I received the feedback on Assignment 2 from my tutor. I was encouraged that I had fulfilled the brief and I agreed with some of the comments on the content.
“I think the end series falls short of a really interesting set of images that would engage an objective audience but I have a feeling you are aware of this.”
I found this assignment very frustrating because I could not translate what I had in my mind into images on a page. Eventually I settled for something that I felt was not what I wanted to submit but I had spent so much time chasing it, I needed to submit something and move on. The end result was competent but not what I had wanted to achieve. In fact, it was probably what I had achieved with the Fire Officer photos but with a slightly different emphasis.
He suggested looking at Celia’s Children Albert + George Clark, Los Angeles April 7th 1982 composite polaroid, 35 x 23 1/4 in by David Hockney as a comparison to see how the connection could be made between a photographer and the subjects. I can see that the children are sitting awkwardly but there is a connection, and although they appear to be unwilling it is perhaps because of their age. With Barney, there was a sense that he was humouring me and I found it difficult to draw out of him exactly what it was I wanted to portray. I think that this is what my tutor is alluding to, that there is a distance between me as the photographer and Barney as a sitter. Hockney was not the boys’ parent but still managed to capture something of their youth with a fondness. Maybe that is where I failed in that Barney is my older son and that is the barrier to effectively direct him.
Portrait photography has never been my strong point, maybe photography is not my strong point, and this assignment confirmed how difficult it is to produce works that have a connection. Looking at the other idea of the ‘day in a life’ of a fire officer, I can see more of a connection between us but I think I was chasing something more illusive and hard to pin down.
The photographs are evenly lit and have specific areas in focus as dictated by the location of the tattoo on the body. The light source is mainly natural available light as the subject was outside in a shaded area. The colours are mainly black and blue which gives a uniformity across the five images, with the blue background being the dominant one. The framing is tight in order to isolate a specific area, and to make the subject the focus rather than the background being a distraction and taking attention away from the subject. There is a uniformity across the series
Quality of Outcome
The brief was to produce a set of five photographs that have a theme and make use of techniques covered in the chapter. These are five individual images that make up a whole, and concentrate on one person and his tattoos which are an integral part of him. There is a symmetry with the use of left arm, left leg, right arm, right leg and whole body to bring them all together. I was aiming for a montage approach but ended up with more of a trail from one side to the other. My inspiration had come from David Hockney and Nadav Kander, and this is an interpretation of what they produced. This is not exactly what I had in mind but it was more difficult to portray than I thought, and this is the follow on from the exploration of the original idea. The series has got a cohesion to it and gives an idea of him as a person but allows for more than one interpretation of what the tattoos mean.
Demonstration of Creativity
I had an idea about trying to portray the light and dark sides of a person, what they show and what they hide. Barney had agreed to be the model for the assignment and I did an initial trial where I took multiple photos in order to make a montage. I found this really interesting and actually was closer to what I had thought I wanted to achieve, but moving on from the initial shoot was more difficult and the more photos I took, the further away I got from this idea. The set works but maybe not as interestingly as the initial idea. I was at a loss as to how to proceed and time was running away, therefore I followed the less imaginative path in order to complete the assignment and move on.
Portraits are harder than they appear and finding a theme to join them together is not straightforward. Barney was willing to sit for me, in a variety of setups from outdoors to studio in order for me to try to capture that illusive moment that I had seen in the initial trial. The ‘Street and Studio’ suggested that there should be a mix of the two, but ‘studio’ always suggests something stiff and formal as well as difficult to achieve without the right equipment. I tried doing both but erred on the side of caution and settled on natural light with one portrait.
The set of photographs works within the context of the brief. I was really interested in the montage idea but eventually found that the more I worked on it, the less it fulfilled what I had in mind. I did not feel that I had time to keep on plugging away when the results were so illusive. Part of the problem was that I had to keep asking Barney to do more of the same thing while not seeing that ‘something’ in the final images and maybe this was the reason that I felt that this was not the best assignment that I could have done. Again. Maybe I will return to this before assessment and redo it along the lines of the montage idea. The initial set of my photos fired my imagination but ultimately I could not translate that into a finished product, which I find very frustrating. However, the images that I produced were competent and that is what matters at the moment.
This was more difficult than I first thought and took some time to pin down exactly what I wanted to cover. In my mind, I had the work of David Hockney and Nadav Kander who both did portraits using sections of people’s bodies: Hockney did polaroid montages, Kander did a grid type structure. To get a consistency in the images, I used the same subject throughout and as I took more and more photographs, I kept coming back to the simpler background and getting closer to the subject. This meant that the focus was on the person and the background was inconsequential. I also had in mind Robert Mapplethorpe who closely cropped portraits on occasions as well as simplifying portraits into black and white.
Originally, I was looking at the idea of what we show or hide when having our photograph taken. Barthes said in Camera Lucida (1980) that we change to whatever the photographer is wanting us to be, and how there is some sort of subconscious reaction to being photographed, that we change ourselves:
“In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.”
I had been struck by how Barney was willing to sit for me but his expression gave nothing away at all which is where I started. The theme of dark and light did not work as I was unable to capture the differences in the way that I thought. This morphed into more an exploration of what the tattoos suggest about the person, the culmination of the tattoos into the whole being. They are specific to each individual and chosen for reasons that I am sure sometimes are not very clear.
These tattoos bring together the things that are important to Barney: his music, his inner strength, his belonging to a social group and with the leg tattoo, a nod to his favourite rugby team. The individual parts make up the person that he is and form part of his identity and how he sees himself. I am from another generation where tattoos were simply not seen and not highly thought of as though they defined a certain subculture. Now they are displayed with pride and can be intricate works of art tailored to the individual. They are an expression of individualism, a way of setting you apart from everyone else but also a way of belonging to a type of club, a tribe.
I came back to the ‘body parts’ approach after lining up several different sets of images, and this approach has a symmetrical look at the artwork on his arms and legs with a left and right, arms and legs and then finally the whole person. I did set up a studio of sorts with plain white background and did several variations of what I had shot before to compare the blue background to the white. My feeling was that the sets with the blue background worked better overall as there was a more casual, less ‘setup’ feel to them. I keep on looking for the expressions hoping to catch them but I have realized that we all hide when there is a camera there, and are unwilling to show anything that might be misconstrued.
DVD: Mapplethorpe – Look at the Pictures, Bailey,F & Barbato,R, Dogwoof Studio, 2016
Barthes, Roland (1980) Camera Lucida. Translated by Richard Howard 1981. London:
Eskildsen, U (edited), Street and Studio: An Urban History of Photography, 2008, Tate Publishing
Barney sat for me, initially as an experiment to try out taking lots of shots to mock up a montage. Natural Light, outside, shade then direct sunlight. The aim was to get a lot of images of parts of him so that I could bring them into one image.
These contact sheets show a selection of the images taken for the make up of the Assignment.