The Self and The Other

OCA study blog | Andrew Fitzgibbon

A5: stories from the woods |for assessment

The work

This assignment is presented as an e-book. The project is a work in progress that will continue beyond this OCA module, following the seasons in the woodland, and will ultimately end up in print.

For the purposes of assessment, I have included in the pack example prints of the portraits included in the e-book.

The online e-book is here (click to view full-screen):

Artist’s statement

Note – hyperlinks connect to supporting information on this blog

Throughout this course I have explored notions of self and other and their representation through photography, and I explored conceptual ideas about the self in my essay for assignment 4. Through photography we can create likenesses of others in studio environments, which act like mirrors but do not speak much about a persons identity. I have come to see identity as the projection of a multifaceted complex self into the world. It is a window through which we can glimpse the self, with no chance of ever really knowing it; even perhaps in ourselves. To show identity through photography, we need to show something of a person’s context so that the photograph might become a map to understanding rather than a simple mirror. A polysemous visual context might be assisted by words that are placed to avoid distracting from the images.

In this work I have begun to explore on the most troubling aspects of human identity in our relationship with the environment. While woodlands and trees have sustained and shaped humanity throughout time, we are doing them perhaps irreparable harm. My work references this harm but shows how we interact with them as places of enjoyment, perhaps oblivious to the damage we are doing. It is intended to encourage viewers to pause and think, and perhaps act differently in some way.

The e-book is introduced with words that set the scene for the human relationship with trees and woods and inviting viewers to reflect upon this. It is part of my practice to aim to make work that helps people to think.

For the shoot, I engaged strangers in the woods after publicising what I would be doing in a local social media group and interacting with the Woodland Trust, who hold the public access woodland on a 75 year lease. I handed out flyers to the participants so they can find the images when published and as an opener to discussion of what the woods mean to them. I prepared by researching the history of the woods and human relationships with tress and woodlands, including through myth and story. I initially shot with a wide angle lens and on camera flash (CTO gelled) with the idea of creating an impression of the view meeting the subjects while in the woods. Because of the conditions, terrain and low light, on-camera flash was the only practical solution – I did a little research on gels here. However, during further work, I used stronger flash to put visual emphasis on the subjects not truly belonging to the landscape – to reflect the story of the book.

Images were shot in RAW and selections processed in Photoshop, with the backgrounds darkened to emphasise the subjects in the scene. For the rework, I aimed for greater consistency in the ‘look’ of the photos by doing base processing in Lightroom and applying it as a preset to all selects. Further work was done in Photoshop.

The ebook was created in Indesign, sized for screen output rather than paper output. However, through the editing process, it ended up mimicking a paper book as a familiar way of looking and for an association with quiet reflection. In the initial draft, I included monochrome images as pauses between each portrait – monochrome as abstract (thinking space) between the main colour portrait images. However, following my tutor’s suggestion, I substituted these for muted colour images to avoid any jarring between alternate colour and monochrome images (even when on separate pages).

Tutor feedback

I presented this assignment as a work in progress, keen to obtain feedback to shape the future direction of the ongoing project. My tutor’s feedback and information on rework is here.

The feedback resulted in substantial additional work. Technically, I worked on how to use off-camera flash while protecting equipment from the rain and working quickly to balance flash and ambient light in the woodlands. For the additional portrait shoots, I took more time with my volunteers (let go of feeling that I was taking too much of their time). The e-book has been reformatted and the previous monochromatic woodland shots replaced with muted colour images.

The additional work has helped move my practice on further.

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