Part 2. The Portrait

IMPORTANT NOTE: I have recently read Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, which is his personal reflection on photography. I wanted to test my understanding of some of the ideas explored in his book by citing these theories when detailing and analysing my work.

My references to Barthes are in italics.

Project 1 – Activity, depth and distance

Exercise 2.1

For this exercise we had to research the work of Karl Blossfeldt. I found his work fascinating; the beauty and symmetry from ‘everyday’ plants, seeds and weeds. I love the way that some of the images take your imagination away from what the object actually are.

I went to the park at the back of my house to gather different weeds/plants. Lots of the plants were dying due to the time of the year, which I thought was great. It wasn’t in keeping with Blossfeldt’s work but I didn’t have the time to search for perfect symmetrical leaves. I liked the fact they were dying because I though they made them more visually interesting and less cliché.

I used the same technique of Bloomfeldt of holding the plants far enough away from the background to eliminate any shadows. In Lightroom I was able to play around with exposure and contrast to ensure the background was totally white.

I chose to show black and white, as well as colour, as I fee the images look a little more abstract, which I like.

Black and White

Overall I’m really pleased with how they look, especially the plant that is obviously diseased. I also like the way that the light has hit different plants of the leaves in different ways.

Barthes talks of the way an image ‘surprises’ the viewer, in turn making the viewer more interested.  He states there are 5 ways a photographer can do this; 1) by showing something that is rare, 2) by stopping a dramatic/fast moving set of events in a single important moment, 3) by repeating but enhancing the image over and over again, 4) by photographic technique and ‘tricks’ and 5) by pure luck of being at the right place at the right time to capture something dramatic. 

I think Blossfeldt’s work tips a little bit into two categories; 3) repeating the image over and over and 4) techniques. I know that I had to use a few techniques to give them the effect that I have.

Exercise 2.2 – People and activity

For this next exercise we had to choose an activity which involved people. Once again I chose a subject with an emotional connection.

I own and run a care company, providing independent living support for adults with disabilities. Our main client group are high functioning young adults..

Every Tuesday we organise ‘The Hub’. At the hub the guys have different activities put on, mainly around independent living skills, but also just to have fun and meet with friends. Our staff play a massive role in its success so I felt it appropriate to include them.

On the Tuesday I went the activities were meditation and pumpkin carving.

I explored the photographer’s referenced in the manual. I guessed what I chose as my activity would help dictate what style I went for. It felt right to concentrate on the works of Tish Murtha. I liked her style. and humour in her work. It told a story of what times were like in the seventies and eighties.

Tish Murtha. Youth Unemployment. 1981.
Tish Murtha. Elswick kids. 1979.

Despite not growing up in the type of conditions she documents in her work, I felt a sense of connection from when I was growing up…roaming the streets, exploring the area where I has brought up, meeting up with other kids, getting up to mischief etc.

Below are photos of the people who we support and of the staff.

*I have gained consent off all to publish photos on this site.

The day

I took along my Fiji with a 50mm prime lens and the 18mm-45mm kit lens. I also took my Nikon with a 80mm-300mm.

I took along a zoom because I wasn’t quite sure if people were going to relax, so wanted the option of ‘being in the background’. As it turns out the space was quite compact so having the zoom didn’t really benefit.

The morning was a bit of a struggle with the lighting. I purposely didn’t want to use flash as some of the people we support with autism struggle with sensory changes.

I took a lot of photo’s. I wasn’t happy with a lot of them as they were technically flawed due to not getting the lighting/exposure right. There was a lot of ‘movement’ in the photos which I didn’t really want.

However when I switched to my 50mm prime lens I started to get the exposure and lighting right.

People were very receptive to me taking photos. And as the day went on they become more relaxed. I also became more relaxed…. after switching over to the 50mm lens!

The results

I went for the candid style of Tish Murtha.

I feel there’s a slight wiff of Tish’s work in my photography. Especially the last shot; it has similarities to the Unemployed Youth photograph above.

I feel the pictures reflect more of a sense of people’s personalities as opposed to the activity they were doing. I’m not sure that was the brief, but I am pleased with the final photo’s

Barthes: I think Barthes may have passed these photo’s up as they are what he describes as mainly being within the ‘stadium’ (further explanation below), with no real ‘punctum’. There isn’t any real duality in any of the photograph’s, they are quite linear. Essentially they are quite standard documentary photographs that also do not really have the 5 main characteristics of what ‘surprises’ people.

That’s not to say they do not hold any value or aesthetic qualities. Especially it you have an emotional connection to anyone in the photos.

Exercise 2.3 Depth: foreground, mid-ground, background

Exercise 2.4 The two-dimensional plane

Exercise 2.5 An Identi-kit portrait 

I entered into this being a bit of knob….I thought it was a little silly and didn’t really see the point. I am pleased to say that i’m glad I did it as it showed me there is a room for experimentation in photography.. it also took me back to the work of David Hockney’s Joinery work, which I have previously really enjoyed and tried to replicate.

The work of Hockney has been replicated a million times by a million photography students. I fell in love with his Joinery work because of the sense of time his photocollages created.

See the source image
David Hockney. (Cant find name or date)

Barthes: It is clear that David Hockney has used the 4th way to ‘surprise’ the viewer…by using techniques and tricks. He has used this to great effect to almost open up a whole new genre of photography.

I didn’t read the brief properly and cut the images instead of folding up into quarters. This made it harder to take away from a flat image.

I specifically chose to take the images of the mixed up images with my camera phone as I wanted to add to the ‘oddness’, producing a slick image wouldn’t have worked for me. They also look a bit like a police photo.

One of the reasons I like these images is because despite that they are 4 different people, we’ve probably all come across people who look similar…

This image I started to experiment, using cubism photography as an influence. I appreciate there’s not the variety of angles you get in cubism, however it works for this project.

Exercise 2.6 Near and Far

I didn’t spend a long time on this one as I knew the image I wanted.

Our spare room is at the top of the house. I really like the view as there’s a mix of not too nice 50’s housing with nature. The nature provides a great horizon.

I placed my daughter in the window frame. I took the photograph at this time of the day because it was early in the morning and there was a fog outside. I liked the atmosphere this created.

I played around with exposure and aperture but stayed with ‘dark and moody’ as this is what I felt.

I like the layers the objects create; from my daughter to the trees.

Exercise 2.7 Fill-flash

In this exercise we were asked to use the flash on our camera to bring out a foreground subject that is balanced with ambient light.

We were out as a family at a local beach and I was hoping to time our visit with the sun going down so I could capture the contrast between the natural light and the artificial light of the flash. Unfortunately I arrived with the sun still setting so I had to deal with the natural sunlight.

I did manage to capture the image below, which I really like.

This is an image of my nephew, George. I like the way the artificial light makes his face look whiter than all of its surroundings. With the sun going down there were a lot of warm colours around, but the white light of the flash makes his face stand out. It also captures his eyes in a way that the warm soft light may not have done.

This exercise has opened my eyes to some advantages using flash….something, for some reason, I tend to avoid using.

Exercise 2.10 Dodging and burning

Here is my experiment with Dodging and Burning.

It was easy to make small areas lighter/darker, but I struggled a bit more with larger areas. You can see in the image below that the burning is not very even. I guess this is a skill you het better at the more you practise.

Exercise 2.11 Spilt Contrast

I’m sorry but I really couldn’t understand the instructions from point 4. It would be really handy to have some screenshots of photoshop at points like these. Or even links to a video tutorial.

Proof that I did start this exercise and got to point 3!!

Picture analysis The Conversation

“The Conversation, Alachua:, FL”, 40"x 50" C-Print,  2006
Michael Buhler-Rose. The Conversation. 2016

It struck me immediately that the traditional clothing, head dress and make up of the women in this photograph are not in keeping with the ‘situation’ photographed. The postures of the women are modern, relaxed and casual. As are the expressions. This is something that, rightly or wrongly, as a westerner, I don’t normally associate with people dressed in traditional religious clothing. My experience of organised religion is that it is more formal.

The location and the women also doesn’t feel right. It looks like that they are not in their natural environment. My first impression/feel of its location is that of working class American housing.

It is my understanding that Barthes would state that this image creates a duality which will spike the viewer into looking further into the image. The duality being created by the abstract placement of the women in this environment.

Although everyone has their own reaction to an image, I would like to think Barthes would enjoy this image as it takes the viewer on an adventure (advenes). Barthes talks about a image which pleases him as having Stadium and Punctum. My understanding is that the stadium is the background; the cultural and historical setting

The Punctum is the part of an image that makes the viewer ‘feel’ or question something. It brings the image alive for that viewer. It could be argued that this image has both…i’m sure the artist was striving for both!

Looking at the work of Henry Peach there are some similarities in terms of set up and style. Maybe Michael Buhler-Rose was influenced by this style and used a very ‘traditional’ but controversial artist/photographer of his day, to help deepen the sense of the duality within the image.

A key quote to describe Peach’s work which I came across, which has relevance to its connection with the works of MBH; ‘Real moments of timeless significance in a medieval setting’ . I think its saying that his work captures human emotions and experiences which are relevant and real regardless of when or where they are set; love, grief, longing etc. Is MBH trying to achieve this in his work?

Image result for henry peach he never told his love

Henry Peach. He never told her he loved her. 1884

After being asked to look at the works of Raphael I stumbled across the work of the Pre-Raphaelites; a group of British artists and poets from the 1800’s. I thought some of their work had a particular look that was similar to MBH and HP in its set up and maybe in its intension.

See the source image
Robert Braithwaite Martineau. The last day in the old home. 1862

MBH’s series is called Constructing the Exotic. I think the word Exotic resonates perfectly with the series. When you look at the word Erotic’s origins it comes from Latin for ‘Exo’ meaning ‘outside’ and the Greek word ‘exotrikos’ meaning foreign…From the outside. It relates perfectly to the young Asian ladies being placed in a culturally alien setting.


I’ve enjoyed exploring the works of Barthes and the different artists that have been referenced in this module. I have enjoyed the theory more that then actual photography exercises in this module. I never seemed to get excited by any of the exercises, I found it a bit of a chore having to involve others all the time. Haha. Maybe that makes me sound really grumpy and miserable! However I think its probably down to the fact that I am constant contact with people; my large family, my large number of work colleagues etc! I have always seen photography as a form of escapism…from every thing and every one!!! I joke but its an important point and will probably go some way into shaping the photography I take in the future.