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.

 

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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.