Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme.
As the culminating assignment for the course you may wish to draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – using various forms of Earrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images. The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five. This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas. This could then form the basis for a 300-word introduction to the piece. You may find it helpful to draw storyboards to help you visualise your ideas.
The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image. (Use flash/lights if required but available light is fine as long as it is considered.)
If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this. Also consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach. For example, don’t automatically use red roses in a love scene but try to be subtle in your ideas to obtain a more true-to-life scenario.
For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).
Send your final image(s) to your tutor, along with your commentary and relevant pages of your learning log (or blog url). C&N p.122
[29Jun] Submission text
All photographs are fictions, to a far greater extent than we are able or willing to acknowledge. Yet most of them still pretend to a high degree of verisimilitude and transparency, to the impersonal neutrality of windows on the world. A.D. Coleman, introduction to Theater of the Mind, Arthur Tress, 1967, pages unnumbered
wrote A.D. Coleman in his introduction to surrealist trickster Arthur Tress’s 1967 compilation of images, Theater of the Mind.
In Assignment 4 I described my surprise and a degree of disillusionment when I learned that one of my photo-heroes, Bill Brandt used 'family and friends posing as characters in purportedly unmediated scenes of British social life' (Hacking, 2012, p.61) and arranged 'his subjects … "in character", placed on a stage with the necessary props' (Delany, 2004, p.10). My tutor was rightly dismissive (in a good way) of my judgment and self-professed naivety, stating that the photographer's 'relationship with [the] subject' and 'the context within which the work is made' is (to paraphrase) more significant than whether the furniture has been moved (McMurdo, 2020).
The subject of this final assignment had already been decided by then, an evocation of and response to Brandt's Northumbrian coal miner eating his evening meal, 1937 (fig. 2), the subject of the Assignment 4 essay, and this commitment was reinforced by the making of a zine (or perhaps a booklet) covering my coursework which had become mostly about Brandt (or, rather, about Brandt and me).
The plan is another self portrait with photography paraphernalia rather than mining references and possibly my partner (if willing on the day) too. But, in response to (what I still see as) the liberties Brandt took with his subjects, I intend the props to emphasise the artifice of the 'set', adopting the production values of early Doctor Who series, the 'wobbly sets' era (Booth, 2013, p.44). The starting point for the props was an article in the RPS Journal on the Ensign Ful-Vue II camera, released in the year I was born (Richmond, 1999). Around this, I envisage incompatible and anachronistic mixes of equipment so that the image is palpably false.
While the intention for the detail of the shot is mutually-incongruous artifice, the aim for the overall effect is something like the gathered precision and control of Julie Blackmon's striking Ezra (fig. 3), combined with the sort of magpie assemblage of artefacts used by Bertien van Manen in her Give Me Your Image project (fig. 4). My initial thought was to produce it in colour to make the detail items (such as the camera bag) more discernible (and for some contrast with the heavily black-and-white zine) but I later considered trying it in wide-angle grainy black-and-white to echo his late nude, beach images and portraits in an attempt to sum up my perception of Brandt's life's work in a single shot.
The above was written before the shoot, the following written after.
The props assembled were:
Lighting was from a single LED source, intended to be harsh (fig. 5), to suit the intended post processing.
Camera settings were at the widest angle available, 10mm on the Fuji X2 (15mm equivalent) and that just happens to be the focal length of the Zeiss Protar Brandt used on his 'police camera' according to Greg Neville (2015).
Turning to consideration of the outcome, it is not a photograph I would ever have set up and taken without the artificial stimulus of a course assignment. There is the intended, planned jumble of detail as in the original, notably the coiled airline drawing attention to the shutter release controlled by the second subject; the unfamiliar camera in the foreground; the poster; the bag; the reflector (too distracting in colour); dangling film, emphasised by its shadow; the disconcerting incompatibility of components (for the discerning nerd) — all that before turning attention to the ostensible subject of the shot and the second, subsidiary subject ironically darkened by the shadow of a light reflector.
The Ensign Ful-Vue II dominates the foreground as always intended. We had looked at the source image and decided that the plan was to both look glum. Jan would deploy the air shutter release to allow a final reference to authorship (discussed in the zine, Blackburn, 2020) and the eclipsing small reflector was intended to emphasise Jan's subsidiary role, as with the second subject in Brandt's original. I had thought that the reflector might be used to sanctify me with a more direct halo reference, but this would have obscured the Ensign poster and the Billingham bag.
In processing, having decided on black and white because, amongst other things, the reflector is too distracting in colour (see fig. 6), some retouching was done to de-emphasise highlights and remove unwanted detail then a variety of available filter presets were tried, eventually choosing the most extreme example that allowed broad visibility of the subjects, Nik Silver Efex, Yellowed 2. I am slightly embarrassed to be using such a preposterously fake finishing effect as the final act of falsehood and so felt the need to give the piece an exculpatory title in an effort to indicate that it was being used ironically. I am hoping that the feedback will instruct me to process it again with something less unsubtle: I will then be able to relax.
If I were shooting this again, I would omit the reflector and work in a fake Hepworth sculpture to match the ceramic artefact in Brandt’s original.
Word count 995
Blackburn, N. (2020) Brandt, a gradual realisation. London: Baphot Publishing.
Booth, P. (2013) Fan Phenomena: Doctor Who. Bristol: Intellect Books.
Delaney, P. (2004) Bill Brandt, a life. London: Jonathan Cape.
Hacking, J. (2012) Lives of the great photographers. London: Thames & Hudson.
McMurdo, W. (2020) Formative feedback [online]. baphot.co.uk. Available from http://baphot.co.uk/pages_cn/asg_4_feedback.php [Accessed 22 June 2020].
Neville, G. (2015) Bill Brandt’s camera [online]. greg-neville.com. Available from https://greg-neville.com/tag/kodak-wide-angle-camera-with-zeiss-protar-lens/ [Accessed 28 June 2020].
Richmond, A. (1999) The Ensign Ful Vue [online]. ensign.demon.co.uk. Available from http://www.ensign.demon.co.uk/ful-vue.htm [Accessed 22 June 2020].
Tress, A. (1967) Theater of the mind. NY: Morgan & Morgan.