Tag Archives: portraits

Assignment 3 – the shoot

Weather conditions for the shoot on Saturday were perfect – warm, but not too sunny. I took my  45mm lens for the portrait shots and a 45-175 mm zoom one for the longer shots, and on the whole this was the correct decision. My intention was to take most of the portraits at the beginning, when the carnival was not too busy, and then change to longer, more candid ones as the afternoon wore on. My first pass on the portraits is shown below.

Lightroom (P1610884.RW2 and 13 others)At present, I have not decided whether they should be colour or monochrome. My preference is for 1-4 and 7 at the moment, but there is a long way to go in the editing process still. (P1620227 is in the wrong group and needs to be moved). Also, I have not fully processed any of the images and still need to unify them by colour grading.

The first pass of preferences for the general photos are shown below.

Lightroom (P1610928.RW2 and 38 others)Lightroom (P1610928.RW2 and 38 others)

The purpose of this shoot is to act as a mirror on my community and also to say something about “how this group informs me as a person”. It should explore something about me as well as the group.

My village is a close-knit community with traditions that date back centuries, but which are under threat both from the different priorities of modern life and the increasing number of outsiders who are moving into the area. The carnival has been a feature of village summers for many years, but was discontinued in recent years as it had become too large and policing/public disorder was becoming an issue. A group of people reinstated it in 2016 as a family occasion, with no alcohol allowed on site, and I hope that my images give an impression of the relaxed fun and village cameradie that the carnival inspires.

I now need to do some ruthless editing to limit the series to approximately ten images, which reflect how I am linked with the community, as part of it, but still (after five years) an outsider despite my in-laws’ long-term residence in the village. My final selection needs to be coherent as a series, rather than simply being an event shoot.

Exercise 3.4 – Five types of gaze

Time is pressing on, and I really need to get assignment 3 finished. However, this exercise asks us to collect images of at least five of the different types of gaze explored in Project 2 –

  • the spectator’s gaze
  • the internal gaze
  • the direct address
  • the look of the camera
  • the bystander’s gaze
  • the averted gaze
  • the audience gaze
  • the editorial gaze.

I have written about The Gaze in a previous blog post, so rather than go out to actively collect images for this, I have decided to use some of the previous images I took during Part 3, as I want to include as many of the elements of the exercise as I can.

The brief is thus:

The objective here is to produce a series of five portraits that use some of the types of gaze defined above. The specifics of how you achieve this are down to you; you choose which types of gaze you wish to address and who your subject might be in relation to this decision. What you are trying to achieve through these portraits is a sense of implied narrative, which you can explain through a short supporting statement. Don’t try and be too literal here; the viewer must be able to interact with the portraits and begin to make their own connection to the work, aided by the type of gaze you have employed.

My original plan had been to select a variety of images which simply illustrate different types of gaze in an unconnected series of images, but upon reflection I realised that there is more to the exercise than this. Not only do we need to show different types of gaze, but there should also be a sense of narrative within the series. I therefore selected all the images from a photoshoot I did last month for a village event to commemorate the centenary of the award of the Victoria Cross to William Gosling, a soldier in the First World War. Across Britain, soldiers who gained this military accolade during that War are being honoured 100 years to the day it was earned, and a plaque is being laid for each of them in their home village or town. I was asked by the Parish Office to take photographs of the event for posterity.

Here is the series.

This exercise was more difficult than it might at first appear. Many of my images could have fitted into more than one category of gaze, and the need to make the images as portraits limited possible contenders in what was an event with a large number of people crammed together. Also, as an integrated narrative of an event, the series only gives part of the story. I would have preferred to bookend it with longer shots, showing more of the parade and pageantry. However, as an exercise in looking at people in different ways, it was very useful.

I also need to note here that whole books have been written on The Gaze, and the many different ways and levels in which it can be interpreted. Below, I have listed a few links for future reference.

Chandler, Daniel (1998) Notes on the gaze. http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/gaze/

http://www.artandpopularculture.com/Gaze

Shukul, RN. (2008) Introduction to elements of GAZE theory http://mediaelectron.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/introduction-to-elements-of-gaze-theory.html

In addition, there is also Jacques Lacan’s theories on the Gaze to explore. They are relevant in general, but not specifically to this exercise.

https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/lacangaze.html

One day, three exhibitions

Yesterday, I met up with five other OCA students in London. Our plan was to see the Taylor Wessing Portrait prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and then to pop up the road to Beetles & Huxley, which has a show of Joel Sternfeld prints on at present. I then parted ways with the others, except for Peter, and went south to The Radical Eye at the Tate Modern. It was a great day, finishing off with half an hour listening to Choral Evensong in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2017

This was the only exhibition at which I took notes, and photography was not allowed, so I have no images of my own. First prize went to a very plain image of a South African schoolboy in uniform against a blank white background by Claudio Rasano, and was part of a series of the same. It is a classic typological study of young people displaying their differences, while all wearing the same clothes, and has something of the “school photo” about it. While striking, I couldn’t really see why it had taken 1st Prize over some of the other works. For me, the second prize was much more interesting – a tintype of an American surfer and his girlfriend by Joni Sternbach. However, I can see that its small size and rather dark, monochrome nature makes it less of a show-stopper than the Rasano.

Thinking about the prints in the exhibition as a whole, they seemed to mostly feature the very young and the very old, the latter usually in a state of undress. There were a mixture of direct gazes and averted, but more of the latter. And the great majority were standard prints. Only a couple used alternative processes, which seems fewer than in recent years.

The prints that stood out for me were:

  • Judy Gelles Be Murdered – the back view of a South African schoolgirl, worrying that because her father is a policeman she might get murdered, and the only one with text on the image
  • Charlie Clift Nigel Farage Smoking a Cigar – an ebullient study of Farage, showing all of his braggado and energy
  • Paul Stuart John Harrison -38652 days old – sadly this was not very well lit on the exhibition space, and the catalogue version was much better, displaying a man of over 100 who still seems to be very much alive
  • Andy Lo Pò Simon Callow – stunning , almost painterly study of the actor
  • Phil Sharp John McCrea – this struck me as something I could try with my son. Sharp does headshots for actors, but as if they were in a performance rather than just straight.
  • Matt Hamon’s two prints from the series The Gleaners, which was probably the work that was most interesting to me, as it showed a way of life which is very different from our expectations of life in the USA.

Oh, and there is hope for us all yet. One image on show was of a small child eating soup at a table by Cécile Birt, a photographer who has never entered anything into an exhibition before!

Joel Sternfeld

Beetles & Huxley (bless ’em) allows photography in its gallery, so I was able to take quite a few photographs of the exhibition, which was of images from his American Prospects series. However, the link above shows most of them so I won’t add them all here. Readers of Assignment 2 of my blog will know that I am a big fan of Sternfeld and his deadpan images of the minutiae of American life. These were an inspiring selection and included his famous fireman looking at pumpkins image McLean, Virginia. It is interesting to see his work en masse, as the great range of tones and colours is very noticeable, as is the slight cast, which places the work firmly in the pre-digital age. Strangely, no copies of his book were available either here or at the nearby Waterstones, despite it having been reprinted in 2012. However, there were copies of The High Line for sale, and also a recent work, On The Site, Landscape I’m Memorium, an exercise in “late photography” which I must review in more detail elsewhere.

img_3187v2

The Radical Eye

I hadn’t particularly expected to like this exhibition, modernism not being my favourite period in photography, but it was quite fabulous. Original prints of some of the most famous black and white photographs in the world, alongside some I was less familiar with. There is a lot to see, and the majority of the prints were small, and even tiny, so one had to get right up close to view them properly. It isn’t the type of exhibition one can go to when it is busy as it would not be possible to appreciate a lot of the work in a crowd. All the framing was different, perhaps to reference the great number of photographers on show, and somehow the curators managed to give enough weight through the framing to images that might be as tiny as 3×2 cm in a huge exhibition space. Many of the images had multiple mounts of different thicknesses to give them sufficient gravitas. I was reminded of the miniatures room at the V & A.

The subject of the show was Modernism (1920s – 1950s) and the images ranged from portraits, through abstract work to studies of the nude. Each one was more exquisite than the last. It was not possible to take any photographs in the exhibition, but some of the images that stood out for me were:-

  • Irving Penn’s portraits of people crammed into a corner of his studio, including this one of Gypsy Rose Lee
  • gypsy-rose-lee-penn

    Gypsy Rose Lee, by Irving Penn.

  • the collection of Farm Administration portraits by various people, including “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange
  • the variety of multiple exposures and collage work, especially Harry Callahan’s Detroit. (shown below)
  • eleanordetroit-by-harry-callahan

    Eleanor, Detroit, by Harry Callahan

  •  I must go back and have another look at Callahan’s work.
  • Andre Kertesz’s Underwater swimmer, which was described in CNN’s review of the exhibition as:

a seminal purchase barely the size of a couple of thumbprints: a silver gelatin print of an underwater swimmer from the original 1917 contact sheet by the Hungarian master Andre Kertesz. You need a magnifying glass to appreciate its quality. From http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/11/arts/elton-john-tate-modern-radical-eye-photography/

Overall, it was magnificent, and I might have to go back for another look.

Assignment 2 – the selection process

The early stages of the selection for this assignment were difficult, and I felt I was really struggling to obtain anything meaningful and coherent with my first few shoots. I have three series of images of different subjects during that period which just did not work, and which were not worthy of adding to the final set. (Copies of the contact sheets for these three, as well as the others are attached at the end of this post). I am therefore grateful for my tutor’s suggestion not to rush the process, and to concentrate on what it is I like about this image below, which I had told him seemed to be the best of what I had so far achieved.

p1510424

On mulling it over, I decided that the main features of the image I liked were the natural pose, which has a sense of dynamism and the fact that the person was directly engaged with the viewer in a way that expresses both their personality and their relationship with me, the photographer. The background is bland but has meaning to the subject, being farm land which is currently being prepared for a large housing development.

It therefore seemed sensible to concentrate less on the location (albeit still showing it as a background to the subject) and to focus more on a natural, unforced pose and expression, which expresses my own relationship with the subjects, and this made the shooting and selection process much easier for subsequent shoots. As a result of this thinking, the final three shoots were straightforward and lacked any of the angst and doubt of the first few.

Below, I have considered each of the sets of contact sheets. In most cases, these are a selection taken from a larger number of images in order to fit them onto one page. (I do not know why they have white lines across them, but it is not important for this exercise).

Subject 1 – Chris

Lightroom (P1510363.RW2 and 13 others)

This was my first shoot, and although I am happy with the concept of the shoot, and particularly like P1510374, it subsequently became clear that the subjects were all going to be photographed outside and at full length, so reluctantly this set had to be dismissed.

Subject 2 – Talis

Lightroom (P1510390.RW2 and 14 others)

There were a number of possibilities in this set. I particularly like the last image, and this was my first choice for this subject. However, on asking fellow students their opinion of the proposed series, this was the one that did not seem to fit. Apart from it being about a building, the colours and style seem to jar with the others, rather than flow, and I have decided to go with P1510400 instead.

Subject 3 – Ann

Lightroom (P1510409.RW2 and 12 others)

This set was relatively easy to produce and there are several within in it that I like, especially P1510419, but th3e subject is too far away in the image, and so I have decided to use P1510424 instead. As mentioned above, this was the starting point for the final set of images.

Subject 4 – Amanda

Lightroom (P1510864.RW2 and 19 others)

Sadly, none of these were suitable. The weather was very bright sunshine, and there is a great deal of contrast in many of them. Also, the subject is posing rather more than I am aiming for, so this set has been rejected.

Subject 5- John

Lightroom (P1510432.RW2 and 13 others)

In my first shoot with this subject, there were similar problems to the shoot with Amanda, and the light was too harsh for successful images. I also was not happy with the decision to photograph the subject next to the sign – it looks forced and slightly peculiar. He was kind enough to allow me to undertake another shoot, and this was much better. For the purposes of this assignment, either P1520953 or P1520991 would work, but I decided to use the former on the basis that all the other selections were full length, so this one should be too.

Subject7 – Steve

Lightroom (P1520010.RW2 and 4 others)

This short shoot was not successful for a number of reasons. Again the weather was not helpful, and I did not have time to chat to the subject enough for him to feel comfortable about what I was doing. He therefore looks unhappy and posed in the shots, and I decided to leave any of this series out.

Subject 7 – Gareth

Lightroom (P1520043.RW2 and 19 others)

Bizarrely, the weather was also sunny for this shoot, but the telephone box happened to be in the shade of a large tree, which softened the light. Any of the last four would have been fine for the series, but I felt the composition was best in P1520073.

Subject 8 – Vince

Lightroom (P1530040.RW2 and 18 others)

Another gloomy day for this shoot, and again there were several possibilities for the final selection, but I decided on P1530108 as the image most reflective of the person.

This selection process has been long, but I really benefitted from taking a step back for a while to allow some objectivity to enter the equation. I am also grateful to fellow students for the feedback they have given on the whole process and I am now more confident that the series reflects what I was hoping to achieve One of the elements of the final series which has been remarked upon is its autumnal feel, which is good because it lends a unifying seasonal background to all the images.

Assignment 2 – further research

After having produced a few images, I asked my tutor whether the idea was sound, and he referred me to the following photography series, for ideas:

Richard Avedon – In the American West

richard-avedon-in-the-americamn-west

© Richard Avedon

Joel Sternfeld – Stranger Passing

joel-sternfeld-strangers-passing

© Joel Sternfeld

For the purposes of this assignment, Richard Avedon’s work is not relevant, because there is no sense of place – everyone is photographed against a blank white background. This forces the viewer to concentrate wholly on the figure and their stance and clothing. But Joel Sternfeld’s Stranger Passing series is just the sort of approach I was thinking of. In each of the images, the subjects are shown in their own environment, rooting them firmly to a sense of place. There is a variety of postures, and the figures range from close up to quite distant. What they all have is a connection with the photographer, albeit sometimes very fleeting.

At the start of this project, my thinking was along the lines of following in the footsteps of David Hurn and John Myers, with their honest, yet sympathetic examinations of everyday life in non-urban Britain. However, Sternfeld’s work encapsulates the type of imagery I am looking to produce here, and further communication with my tutor makes me think I am on the right lines with this. Chris’s advice was this:

Using a reference such as ‘Stranger Passing’ is appropriate and I can see his influence in some of your shots, particularly shot 3 (lady, fence, field) it’s fine to use his work as a template for yours, it’s how we learn to develop our own practice. Look at 3  image and analyse why it works, look at the composition, the way that the subject holds herself, then compare to your other shots and Sternfeld’s. As I said previously, series of photographs work when there is a coherency of visual language running through the set, this is what you should be aiming for. The subject holding the sign is also interesting, although this is a tried and tested formula I can imagine you producing a successful series with this approach (Chris Coekin, email, 2016)

Joel Sternfeld

So, how does Sternfeld hold together a wide variety of different images, which ostensibly have nothing in common except that they are portraits? A comparative series of his images from the series are available at http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfeld/artworks/stranger-passing for viewing. The people have no names, and are merely identified by a location and perhaps a couple of words about what they are doing there. This lack of  names makes them seem to be examples of a range of different types and also keeps the concept of The Stranger in the foreground, as in people one passes by and notices, but without really taking any time to learn anything about them. Eric Kim’s appraisal of Sternfeld’s work has been very helpful to me, there being very little information about his methodology and motivation available online.  Kim argues that this lack of background is deliberate, in that Sternfeld’s images themselves leave out a lot of information. “You take 35 degrees out of 360 degrees and call it a photo,” he told the Guardian in a 2004 interview. “No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium.”

Douglas R. Nickel (Lensculture) describes his work as an “intelligent, unscientific, interpretive sampling of what American’s looked like at the century’s end.” Unlike historical portraits which represent significant people in staged surroundings, Sternfeld’s subjects are uncannily “normal”: a banker having an evening meal, a teenager collecting shopping carts in a parking lot, a homeless man holding his bedding.  (Lensculture, publisher’s description). This describes his work as circumstantial portraiture, which says as much about its subjects’ lives as their personality, but leaves a informational void that the viewer can fill with their own opinions and explanations.

Despite the information contained in how we look, we could be almost anybody. And if we tend to hate people who pigeonhole us based on appearances, we’re also grateful when someone sees us accurately without summing up too comfortably. Sternfeld is that kind of observer; he sees, but he leaves the conclusions up to others — to history, maybe, or to God. Neither the best nor the worst that a person can be is ruled out automatically. On the questions of the content of a particular human soul, he maintains a strong agnosticism.” http://www.npr.org/programs/wesat/features/2001/010707.strangers.passing.html
Writer Ian Frazier, on artist Joel Sternfeld

Badger (2007, p. 218) describes Sternfeld as a latter day Carleton Watkins – the perfect balance of subjectivity and objectivity. The images are about the people, but also their interaction with Sternfeld.

Application to my own work

Taking the images I have posted above as a representation of Sternfeld’s work, what can we say about how he makes his work? The subject is usually in the centre of the frame, although not always. Their size in the landscape varies, but the subjects tend to be in the middle distance, which indicates a lack of direct contact. There are clear references to the subjects’ environment, some subtle, others obvious. The colour palette is strong and saturated but quite flat – there is no sense of light. Eric Kim argues that the specific colour palette is what differentiates Sternfeld from other similar street photographers. Some images have an element of fun, but others are sad, or pathetic.

p1520017

These are some elements that I need to consider with my own series. I have taken about 150 images so far of six people, and am in the process of sorting out a set that has some internal consistency. While doing this it has become clear that my photographs of a couple of the people have not worked out as I had hoped and I am going to have to reshoot. So far, using contact prints, I have come up with a couple of different options, which are shown below. However, I still need to consider which is the better of the two, and suspect that my series title (whatever it may turn out to be) will inform that decision.

Varying distances

Full length, but all the same distance (or they will be, when post-processed)

I need to keep focused here, because my preferred images are currently from different sets. Also, having jettisoned the indoor close-up from my last attempt, I am not happy with either of the new male portraits yet and will have to reshoot them. Conversely, I reckon that amongst my images are the right ones for the three female ones.

Finally, delving down a little further into the images above, the body language of each person is revealing. Just looking at set 2, person 1 looks wildly uncomfortable but determined to face up to the camera, No 2 looks slightly wishful, no 3 looks sardonic, no 4 looks assertive and no 5 looks non-committal. All these are my own interpretations, based on what I know about the people concerned. Kuleshov, the Soviet filmmaker argued that a person’s relationship with their background and other co-located images tends to mould our opinion about people’s expressions (link here), so clearly there is an art to picking a group that together have the meaning one wants to express.

References

Badger, G. (2007) The Genius of Photography. Quadrille.

Higgins, C. (2004) False witness. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/mar/10/photography (Accessed: 8 November 2016).
Kim, E. (2014) 6 lessons Joel Sternfeld has taught me about street photography. Available at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/02/14/6-lessons-joel-sternfeld-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ (Accessed: 8 November 2016).
Sternfeld, J. (1996) Joel Sternfeld – stranger passing – book review. Available at: https://bookpage.com/reviews/2113-joel-sternfeld-stranger-passing#.WCGhV4XXKmQ (Accessed: 8 November 2016).
Sternfeld, J. (n.d.) Stranger passing. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/books/10705-stranger-passing (Accessed: 8 November 2016).

 

Update on assignment 2, and other stuff

I haven’t posted anything here for a little while and freely admit that gloom and despondency have been the order of the day. After my first four shoots for assignment 2, I am now unsure about whether my idea will work or not. The plan had been to create a space around each of the subjects which reflected their attitude to their role, i.e. detail people would have close-up images and strategists would have plenty of space around them. However, although this works for each person individually, I am not sure that it give coherence to the set as a whole, and I am wondering whether to go back to the drawing board. My preferred images of the four people I have photographed so far are shown below, and I’d love some feedback about what fellow students think.

Additionally, I have been talking to the people at the office about framing some of them and putting them up around the office, so they need to work for that too, and I am not sure about how people would react to some of them. They are not the sort of images most people are used to seeing.

I still plan to photograph another two or possibly three people for the series, but really want to keep a version of image 1 in the set, as this person is an important member of the team. Part of my issue is around going back and asking people if I can photograph them again, although none of them were at all negative about the idea and they all seemed keen to help.

However, despite this hiatus, I have been busy elsewhere. On a more positive note, I had an epiphany with regard to White Balance and went off to my local country park to photograph the autumn trees this weekend. (Until now, I have essentially only been using Auto White Balance). I was much happier with the colour balance in the images I produced, and am glad I have added this to my list of photography skills. Also, while I was standing there taking photographs, I started talking to various people, and one lady kindly allowed me to photograph her little girl, in exchange for a copy of the images. I sent her the images and was delighted, but a little flummoxed, to be asked by her if I was a commercial photographer, as she liked them so much.

Below, I have put a couple of the images I took, including one of the little girl.

My mentor, Stephen Bray, subsequently contacted me about the trees image, which I had posted on Facebook, and suggested that it might be better without the people lurking in the background. I responded saying that I had wondered that, and was considering whether another one might be better, featuring some people more prominently. His response is quoted below in full, and I need to think it over in more detail. I have versions with and without people as well as the one above, and look forward to a fairly detailed appraisal of the messages sent by each version.

My preference would be plain without the people, but that’s just personal taste. Your image might work well in a collection – where the other photographs also show people obscured by nature. That would be enigmatic and cause people to stop and think, because the people’s inclusion would obviously be deliberate.

Finally, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time trying to organise my Lightroom Catalog, Keywords and Collections in a more sensible way, to free up computer space. Last week, doing a search on my Catalog with Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder, I discovered that almost half of my images are duplicates, which might explain why my computer is slowly grinding to a halt. It’s a slow process but should ultimately be worthwhile. As part of this, I have opened a new WordPress.org blog to shadow this one, while I learn how to use it – the processes seem to be very different from WordPress.com. The purpose of this was to allow me to export images directly from Lightroom to WordPress, but so far I haven’t found a way to do it successfully, so the whole thing might have been a waste of time and money. Ho hum!

Assignment 2 – The final idea

It has taken a long time to get to grips with this assignment, and until now I have had no sensible ideas of what to photograph. However, yesterday morning I attended a vitally important local event in my capacity as Acting Chair of the Parish Council – the opening of a new playground in the north of the village – which was to be featuring in the local newspaper in the Saturday morning edition , on page 25, so it was hardly headline news. Here is a screenshot of the page.

img_0385

A motley crew of people turned up for the opening, including representatives of the waste management company which helped pay for it, the Parish’s paid staff and a couple of other councillors. I didn’t take my camera, thinking that I would be too busy to use it, but there would have been several opportunities, including elderly and overweight people trying out the zipwire and candid shots of the interactions within a very disparate group of individuals, etc. There was one image that stuck in my mind though, and I dearly wish I had had the forethought to take at least my phone. One of our Borough Councillors (who must be in his late 60s) turned up on his motorised bicycle, crash helmet askew, and with his paperwork extruding out of a pannier, but brimming with enthusiasm. It was a classic example of the reality of local government at its most grassroots level, and I decided I wanted to work with it for my assignment, which is nominally called The Foot Soldiers of  Local Government – Portrait of a Community in Flux.

In particular, I am interested in the ideas of belonging and community and how these can be portrayed through the work of the Parish Council. Photographers I intend to reference will include Tony Ray Jones, Martin Parr, John Myers and David Hurn, although there may be others.

My initial thoughts are to make a series of portraits of some of the Parish Councillors, standing by the elements of community life that most concern them, individually. Some would be close-ups and others shot in the middle distance, to indicate something about their relationship to their subject, and all will be aware, but with the subjects not necessarily looking at the camera. So far, I am thinking the following:

  • Anne – potential new housing projects – outside, Wichelstowe – large scale
  • Chris – planning – in the office, looking at plans, or bus service, at the bus stop
  • Hannah – childrens’ amenities – at the playpark, or renewable energy, at the solar farm
  • Talis – closing services – outside the library with a placard
  • Dave – youth sport – at the Saturday football club
  • Steve – in the Parish office, with the staff

At last, I have a plan that I feel will work, and about which I have a sense of enthusiasm to put into action.