Research: Portraiture

 

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West, S. (2004) Portraiture (Oxford history of Art series). New York: Oxford University Press.

My further research into portraiture and it’s history led me to Portraiture by Shearer West. In the book West talks about portraitures relationship with time and how “…a portrait calls attention to the process of its production – to the appearance of an individual in the fugitive moment in which it was produced.” (West, 2004, pg. 43) The moment in which the photograph is taken is how it will always be, they will then be stuck in that moment; this deciphers how people will see them.

Along with portrait photography came the ‘Cartes-de-visite’, they were used to circulate photographs of famous actors, musicians and writers. Theatre managers would also use them for promotional purposes for their popular actors (West, 2004, pg. 190).

West also talked about the effect photography had on portraiture painting and how it had a major impact on how portraiture was looked at. Although when photography was first invented it was used for many things and not just portraiture is was by far the most popular field for professional photographers of the time. This was mainly because “…photography appeared to provide a foolproof means of conveying likeness.” (West, 2004, pg. 189) before photography, other than the most skilled painter there was no way of showing a person or object the way photography can. It completely changed how we look at documentation.

The ‘Carte-de-visite’ was used by professional photographers as a way to quickly and cheaply produce portraits for customers. They were produced as calling cards which included their name and address along with their photograph. These became means of “social exchange among the increasingly prevalent bourgeoisie in the mid-nineteenth-century Western Europe and America.”  (West, 2004, pg. 189) they were portable so people could keep them in their pocket, much like business cards we have today.

With early photography came long exposures so the sitter had to sit very still for several minutes, but still no where near as long as a sitter would have to be still for a painting. West comments on how “…even once these technical problems were overcome, photographs appeared no more spontaneous than painted portraits, and indeed often seemed to be governed by the same conventions.” (West, 2004, pg. 189) this I feel is very true, portraiture hasn’t really changed throughout it’s history, it still holds the same keys elements. As we have been using large format cameras for our project ‘the Copy’ I think everyone has realised how hard it is to stay so still for a long period of time; but even though now the shutter speed can be a lot quicker and so is setting up we’re still using the same poses.

I found this book very helpful for my studies; it was interesting reading about how painting and photography have worked with each other in portraiture and how they have influents portraiture as a genre.

PP2: The series

I’ve had a further think about my series, and after having my tutorial on my initial idea for the series which was to take photographs in the same style as Thomas Ruff’s portraits. It was suggested that in order to make my series different to my copy to add something to the portraits. I have decided that along with the portraits of my flat mates I will also ask for something from their room and take it into the studio and take a photograph of it. This will further show my relationship with the sitters and this strange sense of how close we are all living together but were initially strangers. The passport like photographs show the distance between us; the exterior/first impressions of first meeting and then the objects from their room represent the friendships we have built. A trust between us.

For the still life photographs I will be taking of the objects I have been looking at Irving Penn and his Cranium Architecture series.

I am obviously not going to be photographing skulls, and they will also be in colour and not black and white but I really liked the lightings used and with a plain background in has the same affect as the portraits in that the object is the main focus. He also has made sure that all the skulls are the same size in the frame, showing that each skull is equal to the last. As the title suggests Penn wanted the viewer to look at the skulls as constructions made by nature.

I thought that it would be interesting to have all the objects a similar size within the frame. This may or may not work depending on what objects my flat mates choose, I do not know this factor yet so my plan may change, or perhaps I could get them to pick something different. I like the idea of the object being looks at as constructions, and also by being photographed in a similar way as the portraits would make the series more coherent.

Exhibition: Alec Soth

Alec Soth’s exhibition Gathered Leaves was his first major exhibit in the UK. It included four of Soth’s projects, Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2012-14). 

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Sleeping by the Mississippi exhibition space 

Sleeping by the Mississippi recounts Soth’s journey travelling the Mississippi’s 2000 mile course. He shot all of his photographs throughout the project using a large format camera, and you can really tell by the quality of the prints; how detailed the images are. The photographs were displayed around A3 size, the smallest sized prints throughout the exhibition. Included in each section showing his project there was a display case in the middle of the room showing Soth’s notes and books on the project.

Soth’s goal for this project was to show the association with water and escape; how the river directs us where it wants us to go and also relating to the wandering imagination.
Shown below are a couple of my favourite images from the project that were shown, they’re very dreamy and capture the way people live with nature.

Niagara was a series based around Niagara Falls, a place that has always been associated with love. Alec Soth said ‘When I think of the Falls as a metaphor, I think of a kind of intensified sexuality and unsustainable desire.’. Alongside his images of the Falls and couples who he has got to pose for him, and the motels her photographed there is a display which includes love letters he has collected which people have written to their loved ones. It was very interesting seeing these among his photographs. The prints within this section of the gallery were much larger than the previous, showing every detail in the photographs.

The third section of the exhibition Broken Manual explores the desire to run away. The project began with Soth researching Eric Robert Rudolph, the olympic park bomber, and man on the run hiding from the FBI. As he continued his research Soth found manifestos and communications on the internet by people who have chosen to remove themselves from civilisation.

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Broken Manual exhibition space.

This section of the exhibition was displayed a little differently, as you can see the walks are grey and there are lights illuminating each individual picture. The photographs are A3 or bigger, with some smaller pieces as well. In the display was Soth’s research and also his instruction manual, How to Disappear in Amerika (2009) scribblings which evolved into the book Broken Manual. Unlike the previous displays rather than having all colour photographs within this section Soth has included colour and black and white images. Another element done differently are the titles, instead of the information being where it was taken and the date etc. Soth has used photographers code, which was used in order to reflect on the symbolic language many of the hermits developed in their writings.


The last project shown in the exhibition was Songbook, this was a way for Soth to reconnect with the world after producing Broken Manual. For this project Soth took a more journalistic approach to his work and collaborated with writer Brad Zellar. They went on a series of road trips together across the country going from state to state including: California, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas and in 2014 to Georgia. At the end of each day they would come together and match the stories Zellar write with Soth’s photographs.

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With this project all the the photographs displayed in the exhibition were taken in black and white.

The images were very interesting and went from bursts of motion to images that seemed to represent private moments between people. One of my favourites from the series is the bottom left titled Facebook, another aspect to Soth’s work was how now we are all more connected than ever, but someone we’re more disconnected than we ever have been. I found this a fascinating theme and it is something that I have been thinking about a lot how we are all so disconnected, only friends with each other through social media; never seeing one another in person. Yet Soth also obviously shows these bursts of interaction between groups of people, playing and having fun together.

At the end of the exhibition there was a short video showing parts of the making of Broken Manual it was very interesting hearing from the hermits that Soth photographed, seeing how they were living; hearing about his experiences with them. You can see the connection Alec Soth had to the project as he speaks to one of the hermits about how he would like a cave underneath his house, how he would like to live simply. The idea of escape was in his mind during the project.

Overall I found Alec Soth’s Gathered Leaves thought-provoking, it made me think about the world around me in a different way, as I sat in the Science Museum I thought about what Soth was talking about the idea of escape, how we should be free instead of in big cities. This is a feeling I first had when moving to London, going back home was an escape from the chaos that comes from being in a city.

 

Exhibitions: Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy; this exhibition was held to mark the 200th anniversary of her birth. Even though she had only been working in photography for 15 years she made an impact on the history of photography. She mostly took portraits of influential people but also took photographs of her celebrity friends, family, servants and also strangers. She also took a lot of influence from literature, basing her imagery on novels, and poems, in particular Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s 1787 novel Paul and Virginia, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poetry.

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Image of the Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy exhibition taken from the Science Museums website. 

 

All the images shown in the exhibition were from The Herschel Album the original copy was displayed along side Cameron’s handwritten index of what was inside. When looking around the exhibition moving from plate to plate you can see how her work developed over time. Her portraits were the typical kind that you would have seen around the time as she used soft focus artistically; the critics of the time didn’t agree with this and put it down to her not being technically trained in photography. Cameron joined the Photography Society of London (now the Royal Photography Society) only 6 months after receiving her first camera as a present. She was a self-taught photographer who gained knowledge of the trade through trial and error.

It was really interesting looking at her work as I am currently looking at portraits for my on-going projects at the minute so it was interesting to see how Julia Margaret Cameron took them. They were very simple, she took away the background and props that were typically for the era and focussed on the sitters face. The soft focus that she used made the images look dream-like, especially those she took of children.

PD2: draft intro to projects and artist statement

Intro to projects:

 

Canary Wharf

 

I wanted to evoke the feeling of alienation, to reflect how I felt about moving to a city. Canary Wharf was the best visual area in London which I found helped me present this feeling. There are lots of tall buildings and masses of people in suits; rushing to get where they need to be and not noticing me or my camera.

 

Let’s Get Drunk at the Graveyard

 

I had a particular interest in the different perspectives of the church at Harrow-on-the-Hill. On first impression I was overwhelmed by the view, but when I turned around to walk back through the graveyard I was shocked by all the garbage that had been left on the ground; in particular, can of beer and cider. I didn’t understand why people would do this; how is a graveyard an appropriate place to drink with your friends and then leave all your rubbish behind.

 

 

Artist Statement 

 

Lucy Dack is a photography student currently studying at the University of Westminster. She uses photography as a way to show her personal feelings about the world around her. It is her own experiences that influence her work; using photography as a way to capture and understand them. She also likes taking more of a sociological approach to her work; looking at how people interact with each other and experimenting with how they perceive different things.
Street photography and portraiture are what she is mainly interested and has taken influence from photographers such as Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Thomas Ruff.

 

PP2 Workshop: Colour Printing

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Colour prints, complimentary colours

During our workshop on colour printing we were shown the complimentary colours used with colour printing as it is different to that of which a painter would use. Shown above are my prints I made during the workshop to help me understand how the colours compliment each other. In the centre is the neutral print which I did first to allow me to create yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta and red hues.

The standard set up with the filters that we began with was 55Y and 45M and left the Cyan filter at 0, but to get neutral tones mine ended up being 47Y and 44M. In order to make the image greener, magenta had to be stronger. Cyan’s complimentary colour is red and blues is yellow.

Unlike black and white printing everything you do has to be in pitch black as any colour light will effect the paper, whereas when doing black and white printing you can have a red safety light on.

Colour printing wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and I now feel confident that I would be able to go in by myself an be able to create good quality prints.

PP2: Looking at Portraits

If the photographic portrait is a shorthand description of a person, then portraiture is more than ‘just a picture’, it is a place of work: semiotic event for social identity. (Bate, 2009, p. 68)

As part of my current projects the copy and the series I have been looking at portraiture and so the chapter ‘Looking at Portraits’ in David Bates book Photography: The Key Concepts. The chapter looked at the history of portraits and how both artist and photographer were influenced by each other. For example Bates mentions how in the early days of photography when the subject would have to rest of their hand to stop their head from moving was brought into portrait painting as a thoughtful look. Bates also mentioned French photographer Nadar who presented in his work the style of a traditional portrait artist which included “…the need to satisfy a sitter with a society portrait that idealized the sitter for future generations to look up to.” (Bate, 2009, p. 69) His worked combined the rules of a aristocratic portrait painting with the closeness of the Daguerreotype. Below shows an example of one of Nadar’s portraits which is of painter Édouard Manet. It seems in itself quite interesting a photographer taking a photograph of a painter.
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(One off: Félix Nadar (2012) Available at: http://www.thegreatleapsideways.com/?p=2791 (Accessed: 19 February 2016).

The chapter also discusses the different elements in a portrait; which can be brought down to four key aspects:

  • Face – personal appearance
  • Pose – manner and attitude
  • Clothing – social class, sex, cultural values and fashion
  • Location – social scene of the person in the picture

When looking at these elements I was thinking of my own image for the copy and what I am going to do for the series. In these photographs, done in the style of Thomas Ruff they resemble passport photos. The background is plain foregrounding the face of the sitter which enables the viewer to really look at their face rather than anything else. It also acts as a way to take away any social connotations you could associate with their surroundings.

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My image using large format.

The neutral facial expression of the sitter takes away any emotion leaving the viewer guessing what they are feeling. However “…we may still try to read beyond these surface characteristics…” (Bate, 2009, p. 75) as we know that this isn’t how they look all the time “They are temporary or even merely masks.” (Bate, 2009, p. 75). In a way I am asking the sitter to put on a mask, this may be the way their face naturally rests but I am asking them to take away all the emotion from their face; the way people put masks on to do this for them.

The pose is also following this neutral theme, which passports and police identity portraits use in order to capture people as they really are; to look beyond their identity using mood or characteristics. By using this way of photographing people it makes “…us all look like criminals at least puts everyone on a level playing field.” (Bate, 2009, p. 76) which is what Ruff intended to do with his portraits; to put everyone in the same position to just show the surface.

The clothing gives more away than anything else in the portrait style I have used, and especially with my series I think will give away aspects of the sitters personality as you can wear it through your clothes even if you don’t think that you are or have no interest in fashion. For the copy image my model was presenting herself as someone else, trying to copy the facial expression from Ruff’s image and so the clothing was taken from this as well.

I found this chapter on portraiture by David Bates very interesting when relating it to my own work and that of others. It will also give me more knowledge when thinking of doing portraits in the future and help me question why I’m using a certain background, pose ect…

Bibliography
– Looking at Portraits (2009) in Photography the key concepts. Oxford: Berg Publishers, .
– One off: Félix Nadar (2012) Available at: http://www.thegreatleapsideways.com/?p=2791 (Accessed: 19 February 2016).

The Series: Initial idea

For my series; which is a follow up from the copy project I want to do similar portraits, still in the same Thomas Ruff style but of my flat mates. I want to do this as I have been thinking a lot about how we all got put together, apart from a small questionnaire we did where you rated how messy/tidy, quiet/loud you are etc. it was completely random. These complete strangers became my flat mates and we began living closely together and got to know one another in the process.

The style of Ruff’s portraits and how they show nothing but the exterior of the person being photographed; yet how detailed they are reminded me of the first impressions I had of my flat mates and so it seems a very appropriate way to present the idea of a stranger becoming a part of your daily life. Rather than a large format camera, which I used for the copy I am going to use a medium format TLR camera with a 180mm lens. I have chosen to use this medium as I don’t feel 35mm is detailed enough and would be too grainy for the effect I want. I also decided on a TLR camera as I have one of my own and so instead of having to use a whole roll of film in one shoot just to use it up I will be able to take it away and bring it back when needed.

For the series I would like to title it very simply ‘Flat 35’ as this is our flat number, and the images will be of the people who live their. I have been debating whether to include myself in this series, but it would be very difficult to frame and with someone else doing these things for me whilst I sit in front of the camera, is it really my photograph? So I am not sure I will include myself as it’s more about the people that I live with rather than myself.

Texting the Image

During our texting the image lecture these were just a few of the books that were mentioned that I thought sounded interesting. There are more books I would also like to take a look at from the lecture but these are the ones I have looked at so far.
Our lecture was on looking at how images and text relate to one another, and how they can have different meanings depending on each other.

The first book I looked at was The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes. Within this book Roy DeCarava pairs his photographs of life in Harlem with fictional text by Langston Hughes. The way the image and text are put together make you believe that who you are seeing in the photographs and who are written about in the text are the same, but they in fact have no relation to one another. This I found was a very interesting way of pairing the two together as even knowing that the two weren’t related when I read the book I could see how well the book flowed and how the images related to the text.

The second book I looked at was Martin Parr’s The Photobook: A History Volume 1 this was extremely different after looking at The Sweet Flypaper of Life as Parr pairs his images and text together to present information to the reader on how photographic books are put together. When thinking about our series project this book was really helpful as it informed how photographs can tell a story as a collective rather than individual images.

Lastly I looked at Bill Owens Suburbia again unlike The Sweet Flypaper of Life this a book that presents the truth about Suburban life. Owens was part of the community he photographed; the book mostly shows portraits of the residents in their homes, but also includes a few landscapes of the area. The captions that are coupled with the images are quotes from the people he photographed, but you do not know who in the photograph said it, you can only assume.

Overall I found all the photobooks influential and they helped me to understand the different ways in which you can join image and text together. Depending on how they are put together can make a big difference as to how you view them.

The Copy: First edit

Shown above is the image my copy of the image I chose by Thomas Ruff. My original model was unable to make the day we were shooting, but I luckily found someone else to act as a replacement who too held some resemblance to the woman in the image I wished to copy.

I think that the shoot went quite well, but as I was the first one I felt as though I needed to rush and get it done so the other two people in my group could start theirs. I wish that I had taken a bit more time with the lighting, as I went straight to using two soft boxes rather than trying umbrellas, which I now think would have worked better. When looking at the test polaroid I did I thought that the lighting looked correct, but I didn’t focus enough attention on the eyes and how the light was hitting them as this is a big giveaway as to what lighting was used. Another issue I had was with the models hair, It was very thin and so I found it quite hard to get the volume I needed. I can also see that the model began to slouch when the photograph was taken after posing for so long, through the stress of having so many things to check, I failed to see this was happening.

I am however still pleased with my copy, it does hold quite a lot of resemblance to the original and with more editing I think that it will look even better.