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.