Wedding & Events
In it’s infancy, photographic portraits rapidly developed from being solely used by wealthy, upper class families to that of a more inclusive form of personal art. Studios became more affordable and the artform took on more uses including the recording of criminals and preservation of the dead due to the high mortality rate in children in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Eventually photography became a wider means of documentation. In 1906, American sociologist and photographer, Lewis Hine was appointed to document the conditions that child laborers were subjected to throughout the US within different factories and workhouses. The Fair Labour Standards Act was passed in 1938 which, not only introduced a fair minimum wage for workers, but also detailed child labour laws. Hine’s photos were used as part of the evidence that motioned this act. Yet another example of pioneering photographic documentation, Dorothea Lange, hired by the RSA to capture images to empathise with American farmers. She captured an image that, over 80 years later, is still known as one of Times’ top 100 photos. ‘Migrant Mother’ is an image that strikes at the hearts of all who view it, showing how the working class of America suffered during the Great Depression to such an extent that the government responded to Lange’s work by sending supplies to the area where it was captured.
Present day portraiture often relies on the idea that the photographer is shedding the subject’s outward persona. Celebrity portraits, such as those captured by 2005 American Photo Magazine’s most influential living photographer Annie Leibovitz, frequently intend to reveal the real person behind the façade. Leibovitz's images are harmonious with paparazzi shots, such as that of Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Hôtel du Cap. This harmonicity stems from the reliance upon their effectiveness to access the ‘real’ self behind the public persona. Both images show Arnold as a confident young man at one with the camera; something that is true of his own self.
Photographic chameleon, Cindy Sherman, dubbed one of the most influential contemporary artists of her time, plays with a fine balance of self-portraiture and film still style in her ‘Untitled Film Stills’ series. The series is a collection of 70 black and white photographs of herself as an array of characters based upon female performers in arthouse and low budget movies. Captured between 1977-1980, Sherman piloted herself to the forefront of contemporary art and achieved international recognition for her interesting and sometimes controversial ideology.
In ‘Untitled Film Still #13' (see right), Sherman represents herself as a young woman, no remarkability about her, with a Brigitte Bardot inspired look. Set within what looks to be a library and shot from a low angle, the subject is pushed to the edge of the frame. The female figure does not engage with the camera, suggesting that the camera is freezing a moment of everyday life. This snapshot is offered to the viewer, creating a paradox between the voyeurism of this and the fact that this character never actually existed; they were merely a construct for the image. Sherman also relies upon traditional compositional elements within ‘#13’, as well as many other of her film stills, to direct the viewer’s attention. Techniques such as leading lines, diagonals and golden ratio are all part of Sherman’s skill set.
Usually a portrait is an agreement between the subject and the photographer. Despite the outcome being in the photographer’s control, the image is actually dictated by the subject who usually wants to be shown in a flattering way. As photography developed, subjects no longer had to be a customer, for example, wishing to book a portrait session. Now photographers could choose their own subjects from passersby, by which they revoke the subject's control. Born from this is the ‘anti-portrait’, an image captured in the style of a traditional portrait but not necessarily intended to make the subject look appealing.
A prime example of this would be Yousuf Karsh’s (anti-)portrait of Winston Churchill. Due to the upheaval of the Second World War, Karsh was left with minimal time to capture the PM’s portrait. Churchill was not only unaware he was scheduled to have a portrait taken, but also not happy about it and had a cigar the entire time. In his book Karsh wrote,
Churchill’s cigar was ever present. I held out an ashtray, but he would not dispose of it. I went back to my camera and made sure that everything was all right technically. I waited; he continued to chomp vigorously at his cigar. I waited. Then I stepped toward him and, without premeditation, but ever so respectfully, I said, “Forgive me, sir,” and plucked the cigar out of his mouth. By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me. It was at that instant that I took the photograph
Faces of our Time by Yousuf Karsh
In taking away Churchill’s cigar in such an unprecedented manner, Karsh made the photo what is know to be today: A portrait of Churchill’s snarl, far more revealing than a smile.
Gregory Crewdson, who is known for elaborately staged tableaux such as ‘Untitled (Ophelia)’ produces images that a cinematic in their inspiration and methodology. In 1998, Crewdson began working with a large team to construct life-sized sets for his series ‘Twilight’ which he concluded in 2002. He held a director style role on set which was emphasised by the team around him made up of camera crew, actors and various kinds of managers. Crewdson’s cinematic influences were visualised through, not only the method of scene construction and high production values, but also dramatic lighting and the each images’ narrative. For this series Crewdson specifically references science fiction films. One film he seems to take direct reference from is that of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ in which people are drawn out of their homes towards unidentified light sources, and other characters are placed in strange domestic environments.
‘Untitled (Ophelia)’, 2001, depicts a woman floating on the surface of water in a flooded home. The woman’s pale skin and white dress create a stark contrast with the darkness of the murky water. The light from the windows and electric lights eerily illuminate the other-worldly scene. The photo itself alludes to the tragic fate of Shakespeare’s Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’, in which after she is rejected by a prince and grieves for her father Ophelia is found drowned. The set was entirely constructed for the purpose of this image. Situated in a studio atop a soundstage, there is painstaking attention to detail in the creation of an everyday suburban house. Crewdson ensured a sense of realism in the design of the house by equipping a typical style staircase, incorporating standard furniture and sourcing portraits for the back wall. Within art Ophelia is often depicted decorated with wild flowers and floating in a river with flowing hair, alike to John Everett Millais’ painting in 1852. Crewdson offers an alternative perspective where, here, she appears entirely still and calm; seemingly resigned to her fate. With her eyes wide open and staring into space, the ambiguity as to whether she is alive adds to the scene’s mysterious nature. More examples of Crewdson’s attention to building a well-rounded, details tableaux lay on the coffee table; a bottle of pills and a glass of water show more clues to the woman’s emotional state. As well as these, a paperback copy of Nora Roberts’ ‘Inner Harbor’, a romantic novel about a mysterious woman arriving in a small town.
Her world is said to have ‘fluctuated between documentary and pornography on one hand and reportage and voyeurism on the other’ (Aug, T. (2014) Photography: The Definitive Visual History, page 318). The sense of voyeurism and witnessing private moments is a constant throughout the series, especially in sexual scenes such as ‘Rise and Monty Kissing’, 1980.
Though it was not just the sexual scenes that felt intrusive. ‘Greer and Robert on the Bed’, 1982 (above), is in many ways unsettling to look at and provides a sense of interruption. The image is partly blurred, indicating Goldin moved the camera as she released the shutter creating motion blur. Both Greer and Robert seem absorbed in their own trains of thought, and though as viewers we have not interrupted thought, it does seem that we have put a holt to something. That could be intimacies between the two, or perhaps a conversation, it is not clear but that ambiguity aids in creating an uncomforting sense about this image. Adding to this is Greer’s tired and gaunt appearance, making her look sick and weak.
Above each of them hangs a toyshop mask which heightens the sense of disconnection between the pair. Disconnection seems unusual and off-putting since the image is set in a bedroom, shown through the bed frame behind them. Typically, only connected people go in one another’s bedroom considering it is such a private place. Taking this moment and making it publicly intimate complements the time period perfectly. Having had the contraceptive pill debut in the ‘60’s, the public were going through somewhat of a sexual revolution which continued through to the 1980’s. As a result, there was a greater acceptance of intimacy, and photographers found it easier to capture their friends’ private lives.
Some street and documentary photographers also made the nude genre their own. Between 1945 and 1960, Bill Brandt worked on a series of nudes that resulted in his photobook: ‘Perspective of Nudes’, 1961. The works are a great change from his documentary images before and during World War Two. Throughout this collection of images Brandt was able to explore surrealism, a passion developed when assisting Man Ray in 1929.
‘Nude, Campden Hill, London’ (above)is a haunting, atmospheric image with dreamy qualities. The figure in the foreground captured in such a way that she seems unusually large in comparison to the rest of the room, almost paying indirect homage to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Her placement leads the viewer to look further into the scene. Intrigued by surrealist elements, Brandt used an antique camera to apply the natural distortion that it offered, he said: ‘When I began to photograph the nudes, I let myself be guided by this camera, and instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing.’ (Camera in London, Bill Brandt, Focal Press, 1948, https://www.vac.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ )
Another demonstration of Brandt’s artistic ambition is shown in ‘Belgravia, London’, 1951 (below). Alike to the previous image, Brandt positions the camera in the corner of the room to maximise the space and include as much of the room as possible within the photograph. By doing so the camera compressed the space into one dense image, this creates distortion that leads to incongruous inversions of scale.
The contrast in this image is compelling. The almost crushed blacks of the window frame and rooftops outside show Brandt’s heavy handedness when burning in to induce a gloomy sky. Opposing this are the highlights. The leg points straight towards the chair and window, where the light source is revealed: natural light. The gleam of light on the floor reflects the ambience outside presenting the use of lighting as intentional. The legs on a whole are bright white, looking a touch overexposed on the lower leg, however the contrast makes this seem appropriate and necessary for such a dark image.
Brandt creates surrealist uncertainty through his positioning of the knee. Positioned in front of the door frame, it is difficult to register whether it is in fact a door frame or an empty picture frame. This vagueness swiftly changes the mood of the image to that of an unsettling one.
Brandt also utilises a traditional element of nude work to draw viewers in. The triangular core of the image is enticing as it is legibly sexual, almost reminiscent modernist sculptures. The crop of the image ‘cuts off; the end of the triangle, creating sexual tension.
How will I respond to this task?
After considering the variables, I have settled upon producing a collection of ten images. The collection will be made up of film stills reminiscent of Cindy Sherman's 'Untitled Film Stills' series in that I will capture images of myself rather than using models to get my message across. I have chosen against using models in my work to complement the themes within the imagery, photographing myself is more intimate and personal.
The overarching themes I wish to present are: voyeurism, nudity and intimacy. Even though I plan to portray these themes, I do not plan on being nude in the images. I intend to work in such a way that the nudity is suggested, oscillating between being partially covered to changing my positioning or camera angle to relay an image that strikes a sense of being vulnerable and bare. Should I feel inclined whilst experimenting, I may toy with using a second figure, likely to be a male, to create a variant to the scenes I can portray alone. Having looked into Nan Goldin's work I feel it would be crucial to assess the appropriateness of having a male model included in the works for diversification purposes and also to add a different kind of intimacy to the photographs.
I would like to work closely with light and shadow in my work. Though I am as of yet undecided whether I will produce colour images, I feel my relationship with light for this series will be vital to it's success. I will use a mixture of flash and continuous lighting to vary the levels of intrusion within the images, as well as produce different photographic effects.
I hope to try out the effects of motion blur, panning and zoom burst in my series also; this will amplify the snapshot nature of the image. I think the key to these images will be capturing moments that seem fleeting and, in some ways, dangerous. The sense of danger as to the viewer getting caught surveying the scenes will be almost fetishistic and add depth to the level of discomfort and unease within the works. In order to attempt these techniques I will conduct shoots with a Nikon 18-105mm f3.6-5.6 lens on my Nikon D7200. Using a zoom lens allows me to capture zoom burst style images. I am not completely sure how effective these techniques will be, even more so considering I will have to create some form of rig to zoom the lens on my behalf, however attempting them whilst shooting will be important so as to show a well-rounded series of images with varying photographic practices.
Using varying depths of field, I will produce works that feel invasive to the subject's private world. Alike to Sherman and Goldin, I will produce images that represent snapshots of daily life. By using varying depths of field I can make viewers feel more or less involved in the scene as I feel fit. Another way in which I plan to use varying depths of field will be through the use of bokeh. To do so I may use a 50mm prime lens with an aperture of f1.8, although I may continue to use the Nikon 18-105mm f3.6-5.6 lens as it is so versatile.
I plan to conduct multiple shoots at varying times of the day and different locations to diversify the collection. The first will be held early morning, whilst it it still dark, with a goal of capturing some images during the sunrise. As I am shooting these images in November the early morning lighting will be soft and there may even be fog outside to diffuse the natural light coming in through windows. Should I find that the natural light is not what I am looking for on the morning of the shoot, I will use diffused LED panel lighting to create similar effects. I will alter the warmth of the light to signify the sunrise, alongside this I will attempt to create morning appropriate shadows (such as the sun gleaming through the blinds) to create dynamic lighting effects and add intrigue. I will then effectively re-shoot a second time at midday, and a third time during the night in order to assess how this alters the images if at all. For the majority of the shoot I will be taking photos in my own home, largely set around the bedroom. During my shoots I will try other locations also, such as the bathroom, the living room and even out in the car, to give a more realistic depiction of the everyday as well as avoiding my work becoming stale.
Finally, taking inspiration for Bill Brandt, I will capture some images that are ambiguous as to who the subject is, focusing perhaps on legs and arms to create shapes and lines that remain sexual and enticing to the viewer. 'Belgravia, London' is one of the key sources of inspiration to the images I intend to take as I am so captivated by the shapes and shadows within it.