Scroll down for a continuous thread of all IAP 2 coursework posts, or view specific posts via the top menu bar.

IAP 2 exercise 2.1 individual spaces

This exercise and others like it in this module make the assumption that we have people at hand to act as subjects. For me this is not the case. I live alone in a town I moved to three years ago when my long-term relationship ended. I have no partner or children, and I work from home on a self-employed basis so have no work colleagues. It’s not easy to make friends in a new town at my age (61) and the people I am in regular contact with are all old friends I made earlier in life who I communicate with via Facebook and WhatsApp rather than face-to-face.

I’m aware that some OCA students have advertised locally for models for exercises of this kind, but I would personally not feel comfortable inviting strangers into my home or visiting their homes. Yes, I could go out and find subjects on the streets as I did for assignment 1, but that experience took me weeks and was so stressful I ended up dropping out of the course for nine months.

It’s really quite upsetting to recognise the extent of my social isolation, but I’m determined to find ways to complete the exercises and assignments. For this exercise I decided to illustrate the way the exercise has made me feel about my relationship with the outside world. I don’t actually spend a great deal of time standing looking out of my windows – my real window onto the world at large is my computer screen – but these images accurately portray the sense of disconnectedness from my local environment I experience when I think about how few people I actually have any direct contact with here.

I overexposed the background views through the windows to emphasise the disconnect between my world inside my flat and the world outside. In this way I feel I have fulfilled the exercise’s requirement “to create a link between the two components of your image, ie the subject and their surroundings”. By giving the two components contrasting exposures and hence different textures, I have highlighted the issue of separation.

The exercise asked for three different portraits, but I feel that repeating the same motif here emphasises the sense of disconnection by suggesting that long periods are spent in this way. It also suggests the idea of someone viewing a series of paintings in a gallery, which adds further to the sense of separation between subject and background and thus helps to strengthen the narrative theme of the set.

Two of the images were shot with the camera facing due west and the third facing due east, in mid-afternoon at the beginning of January, so the images required some work in Camera Raw and Photoshop to reduce differences in colour temperature and levels of light and shade.

The central motif – a female figure standing in front of a window – brings to mind Tom Hunter’s Woman Reading Possession Order, itself a recreation of Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter. While my images take a different viewpoint, from the rear instead of the side, and are not studies of light and shade in the manner of those images, I feel the motif conveys the same sense of a woman constrained by circumstances.

Clearly the set does not fulfil the exercise’s requirement to “make three different portraits using three different subjects”, but I feel it comments on that requirement and makes the point that someone who lives alone (as an increasingly large proportion of people do) is going to find the logistics of the exercise difficult if not impossible.

IAP 2 exercise 2.2 covert

A couple of years ago when I was doing the EYV module I learned that taking photos of people in lit interiors from the street when it’s dark is an easier way of making covert images of people than doing it in broad daylight, as they’re much less likely to notice you. It also offers opportunities to capture shots that look like stills from a film or play, because the subjects are often engaged in activities and the lighting tends to be more dramatic than daylight.

For this exercise I decided to use the under-cover-of-darkness method again. I now have a small mirrorless camera, a Panasonic Lumix GX9, which is a lot more portable than the Canon ESO 6D Mark II I used previously, and also less conspicuous, so I used that. The images I captured are a bit grainier than the ones I took with my Canon, even though I checked and matched the ISO I’d used previously (800). They’re also lower in resolution and therefore sharpness than I would have liked, which is partly due to the fact that in each case I captured the entire building but subsequently decided to crop quite severely to frame the images more closely around the people. If I were to repeat the exercise again now, I would zoom in from the outset.

Do the images fulfil the exercise brief to shoot portraits of subjects who are unaware of the fact they are being photographed? I’m not really sure that they count as portraits, as they don’t focus on a single individual and are more like narrative scenes than character studies. If my resolution had been higher and the images sharper and less noisy, I might have been able to make them into portraits by cropping still more closely to focus on an individual subject. Nevertheless, I enjoyed making the images and quite like them for what they are.

IAP 2 exercise 2.3 same model, different background

My approach to this exercise was inspired by my concurrent reading of Bull (2010), specifically Bull’s coverage of Kenyon’s (1992) analysis of subjects that tend to be overlooked by snapshot photography and Chalfen’s (1987) calculation that the average 75-year US lifetime is represented by just 30 seconds of shutter time. Both observations of course pre-date the era of ubiquitous digital photography, but Bull’s observations nevertheless increased my understanding of art photography’s interest in the mundane.

Using myself as a model, I therefore set out to record the ordinary details of an ordinary day in my life. I photographed myself on the toilet, in the shower, doing yoga, having breakfast, preparing to go out and do some errands, printing out the postage labels and custom forms for a lamp I’d sold online, and watching tv.

After reviewing the images I decided to crop them to make my sweatpants the main subject, with the background details in each image telling the story of what the person in the sweatpants is doing at each point, and cumulatively documenting a single day in their (my) life.

References and resources

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. London: Routledge Introductions to Media and Communications.
Kenyon, D. (1992) Inside Amateur Photography. London: BT Batsford.
Chalfen, R. (1987) Snapshot Versions of Life. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

IAP 2 exercise 2.4 same background, different model

For this exercise I went back to the idea I’d been playing around with for a while and had used in the typology exercise in part 1 – shooting people through my front room window. Having discovered in the course of that exercise that I needed the images to be higher-res, I switched cameras and tried my Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a 70–300mm zoom lens.

Since I was focusing on an area of road into which pedestrians are currently being diverted due to building works taking up the pavement, my potential subjects would inevitably be in motion, so I decided to use shutter priority mode with a speed of 1/200 to keep movement blur to a minimum. I also increased the ISO to 800 to give myself a reasonably small aperture size and thus give myself a margin of error in focusing.

To minimise the possibility of being spotted by potential subjects I connected my phone to the camera via wifi and used the remote live shooting facility. This allowed me to stand away from my camera and meant that any movement I made was less likely to draw attention to the camera. I took a batch of photos, but after cropping them and finding that the resulting resolution was still not quite good enough, I realised that I needed to zoom in on a smaller area of the road.

Focusing on a smaller area made it difficult to make well-composed shots due to the reduced timeframe I had for capturing the subject as they passed through my target area and the slight delay in communication between the camera and my app, especially the latency in the live viewfinder display on the phone. I therefore decided to use high-speed continuous shooting mode instead of single shot, which meant abandoning remote control since continuous shooting is not available via the phone.

This combination of settings gave me exactly what I needed. I simply started pressing the shutter release button as soon as a potential subject moved into my area of interest and continued pressing it as they moved through the frame. This gave me an average of around 5 shots for each subject and immediately increased my rate of successful subject capture.

At the end of this session I selected half a dozen images. Although I had used a tripod, some small differences in the positioning of the images’ white triangle focal point had occurred due to the tripod moving on my wooden floor, so I adjusted them slightly to make the alignment of the background consistent through the set.