Monday, 31 October 2011

On Reflection Part One

The following post is one of two posts that act as a 'what have you learnt from this course' type of post. I wanted to do this before receiving my results. Just in case you don't feel like reading the whole post, I'll summarise quickly:
Admit it, the journey has been tortuous at times, but I can't imagine I'm the first to think that. And yet the course has provided me with an invaluable conduit in which, as cliched as it sounds, an entirely new world opened up for me. Result, yes. But equally, disturbing. The foundations on which I stood floundered, the benchmarks were picked up and hurled way in to the distance. The greats seemed to tower overhead territorially and my efforts however gallant, seemed feeble and belittled. Yet finally, I have reached a point of acceptance. The photographer I was at the beginning of the course is quite different to that which I am now. And the new skills, confidence and understanding that I've picked up along the way, I realise I can take with me to the next stage of my artistic journey. And that's what its about. Now I get that...  

Anyway, apologies as this post is long winded, 'messy' and not that useful to anyone but me. It is here for my own reference. If you're still with me, I've taken this post uploaded in March last year to see if I have achieved what I had hoped I would from the Social Documentary course. Although what I don't cover here is all the other stuff I didn't expect to learn and how my demands changed. The indented paragraphs are extracted from my previous post. My comments follow below each. (Apologies for some formatting issues below, there seems to be glitch as I can't remedy them!!)

I am hoping to experiment more with 'landscape portraiture', there probably is a proper name for it but I don't know what it is. But what I am meaning is the relationship people have with and in their environment. For example Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Missisippi Project where the photograph is part social documentary but also landscape is a significant contributing factor to the interpretation of the portfolio. 
At what point does a portrait become an 'environmental portrait'? Assignments one and two are within a 'home' environment. To include the environment in these images was a conscious decision at the time. I really want to pursue this type of photography further with the next course.

Conversely, I would also like to experiment with 'landscape-less' portraiture which seems to be ever-present in contemporary photography at the moment. For example Rineke Dijkstra's Beach Project where the landscape is purposefully 'absent' in so much as it offers little to distract or add meaning to the photograph. Another quite harrowing portfolio by Izabella Damavlys of victims of acid attacks takes this confrontational approach (read this interview on eyeteeth with her). Another example is Kathryn Obermaier's Ashray School where she purposefully omits any background. She speaks of her approach on this website:  
I choose to focus mainly on their faces eliminating distraction, or clues to their surroundings, leaving only the details of their faces to tell their stories. 
Assignment five was all about portraits...over forty of them in total taken at the World Gurning Championships. I have not forgotten Dijkstra's work. I had however, forgotten about the other two photographers (Damavlys and Obermaier) and that they had inspired me. Looking particularly at Obermaier's work I can see I am still drawn to the same aesthetic.

Another approach I have enjoyed viewing is less objective, but nevertheless has had extraordinary results. Two examples are Richard Renaldi's Touching Strangers and Manjari Sharma's In The Shower. Both photographers created the environment in which their subject's posed, in quite unusual situations. I love the awkwardness and surprising results from these projects. I would like to explore 'awkwardness' further. 
It wasn't my original intention but the portfolio I submitted was a personal study of my family. The photographs are 'snapshots' in appearance and the study takes a personal 'fly on the wall' documentary approach.  However, it is unashamedly subjective and in no part do I hide 'me' from the people I'm photographing. This study will continue.

With regards the examples, I still find Manjari Sharma's work intriguing and I really like the natural lighting. The Touching Strangers project is somewhat 'niche' and less easy to learn from...

With regards exploring 'awkwardness', I haven't. Infact I'd forgotten about it. Am I still interested in it? Hmmm, probably not...

I want to pick up on something my tutor said in the past about a piece of work. I am not quite sure what or how I can achieve this but will be giving this further thought:

. . . I think you could make much more from a close, personal reportage assignment where this kind of subject was handled objectively. 
In assignments two and five I took a more objective approach. Although I have come to realise it is a continuum and achieving objectivity as a goal in itself is futile. The subjective v objective, candid v posed photography and outside in posts are at least three occasions during this course in which I have addressed this. I can say at this stage the boundaries, benefits, drawbacks and usage of each is much clearer in my mind.

I would like to explore my local environment and its inhabitants and try to find the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. 
I think I have started to make some headway on this objective...the rural street photography work at the country fairs for my resubmission for assignment four and the gurning are examples of this. It is perhaps not how I envisaged it when I wrote back then, but this has been an important development area for me.

I would like to gain confidence in photographing in public and be comfortable to ask subjects to 'sit' for me. 
and this is where you don't notice yourself growing, as I have made big inroads in both formal and informal situations without really realising when or how that changed.

Eventually, when I lay my hands on a large format camera I would like to experiment with contemplative portraiture. Many of the photographers I have highlighted above use a 5x4 large format camera.
Well, I have purchased a gorgeous 5x4 camera but not applied it as much as I should have...the costs are shockingly high and it didn't really sit well with the street photography I was doing. However...assignment two has been completed with a large format camera. This area of photography will be something I will develop further on my next course. In addition I would like to do a course on the wet plate collodian process sometime next year if possible.

  • Ethics and morals
  • Art
  • Street photography
  • Changing roles in photojournalism
  • Greater understanding and knowledge of photography, photographers, the history and its links to art
  • Improved technical application

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