“ANY PHOTOGRAPHER CAN ‘LOOK’, ONLY A FEW ACTUALLY ‘SEE'”
A Post by Lydia Evans: Photography Tutor at Morley College
Following successful completion of one of our beginners’ digital SLR courses at Morley College; gaining knowledge of basic camera-handling and image-taking skills, the next natural step is to start discovering new ways to ‘look’ for great images in the environment around us, developing a more creative and selective eye. In my teaching I try to encourage this approach by setting specific tasks that develop the eye to ‘see’ more deeply. I suggested the students should not try and photograph the whole world in the street in one day, because you will miss everything… but instead set yourself small, more focused briefs to follow, based around a theme.
An example of a theme that encourages a new way of seeing is observing the urban environment through ‘LAYERS’, think steamed- up Café windows, or thin materials like curtains. A great exponent of the art of layering in a photograph is Saul Leiter, whose work captured the ‘mood’ of living in the city, in different seasons and times of day, in a more abstract, painterly manner (see images below).
Think about photographing through various semi-transparent surfaces, between you and the subject – you don’t have to look hard for opportunities to present themselves, even a rainy bus window will provide an interesting set of textures and marks, such as the photo series by Tom Wood and Nick Turpin (below)
Here are examples of my students ‘Layers’ photographs
Natalia Cifuentes Friedman was a student on the Street Photography course. Her black and white images are in response to the open-themed brief ‘Journeys’ and her interpretation was to photograph London from a moving bus after it had rained. With use of shallow depth of field and the lens close up to the window the raindrops became like sequins, creating a sparkly diffused layer between us and the cityscape. The time of day and weather is very important in transforming the scene captured on camera.
What I like about my student Eleonora Boscarelli’s image (left) is the contrast of the urban, cool young woman walking down Lower Marsh reflected in the glass along side the Cuban showgirl figurine within the window. The timing and layering of reflected light elevates this image, becoming more memorable than simply a documented recording of a place. Both these students’ work moved on greatly throughout the course, and they became equipped with methods to build up a body of work around a theme, fostering long-term personal work.
This image below left, (Photographer unknown) is a great example of how ‘layering’ in an image can alter how you feel as the viewer; looking out into that scene before you – its almost voyeuristic. As with the image by Dmitri Baltermants (below right) looking through to the outside from within a shop display window
Photographing through crinkly market stall covers could be interesting. Experiment shifting where you focus. Jose Gimenez (who achieve a Distinction on my C&G level 1 course, 2016) worked on his final project over a period of weeks where he could reflect on the photographs he took with time to return and photograph more, influenced by the conclusions he made on the first set.This is a practice I encourage students to start doing.
His idea was to capture the reverse side of a market looking ‘behind the scenes’. In a 1 to 1 tutorial I noticed the quality of light coming through the semi opaque stall in one of his early images and pointed out how it could evoked a very different feeling to focus on its plastic surface which pushed the shadows and silhouettes of people out of focus so they became blurred soft painterly edges. I encouraged him to revisit this and shoot more images in the same location, perhaps closer to the end of the day when the stall lights came on and mixed with ambient light. The photograph that resulted from this became a much more evocative and tactile image which makes a greater connection with the viewer – far more than a sharp and ‘clean’ image of people shopping at the stalls.
It is always a great reward for me to see how students blossom through practising the idea I try to nurture in them: to take the simplest of ideas to explore and revisit, to move their work on, to develop their own subjective way to capture the world around them, and begin the process of perhaps a much longer-term project.
If you are interested to take that small step to see big improvements in how you can document the every-day environment in a creative ‘seeing’ way, then it would be great to have you on either of my courses coming soon! Follow the links below for more information
Lydia Evans has taught a rich variety of photography courses at Morley since 2011 whilst continuing in her professional practice as a commissioned Editorial lifestyle and Portrait photographer.