2.7.2 Olivo Barbieri

The father of 'Tilt Shift' photography Barbieri is accredited with adapting the method to represent cities and scenes as miniature models. The effects are truly amazing and have created a new genre with an almost cult following. A search of any of the shared image sites will reveal budding 'Barbieri's'.

Barbieri is recognised for his innovative technique creating miniature still photography from actual landscapes by simulating shallow depth of field via the use of tilt-shift lens photography. Barbieri's technique simulates the shallow depth of field effect of macro photography by tilting the lens's angle to the back plane of the camera, which creates a gradual blurring at the top and bottom edges, or left and right edges of the filmed image.

The idea has also been used to create videos that look more like children's TV scenes (see my tilt shift blog for some fascinating videos). Interestingly, some of them 'appear' to recreate actual model scenes that might have been used for epic scenes in pre 2000 Hollywood films. Mostly, we look back at those old films, from a world of CGI capability etc., with almost humour and disbelief that we took them for real.

The converse appears to be true of Tilt Shift images - most people, initially at least, refuse to accept that they are real scenes and continue to believe that they are actually looking at miniature models.

Olivo Barbieri, Biography
Born in 1954 in Italy he is both an artist and photographer of urban environments.

Barbieri has exhibited his work at the Venice Biennale (1993, 1995, 1997), among other international exhibitions, and in galleries and museums throughout Europe, North America, and China. In 1996, the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, devoted a retrospective to his work, which has been collected by museums worldwide. Barbieri has published several books of his work, including Notsofareast (Rome, 2002), Virtual Truths (Milan, 2001), Artificial Illuminations (Washington, D.C., 1998) and Paesaggi ibridi (Milan, 1996).

In an article in October 2008's Digital Camera magazine (thanks Jim, for providing a hard copy), Barbieri simply describes the technique as allowing him "to decide what stays in focus" A simple description for what, any of his images will show, is a very sophisticated eye for the genre. For the famous waterfall image of the Iguazu on the Argentina/Brazil border - just one from the 'Waterfall' collection - was actually created 'post-production' in Photoshop. He used a Fujifilm medium format camera with 180mm f3.2 lens.

He adds to his description be suggesting that with his images "the viewer is forced to read one line at a time" a comparison he makes with reading a book.

Without any technical training, describing himself as 'self-taught' Barbieri admits to studying the history of photography at Bolgna University.
He started exhibiting in 1978 and was influenced by Man Ray and Andy Warhol. The interest in creating 'miniature still life' was, he says, inspired by the work of Gherhard Richter. Barbieri was taking pictures of Italian football stadia when it occurred to him that they could be "transformed to look like models".

"It's very important" say Barbieri "for the cities to look like miniatures" adding that he started the series "because of an interest in philosophy and the philosophy of representation. I'm trying to understand how we perceive with different techniques of seeing. 

Asked about light on one of his images Barbieri reveals with striking honesty that it was about "being in the right place at the right time". He seems more concerned with architecture, its impact on man and re-representation of it. 

Get it while you can - "I believe that I'm coming to the end of this period in my photographic career - after all, I've been working on these images for almost 10 years" then offering respite with "I'm continually discovering new possibilities with my tilt and shift aerial work, so I'm not sure".

Barbieri's commitment to his work is revealed in his top tips;
  • I take about 60,000 images and save about 12
  • There are no short cuts in pro-photography, you have to put the work in
  • Be aware of how to improve, learn from what others are doing
Replacing Awe with Aw
Now for a slide show of his work. As I pondered the images, it occurred to me that all of them are of fairly significant natural or man made constructions. Each of them has the capacity to strike awe in to the observer; New York, Las Vegas, or Rome. Is transforming these places to a miniature, more acceptable scale an attempt remove the 'awe' and replace with 'aw' as in "aw shucks" or "how sweet"?

2.7.4 David Allan Brandt

The moment I clicked on the website - I was moved. Immediately, involuntarily I was moved deep inside my being. Perhaps like nothing since Salgado, Capa or Aget. In fact nothing like since seeing Salgado's images in full glory at the Tate Modern.

I'm a big fan of Edward Hopper and his unique depictions of people and space. These Hopper pictures came rushing in to my mind as soon as I saw Brandt's images.

And now Brandt's

29.jpg image by JoeFogg

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The similarities in the use of colour, texture and shadow are fascinating. Brandt does not quote Hopper as a source of inspiration but the parallels are intriguing.

Brandt's subjects seem vulnerable despite the contrasting settings. We see a bedroom that's looks worn and shabby and the physical expression of despair or scream a cry for help the classic 'lord give me strength position'.

In the next picture the subject is isolated in isolation. barren and bereft almost of colour too. The two pastel colours, occupying the upper two thirds of the frame, by the absence of all else feature strongly - a true less is more composition. In Hopper's images the natural light offers warmth and hope - Brandt's by comparison seem to say 'it is as it is'. The figure standing on the stair adopts a posture of arms to the sides - removing the defensive position of arms in front or folded. Body language is critical in conveying messages (as are facial expressions). This subject says this is my world I am resigned to it, yet the leg posture says I am relaxed and comfortable with myself. The cold of the blue and warmth of the yellow act like yin/yang to balance each other. Hence we do not feel concerned for the subject we admire the soft beauty of it. Even though the figure is small within the space we enjoy the colour and texture. The foreboding doorway concerns us not. Perhaps the placing subject at the top of stairs and towards the edge gives the subject the power of control. She is relaxed, not running away (whether up or down), she is not jumping over the edge, She has choices and is comfortable with them.

Then we have a young girl in what we would take to be an older person room (the furniture, bed covers and lace mat beneath the flowers). So the subject - a young girl - may look out of place. But somehow she doesn't. The rather dejected, helpless pose (slumped shoulders, hands held in a defensive position, feet towards each other) all suggest that she is sheltering in someone elses room. Refuge from a harsher life. She is not entirely comfortable here but is safe (knees apart tell us that she feels safe).  The body language is strong and so Brandt also use the room to tell the story. If the room were occupied by contemporary furniture from say IKEA, then we may find a different story for the body language. Each combine to provide signposts for the story. Here the light is behind her, leaving her in shadow - the opposite of Hopper's pictures.

Finally we have a subject placed smack centre in ostentatious surroundings. The light is behind and to the side of her - but not on her. She is looking way from us with her face in shadow. Not quite comfortable with it all. She leans towards the shadows (ever so slightly) her legs point to the shadows and somewhere to the side and beyond the camera. That's where she wants to be - out of the picture, out of the 'limelight'.

We will see this same spaces occupied in entirely different ways in Brandt's other images.

I've put together  a slide show of Brandt's images, from different portfolios, that depict or contain religious iconography. The Christian cross appears on the wall behind the girl and on the chest of a male. In other the cross is being formed either by people or in the case of the man in the water by the shape of the water filling in the gap between decking and man. There is the use of the 'prayer' handclasp and the classic meditation pose perhaps most often associated with Buddhism and Taoism. Whilst Brand does not make mention of this use of iconography, in his published work it is a recurring, if subconscious, theme.

David Allan Brandt has created a vast body of work, which includes a surreal series of romantic worldscapes combining people with urban structures and whimsical dreamlike environments. These elegant black & white and color creations along with his fashion work and environmental and studio portraiture make up a series of beautifully designed images that show his artistic versatility. David began his career as a photojournalist, then attended and graduated from Art Center College of Design, while still in college he became staff photographer with EMI Records. He later opened his own studio in Los Angeles which serves as his home base for international travels, producing advertising campaigns for American Airlines, Sony, AT&T, Hennessy, Canon, Mercedes Benz, Microsoft, Estee Lauder, K Swiss, Nokia, Hitachi, Kawasaki, Palm and Visa to name a few. His commercial work along with his personal projects that range from the conventional to the abstract is always a search for using the ordinary to create the extraordinary expression of life and art. His images have won him numerous awards from around the world, including Archive, Communication Arts, Graphis, American Photography, PDN and many more as well as having his work featured in several of these and other books, publications and exhibitions.

Here's another slide show I've put together, this time moving through portrait studio work, to location work and on to, using Brandt's own words, 'conceptual & narrative' images.

Drtikol's work too. We then see the use of colour and emotion before the location shots (ah but are the first few, very well propped studio shots). The emotive shots really stuck a chord with me and have given me a different idea for my portrait theme. I'm getting the sense that I'd like to bring someone in get a few shots of their 'normal' state and then encourage them to liberate their emotions, remove inhibition and see what we get. The idea would work well a 'campaign' to promote greater understanding/diversity in business.

Back to Mr Brandt. The show finishes with reportage style images and finally a departure from the norm and the striking use of colour reminiscent of Martin Parr and his 'Last Resort' images.

2.7.11 Sandy Skoglund

I came across Sandy's work whilst looking for someone else. The use of vibrant colour struck me before the beautifully constructed & surreal imagery. 

Skoglund is classed as a photographer and installation artist. Seeing the complexity of the installations I'm given to thinking that she is primarily a creator of physical imagery (3d) and then captures them visually in a way that represents them in a virtual (2d) world.

This work does not directly impact my proposed work, however, I have included it here to remind me of the importance of colour, lighting and most importantly the painstaking work involved in preparation for creation of truly beautiful images.

It is also included as an example of stunning visual imagery that once articulated has probably lost its essence.

Sandy Skoglund Slideshow
I have arranged the images in order of colour and theme. I have include three different published versions of the same shot from the installation 'Radioactive cats' (1981) moving from lighter to darker. This alters the aspect of the image. for me. entirely.

In the first (lightest image) everyone is radioactive, in the second, the cats have brought radioactivity in to the room and in the third the men have brought radio activity to the cats.