This post is here to chart my journey through the process I will go in order to complete the assignment for Creative Apps titled, “Self-Negotiated”.

Without a doubt, this is the most difficult assignment I’ve been given so far. I say this because it is exactly as the title suggests…self-negotiated. I’ve worked on my own in the past, and I actually prefer to do so as group stuff takes so long and certain people do F*** all to contribute, which is REALLY annoying, but this assignment calls for a more creative thought process and outcome. I would appear to struggle with coming up with creative ideas and am honestly starting to question whether me trying to become a professional photographer is a realistic and efficient use of my time.

My Idea

After delaying my appointment with Dave for a week where I would have to sit with him and propose my idea for this assignment, I finally decided on something that might work.

After reading words on the assignment sheet such as “Contemporary Art”, “Conceptual Ideas” and “Thematic Concern”, I started to panic. I’m also not very good with Premier Pro right now and don’t know what I’m doing with it to get a film edited into something watchable. This just added to my self-doubt, confusion, anxiousness and wanting to chuck the degree course in.

I took these emotions and thought I might be able to turn them into something that qualifies as a piece of work for this assignment.

Why don’t I do a short film consisting of a series of photographs which show the different emotions I go through when I get given an assignment for my degree in photography?

When we were shown examples of films from the previous year’s group, Dave cut a few of them short and said, “I’ll not show you all of that as it’s really quite personal”. Because of this and the words used on the assignment sheet, I thought the emotions idea might be the kind of thing they’re looking for.

Now, back at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that this is by far the most difficult assignment for me so far. This is because I don’t think I’m the kind of man who likes to show his emotions to people outside of my closest of close family and friends, so to do something like this is going to be a massive struggle and a huge test of myself to be able to show some of these emotions. Not only that, but it’s also going to test my ability to come up with photographs which both relate each emotion whilst being interesting enough for people to want to keep watching.

Holy crap! What have I got myself into with this degree course?!

Idea Tweak

My initial plan was to look online at images for ideas as to how to represent each different emotion I go through during the course of an assignment. These images weren’t even going to be related to each other, necessarily, and I seem to have gone on auto-pilot of just typing in an emotion word and looking at Google images for inspiration. This isn’t a completely bad idea, but it’s not the best either.

I felt that I was just going through the motions and about to hit a brick wall along my short road of creativity until I sat down with Dave in class for a quick 1:1 catch-up. During this catch-up, I had a blog article on my laptop screen titled, “Why Photographers Don’t Get Modern Art“, written by a New York City- and San Diego-based photographer called John Raymond Mireles, as it was an article I’d come across during my initial research for this assignment. As I scrolled through the article, Dave helped me in a big way by pointing out some of the photographers who were mentioned that I might benefit from looking at. I’ve since had a look into a couple and found that they are more architectural and landscape style photographers (I’m quite possibly missing something here), but one photographer I was given as someone to possibly look at was Duane Michals. This was the best piece of advise I could have had at this stage as I did look into his work and had flashes of inspiration because of it.

This assignment calls for research into two more photo and/or video artists so I’ll probably choice Duane Michals as one of these, possibly along with the lesser known John Raymond Mireles simply because I enjoyed the article he wrote about us photographers not “getting” modern art.

Duane Michals

I still need to delve deeper into the work of Duane Michals, but from my early looks at his work and reading about him, I was inspired by two pieces of his work. The first stuck with me as it seems to me to be risque, even in today’s more open-minded society, never mind back in the 1970s when it was done. This piece of work is titled, “Take One and See Mount Fujiyama“.

Even with me being the red-blooded male that I am, I find this piece of work to be amusing rather than arousing, which I’m sure Michals would be more than ok with. Why on earth you’d change into being a chair that a naked woman sits on is beyond me but, each to their own I guess.

I like how, in fifteen still images, a story is told. The guy is chilling in his pants in an apartment, by reading a book, when a note comes under the door. It reads “Take one and see Mt Fujiyama”. He finds the pills on a table and takes one. I like the image with the motion blur that tells us the pill is having an effect on him and he’s becoming the chair. The middle sequence of seven images shows the naked woman coming into the room and sitting on the chair that the guy is now seeing the point-of-view of. He then comes out from being under the effects of the pill to see Mount Fujiyama…oh, hang on, as his head clears a little more it becomes clear that it’s just his erection being restrained inside his nice white Y-fronts…brilliant!

Although I was entertained by the above-mentioned piece of work, I was more impressed with another of his sequence pieces. This one is simply called, “The Bogeyman”.

This piece of work is haunting and, as a parent of two daughters, scares the **** out of me as it taps into one of my worst fears; the disappearance of one of my own. I do also love the way it plays out an entire story in 7-8 images (I believe there are 8 but some places I’ve seen it only show 7, including the version below).

I’m sure I don’t need to say anything about this piece of work in this post as just looking through the images in the correct sequence (starting at the top-left) says everything. This is a piece of work that will stay with me for the rest of my life, I’m sure.

Gregory Crewdson

This assignment calls for us to look into 2 or more video or photographic artists. Because of this, I thought I’d have a look at one of my favourites, as well as Duane Michals, above.

Gregory Crewdson is a product of New York, USA, and produces single images that tell a whole story within that one image. His work is on a scale of a Hollywood blockbuster and employs many people to get the look he wants. This look is one of a movie feel through the use of camera angles and lighting. They are often set in small-town America settings where everything looks perfect on the surface but if you delve deeper into the lives of the people living there, you’ll surely find that everything is not as it seems. It’s Crewdson’s ability to get this story across in an individual image that I find fascinating and am in awe of such ability.

To glimpse at one of his images is not good enough as we need to spend time looking around it for clues that give away the real meaning and lives of the subjects within it. This is a skill that all photographers would like to have as it’s the ability to make people stop and study your imagery that we all want and is a true skill.

The image above is a great example of Crewdson’s work. To me, it shows a middle-aged woman who’s been treated badly by her husband for years and who has finally snapped. On the outside of the home, she’s probably put on a brave face and made everything appear normal and ok, but on the inside, she’s slowly been driven to taking the drastic action she appears to have done here.

That drastic action could be to have stabbed her husband to death.

I come to this conclusion from the clues Crewdson gives us. The sink full of water is up to the brim telling me there’s been a lot to clean, but it also has a red liquid in it also. This could be the blood of her husband. She is holding a red-soaked cloth but there is also red-soaked cloths in the bowl to the left of the image. This, again, hints at the fact that a lot of cleaning has had to be done. The scrubbing brush on the kitchen side tells me that the blood has got into the carpet.

The reason I think she’s stabbed him is that Crewdson has purposely positioned the knife rack by the subject’s face (the focal point of the image) meaning we can’t fail to see it. He wants us to see the knives, even though they are all in the rack. This could be because she’s just finished the cleaning and everything is back as it should be and she’s now got time to reflect on what she’s done. This could be the reason for the vacant look on her face; the realisation is starting to set in.

The blandness of the kitchen and the bleakness of the outside tell me that she’s living a plain old mundane life to go with the abuse from her husband. The look on her face is one of indifference as she’s finally snapped after not being able to take anymore. Her expression could also be one of numbness to what she has done.

I think this image says so much with so little initial content. The more we look around the image, the more we find out and the more sinister a story it tells.

Anyway, back to my piece of work for this assignment

As I mentioned earlier, I was thinking of doing a series of unrelated images that showed different emotions. My biggest concern with this was that there would be no connection between the images and it would just look like a slideshow that the viewer could quickly get bored with.

Because of this, and following the help received from Dave who mentioned narrative photography to me, I went away and did the research mentioned above. Some of Duane Michals’ work stuck with me as something I’d like to try. This is why now, my assignment has taken a turn into a direction where I’m going to do a sequence of images which will, hopefully, make sense to the viewer and maybe even be something some can relate to.

I could bang on for ages about my idea but I should, at this stage, list out what I’m thinking for the sequence.

  • The setup will be me sitting behind a desk which has my laptop on it positioned to one side. I’m hoping I can get this to be the main light source for the moody initial (probably black and white) images portraying the negative emotions.
  • The camera will be positioned looking at me from the other side of the desk.
  • The first image will be the title screen which will be followed by another black screen displaying a dictionary definition of the word “Emotions”.
  • The initial images will be shot in front of a black background.
  • The hope is to create a dome of light around me to depict the isolation and alone general feeling I get during this stage of the process.
  • There will be one or two picture frames on the wall behind me that I’d like to do something clever with, but am not 100% sure what yet. The picture within them changes from image to image. Maybe text to explain the image, although this might take away from the power of the image and the need to ‘slow look’ at it, as Marco would say.
  • This/these picture frames might be outside the dome of light so may require lighting separately with the use of a snoot or honeycomb grid.
  • The initial images are of the negative emotions and will be shot in colour before being adjusted to be black and whites via Lightroom. I still need to, at the time of writing this, work out exactly how to portray each of these emotions in a way that they don’t look the same and the viewer can distinguish between them.
  • I think the negative emotions will go in an order of something like; Anxiety, Worry, Regret, Lack of Confidence/Self-belief.
  • Then comes a shot of me burying my head in the sand or another way of me delaying the start working on the assignment.
  • Then I start the process of actually doing something for the assignment, other than just worrying.
  • Shot of me with chin in hand looking like I’m thinking. Negative look on face.
  • The next shot sequence is of; Frustration (at not being able to think of an idea), Panic (as time is getting on and the deadline is approaching), Anger (panic turns to this as still struggling for ideas) Do a high-burst series of shots as I swipe paperwork off the desk. Anger scream sound effect. Quicker fade out of previous shot and into this image to add to the intensity of the anger.
  • Shot of me laid back in my chair with feet up on desk and camera under chin looking like a gun. Fade to black and hold for a slightly uncomfortable amount of time in which viewers might start looking at each other wondering if the film has finished. BANG! Loud gunshot sound effect. Fade up to an image of me slumped in my chair with blood spatter effect made up of photos and pieces of paper with notes on them looking like coming out of the top of my head.
  • Fade to another slightly longer black screen than normal, but not uncomfortably long. Slower fades around this bit.
  • Next image is a strobe of me getting out of the chair and walking out of shot.
  • Then another strobe image of me walking back into shot and sitting down, now with a mug of tea/coffee.
  • Higher exposure/more light in shots from here on as if coming into the light.
  • Shot with chin in hand, again, but this time with a positive look on face.
  • Me with a big smile on my face and an image of a lightbulb in the picture frame on the wall behind me.
  • Long exposure shot of me writing. Need to exaggerate the movement of my hand/pen to get good motion-blur? Maybe do two of these, with a thinking shot in between, to get point across that ideas are flowing?
  • Shot of me typing on laptop whilst looking at notes on paperwork. This could show that I’ve moved on and am progressing to getting things down officially.
  • Series of positive emotion images as the ideas flow. These will be in colour with different coloured backgrounds (gels over lights).
  • Finish the positive emotion images with a shot of me doing fist pump, “YES!” in picture frame on wall?
  • Fades to black then fades in again, quickly, but this time as a video of studio lights being switched on, my assistant walking into the shot to shake hands and me saying, “Wow, got there in the end! What a roller coaster ride!” as a third camera pans out to reveal the studio setup.
  • Fades to a screen with a dictionary definition of the word “Perseverance”.
  • End credits.

In my head, I have some really cool low-key black and white images to start the sequence which will be followed by some lighter black and white images to show the process starting to work and ideas starting to flow. These will then be followed by the positive images displaying in colour so that I can light up the background with different coloured gels over the studio lights or with my set of speedlites/flashguns (whatever the correct name is for them) and my sets of gels over them.

I’d quite like to give this a go with my flashguns and associated kit just to see if I can actually use them with any degree of skill. If not, I’ll go with the studio lights as they have the modelling lights which help during the setup process.

I just hope I can discover that I’m good enough to realise the images I have in my head for real!

Making the Short Film

As mentioned above, I went with creating a piece of work using a series of still images as opposed to a moving picture. This was because, a) I’m not a fan of seeing myself on film and b) I really liked the work of Duane Michals’ “The Bogeyman”.

I ended up taking 36 images to use in the film but only used 23 of them in the final piece. I decided on shooting it all in the studio at college but was constantly frustrated with the lack of time I had in there as the lesson wasn’t long enough and/or there were always people around which made it awkward for me to be switching all the room lights off etc. I tried to combat this by booking a slot for the use of the studio on a Wednesday morning when there wouldn’t be anyone else in there and I’d have all morning to get the shots done. This didn’t go as planned for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there was a large group of people in there who, I’m assuming, work on the college magazine and who were taking up most of the room in the studio. This wasn’t a big problem so I cracked on with getting everything set up. The group of people were done and out of there by the time I was ready to shoot so I was all set.

I was doing the shoot on my own by using my phone to control the camera as I sat in each shot. This was going great until it came to actually getting the shots. I’d not even thought about the fact that the camera is on ‘live view’ when being controlled via a smartphone and that the lights in the college studio don’t flash when the camera is in that mode. *^&%$*$!!!

I tried using continuous lighting the scene but they weren’t powerful enough and it would have looked different to the lighting I was going to use in my stroboscopic shots. Because of this, I swore a lot and packed my mornings work away and went home.

By this stage, I’d decided I was just going to squeeze myself into my mobile studio in my living room at home and get the work done there with the use of my speedlite setup. It was a tight squeeze as the room isn’t really wide enough for setting softboxed speedlites up but at least I knew my lights worked correctly whilst controlling the camera via my phone.

Shooting at home was a lot better than in the college studio, for me, but it did mean rearranging the living room quite a bit to fit my kit in. This was a bit of a ball ache, but worth it in the end.

All the images were shot in colour as I wanted the later images within the film sequence in colour and only the early (negative mindset) images in black and white. To get the colour shots into black and white I simply put each one into Lightroom and adjusted them in there.

Although shooting at home via my smartphone was better, it wasn’t perfect. As can be seen from a couple of the images within the film, the autofocus missed its mark on occasion. To be perfectly honest, I’d had enough by this stage and decided to just go with those images.

Once all the shots were done and I’d transformed the ones I wanted into black and white, it was time to up my subscription with Adobe to the ‘All Apps’ one from the ‘Photographer’s package’ and get cracking with editing it all together. This stage took a while as I’d not had much experience with Premiere Pro before this, but I got it done to a reasonable level considering.

Although sound effects should have been recorded by ourselves, preferably, I was having fun getting them from YouTube once I’d taught myself how to do so via the VLC media player.

After a couple of days of editing in Premiere Pro, the film was done and can be watched below.

Another little thing I learnt is about compressing the video to get it onto this blog/sketchbook. The original file size of my film is 73.9MB but the one on here is just 2.08MB. I’ve had my doubts about the amount I’m learning from this course but I guess I’m learning more stuff than I thought as it’s forcing me to do so.

I compressed the film online at:

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Thanks to Dave and Kye for allowing me to take a college desk home to use and to Chris for helping me carry it out of and back into the building. Thanks guys!


To come…