Assignment 5: Photography is Simple

(Vicarious) Self Portrait


My initial thoughts on this brief was to take the title very literally. For me that meant boiling down photography to it’s simplest forms and building a concept around that. In my opinion the simplest form of photography in the modern world is the phone camera, very much like a point and shoot cameras of the film era phone cameras are ubiquitous, easy to use and essentially free in terms of processing and displaying images. The natural extension of this seemed to be the social media platform Instagram and how we readily post infinite amounts of images for the role to see yet the biggest players in this realm are the curators, accounts that reboot others work and get unequal amounts of recognition for this ‘service’.

In researching this initial concept and progressing along the exercises and reading presented fo the course I found myself building up a project that was expansive requiring several steps and possibly some ‘guerrilla’ artistry to develop what could be a flat series with very ‘ on the nose’ message. I really began to feel it was negating the point of the ‘Photography is Simple’ brief.

Instead taking influence from the ‘Homage’ exercise, in which I chose an art piece, ‘Marilyn Diptych’ an Andy Warhol screenprint from 1962, I decided that whilst photography in its simplest form may be the disposable phone camera, that I would pursue the ideas presented supported by Terry Barrett in the article ‘Photographs and Context’ and by Wendy Steiner in her article ‘Postmodernist Portait’. Both of these articles touch on the context of photography both in identifying the ‘point’ of the image and in understanding of the subject. Two concepts I felt drawn to were, the portrait being a reflection of the photographer and the internal context of the presented image. These two concepts coupled with the point of repetition in the Warhol screenprint formed the basis for my concept.

I eventually settled on treating the brief as an exercise in communicating an idea in its simplest form. Using colour, framing and technique to communicate the internal context whilst using repetition in places to show different sides of the story and in selecting the images concentrating on what I personally had affinity with, rather than trying to represent the model. Finally to support the internal context I decided to title the series in a way that provided an ‘external context’ also discussed in Terry Barrett’s article.

My final concept is presented in the short paragraph within the final submission.


As mentioned in the concept section my first points of inspiration were the articles, ‘Photographs and Context’ by Terry Barrett and ‘Postmodernist Portrait’ by Wendy Steiner. Following on from the ’Homage’ exercise in which I chose to reference ‘Marilyn Diptych’, Andy Warhol’s screenprint from 1962, I looked to find Further artistic influence and inspiration for the series.

With the goal of presenting the series in its simplest form I found the suggestion of researching Miho Kajioka very useful, the series ‘As It Is’ seemed a very good fit for the concept of the series. The use of sepia tones, shifted to exaggerate certain themes, the unusual aspect ratios and crops both engaging and unsettling and the simplicity of the actual images resonated with my own personal development goals and the concept for my assignment.

Whilst I personally don’t have an affinity to sepia tones or even black and white, I find myself using these techniques very sparingly and only with specific intent, I do however recognise that these tones can lend that sense of age, memory and time to an image.

As further research I turned towards my main influence, cinema. I knew I wanted to capture a series of portraits so I looked to my favourites film makers to see why I connect so much with the cinematography. Films such as ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Psycho‘, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ’Leon’ are my favourites, and each have their own style, very much obvious influences to many artists in their framing and movement but the most interesting I find in these films is the lighting. Where many see the symmetry of Kubrick, the stylised sets of Scott, Hitchcock‘s dolly and Besson’s wide distorted lens I see the use of extremely natural, yet rich and carefully considered light placement. I find the way these filmmakers use the light to inform the mood so effective yet un-intrusive.

Contact Sheets

For the shoot with my model I prepared a small room with a couple of lights, a backdrop and several props. This gave us the chance to chat and mess around with Different ideas and props mainly to build some rapport and learn more about the model, mainly to ensure that I was able to exclude her personality from the final images. This resulted in several hundred image images as displayed below.


Final Images

I have chosen to title this series; (Vicarious) Self Portrait.

Chosen to represent the concept that the portrait is actually a reflection of the artist. The image tainted by personal choices, insecurities, emotion and influences.

For the final images I wanted to present two different styles, one of what I perceived of the physical appearance and one of the emotional connection.

By using two different editing and lighting styles I aim to separate these concepts within the series. I used quite flat, even, softbox flash lighting to capture the physical appearance of my model, what I personally see. And a second technique, a constant light to the rear left, low quality light with odd tints and a slightly warm tone to represent the emotional perception.

I shot all images with a Sony A7II and an 85mm lens. This lens is atypical focal length amongst the filmmakers I look to, especially in these types of shot, a 50mm would be even more appropriate But I liked the distance the 85mm gave from the model and the tighter crop, whilst I have cropped these images again the 50mm would have left to much empty space on some shots to retain a useful resolution.

For the crops I initially started with simply moving the image around on screen using the screen limit to simulate a crop, I find this technique allows me to ‘catch’ a potential crop in the movement. As an example I would have never thought to split the models face until I had slide the program to the side and noticed how striking it looking purely by coincidence. For the rest of the series I kept using this technique ignoring the other images so not to influence the individual crop. This resulted in a series of mismatched resolutions and aspect ratios, as intended by the influence of Miho Kajioka, in that whilst I want the series to be coherent I also want it to keep the viewer guessing to the flow and interpretation. The crops help focus the viewer on the specific points of that image whilst keeping the sense of fragments of perception, especially when the images turn to ‘memories’ and how we only remember selections and not necessarily the details.

Finally in editing the images I didn’t want to ‘fix’ the images too much. I didn’t want to turn the images into glamour or beauty shots. I stuck with correct imbalances in colour temperature, slightly cooling some and creating warmth in others. I also used the selective colour tool to neutralise some of the colour shifts across the different flash exposures and skin tones, also adding in slight tints to the black levels giving the ‘reality’ more of a cyan hue whilst the ’memory’ a slightly unsettling green/brown tint. Using the levels tool to deepen the blacks to reduce clear outlines of hair and blend the model with the background.


In submitting this Assignment I realise that it has been one of the quickest and easiest to complete so far. This I not a reflection of the age of the brief but of the confidence I have built across the course so far and also of the approach taken in this particular shoot. Having decided to use a minimal amount of equipment, in a minimal setting and with the goal of only capturing multiple images of a single subject I found myself being able to achieve my goal in a prompt fashion in comparison to my other assignment in which I have previously set myself a wide reaching goal with many different points of view, large areas and complex subjects.

It is in the narrowing of the concept to one idea that can be explored deeply that I feel that I have found that ‘Photography is Simple.’

I come away with an embolden sense that the technicalities, equipment and resources are things to be mastered in the pursuit of removing the barrier to the art form. Photography is easy when you can just ‘do’ what you need or want to do. Much in the same way that a seasoned musician can make the most complex composition sound light and carefree, it is only with the practice that they gain that ability.

Overall I am very happy with this series, not only has it been a refreshing challenge to take on a more personal concept but I have also learnt more about working with a brief, working with equipment and working with a model. It is the first time I have really had to concentrate on tonal consistency across a series as any errors are very obvious when the images are so similar but this has also given me the confidence to continue on and challenge the medium with unusual edits and crops. I also feel that as it is a very personal subject in which by attributing the series as a self portrait it exposes my own personal insecurities and complexities. Albeit vicariously.

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