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  • Welcome to the new site. Here's a thread about the update where you can post your feedback, ask questions or spot those nasty bugs!

"Choice"

Chris Kresser

New member
Hi everyone,

I'd like your feedback on a series I am working on called "choice". You can see it here.

Comments, impressions, reactions, and suggestions for improvement are all welcome.

Here is one image from the series:



Thanks,
Chris
 
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Tim Ashley

Moderator
Chris, I think that's quite an exceptionally interesting series of work. It makes me think, perhaps inevitably, of Warhol - but also of Bernd and Hilla Becher's work and the buzzword which is often used to favourably describe it: 'seriality'.

The deadpan, uniform lighting, which is both cheerful and soulless, helps greatly and to me it looks as if you've white balanced very carefully indeed. It would be useful to know your technique and equipment.

I have a strong desire to see them all at once - either on a virtual-screen-based light table, or on a wall - because I imagine that part of their collective power will be in their collective exposition and the way they resonate with each other.

If there was one extremely tiny suggestion (and this is a reflection of my being extremely anal in theory but failing in practice!) it might be that using a tilt/shift lens to keep the geometries 100% precise, might add a touch to this seriality - but that is overly picky of me since it is already 99% accurate.

Oddly, though having seen a few I have got the point, I would like to see more!

Best

Tim
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Tim,

Thanks very much for taking the time to respond.

Your idea of presenting them on a "virtual" light-table is a good one. I'm not at all certain that the presentation method I've chosen is the right one for this project. Later today if I have some time I'm going to experiment with a few different methods and post back here in the hopes of getting feedback on which of them is most reflective/supportive of the subject matter.

I am pretty new to photography and don't know much about tilt/shift lenses. Perhaps I should read up? As you point out, some of the lines are definitely not straight and this was a major issue for me in post-processing. Especially since I used a Ricoh GX100 "pocket camera" to make these images. While the Ricoh is certainly capable in many respects, there is quite a bit of distortion at the wide end. To remedy this I used a program called "LensFix C.I." which utilizes the PT Lens database.

Ideally, I would have taken these shots with my 5D and perhaps a 24/2.8 lens. However, the few times I went into the stores with the 5D I got promptly thrown out as soon as I started taking pictures. The GX100 is far more discreet.

Which brings me to the other major challenge of this project: access. I didn't feel good to be taking the pictures surreptitiously, and the effort to avoid detection made for hasty and sometimes poorly executed photographs. I could accomplish much more if I was able to use the 5D, set up a tripod and properly align and expose the shot.

Thankfully, I didn't have to do anything to achieve the "uniform, soulless lighting" I was going for. That's just how those stores are lit - which is of course part of the point of this series.

I did ask for permission a couple of times and was denied in both cases. Next time I try I will bring in a folder with some completed images and reassure them that it's a personal project. I think they are afraid of their store being portrayed in an unkind light, or perhaps they think I'm a "spy" from another retail chain. In any event, the store managers haven't exactly been "receptive".

I've seen plenty of work with similar themes out there. I wonder if those photographers got permission or simply snapped away under the radar?

I am new to photography and am not aware of Bernd and Becher - I'll have to check them out.

Thanks again for your feedback, Tim. It is much appreciated.

Chris
 

Nolan Sinclair

New member
Hey, nice job Chris.

I'm currently in Korea, where the selection of such goods are oftentimes much more limited with far less shelf space. The patterns and uniformity of the supermarket are really alien looking to me.
 

Tim Ashley

Moderator
Tim,

Thanks very much for taking the time to respond.



I am pretty new to photography and don't know much about tilt/shift lenses. Perhaps I should read up? As you point out, some of the lines are definitely not straight and this was a major issue for me in post-processing.

Chris
Hey Chris, it's my pleasure!

A tilt/shift lens is a bit like the bellows on a traditional large format camera - it lets you literally tilt and shift the lens elements relative to the film/sensor plane so as to correct for perspective distortions. Canon make three that would fit your 5D, including a 24mm. But as you say, if you can't get access other than half-secretly then a weird lens and the requisite tripod are out of the window.

In any event you've done a really really good job with the Ricoh and software combo you've used. I would have found it very difficult to have gotten things as straight as you have.

For Bernd and Hilla (and believe me they are an acquired taste!) try the following link:

http://www.tate.org.uk/research/tateresearch/tatepapers/04spring/stimson_paper.htm

Best

Tim
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Tim,

I checked out Bernd & Hilla's work. I actually like it. But then, I also like Burtynsky (although I found the recent film "Manufacturing Landscapes" to be subpar).

In the article you linked to there was a photo by Andreas Gursky. As I mentioned before, I'm pretty new to the photography world and haven't followed the contemporary scene. I was pretty shocked to learn that Gursky sold "99 Cents" for almost $3 million! Funny thing is I have several images taken inside of a local 99 cent store that I didn't include in the portfolio.

I guess this just goes to show that there are few, if any, new ideas. I'm sure plenty of people made photographs of 99 cent stores, retail displays, etc. before Gursky came along and plenty of people will continue to do so.

It does raise the question, though, of what makes a single photograph or body of work endure. It's probably not the idea or concept behind the idea, since those will come and go and change over time. And it's clearly not the technical aspects of the photograph that contribute to its longevity, or else no one would continue looking at the works of the early masters. It is something far less easily measured, I believe.

Not that I have it figured out. It's a big question, one that I wonder about often.
 

Yaron Lenard

New member
Interesting. I like yours a lot better than mine. A couple of years ago, I tried to work up some images just like that. I ran into problems shooting in a supermarket though, and ultimately did not pursue it. I had seen a great series at a house I was thinking of buying at the time. The owner had images of single shelves of super-market breakfast cereals hanging up high on the kitchen wall, and it led me toward thinking of working with packaged food products. Later I bought a number of single-serving packs of kids' cereal, but never shot that either.

California weather was too nice to be indoor, I guess. Now that I'm in Berlin, I will reconsider it as a rainy-day project.

The classic shot:




Something a little meatier:

 

StuartRae

New member
I'd like your feedback on a series I am working on called "choice"............
Hi Chris,

If you'd presented one well chosen photograph titled "Choice", itr may have attracted my attention. But an endless series of similar shots I find quite boring.

Perhaps I don't understand :)

Anyway, I wish you all the best with your project.

Regards,

Stuart
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Thanks, Yaron, for your feedback. Yes, those are very similar! I like them a lot. The vibrant, almost Disney-like color really gets the message across in a visceral way.
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Hi Chris,

If you'd presented one well chosen photograph titled "Choice", itr may have attracted my attention. But an endless series of similar shots I find quite boring.

Perhaps I don't understand :)

Anyway, I wish you all the best with your project.

Regards,

Stuart
Or maybe you just don't like it :). Either way, thanks for taking the time to give feedback.
 

Yaron Lenard

New member
Wow, the Hammers are great! The cereals are the best out of the bunch though. I'm not a huge fan of the canned vegetables, but maybe because it includes more of the "ceiling" - the under-side of the shelf above. The shot has more of an "up" angle, and so the composition makes me probe the empty spaces, not the products themselves. It's almost as though that shot is about the negative spaces...

I notice that I composed my shots more tightly, in part to avoid the shift of angles. Obviously boxes on the left will show their right side, and conversely products on the far right of the images clearly show their left sides. The same for tops and bottoms.

Must be a beholder thing, I think everyone of those shots are quite unique.

My fustration with my shots is softness. I couldn't set up a tri-pod, so I worked off a cushioned surface (jacket bundled into baby-seat of cart) to provide some stability. Nonetheless my shots ended up soft. My goal had been to print quite large, larger than the actual products would be in the super-market. But softness doesn't work for a shot like that, and I dare say your shots seem to suffer the same fate.

I'm suddenly in the mood for a bowl of Cookie Crisp, not sure why...
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Wow, the Hammers are great! The cereals are the best out of the bunch though. I'm not a huge fan of the canned vegetables, but maybe because it includes more of the "ceiling" - the under-side of the shelf above. The shot has more of an "up" angle, and so the composition makes me probe the empty spaces, not the products themselves. It's almost as though that shot is about the negative spaces...

I notice that I composed my shots more tightly, in part to avoid the shift of angles. Obviously boxes on the left will show their right side, and conversely products on the far right of the images clearly show their left sides. The same for tops and bottoms.

Must be a beholder thing, I think everyone of those shots are quite unique.

My fustration with my shots is softness. I couldn't set up a tri-pod, so I worked off a cushioned surface (jacket bundled into baby-seat of cart) to provide some stability. Nonetheless my shots ended up soft. My goal had been to print quite large, larger than the actual products would be in the super-market. But softness doesn't work for a shot like that, and I dare say your shots seem to suffer the same fate.

I'm suddenly in the mood for a bowl of Cookie Crisp, not sure why...
I agree with you that some of the shots would have been better off composed more tightly. I like the way you did that.

As for sharpness, yes, a tripod would definitely be the way to go. And using my 5D instead of the GX100 would also have been better. But the few times I tried to use my 5D I promptly got thrown out of the store. I guess it just looks that much more "serious".

I tried to sharpen as much as possible in post without creating artifacts, but they're still not completely sharp.
 

Yaron Lenard

New member
The reason I like "our" kind of images is simply that it reflects my super-market experience. When I stand in those aisles I find the product choice to be all-consuming. I cannot even think of "what else" I'm supposed to get - at that moment I'm thinking ONLY about cereal, or tooth-paste, or hammers. I try to live my life *a little bit* like a car racer, in that I'm already thinking about the next turn or two when I'm still apexing the current turn. But at the super-market, that part of my brain stops working. Maybe it's something primal, like a hunter-gatherer (*ahem* - just gatherer in this case) evaluating which berry to eat next. That's why this work speaks to me so directly.
 

Yaron Lenard

New member
I snuck in my 5D, but it was definitely spy-movie style.

Gorilla pod on side of cart, and a LiveView swing-out screen.... and a jacket to toss over it in case someone sees you... "But I'm an artist!!!..." as you get dragged out by your feet...
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Yaron,

You might enjoy reading a book by a psychologist named Barry Schwartz called "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less". He shares the results of his research into how choice affects human psychology and society. His conclusions are as follows:

1. We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.

2. We would be better off seeking what was "good enough" instead of seeking the best.

3. We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions.

4. We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible.

5. We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing.

These aren't his personal opinions; they're the results of surveys he and his colleagues performed of thousands of people from all walks of life.

Nobel Prize-winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen also examines the nature and importance of freedom and autonomy and the conditions that promote it. He distinguishes the importance of choice, in and of itself, from the functional role it plays in our lives. He suggests that instead of being "fetishistic" about freedom of choice, we should ask ourselves whether it nourishes or deprives us, whether it makes us mobile or hems us in, whether it enhances self-respect or diminishes it, and whether it enables us to participate in our communities or prevents us from doing so.

Increased choice among goods and services may contribute little or nothing to the kind of freedom that counts. Instead, it may impair freedom by taking time and energy we'd be better off devoting to other matters.

And of course this is just the psychological impact of choice. There are also profound economic, environmental and global political/social implications.
 

Ray West

New member
Hi Chris,

Don't know about 'better off'. does that mean 'easier to make a decision', or it will save us money, or time , or all plus more? In general, it may be right, but it does depend on what is being discussed. It is not an answer to everything. (but you know that...)

I guess it is written from a capitalistic/consumerism viewpoint, and of course is 'evil talk' in such a situation, hence of interest.

Best wishes,

Ray
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Yaron,

You might enjoy reading a book by a psychologist named Barry Schwartz called "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less". He shares the results of his research into how choice affects human psychology and society. His conclusions are as follows:

1. We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.

2. We would be better off seeking what was "good enough" instead of seeking the best.

3. We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions.

4. We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible.

5. We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing.

These aren't his personal opinions; they're the results of surveys he and his colleagues performed of thousands of people from all walks of life.
I have little faith in the conclusions obtained by interviewing many people. You will find most of them believe in talking snakes and real devils and so forth. People think syphilis is evil, AIDS is a curse from God, their Nation has diving providence on their side and so forth.

I think it's healthy to question what choices we really have. But when a young woman on a street corner, is seen soliciting men in passing cars and someone with you says, "Everyone makes choices!" that is cruel! We cannot simplifies the tragedy of a very troubled life and so not feel for her defacement. Was it her choice or her limited choices? Many girls run away from abuse at home and only to fall into the hands of waiting pimps who redirect her to the darkside of our civilization.

Asher
 
Where did the hammers go?

Chris, I like your remaining picture of the cereals, because it has interior structure that the two examples by another commenter lack. The flow of the script K's across the top row, and the beginning of a sense of how many ways a manufacturer can work small variations on an established product. Another theme that might emerge is the signs of the battle for shelf space between different manufacturers. Not sure how to make that visual, unless the script G's, and the "Post" signs are big enough. I thought I saw a hammer shelf, and hammers have a lovely shape, that varies with size, weight, and the type of nail that is the life aim of each hammer. That should give rise to a nice textural variation across the frame. The Bechers' series and conjunctions succeed (with me, at least) because they study their material deeply and extract this kind of internal connection and small continuous changes that can be seen in your cereals, and to a lesser extent in the shapes of the meat in blisterpacks in the other presentation.

Anyway, if you were shamed into removing the hammers by Stuart Rae's gibe, please post them again.

The pocket small sensor cameras are perfect for this sort of stealth Gursky shooting, because they are pocketable and have great depth of field. Mitch Alland has found that if you accept grainy texture as part of the vocabulary you can do very large prints from a GR-D2. If you want stealth and near MF quality, get an M8 with a CV15 or Zeiss 21/2.8. I would think that by bracing the camera against the side of the cart on top of a cereal box, or box of canned goods you would get sharp 1/4 sec exposures so that you wouldn't have to push the sensor speed much. (So it's not level? Shoot RAW and rotate the horizon afterwards.) I carry a GR-D2 with me much of the time, and I have used it in the local supermarket when I saw something sufficiently absurd (I'll post an all-chocolate Passover platter in a PS if I can locate it). It would never occur to me to say "but I'm an artist" if apprehended. I'd just say "this is funny."

scott
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Hi Scott,

I really appreciate your detailed feedback, and for calling attention to the visual themes present within the smaller "units" in each image - whether cereal boxes or hammers. Although the intention behind the series could be labeled "critical", I actually found myself being delighted at times by the symmetry, colors and arrangement of the items. (Of course other times, even most of the time, I was more disgusted than delighted. But the delight is an important part of what made this a visual/photography project for me rather than a writing project, for example.)

You can see the entire series (so far, still in progress) at http://cdkarts.com/choice.html. Hammers, cereal boxes, mustard & mayo, pens, shampoo and more :)

Best,
Chris
 
Chris, Yaron: I think you guys are doing good stuff. You're starting with a concept and figuring ways to illustrate it. It's a philosophical approach to photography that contrasts with alternative aims to make a pretty picture however vacuous the meaning or to capture decisive moments. There's nothing at all wrong with either of these alternatives - the success of photography is indeed built on their foundations - but the conceptual approach has an established history, too. Keep on pushing at the boundaries.
Cheers
Mike
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Chris, Yaron: I think you guys are doing good stuff. You're starting with a concept and figuring ways to illustrate it. It's a philosophical approach to photography that contrasts with alternative aims to make a pretty picture however vacuous the meaning or to capture decisive moments. There's nothing at all wrong with either of these alternatives - the success of photography is indeed built on their foundations - but the conceptual approach has an established history, too. Keep on pushing at the boundaries.
Cheers
Mike
Thanks, Michael.

That's pretty much how I approach photography these days. I often start with an idea or concept I've been thinking about, and then develop it in my journal to explore the possible visual associations. Then I take some "sketchbook" shots to see if it works. And so on.

It's proven to be a much more gratifying method of making images for me than simply wandering around with my camera. I'm not saying the latter method is inferior or invalid! Some of the greatest photographers worked (and work) that way. It just didn't suit me, that's all.

As a viewer I tend to be interested in pictures and series' with social and political themes. So it's no surprise to me that this is what I'm interested in doing as a visual artist.
 
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