Project 5: Traces of Time – Exercise 3.1

For this project, I will now be focusing on shutter speeds. Since the “world’s first photograph” was taken by Niépce in 1827 (which required a shutter speed of eight hours) the progression of technology has allowed photographers to capture high speed subjects.

One photographer who made high speed photography famous through his use of fast shutter speeds was Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge’s use of fast shutter speeds came about in 1872 thanks to the former governor of California, Leland Stanford. Stanford hired Muybridge to acquire images of his horses in order to analyse their trot and to determine whether or not all four hooves left the ground simultaneously. The project took several years, but thanks to Muybridges’s techniques it was clear to see that all of the hooves did in fact leave the ground. This experiment paved the way for others looking to capture high speed subjects.

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The Horse in Motion – Eadweard Muybridge – “Sallie Gardner” owned by Leyland Stanford – Running at 1:40 gait over the Palo Alto track – 19th June 1878
  • Digital ID: (digital file from b&w film copy neg. of copy 2) cph 3a45870 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a45870
  • Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-06607 (digital file from original item, copy 2) LC-USZ62-45683 (b&w film copy neg. of copy 2)
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Fast forward to the 20th Century and one sees the rise of Harold Edgerton. Edgerton was famous for his use of fast shutter speeds and strobe lighting which allowed him to capture stunning images of subjects which had never been seen before with the naked eye. Initially based in scientific research, Edgerton used photographic techniques to analyse the physics of motion in a variety of subjects.

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Milk Drop Coronet – Harold Edgerton – 1957

The image above is amongst the most famous of Edgerton’s works. His research in the scientific realms brought about a collection of totally unique works of art. This byproduct has influenced many photographers to this very day. Even Ansel Adams studied Edgerton’s work as it helped him “get under the scaly epedermis of reality to reach the essences”. (Source – http://www.agallery.com/pages/photographers/edgerton.html)

The following images show my attempt to use fast shutter speeds to freeze moving subjects.

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Image 2553: f/5.6, 1/320 sec, ISO 200, 135mm
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Image 2637: f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 200, 135mm
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Image 2653: f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 200, 135mm
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Image 2663: f/5.6, 1/640 sec, ISO 200, 135mm
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Image 2998: f/5.6, 1/320 sec, ISO 200, 100mm

When capturing these images I adjusted my aperture to its lowest setting of f/5.6 as this would allow the maximum amount of light in to my camera. The position I chose to shoot from was clear and unobstructed, however the tree covering over the track required me to increase my ISO to keep my shutter speed high.

In order to freeze the cars and at the same time maintain a sense of movement, I panned the camera in the same direction as the cars while keeping the camera on burst mode.


Exercise 3.2

It is not only fast shutter speeds that can be used to create stunning images, slow shutter speeds can conjure an equally powerful effect. Instead of simply attempting to freeze a subject within a frame, some photographers prefer to allow movement to flow through the image and create blur. At first this technique did not appeal to me as I have always preferred images which are pin sharp as I can admire the fine details within the frame. However after some research, it has become clear to me that long exposures and blurred images do have a substantial place in photography.

One photographer whom I have found most interesting is Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Sugimoto was born on the 23rd of February 1948 in Tokyo, Japan. Over the decades he has become famous for his varying projects, experimenting with contemporary and wholly unique concepts. Sugimoto’s originality is clear in every one of his thought-provoking projects, which for me, makes him a phenomenal photographer and artist.

Sugimoto’s subjects range from seascapes to wax figures. His project “Theatres” immediately drew my attention as it relates perfectly to this piece of study.

“One night I had an idea while I was at the movies: to photograph the film itself. I tried to imagine photographing an entire feature film with my camera. I could already picture the projection screen making itself visible as a white rectangle. In my imagination, this would appear as a glowing, white rectangle; it would come forward from the projection surface and illuminate the entire theater. This idea struck me as being very interesting, mysterious, and even religious.” (Source: Cat. Thomas Kellein, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Time Exposed, 1995, p. 91)

Sugimoto’s use of a “long exposure” blurred the images playing on the cinema screens, yet the other parts of the images, i.e the theatres themselves remain perfectly sharp and just about illuminated due to the fact that they do not move for the duration of the exposure. I love the eerie light in each image which emphasises the emptiness of the compositions. The lack of human presence is odd as one is used to seeing such places packed with audiences. Sugimoto often speaks of his thoughts on the end of civilisation and the way in which humans have “changed the landscape so much” (Source: Hiroshi Sugimoto, AZ Quotes) His thoughts are clearly visualised in this set of images. One can see how the man-made structure of “Tri City Drive-In, 1993” stands out against the surrounding landscape and one may ponder on what happens if civilisation does end, will the environment take back these structures? Will the landscape heal the scars left by the human race? The concept behind these images is simple, yet it provokes many questions, many of which are, at this point in time, unanswerable.

Before Sugimoto’s time, many photographers and artists were experimenting with long exposures. Legendary artist and photographer Man Ray (27/08/1890 – 18/11/1976) was amongst these pioneers. Ray’s work throughout the first half of the 20th Century appeals to me as he had become involved in surrealism and cubism, two movements shared by Pablo Picasso, an artist whom I personally idolize. Ray experimented with photography as a secondary medium. Photography allowed him to capture his own viewpoints and has provided us with many insights in to his thought processes long after his death.

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Cubism – Weeping Woman – Pablo Picasso – 1937

Whilst further researching both Ray and Picasso, I discovered that both artists had experimented using long exposures to capture trails of light. This act of “painting with light” was also popular with Gjon Mili (28/11/1904 – 14/02/1984), an Albanian-American photographer. Mili in fact introduced the concept to Picasso in 1949, leading to the famous photograph entitled “Picasso Draws a Centaur.”

Below are images from Ray and Mili.

1989.55.5 001
Space Writing – Man Ray – 1935
mili-figure-skater
Figure Skater Carol Lynne – Gjon Mili – 1940
PICASSO DRAWING WITH LIGHT
Picasso Draws a Centaur – Gjon Mili – 1949

These works were pioneering at the time and their influences can still be seen today, inspiring others such as Sugimoto. After spending some time researching these works, I attempted to create my own set of similar images.

To capture these images I used a wide angle lens set to f/8 to keep everything in focus and limit the amount of light entering the camera. I used Bulb exposure with a cable release to manually time each exposure. In order to keep everything sharp I set the camera on a tripod which also enabled me to paint the light trails myself. The ISO was set to 100 to minimise any digital noise or grain.

Due to the fact that I was estimating each exposure, I had to retake each composition several times to get the lighting correct. This can be seen in images 28-31.

Having looked at the work of Man Ray and Gjon Mili, I wanted to expand on their ideas by incorporating a variety of coloured lights in my images. Initially I painted the trails in the air in front of some abandoned buildings as the area was quiet. After reviewing the images on the camera screen I saw that the buildings were not visible at all (this can be seen in images 1,3 & 16). I counteracted this by opening the shutter and then illuminating the wall of the buildings first before drawing the trails. This worked well (images 20-27) and inspired me further.

I could see that the light trails resembled graffiti patterns which, when drawn against the backdrop of the abandoned buildings created an interesting set of images. The images below are my final selections.

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7
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21
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24
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30

Henri Cartier-Bresson – L’amour de court

Cartier-Bresson (22/08/1908 – 03/08/2004) was one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century. His passion lay in street photography, a field which interests yet intimidates most photographers. This documentary (“Just Plain Love” 2001) sees Cartier-Bresson speak of his work, opinions and beliefs in photography as well as life itself.

“What matters is to look. But people don’t look. Most people don’t look. They press the button. They identify. But to seek the meaning… beyond this and this. Very few do it. What does the eye seek out? It is a question mark.”  (Source: Henri Cartier-Bresson speaking in Just Plain Love, 2001)

The documentary gives one an excellent insight in to the way in which Cartier-Bresson created his images. Bresson speaks of his process, how it is all about the “golden number” and the geometry of each image, stating that “one shouldn’t think about it”. This is interesting as Bresson clearly knows that there are rules in photography, yet he believes in the natural ability of ones eye to conceive a composition, “Intuitively, I know how it sits.”

Bresson’s friend speaks of a photograph Bresson took whilst they were together. Bresson captured a square which the pair passed by every day. Without stopping, Bresson took the photograph. His friend says “is he a magician capable of making figures appear? No, the truth is much simpler and much more enlightening. While others are distracted and unobservant, Henri is in the lookout, ready to react, not even needing to stop.” (Friend of Henri Cartier-Bresson speaking in Just Plain Love – 2001). From this statement one can see how important that split second can be in photography. That decisive moment when everything comes together in the frame is usually fleeting. In order to capture that moment in time, one must always be ready, one must always be prepared. Cartier-Bressson is one of the greatest examples of this as almost all of his images record a unique moment in time which will never be duplicated. It is easy for one to feel inspired by Bresson’s attitude to photography as through his relaxed and natural approach, he has been able to capture the social and political changes of the past few decades in such a way that we as viewers can empathise wholly with the subjects present in his compositions.


 

References:

Heike Helfert (2004), Media Art Net, Available at: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/theaters/images/4/#reiter  (Accessed 08/01/17)

Theatre Images, SugimotoHiroshi.com, Available at: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/theaters/images/4/#reiter (Accessed 08/01/17)

AZ Quotes, Available at: http://www.azquotes.com/author/56995-Hiroshi_Sugimoto (Accessed 08/01/17)

Cotton, Charlotte (2009), The Photograph As Contemporary Art 3rd edn. Thames & Hudson: world of art, p.106-107

Weeping Woman Image (1937), Cubism (2006), Available at: http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/cubism.htm (Accessed 08/01/17)

Space Writing/Figure Skater/Picasso Draws a Centaur Images, Light Painting Photography.com (2017), Available at: http://lightpaintingphotography.com/light-painting-history/ (Accessed 08/01/17)

L’amour de Court – “Just Plain Love” (2001), Available at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF

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