The Self and The Other

OCA study blog | Andrew Fitzgibbon

A1: environmental portraits (diagnostic) | for assessment

While the first assignment is not for assessment, this post provides a brief summary for information.

The work

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Artist’s statement

Note – hyperlinks connect to supporting information on this blog

This assignment shows a number of different musicians, photographed in their home environments. I have chosen to subtract from their surroundings so that they are left with a token of their environment and symbol of their relationships with music. Lost in music, so to speak.

As this work represents one of my first experiences of serious portrait photography, I did extensive background reading around portrait photographers and the process of working with sitters, which is reflected in my learning log and in my preliminary thoughts on this assignment. While, I was influenced by a number of the works I studied, Tanyth Berkeley’s work shaped my perspective on the ‘psychological gaze‘. I’d come informed by the traditional perspective of ‘eyes being windows to the soul’ and a portrait being made all the more compelling for including them. The idea of showing people engaged in something apart from the camera-eye and still creating intimacy in the image is something reflected in some of the posing in my work here.

In total, I photographed 7 portrait sessions, lasting between 30 minutes and 1.5 hours each. One sitter was excluded from the final images as I ended up with two musicians who were singers. The portraits were shot against a black pop-up screen, using a single speedlight reflected in an umbrella. Prime lenses with 35mm and 85mm focal lengths were used in the sessions. A light meter was used to assist with exposure readings. Images were captured in RAW and post-processed in Photoshop. By the end of the assignment, I was feeling much more relaxed about directing sitters and managing technical aspects of the lighting at speed.

My initial approach to the work was to make images that showed more of each of the sitter’s environment. However, this became problematic when aiming for some consistency across a number of different musicians in different places and working in their different home environments. There is more about this initial approach here. Sitters were all strangers to me and recruited through Facebook posts to a local community notice board. Details of the process are here. It was a time-consuming exercise finding volunteers, hindered by a few original volunteers dropping out – but a useful insight into the effort involved in this type of work before even sitting anyone in front of the camera! A learning for next time is to fix appointments with more sitters than necessary in anticipation of drop-outs. Model releases were obtained for sitters and have been emailed to my tutor.

Tutor diagnostic feedback

Feedback on the diagnostic assignment is here. Much of it centred around the work not being environmental in the way the brief was looking for. I received some very helpful feedback which spurred further research (noted in the feedback post) and now have some firm ideas on how to create consistent series of environment portraits, even in cases where the portraits are taken in different locations. Depending on my choice of self-directed assignment 5, I’d like to revisit the approach there.

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