Around the subject of documentary photography, this assignment challenges the true meaning of it’s content. With varying genres within the documentary scope such as, photojournalism, citizen journalism, reportage and street photography there is a myriad of opportunity to document anything and everything. How do we know if we’re seeing a true representation of the facts?
To explore this further, I have produced two sets of photographs, both on the same subject but with two different meanings. My first challenge was to find a subject that was firstly relevant and secondly achievable within the available resources. I had several ideas but decided that I would document a subject close to my heart, child behaviour.
We live in an age where behavioural problems are on the increase and it’s not uncommon for a child to be labelled with a specific issue e.g. autism, ADHD and aspergers syndrome. The symptoms of such conditions aren’t always visible or go undiagnosed and children can be seen misbehaving with intent.
The two sides of the story I chose to photograph are of a boy who in one set of photographs appears to be relaxed, friendly and at ease or well behaved you might say. The other set of photographs represent the other side of the story where the boy is aggressive, agitated or as it often appears to the outside world ‘badly behaved’.
With this brief in mind I planned to shoot the events over a series of three days during half term week to maximise the opportunity for each behaviour set to represent itself. I kept my camera close by to capture scenes as I saw them unfold, often with the configuration preset in order to act quickly.
No Problems – ‘Well behaved’
With problems – ‘Badly behaved’
To accentuate some of these actions I have incorporated motion blur during shooting as it more accurately represents the drama.
The final two images are the same scene taken from two different angels which gives you two very different stories.
Loving the dog or hurting the dog?
Which set of photographs is the true story?
Thank you to my tutor, Matt White for some comprehensive feedback on my first assignment. I was relieved to read the first sentence as ‘This is a good start Sam, well done’. It’s exactly what my confidence needed to hear so I could take on board the ensuing constructive criticism.
The first comment said that choosing subjects close my heart means its easy to become overly sentimental, I hadn’t considered this at the time. I think it only remained objective because although it’s an important subject to me, the people involved in the project had no correlation to the subject matter.
In part one of the course I remember being asked the question, Can pictures ever be objective? My answer can be found from a previous exercise, Eyewitnesses:
After revisiting this subject I had concluded that a photograph can never be objective however, my feedback is suggesting the photo series should be objective. I then reread the assignment and suddenly my tutors comment made sense.
The assignment brief was to create two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story. Both sets needed to be convincing so I set about telling the story of opposite behaviours in the same child and therefore one set or even both would need to be untrue; and this is were the objective nature of documentary would come in to play.
I’m not sure from my tutors comments if he believed either side of the story but I also used text to sway the viewer into thinking that I was photographing a behaviourally challenged child.
As my tutor commented on this being a subject close to my heart I’m assuming I did a good job in convincing my viewers of this. In truth the children in the photographs are both impeccably behaved, top of the class students (albeit good actors!).
This is a good start Sam, well done. You have presented an interesting idea around a subject that is clearly close to your heart. Sometimes it is easy to become overly sentimental when working with material that is very close to home but you have avoided this and managed to produce work that manages to hold on to a good level of objectivity.
You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.
Feedback on assignment
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity
As you move through this photographic learning journey, we will be encouraging you to think about your output as series’ of images rather than individual ones. Although there are some notable exceptions, in contemporary photographic practice this is the norm. I will be making comments about the formal qualities of individual images; their technical skill as well as the ideas that they communicate but try to get used to the thinking about the concepts that you are conveying by the series as a whole, this means that you can have a visually consistent set of pictures that each add something to the overall reading of the project.
You have begun to do this in this set of pictures and the ‘story’ that you tell makes sense but think about how you could push this further, for example, could you have changed the lighting in the second set to start to convey a more difficult set of circumstances? Could your framing be tighter in the second set to make the emotion the most important part of the picture?
In terms of the individual images, I hope the following helps:
This is a good image to begin with and it sets the scene nicely. The relatively shallow depth of field draws us to his face – it may be the relatively low resolution of the image but this face looks a little bit soft, if you are being this selective with your focus, make sure that that portion of the picture is pin sharp. If you have the option, use the ‘live view’ zoom function while setting up the picture to ensure this.
I like the introduction of another character here (four if you include the soft toys!), the placement of your main protagonist, as well as his slightly moody attitude, implies that something is about to happen. I know it is difficult when trying to capture specific moments like this but watch your exposure – the boy’s face is a little blown out – and again check your focus.
In terms of the series as a narrative, this one would be better placed between images 01 and 02. This would be a better way to introduce the second character and a cosy relationship before hitting us with image 02 and the suggesting of something that is about to happen. Again, focus and exposure. Are you shooting in RAW? Although it is better to get these details right during the shoot, you may be able to reduce some of the over exposure in post-production.
A shift of location that works well, this shows that the main character has relationships with other (presumably) members of the family and compositionally this one works well. Although you have used the classic (perhaps clichéd?) path disappearing in to the distance at centre frame, the attitude and stance of both characters is mimicking each other. This tells me that this is a father and son doing the things that they do. The long stick also helps with the composition by echoing your path line.
This one works well, I like their body positions and your site line is not obviously central.
This picture represents an abrupt and appropriate shift in mood. The motion blur of his right arm and the look on his face immediately tells us he is angry. Think about your framing, how important is it that the picture on the edge of the left of frame is just in shot? Could you have used a lower camera angle to bring your angry subject closer to the Jurassic Park poster – could you suggest a relationship between him and the ‘angry’ dinosaurs that we all know are in this film?).
This is technically a better photograph, the exposure is much more balanced and the subjects are sharp. I know that you are following a set of rules here by echoing the locations and moments in the first set of pictures but could you introduce more interest by using a different location?
You have portrayed the emotion well in this picture, he looks really spiteful and she looks suitably scared. Watch your horizontals, the dado rail in the background is neither straight or ‘dutch angled’. Could a more exaggerated camera angle help to create tension or emotion?
This is one of my favourite pictures in the context of this series. I like the differing emotions that are communicated by their differing body positions (particularly when set along-side the corresponding image in the first set). Also the positioning of the stick so that it is metaphorically decapitating the father figure works well. This picture also looks staged – in this instance it is not a criticism but make sure that you are communicating exactly what you intend.
A good image to finish. The composition is lore interesting and I like the fact that the boy’s arm is alomost in line with the railway track.
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity
Please make sure that your coursework is uploaded to your blog, I (and the assessors in due course) need to see evidence of this
Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis
Again, you need to show examples of the things that you are looking at outside of the course material and upload them to your blog.
Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis
Please create subheadings for the different components of your blog, for example, Coursework, Assignments, Research, Learning Log. There is no hard and fast rule about the layout of your blog but please make sure that all of the components are there and easily accessible.
Start to widen your knowledge of contemporary photography. Here are some examples to get you started –
Susan Bright: Art Photography Now – A good overview of the different kinds of photographic genres and practices.
Charlotte Cotton: The Photograph as Representation – This is a great book which will expand the way you think about photography.
Roland Barthes: Camera Lucida – A must for any photography student!
The British Journal of Photography: http://www.bjp-online.com/
Source Photographic Review: http://www.source.ie
Pointers for the next assignment / assessment
- Work on your learning log and upload all of your learning materials
- Continue to expand you knowledge of contemporary art and most importantly write down your reflections about the things you see.
- Work on your own critical analysis of your work and upload it to the learning pog section of your blog.