Edward Burtynsky

Edward BurtynskyOC (born February 22, 1955) is a Canadian photographer and artist known for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes. Burtynsky’s most famous photographs are sweeping views of landscapes altered by industry: mine tailings, quarries, scrap piles. The grand, awe-inspiring beauty of his images is often in tension with the compromised environments they depict.

Exploring the Residual Landscape

Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.

Ed Burtynsky website

Oil  2009

His series Oil (2009) resolves an epiphany he had in 1997, when he realised just how tightly connected all of our global activity was to petrol and its raw material – oil.

The monograph is divided into three sections:

  • images of extraction and refinement;
  • the consumption of oil and motor culture;
  •  abandoned ‘oilfields run dry’ and motor vehicles of all descriptions resigned to huge scrap heaps.

The images within Oil  evoke a terrifying sense of the sublime. It is within the third section that the images have their most potent effect, for instance seemingly endless rows of impotent, rusting fighter jets in Arizona, or a channel cutting through a canyon of stacked worn car tyres in California. Some of the most striking images are those made at the Chittagong ship breakers in Bangladesh. The proportions of the structures that the workers pick apart, almost by hand, are awesome, and just as affecting are the horrendous conditions in which they work. Although not overtly critical in any explicitly rhetorical sense (i.e. like Kennard’s montages), it is impossible to read Burtynsky’s position as anything but one of grave concern for our consumption of this valuable substance.

Some images in Burtynsky’s Oil can be interpreted from different perspectives: great stacks of compressed oil drums or bits of car parts might speak of excess and consumption but, whilst they refer to manufacturing in a past tense, these are also the raw materials for current industries, ready to be melted down and turned into new things.

China

He has made several excursions to China to photograph that country’s industrial emergence, and construction of one of the world’s largest engineering projects, the Three Gorges Dam.

Burtynsky discussing his work made in China

Other work

Wikipedia

Burtynsky was born in St. Catharines, Ontario. His parents had immigrated to Canada in 1951 from Ukraine and his father found work on the production line at the local General Motors plant. Burtynsky recalls playing by theWelland Canal and watching ships pass through the locks. When he was 11, his father purchased a darkroom, including cameras and instruction manuals, from a widow whose late husband practiced amateur photography.With his father, Burtynsky learned how to make black-and-white photographic prints and together with his older sister established a small business taking portraits at the local Ukrainian center. In the early ’70s, Burtynsky found work in printing and he started night classes in photography, later enrolling at the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.

From the mid-1970s to early 1980s, Burtynsky formally studied graphic arts and photography. He obtained a diploma in graphic arts from Niagara College in Welland, Ontario, in 1976, and a BAA in Photographic Arts (Media Studies Program) from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, Ontario, in 1982.

His early influences include Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Eadweard Muybridge, and Carleton Watkins, whose prints he saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 1980s. Another group whose body of work shares similar themes and photographic approaches to Burtynsky’s work are the photographers who were involved in the exhibition New Topographics.

 

Photographic series

  • 1983 – 1985 Breaking Ground: Mines, Railcuts and Homesteads, Canada, USA
  • 1991 – 1992 Vermont Quarries, USA
  • 1997 – 1999 Urban Mines: Metal Recycling, Canada Tire Piles, USA
  • 1993 – Carrara Quarries, Italy
  • 1995 – 1996 Tailings, Canada
  • 1999 – 2010 Oil Canada, China, Azerbaijan, USA
  • 2000 – Makrana Quarries, India
  • 2000 – 2001 Shipbreaking, Bangladesh
  • 2004 – 2006 China
  • 2006 – Iberia Quarries, Portugal
  • 2007 – Australian Mines, Western Australia
  • 2009 – 2013 Water Canada, USA, Mexico, Europe, Asia, Iceland, India

Video: Manufactured Landscapes

In 2006, Burtynsky was the subject of the documentary film, Manufactured Landscapes, that was shown at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Video: Watermark

Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal, who was his director on the 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes, are co-directors of the 2013 documentary film, Watermark. The film is part of his five-year project Water focusing on the way water is used and managed.

 

Technique

Most of Burtynsky’s exhibited photography (pre 2007) was taken with a large format field camera on large 4×5-inch sheet film and developed into high-resolution, large-dimension prints of various sizes and editions ranging from 18 x 22 inches to 60 x 80 inches. He often positions himself at high-vantage points over the landscape using elevated platforms, the natural topography, and more currently helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Burtynsky describes the act of taking a photograph in terms of “The Contemplated Moment”, evoking and in contrast to, “The Decisive Moment” of Henri Cartier-Bresson. In 2007 he began using a high-resolution digital camera.

The Long Now Foundation

In July 2008 Burtynsky delivered a seminar for the Long Now Foundation entitled “The 10,000 year Gallery”. The foundation promotes very long-term thinking and is managing various projects including the Clock of the Long Now, which is a clock designed to run for 10,000 years. Burtynsky was invited by clock designer Danny Hillis to contribute to the Long Now project, and Burtynsky proposed a gallery to accompany the clock. In his seminar, he suggested that a gallery of photographs which captured the essence of their time, like the cave paintings at Lascaux, could be curated annually and then taken down and stored. He outlined his research into a carbon-transfer process for printing photographs that would use inert stone pigments suspended in a hardened gelatine colloid and printed onto thick watercolour paper. He believes that these photographs would persist over the 10,000 year time-frame when stored away from moisture.

Postcards

It is now quite some time since I received or sent postcards – most things these days are done by Facebook posts. I looked for postcards in East Anglia seaside towns like Aldeburgh but most were art postcards, no photographs. Even in Cambridge it is difficult to get ‘straight’ postcards. Most are tinted or artist drawings. I feel the traditional postcard is probably going out of fashion with technological change. On the Internet search for ‘postcards’ shows many sites where you can send off your own photos and get them produced as cards – this seems to be the growing trend. The other trend of for vintage postcards and art postcards.

The ‘Tourist Gaze’: picturesque

!!to be elaborated from Landscape Photography

“I am wary of picturesque pictures. I get satiated with looking at postcards in local newsagents and at the picture books that are on sale, many of which don’t bear any relation to my own experience of the place… The problem for me about these picturesque pictures, which proliferate all over the place, is that they are a very soft warm blanket of sentiment, which covers everybody’s idea about the countryside… It idealises the country in a very unreal way.” (Fay Godwin)

“…the landscape photograph implies the act of looking as a privileged observer so that, in one sense, the photographer of landscapes is always the tourist, and invariably the outsider. Francis Frith’s images of Egypt, for example, for all their concern with foreign lands, retain the perspective of an Englishman looking out over the land. Above all, landscape photography insists on the land as spectacle and involves an element of pleasure.”

Graham Clark (1997 p73)

 Do you think it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?

In its conventional sense as a noun, the land is inanimate space though it may have life in it – so the photographer is inevitably apart as an observer in the way they are not necessarily with documentary or street photography where the subjects of the photograph may participate in determining the meaning .If one takes ‘landscape’ as a verb and not a noun – an act of slicing parcels of space and thereby giving them some meaning – then also the photographer is always in some sense an observer and hence ‘outside’.

But an observer is not necessarily superficial, privileged, a disinterested tourist or portraying land as spectacle for pleasure. Much depends on the intention of the photographer, their understanding of the complexities of the space they are ‘landscaping’ and the intended audience or market for the images. People may photograph the environment in which they live, or serve as a voice for other people living in the landscape – they are then less of an  outsider. Many photographers have also acted as advocates for preservation or restoration of landscapes devastated by commercial or other human exploitation – those images are far from pleasurable. Technically it is possible to select the content and composition, include even parts of the photographer’s body in the image, to increase the feeling of immersion and involvement. If the intended audience or market for the images is looking not for pleasure or commercial attraction, but to be informed of issues in the landscape/landscaping and the forces that shape it then the photographer often does in-depth research akin to documentary to select the images and meanings to communicate.

‘Late’ photography’

!!To be updated from Landscape Photography

In his 2003 essay, David Campany comments that:

“One might easily surmise that photography has of late inherited a major role as undertaker, summariser or accountant. It turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened totting up the effects of the world’s activity.” (‘Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problem of “Late Photography”’ (in Campany (ed.), 2007)

This ‘aftermath’ approach dates back to the war photographers of the American Civil War and the Crimean War (1853–56), because of technological limitations of the time. Because of the large plate cameras and slow emulsions, it was not possible to photograph actual combat. Their images focused instead on portraits of soldiers, camp scenes and the aftermath of battles and skirmishes. Their images could not yet be reproduced en masse in the illustrated press, but some of these photographs were used as the basis for woodcut engravings for publications such as The Illustrated London News and Harper’s Weekly.

Although technology today makes it possible – though still difficult –  to capture the heat of war and atrocities, this is not necessarily the most effective way of portraying the horrors of violence.

Examples of photographers using the ‘late’ approach in contemporary landscape include:

  • Joel Meyerowitz’s Aftermath images of Ground Zero in New York
  • Richard Misrach ‘s images of the American Desert show the aftermath of human activity but in a beautified distilled large format.
  • Sophie Ristelhueber ‘s aerial images of the Afghan conflict show the scars left on the landscape
  • Paul Seawright Hidden cold ‘objective’ images of battle sites and minefields in Afghanistan
  • Willie Doherty made very evocative images of the left detritus from conflicts during the Troubles and in the present day.

Other photographers have focused on the precursors – the tension in anticipation of violence.  “not the ‘theatre of war’ but its rehearsal studio” (Campany, 2008, p.46). :

  • An-My Lê’s (to do) series 29 Palms (2004) documents US marine training manoeuvres at a range used to prepare soldiers ahead of deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin in Chicago (2005) (to do) examine an Israeli military training ground
  • Paul Shambroom’s project Security (2003−07) studied the simulated training sites that are used by the US emergency services and Department of Homeland Security, nicknamed ‘Disaster City’ and ‘Terror Town’.
  • Sarah Pickering in UK has photographed training grounds for the fire and police service. Her images contain no people, aiming to seem like a film set ready for the action.

3.3: ‘Late Photography’

Psychogeography

Psychogeography and the ‘Edgelands’

Psychogeography is essentially the broad terrain where geography – in terms of the design and layout of a place – influences the experience, i.e. the psyche and behaviour, of the user.  It has walking as a central component (Alexander 2013 p74)

Guy Debord (1931–94) leader of The Situationist International defined psychogeography as follows:

“Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals. The charmingly vague adjective psychogeographical can be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery.”
(http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/presitu/geography.html quoted Alexander 2013 p74)

Psychogeography in literature has a long history.   London, as imagined by writers including William Blake (1757–1827), Daniel Defoe (1659–1731), Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94), Stevenson in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), have all been identified as a place where early traces of psychogeography can be found.

It has also veered between being:

  • mode of artistic expression
  • associated with Marxist ideology and political and social change.

Two inter-linked terms that are key to understanding psychogeography:

  • The dérive is a key method of psychogeographical enquiry. The literal translation from the French is ‘drift’ and a dérive is a spontaneous, unplanned walk through a city, guided by the individual’s responses to the geography, architecture and ambience of its quarters.The dérive can be seen as one strategy to help bridge the gap between the actual, physical observations of the stroller and their subconscious. Similar techniques have been used in geography, sociology and anthropology as a means of research that opens up possibilities and new questions based on direct observation.
  • The flâneur (a term that originates from Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin) is essentially the protagonist of the dérive, but more generally the ‘gentleman stroller’ (as Baudelaire put it) who enjoys the aesthetic pleasures of the sights and sounds he experiences. The emphasis here is more on the aesthetic interpretation of the observer and emotional responses to the views and events that unfold. The flâneur has been identified in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Man of the Crowd (1840) and in the shady figure lurking in the corner of Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Listen to Philip Pullman discussing Manet’s painting in depth.
  • Brassai (1899-1984) flaneur
  • Robert Adams
  • Mark Power
  • Moriyama

However, alternative arbitrary methodologies have also been employed, championed initially by the Situationist movement as a necessary means – as they would see it – to subvert capitalist ideas about correctly engaging and functioning within the city. Other strategies included:

  • the production of alternative maps, such as Debord’s The Naked City (1957), which attempted to facilitate users to experience the city according to their emotional state and responses.
  • Robert MacFarlane’s simple alternative strategy of tracing a circle around the rim of a glass on a map and walking it, you can leave yourself open to new subject matter and unthought-of creative possibilities (see MacFarlane in Coverley, 2010, p.9).

The genre of street photography is often taken (and often mistaken) as evidence of psychogeography today. But although psychogeographical enquiry has traditionally been associated with the city, in more recent years it has expanded beyond its traditional boundaries, and is nowadays less associated with left-wing politics, having returned to a literary position.

  • Iain Sinclair:  fictional and non-fictional literary responses. In the book (and accompanying film) London Orbital (2002), Sinclair chronicles his epic walk along the M25 which encircles the capital, taking him to golf courses, retail and business parks, and other generic spaces.
  • Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ book Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness (2011), celebrates subjects as diverse as shipping containers, landfill sites and wooden pallets.
  • Some have identified the urban sport of parkour (or ‘freerunning’) and even the Occupy movement with psychogeography.

 2.6 Psychogeography and Edgelands

Cambridge Inspiration

Cambridge has a very vibrant artist community with annual Cambridge Open Studios and flourishing urban sketcher’s group with blogspot and Facebook page with photo gallery.

There is also a tourist market with a number of art galleries selling original, print and also cards, some of are images of Cambridge.

From my research before the assignment I did not find very much that was particularly striking, compared to sketching techniques I had looked at from other places.  Much of it was fairly conventional ink and wash, with some watercolour like the very detailed ink and wash of Peter Wenman. Some etchings that I find too flowery by Walter Keesey from 2013 and Cambridge:The Watercolour Sketchbook with illustrations by Graham Byfield whose style I find quite insipid.

My main influences at this point were from Fine art, aiming at styles I had explored previously for my own OCA painting courses in watercolour and ‘View From EAT.’. My main new influences from Cambridge were: 

Sam Motherwell who does quick drawings on the spot. His charcoal drawings of Cambridge have a simplified, ‘lonely’ angular line, sometimes much more energetic. His drawings of St John’s use ink and watercolour. He also sometimes adds collageand this creates very vivid colours to contrast with the ink line. He also does Black and White linocuts.

Frank Hopkirk ink line drawings – often using just one continuous line. He produced a number of cards of drawing of Cambridge musicians that I bought at the 2016 Open Studios.

A key resource for much further exploration going forward to level 3 – is a recent publication (only available just before Christmas 2017):

The Cambridge Art Book: the City through the Eyes of its Artists edited by Emma Bennett 2017. The official website has links to the websites of the different artists. The selection on the site is not however the selection I would have made. I have not included actual images here as I am not sure of the Copyright protocol with the galleries and artists.

The artists I find most innovative and interesting – though I discovered these artists too late to explore these techniques in my Assignment – are:

John Tordoff who combines collage – often newspapers – to create tone and texture. His images in the book and on the Byard Art gallery site are very moody, often twilight time, using dark tones and skies, often with windows with lights on. For some reason these are not on his website. I particularly like: Green Street, Walking at Night, What’s on in Cambridge!, Cambridge market, Bridge of Sighs. He also does iPad paintings, but I do not find these as accomplished or interesting as his other work or other iPad art.

Claire Caulfield who often combines printmaking with other media. Here images often have an exaggerated curvature of linear perspective to give a dynamic lead in and/or isometric overview and other distortions. Her pen drawings use a range of distinctive ink styles. In her drypoint and chine colle the drypoint gives a very distinctive line to her images and the chine colle add texture as well as colour.  Her website also has screenprints some of which also use acrylic and watercolour – these also have a very distinctive irregular line that give a lot of atmosphere and dynamism to the image.

Vanessa Stone  does papercut work of Cambridge views with a very bold line – similar to what can be achieved with linocut, but flatter and with sharper edges.

Rebecca Stark does simplified street paintings in oil, using limited palette and muted colour to create atmosphere and sometimes cutting and pasting sections to exaggerate the shapes – though in many cases I find this overdone and gimmicky. I particularly like Chesterton Lane with Boats, Portugal Place, Market Square.

Ophelia Redpath does surrealist, dreamy images with sweeping lines where the foreground is enlarged. Her early paintings used oil pastel overlaid with gouache to give a curdled texture that increases the atmosphere. See for example:   Corpus Christ College, Tech tennis balls, Musique Representations.

Glynn Thomas copperplate etchings. These have very interesting perspective and composition, combining different elements into one image. See Queen’s College, By the Fountain, On the Cam, At the Mill.

Barbara Pierson does simplified oil paintings of people, often on their own, sometimes with dogs, battling the elements. Her images Cycling in the Snow, Wedding Punt, and After the Snow I find particularly atmospheric.

Procreate


Procreate is probably the most used painting app – developed in 2013, with significant upgrade as Procreate 4 for iOS11 in late 2017.

It is the programme I have used most throughout this course. Its key features include:

  • fully customisable brushes with pressure and tilt sensitivity, including possibility to completely create one’s own brushes. Procreate 4 has added blend modes to the brushes
  • good selection and masking tools
  • alpha-lock and fill features
  • effects and blend modes to enable rapid experimentation with different colours and versions of an image
  • perspective grid and perspective assist – though I find this a bit difficult to use

It is not though so easy and intuitive to use for basic sketching as the colour palette is not as accessible

Issues for my style

  • Colour palette is slow to access for sketching unless working from an already existing image
  • Some of the brushes eg ink brushes need quite a lot of customisation to produce interesting lines like those of Sketches or Sketchbook.
  • There are so many brush options it takes quite some time to get used to how they work enough to work quickly.
  • There are lots of hidden tips and tricks rthat take a long time to discover – need to study a lot of videos on You Tube to find these out.

Sequential illustration

Rough notes from course text

Sequential illustration responds to narrative through a sequence of images, visualising it over time through cartoon strips and graphic novels, storyboards and animations. Although writing may exist within cartoons, the images are more dominant. Visually, sequential illustrations make use of the idea of the frame and camera lens and construct the story by careful use of different types of edits.
Will Eisner ‘Theory of Comics and Sequential Art’ downloadable pdf

Types of narrative

Simple narratives have  a beginning, middle and end: the protagonist has a problem at the start, encounters conflict through the middle and reaches resolution at the end…. What makes the story complex, wonderful, entertaining or tragic are the details of the characters, the setting, the plot of the narrative and the genre in which it’s set. ‘ Course text p87.

In some cases genre codes and conventions may provide the reader/viewer with some certainty as to what they’re about to experience. On the other hand, genres may be deliberately mixed to spice things up.

Framing and storyboards

All forms of sequential illustration use the idea of the frame or panel in some way to move the narrative along. This uses visual language from film and TV – varying close-ups, mid or long shots of what’s going on. Like film, distinct grammars may be used in different genres.

Action: Sequential illustrations, unlike moving image or animation, have to represent movement and action via the static medium of drawing. Action has to be implied. This is often done through association, showing people mid-walk, cars moving, actions taking place, but it can also be
done through careful use of editing, jump cutting from scene to scene.

Sounds: Like actions, sounds have to be implied in sequential illustrations. Speech bubbles do the job of conveying the spoken word in a number of different ways, but actual sounds are often represented onomatopoeically, or as they sound. These KAPOWs, BRRRRRMs and WHOOOOSHs are further enhanced through the use of visual typography, creating fractured words, letters falling downwards or bursting out, anything that helps bring that sound to life.

Narrative research

Cartoon strip

Cartoon strips are perhaps the simplest form of sequential illustration. They may be said to originate in the stone carving narratives of many ancient civilisations. Early Renaissance examples had narratives running across panels.

Very simple cartoons may consist of just 3 frames using a very tight narrative of simple beginning, middle, end. Other cartoons are longer with more space to develop the story, either with more panels or a continuous story over several episodes.

Comic books

The comic book extends the cartoon strip into a publication, with longer pieces and more specific content. Fashions come and go and they vary in their drawing complexity. Comics include:

  • Weekly and annual comics for children and ‘would-still-be’ children: DC and Marvel comics of the 40s and 50s, The Beano, Dan Dare
  • Japanese Manga
  • 1960s counterculture with artists like Robert Crumb
  • 1970s punk with artists like Gary Painter
  • 1980s Viz comics for adults
Graphic novels

In the graphic novel, the basic form of the cartoon is extended to cover longer narratives. Often graphic novelists focus on more complex forms of narrative and, as the term ‘novel’ suggests, see themselves more as a part of the world of literature than comics. Graphic novels can be created by an illustrator-author or be a collaboration between an illustrator and an author.

Storyboards

The image remains free of any speech bubbles, descriptions or sounds; instead, this information is presented at the bottom of each frame, with additional information on the type of edit being used and how long for. Storyboards are more functional than other forms of sequential illustration; they’re a form of visual idea development specifically for the moving image.

Research:  Pick some examples of of comic book, cartoon and graphic novel artists:

  • What’s the relationship between the narrative and the style of drawing being used?
  • Which is most important in making the story work?

Graphic novels: Dave McKean

Graphic novels: Shaun Tan

Comics: Chris Ware

Comics

Frans Masereel  and Lynd Ward from my Printmaking blog

Image and Text

Rough notes from course text.

Narrative fiction

Within narrative fiction, illustrations work alongside text in a responsive way, helping to visualise characters, moods and locations. Illustrations can be more imaginative than many other types of illustration – they’re there to communicate ideas, emotions, moods, drama and contexts as much as characters, actions and plots. Trying to focus on the overall mood, direction, genre and feel of the book will give an impression of the novel without getting too hung up on the specific content.

Key questions for illustrators when reading the text:

  • What is the overall mood, genre and feel?
  • What is the plot?
  • Who are the important characters and what is their relationship?
  • Who are the readers?
  • What is the purpose of the illustration?
  • Do you create an image that visualises the beginning, middle or end, or try to create a piece that suggests all three?

The answers are likely to differ depending on the type of book and its purpose, the age of the reader and the purpose of the illustration.

Research point: Kafka Metamorphosis

Linking images with text

There is a physical connection between image and text, defining where the images go on the page and how they interact with the written word. There are lots of different ways of working image and text together, including:

  • whole page illustrations that sit alongside the text, headers, footers or as vignettes that the text wraps around.
  • typography continuing over the top of an illustration or the illustration extending over the type (space needs to be allowed for this)
  • digitally compositing the text as part of the image (see my work on Image and Text for Book Design 1, particularly Jabberwocky)
  • ‘visual word’ illustrative treatment of the typography itself (see my posts for Book Design 1: Experimental TypographyConcrete Poetry). Some calligraphic traditions, particularly Islamic calligraphy use the expressive forms of type see post: Islamic calligraphy on Book Design 1 and Hassan Massoudy (forthcoming)

Book covers

Book covers need a bold visual statement to draw people in, but also need to present key information such as the author, title or publisher. Book covers are most successful when the illustration and the typography have a sympathetic relationship – they’re both pulling in the same direction.

Research point: book and magazine covers (to be updated and completed for illustration building on my work for Book Design 1 See: Book Covers and links therefrom on my Book Design blog)

 Children’s fiction

“In fairy tales, internal processes are translated into visual images. When the hero is confronted by difficult inner problems which seem to defy solution, his psychological state is not described; the fairy story shows him lost in a dense, impenetrable wood, not knowing which way to turn, despairing of finding the way out. To everybody who has heard fairy tales, the image and feeling of being lost in a deep, dark forest are unforgettable…“Telling a fairy tale with a particular purpose other than that of enriching the child’s experience turns the fairy story into a cautionary tale, a fable, or some other didactic experience. which at best speaks to the child’s conscious mind, while reaching the child’s unconscious directly also is one of the greatest merits of literature.” Bruno Bettelheim 1975 quoted course text pp 83-84

In illustrated children’s books there’s often a more obvious conversation taking place between text and image. The relationship between image and text varies depending on the target age of the children, and their assumed level of reading skill. Illustrations are often there to facilitate reading of the text, but also to stimulate imagination.

Key questions:

  • How do you visually help tell a story without giving too much away? The illustrations need to support the text without being too dominant, stealing the storytelling away, but at the same time they shouldn’t be too distant from the action.
  • Where along the course of the narrative should the images be placed? At what point in the action would an image be best suited – just before something has happened, during, or at the end?
  • What should the images focus on? should they be character-driven, bringing identities, expressions and gestures to life, or focused on location and landscape.

In some cases illustrations set the blueprint for future interpretations.

In some cases the book’s creator is both author and illustrator:

  • The Cat in the Hat (1954) created and illustrated by Theodor Geisel writing as Dr Seuss, Der Struwwelpeter
  • Shockheaded Peter (1845) by Heinrich Hoffmann
  • Where The Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak
  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943).

There are also many examples of illustrators who have defined a story visually by being the first or best illustrator to respond to it. In other cases the illustration style becomes inseparable from the reader’s interpretation.

  • Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and Jabberwocky.
  • Winnie The Pooh (1926) written by A A Milne and illustrated by E H Shepard
  • The Gruffalo (1999) written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated
    by Axel Scheffler
  • Little Red Riding Hood (1812) as defined by the Brothers Grimm and
    illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
  • Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake

Research point: Image and text in children’s books

Comics and Graphic novels

Within comics and graphic novels, the line between what’s written and what’s visual, between the image and the text, becomes increasingly blurred, with written elements taking on the form of illustrations and the whole existing within a carefully constructed visual narrative of frames, bubbles, and drawings. See Sequential Illustration.

Visual storytelling

This page needs a lot more development

Notes from course guide:

Coding and decoding meaning

Illustration requires an understanding of:

  • how images are coded with meaning/s – and how these are affected by the particular skills and views of the illustrator.
  • how viewers might then decode these images – how those meanings are read.
  • ‘noise’ affecting the relationship between the two – whether it should be eliminated or accommodated. The type of ‘noise’ will vary depending on who is looking at the work, where they are, and their cultural standpoint.

 

Semiotics

Semiotics is branch of linguistics that studies how we read signs. It is useful to illustrators to have some grounding in semiotics as it provides a technical language to describe how images are coded and decoded. Amongst other concepts semiotics uses connotation and denotation
as a way of describing actual and intended meanings:

  • Denotation describes the obvious, literal things in an image.
  • Connotation describes the associations we have with that image. These associations are determined by our social, economic and personal perspectives.
Symbolism and structure

Symbolism is the use of signs to create meaning. It involves consideration of:

  • which images are chosen and what they stand for
  • where they’re placed and the hierarchy of relationships between each of the signs.

Placing something at the front or top of an image will create a different meaning from placing something at the back or bottom.

See Research point: William Hogarth

Project 3.1 Frog in a Well