Assignment 2: Self Assessment

Greg Kellaway - Steve Middlehurst 2016

 “Just standing around looking at cows” Greg Kellaway – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

At a technical level there are a number of weaknesses in this series; for example Fig. o1 would have been more striking if I had used daylight flash and underexposed the background and I am concerned that there is significant variation in tones and saturation across the series partly because of the three quite different weather conditions across the three shoots.

I would also liked to have been more successful in breaking down the barrier between camera and subject, a wariness that led to both subjects tending to shy away from eye contact when the camera was raised. Interestingly both had been filmed for television farming programmes and said that they found the film camera less intrusive than my still cameras, or perhaps it was because I was often working alone whereas a film crew has an interviewer and a camera operator or perhaps I was less accomplished at putting my subjects at ease. Whatever the reason the series lacks the level of engagement I would have liked.

There is a mixture of on and off camera flash, artificial light and natural light in this series so it includes a range of techniques to achieve the indoor and outdoor criteria. It is always challenging working in an alien environment for the first time and if I use either milking parlours as a studio on another occasion I would like to attach on or two flash guns above the floor space, with diffusers and remotely trigger them when the subject was in the frame as I had done in an earlier exercise (here). The herdsmen generally follow the same path around the parlour and now I understand the environment and their processes I would hope to achieve better results.

I am reasonably satisfied with the level of visual awareness, design and composition. I wanted a mixture of contextual backgrounds and close up portraits and believe that my final selection achieves this. Composition is a very personal subject and other photographers might have photographed or cropped differently. I avoided using the very wide angled lens that I often prefer for portraits with contextual background but am satisfied that I have placed the subjects into their landscape in a way that describes their relationship.

Quality of Outcome

I believe the series is coherent although I had not originally intended it to descend into a “day-in’the life” which I now fear it has done. I ended up here for two reasons, neither of which are strictly related to photography. Firstly having reviewed Jean Mohr’s photographs for A Fortunate Man I spent an evening reading John Berger’s prose. I liked the way he mixed a documentary journalist style with the conversations the country doctor had with the patients and his own thoughts and I wanted to follow this lead and make my text readable and engaging and not just provide extended captions. This idea was not fully formed until I sat down with the farming family and discussed the first batch of prints. I realised that their terse comments could be the framework around which the pictures and text were woven together especially when the father and mother commented on their son.

Whether it was inevitable that the series would start to flow like a “day-in’the life” I am unsure but I felt their comments needed to have a loose chronology and so the photographs tended to sequence themselves around that. Of course, like most series of thus type, the photographs are far from being shown in the sequence in which they were taken.

This approach means that there is no “artist’s statement” and as  a result the submission potentially lacks a adequate statement of intent.

I intend the combination of text and photographs to express my respect and admiration of these men and my concern that this industry is being destroyed by a combination of over powerful supermarkets and government ignorance. I hope this is effectively communicated.

Visually my idea was simply to provide an honest and straight representation of the two men and, if only based on the family’s reaction, I believe I have captured their lifestyle in a direct and unromantic manner. I believe that a subject of this nature can trap a photographer into looking for a romantic, rural idyll that sin’t really there and I was keen to avoid that. I thought long and hard about processing the series in monochrome but was concerned that this might make it too nostalgic.

Demonstration of Creativity

This series builds on the portrait work that I have done in the last few months so, in that regard, it might suggest the development of a personal voice. I feel that seeking a personal style is the worst thing I could be doing, the development of a voice or a style probably needs to a subconscious evolution and looking at these pictures four or five days after I finished editing and curating them I can see approaches to composition and a use of light that has appeared in my recent work.

I found the brief for this assignment very restrictive and made it worse by choosing to photograph two subjects rather than one. I failed to distil the series to five images and have submitted eight but feel that at that level it is still incomplete. I collected a large number of contextual shots that would have brought variety and a different perspective to the project; if I look at series that strongly communicate with me such as Germain’s Every Minute …. or Walker Evan’s Now Let Us Praise Famous Men the contextual photographs of personal items, rooms and buildings are the glue that hold a single subject series together. It is not a criticism of the brief, more a comment on my inability to stick to one, that leaves me thinking that this series is about the third of the size it should be.

Fig. 07 Lewis Kellaway - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Fig. 07 Lewis Kellaway – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Having said that I am not consciously trying to create a style, I am becoming more ambitious and therefore inventive with composition. My favourite photograph in the series is fig. 07 which excludes the subject’s head but describes his work more effectively and with more dynamic movement that any of the other pictures.

Context

The series has been developed in the context of the practitioners that I have researched in the last two months. In particular it references Jean Mohr, Walker Evans, Julian Germain, Chris Steele-Perkins, Daniel Meadows and David Hurn who have all directly influenced my thinking and approach. I lean towards straight and direct photography recognising and accepting that I am more documentarist than artist and hope that it is viewed in this light.

I enjoy the research element of the course but find my self easily distracted, finding new lines of investigation and often disappearing down side roads for days on end rather than moving quickly onto the next subject. This slows my progress but also enables me to discover practitioners that I might have otherwise missed. I rather stumbled over Berger and Mohr yet they became a key reference so on balance my approach seems to work for me.

In the Context and Narrative course I became more engaged in thinking about the critical debates that surround photography but, to date, I have not found many routes from this course into similar areas. I am away in Italy for the next week and want to read John Berger’s Another Way of Telling and John Szarkowski’s Mirrors and Windows as a lead in to the next section of the course.

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One Response to Assignment 2: Self Assessment

  1. Catherine says:

    I think you’ve been quite hard on yourself. You chose a rich subject and so it’s understandable that just a few images doesn’t provide even enough of an overview. Is it possible to draft a retrospective artist statement?

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