BA Phot

I&P: Assignment 1, Development

The non-familiar

Due: 6th December

Back - submission - development - contact sheets - tutor feedback - essay

Asg.1 - Asg.2 - Asg.3 - Asg.4 - Asg.5 - Preamble - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - C&N - EyV

Initial - 13Jul - 16Oct - 17Oct - 23Oct - 24Oct - 26Oct - 5Nov - draft submission text


Your first assignment is to make five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you. 
You will almost certainly find it challenging to take photographs of people you don’t know; it’s often much easier to photograph somebody you’re already familiar with.   
This could be referred to as the ‘comfort zone’ – and for the purposes of this assignment you will be specifically required to leave it!   
Leaving technical photographic considerations aside, there are a whole range of issues to deal with in making a portrait of somebody you don’t know. This additional skill set should arguably be in every photographer’s kitbag, regardless of what genre of photography they end up working in. The ability to concentrate on technical and aesthetic considerations whilst engaging with a complete stranger brings a plethora of difficulties. Added to the fact that most people aren’t that comfortable with having their photograph taken anyway, then you can see why this could become a minefield! 
Just as you learn the techniques behind how your photographic equipment works, there are techniques you can learn about how to photograph people you’ve never met before. Many historical and contemporary portrait photographers have written about this and one piece of advice stands out: 
If it is at all possible, spend time with your subject, getting to know them and triggering a dialogue with them, prior to even showing them your camera.
Alvin Langdon Coburn writes:  Alvin Langdon Coburn
b: 1882 Boston/
d: 1966 Colwyn Bay, Wales
MoMA - Wikipedia
A portrait by photography needs more collaboration between the sitter and the artist than a painted portrait. To make satisfactory  portraits of persons it is necessary for me to like them, to admire  them, or at least to be interested in them.  
It is rather curious and difficult to explain exactly, but if I dislike my  subject it is sure to come out in the resulting portrait. The camera is all  recording and very sensitive to the slightest graduation of expression  of the personality before it. Also the impression that I make on my  sitter is as important as the effect he has on me. I make friends  quickly and am interested in the mental alertness of the people I meet.  You can know an artist or an author, to a certain extent, from his  pictures or books before you meet him in the flesh, and I always try to  acquire as much of this previous information as possible before venturing in the quest of great ones.”
Who you photograph is entirely your choice but don’t give in to the temptation to photograph people you know! 
Approaching strangers can be daunting at the best of times, let alone with a camera in your hands. But it doesn’t have to be. If you are really terrified, consider asking a friend or relative to be your assistant.  
You may want to explore the idea of types, thus sticking to a theme. Or the sitters could be very disparate, linked only by the fact that they come from your local area. Give consideration to this and also how and where you photograph your sitters. Bearing in mind the strategies and techniques discussed in Part One, keep your set of images consistent and choose a technique that complements your conceptual approach. For example, do you want a series of location-based portraits? Do you want the portraits to be situated inside? If so, drawing on your experience in Exercise 2, how will you select your backgrounds in order to give context? 
Before you send your work to your tutor, check it against the assessment criteria listed in the introduction to this course guide and make sure it meets all the criteria. Make your evaluation available to your tutor. 
Your tutor may take a while to get back to you. Carry on with the course while you are waiting, but please don’t attempt the next assignment until you’ve received your tutor’s feedback on this one. 
Reworking your assignment 
Following feedback from your tutor, you may wish to rework some of your assignment, especially if you plan to submit your work for formal assessment. If you do this, make sure you reflect on what you’ve done, and why, in your learning log.  I&P, pp.53-5

[spellchecked 16Nov ]

Initial thoughts

[11Oct20] I made initial notes on all the I&P assignments before I started the course, using the course extract OCA makes available and the websites of other students to get hold of the briefs.

On 13th July I wrote,

So the plan is to stick with 6x7. The one camera / one lens idea came and went.

Bearing in mind that we will still be virus affected when I start, my current plan is to photograph whoever is serving at the tills of the local charity shops and include an image of the shot exteriors. If that that doesn't fly, try alternative related emporia, e.g. pub staff or charity shops elsewhere. I'll probably run pubs in parallel anyway.

Within that, consider using a single lens for all the portrait shots (and maybe for the exteriors, but that is not so significant. The idea is to achieve a degree of consistency: I wrote last night, "thematic and stylistic consistency" and also, if I get consistent refusals snap them unawares, or snap an empty till - that would not meet the brief but it would show something of other significance.

and don't forget the possibility of panoramas - a pano showing the wares with the till in the middle? might be worth a try. Consider lighting (Joby cube?) Early assignment notes

And in a summary of my nascent plans for all the assignments in the blog on 25th September,

Five portraits of unknown local people
I have had no better ideas than charity shops triptych - exterior person on the till, pano of till and surrounds. The backup is similar groups of emporia - pubs, cafés etc. or the same ideas a little further afield. Save tattoo parlours for Asg.3. Blog 25 Sep

13th Oct I had my inaugural chat with my new tutor today and we agreed a target date for Asg.1 of 6th December.

15th Oct Interestingly, I have been going through the course, setting up the web pages for the units and exercises and one suggestion for the very last exercise (5.3) is,

Remember to aim for consistency in your pictures. If you choose to photograph all the charity shops you’ve visited in a week, try to photograph them all using the same camera, lens, standing position, lighting, etc. This will help keep your project honed to the subject matter rather than you, the photographer. I&P p.132

Well blow me down if that isn't pretty much the idea I had for this assignment back in July.
I might try my first tomorrow.

16th October, Proof of concept

Contact sheets

I had taken photographs of the exteriors of the Eltham charity shops on 13th July, soon after thinking of the idea, see the contact sheets.

Today, a trial run with one shop to test the idea. Although I had drifted from the notion of single camera & single lens for the project, the startling coincidence of the suggestion for Exercise 5.3. has brought it back, a least for this initial experiment. The camera is a Fuji X100S (soon to be upgraded) which has a fixed focal length 23mm f/2 lens (35mm equivalent). The plan remains for a triptych for each shop: exterior, interior portrait at the till, interior panorama including the till. The intended setting for the portrait is to include the whole of the checkout desk in the frame. The camera was set to Jpeg only (I normally use jpg+fine), square frame to simplify the switch to in-camera panorama mode. The square frame is because i intend to crop everything to 6x (or 7x6) with the panorama at 14x6.
When I asked the person on the till for permission, the other staff on duty wanted to be included and so I used (what I still call) the motor drive (that runs on a slow 3fps) in an effort to catch three 'good' faces. Here are the results.

Demelza Demelza Demelza Demelza Demelza Demelza
Box A
Demelza, 211 Eltham Hight Street
1. exterior with contextual setting
2. exterior full frame (not possible with a front elevation image)
3. the portrait, June with colleagues Frances and Rachal
4. panorama, a customer interposes
5. panorama of June at the till
6. detail of panorama showing digital artefacts
16 October 2020

Initial conclusions
1. the prior intention was for a close crop on the exterior, but I think I prefer a wider shot for environmental context.
2. it was a dull day externally and varied lighting internally, so I processed the images using Affinity's pseudo-HDR on detailed setting for some additional punch . This might have to be reconsidered.
3. the Fuji's internal panorama (which I have not used before, except in a couple of experiments this week) struggles with moving subjects - well why wouldn't it.

The full post-processing sequence was:

  1. (i) Single jpeg into Affinity HDR, standard detail settings, export as TIFF
  2. (ii) TIFF into Photoshop Camera Raw filter for Auto perspective correction. Subjective check whether it generates an improvement.
  3. (iii) crop to 6x7 or 7x6 in Photoshop - which configuration is determined subjectively in repose to subject matter §. 14x6 for panoramas.
  4. (iv) Nik Color Efex filters, Agfa Precisa and Image Border.
  5. (v) Add copyright settings to EXIF (and remove camera data if they are being sent to third parties).
  6. (vi) Convert to Jpeg 960 pixels and 240 pixels long for online display.

I embrace digital artefacts. They are a natural and entertaining product of the medium and remind the user and the viewer that photographs are artificial visual approximations. That said, I am not sure they belong in this project where the underlying intention is straightforwardly documentary. (So why HDR? — I'll leave that one to percolate.)

§ I wrote in my C&N final assessment submission, "the images for C&N have been presented in 6×7 (or 7×6) format. I believe that this allows landscape and portrait photographs to be intermingled without aesthetic disruption: my tutor does not agree".

Next Day

[17Oct] The basic reason for applying Affinity HDR was as a quick fix because the interior portrait (the fundamental purpose of the exercise) was too dark and dull. That, at least, has worked well. Applying the post-processing uniformly (continuing the principle of one camera - one lens - one workflow) has resulted in the panorama losing detail, but it was past midnight by that time and so it was allowed to stand.

For the exterior shot, the front elevation with the additional contact of adjoining premises will probably be used. This was not my intention when i set out this afternoon.

Fuji panorama mode will not work. take 3-4 shots and stitch them in software.

Post processing workflow needs further consideration.

Next, try the triptych.

17th October, Triptych and beyond

Contact sheets

The way had I envisaged this, one panorama, one portrait, one exterior shot (fig. B1), would never have worked because, given the nature of the exercise, the portrait must be given prominence.

My first idea for a solution was to work in a charity logo to reduce the size of the exterior image. A better answer occurred to me this afternoon while I was heading to the High Street to try more shops — include both exterior images. This is justified because the contextual front elevation, usually photographed from the opposite side of the road, merits inclusion for the information it conveys, but so does the full frame exterior as it will show aspects of the window display not visible in any detail from a distance. I am pleased with the solution, fig. B2.

The approach for arranging the 4-way (or tetraptych, see below) is:

  1. (i) using TIFFs (layers added automatically) add 5% to the bottom of the panorama (canvas size 105% height)
  2. (ii) 250% top and 110% wide
  3. (iii) add the portrait and transform scale to fill the space
  4. (iv) add the exterior shots and resize
  5. (v) juggle by eye for a proportionate arrangement.
Demelza Demelza
Box B
Demelza, 211 Eltham Hight Street
1. Triptych
2. Whatever four is called Δ
16 October 2020

I managed two more subjects this afternoon, continued below

Δ According to Wikipedia (edited),

A polyptych is a painting (usually panel painting) which is divided into sections, or panels. Specifically, a "diptych" is a two-part work of art; a "triptych" is a three-part work; a tetraptych or quadriptych has four parts; pentaptych five; hexaptych six; heptaptych (or septych in Latin) seven; octaptych eight parts; enneaptych nine; and decaptych has ten parts.
Historically, polyptychs typically displayed one "central" or "main" panel that was usually the largest of the attachments; the other panels are called "side" panels, or "wings". Wikipedia

I'll come back to these and tame the HDR.

Demelza Demelza Demelza Demelza Demelza
Box C
1-5. Demelza, reworked
16 October 2020

[5Nov] The processing in images C1-5 has been adjusted to match that applied to the subsequent charity shops. While doing so, I noticed the full panorama (fig. C5), generated in-camera. While it has generated excess hands for June the extra detail of the defocussed shoe display at the left of the image makes a more detailed, varied and interesting image, more of what I had in mind when I first thought of including a panorama. It is unfortunate that an image so wide would not work in the tetraptych because it is simple too wide.

17th October - Barnardo's and Red Cross

Contact sheets

[17Oct] I managed two more subjects this afternoon, continued below … Jordan and Billy in Barnardo's and Susie in British Red Cross. I am surprised how willing, or even enthusiastic the participants are, especially in the case of Jordan and Billy - the latter was so excited he took a photograph with his mobile of the screen image of the pair on the back of my camera. The results will be up in the next day or two.

At this rate the project will be finished by 6th November, never mind 6th December and I'll have the chance for a second with, perhaps, Eltham pubs. I would quite like to try ministers of religion in their regalia outside their place of worship, but that will take time to organise and might run for another Assignment. And don't forget tattoo parlours.

[26Oct] All the open charity shops on (or near) Eltham High Street have now been photographed, with, surprisingly (to me, at least) no refusals. I'll now process all the images.

Barnardos Red Cross
Box D
1.  Jordan and Billy in Barnardo's
2. Susie in Red Cross
17th October


[27Oct] I had though to use all the exterior full frame (as fig. A2) taken from the same side, but fig. E3 is less cluttered and gives more information than fig. E2 and so it might be necessary to consider a mix for the tetraptychs. It comes down to a matter of street furniture and pavement configuration.

Barnardos Barnardos Barnardos Barnardos Barnardos
Box E
1-5. Barnardo's
17th October

Red Cross

[2Nov] The Red Cross photographs were made at the same times as the Barnardo's, but it has taken until now to write some comments. After the excitement of the participants at Barnardo's, the Red Cross was a more refined experience, but Susie struck a pose for the initial image and then returned to chatting with her customers while I carried on working.

Red Cross Red Cross Red Cross Red Cross Red Cross Red Cross
Box F
1-6. Red Cross
17th October

23rd October - Marie Curie and British Heart Foundation

Contact sheets

[2Nov] Marie Curie was the only shop at which I had to wait for admittance as they only allowed 2 customers inside at one time. Diane offered to remove her mask but I suggested that she should do whatever was the most comfortable (in the wider sense) and she left it on.

Marie Curie Heart F
Box G
1. Diane at Marie Curie
2. John at British Heart Foundation
23rd October

[2Nov] John did not object to my making the photographs but would not look at the camera. I believe I asked Diane my standard question, "how long have you worked here" but I cannot find the scrap of paper on which I wrote the answer. I did not ask John as he was clearly nervous and i wanted to photograph and go.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie Marie Curie Marie Curie Marie Curie Marie Curie
Box H
1-5. Marie Curie
23rd October

British Heart Foundation

Heart F Heart F Heart F Heart F Heart F
Box I
1-5. British Heart Foundation
23rd October

24th October Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice

Contact sheets

[2Nov] I was still expecting to be refused in at least one charity shop and I would have guessed the Hospice shop to be the most likely. Lisa had been willing but unsure and she called down the shop manager from the upper floor. I would not have been surprised to be turned down, but Amy, the manager, was more enthusiastic than Lisa.

Hospice Hospice Hospice Hospice Hospice
Box J
1-5. Amy (2y) and Lisa (4y), Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice
24th October

I had intended to finish the job that day at Cancer research, a few doors along, but my battery ran out and, to my surprise, the backup was dead too and so a delay was necessary …

26th October Cancer Research

Contact sheets

[2Nov] … and the delay was a blessing because when I returned to the last subject the next day, there was John again: willing but still not minded to look at the camera. This time I asked and he has been working at Cancer research for 7 years.

Cancer Cancer Cancer Cancer Cancer
Box K
1. John (7y) (again) at Cancer Research
26th October

5th November

[5Nov] All the proposed photographs have been taken and processed (although the tetraptychs have not been created) and there is no need to run a backup project.

My current notion is to submit the most successful 5 portraits (unfortunately, this might exclude John who does not like to look at the lens) and include a tetraptych of the most characterful as a basis for my comments on the projects. That’s probably Susie at Red Cross or Jordan and Billy in Barnardo's.

I passed Demelza while making Exc2.1 and dropped off a 6x4 print of the triple portrait. I have ordered a rubber stamp to add my name to the back of any others I give out on this and subsequent courses.

In the write up with Asg1 I need to drop a few names. I have been looking through Richard Brilliant’s Portraiture for a quote without success. Dawoud Bey will definitely feature.

Mention panos in the reworked figs. 5.x.

in the rework

Susan Bright in Art Photography Now, the portrait " has become a powerful encounter or exchange between artist, sitter and spectator". p.19

Dawoud Bey

[U]ltimately what mattered was not the truth of the scene, as much as what you ended up with in the photograph. It's not the truth; it's a photograph. There's the life of the subject in the photograph, and then there's the life of the subject in the real world. They're related but they're not the same thing.
From that point on, I became most interested in describing the subjects through photographs, not worrying about whether I had directed them or not. I discourage my students from talking about photographing as "shooting" or "capturing" or "taking," because it's really about trying to figure out a way to describe with the camera, to make something. Bey (2019) p.29

Draft submission text


Introductory email

Unusually, the first and second assignment briefs do not give a word limit for writing about the submissions. I’ll work with 500 as that is the limit for the remaining three.

I have not seen any guidance on sizes for digital submissions since EyV p.15 that specified,

1500 pixels along the longest edge
Adobe (1998) colour profile, RGB jpegs

This will be superseded by the 30 October email to students, OCA Learn Update: Assignment Submissions that stated, "Students who are part way through a unit [as at 2nd November] will be able to submit assignments through OCA Learn from the end of January 2021". 

Submission text

I was surprised by three things during this assignment and will explore those three factors in this document.

1. This and many other assignments and exercises on this course will be affected by the Covid 19 restrictions and my subject, staff in charity shops, was selected with the restrictions in mind. Similar subjects would allow some standardisation of approach and lend some coherence to the output. I had, to some extent, captive subjects who (I thought) would either agree to my request or not: if not then by expanding my range geographically I would surely generally enough portraits for the project, or, if I failed in charity shops, I could try bar staff in the local pubs (if still open) or another retail class.

I had alighted on my subject in July, while reading through the I&P Part 1 course extract available online at OCA. I did not receive the full course material until October and started photographing on 16th. The first of my three surprises was on the 15th October when I read the brief for the last exercise on the course, 5.3 which advises,

Remember to aim for consistency in your pictures. If you choose to photograph all the charity shops you’ve visited in a week, try to photograph them all using the same camera, lens, standing position, lighting, etc. This will help keep your project honed to the subject matter rather than you, the photographer. I&P p.132

I had already contemplated using a single camera / lens combination for the whole course and intended to continue, as in Context and Narrative, producing all images in 6x7 (or 7x6) format. This coincidence reinforced that inclination and a fixed focal length 35mm (equivalent) lens was used for the whole assignment. For standard positioning, I intended to use the nearest edge of the shops' service counters at the bottom of the frame (although this was often prevented by the displays) as this would allow enough in-focus background detail to provide identifiable context. The lighting was that available within the shops, which was very variable.

2. The second surprise was the willingness of the subjects. Most of my non-course photography is of the inanimate and normally the only people I photographed (pre-Covid) were family and friends and so I did not know what to expect when approaching strangers. The staff in each of the seven charity shops on or near Eltham High Street were willing and sometimes eager to participate.

3. My third surprise was how cluttered streets and shops are. Fox Talbot, writing in the 1840s noted,

8. Red Cross, 17th October
one of the charms of photography - that the operator himself discovers on examination, perhaps long afterwards, that he has depicted many things he has no notion of at the time Fox Talbot, W.H. (1844-46) The pencil of nature

With Fox Talbot it was placards and distant clock faces: in my case it was mess. I suppose that urban streets and charity shops tend to be cluttered and disordered, but as a regular user (almost daily, pre-Covid) of those streets and those shops, I had become inured to the disorder. My normal subject-matter comprises an orderly, neat scene with a clear subject and a complementary, or at least non-distracting background. When working on the images of the interiors and exteriors of the shops, the extent of the disorder became apparent.

I photographed the shop exteriors too because I had noted in September the possibility of adding some additional context to the subjects by creating multiple image sets which concentrated on the portrait but also showed the exterior and perhaps a panorama showing the walls on either side of the till area. I am submitting the portraits as five individual images but will also include one of the multiple sets as an example (fig. 8).

Word count 611


I read Dawoud Bey's on Photographing People and Communities (2019) and his description of his approach and attitude towards the craft has influenced my first assignment of I&P. Although constrained by circumstances from engaging with the subjects at any length, I sought to relax them, seeking what Bey describes in Penn's portraits as 'people … being at home with themselves despite being in a foreign space' (p.16). I was also aware of Bey's view of the assertion that photographs can reveal anything 'beneath the surface': he paraphrases Avedon as saying, 'The surface is all you've got. You can only get beyond the surface by working with the surface' (p.15). What I was trying to achieve, than was a series of photographs as relaxed as they could be when being photographed by a stranger in a work environment made unusual by the wearing of masks and the interposing of clear plastic screens.

Implementation of the brief
The brief was, 'to make five portraits of five different people from your local area who were previously unknown to you' and that has been met successfully. The suggestion, 'If it is at all possible, spend time with your subject, getting to know them and triggering a dialogue with them, prior to even showing them your camera' is not possible to implement with Covid limitations in place (and as I write this, all the charity shops have been closed for the 'second lockdown').

The concept was an appropriate interpretation of the brief within the current constraints. The choice of subjects lends a degree of coherence to the series and the framing some consistency to the treatments.

The project cannot be described a particularly imaginative but it is 'fit for purpose'.

The images fulfil the assignment brief and my stated intention. They are technically competent (once I had overcome the urge to use exaggerated HDR, see the Development page for 16th October, Blackburn, 2020).

In the course context, which at this stage concentrates on historic portraits and a typological approach, the images sit reasonably within the genre.

Aesthetically I am satisfied with the output. The enhanced series, showing additional aspects of each location would be worth pursuing if a large-scale physical display was used.
Morally / ethically / politically  the subjects participated willingly and so there is no risk to be considered. I only had the opportunity to show one print to the subjects, at Demelza, the first location and they were pleased with the outcome.

I&P Assignment 1 Development - References

Bey, D. (2019) On photographing people and communities. NY: Aperture.

Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place [I&P]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Bright, S. (2011) Art photography now. (Revised and expanded ed) London: Thames & Hudson.

Wikipedia (2020) Polyptych [online]. Available from [Accessed 17 October 2020].

Page created 11-Oct-2020 | Page updated 19-Sep-2021