EYV 4 Languages of light
Exercise 4.3 on the beauty of artificial light was the one I enjoyed most in EYV 4 and decided to return to for this assignment. The photographer whose work had most inspired me while researching the exercise was Rut Blees Luxemburg, and I was particularly struck by the images of night-time London from her 1997 series Liebeslied: My Suicides. These urban views with their sodium streetlamp tints depict the landscapes I inhabited for nearly 35 years until just a year ago, and they spoke to me deeply. I kept them in mind both during my shoots and while editing, lightening many of the darker shadows to reveal detail instead of darkening them even further as I might have done had I decided to adopt a more Bill Brandt-like style of higher-contrast light and shade.
I reviewed the 168 photos I had originally taken for the exercise, and after drawing up a shortlist I noticed that they fell broadly into two categories – ones in which the image was a scene that I’d been prompted to photograph because of the way it was lit, and those in which light itself was the subject of the image. These categories are not completely separate as there’s a certain amount of both aspects in all the photos, but I found it a useful way to analyse them.
Shots in which light itself is the subject of the image
I preferred the first category, many of which were shot through windows and so had the appearance of being framed, making them seem like tableaux or scenes from a play. But I had to face the fact that they were essentially another set of street photos and therefore too similar to my previous two assignments to use for this one. So I turned to the second category – images in which light itself was the subject. This categorisation was, however, clearly not enough on its own to work as a theme for the purposes of the assignment, so I looked for a more significant theme amongst them, but even returning to the original images with a different eye I soon realised that although I could see several potential themes – eg street furniture, signs, bus stops – I didn’t have enough of any one of these to make a series.
I therefore decided to do another shoot, and to make my subject night-time views of the building works currently underway at my local hospital, the Royal Sussex County. The site contains many different colours and qualities of light and featured in one of the shortlisted images from my original shoot. I used the same 50mm prime lens as in my original shoot and the same ISO 800 setting and f/1.8 aperture, adjusting the shutter speed for each shot as required. I took 84 photos and shortlisted 14, which I edited in Lightroom before making my final selection. I then went through the shortlist several times, removing and restoring images in different combinations until I finally found a set that seemed to work better together than any other.
Contact sheets for both shoots are available here.
Reflection before tutor feedback
I am becoming aware that I’m strongly drawn to making street-style images of people, at least at the present time. When I went out to shoot for exercise 4.3 I didn’t intend to make street-style images, but I found that it was really easy to get close to people at night without them noticing (or caring) so much, and there were so many scenes just asking to be snapped that I couldn’t resist it. Street photography isn’t something I’ve ever really done before starting EYV – in fact, as I mentioned in my notes to assignment 2, I attended a street photography workshop locally here in Brighton last autumn and found it very difficult to bring myself to photograph strangers close up, so most of my photos from that workshop had nobody in them at all. Perhaps I’m just going through a phase now I’ve plucked up the courage to do it. Having said that, I have always enjoyed watching people and their body language.
In the end, though, I also enjoyed the hospital shoot and like the images so am glad I resisted the temptation to submit yet another set of street photography for this assignment.
Reflection after tutor feedback
My tutor’s feedback showed me that I had made an error of judgement in rejecting my original images for this assignment. Specifically, by identifying them as street photography (and therefore too similar to my previous two assignments) I had mistaken the genre (street photography) for the subject matter (light). I’m actually really pleased about this because I greatly prefer these to the ones I took of the hospital building site after deciding I couldn’t use them. I have therefore reversed that decision and redone my edit and am much happer with this new series.
References and resources
Blees Luxemburg, R. (2001) Liebeslied: My Suicides. UK: Black Dog Publishing Ltd
British Journal of Photography (2018) ‘London: A visual love song’. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2018/02/rut-blees-luxemburg-modern-project-liebeslied [accessed 06/03/18]
Moss, R. (2017) ‘”Photography is a powerful tool”: artist Rut Blees Luxemburg on her works acquired by the Museum of London’. Available at: http://museumcrush.org/1411-2 [accessed 06/03/018]
Victoria and Albert Museum (2004) ‘Bill Brandt Biography’. Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography [accessed 06/03/18]