Photography Basics : Technical Workshop

This is the first class of a Photography Masterclass that I did at the Sozo Foundation, where I started with the technical aspects of photography, starting with light, touching on history then moving on the cameras and exposure.

Light and Colour

I’m going to start with light as it is the foundation of Photography. If you do not have a good understanding of light and how to get the best out of it, you will spend hours in Photoshop trying to make a mediocre image, acceptable.

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Exploring Light

Photography is all about painting with light. It is using the way light gets absorbed, reflected and refracted to create an image.  It is essential to understand what light actually does to give you the ability to capture an image using light. I’m going to take a couple of minutes to explain the basic facts about light and how it acts.

So we’ve established photography depends on light. Exactly the same way our sight depends on it. Why can we not see in the dark? There is no light from the sun reflecting from all the surfaces around us to be visible.

Think about how bright the world is at midday in summer.  Think of how bright the colours are.  This is all because of the light from the sun reflecting off the surfaces of the world around you.  Now think what your room looks like at night.  Maybe there is a bit of the moon light lighting the scene, but think of how difficult it is to see properly and how desaturated the colours are.

Visible Light

So what is visible light? I'm going to try and keep this simple: Visible light is what humans see and forms a very small part of the whole spectrum of electromagnetic waves, ranging from gamma rays to radio waves. The reason humans can only see visible light is because the chemical reaction in the carbon based chemistry of our cells, that allows us to see, only gets triggered by waves around this range. Any longer, it doesn't carry enough energy to trigger a reaction and any shorter, too much that can damage this chemistry, like sunburn from ultraviolet light.

Colour of Light

Light is a mixture of many different colours. If you look at the rainbow or maybe you saw how white light splits through a prism. This also has to do with the fact that they have different wave lengths and will bend in a slightly different way than the other colours. When light hits an object – say, a leaf – the object absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest of it. Which wavelengths are reflected or absorbed depends on the properties of the object. This light then travels in turn to the light sensitive retina in the eye where the message gets sent to the brain: green.

Reflections and Refractions

When a ray of light hits a surface one or more things can happen, it can reflect off the surface and travel in a different direction, it can pass through the medium and continue on a new straight path or it can be absorbed.

We've touched on visible light combining different wavelengths that bend in a slightly different ways to create different colours. Also how certain wavelengths get absorbed and some reflected when it hits and object. Now what happens when light passes through a substance, like water, or class, or the lens of your camera? 

Refraction of light

Now take into consideration the angle that the light hits the medium; and if it moves from a denser medium to less or the other way around. You can see this when looking through a glass with water. The light will hit the glass and because it is a different density, will slow down and bend, again when it hits the water and again upon exit, distorting the image.

Now how does this effect your photography? Ok so you can take some interesting distorted portraits through a fish bowl, but the true reason is lenses. The reason why we are able to capture the quality of light we do now is because we use a piece of glass that will bend and concentrate light onto a surface for us to capture. Different combinations and shapes will bend light to our will. Simplest form is a magnifying glass, combine that idea and you have a telescope.

There are two main factors that that determine how much a lens bends the light. The reflective index(n) of a material is how much it slows down the beam. Air being n=1, water n=1.33, glass n=1.5 ect. Then the angle of incidence is the angle at which the light hits the medium, the greater the angle the more the bending. So if you combine these basic principles in convex and concave lenses you'll understand how your lenses have the ability to either magnify what you want to capture or allow you to capture more of a confined space.  We’ll explore this is more depth when we talk about lenses.

Diffused light

So taking reflection and refraction into consideration what happens when sunlight travels through clouds? It will depend on the density of the clouds, but rays will be reflected and refracted through and away from the water particles in the clouds.  This will lessen the light that reaches the surface but will also diffuse the light, making it less hard.  This we call soft light.  This can be replicated in a studio using soft boxes or outdoors in hard light using a diffuser.  You will also see soft light in shaded areas or indoors where light spills into a room. Soft light can be more flattering to your subject when shooting portraits, but watch out that it doesn’t become flat or boring

Practical 1:  Soft light and hard light

Find two images, one showing an example of hard light and one of soft light.

Practical 2:  Shoot a portrait 

Using the automatic setting on your camera or your smartphone, shoot two portraits of your friend, one in hard light and one in soft light.

Practical 3: Bending light

Photograph a scene through a glass of water.  Notice how the light bends.

Brief History of Photography

Understanding Photography

To find the beginning of photography we have to look at what photography is.  It is capturing light onto a durable 2 dimensional form, this can be on a copper plate or on a digital screen.  Now we understand that light is reflected off surfaces and objects and captured by the rods and cones on the retina at the back of our eyes. In photography we capture the same light and make a permanent representation of this reflected light.

Philosophy

So if you look at photography as a science and an understanding of light you realize that it already started in the 5th-4th Century BC with the Greek and Chinese Philosophers when they started to describe the basic principles of light and optics.  Founder of Mohism, Mo Zi contributed in basic concepts of linear optics, the straight line propagation of light and refraction of light, explaining the inverted image nature of an image in camera obscura.  While Aristotle explained how a ray passing through a hole would project an image of whatever comes in it’s path on the opposite wall.

The Science

Then a basic understanding of the nature of light and optics developed with Leonardo Da Vinci discovering the use of lenses to create sharper images and Hans Lippershey that created the first telescope in 1608.  The telescope might seem far removed but that is exactly what a camera is.  It uses convex and concave lenses to bend and manipulate light to enhance clarity  and visibility.  Our modern understanding of light and colour started when Newton refracted a ray of light into a spectrum of light.  Proving that white light is composed of different colours of light.

Capturing light Temporarily

In 1727, Johan Heinrich Schulze discovered that the darkening of various substances when mixed with silver nitrate is due to light and not heat as previously believed.  He also used this phenomenon to temporarily capture shadows.  He found a way to capture light but if wasn’t permanent.  After him Thomas Wedgewood and Humphry Davy were able to beduse more substantial but still temporary shadow images on coated paper and leather around 1800.

Making it Permanent

In 1816 Nicephore Niepce was able to photograph camera images on paper coated with silver chloride, but was also unable to make it light fast and the image had to be exposed for 8 hours. It was only in 1835 that Willian Fenry Fox Talbot created the first successful camera photographs using paper sensitized with silver chloride. As he created a negative to reproduce, the exposure time was n hour or more to create a suitable negative.

Photography becomes public

After Sir John Herschel coined the term photography in 1839, the French Artist Louis Daguerre invented the ‘Daguerreotype’ process of photography.   The Daguerreotype is the process of using a sheet of silver plated copper, exposed through a camera to light, resulting a latent image.  This latent image will be made visible by fuming it with mercury vapor and removing it’s light sensitivity by a liquid chemical treatment.  It was the first photographic process that was available publicly, needed less than 30 minutes exposure and most commonly used for nearly 20 years.

In 1841 Talbot introduced the calotype or talbotype to the public, which used paper instead of metal sheets, but it did not displace the daguerreotype. Although the Calotype was the first negative-positive process, giving you the possibility to reproduce the image, it created a less clear image than the daguerreotype.  The use of paper as a negative was not ideal as the texture and fibres were visible on the prints made. 

Speeding it up

Ten year later the invention of the Collodion process offered clearer images with 2-3 second exposures.  This technique was invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer.  A glass plate was coated with silver iodide and exposed in a camera while still wet.  After which it was developed and fixed to create a clear detailed negative.  These negatives still needed to be developed immediately as it became waterproof when dry.

And then there was Kodak

Richard Leach Maddox invented the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process in 1871, which allowed negatives not to be developed immediately.  Before long the emulsion could be coated on celluloid roll film.  This is where George Eastman invented flexible, paper-based photographic film in 1884, popularizing the use of film and making photography more mainstream.  He was the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company.  In 1888 he perfected the Kodak Black camera, the first camera to house a roll of film.

Cameras and Lenses

I would like to say that the camera doesn’t make the photographer, but an understanding of your equipment will give you the knowledge to capture what you envision.  

Cameras

With technology advancing as much as it does at the moment we have so many different ways to take photographs.  Let look at the 3 most common cameras.  

The iPhone or smartphone is easily acceptable and will take decent images.  The focal length of the lenses used are usually around 35mm with the new iPhones being released with dual lenses, which makes it’s ability to replicate selective focus much better.  I will explain what that means in a second.  Long story short, use your iPhone to capture what you see, do not be held back just because you do not have a professional camera.  This is good for your own exploration when it comes to composition and light.

Point and Shoot Camera are small and compact and not as expensive as your professional cameras.  These cameras have a fixed lens and will have optical zoom where the iPhone will only have digital zoom.  To quickly explain the difference between optical zoom and digital zoom.  Digital zoom does not change the focal length of the lens, it will only zoom into the image, while optical zoom will change the focal length and actually zoom into the scene.  Same as with the iPhone, you will not be able to take professional images and get the same flexibility as with a SLR but you get cameras with good quality and they’re great to start training the eye.

The SLR camera is the professional cameras you see today.  SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, where the light that enters the lens will be reflected via a mirror through the viewfinder to the eye.  When the shutter is released, the mirror will flip out of the way and the light can fall directly onto the sensor or film.  These cameras can carry different lenses as required. The digital sensor is much bigger which will result in higher quality images. 

Focal Length and lenses

Focal length is what you measure your lenses by and measured in mm.  You would’ve heard of a 100mm lens of a 24-70mm lens.  The number is actually the distance from where the rays of light converge to form a sharp image to the digital sensor.  This is determined when the lens is focused at infinity.  

So if you think in terms of a magnifying glass, the further you hold it from the object the greater the magnification will be. Thus you will find with a longer focal length, like a 200mm, you get higher magnification.  These are the type of lenses you use for wild life photography, as you are not able to get very close to your subject.  But as you get your subject closer, you will loose some of the rest of the scene, your field of view will become less.  And vice versa, if you’re using a shorter lens, like a 35mm or less you will start including more of the scene in front of you. That’s why these wide-angles lenses are perfect for interiors and landscapes.

There are two things that you need to keep in consideration when choosing a telephoto lens and wide-angle lens.  With a telephoto lens you will have much less depth, in your point of focus as well as in the scene. While with a wide-angle lens you will have more depth in focus but will start seeing distortion in your scene and subjects when moving too close.  I will get back to this when we discuss depth of field.

Full Frame and Cropped Sensor

One important thing to take into consideration when choosing a lens is also your camera again.  The more professional cameras have a larger sensor than the entry level ones.  The full frame is the same size as a 35mm film so your focal length is measured to that. Think of how much of your image will be capture if you have the same light and the same lens on a smaller frame. Much less, so your lens will appear longer with a cropped sensor than will a full frame.  So when you’re using a cropped sensor you have to calculate what your lens will translate to.  With most cameras the crop factor is 1.5x so if you’re using a 50mm on a cropped sensor, it will translate to a 75mm.

Exposure

With the exposure of an image you are allowing the right amount of light through the lens, to be recorded on the sensor.  This is like driving a car.  First you need to understand the controls and how to use them, but with practice, and yes photography is all about practice, you will be able to get to the right exposure automatically.

To get an image at the right exposure is to make sure there is enough light allowed to give you enough detail in the darker areas as well as the lighter areas of the image.  You’re also allowed to play around to create interesting images, by underexposing to just get s strip of highlight on a persons face, or to overexposed to create a bright white beach scene.  To quickly explain, overexposure is to allow more light than needed to reach the sensor, this will give you bright, burnt out images while underexposing will allow too little light to reach the sensor and create dark, dramatic images.

You camera has a light meter built in that will give you an average reading of the available light so you can set your exposure accordingly.  You have to understand that this is the average reading of the whole scene that you’re planning on capturing so take note of everything in your frame.  If there is a bright sky behind your subject that is in the shade you might have to overexpose to make sure that you have enough light for the detail on you subjects face to show.  And if you’re taking a photograph of the sunset you might want to underexpose to see the detail in the clouds in front of the bright sun.

So how do you get the perfect exposure?  You have 3 variables that you combine to get to the expose you wish:

Shutter Speed

Your shutter is the panel in front of the sensor at the back of your camera that shields the camera from the light passing through the lens.  It acts like your eye lid.  When you release the shutter, the panel will open for a split second and allow the sensor to be exposed to the light.  This light will be recorded and you have your picture.  So the longer the shutter stays open the more light are allowed to fall onto the sensor, meaning you’ll use a lower shutter speed in darker environments than in brighter ones.  

The time here is literally a part of a second.  ½, ¼ , 1/16, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000.  So if we’re working with time we understand that the scene may change while the shutter is open, for instance someone moving really fast, you’ll be able to see their movement at a slower shutter speed.  So if you would like to capture movement, like a birds wing during flight you use a slower shutter speed, while if you would like to freeze an action, like a droplet of water falling into a pond, you use a much higher shutter speed.   Also when shooting at a lower speed, like 1/60 and slower you have to take into consideration that you might be moving while you’re taking the shot.  This is called camera shake.  If you wish to avoid this, use a tripod or stabilize yourself by pressing against a wall or the camera by placing it on a desk or chair or rock.

Aperture

The aperture of your lens is like your iris of your eye.  Opening and closing to allow more light and less light in to reach the retina. The aperture is controlled by blades in the lens and described or measured in terms of f-stops.  Measuring from as big as 1.2 and as small 64. 

f1.2; f1.4; f2.0; f2.8; f4; f8; f11; f16; f32; f64

Remember some camera’s will offer half stops as well. 

f1,2 being the biggest or widest, allowing more light than f64.  Each stop will down will half the light allowed through the lens while one stop on the shutter will do the same.  So if you correct exposure was 1/60 @ f11, the same exposure will also be 1/125 @ f8.

So how does this influence the light falling onto your sensor.  This will have an influence on the depth of your image.  How much of your scene is in focus.  So if you take a picture of a person in a forest.  You can either photograph them only having them in focus and the forest out of focus or you can have both in focus.

This is called selective focus or depth of field.  Selective focus is when you take a portrait of a person and only the eyes are in focus, drawing the attention to the eyes.  Depth of field is where you allow the whole scene to be in focus

ISO

ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor.  The higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor would be and the less light you’ll need to have the right exposure.  Your range is usually 100, 200, 400, 640, 800, 1600, 2500, 3200, and 6400.  As you go up in ISO the noise in you image will start to increase.  Noise is artifacts that will start to appear in your darker areas.  It will look like messy pixels of different colours.

The better the camera, the less the noise will be, I would say a safe range would be maximum 800 ISO as most cameras will be able to handle that.  Professional full frame camera’s will handle 3200 and 6400 easily.

Practical 4: Shutter Exercise

·     Take one photograph with a long exposure to demonstrate movement.  Try panning, where you follow the subject as they move to create a blurry background and a moving subject.

·     Take one photograph where you freeze your subject in action.

Practical 5 : Aperture and Depth of field

Take 2 images of the same subject, one with selective focus and the other with depth of field.

Practical 6 :  ISO and noise

Indoors, shoot a scene using two different ISO’s and compare the noise

Week One Homework:

·     Photograph some action either by freezing the action or showing movement.  Think kids playing soccer, a river, water from a tap, dog running…get creative.

·     Take a portrait of a person in soft light.

·     Explain in a paragraph each the 3 controls you use to create the correct exposure.

·     Take a selfie using reflection

·     Choose image from each practical exercise for discussing

o   Portrait with soft light

o   Portrait with hard light

o   Bending light through water glass

o   Capture movement

o   Freeze action

o   Selective Focus

o   Depth of field

The Great Debate - Science or Art

Is Photography science or is it art? Are we taking pictures or creating them? Truth of Fiction?  Actually it is both but early photography communities were struggling as they were trying to have an overall identity for photography. Naturally there is no right answer just our own opinion and your view on photography or your approach to creating images. This has been a debate in photographic circles since the birth of photography but photography has developed so much in the past few decades that I have chosen to explore this from the exploration stage in scientific laboratories to mainstream photography.

Straight or Natural Photography

 Robert Demachy - Struggle 1903

Robert Demachy - Struggle 1903

If you look at the reason why photography was developed and who pioneered this very important discovery, that is now part of everyday life, we will have to agree that it started as a science. Scientist and inventors explored the possibilities of capturing light through lenses using chemicals to be able to create a true representation of a person in a shorter amount of time than it took for a painter. Portraiture was one of the main reasons and the first commercial field. An honest real representation was required of what a person looks like and this was the birth of straight photography, where there was no manipulation to a photograph. Natural or straight photography persisted throughout for most of the 19th century, where the argument was to capture a moment as it is, with no interference.

 Peter Henry Emerson - Sunday Salon

Peter Henry Emerson - Sunday Salon

 Pictorialism

As photography developed and techniques advanced, the medium became more ‘open to interpretation’ or should I say manipulation. Henry Peach Robinson introduced pictorialism in the late 19th century where the aim was to communicate an emotional result through an image.  He argued that manipulation of the image to get to that end result was part of the artistic process.  Artist intervention was essential for Pictorialism, if an image was a result of purely scientific process, how can it be art?  He used multiple images to create one, a process that we still use in various fields of photography like advertising.

 Henry Peach Robinson - Fading Away

Henry Peach Robinson - Fading Away

 Is Photography Art?

The Modernists of the mid 20th Century including Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham’s main focus was on pre-visualization and recording the scene as accurately as possible.  In a sense this was true straight photography and after that you can see how photography was also influenced by the major art movements through the centuries.  Although by this time photography was developing alongside art and maturing into a new means of artistic expression, the art community still struggled to recognize it as art. 

 Ansel Adams, Landscape · Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park

Ansel Adams, Landscape · Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park

 Photography for the masses

With Kodak releasing the Brownie camera and photography becoming mainstream, the argument became even harder as there were images being created in split seconds, images that were bad quality with poor composition.  And we see this throughout the history of photography. Technological advances in photography allows photography to fall into the hands of the general public. There will always be a resistance from the art community and also within the photographic communities. As there was such an increase of mediocre photographs, professional photographers were and are still challenged to differentiate their work from casual shooters and again the solution is the two poles: technical excellence or artistic merit.

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 My opinion

I’m an artist with the mind of a scientist.  A creator looking to capture truth.  Light is the medium we are given to paint with. As Scientist, we appreciate it’s stability but as Artist we see its playfulness and beauty.  As I am a portrait photographer I am not merely a bystander that captures the light and energy reflected towards me. I am in the conversation. I am part of the connection and in that I create, with the help of my subject, the photograph that is the result of our interaction. No manipulation needed afterwards. That was it. A moment and a person, captured in all its raw beauty.

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Ripple Reading

On my recent trip to Johannesburg I got in touch with Simone from Different.org, a life insurance company that donates part of your premiums to a non profit organisation of your choice. Simone put me in contact with Riana from Ripple Reading and my timing could not have been better. Riana was ecstatic to hear my offer as they were busy redoing their website and desperately needing portraits of their miracle workers.

I met the team at Nooitgedaght Primary School in Lanseria in what felt like a walk down memory lane as I passed the colorful, warm and friendly room with books, pictures, building blocks, clay and much more to aid in reading and learning. My favourite memory was the big reading books I remembered from my own childhood, including “A tail about a tail” about a Lion who lost his tail by sitting on it…sweet memories. And it was such a pleasure to capture a team that is so passionate about what they do and understanding the importance of their contribution.

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Remedial education within South Africa has steadily declined over the past decade especially amongst previously disadvantaged communities with limited financial and material resources. Ripple Reading is an NGO that focuses its resources on reading with understanding. Their mission is to develop a model of effective intervention that teaches children how to read with understanding in a safe environment, building up confidence and assisting learners to take control of their lives – academically, socially and emotionally. 

What’s more is that Ripple Reading take an invested interest in learners that show integrity in academic, sporting and leadership abilities by offering a mentoring and a Leadership Development Programme during the challenging transition into secondary tertiary institutes. By implementing sustainable programmes of action, engagement and upliftment and by providing a genuine level of commitment through supportive relationships with the learner, Ripple Reading are undoing several social injustices ensuring a brighter future for each and every child.

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Ripple reading already work closely to a number of schools including Thuto Ke Lesedi, Swartkop Valley Primary School, Nooitgedacht Primary and Sakata’s Grade R School.

You can contribute to this amazing NGO by offering donations or by signing up to be a volunteer. Click here for more information about how you can get involved.

Celebrating Female Photographers

As this is the month we celebrate women, I thought I should dedicate my blog to the female photographers that have inspired me through my studies and my career. I was introduced to most of them during my studies and some only recently. Some have guided me towards portrait photography while others have inspired me to document my life.

Mary Ellen Mark

I was introduced to the work of Mary Ellen Mark by my lecturer at the Ruth Prowse School of Art while studying photography. At that stage I was convinced that I was going to be a documentary photographer,  which is why her classic documentary approach really spoke to me. I appreciate and admire her remarkable ability to win the confidence of her subjects.

  Mary Ellen Mark  -  The Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA 1987

Mary Ellen MarkThe Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA 1987

Mary Allen Mark was an American photographer known for her photojournalism, portraiture and advertising. She had 18 collections of her work published, including Streetwise and Ward 81.  Her work was widely published with exhibitions worldwide accumulating numerous awards along the way. Her photography addresses social issues such as homelessness, loneliness, drug addiction and prostitution, with children a reoccurring subject.

I feel an affinity for people who haven't had the best breaks in society. What I want to do more than anything is acknowledge their existence.

Mary was known for establishing the strong relationships she built with her subjects and to maintain those relationships. That is why there is such honesty in her portraits. There was a massive trust between the sitter and the photographer, something I aspire to.

  Mary Ellen Mark  - Tiny, Halloween, Seattle, 1983

Mary Ellen Mark - Tiny, Halloween, Seattle, 1983

Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz has been an inspiration since I was introduced to photography and my own personal idol. I will even say that I aspire to be the South African Annie!  

  Annie Leibovitz   - Yao Chen, the first Chinese UNHCR goodwill ambassador, 2016 Pirelli calendar

Annie Leibovitz - Yao Chen, the first Chinese UNHCR goodwill ambassador, 2016 Pirelli calendar

  Anne Leibovitz  -  Susan Sontag

Anne LeibovitzSusan Sontag

Anna-Lou "Annie" Leibovitz was born in the States on 2nd of October 1949. She was doing night classes in photography while studying painting at San Francisco Art Institute. She continued to develop her skill while holding on to several jobs until she started working for Rolling Stone Magazine in 1970 as staff photographer. Three years later she became chief photographer and continued to work with the magazine for 10 years and shot 142 covers.

Leibovitz joined Vanity Fair in 1983 and became known for her wildly lit, staged and provocative portraits of celebrities - Whoopi Goldberg submerged in water;  a nude and pregnant Demi Moore are great examples. To me, one of her most powerful works is the recent 2016 Perelli Calendar where her interpretation created a beautiful, powerful collection of portraits displaying unique, independent woman of our time. For my full blog on her development and accomplishments have a read here.

Rineke Dijkstra

I was introduced to the work of Rineke Dijksta while I was working as a gallery assistant at the Photographers Gallery za.  I loved this one image, Kolobrzeg, Poland, 26 July, and was amazed at how a simple pose and an uncomplicated setting could have so much power. I felt a connection with the subject which is when I realized that as photographers we are able to capture the connection between ourselves and the sitter in a way that viewers are also able to experience.

  Rineke Dijkstra  -  Kolobrzeg, Poland, 26 July

Rineke DijkstraKolobrzeg, Poland, 26 July

Dijkstra is a leading contemporary Dutch photographer born in 1959 and lives and works in Amsterdam.  Her career started by taking corporate portraits and images for annual reports. She was known for her single start portraits, usually concentrating on particular groups of people. In most of her series you can see a clear emphasis on capturing the awkwardness of adolescence. 

With young people everything is much more on the surface - all the emotions.  When you get older you know how to hide things.

'Beach Portraits' (1992-94) was life-sized colour photographs of young teenagers in bathing suits on beaches in the US, Poland, Britain, Ukraine and Croatia.  It resulted in international prominence after showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Dijkstra concentrates on single portraits and usually works in series. Series that followed were 'Buzzclub/Mysteryworld', 'Tiergarten Series', 'Isreali soldiers' and 'Park Portraits' to name a few.

  Rineke Rijkstra -   Amit, Golani Brigade, Elyakim, Israel, May 26, 1999

Rineke Rijkstra - Amit, Golani Brigade, Elyakim, Israel, May 26, 1999

  Rineke Rijkstra -   Berlin, Tiergarten, Germany, 1999

Rineke Rijkstra - Berlin, Tiergarten, Germany, 1999

Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi only caught my eye a year ago when I saw her work on exhibition at the Zeits Museum of Contemporary African Art. I was blown away by her powerful female portraits.  

  Zanele Muholi -   MaID I, Syracuse, NY (diptych) , 2015

Zanele Muholi - MaID I, Syracuse, NY (diptych), 2015

Zanele Muholi is a self proclaimed visual activist. She was born in Durban and now lives in Johannesburg. She co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002 and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media.  

Some of her work delves into very personal experiences, while other pieces comment on South Africa and its historical troubles. Her mission is "to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and the existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond."

Read my blog for more about this extraordinary South African photographer.

Beauty and the Brain

What do we perceive as beautiful? How much of our perception is nature and how much is nurture? Where does the primitive brain kick in and where does culture take over? As I find all my subjects beautiful because of interaction, I decided to explore what the brain does before being able to connect features to personality.

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A Ted talk by Anjan Chatterjee triggered this urge to explore the concept of beauty.  He is a professor in neurology from the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and has done several studies on how the brain reacts to beauty.  Beauty has been a major discussion for decades but has mainly been discussed with logic or speculation. These days we have more information with tools of neurology and rules of evolutionary science.  Beauty is subjective being influenced by factors that are best for the survival of the group.  Through his studies, Anjan has pin pointed certain parameters of beauty:

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Averaging - Composite or average faces are often found more attractive than each individual face.  This is where many different features of different individuals are put together to create one face.  It agrees with the idea mixed races are found more attractive than inbred families.  The reasoning behind this is that genetic diversity and adaptability indicates a stronger breed.

Symmetry - Most people find symmetrical features more attractive as we tend to choose perfection. Think of choosing a piece of fruit in the supermarket...you tend to go for the perfectly shaped apple because of survival and instinct.  Developmental abnormalities are associated by asymmetries and these imperfections in animals, plants and humans are usually connected with a parasitic infection. So symmetry is an indication of health.

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Hormones - Estrogen and testosterone have an influence in what we find attractive.  Men are attracted to women whose features are both youthful and mature. If the face looks too young, she's not fertile and when the face is too old, reproductive success is in question.  Men will look for big eyes, full lips and narrow chins, all of which shows youth as well as high cheekbones which indicate maturity. Testosterone produces typical masculine features like thicker brows, thinner cheeks and square jaw.

So what happens in the brain when we see beautiful people? Areas that form part of our visual cortex recognize faces and activates an area that processes objects. Reward and pleasure areas in the frontal cortex deep within the brain get activated. So in essence the visual brain that recognizes faces combines with our pleasure centers to underpin the experience of beauty.  They have also found that our brain reacts to beautiful faces without thinking of beauty but identity meaning that the brain automatically responds to beauty by linking a visual with pleasure. 

The brain has identified beauty but automatically takes it a step further.  We also have a 'beauty is good' idea embedded in the frontal cortex, which overlaps neural responses with beauty and goodness, even when you’re not thinking of either.  The brain seems to naturally associate beauty with good which could explain the biological trigger to social effects of beauty.  Attractive people receive privileges, are regarded more intelligent, better jobs with higher pay. In his studies he has found that people with minor facial abnormalities are regarded as less intelligent, less hardworking, less good, less kind and less competent.  So it seems that the brain will have a negative association with disfigurement.

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So why do I like redheads, a concept my friends can't seem to comprehend.  Why is beauty so objective?  Even though the brain has such a big influence on subconscious ideas and decisions, the primitive brain gets challenged continuously by popular beliefs, society and culture. What influence has society had on our idea of beauty and how has it changed over the past couple of years?  Look at gaps in the teeth that became so popular with models when previously everyone needed braces to close those unwanted gaps. Trends seem to move away from the average and we become attracted to what is different.  Is that conscious thinking, marketing and the need to be different? Is the brain still just interested in the big eyes and full lips?

An then culture and conditioning.  What we are used to will be attractive for us while previous experiences might create a negative connotation with feature that might be regarded as beautiful.  Be it conscious or subconscious, our perception of beauty is continuously evolving as we are changing and developing as a species. Next time your head turns or you do a 'double take', take some time to figure out what that trigger was.  Popular belief? What you're used to, or your brain trying to get your gene into the next generation.

The Haven Night Shelters

I've been asked many times how I decide on the charities I choose to offer my services.  Some arrive at my doorstep, some I've heard about and sometime I ask friends and people that I meet which charity is close to their hearts.  This one is for a good friend Pieter Basson, who's asked me a couple of times to work with the Haven Shelter in Cape Town.

 Hassan Khan Chief Executive Officer

Hassan Khan Chief Executive Officer

I met with the managing director Hassan Khan and his assistant Waheeda.  Hassan took the time to explain their concept, aim and mission which is truly exciting!  We decided to initiate a campaign that Hassan been wanting to do for a couple of years already. 'Spot the homeless'.  The idea is to create a campaign of awareness.  Where people can identify, relate and realize how close to home this could be.  Anyone can be homeless, it takes one bad decision, one wrong move.  So I started to project of capturing the entire Haven community, from the Board members, the staff, residents as well as visiting the old age home.

The Haven believes that no one should be living on our streets. There comes a stage in the downward path of certain human beings at which point, they literally can no longer help themselves. At that point someone has to step in and give them a lift; that is what THE HAVEN tries to do.

- The Haven Night Shelters

 Donovan Murphy - Client

Donovan Murphy - Client

The aim is to create opportunities for adults living on the streets that are committed to reintegration, by supplying temporary shelter, physical care, rehabilitation opportunities and social welfare services.  Alongside this they try to reduce the opportunities to continue life on the streets by also promoting community awareness and encourage the public to alleviate the social problems that arise.

 Sheila Jacobs - Manager

Sheila Jacobs - Manager

Fieldworkers hit the streets to encourage people to get of the streets and go back home.  Sometimes the process of getting them back to their loved ones are not that easy and this is where a shelter like the Haven steps in, by actively trying to find the person’s family by any means possible and when the integration is not wanted by either party, closely working with a social worker to start the process.

 Angelique Coakley - Client

Angelique Coakley - Client

 Benedict Alexander - Board Member

Benedict Alexander - Board Member

Now the Haven is also very aware that giving beds and food to all the homeless in the Western Cape is an impossible task.  Also the plan is to empower these people the they can get off the streets, out of a shelter and back on their own feet again.  When a homeless person arrives at the shelter, he/she is a guest.  They are welcome to stay and eat and make up their minds about the shelter in 5 days.  After that, decisions have to be made.  If they wish to stay at the Haven they have to start working for their bed and start with a social program. 

 Antoinette Meiring - Social Worker Supervisor

Antoinette Meiring - Social Worker Supervisor

The Haven are not giving people fish but teaching them to fish.  Getting homeless people to take responsibility for their own lives and taking the power back into their own hands.

Buy a Bed!  The Haven Nights Shelters started a campaign where people can buy beds for homeless people who wishes to be guests at the shelter.

Or contact Hassan or Waheeda for more information on how to get involved:

+27 (21) 425 4700

info@haven.org.za

https://www.haven.org.za

The History of Photography - Black & White Development

As it is the beginning of the year and I have not yet covered this subject in one of my blogs, I have decided to give you a brief History of Photography.  As we have come so far in the last 2 centuries, I will have to break this into 3 parts.  Concentrating on the development of basic photography, analogue black and white firstly.  Then I'll give you a idea of how colour photography developed and lastly I'll jump into the development of the Digital Age...

Understanding Photography

To find the beginning of photography we have to look at what photography is.  It is capturing light onto a durable 2 dimensional form, this can be on a copper plate or on a digital screen.  Now to understand photography we have to understand light.  Light is reflected off surfaces and objects and captured by the rods and cones on the retina at the back of our eyes. In photography we capture the same light and make a permanent representation of this reflected light.

The Philosophy

So if you look at photography as a science and an understanding of light you realize that it already started in the 5th-4th Century BC with the Greek and Chinese Philosophers when they started to describe the basic principles of light and optics.  Founder of Mohism, Mo Zi contributed in basic concepts of linear optics, the straight line propagation of light and refraction of light, explaining the inverted image nature of an image in camera obscura.  While Aristotle explained how a ray passing through a hole would project an image of whatever comes in it’s path on the opposite wall.

 Mo Zi

Mo Zi

The Science

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Then a basic understanding of the nature of light and optics developed with Leonardo Da Vinci discovering the use of lenses to create sharper images and Hans Lippershey that created the first telescope in 1608.  The telescope might seem far removed but that is exactly what a camera is.  It uses convex and concave lenses to bend and manipulate light to enhance clarity  and visibility.  Our modern understanding of light and colour started when Newton refracted a ray of light into a spectrum of light.  Proving that white light is composed of different colours of light.

Capturing light temporarily

In 1727, Johan Heinrich Schulze discovered that the darkening of various substances when mixed with silver nitrate is due to light and not heat as previously believed.  He also used this phenomenon to temporarily capture shadows.  He found a way to capture light but if wasn’t permanent.  After him Thomas Wedgewood and Humphry Davy were able to beduse more substantial but still temporary shadow images on coated paper and leather around 1800.

 View from the Window at Le Gras - Nicephore Niepce

View from the Window at Le Gras - Nicephore Niepce

Making it permanent

In 1816 Nicephore Niepce was able to photograph camera images on paper coated with silver chloride, but was also unable to make it light fast and the image had to be exposed for 8 hours. It was only in 1835 that Willian Fenry Fox Talbot created the first successful camera photographs using paper sensitized with silver chloride. As he created a negative to reproduce, the exposure time was n hour or more to create a suitable negative.

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Photography becomes public

After Sir John Herschel coined the term photography in 1839, the French Artist Louis Daguerre invented the ‘Daguerreotype’ process of photography.   The Daguerreotype is the process of using a sheet of silver plated copper, exposed through a camera to light, resulting a latent image.  This latent image will be made visible by fuming it with mercury vapor and removing it’s light sensitivity by a liquid chemical treatment.  It was the first photographic process that was available publicly, needed less than 30 minutes exposure and most commonly used for nearly 20 years.

In 1841 Talbot introduced the calotype or talbotype to the public, which used paper instead of metal sheets, but it did not displace the daguerreotype. Although the Calotype was the first negative-positive process, giving you the possibility to reproduce the image, it created a less clear image than the daguerreotype.  The use of paper as a negative was not ideal as the texture and fibres were visible on the prints made.

 Salt print from a glass collodion negative - The J. Paul Getty Museum

Salt print from a glass collodion negative - The J. Paul Getty Museum

Speeding it up

Ten year later the invention of the Collodion process offered clearer images with 2-3 second exposures.  This technique was invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer.  A glass plate was coated with silver iodide and exposed in a camera while still wet.  After which it was developed and fixed to create a clear detailed negative.  These negatives still needed to be developed immediately as it became waterproof when dry.

 George Eastman, founder of Kodak

George Eastman, founder of Kodak

And then there was Kodak...

Richard Leach Maddox invented the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process in 1871, which allowed negatives not to be developed immediately.  Before long the emulsion could be coated on celluloid roll film.  This is where George Eastman invented flexible, paper-based photographic film in 1884, popularizing the use of film and making photography more mainstream.  He was the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company.  In 1888 he perfected the Kodak Black camera, the first camera to house a roll of film.

After establishing a stable portable and affordable photographic process, people now wanted colour...  

 

Xola Educare

I met Vivian Mthwesi while working on a project for CTO.  Vivian runs a preschool in Khayelitsha.  She asked me to help with taking picture of the kids for graduation.  She was such an inspiration in her approach to educate and to guide.

Vivian started by opening her home to 7-9 children in 2008 and now she's accommodating40-70 children between the ages of 1-6 years.  With the help of her family, Vivian dreams to develop the school through sustainability.

As preschools do not reach the governmental standard of requirements, Non Profit Organisations have to step in to cover this very important phase in a childs life.

In Khayelitsha alone, there are more than 400 preschools for Grade R, and only 50 of them get financial support from the government.  Now if you also consider children younger than 6 and put that into the calculation, you realise what a great need there is.

Vivian concentrates on teaching all the kids to be able to communicate in English so the have a head start when going to school.  Also she accepts all races and cultures under her roof, making the kids used to living in a rainbow nation in peace and acceptance.

To get involved:

Vivian Mthwesi - 071 814 0120

CTO - sofia@cto.world