Archive for the Assignment 1 Category

Assignment 1

Posted in Assignment 1 on March 28, 2010 by Judy Bach

Assignment 1 notes and photographs all printed and nearly ready to package and post to my tutor. Had a fit when I printed one of the photos , the colours were awful, nothing like what I saw on my screen!! Luckily  I was able to rectify and print another, much better, copy . I do sometimes wonder if it is worth all the hassle of doing my own printing , but I do enjoy it.  I use an Epson R2880 ,it can print up to A3 , but the largest I usually print is A4. 

I have decided to use my 84 year old mother as my subject for this assignment.

She has a very youthful outlook on life and certainly does not think she is old! I aim to try and show this aspect of her personality in my photographs, but am also aware that she has a certain frailty than cannot be denied. This assignment is therefore not only a celebration of my mother’s long life, but an exploration of the pathos that is associated with getting old. A difficulty in using such a closely related subject is how objectively I can portray her, do I want to be dispassionate?

I am not aiming to  produce just a flattering depiction of her, if my images do compliment her that is great, but that is not my aim. I want a truthful representation, warts and all. She was a stunning woman in her youth, and there is an aura of sadness I feel in a portrait of an older lady who was once beautiful. That  beauty is still obvious but it has faded due to time, youth is worshipped in today’s society, but age can show grace and dignity, I hope I can depict this.  An obvious drawback in using her as a model is her lack of agility. She is fiercely independent but moves slowly and painfully due to arthritis , any active portrait of her will have to be of the sedentary kind! Having set my agenda for the assignment I feel I cannot help but be emotionally involved.

Trying to achieve an individual style is difficult, I know that I prefer close up portraits with a shallow depth of field but need to expand beyond this and explore other possibilities so that I can create a complete representation of my mother . Looking at how other photographers tackle portraiture helps me to see how they  create their unique and recognisable styles. Two photographers in particular have influenced me for this set , Jane Bown and Nan Goldin . As discussed in Exercise 1 each has a different style, one works exclusively in colour the other in black and white.  I have decided to use colour for this assignment and have chosen the colours carefully for each portrait to try and enhance and convey the mood of the image. I have used both available light and flash for my portraits, and hope like “Nan Goldin………..that it is not impossible to maintain a keen critical distance while photographing the most intimate situations” pg 180 Roswell Angier, Train your gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction To Portrait Photography. Ava publishing 2007. 

I am surprised at how long it has taken me to  set up and take each portrait for the assignment , five weeks, taking each portrait at a different session. For each portrait I took a sequence of images until I felt I had the correct expression, or pose  that conveys the message I am aiming to get across. The exercises taught me to take into consideration more how a stance or look can be helpful in trying to make an image tell a story.

Link to set on Flickr below            

My Mum

 F4             1/80               38mm                ISO 250              Custom WB @3350 

Taken indoors on a bright but sometimes cloudy  afternoon using available  light. My subject  stood sideways to a small window in her apartment, I stood at an angle looking towards her but facing away from the window.  Jane Bown only  uses  available light and I also wanted to take advantage of the soft diffused light coming through the window . 

I am especially pleased with the lighting in this portrait. As I wanted to capture her facial expression closely with no other background distraction I asked her to wear a black hooded top pulled slightly up over the back of her head and framed  tightly. This image is a celebration of my mum’s longevity and my favourite shot of the assignment, “Its honest. My mother is looking at me as if the camera were not there”  pg 166 Annie Leibovitz At Work” Jonathan Cape London2008.  I took a series of photographs moving back and forwards , watching her facial expression carefully. I wanted an aura of tranquillity and contentment to be present, not a cheesy grin. Her age is obvious but her expression is serene.   The focal length is shorter than I usually use and meant I got physically closer to her , an attempt to create an intimate image that reflects our close relationship. Because I use a cropped sensor camera the actual equivalent full frame  focal length is about 57mm, hence her features have not been distorted. The light has created catch lights in her eyes, the most important feature in such a composition,  and I feel the direct eye contact draws the observer towards them.

The Ring

F5               1/80          28mm                        ISO 250                Custom WB @ 3850 

Taken indoors late afternoon but using a much larger window with my subject sat to the side facing away from the window  in a low seat. I wanted the light to fall onto her hands and the jewellery , away from her head and face. Reading chapter 3 People at the Margin: The Edge of the Frame.  Roswell Angier, Train your gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction To Portrait Photography. Ava publishing 2007,made me consider recreating  an image of Edith Sitwell taken by Jane Bown 1959, who states “I couldn’t resist a quick shot of her hands with those great rings resting on the soft texture of satin and furs” pg 205Exposures Jane Bown” Guardian Books 2009. I improvised with  silk  and soft woollen scarves in delicate lilac hues to complement the deeper purple tones of the ring, a  colour associated with luxury. (The ring incidentally is a large brooch on an elastic band !!)

 Does this image count as a portrait ?The framing is intended to create “certainly a feeling , if not a judgement , about the nature and quality of her life as represented in this moment” pg 33 Roswell Angier, Train your gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction To Portrait Photography. Ava publishing 2007. By removing her face, the assumed most important feature of portraiture, have I made a judgement of error  ? I hope not .The ring is a symbol of glamour, something  I feel my mother still has, and is how I wanted to represent her in this image.  With her hands resting delicately on her lap her pose ” is the body’s equivalent of expression” pg 18  Photography 1 People and Place.A greater depth of field would improve this photograph, I would prefer her hands, especially her fingers , to be in sharper focus. The exposure is also not perfect, I feel her hand is slightly overexposed, I wanted the background to remain more shadowy , I found it quite difficult to expose correctly for a situation like this without losing too much detail in the darker tones.

Age is just a number.

F4.5           1/250             70mm         ISO 250          Flash used       Flash WB

Taken indoors with a mirror placed on my dining table with my subject  sat looking into the mirror  with her back to me. To get the angle of view I wanted I stood on a chair placed slightly to one side looking down on  her to exclude the flash and myself from the frame . Diffused light from a large patio window in front of my subject and dark blinds pulled down  at another window behind her. I asked her to look at me through the mirror.Chapter 1 Charlotte Cotton,  The photograph as contemporary art  ,  new edition, Thames & Hudson, London 2009 discusses the “strategy or happening orchestrated by the photographers for the sole purpose of making an image” pg 21. Whilst Chapter 2 explores the implication that an “image alone , even one that is staged by the artist, is shown to be problematic and ambiguous without the addition of text to help “explain” the work’s meaning”  pg 35.Here I am presenting a story that needs to be explained in a single frame, hence the inclusion of her age in lipstick. However the meaning behind the image is intended to be more complex , visual clues within the frame , her facial expression, the lipstick, and  her direct gaze which” catches us in the act , rather than vice versa”  Roswell Angier, Train your gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction To Portrait Photography. Ava publishing 2007, scrutinising her .

 Her rather sceptical look seems to suggest she disagrees with the sentiment of title. She knows, and has experienced, the limitations of age . However vanity , or caring about ones’ appearance are not exclusive to the young . Nan Goldin’s work guides “the viewer to think beyond the specifics of her subjects’ lives and about the general narratives of universal experience” pg 139 Charlotte Cotton,  The photograph as contemporary art  ,  new edition, Thames & Hudson, London 2009 . If I manage to convey that in my photography I am happy.On a technical note I wish I had achieved sharper focus on the hand holding the lipstick (my fault again—-shallow DOF !!!), and her hair on the top is rather overexposed.


F5.6              1/250               200mm               ISO 400              Custom WB @ 5929 

Taken with my subject sat in an arbour in my back garden. Late afternoon, the soft  side light was diffused by fluffy clouds. The light was gentle enough not to produce harsh shadows but directional enough to create form ,depth and pick out texture. The colour of her eyes and the background detail are of the same green tones, the soft warmer pink hues of her lipstick and scarf complement the cooler shades. The colours are gentle, calm and feminine. The longer focal length flatters her features but still cannot hide her facial lines. It also helped me capture a more natural expression, more contemplative. The distance between us allowed her to be less aware of the camera, therefore she was also  less self-conscious. Nothing looks worse than a false smile ,  “Where did “Smile for the camera” come from? Its a tic. A way of directing attention to the camera” pg 168 ,Annie Leibovitz ,Annie Leibovitz At Work” Jonathan Cape London2008I am cross that I have excluded the top of her head in this image, it was intentional at the time of shooting, I thought at the time a  tighter crop would place more emphasis on her face and the muted colours.  


 F4.5         1/250       71mm           ISO 100       Custom WB @ 5200

Taken in the grounds of a local cemetery mid afternoon . Although the sun was bright and more or less behind my subject the surrounding  trees created a lovely  filtered light.This  light is very flattering , her wrinkles are much less defined than in the portrait taken outdoors with side lighting (Eve).  The small date detail on the memorial bench gives a small indication of her location , intended as a reminder of the passage of time and the inevitable outcome of life.  The colour of her scarf is emblematic of heat and passion, attributes associated with youth, her expression helps me visualise the young girl she once was. Additionally the colours contrast nicely. I have struggled to include locations in my assignment, often preferring to exclude what I perceive as distractions. I like plain dark backgrounds , with a shallow depth of field. I perhaps need to consider experimenting more and attempt to create a more varied approach to my portraiture. The exercises have helped me consider this more, I just need to practice putting it into place occasionally. I did take more shots in the cemetery that included out of focus graves with my mum in the foreground, but felt on reflection that perhaps for this assignment they were a bit too macabre! However in developing an individual, recognisable, style is it also important to remain true to what I really enjoy and feel comfortable with?

Table for one

F10             1/250             28mm         ISO 200        Custom WB @ 6881            Flash

Taken inside my mother’s apartment using her small living room as the location.  A very dull  afternoon with frontal light from a window and flash. As usual I had a fight with my tripod!The location detail is deliberately minimal, dining alone can be a lonely pursuit. The colours are soft and muted, similar  quiet shades . I included the  old photographs on the wall to create balance and movement within the frame. I also want the eye to move around the frame and consider the relationships, and history, between her and the subjects in the photographs. She has a past that has shaped the person she is today. The pose was more difficult to decide on. I decided her gaze towards the edge of the frame also created movement. It is  difficult to tell if she is looking at someone, or something, or whether she is lonely or has company, I like the ambiguity  it creates. I also found it tricky to decide how best to get her to place her legs. Full length portraits including  a background are my personal least favourite style to take. I must take more as I am quite pleased with this,  I also used a smaller aperture than usual keeping the framed picture in sharper focus.

Alone Again

F3.2           1/1000            28mm           ISO 250               Custom WB @ 4500 

Taken outside on an unusually bright sunny afternoon. I placed my black velvet background against a wall that juts out away from my house and stood  my subject in front of it. The wall prevented the bright sun from reaching my subject, or the camera lens, but provided me with enough available light to get the image I had visualised.I wanted to show the inevitable loneliness that frequently accompanies old age. My mum spends many hours on her own, and although she keeps herself occupied there must be quiet moments of reflection . The lack of eye contact and facial expression were important, representative of her solitude.  I was inspired by yet another of Jane Bown’s portraits : William Walton,1982. Pg 92 “Exposures Jane Bown” Guardian Books 2009. I found this pose rather difficult as I prefer to take head/head and shoulder portraits, but have been surprised by the positive response to this image on my Flickr site. I have a dreadful habit of using a large aperture for most of my work, I feel a greater depth of field might perhaps have given her face and hands greater clarity. I also wonder if her head and hands look rather disembodied, I wanted the focus to be on both,  hence my choice of background and clothing. However I feel this an evocative image, and what I aimed to depict. I really need to get into the practice of including more detail (i.e. body/legs/hands) into some of my work and  use a greater depth of field occasionally. Using my tripod would practically help achieve this, I have a pathological hatred of it, I must overcome it !