Tag Archives: Clare Strand

Exercise 2.4 Same background, different model

The brief:

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.

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Clare Strand

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.

Photograph by Clare Strand
Photograph by Clare Strand

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.

David Chandler

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 .

Reference List

Chandler, David (n.d.) Vanity Fair Text [online]. Available at: http://clarestrand.tumblr.com/post/142841300931/vanity-fair-text-by-david-chandler [Accessed 14 October, 2016]

Mullen, Chris (2008) Clare Strand A PhotoWorks Monograph [online] Chris Mullen Enterprises 2007/8. Available at: http://www.fulltable.com/VTS/mullen/june/b.htm [Accessed 14 October, 2016]

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