Encountering Culture – My environmental Images and review.

I felt that all the photographers I looked at had a method that could have worked well. Out of them all I found myself leaning towards the style of Lise Sarfati. I felt that her environmental images offered me a greater scope to get across my message so I went to make a series of images based on my theme.

I hired out the Mamiya 7 for these images, it was lighter and easier to use and as I felt I would be working in cramped spaces then I opted for this cameras versatility.

Environmental Portrait contact Sheet example
Environmental Portrait contact Sheet example

As with all darkroom work I made a series of contact sheets to allow me to view examples of the images. This allowed me to select the ones I wanted to work on.

Matt on Computer
Matt on Computer

My first image was taken using the rooms artificial lighting. I exposed for the light on the face which meant the table lamp was over exposed. I did not feel that was an issue but the overall image fails as the subject just looks too happy. The whole environment looks pleasant and this did not look like someone suffering with the issues of university.

Stephen at desk

My second image was much improved. I now switched to using natural light from the window. I had to open up all the curtains and attempt to allow as much light into the room as possible. The environment is messy with objects strewn across the floor and I felt this fitted in with the typical student lifestyle. Where I think the image needs improving is the desk full of fun items such as computers.

Here the environment foreground does not really add to the feeling of unhappiness and the rest is the very opposite.

Richard in room
Richard in room

The last of my images was the strongest of the three. This time the room looked spartan and empty and this added to the overall feeling of depression and sadness. The natural light works well and the facial expression is close to what I was after. Once again the computer games console and monitor work against my theme and overall this image is not quite what I am after, however, if you take away the environment and focus on the person I think there is something of value.

I was quite pleased, at least technically with the outcome of at least two of the images but I was concerned that the environment could distract from what I was trying to convey. In addition to this I did not have a clear idea of how the environment fitted with the theme. The messy or typical student room would have suited a series of images around general student life but I didn’t feel it added any extra impact, in fact overall I felt that it detracted. I decided to seek a second opinion from Matt who instantly saw that the real emotion was held in the faces of the subjects and suggested that I retake them and crop in closer. In addition the conversation with Matt I was also working on the presentation assignment of this project and I was focusing on the work of Philip Blenkinsop. Prior to this project I had not even heard of him but the more I learned the greater I found his influence effecting my thinking.

Blenkinsop. P. (2003) Sai Tong Wang, age 30 with his son, Tdu Tong age 6
Blenkinsop. P. (2003) Sai Tong Wang, age 30 with his son, Tdu Tong age 6

Philip Blenkinsop was a freelance photographer that specialised in war and conflict photography. What made his images particularly special was his method of focusing on the people. Despite be surrounding by the destruction that accompanies large-scale conflicts Philip Blenkinsop chose to point his camera at the people who were living through these nightmares. What he found was that all the horrors of war were written in the faces of the victims, each portrait showing haunted, terrified and traumatised people with little or no hope for the future. The above image is typical of Philip Blenkinsops work, taken in 2003 when he was visiting the abandon people of Laos, an isolated group of villagers that had fought on the side of the American army during the Vietnam war. After the Americans had retreated these people were left to fend for themselves. Reprisals from Communist North Vietnam were swift and brutal and even over 30 years later these people still live in hiding, constantly hunted, starving and dying. The child in the image is Tdu Tong, he is 6 years old. When you look into his eyes you can see the confusion, shock, and horror of what he has witnessed. Already showing the permanent scars on his face where he was injured in a gun fight the emotional scars will run deeper and stay with him for the no doubt short life he will have. A different place, a different time and different circumstances but hopelessness and despair are two traits which both this and my theme share. For me it was clear, I needed to try to recapture that look. However, for the people in Philip Blenkinsops images the horror was real, for me I need to recreate that using happy subjects.


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