Assignment 4: A picture is worth a thousand words

August SanderFig 1. Young Farmers (1914)

When you look through as many photographs as I do on a daily basis there becomes an air of blindness but every once in a while a photograph comes along that keeps me awake at night.  Since the first time I happened across ‘Young Farmers’ a striking photograph taken by the German photographer August Sander (1876-1964) its had me  mesmerised by the elements within it.

We can see three young men, all dressed similar, in fact they probably all look the same from the back view.  They are all holding canes, walking along a dirt track in what appears to be a vast background of fields which is consistent with what we know about them via their title.  Their heads are sitting just above the horizon line, I’m not sure if this is intentional and symbolic of their lives; keeping their heads above water?

Most of Sanders portraits look posed however these young farmers look like they’ve been stopped in their tracks.  They still have one foot pointing towards their destination as if they are eager to get there.

I’m wondering where have they come from?  Are they farm owners or labourers?  How far have they walked?  Do they have wives at home or moms and dads?  Are they going out to seek wives and begin their adult journey?

We can interpret what we see in the photograph and draw certain assumptions from it’s context.  The man on the left is emulating many signs of being a labourer or peasant with his unkept hair peeking through the rim of his hat and the cigarette casually resting on his lips.  His gaze communicates with a no nonsense attitude almost as if his difficult life is worn on his face.  His cane, which is far too big for him, sits aslant  in comparison to the other two men who have more of a perpendicular stance.  Could the man on the left of the photograph have borrowed his cane from someone far taller.  Is he too poor to buy his own?  Then how can he afford a suit?  The answer lies in the point in history when suits became prêt-à-porter and affordable to all.  In the early 1900’s Suits ceased to be exclusive to the higher earning professionals who wore tailored clothing.  Throughout the 1800’s and prior, clothing was a clear indicator for the separation of the classes.  However with the introduction of ready to wear garments segregation became jaded although not lost.  Wearing an ‘off the peg’ suit would say as much about a person as not wearing one at all.  Look at the shorter man on the left; his trousers are far too long for him; if this suit was made by a tailor the hem of the trouser would fall neatly on his shoe.  This is replicated on his friends suggesting they are all in the same class.

Another class give away is the mere fact that they’re walking to the dance and not driving.  Don’t forget there weren’t any restrictions on drink driving back then so if they owned a car, they would have driven the car to the dance.

In relation to their suits being suggestive of caste, they are also a clue as to where the men are heading.  Wearing their best clothing, suited and booted, given the fact they aren’t rich men they must be heading to a social gathering possibly with the attention of attracting a mate.  Their classic catalogue pose is reciprocal of the advertisements in magazines and newspapers for such garments of the time and indicative of how special they are feeling too.  In the era the photograph was taken they would have been heading for a county dance meeting local people for drinking, dancing and socialising although I could see the man on the left getting into mischief by judgement of his demeanors.  The man in the middle looks far more relaxed and even starts to break a smile, perhaps he just wants to look his absolute best for the photograph.  Imagine if they had known how famous thier photograph would be.  The man on the right looks more anxious almost as if he objects to being stopped and photographed.

This heavy concentration on social classes formed the apotheosis of Sanders life work.  This photograph is from his series entitled, ‘The Farmer’.  Other series of his work includes, The Atists, The skilled Tradesmen and classes and professions.  In these works, Sander draws attention to the subjects social classes which is in contrast to what other photographs of the time were doing.  Many portraits were composed to hide the subjects class, very often by dressing up in finer clothing than they could afford and being placed in a setting they could only dream of.  This type of portrait photography allowed people to escape from their trappings if only for a moment and ingrained in time by the finished product.  Sanders did the opposite, his photographs were very carefully composed to include all the information a viewer would need to expose their social class.  With such a big emphasis on social class Sanders never referred to his subjects class status, instead they were referred to by their occupation and therefore extending the information offered to the viewer.  In this instance Sanders has given the title, ‘Young Farmers’ so we already know two things about them, they are young and farmers.  This in consistent throughout his work.

Viewing this photograph also links me to other arts and in particular music.  My own identity and experiences have given me a song thats plays in my head when I look at the men in the photograph.  ‘Stand and Deliver’ by Adam Ant (Stuart Goddard) in 1981 has the opening lyrics:

I’m the dandy highwayman who you’re too scared to mention
I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention

Thats exactly what they remind me of, dandy highway men who have spent their paltry wages on looking good and grabbing attention.  They certainly grabbed my attention.

I tried to research who these men are and what happened to them but sadly I couldn’t find any texts with such information.  I’d like to think that each one of them found a beautiful woman at the the dance that night, married, had children and lived happy organic farming lives.  As for their class well, you can be happy despite of the amount of money you earn as long as your mind has a love of life.

Bibliography:

Fig 1. Sander, A. (1914) Young Farmers. At http://augustsander.org/md20jh/motives/view/15 (accessed 03/08/17)

Clarke, G. 1997. The Photograph. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wells L. 2015. Photography A Critical Introduction. 5th ed. Oxon: Routledge.

https://www.artsy.net/artist/august-sander

The Art of Photograhy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3RnfgRf2ec

http://the-space-in-between.com/category/short-writing-about-singular-images/

http://augustsander.org/md20jh/portfolios/view/2

 

Assignment Three : Self-Portrait

I wrote a diary over two weeks and it said nothing about me.  It was basically a list of chores I do every day in my role as a mother.  This gave me the idea to base my self portrait on a subject I’ve been battling for years and that is, ‘loosing my identity’.  Making the transition from having a great career into becoming a full time wife and mother has been an eye opening experience.  I used to be the face of an entire team of professionals but now I feel completely faceless.

Over time I have become unrecognisable.  Power dressing has been replaced with bleach ridden jeans and sweaters.  Nights out are too exhausting to organise.  Adult conversations have become few and far between.  I talk to the dog so much he always knows my next move.  Passion for music has diminished with the desire for peace and quiet.  Slowly but surely my identity as I knew it has slipped away and been replaced with fatigued robot.  My identity that had naturally evolved with me is becoming a distant memory, even my name has changed!

People see who I am now and not what I used to be.  I struggle with this because I’m an evolution, I’ve been educated, I’ve travelled, I’ve achieved, all these things make up who I am.

A close friend told me they were jealous that I got to ‘potter’ around the house all day as a housewife.  In reality I run the house, look after the children, look after my husbands business finances, run a photography studio, make handmade jewellery and study Photography.  However, I’m seen as pottering.

The faceless feeling is carried throughout my journal entitled ‘A change of scenery’.

I wrote this journal whilst on a family holiday as I wanted to show that it’s not just a normal day to day issue, it follows me around.  A holiday to me is no longer a holiday, full of relaxation, fun and frolics.  It’s just a change of scenery, hence the title.

The journal is made up of a written diary with accompanying photographs.  The photographs are either auto biographical or self absent but never with my face on display.  Omitting my face is my way of getting across the feeling of being faceless.  The individual photographs themselves are a reaction to a feelings I’m having relating to identity loss.  Each photograph is captioned to give a hint to the feeling that spurred its being.  Whilst doing this I’m giving clues to my true identity, the personality that resides inside.

‘A Change of Scenery’

1234567891011121314151617181920212223242526272829

 

 

 

Tutor Feedback for Assignment 2

Overall Comments

This is an interesting and creative way to approach this brief Samantha, well done. Objects can have a powerful impact on a viewer if presented in an appropriate way and I like the way that you have attached, clearly personal, ideas to something as simple as the handkerchief. Technically, the images are looking pretty good and you have managed to communicate a clear narrative in a relatively small number of images.

Assessment potential

I understand your aim is to go for the Photography/Creative Arts* Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment.  In order to meet all the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I will outline in my feedback.    

Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

If you continue to work in a similar way in the future, have a think about how you might achieve a staged aesthetic that moves beyond the illustration of a moment within a narrative and towards a reading that invites the viewer to consider your images in ways that still adhere to your narrative but also take them on other mini visual and conceptual journeys. For example, could you put together an image that is clearly staged but maintains a level of realism that draws the viewer in to thinking that this is an actual event – oddly this connection to reality can help to increase the staged nature of the moment and in doing so inviting the viewer to consider the status of photography as a truthful account of the everyday?

While talking about individual images, I will try to suggest ways that you might create this balance between real and staged.

Image 01

This is a good opener and in terms of the narrative, clearly introduces a ‘character’ and a ‘scene’.  This is good because in order for your audience to make the connection between an inanimate object and a real life difficult situation, your audience needs to have some kind of empathy towards your object.

The dappled sunlight works well and the nature of the light places the scene in the early morning or twilight – both evocative times of day. This lighting also creates an almost romantic or melancholic feel to the setup.

That said, I wonder if the handkerchief could have been much more dirty and downtrodden? This might help to increase the empathy towards it and also would act as a contrast to the final image – as they are, at present, very similar. If these two ‘book-ending’ images are slightly different, it would help to emphasise the idea that the handkerchief is about to embark on another adventure after this one. It would also mean that the picture would look less obviously staged allowing the narrative to build and the staged nature of the series to gradually evolve rather than be so clearly set out at the beginning.

Image 02

Technically, this image works well and the use of a shallow depth of field means that our focus is very much on the central character. The action that you have chosen to use within the image is powerful and suggestive of a violent act towards the object rather than a helpful one.

Another possibility for a second image might have been to introduce your second character rather than go back to the handkerchief immediately? Imagine the scene, a shady figure, perhaps seen from behind in near silhouette, walking down the sun-dappled road – perhaps looking like he is stalking somebody?

Image 03

This one, again, looks too staged. Could another approach be top photograph the machine in the middle of its washing cycle and perhaps form further away? A figure in the background?

Image 04

You have done well technically with this photograph. Sunlight on a white object is difficult to capture while maintaining good contrast and not blowing out the lighter areas.

Image 05

This is a nice moment to introduce, this is the height of the elevation of the status of the object – it can’t get any better than this, white, washed, pressed and on display. Are there ways that you could emphasise this moment even further? Could the character be at an important event? Could it be shown being admired by somebody else?

Image 06

Again a little too stage. A simple way to counteract might be to introduce a slower shutter speed to highlight the movement of the cleaning action or as a last resort adding motion blur in post-production?

Image 07

I like the fact that the object is about to be returned to the same place as it was found and even more so as it appears that it is an accidental return. When you are photographing somebody who is supposed to be walking, it is better to get them to actually walk rather than attempt to hold a mid-walk pose. Could you have made the object slightly less of a significant part of the frame?

Image 08

It was a good idea to change the look of this final image but I wonder if it could be a little more different to the first picture (as I have suggested earlier). Perhaps a slightly different angle?

Coursework

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

Our coursework is going well, keep it up.

Research

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

You need to work on this aspect of your work. The assessors will want to see plenty of evidence that you are looking at (in the flesh if possible) and reading lots of other material. They will also be looking for your own thoughts on these things and how they relate to you own work – this is a really important part of your learning.

Learning Log

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

Have a look at the ‘Research and Reflection’ section in relation to the comments about your research above.

Suggested reading/viewing

Context

Have a look at the incredibly well made photographs of Gregory Crewdson in relation to the staging of photographs. I know that the production values that he achieves are out of reach for most of us but he manages to create an obviously staged image that still manages to draw us in and at times take us to another imaginative space.

Seamus Nicholson restages moments from memory and manages to achieve a very natural and ‘real’ feel. His use of flash lighting is also incredible.

I made a piece of video work some years ago that has at its heart the notion of –re-staging. It is called, The Argument and you can see it here – https://vimeo.com/44122022

Pointers for the next assignment / assessment

  • More research of all types of photographs
  • Broaden your understanding of contemporary photography by lots of further reading of key texts – Camera Lucida, On Photogrpahy, Photography: Key Concepts etc. These should also be reflected on in your learning log.

Assignment Two – Photographing the unseen using props

I have chosen to use a white handkerchief as a metaphorical representation of the lifecycle of continual bad relationships.

This Linear sequence as a whole tells the story of being lost and found, cared for and given hope to once again being let down; ending up more broken than before.

The narrative starts with an abandoned or lost handkerchief looking very vulnerable in the gutter, cold, wet and lonely.  Using natural lighting and muted shadows I gave the inanimate object a portrayal of human emotions by setting the tone of the first photograph in the sequence as being quite sombre.

Photograph Two shows the handkerchief being found with immediate care and attention lavished upon it followed by photograph Three where a higher level of care is given.  Photograph Four gives a feeling of hope as the handkerchief is seeing the light in an otherwise dark environment.

Photograph Five moves beyond care, the handkerchief, as in photograph four has emotional needs met once the physical needs are dealt with.  Now the handkerchief is feeling complete until suddenly in Photograph six the handkerchief is feeling used.  By photograph seven the handkerchief is treated with careless abandon until eventually coming full circle and ending up lost once more.

The final photograph has been stripped of any colour to emphasise the the damaging effects of negative repetitive patterns in bad relationships, concluding in an even darker place to be.

Other than the ‘repair’ photographs, the dark and sombre theme continues as a representation of the scars worn from relationships past.

The balance of this set is evened out into four pairs, lost and found, caring and hope, objectified and used and finally, carelessness and abandonment.

The ‘other’ person in this story had been depersonalised by not showing the expressions on the face as the viewer could form an opinion regarding a persons persona that isn’t in line with the story.

The images are kept tight to focus on the handkerchief although anything that adds to the narrative has been included.  I mainly used a narrow depth of field to reiterate this fact.

1Abandoned#Lost

2found
#Found

3Repaired
#caredfor

4Seeingthelight
#Seeingthelight

5ProudlyDisplayed
#proud

6Used
#used

7Careless
#careless

8ABitMoreBruised
#lostagain

Self Evaluation against Assessment Criteria

• Demonstration of technical and visual skills
– Particular attention has been paid to the main point of focus in each image based on tutors comments on the previous assignment. The composition of these images has been quite challenging as I’ve tried to make each individual image pleasing to the eye.  Composing #careless was particularly challenging due to obstructions outside of the frame but I feel it’s successful in continuing the narrative.  The concern I have is that the close cropping of the frame in most of the images can restrict the narrative but it’s meant to give a sense of isolation and I’m not sure it comes across this way.

• Quality of outcome
– The story is balanced evenly through eight photographs so as not to give to much emphasis to one emotion.  The sequence flows in a coherent manner that the viewer can understand.  The addition of hashtags gives a short and to the point idea of the emotion being portrayed.  Narrow depth of field was used through most of the images to focus on the main subject.  I think that #caredfor is the weakest photograph in the sequence in terms of a pleasing image.  I tried to make the composition as interesting as possible within the constraints of the room.  However, it is critical to the story and I decided it had more value being in the sequence than taken out.

• Demonstration of creativity
– I feel that the emotional states come across by humanising the handkerchief and dehumanising the person in the photographs.  This is done by not showing the persons face or facial expressions, in effect, depersonalising; and focussing on the inanimate object.  Individually I have experimented with lighting to assist in the narrative, in particular the contrast between light and dark.  This has resulted sometimes in extending the narrative to the dark feelings one can experience despite #seeingthelight.

• Context
Reflection
Research and Planning
Preperation
Prior to carrying out this assignment, I revisited part two, Narrative,  to reflect on what I’d learnt.  I found Briony Campbell’s ‘the dad project’ and her accompanying text to be incredibly useful in understanding which photographs are pinnacle to a narrative.  Also, I learned the importance of not duplicating images in a story and to keep the narrative tight and precise.  I began to think of the emotional impact of a photograph rather than putting so much importance on how it comes across aesthetically.  Sequencing is something I’d thought about before but hadn’t placed too much emphasis on, I now understand that this is imperative to the viewer despite the fact they can look at a narrative in any order they choose.  I need to start demonstrating the research I do into other photographers and theories, and in particular quoting references from the books that I read.

Bibliography

Short, R. (2011) Context and Narrative. Switzerland: AVA Publishing

Wells, L. (2015) Photography, A critical introduction. Oxfordshire: Routledge

Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. London: Thames & Hudson

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Oxfordshire: Routledge

Jeffrey, I. (2000) The Photo Book. London: Phaidon

Bate, D. (2009) Photography the key concepts. London: Bloomsbury

Websites

https://tracesofthereal.com/2009/12/21/the-rhetoric-of-the-image-roland-barthes-1977/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_the_Authorhttp://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/
http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/
http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/latest/photo-news/magnum-photographer-david-hurn-reveals-secret-success-good-pair-shoes-73044
https://www.lensculture.com/articles/duane-michals-storyteller-the-photographs-of-duane-michals-2https://kaylynndeveney.com/bert-grid
http://karenknorr.com/photography/gentlemen/

Assignment 2 – Preparation

To prepare for the undertaking of this assignment I had to ensure that the props I needed had been obtained and the people I was using were available.

As I chosen to use a prop, in this instance, a white handkerchief, I set about sourcing one through family or friends.  To my surprise I couldn’t find anyone who owned a white handkerchief.  My father who sadly passed three years ago always had a white handkerchief in his pocket.  It’s odd the things you miss about a person!  I then tried purchasing white handkerchiefs from the shops in town but it proved fruitless.  Eventually I succumbed to the mass domination of Amazon Prime and the next day, I had my prop ready and waiting.

In the mean time I scheduled a visit from a male family member who would act as my model for some of the photographs in the series.

The one thing I couldn’t plan for was the weather!  Three of my planned images needed a good downpour of rain as a backdrop and an important part of setting the mood.  Looking at the weather forecast, not only were we forecast no rain for the coming week, we were to experience a heat wave for the weekend.

I decided to stick to the date I had arranged for my model to be available in the hope that the weather forecast was wrong.

Unfortunately, it was absolutely spot on.

As my shoot location was close to my house I was able to extend the water hose out to the road and spray it as far as I could reach, giving the effect of rain.  Also, as I live in a valley I knew that as long as I carried out the rain photographs in the morning, there would be lots of dull shadows stretched elongated across the road and pavement with muted ambient light.

My model was instructed to be wearing a suit which was required for three of the photographs.  He was also wearing a wedding ring that he had never taken off in the ten years he’d been married so I had to direct the hand shots to keep this out of sight given the narrative.

With everything in place I spent most of the day at different times (in the interest of appropriate lighting) shooting the set.

Research and planning for Assignment Two – Photographing the unseen

I began my thought process by revisiting everything I covered in Part two of this course to reflect on what I’d learnt and hopefully construct it all into a cohesive understanding.

Guidance notes from Part Two (Narrative) in preparation for Assignment Two

When looking at Part Two as a whole I could see that a lot of guidance was given in terms so of how to tell a story in images which left enough scope to develop my own ideas.  Its important to note that a story can be successful not just by what you choose to include but also by what you choose to omit.

I then engaged with other students via the forums, reading about what other people were doing or how stuck for ideas they were.  I got thinking about my own ideas and wrote a list of emotions to portray:

Sadness – what makes us sad?
Happiness – what makes us happy?
loneliness – a day in the life of a lonely figure
Despair – Portrayal of a tortured soul
Anger – Beginning to end

All quite boring and predictable!  I went back to the drawing board
When I’m trying to think of ideas for a theme, the thinking takes place at every opportunity, walking to school, shopping, editing photos, talking to other people, it’s incredibly consuming.  My inspiration came from a conversation with a long term friend who struggles to maintain relationships and we were discussing at which part in the process she feels it goes wrong.  We then discussed the process relationships go through and the associated feelings and so I thought to myself I can make a story out of that idea. I then needed to think how I would go about it and by using the student forums I noticed that the option of using a white handkerchief was highly disregarded so I put the two together and drew up a story board.

Assignment Two story board

I need a rainy day and sunny day to complete this set of images so it may take time to complete.  In addition I’ll need to enlist the help of a man to use as a model in carrying out four of the scenarios.

I’m trying to decide whether to add text to images and have a loose idea of using hashtags.  The reason for this is that relationships are very often played out on social media and people make use of hashtags to demonstrate how they’re feeling.  I need to think carefully as to how damaging this could be in terms of telling the story rather than suggesting one. As I’m favouring a postmodern approach, I  want the viewer to think about what the handkerchief has been through and maybe consider it’s feelings despite it being an inanimate object.

Guidance notes from Part Two (Narrative) in preparation for Assignment Two

Narrative

Telling a Story

Linear story lines – telling a story chronologically from an insiders point of view.
W.Eugene Smith – Country Doctor
Photo Essay – Briony Campbell, The Dad Project
Contextualising photographs with accompanying text or other media

Using Pictures to Tell a Story

Differences between picture essay and picture story
Picture Essay – A group of images in which each picture is supporting and strengthening all the others.
– A guide from beginning to end point.
Sequencing gives order to the unfolding of the narrative.
– Unlike written stories, the viewer has control over the order in which they view the images.
– Viewers see parts of a picture in different ways and at different speeds, sometimes overlooking the main focus.
– Picture narrative a lot looser than a literary one.

Points to Consider

  • Do the pictures have a consistent theme?
  • What elements back up my central theme?
  • What disrupts it?
  • Are there good reasons for the disruption?
  • Do the images have a visual consistency that holds them together as a recognisable set?

Postmodern Narrative

Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’ – separating a literary work from its creator in order to liberate the text from interpretive tyranny.

Image and Text

Roland Barthes, ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ – This essay is a classic semiotic text where Roland Barthes analyses an advertising image and uses it as a means of teasing out how different messages are conveyed by a system of signs.

  1. Anchorage – images are prone to multiple meanings and interpretations. Anchorage occurs when text is used to focus on one of these meanings, or at least to direct the viewer through the maze of possible meanings in some way
  2. Relay – the text adds meaning and both text and image work together to convey intended meaning e.g. a comic strip.

Selecting a subject

David Hurn, the difference between a photographer and someone who is interested in photography.  The person who becomes a photographer is not interested in photography as an end result but used photography to pursue an intense interest in something else.

Photographing the unseen

Case studies:

Peter Mansell https://clanmansell.wordpress.com/
Dewald Botha http://www.dewaldbotha.net/ring-road.html
Jodie Taylor https://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/

‘photography is a tool for expression’

Remember

– The best work is personally driven.
– Course assignment guidelines are not prescriptive.  Instead serve as a catalyst to build my own interests.
– Develop my contextualisation and research and look at photography that inspires me, so I can gradually discover how to choose the right subjects for me.
– Move away from showing, not telling.  Shift from literal scope to more evocative into the realm of the arts.
– Think about what interested in as a person rather than a photographer.

 Research

Internet

https://tracesofthereal.com/2009/12/21/the-rhetoric-of-the-image-roland-barthes-1977/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_the_Author

http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/

http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/

http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/latest/photo-news/magnum-photographer-david-hurn-reveals-secret-success-good-pair-shoes-73044

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/duane-michals-storyteller-the-photographs-of-duane-michals-2

https://kaylynndeveney.com/bert-grid

http://karenknorr.com/photography/gentlemen/

Books

Context and Narrative – Marie Short

Photography, A critical introduction – Liz Wells

Art Photography Now – Susan Bright

Photography – Stephen Bull

The Photo Book – Phaidon