Monday, 28 November 2011

The Portrait Element: Research - Zed Nelson

Zed Nelson

Zed Nelson is an internationally recognised photographer, whose main approach to photography is complete integration and empathy with his subjects. After a long period of working as a documentary photographer in some of the world’s most troubled areas, Nelson has recently turned his attention to Western culture, with a more conceptual approach to reflect on contemporary social issues.

Gun Nation

Nelson’s first published book, Gun Nation looks at America’s deadly obsession with the firearm. The collection of work consists of observed, environmental, formal and detail portraits.

 - Formal portrait
- Medium format
- Neutral background
-Waste-to-head shot

- Observed portrait
- 35mm
Busy background giving context
Nelson spends a lot of time getting to know his subjects, and I think this shows through the relaxed nature of the subjects, in both the formal and observed portraits. On his website each photograph is meticulously captioned, often accompanied by a quote from the subject or a quote from something relevant – for example, a detail of a Magnum handgun is accompanied by Dirty Harry’s “are you feeling lucky” line.

Love Me

Nelson’s second book, Love Me, looks at vanity, beauty and bodily improvement which are fuelled by Western media. It deals with the way Eastern cultures are paying to ‘Westernise’ their bodies – “surgical operations to 'Westernise' oriental eyes have become increasingly popular, so the beauty standard has become increasingly prescriptive. In Africa the use of skin-lightening and hair-straightening products is widespread. In South America women have operations that bring them eerily close to the Barbie doll ideal, and blonde-haired models grace the covers of most magazines– says Nelson’s description of the work. Again it consists of environmental, observed, formal and detail portrait elements.

 Above is an environmental portrait of plastic surgeon Ox and wife Angela in their Rio apartment.  I think that photographing people in their home environment, and what Nelson does so well, is that it picks up on peoples’ personalities, in that every what is surrounding them is to their taste. In this case it is a very clean and sterile apartment building – perhaps representing their personal ideology of perfection – with a lot of white. The white, for me, again represents perfection and cleanliness, and again tells the viewer about the subjects’ personalities – they obviously look after their health and looks, with perfect tans and expensive-looking clothes. The two perfectly groomed poodles in Ox’s hands are almost like a incarnate of themselves as a couple, with poodles being the ‘top dog’ associated with celebrity and pedigree.

The quote which accompanies this photograph is: “We live, as Naomi Wolf once observed, in a surgical age. Everybody’s doing it. Soon, the only people who won’t have any kind of cosmetic surgery will be the poor.  Money will be the last barrier to the scalpel when allothers – gender, ideology, morals, politics – have gone.” – Maureen Rice, writer.

Tear Sheets

Disappearing Britain  
Disappearing Britain

Gun Nation

The Portrait Element

The Brief

The third assignment of this semester is titled The Portrait Element

Portraits are an important aspect of any photo story, and there are four ways of going about them: observed, formal, environmental and detail. By making pictures for each element the viewer can gain a far wider understanding of the people being profiled. The assignment dictates that we create two "compelling" portrait profiles; one man, one woman, using all the elements mentioned above. The subject matter is entirely up to us; we must undergo research and arrange shoots so we can go back more than once to build an on-going study of that particular person and to refine the content of a successful image.


At least two of these portraits must be lit by flash, either in the studio or on location. The project, as with the this entire semester, must be shot on 35mm black-and-white film. The contacts, work prints and final prints must be done traditionally, i.e. in the darkroom.

My Thoughts

I am really excited about this assignment, more so than The Establishing Image brief, which I am yet to fully complete. I have not had a lot of experience within portraiture, and it is something that recently I have wanted to get more in to having seen some really great work by numerous practitioners and course-mates. 

I already have my female subject in place - Hannah Tonkin; three-times married, mother of four living in a council estate in Penryn. I have photographed her family previously, during the Person at Work assignment when I spent the day with a community support officer. She is the mother of the child who was receiving threatening texts from another eleven-year-old. I visited their house again over the weekend, and asked if I could carry out my portrait assignment on her and her family; she was happy to help and very enthusiastic about the whole thing. I am to start photographing her tomorrow afternoon. I am really excited to get to know this family and build up an interesting story which will hopefully be compelling  and detailed. 

More work to follow soon.


Friday, 25 November 2011

The Establishing Image: 'Industrial Coast' - Fugro Seacore

On Tuesday 22nd November I spent the morning at Fugro Seacore, an offshore drilling company based in Brickland Industrial Estate here in Falmouth. I was to be given a 'tour' of the complex - upon hearing that dreaded word my heart immediately sank, and thoughts of a very 'health and safety' restricted shoot came to mind. That, however was not the case, the man who showed me around, four-year employee of Fugro, Sean Mitchell, was quite happy for me to wonder and 'do my thing' between him explaining what everything I was photographing was. I was taken around the numerous workshops and 'lay-up' yards which  the enormous complex consisted of. The following pictures are what ensued: 

The Fitting Shop

The fitting shop from atop a step-ladder.

Fugro employee Sean Mitchell shows me the inner-workings of a 'doghouse',  where the drill operator will sit.

The 'fitting shop' is where components of drills, rigs and doghouses (above) get serviced, cleaned, and generally checked. This was right at the beginning of the shoot, and so my creative juices weren't quite flowing, so the pictures aren't amazing - certainly not of 'establishing shot' quality, anyway - (bear in  mind that the establishing shot needs to encompass everything about the 'story' that theoretically will be written, in this case, about offshore drilling). 

The Fabrication Shop

'Derrick' sections of an R100 rig lay sprawled across the floor of the fabrication workshop.

Welding gear set atop a steel girder. 

The fab. shop was my favourite place of the whole shoot. There was a crazy amount of work going on in this building, mostly welding and fixing components. Huge steel 'Derrick' sections (top image) lay across the workshop floor like giant skeletons, with workers ducking and dodging in-between the monstrous steel girders. This part of the complex was where sections of drill rigs, such as the ones above, are welded and fixed together, ready for transportation.

I was getting in to my photographic stride at this point - still no establishing shots, however.

The Lay-up Yard

Drill rigs 'parked' in height order in the lay-up yard.

The doghouse of a drilling rig in the foreground, with a second rig in the background. 

Sean Mitchell stands as an example of scale adjacent to a drill head festooned with football-sized drill bits.

Sean takes a break in the seat of a doghouse, as other workers get on with their day.

Initially, when I first saw the lay-up yard, I was very excited about getting plenty of wide shots of the Goliath machinery, and it was here where I thought my establishing image would come from. However, after processing the films and printing the contact sheets, I was quite disappointed with my exposure values. Ironically, it was in the dark workshops where my best exposures came from. Having said this, I think there is merit for an establishing shot in the second from top shot of the doghouse.

The lay-up yard is essentially where "all the bits get put together", and then kept for future use. It was like walking through a forest of steel trees here, and I got a bit carried away with the picture-taking, burning my way through a whole 36 exposure roll of film in about 5 minutes. 

The Paint Shop

Quite simply where components get a new paint-job. This was a pretty cool building, the giant wall at the back of the workshop gave a great backdrop to the Fugro employees. When taking this shot I was very much aware of the amount of negative space in the frame, with plenty of room for a magazine title and accompanying text in-mind. I like the shot, but it isn't an establishing image - there is not nearly enough context.

The Blast Bay

Sean holds out rough granules which are used to literally blast drilling components - sandpapering on an industrial scale.
The blast bay lay just adjacent to the paint shop. In here, drilling components are literally blasted by rough granules fed through giant 'hose pipes' and cycled round again as they fall through the grated floor, acting in a giant cycle. Again this was a very large room, and I wanted to make this apparent in the very top image by placing Sean in the bottom left of the frame. It is a good shot, but again lacks the context for an establishing image - it is more like a photograph which would precede it. The same can be said for the above image of Sean's hand; it is a nice detail shot, but not a story-opener.

Seacore Gweek

Fugro employees working on metal ladders destined to be fixed to the side of a drilling rig.

Football-sized drill bits lay side-by-side in the Gweek workshop, waiting for distribution.

After finishing the Brickland Industrial Estate tour, I was taken down in a company 4x4 to the Seacore complex in Gweek, a small harbour town twenty minutes from Falmouth. It was basically the same as the first complex but smaller. Having said that, I think some of my best shots came from this part of the shoot, including a few candidates for the final print.

The Final Shots

As I was nearing the end of my visit at Fugro, and the the end of my rolls of film, I noticed the perfect shot just outside the Gweek workshop (above). I only had three exposures left, and so I took about 5 minutes composing each shot as carefully and meticulously as possible. I am very happy I got these shots, as the above landscape I believe will go on to become my final establishing image. Drills, boat, rigs, worker: Industrial coast. Perfect.

Cameras used:
 - Olympus OM-2n

 - Minolta 7000 AF

Film used:
 - Kentmere 400 (pushed to 800 ISO)


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Rambling: Alamy Stock Photos

Stock photo agency giant Alamy has provided the students of the Press & Editorial Photography course and incredible offer: 100% royalties for two years if we register with them through the university. It is an offer that, being miserably poor students, we could not refuse. This, then, spurred me on to head out in to Falmouth and the surrounding area to snap some stock photo-worthy images, and hopefully give me some inspiration in regards to my 'isolation' and 'industrial coastline' briefs - above are the results, taken on a Canon 450D.

The trek - which took me all the way across the Fal River by ferry to Flushing, across the fields and over the headland to Mylor - did in fact give me inspiration for the 'isolation' shoot. When I reached Mylor, a small fishing town of a handful of residences, I came across St. Mylor's Church. The quaint church has a grave yard and a cemetery a few metres up the road. My plan is to spend the day in the cemetery, photographing the people that visit and what they do - laying flowers, cleaning head stones etc.

Stay tuned.


The Establishing Image: 'Community' - Remembrance Sunday

On Sunday afternoon I shot a Remembrance Sunday parade in Bewdley, Worcestershire (not Falmouth, as I was visiting family and friends at the time). This was my response to the 'community' aspect of the brief.

I enjoyed this shoot, although I found it quite difficult to photograph decent, interesting angles without getting in the way of the marchers. However, after time, I stopped caring and pretty much got in everyone's way - standard photojournalist. With this in mind I tried to photograph something that had been done a thousand times in a more interesting fashion; albeit standing in the middle of the road, or moving around and hitting the shutter during the minute's silence. I also found myself every once in a while being drawn away from the brief, and starting to photograph people that I deemed 'interesting' in the crowd - followed by a swift reminder to myself not to get side-tracked.

Anyway, above are some scanned-in negs. I am happy with the results and do not feel the need to re-shoot. 'Community', check.