Self-Portraits

Cindy Sherman's "Untitled Film Still 54"

I love Cindy Sherman’s self portraits. I love how she becomes someone else in them.

Self-portraits are something that I’ve taken a lot of. I’ve taken the requisite photos in a bathroom mirror, but I’ve also taken more artistic self-portraits.  The more I take them, the more I enjoy it. It’s quite a process to set up a photo and get everything just right in one shot. I can really appreciate how much work went into the shots that Cindy Sherman came up with. I can also appreciate the amount of precision that was necessary when using film. With digital, if I mess up, I can see it, adjust, then reshoot.

Part of the reason I enjoy doing self-portraits so much is because it means that I don’t have to find a model or direct them. I’m incredibly shy and don’t always know how to ask someone to model for me or how to direct them. Sometimes I find it difficult to communicate what exactly it is I have in my head. I like the time I spent by myself working on getting a photo just right. I just like being by myself, I guess, figuring things out and making myself look different. I like being my own subject because I know me, I know my angles, I know and am comfortable with my body and the way I photograph it.

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Alexandra Boulat

Prayer at the Women's Theological School of Mashad.

Women's day at Mazar-e-Sharif Hazrat Ali Shrine.

At Tehran bus station, Afghan refugees and immigrants writing their names on a tent set up for people returning to Afghanistan.

Athena, a 20 year old transsexual in Iran.

Pakistani women pray during an anti-American demonstration in Quetta.

Pakistani heroin addicts under a bridge in Quetta.

Documentary refers to the process of documentation. It is supposed to be the truth, “factually accurate and contain no fictional elements” (Random House 2011). Factual accuracy is only one part of documentation. There must be some pertinent information to be documented, otherwise, there is no point in documenting it at all. Thus, documentary photography refers to documenting something historically or socially important in such a way as to be truthful, accurate, and as objective as possible (Wikipedia). The photos are usually candid and contain people. They can depict important historical events, such as protests and rallies. However, documentary photography can be used to document social phenomenon such as poverty, sexuality, religion, or the lives of women and other people who live on the fringe of society.

Alexandra Boulat used photography to document conflict. In the latter part of her life, Boulat focused on the conflicts and people of the Middle East. Women figure prominently in her work. Her women are strong and independent. She has an entire collection dedicated to the women of Gaza on the front lines. These are photos of the families of women who became suicide bombers in Gaza, women who stood in defiance of Israeli tanks, and other women affected by the violence in Gaza. The women who defied Israeli tanks to free Palestinian fighters stand in a room with patches missing in the wall, their faces are strong, with their gazes staring directly out of the photo. Two of the women who marched in defiance were killed when the Israeli army opened fire as they entered the town. Boulat is also able to successfully capture the community within Middle Eastern women. Women sit together, laughing with one another in more than one photo.

However, many of the women in Boulat’s photographs from the Middle East appear strong and independent, she also portrays how isolated women in the Middle East are from men. There is a photo of women in prayer at the Women’s Theological School of Mashad, all wearing full niqab or burkas as a man leads prayer. I, however, am quite wary of this photo. I find it incredibly unusual from my studies of Islam that a man would be leading prayer for a group of women, even more so at a school for women. Most often, the most knowledgeable or pious woman in the group would be chosen to lead prayer. The whole point in doing this is so that women can be comfortable around one another, and are able to remove their niqab, burka or hijab.

While women may constitute a large portion of the “fringe” population in the Middle East, Boulat does not neglect other fringe populations in what are largely conservative societies. Boulat photographed transsexuals in Iran, an incredibly religious and conservative theocracy. Her portrait of Athena, a transgendered woman, is honest. She sits in the centre, staring out at you. Her expression is strong and confident, yet, you cannot help but read some sadness into her expression. It’s honest and profound. Boulat also has many photos of Afghan refugees who fled to Iran and Pakistan during the Taliban regime. One image that is particularly striking is two Afghan women writing on the walls of a tent while they wait for a bus to return to Afghanistan. On the wall is written “I hate you Iran.”

Alexandra Boulat worked by embedding herself with the people she was photographing, allowing her subjects to get comfortable with her and get photos that she may otherwise not have gotten. As a woman, she was allowed access to Middle Eastern Muslim women that a male photographer would not have gotten. As a woman, Boulat would be allowed to enter the women-only areas of the mosque, as well as enter the homes of women. However, she would also be denied access to other parts of Middle Eastern society, because she was a woman. This may also be why her photos from the Middle East focus so strongly on women, because she would be denied access to men.

Boulat is able to capture the essence of her subjects. Her ability to capture emotion is profound as she photographs her subjects in their natural environment. Her portraits are honest. It is difficult to discern how objective anything really is. I feel as though Boulat is not altering her images or the situations in which she is present. However, I’m unsure about why she chooses to shoot what she shoots. As a westerner in another society, she may be showing us what it is we want to see.

Regardless, I really enjoy Boulat’s work. I like how she seems to be uninvolved in the lives of her subjects. She’s a fly on the wall, and this is my favourite type of photography. I got into photography with the intention of getting involved in photojournalism. I love being able to capture people in their natural environments, without them noticing me. I love being a fly on the wall. That’s when you get people to really reveal who they are in a photograph, when they don’t know they’re being photographed. This is my favourite way to work, and the way I hope to be able to work in the future.

If I were going to do my own documentary project, I would be interested in documenting people with anxiety disorders, as well as all the different ways people cope with the stress of every day life. I find all of the little things that people do to cope with things incredibly interesting, from daily rituals to self-destructive behaviour like alcoholism, drug addiction and obsessive compulsive behaviours.

VII Agency
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VII_Photo_Agency

Alexandra Boulat, Biography http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Boulat

Alexandra Boulat, Obituary http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/06/arts/06boulat.html?_r=2&ref=obituaries&oref=slogin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_photography

Street Photography

All of these photos are by Markus Hartel. I really enjoy the way he captures the street, especially with his double exposure photos. The double exposed photos seem chaotic, the way the street is. I love street photography because it’s photographing just as you see it. It has a grit and an almost dirty feeling to it at times, but it can also be glossy, the way some of Hartel’s photos are. There are also the most interesting characters on the street.

I enjoy documentary photography the most because it’s supposed to be the truth. I like photos that are unaltered, unedited, unphotoshopped. I got into photography under the guise of going into photojournalism. Street photography was really how I got started. I started taking photos while I was out, things that caught my interest, strangers that didn’t know I was there (even if that’s creepy). The best photos are the ones people don’t know you’re taking.

Window Light

Steve McMurry's photo of an Afghan girl

Jennifer Williams' boudoir photo

Jennifer Williams boudoir photo

Jennifer Williams' boudoir photo

Renaissance Studios wedding photography

Renaissance Studios wedding photography

Renaissance Studios wedding photography

This is the main source of inspiration for this assignment. The girls expression and her eyes are so prominent. I really wanted to focus on catching the eyes. I borrowed elements from Jennifer Williams’ boudoir photography, namely the shallow focus and the make up from one of the models, to bring more focus on the eyes, as I lack the same bright green eyes as the Afghan girl. I curled up in a blanket on my bed and wrapped up so that most of my face was covered and my eyes were prominent. It was difficult because the autofocus on my camera wasn’t working. I had to focus it to a point and then try to put myself in the same position every time. Some shots were more successful than others.

What I love about the other window light photos is the way the light fades off so softly, with a bright high light where the subject is close to the light. I love that bright highlight and then soft falling off of light in many of the others. In the silhouette, there is that bright highlight, and then the light falls of sharply. I tried to duplicate that as I was losing light. The highlight is not as bright as I would have liked.

I would certainly use the window again. It’s the biggest inside my house. However, I would probably try and shoot earlier in the day, as I was losing light. I might also try shooting in my bathroom, which has a high north-facing window and I love the light inside that room.

Jesus Rock

Derelict

Filtered Light