I took the following from the feedback about the assignment and thought about it again:
I think that the end series falls short of a really interesting set of images that would engage an objective audience but I have a feeling that you are aware of this. I think that you could have better critically appraised your work and offered a more in-depth reflective text.
The images that you have submitted feel more like a document of Barney. The photographs show us the surface. They are unemotional and it’s difficult for the viewer to try and engage at a deeper level with the subject.
For the original submission, I tried a lot of different scenarios of trying to capture the essence of Barney, from him playing guitar to being outside just sitting and then again in a studio set up using continuous lighting. While I had a lot of images to work with, none of them really had what I was trying to capture. He felt that the set I had submitted were ‘unemotional’ and presented an ‘on the surface’ picture of Barney which was not what I had intended, but I could see his point. Portrait sittings and directing people are not my strong point, and I think that this came across. As I said originally, I was thinking of a montage type thing where I could make a new image out of several, as in David Hockney’s polaroid collections. Out of the sittings, the ones that worked best were the ones done outside using natural light. I was thinking of the dark and the light side of who we are, but failed to adequately bring that element into the assignment. Barney is my older son and we have had times when our relationship has not been at its best. Last year, he was still trying to find his niche in working life after a year of what felt like wasted time following his departure through injury from training to be a Royal Marine. He willingly sat for me but there was reluctance there too and it showed. He was always on his way to do something and to pin him down was difficult enough. Eventually, I settled for what I could get and concentrated on his tattoos without showing him apart from one portrait when he is engaging with the camera. This was obviously not the right solution but I was at a loss.
I’ve just noticed your work with Barney within the coursework where you are playing with the little photographs. In my opinion these tests are far more appealing than the final set. Consider re-working this idea for your final assignment submission, take a few more risks!
I left this assignment alone, just like the others, because I wanted to look it with fresh eyes. I thought that I had lost all of the original photograph files – I backed up the drives before going away for a trip to Australia and inadvertently overwrote some folders, one of which contained the original images. This was a disaster but in a way gave me the opportunity to reshoot new ones and take it from there. I did two new sets, one outdoors in bright sunlight and one indoors using natural light. I admit that it was a quick shoot fitted in around Barney’s working patterns and I did ask him to look in different directions while I snapped away. During editing, I made the decision to change the interior shots into black and white. My reasoning was driven by the fact that they looked almost monochrome anyway due to his black and white clothing against a mainly white background. In addition, they contrasted against the vibrancy of the outdoors images and that gave more weight to the vice-versa theme of the assignment, the dark and light side of us.
Coming to the montage stage, I cut out small paper versions to see how they worked alongside each other. Then I had prints done and set up a table in a window to be able to move the photographs around. As before, I had the Hockney montages in mind while moving them around. I then photographed the montages to see which ones worked and which did not. As I progressed through moving them, I started to tear them to see how that altered the look and feel of the constructed image. I also combined the black & white and colour images within a montage. I understand that usually it is not the done thing to mix them, but I go back to my point about the dark and light side of ourselves and in this context the mixing is acceptable. I did one set-up that had mainly colour photos with one black & white in the middle. I liked this as a way of seeing that there is a small part of us that is hidden or different to the whole that we portray. Unfortunately, this did not fit the feel of the final selection of prints. The ripping of prints was a way of dividing and softening the harder edges that regulate us. It made the joins between images softer and more about Barney than the photos.
I believe that this set work much better than the previous set, even though I personally liked them as a record of my son and his ever growing collection of tattoos. I now have another set of the newer ones that he has on his hands and arms. The montage works well in trying to create a more interesting portrait of the person that he is. The technical side of the shoot was problematic in that it was a bright sunny day and the interior shots were done without any reflectors or screening but that was more to do with time and me forgetting than any conscious choice. He was there, he had time, I had my camera and we got on with it.
Finally, the first one Barney Combined is more like the Celia’s Children Albert + George Clark, (Los Angeles April 7th 1982 composite polaroid, 35 x 23 1/4 in by David Hockney) that my tutor had suggested to me as a reference point. It is more interesting and I like the feel of the bigger picture of him sitting combined with the smaller ones that show more of him. My personal favourite of the set is Barney Thoughtful. It is plain, simple and he is looking past me with eyes closed against the sun. But I think he is not absent which for me is progress.
Images for the assignment: