Make three different portraits using three different subjects. The objective is to create a link between the two components of the image, i.e. the subject and their surroundings.
The detailed brief for exercise 2.1 contains a specific instruction ‘don’t be tempted to create a work of complete fiction’. How wonderfully ironic. Why?
My 97-year-old mother, who has successfully lived in her home at Kirby Road alone for many years, recently came to live in isolation with me in my family home just outside Portsmouth.
My two daughters, for different individual reasons, have had to self isolate. So they stayed in my mother’s house, sleeping in her bed, while she slept in their beds at their home.
My daughters recently came by to deliver food. They couldn’t come into their home because their grandmother is here. And she can’t go to her house because they’ve been there. As is the case for everybody nowadays, it feels as though we are all living inside Salvador Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ – time itself bent by the massive gravitational pull of a single virus.
Image one draws upon the use of multiple images in the work of Harry Callahan and Helene Amouzou. Although in this case, we see a reflection rather than a multiple image, the effect is similar.
Image two draws upon Robert Frank’s clever photograph ‘View from Hotel Window, Butte, Montana’. Shot through a window giving the perspective of being inside looking out.
The final image uses the window as a simple visual metaphor for isolation (or alienation as Crewdson calls it (1)) à la Edward Hopper and the loneliness that my mother feels as she comes to terms with not seeing her family and friends for an indefinite amount of time.
There is nothing exceptional about these images. Nothing pre-planned. People (occasionally) turn up here, and I have to react by thinking up an idea spontaneously. Compositionally they aren’t strong, although, from a technical viewpoint, I used the HDR facility within Photoshop to compensate for the potential dynamic range issues in shooting image three in such harsh afternoon light.
As a series, I think it works. It tells a story. The situational irony of my daughters talking to their grandmother on the phone, through a window, unable to even access their own home speaks of the strange world we all inhabit right now. Images one and two show that irony from both points of view.
The final image was to have been a picture of my mother, Audrey (below). The contemplative face is showing the bewilderment, confusion and loneliness of an elder person dealing with such an upheaval.
But I decided to use the image shot through the window showing nobody. Taken from her perspective, it shows that nobody is there outside of her new home. Her world, for now, is Gill and me.
So, in conclusion, I do feel the series satisfies the brief. It links the subjects to their surroundings in the sense that the surroundings are the people around them or not as is, unfortunately, the case for now.
Is it fiction?
(1) Crewdson, G., 2004. Aesthetics Of Alienation: Edward Hopper II – Tate Etc | Tate. [online] Tate. Available at: <https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-1-summer-2004/aesthetics-alienation> [Accessed 29 March 2020].