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Home exams Key Concepts Genre Portfolio

Key concepts are terms that should be useful in analysing and thinking about art and photography.  The aesthetic concepts or principles have been inherited from the Art syllabus.  Other concepts you will encounter might be called technical concepts like exposure and depth of field .It might be worth writing a paragraph or two to say which concepts you find most useful when thinking about photographs.

You might also like to outline any other concepts or techniques that you have found useful - the rule of thirds for example or negative space or techniques that we have inherited from darkroom practices (like dodge and burn or cropping) and still use in Photoshop.

We will begin with aesthetic concepts or ideas



It is hardly surprising that photography should have inherited much of the critical language of 19th-century painting when it was first introduced to the world in the 1840s and 50s.

Photography, in terms of the use of the camera obscura, did much to help painters with perspective as far back as the 1600s, or so David Hockney tells us.

The celebrated sentence, “from today painting is dead”,allegedly made by the French painter Paul Delaroche on learning of Daguerre's process,  turned out to be very wrong indeed.

Many would say it liberated painting from a need to absolutely reproduce “reality.”

Photography, from its inception, took on most of the genres that already existed within Western European painting.

Ideas of what was deemed picturesque, the psychologies and styles of portrait painting and photography as a record of faces and events all took their cues from painting, drawing and etching.

Indeed photography took on these art genres possibly in the hope of been taken seriously as an Art form rather than a mechanical process.

Much of Victorian photography and turn-of-the-century American photography tried, in a very self-conscious manner. to ape particular painting genres.

While America and France took on board quite quickly the idea that photography might be an art form in itself it is only in very recent years that that status has been accorded the photography in this country.

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K E Y   C O N C E P T S

The work of Edward Steichen above clearly demonstrates the tendency among early photographers to make their photographs, in terms of tonal range , texture, composition and detail, imitate the styles of the then current visual Arts.

Steichen, even went so far in his self portrait above, to introduce brush marks and while all his life he practised photography he chose to photograph himself with an artist’s brush and pallette in his hand.

Later in life he was to completely abandon this painterly style in favour of greater photographic realism.

The notion that photography should be an artistic discipline in its own right has taken greater hold in the 20th century however, in my view, it is a process that can never be entirely divorced from its status as a craft, which is not to denigrate it in anyway, but it is a fact that must never be forgotten.

Further when our syllabus demands of us the ability to explore elements of visual language, line, form, colour, pattern and texture it is making demands that fundamentally affect ways of seeing as well as ways of making and is therefore essential if we as students are to make progress and gain insights in the pursuit of this Art/Craft.

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All of the above are lightboxes

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The top role of images above show the work of Alfred Stieglitz who worked in New York at the turn of the last century. The row beneath are all paintings from the same era with the exception of The Oyster Girl by William Hogarth on the extreme right. That he was clearly trying to achieve the “look” of painting in his photographic work is quite clear.

While photography then was unable, for the most part, to process colour, nonetheless it is quite clear that Steiglitz  was attempting a painterly style rather than an appropriately exposed crisply focused realistic photographic print.

My take on these photographers who worked at the turn-of-the-century, whom we now call the secessionists ,or sometimes Pictorialists, is that they were experimental in the best sense of the word.

If one agrees with Thomas Aquinas that “art is that which pleases” and should show “wholeness, harmony and radiance” rather than a view of art which demands the abandonment of the old and insists upon the new and the original then much of the work of the early pioneer photographers might at least be called artistic.

I will be returning to the vexed question of artistic criteria in photography as I move through this introduction.

These “artists” wanted to see where they could take photography and this experimentation continues to this day and I think one may say that Photoshop is part of that experimentation.


Because our photography examination has grown out of Art examinations which dealt with various uses of media and forms it is hardly surprising that the key concepts which we are invited to explore in photography are derived ultimately from the history of Art criticism  particularly, one might say, Art in education.

This is no bad thing as the criteria that apply to the study and evaluation of photography are often overly subjective and sometimes even political..


The key concepts are essentially about ways of seeing, ways of exploring and ways of understanding generic areas through the medium of photography and photography software.

We are invited to look at areas such as colour, texture, and form.

It is, in essentials, a program of research which uses photography as a tool to educate our eye and perhaps our intellect in the ways in which these concepts come together to make meanings or just simply create pleasure.


However,the problem with inheriting a range of key concepts from an Art in education heritage is that it is not always a good fit for photography.


The concepts of texture, colour, form, line, and shape do not always apply so obviously within the traditions of photography.


The images below, all of which expand when clicked into light boxes with captions, are an attempt to suggest how many of these concepts overlap

and how rarely any of the concepts can be

examined in isolation.


This is not an insurmountable problem either for the student or the examiner as the main point of this examination is to educate the eye and the intellect within a broad artistic tradition.

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Composition is probably the key term in photography “involving, as it does, the formal elements of art: line, shape, form, space, texture, light and colour.”


Of course it is also “concerned with design principles such as variety, rhythm  and repetition, emphasis, movement and balance.”

Proportion is another key term both in art and photography. “It often dictates format choice or subject placement and may conform to long-established rules like Golden number Divisions of The Rule of Thirds.”

These rules are now so commonplace that programs like Photo shop have built rule of thirds grids into their cropping tool and their selection tool allows for a huge variety of standard aspect ratios.

The ratio of the standard 35mm camera is 6 x 4 but many cameras now offer the ratio of 16 x 9 which is the aspect ratio of most computer screens and flatscreen televisions. Most television output is also in this ratio.

In landscape photography and indeed to a certain extent in all genres of photography the 16 x 9 aspect ratio is becoming “the norm”. Indeed I am so used to using this format/aspect ratio that I find I use the ratio of 6 x 4 only when making portraits.

Given the bit size of most photographic images composition within the camera, as advocated by so many photographic greats from the analogue era, is now less and less necessary as images can be composed and cropped from within a digital image of many millions of pixels.

The large 22 million pixel photograph of Bamburgh Castle and the sea can thus be cropped in a variety of ways although in this case not every crop is equally successful but it does indicate what is now possible given the larger and larger capacity of the modern digital camera.

35mm film and the Golden Rectangle

Overlay of the Rule of Thirds over the Golden Rectangle

we see how Cartier-Bresson used the proportions of the Golden Rectangle to form his composition.

All of the above diagrams taken from the excellent site PHOTOGENIC

http://fotogenetic.dearingfilm.com/in dex.html

Always acknowledge one’s source.


Internet research is an invaluable tool for the student but you must never attempt to pass off as yours the work of someone else. so always acknowledge one’s sources.


It is all too easy to copy and paste material and think you can pass your borrowings off as your very own


However if an examiner finds any material that he suspects is not yours and googles it you will be discovered for the plagiarist you are in an instant.


This advice also goes for books you may have used in your research.


Thus I acknowledge that a deal of the text on the right is the work of David Prakel and taken from his excellent book,


The Visual Dictionary of Photography



Having canvassed ideas around the key concepts and finding them entirely useful as an approach to visual and photographic education nonetheless I think it is worth pointing out that the aesthetics of photography have developed steadily away from fine Art criteria since its “invention” in the 19th century.

I append below what might be the current state of the photographic aesthetic in a list compiled from numerous websites suggesting in broad terms, the criteria for judging excellence in photography.If read carefully it is clear that many of the Boards key concepts are subsumed within the list. However the technical elements of photography are foregrounded to a much larger extent.


Photographic Judging Criteria

The following guidleines for photographic judging criteria was formulated in order to provide guidelines on what to look for when judging images and or trying to select images for competitions.

Technical criteria

   Exposure Focus/sharpness

    Depth of field

    Colour and/or tonal rendition

    Contrast

    Lighting

Visual and aesthetic criteria

    Framing and choice of viewpoint

    Background

    Design elements and principles

    Appropriate application of photographic and/or manipulative techniques

    Visual impact

Content

    Information

    Emotion

    Mood

    Feeling

    Denotative and connotative content, symbolism, metaphor

    Meaning, studium and punctum

 Communication through the language of photography and visual art

    The moment

    Relevance

    Subject impact

Viewer’s response

    Visual

    Aesthetic

    Intellectual

    Emotional

    Excitement

    Interest

General characteristics

    Originality

    Style

    Context

    Photographic vision

    Empathy

    Insight

    Validity


This list of criteria was used when CCJ judges were asked to select photographs taken by members of MENSA* a couple of years ago for an international photographic competition. After our selection the MENSA chairman asked us to come and explain what criteria we had used. We presented this list plus several pictures taken by CCJ members. If they were at first sceptical they soon accepted our judgement – they are fast learners. The photograph we selected as the best representing MENSA South Africa won the award for the best MENSA picture in the world. Looking back, it would seem that the challenge from MENSA was good for us and our judging.  (*MENSA is an organization exclusively for super-intelligent people.)

Taken from:

http://www.woodburnphoto.co.za/About/PhotographicJudgi ngCriteria/tabid/15818/Default.aspx

Connotations and Denotations

The relationship between images and meanings is extremely complicated, and belongs to the field of  visual semantics. For now, though, what you need to know is that pictures do not have single, simple meanings. Traditionally, semioticians have referred to the meanings of images in two parts:

denotation

   a literal meaning of the image

connotation

   an association (emotional or otherwise) which the image evokes

These terms can obviously  be used when talking about photographic images. Below are two pictures of my father taken quite recently. At a denotative level both have identical subject matter,my Dad. but the fact that one is in colour and the other is printed in sepia give them different connotations


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Open this lightbox and attempt to answer the questions inside.

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Roland Gérard Barthes (12 November 1915 – 25 March 1980)

(French pronunciation: Barts) was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician.

In a deeply personal discussion of the lasting emotional effect of certain photographs, Barthes considers photography as asymbolic, irreducible to the codes of language or culture, acting on the body as much as on the mind.

The book develops the twin concepts of studium and punctum:

studium denoting the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph,

punctum denoting the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

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