For our very last 4D project, we were tasked to create an installation expressing a category of time. My final product was a continuation from the previous project’s concept on memory, but explores a different take on it, instead of interpreting it as it is.
My final product is based on the concept of deja vu, where it serves as a visual and auditory installation conveying the feelings of experiencing deja vu.
Deja vu is a French term and means, literally, ‘already seen’. It is a ‘rather complex’ phenomenon and is defined as ‘a feeling of having already experienced the present situation’, with its fleeting and unpredictable nature making it difficult to study. Those who have experienced the feeling describe it as ‘an overwhelming sense of familiarity with something that shouldn’t be familiar at all’. It has also been said that ‘about two thirds of us experience at least one deja vu in our lifetime’.
The concept I chose to portray is based on an extraordinary case of deja vu, where a 23-year-old British man has been trapped in a bizarre deja vu time loop over a span of 8 years. Diagnosed with ‘severe deja vu’, and said to be the ‘first case to be triggered by anxiety’, the severity of his situation caused him to drop out of university, and he even stopped watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading the newspapers or magazines because he believed he had seen it all before, feeling as if he was ‘reliving the past moment by moment’.
I thought this was a really peculiar case and would be interesting to expand on it further. I made a diorama and modelled it after his situation causing him to stop watching TV, listening to the radio, and reading the newspaper. The outside of the diorama resembles the exterior of an apartment. with a doorway and a peephole (the doorway is also supposed to emulate typical English-style apartments as the man is British).
The inside of the diorama is modelled after a living room, with a TV, table, rug, and beanbags. However, there are repeated newspaper clippings pasted over the walls, and the walls of the room are red being lit up by red lights.
Video used in installation
II. Sound Installation
And based on Lei’s advice, there is also a sound installation to accompany the diorama, consisting of ambient sounds in a linear form, conveying a narrative of the British man returning home then switching on his TV and radio only to hear it on loop, then growing frustrated from it.
The sounds used include:
Cars driving pass
Footsteps on concrete
Sitting on couch
News report on radio
Doors slamming shut
III. Presentation Display
Additionally, to enhance the installation’s immersive factor, and to establish a sense of continuity, the concept of the installation is laid out in a form of a prescription medicine form. Based on the case of the man who has been experiencing constant deja vu for over 8 years, and how doctors and neurologists are baffled by his condition, I thought it would be appropriate and a more interesting and impressionable way to convey content in the form of a prescription medicine form.
Rhythm is the regularised repeating of movement or sound, occurring when repetition is present.
The model shows a mixture of both regular and irregular rhythm in a visual and auditory sense. With regards to visuals, regular rhythm is shown in repeated motifs – the same newspaper clippings pasted on the wall and the infomercial played on loop. As for audio, regular rhythm is shown in the whole sound installation being on loop, as well as in the ambient noises themselves; the sound of footsteps, keys jingling, and the man sighing. This helped in establishing the environment as a roadside, followed by a room interior. Irregular rhythm, on the other hand, is mainly demonstrated in the sound installation. The regular rhythm of ambient noises is broken by the sudden shift in sounds such as the commercial being interrupted by the man sighing, the birds chirping and cars passing gradually shifting to the sound of footsteps and keys jingling (as it slowly gets louder).
The mixture of regular and irregular rhythm in this case helped me with conveying the intended concept. The repetitiveness of the regular rhythm being broken by the irregular rhythm at times helped in creating a sense of confusion for the viewers. Contrastingly, the regularity demonstrated in the constant looping of the infomercial and news report also contributed to the sense of confusion.
Movement is a shift or variation in the location of an object, light, or sound, making it an effective way to direct focus.
Movement, in this case, is demonstrated in the diorama through the shift in environment; where the box is decorated as an exterior of an apartment on the outside and when viewers look through the peephole, the environment changes to a interior (i.e. living room). As for the sound installation, movement is demonstrated in the change in focus, where there is a shift in environmental noises – the birds chirping and cars passing gradually changing to the footsteps of the man approaching, the sudden lowered pitch for the birds chirping signalling the shift from an external to internal environment. The variation in the sounds of the footsteps (indoor and footsteps on concrete), along with doors opening and closing, also gave the impression of the man entering and leaving the room.
The impression of movement, without the use of video, helped my installation in conveying the intended message through creating a more immersive experience in relaying the narrative, as well as reinforcing a sense of confusion. The irregular shifts from first-person to third-person (displayed in the peephole in the diorama being a third-person perspective, and the sound installation being a first-person perspective) also helped in reinforcing a sense of confusion.
Causality is the principle that everything has cause and effect.
The causality factor in the installation is demonstrated through the use of unexpectedness to establish a sense of tenseness and confusion. Unexpectedness in the diorama is reiterated in the contrast between its exterior and interior; the exterior is pleasantly-decorated with white and brown tones and flowers, while the walls of the interior is drenched in red with dramatic white and red lights. The texture of crepe paper used for the interior also helped in adding a ‘scratchy’ layer to the walls, adding to the overall sensation of tenseness. Furthermore, the living room does not look like a conventional living room, adding another layer of unexpectedness.
Unexpectedness is also demonstrated in the sound installation, especially with the variation in volume causing a shift in the third-person to first-person perspective. The ambient environmental noises in the beginning coupled with approaching footsteps established a third-person perspective, but by purposely increasing the pitch of the man’s noises, it sounded as though it is a first-person perspective, bringing about a sense of unexpectedness. On the other hand, expectedness was shown in the linear form of the sound installation where it followed a narrative.
Duration is the overall length of time a work - or a portion of a work lasts.
The total duration of the project is about 2 minutes long, as dictated by the length of the entire sound installation. The diorama, on the other hand, is on constant loop, with the video inside being played on loop. Having the diorama on loop, coupled with a linear-style narrative, helped to add a layer of confusion to the whole installation, where there is a dissociation between the visual and auditory aspect. The varied durations between the visuals and audio also added an element of unexpectedness.
Research & Process
I was inspired by the dioramas made by the Brothers Quay and Tine Kinderman. I was also inspired by the following:
Ideas in creating dioramas
Establishing fourth wall through the use of peephole, and how it is able to add a layer of voyeuriitssm for viewers
Inspiration for works occurring simultaneously (e.g. mix of video, still images, and sound)
I was also inspired by the repetitive motifs used in Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles. The repetitiveness of the artwork inspired me to use repetition to emulate time loops in the concept of deja vu.
The conceptualising process included brainstorming for and performing the 10-second performance for one of the classes, and mind mapping.
Challenges & Feedback
A challenge I faced in this project was the presentation set-up. Due to the lack in equipment and restraints, I was not able to have the video in the diorama and the audio on an automatic loop. As a result, I had to always remove the top of the diorama to replay the video when it stopped, as well as manually play the sound composition from the beginning when someone put on the headphones. This affected the way viewers perceived the installation. Due to the inconsistency in presenting the video and audio, a lot of viewers were confused and not too sure about what to expect. On the contrary, the confusion did complement the interior of the diorama quite aptly.
I also felt that I could have scaled the presentation of the diorama slightly better. The installation could have been placed at eye-level height for a better and more comfortable viewer experience. Furthermore, the peephole could have been positioned at a more suitable level as the current position of the peephole did not allow for viewers to view the whole room – other scaled pieces of furniture could not be seen (the beanbags and the circular rug).
For this video project, I decided to choose someone else’s (Sihui’s) memories as a location I’ve never been to. The narrative of this video revolves around what a regular day is like working as a filter in Sihui’s hippocampus; looking through her day’s worth of memories and picking out ones she should remember and ones she should forget. Given the fictional nature of this location and narrative, I tried to use literal images and sounds to better depict the location and avoid confusing viewers. The video comprises of two main environments – the hippocampus and the memories themselves. This is emphasised through the use of different mediums, namely, digitalised illustrations (representing the hippocampus) and moving images (representing the memories). The video also comprises of a soundscape as a factor to bring life to the fictional location. The two main soundscapes used are the sounds that exist within the hippocampus, and those derived from the memories themselves.
To represent the hippocampus, I used illustrated GIFs (each with a few select moving elements). In addition to using a contrasting medium (i.e. illustrations) to represent the hippocampus as a fictional location, I kept to the same colour palette for all illustrated frames. Doing so helped in establishing a sense of continuity, showing that the scenes are all occurring within the location. The use of pink and purple tones are also to give more obvious representation of the location, showing the insides of a brain.
Steam locomotive engine
Going over railway tracks
Fries shaking in a bag (foley)
With regards to the overarching sound, I used a toned-down soundscape with sounds from a steam locomotive engine, it travelling across a railway track, and low rumbling, to establish the sense of movement occurring outside the hippocampus; showing Sihui going about her day while I’m carrying out a filtering process on her memories.
In addition to using sounds from the Internet, to recreate the sound of a train going across railway tracks, I used foley where I held a recorder in between two bags of fries while Esther and Sihui shook them at varying times.
The first frame was meant to convey the start of the work day – switching on the radio, then switching through different channels and finally coming across the perfect the song.
Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael
To establish a sense of rhythm, I chose to lay the frames out in the video according to the beat of a song in the background. The song in the video is Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, chosen mainly for its slow rhythm and calm mood. Having this particular song as the main background music helps in establishing a sense of rhythm and an ambient mood, preventing clashes with the other environmental sounds. Additionally, I chose objective sounds to convey a clearer narrative; radio static and noises to show the switching of radio channels.
The second frame is meant to depict the main workspace of the hippocampus, a typical desk area with papers and stationery. To reinforce the portrayal of the job as a memory filter, the desk has two glowing buttons (one green and one red) to represent the forget and remember functions when filtering through the memories. Laid over the background sounds of music, the steam locomotive engine, and rumbling, there is the addition of other objective sounds to reinforce the activities occurring around the main workspace.
Drawers opening and closing
In addition to using objective sounds to establish the environment, I varied the intensity of the two different sound groups (the environmental sounds of the current scene and the background sounds of the travelling locomotive) – the environmental sounds of the current scene being louder – to reinforce the close distance of the workspace as opposed to the travelling sounds, which are occurring outside the confines of the area.
The use of the two sound groups occurring simultaneously also reinforces the narrative, allowing the viewers to better experience the space they currently are in and the environment going on outside.
The third frame portrays a close-up of the workspace, showing a top-down level shot of the items on the desk. To progress the narrative, slowly revealing whose memories are currently being filtered, there is a dossier with a portrait (of Sihui) attached, along with stationery, documents, and an iPad (with a blinking notification signalling the start of the filter process), as well as the addition of a cup of coffee and half-eaten biscuits.
Flipping through pages
Spoon hitting the edges of the cup
Similarly, the environmental sounds of the current scene are laid over the background sounds, occurring simultaneously, with it being higher in intensity as compared to the background sounds, attempting to achieve the same effect in providing a better viewer experience.
The fourth frame is a title sequence, an attempt to clearly convey the location through introducing the stage of the job.
The thirteenth – and final – frame is meant to depict the end of the day’s work and completion of filtering through the day’s memories, where a list of items is being checked, with the word ‘COMPLETED’ being stamped across Sihui’s dossier.
Writing on paper
This scene also uses objective sounds to accompany the visuals of a list being checked off and stamping the word ‘COMPLETED’ onto the dossier. In an attempt to match the visuals, I chose to delay the stamping sound until the end, after the writing sound finishes.
Heading into the second portion of the video which shifts the focus to portraying Sihui’s actual memories, the medium changes to cinemagraphs.
‘Cinemagraphs are still photographs in which a minor and repeated movement occurs, forming a video clip. They are published as an animated GIF or in other video formats, and can give the illusion that the viewer is watching an animation.’ Using cinemagraphs help in better conveying the subjects as memories. This is to, in my opinion, emulate the nature of memories, where usually an element is often most significant (and remembered) as opposed to the entire environment and factors in the background.
The main soundscape, similar to the previous scenes discussed, uses objective sounds (to represent what is happening the current scene) laid over the background sounds (the travelling locomotive and writing sounds). The two varying soundscapes are also used to emphasise diegesis and the use of on-screen and off-screen spaces; having sounds to establish the environment currently on-screen, but also having the previous sounds (with a lower intensity) in the background to remind the viewer that this is still occurring within the confines of the hippocampus.
The fifth frame shows Sihui’s typical morning routine, brushing her teeth. The element chosen to animate is the running water from the tap. The objective sounds used are to establish the environment of a toilet, along with Sihui’s interaction with the sink and toothbrush.
Varying intensities are used (in terms of the on-screen and off-screen sound groups), as well as duration, where sounds (such as the brushing of teeth and clearing of throat) are structured in such a way that it conveys the linear narrative of turning the tap on, rinsing the toothbrush, followed by the brushing of teeth.
The sixth frame depicts Sihui having some lunch, with the animated element being the Korean soap opera shown on the television. The objective sounds used in this scene are put together to establish a quiet home environment with nothing but Sihui rummaging through paper bags to get food and napkins, and chewing on chicken wings while watching her favourite soap operas.
Korean soap opera
Recording of Korean soap opera (foley)
Recording of Sihui chewing nuggets (foley)
Paper bag rustling
Varying intensities are used in on-screen and off-screen sounds, as well as to convey varying shot distances. This is especially so in the chewing noises being the loudest and the television noises being the softest – doing so helps with the viewer experience, allowing them to experience what Sihui herself is currently doing (i.e. eating).
Recording of classmates talking (foley)
Recording of lecturer talking (foley)
Pencil case being thrown around
Case being thrown from hand to hand (foley)
The seventh frame depicts what Sihui sees during a regular class in ADM (Foundation Drawing, in this case). The animated elements here are Esther tossing her pencil case from hand to hand, En Cui cracking her knuckles, and David talking to Clara. The objective sounds used here establishes the environment of a typical consultation lesson during our Foundation Drawing module; groups of classmates and David talking in the background, and fidgeting or things being moved.
Varying shot distances is used again in the sense that the sound of David talking is the softest (reinforcing the source as being the farthest), followed by class
Elevator door closing
The eight frame shows Sihui travelling to school, with the animated element being the elevator doors closing. The main sound used here is the elevator moving followed by its doors opening.
Recording of friends talking (foley)
Recording of Sihui chewing nuggets (foley)
Recording of crowd noises at a food court (foley)
The ninth frame represents what Sihui experiences during a regular lunchtime with friends. In this frame, the animated elements are Jiayi chewing her food and the water (inside the two water bottles) moving. The soundscape in this scene comprises of the main sounds most prominent when having lunch at The Hive with friends; random conversations, chewing noises, and the buzzer from the pasta stall that goes off when your number is called.
Varying intensities are again, used to establish varying shot distances – the closest being chewing noises and occurring conversations, followed by crowd noises, and the distant buzzer at the very end.
The tenth frame shows a typical moment in Sihui’s day-to-day routine, catching up on some work for school. The animated element in this scene is her fingers typing on a keyboard.
The main sound used in this soundscape is the sound of typing on a keyboard. It is especially loud in comparison to other sounds in this scene to reiterate the idea of the typing being the closest source.
The eleventh frame is also another depiction of a typical scene in Sihui’s day-to-day routine, finding some food to snack on. In this scene, she is seen shaking a bottle of Yakult, the only animated element in the frame. The soundscape here is made up of a low buzzing sound (to mimic the sound of a fridge buzzing) and a bottle of water being shaken.
Varying intensities are demonstrated in the buzz being the softest and the bottle of water shaking being the loudest.
Bed sheets shifting
iPhone keyboard clicking
In the twelfth scene, it shows Sihui about to take a nap, before that, setting numerous alarms on her phone. The animated element in this scene is her phone screen and the widget moving as she sets her alarms. The soundscape here comprises of two main sounds; the sheets of the bed being shifted and the default iPhone clicking noise, establishing the environment Sihui experiences when taking a nap in her home.
Research & Reference
Aiming to have a literal representation of the fictional location of someone else’s memories and with a narrative in mind, I wanted to see what techniques and approaches I could adopt in creating a more ‘cinematic experience’, allowing viewers to be able to experience the space.
I. Anything by Hans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer is a German film composer and record producer who has been dominating Hollywood with his sharp musical talent since the late 80s. To this date, Zimmer has provided music to more than 50 films, many of which are acclaimed; ‘The Gladiator’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘Inception’, and many more. Having worked with big Hollywood filmmakers, Zimmer possesses the ability to add an ‘epic’ feel with his score full of orchestral operatic sounds, with an integration of electronic touch.
The video above discusses how he manages to add a layer of intensity to the soundscape in 2017’s Dunkirk, through the simple recording of a ticking of a watch.
The emphasis of simple sounds to create tension
The effect of varying intensities on establishing tension
Auditory hallucinations and ‘shepherd tones’
Varieties of ambient sounds
II. Car Chase Terror ! by M83
M83 is made up of Frenchmen Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau, and is known for their luscious blend of shoegaze aesthetics, ambient pop, and progressive textures. In this particular song from the album Before the Dawn Heals Us, it uses a narrative accompanied with music, rhythm and ambient noises.
Varying shot distances to emphasise movement
The use of music and the increase and decrease of volume to emphasise tension
III. Romantic Works by Keaton Henson
Keaton Henson is an English folk singer, visual artist, and poet, having released six studio albums as well as a wordless graphic novel, Gloaming. In his 2014 album, Romantic Works, it comprises of instrumental music featuring collaborations with cellist Ren Ford. Similar to the above track, I was particularly intrigued by Elevator Song because of its combination of music and ambient environmental sounds to establish a mood; in this case, the track gives off an aura of melancholia through the use of music (cello), footsteps, water, and voices in an elevator.
Combination of music and ambient noises to establish mood
I. Collaboration, Wes Anderson and H&M
Watching this video inspired me to use the idea of a train to show movement and the sense of travelling.
II. Blue Train Lines by Mount Kimbie
Methods of filming
Use of rhythm to structure the appearance of images
The title sequence
Storyboards & Drafts
The conceptualising process included brainstorming for places that I have never been to, both literal and abstract, followed by expanding more on those ideas by imagining a soundscape along with them. After thinking and developing more on narrowed down choices, I found using abstract places more appealing as in addition to more room for experimentation in ideas and techniques, it was also subjective, opening them to interpretation.
The process of capturing the videos to create the cinemagraphs included taking still videos with the help of a tripod. The videos taken for the final product were captured at different locations, namely, classrooms in ADM, Sihui’s home, and canteens around ADM.
One of my initial ideas was to split the screen when showing the memories, having the above illustrations shown below it. I thought it would be better in conveying the narrative, showing the viewers that the person in the video is in charge of filtering Sihui’s memories. However, due to the aspect ratio of the video, it did not seem to work out very well.
In terms of sound, I used a mixture of sounds from www.freesound.org as well as experimenting with foley (the sounds which used this method are indicated), some of the sounds are also derived from the original video of the cinemagraphs. Since most of the sounds are literal, it was easy acquiring them.
Feedback & Improvement
In future, I would like to improve on my creation of cinemagraphs. Because of the nature of having a first-person perspective, there were moments where I was not able to use a tripod, resulting in shaky videos. As a result, the cinemagraphs were difficult to make, resulting in some ineffective ones.
For our next project, we had to adopt the mindsets of surrealist artists and philosophers and give new meaning to an average, everyday object through the medium of photographs. Experimenting with the idea of semiotics, we were tasked to capture an object in its literal form followed by completely subverting its literal form and purpose.
The object (or model) I will be working with is a safety pin.
Research & Reference
To kickstart this project, I looked to surrealist artists and photographers for inspiration.
An iconic figure in the surrealist art movement, Rene Magritte is an artist most notable for his “witty and thought provoking images”, which feature “simple graphics and everyday imagery”. Magritte was once a practitioner of Impressionism, but chancing upon the imagery featured in Giorgio de Chiro’s The Song of Love impacted him so greatly that it became a significant factor in changing his style, for which he became famous for.
Magritte’s works conveyed “themes of mystery and madness to challenge assumptions of human perception, often “forcing viewers to look outside of the norm and focus on the distinctive features which were not originally present”. He believed that “what is concealed is more important than what is open to view”, which translated to his works that often have an aura of mystery.
"Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see." - Rene Magritte
It is relatively simple for one to distinguish Magritte’s works; this is mainly due to his distinctive style which encompasses the portrayal of objects – usually familiar and mundane objects – as symbols and placing them in “unusual contexts and juxtapositions”. These objects are placed in “dreamlike surroundings”, which are usually similar to one another and juxtaposes against the objects. With his playful and provocative sense of humour, Magritte conveys his fascination with a “paradoxical world” by presenting objects in bizarre flights of fancy blended with horror, peril, comedy and mystery.
I hope to adopt Magritte’s approach of using juxtaposition as a tool to create a sense of mystery. This can be done through pairing contrasting objects or placing mundane objects in unusual settings.
Tommy Ingberg is a modern surrealist photographer who “creates minimalistic and self-reflecting surreal photo montages”. He plays with the idea of “human nature”, using his own “inner life, thoughts and feelings” as the main basis in his pictures. His works comprise of “simple, scaled back compositions with few elements, where every part adds to the story”, but with “gaps for the viewer to fill”.
"For me, surrealism is about trying to explain something
abstract like a feeling or a thought, expressing the
subconscious with a picture." - Tommy Ingberg
Inspired by the subject matter portrayed in his photographs, namely the idea of combining the physical attributes of humans and objects together, I intend to experiment more with the idea of pairing the physical aspects and functions of the object with human personalities, emotions, or physicality.
Kyle Thompson is a modern surrealist photographer whose images mainly comprise of self portraits taken against landscapes that feature empty forests and abandoned homes.
Thompson describes his works as an outlet of “encapsulat[ing] the ephemeral narrative, a non-existent storyline that exists only for a split moment”, which “lives on in a constant unchanging state”. He aims to show the “collapse of narrative” as there is “no defined storyline with a beginning and end”, creating a “loop”. The human figures in his images often have covered limbs or are hidden behind calm and melancholic demeanours (evident in their facial expressions or gestures); “by diverting the view of the face, the images become more ambiguous”, making the viewer “no longer able to tie a defined storyline to the image”. Thompson’s works therefore “evade narrative and easy answers”.
"I do a lot of images about self-destruction, often translating it a bit literally and imagining my body as something delicate and breakable like glass that is shattering." - Kyle Thompson
Thompson’s images are usually centred on the idea of loneliness – the backdrop and subject matter featured help to convey this emotion. Location-wise, his images are usually set in “lonely dreamscapes”, places that are commonly empty (forests and abandoned homes). Reinforcing the idea of loneliness, his images have a minimalistic look which is achieved through simplifying everything in each shot, “remov[ing] certain details so that the images are easy to relate to, but difficult to define”.
I was inspired by Thompson’s technique of using subject matter to convey loneliness and emotion. Limiting the set-up, in my opinion, not only draws focus to the subject featured, but also helps in giving the object an emotional aura. I therefore intend to adopt his idea of limiting subject matter, and at the same time, focusing on “elegant compositions, rich colours, and powerful juxtapositions” (acclaimed factor of his images), to convey the intended message and creating emotion.
Task 1: Denotation
For the first task, we were required to portray the object in its literal form, both in physicality and functionality.
This task required us to capture two main aspects of the assigned object – its physical attributes and functionality. Since this series is to convey a straightforward message to viewers, I wanted to make use of different principles along with the pin’s environment to emphasise its physical attributes and functionality.
The first image shows where one can typically find a safety pin; in a sewing box. It also shows the safety pin as something that exists in abundance – one would usually purchase a handful of safety pins as oppose to just one pin. The second image focuses on the main function of the safety pin; to fasten clothing. The last image focuses on the physical attributes of the pin, the most prominent being its sharp point.
I. Varied Angles
I wanted to photograph the pin using different angles to highlight certain elements. In the first image, I used a top-down angle to show the pin in its usual environment; doing so helped me to clearly establish the physicality of the entire pin as well as the environment. In the second image, I used an eye-level angle to show its main function. Having the pin situated at an eye-level also helps to clearly establish the subjects in the shot and how they relate to one another. In the third image, I used an eye-level shot to show the pin’s sharp point. Doing so again, helps to clearly highlight one of the more prominent physical attributes of the pin.
II. Varied Shot Scales
I also experimented with different shot scales. In the first image, I used a wide-shot – in my opinion, I consider this a wide shot due to the smaller sizes of the objects portrayed – to establish the pin’s usual environment. Using a wide-shot helps in clearly portraying the environment, as well as forming a more interesting establishing shot. For the second image, I also chose to use a wide-shot to show its main function – similar to the idea behind the first image, it helped to clearly portray the subjects in the shot and their relations to one another. As for the last image, I used an extreme close-up to draw focus to the pin’s sharp point.
Cropping was another principle applied. In the first image, I cropped out the rest of the sewing box as a means to draw focus to the pile of safety pins but at the same time, keeping certain elements in the background to convey the setting to viewers. Similarly, in the second and third image, I chose to zoom into the safety pin as opposed to having the subjects in their entirety; this was meant to highlight certain aspects of the pin and draw focus to its literal functionality, clearly conveying the message to viewers.
The shots were also captured with the intent of keeping everything symmetrical. This was to emphasise on the safety pin’s rigid nature, as well as reduce clutter from the other elements in the shot, keeping the focus to the safety pin.
V. Colours & Textures
Since the shots in this task were meant to clearly convey the pin’s physical form and functionality, I used colours and textures to emphasise its structure and at the same time, make the shots more visually appealing. In the first image, I tried to capture the patterned background of the sewing box along with the colourful spools of thread; they were also able to serve as a contrast to the pin’s metallic colour. The wooden frame of the sewing box also served as a contrast to the pin’s metallic material. As for the second image, using a blue and white striped fabric complementing the pale blue background and skin colour helped to make the shot more visually-appealing. For the third image, I chose to have the pin situated against a plain, subtle background to emphasise the pin’s sharp point.
Research & Process
To prepare for this task, I dissected the safety pin’s physical structure and functionality and chose certain attributes to highlight. These attributes included its sharp point and clasp, its rigid nature and metallic body, its typical existence in abundance, and its function of fastening fabrics. With that, I proceeded to think of structuring shots in such a way where I can highlight these features.
To highlight the pin’s metallic and rigid structure, I tried to contrast it against softer textures; this was done by placing it against materials such as cloth and felt. I also experimented with different textures of fabrics when fastening the safety pin to them – this was done to see which gave better visual appeal and at the same time, keeping the focus drawn to the pin.
Task 2: Connotation
The second task then required us to subvert the object’s meaning, capturing its cultural relevance and meaning, as well as celebrating, changing, or critiquing its meaning.
The safety pin, as small as its structure is and direct as its functions are, has a long history. Hence, I wanted to take the attributes and functions displayed in the previous task and completely subvert their meanings. The images are related as follows:
Task 1 Image 1 = Task 2 Image 1
Task 1 Image 2 = Task 2 Image 2
Task 1 Image 3 = Task 2 Image 3
The first image of this task was meant to convey an alternative scenario where a safety pin was regarded as a rare object of high-end culture and something only the wealthy can afford. Contrasting against its relating image in Task 1 (which displays the safety pin as a basic tool in sewing and the tendency for one to easily find and purchase them), I wanted the image to show the safety pin as something associated with royalty. With a make-shift display, I tried to recreate an auction display or art exhibition with satin cloth and fairy lights to give the safety pin a “high-society” aura.
The second image, on the other hand, was meant to represent two things – a contrast against its main function, and a homage to its role as a fashion accessory in the punk rock movement and haute couture. Relating back to its literal function displayed in Task 1 Image 2, it contrasts against this by showing the utilitarian nature of safety pins can be subverted and they can be shown as something useless, being used merely as an accessory; instead of having a useful feature in fastening fabric together, the safety pin can also be used to further enhance one’s appearance.
As for the third image, it shows the pin as a “utilitarian superhero”. This is meant to pay homage to its role in European culture, where a safety pin is worn as it seen as something that wards off evil, as well as relating to Task 1 Image 3, where it highlights the pin’s sharp point. The image is meant to convey the safety pin as a superhero through mimicking the well-known moment where superheroes sense trouble and immediately go into a costume-change moment.
I. Varied Angles
Similar to earlier shots, I wanted to experiment with different angles. For Images 1 and 2, I used an eye-level shot. Using an eye-level shot in Image 1 reinforces its intended concept and setting; since the image was meant to convey the idea of a safety pin, an object of royalty, housed in an exhibit, having it at eye-level helps viewers to experience the scenario better. Using an eye-level for Image 2, on the other hand, helps to position the subjects better, showing a clearer shot.
As for Image 3, I used a low angle. Since the main subject in the image was supposed to represent a superhero, I thought it would be fitting to use a low angle so as to paint the subject in a more “heroic” manner, and something that people tend to look up to and highly regard.
II. Varied Shot Scales
I also used varied shot scales to better relay the intended messages. Since the images were meant to portray the objects as something of importance – an object of royalty and a superhero – I used mid-shots and wide-shots to show the entirety of the object. Using a mid-shot also helped in conveying the subverted function of the pin more clearly (in Image 2).
Cropping was also used in the photographs, especially evident in Image 2, to draw focus to the safety pin but at the same time, keeping aspects of other elements in the shot to clearly establish the setting, thereby better relaying the image’s intended message to viewers.
IV. Rule of Thirds
Rule of thirds was considered when placing subjects within the shot; this is mostly displayed in Images 2 and 3 where the subject of focus (i.e. the safety pin) is placed 2/3 in the frame.
V. Colour & Texture
Colour and textures of different elements were also taken into consideration when composing the shots. In Image 1, I used a white satin cloth to form the backdrop; this was meant to highlight the safety pin as an object associated with wealth. The addition of white fairy lights in the background also helped in creating a layer of depth and added more visual appeal. As for Image 2, I chose to have a muted-coloured background to create a neutral background for the bright skin colour and scattering of safety pins. In Image 3, I chose to have complementary colours (yellow and blue) for the clothing as well as a mixture of cotton and denim to provide a layer of depth through different textures. This helped in making the shot more visually appealing.
V. Signs, Symbols & Icons
I wanted to experiment with safety pins as symbols and therefore, portrayed them in situations that convey their cultural contexts. However, viewers are required to have prior knowledge on the safety pin’s history before understanding the images’ concepts.
Research & Process
To prepare for this task, I conducted some research on safety pins and turns out they have quite a prominent history. I then created a mind map to note down the safety pins’ literal functions and their subverted versions.
In a cultural context, they were a symbol for the punk rock movement where they were conceived as a fashion accessory amongst followers. They then became a fashion symbol in haute couture amongst high-end brands that range from Versace to Marc Jacobs.
Safety pins also hold a significant role in European culture where they are seen as a symbol of good luck, typically worn on clothes as a means to ward off evil spirits.
After conducting some research, I decided to pick out a few contexts I could carry forward with. I chose to experiment with the ideas of safety pins as icons of the punk rock movement, a defender against evil spirits, and subverting its physicality as an affordable and insignificant tool.
I experimented with different ways to convey the cultural contexts of the safety pin. I tried object association where I paired the safety pins with objects related to its cultural background – to portray the punk rock movement, I used items commonly associated with the movement (this included splatters of black paint, graffiti art, music instruments, and black clothing and fish nets. Additionally, showing it as a defender against evil spirits, I tried using different representations of evil spirits (having a print of a monster and painting my hand black). However, I felt these shots, although quite straightforward, were not as visual appealing or captivating.
Task 3: Text and Image
For the final task, I wanted to expand on the idea of a safety pin being a superhero. In its physical structure, the safety pin consists of a clasp in which it holds its sharp end, protecting users from pricking themselves; this is symbolic of superheroes, where their main role is to confine evil and protect others. Their heroic nature is further reinforced through their main function, fastening clothing. It is once again, reinforced through its cultural meaning where they are perceived as symbols of good luck and objects capable of warding off evil spirits. Therefore, to show it as a superhero, I mimicked a pop culture reference of Superman in his call to justice.
I used the tagline “The Insignificant Superhero” to reiterate the idea of the safety pin, an object so insignificant due to its cheap production value, small size, and tendency to be forgotten until needed, having a capacity to carry out tasks beyond its appearance. The tagline used is a relay where viewers have to have prior knowledge to understand the context behind the poster. However, in a literal context, the text can serve as anchorage, where viewers who know the main function of a safety pin (fastening fabrics), will be able to realise the usefulness of the pin.
Feedback & Improvements
Some of the feedback I received was that there were other portrayals I could have used to better convey the subverted versions of the safety pin. For example, with regards to it being a superhero, I could have portrayed a scenario where the safety pin is responding to person in need of desperate help but the situation in this case is the person accidentally tearing his/her clothes before an important job interview.
In future projects, I hope to work more on my conceptualising stages and deliver images that are able to clearly convey the intended message.
In this project, I aim to use this photo series as an outlet to introduce myself by discussing three main aspects of my personal life – myself, and an object and place that holds significance to me.
Task 1: Me
Our very first task for this assignment required us to creatively introduce ourselves using only three photographs, which would lead viewers into constructing a certain reality.
For this task, I wanted to share with viewers an aspect of my life that holds a significant influence – music. Music, in my opinion, is an influential element that serves as a source of inspiration and an enjoyable companion in the mundanity of daily life, possessing the ability to affect my moods in different situations. Aiming to deviate from showing my pastime of listening to music in a literal sense (e.g. putting on headphones), I wanted to showcase music as the main subject matter in a more subtle and quirky way.
This photo series therefore, provides viewers with a quick glance into the mundanity of daily life – doing household chores like laundry, reading, and sleeping at the end of the day. Some of my favourite albums were then subtly placed in the shot, symbolising that I’m listening to music in a way – in the first shot, the album is hung on the laundry line, while it’s placed among pages of the magazine in the second shot, and on a pillow in the final shot. The albums featured in the photographs also hold some sentimental value to me; in addition to them being some of my favourite albums, they are different in styles, emphasising the different genres I choose to listen to base on the activity I am doing. In the case of the first shot, I chose Landmark, a pop-based and upbeat album with a danceable track list, conveying the idea that I choose to listen to more upbeat songs when doing chores to keep me entertained amidst the mundanity. For the second shot, I chose Beetlebum, a loud and guitar-heavy album to show that when I’m studying, I choose to listen to louder music to keep myself awake. And lastly, I chose to feature Lonerism, a psychedelic rock album as it helps me to fall asleep.
Additionally, I chose to include human element in the photographs as in addition it to being a requirement, I wanted the photos to possess some character. In my opinion, having myself with faces blocked in the photo was a means to share with viewers that I am a reserved person, and helps to add some depth to the emotions to convey.
Through this series, I intended to, within a brief timeframe, provide viewers with a quick glimpse into my life, showing what I enjoy and how it influences everyday life for me.
I. Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson is an American film director most known for his ‘quirky, comical’ filmography with a recurring ensemble of actors that play ‘flawed characters’. Anderson is regarded as ‘one of the most notable directors of the modern cinematic age’, with ‘every single frame of his films’ being ‘absolutely thrilling’, giving recognition to his distinctive filmmaking style and earning him the coveted Oscar for Best Motion Picture in 2015.
Anderson is most notable for his use of colour and filming techniques. His use of colour is the most obvious component of his style and ‘the most striking of his trademarks’, to the point that there is an entire blog dedicated to the colour palettes used in his films. The frames filled with dozens of saturated colours sets the tone of each film, ‘intrigu[ing] the eye and invit[ing] the viewer to go on a visual rollercoaster’, with many feeling ‘the hazy-hued lens through which we peer into the director’s unique world has a retro quality that casts his films in a nostalgia for a time that could have been’.
My personal favourite in this case, is the array of colours in his 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums. Using a relatively warmer colour palette, the film has a very nostalgic and inviting feeling, allowing audiences to feel as though they are part of this constructed feel, as though they are part of the Tenenbaum family.
Anderson is also well-known for his outstanding use of symmetry, where he ‘organises the elements in his frame so that the most important thing is smack in the middle’. With symmetry as a prevalent factor in his films, it makes the shot visually-appealing, organised, and much more unique. Below is a video created by kogonada which analyses Anderson’s use of symmetry.
I hoped to emulate some of Anderson’s filming techniques in this series by paying more attention to composition and colour. By adopting a warmer colour palette and focusing on straight lines and balancing elements, I aimed to create a nostalgic and inviting feeling along with visually-appealing shots.
The process leading up to this set of photos included making changes to the way the photos were structured and the concepts that came along with them. As a means of experimenting when conducting the test shots, I tried out varying subject distances and focuses. The test shots comprised of having close-ups of the albums, drawing focus to them as opposed to having a combination of different subjects (i.e. humans and environment) in the shots. I felt that this did not relay the concept as clearly due to the lack of human element. In my opinion, the lack of interaction with human and environment did not convey the intended message as clearly; lacking in reinforcing the influence that music has on myself.
The experimenting process also covered taking shots from different angles and subject distances, as well as playing with colours and patterns of subjects in the shot. Especially evident for the second shot, in order to balance with the patterns of the bedsheets, I tried to use a brighter album cover for the object to stand out, as opposed to a muted-coloured one. Plain-coloured props (the grey shirts in the first photo, dark-coloured clothing in the second photo, and plain bedsheets and clothing in the last photo) were also deliberately used to contrast some of the elements in the background, especially those that cannot be altered (an example being the trees in the first photo).
During the editing stages, to make the colour palette more visually-appealing and add more warmth to the series, I used Photoshop to boost the colours, especially in the yellow, red, and magenta region. Cropping and tilting was also done to make the shots seem more symmetrical and aligned.
I. Subject Distance
In taking the photos for this series, I experimented with different subject distances; wide-shots, mid-range shots, and close-up shots. Doing so was a means of exploring how the distance of the main subject matter in the shot affected the manner in which the intended message was conveyed. Wide- shots and mid-range shots were able to establish the setting and at the same time, establish the relationship between the different subject matter. Mid-range shots, however, were able to convey the emotion of warmth and nostalgia a little more effectively. As for close-ups, despite the lack of environment, emotions and intimate interactions between different elements were more clearly established. Wanting to show a mixture of interactions between the different subject matter, I decided to display different subject distances.
II. Vantage Points
With regards to vantage points, eye-level and top-down angles were mainly used. Having eye-level shots allowed me to reiterate the idea of the viewers and subjects in the photos being on equal footing; linking back to the concept of this series acting as a glimpse into an aspect of my life. Eye-level shots also paved the way for experimenting more with symmetry. Top-down angled shots were also used (in the last photo); since the photo is centred on the idea of it being the end of the day and time to hit the hay, the angle was meant to contribute to a mood of vulnerability and exhaustion.
III. Balancing Elements
As mentioned previously, I wanted to use this photo series to experiment with symmetry. Using a grid to structure and balance, I tried my best to create straight lines in the shot by aligning different elements in the background and keeping the main subject matter either in the centre or in 1/3 of the frame. This was further enhanced by tilting the photo in Photoshop during editing. Balancing elements was also carried out via staging props that complemented one another’s colours, patterns, and contrasts.
In order to reinforce the mood of warmth and nostalgia, embodying the energy that we have in the day, as well as reinforcing the nature of the music in the albums featured, the photos were to have a warm colour palette. To do so, the photos were structured in such a way that there was more emphasis on the warmer tones (mainly red, pink, orange, and yellow), and further enhancement was done via Photoshop editing. The last photo on the other hand, was meant to have a cooler colour palette to replicate the energy level we possess at the end of the day as well as reinforcing the concept of the music in the featured album being on the calmer side.
Task 2: Object and Representation of Self
In the second task of this project, we were required to photograph an object that holds significance to us.
An object I decided to photograph for this series is my wooden mannequin hand. Aware of my inability to draw hands, this wooden mannequin hand (typically used as a reference for drawing) was gifted to me from my mother in hopes of improving my drawing skills. Seeing it as an object of guidance, I wanted to show it as an extension of myself in this photo series, giving it a life of its own with a personality. Therefore, in this series, the wooden hand is seen as an accompaniment in everyday activities and social situations; helping with chores and socialising with friends.
A source of inspiration for this particular task came from a line of recent album artworks conceptualised and executed by Dave Bayley, Mat Cook, and photographer Neil Krug. Titled Life Itself, this artwork, amongst a range of others, is a visual accompaniment to English rock band Glass Animals’ How To Be A Human Being album release.
The concept behind these artworks were conceived when on tour, lead singer Dave Bayley ‘found himself inundated with interesting stories from taxi drivers, fans, and general passers-by that he encountered’. He found it particularly interesting how people told these stories – ‘the way that people tell stories and what that means about them as people; what they might have embellished, what they might have left out and what that says about their life’. This eventually evolved into the artworks pictured above, where characters from different walks of life are ‘organised in the format of a bizarre family portrait’, in a ‘kitsch and comedic style, with the characters’ expressions hinting at their wider back stories’.
In addition to its visual aesthetics, I was inspired by the notion of having aspects that hint at wider back stories. In hopes of emulating this idea, I tried to adopt the method of staging photos as opposed to spontaneity (more prevalent in Task 3), to more effectively complement the randomness of the object and the concept surrounding it.
Initially wanting to reinforce the hand as an arbitrary object with no link to its environment, my test shots comprised mainly of having the wooden hand situated in random places . However, Prof. Lei recommended having more interactions with the object commanding more influence in the shots, and having it as an extension of myself as opposed to being a random object; with this in mind as well as retaining its initial embodiment of naturally being a peculiar object, I decided to construct a narrative where the hand is seen as something with a personality and have it possess a role in different scenarios. This was done by changing locations and having shot in mid-range and close-up shots to emphasise the hand’s interactions with its environment.
As mentioned previously, the elements present in all the shots above are staged. Leading up to the final photographs, with the help of friends, we tried different ways to make the shot more visually-appealing and effective in conveying the concept. In the case of the first and last shots, we changed the arrangement of the props, positions of the hand, and the colour of clothing featured. In the second shot, I deliberately used a purple patterned shirt to contrast against a dominantly black-and-white background. This was done as an experiment with the use of different coloured props, textures, and arrangement.
I. Subject Distance
The shots are taken mostly with mid-range and close-up shots. This was to emphasise the role of the wooden hand in the shots, drawing attention to its interactions with the environment and other subject matter in the shot. This was carried out by either photographing the object at a closer distance and structuring the elements purposefully, or cropping the edges of the frame to achieve a more centralised look. However, in the case of the second shot, I think a close-up would have looked better as with a mid-range, the wooden hand does not hold the same focus in contrast with the other shots and becomes lost amidst the background.
II. Vantage Points
As with the previous task, I mainly used eye-level angles in the final shots to reiterate the idea of giving a glimpse into my life and having subjects and viewers on equal footing.
III. Balancing Elements
Inspired by Life Itself in adopting the method of subtlety through creating staged backgrounds and using props to tell a wider story, I focused more in composing and setting up the shots to ensure that elements complemented one another. In addition to paying attention to symmetry and at least having the main subjects either in the centre or 1/3 in the shot, props with complementary colours or patterns were featured – in the case of the first photo, changing the texture of the background and contrasting the neutral colours of the background and wooden hand with brightly coloured objects. In the second photo, using bursts of colour through having a patterned purple shirt in contrast to the mainly grayscale background. And in the final shot, coordinating yellow-coloured clothing to complement the neutral colours of the background and wooden hand, and having brightly-coloured props to contrast.
However, I felt that more experimenting could have gone into the first shot in the sense that I could have tried different coloured props or a brightly-coloured background to change the colour palette to make it different to the final shot.
Task 3: My World
For the final component of Project 1, we were tasked to photograph a place that is significant to us. After reading the brief, I immediately thought of the Upper Thomson area.
Upper Thomson is an area that encompasses housing, numerous eateries both big and small, and recreational facilities. Despite it being a rather busy neighbourhood with people of all ages bustling about, be it in the many eateries or shopping for groceries at Thomson Plaza, it holds significant value to me as it has been my favourite hangout spot since my secondary school days right through until university.
As a regular patron to this neighbourhood for a relatively huge chunk of my life, I was hoping to, through these photographs, instill a feeling of nostalgia in viewers. In order to do so, I planned to have friends from different periods in my life pose (a childhood friend and a close friend from my Polytechnic course, in this case) as the main subjects. To further reinforce the intended emotion, I wanted to focus on the idea of spontaneity (taking candid photos) and relationships between the subject matter, as well as with the environment.
Playing with the idea of candid photos and drawing focus to raw emotions of people in the photographs for this series is derived from inspiration from the works of two photographers – Wolfgang Tillmans and Pooneh Ghana.
I. Wolfgang Tillmans
Wolfgang Tillmans is a renowned German photographer who is said to have ‘shaped the scope of contemporary art’, ‘influenc[ing]’ a younger generation’. Being the first photographer and non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize (an annual award given by Tate in London), he is most notable for his works that ‘[epitomised] a new kind of subjectivity’ in photography, ‘pairing intimacy and playfulness with social critique and the persistent questioning of existing values and hierarchies’. The ‘integration of genres, subjects’, and ‘techniques’ displayed in his works reinforces his efforts in ‘expand[ing] conventional ways of approaching’ photography.
As an artist who is ‘fascinated in the relations between the different facets of people’s lives’, after moving to London in 1990, Tillmans gained notoriety for his candid photographs of LGBT youth, club culture, friends, lovers and political protests. As a result, ‘a genuine and refreshing image of youth culture’ became ‘prominent aspects’ in his works, where ‘individuals or alternative scenes are shown in an honest light’ as opposed to ‘tired cliches’. The nature of Tillmans’ works also encourages viewers to ‘feel closer to their own experiences by looking at the images of others’, ‘rather than trying to get inside the vision of the artist’.
II. Pooneh Ghana
Pooneh Ghana is a Texan photographer who specialises in music-based photography, through which she travels around the globe to photograph musicians and festivals. Her contributions in photography derive from her passion for music, where she feels that ‘there’s always something new going on,’ ‘being backstage, capturing moments that maybe the fans don’t see but they want to see’.
Despite being a young photographer, Ghana is respected in the music industry for her talent of capturing ‘personalities of the famous and the damned’ as well as her ability to ‘befriend the musicians well enough to get a truly candid shot’. Her work with Polaroid cameras are most notable, capturing the ‘more mundane moments’ or with musicians ‘all striking a funny pose or waving happily at her and her camera’, ‘something only photographers truly respected by their subjects can achieve.’ Straying away from posing her subjects, Ghana hopes to capture the energy of ‘something raw, something real’, making viewers wish they were there when looking at them.
After viewing works from Wolfgang Tillmans and Pooneh Ghana, I hope to emulate the ways in which they use spontaneity as a tool to capture raw emotions and energy. By drawing focus to relationships between different subject matter (humans, in this case) in the photograph, they are able to, in my opinion, effectively convey emotions and sentimentality to viewers.
I. Framing and Cropping
In addition to cropping the shots in such a way that the main subjects are either centralised or following the Rule of Thirds, I wanted to experiment with using background elements to create a frame. In the second shot, I was able to find a metallic structure to act as a frame – in my opinion, situating the frame in the shot helped in bringing in different textures (metal, concrete, and greenery) and colours, as well as drawing focus to the main subjects in the midst of a cluttered background.
II. Subject Distance
With regards to Subject Distance, the final photographs featured only full-body shots. By doing so, I wanted to reiterate the concept of showcasing an environment as opposed to focusing only on the subject matter. Furthermore, I wanted to use full-body shots to portray the relationship between the humans and the environment, considering that the concept of the series focuses on the nostalgic value of the environment and the contributing sentimental factors (my friends).
III. Vantage Points
In the final shots, I used eye-level angles in all three photographs. This was meant to reiterate the overall concept of the series – providing viewers a glimpse into aspects of my life. Since this was meant for viewers to have a look into my life, by positioning the shots at eye-level as opposed to low or high angles, I wanted the viewer to feel the same sentiments that I have for the Upper Thomson neighbourhood. And at the same time, I wanted the series to seem relatable, and therefore, using eye-level angles helps to establish the viewers and subjects on equal footing.
IV. Balancing Elements
I also wanted to experiment with various elements within the photos such as textures, colours, symmetry, and patterns. During a recce trip in the neighbourhood, we were able to find areas that possess interesting textures, examples being cotton on clothing against brick walls, grass and other shrubbery, and metallic structures. Colour was also another component to consider, especially composing shots in such a way that colours of different elements complemented one another in an aesthetically pleasing kind of way. Having my friends dressed in plain-coloured clothing (white and red), it was easier to complement backgrounds that featured red walls and greenery. Additionally, symmetry was used to balance elements in the shot, especially when the background was cluttered. In the case of the last photo, with the house featured in the background, I tried to centralise the shot in such a way that my friends and the different elements complemented each other and that my friends remained the main focus of the shot.
The process leading up to taking the final shots consisted of firstly, embarking on a trip to recce the area, where I scouted for spots that possess elements that are able to help make the shot more interesting and aesthetically pleasing. The elements I wanted to experiment with included different textures, balancing elements, symmetry, patterns, and colours.
Also, to experiment with the idea of spontaneity and candidness, I asked my friends to just have a normal conversation and not pay attention to the camera when taking the shots. In the photos featured, they were having a conversation about starting university and gossiping about their new friends! In a way, this also contributed to the sentimental value I was trying to convey due to friends from different periods of my life coming together and talking about what lies ahead in the future for us. Additionally, since they were told to just be casual and have a normal conversation, they remained in one spot while I tried to experiment with different angles and distances.