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.