Considering The Year Ahead, Life, Death And Photography

It would be impossible to think of the future without considering that there is the potential for me to die from heart disease. As you’re aware I have decided not to have surgery for my heart condition. I can see how dieing could be a scary experience, but I have been at peace since making this decision.

Knowing that I have a limited time left has most certainly helped me to focus on living well and considering whether my daily actions improve the quality of my life. This doesn’t mean running around like a mad march hare and doing, doing, doing. Sometimes I just want to sit still and do nothing, others I want to read or birdwatch, and occasionally I want to be around people.

I’m not used to being around people, and I can struggle even when I’m around those who I love and feel safe with. Getting the balance right for me isn’t easy, I’ve had a wonderful Christmas, but I’m ready to go home now.

When I return home my plan is to begin meditating daily. Meditation is most definitely linked to my creativity and photography. I have a few ideas for photographic project’s and I know meditation will help with developing these. I have vague ideas about making photos with others who identify as being non-binary or gender fluid, and making use of masks or props to explore and express gender identity.

I’ve particularly enjoyed my embroidered photography this year, for my project “Some Emotional States Of My Anorexia, And The Strengths Of My Recovery.” I completed the project just before Christmas, but I don’t feel ready to make these public at the moment. The wonderful thing is that I already have a gallery/arts project who would like to exhibit the series. I can see the potential for building upon this work to explore mental health further. Meditation will definitely aid my progress in these areas.

“Snippets” is a series I’m currently working on in which I write down snippets of overheard conversation and take a photo in the area of which the conversation was heard. I got the idea from a fellow OCA photography student Chloe Halstead. The idea is to have this as a long term project using my Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and to present the series as a photo book.

Hopefully I will also have some news about my application for a bursary to study an Open Foundation in Creative Writing, with the Open College of the Arts, I can feel some more photo essays coming along.

Colour is also going to feature in the clothes I wear, it’s time to bring more colour and variety into my attire, and today I’m top to bottom in yellow. I’ve also seen some green corduroys that I like. I’ll give them some thought.

I guess I’ll need to tone the colours down when birdwatching, something which I plan to do more of this year. I’m so grateful that I discovered RSPB Rainham Marshes. One thing that would aid my birdwatching would be finding a teleconverter that I can attach to the front of my Mzuiko 75-300mm lens. I can’t currently afford one. However, I have four photos appearing in The Loudest Whispers exhibition, run by The Arts Project London, during February, March and April. If they sell then I’ll be able to afford a teleconverter. Fingers crossed. 

I don’t have a bucket list, but I would like to be able to go on a birdwatching holiday during the summer.

Wishing you all a wonderful year ahead.

Review Of The Second London Regional OCA Group

What a fabulous time I had last weekend. Six of us met at the Hayward Gallery to see the exhibition Kiss My Genders, to have a social chat and to critique work that we had brought along.

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Kiss My Genders was a wonderful combination of photography, art, collage, film and installations by 35 artists from around the world. The exhibition explores gender identity, the politicalisation of gender, gender fluidity, and discrimination. “Crime Scene” by Zanele Muholi portrays the horrific murder and violence committed against the black lesbian and transgender community in South Africa. Hard Hitting!

qrfCrime Scene by Zanele Muholi

The whole exhibition was fascinating and has left me with questions; What is gender? Who decides or claims ownership of my gender by labelling me? Why do people commit violence against people who don’t conform to historic social norms?

On-Gender-and-Identity-2

I identify as gender fluid and currently living in the male role, I’ve questioned my gender and identity a lot over the course, so it was a refreshing exhibition for me. However, I did feel that the exhibition lacked some emotional depth in places, and portrayed gender fluid and transgender people as being about clothing, make up, and performance (drag). Gender and identity are so much more than these limited aspects.

hdrplA View from Elsewhere, Act 1, and She Postures in Context – installation by Victoria Sin

Seeing the exhibition before we had coffee/tea/lunch etc, was a wonderful way to break the ice. It provides a platform for discussion and that cut through the nervous tension of being in a group. I need that because I struggle with being around people, but I settled and I really enjoyed myself.

Two of us had brought photography for critique and a third person had brought a draft exhibition proposal to be reviewed. What I liked about this part of the afternoon was the non critical way the critique was given. Questions were asked rather than statements being made. I particularly liked the feedback I was given on one of my embroidered photographs. It helped me to clearly see how I’ve moved from the technical approach of learning a new skill, into bringing my emotion to the forefront of my art.

The next London Regional OCA Group will be in September, although we’re unsure of the date and venue. We are a cross genre group so any OCA student is welcome to attend.

 

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.

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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

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

Pride Portraits and Organisers/Sponsors Now Online – Lightroom Adjustment Brush and Airbrushing Portraits – Big Tip for Skin at the Bottom of the Page

The series that I will keep for my portfolio will be 24 of my favourite/meaningful photos of the day. I am currently reviewing the contact sheet and will select  the final 24 from 40 over the weekend.

I have uploaded the portraits and the Pride Makers on my website. I will include a few at the bottom of this blog.

Portraits Page OnePortraits Page TwoPride Makers

I have used a lot of the skills that I have learned on Foundations in Photography with making and developing these photos. I am more aware of how ISO, shutter speed and aperture affect lighting, grain and depth of field. With some of the portraits I felt anxious and I didn’t check to make sure that I had all of what I wanted to include in the frame, at other times my anxiety wasnt so bad and it was clear that I took more time.

It wasnt the kind of environment where distractions could be avoided altogether, but the people I photographed were happy to move so that I could light them more effectively or get rid of the background distractions. This was something that got easier as the day progressed and I became aware of how people allow you to direct them once they have consented to their photo being taken.

On the whole I use Lightroom for my developing, and tend to only use Photoshop for clone and healing brush. The healing brush tool is really useful for those times when I have cloned complicated areas of clothing or sky where the cloned section has been lighter or darker than the surrounding area. Clone first, then find smooth toned area with some texture, use the Alt key to select the source, then smooth over the cloned area. The key for me was finding a textured area, as it prevents the healing brush from turning the cloned area into a smudge. That’s a new trick up my sleeve.

Developing portraits in Lightroom has become more intuitive as this process went on. The first thing that I realised was to set the exposure and tone curve for the main subject. Once I had got that right I could then use the adjustment brush on the background. For many of the photos I have used the adjustment brush with decreased exposure and clarity and brushed over the background. This works well for complex scenes, but can look messy on bright white sky’s, however that’s what the grad filter is for.

I Feather, Flow, density and auto mask have taken me quite a while to get used to. Feather is useful for brushing around the outside of a subject as a harsh boundary with no feather creates the halo. I tend to use auto mask in conjunction with the grad filter, and use it as an eraser inside a subject so the filter doesn’t effect them. Density gives me more control of the affect – so a burn of -.3 can be toned down using the density slider and this decreases the incidence of “brush strokes” on light areas.

Airbrushing – using spot heal for blemishes, adjusting saturation, temp and tint on lips, eyes (am amazed at how you can bring out the colour of eyes) and skin. Whites adjustment for eyes. Increase exposure for deep-set eyes or eyes in shadow. Decrease highlights and whites for reflections on glasses. I am also going to change my Lightroon and Photoshop background to white. The sites I use have white backgrounds and the tone appears different to my eyes on a black background than it does on white.

Big skin tip – don’t do a global increase of contrast, it changes the skin colour. I have found that the best results came from a typical ‘S’ tone curve, but with darks at no more than 10% and then increase the mid-tones and bring up the shadows.