Category Archives: Reflections on assignment 1

Assignment 1 – Response to Tutorial

I had an interesting Skype tutorial with my tutor which was, on the whole, positive. He reminded me that, as the photographer, I should be in control, rather than my subjects being in control. A piece of advice I have tried to take on board, although, so far, with limited success. It is difficult to tell your daughter how to pose without being told that she will do it how she wants!

Assignment 1:

He suggested trying different edits of the images which I have done. I definitely prefer one of the edits he suggested – the deadpan look. This made me really think about the need to consider exactly what you are attempting to show rather than taking the simplest option. Assignment 1 – Rethink


He also gave me several fascinating photographers to research. Bettina von Zwehl, Joel Sternfeld and Paul Graham.

Chandler says ‘ our received understanding is that a portrait should be a kind of penetrating analysis, and , furthermore, that the most effective and enduring portraits are those that are the result of some connection, or even chemistry, having existed between the artist and the sitter’ (Chandler and Von Zwehl, 2014).

Von Zwehl, Sternfeld and Graham all use portraiture as a way of describing their world. Of showing what is important. However, they are very different. Von Zwehl uses minimalistic images, sometimes just a silhouette with little or no visible background. The images are often black and white, or, if colour, muted. Her recent work is small and relies on the series to tell the story, which is more about the feeling and emotion rather than the individual person. Chandler says ‘the profile is a form of distilled representation – the rendering of some emblematic essence of the person depicted …. both accurate and unsentimental’ (Chandler and Von Zwehl, 2014).

Sternfeld’s images in Stranger Passing are large scale. They tell a story about that person in that time and at that place (although it is an imagined story and someone else’s interpretation might be different). In this case Sternfeld took images of strangers who he met while travelling – they remain penetrating studies of the person – so this raises the question of how rapidly you can make a connection with someone to be able to take a valid portrait. This may well be a skill that can be acquired, but I suspect to acquire it one needs an interest in people that goes beyond the superficial who, what and where. Why – is probably the most important question of all.

Graham’s recent book Mother shows pictures of his own mother towards the end of her life. Like Von Zwehl in Made Up Love Song he is concentrating on one person (his mother) using images taken in the same place (her retirement home). However, unlike Von Zwehl he starts the series with a close relationship (child to parent) and the images are reflecting on how this relationship has altered with time. It is a very personal piece of work, haunting in nature as one is aware that these are likely to be some of the last images he will take of her.

In Sontag’s work Regarding the Pain of Others (Sontag, 2003) she makes several statements that are relevant in the context of portraiture –‘‌a portrait that declines to name its subject becomes complicit, if inadvertently, in the cult of celebrity that has fuelled an insatiable appetite for the opposite sort of photograph: to grant only the famous their names demotes the rest to representative instances of their occupations, their ethnicities, their plights’ and ‘Photographs objectify: they turn an event or a person into something that can be possessed. And photographs are a species of alchemy, for all that they are prized as a transparent account of reality.’ She also talks about memory and mourning and how photographs help with memory, how they can ‘haunt us’. She says ‘Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. So the belief that remembering is an ethical act is deep in our natures as humans’ – Sontag is discussing this in the context of images of war, terrorism and similar acts of violence but it also applies to memory of those near to us, friends, relatives, those we know.

Reference list

Chandler, D. and von Zwehl, B. (2014). Made up love song. London: V & A Publishing.

Sontag, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. New York: Picador.


Assignment 1 – Rethink

I had a very interesting discussion with my tutor about assignment 1. In which he said:

‘It’s clear that you have engaged with the assignment and produced an appropriate response to the brief. Photographing strangers can be a fairly daunting prospect so it’s great to see that you embraced the situation and assignment brief. Your idea to set up a table and photograph outside of your house is an interesting concept. It’s evident that you made your subjects feel comfortable resulting in their willingness to sit for you. As we discussed, it’s clear that you could have taken more control over the portrait sessions, remember that you are the creative, you are the author, the one with the vision. In future try and take more control over the situation, you are the director. Mostly it’s about confidence and the more you engage with portrait photography the more accomplished you will become – so make sure that you continue to pursue this genre.’

Further discussion was around the fact (that I was already aware of) that all the people were smiling. He suggested I went through the images again and tried for different edits:

  1. All the people with a deadpan face
  2. All the people looking in different directions.

We also discussed that I could have been more directive with where I wanted my subjects to stand – to avoid the problem with random variations of background.

Deadpan Edit:

Assignment 1 redo (5 of 5)
The Plumber
Assignment 1 redo (3 of 5)
The Lady (retired)
Assignment 1 redo (2 of 5)
The Businesssman
Assignment 1 redo (1 of 5)
The Postman
Assignment 1 redo (1 of 1)
The Teacher

Different Directions:

Assignment 1 redo (1 of 5)
The Court Usher
Assignment 1 redo (2 of 5)
The Businessman
Assignment 1 redo (5 of 5)
The Lady (retired)
Assignment 1 redo (3 of 5)
The Entrepreneur
Assignment 1 redo (4 of 5)
The Social Worker

Both sets have a very different feel, and also a different feel from the original edit. Overall, I think I prefer the ‘Deadpan’ set. I was fascinated to find how such a relatively small change in the edit could make such a difference to the project.

I further change I have experimented with is to make all the deadpan images black and white which I think suits the style and also takes the focus away from the clothes and the bright colouring onto the faces. It also deals with the background variation problem.

Assignment 1 redo (1 of 5)Assignment 1 redo (2 of 5)Assignment 1 redo (3 of 5)Assignment 1 redo (4 of 5)Assignment 1 redo (5 of 5)

Summery and Learning Points:

  • Make sure you are in control of the image
  • Decide in advance what ‘feel’ you want to the series
  • Be in control of the exact placement of the person you are photographing


Assignment 1 – Initial Thoughts

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

  • The portraits are well composed and central in the frame, with enough space around them to not look cramped
  • I considered cutting them to a square format, and bringing them much closer in to concentrate more on the faces – I am still not sure whether this would be a better option as it removes the distraction element of the background
  • There were alternative images for each person – some of them looking serious, some pulling silly faces or laughing but I deliberately chose a set where the expressions were similar to focus on the similarities of people rather than their mood at the time of taking the image.
  • I tried to put the people at their ease by chatting (and offering cake) – I feel this has come across in the portraits as they all seem relaxed, in spite of having a photograph taken by a stranger with minimal warning.

 Quality of outcome:

  • The images are of a reasonable quality, sharp and stand out from the background
    • It might have been better to take the people standing further away from the trees so that I could put the trees more out of focus, but the positioning was limited by the width of the pavement
      • I could have chosen a better photographic place to allow for the above point – but then I wouldn’t have been able to take the people on my street

 Demonstration of creativity:

  • I extended a previous piece of work The Square Mile as the basis of the assignment
  • The work was loosely based on Sander’s typology – with each person titled by their role rather than name, but the background does not give any additional information


  • The whole assignment was based on the work done in part 1 and as such I did not reference any additional research into portraiture
  • The work was based on the theory of typologies, although the group was chosen by place rather than role.
  • More explanation could be put into the written accompanying piece, but it might be repetitive
    • Could deal with this by linking better to earlier pieces of work in part 1.

Overall, I am happy with this piece of work – although I am still not very confident about taking pictures of strangers. It is definitely a skill that needs practice.