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)
“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 weaknesses (Kryptonite), but is some cases, as with 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, make a little nod to ‘irony,’ and are content to live beneath the radar as they live their ordinary and extra-ordinary lives amongst us.
My starting point for this was an exploration of ‘the shadow’ and ‘anima and animus’ aspects of the psyche as informed by Jungian ideas of persona and the hidden self (Hopwood, 2008). I have been exploring the relevance of many of these ‘dated’ psychotherapy concepts in my photographic practice over several years. ‘M People’ sing about the “hero inside ourselves” but for Jung 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 (M People, 1998; Hopwood, 2008). I have been searching for visible and hidden attributes in my subjects that are postive and creative and which can be fantastically imagined in supernatural form. I have also have an awareness of the gendered and non gendered forms of their special skills and super-powers. These show themselves most overtly in the names gendered or non-gendered names that my anti-heroes have chosen to be known for themselves: ‘Mrs Green’ who is female identifies her 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 the characters grew with discussion over time. I had more ‘control’ over the studio setting with props and demeanour but also took took up some of their suggestions while shooting and from the informal interviews. The contrasting exterior scenes were largely influenced by my choice of place, to fit in with their availability, but sometimes I went with their choice.
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).
My exterior work is informed by Joel Sternfield;s and his ‘Passing Strangers’ (Sternfeld, 2001). I wanted the person in their ‘normal’ setting to be seen as ‘ordinary’ and part of the landscape and background. I deliberately included signifier of their job in most images but these are more subtle than I am used to – more Sternfield than me.
The contrasting studio portrait is all about the foreground, the person, with or without signage to illustrate their anti-superpower. I experimented with gaze but let them choose their gaze which was to an object in the frame, internally to themselves, to another person off shot or directly to the viewer (Angier, R. (2015). I was surprised at how many participants were animated and smiled when talking. This is the anti-superhero demeanour and I deleted many of the dead pan images as they were not concordant with the people and that concept – they are the antithesis of the ‘Dark Knights.’
My presentation is informed by Julian Germain’s portfolio of work which has many innovative ways of presenting words and images; ‘In Soccer Wonderland Souvenir Stamp Album’ stands out in its combination of graphics, images and text (Germain, 1992). The text comes from my informal interviews and denotes what is happening in the two images. I try to make the viewer work to find explanations for the two images. The purple frame is a colour theory choice – purple suggest regal, royal or high status. I think this colour choice is fine as I see these people truly as ‘Super-heroes’ and should be valued as such.
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.
Germain, J. (1992). In Soccer Wonderland Souvenir Stamp Album http://www.juliangermain.com/publications.php, Why Not Publishing
2. Images for ‘The Hero inside’
Footnote 26th October
Three more characters are lined up, ‘Inspiration,’ ‘Colour,’ and ‘Perpetual Motion Man.’ I suspect that all of these new will replace images in this selection of five (e.g. Restorer). There are too many doctors in this series and the new three are a painter, insurance clerk and internet business woman.
My tutor’s comments, my responses and further re-working are on the next tab.