Wedding & Events
A selection of images that are manipulated to trigger thoughtful response to the themes of dissociation and loss, inspired by the likes of Beatriz Ruibal and Allegory & Elm Photography.
A visual diary documenting my own journey through the loss of loved ones amid a national lockdown.
A self-soothing gallery that realises emotional turmoil and the grieving process through use of interesting photographic and lighting techniques.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is an annual competition held by the National Portrait Gallery celebrating the latest in contemporary portrait photography. Submissions for 2021 are open to all level of photographer. Looking for the best in conceptual imagery, the judges of the competition look for a creative and skillful approach within each image selected for the exhibition.
The competition has very little guidelines meaning applicants can submit anything, from formal commissioned portraits to more intimate moments capturing friends and family.
For this years submission, the judges are looking for at least four 10x8 inch images at 300 DPI accompanied with relevant research, a developmental portfolio and reflection that includes the critical evaluation of the works by others. The images must show skill and understanding of the materials and processes used, all evaluated with intent and purpose.
As the stakeholder, the NPG will be looking for submissions that meet the high standards it upholds for its exhibitions. In order to meet these standards submissions will need to be captivating and reflective of personal or global affairs. As well as this, the work produced will need to be original and not imitate other artists work as this could be seen as discrediting the original artist, also by replicating previously done works the submission will lack interest as it has been seen before. Furthermore, the images need to resonate with the general public as they are the penultimate audience that would be viewing the works. Of course, the submission needs to impress the competition judges but the key to doing so would be to produce imagery that the general public could connect and identify with.
Fashion photographer Kiki Xue had two of his submissions exhibited in 2020's Portrait Prize, shown either side of the text. The context for his work reflected upon the global nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Xue made use of a friend's flower mask to create a detailed and vibrant façade (image to left). The point of his imagery was to convey the universal nature of the pandemic through the obscuring of the model's face. The alternative image to the right shows the model wearing refuse and contained within netting. Her face is solemn, juxtaposing the absurd nature of the piled rubbish on her head. This image aimed to allude to the disaster of uncontrolled consumerism and waste.
The work exhibited perfectly sums up Xue's photographic style; to convey appreciation of 'beautiful, imperfect objects and people'¹. Xue, at the time of submission, lived in Paris
working as a fashion photographer after studying in his native country, China. He is well established in his field having secured publications in Vogue Italy, China and United Arab Emirates, as well as Harper's Bazaar in China.
The portraits presented toy with classical portrait composition and a degree of surrealism, all the while making commentary on globally faced issues. By composing the image in such a traditional 'head-shot' style, Xue attracts the audiences eye as there is a notion that what will be presented is in many ways expected. Once viewing the image it becomes apparent that there is more to the piece than first meets the eye as the layers of Xue's work are revealed. Xue excels at meeting the requirements of the stakeholder and proves his awareness of the context of his work. Offering viewers with themes that are universally recognised, but doing so in a new and interesting way, pilots him into a secure position to be exhibited in the Portrait Prize showcase.
1- The National Portrait Gallery, '2020 from the series warnings', NPG
The History of Portraiture
Some of the earliest photographic portraits date back to the times of the Daguerreotype, in the 19th Century. Since then, technologies and conceptual developments have allowed varying approaches to be adopted for portrait use. Often times self-portraits are figureless, with no human subject, yet remain just as much a portrait as a posed, studio head-shot. Despite having decades of developments the core principles of portraiture remain the same, and make the history of portrait work interesting and relevant to the production of a well-founded submission.
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was the first to produce imagery that included people. Seen as partial silhouettes in a Parisian street, 'Boulevard du Temple, Paris' freezeframes a moment from time, sometime between April 24 and May 4 1838. The image shows cats, horses and people about the busy boulevard. The long exposure time presents them in a ghost-like fashion, blurring their movement within the stillness of the architecture around them. This was one of the images that Daguerre displayed to Samuel Morse, an inventor, and others in 1839. He also shared this image with the king of Bavaria who publicly exhibited it in Bayerisches National Museum, Munich the same year. The
detail of 'Boulevard du Temple, Paris' was unprecedented. From the timbers to the roof tiles, the image was marveled by Morse in a letter stating, 'the exquisite minuteness of the delineation cannot be conceived.'
In a discussion prior to a joint meeting of the Academie des Beaux-Arts and the Academie des Sciences, Francis Arago revealed the details of the daguerreotype on behalf of Daguerre. He outlined the scope of usage for the new medium, and also voiced his regret that they 'could never be used to make portraits' due to the long exposure times (taken from Comptes rendus des seances de l'Academie des sciences, Volume 9, No. 8, August 19 1839). Within months amateur photographers began to disprove this statement. The likes of French publishers, Lerebours, and Dr John William Draper, from America, produced early Daguerreotype portraits that involved subjects sitting completely motionless, without blinking, for prolonged periods. Eventually the need to make photographic portraiture more practical forced Daguerre's expertise to become limited, ultimately leading to other practitioners becoming more and more involved in the creation of pragmatic portraiture.
A crucial element to be developed was that of advanced sensitivity. John Frederick Goddard published about his breakthrough process of sensitising the daguerreotype plate with the addition of bromine in December 1840. This process allowed for faster exposure times.
As time passed, photographic studios began to become a more and more common sight on the everyday high street. After not being well received in the first instance, photographers sought to capture portraits of the famous and influential including Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln. Seeing these famous figures in photo form dissuaded the public of their fears causing the profitability of owning a studio to soar with a growing number of people requiring portraits.
To begin with portrait application was limited to three main areas: preserving history, recording criminals, and preserving the dead. As well as offering scope to capture famous faces, or those of loved ones, portrait photography offered a way to preserve history exactly as it was found. Unlike painting where this could be omitted or added in, photography provided an honest tableaux for historical reference. Criminals have been photographed from as early as 1843 in Belgium prisons as a crime fighting tool. Almost four decades later, in 1979, Alphonse Bertillon began working with the police in Paris. He found that the the records there were chaotic and vague, allowing repeat offenders to cheat the system. Four years later, in 1883, the Bertillon system had been perfected. The system uniformly organised the information of those arrested and captured the criminals in a consistent way. Down the line this system led to the attention being drawn to 50 repeat offenders from over 7000 arrests, as well as the identification of a badly decomposed body in a high profile case. In addition to the commemoration of life, portraits were taken of the dead. Due to the high mortality rate during the Victorian period, especially in children, people yearned for a way to remember their loved ones before they were buried. Portraits of the dead became known as memento mori photography. Memento Mori meaning 'remember, you must die'.
Eventually photography became more mainstream and, with the introduction of Kodak cameras, an art form suited to hobbyists and professionals alike. With this, the scope for portrait photography broadened and what people began to class as a portrait became more subjective to each person's own idea of what is a portrait.
Modern Day Portraiture
For the most part of history, portraits were made to be a true likeness of someone with realism being a key part of its curation. Looking to the painted portraits of the 17th century and onwards saw truthful depictions of royalty and influential figures. As time progressed, and after various socio-political movements, portrait art saw its creators becoming looser in style and, to some degree, abstract.
The human figure and portrait have been artistically captured for centuries and arguably contain some of the greatest works ever produced in the art world. From classicism of the Renaissance period, to the abstraction of works such as ‘Cosmic Surgery’ by Alma Huser. The different styles of these art movements show the diversity of not only medium, but also technique and interpretation. Capturing the face and figure is one of the most commonly produced forms of art, even more so since the introduction of camera phones.
By taking a look at modern portraits, it is clear that the focus of the imagery is more often than not towards conceptual art rather than a plain and simple likening of a person. Historical portraits, though they have always had a story behind their creation, are very straight forward and reflect their subjects in a flattering way. There is a need to stand out now more than ever, as our daily life is saturated with varying degrees of portraiture. From selfie's to professional portrait work, our social medias in particular are densely populated with people's faces.
Many modern photographers draw from real-life experiences to devise portraits that act as conceptual art and preservation of face and identity. A prime example of a portrait acting as preservation of identity would be that of Annie Leibovitz's image of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, December 8 1980.
There are many factors that make this image interesting to view including the contrast between the pair and their peculiar positioning. The initial level of intrigue comes from the presence of celebrity, John Lennon. The celebrity portrait holds the tantalising element of whether the viewer may be offered so much as a notion to the real life person behind the facade of fame; a powerful promise to intrigue. Here, Leibovitz's work amplifies the promise as this was the last time Lennon was ever photographed, later that day being shot and killed. Acting as preservation to Lennon's being, Ono has later expressed her bewilderment to his untimely death after this photoshoot: 'Why wasn't I told that John would be taken away? That's what I think when I see it.'¹
On a whole the image is very telling of the playful mood of that morning, with the couple pictured in such a way that creates interest. Firstly, the stark contrast between Ono's clothed body to Lennon's nakedness makes him seem emotionally exposed to her, as well as physically, something to be expected of a man in love. However, despite their intense love story, Ono and Lennon's union was plagued with controversy. They did not have a perfect marriage, starting out as an affair and Lennon's unfaithful tendencies, Ono's detached appearance in this image speaks volumes as she does not reciprocate the 'baring all' style of Lennon. Alternatively, Ono being clothed also symbolises the relationship being grounded and a very real, deep and enduring bond that continued even after his tragic death. Lennon's positioning, framing his lover's face with his arms and curled about her body, solidifies their commitment to each other as he draws the viewer's eye to Ono, captured along the center of the frame.
At the time, Lennon embraced how this image perfectly captured the relationship between the pair² whilst preserving himself in the playful state of the morning it was captured. The ultimate tribute to both Lennon and Leibovitz's work came on January 22nd 1981 when the image graced the front cover of the Rolling Stone magazine's memorial issue to Lennon. The image was a powerful statement to the public that, despite their struggles through love, Ono and Lennon were very much invested in one another. The image is showered in blatant signs of affection from Lennon kissing Ono's cheek to his gripping of her hair as though he refuses to let her slip away; almost ironic considering the event that followed that very day.
1 and 2- Taken from Rolling Stone: 1000 Covers: A History of the Most Influential Magazine in Pop Culture by Jan S. Wenner, Abrams, 2006
3- Rachel Somerstein 2008, 'Annie Leibovitz: Life through a Lens', American Masters
The 'living legend'³ that is Annie Leibovitz is best known for her engaging portraits which often feature her subjects in intimate settings and poses, as shown in her polaroid of Lennon and Ono. Born in 1949, the American photographer began her artistic studies with the intention of becoming an art teacher, never anticipating that she would one day be the first female artist to be exhibited at Washington's National Portrait Gallery in 1991. She has cited her influences to be both Richard Avedon and Henri-Cartier Bresson. Leibovitz has had a colourful photographic career having worked for iconic publications including Vogue, as well as producing widely recognised portraits of many celebrities.
Whilst working on assignment for Rolling Stone Magazine alongside Hunter S. Thompson, a legendary journalist, Leibovitz captured the moment when Richard Nixon left the White House for the last time after resigning as president. The image uses a large depth of field to capture three knelt guards in the foreground rolling up the carpet, whilst Nixon's helicopter hovers behind them. The
4- The Art Story 2021, 'Annie Leibovitz Artworks', The Art Story
intention was to have her images published alongside Thompson's written piece but, when he failed to submit work, the editor published Leibovitz's images alone. Her expressive imagery captured a remarkable and highly documented event in American history in a unique way compared to her peers.
Through capturing this type of photo, it became apparent that Leibovitz had 'an uncanny ability to instill seemingly mundane moments with subtle meaning.'⁴ She has since credited this to her ability to capture the moments surround the moment. In this image, the moment was Nixon resigning, as such the moment surrounding that would include the helicopter taking him away. Adding to this precision tableaux, the Washington monument is visible in the background and the three guards are packing away the remains of the ceremony. It is all very theatrical, yet mundane: ultimately describing Leibovitz's style and setting her apart from the others.
In more recent work, Leibovitz's 'Untitled' made the Vanity Fair's Hollywood cover in March 2017, unsurprising after photographing for the March issue since 1995 when the tradition of celebrating impactful film stars from the previous year became tradition. 'Untitled' features 11 stars posed in colour coordinated designer gowns against a movie studio lot backdrop. Leibovitz creates a multi-level composition made up of dynamic symmetry with no single focal point by having some of the stars stood, whilst others sit or recline. Each woman looks into the camera void of passion, without interaction between one another. The lavish fashion is juxtaposed by the overall dullness of the actresses, reinforcing the idea of an actresses effortless beauty.
The Hollywood covers of Vanity Fair act as a time capsule of each year's academy award winners, emerging celebrities and the season's fashion and, despite the group changing annually, Leibovitz's compositions remaining strikingly similar. Almost acting as a commentary on celebrity culture, the cover images speak a glamorous and elegant prose whilst maintaining the interchangeability and ephemeral nature of the film industry.
Leibovitz's celebrity group portraits have helped to make her as famous as her subjects, and her distinctive
compositions of such immediately recognisable. The main success of her work resides within her ability to create visual interest through the placement of subjects, lighting and props; made to seem effortless despite thorough planning and practice.
Self portraiture became popular during the Renaissance after the rise of individualism and the 'heroic' status given to artists at that time. Since then, some of the most iconic artworks, including the works of Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, have been self portraits.
It was not long after the birth of photography that the first self portrait of Robert Cornelius came about in 1839. And, as much of a hallmark that self portraiture had been for painters throughout art history, photographers have continued the tradition. As established with portraits of other people, the human face and body has incredible storytelling capabilities, it only makes sense that many photographers take advantage of what is closest.
Self portraiture as a genre has been used as a formal means of artistic experimentation, alongside psychological investigation. In recent years, a new kind of self portrait has emerged: the selfie. In the age of the selfie, it's debated whether to consider a self portrait and a selfie as one and the same thing. Self portraits are often composed with care, where the photographer can push their artistic expression and is more closely linked with fine art compared to the snapshot nature of selfies. Regardless, the vast accessibility to a camera has seen an increase in the amount of self portraits being produced.
Self-portraiture can sometimes be a stark contrast to traditional portraiture. Often self-portraits oscillate between two standpoints: the idea of presenting viewers with an image of the authentic and unified self, or that of multiple, shifting selves that is more fictionalised. Often in self-portraits, we are presented with struggles and sacrifices that the subject is facing and provided with a sense of walking in the subjects' shoes. Typically, more personal than a traditional portrait, self-portraits can hold greater meaning behind their own intimacy. For many famous self portrait photographers, their body is a canvas on which they can layer ideas and delve into their inner psyche. For others, it's a social commentary with their work picking apart familiar roles and identities. It is often
expressed how this genre of photography can also be cathartic and offer a visual expression of inner emotion, acting as a photographic diary.
Alike to the selfie debate, there are little defining rules to self portraiture. While one photographer would argue it is a depiction of oneself, another may say it is imagery that shows oneself. The difference between the depiction and showing of oneself is key.
The images on the right are both self portraits by Marc Klaus, a Youtuber with over 90,000 subscribers that uploads portrait photography based videos. The far right image shows Klaus in a literal sense with himself being visible in the frame aside some pomegranate, compared to the other image which relies upon everything except Klaus to depict his being. The bowl of oranges placed upon a plainly set table with a single chair in a window lit space provides a strong sense of Klaus' self, suggesting he is alone or perhaps introverted. These assumptions could be made from either image, as he doesn't make eye contact with the camera in the second image, but
the artistic style of the images are very different. Klaus describes himself as 'a full-time portrait/lifestyle/fashion photographer as well as a full-time Youtuber/Content Creator'⁵ and shares his work across mainly two platforms, Youtube and Instagram. Klaus produces video content that covers self portraits as well as photographing models for portrait and fashion purposes, though his content has been heavily focused upon self portrait photography since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. In his videos, Klaus uses his own 'life experiences to tell a story'⁶, often resulting in the theme of that particular video and photoshoot. Much of his work is reflective of his personal experiences, whilst some series of work comments upon greater causes, such as 'Plant Pressure' a conceptual portrait shoot with South African model Sean Barrow. In most of the videos produced Klaus offers both literal self portraits as well as the more interpretive ones, though he seems to lean more towards traditional self portraits as they dominate his social media accounts.
5 and 6- Marc Klaus, April 2018, 'Meet Marc Klaus of Marc Klaus Photography', Boston Voyager
Grief and Loss
Grief is infinite. Grief cannot be confined to a simple set of stages or rules. Grief is everywhere and looks different for every person. Grief is shapeless, heartless, hopeful, changing, and healing all at once, but never at the same time.
- Andrew May 2018, 'The Shape of Grief', Allegory and Elm Photography
Grief is the typical response to loss to someone or something to which a bond was formed. Although it is conventionally considered to be an emotional response, grief takes on physical, mental and behavioural dimensions. Grief is a familiar feeling to most people despite grief presenting itself differently for everyone. The reactions to grief can take many different forms but some responses are more common than others; crying is considered the 'normal' reaction.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the theory of 'the five stages of grief', formally known as the Kübler-Ross model, in her 1969 book, 'On Death and Dying'. Her studies applied earlier work from other theorists and actually applied to people who were dying, not the bereaved. She involved terminally ill volunteers to conduct her studies into the theory. The five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The theory states that the stages are part of the framework that helps people come to terms with their loss. More than 50 years later, people still refer to these stages when dealing with grief and apply it to an array of circumstances rather than the terminally ill alone.
Andrew May, from American based Allegory and Elm Photography, created a series of images around his 'story of grief' after a decline in his mother's health. She had brain cancer and, with time, was deteriorating. May was no stranger to the grieving process; he has grieved the initial diagnosis of his mother in 2013 and had gotten used to her living with him in her decaying state. In April
2018 her health had declined so much so that she had to be moved into hospice care; this restarted May's grief. May set about the idea of creating a series of images that shared the message of grief with the world to help with his healing, he writes that he 'found out along the was how important this message was for many others who have dealt with their own grief.'⁷ The importance of addressing grief as a very real and necessary state was more important upon realising how common it was.
The personal series took form with Jessica, a model who happened to have her own grief story not too dissimilar to May's having lost her mother to cancer 7 years previous to the shoot. On his blog May says, '(I) felt that this project would be a perfect fit for her. I didn't realise how lucky we both were to have found each other.'⁸ In the podcast he reveals how his grief made him feel alone as though he was 'on an island' but the shared experience with Jessica aided in his healing because he had someone to share it with.
May's imagery is poignant and hard hitting. Each image seems to be accurate to the grieving experience despite being formed in such a way to depict his and Jessica's own
Andrew May and his wife, Katie, on 'The Shape of Grief' Podcast:
7 and 8- Andrew May 2018, 'The Shape of Grief', Allegory and Elm Photography
emotional turmoil. The precision within each frame is clear, there is a specific intent behind each shot and, as a viewer, you can see May's mindset shift to a more healed, grounded place as the series progresses showing how his work provided him with some form of catharsis after purging the negativity of grief.
Grief is an ocean. It comes in waves, and it tosses you around from stage to stage without any regard of what you want. What are the 5 stages of grief? Anger, Depression/Sadness, Denial, Bargaining, and Acceptance. I would argue that there are more than 5 Stages; Guilt, Envy, and Healing come to mind as stages that are not in the Fab Five.
- Andrew May 2018, 'The Shape of Grief', Allegory and Elm Photography
The blog posted on the Allegory and Elm Photography website is made up of poetic prose that describes grief and it's stages whilst adding in May's personal findings from the experience. The blog is organised in such a way that each stage of his grief is addressed in turn, presented alongside images that he feels relevant to that emotion. In the podcast he talks about how Jessica, when sharing
her own version of the blog, used differing images for the stages and emotions. May's work in this series has so much meaning and multiple interpretations, highlighted by Jessica's alternative choice in images.
The images to the left show how May has incorporated simplistic compositional styles to create balanced imagery. Creating work that is visually balanced would be crucial for the concept otherwise he would run the risk of them looking overwhelming and unbearable to look at. Instead, by using rule of thirds, May has formed images that are aesthetically pleasing whilst maintaining the overwhelming nature of grief. Across the two images he uses rule of thirds in differing ways. In the furthest left image, with Jessica striking the tree with an ax, he makes use of the horizontal thirds in the frame. The tree trunk with the ax (the action) is in the bottom third, balanced by the strong emotion on the model's face in the top third. As well as this, the model and the ax are positioned vertically central within the frame which also aids in creating compositional balance. As for the other image with Jessica on the car roof, May uses the connecting points of thirds to direct the eye. Jessica is positioned around the top, right point whilst the smashed car window mainly focuses around the bottom, left. Having the two main elements of the photo positioned
diagonally to each other balances the image. Also, by using diagonals in this way, May creates a sense of conflict between the model and the result of what she has done which is further amplified by her body language and expression.
For most of his imagery, May utilises rule of thirds and filling the frame to create simplistic yet powerful compositions that are well arranged and poised. Making the composition as such offers contrast to the theme of the series further enhancing the idea of the struggle through grief.
My Personal Experience
My own experience of grief was very limited upon receiving this brief, I had never lost someone or something close to me but had been there to hold many a friend's hand through their own experiences of such. In December this all changed. After a year long battle with ill health, my father passed away.
Of course he was immediately missed and there was an unspoken sense that Christmas wouldn't be the same, but his death was as expected as it could be and we were prepared for the most part. I did not grieve for him, I got on with life and felt indifferent. I surrounded myself virtually with friends who were all the best support and would have done anything they could for me given the Covid restrictions at the time.
A few days after my father's passing one of my friends killed herself. The day it happened I had missed a few of her calls but had thought nothing of it. It is in that moment that grief strikes. I do not agree that grief follows the five stages outlined by the Kübler-Ross model. Immediately I feel that I am spreading death, that I alone have caused this, as though death was a cold and I had handed her a snotty cloth. Grief was all consuming yet presented me with nothing. I felt simply nothing. No crying, no shouting. Nothing.
I wanted to produce portraits of others for submission to the competition but the numbness that swallowed me meant I couldn't empathise with their stories, in fact I wasn't even listening. I couldn't focus on someone else's struggles or successes when I had no ability to feel anything about them.
I found myself consumed with the idea that I wasn't working my way through the grieving process but unable to explain that to someone.
Andrew May's podcast with his wife opened my eyes and offered comfort in knowing that all my feelings, or lack thereof, were okay and I did not need to justify myself. In fact, they made grief sound artistic despite all its negativity.
Sadness and depression leave you holding the broken pieces of your soul, uncertain about what to do next. Things may look fine on the outside to everyone else, but there is so much junk surrounding you, so much junk within you. You stare at the shadow of the person you were before tragedy struck, unable to recognize that person. That person was carefree and happy. Who is this stranger I am stuck with now?
- Andrew May 2018, 'The Shape of Grief', Allegory and Elm Photography
I selected the image (above, right) as it stood out to me as what I thought grief would look like. I presumed everyone grieving would break down and be visually distressed but, for me, that's not the case. May doesn't offer imagery that shows that. Of course, his work is a reflection of his experience and it was not the same as mine. His concept of letting the world see his feelings was powerful and, in many ways, therapeutic.
As briefly mentioned previously, photography has cathartic properties alike to many other creative arts. To some degree photography holds a healing power and can help people better express, understand and overcome their emotions or struggles.
Art Therapy is an established form of psychotherapy that relies upon professional therapeutic practice alongside creative expression through visual arts. Also projects such as The One Project offer safe and supportive communities to delve into a more personal, non-professional version of the practice.
Therapeutic photography involves taking, analysing and using photos for the purpose of personal healing, growth and understanding. The practice can be completed both consciously or subconsciously. It is believed that by actively constructing, exploring and reflecting upon your own photographs that you are able to learn more about yourself and how you perceive the world.
Most commonly, members of The One Project use the practice to share and understand stories of depression, anxiety and other mental health related topics. Andrew May's 'The Shape of Grief' is a
version of therapeutic photography as he used the medium to explore himself through a trialing time in his life.
'In 2018, researchers from Lancaster University found that taking a daily photo improved well being through self care, community interaction and the potential for reminiscence'⁹.
Bryce Evans, from the 'How Photography Saved My Life' 2015 TED talk, was struggling with his mental health and the stigma of such as a man. Through photography he managed to reconnect with his 'authentic self' and grew a global community, The One Project.
Evans talks through his childhood self, and how his curiosity fed a 'desire to understand a world that didn't make sense' to him. He proceeds to divulge how the questions of 'Why?' became both a 'blessing' and a 'curse' as they developed into thoughts of 'why am I here' and curiosities as to his differences from his peers.
After continually returning to the thought of suicide, Evans struggled to verbalise the
9- The One Project, 'Therapeutic Photography', The One Project
problems he was experiencing. In his talk he ponders 'why are we so focused on the verbal conversation', going on to explain the masses of imagery shared across social platforms and how that is 'a massive opportunity to change how we see and talk about mental health.' He explains how the stigma and difficulty in talking through the issues being faced would be erased if all people had to do was pick up a camera and take a photo, offering an inclusive form of therapy that did not present its patrons with the fear of judgement.
When talking about how photography helped him, Evans says 'it opened my perspective from the narrow view that I was stuck in, allowed me to open my mind and focus externally rather than getting caught up in the thoughts always racing through me head' and expands on how he was able to 'finally see beauty in the world'. The ability to control how the world was framed through his camera allowed him to 'get my voice back' as well as develop a skill that he felt good at.
The audience is shown one of Evans' images as he says 'this photograph saved my life' proceeding to discuss how he was able to start understanding and talking about his depression. He goes on to explain how he subconsciously offered a visual interpretation as to his own feelings of isolation, choosing to frame that particular image with all other bystanders out of the frame almost projecting himself as the solitary man captured.
The One Project offers a free to join community with creative projects and prompts for its members to work towards. Some of the most recent projects have included: 'Anxious due to the pandemic' (left), 'This is my warrior mask' about psychosis (middle) and 'Depression and anxiety can feel like this' (right).
The majority of work on the platform is portrait style, with some members offering self portraits whilst others showcase obscure abstractions of the body like Blue Orian's 'Depression and anxiety can feel like this'. Having a community of photographers presenting their personal experiences in such a way creates a catalog of visual mental health conversations. Evans has offered the public a means of expression through completing his own therapeutic process.
Surrealism was a cultural movement founded in 1924 in Paris, France by the poet André Breton and saw the continuation of Dadaism's exploration of the irrational and all things disruptive in art. It looked more towards spirituality and the 'automatic' with the aim to create art that came directly from the subconscious. Producing work in such a way meant the outcome would not be shaped or altered by reason or aesthetic preference.
The movement is best know for its visual artworks, and the juxtaposition between reality and the unconscious mind.
To surrealist artists to subconscious held repressed artistic creativity and, heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, came to see reason as a hindrance to accessing that. With time various techniques were developed to access that artistic reserve, things such as automatic writing prevailed for evading conscious control. Works of surrealism feature a distinct element of surprise and the unexpected.
Ultimately, surrealists embraced chance and randomness.
Photography's connection with surrealism began with its ability to represent the real world in strange and abstract ways. Pioneering surrealist photographer Man Ray used techniques such as double exposure, solarisation and reversed tonality to disturb viewer's recognition of things, as well as suggest the overlapping nature of dream and reality.
Man Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky, adopted his pseudonym in 1909 and became one of the key figures in the Dada and Surrealist movements. As one of the few Americans associated with these movements, Ray was exposed to the avant garde works of European artists like Picasso and Braque. His photographic works are considered his most profound achievement, his portraits in particular, along with his technical experiments with solarisation and photograms.
Ray's name is often associated with moody and seductive black and white photographs from the mid-war era. 'Le Violon d'Ingres' from 1924 (right), famously features a woman's bare back with two f-holes from a violin. The image connects femininity to the classicism and beauty of music, suggesting women are melodic and elegant.
Photographers continue to work with a surrealist aesthetic. The likes of Edmund Kesting depict bodies and space in such a way that they seem strange and haunting, with ordinary objects made to seem sinister and extraordinary. Whilst other photographers, like Mari Mahr, instill a dreamlike narrative to their work; producing work that seems to be composed of real and imaginary memories.
Fran Carneros, a student of the fine arts, uses surrealist photography to 'express my absurd ideas'¹⁰. He uses digital photographic manipulation to create layers in his work to produce outcomes that develop through a technique alike to collage. Carneros was struck by publicity imagery and how surrealism was used to invoke specific responses and communication, similarly he wished to express his own ideas in his work. 'What I really want is that my images would speak about my style in general. With each of my photographs I intend to express absurd ideas and thoughts, but at the same time have the ability to make the audience think.'¹¹
Carneros' work (below) creates an uneasy mood and seems to comment upon societal pressures with a constant idea of the missing part or purging oneself. Working in a portrait style, alike to many modern day surrealists, Carneros manages to form imagery that seems personal and storytelling. All three images leave the viewer with questions and, subsequently, wanting more towards the narrative.
The image with the showerhead (middle) is the most uncomfortable to view. The image seems to show the
model in a state where he showers in his own purging, a concept that is both sinister and artistically sophisticated.
10 and 11- Fran Carneros 2016, 'I Use Surreal Photography To Express My Absurd Ideas', Bored Panda
The Initial Outline
Having considered the requirements for the Portrait Prize, I will be focused on producing four images for submission. Despite having the option to produce more than this number, I've concluded that putting my efforts into forming four well-crafted portraits will lead to an increased likelihood of my work being of a standard worthy of exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery. The images I produce will not represent a series of work but rather four
stand-alone pieces of art that happen to support similar themes. Usually, I prefer to work in series of imagery however, as the ultimate goal is to be part of the exhibition, my chances are increased of having an image picked out by the judges should I submit four separate pieces over one collective piece.
I am looking to convey my personal tribulations with grief whilst offering touches towards topics including the stigma of mental health as discussed by Bryce Evans in his 'How Photography Saved My Life' TED talk. In doing so, I will create a self-soothing visual diary of my journey to my authentic self alike to Bryce Evans from The One Project. I will experiment with presenting the stages of grief as they are traditionally seen, as outlined in the Kübler-Ross model, though I will remain open to the possibility of deviating from such if I feel that my grieving process does not fit the staged structure that Kübler-Ross pioneered. Using my own experiences will allow me to produce imagery that is rich in its sense of identity. I must ensure, however, that my work is still well received by the audience. By working on a somewhat therapeutic journey I run the risk of my work lacking relatability to the competition judges and the patrons of the NPG. To avoid this I will regularly present my work to a changing audience to whom I will explore their interpretations of the imagery I will have produced; this will ensure I am on track and achieving what I initially set out to.
Due to the current government guidelines formed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I will be completing my submission as self portraits. Under ordinary circumstances I would have liked to use a range of models for my work to establish that grief has not one single form and allow more time to be dedicated to capturing images as I have found setting up for self portraits to be more time consuming. Unfortunately, this is not possible.
The benefit to working in the style of self portraiture is that I am readily available and at my own disposal for test shoots and such. Having looked into a womans place in society I feel by being female my work will be unfairly deemed overemotional as this is a common stereotype of women. I would have preferred to work with a male model for this reason, also this would have communicated a greater message in terms of the stigma of mental health.
The photoshoots that I conduct will be mostly held around my own home to ensure I am working in a Covid-19 compliant way. It is possible for me to use outdoor public spaces to shoot in also, though I am unlikely to do so as I am keen to incorporate dynamic lighting which could prove difficult outdoors as my current lighting kit does not have that capacity.
I intend to work in colour as the vast majority of previous submissions to the competition have been in colour format. Additionally, the use of colour allows me to experiment with gels whilst operating flash lighting, something that is crucial to one of my image concepts.
I have a strong sense of what imagery I would like to produce for the submission. I would like to work with studio style lighting, operating a combination of flash and continuous lighting types. I am eager to establish the effects of split colour lighting and how that works with the story of the images I am looking to produce.
I would like to produce images that each have a unique look, almost looking as though produced by different photographers. It will be a great task capturing four individually styled images that correlate in terms of theme but I am confident in my ability of doing so. By offering alternative definitions of what forms a portrait I will be able to achieve this. I will look at creating both literal and figurative self portraits that present both my actual self as well as an indication to myself.
I will be using Marc Klaus' work as inspiration, not particularly his style but more so his ability to produce self-reflective imagery that remains relevant to his wider Youtube and Instagram audience. His ability to soothe his inner conflicts whilst producing art is compelling, I hope to be able to embody that with my own work.