Category Archives: Assignments

Tutor feedback on assignment 4

Feedback

My tutor has excelled this time with feedback coming back within three days of my assignment submission. A link to it can be found here: 4.Holly Woodward assignment report

I can only say that I am very happy with his feedback. He does not feel that anything needs to be improved, although I myself have a few niggles with it that I would like to iron out before assessment. Aside from the points I already mentioned in my reflection on the assignment, I would also like to alter the following:

  1. Remake the book with smaller holes to make it less floppy. Thanks, Richard Down for telling me this. Very useful for future reference.
  2. Consider whether the typeface is appropriate. I have been doing some background research on typefaces and design lately, and I am now not happy with the standard Ariel  one I have used. Keen eyed readers might have noticed (probably not) that I have changed the default typeface for this blog, and I may do the same for the physical book.
  3. Put a soundtrack to the Vimeo piece, though this is less important as the assessors will have the book itself to review. The video was my first, and I did not want to overstretch my abilities with it, but having seen the results I am now confident I can put a track to it.
  4. Page numbers. I keep thinking it should have page numbers.

Suggested reading to look into

Photographers and abandoned spaces:

Yvonne De Rosa (Crazy God): http://www.yvonnederosa.it/galleries.php?id=5&mode=foto#.WfsTfGU3HzI

Robert Polidori: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/new-orleans-after-the-flood-a-photo-gallery

Take a look at the work and ideas of Sophie Calle (If you haven’t already) may inspire your creativity.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/sophie-calle-2692

Did you see this show at The Photographers’ Gallery? This may provide you with further ideas. http://notionmagazine.com/exhibition-feminist-avant-garde-1970s-photographers-gallery/

Suggested ideas for assignment 5

My tutor liked the work I was doing on the feminist gaze and in particular exercise 4.5 Fictional texts. He suggests that I look at building on this for assignment 5. Some serious thought is going to be needed on this over the next week, as I’d like to get the assignment finished before Christmas.

Advertisements

Assignment 4 – Whatever Happened to…?

Create a series of work (aim for 7-10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.

This assignment has been made as a physical book. It can be viewed on Vimeo here: vimeo.com/240275519 The commentary and individual images from the assignment are also shown below.

Whatever happened to…?

Introduction
A forgotten building lies a mere 200 yards from my home, almost completely hidden by a screen of brambles, nettles and rampant buddleia. It was once a care home for elderly dementia sufferers, but was suddenly closed in 2007 as a result of two consecutive very poor CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection) inspections. The twenty two residents were transferred to other accommodation in the Swindon area almost overnight and the building has been unoccupied and slowly deteriorating ever since.

Very few confirmed details are readily available about the reasons for the closure. However, it appears that it comprehensively failed an inspection in November 2006, partly because of concerns about how the staff were treating residents and partly because it did not meet several of the recently imposed health and safety requirements, such as each person having their own bathroom. Six months later, the inspectors arrived again, and were not happy with progress on the measures imposed by the previous report. They therefore deemed the home unsuitable for its residents and took the owners to court. It appears that the owners of the care home were either unwilling or unable to fund the required improvements and they applied for bankruptcy, while the residents were farmed off to any local care home which had space.

Throughout the world, the proportion of older people in society is increasing and resources are being limited. It is hard not to be aware of the difficulties we, as society, are beginning to face in securely and comfortably housing our elders. At least one in six care homes in the UK is close to bankruptcy, according to a study by Moore Stephens [1] and while 70,000 new care home places will be required over the next 8 years [2],the rise in the National Living Wage and Brexit are having a significant effect on the finances of care home owners and the availability of care workers. These macro level problems can be seen at the individual level in this series which asks us to question whether our elders are being treated with the respect and consideration they deserve.

Images

P1610540-Editv2P1640485v2P1610529v2IMG_4151v2P1610532-Editv2P1640449v2P1640482v2P1640466v2

Nature
As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Endnote

A week after my second shoot at this building, some of the land was cleared and the gates were padlocked. It is now up for sale and will most likely be demolished to make way for new housing within the next few months.

HW (October 2017)

Commentary

Write a short reflective commentary (about 500 words) describing how your chosen words have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.

This assignment is about absence and the objects left behind that remind us that an empty place was once someone’s home. The words came after the images to provide some context to the work. The idea of exploring the old building stemmed initially from nothing more than curiosity. What was this place, almost entirely hidden away in the middle of a Wiltshire village? I have done a small amount of urbexing before, but nothing where so little was visible from outside and where there was such a palpable sense of decay. Entering the building is a shock – the vandalism and quantities of rubbish, broken glass and smashed furniture seemed overwhelming at first. Very soon though, I began to examine the objects left behind and it quickly became clear that the home had been emptied very suddenly. Open books lay on the beds; very dead potted plants sat on windowsills. Cupboards were still full of people’s clothes. Photographs, pictures and name plates were lying smashed on the floor, alongside residents’ care notes and personal possessions.

The overall effect is one of a sudden trauma in the residents’ lives, and of them being torn away from the place and possessions they knew to be sent who knows where. This seems particularly hard as people who have dementia are highly reliant on the security of a stable and unchanging home environment. Moving them from one location to another is perceived as difficult, although studies seem to indicate that the risk is not as high as one might imagine. [4][5]

At the same time, I was aware that there were good reasons to close the care home. Not only had it failed inspections twice, but there were rumours of ill-treatment and neglect around the village. However, the suddenness of the way the closure was undertaken is written into the debris lying in every room. And in that debris are remnants of the lives of the residents and the staff, should one choose to look for them. There are still indications everywhere of the people who lived and worked here; hairdressing equipment, games, the old pedal organ, which speak of real lives. Much of what is left is quickly being trashed by vandals – even since my visit in June, there has been a visible deterioration in the place and soon those individual signs of the people who lived there will be gone, smashed beyond recognition by thoughtless kids.

The particular aspect of the relationship between these photographs and the text that interests me is whether the text affects the reading and meaning of the images or not. Initially, I showed the images to some fellow students and asked for comments without giving much background. Their responses ranged from:

  • Your photographs were very evocative for me and I think you can do a lot with them as a metaphor for how the vulnerable elderly are treated if you choose to go that way. (Catherine)
  • I think this is where text can add such value, moving the work from interesting urbex to socially relevant and something that has certainly made me think about the care we provide for our elders. (Kate)
  • Thinking about it literally jolted my senses and brought a tear the eye. (Nicky)

In an earlier iteration of the work, I considered providing no text, but instead adding either the words or music from the old music hall songs that the residents might have sung, sitting around the organ on winter evenings, but it was suggested that this might steer the viewers towards the idea of recalling happy times, which is clearly not what the situation was towards the end. My current opinion is that providing some direction to what might be in viewer’s thought as they look at the images helps steer them in the direction I would like them to go, without being too explicit about what I would like them to think.

References

[1]   Causer, L (2017) 16% of care homes at risk of failure At: https://www.moorestephens.co.uk/news-views/august-2017/16-of-care-homes-at-risk-of-failure (Accessed on 28 October 2017)

[2]   Kingston, A. et al. (2017) ‘Is late-life dependency increasing or not? A comparison of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies (CFAS)’ In: The Lancet.com 07.10.17 [online] At: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31575-1/fulltext  (Accessed on 28 October 2017)

[3]   Warchol, K. (2010) How to Reduce Transfer Trauma for a Person With Dementia. At:
https://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/November-2010/A-Real-Issue-for-Many-Individuals-With-Dementia (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

[4]   Capezuti E1, Boltz M, Renz S, Hoffman D, Norman RG. (2006) ‘Nursing home involuntary relocation: clinical outcomes and perceptions of residents and families.’ In:
 J Am Med Dir Assoc. Oct;7(8):486-92. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17027625/  (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

[5]   Kali, ST et al (2012) ‘The Impact of Forced Transitions on the Most Functionally Impaired Nursing Home.’ In:  J Am Geriatr Soc. Oct; 60(10): 1895–1900. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530394/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

Reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I am happy with the images I have selected for this series. They were taken over two separate visits in June and September 2017 and the overall number from which the selection was made was in excess of xxx. Because some the images from the first visit were so striking and held such a sense of failure and sadness, I decided to investigate the building again later, with the aim of bringing the shocking array of personal items which are still to be found in the building, everything from clothing to care notes (the latter being completely illegal under Data Protection laws. The building had no electricity and all of the images were taken using natural light and occasionally a reflector, which is why they are visually quite gloomy. The windows of the ground floor rooms were heavily shaded by the foliage jungle which has grown up around the building, and this gives an eerie greenish-blue light inside the building which is very much a part of its character, and which I did not want to lose.

Equally, the production of the book, which was made after attending a book-making workshop with OCA tutor Polly Harvey, provided some technical hurdles that I needed to overcome, such as deciding on papers, size, the cover and the binding, and having shown other students at the Thames Valley Forum, I believe it works well. For future reference, the binding holes could have been smaller, and I will need to recover the back as it has become marked somewhere along its production, but the wonderful thing about Japanese stab bound books is that one can easily take them apart for another iteration.

(It should be noted that in the physical book, the relative importance of the images is reversed, with the landscape ones being larger than the portrait ones.)

Quality of outcome

Overall, I am pleased with the outcome. Initially, my plan was to simply set the scene with the introductory text, but I found the poem by Henry Longfellow and added it as it seemed so appropriate. It will be interesting to hear my tutor’s feedback on whether I should retain both the introduction and the poem, or whether he thinks one of them should go. Potentially, I might also re-edit image no. 3 of the bedroom, as the lighting seemed a little forced.

Demonstration of creativity

For me, the creative aspects of this project have centred around trying to capture the mood and feeling of the building. It is a creepy place, with strange corridors and unexpected rooms, much larger than it looks from the outside, and ten years of neglect and vandalism has taken its toll. Floors are rotten, and are covered in broken glass and bedding. Ceilings are drooping and collapsing, broken furniture and sanitary-ware fills every room, and incontinence pads are strewn everywhere, like over-sized confetti. It is neither a safe not a comfortable place. My aim was to use this ambiance as a metaphor for what had happened to the residents and for their own slow decline and degradation.

Context

Most of the background research I have undertaken for this assignment has been about the care home itself and what has happened to it over the years. My initial thoughts were to include some background about the building and what had led to its closure, as the information is in the public domain, but I was advised against this in case any individual could be identified and to prevent any possible litigation from the owners. Given that none of my research relies on heresay, and much is recorded in local newspaper and court documents, I don’t believe that they would have a case, but discretion seemed sensible.

The wider background of the assignment was initially informed by the Urban Explorer (Urbex) genre of photography, in which adventurous photographers explore abandoned buildings, not only to take risks and interesting images but also to bring to the public’s attention the fact that so many wonderful old buildings are gradually falling into decay, and their history and importance is slowly being forgotten. Many of the larger building which urbexers explore are listed buildings, but the cost of repairing and renovating them would be astronomical and so they are left to gently rot away. For anyone interested in the history of the subject, this article about the academic, urbexer and occasional Guardian columnist Bradley L. Garrett is an excellent starting place. Garrett’s books, which start with Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City (2013) have a lineage based on history, economics and psychogeography, with a strong link to Guy Debord’s  ‘situationist dérive – the randomly motivated walk designed to disrupt habitual movement through the cityscape.’ (Guardian, 2013) There are some wonderful examples of the genre online, for example: Alicia Rius’ Abandoned, Christian Richter’s series, also called Abandoned, Romain Veillon’s various projects and Rebecca Bathory’s Orphans of Time, to name but a few. Many have their roots in the concept of memento mori – the idea of ‘an artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life’ Tate (n.d.). and have the same eerie sense of the people who once lived there.

Further references

MacFarlane, R (2013) ‘The strange world of urban exploration.’ In The Guardian.com 20. 09.2013. At: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/20/urban-exploration-robert-macfarlane-bradley-garrett (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

Garrett, B. (2013)  Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City. London: Verso.

http://www.aliciariusphotography.com/abandoned/  (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

Winston, AS. (2016) ‘Christian Richter’s Abandoned series chronicles Europe’s empty buildings.’ In De Zeen.com 11.09.2016 At: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/09/11/christian-richter-photographs-abandoned-empty-buildings-europe/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

https://romainveillon.com/

http://www.rebeccabathory.com/orphansoftime

Tate (n.d.) ‘Art terms: memento mori’ . At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/memento-mori

 

Response to tutor’s comments on Assignment 3

My tutor was away for the whole of August, so I have only recently got the feedback on Assignment 3. It wasn’t as poor as I was expecting, for which I am thankful, but there are definitely some changes which will have to be made before it goes for assessment. Here is a link to the full feedback: 3.HollyWoodward. Going through it in detail, my tutor’s comments are in italics and my responses in plain type.

Overall comments

Overall you have submitted a sound assignment and provided really strong reflective research. Your critical engagement and subsequent analysis has provided the work with depth. The final images do require further interrogation as there is a variant within your composition and this affects the narrative. A little more consideration at the time of shooting and editing would help. I think though that it is a project that as you suggest you should continue with. You raise some interesting points about the role of the female artist and thus supply an interesting foundation for the project.

Good news that the concept was ok, and my tutor was clearly pleased with my background research and my contextualisation in terms of the changing role of the female artist. I agree with his suggestion that some more work is needed on the images, as I outlined in my own reflection on the project. It would have been helpful if I had had a clearer idea before I started on the narrative I was aiming for. I took loads of photographs, but relatively few were suitable for my final project. Fortunately, I have both the option to return and make more photographs of the subjects, and also to collect some new ones next weekend, as the rival Swindon Open Studios is currently taking place.

Feedback on assignment

Points to address:

Clearly you have had issues with your ability to find appropriate subjects. I think that maybe you should try and be less anxious in the future about what you photograph as this has clearly held up your progress. Your overall contextual input is great and it is really apparent that you are enjoying this journey of discovery. I guess it is the ‘fun’ part, taking the images that is harder for you! Remember that you are on a learning journey, you are expected to make mistakes but you will progress through your photography, problems and making images.

Fair point about worrying about it all too much. On the whole, I find not having regular set deadlines to be a positive incentive to my work, but it does leave my mind open to a degree of dithering and uncertainty which would not be possible if a shorter time frame for each assignment was required.

I think that maybe things you could have expanded upon is the location. I find it really interesting that it looks like their studios are within their domestic spaces – sheds in the gardens, rooms in the house etc. In some way you have presented a romantic version of the female artist and idyllic view of the English female craftsperson, it feels very middle class, be interesting to see how a mixed audience respond!

Yes, the studios are all in domestic spaces, which was a part of what I was trying to show. And those spaces are generally very plush, so the middle-class comment has validity too. I was most impressed at the size of the houses the shows took place in, and also their wonderful gardens, and actually asked whether having a lovely location was part of the requirement for inclusion in the event, but apparently not. Just serendipity, they said. However, Marlborough is a very middle class area, and I can imagine that some people might be put off entering because they felt tat the event was exclusively for people with lovely houses and gardens. Possibly not a deliberate bias, but one that has perhaps affected the overall fell of the event. It will be interesting to visit some of the Swindon studios, as I suspect they may show a wider range of studio types. For instance, I attended one yesterday in someone’s garage.

Composition on the whole isn’t an issue but I would say that there is a variation of the way that you deal with your subjects. Image 1 and 6 (yes focus is an issue, be aware and take more time at the time of shooting) have a different dynamic to the other images. Here the artists are directly looking at you, the other images depict the subjects engaged in their work, this is a very different perspective that affects the cohesion of the narrative. This is something that you should be reflecting upon and making more considered decisions at the time of the shoot and indeed during the edit.

I agree with this in retrospect, although at the time of shooting it did not seem to be an issue. My original idea had been to photograph the artists with a direct gaze, but my interest in how they go about doing their work became more important as time went on. I like image no 1 a lot, but perhaps it should be changed for something where the artist is at work. For me, no. 6 is the least successful, and I need to have a rethink about it.

With reference to image 6 you should concentrate on just trying to get the face the correct balance, mixing daylight and fluorescent will prove to be problematic due to the different spectrums of light balance. Again though, I would suggest taking more control at the time of shoot. You have that lovely big window to the side allowing for natural light, maybe with more planning you could have turned off the artificial light.

I think he means No 7 here, and I completely agree with the comments. I definitely plan to go back for another shoot with this lady, as the lighting just doesn’t work and I am sure I can do better. It will be easier without all the other people about who were visiting at the same time as me.

I think that you should continue with this project and reflect further upon your contextual input as it has got interesting connotations.

Ok, there’s still some work to do here before submission for assessment, but that is fine. I have the contacts to return and reshoot some of the images, and there are a couple of other artists of whom I was unable to get a reasonable image that I might add as well.

Suggested reading/viewing

Photographers etc to look at:

Barbara Yoshida: http://www.barbarayoshida.com/women-artistportraits/index.html#

Maurice Broomfield: http://mauricebroomfield.photography/industry/

Brian Griffin: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/a-lifein-portrait-brian-griffins-latest-collection-2093909.html

Something for another post.

Assignment 3 – personal reflections

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Technically, I am happy with all of the images, except as I mentioned in the assignment itself, the slightly yellow cast on the last image. I feel that numbers 1 and 3 are the best, and ideally I would like to revisit the other artists to make more similar pictures of their workspaces.

Quality of outcome

I would describe the quality of outcome as adequate. The images themselves are functional, but I believe that the contextualisation of them as being not only working spaces, but also expressions of their owners’ identities and their relationship with their partners brings another viewpoint. I enjoyed visiting the artists and we got on very well, so I see that aspect and the consequent possibilities of doing further work with them as being as much a part of the outcome as the images themselves.

Demonstration of creativity

I don’t believe that these images push the boundaries of creativity, but my interpretation of the assignment brief did not allow much room for experimentation. A review of the numerous blog posts which were the route to my finished assignment show that I tried various ideas, but did not feel they fitted the brief adequately.

Context

It has been some considerable time between the submission of this assignment and the previous one. During this time I have not been idle, as shown by the exhibition visits and personal research in the Research and Reflection section of my blog. This has been supplemented by a large amount of collected ideas and learning, particularly around the ideas of place and time which are kept in my two sketchbooks. Alongside this, I have also been working on a project on the concept of time, which I hope will go on show next year at the Thames Valley Group’s exhibition.

I have found the prescriptive nature of this assignment difficult to merge with the personal work, which is most probably the reason for the time it has taken to produce.

 

Assignment 3 – Home is Where the Art is

Assignment brief

Find out about a community that you don’t know much about and tell their story. What window into this world can you access through your role as photographer?

Introduction

Marlborough Open Studios is an annual collaborative event in which forty local artists open their homes and studios over four weekends to allow the public access to them and their work. It is a selling event, but the artists are all happy to talk about what they do without any commitment to buy. Over the course of two weekends, I was lucky enough to see the work of twenty two artists; two were photographers, and the others used a variety of media including printmaking, glasswork, sculpture and collographs. I have discounted the photographers from this project, as I did not feel comfortable about asking them if I could photograph their work. Men were also discounted, being in the minority (less than 30%) in what turned out to be a very female event. Other artists were happy for me to do so and were very willing to explain their techniques for me.

The background work which informed this assignment is outlined in the following posts:

https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/background-for-assignment-3-the-female-studio/

https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/yet-another-attempt-to-find-a-subject-for-assignment-3/

Assignment 3 – Home is Where the Art is

The 20th century rise in woman’s autonomy based on their increasing presence in the formal workplace, and the consequent financial authority this brought has begun to allow women to demand the same amount of personal space within the home that men have always had, whether it be their own study for private contemplation or a larger space to explore artistic pursuits. It also brings into focus how women and their partners view the work that she does in “her” space. Allocating a specific, unique room for her creativity gives the undertaking  a legitimacy which has previously been absent in the historically gendered view of art pursuits. As a woman, the possession of a personal studio in the modern world takes art from being a plaything to being a serious undertaking, which indicates independence and personal autonomy as well as financial stability. And for a woman, her own studio is a strong representation of her identity and the value of her work to herself and to her partner, if she has one.

This project  is based on a series of visits made under the umbrella of the Marlborough Open Studios Art Trail. Each artist in the Open Studios has been selected by her peer group as being worthy to be a part of a group which showcases the best of what North Wiltshire artists have to offer. My thanks go to the following artists who allowed me to photograph them and their work environment:

Photographs

Reflective commentary

The purpose of this assignment was to reveal either a mirror of a community one knows and how it affects the photographer personally, or a window onto a community that the photographer did not previously know. A review of my blog posts for this assignment reveals that I have struggled to settle on a subject for several months, and tried out several different options without success. My initial idea of using mirrors in the literal as well as metaphorical sense using photography en abyme is something I would like to return to later, but I was advised by fellow students that the next iteration using my village’s annual carnival was not working. Thanks are due to fellow student Kate 513940 for her suggestion that I look at the Open Studios for a more revealing subject, and something upon which I could base a windows project.

This was not a linear project, in which the order of the images was important. Of more interest to me was the question of whether to include some of the artworks or to focus purely on the spaces themselves. I decided on the latter because it was better reflective of my background research. My original plan had been to produce a series of diptychs, each showing the artist and one of her pieces, but this seemed too static , on reflection. I also looked at the possibility of showing the artists directly relating to me, the photographer, as the process of capturing the images was so voluble and enjoyable but did not have enough good quality images to produce a series. Like all events of this type, one is having to work “on the hoof” and allowing other visitors to speak to the artists, and so there was a limit to what could be achieved. However, the organiser of the event asked me if I would like to produce some photographs for next year’s catalogue, and suggested that it might be mutually beneficial for me to go back after the Open Studios was over and to spend some time watching and photographing individual artists at work. I may do this over the winter as part of my  rework for assessment.

Looking at the series I have produced, I have particular concerns about two images. No. 7 has a slightly yellow cast from being taken in artificial light and this does not fit the visual palette of the other images. Despite considerable effort, I cannot seem to remove this without losing detail in the image. The focus in no. 6 is not quite as sharp as I would have liked, but I think the image should be included as the composition and the artist’s expression are revealing. Conversely, I am pleased with nos 1, 2 and 4, which I feel capture the person as well as their environment. Regarding possible gaps, the inclusion of some painters would have added another element to the series, and I will try to achieve this over the winter.

Assignment 2 – tutor’s comments

I received my tutor feedback for assignment 2 yesterday, and it can be read here. 2-hollywoodward-tutor-report. Overall, it was positive, although he seems to have picked up on my feelings of frustration with the work, and maybe I should tone that down for the assessment.

Overall Comments
 
You have submitted a good assignment and demonstrated some excellent research and an ability to engage in critical analysis. It’s clear that you have worked very hard on the assignment. Your input is solid and although you aren’t entirely happy with the final images, I’d suggest that you have learnt a lot and the experience has been very beneficial. There are some points that you can address with the final selection and also points to bear in mind for future assignments. A little more controlled application at the time of taking the images would be beneficial and help you to produce images more aligned to your aims. Keep up with your focus and commitment as it is evident that you are progressing well.
Having left the images to one side for a while, I am now feeling better about them, and am coming round to the belief that they were among my better work. I take his point about controlling the portrait shoot more – I had never really done a formal shoot  before, and there is  much to learn about how to manage the meeting in order to get what I want out of it. Up to this point, I have largely been taking photographs of the client without direction, and this needs to change in future. I need to read some books by photographers who talk about this aspect of portrait photography, and two books I own need to be reviewed in detail, Jane Bown’s Faces and Gregory Heisler’s 50 portraits. I also plan to visit the Taylor Wessing exhibition in London in a couple of weeks and will review that from this viewpoint too.

Feedback on assignment 

You have produced an interesting assignment, and one that you have clearly laboured over! The submission is appropriate and reflects upon the brief’s criteria. The premise for the project, photographing Parish Councilors is fine and demonstrates that you are considering the context of your work. The theme holds the series together and allows another layer to the work rather than it being just a set of random portraits.
 
The final images demonstrate your ability to apply critical analysis. On the face of it they are a set of classic minimalist portraits. They demonstrate a uniformity within their framing and camera position. Through your visual research you have identified an appropriate visual strategy. The main inspiration appears to be Joel Sternfeld’s ‘Stranger Passing’ a solid body of work. However, as you have realised, producing these types of portraits is not as straight forward as it appears.

Previously I spoke about interacting with the sitter but make sure that you are in control. You should be directing the shoot. If you are too passive you will not make an interesting shot. I think that it’s this control that is missing from a few of your shots and in some way your reliance on wanting to show your personal relationship has affected the outcome. Regarding their facial expressions, if you look at Sternfeld you will see that the majority of the sitters are almost expressionless, like the lady at the garage, this allows the image more ambiguity and gravitas. Often it appears that it is a fleeting moment, this needs working on by the photographer.

Feedback on individual images

Your first portrait is the most successful as we discussed previously. No changes required for this one.

The guy at the phone box is not a bad portrait but I don’t think it’s what you had imagined, the smile is over familiar and the pose a little contrived. Hard to see from contact sheet but shot P1520046 looks like it may be a better option, remember though what I said about framing options.

I have posted both images (before & after) below. My concern about the second one is that the subject is in shadow in what is otherwise a bright, sunny image.

Man in the woods, again not such a bad shot but maybe would have been better him still and more effectively posed, how about shot P1520991, sitting down but still full frame, again can’t see his expression though.

The second image was my alternative selection for this person. However, when I consulted my peers, they had felt that the fact he is seated distracts from the coherence of the whole series. For myself, I prefer it as an image, as it is more static than the walking one.

Yellow coat lady, I like the way she is standing, also note that she is not smiling feels more compelling. Again look at composition, should have shot landscape in camera she should ideally be shifted over to her left slightly, let the window frame her, window frame sticking out her head is annoying.

As it happens, the original photograph for this image was taken in landscape. I have cropped it differently above, as suggested by my tutor.

The final image is nearly there but it lacks a certain element to pull in the viewer, image P1530048 when cropped may be stronger. I think that you have neglected a stronger shot, (Amanda) images P1510890/P1510892 or P1510902, look good from what I can see on the contact sheet, try them in the final set. 

Here are the before and after selections for image 5. Again, the second was another that I had considered, but rejected on the grounds that the positioning of the subject was out of kilter with the other images. However, that is no longer an issue as the overall positioning are now different, so I will include it instead of the first.


The other images he suggested were:

The first of these had been in my original selection, but was discounted by my peer group on the grounds that the background was not very informative. I prefer it to the second, so will reinstall it in the overall group, at the expense of the telephone box one, which I think is the weakest of the set.

So, after tutor feedback, the suggestion is that I go with the set below.


 Suggested reading/viewing

Have a look at these portrait photographers:

Rineke Dijkstra: http://www.popphoto.com/how-to/2008/12/conversation-rineke-dijkstra

Hannah Starkey: http://www.independent.co.uk/artsentertainment/art/features/hannah-starkey-twenty-nine-pictures-2187389.html
 
Pieter Hugo: http://visualmelt.com/Pieter-Hugo-The-Hyena-Other-Men

Plenty of reading there to keep me going.

Assignment 2 – Those Who Do

It is a modern axiom that 90% of people complain about their local services and only 10% try to do anything about it. This is a series about Parish Councillors, who are part of the 10%. Each of these people has been formally elected by the people of their parish to an unpaid group whose aim is to maintain and improve services, activities and open spaces in the village. It is the lowest rung of government, making decisions that affect communities are the level of villages and very small towns. Until recently, the role was fairly low key, but the current financial pressures on town and county councils is forcing them to delegate service to parishes across the UK under the Localism agenda, and groups  like this are taking on more and more work which was previously undertaken by larger local authorities. The role is often practically difficult and thankless (see the comment about complainers above) and each person’s motivation for becoming involved is different.

The series looks at some of the people who are sufficiently interested in their local environment to take up the challenge of being a parish councillor. I am a member of this particular group myself, and am therefore photographing them as an insider;  they all know me, although not necessarily very well. I am interested in the diversity (or perhaps lack of diversity) visible among the group, although it is fair to say that they are a realistic reflection of the community they serve, in terms of age range, ethnicity and economic situation. This part of rural England has little of the multicultural flavour of the big cities.

The journey towards making the series has been documented in the series of posts here. Particular photographers who have informed this selection are Joel Sternfeld, and especially his series Strangers Passing and American Prospects,  John Myers’ series Middle England and David Hurn’s Tintern Photographic Project. The aim was to produce a series of images where there is a clear interaction with me, the photographer, but which also indicates how they relate to their home environment.

The images are shown full size below.

p1510424p1520073p1520916p1510400-editp1530108-2

Reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Technically, I think this assignment is better than my first one. The subjects are in focus and their positions in the images are pleasing. Each expresses something about their personality in their faces and the way they are standing and also something about their relationship with me, the photographer and a member of their group. I have learned a very useful lesson about how to interact with my subjects during the shoot too, as it became clear through the early ones that they all needed time to relax into the situation, and to chat with me about what they would like to show in their images. Finally, the idea of using some of the as yet untaken images as pictures around the Parish Office was a mistake, as it meant that I was trying to combine two separate ideas in the same project, which was confusing for me when deciding how to shoot the subjects. I have a tendency to overcomplicate the scope of my assignment ideas, and this was a lesson learned for me. Simplicity of purpose is best.

Quality of outcome

I believe the series achieves what I was looking for. Admittedly, this turned out to be some distance away from my starting point, but the final result is a truthful portrait of some of my fellow Parish Councillors and what interests them, albeit that not enough visual information is given to firmly pin down their areas of expertise. The series also hints at some of the issues that exercise my local community, and I leave the viewer to decided what they might be. None of the subjects has seen the results of their shoot as yet, and I must show them, as I would be interested to know whether they feel comfortable with the results.

Demonstration of creativity

This has been the part of the assignment that I have found most challenging. As can be seen from my previous posts on the preparation work, there were several false starts which did not achieve the effect I was looking for, and I think I was probably too focussed on showing  a sense of place in each image, rather than allowing the subjects time to relax and inhabit their space. Unlike assignment 1, the location is Home for all the subjects and they feel at ease in their environment, which shows in the final images. For my next unit, I intend to spend more time researching the idea of spaces and places and how one can express these concepts through images.

Context

Returning to my original starting point of study for this assignment, I see that I have not in fact strayed too far from my original ideas. The difference has been more in how I interpreted them. The work of John Myers and David Hurn was useful in setting the scene of current life in rural Britain, but my final creative choices were more informed by the work of Joel Sternfeld, and particularly his Strangers Passing series. Upon reflection, other more subliminal influences should include the series Sleeping by the Mississippi and Broken Manual by Alec Soth, which | saw last year and which I found very affecting, particularly in terms of how the subjects were photographed in their personal environments.

I have visited a number of exhibitions this year in support of this assignment, not all of which I have written up as yet. They include Made You Look at the Photographers Gallery, An Ideal for Living at Beetles & Huxley and a number of shows at the Brighton Biennale, the most relevant of which were The Dandy Lion Project and ReImagine. So far, I have not written up all of these as yet, but I intend to do so over the next few weeks.