My first assignment for The Art of Photography is entitled ‘contrasts’. A fundamental principle in design, contrast not only covers the physical nature of a subject but also the sub-text and further meaning that can be read in to it. The contrast can be overt or more hidden. The contrast, although it must be demonstrable can also be open to interpretation by the viewer thus giving the photograph and contrast some ambiguity.
The challenge for me here was to not only find these contrasts but to also try and come up with images beyond the more obvious physical contrasts and more importantly photograph them. It was one thing to see them and know in my mind’s eye what I wanted to achieve, quite another to actually achieve it. So, in short, my aim here was communicate the contrast to the viewer.
My resulting photographs are below, accompanied by my thoughts on each. There are eight pairs of contrasts and also a single photograph with the contrasting ‘pair’ contained within it. Throughout the assignment my intention was make the pairs relatable to each other rather than being too disperate. I felt that the contrasts wouldn’t be as strong or cohesive without this structure and I hope it has worked. In each case, clicking on the image will bring up a larger more high definition version.
An obvious physical contrast in these images. The straight lines that are omnipresent in today’s industrialised world against the softer curves of a roof in the Gardens by the Bay. I wanted both shots to contain the hard lines of construction so have intentionally increased the depth of focus to make sure the whole image was sharp in both shots.
Both these shots were taken in the same temple at around the same time. The contrast in the two could not have been more marked. The first gives an intimidating air of authority. His expression is challenging me. The little boy gave an air of relaxed eagerness, waiting to see what the day would hold. There is also a clear physical difference. The age of the man, his tattoos and lack of teeth making his face seem hardened. The boy on the other hand is rounded and shiny.
Again, a clear physical contrast. I was attracted to the colours in these photos, which I found unusually vibrant for a building site. I liked the repetitive nature of the horizontal lines once the eye is past the initial main structure being at an angle. It stood well against the blue sky but did make it slightly difficult to expose for. The round image was taken on an adjacent machine. Again I liked the bright colours and also the contrast of the beige straight lines in the background. I intentionally left the curve of the next roundel in shot giving the impression there are more than one of these things in the proximity.
What I was looking for here was high and low-end retailers. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve and the ‘high’ image was taken was way in advance of the ‘low’. In having my first image I then had to find a suitable subject for the second (low) shot. I stumbled across it by chance whilst shooting another exercise. What I liked in the first photo was the red blur of the woman’s trousers reflected by the red Leica signage and the Louis Vitton window dressing. The challenge for me was, on finding the subject, to photograph it in a way that reflected the ‘high’ shot but still retained its own character. So in both images the f-stop is high while the shutter speed is low. This was intentional to try and blur the movement of the woman similar to the ‘high’ shot. There is also a flash of colour, similar to that of the red in the ‘high’ shot. I like that the woman in the photographs are wearing completely different attire. In the ‘low’ image the woman is wearing a very traditional Muslim style of dress. In the ‘high’ photo the woman is wearing what would appear to be somewhat ‘haute couture’ clothing. Both of them reflect their environments in their style of dress and in doing so also contrast with each other.
Communications have radically changed over the last decade and I felt I wanted to show this with the contrast between a long and short conversation. The first image shows two men engaged in what looks to be quite a meaningful conversation. There is emotion expressed by both. In the background other diners also sit and talk to each other over lunch. This is the long and traditional form of communication. In the second shot we have a familiar sight of what is probably the shortest form of communication. Indeed SMS stands for ‘Short Message Service’. This is fast becoming the norm in our society and indeed if I pulled out from this shot you would see many others also texting away during their lunch break. In fact it was harder to get a frame without someone in it texting than with. I approached these shots in a street photography manner, as I didn’t want to interpret the natural flow of their communications. Of course I could have set the conversation up but it just didn’t seem that it would give the same effect.
During Hindu celebrations, coconuts are painted yellow (the colour of knowledge and learning). Given the bright light that is usually available these coconuts are quite vivid, especially in comparison so the usual dowdy brown colour. They also have a great texture to them which makes them fun to photograph and this is what attracted me to them. I also enjoy photographing hands, so seeing someone holding one was a good opportunity for a shot. Next to the man holding them was the container that he had taken it from giving me the many shot. For the many shot, I reduced my depth of focus to pick out one coconut.
These are my two most disparate shots in the series although both have an architectural slant. They are also two of my favourite images in it. The ‘still’ image gives an impression of serenity. There’s really not much going and the car with its bonnet up, apparently broken down seems to emphasis that no one is going anywhere fast. I desaturated the image to give it a more stark appearance and feeling of permanency.
‘Moving’ on the other hand invokes a feeling of constant transition (a theme common in Singapore). People always having somewhere else to be, something else to do, never stopping to look around them. The long exposure makes the colours more vivid which adds to the slightly surreal effect.
I thought this might be a difficult contrast to attempt. The ‘sweet’ was relatively easy, as most people will recognise a sweet or something that is sweet. These sweets are Malay fare and a very sugary. I have made sure the colours are quite saturated to emphasise the look of sweetness. Other than shooting a lemon or lime, ‘sour’ would be slightly more difficult. By chance one night whilst out with friends, one of them tried a new cocktail. It turned out to be one of the most sour things he had ever tasted it. I instinctively took the shot. The black and white leads the viewer to the face without distraction and while the technical quality may be debatable at best, I feel that shouldn’t get in the way of telling a story. This shot, I think, tells it perfectly.
I desaturated the image to give more contrast and emphasise the ridges in the sand as they run in to the glassy water at the foot of the frame. The wet sand also helps to show the ridges by giving highlights to them. If the light hitting the water hadn’t been from directly above me I don’t think this shot would have worked as well as it does. It makes the water look almost opaque at first glance until you realise you can see through to the sand underneath.
Throughout this assignment I have tried to be mindful of the preceding exercises in the module. To use the knowledge I have gained whilst undertaking them has enabled me to be more thoughtful about the way I not only take photographs but the approach I take towards the subject as a whole. I found the assignment challenging to start with as I was probably trying to over think it and not take my natural photographs. This is not necessarily a bad thing as I realised after I had started I needed to relax in to it a bit more than I was. Indeed on my first time out to take photos specifically for this assignment I came back with very little useable material.
An interesting thing that came out of this exercise was how many times it would have been easier to take a shot of the contrasts in one frame. Almost all of the pairs I took and some that I didn’t I could easily visualise contained in a single image. This says to me that although we may look at contrasts as being somehow opposite they are actually mutually necessary (obviously) and co-exist in close (physical or otherwise) proximity to one another.
With reference to my earlier notes on the assignment, it would seem that although I attempted to take all these contrasts, the only one I managed was ‘Sweet/Sour’. This was for no apparent reason and didn’t influence my final choices, but it is interesting that these few pairs are the least photographed (according to my straw poll/blog investigation). Indeed ‘Black and White’ kept goading me in to taking one shot including both contrasts, but I just didn’t go for it.
I think my style of photography is already changing since starting the course. Possibly it is not noticeable in the final material but my approach is changing (for the better). Everything that I knew (or thought I knew) before I started has been challenged which has been good. It has also been confusing, enlightening, thought provoking and fun. I look forward to starting on Part Two of the module and receiving feedback on the assignment.