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.
As mentioned below under Quality of Outcome, I have really struggled with this assignment. Firstly plagued by a creative block, then being frustrated with an idea which was not working or going anywhere – please read Assignment 2 – Planning and Assignment 2 – Planning Round 2. After feedback from my fellow students I realised that I needed to rethink the assignment. Finally I found some inspiration after watching Rankin and Alison Lapper’s video “No Body’s Perfect with Ranking and Alison Lapper” on iPlayer and thinking back to a conversation I had had with a fellow colleague whose son was having body image issues. Unfortunately he was not willing to take part in this series so I found another model to stand in.
I did not want to tie my assignment down to Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Binge Eating Disorder specifically, but rather keep it more generic concentrating instead on the pressures, signs and side effects of body image disorders. Around 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life and that is only in the United States. Many cases go unreported. ‘By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat’ (National Eating Disorders.org). Eating disorders also have the highest death rate of any psychological illness. Some of the signs of eating disorders include:
- eating in secret
- preoccupation with food
- calorie counting
- fear of becoming fat
- binge eating
- food phobias or avoidance
Pressures for svelte-like bodies (female) and muscular 6-pack abs (male) are triggered by the toys our children play with. Over the years Barbie dolls have become the idealised figure type for young girls, while boys’ action figures have become more muscular (The Telegraph). Compounding this are the fashion magazines and body building magazines that the youth pour and drool over, not to mention their movie idols. All enhanced with the power of Photoshop or other digital software.
The side effects of eating disorders/body image issues can range from suicidal thoughts, illegal drug use, mood swings and depression.
In my series I have tried to depict some of the pressures, signs and side effects prevalent to body image issues, quite a difficult task to do in five images! My planning and thought process for this assignment can be seen in more detail in Assignment 2 – Planning Round 3. My studio images were taken inside our basement apartment and the locations images were taken in my city’s main street.
(Identity) … is a continuous process of apprehension and reassurance, since identity is neither uniform nor fixed, and is constantly subject to challenge and shift.
(Liz Wells, 2009: 295)
I have tried to insert subtle signifiers into the images ranging from a cactus (a symbol of loneliness, pain and abstinence from physical contact), an image of a lizard eating its mate (a depiction of the destruction these type of disorders bring about in the person) and a reflection of the subject in a cake shop window, which acts as her alter-ego or the inner voice so many sufferers say they hear urging them and reprimanding them not to eat.
My contact sheets for my final edit out of 190 images are below.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)
I used my Nikkor 18-140 mm and 50mm lenses for this photoshoot. I tried to vary the distance of subject to camera to create visual interest. My original plan was to use my flash off camera, but unfortunately it slipped off the stand as a result of the cheap flash trigger’s (a Yongnuo), tightening mechanism malfunction and the battery door got damaged. Hopefully it won’t cost me an arm and a leg to repair. So I resorted to using my one of my light tent studio lights which has a 500 watt bulb instead, combined with the natural light from the window. For the location images I relied on natural light only. I used Lightroom to edit out scuff marks on walls and plugs in order to obtain a clean wall background.
Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)
I found that I really struggled with this assignment. Initially I could not come up with a decent concept, then in desperation to get going I tackled the assignment in mid-air as it were, having a vague idea that didn’t really go anywhere. After two rounds of feedback (round 1, round 2) from fellow students, I went back to the drawing board and came up with the body image concept which I was able to flesh out using a mind map. My work was largely informed by Lee Kirby (the way he portrays an individual in studio and location settings), Julian Germain (for his simplicity and empathy with his subject) and Jen Davis for her depiction of loneliness and body image issues. I believe my ideas have been communicated by the research I did on this subject which is noted in more detail above.
Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)
What I have definitely learned from my struggles with this assignment is that I need to have something to say. Trying to tackle this assignment without having a clear direction only led to frustration and a creative block. I definitely did experiment with this assignment – going out on two location shoots with my initial “idea” trying various mood themes. Although I ended up not using those images for this assignment, it was still a worthwhile exercise as I did learn a bit of technique which I may be able to use down the road in another assignment or exercise.
Not all of my ideas panned out. This was mainly due to the restrictions in the “studio”. I had not done a scouting exercise to see how different angles would work in the various locations. This is something to remember going forward. I experimented with various focal distances and facial expressions in order to provide visual interest and to convey the right mood for each depiction.
Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)
As requested by my tutor, I have also reworked Assignment 1. I did a typology of people wearing high-visibility vests and feel that this set of images is a definite improvement on the original submission. As per her feedback I have also looked at the following:
In preparation for this assignment I looked at the following photographers (my details remarks can be found on their pages):
- Jesse Alexander – I totally came across this photographer by accident, initially thinking it was our OCA tutor Jesse Alexander. I particularly like the way Alexander frames his subjects and the intense emotion on display.
- Lee Kirby – the sense of identity that is so prevalent in his Acid Priest series.
- Bruce Davidson – the location and colour palette of his subway series were of particular interest to me.
- Michelle Sank – insecurities in body image
- Jen Davis – weight issues
I also did a bit of extra curricula work, namely a course through the Open University about family archives (Picturing the Family) which ties in well with this course. I also listened to a couple of interesting radio broadcasts on post-modernism on the way to work, one of which I have summarised (The Development of Post-Modernism – An Introduction).
Some of the videos and multimedia I have watched between Assignment 1 and Assignment 2 are listed below. The in-depth write ups are on the pages linked below.
- The Squinch (well known headshot photographer, Peter Hurley’s techniques for getting a genuine smile)
- Panel: Photographs – In and Of the Street (Harry Callahan: The Street) – a panel discussion held by the curators of the Callahan exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery
- Art in the Twenty-first Century: Vancouver – a PBS episode featuring Vancouver artists, Liz Magor, Stan Douglas, Brian Jungen and Jeff Wall.
- The Curated Ego: What Makes a Good Selfie? A video from the National Portrait Gallery that I came across while researching photographers for this assignment, featuring James Kilner, Senior Lecturer in Human Motor Neurosciences, University College London.
- No Body’s Perfect with Rankin and Alison Lapper – a documentary featuring fashion photographer Rankin and artist Alison Lapper who explore how digital photography, social media and selfie culture have affected people’s sense of identity.
I was really lucky to attend two exhibitions in London during a lengthy stopover when returning back to Canada from a visit to South Africa. I was also very fortunate to meet up with fellow students Holly Woodward and Simon Chirwin. This was my first real face to face contact with other OCA photography students and it was just great to touch base on a variety of issues and topics. My detailed notes on the relevant exhibitions are on the pages linked below:
- Picasso: The Artist and His Muses
- Harry Callahan: The Street
- Bharti Kher – Matter
- Made You Look – Dandyism and Black Masculinity
- An Ideal for Living: Photographing Class, Culture and Identity in Modern Britain
I reviewed the following, detailed notes on the pages linked below:
- Julian Stallabrass – What’s in a Face? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography
- Austin Kleon – Steal Like an Artist
- Mark Durden and Craig Richardson – Face On: Photography as Social Exchange
- Holschbach Susanne (2008) ‘The Pose: Its Troubles and Pleasures’ In: Eskildsen, U; Ebner, F; Kaufmann, B (eds.) Street & Studio An Urban History of Photography.
Eating Disorder Hope (n.d) Teen, Adolescent and Children’s Eating Disorders [online]. EatingDisorderHope.com. Available at: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/special-issues/teen-adolescent-children [Accessed 20 November, 2016]
NEDA feeding hope (n.d.) Get the Facts on Eating Disorders [online]. NationalEatingDisorders.org. Available at: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders [Accessed 20 November, 2016]
Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge
Wells, Jonathan (2015) Are action figures giving boys body-image anxiety? [online] TheTelegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/11822364/Are-action-figures-giving-boys-body-image-anxiety.html [Accessed 20 November, 2016]