Micro-project: Portraits

While some of the work I produced in Arles relates to my theme of “wilful blindness’, most of the work I produced was created through systematic exploration. My purpose for attending the workshop was to gain experience with lighting in the studio and on location. I took photos in stores, on the street and in an empty gallery called MYOP. This experience opened my eyes to the use of more purposeful lighting. Lighting adds dimension and focus to the photo. I had some access to models, but many of my models were fellow students and local people.

Weeks 8-9: Contexts and Audiences

“with each shift of location the photogram is decontextualized and, as the context changes, so does the meaning..”

Berger and Evans (1997) p 54.

I attended the 2019 Les Rencontres D’Arles, a large photographic exhibition held throughout the city of Arles, France. Arles is an ancient Roman city built at the confluence of the Rhone. Cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways and stone buildings typify this city. Most of the exhibits were placed in unused or empty buildings- beautiful, ancient buildings. This context, or setting, changed everything, to me, about the photos featured. For example, an exhibit, “The Anonymous Project“, occupied the entirety of a small, two story stone home. The premise of the project was the display of slides depicting family life in the 1960s in England. The slides had been found (in second hand shops or sales) and the photographers and subjects were thereby anonymous. The slides were displayed on back-lit acrylic panels and slideshows as an instillation. Each room of the house held a different theme with featured images located in the context of the subject. For example, images were displayed in the open refrigerator and a pullout drawer of the mocked-up kitchen. What made the exhibition was the addition of a soundtrack (from the 1940s) and home furnishings taken from that age. It was fascinating. I found myself seated on the couch of the living room, watching the slide show and feeling very sentimental. But would I have felt so sentimental if I had viewed these images in another context, like displayed on the white walls of a gallery. I don’t think so, and believe that context changes the meaning.

Audiences: Currently I am using Adobe Portfolio to house my gallery. It is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite and seamlessly meshes with Lightroom. I like that the content is responsive and can be viewed on a phone or computer with equally good results. Observing my work, I have several thoughts: I have put a lot of time and though into the construction of the photographs and am proud of that. I am pleased to have the experience of a photograph develop from idea to execution and end product. As my practice is in development, I can see changes in the quality of the photos over the last few months. The photos were taken indoors, outdoors with a flash and studio lighting, causing variations in color and dimensionality. Because of this, there is not a consistent “look” to the photographs when put together. I will continue to consider this in the future when producing a body of work.

My Work in Progress Portfolio can be found here: https://amyeilertsen.com

Viewing my work, I wonder, who is my audience, or my “consumer”. My photographs have been an expression of me and I didn’t think about who else to which they may appeal. My audience has been whomever sees my images on Instagram, or on this blog. As my photographic practice grows, I would consider expanding into a commercial portrait market. Which makes me wonder what the difference is between audience and consumer is. I think it depends on the subject and the situation. If I am commissioned to work, then my audience would be anyone who would engage me in photographing the subject which they wish to feature. Who would my work appeal to?

Berger, J. and Evans, J., 1997. The Camerawork Essays: Context and Meaning in Photography.

Les Rencontres d’Arles: Stages, Workshop with Jerome Bonnet at Maison des Arènes.

Falmouth Photography MA offers 2-3 face-to-face photography meet-ups throughout each year of the program. Les Rencontres d’Arles was the first offered for our cohort which started on June 1st. For me, southern France plus photography sounds fabulous. Two days prior to my departure, I was looking at the Rencontres website and found that workshops are also offered during this time. As I have no experience with portrait photos or lighting, I was excited to see that a 5 day workshop was offered with Jerome Bonnet. I was already scheduled to be in Arles, and although tuition was more than I had planned to pay for this trip, with my husband’s support, I signed up. From the website: “Jérôme Bonnet is represented by the Modds agency. His work has widely appeared in the press, especially Libération and Télérama. many magazines, including Elle, Le Monde Magazine and Madame Figaro, have published his portraits. The author of many reportages, particularly in New York, Japan and Canada, Mr. Bonnet won World Press Photo awards in 2009 and 2010. For several years, his work has been regularly exhibited, including at the Portrait(s) Festival in Vichy in 2013, Fotograficasa in 2016 and the Fisheye Gallery in 2017. ” The workshop description: Mr. Bonnet will help participants set up the lighting conditions that will create a mood, shape the spaces and emphasize expressions. Based on editing and adjustments made with image processing software, they will choose equipment based on distance, lighting, framing, format, etc., drawing the outlines of their own photographic worlds. Sounds good to me.

Introduction: The workshop is located in Maison des Arenas, an old building across from the arena. It appears that it is used for the photo workshops offered throughout the Arles photography festival. It’s multi-storied and made of stone. A courtyard in the center is a makeshift cafe or meeting area and the stone benches are covered in green sisal turf. There are two studios, tons of lighting equipment, printing on demand, workrooms with macs There are about 12 people in the workshop at different levels of expertise. The workshop is in French. I have been assigned a translator, but he’s someone who speaks English, and doesn’t recognize when to translate. n assigned a translator, but he’s someone who speaks English, and doesn’t recognize when to translate. It’s an adventure!

Day 1: In the morning we went round-robin and took turns presenting our portfolio. Mine was well received, particularly the willful blindness series. My peers mentioned that they felt that the pictures demonstrated the idea of ambiguity. The afternoon was spent at an empty villa which seemed to have been an art gallery in the past. It had a large, sunny courtyard and many rooms, each which had been painted in a single color. Jerome demonstrated how to use a box light with a flash and set me up so that the light was coming from behind a door. I worked with at model for just a few minutes and got several shots which I like. I found a pair of pigeon wings in the foyer, sans body. I stuck the wings to the wall with some printer labels which I had found in a closet. I like the effect. I learned that remotes aren’t necessarily difficult, just expensive.

Day 2: I had meant to keep up this diary daily throughout the workshop.. however the days turned out to be really long. The workshop started at 0930 and we left after 1800. By the time I got back to my hotel room, it was already late. I stayed up until 0100 to edit the photos which I had taken during the day. My photos were really well received, and I was thrilled with the feedback. I know what I like, but don’t know if other people could relate to my pictures. The positive feedback has given me more self-confidence about my work. I was assigned to go with a group of other women to a restaurant which had newly been remodeled. There were 5 students and two flash sets: two controllers and two strobes with soft-boxes. Not being able to speak French was a challenge because I didn’t know what was going on most of the time. However, I got a couple of shots I like: One of another student modeling for me as a waitress, and the other in a fabric shop.

Day 3: The day starts with a review of the work from the day before. One advantage of not speaking French, for me, is not being distracted by comments made about other people’s work. I can totally concentrate on my own work and am less inclined to feel insecure or questioning about my own. I worked in the “cave”, a studio in the stone cavern beneath the building. Working with strobes in a black environment was very interesting. Starting with the flashes requires guess work about camera settings and lighting placement. One individual had a light meter which seemed to help immensely with the accuracy of the settings. Must try this. This style of portrait is very dramatic, and, while knowing how to achieve this look is important, it’s not really my style.

Day 4: The instructor thought there would be models, but there had been a miscommunication. No models. When I asked one of the Maison employees to models she said that she would press the button of the camera if I wanted to model for my own portraits. So I did. I found a white evening dress and a headless doll and sat on the floor of the entry way. I like the white and blue walls, and had intended to achieve nice lighting over the dress. The shots were obviously meant to be dramatic, and they are. It was great fun. In the afternoon we did get models after all. We went back to MYOP, the art space/villa and I tried a few more shots.

Day 5: Choosing photos, editing, processing printing, hanging, then a show at the main Les Rencontres D’Arles outdoor gallery. Phew. I am exhausted. I REALLY disliked my photo arrangement. It looks like my dog put them on the wall. And the photos are not like other peoples, which is good and bad. I think I will learn more about what makes a good set of photos, and how to display successfully.

Overall: I have learned so much. A list, in no particular order:

  • Pick a photo size and be consistent. 4×5 works well.
  • Flash set up is not difficult, just hard to get it right.
  • Working with just one light can produce nice results.
  • I can start to communicate in French, using singled nouns, in just a few days.
  • Don’t shoot with the camera out in front of me. This is a very bad habit.
  • You can do a lot of creative things with a dead pigeon.
  • Good lighting changes everything. More depth, more clarity.
  • People on the street are often happy to sit for a picture.
  • Find the location first. Work with that one location.
  • Don’t move the light around. move the model around.
  • Bring energy to the shoot with a model. It helps with the connection and the picture quality.
  • Typical portrait = typical results. Think creatively.

Update: I learned this week that my portfolio is displayed on the Arles 2019 Rencontres Workshop gallery (click to connect to the page).

My gallery is on the left.