Friday, 30 December 2011

Best of a set

A couple of months ago I was asked to produce a set of photographs for a friends web-site . Rebecca (Bec's - hence Bex) is a personal trainer and has had her web-site for a year or so but wanted to put some pictures on it - mindful of the potential issues with copying images from the internet I agreed to take some pictures of her and provide her with the images she needed.
As it is a personal training i.e. health based service she offers the images need to be bright/healthy/active. I chose a few venues, the grounds of Blenheim Palace, the fields near my home and my lounge and back garden - this will explain the differences in the location. For all of the images I wanted to have as simple a background as possible, to focus the eye on the subject - be it Rebecca or the equipment. I used fill in flash on a number of the outside shots as it was quite bright and from the selection below I downselected a set for her to pick from.

From which (and a few more edited down) came the following downselect:


From which the following were selected:

The portrait of Rebecca was not my favourite of the downselect due to the distant background (which I had attempted to keep out of focus where I could) adding some distraction. The indoor shot using the ball and weights has too many distractions, but I had thought she would want me to crop her head off! I also had to edit out the CD rack to the right as I thought she would only want her central section!

The "tummy" shot I had to colourize her skin to give it a healthy glow! The ball, weights and "stepper" worked quite for me, the elements all in clear focus and the foot "out of focus" showing work, I purposely shot it at an angle, which I also think works here.      

I wanted Rebecca's feet to clear the horizon in the "jump" shot to emphasize height and agility, whereas the heart monitor is basically a "product" shot, although shot off-centre and with a healthy glow to it I think.
The last two shots were about strength with the focus on the arms. Rebecca's biceps are that pronounced - no photoshopping needed there. 

These images were incorporated into her web-site which, whilst she is happy with it I would have maybe presented them slightly differently - but the pictures were from her brief and she was, and is, very happy with them.

After some comments by Catherine about including my preferences I thought I would update the blog with thoughts:

The only major difference was the portrait I had downselected these other three portraits. They all seemed to sum up "healthy" & "fit" and attractive. They all had no distractions at all in the background, the "stepper" shot suggested work to me and the "tools" shot was an alternative only.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

In England

Whilst trying not to open yet another book I reached for "In England" by Don McCullin. From where I am in this course - the beginning - it seems to me an exemplar for this course. Most of the images are, as the title suggests, from various places within England; there are prefaced by a set chiefly from his adopted home in Somerset. The main body of the book though deals with people in a place. Determinedly titled, each image is accompanied (usually) by a statement of the place and year of capture, these images are solely about the placement of the subject within the context of their environment. There is no accompanying narrative, leaving the development of raison d'être to the viewer.

McCullin's photographs ranged from Consett in the north to Eastbourne in the south, from Blackpool to Southend with a lot coming from his native London. There are very few words in the book. McCullin in his introduction barely describes his reason for compiling these images, other than reliving his memory and apart from a slight consideration of the "class" issues in his native land, no other comment is made for the reason of his pressing of the shutter.

There are two images that stand out for me - both because I am a Bedford boy and because they exemplify some of what I imagine this course is about.

The first image is I00002IFxEmgGpQM. The spectators are across the street from Bedford prison where James Hanratty was executed in April 1962. I was 9 and I remember it well. In the picture the majority of the people are staring in one direction - probably the prison gate - actually a large wooden double door, whilst a schoolboy - Silver Jubilee Secondary Modern - and another youth stare in a different direction, at the camera. I don't remember going to school that day either, though I can't believe we would have had the day off to "celebrate" the hanging.

The second image is I0000GOwh01zn78Q and for me is more telling. The crowd has grown a little by now, it looks as people have cycled to be there at the "time". The view is again opposite the prison gate and opposite a parade of shops - St Loyes street I think leading into Greyfriars. Again the majority of people are watching in the same direction, but there is a couple determinedly not doing so. They appear to be a couple, she is touching her wedding ring with her right hand - often a sign of personal concern. They could have caught the sight of something else, but McCullin has caught them juxtaposed against the other spectators, almost as if they - the couple - are not part of the general rabble, but set apart, turning their heads away from the scene unfolding inside the prison - that no-one can see anyway. There was a lot of interest in the town for this trial and subsequent execution - I remember not having much of an idea about it at the time - but the trial was originally going to be at the Old Bailey, but was changed to Bedford at short notice which caused some controversy at the time and 'till this day. Subsequent inquiries have brought various celebrities to Bedford including John Lennon who came in a gold Rolls Royce (there was a Liverpool connection).
The rest of the book also has many arresting images, though for me less resonant, but nonetheless I thoroughly reccommend the book.


An entry started just before the Christmas break and concluded after the eating stopped!

Deciding to re-read and review some of my books on portraits and portraiture:

I plan on a continuing review of these works and update them as I go through the course with new thoughts and book reviews.

Bailey's Democracy, David Bailey, Thames and Hudson                          
Horst Portraits, Terence Pepper, NPG                                                        
Beaton Portraits, Terence Pepper - Roy Strong - Peter Conrad, NPG        
Beaton, Danzinger, Holt                                                                            
Angus McBean Portraits, Terence Pepper, NPG                                      
Some Women, Mapplethorpe, Bullfinch                                                     
Performance, Richard Avedon,  Abrams                                                    
40 years of Photography, JeanLoup Sieff,  Evergreen                                

Face, William A. Ewing, Thames and Hudson
Train your gaze, Roswell Angier, AVA Academia

Nan Goldin, Guido Costa, Phaidon

Lee Miller Portraits from a Life, Richard Calvocorescsi, Thames and Hudson

The first set of books/monographs all contain one thing in common, they are photographs of people who are aware of performance and how their "face" is a matter of their persona, their position in the world, their fame and fortune. The models were all used to being in front of the camera, in a studio, adopting a pose. Very few of the poses were "cropped head shots" and not many more were "head only", the majority by far were head and torso followed by full figure, and the reason of course is context. A significant number of the shots were publicity, be it a specific performance or general publicity, so including a contextual reference could only be achieved by widening the shot. This also applied to the surrealist images of McBean and Miller. I think the surrealists require a separate discussion and I hope to come to this later. Beaton's work is the most varied and innovative
Of all of the first set it was Bailey's Democracy that stood out. 143 images of nudes. Bailey instructed his models to stand on a spot about six feet in front of a 10 X 8 camera whilst he took about six monochrome (warm tone) images set against a white background and white floor and a very simple large flat lighting set up. Whilst not a typography as the individual poses are left to the models who, on a number of plates, have an air of being "exposed" about them, the consistency of image reproduction is extremely good. Incidentally the models for Bailey were, in the main, performers, but without the artifice of props, be they furniture or clothing what is revealed is is how comfortable they are (or are not) in their skin.

Lee Miller's work is a curious mixture of reportage/celebrity/experimental and of course WWII. Such a range of image making that I will probably come back to this in a separate essay. Which leaves Golding,  Ewing and Angier. Golding's work is well documented - a life lived in the viewfinder of her own camera, the context being her life, her passage through it and out the other end. Whether she intentionally relied on the prurience of the viewer or whether it was a psychological need perhaps only she will know, but there is a beauty in her honesty (I don't mean to damn this with faint praise!).

Ewing's "Face" is true to it's word; it is about the face. There are a plethora of photographers that Ewing employs to describe the various uses a face can be put to and I will return to them at a later date. A recurring motif running through the text is that of the mirror. The mirror as a physical thing, reflecting the (or our) image through to the recording plane, be it an emulsion or pixel. The mirror as a reflection of society - held up for our gaze. And the mirror to ourselves as viewers, holding us hostage to that gaze. It is the latter that I think is the most critical. It is often said that portraits betray something of the "personality", the "soul" of the sitter; but I am coming to the thought that it might reveal more about the viewer, or rather it might expose more about the viewer TO the viewer. In other words the pose of the subject (whether the subject is aware or not) can reveal various prejudices, preconceptions or other emotional responses to portraits that are revealed by the development of the relationship of the viewer to the image.

Consider these these two photographs of Ellen - I know which her mother favours - what do they reveal about me as a photographer and me as a viewer? I felt that even the positioning of the two images in the blog affected my response to them i.e. if they were transposed on the horizontal would they have a materially different resonance - looking away from each-other as it were?

Back to "The Face", a couple of quotations I thought were also very interesting - Ewing liberally scatters quotations in the body of the text:

"Look: this shows what retouching can do, 'said the photographer. 'But the retouched one does not look a bit like the woman who sat for it, 'I exclaimed. 'Of course not, 'replied the photographer. 'That's the beauty of it'"  The Photographic News, 1890

"What is the function of a portrait? What degree of manipulation is correct, acceptable, between the sitter and the photographer, and should art concern itself with accuracy? Shouldn't photography worry about that even more?" Richard Avedon 1993

"Composite portraits are absolute quackery! What next, composite landscapes?" The Photographic News, London 1888

I put the last one in for all the landscapists who are concerned with veracity! The prior two about manipulation talks to a concern I have had for some years and one that I have written about before. There is a notion abroad that "Photoshopping" is a modern idiosyncrasy for the digital age; well whilst the adjective may be modern the practise is as old as photography, and as old as portraiture as a genre. This does not of course negate the ethical issues surrounding the practise and I am sure I will return to this at regular intervals during this course.

The other reference book I am reading (for the first time) is "Training your gaze" by Roswell Angier. It is a very inspiring text and is challenging a lot of my personal views in portraiture, about what I think it is about, how my attitude and preconceptions need to be rethought. The book comes in about 10 sections with assignment suggestions in each - some of which I intend to attempt (time allowing). This is the only book that I am reading which is new to me for this course. I am slightly concerned about that as I realise that I may be coming to the course with a lot of preconceptions - but to my defence I suspect everyone has preconceptions.

As this is my first blog entry post-Christmas I thought I would list the books that Santa brought: Monographs by Model, Modotti, Siskind, Evans and Eggleston as well "The Family of Man" Steichens collection for the exhibition of the same name and "50 Photographers you should know". But the one that is by far and away the best present this year is "Andre Kertesz" by Michel Frizot/Anne-Laure Wannaverbecq published 2010 by Hazan and published as part of the "Mois de la Photo" in Paris, November 2010. It is a definitive work on someone I have felt for a long time as one of the great photographers.
With so much to read and digest after the excesses of the Christmas period I'm hoping to survive the New Year celebrations with some serious work on exercises, projects and assignments.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Random Initial thoughts

This is where I start the course for real. I have received the course material, read and re-read the initial exercise and assignment requirements. I now need to think about the who, the where and the how. I'm sure that I will have a few volunteers to sit for me. I have always had a strong feeling that the environment modifies both a person's posture and their place within that environment (see pictures below).

People and Place - people in context.

This is what I thought the module was about at the beginning. I appreciate that the series below doesn't hang together - colour/black and white, digital and film (mono is film, colour is digital) etc - but as far as this module is concerned - People and Place - this is what I thought it was, documenting people within a contextual narrative.
After reading the course notes, after receiving the feedback from the APEL, my understanding has moved on. I still think that P&P is about people (clearly) and about the place the people are in, but it is also about the need for research in how to develop a story in a particular timeframe, maybe to a brief from a client (or self imposed).  My submission was about "found people", about people whom I came across in my travels throughout India, documenting their existence, the transience of their lives in a fast evolving social landscape. I had no schedule to adhere to, I shall probably add to the series as I travel to India in the future.
I need to think more clearly about how the people I photograph combined with the environment that I "place" them in, how they interact with it, how it affects them and how they affect it. The "placement" is maybe the critical element here.

 Other things that have moved on? I will be saying goodbye to my little blue note book. I have decided that I will generate a physical log as well as a web blog. I have always made notes - thoughts, jottings and now I will need to divide them into the world that photography works in and the rest. However I wonder if there will be a dichotomy, whether the one is part of the other and vice versa. My concern will be how to start the new physical log. I don't normally have a problem with words, but I feel that the start will need to be specific and the virgin log book is lying there awaiting attention.

Christmas is coming, I have a commission to photograph two sisters as a record of transition, the eldest is going to university next year and the younger has now reached sixteen and it will be the last time they are both going to be living at home together and so their parents need a record; this will help me I think. December the 18th, in a few days it will be the shortest day of the year - natural light photography will be a scarce resource, outside portrait photography would be challenging, to say the least. Therefore finding a venue/several venues might also be fun.