“In summary, I think you have worked well on this assignment. You have produced good quality images of each sitter, images that provide a unique insight into their character and convey an interesting aspect of your own interpretation of them as artists. That there are differences between you and the individual’s assessment of the best image to portray the sitter serves to underline the quality of your work and uncovers aspects of and a depth in portraiture that demonstrate your developing voice as a photographer.”
The tutor report I received was quite comprehensive, offering a lot of advice and suggestions some of which I will address here, though interestingly, it was suggested that I didn’t write enough about the work, my intentions, my responses to the work which I found interesting as I’m sometimes concerned that I write too much!
One of the areas it was suggested that I could enlarge on was the conceptual aspects of the series: I had stated in the submission document that I wanted “…the art to be sublimated in the portraits, I wanted the creations [of the artists] to have primacy in the photographs”.
To expand on this: I believe that identity is a mutable construct that is both controllable and uncontrolled by the subject as well as the spectator, and what I wanted to explore with this work was how “an” identity – in this case, that of an ‘artist’ could be shown to have primacy rather than having the viewer look for ‘clues’ in the face of the sitter. I decided to remove the normal portrait signifiers from the frame so as to deny both the subject and the viewer the ability to construct an identity. This device of course didn’t remove the aspect of body form from the frame, comments have been made about how at least one viewer to the work tried to construct a view: “With no conventional portrait to go on I find myself searching for what body language in the portrait and artist images tells me about them. Dirk for example is a large guy but his posture is modest – his hands appear to be clasped in front of him. He looks at his work face to face. Sue on the other hand looks up at her work – it almost seems to overwhelm her. We are very dependent on the face and facial expressions to ‘read’ character into portraits. Your work denies us this. So I find myself looking for other clues.” Keith Greenough
The artist was only presented to the viewer in one of the three portraits and then standing with their back to the camera and viewing their work compositionally connected to the work they were considering. I asked the artists to pose in this position to show that connection and I also asked them to provide a piece of work that best summed up their representation in their work – piece that best described them as an artist – which I pictured as a separate image.
Behind these artifices was an intent to have the work that the artists create be ‘an’ identity; an identity other than as a business person – Julie and Dirk, a Therapist – Sue or a retired person – Denise. These ‘other’ descriptions are as singularly one-dimensional as suggesting that they are ‘artists’.
The ‘projection’ of an identity, in this case that of an artist, was what I wanted to portray, to allow for that element of their personality/character to be ascendant. The inclusion of their statements was also key to that process, knowing that the text would anchor the images and provide very strong direction to the viewer.
I did discuss the work with the artists before the shoots, in fact there were several communications back and forth to explain what it was that I wanted. And whilst each sitting was an informed collaborative event, part of the difficulty was to negotiate between them a common framework for the poses. To explain why I didn’t want to see their faces in the frames, why I wanted them to face their work but be also connected compositionally and to also capture their ‘workspace’. This last element was interesting both from a project and technical perspective. Each artist studio has very different characteristics: large and wide, to small and narrow and to extent reflect their user’s artistry. Sue’s studio is very large echoing her large expansive landscapes, whilst Denise does very precise and moderately sized water colours in the smallest studio space. Sue, on the other hand is surrounded by textiles in a converted bedroom with space enough to work on the very detailed aspects of her 3D work, which can be quite large. I think there would a lot more to explore in this comprehension of artist space, but it wasn’t really addressed in this piece.
I think my thoughts about the images that they chose still hold, but it might be worth investigating further some other time. Why for example did the female workers choose their workspace images but Dirk choose the one of him reflecting on his burgeoning and unfinished, work? It was also commented that I didn’t explain my thought processes enough about each aspect of the work, though whilst I think I did through the various instalments leading up to the submission the submission itself didn’t carry those explanations, and that is a lesson for future assignments. I am particularly pleased with this statement: “In being as creative as you have, it sets up some conflict between the brief and your own exploration of portraiture. This of itself – as I have indicated above – is not a problem as you are fulfilling one of the important elements of level 2 – the development of your own voice.”
The river goes ever on, I have a strong sense of what I want to try and achieve with the next assignment, which will be to build on the work done so far in this course and the Documentary course combined. I wonder if I will realise whether I have a developed a voice of my own…..