Saturday, 28 January 2012

Project 4 - An active portrait

For the active portrait project I have shot two separate sessions. The first was shot while my subject was making dinner. I encountered a number of problems with this session. The first was that the subject had his back to me while preparing food at the worktops. By leaning across the worktops I managed to get some profile shots though. Secondly the subject tended to suddenly move out of the frame when opening a drawer or going to a different position in the kitchen - it was hard to keep up! I switched my focusing to automatic and let it track the subject at this stage. I've never had a great deal of success with this focusing option and usually end up with mostly blurred shots - just need more practice I guess.

Anyway, I did get some good shots.

Image 1. Consulting Delia.

The light from the window helped to illuminate the subject well here. The bend of the arm, the hands, and gaze direct the viewer to the book and activity taking place.

Image 2. Selecting a pan.

Not so keen on this image. The light from the snow outside the window caused exposure problems. This image is a composite of two exposures adjusted in RAW and combined in Photoshop.

Image 3. Waiting for the ping.

Definite activity taking place in this shot. The finger on the microwave button is a strong gesture and combined with the subjects gaze it creates an element of tension in the image.

Image 4 - Subject aware.

This image is a grab shot. I wanted a long shot to convey more information about the subjects surroundings. On the whole I'm not really satisfied with these images as the subject's face is rarely out of profile. The lesson I learned from photographing a portrait during an activity is to make sure that the subject's face is not going to be obscured by the kind of activity taking place! In the end I got a lot of back shots!

Because of the perceived failure of my previous task I took the lessons learned and applied myself to another session - this time making sure that I would be opposite the subject's face and have more opportunity to catch a range of expressions. This time the subject was seated at our dining table and cutting mount card for framing photographs.

 Image 1. Working it out.

Luckily for me this activity requires a deal of concentration and working out of measurements. Mistakes when cutting mount card are also likely so a range of expressions from puzzlement to exasperation can be seen!  The light from the bay window was quite bright and bounced around the plain walls to even out the shadows.

Image 2. Cutting.

Not so keen on the patch of white mount card and the brown leather chair in this composition.

Image 3. Puzzled.

Image 4. Making the cut.

Conclusion. Still not happy with my portrait skills. Lots more to learn and incorporate into my photographic practice.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Untitled student website

Recently I became involved in setting up a website for OCA students to promote their artwork. We wanted a space to exhibit the best of our work and the students came from different artistic backgrounds such as photography, painting, drawing, textiles etc. We had a lot of discussion about what the site should be about and how we wanted to represent ourselves. The conclusion appeared to be that we would put the best pieces of our work on show and that the purpose of the site was to show ourselves as artists first and students second. This meant in practise that the best pieces from assessment and other work made outside of the course was to be included. We each had our own webpage designed by Dewald, another OCA student, and the site came out really well.

Untitled gallery

I collated all the student data so that we could work out how to apply it to the website and the whole idea was masterminded and pulled together by fellow student, Penny. Overall, despite some initial caution from some students, the site seems to have been well received and hopefully now that it is online it can be used as a base from which to build upon.

My own contribution consisted of five images that I pulled together to make a narrative sequence. I have spotted these images before in my growing archive and have noted that the reason for making them at the time isn't always clear to me. But, as I have started to continue on a creative pathway with the OCA certain themes are developing in my art.

I have always been drawn to pictures of windows - either taken from inside or out, it doesn't really matter. I can relate this back to a particular time in my life when I was 12. I was standing at an upstairs window, looking down on a scene below, when I realised that my father had died. As a photographer, whenever I come across particular types of window I'm reminded of this incident and everything that panned out in my life after that point. That was the initial basis for pulling the images together for the Untitled sequence. It felt a bit odd to be putting an intimate and emotional part of myself "out there" on display but I consoled myself with the fact that we have been told by our tutors that our art needs to be honest and drawn from within - this sequence certainly does that.

Another point that I have picked up from studying with the OCA is that art does not necessarily have to explicitly explain itself. Ambiguity can help a viewer relate something of themselves to an artwork. They bring their own knowledge (baggage) with them when they analyse art. The meaning behind a created piece of art does not stay with the creator. That is why I have deliberately left out a lot of information in the sequence. I wanted the viewer to be able to draw upon their own memories and experiences and at the same time this approach allowed me to keep some semblance of protective armour around myself.  

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Project 3 - Experimenting with Light

For this project I had to find a number of different locations that had different types of light in which to photograph my model. I chose a couple of indoor locations next to a window - one on a sunny day and another in morning sunshine. I also did a session using studio flash with a black backdrop and some outdoor ones too. 

Image 1.  These shots were taken on a cold winter morning. The plain, light-coloured, walls help to bounce the light around and the shadows are not too deep.

Image 2.

Image 3. A session outside on a cloudy but bright day meant that the shadows were again nowhere near as deep as the shots that I took in a previous project with heavy shadows that needed some processing in Photoshop.

Image 4.

Image 5. A session taken at my dining table with some black paper taped over the french doors and a studio flash was used with a softbox. The face is half in shadow here and it took me a while to get my exposures correctly set-up. The problem that I always have indoors is space. The soft box was too close to the subject for but there was no room to move it further away. The highlight on the head is a little too light for my liking even after a RAW adjustment. It would be so nice to have a studio space to be able to move around in and experiment.

Trial and error...

Image 6. This image was taken using natural light on a sunny morning. The light is more pronounced than in image 1&2 and patches of sunlight can be seen on the models face.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Project 2 - Thinking About Location

For this project I had to scout for a number of locations and find suitable backdrops for a portrait session. On a visit to Rye in Kent I found some locations that I thought would work well with the strong winter sunlight bringing out texture and detail.

I have shown the locations below. In the end I wasn't able to use all of them because the light had gone in some of the darker areas and I don't have an external flashgun. I have still shown them below as I intend to return on subsequent visits and complete the exercise.

Location 1. Steps - I chose this area because the light was filtered and I thought I could get my model to sit on the steps and try some different poses. By the time I came back to this area it was too dark to use. I will return to this spot later.

Location 2. Hedge - This spot provided some background detail and colour that was fairly uniform.

Location 3. Church window - I wanted to throw the backdrop out of focus in this location to see the effect that it would have.

Location 4. Church wall - This location was brightly lit and provided plenty of texture.

Location 5. Blue door -  I will return to this location later.

I still found this project difficult. Trying to remember to use focal lengths suitable for portrait photography, looking for light and shade and poses is still a steep learning curve for me and I quickly become frustrated - not good when you need the model to be relaxed for a shoot! I still feel that I am floundering when it comes to this type of photography but I will keep chugging away at it until I start to become more fluent in the methods. Also, the tools required, such as reflectors, to bounce natural light around are pretty crucial to a portrait photographer. Using that kind of equipment in a public place would make me incredibly self conscious. Perhaps I need to buy an external flashgun for outdoor work.

The results of the shoot have been processed on my Mac and some minimal cropping has been done along with exposure adjustments and some selective lightening of areas of skin to reduce harsh shadow effects.

Image 1. church wall.

Conscious that it was bitterly cold I refrained from asking my model to remove his hat for the first few shots. The lighting is strong against this wall and I had to work on the shadows on the face in Photoshop to tone them down a little. I don't think I've overdone it. I like the texture on the hat and the wall. The tightly zipped jacket also helps to convey a sense of a sunny but cold winter day I think. I tried my best with the poses. I am aware that the torso needs to be angled a bit more to avoid a "stocky" effect. I'm still not comfortable with the poses element of portraiture. I asked the model to look around and captured a few different shots. I am well aware that much more direction is required from me to progress in this area.

Image 2. Church wall 2.

Image 3. Church wall 3.

Image 4. Church window.

I chose my widest aperture available for these shots for a shallow depth of field. The close up works better in this respect but for the project I am supposed to be showing torso shots. I went for a more front on pose and I like these better. I didn't notice the crooked beanie until post processing so I can't see me becoming a fashion photographer anytime soon. I have lightened the face in Photoshop a little and also darkened an area under the chin for a more flattering look. I think image 5 is my favourite from the set although the stone window spars are a tad distracting.

Image 5. Church window 2

Image 6. Church window 3.

I then asked the model to remove his hat and undo the top of his jacket so that he didn't look quite so buttoned up. I started to give a bit more direction in regards to pose and asked him to look up slightly. They are okay maybe a little "staged" perhaps? I think the symmetry created by the jacket collar and zip pockets works well in the composition.

Image 7. Church window 4.

Image 8. Hedge.

I asked the model to stand slightly side on for this shot. Again, I tried a couple of different poses.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Grayson Perry - Tomb of the Unknown Crafstman

Aside from the occasional appearance on TV I knew little about Grayson Perry as an artist before I visited his exhibition at the British Museum.

I was intrigued by the whole Alan Measles concept and how as a boy Perry had created his own fantasy world around his teddy bear (AM) as an escape from his difficult childhood. This was something I could personally relate to and was intrigued to see how Perry explored these themes through his artwork.

Before I went I did see a short documentary explaining the concept for the show and how Perry wanted to juxtapose craftsman made artefacts from the museums collection against his own pieces. At the centre of the exhibition was a funeral ship (Perry's work) cast from several of the museum's exhibits, and carrying a flint hand axe from antiquity into the afterlife.

One of the first items that I saw when I arrived was a custom made motorcycle with a shrine housing AM built onto the rear. The motorcycle had actually been ridden by Perry on a pilgrimage to a German town twinned with his hometown in Essex. The idea was to apologise for the mythical wars that AM had fought with the Germans during WW2. This is where I first got a sense of Perry making his imaginary world a reality. The motorcycle, the trip to Germany and the mythical wars were being meshed together. I began to see the conceptual artist at work here and realised that Perry is not just a creator of physical works but also a contemporary artist that moves between the two states of real and unreal, blurring the divide.

A good example of this are two ceremonial headresses placed side by side in the exhibition. One is an Ashante headress from the collection the other is an antique looking motorcycle helmet from the AM mythology. Perry does this all through the exhibition. He places his own artwork against intricately made pieces from antiquity. This creates a fascinating juxtaposition and his witty explanations, touching on modern culture, the role of craftsmen and symbolism in art were excellent and clearly communicated.

His work is very tactile. Many of the objects have intricate details, sometimes hidden inside layers and the artist has a strong sense of texture and form. The ceramic vases were amazing. Particularly the ones with acid colours and the quirky style of decoration using contemporary motifs and comments give a wry reflection on modern life.

The centre piece - the funeral ship representing all the worlds craftsmen, made in iron by taking casts of museum artefacts and with an ancient flint hand axe at the very centre was incredible. Tied to the mast were little glass bottles with contents to represent blood, sweat, and tears. I love this idea! The original ancient stone tool that began humanities journey. The discovery of new technologies that evolved over (hundreds of) thousands of years and enabled man to make new art and form a world culture sailing away to a new place in the afterlife.

An exhibition definitely well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Project 1 Re-try

I have slipped a few weeks behind with my studies for this course. The Christmas break hasn't helped. I decided to have another go at project one as I wasn't entirely satisfied with my efforts before. This time I used a softbox mounted on a stand and a reflector to try and bounce some of the light back up into the face. These shots are okay but I think I still need a lot more practice. Rather than get bogged down though I am going to move on with the projects and try to pick up speed to make up for lost time. 

This is probably my favourite shot of the set. The subject's eyes are looking directly into the lens resulting in a more powerful image. The vertical and horizontal lines of the bookshelf behind his head are a niggle. The room is so small that it is almost impossible to re-position the sitter and I was halfway out the door to get enough distance. I used f5.6 so could have gone with a smaller depth of field I suppose - or maybe darken the line of the shelves a little - maybe I am being too critical. I will come back an take a look at another time. 

I like this shot in B&W and the expression brings out some character in the subject. Shame about the obscured mouth though. This shot would benefit from being re-shot with the clarinet off to the side slightly. Again, the line of the bookcase is annoying but less so than the colour version.

I think that this shot looks a bit posed. I asked the sitter to preparing the clarinet for storage to give him something to do. I need to work on getting the sitter more relaxed.

This close up of the hands doesn't really belong in this project but I liked the shapes so included it anyway.

A shot cropped in a bit closer

The elusive full body shot that has caused me no end of difficulties. I'm still not happy with this one. I will re-visit this at some stage.