exercise 2.4 – same background, different model

‘This exercise is essentially the same as the previous one, but instead of taking photographs of the same person, here you must make portraits of three different subjects, but keep the background to the image consistent (see Irving Penn and Clare Strand, above). There are many ways of exploring this exercise. You could either select an interesting backdrop to use inside (studio) or perhaps select an interesting backdrop on location (street). Whichever you choose, try to be as creative as you can and be prepared to justify your decisions through your supporting notes.’

– IaP Coursebook, p.54

I would have liked to do something as simple and yet clever as Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows’ 1972 June Street collaboration where the occupants of a terrace of Manchester houses were pictured in their originally identical but now divergently individual living rooms.  I found this series much less problematic than Parr’s later work on the Japanese Commuters that also forms part of the course material. I even have a couple of ideas for this – the various double front doors of the terraced maisonettes of the east London street that I live in or the small-shop interiors of the parade that runs perpendicularly along the far end of my street – but, lacking time I shall file this idea away for later use.

fig.1 – fiona, burray

Instead,  here are three more pictures of my family taken while we were on holiday earlier this month. James – my son from an earlier relationship – has already featured in the preceding exercise; the other two subjects are Fiona, my partner and Alice, our daughter.

The background was chosen for this because:

  • it’s recognisable as a beach
  • the colours form a nice set of calm outdoor shades
  • the way the beach curves away in to the distance behind anyone stood in front of it
  • the way the marram grass forms a nice triangle that ‘grows’ from left to right

fig.2 – alice, burray

Where the previous exercise linked a number of locations through the constant figure of James, and as a result could be turned into a simple narrative, this set of pictures link the three subjects together as occupying the same space. You then get to look at all three of them and try to work out what the differences are.

  • Fiona and James are wearing similar clothes to one another.
  • But their colouring and the shape of their faces are different.
  • Fiona is for once looking at me, happy while I take a picture; this is a good thing for ‘being on holiday’.
  • James is looking at something over my right shoulder and possibly telling me about it; I have no idea what it is.
  • Alice is obviously younger.
  • She is *totally* up for being on a beach.
  • Her eyes are the same as her mother’s

fig.3 – james, burray

And here, because the background is a linking motif, the people can be larger in the frame. It is about what they look like. This is not a bad thing, I think, but then I am a sucker for repetition with differences or – if you want – variations on a theme…

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