Archive for February, 2009

Photoshop: Digital Collage (and Doctoring)

Posted in Uncategorized on February 28, 2009 by Katie Heimer

I abstractly based the following two “digital collages” on Brian Dettmer’s works, combining layers of letters, words, and texts from photographs I’ve taken with photos I took of my best friend last week for the class assignment, striving for a kind of cacophony of visual stimuli and symbols, mixing the amorphousness of people, the complexity of facial expression, with the concreteness and visual rigidity of letters, whether printed or scrawled. 

In the first piece, I layered several images of text on top of the portrait of the face, leaving the face of the subject cut out in each layer, so that it protrudes through the array of symbols and colors which surround it.

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In the second, the layers completely cover the image of the subject’s mouth, obscuring and altering it in interesting ways. It seemed interesting and appropriate to have a mouth, obscured by layer upon layer of words, most incomprehensible, forming an impression of cacophonous speech, noise, and the difficulties of real communication in a stimulus-drenched world. I sort of liked how the overlay of textual images makes the image of the mouth itself look as though it has been created out of scraps of colored paper or like one of those pictures created by the arrangement of many smaller pictures.

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In the process of playing around and experimenting with different features in Photoshop, I also tried doctoring a few photos, like the one below. The results, as you can see, are a little bit funny and a lot disturbing. I used a photo of me with my friend Peter and switched our eyes, putting my eyes on him and his eyes on me. I also tried one with another photo in which I transplanted my mother’s face onto my father’s body and my father’s face onto my mother’s body, but in the interest of preserving the dignity of the parties involved, I won’t post that one.

Before: The original photo 

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After: swapped eyes=very scary 

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Finally, here’s another sort of digital collage I sort of liked. I combined a photograph from last summer of my sister sleeping on a couch with a photograph I took recently of a rainbow reflected onto the floor of my bedroom. The texture of the wood grain in the floor combined with the vivid rainbow colors creates a nice kind of texture and visual interest, I think.

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Collage: Brian Dettmer

Posted in Uncategorized on February 28, 2009 by Katie Heimer

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Though Brian Dettmer wasn’t one of the artists listed on the collage and assemblage Wikipedia pages, I stumbled upon his work while looking up information about some of the others who were listed, in particular Kurt Schwitters. Dettmer’s media is books, and he alters and deconstructs them, performing what has been called book autopsies or book sculptures in which he reveals the inner contents of the books, crafting them into a dense collage of words and images through the incredibly skilled carving away of portions of the book’s cover and pages. I find his work absolutely incredible. It is visually arresting in its explication of the undiscovered contents of books, like a window into a private or esoteric world. I love the combination of words and images in collage form. As someone with a great deal of interest in language, linguistics, literature, and verbal expression of various types, there is something deeply appealing about the simplicity yet vast applications of simple letters, as the most basic of signs and yet some of the most vital to human communication and construction of the world around us. While I think combining words and images has the potential to render one’s desired message obvious or trite, I also think skillful combination can render a product which enhances each, not to mention creating something visually engaging and arresting. I certainly think Dettmer’s works are successful in this way, producing almost a visual overload–the eye hardly knows where to rest. His ability to reveal the physical depth of a book, an extremely common object most of us don’t think twice about as a visual entity, and to present it in an entirely new and deconstructed way which reveals new meanings, an entirely new way of perceiving the contents, elevate the mundane to the status of art, is incredible. 

Below are several examples of Dettmer’s work–some picture books, some more text-filled, one carved from a map book, all crammed with visual information. The sheer amount of work that clearly goes into these pieces is staggering. I read that Dettmer spends ten hours a day, five days a week working on these pieces, and the time and effort are evidenced in the precision and detail of each piece. Some pieces are composed almost entirely of printed words, others mostly pictures. Visually, the text forms a sort of irregular pattern, and functions equally for the the meanings the words convey and the patterns they form as abstract visual symbols. In the sense that he utilizes “found” object (books), I suppose his work represents some aspects of not only collage but assemblage as well.

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Post-Produced Photos

Posted in Uncategorized on February 28, 2009 by Katie Heimer

Before:

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After (contrast and saturation adjustment and focus adjustment): 

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Before:

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After (cropping, contrast  and color balance adjustment, decreasing blowout in the face):

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Before:

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After (color–>black and white, increased contrast, cropping):

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Before:

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After (heightened contrast and saturation):

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Every Tool Is A Weapon If You Hold It Right

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2009 by Katie Heimer

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Here is a post I wrote on my personal blog, ruminating on ethics and responsibility in photography, things that have been on my mind in thinking about the subway photography option from last week’s assignment. As I try to make clear in the post, I do not mean to call into question anyone’s motives or choice to do such a project in any way, shape, or form, but merely to use it as a point of departure for opening up a discussion about the the act of photographing others and the power dynamics created by doing so. I find it an interesting topic and one which raises a set of issues and questions, the answers to which I think are certainly far from clear-cut.

Rainy Day Woman

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 by Katie Heimer

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For this week’s photography assignment, I chose to do a sort of hybrid of options 1 and 3. Due to my lack of a school-aged child to assist me in approximating any kind of Literacy Through Photography-like project, I decided instead to try to work with a similar sensibility to the children in the program, within the context of the faceless portrait assignment. So, after convincing my best friend to serve as my model, we took to the streets of my neighborhood (the East Village). Unfortunately for us, the weather was bitterly cold and windy with driving rain and sleet, adding some drama to the photographs, but leaving us bedraggled and freezing. We retreated to my apartment, where I experimented with some staged lighting techniques as well as the use of the tripod. Later, once our extremities had thawed, we once again braved the rain and cold to try some night photography. While the conditions were less than ideal for what I’d hoped would be primarily an outdoor documentary-style project around my neighborhood, it was an interesting learning experience trying to work around the challenges that presented. And though the several weather-related changes of venue resulted in a less cohesive set of photographs, I think it gave me the chance to experiment with more different kinds of shooting and lighting than I otherwise might have.

The first photograph below is my  attempt at flat lighting and serves to introduce my subject in as straightforward a way as possible. I only use it here as a point of contrast, to illustrate exactly the kind of portrait I was trying to avoid in the rest of the series. The assignment asked for a series of portraits which did not include the entire face of the subject. I realize that there are one or two that do include most or all of my subject’s face, but I’ve included them here because I thought that for other reasons they represented non-conventional portraits–in the one with the stop sign, for instance, most of the face is visible, but it is at the very edge of the frame, almost out of the shot, and there are other elements of the shot, such as the sign, which draw the attention of the eye. As I mentioned, I also tried to capture the spirit of the photography I presented last week, taken by children through the Literacy Through Photography program. I did this by first choosing subject matter which touched on some of the basic themes often presented in the children’s photographs–friends, the home, and the community. I tried to capture the kind of candor and, when possible, spontaneity that these children’s work so often exhibited. And, I tried to work, especially in the outdoor shots, in a documentary style, looking for ways to make straightforward, mundane scenes more interesting, working with the available lighting, and not taking too much time to set up or stage any one shot, operating in as point-and-shoot a way as possible.

As for the question of whether experimenting with lighting and composition helped or hindered the concept I was working on, I guess I would say a little of both–it certainly helped me to come up with some unexpected results and to think in a more active, engaged way about the kinds of shots I was taking. I think it both broadened and narrowed by scope creatively, broadening in the sense of expanding my metaphorical photographic “toolbox” of ideas and techniques, narrowing in the sense of refining my photographic sensibilities, making me more focused, in a sense, on aesthetic considerations that I previously might have left more to chance. As someone who’s done some photography before on a mostly for-pleasure basis, my process previous to this, I think, was much more scattershot, experimenting with things, but not with as much of a conscious sense of purpose–I still might have gotten some interesting shots or ones that I liked in the process, but I wouldn’t necessarily have known how I got them–it would often happen almost coincidentally. While I do think that in photography, as in any art form, there is often some element of luck or chance that goes into producing something beautiful–perfect conditions at the perfect time, or a mistake that turns out perfectly, I think that through the Zettl readings and through the process of this assignment, I became more aware of the fact that being aware of considerations of light, framing, etc. doesn’t mean having to sacrifice the spontaneity or the creative spark, but in fact can often mean stacking the odds in your favor of having those freak creative moments coalesce perfectly. In other words, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I became more aware that a big part of luck in the creative process is not luck at all but awareness and skill.

In terms of which photos I like best, I tend to be drawn to high contrast, particularly in black and white, so I think I often like images that are a little more blown out and contrast-y than a lot of people might like, and that goes for some of the photos in this set. Another thing I also like, which, again, others might not like so well is a blurry, out of focus picture, in the right context. Of course, I also love really sharp, crisp detailed photos, like the photo of the eye below, but there’s something about photos like the one in the stairwell and the one of the figure on the dark, rainy sidewalk below which really appeals to me. Somehow, they evoke to me a kind of dreamlike quality, a sense of mystery, a frenetic energy, or sometimes even a sense of intimacy, that I find really appealing. Of course, as I say, I think the technique has its time and place and I’m not just going to frame any old out of focus picture and call it a beautiful work of art.

I really enjoyed this assignment, and while I think my results were a little mixed (not to mention a little schizophrenic, with all the different techniques and styles I experimented with), I do think it was helpful to try to apply Zettl’s writing in real life scenarios, and I considered the process very instructive, not to mention fun, over all.

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And finally, a photograph to encapsulate my feelings toward the exercise as a whole:

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Literacy Through Photography

Posted in Uncategorized on February 14, 2009 by Katie Heimer

One summer during college, I took a two week intensive photography course at the Penland School in mountains of North Carolina. My teachers were Katie Hyde and Dwayne Dixon, two teachers with the Literacy Through Photography program, which is based at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, and has chapters around the country and around the world. The program teaches school children the fundamentals of photography, technical and stylistic, and then sends them out into their worlds, their schools, neighborhoods, and homes, armed with simple point-and-shoot 35 mm cameras. Started by photographer Wendy Ewald in 1989, the program has traveled to a diverse and ever-growing range of communities. The photographic assignments the children are given are concentrated mainly on four themes–community, family, dreams, and self-portraiture. Other similar programs exist, such as the Kids with Cameras program, the results of which were highlighted in the 2004 documentary, Born Into Brothels.

I’m particularly interested in these kinds of programs because I think they fit nicely within a broader agenda of media literacy and media education, something I’m very interested in and believe in very strongly. In terms of the categories of photography we explored last week in class, I think these programs, and the photographic work the children in them produce, fall best under the heading of “photography as art/investigation/expression”. However, the work these projects are doing is not as simple as that heading suggests. I believe, in fact, that the act of empowering these children, often children from under privileged backgrounds to tell their own stories and to explore and understand themselves and their surroundings in new ways, is an incredibly transgressive and potentially socially revolutionary one. The photos the children in these programs produce range from whimsical, mundane scenes to haunting, iconic images. They let the viewer into new worlds and are imbued with all the wonder and all the fear of childhood. Through the lens, we encounter the world as these children do. In looking at these images the first time, and now again, I continue to be struck by how moving, engaging and beautiful many of them are, and how, even at such a young age, each of these young photographers is already developing a unique point of view, a unique creative voice.

The photos below are culled primarily from student works produced through various Literacy Through Photography chapters across the country, as well as in other countries. Several of them also come from the children involved in the Kids with Cameras program. Most of them came from archived student works and are unattributed by name.

 

Attached shadow: both the grapes and the arm in this photo have attached shadows which indicate that the primary light source is coming from above.

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Cast Shadow: In this photograph, the cast shadow indicates that the person creating the shadow is standing just out of the frame. It appears that the shadow belongs to the photographer him/herself.

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Falloff: In this photo, the little boy’s face (and hand) illustrate fast falloff, transitioning from strong light to shadow extremely abruptly.

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Spatial Orientation: In this photograph, the lighting, and the shadow it creates, help to spatially orient the young boy, in relation to the ground (his feet are touching it) and in relation to the sun.

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Tactile Orientation: This photograph orients the viewer to the tactile realities of the environment pictured, with the strong light and, therefore, quick falloff creating a clear sense of the dry, dusty, rough, and pebbly ground upon which the subject’s feet are walking.

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Time Orientation: The long, dark shadows in this photograph orient it temporally as having been most likely taken late in the afternoon.

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Establishing Mood and Atmosphere: The combination of the close-up, frame filling nature of this portrait and the subdued, softly shadowed lighting on the face create a strong sense of intimacy and connection with the young subject.

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Predictive Lighting: The overall subdued lighting of the photograph, particularly the hooded, darkened face of the little boy and the complete blackness of the space behind him at the top of the stairs hints at a sense of slight foreboding, or at least gives the photograph a sense of subdued melancholy which seems to hint at a broader story line.

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Dramatic Lighting: Just as in Zettl’s description, in this photograph, the actual light source (the sun’s rays) are incorporated into the image, adding a sense of interest and drama. This drama is further enhanced by the reflection of a shadow from an unseen figure on the sidewalk.

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Standard Lighting: This photo appears to embody standard lighting in that there is light separating the subject from the background, there is controlled, minimal falloff, and, most importantly, the focal point of light within the photograph is on the young boy’s face, drawing the focus there.

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Expanded Lighting: Though there is light inside the house, as in the expanded lighting technique of kicker lighting, the light from the window, coming from behind and to one side, illuminates part of the side of the children’s faces, leaving the rest in shadow.

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Chiaroscuro Lighting: The two attached photos below embody chiaroscuro lighting due to the selective illumination (of the boy’s face, and in the bottom one, of the arm as well), fast falloff and heavy light/dark contrast. The photos are, over all, rather dark, particularly the backgrounds. This creates a sense of heightened drama and emotion, particularly in the bottom photo.

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Flat Lighting: This photo embodies flat lighting, or as close as a photographer not employing studio lights usually gets to flat lighting. The photo has very slow falloff with few if any visible shadows. The viewer is not aware of any principal source or direction from which light is coming, but rather the light is diffused more or less evenly throughout the frame.

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Silhouette Lighting: This photo embodies silhouette lighting because of its heavy background lighting  and dark foreground, which render the subject and the foreground as black outlines of shapes against the bright light of the background.

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Media Enhanced Lighting: While the Literacy Through Photography program and Kids with Cameras both use standard film cameras and do not incorporate much if any digital manipulation of images into their curricula, this image, taken by a child in Calcutta’s red light district, was highlighted in the documentary Born into Brothels, and has been digitally enhanced for those presentational purposes, probably including the increasing of contrast and  over all sharpening of the image.

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Finally, though I didn’t end up using this photograph to illustrate any of the lighting concepts, I wanted to include it because I find it incredibly striking. This was a product of a Literacy Through Photography assignment which asked students to photograph their dreams. Apparently, this child wrote that he or she dreamed that their sister and a pig were dead on the ground, and staged this scene to recreate that dream. I find the image incredibly moving and very creepy and disturbing, and in this case  I think the light really works to enhance the mood of the image. Bright sunlight has such a strong association with cheerfulness, clarity, innocence, playfulness, and a feeling of aliveness and animation, that the contrast of the motionless child and animal on the ground, under the bright sunlight is all the more jarring and enhances the sense of eeriness and unnaturalness of what the viewer is seeing.

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Thank You For Smoking

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7, 2009 by Katie Heimer

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Here is my group’s Philip Morris ad pitch, which we will present in class tomorrow.

My group had a very productive brainstorming session during class time last week and, though it was difficult to coordinate our schedules, we corresponded through the week, each contributing in terms of ideas, structure, and the actual labor of finding images other materials to compile into our Powerpoint. It seems that one of the biggest areas where smoking still holds a sense of sex appeal and cool is in the context of Hollywood glamour, as part of a sort of jetset lifestyles that evokes a sort of old-Hollywood glamour. I found some old Philip Morris print ad images which drew on this very appeal, and by setting our ad in a Manhattan cocktail bar, we sought to draw on some of these associations of “better”, “simpler”, more “glamourous” days gone by, but with a modern face lift. We also wanted to acknowledge modern realities by showing a sense of understanding of the current economic climate in our country, so we decided to try to sell Philip Morris as a brand which would help transport you out of the grim or mundane realities of your lower middle class existence into a more glamorous, carefree version of yourself–drawing on the appeal of a sort of escapism in hard times. We decided that highlighting a man around 30 would allow us to appeal to those both somewhat younger and somewhat older than that age. This person is relatable–attractive, but with an everyman quality. Though cigarettes cannot be shown in the ad, so we want to evoke an atmosphere which suggests smoking–a dimly lit bar, with alcohol consumption, etc. The slogan we came up with is “Times are hard…dream big. Philip Morris, taking you places.”

It’s a little bizarre trying to get inside the minds of people who are purposefully marketing deadly products to people who probably can’t even afford them, but in a way I think by working with a product that I have no interest in and am not seduced by, it was easier to objectively consider the process that goes into constructing the messages.