This is my round 3 of photoshoots for this assignment and time is really marching on so I have to wrap this up now. I came up with a new idea (see my planning post for more details) and am now posting a few images as contact sheets in order to get some feedback from my fellow students as to my final five that I need to submit. I know I have included two portrait formats in the set, but that is simply because there is just no way the location would allow for a horizontal image – shooting in a very narrow passage. Please bear in mind I still have some post-processing to do. I’m hoping things like insecurity, fixation with body image, sadness, frustration, depression come through.
Well, my ideas are not panning out for this assignment. After reshooting last Saturday and getting some more feedback from my fellow students, I realised that my initial idea is lacking substance and this is probably due to the fact that I’m tackling it from the wrong end instead of working out a concept first. Feedback that I got ranged from “focusing on what instead of why”, “has an urban fashion shoot feel”, “focusing on the subject and merely see background as colour”.
After watching the documentary “No Body’s Perfect with Ranking and Alison Lapper” on BBC 4 on Sunday night, I felt the percolation of an idea brewing. My goodness I haven’t felt that in such a while – I was almost ecstatic! I thought back to a conversation I had had with a fellow colleague who told me about the problems her young teenage son was having with his body image. After watching Rankin’s gentle approach in getting his subjects to open up and allow him to photograph their insecurities, I felt it worth talking to my colleague to see if I could photograph her son. I spent the night doing some research and coming up with some ideas which I felt he would be able to relate to and explained it all to her the following day also reassuring her that I could make the assignment entry private so that only tutor could view it, if that would make him feel more comfortable. She was willing to ask him if he would take part in the assignment, but unfortunately he declined. So at the moment I am scouting for another model. I’d preferably like to use a male model as there does not seem to be very much documented about eating disorders or body image issues among male teenagers. But as time is marching on and my assignment is so overdue I will be willing to take on a female model as well.
I’m having a difficult time bringing my images down to a final edit of five, so am posting my contact sheets which include another shoot that I did yesterday. I need some fresh eyes on this project so am asking my fellow students for some feedback again. I revisited the scene at the quay later in the day just around sunset as I wasn’t too happy with the earlier colour versions (harbour images on contact sheet 1 and 2) as I think the blue was too light. As a reminder these were all shot with tungsten WB and with an orange gel on the flash (the exception being the bus image). The reason why I’m doing it this way is to reflect the colour of the city. Vancouver is a very blue city. On a bright sunny day, if one goes up one of the local mountains and looks down onto the city there is an overall sense of blueness. This is because there is so much water surrounding the city – it is situated on a bit of peninsula and the sky scrapers are mainly glass buildings which again reflects the tones of the water. My subject is my son who is very environmentally aware and makes use of public transport whenever he needs to get into the city to avoid paying for parking. We have a variety of public transportation here so I was aiming to show the variety as well ranging from ferries, buses, skytrains and bikes.
Again I have been struggling for inspiration on this assignment. As my tutor said when I emailed her about my creative block, I have probably been overthinking the assignment. So with that in mind and having done a bit of research, thus far on Lee Kirby and Bruce Davidson, not forgetting Walker Evans earlier in the coursework, I have settled on the location(s) for my images.
I am planning on shooting in or around train stations, bus stops, ferry terminals and other transport modes in the city. I’m aiming for a moody tone to my images so have tried to create a certain colour palette by shooting in tungsten white balance with an orange gel on my flash. Some images, specifically those indoors, were more successful with this, but I found that the outdoors images were a little iffy for my liking. So I converted to black and white and now I’m not sure if I like that better. Therefore, time to get some peer feedback from my fellow students. Here are a few images in both formats, not necessarily my final picks. Please click on the galleries below to enlarge.
This exercise is essentially the same as the previous one, but instead of taking photographs of the same person, here you must make portraits of three different subjects, but keep the background to the image consistent… You could either select an interesting backdrop to use inside (studio) or perhaps select an interesting backdrop on location (street). Whichever you choose, try to be as creative as you can and be prepared to justify your decisions through your supporting notes. Again, present all three images together as a series and, in around 500 words, reflect upon how successful this exercise was in your learning log or blog.
I decided to shoot this exercise at work using some of my ever so patient colleagues as models. Thank you ladies! I really would be quite lost without your willingness to pose for me.
The location that I chose to shoot in has west facing windows, so was pleasantly lit with the afternoon sun. We have an old warehouse door that is hung on one wall facing the window as decoration and the door is lit by three spotlights that cast interesting shades on the old battered door. I chose to use the door as my background because of its visual interest and texture. I chose to shoot the door in such a way that the hinges and part of the wall would be present in order to provide the context that this is now a wall decoration. Because there was so much mixed lighting (natural, tungsten, fluorescent daylight and flash) I used an X-rite ColorChecker to ensure correct colour rendition and white balance.
I decided to use my flash for this exercise as I haven’t really used it since doing TAOP and am sorely in need of some practice. I found I had to use it to add more light to the scene anyway as the light was a little low, even with the spotlights and available window light. I had the flash off camera, willingly held by a voice-activated light stand (one of the models). I found that the lighting was a little hit and miss, sometimes half the image was bathed in shadow, the next perfectly lit. I’m not sure if this was due to the assistant moving slightly and changing the direction of the light or possibly batteries in the triggers being a little old and not firing quick enough.
I had the stances that Clare Strand’s subjects used in her Gone Astray portraits in mind for this shoot. I had each model try the same variety of poses: full frontal facing the camera; slight turn to the left and right with the head turned toward the camera; facing the door and looking back at the camera over their shoulders. I found that all the ladies adopted a fashion model type pose with the last mentioned pose so I eliminated those poses from my selection. I provided little direction apart from asking them to turn in a particular direction and not to smile. I think I probably directed the person holding the flash more.
All three of the ladies are dressed for our Canadian autumn weather. The rich red tones in the first lady’s tunic top contrasts well with the cool tones of the tin warehouse door in the background. She has an expression on her face that speaks of determination and sass. The second lady’s blue coat and pink scarf pick up on the bluish-gray tones of the door providing a very cool overall palette. She has a slightly unreadable expression on her face – sad/disappointed/tired maybe. The third lady’s face is radiant and glowing. One only has to look at her protective arm gesture to see why. The tones of her clothing bring about a certain neutrality to the image.
On the whole I am rather satisfied with the way the lighting worked. There are some hard shadows on the floor which I would have preferred to be softer, but I can live with that for now. In hindsight I should probably have remembered to take my reflector along and fire the flash through that instead. Next time I will remember. I think its time I hauled out my mannequin’s head and have a little flash practice session.
Consider the work of both Callahan and Germain, then select a subject for a series of five portraits, varying the locations and backgrounds. The one consistent picture element must be the subject you have chosen, who must appear in all five images. Think carefully about where you choose to photograph them, either using a pose that offers a returned gaze to the camera, or simply captures them going about their daily business. The objective once again is to visually link the images together in some way…
Present your five images as a series and write around 500 words reflecting on the decisions you made. Include both of these in your learning log or blog.
I’ve been procrastinating too long on this exercise so am using some photos taken of my father on my recent trip back to South Africa. I did photograph him with the intention of using some of the images for my exercises, but thought I could reshoot the exercise when I returned home. That hasn’t happened so I’m moving on and using what I had previously shot.
My father has just turned 91 years old which is a ripe old age and this visit back to South Africa was most likely the last time I would see him alive, so I decided to photograph him and little aspects of his daily life. He is wheelchair bound on his good days, otherwise he spends his time in bed. Suffering from macular degeneration, his eyesight is hazy at best and he has difficulty focusing on people and objects. As a result his only form of entertainment in his daily life is listening to his transistor radio which accompanies him through out the day. He also loves his hats and on a winter’s day he will sit indoors next to a sunny window wearing his hat on his head to keep it warm.
The two images below that do not feature my father physically are indexical as their links to my father can be inferred, as are many of Julian Germain’s photographs in his work For Every Minute You are Angry, You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness. I chose to preserve my father’s privacy and dignity and not make photographs of him while he was in his bed or being attended to.
A portrait is always of something (and usually of someone). It draws its authority from the real and unique historical presence of the subject whose image it depicts, and at the same time reflects on and affects that presence.
The Chicago School of Media Theory
I feel this set of images are accurate representations of my dad who once was a vibrant, active and strong man. They pretty much describe his daily life on a good day. I realise that I have one photograph that is portrait format while the rest of the images are landscape format, but in this set I think it can work as it serves as a central anchoring point for the rest of the set.
Our course manual directs us to read an interview that Clare Strand did with Ana Finel Honigman but unfortunately the link is no longer available.
Strand’s method of working is first to find a subject and to research it from all angles to see what sticks. All her work is about the nature of photography and she is drawn to binary oppositions: extraordinary vs. ordinary, humerous vs. serious, etc. She seems to work mainly in black and white as colour makes her “feel claustrophobic” (Mullen, 2008).
She got her idea for the Gone Astray Portraits while she was doing a fellowship at the London College of Printing. She was researching historical aspects of the city of London when she came across a story written by Charles Dickens of a time when he got lost in the city. She was further inspired by Henry Mayhew’s writings on photographers using painted circus tents for photographic backdrops. Strand was also curious to explore the relationship between town and country in this oevre. Each character in the series is thoughtfully constructed. They are performers, especially chosen for their generic looks.
She uses an antique Victorian looking background – the same scene for all the subjects. The subjects are dressed in modern clothing. Here we have the first of Strand’s binary oppositions (Victorian vs modern). There is no confrontation with the viewer. All the subjects avert their gaze or stand with closed eyes. There is an overall sense of the surreal lurking in these images. Upon closer inspection, one can see that each and every subject is “broken” in some way. One woman carrying a shopping bag stands with her eyes closed, arms hanging by her sides. Her one eye looks as if it has sustained a beating, which seems to be borne out by her defeated stance. Another subject props himself up with a crutch under one arm, looking off into the distance. He too has a pained expression on his face. A pre-teen schoolgirl, sporting a backpack and wearing high heels stares down at the ground. She has a band-aid on her knee. Another woman smartly dressed has a massive run in her pantihose.
The works gain a certain poise and weight from their historical associations but also an indeterminacy: they are difficult to place and to date, situating themselves at odd angles to photography’s grand narrative while gently pulling at the threads that might unravel it.
At first glance the figures look as if they are emerging from a foggy, rather ominous glade, but then one looks at the ground on which the subjects are standing and reality sets in that all is not as it seems to be. The folds and creases in the ground cloth give away the fact that these are studio portraits. Again one of Strand’s binary oppositions – real vs fiction. We examine and question each image, wondering what the individual’s story is. There no clues except for their dress and their specific brokeness. The subject ignore the onlooker caught up in their own little world. Is it real or not? The images can be seen on her website at: http://www.clarestrand.co.uk/works/?id=100 .