Figures 2-13, Sandy, Marnie, Frankie, Pearl, Thor, Billy, Benson & Hedges, Frida, Millie, Teddie, Unmet I, Unmet II
[The introduction is included for information only and may be ignored for the purposes of assessment. It is in addition to the Reflection which follows.]
Pre-Covid, I would have had two Mirror options, my local gym, or the foodbank where, until April 2020, I gave weekly debt and benefit advice. I would have hesitated to do either as I do not socialise at the gym and the foodbank, even if I restricted it to workers rather than clients, would have been either intrusive or divisive or unprofessional as I have advised many of both groups.
My leading idea for a Window was to offer my services to the several tattoo parlours nearby, something I had been thinking of doing before the assignment arose, but they have been closed for a year, up until April 12th and so there was no chance to establish a relationship. My other notion was that it might be possible to link with a church choir out of my contacts from Assignment 2, Eltham Clergy, but that avenue was also closed.
I noted on the development page on 20th December 2020,
Yesterday, I was reading about Hans Eijkelboom in Part 3 and encountered his Street Fusion: Bristol project that included a group of people with dogs and I thought of switching to local dogwalkers – there are plenty of them, some will consent, they don’t fully meet the assignment specification, but they are a definable group with a common interest and that will have to suffice.Asg. 3 development page
I summarised my progress in the Blog on 28th April,
I started photographing Asg.3 on 20th DecemberBlog, 28th April
On 3rd January I decided that I would photograph 100 named subjects
At some point I said that I would make that 100 decent (a subjective term) images.
I reached the initial 100 milestone on 24th April
I intended at the time to carry on to my secondary goal. On 26th I went shopping as usual, camera at the ready to invite dogwalkers to participate. I asked the only one I encountered and she unexpectedly declined. Today (28th) I decided to stop.
Overall, I have photographed 147 dogs (or groups of dogs). Of those, I have names for the dogs in 100 cases; 40 were photographed from a distance without speaking to the walker/owner (I labelled those Unmet); the other 7 stopped for a photograph but declined to give the dog’s name or asked to be excluded from the photograph. I had only six refusals, which I found astonishing.
I believe that in most cases, while the individuals will stop and chat about their dogs and try to get them to pose for a photograph, they would have declined a request for a personal portrait. There was a degree of deceit (or, at least, guile) involved in using this approach, but I was quite open about the project when asked and all but a few were happy to appear in the background. Some even suggested that I should be sending them to the local newspaper — I did so when asked but none have been printed, so far as I know.
Earlier in the exercise, if a person had been particularly willing to chat (most just hesitated briefly on their walk) I asked their name too but stopped doing so after a series of refusals and an expression of suspicion †.
In selecting possible targets, some considerations were practical — they had to be resting or walking towards me, not on the telephone or in deep conversation with a companion: some considerations were social — I did not ask children (girls or boys) or young lone females. Other than that, I relied on impulse and intuition.
The brief does not specify how many images to submit. There are several criteria that could be applied. On 15th March I wrote,
I am giving some thought to how I’ll select the submission. I decide how many but let us suppose 10.
1. all those with names of both dogs and owners, then sift
1a. sift for dogs looking at the camera
2. the best 10 with dogs’ names
3. 10 with Mrs. B in the background
4. 10 with the owner pointing at the camera
5. choose the best of the unmets too, although they will probably not make the cut.
I plan to run with most of those selections and might include composite images for each of them as an appendix to the submission.
I noted on 4th January that it is worth contrasting my experience of subjects on the three assignments so far.
• Assignment 1 – Charity shop workers – I confronted the subjects ‘cold’ and they all agreed.
• Assignment 2 – Vicars of Eltham – I initiated contact by email and few replied.
• Assignment 3 – Dog-owners – confrontational again, but ‘through their dogs’ as the supposed subjects.
When I wrote about the project on the on the development page, observing the dogs ignoring the camera, my first thought was that I was failing. I only later remembered that the humans were actually my subject and their reaction, detached from being photographed, was interesting. And my eye contact hit rate is better than Eijkelboom‘s. The owners / walkers tend to look at their dogs rather than the camera.
† The covid period has seen reports of highly inflated demand and puppy prices (Thomas, 2020), instances of dog theft (Woodfield, 2020) and then of dog abandonment (Norton & Vincent, 2021).
The brief continued the theme of a coherent group of local portraits. My choice, local dog-walkers, arising from the work of Hans Eijkelboom, a photographer cited in Part 3 of the course, is relevant and appropriate.
The brief specifies “find out about a community … tell their story … learn by listening and understanding”. The opportunities for conversation were few, given the logistics, and necessarily brief, given the Covid socialisation restrictions in place. Nevertheless, in making the selection of images for submission, I have been surprised at the success of the project in producing portraits that express something of the character and / or circumstances of the subjects (both the dogs and the dog-walkers). The advice within the brief pays particular attention to image selection and sequencing and cites Short et al. (2020). In Short’s terms, with a choice of 97 different people (there were 3 repeats) doing more-or-less the same thing, mine is a non-linear narrative using monophase images and within that context, I sought to follow the guidelines in the brief regarding variation and objectivity. Regarding sequencing, with different characters in every image this was an aesthetic matter rather than logical or chronological. The editing and sequencing decision process is described in some detail on the assignment development page (Blackburn, 2021) and several image sets using different criteria are included in this submission as a visual appendix.
The photographs are technically sound and cropped to a standard 6×7 format with a black border. For most of the images I used a compact digital camera: I found that those I asked responded more positively to this than to either an iPhone or a large digital camera, perhaps finding the former frivolous for a degree project and the latter intimidating. The small camera seemed to provide a more comfortable middle ground.
The chosen project had scope for a range of images within an accessible typology. Dogs are owned and walked by all sectors of society (although I left some groups alone, notably children and lone younger women) and the large number of images I produced allowed a broad choice in the final submission.
The chosen group constituted a typology, as explored in Part 2 and also offered an interesting perspective on gaze which is a large component of Part 3. Where the dogs looked was relatively random (and usually averted) but the presence of the dogs as a ‘third party’ in the images resulted in a wider range of human gazes than would otherwise have been the case. If we regard the dog as the ostensible subject and examine the walkers’ gazes, we can see:
spectator’s gaze – figs. 2, 5, 8;
internal gaze – fig. 11;
direct address – figs. 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11;
averted gaze – figs. 2, 13;
audience gaze – figs. 11, 12.
The website (Blackburn, 2021) describes the gradual accumulation of images and my growing understanding of the subject and how best to interact with those I met, then the editing and sequencing processes, building a sequence with both variety and cohesion. While they do not bear comparison with the great alliterative dog portraitists Erwitt and Wegman, as portraits of the walkers, they stand up well against Eijkelboom’s Bristol project (White, 2020) from which they derive.
On the issue of using their dogs as subterfuge for photographing the walkers I concluded that so long as I did not misrepresent my purpose and answered any questions fully and honestly, my conduct was acceptable.
I&P Asg 3 References
Blackburn, N. (2021) I&P: Assignment 3, Development [online]. baphot.co.uk. Available from http://baphot.co.uk/pages_ip/ip_asg_3_1_development.php#sel [Accessed 10 May 2021].
Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Norton, J. & Vincent, M. (2021) ‘Lockdown puppies’ flood rescue centres: Hundreds of pets are being abandoned as owners who bought them for company during pandemic struggle to cope with caring for them [online]. dailymail.co.uk. Available from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article- 9109495/Hundreds-pets-abandoned-owners-bought-pandemic-strugglecope. html [Accessed 4 May 2021].
OCA (2012) Assessment Criteria – Visual Arts (HE5) [online]. oca-student.com. Available from https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/assessmentcriteria/ assessment-criteria-visual-arts-he5 [Accessed 10 May 2021].
OCA (2021) Course Guide for assessment of Photography units [online]. oca.ac.uk. Available from https://learn.oca.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/24144/mod_resource/content/4/AG_Course %20Guide%20for%20assessment%20of%20Photography%20units_120421.pdf [Accessed 10 May 2021].
Short, M., Leet, S-K & Kalpaxi, E (2020) Context and narrative in photography. London: Bloomsbury.
Thomas, D. (2020) UK faces puppy shortage as demand for lockdown companions soars [online]. ft.com. Available from https://www.ft.com/content/1d14541e-0c11-48bb-90a1-3f7dc05258a6 [Accessed 4 May 2021].
White, R (2020) The photographer proving we’re not so different after all [online]. i-d.vice.com. Available from https://id. vice.com/en_uk/article/k7e83e/hans-eijkelboom-photographer-street-fusionbristol- in-2019 [Accessed 11 May 2021].
Woodfield, A. (2020) Coronavirus: Lockdown year ‘worst ever’ for dog thefts [online]. bbc.co.uk. Available from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ukengland- 54372778 [Accessed 4 May 2021].
My partner in the background.
Dogs looking at the camera.
Non-traditional dogs’ names.
The best dog-walkers.