Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Picturing the Body

Assignment 1: Intimate vs Private

“So, if you’re already a photographer, why are you taking a class?”

After giving K a brief description of what I was after, namely photos of a relative stranger, and why, to fulfill requirements for an online photo class, she agreed to be my subject. K didn’t know if her boss would like someone taking photos inside the store, yet out in front was okay, and since there was another woman working, K took a five-minute break.

Even though I had already begun snapping away, she evidently still had some reservations.

I explained that I felt a need for a new challenge, more instruction, and told her the name of the photographer who was giving the class. “A famous photographer in England” was my final pitching point.

K works at the local liquor store, and in that I make trips to said establishment on a somewhat regular basis, we are not complete strangers. However, we have never had a conversation, so I hope this doesn’t break a rule of the assignment. With that said, I have eaves-dropped on conversations she has had with others in the store, so I used what information I had to gain her confidence through a few questions. This also fulfilled another requirement of the assignment: get a story.

K is forty-eight years old. She lives in the next small town over with one of her two children. The other child lives in a nearby city. The two children are from a marriage to a military guy, a lifer now retired, whom she met while she was also enlisted. Four years in service to her country were enough for her, for, as she stated, she had a problem with authority. Upon her discharge, and while still married to the soldier, she took to wearing ripped jeans and the like to military-sponsored functions.

Portraiture is a new arena for me, excluding self-portraiture. Even within the latter context I am but a babe in the woods. Yet, what is immediately clear is the difference between the two. A “mirroring” takes place in both, but when the subject is the other, one must, to some degree and in some sense become the other. Despite her early reserve and the chilled air, as I turned the questions toward her and she told me her story, plus the fact that I made it clear I was listening, K became more animated (as I knew her to be from watching her in the store). There came a point in the encounter when we had reached a degree of intimacy from which I knew I could invade her private space for the close-ups.

Intimacy becomes strategic, at least in the above completion of the assignment. Though subtle, a struggle ensued, and in this sense, the “versus” in the title of the assignment becomes apparent. “We” is still “I”. My needs. Her needs may be tended but they remain unacknowledged. Then again, the degree of intimacy is still managed by elements like time and the predispositions of those involved, and is therefore does not completely overtake privacy. “Versus” is the gap.

Not the best execution, the idea an afterthought.

“Would you like copies of the photos?”


“They will be on the internet.”

“That’s fine. You’re only have my first name.”

“I probably won’t even use that.”

“Who’s going to care?”

“Right. It’s not like I took pictures of you nekked.”

We’ll be addressing that topic a few weeks further into this class. Meanwhile, here's a few more from today:

And with this image in my viewfinder, I knew the session was over.


Crash said...

Pretty nervous. Arms clenched.
Great combo, photos with her story.

Unknown said...

Hello Bastin,


Great subject and I'd love to hear more about her. You make me want to go see where she lives (her personal environment) and meet the characters from her brief story.

If you choose to follow it up it'll interesting to see how your camera relationship evolves.

Tech- Did you use a tri-pod? It looks as though maybe not,you seem taller than the subject and we see from your eye level (no prob necessarily but important to consider).

I'm thinking it may mean that you can build your frame first off, then engage the subject away from the camera. You can still make images whilst talking (look at Avedon's Americans all shot on 10x8 and 5x4 no looking at through the finder once he was set up), and you can engage freely in a dialogue.

You can then go back to the camera whenever you want to move in - easy does it.


bastinptc said...

Thanks Crash.

jw - Talk about upping the ante (poker lingo, you know): tripod and a continued relationship.

You are correct. I did not use a tripod. Do you suppose that the tripod may be an intimidating factor for the subject (let alone the one looking to get the "right" photo)? It certainly presents a new challenge, yet it could also be freeing. I will look at Avedon.

As for a continued relationship, and more of a presence in her life, well, that could be another adventure. If I can figure out how to not feel like a voyeur, I'll approach her with the idea.

KenP said...

Not sure what else was available but the background is about as disruptive as it gets.

bastinptc said...

Ken, I agree. Perhaps the parking lot would have been preferable.

Paul J. Hogan said...

Hi Bastin,

Very interesting attempt. I suffer from 'tripod-itus' as do many of us on the course it was almost amusing to see the whole group get to grips with the piece of apparatus with the grace of a baby learning to walk. I'm 6'3 myself and have to be carful of the angles i shoot at as i do not want to tower over my subjects.

As mentioned by others the location is having an effect on your pictures. looking at the thickness of her jumper i wonder what sort of temperature it was and if a cold wind may have been enough to slightly frost the developing relationship.

Looking forward to see how you follow this.

Wolynski said...

Having specialized in portraits for years, my 2 cents:

- never use a tripod for anything

- watch the background - the green is OK, the white things very annoying

- if you're going a full body shot with a wide angle, crouch down to her waist level, otherwise her legs are shortened unnaturally

- be kinder. Her complexion cannot stand such close-up scrutiny. Figure where you can place her, so her face becomes smoother, then use a telephoto for a softer effect.

I'll visit this famous Englishman's web site later.

Crash said...

1. Why not tripods?
2. You must be right about the angle. This subject looks like she has unnaturally short shins.

bastinptc said...

W - Thanks for the wide angle tip. The complexion thing didn't bother me. In fact, it is what I like most about the close-ups. None of us are very pretty close up, when we become flesh, blood and what life throws at us. And that is one of the reasons I put the photo I did at the head of the post. I like its painterly qualities, like a watercolor, yet it also speaks to our fragile mortality.