… you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit. You may choose to explore your identity or masquerade as someone else, or use empty locations or objects to speak of your experiences. However you choose to approach it, use yourself – directly or indirectly – as subject matter.
I emigrated from South Africa to Canada twenty years ago with my husband and two sons. A lot of water has passed under bridge since then, but one was and still is constantly reminded that one is an immigrant, which is rather strange as Canada is land of immigrants. People are labeled as Indo-Canadians, African-Canadians, etc., and I suppose I’m a South African Canadian, even though I no longer have South African citizenship, having given that up when I became naturalized as a Canadian. I work at a university which caters primarily to the international student and have watched students struggling to get over the culture shock of coming to a new country. I decided to investigate the emotional aspects of immigration a little and posed a few questions to the SA Canada Facebook group to which I belong.
- When do you stop being an immigrant and become a “non-immigrant”? For this question I was after their conscious mental switch-over and not the legal route of becoming a Canadian citizen
- When do you begin to identify with your new place of residence?
- When does it become home?
- When do you feel you lose ties with your old homeland?
The responses I received were interesting and varied and I found that I had experienced most of these emotions myself.
Someone told me or I read it recently, unfortunately I cannot remember which, that the self-portrait is like a rite of passage for the photographer. It most certainly feels that way. After having photographed myself quite extensively in Assignment 2, which was also a self-portrait of sorts, I have chosen to go the self-absented portrait route, mixing found objects, body parts and shadows to create my project in order to portray the emotions of the quotations. I drew a lot of my inspiration from Cecil B whose work is quite varied, Maha Alasaker and Giacomo Brunelli.
As requested by my tutor, my contact sheets for my other images are below:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)
My equipment used for this assignment were my 18-140 mm lens together with my Nikon D7200, tripod and remote shutter release. I also used off and on camera flash in a couple of images. I know many photographers turn their shadow images into black and white, but after trying this effect on some of the images and finding the photos to be too washed out, I chose to keep my set of images in colour. I have tried to interpret the quotations metaphorically, while at the same time trying to leave the interpretations open so that immigrants from other countries can relate to them as well.
Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)
I am quite happy with the outcome of these images, although I am definitely more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. However, by doing a self absented series, the process was a little easier. I had initially planned on doing an abstract theme but was advised by my tutor not to get too caught up with techniques. So I changed direction and adopted another approach to the assignment. My planning pages can be viewed on these pages: Planning for Assignment 3, Planning for Assignment 3 Update, and Assignment 3 Planning – Time for Peer Feedback. I put some test images up for peer review on the OCA Facebook Level 1 group, as well as getting some feedback from a photographer friend, a work colleague and the only other OCA student in Canada, who is studying textiles. I was pleased with the constructive suggestions and positive feedback which can be read here. I was happy to see that my images were speaking and creating emotional connections. I have taken some of the suggestions on board and applied some changes as suggested. I am finding the feedback on the OCA Facebook Level 1 group invaluable.
Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)
I think that doing some researching among members of the SACanada forum was crucial to the interpretation of my images. I have played with the sequencing of the images and hopefully have achieved a rhythm as advised by my tutor in my last assignment. Even though most of the quotations for the images were made by other people, I feel the sentiments expressed are mine as well, as I have had these emotional experiences that these fairly new immigrants are experiencing. I’m finding that the more personal a project is, the more difficult it is, but it is also the most satisfying, once it is completed.
Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)
In preparation for my assignment I looked at the following photographers (my details remarks can be found on their pages):
- Ruth Kaplan – a Canadian photographer, who did a series entitled Status Pending which shows locations and found objects for refugee immigrants.
- Cecil B – a Belgian photographer who works mainly in self-portraiture. Her work is very varied, and is clearly influenced by Francesca Woodman.
- Maha Alasaker – a Kuwaiti photographer who uses ambiguity and layers to comply with social norms.
- Vitor Schietti – a Brazilian photographer who uses long exposure to render his subjects slightly invisible.
- Pedro Meyer – I had looked at Meyer during the period leading up to Assignment 2 in connection with the exercise we did on Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project, so have not done another write up on him. However, Pedro Meyer also has a section on his website where he has done a variety of self-portraits, which are presented thematically. I really like the way he presents his work in a video format accompanied by music.
I managed to get to more exhibitions this time, happily my knee is recovering from the surgery quite nicely. Sadly only one was a photographic exhibition and I periodically find myself envying my fellow students in the UK when they arrange meetups to go to this or that photographic exhibition. They really are spoiled for choice. I pretty much has to attend every photographic exhibition I can lay my hands on. C’est la vie – one would think in Jeff Wall’s hometown there would be a plethora of exhibitions to choose from. My detailed notes are on the relevant exhibition pages linked below.
- Over the Counter Culture exhibition by Phantoms in the Front Yard
- Next: Christos Dikeakos
- The Gund Collection: Contemporary and Historical Art from the Northwest Coast
- Shooting the Sun/Splitting the Pie by Jerry Pethick
- Lee Bul
My camera club put on a workshop on long exposure by Marc Koegel which I attended. Marc Koegel is a fine-art photographer who specialises in long exposure photography and his work is really amazing.
I started to get to grips with Semiotics and Structuralism, having come across an interesting video from Yale University. On my reading list now is Daniel Chandler’s book Semiotics for Beginners. I’m also hoping to catch up with some more journal reading as well.
I also did an online course through Coursera on Modern Art & Society in order to broaden my general art knowledge.
Once I got over the experimental stage of this assignment, I found myself enjoying it. As a future project I may try to expand it by branching out into different themes.
Quotations from SACanada Facebook Group:
(1) Kondos, Petros (2015). SACanada Group. [Facebook] 19 November. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sacanada/ [Accessed 21 November, 2015]
(2) Pretorius, Ilana (2015). SACanada Group. [Facebook] 20 November. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sacanada/ [Accessed 21 November, 2015]
(3) Pretorius, Ilana (2015). SACanada Group. [Facebook] 20 November. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sacanada/ [Accessed 21 November, 2015]
(4) Naidoo, Sessie (2015). SACanada Group. [Facebook] 21 November. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sacanada/ [Accessed 21 November, 2015]
(5) Lee, Angela (2015). SACanada Group. [Facebook] 20 November. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sacanada/ [Accessed 21 November, 2015]
(6) Lazarus, Leonie (2015). SACanada Group. [Facebook] 20 November. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sacanada/ [Accessed 21 November, 2015]
Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. New York: Berg
Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson