The image I copied was from Thomas Ruff’s Porträt series, in this series Ruff used even lighting and positioned his sitters as though it were a passport photograph. He was interested in photographing his subjects in this way as it showed how photography can only show the surface of things. My main focus was his work with this series after 1986 when Ruff decided to take away the choice of coloured background for his sitters and to blow the images up to 210 x 165 so literally every detail can be seen on the sitters face. With his work it seems ironic that you can see so much of the person he has photographed yet we can never know anything about them other than what they look like.
When thinking of this idea of a portrait only being able to show the exterior of someone’s identity I began to develop my idea for the series. I decided that I wanted to photograph my flat mates at university in this way to show our disconnection from each other as we were chosen to live together randomly. It felt odd to me that these once strangers have now become a big part of my daily life so along with the portraits showing our disconnection I also wanted to show our connection to one another and so decided to do still life portraits of objects out of their rooms, something that is personal to them.
When Ruff created his series he used a large format camera but due to the cost I decided to use a TLR (twin-lens Reflex) medium format camera with a 180mm lens. I decided to use medium format rather than 35mm as I wanted more detail to the images.
As further research into the history of portraiture I looked at Portraiture by Shearer West. In her book she talks about portraitures relation to time and how it only shows the appearance of the sitter in the fleeting moment it was produce in and nothing more. I felt this really related to Ruff’s thoughts on this subject. She also talked about the importance photography had on painting and vice versa; painters and photographers took inspiration from both. Painters would use photographs as reference so their subject didn’t have to be present when they painted them and photography (especially in the early days when exposures were very long) took on poses seen in paintings, and still do today. Shearer West’s book on portraiture helped me to further understand portraiture and the conventions that made it what it is today.
When thinking about how I was going to photograph the objects my flat mates gave me I researched Irving Penn as he is very well known for his still life work. I found myself submersed in his Cranium Architecture series where he photographed animal skulls. What I found inspiring about these images was the way Penn composed the skulls so that they all look the same size within the frame and used a plain white background to make the skulls the main focus of the image. I also thought his lighting worked well with the objects, using a hard light to create a slight shadow underneath the objects to give them depth so they do not appear to be floating. I didn’t want the lighting to be as harsh as this with my still life photographs as I wanted them to have the same soft lighting the portraits have but not quite as even giving them a bit of shadow.
For the series the main focus was the subject matter, and so I chose to center the sitters in the middle of the frame, and evenly lit. I wanted a grey background as I wanted the colour to be very neutral and white would have made the subjects stand out too much. This was the same with the still life images, although I wanted to give them more depth by only having one soft box on the left creating a shadow.
I decided to have the subjects expressionless in order to not give anything away about them other than their exterior to express my experience of meeting them for the first time when we moved in. The only thing they had a choice in with the images was the clothes that they wore and the objects they picked. These are the only hints to their identity beneath the surface. The title of my series is ‘Flat 35’ I decided on this as in our halls residency that is our flat number and the work is based around the people who live there with me so it seemed to fit well.
The genre of my series is portraiture, even though I have still life’s in my series the main focus of the theme is on the portraits of my flat mates and the images of their objects are to aid the viewer in discovering my connection to them.
I found that the strength of my copy was the composition, I feel that this mostly resembled that of the original image and also the lighting. However, the lighting was also a weakness as I should have used two soft boxes that were the same size. When shooting my series, I realised the lighting in the portraits was a lot closer to Thomas Ruff’s portrait than my copy. I also think if I were more capable with Photoshop I could have changed the shape of the features of my model to make them closer to the original, especially to make the hair thicker as I really struggled with this when styling.
The strength with my series I felt was the lighting and composition. An issue I did come across with the composition however was due to using a TLR camera for close up work there is a parallax error. The error mainly affected the still life images; this I was really disappointed with as I wanted them to be centered, but because I framed them all the same when shooting they all came out similar. I also had trouble with the backgrounds, as I shot one of my sitters and the objects on a different day and in a different studio the grey was quite different.
If I had more time with the projects I would re-shoot them. For the copy I would have changed the lighting and with the series I would have made sure that I shot them all on the same day and lighting conditions.