Informing Contexts – Project development
Another module complete, I almost cannot believe it! There have been times I thought I would never get this completed. A complete roller-coaster ride but a lot of lessons learned and more areas to explore so it has been worth every moment. Fingers crossed surface and strategies is a smoother ride….as much as an MA module can be anyway!
At the start of the course I was very focussed on the imperfect image and the use of song lyrics on my Instax images I produced for the positions and practice module.
On the whole I was very pleased with these images and how they turned out. The use of slow shutter speed, multiple exposures and creative techniques acquired through experimentation with the Lomography camera resulted in some very energetic and colourful shots. Energy and passion are central to my work and are elements I always set out to achieve. This is the real test for this module portfolio as the experimentation here lies with the capturing of energy and passion in a still environment and external setting.
I have often discussed the mixed feedback I have received in regards to the lyrics on my images and I have to say I am pleased I experimented with the technique as this may be something I revisit in the future. As I chose not to progress with the technique in the sustainable prospects module this was also the decision for this current set due to my change in approach and subject matter. My work has now become more marketed towards a photographic/art based audience than the bands themselves therefore removing the words and letting the images speak for themselves seemed much more appropriate.
It was during the sustainable prospects module that my images really opened up and the fascination with the alternative family unit began. I could see how close the families were and hoe as adults the parents had managed to retain their love and passion for music alongside the mundanity of family life.
The interviews I conducted with the musicians reinforce their childlike excitement for the world of music and make me want to document how this all first together within their private world, their homes.
In each module each portfolio seems to have opened up a new focal point for the subject of punk rock. When starting this module, I already wanted to delve further into the ideals of family life and what life is like for musicians/performers in an every-day context.
When considering how these images would be created I knew it was time to step away from the Instax format and explore a more technical photographic approach. Sadly, due to rising costs I was unable to shoot using 120 transparency film (my favourite medium). I knew however that due to quality medium format was a must so I was kindly given the use of a Pentax 645Z medium format digital camera, thus beginning my experimentation with digital medium format shooting.
It is compelling to see how the content has changed and the opportunities this new medium has exposed. Shooting on the 645Z has really excelled the vibrancy and hue of the images. The larger scale of the images teamed with the clarity of the camera and the lenses available have clearly changed the scope of my work. Although a little saddened to lose the one of a kind image approach Instax had, I can see more potential in working this way in the future. The prospect of creative printing processes for the digital files is also something to be explored during the final major project as there could be some great possibilities with fine art papers or transfer printing processes available to add another dimension to my body of work.
It was important to me that the individuals within the images be musicians or long-time fans of music whom are deeply rooted into the punk rock community. This has been somewhat trickier to organise than I anticipated. After gaining a sense of excitement and buzz about my ideas during discussions with those I approached, I soon found that scheduling appointments and holding people to shoots became increasingly difficult. I started to get the feeling that once people realised the images would be displayed online or possibly in an exhibition they became less reluctant to take part. I believe this to be due to the images containing their homes and children, the most private aspects of an individual’s life. I can certainly understand this for those who are well known and popular in their field so it was imperative that I respect their privacy and move on. I am incredibly grateful to those who took part, without them I do not know what I would have done to get this submission complete. Although I obviously still intend to work with musicians I feel location is something to be reconsidered for the upcoming module.
Due the ill health factors I have been dealing with and to overcome my immense sense of panic that 9 weeks in and I still had no images I decided to turn the camera on myself. This was no easy feet and being unwell I certainly did not feel like I was emotionally, physically or aesthetically ready to go in front of a camera. I feel this was my downfall and this certainly came across in the shots. The image below was my attempt at showing the natural reaction from children to their parents and their parents musical influence and lifestyles. I feel the set and the natural lighting/layout of the shot really worked. Using a timer to achieve this was incredibly frustrating whilst directing the reactions of a six-year-old but I think this was the closest image to my vision. That being said it just didn’t work. It feels flat and more like a natural family snap shot than a documentation or portraiture.
I tried to create a little mini-series to continue the flow using my partner and my son to show the influence of music and how music is incorporated in joint activities or enjoyment. For this we tried the guitar lesson shots. As you can see there are a few different styles and aims on constructing a scene. Again, upon review these also felt more like family snapshots than portraiture. They fit within a set but do not stand out on their own (my intentions for my portraits). The natural light works well and it captures a great bonding moment between my partner and my son however it does not communicate their personalities or passion effectively.
Sadly, the whole set to me was a dud and it was back to the drawing board. I was pleased I had gained the strength to shoot and proud that I had tried yet it soon turned to disappointment and panic of how I would achieve this. I sent the images to my tutor Michelle for review who agreed they need reworking and revisiting so I had to get my thinking cap on. She had suggested the use of location as a backdrop for the creation of tableaus, capturing performances. This was quite a change from my original intentions so I spent some time researching the idea and looking into the works of Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson, all of which having influences from theatre, film, sculptures and performances. I find their work fascinating and with the likes of Crewdson and Wall, aesthetically striking and beautiful. That being said I felt that what I was trying to achieve and the subject of punk rock itself did not really sit with this concept. As tableau is about creating the moment, environment and the emotions displayed, I felt it imperative to capture the natural energy, essence and home environment. Subsequently I returned to research and the advice of our tutor Paul regards music and portraiture where he led me to the work of Anton Corbjin (as can be seen in contextual research). As we have discussed my work in previous modules he returned to a conversation when he had suggested the use of dytics or trypics to visually enhance the set of my images.
Diptyc’s or triptyc’s are not formats I have ever used, other than maybe stitching images together in one piece on Instagram before the multiple post function became available.
There has to be some form of cohesion between the pictures used. Ideally they will share the same aesthetic, colour/tone, themes or form. The images should balance and complement one another. A successful diptych or triptyc it seems is all about composition and structure.
As my images will be displayed in an online gallery and not in a gallery space getting this right could be quite tricky so I have been playing with different images to try to get the composition and the flow of the work right.
During this time, I also contacted friends but changed my approach by asking them to be in the images themselves rather than their families and this seemed to sit more comfortably with them.
I began with a shoot with a couple who are major music fans and beyond passionate about the movement of punk rock, Leslie and Ray Richardson. They have a young son who is named after two punk rock legends, Joey Cape and Lars Federiksen. Both are avid tattoo enthusiasts, Leslie has a mixture of personal family tattoos and music orientated content and Ray possessing predominantly music content. They are a very chilled out family and incredibly welcoming. Leslie is all about family and for her there is her immediate family and her music family. She discussed both with much passion and intensity. The couples date time as the referenced it is shows, she even showed me a drawer containing a lifetime of tickets and they both expressed they can no longer keep them because it starts to take over.
I became quite experimental with lighting to try and set the mood. As it was evening the house was quite dark but they have a quirky device which sets the colour of the light in the room by their phone. We tried blues and magentas just to enhance the images a little but sadly I think the colours affected the connotations of the image to the point it overpowered them with the wrong message. A good example being the image below were on reflection, I felt the magenta gave a great sexual element to the image, and this was not what I wanted to portray at all.
I am happy with how the two portraits turned out. Their poses are completely natural, all achieved due to conversing during the shoot. I was pleased to have captured Rays happy, relaxed personality. His laugh portrays his soft nature, the skull and crossbones on his t shirt and his heavily tattooed arms juxtaposing the smile, palm leaf wallpaper and bamboo furniture, all symbolisms of Hawaiian/beach culture. I can imagine people unknowing of his personality being quite intimidated by his visual presence in the mainstream however it is interesting what you find when you look deeper into the individual and past the aesthetics.
For me the dyptic elements in Leslie’s collection were vital. To capture her love and passion for family. Her back tattoo was her first and probably her most important piece. It is a tribute to her late sister and niece who were tragically killed. I couldn’t help but feel moved by her story and the bond she has through the piece. The words “sweet dreams” say so much, the image itself, swallows (connotations of home and family) the spiritual belief being that the birds carry lost ones to heaven, the stars, all reinforce the message sincerely. To then document her windowsill, arranged with family orientated nick nacs, including the mother’s day card her son handmade that she just cannot put away, all show her love, loyalty and passion whilst her colourful punk rock image, (tartan trousers, tattoos, shoes), all convey her love of music.
Musician Dave Markham was the next shoot to commence. Dave is a very talented guitarist with a passion for music and instruments which covers his house. He owns a vast amount of guitars and is an avid collector or rare guitars. When the history is unavailable he takes the time to research and he aims to document as much as he can about each piece. I spent quite some time in his house looking at rooms and the vast amount of kit (also enjoying the company of his dogs, one of which you will notice, will not leave his side). He had just been working on his own digital studio and I thought this would be a great location as it shows his commitment to music and the creative process. Again, another genuinely nice guy with a great personality and lots of interesting stories. I tried to naturally capture his energy and passion, discussing music and bands whilst I shot. We tried in vain to get his dog out of shot, however, the dogs are “his children” and you can see she is his shadow, I thought it quite fitting to keep her in, longingly staring at him, to add more persona to this image. The cheque in the background was also a key denotation, as an advocate for Mind mental health charity he proudly displays the cheque for his fund raising efforts and rightly so. For me this enhances the connotations and image of community spirit and the supporting nature of the punk rock community.
It was hard to narrow down the vast amount of opportunities with all of the equipment available but I decided to use his back lounge area where the sofa was being lit beautifully with natural light from the patio doors. The bold red starkly contrasting the black walls were images of love and musical memorabilia from his bands adorned the walls. After various arrangements of the guitars I became most excited by the shot you see below. All of the contrasting colours, shapes and tones work really well together. The natural lighting adding quite an angelic quality and aura to the room. It just instantly stood out as a document of his life.
It was genuinely hard to narrow down the content with some of the shoots. Admittedly, upon reflection there were opportunities missed but given my need to move on before the next module and time being of the essence I went with what felt right at the time.
With the need of two more shoots and the pressure of finishing before the next module increasing I tried shooting Matt Cade of Not Tonight and the Headaches in his self-confessed home, his recording studio. Sadly, these did not work out. Sterile looking walls, dark lighting and catching him on a very busy and run down day all contributed to a very stale image. For me his expression looks more lost than enthused and passionate about his subject so I left it a few days then reattempted in his home whilst he recorded some guitar in the living room for some work he is currently producing for an American punk band.
Although he still possesses the seriousness of work in his expression you can see by his comfort with a guitar and his surroundings that music is his comfort zone. He even admitted to finding the studio environment somewhat sterile and uncomfortable so I am pleased I moved on. I was very torn between two shots (seen below). I really appreciated the warmth and intimacy of the close up shot however, when placed in the final selection for submission I felt it stood out from the rest and didn’t really sit well with the sequence.
As with the other selections, Matt’s triptyc included significant elements of his life, teaching his stepson the guitar, records, tattoos and recording music. His tattoos and vinyl choice highlight the influence bands have had on his life and his career. Tattoos are an imperative part of the visual culture of punk rock with many followers using lyrics, album art, logos etc. as a permanent visual mark of their dedication for the music of particular artists.
Having struggled with another female portrait for the set I again turned the camera on myself and tried, in a self-portrait fashion to convey my love of music and the activities I use to channel my passion. Clothing and style is something I personally connect with to channel my love of music and creative culture. Living with a recording artist has encouraged me to explore my love of music in expressive ways such as singing and learning guitar. As you can tell by the signification of the classic microphone I also have a love of retro/rock and roll music. My intentions were to capture the natural atmosphere of my home, documenting the use of living space as a recording environment with the inclusion of musical paraphernalia within the home space.
As I wanted my work to have the feel of medium format film I gave each image a small black border, like you would see on a 120 transparency shot. For me this completes the image aesthetically. The images looked too stark on a white background. The black template made them feel finished and gave more dimension to the diptycs. Although black gives connotations of negative space and void dullness, for me it works and it gave a superior finish to each image. I would love to explore further with this method using more creative processes to give a more visually exciting approach in the future.
I feel with the music genre theme and the image content my series would have benefitted from a zine production, perhaps in a less clinical presentation to creatively display the aesthetics of the genre and its exciting visual stylings.
As always, definite room for improvement, but the show must go on.
That being said this module has led me to think much deeper about the future prospects of the topic and the longevity of the project in terms of its current direction. Is it sustainable and where can it progress? I aim during the module break to focus on these questions and produce some new ideas for my body of work using digital medium format.
Screen shots of my intended website layout/portfolio display.
Sustainable Prospects Module – Project Development
12 weeks and so much has happened within this module! As mentioned within my oral presentation, although my ideas have not transformed on a large-scale, I have made some changes to my original proposal and will be heading towards a slightly different approach for the upcoming informing context module.
I began this module on a positive start with a clear vision in mind. I had already contacted the band and had an itinerary with shoots planned to ensure everything fit within the deadlines etc.
My intentions were to spend a bit of time with each band member. To see what life is like at home and at work and show the juxtaposition of their lifestyles within different environments. Knowing from conversations previously that they all have very different jobs, (only one of which is within the artistic realms) I thought it would be interesting to show how adult life transforms us, and if there is a point that people accept the responsibilities of working adult life, reserving their punk rock antics for home or show life.
There are four members in the band Not Tonight and the Headaches.
Rob Tew – Lead vocals and guitar
Matt Cade – Vocals and guitar
Jim Elliot – Bass and vocals
Matt Snell – Drums
Rob is a married father of two who works as a radiographer at the local hospital.
Matt is a step father of one who works as a music technician at the local college and also works as a recording and sound engineer alongside his educational role.
Jim is a married father of three who works at a local car garage as a salesman.
Matt is a married father of two who works on the local docks hauling crates and loading boats.
I began by looking at those with professions were permission to photograph may be difficult, Rob and Matt Snell. It was so difficult it was refused instantly by the docks due to security policy. this had already sparked my wonder as if this stage of the project would be possible. I started the shoots with a family set with the Snell’s to see if the material would go where I imagined.
On 2nd October I was welcomed with my son to the Snell household after picking the children up from school. I was extremely touched by their hospitality as they even requested we stay for dinner to give us more time. This really helped as with anything involving very young children nothing goes quickly or to plan!
Here are some of the shots I took this night following our interview.
Their home is beautiful and one thing that struck me (upon noticing in my own home) there are connotations and signs of music in every single room.
Due to the narrative within each shot and the visual content of each image it was here I made the decision to keep visual effects to a minimum as a means of preserving the important information in each image for the viewer to decode and digest. I feel the living room shots with the girls and dad together were particularly successful as they were so natural. Nothing I shot was posed I just asked them to continue with their evening routine as they would normally.
The interview content with Matt Snell is definitely worth a listen. The way he verbalised his love and passion for music was particularly moving. He explains his motivations as a musician and speaks very highly of family life and how he incorporates music into their everyday life.
This experience reinforced the passion, ethical and moral values of punk rock artists I feel mainstream society overlooks. We are quick to judge those who appear different and visually extreme but this furthers the notion that taking the time to talk to these individuals and show interest in their lifestyles really does open up a new world of thinking.
On the 24th October I was invited to join the band for a rehearsal at their practice place near the local docks to shoot some pieces and conduct a band interview. The band have not played a live show for quite some time after taking a break due to family and work commitments. This is the first time they have played for a while so it felt quite an honour to be involved.
Again the interview is very interesting to hear them all communicating their stories and experiences as a group. Once warmed up you could feel the energy and the passion in the room. They went from tired and grumbly about work to energised, excited and motivated for their show.
Due to the nature of the project I was unsure as to whether I would use any of this material for my portfolio whilst shooting. I was under the premise it would be a good networking opportunity over portfolio production. However, seeing how the guys interacted together it became apparent that their band and their unity/friendships to them is just an extension of family.
Away from the band they still do a lot together, family parties, birthdays, christenings, christmas etc. Their bond is very strong and to me this became a very important part of the story.
On the 28th October I continued with a planned shoot I had with Jim at the car lot he works for. Again another interesting day and a fascinating insight into the world of punk rock for the discerning gentleman.
James always makes me laugh, but this particular day he was on form. The way he openly discusses in his interview his flow through various cultural systems to be where he is today was very interesting. The shot of him stood in front of the garage was my particular favourite. Although it took three shots before we got it where I wanted it as soon as the last shot came out I laughed because the first thing that popped into my head was Jim’s voice from the interview admitting;
“I went Krishna for about….two weeks” (Elliot, 2018)
I was unsure where this section would take my project and if it would fit within the bounds of the other images I had taken. The following week I presented these shots in the webinar and Krishna rightly stated it changed the dynamic of the project and did not fit so I made the decision not to use them. I was really motivated by her enthusiasm of the family subject and this reassured me I was heading in the right direction if I gain the right material to concluded my portfolio.
This leads to my final shoot of 4th November. This shoot was at the gig the band were due to play. Their first gig in approximately eighteen months. Although exciting you could feel tensions were high as were nerves. Accompanied by my son Nathaniel and Matt we were lucky enough to be at the venue for the set up and sound check a few hours before the show. This is something the children would not be present for, however, with wives working and the guys trying to fit everything in I knew the children would be present and literally anything could happen.
As can be seen in my portfolio my son was very excited and wanted to be involved in everything that took place. The children loved being involved, not entirely sure that the dads were one hundred percent relaxed about this as it didn’t take long for carnage to ensue! However, for the photographic context of the project they were happy to see how things unfolded naturally so everything you see within the images occurred naturally. That aspect was very important to me as I did not want to photograph anything that was staged at any point. I wanted to portray the children’s reactions, if any to what was going on around them and to portray their excitement and enthusiasm for their father’s music.
The only image from this set to have motion effects using slow shutter speeds is the one you can see on the top right of the collection image above. To get the children off stage so serious work could take place the band asked them to show what they think the crowd would be doing later at the show. The children went nuts and were demonstrating some very passionate dancing. I used this technique to make the image look more exciting visually, to capture to motion of their dance moves and the energy of the music. I also wanted to show how the room goes from the dullness of the “one….two…one…two” microphone check to intense energy of a full band performance. I am really happy with how these shots turned out.
The edit for this assignment was particularly hard, not due to the images but over the idea of using bad lyrics or not. I had discussed this with Krishna and Anna who both supported the idea and some of my cohort but I have always had Jessie’s advice regards not narrowing down or closing off my audience in the back of my mind. As this module is all about gaining new audiences and how to ensure my work is sustainable and appealing I felt it imperative to try something different and see where it goes.
I found the layout very straight forward and I feel the narrative of the set really flows. Although I decided not to include the lyrics I have shown them here to give an idea of what my project was initially heading towards.
I am interested to hear my feedback from this portfolio and to see if it influences were I take this project in the future.
My main ambition for this project remains, to open up the subculture of punk rock to younger generations and new audiences. I would like viewers to discover a new approach to music culture and hopefully gain a deeper understanding of musicians personal lives. My approach is to depict music culture in everyday scenarios and show how members of this deep rooted culture incorporate family, employment and their passion for music.
My future plan for the next module is to set up another round of photo shoots, this time following mothers within the punk rock community. I have already made contact with three mothers, all with different professions, parenting styles and experiences to share. They will also be interviewed and the content will follow the same format as I have used for this module using the set as a means of narrative to explain their stories and show personal moments within their home environments. I am hoping to develop my photographic style further and gain some great portraits in this style without the use of motion blur to enhance them.
I also wish to build my profile on social media and continue making new contacts within the industry to further my project and the resources available. I hope this too will help influence any direction my project will take and that I will be able to become deeply rooted within the UK punk rock community.