Create a series of work (aim for 7 to 10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation…
Be wary of illustrating your text with pictures and vice versa. Allow for the viewers’ interpretation to be opened up rather than shut down by the pairings. You may decide not to include the actual words in the final production … as long as they have in some way informed the research and development of the concepts and have pushed the imagery further as a result.
Write a short reflective commentary (around 500 words) describing how your chosen ‘words’ have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.
Working in a university, which caterers mainly to international students coming from all corners of the globe, is always challenging and presents many cultural challenges to staff and faculty. The way students learn in their home countries is very often different to the way education is offered here in North America. Students have to adapt not only to new ways of learning, but also learning in a language which isn’t their mother tongue. Then there is life outside the university – the scenery, ways of doing simple everyday tasks, and the culture is also different.
So with the new intake of students in our Summer semester I decided to tackle the theme of “culture shock” for this assignment. Culture shock is the experience a person undergoes when moving from one’s home country to another foreign country. In this sense I am not referring to the tourists, but to people who have moved for extended periods of times for reasons such as immigration, study, or work. If one is moving from a culture that is very different to the new one, there is usually a sense of disorientation, unfamiliarity and certain transitions that one feels.
“Culture shock” is a term used to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves from a familiar culture to an entirely different cultural or social environment. Familiar sights, sounds and smells are no longer around and small things can easily upset a person and feel out of proportion.
Culture shock for international students
At first everything is new and exciting. This is called the honeymoon phase – a period of romanticism and fascination with the locals. Memories of home and family are still fresh in the mind. Then reality slowly settles in and one becomes aware of the differences between the cultures. One can experience homesickness, difficulties with the language, general frustration and depression often set in at this stage (negotiation phase).
After a while one becomes accustomed to the new culture, has made friends and formed a social group – probably with people in the same situation and one begins to find a sense of equilibrium again. One begins to develop a more balanced point of view with regards to the new culture (adjustment phase). Once a person is completely comfortable in the host country that person will start participating in local communities. The person is more relaxed and confident and better able to cope with life and tend to develop a sense of belonging (adaption phase).
Prior to doing any research on culture shock, I thought that I could just target the new incoming students for their initial impressions, but the statements that I received were along the lines of:
- “I feel good over here/I enjoyed being here/I love people and their gestures”
- “I feel very good over here/I like the signals for crossing the roads/I love people as they helping anytime”
- ”Smiling faces in a lovely city – Vancouver/Close to Heaven “Vancity”/Friendly people/Multicultural diversity”
- “Welcoming, friendly people. Accepting towards international students/Vancouver is a beautiful city”
I then started targeting a cross-section of the student population ranging from brand new students to students who had just graduated and the responses were much more interesting.
My edited down contact sheets, largely straight out of camera, for the shoot, can be seen below.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)
I mainly used my 50mm prime lens to shoot this assignment. I was having a bit of trouble with my 18-140mm and not getting very sharp images. There was a distinct improvement when I switched to the 50mm. I have tried as far as I can to apply equal foot and head space to each photograph as this helps cement the coherence of the set of images. As I mentioned in my planning post and in my post for initial feedback I shot the series on the sidewalk outside the university’s building. Initially I had considered shooting in the alley next to the building as well, but as a result of the feedback, which I concurred with, I dropped that idea as the wall didn’t provide much background context.
I have tried to maintain a fairly even colour balance, but as I was shooting at different times of the day (whenever my models were available) and during a wide range of weather ranging from sunny, cloudy, semi-overcast to torrential downpour (and no I didn’t have my model standing in the rain – he was under an awning and I was in the rain) I know that one image is a little off from rest. I did consider changing the white balance and tested it out, but it really didn’t change too much except rendering the subject too orange, so I have left the balance set to daylight on that one.
Apart from the weather challenges, the other challenge I had was shooting around a lot of homeless people taking shelter under the awnings. We have a homeless shelter right next door to the university and I had to bin a few images because of their background presence in the images.
Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)
Ideally I think I would like to present this work in book format with the photos on the recto side and the caption on the accompanying verso side. I have done a mockup using the Book feature in LightRoom for the first time – cover front and back and pages inside can be seen on by clicking on the links provided. I haven’t managed to figure out why LightRoom split the covers and book content into two separate files, but I will figure this out in time for assessment. This is a project that I can easily expand on as I feel that I haven’t exhausted all the nationalities that step through the doors of the university. I purposely did not want to photograph my subjects in front of any tourist spot, preferring rather to leave the location in the images identifiably similar but at the same time rather ambiguous allowing the viewer to puzzle over the identity of the actual city.
Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)
Although my subjects have written their statements from their own experiences in their own handwriting, they all without fail (and without knowing it) have revealed emotions and experiences that I have had as an immigrant more than twenty years ago. I think my project is a bit of an amalgamation of Les Monahan’s Desire Project (although mine was shot in natural light) and Gillian Wearing’s Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say. I have followed Monahan’s format of positioning the subjects, but have used Wearing’s method of using signs to convey the thoughts and concerns of the subjects. I feel that this way the experiences become more embedded in the image. The accompanying captions’ purpose is mainly to identify the country and the culture shock phase.
Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)
In preparation for this assignment I looked at the following photographers (my details remarks can be found on their pages):
- Les Monaghan and Gillian Wearing – public vs private personae of the subjects and different use of text
- John Kippin – use of text within the landscape genre
- Helen Maurene Cooper – use of multicoloured text as well as vertical orientated text in margins
- Karen Knorr – different relationships between image and text. Her presentations are more formal than the other photographers I research
- Bill Owens – humourous, refreshing way of working with text
Some of the videos and multimedia I have watched between Assignment 3 and Assignment 4 are listed below. The in-depth write ups are on the pages linked below.
- Artist’s Talk – Wolfgang Tillmans – an extremely interesting lecture by Tillmans at the Vancouver Art Gallery into the way he works
- Lecture: Zoë Druick, Documentary and the Politics of Authenticity (Walker Evans: Depth of Field Exhibition) – a lecture given during the Walker Evans exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery
- Jeff Wall: In Order to Make a Picture – a documentary produced by Knowledge Network about how Jeff Wall works
I attended the North Shore Photographic Society’s workshop/lecture presented by Russel and Wendy Kwan, detailed notes accessible from the link below:
I did reviews on the following books and journal article, detailed notes are on the pages linked below:
- The Ongoing Moment – Geoff Dyer
- The Memory of Photography – David Bate
- Criticizing Photographs – An Introduction to the Understanding of Images by Terry Barrett
I managed to get to quite a few of the Capture Photography Festival exhibitions that were on in Vancouver. My detailed notes on the relevant exhibitions that I attended are on the pages linked below:
- Robert Earnest – Last Night
- Group Exhibition – Wide Open
- Barbara Cole – Falling Through Time
- Carrefour de la DiverCité (Crossroads of DiverCity)
- External. Internal. Bill Anderson
- Danny Singer with Mike Bayne – Artifact
- Between Dreaming and Living – Vikky Alexander
- Lewis Baltz – Portfolios
- City in Flux by Carolina de la Cajiga
Counselling Service (n.d.) Culture shock for international students [online] Warwick University. Available at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/tutors/counselling/informationpages/culture_shock/ [Accessed May 30, 2017]
Student Services (n.d.) Adjust to a New Culture | Stages and symptoms of culture shock [online] Simon Fraser University. Available at https://www.sfu.ca/students/exchange/current/new-culture/stages-and-symptoms.html [Accessed 30 May, 2017]