Assignment Two – Collecting “Upon Reflection”

Brief

Create a series of between six and ten photographs from one of the following options, or a subject of your own choosing:

  • Crowds
  • Views
  • Heads

Use the exercises from Part Two as a starting point to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint for the set. Decide upon a single format, either vertical or horizontal. You should keep to the same combination throughout to lend coherence to the series.

  • Crowds make a great subject for photography, not least because they are so contemporary. A city rush hour is a good place to start but events also offer great opportunities to photograph the crowd rather than the event. The foreshortened perspective of the telephoto lens will compress a crowd, fitting more bodies into the frame, but it can also be used to pick out an individual person. A wide-angle lens can capture dynamic shots from within the action.
  • If you choose to make a collection of views you need to be prepared to do some walking so keep the weight of your equipment to a minimum – you’ll walk further and see more. A tripod will be important to allow you to select a combination of small aperture and slow shutter speed to ensure absolute sharpness throughout the frame. The weather and time of day will be crucial, whether for urban or landscape views. A wide-angle lens is the usual choice but Ansel Adams also used a medium telephoto to foreshorten the perspective, bringing the sky, distance and foreground closer together.
  • Heads: Frame a‘headshot’, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in the backgrounds. The light will be paramount and a reflector is a useful tool (you can ask the subject to hold it), throwing light up into the face, especially the eyes. The classic headshot is buoyant but neutral which is quite difficult to achieve, but try to achieve a natural rather than an artificially posed look

Subject Introduction

I decided to use heads as the basis for this series. I chose to take an abstract view.

I drew inspiration from some of the photographers I had recently been researching, you can view this here.

My direction expanded to collecting images in reflections. Not of self portraiture however, but to view the world through the eyes of a person viewing themselves. I wanted to produce a depth to my images and give the viewer the perspective of what the person being photographed was seeing.

I used one subject, my son. There is an innocence in the way the a child views the world around them. I allowed him the freedom to explore his environment and create his own poses. The images were to be natural. I worked in the background silently so I didn’t affect the outcome.

I wanted to vary the images with differing reflections.  I considered various ways in which I could capture reflections.

Although, I was eager to begin exploring the use of colour in my work. I viewed my results in both colour and black and white and settled on the latter. I felt it enhanced the shape, shadows and light in the photograph and drew the eye towards these things, removing the possibility of distraction in my images.

I chose to use a vertical format for my photos in this series.

Technical Description

I used a combination of studio lighting and the natural light available to me.

I used a 50mm Prime lens with a very wide aperture between F1.4 and F1.8 attached to my Nikon D750 and no filter (polarising or otherwise) attached. I chose a wide aperture for my series because I wanted to draw the attention to the reflection itself and not the surrounding factors of the photograph. My focal point was mostly centred on the reflected image, however I did chose to experiment with this in some of my photos and focus on the subject which obscured the reflected image and made it appear out of focus and blurred.

I had to ensure I was not present in the picture since this wasn’t self portraiture. I had to be careful to avoid a direct angle and instead place myself slightly offside. I experimented with angles in my images.

For the lighting indoors, I used softbox lights. It was important not to create any glare, so the light needed to be aimed at my son as opposed to the reflection itself. This was especially important when I took the image of the phone picture, since any direction of light onto the phone screen produced black lines across the image on the phone, in this instance, my focal point was shadowed by my sons body and the light source was aimed on his back.

Evaluation

Whilst I wanted to experiment with abstraction, I didn’t want my entire series of photographs to look the same. I wanted to achieve coherence in my work, but I wanted the viewer to understand what they were viewing without being so obvious and straight to the point. Although, I felt there needed to be a mixture. Some photographs and viewpoints were straightforward and some more abstract. I feel my series worked well as a whole because they focused on a singular subject, that being, the reflection of a young boy, which helped tie my series together.

Whilst maintaining my sons modesty, he was minimally clothed. I wanted my images to portray innocence, simpleness and the naturalness that goes hand in hand with being a child. Children don’t care about fashion, make up or the way they look in their own reflection. They are simply inquisitive in nature and live in the moment. During the shoot, there were times when my son wasn’t even aware of his reflection and just carried on exploring his surroundings. Choosing to take away the distraction of what he was wearing in most of the photographs (which could perhaps lead a viewer to consider his class and background) was a conscious decision I had made at the beginning and I feel this worked well in my series.

There were times when I felt that the reflected image could have been sharper and I could have made better use of the angles available to me by moving around more. However, working with a young child with whom I didn’t want to stage or pose meant that my time to capture the shot was limited. I feel this could improve as my confidence and experience grows, aiming to be quicker at thinking on the spot and more natural at choosing the best viewpoint. I am sure this will come with time and practice.

Since reflections utilise the available light and the angles from which the light hits a subject, it has taught me that there is so much you can do with reflections in photography. I see the possibilities to further my reflection work as endless and not just limited to portrait work. I discovered there is a lot you can do with reflections in photography. It can add depth, balance, create abstraction and enhance the view or message. It can tell the story of a scene, offer up varying viewpoints or be very focused. The depth of field is an intrinsic part of this, since you have the option to bring the viewers eye in with a very wide aperture as I have done, or narrow the aperture and give the viewer another dimension to see within the photograph allowing the eye to wander through the image by having more in focus.

Perhaps I will expand this work and focus of self portraiture using reflections as many photographers have done before me. I may even look at using colour in my reflection work and focus on how this relates to and effects my images. I will continue to be vigilant of reflections and consider it another option I now have the knowledge of to practice with in my future work.

Results – “Upon Reflection”

These were all the photos I took for this assignment.

Contact Sheets:

From the images I narrowed it down to the following photographs:

Finally, after converting my chosen images to black and white I chose the following 6 photographs which I felt were the strongest and work the best as a series together.

My Tutorial Feedback:

Reflection following on from my tutorial:

Following on from my tutorital, I took a look at Sally Mann’s work in immediate family. I could resonate with her a lot and understood her viewpoint as a mother despite being quite controversial to some at the time. I however, saw an innocence in her work, as well as aspects of fantasy, role play and children being children. The controversy, in my opinion comes from within the minds of the viewers who find the work distasteful. There is no obvious distaste in these images and I certainly don’t believe that Sally Mann ever even considered that these images would be seen in this way.

However, in this current age of the easily offended, I believe it would be hard, if not impossible to satisfy everyone that an image was not meant to cause harm or offence and with the use of the internet to easily spread one’s opinions, I am certain there would be even more voices against her and that of her intention and her work. For this reason, I made a conscious decision to partially censor my work and not include my son’s full nakedness, I also don’t think it would have added any further depth to my work and therefore was unnecessary.

My tutor questioned my use of back and white and we discussed the arguments for and against the use of this. I appreciated his viewpoint that there could be something gained from having them in colour, perhaps make them more relatable to the viewer. However, the use of black and white wasn’t something I felt I made my photographs more or less relatable with this series but there was a different meaning of black and white for me with this series, it represented a faded memory. The reflection was like looking back on a memory as if we were looking back on a life. A photograph, after all, is similar to a memory of an event. As soon as it is taken, it becomes the past, details of the precise moment and exact circumstances of when the photo was taken become surmisable and the longer the time has passed, the more surmisable a photograph can become. When we link our memories in our mind, colour doesn’t necessarily come into play and certain aspects of the details of a memory are lost. My children’s lives as well as my own seems to flash by in an instant, and events are continually stacking upon each other, making many of the previous memories faded and harder to recall. This is what the black and white represents for me.

The surroundings were not staged, they were taken in our home, on a normal day. Certain elements were manipulated, such as where I placed my son, the objects he was holding etc, but his reaction was natural, I allowed it to play out as if I were not watching. Children becoone fasinating creatures when left to their own devices and I feel my photographs create a glimpse into their inner workings and the “in the moment” reactions they have to their surroundings, their minds tend to be focused on the present moment and do not wander into the past or future the way that an adult mind does.

Having viewed and studied other photographers and their work with their own families, many approaches are offered. You can use it to document the reality of experiences, such as Sian Davey  and her work “Looking for Alice” documenting her Daughter’s life with down’s syndrome and her own thoughts, feeling and experiences with this. Her work is like an exploration of her inner thoughts and fears and highlighted some of the difficulties she faced.

Christopher Anderson with his work “Son” offered an intimate view of his son’s life, his father’s illness and the family aspects surrouding them. For me, these took on more of a fantasy since they appeared more staged, despite being a documentary style of family life. However, I could resonate with this work moreso as I could see similarities in his style to that of Sally Mann and of my own.

A lot of the time photographing ones family is simply a means of memory preservation, a depiction of the way one lives. It is also a way to document the passing of time and remember how things were. Nearly every family does this with family photographs, it isn’t something that is limited to photographers, so it could perhaps be viewed as something mundane and nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps this is why it is often overlooked.  When I view the different photographers in Family: Photographers photograph their families you can see the many and varying ways photographers have depicted their own families. Some are portrait style shots, focused on the person in a tight frame, others have more detail of the surroundings in which the person belongs in that moment. There are also some which don’t include people at all. I find each style interesting. However, I have to say I have never been a fan of the deadpan style portrait. I prefer to view an image which gives me more clues about the person in the frame, the expression on their face or hints about their life. I connect better with these style of images. For instance, Shane Gilliver’s “Nanci”and Larry Towell’s shots of his sons. Perhaps I could position my work in this series to that of Susan Andrews’ “Lois” or Nicholas Nixon’s “Sam and Clementine” but I think it’s a subject I need to immerse myself into further to gain a better understanding of exactly where I fit.

As my tutor pointed out, my photographs in this series are not stylised images in the vein of Anne Gedes, which of course, have their place. But definitely do not represent real life. From experience, I know full well, that newborns aren’t always these sleeping little angels tucked up naked in beautiful blankets, looking serene, although it’s a nice idea to portray it as such. This style of work, however, represents full fantasy, a beautiful image to look at and a lovely momento of your newborn baby, there is little beyond that for me. I can see why, that with the age of social media, Anne Gedes work and the many immitations of it, are popular. People enjoy the fantasy, continuously hiding aspects of their own lives behind a social media profile, highlighting the wonderful parts, disguising the ugly parts and omitting many, many details. It makes everyone’s lives and their families apppear enviable and amazing and a beautiful photograph, whilst enjoyable to view, gives you only a small glimpse into the person within the frame. I enjoy taking beautiful images, capturing a moment and creating a fantasy, I do like to ensure I treat it as exactly that, a fantasy, especially when I view an image. The current danger is when people buy into the fantasy and see it as a reality, it has created many mental health problems in society today, because it’s hard for people to dintiguish the difference. However, is this the fault of the photographer or as Sally Mann’s work was perceived, the fault of the viewer? I have to believe the latter.

Learning Log:

Research into Reflection Photography in Portraiture

References:

Books –

  • Frost, L.(2010) The A-Z of Creative Photography (Revised Edition) David & Charles Publishers Ltd
  • Phaidon (2000) The Photo Book Phaidon Press Ltd
  • Farrell, I (2011) Complete Guide To Digital Photography Quercus
  • Mann, S. (1992) Sally Mann: Immediate Family Aperture.
  • Davey, S. (2015) Looking For Alice Trolley Books
  • Anderson, C. (2013) Son Kehrer Verlag
  • Spencer-Wood, S. Hyland, A & Peretz, H. (2005) Family: Photographers Photograph Their Families Phaidon Press.

Websites –

  • https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/reflection-perfection-60-photos-that-show-you-how-its-done/
  • https://www.popphoto.com/how-to/2012/12/tips-better-reflections-your-photography
  • http://www.streetviewphotography.net/top-10-reflections/