I created an online virtual digital exhibition of my photographs to see what they may look like in exhibition.
Link – http://tarenbilkhuphoto.artsteps.com/pages/pviewexhibition.aspx?ID=8969
Undetected Trades is an exploration into the different people and trades within Coventry City. It is a modern-day documentation of the variety of people in Coventry, highlighting and drawing attention to those who do not necessarily get noticed or who may be overlooked. Due to ignorance, we may underestimate the true value of people and the jobs that they do, as each member of society plays a role in what makes the City what it is today. This project aims to pick out the hard-workers who may go by undetected, in comparison to someone in a more commercial job. There is a wide variety of different trades and jobs that people must do in order to earn a living and survive, and often the people doing these jobs may not be acknowledged, or simply just not noticed in the wider scale of things. In an attempt to create an expression of Coventry today, portraiture is used to reflect stories and in a sense commercialise the uncommercial. Smaller, undetected jobs and trades have been picked out and presented via the subjects, reflecting their story in their portrait whilst also creating another description of Coventry City. Discourses were held with the subjects, some short, some longer, and each subject was photographed whilst at work/doing their work. Undetected trades reflects Coventry through the people and aims to convey the need to appreciate the hard work and effort each different job requires to allow a person to pay the bills, put food on the table for them and their family, and keep a roof over their heads.
It is interesting to see the journey that I undertook whilst doing this project, and developing the project from a map location. I changed my decision on having black and white photographs, and the final outcome is that they are in colour. I felt that having them in colour brings it away from the classic August Sander style portrait, and brings a more contemporary element, whilst also supporting the theme of drawing attention to the subject via the vibrant colours. The decision to modernise my portraits I feel was a very sensible one to make, and I’m glad as I feel it creates more interest and draws more attention to the subjects, whilst creating something new, fresh and contemporary. It is also interesting to me how the majority of the subjects I photographed altogether were men, and it makes me wonder why I didn’t discover as many women. Perhaps this means I wasn’t looking hard enough or in the right places, as maybe they are even more undetected. To further develop this idea, I think it would be good to try to find even more ‘underground’ or undetected workers, such as night shift workers for example, but due to time constraints and access, I felt it was sensible to focus on those who I could discover within and near the city centre. I had to also be aware of who I was asking and who I was able to photograph, or in some cases not able to document, as aside from personal preference, I was told by some subjects (such as a traffic warden) that I was not allowed to take a photograph of them in Uniform, as that was a sackable offence. Moving forward, I tried to take and edit the portraits with the influence and inspiration of environmental, corporate/business and commercial portraits, drawing from the compositional styles of front facing portraits, direct eye contact, and a closer proximity. This also makes it stand out I feel, bringing a different element to a street-documentary photograph, whilst modernising it and bringing forth an essence of commercialising the uncommercial. I wanted to incorporate objects that related to the subject, and some of the surroundings, but not too much as when I shot a full length portrait with a lot of the background visible it created distractions and took some of the attention away from the subject, which I didn’t want happening. The aim was to subtly incorporate these things to help add more context, adding to the visual story of each subject. I feel that each portrait tells its own story about the trade and the subject, whilst also as a set, they are able to paint a picture of what society in Coventry is like.
I wanted to look further into what is the modern and contemporary equivalent of what August Sander/Irving Penn were producing all those years ago. I wanted to make my portraits as relevant to today as I could, bringing myself away from the classic documentary portrait, and trying to bring something new to it. I have previously referenced in my blog how it possibly reflected street-style fashion/blogger photography, and the popular composition, but I still feel I need to bring something new to this project, to make it stand out even more. I decided to look into different types of portraits, and researched into environmental/corporate portraits along with commercial and business portraits.
Some of the first photographs I looked at were corporate portraits. They all seem to take on a similar format, with a straight on angle of the subject, and also with direct eye-contact (some were different). But generally, the 21 photos in the portfolio had similar compositional traits, and were well made, nice portraits. Many of them were taken in the style of environmental portraits too, with the subjects sitting in their workspace/workplace, adding a bit more context into the photograph, giving an indication to what their job is and perhaps what their interests are. Also reflecting more about the subject is the clothes/uniform they are wearing, and also any objects in the photograph. All of these little hints and clues can add up to our reading of the photograph as we dissect the portrait and analyse the person. I like the commercial take on the portraits in the workplace, and am wondering on whether I can draw on this aspect and bring this influence to my photography.
I then looked at a website for a company which specialises in creating corporate head-shots and business portraits in the US. ‘We love producing environmental portraits because they allow us to be more creative and produce an extremely polished and artistic image.’
These portraits take on a slightly different compositional style, offering a quite formal and professional portrait, whilst also hinting a sense of a commercial style portrait. Again, like the other portraits, the subjects are all frontal facing to the camera with direct eye contact, allowing us to try to read their face and expressions, giving the viewer of the photo an insight of what their character is like. These portraits are important to a company and the subject, as it provides a visual representation of the subject and reflects them and the company, offering a look into what the employees are like and thus if they are welcoming and friendly faced they will encourage people to come to their company for their services. It provides an important example to people and these types of portraits could definitely affect a persons views on a person or company who they are looking to use.
This portrait of Steve Durham (celebrity food blogger and Chef) I also quite liked, as I liked how the subject was positioned closer to the camera, close-up similar to the conventional commercial/corporate portrait, but the background was a bit more urban, which I felt related to some of my outside/street shots. I liked the documentary-style feel coming through in the photograph, and I wondered whether I could pick out a few different photographic/compositional techniques and aspects that I could bring through in my work to merge a few different ideas together, such as street photography, documentary photography, but also bringing in a sense of a corporate/commercial portrait. I feel like this could be what possibly adds a more modern and contemporary slant on my photographs, bringing them into a more commercial atmosphere too which you wouldn’t necessarily expect from these trades perhaps. After looking at all of these contemporary portraits, I have decided I want to stick to my documentary style of taking photos, but hint towards a sense of commercialism, and move towards the direction of almost ‘commercialising the uncommercial’. I’m bringing these people and their trades to more attention and highlighting them out of society.
I also looked at various other corporate, business, environmental, and commercial portraits, in an attempt to understand what is the current style in this sector at the moment, and what compositional techniques and other factors could I take from the work to enhance my work and make it more contemporary and modern. I found they all seemed to take on similar styles of composition, some incorporating more of the backgrounds to add context, following a more environmental portrait style, and some close-up portraits focusing more on the person with some hints and clues to their workspace/work within the portrait.
Here are some of the other portraits/photographers I looked into in regards to work/jobs:
Rineke Dijkstra is a Dutch photographer based in Amsterdam. She concentrates on photographing single portraits within a series usually based around a category or a specific set of people. She has looked at groups of people such as soldiers, adolescents, clubbers, and also people on the beach, creating a typology/theme with this. Her subjects are standing in the centre of the image and facing towards the camera, with a full length portrait taken of them against a minimal background, which seems to be her compositional style. I found that I had subconsciously taken my portraits in this style, remembering and channelling her compositional style from her work which I have seen much of over the last year. I found that I took a few different shots and angles of my subjects, but I chose to stick to a full length portrait, showing the backgrounds also. It also reflected to me almost the street-style fashion portraits too which have become increasingly popular on blogs and social media, and now the wider media. I felt like I had started to bring another aspect into my portraits, beginning from a simple black and white documentary image, to now a more modern street portrait. Whilst I liked this style and the produced images, my lecturer Caroline had previously advised me to be more aware of the backgrounds as so not to distract from the portraits. I went back through my photographs and realised she was correct, and that some of my portraits seemed to have some distractions or unnecessary space in the image. The compositional style of the subject linked to Dijkstra, but the minimal background was missing, which I realise is one thing which helps make her subject stand out in her portrait, whereas with mine, sometimes the background could just be a bit distracting away from my subject.
In terms of exhibiting, I found a Rineke Dijkstra exhibition photograph from the Saatchi Gallery, which was displayed in a similar way to how I would like to display my photographs in an exhibition. I would like them to be fairly large prints, so the portraits can be fully appreciated and taken in by the audience, not so much life size, but large. I think it would be quite a minimalist/traditional set-up, quite like this one shown, leaving the portraits to be centre of attention.
So moving forward with my project I have decided to take a more modern approach to my portraits and keep them in colour, hoping to attract more attention to the subjects and highlight that I am highlighting them from society. With the first three photographs I aimed to create some juxtaposition with the words and background (Photo 1 ‘Earn Rewards’, Photo 2 ‘What A Home’, Photo 3 Nominate Your City Heroes’). This was to try to reflect the subjects and the context of the project, in that these subjects are working hard to earn a living in Coventry.
Here are some recent photographs I have taken for my project.
After my midterm assessment it was clear that I needed to make my project more original and contemporary. I got a bit caught up into the August Sander, Irving Penn, Eugene Atget style of portraiture, and was recreating a take on their work but within Coventry. I reflected on the feedback given and used this to help me understand the need to make it more modern and more ‘me’. I realised I needed to make it more relevant to today, and that I needed to make it more original to me and move away from the older style of portraits created by artists as mentioned before. I then decided to reconsider the decision I made to present my images in black and white. Whilst I like the traditional, timeless, classic style of a black and white documentary portrait, and the rawness that it can hold, I feel that the best decision for this project is to have the photos in colour. The reason being, is because I am trying to draw attention to the subjects and the portraits, picking them out from society to highlight – so I feel that if my photographs are vibrant in colour and draw attention then this will work alongside my contextual aim. Also, I feel that I am bringing my photographs and project into a modern and contemporary setting, it should be more relatable and understandable to the viewer, allowing them to get a sense into the lives and trades of Coventry today.
Humans of New York is a photography project by Brandon — which began in the summer of 2010, firstly as an attempt to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers, and plot out their photos on a map. This then developed, and he started to collect quotes and stories to accompany his photographs, which allowed him to create a vibrant blog. It allows us (the viewer) to have a small insight into the personal lives of the different people photographed. It has since become a phenomenon on social media, with over 10 million followers on Facebook, with more on other social media sites. I found the general idea of HONY to be similar to my concept, in the sense that we were both documenting normal people from the streets and society of our cities, and bringing them to the forefront of attention, for different reasons perhaps, but still selecting people within society to acknowledge and take notice of.
I like the sense of truth that we get from the HONY photographs. Each portrait captures a moment in time, a fleeting, quick moment, a short encounter with a person, and thus a short snippet of their lives. Leaving the quote out for the moment, the visuality of the portrait allows us to read context, and piece together the person, by seeing their clothes, their surroundings, any objects, and lastly their face. We can read so much from a persons face, expression, and body language, and this can tell a story in itself. What HONY does is bring another aspect to the portrait, by adding in a quote from the subject, allowing them to share as much or as little as they wish.
Whilst I have considered this approach for my project, I have decided to not go down this path, as I am not too keen on producing a copy of the work. I want to produce something that doesn’t use the exact same format as HONY and also the many other projects which have now surfaced inspired by HONY. There are exact projects like HONY in countless cities and countries across the world now, which all follow the same street-style portrait and quote/caption. I felt I didn’t want to fall prey to the emerging style, and decided to stick to letting the photograph speak for itself in this instance. I like the clues we can read from the photograph, and the stories and thoughts and links that build when analysing a portrait. I did not want the caption to determine the whole view of the subject and overtake the actual atmosphere and effect of viewing the portrait, as I know that context can easily do this. I also didn’t want to be another in the long list of people who do follow this route – it works for some people and projects, and that is good – but for this I just felt like I didn’t want to do the same. It’s also not that it’s a bad thing – a caption can offer and present more information about the context or subject, but I felt I wanted to keep mine simple, and let the subjects portrait speak for itself visually.
Humans of New York – https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork
Humans of Leeds – https://www.facebook.com/humansofleeds
Humans of Chula – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Humans-of-Chula/373080029513950
Humans of Amsterdam – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Humans-of-Amsterdam/406776679369875
Humans of Lahore – https://www.facebook.com/Lahorekeinsaan
After I had a tutorial meeting, I knew that I had to tighten down my idea just a bit more. I have decided to focus on the people who do not necessarily get acknowledged day to day, if at all by some people. I realised I needed to open my eyes to all of the different things that people are doing, and how they are important to those people who are doing the jobs. I wanted to tell the story of someone through a portrait and document and project them out for others to see, someone that maybe they wouldn’t really necessarily take a good look at or try to get to know. I wanted to look for those who maybe get ignored or maybe not as appreciated or recognised, and be the one to document them. Each person has a role which they play in society, but some are not noticed as much as others are. Drawing from my inspiration of the history of my area and the archival information I found on peoples jobs in the past, and also from August Sander and Irving Penn’s work, I have decided to focus on the more hidden or ‘invisible’ professions/jobs in Coventry, trying to document the array of different things that people are doing to earn a living that maybe we wouldn’t necessarily notice or look into their story. It’s not that they are doing a bad job – it is more that they are perhaps not as appreciated or noticed as much within the wider society, and I want to bring attention to them and their place within the society of Coventry City Centre today, documenting their presence within the City at this time.
I have decided to take an honest and straightforward approach and explore the city centre for my subjects. I will ask them if they do not mind participating in this project and explain that I am trying to document the different jobs and professions in Coventry today. I will be going for an approach more along the lines of August Sander, but I will also keep in mind Irving Penn’s work as inspiration. I have been on a first shoot, and found that it was more nerve-wracking to approach people than I originally thought. I did receive some negative responses, but I merely responded with a smile and thanked them anyway for their time. The subjects who did accept taking part posed for me whilst being currently at work and I highly appreciate their co-operation and participation.
Another artist I have been inspired by whilst working on this project is Irving Penn. Irving Penn created a series of work between 1950-1951, when he was 33 years old, called Small Trades. This set of work was a portrait series taken in Paris to begin with, and then later encompassing a wider number of subjects from London and New York. It has a similar format throughout, taken in a studio with a neutral backdrop and natural light – with a similar full frontal portrait and pose of all of the subjects, no matter their trade. They subjects are represented by their work clothes, and also markers/symbols representing their occupations. Again, like Sander, Penn’s compositions are organised like a typology, presenting order and simplicity, typical of his cool minimalism style. The sitter stands in representing a group of people, and were brought up 6 floors to Penn’s studio, in an attempt to bring modern-life to the pages of Vogue. Penn was concerned that these trades would fade away, and so he wanted to document them and the people through his portraits, and bring this through into the fashion world of Vogue.
(Photograph by Irving Penn – Cartier Messenger Paris)
I really liked the photographs taken by Penn, and there is a whole array of different professions reflected, taken in 3 different cities. These are somewhat different to August Sander’s photographs, as they tended to have a context coming through via the background, as they were taken outdoors on the streets of Germany. Penn, however, was inspired by the Parisian streets, and brought that into the studio. This doesn’t, however, deter from documenting the person and representing them and their trade, but just portrays it in a different way I think. They all seem to carry or have something that is a token of their trade or symbol of their profession, similar to Sander’s work, adding an extra sense of context into who the person is and what they do to earn a living. They are all so wonderfully different and interesting, and I love the story that each one tells of the person. He brings a more commercial and fashion-inspired take on the subject, but in a way I find that this is allowing him to project this into a wider audience from via his publishing in Vogue.
(Photographs by Irving Penn – House Painter, London & Train Sandwich Vendor, New York)
I considered this same approach to my photographs, and I was very interested in possibly bringing my subjects into the studio to create their portrait and document their stories – however, I felt that this may not be realistically possible given the time-frame for the project, as I had to consider my schedule, their schedule, and also studio booking times. If I had more time to pursue this I think I would have experimented with my approach and seen if the studio would have been the best setting for my portraits, however, I just did not feel comfortable as I also knew that finding my subjects who would be comfortable enough to come into the studio and take part in this project could be difficult. Bringing somebody into a new environment can be daunting, and especially if you are in front of a camera you can feel quite vulnerable. Whereas being in your own comfortable working environment, which you are used to, and is almost a safe haven as such in comparison may allow me to find more subjects who are comfortable with me taking their portrait and documenting them.
Photographs from – http://www.hamiltonsgallery.com/artists/27-Irving-Penn/series/small-trades/
A short film about the work on NY Times Website – http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/10/11/weekinreview/20091011_PENN_SS/
I was able to understand a lot more about research and delving more into a place, and thinking about the surroundings more perhaps than I usually do. I felt like maybe a place has so much more history and stories within it than we realise, and from finding old photographs of my map area I realised how true this was. I would never have thought or imagined about what was happening in that area years and years ago, and how interesting and extensive the history is, whether it is available or not in archives or books. It intrigued me to think more about spaces and places, and also the people who maybe once dwelled there or visited there, or created memories there. Each person had an impact on that space and that space an impact on them. It was interesting to see how much physically an area/place had changed, such as on my map, but also the purposes of the buildings and places within them, and also the inhabitants.
I decided to see if I could find out more about the history of my area, and came across an old archive – Index to “The History of Warwickshire” by William West (1830)(1). It is an online collection/archive of names and the jobs and what I understood to be their workplace addresses. I decided to go through each letter’s surnames, and filter through the many hundreds of people, to see who had been in my area many many years ago, and what they had been doing there. It was interesting to see the different array of jobs and trades and careers that people had then, and how many of them had died out or nearly faded away as a whole completely in Coventry. I compiled a list of the people who had worked in the area of Bull Yard and Hertford St within that time, and was interested to see exactly what was happening around the area then.
|ALLDAY, Henry||Butcher, Hertford St, Coventry|
|ARMSTRONG, Samuel Dyke||Librarian, Hertford St, Coventry|
|AYSCOUGH, Wm.||Ribbon maker, Hertford St, Coventry|
|AYTON, Jno.||Protector Ins, Office, Hertford St,Coventry|
|AYTON, John||Bookseller, Hertford St, Coventry|
|BAINARD, Elz.||Dealer in groceries, Hertford St, Coventry|
|BARTON, Wm. Ashton||Surgeon, Hertford St, Coventry|
|BOOTH, Riachrd sen||Builder etc, Hertford St, Coventry|
|BOOTH, Richard jun||Appraiser & auctioneer,Hertford St,Coventry|
|BUTTERWORTH, Benj.||Ribbon maker, Hertford St, Coventry|
|CASH, Joseph, Josiah & N||Stuff merchants, Hertford St, Coventry|
|CLARKE, Geo.||Boot & shoe Maker, Hertford St, Coventry|
|DUMELOW, Misses||Milliners etc,Hertford St, Coventry|
|FRANKLINS, Misses||Ladies’ Seminary, Hertford St, Coventry|
|GRIMES, Jno.||Plasterer & colourer, Hertford St, Coventry|
|HAWKES, W.||Ribbon maker, Hertford st, Coventry|
|HULM, Mrs.||Confectioner, Hertford St, Coventry|
|JARVIS, Abijah||Ribbon maker, Hertford st, Coventry|
|JARVIS, Wm.||Ribbon maker, Hertford st, Coventry|
|KILHAM, Martha||Haberdasher, Hertford st, Coventry|
|MARGETTS, Wm. Bryan||Auctioneer etc, Hertford st, Coventry|
|MAYO, M.||Milliner dressmaker, Hertford st, Coventry|
|MAYO. John||Watchmaker, Hertford St, Coventry|
|MERRIDEW, Thomas Howell||Silk merchant, Hertford St, Coventry|
|PALIN, Maria||Milliner, Hertford St, Coventry|
|PALMER, Edw.||Auctioneer etc, Hertford St, Coventry|
|SLOANE & BARNS||Ribbon makers, Hertford St, Coventry|
|SLOANE, Sarah||Shopkeeper, Hertford St, Coventry|
|TWAITES, Jas.||Ribbon maker, Bull yard, Coventry|
|WAGSTAFFE, Mrs. J.||Ladies’ school, Hertford St, Coventry|
|WALKER, Wm.||Victualler. Hertford St, Coventry|
|WARING, Wm.||Maltster, Hertford St, Coventry|
|WATSON, Henry||Brush maker, Hertforsd St, Coventry|
|WHITEHEAD, Chas.||Bookbinder, Hertford St, Coventry|
|WILSON, Jno.||Coal merchant, Hertford St, Coventry|
|WILSON, John||Globe Ins Office, Hertford St, Coventry|
It was so interesting to find all of the different things that people were doing, and I wondered who these people were and what their stories were, whether they enjoyed their job, found it hard, and some people had even kept it as family businesses. I found I wanted to look more into the jobs that people in Coventry are doing today, looking at more specifically things that are different to what maybe people feel are the ‘normal’ job. Each job has its place in society and works to move within the cogs of society, making it the functioning machine that it is today. I felt that maybe people don’t pay enough attention to certain jobs, and then also the people doing those jobs. I want to tell the stories of the different people within the society in Coventry today, similar to how August Sander did in his hometown in Germany, documenting some of the different trades/careers/jobs/professions I can find in the city centre today.