Tutor feedback on the original assignment is here, and the original assignment here. No rework was suggested, but a few months on I felt I could do a better job of post-processing the composite photos to provide a clearer image, allowing the detailed elements to be more easily read.
This post just provides the reworked image, with the context and other information remaining unchanged from the original assignment post.
The difference in processing was using a different approach to capture sharpening of the Fuji x-trans sensor files (different to the typical bayer sensors), ensuring basic image adjustments were made before making the composite in Photoshop and finalising the processing of the composite image back in Lightroom, rather than in Photoshop. The final image has been left as colour, whereas the original submission was a monochrome image.
I received positive feedback (pdf linked below) on assignment 5 (submission here) , and some overall feedback and advice for preparing for the upcoming assessment. This was highly appreciated.
My tutor recommended following up on a further piece of context:
‘I’d like you to take a look at the current work of a practitioner called Marc Henry. He has created a body of work that is entitled ‘Family Fictions’ where he has manipulated family photographs to include himself with the father he never actually met. I think the work was completed for an MA in Photography at UCLAN.’ [Update at 13.9.16 – made contact at the beginning of August but no response received by the time of assessment submission]
This has been followed up in a separate blog post.
While no rework was suggested for the image, when I looked back on it I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the post-processing. I wanted more clarity in the image and the 16:9 crop felt like a compromise to reduce the visual impact of the white cellar wall. Since completing the assignment my skill and and knowledge has developed and I therefore decided to reprocess the image. See rework here.
‘Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme … The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose’ (OCA C&N, p122)
The image for assignment 5, Making it up, is an autobiographical memory work about life-choices, and how the possibility of changing direction becomes more difficult as we age. The reasons for choosing this concept are described in a separate post (see here). Inspiration for the double self-portrait was drawn from Kahlo’s, The Two Fridas and, for the monochrome post processing, from David Lamelas’ Rock Star (Character Appropriation).
The process followed for making the image, including an explanation of the location, props, lighting and modelling is detailed in a separate post (see here). In summary:
The image includes two self-portraits: the rock musician-me (my aspiration as a young man) and the businessman-me (my actual career). Both subjects are contemplating what has happened as a result of life’s choices. The musician taking the higher ground (art and pleasure) and the businessman the lower ground (commerce and sometimes a grind). The cellar with its blocked door signifies entrapment or a blocked route.
The props reference my younger aspirations and life-style, and my current situation. A trade-off has been made between financial comfort and stability one one hand, and youthful dreams on the other. For example, the small pile of coins vs the money notes, or the cheap Somerset cider vs the expensive imported Russian vodka. Some semiotics are more personal – the leather hat refers to a similar one I wore when young (see old photo in process post); and Somerset cider (the place of my youth) against Russian vodka (a frequent place of business travel).
Studio lighting was used (illustrated in the separate post), but I didn’t manage to control the lighting completely in the way I’d hoped; possibly because of the confined space and reflective walls. It is an area with which I intend to experiment and practice.
The shoot was run with the intention of creating 4 separate images for blending in Photoshop: good exposures for dark floor and white walls for a blended backdrop, plus an exposure for each self-portrait. Within Photoshop, perspective correction was needed for the wide-angle lens (used because of confined space) and the monochrome conversion was with the Nik Silver-Efex plug-in. Ideally, I wanted pure black and white to reflect the music photography of my youth, but the walls were too bright in white and sepia toning became a compromise.
The final image is below – this results from some rework following feedback from a fellow student (explained in the process post).
Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:
Demonstration of technical skills were demonstrated: a) in the lighting of a dark confined space, but I found difficulty in controlling the light exactly as I’d envisioned (perhaps due to confined space and need of more experience); b) in the successful blending, correction and monochrome conversion of RAW files in Photoshop; and c) in meeting assignment brief of controlling and directing work – self-portraiture presents its own technical challenges and for a future project I’d like to work with others as model-subjects.
Quality of outcome – the overall image successfully conveys my intention. A point for improvement in constructed images is to visualise in detail how all elements will appear in the outcome. Specifically, I’d not sufficiently considered the visibility of the props in a dark space and with a monochrome conversion – on a screen-sized image these can be tricky to see. I intend to make a large print of the image to understand how the details are then conveyed.
Demonstration of creativity – a creative use of autobiographical self-portrait to express my concept and a disused cellar-space to create an oppressive atmosphere around the central concept.
Context – The context is noted in the three preparatory posts for this assignment (see – review of C&N studies, concept, process) but broadly, the context of the work is photography as memory work and the autobiographical self-portrait. There is a breadth and depth of context.
This post follows my post on the concept for the assignment, Making it up (see here). It explores my detailed approach to the concept of life-choices and how, as one ages, it becomes more difficult to change direction.
The image will feature a double-self-portrait. One-me reflecting my younger aspirations and the other-me reflecting the way my life has turned out so far.
Props and symbols used in the image:
Rock musician-self: dressed casually with guitar and amp
Businessman-self: dressed smartly with laptop in lap
Location – cellar with blocked door to the outside. Cellar representing a sense of being closed off or trapped and the blocked door, the difficulty in finding a way out or forward.
Props related to musician-self: guitar manuscript book, glass of cider (the drink of my Somerset youth), a leather hat (similar to the one I wore as a teenager), a few coins on the floor (only a little money), electric guitar in hand (the same guitar bought for me by my mother when I was 16), plastic container of cider (tucked under my legs).
Props related to businessman-self: accountancy magazine, pile of money notes (enough money), passport expensive imported Russian vodka.
Moving the equipment in/out was tricky with the limited access, so I resolved to complete the shoot in one day.
The cellar is dark without electricity supply, with some daylight through a ventilation hole and a small door, if left open (it was once the butchery for the old farm-house where I live). To light, I ran an extension-lead around the outside of the house to power three studio lights recently bought on eBay. The lighting was more difficult than anticipated because of the small, enclosed space and remains of white lime-wash on the vaulted ceiling reflecting light in all directions. I eventually settled on this arrangement: large softbox directed at floor to avoid too much shadow on props; snoot directed at recessed, blocked doorway to illuminate a ‘way out’; and bare studio light directed at ceiling to illuminate the self-portrait subjects.
Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 10-24mm lens – remote-controlled with Fuji iPhone app for self-portraits. Over 100 photos in total, including test-shots for lighting arrangements. Wide-angle was necessary because of the limited space in the cellar.
Musician-self: several poses attempted and props adjusted before arriving at final choice. Similar approach for businessman-self.
Empty scene (without self) including just props – here I was looking for good exposures of the floor (including props) and wall/ceiling for the details during Photoshop blending.
Photoshop used throughout with Nik Silver-efex as a smart layer for black and white conversion.
Made background composite of floor/ceiling, using blend-if for correct blend of white ceiling and dark stone floor.
Used masks to overlay musician-self and businessman-self over background composite, including levels adjustment to each self. Followed by levels adjustment to combined images.
Created flat layer from composite layers, converted to smart-layer and applied Silver Efex Pro. An ‘adaptive wide angle’ filter was applied to the composites to correct the perspective.Within Efex, applied general and local adjustments to arrive at final image.
So, in total 4 images were used in the composite (RAW unprocessed files are shown below).
Raw files used in composite
The initial version of the final image was shared to the OCA 1 Facebook group and feedback received from a fellow student (thanks to Sue Eyre!) that the brightness of the walls distracted from the foreground details and the props were difficult to see.
The feedback was valid and I’d clear become snow-blind to the image after looking at it for too long. Initially, some corrections were made by dodging and burning in Photoshop using layers.
While this offered some improvements to visibility, it also created some difficulties: applying the dodge/burn on top of the Silver Efex Pro layer, caused saturation of the yellow tint and the foreground detail didn’t draw attention in the in the frame. This was down to the original composition focusing on capturing everything from the floor to the top of the arch – a mistake in framing in retrospect.
For the final image shown in the submission, I completely reworked the image. A cinematic 16:9 crop was applied to cut the head-room and bring the foreground up. During reprocessing, care was taken to reduce the brightness of the walls and bring more attention on the props through careful brightness and detail adjustments.
Below are contact sheets containing a selection of the unprocessed RAW files from the shoot.
The brief for this assignment, Making it Up, can be summarised as follows:
‘Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme … The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose … The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image … For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s) … write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).’ (OCA C&N, p122)
This post follows one on my initial research and reflection (see here). I’ve been thinking about this assignment for some time before arriving at the idea of an autobiographical memory work. There are a number of things that have influenced me in this direction:
Recent reading on photography and memory that was recommended by my tutor (see recommendations and links here), including Joan Gibbons’ Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance.
A surprising, to me, enjoyment of autobiographical work developed during the course of C&N, particularly assignment 3 (see here). I’ve found this cathartic.
Now I’ve turned 50, I’ve become more reflective on life and times; there is most likely more time behind than ahead, which makes me more mindful of how I spend my time, and how I’ve spent my time.
An old friend recently posted the image below to Facebook. This caused me to reflect on a time in my life when music was everything and I could not imagine doing anything other than that. In fact, the 17-year-old me (with the hat), would have most likely been scornful of the career path I’ve taken in big business.
My intention in the assignment is to reflect upon life-choices and how, as one ages, it becomes more difficult to change direction. Windows of opportunity for change seem to be reduced as responsibilities shift to nurturing future generations.
Regarding, approach to content of my image, I have two main influences: Kahlo’s, The Two Fridas (see here), which gave me the idea of combining two self-portraits to show two sides of one self; and David Lamelas – rock star, which I recently saw at the Tate Modern’s exhibition, Performing for the Camera, which give me the idea of processing my image in high-contrast black and white to echo my one-time rock musician ambitions.
In preparation for the final assignment of C&N, Making it up, I have made a survey of my course work, looking for ideas and inspiration for the assignment. While reading through, I’ve also taken the opportunity to perform any edits to earlier post; either for errors previously not spotted or to include images in any posts that appear too text-heavy in light of my current blogging practice.
Here I record notes of ideas and links to the original blog posts for easy reference:
Post processing – consider use of cinematic-style colour grading, particularly if darkened cellar is used as backdrop (see here for technique). See exercise on Scorsese, The Good Fellas (here) for example of cinematic lighting effects.
Reflect on personal memories – life-choices – as ideas for construction. Reference Bate, The Memory of Photography (see here). Is there something in old personal photos I can draw upon?
In Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance, by Joan Gibbons (see here) the topics of ego (within self-portrait) and the divide between private and public in auto-biographical works are discussed. What divides and self-representation of ego influence my own work?
‘All photographs are momento mori (Sontag)’ – or literally, ‘remember you must die’ (discussed by Hirsch in Family Frames here). In a double self-portrait, could I superimpose an image of my younger self, or otherwise incorporate an image to reference ageing and experience?
For ideas on semiotics in the image refer to the book, This means this, this means that, by Sean Hall (post here). Also, Barthes’ The Rhetoric of Image (see here)
Work of other photographers if this project is to include self-portraiture – revisit the book Auto Focus (see here).
Looking back over my blog makes me mindful that much ground has been covered in a seemingly short time.