IAP A3: background, research and process

Background

The brief for this assignment asked us to create a series of images around a group we are a part of (mirror) or one that we join for the purpose of the assignment (window). I have mentioned in previous posts that I live and work alone in Brighton, where I have no history or connections. I don’t belong to any groups here and at present I don’t feel entitled, or indeed willing, to join one simply in order to photograph it. I did, however, have a couple of social events coming up in my calendar – a meal with some old schoolfriends in London and a visit to an artist friend in Hastings – so I decided to use those as potential subjects for the assignment.

The schoolfriends met for a meal at Zedel Brasserie near Piccadilly Circus. I took some photos as the evening progressed, for the most part without asking people to pose, as I felt that this candid approach might offer an insider perspective by conveying a sense of the viewer being physically embedded in, and therefore part of, the group. Disappointingly, however, my camera (a Panasonic Lumix GX9) again performed very badly in the low light, and the images were all extremely noisy. I am gradually coming to understand the limitations of this camera, which I bought last summer as a compact and portable alternative to my Canon EOS 6D Mark II and which performs a lot worse in low light than my previous compact, a Canon G15 with only half the pixels of the Lumix. Nevertheless, the shoot was not a waste of time because the only way of really getting to grips with how a camera actually performs in different situations is to try it out, and I was able to use the images for exercise 3.4 on the gaze.

The other event was a trip to Hastings to see my friend Brigitte, who I have known since the early 80s when we were both part of a large community of friends in London. My visit was intended to be social, and I didn’t want to turn it entirely into a photo shoot so didn’t take a large number of pictures. And as with the schoolfriends meet-up, I decided to take them in the course of our exchanges rather than asking Brigitte to pose, with the hope that something of our mutual familiarity would be captured and give the sense of an insider perspective.

I have mused at length in another post about the concept of inside/outside, and my relationship with Brigitte highlights some further points on the subject. Given that we have known each other for almost 40 years, share many friends in common, have at times lived in the same house, have even worked together briefly and have countless shared experiences, I can unequivocally say that we are mutual insiders. However, over the past couple of decades Brigitte has gradually been losing her hearing and is now profoundly deaf, to the point that her hearing aid is now of negligible assistance and she relies entirely on lipreading. This makes me an outsider in terms of the way she experiences just about everything in daily life. But I don’t for one moment feel that it makes me an outsider in relation to her either generally or as my project subject, nor that it prevents me from having an intuitive understanding of the challenges she faces that I don’t face myself.

Research

In preparation for this assignment I revisited Howarth & McLaren (2016) and made a close study in particular of the photographers whose approach to achieving a sense of insiderness I wished to try and emulate. These included Martine Fougeron, Nadia Sablin, Liz Hingley, Birte Kaufmann, Annalisa Brambilla and Douglas Adesko, all of whom offer the viewer a sense of being present but unnoticed: something akin to an insider or a fly on the wall. All also seem to be passively watching their subjects rather than directing them or asking them to pose or even drawing their attention towards the camera. As mentioned above, I decided to take a similar approach to this assignment in the hope that a sense of intimate presence might emerge.

Process

Back home it took me some time to select my final edit from my shortlist of eight, but I eventually dropped two images (1013413 and 1013426) because they felt out of scale and didn’t seem to sit well with the others. I then spent several days editing Brigitte’s closed eyes in 1013412, transplanting an open pair from another image and adjusting them little by little until they had the correct perspective.

I decided at an early stage that I would eventually print the images onto fabric, both because this seemed an appropriate medium for a portrait of an artist who works in textiles and also because Brigitte was very enthusiastic about a book I made for CAN by transfer printing onto calico. I ordered sample prints from Contrado on three different fabrics that I felt might give the effect I hope to achieve – the impression at first glance that the image might have been stitched rather than printed onto the fabric. The samples came back very quickly, then it took me a day or two of looking at them repeatedly before I settled on my final choice.

I was first drawn to the middle option above, the 228 gsm natural linen, mainly because the colours were significantly better on this one. I immediately discounted the 260 gsm Gaia Eco recycled fabric (bottom) as I liked neither the texture nor the colours. But the more I looked at the third option (top), the 480 gsm Sailor’s canvas, the more I felt it was the best choice, despite its darkness and the magenta shift in the colours. It really does look almost like a tapestry, and the fabric is so strong and heavy I think it might work really well in book form. I have now experimented with cutting one edge of the fabric with crimping shears, and it seems to hold its shape very well, so I could use crimping to finish the edges, much like the rag books of my childhood.

Having made my choice of print medium I have adjusted my tiff files to compensate for the darkness of the sample print. But I won’t proceed with ordering any further prints until I have submitted the work I’ve done on the project so far to my tutor for his feedback.

References and resources

Howarth, S. and McLaren, S. (2016) Family Photography Now. New York: Thames & Hudson.