Category Archives: ASSIGNMENTS

Further Thoughts on Assignment 2

Gill, Dijkstra and Gotts.

As part of his feedback for assignment 2 my tutor suggested I should look at some portrait photographers who work in different ways. Each produces a typology of ‘heads’ (and shoulders!) that you may find interesting. What links these photographers and yourself is the idea of linking the portraits through a common theme.’

I found this very interesting, and could have ended up spending the next several weeks just on this part of an assignment review.

Stephen Gill (born 1971) is widely exhibited, but also produces a series of handmade photobooks on his latest series of images. Field Studies is one of these and is described on the publishing website as ‘serial studies of mundane British scenes and objects including cash points, lost people, the back of advertising billboards and people traveling on the London to Southend train. His visual approach is unique, combining conceptual rigour with enormous sympathy for his human subjects’ (Gill, 2004). This book includes his ‘Audio Portraits’ of people wearing headphones. In these images the people seem totally bound up in their music, looking far away at times, and not always aware of the photographer. The images show a range of ages and races, the only apparent link is the headphones, and the place – a city street. A further series focuses on the shopping trolleys people use, apparently secondary to his use of a trolley after an injury (Gentle Author, 2011). I found these portraits fascinating as they focused on the everyday lives of people you see in the street, not the famous, the great or the good, but the people you meet and probably normally just walk past. He clearly engaged with them and enabled them to relax, or even to ‘chill out’ while taking a portrait that is sympathetic but not full of pathos, and which includes the often drear surroundings.

Rineke Dijkstra (born1959) has just won the 2017 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. She concentrates on portraiture, often works with series, either of the same person over a prolonged time period or of a specific event in peoples lives. She has photographed bullfighters just out of the ring, adolescents on the cusp of adulthood and a series of images of women just after childbirth, which is one of the most vulnerable points in any woman’s life. Her work is described as deadpan by Cotton ‘The unsentimental approach that Dijkstra makes in her representation of maternity…… visualised the profound shift in the women’s changing relationships to their bodies…… something we might never have observed without such a systematic and detached photographic style’. (Cotton,2014).

Smyth says in the BJPRineke Dijkstra’s photographs and films speak brilliantly to the intricacy of the portrait image: its embodiment in time; its capacity to reveal history; the contingency of the act of exchange between sitter, photographer and spectator; and, ultimately, photography’s revelation of the self.’ (Smyth, 2017)

On describing her 2012 retrospective Time Magazine says ‘Hoping to catch people with their defences down, Dijkstra started to photograph them in the aftermath of some exhausting event. She got women to pose soon after giving birth, usually standing naked while they cradled their new-borns. By 1994 she was also making portraits of Portuguese forcados—amateur bullfighters who enter the ring in unarmed groups to subdue the bulls bare-handed. She photographed them right after they returned from the fight, bloody, scuffed and dented.’ (Lacayo, 2012).

I find her work poignant, it may well be systematic, but it is not detached. She shows life in all its variable glory, ups and downs as well as the spectacular moments.

I also found Andy Gotts who, amongst other images, has produced a series of portraits of BAFTA award winners that was exhibited under the title ‘Behind the Mask’ in 2014.  The images are show the great and good of the acting world who have either won or been nominated for a BAFTA. Gotts says, ‘I have always been a movie buff and getting the opportunity to meet my matinée idols is beyond a dream come true’ (Bafta.org,2013).  Janette Dalley, who worked with him on the exhibition describes ‘a masterclass in minimalist photography’ (Gotts, 2014) and Anna Allalouf, the curator, says ‘it feels profoundly vulnerable to go under the camera’s gaze when you don’t have a ‘role’ …. perhaps the camera has stolen (heaven forbid!) a little piece of one’s soul’ (Gotts, 2014) but goes on to describe how his simple and quiet process does not actually feel invasive.

The images are a mixture of colour and monochrome, chosen, I feel, to reflect the person. Some are contemplative, some brash and some, such as the portrait of Ralph Fiennes, made me initially smile, and then laugh out loud. The two that I found most entrancing were Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf, among other roles) and Christopher Walken – to me an unfamiliar face, but the portrait makes me feel I might know him. It is this quality of intimacy that drew me to his images. The people are famous and must have been photographed many, many times, but there is a feeling of Gotts reaching out to who, not just what, they are. This is a quality I would like to be able to emulate.

Learning points:

  • Observation not invasion
  • Both colour and monochrome are valuable – but give a different feeling
  • Know and understand your subjects
  • Be gentle (not quite the correct word – but neither is kind).

References

Bafta.org. (2013). BAFTA and Andy Gotts MBE to Exhibit ‘Behind The Mask’ Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.bafta.org/media-centre/press-releases/bafta-and-andy-gotts-mbe-to-exhibit-behind-the-mask-photography [Accessed 21 Jul. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2014). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Gentle Author (2011). Stephen Gill’s Trolley Portraits | Spitalfields Life. [online] Spitalfieldslife.com. Available at: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/10/03/stephen-gills-trolley-portraits/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Gill, S. (2004). Hackney Kisses. [online] Stephen Gill. Available at: https://www.nobodybooks.com/product/hackney-kisses-print-edition [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Gotts, A. (2014). Behind the mask. London: British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Lacayo, R. (2012). Rineke Dijkstra Makes the Awkward Sublime. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/16182/rineke-dijkstra/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Smyth, D. (2017). Rineke Dijkstra wins the 2017 Hasselblad Award. [online] British Journal of Photography. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/03/rineke-dijkstra-wins-the-2017-hasselblad-award/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Feedback on Assignment 2

Some thoughts and comments.

Blue text is my tutor’s comments, black my replies.

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

I like that you used your dog as a ‘hook’ to get the subjects to ‘sit’ for you. Everyone has their own method and this is obviously working for you.

The pictures themselves raised a couple of questions. Please remember there aren’t right or wrong answers to these, they are intended to prompt your thinking about your own work. They could form the basis of some useful learning log posts. o Why black and white? You state: “I decided to use a monochrome conversion for the final images as this bought a coherence to the series and evened out the variable backgrounds and lighting conditions.” In what way does black and white bring coherence? What does black and white do that colour might struggle with? What does it not do?

When I looked at the series of images they were very variable in lighting condition as all shot outside. I felt the colour images gave more prominence to the surroundings rather than the face itself, while the monochrome allowed the focus to be on the details of the person. There were also some distracting pieces of colour that I had not managed to avoid in the background as the people were shot were they stood and I did not ask them to move to a potentially better location. However, colour might have emphasised the skin tones of the people or helped to identify their ages.

All of your subjects are smiling and the pictures have the feel of a relaxed but professional portrait shoot. What do the portraits say about these ‘heads’ when shown as a series? Do the smiles affect how the work is viewed as a typology?

The ‘heads’ show a generally happy and content group of people who were prepared to have a ‘bit of fun’ while being photographed by a stranger. They were all taken while out on a walk in a park, so presumably in a relaxed moment. This gives a positive image – but if taken on another day, or in another place, these same people might be more subdued. I did show the images to the people and they were all pleased with how they looked! The smiles portray Scots as a positive group of people – not how they are usually perceived.

How did your choice of focal length and distance to subject affect how your sitter is portrayed? Related to this, how does camera position affect how we as viewers regard the sitter? Traditionally men and women were photographed differently in head shots, women looking up for a more flattering pose and men looking down to reflect power. What do your pictures do to challenge or support these stereotypes.

The images were all taken with me fairly close to the person, and often while I continued to chat to them, this did mean that they were all aware of the photo, no unexpected moments or expressions, therefore no surprises or glimpses of deep contemplation. I tried to take the images at a level with the person to get a feeling of equality. I had not considered differentiating between the pose of men and women, possibly this is showing that the previous stereotypes are less prevalent than in the past. I was not attempting to show power or beauty, but just the person as a person, with no emphasis on gender.

One thing I should point out is your captions. To be blunt, no one cares what camera settings you used. What they will care about though is something about your subjects. Their name perhaps, and where/when the portrait was made. Imagine you walk into a museum in 50 years and you see your portraits hanging on display. Are you interested in what camera settings were used or do you want to engage with the work and find out more about the people photographed? I’ve found a good test for whether pictures are working or not is to ask this question. If technical information is your first stop then the pictures are probably boring. If you want to learn more about the subjects and don’t care about technical considerations then the photographer has succeeded.

This is a very fair point. I only captioned the photos with camera settings because when I was doing TAOP some years ago this is what my tutor at that time wanted me to do. I would never look at technical information unless I was curious about how an image was achieved, and the image would have had to catch my attention first.

Overall I was pleased with the feedback and found it helpful. It has made me think harder about the ‘why’s’ of the images rather than the ‘how’.

Assignment 2

Final Selection:

Contact Sheets of Pre-selection Images:

Think I have picked the images that form into the best set.

Assignment Two – Collecting

The Brief:

To create a series of between 6 and 10 photographs, using the exercises from Part Two to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint.

I would have automatically chosen to do a series of landscape or botanical images, well within my comfort zone, but was encouraged by my tutor to do a series on heads, well outside my usual area of photography.

Heads: Frame a headshot, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in backgrounds. The classic headshot is buoyant but neutral.

Research:

I spent some time looking at portrait photographers. There are a large (and not always helpful) number of lists available of the 10 (or 50) ‘best’ portrait photographers. Most have a similar list of names, with Annie Leibovitz, Steve McCurry, Helmut Newton, Man Ray, August Sander and Diane Arbus figuring prominently.  Many of the portraits are not a head shot, but are full length and show background to ‘set the scene’ and give wider information about the subject. Some that I found that met the above criteria and gave me ideas were (this list could have been much longer):

  • Diane Arbus – Blonde girl with shiny lipstick, N.Y.C., 1967
  • Diane Arbus – A woman with pearl necklace and earrings, N.Y.C., 1967
  • Steve McCurry – Haridwar, India,1998
  • Steve McCurry – Pul-i-Khumri, Afghanistan,2002
  • Annie Leibovitz – John Lennon, New York City, 1980
  • Annie Leibovitz – Merce Cunningham, 1994
  • Man Ray – Henri Matisse, 1925
  • Man Ray – Ernest Hemingway, 1923

 

How:

I started in our local park where I go on a daily walk with my dog. Most of the photographs are of total strangers, a few I know ‘in passing’ to say hello to and two are family members. Having the dog with me was a good ice breaker, as usually she would pick the subjects for me by going up to them and standing at their feet. I then explained what I was doing and asked to take a photograph. No-one refused! There are three images taken inside, two at a show and one in a house.

Technical information:

I use a Panasonic micro 4/3rds camera, and used a variable focal length lens (14 -140mm, equates to 28 – 280mm). The camera was set to aperture priority and I used the widest aperture possible with the focal length used. Most of the images were taken with a focal length between 40 and 60mm, although occasionally longer if the person seemed uncomfortable with me getting that close to them. These settings allowed the focus to be clearly on the face and threw the background out of focus. If the person was standing, I stood, and if sitting on one of the park benches, I crouched down next to them so that I was taking the photograph level with their faces and not looking up or down at them.

All images were taken with natural light. I did not have a reflector, although have now acquired one, but it is too large to carry easily in my pocket.

Post processing was done in Lightroom, mono conversion in Silver Efex Pro2.

Success of series:

This was a completely new venture for me so I was very nervous about approaching the people, however it was easier than I imagined it was going to be. However, nerves undoubtedly did play a part and I was not always careful enough about the background or the position of the lighting. A reflector would have been useful on several occasions to allow better lighting of the face.

Talking to people before taking the photographs and getting some, however small, connection was useful and I felt they were more at ease and relaxed, therefore their expressions were more natural. Several of the people were wearing sunglasses, although it wasn’t particularly sunny, and I did not ask them to remove them as I felt this would have been too invasive.

I decided to use a monochrome conversion for the final images as this bought a coherence to the series and evened out the variable backgrounds and lighting conditions.

I did have difficulty choosing the final images so I decided to look for internal consistency. Several of the people were wearing headgear, varying from hats to glasses perched on their heads, so I used this as a focus for the series.

Summary:

  • Positive
    • Talking to the people in advance
    • Using a large aperture
    • Keeping on a level with the face
    • Monochrome conversion
  • Less positive
    • Not having a reflector or alternative light source
    • Lack of confidence, so not always approaching people

Thoughts for the future:

This was an interesting venture and definitely one I want to expand on. Rather than taking very close head shots I would be interested in taking images of people in the setting that they felt comfortable with. Many of the people were also dog owners, so It would be interesting to take ‘man (or woman) and dog’ pictures, a modern day take on Keith Arnatt’s series ‘Walking the Dog’. Two of the images taken in this series, although not chosen as final picks, did have the person holding their dog close to their face, and this would be a concept worth exploring further.

 

Photobooks explored while looking for ideas.

Arbus, D. (1990). Diane Arbus. London: Bloomsbury.

Arbus, D., Phillips, S. and Selkirk, N. (2003). Diane Arbus Revelations. New York, NY: Random House.

Hurn, D., Grafik, C. and Arnatt, K. (2007). I’m a real photographer. London: Chris Boot.

Leibovitz, A. and DeLano, S. (2011). Annie Leibovitz at work. London: Jonathan Cape.

McCurry, S. (2015). Portraits. London: Phaidon Press Limited.

Newton, J. (2009). Helmut Newton. Koln: Taschen.

Pepper, T. and Warner, M. (2013). Man Ray portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery.

Sander, A. and Conrath-Scholl, G. (2009). August Sander. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel.

 

 

Square Mile – Initial Analysis

The brief is to use the concept Y Filter Sgwar to look at your surroundings in a new way, producing a set of six to twelve photographs that illustrate this.

I use a Panasonic micro two-thirds camera and for this project I fitted a fixed 45mm focal length lens which equates to a 90mm standard lens. I set the camera to P except for a few images of moving water.

My main interests in photography are landscape, nature and the environment. I rarely take pictures of people other than the mandatory ‘snapshots’ of family events and friends. I had thought of trying to break this mental barrier for this project and considered using the theme of ‘Taking a Dog for a Walk’ but I struggled with the idea of asking strangers to allow me to photograph them, although I could have concentrated on more distance images, or their backs. On reading about Arnatt and his series on ‘Walking a Dog’ I thought that this could, in this context, be considered very derivative.

I gave myself a limit of two weeks photography time and took the camera with me day. This left me with multiple images, many were duplicates, which use of a digital camera has encouraged, unlike in analogue photography when I would have been very aware of the costs and much more considered in my approach.

The images were divisible into several possible themes, ranging from detailed architectural studies, via the environmental impact of rubbish to landscape and nature. The weather was extremely variable, on one day ranging from brilliant sunshine, though grey clouds, a blizzard and back to sunshine. This lead to my final theme – ‘A Day in the Park’.

Beforehand:

‘Blossom’ and ‘Path in the Woods’ are very typical pictures of spring. Ideally the sky would have been blue, and I did consider going back on a better day to retake ‘Blossom’. ‘Crocus’, is the image I am happiest about of this section. I enjoy taking details of nature and I feel the colours typify the concept of spring.

Snowstorm:

These images were taken at the height of the storm while trying to shelter and keep a dry camera. I was trying to show the intensity of the storm and feel I have only been partially successful although ‘Dog’ does show the atmosphere and misery well. The final image is almost a whiteout and I struggled to get the exposure correct while still showing the intensity of the storm.

Aftermath:

This was the most difficult selection to make as I could have simply shown the snow, but it seemed important to also show the flooded burn and the longer-term effect of the intense deluge of snow and its equally sudden melting.

Overall I am content with this set of images, although I am aware that some could have been improved technically. I deliberately avoided altering the images at the post-production stage so this shows an ‘where I am now’ view.

 

A Square Mile – A Walk in the Park

The brief is to use the concept Y Filter Sgwar (The Square Mile) which is the connection with your childhood home to look at your surroundings in a new way, producing a set of six to twelve photographs that illustrate this.

I started in a very literal manner by identifying the square mile around my home. I shifted the area slightly to the south as I rarely go more than two streets to the north. This area includes:

  • Some housing, mostly late nineteenth and early twentieth century with some social housing built in the sixties
  • A large and well used public park with a burn running though it
  • Farmland, mainly arable
  • The local shopping zone
  • A historic area with an abbey

This is an area I have lived in for 25 years and must have taken thousands of photographs of and I was very aware that I risked simply reproducing these or giving a tourist guide to the best spots.

I walk this area every day with my dog, so I decided to change my standard camera zoom lens to one with a fixed focal length, carry it with me every day and photograph anything that caught my eye. As I did this I realised that there were several possible themes developing:

  • Water and its impact on the area – this was especially noticeable as it was a very wet time, with the weather varying from brilliant sunshine, though heavy rain to blizzard conditions
  • Close-up nature studies
  • Architectural details
  • The environmental impact of man and the debris left behind
  • The time of year – balanced between winter and spring

I eventually decided to use the last theme as, one day when out walking, we started in brilliant sunshine, then nearly got blown off our feet in a blizzard, which then stopped to leave a mix of sun and snow on the spring flowers. This was a day with extreme weather changes, even for Scotland, but I felt it showed the area in all its moods.

I use a Panasonic micro two thirds camera and for this project I fitted a fixed 45mm focal length lens which equates to a 90mm standard lens. I set the camera to P except for a few images of moving water when I changed to a slow shutter speed.

Beforehand

Blossom

Blossom: 1/500 sec, f4.5, ISO 200

Path in the Woods

Path in the Woods: 1/250 sec, f/3.5, ISO 200

Crocus

Crocus: 1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 250

Snowstorm

Abbey

Abbey: 1/250 sec, f/3.2, ISO 200

Dog

Dog: 1/320 sec, f/3.5, ISO 200

Whiteout

Whiteout: 1/640 sec, f/5.0, ISO 250

Aftermath

Crocus 2

Crocus 2: 1/500 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200

Seats

Seats: 1/640 sec, f/5.0, ISO 200

Flood

Flood: 1/100 sec, f/2.6, ISO 320

Square Mile – Reading and Research

On examining the photographers and images suggested for researching the Square Mile project I noted that although all of them show some linking in their thoughts to an area that is clearly important to them the actual thought processes and end results are very different. They can be broadly divided into a group that use photographs of people to show the identity of the place, and a group where the focus is on the place itself.

Barney, Dearden and Knorr focus on using people to give identity to the area of interest. Tina Barney (Artic.edu, 2006) took images of her family and friends in New York. These images show details of family life and the tension that can occur, thus exploring the place though the people that inhabit it and whom she knows well. Cotton says ‘there is a compelling blend of a photographically distant perspective with a subject that is intimately known’ (Cotton,2015).

Venetia Dearden’s series ‘Somerset Stories, Fivepenny Dreams’ is set in the area where she grew up. She says ‘My passion and curiosity for Somerset has been fuelled by my long-term connection with this area where I spent my childhood. I am compelled to return again and again to explore my relationship with the landscape and the people living here……… I witness a sense of belonging and identity within these rich bonds of family and community’ (Dearden, 2014). Dearden looks at the lives and activities of the families’ resident in Somerset at present to explore a place she knew well in the past.

Karen Knorr (Karenknorr.com, 2014) uses portraits to show the ideas that were prevalent in a very wealthy area of London during the 1970’s.

Horn, Hunter, Taylor and Barnard have focused on the place itself to explain their sense of connection with an area. Romi Horn (Tate.org.uk, 2009) has published a series called ‘To Place’ where she looks at the identity of a specific place, Iceland, in detail though photographs, drawings and text. Interestingly, this is far from where she grew up in New York, however, has become an area that she has studied intensively.

Tom Hunter’s ‘Living in Hell and Other Stories’ (Purdyhicks.com, 2017) investigates the history of his local area in East London, re-staging stories which paint an unsettling picture of the area.

Jodie Taylor (Taylor, 2013) for her OCA project focused on the area she lived in as a child, and the memories of that place which have been revived by returning there as an adult.

Gawain Barnard investigates the wildfire burning in Wales which occurs yearly in ‘Boredom for Burning’. He focuses on small details of the remains after the fires, bringing back memories of his youth. He says ‘The landscape of youth is laden with memories………our place of youth, our ‘home’ and the memories created during this period, for better or worse can create an embedded sense of place and can go some way in self-defining our later life attitude.’  (Barnard, 2013).

Keith Arnatt has utilised ideas from both these of groups with two series that are linked to his local area. The series ‘Walking a Dog’ (Tate, 2010b) is a collection of 40 out of 200 photos taken in his local area of people and their dogs in a standard pose taken in 1976 -1979.  The number of images form a work that makes a comment on society and people and points up the oft remarked similarities between dogs and their owners. He later showed a further series based in his local area ‘Pictures from a Rubbish Tip’ (Tate, 2010 a) 1988–9. This shows close-ups of rubbish from a local tip. Although these are factual images the way they are taken gives the series a feeling of an abstract composition.

John MacLean has taken a fascinating twist on this approach in photographing the hometowns of artists and photographers that he is inspired by, looking for what has, in turn, inspired their work. He says ‘It’s about escaping the hometown to spending all our time exploring, only to find ourselves back there once again’ (Pantell, 2017).

References:

Artic.edu. (2006). so the story goes. [online] Available at: http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/story/barney.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Barnard, G. (2013). Boredom to Burn. [online] Gawainbarnard.com. Available at: http://gawainbarnard.com/photo_13162026.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.
Dearden, V. (2014). Welcome to Venetia Dearden’s Website – Somerset Stories Fivepenny Dreams. [online] Venetiadearden.com. Available at: http://www.venetiadearden.com/en/somerset_stories_fivepenny_dreams.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Karenknorr.com. (2014). Belgravia | Karen Knorr. [online] Available at: http://karenknorr.com/photography/belgravia/ [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Pantell, C. (2017). Hometowns. British Journal of Photography, (7857), pp.60-74.
Purdyhicks.com. (2017). Tom Hunter Porfolio at Purdyhicks Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.purdyhicks.com/display.php?aID=10 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate. (2010). Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, Keith Arnatt 1988 -9 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-pictures-from-a-rubbish-tip-t13169 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate. (2010). Walking the Dog, Keith Arnatt 1976 -9 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-walking-the-dog-t13064 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate.org.uk. (2009). Roni Horn aka Roni Horn: explore the exhibition, room guide, room 10. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/roni-horn-aka-roni-horn/roni-horn-aka-roni-horn-explore-exhibitio-22 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Taylor, J. (2013). Photography and Nostalgia – WeAreOCA. [online] WeAreOCA. Available at: https://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].