This semester I wanted to start work on much more deliberate, composed subjects. Most of my photographs, for the last 50 years or more, have been just what I happen to have seen. Now I want to create work that shows my intent, leveraging my skills. My subject is inequality both economic (wealth, income inequality) and social (ethnic and sexual inequality). The first scenario I came up with was to have a capitalist (think of the Monopoly Man) at the top of a seesaw, held there by the labor of proletarians at the other end. The shoot was a couple of days ago.
Needless to say, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I had asked classmates to join as my models and many agreed. However, the day of the shoot our all-day workshop was cancelled due to teacher absence so I had to reschedule since many people were not on campus. I had planned to shoot with the Pentax 645 film camera as well as the Fuji digital. For lighting I planned to use 2 flashes on light stands, triggered independently by transmitters on the cameras, the Pentax tripod mounted. In the end, I couldn’t get the extra flash I needed for the Pentax. I tested the trigger for the Fuji at home the night before but on the day nothing I did would get it to work, so I wound up shooting with the flash on the camera. We started the shoot around 5:00 pm as I wanted it to be somewhat gloomy and the sky cooperated, however it was quite chilly, which was rough on the models (and my hands) and the ground was quite muddy, limiting what I was prepared to ask them to do. Here are a few images from the shoot and notes from my journal on what could be better (click any image to see them all enlarged).
- Lighting. Obviously, not getting any of the flashes or triggers to work is a big problem but more significantly I need a much better understanding and control of how the light is falling. In the shots above I’ve had to reduce the highlights on the faces significantly and introduce a diagonal linear gradient for the bottom right of most of the images to reduce excessive light on the grass and mud in the foreground. There is also the problem of the shadow under the seesaw and in a few other places, suggesting the need for some reflective fill.
- Costume – compared with, say, Karen Knorr’s Gentlemen and Belgravia, this looks childish and amateurish. I’ve used unsubtle masks to darken the Capitalist’s red sneakers to black (in some of the images) but it’s either obviously blackened or the white trainer laces are showing. Really need to think about the capitalist attire as well as the proletarian attire.
- Models – Again, using Karen Knorr’s work as a model, I should use professional models in appropriate attire. Need to think about how the models can represent the ethnic/sex aspects of inequality, too. I can probably still use students, but I’ll need to wait for finer weather and really choose models and attire carefully and deliberately in advance to meet the picture requirements.
- Composition – Lots of problems here. The seesaw isn’t long enough for the height difference needed to dramatise inequality, so the idea doesn’t come across. So, either the concept doesn’t work at all, or I need a much longer, higher seesaw, which will introduce another set of compositional problems. The angle of the shot might need to be entirely different, looking up at the capitalist from behind/beneath the proletarians, for example, or looking down from his end. There’s not enough room at the low end of the seesaw for all the people I want, so they’re spread out, again weakening the gap between the 2 ends. The muddiness also meant I couldn’t really ask my classmates to get down as low as I might have liked.
- So, a disappointing outcome but a lot of learning…