This meeting focussed primarily on the influence of women within the Waste Land.
As I approached this project it made me think about trying to capture something that is generally not looked at in-depth, and the subject of ageing and the elderly has been in my mind for some time. There was much discussion within the lectures at to the difference between photographs exhibited as art and art photography. Roland Barthes stated in his book, The Semiotic Challenge (1994, p.4) that, “… no one in the world can represent an idea.” This suggests that the photographer is always facing a challenge to produce original work, but as a student one realises that this must be near impossible; although faced with the same subject everyone will produce work which differs in some way, and represents their own viewpoint and artistic sensibilities. Since the first images were made and the minute photographers were not dictated to by the demands of commercialism, was the time they worked and experimented to produce projects they were interested in and felt compelled to investigate. The research into this project has revealed the huge amount of interesting, inspiring and imaginative work produced by photographers and that is continuing to be produced.
Many elderly people feel lonely and are often ignored as being past their usefulness. These are the ones who have lived through great moments in history and changes within our society. Even in my lifetime I have lived through having television introduced into the home, decimalisation, computers, the internet and digital cameras amongst others. I have been fortunate in that as a starting point I have several elderly neighbours, making it easy to gain their cooperation to take part. This in turn led to other people also wanting to participate and I had to ensure that it did not become unmanageable. I had to therefore diplomatically advise them that due to time constraints I could not include everyone. I was looking for ‘characters’ and this is something I can possibly take further in the future. I also endeavoured to include people of at least 70 years of age and more, although there is one women I included, as initially I thought she was older, but was an interesting character.
All the images (with the exception of the front cover of the resulting book) were taken in their own homes, as I felt they would be more relaxed in familiar surroundings and it would also provided some clues as to their personalities. The images were all taken using natural light, although when faced with a very dark room with little natural light I used a desk lamp to provide a supplementary light source. I also asked them to include an object that they felt was a representation of themselves or was an object to be treasured in some way. I felt this would be of more interest than just taking a portrait shot, and it was also useful as a talking point when I interviewed them. It also worked better to record the interview and take the images at the same time, rather than treating each separately. The subjects seemed happier to participate as the images were not going to be published, and most were more than happy to talk about the paths their lives had taken. It also showed how careful interviews of this nature need to be, to keep everything as relaxed and low-key as possible so that the person is at ease with what is taking place.
I have always felt that it is important to give something back to the people who have taken part, as they have given up their time and in this instance invited me into their homes. So everyone who took part was given a copy of the image I took of them and which I included in the book. On a sad note, my oldest participant who was an inspirational, lively 93-year-old died suddenly about 10 days after I took the images of her. This made them more precious particularly to the surviving members of her family.
Over time the projects I have undertaken have very much taken me out of my comfort zone on occasion, but given me the confidence to approach anyone, to see if they will take part in what I am doing; and this has generally proved to be the case. It has also opened the possibilities of subjects to pursue in greater depth at a later date when time constraints have not been imposed, and also to experiment with different techniques which I have been introduced to as part of my studies.
There seems to be much evidence of people who are or were in the public eye having their images taken particularly in later life. Photographers obviously took pictures of those that were close to them. However it is debatable as to whether or not a photographer is ever comfortable with having his own image taken. Perhaps in most cases he feels more at ease behind, as opposed to being in front of the camera.
The following image was taken of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) in later life. She was married to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) who worked to promote her work towards the end of his life. She was an artist known for her work on flowers and natural forms at close range.
I discovered the following image by the photographer Diana Markosian (b.1989). I found it particularly interesting as it is in such sharp focus and she has not taken any steps to flatter the subject. The wrinkled skin has been weathered by age and possibly hard work or living in a warm climate. She is cooperative in having her image taken and obviously has a good relationship with Markosian.
Markosian has since gone on to produce a project entitled Inventing My Father, 2014. She spent 15 years looking for him after he had left the family. The following image was taken from this project where they were reunited again. It was also featured in a recent copy dated January 3/4 2015 of the FT Weekend Magazine.
There is obviously great emotion depicted in this scene although one feels as if it is so private between them, we should not be there too.
A similar sensitive and emotional piece of work was produced by Phillip Toledano, entitled, Days with my Father in 2010, taken over the last three years of his life. The following image was taken from this series and shows the great love he had for his father.
Not all the images are sad, some also show the sense of fun the father had. I decided not to include this as I had spent time looking at the work of Richard Avedon when he had also taken pictures of his father towards the end of his life.
Personally, I feel that it must have been extremely difficult for him to take some of the images, despite them being a lasting memory of him and perhaps how he was mentally has a bearing. If his mental faculties were good and he was aware and cooperative, then it would have been easier to take the images. I would have like to do the same with my mother before she died, but as her dementia became more acute I would have felt that perhaps I was taking advantage when she was at her most vulnerable. I did however take one (not one of my best!) of her eyes when she first went into the care home. It shows the life very much present there and is now a very precious memento.
I was first introduced to this film through a recent TV programme, where they described it as the most horrific film that was ever made. I only watched a short portion and it was enough to shock me but led to further thoughts about it. My investigations into the work of the Surrealist revealed that the eye was held to be of great importance to them, so this is probably why the eye is featured in the film. I also discovered the following images but did not include them, as they related to the eye but not to my work on the elderly.
This image by Man Ray entitled Tears 1933 shows an elaborate exaggerated, theatrical interpretation. This is very different to his earlier work on solarisation and rayographs as shown in the following image of Lee Miller produced in 1929.
The work shows his interest in experimentation and of using the human body in differing ways, as shown in this image of Le Violon d’Ingres 1924 where the body has been transformed into a musical instrument.
1. DAGUERREOTYPE PORTRAITS
Whilst a portrait is usually associated with the face, it can also denote a total representations of a person. The photographic process to be widely used was the daguerreotype, which consists of an images portrayed on a highly polished, and sensitized silvered copper plate, which is covered by a piece of glass.
The following image of an elderly couple was made in 1839. They are looking straight at the camera, which no emotion or contact with each other. It is known that they would have had to maintain the pose for a long length of time. Possibly they have dresses specially for the occasion.
The following image of a woman with her dead child was made in 1850s as a ‘memento mori’. Despite the quality of the copy and there being no expression on her face, her body language and the expression in her eyes shows her extreme sadness.
2. SURREALIST PORTRAITS
I have already made written notes for the main points I want to include within the essay and want to cover ‘The Portrait’, but with special reference to images of the elderly. I realised that soon after starting my practical project, that this is something not well covered within photography. People are almost uncomfortable with confronting issues of ageing, although within the confines of the family it is wonderful to be able to capture that precious moment with an elderly relative who may not be there for much longer.
I previously came across the work of Phillip Toledano (b.1968) in my course research for another module, and whilst this is an emotional coverage of time he spent with his dying father; it shows the special loving relationship they both shared. I personally feel that it must have been very challenging for him to take the images at times.
This YouTube film shows more of the images taken from his book Days with my Father (2010).
Whilst this is a serious study of the elderly looking towards at the end of life, as I want to investigate and discuss ‘The Portrait’ and faces in particular, I also need to look at work that has been covered in different photographic genres to ascertain how the treatment of the face has changed over time.
My husband and I visited the Inn to see if the landlord would be agreeable to my setting up and taking some pictures using his fireplace, either when the pub is shut or during a quiet period. With the help of a member of the staff Carla, she said that the landlord Justin was happy for me to take some images and suggested Friday 9 January at 11.30 before the pub opens to the public.
As all the chairs appeared to be bar style chairs or dining chairs in the restaurant, I will need to bring in an armchair from home and set up a mock scene. Whilst there I took some shots of the fireplace and also the outside of the building.
It may be that during the day there will be too much ambient light coming through the window, so I may need to close the curtains and try to create the suggestion of an evening shot with the face of the subject being lit by the glow from the fire , whilst he is reading a book. There is also a large menu board firmly fixed to the area above the fireplace, so I will need to try to ensure that this does not feature in the shot as it will detract from the realism of what I am trying to achieve.
On thinking further about the photo book, as I have included a poem by W.B. Yeats which begins, ” When you are old and grey and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire…”. I decided that to tie this in with the images that are to be shown in the book; I need an image of someone sitting by a fire on the cover.
As most people I know nowadays, even if they have a fireplace, tend to have wood burning stoves and I need to take an image of a traditional open fire. So in the end we investigated local pubs which are known to have open fireplaces so see if they would be suitable. I ended up with two possibilities, one in Chilham and the White Horse Inn, at Bridge near Canterbury. The White Horse Inn is better for this purpose as it is lighter inside the building with natural light coming in from a window to the left of the fireplace, and there is more space in front of the fire to position an armchair. The only drawback is the fact that I will not showing an actual event, but a constructed shot for the purposes of the book cover, but in this instance felt the exercise was justified. I will revisit the White Horse Inn when it is open to see if the landlord is agreeable for me to take some images.
Maggi and Ken lived in a very small thatched cottage so space was very limited. As I wanted to use the ambient light as far as possible I was restricted to taking the images in the small living room. I began with Maggi who did not seem too happy to be photographed despite them being neighbours and my knowing them well. I was suffering from a bad back and under normal circumstances would have rescheduled the shoot, but it has taken several weeks to arrange so I felt that if I had postponed then it might not have happened. This is when having an assistant would be great and so that nothing is left to chance and no bending down is involved.
So I kept things as brief as I could and under different circumstances would perhaps have spent longer with her. She wanted to wear a hat as her signature object, and I found it worked better when I moved her chair so that I was able to use the mirror on the wall to show her reflected back view. This also prevented the images being too over exposed.
I rejected the above image as although her face is sharp, it has lost the definition on her top and collar. I also felt that although I wanted the background to be out of focus he need to be more defined and to reduce the exposure in the patch of green to the right of her reflected image.
When it came to working with Ken he spent most of his time with his eyes looking at His wife, so I had to work to get him to engage with the camera. He was very happy to talk about what he done during his working life and again gave me stories which will possibly be able to be utilised for the proposed book.
I rejected the following image as Ken was not looking at the camera but talking and engaging with Maggi. I also feel that he is taking up too much space in the frame.
I have now taken images and interviewed nine people, but planned to do one more and use these for the book. However my last subject John is ill with gout, so if he does not make a speedy recovery I will need to find one more man to fit the bill.