For the first assignment for People and Place, ‘A Portrait’, I needed to produce a number of portraits using the skills and ideas from the previous exercises in this part of the module. I have based the assignment loosely around the subject of ‘Expat’ and some of the perceived ideas and realities of what they get up to on a daily basis. For this assignment I needed to use the same subject for each setting and produce 5-7 portraits each varying in style and content. I shall lay out the final shots and briefly describe them. All focal lengths are given as full frame.
I feel this is almost the archetypal perception of what most expats get up to on a daily basis. I won’t break into that perception by saying whether it is true or not! I have taken this photograph relatively early in the morning to gain a soft, yellowish light. As the viewer can see from the angle of the sun, even though it was early, the sun is still quite high in the sky. The angle and brightness of the sun also makes the pool look very blue. I have tried to keep as much of the reflection in the photograph as possible, which again accentuates the fact he is relaxing in a pool. As the viewer is unable to see the torso under the water line, the reflection gives a nice symmetry to the image. The subject has on his sunglasses and necklace, his hands are behind his head giving the impression he is trying to top-up his tan. I have used a focal length of 132mm to both flatten the image and give a realistic proportion. In post-production I have added a vignette and warmed the image adding a yellow hue to the photograph. I felt this gave a more luxurious feel to the overall image. In reflection I would like to have not had the pool filter (bottom left) and water jets in shot as I feel they are a bit of a distraction from the subject. Overall I am happy with the image.
Although absolutely welcomed in to the mosque to look around, the visitor (unless a Muslim) is not allowed in to the prayer hall, but can observe through the doors either side of it. Indeed during prayer times we would not be allowed in at all. The morning light, coming through the windows on both sides of the mosque, helps to light both interior and exterior spaces here. The altar area glows with a warm artificial light, which draws the eye towards it having been lead there by the pattern of prayer mat spaces all pointing towards Mecca. My subject looks relaxed and stares in to the darker area in front of the altar. He looks like any other tourist rather than someone living close by. I have chosen to use a wide-angle lens to give the idea of space and light in this large mosque and also to include as many of the white individual prayer areas as possible. I have also left the tiled area (quite bright in the light), to the right of the image in shot so show the subject is ‘outside’ rather than right in the middle of the mosque. There is just enough available light to light my subject’s face without having to ‘burn’ in any detail.
I felt this close up of the subject’s face showed the rigours of the weather experienced in the tropical heat. Using black and white in the final image accentuated this by showing all the marks, dints and lines in the skin which looks very smooth under normal conditions. He is also not clean-shaven giving a rough, gnarly texture to the image. The photograph is backlit with ambient light bouncing off a wall behind me. I have used a small an aperture as I can to reduce the depth of field and bring attention to bear on the eye nearest the camera. The focal length is 82mm giving no distortion of the features. There is a pronounced highlight on the bridge of his nose, which would have been nice to have under control, possibly by using a bit more reflected light from behind me to even out the exposure. This said, I think the harshness of the light is what makes the image so strong. It is interesting to see how different someone can look under different conditions and using different techniques. It is the only image of the series which has no environment shown to the viewer other than the bright lighting conditions.
As I sit and write this assignment, Singapore is in the grips of ‘the Haze‘, a cloud of noxious smoke being caused by Indonesian farmers ‘slashing and burning‘ areas of farm land to make way for new crops. It is an annual feature in the region, but this year is particularly bad in Singapore (hitting record levels), so I wanted to try and capture it. My subject wears a face mask and sunglasses to convey the polluted nature of the cloud whilst in the background the haze lingers over the famous landmarks of Singapore. His stance is that of someone resigned to breathing and living in this haze whilst his head angle (although we cannot see most of his face) almost questions the viewer about what they are seeing. This was a difficult image to get across in the end as my camera ended up doing a very good job of not making the haze look as bad as it was. Also, without the benefit of knowing what this view normally looks like (very clear blue skies), the viewer may not understand what is going on without explanation. In retrospect, I could have used a telephoto lens from more of a distance, which may have made the haze look worse, losing my subject somewhat within it. Instead I opted for a wide-angle to show as much of the bay area as possible.
Those who know Singapore will also know how unusual it is to find this sort of expressive graffiti sprayed on a building. For this reason I couldn’t let this opportunity be missed and this was an unplanned shot. Fortunately the lighting conditions allowed me to make the image quite well. It was very late morning with the sun high in the sky and the location was a very narrow lane giving quite a bit of shade (although the strip of light I was standing in to take the photograph was very bright). My subject appears to be loitering somewhat in the doorway of this closed shop. He is very close to the shutters as the shade from the sun only extends a few inches in front of him and I wanted the shot to be in the shade to control the amount of light coming in. Having the light hitting the subject and the metal shutters evenly meant I could expose for an even light giving me the bright colours you see with barely any post-processing necessary. Initially I wanted to crop to the shape and size of the yellow plasterwork around the shutters but felt the presence of the ‘tear-off’ adverts helped the scene further. My subject is just off-centre, looking away from the camera and in to the negative space and beyond. His hands in his pockets and the expression on his face reveals that this is not a threatening area to be in regardless of the graffiti behind him. He could easily be waiting for a friend to arrive. I like the way the straight lines on his shirt play off against the chaotic, luminous lines behind him. It conspires to make him stand out even though it is quite a busy image.
Overall I have found this section of the module quite testing both technically and logistically. Technically, I need to have more confidence to direct my subjects and be sure about what I want them to do. I also need to set out with a clear idea of what I want my final image to look like. My inspiration for portrait shots is quite limited currently as it is not an area of photography that has been high on my agenda until now. The positive to this is that one cannot move but for images and portraits to study both in print and electronically. Logistically I found trying to use a model or subject quite a bind. The availability of subjects both willing and able to get in front of the camera were at a premium and as can be seen by my learning log I have only used two different subjects (apart from my son).
It is interesting to note that although people are generally quite happy to have their photo taken at say, a social occasion, they are often reticent about having the camera turned on them in a more private environment. This throws questions open to me about the perception and use of cameras in today’s society. Pointing my phone camera at someone seems socially acceptable and many are happy to participate. On the other hand, when you take out your Nikon, Canon (or similar) people start to hide somewhat. What is the fundamental difference between the two different ways of taking the photograph? I would argue that your image is far more likely to be seen having been photographed by someone’s phone camera (on social media for example) rather than a DSLR. So if being seen is not the problem then why the reticence? I could understand better if people shied away from all forms of photography but one versus the other does not seem to me to make any sense. It is an interesting conundrum to take forward in to the second part of my course, ‘People Unaware’.
My many thanks to Gary Batchelor for his time and enthusiasm for this shoot.