My Current thinking on Advanced Studies and the photography of Vanessa Winship

Posted on November 23, 2011

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At the same time as pursuing the Understanding Visual Culture course, making some photographic trips and learning to use my large format Ebony camera, I have still been researching and thinking about my future Advanced studies. Indeed the more I have thought about this, the more I have become convinced that I want to focus on Portraits in Series rather than widening the scope to other areas such as landscape and interiors. My reason for this is simple – I enjoy capturing portraits. In my personal work I have focused my efforts to a great degree on capturing portraits. At home near London I have been putting together a portfolio of portraits of market traders. I am intrigued by the way their stalls are akin to a stage where they perform. The stage reflects their personality as much as their goods for sale. They are also isolated within this stage and rely on their skills at selling themselves and their products to make a living. In this sense they are in the spotlight. I think I would like to develop this theme further as part of the project work for my Advanced studies. I also set out on my recent trip to Puglia to create a small portfolio of portraits of local people. I had in mind exploring how such a series can reflect something more about the nature of the location, its prospects, economy, traditions and history. Below I have set out a few of my Puglia portraits as an example of my work.

Giovinazzo

Cisternino

Lecce

Lecce

Cisternino

For me these portraits reflect much of what I found when visiting the area. The people were open and friendly and with a significant proportion being elderly.

I have also been continuing to research photographers working in the genre. Whist following up on the post on We Are OCA about the visit to the Hereford Photography Festival I came across the work of Vanessa Winship. I was really taken by her portrait series’ Sweet Nothings and Dancers and Fighters. These series were taken in the Balkans and are very reminiscent of Sander’s approach. Black and white images with the subject centre, standing in the frame, with a neutral background which nevertheless reveals some context. I have followed up by researching some interviews with Winship who talks about  how photographs conjure up memories and by this she means that elements in the photograph trigger memories and emotions in the viewer ( Barthes – punctum?). Memory is one of the themes in Winship’s work.  She captured these photographs using a large format camera which she considers adds formality and theatricality to the  process. In the case of Sweet Nothings which are portraits of young schoolgirls in Albania, she made sure that each of the photographs were taken at exactly the same distance from the subject, thus creating a consistent or democratic representation of her subjects. Her wish to photograph the young girls was triggered by socio-political context. Albania is these days making great efforts to educate young girls who historically have been repressed. In this sense Winship’s work is documenting a moment in history, which is another one of her themes. I will follow up further on her work and certainly try to get hold of some of her books. Her website is here.

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