Encountering Culture – Introduction, Early Idea’s and Research.

First Thoughts

Following on from introduction to the analogue camera equipment out first assignment requires us to create a piece of work based on social pressures. In order to be able to produce something I will need to conduct some in depth research and embrace the creative process. As such I am going to resist the temptation to start forming photographic ideas until we are at least a few weeks into the project.

Throughout this project I am going to draw on the ideas and techniques that we learn in the darkroom and shooting with film. I have the choice to use either 35mm or medium format and as I have used 35mm before I think I might try medium format for this project. I will also make my own prints in the dark room and I will scan negatives for editing digitally.

In order to follow the creative process from the start I will need to decide what my subject matter will be, I already have a good understanding of social pressures but would perhaps want to try something where I will be able to learn a lot about a new subject. Brainstorming could be a good way to narrow down my choices.

Once I have a subject I will want to research it in as many ways as possible. In addition to other photographers that may already covered the subject I would also want to explore presentation styles and I may even find a style used for a different subject matter that might also work for me.

Other areas I feel could be of influence will be academic works, that may have studies that will provide facts and theories that I can draw upon. In addition there may be statistical sites that will provide much needed information to support my work. There will also be newspaper and magazine articles telling real stories of people effected by social pressures and I think these could help to bring a reality to a subject.

I also hope to support all my work using the Harvard referencing system to show where I gathered my information, that there is no plagerisation and all the work is genuine.

Finally I would like to summarise the project, posit some theories and discuss what I have learned and how it may influence my image making in the future.

Getting Started

My initial task was to generate some ideas that I could then narrow down and begin to research a little deeper. I began with a mind map


Using the mind map I narrowed down my choices to 2 possibilities.

1) Looking at the societal pressures to buy and wear branded clothing and how you are judged on what you wear.

2) As I was at university it would be interesting to look at the pressures placed on students to attend university, academic life and if they made the right choice.

1) Commodity

I want to look at how people perceive their social position in society through the accumulation of material possessions. Is an avaricious nature necessary in a wealthy westernised capitalist culture or can the material be immaterial and the illusion of status and influence is the real product we are taking home?

In recent years, researchers have reported an ever-growing list of downsides to getting and spending – damage to relationships and self-esteem, a heightened risk of depression and anxiety, less time for what the research indicates truly makes people happy, like family, friendship and engaging work. – (Goldberg, C. Feb 8th, 2006). 

 On one hand materialism may increase a society’s economic wealth and material possessions. On the other hand, there are those who argue that materialism has a negative effect on quality of life. In addition there are those who feel that a never-ending quest for possessions is harming the environment – (Muncy, J.A. & Eastman, J. 1998).

Studies are showing us that a nation’s wealth is positively linked to consumer spending. The greater the spending on materialistic goods leads to increased international trade, business growth and employment creation however it is also well documented that this same effect has negative connotations for the individuals who pursue it.

If I choose to pursue this subject then it is the personal aspects I would investigate. I would want to look at the creative ways that I could express how our quest for consumer nirvana leads to misery and torment.

My initial thoughts on how something like this would look centre around street photography. There have been many people that have used this style and there would be plenty of choices of photographer to draw on for inspiration and ideas. I believe I would be looking for moments where shoppers seem really unhappy or quite elated. I am not sure which would work better but it would require a great deal of patience with no guarantee that I would get the shots I wanted.

Joel Meyerowitz
Meyerowitz J (1981)
Meyerowitz J (1981)

Joel Meyerowitz was a former marketing manager when he first started taking photographs around New York and he was so enamoured with his new discovery that he quit his job. For Meyerowitz his goal was all about capturing that millisecond, that moment in time when he could freeze a scene and it would tell a story that no one would ever see again. I think Maeyerowitz’s technique could be very useful if I did this subject.

Bruce Gilden
(Gilden. B. nd)
(Gilden. B. nd)

Bruce Gilden was another New York street photographer but his style was highly confrontational. Armed with a camera and separate flash he would suddenly thrust himself in front of people, take the shot and then move on. The results have been a series of images of people looking surprised, startled and scared. It is clear that all the emotions he captures are genuine as they grab a moment which would otherwise be very difficult to obtain in an image. This technique might prove a little to risky bit its always an interesting idea.

Matt Stuart
(Stuart. M. nd)
(Stuart. M. nd)

Matt Stuart is a London based photographer that has a unique ability in capturing the unusual, funny and often bizzare. A well honed skill Matt seems to sense the moment something strange is going to happen and he is on hand to capture it. This would be a great style to recreate and I think the lighter and amusing take on the subject could be quite an interesting avenue to explore, however, it took Matt Stuart years to hone his talent and I think I would end up spending more time wasting film and not getting anything interesting.

2) An Education

It has never been easy being a teenager and nothing has changed much from when I was one. On top of all the physical and mental development there are all the external pressures from education, peers, social networks and parental expectations that when coupled with teenage immaturity and a blind denial of that immaturity is an emotional bomb waiting to go off.

Choosing to go to university or not has recently been subjected to increasing scrutiny following the governmental changes to the way that university life is financed. Although debt was always the expectation of any student this has increased dramatically with students likely to be graduating with debts of over £50,000. (Lewis M. 2013) But while the debate rages on whether to go or not for some students they find that there is simply no choice. Pressures to attend university are placed upon fragile teenage shoulders from multiple groups. Parents are usually the first to pile on the expectations followed by peers, tutors, other family members and even societal attitudes that see a degree as vital to obtaining a good career job. (Brightside. n.d)

If I chose this subject I would want to find a way to show the viewer the weight of that expectation on these adolescents and for the viewer to really feel the emotional stress that it can bring.

Because I see this subject as being all about the people and their environment then I think I would want to focus on making my point through the people I choose to shoot. I would explore more about portrait photography if I chose this but some possible photographers to look at would be

Laura Greenfield
(Greenfield. L. 2009)
(Greenfield. L. 2009)

Laure Greenfield is a Photographer and Videographer who has worked on various themes around teenagers. This image is from a study she made in Los Angels shooting kids from various backgrounds. Some who come from wealthy families and others who struggle to get by. This sequence would also work with my other idea as it delves into the adolescent perspectives on materialism and money. The images are colour and posed and the environments are often important to the images message.

Emiliano Granado
Granado E. nd
Granado E. nd

Emiliano Granado choose to photograph an American tradition of ‘spring break’ when huge numbers of college students get together for alcohol fuelled parties. Granado captured the fun and wild side in addition to the quieter moments as the students recovered from the previous nights entertainment. These images are all colour and are natural and reflect the genuine mood and feeling of the subjects.

Danielle Levitt
(Levitt D. 2007)
(Levitt D. 2007)

Danillle Levitt is a New York based photographer who had worked extensively in the fashion industry before embarking on her own project to photograph life growing up in America. Her images are taken of teenagers as they engage in their hobbies and interests ranging from sports to proms to cheerleading. The images are colour and staged and tell the story of these youngsters at a time in their lives as they go through a period of self discovery and begin to understand their own identity and how they fit into the world around them.

1) v 2)

The run up to Christmas provides an excellent platform to document our consumer lust for ever increasing material possessions but I was not convinced that the issues involved would be sufficiently emotive. The impact can have political and social connotations in addition to personal problems I felt that the mass of complicating issues would dilute the emotional impact of any images.

The idea of exploring the stresses and pressures of university felt preferable, particularly as this was for a university project. I believe that my maturity brings a new perspective and I can draw upon my life experience to help me explore this topic. I also have a good supply of possible subjects and environments should I choose to use them.

Weighing up the two options I have decided to choose ‘An Education’ for my study subject.

Medium Format

We were introduced to some new equipment for use on the latest assignment. We were shown both Medium and 35mm cameras but I had already decided that I wanted to complete this project using Medium format so I have covered a little about my choices here. The 2 models we were shown were both by Mamiya and we also went through the uses of a light meter and how they will help us on this project.


The Mamiya RB67 medium format camera was first introduced in 1970 and gained instant acclaim for is distinctive use of a 6x7cm format as opposed to a 6×6 system employed by its rivals. This setup created a clear distinction between landscape and portrait which the camera skilfully handles with its unique rotating back feature. As with all medium format cameras of its time it is solidly built and nothing like as portable as todays modern DSLR devices. When used correctly the RB67 produces outstanding quality and detail and became a common sight in professional studios around the globe.

The second camera was a Mamiya 7, first introduced in 1995 it is by comparison the RB67 both light weight and portable and hirano-mamiya7-5-530x504also capable of producing 6×7 cm negatives for outstanding quality and detail. The Mamiya 7 uses a built-in range finder but required a hot shoe adapter as I elected to use a wide-angle 50mm lens.

sekonic sekonic 2The last item we were introduced to was the sekonic light meter. There are two ways to meter the light, the first is an incident meter reading which is more commonly used in studio work and the second is the reflective reading. The reflective was more pertinent to the work we were doing as it returns the ambient light reflected from your area of focus. Once the mode is set to ambient light you set the ISO to match your film speed, then your preferred shutter speed, before directing the light meter with the plastic dome slid away from the sensor towards your target and press the large button on the side. The meter will return a suggested aperture required for a good exposure. If the aperture is outside the limits of your lens you can then adjust the shutter speed and the aperture will change to suit.

Of the two cameras I am going to work with the Mamiya 7. This would be my first experience with a range finder system and I think the challenge will be fun. I also like the lighter and easier to use body and it feels more in keeping with the type of cameras I am used to.


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