Reflection on Tutor Report for Assignment one ‘The non-familiar’

Reflection on Tutor Report for Assignment one ‘The non-familiar’

This was the first time I had gotten tutor feedback by phone (Google Hangouts) with a written follow up. I was pleased with this format in general and in particular with the Tutor’s feedback on my Assignment.

The suggestion that two photographs from the Assignment’s short list of images be inserted alongside three original choices was a good one and made the series stronger – the two new images were more indicative of a rapport between photographer (myself) and the subject – see Gallery 1 (below).

When completing the Assignment I had considered and discussed in the Notes whether to use ‘landscape’ or ‘portrait’ format for the photographs. However, it was interesting to discuss the use of other ratios that I had not considered such as a square, or cinematic (2.53 or 2.43: I) crop. Gallery 2 (below) shows a square crop applied to the five original Assignment photographs; Gallery 3 (below) is the same crop applied to images from the short list.

I feel that the crop works well, giving prominence to the subject while not removing completely the influence of the background on the composition. I had chosen the landscape format because I had wanted the final series to be themed with a city setting. The square crop is perhaps least successful in Image 2 in Gallery 2 because the painting on the railings, now cut by the edge of the frame, is distracting.

The cinematic ratio is shown in Gallery 4 (below). This was interesting to view and compare with the original and square cropped images. This ratio works only on some images and is simply unsuccessful on others. For example in Gallery 4 it is least successful in Image 1 and most successful in Image 5. The motion / action in this latter image seems to suit this image ratio adding something dynamic to the photograph.

When photographing for the Assignment I had only considered the landscape/portrait ratios but will in future consider all ratio options both in the planning beforehand and when composing in the viewfinder.

Overall the conversation with the Tutor was most useful in relation to this Assignment (‘The non-familiar’) and also for some pointers about the next assignment (the links included in the written report that followed are very useful).


Gallery 1 (click to enlarge) Removal and then additions from the Assignment short list of images to the final selection (original landscape crop)

Gallery 2 (click to enlarge) original five images — different crop ratio – square

Gallery 3 (click to enlarge) other images from the short list in square format

Gallery 4 (click to enlarge)  Images most suitable for a cinematic (2.43 : 1 ratio) crop


Submission Assignment one ‘The non-familiar’

Submission Assignment one ‘The non-familiar’

Sixteen individuals were photographed for this assignment and all were previously unknown to me. The final five portraits are shown in Gallery 1 (below).

How the Assignment meets the Assessment Criteria Points is discussed in my Assignment 1 learning blog:

My Assignment one learning blog address:

As discussed in my learning blog posts for this assignment the series of portraits is location based – all are outdoors with a city background. As is evident form the contact sheets (see Gallery 2 below) three of the sixteen subjects photographed were women and the fact that none of these made it into the final set of five was not intentional and is not significant – approaching strangers to take their photograph I got more polite ‘no’s from women than from men and hence the gender bias.

Within my Assignment learning blog there are five individual Research/Background posts (numbered i – v) — links are below. The short list of images from which the final five were chosen is shown in number iv.

Gallery 1 (click to enlarge) Assignment’s final five portraits

Gallery 2 (click to enlarge) Assignment’s contact sheets


Assessment criteria points Assignment one ‘The non-familiar’

Assessment criteria points Assignment one ‘The non-familiar’

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills. (40%)

Technical and visual skills were displayed in the preparations for and completion of a collection of five portrait images of people unknown to me. I succeeded in concentrating on technical and aesthetic considerations while engaging with a complete stranger. I had limited control over the choice of lighting, colour palette and background i.e. all the portraits were taken outdoors, in daylight, in a city. Because the subjects were strangers I could only attempt minimal direction of the subject in order not to jeopardise cooperation for the portrait photograph. Digital images, made over several shoots, were processed, edited to a short list and finally edited to a final set of five photographs.

Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. (20%)

Prior to taking photographs research was undertaken into portraiture in general and photographic portraiture, and this was documented in my learning blog. There was no point in attempting to over-plan each shoot, it was a matter of dealing with each situation i.e. individual, lighting, background as they arose. A learning log was kept throughout the Assignment which reflected my thoughts on the process of making portraits. This blog included images which I considered to be unsuccessful as well as the short list of photographs under consideration for the final set of five.

Demonstration of creativity – Imagination, experimentation, invention. (20%)

In the course of the Assignment several methods and techniques were tried which mostly related to how to approach complete strangers and ask to take their photograph. Also considered was which format (‘landscape’ or ‘portrait’) was best suited to achieve the final outcome I had envisaged for the Assignment.

Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs). (20%)

My on-line learning blog demonstrate my reflection, research and critical thinking on the Assignment.

Assignment One – Background (v)

Assignment One – Background (v)

Although the portraits I took for this Assignment are all of individuals they do not fall into the category of ‘biographical portraiture’ of which four kinds may be identified that ‘preserve the fragmentary nature of human existence’ (Brilliant, 1991: 132):

First, this [preservation] can be achieved through a series of portraits, made of different times and representing different stages in a person’s life; … Or, … only a significant aspect of a life may be chosen for representation in portraits, because of its special saliency or great historical importance in that life; … Other prominent figures, … although portrayed by a number of artists at various times, seem to change very little with the passing years. And last, some portraits of public figures, such as Lenin, eventually, through repetition, become clichés or are so from their very inception, these latter images never seem to change at all, but through replication become in effect iconic (Brilliant, 1991: 133).

Examples of the first type above are Nicholas Nixon’s series ‘The Brown Sisters’ (O’Hagan, 2014) or Neta Dror’s series ‘15/20’ (FotoRoom, 2017); an example of the second type is a photograph of Alan Shepard who flew the first U.S. manned spaceflight (see fig.1.). Brilliant (1991) concludes concerning these four kinds of biographical portraiture:

These four kinds of biographical portraits stimulate very different patterns of reception, since the first group explicitly acknowledges the fact of change in human life, the second ignores it, the third barely accommodates it, while the fourth denies it all together (Brilliant, 1991: 134).

This is an interesting way to consider a portrait, however, the five portraits for this Assignment (see Gallery 1 below) do not fall into either of the four kinds above. Nevertheless each does contain an element of narrative, giving them a potential to add depth of character and interest other than relying on the contours or expression of the subject’s face alone. This consideration (and others, see below) decided me on using the landscape format for the final series chosen for the Assignment. For example the outdoor display of the painting in image 2, the white van parked in the deserted street in image 1 and the empty street vanishing into the distance in image 3 all are suggestive of a narrative related to the subject.

This narrative element to the Assignment portraits is supplied by the viewer and is a reminder that:

All portraits envisage a complex transaction between the implied viewer and the subject, an allusion as essential to the viewer’s role as it is imaginary. But portraits come to the viewer’s conscious mind like the magical, unsettling reflections exhibited by the trick mirrors popular in carnivals and circuses. They may reflect an image of the person standing in front of them, often with such distortions, or so unstably, that the connection between the image and its source seems uncertain … (Brilliant, 1991: 141).

In the case of the Assignment portraits this ‘complex transaction’ (above) is less apparent since the subjects’ appearance as compared to that depicted in their photograph is an unknown both to any third party viewers and also in this case to the subjects themselves (something that would not be the case in for example a commissioned portrait). In addition, viewing the portrait of someone known to them may confront the viewer:

with an image so apparently ‘different’ from the expected that the portrait seems to be of a stranger, yet not completely so, thus forcing the viewer, upon due reflection, to respond to the artist’s interpretation (Brilliant, 1991: 141).

The possibility of such an above confrontation is absent in the five Assignment portraits thus leaving them open to (or restricted to) an imaginative interpretation by the viewer and a respond to the artist’s interpretation that is devoid of any prior or subsequent knowledge of the subjects. Such interpretation could be purely aesthetic, or narrative (as mentioned above) or interpretative of character. This latter is an important aspect of any portrait because of belief in the possibility that the portrait ‘turns the interior of the figure towards the outside and renders it visible’ (Schelling cited in Brilliant, 1991: 129). However, two portrait series by John Edmonds illustrates how widely this aspect may be interpreted. When Edmonds:

first started taking portraits, he worked from a tried-and-true script. Pose your subject, frame the face or body, and attempt to capture their unique individual essence. Then he started to envision a different way to approach portraiture. Edmonds wanted to use the art form to challenge people’s preconceptions about race and cultural identity (Little, 2017).

In the series ‘Hoods’ Edmonds ‘confronts the toxicity of racial bias’ (Tobak, 2106) and:

aims to provide more questions than answers. In capturing a spate of faceless portraits in colored hoodies photographed from behind [see fig. 2. – 5.], … [Edmonds] is not only concerned with the representation of contemporary black masculinity and racial perceptions, but also how a simple item of clothing can, in essence, become a symbol. And not just any kind of symbol, but a symbol translated and contorted through the national gaze. Thus, by obscuring the wearer’s face and identity, Edmonds confronts prejudiced notions surrounding black identity.

In another series titled, ‘All Eyes On Me’:

a man with a covered nose and mouth gazes at the camera or slightly to the left or right [see fig. 6.]. The series is presented as a succession of 40 almost identical near-frames. As the viewer walks around the gallery space, the man’s gaze seems to follow. This intense “eye contact” might cause some to feel uncomfortable. Edmonds says that this interaction between subject and viewer is where the true reflection starts. “He has such a piercing gaze that you have to look closely at this individual,” he says. “Your imagination starts to roam. This is a recurring theme in all of my work—the gaze being flipped back onto the viewer” (Little, 2017).

What is interesting about these series is that they challenge the conventions of portraiture and portrait photography.

Gallery 1 (click to enlarge) final set of portraits for the Assignment


FotoRoom (2017) Neta Dror Portrayed These Girls When They Were 15 Years Old, and Then Again at 20. At: (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Little, Myles (2017) ‘How One Photographer Is Challenging Our Perceptions of Black Men’ In TIME magazine [online] At: (Accessed on 10.06.17)

O’Hagan, Sean (2014) ‘We are family: Nicholas Nixon’s 40 years photographing the Brown sisters’ In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Tobak, Vikki (2016) ‘This Photographer Is Challenging Racial Perceptions About Black Men’ In: Fader [online] At: (Accessed on 10.06.17)


Figure 1. NASA (1961) Alan Shepard Suited Up At: (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Figure 2. Edmonds, John (2016) from Hoods At:,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:best/File_000_fb4toy/john-edmonds-photographer-interview.jpg  (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Figure 3. Edmonds, John (2016) from Hoods At:,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:best/File_001_jvpxwk/john-edmonds-photographer-interview.jpg (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Figure 4. Edmonds, John (2016) from Hoods At:,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:best/File_001_1_noqmt1/john-edmonds-photographer-interview.jpg (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Figure 5. Edmonds, John (2016) from Hoods At:,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:best/File_003_1_xqwhre/john-edmonds-photographer-interview.jpg (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Figure 6. Edmonds, John (2016) from All Eyes On Me At: (Accessed on 10.06.17)

Assignment One – Background (iv)

Assignment One – Background (iv)

For this Assignment I took portraits of sixteen people who were unknown to me – basically I spoke to them in the street and asked if I could take their picture (see Gallery 1 below). The five final Assignment images will be chosen from those in Gallery 1 (below). I took the photographs in both ‘portrait’ and ‘landscape’ mode/picture ratio. The landscape format placed the person more firmly in their environment and it will be clear from the five final images that all the subjects were photographed in a city. This strategy has the potential to put within the frame the ‘cultural apparatus that holds each person and his/her constituent role in its grasp’ (Brilliant, 1991: 109). Arguably it was this cultural apparatus that August Sander tried to capture in his portraiture. Brilliant (1991) asks if, when this aspect of the portrait is removed, then:

perhaps only the face remains as the true foundation of portraiture, not as a product of genetic chance nor a cultural artefact – although it is both  — but in some transcendent manner of willed composition (Brilliant, 1991: 109).

Two of my subject wore ‘elaborate’ beards — certainly giving the face a ‘willed composition’ (above). Yet:

it is a truism that every human being shares the same basic range of physical features but differs in the peculiar combination of nature, experience, custom, and chance that affects each person’s life and face (Brilliant, 1991: 109).

Facial expression is a ‘complex product of nature and nurture’ (Brilliant, 1991: 110) and may be genuine or contrived i.e. a deliberate projection of a false inner state. However such projection may work both ways, that is not just between subject and viewer but also between viewer and subject. Brilliant (1991: 153) gives the example of Edward Steichen’s (b. 1879) photograph of the actress Gloria Swanson (see fig. 1.) as an instance of this latter form of projection:

Steichen has induced the viewer to project on to Swanson’s image the elements of character created by her film roles and studio publicity, thereby effecting a well-crafted relationship between the star and the observer through the medium of the suspended close-up, held away from the viewer by the veil. In Steichen’s screened-off portrait of the actress the viewer could find whatever person Swanson had played in the movies that he chose to look for (Brilliant, 1991: 153).

An artist that sought to subvert this paradox between the interior hidden mental state and its reflection (or projection upon) the face that is turned to the world is Gillian Wearing (b. 1963). For her first major work she stopped people in the street and asked if she could photograph them. However, this:

was quite a quaint exercise in exposing interior lives to the world. She approached people at random on London streets and asked them to write down on a piece of card what was on their minds. She then photographed them holding the signs. The images were surprisingly revealing, intentionally and not – the City worker with thinning hair who scrawled “I’m desperate” [see fig. 2.], the black policeman who wrote “Help” [see fig.3.]. They not only gave her subjects a voice, they gave viewers an instant snapshot of worlds of interiors (Adams, 2012).

Gallery 1 (click to enlarge) The ‘short list’


Adams, Tim (2012) ‘Gillian Wearing: ‘I’ve always been a bit of a listener’’ In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on: 08.06.17)

Brilliant, Richard (1991) Portraiture. London: Reaktion


Figure 1. Steichen, Edward (1924) Gloria Swanson. At: (Accessed on: 08.06.17)

Figure 2. Wearing (1992- 3) I’m Desperate. At: (Accessed on: 08.06.17)

Figure 3. Wearing (1992- 3) Help. At:×655.jpg (Accessed on: 08.06.17)