Assignment 1 – The Non-Familiar

I have finished the assignment and although it is done, I am aware that i am not totally happy with it and I am sure that i will be revisiting it later on as I progress through the course.  Here are my notes to accompany the images that I made.

Assignment 1

The Non-Familiar

Step out of your comfort zone.  I am sure that this worries most people, and I am no exception.  I put off the moment when I would have to get out there, and while sometimes I was sure that I could do it, at others it was the most daunting thing on my mind.  To say that I had a firm idea of what I was looking to achieve in this assignment would be stretching the truth.  I wanted to use natural light so that meant outside, and I wanted to use the area around where I live so that naturally lead to the assumption that the images would be five individual photos rather than a series on a single theme.  The main aim was to go out with my camera and see what transpired, and the seafront was one location that I had in mind.  It is the start of the summer season for us and all the businesses are open now along with an influx of visitors so the possibilities are different to what would be available in the winter.

Overall I am quite pleased with the outcome as I managed to get people to engage with me and the camera as well as overcoming a natural introvertedness that can be a barrier.  The main stumbling block was getting started and talking to people, and I found that the people that I asked were happy to go along with having their photograph taken.  Time was a factor in that I did not want to outstay my welcome and so only took a few shots each time in order to let them go and get on.  In the café bar, I took some of the Barista at work so that he didn’t feel as though I was making something out of nothing.  I liked this one but wasn’t sure whether this constituted a ‘portrait’ as I was photographing him while he worked.  There is an old fashioned quality about it due to the background – dated wallpaper, mirrors and lights all give a feeling of age rather than modernity so in some ways juxtaposes a modern thing of a coffee machine against the backdrop of 1940s styling.

Non Familiar contact-1 The Barista (Version II)

I was interested to see that most of the people smiled for the camera and were comfortable with being photographed.  Young people are more accustomed to the constant documenting of their lives through Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and so on.  The big smiles of the two girls reminded me of the photos that you see on social media of people out, having a good time and showing themselves as happy, and they were comfortable about being photographed by a stranger. However, the young man with the sunglasses was not as engaged with the camera although he allowed me to take his photograph.

Non Familiar 2nd choice-3   The Biker (Version II)

 This alternative portrait had him looking out to sea but without seeing the helmet, there is more ambiguity and a question of what he is doing there, why is he looking so wistful?  There is a distance in him, preventing me from capturing more than a surface version of him. Graham Clarke on talking about Sander in The Photograph (1997) said that Sander’s portraits “reassert and reaffirm the extent to which we show rather than reveal a face in any public context.”  This young man shows his face but reveals nothing about himself, he is just another person leaning against the beach-huts.  The girls were willing to engage but the sunglasses and smiles puts a natural barrier between them and the camera rather than a conscious one. His glasses prevented me from making a connection with him and that shows in the image.

“Perhaps photographers are drawn to faces because photographs and faces share something in common: although both are instantly engaging, first appearances can be misleading.” William A. Ewing from the introduction to Chapter 2 in ‘Face, the New Photographic Portrait’ (Thames and Hudson, London, 2006).  I managed to get five photographs of people that were not familiar to me, but I still know relatively little about them and the photographs do not immediately elaborate, but then will they ever unless I get to know them further? What did I find out about these people? I made judgements about who to approach based on how they looked – did they look as though they would be willing to be photographed, would they flatout refuse and be offended, or be too chatty? I found out a little about each of them – the Barista sounded Australian and worked in a bar; the girls were from Devon and Spain, and one worked for Rowcroft Hospice;  the ice-cream seller was having a quiet afternoon because the weather was blustery and changeable so people were more likely to have tea than ice-cream.  I found out nothing about the young man, but he sounded possibly Eastern European from his accent. The Big Issue Seller was the most engaging and I spent a little time talking to him about his dog, how selling the Big Issue works, his safety, how he became homeless and how he might get back on his feet.  I was drawn to talk to him because he had an openness about his face and he talked to me easily once I bent down and talked to him.  He was very keen to get his dog into the frame and spent time trying to get the dog’s attention.  This alternative photograph is interesting because of the big poster behind him advertising glasses, and sunglasses for a holiday that this man will not be taking.

 A1-_  The Big Issue Seller (Version II)

It was an interesting exercise in getting out there and trying to engage with people but I am not sure that this is what I want to do all the time.  Knowledge of how my camera works seems to disappear when I am under pressure to take a photo and I get flustered.  The subjects appear to engage with me behind the camera, and I felt that the rudimentary posing that I did with them worked sufficiently.  It is something that I will work on and return to as the course progresses.

Reading:

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph.  London: Oxford University Press

Jeffrey, I. (1981, Reprinted 2003) Photography: A Concise History.  London: Thames & Hudson

Ewing, W.A. (2006) Face: The New Photographic Portrait. London: Thames & Hudson

Images of the Non-Familiar:

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