Reflection On A Question On Gender And Identity – Exercise 3.10

The brief for exercise 3.10 can be found at the bottom of the page.

Gender and identity are important to me, and are significant around the world at the moment. People are being able to explore and express their identity, and statues, laws and policies are being changed to recognise that gender is not a male female polarisation. we all know that our chromosones and genitalia define whether we are legally a man or woman, but gender is not as simple as this.

What the bloody hell is gender I aks myself? Truth is I realy do not know. We are socialised into behaving in certain ways according to whether we are a man or woman/boy or girl. But if we are socialised into this behaviour then surely we cannot say that this is a true reflection on gender. Socialisation means that gender roles can be different depending upon culture, class, ethnicity and religion. Gender roles have also changed over the centuries. So is gender defined by what we wear and the unequal division of unpaid labour within the home, then to me, this is not gender, it’s culture. There is far more that I could explore here, becaue it’s a theme that matters to me, but I’ll leave that for another day.

When I read the brief for this exercise I knew that I would not be able to complete it. My anxiety is high at the moment, so I could not make a formal portrait of another person. But I did not want to avoid the exercise. After assignment two my tutor and I discussed how I could develop a body of work which explores identity, where I use masks and props with a variety of people, in a manner that they feel represents an aspect of their personality. I figured that I could do this with self-portrait for this exercise.

This has been one of the most fun photo shoots that I have made. It’s not perfect and there are some points of learning for me. This series will need to be re-worked in order to be added added to the Identity body of work (which will not be about gender per se).

The shoots took place over two weekends, and at slightly different times and lighting conditions, which is where the issues lay for me. The first weekend I shot the ‘female’ clothing with the male mask, and the following weekend the ‘male’ clothing and the ‘female’ mask. The props include the books on the sofa, which and in my hands (which are photography related), the photos above me in the seated photos, the book case, the crystals, two masks, different outfits of clothing.

In the diptychs that I have presented as a seperate post (see here) I have tried to match composition and tonal range, and in Lightroom have set the white balance the same through out the eight photos. Because I shot over two weekends then thematching composition is ok, but will be better with a re-work of the series. I have tried to demonstrate  what may be defined as male body language where I am wearing the make clothing, and female poses in the female outfits. The clothing, body language and masks are a relay between the photos and the title ‘A question on gender and identity’. I felt that the title gives the viewer space for contemplation, without requiring further introductory text. People can make of it as they will.

In order for a successful re-work I need to

  • Invest in some lighting equipment
  • Have a technician to take the photos
  • Buy a new mask for when I am wearing the male clothing
  • Use a cream foundation as a base and then the powder on top
  • Re-touch lipstick frequently and use a slighlty brighter colour
  • Take all of the seated shots at the same time with all sets of clothing
  • Take all of the standing shots at the same time with all sets of clothing
  • More male clothing outfits

I made several hundred photos for this shoot so evaluation and selection has not been easy at all. It involved going through a process of adding picks and labels in Lightroom and going through the “cut” process in which i delete photos, on five occasions, and finally I printed contacts in black and white so that I could make the final selection by matching tonal range and composition, without the element of colour to disteract me.

cof

Leaving out photos that I like, but that did not fit in with the series was hard. There were thre that I particularly liked, but as I am developing as a photographer I am learning to avoid attatchment and personal involvement where I can, so that I can have a more objective approach. This is very much a learning process and work in progress for me. The following are tow of those favourites.

On-Gender-and-Identity-5

Over all I am pleased with the diptychs that I have produced. They refelct aspects of my personality, the staging and composition are ok, but with room for improvement, and the masks and props work well.

The Final Four DiptychsOn-Gender-and-Identity-1

On-Gender-and-Identity-4

On-Gender-and-Identity-3

On-Gender-and-Identity-2

Brief:- How would you make a formal portrait of someone, that tells the viewer about that persons charachter, life and interests but remains subtle and restrained? Making a ‘formal’ portrait is a ‘real world’ scenario for most photographer. It’s generally a full-length portrait of a person whowing their whole figure deliberately posed to be the main subject of the composition. It wont include exessive display of emotion or activity. A formal portrait demands great care over the composition and the lighting. You will need to make many exposures to capture a meaningful portrait from your subject. Wait for your subject to relax. Be alert to their nuances of facial expression and gesture and try to find a ‘real’ face, not a self-conscious or smiling or ‘this is how I want ro be seen’ sort of face. By juxtaposing significant elements (props, setting, clothes) in the frame, you’re setting up a kind of ‘dialogue’ between them, in which a resonance should occur, but try to remain subtle. Before you start, research the photographs of Rineke Djkstra and look at Thomas Struth’s portraits on the Tate website:http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks?aid=2339&ws=date&wv=grid

Review – Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980)

Beaton,-C;-1941;-Fashion-is-indestructable-[----];-London;-Thames-and-Hudson;-p342Fig. 1. Fashion Is indestructible (1941)

Initial thoughts:- How beautiful and elegant. The opulence of the hall with its strong verticals, the luxuriance of the photographed women, the soft pastels of their clothes, the surreal illumination of the lighting, and the movement created by the dresses that the woman are wearing, all combine to make this beautiful work of art. A photograph which looks like a painting.

The strengths are in the lines, flow/movement, lighting, composition creates interest around the whole photo, pastels work well with lighting, dresses compliment the hall.

I could be in the room and making this photo, I’m so drawn in, this is the first photo where I have felt that I belong in this scene, that I am in the hall as a viewer. Powerful.

Reflecting upon a previous review, The Conversation by Buhler-Rose (see below) Buhler-Rose’s photo has a strong disconnect, a lack of feeling, the photo is a staged lie, whilst Beaton’s is dynamic, alive, natural and appears captured ‘as is’. His subjects are comfortable and relaxed.

The-Conversation-Alahua-FL-2006Fig. 2. The Conversation (2006)

Beaton,-C-1930,-MarleneDietrich-[Gelatin-silver-print],-;-Cologne;-Taschen-GmbH; p 552Fig. 3. Marlene Dietrich (1930)

Please excuse the resolution of the scan, I didn’t change the scan settings to photo, silly boy.

Initial thoughts:- Avant Garde, art, reminds me of the theatre comedy and tragedy masks which in this case is symbolic of Dietrich’s role as an actor. Subtle. No distractions, simple composition. 3 props – hair piece, choker and mannequin. Lack of foreground and the background which is immediately behind the subject, means that Dietrich, with the opposing pose of the dummy are immediately seen by the viewer because there is nothing else to see. She’s elegant and beautiful, but what I sense most of all is that she is looking out, she is the viewer instead of the actress who is been viewed on the screen. A creative change of roles.

Beaton,-C;-1928;-Miss-Nancy-Beaton-as-a-Shooting-Star-[silver-print];-London;-Thames-and-Hudson;-p264Fig. 4. Miss Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star (1928)

Initial Thoughts:- Avant Garde, experimental, photography as art, a character from a fantasy novel, radiant. The light source in the background sets the scene for a surreal illustration of a fairy godmother, which is added to by a light in the foreground which brings out the texture of Nancy Beaton’s dress. The staff in her right hand adds poise to this portrait. The prop worn on the right of her head doesn’t look right, it detracts from this photo, although I do understand why he’s used it to reflect the shooting star of the title, sometimes you just have to simplify an idea Cecil (says me as if I am an expert – but I say as I see). Despite that god damn awful head-gear. I do not see a photo, I see a dramatic characterisation of a person from a fantasy novel or early film.

A whole load of props here, but only one is unneccessary. Staff, head-gear, stars, cellophane? fabric, dress, curtain. In fact I think that everything in this photo is a prop, including Dietrich, and this creates a set of a theatre production. This goes way beyond a formal portrait and is a work of art, and it could be a master piece without the head gear (get over it Richard).

Illustrations

Figure 1 Beaton, C;-1941; Fashion is indestructible; IN: Photography: The Whole Story; p 342; London; Thames and Hudson

Figure 2 Buhler-Rose, M; 2006; The Conversation; At: https://news.syr.edu/2014/03/new-geographics-features-photography-of-michael-buhler-rose-56929/ (accessed on 23/11/2017)

Figure 3 Beaton, 1930, Marlene Dietrich [Gelatin-silver-print]; IN: A History of Photography; p552; Cologne; Taschen GmbH;

Figure 4 Beaton, C; 1928; Miss Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star [silver-print]; IN: photography: The Whole Story; p264; London; Thames and Hudson

Review – Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth (b 1954)

For this review I have tried to find photos made by Struth that I haven’t seen reviewed by other Foundations in Photography students. This is so that I can keep my initial thoughts as my own. However I am going to start with one portrait that I have seen reviewed by others because it is highly relevent to exercise 3.10 A Formal Portrait.

The Late Giles Robertson (with Book), Edinburgh 1987 1987 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 1. The Late Giles Robertson (with book) Edinburgh (1987)

Initial thoughts:- I like, grace, calm, dignity, poise. It captures thoughtfulness, contemplation, a good example of how to capture a still portrait with a busy background. This is done by making use of the space in the foreground, the thoughtful expression, the side lighting from the window, shot in daylight so the background remains subdued, small aperture, distance between subject and background. The ‘props’ do not appear to be staged, they are what Robertson has gathered over his lifetime, things he values, and maybe some things that he has inherited. A man who values ‘things’ because of their emotional connection to events and people, memories. Dressed quite formally, smoking jacket? tie, very natural in them, this is his style of dress, smart, traditional. He has a heritage that is upper-middle class? Upper class? Old money. Culture and art are valued, and the landscape appears to be Constable or Gainsborough but I cannot be sure of this.

There is symbolism in relation to the depiction of age, the old way, and possibly a representation that the traditional life and values are ageing and will soon be lost. But I believe that is a minor consideration and Robertson’s values and character are more important to both the subject and photographer.

 

Hannah Erdrich-Hartmann and Jana-Maria Hartmann, Düsseldorf 1987 1987 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 2. Hannah Erdich-Hartman and Jana-Maria Hartman, Dusseldorf (1987)

Initial thoughts:- Mixed thoughts about this, soft focus and large aperture (maybe even a photographic background) create an image of love, tenderness and gentleness. The position of the girl’s arm around her mothers neck and Jana-Maria’s hair also add to that sense. Jana-Maria’s expression changes between warmth and a touch annoyed/questioning, and Hannah’s expression is almost a challenge to the photographer and viewer. Dianne Arbus often forced her subjects frustration by delaying pressing the shutter so that people would eventually let go of the mask the ywant to present so tha the real self was revealed. In this photo it appears that Struth has done the same. Although I don’t consider this to be a formal portrait, and there is a tension between flattering and challenging, I wanted to include this photo because it presents a challenge to me with regard to reading and understanding it. It’s also of a different style than the other images that I’m including in this review. I feel that I am walking away from this photo confused.

Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo 1991 1991 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 3. Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo (1991)

Initial thoughts:- There is something about this particular photo that I find appealing, although I cannot put my finger on it, especially considering that I do not find emotion within the photo. There is a gulf between husband and wife, and I get the inkling that this was shot in a place of work, probably outside of the home due to the size. I am viewing this photo from and Western European background, and there maybe cultural differences and formalities that are hard for me to fully comprehend, and I say this in response to my perceived lack of emotion and a formality that borders on rigidity. I find the light very interesting. There is more than one window in this room, and it/they are large. I don’t see obvious signs of flash and the light coming through the window is bright daylight. The only apparent prop is the chair, so that the woman can sit down. The chair doesn’t fit in with the desk/work bench. On second thoughts there is a space on this side of the bench that would give her space to work whilst having the direct light from the window. The combination of vertical/horizontal and diagonal lines may symbolise structure, a structured and organised lifestyle reflective of the wider community?

 

The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi, Japan 1986 1986 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 4. The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi, Japan 1986

Initial thoughts:- Is this a formal or informal family portrait? Do I understand formal group portraits outside of a studio or wedding? Can a formal portrait include people in various degrees of relaxation and formality? Is this merely a reflection of the characters of people who are of different generations to each other?

I enjoy the composition of the family and the lines they are placed in take me backwards and forwards between the people. No one individual stands out and this means that the photo brings the family together as a group, a collective, despite the space between them. I’m quite impressed with that actually. My knowledge of group portraits is of the tradition British style of everyone being close together. This is a pleasing and comfortable photograph to look at, and I find the contrast between this grouping and the group photo’s that I am used to to be quite refreshing.

I also like the contrast between the grey rocks and green shrubs/bushes. A planned/formal/structured garden that represents prosperity. Although I say garden (and I mean the garden of the family’s home when I do), it could be a formal community garden/park/or visitor attraction. I am still more inclined to think that this is their garden and the live on the edge of the suburbs or a rural community (maybe I’m just and old romantic at heart).

The colours and tone of the clothing provide a contrast with the garden and this brings out the people as subject. The trees that form the background keep my eye within the photo and they act as a frame. No use of props, and none required.

Reflections

Four completely different styles of portrait from one photographer. Struth clearly is a people person and he either spends the time tgetting to know the people who he shoots so that he can bring out their personality, or he already knows them. Despite the styles being different between the four photo’s, the similarity is the capture of character. There are very few signs of props, and this is worth remembering, subtlety is paramount. Getting to know people is important as is liking people, in a general way. You may not necessarily like or know someone enough to like in order to make formal photographs, but there must be a genuine value of other. If portrait photography is undertaken without this then its going to come through and will over ride the  individuals character.

Clothing is important for two reasons, it signifies personality and individuality, and if the clothing is not what the subject is comfortable with then it will be hard for them to relax. This made me think of the photographer Rankin and his work with charities.

He uses a team of lighting, make-up, fashion, studio and design staff with clients who use of charities for support. He meets his clients in his studio on the day that he shoots them (sometimes over a couple of days). He brings out the best in these people, and some of whom really struggle with self-image and self esteem. In my opinion he is a genius and I envy and admire his sense of humour and the ability to create a strong rapport with people very quickly, in what is a very strange and difficult environment to be photographed in. Having a large range of clothing and accessories gives his clients the opportunity to look good and to find an outfit that they feel comfortable in, but his personality is the glue that brings the very best out of people. Maybe working with a background team ensures that he can spend his time creating a relationship with the person he is going to photograph.

Illustrations

Figure 1 Struth, T; 1987; The Late Giles Robertson (with book) Edinburgh [colour on paper]; AT: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/struth-the-late-giles-robertson-with-book-edinburgh-1987-p77746 (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Figure 2 Struth, T; 1987; Hannah Erdich-Hartman and Jana-Maria Hartman, Dusseldorf  [black and white on paper]; AT: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/struth-hannah-erdrich-hartmann-and-jana-maria-hartmann-dusseldorf-1987-p77747 (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Figure 3 Struth, T; 1991; Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo [colour on paper]; AT: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/struth-kyoko-and-tomoharu-murakami-tokyo-1991-p77751 (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Figure 4 Struth, T; 1986; The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi, Japan [colour on paper]; AT: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/struth-the-shimada-family-yamaguchi-japan-1986-p77745 (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Feature Image Rankin; 2016; Here as I am (pic 20); AT: http://rankin.co.uk/portfolio-charities/#/pic20 (accessed on 24/05/2018)

References

Rankin; Online AT: http://rankin.co.uk/portfolio-charities/#/pic0 (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Exercise 3.10 – A Formal Portrait – Planning – Self Portrait -Gender – Identity

Self-portrait-2

This is a scary one for me because I am going to need to make this a self-portrait. As you are aware I do not have anyone that I can work with on this, and although I had initially considered working with one or two people who I know who are homeless, my mental health currently leaves me unable to approach people.

I have anxiety about revealing myself, so I am going to build upon my tutors feedback with regard to assignment two. She suggested that I explore identity by making portraits of people and by using masks where possible.

The brief is quite specific about what a formal portrait is, and I am choosing to break away from it a little, otherwise I will not be able to complete the exercise. I hate my face right now, so I cannot create a formal portrait of myself in which my face is revealed, it wouldn’t help my mental health.

So I am going to create a multi layered approach that will include the use of masks, clothing, and current books and camera, to explore questions around gender identity along with practice representations of my current lifestyle. The use of masks will mean that I am breaking away from the brief and also respecting my needs with regard to keeping my mental wellbeing as well as I can.

The photos in this post are self portraits that I have taken in a manner that I can cope with sharing with others.

Richard Keys