This project started out as a want to create cinematic images that conveyed a sense of drama and tension through, lighting of sets and not through the physicality of the emotion being present.
Taking the inspiration from a range of Cinematographers, Geoffrey Simpson, Fabio Cianchetti and John de Borman, I set out with the aim to harness my own cinematic stills using the quality of the films and music videos that have stimulated and shaped me, today, as a photographer.
The idea then came to merge this purely aesthetic idea with that of a topic particularly poignant to myself.
The interest in relationships within a family unit, how they develop as the people grow and the diverse range of emotions that families can inflict upon each other has always had a pull and relevance to me.
To re-create family photos into stills that reflect relationships now, was the main goal at the start of the project, and initially, I wanted to be as accurate as possible with to the original photographs, using only subtle hints at change, through things like the composition of the sitters and of course lighting.
Larry Sultan is one photographer, who achieves this beautifully, in his series pictures from home and Philip Lorca diCorcia another; who, through his style of lighting, gains an air of tension and emotion without any physical strain present.
“As soon as the meaning of an image becomes transmittable, this meaning is liable to become manipulated and transformed.”
A lot of obstacles appeared in the various stages of the project, creating the images again, in relation to setting, props used and angles, were always going to be a problem as we no longer live in the same house we did when the images were taken.
In looking at the work of the of the cinematographers mentioned, I researched the first part of making the images into possible film stills was the crop.
I wanted the images to mirror the panoramic 16:9 crop from the movies I took inspiration from.
I had experimented with this in a previous brief and the 16:9 edit gave great length to the image, allowing the subject to breathe with the short width giving an inclusive feel for the viewer, this helped lead me in the right direction and confidence in the tone created by using such a crop.
This was the first hurdle, finding locations that offered clean and wide angles.
“They were more like a record of hope and fantasies than of actual events”.
I had wanted to keep everything on location and as authentic as possible or as near to the home environment as I could, but there were always control issues. Unusual ceiling heights, room shapes and odd surfaces were the main things I had to battle with. It then became more apparent that I wasn’t really interested in re-creating the surroundings but more that I just wanted a clean environment in which to control every aspect of the image in order to portray the most accurate mood.
I did a test shot in the studio for lighting and of course angle, and this proved to be the most beneficial way to conduct the project. I had my clean lines and control, but as with many things something had to give and still the angle was just not as wide as I would like, and was really something I wished to keep.
However, moving the shoot to the studio did mean a more successful way of working, but the issues of transporting and creating a home environment within the college was a lot more work in terms of the planning, more so than just being in a home location.
To combat any potential pit-falls of the project a run through was done with props only, this was done to layout markers of where the lights and camera would sit from shot to shot. This helped greatly to maintain a linear value to the shots and reduce the post-production time of the project. This type of work on the images, although previously outlined in the plan, wasn’t of interest to me at all and I aimed to do as much work on camera to avoid this.
The run through I actually gave an interesting turn for the project, I felt the look of the set without people, gave everything a nostalgic uneasy feel to it, which really took the project to where it is now.
I took the view that, I will never be able to re-create 5 year old India again, because that isn’t me now, and even me now will change from day to day. The things I could control and that still gave me the sense of change, progression, loss, gain are the material things around me that stir up emotions of the past and still give inspiration to the future.
“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it”
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860
To help ground the images together under one setting, I chose to use the same materials in the basic layout of the sets, a family antique Turkish rug and one back drop, painted using a palette reminiscent of that from films such as “an education”, “the piano” and “sleeping beauty”.
The set designers from these movies used minimal, dulcet tones from a traditional era to add depth to the stories, these colours also helped to re-enforce the air of nostalgia and dark dream like effect.
“The single most important thing to remember when devising a colour scheme is that colour appears to change, depending on what other colours are seen around it.”
Martin Ephson, director Farrow & Ball
When choosing the props, for each set I did so with these aspects in mind. I looked at the colours, texture and obviously connection the objects may have to each frame, this was another task which took a lot of prior planning because of the logistics of moving things to the college, getting it right first time was imperative.
The capture method for the project was originally planned as using the Canon 5D with a 17-44mm lens, which would have given me as close to a panoramic perspective as possible.
The full frame of the Canon 5D, would have given me a good enough amount of detail for the large prints, and practicality of using it on location.
However now the project was running from the studio, I could choose to make full use of the Hassleblad and it’s 20MB sensor, with a 80mm lens providing sufficient space for each image.
The more superior sensor proved to give such greater depth and sharpness, allowing me to create the images with the knowledge that they could be given real presence and feeling of participation, without loss of detail.
This was only available to use within the college grounds, and was in much higher demand this year than in previous, so had I to be well organised in every shoot and make every use count.
This was a new medium for me, I had never worked tethered to a computer in order to capture, and the focus ring of the Hassleblad took a while to get used to.
There are still parts of the camera that I have not got fully to grips with mostly the focus, however I feel confident enough that when time is tight with certain projects, where I would like to get similar quality to the like of a 5x4 film camera, I will be more than happy to make full use of the great results from a digital equivalent.
“Words you notice consciously, music is subtler, it can work almost without you noticing it…music and rhythm change the significance of a picture.”
So the main influence in the development of the mood of my images had always been from looking at the “moving image”. Cinemas ability to combine visual beauty with emotional awareness is always enhanced by the introduction of sounds and music, to help tell the story.
Music videos are great for this they take a soundtrack of roughly three minuets and produce enough information for the viewer to become engaged with, but leave out enough for them to be involved in their own creation of feelings about the subject.
The audio aspect of the project is something that I have wanted to try for a while and at the start of the project I had already experimented with sounds and music to create relevant stories to go strengthen certain images.
I used very standard means of doing so; I wanted the sounds to stay quite raw and didn’t go into as much detail with the production of them as I had first laid out in my plan.
I used my surroundings as the source of my soundtrack for the images I produced, anything from dripping taps to opening cupboards, telephone messages and a neighbours piano.
The piano played backwards the piano and gave the perfect melody for the sounds to sit on, and to resonate the connection to a sense of re-enactment I played it backwards and it really worked well.
My reasoning for the adding of sounds was to allow people an audio experience when viewing the images, a whole encounter they could connect with again on another level.
With my perfect gallery space to showcase this being in the Turbine hall at Tate Modern, I think it would have been a great success, even the echo from the vast space would have added its own dimension to the experience.
“Nothing that is complete breathes”
Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943
Like most projects I have undertaken within the last couple of years, I always take on quite a lot, but every year theses projects make me learn more about the craft of photography. In pushing myself, I push my skills further each time, working this way gives me great sense of achievement when I’m learning a new skill that will help me in the future. As all perfectionists do, however, I’m never completely happy with the outcome as it stands.
The prints that I have submitted are not what I would like to see, there are aspects of them that are a bit soft, where they should be defined, the colouring is slightly too muted than were in camera and I only managed to create 3 images, where there is definitely scope for more.
I realise now that I have a series of incomplete images that can always be developed further, given a greater time frame I would continue it.
I do believe this is good thing, and with mistakes can only come confidence in the next. I’d rather know that I have more of the same experiences of growth in photography than to be faced with a wall.
The area that I am getting to be quite proud of more so thanks to this project has to be my lighting skills, they are really becoming the part of photography I like to play around with most, and whenever possible now I try and use studio lighting in any area of my work just to experiment. This is something I would usually have steered clear of before, and felt quite overwhelmed with but I really love the lighting in this project it’s exactly what I wanted.
The pressure of creating new environments, which the viewer can experience, is always a rewarding task, I can only hope that this comes across in my images and I can’t wait until the next.