Assignment One: Feedback Report

Student Name: Eddy Lerpiniere

Student Number: 506079

Course/Module: People & Place

Assignment Number: 1

Overall Comments

Thank you for going with your instincts and creating portraits of your community.  This is the beginnings very compelling piece of work that I think we should develop over the whole course.  It is complex and I feel it deserves a lot of attention, effort, research and revisits to give the subjects and you as the photographer the due attention it deserves.

I think you have some very strong images here (and a few weaker ones which I will outline below).  What really pulls me into the project are the captions of the people you are photographing.  In some cases I think the images are very powerful and operate extremely well in relation to the captions (eg.  Sylvia, blew me away when I first saw it), also Elaine.  I think this is because their vulnerability is very clear and when I read the caption I was moved even more.  In other cases the caption opened up something that was hidden ( eg Brian) and in other ones I didn’t feel like the image did justice to the caption. (eg Sonia, Hilda and Tony)  I think this was a mixture of technical considerations (lighting, composition, lack of context / background) and also because the emphasis on the medical conditions seemed superfluous to the image.

What makes this group of people so intriguing is their vulnerability and medical problems.  This is not to say that the project will be one of exposing them in their vulnerable state but one which gently deals with the issues they are facing.  This is something you need to think a lot about as you are unearthing some difficult issues and you must be aware of them (more on this later).

Thanks……. I think!  Your feedback on this assignment seems to have changed tone quite markedly from the previous DPP replies, it seems that this work (mine) has struck some sort of chord and you’re either taking it very, very seriously or you’re not sure how to take it, hence I’m not sure how to read the implications of your new approach.  Anyway I’m taking it that you consider it a serious piece of work and that your writing is showing the gravitas of that decision.

Sorry if the tone was too harsh –  think you are right, it deserved to be taken seriously and I think my feedback was partly that and partly because I had so much to say I kept thinking – I wish we could just do this in Thatcham and have a good chat about it!  So I was distilling all the things that were going through my mind into one feedback form which was already nearly 2000 words and not conducive for niceties.  
Please don’t think your tone was harsh in any way whatsoever, it was just a lot more serious than it has been before and I wasn’t sure whether that was bad or good, now I know it’s good, so I know where you’re coming from and I have to live up to your expectations.  Looking forward to it.
 
SO just to be clear…  I think you could be onto a winner with this one!  I want to give it the attention it deserves so that means I’m going to not pull any punches and work you hard!  
 
Assessment Potential

I understand your aim is to go for the Photography Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, and providing you commit yourself to the course and take the following feedback into consideration, I suggest that you are likely to be successful in the assessment.

Feedback On Assignment

The portraits of Ann and Bob are great!  I like the background stories of your relationships with them and the activities you do together (the card game).  This could be the makings of a structured approach to all your subjects if you could find something like that which connects you to each of your subjects.  If there isn’t something make something!

It seems important to you that here is something of the real person in your portraits – therefore I think your approach of creating a relaxed environment is important for what you want to achieve which you have done very well in the images of Ann and Bob.

Self Portrait.  I’m so glad you did this one – great to include yourself, as it is important to show yourself as an active insider in this community you want to document.  Your ideas about traditional roles and expectations are interesting and something that you could perhaps continue into the series if it is appropriate.  However in the pictures you don’t look like you enjoy this task much, although I do like the gravitas of your expression and your ‘ownership’ of the shot.  Perhaps you could use the self-portrait notion and ask the other neighbours to make their own self-portrait with you to add to the subject / photographer relationship.  I think you need to think through your approach carefully to ensure the project hangs together. ‘Image 3 self-portrait’ as you say has the beginnings of a smile.  An almost coy admission to what we see which is quite interesting.  It makes me wonder if you are embarrassed to be caught doing ironing, pleased to be found helping or just laughing at yourself for where like has got you!

The self-portrait was indeed a bit of tongue in cheek and I’m not embarrassed by my situation, rather the opposite, and I think you’re right about the slight smile, it’s more ‘what’ve you gotten me into now Stanley?’.

Now to the final images:

As we talked about there are a few technical things we have to sort out before this project can be all it can be.  I agree that the lighting is limiting.  There is however something about the indoor light which works well aesthetically with the subject matter – Richard Billingham gets around it by using flash.    The printing is also an issue.  Apart from spending more money I don’t know what we can do here.  Is there any progression on Keith’s printer?!

Keith’s printer is a non-starter I’m afraid, when he checked it out he found it needed an overhaul as some of the colours wouldn’t work.  This meant a fairly stiff bill and so I had to pass on it.  However, I am attempting to obtain a Disabled Student Allowance from Student Finance for England to purchase one, so keep you fingers crossed.

Jono:

Aside from this, in this image I wonder if you could shoot from eye level.  At the minute we are looking down on him.  This is an important thing to consider – you may want a uniform approach to the whole series whereby you take everyone’s photograph from an equal standpoint.  You may decide that it enhances the feeling of vulnerability if we are looking down, or if their mobility is limited, looking down on them gives a sense of that.  This works well in the image of Vera.

With Jono’s mouth slightly open it enhances the feeling of vulnerability.  I don’t know if you want this or not.  Compare this with the self-portrait of you where you were in control of how the camera portrayed you – (to a certain extent of course) can you see the strength you convey of yourself compared with the more vulnerable position of Jono?  This is just something to consider. You need to decide which you think is more appropriate for how you want this series to end up.

Unfortunately Jono no longer lives in England, he moved away to Northern Ireland with his estranged wife.  I do have some other images of him and his wife and with the right captions the joint images could be quite powerful too.

Sylvia

This photograph is very hard-hitting and shocking.  The unflattering nature of her pose and also the way she is ‘exposed’ speaks so much about her mind and her disability and mobility problems become even more poignant as a result.

Vera

I think this angle works well, she looks gentle and quiet.

Tony

For me this is one of the weaker images. I don’t think it sets well with the others.  I think it’s because he looks more in control and the strength of the others (as I keep saying) is their state of dependency.

See my reply to this with Sonia and Hilda.

Elaine

I thought that the rather unusual crop adds a new dimension to the portrait and fits the brief I’d set myself very well.

We need to hear about the intentions you set yourself.  What is this new dimension you are describing?  Try to be more specific in your descriptions and the concepts behind what you are setting out to obtain.

I think this picture is good, though I wonder if you could emphasise her smallness and disposition more.  I would like the images to have more consistency throughout.  When you have a good system in place then we can consider breaking the rules but for the images to hold together in a strong series they should show consistency.  Where the rules are broken there will be good reasons for it and strengthen the concepts further.

See my reply to this with Sonia and Hilda.

Brian

This is a strong, evocative image.  His expression says it all as well as the humble artifacts he has for comfort (tea!, cigarettes etc.)

Hilda and Sonia

I think there is more that can be done here.  I don’t think the images give weight to the depth of their personalities.  Remember what Tom Hunter said about when people say no he takes it as a reason to discuss.  Try discussing with them your hopes for the project and ask for their collaboration.  Don’t give in to minor set backs and be determined not to be put off by the gremlins!

There are some very interesting issues and aspects to these people and their stories so they shouldn’t be left out but these portraits don’t do justice to their lives.  Try asking them about their lives, how they would like to be remembered, probe into their lives in an understanding way and I’m sure you can open them up!  At the minute these pictures look slightly like criminal shots used by someone like the daily mail!  There is certainly something about the eyes that is important but I think having them removed from their context weakens the end result.  By treating them as individuals and wanting to express more of their personal stories you will understand them more and hopefully they will warm to the idea!

I was well aware as I used these images that they weren’t as strong as the four of Sylvia, Jono, Vera and Brian and there are a couple of reasons for this.

The brief that’s set for the assignment requires that different styles of portrait be used and I took this to mean head & shoulders, waist up, full length standing etc.  These three images were used to fulfill this part of the requirement and although they aren’t contextual with the others, the two of Sonia and Hilda I found striking for their eyes, they portray their inner problems whereas more inclusive images would detract from that ‘look’.

Unfortunately in the short time since I made these images as I’ve already stated, Jono has moved out, but Sonia has had a heart attack and is now quite unwell, and more frighteningly Hilda died last Friday from a massive heart attack, so I’m definitely going to have to find some new subjects.

This series is something I wanted to progress through this course and I’ve a limited number of close relationships that will garner the really strong images.  I feel that some have to be developed over a period of time and will appear, probably, in the final assignment.  I want to make it very contextual and include the buildings where we live within the series and so link everything through.

The statement ‘I thought that the rather unusual crop adds a new dimension to the portrait and fits the brief I’d set myself very well.’ was to show that a portrait doesn’t always have to be long and tall or square, it can fit into a ‘panoramic’ style as well.  The brief to myself had been to try to make all the images required by the assignment brief, but to also try to find one that was one I made that set it apart either by strength and/or shape.  I think I’ve achieved that.

Learning Logs/Reflective Commentaries/Critical Essays

I’d like to hear more about your concepts in the write ups.

I’m sorry I don’t understand what you mean by this comment.  I’ve written about what I think I either learned or what has influenced me and with ‘Influences and Learning’ I’ve led that writing all the way with my take on what I think the assessors should be looking at and asking for when they say they want me to ‘…….write about what you have learned,…..’.  I’m not sure what other concepts you mean or need, can you explain please?

Regarding concepts – ok, and this also refers to your write-up on ‘what you learnt’.  Basically I just want to hear more about your thinking process, not the technical stuff and the lighting and printing (which we will work on too) but about why you want to show these people, about your considerations (like deciding to show Sylvia in that light rather than just a close up of her nails for example).  You have made an excellent start here:

And as an aside, what the assessor will have meant about your ‘learning’ doesn’t have to mean exactly how one exhibition influenced your practice.  At this level (and actually all the way through even for me now) things ruminate over time.  The best we can do is make sense of them as they are and allow them to fester.  Our sub conscience is quite a brilliant thing and will throw things up at the right time.  So for now what the assessors need to see is evidence of your engagement and thinking about issues, photographs and reading etc.  Then, in time it will all come together and when you have a bit more experience you will see how it all fits together.  (Well part of it anyway!)

Hope that helps somewhat!

 Anyway I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops and what you think of the photographers I mentioned. 

Suggested Reading/Reviewing

Richard Billingham

Boris Mikhailov

Larry Sultan

Nan Golding

What I want you to consider when you are researching these photographers is the issue of exploitation and vulnerability and where you feel you stand on it in your own community and as a photographer.  This is very important ethically and for you to be aware of the work you are making and to be proud of the work you end up with and to be able to defend it should you need to.

You also need to ask yourself what you want the viewer to feel or take away as a result of seeing this work.  You could show you photographs to as many people as you can and get their opinion.  From my point of view when I look at these portraits I feel a real sense of compassion.  Now you may not want me to ‘feel sorry for these people’ and if so you might want to reconsider your approach to make them appear stronger.  However as a photography project I think it works very well by showing their vulnerability.  You have to be sure it sits well with you and that you can be open about your intentions with them and be happy that they are ok with these images.  Have you shown them to them?  What do they think?

There’s two extremely important issues here; exploitation and ethics.

Making the images to me isn’t exploitative in itself as I always show the subject the result and make a copy for them.  It could become exploitative as I advance, particularly using what I consider hard-hitting captions with them and turning this work into something that may go further than just my BA.

I definitely believe that I live amongst and am part of and under-class that is a ‘category’ that falls between the cracks when it comes to public awareness.  If you’re poor and can’t get work, have a large family and receive benefits or you’re a single parent, then your ‘category’ is always being discussed and highlighted.   If you’re older, have medical issues, mobility issues and income issues, then in general you’re overlooked by government and society at large because you’re no longer strong enough to be vocal on your own behalf and therefore not seen as a priority.

I want to take this issue and make something very public out of it without exploiting the subjects.  This is where ethics get involved.

If I was to show the subjects the captions I’ve written I feel that they may be hurt having personal details presented to the world at large, that’s why I didn’t post this assignment to Facebook as I do everything else.  At the same time the captions have to be hard-hitting to make the viewer aware of the situations, and whilst they’re currently only for my BA I don’t see that being a problem for the subjects, but if I get it to a wider audience I’ll need to ensure that it’s done ethically.

You ask if I was looking to make the viewer ‘feel sorry for these people’, YES and YES again if that’s what it takes to improve the lot of everyone trapped in this ‘category’.

There’s two extremely important issues here; exploitation and ethics. 

Making the images to me isn’t exploitative in itself as I always show the subject the result and make a copy for them.  It could become exploitative as I advance, particularly using what I consider hard-hitting captions with them and turning this work into something that may go further than just my BA. 

I definitely believe that I live amongst and am part of and under-class that is a ‘category’ that falls between the cracks when it comes to public awareness.  If you’re poor and can’t get work, have a large family and receive benefits or you’re a single parent, then your ‘category’ is always being discussed and highlighted.   If you’re older, have medical issues, mobility issues and income issues, then in general you’re overlooked by government and society at large because you’re no longer strong enough to be vocal on your own behalf and therefore not seen as a priority.

I want to take this issue and make something very public out of it without exploiting the subjects.  This is where ethics get involved. 

If I was to show the subjects the captions I’ve written I feel that they may be hurt having personal details presented to the world at large, that’s why I didn’t post this assignment to Facebook as I do everything else.  At the same time the captions have to be hard-hitting to make the viewer aware of the situations, and whilst they’re currently only for my BA I don’t see that being a problem for the subjects, but if I get it to a wider audience I’ll need to ensure that it’s done ethically.

You ask if I was looking to make the viewer ‘feel sorry for these people’, YES and YES again if that’s what it takes to improve the lot of everyone trapped in this ‘category’.

This is exactly the kind of critical thinking we are looking for.  In short, a demonstration of awareness of the issues you are covering (on a social, political, cultural, personal level and in relation to your photographic context (i.e. other photographers and how they have approached the subject). 

Tom Hunter’s approach to his community will also be of interest to you I imagine.

Pointers for the next Assignment

You may need to make people feel at ease by giving them direction.  Sometimes people need to know what you want of them and part of getting the good shots is being decisive and asking them to do the right thing for the outcome you are hoping for.  The main this here is to be clear beforehand what you want to achieve and to be clear in the shoot when directing them.

Try to think in a wider way about the environment you all live in and what it is about that place that makes it ‘special’, unique, boring… (whatever adjective you would use).  Try writing about the place you live in to find out how you feel about it and allow those words to lead your photographic project.  Do you find it is a place of community, sadness, isolation, illness, comraderie…?  Allow those things to come through in the pictures.

This is the toughest part of this work and I haven’t made up my own mind yet what slant I want to portray, probably many different ones.

Be encouraged – I think this will evolve into a very advanced piece of work if you have the patience and determination to see it through!

This will take a lot of thinking, trial and error and research, so don’t rush the process.  This is a great start.

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