Part 2 – Exercise 2.3 – Same model, different backgrounds

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.

I very much a enjoyed this exercise

Part 2 – Exercise 2.4 Same background, different model

Exercise 2.4 – Same background, different model

Together again

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.

Reflection

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.

Part 2 – Exercise 2.2 – Covert

Exercise 2.2 – Covert

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.

Methodology

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.

Part 2 – Exercise 2.1

Individual Spaces

Keshia – Felpham Beach

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, Grandad's garden

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 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.

FB model call post

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.

Technical Approach

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.

Outcomes

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.


The Brief

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.