This was a very challenging assignment to get my head into for various reasons. As such I spent a lot of time hitting dead ends and procrastinating, which is not something I’ve encountered before.
Identity and Place is definitely stretching me in new directions.
The ideas I was able to come up with seemed either ephemeral, in that I was not able to develop them into tangible plans that supported the assignment brief or were difficult to execure for practical reasons (time, logistics, etc). In addition to all this, work and family pressures limited the time I had available for photography and studying.
I purchased a book to help trigger some creativity which is reviewed here:
From the brief:
“This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to 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. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.”
I took the key words from the brief and played around with them. The book suggested this as a method of stimulating creativity while staying true to the brief. Essentially I had things like:
- 5x portraits
- interchanging studio and location
- themed body of work – how the set work together
One of the things that worked well for me in Part 2 was spending time with people to really understand what made them ‘tick’ then trying to portray this through an image.
However, I found that the greatest challenge was in finding the time to organise the logistics of getting subjects, at a free time, to a specific location when I was not at work doing my full-time day job.
So it made sense to try and turn this on its head for Assignment 2 (vice-versa): how could I show more creativity in terms of exploring the idea of portrait photography, while making while life easier for myself in terms of the logistics? I wondered if the answer lay in Exercise 2.4 and The Portable Tent Studio (Boothroyd & Roberts , 2015: p52)?
Inspired by Gone Astray by Clare Strand I spent a lot of time considering the purchase of a dedicated background then selecting a series of subjects to place against it, to highlight the disparity between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in society, aspiration and inequality gaps. I’m also very interested in how society seems to be splitting into two groups, not just based on wealth but in social and political ideology. We are becoming more polarised and less tolerant of people ‘not like us’. This idea could explore things such as pagan folk that I know in front of their village church (where seen as suspicious even though very similar in most ways), a homeless person in the doorway of a well known supermaket or bank, etc.
However this simply was not going to possible to orchestrate in the available timescales. Additionally I was concered that the idea might be too literally contrasting and just appear strange and a bit ‘forced’.
I also had the idea that it would be good to explore the idea of how people felt about their lives, past and future, through the background representing the past – or background to their life – and something else their hopes and aspirations. But this could be a challenge to get people to the right location with sensible timescales for the reasons outlined above.
The first option considered was to use studio lighting to take portraits of people based on how they feel their life is going right now and what they are looking forward to. The background would be part of the conversation then I would add this in afterwards using a chromakey background roll. I wanted the subjects to be able to freely choose the background and not be limited by the practicalities of gettigthere. Additionally, the logistical challenge was solved.
The risk of this approach were that the background looked too literal, artificial or ‘cheesy’. But I wondered whether this could be used in a positive way to detach the background from reality. Martin Parr in (Parr, 20xx) takes a similar approach where the perspective of the local photographer often seems quite incongruous. Here we have a similar situation in that we often perceive our personal history to be more of a monster – or nostalgic bliss – than it really was.
Another option was similar but involved asking the subjects what colour they would give to their past then use this as the background with coloured gels. This is less literal and relies on our perception of colour and semiotics for us to interpret the meaning. I thought it would be interesting to contrast this with them as they are now. The subject could also wear or hold an item in a corresponding colour representing where their aspirations now lay. These colours may be similar in a content person, or wildly different in someone whose life has since taken significant turns. The colours may jarr or be harmonious. There may be shadows of the past, or not in their lives represented by allowing shadows to fall on the background.
Logistics were a challenge for a group of subjects and an outdoor shoot. I considered a Facebook ‘appeal’ for willing subjects and take them to a pre selected location for a shoot. But available time meant that this would be hard to organise and at the mercy of the weather on that particular day. Initial explorations highlighted that it would be near impossible to get a date every subject and I could align to. The other option was to do each subject individually but, when working full time and having family duties on Sundays, this meant only Satudays were possible. So the shoot would take a long time to complete.
Realisation phase – the culmination of ideas
Still struggling for inspiration I finally realised that I was making life difficult for myself by being too ambitious. I needed to set my sights closer to home and accept the constraints upon me. Practitioners such as Gawain Barnard in Maybe We’ll Be Soldiers (Barnard, 2011) have used their local environment not just for convenience but because it allowed them to really get to know the people and environment they were working with while also exploring themselves deeper within that context (Barnard, 2011).
For practical and personal reasons I really liked the idea of working with a single person in a mixture of location and studio setting to highlight some sort of contrast in modern society . I wanted to know the person well (either beforehand or by the end of the project) and bring that personality out in the images with authenticity and empathy. Meanwhile – and just as importatly – I wanted to be able to readily identify with this person closely enough to be able to inject something of myself into the work. It shouldn’t just be photographs of ‘them’.
The next post under this category shows the final result:
Barnard, G. (2011). Maybe we’ll be soldiers. Available at: http://gawainbarnard.com/section834509.html [last accessed 12/03/17]
Ingledew, J. (2011). The a-z of visual ideas: How to solve any creative brief. London: Laurence King Publishing.
Parr, M. (20zsssss). Auto Portrait. Available online at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/martin-parr-martin-parr-s-hilarious-self-portraits. [Last accessed 12/03/17]