inspiration will strike when I’m back over there.

4. Menu

Note this is not my own image, I borrowed it off the internet…

flickr-Daxis.jpg
Menu concept example (by Flickr user Daxis)
  • Name embedding method: as menu items on the board
  • Connotation: resilience – getting on with everyday life

5. Boats

l1000984
Boats (draft image as example only)
  • Name embedding method: as boat names
  • Connotation: tradition, heritage, pride, defiance
  • This shot is a failed attempt from the last trip – can’t see enough of the boat names

6. Pebbles

2013-07-09
Pebbles (old shot as example only)
  • Name embedding method: handwritten on pebbles
  • Connotation: strength, resilience

That’s it unless I have another idea.

Wish me luck…

Assignment 4: title decision: Wish You were Here

I’ve always held the opinion that the title of a project is important.

A good title gives the viewer enough of a hint about what the work is about without overtly spelling it out. It gives some kind of framework, a set of bumper rails to avoid the work getting too widely (mis-)interpreted.

Alec Soth, a photographer that I have a lot of time for, agrees:

“Titles are important. They affect the way people read the work.” (Soth 2007)

For my Nice calendar I hadn’t thought too consciously about a title until I started mocking up one of the intended executions (reminder: the concept is typical scenes of Nice as a tourist resort, with the names of the Bastille Day attack victims subtly incorporated).

I was working on the image below (it’s still a mockup / work in progress) when I asked my wife for feedback. I specifically asked what connotations one gets from postcards.

Postcards
Postcards

One of the things she said as part of the postcard word-association was:

“Wish You Were Here”.

Bingo. That’s the project’s overall title. It speaks to the two objectives of the work:

  • To promote Nice as a tourist destination
    • Due to the association between the phrase and holidays
  • To commemorate the victims of the attack
    • By reflecting the bereavement felt by the victim’s family and friends

I’m not necessarily intending to actually include this title as text on the calendar itself – it’s more a name for the project as a whole for when I need to refer to it as part of my assessment submission.

I always feel like a project is more concrete when it has a title…

Next step: I’m off to Nice for a few days next week to get a few more shots. I have ideas for the shots I want, just need to find them in realise once I get there.

Sources

The Ballad of Good and Bad Titles https://alecsothblog.wordpress.com/2007/04/16/the-ballad-of-good-and-bad-titles (accessed 21/09/2016)

Assignment 4: theme decision

After much thought, discussion with other students and finally some good old-fashioned mocking up images, I have arrived at a decision on the theme for the calendar assignment.

Yesterday I summarised the various ideas I’d shortlisted so far and my concerns with each of them.

Fellow student Stephanie made an excellent (and retrospectively obvious) suggestion that I should start mocking up executions for some of the ideas to see where that led me. A couple of other students suggested going with what was most personally interesting as this should be reflected in the final outcome. Three people specifically said that my proposal for the Nice calendar sounded worth pursuing as it was evidently something important to me.

To recap on what I wrote about the Nice idea yesterday:

The city of Nice has been my second home for about 15 years and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I visited Nice recently and saw the memorials still covering parts of the city.

The concept was to produce a calendar with the twin aims of restoring the city’s tourist reputation and commemorating the 86 people who died in the attack. The idea was to produce classic scenes of Nice (beach, promenade, old town shutters etc) with the names of the victims subtly included in each image.

Pro: creative; area of passionate interest for me

Con: no real advertising techniques involved; tricky balance to achieve in terms of tone; if the secondary memorial message is too subtle, it’s just ‘pretty pictures’

I mocked up two images for this. Note you need to see the pictures large to see the secondary meaning, so click on one for an enlarged view.

The lightbulb moment came when I realised I was pondering whether the ‘cons’ of this idea were showstoppers or things that I could work around, justify or subvert – if I’m trying to diminish the downside, I’m talking myself into it! I wasn’t doing this for the other four ideas. This is the one that has ‘grabbed’ me.

I appreciate that it isn’t going to employ many of the ‘clever’ advertising techniques that I’ve admired in my recent research, but I’m OK with this. I harbour no desire to become an advertising photographer, so I feel justified in bending the brief slightly to align with what I want to do here.

Statement of intent

(first draft to send to my tutor)

The city of Nice has been my second home for about 15 years and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I visited Nice recently and saw the memorials still covering parts of the city.

Two months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; the city is simultaneously trying to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honouring the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Tourism Board with two overt objectives:

  • Restore Nice’s tourism reputation
    • By reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is
  • Honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims
    •  By naming them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The communication objectives are in three ‘layers’:

  • First reaction: I want viewers to see aesthetically pleasing scenes (‘pretty pictures’)
  • Second reaction: then look closer and see the dedications inscribed in each image
  • Third reaction: I want there to be connoted meanings in the images, pertaining to emotional responses to the incident, e.g. loss, grief, defiance, optimism, peace, harmony, love etc

This does mean that getting the tone right will be extremely important, and a very delicate balance will need to be struck. I think it can be done.

Next steps

  • Email statement of intent to tutor
  • Sort through remaining images from trip to Nice earlier this month
  • Sort a follow-up trip if needed

Assignment 4: shortlisted ideas

Oh, Assignment 4…

I’ve had SO much trouble landing on an idea for this that I’m happy enough with. I still haven’t. I’ve been thinking of ideas since before I started the Advertising section but have pretty much fallen out with every idea I’ve had.

What I want to do here is to summarise my objectives, the various ideas I’ve had (pros and cons) and where that leaves me in terms of refining what I DO want to do the assignment on.

Brief

In summary, the objective of Assignment 4 is to produce seven images for a calendar (cover page plus 6x 2-months-per-page).

If I’m following the brief (and I usually do, though this is one of my problems…) then there are a few key criteria that should be met:

  • Client is ‘a company that I find interesting which creates a calendar product for a market that I can relate to’
  • With ‘past imagery’ that I can look at and decide its relevance to the current market
  • Calendar is creative and ‘does not revolve around featuring the product’
  • Must also include the company logo and strapline, if there is one

My objectives

I have developed a few key considerations for this that may to may not converge on one idea; I may need to prioritise between contradictory criteria.

  • I want be more creative than I have been in the first three assignments
    • I’m disappointed in my own work so far on this course, it’s a little pedestrian
    • If I’m not wowing myself, I don’t expect anyone else to be overly impressed…
    • So I want to be more visually experimental
  • I want to apply what I’ve learned on the Advertising section of the course
    • I’ve learned things in this section that I’ve found really fascinating – the authorial nature of advertising work, with such deep and well-defined ‘meanings’ embedded in advertising photos – it’s almost an art in itself (or maybe a science…)
    • I’m particularly keen on the notion of implicit messages – the ‘clever’ ads where the viewer has to make the connection between the image and the brand message – the effective use of visual language impresses me
    • I’ve looked at other students’ work and think that for the most part, people have unfortunately missed the opportunity to really apply this kind of knowledge (there are a lot of local cause / charity type calendars are perfectly pleasant but show limited use of visual advertising techniques)
  • I want the subject matter to be something that I am genuinely interested in
    • And I’m trying to think about this as widely as possible!

Ideas so far

I’ve had several ideas that have stuck around for various lengths of time before I rejected them, and it’s in the rejection reasons that I’ve been refining the criteria above. So some of these are closer to being ‘right’ than others (but to repeat: I’m not fully happy with any of them!). In order of when they occurred to me:

1. Rob Townsend Photography

My initial idea was to go all off-piste and instead of doing it on an existing brand, to do it on my (so far imaginary) photography business. I was planning to use it as a showcase for some creative imagery of my own choosing

The visual twist was to be that the calendar text (i.e. month name, days, dates) would be incorporated into the images in-camera, e.g. written in pen on someone’s skin, printed on a t-shirt, on a wall as graffiti, etc.

Pro: creative/experimental; passes the (self-)interest test

Con: ignores large parts of the brief (almost all of it); self-indulgent; kind of cheating

2. Waterstones

Or any bookseller, to be fair. – the concept is really based around reading books and I needed a brand to hang it off.

The idea was close-ups of people holding books (hardback, no dust cover, so can’t tell what the book is), with drawings on their fingers that allude to the title/contents of the book they are reading – so it’s a kind of visual puzzle. The significance of using the fingers is to connote the physical feel of reading a real book rather than an e-book.

Pro: creative; uses some visual advertising techniques; I am interested in books; I like the ‘visual puzzle’ aspect

Con: I’m not sure I can think of enough different executions!

3. Five a Day

For a while I thought a social cause would be more interesting than a company, so I was brainstorming around healthy eating and in particular the advice to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day.

The pitch was that you should ‘reach out for your five a day’ and I planned to set up shots where a piece of fruit or veg would replace a common object that a person was reaching for (e.g. banana for a door handle, a strawberry for a light pull, carrot slices for coins, etc).

Pro: reasonably creative, visually; applies advertising techniques

Con: I realised that it’s VERY similar to my Assignment 2 concept, which also featured food surreally inserted into everyday scenes – so too much self-plagiarism

4. Nice Memorial

The city of Nice has been my second home for about 15 years and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I visited Nice recently and saw the memorials still covering parts of the city.

The concept was to produce a calendar with the twin aims of restoring the city’s tourist reputation and commemorating the 86 people who died in the attack. The idea was to produce classic scenes of Nice (beach, promenade, old town shutters etc) with the names of the victims subtly included in each image.

Pro: creative; area of passionate interest for me

Con: no real advertising techniques involved; tricky balance to achieve in terms of tone; if the secondary memorial message is too subtle, it’s just ‘pretty pictures’

5. Leica

I went full circle back to the brief to think about what brands I am particularly invested in. I narrowed it down to Apple and Leica, then rejected the former as it has such a distinctive and long-standing minimalist aesthetic that they are just too well-known. So I settled on Leica.

I intended to produce a set of images that depict the kind of photos one might take with a Leica (street, portrait, photojournalism, abstract etc) and that each one would have a red dot somewhere in the image (red dot denoting the Leica logo). Secondarily, I wanted the content of the images to connote Leica brand values, such as precision, heritage, quality etc.

Pro: fits the brief well; uses advertising techniques; allows me to be creative with the images themselves (very meta)

Con: I’d need to capture or create seven really great images that would do the brand justice, and I’m unsure of my ability to do this in the short time available! and it’s not quite as ‘clever’ as I’d like…

Next steps

I’m still looking for a better idea than any of these five, in particular an idea that lends itself to implicit messaging, my current fascination.

In the meantime, I might throw this out to other students for comment, and/or send this list to my tutor for any feedback and direction…