Before I started this module I hoped it would help me learn how to create portraits that revealed something of my subject’s character and/or circumstances to a viewer who had never met the subject and knew nothing about them. Once I received and read through the documentation, however, I realised that the first thing I would have to learn was how to overcome my fear of asking strangers to cooperate as subjects. This fear was largely due to my feeling that I didn’t yet have any sense of how to go about creating these portraits from either a technical or an artistic point of view. I therefore had no confidence about asking people to act as my subjects because I had no real idea how I should direct them and felt I had nothing to offer them in return for their time and cooperation, being unsure whether I’d be even able to produce an image they would appreciate if I were to offer them a copy.
There is only one way to resolve this kind of catch-22/cart-before-horse issue, and that is to jump in feet first, sparking the learning process that will gradually grow into an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. This is what I eventually did, and over the course of the module I have indeed learned a lot about how to approach making a portrait. This learning has progressed gradually through the course, with each assignment uncovering further insights.
Three specific learning points stand out particularly strongly in my mind. The first of these builds on the learning I acquired over the course of the first two modules (EYV and C&N) about how to create a coherent series of images with a sense of internal consistency, and extends this into an understanding of how also to include differences of emphasis and perspective to create a series that has greater depth and is more amenable to different interpretations by the viewer. This learning is reflected in the differences between my A1, for which I tried to make the individual portraits as consistent in format as possible in order to emphasise their status as a series, and my A2, in which I began to get a feel for the ways in which different kinds of image could be combined and still retain a sense of cohesion.
The second learning point that stands out for me is that I now understand that it’s not actually essential to include the physical person in the image frame to make a portrait. I already understood that an effective portrait should reveal something of the subject’s inner life or circumstances and intuitively understood that this could be achieved without a physical representation of the subject within the image frame, but had not recognised this explicitly. Doing so allowed me to become more aware of ways of capturing personal experience, and my A5 lockdown diary, a portrait of my own lockdown experience, takes advantage of this learning.
The third notable learning point is that I have gained a strong insight into Barthes’ analysis of photography as a medium for bringing the past into the present, and have come to understand the power of this retrospective aspect and the associated aura of nostalgic loss that it can confer on even mundane events. In this respect I feel that my A4, which was shot in the period immediately preceding lockdown, now has a heightened sense of poignancy and nostalgia for the pre-covid social order and its lost world of unthinking physical contact. Conversely the images I shot for my A5 included an attempt to document the sudden and at the time surreal changes in the world at large as well as my own personal experiences of these changes, but the images documenting the changed public landscape rapidly lost their initial impact as the environments they recorded became normalised and ubiquitous. This ability of photography to shift the framework of time means that the images I shot for A5 of the post-covid public environment which seemed strange when I shot them now seem normal, and it is the images that record the pre-covid world for A4 that now have the aura of strangeness and are imbued with a nostalgic sense of prelapsarian innocence.