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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.

 

 

Face2Face at Torre Abbey, Torquay

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.

 

Websites:

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/lucas-fighting-fire-with-fire-p78449

http://www.derekridgers.com/

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/179369997631638479/

http://showstudio.com/project/punk_photography/steve_johnston

 

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.

Scottish Road Trip

 

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.

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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.

Scotland meets Canada

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.

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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.

Drumnadrochit
My dad always referred to an evening drink as ‘a wee drumnadrochit’.  Then I discovered it was an actual place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.zunlee.com/faderesistance#0   (accessed 11.7.17)

http://griotmag.com/en/fade-resistance-zun-lees-project-restores-orphaned-polaroids-of-black-families/  (accessed 11.7.17)

https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/  (accessed 12.7.17)

 

Assignment 1 – Criteria of Success

Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills

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.

Context

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.

Overall

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.

 

Assignment 1 – The Non-Familiar

I have finished the assignment and although it is done, I am aware that i am not totally happy with it and I am sure that i will be revisiting it later on as I progress through the course.  Here are my notes to accompany the images that I made.

Assignment 1

The Non-Familiar

Step out of your comfort zone.  I am sure that this worries most people, and I am no exception.  I put off the moment when I would have to get out there, and while sometimes I was sure that I could do it, at others it was the most daunting thing on my mind.  To say that I had a firm idea of what I was looking to achieve in this assignment would be stretching the truth.  I wanted to use natural light so that meant outside, and I wanted to use the area around where I live so that naturally lead to the assumption that the images would be five individual photos rather than a series on a single theme.  The main aim was to go out with my camera and see what transpired, and the seafront was one location that I had in mind.  It is the start of the summer season for us and all the businesses are open now along with an influx of visitors so the possibilities are different to what would be available in the winter.

Overall I am quite pleased with the outcome as I managed to get people to engage with me and the camera as well as overcoming a natural introvertedness that can be a barrier.  The main stumbling block was getting started and talking to people, and I found that the people that I asked were happy to go along with having their photograph taken.  Time was a factor in that I did not want to outstay my welcome and so only took a few shots each time in order to let them go and get on.  In the café bar, I took some of the Barista at work so that he didn’t feel as though I was making something out of nothing.  I liked this one but wasn’t sure whether this constituted a ‘portrait’ as I was photographing him while he worked.  There is an old fashioned quality about it due to the background – dated wallpaper, mirrors and lights all give a feeling of age rather than modernity so in some ways juxtaposes a modern thing of a coffee machine against the backdrop of 1940s styling.

Non Familiar contact-1 The Barista (Version II)

I was interested to see that most of the people smiled for the camera and were comfortable with being photographed.  Young people are more accustomed to the constant documenting of their lives through Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and so on.  The big smiles of the two girls reminded me of the photos that you see on social media of people out, having a good time and showing themselves as happy, and they were comfortable about being photographed by a stranger. However, the young man with the sunglasses was not as engaged with the camera although he allowed me to take his photograph.

Non Familiar 2nd choice-3   The Biker (Version II)

 This alternative portrait had him looking out to sea but without seeing the helmet, there is more ambiguity and a question of what he is doing there, why is he looking so wistful?  There is a distance in him, preventing me from capturing more than a surface version of him. Graham Clarke on talking about Sander in The Photograph (1997) said that Sander’s portraits “reassert and reaffirm the extent to which we show rather than reveal a face in any public context.”  This young man shows his face but reveals nothing about himself, he is just another person leaning against the beach-huts.  The girls were willing to engage but the sunglasses and smiles puts a natural barrier between them and the camera rather than a conscious one. His glasses prevented me from making a connection with him and that shows in the image.

“Perhaps photographers are drawn to faces because photographs and faces share something in common: although both are instantly engaging, first appearances can be misleading.” William A. Ewing from the introduction to Chapter 2 in ‘Face, the New Photographic Portrait’ (Thames and Hudson, London, 2006).  I managed to get five photographs of people that were not familiar to me, but I still know relatively little about them and the photographs do not immediately elaborate, but then will they ever unless I get to know them further? What did I find out about these people? I made judgements about who to approach based on how they looked – did they look as though they would be willing to be photographed, would they flatout refuse and be offended, or be too chatty? I found out a little about each of them – the Barista sounded Australian and worked in a bar; the girls were from Devon and Spain, and one worked for Rowcroft Hospice;  the ice-cream seller was having a quiet afternoon because the weather was blustery and changeable so people were more likely to have tea than ice-cream.  I found out nothing about the young man, but he sounded possibly Eastern European from his accent. The Big Issue Seller was the most engaging and I spent a little time talking to him about his dog, how selling the Big Issue works, his safety, how he became homeless and how he might get back on his feet.  I was drawn to talk to him because he had an openness about his face and he talked to me easily once I bent down and talked to him.  He was very keen to get his dog into the frame and spent time trying to get the dog’s attention.  This alternative photograph is interesting because of the big poster behind him advertising glasses, and sunglasses for a holiday that this man will not be taking.

 A1-_  The Big Issue Seller (Version II)

It was an interesting exercise in getting out there and trying to engage with people but I am not sure that this is what I want to do all the time.  Knowledge of how my camera works seems to disappear when I am under pressure to take a photo and I get flustered.  The subjects appear to engage with me behind the camera, and I felt that the rudimentary posing that I did with them worked sufficiently.  It is something that I will work on and return to as the course progresses.

Reading:

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph.  London: Oxford University Press

Jeffrey, I. (1981, Reprinted 2003) Photography: A Concise History.  London: Thames & Hudson

Ewing, W.A. (2006) Face: The New Photographic Portrait. London: Thames & Hudson

Images of the Non-Familiar:

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First thoughts on ‘The Non-Familiar’

Assignment 1 asks to make five portraits of people who were previously unknown to me.  I have ignored it for a couple of weeks hoping that it might go away but I finally had to knuckle down and do something about it.  I admit that I not the most gregarious of people and I find portraits quite difficult anyway in that I tend to rush rather then take my time, as I feel that the sitter will be impatient with me taking time to sort out focussing and all that on the camera.  When they say that it is out of the comfort zone, I tend to agree for this reason as I refer to be invisible.

I didn’t really have a definite plan in mind of who I wanted to try to find to photograph other than I wanted them to be from where I live, so the people who work and live here.  I live in a tourist area by the sea and when the sun comes out, so do the people and locals. It seems that we almost hibernate during the winter but as soon as the first rays glow, out they come casting off clothes and ready to face the world.  I would like to say that I had it all planned out, that I would go to a certain place and find the right people.  In reality, I took my camera to several events and hoped that it would come to me.  In my favour is the fact that I seem to have to air of someone who knows (a) where they are going and (b) where everything and everywhere is, plus I must be approachable as I have been asked directions in the USA, Canada, and Germany as well as the local Sainsburys.  I have seen Martin Parr in action in programmes and he makes it look so easy.  I am no Martin Parr, on several counts. But I hope that when I did approach people that they weren’t intimidated by me.  I even asked a young man who seemed very wary but allowed me to photograph him anyway.  Interestingly, I think this is the one image that shows the lack of connection and has a ‘far away’ feel to it.  The others were very accommodating and it was ok after all although I did have trouble with the focussing on my small camera on one occasion that I panicked over a little but laughed it off.  That is the learning part of it.  I was once told by a piano player that you never stop playing if you make a mistake, you carry on and most people won’t even notice and assume that it’s part of the piece.  I am learning to carry on playing so that it all looks intentional while to me it appears that it’s chaos.

Below are a couple of the few photos that I took in order to move towards getting them to pose for me.  Dan is the only one that I remembered to ask his name, and I took some of him making the coffee before stopping him to get him to look in the camera.  With the ice-cream seller, it was a breezy afternoon on the seafront and the wind whipped up under the canopy as I was taking the photos.  She was laughing at her hair going all over the place and while this was a moment, it was not the moment.

Non Familiar contact-1
Dan making the coffee

 

Non Familiar contact-2
Timing

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I have finally come up with five images and while I am not sure that they are the best I have done, I am submitting them as a first draft in order to get on with the rest of the course and not be bogged down in this.  As time goes by, I will be persevering in photographing strangers and hopefully getting better at it as I do.  I feel sure that this is not the final five as the course progresses but for now, I have got them.

Seeing Exhibitions

Exhibitions of photography generally don’t come to the south west and so I need to travel to catch big well known exhibitions, something that has not been possible in the past.  Back in February I went to The Radical Eye at Tate Modern in London as well as the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the same place.  I was finishing off my work for Context and Narrative, and it was a welcome change from seeing images in books or on television. Radical Eye had been open for some time and it was fairly quiet so there was plenty of time and space to consider the exhibits there.  Dorothea Lange was on show and having spent some time studying her in previous modules, it was interesting to see the photograph up close.  I also liked the portraits by Irving Penn and Edward Steichen, and the work of Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) and Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971).  All in black and white, there was pathos and beauty in the work that stood out.   Overall though, I felt that I couldn’t really connect with the way that it was presented, low tones and subdued lighting were overwhelming but I understand the reason for the lights in order to preserve the prints.

The Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition was completely different in terms of light, space, framing, hanging and approach.  The first time that I saw it was a few days after it had opened and it was busy with lots of people of all ages packing the rooms.  In contrast to the hushed reverence of The Radical Eye, there was a lot of chatter and conversation as people looked at the exhibits and discussed what they were seeing.  I enjoyed wandering around and looking at the images, from huge prints hanging from bulldog clips to tiny prints apparently blu-tacked onto the wall.   Photography was allowed in these rooms and I snapped some of the ones that appealed to me most with my phone camera, more of an aid to memory than to put on a wall or in an album.  The one below caught my eye because of the striking colours of the orange umbrella against the muddy brown water and bright green lily leaves.  This image was, I would think, a 6×4 print as it was tiny on the huge wall and dwarfed by other images with there was a lot of space around it.

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Leaf for Architects, (2013). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.

I was interested by the tables of information in the middle rooms with the juxtaposition of printed sheets, sheets torn out of newspapers or printed out, and the almost confusing linkage of the items together.  The ‘fake news’ stuff was really interesting and Tillmans commenting on the human psyche through this made me think more about the theme.

I revisited again last week, just before it closed, and had another look at the work this time without the crowds and noise.  It changed the feel of the exhibition for me as though somehow it is meant to be viewed surrounded by lots of people in order to make it more relevant.  This time, I also read the accompanying booklet which is something I often don’t do as I prefer to look first and think about it afterwards, or get an explanation for something in particular.  I was interested in seeing whether the same images stood out for me as last time, given that I had more time and space to see them and I think that I consciously looked for a couple.  The image of the car below, Fespa Car (2012) was one of the large prints, and I was drawn to it because of the colours – red, yellow, orange – as well as the black of the plastic. There is movement in the background of it and gives more of a sense of where the car is (at an exhibition, in a showroom?).  This time, I was more drawn to the Headlight (2012) but I believe it’s probably because it was referred to in the booklet.  The up close and personal view of the light was predatory, like a large eye watching you, especially with the red paintwork like a warning.

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    Fespa Car (2012) Wolfgang Tillmans
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Headlight (2012) Wolfgang Tillmans

However, I still liked the very large prints of abstract things – the dirt from the printer rollers on exposed paper, the folds of paper, and the sky images at the very end of the exhibition.  The printer ones tied in with the images of his office, and printer in pieces and touches on the production of photographs in that they go from something he sees to something printed on paper, but it can be changed by dirty rollers, incorrect settings and so on.

“What exactly are photographs? That’s a question that preoccupies David Hockney and there are signs that it intrigues Tillmans too. The darkroom equipment and materials can be used to do almost anything.”(https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/03/coolly-contemporary-especially-in-its-muddle-wolfgang-tillmans-at-the-tate-reviewed/)  This rings true because I went to the Hockney exhibition in April and was intrigued by his paintings and especially the montages of multiple images of the same thing to make up a whole that can be seen when you stand further away.  Usually I want to get closer to see parts of the whole but in this instance I stood back to get the overall picture before getting really close and seeing what he had captured in each individual one.

So that’s my take on two exhibitions.  I have been fortunate enough to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Tate Britain, Giacometti at Tate Modern, Wolfgang Tillmans twice at Tate Modern, The Radical Eye at Tate Modern and the Pink Floyd “Their Mortal Remains” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Quite different but all interesting in their own rights.