Exercise 3.2 Uniqueness

Exercise 3.2 What Makes Me Unique and How to Photograph It

Written Notes
Excerpt from Other Learning Log

This was my starting point with this exercise, as I jotted some initial thoughts.  It’s another slightly uncomfortable exercise, one of looking at myself and making observations that maybe other people do without even thinking too much about it.  Uniqueness, something that sets you apart from everyone else.  The more I do this course and consider identity, the more I realise that the concept of uniqueness or difference is one of something that does not exist or is very hard to obtain.  However much we try to be different, we all end up looking the same or decorating our houses the same, or hold the same values and ideas. Hans Eijkelboom illustrates this perfectly in his series People of the Twenty-First Century by picking a ‘look’ and deciding to photograph everyone he sees with that particular look, whether it is the jeans and lumberjack shirt look or something more sartorial.  we all think we are wearing the latest but we can all pick out those common themes in age groups or gender.

Where to start? For me, I suppose that it begins with what I can do that is not usual among my age group.  I go regularly to the gym and do weight training, that is using weights to build muscle although not to the point of being a body builder. How does this make me unique? My perception is that there are more young people doing this than those my age (mid 50s), my age group prefer gentler exercise like yoga, pilates or just walking the dog.  I do weight training because I enjoy the challenge it presents – can I lift more weight? Can I get stronger, fitter, faster? To photograph this would involve more ‘selfies’ which abound on Instagram and social media.  This is a starting point but there are plenty more ways to explore this.  Maybe I will look at this as part of Assignment 3.


The other unique point has been my relationship with music.  Like many people, I love music and have spent many hours listening to it and going to see it played live, whether classical (not so much these days) or pop/rock music.  What is unique to me is that I also take my camera with me and have been fortunate enough to capture some bands playing live from the front of the stage as well as having spent time backstage and in the studio with them. How do you photograph this? As a starting point, I thought about merging of photos and I tried out a couple of ideas using an in-camera method.


It’s quite basic but there is a symmetry to it with the spine of the music book bisecting the frame and a guitar either side.  The colours of the guitars show through and gives it a bit of depth.  It is not immediately apparent which layers sits on top.  This marries together the idea of written music with the instruments that create it and I think that the colours against the black of the musical notation work well.


I put myself in the frame in this image in order to see whether this ads or detracts from the meaning of the whole thing.  To be honest, I am not sure that it works with a person in it.  There is too much going on in the frame and while it’s not bad, it doesn’t really say anything to me.  However, it was a snap trying out some ideas and it helps as I start to think about Assignment 3 as I was thinking of exploring this type of image. I am not so sure that it works well enough now.  I think I will stick to more straightforward images.

Woody Guthrie
Studio Oddities

As I use my phone a lot for capturing things that I see and like, the two images above were taken using my phone and an app with filters on to recreate old style looks of photos.  There are so many colours and interesting things to see in this studio, I could spend hours just looking.  Woody Guthrie reminds me that I always wanted to play the piano but never got the chance.  I love  music but can’t play an instrument and I am envious of those who can, and do it brilliantly.  The next best thing is to be around people who can play and sing, and do what I love which is photograph them and their instruments.

Having looked at my uniqueness, I am sure that I am not unique at all but to be a female who photographs musicians is fairly unusual.  This has given me food for thought for my Assignment and I may pursue this further.


Part One Exercise 1.1 Historic Portrait


Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.36.45
Cecil Beaton: Marlene Dietrich, (1935) Sotheby’s London. 

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

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

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

Hugo Vickers (The Guardian)

Saturday 24 January 2004

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

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