Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make series, elaborating on the same theme. … draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – using various forms of narrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images. The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context … This means you need to have an artistic intention. …The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image. … If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this. Also consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach. … For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).
For centuries, mankind has been the dominant species. We’ve domesticated animals, locked them up, killed them for sport. But a series of recent events seem to suggest, all across the globe, animals have decided no more.
Zoo TV Series Opening introduction, episode 4 (narrated by Nonso Anozie), Wikipedia
This statement from the TV series Zoo served as the inspiration for my project, If I (the animal) were you (the person). This mythical, surreal narrative is my reaction to the senseless hunting and poaching of game that is taking place in Africa and other countries. By reversing the roles of hunter and prey, I hope to create a moral and visual awareness that may help to address the custodial role that humans need to take to safeguard the longevity and existence of the various species in the animal kingdom. The prey lying on the ground will hopefully “rise from the scene, shoot out of it like an arrow, and pierce [you]” (Barthes, 1980: 26).
To enhance the surreal nature of my project I scouted out a location that would not be indigenous to lions, namely a forest of spruce and Douglas fir trees. The location for my photo shoot was Kealy Woods Park in North Vancouver, a rather deserted little forest. When I first went to scout out the location a couple of weeks ago the forest floor was slightly damp. On the day of the shoot it was positively soggy and slippery, which was rather treacherous for us in some spots. I mainly shot in front of the huge rock outcrop. Movement was restricted by the trees, exposed tree roots, fallen trees and stumps. Below are a couple of pull back shots from different angles.
Make up trial/Props
I did not need very much in the way of props as initially mentioned in my planning post. I had purchased a lion’s mask which I sourced online in China, a camouflage jacket and gloves for my hunter model (my husband) to wear which was purchased from a red-neck American outdoor/hunting store which shall remain nameless, as well as a toy rifle, from the same store, which hopefully comes across as fairly realistic in the images. My prey model (my son) just wore regular clothes.
My main prop was really the bullet wound makeup that I had to apply to the model’s face prior to the shoot. I had practised this two weeks ago and felt fairly confident in recreating the prosthetic. However, it seems that every attempt comes with its own challenges and I struggled to get the shading right this time. Unlike the practise run, this time I had real fake blood obtained from a movie FX retailer, which made the makeup more realistic. Below is a closeup taken after the shoot. As you can see, the dripping blood held up really well as there was no need for any touch ups during the shoot.
I had initially planned on using flash in the forest as I had hoped to get in there fairly early in the morning. However, the makeup took longer than expected and I arrived at the location later than I had anticipated with the sun already quite high in the sky. As a result I did not need to use flash and relied on the beautiful natural lighting that was filtering through the forest canopy from camera left at about the eleven o’clock position. Initially I had set up using a tripod, but found that the location was too restrictive, and the terrain was not conducive to a tripod as it was fairly steep with lots of obstacles to navigate, so I abandoned the tripod so that I could change my viewpoint more easily.
I had a fairly good idea of the poses that I wanted from my models, but once in the forest we had to adapt to the in situ conditions as there were many branches that had come down during the two wind storms that occurred after my scouting trip. For the most part the direction went well. I took care to direct my son to keep his head turned to his left in the same direction that the blood was flowing, otherwise his poses would have looked strange. His greatest problem was to keep a straight face. The biggest problem my hunter faced was keeping his chin down, so that the camera would not pick up his face inside the mask. From certain viewpoints the wearer’s mouth is visible through the lion’s mouth. To help with this I had him wear a balaclava so that there would be a dark tone inside the mouth. Happily this strategy worked well.
Because I took quite a few photos of the same poses, I have whittled down my contact sheets to show a few options of the relevant poses.
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 and 70-300mm lenses together with my Nikon D7200 and tripod. Going in I had a fairly good idea of the type of images that I was after. I found that certain spots in the forest allowed in too much overhead lighting and although my hunter was backlit rather nicely, my highlights were totally blown out. Unfortunately I only discovered this after uploading the images to my PC – note to self to check my histogram after taking the photo. Fortunately though, even if the exposure had been correct, I would not have used those images as the hunter’s and prey’s postures were too awkward and looked contrived. Not too much post-processing was involved: mainly just adjustment of highlights, adding contrast and clarity and a little dodging and burning over selective sections of the images.
Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)
I am happy with the outcome of these images. My planning pages can be viewed on these pages: Assignment 5 Planning, Assignment 5 Planning – Location Scouting, Assignment 5 Planning – Makeup Trial Run, and Assignment 5 Planning – Preselection. I put four test images up for peer review on the OCA Facebook Level 1 group regarding my final image. I was pleased with the positive feedback which can be read here. I was also relieved to see that the correct connotation had been made in the hunter becoming the hunted. A few comments were made about the wonderful lighting in my second preselection option, but as the lighting was basically the same between images 1, 2 and 3, I simply applied a little more post-processing to my final image of choice. A fellow student also suggested that it might be a good idea to annotate my contact sheets which I have done.
For my ‘trophy’ image I have emulated David Chancellor’s and the countless other images that one sees on the internet with the hunter and the prey centrally placed in the frame to continue the illusion of a real hunt. Like Meatyard, I feel that the use a mask does depersonalise the situation, but at the same time also adds a bit of shock value to the image.
I believe my thought processes are clearly signposted in my planning posts and in my introduction above. I intentionally did not want to overload my images with signifiers as I want to leave the viewer room to play with his/her own interpretation of the myth.
Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)
When I first verbalised my concept for this assignment with a couple of colleagues from work and took note of their reactions, which ranged from horror to “how disgusting/weird” I realised that my narrative had some good potential, even if it was a bit risky. If my verbal narrative could elicit such responses, hopefully a visual one would do so as well. To emphasise the mythological aspect of my narrative, I chose a location where lions are not indigenous (a forest in Canada), with the intention of drawing attention to this global problem. Initially I had planned on only doing one image, namely the trophy pose, but the more I thought about it, I became convinced I needed a few more images to complete my mythical narrative. I have, therefore, followed a bit of a cartoon-like strategy, where some reading between the “boxes” is necessary from the viewer’s standpoint.
I have tried to portray the “thrill” of the hunt in my images. I also decided not to go for the super, polished look that John Hafner’s photographs have, preferring a natural look for my images. The series of images also alludes briefly to the close vicinity that wildlife and humans find themselves in these days. In North Vancouver, where I live, bears, coyotes and racoons regularly encroach into our living space. In my final image by posing the hunter in front of a rock face which is defaced with graffiti, I also want to draw attention to the fact that humans also encroach on wildlife’s living space.
Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)
Hunting is not a subject widely found in the contemporary or fine art environment and it was a bit of a struggle to find suitable photographers to research. In preparation for this assignment I looked at the following photographers (my detailed remarks can be found on their pages):
- John Hafner – a Montanan based commercial photographer, who specialises in sport hunting photography.
- Ulla Schildt and Liza Dracup – as suggested by my tutor, as they both photograph animals in an alternative state.
- David Chancellor – photographer who splits his time between the UK and South Africa and has won the 2010 Taylor Wessing portrait prize for one of his hunting images. I had written to David to request permission to use one of his images in my write up, which he kindly gave. He also requested to read my write up and thought that it was “a fascinating observation” and further requested to read my assignment when completed.
- Ralph Eugene Meatyard – mentioned by a fellow student for his use of masks in photography.
My detailed notes on the exhibitions that I attended are linked to their individual postings and listed below. A few were not of a photographic nature and therefore a little difficult to comment on.
- Brad Howe & Jonathan Forrest at Gallery Jones – modern sculpture and abstract painting
- Liz Magor at Catriona Jeffries Gallery – found objects and ready-made sculptures
- Ogema: I am Woman – a very thought provoking exhibition by First Nations women
- Eadweard Muybridge: Building an Atlas – a study of motion and time
- Adad Hannah: Case Studies – cinematic approach and focuses on performative photography using digital video, exploring motion.
I did an online MOOC course through Coursera on Learning How to Learn, which imparted valuable study methods which will definitely come in handy as I try and assimilate the theoretic aspects of this and following courses.
I caught up on some backlog I’d had with reviews, namely Roland Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image.
Another MOOC course that I completed through Coursera was Seeing Through Photographs which was presented by the Museum of Modern Art. This was a new course and I only wish this course had been available when I began Context & Narrative as it is so relevant to this module. I found the materials and resources MOMA made available for this course very useful and comprehensive and particularly enjoyed the exposure to new artists and their opinions. This is a great companion piece to Context & Narrative.
I read This Means This This Means That by Sean Hall, a very down to earth, no-frills book on semiotics with examples of every aspect. This book was recommended by a fellow student on the OCA Level 1 Facebook group and it has really been extremely helpful in expanding my semiotic knowledge. I would not use it as a substitute for Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners, but definitely as a companion text.
Barthes, Roland. (1980) Camera Lucida Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang
Zoo (TV Series) [online]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoo_(TV_series) [Accessed 18 March, 2016]