Following the feedback from my tutor I have made some minor amendments to my essay for assignment four. Notably I removed the italics as mentioned in the tutor feedback as well as a reference after the quote by Gregory Crewdson.
Following the feedback from my tutor I have made some minor amendments to my essay for assignment four. Notably I removed the italics as mentioned in the tutor feedback as well as a reference after the quote by Gregory Crewdson.
Following the feedback I had earlier in the year from my tutor I have decided to drop the final self portrait/forest composite image from the assignment. In reflection I agree with my tutors very valid comments about the final image weakening the set. I do like the image on its own but it doesn’t work as part of the set.
I have also decided to drop the image of the logs as I felt it didn’t really add anything of importance to the set of images or the story I was trying to portray.
The two images I have removed from the set:
The new series will therefore be as follows:
It was good to get some constructive feedback from my tutor for the final assignment on Context and Narrative. My tutor makes some valid points, I don’t agree with them all but that’s fine.
I don’t personally feel the assignment was rushed, it did take a lot of planning , thought processes, getting and using props etc. Perhaps my tutor is referring to the switch of roles from using myself as playing the roles to my wife playing the roles of the two characters? I also took time processing and editing the photographs afterwards into the final image.
I’m glad my tutor picked up on the viewpoint of the image. I spent some considerable time in the room trying out different angles and viewpoints, low, mid to high. In the end I found the high viewpoint looking down from above really fitted the disconnected feeling of the image and the idea of sometimes viewing your life and yourself as if in a movie. I ended up standing on the a chair with the camera at the very top of the tripod and me leaning on the wall to get out as wide as I could. It was an interesting balancing act!
I have thought about the assignment over the past couple of weeks and whilst I was away on holiday. I don’t currently intend on reworking the assignment. I feel it expresses everything I wanted to for the assignment and I feel ready to finish up on the unit for assessment. I have however taken on board some of the comments made by my tutor. I may go back and look at some of the wording behind the assignment over the next week.
As commented by my tutor I have now gone back to the assignment on my blog and added a link beneath the image to a full size version of the photograph. I can’t place a larger version directly on my blog so this new link should help viewing the image at a better scale.
I’m glad my tutor enjoyed my write up of the Gregory Crewdson exhibition, it really was amazing!
As suggested by my tutor I have amended my main blog photograph to cut out the bottom section which had included my watch on my wrist and the Nikon branded camera strap. I can see how these were distracting now in this specific use of the image. I agree the original image was also too large.
I will definitely have another look at the photography of Cindy Sherman, I have seen some of her work previously in one of my books at home and I think at an exhibition as well.
I have been really grateful for the input and constructive feedback from my tutor Robert Bloomfield throughout the duration of the Context and Narrative unit. It has been nice to have a tutor who gives balanced, level headed feedback. We haven’t always agreed on everything but I have truly valued his comments, experience and knowledge. Thank you.
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:
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.
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.
It was nice to get some positive feedback from my tutor for assignment four along with a couple of pointers for further reading and fine tuning.
I will go back and re-read the Harvard Referencing document again. I think I’m nearly there with my referencing I just need to make sure its on point and fix the direct quotes.
My tutor makes a good point about the header image on the blog! I was messing around with the header image recently and admit I want to change it, so agreed, a valid point. I will look to find something more suitable/relevant.
I am just making my way through the suggested reading from my tutor ‘ Aesthetics of Affect’ by Simon O’Sullivan. I am enjoying all of the reading on the course, seeing work from different artists/photographers and soaking up new information from multiple sources. I find it fascinating. There was a point when I started at the OCA where I was unsure about viewing lots of other photographers work, in my ignorance I couldn’t really see the point, just give me technical know how. I think now I’m starting to get it. Technique is very important but there is so much more to photography than that. You pick up the relevant technical abilities as you are going along, there is no point trying to learn it all at once. At times it can be a little overwhelming or confusing but that’s usually at the point where I need to go out and get some fresh air, then come back to my studies.
I have read ahead through section 5 and the final assignment for Context and Narrative. I have a couple of ideas bubbling away in my brain but not at the point where I want to share these just yet. I will do some brainstorming. I like the idea of something with psychological tension, just one image, staged using props. I will get the next assignment to my tutor in August, I have some time off here and there along with my Fridays and a clear diary! I am submitting for the next assessment for November, so I want to spend September wrapping everything up, making any adjustments and getting prints done.
I went up to London on Friday to visit the Photographers Gallery again as they have an exhibition on by Gregory Crewsdon. Having read ahead I can see this will be helpful and relevant but I will talk about the visit more in a separate blog post.
In other recent good news I finally got my flash trigger to work with the soft-box! It needed to have the flash in manual mode and I think I had the receiver and transmitter the wrong way around. Wo ho! I also picked up a manual on using flash. As you can see I was a little excited, forgive the terrible highlights and the glowing halo… no cameras were harmed in the making of this photograph!
Looking back at the assignment in reflection I am pleased with the end result. I feel I applied myself to the essay and the research behind the photograph and the photographer. I am sure my tutor will come back with some good constructive feedback and suggestions to adjust the essay.
The part I found most difficult was keeping the word count down and I did go over the 1000 word essay. I’m not sure if this will be a major problem or not but I will see what feedback my tutor gives. I feel I could probably develop the essay further and go deeper if I had lots more time but I do have some constrictions on how much time I can apply to the one essay.
I pulled my research from multiple sources which I feel gives a good balanced and unbiased approach. Although I admit I was already intrigued by the image originally I feel I have been able to give an objective point of view due to my research. I have also been able to incorporate some of my own personal feelings about the image. Reading from multiple sources has given me a wider awareness of the work.
I think I have given a balanced essay analysis, giving context, some background about the photographer, posed some questions, some answers and de-constructed the image before pulling together my thoughts and conclusions.
One thing I did find hard was finding any well written constructive criticism of Crewdson’s work. Now, that could be because there is simply none out there or I just couldn’t find any. All the books and research I did praised the work, no one had anything bad to say about any of it. I would have been interesting to have read or discussed with someone who doesn’t like his work. I must admit subjectively I think his work is of the highest quality and from what I have seen he has really forged a new direction for contemporary photography along with the likes of Jeff Wall, they have opened up the physiological door for photographers to explore deeper. I think this has helped to given contemporary photography a strong basis as an art form rather than just a method of visual recording.
I am doing a lot of reading to accompany the course and I am also looking at a lot of different photographers work. I think this is helping me to be more open to different possibilities within photography. I really like the staged/tableau photography so I am looking forward to assignment 5, I hope I haven’t just jinxed myself!
Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.
The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.
If you choose a well-known photograph, take time to research its context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc. Add all this information into your essay to enable you to draw a conclusion from your own interpretation of the facts.
It’s not enough to write an entirely descriptive or historical account of your chosen image. You must use the facts as a means to draw your own conclusions about what the picture means to you. You may wish to apply what you’ve learned in Part Four regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc., but be sure you get the definitions correct.
Follow thought associations and other images that relate to the discussion, directly or indirectly. Look at the broader context of the image and its background and specific narrative as well as your personal interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for you. Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way. Allow yourself to enjoy the process!
There are many good examples of writing about single images (e.g. Sophie Howarth’s Singular Images), which you may find helpful to read before attempting your own. Take note of the level of critical analysis and aim for a similar approach in your own writing. You may write about personal connections but ensure you express yourself in a formally analytical and reflective manner.
Gregory Crewdson – ‘Ophelia’
I was first introduced to the photographic work of Gregory Crewdson as a recommendation by my tutor, whilst studying ‘Expressing Your Vision’. I picked up a copy of the book ‘Twilight’. I put some of my thoughts on the Twilight series in a blog post here. I have decided to pick the photograph ‘Untitled 2001 (also known as Ophelia)’ from the Twilight series to critically analyse.
Gregory Crewdson (b. 1962) is an American photographer, best known for his tableau/staged photographic work, often portraying tense psychological scenes that wouldn’t go a miss as a still from a science fiction movie by Spielberg or an episode of Chris Carter’s X-files. Crewdson links a lot of his influence to over hearing the sessions his father would have in the family home as a Psychoanalyst, sowing the seed of interest in the unconscious mind. Other influences on Crewdson include the art of American realist painter Edward Hopper, Crewdson relating a ‘similar emptiness’ in Hoppers work to his own. The American Photographer Walter Evans is another influence, in ‘Capturing a Movie Frame ‘ Crewdson speaks of Walter Evans’ ‘interest in the American vernacular of ordinary life…of indigenous architecture…’ going on to say ‘I feel in my work I have a similar thing that’s kind of controlling aesthetic, to make a perfect façade and then then..sort of…the deep undercurrent of that, what exists beneath the surface.’
In 1998 Crewdson started his work on the Twilight series. This would be a shift from his earlier work, moving into more of a directorial role, working with a large team, akin to a film crew for a major movie. The series has a powerful psychological narrative throughout, often depicting dramatic paranormal scenarios, in many ways the photographs are left open to interpretation by the spectator. The series was shot on a large format Sinar F1 8 x10 Camera with a mix of 300mm and 210mm lenses.
The question I find myself asking with this work is, despite knowing it is staged, is it meant to portray a version of reality, the truth or is this some form of dreamlike, otherworldly interpretation on reality, is this a snapshot of the unconscious mind?
The image Untitled (Ophelia) 2001 from the series Twilight shows the scene of a flooded ground floor, it looks like a living room/lounge. Central within the image is a woman in a night gown, she is floating on her back on the surface of the dark, murky water. Her skins is pale blue, she looks dead, cold to the touch. Her eyes are open but she looks vacant in a transcendent state of mind.
The photograph is influenced by Ophelia from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, found dead in a brook “incapable of her own distress” following the death of her father Polonius and a love denied. In ‘Photography the whole story’ Juliet Hacking references the 1851-1852 painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais as an example of this reoccurrence in art of the woman in the water.
As I deconstruct the image I can see to the left of the woman a coffee table with a glass of water, a bottle of pills, a romantic novel by Nora Robert titled Inner Harbour (1999), there is an ashtray with cigarette butts and what looks like a glass ornament in the shape of a lotus flower. Could this be a suicide or an accidental overdose? Perhaps these pills are sedatives and this isn’t reality, she is dreaming, weightless, motionless upon the water. The sofa behind looks disrupted, a blanket and a couple of pillows lie on the sofa as if someone has been sleeping there or reading a romantic novel wrapped up under a nice warm blanket.
Moving through the scene my eye is then drawn to the clock on the bookcase behind, the time seems to indicate 5:05, my eyes are then immediately drawn over to the right to the windows, is this 5am or 5pm? Then I’m reminded of the title of the series, Twilight so my assumption is this is 5pm but it could just as easily be 5am. A catastrophic event has happened here. The room is flooded so how are the lights still on? Why have they not short circuited? Upon the book case are a selection of books but I can’t see the titles of the books from the print I have, there’s a record player with a selection of vinyl. Upon the top of the book case is a wedding photograph, could this be the love lost?
From the book case I move through the scene in a clockwise manor and I’m presented with the stair case, to which my eye leads me down the steps. It’s at this point I observe the mould and decay on the back wall below the stairs, has this water been here a while? How long has this lady been lying here? Why has no one found her yet? Does she have any friends or relatives that care for her?
Above the stair case is a series of 3 photographs; 2 of women and 1 of a man, placed centrally. The image of the man seems to bear stronger significance, it looks illuminated, is this a father or a husband perhaps? Could this be a reference to Polonius from Hamlet? Moving down the stairwell I see a pink dressing gown draped over the banister, a window above is bathed in golden light, a side cabinet lies on the landing of the stairs, a red torch sits on top of it. Why would the lady need a torch if the lights are on? On the step below is a slipper, followed by the second slipper on the step below that.
To the right of the stair case there appears to be a lampshade in the water. I wonder if this could this be the source of the ladies demise. Did the lampshade drop into the water, did she get electrocuted upon entering the water? There is an open window above, the wind may have knocked the lampshade over. Or is this just a red herring? There are a series of coats on the wall to the right and the windows of the front door again show golden light shining through.,
Coming full circle I am drawn to the old telephone and battered armchair, half submerged in water then back to the motionless woman on top of the water.
Reflection plays a primary role within the whole construction of the image. The water acts as a psychological mirror, its dark blackness gives a sinister emptiness to the entire shot. The water could have been clear or clean to signify purity but the darkness feels intentional, lucid, the blackness of the soul. For me, this is what stings me, this is what Roland Barthes calls the Punctum. The dark reflecting water acts as a means of self reflection, looking deeply inwards at the soul, it draws me back to the image to ponder my own existence.
With such an image as this it is hard to find a definitive conclusion to the storytelling within the image, there is an underlying mystery which I think asks the spectator to form their own conclusions rather than have the photographer (‘the operator’) provide all of the answers within the image. Having watched various interviews with Crewdson this seems a likely conclusion, he likes to put clues within the frame but leave the mystery of the solution to the viewer and to interpretation. For me it poses more questions than it answers, partly this infuriates me but for the most part I absolutely love it for this very reason. I think it’s this emotional conflict or tension that makes this such a fascinating image.
This draws me back to my original query, dream or reality? I am split on how to interpret the image. On the one hand, like a detective I can see the clues/signs within the image to make me come to the conclusion this could be an accidental death or a suicide. However, I prefer the idea that she is dreaming. She walked down the stairs and kicked off her slippers, took some sleeping pills and started to read a book, huddled up under a blanket on the sofa she slowly drifted off. What we are seeing is a mix of reality and her subconscious mind, trapped between the spaces of reality and another dimension.
Word Count: 1396
Twilight Photographs by Gregory Crewdson my thoughts whilst studying the OCA Unit ‘Expressing Your Vision’:
*Image of Untitled (Ophelia) 2001 by Gregory Crewdson b. 1962 reproduced for academic purposes. Copyright belongs to the respective owner.