Sunday, 12 December 2010

Location Portraiture

I recently completed a short six week course on Location Portraiture run through Bexley College. It was interesting and challenging on many fronts. The biggest challenge was down to the fact the college ran the course at this time of year rather than at the end of spring when the tutor had envisaged it taking place! Due to it being an evening class and too dark with inclement weather taking photographs outside was rather limited and two of the planned lessons had to be scrapped/re-organised due to only being able to shoot indoors.

It was enjoyable working and learning within a group again, bouncing ideas of each other and critiquing each others work. Mini assignments were set, I think the worst was handing over my camera to someone else and allowing them to photograph me! My son obliged and the result is my profile picture. I subsequently converted it to black and white to practise skills learnt in this part of the module.

A later part of the course covered exploring the edges of the frame and not centering the model. So experimenting I extended the frame.

I also practised on friends and revisited some earlier shots not taken for this course.

Another challenge was to walk around the college, find a fairly bright lighting condition with a bright background and create a high key portrait.

The last session was supposed to have been outside learning to use available light and reflectors but as previously mentioned this couldn't happen! We therefore had a studio setup with three tungsten lights trying to create the feel of consistent bright outside light. I didn't do very well! I think it was a case of too many cooks spoil the broth, I couldn't get the angles I wanted, the light where I wanted and the model kept blinking... I have a plethora of eyes closed shots! It was helpful to see the difference between using gold/silver/white and sunlight reflectors. I would like to improve the portraits I take but am now convinced that set up studio portraiture is NOT my calling ;o)

Several photographers were discussed and some were new to me such as William Kline, Larry Sultan, Tina Barney and Tom Hunter.

William Kline

William Klein career has encompassed groundbreaking  photographs of New York, fashion photography, and proto-Pop films. He has been described as idiosyncratic and experimental.
Born in New York in 1928, at the age of 20 William Klein went to Paris to study under Fernand Leger, who encouraged his students to reject conformity and the traditional gallery, and go out and work on the streets.
As an artist using photography, during the early 1950’s Klein set out to re-invent the photographic document. His photographs were often blurred or out of focus, and his deliberately over-exposed negatives, the use of high-grain film and experimenting with wide angled lenses shocked the established order of the photography world.
In 1954, Klein was approached by the director of American Vogue, Alexander Libermanto. He returned to New York to make a ‘photographic diary’ of the city. Financed by Vogue, Klein - who had never photographed fashion before - was surprisingly also given a contract as a fashion photographer for the magazine.  Vogue was shocked the raw and real view of the city he produced, and others saw it as photographically incompetent. Kline took the work back to Paris and managed to find a French publisher who brought it out as a book, entitled ‘New York’ in 1956. Now a much-sought-after collector’s item, this publication was also published in Italy the same year, and went on to win the Nadar prize.
Klein produced three other books of photography after this: ‘Rome’ (1960), ‘Moscow’ (1964) and ‘Tokyo’ (1964).
Despite Vogue’s reception of the New York streets work, Klein worked for the magazine as a fashion photographer for 10 years between ’55 and ’65. Klein preferred to photograph his models out in on location and, not particularly interested in clothes or fashion, used this opportunity to introduce new techniques to fashion photography that are still used today, including the use of wide-angle and long-focus lenses, long exposures combined with flash and multiple exposures.
From 1965 to the early 80’s, Klein abandoned photography and primarily concentrated on film, returning to still photography in the 1980s.
Prizes in the 1990’s included the Hasselblad Prize and the Agfa-Bayer/Hugo Erfurt Prize and also during this time he created ‘In & Out of Fashion’, a mixed media project including drawings, photographs and film, which was published simultaneously with shows in London, Paris and New York. In 1997 he re-photographed New York and had shows in Barcelona and Paris. In 1999 he was awarded the ‘Medal of the Century’ by the royal photographic society’ in London.
Viewing his images on-line I think I shall have to see if I can find any library books on him. I find myself drawn to all his images, he is proof that you can capture images of things you are not sure of, you can break the rules, you don't need razor sharp images to produce a fascinating and insightful body of work. His black and white images in Italy were stunning.

william klein biography

Larry Sultan

Larry Sultan was born in New York in 1946 and moved with his family to Southern California in 1949. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He received a BA in 1968 from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an MFA in 1973 from the San Francisco Art Institute. In San Francisco he was represented by Stephen Wirtz Gallery.

Not only did he have a teaching career completed commercial work for 'W Magazine', 'Vanity Fair', and other important clients, he also produced a large and widely influential body of personal work. His first major project was a collaboration with the artist Mike Mandel: a book of appropriated photographs titled  "Evidence"  The pictures came from the files of government agencies, corporations, and research institutions, offering a witty and provocative look at contemporary American culture. It wasn't until I started to check up on Sultan for this post that I realised I have come across "Evidence" when looking into other work.

In 1992 Sultan compiled the book and accompanying exhibition "Pictures from Home". The decade-long project began when his father, a vice president at Schick Safety Razor Company, was forced into early retirement. Sultan started by photographing his parents and their home lives, then also started to include extensive diaristic writing, family artifacts, and stills from his parents' home movies.

Working in the San Fernando Valley on "Pictures from Home" led Sultan to his next project, "The Valley", an investigation of suburban houses used as sets for pornographic films. "The Valley" was presented at SFMOMA in 2004 as a solo exhibition of more than 50 large-scale photographs shot between 1999 and 2003.

Sultan exhibited internationally throughout his career. His work is in the collections of SFMOMA; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Modern, London. He received numerous grants and awards, including five NEA grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Louis Tiffany Comfort Award, and a Fleishhacker Fellowship.
Not sure if I actually like his work :o/ Not sure if it is the style or the subjects? I love the lighting and his bold use of colours but as images I can't connect to them like I can with other photographers' images.

YouTube - Larry Sultan on The Genius of Photography

Tina Barney

When people say that there is a distance, a stiffness in my photographs, that the people look like they do not connect, my answer is, that this is the best that we can do. This inability to show physical affection is in our heritage.
— Tina Barney

I must admit that when I first saw Tina Barney's photographs that was the first impression I got. Very formal, very stiff, no-one looks totally natural/comfortable. But this is probably due to, as she states, their up-bringing and culture. Barney chose to photograph what she knew, and what she knew were her friends and family; the social elite of New York and New England. When examining her style it has the feel of a tableau and subject matter raises issues of privilege and the interaction of family members. Using a large format camera she would almost direct the subjects in her photographs. Apparently she was one of the first photographers to produce massive prints at 4 feet by 5 feet. I guess because I am so far removed from this world I find it hard to relate to the images or feel any emotion/interest towards the characters.

Born in New York in 1945 into "old money" and a society where wealth and society mattered I think you can tell this through the images Barney takes. The large prints enable you to view every object within the frame and these objects obviously tell us so much about the people who inhabit these environments.

Even if I can't relate to the subjects once again I can appreciate her ability to capture the essence of a world I have no access to, her use of lighting and colour is well thought out and executed, even the wariness of her subjects can be explained. Old money does not call attention to itself. "There is an overall feeling of old money that you have to guard it," Barney has said, "and I'm part of that."
This highlights what is important for her and many others. Cultural familiarity—knowing your subject, being comfortable in it, being able to make your subjects comfortable, it's an aspect of informal location portraiture  that's generally celebrated. Other examples of photographers who achieved this are Anders Petersen, who explored Hamburg's Reeperbahn district, or Juliana Beasley, who turned her stripper's background into a platform for a photographic series. They photographed the people they associated with, and gave their viewers a glimpse into a world they might not have witnessed otherwise.

If nothing else Barney has given us an insight to this world and eventually, sociologically this body of work may provide a window into history.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

I can see a fair few similarities in the work of Sultan and Barney.

Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter is another photographer who captures what he knows and takes images of the loacl people and their environment around Hackney. What I love and enjoy about his work is his ability to reference historical artists within his images.

Tom Hunter - Artist

He has several exhibitions on at present and I am going to try and get to at least one.

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