Category Archives: ASSIGNMENTS

Response to Tutor Comments for Assignment 3

08/09/17

Assignment Comments:

Tutor comments are  in blue (main points only copied here), my responses in black

Looking at your final series, I felt they all worked well together except for the final picture. I understand why you included it but the scale is quite different from the other pictures. The other pictures are about the photographer as subject, whereas this final picture is about how the camera frames the view, producing a rectilinear ‘slice’ of a ‘scene’ from the vantage point of the photographer.

On thinking about this further I agree that the final image is ‘out of kilter’ with the other images. I originally put it in because I liked it and I was pleased with the effect – but it is more about the camera than the people – while the rest of the images are definitely about the people. It needs to come out of the series for final presentation.

The prints were of sufficient quality for assessment. They appear a touch lighter than your screen images but this is probably due to the difference in viewing conditions. Backlit always looks a little different than paper. If you wanted to adjust this, I would start by looking at the brightness to which you calibrate your monitor.

I was aware they were a little lighter than the screen, but was not sure which was better, my screen brightness is difficult to adjust, and the room it is in gets a lot of light falling on the screen, so that maybe part of the issue. I do calibrate the screen vis a Spyder 3 – but possibly not often enough, so this is something to watch out for.

Despite your card backed and padded envelopes, the prints still arrived with a bent corner.

Something to watch out for – I previously used a clam shell box for final prints – so need to consider this again.

The research section appears to be going well on your blog. One thing I would suggest is to add dates to the posts as this makes it much easier for me to work out what is new and what isn’t.

Taken on board from now. This makes sense as easier to follow, and updates to a post can be separately dated.

It’s not completely clear from your exhibition write ups if you are attending these independently or as part of group study visits.

All my exhibition visits have been solo (or with family).  Need to look for more opportunities for group study visits, so far, by sheer bad luck, all the ones up North have been while I was either away, or at work. However, there is a study group that meets in Glasgow – so that may be a possibility.

A good next step might be to start writing a diary every time you go out and shoot, or whenever you think about photographs. Try to pick out from that what you find interesting and stick with it

Interestingly, I had already started doing this, as I was finding that I was not keeping track of what I was doing, thinking or reading. An extension of this would to add a brief weekly summary to my blog, with key points.

Suggested Reading/Viewing – Parr and Reas

 Martin Parr.

I was already aware of the work of Martin Parr and his exploration of Britain in images as well as other areas. I took this opportunity to have a further look at his extensive oeuvre via his website and came across three pieces of work that are particularly relevant to my assignment on the decisive moment.

  1. Milan Fashion Week; here Parr takes images of the crowd’s extensive use of devices, mainly mobile phones, while at the event. Sometimes it is clear that they are photographing the scene, other times taking selfies, other times they are just looking at their phone, maybe texting or using social media. In this group of images, few of the protagonists appear to be engaged with the event, which either says something about the event, or, more likely, about the perceived importance of social media and your engagement with it, and therefore how it often ‘takes over’ peoples time and thought processes.
  2. Too Much Photography: this article from Parr’s blog talks about the present use of photography by just about everyone, everywhere they go. He says, ‘Now mobile phone cameras and digital photography mean that the entire visit is documented. From the moment the tourist enters the site, everyone has to be photographed in front of every feature of note. Now it is almost impossible for me to shoot a photo where someone is NOT taking a picture or posing for one. ……. My theory is that the act of photographing ourselves at tourist sites becomes so important because it makes us feel reassured that we are a part of the recognisable world’ (Martinparr.com, 2012). I tend to agree with his thoughts here, but would extend it to saying that we feel that we are part of the world and that this fact must be recorded, but, as Parr asks – what happens to the images, and who looks at them. I am aware that personally I shoot thousands of ‘useless’ images that don’t contribute in any valued way to the world, or even to my remembrance of it. Less would definitely be more.
  3. The Selfie Stick: again from Parr’s blog, he talks about the ubiquity of the use and availability of selfie sticks to take images of yourself, or the family, in front of tourist attractions. This doesn’t seem to have taken off to the same degree in Scotland (possibly because we are more often holding umbrellas). I think I prefer this trend to the trend of just taking a selfie at arm’s length, which could be anywhere and talks only about ones own self.

Many of the images he shows are quirky, full of humour and with a somewhat sideways take on modern society. The point he makes is enhanced by the use of series of images which clarify visually the trends shown.

Paul Reas.          

Paul Reas is a new name to me.  He is a social documentary photographer who uses colour images to show British culture and is considered to be in the same genre of British photographers as Martin Parr.  His book ‘I can Help’ documents the consumer culture, while ‘Flogging a Dead Horse’ (1993)’ presents a nationwide survey of the emergence of the ‘heritage industry’: museums and theme parks such as Beamish Open  Air Museum that offered a nostalgic and often commercialised version of the past in the wake of the collapse of heavy manufacturing and industry’ (Shutter Hub, 2013). The image ‘Flogging a Dead Horse, Man with a Movie Camera’ shows a man in a smart outfit looking intently though his camera. It would be interesting to know his thoughts, and whether he had ever worked in the type of industry he was photographing.  In an article about the series by The British Council – Visual Arts it is described as ‘The tourist of the nineties, with camcorder and auto-focus camera, expects a ‘hands-on’ experience. But the trouble with Heritage Culture is that the safe inconsequential history it markets doesn’t educate, it only sedates its audience. Heritage is meretricious history that never challenges the present. Consumerist history: history for a disposable income. Like a steam train, it takes you on a pleasant ride to nowhere, and then back to where you started.‘ (Visualarts.britshcouncil.org, 1994).

Man With Movie Camera  © Paul Reas

Man With Movie Camera © Paul Reas

Image posted with kind permission of Paul Reas

Reas’s images are gritty and do not feel as slick as those of Parr, they are not as ‘amusing’ but they do get under your skin in the same way, giving an ironic take on the culture we live in and how it is influenced by the need to seek out pleasures and record them, even if those recordings never reach the light of a photograph album.

References:

Martinparr.com. (2012). Too Much Photography | Martin Parr. [online] Available at: https://www.martinparr.com/2012/too-much-photography/ [Accessed 5 Sep. 2017].

Shutter Hub. (2013). Paul Reas – Day Dreaming About The Good Times? on the Shutter Hub Blog. [online] Available at: https://shutterhub.org.uk/blog/paul-reas-day-dreaming-about-the-good-times [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

Visualarts.britishcouncil.org. (1994). BEAMISH OPEN AIR MUSEUM ‘THE NORTHERN EXPERIENCE’, Paul Reas | Portfolios | Collection | British Council – Visual Arts. [online] Available at: http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/portfolios/flogging-a-dead-horse/object/beamish-open-air-museum-the-northern-experience-reas-1992-flogging-a-dead-horse-p6174/view/portfolio/initial/a/page/1 [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

Self Critique on Assignment 3

Self assessment and criticism is an area I find particularly difficult. This is probably not because I am over confident, but because I tend to be very negative about my own work. This makes it difficult to write down the thoughts and also difficult to be objective.

Assessment criteria points

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational
skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills. (40%)
I think I produced reasonable images for this assignment. I found it hard to keep to the topic, and, because it was a specific idea, some of the images , especially those that didn’t make the final cut, had major flaws, such as depth of field or focus. I was concentrating on what was happening and didn’t always remember to think about the practical issues such as the best camera settings. It would have been helpful to think in advance about the best way to show them, for example, would it be best to have the whole image in focus, or better to just focus on the person taking the image and have the background (their subject) out of focus. I made a considered decision to only have the person on the side of the image and to show the background as a large part as I felt it made the concept more ‘real’.

Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge , presentation of work in a
coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of
ideas. (20%)
Having got the spark of an idea for this I feel I thought it through, weighing up the possibilities, and logically explaining my thought processes. This was easier to present on-line with the additional images that showed the progression of thoughts. Next time it might be better to add these images into the printed explanatory essay as will as the final chosen images. I feel that I communicated my concept in both the descriptive essay and the images.

Creativity — Imagination, experimentation, invention. (20%)
I experimented with several possibilities for this assignment before settling in the final one. I also experimented with colour versus monochrome. It’s is difficult to see how imagination comes into this – unless it is about imagining the concept in the first place. This was a ‘sideways’ take on the concept of the decisive moment – thinking about other peoples moment and trying to put myself into their place. It has made me think of several other pieces of work that would be interesting to do as a follow up including the work on selfies and possibly asking other people why they were interested in that place/photography at that time (also – what they did with their images ?post them on line,?print them or what. This would open up the possibility of contrasting their thoughts with mine.

Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking. (20%)
My research on this assignment was too limited. It was about the concept of selfies and how they were used – but then I moved away from this as an idea. I am sure there have been other studies on my eventual idea but I am not aware of them, and not sure how/where to access them.

 

Assignment 3

Brief: A series of 6 – 8 photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’, which may support the tradition or question the concept.

Thought Process.

After thinking about the decisive moment at length, watching the film on Henri Cartier-Bresson and reading around the subject I spent some considerable time trying to decide how to approach this assignment.

https://scottishzoe.blog/2017/07/27/lamore-de-court-just-plain-love

https://scottishzoe.blog/2017/08/05/the-decisive-moment-or-not

I initially thought about following the concept directly and trying some ‘traditional’ street photography but decided against this, partly because I felt that I risked simply ‘copying’ many of the images already out in this domain, and partly because I felt that I would struggle to find a linking concept. I then thought about taking a series of images of animals and birds when they were at a ‘decisive ‘point, and did start to follow this idea with some fairly interesting (or at least amusing) images of animals in the park.

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Pigeons Arguing

While taking these, I took an image, and realised that it was more about the person taking the photograph of the peacock than of the peacock itself, especially as it was not obliging by showing its fan. I felt this was an interesting idea as what I was doing was looking at what other people were finding to photograph – their ‘decisive moment’.

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The Man or the Peacock?

Research.

There has been a considerable of interest in people taking photographs recently, but this has been mainly about the incredible incidence of ‘selfies’ taken and posted on social media.  A recent statistic quoted in Amateur Photographer suggested that 48% of all photographs taken by 18 to 30-year olds now are selfies (Amateur Photographer, 2017). I am not sure how that statistic was derived, but certainly, if you are watching people on the street self -portraiture appears to be the main subject, and there are clearly an enormous number of such images posted to social media.

In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries chose ‘selfie’ as their Word of the Year. Oxford University Press then gathered a variety of scholarly reflections on this (OUP blog, 2013). In this article Lynn Schofield Clark from the University of Denver said, ‘Selfies like this are about awareness of our own self-awareness’, Karen Dill-Shackleford said A recent trip to Stonehenge had me cringing as I watched visitors to the site posing for selfies in self-absorbed abandon beside the ancient monument. Did they feel that the intriguing thing about Stonehenge was their own presence there?’ and Robert Arkin said, ‘The selfie (an arm’s length close-up self-portrait) photograph is a way to control others’ images of us, to get out in front of their judgments, to put an image in their heads with purpose and spunk. Others’ judgments are no longer just their own creation, the selfie objectifies the self, influences others’ thoughts. And, since the selfie is one’s own creation, it also affords plausible deniability; it isn’t me, it’s just one ‘me’ that I created for you’.

Cindy Sherman has recently unlocked her Instagram account and shared several ‘selfies’ although these have a particular Sherman twist in that they are distorted. (Sherman, 2017) Farago comments ‘they also point to the gap between Ms. Sherman’s vital, unsettling practice of sideways self-portraiture and the narcissistic practice of selfie snapping’ (Farago, 2017). Clearly the whole field of taking selfies, while it has much in common with all self-portraiture, could be explored at length, both academically and practically, using a combination of my own ‘selfies’ and pictures of others taking images of themselves.

Planning.

I thought about taking photographs of people taking ‘selfies’ and experimented with this, but decided not to explore this further for this assignment as it is possibly a study on the ‘indecisive’ moment rather than the decisive one when the number of selfies taken by any one person is considered. However, this would be an interesting concept to follow up in the future.

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Who am I?

My next idea was to take relatively close-up images of the people taking photographs and pair them with images I took of the same subject immediately afterwards. I discarded this approach as the limited number of images asked for in this case would only have allowed for a maximum of four pairs, again this is an idea that it would be worth looking at in the future.

What was done.

For this series of images, I concentrated on photographs of people taking photographs, not of themselves, but of the world around them. There is a wide variety of situations shown as, although I had enough images in various locations to have concentrated on one of these, such as Kew Botanic Gardens or the Yorkshire Military Experience, I felt the overall theme was better served by diversity, although, the simple fact that I was also there, in that place and at that time, has limited the range to situations that I was also interested in.

All images were taken outside, in daylight and by natural light. I did not use a tripod or any fill flash as I did not want the subject to be aware of any intrusion into their world and none of the images were staged. There were several occasions when the person put their camera or phone down or moved away at the critical moment. I considered limiting the selection to either images taken when the other person was using a camera or when using a phone, but decided against this. The final series of images was taken over several weeks during my summer holidays. As several of these were taken in Scotland, the weather, and therefore the quality of the light, was very variable. The images were in both portrait and landscape format, but I limited the selection to all landscape to support the idea of a series.

The next question to be resolved was how to show the images. I thought about both colour and monochrome and ended up converting all the images to monochrome for comparison, and printing some of each. The monochrome conversion was performed in Silver Efex Pro2, and, unlike my normal monochrome pictures, I used a relatively high key conversion using the same settings for all the images to maintain coherence.

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A Wet Day in the Mountains

I eventually decided on keeping to the original colour images as I felt it is likely that the ‘original’ photographs I was basing my images on would be viewed in colour, and therefore colour was truer to the concept of recording the other photographers interests and themes. Clarke says about colour images ‘Colour photographs remain problematic. They are central to the snapshot, but are still invariably rejected by the professional and art photographer who will use colour only in a deliberate and self-conscious way: either to draw attention to the medium, or to imply a statement about the subject’. (Clarke, 1997). In this case I am using colour in the latter sense. The actual image selection was also influenced by the choice of colour as the most effective images in colour were not the same as the most effective ones in monochrome.

The photographs were printed on Perma Jet Oyster paper via a Canon printer.

Final Images:

s

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Kew Botanic Gardens – Photographing Flowers

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Kew Botanic Gardens – Two photographers at the Lake

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Yorkshire Military Experience – Photographing vehicles

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Yorkshire Military Experience – Photographing the Campground

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Fort William – Photographing Loch Linnhe in the Rain

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Fort William – Photographing the Mountains

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Carlisle – Hadrian’s Cavalry Charge

I was particularly pleased with the last image as I was standing very close to the photographer in front of me and, by sheer luck, managed to get the horses showing on their camera’s screen just as they were charging towards us.

Contact Sheets.

References

Amateur Photographer (2017). Amateur Photographer, (12 August 2017), p.5.

Clarke, G. (1997). The photograph. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press.

Farago, J. (2017). Cindy Sherman Takes Selfies (as Only She Could) on Instagram. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/06/arts/design/cindy-sherman-instagram.html [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].

OUPblog. (2013). Scholarly reflections on the ‘selfie’ OUPblog. [online] Available at: https://blog.oup.com/2013/11/scholarly-reflections-on-the-selfie-woty-2013/ [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].

Sherman, C. (2017). cindy sherman (@_cindysherman_) ˖ Instagram photos and videos. [online] Instagram.com. Available at: http://instagram.com/_cindysherman_ [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].

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.