Assignment 1 – Self-assessment

Following completion of my first assignment for this course, I have made some notes about how I feel the outcome matches the course assessment criteria

Criteria Self-assessment
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills. I feel the images were harmoniously composed and finished to a reasonably good standard. When taking the images, I wanted to make them look as natural and straight as possible, using ambient (natural and artificial) light. This created in some cases illumination difficulties and/or colour balance issues. I have tried to deal with these issues in post-processing, but with hindsight, I would have recreated some of the shots with the aid of light modifiers (eg reflectors) or with fill-in flash.
Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. I am reasonably happy with the overall outcome of the project and in particular, I am pleased with the way I am suggesting this to be presented. I feel that some of the images, particularly in the second series, could have emphasised the points I was trying to make slightly better under different circumstances or with a different set-up. For instance, for the second series I would have preferred the beard to have grown a bit more than just a couple of days, but this was not logistically possible during the timeframe I had for completing the assignment.
Demonstration of creativity – Imagination, experimentation, invention. These sets of images are not what I would normally feel comfortable doing as part of my regular photography and consequently, this assignment was quite experimental for me. Another aspect that required a bit of imagination was to recreate certain situations depicted with the limited resources available. One image I was particularly pleased with was the first one in the first set, emulating a taxi trip, which was taken on the back seat of a compact car moved to a back street near where I live.
Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking. This series was not directly inspired by any of the photographers I looked at as part of my research for part 1 of the course, but the concept and execution was heavily influenced by some ideas I got (link) from the essay “Inside / Out” by Abigail Solomon-Godeau, which first appeared in the catalogue for the exhibition “Public information: desire, disaster, document” held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art between January 18 and April 30 1995. In particular, I wanted to explore the limitations of photography, as a medium which is focused on the surface of things, when trying to express any meaning beyond appearances; while at the same time also exploring the ambiguity and lack of objectivity that may come from having an insider or compromised perspective on the subject.

Assignment 1 – Final set and presentation ideas

Following principal photography and the selection process, I came up with the following two sets. All images are meant to be untitled.

Set 1

Set1-1Set 1-2Set 1-3Set 1-4Set 1-6

Set 2

Set 2-1Set 2-2Set 2-3Set 2-4Set 2-5Set 2-6

I always envisaged these two sets to be joined at the middle. As indicated in my preliminary comments, aside from the personal connection that I may have to some aspects of these personas, I wanted to explore in this assignment the idea of ambiguity and duality and to dissipate any perception that these two characters could not coexist, to a certain extent, in real life. In order to do that, I envisaged the two series to be seen as a sequence of images, like in a book, that could be started at either end both ended together in the middle, in images that almost mirror each other. I have included here a link to a sketched presentation of how this would look like.

The summary notes accompanying my assignment submission can be found here.




Assignment 1 – Photographic process

Once the main idea was set, I though about what I wanted to show in each set. The brief mentioned about producing 5 to 7 photographs per set. I decided in the end to have 5 clearly distinct images for each set, with only two images being similar in content, and representing a “joint” between the two sets. From the outset I decided that I wanted these two pictures to be about shaving, as this is an aspect from my life that separates my work life from my leisure time: I do not normally shave during weekends or while on holidays. As photography is primarily about the exterior (link to some personal observations on this point), I though this was an important visual clue to equally separate and join the two sets.

For the remaining five pair of pictures I wanted to show myself doing similar activities under the guise of each persona: eating, working, relaxing, sleeping and traveling, and to try to separate them as much as possible. In addition to having separation in terms of the activities or the content of such activities, I also wanted the personas to dress differently, to accessorize differently (spectacles and watches are different) and to wear wedding rings in different places. A lot of what the images portray may be considered stereotypes, but they are not necessarily true or false with respect to the subject, or real for that matter, and I have left clues in some of the pictures to hint that all of this may be staged (as it effectively was). Some of the clues (like a text written in the computer screen in one of the pictures, or the use of a purple cloth to cover my jeans in one of the shots in which I wear a jacket and tie) were deliberately put there, while others were genuine mistakes that I decided not to correct (for example, in the picture showing myself as a darkroom worker, the trays shown in the background are simply too small for the size of paper I have under the enlarger, something that would be easily spotted as odd by those looking carefully).

Nearly all the shots were taken indoors, the only two exceptions being the taxi and bus scenes. All the shots were taken with a 28mm lens, as I wanted to include as much of the background as possible while still having relatively close-up shots. Because I took the pictures all by myself, nearly all done by setting the camera on a tripod and using a remote trigger application with a timer set to 10 seconds, in order to allow myself to recompose after pressing the trigger. The bus picture was taken with hand stretched as if I was taking a selfie, as it was not practical to set up a tripod there.

In total, 193 pictures were taken for this assignment, over a period of 6 days. Some of the scenes were re-shot to compare alternative looks. The final images had basic post-processing adjustments, such as light / shadows adjustment, color balance and selective burning / dodging. Cloning was only used twice to remove extraneous spots, but otherwise, images were cropped to remove unwanted elements. In only one set of images, the ones about shaving, the transform tool of Lightroom was used to align certain elements (as these pictures will be shown side by side in the final presentation). All the final images were cropped on a 3:2 aspect ratio and presented on a landscape orientation. Annotated contact sheets can be found here.

Assignment 1 – Preliminary ideas / final concept

For this assignment I considered various options before settling on the final theme:

  1. Within the same area of London, take two series pictures including derelict and new buildings. respectively, to create the illusion of either well off / run-down areas (when the reality is neither of).
  2. A second idea, which followed from the first one, was to take alternative pictures of the north and south bank of the Thames showing derelict / new buildings on either side.
  3. The third idea that came to my mind was to identify something that was happening on the street (eg somebody doing road works, or taking a photograph) and then to split the scene into various shots, each showing incomplete information, with a final series including the complete scene. Each of these shots were then going to be part of a separate series, with the intention being that each series would mean something different when considered individually, as opposed to when the final series puts the series all together.

I considered the first two ideas to be too close to what I am normally familiar with my current photographic practice and only was willing to consider them as a last resort, as I wanted to try something new. For the third idea, I did some preliminary tests (see shots below), but quickly came to the realisation that it was going to be quite a challenge to find sufficient suitable situations in the limited amount of time I had available to complete this (about 3 weeks, as I started to work in earnest during the second week of July) and more importantly, I was not convinced I could build sufficiently cohesive sets. In the end, I decided I was risking too much of a departure from the brief, but this is an idea I would like to revisit sometime in the future, possibly as a long-term project (I envisage it will require many months, if not years, to build a cohesive set).

3rd idea tester – Series 1

3rd idea tester – Series 2

3rd idea tester – Series 3 (full scene)

In the end, I decided to do two alternative series about myself. This is quite a departure for my comfort zone, as I only occasionally do portraits as part of my practice and when I do them, they are rarely self-portraits. The idea was to create two separate sets which show me as two different personas, the “city director” and the “photographer”, both of which are loosely based on aspects of my life but that contain elements which are stereotypes of what we expect these respective roles to do or be. Although the personas are clearly different, I wanted to emphasize the point that they may actually coexist, to a certain degree, within the same person and that both may be simultaneously truthful and misleading. This will play an important role in how I will shoot and present the pictures at the end. The whole set was in part inspired by observations made by Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her essay “Inside / Out” (link to my comments on this), and the lack of objectivity that may result from being in an insider position, and the limitations of photography in showing anything but what appears on the surface.