Assignment 1 – The Non-familiar

Lockdown 2020

Buttermere Way, Littlehampton, West Sussex, BN17

Introduction

Littlehampton is a small coastal town on the south coast of England. Buttermere Way is a cul-de-sac in the middle of an estate built around 1989. the houses are numbered consecutively from 1 – 52.  I have lived at No 19, with my husband for the past 7½ years.

ONS data from the 2011 Census (“Custom Report – Nomis – Official Labour Market Statistics”) says that the average age of people living in this area is 39, with 47% being aged between 30 and 59. The population identified as 96% white British. The majority of dwellings are classified as detached, semi-detach or terraced houses, with only 10% of residents living in flats. There were no shared dwellings. 72% of residents were in employment and 13% are retired.

On 23rd March 2020, the UK Government imposed a ‘Lockdown’ on the whole population in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  This meant that the majority of people were asked to stay at home, and could only go out, to go to work in a key worker role, get essential shopping such as food and medicine and for medical issues or collect prescriptions. We lived with the phrase: “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” ringing in our ears.

Many people like myself were able to work at home, but others who could not, were furloughed. People who were particularly vulnerable to the disease were asked to ‘shield’ themselves by not leaving their homes for 12 weeks. Anyone who had Coronavirus symptoms was asked to self-isolate with their families for 14 days.  A movement was started which encouraged people to come out on to their doorsteps on a Thursday night at 8:00 pm to clap for keyworkers, carers and NHS staff as a mark of thanks for their hard work saving lives and keeping us fed.

We stood on our doorsteps clapping for 10 consecutive weeks, smiling and waving at our neighbours, up and down the street. I had often smiled and said hello to passers by as I went to my car to go work, or thank someone who had taken a parcel in for me, but I didn’t really know anything about them as people at all.  Who are they? What do they do? How long have they lived in the same road as me? How have they been affected by this pandemic? What are similarities and differences from me. This series will document this moment in history. The people who lived in Buttermere Way during the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020.

In making this series, I have had the opportunity to meet and discover the interesting people, who live close to me. Due to confidentiality, it is not the intention of this study to note individual responses, although that data has been kept. It does aim to give a pictorial record of one member of the household.

To maintain a consistent theme, the portraits have been taken in a ‘documentary‘ format, showing the person looking at the camera, in front of their home. Where there is one, the house number has been included and people were asked to leave their doors open to engender a feeling of openess and welcome. Unlike August Sander‘s very formal poses of people with blank faces, images were taken during conversation so that they were relaxed and standing naturally. The camera (Nikon D810 with Tamron 24/70 mm 2.8 lens) was set on a tripod, at the same height for all of the images. The same depth of field and ISO were used throughout with speed and focal length adjusted depending on light conditions and distance. All images were taken in 5:4 format and social distancing rules were applied. By having them posed in this way, it shows that they are willing participants and not images just taken without their knowledge.

The outcome of this project, is a series of images documenting the residents of Buttermere Way during the Lockdown of 2020. This has been a voyage of discovery and a real pleasure to meet and find out about my neighbours. One lady even went to school with my sister-in-law! There are 52 houses in the street, therefore the project will be continued to capture as many of the residents as possible.

For the purposes of this Assignment, portraits of the first five residents I met have been included. However, this project is continuing with a view to documenting as many of the residents of Buttermere Way as possible. Click the button below to see the full series:


Brief

Your first assignment is to make five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you

Photography 1: Identity and Place, p53

Research

Research for this Assignment has taken me to a variety of photographers, such as August Sander, Martin Schoeller, Rineke Dijkstra and Clare Richardson. I chose to follow a documentary style of portrait as the person’s environment is important to the story, I want to convey.

Documentary photography is a style of photography that provides a straightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects and events, and is often used in reportage.

(Tate, 2017)

understanding the concept of Conceptual Art coupled with the documentary style steered my approach to the images I wanted to make.

To add context to the series, I accessed Office of National Statistics (ONS) report covering the characteristics of people and households in E00160147. This added an extra level of understanding to people living and working in my street and help me describe the area in the Introduction.

Process

Image Brief: fulfils the definition of a portrait (What is the definition of portrait photography) i.e. it Captures the personality or essence of a subject, it is staged and it is made for a purpose. Image staged as: one person from a household, to be directed to stand / sit outside of their home without posing. The number of the house to be visible, door left open. Enough of the property and / or front garden to tell the viewer something about the homeowner. All images to be taken in 5:4 ratio format to allow composition to capture enough of the background to frame the person in their environment. It also appears to be a common format for portraiture.

Approach: Contact my neighbours, arrange to visit them outside of their homes and talk to them. My primary aim was to get to know my neighbours and secondly to document their residence in Buttermere Way and find out how they have been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic Lockdown.

Technical: Nikon D810 camera with a 24/70mm 2.8 lens, to allow a wide enough angle to get the front of the house in at fairly close distance. Needed to be close enough to talk easily with the person, but also adhere to social distancing rules, i.e. >2 metres apart. The camera was mounted on a tripod, at slightly lower than head height for all images to give a consistent composition to the images. All images taken at f/4, ISO 200 with variable speed and focal point depending on lighting conditions and distance from subject.

Contacting People: Initial contact was made through the Buttermere Way FaceBook page; inviting people to help me with the project, adding a couple of example images to let people know what I was looking for. This generated 2/3 responses from neighbours in the top end of the street, i.e. numbers 2 – 10. Striking while the iron was hot, I went and took the first images the next day. Whilst visiting the neighbours who had contacted me, I was lucky enough to capture a couple of others who came out to talk whilst I was there.

Following this, I created a flyer and posted it through all the doors of half of the street. (I chose only half as I wanted to gauge the response). A copy of the leaflet can be seen here. This generated a few more contacts, which I followed up and took images of a few days later when the weather was better.

I found that setting up the camera and then engaging in conversation with my neighbours helped them relax, I held a handheld trigger in my hand whilst talking to them, and occasionally took an image during the conversation. This seemed to work well and actually I really enjoyed the conversations. I got better at asking questions the more I did.

Post Production: images were taken in RAW and processed using Adobe LightRoom. Adjustments made were:

  • lens correction
  • detail sharpening and noise reduction
  • Camera profile set to ‘Camera Standard’
  • some highlight and shadows adjustments
  • cropping if necesssary

Images were reviewed and the final images selected. These were then converted to JPGs and saved. Contact Sheets are posted below.

Presentation: I have used a gallery to display the images and have ordered them in numerical order of the houses with the intention of offering a logical progression and connectedness to the images either side of it. The images are all labelled with the number of the house, the first name of person and their ‘Lockdown’ status, i.e. ‘working from home’, furloughed etc.

Reflection

I was really excited by this project, It has stretched me to reach out to people and go and talk to them. I have sought the help of others for previous assignments, but have usually relied on people I know. I think the fact that after 7 1/2 years, the reason I don’t know people I live near is because I am inherently introverted. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to know them and this assignment and the Lockdown has come together to offer this opportunity. I did employ the use of social media rather than just walking up to them and asking, but it’s getting easier.

I have been very encouraged by the engagement I have had so far with this project and am keen to continue it and get to know more of my neighbours. My concern is that having made all this effort, I won’t be able to keep up the contact I have now made. I have also collected a lot of data about the people in order to answer my initial questions, I am unsure what to do with it or whether to include some of it in my editorial. As a social history project this may be of interest in the future, but I am conscious of people’s privacy. Furthermore, until I have concluded this project, I don’t think the data is complete.

As mentioned above, I intend to continue with this series of images to create a more complete record of the people living in this street during Lockdown. For the purposes of this assignment, I have kept it to one person per household, however, for the complete series, I am considering including couples or families.

I have created a collection in my personal website in order to keep posting new images as they are collected. This has been linked to this assignment, but I will discuss with my tutor about including the full series here. Ultimately, I would like to exhibit this series, locally, so I am bearing that in mind as I take the images.

Assessment Criteria

Context

Having decided on the theme of getting to know my neighbours to answer this brief, I have researched documentary and typology photographers, as well as portrait photographers. these images are taken in the context of the Coronavirus Lockdown of 2020 and therefore, the portraits are of people in their environment. The only typology used has been the sorting of the images by house number, although a bigger body of work, could compare the different impact of the Lockdown on individuals, such as, furloughed, working from home etc.

Demonstration of Creativity

This series, shows that I have been able to create the work, in spite of the pandemic, I have managed to get to know people and take images within the social distancing rules that currently persist. I defined my aims and used a consistent process to create a unified series of images.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

I have demonstrated that I have used my technical knowledge to:

  • create these images, by selecting the right lens to create the images I wanted,
  • using a tripod at the same height for all of the images, to ensure parity across the series of images.
  • standing behind the camera to ensure the subjects are looking directly into it.
  • using my knowledge of Adobe Lightroom, to ensure composition, colour tones, highlights and shadows to create a cohesive set of images.

Quality of Outcome

The quality of outcome is shown by the realisation of the vision. Having conceived this idea based on the constraints of the current Lockdown, engaging with people previously unknown to me and the production of a series of coherent and composed images that tell the story, I had envisioned.

Works Cited / References

“Custom Report – Nomis – Official Labour Market Statistics.” Nomisweb.Co.Uk, 2011, www.nomisweb.co.uk/reports/localarea?compare=E00160147. Accessed 12 June 2020.

“Harlemville – Clare Richardson.” Clare Richardson, 2019, www.clarerichardson.com/books/book-harlemville/. Accessed 13 June 2020.

“How To/Techniques: The Documentary Portrait – Insights.” Arts.Ac.Uk, 2020, insights.arts.ac.uk/how_to/documentary-portrait-no-1/. Accessed 13 June 2020.

“Labour Market Profile – Nomis – Official Labour Market Statistics.” Nomisweb.Co.Uk, 2011, www.nomisweb.co.uk/reports/lmp/ward2011/1140856679/report.aspx. Accessed 12 June 2020.

Tate. “Documentary Photography – Art Term | Tate.” Tate, 2017, www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/documentary-photography. Accessed 13 June 2020.

—. “Documentary Photography – Art Term | Tate.” Tate, 2017, www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/documentary-photography#:~:text=Documentary%20photography%20is%20a%20style,on%20the%20bed%2C%20NYC%201982. Accessed 13 June 2020.

—. “‘Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29 1994’, Rineke Dijkstra, 1994 | Tate.” Tate, 2010, www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dijkstra-julie-den-haag-netherlands-february-29-1994-p78097. Accessed 13 June 2020.

—. “Rineke Dijkstra Born 1959 | Tate.” Tate, 2017, www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/rineke-dijkstra-2666. Accessed 6 June 2020.

Victoria. “Contemporary Documentary Photographers – Victoria and Albert Museum.” Vam.Ac.Uk, 2016, www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/contemporary-documentary-photographers/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgJiOu7z_6QIVGO3tCh01PQItEAAYASAAEgL6_PD_BwE. Accessed 13 June 2020.

Contact Sheets:

Light bulb moment

Conceptual Art

where the concept or idea is more important than the aesthetics of the image?

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/conceptual-art

OMG I get it! I’ve always considered that the aesthetics are as important as the concept. Now I understand, why haven’t understood some photography. I do however, feel that for me the image is about the aesthetics as well, but now I understand this, I can be aware of it and explain it in my work.

Historic Portrait

Yousef Karsh, Albert Einstein, 1948

Yousef Karsh said that he had an endless fascination with his subjects’ ‘inward power’. Einstein is not looking directly at the camera, in fact he appears to be staring into space, that kind of stare when you’re thinking and not really looking at anything, perhaps evoking the cerebral power of his mind. He said he found Einstein “Spoke sadly, yet serenely, as one who had looked into the universe, far past mankind’s small affairs”.

There is a sadness to this images but it also feels very intimate. There is a kindliness to his eyes. The image is cropped in close around him, he is wearing a casual jumper, not a suit or formal wear. His hair is unkempt and his hands are clasped as almost in prayer.

His images often include the subject’s hands, but not always so prominently, it feels likely they are given equal importance to his mind.

Karsh has used high contrasts to add depth and mood to the image. He has used a Rembrandt lighting style which is above the subject, pointed down at 45 degrees – thus creating shadows on the sides of the face away from the light, but casting enough light to give a catchlight in the both eyes. This image also has less bright light behind the subject, in order to separate him from the background.

Einstein is quite often pictured sticking his tongue out or pulling silly faces, so this is one of only a few serious images of him. At his funeral in 1955,  J. Robert Oppenheimer summarised his impression of Einstein as a person: “He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness … There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn“. Therefore, this is an unusually serious image of Einstein. It is worth noting that in 1948 the year this image was taken, Einstein received surgery to reinforce an abdominal aortic aneurysm, so he may have been feeling unwell at the time this was taken.

Exercise Details and Research

Exercise 1: Historic portrait

Select one portrait to really study in depth. Write a maximum of 500 words about this portrait, but don’t merely ‘describe’ what you see. The idea behind this exercise is to encourage you to be more reflective in your written work (see Introduction), which means trying to elaborate upon the feelings and emotions evoked whilst viewing an image, perhaps developing a more imaginative investment for the image.

The portrait can be any of your choice, but try to choose a historic practitioner of note. This will make your research much easier, as the practitioner’s works will have been collected internationally by galleries and museums and written about extensively. Read what has already been written about your chosen practitioner’s archive, paying particular attention to what historians and other academics have highlighted in their texts.

use this model to write review:

  • The Physical Description: Consider the human subject within the photograph, then start with a forensic description, moving towards taking up the position of the sitter. Visualise yourself as the sitter in order to bring out the feelings associated with the photograph.
  • The Context of Production: Consider the photographs context in terms of when, where, how, by whom and why the photograph was taken.
  • The Context of Convention: Place the photograph into context in terms of the technologies used, aesthetics employed, photographic conventions used.
  • The Currency: Consider the photographs currency within its context of reception, who or what was the photograph made for? Who owns it now and where is it kept? Who saw it then and who sees it now?

RESEARCH

Whilst researching for this exercise, I came across the work of Yousef Karsh, and in particular this image of Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein’s birthday was 14th March, which is also my birthday and also that of my husband and Michael Caine (not a lot of people know that!). Therefore, I felt like had a connection with this image, so have chosen to study it.

Reading Yousef Karsh’s biography, I had quite an emotional response to his life story and found him a fascinating person. A few things I noted of interest:

  • Karsh attended art classes to study the work of the great masters, especially Rembrandt and Velázquez. he never learned to paint or draw, but learned about lighting, design, and composition.
  • Karsh said of his mentor Garo: “Understand clearly what you are seeking to achieve,” he would say, “and when it is there, record it. Art is never fortuitous.” When he had made six glass plates of a person, there had been much sharing of truth between the photographer and his subject.
  • Karsh learned ‘to do his homework’
  • The picture of Churchill on the new £5 note was taken by Karsh in 1841 in Canada

Albert Einstein

Karsh’s image was taken on 11th February 1948 at The Institute for Advanced Study:

“At Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, I found Einstein a simple, kindly, almost childlike man, too great for any of the postures of eminence. One did not have to understand his science to feel the power of his mind or the force of his personality. He spoke sadly, yet serenely, as one who had looked into the universe, far past mankind’s small affairs. When I asked him what the world would be like were another atomic bomb to be dropped, he replied wearily, ‘Alas, we will no longer be able to hear the music of Mozart.’”

https://karsh.org/photographs/albert-einstein/

Canadian photojournalist – Ted Grant – is quoted as saying:

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”

This quote came to my mind when looking at this image. It seems like a lot of Karsh’s images, and you can see the influence of Rembrandt in his lighting of the face

Finding the light and dark in the image

This mark up shows the patches of brightest light and darkest shadows, which indicates that it was lit from above at about 45 degrees angle and slightly behind. there is just enough light peaking around his face to create a catchlight in his eye.

The image is also back lit with a less bright light, to add a bit of separation between the subject and the background.

Karsh said of his subjects:

The endless fascination of these people for me lies in what I call their inward power. It is part of the elusive secret that hides in everyone, and it has been my life’s work to try to capture it on film. The mask we present to others and, too often, to ourselves may lift for only a second—to reveal that power in an unconscious gesture, a raised brow, a surprised response, a moment of repose. This is the moment to record.

https://karsh.org/a-brief-biography/

I also note that the subject’s hand’s play a part in many of his images.

Bibliography

Works Cited

“Famous Patients, Famous Operations, Part 3.” Medscape, www.medscape.com/viewarticle/436253. Accessed 25 May 2020.

“Margaret Bourke-White.” International Center of Photography, 12 June 2019, www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/margaret-bourke-white?all/all/all/all/0. viewed whilst researching for a Historic Portrait to review for Exercise 1.  Really like her work but it’s more photojournalistic than portrait.

Mike. “11 Best Portrait Photographers to Inspire You.” FilterGrade, 13 Jan. 2015, filtergrade.com/best-portrait-photographers-to-inspire-you/. looking for renowned portrait photographers –  Yousef Karash and Herb Ritts caught my eye.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Albert Einstein.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Dec. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein.

“Yousuf Karsh.” Yousuf Karsh, 2019, karsh.org/. brilliant biography of Yousef Karsh on this site.

Howell, Elizabeth. “Albert Einstein: Biography, Theories & Quotes.” Space.Com, Space.com, 14 Mar. 2017, www.space.com/15524-albert-einstein.html.