The Brief: Consider the work of both Callahan and Germain, then select a subject for a series of five portraits, varying the locations and backgrounds. The one consistent picture element must be the subject you have chosen, who must appear in all five images. Think carefully about where you choose to photograph them, either using a pose that offers a returned gaze to the camera, or simply captures them going about their daily business. The objective once again is to visually link the images together in some way.
The Head, St Romeros
Image 1 of 5
This exercise came out of a request to photograph a school, who had recently changed their name and therefore, needed new images for their prospectus and website. https://stromeros.co.uk/
The model in these images is Mr Byrne, the Head Teacher at the school, taken during two separate sessions at the school, capturing the day to day life of the school.
There are a mixture of formal posed images and some when he is not aware of the camera. Having remembered my conversation with my tutor about authentic smiles / expressions, I took my time taking the shots once the scene had been set up, to give the people chance to relax.
Although this was an opportunistic chance to capture these images, I did think about the exercises already completed in the course and employed some of the principles. I tried to engender a feeling of capturing candid moments in the life of school and head teacher, even though all of the images except one were actually staged.
This exercise was opposite to the last one (Exercise 2.3) in that it asked for some consistency in the theme, but this time it is the background that needed to remain the same, whilst the model changed.
We are now in a time where ‘Lockdown’ has been relaxed enough to allow us family visits in our gardens, whilst still remaining socially distanced. i.e. 2 metres apart. Therefore, this series comments on that requirement, by placing 3 chairs close together in the garden, representing a time when we might have sat that close to each other chatting. Each model was asked to sit in a different chair and asked to act as if they might have been talking to the people in the other chairs.
Finally the compilation image shows how they might have looked had they actually been sitting together.
The camera was on a tripod, at least 2 mtrs away from the models adding the context of social distance from the photographer as well as each other. The same settings were used for each image with the exception of the focus being reset onto the person’s face.
Unlike Irving Penn and Clare Strand the background is real, it is my garden, I did not want to isolate the subjects from reality but fix them in it, as this is a moment in time, which we may never experience again in our lifetimes. I did consider using a bench in a park for a more aesthetically pleasing background, but that would have detracted from the comment being made. The background and chairs do tie the images together and the model in the image and those not in it are equally important.
I actually am really pleased with this concept and feel that I did it justice for this exercise. Perhaps if I had more time, I could have arranged the garden a bit differently and made the images more aesthetically interesting. I was lucky with the the way the models were dressed, as the colours they were wearing did tie them together nicely.
Approach this exercise with care and a diligent awareness of health and safety both for yourself and others. Closely consider the work of the practitioners discussed above, then try to shoot a series of five portraits of subjects who are unaware of the fact they are being photographed. As you’ve seen, there are many ways in which you can go about this, but we can’t stress enough that the objective here is not to offend your subjects or deliberately invade anyone’s privacy. If you don’t have permission to shoot in a privately-owned space, then you should only attempt this work in a public space, where permission to shoot is not necessarily required.
This is a very interesting challenge, which some students will find incredibly difficult. Remember that the creative outcome of the practitioners discussed above has come about through a sustained approach, which is then heavily edited for presentation. You’ll need to shoot many images in order to be able to present five final images that work together as a set.
Think everything through carefully before attempting this exercise as the responsibility for the outcome of the portraits rests entirely with you. If during the course of this exercise you are challenged in any way, be prepared to delete what you have shot. If you can see that you are annoying someone, or making them feel uncomfortable, stop shooting immediately. You’ll be required to operate with a degree of common sense here and not take unnecessary risks.
There are ways of completing this exercise without incurring risk, such as shooting the work at a party you’ve been invited to, where all the guests have been invited for a particular celebration.
The reflection about your methodology (your approach to how you have achieved the images in relation to why you chose what you have chosen), will be as important as the final five images, so be prepared to write about how you found the experience (around 500 words) and present your findings via your learning log or blog.
I enjoyed this exercise a lot. Having done some street photography before, I realised that most people pay you no attention, when you’re taking photos in the street, especially where I live in a seaside town.
I decided therefore, to use my Nikon D810 with a 70-200 mm zoom lens. Although this is a big piece of kit, most people just ignored me taking photos, even when directly pointing the lens towards them. I chose this because I was able to stay quite away back from the person I wanted to take a photo of, often with them completely oblivious to me taking the image. I also used a fairly shallow depth of field (f/4) in order to help me pick out the subject I wanted to highlight.
In Evans’ Subway Series, he was aiming to take ‘truly unposed portraits’ because the subjects were unaware, and although I found during this exercise that this was the case, it still remains that as the photographer, I did compose the image and placed the subject in the frame where I wanted them. Of course, I didn’t hide my camera and in fact did completely the opposite and made my camera very obvious.
Keshia grew up in Felpham, West Sussex, the beach was practically on her door step. She spent a lot of her youth there. As a young mum of two small boys, she now loves to go there with them, but also sometimes on her own to enjoy a walk, sit and read a book or even take her sewing.
Kelly, Grandparent’s Garden
Kelly remembers lots of family get-togethers in her grandparents’ garden when she was growing up. Her mum owns it now and Kelly and her own family are still regular visitors. It remains a place where she feels happy and relaxed.
Helen in her garden
Helen’s garden is a playground for her son and a place of relaxation for her. She loves to sit in this seat with a cuppa. The trees and garden ornaments create little pockets of privacy and quiet.
Approach and Implementation
The exercise brief (outlined below) calls for three images of three different subjects, taken in specific locations which have significance the them. With COVID-19 Social Distancing still in place, it also meant having to limit those locations to out door places where the 2 metre distance rules could be maintained.
Model Call: In order to complete this exercise, I created a FaceBook post on my personal page, explaining my requirements and asking for volunteers. Unlike the first assignment, I thought it would be good to do this exercise with people I know.
Four people initially responded, Keshia, Kelly and two others. With all four, I messaged them back privately and conducted conversations with them, asking if they had an outdoor space they liked to go or was significant to them. One person didn’t get back to me, but I had conversations about where was significant to them.
As these are people I know, and have photographed before, I found it easy to strike up a conversation about what I needed to achieve and they were more than happy to help me out. For most of them though, I don’t think they were used to be asked where they would like to go. Mostly, the photographers suggest places, and they are not professional models.
Keshia wanted to go to the local beach in Felpham, where she had spent a lots of her childhood and now goes there to relax. This was a place I also know, as I had lived there for many years whilst my own children were growing up. So it was easy to agree the best place and time to take her portraits.
Kelly another childhood friend of my daughter, is currently suffering from a bad back and is staying at her mum / grandparent’s bungalow to avoid using the stairs at home. Therefore, she was a bit limited as to where she could go, but suggested, either the church where she got married or her grandad’s garden. We agreed that the garden was probably the best option bearing in mind her current mobility.
Helen, my sister, stepped in at the last minute as my third subject had to cancel due to other commitments. (I would still like to take Grace’s portrait as she wanted to visit her childhood village which I think would be an interesting shoot). Helen volunteered herself to help me fulfil this brief and invited us to a socially distanced BBQ. Which seemed like a great offer and a chance to take her portrait in her own garden, which of course has significance to her. For her portrait, I liked the idea of shooting through the trees to achieve this ‘secret garden’ feel. I also took some her in her garden studio, which I really liked, but felt this one worked better with the set.
Although all of these images were taken in very different places, I decided to use the same set up, using a Nikon D810 and a Tamron 85 mm 1.8 fx prime lens. I often use this lens for portraiture as I like the quality of the outcome. All of the images were taken in late afternoon, early evening, which meant that the sun was slightly lower in the sky hoping for better light on the subject faces.
At each location, I tried a number of different poses, angles and heights, as well as shooting through things and asking the subjects to interact with the place.
As the locations had a significance to the subject, I wanted to try to portray that in the image, therefore it was necessary to include some of the background in the image, I also wanted them to definitely be within the locations. For example by placing Keshia’s hands on the railing and have it lead into the image, it shows her connection within the landscape. With Kelly’s image, I shot through the iron work of the bench she was sitting on. The criss-cross shadows and the vertical lines place her in the space and Helen is also sitting on her bench, but this time I shot through the foliage to create foreground and background, which placed her in the location.
All of the images were editing using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and cropped to 5:4 format, which I like to use for portraits.
Keshia and Helen’s images have a lovely light quality to them as they were taken around 7:30 / 8:00 pm, whereas with Kelly’s the shadows were a bit harsher having been taken a couple of hours earlier. The softer light works well for portraits.
Even if you know a location, it can take a few minutes just to work out what might look good and where you can shoot from to get a good angle. So I was conscious not to rush. As I know all of the subjects, it was fairly easy to keep talking throughout the shoot, and let them just relax before taking the shots. I remembered my tutors comments about fake smiles so worked very hard not to get ‘cheesy’ grins.
With this in mind, Part Two asks you to consider what notions of identity you wish to reveal and to make decisions about the methods you’ll employ to secure a successful resolution. In addition to exploring the unaware / aware dichotomy, the exercises that follow pose questions about the interrelationship between portraits made in the studio (inside) and portraits made using a specific location (outside). You’ll get an opportunity to test both and, in the assignment, an opportunity to shift between them.
Exercise 1: Individual spaces
In this exercise, you’ll build on your ‘Background as context’ exercise in Part One by taking the relationship between your subject and their surroundings a step further. The objective here is to try to create a link between the two components of your image, i.e. the subject and their surroundings.
Make three different portraits using three different subjects. Prior to shooting your portraits, engage with your subjects and agree three different specific locations which have some relevance or significance to them individually. You’ve already tried to give a particular context to a portrait by considering how the background might link to the subject positioned in the foreground, but now you must go one step further and negotiate a specific physical location where you’ll photograph your subject. This can either be inside or on location, but the key to this portrait is the interaction you’ve had with your subject in identifying a place that has specific meaning for them.
Each portrait should be accompanied by a very short piece of text explaining the choice of location or venue. Don’t be tempted to create a work of complete fiction here; it might make life easier for you, but you’d be missing an opportunity to really engage with your subject and collaborate with them in the image-making process. You have complete freedom to work this out as you feel appropriate; for example, you may choose to theme the narrative behind all three portraits. Think carefully about how these images could work together as a set. For instance, if you plan to shoot outside, try to make sure the lighting conditions/ time of day/weather conditions all work coherently.
Present all three images together as a series and reflect upon how successful this exercise was in your learning log or blog. Write around 500 words.
“Memories evoked by a photograph do not simply spring out of the image itself, but are generated in a network, an intertext, of discourses that shift between past and present, spectator and image, and between all these and cultural contexts, historical moments” Kuhn, A. Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination (2002) London: Verso. Pg 09.
Look through your own family archive and try to discover a series of portraits (four or five) that have existed within this archive, but have never been placed together before. The portraits can contain individuals or even couples; they may span generations, or just be of the same person throughout the years (chronotype). Whichever way you wish to tackle this exercise, there must be a reason or justification for your choices. What message are you trying to get across about these portraits?
Through doing this exercise, you are physically bringing together portraits that have never been viewed as a series prior to your intervention. Therefore, you need to think really clearly about what your choices are and who you decide to select. Alan Fletcher (2018), OCA Image Library
You can either make physical copies of the originals and work with these in your learning log, or re-photograph them digitally (or scan) and post them on your blog. Either way, your thoughts about these portraits will be the key to this exercise. Try to articulate what is happening when you bring these images together for the first time. Apart from the obvious – the subject, perhaps – is there anything else that links the imagery together? The location? Dates? Activities?
Moving back to Annette Kuhn again here, think about any inscriptions that might be made on the imagery, detailing whom these inscriptions might have been for, in terms of perhaps owning the memory evoked by the image. In relation to one of her own family portraits, Kuhn describes a caption written by her mother, stating:
“This power-play was an attempt by her mother to force other memories into line with her own. Her mother was pinning the moment the photograph was taken of her daughter to an event that had happened in her own life. Her mother thus literally ‘writes’ herself into the picture (although not being present in it literally), by trying to claim the right to define the memories evoked by it, she is thus attempting to dictate the memory to the viewer.”
Kuhn, A. Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination (2002) London: Verso. Pg 17-18.
Write 500–800 words reflecting on this exercise and include it in your learning log or blog.
Helen is my younger sister. There’s just us two, she is now the person who have known the longest in my life, as both of our parents have died. I chose to bring together these images as I haven’t really thought about the special relationship we have before and how that has been recorded through our lives.
I have noticed that I have a lot of images from our early childhood, these were in the most part inherited from my mother after she passed away. These had been digitalised and so easy to find. I am sure that I do have images from our 20’s and 30’s as physical copies but I would have to dig them out. Therefore, there are very few in this collection that show her and I during the time I was bringing up my own children. This is coupled with the fact that we lived in separate parts of the country during that time and didn’t see a lot of each other.
A few years ago Helen moved from London to live only half an hours drive away. I think since then our relationship has strengthened. Living in an area I wasn’t brought up in and having few relatives left, Helen provides me with that shared history and memory that I find really grounding. She has been part of my life through so many ups and downs and I don’t have explain anything to her. It’s comforting.
Reflecting on my selection, I wondered of Helen was picking the images, would she pick any of the same ones. Before showing her my selection, I sent her the file of images I had amassed,to see which 6 she would pick. She picked three of the same images that I did, which was actually surprised me more than I expected. This engendered a long conversation between us.
I think anyone else looking at the images without text, would probably understand that we are sisters.
I also printed them out and moved them around, to see if the order makes a difference to the understanding, but actually liked them as a set that you can move around and touch and look at each one in more depth.
This work attempts to capture the changes in a subject’s facial expression on hearing words associated with emotion. The words were drawn at random from a pack of 40 flashcards. The first image was a control ‘blank’ image, the remainder are displayed in the order in which they were taken.
Brief: In response to the work of the artists you’ve read about so far, try to create a photographic portraiture typology which attempts to bring together a collection of types. Think carefully about how you wish to classify these images; don’t make the series too literal and obvious.
Once complete, post these portraits on your blog or in your learning log, with a written statement contextualising the work
As I don’t have access to many people during Lockdown, I think I will have to consider a typology around a single subject.
Subject: Considering the work of Martin Schoeller , I like the idea of photographing the portraits in a consistent manner especially in close up. I could combine this with different facial expressions, much like Heubler‘s work. Therefore, my typology would be more about comparison / difference than similarity.
Environment: A neutral background, close up, shallow depth of field
Process: Schoeller’s idea of a consistency will be used to light the subject, who will be framed close-up in the frame, flat lighting to illuminate all parts of the face. This is in contrast to Yousef Karsh’s lighting which used light and shadow to create depth and mood. A word will be read to the subject and take one image, per word, asking the subject to react however they wish to the word. In his video about identical twins, Schoeller’s technical set up is shown, I will try and do something similar.
Presentation: the images will be presented as a gallery together so that the view can compare the different images together.
I started with a set of 40 flashcards which I found on the internet with the words: star struck, sleepy, surprised, suspicious, unhappy, woozy, worried, ok, grumpy, cold, sad, hungry, embarrased, puzzled, happy, content, scared, in love, excited, rich, hot, cool, shocked, in tears, exhausted, injured, feeling down, angelic, meh, fine, angry, nauseous, furious, annoyed and sick.
These are all emotions with stereotypical faces / reactions attached to them, it would be interesting to see if the subject pulls the faces similar to those drawn on the cards? I feel it would be good to ask a few of these, but also to add some more topical words that new to our vocabulary, such as ‘Brexit’, ‘black lives matter’ etc
I was mostly happy with the technical results of images. I attempted to recreate Schoeller’s framing and lighting, but found that although the camera was set up on a tripod, and wasn’t moved during the session, the orignal focus which was on the eyes, became out of focus as the subject moved in response to prompts. If I did this again, not only would I take less images, but I would attempt to reset the subject back to their blank expression prior to delivering the next prompt.
I would also use strobe lights on a trigger rather than the constant static lighting and this would increase the speed and reduce blurring around the eyes.
I’m not sure that this project really fulfils the brief, because of the use of only one subject. When I am able to access more sitters, it would be good to recreate with further subjects to see if their expressions are similar when prompted by the same words. Testing the theory that expressions are learned behaviour rather than natural reactions.
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.
Heubler was an American artist who moved from painting, sculpting and installation art work to documentary photography to explore social environments and the effect of passing time on objects.
Huebler took 10 portraits of the photographer Bernd Becher (himself a noted typologist) showing a sequence of deliberate poses Becher was asked to perform (priest, criminal, lover, old man, policeman, artist, Bernd Becher, philosopher, spy, nice guy).
A few months after the portraits had been taken, Huebler forwarded them to Becher and asked him to make the correct associations. The two different sequences are then presented to the viewer, the captions determined first by the photographer (Huebler) and second by the subject (Becher).
Heubler never exhibited the images in the original order and with the original classifications, only with Becher’s choice and we never know which ones were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Perhaps that’s the whole point. The viewer will always use their own classifications or typologies to organise a set of images. Especially in a portrait where there is no other information about the person.
I think this emphasises the fact that it is very difficult to imbue meaning and or knowing about a person in and a portrait, especially studio images with little or no extra ‘clues’.
Make a portrait of someone you know, paying very close attention to what is happening in the background of the shot. Be very particular about how you pose the subject and what you choose to include in the photograph. Ideally, the background should tell the viewer something about the subject being photographed. Reflect upon how successful this project was in your learning log or blog, discussing specifically what your intentions were in terms of the background you chose in your image.
I made these images based on the work of August Sander and Rineke Dijkstra. This is served as a test for the work I would like to do for Assignment 1, The Non Familiar.
In Sander and Dijkstra’s images, their subjects are in the centre of the image and they are looking at the camera. Their poses are generally very straight on to the camera. For my images, I wanted to explore a social history of the street where I live, to document who lived in these houses during ‘Lockdown’.
These shots are of my house and my husband. There are 50 houses in our street, it is a cul-de-sac so the people we see walking up and down the street pretty much all live here, with the exception of the postman and the amazon delivery drivers, who come to our house most days!. My husband and I both work full time and although we have lived here 7 1/2 years, we really don’t know anyone that well. We know our immediate neighbours names and say hello them, but really that’s about it.
for Assignment 1, I would like to see if I can photograph people from my street who I don’t know outside their houses.
Study Sander’s portraits in very close detail, making notes as you go. Look at how his subjects are positioned in relation to each other or their environment. Are they facing the camera or looking away? What, if any, props does Sander use?
Do these props seem relevant or are they strange? What physical stance does the subject adopt?
August Sander was a German photographer who’s most prominent work was made between the two world wars (1918 – 1939), but continued all of his life. His notable work ‘ People of the 20th Century sought to document the people of Germany during this period. dividing them into seven distinct groups: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’. (Tate, “Five Things to Know: August Sander – List | Tate”).
The exercise above asks us to look at the his images in close detail and note the use of the ‘five elements model‘ described by David Bate. However, it is also worth noting that Sander continued to use a large format camera even after the smaller Leica’s became available, as he felt that they gave a better detail of the faces. Because of the slowness of the image making, this of course may have influenced the poses and facial expressions of the sitter.
in most images the subjects are straight on to the camera with their feet apart.
the sitters are looking directly at the camera
multiple people are lined up in a flat row with their hands by there side. This may because of depth of field being used and / or the use of the large format camera.
the depth of field is shallow enough to allow some blurring of the background, but not so much that you can’t see where the person is. It does give an element of separation. (perhaps f/34 or f/5.6?)
photographs of the trades people utilise props, usually the tools of their trade, where as the middle class portraits tend to have less props and more environmental backgrounds.
Props are either held or shown, rather than being used.
the majority of subjects are photographed full length or cut off at the legs.
the images of the circus workers and artists have more relaxed poses.
I believe Sander is considered important because before this, ordinary everyday people were not photographed in this way and it now leaves us with a wealth of information about how people live, dressed and working in those days. In these days of selfies, people really don’t consider the context of the image!
Baker, Rob. “The Extraordinary Photos of German Photographer August Sander – Flashbak.” Flashbak, 30 Jan. 2019, flashbak.com/the-extraordinary-photos-of-german-photographer-august-sander-410620/. Accessed 6 June 2020.
Tate. “Five Things to Know: August Sander – List | Tate.” Tate, 2017, www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/august-sander-5319/lists/five-things-know-august-sander. Accessed 6 June 2020.
Wikipedia Contributors. “August Sander.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Sander. Accessed 6 June 2020.