A Significant Object – Exercise 3.7

Brief:- You probably own many significant objects, from a wedding ring to old clothes, trophies of achievement to mementos that recall special events or times of your life, like toys or records. Choose one of these to photograph. This mustn’t be a general thing like ‘flowers’ but something entirely specific to you. Respect the fact that this object matters to you. Photograph it carefully, thinking about how this object ought to be viewed through the camera. Consider the framing, viewpoint, background, placement, light and composition. Does the photograph (the representation) have the same meaning as the object itself ? Is there a difference? Now develop this exercise into a series of three photographs of similar objects. For example, if you chose to photograph your wedding ring, ask friends if you can photograph their wedding rings. If you photographed your home, photograph other people’s homes. Use exactly the same viewpoint, framing, lighting (as far as possible), background, etc., for each. This will help the three final photos fit together as a conclusive series. Look online at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together.

A significant object

Reflections

This does not work for me at all. It is a series that I need to re shoot, or change to an alternate significant object, one in which I can recreate a significant object alongside similar objects. All three photos represent spirituality and an altar, but the backgrounds, positioning within the frame and composition are too far apart for this to work. With the Becher’s photos, the neutrality made their subjects stand out, but with my triptych there is no neutrality to give the object/subject definition.

It may work better if all of the alters were composed in an identical manner, and hight within the frame, but the third photo would need to have a similar coloured background. If I could arrange this then maybe the backgrounds with their own busyness would not matter as much. To be honest I think that I would prefer that to the bland neutrality of Becher. Although I do understand the point of the exercise. Similar objects which are  framed and composed in a similar manner, enhances the definition of the subjects.

I would like to re-shoot this exercise, but right now I am not going to. I would like to complete this part of the course work, and I am six weeks beyond the agreed deadline. I have one more exercise to shoot, and then to evaluate and select my stage photo for assignment three.

Update

The comment below by Jenna has been incredibly helpful for me. Not seeing where the second photo, my significant object, fitted in with the other two – has given me the opportunity to consider why.

My significant object is my altar. I don’t see it as being a fireplace, because it’s not, it’s my altar, the spiritual centre of my home. This includes the crystals at the base, next to gohonzon, and the pictures either side and above. They all have spiritual significance to me. A Nichiren Buddhist would recognize the gohonzon and know this is my altar, but nobody else would.

Because I only see this as my altar then I didn’t even consider that others would not recognise it as being so, and there is some very useful learning here. If I am going to display something of importance to me, then I need to consider whether a non involved/non knowing person would see what I do. What will they see? If I think they couldn’t have the same ‘knowing’ of my significant object that I do, then how can I present it in a context that makes this more accessible.

I’m no longer feeling dejected. Nothing had changed with the series, it still doesn’t work, but learning is remarkably empowering.

Picture Credit

The third photo in the triptych is by Raina from the moon, of which she retains the copyright. Thankyou Raina.

Exercise 3.7 – Planning – Judaism – Christianity – Object Of Devotion

Having given some thought to the exercise I have decided that I am going to make use of two approaches.

My altar is highly personal, but at the same time it is calm, peaceful and a refuge, and as such I would like it to be photographed early on a sunny morning so that natural daylight provides an element of grace. Other people will also have significant objects of devotion and I am going to send out a group email, blog post, and a couple of personal emails to ask others if they would collaborate with me and send me a photo of their object within its environment, and taken with the same lighting and composition, as the brief asks.. This is my prefered option because it retains the individual and personal connection that I feel is important.

The second option is to use a photo that I have already taken of a church altar, and then to find a local synagogue and ask if I can make some photos there. Having never been to a synagogue and having no connection with Judaism then I know very little of their faith or objects of devotion.

The importance of Jewish faith and culture to me is that I believe that Jews, for at least the past 2,000 are the second most persecuted group of people in the world (women being the people who have been the most persecuted), and because I find that when I read about the holocaust I am left feeling utterly bereft.

Review – Bernd And Hilla Becher

Brief:- You probably own many significant objects, from a wedding ring to old clothes, trophies of achievement to mementos that recall special events or times of your life, like toys or records. Choose one of these to photograph. This mustn’t be a general thing like ‘flowers’ but something entirely specific to you. Respect the fact that this object matters to you. Photograph it carefully, thinking about how this object ought to be viewed through the camera. Consider the framing, viewpoint, background, placement, light and composition. Does the photograph (the representation) have the same meaning as the object itself ? Is there a difference? Now develop this exercise into a series of three photographs of similar objects. For example, if you chose to photograph your wedding ring, ask friends if you can photograph their wedding rings. If you photographed your home, photograph other people’s homes. Use exactly the same viewpoint, framing, lighting (as far as possible), background, etc., for each. This will help the three final photos fit together as a conclusive series. Look online at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together. 

Becher, B and Becher, 1959 to 1973 H Framework HousesFig. 1. Framework Houses (1959-73)

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) Hilla Becher (1934 – 2015)

Initial thoughts

Not Tudor, not imitation Tudor. I haven’t seen frame houses that are neither Tudor nor imitation. Maybe from the USA or parts of Europe that I havent visited. Orderliness, structure, unusual perspective, is there actually a house there or are these just mock walls like a film set? Very little background/vegetation and no people, but would like to see on a gallery wall for a closer inspection. The structure of each house is highly visible because there are no distractions. Routine – each house fills roughly the same area of the frame, and with only minor fluctuations in exposure and tone. All black and white so there are no contrasting or colours to distract. Very few windows, what do the residents do for daylight? Vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines – this appeals to me. Although there are slight differences it is possible to suggest that they were built by only three different builders (see the framework/bricks between the slopes of the roof’s).

I find myself only able to agree with the course manual in relation to the composition, framing and lighting. The routine and conformity highlight the shapes and lines of the buildings and their frames, and its interesting how the small structural differences and patterns are noticable and quite intriguing. Obviously this could not be the case if a single photo was exhibited alone. I think that if the series was to be taken and displayed with the same houses but shot at different angles, the detail would be lost. The 3D structure of the houses would alter the perspective greatly, and the backgrounds would then be a distraction. This is a great technique for photographing similar subjects if you want to highlight differences in detail and have an orderly presentation.

Stacy McCarroll Cutshaw (2012) describes the Becher’s work as being an important change of direction in landscape photography, moving away from the old romanticism and into a systemic approach, which is also more scientific. “The idea of topographies as applied to the photographed landscape stems from the exhibition ‘New Topographies: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape’ held in 1975 at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York… The Photographs were not romanticized images of the vast outdoors of the American West but depictions of everyday suburban sprawl. They focused on manufactured, industrialized landscapes, paying particular attention to the environment altered by human kind… Works by the German collaborative photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, such as Framework Houses (1958-1973…) also featured in the show. Their oeuvre is pivotal to a generation of European and US photographers who cultivated a systematic approach to photography.” (Hacking; 2014; pp 400 + 401).

My significant object

This maybe a tricky exercise for me. The most important object to me is my Gohonzon. The Gohonzon is  a scroll that is used by practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism. It contains the Mystical Law of the Lotus Sutra written in Japanese text. It is the centre piece of my alter, sitting above the fireplace with several crystals and candles. I would not want to use anything else for this exercise.

My difficulty is that I do not meet other people regularly. In fact outside of appointments that I attend I have only met up three people, and a couple (all friends and family) this year. Currently I have no plans to meet up with anyone.

At the moment I see my options as being – find a church that’s open and photograph the alter, or make use of a photo that I took in Lindisfarne. It would be better to photograph my alter first and then go and shoot in a church. This would mean that I could control the composition, although the lighting will be significantly different (however I could make use of bracketed exposure, 5 stops each way and convert to HDR for the inside of the church). Then to find a different religious building, or a group, or individual and photograph their alter or significant spiritual object.

My second idea would be to make my photo first and then email it to several people and ask them if they can make a photo of their spiritually significant place, using the same composition and similar lighting if possible.

Difficulties are just solutions playing hide and seek.

Illustrations

Figure 1; Becher, B andBecher, H; 1959-73; Framework Houses; AT: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/127884 (accessed on 19/05/2018)

References

Hacking, J; 2014; Photography: The Whole Story; London; Thames and Hudson