Use this opportunity to find out about a community that you don’t know much about and tell their story. Get to know them and talk to them; learn by listening and understanding.
Your aim here is to become an insider … Be clear about your intentions and involve your subjects in the process … What window into this world can you access through your role as photographer?
This work shows the rehearsals of the internationally renowned Steeton Male Voice Choir (Steeton MVC), which are held weekly in a Methodist hall.
Identifying a suitable group to spend time with and photograph with the constraints of my travelling job and home location, presented some interesting challenges, which I discuss this here. I was pleased to obtain the agreement of the choir for the project and detail my initial approach and discussions with them here.
I found very little in contemporary photographic practice that dealt specifically with choirs and most of the vernacular photographs of choirs by choir members or press photographers deal with capturing the choir in colour as a corporate body, rather than the emotion conveyed through their music; I examined this here. However, I did find inspiration from the study of the Group Portraiture of Holland (see here) and the observations and techniques used to add interest to group portraits and making individuals stand out within the group.
Selecting and editing a series of photographs would be an important aspect of this assignment and this aspect has also been an area previously highlighted for me to spend more time on. I completed some general research on this here, and looked specifically at Alec Soth’s advice here. I also obtained feedback from peers and the choir itself, which is detailed for an initial cut here, and a second cut, including a colour option here.
Click to view larger size in gallery
In one way, this work is unfinished as a document of the choir; it shows their rehearsal only and not a performance. However, their first performance of the year is over one month away, when the assignment was already initiated in the last months of 2016. In another way, the work is a document of the hard work that goes in behind the scenes and drawing a line at this point allows me to move on in the context of an OCA level 1 course. I hope to continue working with the choir to photograph a performance and turn this assignment into an ongoing personal project.
It was the range of emotions and concentration of the choir that I found mesmerising, etched on the singers’ faces. I saw this as the visual expression of their wonderful music and their commitment to the choir as a group. I had moments where I needed to remind myself I was there to take photos, not just listen to the music!
To capture the emotions while showing individuals as part of group, much of the most effective framing was of individuals isolated in the context of a group (referencing Group Portraiture of Holland, mentioned in the introduction). I consider that monochrome images better capture the emotional content of the rehearsals, while accepting that colour rendition gives more of a sense of place. It is the emotion of the choir and the music that I considered to be the core of their identity, rather than the place in which they rehearse, and this is my reason for using monochrome. I took over 300 shots and seriously considered around 40 for the final selection (contact sheets here). In editing to arrive at the final selects there were a number of aspects:
- A narrative flow from the anticipation at the start of rehearsals or new songs, through the tuned-in performance, to the sense of pleasure in creating music that is great to hear.
- Quality of individual images – a number of interesting moments captured were edited out when images were blurred beyond a tolerance that made them inconsistent with other images.
- A sense of rhythm in the ordering of images – I considered the placement of landscape and portrait, the number and direction of subjects in the frame (much like musical notes on the page) and the size of the subjects in the frame.
Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
Good observational skills to capture story telling moments in the context of rehearsals and the use of inspiration from Group Portraiture of Holland in composition and the use of chiaroscuro.
Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
I believe the closer attention to the editing process and allowing myself more time to reflect on the photographs has resulted in a stronger final edit than in the previous assignment, showing the emotion of making music in a choir above the simple representation of a choir as a corporate body.
Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
Interaction with a new group of people was an important aspect of this assignment – there was a level of creative thought in succeeding in gaining the engagement of a choir who are well-known in their field and tour internationally. I’m developing a personal voice for expressing human emotions through black and white photography.
Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).
Extensive research reflected in learning log and preparation for this assignment linked in this post.
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Alec Soth [website]. Sleeping by the Mississippi. Available from: http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14 [accessed 21.12.16]
BBC [website]. In pictures: The Valleys Project. Photographer Alicia Bruce on show at Cardiff’s International Festival of Photography (2013).Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22365027 [accessed 22.12.16]
Caruana, N. and Fox, A. (2012). Basics creative photography 03: Behind the image: Research in photography. Lausanne: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
Eric Kim [blog]. 15 Tips How Street Photographers Can Better Edit Their Work (2012). Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/03/19/15-tips-how-street-photographers-can-better-edit-their-work/ [accessed 10.12.16]
King C (nd). Documentaryphotoreview [website]. Visual Storytelling and Effective Editing – An interview with Raffaela Lepanto. Available from: http://documentaryphotoreview.com/perspectives/visual-storytelling-and-effective-editing-an-interview-with-raffaela-lepanto/ [accessed 10.12.16]
MartinParr [blog]. 2012. The Facebook problem. Available from: http://www.martinparr.com/2012/the-facebook-problem/ [accessed 10.12.16].
Powell A (2001). Treorchy Male Choir (Archive Photographs: Images of Wales). The History Press.
Riegl, A., Kain, E.M., Britt, D. and Kemp, W. 2000. The group portraiture of Holland. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Center for the History of Art and the Humanities.
Steeton Male Voice Choir [website] http://malevoicechoirs.net [accessed 9.12.16]
Steeton Male Voice Choir [Youtube]. Steeton Male Voice Choir sing The Colliers’ Requiem. Available from: https://youtu.be/aKPa6dQrAd0 [accessed 9.12.16]