So, this is it, the big one! This is the assignment that sees us having an exhibition at the end of the second year of this foundation degree in photography.
The assignment (in brief) requires us to create and submit 6-10 “exhibit ready to hang” images that will be exhibited in a location we decide upon (and are able to book…most are booked up).
Along with these exhibit-ready images, we must log our journey in some way. That’s what this blog post is here for; this is my assignment sketchbook.
Here I will chart my process of creating images I hope will be suitable to exhibit. I will post images, annotations, and evaluation of each portion of the process. I will then create a 1,500-word evaluation of the whole project, as per the assignment sheet.
By the time I got to writing this, I’ve already submitted 2 ideas to Dave and Clair. I’ve subsequently also had a third idea that I need to write-up a proposal for and run past Dave.
So, what are those ideas?
The first idea I’ve had for this assignment is a documentary piece. It consists of documenting my sister and brother-in-law.
They have recently sold their house in Cosby and moved onto a narrowboat at the North Kilworth marina. Their idea behind this is to help them become mortgage-free and able to retire by the time they get to their 50’s. I believe the idea behind it is that they’ve down-sized massively in living space and expense. They’re no longer paying huge amounts of interest on a mortgage and have bought the narrowboat outright.
This sounds like a great idea on the face of it, and I’m sure the brother-in-law is ok with it (I get the impression it was his idea), but I feel that my sister may struggle after a while. She’s putting a brave face on it for now but, I wonder how long it will last.
For this body of work, I’d like to capture the good and the bad of living on a narrowboat. Yes, it’s cosy and romantic but how long do those feelings last? I imagine they get to see some great sunsets whilst sitting atop their home with the wildlife all around them. I also imagine that when it rains, snows, blows a gale, and generally sucks weather-wise, it’s not much fun being cooped up together in a small space and having to do jobs such as emptying the toilet and lugging big bags of fuel for the wood-burner etc.
For this piece, I’d spend time on the boat with my sister and brother-in-law as they go through the chores and delights of living in such a way.
Although it would be nice to spend more time there and capture them doing the jobs naturally, I’m thinking that I might not have the time to do so. By this, I mean that the deadline for this assignment and other assignments are all coming thick and fast for the remaining months of the course and my brother-in-law works shifts, which means he won’t be as predictably available as I’d like to allow me to fit in the shoots with other assignments needing to be done. It might be a case of having a chat with them about who usually does what and scheduling shoots of the individually before doing shoots of them when they are together and available.
Shots I’d like to get for this are things like: them chilling in front of the long-burner, eating their dinner outside on top of the boat, feeding the ducks off the side of the boat, them enjoying a sunset, emptying the toilet, cooking in a cramped space, having to clean the boat etc. As I mentioned earlier, I’d like to capture the good and bad of living in such a way, in as natural a way as I can. My sister has compiled a list of jobs they have to do so I can plan some shoots from this.
“Getting Through the Day”
The next idea would be to document one or both of my parents. Both are around the age of 70 and rely on prescribed medication.
The idea behind this one would be to document them as they take the different medications with, perhaps, a clock in the image to show the fact that it’s a daily routine that goes on throughout each day (or is the clock too obvious and forced?).
It could be that all the images are very similar but with a different pill bottle or blood pressure/blood sugar reading piece of kit placed in front of them to show what they are doing in that shot as part of their routine. The reason for the shots being similar would be to convey the sense of monotony.
A diptych approach could be used for this piece to enable me to add a little more to it rather than just single images of a person taking a pill or getting a blood pressure reading. The first of each diptych would be an image of the pill bottle or piece of apparatus on the table in front of the subject who’s about to take/use it. The second image would be the person as they took/used it. I’m imagining the first image would be a shallow depth of field to make the pill bottle the focus of the shot and be taken at table level with the person blurred in the background. The second image could have more in focus and be taken from a higher angle of the person taking the pill.
An initial or final image in the sequence could be the person or persons (depending on whether I’d need to use one of both of my parents) sitting at the table with all their medication laid out in front of them. After a conversation with my dad about it, he told me that he currently takes 11 different pills (8 for his diabetes, 1 for cholesterol, and 2 for blood pressure) as well as taking his blood pressure and blood sugar checks. He didn’t know the exact numbers but, he said that my mum takes more than he does (prescribed routine pain-killers, blood pressure, and cholesterol).
He also went on to say that it feels like their social lives consist of nothing more than trips to the doctors and the hospital. A pretty depressing way to be feeling at that time of life.
Over the Christmas break, I spent some time around at my parents’ house and observed them in their own environment.
My mum is quite a large woman now and she struggles to get around. She uses two walking sticks whenever she tries to walk due to arthritis in her hip. I also observed her having to have a rest at the bottom of their stairs (they have a phone table with seat) after she’d descended and sitting whenever she goes into the kitchen to do anything. I mention these things as they might be possible images to include. I’d have to decide exactly what I was going with, though. Would it be the monotony route of the pill-taking or, a general observation of their lives at this point. If it was the latter, I could include the shots of them struggling with day-to-day life as well as following them on a trip(s) to the doctors/hospital.
A barrier I could see with this could be the fact that I might not be allowed to photograph in an environment such as a doctors or hospital.
My biggest concern with this idea is whether or not I’d be able to get the emotion across in my images. These wouldn’t be images created to stop people dead in their tracks with the use of bright colours or big elaborate sets, they’d be natural captures of the lives of a couple struggling with day to day life both physically and emotionally. The emotional side of it comes from the constant physical pain they are now in.
“Friend or Foe”
The text for the two ideas above comes from the proposals I submitted for this assignment. Since submitting those ideas, I’ve had another.
This idea came from a poll I saw that was commissioned by German news agency DPA and asked who people thought was the biggest threat to world peace right now. They had the option of five leaders considered to be globally important; Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump topped the poll with a massive 41%, whilst second placed leader, Kim Jong Un, came in with a considerably lower 17%. Even though this is, perhaps, only one nation’s opinion, it did make me stop and think “Oh yeah, true dat”.
Add to that influence the fact that, at this early stage of my journey into photography, I’m enjoying studio photography more than I actually thought I would, this idea might be something of interest to me. I say this as I’ve spent some time trying to get my head around lighting and feel that I’ve created some decent work in the last three assignments; A Sense of…, Artistic Make-up, and Collaborative Production. Even though the Collaborative Production was supposed to be a team assignment, I ended up doing pretty much all of the actual work to get the shots needed after myself and Layla had come up with the concept. In that production, the part I enjoyed the most was creating the studio shots with the lights and gels.
“Friend or Foe” would be an attempt to create several images of people in the studio under studio lights. Each of them would be of (or portraying) different ethnicity and nationality. They would be stood in front of a plain background (probably black), so as to not influence the viewer in any way, dressed in their stereotypical clothes, holding a gun.
The general idea behind this piece would be to challenge the viewer to make their own mind up about who they consider being a friend and who they consider being a foe. Different people of different backgrounds, ethnicity, and nationality would probably view the images differently.
I quite like the idea of exhibiting this piece in Leicester due to the very diverse culture of the city. Hopefully, people of various cultures would come to visit.
My ‘blurb’ would explain the concept behind the exhibition but the beauty of the idea is that I couldn’t influence their opinion of it as that has already been done by their upbringing, their society, where they live, where they work, what social media accounts they follow, what papers they read, what news programmes they watch etc.
What I’m getting at is that, to me, a person dressed in MTP camouflage (a lot of western hemisphere military forces wear it), wielding an M4 assault rifle is a ‘good guy’ but, to someone viewing the exhibition from a middle-eastern background, that person could be considered a ‘bad guy’ due to the seemingly constant incursions into their region of the planet.
I’m thinking I’d have a British military person, U.S. military person, Russian military person, stereotypical middle eastern attired person, an African person, Chinese military person, Korean military person, and maybe even a female in a burkha (or would that be pushing it too far considering she’d be holding a gun?).
This project would require quite a bit of research into different factions around the world who have military capabilities and their beliefs behind why they arm themselves. This would be needed for the ‘blurb’ and to ensure the costumes were as correct as could be.
I currently have a couple of airsoft guns that are realistic looking. One is an M4 and the other is an AK. I’d have to decide on whether to give each person the same gun or research their nations weapon usage the same as I would have to their camouflage usage. This might cost quite a bit but I play airsoft and could either keep the items or sell them on after the project.
I suspect the most difficult bit for me would be the finding of willing models to participate.
I also feel that the ‘blurb’ would have to be clear and concise about stereotypes, influences upon us through the media, upbringing, religion, and the societies will live.
As would be the case with the previous two documentary project ideas, this one wouldn’t be about creating big wow-factor images but would, instead, be about the concept and message through what many might regard as simple portraits.
It could also be said to be a contemporary piece with all the different world leaders flexing their military muscles right now.
1st Shoot + Update
A couple of weeks have now passed and I’ve finally been able to go out on a shoot for one of my ideas. The idea I’ve been thinking I’ll go with is the “Mortgage Free” one. I must say, though, that after the first shoot, I’m not so sure anymore.
The reason for my doubt is simply because the images I came away with were awful. This is down to me not knowing exactly what I wanted from the shoot and struggling with all the differing light inside the narrowboat. If this was a staged shoot the differing light from bright through the windows to dark in the shadows wouldn’t be an issue as I would have plenty of time to set up the shot. But, because this is me trying to capture people in a confined space as they quickly go about their jobs, I thought that shooting in Aperture Priority would be the best way (as I do when shooting sports). I think that, because this was my first time photographing in such an environment and trying to capture things that I hadn’t seen before, I got flustered and forgot to keep an eye on what the camera was doing with regards to exposure.
When I shoot American football, I know what is likely to happen and so can be prepared. This gives me the confidence and skill to keep an eye on my shutter speed and adjust on the fly via my ISO. But, because I wasn’t comfortable on the narrowboat shoot, I was too concerned with not missing a shot but came away with lots of blurred images due to the camera compensating for the light by reducing the shutter speed too much. I’ve now learnt that I’d rather have noise in a shot from the ISO being higher than not having the shot at all.
Personally, I don’t think there’s a single shot worth using in this project from this first shoot’s 250+ I took. I’m actually embarrassed by most of them.
After this shoot, I decided to do away with this narrowboat idea and go down an architectural fine art route instead (not as random as it sounds as it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while) because of how bad my images were and how boring I found them.
After an email chat with Dave, I decided to do a bit more research in the hope that I could find inspiration and motivation to carry on with this “Mortgage Free” idea. That inspiration came in the form of a photographer I discovered during the summer break called Matthew Lloyd.
Matthew Lloyd describes himself as an advertising, corporate and editorial photographer and I find his work to be brilliant. It’s his work he has in the Reportage section of his website, particularly “The Glorious Twelfth“, that I’d like to somehow recreate for this project of mine.
I like the fact that he’s picked an activity that a certain group of (wealthy) people do and has gone out with them for the day and just documented their activities. This is exactly what I’m trying to do with “Mortgage Free”.
I like the way these images are taken and edited. I get the impression Lloyd likes the use of a fast lens to get that shallow depth of field I find to be in the vast majority of his work. He would also appear to like the vignetting his lens creates, or he likes to add it in post-production. I’m only assuming he uses digital but he somehow gets a feeling of colour film into his images and it’s this that I’d like to recreate as it’s a style I very much like. I seem to be moving away, finally, from the notion that all images have to be as sharp and colourful as they can possibly be and am starting to, again, finally come to think “sod it” I like this style. As I’ve said before, this is because I’m very new to photography and have probably taken on this course too early in my evolution as a photographer. It’s taken me into the second year before I’ve come to this realisation.
Another of his projects I like the style of and would like to try and recreate for my project is his work for the Coca Cola Company project.
Although the images above are for a job he did for the Coca Cola Company and the grouse shoot images are classed as a reportage project, they are both in the same style and can be seen to be work by the same artist. This is what I am trying to achieve and I’ll try to use Lloyd’s work as an influence on the kind of images I’ll create for my “Mortgage Free” project.