This final assignment is centred on illustrating a story for a magazine. This includes the cover, and several pages inside.
Even though no text is required, captions are to be included to explain and link each picture.
The assignment also brings together everything learnt so far on the course, and should therefore incorporate concepts covered such as the frame, elements of design, colour, and light.
The definition of narrative according to the Oxford dictionary is ‘a spoken or written account of connected events; a story’.
This in itself gave rise to questions relating to how a reader would expect a story to evolve. Should it have a beginning, middle, and end or simply narrate single events linked with a common theme, in a continuing stream?
Trying to visualise how a narrative would unfold in pictures without a concrete conclusion proved to be quite a task.
Seeing the story told through other people’s eyes was also critical, which led to further considerations of what style magazine the story would appear in?
Again visualising the intended audience or target market made the theme slightly easier to develop.
INSPIRATION & PLANNING
Whilst completing my previous assignment, I had become intrigued with images conceived before the digital age. In particular, the way in which they were physically viewed. Projected imagery, slide format, and the crude but poignant way in which they still managed to convey a message, proved to be a fascination, which I wanted to explore in more detail.
During research of photographers whose work demonstrated this type of imagery, I came across John French, who projected patterns onto models in the early 60s, which for this era was quite rare and innovative.
The sharply defined patterns conveyed a sense that the models were wearing the item rather than simply being wrapped in a light source. He managed to both merge the model with the projection whilst still separating them from the background, something I wanted to strive for in my own images.
More recent work by photographer/graphic design artist Eva Mueller, portrays very strikingly simplistic images, in which the placement of the projected image very powerfully reinforces her intended message. The models themselves almost become secondary to the projected area. Although the work from these two sources was beneficial, particularly in the way in which they used lighting techniques to manipulate the desired outcome, their work was very commercial.
Although this is an area I’m interested in, it wasn’t the style I initially wanted for the magazine.
As I researched further, it became clear that if the story was appearing in a magazine, which by default is a commercial entity, then I could produce at least some of images in line with this genre.
It was only whilst looking in a post office window at the ‘for sale’ ads, and the mix of written and typed cards on display, that an idea began to germinate.
This led to ideas based around the nostalgic look back at an age when typewriters were the norm, with comparison to the digital age.
Having taken a few shots related to the typewriter alone, it became clear that the theme was too big a subject to narrate, and I needed to re-think my objective.
I concentrated on just the typewriter with only one or two comparison shots, but when finished, the set lacked a general feeling of narrative and cohesion.
The result was an array of images without any real sense of purpose or movement, and I was reminded of the following quote;
“If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others
to feel anything when they look at your pictures”
Don McCullin, Sleeping with Ghosts: A Life’s Work in Photography
I decided to put them onto the OCA Flickr group to obtain a viewpoint through fresh eyes.
One comment which did strike a chord, referred to people or the lack of them as being a possible addition.
Although I could see that this was a possibility but felt that the inclusion of people was out of context with the images already taken, so tried to work through how I could refer to, rather than physically represent them.
It was then that I began to visualise the type of people linked to the era I was portraying, combined with the written forms of communication, and thought back to the ‘for sale’ adverts in the shop window.
The following advert was located when researching the idea generally, and gave rise to the idea of using the images to portray the personalities of those behind the images.
The idea of adding a lonely-hearts style advert was then developed. When researching magazine styles for those aimed at a more elderly age group, the people portrayed were always shown in couples, particularly happy, shiny, healthy, and good looking couples, so I wanted to use a slightly different angle.
Captions placed alongside the images are part fact and part fiction.
The gentleman pictured in the following advert, who was also an inspiring element, was contacted, and he kindly set me a copy (by post as he doesn’t own a computer).
The camera used throughout the assignment is a Canon 5D with a 24-105mm, and 50mm f/2.5 macro lens. Post processing was carried out with Photoshop CS6, and the magazine layout was trialled with Adobe’s InDesign.
This image was taken leaving lots of white space, with a view to using this as text area for the cover shot. As the majority of the remaining images were close-up shots, I wanted to include the typewriter in its entirety so that the others could be easily identified as relating to this image.
1/30th f/9 ISO 400 Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro
The image below came about initially when I saw very bright sunlight creating strong shadows, and felt that this could be utilised to create a projector style effect.
It also felt an ideal way of beginning the narrative, with the idea of gradually adding colour and more clarity as the story continued.
IMAGE No. 1
1/6400 f/7.1 ISO 800 Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro
Using paper in the typewriter itself was too dense, so a piece of acetate was used in its place, which produced a softer effect.
The red strip from the typewriter case was used as an anchor to the image, and emphasised the diagonal element. It also provided contrast, whilst linking it to additional images from a colour viewpoint.
It also links to the personality aspect, indicating that although this ‘mature’ lady is shy, she has a lot to offer once you get to know her. The shadow also represents how invisible older people can feel to younger generations.
IMAGE No. 2
1/80th f/11 ISO 250 Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro
After the former muted, and relatively colourless image. This one introduces if not more colour, more contrast to the narrative.
This picture has a projected image of typebars aimed at the paper. This was achieved by photographing them, printing the image onto acetate, and inserting this into a piece of cardboard, the same size and thickness as a conventional slide.
The intention was to show the minimal amount of the typewriter itself to in order to place the projected image in context, and at the forefront of the overall theme.
Two typewriters have been used throughout the assignment, one grey and one blue. The grey tones and overall colourless hues suited the personality in this instance.
The fairly rigid lines and centrally placed image helped to reinforce the characteristics of the person behind the image.
The general tones and dark contrasting areas point to a pessimistic character, set in his ways, someone who’s probably grown bitter and narrow minded.
The indistinct clarity of the printbars also helps to convey the feeling of someone in their latter years, again with the gradual loss or fading of colour.
Camera settings were selected accordingly to throw the background into darkness, which highlighted the projected image.
The projector was an old cine style model which was placed near to the typewriter effecting a narrower beam of focus.
IMAGE No. 3
1/80th f/2.8 ISO 400 Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro
For the next image I wanted to break with the typewriter theme but still link the two by adding some kind of failed technology, and also introduce colour.
The broken phone screen was part of a window display in a mobile phone repair shop. It was acquired with no real plan for its intent, just the knowledge that it would be useful eventually.
I decided on the computer error message for its simplicity and colour. As blue can be a quiet, and cool colour, it also balances the opacity of the red in the initial cover image.
Although the error message partly met the brief, it lacked impact, and simply felt like a commercial snapshot. The broken phone screen came to mind, and by sticking it to the actual computer monitor, and zooming the image in and out, I was able to frame and highlight the required section.
The result is akin to a projected image, and directs the reader’s gaze to the necessary text, and the mobile’s edge contrasts to break the large area of blue.
The iconic symbol of the upside-down smile is instantly recognised as being a negative element in the image, and the white text instantly draws the eye, enabling the image’s message to be quickly conveyed. The words ‘problem’ and ‘error’ are also closely aligned to reinforce the message.
The character behind the image is linked by the breakdown of his marriage, and is beyond repair. The advert conveys a sense of finality, pointing to someone who’s had his fingers burnt.
IMAGE No. 4
1/80th f/2.8 ISO 400 Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro
The intention for this image was to once again introduce more colour, and also change the tone and rhythm of the narrative. The image reveals a poignant message behind it, and is devoid of any projected imagery.
M Freeman (2012), details how the overall pacing of a sequence of images revolves around colour, content and scale.
Deciding where to place an image which had a more melancholy element, was difficult. I could only draw on experience of reading various fictional texts, and try to imagine where I’d expect it to appear. Rarely is a poignant message revealed at the beginning of a narrative, and although the stereotypical ‘sad ending’ is common, it didn’t seem pertinent to a magazine aimed at an elderly population. My intention was not to depress half the readership, so the middle ground was decided upon.
This was a difficult shot to compose, where even deciding how many typebars to include, became a consideration at close range. Linking to the character behind the image, the idea was to convey a line of soldiers standing to attention, or in this case, slightly leaning.
The Union Jack placed directly behind partly dictated the placement, as the white section acted as a backdrop, thereby highlighting one or two bars in particular, with the others fading slightly into the deeper blue area.
Lighting was provided by naturally bright sunlight through a window, with the camera angled at such a level as to give the front keys deeper contrast, and highlight texture.
Use of a tripod was impossible due to the angle, so with a 1/13th shutter speed, I simply had to rest the camera on the typewriter and temporarily cease breathing.
The character’s personality is hopefully conveyed as someone who, although suffering from a recent loss, is still looking to the future. They have a sense of pride and determination.
They may be entering a different phase in their life, with the angle of the typebars intended to convey this period.
The colours in the image are the main linking element to others within the set. Blue from the previous, and red introducing the next.
As the central core of the narrative, I wanted to include parts of the typewriter for this section, to reinforce the main theme, combined with strong colour to add emphasis.
The aspect ratio has also been maintained for this section to reinforce the continuity.
IMAGE No. 5
1/640th f/4 ISO 500 Canon 50mm f/2.5
Having placed the typewriter into its case for the cover shot, I wanted to include this in the next image, which would also help to make it more cohesive, by referring back to the cover. The stronger colour red also made more of a statement at this stage, being fairly centrally placed and at the peak of the narrative.
The background has been left purposefully stark in order to contrast sharply with its neighbours, and has been achieved with lighting from a softbox to alleviate any unwanted shadows.
The image was initially taken with the projected image showing smaller keys, but I did a re-take to give them a larger presence, more in line with a’ large print’ book feel.
Showing only a section of the lid also linked to the character behind the image. It shows someone who feels slightly embarrassed at placing at advert, but at the same time larger than life, and with a sense of humour.
Again the slightly unfocused look implied by the projected image, refers to the age of the character, something that I’ve tried to include in the majority of images.
IMAGE No. 6
1/5th f/8 ISO 800 Canon 50mm f/2.5
As a contrast to the previous image, I wanted sharper focus in this one, and a feel of precision, with the re-introduction of additional colours, but keeping with the diagonal composition featured in several of the set. Red ink had transferred from the ageing ribbon and provided a fine line of contrast against the blue and yellow.
The softbox has again been used, and angled to direct the focus towards the highlighted typebars. The light reflected on the blue body of the typewriter also helped to add contrast to the image.
This is the last image showing two strong colours, and acts as an underline to show the cessation of this part of the narrative, before the final section.
The colours suit the advert’s writer, and the perfectly ordered typebars match her precise list of requirements. Her outgoing personality is matched by the yellow toned background.
Compositional lines are clean and simple to tie in with her exacting character.
IMAGE No. 7
1/30th f/8 ISO 500 Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro
Having moved from the slightly cynical characters at the beginning of the narrative, and then through onto reticent, poignant, and humorous, I wanted to convey a more confident personality with the next image. Someone who possessed a bit of passion, but without being overt.
The intent was to show the case partially open, conveying a hint of promise within, which I wanted to achieve solely with the projector.
As the case lining was red, the colour worked well as a focal point, but the mechanics of projecting something onto a fairly narrow opening was difficult.
Deciding that text would be the best option, the next consideration was to choose something which linked to the central theme.
Font styles were experimented with, and a makeshift slide was produced showing a number of what I hoped were fairly easily recognisable fonts. It took a few attempts to achieve the right angle, and also to get the lighting just right.
Although the projector created the right effect, a number of attempts had to be made to alleviate any glare on the glossy surface. The final result conveys the feeling of the interior being lit, rather than projected on.
The character’s personality comes across as someone who’s warm, and vibrant. Although in their latter years, there’s still a spark and a zest for life.
After the vibrant hues of the previous images, I’ve intentionally kept to just two colours in this image, as the narrative comes to an end, but included red for its vibrant connotations.
After several landscape aspects, I’ve switched to portrait style to keep the movement and rhythm varied.
IMAGE No. 8
1/80th f/4 ISO 400 Canon 24 – 105mm @ 96mm
For the final image, I wanted to move away from the typewriter and back to more modern technology, but somehow still linking the two. Having shown a broken mobile in the third image, the idea formed of using a working one but with an image of typewritten text.
Initially I tried to show a projected message, but this looked too contrived, and at a small scale, was lost.
I tried using the mobile itself to take a range of photos linked to the typewriter, and finally decided on the image above. It also mirrors the fairly clean compositional lines of the previous image. Red and black also worked well, providing a strong contrast. I’ve also tried to make use of the white space to better highlight the central text.
Having started the narrative with a fairly reticent character, with just a shadow portraying the image, I felt the latter ones should have a confident, and more positive outlook, people who although used more modern day technology, were probably happier without it.
Whereby some of the previous characters had been a little mercenary, or bitter, this one was full of zest, and obviously wanted to meet a long-term partner.
COVER SHOT – This shot was taken inside with natural lighting, and the white balance was set to auto. Contrast was adjusted, and brightness increased to sharply separate the background from the subject. Shadows and highlights were then also adjusted to bring out detail in the keys.
As the initial shot, the intent was to build up gradually in both terms of colour and impact. It needed to be almost tentative in its composition, but still show the theme strongly.
Harsh sunlight was a boon in this instance and assisted in achieving the definitive lines required.
The most difficult aspect was in manoeuvring the typewriter at the right angle necessary to achieve the final placement.
More forward planning may have helped with this, but breaking the train of thought to find a more useful prop often seems to negatively affect the final outcome.
PP consisted of converting the image to black and white to de-emphasise the text written on the edge of the transparency, as this was not where the intended focal point was to be.
Brightness and contrast were then adjusted, before a slight crop.
The red edge linked back to the cover shot, and gave some grounding and balance overall.
IMAGE No. 2
Levels were adjusted in this image to accentuate the projected section, whilst simultaneously separating it slightly more from the typewriter.
Auto white balance was selected as this seemed to highlight the tones nearest to the true colour match.
A perspective crop was carried out to straighten up one edge, along with a levels adjustment, and a small change was then made to brightness and contrast to highlight the difference between text and mobile.
IMAGE NO. 4
Vibrancy and contrast levels were adjusted in this shot, to increase contrast between the typebars and the background.
IMAGE NO. 5
Contrast and sharpening adjustments were made in this instance to give more of a sharp focus to the projected image.
IMAGE No. 6
Apart from vibrancy levels, this image is as taken.
IMAGE No. 7
Initially a white background was shot, but this seemed at odds with the other colours. In pp the background was selected, and a different more contrasting colour was used to balance the composition, and place the emphasis onto the case’s interior.
Shadows and highlights were then adjusted for the same reasons.
IMAGE No. 8
The final image had a perspective crop made to straighten lines, and an increase to brightness and contrast, in keeping with the other images within the set.
SLIDES USED FOR PROJECTION
Each time I approach an assignment, the intention is always to keep each image, at least for a period, which acts as a useful progression sheet from the first to the last. As the whittling down process begins, I inadvertently delete certain ones.
The image below shows the majority of those taken, including a few ideas that were trialled and then dismissed as the assignment progressed.
Although I wanted to portray the images to the best of my ability in a magazine layout, I quickly realised that hoping to become an expert with Adobe’s InDesign within a week, was probably not practical. The month’s trial was downloaded anyway, as I felt this would be an ideal opportunity to obtain an overview of its potential.
Several magazines aimed at the more senior section of the population were researched to get a better understanding of layout, together with more mainstream publications such as the Sunday supplements.
The key resource in the UK seemed to be Saga Magazine, with several more in the US such as Senior Living, to name but a few.
I was keen to show the images in context with the style of magazine that the intended audience would relate to.
At this stage I also realised that trying to show both the image and attached caption as one, was possibly a drawback. Re-scaling the size of images was not a problem, but the resulting change in text did affect the overall look.
Suddenly having different sized text boxes altered the look of a narrative which up to this point had appeared as fairly cohesive. Text in itself draws the eye immediately, but when separate bodies of text appear in different sizes, the eye seems to be drawn towards the largest first.
This created a problem in that the images would then be viewed out of context for anyone scanning the pages, or even reading at a leisurely pace.
Certain images seemed to require the caption at different sides to the one initially selected.
As the narrative was intended to be a continually played out style, rather than a linear one, several re-works were initiated.
Physically laying out the images and the separate bodies of text proved more successful than re-arranging online. It was much easier to move them within the same time frame as the brain was mentally re-arranging, and re-assessing.
If the text was too far removed from its image, there followed a delay for the reader in trying to piece the information together, thereby missing the point.
Having decided upon the layout, I then set about fine-tuning the set on-line with Adobe’s InDesign, the final results shown below.
Having taken the image initially with a plain white background, it appeared incongruous once placed with text. I therefore changed to a colour more suited to the subject, and less stark.
Various texts were trialled until a simple contemporary look was achieved, which did not swamp or detract from the image itself.
The first page depicting the shadow of the typewriter, was initially given a border to highlight it against the background, but this appeared at odds with the subtle lines of the image. It also looked lost set amid columns of colourless text. Thinking of its placement against the next image also threw up further considerations of how this then altered the perception of the remaining set.
I felt the narrative was turning into the photographic version of chess. Instead of considering images one by one, it was necessary to view them as a whole, with each one’s placement impacting on the rest.
It became easier to view them as purely graphic shapes, with their own colour palettes. Referring back to the message behind each image, and noting where the peaks and troughs were throughout the narrative, made the process easier to plot and change.
Altering the first line of text to red, and filling text boxes with a pale colour, seemed to address the balance, at least in part.
These next two images were far easier to place in terms of colour balance, and aspect ratio, and naturally seemed to intertwine.
I had initially taken this image with a view of using the curved shape to offset accompanying text. At a smaller scale, the projected area was not as defined as intended.
Using it on a double page spread had more impact, particularly with the colour, although I was concerned at how covering the white space would alter the overall look of the image.
There is a large amount of text to contend with but the large header space, and change in text size further into the page, helps to ease this, and balance the overall rhythm of the page.
Again the large amount of red in the image does not appear to overwhelm the page due to its deeper and less vibrant hue.
The largest image was intended to appear on the right page but its shape and colour worked better visually on the left.
The most difficult part of these two pages was on getting text size evenly balanced and in sync with the images, so that text balanced rather than be the prominent aspect.
During my introduction, I considered whether if was feasible to illustrate a story which didn’t necessarily follow the ‘beginning, middle and end’ style of narrative.
By making careful use and placement of colour, I feel that the aim has been achieved.
This has been coupled with neighbouring text, which although not captions in the literal sense, link the images in a coherent manner, and enable the reader to see the similarly running threads of the story.
Each image has been framed in such a way as to highlight key elements within to support the narrative. This has been achieved either by cropping, changing the aspect ratio, separating subject from background, or projecting an image in such a way as make it the focal point.
Graphic elements have also been used to strongly emphasise and guide the reader, including the careful use of line direction, shape, focal points, and symbols.
The further positioning of these elements within the frame, and similarly in the final layout, assist in strengthening the general narrative.
Additional lighting considerations also had a strong impact, such as depicted in the second image using sunlight to produce shadow, projected imagery, and pc monitor lighting. Each assisted in conveying a message throughout the narrative, and contrasted against each other as the narrative unfurled.
By keeping a consistent layout, particularly with each of the image’s captions, the reader is able to see that the story surrounds single events linked with a common theme, as outlined earlier.
The tone conveyed by each caption was also designed to set the pace of the narrative. The image depicting the typebars set against the flag acting as a gear-change part way through.
This aids the notion that a standard narrative style does not necessarily have to be followed, and that images and text intertwine to allow enough visual clues to allow a story to be told, and the reader is hopefully left without feeling as though they’ve been robbed of a more concrete ending.
Accompanying caption text was cut back in several images, allowing the bare minimum to convey the pertinent points. A more bullet-point style was aimed for which seemed to achieve the desired outcome effectively.
This also kept a consistency of tone throughout, linking to the era prior to a purely digital age.
Trying to pitch the illustrations for a commercial publication, aimed at readers from an elderly demographic, was at times difficult to marry.
Continually adjusting layout and text styles, with an eye on the overall set, and intended aim, eventually led to what I hope is something both thought provoking and engaging.
One of the concerns with this assignment was in taking the images first, with only a fragile list of intended outcomes, and then compiling the captions afterwards. It was more of a reverse narrative.
The type of images taken were an additional consideration, as the intended audience may have found them too obscure. This is not meant as a slight on the intellect of older generations. It was more a question as to what people expect to see in the average lifestyle magazine.
This is why I created the accompanying captions in a fairly blatant style, to remove any doubt from the reader’s mind as to what the images conveyed.
Shortening the message in each also made them visually easier to scan, particularly for the pages showing two or more images.
From a creative viewpoint, the images were really enjoyable to produce, although whilst being absorbed in the creative aspect, it was all too easy to concentrate on getting the technical side right.
Some of the very slow shutter speeds really warranted a tripod, but the angles made some very difficult. This ended up in getting a tack sharp image, but not necessarily at quite the angle required, hence the tripod was dispensed with.
Getting to grips with Adobe’s InDesign software for the first time was a steeper learning curve than warranted, but it was very useful. Although I have by no means produced a slick publication, I am happy at the outcome as the knowledge gained will be useful in future projects.
Technically I feel I’ve reached an impasse. Although I’m comfortable in using my camera fairly intuitively, I’ve become a little complacent. It’s become habit to always stick to shutter or aperture priority without making myself work in manual mode.
With the ability to stick a plaster over problems in post processing, the habit lingers on, but I am aware of it.
Working with several images as a cohesive set took me out of my comfort zone. It was akin to looking after nine children, instead of one. You know where you are with one, but it did make me consider technical and creative outcomes far more ruthlessly than previous assignments.
Speaking to John, the gentleman who was looking for his ‘special lady’, gave me the impetus to develop the lonely hearts style captions, which made it more personal.
It was easier to imagine the characters behind the image.
“John has still not found his special someone,
but is looking forward to his fourth date…..”
Freeman, M (2012) The photographer’s story. East Sussex: Ilex Press Ltd
Alexander, A – Documentary & Narrative. http://www.source.ie/learning/approaches/documentary.html 5th May 2014
Evans, H (1977) Pictures on a page. Frome and London: Pimlico
Mueller, E http://www.evamueller.com/#/projections/3FA7324F52C24ABEA2FF835AB75B532 1st May 2014
Short, M (2011) Context and narrative. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA