Assignment One: Museum – Submission and Feedback

Posted on June 7, 2012


I have now had feedback on Assignment One Museum Portraits. As this work was submitted to both my outgoing and incoming tutors I received feedback from both – quite a bonus!

I will cover Moira Lovell’s feedback first. Moira’s comments were penetrating and questioning as has been my experience with her in the past – a good thing I believe.

First of all she interrogated my set of aims. In particular she questioned whether my aim to represent ‘types’ rather than ‘individuals’. Her statement ‘the connotations of putting people into groups based on appearances is fraught and potentially a slippery slope, they are all individuals after all, let the viewer put them into types’  is well made and I have taken this on board. She questioned what my aim that the photographs be candid reveals, as I did not make this clear. For me it is important that they be candid so that the subject is acting naturally and not posing for the camera. Finally she commented on my aim to make photographs largely of adults, agreeing that in the UK photographing children is a minefield. She suggested that I might investigate how other cultures respond to photographing children.

She went on to comment on the work. She agreed with my reasons for using black and white and felt that the photographs worked irrespective of whether the object of the subject’s gaze was visible. She felt that ‘Engagement with an object (whether visible or inferred) seems to be key’. This I fully agree with and is a point which Jesse Alexander also raised – see below. I had grouped the photographs by collections, e.g. British Museum etc. Moira wondered if the collections could be the subject of the work and questioned whether I had considered other collections? This is an interesting point and  one which I will consider over time as the work develops. Moira urged me to keep shooting so as to get the biggest selection of images to choose from. Finally she gave me some ideas on sources. One source Broomberg and Chaharin’s Trust looks particularly interesting and I have obtained a copy of their book.

The second set of feedback was from Jesse Alexander my new tutor. Again he presented lots of useful comments on the work. Jesse first commented on my proposed learning contract which he found to be a good start. He suggested that I base my work on the genre of Portraiture generally with a more in depth look at Typological approaches.

With regards to the Museum portraits he felt that I had contextualised in appropriately but commented that I will need to be more specific about my referencing in my essay. He seemed to like the work and commented ‘[Museums] can be much like libraries or churches, in that they prompt a certain decorum and code of behaviour (except in school parties!) that is quite universal. I think you’ve really captured that nicely in some of these photos.I think you’ve achieved this by capturing the intensity of the concentration on the visitors’ faces.’ This is very pleasing as it was certainly my intention to express the subjects intense engagement with the artefacts.

He liked the use of black and white and in particular the fact that I used film for some of the work. However, he felt that the work as presented at the moment seems to be exploring two things…codes of behaviour, e.g. the use of mobile phones and capturing the gaze – this was a point which Moira also raised.  In order to strengthen the series I will need to focus on one of these and my intention all along has been to concentrate on the gaze of the subjects. He suggested that I would benefit from doing more  reading on ‘the gaze’ and gave several references. He also pointed me at the work of photographer John Stadnicki who has produced some very interesting photographs of boxers – could be relevant to my ironman work.

He also commented ‘The fact that i) all of the subjects seem unaware of the camera, ii) there is a shallow depth-of-field and lots of obscured areas of the frame and iii) your pictures are so grainy, really emphasizes this Freudian idea of a voyeuristic point of view.’ Again Jesse has homed in on something I have been trying to achieve and has articulated my thoughts better than I!! He suggested that I look at Merry Alpern’s Dirty Windows series, and for something more amusing, Alison Jackson’s work.

Like Moira Jesse felt that I should continue with the work – this I plan to do. My principle learning points from the feedback are as follows:

  1. Keep on with the work – I need to have a large portfolio of work from which I can select the best.
  2. Think about expanding the work to other Museums/Collections
  3. Focus on the gaze and absorption of the subjects as the key element of the work.
  4. Continue to give the images a voyeuristic feel
  5. Follow up on the references provided and continue to refine the idea.

My notes for the assignment, a contact sheet of images and the feedback forms are available as pdf’s here:

Assignment 1 Museum Portraits – Notes

Moira Lovell Feedback

Jesse Alexander Feedback

Museum Portraits Contact Sheet

Museum Portrait series by Keith Greenough – contact sheet