CDP – Constructing ourselves

Today we looked at the topic of identity and portrait photography considering the various conventions of a portrait image. We began by looking back to very primitive forms or art and photography in order to solidly understand incorporate the various conventions into our own work. We began by considering our own identity and looking at who we are, what we want to be in the future and how we wish to present our identities to others. Also by looking at the conventions, composition and purpose of photographic imagery it enabled my to grasp a better understanding.

Portraiture is used for many different purposes, they can be used to preserve biographies and memories as well as documentation.

Before Photography….

We looked at 18th Century artwork by Peter Tilleman, Thomas Gainsborough and Angelica Kauffmann. We analysed and discussed the composition and similarities and differences. As you can see the composition of a painting or image is key in conveying a message or narrative, for example in the 17th and 18th Century was a time period where wealth and class is key; often portrayed in clothing, posture and possessions. Most of the subjects in these paintings are wearing expensive items of clothing: Blue was a very expensive colour which demonstrates wealth. Land and other family assets were often featured in such images to represent wealth, status and class. Early portrait paintings and photography were very expensive and time consuming meaning that subjects were expected to pose for substantial amounts of time. Identity is key in portraiture, it is often revealed through subtle conventions such as height, facial expression, clothing and framing. Gender is often portrayed in such images; in most cases women are usually represented as vulnerable and less authoritative than men through means of framing, they are often sat down or are positioned below the dominant male figure although this is closely linked to traditional views. Subjects are often positioned in a central composition which guides the viewer.

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We also looked at the Bertillon cards and how it was believed that facial dimensions could be used to determine whether someone would be a criminal or not.

After looking at other types of photography such as Edward Curtis, Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe and Erwyn Goffman; it enabled us to understand photography conventions in order develop my own ideas for my practical.

Robert Mapplethorpe – This is a self reconstruction, portraying 2 different identities. The image on the right used a sharp focus with harsh lighting to portray a dominant masculine identity. The low key lighting creates dramatic shadows and sharp angles which helps reinforce such connotations. Whereas the image on the left uses a more soft and subtle lighting which creates feminine conotations reinforcing the more gentle identity portrayed.
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Cindy Sherman – In this image, she is portrayed in a central composition with the audience members looking up towards her which creates connotations of power, she is also looking away from the camera meaning that she could be uninterested or the object of someones unwanted attention. she is surrounded by tall skyscrapers meaning which creates a sense of vulnerability although this is contradicted by the composition because she is positioned above the audience which contradicts traditional conventions.
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Cindy Sherman based her work on fictional performances and film stills. working with narratives within an image. She has created composite photographs to portray a particular     message.

We also touched on the point that in photography people also use forms of imitation to demonstrate cultural diversity and knowledge. We have often throughout history witnessed this happen.  Photographs can be carefully constructed and manipulated to create a message or narrative, in particular an identity. There are various techniques used such as “Rembrandt Lighting” as outlined in “Arthur Hammond’s 1917 article” (1) insert reference whereby with the correct use of lighting a triangle of light is visible on the cheek below one eye with small spots of light visible in each eye. Lighting can also greatly alter the portrayal of an individual, for instance in portrait photography; women are usually featured in soft lighting to create subtle shadows and a more soft tone whereas men are pictured in harsh low key lighting to create strong and angular shadows.

We have considered various conventions and techniques in order to produce our own photographs. We wanted to focus strongly on the subject of identity but in particular, a journey of emotions. We initially considered the idea of documenting a journey or change and how we could link that in with the theme of identity. We decided on the idea that we would try to present an identity through a contrast of emotions in a set of images. We picked two contrasting emotions; anger and happiness. We felt that these would outline and interesting journey. After considering each emotion we decided to construct these images using different type of artificial light. We wanted to try and create a multi composite image that would feature both emotions. Happiness would try to be constructed using high key lighting to denote connotations of positivity and compliment the image where as we tried to portray anger using low key lighting and use of shadows; again to compliment the emotion and outline the contrast between both emotions. I decided in particular to present both emotions together to outline how different each emotion is but also to play upon the idea that each emotion is crucial to the other.

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