Assignment 1: Contrasts December 2011

Contrasting subjects chosen:

Still: Moving   Large: Small   Many: Few   Broad: Narrow   Hard: Soft Rough: Smooth   Strong: Weak   Curved: Straight   Black: White

This has been a very enjoyable and useful assignment. I’m conscious that most of my photography hitherto has been reactive or opportunistic. In other words I’ve had the camera with me while doing something else and found images along the way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been an interesting challenge through the exercises hitherto, and now in this assignment particularly to begin with ideas and find a way of expressing them visually. Some of the ideas that I’ve pursued have proved to be beyond my capability or my technical expertise or equipment, but I’m reasonably comfortable with the outcome.

In choosing the subjects I sought to find pairs that have some connection with each other, while still making contrasts. So the “still” pylon and the “moving” tree branches are both subjects that stand in the open air and are vulnerable to weather conditions; the “many” tree trunks and the “few” matches have a basic shape in common (and by that token might have qualified as long and short); the “broad” motorway and the “narrow” ginnel are both thoroughfares, and so on.

To take them pair by pair:

Still: Moving

The massive electricity pylon is almost a symbol of strength in the countryside and is generally unmoved by strong winds. Controversial in appearance, I actually quite like them for their elegant shape. This example stands well above the small trees that surround it and silhouettes clearly in monochrome against what was a clear blue sky. The branches of this tree in our garden, by contrast, are whipped back and forth by an increasing breeze and with a slowish shutter speed that motion is easily captured. They also mostly survive the weather, but by their very flexibility rather than by solid strength.

Large: Small

The intention here was to show that size is relative, and I feel that works, although visually I couldn’t quite produce the “large” picture I had in mind. Kay is almost convincingly seen as sitting in the forehatch of the boat; the effect is spoiled a little though by the focus. I couldn’t find the right combination of focal length, distance and aperture that would have her and the boat both in focus. Accepting then that she is actually standing by the garden fence, the impression is nonetheless that the boat is relatively large. In the contrasting image the positions are reversed and the boat, its size made clear by her hands, is seen to be a small model.

Many: Few

There is a pocket of mixed woodland behind our house which yielded this image of tree trunks of many different ages and sizes. They’re not straight, obviously, but they are by and large vertical and long and thin. Side lit on a bright day with more light coming through after the leaf fall, there is a sense of the woodland stretching back and, by implication, to the sides. The matches, in contrast are plainly few – the last three. I used a 90mm Macro lens and a plain black background, the latter perhaps suggesting that there is definitely nothing else to be found. They have a shape roughly corresponding to the trees and are “criss-crossed” as are the branches; the contrast is to be found in the numbers

Broad: Narrow

“Broad” is taken at the point when the M1 joins the A1M, about a mile before the A64 leaves. This results in a 6 lane carriageway, plus the hard shoulder, which is about as broad as roads get in the UK. Taken, obviously enough, through the windscreen of our car, I have sought to emphasise the breadth of road by cropping it into a “letterbox” format “Narrow” is a very direct contrast. This ginnel (local-speak for alleyway) is not much more than one person wide and is clearly defined by the walls on either side, and made even more potentially claustrophobic by the overhanging branches. Again I have sought to emphasise that sense by cropping into a “letterbox” format, this time in portrait mode.

Hard: Soft

The most comfortable chair we own contrasted with the least! The hard beechwood folding chair is photographed outside against the background of the wall of the house and the stones which edge the tarmac drive. So everything here is hard, and the bland lighting on an overcast day doesn’t even offer shadows to soften the image. “Soft” – in contrast in many ways – is a soft leather armchair. It’s lit by sunlight through a window which leaves the background dimly, perhaps softly lit. The cup and saucer, the book and glasses and the reading light all suggest comfort and a kind of softness.

Rough: Smooth

I experimented with a number of different surfaces for each of these, having first decided that this pair would be somewhat abstract, macro images. I was for instance surprised to find that abrasive paper in close-up doesn’t look particularly sharp! “Rough” then is the bark edge of a turned oak bowl, side lit by my desk lamp. The effect is certainly rough, perhaps suggestive of rough ground, or of a crag which might offer a difficult, uncomfortable ascent. “Smooth” is a silk handkerchief, informally draped across a cushion. Plainly it’s not flat, but the curves are smooth and comfortable, even inviting.

Strong: Weak

The oak tree is a British icon, suggestive always of strength – “hearts of oak”. This is a relatively young tree, but nonetheless solidly planted and unmoving, the assurance of the habitat of the leaves still growing beside it and shadowed on it. There is vitality and actual strength here, and strength in potential for the uses to the which the timber might one day be put. “Weak” is the broken stem of a dried grass. Here there is no strength at all. The grass is dead, brittle and broken, the epitome of weakness. I quite like the simple geometry of the shape though.

Straight: Curved

The curves here are the interior roof beams of the Corn Exchange in Leeds, a round building with a domed roof. I have cropped the original to make the abstraction as symmetrical as possible. By contrast the straight lines are from an office building in Leeds, taken from an angle that makes the lines into diagonals.

Black: White

A friend’s horse, photographed inside a dark barn, it only by the sunlight through an open door. The original colour image is one of calm and restfulness in the half light. This black and white version has the photographic contrast increased somewhat, producing an image which is not grayscaled, but purely black and white. Its simplicity of line is such that it could be a chalk sketch on a blackboard.

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