In this blog post I wanted to explore how photographers work on a project. As part of the OCA courses, the assignments give students the opportunity to present a series of images in response to a brief. The brief will provide some guidance on the work to be produced, but ultimately the student is encouraged to develop a series of images to be viewed together.
The idea of producing a set or series of images is one that many photographers, not just students struggle with. However it is the key to finding your personal voice and articulating your own style within your photographic images.
Too often we reject project ideas for being too mundane and not exciting enough. We think we need grand scenery or exotic locations to get the viewer (or ourselves) interested. How often have tutors heard this response from a student – “I am going on holiday soon and will take the assignment images whilst I am away.”
Travel gives us all a good opportunity to take photographs and we can hone many skills but it is rarely the best plan for assignments. These assignments are where a development in the process of image making is essential to refine, investigate and explore ideas and photographic styles.
So what do you photograph ….
During February images by photographer Nick Turpin really stood out on my Instagram feed. They are from his project ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. Nick Turpin describes the project as follows:
“These pictures of London Bus passengers in the winter months were made at night from a raised platform with a long lens hand held at 1/40th second, on the limits of what modern camera sensors can record.”
Sometimes reading a description of a project does not do it justice. The photographs are of bus passengers taken during winter nights. Nick is shooting in conditions that most of us would avoid, with many of us preferring to wait for warner and sunny daylight hours.
But it is these shooting conditions that have created the wonderful luminescent to the images. The condensation on the windows creates a textured layer, through which the viewer is drawn.
Some of the subjects are semi visible, masked by condensation or clothing. They are anonymous and hidden in their own private commuting world.
In other images, the viewer has a more direct connection with the subjects. The rich twilight colour of the sky allowing for bright colours to stand out.
In total there are 42 images as part of the current series which was shot over a four year period. Nick discussed the development of the project,
“The Through A Glass Darkly idea produced pleasing results right from the start and as time went on I fine tuned the idea, shooting closer to get rid of the window frames and making the pictures increasingly more intimate. This year I invested in a 300mm lens simply to continue to develop this project with tighter portraits. Also as you shoot pictures emerge that show you possible avenues, I noticed that some images referenced nicely fine art paintings of the past such as Picasso Blue Period paintings, I then started to look out for those connections.”
It is clear to me, that it is only with time that the project has been refined. The lengthy time period has allowed for the research connections to be made. This research in turn feeds back into the project.
“I think now the hard part will be knowing when the project is finished. I won’t miss shooting in the dark, cold and wet.”
As students you may not have four years to develop each assignment. However with planning and pacing of workload, time can be allowed to complete work.
Whatever stage you are at with your photographic work, it is worth starting an idea book – could be a separate part of your learning log, a note taking app on smart phone/tablet or a small sketchbook. The format doesn’t matter but it needs to be something that you can log ideas in, don’t reject anything.
This idea book can be dipped in out of as you complete your studies. You may find that later on in your studies you come back to early ideas with a different perspective.
As ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ shows us, the most everyday part of our lives can be transformed into a sustained photographic project
With kind thanks to Nick Turpin for use of his images and words.
View his work at: