Infrared Photography

mickyates B&W, Cambodia, Falmouth, Infrared, MA, Masters, Olympus, Photography, Travel Leave a Comment

I want to develop my ‘negative traces’ work for the Cambodia project, using different photographic techniques. For the the latest module in the MA, my Work in Progress used digital images converted to black and white negatives. These were quite well received in the grading process. I have previously noted the possibilities of using infrared, and why. In short, it could provide images which challenge traditional perceptions, and engage the audience in different ways in decoding my work.

Amongst other work that I have researched, Judy Glickman Lauder’s mix of traditional black and white, negatives and infrared is inspirational.

Judy Glickman Lauder. Railway to Treblinka.

So, I have just requested a conversion of my Olympus OM-D system to infrared.

This graphic illustrates light spectrums, humorously and accurately.

From xkcd.com

The visible light spectrum is a fairly narrow band, with infrared at frequencies below visible light (higher wavelengths), and ultra violet at higher frequencies (lower wavelengths). Near infrared was discovered by William Herschel, in 1800.

Digital camera sensors can access some infrared frequencies, but have filters to deliver just the ‘real’ visible colours. It is possible to get lens filters to counterbalance this, but then exposure times are massively increased. I did some experiments with this approach last year.

A full conversion allows the sensor to access a much broader frequency range. There are several ways to do this. ‘Full Spectrum’ effectively allows the camera to access both the visible and infrared frequencies, creating false colour images. It is possible to convert to sensor to specific frequencies – 590nm, 680nm, 720nm, 850nm being the most common. Infrared Camera Conversions illustrates the pros and cons. I have opted for 720nm conversion, which can deliver ‘false colour’ images, but which can easily be post-processed to black and white, giving images quite similar to black and white film. This seems the most appropriate digital solution to meet the project needs.

Robert Williams Wood. Published 1910. IR Landscape

Clive Haynes notes that:

‘The first photographs made by infrared radiation were made in the late 19th century with the first documented published infrared photograph in 1910 by Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955).  Wood was an American physicist and professor of optical physics. He had been fascinated by what he called “invisible rays” and was credited with the discovery of electromagnetic radiation beyond the visible spectrum. He developed photographic emulsions to capture this radiation and produced the first photographs of both infrared and ultraviolet radiation. The photographs exhibit the characteristic whitening of healthy foliage which became known as the “Wood Effect” and it remains one of the distinctive features of many infrared pictures.’

One of the most striking effects in infrared photography is what happens to foliage. The Chlorophyll in living cells does not absorb or reflect infrared light, so light bounces inside the cells, and can pass straight through. Essentially, this renders living greens as photographically transparent – hence rendering them white in black and white images.

Walter Clark. Published 1934. IR Face.

Walter Clark (1899–1991) published an article in 1934 in the Journal of the Biological Photographic Association, on ‘Infrared Photography’. This included an infrared photograph of a woman’s face, which is the first published picture of a person using that technique.

I am hoping to get the camera conversion back before my next Cambodia trip, mid February. Fingers crossed.

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Clive Haynes. Undated. Infra Red Photography. http://www.crhfoto.co.uk/crh/digital%20infra-red/digital-ir.htm. (Accessed 17/01/2019)

Anonymous. Undated. Light Spectrum. Undated. Available at https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/electromagnetic_spectrum.png. (Accessed 17/01/2019).

Anonymous. Undated. Pros and Cons of Infra Red Conversion. Undated. Available at https://www.infraredcameraconversions.co.uk/conversions/4593501215. (Accessed 17/01/2019)

Robert Williams Wood on Wikipedia. Undated. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_W._Wood. (Accessed 17/01/2019).

Glickman Lauder, Judy. 2018. Beyond the Shadows: The Holocaust and the Danish Exception. New York: Aperture.

What is Street Photography?

mickyates Documentary, Photography, Street, Street photography Leave a Comment

I have an ongoing project to digitise my film archives, which has been a bit interrupted by the MA. So a 2019 resolution is to make more progress on the task.

On New Year’s Day, I posted the image in the header, ‘Drivers‘.

It was taken in October, 1972, at Warkworth, Northumberland, using a Praktica Nova 1B (the first real SLR I owned) and Agfa CT-18, to which I was addicted at the time. It was unposed and I only took one image. CT-18 was a slow 50 ASA film that had a slightly blue cast and required processing by the manufacturer. ‘Drivers’ is un-cropped, and only post-processed to restore the slide material, eliminating marks and restoring colour balance.

In less than twenty four hours on Facebook, ‘Drivers’ became my most liked image of all time on the platform, basically driven by two ’35 mm Film’ groups on the platform whose members seemed to really like the image. Over 650 likes and growing as I write. It is good to see that ‘likes’ are not all about camera technology and technique. This is clearly subject driven.

Yet the image also got deleted from the ‘Street Photography – Vivian Maier Inspired‘ Facebook Group, which has over 70,000 members. This was presumably because the image did not meet the norms of the admin’s views of street photography – though no one had the courtesy to advise me, a separate issue.

This prompts me to ask that chestnut of a question, ‘What is Street Photography’?

I am not here going to deal with the ethics side of things – I have written elsewhere about that. Just because you can take an image, it doesn’t mean that you should without at least thinking about what you are doing. Neither will I deal with ‘good’ composition – that applies to all photography. Rather, I am interested in the ‘norms’ of the street genre.

Perhaps the classic street photograph is this one, illustrating Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Decisive Moment‘ philosophy.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 1932. Behind Gare St Lazare.

Since before the time of Eugène Atget, there have always been two fundamental schools of street photography – the one-off, perfectly timed composition, and the creation of a series to tell a social story (a la Robert Frank).

In execution, there are then followers and lurkers. Followers wander the city, seeking the image. Alex Webb would be a great example. Lurkers find a spot, for example with great light for a dramatic composition, and wait for something to happen.

Perhaps Alan Schaller is a modern-day example of lurking … to ‘put’ people into exactly the right place in a scene. Schaller founded the SPi (Street Photography International) Collective, which has over 750,000 followers on Instagram.

Alan Schaller. 2018. Metropolis 9.

So can we ‘define’ Street Photography in a simple way? From the ‘Vivian Maier’ Facebook group:

All images must have human interest – however it can be indirectly through shadows, reflections etc. All images should tell a story and show a relationship between people and their surroundings in order to convey a message. General shots of ‘streets’ for example showing people from behind or in the distance are not recommended. It is not a requirement that photos depict or are taken in the street as long as they are taken in a public place whether it be indoors or outdoors’.

‘… reasons for deletion include … landscapes, landmarks, cityscapes, flowers etc. as well as obvious subjects like pornography, extreme religion, drug taking, anything provocatively racial …’.

When you move past the formulaic and rules based nature of this statement, probably the most relevant is to ‘ …  show a relationship between people and their surroundings …’.

But there are things missing. Matt Stuart, Magnum Associate, notes:

‘Moments happen, and before you’ve had time to marvel at them, they’re already gone. Anything you try to construct loses the comedy’.

So serendipity is part of great street photography. Back to Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Robert Frank travelled the towns of America amassing images to tell a story, the condition of American society as he found it. Yet even as he was creating his documentary series, each image was ‘found’ and in that sense, also serendipitous. As I am working on the Cambodia project, there is constant tension to get images which add two the story, yet also capture ones that are engaging and stand alone.

Nick Turpin, founder on the iNPUBLiC street collective, writes:

‘…  I am interested in candid public photographs, that is what street photography has traditionally been, that is what iNPUBLiC was founded on. … This is one of the reasons I created the #canpubphoto hashtag to identify candid public photographs online for those who consider it important that their work was understood to be unposed and un-manipulated’.

Joel Meyerowitz, often considered the father of colour street photography, was very much influenced by Carter-Bresson and Frank.

In his biography, he wrote:

‘We loved watching the play of light on Fifth Avenue and how it gave meaning to things. We watched the seasons change and with it women’s clothing getting lighter and sexier. We were living and breathing photography … We felt we were part of a movement that was making photography more interesting than it ever was before’.

There is an excitement and entertainment aspect to street photography. It goes back to the essential triangle of photographer-subject-audience.

Whilst street photographers tend to be solitary individuals, roaming their cities, there is something about the desire to reach and engage an audience with the resulting images. Of course, Vivian Maier is a notable exception to this, in that her work only was ‘found’ after her death.

Interestingly, ‘Vivian Maier: the Colour Work‘ by Colin Westerbeck shows that she did not only shoot candid people pictures as she walked the streets with her camera – graffiti, cityscape, details, plants were all part of her street work. Whatever she found interesting, one assumes.

Vivian Maier. 1978. Chicago from The Colour Work.

It is no surprise that street is such an all-pervasive genre on social media.

Let us now make a short Japanese detour. ‘Bystander‘, by Westerbeck and Meyerowitz, now in a second enlarged edition, is considered to be the definitive history of street photography. Good though it is, the second edition carries only 4 references to Japan –  fleetingly about Henri Cartier-Bresson’s visit therein the 1950s, and William Klein’s book, Tokyo. There is no mention of Japanese Street Photographers, despite the huge influence that artists such as Daido Moriyama have on the genre – both in Japan and worldwide.

A study of Moriyama’s work, especially the early Provoke work and then the Record series, shows a mix of all kinds of images in his street work, including gritty cityscapes and almost abstract images.

And arguably his most famous street image is … of a dog. It was photographed in Misawa, where there was US Air Force base, in the northeast of Japan.

Daido Moriyama. 1971. Stray Dog.

From the essay “Dealing with a stray dog” by Akira Hasegawa comes a first-hand account, by Daido Moriyama himself, of how this photo was taken as he stepped out of his hotel. The photograph first appeared as a single image within the series Nanika he no Tabi (En Route to Something) in the March 1971 issue of Asahi Camera.

To quote James Maher:

‘[Moriyama] showed both himself and Japan as a stray dog, roaming for scraps of identity in an uncertain and quickly changing world’.

The Westernised definition  of ‘street photography’ is thus most severely lacking, as is our understanding of the real history of the genre.

So, back to my own ‘Drivers‘ image, with dogs.

Is that street?

Well, at one level it is – it is candid, un-manipulated, serendipitous and fun. It also would not the possible without an understanding of the human relationship with cars, driving and dogs.

It is perhaps a descendant of Eliot Erwitt and his fascination with dogs.

Elliot Erwitt. 1972. Dog Legs.

Erwitt said:

‘It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy’.

Is this ‘street’? In the sense that it is in a public place and un-manipulated, yes. Its clearest connection with the genre is that it shows a relationship between the human, the scene and the dogs. There is a story. And, of course it is a fun image that engages the audience.

But is it candid? I cannot establish whether this was posed in any way. I have a suspicion, however, that there was some interaction between Erwitt and the dog owner to get this image right. Just the act of crouching down to take the shot would ensure that.

Back to ‘Drivers‘. Whilst it has so many qualities of street – and indeed is a street photograph, with an engaging story – there is no human being explicit in the scene, even partially.

Maybe the ‘Street Photography Vivian Maier Inspired’ Facebook Group was right to delete it on that ground – at least from a narrow-minded Euro/US centric viewpoint.

Ironically, the ‘Candid Street Portrait’ Facebook Group accepted the image.

The vagaries of social media 🙂

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Cartier-Bresson, Henri.1952. The Decisive Moment. 2014 Ed. Göttingen: Steidl.

Meyerowitz, Joel. 2018. Where I find Myself: A Lifetime Retrospective. London: Laurence King.

Moriyama, Daido. 2005. Memories of a Dog. Arizona: Nazraeli. Press.

Moriyama, Daido. 2017. Record. London: Thames & Hudson.

Moriyama, Daido. 2010. Dealing with a stray dog, in The World through My Eyes. Milano: Skira. (pg 17).

Westerbeck, Colin & Meyerowitz, Joel. 2017 (2nd). Bystander. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Westerbeck, Colin. 2018. Vivian Maier: The Colour Work. New York: Harper Collins.

 

Elliot Erwitt. Undated. Magnum Website. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/elliott-erwitt/. (Accessed 02/01/2019).

Ian Burama. 2018. Stray Dog of Tokyo, Daido Moriyama. Available at: https://www.riotmaterial.com/new-books-daido-moriyama/. (Accessed 02/01/2019).

James Maher. Undated. Daido Moriyama: A Stray Dog. Available at: https://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/street_photography/daido-moriyama-stray-dog/. (Accessed 02/01/2019).

Howard Greenberg Gallery. 2018. Vivian Maier: The Colour Work. Available at: http://artpil.com/news/vivian-maier-the-color-work/. (Accessed 02/01/2019).

Matt Stuart. 2016. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/may/16/matt-stuart-london-street-photography. (Accessed 02/01/2019).

Phillip Theophanidis. 2011. Daido Moriyama Photographs. Available at: https://aphelis.net/daido-moriyama-photographs/. (Accessed 02/01/2019)

Por Nagusi. 2018. Nick Turpin Interview. Available at: http://blackkamera.com/interview-nick-turpin-founder-public-collective/. (Accessed 02/01/2019).

Sleek Mag. 2017. How Daido Moriyama became the Godfather of Japanese Street Photography. Available at: https://www.sleek-mag.com/article/daido-moriyama/. (Accessed 02/01/2019).