The semi absented portrait – hiding in plain site
“Sharing your [book] shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity.”
Context, Preparation and Execution
A full description of the preparation and planning for this assignment can be found on my blog here:
In brief though I completed a diary as suggested in the course materials. My diary was written over 21 days and was in many respects a collection of the thoughts that came into my head at the end of each day. It wasn’t a slavish account of the all the events of the day, although it did refer to things that took place during the day. The diary was then reviewed by four people I know. Each gave me their thoughts about what the diary said about me. Although my diary reviewers all made unique contributions to this task the single factor that stood out most in their review comments were my reading, my commitment to make time to read and the material that I read. This objective observation became the catalyst for this assignment.
In reading the course materials I had been struck particularly by the work of Gillian Wearing and Trish Morrissey. In different ways, they both use a wide definition of the concept of the self-portrait to explore different aspects of identity. Both artists have work that looks at family identity, or indeed multiple identities. ‘Mimmickery’ is a feature too of their exploratory approach. Morrissey takes this approach further and her: ‘Ten People in a Suitcase’ is a mix of performance and investigation. While reading Baylis’s (2016) review of this work it was her comment:
‘Morrissey works to embody the lives of the subjects she has chosen and to speak of what those connections mean to her.’
Considering this work coincided with reading an article I found in the Guardian while researching something for a presentation at work. An article by Knox (2012) entitled: What does your bookshelf say about you? In the article Knox encourages us to take a picture of our bookshelves to share this image with others as it can say so much about who we are, but more importantly why we are the person we are. He further suggests:
“Sharing your shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity. “
I thought of photographing a bookshelf or collection of books as a still life and exploring this idea as an absented portrait, but I then came up with the idea of being the bookshelf, in a semi absented traditional style portrait. It was this idea upon which I developed the work for this assignment.
All the images were made using a crop sensor camera (1.5x crop factor) and using a single prime focus 60mm lens (equating to 90mm on a full Frame camera). The images were recorded as RAW files, processed in Lightroom then converted to Jpegs, 1500 pixels on the long side and in Adobe (RGB) colour space. A second set was made ready for sending to a commercial printer as TIFF Files in sRGB colour space and the file size specified by the commercial printer. Given the brief of a portrait image I chose the 60/90mm focal length because it was reasonably fast at f2.4 and it would allow the subject to be isolated from the background in a shallow but sharp depth of field. This assignment presented some new challenges, not least that I would not be behind the camera. Initially I enlisted a family member to help but this proved problematic. My family member assistant non-photographer they were unable to get the focus correct in the shallow depth of field that I needed. Also, there were availability issues as I made the images over a week in a variety of different locations.
Being creative and using a bit of a Heath Robinson approach, I used the camera on a tripod and set up a second tripod as a stand for the book that would be in the image and the area of key focus.
This created a precise zone to focus on the achieve the sharp but shallow depth of field images I was pre visualising. I used the camera in manual focus mode and set the scene up. Then using a cable release and self-timer I set about making the images. Some were made at home; others were made in two different city locations that I happened to be in during December. I did illicit some strange looks and comments from passersby but this is becoming a feature of my OCA assignment activity!
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
I think there is some technical competence demonstrated in several the images. This is set against the backdrop of the technical challenges taking pictures of yourself creates. Even using my multiple tripod technique there are some images I am much happier about than others. I think there is a coherence to the set of images and I think I meet the brief of the assignment. There is of course room for improvement and If I did this activity again I would enlist the assistance of a competent photographer as an assistant. This would allow for far more experimentation. I felt constrained to some extent using my ‘one man’ methodology.
Quality of outcome
I believe the outcomes meets the brief of the assignment and there is some technical competence in the images submitted. I also recognize that some are stronger than others. I am far better practiced in natural light than in artificial light. The latter is an area I need to develop my skill in. I think there is reference to the work of part three of the course in my images and if nothing else the work raises some questions and issue about identity. The approach I have taken to this assignment might be interpreted as clichéd, but I think there is the kernel of an approach self-portraiture worthy of some further exploration and experimentation.
Demonstration of creativity
I have engaged with the material cited in the course around the theme of ‘putting yourself in the picture’. I have also read and researched beyond the material. This preparation supported in the production of this work. I have tried to use some of the simple tropes of formal and informal portrait images in a different manner. I have used the idea of a mask and hiding in plan site to respond to the brief in a personal manner. I think the resulting work is an ‘oblique’ form of self-portrait revealing things about self and identity. I am pleased with the outcome but recognise I am merely scratching the surface of a potential vein of self-expression.
This was a genuinely engaging assignment to work on that made me think in different way. I also had to manage some technical as well as creative challenges to achieve the images that I visualized. I have partially managed this and feel this assignment responds to the brief but has more potential than perhaps my images at this stage present. As with all my OCA work I press on with a journey that test me but also offer insight and challenge.
Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley
Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph, OUP, Oxford
Clarke, G. (1992) The Portrait in Photography – Critical Views, Reaction Press, Seattle
Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames and Hudson, London
Zohar, A. (2011) The Elu[va]sive Portrait: Mimicry, Masquerade and Camouflage-Conceptual and Theoretical Notes, an Introduction, Trans Asia Photography Review, found at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0002.102?view=text;rgn=main (Accessed December 2016)