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.
These contact sheets show a selection of the images taken for the make up of the Assignment.
Ok, round 2. Having been away for two weeks, I came back full of thoughts about the way forward with what I have got. The ones of the Fire Officer are good and work as a narrative but I am not sure that they communicate fully what he is about. I also feel that they are better individually or would be better to develop the fireman side of it rather than trying to communicate the two sides of his life. He is very active as he grew up a farmer’s son and is happiest when working out in the open. His overriding aim is helping people whether it is the neighbour to lay a hedge, have a student photographer trail round after him taking photos or be in charge of a major incident involving fire or a three car pile-up. There is more to be done here but I am running out of time and this could be something that I come back to later in the course for an alternative assignment – maybe the mirror/window one. It is interesting but not enough.
My other approach has been using Barney as a model and the idea of dark and light sides to us. My interest is in what we show and what we hide. The other part of this is the feeling that I don’t particularly like doing portraits or seeing very posed portraits. It’s a personal preference, probably because I am not good at posing people and I prefer moments that capture people unawares so that I get to see the dark side that is normally hidden, or apparently unaware so they display a different part of their bodies and faces. This could be the way forward. While studying Context and Narrative, I came across an article about Nadav Kander and his photographs of David Beckham that he had taken over the course of several years. The ones that caught my eye and imagination were of Beckham’s tattoos, and there were examples of diptychs and a panel like a contact sheet with sixteen individual shots of all parts of his upper body and head.
This one David Beckham, 16 pictures, 2015 illustrated that it is possible to get a portrait of someone without focusing solely on their face or have them looking at the camera. I revisited Kander’s website to check it out again and found that my reaction to it had not changed. In some ways, it breaks the codes of portraits and photographs that we all try to follow: don’t crop too tightly, have them looking at the camera, no closed eyes. But it works as it is a combination of parts of him that make up the external appearance of the person he is. It is difficult not to look at this without the fact that Beckham is extremely well known and there is the context of him being a footballer, a business man and husband/father.
With this in mind, I am going back to Barney and pursuing the original idea and expanding on the photographs that I took as a first shot to get a feel for it. First round was outside in daylight, second round was inside using natural light with a bit of flash and round three is inside using a basic studio set up and continuous lighting. I am interested to see if I can translate what I see in my mind onto a screen.
The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits.
This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.
I have been finding it difficult to find any decent inspiration for a subject to photograph for this assignment. I have had a few ideas and crossed the off for not being creative enough, adventurous enough, or simply interesting enough. I have started questioning what constitutes a portrait and whether it means that it has to be of someone’s face, or could it be of parts of them. I questioned this while trying out one idea which was to do a kind of montage after David Hockney. I went to his exhibition in London a couple of months ago and was taken with both the vibrancy of his colour in paintings while also being fascinated by his photographic work. It seems to simple yet to pull it off takes skill. I also found them interesting and amusing, and the fact that he could do something so simplistic while being a more than proficient artist.
Carrying on from this, I asked my older son to sit for me while I photographed him in sections in order to try to pull together a montage that would be him. I was casual about it as it was more a fact-finding mission than a first shoot. He was a bit reluctant but agreed to give me some time and sat for me. He has tattoos on both arms, one more heavily decorated than the other, and I wanted to capture those as well as they are important to him, part of who he is as a person. Using an 85mm fixed lens, I sat him in the shade on a bright sunny day against a blue backdrop of our shed. Unconsciously, I managed to get him in blue and black sitting on a black chair against a blue backdrop. He was patient while I did the shots that I wanted, and only occasionally slipped the mask. In most of the images, he has the same expression – a resigned, neutral and slightly closed look. It is the look of someone allowing themselves to be photographed rather than giving themselves to it.
My interest was increased by the other strand to what I was thinking about. I was thinking about masks, about how we only present what we want others to see, and there is a dark side to us. I was exploring the dark vs light aspect of our personalities, what we show and what we hide. I was playing with trying to capture that at the same time. He sat and I photographed him. Then we used more of the sunlight and I was deliberately posing him so that some of his face was shaded. I aimed for tight crops so that it was mainly head and shoulders rather than full body.
Post shoot, I went through them and looked at them more closely. I did my montage which kind of worked but the interesting compilation came about through an expression that I caught of his when he had his eyes closed briefly. It changed the feel of the overall image, and got me thinking more about the dark vs light. It was a little as though a barrier had been let down briefly and that was more him. The more I looked at the photos and the same expression throughout, the more I began thinking seriously about pursuing this as the assignment. I am thinking about redoing it with some focus on different parts of him – the arms with their tattoos, maybe his legs as they both have tattoos, his eyes. I was very drawn to the more unusual crops that I had made as part of the montage: the head showing just eyes and nose at the bottom of the frame; the bicep in one corner and one eye in the opposite corner; the hands resting in his lap showing the tattoos on his fingers; and the whole of him sitting static in the chair. I keep coming back to this idea but wonder if it is too vague for the brief. Harry Callahan did some of his wife in a similar manner – her arm on the beach, a blurred outline against a window, or the one illustrating the course materials of her in water showing just her head. Robert Mapplethorpe also did some self-portraits of parts of his body – one shows just his head and half of his torso with an outstretched hand. Are these still considered to be portraits?
My alternative is to do still one person but along the lines of ‘Same person, different backgrounds’. I have done an initial shoot that went well but could do with fleshing out a bit. I spent some time with a Fire Officer who kindly allowed me to shoot him at home as well at one of the Fire Stations. He suggested going back there at night to do one of the engine with blue lights flashing. That would be so cool! My tutor’s advice to me was “Shoot. Review, Shoot again.” Whatever I decide, I think some more shooting is in order.
I am pretty confident in using my camera so I made sure I had the settings sorted out before I approached each subject. I did have trouble with my Fuji focussing system while taking photos of the guy selling the Big Issue, which was a bit offputting. However I just ploughed on as the moment could have passed if I messed about with them. The backgrounds were not the best as I tended to make a decision about who to ask and then look at where we were. Most of the time, it was in the place that we stopped to talk except for The Biker who I directed to stand against the huts. The images are generally focussed and clear, with even lighting and no great differences in tones. All were shot outside using natural light and without flash, and of those two were in bright sunny conditions. They required a little balancing in Lightroom but nothing major.
Quality of Outcome
I am pleased that I managed to get the five people as outlined in the brief. However, I admit that I didn’t have a clear plan in mind and I think that this has shown in the randomness of the people. There is a good spread of male and female, and most are young which wasn’t intentional at the time. Given the chance to do it all again, I would like to make more use of the area around me to find suitable events to instil a common theme. Generally, the subjects are happy and smiling, and willing participants which is something that pleased me and gave me some confidence to carry on.
Demonstration of Creativity
Creatively, I had little impact and it shows that there was no main plan or theme. Given that I am a natural introvert, approaching people was not an easy task but I got out there and did it. I think that I was better at doing this than I give myself credit for, being a bit of a ‘grab and go’ person, and they are successful in that I managed to get a decent portrait of each subject. I do believe that there is a visible connection with most of the subjects with the one exception being the young man in the black glasses who was a bit wary even though he was willing to help me. I am not sure whether the images tell me any more about the people posing; if anything it tells me more about me as a photographer and how I approach difficult tasks. I may not have enjoyed doing it but the results of pushing myself are a decent first attempt, and I am sure that I will go on to complete this assignment again with better thinking attached.
Approaching unknown people is something that can be difficult for both sides as we live in a world where we shut people out on a face to face level while being totally connected in a virtual sense all the time. I have spent time in London recently and took time watching people as they go about their daily lives, travelling on the tube, walking to and from work, shopping and sightseeing. I live in Devon and we are more used to speaking to each other whether while ordering a coffee, out with the dog, in a supermarket or just acknowledging another person’s presence. In London, most seemed shocked if I thanked them, smiled or made eye contact. Maybe that’s what this assignment has really taught me, that we still need that human interaction and to make connections with each other. To take a photograph of someone is about having a connection however brief and whether that connection comes across in the resulting image. The context is that in a busy world of phones and chatter, there is a need to find people and look them in the eye and catch something about them even if it is only that they were standing still for five minutes and talking to me.
Graham Clarke quoted Garry Winogrand in his book The Photograph and it chimed with me: “For me, the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film…if, later, the reality means something to someone else, then so much the better.” I think that’s what I was doing, capturing a bit of reality for that moment of that person. It was not an easy assignment from the point of view of planning and executing, and I think that I could have done more thinking about it beforehand. I would like to have another go now that I have got a bit more confidence and I will be thinking up ways to do that. Technically the photographs were bright and in focus and I did not make any glaring mistakes that meant I could not use the images. It was successful in some respects but more work is required to make it better.
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.
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.