Tag Archives: Josema Zamorano

Assignment 1 – The Non-Familiar

The brief:

Your first assignment is to make five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you.

Due to work constraints and other personal issues happening in my life during the past few weeks, I decided to do this assignment while I was on holiday, where hopefully I would have more clarity of thought. While vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I decided to photograph the hotel staff that I met for this project. The photographs were only taken after having some interesting dialogue with each of the subjects. All photos were taken in situ where the subjects worked. With the exception of the room attendant (fig 5), all photos were taken in one of the many restaurants on the premises. The room attendant’s photo was taken in the hotel room. Those of the servers and restaurant manager were taken at the end of the meal and I remained seated in my seat to take the photo as I wanted to convey their attendant stature. I gave no instructions other than to indicate where they should stand on the opposite side of the table. I allowed the subjects to pose themselves and their facial expressions. As they were all busy working, I had to work quickly and only managed to fire off about three shots for each subject.

What I really like about this set of images is the pride that is evident on all the subjects’ faces, as well as the pleasure of being asked for their portrait. This series is all about recognition. How often do the restaurant staff and room attendants just meld into the background of one’s experiences unnoticed when one is out enjoying oneself? Berger (2013: 140) states that “between people there is no such thing as unilateral one-way knowledge.” An exchange is always required, be it either verbal or for instance in a foreign country by means of various gestures in order to make oneself understood. Each person that I have photographed here is a unique individual. Sure they are identified by their uniforms and badges (signs), but these are all man-made items and don’t serve to reflect their personalities. They only aid to tell us ‘what’ they are, but not ‘who’. In conversations with some of these people it appears that they are not highly paid at all – approximately 80 pesos per day (just a little over CAD $5 per day) so providing excellent service for tips is a huge part of their daily routine.

The close-up is the opposite of a statistic. … What first matters is recognition. Recognition. The word appears to make no claim and to sound poor. Yet that perhaps is how it should be.

(Berger, 2013: 142)

The clothing, gestures, and facial expressions all contribute to the semiological system of reading the photograph.  There is a coherence of appearances in the series below. As Berger (2013: 71) states:

Appearances also cohere within the mind as perceptions. … To recognize an appearance requires the memory of other appearances. And these memories, often projected as expectations, continue to qualify the seen long after the stage of primary recognition. … One image interpentrates another.

Fig 1. Martin - Server
Fig 1. Martin – Server at Casa Grande
Fig 2. Oscar - Server
Fig 2. Oscar – Server at BlaZe
Fig 3. Saul - Server
Fig 3. Saul – Server at PureZa
Fig 4. Oscar - Restaurant Manager
Fig 4. Oscar – Restaurant Manager at MelanZane
Fig 5. Adriana - Room attendant
Fig 5. Adriana – Room attendant

 

ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

I used my Nikon D7200, together with a  50 mm f1.8 lens so that I could blur the backgrounds. My primary focus was on the eye closest to me and I am happy that all the eyes are nice and sharp. I had to use my camera’s pop up flash on a few occasions and this enhanced the specular highlights on the faces of the subjects in fig. 1 and 4 who were sweating due to the heat. The choice for background was rather limited in the indoor restaurants while the outdoor restaurants provided a more interesting background in terms of thatch texture and vegetation. Also the headboard of the bed in fig 5 was quite spectacular so I was extremely pleased to include that as the background. The only issue I had with fig 5, and unfortunately I only noticed this when uploading the photos after returning home, was the hint of red cushion behind the subject on the bed. I tried to remove it in Photoshop but I am very rusty with Photoshop so decided rather to leave it in than make a mess. I need to upgrade my PS skills.

Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

My work was largely influenced by August Sander from exercise 1.2, Hans Eijkelboom and Paul Matzner. I am fairly happy with the outcome of the photographs which I shot under very difficulty circumstances, as my mother had passed away while I was on holiday. Sontag in her essay “Photographic Evangels” writes that ‘every portrait of another person is a “self-portrait” of the photographer’ (1977: 122). Each portrait that I made was a stepping stone to celebrating my mother’s life, and in a way each portrait was serving as my mask in hiding my sorrow.

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

By choosing to do headshots I might have limited my creativity a bit. However, I felt that headshots would best allow for an element of ambiguity that I wanted to introduce to the portraits in that their occupations are not immediately evident until one reads the caption. My 50mm lens allowed for some interesting blurred backgrounds.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)

I am finding that portraiture is quite a difficult topic, more so than I initially envisioned. In particular the semiology of reading faces is quite daunting. It is perhaps more akin to analysing a close-up than a wide-angle photograph. One has to be more in tuned to very subtle nuances.

In preparation for my assignment I looked at the following photographers (my details remarks can be found on their pages):

  • Juergen Teller – I particularly liked the semiology of framing his subjects in that no-man’s land on a doorstep, highlighting their transition between their ordinary life and professional life; their youth and innocence about to be discarded on the pavement outside the studio.
  • Paul Matzner – the typology of people on certain streets in various US cities. Paul Matzner also stopped by my review and left a comment.
  • Hans Eijkelboom – the typologies of fashion found on various locations around the world revealing a social anthropology and society’s reliance on consumerism – the identity of fitting in.

I have also decided to study one of the visual culture textbooks on the side, with the hope that this will help improve my critical analysis. As I go along I will make brief notes on my exploration. Thus far I have covered:

I was really lucky to attend quite a few exhibitions. The annual Capture Photography festival brought quite a few unknown photographers to my attention. My detailed notes are on the relevant exhibition pages linked below:

Reference List

Berger, John (2013) Understanding a Photograph. New York: Aperture.

Sontag, Susan (1977) On Photography. New York: Picador.

Bibliography

Angier, R. (2015) Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography (2nd edition). London: Bloomsbury.

Kozloff, M. (2007) The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography since 1900. London: Phaidon Press

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Sandokai: Grasping at things is surely delusion by Josema Zamorano

This has been the most exciting and inspiring exhibition that I’ve had the pleasure to view during this year’s Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver.

Josema Zamorano is a multi-talented artist. He is a university professor at Capilano University and has taught students in a variety of subjects: Spanish, engineering, literature, philosophy and photography. He has also worked as a telecommunications engineer. The fact that “his work aims to question identities by means of experimental photography and visual poetry” quite excited me as I stand at the beginning of this Identity and Place module. I’m sure I will find some inspiration for some of the forthcoming assignments here.

His Sandokai series is based on a poem written by the eighth Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xiqian and is chanted daily in the temples in Japan and around the world. The translated text is at the end of this write up.

Zamorano has drawn his inspiration from the Japanese belief that the ghosts of the ancestors are ever present among the living. In his use of multiple exposures, photographing the same scene from slightly different perspectives, he has created illusory effects that bring the ghostly appearances to the forefront. I think his most successful images were those done at the temples, where there is not quite so much pedestrian traffic and the ghosts are more visually apparent. However, all his images are quite fascinating and one feels the necessity of wanting to peel away the layers to reveal more of the mystery. In contrast to what one would normally expect of a ghostly image, Zamorano’s images come across as warm and friendly. The ghosts are not something to be feared, but are really part of the cycle of life. The words in the poem “To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment” seem to encapsulate his images perfectly.

Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano

 

Identity of Relative and Absolute

The mind of the Great Sage of India was intimately conveyed from west to east. Among human beings are wise ones and fools, But in the Way there is no northern or southern Patriarch.

The subtle source is clear and bright; the tributary streams flow through the darkness. To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related, and at the same time, independent. Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place. Form makes the character and appearance different; Sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.

The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases. The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother. Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.

Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour. Each is independent of the other; cause and effect must return to the great reality Like leaves that come from the same root. The words high and low are used relatively.

Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind, in walking.

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position. Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Reading words you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards. If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it. When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far. If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it.

I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened: Do not waste your time by night or day.

Wikipedia

Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano

More images from the Sandokai series can be seen at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html.

Reference List

Josema Zamorano [online]. Capilano University. Available at: https://www.capilanou.ca/languages/faculty/Josema-Zamorano/ [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Sandokai [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokai [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Zamorano, Josema (2016) Sandokai: Grasping at Things is Surely Delusion [online]. Available at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

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