A2 Planning & Research Vortography

A2 More Planning and Research

I’d originally wanted to take a set of images to express some of my own personal political views, and had planned to use a combination of reflections and vortography after seeing some vortographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn. I’d experimented using some images of New York that I’d taken last year and the effect worked reasonably well so I’d been taking images for my assignment with vortography in mind; all my research and thinking was originally centred around that idea. I’ve included the notes and research I completed for the vortographs as I hope that I can revisit the idea at a later date.

Personal circumstances made it difficult for me to get the images I felt I needed in London as I worked on this assignment. I tried to take images as vortographs locally, but I felt that both aesthetically and in terms of communicating the message I’d wanted to get across they just weren’t working. I was expecting to be able to get more images in London nearer to the assignment deadline, but that didn’t happen. I then had to rethink the assignment and take it in a totally different direction, with little time left to research or plan, when I knew the images I’d hoped to create weren’t going to work.

Vortographs – Very Rough Notes!

I’ve included these notes as this is where most of my research, thinking and planning time went – it’s the idea I was originally working with.  This is a really rough version and there are no references but page numbers refer to ‘The Vorticisits, Manifesto for a Modern World’, Tate Publishing.

I wanted to continue on from assignment 1, this time examining some other themes that came up for me as important and examining some of the reasons I feel disconnected. Basically, I’m looking at Brexit. I wanted to find a way to represent it, and this has coincided with me looking at the work of Alvin Langdon Coburn, especially his work on London and his vortographs. I know the assignment is about lens effects; vortography seems to me to be a lens effect, and to me the use of it works well in the context of the message I’m trying to convey. I feel that the UK has been fractured (this word came up in my second tutorial). I thought about lots of ways to represent this fracturing – cutting up instant images, fracturing a mirror or lens filter to shoot through – they were all ideas I though of persuing, but vortography really spoke to me as the planes and lines in the image are broken up and disturbed. I’ve had a really tough time personally over the past month and it also seems a way to represent me. It just works. The worry I have is that these aren’t traditional lens techniques; I can’t use aperture, zooming etc to get effects. I can’t zoom in on a subject when I have mirrors around the lens or the whole effect is lost. Another worry is that for images to work as a set, I think the whole set will have to be vortographs. That worries me as I’m finding it difficult to judge the aesthetic merit of them.

I looked at How We Are; Photographing Britain. There was an essay ‘England your England’ referred to that was written by George Orwell, I read it and I loved it. He said that we underestimate the Europeans and that we live to regret it. I originally thought I’d use Orwell’s take on Britishness as a starting point for subjects, but then I decided to use Google instead. Times have changed; I wanted to see what represents Britain to the modern mind. So that gave me a list of British Icons as a starting point for subjects. I wanted to use London, I was quite clear about that, and originally I had thought about crowds. I have tried to include people; it’s unusual for me, but I’m seeing it as a beginning.

As I was reading up on the voticists, I found out that the movement came out of a ‘strange synthesis of cultures and times’. (35). ‘the theme of the emigre is central to vorticism, which, although a London based movement, included individuals either alien to British society or on the margins of the cultural establishment.’

In the context of both my experimentation with vortography and my thoughts about Brexit, that quote really struck a chord. Feeling alien to British society is now something that applies to me and clearly also applies to many of my contemporaries. Also I’d been playing around with some photos I’d taken during a period I’d spent living in New York. I’d been experimenting with using the mirror arrangement around the lens on a photograph either printed or on screen to give me more options with initial image capture – being able to use varying apertures and focal length which is impossible when creating the image in camera for example. I really like the colour effect when photographing through the vortograph on the iPhone. The effects are vibrant and add to the sense of otherworldliness and provide an added dimension of uncertainty to the fracturing idea. The lines seem to add to the feeling of an environment heavily reliant on technology – ‘man within a technologised urban environment’. 43

Evaluation points;
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manor, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention.
Context -reflection, research, critical thinking.

In terms of evaluation I’d say I’m worried that it’s difficult for me to judge the aesthetic qualities of the vortography. I’m going on instinct, gut feeling really. Technically I don’t know if I’ve pushed the idea of lens effects too far. I don’t know if I’m meeting the brief, and that is my main concern. The lens effects that are mentioned don’t feature as heavily as they might. I’m not sure if abstraction is valid. If the images capture the message of a Britain that feels fractured. My camera isn’t great. I’ve tried to overcome the limitations of it by doing something a bit different. I’ve taken images on an iPhone. I find it easier to point a camera at people that way; I worry about reactions otherwise. Vortographs are difficult to compose. The design can be a little repetetive. I didn’t want to use digital techniques for this, I wanted it to be an effect with the lens. The images shot on a camera have been shot in RAW, but haven’t been adjusted; the colours are effects of re-shooting on a screen, which also adds textural effects that I like.

I might try different sizes of mirrors. I experimented quite a bit. I put trial images on Instagram to guage feedback – were the subjects still recognisable, for instance? I think multiple exposures, broken mirrors and broken glass, are something I’d like to try to take forward, especially as I’m thinking about personal projects on mental health. The ideas behind vortography would also seem to work for mental health ideas, but I don’t want to do it to death. I also thought about using Google maps, breaking up the country (or areas of it) into shapes that could be tesselated, moved, recombined and jumbled up. I’d love to be able to do this with a real knowledge of how the Brexit vote worked in certain areas, but I’m not sure it’s that simple, because there also seem to be splits between old and young, rich and poor, north and south. Lots of dichotomies, perhaps with individuals not necessarily fitting into the sections of society that they once would have felt comfortable in.

A2 Ideas from my paper learning log

I’ve not been at home much so I’ve been using a paper learning log as I find it easier when I don’t always have reliable internet access.


Some early thoughts on A2


Thinking about A2

I decided to ask for ideas on British icons on Facebook. Seemed like a good idea at the time….


An instant image of St Paul’s Cathedral; an early experiment with vortography


Tower Bridge vortograph. Taken by holding mirrors in front of the lens.


Seven Dials vortograph. Taken by holding a mirror in front of the lens.


Piano vortograph. Taken by holding a mirror in front of the lens.


‘The Mummy’ script as a vortograph. The original image was displayed on a computer screen and then the vortograph was taken with mirrors in front of the lens.


Self portrait vortograph.


The original image was taken in December 2016 in New York, the vortograph was taken by displaying the image on a computer screen and photographing through mirrors.


Looking at the mirror set-up. This is just mirrors on a table.


This is the effect obtained by using layers of mirrors.


Union flag postcard vortograph.


Vortograph produced by placing mirrors over the displayed image on an iPhone. I like the colour results that happen when using an iPhone.


Another image from New York. Vortograph of me meeting Brendan Fraser.


New York vortograph; Bleecker Street subway.


iPhone vortograph. The original image is a train and was taken in Poole, Dorset.



Millennium Bridge with St Paul’s Cathedral. Image displayed on a computer.


Prosperous St, Poole, Dorset


View from Salisbury to Waterloo train.



The technique of displaying the image on a computer monitor and then taking the image through the mirrors can be seen here. The image is part of a photograph of an artwork from MoMA in New York. The other elements on the computer screen often creep in. Flags remain quite recognisable so they make a good subject.


Night road vortograph taken on iPhone.