It was with some trepidation that I started out on this course because I have never enjoyed taking formal portraits. At the start of the course I let this irrational dislike almost overwhelm me and I struggled to get started. However, having finished the course I feel that I have learnt a lot. I even to started to like enjoy taking portraits although I accept that this never be my favourite photographic Genre.
Throughout the course I have include reflections on my work and lessons learned in my assignment submissions and post I wrote on my tutor’s feedback. In addition to this the remainder of this post revisits each section of the course and summarises my thoughts and lessons learned.
.I learnt from the people aware section of the course was that I could take reasonable portraits something I had little confidence in doing previously. In his first feedback my tutor also pointed out that I could improve the compositions in my work by cropping. As someone who started photography using slide film I had always felt it was important to capture the image in the camera and not rely on post processing while I have done more cropping and other post processing since I switched to digital but after this comment I started think more more about this aspect of my work. As a first step after receiving this feedback I went back and updated my assignment one submission spending more time on post-processing.
While I was working on part one I researched the classic portrait photographers Horst P Horst, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. I also looked at the work less well-known artists like John Hedgecoe, Jane Bown and Guy Bourdain. I think I learn about the range of different portrait styles and approaches from this research. It certainly made me appreciate portrait photography more but I am not sure that it really impacted the work I did for part 1.
When I saw the the exhibition of work by Gillian Waring and Claude Cahun at the National Portrait Gallery towards the end of my work on this course I realised that I could have done so much more in this section of the course but I felt it was too late to go back and change everything.
I started the people unaware section with a more confidence than the previous part because street photography had been a genre that I had enjoyed working on over the years. I was lucky that as I worked through this section I had the opportunity to see and exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work at the Sainsbury Centre. I have long admired Cartier-Bresson’s work and seeing his actual prints rather than looking at reproductions in books and on the internet, was a revelation. In retrospect I believe I could have thought more about how my work in this section could have been more influenced by Cartier-Bresson perhaps I should have gone out with the idea of creating a Cartier-Bresson style pictures something I probably would not have achieved but which could have given my work another dimension.
Looking back, I can see that the work I submitted for the second assignment, was not my best there were some strong images from what was a very colourful event. However, as my tutor pointed out in his feedback I really hadn’t thought about a narrative when creating and selecting the work instead I had picked my favourite images and tried to write a narrative around them. Effectively, I had tried to force the pictures to fit a narrative I had in my mind, but which was not at all obvious to anyone else. Looking back at this submission now I am disappointed with it, I didn’t really prepare enough for the shoot and go looking for pictures that fitted a theme and that really shows.
I continued to peruse a wide range of research looking at artists mention by my tutor is his feedback eg Cartier-Bresson and Philip-Lorca di Corcia as well as vising a number of exhibitions eg the exhibition of Oshiuchi Miyako’s work at the Getty Center.
To characterise the work I did while working on this section I have submitted for assessment four pictures of commuters that I took for one of the exercises . I feel this set of pictures are stronger than those I took for the assignment and capture the quiet desperation felt by many people travelling to and from work by train. A big lesson for me from these pictures that good work can be done in a familiar location and a distant location like New York does that I used in assignment 2 does not necessarily result in good work.
During part three “Buildings and Spaces” I wanted to explore taking pictures of many different types of space and while working on assignment three I deliberately choose a wide range of different types of location. I wanted some spaces that were bright and colourful and others that were dark and more uniform in colour. Looking back at some of the work from a technical perspective I believe I should have not be afraid to use higher ISOs and accept a higher level of noise, for example some of the series in the Guggenheim museum would have benefited from this. Despite this some of my favourite pictures from this course were taken as I worked on this section.
My tutor again pointed out the need to be more aggressive in cropping and post processing, for example the picture on the left below was the version I included in my submission and the one on the right I reworked after reading his comments by creating a tighter crop to put the group I wanted the viewer to focus on more towards the bottom right and cloning out a number of distracting parts of people.
I have included the reworked picture above and some others from this part of the course in the prints I submitted for assessment.
When I was working on this section of the course I continued to visit exhibitions and research photographers. During this time, I made the first of two visits the Radical Eye exhibition at the Tate Modern. I really enjoyed this exhibition because it gave me the chance to see actual prints of the work of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn that I had previously only seen in books. I also liked the examples of Paul Strand’s work in the exhibition and went on to do a deeper study of his work.
During this part of the course I believe my technical ability in low light photography improved and learnt to not be afraid of taking pictures where some areas were blurred. From a general workflow perspective, it re-enforced the need to plan shots in advance, the locations (The Guggenheim, Tate Modern and Waterloo station) where I had visualised images before visiting them worked better than those that I visited without a clear plan.
When first received my tutors feedback for my fourth assignment, I felt my he had been quite harsh in his comments although looking back having finished the course I have more sympathy with his views. I believe there were some strong pictures in the assignment but there really isn’t an overall narrative about borough Market, some wider-angle shots showing more context could have anchored the idea the location being Borough Market rather than any random market.
Again my tutor raised the issue of cropping and I have reworked two of my favourite pictures from this assignment and submitted them as prints for assessment. For example, in the revised image on the right below I have cropped out some unnecessary detail on the right, particularly the person in the very pink jacket. To keep the aspect ration the same I also cropped off the top which added little to the original image. Finally I increased the overall brightness of the image to make the green pillar on the left more than the foreboding dark space it was in the original.
In retrospect I don’t think Borough Market was an ideal subject for this assignment, I took the pictures in winter and it was very dark which forced a combination of high iso and low shutter speeds resulting in many pictures not sharp enough to include. I think I learnt an important lesson here. I either need to choose subjects for work like this more carefully or alternatively I could have pushed the iso much higher and gone for a retro noisy and high contrast black and white presentation.
Before starting work on this assignment, I studied the work of Vanessa Püntener and Martin Parr as suggested by my tutor. The work of Püntener really made the idea of a creating a narrative about a place through a set of pictures much clearer to me. I had previously researched the work of Marin Parr but going back and working through the images from his book the Last Resort again helped me understand how the capture the essence of a place through a series of pictures.
For this final assignment I did more preparation and planning than for any of the previous ones. However, I did not end up the set of pictures that I had originally planned showing happy families enjoying their holidays. Rather I created a set of pictures that show misery and even disappointment at the reality of an English holiday. Perhaps what I have captured here is the reaction of people trying to recapture happy times in their past but time has moved on and neither the location or peoples reaction to was the same as when they were younger.
I did study Martin’s Parr’s book “The Last Resort” before embarking on this assignment and although I started with the intention of not creating a similar vision when I look at my pictures there is a somewhat surreal almost Parr like quality to some of them so subconsciously I could have been more influenced by his work than I realised at the time.
My tutor did point out some issues with some of the pictures in my original submission and I have revisited the pictures I took and made some substitutions in the set I have submitted as hard copies for this assessment. I Believe that the new set of images I put together after this feedback (here) has a stronger more consistent narrative and looking back I am not sure why I selected some of the pictures in the original set. I can only think that I still felt the need to force a narrative that really wasn’t supported by the best pictures that I had taken. I think a big lesson I can take away from this assignment and indeed my work through the entire course is that the preparation and planning pay off.
I think the lesson I can take away from this assignment is that the preparation and planning paid off resulting in what I believe is some of the best work I did during this course.