Assignment 2

Ok, round 2.  Having been away for two weeks, I came back full of thoughts about the way forward with what I have got.  The ones of the Fire Officer are good and work as a narrative but I am not sure that they communicate fully what he is about.  I also feel that they are better individually or would be better to develop the fireman side of it rather than trying to communicate the two sides of his life.  He is very active as he grew up a farmer’s son and is happiest when working out in the open. His overriding aim is helping people whether it is the neighbour to lay a hedge, have a student photographer trail round after him taking photos or be in charge of a major incident involving fire or a three car pile-up.  There is more to be done here but I am running out of time and this could be something that I come back to later in the course for an alternative assignment – maybe the mirror/window one.  It is interesting but not enough.

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My other approach has been using Barney as a model and the idea of dark and light sides to us.  My interest is in what we show and what we hide.  The other part of this is the feeling that I don’t particularly like doing portraits or seeing very posed portraits.  It’s a personal preference, probably because I am not good at posing people and I prefer moments that capture people unawares so that I get to see the dark side that is normally hidden, or apparently unaware so they display a different part of their bodies and faces. This could be the way forward.  While studying Context and Narrative, I came across an article about Nadav Kander and his photographs of David Beckham that he had taken over the course of several years.  The ones that caught my eye and imagination were of Beckham’s tattoos, and there were examples of diptychs and a panel like a contact sheet with sixteen individual shots of all parts of his upper body and head.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 18.36.10
By Nadav Kander

This one David Beckham, 16 pictures, 2015 illustrated that it is possible to get a portrait of someone without focusing solely on their face or have them looking at the camera.  I revisited Kander’s website to check it out again and found that my reaction to it had not changed.  In some ways, it breaks the codes of portraits and photographs that we all try to follow: don’t crop too tightly, have them looking at the camera, no closed eyes.  But it works as it is a combination of parts of him that make up the external appearance of the person he is.  It is difficult not to look at this without the fact that Beckham is extremely well known and there is the context of him being a footballer, a business man and husband/father.

With this in mind, I am going back to Barney and pursuing the original idea and expanding on the photographs that I took as a first shot to get a feel for it.  First round was outside in daylight, second round was inside using natural light with a bit of flash and round three is inside using a basic studio set up and continuous lighting.  I am interested to see if I can translate what I see in my mind onto a screen.

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Assignment 2

Vice versa

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.

Son (1 of 2)

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?

Son (2 of 2)
Lots of portraits making up an image of my son

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.

Exercise 2.3: Same Model, Different Background

The brief was to make five images of the same person with different backgrounds.  My thinking was to try to get five different portraits within a small confined area in one session in order to get the consistency of the same person wearing the same clothes but against different backgrounds to see if it made a difference.   It was a case of trying to capture a snapshot in time.  My son agreed to come along with me to be the model, and we took the dogs with us.  The conditions were good as it was relatively early in the morning and it was bright with sunshine and clouds, therefore there was no interior shooting or artificial light used. The location was a seaside walk that then went up onto a grassed green with woods and trees bordering it.  In this way, it was possible to vary the background within a small area and get seaside as well as more rural looks.  I used my compact Sony CyberShot camera and while it was small and easy to use, it had limitations in that it didn’t give me the control over the focussing and aperture that I really wanted.  I did both landscape and portrait orientation to see which worked better.

Landscape orientation:

Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron landscape-1
(1)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron landscape-2
(2)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron landscape-3
(3)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron landscape-4
(4)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron landscape-5
(5)

The landscape versions work quite well with (3) and (5) being more intereesting than the other two.  (3) I had in  mind trying to make him very small in the landscape so that the attention is not solely on the model but on the surrounding area as well.  It is always tempting to get very close to the subject when photographing people, but sometimes it is good to stand back and see the bigger picture. (5) has lines for the eye to follow down to the beach and he is engaging with the camera, looking at the lens with a neutral expression.  Looking at them as a set, there is something that misses, there is something lacking in them.  I think that I concentrate more on the landscape than on the foreground.

For the portrait orientation:

Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron-1
(6)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron-2
(7)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron-3
(8)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron-4
(9)
Ex2.3 Same-diff Cameron-5
(10)

The full body shots work better over the set of images and that gives it a coherence and a flow that was missing in the previous set because they varied.  I mixed them in Assignment 1 and now understand that that is part of what was missing in that work.  This has a continuity.  What also springs to mind here is that the vertical space allows a different approach to include different information.  In the landscape orientation it is more about the place than the person.  In this set, while there is more of the background in them, they are about the person as a whole.  I also think that a shallower depth of filed in a couple of them would have added interest and put more attention on the person and make him stand out. Number (7) has a little of this and it makes the sea less prominent and more of a blue background.  I like the difference in light between (9) and (10).  It makes it look as though it is autumn in one and summer in the other.  Technical issues aside, these two work nicely as there are different textures in them too – one is soft, the other is hard.  Interestingly, 7,8 and 9 has him looking away from the camera and this takes away the confrontational feeling that there was in the first set, softens them in some way.

The point of the exercise is to see if the background can make a difference to the portrait in telling the viewer something about the person.  It would appear that having different backgrounds can give clues but doesn’t make up the whole story.  It would be interesting to compare a set of images in the same places as these, but taken with him wearing different clothes and at different times of day.  I’m reminded of holiday photos when you take a lot of photos within a short space of time, and often the people in them are wearing the same clothes but are in different situations.  The thread that binds them is the location, the place that is the holiday destination so it isn’t specific to a certain part of the destination. There is a story to be told through images and this story is one where there is little happening.  I know the locations and I know the model, but I don’t think that it says anything else.  Location is important, light is important and the model is important.  But ultimately you need a point of interest and maybe that is the point here – to make a decent set of images that tell the viewer something, all three have to come together with a flow and space to breathe.  There has to be some sort of connection between the model and the camera to make a spark that can be built upon. That is something to bear in mind as I grapple with ideas for Assignment 2.

 

 

Outtakes for Covert

While I have written about the five photos that I took to make a set for the exercise, there are others that I did that I liked as well.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to take some photographs of a friend’s band at an outdoor gig recently.  My camera is a bit of a being a beast Nikon DSLR, but as people expected me to take photos of the band they paid no attention to me wandering around the site and snapping what I saw.

Ex2.2 Covert-1
At Soundcheck

A couple of the crew avoiding the rain and waiting for time to pass until it was all over and they had to load up again.

Ex2.2 Covert-4
Rainy Flower Girl

It was overcast although quite warm, spitting with rain.  Little Mix had played there the night before and they were selling floral headbands and glow sticks.  Her headband makes her look like she’s at Woodstock.

Ex2.2 Covert-3
Selfie With The Band

Lots of people take photos of themselves in front of the band playing so that they remember being there and part of it all.  More floral headbands, but her expression caught my eye as well as the tiny man in front of them.  Is he part of their group? I don’t know!

Ex2.2 Covert-2
Space

Another band waiting for soundcheck to finish and then they can get off to eat.

Ex2.2 Covert-5
Preston Beach

I was walking along the promenade at Preston Beach and saw these two having a snooze in the sun.  The are blissfully unaware of anything around them, and it was very hot so I can imagine them waking up with sunburn.

Ex2.2 Covert-6
Beach Huts

Carrying my camera at waist height, I snapped these people outside their beach huts just along from the other couple.  Beach huts are prized items here and the waiting list is endless.  It’s not my idea of fun as I like to move around from beach to beach depending on my mood, the time of day, whether I want to swim or not, whether I fancy an ice cream.  It’s a slice of British life seeing people outside their huts on a summer’s day.

These don’t make a coherent essay on street life, but they are observations at various times to show that it is possible to take photos while people are not aware of you.  Interesting to try it out and see the results.

 

Exercise 2.2 Covert

Brief: Closely consider the work of the practitioners discussed above, then try to shoot a series of five portraits of subjects who are unaware of the fact they are being photographed.

I had a couple of attempts at this using my phone camera as it was the most unobtrusive of cameras – everyone carries one and there isn’t any suspicion of it facing people.  I was out walking along the seafront and snapped a few people as I passed.  Some I caught, others were completely missed as the phone reacted slower than I did, and it was very hit and miss in terms of focus and framing.  That isn’t surprising as trying to line up the phone and allow it to focus then pressing a shutter button of sorts isn’t an exact science.  I also tried a couple using my DSLR when out doing images for the previous exercise.

I think that this is almost as unnerving as asking people to pose for a photograph in Assignment 1.  It does feel a little as though you are invading their space even if they appear to be unaware that their photograph is being taken. The ones below are the result of walking through Torquay on a blustery but sunny evening, snapping people on my phone.  There is a variety of ages and people from young families to older couples.  I use an app on the phone called Retrica that adds filters to the photos and this gives them more of a polaroid look, like the instant photos of the 1970s.  It isn’t to everyone’s taste but for an exercise like this it works ok giving the images some warmth.

 

Caramel
(1)

This one is made interesting by the long shadows made by me and my husband as we walked in the opposite direction.  There is a feel to this that it could have been taken many years ago, not the other night.

Natural
(2)

This one came out really well as they are really close to me, blinded by the lowering sun, and there is my shadow across them as I snap the phone.

Natural
(4)

We then sat in a bar by the harbour and I snapped people passing me, that looked interesting.

Natural
(3)

There is the feeling that none of them are seeing me as they pass on their way to meet friends, loved ones or family or on a walk in the sunshine before it goes down.

Natural
(5)

A young family with the sun behind the little girl being carried – not something we are encouraged to do but it works in this instance as they are hurrying away from me.  I truly am invisible to them.  That is the beauty of a phone as it doesn’t draw attention to me while i snap away.

All of these were taken within a short time frame of about half an hour and the light makes them a coherent set with the warmth of the setting sun.  It was a challenge but on this occasion, not as bad as doing the assignment and I believe that I caught something.

 

Individual Spaces

Exercise 2.1 – Individual Space

Three subjects, three different portraits.  For this exercise, unusually, I engaged with my two sons and one of their girlfriends and from this point of view it was interesting to ask them about something other than our usual family conversations.  Barney is 23 and Cameron is 20.  Lia is Cameron’s girlfriend and she is 19.  There is a link here because Lia’s family moved away from Torquay when she was in primary school and only moved back here in 2015, while our family moved here from Birmingham in 2004.

I talked to the boys about how they felt about moving from Birmingham to Torbay during their primary school years, and whether they felt at home here or whether Birmingham was in fact home to them.  Despite both of them having been born in the city, neither of them felt any affiliation to Birmingham; to them Torbay is and always has been home and they feel very comfortable here.  Lia felt the same way in that Torbay is more her home than London or Reading, and she feels at home here.

Barney: Barney is very active and spends a lot of time in the gym.  Exercise is extremely important to him and is a vital part of his make-up and routine.  He spent just over a year training to be a Royal Marine Commando where “phys” was a daily routine until he fractured his leg and made the decision to leave to allow time to heal, something he has regretted for a long time.  We agreed that Lympstone would not be suitable, given the fact that while pivotal in his life, it was a moment in time that has now passed.  Dartmoor is his place that he goes to for solitude and to walk and think.  However, with an hour to get there and back it just wasn’t feasible to get there this time.  We had to compromise so I took photos of him in his gym kit in his other home – the kitchen.  Keeping fit involves eating healthily and he cooks for himself now so him post workout showing off his tattoos is the next best thing.

Cameron: Cameron is the younger of my two sons and has grown up here so his attachment is to the seaside.  He spent a lot of time as a teenager walking with his friend Chris along the seafront to get out of the house and away from us.  There were two places that he felt would be important to him, one was Rock Walk in Torquay, an elevated walkway and platform that looks out across the Bay and over the harbour of Torquay.  At night, it is lit up with colour changing lights.  The other was the park by Thatcher Avenue which has a pathway that leads down to Thatcher Rock.  This was their preferred destination once he passed his driving test, and so he felt that this one was more important as being able to drive opened a whole new world and independence.

Lia: Lia met Cameron last year and she now lives with us.  Her favourite place is the beach at Preston in Paignton as they would walk the dogs there and have ice-cream on sunny days.  To her, this is the place that is special as it is about her and Cameron and their relationship.

Portraits:

For these portraits, I used an 85mm fixed prime lens rather than my usual zoom lens.  Barney captures him with his tattoos on show and that is important.  He is very proud of his tattoos and plans to get more.  It is very much a statement of him and who he is as a person.  His face on look to the camera is also very him, no holds barred and take on the world.

Ex2.1 Individual Space B-1
Barney

Cameron is a more relaxed pose on a sunny day so there was plenty of available light.  Not looking at the camera and wearing sunglasses gives him a slight air of distance, although he looks relaxed and happy with a slight smile.  He is framed by the sea which is where he feels comfortable, in a place that reminds him of good times.

Ex2.1 Individual Spaces-3
Cameron

Lia is more interesting for me because she is not my daughter, I know her quite well but I haven’t photographed her before this exercise.  She has a quietness in her demeanour, looking off camera and contemplating something.  She is squinting a little because of the bright sunshine, but the light falls quite evenly on her without too many obvious shadows.  I like the blurriness of the beach huts behind her so you can place her at the beach without them interfering in the portrait.  The eye looks at her rather than the surroundings.

Ex2.1 Individual Spaces-2
Lia

I realised that I still don’t actually use the portrait orientation very much and prefer to use landscape mode in order to get more information into the image, eg. good light, interesting clouds, something relevant to the whole image.  I took one of Cameron that was similar but in landscape mode and I think it works better than this one, but doesn’t fit if I was looking at a flow in terms of there being a constant look to the image sequence.  A photo of Barney at the beach with bright sunshine would also have worked better, giving it an outdoors and beach theme.  Maybe that it something to consider for Assignment 2.

Exercise 1.2 Background as context

Posing people for portraits has always been a stumbling block for me and so this entire chapter is proving to be challenging, not to mention the upcoming Assignment.  August Sander posed his subjects against plain backgrounds or included objects that would be relevant to their profession.  When studying the images made by him, it was interesting trying to guess the jobs or lives that his subjects lived, some were more obvious than others – The Pastry Cook (1928, printed 1999) leaves little to doubt as he stands there with his mixing bowl, against a kitchen backdrop while dressed in chef’s whites.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 12.27.03

I was intrigued by this one of The Washerwoman (c1930) as there is so much more to look at in the frame, with the buckets at her feet, washing twined around the water pump and her neutral expression.  This appears to be an urban setting – there is fencing on the background and the outline of buildings, and she stands on cobbles with a drain to one side ready to catch the water from the pump.  Yet there are no other people in the frame and it is solely this woman washing garments or linens out in the street.  Her position at the forefront of the frame does make the viewer look into the photograph to explore the whole image not just the woman herself.

The facial expressions were also noticeable in that most of them looked at the camera, particularly if they were single person portraits and none were smiling.  It was relatively rare for the single person to be looking away from the camera.  This was reserved for groups of people or couples, although there were one or two who were ‘doing things’ and so gave them a purpose to be looking away, such as scientists or intellectuals.  Groups were tightly framed and there was little space around them.  The backgrounds could be plain white, or interiors or outside with the countryside stretching out behind, or street scenes.  Each one grounds the subject once you know who they are and what they did.

And so to the portrait that I had to do on my own.  I spent a couple of hours with my friend who has a recording studio and is a musician, and he was recording an artist putting vocals onto tracks for a new album coming out in the Autumn.  During a break, we went outside and I chatted to him about a photo of him, and we talked about what was important to be in the background for him particularly.  Being a musician, it was important to have his guitar and appear to be playing.  He loves his camper van as he first got it when he got married and they have had several family holidays in it. It is a big part of his lifestyle, he’s what I suppose you would call a Mod but there is a hippy part of him (isn’t there in all of us?) that loves the freedom of camping and the open road.  The sun was shining on the first days of proper warm weather and the clematis was in full bloom, and they fitted in with the flowers on the roof and dashboard of the campervan.

I’m not certain that I posed him too much, it was more of a collaboration between us as we moved round the garden but I did move and choose the angle so that it had the flowers, the van, the archway and him in front of it, troubador style.  In some ways, it was easier than I thought because I took the photographs with my phone camera and that released the tension of choosing aperture, getting the exposure right – it’s just point, focus it and press the shutter button.  I often go all thumbs when faced with someone in front of me waiting to have their photo taken, and using a phone means that I can use one of those thumbs constructively.   I often use the Retrica app to capture images and this one is one of those.  The vignette is quite apparent but not intrusive, although the bottom left hand corner is over dark – this is exactly how it came off the phone.  Generally though I like it and it works as it is brightly lit, it’s in focus and the highlights are not too bright.  I can see the blue sky and clouds reflected in the glass, and I like him standing casually with one foot up on the bumper.  The square frame works in this case as there is some balance with the person just off the central line and the van on the other side.  His guitar provides the horizontal line that crosses the two central lines, although there are other horizontal lines in the edges of the van, the bricks in the wall and the dark opening behind him.  The bent leg also balances up the lines.  I confess that I don’t look enough or plan exactly where everything will go, but I change things slightly or move my position to fit or balance the image.  To me and my eye, it works and I like it, but that is very subjective.

PPArnold @ Steve's 12
Steve Cradock, Devon, May 2017

The problem that I encounter when considering portraits is the time factor.  I tend to rush it as I feel that the sitter is waiting and I am not ready.  It is important to slow down, think, consider and look more intently at what is going on around the area.  Maybe it is the modern phenomenon of simple, quick ways of taking photos that appear instantly on your screen that makes me feel that I need to go quicker when in reality there is no rush, I can take my time and try to get it right.  I am aware that this may be a problem when compiling work for the Assignment as I just know that my instinct will be to grab one or two shots and run.  It will require some work, but plucking up courage to ask complete strangers to have their photo taken will probably take over from the technical issues of trying to frame, focus, pose, shoot and then see if it might come out.

 

1.4 Archival Intervention

Part One, Project 3, Exercise 1.4, Archival Interventions

 

A very interesting exercise that I could easily get lost in once I started.  Looking at the outline of the exercise, I thought about the large numbers of very old family photographs that I now have since the death of my Dad last year.  I found it really hard to get rid of them as the old tiny black and white pictures of my grandparents in particular are a window onto a different time and fascinating in the clothes, cars, setups they have for their snaps.  Sorting through them also struck me as to how little we actually take time to look at printed images and try to connect with what happened at the time they are taken.

My thinking was to somehow connect the past with the present through the family and had a couple of options.  The old photos were mainly of my Dad’s family so I had a starting point of looking at the paternal side rather than maternal.  Plus, I don’t have many photos of my mum’s.  I am quite close to my aunt, my Dad’s sister, and I was interested in the connections to her and family.  One option that I pursued was of the women starting with the grandmothers, then my mum and aunt moving on to me and my two sisters. The photos of my grandmothers are of them in their 40s or 50s.  I always thought that one of them was in her 60s, judging from her white hair and dumpy physique.  In fact, she was only 55 when she died and in these photos she is much younger.  It highlighted the fact that we make judgements on appearances even if they may not be true.

I decided instead to look more closely at the military connection of the men in my family. I would not consider us to be a military family in that we have not had generations following each other into the armed forces, but there is a connection of sorts.  Both of my grandfathers were in the armed forces during the First World War, one in the Flying Corps and the other in the Army, the Artillery Division.  Their portraits are formal and posed using the style of the day.  One is full length in a studio set up with props and countryside scene, the other has heavy white vignetting around his head and shoulders.  My father was in the Army at the end of WWII and went to Northern Ireland to train new recruits to shoot.  His portrait is similar to that of his father, a head and shoulders but without the vignetting.

My two sons have been involved through one being an Army Cadet at school, and the other was a Recruit with the Royal Marines but had to make the tough decision to leave because of injury.  I have a snap of the Cadet but in full rig with cap and badge in place.  The other is the formal photograph that all new recruits have taken along with a Troop photo shortly after joining.   His is the formal portrait of head and shoulders, but in contrast to the older ones he is looking at the camera.  I can see a confidence in him but is that because I know him and what he went through in order to join?  I am sure that the other difference to the older generations is that he chose to join rather than being drafted which I know happened to my dad and very possibly to my grandfathers but I am not sure.

As a family, we had conversations about the army as for my generation WWII was still quite close and our parents had lived through it as young people.  I was always fascinated by the fact that my grandfathers had been in the First World War and as our knowledge of it grew I wondered about the horrors that they may have faced.  One of them got a medal for courage under fire when he helped other soldiers while being gassed.  My dad loved talking to his grandson about uniforms, weapons, drill and bad food.  It gave them a connection that had been missing and a talking point to bring the generations together.  I would have liked to have had that opportunity with my grandparents but unfortunately they were all gone by the time I was old enough to understand and question them.

Archive Collections-2
Three Generations of Armed Forces

When putting them together, I started with what I believe is the first one taken of my mother’s father in the Flying Corps in about 1914 then my father’s father in the Royal Artillery in about 1915.  Then my father in the Army about 1945 followed by my younger son in the Army Cadets in about 2006 and finally my older son after joining the Royal Marines in 2015.  If only George Armitt had been wearing his cap with badge, it would have made the set more complete but we don’t have one with him wearing it.  There are only three or four photos of him in uniform and all are without his cap. Personally I find this connection interesting because while I was aware of it, this is the first time that I have had them all together.

This exercise was interesting in bringing out family photographs and putting them together with different connections.  I also looked at weddings in the family and how they changed over time.  This has sparked something that I would like to pursue further and it is a reason for getting out the old photos rather than having them away, to look at the past and discover where we all come from and how we come together with shared interests, jobs, lives and families.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part One Exercise 1.1 Historic Portrait

 

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Cecil Beaton: Marlene Dietrich, (1935) Sotheby’s London. 

It’s a black and white image of the actress in a confined area with a sculpture of a woman’s head and shoulders.  The background is of some kind of gauzy material and a floral arrangement.  Dietrich appears to have flowers in her hair and wears a thin transparent wrap around her shoulders.  There are feathers at the front of her that could be her dress or just feathers.  The sculpture is very close to the background, on the edge of the frame while Dietrich fills the rest of the space with her head in the centre of the frame.  The light is filtered so that there are patches of light and shadow playing on both faces.  It is a glamorous portrait of a Hollywood film star that stylistically is very reminiscent of the 1930s Hollywood era.

What struck me about this image is the mirroring of the woman and the sculpture.  They are dressed very similarly with hair done up and a neck decoration around their throats.  The eyebrows are also almost identical, with thin dark arches.  There is a tension in the expressions on the faces – the bust is impassive and looking away while Dietrich’s is more animated as she leans into the bust and tilts her head towards it.  There is a dominance in her femininity as she pushes forwards and pushes the ‘other woman’ into the background so that she is physically touching the background.  Dietrich’s beauty is striking with her smooth skin and slight smile on dark lips.  Her hand is just in the frame, adjusting her wrap.  The hand adds an awkwardness as it isn’t clear what she is doing with it.

At first, I was drawn to this photograph because I saw it in a book and thought it was glamourous and a good example of the Hollywood look and influence from the 1930s.  Now that I have looked at it further and thought more about what she might be thinking, I am wondering if Beaton had any other agenda. He was known for being quite ruthless with his sitters:

Hugo Vickers (The Guardian)

Saturday 24 January 2004

 “What is Beaton’s secret? I think he produced a kind of magic. Not only did he photograph most of the interesting, alluring and important people of the 20th century, but he made them look stunning. He examined his sitters with a cruel eye and disguised their faults by subtle posing and lighting. Nor did he hesitate to touch them up ruthlessly.”    (https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/jan/24/photography)

What were her faults that he was disguising?  Dietrich was a famous movie star and this photograph ensures that her image is perfect, from her carefully made up face to the softness of the surrounding props. There are flowers and a soft transparent material in the background, and this is repeated in her dress and it looks like she has flowers in her hair too.  I was interested in the image as this is an area of photography that I could never enter – the stars of stage and screen posing for shots that will be seen by many people.  It is very stylish and lavish but there is also a sense of fun in her going cheek to cheek with a sculpture.  I like the dark edges while the lightest part of the frame is reserved for her face, and she is lit much more evenly than the sculptured lady. It is also a little less formal as she is looking away from the lens out to the left, rather then confronting the camera face on.  There is more to think about than if she was looking straight at the camera.  It’s not easy to discern what they were aiming for, and this is one of several images from the same shoot.  Another photograph had her looking at the camera and away from the sculpture, while their faces had more shadows and harsher lighting which changed the feel of it completely.