Assignment 2: Collecting (Part I)

Brief

Create a series of between six and ten photographs from one of the following options, or a subject of your own choosing:

  • Crowds
  • Views 
  • Heads

Use the exercises from Part Two as a starting point to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint for the set. Decide upon a single format, either vertical or horizontal. You should keep to the same combination throughout to lend coherence to the series.


 

First impressions and initial response to the brief.

During my A1 feedback session with my tutor, it was suggested working on “Views” on Assignment 2 and approach it from a different viewpoint, perhaps looking down. While completing the exercises in Part Two I decided not to take this option for various reasons:

  • I found it very limiting, since there are not many bridges or buildings I could take pictures from and the views were far from exiting, which did not motivate me to follow this route.
  • I frequently find myself shooting while looking after my two year old son and since it hasn’t stopped raining for about three weeks and I have to push a buggy around together with the camera, I found this not adequate and again, very limiting.

I do not like crowds so I decided to go for Heads instead.

I have spent too much time thinking on this assignment. I had to change the plan half way through and I am still unsure if the final outcome will meet the brief as it is suppose to. This might be a quite lengthy reflection on the assignment as I have made multiple annotations but I would like to resume them all here for future reference. 

Inspiration, research and how my ideas developed.

Initially, I had an idea for a project that I have been developing as I was going through the exercises in Part Two. The idea came to me when I found a rather intriguing ad on Gumtree on the 25th of July 2017:

“Date posted 13/07/2017

We are currently needing to get back at someone for a prank they pulled on us, so looking for someone to help us with our payback prank will only be 10-15 mins worth of your time to lay the ground work will pay 25 for your time needed in the St. Andrews area.

Brett”

I thought is was hilarious but I was also trying to guess myself what these people´s revenge plan was. What happened to them? How will all resolve? Is it a friendly prank or something else? I normally find these things fascinating and soon after I read this ad, I came across Sophie Calle and I knew I had to take my finding further and take a series of images, taking some inspiration from Sophie Calle´s work (in this case, photographing strangers and integrating written word and images).

I found a reference to Sophie Calle´s project “The Hotel” (1981) in “The Photograph as Contemporary Art” by Charlotte Cotton. I loved the concept. Having worked in a hotel myself, I have experienced the feeling of walking  into a guest´s room and noticing how the room itself and the belongings are somehow disconnected: one day the owners leave and other people´s belongings take over the space, which never changes and it is incredibly impersonal. I found the act of photographing guest´s belongings fascinating and her particular approach (taking notes, creating portraits of the owners and suggesting stories). There is a special connection along her work between the subject and herself, even when the subject is not there.  On “The Address Book” (1983), she created a portrait of a man by visiting the contacts from his lost address book and asking questions about him. Previously, on “The Sleepers” (1979), she invited 24 people to sleep in her bed for periods of 8 hours, so her bed was constantly occupied for over a week. Calle interviewed the volunteers and documented the experience, taking pictures regularly, even while they slept (again, the absence of the subject). She also followed a man she barely knew (called Henri B.) to Venice and shadowed for thirteen days on “Suite Venitienne ” (1980). Calle tried to photograph Henri B., who was a photographer himself, in his own photographic style. She did not seem to find out much about the man after all, as she wrote at the end of her notes “Henri B. did nothing. I discovered nothing. A banal ending to this banal story” (Sophie Calle, 1980). 

For my series, I wanted to contact strangers and take their photographs and also integrate some degree of interaction between them. I wanted people to participate. The first idea I wrote on my notes is:

“Ask people I know to tell me a secret, which could be real or fake.

I will then take pictures of anonymous people and randomly assigned them a secret [so this would be the title of the image].

It could be interesting if they pick their own secret from a list. Or even take it out from a bag containing the secrets.”

The first approach I thought of was asking the subjects to pose and take their image from the back, so their face would not show. I wanted to keep them “unknown”.

By assigning each of them a secret, I wanted to create the illusion that both subject and secret are connected, so the viewer would assume knowing something about the subject. I wanted to experiment with perception and assumptions and also give the viewer the possibility to connect with someone who´s identity is hidden.

So, this was the kind of image I was planning at the beginning:

innominate_test

 

I thought of using a focal length between 24-35mm to give the scene a more realistic feeling and help the viewer create a story of their own.

I also wanted the background on focus, integrating the subject with the environment.

As a second thought, and with the purpose of giving the viewer some more information on the subject, I resolved placing the subject performing a simple action (carrying shopping bags while walking towards a door, so it will help with the assumption that that person just arrived home from shopping) but I soon realized it was taking the attention away from the main idea. I also discarded the idea of asking the models to choose a false name that would go on the title together with the secret, as it was distractive. I wanted to keep the images really straightforward and also give scope to the viewer to generate their own preconceptions with minimal intervention.

At this point I was still unsure on how to meet the brief, as I was going with the Heads option that I took generally as portraits rather than specifically headshots. I needed to bring the subject tighter on the frame but a head seen from the back is not very exciting and I didn’t think it would communicate anything so I integrated the idea of using a small aperture with the subject moving, facing the camera. I realized giving less importance to the background and turning my subject towards the camera was working far better while going a step closer to the brief. I still wanted to keep the background different between subjects and keeping it in focus was important too, because:

  1. gives some stability to the scene, as subject will move.
  2. gives the subject a sense of belonging, while keeping them different from each other.

It was important for me to “keep it real” and get the final images on camera (rather than faking the movement by merging different shots in post processing) as the whole concept of the series held enough complexity about what is real or not, so the technical challenges were some.

Technical approach and Planning.

My choices for focal lengths are not big. I only own a 50mm and a 17-50mm zoom at present so I opted for what works best, the prime.

Although I am shooting portraits, I have chosen to use an horizontal frame through the series. I want to create scenes rather than isolating the model and also give the final image a more cinematographic feel, in the line of me telling a story to an audience who will be building up a character from the information presented to them.

The steps/preparation that I followed is:

  1. Contact volunteers through an ad on Gumtree. I wanted to link the payback ad to my series. I also requested from the subjects a specific amount of their time, 30 minutes in my case.
  2. Set up a time and date with each of the volunteers. The only instructions for clothing were to avoid pure black or pure white, to keep the image interesting and make exposure easier.
  3. Ask my friends and relatives to tell me a secret. It was suggested that the secret did not have to be real, but I should not know whether they told me the truth or not.
  4. During the shoot (which is done outdoors with natural light and no reflector) the model is asked to stand in front of the camera at certain distance and move their head right to left and back, at different speeds. I instructed the model to try keeping the body still in the meantime, which is quite challenging.
  5. After the shoot, the model is presented with the list of secrets and asked to choose the one that will give the title to their image.

 

So far, the general settings for the series is:

– Focal length: 50mm

– Mode: Aperture priority.

– Aperture: f/22

– ISO: 100

– Camera mounted on tripod, as images will be taken at the lowest speed possible with daylight.

Before taking the first image for the assignment, I thought of setting the camera in BULB mode an try to get as much movement as possible from the subject. In fact, I tried this option but there was far too much light around and taking the image without blowing up the background was not possible. I did some reading on this and resolved that it would not be possible to achieve unless moving the shoot indoors or using an ND filter that would lower down the exposure certain stops. Hence, I sticked to the idea of using aperture priority which was also the mode we experimented with during Part Two.

Here is a sample of the images taken with the first volunteer:

 

I have censured the images where the face of the subject can be seen, as the shutter speed was too fast for the speed of his head moving. I could have solve this in part by selecting shutter priority mode but I did not wanted my ISO to go higher (I find the noise in my camera is very noticeable when bringing ISO up). As it can be seen, I was playing with BULB mode on the first images where the scene is well overexposed. Then I switched to aperture priority as explained. The last set of contact sheets is a trial of how would it have looked if I would have followed my initial idea, which I did not find very interesting. From all the shots, I preferred the ones where there is more background included in the frame with the subject looking into the camera. This is the image that I selected to be the first of the series:

innominate1
“I left without paying”, 2017

I love the fact that the graffiti on the black door has faces on it and specially that the last one is covered. It gives another dimension to the image so I started to look for these little details on the following shoots.

The second shoot was more straight forward, as I knew my camera settings so it was more about the interaction with the subject and finding a place to set up within the first five minutes of the shoot. I have been finding the experience very fulfilling and exciting. It is difficult to believe that there are people out there who actually contact me and let me photograph them but I also see from my part how enjoyable it can be, even if it takes only 15 minutes to take the shot, the simple action of meeting with a complete stranger and do this together brings something very rewarding in the end.

This is the contact sheet for the second shoot:

Hoja de contacto-005

And this is the final image I selected for the assignment:

innominate2_1500
“I once dressed up as a woman in a contest” 2017

 

Again, this was a bit of luck, finding a background that I like that also shows some symbolism in it. I chose it initially because of the plants, as they look kind of blurred behind the window but did not notice the two faces drawn on the purple leaflet which are looking right into the camera. I like it, it is almost ironic that the person photographed does not show his identity but there are two little imaginary individuals interested in being portrayed.

I was happy with the results and how the idea developed. However, the difficulties of finding a date and time that would suit everyone made me think of other alternatives. I wanted to continue with the course materials and this was holding me back. I also thought that, as I was not showing headshots, the assignment would end up not meeting the brief description, so I sadly abandoned the idea (only for assignment purposes as I am continuing with the project for myslef) and prepared a series of headshots instead.

[Continues on the next post]

 


References:

– Baudrillard, J. (2009). Sophie Calle: The reader. 1st ed. London [England]: Whitechapel Gallery.

– Cotton, C. (2014). The photograph as contemporary art. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

– Tate. (2017). Sophie Calle born 1953 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/sophie-calle-2692 [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

– The complete guide to night & low-light photography. (2002). Devon: David & Charles.

 

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