Informing Contexts, Reflections on Week 5 ‘Gazing at photographs’; 24th February to 2nd March, 2018

I’ve been asked to consider a number of questions this week around the nature of looking.

It terms of my own ‘look’, in terms of my portraiture I generally try to capture images that show something of the reality of that person as I can. They may not necessarily be taken in a way that flatters them, but they will be trying to reflect how I see them off-camera and until quite recently more confined to the upper body. My intended audience used to be almost always the subject themselves, but in the last few years I’ve taken an increasing number of images with a less-specific audience in mind. For instance, many of the images my last two book contributions were taken specifically for that section.

Belting’s anthropological perspective that “”we are not the masters of our own images” until recently was for me true a very literal sense. But this is not as true as it was, while I want to capture something of the character of that person, I’m now much more willing, and a little more able, to try to compose the image in a way that makes the subject and their environment more interesting, with a degree of distant contact.

My ‘gaze’ in taking street photographs has always been a little different. Here I tend to be trying to capture an image that in some way or another appears to tells a story or provide a mood. It may not necessarily reflect the ‘real’ situation of whom I’m photographing, but I like to try to make these images convey a narrative or mood of some sort. My intended audience is a bit wider, other photographers, particularly those also interested in street photography. Here I’m very open to others interpretations and may modify my style a little in the light of these comments. Similarly  contact-wise I’ve been closest to, and I guess more influenced by, other street and documentary photographers. I understand the point made by Solomon-Godeau that ’street photography’ is a problematic category in that it is relatively recent and is not within itself artistically coherent. Only a   However, if it’s regarded as a form of social documentary no problem? Solomon-Godeau also cites the research of Bannos who made the related observation that the posthumously celebrated street photography of Vivian Maier would appear to have been conducted compulsively as only a small amount of was printed in her lifetime. Perhaps street photography is also form of escape?

My most experimental are probably my nature images, here I’m much more looking for shapes and the play of light, possibly from a remote hand-held flashgun as the English sun is often absent. My macro-photography is just a desperate effort to get as much of interest to get as in focus for the viewer as I can without having to resort to the more planned and cumbersome means of zone focusing. The intended audience in both cases is primarily myself, though I’m happy for the better results to be seen wider. I’m hoping that they might be interpreted as providing something of the wonder of nature and the realisation of the never-ending complexity of detail that the macro view gives.

Until recently I’ve been I guess relatively isolated in terms of influence from others. While I’ve greatly admired the photography of well known photographers of the past like Edward Stiechen, Ansal Adams, Vivian Myer and William Eggleston it’s only since becoming a member of the Royal Photographic Society and some London Photography groups have I started going regularly to various talks and exhibitions, giving me much greater insight into a number of interesting visual approaches.

The work of William Eggleston in particular still impresses me, his studio and earlier outside shots are truly remarkable. The practices of a number of other earlier photographers interest me; August Sander’s consistency, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s environmental portraits that always engage the subject, Irving Penn’s creative use of lighting to outline both form and style, Diane Arbus’s very quirky and highly emotional portraits, the stark portraits of Lange, Evans, Brandt… And in more recent times Lee Friedlander, Bruce Davidson, and quite a few others, the list goes on. In terms of more current practice I follow Harry Borden, Mario Testino and  Annie Leibovitz in particular. But I’m now vastly more open to others style of practice than before.

Currently I’m most interested in enhancing my portraiture through better use of light and direction. I’m building up reasonable expertise at the use if fill-in flash, but it would be good to spend some time in a studio to get a greater appreciation of the finite control of light and shadow, as well as a better understanding of what works in retaining the features I want whilst adding a degree of drama. I fully agree with Rosswell’s observation that there is a degree of tension in August many of Sander’s environmental portraits, it would be interesting to get more in mine. I like to try and catch a certain look in people’s eyes too.

However, as Townshend said; “What you believe isn’t necessarily what the photograph contains.””

 

REFERENCES

Belting, H. “An anthropology of images” (2002) 2nd Edition, p. Translated by Thomas Dulap (2014) Oxford, Princeton University Press

Solomon-Godeau, A. “Photography after Photography”, Ch. 9 “Inventing Vivian Maier” (2017) London, Duke University Press

Angier, R. “Train your gaze: a practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photograph” (2015) 2nd Edition, London, Bloomsbury Publishing’s Fairchild Books

Townsend, C. “Vile Bodies: Photography and the crisis of looking”, p.9 (1998) Munich, Prestel-Verlag p.9

 

OWN BOOKS INCLUSIONS QUOTED

Land, G (2017) “A Flavour of Soho Life” In: Bennet, N et al “Living London” London, Royal Photographic Society Urban Group

Land, G. (2017) “Windows on life” In: Barrington, F. et al “SW Twelve” London, Royal Photographic Society London Region