Assignment 4: 45 Seconds… – Submission and Feedback

Posted on April 12, 2013

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I have now completed my final assignment and received feedback from my tutor. My submission included my 45 Seconds… project, the first version of my reflective account (which I will submit for assessment) and my broad plan for pulling all my work together for assessment. In this post I will focus on the former and will comment later on the reflective account and my preparations for assessment.

45 Seconds… was inspired by this observation on early portrait photography made by Walter Benjamin in  ‘A Short History of Photography’ which was first published in 1931. (Benjamin & Bond 2011, location 220 of 415): 

‘The procedure itself caused the subject to focus his whole life in the moment rather than hurrying on past it: during the considerable period of the exposure the subject as it were grew into the picture, in the sharpest contrast with appearances in a snapshot…’

Benjamin is commenting on his perception of the effect of long exposures in early photographic portraiture. He refers also to comments made by the painter Emil Orlik, who was a contemporary originating from Prague. Orlik suggested that these portraits had an  ‘expressive coherence’ due to length of time the subject had to remain stillBenjamin also specifically mentions the work of David Octavius Hill the Scottish painter and photographer as being exemplary in this regard. Hill produced his photographic portraits in collaboration with Scottish photographer Robert Adamson in the mid 1800s, using the Calotype process. Walter Benjamin’s observations gave me the idea of carrying out my own investigation into what happens when the portrait subject holds a pose for a long time. This concept fitted very well with my broader enquiry into ways of  ‘Disarming the Pose’.

I spent a considerable amount of time researching alternative approaches for this project (this is well documented elsewhere in this blog). My first thought had been to make a series of portraits using a pinhole camera with long exposures. After testing out several ways of doing this I was not happy with the results. The portraits were very soft and blurry making interpreting the facial expressions difficult. This also gave the images an ethereal quality with associated ‘dreamlike’ and psychological connotations. This was inconsistent with the rest of my work during the course, which for the most part has an objective, documentary feel.

After further testing, I decided to approach this investigation by making a series of diptychs each made up of two portraits of the same subject. The process I adopted involved asking my subjects to hold a pose for 45 seconds. I made two photographs – one at the start and one at the end of this period. The exposure time was chosen following research into the Calotype process. (University of Glasgow Website).

I was very conscious that what I was doing referenced early photography. I decided to use a 5×4 view camera and black and white film to emphasise this link. I also constructed a headrest similar to ones that would have been used in the 1800s. For the composition, I decided on a frontal headshot placing emphasis on the subject’s eyes and mouth – the features we use the most for communication.

My subjects were volunteers from my Rotary Club and neighbours. They all found the process quite stressful and this can be seen in the resulting portraits. The relaxed expressions at the start become much more strained after 45 seconds. In many cases the subject’s eyes seem to have glazed over as happens when one’s mind starts to wander.

Walter Benjamin’s reference to Hill and Adamson’s photography was a starting point for this work. In terms of process and aesthetics I have been more influenced by contemporary artist/photographers Bettina von Zwehl, Roni Horn, Luc Delahaye and Chuck Close. The full text of my artists statement for this work can be found here:

Assignment 4 – 45 Seconds – Covering Notes

The photographs I submitted are shown below:

45 Seconds... by Keith Greenough

45 Seconds… by Keith Greenough

Jesse was very positive about the work, which was quite a relief as I would have had very little time to change things if I am going to meet the deadline for the July assessment.

He wondered if my reference to Rotarians as my source of subjects for the work had any relevance – it appears that it might as I specifically mentioned them. The truth is that the work is not about any specific group in society it is about how people generally respond when asked to hold a pose for an extended period. (In a way I have come to recognise that what we are observing in these photographs is the subject’s absorption in the pose). I will need to change my artist statement to make it clear that the work is not about Rotarians per say.

He also felt that I should make more of the technical learning experience which this project represented. It was the first time I had used film and large format during my OCA studies. I also developed my own film..another first. It was a steep learning curve which I have documented throughout this blog. The main points I made here and here.

We discussed the idea that because the sitters were mostly mature in age (?) and because the diptych’s marked the passage of time the portraits bring to mind notions of mortality (Clive had commented on this previously and it is a point well made). Jesse thought it would be worth including a comment about this in my Artists Statement.

Jesse’s final point was that I should give some consideration to how I would like to display the work and perhaps make up a maquette. His view was that the heads should be large. I have yet to do this but the prints I am submitting for assessment show the heads 22 inches high. They certainly command attention as the each diptych will be around 3 ft by 2 ft. From the scans that I have I could early make them 30×40 inches and if I had professional drum scans made there is practically no limit to how large they could be made.

Jesse’s notes on my submission is here:

Greenough_K_417177_Adv_6 copy

It seems strange but this is my final assignment and all I have to do now is pull it all together for my assessment submission. I have certainly learned a lot in the last year and have thoroughly enjoyed the course. Onwards to YOP! I will be posting more to this blog about my preparations for assessment and my Reflective Account. I will also be continuing to use the blog for YOP and my broader photographic development.

References

Benjamin W. & Bond H. (2011) A SHORT HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY [Kindle Edition] Published by permission of Oxford Journals, Oxford

University of Glasgow Website Special Collections: The Calotype Process Available from: http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/specialcollections/collectionsa-z/hilladamson/calotypeprocess/ [Accessed on 28th February 2013]

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