Assignment 2: Collecting (Part II) Final images and reflexion on the results.

Re-approach of the brief and new assignment idea.

(Part I can be found here)

For my headshot series I wanted to follow the same line as on the initial idea, research wise. I wanted to communicate something personal and integrate image and written word, so decided to document a day and a half of my life through headshots.

I work as a nursing assistant and often do night shifts. Normally, I would not go to bed after my shift and will try to keep myself awake till the following night. My diet goes off the window and at the end of the day (and a half) I do not even feel like a person. I thought I could come up with an interesting set of images that would show the changes on my face together with some brief notes of what I have done and eaten, and the time the images were taken.

I set up a light and the tripod in one of the rooms and kept it closed so nobody would interfere and the distance between me, the camera and the light source would remain as stable as possible throughout the process:

IMG_20170806_092125

 

As I did not have space for a second light or a reflector, I tried to place the single light as parallel and close to the camera as possible, to get my face features illuminated in order to appreciate the changes from one photograph to another. I did not have a remote shutter release so the biggest challenge here was getting my face in focus. Other problem was finding the right spot to get my face framed properly and in a similar position for all the shots.

Technical approach and planning

After mounting the camera on the tripod at a hight suitable to take a self portrait while standing, I chose my camera settings. When working with external flash I would normally choose the settings (aperture between 6-8, ISO 100, white balance set to “flash” and shutter speed between 125 and 250), take a test shot and bring the power of the flash up or down (or using flash compensation on camera, again depending on the kind of light I am looking for and the power of the flash unit I am using) till I get an exposure that I am happy with. So I started with:

f/6.3

ISO: 100

Shutter speed: 1/160

Focal length 42mm

I used these settings till IMG_6226, where I closed the aperture till f/9, in order to ease the process of getting my eyes in focus. I adjusted the power of the flash from there and once I got the exposure right, I took some more shots until I figured out what position I needed to be in and also experimenting with my facial expression. I resolved to stay away from smiling too much and remain as neutral as posible so the effects of poor diet and sleep could be seen in a clear way and not conditioned by my expression. I planned in advance at what times I was taking the shoots (after certain activities) and documented my food and beverage intake and the main facts occurring in between the shots.

The technique I used to get my face in focus without a remote shutter release was as follows:

  • using the self-timer of the camera (10s) and selecting an AF point that would fall on the lines of my eyes, I place one hand on the spot were my face was meant to be while pressing the shutter down half way.
  • when the light on the camera indicated that focus was found, I was pressing the shutter fully and positioning myself on the same spot where my hand was, working better when standing slightly ahead of that spot.

Here are the contact sheets of the whole shoot (with the final nine images marked in red):

Selection of images and notes

I noticed that, as the day was progressing, it took less time for me to get the shot right. This was partly because learning the exact way to focus and position myself improved with practice but also because the more tired I was getting, the less picky I was about the way the image looked and I was happy with a focused centered photograph.

The criteria for choosing the final images was:

  • 1 image per period of time documented.
  • in focus.
  • as centered as possible.
  • similar position to the previous shots to keep the continuity of the series.

[I called the series “Almost 36” because that is the gap between the first and the last image (35 hours and 43 minutes) and also because I will be 36 next month and I thought it was a brilliant coincidence for a self portrait project.]

These are the images selected and their annotations:

 

“Almost 36”

6/08/2017

Wake up time: 6:40 a.m

Left the bed at 7:15 a.m

 

 

 

 

Strengths and weaknesses

I was positively impressed with the final result as I think it reflects clearly the ups and downs of the day(s) documented, exactly as I felt they happened. While taking the photographs, my impression was that the project was worthless as I thought I was looking exactly the same in every image. However, when I reviewed the photographs at the end of the experience, I could see how much my face and expression was affected by the lack of sleep and uncontrolled intake and how the tiredness builds up along the way, which was the main thing I wanted to communicate with the series.

As weaknesses, I would point out the lack of light bounced on the right side of the face, with would have made the portraits more flattering.

Overall I am pleased with what I am presenting. It has been also a good exercise for me as I am quite self-conscious and I was totally out of my confort zone. I reflected about publishing the images, whether or not I would regret it, what would people think about me… only till I saw the series as a whole and instantly loved it and left all these questions aside. I feel I have succeed only because I have put a little bit of truth out there (the truth about how hard it is to be a nurse and have a family life, the truth about how terrible someone can look after sleeping…and after not sleeping) and because I have found the courage to publish a picture of myself in such states.

 

How could I develop this further in the future.

It could be developed in many ways and I feel that more personal work like “Almost 36” will come. As I mentioned above, I do feel somehow liberated and willing to experiment a bit further by documenting little happenings in life through photography and trying to make it interesting.

Perhaps a more exhaustive approach to the specific times when the photographs were taken (every hour, every two hours…) would have helped and, although impossible in my current situation, it might be something that could be applied to future projects of similar nature.

Another idea that came to mind and that would be interesting to come back to is taking a similar series exclusively with available light, so the time of the day would be reflected also on the image and it could be guessed by the quality of the light and not only by the footer of the photograph.

 

Reflexion.

Looking at the overall work on Assignment 2, I consider I have fulfilled the Assessment criteria. I have documented all the process, taking notes of the mistakes and finding alternatives for both meeting the brief and solving technical challenges.

I think I have shown a good level of technical skills and that I know my camera and understand the concepts reviewed during Part I and II. I do tend to explore different options in order to achieve the results I expect.

In the end, the requirements of the brief are met. I have presented a series of nine headshots, created by showing a degree of technical skills and although my first approach to the assignment could not progress in the way I wanted, I have managed to come up with an interesting set of images that are also working as a whole, communicating an idea and showing continuity.

I was concerned about the feedback I would get from my tutor if I would have followed my initial idea but I am now more confident as I perceived the final work submitted has a good professional feel to it.

Overall, I have enjoyed greatly working on this Assignment and I am looking forward for feedback and new challenges in Assignment 3.

Hoja de contacto-FINAL

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.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)

Self Portrait, 1918
Self Portrait, 1918

Born in Hungary in 1895, this polifacetic artist became an important figure of the German art school Bauhaus, where he was a professor. Moholy explored a number of art disciplines (including Architecture, Graphic design, Painting, Filmmaking, Sculpture, Photography and Writing) from a very innovative perspective, integrating new technologies and experimenting with materials with the aim of creating “useful art”.

He claimed Photography as the medium of the future and experimented with the various ways images can be perceived, evolving hand by hand with new techniques. Like this, he worked with light sensitive paper to create images following the principles of Photography but omitting the use of the camera itself. These “photograms” are intriguing. The way common objects are rendered against the photosensitive paper creates silhouettes that remind me of radiographies, however projecting the outside form rather than the inside of the object.

 

His graphic design style has a remarkable influence from Constructivism and Cubism, showing geometric and abstract work also characteristic of his school. This interest in shapes and lines reflects also in his photographs.

 

In them, Moholy plays with unusual view points and cropping. He presents lines and shapes as an integrated part of our surroundings and creates interesting compositions with a clever use of empty space and shadows. As a result, I find his images are strong, aesthetically pleasant and have a very modern approach.

 

I personally like the way he integrated typography in his designs and how his bold graphic pieces relate to his photographic work. Also the architectural references throughout his Photography and use of perspective and lines are a great source of inspiration for my Assignment 2.

 

Resources: