Assignment 3 portraits

Images courtesy of Rencontres Arles 2013

Marion Gronier – Images courtesy of Rencontres Arles 2013

A change of direction. I had hoped to find a way to work with the ‘users’ at the Echoes Group for this assignment, working with them in a collaborative way to engage with notions of identity but for many reasons I don’t think this is likely to happen at all. So I decided to take some time out and consider how to disengage with that idea as a way forward and to think about how to find another subject(s) to move forward with.

I have had two ideas:

The first, which is a bit of a long shot, was inspired by some work I saw in Arles recently; that of Marion Gronier’s circus performers, which I wrote about in my findings here. Gronier photographed circus performers as soon as she could after they had finished a performance, thereby trying to fix an intermediate state:  “Her photos capture the moment when the human mask breaks down and the disembodied face empties itself of all expression.” I know some professional and highly qualified amateur dancers and have asked if they would consider having some portraits done pre and post performance/competition. My contact to their leader is as follows:

Attached is the brief for my next assignment, and because you were kind enough to ask how I was doing, I suddenly thought that maybe there might be a way to collaborate.

As I may have said the degree is an Art degree, and I am using photography as the medium (you might remember that I might have said that I have been a photographer for over 25 years) and I am in my second year. I am not clear at this stage how we could work together to make this happen, but I can see several possibilities, amongst them:

Before, during and after a competition?

Before, during and after training/rehearsal? 

But you may have other ideas….

We would need to discuss and agree a perspective and result. The brief suggest I give each sitter a portrait, but I can provide more – especially digital images, and whatever size is required.

I posed the question a few days ago and am hoping to hear back sometime next week.

The second idea is to work with some artist friends that I have.  This is much looser at the moment, though it already has some traction in that I have had acceptances from three of the four invitees so far. My contact to these artists is as follows:

It’s favour time!

As you may remember I am studying for a photography degree – I’m roughly half way through, although I can’t say it looks all downhill yet! 🙂 

I have an assignment to photograph 4 people that have a common theme, and I thought about photographing artists. Each portrait session would be a collaborative venture, I thought about studio, with work etc. For each portrait I have to produce three images, though I suspect there would be more pictures taken….. I would come to you and of course you can have any portrait I make. I would like the work to be completed sometime in September.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


If I get the go-ahead on both I will try and work the twin strands, however I will try and further my investigations into identity – though I only have burgeoning thoughts about that. What if anything will make it to submission is only guesswork at the moment, though I do feel encouraged by this recent set of inspirations. And setting a goal will help me to focus on the getting work underway and hopefully accomplished. Whether it will be accomplished work will be another matter altogether – that, though, is the least of my concerns at the moment…..

For the dancers, the location could be quite straightforward, the dance floor where they rehearse and perform and maybe the place where they apply make-up etc and identity issues could be quite transparent, like actors they ‘put on someone else’s clothes’ when they perform – they become dancers, they adopt a persona, a character that they can discard when they are not ‘dancing’.

The artists might be something more difficult. Do artists ‘become artists’ when they go into the studio to work? Do they, like dancers, adopt another character when they apply paint vis a vis when they patrol the same existence’s as others?

It is a curious thing portraiture and seems to set some photographers into a kind a pre-shutter frenzy. I have heard of so many students on the course expressing how difficult it is for them to take/make/create pictures of people. I have always enjoyed it, perhaps because my first experience with a camera was to take pictures of ‘down and outs’ (very exploitative) when I was at college and then, when I had my own camera taking pictures of my children. I hope I will still enjoy the experience after this assignment!


11 thoughts on “Assignment 3 portraits

  1. Just had all the artists agree, so that project is up and running – just needs the photographer to perform now!
    Why do I like portraits? I think it is the collaborative nature, the need for an agreement between me and the sitter, a negotiation, the mutual journey, and I enjoy the communication, the conversation.

    • You know I realise that I enjoy all that. It’s when it comes to pressing the shutter that I instantaneously have all those self-doubts. It must be something like practising golf at the driving range and then going out on the course and taking a swing!
      Good to know that the artists have now agreed. You’ll need to go gentle with your photographer maybe.

  2. Interesting development John. I liked Gronier’s work too. I followed a similar path with my self portraiture series when I made the self portrait immediately after exercising. Rineke Dijkstra was a key reference for my work – her self portrait after swimming and her beach portraits in particular. See:

    I also made a series of portraits of artists at work. My idea was to catch them when they were fully absorbed in the creative process. For this work Broomberg and Chanarin’s ‘Trust’ was my key reference. See:

    In both cases my intent was to find a way to divert the subject from slipping into a rehearsed ‘theatrical’ pose – either consciously or unconsciously. We are all so used to having our photo taken these days and are bombarded with role models for how we might wish to look!

    Lots of ways you can go with this. I found that it took a while for me to come up with formal approaches which worked and were capable of being replicated (as part of a consistent series).

    • That’s very kind Keith, many thanks for your consideration – I’ll look at them with interest. The pose, the notion of subject integrity and identity is situating itself as a backdrop to any portraiture I’m doing at the moment. I’ve had some work to do with the Therapy centre – more portraits, I have tried to create similar conditions for all of them, to create a sense of theatre for myself but without missing the point of the brief – they seem happy with the portraits, so I suppose I have succeeded as far as they are concerned, but I a very directive in those photographs, the sitters all seem to want me to direct them – I am considered a professional and they put their trust in me. I suppose from their perspective that’s how it appears.
      However what I want to do with the assignment is more collaborative, a real engagement with people who have a natural creative streak, though I have to develop a strong sense of what I want to create as an environment, but not necessarily as an end result, well at least not at the moment, maybe that will come as I work through the various sessions I will have to work.

  3. This is probably off topic…

    I am not sure why, but lately I fancy the portrait doesn’t require to be taken. If I give you a pile of images of random people and ask you to choose one that represent you the best, then I ask your wife, friends, children to choose one for you, I wonder if sum of the parts will tell me something about you as a person.

      • I know, it is not totally unbiased.

        I got that idea from someone who tried to describe another person to me. She said something like, “Oh. His eyes look like Elvis, his mouth looks like, etc.” The process of me forming a mental image, if I have to do that physically, will involve cutting up many magazine pieces and glue them photoshop. Doing it too literally will always result in a monster looking creature. So I thought putting individual images together with caption like “his wife said that his eyes look like Elvis” will work better.

    • I agree with Eileen, that sounds like a very interesting idea, could be a bit scary also 😉 The first assignment in People and Place had something like that if I remember, except the student had to create a portrait from a number of portraits – an interesting exercise….

  4. It sounds like a fascinating assignment – am looking forward to seeing how it develops. Keith’s is, I think, a very good example to follow.

    Siegfried’s idea sounds very interesting also and well worth pursuing.

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