Working with Light and Time, lecture by Johnathan Shaw

What is Light?

There are several definitions of light such as:

  • the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible
  • a source of illumination
  • an area of something that is brighter or paler than its surroundings

In Photography it is crucial to have light, a camera lets in light and fixes it against a surfaces. Take the camera obscura it is simply a hole (lets in light) and places it against the back of the box.

It looks at making 3D subjects look 3D on a 2D image using light in a similar way you know when drawing a sphere is only a circle with shading.

In paintings such as the Bayeux Tapestry there was no sense of perspective and there was no particular lighting the most important people and actions were bigger. Now you have more of a case of perspective so in photography if someone or something in the background is more important you need to think of a way to tell your story, so with lighting?

Cave paintings: as the sun goes over the cave it illuminates the paintings and tells a story.

Our eyes can only see certain kinds of light. http://deserthighlandspr.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Visible-spectrum.jpg Different styles of photography now use the lights we can’t see.

Such as infra red http://www.thisiscolossal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/infra-1.jpg

Or xray photography – http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/4/2012/01/a1235c72c2c9d8e0ab01bc5975978b24.jpg (Nick Veasy)

Because we are not used to seeing these kinds of lighting they make the photos more interesting than if the photo was taken normally.

Gjon Mili used strobe photography: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_969UEfvspCc/TAp7dPJTAsI/AAAAAAAAALU/fwr3PczXPi4/s1600/tumblr_l34zv7bTCs1qzpntjo1_1280.jpg

This is a photo that was taken over a period of time and every-so-often a strobe was set of so you can see the movement of the woman.

You can see the crossover of photography and paintings because of the painting ‘Nude Descending’ by Marcel Duchamp http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-tUd6k7GLQxY/T6xvrQB66HI/AAAAAAAAByI/rgUBrpnWHm8/s1600/duchamp_nude_staircase.jpg

This is almost the spitting image of Mili’s work.

Lighting the Subject

Anthony McCall ‘Line Describing a Cone’ http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T12/T12031_10.jpg

This is made from a white light beam from a projector in a dark room projecting onto a wall. Going through the projector is an animated film which arches the line very gradually. Eventually it joins up and becomes a circle. Then the beam of light becomes a cone. A smoke machine makes the light become thicker.

‘Sky Spaces’ – James Turrell

An aperture in the ceiling projects the sky onto the floor, this creates these spaces to reflect. His project is the Roden Crater which he has done something similar to Sky Spaces but in a Crater.

Eadweard Muybridge http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/8/27/1282922221033/Eadweard-Muybridge-006.jpg created a series of images of a horse galloping, the images timed perfectly so when you look at the series of images your mind creates a moving image and you can picture how the horse galloped.

Frank Budgen – Time Slice (or Bullet Time)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT_T6FWyv80

Another camera technique where you take a series of images on different camera next to each other to create almost a 3-D still video.

Harold Edgerton used high speed photography

Chris Cunningham http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZfg0G1yTWk

uses a similar time slice effect

Similarly again Andy Earl created this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziRR5h3b4YU

Jonathan Shaw:

Created long prints around 13metres long. http://www.jonathan-shaw.com/files/page0_1.jpg Another was a 60metre print which went around a room http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_VseFXbXw8aM/S98YE54fm3I/AAAAAAAAAkI/OxpCsSYJFVk/s1600/Picture+2.png so you became immersed in it.

His photos are usually long exposures.

Research Task:

In research try to link a piece of work/style/photographer.

Look at who falls under a similar category/genre. Look at past work, is the current project a new direction? Continued theme? This is a wider context (how it is linked in with other work) Back up with images/quotes.

To Describe the lighting of an images:

  • Hard/soft
  • Weak/strong
  • The composition – does it become structured?

Edward Hopper:

Uses quite a soft lighting throughout his work – there isn’t much shadow which lessens the structure and removes the light as a form of composition. He is said to make the ordinary poetic which I suppose is true as the lighting and the way he paints is very soft for example the slacks in one of the houses he painted are not completely straight. This would be different to a photograph as the photo would add structure as the photo would show the straight planks of wood but also the light would probably be harsher with shadows cutting through the building. This would create a less delicate image.


500 words illustrating a four degree connection to a body of work that interests you:


Richard Avedon is well known for his portraiture, mainly his fashion photography and with celebrities such as Marilyn Munroe, Judy Garland and Picasso. One of his famous projects of portraiture was called ‘American West’.  Avedon travelled around the USA taking portraits of everyday people, such as factory workers, housekeepers or miners. He carried around basic studio equipment to get a standardized look and lighting which wasn’t particularly harsh or soft but neither weak nor strong. He would just approach people and ask to be photographed. It was a long-term project of around 5 years. This gave some sort of an insight into American life. Similarly Robert Frank gave an insight into American life and culture. Also was commissioned to travel around the USA and documented life there. The project had portraits but it was more candid street shots so it wasn’t standardised like Avendon as usually Frank would rely on natural lighting, this gives a usually strong but soft lighting. But, like Avedon, Frank had experience in fashion photography, not as much as Avedon, but he worked for Harper’s Bazaar. Robert Frank also made some films One of the places Robert Frank photographed and lived in was New York, this is where William Klein a street photographer took many of his photos in New York. Klein was born in New York, so you get a insiders look at New York. His street photography images use natural lighting so there can be stark contrasts between different parts of the photo, for example there is one that the people are all silhouetted but the ground is very bright. As the shots are all quite candid shots there are a lot of blur or movement in his images but they are also quite grainy. At the start of his book William Klein: Photographs you see some of his fashion photos and drawings. Besides New York Klein has taken street photography in Rome, Moscow and Tokyo. Daido Moriyama is similar to Klein as she has done street photography in Tokyo as she is a Japanese photographer. Klein and Moriyama are so similar the Tate exhibited their work in a way to compare and contrast their lives of New York and Tokyo. They are both similar because they both have a blurred and grainy style to their work but also they do street photography. Although I do feel Moriyama’s style is a lot more blurred and grainy sometimes so much so you cannot tell what the subject matter of her photographs are.  She also relies on natural lighting which can mean her photographs can be quite dark.


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