Tuesday, 11 November 2008

VIII : Lighting and Arrangement

In the studio, the subject and lighting arrangements are under the control of the photographer. The conditions at these readings are exactly the opposite; they are made by the organisers for the convenience of readers and audience, and must be accepted as they are.

In particular, a flash must never be used. Even the noise of a shutter can be an intrusion, and pictures often must be taken during the introduction to a piece or when the audience laughs. The use of flash is an unpardonable rudeness. There is another reason for not using it, and that is that it produces lighting which the audience never sees, and therefore does not reproduce the atmosphere of the reading.

Arrangement during a reading is static, unless the reader chooses to prowl to and fro. The interval produces many different arranges, as in the picture of Gareth Reeves and Patty O’Boyle, which depends on back-lighting and an accidental conjunction of figures. This is selected, I should add, from several similar negatives, and one must be prepared to take a good many more shots than are finally used. It would be a mistake to wait for the ideal picture to compose itself, better to take sighting-shots, because the ideal may not materialise, and waiting for it would produce nothing at all.

Gareth Reeves and Patty O’Boyle, The Bridge Hotel, Durham 14/10/1983

Gareth, lecturer in English at the University, poet and son of a poet, is an anchor-man of the Colpitts readings and of the magazine “Poetry Durham”, which he is seen here pressing on the audience.

Gareth Reeves selling “Poetry Durham”, Castle Chare, Durham 07/02/1986

The pictures of Seamus Heaney and Tony Jackson depend for their effect on the spillage of light from sources within the frame of the picture. Those of Jackson reading, and of his baffled audience, were on the other hand taken in the flat lighting of several fluorescent tubes, and depend for interest entirely on the figures themselves.

Jackson does have this effect on people. His work consists largely of a celebration of literary clichés, which he assembles in the spirit of DIY. No-one could feel the same about a spy thriller or a pornographic novel after taking a course of Jackson. He was, by a magnificent municipal misunderstanding, accused of bringing the Newcastle festival into disrepute in 1969 by reciting pornographic works.

Seamus Heaney, Morden Tower 18/02/1972

Tony Jackson, Colpitts, Durham 12/03/1976

Tony Jackson, Castle Chare, Durham 15/02/1980

His audience.

The lighting problem is essentially that of contrast. People sometimes ask me how I can take pictures in dim light without flash, but this is not the difficulty; provided the light is directional, its weakness is unimportant. Sometimes there is too much light, an example being the spotlight on the face of the pianist (plate 33b –Stitt). The result can then be an over-exposure sufficient to reduce the contrast, and the face is reduced to a white mask. Burning it in simply produces a grey mask; this can be seen in many a newspaper photograph taken with a flash mounted on the camera. In plate 52 B, however, a spotlight has produced an acceptable picture, because it comes from the side of the face.

(technical section on cameras and lenses removed from here)

Provided there is enough light, exposure is not critical. I usually meter a wall at the start, and adjust the exposure thereafter by guesswork, according to subject.

I use only monochrome, and have no experience of colour-print films of speed 1000 ISO and faster. I have yet to find anything for this sort of work to equal the conventional 400 ISO films such as Kodak Tri-X. Their claimed speed is genuine, and can be up-rated by extra development to a genuine 8000, and by genuine I mean with detail in the shadows, not merely density in the highlights of the negative.

For general photo technique my handbook is Eric de Mare’s Pelican book “Photography”. It is dated regarding cameras and some materials, though his recommendation of Ilford Microphen developer remains sound. I would add Kodak HC 110 used at double strength for up-rating speed; neither of these will produce fine grain with such a film, but I find a grain which would be objectionable in large areas of continuous tone such as skies to be acceptable in the sort of work shown here. The book is particularly informative on the pestilential and unavoidable subject of ‘spotting’ of prints to remove defects. ‘Burning in’ over exposed parts of the negative must sometimes be done, the screen in plate 37 A for example, which on a straight print would be plain white.

The Big Jug in Durham provided a variety of lighting, form daylight in the early summer evenings to dramatic spotlights. It was unusual in the wide and deep spread of the audience, and my f2.8 lens found most of its use there.

Peter Laver, ‘The Big Jug’, Durham 25/02/1983

Robert Sheppard, ‘The Big Jug’, Durham 05/03/1982

Tom Pickard paid a visit to read at the Jug in 1981, accompanied by his Polish wife. He was at that time spending half his year in Warsaw; she kept him in good order I think. Also visible in the picture with her is Geraldine Monk. She regarded me with a quizzical eye; we did not converse.

The Jug also provided good arrangements of the audience, with views from front, side and rear. Its poster covered walls were exciting at the start but soon became a cliché in the pictures, and I should have welcomed a return to Colpitts Contemporary.

Tom Pickard, ‘The Big Jug’, Durham, 19/06/1981

Mrs.Pickard (L), as above.

In the matter of arrangement the interests of the photographer and the reader surely co-incide. There can be nothing worse for either than the classroom arrangement, with the audience in parallel rows, facing the speaker. If it is set in some sort of ring whihch includes the reader, he feels part of the body of the people rather than set apart; and the photographer can place himself so as not to point his machine straight at the readers face, nor at most of the audiences, but can obtain various side angles.

The Castle Chare, no doubt because of its origin, was especially classroom-like at the start, and this re-appeared in the Staff Common Room in the Union building at Durham. Fancy lighting, or business with cabbage were needed to cope with this gloomy arrangement.

Ken Smith, Staff Common Room, Durham Union, 23/01/1987

Student with cabbage, Castle Chare, Durham 01/05/1980

U.A. Fanthorpe reading at the Staff Common Room, Durham Union, 20/02/1987

The entrance to the poetry reading room, Castle Chare, Durham 21/01/1983

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to see and read this. He was a solid man. I miss him
Tom Pickard