Assignment 5: Final Submission

ass5 text.jpeg

Commentary

People are increasingly turning away from mainstream religion and are defining their own unique spiritual paths through an uptake of Buddhist and Hindu practices such as mindfulness and yoga.  One of the fastest growing spiritual paths in the west is now actually paganism, as people seek to rediscover the native sources of inspiration perhaps followed by our Druid and Norse ancestors.

As people find new spiritual identities, the concept of a spiritual place is also changing dramatically.  Until recently the term would only be used to describe buildings such as churches and mosques.  However an increasing number of people would now describe nature, an historic site or even their home as their personal ‘church’.

In this assignment I wanted to explore the identities of these people.  Not as freaks or social curiosities, but a celebration of their authenticity – daring to be who they truly are in a western society ruled by convention and traditions.  I discovered that for some of these people, forging their own meaningful spiritual path meant major life upheaval and sacrifice.  I also wanted to explore the relationship between these new-age spiritual seekers and their special place.

My approach to the work was to purchase an advertisement on social media, asking for volunteers who would be prepared to be photographed for an art project depicting them practicing their spiritual path in a place important to them.  A strong and diverse response allowed me to select from a range of people.  However a major logistical challenge lay in being able to combine the demands of a full time job with travel to locations around the UK and meeting the Assignment deadline.  The work presented here is therefore only the start and has opened the door to a longer term personal project.

With the exception of the first image (Glastonbury Tor) which contains a personal reflection, in each case my approach was to interview the subjects beforehand and learn about them, their own spiritual paths and special places.  They each played a major role in defining the shot as I wanted all aspects of it to reflect their authentic self.  I guided them on pose, gaze and position in addition to selecting the lighting and composition.  They chose the location, props and clothing.

For example, the Priestesses of Avalon were keen to show how their chosen path allowed them to be strong, independent women within a spiritual community.  I therefore included two people in this image to suggest the power of relationships.  Conversely, the Druid found his inspiration alone in nature; the Pagan artist in her riverside studio surrounded by her previous works.

In conclusion, the work sets out  to provide a glimpse into how people are finding their true identities in the very diverse spiritual paths found in Britain today.  It aims to portray the deep relationship between them and the places that inspire and empower them to be their authentic selves.


Images

1-_IMG5873_IanShaw513626_Ass5_IandP

Pilgrims and seekers, Glastonbury Tor


2-_IMG5890_IanShaw513626_Ass5_IandP

Mandi. Sacred Crafter. Somerset


3-_IMG5739_IanShaw513626_Ass5_IandP

Steve, Ovate Druid, Doll Tor Stone Circle, Derbyshire


4-_IMG5717_IanShaw513626_Ass5_IandP

Elaine, Pagan Artist, Staffordshire


5-_IMG5730_IanShaw513626_Ass5_IandP

Tesesa, Sacred Sound Bath, Slitting Mill


6-_IMG5846_IanShaw513626_Ass5_IandP

Janet and Dawn, Priestesses of Avalon, Glastonbury Goddess Temple


7-_IMG5668_IanShaw513626_Ass5_IandP

Sarah, Moon Mother, Derbyshire


Reflection and Self Assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%)
 

Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

All the images are tied together cohesively by being in a landscape format (despite being portraits).  As well as keeping the frame dimensions consistent for the set, this subtly reminds us that there is more than just a portrait here – the landscape it is set in is just as important to the subject’s identity.
 

To decide upon the sequence of the images I printed all of them as small 5×7 proofs then spread them on a table.  This allowed me to play with various combinations.

I did consider whether the ‘Pagan Artist’ fitted aesthetically with the rest of the set but decided to keep it in.  This is because the whole point of the work is to show diversity.  If some seem not to ‘fit’ with the rest then that is exactly how these people are in real life!  The rhythm of the set is supposed to change with each image – dark, light, muted, bold, inside, outside.

Given more time I would have liked to have included another image of a lady called ‘Ellen of the Ways‘ who lives in woodland and wears stag antlers to connect with her spirit energies.  But the journey to the Scottish Highlands where she lives was not possible in the timeframe I have available to me.

As described under ‘Demonstration of Creativity’ I had to pre-plan various combinations of lighting –  including the use of coloured gels on off-camera flash – to portray a sense of how the environment is perceived by the subject.  In contrast to the creative lighting used in some, the Druid is shot with very natural lighting, echoing his connection to the natural world and trees around him.

I consider that the real test of success for this project is whether the subjects like the images and feel that they reflect their spiritual identity well.  I’m pleased that all have been very well received with the Sacred Sound Bath lady declaring that ‘it is the only photo of myself that I like!’

 

Quality of outcome (20%)
 

Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a
coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

 

I’m less satisfied in that I would like to have done more.  However, the demands of full time work and logistics of travel are limiting the pace at which I can get the photographs.  This is compounded by bad weather, travel and the onset of Christmas holidays, meaning that prospective subjects are now unavailable.  I do intend to continue this as an ongoing personal project.
 

The project required a lot of preplanning.  I was very glad that I got to know the subject, planned the shot then arrived with a clear plan and the right photographic gear.  In some cases I tested lighting setups at home in advance to save time with the subject.  One required a long walk and so carrying everything ‘to be on the safe side’ was simply not viable.

For several of the shots I used a tripod even though this was not technically necessary.  This allowed me to fix the composition and focus on staying engaged with the subject.  I found this to be a great help and will definitely do it again.  This was a tip provided to me by my tutor in the feedback from Assignment 1.

The First image suggests that the viewer may wish to come with us on a journey to see something new and spiritual.  It invites the viewer to consider that some places are pilgrimage locations rather than just tourist attractions.  What are people seeking?  What are they searching for?  The image also introduces the visual cue of a ‘path’ to echo the spiritual paths we will explore.

The final image, Moon Mother, looks out of frame to the right and towards the setting sun.  The moonlight is behind her, supplemented by flash (the image was actually taken on a full moon).   It therefore symbolises the end of something and the start of something else, finishing the set of images in a logical manner.

See the further comments above regarding selection and sequencing.

For Assessment, the images will be printed A4 and presented as physical prints.

 

Demonstration of creativity (20%)
 

Imagination, experimentation, invention,
development of a personal voice.

 

In this work I’ve tried to bring a fresh and interesting angle to the primary themes of the course: ‘identity’ and ‘place’.  I have not seen this aspect of spirituality explored in journals such as the British Journal of Photography before (the closest being Tomasso Fiscalletti’s study of Shamanic Practitioners in 2016; http://www.bjp-online.com/2016/10/photographing-shaman-women-in-south-africa/#closeContactFormCust00)
 

Possibly the most creative image is The Moon Goddess.  This shot attempts to portray the transient and illusive qualities of moonlight by using  a very long exposure combined with flash.  The off-camera flash was fitted with a pale blue gel to simulate the moonlight.  I then asked the model to move out of shot before the end of the exposure, allowing a small amount of the background to show through her cloak, creating that ethereal, ghostly aesthetic to the image.

For the Sacred Sound Bath, I wanted to create a sense of being in a tranquil  ‘bath’.  To create this effect I hid two off-camera flash heads fitted with green and blue gels behind the gongs.  A third flash was set up to provide some fill light from the camera.  I balanced the three manually using a light meter before taking a test shot.

The Priestesses of Avalon are lit by a single flash head fitted with a brolly.  They were celebrating Samhain (Hallowe’en) at the time which marks the influence of the dead ancestors on our lives.  Combining this lighting with the temple background I sought to show both light (for the living)and shadow (for the dead) as a metaphor for their beliefs at this time.

 

Context (20%)
 

Reflection, research, critical thinking(including learning logs).

Diane Arbus has been a major inspiration for this project in the way that she was able to win the confidence of individuals from more eclectic sectors of society and help them to feel positive about themselves in front of the camera.  It would be easy to make the subjects feel like freaks in front of the camera if not approached and photographed sensitively.
 

I’ve sought to follow a similar path here, identifying people with less than conventional spiritual paths and celebrate this rather than denigrate them.

In practival terms this meant  befriending them beforehand, talking sincerely about their path with empathy and understanding before even bringing a camera long.  Some of these people reported to have suffered ridicule in the past for their beliefs and they wanted to be assured that this was not going to happen here.


Contact Sheets

Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 4Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 3Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 2Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 1Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 5-3Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 5-2Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 6-2Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 5-1Ass5_IandP_Contact Sheet 6-1


 

Advertisements

Assignment 5: Firming up the approach and asking for models.

I have now settled on the idea of taking a series of images of spiritual people in their own special place.  I want the subjects to come from a variety of less common spiritual paths such as pagans, witches, shamans, etc. But rather than make them look like freaks, I want to present a dignified and empathic view of them in their land, their homes, living their lives fully.

One inspiration for the project is the empathic yet curious approach of Diane Arbus. Finding humanity’s more interesting people yet not making fun of them in any way. Before shooting I first need to know them.

To help find suitable people, I placed an advert in Social Media, paying to ‘Boost’ it’s visibility to a much wider audience than my own friends:


So far I’ve had a variety of people contact me from the Midlands, Scotland, south coast and London.  They include Druids, Shamanic Practitioners, Witches, Faerie artists, Moon Mothers and Priestesses of Avalon.  So the idea certainly looks viable.

I’ve now contacted all who have expressed an interest.  The next step it to work with each to decide:

  • Logistics -I work full time so we need to agree when we can meet to shoot
  • Understand more about them and what they do in their special place. This will allow me to plan the shoot to a degree. I want it to be collaborative with them feeling part of it, proud of how they are being portrayed.
  • My assignment deadline is 11 December, so I need to see if this looks achievable once plans are in place, and let my tutor know if not.

‘Photography is now over’ – Wim Wenders

It was a bit startling to read this when 1/3 of the way through a photography degree, especially coming from Wim Wenders, my favourite film director and a keen photographer himself!

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/12/wim-wenders-interview-polaroids-instant-stories-photographers-gallery?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Wenders, who created Paris, Texas and Until the end of the world, makes the argument that “It’s not just the meaning of the image that has changed – the act of looking does not have the same meaning. Now, it’s about showing, sending and maybe remembering. It is no longer essentially about the image”.

I would take the view that photography has always changed perceptions about how we see, and always will. Neipce, Fox Talbot and Daguerre opened the door for people to see themselves perhaps for the first time unadulterated by a painter’s vision. Sontag argued in the 70’s that Photography was undermining our sense of empathy through constantly seeing war images.

The ‘selfie generation’ is driving one such paradigm shift in ‘seeing’ right now. I believe that to be Wenders’ key point when he talks about ‘Now it’s about showing, telling and maybe remembering’ instead of having “produced something that was, in itself, a singular moment. As such, it had a certain sacredness. That whole notion is gone.”

Firstly, outside of the ‘selfie culture’ i’m not sure that I agree with him.  There is a thriving commiunity of contemporary photographic artists as well as installation artists using the medium as a tool for displaying their work.

Looking at the selfie culture itself, he has a point.  But Pictorialism, abstract and other movements may come and go as Wenders laments, but the fundamentals of photography are unchanged as it evolves as an art form. i.e. it is for the photographer to derive meaning from what he sees before him and communicate that meaning through an image.

I do agree that an intended meaning of “Look! Me at the Eiffel Tower doing a duck face” on a selfie isn’t very stimulating to most people.

Catcalling: Photography and society

This post, while not specifically related to the course content, felt worthy of saving and reflection.

Noa Jansma from Amsterdam was fed up of receiving unwelcome catcalls as she walked down the street. So she started publishing selfies of herself including the person who had done the catcalling.  The image title was the words they had said to her.

https://www.boredpanda.com/catcalling-selfies-project-dearcatcallers/?utm_content=inf_10_2558_2&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=socialedge&tse_id=INF_5ad22750aaa411e7952ec9abf6008d70

This shows how photography can be a helpful tool in reconciling and healing.  Also, it can become a powerful, unforgiving mirror held up to society, showing it what it really looks like.  The words seem colder and more sinister in print, accompanied by a picture of the person that said thrm.  There are some similarites here to ‘Take care of yourself’ by Sophie Calle who ‘turns things that annoy or hurt her into a game’.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Exercise 5.3

For this exercise I decided to photograph the journey of my local bus service, called the ‘Amberline’.  It takes a 6.5 mile route between my local pub in a sleepy village and Derby City Centre.  I decided to walk the route, taking a photograph at each and every bus stop along the way.

I selected a 43mm f1.9 prime lens on a full frame body.  This allowed me to travel light and keep to a single focal length for consistency.  The 43mm lens was chosen as it provides a very natural field of view.

The time of year fitted the ‘amber’ theme very well and so I sought to include as many autumn leaves as possible in the shots.  I also toned the images with a warm effect, heightening the autumnal tones / amber theme further and looking like a 1980’s ‘Instamatic’ camera style.  I took time to explore each bus stop looking for interesting facets – some are bent, some shelters have interesting community notices pinned inside them, giant Remembrance Day poppies and laylandii conifers squeezing against the glass in their quest to grow.

The initial image contained an image of a but for context along with the single word ‘Amberline’ as a title in the same font as the bus itself.  Images titles were all taken from the timetable, quoting the minutes past the hour that the bus arrives (it is an hourly service).  The last image shows the gps points for the images plotted on a map.

Starting out in the centre of the city, the route takes us past urban parks and Derby’s industrial centre – Smith’s clocks being world famous at one time.  It is interesting to note the transition into rural countryside before the traces of people begin again in the outlying villages.  But stops now seem less frequent and linked to pubs, churches and doctors’ surgeries, indicating the changing role of the bus service from leisure time, urban work transport, recreation and finally as a rural lifeline for outlying communities.

1_Corporation St 35 mins past the hour

35 mins past the hour


2_St Pauls Church 36 mins past the hour

36 mins past the hour


3_Chester Park 38 mins past the hour

38 mins past the hour


4_Alfreton Rd 38 mins past the hour

38 mins past the hour


5_Haslams Lane 39 mins past the hour

39 mins past the hour


6_Pektron 42 mins past the hour

42 mins past the hour


7_Croft Lane 44 mins past the hour

44 mins past the hour


8_A38 Island 45 mins past the hour

45 mins past the hour


9_Derby Garden Centre 45 mins past the hour

45 mins past the hour


10_Duffield Road 46 mins past the hour

46 mins past the hour


11_Queens Head 47 mins past the hour

47 mins past the hour


12_Morley Lane 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour


13_Alfreton Road Windy Lane 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour


14_Bottle Brook 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour


15_Westley Crescent 48 mins past the hour

48 mins past the hour


16_The Chase (opposite) 49 mins past the hour

49 mins past the hour


17_Armoury Cottage 49 mins past the hour

49 mins past the hour


18_Fox and Hounds 50 mins past the hour

50 mins past the hour


19_Fox and Hounds (opposite) 50 mins past the hour

50 mins past the hour


20_Sunnymeade 51 mins past the hour

51 mins past the hour


21_Coxbench Keepers Cottage 52 mins past the hour

52 mins past the hour


22_Sandy Lane 52 mins past the hour

52 mins past the hour


23_Smalley Mill Road 53 mins past the hour

53 mins past the hour


24_Church St Coach and Horses 53 mins past the hour

53 mins past the hour


25_Horsley Churches (Opposite) 54 mins past the hour

54 mins past the hour


26_Horsley Churches 54 mins past the hour

54 mins past the hour


27_Horsley Road 90 55 mins past the hour

56 mins past the hour


28_Woodhouse Road 56 mins past the hour

56 mins past the hour


29_Hunters Arms 57 mins past the hour

57 mins past the hour


30_Highfield Road 58 mins past the hour

58 mins past the hour


31_Alfred Road 58 mins past the hour

58 mins past the hour


32_Meadow Court 59 mins past the hour

59 mins past the hour


33_Windmill Avenue on the hour

on the hour


34_Arthur Medical Centre 1 min past the hour

1 min past there hour


35_Old Oak Inn 2 mins past the hour

2 mins past the hour


36_Amberline route

route map


Final thought: it was quite easy to feel rather silly and self conscious taking photos of bus stops! But once I’d decided on a clear idea it was easier to be ‘on a mission’ and focus on the job at hand.  Something to think about the next time I feel awkward photographing strangers.

Exercise 5.2

This exercise introduces the idea of noting down everything that is visible from a fixed position, similar to Georges Perec’s “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris” (1975) then make observations about it.

I selected a café in my nearest city of Derby, on the basis that there would be lots going on:

Key things I noted from the exercise:

  • There is so much more going on than we realise.  As a photographer, the lesson is to LOOK HARDER!
  • Even after an some time I was noticing new things that had been there all along.  I finished the exercise when I seemed to run out of new things to see (over an hour later)
  • Seemingly obvious things are not readily apparent.  For example, I noticed all sorts of details yet I had written several pages in my notebook before I realised there was a huge Primark store directly opposite.  Distractions can give a distorted view of reality.  Had I taken a photograph of the exact same scene then looked at it, I expect that I would have noticed the Primark store sooner.

Some specific considerations posed by the exercise text:

  • Can you transform this into a photography version? Yes, there woulds be various approaches.  One might be to photograph details in the order I noticed them, perhaps using a telephoto lens to be selective.  The final image could be the ‘complete picture’.
  • Would you stay in the same place or get in close to the things you listed?  Get in close, although the earlier idea of using a long lens would serve a similar purpose.
  • Would you choose to use your camera phone in order to be discreet or would you get your tripod out? I attracted some attention during this exercise as it was.  With any sort of camera I expect it would be more so, potentially also including the proprietor of the venue asking what I was doing and asking me to leave.  I think a stealthy approach would therefore be essential.
  • Would it be better in black and white or colour?  I think black and white would work better where the items of note were more likely to be the expressions of passers by, texture, patterns and other abstract shapes.  Monochrome is a good medium for separating these elements out.  But Colour feels more appropriate given that the goal is to present my view and then allow the viewer to contrast this with their view, unadultrated.
  • Would you include your list with the final images?  For the project identified above it would not be necessary.  The viewer would see the full picture – perhaps with a 360 degree camera, panoramic shot or wide lens – and make their own conclusions about whether their assessment of what is noteworthy differs to mine.

After performing the exercise I ready a copy of Perec’s book to compare.  Where I worked outwards, starting with my immediate surroundings then gradually extending my view let or right, Perec seems to group things too: colours, trajectories.  He performs the observation over three days, marked as separate chapters in the book.  Otherwise the approach is very similar.

I’m curious to seesaw this would work as a project so have added it to my ‘future projects’ list to come back to at a later date.  In some ways I’m also reminded of the 1980’s quiz show ‘Catchphrase’, where a common saying or idiom is revealed in small chunks.