Assignment 4 – Languages of Light
Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or studio light from Part Four (4.2, 4.3 or 4.4) and prepare it for formal assignment submission:
- Create a set of between six and ten finished images. For the images to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, for instance a subject, or a particular period of time.
- Include annotated contact sheets of all of the photographs that you’ve shot for the exercise (see notes on the contact sheet in Part Three).
- Assignment notes are an important part of every assignment. Begin your notes with an introduction outlining why you selected this particular exercise for the assignment, followed by a description of your ‘process’ (the series of steps you took to make the photographs). Reference at least one of the photographers mentioned in Part Four in your assignment notes, showing how their approach to light might link in to your own work. Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria. Write 500–1,000 words.
Include a link (or scanned pages) to Exercise 4.5 in your learning log for your tutor’s comments.
I approached this shoot with the intention of using low-key studio lighting as I did in exercise 4.4. During my research for this assignment at Kent University Library I found a book by Karsh, Karsh: a fifty-year retrospective, 1986. I was struck by one particular portrait of Helen Keller but the difference to the conventional portrait was he had focused on her hands. Helen was deaf and blind but managed to achieve a BA Degree and was the first blind person to do so. (Karsh, 1986). Keller managed to communicate with the world and more importantly directed her energy into something productive and creative.
I have also been reading Photography, by John Ingledew, which reinforced my initial idea of photographing hands rather than portraiture. Nan’s Hands, 2004 by Hayley Leonard depicts an elderly lady with her hands resting over the arm of chair. She appears frail judging by her skin over the back of her hands. (Ingledew, 2005)
The leading lines and composition work well as your eye works a circular motion from the hands to arms and pale jumper. I am left asking myself how old is she? What did she do in life? She has no wedding ring why? Is she widowed? “Very telling portraits have been created examining key details of a sitter – the hands of sculptors and artists, the fists of boxers, and the feet of dancers and sportsmen. Bill Brandt photographed in tight close-up the eyes of visionary artists including Henry Moore, Max Ernst, Georges Braque and Alberto Glacometti. The ephemera of a person’s life can also be very revealing.” (Ingledew, 2005)
I found example after example throughout history where ill-health, disability or life changing events brings out creativity. Like myself Sara Ezekiel has Motor Neurone Disease yet has become an accomplished artist using her eyes to paint digitally. (Sarah Ezekiel, no date)
Rather than the produce a conventional portrait I wanted to focus the viewers’ attention on the subject’s hands with the intention of expressing their creative ability and personality. I asked each person if they wanted to bring an object or objects that they create, play or encapsulate their character. This wasn’t a necessity but as I knew some were musician’s or creative I felt it would be a reflection and extension of them.
Initially, I thought I would need about 10 willing friends or volunteers. I actually managed to find four willing participants. I used social media to ask for friends or anyone who was able to help with this project. I confined the criteria to people who had a visible, non-visible disability or condition.
My rationale behind this was because I have a terminal illness which is not necessarily visible once I am sitting in chair. I do have severe atrophy (muscle wastage) over my hands and skin, which ages me juxtaposed against my face, which appears normal. I say I’m a 40-year-old living in an 80-year-old body.
My first participant Vicky is a carer to her son who has severe autism. He attends the Kent Autistic Trust every day. Vicky, works full-time and is the main carer for her son. She has a skin condition (vitiligo). Her skin has white patches in particular her hands.
As the shoot progressed Vicky relaxed as I built a rapport with her. She became increasingly talkative and without eliciting anything she talked about her son and her life. I left a Dictaphone recording the conversation and was able to make notes afterwards. She was aware I was recording the conversation. The Dictaphone was quickly forgotten and placed out of sight.
Vicky is a mother, carer and wife who must have an abundance of patience, love and understanding with no bounds. I wanted to demonstrate that by placing the hands in an open way but with the palm and top opposing cupped in a heart shape. During the conversation Vicky, she said that her hands were described by a girl as, “Pretty like a flower”. In Summer her hands become tanned and the vitiligo becomes quite pronounced as a result.
Vicky, appears well and to those who don’t know her personally. You would not think something is immediately wrong with her if you met her in the street. However, in 2006, she had a liver transplant.
She brought with her a framed portrait of her son. She explained that in a rare moment he was smiling, and I asked her if she hold this in her hands as this was a precious moment, which she cherished. I wanted to show the connection between them and her skin condition.
My thoughts then turned to the comment that she had made earlier in the shoot about her hands looking a pretty as a flower. I went outside to my garden and cut a rose bud and brought into the shoot. Vicky, held the rose in her cupped hands. I did not direct her as to how to hold the flower, but the natural heart shape seemed to appear. Ironically, I later found out that her mother, who has since passed away was called Rose. I think this image really reflects Vicky personality on many levels.
I used two studio flash heads fitted with a snoot and honeycomb grid and a beauty dish, this created a low-light scene with lots of shadows and tones. I decided to use a 50mm prime lens with my settings at f8 and ISO125 a shutter speed of 1/160. I used a hand-held light meter and set the fill (snoot) to f5.6. I was happy with the final result when Vicky placed the rose in her hands.
My final two images were “Rose” and “Son”. I am very happy with final outcome.
Gemma is the daughter of Vicky and was the second person I photographed. She has arthritis and was diagnosed at the age of 14. This must have been devastating at such a young age. For the past 13 years and although she had hobbies such a crafting and colouring she is in constant pain. Her fingers are clearly affected and deformed.
Her cats are a source of comfort and companionship. They are her therapy and alleviate her stress. It’s really no surprise that her mental health has been affected and occasionally becomes quite depressed because of the condition.
Gemma came across as a sensitive, quite soul. She spoke softly and quietly describing how her life has altered because of the arthritis. Gemma is the daughter of Vicky and helps her mother care for her brother.
I noticed her two tattoos one related to a dog that they owned that unfortunately could not be removed and had to be put to sleep. The second a rose. The rose was tattooed on her ankle and was in memory of her grandmother. Gemma told me that Vicky has a matching tattoo.
It would have been impractical for Gemma to have brought her two cats, but she did bring along a photo of her two adorable cats. I asked her to hold the framed photograph but ensured that her deformed finger was noticeable but not the main point of interest in the frame.
I used a beauty dish as the main light and gridded soft box for the fill. This produced an even spread of light. The final image required a small amount of editing in Lightroom CC but I was happy with the final result. ‘Cats’ and ‘Hope’
Marie seemed quite chatty and talked quite a lot to my wife about her school days. School seemed to play a huge part in her life. Towards the end she explained that her collection of buttons belonged once to her mother and grandmother as they were quite thrifty and upcycled. At the age of 12 months she as abandoned, and she was left with her grandmother. When she was 4 years old her mother returned abruptly with her prospective father. She was removed from her grandmother and taken to live with someone she didn’t know. She said, “I remember sitting and thinking who are you?”
At 7 years old, her was brother was born, who she took to the rubbish bins and left him. She discarded him like a piece of rubbish. Her grandmother made her share her belongings and toys’, but she was insistent that she didn’t want to as, “they were my belongings”.
She is currently divorced but has a partner. She works full-time and runs a successful crafting business despite that she cut her finger causing nerve damage and she has fibromyalgia. Her craft skills extend to candle making, crafting, cross-stitch and paper-folding.
Marie, brought her crafting equipment and some examples of her work. I used a black piece of Perspex to reflect the objects and her hands. However, it was very difficult to direct her as she was just so chatty. I managed to get her to pour her beloved buttons onto the Perspex taking the final few shots.
The lighting was slightly more involved for this setup. I used two studio heads, one fitted with a snoot and honeycomb
b grid placed at 45 degrees to the subject and a main light positioned on a boom overhead fitted with a diffused beauty dish. This shoot had a two folded purpose and was to photograph Maria’s work and to photograph her working with her hands, but the lighting still remained the same.
Pete, was my final participant in the assignment. He is a self-employed driving instructor and personal friend. He is an accomplished bass guitarist and plays in his own band. He is a dependable, helpful and cheerful friend.
I would describe Pete as a quiet character and doesn’t talk a great deal but very passionate about his guitar. So, it made it a natural choice to photograph Pete while he played a few chords. I wanted to capture the relaxed side of him and to do that I needed him to play his guitar.
In one of the shots I’d forgotten about the warts on his hands. Perhaps, this is because I’m used to seeing them and through a viewfinder really focused my attention? I decided to focus on that part of hands.
Post-processing, I wanted to bring out the texture of the wood against the skin by enhancing the contrast slightly. The lighting was a simple setup with using just one beauty dish with a honeycomb grid. This offered a concentrated soft light source over the body of the guitar and hands.
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity.
For this assignment I chose to use studio lighting using various modifiers and experimented with different backgrounds and textures.
Studio lighting offered the control, power and direction of light whereas natural or artificial light, would not have provided the desired outcome of precise lighting I was looking for. I used two studio heads with various modifiers depending on the person and subject I was photographing. I will explain how I achieved this for each person I photographed in the learning log.
Looking back, I think I learnt more about the people I didn’t know at the beginning of the assignment than those who I had a friendship or some knowledge of. If I were to repeat this task I would like to work with random people as the results were far more interesting and as the shoot developed so did the ideas. I felt that I applied a fair degree of creativity to each sitter and tried various poses with or without props.
I used my studio equipment to its fullest potential and I don’t think I could have improved on my technical ability.
I looked at the work of Bill Brandt, Karsh and Man Ray for this assignment and the lesser known photographer Raymond Moore. Moore was only the second British Photographer prior to Bill Brandt in 1970 to have had his work shown at the Hayward Gallery. I watched a series of a three-part BBC Northwest documentary a ‘Coast to Coast Special’. (David Moore, no date). Moore was a fascinating man and photographer, who truly looked.
Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis
This assignment became quite easy once I had found a creative way to explore but not copy the likes of Brandt. My disability once again got me thinking about my own body and how am I perceived by people in the world. I am the young man in a wheelchair or am I a man struggling with my hands and co-ordination, speech and physical appearance or am I just another human being living life to the fullest?
I started to think about how many others have the visible/non-visible conditions or illness and how does it affect them. Does it make them creative? If so how? Inspired by the portrait work of Karsh and the skills I have gained with the use of studio lighting this all seemed to make a perfect combination for me to control the scene and lighting.
Natural lighting whilst would have been acceptable I felt did not offer the control and direction that the studio lights could.
Ingledew, J. (2005) Photography. London: Laurence King.
Karsh, Y. (ed.) (1986) A fifty-year retrospective. Toronto: Univ.of Toronto Pr.
Sarah Ezekiel(no date). Available at: http://sarahezekiel.com (Accessed: 10 May 2018).