Assignment 2 – Tutor Suggested Research

1  – John Stezaker

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/australia-culture- blog/2014/mar/27/john-stezaker-sydney-biennale

Stezaker collects old photographs in order to deface them in order to create something new and arresting – so says the Guardian in the review of the Sydney Biennial in which he exhibited in 2014.  My tutor suggested looking at this work as it had relevance to what I was trying to achieve with my images in Assignment 2.  I had started looking at montage and collage as a way of exploring the person inside the person that I was photographing, in this instance my older son.  I had gone to the Hockney exhibition in London in 2017 and been really interested in his use of polaroid collages to make a whole image  Also interesting were the montages of landscapes scenes and I had had this in mind when approaching A2.  I still need to rework A2 as it was suggested that there was a distance between sitter and photographer, and I would like to go back to the original idea of the collage/montage to see if I can create what I was looking for at the time.  Stezaker was suggested as a point of reference to look further at collage and the use of different techniques to make images more arresting.

I looked at this article and then at the images that are held online by the Tate Gallery.  Stezaker made us of old movie stills and hand coloured postcards to merge them together to make a new image.  The use of postcards and photographs over the top of portraits obscures the original and often the eyes are hidden behind the front image meaning that the eye of the viewer searches around for other things to focus on.  The front image has some connection with the underlying photograph, through edges lining up or waves suggesting a confrontation.   There is a symmetry and a tension to what he does and it is unnerving to see faces partly replaced by something solid such as a picture of a mountain slope.  Our reaction is to connect with the eyes and when that doesn’t happen then there is a sense of something unresolved.  “What I do is destructive, but also an act of deliberate passivity.”  He does not shoot the images himself but uses them to create something else.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/stezaker-mask-xiii-t12346

This image is of a woman whose face is obscured by an upside down postcard of a stone house with arches at the front.  It was only when I read the notes attached that I realised that the edge of the house replaced the edge of her face and the arches made it look like a skull.  It shows that I am not examining images closely enough so I looked at the others more closely.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/stezaker-insert-t12343

I had picked up on the confrontational nature of this image with the man in a position of strength from the clenched hand on the desk.  His face is obscured and the eye roams the frame looking at the whole.  The breaking wave suggests a rising confrontation between the man and the woman – she has her back to the camera and appears to be clutching something in front of her, possibly as a defensive gesture.  The huge wave crashing over the seafront of the postcard Eastbourne suggests that this is monumental.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/stezaker-the-end-t12340

This is interesting because as I completed a collage for Assignment 3 in which I used several photos of one place at different times of the day to suggest the passing of time and that this particular activity was an ongoing one at all times of day and night.  I had not seen this particular image before I did the assignment and it was interesting to see how he had used the collage of Big Ben.  From the Tate website:

“Stezaker has commented that The End was:

a response to the current conventions of conceptual art in England which was obsessed with photo sequences and chronology … for several years (between 1973 and 1976 approx) I collected all of the images I could find of the subject both in postcard form and also in films. This was the beginning of my collection of film stills. I discovered that Big Ben was a key image in British Cinema and became a favourite way of ending films – usually with the chimes of midnight. I incorporated one of this collection of cinematic images of Big Ben with the words ‘THE END’ superimposed over it into a later re-presentation of the postcard fragment as a kind of pictorial title label. (Letter to the author, 26 October 2007.)”

I was interested by the fact he was looking at the colour of the sky as well as the parts of Big Ben and not all the views are from the same place so the clock appears in various parts of the frame and different sizes.  It makes it more interesting rather than the same viewpoint throughout, something to bear in mind for future works.

He clarified the difference between montage and collage: “Montage is about producing something seamless and legible, whereas collage is about interrupting the seam and making something illegible.”

2  – Annegret Soltau

The other artist suggested is Annegret Soltau who takes self-portraits then creates montages of her own body and face.  These can remake faces in grotesque representation of a face in a similar way to how Picasso would have drawn faces with huge eyes or all features on one side of the face.  In other work, she uses black thread sewn over to create sometimes delicate patterns on her face and body that change the way the viewer looks at it.  The thread images from early works are much more accessible and delicate, and it is as though they have been drawn on rather than stitched but closer inspection reveals an enclosing of her within a frame of thread.  It’s interesting to see a different style of altering photographs.  Her later works when she still uses stiches to make a collage but I personally found them more inaccessible and my eyes/brain constantly tried to ‘correct’ them, to make eyes the right size and the in the right place.  The stitching continues as a way of attaching the new parts to the original image.

https://wsimag.com/art/23956-annegret-soltau

This article explains more about her work, but I like the image that heads it. There is a pathos in this image of a woman resting her head on her arm on a table in a way that a weary mother might, or someone who is having trouble, with the arm outstretched and hand loosely clenched.  One way of looking at it is that the threads encircle her like a protective shield; another is that they are chains binding her to the table and her life.

http://www.annegret-soltau.de/en/galleries/kaleidoscope-1979-98/artworks/im-kaleidoskop-i

Another interesting approach to the fragmentation of the self.  There are no wild eyes in this one and so I can relate to it better – the big eyes are problematic personally and looking at them make me uneasy.

Soltau is an interesting artist using different techniques to disrupt the normality of a photograph, and explores her identity through her self-portraits that are then amended in some way that can change the meaning and the viewing.

 

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Assignment 2 – Analysis

 

  1. Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills

The photographs are evenly lit and have specific areas in focus as dictated by the location of the tattoo on the body.  The light source is mainly natural available light as the subject was outside in a shaded area.  The colours are mainly black and blue which gives a uniformity across the five images, with the blue background being the dominant one.  The framing is tight in order to isolate a specific area, and to make the subject the focus rather than the background being a distraction and taking attention away from the subject.  There is a uniformity across the series

 

  1. Quality of Outcome

The brief was to produce a set of five photographs that have a theme and make use of techniques covered in the chapter. These are five individual images that make up a whole, and concentrate on one person and his tattoos which are an integral part of him.  There is a symmetry with the use of left arm, left leg, right arm, right leg and whole body to bring them all together.  I was aiming for a montage approach but ended up with more of a trail from one side to the other. My inspiration had come from David Hockney and Nadav Kander, and this is an interpretation of what they produced.  This is not exactly what I had in mind but it was more difficult to portray than I thought, and this is the follow on from the exploration of the original idea.  The series has got a cohesion to it and gives an idea of him as a person but allows for more than one interpretation of what the tattoos mean.

 

  1. Demonstration of Creativity

I had an idea about trying to portray the light and dark sides of a person, what they show and what they hide.  Barney had agreed to be the model for the assignment and I did an initial trial where I took multiple photos in order to make a montage.  I found this really interesting and actually was closer to what I had thought I wanted to achieve, but moving on from the initial shoot was more difficult and the more photos I took, the further away I got from this idea.  The set works but maybe not as interestingly as the initial idea.  I was at a loss as to how to proceed and time was running away, therefore I followed the less imaginative path in order to complete the assignment and move on.

 

  1. Context

Portraits are harder than they appear and finding a theme to join them together is not straightforward. Barney was willing to sit for me, in a variety of setups from outdoors to studio in order for me to try to capture that illusive moment that I had seen in the initial trial.  The ‘Street and Studio’ suggested that there should be a mix of the two, but ‘studio’ always suggests something stiff and formal as well as difficult to achieve without the right equipment.  I tried doing both but erred on the side of caution and settled on natural light with one portrait.

 

  1. Overall

The set of photographs works within the context of the brief.  I was really interested in the montage idea but eventually found that the more I worked on it, the less it fulfilled what I had in mind.  I did not feel that I had time to keep on plugging away when the results were so illusive.  Part of the problem was that I had to keep asking Barney to do more of the same thing while not seeing that ‘something’ in the final images and maybe this was the reason that I felt that this was not the best assignment that I could have done. Again. Maybe I will return to this before assessment and redo it along the lines of the montage idea.  The initial set of my photos fired my imagination but ultimately I could not translate that into a finished product, which I find very frustrating.  However, the images that I produced were competent and that is what matters at the moment.

 

 

 

 

Assignment 2 Contact Sheets

Barney sat for me, initially as an experiment to try out taking lots of shots to mock up a montage. Natural Light, outside, shade then direct sunlight. The aim was to get a lot of images of parts of him so that I could bring them into one image.

Barney - Contact Sheet 1
Initial Shoot, August 2017, Outside, Natural Light

 

Contact Sheet 2-1

Contact Sheet 2-2
Shoot 2 September 2017, Inside, Natural Light

 

Contact Sheet 3-1

Contact Sheet 3-2
Shoot 3, September 2017, Inside, Continuous Lighting
Contact Sheet 4
Shoots 4 & 5, October 2017, Outside, Natural Light

These contact sheets show a selection of the images taken for the make up of the Assignment.

Assignment 2

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

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

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

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

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

Assignment 2

Vice versa

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits.

This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.

I have been finding it difficult to find any decent inspiration for a subject to photograph for this assignment.  I have had a few ideas and crossed the off for not being creative enough, adventurous enough, or simply interesting enough.  I have started questioning what constitutes a portrait and whether it means that it has to be of someone’s face, or could it be of parts of them.  I questioned this while trying out one idea which was to do a kind of montage after David Hockney.  I went to his exhibition in London a couple of months ago and was taken with both the vibrancy of his colour in paintings while also being fascinated by his photographic work.  It seems to simple yet to pull it off takes skill.  I also found them interesting and amusing, and the fact that he could do something so simplistic while being a more than proficient artist.

Son (1 of 2)

Carrying on from this, I asked my older son to sit for me while I photographed him in sections in order to try to pull together a montage that would be him.  I was casual about it as it was more a fact-finding mission than a first shoot. He was a bit reluctant but agreed to give me some time and sat for me.  He has tattoos on both arms, one more heavily decorated than the other, and I wanted to capture those as well as they are important to him, part of who he is as a person.  Using an 85mm fixed lens, I sat him in the shade on a bright sunny day against a blue backdrop of our shed.  Unconsciously, I managed to get him in blue and black sitting on a black chair against a blue backdrop.  He was patient while I did the shots that I wanted, and only occasionally slipped the mask.  In most of the images, he has the same expression – a resigned, neutral and slightly closed look.  It is the look of someone allowing themselves to be photographed rather than giving themselves to it.

My interest was increased by the other strand to what I was thinking about.  I was thinking about masks, about how we only present what we want others to see, and there is a dark side to us.  I was exploring the dark vs light aspect of our personalities, what we show and what we hide.  I was playing with trying to capture that at the same time.  He sat and I photographed him.  Then we used more of the sunlight and I was deliberately posing him so that some of his face was shaded.  I aimed for tight crops so that it was mainly head and shoulders rather than full body.

Post shoot, I went through them and looked at them more closely.  I did my montage which kind of worked but the interesting compilation came about through an expression that I caught of his when he had his eyes closed briefly.  It changed the feel of the overall image, and got me thinking more about the dark vs light.  It was a little as though a barrier had been let down briefly and that was more him.  The more I looked at the photos and the same expression throughout, the more I began thinking seriously about pursuing this as the assignment.  I am thinking about redoing it with some focus on different parts of him – the arms with their tattoos, maybe his legs as they both have tattoos, his eyes.  I was very drawn to the more unusual crops that I had made as part of the montage: the head showing just eyes and nose at the bottom of the frame; the bicep in one corner and one eye in the opposite corner; the hands resting in his lap showing the tattoos on his fingers; and the whole of him sitting static in the chair.  I keep coming back to this idea but wonder if it is too vague for the brief.  Harry Callahan did some of his wife in a similar manner – her arm on the beach, a blurred outline against a window, or the one illustrating the course materials of her in water showing just her head.  Robert Mapplethorpe also did some self-portraits of parts of his body – one shows just his head and half of his torso with an outstretched hand.  Are these still considered to be portraits?

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

My alternative is to do still one person but along the lines of ‘Same person, different backgrounds’.  I have done an initial shoot that went well but could do with fleshing out a bit.  I spent some time with a Fire Officer who kindly allowed me to shoot him at home as well at one of the Fire Stations.  He suggested going back there at night to do one of the engine with blue lights flashing.  That would be so cool!  My tutor’s advice to me was “Shoot. Review, Shoot again.”  Whatever I decide, I think some more shooting is in order.