A5: The Story not Told (self directed) – assessment submission

Images

The final dissemination is a narrated photo-video of the work. Earlier edits included a book and a series of images.

Please open video below, full-screen with sound turned up.

 

Artist’s statement

This self-directed assignment centres around my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow, Orkney in the early months of World War II, when over 800 men and boys lost their lives. The work is inspired by his letter to his wife describing the horrific experience and is a personal response to his words, my research into the killing and to Scapa Flow as a place. He would never talk about the war when he was alive, so the letter is the only record of his thoughts and feelings. The work evolved into a meditation on the fragility of life and how if history had not favoured the survival my grandfather, I and many family members would not be here. It in fact speaks to the very essence of my identity – my being alive. It also serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives on HMS Royal Oak – the work has been shared with a relatives group and I am hoping that it might be exhibited in Orkney museums alongside the original letter and telegram featured in the work.

I’ve chosen to present the work in a video format to allow me to add a personal narrative of the story that complements the images and words from my grandfather’s letter that are a part of the composite images. This also helps to deal with the challenge of reading the text from the original letter. Laura El-Tantawy’s work, In the Shadow of the Pyramids, also a personal history, has influenced me both in terms of the presentation of images, backing sound and low-key, subdued narration. The latter I felt important to be sensitive to the subject matter.

There has been extensive research and several edits to arrive at the finished work. For much of the process, I envisioned the work as a book but in the end have reserved this for family purposes as I found challenges in succinctly conveying the story in this format. Full details of my process, including the use of historical photos, books read, museums visited, personal effects photographed, documents scanned and photographs taken on Orkney, are included in A5 preparation posts here. In summary, archival photographs were obtained from my family and also from the Orkney photo-archive (featuring the ship herself); documents (letter and telegram) were scanned from originals and process; original Orkney photographs were taken during a 1 week visit to the Orkney Islands, which also included a visit to the HMS Royal Oak Memorial Gardens and the Scapa Flow naval museum on the island of Hoy; photographs of my grandfathers medals and naval cap were made in home-studio conditions. Composite images were created in Photoshop. The video and sound recording were created in Adobe Premiere Pro – the voice recorded directly into the software and the background sounds of water imported from a recording I made whilst on Orkney.

As well as producing an output for this assignment, the process has allowed me to discover my grandfather’s wartime experience and what would have undoubtedly shaped him as a man. I’ve found it long and hard work but at the same time highly rewarding.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here. The work was originally conceived as a book but in draft, that format felt too biographical and I felt the content could be lost on people not connected with the story. In the end, the work submitted to my tutor was a series of 11 images, including composites.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. While there was positive feedback about the submission, my tutor suggested that he felt more depth was needed to allow the story to be told more fully. I agreed with the advice though was mindful that I’d already passed significantly more time on this assignment than intended. The rework, presented above as a video, involved further editing / addition of images, the creation of a spoken narrative, use of background sound recorded while in Orkney, and pulling together the work in Adobe Premiere Pro (after first learning how to use it!).

A5: rework

My tutor’s feedback is here and it is this that prompts the rework. Specifically I wanted to create more depth in the work to provide great insight into my grandfather’s story. I have done this by creating a narrated video of the work, that includes additional images to those in the tutor submission, my own narration of the story to address the difficulties in reading the handwritten text in the letter extracts, and including a background sound track of the sound of water, which I recorded while at Scapa Flow. Finally, I made the decision to include a roll of the of the 833 dead. My intention is for the work to serve as a meditation on the effect of war on the ordinary man and also to serve as a memorial to the dead of HMS Royal Oak. I am hoping that it might one-day be featured in one of the Orkney museums, alongside my grandfather’s personal effects and have opened a dialogue on this.

The resulting slides are attached below. They were created in Adobe Premier Pro – it was my first experience of using this software and found it quite a learning curve to get up to speed with the technicalities. Also recording my own voice-over was not a familiar experience – I wanted to keep it low-key to reflect the subject matter and to avoid scripting it so the narration didn’t end up feeling stiff and formal. I believe I’ve largely succeeded but hope that having done it once, it will be quicker and easier next time around!

This video is hosted on my YouTube channel. Please open to full-screen and turn on sound before viewing.

A5: tutor feedback

The full feedback on assignment 5 is attached here. It felt positive and pleasing but I focus here only on the points that require consideration and perhaps some further work:

  1. The possibility of taking the work further as the story of my grandfather is engaging.
    I’ve already devoted considerable time to the work for what is one degree project, within a time-limited degree. This makes me apprehensive about spending more time. However, on reflection, I think that is the right thing to do as the work is more important that just a degree project. It is about the memory of my grandfather and those lost on HMS Royal Oak. I am also encouraged by some interest from an Orkney museum representative.
  2. Evidence that I am engaging with the work of other photographers / artists.
    There is a need to document my engagement as evidence for the course work to be evaluated. It is not enough to engage, one must also write about engagement! Point taken.
  3. Consider the final dissemination of the work – what form it will take and make more use of the contextual information to ensure justice is done to the story.
    I think I’ve confined myself to the context of the degree project and its brief; it is perhaps more important to tell the story as there is a good reason to expand the brief to accommodate it.
  4. Practical difficulties in reading the text from the letter could be distracting.
    Agree with this – I was also concerned that typing out the words could distract from the photos. I’m now considering dissemination in the form of slides/video with a narrated sound track.
  5. ‘Try and do another edit maybe expanding on the project and producing more archival images, maybe there are individual key words within the text that you could highlight and bring to the fore. These are just ideas if you want to push the project further. Audio would also be interesting.’
    Agree – I’ve been holding back on this line as I’m wary of the extensive time already passed on this work. However, there is no sense in stopping before the finishing straight.
  6. Your reflective text accompanying the final images could do with expanding upon. This should also cover your working methodology and your influences and decision making.
    Noted. 
  7. Suggested work to look at:

Jim Goldberg (Raised by Wolves): http://www.jimgoldberg.com

I enjoyed the scrapbook aesthetic of this work and the use of mixed media and handwritten text. It seems the work was originally created as a photo book, but the artist has produced a video to showcase the work, which is posted to Vimeo and shared on his website. The work was produced over the course of 10 years – note to self; be realistic, you don’t have 10 years.

Erik Kessels: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/05/kessels-lives/

I’ve looked at Kessels’ work earlier in level 1. A fresh look, revealed this recent video interview with Time, The Story Behind Erik Kessels’ Obsession, How He Breathes New Life Into Amateur Photography. It offers some insight into how he works with found photographs and what he looks for. It is concerned with family archives (other people’s) Erik Kessels. It has not been a significant part of my practice to look at archives (at least before this current assignment), with my preference being to be involved in the process of making new images. However, I can see how it with fit with my practice to more frequently use archive images in combination with my own work. Something to explore as I extend assignment 5.

References

PDF of assignment 5 feedback: A5 IAP

Erik Kessels. Time YouTube. The Story Behind Erik Kessels’ Obsession, How He Breathes New Life Into Amateur Photography. Available from:https://youtu.be/7_Yjf5l1G9k [accessed 25.6.17]

A5: The Story Not Told (tutor submission)

click to open slide view

 

Introduction

For this self-directed assignment I return to a subject area touched upon in exercise 4.5, my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow, Orkeny in the early months of World War 2, with over 800 men and boys losing their lives. The work centres around his letter to his wife describing the horrific experience and is a personal response to his words and to Scapa Flow as a place. There is an emotional investment in the work, which I’ve found makes it difficult to talk about; without his survival, I would not be here, nor would my children. In a way it is fundamental to my identity.

Process

There has been extensive research and several edits to arrive at the finished work. For much of the process, I envisioned the work as a book but in the end have reserved this for family purposes as it feels that there is too much more to say than is possible in the context of a course assignment. Full details of my process, including the use of historical photos, books read, museums visited, personal effects photographed, documents scanned and photographs taken on Orkney, are included in A5 preparation posts here.

Conclusion

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Effective use of a range of visual materials to prepare final composites. I feel that I’m beginning to understand the application of visual space and pacing within a series of images.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 

Extensive research was performed into the subject and I feel the final series conveys powerful emotions. It has been a long path to arrive at the final work and this has resulted in a piece of work that I believe is properly finished, benefitting from time spent and shaped by feedback gratefully received.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Creative approach to combining historical documents, photos of personal memorabilia and photos of Orkney landscapes.

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Extensive research reflected in learning log and preparation for this assignment linked in this post.

A5: The Story Not Told (edit 3)

Following some reflection and feedback received during a portfolio review (see here), I’ve reworked this assignment so the subject focuses around my grandfather’s letter, which started my journey into this part of family history. I will present the work as a series of photographs and retain the book format only for family purposes, possibly later extending it to deal with a broader aspect.

click to open slide view

Portfolio review

During the workshop I attended at Impressions Gallery (see here) I had an opportunity to share my work on assignment 5 as part of a portfolio review session, which included feedback from Yan Preston and the gallery curator.

Due to printing issues / lack of available time, I was only able to show an iPad version of the work, but was nonetheless keen to obtain feedback.  The version shared is linked here:

As well as it being an interesting experience listening to other talk about their work and the ensuing discussion, I had 15 minutes to discuss my own work and obtain feedback. A few notes on experience:

  • It was the first time I’d spoken about this work, which has a personal subject with emotional attachment. I did not expect it, but I found it quite challenging emotionally to talk to, particularly when asked to read a little from the letter.
  • There appeared to be a good level of interest in the project and subject matter (I’d provided a brief historical background) and I explained that I found the edit challenging because I felt close to the story and there was obviously a family interest in the work.
  • After some discussion there were a couple of significant pieces of advice that I will take on in the next draft of the work:
    • The powerful story was from the letter; the only record of his horrific experience that he never again discussed. This is perhaps the central theme of the work, rather than my journey to discover more about his experience. It was suggested that I take phrases from the letter to accompany the photographs (this would be similar to the original exercise based around the letter – here).
    • Some of the photoshopped work was thought to be distracting from the photos. The suggestion was that the photos were left to stand alone, accompanied by selected words from the letter.

I would still retain the current version of the book as a personal project / family record and perhaps build on it in some way, but for the purpose of the assignment and art, I will rework.

A5: The story not told (draft 2)

This draft follows comments received following draft 1 (see here); feedback on content was positive, but several people commented they wanted to know more.

Several people found the files difficult to open. This is perhaps a file size in relation to device processing power and internet download speeds. For this version I’ve looked more closely at the files sizes and relationship with the JPEG quality settings in the LR book module pdf export settings. For draft 1, a setting of 85 was used (generating a 3.4MB file for book contents pages). Interestingly settings of 50 and 60 produced the same reduced size of 1.2MB – at this size there was clear evidence of compression at work. At 70 the size was 1.8MB and a noticeable quality improvement. 80, takes the size up to 2.3MB again with a quality improvement, but less marked. So, here I’ve settled for a quality of 70 on export.

The book

Draft 2 is in fact edit 3 – edit 2 was an attempt at a landscape format, but it somehow felt too informal for the content despite working better with some of the landscape images. The main changes in this edit are to add more textual information (hopefully not too much), a few more images, and to reduce the number of double page spreads with images falling into the gutter of the book.

Edit 3 pdf – book cover

Edit 3 pdf – book content (to view as intended, right-click and open in pdf viewer, eg Preview. Then view as 2-pages).

A5: Story Not Told (draft 1)

The pdfs linked below are the cover sheets and inside pages spreads of draft 1 of the photo book for this assignment, used for collecting feedback.

Viewing instructions – click to open pdf in new window. Right-click to view using pdf view (eg Preview for Apple) and view as ‘2 pages’ for correct display of the page spreads. Not suitable for viewing on mobile phones.

Cover pages

Cover pages – click to open full screen view

Inside pages

Inside page spreads (follow instructions above to view)

Feedback

Positive feedback through the OCA forum with some suggestions and several comments that people wanted to know more. A general issue seemed to be technical difficulties in opening the files (perhaps because of size). For the next edit, I’ll also look at technical aspects of pdf sizing for LR export.

Grandfather’s documents

Attached are scans of the few documents relating directly the HMS Royal Oak story. The telegram was sent 5 days after the ship’s sinking, when my grandfather and grandmother were not yet married. The extracts from the letter that describes my grandfather’s escape were 6 years after their marriage and it seems that he never discussed what happened with his wife before the time of the letter, and perhaps never again. We cannot know; but he would not talk about it with any other family members.

The photo is a portrait in his naval uniform – there is no exact date, but my mother dates it from early in his naval career as there are no signs of rank on the uniform.

The documents were scanned using an Epson photo scanner, placed on the plate to ensure the paper edges were captured. They will be considered for using in the photo composites for A5.

Grandfather’s memorabilia contact sheets

The contacts below show photos of my grandfather’s medals, cap and uniform buttons; all were kept safe by my uncle (so grandfather’s son) and kindly posted to me for the purposes of this project.

I plan to use the items as part of composites and not photos on their own. They were photographed using an improvised set-up, with foam-board scored and bent to stand at an angle from a table top, a tripod with a boom attachment, remote camera release, daylight from a window and exposure set through a light meter.

Visit to Scapa Flow Visitor Centre

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre shows the long history of Scapa Flow, the second largest natural harbour in the world (behind Sydney) and in more recent history the home of the British naval fleet in WW1 and WW2. It is also the location where the German naval fleet was held at the end of WW1 and then destroyed by its own commander when he thought the armistice would not hold. My main focus during the visit was to discover more about HMS Royal Oak, which was subject to various exhibits.

What the museum conveyed to me was the sense of hundreds of lives horrifically snuffed out in a few minutes and the sense of loss and despair that followed. It surely must have  had a profound effect on my grandfather to have survived the tragedy and lost many young friends. It is perhaps understandable that he didn’t wish to bring his memories to the surface by talking to his grandchildren about them years later.

I kept visual notes of these on my iPhone, shown below. I addition there were a number of items photographed using my camera, which will feature in the contact sheets for the trip. Image 5, I found particularly poignant – a buoy floating on Scapa Flow is the only visible evidence of the 19,000 tonne ship and those who perished on her.

References

Scapa Flow visitor centre [website]. Available from: http://www.hoyorkney.com/attractions/hoy-history/the-scapa-flow-visitor-centre-museum/ [accessed 26.5.17]

Visit to Orkney photo archive

During my research visit to Orkney (during the week of 17th April), I visited the Orkney Photo archive housed in the public library in Kirkwall. I was hoping to find an out of copyright image of HMS Royal Oak that I might use in a photographic composite and I’d been directed to the archive by the curator of the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre on Hoy, which is a naval museum.

There was a good collection of photos, but it was not clear which were taken when the ship was on WW1 active service and which were of her in her harbour defensive role in WW2, by this time being too old and slow for modern sea warfare. For my purposes of an artistic representation of a ‘story not told’, historical accuracy was not necessarily important and I arranged for digital copies to be made of a couple of images. The first image is a dramatic shot of the ship on the move, whereas the second captures a candid moment – this struck me as unusual in among the collection, which were often formally posed and I suppose controlled for propaganda purposes.

The archive photographs:

References

Photo archive [website]. Available from: www.orkneylibrary.org.uk/html/photoarchive.htm [accessed 26.5.17]

Scapa Flow visitor centre [website]. Available from: http://www.hoyorkney.com/attractions/hoy-history/the-scapa-flow-visitor-centre-museum/ [accessed 26.5.17]

Nightmare at Scapa Flow: The Truth About the Sinking of HMS “Royal Oak”

To better understand my grandfather’s experience aboard HMS Royal Oak, I wanted to discover more about the events leading up to and following the sinking of the ship.

There have been several books touching upon the topic, including a auto-biography of U47’s commander Prien, published by the Nazis as propaganda during the war and later disowned by the ghost writter when a post-war reissue was proposed, without correction for the true facts; and naval histories whose accounts have focused on official documentation contained in naval archives. Weaver’s Nightmare at Scapa Flow is compiled from a range of sources, including personal interviews with survivors and witnesses and spouses of central figures. He allows the stories to speak for themselves, reflecting the emotions and atmosphere of the time, something I wanted to absorb to help me in making my work.

Source: u47.org ‘U-47 prepares to leave Kiel for Scapa Flow. Note the drawing of the skull and crossbones, adorned with the top hat and umbrella that were frequently used as mocking symbols of the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.’

The book conveys the story of the horrific deaths of 844 men and boys; the overwhelming responsibilities upon the armed forces in the early months of the war and a suggestion that all was not as well-prepared as it could have been; the heroism and powerlessness of ordinary men in the face of geopolitical and national power. There are two textual references that I plan to use in my project:

  • “When I saw the first burning tanker in front of me and thought of the wretched hundreds of men perishing in this dome of flames, I felt like a murderer before the scene of his crime.” Words of German U-boat commander, Günther Prien, who was said to be unhappy participating in the hero’s welcome on his return to Germany (personally presented with the Iron Cross by Adolf Hitler) and critical of the biography pen by a ghost writer.
  • ‘This marks the wreck of HMS Royal Oak and the grave of her crew. Respect their resting place. Unauthorised diving prohibited.’ This is the inscription on the buoy that I photographed from a distance when visiting Scapa Flow. The cold factuality of this notice strikes me, it is a keep-out sign with no sentiment of memorial – there is a land-based memorial site.

Reference

Weaver, H.G., & Weaver, H.J. (2012). Nightmare at Scapa Flow: The Truth About the Sinking of HMS “Royal Oak” [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

A5: a story not told (introduction)

It’s been a while away from my blog, what with building work at home and heavy work commitments. Now I have time to push through to the end!

Assignment 5 is self-directed, a topic of my own choice built on the lessons learned from the Identity and Place Module. I’ve found that the subject matter for my work is best selected from a genuine interest, not something that is necessarily a convenient fit with the assignment brief or the time constraints I face as a part-time student. Art needs to express something and without a genuine interest in the subject, there is little fulfillment in its creation and it is easily read as fake or frivolous.

For this assignment I return to a subject area touched upon in exercise 4.5, my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow in the early months of WW2. Whereas the exercise was inspired by a letter from him to my grandmother, recounting his survival, the material for the assignment is more widely sourced and the assignment has become a journey into a part of my family history that my grandfather would not discuss either with me or his children. The significance of his survival to me personal is my very existence; without it my mother would have not been conceived.

The materials and research for this project, which are covered in detail in the entries that follow, include:

– Grandfather’s documents and photos; a letter describing his survival (the only account I have written or verbal), telegrams sent during the war, photographs of him in uniform, naval post-cards.

– Grandfather’s navy uniform; his cap, buttons from uniform and medals.

– Scapa Flow trip photographs; my own photographs from a road-trip to the Orkney Islands and Scapa Flow for the purposes of this project (combined with a family holiday).

– Museum visit to the Island of Hoy, which houses a collection of materials related to HMS Royal Oak.

– Orkney Islands photographic archive visit (housed in Stromness library) to view images of the ship before she was torpedoed.

– History of HMS Royal Oak’ sinking; there is some material availalble on internet sites, but it is difficult to decipher through the propaganda of war, both from the British perspective (with the sinking being a disaster, subject to investigation and debate for many years) and the German persective (a huge success story, with the submariners receiving a hero’s welcome back in Germany). In the end, my main source of understanding for events leading to the sinking of the ship was the well researched book, ‘Nightmare on Scapa Flow’ by HG and HJ Weaver.

From this range of materials, it is my intention to create a series of composite images that tell the story of my personal journey into a  time in my grandfather’s life that he did not discuss. I only recall him telling me, as a boy, that he did not want to talk about the war as too many horrible things happened. My mother explained a similar situation in her childhood, saying ‘they would never talk to us about the war; I think they just wanted us kids to feel safe’. On HMS Royal Oak, 844 men and boys met horrific deaths in the fire of exploding munitions, in the water that rapidly filled the ship where they were trapped below deck, in the icy-cold oil-saturated sea of Scapa Flow, injured or unable to swim.

A4: Not Familiar (image and text) – assessment submission

Images

These images are submitted as a printed book as part of the assessment pack.

Click to open as gallery

 

 

Artist’s statement

This work uses text as a direction for photographing the atmosphere of a place.  I worked in collaboration with a writer, who I asked to provide a passage of text that I might draw upon. I was not specific in the request and just explained that I would not be illustrating the text but using it to inspire a broader narrative. Details of the text are here. Over a period of days I reflected upon the text before deciding on the type of photographs I might make (see here) – I read the text as analogous to uncertainty or ambiguity through the transition between light and dark. The title, ‘Not Familiar’, is drawn from the text and reflects ambiguity and lack of clarity.

My initial inspiration for the mood of Northern English urban landscapes is from the monochrome work of both Bill Brandt and Martin Parr (The Non-conformists). More recently, I have engaged with the work of John Bulmer, who’s striking use of colour in this context has driven me to find colour in these apparently drab Northern towns and cities.

I worked on the shoot without reference to the words or thinking of the descriptions in the writing. I kept only the mood in mind. Contact sheets from some of the 170 shots are here. It has been a long process to get to the finished output: I initially decided to work the photos and text into a photo book, using the Lightroom book module,  where I made the book text-heavy to avoid the reader making a direct connection between image and text (see here). However, following feedback on my first edit, recorded here, I substantially reworked the photo book and the online presentation of the planned book for submission to my tutor. Following his feedback, which suggested simplification of layout and increasing ambiguity further, a further rework was completed to what is presented here and in the accompanying printed book. Closure on the work was present the book to the writer whose work inspired the photographs – he received the work enthusiastically and appreciated the interplay between the atmosphere conveyed in his words and the photographs; even though the words were dragged from their original context and not the same order of appearance as in the original piece of writing.

Through this process, I have come to appreciate the value in revisiting and reworking a piece before it is finally released into the world – work needs time to rest and brew before looking at it anew and refreshing it.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here. This was also presented as a book (mocked up through a video) but is a significantly different edit and layout to the work finally presented.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. I learned a great deal about the process of making and editing photographs in book format through the work and the feedback received. The earlier version of the work was perhaps too intense and busy with insufficient time for the eye to rest a while and absorb the content. I also battled with the tools for assembling the book – finding Lightroom’s capabilities for layout inflexible; this has encouraged me to use Indesign for future work book works.

A4 rework for feedback

Following my tutor’s feedback (see here), I reworked the edit of the photos and the layout of the book. I think the updated version offers a more consistent edit, better representing the theme of ambiguity inspired by the passage of writing used as a basis for the work. The book layout is also simplified.

I put the rework out for critique on the OCA forum and the feedback was mixed, with some liking the edit of the book as initially submitted (here). I’ve taken some time to reflect on this and will submit the reworked version (as a printed book) for assessment – while I do not find the mixed layout of the original submission as objectionable as my tutor, I will follow his advice on this aspect. In terms of the re-edit and the consistency of images among themselves and with the theme, I think there is a clear improvement and I prefer it this way.

Click to open as gallery

 

A4: Tutor feedback

I had a telephone feedback session with my tutor on A4 (the work submitted is here) and received bulleted notes of points for reflection, which are attached for reference. On the positive side I found the telephone interaction far more useful to understanding than just receiving a written report and able to better understand the concerns about the submission as a result. On the less positive side, was the recommendation that I go back to the drawing board on the work, which I found a little disconcerting given the positive feedback I’d received on the OCA forum (including resident tutors). But, I believe the observations are valid and I will rework. Key areas to work on are:

  • Reflect on image selection again and stay true to the original concept of ambiguity
  • Layout of book is incoherent, with too many different page layouts. Simplify. Text needs to be smaller for a printed book.
  • Let the images speak for themselves (as visuals) and don’t over-work things. Do not crop sizes down.

In addition to recommendations on the assignment, the work of some photographers collaborating with writers was recommended:

Susan Lipper (Trip Book): http://www.susanlipper.com/trip.html
A J Wilkinson (Driving Blind Book): http://ajwilkinson27.com/galleries/driving-blind/
John Holden (Lots of Company Book) http://john- holden.net/lotsofcompany.html

The common theme I see in this is the priority given to the visuals above the text, including in Susan Lipper’s work where the text is fairly lengthy, but only revealed if  the view clicks an icon to reveal it.

Reference

Tutor’s bulleted report is attached: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/A4-IAP.pdf

A4: Image and text (submission to tutor)

                              Video of page spreads from planned photo book.

Introduction

The brief for this assignment, Image and Text, was to ‘create a series of work (7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place looked at so far in this course, using the written word to play a part in its creation.’ (OCA IAP, p89).

I chose to work in collaboration with a writer, who I asked to provide a passage of text that I might draw upon for inspiration. I was not specific in the request and just explained that I would not be illustrating the text but using it to inspire a broader narrative. Details of the text are here. Over a period of days I reflected upon the text before deciding on the type of photographs I might make (see here) – I read the text as analogous to uncertainty or ambiguity through the transition between light and dark. The title, ‘Not Familiar’, is drawn from the text and reflects ambiguity and lack of clarity.

Process

I worked on the shoot without reference to the words or thinking of the descriptions in the writing. I kept only the mood in mind. Contact sheets from some of the 170 shots are here. It has been a long process to get to the finished output: I decided to work the photos and text into a photo book and my initial thoughts are recorded here, where I decided to make the book text-heavy to avoid the reader making a direct connection between image and text. However, following feedback on my first edit, recorded here, I substantially reworked the photo book and the online presentation of the planned book.

The final output submitted is considerably different from the first edit, both in terms of the book’s content and its digital presentation on the blog (video above). It has increased ambiguity and, I hope, allow the viewer time to take in the images and words and bring their own interpretation. To complement the video are still slides of the page spreads here.

Conclusion

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Developed a photo book layout (to be printed) for this project in Lightroom and used Photoshop to format the output for digital viewing; the double-page jpgs and video with soundtrack. Successfully combined text and photos in the book.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 

Extended the meaning of the text and photographs to create an ambiguity that allows the viewer to bring their own interpretation. Developed more effective methods of presenting images digitally for web-viewing.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Used low-light photography to develop ambiguity and light and shade in shots, while using colour photography. Blur was also used to add a sense of mystery. Used the text as a point of access to a creative pathway and presented in the output effectively for both digital and analogue platforms (book to be printed, following tutor feedback).

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Extensive research reflected in learning log and preparation for this assignment linked in this post.

A4: Edit for tutor submission

The images below show the page spreads for what will ultimately be printed as a book. Click on an image to view as a slideshow. This supplements the movie included in the assignment submission.

A4: Feedback on 1st edit

I requested feedback from the OCA community on my first edit flipbook (here). The feedback offered many aspects to consider and I note the main points here, along with thoughts on how I will use the feedback to shape the next iteration of the book:

  1. Textual content – general feeling that there was too much text and it distracted / confused the impression of the photographs. Suggestion that two versions of the book could be prepared – one in which the text was just hinted at, and other in which the text would be shown clearly, without being over-laid on an image.  I’ll focus on the photo-orientated version and discuss a text-focussed version with my collaborator.
  2. Commented that sidebar on WordPress site was a distraction (taking up too much real estate). Addressed by changing to full width theme.
  3. Too hectic a pace in the book – should be slowed down (eg blank pages) and allowed to unfold like a ‘Scandy drama’.
  4. Some comments lead me to realise I was diluting the output by trying to make the work serve two purposes (paper and screen) – a printed book, but also something that could be displayed online in this blog – and compromising both output forms. I will re-work with the focus on a paper book and then think how to give an impression of that book on the blog. Noted that there would be production difficulties attempting to reproduce the dark screen background in a paper output. One commentator mentioned how it is surprising how much the analogue format of books is used for online replication when there are other options available that suit digital better and make better use of the possibilities of the medium.

So overall, it is back to the drawing board with the creation of the photo book. On the plus side, the images were generally well received.

A4: Photobook for feedback

Below is the first edit of the photo book, which will put the form of output for assignment 4, Image and Text. It is provided here for the purposes of gathering feedback from the OCA discussion forum and elsewhere (page numbering is shown for reference purposes only).

Please leave comments in the forum or, if you do not use the forum, feedback is also welcomed below.

Click or use cursor keys to turn pages

 

 

A4: Approach to shoot and photo book creation

I approached the shoot with just the mood of the text in mind, rather than the details of the narrative – this was to avoid the temptation to directly represent the descriptive writing with photos. The contact sheets are here.

The creation of the photo book was somewhat tortuous. As well as the overcoming the technical challenges of producing a book for online viewing (‘flipbook’) in LR’s book module (see here), the selection process to combine image with text felt twice as perplexing as coming up with an edit of images alone.

After initially using snippets of text to go alongside the photos, I found that this not only destroyed the narrative in the writing, but also created a direct connection between the photos and text, suggesting they were meant to be illustrative of the text; even forcing me to make some kind of direct connection. Therefore, I eventually decided to include the full text, which has created a layer of ambiguity, rather than discord. An alternative would have been to exclude the text completely, but then there would have been no intercontextual ambiguity.

In Lightroom, I experimented with various layout options and making of background colours to the darker colours in the images create confusion between the boundaries of image and page. The text pages are over-layed on an opaque water shot, which also features as a stand-alone image. I’ve also included small abstracts of images on the text pages, designed to confuse.

Below are the pages from the first edit of the photo book, as standalone jpeg files.

 

A4: contact sheets

Having reflected for a while on the text chosen for this assignment and my reading of that text (see here), I decided to base the shoot in a historical / atmospheric place and chose the home town of the Brontës, Haworth, which is a drive across the moors from my home (the moors of Wuthering Heights).

Below are contacts for the photos I considered in my selection. In total, I took around 170 shots.

A4: Image and text – analysis of text and theme

In this post, I reflect on the text I will be using (see here) and how it might be interpreted as a piece of visual art.

I read the text as analogous to uncertainty or ambiguity through the transition between light and dark. The language used is descriptive and full of visual details, but it seems to be mood that is more important than the phenomenal. There is the boy familiar at first, but then dismissed. The boys sees dumped items from a past era and a sofa that is the narrator’s own. The boy is an echo of the narrator’s own past perhaps? More uncertainty. A shift in time, as the light ‘changes to monochrome’, as well as a shift between light and dark.

 

And so, I will explore images that create ambiguity, between light and the dark, certainty and doubt, past and present.

A4: Image and Text – brief and concept

Brief

The brief for this assignment, Image and Text, is to ‘create a series of work (7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place looked at so far in this course, using the written word to play a part in its creation.’ (OCA IAP, p89)

One of the ideas I’ve worked with is how text can provide a creative access point to inspire a photographic work. I experimented with this in an exercise using a poignant letter from my grandfather to his future wife, describing his escape from HMS Ark Royal, which was torpedoed with the loss of 800 lives (see exercise here). My intention was to create images that symbolised the mood in the letter, photographing an oak tree to the point of abstraction, but nonetheless remaining symbolically connected. For this assignment, I wanted to work to a similar process.

Concept

The idea for this work is to create a visual response to a piece of creative writing, but to stretch the meaning of both the text and the images, leaving space for the viewer to engage their own imagination. It is only this concept that acts as the direction for the upcoming work; I will see where it takes me and analyse later.

I wanted to collaborate with a writer on this work and luckily an old friend, James Wall, agreed to work on the project.

source: fictivedream.com

James’s work has been published in the Best British Short Stories 2013 anthology, Tears in the Fence, Unthology 6, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, The Nottingham Review, Prole, The View From Here, Long Story, Short Journal, Fictive Dream, and in Matter Magazine. He has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. I am fortunate indeed to have such a friend!

I explained the concept to James and asked him to send over a couple of text extracts, without explaining the context or full story, so I might choose one and create a visual response. I’ve also requested that James shares his views on the images during the editing process – so I’m looking forward to good coffee and a long natter as the work progresses.

The extract I have chosen to work with is reproduced in full below. As a next step, I’ll absorb these words and let some creative ideas surface.

I stood and moved to the window, gazing out into the evening. The darkness was winning against the light, and the streetlights were already on. Cars were parked up now that most had returned home from work. I couldn’t see anyone walking by. The park was shrouded in black, with the occasional light from the old-fashioned streetlights dotted about the pathways. Then a light appeared from the right. It was moving, veering one way and then the other. As it crossed by one of the streetlights I could see it was a young boy on a bike. He was travelling along the paths, up the hill, then round and back again by the small roundabout there that had a flower display in the middle of the grass. I followed his route further, watching his light illuminate the park before it passed again back into darkness, with just the faint red of his rear light. Then it shone onto the lake. More objects were jutting out of it. White from a fridge reflected in the light briefly. What looked like marks were scattered about it but they looked too uniform to be dirt from the lake. They were in blocks, and reminded him of the fridge magnets he used to have at home. The light shifted a little and I switched my gaze to see the boy light up a cigarette. Wasn’t he too young to be smoking? I caught a brief glimpse of his face in the flame, at once familiar, and I inhaled sharply. I peered in closer, desperately trying to get a clear view but he was too far away and it was too dark. No, I must have been wrong. Not familiar. I couldn’t see properly from this distance. The boy remained, in the half light one leg straight and on the ground, sitting on the saddle. I couldn’t see but I imagined his other knee was raised, his foot resting on the pedal.

The orange glow from the boy’s cigarette sped to the ground and then disappeared. The bike’s light moved from left to right, as if scanning the lake, revealing more objects sticking out of the water: the top of what looked like the Eiffel Tower, half of an old black and white TV set that had a programme showing, an old record player, with a red lid that we had kept in a corner in the living room, and a sofa with a cream throw over it. The sofa had been a mucky brown underneath. It was meant to be temporary until we could afford something nicer but it was years before we bought another.

The light swept across the lake now and then up towards the trees at the top of the park, where it and the red rear light diminished until finally disappeared altogether. I grabbed my coat and made my way downstairs. The evening’s chill chided me as soon as I was outside. I passed the two stone pillars marked the entrance to the park. I wondered whether there’d once been wrought iron gates here fixed to the stone. My footsteps echoed as I followed the path towards the lake, and the light changed to monochrome. (James Wall ©2017)

A3: Window: assessment submission

Images

Prints of the images are included in the assessment submission pack.

 

Click on first image for full-sized gallery

 

 

Artist’s statement

This work is an exploration of a community about which I previously knew nothing; the internationally renowned Steeton Male Voice Choir (Steeton MVC). What I discovered was a dedication to and passion for music among men who were not professional musicians but love what they do. There is a spirituality about their rehearsals and it is this that I wanted to reflect something of in my work. The relaxed concentration of men lost in their moment.

Following an initial email request and discussion with the chair of the choir’s committee, the committee agreed that I could attend a number of their rehearsals to take photographs. I attended three of their rehearsals (and post-rehearsal pub stops) – my initial approach and discussions with them are recorded here. No performances were scheduled during my project – it was ‘off-season’.

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. Later in my process, I also looked at Klaus Pichler’s Golden day and how he edited to create images with variety, while working within a theme and single location.

I chose to work with monochrome for the series as an echo of the tradition of male voice choirs and a signifier of distance to emphasise their spirituality and other-worldliness as they sang. In selecting the series I considered Alec Soth’s advice (here) on finding an interplay between the images, rather than looking for discrete single selections. 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. During the course of the three rehearsals I attended, I worked with and without flash in what were challenging lighting conditions in an old Methodist hall. The photos were shot using a DSLR and the monochrome conversion of RAW files done in Photoshop.

The experience of working with the choir was rewarding and I felt I developed a good relationship with them – in the end politely declining and invitation to attend an audition to join them! The images capture something of the experience of being close to, or perhaps even part of a choir.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. I re-edited the images based on my tutor’s feedback and referral to the work of Klaus Pichler – this helped me arrive at a stronger edit with more variety than the initial submission. Editing my own work is not something that I find easy and I’m conscious of the need for more experience and more patience in doing this.

A3: rework

maybe the series could have had a little more diversity of image. Looking through your contacts I think that you may have some stronger shots, shots that also give more of an impression of the men, community and location. (Tutor feedback extract. For complete feedback see here).

My tutor’s comments on the potential for more diversity of image, giving more of an impression of the people and place were spot on. During the edit, I was perhaps subconsciously focusing on consistency of visual content (something I am learning to let go of, but not yet there). The example provided of Klaus Pichler’s work, Golden Days before they End, helped me to reflect upon this. Pichler uses ten images to tell the story of a traditional Austrian bar and the characters frequenting it. The work shows varied activities within the bar – there is only one of someone drinking (the obvious activity for a bar), with the other photos telling us about other things that happen in the bar. The variety makes compelling and varied viewing.

I revisited my edit, including shots not previously included, some suggested by my tutor for consideration (from the small contacts), and I worked to achieve a greater variety and broader narrative. I replaced seven of the original twelve photos in the final edit, which suggests a very different perspective on pulling together the choir series; just because bars are for drinking one shouldn’t focus only on the beer, or the individual portraits one is attracted to. It is how the whole story works that is important!

The final series is included in the submission for assessment here.

Reference

Klaus Pichler [website]. Golden Days. Available from: http://kpic.at/images/5244 [accessed 25.7.17]

A2: Vice Versa – assessment submission

Images

Prints are included in the assessment submission pack.

Click on image for full sized gallery

 

Artist’s statement

The work is a portrait of a friend who is active in the local community, but the photos show something of her daily routine about her home and in the land that surrounds it. There is a play on vice versa: she is shown in a formal and informal context; and photographed making use of natural light (including outdoor) and using studio flash. I wanted to show something of the personality of the subject through her expressions and body-language, elicited through interaction during the shoot and avoiding direction or staging as far as possible. It was a discussion with a camera and a consider approach to interaction with a subject.

My influences were Emil Hoppé, who discusses his interactions with his sitters extensively in his autobiography and Jane Bown, who talks about moving around her sitters, trying to find their photo. Both photographers worked in monochrome, which I feel gives a sculptural feel to portraits, viewing line, shades and shape without colour. My work is in a small way a tribute to their work and what I have learned from them. Katy Grannan’s work, which includes subjects contextualised in their everyday surroundings, doing everyday things influenced me in my choice of final selects.

I took over 200 photographs in two sittings; one shoot was indoors and the other outdoors. Making the final selections was an challenging process as there were an number of possibilities for creating a final thematic response to the brief. Combining different photos to create different storylines was a reminder that images have a flexible meaning that can change with contextualisation, with other photographs or text, often with little relationship to actuality. Monochrome conversion was in Photoshop (calculations) along with other adjustments to remove distracting background elements for the ‘studio’ shots, including white radiators and light switches.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here. The selection of images in the submission were different to the final edit presented here.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. My tutor’s feedback was that the quality of my editing could be improved to arrive at a more interesting and varied series. There has also been some reprocessing of the images, with earlier edits being perhaps a little too harsh (through Silver Efex Pro) and later monochrome conversions completed in Lightroom.

I’ve learned from this – work needs to be given time to rest and grow before making a final edit.Things that are not seen on first viewing become apparent later; distance from the time of shooting allows a more dispassionate edit determined by the quality of the images themselves and not so much influenced by memories of the shoot itself.

A1: The Non-familiar – assessment submission

Images

Click on image for full sized gallery

 

Prints  are included in the assessment submission pack.

Artist’s statement

The brief was to make ‘five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you’. My day-job means that I spend up to 50% of my time travelling overseas, so I have a broad view of what constitutes my local area. I chose to take photos of strangers on the street in Patpong Night Market, Bangkok, after asking their permission and finding out a little about them. I was interested in discovering the different ‘types’ I might find in this area given its reputation as a market for locals and tourists and its infamous Go-Go Bars. The final selects show the different ‘types’ I came across.

While the work of August Sander has influenced me (see post here), Emil Hoppé’s photographic style and his interest in the psychology of interactions with subjects as well as types is a greater influence (see post here). Hoppé’s work stems from an interest in individuals and showing something of their character and then what that might say about the type of person they are and what general type they belong to. I admire his flexible approach to composing portraits – as if he is surveying a landscape for the best point of view to express his idea of the subject. I’d also done some research on street photographers working with street portraits, but only came up with suggestions as to why they might not do this (see post here).

My approach to the subjects was a discussion with a camera; some rapport building, expressing a genuine interest in something about the individual, finding out a little about them (language permitting), and then asking for the photograph. I had only one near rejection from the street seller with the tattooed arm; this was over-come by asking to photograph his tattoo, rather than him. I showed the photos on the camera screen afterwards; the French traveller (not in final selects) requested a copy, which I emailed the next day.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. The feedback was positive and no rework was performed.

 

A3 – tutor feedback

As usual, useful and encouraging feedback was received from my tutor (PDF of assignment feedback). A few points for action noted:

  • Revisit some of the other stronger images in the contacts to explore the possibility of an edit that tells more of a narrative about the community spirit. I will look at this separately and update the final submission if the edit is stronger.
  • I believe that you should be making a decision over b/w or colour before you shoot a project and not shooting in colour and then converting to b/w at a later stage. I don’t fully understand this comment – with digital RAW it is shot in colour (even if one is thinking in black and white) and of necessity converted to b/w later. I will explore this point through the OCA forum.
  • Recommended photographers to look at:
    Ed Van der Elsken (Love on the Left Bank): https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2011/feb/10/love-on-left- bank-in-pictures [accessed 25.2.17]

I’m familiar with this work and own a facsimile copy of the original book. I reference the work as part of the IAP course in the context of the text and image (see post here). The style of shooting is close-up and intimate and I appreciate how this type of approach would have given a very different feel to my choir shots. It was a deliberate decision to shoot from more of a distance to not disturb the choir practice unduly and also to avoid the men becoming too self-conscious before the camera. However, noted as something to experiment with in future shoots – a range of POVs and approaches.

Klaus Pichler (Golden Day…). http://kpic.at/images/5244 [accessed 25.7.17]
Source: www.kpic.at by Klaus Pichler

This work shows the locals in an old-style Austrian bar through a variety of shots. The work is very effective in capturing the atmosphere in the bar and the characters of the customers. It shows what can be done with a variety of POV, while maintaining a consistency in the edit.

A3 Window – submission to tutor

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?

Introduction

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.

The photographs

Click to view larger size in gallery

Commentary

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.
Conclusion

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.

Bibliography

Alicia Bruce [website]. Available from: http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/about/ [accessed 22.12.16]

Aaron Schuman [website]. The Mississippi: an interview with Alec Soth.Available from: http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html [accessed 21.12.16]

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]

A3 – Window (revisited): for peer review

Following the useful feedback I received on my previous draft series for this assignment (see here for previous photos and brief explanation of assignment), I’ve put in a few more hours in the virtual editing room.

The purpose of this post is to request and then summarise feedback on two potential series for the assignment submission; one is in colour, following a feedback suggestion, and another is updated in black and white – still my preference as my intention is to show emotional content above visual information.

Please leave any comments in the OCA forum and I will update this post with an anonymised summary. If you are not using the OCA forum, comments on the blog below are also appreciated.

Please note that the jpegs here are not at full resolution.

Series 1 (colour) – click to open larger slideshow.

Series 2 (monochrome) – click to open larger slideshow.

Feedback received

I showed the photos to the choir on an iPad during after rehearsal beers – the monochrome was a clear favourite, with a feeling that it better captured the mood and intensity of the rehearsals. However, the colour version was also enjoyed for its ‘warmth’. The process of talking through the photos, also helped me gain a fresh perspective on the sequencing and content, which I have made some adjustments to in the final submission.

There was some very interesting feedback and discussion on the OCA Discuss forum, particularly around the choice of colour or monochrome and the importance of sequencing. There was no consensus about the colour vs monochrome, but I am mindful that two very experienced contributors strongly favoured colour. However, I have chosen to use monochrome and explained my choice in the final submission.

A3 cut 1 – feedback from peer group

Below are the draft selects for A3, Windows. The project’s objective was to photograph a group that was not previously known to me (through a ‘window’), gaining their confidence to allow the photographs to appear as if I were an insider of the group. Note that the jpegs are reduced resolution for this purpose.

This post collects feedback from peers in the comments on the sequencing of the series and the photographs included (shared on OCA student website and OCA Level 1 Facebook page).

Click to view as large-size gallery

Summary of feedback

As well as the direct feedback, noted in the comments below, I enjoyed some interaction through the OCA student forum on this version of the selects. I summarise the anonymised suggestions here:

  1. Within the existing series check photos for out of focus background highlights that draw the eye away from the subject.
  2. Don’t be worried about cropping images in further to aid composition – if pixels are lost, lost detail in large prints is made up for in the distance of the viewer from the picture.
  3. Try a completely different edit using colour and a broader range of subjects (eg frames without people at all) – using colour as an aesthetic choice rather than being too concerned about the accuracy of colour in this context.

Based on this feedback, I will experiment with an alternative series and offer that for critique.

A3 – process: notes of choir meetings

As part of the process for assignment 3, I am keeping a journal of my meetings with the Steeton MVC. I hope that when it comes to editing the final images, the journal will help support the selection process.

22.12.16 – The Airedale Heifer, Keighley

My first meeting with the choir, who were fund-raising for a local cancer charity – a group of 20 members were performing. Notes:

  • An entertaining and lively evening of Christmas songs and stories. The landlady and customers I spoke with all commented on how impressed they were by the choir.
  • Met my main contact, Ian McDonald, at the break. Very welcoming and we had a short chat about the choir and photography. Ian talked about some of the challenges of maintaining choir numbers in general and the struggle to survive that some other choirs were facing. Rehearsals proper would restart on 16.1.17.
  • Chatted to a couple of other members at the break (two of the 1st tenors – who I joked were like gold-dust in choirs); I explained that I’d be working with them on the photo project (they were aware of it and enthusiastic) and I asked them about the choir; mentioned that they were currently recruiting for a new MD (musical director), which is a significant event as there have only been a handful in the choir’s 100 year history.
  • Joined in with the choir when they asked for male volunteers from the pub – it was great to experience standing in the middle of them. Somehow reminded me of being part of a sports team. At the same time, a little nerve-racking for someone without a great voice.
  • Took some photos during the second half of the performance. It apparently wasn’t yet known by all members that I’d be working with them, as some were checking that I wasn’t from the Press and would just be using the photos for my own purposes. However, it was easily explained and I was welcomed as their ‘resident photographer’.
16.1.17 – Rehearsal at Steeton Methodist Hall

My first meeting with the full choir – I was introduced and made to feel welcome. Rehearsals last two hours, so there is plenty of time for photography!

I decided to shoot without flash light on the first meeting as I didn’t want to be too intrusive during the rehearsal and would bring up the question of using flash for the following week’s meeting.

The room was crowded with little space for moving among the seated choir and there were problems with the lighting in the hall – a couple of lights were out and one large fluorescent tube was flicking on and off. My intention was to shoot at a distance from choir members this week, using a Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (with OIS). However, the lens struggled in the poor light so I swapped to an old Nikkor 135mm f/2.8, using it manually with my Fuji X-T1.

I spent as much time watching and listening to the choir as photographing.    The wall of sound created by around 100 well-trained voices was magnificent and the quiet songs moving. The emotions and concentration written on the faces of the men while they sang was captivating. This is what it means to be in a choir and why many have been members for over 20 years.

At the end of the session, I asked about using flash light the next week as a was concerned about it distracting from the rehearsal. However, the choir was not in the least concerned. And then, we visited the pub and I had the chance to talk a little more to some of the choir about what I was doing and about the choir.

23.1.17 – Rehearsal at Steeton Methodist Hall

This week, I was equipped with a single flash (with a diffuser), wireless transmitter and a light stand for the flash – there would be little room for much else in the crowded space and I wanted to be able easily to move around the choir along with the light. I wanted to focus mainly on portraits of individuals or small groups to capture the emotion of the choir in my photos. Therefore, I worked with a Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. I found the Fujinon to bright enough along with the flash, so ended up mostly using that with back-button focus combined with manual tweaking.

The lighting in the rehearsal hall had been fixed from the previous week – it was all together a brighter place. It would have made my flash-less photography in the previous week much easier!

Throughout the session, I moved between the different sections of the choir – using breaks between songs to move my light stand around and photograph different sections of the choir. There were practical constraints on fitting the light stand in gaps between seats and I had no intention of asking people to move around in the middle of their rehearsal (especially as the various voices are grouped)!

The flash was used manually throughout and set at a zoom level and brightness that worked at a distance of 2-3 meters from the subject. Any adjustments to light levels during the session were made by stopping down the lens’s aperture.

No visit to the pub this week as I had an early start for the airport the next morning.

Review of shots

Over the weekend of 28 January, I post-processed my photos and began the process of editing and seeking peer feedback. This is detailed in separate posts.

My feeling is that I have enough for the purposes of my OCA project, and it is time to move on towards the next assignment. However, I intend to continue photographing the choir as a personal project and to provide them with some images for their own publicity. It would be good to do some colour work when they are dressed smartly for a performance, rather than casually for rehearsal.

 

A3 – preparation: photography of male voice choirs

In preparation for A3, in which I will photograph Steeton Male Voice Choir (SMVC), I explored photography of male voice choirs.

A search on Google uncovers many archives from groups of MVCs, with the screen shot below typical of the photographs taken:

Source: google screenshot

The images are typically concerned with posed choirs, as a record of who was in the choir or of its events; often at just sufficient distance to fit the whole choir in the frame as a documentary record.

This approach results in images that are largely similar between choirs and that are not often visually interesting;  front-facing rows of people, all looking towards the camera, too distant to see emotions, too near to see the context, with a consistent uniformity. The need to capture the whole of the large group seems to preclude other approaches.

Source: Images of wales: Treorchy male choir.

Dean Powell’s compilation of over 200 images covering the history of the Treorchy Male Choir mostly reflects a similar approach to photography as found in the online archives. However, there are some notable exceptions in the book: when the frame is closed in on a few choir members mid-song and we can see the emotion and the various directions of their gazes; where the choir is shown on a hillside, with the mine-town in the valley below; where it is marching through a Swiss town while singing; where a conductor is shown with baton in motion, gazed focused on the score.

Contemporary photographer Alicia Bruce’s work is featured on the BBC website, she explains her approach to photographing individual portraits of members of the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir:

They walked round the Workmen’s Hall singing as I photographed each member individually holding their favourite sheet of music.

Source: aliciabruce.co.uk by Alicia Bruce.

Bruce’s images as a series give a sense of the choir as whole, but primarily act as portraits of individual members, joined as a group through a common uniform and the motif of a musical score held in hand.

Male Voice Choirs are rooted in a long tradition, which is respected by the choirs in their smart uniforms and in their organisation. The photography of the choirs also appears reflect the traditional. Too me, it does not quite capture the power and passion of experiencing a choir singing; the sound wraps around and effects us, but the images are distant.

References
Alicia Bruce [website]. Available from: http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/about/ [accessed 22.12.16]
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]
Powell, D., Powell, A. and Powell, R. 2001. Images of wales: Treorchy male choir. London, United Kingdom: The History Press.

A3 Window – preparation: subject approach and research

During my initial preparation (see here), I identified Steeton Male Voice Choir as a community I’d like to work with (music is something important to me) and a community that meets sufficiently frequently to make the assignment achievable within a reasonable timeframe. This post provides some background on the group and details my initial approach to them.

The strap line on their website is Steeton Male Voice Choir – a hundred years of harmony, a century of song. Very catchy and reflecting their impressive centenary in 2008. The website is an excellent source of information on the choir, explaining its history, activities, how to join and list of officers. It gives the impression of a very well organised community. It sums up what the choir are about very well:

The choir is in great demand, performing about 25 times a year in venues ranging from tiny chapels and churches to magnificent cathedrals, concert halls and arenas. The choir has contributed to massed male voice choir events in the Royal Albert Hall, The National Stadium of Wales in Cardiff and the Manchester Evening News Arena, the Sheffield Arena and St George’s Hall, Bradford. Small groups from the choir also go to entertain residents in Nursing Homes and Sheltered Housing complexes. In addition to its many concerts around Britain, has travelled to the continent on a number of occasions to sing in various places in Germany, Holland and Belgium receiving tremendous applause and making many new friends there. (SMVC website)

The group has a Youtube channel sharing some of its performances (linked below). This gives a good view of how they sound and look, though I’m sure the quality of recording does not do justice to the reality. They present a refined, disciplined image. One initial visual thought is that their red blazers dominate their images – because of the intensity of colour one is drawn to the blazers above the faces and personalities of the men of the choir. A black and white treatment (also reflecting the historical roots of the choir) could be an option. See the powerful image below:

Source: Wales Online

Anne Powell’s book, Treorchy Male Choir (Archive Photographs: Images of Wales), looks to be a useful visual reference, so I’ve ordered a used copy and will consider it in some detail.

My initial approach to the choir was by email, including a musical visual sign off (see pdf here). After an initial response saying that they would most likely be interested but would need to discuss in their committee, I was delighted to receive positive confirmation a few days later, including and invitation to the choir’s scaled-down pre-Christmas performance in a local pub. The choir does not then meet again for rehearsals until 17th January; there are two hours of practice every Monday, followed by ‘refreshment of their vocal chords in a local pub’.

I am absolutely thrilled that the assignment has taken this direction after what was a disappointing inception!

References

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]

Powell A (2001). Treorchy Male Choir (Archive Photographs: Images of Wales). The History Press.

A3 Window – preparation: the brief and initial thoughts

Brief

This assignment presents a choice of perspectives on a group or community – either as a ‘mirror’ in a community that one is already part of or as a ‘window’ to a community that one doesn’t know much about. There are common criteria:

  • The need to spend significant amount of time with the community
  • The need to tell a story about either how the community reflects you (mirror) or about the community itself (as a window onto it).
  • One can use as many photographs as one wishes, but they should be edited well and the process should be described in the assignment write-up. The brief suggests that research is done how to edit photos – this is the first assignment without a photo count limit.
Practical considerations

In choosing my perspective, I face some practical constraints:

  1. Because of work commitments that involve frequent foreign travel the only real communities I spend time with as member are my family and my work colleagues. My multinational colleagues would make an interesting topic, but as I am also their boss I am not comfortable with the ethics of asking them to participate in a project when they may feel uncomfortable refusing to join in. My family is an option, but I would prefer the challenge of dealing with people who are not quite so close.
  2. Living in a rural area, I have found there are surprisingly few communities or groups that meet weekly during evenings or weekends (when I have time for photography); many groups meet monthly, which makes spending significant amounts of time with them in a reasonable time-frame for an assignment impracticable. However, there are some options.
Subjects considered (for windows perspective)

As well as internet searches (including the useful meetup.com website) for local groups of interest, I visited Skipton Town Hall and tourist information office to check for any groups without a web presence. The following groups were considered:

  • Skipton Street Market Traders – Skipton market has operated since the 15th century and runs three times weekly, including Saturdays. In my mind this seemed to be the perfect community. I even packed my camera and drove into Skipton ready to make some introductions and find willing participants. However, I realised when walking around the street market that there was not really a feeling of community – more like a disparate bunch of traders each working in isolation. Perhaps because it is not a permanent market (eg an indoor market) there is not the same connection. My main idea gone.
  • Skipton Rotary Club – meet weekly but in a pub over a meal and discussions afterwards. Practical / etiquette difficulties in photographing people when they are eating.
  • Keighley Blues Club – a favourite (as I also enjoy guitar) but they unfortunately meet only monthly, so not realistic in the timeframe of the assignment.
  • Steeton Male Voice Choir – a group of 75 singers who are famous in their field and meet weekly for rehearsals. This would be my new target group after the disappointment of Skipton Market. Separate research post is here.

I acknowledge here the support and encouragement from the OCA 1 Facebook group with ideas (after the failure of my market idea). Discussion thread below:

RT We’re a group! How many of us are reasonable travelling distance away? We could use it as an excuse to start a Northern Student Meetup 🙂
RT (or does it have to be a group that you’re not currently a member of yourself?)
Andrew Fitzgibbon Can be a ‘window’ into a group you are not part of, or a ‘mirror’ of yourself in a group to which you belong.
MG You could look at people who support you in travelling rap hotels. There are always people and circumstances that happen that you can represent.
HW You could try your local community centre. There must be a wide variety of groups who meet there.
LK Where are you going in South Africa? Might be able to introduce you to a group there 🙂
AF Cape Town – but arriving Mon and leaving Wed. Otherwise would have been great 🙂
LK If you are staying in the city itself, try and get to Wale Street. The Cape Malay community is in this area, very colourful houses, great for photography, always people on the street. There is a museum too – also search for images for “Bo Kaap”. One of my 12 images was taken there – the one of the man in the orange overall against the turquoise wall. http://www.iziko.org.za/museums/bo-kaap-museum
AON If it’s a ‘window’ and you’re a constant travelling perhaps you could take a position as an ‘outsider’ / observer- along the lines of what rob said? Like a sort of Robert frank – Or do you have to ‘get to know them’.
AF That’s the difficulty – have to get to know them, spending a significant amount of time with them. So become like an insider.
AON What about your family then?
JN Try a sports club or a camera club x
DP You could checkout local clubs and societies where you live: football teams, model railway clubs, the WI, cycling clubs, the roundtable, etc etc. They’ll meet regularly so you could visit them whenever your home.
RT Is there a ParkRun near you? They always have a run on a Saturday morning. You could volunteer to be a steward for a few weeks. One of the roles needed each week is to photograph the event…
RON Why don’t you advertise stick up some notices – I’m sure some club or group would like some free photographs for their website?! That’s what I was thinking of doing as I am in pretty much the same situation. Living and working in two locations which makes joining groups etc difficult.
KA Church activity of some sort comes to mind – perhaps bell-ringers?
LK I think I’m going to go for the other option for Assignment 3. Most of my time is taken up with work and studies and a camera club thrown into the mix, so I’m doing to do something on my work place.
AF I would have really liked to do my work environment as it has some really interesting multi-national interplays. But unfortunately, as I’m the boss of the people I spend most of my time with it causes ethical challenges, as some from hierarchal cultures would find it difficult to decline involvement.
AF Thank you so much all for bouncing ideas at me. It’s really helped my energy and enthusiasm after my aborted idea of market traders. On reflection, this would be a great project to do over 6 months (but I don’t have that kind of time in context of the …See more

A2 – vice versa – rework

Introduction

My original submission is here, including details of my process, and my tutor’s feedback, along with my reflections on it are here. I have re-engaged with the selection of photographs and reconsidered the selects following the feedback received. The gist of the feedback was that not all of the photographs encouraged curiosity about the subject – some were a little predictable and more time reflecting on the selections could have improved the series.

In retrospect, there are a couple of lessons:

  • The final selections were a little rushed as I was keen to submit the assignment prior to a two-week business trip to Africa when I’d only have poor internet access. I will avoid this self-generated pressure in future.
  • As well as preparing images for the assignment, I’d promised my volunteer model a selection of photographs as a ‘thank you’. While I intended to keep the two selections completely separate, considering both aspects in parallel muddled my choices for the assignment.

Apart from the reselected photographs, all other information relating to this assignment remains unchanged – please refer to original post here.

Reselected photos

Two of the original photographs remain and three have been replaced.

Click on images to open larger versions in separate window.

rachel-1
Rachel #1
rachel-2
Rachel #2
rachel-3
Rachel #3
Rachel #4
rachel-5
Rachel #5
Conclusion

See original assignment submission.

 

 

 

A2 – vice versa: tutor feedback

A pdf of feedback on assignment 2 (here) is attached below. Overall it was positive and encouraging, but also provided some useful food for thought. In this post I focus on the areas for development, rather than on what went well.

Some extracts of feedback taken out of context, but reflecting the areas to be addressed:

A more considered review of the final work and a development of your visual strategy could have resulted in a more coherent and successful series …  feel that you could have maybe used more time to have reflected and responded to your critical analysis of your final work … It feels to me that presently, judging by the submission, you are struggling to transfer what you know into the final images. To put it into simple terms, I think that you should be engaging further with the actual assignment.

It is a ‘unique aspect of my personality’ (as I explain in the exercise here) that my strength does not lie in finishing things and dealing with details – I am naturally interested in the big picture and debating ideas and concepts, rather than implementing them. I would rather move onto the next challenge. While I’m not often required to deal personally with the details in my day-job, it is something that I have had to make a conscious effort to focus on when necessary, although I find little pleasure in it. In retrospect, I think I am succumbing to the same pitfall with my assignment work – full of enthusiasm for exploring the ideas and concepts during the coursework and when initiating the assignments, but running out of enthusiasm when it comes to the finishing touches. I need to be mindful of my natural preferences when completing assignment work. In future, I will leave a space between completing the shoot for the assignment and dealing with the editing and the final selection process. Allowing some refresh time. My tutor provides the following advice:

As photographers and artists we need time to reflect and review our work, stand back and critically engage with it. Then after a period of reflection try and analyse the pros and cons and then go and produce more work, the period of engagement obviously depends upon the timeframe but it’s a strategy that you should be applying to your work.

For A2, I will revisit the series of photographs and consider alternative selections and post-processing.

It was suggested to look at these portrait photographers:

  • Steve Pyke (b1957), Philosophers.
    screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-19-39-11
    source: pyke-eye.com

    Pyke’s work is in square format, shot in high contrast black and white. His subjects are tightly framed and the borders on the photos emphasise this. It is almost as if they have been squeezed into a box.

    The high contrast adds drama and grit – something that would have occurred naturally in black and white film but not with digital images converted to black and white. They do not flatter his subjects by softening the lines of age, but the give a well-lived-in characterful appearance. Post-processing of black and white in digital requires some work to recreate this appearance – mimicking the traditional qualities of film.

  • Bill Brandt (1904-1983), Portraits. Unfortunately the link suggested (http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw71450/Bill- Brandt?LinkID=mp05099&role=sit&rNo=8) is a link to a Cecil Beaton portrait of Brandt and Brandt’s own portrait work is not shared online by the National Portrait Gallery (‘for copyright reasons’). However, I used sources from my look into Brandt during the OCA C&N course and the book Photographs 1928 – 1983, which includes a section on his portraits.
    screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-19-56-55
    source: vam.ac.uk

    The portraits by Brandt show sitters in context, unlike Pyke’s philosophers, who are extracted into boxes. But the framing is visually dense with busy details.We see the same high-contrast black and white characteristics of film, but Brandt’s work is softer on textures of the skin as it is not shot in extreme close-up.

 

 

  • Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002). Karsh’s website provide generous access to his portraiture and to some short video-clips of him being interviewed. He was a photographscreen-shot-2016-10-31-at-20-08-55er of celebrity who states that his aim was for his work to compliment his subjects, not to show ‘worts and all’, but to provide a record for the many people interested in celebrities and for history.The portraits appear carefully staged. Again there is high contrast black and white, but not the grittiness of Pyke’s work or contextual interest of Brandt’s.

These photographers create different moods and impressions of their subjects. In my own practice, I prefer a gritty approach, but have a concern how that might be received by my volunteer subjects. I suppose that I’ll just have to get over that, or offer them something to their own taste also in return for sitting!

Reference

Brandt B (1993). Bill Brandt – Photographs 1928 – 1983. Thames and Hudson, London.

Fitzgibbon A (2015). Context and Narrative Blog. Bill Brandt (19 July)Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/bill-brandt/ [accessed 31.10.16]

National Portrait Gallery [online]. Bill Brandt Portrait. Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw71450/Bill- Brandt?LinkID=mp05099&role=sit&rNo=8 [accessed 31.10.16]

PDF of A2 IAP Tutor feedback

Steve Pyke [website]. Philosophers. Available from: http://www.pyke-eye.com/Philosophers/1/caption [accessed 31.10.16]

Yousuf Karsh http://www.karsh.org/#/the_work/portraits [accessed 31.10.16]

A2 vice versa – submission to tutor

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits … develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. (OCA IAP, p55)

Thank you to Rachel, my extremely patient model.

Introduction

The development of my concept is detailed here. In summary, I wanted to experiment with the psychological impact of how one interacts with a subject to allow them to show something of their deeper self to the camera, as opposed to acting for the camera in a more superficial way. Also, I wanted to shoot in monochrome to allow focus on the essence of the subject without the distraction of colour. The work of Jane Bown in particular influenced me in my approach to the subject and to the use of natural light in many of the photos.

Part of my process was a preliminary meeting with my volunteer, without a camera to set the scene and general direction to the project (see here). My aim was to give the project a collaborative informal feel, rather than one that was directed and staged.

For the assignment, there were two shoots with over 200 photographs; one shoot was indoors and the other outdoors. Details along with contact sheets are here. Making the final selections was an interesting process as there were an number of possibilities for creating a final thematic response to the brief. Combining different photos to create different storylines was a reminder that images have a flexible meaning that can change with the contextualisation with other photographs or text, often with little relationship to actuality.

In the end, I chose not to include any of the outdoor shots in the final selection; there were issues with the quality of light and framing that made it difficult to combine them with the indoor photos into a consistent series. Instead, I used a combination of indoor shots that used available natural light (on location) and indoor shots that used flash and a shoot-through umbrella diffuser to control light quality and depth (in the studio). I also made use of the digital studio, Photoshop, to remove distracting background elements for the ‘studio’ shots; specifically a white radiator panel and and light switch. Katy Grannan’s work that includes subjects contextualised in their everyday surroundings, doing everyday things influenced me in my choice of final selects (see here for more on Grannan).

All images were shot with a Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon xf 35mm f/1.2 lens (efl 50mm). Black and white conversion was done in Nik Silver Efex Pro, with additional post-processing in Lightroom (mostly dodging and burning).

The photos

Each photo says something different about the subject; what it says is down to the reader of the photograph; and the photos have no inherent truthfulness – they are just pictures open to a range of interpretations. The studio-style photos are decontextualised, so the reader is just left to interpret the face as a reflection of personality and thoughts.

Click on images to open as large images in separate window.

visa-versa-2
Rachel #1
Rachel #2
Rachel #2
Rachel #3
Rachel #3
Rachel #4
Rachel #4
Rachel #5
Rachel #5
Conclusion

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Technically sound images with natural and flash light, with effective conversion into black and white, optimising tonal ranges. Use of Photoshop to remove unwanted elements in ‘studio’ image (radiator panel and light switch in image #5). Careful observation of the changing face of the subject to capture a range of expressions and emotions.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 

Final selection is consistent with objective of showing ‘on location’ and ‘in the studio’ techniques. It also reflects concept of vice versa through subject’s change of dress from casual to dinner dress. Clear presentation of output, with preparatory work explained in separate posts.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Experimented with shooting the same subject in different locations – outdoor, indoor with natural light, and indoor with studio light. Used different point of views, while aim for consistency of framing. Continued to develop my practice of treating portraiture as a discussion with a camera.

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Research for this assignment specifically is shown in separate posts in this blog section and linked above. Blog shows ongoing work and research on technical aspects of photography, photographers working with portraiture and gallery visits.

A2 vice versa – shoot

Outdoors

I decided to shoot this part first as I thought I would have less control over the outcome and it would therefore be easier to later fit a sequence of indoor photos that would work as a series with the outdoor photos. In retrospect, this was a mistake – the indoor photos within a contained space and environment came much easier with some clear choices for selects. It would have been better to use the context of these selects to shape the outdoor shoot and photos that would work in series.

The route we’d agreed upon is on high ground (a pinnacle) overlooking the surrounding landscape. In theory, this sounded like a good idea – dramatic backdrop to provide context for the portraits. However, in practice, it proved to be less than ideal for monochrome portraiture; on high ground there was little light and shade and contrast in light to shape monochrome images, particularly as it was an overcast day with cloud spreading light evenly all around. Also, the objectives of creating a portrait and including a distant dramatic landscape within the same shot were a little at odds (which is really the subject?). I would have been better to choose a landscape where the subject could have been part of it, rather than standing above it. Still, it is a valuable lesson that sometimes one has to take care of reaching a balance between no directing and considering the details during the planning of shoots.

During the shoot, I didn’t feel that I was getting great images but didn’t have the experience to step out of the process and consider other possibilities at the time. Now I’ve learned.

On the positive side, Rachel was very pleased with the photo of her dog, Diesel, and chose this to be made into an A3 print by way of a thank you for giving several hours of her life to my photography project!

Indoors

Rachel came with her own suggestion of doing part of the shoot dressed in everyday clothes without makeup and part dressed in a dinner dress, with makeup; a play on the ‘vice versa’ theme. I liked this suggestion and it also sparked the idea that some of the dressed-up photographs should be taken with controlled lighting with flash for a studio-like effect. This would then give the option of selecting entirely indoor shots while meeting the visa versa brief.

A couple of observations on the process:

  • I borrowed Rachel’s small step ladders to allow a different point of view for some of the shots – this approach worked well, it allows us to view angles we do not normally see and creates visual interest.
  • I generally kept conversation down and concentrated on observing Rachel’s changing expressions as she was being watched and photographed. On a couple of occasions I experiment with telling Rachel stories that might amuse her and provoke a response – what is interesting in these photos is that the whole dynamic changes; she is suddenly clearly engaged with the camera and photographer, rather being her reflective self. It was the latter I was aiming for.
  • Having some experience of flash photography under my belt (during CAN course), I was pleased that I was able to quickly and intuitively set up the lighting and relocate it to various positions in the house with quick re-adjustments. I was a little apprehensive about how this aspect would play out in advance of the shoot, but this experience has made me fully confident (almost anyway).

Contact sheets

In total, I shot over 200 photos for the project. Contact sheets of potential photos are attached below (click to open larger images). The star ratings: 1 (a potential from first review of files), 3 (a select from the potentials), 5 (final selects).

a2-contacts-1

a2-contacts-2

a2-contacts-3

a2-contacts-4

A2 vice versa – meeting with subject

A friend of my wife, Rachel, kindly volunteered to be the subject for this assignment, despite not being fond of being photographed. I arranged to visit her at her house to talk about the project and discuss potential locations for the shoot.

It was important to provide a good explanation of what I was looking to do during the project – working with a volunteer, who is not used to, or fond of being photographed was inevitably creating a little apprehension.

I took along Jane Bown’s book, Faces (see here) to explain and illustrate that I was hoping to catch something of Rachel’s personality rather than a staged look, which she perhaps would have expected through experience with family portraits. I think the sharing worked well – the visual is better explained through the visual than with words.

We discussed things that Rachel enjoyed or were important to her to decide upon potential locations. In the end we decided upon the themes of cooking (Rachel has what seems to be a library of cook books!) and walking (with her dog, Diesel). During the discussion, Rachel several time kindly volunteer that it was up to me what we photographed, but I deliberately avoided this direction as I felt it would lead to more of a staged feel. There would be two separate shoots – one outdoors, during a dog walk through a local scenic area; and the other around her house (which has large windows and a conservatory as sources of natural light) with a cooking theme or association. I also would take a flash and shoot-through umbrella along to the indoor shoot for studio-like control. Beyond this general direction, no specific details were fixed for the shots.

A2 vice versa – concept

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits. (OCA IAP, p55)

Further text explains that the idea is to take what has worked during part two and develop it further through interchanging the use of portraits taken inside (studio) and those taken outside (location). A series of five themed images is required. ‘There is no right answer, so experiment’.

Initial thoughts, as I reflected on this brief:

  • ‘visa versa’ is one of those Latin phrases that survives in common use, perhaps it concisely expresses a concept with poet phrasing. In modern English the meaning is defined as, with the order changed : with the relations reversed (Merriam-Webster, online); visa versa sounds much more pleasing!
  • In the context of photography inside (studio) or outside (location), it is not a straightforward concept to interpret. A studio has become a flexible concept as the portability of equipment, including lighting has increased; Irving Penn and his pop-up studios is a good example – a kind of outdoor-indoors. Even outdoors, we can control the light or overpower the sun with the use of ND filters and powerful flash, rendering the background unreadable. Or indoors, we can make use of natural light, even if the term ‘studio lighting’ suggests the use of studio strobes or flashes.

In the run up to this assignment, I’d become interested in the concept of showing something of a person through a portrait and the psychology of the interaction between photographer and subject.

Influences in this respect are Emil Hoppé, who discusses his interactions with his sitters extensively in his autobiography (see here) and Jane Bown, who talks about moving around her sitters, trying to find their photo (see here). Both photographers worked in monochrome, which I feel gives a sculptural feel to portraits as we view line and shape without the distraction of colour. Faces are distilled to their essence. Bown’s work in particular I admire for its visualisation of personality. I would contrast this to the work of Irwin Penn, who produced arresting images but with a staged feeling, echoing his work with fashion photography. This element of stage, doesn’t allow the same intimacy visible in Bown’s work.

My tutor recommended three photographers to consider in preparing for this assignment (see here). They all work in colour with limited colour palettes and I notice that this creates something of an abstract feel; not the pure line, shape and shades of monochrome, but something without the distraction of full-on colour. The effect appears to be achieved partially through the use of colour in objects set up in the frame but also in the colour response in post-processing with certain tones muted. This is an area which I will experiment with in future exercises.

A further aspect of monochrome work is reading light and how it falls on the subject – it is the variations in light and shade that add colour to black and white. Bown relied almost entirely on natural light for her work and the location of light seemed to be the deciding factor in her contextual placement of sitters.

I want to aim to show something of the personality of the subject, through careful interaction during the shoot and avoiding direction or staging as far as possible. Almost like a discussion with a camera, rather than a scripted approach. The ‘vice versa’ objective will be dealt with through a mix of situations: one, where it is difficult to control the context and lighting of the subject (location); and two, where there is more control over the lighting and background or context for the subject.

Photographers suggested for A2

As a part of the feedback on assignment 1 (see here), I was recommended to look at the work of 3 photographers in preparation for assignment; Joel Sternfeld (1944), Katy Grannan (1969), and Phillip Lorca diCorcia (1951).

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-16-46
source: vice.com, by Phillip Lorca diCorcia

I consider three aspects of the photographers’ work:

  • ‘Procurement’ of subjects. An important part of the process of portraiture is finding subjects that are willing to give their time and image to a photographer. The quid pro quo. In Sternfeld’s work Stranger Passing , the approach to the work seems to be described by its title – strangers passing through seemingly random locations, photographed within the context of the moment and engaged with the camera but at a distance (the subjects are aware). The photographs were taken over a period of fourteen years (1987-2001) (Fadedandblurred). In contrast Kern explains diCorcia’s approach; ‘To find subjects for his series Hustlers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia drove around Hollywood between 1990 and 1992 looking for male prostitutes. Although many of the photos look perfectly timed, off-the-hip candid photos of street hustlers, diCorcia pre-selected the locations and did lighting tests with an assistant before searching for a subject to put in each setting’. diCorcia paid his subject the same amount that they would have charged for their trade in sex, with the project funded by a $45,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Source: http://www.npg.si.edu, by Katy Grennan
Source: http://www.npg.si.edu, by Katy Grannan
  • The style of the photographer. Eric Kim quotes Sternfeld as saying, ‘Black and white is abstract; color is not. Looking at a black and white photograph, you are already looking at a strange world. Color is the real world. The job of the color photographer is to provide some level of abstraction that can take the image out of the daily.’. This is an interesting perspective; Sternfeld’s work contains a limited colour palette, which provides a level of abstraction that is not immediately apparent as it is with black and white photographs. Grannan also works in colour, with a limited pallet; it is this that allows us to focus on the portrait subject without the distraction of noisy colours, which can quick overwhelm a subject and themselves become the focus of our gaze. diCorcia’s colour palette is subtle, with the look a classic chrome film; muted and with warm shadows.
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-14-08-25
source: artblart.com, photo by Joel Sternfeld
  • The story or narrative of the works. Sternfeld’s Strangers Passing feature ordinary people, dressed in ordinary clothes, doing ordinary things. They are not photographed close up to reveal the expressions of their faces or hands but put at a distance in the context of their place, with Sternfeld’s large format camera showing details of both people and place. Similarly Katy Grannan uses the everyday in her work, again within the context of their environments, but with a specific message to the work, for example, the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, or teenagers serving time in adult prison facilities; there is an element of photojournalism. diCorcia stages his images and uses lighting artificial lighting in making his images; though they are staged in such away as to make them look not obviously staged.

There is careful attention to the story told by portraits in the work of these photographers, either through staging or careful inclusion of the context of place. Limited colour palettes bring an element of the abstract to the work despite it’s rendering in colour.

References

American Suburbx [website]. Photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia Talks (2003). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/09/interview-photographer-philip-lorca-dicorcia-talks-2003.html [accessed 8.10.16]

Erik Kim Photography [website]. Kim E (2014). 6 Lessons Joel Sternfield has taught me about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/02/14/6-lessons-joel-sternfeld-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ [accessed 8.10.16]

Fadedandblurred [website]. Put a frame to the world: Joel Sternfeld. Available from: http://fadedandblurred.com/joel-sternfeld/ [accessed 8.10.16]

Fraenkelgallery [website]. Katy Grannan. Available from: https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/katy-grannan [accessed 8.10.16]

Luhring Augustine [website]. Joel Sternfeld, Passing Stanger. Available from:  http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfield [accessed 8.10.16]

National Portrait Gallery [website].Feature Photography/Katy Grannan. Available from:  http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/feature/grannan.html [accessed 8.10.16]

Vice [online magazine] (2013). Richard Kern on Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’ (November 13). Available from: http://www.vice.com/read/richard-kern-on-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hustlers [accessed 8.10.16]

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A1 – tutor feedback

My tutor’s feedback on assignment one is below, with my responses and reflection recorded in red italicised text.

Overall Comments

You have successfully completed the first assignment. You have produced the required amount of images and demonstrated a solid approach. You have submitted a sound and informative evaluation to accompany your images. It’s clear that you are enthusiastic and engaging with all aspects of the course. Your blog is coherent and easy to access. Continue to work through the course exercises. Your final images demonstrate your technical abilities and also show that you have good communication skills. It’s great that you have produced various portraits and a contact sheet with the relevant technical information. In future, be prepared to push your creativity and experiment. Overall, this is a very good submission, well done.

‘Push creativity and experiment’ – I need to think more about creativity in the context of photography; A1 set a specific task of taking portraits of strangers. My focus was more on how and where I might approach the task, rather than how I might approach it in an experimental or creative way. What I could have done differently:

a) The camera as machine – I shot the assignment in low light and made a conventional choice for settings to achieve clear images (i.e. wide aperture to maximize light to the sensor, high ISO, and a shutter speed that would avoid blur). I could have made other choices that would have resulted in a less conventional image. For example, deliberately underexposed to reflect the darkness, or a slow shutter speed to allow image blur, reflecting the movement in the night market (re Egyptian photographer).

b) POV – the images were all shot with the camera at the same level as the face and with the face framed. This was a deliberate choice but a different approach could have been used. For example, full-body in the frame with image blur to create an anonymous portrait, reflecting the unknown strangers.

Assignment 1 Assessment potential

You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.

Yes, I intent to submit my work for formal assessment.

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

You have produced the required amount of images and successfully completed the assignment. This is a very good submission and one that will stand you in good stead for future submissions. Your reflection that accompanies your submission is very good and contains lots of relevant information. It’s clear, concise and provides a good evaluation of your thinking and practice. It’s clear that you have been looking at relevant references and these have inspired you and expanded your knowledge.

Producing portraits on the street with unknown people is difficult. The exercise will help progress your confidence and communication skills. The images all appear to be competently produced, technically they look fine. It’s also great that you have included technical information re the shoot; this gives an indication as to your knowledge and skills in this area.

I wasn’t sure whether to continue including EXIF data in my contact sheets as I was increasingly reaching the conclusion that technical considerations were not too important in this course. However, if a creative approach to exposure is used (as opposed to a conventional one), including EXIF data would provide an indication of how the creative effect was achieved.

As I said this is a solid submission and one that I cannot constructively criticise too much at the moment. The first submission is more of a diagnostic exercise that allows us to take stock of your skills, both contextual and technical. You have fulfilled both of these requirements but do make sure that you continue to push your practice and thinking. The area to concentrate upon now and during your progression through the course is to apply more of yourself to your projects. Often we (tutors/OCA) talk about the importance of having a ‘personal voice’. Obviously this takes time but do try and produce projects that interest you and carefully think about the context and concept of a project.

Yes, I understand and am aware that I’ve not yet found a personal voice, as I continue to develop and try out different approach to photography and post-processing. I need to reflect more on the components that signal a personal voice and make it recognisable. There is a parallel with music and the ‘sound’ of a particular guitarist, but unlike with photographers, I am more used to articulating a personal ‘sound’. I think it would be helpful to consider this aspect as I look at the work of other photographers.

Another point I would make is not to get too bogged down you’re your technical output. Photography is about being creative, it’s about having something to say, and it’s about communicating with an audience. Sometimes overly concentrating upon the technical outcome of a photograph can kill an image. An image may not be technically perfect but may be able to convey a feeling, emotion and narrative to the viewer. Do bear this in mind as my initial reaction to your process is that you may concentrate too much on technical details which is understandable at this stage but don’t let it dominate your practice. In future assignments be prepared to experiment and push your ideas/creativity, this is the time to do it!

I agree that I do currently have a significant degree of focus on technical aspects of photography. My thinking has been to master and absorb these before letting go of them. A bit like I would learn musical scales on the guitar and then forget them when improvising. There is perhaps a similarity that I should use in photography – there is a time to practice technical aspects and a time to let go and just go with it.

Coursework

It’s great to see that you are working through the exercises with enthusiasm. Make sure that you continue to apply yourself here. Use the exercises to experiment and push your creativity. Input here will certainly help your confidence and personal approach.

Research

Continue to apply both independent and course initiated research. You are clearly engaging and offering reflections upon the course material. Your reflections accompanying your assignment images are really important; the final assessment team will read these. Continue to apply critical analysis here, reflect upon your input, influences and practical input.

Learning Log

Your learning log/blog is coherent and easy to navigate. The separate folders easily identify your different outputs. Continue to add to your folders including research and reading.

One point I would make is that your final assignment images should open up larger. Presently they are too small. The assessment team and I will want them to open up to a larger size when clicked upon. This is possible, please look at how to do so this, you can get advice from OCA.

Noted – I know how to do this and will re-upload the images to assignment 1 (same images, without changes, just available to open larger) and note the post-feedback change in the blog. See adjust post here.

Suggested reading/viewing

Have a look at these photographers:

Typologies:

Bettina Von Zwehl: http://www.bettinavonzwehl.com/alina.html

This work shows 12 young women, who look to be around the same age – they are all dressed in similar white vest tops, the photos are shot against empty backgrounds (white / grey), and none of the women are engaged with the gaze of the camera, but look to be in quiet contemplative moments. The series makes us wonder why the different women are contextualised in the same minimal way, all contemplating something. No explanation is offered. It is the fact that the work is a series attracts interest; I don’t believe any of the images on their own would be of much interest. For me, it is the uniformity of the subjects’ gazes that adds interest.

James Mollinson (James and other Apes): http://jamesmollison.com/books/james-other-apes/

These are portraits of 50 apes, taken over 4 years and published in a book. There is an artists statement on the work (see – http://aphelis.net/james-mollison-photography-james-other-apes-2004/), in which he states ‘I traveled to Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia to meet orphans of the bush meat trade and live pet trade’.  The project may have been supported by Benetton as it also features on their corporate website (http://www.benettongroup.com/media-press/image-gallery/institutional-campaigns/james-and-other-apes/). Mollison identified with a specific cause and this appears to have driven his project – whereas each photo has a similar aesthetic of closely cropped head-shots, it is the clear cause that is central to the series. This can be contrasted with Von Zwhel’s work, the reason for which is unclear, so we are left to come construct our own narrative (if we have the inclination to do so).

For Assignment two:

See separate post here

Joel Sternfeld, Passing Stanger: http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfield

sternfeld/artworks/stranger-passing, 
Katy Grannan: http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/feature/grannan.html

Phillip Lorca diCorcia: http://www.vice.com/read/richard-kern-on-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hustlers

 

A1: The Non-Familiar (submission to tutor)

[Note – this post was updated after tutor feedback. Only change was to allow images to be opened at large size in separate tab by clicking on them.]

Introduction

This assignment was to make ‘five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you’. I chose to take photos of strangers on the street in Patpong Night Market, Bangkok, after asking their permission and finding out a little about them. A full explanation of the rationale for this choice is here. I was interested in discovering the different ‘types’ I might find in this area given its reputation as a market for locals and tourists and its infamous Go-Go Bars.

While the work of August Sander has influenced me (see post here), Emil Hoppé’s photographic style and his interest in the psychology of interactions with subjects as well as types is a greater influence (see post here). Hoppé’s work stems from an interest in individuals and showing something of their character and then what that might say about the type of person they are and what general type they belong to. I admire his flexible approach to composing portraits – as if he is surveying a landscape for the best point of view to express his idea of the subject. I’d also done some research on street photographers working with street portraits, but only came up with suggestions as to why they might not do this (see post here).

My approach to the subjects was like an interview with a camera; some rapport building, expressing a genuine interest in something about the individual, finding out a little about them (language permitting), and then asking for the photograph. I had only one near rejection from the street seller with the tattooed arm; this was over-come by asking to photograph his tattoo, rather than him. I showed the photos on the camera screen afterwards; the French traveller (not in final selects) requested a copy, which I emailed the next day.

The photos

The full set of 21 potential images are in a separate post here,  as well as information about equipment used. Here are my final 5 selects, based on my intention to show the different types in the night market, and a consistent portrait orientation. Below the last of the images, I explain a little about the people photographed.

Click on images to open as large files

Portrait #18
Portrait #18
Portrait #6
Portrait #6
Portrait #7
Portrait #7
Portrait #10
Portrait #5
Portrait #5
Notes

#18 – Street stall owner, selling CDs and small electricals. His brother made the tattoo. He did not want his photo taking, but agreed to have a photo of tattoo. Perhaps he did not value his own photogenicity but did value that of his tattoo.

#6 – Young Japanese tourist, wearing t-shirt celebrating old English rock band. He spoke no English, but his girlfriend did a little. They were on holiday and were great fans of the Rolling Stones. His raised hand is holding an umbrella, which I’d asked him to raise further for the shot.

#7 – ‘Pimp’ with menu card of potential sexual-options inside Go-go bar (shown in his hand). After politely declining his menu, I expressed admiration for his t-shirt design to get the photo. I think he agreed before having a chance to consider that being photographed was not in keeping with his type.

#10 – Dutch holiday maker with her mother, who appeared to be of Thai descent. A long conversation was needed about the purpose of the photo before permission was given. It helped that I am familiar enough with Amsterdam to strike up conversation about my favourite aspects of the city.

#5 – Young seller of street food. He spoke a little English, so I was able to ask about his food and listen as he explained and pointed. I offered to send him an email of the photo, but he had no email account.

Conclusion

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Made technically sound images while dealing with the challenge of photographing strangers. Within the restraints of the street environment, I was able to direct the subjects to achieve the compositions I wanted.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

Final selection is consistent with objective of showing different ‘types’ in a place. Clear presentation of output, with preparatory work explained in separate posts.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention,development of a personal voice.

Experimented with a ‘local’ location that was outside of my home country and in a potentially challenging environment. Beginning to develop my own practice of treating portraiture as an interview with a camera.

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Research for this assignment specifically is shown in separate posts in this blog section and linked above. Blog shows ongoing work and research on technical aspects of photography, photographers working with portraiture and gallery visits.

A1: process and potential photos

An explanation of the location of the shoot is here. The objective was to explore the different types of people in Patpong Night Market, Bangkok by approaching strangers and asking for their permission to make a photograph.

It was relatively  straightforward to approach people in a crowded market – the lack of space already created a sense of intimacy and necessity to communicate that would have not been felt if one needed to approach a stranger on the opposite side of the street, for example. The uncertainty was whether or not the potential subject would be able to speak English (my language ability is limited to English and poor French). In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to learn a few words in Thai to explain what I was doing, or at least say ‘please can I take your photo’. As usual, I found that a great deal can be communicated with a confident and friendly approach, the few words of English that most people understand (eg hello, please, thank you), and a good deal of pointing and signing. The Thai handshake (a prayer-like gesture) was always well-received.

Equipment for the shoot was a Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon xf 35mm f1.4 lens (approx 50mm ff equivalent). The combination is compact and does not intimidate people when pointed at them. The shots were all made with aperture open to around f/2 to allow as much as the low-light in as possible and blur the backgrounds (inspired by August Sander’s approach that focused on the subjects, not the backgrounds). A number of the shots were manually focused as the low light conditions sometimes offered insufficient contrast for autofocus to operate effectively.

Below are thumbnails of the potential shots (click to view full size), from which I’ve made the final selects. The captions briefly describe the types – information gathered when communicating with the individuals. I deliberately chose not to ask for names as this can be viewed as intrusive in what is essentially a police-state.

Click to view as slide show with large images


These 21 images needed to be narrowed down to a selection of five for the assignment. I posted them through a Facebook link to the OCA level 1 student group asking for votes of favourites in a Flickr album. Only a little feedback was received but my impression was that selections were of the photos that happened to have the best image quality and photogenic subjects. My final selects are included in the post for tutor assessment.

A1: preparation – location

The assignment, The Non-Familiar, can be summarised as follows:

‘Your first assignment is to make five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you.’ It is specifically required to leave one’s comfort zone. ‘The ability to concentrate on technical and aesthetic considerations whilst engaging with a complete stranger brings a plethora of difficulties. Added to the fact that most people aren’t that comfortable with having their photograph taken anyway, then you can see why this could become a minefield! ‘ (OCA)

My day-job means that I can spend up to 50% of my time travelling abroad, so I have an expanded horizon for ‘my local area’. During these business trips my evenings are mostly my own and also any weekends I am away. In anticipation of this assignment, I’d chosen a three-week trip to Bangkok as the broad area. After some research on specific areas that were reasonably accessible, I decided upon the infamous Patpong night market, situated in Bangkok’s red light district. The Lonely Planet succinctly describes, ‘you’ll be faced with the competing distractions of strip-clubbing and shopping in this infamous area. And true to the area’s illicit leanings, pirated goods (in particular watches) make a prominent appearance even amid a wholesome crowd of families and straight-laced couples.’

source: bangkok.com

The location seemed to offer up a cornucopia of types, from street sellers and tourists to sex workers. Though I was not prepared to photography the latter, considering it too hazardous, especially in the context of Thailand’s legal system.

Being a ‘night market’, this would also add to the challenge by needing to photography in low light. I decided against the use of flashlight on the assumption that the lights of the stalls and streets would offer sufficient light and because I was concerned that flash would draw too much attention to what I was planning to do.

The aspect of dealing with complete strangers is familiar to me in my professional life as an auditor (‘one who listens’) and investigator, who often needs to quickly build rapport with strangers and encourage them to talk about situations. I’ve benefited from extensive training on investigative interviewing techniques (which tend to be about ‘good cop’, rather than ‘bad cop’). In fact, I am beginning to see portraiture as an interview with a camera with a visual output rather than a written output. This struck be when reading about the approach of EO Hoppé to his portrait work. The only significant difference is that when photographing complete strangers, they have no sense of obligation to agree to the ‘interview’ , so some rejection is inevitable and adds a sense of discomfort or, for photographers not familiar with dealing with the non-familiar, it can be a sense of fear.

References

The Lonely Planet [website]. Patpong night market. Available from: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/bangkok/shopping/souvenirs-gifts/patpong-night-market [accessed 28.7.16]

OCA (2015) [course document]. Boothroyd S & Roberts K. Identity and Place Course.