There is a serenity to shooting at night, when there is nobody there to annoy you and life has slowed down a bit and you have a chance to breathe. The colours of night are different too, with long exposures and artificial lighting giving results that challenge your expectations of what a place looks like. The places where I shoot are usually drab and ordinary by day, but when they empty out at night the space becomes more interesting as you focus more on the few details that are left.
At 2:45pm I had the external assessment of the final folio for the Art Major. I think I am now officially no longer a student, at least until I sign up to do the Bachelor Degree pathway program next July. There were nerves beforehand but it all went very smoothly and was over before I knew it. A year’s work talked about and summarised in twenty minutes. I had five framed images in the exhibition and another seven loose on a table for the assessors to look at. The choice of framed images was partly down to the fact that not everything was finished when I had to send the prints off to the framers, but there were also a few that various people had responded to strongly.
Well, we’re a month out from our final folio presentation and I’m sort of on track. The artist’s statement still isn’t finalised and I’m still shooting people as often as I can schedule them but I now have a small pool of pictures that might be good enough for the final cut. I’m getting better at judging the degree of blur I want but it is still hard to judge in the viewfinder so I’m bracketing madly as I go. Thank goodness for the patience of my models. There is still some debate about how large I should be printing and what the correct viewing distance will be (which will affect where in the gallery they are displayed). Fortunately the latest thinking has scaled back from a wallet bursting life-size (around $200 for a 180cm long print) to maybe A2 which I can manage on my own printer.
We are getting rapidly closer to the end of the semester and the end of the course and the number of different things to think about is multiplying. We’ve just had a mini review of where everyone is up to and this included a draft artist’s statement. The purpose of the statement is to help people understand what our work is all about while still leaving room for people to make their own connections. I had expected this to be really difficult, but in fact it came together quickly and relatively painlessly. Naturally the first few drafts aren’t quite there yet as there is a lot of editing and finessing to get it just right. The thing that surprised me is how helpful it was to have to write one. Because I was spending time thinking about how to describe my work I naturally ended up thinking more about the work itself so the whole process helped to clarify exactly what I was doing and why.
The other part of the review was looking at new work. In the intervening couple of months we had moved house and are just about to put the old house on the market so there hasn’t been much time for actual photography. A quick shout out got help from friends and three shoots were done in a couple of days.
Its a funny thing when you look at a photo and know that it hasn’t worked, but nevertheless still love it and that’s what has happened here. I really like the results, but they mostly aren’t quite right for what I’m doing. The general consensus was that if my idea is to push the boundaries of portraiture then I really need to go to the limits and not play it too safe. The first shot of KRin was judged to be the most successful in this regard. They also reiterated the need to respect the other conventions of portraiture in terms of posing, lighting and dress. So my next step will be some very formal portraits and also some couples or family groups. Time to step the glamour up a bit (and reduce the focus even further).
The last few weeks have been a fairly stressful time for the Art Major students at PSC. The part timers have been struggling with a full time workload and we have all been torn between the need to experiment so we can work out what the hell we are actually on about, and the hard fact that we need to produce a completed, coherent folio at the end of first semester.
We were given some assignments to help us work out what we were doing but despite the enthusiasm of the lecturers they were less than useful for a lot of us. Seems some people respond better to these exercises than others. Wow, people are different, who knew? Actually there seems to be very little recognition of this in the course as a whole and you’d swear that they think that all artists are the same and think the same way.
Anyway…. After a few false starts my folio concept for this year (not just this semester as in previous years) revolves around questioning the photographic portrait and why it has become such a regimented thing. The easy way to explain this is to look at the diversity of styles in the Archibald Prize for painted portraits and then have a look at the National Photographic Portrait Prize where there seems to be a much narrower range of expression.
To start with, and it is just a start to this investigation, I have looked at sharpness which seems to be a key requirement for a photographic portrait. A little bit out of focus is a cardinal sin in photography since it indicates sloppy technique. But what if everything is out of focus? How far must you got to make it look like it was deliberate and then how far can you go before it is too far out of focus? Lots of questions and no clear answers yet, if ever. As always there was a last minute rush with these, mainly because I was still wrestling with technique. None of these are manipulated afterwards, it is pretty much straight how it came from the camera other than the usual exposure and colour adjustments that all photos get. I’m not even sure whether it would be feasible to reproduce this technique in Photoshop since there is more than just blurring going on.
Another new thing with these is size, something that becomes critical at this stage. The last two were printed to almost A0 size (841 x 1189mm) as an experiment since the general consensus was that they need to be large. Fortunately you can get really cheap large prints at Officeworks on plain paper so it didn’t break the bank, but come the end of year exhibition and they will all have to be done on a proper printer with expensive paper.
The last two assignments for the studio class ran concurrently and I ended up shooting both at home in my little garage-studio. The first assignment was to shoot a reflective object which is pretty much the hardest thing to do in product photography. First attempts were basically worst-case scenarios with spherical chrome parts that reflected absolutely everything around them. No matter where you put the light it would show up, so the best option is to take two sots and move the lights between and then merge the two shots in photoshops. I gave that up and found a flatter object, a nice big kitchen knife. Even then I was using three lights by the time I had illuminated the blade, picked out both edges and put a coloured spot on the background. This is maddening, but also a fun kind of challenge. Best of all there is little stress because products don’t get tired and ask when you will be done.
The other assignment was to shoot a cover for a book titled “The Big Chill” – not specifically related to the movie of the same name thank goodness. I decided to go down the crime novel route – no doubt channelling “The Big Sleep” – and opted to freeze a toy gun into a block of ice. A bit of blue light on the back and I was done. Sometimes the preparation is the most important part.
Now that I am in fourth year we have finally started to specialise and I have (perhaps foolishly) chosen the Art major. This was always my intention since I have no desire to be a commercial photographer and even less for photojournalism. However coming from a technical background I have difficulty engaging with all aspects of the art world with an open mind. Two of the three artists we have met so far just left me shaking my head and I’m sure there is more of that to come. Anyway our first exercise was one of introspection to find what it that we felt most strongly about since that would be the obvious subject for our folio. For me it was the fairly broad topic of “people” so my initial attempts to narrow the focus a little have centred around the concept of “identity”.
At this point we are supposed to be in an experimental phase were we just make a lot of stuff and see what sticks. My first thought was to try and document all of the different identities we show to the world. I used the alway available test subject (i.e. me) to produce these:
Which show the regular me, the ANZ Bank me, the teenage football fan me and the car enthusiast me. It wasn’t too hard to come up with another half-dozen identities that all represented “me” at some point in my life to one group or other. These are just test shots and I don’t actually want it to be about me at all, I’d rather delve into other people’s identities. Current thoughts on displaying all of these aspects are that I might print them on transparent plastic and overlay them to show the composite nature of our identities. Or something like that.
One of the things I really enjoy about studying at PSC is the studio sessions. They are really full on and stressful while you are there but the lecturers take the time to put you on the right track and don’t leave you hanging wondering you have got things right. By the end of the session I can normally go home satisfied that the assignment is finished. Our first two studio sessions were spent on an exercise – replicating an advertising shot – and an assignment – replicating 1940’s Hollywood lighting. The exercise is challenging but not inspiring since you are often shooting product or food. The assignment though was great since it involved portraiture which I really love. The Hollywood lighting is hard and dramatic and took a bit to get right. Here is my shooting partner Tim doing his best Humphrey Bogart impression: The reality may be a long way from the original but the lighting is the same and that is what matters.
These are the folios for the second semester of third year, which is our last general year. Next year I have applied to go into the art major which is where my heart really lies. The first folio was loosely tied to the theme of “metaphors”. My original metaphor was “outside the box” and involved a square format and some unseen action that was implied by what was shown within the frame. I also wanted to try using very asymmetric proportions, more like 90:10 than the usual 60:40 or 33:33:33 (rule of thirds). This one was going nowhere until we went over to the UK for three weeks and I got some inspiration from the view out of the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate. That lead to many more seascapes and finally a few mornings shooting along the foreshore at Brighton. I managed to retain the square format and the asymmetric proportions but the action part disappeared and the metaphor changed to “plain sailing” since the whole exercise was anything but.
The second folio was an open brief, and my first idea for that bit the dust fairly quickly. Writers are often advised to write about what they know, so I decided to shoot what I know and chose my fellow photographers. A series of portraits of photographers sounded a little dull so to give it a twist I decided to try and shoot it in their style or utilising their subject matter. This worked really well for some, while others took a little more thinking. It was a very interesting exercise and I think I learned a lot from it. All of the subjects seemed to enjoy the process and have been happy with the results.
I am about two thirds of the way through the semester and one of my folios is starting to take shape. It is a series of portraits of photographers shot in their style or in their usual subject matter. First up was me, in one of my car park shots:
Next was a couple of camera club people;
Bob, who likes shooting table top arrangements:
and Rafael who enjoys street photography:
and this morning my friend and former PSC classmate Kirsty dropped around to do some super sized versions of her Kootoyoo tabletops.
I’ve got another one to shoot tomorrow night and then again Friday morning so it has been all go this week.