South Africa is taking the call of President Cyril Ramaposa seriously, freelance photographer John Robinson cycled the length of the Durban beachfront in total isolation, meeting no one except for a few security guards and police. The public pools of Wedge Beach now have a post-apocalyptic feel to them.
Susan Sontag said a photograph is a three-dimensional moment in time that is seen and then captured and cropped into a two-dimensional frame. Though the three-dimensional moment is seen by the human eye the moment it is contained in the two-dimensional frame of the photograph it needs visual devices to work as a photograph for the same human eyes now gazing on it in it’s altered form.
The two-dimensional frame of photography is noticed the moment we take a camera up to our eye. The unframed world seen by the human eye is sharply cut into a small rectangle with defined edges and corners that is not natural to the normal human vision. These defined edges affect the final picture. You can emphasise the vertical with a portrait frame or you can emphasise the horizontal with a landscape frame. It is within this vertical portrait or horizontal landscape frame that we position the content of our photograph.
By positioning the main focus of our image using the general rule of thirds, we can be in a strong starting point in photography. By dividing the length and width of the camera’s rectangle viewfinder into thirds we have four points of pleasing visual strength. By placing the focus of the image on one of these points and not dead centre of the photograph the image will have more interest in the human eye.
Drink some coffee now.
The camera just faithfully records what is in front of the lens, the photographer must crop and use the defined edges of the image to hold the photograph together. The human eye can concentrate on an area of interest, the camera cannot…
Along with the edges of the frame and the rule of thirds, the photographer has a list of visual devices that will lead the eyes of the viewers of the photographer’s images.
A pattern in photography is made stronger when it is broken. Without a halt in the pattern, the photographer might as well just photocopy a piece of wallpaper. A crowd scene with a lone flagbearer makes a spot on which the human eye can rest. Without the flag bearer in the swirling crowd, the eye of the viewer will soon drift elsewhere.
A line in a photograph can be a divide between elements, a chain of elements that together form a visual linear link through a picture. A linear element leads the viewer’s eye around the image. A linear element can be straight, curved or jagged and can affect the overall feel of the photograph too.
We live in a world of colour. Photography heightens the effects of the colours that we are surrounded by and to some extent take for granted in our daily lives. Colour can link elements in our pictures. Warm colours like red and orange come out to the viewer while the cool colours like blues and greens move away from the viewer. The light by which we take our pictures is not neutral either, it can be hard or soft. Hard light heightens colour and soft light mutes the same. Colour is reflected by light and by doing so it takes on some of that colour in the end photographed quality.
Contrast is described as the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition or close association. In photography, the strikingly difference can be light and dark, texture, colour or pattern.
In closing we must remember that all of the above are just devices and not the subject of our photographs, these devices well used can make our pictures much stronger but they are never the subject matter of a photograph that has something to say for itself.
Finish off the coffee and have an open discussion.
Photography means light drawing or drawing with light. The sensor or film in the camera is the light-sensitive surface that we draw on, it’s like a sheet of paper if you like. The camera is a pencil or pen with which we draw our drawings with light or photographs as they are commonly called. Light is the lead or ink with which we draw.
An underexposed photographic image is a bit like a sheet of paper with only faint lines or marks on it. An overexposed photographic image is a bit like a sheet of paper that is black with lines and marks on it. The trick is to let a combination of light, dark and shades between leave an image on the sensor/film that we call a photograph.
The photographer controls the ‘marks’ the camera makes on the sensor/film through the ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings on the camera its self.
As we are drawing with light we set the ISO setting on the camera first. The ISO setting sets the sensitivity of the sensor or the sensitivity of the film we are using to the brightness of the light we are going to work with. It is no use to the photographer if the sensor/film and the light brightness is miss-matched. If the light we are working in is bright daylight an ISO of 100 or 200 is a good point to start. If the light we are working in is general shade or indoors an ISO of 400 or 800 is more inline. If the light that the photographer is working under is low light an ISO of 1600 or 3200 will be more appropriate.
Have a coffee break now.
By first matching the ISO to the lighting conditions, the photographer will have a fuller range of apertures and shutter speeds on the camera at hand to work with.
Aperture or f stops and shutter speeds work in tandem, they work together. For example, A photographer is working in the general shade at 400 ISO at f4 and shutter speed of 1/60 of a second and is getting a good exposure. The photographer can change to f5.6 and 1/30, by increasing the aperture by a stop and decreasing the speed of the shutter. The photographer will still get a good exposure but increase the depth of field and with the decrease of shutter speed will gain more movement in the photograph.
In a second example, the photographer could have changed from f4 and 1/60 by a stop to f2.8 and 1/125 and again get a good exposure but this time decrease the depth of field but increase the freezing of movement in the resulting photograph.
By understanding how ISO, aperture and shutter speed work together, the photographer is in a position of strength and can make a well-exposed picture with more of the depth of field and ‘movement’ aspects in mind. To know more about quality photography, I am at your service.
Gogo, you kept us strong when we were bitten by the whip, and we are still strong. Though we are not a nanny state people, through you our elders, we are strong. Though we are not of orderly streets and straight lines. In this Gogo, we are strong.
We know of viruses and microbes in our midst. The devastation they cause runs deep on our pathways, soaking our fields with premature endings that alter the ways of our left-behinds totally, but Gogo, you have made us strong.
Gogo, you have done your bit, you have been strong for us. If it is your time now, pass with peace of mind, you have made us strong. What you have taught us over the years is with us now in this new thing. All your grandchildren are strong now.
-I have had an inner peace that the people of Africa will come through the Covid 19 pandemic stronger than many others with better resources. The difference is in our collective strength through the bitter experience with the viruses and microbes of our daily lives… John Robinson
At the time when my mother’s independence failed her, my daughter Erin’s (1) was just developing. These seven images are aspects of an interaction between an old lady at the end of her life and a little girl who is only starting on her life. We are all somewhere between these two points. These images were taken during family visits to the frail care centre where my mother spent the last few months of her life on this earth.
My mother Lin Robinson had an Astrocytoma grade 4 tumour removed from her brain, after the operation, the surgeon said to my dad and I that mom had 3 to 6 months to live. Lin Robinson went on to live another 10 years or so. After one more operation, my mom opted to have no more surgery done in her head. The last years of her life were quieting ones, there were the visible effects of brain surgery and the invisible ones too to be detoured around by the whole family.
My dad cared for mom at their home until the point came where mom had to be cared for in a frail care centre. Lin Robinson always liked to walk around in the garden with her husband holding the flowers that he grew for her. She died in a room with a wheelchair beside her bed and had to rely on my dad to get food into her mouth. The last time I saw her alive she knew that I was taking pictures and she smiled at me, it was too late for words.
I feel that my mother just got tired of what is, my father and mother were people of great faith and she wanted to move into the great beyond.
That night I drove home under a starlit night after taking the last photograph of my father’s hand and my mother’s now dead face.
A photograph is an aspect of a moment in time. Through the found control of the camera’s aperture, shutter speed and ISO as learned in the Camera & Coffee photographic basics session we can now emphasize a photographic plane through the depth of field and capture a sense of movement in a static photograph. Depth of field and capturing movement are byproducts of the skilful use of aperture and shutter speed in photography.
Depth of field in photography is connected directly to the f stop of the camera’s lens. An f stop of f2 will give a much shallower depth of field then an f stop of f16 on any lens. A wide-angle lens set at f2 will have a deeper depth of field than a telephoto lens set at f2. The closer the focused subject is to the lens the shallower the depth of field is across the range of f stops of that particular lens from the widest f stop to the narrowest f stop.
The depth of field of a photograph aids in where you the photographer want the eyes of the reader of your photograph to visually settle.
A photograph with a very shallow depth of field could have the eyes of your subject in focus but the ears and the background and most of the foreground out of focus. This makes the eyes of the subject the primary focus of this photograph.
A picture with a very deep depth of field could have the eyes of your subject in primary focus plus most of the background and foreground in acceptable focus too, giving the subject context by including more in focus detail of the environment to this second photograph.
The photograph is a framed static moment in time. Skilful use of shutter speeds can make a photograph have a sense of movement too.
The sense of movement in photography is directly linked to the shutter speed in the camera body. Slow shutter speed will record more of the ‘travel’ of the movement while a fast shutter speed will more likely freeze the movement of the subject in front of the photographer and camera at the time.
There is a lot of fun to be had with cameras and movement. There is more than one way to record movement with photography.
The recording of movement is dependent on shutter speed, the speed of the movement and the direction of the movement concerning the position of the camera.
Slow shutter speed will blur movement a faster shutter speed will reduce the blur and fast shutter speed can virtually freeze a moving object.
As an example, I am going to photograph a person riding a bicycle past people on the pavement and cars on a road. The shutter speeds I will use are 15 or 1/15 of a second, 60 or 1/60 of a second and 125 or 1/125 of a second. I will first position my camera so the person riding the bicycle will go from my left to my right.
At 15 or 1/15 of a second, the motion of the bicyclist will be accentuated, there is a broad blur across the frame. In the photograph at a shutter speed of 60 or 1/60 of a second, my person on the bicycle is more distinct with some blur to show the movement of the bicycle to my right. 125 or 1/125 of a second makes the person on the bicycle distinct with little or no blur at all, while the car driving along beside the bicycle is still somewhat blurred in this third picture. In the first picture at 1/15 of a second, some of the people standing on the pavement have no blur at all while the bicycle has a broad brush of blur.
In my second camera position, I want the bicyclist to travel directly to me and my camera. In all three shutter speeds, the blur will be minimal, in photography, it matters how much the subject travels across the sensor or film plane and not towards the camera.
The aperture and shutter speed work together not only to produce a well-exposed photograph but can also produce interest with a combination of depth of field and the capture of movement.
I am outside in late afternoon light with my camera and take a light reading, at ISO 400 an aperture of f11 and shutter speed of 1/25 gives me a well-exposed picture. This combination also gives me with my camera a tripod a deep depth of field with a lot of blur in movement. Or with staying with an ISO of 400 I can move my aperture to f5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second, I still have a well-exposed picture. Now, this combination allows my camera to come off the tripod at a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second and reasonable capture of fast movement.
And finally, in this set of options I stick again with a 400 ISO and as I wind down the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second I in an equal measure I open up the aperture to f2 which is the widest in my system camera setup. With this option, I freeze the movement but depth of field wise the focus is now really only on what I have focused the lens on.
If you shorten the time the shutter is open you have to compensate by opening up the aperture in an equal measure.
Crowded in Between a Landlord And Fear of Xenophobia in the Streets of South Africa. Photo John Robinson
The Madiengua family lives in an overcrowded flat in the Point area of Durban, South Africa or “Little Nigeria” as it is locally known.
This family lives with their personal belongings packed in plastic bags in case of immediate eviction by the landlord of their building in the Point area of Durban, South Africa, Paty Madiengua stands with his wife Yvette and 4 children L to R Ephraim (15), Sabrina (14), Geffrey (10) and Genesis (2) in the kitchen of their flat ready be on the move again.
Yvette comes from the village of Buta in Oriental Province, DRC. her parents were killed by the DRC army, she escaped to Kinshasa with her brother and sister where her brother went missing. Yvette met Paty who worked as an egg vendor on the streets of Kinshasa and followed him to South Africa with their 4 children.
Paty works the night shift as a security guard in the city and Yvette sells clothes on the beachfront. Mr Madiengua’s salary does not match up to the rent on their 14th floor flat, the landlords in the area are getting rid of families on the overcrowding rule. While the Madiengua family feel safe in their flat they struggle to keep up with the rent and the cost of a family and they are “fearful of the xenophobia in the townships”.
Ekuthuleni Transit Camp in Durban, South Africa sits on a slope in T Section of Umlazi. The camp is next to a grave yard, above a sewage processing plant and just underneath high tension power lines and in the words of Bheki Mngadi a resident of the camp “there is an uneasiness to this place” – John Robinson