Simon: 4480 gives a real sense of someone being folded into and crushed by an external force (the frame here, but it could be taken metaphorically); 4436 has could be read as a direct appeal to the camera with your model’s expression giving a sense of unease or possibly of being discovered in the act of something; if you don’t like the direct eye contact, 4423 leaves you wondering what exactly it is that she is looking at and what is the emotion that it is producing in her.
Andrew: The gaze in 30 and 80 are more complex to me. 30 looking out of the frame creates a sense of ambiguity as we are missing part of the story. 80 as it looks like we are witnessing a moment of private struggle – close to a stranger’s personal space.
Fergus: 4427 & 4430 To be honest these are my favourite two and the most ambiguous.
Holly: I see what your tutor means about nos 2 & 3. They direct the viewer to your subject matter in quite a clear way. I’d go for number 4480, which hints at mental health issues without being obvious, and also the one from your first set of contacts where she is sitting hunched up on the sofa. That one speaks of emotion being held in, and her excluding the outside world. They are a lovely and very sad set of images, Lynda.
Morris: Your first row of images are definitely ambiguous as they suggest several interpretations, at least to me.
I myself was a little torn between deciding between 4427 and 4430, but in considering the comments from my fellow students I can see that 4430 has more ambiguity than 4427. The gaze looking past the viewer in 4430 is a little perturbing and does raise more questions that the downward gaze of 4427. I find myself trying to will the subject to look at me, not past me. Simon and Andrew’s comments regarding 4480 really resonated with me as I do believe this close up version does convey more ambiguity, personal struggle and introversion than the pull back version (4478).
On December 6, 2016 my tutor and I had a Skype session for her feedback on my assignment 2. It was very nice to finally ‘meet’ my tutor and establish a proper connection. Truth be told I was a little nervous about the session, but it went well and was quite productive.
I took some notes while we were discussing my assignment and my tutor also provided a bullet-point report. Overall it was a very satisfactory report. My comments are in italics.
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity
We discussed images 1, 4 and 5 as being your most successful. The framing, narrative set up, use of ambiguity and in the case of 1 and 5, the lack of camera/eye contact works.
The other images have a different look and feel. The eye contact, and the gestures build towards a literal, overplayed performance. These images give too much away. Give your audience some room.
We discussed how images 1, 4 and 5 reminded me of the work of Philip Lorca diCorcia and Hannah Starkey. We also discussed the use of narrative and ambiguity in Cindy Sherman’s work.
(Photo of Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20 by Philip Lorca diCorcia inserted)
Whilst the subject matter of yours and diCorcia’s is distinctly different there are similarities in your approach. There is more to learn from diCorcia – light, ambiguity and framing. When shooting do move around your subject to fully explore the framing and lighting.
When shooting outside the bakery (image 5) I had, in fact, shot from a 180 degree radius around the subject, but not all those images made it to my short list. Perhaps I should provide more evidence in my short list contact sheets in future.
diCorcia’s lighting is cinematic. He works at particular time of day. I assume he, (like I do) watches the light over a number of days, and shoots his subject at a time when he knows he is going to get what he wants. I understand at this time of year the skies are mostly grey – you can make the most of what you have. Overcast = amazing soft box!
It actually was an overcast day that day (in between rainfalls). Vancouver tends to have many more overcast, grey days than London does. The average rainfall measured at the airport is 1,153.1 mm per year, while the average rainfall in my city is double that at 2,477 mm because we live against the mountain (just a short 30 minute drive from the airport). We only really have two months where we get ‘decent’ sunshine, that being July and August. During October and November this year we had a total of 5 days where we did not have rain and those days, if I remember correctly, occurred during the week when I was ensconced at work.
(Photos of Hannah Starkey’s work inserted)
Hannah Starkey’s work depicts women in staged settings. She describes her work as “explorations of everyday experiences and observations of inner city life from a female perspective.” Also see the work of painter Edward Hopper who Starkey clearly references. Susan Bright feature’s Starkey’s work in her book Art Photography Now.
Hannah Starkey states that ‘by collaborating with the people that I cast for my characters and working with them, I find out how others view the world’ (Bright, 2011:96).This is something that I explained to my subject before we started shooting and asked for her input throughout the session, especially as she is closer in age to the fictional character that I was trying to depict. I have had a look at some of Edward Hopper’s work online as well as Starkey’s images and I can definitely see she is drawing inspiration from Hopper.
There is a similarity in pose and mood in Hopper’s painting and Starkey’s photograph above. There is also a similar division of light and shadow and an overall similarity in the muted red tones in the images.
There could be other ways to photograph the girl on the bed, to align the portrait with the two images taken out on location. This image came to mind:
(Photograph of a woman sitting on the end of a bed)
The bedroom that I shot in really would not have allowed for this type of shot for a couple of reasons, namely the room is quite small and there is only about 12 inches between the end of the bed and the wall, which is really where I was standing. So backing up further was just not possible. Also the bed was very high so that the model would not have been able to sit on the sit of the bed with her feet planted on the floor. I understand that a more vertical orientation might have been more in line with the other images, but I really wanted an image of vulnerability and I believe a fetal position achieves this.
Again, this is very different subject matter. But the lighting, framing, pose and use of ambiguity may help you.
(Photograph of Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #63, 1980)
Cindy Sherman’s photograph is loaded narrative and ambiguity. The framing, the body language and the use of light all play a part. I am unsure if something has happened or about to happen. Yet, the context itself is unremarkable. A woman in a building, on a stairwell is pretty mundane and everyday.
The image that we actually discussed during the Skype session was Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #48. I did do a bit of research into ambiguity in photography which can be seen on this posting.
Good assignment one rework. You have taken my feedback on board and produced a series of cohesive images. I particularly like the young man whose hat is lighting up his eyes.
We discussed assignment 3. It may make sense for you to photograph your work community, as an insider. The university is an interesting place. I recommend looking at the management/work portraits of Brian Griffin. These are beautifully lit, uncomfortable examinations of power relations between colleagues. I also recommend Matthew Finn’s long-term project focussing on students. ‘Work’ is a rich photographic area, from the portraits of children in factories made by the socially concerned Lewis Hine to the poetic glimpses of pilots undertaking survival training by Les Monaghan.
I have had a look at these photographers and will be doing separate write ups on their work.
Alternatively, you spoke of photographing at your local RSPCA as an outsider. You mentioned a kind of day in a life approach. I recommend a number of visits, perhaps start with a guided tour, and then ask if you could spend some time at the venue. It may be worth spending a few hours with each volunteer. This will help you become familiar with them, and as such you may find it is easier to photograph them.
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity
Solid engagement and progress – please keep going and keep adding your responses to the work to your log (as you are doing).
Don’t be scared to experiment and explore new approaches.
I found the feedback for this assignment more encouraging as my tutor stated that there was a marked improvement in my work. Some good references have been given to me to explore for assignment 3. I have just had a cursory look into each of the photographers suggested and look forward to a more in depth analysis of their work. I already have a few ideas tugging away at my subconscious as a result of the quick viewing. My big take away from this Skype session was “Ambiguity is your friend”.
Bright, S (2011). Art Photography Now (2nd edition). London: Thames & Hudson
During my Skype tutor feedback on my assignment, my tutor briefly mentioned that a couple of my images were a little too literal (namely Fig 2 and 3) and suggested that I replace them with photographs that are more ambiguous, leaving room for the viewer to input their own interpretation. So I decided to take a look at this while I’m waiting for her report to come through. I’m a little undecided about this at the moment so I’m posting a contact sheet of a few more images I have, some where the subject is not looking at the camera directly and will wait for some student feedback.
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
fear of becoming fat
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.
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: