Category Archives: Assignment 2

Assignment 2 – Invisibility of Old Age

My  final choice of theme for this assignment was actually an instant reflex thought when I first read through the assignment brief, but I played around with a number of ideas for the images whilst considering completely different options (including the racism idea). I returned full circle to this idea and eventually settled on a quite specific series of images.

The idea is that women become invisible as they age. They are ‘unseen‘. Preposterous I know! But there are many articles written on the subject and I read around a few to get a sense of what it was all about beyond the obvious loss of a ‘youthful look’.  One article written by Kate Braestrup, a writer from Maine, USA and serving chaplain on search and rescue missions, specifically caught my eye as it put a number to the change – 50 – an age I am all too rapidly approaching. The article, ‘Why Becoming ‘Invisible’ After 50 Can Be a Good Thing’ is about a conversation she has with her mother:-

“At the age of 50, my mother vanished. “A woman becomes invisible in middle age,” she said. I replied with sympathy. “You misunderstand,” she explained. “It’s liberating.” For the first time since puberty, she said, “What I am on the outside is less of a distraction from who I am on the inside. Now, women trust me, men trust themselves around me, and every conversation can be purely, completely human.” ……. It’s true, I’m not seen as I was when I was younger. But being seen isn’t nearly as conducive to spiritual growth as seeing. Invisibility may be imposed on aging women, but transparency can be welcomed. That’s because authentic spirituality begins by embracing what can’t be avoided and letting go of what will be stripped away”

I suspect that many other 48 year old women, like me, might start to furiously refute this ridiculous notion but we would be standing up to our kneecaps in denial. The brutal truth is that I belong to a tribe of females who, whilst we don’t want to openly admit to being a little bit vain, still dye our hair, stick on the ‘slap’, and honestly can’t recall how life was before hair-straighteners, and let’s face it, approaching 50 does chafe a bit!  And the fact that there could be wholesome reasons why hitting 50 could have its benefits is not something we’re overly focussed on…

One very memorable series I remember watching on TV which discussed various age-related issues, is the Real Marigold Hotel, where a group of famous celebrity pensioners go on a retreat to India for 3 weeks, a reality TV version of the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Conversely, they discover that far from being invisible after a certain age in India, the elderly are venerated.

realmarigoldhotel

miriam-margolyesJasper Rees, writing for the Telegraph about the series (Rees, J. 2016), regales that Miriam Margoyles (aged 74 who played Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films), ‘professes herself thrilled to be part of a television series that focusses on pensioners. She declares:-

We are invisible. An old woman is just utterly invisible. Luckily I have a very loud voice. I can’t explain why we are not respected because I think we should be. We are wiser than younger people. That is just a fact.”

I remember that she later spent much of the series being outspoken (from every orifice of her being!) and upon reading more about her for this assignment, I resolved that I needed to meet her and take some photographic portraits of her. To me, she became the epitome of what I wanted to be in old age – plain talking, vigorous, and at aged 74, not in the slightest invisible.  Maybe it was slightly optimistic, but I emailed all 3 of her agents to ask if this would be possible, but sadly got no reply. On reflection I’m sure I was one of a long queue of fans wanting to meet her. Maybe I should have tried a less direct tact and attended a Harry Potter convention…

I then went through various iterations of possible individual photographs to represent the invisibility of older women, which together, would make a series suitable for the assignment:-

  • My first idea was to take a photograph of a middle-aged woman standing on the pedestrianised area outside Norwich market on a busy Saturday morning, with shoppers busily rushing past her…  I intended to use an 10x ND filter on the lens to blur out the passers by so that effectively, the woman became much more visible while the multi-aged passers by blended into the background in a sea of blurs. The effect I was looking to recreate was similar to the image below:-urban-photography-how-to-blur-people-in-busy-city-scenes
  • My next idea was to ask a Chinese female friend of mine to round up all the generations of her family (knowing that age is also far more respected in Chinese culture) and gradually fade out the younger generations behind the oldest female.
  • Another idea I had was to use the theme from the another TV series 10 years younger where I would apply Photoshop techniques to portraits of a number of middle aged women, and then ask them to hold up the colour print of their younger, digitally-enhanced selves and I would then de-saturate the photograph around the held up colour print, to black and white (their ‘invisible’ self). This all felt rather depressing however; I think I needed to find something more uplifting.

I felt that all these individual ideas didn’t really make up a coherent series (although maybe for the 10 years younger one I could have taken a number of images of different women), and I wasn’t really satisfied with the ideas so it was back to the drawing board.

I had been mulling over an idea in my mind based on meeting a group of ‘Red Hatters’ in New York. These were retired ladies who had formed a network for socialising. They have a trademark appearance based on the Jenny Joseph poem ‘When I am old’.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple!
Jenny Joseph

I finally felt I had thought of a concise idea which could yield a coherent series of images of women who quite clearly could never be considered ‘invisible in old age’. I felt that it didn’t detract from the theme of ‘Unseen’, it just portrayed the rebellion against it.

I contacted the local branch of Norwich Red Hatters and asked to take some portraits of them in their finery. They invited me to one of their monthly lunches at a restaurant by the river in Norwich. Over the course of several hours, I took approximately 30 different women’s portraits.  I did several full length photographs but the more successful ones were the head and shoulder shots where their characters popped out from behind translucent and very beautiful skins and shining eyes. The women each had a strong presence but  collectively they were an even more amazing and formidable force. Their ages totally belied their appearance and they were without exception, generous of their time and energy.

I used natural lighting for the portraits as I found a convenient pale grey wall well light from the window. There was a raised platform which provided a fabulous plain wall for the full length shots. I encouraged them to be flamboyant and strike a pose which would match their natural glamour. It was great fun!

I promised the Red Hatter ladies that I would put large images of them on the Internet and honour this promise, but this collage of thumbnails gives some indication of the shots I was lucky enough to achieve. I will be emailing my tutor the final selection of 7 – 10 full size images directly as part of the submission for this assignment.

redhattersmontage-flattened

By way of a thank you I took email addresses and sent through the photographs to each of the Red Hatter ladies followed up by some 9×6″ prints. In my email I also asked for their opinion on the notion that women become invisible from a certain age. I had some interesting and funny responses to this and some are listed below. I thought this would provide some supporting narrative to the images:-

Regarding the so-called “invisibility” of ladies our age, bearing in mind that we were the original swingin’, mini-skirtin’, Quant and Biba-wearin’ Beatle Babes, the generation that changed the world,  how likely is it that we were EVER going to fade away to invisibility in our sixties and seventies?? We’re not invisible, we’re invincible. As the great Mae West said “You only live once – but if you live it right, once is enough!”

Its good being in the red hats it gives you the chance to dress up and bling up and gets you out of the mould of bring old and  invisible and gives you the friend ship and  company.

I realise that there are a lot of ladies who simply do not have the personality that would allow them to mix – and who probably do feel invisible.  I wish I had the answer to helping them enjoy life more.

As regards being invisible – I think we are not.   Although all red hatters I am among seven that go out together often in ‘civvies’ as we call it. However we still dress to make the most of our appearance…. This week on the radio I heard it was not the thing for old people to wear jeans.   Obviously a lot of replies about this.  Personally I have denim shorts (quite brief).  I wear jeans that have sparkles on them and also some with flares.    As long as clothes are in good taste and do not make older people look distasteful this is acceptable… perhaps the quote ‘old people are invisible’ applies to some – but you get out of life what you put in.    If one chooses to sit at home and not make an effort then I suppose they are not seen.

To help myself choose the images for the assignment, I got them printed as 12”x9” photographs. This enabled me to lay them out on the floor to choose the selection and the order of them for the series. It also allowed me to think more about the different personalities within the portraits and whether I could provide a suitable caption for the image.  It was tempting to use their ‘alter ego’ names which appear on the ‘Norfolk Broads’ Red Hatter website – Queen Jude, Baroness Bossy Boot, Silver Lady, Lady Poppy, Princess Anne Liz, Dame Susie D’Boozy, Madam Shiraz, but unfortunately not all the women in my photographs had such a name, so this wouldn’t really have worked as titles.   I couldn’t help think that Red Hatter 7 (below) should be ‘The Matriarch’, Red Hatter 9 should be ‘The Gypsy’, Red Hatter 6 ‘The Queen’ and Red Hatter 3, ‘The 60s Swinger’, but applying my own labels to these strong women didn’t seem appropriate – it made sense for anyone viewing them to devise their own names if they wished.

Lighting was tricky on the day. I had fantastic natural light over the lunchtime period, but as the afternoon wore on, it got cloudier and subsequently my ISO rating had to be adjusted. I really wanted to maintain the quality of the images and avoid too much noise, so I decided to deliberately underexpose images so that I could change the exposure in Lightroom afterwards. One of the reasons I was not completely happy with the series was that the backgrounds appear as slightly different shades which I think impacts how the different portraits work in the series. Ideally of course I would have been set up with an artificial lighting kit which would have enabled me to standardize the light across the series of images. I did discover that with such a range of complexsions too, I couldn’t apply the same settings to all the portraits. I didn’t have time to adjust the settings within the camera, but I did do quite a lot of exposure changes to the final images within Lightroom for that reason also.

There was a certain amount of pressure to the shoot too – the women were queuing down the corridor and I didn’t want them to get annoyed with waiting, so I only took 3-4 images of each lady, in both head and shoulders and full length. Some of my compositions failed for that reasons too I think. I have written further about this in my written submission.

All in all I am really pleased with the results of the shoot. It was a once-only opportunity so there would have been no option to go back and retaken the photographs. I think that would have taken advantage of their generosity somehow. Luckily I think I had sufficient images to choose from to complete a coherent series of shots.

Summary and Self-Assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I think I’ve improved with some of my portrait shots over the last year and I was really pleased with the quality of the images I achieved. Moving to a full-frame camera has definitely helped and ensured that I can use more available lighting without too much concern about high ISOs. 3 / 5

Quality of Outcome

I also think I’ve achieved a consistent set of strong portraits and maximised the opportunity to bring out the weight of the strong personalities in the photographs. I did manage to engage quite easily with the women. It was easy; they were fun, confident and positive and I didn’t have to ‘draw’ anyone out of themselves particularly.  3 / 5.

Demonstration of Creativity

I tried to come up with a different slant to the brief in terms of photographing the ‘unseen’. I did read almost through to the end of the David Hurn book as suggested by my tutor following assignment one. I found this very enlightening, particularly regarding his approach to being fully interested in a subject as a necessity in order to take a good set of photographs. The subject, being quite close to my own reality, had an instant appeal and it was enjoyable to research and consider the differing viewpoints. And portraiture is also where I feel I can create good images. I often spend time looking at portraits from other photographers because of this fascination and I think this helps develop a style too.  The series itself was not creative in terms of each image being substantially different to the next – in fact it was the women themselves that provided me with the variation. I am however pleased with my interpretation of the brief. 3 / 5.

Context

My blog/url https://mary513255cn.wordpress.com/ has recently been updated with a few of the exercises as part of Part 2 Narrative coursework. I thoroughly enjoyed researching the Sophie Calle’s ‘Take Care of yourself’ exhibition. Also I got on a train to Thetford and back  to take images for the poetry exercise (choosing John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Network South East), and these have been added to my blog.  I am still, as ever, on a catch-up with regards researching outside of the course materials. I am hoping to get a good opportunity over Christmas to rectify this.

 

Sources

Braestrup, K. 2014. Why Becoming ‘Invisible’ After 50 Can Be a Good Thing. At http://www.womansday.com/life/real-women/a8211/invisible-after-50/. Accessed at 7 September 2016

Rees, J. 2016. At http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2016/01/28/the-real-marigold-hotel-old-people-are-invisible-in-the-uk–but/ Accessed at 15 September 2016

Joseph, J. When I am old. http://www.barbados.org/poetry/wheniam.htm. Accessed at 10 October 2016.

Assignment 2 – Ideas 6, 7, 8 etc…

I mulled over other ideas briefly…

Hidden disability: I realised that this subject was something which would be interesting to photograph but would require an intimate knowledge of a person living with that disability in order to be able to really get a sense of the impact it made to the person. I know someone living with PTSD, which I do consider a social disability in that there is a wall which stops all communication on the subject and it is actually there protecting that individual, so I wouldn’t have considered crossing that line for the sake of a photographic project. Perhaps it is the difficult subjects that yield the most interesting results.. maybe I have missed an opportunity…

DNA: Otherwise known as Deoxyribonucleic acid. I wondered whether an interesting project would be to study the impact of that invisible molecule which holds all the genetic information for us. I would have sought to photograph character traits passing down through the generations, or looked up the girl at school who was albino. As I cogitated all the possible variables and photographic possibilities, there was a big part of me that likened myself to a trophy-hunting Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize competitor rabidly scanning the country for pale faced red haired twins, or worse, morphing into the new Norwich Diane Arbus, cataloguing anyone who walked past me in the street with an interesting ‘feature’! This idea felt just too difficult to achieve within the timeframe I had to play with so I dropped this idea also.

Charity: This was something I thought would make an interesting subject. I’ve always felt that charity not shouted about, not publicized or splashed across newspapers in a ‘look at me aren’t I great’ kind of way, was definitely the best type of charity. I wanted to photograph ‘quiet charity’, almost unnoticed.. the Big Issue seller 20 people have just walked past.. the ladies in the back room of the charity shop when someone has just brought in another dirty duvet or dirty old chip fryer, or dirty anything really… the old lady walking a dog down the road – not her dog, she’s just doing it for the old lady who’s in hospital.. I think this could be a good project for the future but it would need lots of planning and careful, sympathetic research.

I had several more ideas – faith, gravity, loss, heritage.. but none of these really took off.

My final choice of theme was one which I had worked on from the start and one I felt connected to and so was the one that finally made it to a shoot. See next blog !

Assignment 2 – Idea 5 – Music

Who can forget the gorilla in the Cadburys advert rolling his head back, eyes closed, nostrils flaring, ready to hammer out Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’? The emotive power of the music was palpable and the ape turned into a sensory, somewhere hairy humanoid engulfed with passion for his music… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnzFRV1LwIo

Working on that as a general idea for the assignment, I thought about taking the idea of music as an invisible life force, capable of changing our mood; meditative and relaxing us, or energising us for the day ahead as we dance in the front seat of our cars.  In the images the music would obviously have to be ‘invisible’ for it to apply to the brief for the assignment, so this would mean music coming from earphones, speakers, radios.

In the images it would be more effective if the source of the music was invisible too, so this would mean closely cropping a portrait to remove the ear phones, or hiding them under hair, and the portraits would just display the emotions evoked by the music. This might be difficult to achieve however.

My images would be a series showing all ages enjoying music, from the very tiny toddlers attending their first ‘Rattle: Baby disco’, to images of older people where the music has taken the person back to events and memories of the dim and distant past. In researching this option I was fascinated by a website explaining the benefits of music to dementia sufferers.  The Sundance Music festival, in 2014, showed a documentary on how music can help Alzheimer’s sufferers ‘wake up’ their memories.

I felt it would be fairly straight-forward to create a series of images based on the ‘invisible’ force of music. I could go out and take some street photography images perhaps of people so immersed in their music on their headphones they wouldn’t notice me… I could approach an old people’s home doing an entertainment afternoon of war time music for the residents. It seemed to me there were a lot of options, but sadly none of them entirely original and if I’m honest, it all felt a bit obvious. In the end I did drop this idea fairly rapidly.

Sources

Raymanldy, R. 2014. At http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/10585977/Sundance-2014-Alive-Inside-A-Story-of-Music-and-Memory-Documentary-shows-how-music-helps-elderly-remember.html Accessed on 29 October 2016.

Assignment 2 – Idea 4 – Infinity

This idea popped into my head originally from my list of abstract nouns, but also, in a sense this was a literal ‘unseen’, the idea that there is a limit to our vision, a limit to the detail that a camera can capture in an image (even if it has a really long telephoto lens attached, or even if a telescope is attached!). There is always an area out of reach and invisible.

infinity-001Searching on ‘infinity’ within Google images strangely just brings up a series of pictures showing the symbol, which is often used in tattoos because it is a positive icon indicating a never-ending loop, something lasting forever,  something without limits, or never ending possibilities.

I wondered if I could apply this idea of the unseen ‘infinity’ to a set of images. The obvious visual representation would have been to apply it in a landscape setting, choosing rows of objects gradually disappearing into an invisible dot on the horizon, such as breakers on the beach. I then thought about how I could apply it to memory and the ‘infinite’ power of the brain.

Somehow this felt like a lazy option. The fact that I was Googling for photographic ideas to inspire me was not a good sign! At some point this idea dropped off the radar when I decided that the resulting set of images would look incoherent and essentially pretty random. I moved on to other slightly more robust ideas to satisfy the assignment requirements.

Assignment 2 – Ideas 3 – Medical Detection Dogs

I have always been interested in the use of dogs for medical illness detection ever since I met Sharon Channelle and her pink poodle Tia at the Great Yarmouth ‘Out There’ arts festival several years ago. She is pictured below at a ‘Race for Life’ event in Norwich. Tia has her own Instagram site and together with her owner, they travel up and down the country fund-raising for cancer charities.

After meeting Sharon I later read up about the scientific basis for the phenomenon that is cancer detection by dogs, and when I was looking for charities to offer photographic services to, in order to gain some more experience, I contacted the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Milton Keynes. Unfortunately the charity was solely based in the Midlands with no regional offices, so it was not really feasible for me to be of any real practical help to them for event photography given the distance I would have to travel and my availability around work too.

It was also not really feasible to use this subject as a basis for the assignment. I had no real local contacts and the images themselves might have been limited. Some day in the future I would like to do a project around the relationship these dogs have with their owners, and the people they’ve helped.  Unfortunately as far as the assignment went for me, this was a bit of a dead end.

Assignment 2 – Ideas 2 – Racism

When I travelled to New York many years ago we went on a guided walk around Harlem and I learnt a lot about the segregation laws of pre-Civil Rights Movement America.  

The ‘Jim Crow laws‘ which were state and local segregation laws enacted from 1876 – 1965, were passed to separate blacks and white in as many aspects of life as possible. Supposedly aimed at making separate but equal accommodations for both races, the reality was that blacks were often treated as inferiors and put at a disadvantage, ultimately making racism and discrimination systemic.

One of the most memorable stories from the tour, was that of a shoe shop in Harlem, where black people were not allowed to try on the same pair of shoes as a white person -instead they had to draw around their feet and then match the shape and size to a pair of shoes before they could buy them.  Bizarrely this rather innocuous yet ridiculous rule, struck such a chord with me and I’ve never forgotten the story.

2016 has once again raised the ugly issue of racism to the forefront of public awareness, with undertones of minority racist agendas at work during Brexit. It has got me thinking that racism in all it’s extreme shades is still very innate in society today. Like an animal padding through long grass, it is often hidden, but occasionally it surfaces quite ferociously as it did this year embroiled in the political wrangling over Europe.

I wondered whether I could develop this idea into something that I could photograph for the assignment – the ‘unseen’ being racism.  I decided to look at the activities which were affected by the Jim Crow laws and photograph mixed cultures today, enjoying these activities side by side. I would intend for the images to be a warning against allowing these thoughts and ideas to permeate back into any Western society (albeit that these rules were propagated throughout America).

The activities that were subject to segregation laws were many and varied, but a few stood out in history, and these activities would be the subject of my images. Some of the old ‘Jim Crow’ laws surrounding them are listed below:-

  • Blacks had to drink out of the ‘Black only’ water fountain;
  • Blacks could go to a ‘movie theatre’ but were only allowed to enter via a separate entrance and sit in a balcony;
  • Blacks were not allowed to sit in the front of a bus: if a white person got on the bus, the black person would have to give up their seat;
  • Blacks and whites should not go boating together. Boating implied social equality. (Oklahoma, 1935).
  • “It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together, or in the company with each other, a game of cards, dice, dominos or checkers” (Birmingham, Alabama, 1930);
  • “It shall be unlawful for any coloured child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a coloured school” (Missouri, 1929);
  • “No coloured barber shall serve as a barber to white women or girls” (Atlanta, Georgia, 1926); and
  • “All persons licensed to conduct the business of selling beer or wine… shall serve either white people exclusively or coloured peopled exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room at any time” (Georgia).

My intention for the set of images would be that they were run of the mill photographs depicting people carrying out everyday activities.  Their very ordinariness would be the ideal mask to the underlying message I wanted to convey – ‘let’s continue in this vein’. The photograph of people drinking from a water fountain, and a black person sitting next to a white person on the front of a bus, would contain enough historical references so that the viewer might be able to ascertain the meaning of the messages.

I continued to work on this idea to the point of photographing my final set of images for this assignment.

Assignment 2 – Ideas 1 – Abstract Nouns

The brief for the second assignment was to ‘Photograph the Unseen’ and the course materials encouraged you to explore various ideas before attempting to photograph your chosen subject matter.

As a first step, I decided to scour the internet for lists of abstract nouns – intangible things like feelings, ideas, concepts and qualities, which I wouldn’t necessarily think of sat in front of a blank sheet of paper. It’s true to say I was swamped with a large number of possible areas to explore.  To make life a fraction easier, I carried these lists around with me and worked through them in sections, identifying ones that might become a possible avenue to go down for the assignment. My first resulting ‘pile’ of words is shown below…

wordcloud

Of course, some of these abstract nouns did not naturally lend themselves to being ‘unseen’… for example, it would have been difficult to photograph homelessness or wealth without conceding clear visual clues in an image even though it was possible that these could be hidden traits in the right circumstances… I had to clearly do a lot more decanting down of these random ideas so I fairly indiscriminately reduced them down to the following much smaller selection:-

wordcloud2

Part of my concern with the method I was using, was that I feared my final choice would take me down a road of creating images in the same vein as some of the rather corny motivational posters that are so prevalent in modern culture… It was quite entertaining to discover that there is an ample supply of what could be termed ‘anti-motivational’ posters out there parodying the original poster format…

I decided really to move on from this approach as it was not particularly guiding me in any specific direction. The only slight idea that I had as a result of this exercise, was to cultivate and idea around racism, which I shall expand on in further blog posts.