Tag Archives: Nanitch

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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Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

This vast collection of photos ranging from the 1860s to the 1920s was on exhibition at the Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver.  It is an archive of rarely viewed images which were donated to the University of British Columbia by the Langmann family.

The photographs document the pioneering history of British Columbia, touching on political events, land surveys, logging camps, First Nations people and their displacement and city life. Roughly sixty years of historical documentary photography were on display.

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

I was amazed at the quality of the photographs. All probably taken with large format cameras and showing incredible detail. Some of the key photographers included Frederick Dally, Charles Horetzky, Charles McMunn, Hannah and Richard Maynard, Ben Leeso, Edward Curtis and Leonard Frank. There was even a large format camera in one of the rooms.

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection | Daguerreotypes and Carte de visites
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection | Daguerreotypes and Carte de visites

The highlight for me was a display of beautiful colour daguerrotypes and carte de visites. The two sets of daguerrotypes were quite unlike any that I have seen before. Their colours soft and satiny, they lay in their velvet cases like precious jewels – which they undoubtedly are! It was also interesting to see the cartes de visite on display. I had no idea that they were actually so big and quite elaborate. Some had rounded corners, others had round or oval vignettes and some had borders. They must have been quite the collector’s items in the high society of that time. The carte de visite was used as a calling card and was indicative of one’s status and social class. E.A. McCauley states in Train Your Gaze (p 96) that “people of rank, whose names might or might not be recognized, visited other people of rank, who demanded to know the identity of the caller before admitting him into their homes.”

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

Nanitch means “to look” in Chinook jargon – the trade language of the Pacific Northwest at that time. Questioning colonialist narratives of progress, the exhibition emphasizes the contradictions of settlement.

Presentation House Gallery

It was incredibly interesting to see photographs of the city of Vancouver. A view of from one of our oldest hotels over a street, which today is one of our extremely busy main streets, lined with designer shops and high rises, shows a view of wide open spaces, a boardwalk and a couple of double storey homes and a view to the mountains. It is rather amazing to see how much the city has changed, but yet in certain ways has still stayed the same. It is still a harbour and logging city. There are still immigrants arriving on the shores, so has the tide of colonisation been stemmed? The face of society has changed, becoming more multicultural. Industrial ventures still continue, gentrification is taking place within the inner city, commerce and political events still occur – the products and topics might have changed though and the inequities of the indigenous peoples’ displacement are still concerns which need to be addressed. With our history laid out before us, do we ever really take the time to look, deeply examine the past and learn from our mistakes? Nanitch!

Reference List

Angier, Roswell (2015). Train Your Gaze | A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography. London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Capture Photography Festival. (2016) Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection. North Vancouver: Presentation House Gallery and the University of British Columbia Library.