For the final assignment on Context and Narrative I decided to create a standalone image. The image is a reflection on the book ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson (also known as the ‘Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’) but it’s also a reflection on the duality we all have within us and the dissociative state we sometimes find ourselves in. Recently I have found myself feeling disconnected from my surroundings, as if I am watching myself and my life in a movie, as if I am the camera observing my own life from the sidelines.
Looking back at my first assignment for Context and Narrative I touched on some of my thoughts about Social Media; the duality of our real and on line life’s, the on line persona. In many ways you could say we are all a bit like Jekyll and Hyde. I also feel it is a reflection on mental health and the way people try to hide it, even today mental health problems can be frowned upon by some parts of society.
In my interpretation of the story, Mrs Hyde has drugged Dr Jekyll with a of cup tea full of sedatives. Hyde sits smiling drinking whiskey with a large knife. Dr Jekyll is asleep on the left of the frame, bathed in light, Hyde is in the shadows on the right of the frame, the positioning of the characters is intentional, you could say a nod to the way I interpret the current political climate. I also thought it was important as a visual aid to the viewer reading the scene, in the west we read left to right and the story develops throughout the frame from the left to the right.
Thinking of and developing ideas
One of the biggest challenges was settling on an idea. I had noted down a number of ideas, sketched out some stories and visited a location for the assignment. I managed to cut the ideas down to the following:
- a mystery forest shot :
- a garage murder mystery scene using my own garage:
- a dream like theme (I had done some reading about dreams, notably trying to interpret what dreams mean) similar to my final shot but of a person asleep dreaming of multiple versions of themselves playing cards around a table:
- the duality of Jekyll and Hyde
I tried out a couple of the ideas with limited success; I either went off the idea, the logistics were a nightmare or I just couldn’t get it to work. Most notably option C with 5 versions of myself started to get really complicated when I started to incorporate the lighting in the scene. Blending 5 images into one composite was too much. One of the biggest challenges was lighting and the resulting shadows that are created, it just seemed to create endless problems especially with the entire set having to stay exactly the same. I would like to come back to the idea at some point in the future once I have worked it out. I think a proper sound stage would work better than my front room.
The final image
The final idea didn’t fully come to realisation until I started working on option C. As I discovered that option C wasn’t working I started to see the possibilities for option D. I had originally intended to be the subject but I spoke with my wife and she was happy to take on the role of both characters. I thought this was an interesting twist on the typically male associated role. This was good as it freed me up to focus on framing and directing the shot from behind the camera. It was also helpful as my remote triggers decided to stop working!
The photograph is shot in my house. This gave me the maximum opportunity for moving props and furniture around and also playing around with lighting. I had to clear quite a bit from the room. I used a number of key props to add to the story telling; an old cup and saucer with liquid in it, a book (Jekyll and Hyde), a desk lamp, bottle of whiskey and whiskey glass, knife, clock, chair and stool, table and chairs, cabinet and plant on the cabinet and clothing.
I specifically didn’t want to pin the image down to any particular period in time, a bit like the exhibition I recently saw by Gregory Crewdson’s ‘Cathedral of the Pines’, it feels familiar but you couldn’t say exactly when it was. I didn’t want to fill the image with modern technology or intentionally set it in the past.
The main source of light comes from the green lamp used to light Jekyll on the left of the frame. I have used the light from the cabinet as some side lighting. The remaining light source comes from the two large candles, one placed near Jekyll with the clock and cup the other placed next to Hyde to create more of a sinister mood, it also acts as a visual device to split the frame into two halves. I had experimented with a light off the frame to the right but it didn’t look right and created a lot of strange shadows. The light acts as a way of distinguishing good from evil, light from dark. On the night we took the shots there was a terrible rain storm outside which seemed to add to the atmosphere in the room when we taking the shots. It felt quite eerie.
I set up my camera on the tripod as high as it would go in order to get the perspective I wanted looking down from above. I then had to stand on top of a chair to take the shot and see the back of the camera. I spent a lot of time in the room trying to find the right angle and viewpoint. If I remember correctly I used live view on my camera, most if not all the time. Unfortunately I didn’t have a wider lens to use and I couldn’t step back any further, I am literally leaning on the wall of the room.
The images are shot on a Nikon D610 with a 24-85mm lens. The final image is a composite of two shots. The first shot of Dr Jekyll is the base for the entire shot. I then blended in Hyde on the right of the frame using Photoshop. I photographed all of the images in RAW.
I felt the direction went well. I think if I had more time and resources I would have liked to explore different lighting options but I used the lighting that was available to me at the time. It is quite hard to be objective directing and it was only the two of us, it would have been nice to maybe have some collaboration or support guiding me with the lighting setup. I think I did well with the resources I had available to me.
I think the use of props really helps you to create another world or reality and tell a story visually. I have learned that the placement of subjects and objects plays a key role in their significance within the frame and in the story.
- Freeman, Michael. 2007. The Photographer’s Eye. Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos.
- Gregory Crewdson exhibition ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ at The Photographers Gallery, London.
- Morningstar, Sally. 2003. Divining the Future.
- Stevenson, Robert Louis. 1886. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
I found the challenge with this assignment was having too many ideas. At the start of my planning it seemed to swamp my thinking process and I found it hard to find focus, it overwhelmed me. I don’t think my problem is having no thoughts/ideas, its having too many all at once. I really had to start taking actual photographs to get my thought process working correctly, writing down ideas and planning has some real benefits especially logistically and I can see that now 100%. However for me I have learned that my ideas often take an organic, fluid development when I start taking photographs. I guess what I am trying to say is you can plan until you are blue in the face but a lot of the creative element comes when I actually start taking photographs.
Some of my other frustrations came from having ideas but not being able to get them off the ground for a variety of reasons. Some of these are technical issues, like not fully understanding lighting. What I did find helpful was actually, physically moving around the lights and seeing how that changes things in the scene. YouTube videos and lighting diagrams in books are all fair enough in supporting learning but actually doing things in real life is much more beneficial to me as an individual for retaining new skills and new knowledge. It is a shame the OCA doesn’t have some way of incorporating learning in a photography studio or a study visit to a studio to learn about lighting and other aspects of photography.