I had cut down the number of pictures I took during my holiday in Orkney from around four hundred to a more manageable thirty six.
I now needed to think – again – about the assignment brief:
- There need to be five photographs in the final submission
- It needs to build on the exercises (and so should include elements of ‘aware’ and ‘unaware’)
- It is called ‘Vice Versa’
- There needs to be an interchange between elements of ‘street’ and ‘studio’
To go through them one by one:
Five photographs is an awkward number which removes the simple option of using contrasting pairs of shots to build up an easy narrative. It also means you can’t feature too many different people.
So, I need to determine who is going to remain ‘in’. There are six people in the pictures that made the short list (Fiona, James, Alice, my sister and my brother-in-law, and Fiona’s sister, who was up from Newcastle for part of the time). Six is a lot, and it could all become a bit confusing. I toyed with the idea of doing it all with pairs, with one person linking into the next picture with a new subject-partner who would then carry on to the following picture (a bit like Schnitzler’s play ‘la Ronde‘, but without the criticism of sexual mores), but rejected it as too complex and also because I didn’t have enough pictures featuring pairs of people.
So despite really liking the picture of Alice with her uncle (3rd from the left in the top row of the contact sheet) I’ll limit myself to pictures of Alice, Fiona and James. Down to 26…
Then – as well as moving between the ‘unaware’ and the ‘aware’ – the exercises had involved a lot of placing someone within a readable space (or in front of a readable back ground). I rejected any pictures that could have been taken anywhere or which don’t have enough background detail to locate the pictures somewhere isolated. The close ups of Fiona on the boat and of James on the train to Aberdeen went. Down to 20.
Vice versa. I need to have something that can be introduced with a reversible opposition like ‘Orcadians in London and vice versa’ (Londoners in Orkney). From the coursework I began working towards ‘Documentary-style pictures in controllable conditions and studio-type pictures in the wild’ or maybe ‘Captured indoors and staged outside.’ This would also give me the rhetorical contrast between street and studio.
The process moved from one of exclusion to a more postitive one of definite inclusion.
There weren’t that many interior shots in the remaining twenty and of them two had stood out from the moment they were taken: individual pictures of Alice and James, lost in the worlds transmitted to them by wireless devices.
While firmly located within the particularity of my sister’s kitchen, neither of them are totally ‘there’ which is interesting too.
So, to balance these, I needed two staged exteriors. Again, two pictures had been present in my thinking about this exercise from the moment I took them (in two sessions on the boat north from Aberdeen as the day faded).
These two were also just about the best results from my experiments with fill flash in fading light outdoors.Timing of taking the photograph against the rise and fall of the boat is also critical in finalising the framing here – another dialogue between ‘staged’ and ‘captured’. And somewhere far behind us on the boat, on a beach on the other side of the North Sea, Rineke Dijkstra can maybe just be glimpsed, setting up her view camera and lights, waiting…
This leaves one picture to choose, from the remaining sixteen. A lot of the pictures seem to fall naturally into threes like these of Alice:
…or these, of Fiona:
…and any one of the three of Alice could easily be used as a stand alone and would fit in with the ‘constructed-outdoors’ half of the assignment, but really, I think they work better together (ideally not displayed level, as they are here, but rather with the horizon lined up, giving a descending line from left to right). And also, in terms of balance for the set, James and Alice both appear in two of the pictures already settled upon; Fiona is only in one. So really the final picture needs to be of her.
The first of the stone skimming pictures could do the job, but it is much more ‘observed’ rather than constructed. And if it could match the other two exterior pictures by being in a portrait ratio, that would be good too. So, I will go for this one, which stretches the idea of ‘a portrait’ about as far as it will go in terms of the relative size of the subject to the location.
Fiona’s pose is easily readable as ‘relaxed’ and ‘away from the everyday’; the location also suggest isolation and holidays; there is a degree of stillness and peace. Fiona has – consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know – adopted a pose; the sandcastles in the foreground are as constructed as any studio set. Their arrangement in the foreground draws the eye upwards, where is is stopped from simply passing over the figure by the line of the dunes and the sky.
So, five portraits: two are very much posed, two taken unawares and the final one falls somewhere in between. If I was constructing an album, instead of submitting an assignment, I would include more pictures, grouped and arranged carefully in relation to one another over a series of pages. I may well do that – and include pictures from previous years – but for now I will settle on this five. I will make a final pass of the pictures in Lightroom and photoshop, adjusting the crop and the exposure etc. I will write a brief introduction (500 words) and post the pictures here. I will have the pictures printed (slightly smaller than A4, with a border for handling) and send them to my tutor. I will write down my reflections on the assignment.
To go back again one last time to Walker Evans, many are called…