I have been in further contact with my tutor to try to refine this final assignment. She suggested that it would probably work well as a slide show together with some quotes from Courtney and his mother. So I have made a short Youtube video of some of the pictures interspersed with quotes.
Regarding the selection of images I was very attached to the picture of Courtney looking wistfully out of the window, however, my tutor thought that perhaps the image of the scene out of the window, in other words seeing the scene he was looking at and as if we were looking through his eyes would have more impact. I tried this and I have to say I think it does work really well so I have swapped these images.
I have also reduced the number of images and added a new one, which I think adds more impact and poignancy.
I am very pleased with the final result below, Courtney has seen the Youtube video and he has granted granted permission to use it in this blog.
This will be my final post to this blog as I am now about to start the EYV course.
I completed assignment 5 a week or so ago and although I was pleased with my photographs I felt there was something not quite right about the series that I had presented in my post but couldn’t put my finger on it, however, this was clarified by a couple of comments that I consequently had.
The first comment was made by my tutor in the tutorial following the assignment and course completion. She felt that perhaps the viewer needed a rest in the series of pictures from the continued focus on the subject, Courtney.
I think this is very valid, I had taken some other pictures of the environment and the outside areas to add context and had originally intended to include them but I became so focused on the subject that I left them out.
The second comment came from another student who had recently completed the FiP course, Neal Scott. Neal felt that the series was a bit same-y and needed “room to breath”, I think this is valid and I guess similar to the comment from my tutor.
Both of these comments helped me to identify what I was originally unhappy with in the presentation and consequently I decided to re-visit my selection of photographs for the assignment and the order in which they were presented.
I am happier with this revised presentation, although I am aware that the crop ratios are not all the same.
Following feedback from fellow OCA students I decided to make my project “Retirement”.
From the research my initial plan was to explore my own response to retirement as it was still relatively fresh having retired in August 2017 and after the initial travelling and the novelty of not having to work I did go through a dark period for a couple of weeks.
I had a few ideas and thought I could produce a conceptual piece with a number of staged photographs expressing my emotion at the time.
However, after a lot of consideration I felt that I am really more interested in other people, I would like to show their humanity, their ability to care and show empathy for others, also what they do and why they do it.
Consequently, I decided to make others my subject rather than myself.
I did have some pictures of retired people doing things, shooting, exercising, looking after grandchildren etc. However I felt these pictures were a bit soft and clichéd, some also showed a process rather than a state or emotion which wasn’t what I was after.
After thinking about the retired people I know, I revised my plan and decided to contact a number of individuals and couples to see if I could produce a series of images showing how retirement differed for them.
Following this research, one element seemed common and that was a lot of retired people I know seem to act or have acted in some capacity as carers. In particular one “story” stood out and that is what this project is about, the love of a son caring for his mother.
This project is about a bachelor called Courtney, he is approaching 68 years old and lives at home with his mother who he cares for. I wanted to try to tell this story in four or five pictures.
Courtney left school at the age of 15 or 16 and became an apprentice joiner working for a firm of shop fitters. He has a younger sister who married and moved approximately 18 miles away.
In 2010 at the age of 59 the company he was working for had to make cut backs and he was made redundant.
At this time his mother was already needing a degree of assistance as she suffered with knee problems which was beginning to limit her mobility and also was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration, so her eyesight was also declining.
Following redundancy Courtney tried to find relevant work in the rural area in which he lives, but this was difficult, however, he did manage to find a number of temporary contracts.
In 2012 at the age of 61 he had to become a full time carer for his mother.
He looks after his mother pretty much 24 hours a day 365 days a year, his sister does try to come over for a few hours in the week just to give him time to get out to do the shopping etc. Professional carers also come in to wash his mother in the mornings, this gives him around 30 minutes a day free time.
He had fairly modest plans for his retirement wanting to make short trips around the country to see some of his relatives, day trips out, little DIY jobs for himself and for others, going for walks, socialising with his ex-works colleagues etc.
The reality is something quite different.
He stays in and around his house, does all the washing, cooking, cleaning and shopping. His mother now stays in her bedroom and basically he is “on-call” 24 hours a day.
His mother is now 93 years old and appears to suffer with a mild form of dementia, she has some bad days where she spends most of the day calling for him or shouting, he is also often up with her several times during the night.
He says that he feels like a prisoner in his own home, he can’t really go out unless he can find somebody to sit with his mum, if he goes out to for example, to work in the garden she soon starts to call for him.
He often whiles the day away watching television or doing jigsaws.
Courtney’s own health isn’t brilliant, he has recently had to have a replacement hip operation, mum had to go into a home for a few weeks during his recovery, he suffers with angina and he admits he is overweight, eating because he is bored and also unable to get much exercise.
His mother has always been a very strong matriarch in the family, he clearly loves her and has a strong bond with her, he desperately wants to continue to look after her, but he is also getting older and does get very tired.
He is coming to the sad realisation that he may have to consider her going into a home one day.
Whether these pictures have worked or not I think I will let others judge, I am too close probably to make a judgement.
I did render some of the images in black and white as I thought this would focus the attention more on the mood and the subject however I decided colour brought more context to the image. Black and white versions can be seen here contacts retirement project
Initially I tried to research how other photographers may have approached this subject, I only really managed to come across a couple that I thought were relevant.
Following this Google cull, I started my own personal contact.
Larry Sultan – Pictures from Home
Larry Sultan’s images Pictures from Home were first published in 1992. The project was begun during the Reagan era and “the institution of the family” was being used as an inspirational symbol by resurgent conservatives.
Sultan wanted to dispel this mythology and to show what happens when society is driven by images of success, to that end he was prepared to use his own family to prove the point.
What interests me is that his parents were retired and lived near the desert community of Palm Springs, the images show a fairly passive but perhaps typical retirement, various activities of golf, DIY socialising.
Copyright Larry Sultan
Peter Granser – Sun City
The Austrian born Peter Granser life in an adults only, minimum age 55 years, community in Arizona called Sun City. There are 38,000 inhabitants in this immaculately maintained community.
Del Webb Corp. was the developer who built 27,000 houses in 1960 when retiring often meant just waiting to die, Webb envisaged an active way of life. The residents have an active life, bowling, swimming, cycling, shooting etc.
Granser has captured an interesting view on the way of life through the eyes of a foreigner in what I think is a non-judgemental way.
The rest of this course is devoted to your final assignment, a personal project.
Although most professional photography is made by commission, often with very clear briefs, there are many photographers who set their own briefs and determine their own projects. They may simply wander around the world with their cameras in search of a picture. Or they’ll research a specific subject and then work out how best to make photographs of it. This personally motivated photography is often the place where you find most innovation and experimentation.
The final assignment is your chance to do whatever you want with photography. You’ve experimented widely throughout this course, practised key technical and visual skills, and learned about different genres of photography. Now you can put all that into practice in your final work.
Your personal project
Of all the different subjects and approaches you’ve worked on and read about during this course, which attracts you most?
Which feels most natural to you?
Which feels the most challenging?
Response to the brief
Of all the different subjects and approaches you’ve worked on and read about during this course, which attracts you most? Narrative from a photograph is the assignment I enjoyed the most together with painting with light in which I also tried to include a narrative rather than just completing the exercise. I enjoy photographs that tell a story or ask a question. I also enjoy documentary photography a lot.
Which feels most natural to you? Assignment 3 Narrative from a photograph felt the most natural to me, I enjoyed producing the idea (eventually!) then planning how the picture was going to be taken, scene, lighting, poses of the subjects etc. I do like to control these elements if possible, it is almost like producing a painting, creating a moment and a story rather than capturing something by chance.
Which feels the most challenging? I think probably the most challenging for me would be some kind of street portraiture, I am sure I could manage it but I don’t think that I would be very comfortable with it. Generally I am not that keen on street photography although I do follow some photographers in this genre.
I have had a few ideas for this assignment.
Mesothelioma – I started this projected a little while ago, it involves a business colleague who became a friend and is now living with mesothelioma. The project so far can be seen here My initial thoughts were to try to show how he manages with life outside of the house, also taking him back to the company that he founded and take some pictures in these surroundings together with his team. One of the potential problems is I am not sure how far I can take this within the time constraint for this project.
Family – An important subject for me, I believe the family should be the corner stone of society. I think the dynamics within a family are interesting, the interaction between family members, their functionality but also dysfunctionality. The similarity and differences between family units and their environments. I would involve my own family, however, they as dispersed all over the place – London, The North West, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Manchester, USA and The Midlands. So again, getting all of this together within the time constraint that I want may be tricky. The other alternative might be to place an advertisement in a local paper asking for volunteer families, but this doesn’t appeal to me.
Retirement – This initial suggestion came from my tutor. It is something that I now have some personal knowledge of and know a few others that are also retired. What surprised me when I retired was my emotional response to not being at work and having a lot of time on my hands, this what made me enrol in the FiP course.
At the time of writing retirement is my favoured subject.
I think this subject may be able to be approached in a number of ways even as a series of staged images to accentuate the emotional side of retirement through careful lighting and posing.
Another retirement option might be to try to document how people cope or interact with retirement and those around them, how they fill their time or not.
I am not sure whether this is really a picture analysis that is required but have produced some notes as below.
Sophie Calle was born in Paris in 1953 to an oncologist and conceptual art collector Robert Calle and his wife Monique Findler who was a book critique and press attaché. She graduated from secondary school at the age of 17 and then went travelling around the world. When she returned from her travels she was at a loss of what to do, she had no friends and no job and so started following strangers around Paris.
She documented her following in great detail saying exactly what the target was doing and then started to speculate about their lives, she found this interesting and started to photograph the strangers as she followed them. Voyeurism and surveillance were her artistic tools.
She followed one of her Parisian subjects on a trip to Venice spending 13 days recording his activities, the result of this was published in her book Suite Vénitienne (1980)
Sophie Calle – Suite Vénitienne (1980)
The image shows the stranger as Sophie Calle follows him, in all of these images his face is hidden, I don’t know if all of her images in this work are like this but all of the ones I have seen are.
Later she produced another work called The Hotel (1983), for these images she took a job as a chambermaid so that she could explore and document the possessions of hotel guests when they were not in their rooms.
I find both of these works very disturbing, I am sure she would not be allowed to follow somebody around in Paris now taking covert images of them, and her second work The Hotel does call into question what happens in your hotel room when you are not in there!
Personally I am not a fan of this type of voyeuristic, covert photography, I find it unethical and disturbing.
On a similar note regarding street photography I watched a YouTube video recently by a photographer called Jamie Windsor, the points that he raised I found very interesting and I thought the video may be of interest to others.
The picture analysis has some questions that require answers as follows.
What are your moral feelings about following a stranger to make photographs of him?
This is something I would be very uncomfortable with, I think it is the following element that disturbs me the most. A chance image of somebody you don’t know may be acceptable but following somebody around taking many pictures of them is verging on stalking and probably an invasion of their privacy.
Can you think of an adventure you could go on – however banal it may seem – that would put you in a different position than you are accustomed to when making photographs?
Travelling through some kind of wilderness – the Antarctic, a desert etc. where I would feel the difficulty of the physical conditions rather than just observing them would, I think, make me produce pictures with a different perspective.
Is there a job you could take that would give you access to a certain kind of subject that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to?
How people work, what they do to earn a living and how they interact with their fellow workers interests me. It would be interesting to integrate with and get to know a team of people in a different environment to that which I am familiar with. To that end I think it would be interesting to go to sea on a fishing boat. There would be a lot of interaction between crew members, many different tasks and social interactions to document but I think to do this well I would have to be immersed in it for a few days.
This part of the course should have been at the beginning of the course material as these exercises have already been completed as demonstrated by this blog.
I discussed this with my tutor recently who was aware of this anomaly and said that either it was being addressed or already had been addressed in new course material, I can’t remember which, but in any case, I do not need to take any further action regarding these exercises.
In this assignment you’re going to work in response to a theme.
A theme is more nuanced and you can bring your own personal interpretation to it because you’ll have your own experiences, thoughts and feelings about it. Responding to a theme photographically will help you to elicit your own ideas and make them visual.
If you want to set yourself your own theme, that’s fine. Otherwise choose from this list:
The unbearable lightness of being. For this assignment create a series of 3-5 still-life photographs based on a theme.
To accompany your photograph, write approximately one-page of text explaining:
your choice of background, objects and subjects
the visual and conceptual reasons behind these choices
your choice of light and/or time of day
how you think the objects interact to give the viewer the impression you want them to have.
Send your final image(s) and your text to your tutor.
Response to the brief
I have spent a relatively long time considering the brief, I wasn’t sure about the theme suggestions but unfortunately couldn’t think of another one I would prefer to do, so in the end I chose my theme to be “pause”.
My initial idea for this theme stemmed from reading another OCA student’s blog written by Judy Bach which can be found here. Judy went to a Girls Grammar School and the quote that stuck in my mind was made to her by her headmistress which was “ladies don’t need to type”. I also went to a grammar school and although I don’t have any quotes like that to recall it did bring to mind the Latin that we had to do for at least 2 years.
I remember sitting in the class room chanting amo, amas amat……. (I love, you love, he she or it loves…) Thinking what a waste of time it was. I was considering this whilst I was thinking about the theme, and thought of “pause” as a verb – to pause.
We currently have builders making alterations to our house and there have been quite a few pauses, I have also been involved in some of the decorating and pausing!
So the theme of pause became: They pause, I pause, I paused and I will pause, my pictures attempt to represent these.
The objects selected were:
A room being renovated with some snack material left behind by the builder when he paused for a break.
A paint roller and paint brushes left to drain on the kitchen window sill by me, a pause between coats
The sofa in the conservatory where I paused to have a drink and read a magazine
A case and passport in the hallway ready for a future pause away from home following the work completion.
The backgrounds were relevant to the objects that were selected as was the time of day, all light used was ambient except for the black case.
As there was quite strong ambient light coming from right of the case the opposite area of it was in shadow so there was no detail. To solve this I rigged a flash in a gridded 80cm softbox around 2-3 metres to the left of the case and then just used the flash on low power to add some detail and form to the case without making it too obvious.
I think the pictures form some kind of logical sequence and hence a loose narrative, the builders pause to the future pause of the going away.
Unfortunately I am rarely happy with work that I have created and this was no exception, so I then began thinking about the assignment again. What sprang to mind this time was the symbol for pause on modern media equipment, the two vertical lines “II”.
I then decided to take some more pictures to make the connection between the modern symbology for “pause” and the action of “pause”.
The next series of images were based on pause from work, pause to eat, pause to socialise and pause to relax.
I think the objects below are self-explanatory.
I chose the same background for each object, it is a mid-grey polished quartz at the back and a black glasss hob which reflects the object being photographed. I composed the pictures like this to emphasis the graphical nature of the arrangements.
For lighting I just used ambient light with LED spotlights in the ceiling as I wanted to keep it fairly simple, I did consider using flash but felt that there may be issues with reflections from the glass hob, the polished quartz and some of the objects.
This assignment was more difficult than I thought it would be and I struggled trying to think of a meaningful theme and if I am truthful I am still not completely happy with the final result
I have shown both themes that I produced, my personal preference is for the last one. I like the connection that I managed to make (finally) between the symbol and an action, I am also happier with the common background emphasising the symbol element to each picture, I also like the simplicity of the images.
I felt the first series wasn’t as well connected as the second.
When we look around familiar environments we tend to ignore or ‘not see’ certain things in them. In this exercise, you’ll explore the absence and presence of an object that you’re accustomed to in order to bring to the surface an altered ambience.
Your purpose here is to convey the trace of the absent person or thing, or to express something of an altered mood by a particular emphasis.
Choose an environment that you know well, but one where you can move things around without getting into trouble!
Ask yourself what forms the character of that place for you.
Take a photograph of the place or ‘scene’ as it is.
Now remove an item that strongly characterises that place or scene and take another photograph with the same framing, without the key object. This key object can be anything from a bed in a bedroom to the chairs around a table in a dining room or a particular tree in a landscape.
Yes, you can use Photoshop to remove items in images with the Clone Stamp Tool or some clever selecting and masking as in the photo below, where the surgery has been removed. But it may be simpler just to remove them while you take the photo.
Place the before/after, presence/absence photographs side by side. But, like the image below, it may not need it.
Execution of the brief
For this exercise my environment was a small part of our lounge, in fact one wall. It sounds strange, but it is a wall that I have gazed at a lot over the last 31 plus years.
We moved to the East Midlands from Cornwall in 1987, the intention was that, with others, we would set up a manufacturing business, make our fortune, retire early back to Cornwall. Well inevitably this didn’t quite work out, we are still in the East Midlands!
The wall I have photographed has two water colours on it given to me by an uncle that I was very close to and who also lived in the village where I was brought up. They have always been a reminder of what we left and consequently have a lot of memories associated with them, they characterise the “village wall” in our house.
Interestingly removal of the pictures left behind a memory, this is symbolised by the outlines left on the wall. I think it makes the wall even more poignant for me and does change the wall’s characteristic and indeed the whole lounge environment.
I wanted to choose an environment or scene that meant something to me which I feel I have done. I would have preferred to have produced a bigger scene/environment image where I could have created more of an atmosphere change but I wasn’t able to do this.
In the images above I very deliberately included the top of the radiator beneath them, I intended this to be a symbolic “underline” to emphasise the pictures and their absence, others will judge if this works or not.
Remember, there’s no need to make a direct copy of a photograph, for example a Man Ray photogram; make your own photographic experiment as Adam Fuss did (you can compare their photograms online).
If you chose to emulate Man Ray, you might seek out interesting objects that can be rendered graphic shapes in silhouette by shooting them against a white background. Or perhaps you want to emulate the uncanny, liminal sense of space created in a Laura Letinsky photograph but using landscapes.
Make the image your own. Artists rarely copy each other, but they do learn from each other. Try to identify exactly what it is in the photograph that appeals to you:
the visual quality (tones, colours, light and dark)
the composition or design
the photographer’s viewpoint
the way the photographer has influenced or constructed the image.
When you’ve identified these elements, plan what you’ll need:
When you’ve organised all this, make the photo.
Execution of brief
Being exposed to a number of different photographers with varying styles I have found that I have quite an eclectic taste in images that are produced.
I do like staged images and in my last assignment I staged a photograph in the style of Gregory Crewdson. Following my tutor feedback I thought I could improve upon this, addressing some of the issues mentioned above. However, as I had already produced a Crewdson style image I thought I would also consider an additional photographer for this exercise so I have decided to include a couple of images in the style of Laura Letinsky.
I did not try to emulate Trent Parke because his images are much to do with “chance, coincidence, mistakes and discovery” I thought that this may be too difficult to emulate for a unit exercise but it may be something I pursue for future work.
Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens
4 speedlight flashes
Modifiers: Snoot, beauty dish with diffuser, ½ cut CTO gel
Wife and visitors.
Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens
White card, fruit, cup, marble table etc.
I used the image below for the emulation.
I had to make my setting a contemporary one as I don’t have access to anything else. The image is of a small group of people watching something on the TV, having a glass of wine. A door is open and light is coming into the room from the doorway, the man on the sofa is looking to the doorway. Has somebody just left the room, the seat by the side of the man looks like it has been vacated, or is somebody about to come in?
What appeals to me about staged photographs is the ability to control the setting, the models, the lighting, the narrative. It is more like producing a painting.
To produce this image I took the exposure down for the ambient lighting by around 2 stops so that only the side light was really exposed. I then used a light to emulate the blueish white light from a TV screen facing the two women, a couple of other lights to help highlight the two women on the sofa and another CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gelled flash in the doorway to emulate the light from a ceiling light.
Gregory Crewdson from the Twilight series
Laura Letinsky – The image below is the style of Letinsky that I have tried to emulate
I like the sense of space with this image and the fact things don’t quite look right, I do find it a peaceful, restful image.
My image below is similar in feel, I hope! I am aware that Letinsky does not always use solid objects for her images, she sometimes uses other images cut out and then re-photographed, my images are quite obviously actual items. I chose to do it this way because I like the way the light gives objects form.
I don’t think my images below ask too many questions but I think the light, forms and colours are very pleasing and the first picture in particular has a Letinsky feel to me.
These images were taken using the natural light in our conservatory, the lighting changed as clouds kept obscuring the sun which changed the colour temperature, but I do like the end results.
Laura Letinsky Untitled # 12, Series III Form and Void Full 2011
The lighting particularly for the Gregory Crewdson image was very challenging and I still haven’t got it right. I know that Crewdson has a very large budget for his images and employs a Director of Photography for his images who sets the lighting, he also goes to great lengths to get the composition and content of the images just right. So, he will have a team of people looking for just the right car, clothing, set etc. so it is quite difficult to emulate this.
In the image I produced for my last assignment which can be viewed here I think my narrative my have been a bit too directional so I have tried to make it more subtle in this image.
The Letinsky emulated images don’t really offer much narrative but I think the styles are similar to Letinsky and I like the subtleness of the images and the feeling of space that they create.
Most visual artists learn from one another. Both historic and contemporary photographers and visual artists can teach you new things and by learning from them you can bring something new to the subject.
So how do you learn from other photographers? There’s a tradition of ‘after’ painting, where an artist copies a master’s work – but in his own style rather than theirs. Pablo Picasso often did this for inspiration. Édouard Manet’s Olympia is slightly different in that it’s a critical response to Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus and other such romantic and idealised nudes. Cubism’s visual experimentation was influenced by the work of Paul Cézanne, who had a ‘blocky’ style of painting in daubs of paint. Hannah Starkey’s photographs are clearly influenced by Jeff Wall’s tableau pictures without ever being copies.
So really you take from the artist anything that interests you: the arrangement of characters in a scene, the pose of a figure, the way light and dark interact, the type of subject matter, the mixing of media, the visual strategy, etc…
Research point – Self reflection
Throughout this course you’ve been introduced to the work of different photographers to help give you an understanding of the creative potential of photography. Now it’s time to question your own work and identify anything you think is lacking. You don’t have to be over-critical, just honest.
Write down any areas in photography you need to develop. (Your tutor reports should give you some clues here.)
Write what sort of photographs you want to take. Just note down keywords.
Now look through a book like Hacking, J. (2012) Photography: The Whole Story, or Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd edition) (both London: Thames & Hudson) and try to identify some photographers who have exactly the key elements that you want to attain or just things that interest you. It doesn’t matter if the photographer is contemporary or historic.
Make a note of these key elements.
Now research these photographers online and choose one key photograph to use in the next exercise.
Areas of photography requiring development –
I looked back over my tutor feedback and also gave some thought to what I felt were areas that I needed to work on to improve my photography, these are:
Narrative – how to produce a narrative without being too literal
Posing of models
Understanding and control / use of light – for me, subtleties of light to evoke a feeling or mood and to help with the narrative.
Type of photographs I would like to take:
Photographs that have a narrative
Tell a story or
Ask a question or questions
Photographs with interesting light
Photographs that evoke an emotion or reaction
Photographers that have the key elements that interest me
I am interested in so many photographers and styles of photography, my taste is quite eclectic, however I have tried to distil my interests to two or three photographers:
Gregory Crewdson – his staged images are beautifully crafted with great lighting and they tell me a story but I cannot quite work out what it is so I end up asking a lot of questions about the images. Because I find them enigmatic, they engage me. The scenes appear to be timeless, they are not usually in contemporary settings.
Gregory Crewdson – Brief encounters
Laura Letinsky – I find her images peaceful and create a feeling of space but again things do not appear quite “right” with many of her images, some don’t seem possible, so I find that I am questioning what I am actually seeing.
Most of the images have lovely lighting illuminating planes that merge into each other and have a special spacial feeling that I find peaceful.
Trent Parke – the light in his photographs is fantastic, it creates great atmosphere and his story telling in his photographs is wonderful. Each of his photographs stand alone but he also puts them together in a cohesive series to tell a story or journey. He will spend a long time waiting until the moment, the content and lighting is just right and in his own words his images are often the product of “chance, coincidence, mistakes and discovery”.