Planning for Exercise 1.3

Brief

Make five portraits of people with whom you feel you have an affinity, where you could conceivably argue that you are on the ‘inside’.

Write a short piece evaluating the work.  Think about whether the five are representative of a ‘class’ and whether this matches with the ‘class’ to which you belong.  If you feel that class is important or apparent discuss what ‘sub division’ you feel the group may belong to.

Research

Gerry Badger pointed out that, ‘there are divisions in society other than that of class, ideology, race or gender – smaller sub divisions which cut across the larger in many ways……those whose lifestyles, for differing reasons, do not concur with the dominant consensus.’

This is a small extract from Badgers essay ‘Notes From the Margin of Spoiled Identity’ where he talks about the ‘other’ and how they are ‘at odds with the dominant ideologies.  The smaller subdivisions which cut across the larger are classification such as sexual orientation which spans all classes, ideologies, races and genders.  One simply cannot be defined by class alone.

Badger goes on to discuss the position of the outsider and how they are stigmatised by their sub divisions and in many cases hidden from view.

Idea

Based on Gerry Badgers comments on subdivisions, I had the idea to shoot a series of portraits where all the subjects appear to be ‘self’ the same as me, in the same social class as me.

I want to challenge the stereotypes of that social class by labelling the photographs with each individual subdivision, if there is one, relating to them.

I need to think about who the subjects will be and where they will be photographed.

I have strong links with the local school that my son attends and most of my local social circle is with other parents at that school.  I will approach the five women I’m closest to and coincidently of a similar age.

Preparing

I setup a group chat with the parents from my sons class and asked for volunteers to be photographed at the time of the school run.  This was partly not to inconvenience anyone too much but also because I observed that parents appearance is better polished in the afternoons.  My aim was to catch people in the morning over a series of five days when they may have ‘thrown something on’ in a rush and their social class not so easy to interpret.

 

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Playing with light

I’m always drawn to photographs that have equal amounts of light and dark.  Dark seems too stark a word so I’m going to call it shadow.  Light and shadow.

My most successful photos in my last course were those that experimented heavily with light and dark.

Today I was experimenting with macro photography in my garden as my favourite spring flower has blossomed.  You would assume that there would be a nice light spring feel to the images but I couldn’t resist another opportunity to play with light and shadow.

fmn 2

For me, the presence of the darkness excentuates the light, framing the beauty within it.

Today the sun is bright and high in the sky.  The sun is using the foliage surrounding the forget me nots the sun is casting shadows giving me the dark background I like to see.  It like the opposite of a silhouette and is only possible by watching the light so when it’s harsh enough the shadows will be even more intense.

I’ve been reading a book by Michael Freeman ‘Capturing Light, The heart of photography’ and there isn’t a name for this technique as far as I can see.  I’ll investigate further and find similar work from other photographers.

Exhibition: John Myers – The world is Not Beautiful

Wolverhampton Art Gallery – 12 April 2018

John Myers, ‘The World is Not Beautiful’ is an exhibition of a nostalgic venture into the 1970’s and 80’s in and around Stourbridge, West Midlands.  Divided into different series with titles such as, boring photographs and Landscapes without incident in Myers self confessed attempts at photographing the ordinary.

Upon entering the exhibition I was struck by the uniformity of the gallery with clean lines and symmetry which is replicated in the images on show.  Myers uses lines and shapes in his photography almost in an obsessive manner.  The exhibitions uniformity intensifies this feeling.

john myers 3

“I believe photographers have got to come to terms with the world we live in, not the world journalists like, which is spectacular and exciting and makes good copy,” John Myers.

Myers has an ability to take the ordinary and boring and make it interesting.  He believed that we, as photographers, should capture the world just as it is.  He never referred to himself as a social documentary photographer but rather questioned how we engage with photography and how we should ‘read’ it.  Liked to the work of Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz we can see how Myers was included in the group of ‘New Topographics’ of the 1970’s bringing banal urban and industrial landscapes to the world of photography.

It was interesting listening to other observers of the gallery as they would comment on the content of the photographs, especially the nostalgia element but never questioned why these photographs were ever produced.  I’m learning that there is a layman’s view on interpreting photographs by seeing the picture, and a more educated eye that reads the photographs.

“Myers Photographs may look like frozen moments from the past, and its tempting to think of them in that way, as though they are time machines, magically whisking us back to the moment the shutter was pressed, but they are not.”
Alison Nordström

The more photographs I viewed of Myers the more I was feeling on edge, anxious even.  The framing on some images was very tight which made for tense viewing.  I then read an extract from the opening of Myers book ‘The world is not beautiful’.  In it, Matthew Shaul, Artistic Director at the University of Hertfordshire Galleries, wrote ‘Myers has spoken occasionally of the feelings of constraint and claustrophobia, which he brought to expression in his vision of Britain in the 1970’s’.’

house front

Part of this constraint was how Myers worked within a few  miles of his home and  used this to experiment with pushing the boundaries of typical photographic rules to make the reader also feel claustrophobic.   This approach was also applicable to Myers portrait work placing subjects very tensely on the edge of the frame.  Was he feeling too close to the edge?

Lady close to the edge

I can relate to Myers stifling style and I think this is why his work has stuck a chord with me.  I suffer from an illness that makes me housebound most days so the freedom to have an idea and go out and shoot it, isn’t really an option for me.  Trying to plan is even worse so its a case of achieving what I can when I can even if its rushed.  I’ve come to realise that theres no getting away with it, the camera never lies, my circumstances, the way I’m feeling will come out in my work.  My illness is invisible to the outside world and like a journalist I paint a different story for everyone to see.  I can now see that I can work with what I have, in my own constraints and still have a photographic voice.  I feel that my illness has always held me back but I’m inspired to use it as my voice.

I understand that Myers focus is on challenging photography and the way we see it rather than the subject matter.  Its no surprise then, a series of photographs in this exhibition has televisions as its subject.

62-Television-No-2-1973

These types of mundane images are what Myers describes as ordinary and he challenges us to see the good within them.  To take a closer look and see what photograph can offer on an emotional level.

Myers was based in and around the Midlands and his images may be compared to that of Martin Parr’s, ‘Black Country Stories’.  However, the two exhibitions have very different perspectives.  Myers photographed the ordinary, whereas Parr photographed the ‘other’.  People and places he thought stood out to the rest of the world.  Parr produced a series titled ‘Boring Postcards’ whilst Myers calls some of his work ‘Boring Photographs’ so its understandable they are compared but they aren’t the same.

I find it interesting how two photographers can create such different outlooks of the same subject, proving that Myers true subject was photography itself.

 

References

http://www.bjp-online.com/tag/matthew-shaul/

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/new-topographics

Bibliography

John Myers, The World is not Beautiful. Published by University of Hertfordshire Galleries. 2016

Reading Point 1.1 : Diane Arbus

diane arbus

Many essays have been written about the photography work of the late Diane Arbus, although, the protagonists seem divided in their opinion.

Gerry Badger wrote, ‘ Photographic morality is an issue of some complexity, particularly where the photograph involves people’ (Badger, 1988), surmising the dissension between critics over an overtly subjective genre.

Arbus has a reputation for tirelessly seeking attention using the camera as her medium with her modus operandi being of an aggressive nature.  Was it aggression or ambition that fuelled her working practice?  With an obsession to search out the ‘other’ Arbus immersed herself into communities that were a far cry from her middle class upbringing.

Vilified by Susan Sontag for preying on victims who appear in some of the most famous photographs in Arbus’ artillery, Sontag wrote,

‘with their [Arbus photographs] acceptance of the appalling – suggests a naivety which is both coy and sinister, for it is based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other’

(Sontag, 1979:34)

Throughout history many artists have been shining a spotlight on the ‘other’ however Arbus seems to be regarded as a narcissist in doing so.  As Gerry Badger pointed out in his essay, Notes From the Margin of Spoiled Identity – The Art of Diane Arbus (1988),

‘There are clear elements of rebellion, guilt, and revenge, the standard poor little rich girl scenarios thumbing her nose at her parents………. Do we make too much of it simply because she’s a woman?  Do we practice an unwitting sexist double think in this regard?  No one has ever accused Robert Frank of the same kind of guilty retaliation…….’.

(Badger, 1988)

Badger has an objective understanding of Arbus as a photographer whereas Sontag’s essay resonates as emotionally charged empathy for her subjects, both writers with a completely different viewpoint.

Arbus met her end by suicide at the age of 48 but not before making a name for herself in art photography.  As she succumbed to depression I have to wonder what state her mind was in towards the end and whether this had been the focus for her work throughout her career.  Sontag wrote about Arbus in her published book ‘On Photography’, in a chapter titled,

‘America,
Seen through photographs’
Darkly’

(Sontag, 1979:25)

Sontag has picked up on Arbus’ dark edge which could be reflective of the depression she had to endure throughout her life.  Maybe the search for the ‘other’ or people who were suffering in some way was Arbus trying to manifest her depression through her art into her photographs, making her feel ‘normal’.  For this reason, Arbus may not have intentionally ‘victimised’ her subjects, not that I see them as victims.

When Sontag talked about Arbus subjects as being ‘alien, hopelessly isolated, immobilised in  mechanical, crippled identities and relationships’ (Sontag, 1979:33), she could have just as well have been talking about the royal family.  Why are they never called victims?  Because they are rich and outwardly pleasing to the eye?  Being a victim isn’t about wealth, its about being exploited, as the royal family members ofter are no different to Arbus’ subjects.

Bibliography:

Sontag, S. (1979) On Photography. London:Penguin.

Badger, G. (1988) Notes From the Margin of Spoiled Identity – The Art of Diane Arbus. At http://www.americansuburbx.com/2012/07/diane-arbus-notes-from-margin-of.html (Accessed 28/03/2018).

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

 

Model Release Form

A Model Release Form establishes a contract between the photographer and a model.  It defines how and where photographs may be used and the basis of any remuneration. It protects both the photographer and the model in the event of any dispute – provided the parties have abided by the terms of the release.

Upon signing a declaration is made that both the photographer and model are in agreement over the terms of the contract.  The form doesn’t just serve as a dispute preventative but it contains laws to protect each party.

The Royal Society of Photographers has carried out extensive research for the purpose of aiding photographers when it comes to copy write ownership.  This can be a vast subject and confusing to a layman but RPS have published the following guidelines on their website and a Model Release Form Template for anyone to use free of charge:

RPS Model Release Form

Legal Background

The law in relation to the right to use a model’s photographic image is not codified in one simple English law. Whilst the copyright in any photographs taken of a model will almost always vest in the photographer (or the photographer’s employer), there is a whole raft of laws under which, potentially, a model might be able to prevent legally the publication of the model’s image. These laws include:

1. Section 85 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which provides that a person commissioning a photograph for private and domestic purposes has the right to prevent copies being publicly issued.

2. The Data Protection Act 1998 under which an image, particular used in association with the model’s name, could amount personal data and therefore use without the model’s consent could amount to a breach of that Act.

3. Breach of confidence. Whilst there is no law of privacy in the UK, case law relating to breach of confidence is gradually being developed to prevent unauthorised publication of an individual’s image (usually a celebrity).

4. The law of contract. The engagement of a model would usually amount to a contract. Express or implied contract terms may govern what may or may not be done with a photographic image.

To ensure that the photographer can lawfully use the photographs taken of the model for the purpose the photographer requires, consent should be obtained from the model and this is primary purpose of the model release form.

The Royal Society of photographers

Similarly to the RPS, The Association of Photographers (AoP) have produced a template of a model release form:

2016-aop-model-release-form-1

The form as it is written would suit a fashion photographer as most of the items are relevant to that particular genre.  I need to use a model release form for my subjects who have agreed to allow me to photograph them and gives us both peace of mind over what the images will be used for.

With that in mind I have adjusted the form to represent my intentions better.  I felt it important to state that I’m a photography student and my purpose is to enrich my learning with the audience being tutors, assessors and fellow students.  Its also important for my subjects to understand the end product, i.e. where will the images be displayed, who can view them and for how long.

MRF Part One

Using a model release form makes the act of photographing other people more professional and in a sense gives more confidence to the model and photographer.  It becomes an official  transaction and puts both parties in a professional headspace.  I wonder if this element of professionalism will be evident in the photography?

This form will now be used going forward to document information and gain official permission from my subjects/models.  The form will be adjusted according to which project I’m carrying out.

 

 

 

Video Hangout 2 – 9/3/18 – Sketchbooks, Finding your voice and Ethics

09/03/18 @ 2pm – 3pm

With Jayne Dixon

  1. Sketchbooks for photographers
  2. Steps towards finding ones voice
  3. Ethics and photographing communities

SKETCHBOOKS

I had conversation with a friend who had completed a degree in Fine Art Photography at Wolverhampton University as she asked me how I was getting on with my photography studies.  At the time I had just received a pass for my previous course (Context and Narrative) but disappointed with my score.  The general feedback was a lack of evidence of reflection and my friend asked, ‘did you send them your sketchbook?’.

My perception of a sketchbook is something that is used by drawing and painting students but not relevant in photography.  The advice I gained was to keep a sketchbook and fill it with all thoughts, ideas, clippings I’ve read and comment on them etc…

Research

I delved a little deeper into the use of sketchbooks for photographers as I thought it was a great idea and would help to not only collate my thoughts but to show evidence to assessors  of my thought processes and hopefully obtain better marks.

I joined an OCA Sketchbook group on facebook and found that it was full of drawing and painting students.  I asked if there were any other photographers keeping a sketchbook and the response was varied:

‘I don’t, it’s hard to tell the difference between my drawings and something my 7 year old has done. That’s why I’m doing photography and not drawing’

‘Yes – although I hesitate to call it a sketchbook . I always forget to add stuff to it though’

‘Or a notebook maybe, with ideas and things to try in writing rather than image form?’

So, it would seem that my perception was in line with other photography students.  I’m wondering why this has never been mentioned before?  By tutors or OCA student information.  We currently keep a blog and within that blog are advised to have a section entitled Reflection and this is where we write our thoughts and ideas based on what we’ve learnt.  I have found this quite restricting.  Even uninspiring in fact.  By the time I sit down to write a reflection blog I’ve already forgotten what my thoughts were.  The use of a sketchbook is becoming increasingly attractive.

I’m lucky enough to have a friend who is the Head of Arts at a Birmingham University so asked him the question, ‘Do your photography students keep a sketchbook?’ Instantly he replied ‘Oh yes, most definitely.  Its where their thoughts and reflection are collected as evidence of learning’.  I asked why they’re called a sketchbook as a journal seems more appropriate for photographers.  He explained that in the academic world a sketchbook or the term sketchbook is used as evidence of creative thinking and the learning journey.

Conclusion

It seems like a simple idea to keep a sketchbook but actually it never occurred to me.  Now that I’ve explored the use and meaning of sketchbooks in an academic setting I’m about to embark on my first sketchbook journey.

I’m hoping that it will keep my thinking close to the subject matter as having a tangible tool that I can use anywhere will hold my attention far greater.  I will be able to show assessors that in addition to my coursework and assignments, my reflective thinking has been constantly maintained and shows the other areas I’ve researched and reflected on.  I want to grow along with the content of my sketchbook and have the ability look back on the journey and know where I’ve improved.

Further Research

I now want to look at other photographers sketchbooks and gather both inspiration and confidence in using my own.

 

The Clandestine Camera

Brief

Shoot a series of five portraits of subjects who are unaware of the fact they are being photographed.

Research

I looked at the hidden camera work of Sophie Calle, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Natasha Caruana, Walker Evans and Humphrey Spender each of whom had used a clandestine approach to photographing strangers.

Sophie Calle took a less invasive approach to photographing people unaware.  A lot of her portraits are shot from behind her subjects or even less intrusive in her series ‘Hotel Suites’  she simply photographed their belongings without given away intimate details.  This approach is a very sensitive one and appears to be less offensive.

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s approach was more elaborate in hiding a camera and flash in public areas and using a remote trigger to capture his subjects walking by.  diCocia would have planned and executed his setup in advance of any shooting in order to have not aroused suspition.  Working during daylight his subjects would have barely noticed the flash.

In Walker Evans ‘Subway’ series he hid a camera in the button hole of his coat and photographed the people who by chance sat opposite him.  The series is quite enchanting covering all walks of life with some surprising flattering portraits.

Natasha Caruana photographed details of her subjects without putting them in the frame quite literally.  The series ‘The married Man’ saw Caruana meet married men from a website created for that purpose.  She gave details away of the type of men who seek affairs with strangers through the places she met them in including London Zoo and a greasy cafe.

These are all different approaches to photographing strangers without their knowledge.  I can see how Sophie Calle’s approach would be appealing and probably the first technique to try out as its poses the least amount of risk.  However when reading about Humphrey Spender I was reminded of a previous experience of going out into the public domain and photographing strangers unaware; where I went to the local park and placed my camera on a picnic table and pointed it towards potential subjects to see if the outcome would be a positive one.  Spender used this approach in pubs in the working class suburbs of Bolton.  Subjects wouldn’t know they were being photographed and therefore Spender would have been able to capture the workmen in their natural setting, at ease and their true selves.

Another approach carried out by Spender was to put his camera around his neck and shoot from waist level which is the technique I decided to try out in my hometown.

Planning

I gave a huge amount of thought into which type of camera to use.  I live in a tourist destination and cameras are commonplace so I didn’t think I would look out of place with my DSLR.  I wanted to the photographs to have a quality about them despite the exercise being about photographing strangers and decided that my Canon 5D Mark3 was fit for the job.  I was also thinking it was a ballsy thing to do, I like to challenge myself and it would have been far too easy to take photographs with my phone or even a compact camera.

My next consideration was which lens to use for maximum success.  My go to lens is a 50mm, 1.2 prime which gives a beautiful dreamy narrow depth of field and a rich colour range.  This is great if you’re standing still but as I planned to be walking I could only envisage a lot of blurred images if using the 50mm.  I decided to use a zoom lens with a range of 24mm – 105mm with a wider depth of field and at its shortest focal length a wider angle.

I set the camera to auto ISO with an aperture of 5.6 and let the camera dictate the shutter speed.  The light outside was very conflicting with dark clouds and bright bursts of light coming through.

I carried out a walk through in my head of where my camera would be positioned, putting in around my neck to see where it naturally positioned itself.  I altered the straps so that the camera sat between my waist and my shoulders.  I tried some test shots angling the camera ahead, slightly upwards and slightly downwards to get a feel for perspective.

When I felt ready I headed out for the two mile walk to the bridge and back.

Shooting people unaware

Almost instantly I had people walking towards me.  I held my camera under the lens with my left hand and steadied the camera with my right hand placing my thumb over the shutter release. I hoped that my stance gave the subject the impression I was merely holding my bulky camera quite closely to avoid it bashing against me.

With the camera held against my body for support I randomly started shooting the first person to approach.  I felt nervous and devious with a tinge of sympathy for my victim (yes, my victim!  Thats how it felt to me).  A few clicks later my first victim had strolled past without a care.  I waited until the subject was out of sight and looked at a preview of my first few shots to see if I needed to make any adjustments.  I had managed three photographs, one was blurred, was was too far away and the other had cut his head off.

I needed to wait until the subjects were closer and slow down my walking.  The composition was difficult to control and I accepted that some photographs will contain nothing more than a leg but hopefully I will have enough successes for the purpose of this exercise.

Within minutes I was at ease with my mission and started to enjoy the challenge.  The need to obtain portraits of strangers overtook any concerns I initially had.  Eventually it felt like a game and I was winning.

My Selection of Five

woman holding mans arm

Man on bridge

couple on bridge

Man with dog

Family on bridge

My top five photographs from the series have one thing in common, they are all looking straight into the camera.  I found this fascinating.  They weren’t looking at me, they were looking at my camera, straight down the lens.  This came as a huge surprise to me.  I only looked at my subjects as I spotted them approaching because during the act of photographing them I would look away giving the impression my mind was somewhere else.  This technique must have worked as I was never challenged.  I was so worried about the sound of my shutter thinking it would give the game away but it didn’t.

Looking back over the images I captured I can see that people weren’t entirely oblivious and conflict is an ever looming threat.

blurred man

This photograph almost made it into the top five even though the main subject is slightly blurred.  He had the most menacing reaction out of all my images taken on this shoot.  I wasn’t aware of the inquisitive face at the time because of my technique of looking away whilst shooting.  If I was aware of how this man appeared then I may have stopped shooting there.  In this photograph I love how the boy in the background, also holding a camera, is highlighted by the sunshine and looking towards my subject as if considering what the situation was almost waiting for conflict.

Out of the 329 photographs I shot, more than half were either completely blurred or contained no subjects.  If working with a film camera like in the case of Humphrey Spender, this task would have been a mammoth one.

Findings

Some things surprised me about photographing strangers without their knowledge.

  • People can be suspicious of the camera and not you.
  • Most people take photographs with a mobile phone and carrying a DSLR will attract attention
  • Capturing people with their natural resting face is far more interesting than asking them to ‘say cheese’.  Their personalities are revealed more this way
  • Surprisingly good portraits can be achieved without directing a pose
  • Being sneaky is fun!

 

Resources:

http://boltonworktown.co.uk/about/worktown-people/humphrey-spender-1910-2005

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/aug/25/photos-married-men-dating-websites-ashley-madison-natasha-caruana

https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/philip-lorca-dicorcia-head-10-2002