Further Research… and further progress

At this stage in my project I have had interviews and sent out a lot of emails. I’ve had two interviews with the lecturers Alan East of Law and Martin Bollard of Nursing. Both gave interesting stories that have helped my progress and understanding of scholarly establishments. I will analyse both interviews on a later blog post.

I really want to get a community of lecturers that will help my project. I want to talk to a lot of people around the university so I can spread the word around, not only to get participants, but to make sure that I have a platform so that the images can resonate with people. I’ve been to several university buildings to find lecturers that I can collaborate with. Once I got email addresses to either forward my message on, or directly message people, I sent out my email template to a lot of lecturers…

‘I’m a photography student at Coventry University and I’m currently doing a photography project which involves studying the process of getting academic jobs.
I’d like to talk to people in academic jobs and see what their work entails.
The strong ambition of students interests me, and also their driven nature to get where they want to be.
But in order to truly understand that, it’s important to listen to the stories of those who have already studied and become a professional.
I was wondering if you could help me by sharing your experiences, so that future students can benefit from your story and realise the effort needed to achieve success.

I would be happy to meet to talk about your experiences whenever is convenient for you, or even by email. Many thanks in advance.

Kind regards

I have been told that the start of the academic year is when lecturers are most busy, because they have to sort out the administration of their course. Regardless of this, I received a good number of replies to my email, so that I could then meet up with those who were interested.

After meeting with lecturers I will then ask if they know any other lecturers who would be interested in my project, so that I could possibly meet up with them.

I want to photograph those that I’ve already met with, but I want to ensure that I know exactly what I’m doing when it comes to photographing them. From researching portraiture photography as well as still life photography I have concluded that I will photograph portraits in a semi posed style with a medium format camera. Furthermore, I will photograph my still life images in a studio environment with a fine art style.

From those generalisations that I’ve just used it is clear that I am in the early stages of planning, and those conclusions are very much ideas that need a lot more development.

I want to place my photography into a category of technical, stylistic and meaningful intelligence. I want to create a body of work that resonates with my audience of students, but also in the wider artistic community. In my first year, my work didn’t have the intelligence or the aesthetics to be placed in that regard. So I’m more eager than ever to have this project succeed.

Researching Portraits, and photography in general

Julian Stallbrass – What’s in a Face? The Trace of Ethnography in Contemporary Art Photography
I did a lot of research on portraiture entitled ‘250mc – artist research’, after understanding the context of portrait photography through Adam Marelli, I wanted to dive deeper into the little things that make a portrait. Marelli showed me traditional paintings and talked about the way people were posed and why, I want to find out more about that from different sources.

I found an essay entitled ‘What’s in a Face? The Trace of Ethnography in Contemporary Art‘. It was an interesting essay that analyised the work of Rineke Dijkstra. A Dutch photographer whose series ‘Beach’ showed adolescents at the beach, frozen in a vulnerable state with a figure left unposed.

Stallbrass dived into the poses that people make in photography, and what a face means to a portrait.

‘The basis of identification with a photographed subject, as Martha Rosler has pointed out, is a ‘physiognomic fallacy’, in which the face and body is seen as an expression of character.[i] This is what links ethnographic photography and the basic instinct of fashion, for, in both, constitutional vices and virtue, character, abilities—a person’s very being—are written on the skin.’
Stallbrass, J (2007) What’s in a Face? The Trace of Ethnography in Contemporary Art Photography


Similar to August Sander, Dijkstra lets the subject control the connotations of the image. Even though posing could be seen as a false expression of character, as Rosler put it, photography can bring out truths depending on the situation. The face is important, and Dijkstra’s set up of large format camera and flash gun becomes an intimating contributor to each of her sitters awkward poses. If left un-photographed, the sitters would have a different character, running around the beach and enjoying themselves. But the presence of the camera made them create a reverse pose. An unconventional pose, a pose with little control. The subjects feelings at that moment are ‘written on the skin’, they are written in the way that their arms fall by their side. Their instinct has created the image, and in a different situation, another persons instincts have been captured in a different way by another photographer. The pose is an instinct that creates a smile or an awkward gaze. It’s not always a candid representation, but it expresses an instinct of character depending on the situation. That could of course hinder the message of the image, but it is an instinct based on the process of the photographer.

Rineke DIJKSTRA, Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992.

‘…I am observing how he moves, reacts, expressions that cross his face so that, in making the portrait, I can heighten through instruction what he does naturally, what he is.[i]..when photographing Bill Curry, Avedon had him remove his jacket and tuck in his shirt ‘so that the form of his body would show’.[i] [i]’
Avedon, American West, n.p., my italics.
Stallbrass, J (2007) What’s in a Face? The Trace of Ethnography in Contemporary Art Photography


In this extract, Stallbrass shows how Richard Avedon controlled the connotations of his photograph of Bill Curry, without changing Curry’s character. The photographer can pose a model without losing their models character. Through instruction, the photographer can ‘heighten’ the natural pose, and show it in a way that expresses it more. This style relates more to my project. After reading about Avedon’s instructions, it resonated to me. It showed that I could introduce dimensions to the image without changing the sitters character. I want my sitter to be comfortable to show themselves to my audience. But I want continuity through my project, so I would ensure that each image looks the same in composition, and that their figures are similar, while keeping their own personality.

The essay was very informative and analytic. It really brought attention to the pose, and gave it a purpose and a context. Now I feel that I have more direction in portraiture, and more of a challenge.

Another academic that talks about the pose and portraiture in an enlightened way is Roland Barthes, a french theorist who’s 1980’s text ‘Camera Lucida’ is very influential. The text explores photography to seek its nature and essence, also talking about how we engage with it, with studium and punctum.
A few aspects of the text relate to my project. His descriptions of the pose from the sitters perspective was interesting…

‘I lend myself to the social game, I pose, I know I am posing, I want you to know I am posing, but this additional message must in know way alter the precious essence of my individuality: what am I, apart from any effigy’
Barthes, R (1980) Camera Lucida 11-12

The extract gives power to the subject but expresses its weakness, implying that an image of someone is only an effigy, used for purposes of ridicule. The pose was expressed there as a personal commentary for the subject, a subconscious reaction that shouldn’t happen. Being photographed makes you part of a social game. Perhaps more now than then because of social media. It shouldn’t happen because it isn’t always a true expression of character, ‘the photograph creates my body or mortifies it’ (page 11), a modification that accommodates a better output for the social game. Perhaps once the pose is addressed, then the subject has more freedom to be themselves.

Barthes is talking about the conversation of ownership. The subject is in the image but has little power. But if in my project I can increase the power of the subject and make it more of a collaboration, then the pose and the fear of the pose will hopefully be reduced.

Both academics talk of the pose in an analytical way. There are no real shortcuts to avoid the pose, there are ways to tame it. ‘Society is concerned to tame the photograph, to temper the madness which keeps threatening’ (page 117). To read about this makes me more aware, and that is all that I can be as a photographer, the more aware I am the better prepared I am and hopefully I’ll make better images because of it.


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