brief – submission – blog – feedback – essay
In this assignment you have demonstrated an ability to work to an extended theme in the medium of portraiture. This has allowed you to explore areas of practice that lie outside your comfort zone. The technical quality is competent throughout the work and you have established an empathy with your subjects. I was pleased to see that you had considered some alternative approaches for your presentation and that you had included these in your learning log. One of the skills to develop as a photographer is the ability to discriminate in the selection of images and you have evidenced this through your use of contact sheets and documentation of your process in the selection of images.
There is a continuity of narrative in this work. This is an area that you should continue to develop through photographing subjects/ideas that have a particular interest or curiosity for you and that can be developed into coherent pieces of work.
The research into the work of other photographers is good and this has allowed you to challenge your perceptions by taking on board new ideas. However, it is important to continue to reflect deeply upon your relationship with this material and to analyze how research has influenced your thinking in the final outcome of your work.
Overall, it is apparent that there has been a focused growth in your response to developing your ideas from the brief to a resolved piece of finished work.
You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.
Feedback on assignment
The images in this piece of work could be interpreted as somewhat clichéd in that they give the viewer what is expected. However, there is a warmth in the images resulting from the empathy between the photographer and the subjects that opens up the work to the viewer. There is an interesting range of people in the work and we want to know more about them. You have produced a sympathetic range of portraits that allows the viewer to speculate on interior and exterior meaning. Although the locations are very similar you have through your choice of viewpoint avoided too much repetition. The images are composed in a straightforward manner that leaves the viewer time to consider the subjects within their locations. It would have been interesting to see some analysis of how the locations impacted upon the subjects and how they situate themselves within them. Perhaps for an extended project instead of the considered triptych it would be useful to think about how the individual subjects would be in other locations. The use of multiple images is a possibility that you might investigate in future projects.
I find all of the images engaging but the strong vertical bands of light reflected on the face shields of the women in the Demelza shop are distracting. I was intrigued that you did not include the picture of John as (unfortunately, this might exclude John who does not like to look at the lens). This suggests that a portrait might only be considered if the subject is looking directly at the lens. An idea that could be considered within the broader question of what is a portrait? Perhaps the notion of the pose could be an area for future research. Again, I like the picture of John in the BHF shop. 1
Overall, this is an interesting set of images that pose broad questions of interpretation about why are the people in these locations and what do their actions indicate. Are the images immediately identifying as part of a genre to the viewer or are there other connotations? It would be useful for you to explore in depth some of these questions through further research and critical reading.
You have followed the prescribed exercises and recommended reading and commented upon the content.
You have carried out relevant research for the project and there were a number of opportunities to broaden out ideas in this work through further analysis of issues arising. There comes a point when the photographer starts to question his or her practice and needs to delve further into the meaning of images. Freshness of vision can result from research and development into a critical theoretical approach to image making. Some interesting research has been carried out and I would like to see this and the work of other photographers subjected to a rigorous critical analysis and scrutiny. 2
You have carried out a good range of research and reading that is appropriate to the work in hand. The learning log has clearly developed as a document outlining your continuing learning curve. Do use the log as a means of investigating a range of ideas and approaches arising from your work. You have started to use it to work out resolutions to project problems and to explore alternative approaches. It can be used to enlarge upon comments and ideas. For example, I was interested in a comment that you made in relation to creativity when you stated that The project cannot be described a particularly imaginative but it is ‘fit for purpose’. (sic). I would like to have seen the reasons why you felt it was not particularly imaginative. Also, what is fit for purpose? Is this to complete the assignment, to meet your own satisfaction or just to move on? What other purposes could the work have at a practical level or at a theoretical level? 3
Pointers for the next assignment / assessment
Continue to develop ideas and thinking in developing own work through research and engagement with critical reading. Continue to develop your learning log and illustrate with your own work and that of other practitioners.
Sent to tutor 30 Dec 20.
Three main issues have been raised in the feedback:
1. choosing not to show the image(s) of John (and ‘what is a portrait?);
2. the application of critical analysis;
3. my use of the terms ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘unimaginative’. I will respond to each of these, but not in that order.
Fit for purpose and unimaginative
[23Dec] The first point I would make is that I make no great claims for my abilities or potential as a photographer. When submitting my assignments I will use modest adjectives such as ‘workmanlike’ or ‘competent’ (the latter is also used in the first paragraph of the feedback) that are an honest self-assessment of their worth.
The context here is that when completing assignments for this course (the whole degree, not just I&P), students are required to photograph subjects which would not be their natural choices. That is one of my reasons for choosing to study, being ‘forced’ to engage with genres I would otherwise ignore. This applies to me in portraiture. Even at this early stage, I am enjoying, to a far greater extent than I expected, the process of finding subject categories for exercises and assignments then asking people to participate. Nevertheless, I do not expect to carry on doing so unless required to by a course.
Now turning to my use of ‘fit for purpose’, in earlier drafts of my reflection I state,
The project cannot be described a particularly imaginative but it is ‘fit for purpose’.
In the final, submitted, version I have chosen to be less negative and have changed it to,
The project cannot be described a particularly imaginative but it makes good use of subjects available locally and satisfies the brief.
The feedback describes the work as ‘somewhat clichéd in that they give the viewer what is expected’. This corresponds with my use of ‘[not] particularly imaginative’.
I take the view that the primary requirement for an assignment submission is that it addresses, to some extent, the brief. It would, for example, be more difficult to justify a submission for Assignment 1 of images that did not include any people, than one which did. It would not be impossible: one of my very early considerations (13th July) in the assignment was what to do if my intended subjects declined? I concluded,
if I get consistent refusals snap them unawares, or snap an empty till – that would not meet the brief but it would show something of other significance
In my view, it would be difficult to justify more than one such image in the set. I would expect the tutor to suggest that instead of submitting five images of deserted till areas, I should have moved to a more amenable set of subjects.
That is what I mean by ‘fit for purpose’, but it is a rather negative phrase and so I put a more positive spin on my evaluation in the submission text.
[23Dec] The questions posed in the feedback were (my emphasis),
I was intrigued that you did not include the picture of John as (unfortunately, this might exclude John who does not like to look at the lens). This suggests that a portrait might only be considered if the subject is looking directly at the lens. An idea that could be considered within the broader question of what is a portrait? Perhaps the notion of the pose could be an area for future research. Again, I like the picture of John in the BHF shop.Asg.1 feedback
I photographed in 7 shops with six subjects (individuals or groups). John was working in two of the shops and he agreed to my making photographs, but did not look at the camera in either location.
The assignment brief called for ‘five portraits of five different people’.
John’s not looking at the camera did not prevent one of the images being included as one of the five, but he was the least willing subject and so, without giving it much thought, I dropped those images from the set. The impression he gave that was while he did not want to prevent me from photographing in the shops, his own participation was reluctant and I respected this point of view (as I perceived it).
On the much wider question of what is a portrait, I will treat this as an essay assignment and aim for 500 words on the matter in due course.
[30Dec it is currently closer to 2,000 words.]
[23Dec] In response to the comment,
I would like to see … the work of other photographers subjected to a rigorous critical analysis and scrutinyAsg.1 feedback
I have tried to develop, over the courses taken so far a framework or template for such analysis. The latest iteration of the framework was defined when I looked at a Dawoud Bey portrait for Exercise 1.1. I wrote up the methodology in a separate exercise and noted some additions arising from Exercise 1.2. This is elaborated on a separate page and repeated below:
When writing about a picture —
– last update 7Oct20 with Spence and Martin – and Bate on portraits
Who What When Where Why and how
1. Look at the objective, denoted, aspects – describe the picture, its subject and its peripheral contents. [what, where and when]
1a. Consider the title or accompanying text, Barthes’ anchor and relay. [more what]
2. Find quotes from the artist and from critics on the particular work or their general approach. Comment on the photographer’s physical and technical choices. If relevant, include the photographer’s political or other views at the time the work was created (they might change). [who, how and why]
3. Look for the subjective, connoted, aspects and speculate on how they might be interpreted and why the artist chose to include them. Note how various viewers’ backgrounds, environments and circumstances might engender different reactions. Include an overall reaction to the æsthetics of the piece, its technical qualities (or failings) and why the photographer might have chosen to create it. [more what, but a different what; and more why]
4. Look at the piece in the wider context of the artist’s work, how it might relate to other artists and other art forms. [more how and why]
5. Comment on the display environment if reviewing a particular instance, or the effect of different environments. [a different where]
6. Deploy the appropriate technical terms throughout.
The sequence of these steps has yet to be determined: it could be that the sequence should be adjusted depending on the type of image. Time may tell.
In some circumstances it might be appropriate to discuss why a particular image was chosen as a subject.There is some extra material in the online version of I&P which would be worth working into the above. Suggestions for how to break down the analysis of a portrait, developed by Jo Spence and Rosy Martin.
The Physical Description: Consider the human subject within the photograph, then start with a forensic description, moving towards taking up the position of the sitter. Visualise yourself as the sitter in order to bring out the feelings associated with the photograph.Jo Spence and Rosy Martin in Boothroyd and Roberts (2019) p.38
The Context of Production: Consider the photographs context in terms of when, where, how, by whom and why the photograph was taken.
The Context of Convention: Place the photograph into context in terms of the technologies used, aesthetics employed, photographic conventions used.
The Currency: Consider the photographs currency within its context of reception, who or what was the photograph made for? Who owns it now and where is it kept? Who saw it then and who sees it now?
also David Bate’s four or five elements of the portrait (Bate, 2016 p.89) described with Exercise 1.2:
Face – personal appearance, facial expression
Pose – attitude, “upbringing”
Clothing – social class, sex / gender, cultural values
Location – social setting
Props – objects signifying status
I believe that the basic version can be applied to any genre with the additions from Spence, Martin and Bate as extensions for portraiture. I intend to deploy the template on specific target images for the rest of the course and test its efficacy. In use, I make notes on each of the points in the template then reorder that into a cohesive response.