Tag Archives: portraits

Exercise 2.1 Individual Spaces

The brief:

In this exercise, you’ll build on your ‘Background as context’ exercise (ex 1.2) by taking the relationship between your subject and their surroundings a step further. The objective here is to try to create a link between the two components of your image, i.e. the subject and their surroundings.

Make three different portraits using three different subjects. Prior to shooting your portraits, engage with your subjects and agree three different specific locations which have some relevance or significance to them individually … go one step further and negotiate a specific physical location where you’ll photograph your subject. This can either be inside or on location, but the key to this portrait is the interaction you’ve had with your subject in identifying a place that has specific meaning to them.

Each portrait should be accompanied by a very short piece of text explaining the choice of location or venue … Present all three images together as a series and reflect upon how successful this exercise was in your learning log or blog. Write around 500 words.

For this exercise I relied on my family members.

Fig 1 - Nick Kuit Jr
Fig 1 – Nick Kuit Jr

My youngest son, Nick, is a very keen vegetable gardener and plants tomatoes and beans every year. He chose to be photographed relaxing in front of his crops.

Fig 2 - Robert Kuit
Fig 2 – Robert Kuit

My eldest son, Robert is a keen mountain biker, so decided to have his portrait taken in the garden on his bike. Dinner was almost ready otherwise he may have decided to do the photoshoot in the forest.

Fig 3 - Nick Kuit Sr
Fig 3 – Nick Kuit Sr

My husband Nick is so used to being at the other end of my lens but on this day he agreed to being photographed while barbequing. This is something that he does throughout the summer in our back yard, and is quite representative of him.

I think as a whole the series works well together. All the photographs were made outside in natural light. I used a 18mm – 140mm zoom lens, but might have had better results if I had used my 50mm lens. Fig 3 may appear a little darker than the other two images, but I did try and photograph from the house towards the garden, but the background was just too messy, what with vegetable installations, umbrellas and building material. In hindsight I should have remember to use my reflector to bounce a little more light into my husband’s face and I could have stepped back a little more to include a bit more of the barbeque itself.

I was quite pleased with the light in Fig 2. There is enough light coming into the shaded area to allow for muscle definition on my son’s arms. If I had to do this over again, I would have him lose the helmet which is obscuring his leg.

I rather like the slight dappled light on the left arm and body and the Rembrandt lighting on the face in Fig 1. I had to bring the exposure down a bit on the leg that is stretched out in front and also had to clone out a distracting red sprinkler that was among the beans.

I have to admit that doing full length, three-quarter or even half length portraits is rather new to me as I do so much head shot work where I work that it almost feels like a different genre. I do prefer working up close as I feel I’m closer to the personality of that person, even if I am using a zoom lens.

While shooting this exercise I also included close ups of my family which are below.

Fig 4 - Nick Kuit Jr
Fig 4 – Nick Kuit Jr
Fig 5 - Robert Kuit Close Up
Fig 5 – Robert Kuit Close Up
Fig 6 - Nick Kuit Sr Close Up
Fig 6 – Nick Kuit Sr Close Up

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Exercise 1.2 Background as context

August Sander was born in a small town, Herdorf, just north of the Westerwald area, where a large body of his photographic work was done. In the early 1920’s he adopted a detached approach to his portraits, a style which was quite favoured by the European New Objectivity artists.

The Sage by August Sander © 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY
The Sage by August Sander
© 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

He had a set methodology to his photography making. He would photograph his subjects in sharp focus, like one would architecture, in full or half length. He posed them with props or articles of their professions to provide some context to what they did for a living. His subjects would face the camera directly showing no emotion. Apparently a show of emotion was frowned upon, indicating that the sitter was distracted or did not have sufficient self control. Sander tended to place his subjects in the centre of the frame.

Most often, when shooting outdoors, the background was in soft focus, sometimes sufficiently blurred to render it unrecognizable as can be seen in The Sage above and further providing depth to the image. In this portrait Sander has chosen to crop in close to the subject’s face and focus on the old man’s distinctive features. The background is quite far from the subject. The soft focus of the background only serves to enhance his character lines around his eyes more strongly. Although the subject has a dispassionate look, there is a still look of understanding and wisdom in the old man’s eyes. We see that the Sage’s smock is coarsely woven and rather dirty, while his felt hat sits rather crumpled upon his head, a further indication of his humble profession. Jeffrey (2008 p.74) describes an interesting back story to this photo:

“… Sander recalled a herdsman from his childhood who took the village cattle … into the forest in springtime to graze. This happened on a daily basis. Children took food to him at midday and he told them stories and spoke about the forest and its plants. He had a reputation as a wizard. This man probably reminded Sander of that herdsman of his childhood.”

Itinerant Mason by August Sander © 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY
Itinerant Mason by August Sander
© 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

In contrast, Sander shows the Itinerant Mason in full length, standing next to a pile of rocks, indicating his trade to the viewer. The mason is dressed rather incongruously for a labourer as he is wearing a bowler hat, light coloured trousers and a vest, complete with a fancy chain, over a working shirt, topped off with a warm jacket. A bag of some sort is slung over his shoulder, probably containing his tools, while he carries a roughly hewn walking stick in his other hand. Scuffed boots round up the outfit. We might presume that the photograph was taken on a Sunday when the subject was wearing his best clothes. The mason stares solidly out at the photographer or us, the viewers, his face devoid of any expression, almost like a mask. The road he is traveling along is lined with trees and curves off to the right behind him, suggesting that he might still have a way to travel on his journey. Although the background in this photograph is slightly blurred, it is still very distinctive and provides the viewer with more than sufficient information to realise that this is a man on a journey.

Another of Sander’s tropes was the way in which he had his subjects pose with their hands. Very often men would put a hand in their pocket, or pose with a hand on their stomach tucked under a jacket, Napoleon style, or keep their hands out of sight totally – the majority of them looking rather contrived and uncomfortable. In my opinion, Sander’s most successful portraits are those where the men, in particular, have been allowed to pose with both hands visible, albeit on different levels.

Reference List

Jeffrey, Ian (2008). How to Read a Photograph. New York: Abrams.

Bibliography

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

Warner Marien, Mary (2014) Photography: A Cultural History. London: Laurence King Publishing

Scream the Exhibition

I came across this exhibition quite by accident as it was in the Mainspace gallery right next to the Grunt Gallery where I was viewing another exhibition. So while I was there anyway I decided to check it out.

Wendy D (that seems to be the name she goes by) is a professional photographer, based in Vancouver, Canada.

The room was literally plastered ceiling to floor (almost)  with 5 x 7 prints in black and white of people screaming followed by their reaction afterwards. Photographer Wendy D states that this project was initiated by a fellow artist who felt the need to scream and she took the photograph. This was her inspiration to start this 10 year long project in which she has documented over 200 people. “That got me thinking about the complexities of scream both as an individual act and the constraints society imposes on the expression of it”, she states on her website. The exhibition could almost be classified as a typology of the scream.

It is really interesting to view the different expressions on people’s faces as they scream and then the hilarity that follows the release of the pent up frustration. The different muscles that are engaged in the body when a person screams are also worth noting. Tendons bulge in the neck, straining to break free, muscles bunch in the chest and arms. Frown marks appear creasing the skin, while eyebrows bunch together or move skyward on the facial planes.

Scream the exhibition by Wendy D
Scream the exhibition by Wendy D

In contrast, once that release is out, the subjects erupt into laughter and the facial muscles soften the contours of their faces. The mood changes instantaneously. The person is relaxed. Some subjects really get into the experiment, while others are a little more contained in their screams, and this is really evident when looking at the laughing image afterwards. Those who gave the scream their all, ended up laughing more too.

This was a fun and very lighthearted exhibition to view delivering many chuckles as we went around the room.

Reference List

Wendy D (2016) Scream the exhibition (online) Available at: http://www.wendyd.ca/scream-the-exhibition/ [Accessed 18 April, 2016]