2 Dec: Portrait Shoot with Lizzie

Lizzie is a volunteer cook at Catching Lives charity in Canterbury, so I knew her slightly in my capacity as a volunteer there.  So I was pleased when she agreed for me to take some images, as I felt that she has some very interesting qualities about her.  I must admit that I thought that she was older than it turned out but has certainly lived an eventful life, including being a life model for an art class.  I did not ask her if she wanted to repeat the exercise!

It was an overcast day so I ended up taking the images in her conservatory.  There was a lot of items there but these in turn are indicative of her as a person, so needed to be included in the shots.  She had chosen to include a large key as being a representation of who she is.  One of her other current duties include being the caretaker for the local church.

The following image was rejected as although it depicted her talking animatedly to me, there was light reflected back on to her glasses.

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27 Nov: Another Portrait Shoot

PORTRAIT SHOOT OF JEANNE

This lady at 93, I found particularly inspirational.  She lives in an immaculately kept small bungalow and has done so many different things in her life.  She had just returned from using the exercise machines on the village green and was going singing after I left. She had been in the WAF during the war, in the department developing and processing aerial photographs, so knew much about analogue processes.  She had also gone up in a hot air balloon on her 90th birthday and said that she would probably do the same on her 100th.

The room was light and bright and as she had white hair and was wearing a lemon coloured sweater, I had to ensure that the images were not overexposed. One of her treasures was the painting she had bought abroad with her husband when he was alive. One of the images depicted her facing the same way as the figure in the painting but I rejected this one as I felt that it did not show her facial features well enough.  Part of her face was lost in shadow and there was also light reflected in her glasses from the reflector I had used to bounce some light back into her face.  I also had to be careful not to have any light also reflected on to the painting.

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I preferred to show her interaction with the camera and the ease with which she allowed me to photograph her.

25 Nov: Portrait photo Shoot

PORTRAIT SHOOT OF JOHN

When I arrived at the house there was no reply, despite his car being in the drive, so had to ring him to check that he still wanted to take part.  It made me realise that someone living alone in a big house, who may not be very agile, may also just not hear the door bell.  I also took my husband along as my assistant as I felt safer with him there than being in the house alone with John.  I had no reason not be safe but I was just being careful and cautious.

I spent a long time interviewing John, to find out about his life and how he spends his time.  I realised that the men in particular that I have interviewed so far, have all served during the war in some capacity, and that it was a very important part of their earlier lives.  I used the same plan of having him sitting in a chair to utilise the natural light coming in through the window as far as possible.  As the interior was dark so with Tim’s help I needed to use the reflector to bounce some light back on to John’s face.

The best shots came towards the end of the session when he was oblivious to the camera and talked animatedly about his grandchildren.  The following shot was rejected as I did not feel that it gave enough insight into his character, which is what I am endeavouring to catch in all the subjects photographed. He is not engaging with the camera and not referring to the children in the photographs on his lap. There was also a strong blue colour cast to the images which I had to give a slight adjustment to in post production.  However I have tried to keep all images as true to how they were originally taken as far as possible.

_MG_2758On looking at the results back at home I realised that I seem to have been following a similar format with the subjects taken so far sitting holding an object.  l have tried to take the shots reasonably close but found that I needed to make them wide enough at the same time to include some of the object they have chosen, as it is an important part of the image.  I also did not ask the subjects to perhaps stand for any shots, as they are all elderly and this may have proved problematic for them. I also felt that using similar view points would also add some continuity with the other portraits I have taken as regards putting the results together in a book.

I have also now found that I need to ensure that as soon as I get home that the images and audio recordings are downloaded, memory cards reformatted and batteries recharged ready for the next session.

20 Nov: Research and reflections

LOOKING AT THE WORK OF JANE BOWN

Her book Exposures (2009) tells us that she worked mainly in black and white using natural light, and in this respect is similar to how I am working with my seniors portraits. However I personally feel that it is too predictable to do mine in black and white  as they are part of the world as it is now; and that mine should be in colour.  I am also trying to use natural light as far as possible but I may have to adapt to the conditions as they arise.  Her film ‘ Looking For Light: Jane Bown’  – Soda pictures (2014) tells us that she had been known to take a desk lamp with her in case it was needed, which is what I too had ended up doing with my shots of Doug.  Her image of Francis Bacon also shows the clutter of his studio around him as mine of Doug have done.

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The film also tells us that she liked to shoot as 1/60s at f/2.8 so I plan to try to see what effect I get with my 50mm prime 1:1.4 lens on these settings when I next take shots of John on Tuesday.  As Bailey points out in the foreword, “It’s the photographer not the camera, that makes the picture.”  As the photographer of my portraits I feel that I am trying to depict the character of the person I am presented with and let my own voice show through the work, not trying to replicate the work of anyone else in this respect.

Her work shows images of celebrities and individuals taken since she started working as a photojournalist for the Observer newspaper in 1949.  She states that her “sensibility is that of an artist – every element within the frame has been considered and nothing is incidental.”  Luke Dodd in the introduction also states that, “her pared back working method is designed to make her as unobtrusive as possible – and to make her camera as non-invasive as possible.”  In my work I feel that particularly with my current work, it is vital to put the people totally at their ease.  In this respect conducting the interview first gives us both a chance to get to know each other, and make the sitter more relaxed for the later photo shoot; so that their personality and character will show through.

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In this image of Woody Allen he seems unaware of her presence, and despite the shot being taken from the side she has managed to capture both eyes in the image; which is also challenging photographing someone wearing glasses.

Her image of Robert Redford is also striking as she has made no attempt to soften his skin in any way and shows a truthful, quiet and charismatic image of a face which has become a great deal more lined over time.

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She never stage-managed a shot or used props and the book tells us that she concentrated on the face, particularly the eyes.  In this respect perhaps I need to go in more and move closer, but I am also wanting to include an item which is memorable to them for some reason, so cannot go in too close as this would not be included in the shot.

All her images seem to capture that moment when the subject is quiet and reflective. Her book Faces states that time restrictions made her quick and decisive in her work such as her striking image of Samuel Becket (1976) which shows a wide range of tonal shades within the image and she states was a difficult subject to deal with.

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I have also looked at how she treated other more mature subjects, such as Frances Partridge in 1994, who was a writer and last member of the Bloomsbury Group and died at the age of 103.

Frances PartridgeShe has not tried to depict the woman as anything different to who she is and she is shown as proud and confident.

18 Nov: 2nd Photo Shoot

BETTY & GEOFF

When I arrived there were two other ladies there who wanted to see what was going on, and then said that they would also like to take part at a later date.

I began the recorded interview, using the same format that I had adopted yesterday and it gave us all a chance to get to know each other before I starting taking images.   Once Geoff started talking he realised he had a captive audience, so I was up against him continually moving, although he was obviously totally at ease in front of the camera. He seemed unaware that I was there, so in this respect it was good as the shots were natural.  So after getting a life history I discovered that he was very interested in attending antique auctions, so this gave me the focal point for his images of him together with some of his treasures.

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Although the natural light was an improvement on the house yesterday, today I was in a small thatched cottage and was up against interior lighting with various table lamps giving off a very amber light in certain areas of the room, which made areas over exposed.  I was also up trying to depict him against a red patterned cover over his chair and wooden beams in the room.  However this is their home and I wanted to depict them in their own surroundings.  I also tried some shots today hand-held, to get better angles and views than I had achieved yesterday; and felt that the white balance and exposure settings were better.

Betty in turn told me that she had been a matron of a large hospital in the days when the matron oversaw every aspect of the hospital as well as the nursing staff.  Now as both Geoff and her are not in the best of health, she spends a lot of time doing bobbin lace, making objects for the cathedral and local church.

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When I returned home I rang the other two ladies and one of them, Jeanne agreed for me to take some images of her next week.  The other lady, Eva I was unable to contact.

17 Nov: 1st Portrait Photo Shoot

DOUG and MAGGIE

I arrived a little early but there was no reply, but they did not hear the doorbell.  So I telephoned them to check.  In future I need to ensure that I always have the contact telephone number with me in case the person does not hear the doorbell, and that they have mine in case of cancellations.  They were a very interesting couple who lived in a house that was full of memorabilia, and looked as if nothing had been touched for years. So when it came to taking the shots I also decided to include some of the surroundings in the shot too.

I began by conducting an interview with both Maggie and Doug being there, but Maggie was not too enthusiastic about me taking her image, so I did not press this at all as Doug was very keen.  It was easier to record the interview using my Zoom H1 hand-held recorder as it saved my taking notes, was more spontaneous and ensured that I did not miss anything.

He is a very talented accordion player and proceeded to play music from different countries, whilst I took the shots.  He preferred to sit all the way through as he said that the accordion was heavy, so I was up against being in a very cramped area, so had to manage with what I was presented with.

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There was virtually no natural light coming into the room and the only lights were a central fluorescent tube on the ceiling and an angle-poise desk lamp.  I ended up using this as a stand-in fill light.  I tried different settings and shots from different angles, but decided that as his accordion was so important to him I need to include as much of it as I could, to do it justice.

When I got home I immediately uploaded all the images and audio tracks,recharged the camera batteries and formatted the Zoom H1 card so that I am ready for the next shoot tomorrow.  I also need to ensure that I have a supply of ‘thank you’ cards so that I can give them one afterwards, together with a couple of my business cards.

LIZZIE

I also met Lizzie in the morning and after telling her about my project said she would like to take part.  She also told me that she had once been a life model for an art class so that should be an interesting shoot.

 

15 Nov: More subjects signed up

Plans

  • I made an initial phone call to Doug, whose name was suggested to me by my neighbour Ken. After explaining what the project was about, he said that he would be happy to take part.  So I have arranged to visit him and his wife on Monday morning 17th November.

Hopefully the light will be good enough to take the shots using natural light, but may have to use a reflector and some infill light from my camera speedlite.  I have decided against taking in studio equipment as I think the subjects might find that rather off-putting

  • I also had a call from John who I had rung earlier.  He may prove to be a very useful contact as he is the Chairman of the local British Legion,  so has access to many people who may fit the criterion for my portraits.  He also agreed to take part and we have booked the morning of 24th November to take the images.

I do however seem to be getting more male participants than women, so need to find more for a balanced sample of people.

10 Nov: Planning and contacts

Projecting the proposal

I made contact with four of my elderly neighbours and discussed my project idea with them.  They were enthusiastic about it and kept coming up with names of people who could take part.  I do not want this in fact to snowball at this stage, as there is a limited time to complete the work and the workload needs to be kept manageable.  It is however something that I can develop further at a later date.

My difficulty will be in handling this sensitively so that the subjects do not think I am photographing merely as I regard them as old.  It may be however that someone wants to take part, but they do not fill the criteria of what I am looking for in my subjects.  So I will take their picture, give them a copy but may not include it in the final work submitted.  I am looking for subjects whose faces tell a story, and have a story to tell through the personal possession they choose to bring with them into the image.

I said that in return for them taking part, I would give them a copy of whatever I take for them to keep.

Specifics 

I also said that I would prefer to take the images in their own homes as they would feel more relaxed and could wear whatever they wanted to. I also asked that they also bring to the session, a possession of some sort that meant something to them.

I then plan to do a recorded interview, which is more spontaneous and easier to work with at the same session. So image and text together suggest that the best outcome for this project would be in the form of a book.

Following the initial discussion two of the people agreed to take part next week and the other two to let me know when they are free.

6 Nov: The Photographer as Auteur – Study Morning / Workshop

We met as a group at The Old Lookout down at Broadstairs Harbour, having previously been asked to consider a photographer within the art genre, whose individualism and independence is reflected in their work.

I had originally chosen Chris Steele-Perkins.  Being part of the Magnum Agency the work of the photographers is largely documentary and humanitarian.  Steele-Perkins began working as a freelance photographer in 1971 and joined Magnum in 1979.  Many of his books reflect his interest and connection with people, and document his extensive travel.  Ingledew (2005, p.82) in his book Photography, states that “documentary photographers often focus on subjects that are not the stuff of headlines.” Steele-Perkins spent three years documenting the English ‘Teddy Boy’ scene for his first book, The Teds,1976.  In 2012 he produced his book Fading Light which consists of photographs and interviews with centenarians in the UK.  His last large exhibition was at The Tate, London in 2013.

I found this interesting as my own work has seemed to develop towards taking images of things that are not readily accessible to the general public, and in a way that treats the subject with respect and dignity, which Steele-Perkins also does.  His work is clear and unambiguous without any special effects or treatment to the image.

Workshop

We were given the brief to consider the photographer which we had researched, and then to go out and take three images from amongst a list of 10, one of which must include a human.  My results were as follows:

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This was my image of ‘a sadness’, reflects by the man sitting on a backpack outside of a shop.  He was not begging but looked sad and dejected.  The public nearby merely ignored him, and carried on about their business.   I had to take this image quickly and unobtrusively, so that he was not aware of what I was doing.  It was suggested that looking directly at him to take the shot would have made it more powerful, but I felt he would not have agreed to this.

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This lady caught my eye as she was colour coordinated with hat, top and shoes all red. It is my image of ‘a joy’, as the precious thing in her life was her dog.  She was happy for me to take her picture and seemed to enjoy the experience, and was confident in looking directly at the camera.

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One of the things on the list was ‘an umbrella’, so as it was a sunny day not many were about.  So after purchasing one in a local tourist shop, this lady agreed to sit while I took her picture with the umbrella.  I felt it was bright and cheerful and almost in the style of Martin Parr.

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This shot was my image of ‘a stranger drinking a cup of tea’.  I had gone into a cafe for one myself, and saw the couple sitting there. So by changing my seat I was able to take a quick picture whilst they were unaware.  Although I would generally ask permission before taking a shot, in this instance I felt that the man would perhaps not have agreed.

We also were asked to:

1. Take a photograph of the beach which signifies my independence as an artist.

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In this image I attempted to depict the fact that once on this beach I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.  So I had a ‘Reginald Perrin’ moment and attempted to depict the fact that I had abandoned everything and walked into the sea.  As we had a limited amount of time to complete the tasks, if there had been more time then I would have spent longer over this image.  I need perhaps to show a trail of clothing and perhaps some footprints going into the water beyond where I had left the boots. However that is something I can try again at a later date.

2. To imagine that I was a dog and within that persona to take an images which signifies my response to the beach.

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For this image I was an imaginary small terrier, so the shot was taken low down with me looking towards the people walking along the  beach.  The other terrier was obviously interested in what I was doing.

We were also told to return with only five images and I found this hard to delete images off the card which is not something I generally ever do in camera, but it did at least encourage me to be highly selective.