For this final assignment I really struggled to settle on a subject, and went through a couple of ideas, which fell by the wayside, including self-portraits showing my former military life and my current civilian life. Searching for inspiration I revisited some of the photographers who I’ve looked at during this course, and went back to Elina Brotherus, having seen her appearing as a guest mentor on Sky Arts recent “Master of Photography” program, and finding her images intriguing, in an uncomfortable way – why does she shoot her images in that way? Where does the inspiration come from?
One composition which Brotherus has used a number of times, in particular in her “Artist and Model” series of images, is a solo figure, central in the frame, either with back to the camera, or facing square on, expressionless and I find it to be a captivating composition, even if it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, being so central and static. I wanted to combine this with other aspects to add to the uncomfortable feeling and after a walk through our local woods I decided to photograph my young niece alone and place her in a situation where she appeared out of place. I wanted to do this using a combination of location, props, clothing and her expression, to use the juxtaposition, to create the feeling of her being in the wrong place. My plan was for Elizabeth to be stood, alone, with space around her, wearing her bright red party dress, carrying her favourite doll – baby George, and to be stood, straight on and facing the camera with a completely dead-pan expression. Almost looking like a lost child on initial viewing, but then looking closer to see that she isn’t upset, or looking lost, she’s just there, with no explanation.
My initial plan was to use the local woods and I looked at various locations within the woods, wanting to find a clearing, but with trees to use to frame the subject, and hopefully have a spot of light coming down, and narrowed it down to a couple of areas. I also planned on a couple of alternative locations around the local area, with a variation on the woods, to see if they worked any better, such as the local park, down on the beach, and also on the local high street.
To place Elizabeth within the scene, I positioned Elizabeth straight on to the camera, and framed her in the centre of the frame, with space all around her, although this goes against my natural instinct when capturing portraits, of coming in close to the subject, and turning them at an angle to the camera. Having her dead centre, gave the feeling of awkwardness, uncomfortableness, and I also allowed the contrast of her and her red dress to draw the viewers eye to see her as the main subject, even though she only takes up a small percentage of the image.
The lighting was all natural light, and I was able to make use of a shaft of light coming through the tree canopy to highlight Elizabeth, drawing the viewers eye even more. Initially she was holding her dolly in her arms, but I felt that this alluded more to her being lost, hugging her doll for comfort, which I didn’t want, so I got her to dangle her doll by her side, almost as though she’s bored of him, and can’t actually be bothered to look after him anymore. I shot a number of different shots for this, trying out different focal lengths to see which achieved the effect I wanted. I also tried portrait format as well as landscape, and found that both compositions worked quite well, and fit to what I pictured. Below are my two selections from the woods.
Although the woods were my initial plan, I looked at other locations and tried them out too, such as the beach and a field with long grass
Whilst I liked these images, as part of a set, I don’t think they would work as a standalone image. I did toy with the idea of submitting a series of images for my assignment, but decided that a single image may be stronger.
As well as the “nature based” shots I took Elizabeth down to the local High Street, where I wanted her stood along in the middle of the pedestrian area, with people milling past her. I wanted to show the movement in the people, so got Elizabeth to stand very still whilst I slowed the shutter speed down enough to get the movement in the people, whilst still keeping it fast enough should Elizabeth move.
Whilst walking back to the car I spotted a more derelict and scruffy area so took a couple of shots there too, which actually ended up being one of my favourites, and my chosen image for submission.
This one was also another favourite of mine, for a number of reasons – the expression on Elizabeth’s face, the leading lines of the alleyway, the way the doll appears to be peeking out from behind Elizabeth. The reason I didn’t select this one as my image was partly because I decided to stick with the landscape, more cinematic, format, and also, the blue car at the back of the alley (which I didn’t notice at the time) distracts my eye too much from the main subject.
Contact sheets of all of the images from the shoot: (Click to view larger)
This assignment was a struggle for me, coming up with a concept, with no idea where to start, or what narrative I wanted. I went through a number of vague ideas before coming to this one after again looking at Brotherus’ work. I’m happy that I was able to capture the images that I wanted to, in the way I wanted to, with the added bonus of finding alternatives, which maybe turned out better than the original planned images in the woods. Whilst trying to decide which image to actually use I asked for some peer to peer feedback from fellow students on the OCA Level 1 Facebook group and had a couple of comments. I’d deliberately been rather vague over the context as I wanted to see what the image said to those viewing it, without having a back story. One comment which struck a chord with me was that it looked like a still image from a TV crime drama, which is a style of image I like, and I assume comes from my video production background. There were also comments likening the woods image to “Little Red Riding Hood” which although it wasn’t my intention, I realised the connection during editing, another reason to not choose that image as that wasn’t where I was going with the image.
“Master Of Photography”. Master of Photography. N.p., 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. http://www.masterofphotography.tv/
“Photography”. Elina Brotherus. N.p., 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. http://www.elinabrotherus.com/photography/#/artist-and-her-model/