“Beauty is only skin deep but ugly is to the bone.”
This assignment considers our consumerist society and our dependency on “beauty”, “acceptancy”, “normalcy” and how these phenomena condition us, often with our misguided, as well as harmful, expectations of them.
This idea, apart from being present for years in the back of my mind, was bolstered by listening to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall talking about his campaign to raise awareness regarding our misuse of waste (Rivercottage.net, 2016) and especially how supermarkets select produce in terms of its aesthetic quality, or “cosmetic standards” as they apparently call it (YouTube, 2016). I felt that the almost inevitable use of GMOs in our food nowadays (again something that has danced around on the peripheral vision of my mind for years) could also be included here in some way, and this is where I gave credence to my vague original idea of “abused” or “mutilated” fruit and vegetables from my notebook; the violent spearing, entrapping, choking, smothering of my subjects now worked as a way of underlining the shocking treatment of produce throughout the food industry as well as the arguably justified manipulation and adding of ingredients to products worldwide, and not simply my desire to inflict mindless violence on those unsuspecting fruit and veg.
I have chosen to re-elaborate exercise 4.4 for this assignment; I chose this exercise over the others, not out of any particular preference – I found them all very stimulating and rewarding – but rather due to its novelty factor: I have never really used a home-made studio and certainly not with such an interesting and challenging concept.
Exercises 4.2 and 4.3 were more observational regarding the subtleties and nuances of light and its effects; 4.4, however, (as I also mentioned in my conclusion to Ex. 4.4), allowed me to directly intervene with and elaborate on the light: I was able to influence and choose the lighting parameters for this exercise (accepting the limitations of my basic equipment and modest budget as well as my creativity).
It was a beautiful feeling actually having control of the light instead of relying on any decisive moment, lucky find, or fortuitousness (although all of those things are valid and interesting in photography for me) and this was a very satisfying assignment thanks to this control and consequently being able to create different moods and effects.
The idea to modify my still life choice from Ex. 4.4 came about before I had even started that exercise (as can be seen below from the notebook pages made in late August) but the idea really came to fruition after completing part four of the course and moving on to part five: Viewpoint.
Having researched extensively for exercises 4.2, 4.3, as well as experimenting with lighting techniques in exercise 4.4, (basically a precursor for this project) I felt that I had obtained enough material and ideas to work with, and with which to sufficiently develop the concept of this assignment.
Working through exercise 5.2 especially helped me gain a little more confidence with regard to setting up a mini studio to try to capture my desired effects (however abstract those effects actually were in my mind at that stage) and gave me another good opportunity to examine (and validate) different lighting, as well as the reworking of an iconic photograph too, all to the benefit of this assignment.
I opted to use mainly torch lights (with filters mostly) for a more suggestive and often quite powerful light effect, although, as can be read in the annotated contact sheets below, I have also used lamp light too on occasion. I have selected three normal exposures and three double exposures (in camera) for this assignment.
For this reworking of Ex. 4.4 I basically used the same equipment as with that exercise, although I preferred to use a sofa instead of a table as I wanted a support for my backdrop: two torches with three impromptu filters – red, blue, and yellow semi-transparent plastic photo album covers; a black bedsheet, and a burgundy one; Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the 14-42mm zoom lens (Eq. 28-85mm); Fujian 35mm prime F/1,7; Olympus 50mm F/1,8 (Eq. 100mm); tripod, and a shutter release cable.
After having set up the mini studio and testing the lighting out and checking exposure variations (in camera), I proceeded to take 296 shots of the various “abused” pieces of fruit and vegetables. Each fruit or vegetable was prepared individually before shooting it which gave me plenty of scope to change ideas regarding the use of the cables, nails, chains and wires that I had at my disposal during the shoot; I wanted to avoid blatant repetition but still maintain coherence between the images.
The following sequence of photographs were all taken on Tuesday the 5th of October 2016 (as well as going over into the early hours of Wednesday) over a three and a half hour period and were subsequently edited in Lightroom .
How these images were made
By taking nearly 300 photos – thanks to quite a lot of experimentation – I felt that I had a reasonably large amount of images to work through for selection. There were around fifteen or so pictures that stood out for me originally which then – through some tough decision-making, but, at times, also some quite easy decisions too – whittled down to the six shots above (see annotated contact sheets below for more detailed comments regarding the selection process, props used, and what I believe the images are trying to communicate).
I had pre-visualised most of the shots and had made some sketches some time back in August, so It wasn’t too difficult to create the desired effects what with semi-clear objectives (as well as a fair amount of understanding gained from trial and error throughout the 200-odd shots taken for Ex 4.4).
Sketches and notes from my notebook
That said, I also took a break from this assignment to concentrate on other things (non photographic things too) with the idea to look back upon them with ‘fresh eyes’ at a later date hoping for some insights and new impressions perhaps (which, opportunely, is what happened).
Conclusion (and relevance to the Creative Criteria)
By basically using techniques and skills garnered from my experimentation in exercise 4.4 – as well as using a very similar ‘studio’ set up – I feel that that knowledge has allowed me to be slightly bolder than usual and really push myself in terms of creative endeavour, although without going too far, I believe. Feeling more comfortable with the set up and basic lighting allowed me to get creative and use a more direct, hands-on approach regarding the subjects photographed i.e. double exposures, the use of sculptural aspects, the extreme lighting effects, as well as the more controversial and implicit content matter too.
Developing exercise 4.4 was subsequently an enjoyable and smooth transition from an arguably banal exercise (however beneficial and important at the time) to the more ambitious, topical, and artistic project presented here.
YouTube. (2016). Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on why we should embrace wonky food. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umXGdmOvEW0 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].
Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Exercise 4.4. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/exercise-4-4/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].
Diprose, G. and Robins, J. (2012). Photography : the new basics. London: Thames & Hudson.
Heiting, M., Pitts, T. and Adams, A. (2013). Edward Weston, 1886-1958. Koln: Taschen.
Wollaston, S. (2016). Hugh’s War on Waste: taking the lid off the coffee cup scandal. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/jul/29/hughs-war-on-waste-fearnley-whittingstall-coffee-cup [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].
Soutter, L. (2013). Why art photography? New York: Routledge.
Rivercottage.net. (2016). Hugh’s War on Waste | River Cottage. [online] Available at: https://www.rivercottage.net/war-on-waste [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].
Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Exercise 4.5. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/exercise-4-5/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].
Rees, J. (2016). Hugh’s War on Waste: the ego has landed – and not a moment too soon: review. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2016/07/28/hughs-war-on-waste-the-ego-has-landed–and-not-a-moment-too-soon/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].
Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Exercise 4.3: reading and research. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/exercise-4-3/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].
Efsa.europa.eu. (2016). GMO | European Food Safety Authority. [online] Available at: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/science/gmo [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].
Onlinelibrary.wiley.com. (2016). EFSA Journal – Wiley Online Library. [online] Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)1831-4732 [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].
Everyday Roots. (2013). Why Are We Still Eating Mutant Fruit? | Everyday Roots. [online] Available at: http://everydayroots.com/mutant-fruit [Accessed 4 Oct. 2016].
Gmo-compass.org. (2016). Genetically Modified Apples in the EU. [online] Available at: http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/fruit_vegetables/06.genetically_modified_apples_eu.html [Accessed 4 Oct. 2016].
Contact sheets and comments re selection.
My original idea was a create a homage to Edward Weston’s truly inspirational Pepper series from the 1930s, but possibly to try and add some new elements. My idea was to “torture” the pepper by piercing it with nine inch nails for no other reason that it looked good. However, as much I would love to simply disrupt the voyeuristic pleasure of the viewer without any real justification, I needed to find some sort of defensible rationale.
As mentioned in the introduction above, this then developed into an (admittedly negative) appraisal of consumerism and our aesthetic prerequisites for what we eat, buy, and so on.
All the following contact sheets are in chronological order from PA044530 through to PA054825.
However hard I tried I just could not seem to find Weston’s glorious ‘twisted Olive tree trunk’ pepper.
First attempts here are ok; I wasn’t too keen on the white and red stripped background (found it distracted from the main subject) so tried black. There were a few nice light tricks (the purple hue created by mixing my two torch lights with blue and red filters); The darker red shots almost mimic an orange/red pepper here, but I found them a little too dark and without enough focus on the nails. The black background was disappointing here: too evident – shots PA044531, PA044533, or uneventfully non-existent in shots PA044539 through to PA044551 on the following contact.
I wasn’t too keen on the rather dull lighting (my mistake of not really experimenting just yet); the black background still wasn’t working for me either, and I couldn’t make up my mind whether to use a full shot of the pepper or go with a close up; consequently I just photographed away hoping that something would happen. Nothing really did. Coming back to these first shots a day or so after taking them, I noticed that two of the shots were interesting: PA044552, and PA044553: their top down perspective seemed to work for me highlighting both the undulating structure of the pepper – enhanced by the side lighting – as well as the bold diagonals of the nails. This is where I started to select a definitive list of shots from which to choose the final photographs (although, ultimately, none of these was chosen).
Here I tried to use the torch to diversify the light. The blue light in PA044563 was actually an error: I wasn’t able to move the torch-light out of the way in time (as well as mistiming the shutter release). I then tried a few more intentional blue light inclusions although I soon grew tired of that not seeing how it gave anything particularly special to the image (although it might be useful in the future when and if I need to simulate blue flame or some such effect); by adding the burgundy sheet as opposed to the black one, I started to get some better light – some warmer images (not that a project of this intended nature should be all that warm frankly).
Shot PA044577 was the first shot that stood out (more than PA044552, and PA044553 from the previous contact sheet); I liked the rather dull light (no torchlight here) from the left; the redder background also worked better especially as I had purposely changed focus (Olympus 50mm F/1,8) to the tip of the nail head towards the bottom left of the picture: the red blended smoothly with the yellow/orange of the pepper – notably to the left – without dominating, I felt.
I used this image to create the double exposure in shot 4 as well as others as can be seen on contact sheet five below.
I liked shot PA044587 and the crumpled sheet which I tried to rearrange to add effect as can be seen in shot PA044590 onwards, although I did find it slightly distracting.
Shot 4 can be seen here as the desaturated (easier to find in the contacts!) image PA044595; I had originally used PA044577 with the 50mm and – by framing with the in-camera multiple exposure function which allows me to see the previous frame superimposed in the EVF/screen – I was able to use the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens (28-85mm Eq.) to zoom in from the same tripod position to create the double exposure effect I was looking for. Due to the much wider focal length I was able to capture all of the pepper and more importantly all of the protruding nails as well as embedding the crisper second shot within the softer 50mm shot. I chose this shot over PA044600 on this sheet (which also has a similar effect) simply because I felt that the more central placement of the second smaller pepper worked better at creating an illusion and suggesting some type of hallucinogenic influence of the ‘modified’ vegetable and perhaps insinuating the disturbing nature of mass-produced goods as well as being an affront on the so-called accepted cosmetic beauty of the object.
I started to add some torch-light effects by lengthening the shutter speed and including the torch by swirling it around in different parts of the frame.
I thought the blue light was once again fun (as the blue mistake from contact sheet 3 had been) but I couldn’t see what it added to the shot in terms of message or meaning save the pleasant contrast created (which is quite attractive, for me at least).
So I decided to move on to the next subject: a reasonably long red potato wrapped up in a thick golden chain (about £1 a metre). My choice was PA044618, (shot 3) which instantly worked for me, thanks, I believe, to the DoF (surprisingly for me – not taken with the 50mm but with the kit lens).
The rest of the red potato shots were, thanks mostly to having already fallen for PA044618, basically experiments with aperture using the Fujian 35mm. I wasn’t particularly impressed with these and, as we can see above, tried to add some red light to (unsuccessfully/successfully) spruce it up a bit, although, I find these shots uneventful, and not quite rich enough for my intended darker yet punchier series of photos.
I was really looking forward to using the cable to strangle one of the fruits or vegetables. I started with a wonderfully deformed pepper (PA044642) the only one I could find that had any similarity to Weston’s – testament to the prerequisite of an accepted aesthetic shape for our supermarket produce perhaps – in fact, this one bought in a small local grocers; I feel that this pepper was too small and too deformed (the irony!) to communicate what I was trying to say with this strangulation, or asphyxiation, of the vegetable; the shot itself I feel works well aesthetically but not so well communicatively, so I dropped that idea and opted for the courgette to not rely too heavily on just peppers for this assignment and I felt that I had already got a decent shot with PA044595.
I wasn’t pleased with these courgette shots: I found them too plain, as well as the ineffectual background lighting – not to mention the phallic connotation, which had little to no relevance for my intended idea, at least for this project.
I quickly moved on to the apple. I had wanted to create a ring of screws around the centre of the apple – like some kind of perverse equator – but ended up creating a ‘swooping loop’ with the screws gradually getting deeper until they were stuck in up to the screw head on the final screw. This swooping loop was unintentional and came about due to me excitedly and ingenuously sticking the first screw in without thinking or carefully marking out the path beforehand. Using the Fujian 35mm here produced some interesting results: the quirky warped plane of focus that it has adds a surreal and soft effect to the first few shots which I shot wide open at F/1,7. From this sheet I was originally interested in the first few shots with the poisonous backdrop: I particularly liked image PA044676 with the inclusion of the menacing red light, and the all yellow effect with the green of the apple in PA044678 also appealed to me; however it was shot PA044679 that I thought worked best and was going to use this until I eventually chose PA044691 below. I still think it is a slightly stronger image graphically – I particularly enjoyed the added ‘aggressive’ shadows to the left caused by the torch-light; although the fact that we cannot make out or even infer the warning symbol behind it excluded it from my final selection.
I then changed to the Olympus 50mm F/1,8 prime lens (100mm Eq.) for shots PA044686 through to PA044700 preferring its less quirky nature and cleaner bokeh. As I mentioned above, I went with PA044691 (shot 2) from this contact after trying out some added light streaks in the background (torch with filters), and especially thanks to the nice shadow play running across the right of the apple’s surface caused by the ceiling light. The black sheet base worked well as I intended to underexpose/adjust in post production (the latter worked better); I disliked the warmer redder base, although, I did like the PA044699 image with the red torch-light reflecting on the screws and apple to the bottom left of the frame.
Once again I tried to insert the poisonous sign into the image but found it just didn’t work here either even if it is much more visible than the first attempts from contact sheet photos PA044674 to PA044679.
I decided to try out a blue base to help the red of the tomato stand out more; I first used the overhead ceiling light from PA04478 to PA044716 with the blue torch-light moved behind the tomato to try to add some pleasant effects (without hopefully distracting from the main focus of the shot being the tomato and the wire); I changed the lighting from the ceiling light from the left side to the right side (there are two overhead lights in my front room) but wasn’t too different or effective for these few shots (PA044717 – PA044719); For the last two shots on this contact sheet I just used the torch-light (without any filters this time) and eventually decided on PA044720 (shot 1); I thought that the strong contrast of the shadow in the spotlight effect of the torch works well at accentuating both the contrast of blue base with the red skin as well as highlighting (with some nice sparkles) the copper wire (as well as inadvertently placing the tomato ‘in the spotlight’).
Reverting back to the black bedsheet as the base and backdrop for the next series of shots of the tomato and after a few more bland attempts from different perspectives, I decided to try to include the sign more as well as trying out some double exposures. Using PA054728 as my first shot I tried a few combinations with the sign and the tomato from different perspectives eventually settling on PA054733 (shot 6) above (again, desaturated here for easier reference). I chose this shot, or, combinations of two shots, because of the subdued yet effective light(s); the identifiable skull and crossbones adding its meaning (although finally not partially but appropriately, in my view) as well as adding a stability to the double exposure thanks mainly to the triangle and the (intended) position of the wire through the eye and skull of the sign, and the (unseen at first) green stem coming out of the top of the skull. The transparency of this double exposure suggests a paradox: there is little to no transparency regarding what we really eat (although things are getting better re information to the public as can be seen from this excellent journal); and also how sure are we that what we eat is good for us or detrimental? Does the skull and crossbones suggest that these products we use and abuse are quietly damaging our health? Are these products and their additives irreversibly changing us for better or worse? These are the questions I was hoping these pictures would imply.
Moving on to the next object which was a red lettuce which I was looking forward to using with some syringes poking out of with the intention of implying the use of additives in our food. In all honesty, I think the idea is the most successful of this assignment although I’m not overly keen on the predominant red tones here even if the idea was to use the red background and base with the red torchlight filter to create a ‘danger’ overtone to the images – I think that was quite successful as an idea but needed further experimentation here. Shots PA054738 to PA054746 were taken using the Olympus 14-42mm zoom; from PA054747 I switched to the 50mm prime once again preferring its shallower DoF.
The shallower DoF definitely worked better for me (although we can see some smaller apertures with the first couple of shots from this sheet). I felt that the double exposure shots here PA054762–PA054764 didn’t work with the smaller subject within the second shots, so I tried to superimpose similar shots, meaning similar framing to create a shadow or a slight shift of perspective which I felt gave the image an allusiveness that worked well. It was hard to select one defining image that captured the meaning(s) that I had wanted, due mainly to the similarity of these shots. I eventually chose the double exposure PA054767 above (shot 5 in the final selection) for its balance, black background, and the red and blue torch-light that I feel adds a welcomed psychedelic effect – or an implication of psychedelia – that fit perfectly within the ethos of what I was trying to communicate with the photo.
Contact sheet 16 was basically me just trying out different lighting effects; unfortunately, from image PA054777 through to PA054792 I don’t like the composition (or position of the syringes) so no selections from those shots. Possibly should try to focus on the other factors and not just the lighting as I did here – no image is ever just one thing, is it?
Again here, there is some interesting light play especially with the blue torch-light (the overhead lights had been switched off) from PA054793 to PA054796 with my favourite shot (not chosen for final selection – more of a second choice) being PA054796.
From PA054811 through to the final shot for this assignment I decided (finally) to rearrange the syringes in a new pattern – or a more concentrated position (something that baffles me now as to why I didn’t do that continually throughout the shoot). Again, I prefer the shallow DoF created by the wide(r) aperture of the 50mm prime. A second choice shot was selected here – although never really considered past that – shot PA054814: I think it was too similar to the eventual final shot for this subject PA054767 (shot 5).
The final three shots here were taken with the kit lens (14-42mm) although, even with the inclusion of the poisonous symbol in the background, I felt that these images were just the residual of consciousness as I had already psychologically accepted that that was enough for this project.