Category Archives: Assignment 2

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.