Exercise 3: Portraiture typology

Portrait Typology

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

Great article: “Can the photographic typology be defined?” suggests defining typology by:

  • Subject
  • Environment
  • Process
  • Presentation

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.

Martin Schoeller – portrait photographer

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

Reflection:

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.

Set up taking these images, also had black reflectors by side of subject’s head and blinds were drawn

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.

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.

Douglas Heubler

Variable Piece #101, 1972

Douglas Huebler entitled Variable Piece #101, 1972

This work by Douglas Heubler (1924 – 1997) – a pioneer of conceptual art.

Conceptual art, also referred to as conceptualism, is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic, technical, and material concerns

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_art

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’.

References

Someone I know . . .

someone I know

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.

Background as context

Project 2: Typologies – Exercise 2, pg 41

August Sander (1876 – 1964)

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 – google search

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.

My observations:

  • 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!

References:

  • “August Sander | Artnet.” Www.Artnet.Com, ww.artnet.com/artists/august-sander/.
  • 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.

‘Five Element Model’

The ‘five element model’ as described by David Bate in ‘Photography: The Key Concepts’, are:

The Face: This can be used to illustrate the feelings of the sitter, given that facial expression can signify a repertoire of different states and moods including happiness, sadness, anger or frustration. It should be noted however that the expressions worn by the face are not necessarily indicative of a fixed state of being.

The Pose: Can be described as a visual argument in itself, or a form of rhetoric. The various body language conveyed by a sitter can be read in combination and can connote all kinds of perceived characteristics. Just as the expression of the face is the rhetoric of mood, so the pose contributes to the signification of character, attitude and social position.

The Clothing: Can be used to indicate a great deal about a sitter’s social identity and how they relate to that identity in their pose. Uniform’s for instance can not only differentiate a factory worker from a police officer, but can also specifically identify rank and the different regiments within the armed services.

The Location / Background: social science, background setting (or lack of it) of the person in the picture.

The Prop: Can significantly alter the meaning given to the identity of the
portrayed figure.

Much of these elements are instinctive when taking portraits of people, but when you are actually cognoscente of them, it can help you really consider what the image is saying about the person.

This is something I have learnt from making mistakes in the past. I am a master at removing elements from images, that I didn’t see when I took the photo because I was concentrating on the face!

Recognition

Bate also describes the three general cataegoresis of people we encounter in portraits:

  • Familiar – friends, family, ourselves, relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, colleagues, etc
  • Unfamiliar – strangers, foreigners, etc
  • Social representations – people who are known to us, but who we do not actually know, i.e. celebrities, politicians royalty etc.

He describes Freud’s theories on the pleasure derived from recognising something familiar which is akin to the current theories on habits described in Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habits’. i.e. we repeat things over and over again and once it is ‘hardwired’ in, our brains create a shortcut to that same outcome, which is why we do things without even thinking about them.

Therefore we look for familiar elements in photos to aid our recognition of the subject. People familiar to us will often be depicted in domestic settings, whereas and those that social representations would be in settings that place them in the place they are know to us. i.e. parliament. Once an association is made with a familiar face, it can then be used effectively for advertising because the association that you have already made with the face can be projected on to the item to be advertised, or vice versa.

The unfamiliar face is therefore the most difficult for us to recognise, in a studio photo with no background and mood lighting, it would be very difficult for us to ascertain a true reading of the person in the image, other than by what the photographer has included, ie. the five elements above.

NB: this is an interesting point to note for the first assignment! What should I include in an image of 5 strangers?

References:

Bate, David. Photography : The Key Concepts. 2nd ed., London, Uk ; New York, Ny, Usa, Bloomsbury Academic, An Imprint Of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2016. ’five elements model’ August Sander. (4: Seeing Portraits)

Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit : Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014.

Project 2 – Typologies

Typology

The systematic classification of types or study of types.

The doctrine or study of types or prefigurative symbols, especially
in scriptural literature.

Oxford English Dictionary

Typology is an act of attribution as opposed to classification, which is simply a process of definition.

Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Water Towers is an example of the use of typologies in photography. The Becher’s took images of water towers and other architectural buildings across Europe and America and grouped them together according to their function, construction, shape etc. this paragraph from the Tate article, helps explain the concept:

To achieve the ‘perfect chain’ described by the Bechers, each photograph was produced following exactly the same setup, using a large-format camera positioned to capture the form from one of three distinct perspectives (as a detail, in the context of its surroundings, or in its entirety) so as to take up the whole frame of the picture. The flat, neutral quality of the prints was achieved by working in shadowless lighting conditions. Working within these parameters allowed the artists to make consistent groups of ‘types’ irrespective of when the images were taken. An initial classification was made according to the function of the architectural structure being photographed. This was then subdivided according to the materials used in the structure. Finally, the structures were grouped according to shared characteristics. Bernd Becher described in an interview in 1959 how ‘you can lay the photos alongside one another and realise what they have in common, what is specific to the basic form of a blast furnace or a cooling tower and what is individual variation’ (quoted in Lange 2007, p.188).

In modern times, tagging does a similar job. This is something I use when downloading my images to make it easier to search for things later on. I definitely use terms that mean something to me and that I will remember, so I feel that typologies says alot about the photographer that is creating the groupings as well as the photograph.