The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits.
This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.
I have been finding it difficult to find any decent inspiration for a subject to photograph for this assignment. I have had a few ideas and crossed the off for not being creative enough, adventurous enough, or simply interesting enough. I have started questioning what constitutes a portrait and whether it means that it has to be of someone’s face, or could it be of parts of them. I questioned this while trying out one idea which was to do a kind of montage after David Hockney. I went to his exhibition in London a couple of months ago and was taken with both the vibrancy of his colour in paintings while also being fascinated by his photographic work. It seems to simple yet to pull it off takes skill. I also found them interesting and amusing, and the fact that he could do something so simplistic while being a more than proficient artist.
Carrying on from this, I asked my older son to sit for me while I photographed him in sections in order to try to pull together a montage that would be him. I was casual about it as it was more a fact-finding mission than a first shoot. He was a bit reluctant but agreed to give me some time and sat for me. He has tattoos on both arms, one more heavily decorated than the other, and I wanted to capture those as well as they are important to him, part of who he is as a person. Using an 85mm fixed lens, I sat him in the shade on a bright sunny day against a blue backdrop of our shed. Unconsciously, I managed to get him in blue and black sitting on a black chair against a blue backdrop. He was patient while I did the shots that I wanted, and only occasionally slipped the mask. In most of the images, he has the same expression – a resigned, neutral and slightly closed look. It is the look of someone allowing themselves to be photographed rather than giving themselves to it.
My interest was increased by the other strand to what I was thinking about. I was thinking about masks, about how we only present what we want others to see, and there is a dark side to us. I was exploring the dark vs light aspect of our personalities, what we show and what we hide. I was playing with trying to capture that at the same time. He sat and I photographed him. Then we used more of the sunlight and I was deliberately posing him so that some of his face was shaded. I aimed for tight crops so that it was mainly head and shoulders rather than full body.
Post shoot, I went through them and looked at them more closely. I did my montage which kind of worked but the interesting compilation came about through an expression that I caught of his when he had his eyes closed briefly. It changed the feel of the overall image, and got me thinking more about the dark vs light. It was a little as though a barrier had been let down briefly and that was more him. The more I looked at the photos and the same expression throughout, the more I began thinking seriously about pursuing this as the assignment. I am thinking about redoing it with some focus on different parts of him – the arms with their tattoos, maybe his legs as they both have tattoos, his eyes. I was very drawn to the more unusual crops that I had made as part of the montage: the head showing just eyes and nose at the bottom of the frame; the bicep in one corner and one eye in the opposite corner; the hands resting in his lap showing the tattoos on his fingers; and the whole of him sitting static in the chair. I keep coming back to this idea but wonder if it is too vague for the brief. Harry Callahan did some of his wife in a similar manner – her arm on the beach, a blurred outline against a window, or the one illustrating the course materials of her in water showing just her head. Robert Mapplethorpe also did some self-portraits of parts of his body – one shows just his head and half of his torso with an outstretched hand. Are these still considered to be portraits?
My alternative is to do still one person but along the lines of ‘Same person, different backgrounds’. I have done an initial shoot that went well but could do with fleshing out a bit. I spent some time with a Fire Officer who kindly allowed me to shoot him at home as well at one of the Fire Stations. He suggested going back there at night to do one of the engine with blue lights flashing. That would be so cool! My tutor’s advice to me was “Shoot. Review, Shoot again.” Whatever I decide, I think some more shooting is in order.