Brian Griffin’s work was recommended to me by my tutor, Moira Lovell, in preparation for assignment 3. As I’m planning on shooting my assignment at my place of work, a university, his oevre on Burton College is particularly informative to my preparations.
Brian Griffin was born in Birmingham, England in 1948 and studied at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Photography before becoming a staff photographer for the business magazine Management Today. His influences include Surrealism and Renaissance masters, German expressionism, Russian constructivists and capitalist literature and he has a unique way of using symbolism and film noir-style lighting which established him as one of the UK’s most influential portrait photographers (Plumridge, 2014; Gittin, n.d).
Using a combination of staff and students, Griffin created images depicting the various departments of Burton College.
Learn to use light, because light always has a personal flavor to it (the way you use it and the way you light things). It will always have a unique quality and cast, and that will help to make your work unique.
Brian Griffin (2014)
In the image of Stuart – Construction Department Tutor, Griffin poses his subject resting his chin on a 2 x 2 beam of wood which is a signifier for construction. The subject has a pen tucked in behind his ear, no doubt used for making measurements on the wood. The lighting is cast on the subject mainly from camera left, slightly behind and above the subject as his face is shadowed, only the top of his forehead is catching some light. He is gazing off to the right looking out of the frame, an averted gaze. The positioning of his head on the seemingly delicate beam vaguely resembling a version of the bull-man columns of Persepolis.
I am particularly drawn to the group photographs above. There is a disconcerting disconnect between the individuals in both images. In Culinary Students, all the subjects are gazing in different directions (divergent gazes). Three are looking off to the left somewhere and the other is gazing up and towards the right. Two of the subjects are in the shadows, while the other two are partially illuminated. The lighting in Maternity Students is slightly better, or should I say leaning towards the traditional, although it still seems to be coming from above and behind. All the students in this image, bar two, have their attention directed towards the baby dolls they are holding (object-oriented attention). One girl at the back of the group is gazing directly at the viewer while cuddling her baby doll close. For me the punctum of this image is the young man who is gazing off to the left with a downward gaze, sitting with a baby doll perched on his knee. His body language speaks volumes of his uncomfortableness (not sure if this is even a legitimate word, but I’m using Barthes’ license to create a new one if it isn’t) in this group. In this surreal image it seems that the baby doll on his lap is offering a direct gaze to the viewer and this feels rather disconcerting. I’m almost expecting Chucky to emerge from this group!
His work is “like a mirror”, helping him to find out about himself. His images act as a diary, constantly documenting his life’s moments. “My work is all about myself and it gives me great pleasure to look within”.
In Vaughan – Head of IT the viewer encounters some more symbolism. There is the ornate pedestal, a miniature of the columns one sees at the Acropolis, perhaps hinting at the origins of learning. Then there is the upright brick which Vaughan is clutching and hovering over. He has a very protective stance over this brick almost protecting it with his body and about to enclose it with his left hand. This brick and stance conveys the sense of an internet firewall to me, which is a virtual “wall” that provides security to networks from hackers etc. Again the lighting is very much from the top or overhead as there are specular highlights on the subject’s head and his face is shaded.
A few images of Griffin’s work in other series that particularly intrigue me can be seen in this gallery below.
This disconnectedness and peculiar stances are something that I think I’d like to explore in my Assignment 3.
Plumridge, J. (2014) How Brian Griffin’s Innovative Portraits Upended Photography [online]. Shutterstock Blog. Available at: http://www.shutterstock.com/blog/how-brian-griffins-innovative-portraits-upended-photography [Accessed 14 December, 2016]
Gittins, Stephen (n.d.) Brian Griffin Interview [online] Stephen Grittins Photography. Available at: http://stephengittins.com/projects/brian-griffin-interview/ [Accessed 14 December, 2016]
Griffin, Brian. Burton College [online]. Brian Griffin Photography. Available at: http://www.briangriffin.co.uk/photography/projects/burton-college [Accessed 14 December, 2016]
Griffin, Brian. London Olympics 2012 [online]. Brian Griffin Photography. Available at: http://www.briangriffin.co.uk/photography/projects/london-olympics-2012 [Accessed 17 December, 2016]
Griffin, Brian. The Executive [online]. Brian Griffin Photography. Available at: http://www.briangriffin.co.uk/photography/projects/the-executive [Accessed 17 December, 2016]
Chandler, Daniel (2014) ‘Direction of Gaze’ In Notes on the Gaze [online] Available at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/gaze/gaze03.html [Accessed 15 December, 2016]
The Met (n.d.) Bull’s head from column capital [online] The Met. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/324025 [Accessed 14 December, 2016]