Assignment 5: Applying the Techniques of Illustration and Narrative

I now come to produce my final assignment for the Art of Photography course; it is with some trepidation that I find myself here. Close to the finish I hope to produce a final assignment that caps off what I have seen as a year of constant growth and improvement in both photography technically and also as an artist. This final assignment, as with the others has called on me to produce a selection of images, this time in the format of a magazine using the skills I have learnt not only in this final part of the course but also the Art of Photography as a whole.

Social documentary photography is the genre and style of photography I will be working within for this assignment, as I will be photographing humans as there natural selves within their community. Commonly considered to be the art of photographing the less fortunate and poverty stricken population’s social documentary looks at humans from any walk of life. Photographing and recording them, the photographer and the viewer builds an understanding about what they have seen before them. A highly emotive style of photography, it often pulls the heart strings to further connect the viewer to the subject while the process often looks at the connection of the human subjects and the environment that they are in. Social documentary photography deals with reality, revealing and making permanent every aspect of human nature [1]. The characteristics of social documentary photography is often focused on the poor, looking at elements of society that are shameful, for example child labour, impoverished children and elderly, child neglect, and the adult industry. This style of photography is synonymous with the works of Lewis Hine, Henri Cartier-Bresson and the VII Photo Agency all of which have mastered and continued to evolve the work of social documentary photography through there respected era. I have always been attracted to the work of the great documentary photographers, Cartier-Bresson, Luc Delahaye and Martin Parr, photographers each who have captivated me with their work be it emotionally, contextually or with studium and punctum [2]; acting to grab and seize the attention of the spectator as with will social documentary. I have found it far more impressive and therefore harder to create an image that captures an unrepeatable and tireless moment as opposed to something mundane, although there is the appeal in this when considering the New Topographic movement to some extent. In regards to this assignment I want to use social documentary to capture a number of specific moments that emits studium to effectively display the narrative.

“You must feel an affinity for what you are photographing. You must be a part of it, and yet, remain sufficiently detached to see it objectively. Like watching a play from the audience you already know by heart”

George Rodger – British Photojournalist [3]

For this assignment I have chosen to photograph the annual religious Vaisakhi Festival that is celebrated within the Sikh community. It is to commemorate the establishment of the Khalsa, which is the collective body of all initiated Sikh’s. In other faiths like Buddhism and Hinduism it is celebrated as the start of the year or as a harvest festival. In Southampton we have a relatively large Sikh community culminating around the central temple. It was from here that the parade starts taking in various smaller temples before arriving at the city centre. Along the route there will be Seva, a selfless act that is considered customary to all who attend and comes in the form of food and drink along the route. This extremely colourful festival will consist of members of the local religious elders, flag bearers, swordsmen and drummers, while there will also be demonstrations of sword training and dancing at different stops throughout the day. Overall, the festival is a very colourful and joyful event, it sees the culmination of the entire community joining together with offerings and receiving blessings.

With the requirements that this was to be a magazine publication, I set about looking for a .PSD file template to help me to produce an authentic magazine feel, however due to the lack of finding one available to use I opted on using the brilliant Pages (Apples equivalent to Microsoft Word) to create the magazine. I used a newsletter template that in my opinion represented the best style for a magazine with a focus on the photographs rather than space for text. I felt although I wouldn’t be looking at the body of text myself that it would be important to convincingly leave the space for it to be although I have captioned the photographs using what I feel to be simple yet informative and flowing sentences. I have also taken consideration into the typeface, the strong bold text acts to stand out offering a caption to the images where by the smaller text is also captions for the photographs but in this case is more suitably placed where there is lack of space. I have used an orange text as I feel it was a strong and majority colour that represents the photographs and also the Sikh religion thus drawing both elements of the page closer together on the page. As with the typeface I have aimed to give the pages a uniformed feel, working to borders and spacing that is apparent on each page while also using different layouts throughout. This gives an overall professional feel to the publication that maintains an element of sophistication and thought as opposed to edge to edge photographs and over the image captions, this gives the focus onto the photographs that one would expect from a professional photography journal.

I have produced the finished magazine piece as a PDF document available in the link below.

Vaisakhi Festival Magazine – Chris Payne

Overall I have included 12 images that I feel perfectly represent the overall atmosphere, jubilation, colour and commotion. When I was there photographing I had the mindset of looking at telling a story, using what I had in front of me I wanted to focus on the human element as is the case with social documentary photography. I endeavoured to place myself in positions that gave me the opportunities to produce images that spoke of the day, captured the viewer with colour and punctum while also led them through the feeling one would feel amongst the celebrations. In my mind I was simply trying capture what I saw with my camera, nothing more or less, I wanted to show the warmth and hospitality of the Sikh community, the vibrancy and party atmosphere that was consistent throughout the day and also the immensity of people and colour.

The selection of images shows the results of a very difficult process of selecting the final twelve, with a selection of many possible others that will be shown further down in the assignment. I aimed to maintain a balanced view when it came to selecting the final images, I wanted to maintain the brief that I set out for myself while also having a selection of images depicting various elements to the day. I therefore broke the images down into groups, consisting of ‘Overall’, ‘Parade’, ‘Spectators’, and ‘Portraits’. I felt these headers separated the images evenly allowing me to show a spectrum using a selection of each. It wasn’t until I had three of each selected, that I felt it remained unbalanced with further images in some of the headers not included that I felt should be, I then looked at the photographs that showed an overall, group shot style photograph, deciding only one of these was required as further images maintained a sense of that throughout the assignment choices. This allowed further room to include images that aided the brief and provided further interest. Once I had selected the final 12 images I continued to adjust them within a sequence, looking at the balance and flow, I tried to keep this true to the brief as possible, aiming to show the emotions and community continuously throughout while also building up to the main religious element of the festival, to receive the blessing. A photographer might create a set of images to convey an overall sense of the work with individual photographs working to convey quite specific aspects of the overall narrative. [4] This thought process and sense of practise is certainly a perfect way to explain how I felt when it came to producing the final piece. The images are not to be considered individually (although each has to maintain an individual quality and focus) rather in this case as part of a narrative and group of photographs the balance, flow and overall appearance of the photographs are considered as a group and it is only as group can they be fully understood and appreciated in regards to the brief set out not only in the course guides but the one set out by myself.

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One

This first image shows an overview of the community congregated at the beginning of the procession outside of the Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Southampton. The weather on the day was obviously very sunny and bright giving a warm feeling to the images that is complimented with the use of orange throughout the photograph and precession in general. I like the composition for this initial photograph; I feel it gives an effective overview that shows the people, the event, and the temple in perfect context. The line of people tightly against the road side is an interesting element that draws the viewers eye along the image. I would like to have been able to give the image more space along the top of the frame and also the left, this giving the temple and the precession float a more pleasing position within the photograph.

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Two

This next image shows the Sikh flag bearers that form part of the precession. Their bright outfits of contrasting blue and orange, with yellow separating them are very eye catching and interesting. The textures are captured well, along with the exposure in general being very pleasing on the subjects face, as the depth of field reseeds there is focus more on the colours and shapes than the individuals. This was not only to produce an interesting image with depth, it was also to emphasise the colours by drawing the viewer from the individuals faces and focusing on the colours worn and there contrasting relationship that pull the eye. I would have liked to of been able to have the furthest away persons hands within the frame nether-the less on balance to that I feel that it may have taken away the shadowed area on the right of the frame, which I feel adds to the depth and texture of the image is a very strong element.

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Three

This half body portrait captures a religious elder who was at the forefront of the precession leading the swordsmen. The rather muted colours are complimented well with the brightness of the orange turban that takes the eye both leading the viewer to the subjects eyes that are looking directly at the camera. His rather subdued and blank expression do not do his eyes justice which to me give the impression of duty and service that he has to the precession and the community as a whole. I love the light on the subject, the edge light running along the left of the frame gives the subject depth and form that draws further attention and gravitas to him. I also like the texture and detail maintained in the beard, this works well against the smooth textures of his vest, shirt, and turban that draws the eye. However I feel the image could be improved if the elements in the background were removed leaving just the street and building as they do draw the eye slightly and the small section of a person the left spoils the form of the subject.

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Four

In this fourth image I am looking at the procession itself and the front line of it. These four young drummers maintained a beat throughout the 3 hour parade. I like the photographs composition, the line drawn across and into the frame along the drummers maintains interest while I find I am always being brought back to the subject closest to the camera with his eyes looking sharply to his left. I love the facial expression captured here, the inquisitiveness that something has caught his eye as he maintains the drumming. I feel it adds an element of humour and interest coupled with the bright saturated colours that attract the viewer into the photograph. The three primary colours of red, yellow, and blue are strongly apparent here which gives us a strong element of contrast that with the space around and between them it does not over power the image but rather remains an element within it.

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Five

This image shows the festival at its best, the Seva (selfless act) in this case being the offering of food and beverages along the route. This selfless act that brings the Sikh community and its visitors together is a fundamental element of the festival and the hospitality I experienced was humbling. Prior to this image I took a photograph another Seva further back on the route, I aimed to achieve a similar perspective as I have here, focusing on the table surrounded by people however I was unable to achieve the right angle of view. I then noticed here I had a wall to stand on to gain a better position to be able to capture both the table full of food and the large crown surrounding it as the precession passed by. I like the composition and placement of the table, I think it adds to the relationship between it and the people by leading into the frame giving depth and showing the amount of people around the table. There is a lot going on in the frame which gives the impression on the commotion and atmosphere. However, in this frame I think the composition appears considered and though out. I have used the strong bold orange flags as the focal point, allowing the viewer something to take its attention and explore the frame from.

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Six

I really like this as a photograph, the anticipation and emotion is clear in the subjects face and she is picked out well in the frame with a subtle use of a narrow depth of field. The detail in her clothing is beautiful and gives a lot of it to its workmanship and quality. The overall composition I feel is well balanced, her placement in the frame gives space to move into as its the way she is facing and also that we can see is the side of the road, ready for her to approach to offer the gift of flowers in her hands. The young girl in the foreground may be considered a negative in the image, taking away from the main focal point and although I would agree that I feel the image could be improved with a cleared view of the offering I think we are able to see enough of it and she gives the image a family feel, as she could be eagerly waiting with her mother. I feel this understanding of it gives the viewer a further insight into the festival and its importance to not only the elder people of the community but also to the younger generations.

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Seven

This photograph of a family spectating the festival precession passing them were stood below a beautifully pink blossom tree, what first attracted me to this opportunity was the young girl on the far right of the frame, I liked how the colours matched perfectly drawing the two together. It was as I was moving around the subject that they began to pose for me in a very casual manner, hands together and smiling at the camera they were stood perfectly leading the viewers eye through the image and balanced the photograph well with the tree and subjects in traditional social documentary style photograph looking at both the people and the environment they are in. I also like the dappled light in this frame, it separates those posing and those not and gives a delicate light that emphasises those posing while the precession truck in the background adds depth and interest to the photograph as well as context.

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Eight

This eighth image of the assignment is my favourite, the strong elements of social documentary and street photography make this stand out for me. The composition and placement of all the subjects leads the eye easily throughout the image and always returns the viewer to the women’s face. The balance between races and faiths here represents the demographic of the local area but also the interest shown brings the two together. For me the eye contact between each individual is the punctum, its captivates the viewer and gives us an insight into their conversation, emotion and interest into the festival and what they can see before them, this is supported with the subject in the foreground symmetry with the older woman, this interest draws the viewer in further asking the questions of what they are talking about. I think the overall composition of the photo is successful considering the reaction required to capture the moment as I was not able to take much time at all considering angles and the light, although I feel even the light is on their backs it is lit well with detail and texture throughout that gives further interest and quality to the photograph. Finally I really find the juxtaposition of the elderly women taking a photograph with her iPad to be an interesting and captivating element that compliments the rest of the photograph.

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Nine

This photograph shows the swordsmen of the precession. The five men walked the  route of the parade with swords on their shoulders and daggers in holsters as seen in the focal point second from the right. I love the idea and focal point of this image the repetition spoilt by the one person looking behind himself gives a fun and eye catching focal point. I like the balance of colours in this frame, the backlit subjects give a very subdued orange with soft edge light throughout, especially on the shoulders of each man. I also find the contrast between the orange and blue, especially in the middle gap to catch the eye slightly giving the image more apparent depth and interest although I feel that is spoilt slightly due to the lack of focus further into the frame, especially at the tops of the flags.

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Ten

This image capturing three young boys and their mother sat on a wall watching the parade is one of my favourites of the collection, the soft back lighting creating a beautifully soft edge light that gives each individual depth and form, that is complimented with the fill light that gives each facial expression interest. The child in blue is the main focal point of the frame, I think the composition suits that as does his pose and facial expression, looking over and to the side of the camera we can see he is concentrated on something while the others are looking across the frame at the road in front of them. I think this is a quintessential street/social documentary photograph, showing, in this instance young children in their environment that effectively shows their character similar to a Lewis Hine portrait without the eye contact.

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Eleven

This penultimate photograph and portrait focuses on a single member of the community, his perfectly waxed moustache, bright orange turban and exquisite purple clothing contrast is shown here in very sharp detail that captivates the viewer in this finery and detail. I like the composition of this image the subject is clearly facing and in this case walking across the frame which gives a pleasant balance to the photograph which is aided by the shallow depth of field. This not only focuses our eye on the portrait but also gives it context and balance that effectively keeps the photo within a social documentary feel of a subject within its environment rather than simply showing the subjects character through his appearance.

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Twelve

This final photograph of the collection is both the end piece of the magazine article and the front cover. I feel it encompasses the meaning behind the festival, the connection with God and the importance of belief and the blessing in the Sikh community. Moreover, at the same time maintaining the colour and atmosphere of the day in a more spiritual and personal sense. The composition allows for a sense of anonymity that it could be anyone within the sikh community receiving this blessing. I think the meaning and observational skills behind this image are the good parts about it, it shows what this is all about while maintaining the style of the entire magazine publication. However, I do feel this image could have been improved with a wider depth of field that brought the man into focus more as I felt this would have further impacted on the viewer.

The Photographs that didn’t make it into the final selection are below.

This large selection of seconds gave me many headaches when it came to selecting the final group. There is a fair number of them that I feel warranted a place in the final selection that were just beaten by the story board or another image being similar or just better than them. Images 1 and 2 were both selected to show an overview of the temple and the crowds gathering but I felt that the light was and nicer in the chosen image as was the composition. Personally I really like image 5, its a dynamic composition combing two elements. However, the slight cropping of the child’s foot spoils the balance of the image as the added space would have finished the image off compositionally. Image 10 was a direct competitor to image 4 in the final choice, their obvious connection is the subject matter and composite. However, this one contains the other drummer which completes the colour pattern however I chose the other as I felt the subjects eyes captured the viewer more and gave it a more unique photograph. I really struggled with not including photograph 11 into the final selection I found its inspired and dynamic composition that used the elements available like the shadows, placement of the precession and spectators to create an interesting image that has depth and works perfectly within the frame although I felt it didn’t offer more on brief than other images like eight or seven. Image 16 was also close to be included but I felt that it was far to similar to image two which I felt was stronger due to the portrait included that the viewer would be drawn to. Although I didn’t think it would be strong enough to feature in the final 12 due to its different style I find image 18 to be an interesting and abstract composition that captures the eye.

To accompany the seconds and show further context with what I produced and how I did that I have also included below contact sheets for the entire shoot which also show the images that were used within the selection that was taken at that time.

In conclusion, I feel that I have maintained a strong element of the brief and throughout the assignment I have ensured that the narrative was considered and maintained with the goal of producing a thought-provoking and emotive body of images that capture an event of social importance within a minority and strongly bound community. I endeavoured to show the colour, atmosphere and people of the festival and I feel I have achieved this by showing an overview of both participants and spectators while also looking at the event as a whole and also closer at individual portraits that I feel tell a lot about the community and this festival by there emotion.

I think the overall presentation of the magazine article maintains a professional and considered approach that is represented in the photography which helps them both fit well with each other while the use of the orange within the texts also ties the two together in an effective way, similar to the choice of mounts when producing prints. However I feel this could have been improved with the use of a more professional PSD template that would have allowed for a more photographically geared interface.

I thoroughly enjoyed this assignment, the expanded development process and more thoughtful outcome enabled me to expand further on what I have been producing so far to a more structured end result that enable to consider the work in a professional environment. The subject and style of photography I completed the assignment in is by far my most comfortable as a photographer, although I describe it as comfortable I wouldn’t consider complacency, I passionately love social documentary and street photography in general and have relished this opportunity to produce something within this style.

Overall, I am happy with the work I have produced for this assignment, I feel the brief for both course guide and personal have been met. Although at the beginning of this course I was aware that narrative was an element of photography I was new to, and throughout this course I have slowly gained experience and understanding with it and hope this assignment, although perhaps lacking in the quality of captioning, the images speak for themselves as much as I see in them and they show. I am happy with the depth of quality in the images, from the final 12 for assignment and also the images that didn’t make it into the selection. The choice, thought, and consideration in deciding which images make it into the final selection in this assignment and previous has always been the time where I have felt the development of my personal attitude to my work change, and this assignment was no different. I was impressed with the amount of potential images I managed to capture and felt that each could be used within the assignment but the depth in my thought process and consideration doesn’t just happen on the aesthetics of an image but now deeper, on the collection of images as a whole, their semiotics, and relationships. They effect both the photographs appearance and meaning, this has developed my photography further from where I had started, my considerations when not only planning, clicking the shutter, and editing but stem further than each of those into the day to day mindset building on my experiences and continued development.

[1]http://www.twinisles.com/socdoc.htm

[2] Camera Lucida, Roland Barthe

Further reading on Punctum and Studium at this excellent article by George Powell http://georgepowell.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/studium-and-punctum/

[3] Basics Creative Photography 02: Context and Narrative – Maria Short – Page 19

[4] Basics Creative Photography 02: Context and Narrative – Maria Short – Page 27

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