Tag Archives: abstract

Some more mandalas

Today, I’ve been making some abstracts of Iceland, and extending the Photoshop repetition idea a little further. Here are a couple of original images, and some of my variations. The first is River at Jökulsárlón, with the original first (obviously).

I then tried something a little different, using a YouTube video on making Kalaidoscopes in Photoshop. This included how to make a repeatable action set for the process, so that I don’t have to start from scratch every time.

It is interesting that in the straightforward mandala has picked out a small feature from the original (a rope hanging in the drying hut) and emphasised that, while the kaleidoscope version is much truer to the original colours and proportion.

With this in mind, I produced a kaleidoscope of the first image and this was the result.P1180281-1v2

Not nearly as successful as the other one. Clearly the layout of the original is critical to how it turns out, depending on the treatment. Some work much better than others.

What is Place?

I’ve been thinking about this lately, with regard to my own work and the different locations I visit round the world. There’s a section in the Landscape course, which asks “what makes a space a place?” and my very basic understanding is that human intervention and the creation of memories there turns a space into a place. However, that is not what has struck me on my globetrotting adventures. My own experience is that it is the colour palette of the landscapes that clearly identify them. For example, when I think about Icelandic landscapes, the pictures in my mind are black, yellow, red and white, while that of central Australia is ochre, black, soft lime green and yellow.

Taking this a little further, it is interesting to flick through my Lightroom library at high speed, over the course of the year. As the seasons change, so does the colour palette in a very clear but subtle way. Of course, we all know that the seasons are associated with different colours – black and white for winter; greens and yellows for spring; bright yellows, reds and blues for summer; and soft golds, bronzes and browns for autumn.

Alongside this, a couple of pieces of work have caught my attention online, which specifically look at the way that colour grading is used in films and TV programmes. Jason Shulman has condensed entire films into a single image, which condenses the colour grading used and which gives hints about it and also how the director filled the screen in their work.  There has been much speculation on the OCA Facebook sites about how he achieved this, and the consensus was that he merged a series of very long exposures. In a similar vein, Visually Satisfying Project Shares the Color Palettes of Iconic Film Scenes, a Twitter project, picks out the specific colours that exemplify movies and puts them together in the same way that Design Seeds uses. This has the effect of bringing together a range of colours that work together and which are reminiscent of the films concerned.

I am keen to explore the idea of working with different colour palettes as representations of a place and have decided to explore them in a couple of different ways. Firstly, I have taken the scenery out of the images for the most part and making mandalas in Photoshop which merge the colours into complex patterns. Below are my first two trials, and I am quite excited about where this might go. They are both from Australia, the first from Uluru and the second from Darwin. Alongside it is an abstract of water reflections from Katherine Gorge in the style of Peter Kenny, a photographer whose abstract work I greatly admire. This has possibilities too. Do zoom in on the mandalas – there is a lot of detail in them

The potential in Photoshop to take this further are huge, and it merges my interests in patchwork and photography in a mutually effective way. There is much to be learned here about the use of vectors in making template shapes and extending the complexity of the work to incorporate symbols and patterns appropriate to the place about which they were made.

Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern

I attended the study visit on Saturday, which was led by Jayne Taylor, the tutor who regularly attends the Thames Valley Forum meetings. It was a popular visit, with a large group of students, mostly somewhere in the middle of their course. During the exhibition and the subsequent discussion, I wrote copious notes, but a couple of days later, I am still trying to work out how to interpret Tillman’s work. The best way I can think of to describe how his work appears to me is as one of those neural network images, with thousands of strands joining at random nodes, like the one below.

neuron-network-in-the-human-brain-computer-artwork-E7TP8AI have read the suggested reviews of the work, and watched some of the YouTube clips, but the explanation that accords with my own thoughts best is the post by fellow student, Kate, linked here.

Tillmans says that he sees linkages everywhere between seemingly unrelated subjects. The exhibition is set out in a series of 14 rooms, each with a general theme, and some of these are more easy to comprehend than others. He photographs everything from the mundane to the very exotic, and the print size varies from tiny 6×4″ ones to room length. They are all presented together in what appears to be a chaotic manner, but in reality Tillmans has put considerable thought into their placing and colocation with each other. One of the videos shows that he is a big fan of scale models and sets his exhibitions out with absolute precision, according to a system which is opaque to all but himself.

He says his aim is to look at everything, new or familiar, with a fresh eye – not particularly unusual in its own right, but the subjects that attract him tend to be different from other people – weeds, excess, decay, transition. These are mixed with his clear activist ideals into jumbles of loosely related images and a lot of papers and books as well. Subjects that interest him include different understandings of “truth” and the backfire effect, whereby we categorise any proof that does not accord with our understanding of a subject as ill-informed and wrong; fake news as it were.

I could go on for several more paragraphs about the different media he works in, including video, music and sculpture, but the exhibition is so vast and complex that it is impossible on a single visit to appreciate everything fully. I therefore want to mention two aspects that struck me particularly as I moved around the rooms. Firstly, Tillmans homosexuality is referenced throughout, and I was very touched at the affectionate and tender way he portrays his friends and lovers. A host of images feature them, either in portrait form, or as snippets of their bodies which caught his attention, such as the nape of a neck, or a sliver of skin between jeans and t-shirt.

The second area that attracted me was his experiments with the process of making photographs. Not so much the folder single colour prints, but the large scale images he has drawn from dirty printers and his use of non-standard print processes which look at colour grading. These include several images taken from the windows of planes (a subject very close to my own heart), and which produced beautiful modernist abstracts.

Finally, and just for fun, I took a series of several photos in his installation Instrument 2015, where he juxtaposes two video loops, one of himself from behind, dressed only in underpants and dancing while facing the wall, and other which might just be another version of the same, but which is really his shadow on the wall at a totally separate place and time. These rather mundane but mesmerising loops are accompanied by a weird electronic sound, which is apparently synthesised from the noise his feet made while he was filming. The total effect is bizarrely addictive, and the point he is making is that we want the two films to be of the same thing, even when they are not. In any case, my high speed shots of what I was seeing revealed bizarre coloration changes, which I enjoyed making. Jayne said it was something to do with my camera’s rendering of the work.  So here, below, I have shown what the eye saw, along with a few of my camera’s interpretations of the same.


Finally, it needs to be reiterated that this exhibition cannot possibly be fully appreciated in one viewing. There is just too much to take in, and Tillman’s thinking is too opaque. It is abundantly clear that he is an excellent photographer and that it all means something, but divining what that meaning might be is a substantial undertaking. As Jayne, said during our discussion after the show, “There’s only room in art photography for one Wolfgang Tillmans.”

One day, three exhibitions

Yesterday, I met up with five other OCA students in London. Our plan was to see the Taylor Wessing Portrait prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and then to pop up the road to Beetles & Huxley, which has a show of Joel Sternfeld prints on at present. I then parted ways with the others, except for Peter, and went south to The Radical Eye at the Tate Modern. It was a great day, finishing off with half an hour listening to Choral Evensong in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2017

This was the only exhibition at which I took notes, and photography was not allowed, so I have no images of my own. First prize went to a very plain image of a South African schoolboy in uniform against a blank white background by Claudio Rasano, and was part of a series of the same. It is a classic typological study of young people displaying their differences, while all wearing the same clothes, and has something of the “school photo” about it. While striking, I couldn’t really see why it had taken 1st Prize over some of the other works. For me, the second prize was much more interesting – a tintype of an American surfer and his girlfriend by Joni Sternbach. However, I can see that its small size and rather dark, monochrome nature makes it less of a show-stopper than the Rasano.

Thinking about the prints in the exhibition as a whole, they seemed to mostly feature the very young and the very old, the latter usually in a state of undress. There were a mixture of direct gazes and averted, but more of the latter. And the great majority were standard prints. Only a couple used alternative processes, which seems fewer than in recent years.

The prints that stood out for me were:

  • Judy Gelles Be Murdered – the back view of a South African schoolgirl, worrying that because her father is a policeman she might get murdered, and the only one with text on the image
  • Charlie Clift Nigel Farage Smoking a Cigar – an ebullient study of Farage, showing all of his braggado and energy
  • Paul Stuart John Harrison -38652 days old – sadly this was not very well lit on the exhibition space, and the catalogue version was much better, displaying a man of over 100 who still seems to be very much alive
  • Andy Lo Pò Simon Callow – stunning , almost painterly study of the actor
  • Phil Sharp John McCrea – this struck me as something I could try with my son. Sharp does headshots for actors, but as if they were in a performance rather than just straight.
  • Matt Hamon’s two prints from the series The Gleaners, which was probably the work that was most interesting to me, as it showed a way of life which is very different from our expectations of life in the USA.

Oh, and there is hope for us all yet. One image on show was of a small child eating soup at a table by Cécile Birt, a photographer who has never entered anything into an exhibition before!

Joel Sternfeld

Beetles & Huxley (bless ’em) allows photography in its gallery, so I was able to take quite a few photographs of the exhibition, which was of images from his American Prospects series. However, the link above shows most of them so I won’t add them all here. Readers of Assignment 2 of my blog will know that I am a big fan of Sternfeld and his deadpan images of the minutiae of American life. These were an inspiring selection and included his famous fireman looking at pumpkins image McLean, Virginia. It is interesting to see his work en masse, as the great range of tones and colours is very noticeable, as is the slight cast, which places the work firmly in the pre-digital age. Strangely, no copies of his book were available either here or at the nearby Waterstones, despite it having been reprinted in 2012. However, there were copies of The High Line for sale, and also a recent work, On The Site, Landscape I’m Memorium, an exercise in “late photography” which I must review in more detail elsewhere.


The Radical Eye

I hadn’t particularly expected to like this exhibition, modernism not being my favourite period in photography, but it was quite fabulous. Original prints of some of the most famous black and white photographs in the world, alongside some I was less familiar with. There is a lot to see, and the majority of the prints were small, and even tiny, so one had to get right up close to view them properly. It isn’t the type of exhibition one can go to when it is busy as it would not be possible to appreciate a lot of the work in a crowd. All the framing was different, perhaps to reference the great number of photographers on show, and somehow the curators managed to give enough weight through the framing to images that might be as tiny as 3×2 cm in a huge exhibition space. Many of the images had multiple mounts of different thicknesses to give them sufficient gravitas. I was reminded of the miniatures room at the V & A.

The subject of the show was Modernism (1920s – 1950s) and the images ranged from portraits, through abstract work to studies of the nude. Each one was more exquisite than the last. It was not possible to take any photographs in the exhibition, but some of the images that stood out for me were:-

  • Irving Penn’s portraits of people crammed into a corner of his studio, including this one of Gypsy Rose Lee
  • gypsy-rose-lee-penn

    Gypsy Rose Lee, by Irving Penn.

  • the collection of Farm Administration portraits by various people, including “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange
  • the variety of multiple exposures and collage work, especially Harry Callahan’s Detroit. (shown below)
  • eleanordetroit-by-harry-callahan

    Eleanor, Detroit, by Harry Callahan

  •  I must go back and have another look at Callahan’s work.
  • Andre Kertesz’s Underwater swimmer, which was described in CNN’s review of the exhibition as:

a seminal purchase barely the size of a couple of thumbprints: a silver gelatin print of an underwater swimmer from the original 1917 contact sheet by the Hungarian master Andre Kertesz. You need a magnifying glass to appreciate its quality. From http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/11/arts/elton-john-tate-modern-radical-eye-photography/

Overall, it was magnificent, and I might have to go back for another look.