Category Archives: Execution 3

Assignment 3 – Self reflection

 

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I made no use of titles this time – viewers are given much more freedom to interpret the images in their own way (compared to Assignment 2), while I’m still confident that underlying narrative was clear enough without textual support.

Evidence of selecting appropriate camera and lenses for the shooting is given, seeking to avoid use of flash despite working indoors in preference for maintaining a good working relationship with naturally lit subject.  Recognising the need to work quickly and unobtrusively.  Visual awareness shown in spotting expressions and details during the shoot that complimented each other to create an overall cohesiveness to the set.

Social empathy and discernment while shooting in an environment with a very significant emotional context. After the media interest around the story I was keen to understand the personal motivations, approach and differences to a ‘normal’ western death.  I feel this comes through in the selected images as a heartfelt, authentic and loving celebration of life, not as a strange counterculture group on the fringes of Western society (as portrayed in some of the more sensationalist ‘Red top’ press).  As discussed in the main assignment text, I considered the inclusion of some abstracts / close ups of ritual items – shrine statues of Indian gods, personal artefacts of the deceased – but felt this muddled the key meanings around grief/celebration when included in a larger set.

Quality of outcome

Seeking to tell an interesting story made – in my eyes – of two contrasting sides.  Images sorted in a logical and coherent manner to underpin the narrative, revealing an apparent paradox in the grieving process – that of grieving itself and as a celebration of a life.
Evidence provided for the structured approach to image selection (using Adobe Lightroom’s ‘Slideshow’ feature.  Various collections were created with different images, in different orders before settling on the final edit.  In this way the images can be dragged and dropped around to instantly see the effect.  This was one of several approaches suggested by my tutor in previous feedback).
I learned that it was interesting to note how small changes can have a big impact. For example, images 4 and 5 were originally the other way round.  When viewing in sequence this created the impression of them looking ‘away’ from each other rather than ‘towards’. Swapping them around deepened the sense of community between the individuals even though they are not on the same photograph.  As stand-alone images, not in a set, this would of course be irrelevant.

Demonstration of creativity

At one level this is just event photography, in a similar way to how many other weddings, celebrations and other events are recorded every day.  But I felt like I was taking a risk here due to the high sensitivity of the occasion and emotions involved, high level of public/media interest in the story and potential to embarrass my partner had anything gone wrong and – perhaps most significantly – the inability to reshoot any of the images should there be a problem.  This was a ‘one shot’ assignment.
Equally, I was confident that my interpretation of the event met all the assignment criteria for ‘Window’ so I abandoned earlier ideas in preference for this one.  I had to work hard to understand the approach these people were taking towards the death of a loved one and reflect this with sincerity.  With regards to the development of a personal voice, I’ve sought to express the two conflicting emotions in the room as I saw them, rather than this being any suggested ‘theme’ for the photographs by anyone else.  I’ve told my story of their story which has been all over the news.  I leave it for others to judge whether the two viewpoints are consistent.

Context

I’ve sought to demonstrate in this assignment how I have taken on board previous feedback and adapted my approach, especially around the use of my blog, confidence around people and taking a risk.  For example the breaking up of blog posts into separate posts to show the evolution of ideas over time (including the abandonment of ideas which I may one day return to).
I’m also being more succinct in my blog to make it easier for the tutor/assessor to read.  I now use a paper journal for ideas ‘on the fly’ then add this to my blog later.  Im finding that this allows me to ‘think around things’ more before committing them to the blog.
I have also tried to show more of the evolution of my editing process rather than simply presenting the final cut for the assignment. My rationale for my choices has been made clear – including where reflective thinking caused me to change my mind (e.g the use of abstract close ups).
End.
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Assignment 3 – selection

Overall approach

In a notebook, I first clarified the underlying narrative that I wanted to express and proceeded to filter-out images that met that criteria.  Short provides some good pointers for this in Context and Narrative (Short, 2011.  p102-107).  The key messages I wanted to express were:

  • Whilst parts of the day were extemely moving and sad, this was fundamentally a celebration of a life well lived
  • The power of objects; small details.  The shrine/alar to the deceased was a key focal point for the day, drawing emotions of both celebration and deepest grief at different times in proceedings.  I wanted to capture the power of sentimentality within inanimate objects.  Every item was there for a specific reason.
  • Biodegradable balloons carrying wild flower seeds were released, carring a strong message of hope, loss, potential new life (along with more obvious metaphors of death associated with letting go; something rising to the sky).

Following this I expected further iterations of sorting and refinement before arriving at the final submission.

The final result is a balance, with an equal number of images either side of a punctum, an unexpected change of viewpoint.  The first half acknowledges loss and grieving.  The second a different pespective, a celebration of life.  The work images are intended to raise questions about how we relate to death as a society.


Key decisions taken in editing

  • The sequence is intended to take the viewer on a journey:
    • Observing a gathering in progress
    • Literal and signified respresentations of loss, solitude and sadness
    • A sudden, unexpected change of perspective
    • A celebration of life then, finally, new hope.
  • I chose not to include the widowed husband in any of the submitted images.  Although he was willing, the reason for this was that I wanted the viewer to have space to explore their own relationship with death and loss, rather than being asked to relate to someone else’s situation.

Flowers feature in three of the images, providing a signifier towards impernance (a key theme in their Buddhist beliefs on life and death).  In the first half of the set the connotation is of lonliness and abandonment – a single stem discarded on an empty chair.  Later in the series the same flower is seem in a more positive light – looking upwards.  Finally, the cycle of life is pointed out to us with new hope for the future – a young boy offering a flower as a gift.

My first ‘cut’ had more detail shots of ceremonial items included.  Although these were visually interesting, I reviewed this decision later in the editing process because they appeared to detract from the key meanings around the main paradox of grieving for a loss and celebrating a life simultaneously.  These were therefore removed to give a final sequence of 11 images.


The images

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1. 1/400th at f/5.0. ISO400 70mm

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2. 1/400th at f/4.0. ISO400 140mm

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3. 1/400th at f/2.8. ISO320 70mm

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4. 1/2,500th at f/4. ISO500 70mm

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5. 1/4,000th at f/4.0. ISO400 200mm

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6. 1/30th at f/7.1. ISO500 35mm

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7. 1/400th at f/8. ISO800 43mm

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8. 1/400th at f/8. ISO100 24mm

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9. 1/400th at f/8. ISO1600 160mm

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10. 1/125th at f/9. ISO1600 123mm

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11. 1/250th at f/5.6. ISO640 115mm


References:

Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Assignment 3 – Execution

On the day of the event I arrived early and made sure that I had time to speak to people.  My objective was to:

1. Spend time with the widowed husband to understand what photos he would want and what (if anything) was off limits.  I sought to establish a rapport, an understanding of their Hindu/Buddhist spirituality and lifestyle. Also, to onlookers I wanted to be seen to be engaging with the deceased’s husband rather than just ‘some bloke with a camera’.

2. Allow my partner to introduce me to other key people.  This, along with the above point, I hoped would allow people to be less suspicious of me with a camera.

3. I learned the schedule for the day – knowing when to expect speaking, ceremonial/ritual practices, drumming, chanting and a balloon release.  I made sure that i understood the practical and spiritual significance of each. This would allow me to tell an authentic story of the day and be in the right place at the right time.

4. It was clear that objects, not just people, were of significance, there being a large altar space with the deceased’s ashes as centrepiece.  It would be essential to capture these details as part of telling the story.

Several hundred images were shot.  The immediate task was then to remove the duff ones to give a contact sheet of viable images.  This ‘first cut’ is below.

The next post will cover selection and ordering of the final set.