A 2: Exam submission: ‘Anti-superheroes’

A 2: Exam submission

Assignment two: Vice versa

Brief: This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.

Sitters carry on with a handicap in a chancy business, since they can only guess how they looked when the shutter was released. For portrait subjects to have been off the mark in their self-affirmation or for photographers inadvertently, or deliberately, to capture them unaware of it, was human on both their parts. (Kozloff, 2007, p.8)


1. Introduction

“Search for the hero inside yourself, search for the secret inside.” (M People, 1998)

Super-heroes in contemporary culture are framed as destructive, socially dysfunctional ‘beings’ with extra-ordinary CGI enhanced super-powers.  An example would be the characters in the ‘The Avengers’ Marvel action hero franchise. Sometimes their ‘machismo’ is ameliorated by a kindly persona (as with Clark Kent) with hidden frailties (Kryptonite), but in characters like Iron Man, Tony Stark exhibits the ‘Dark Triad’ characteristics of personality; narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism (Jonason et al, 2012). ‘Niceness’ is not their virtue and ‘saving the world’ is their vice.

Here is my ‘stable’ of anti-superheroes. They don’t have a collective noun because they don’t want one and are content to live ‘below the radar’ as they live their ordinary and extra-ordinary lives amongst us.

M People’ sing about the “hero inside ourselves” (M People, 1998). Kaufman constructs a fantasy novel where everyone has an ‘ordinary’ super-power apart from the main protagonist  (Kaufman, 2006). My theoretical framework for this assignment was an exploration of Jung’s ‘shadow’ and ‘anima and animus’ aspects of the psyche (Hopwood,  2008). As in the song, Jung finds the “masculine” aspects of the psyche such as autonomy, separateness, and aggression and the “feminine” aspects such as nurturance, relatedness, and empathy, are found in most people  (Hopwood, 2008). I asked my sitters to explore and describe their visible and hidden positive creative attributes that they could imagine fantastically in supernatural form. My discussion with my subjects led to an awareness of the gendered and non gendered forms of their special skills and super-powers. This shows itself overtly in the character names chosen by my anti-heroes. ‘Mrs Green,’ for example, who is female, identifies herself as ‘feminine’ but ‘Visio-Spatial,’ who is also female, has no gender.

The construction of these anti-heroes is framed within monological and dialogical relationships with the participants (Durden, Richardson, 2000). It was (Edwards, 1990) who applied these ideas to photographical relations where the studio “could be seen as a monological site par excellence, in contrast with those sites outside the studio where the photographer may have less authority and may have to be more responsive to the self-presentation of the subject:” the dialogical (Page 13, Durden, Richardson, 2000). This binary framework is too limiting with my participants as these relationship and the type and expression of my characters change with discussion over time. I had more ‘control’ over the studio setting with props and demeanour  but also embraced some of their suggestions while shooting and from the informal interviews.

Cindy Sherman’s masquerades are fully costumed but I think that this sometimes robs the viewer of the joy of discover within a set of images (Moorhouse, 2004). It took me several weeks to realise that my characters did not need fancy costumes to say who they were. I could be oblique in showing the person and skill (power) that they already had and which was fantastically imagined (Kaufman, 2006).

I experimented with producing images of my subjects in and outside the studio for the submission to my tutor. This exterior work was informed by Joel Sternfeld’s ‘Passing Strangers’ (Sternfeld, 2001). Two images (one studio one exterior) were presented in a diptych with  information about the person’s anti super-power. My tutor pointed out that the studio shots alone were strong enough to hold the series together; I agreed with this assessment. The studio portraits are about the foreground, the person, with or without signage to illustrate their anti-superpowers. I took more photographs to replace two that did not sit well in the series.

I experimented with gaze by asking them to choose an ‘object’ in the frame, internally to themselves, to another person off shot or directly to the viewer (Angier, R. (2015). I was surprised how animated participants were and they often smiled when talking.  I realised that this is the anti-superhero demeanour and I deleted many of my ‘dead-pan ‘images as they were not concordant with the people and the concept that they are the antithesis of the ‘Dark Knights.’

May final images are printed as A2 posters for assessment with a title which points to something ‘hidden’ about the person. In the series presented here there is also ancillary information which might be additional text that you might see alongside the poster if they were seen in a gallery.


M People. (1998). Search for the hero. The Best of M People, M People Records.

Peter Jonason, G. W., David Schmitt, Norman Li, Laura Crysel (2012). “The Antihero in Popular Culture: Life History Theory and the Dark Triad Personality Traits,” Florida Review of General Psychology 16(2): 192-199. http://www.mysmu.edu/faculty/normanli/JonasonWebsterSchmittLiCrysel2012.pdf

Hopwood, A. (2008). “Jung’s model of the psyche.” Retrieved June 6th, 2016, from http://www.thesap.org.uk/resources/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/jungs-model-psyche/.

Ed Mark Durden and Craig Richardson. (2000). ‘Face on: photography as social exchange.’ London, Black Dog Publishing Ltd.

Edwards, S. (1990). “The Machine’s Dialogue.” Oxford Art Journal, Oxford University Press 13: 63-76.

Angier, R. (2015). Train your gaze: A practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photography. London, Bloomsbury Publishing

Kaufman, A. (2006). All my friends are superheroes. United Kingdom, Telegram.

Moorehouse, P. (2014). Cindy Sherman, Phaidon.

Sternfeld, J. (2001). Strangers Passing. Germany, Melcher Media/ Bullfinch Press.

2. Images for ‘Anti-superheroes’

2.1 Mrs Green


“I masquerade as a doctor but am passionate about gardening; I am always ordering plants and seeds on the internet. My anti-superhero is that I can make things grow in impossible places. People talk about how we might ‘Feed the World’ but my touch will make it happen. I think that people need that.

Janet: Sexual Health doctor

2.2 Recovery


“I see people who are broken and am certainly not perfect. I see healing in my own life and those that I see in my work. My anti-superpower plants a seed of hope within people that will grow to restore body, mind and spirit, even if they have failed before.”

Morris: GP and substance misuse specialist

2.3 Foundation


“He is inert, invisible, silent, but beneath is supporting everything, strong, stopping things from sliding and slipping. He is present even though he is unnoticed.

John: Solicitor

2.4 Perpetual-motion man


Perpetual motion man


“I am able to produce free unlimited energy for everyone on the earth. This would be clean energy and remove the need to use as much fossil fuels.”

Richard: Fine art Painter


2.5 Visio-spatial


“To see what has gone before by looking up and left you see in the mind’s eye. It is an ordinary and extra-ordinary poor for identifying little things that have got lost – knowing where they are hiding. ”

Jennie; Speech and language therapist