Subject to Anxiety – Project 3

Following my original idea for the project, I experienced a period of anxiety which was increased in my quest to master the PhotoShop techniques required on my damaged laptop! I decided to abort this subject and look into new ideas.

During my research I had contemplated the use of slow shutter speeds with a torch to create the appearance of fairies in the woods. I wanted to explore alternative ideas using similar techniques, which included movement.

I had previously seen the photos of Picasso drawing his images with a torch, so I did some research and came to discover that Gjon Mili was the photographer. A previous assistant to Edward Weston, he was famed for his multiple exposure images featured in Life magazine in the 1950s. The dynamic images capture the movement of dancers. Mili is considered a pioneer of strobe photography and stop-action techniques. He used multiple electronic flash units which could flash up to 120 times a second. This technique offers the viewer a sense of the sequence of movement captured in one image. (1)

Here are some examples of his work.

The use of visual language in the Picasso image is achieved by the scale of his light drawing, which almost fills the frame and towers above Picasso. The use of a slow shutter speed captures the movement of Picasso within the frame. Black and White is ideal for the light drawing as it creates a strong contrast between the light and dark background. The angle of view draws the eye to the patterned floor and the perspective creates the illusion of the character standing in the room. (1)

The perspective of the second image is dominated by the form of the ballerinas body, especially her legs which are used to create a pattern of lines. Her white costume helps the subject to stand out against the black backdrop. The small space to the right of the subject gives you a sense of the direction of movement. (1)

In the following class I discussed my research and potential ideas with the class. I had brought in my torch and talked about my research so far. My classmates were enthusiastic and helped me to develop my final subject. I decided to do portraits, however I was still looking to add my own individuality. For me to just do a regular portrait, felt too safe. During our break, I went to the props room to look for inspiration but being overwhelmed by the piles of clothes just added to my anxiety! (1)

Several test shots were taken with my 28mm prime lens attached to a D3100 which gave me a focal length of 42mm, ideal for the portraits. I experimented with settings and the composition and perspective. On the overexposed images, you can see the blueness of the LED light. By moving the camera and light away from the subject, the images evoked a darker mood and this perspective captured the full length of the subjects’ body which was mostly in focus. (2,3)

I set up a black backdrop and positioned a wooden stool in front of the camera on a tripod. The same setting (f/9, 5 seconds, ISO 100) and angle of view was used for all the images which were captured within 45mins.  An assistant directed light from the torch onto the subjects faces. To create movement within the image, I asked my subjects to sit on the stool and move their heads whilst keeping their bodies as still as possible. I didn’t want to give my subjects time to overthink, I wanted to capture their first instinctive pose. By keeping the stool and camera in the same position, the viewer is given the same angle of view for all of the images, allowing them to sense the size of each the subject. (2,3)

lighting-diagram-1468750146Screenshot 2016-07-17 10.58.43 (3)

The set up is depicted above. There were limited H&S concerns whilst shooting; the backdrop was taped down to the floor to prevent any trips, the camera was secured to a tripod at the back of the set so there were no people passing through.(5)

My contact sheet which demonstrates the development of ideas using slow shutter speeds and the torch. (3)

Whilst analysing the images, one classmate likened the composition to some of David Hockneys portraits and another said it reminded her of Nadav Kanders Placebo portraits. (4)

Following the class I looked into Nadav Kanders work. In the following video interview by the National Portrait Gallery he talks about how he communicates with his subjects for a portrait. (3)

Like Gjon Mili, Nader is also influenced by Edward Weston, he enjoys creating work that demonstrates an uncomfortable feeling. He does not like to “airbrush the dark side away”.

To create this tension, he avoids introducing himself to his subject until they are sat/stood in front of the camera. He keeps verbal communication to a minimum and trusts in the moment. Although on the flip side, he says he prefers to settle his subjects to get a richer emotion. (3)

The lighting is set up in advance but Kanders admits that he often gets it wrong and allows his instincts to guide him in a different direction. He believes that by not overthinking his work, he creates an edgier image. I identified with his methods for this project.(3)

After uploading my images to the computer and reflecting on the work, I realised my subconscious had guided me there. My dreams had become a reality, it was life imitating art! The visual language depicts how I had been feeling. Up until the shoot I had been overthinking and by trusting my instincts in that final moment, I had produced a series of images that I was happy with and most importantly could relate to. (5)


To create the mood, I turned the images into black and white. I made further basic adjustments in Lightroom to strengthen the contrast, increase highlights and shadows, deepen the blacks and light up the whites. To intensify the image I increased the clarity up to max. Using PhotoShop, I removed some patchy areas on the backdrop which came from the torch light. (3)

I printed two of the darkest images first, to test out the appearance in print and compare printing papers. I selected Lustre and Art Watercolour samples from DS Colour Labs. I expected Lustre would be better than Gloss for the B&W images as it has less reflection/glare and would give me greater depth of colour , however I was intrigued as to how the portraits would look in the Art Watercolour paper 250gsm as it is textured and has painterly characteristics. (4)

The watercolour paper sample was interesting, it definately gave my images the painterly look and absorbed the colour well. Cost aside, I still would have selected Lustre as the final printing material as it offers a slight sheen and would look good under a glass frame. The final images had blacker than black backgrounds which added to their mood. (4,5)

I hope these images evoke emotions in the viewers, whether they identify with the mood or make them question their meaning. Perhaps they will be perceived in different ways. (5)

Through my research, I have been inspired by Gjon Milis images. His use of composition adds to the sense of movement. I would like to experiment with strobe photography.

I identified with Nadav Kanders theory of not overthinking and trusting your instincts. It was reassuring that even the best photographers can have a plan, only to abort it and go with a new one.

Sources: Wikipedia, NPG,,,




3 thoughts on “Subject to Anxiety – Project 3

  1. fab post – very interesting. Really like the final images – you did a grand job and think everyone really enjoyed working on it with you 🙂


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