Reflections on Tutor Feedback for Assignment 2

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits.

This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio).

You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think of how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.

I initially looked at three possibilities:

  • Taking pictures outside in a ‘made-up’ studio of an autistic teenager I know
  • Taking pictures indoors with flash of an autistic couple and their baby
  • Taking a set of pictures of a friend in his garden (I eventually used these for one of the exercises)

The work with the autistic teenager was fraught with difficulties. The weather did not oblige (well, this is Scotland), he was ill, then his mother was. I eventually only managed to get one photo session with him. In that session I attempted to direct him, and the other people involved, getting them to stand and sit in the positions I wanted. This was only partially successful as Sam, while trying to be helpful, did not really understand what I wanted. This made for a slightly uncomfortable session even though Sam that Sam knows me well and usually enjoys being photographed.

In the session with the family I tried a totally different approach. I explained what I was doing then we simply had a conversation about their lives while I intermittently took photographs of them sitting and relaxing or playing with and feeding their baby. This gave a much more relaxed feel to the whole event.

In spite of this, because it seemed to fit better with the brief, I submitted the work with Sam for assignment 2.

See Assignment 2 – Vice versa for the initial assignment trial.

I had a formal and helpful review from my tutor, His comments are in blue, my initial response in black

  • From a photographic perspective it’s obvious, and as stated by yourself, that you encountered problems directing Sam. We discussed the notion of authorship and directing subjects as part of the previous assignment. Regarding your visual strategy, working outside with ambient light and a backdrop is appropriate, it’s clear that you have considered an external studio set-up. The backdrop and obviously Sam suggest a series but I feel that your differing camera angles breaks up the coherency. It’s quite difficult to offer a critique here upon your relationship as photographer and taking control. Clearly Sam hasn’t the cognitive skills to recognize and take direction. This is demonstrated within your images and it’s hard to be critical of your input. However, (taking sentiment out) I do feel that better planning and a more considered use of the set-up would have resulted in a more consistent series of images. I think that this also applies to your inclusion of Sam’s friends. I actually think that there is something interesting behind the dynamics of their relationship and how this could develop as a series of portraits. Maybe this is something that you could have considered further, almost like a collaborative project. I feel at the moment the images are too passive and lack a connection between you, the subjects and the viewer
    • I totally agree with this. I ended up taking the images in a rush, partly because of the endless delays on the shoot due to illness and weather, partly because Sam was clearly getting bored. I had planned on trying to redo them, but again this was delayed and then became impossible
  • I know it isn’t your assignment submission but I feel that the project you also worked upon with the autistic couple and baby is really interesting and shows great potential. I’m not sure how much you have shot (70?) and you decided against inclusion as assignment due to the studio brief but personally I find these images (potentially as I can only see 12) stronger and more engaging. They feel like they are born out of a more collaborative process and less intrusive, there is empathy but also distance and rawness to the images
    • I also felt that these images were stronger, I had a good, but not too close, relationship with the family. I didn’t use them initially in the assignment as I was trying to keep to the ‘studio’ part of the brief. I will have another look at them and work them up as a set.

Since my initial response I have spent some time thinking about the assignment and reflecting on it. I have become aware that I got stuck on one idea that seemed to fulfil the brief, while being more creative (and patient/relaxed) while taking the images of Sam and his family and friends would have given a much more engaged series.  Sam is usually easy to work with, I suspect my nerves (because I was aware that I was running out of time) rubbed off on him and made him both pull silly faces and lose his normal air of engagement. This work is something I want to try again, and I think it would be helpful to do over several sessions without the implied pressure of it ‘being for an assignment’.  I want to work long term with taking images of people with autism, so this is a skill I need to improve.

Following this I went back to the images of the family and their baby and reanalysed them. They were (as he suggested) a much ‘better’ set of images. They told a story. I had managed to get some very revealing pictures of their close relationship with the baby without being overly intrusive.  The research I had done about people with disabilities was relevant to both sets of images. This was much more the type of work I want to do, seeing people in their own environments, letting them tell their own story.

See  Assignment 2 – Anything You Can Do for the redone assignment

Learning points:

  • Do not get stuck with your first idea if it simply is not working
  • Be prepared to start again or completely change tack
  • Controlling the shoot and using a made-up studio might work in some situations – but this needs careful thinking about to get consistency of the images
  • If possible give yourself time for repeated shoots
  • If you are using a ‘studio’ set up, do not make it too complicated
    • In these images of Sam and friends the background overwhelmed the people
  • Try and be relaxed (then your subjects are more likely to relax themselves)

This was an extremely helpful feedback report and one I will try to carry forward as I felt I learnt considerably by redoing the assignment from a different angle.

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