Assignment 3: I am an Ironman Self Portraits – Feedback

Posted on September 27, 2012


A few weeks ago I received feedback from Jesse on the above assignment. I outlined the nature of my submission in a previous post.  This is my report on his comments and my learning points.

Jesse felt that the work was strong and rigorous(!) – his exclamation mark, and that it is fairly well resolved. All of which was very satisfying but naturally he also had quite a few suggestions for improvement.

He commented on the mode of presentation which I had suggested – the grids of photographs and suggested that I might look at alternative forms such as a video or blending all the images into a single image. I have investigated both of these and I must say I think both ideas have potential. I am not sure if I could use both in an assessment submission but I am considering this. Here is the blended version of the portraits.

I am an Ironman – portrait blended from 30 individual portraits by Keith Greenough

I worked on several versions using different blending techniques and greater or lesser degrees of alignment of the portrait faces. The four versions work very well I feel as a group. I seem to be emerging from a cocoon….or is this just my imagination..

i am an Ironman by Keith Greenough

I have also worked on a  video. This is now on vimeo, click the photograph below to see it.

I am an Ironman Video by Keith Greenough

I think that the blended portraits are more striking but the video reveals more of the original intention of the work and the substantial nature of the photography undertaken. To counter this the four images with different blending modes seem to me to hint at the notion that identity is not a fixed immutable thing….need to think more about this.

Jesse and I talked a lot about whether the self portraits should reveal themselves as self portraits by showing a shutter release, or the camera. This is certainly a strong tradition in photographic self portraiture. But I pointed out that many photographers do not do this. For example neither Elina Brotherus nor Rineke Dijkstra do this in their self portraiture work. We agreed to differ on this as far as the I am an Ironman series is concerned but it is certainly something I should consider in the future. I may well do this in the Long Exposure Portrait work I am currently investigating.

Jesse also considered the inclusion of the extracts from my diary. I had been in two minds about this and Jesse suggested that it might be two subjective and that it leads the viewer too much. I think I agree with this. He suggested that I might look at using captions explaining the nature of the workout. On balance I think that the photographs should stand on their own leaving room for the viewer to make up his/her own mind.

Jesse felt that the mix of lighting I used (soft box for key light with ambient fill) has lead to slightly inconsistent results. Certainly having seen Taryn Simon’s work (here) this is definitely the case. He accepted however that this criticism is very pedantic. The only way round the problem would have been to set up a full studio where I was fully in control of the lighting, i.e. fill from studio lights and not daylight. I would also have needed to adopt the same stance each time and place myself and the lights in exactly the same positions each time. All of this would have been possible, if more difficult as I use my conservatory at home as a makeshift studio.

Jesse explained that I do not look exhausted in the photographs. This is interesting as the photographs depict me as I was just after the workouts but the fact that I do not look as might be expected could undermine the credibility of the work. The fact is this is  how I looked and there is nothing I can do about it without falsifying and glorifying the image, which I am not about to do. Jesse also made the point that my Artist’s Statement should make more clear that I am setting up this series in opposition to the usual heroic/glorified imagery of athletes. He suggested that I might want to consider displaying some such work alongside mine. I am not sure about how to do this but it is worth considering. Here is an image of some ‘Ironman’ friends which illustrates the point I am making.

‘Normal’ type of Ironman photography

We discussed the idea that much of my work deals with ways of disarming the conscious posing of the subject. Jesse was very keen for me to continue with this and encouraged me to keep experimenting. He suggested that I look at the work of Bettina von Zwehl. In her series Alina(2004) she photographs subjects in a room whilst they are listening to music, so that they are distracted. I will certainly follow up on this. He was very encouraging about my idea of researching long exposure portraits.

Finally he suggested that I could structure my text around Barthes four image repertoire concept. This seems an excellent way forward.

To summarise my learning points:

  1. Explore alternative ways of presenting my work – video, blending of portraits, introducing other work as a counterpoint etc
  2. Consider for the future revealing the self-portrait mode within my portraits, cable releases etc
  3. Be very careful about captions. Try to avoid leading the viewer too much.
  4. In future if I am planning to present work as a uniform series consider the lighting set up more carefully to enable more consistent results.
  5. Keep working on ideas around the theme of disarming the subject’s pose in photographic portraiture
  6. Investigate the work of Bettina von Zwehl.

We also agreed that I will not now be submitting the East End work as an assignment during the Advanced module. I have this in mind as a much larger project for the YOP module. I also advised Jesse that I will be submitting the Urban Artists work which is Assignment 5 next and the critical review and the long exposure portraits will follow on later.

I pdf of Jesse’s report is here: