Assignment 5 – Making it up – process

My starting point for this assignment was to create an image that looked at my memories of my mother following her recent death. In developing this idea I identified three periods that I could photograph, my memories of my mother when I was a child, when I was an adult and when she was in a care home which, as her Alzheimer’s progressed, resulted in our roles changing, she being helpless and infant like and me in effect parenting her when I visited. I initially thought of photographing objects that related to each period but I realised that although they had significance to me, to a viewer the distinction between the different periods in our relationship would not be obvious. I also thought that from the point of view of the assignment that it was debatable whether or not a still life, or series of still lives, was meeting the brief of the assignment.

To make the link between the object and the time period I looked at combining an archive image of my mother with an object that related to the period. Unfortuntately, the results were dismal, as the image below shows.

At this stage I abandoned the ideal of developing an image baesd on my mother and instead turned to politics and the general election. My despair at the general election, brexit and the unprecedented dishonesty of Conservative politicians led me to develop an image based on Boris Johnson’s somewhat unbelievable revelation that to relax he liked to make models of buses. My idea was to create an image with a bus made from a cardboard box and to place this on a real life background. The idea was explore the premise that politicians lie because the electorate is happy to go along with them, or assume that all politican lie most or all of the time. In the end despite making the bus and completing the image I decided not to go ahead with this idea for a number of reasons: I think I was just ranting about the lies on the side of the brexit bus, the prospect of a Tory govenment, the willingness of voters to go along with Johnson’s schtick or the believability of Johnson’s claim about making model buses. For these reasons and because I did not feel that the image was particularly creative I discarded this idea and returned to my original idea of of exploring my memories of my mother and the impact of her dementia.

They’re making it up as they go along
Cardboard box bus

Having given up on buses and cardboard boxes I returned to the idea of using items and archive images of my mother, however instead of combining the two into one image I thought of creating three pairs of images.

My idea was that the three pairs of images would be processed differently to communicate the clairty of my memories and the impact of my mother’s Alzheimer’s. Because the archive image for the first pair was black and white I decided to convert the image of the bible to monochrome for consistency. In the second pair of images, representing adulthood, I added a gaussian blur and white fill to signify the haziness of my memories of this period and the initial impact on my mother’s personality of her dementia. The final pair of images had no added blur, as my memories of this period are clear, but had a stong white fill layer added to signify the almost complete loss of my mother’s personality.

Although I felt the images worked well as a set and did communicate my original intention, I had reservations as to whether they me the brief. After considering this for a few days I came to the conclusion that they did not and so I needed to look at another way of approaching my original idea.

In the end the idea for my final image came about after a conversation with my father in which he revealed that he found having my mother’s clothes and belongings around their house a comfort and I realised that it would be easier to create an image based on his feelings of loss and sadness than my original idea about memory. Using this as a starting point I thought about how I could create an image using my mother’s clothes to communicate her absence and my father’s loss.

Staging the scene was relatively straight-forward, the main challenge being the size of the room. I placed photographs of my mother on the chest of drawers and placed my father on the end of the bed opposite. I positioned myself to the side and slightly behind him so that he was shot in profile and also so that the viewer could see what he was looking at. The photographs of my mother are a literal representation of her but she is also metaphorically respresented by the clothes in the wardrobe. The fact that the central part of the image is empty and her clothes are only partially shown and are in the background represents her absence.

Becuase the room was north-facing and the lighting was poor I chose to use an off-camera flash shot through a soft box to give a soft, even light without too much shadow. The reason for using a soft light was to avoid creating harsh shadows in what it quite a busy image. The flash was placed perpendicular to the scene to mimic light coming through a window and I shot at 1/250 second and a fairly small aperture, f10, to avoid camera shake and give a reasonable depth of focus. I varied the output of the flash in the series and increased the brightness of my preferred image in post production.

Once I had the elements in place I shot a sequence of images of my father with and without a cup and decided that the one with the cup looked more natural, as if he was was having a cup of coffee and was just caught by a moment of sadness. Below is one of the images from the cup; I rejected these images as I think my father’s right hand looks awkward.

Overall I am pleased with the final image. The process of getting there was long-winded and at times fraught but creating the final image was relatively straight forward and my model was easy to deal with!

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