At this moment, I do not have any specific ideas for my first assignment, which asks us to take five portraits of strangers. Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike, I’ve been doing some reading to see whether I can build an idea up from the bottom, instead of starting with the subject and working downwards. Hopefully, these ramblings will crystallise some thoughts that I have been considering into proper ideas.
At the general research level, Bate’s chapter on the portrait is fascinating, with its discussion of the elements of the portrait, how to read them and how we interpret them on a personal level. Clearly, how I set compose the images and pose the subjects is important. Points to consider are:
- genre of portrait
- reflect sitter’s personality or not?
Alongside this, I read Eric Kim’s short explanation of 12 things (actually it is 11) that motivate the great Japanese photographer Akiri, and a couple of them really struck a chord. Two that keep coming back to me are that today’s images are the history of tomorrow and make it personal, i.e. it should have meaning and to matter to me. Bearing in mind my recent forays through my family archive, I’ve become very aware that many of the photographs from the 1960s onwards are very much snapshots, and poor quality ones at that. Images were captured on the fly, without much consideration of their archival value, and most were very situational, and were taken either at events or on holidays. Quality only started to improve again in the 1990s when digital cameras began to appear , which allowed people much more discretion about the images they chose to keep. I suspect that most probably in this century family archives will once again begin to feature more portraits for this reason, but also because we are now accustomed to the selfie and the very casual portrait. Below is an example of what I mean; an image of my step-daughter in the garden, which was taken very fast and without her expecting it. Preparation was zero, but it is clearly a portrait, and also clearly shows something of her personality. I suppose the point I am coming to on this is that a good portrait does not necessarily involve studios and hours of preparation, but it does need engagement between the photographer and sitter.
Edited to add:
After a night’s rest, I think a way forward has been found. To all intents and purposes, my exercise on typologies was a fulfilment of the assignment brief, being local and using people I had never met before. The images were all full length though, and I would like to try some more close-up portraits. I feel much more comfortable out on the street rather than taking formal portraits in a studio, and also have more confidence in the role of Photographer Tourist, rather than Portrait Photographer.
I have therefore decided that I will use a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe next week to make my photographs. My plan is to engage people who are handing out flyers for their shows, as they will be happy to talk, and should be positive about the idea of having a close-up portrait taken. I came across a post about a 100 Strangers project which appeals to me, and would like to aim for something similar, but with some information about the subjects and why they are at the Fringe. I will write separately about why I have chosen this particular group as subjects.
Bate, D. (2009) Photography: the key concepts. Bloomsbury.