The objective of this exercise was to first consider the work of Harry Callahan and Julian Germain, then select a subject for a series of five portraits, varying the locations and backgrounds. The work of Callahan and Germain is considered here.
Like Callahan, I chose my wife as a subject, but unlike Callahan the photos were taken during the course of 1 day, not 5 years. I was inspired by Callahan’s approach to making art from family photos – working with them as subjects in this way allows us to combine photography with family life. The other benefit of working with my wife was obtaining quality feedback on how she found the experience and the opportunity to to refine my approach in further exercises.
The locations were were not planned in advance and followed a day as it unfolded. I decided in advance the type of photos I would like to make; up-close, in a neutral square format with some sense of abstract pattern / form, rather than traditional portrait. I’d also been inspired to experiment with the square format by a recent visit to a Vivien Maier exhibition (see here).
I took over 100 photographs during the course of the day, covering activities from sleeping and showering to eating and drinking. All were taken with a Fuji X100T with its fixed 23mm (35mm efl) lens, with the intention of using the black and white film simulation (red filter) jpgs for the exercise (though RAW was also captured as a backstop). Post processing (of jpgs) was done in Lightroom – the images were softened (reducing clarity and using curves to remove blacks), a warm shadow tone and grain was added; all to add to the sense of abstraction.
My wife is a reluctant photo subject, but was very cooperative during the day. Her feedback was that she found it difficult not to look at me / talk to me when I was taking the pictures (I’d asked her not to look at the camera or engage with me); at points she felt like she was being stalked (some photos were taken from behind while walking); and on some occasions, when I’d asked her to hold position, it felt unnatural, not in a normal position of relaxation.
From my own perspective, the exercise presented a number of challenges:
- Reaching a level of not being too intrusive to get the shots, both to keep the subject onside and to ensure the shots appeared authentic.
- Maintaining a consistency of framing throughout the day; I was aiming for closely framed shots and at various points there was a temptation to work with more distant shots. Within the short timeframe of this exercise, I think that would have created difficulties when it came to editing later. However, for a longer-term project, featuring a larger number of photos, I think more flexibility would have also worked.
- A slight discomfort at intruding on the same subject for a sustained period. It was only slight as I spend a great deal of time with my wife in any case. However, this made me mindful of how the experience could be with a subject I do not know so well; a series of shorter shoots might well be a sensible approach!