Identity and Place is aimed at making you think; about who a person is, what they are, where they are, and how these three things link together. Then how it can be shown by photography. The images might stand alone or be associated with words (yours or that of others) or recordings. When I started IAP I was extremely apprehensive about taking images of people as I had never taken many portrait images in the past. This was despite my eventual goal to to take images of people with autism and tell their story.
I have thought about this at some length, below is a description of the work and some of my thoughts, with the main learning points bulleted and illustrated.
The first part involved taking pictures of people who were unaware of you and also of of aware strangers. I experimented with taking pictures of ‘the unaware’ by going to the Edinburgh Festival and walking the streets. Most people were so involved with what they were doing that they simply did not notice me. Although the exercise was successful, I do have ongoing concerns about the ethics as in that situation it was impossible to gain model releases. I went on to approach strangers in my street and asked them to allow me to take images.
- I need to take more control of a photo shoot without losing spontaneity.
- Think about ethics – how much is the story worth; how can you get model releases.
For part two I worked with two sets of people with autism. In the first set I tried to take more control of the people I was photographing – but this had the downside of leading to some stiff and unnatural images. The other session where I simply chatted and took images when they, and I , were relaxed was much more successful.
- Engagement with people makes for a better image, allowing me to come up with images that are more personal and tell more about them.
In part three I looked at narrative, telling stories of people and groups. I joined a group of people at a club over 3 months, the individual images were successful and the people at the club loved them – but the final story did not hang together well. I also spent some time with friends who run a guest house and who are immensely proud of their garden. This went together much better and I produced a newspaper for them.
- Think about narrative, and plan what images you need – in a long-term project you have time.
- Think about alternative ways of showing things, a single print, a book, a newspaper.
By parts 4 and 5 lockdown was in full swing so I started to work with archives. My mother had recently died, and I had a huge number of her images, keepsakes and writing to look at, all unsorted. I experimented with using images of her put into small, still life set-ups to tell her story. For this I had to work on how to re-photograph old images, removing them from glassed frames and picking items that complemented the images. I also started experimenting with video, using some of her recorded words and initially putting them with my own images to express both what she was saying and my emotional response to those words and then combining her archival images and keepsakes with her words.
- Video work is a completely different skill set from photography and takes a long time.
- Working with archives is fascinating but can take an emotional toll.
Initial video – using my images to show the emotions i felt ta hearing her words
Overall, this was a fascinating course.
- I did a massive amount of research into other photographers, old and new, well known and less so. I love research into how other people tell stories – but am easily led down ‘rabbit holes’ and can spend too much time on this. I need to learn to use the research to better inform my own photography.
- I discovered that taking pictures of people is not as frightening as I thought it would be but relaxing and putting them at ease is crucial. My directorial skill needs improvement.
I found two quotes to take forward – ‘You’ve got to take responsibility for yourself, the way you see yourself, and the way you see the world. That’s a tantilizing and scary thing, but that’s what identifies people as artists’(Heiferman and Perez, 2020) and ‘The archive is one of the spaces…. where the living go to encounter the dead’ (Laing, 2020). This is what I need to remember.
Heiferman, M. and Perez, E. (2020) ‘The Original Ballad’ In: aperture 239 p.56.
Laing, O. (2020) ‘A Fold in Time’ In: aperture 239 p.95