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.
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.
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.
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.
Sergey Ponomarev’s A Lens on Syria at The Imperial War Museum
On a brief trip to London, I went to the Imperial War Museum to see the exhibitions on Syria. One was Syria: Story of a Conflict, a collection of objects, personal stories and a video installation that gives an idea of how the country became ruined by the conflict going on between Government forces and the retaliation of rebels. The other was A Lens on Syria by Russian photographer Sergey Ponomarev, again in two parts with a series of images, Assad’s Syria, and a slide show film The Exodus that illustrates the lengths that people went to to escape the regime and try to get a better life for their families in Europe.
The Syrian conflict began in 2011 and although we are aware through news reports that many thousands have fled to other parts of Europe, many have stayed behind in Syria whether in the cities or in camps outside the cities. The devastation of buildings is immense and some of them were thousands of years old, part of all of our heritage and irreplaceable. I had not realized how many people have died over there – nearly half a million – or how many have been displaced – millions rather than thousands.
Syria: Story of a Conflict was a film installation that had clips of news footage that tried to tell both sides of the story as well as the history. Around the walls were photographs of Syrian people and their stories.
A Lens on Syria was a more direct approach to the issue with large vividly coloured images of the devastating effect that the conflict has had on the cities in Syria, particularly Homs. I admit that I have a tentative personal connection here in that my uncle is Syrian and is from Homs. His family were flour millers and owned a mill that provided income and a living for them. He left the family business to live in Beirut in Lebanon with my aunt, but had to leave there in the 1970s through conflict, ending up in Canada where they still live. I was interested to see if seeing photographs of the aftereffects of the conflict would open my eye, understand better or simply be an exercise in looking at clear photographs.
I have seen other photographs of some of the destruction (see 3) but this was also concerned with the effect on the people and how they still go about their lives amid rubble and fires. The size of the images is big enough to grab the attention but not to overwhelm it. They are vivid in colour which is to be expected given that they are about war and destruction, but also because the skies he shoots under are sunset, twilight or sunrise so adds a softer quality to them. There is a pathos but also a dignity of the people. There is little of the sky and at times they can feel a little claustrophobic as they are in cramped areas where there is rubble, or in a prison or street, or at night.
The photographs tell a story of carrying on in spite of the damage and the bombings. My uncle’s family moved a few miles out of Homs, there is no running water and sporadic electricity but they stay because it is their home and they would prefer to stay there rather than leave altogether. I reacted to them through the slight knowledge that I have but also because they present an alternative view of what is going on rather than the one we are always resented with through the media. In addition, they are very clear and the viewer can spend time searching the whole frame for other things and look to the horizon.
The one that particularly caught my eye is of a burnt out, partially destroyed building that still has a poster of President Assad attached to it. The pale orange sky of sunrise emphasises the pale concrete of the building and on closer inspection, it is a myriad of bits of metal with the sattelite dish to the top left hand corner standing out. There is a symmetry with two halves of the building but then one collapses downwards and draws the eye away from it. The poster is in stark contrast to the building as though it is stamp claiming it for the President. Maybe it is.
In contrast Exodus, the video is quite an emotional watch. It has no soundtrack, just a looping slideshow of photographs taken of refugees as they travel on their way to what they believe will be a better, safer life. There are heart wrenching images of desperate people in their thousands, walking in long columns (reminiscent of scenes of WWII when people had to leave their homes or of prisoners or, worse, of the Jews being led to their deaths), in boats, standing crying on the shore when they reach safety after trips in overloaded boats and clashes with security at borders. The viewer is drawn in to the unfolding story while looking on from the safety of the room.
‘Having been to all these places, does Ponomarev think photography can change the world? “No,” he says. “We are now so overwhelmed with visual information, it’s always around us.” However, he does think his pictures might “disturb people from living in their normal, cosy lives and probably encourage them to take action”. This could be making a donation orvolunteering.’ The Guardian.
There is a sense that this is an impossible task to resolve while being amazed at the resilience of the human spirit, but wondering how long it can keep going. I also felt a bit hopeless, that there is nothing that I can do to change any of it, help these people. But maybe that is what he is aiming at in that by seeing that these are people, men woman and children who see Europe as being the place that they will be safe, that we will be spurred on to doing something even if it is only buying a blanket to keep them warm in the winter.
It was a sobering exhibition while also being one that captured my imagination and interest.
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.
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:
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.
“A select exhibition curated from the Arts Council Collection. Step inside Torre Abbey this summer and be surrounded by renowned artists and radical works depicting alter egos, rebellion, gender, feminism, death and legend.
The Face2Face exhibition will for the first time bring together and quite literally ‘face off’ 33 works from 20 award winning, contemporary British artists in the Arts Council Collection and rare, visionary works from Pre-Raphaelite artists in the Torre Abbey Collection. So who and what can you expect?
Mark Wallinger Turner Prize winning (2007) British artist; Mark Wallinger is best known for his sculpture ‘Really Good’ for the empty fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square. Face2Face will feature his work Angel (1997), a seven and a half minute video in reverse featuring Wallinger playing Blind Faith, his sightless alter ego.
Before I knew that it was backwards, we had a discussion about whether it was exactly this – he seemed to be reciting Latin or something similar while on the escalater in the London Underground. A weird video, not my thing but interesting to see it.
Sarah Lucas Part of the Young British Artists who emerged in the 1990s; Lucas frequently uses visual puns, feminism and indecent humour. Face2Face will feature 5 works from Lucas’ renowned photographic Self Portraits Series from Eating A Banana (1990) to the more recent Human Toilet Revisited (1998).
I liked her work and I will be looking more at this.
Jake and Dinos Chapman Turner Prize nominated (2003) Jake and Dinos Chapman are the bad-boy duo who set out to deliberately shock with scenes of torture, death and pornography. Face2Face will feature Double Deathshead (1997), a screenprint depicting death, danger and warfare through human skulls.”
I couldn’t work out why it had been placed next to a sea scene depicting fighting ships – Derek enlightened me on the significance of the deathshead and the battle scene.
From the website advertising the exhibition.
Having recently met two other OCA students that live in Torbay, we met up to look at this exhibition and talk about the works together. Alongside the usual works of art that hang in the Abbey, there were 30 mainly photographic works on display and scattered throughout the rooms. It made an interesting discussion as to the curating of the work, where to put them and the decisions that had been made as to why certain works were in seemingly strange locations. This is where the interaction with other students was helpful as they offered alternative ideas to mine, and while we can’t be certain our theories were correct, it made sense when looking again at the images in question.
There were works by people I had heard of and a lot that I hadn’t but then I vaguely recognised when seeing the images. There were very large prints and some smaller frameless prints, some on acrylic, some black and white. It was a treasure hunt trying to track them down among the permanent collection and some were in places that made you wonder why they had put them there. There were three colour photographs that were quite small in size, all placed close to the ceiling in a room that had very high ceilings so the viewer has to crane their necks to be able to see them. They were placed in a dining room decorated in late 19th century style while the images were modern – Sue Tilley posing in Lucien Freud’s Studio by Bruce Bernard being one of them.
At a time when I am studying about portraits and different ways of setting them up, this exhibition drew on ideas of self-portrait in work by Sarah Lucas and the family members by Richard Billingham caught seemingly unaware of the photographer, to Chris Killip and his black and white portraits of everyday work and people. There were also some portraits of punks by Steve Johnston that I really liked as to me they set a time and place that could only be the late 1970s, early 1980s with the clothing hair and makeup. We had a discussion about how strongly we could identify the period and how shocking the look was at the time, and how it still appears quite radical today in an era of highly sexualised and ‘one look’ that many young people adopt. In one image of two girls, one was wearing fishnet tights and a jacket with spiky black hair and the harsh heavy makeup of the era. There was a political message in the approach that I remember as being a way of sticking up two fingers to the establishment, it was anti-establishment, not-conforming to previous ideals and a way of shocking the older generation. In another, a young man wears a swastika armband that would have been definitely something offensive to the generation that had fought in WWII, and even today appears as something that has connotations of something evil. Interestingly, this image was in the same setting as another one called Our limit is that of the desire and imagination of the human mind (1996) by Michael Landy. It is of a refuse worker dressed totally in red with black boots picking up paper people: “It was the artist’s response to the then government’s approach to the homeless and jobless in society, but coincided also with the wide emergence of the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the context of the war in the Balkans”. (from the accompanying bio on the wall) Our thoughts were that the colouring in the photograph of red suit, black boots on a white background had connotations of the swastika colouring as well as having general suggestions that that colouring often suggests power. The link between the actions of the Nazis in 1940s Germany and those of the Bosnians in the Balkans could also be read into the pairing of these two. It’s possible that we overthought the whole thing but it was interesting just to discuss ideas.
Sarah Lucas’s work was not known to me but I was intrigued by it. They were spread throughout the exhibition but the one that struck me most was Fighting Fire with Fire (1996) in which she has a defiant look that is very masculine as she smokes a cigarette. However, she claims “she had one clear idea for this work, which was ‘to get a long ash’, rather than trying to look ‘defiant’ she wanted to convey a more natural look.” It is an interesting take on the gaze that looks straight at the camera. I found it amusing that her aim was to smoke the cigarette to a long ash and reminded me of my childhood where my friend’s mum used to permanently have a long ash on her cigarette. It explained the look that could be seen as defiant when maybe she was just concentrating really hard. Two of her other works from this series were also on display: Eating a Banana (1990) and Human Toilet Revisited (1998). These are two different images with the first being another stare at the camera in tough stance and the latter being a more unguarded moment, relaxed, contemplative in nature. She appears to be thinking while sitting on the toilet seat lid in an unglamorous location of the bathroom. She is an interesting artist and I will be looking more at her work.
There was one photograph that really caught my eye, a black and white image of a young man with tattoos on his face by Derek Ridgers. I tried tracking it down online and it came up as a colour image which really changed it. The black and white image had a beauty in the design of the tattoo that covered his face; the colour added a more aggressive feel to it as it was clearer that he was a skinhead. I believe it was called Bonner, Kings Road Chelsea, 1982.
He has the barest hint of a smile and looks directly into the lens, which changes the feeling and softens it but the black and white one doesn’t show this so clearly. The artistry of the tattoo is intricate and he has ‘skinhead‘ tattooed on his neck yet wears a paisley patterned scarf round his neck which I think is more allied with the Mods movement. Maybe that is the point of punk, to take bits and pieces from other places and build it into a new identity and meaning.
Overall it was a good look at different styles of portraits and by different artists. It helped having other students to talk to about the work and to make connections about what we like or dislike in photography. The siting of the images was a bit strange, being mixed in with paintings from other eras rather than the traditional gathering of all images in one place on white walls and subdued lighting. It worked in one way but missed on another as it was quite hard to find them. It also made a really nice change not having to fork out for the train fare to London to see it.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Another band waiting for soundcheck to finish and then they can get off to eat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We then sat in a bar by the harbour and I snapped people passing me, that looked interesting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The eternal questions are “who am I?” and “where do I come from and fit in?”. It is the basis of the module Identity and Place that I am studying. I spent the last week in the Highlands of Scotland on a trip taking in the landscape of Glens and Lochs while travelling on roads that were not used to large amounts of traffic – narrow single land roads with passing places if you should come across another traveller. For me it was not just a holiday but another chance to embrace my Scottish heritage. Both my parents were Scottish, my mother a native from Hamilton in Glasgow and my father via parents from Dundee by way of Canada and then Stirling in Perthshire. As a child I spent a few summers visiting Grandpa and staying in midge infested areas, and in my memory it was always raining. The few photographs that we still have bear testament to that fact with bright blank skies or us wearing full wet weather gear while hanging on to railings to avoid being blown away. Photographs contribute to memories and I wonder how much we actually remember and how much now is constructed through the static images that pass down the years. Once I was old enough, I avoided Scotland preferring warmer climates like the south of France when I could afford it, southern England when I couldn’t. But then I got to a certain age, I started to wonder about where my parents had come from and it seemed important to get them to talk to me about their upbringing and what they remembered about growing up ‘up north’. In 2012 my younger sister and I went on a trip to Glasgow and Stirling to have a look at those places, to put places to names and to put a human aspect on them as well as to try to remember them from our own childhood. It was a trip of mixed memories, a bit like piecing together a jigsaw as they all differed slightly with me being older and having spent more time with my parents than either of my sisters. I think it was at that point that I began to be much more aware of my heritage, to follow Scottish news occasionally, support their national teams as my number 2 (sometimes number 1 in the case of football which I loathe!) and try to make a trip north of the border at least once a year.
My mum passed away in 2013 after suffering from dementia for several years, and one of the things that saddened me was that I felt that I didn’t know enough about her life. My dad followed her last year and I was struck by the fact that all the photographs that they left behind are now orphaned and there is no-one to ask who these people with them are in each one. Some you can read as a historical glimpse of the past – the one of my Grandfather (who I never met) in his suit and Homburg hat alongside a Canadian Mountie and a guy in full Scottish Regimental Kilt with two other well dressed men, I assume the photo was taken in the 1920s, but to see the three different styles together is unusual.
My mum’s album has holidays with friends, photos of school and university classmates – one nicknamed “Stinker” which is so 1940s – and them sitting fully clothed on the beach. They must have been in Scotland! All of these inform who I am and where I came from, and why I now feel an affinity with this place at the other end of the British Isles.
I suppose that this ties in with a couple of the artists that I have studied both on this module and on Context and Narrative. We have been asked to look at Julian Germain for his work on a series of images For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness, 2005. That series was an interesting narrative on the life of an elderly man and I found it thought provoking. The project that is relevant to this post is War Memorial where Germain brought together photographs from men and women serving in the armed forces over the past 100 years. It made me think of the photographs that I have of my grandfather with his comrades, and all I have is a name and a place scrawled on the back.
These men are all strangers to me apart from the one I know to be my grandfather seated on the right. He is familiar because I have seen other photos of him, and my dad looked very like him, but I don’t know who he is. I study him trying to decide if I look more like his side of the family than my mum’s. He died at the age of about 54 when my dad was 21 which seems young but later photos of him seem that he was much older.
Then I looked at the work of Zun Lee whose project Fade Resistance was interesting looking at the orphaned polaroids of black americans which he found online or in charity shops, the nameless people going about their daily lives. He was reassessing his heritage after finding out that his biological father was a black GI rather than the Korean man who had brought him up. And then going on from there I also looked again at the work of Nicky Bird Question for Seller where she did the same thing of buying up unwanted photographs from eBay and finding out what she could about them. In an interview, she stated:
“What is it about this type of imagery that interests you so much?
I think – along with many others – there is a fascination for vernacular ‘family’ photographs that have been removed for unknown reasons from their original context, and names of the person, the photographer, are also lost. Particularly with analogue photographs, the fact you can hold it in your hand, whilst looking at the content, brings home that this is part of someone’s ‘life,’ and connects you to history, even if specifics are missing, and you might not fully understand what you are looking at.”
When looking at my old family photographs, the physical sensation of holding this tiny piece of paper in my hand makes it seem much more real and connected to me, even I never met the people in the photographs or even know who they are. All this brings me back to my visit to Scotland….
I had thought about what this trip meant to me in the context of this course, and during the week I had time to consider what it is that makes this place so important to me. I can feel myself relax as I go further north, past Manchester and Preston and then into the Lake District on the M6, away from the bonkers traffic and built up areas of housing. Once I cross the border, it is like I can take a breath and be. We did the Highlands on the west coast after crossing over from Glasgow and headed out towards Glencoe and Fort William. I climbed Ben Nevis overnight for a charity about three years ago and as I looked up at it this time I felt an immense pride that I had made it up…and down again. Then over to the Isle of Skye and across to Inverness, the gateway to the sea at Cromarty which is one of the areas on the shipping forecast. Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Cromarty. The echoes of childhood.
Grounding me are the hills on Skye leading to the tiniest harbour. Then looking across the water to the mainland as we crossed to Skye into a town called Armadale, the business name for my dad’s machine tool engineering work. The high distilling stills of Glenmorangie whisky, apparently the tallest ones because they were originally used for gin. My parents both enjoyed a wee dram of whisky! And Ben Nevis, the scene of my achievement in climbing up it overnight and being surprised to find snow and ice at the top in June. These all are links to my past and to try to work out who I am in the mix.
I consider myself English as that is where I was born and have spent my life, but there is a part of me that considers myself Scottish – after all I was born with red hair and my middle name is Seona, Gaellic for pure. I feel at peace among the hills and lochs of the highlands but equally easy in Glasgow. But it doesn’t matter where you are because you always to take yourself along so the next step is to be comfortable in my skin and accept who I am now that I have (almost) found the where.
I am pretty confident in using my camera so I made sure I had the settings sorted out before I approached each subject. I did have trouble with my Fuji focussing system while taking photos of the guy selling the Big Issue, which was a bit offputting. However I just ploughed on as the moment could have passed if I messed about with them. The backgrounds were not the best as I tended to make a decision about who to ask and then look at where we were. Most of the time, it was in the place that we stopped to talk except for The Biker who I directed to stand against the huts. The images are generally focussed and clear, with even lighting and no great differences in tones. All were shot outside using natural light and without flash, and of those two were in bright sunny conditions. They required a little balancing in Lightroom but nothing major.
Quality of Outcome
I am pleased that I managed to get the five people as outlined in the brief. However, I admit that I didn’t have a clear plan in mind and I think that this has shown in the randomness of the people. There is a good spread of male and female, and most are young which wasn’t intentional at the time. Given the chance to do it all again, I would like to make more use of the area around me to find suitable events to instil a common theme. Generally, the subjects are happy and smiling, and willing participants which is something that pleased me and gave me some confidence to carry on.
Demonstration of Creativity
Creatively, I had little impact and it shows that there was no main plan or theme. Given that I am a natural introvert, approaching people was not an easy task but I got out there and did it. I think that I was better at doing this than I give myself credit for, being a bit of a ‘grab and go’ person, and they are successful in that I managed to get a decent portrait of each subject. I do believe that there is a visible connection with most of the subjects with the one exception being the young man in the black glasses who was a bit wary even though he was willing to help me. I am not sure whether the images tell me any more about the people posing; if anything it tells me more about me as a photographer and how I approach difficult tasks. I may not have enjoyed doing it but the results of pushing myself are a decent first attempt, and I am sure that I will go on to complete this assignment again with better thinking attached.
Approaching unknown people is something that can be difficult for both sides as we live in a world where we shut people out on a face to face level while being totally connected in a virtual sense all the time. I have spent time in London recently and took time watching people as they go about their daily lives, travelling on the tube, walking to and from work, shopping and sightseeing. I live in Devon and we are more used to speaking to each other whether while ordering a coffee, out with the dog, in a supermarket or just acknowledging another person’s presence. In London, most seemed shocked if I thanked them, smiled or made eye contact. Maybe that’s what this assignment has really taught me, that we still need that human interaction and to make connections with each other. To take a photograph of someone is about having a connection however brief and whether that connection comes across in the resulting image. The context is that in a busy world of phones and chatter, there is a need to find people and look them in the eye and catch something about them even if it is only that they were standing still for five minutes and talking to me.
Graham Clarke quoted Garry Winogrand in his book The Photograph and it chimed with me: “For me, the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film…if, later, the reality means something to someone else, then so much the better.” I think that’s what I was doing, capturing a bit of reality for that moment of that person. It was not an easy assignment from the point of view of planning and executing, and I think that I could have done more thinking about it beforehand. I would like to have another go now that I have got a bit more confidence and I will be thinking up ways to do that. Technically the photographs were bright and in focus and I did not make any glaring mistakes that meant I could not use the images. It was successful in some respects but more work is required to make it better.