Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Assignment 5: Applying the Techniques of Illustration and Narrative

So this is it, last and final assignment and its taken me a year to get here! It’s been a very eye opening year as far as my photography goes, and I hope the improvements are clear.

In this assignment I was asked to choose a subject that I could create a sort of magazine story for and produce some pages that told a story in images using the skills I have developed through this latest section such as juxtaposition and symbolism. I decided to choose a subject that was close to home, and with the Christmas period arriving I thought that trying to document the day would be a good opportunity to test out my narrative photography skills. It would be a challenge with everything going on and two young children! I chose to make a photo book online so that the images appeared more professionally presented and so that I had a book design to work to with the images.

I’ll start by saying I’m not 100% happy with this assignment, I can see my failings easily but the good news is I also understand what I should have done to correct it, but Christmas is one of those days that is very hard to try to repeat without spending hours trying to get people to pose artificially, and what I was trying to achieve was a set of photos that were more candid than forced. After studying the works of Tony Vaccaro I really wanted to try to replicate the sense that he gave of capturing a particular moment in time and the emotions that were attached with his images. I think in some of my shots I’m almost there, but others could have been much better if only I had thought about them a little more critically.

So here is what I produced:


The cover image had to be a strong one to make sure the person picking up the book would know exactly what this was going to be all about, even if there wasn’t a title involved. After much consideration, I decided on the images of the presents under the tree. It may not have been one of my stronger images technically, but I felt that the symbolic nature of unopened presents meant that it would be clear there was more to come once the viewer opened up the book, and it would be very obvious that it was going to be about Christmas and the opening of the presents.


I started off with an image of the Christmas door hanger with the ‘Welcome’ text above it to state that the story of the images would start with entering the house. I think possibly the crop was too close and maybe a shot of the entire door would have got the message across more clearly, but I liked the shallow depth of field focusing on the Santa’s face that draws you in almost through the door.

The next two images were supporting images to show the idea that everything was prepared for the Christmas morning. The tree came out much darker in print even after I had carefully metered the light to show off the warm glow of the lights yet still trying to retain the dark green of the tree. Again a shot further away which showed the entire tree would have worked slightly better with the accompanying photograph of the presents below to indicate the relationship of the tall proud decoration and the presents it was hiding below.


I used the next two pages to show the arrival of the family and the connection between their emotions within the two photos. The far away shot shows the smiles on everyone’s faces, and then the close up as Holly runs towards the house really helps to focus in on the my meaning between the two.


Although I like the candid nature of Holly greeting her Grandparents, I think I made a mistake putting so many portraits of the same size together across two pages. I should have pulled back from the scene to give the viewer the additional detail of the over all feel of the occasion so that the narrative behind them was clearer as there is nothing else Christmassy to influence the point of the photos in these pages. I do like the close crop of the portrait of both Holly and Joseph together, they have a lovely look in there eyes which appeals to the viewer of there close relationship.


The next two pages work much better in terms of close up and far away photographs to illustrate what is happening in this part of the story. I’m not sure I chose the right image on the left hand page to be the most prominent image as it doesn’t really show any emotion being from the back of Joe’s head. I do like the expression I have captured in the bottom right image, it works well with the unfocused figure in the foreground who is also studying the interesting present he has just opened.


I like the expression on Holly’s face in the first shot, and her eye line draws you into the doll in the pushchair to enforce what it is that’s making her so happy. The next shot was supposed to compliment the first with another expression of how please she was with her present, but I don’t think it came across this way and again I needed a shot that would have included all of Holly and not such a close crop.

The photographs of Joe building his new toy again would have made great supporting images if I had managed to capture one of him in a different position and including the entire fire engine and possibly him looking at the camera instead of away. I’ve learnt the hard way it’s not easy to get kids to pose for you when you’re trying to get a specific image as they will always do the opposite of what you ask from them! I think this is the issue with a lot of my shots in this assignment, I had chosen a subject i had absolutely no control over and was hoping for the best without being able to go back and re-take shots!


This next image of Joe works much better at symbolising how much boys enjoy there toys with a classic thunderbird model in his hands.

For the same reasons that the previous page with two photographs on Joe did not work, these also fall into the same trap of being too similar with not much connection or contrast between the two to make them dynamic enough to be interesting to look at.  I like jaunty angles which contrast with the rigid construction of the Lego models, and the discrete eye lines in each shot do make them slightly interesting photos as you follow what Paul is looking at. Over all though there is not too much interesting happening technically to make them work together.


The first image of Holly was another one of my attempts to capture emotion in a scene without the people being present noticing so that I could replicate raw feelings and not rigid posed photos. The lighting was quite bright and the highlights on Holly’s face do attract you to her features, but it also creates far too many shadows which detracts from the important parts such as the eyes.

I very much like the juxtaposition the following two images creates with two classic examples of what Christmas is all about. The first showing the two older mean looking at something they seem slightly perplexed over being new technology, and then the contrasting image of their bright faces with the age old pair of socks as a gift. The similarity of the images, but the contrast in expressions and the subject matter gives a note of humour to this page.


These pages are the ones I feel are the strongest in the book. The reasons for this are that the correlation between the images is very apparent and the contrasting views makes a strong dynamic. You are instantly drawn to the eyes in the larger picture and the pleasing look on her face, and then as you scan the pages and look at the other images the meaning becomes clear as to what looks so yummy! Again I like the shallow depth of field on the vegetables so that they become the focus in the frame and objects around them become suggestions of Christmas rather than struggling for attention. The lay out of the image is also very creative in that the colours work well as they contrast and draw you round in circles by there placement on the pages so that you are looking around in a loop so that the story behind them is reinforced every time you look around.


Again some more natural shots towards the end of the evening are included. I had asked the kids to pose in front of the tree and I ended up with a funny shot of exactly what children do when you want them to look at you and smile nicely – pull a face and look the other way! I included it as it was a lovely contrast to what you would like to be the traditional family portrait, and to contrast with this again I used the photo of Holly and her dad in a very touching embrace. It wraps up well the illustration of what a family Christmas should look like.


The last page had to be an image that tied the story of neatly so I chose one of Holly waving as there is nothing more symbolic than a wave to show a greeting or departure. The supporting image of the candle was to try to portray the idea that it was evening time and the day was drawing to a close ad the discarded decorations around it and wrapping paper enforced the idea that things were finished for Christmas day.

So to wrap the entire assignment up, I will start by saying that there were a few fairly decent pieces involved, but as you have seen in my descriptions much more to improve on! I feel that I understand how to create a narrative picture essay very well, but in practice it is much harder than it seems, especially when you pick subject matter that you cannot influence very easily. It takes a lot of planning to capture images that really work together and stand out alone to show what they are trying to illustrate. I can see clearly that I have taken far too many close up images which are great for showing emotions and getting across to people’s sentimental side, but they would have been far more successful had there been other images that showed what else was happening around the subjects so that a relationship between people and place could be created.

I have found with this assignment I am much more creative when given an abstract idea to deal with as I can delve into symbolism and other narrative elements to create more unique and interesting images, where as straight forward narrative photos without this extra layer to them as much harder to get right. This book, although it is fine for a family shoot to record memories, may not have been so successful if it was to be shown to the masses as they will not make the connection between the subjects as they do not know them personally. I need to work on how much I attach myself to my subjects as I feel it will hinder my work in future if i cannot detach myself and think outside about how other people see the images. On the plus side I think I am doing much better at capturing those little moments between people without them noticing so that the images become very natural and emotive.

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