In this post I will be discussing about my research and experimentation progress that has helped led up to my overall work series for Project 1: Picture Story – Curating Self.
This task really challenged our mindsets of photography as we were taught to place more thought into the pictures we captured. Elements such as framing and cropping, subject distance as well as the photo’s vantage point or angle in which the subject is shot from or at are all taken into consideration.
As we have learnt, simply taking a photo from another angle or altering the subject’s placement can significantly determine a change in the message that the photographer is trying to convey to his or her audience.
The photo below displays my work in final form composing of Task 1, 2 and 3, in order from top to bottom.
Display of Final Project on Critique Day
TASK 1: Me
The photos I picked specifically for my final project are as shown below for each task, one by one. Below each photograph in each task, I will explain the camera techniques and context behind the direction of this particular task.
The first photo demonstrates a self-portrait of myself taken in a bathroom setting with the impression of lighting, appearing to be dim and warm at the same time. My hand, seemingly larger than life (quoting Shah), draws in the audience’s eyes from the arm upwards, to the yellow-painted hand and finally, to the reflection of my face in the mirror. One can see that although my arm and hand captures your attention first, it is blurred in comparison to my reflection in the mirror that seems to be crystal clear. There is a juxtaposition to the entire shot.
This is where the context behind the photograph comes in: I began making art and simply enjoying the pleasures it provided me ever since the age of five. Throughout my life, as I travelled unwillingly to different parts of the world; from Singapore to Australia and then Shanghai, I’ve felt a constant state of nagging anxiousness at times when the transitional differences became too great due to the various cultures I was being exposed to every four to five years when I moved to yet another country. Even throughout all the stress I was already going through, I was exposed to much negativity when people related art with the economy — at least finding a job to sustain one’s future. They would often comment speaking along the lines of…
“You won’t earn much to sustain yourself in the future. How will you feed yourself for years to come?”
“It’s mathematicians and scientists that the world requires. Try making a change in the world, that’s what the world really needs.”
From such a young age, I have had to deal with harsh comments that found their way towards me within various points in my life. With all these stressing externalities all at hand, I began developing a condition/habit of having cold and sweaty palms whenever nervousness or stress struck.
The reason why the direction of my first image began with the arm and then the painted hand, seemingly pulling your attention firsthand, is because I wanted to emphasise how art happened to have found me, a state where I was just beginning to feel comfortable with this new hobby of mine which would later transform into a passion. The arm and hand, seemingly larger than the reflection of my own face as well as the blurriness it promotes, demonstrates how the subject of art appeared unfamiliar to me at first and it appeared taunting at the beginning. I was uncomfortable with the thoughts that swarmed my head as everyone around told me that such a future would not earn myself a living. I thought I knew myself, the ‘me’ that didn’t need art because of everyone’s negative yet suggestive comments. This is how my reflection in the mirror becomes a lie; I appear crystal clear on the outside, seemingly coping fine without it yet it is all just a lie I tell myself hoping it will be true. I thought I could find happiness without art. My hand is painted yellow to signify happiness yet the mirror is not touched with the colored paint in comparison to my last image in task 1. The happiness from art is approaching me, nearly there, but isn’t entirely. My eyes are cold and unwelcoming as I look at my hand from ‘within the mirror’, not allowing it to make myself as a whole. The reason as to why I’ve made use of my hand and my palm in photos 1 and 3 is to embrace my condition of having cold and sweating palms from such anxiousness but in a subtle way. The dim yellow lighting that is supposed to create an atmosphere of warmth becomes a misconception then. The camera angle is taken from a low angle so that the hand appears to dominate my reflection in the mirror which then also appears to dominate back in protest. The dim lighting condition and slightly canted angle suggests that something is wrong or that something sinister is cooking.
Some photoshop editing were also used: The burn tool was used to darken the white bottle on the bottom left so that it didn’t appear distracting and to darken the slightly dark area at the bottom even more so that your attention is cast upwards at the main message I was trying to portray. I used the dodge tool to brighten up the yellow on my hand so that the audience’s attention would subconsciously be drawn towards the hand and arm.
In this image, I wanted to portray my journey through the years and my slow acceptance of art as a passion, which will lead up to the third image; to be explained right after. The camera angle is taken at eye level with my legs in this shot. This is to demonstrate a sense of presence by the audience and to establish the feeling of being there with me at that particular time when I felt like I was still finding my way out of unsureness. A small and subtle symbolism is used in the photograph. A bird is painted on the scattered newspapers to represent a sense of freedom; the freedom I feel every time I create works of art. Alongside that, tinges of red accumulating against the yellow also already used in the previous image represents a sense of bravery building up within me. One heel of mine is painted entirely red while the other, yellow. The red or component of bravery is therefore, slowly becoming a part of me. The yellow and red strokes of paint are also seen to ‘scar’ my calves as they represent the hurting words people have spoken to me while the matter of art has been there for me at the same time. Paintbrushes are also taped to my skin to represent its position in my life; becoming a part of me, almost like a second skin but not entirely since they are sticking outwards. The trails of paint seem to follow as I take my steps just as though how art follows suit with my life and journey as a person. The newspapers represent the days that go by and that time is constantly passing as I battle my way through since newspapers are always dated. I also decided to add a slight vignette around the upper portion of the photo so that the audience’s eyes are drawn straight towards my feet and then they drift downwards to the motion of the paints. The dodge tool was used to brighten up the paint on my legs and on the newspaper sheets.
In this last image, I decided to blur my entire reflection to emphasise attention towards the yellow paint splatters on the glass mirror which are clear. Here, art has become like an actual second skin to me as it appears to ‘layer myself’ without any boundaries. My eyes are looking with curiosity instead of being cold and unwelcoming. The angle in which the photograph is shot at is still canted slightly to demonstrate that the fear of what others may say is always going to lurk in my life. My hand emphasizes the fact that I may be attempting to figuratively remove this passion of art side of me yet it becomes impossible because it has already become a part of me, a part of my second skin. Photoshop was used to brighten up the paint splatters on the mirror, the stretched marks on my skin and my hand that is pulling at it.
TASK 2: Object and Representation of Self
The context behind task 2 is, in general, childhood games as well as my hobbies associated with them during my move from country to country. One of my favourite hobbies since I was a child would have to be making hopscotch diagrams on the ground with the use of chalk. The first image as shown above demonstrates the chalk in a not so perfect state. Although most of the focus is directed towards the chalk and the background blurred, a part of the chalk trail is detailed and the ruggedness of the stroke on the rough ground surface is rather evident. A small piece of a chalk appears to have fallen off as it lies on the left of the pile. The photograph was taken with a closer up shot to signify the importance of the chalk and its details and I also wanted the audience to feel like they were ‘on the same level as the chalk’; small but significant enough to produce such details on the ground. I also wanted the audience to feel like they were on a personal level with the chalk. It is small but it is also able to create something greater than itself. The small detailed bits and pieces of chalk in the trail as well as the fallen off remaining bit signify such minor events in my life that brought me happiness had happened even though life went along as it did. Again, I used the dodge tool to brighten or illuminate the chalk up in a more ‘holy way’ to signify its importance while I darkened the area around with the burn tool to emphasise this effect due to the contrasting differences of light and shadow.
For the second image of task 2, I took it from a slightly higher angle than a straight shot to direct the audience’s eyes towards the pile of chalks I hold in my hands. It is also the central point of the photograph itself. With this photo, I wanted your attention to be directed towards the chalk instead of the joy I experienced which can be seen through smiling eyes if I looked into the camera. The chalk is the important subject here which makes me a part of who I am today. One can see that as I am slightly stretching my hands forward to emphasise that. I want you to get to know me through my favourite object, or that is what I enjoy doing, and for you to understand that. Since eyes are often referred to as being windows to one’s soul, I direct my attention towards the chalk instead so that you are somewhat forced to know me through something that has become a part of me eventually and made me who I am today. I chose to demonstrate the chalk and myself in a portraiture format so that your attention isn’t directed to much of the environment but more on the subject. The diagonal lines also lead your eyes towards my eyes and as they drift down; to the chalk. The posing is also standard; there is nothing unique to it so that anybody looking at the photo wouldn’t think too much about the way the person is standing but instead will focus more upon the chalk held in the hands.
The last image of task 2 gives an insight of a momentary side of my actions drawing a hopscotch diagram. The photograph captures an intimate moment as I don’t appear to be aware that someone is observing me, as I enjoy a hobby of past time. My focus is again, on the chalk, but this time the photograph is taken from a distance that is further away to emphasise upon the hopscotch diagram created as a whole work. I seem to be ignorant of my surroundings as I become too engrossed with the hobby of mine that I don’t seem to be aware of anything else which is the purpose of this photograph. To show that I seem to be taken away to another world that there is nothing but tranquility and calmness around me. The slight vignette effect surrounding also helps demonstrate that the place is cooler in temperature and more peaceful as a consequence of that. I seem to feel right at home and not rushed at all to do anything else. The pile of chalk doesn’t seem to capture the audience’s attention any longer because that isn’t what I want you to focus upon. Zooming out on it lessens the focus of the pile. The environment is also darkened so that the focus is drawn towards the action taking place.
TASK 3: My World
Task 3 instructs us to capture photographs of places we find interesting or have significance to us and to recreate the feelings we perceive from those places to our audience. The place which I visited in Singapore was the Botanical Gardens. It is the only place that I still feel resembles as or speaks to me as ‘being home’ without feeling as though I am a tourist in my own hometown. I spent a lot of time there on the weekends as a young child. My parents would often take me there for picnics and what became most memorable was the fish feeding activity we did by first buying small bits of fish food wrapped and enclosed in small plastic ball containers from the vending machines as shown above. The photo above is meant to represent a flashback of a time from long, long ago with the random girl, I captured spontaneously on my latest visit, representing me in such a case. The picture is captured in a way that focuses the direction of where ur eye leads from right to left in a diagonal pattern; the girl and her action of turning the machine’s handle, the vending machine as a whole and finally, the dark silhouetted background which is intentionally darkened so that your attention isn’t directed towards that area. The entire photo is slightly faded to add a nostalgic look to the entire photograph, making it resemble even more like a flashback. Although not seen as clearly or in detail in the photograph, I also wanted to represent the changes in Botanical Gardens and life in general, has gone through, even though things may seem the same in the present moment. Although the vending machines in the photo above have been there for decades now, there are significant changes such as new stickers pasted on them to promote buying the fish food with only NEW Singapore one dollar coins; notifying the public that they no longer accept the old version coins. In a way, the vending machines represents an illusion of things appearing the same as before but in reality subtle little details change because time prompt it too eventually. It cannot be helped. The shot is taken with a straight shot so that the audience, too, feels as though they are in a child’s shoes; looking at things from such a perspective and allowing them to feel as though they are travelling back to a time when they too were a kid.
In image 2 of task 3, I wanted to portray the tranquility of the fish pond where I would have usually fed the fish as well as the excitement and spontaneity that balances as such. Koi fish often symbolise peace but the audience, through this image, can see that things are always what they seem to be. In the photograph, the fish seem to be fighting over food like savages, forgetting about their place at hand; being peaceful beings as they are usually perceived as. The image was captured from a slight high angle so that an overview of the fish and their fight over the food could be seen as a whole. I also wanted to capture the splashes and slight ripples of water in glistening light in order to give a subtle hint to the fish and overall environment as being slightly graceful and holy when, as a matter of fact, the action differs from what the photo appears to be. A third of the picture on the left hand side, appears to be engulfed in darkness, which is also intentional to the entire photograph. This demonstrates that there will always be a dark side or perspective to things or situations. I also wanted to capture parts of lily pads in the shot to give the photo a more natural feel instead of the look of being too constructed or rigid.
In the final image of the last series, half of the image consists of a concrete wall while the other half, with slightly more, portrays the lush greenness of the Botanical Gardens. The image was taken from bottom to top with the moment captured by looking straight upwards. I wished to capture details one typically wouldn’t pay attention to when strolling around the Gardens, which makes the place feel more mysterious and ‘hidden’ in a way. In the photograph, the greenery appears to be battling with the concrete man made structure as they determine who is meant to stay. As society becomes more commercial day by day, the photograph speaks in a way seemingly also asking if Botanical Gardens will someday face a similar fate. Beginning as a luscious garden with many children from the past’s memories still held there, will it be gone as more and more buildings and structures come into place? The shadows casted upon the concrete wall also represents a dark age glooming towards us. Botanical Gardens might seem to be what it still is today but several things have changed, more than one may know.