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: Tip
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:
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? Reflection
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
[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
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, cafes 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.
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.
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 affort to catch three 'good' faces. Here are the results.
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:
(i) Single jpeg into Affinity HDR, standard detail settings, export as TIFF
(ii) TIFF into Photoshop Camera Raw filter for Auto perspective correction. Subjective check whether it generates an improvement.
(iii) crop to 6x7 or 7x6 in Photoshop - which configuration is determined subjectively in reponse to subject matter §. 14x6 for panoramas.
(iv) Nik Color Efex filters, Agfa Precisa and Image Border.
(v) Add copyright settings to EXIF (and remove camera data if they are being sent to third parties).
(vi) Convert to Jpeg 960 pixels and 240 pixels long for online display.
‡ I embrace digital artifacts. 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".
[17Oct] The basic reason for applying Affinitiy 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.
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 tis 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 phototgraphed 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:
(i) using TIFFs (layers added automatically) add 5% to the bottom of the parorama (canvas size 105% height)
(ii) 250% top and 110% wide
(iii) add the portrait and transform scale to fill the space
(iv) add the exterior shots and resize
(v) juggle by eye for a proportionate arrangement.
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".
[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 Gigh Street have now been photographed, with, surprisingly (to me, at least) no refusals. I'll now process all the images.
[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.
23rd October - Marie Curie and British Heart Foundation