Contextual research by Lasma Poisa

Here are some photographers that were suggested to me during portfolio reviews at the recent Falmouth f2f event. They are all relevant in one way or another. Mostly these are photographers exploring the themes of identity through photographing types of people with different approaches to portraiture.    

Stephen Gill Trolley Portraits

Documenting people that use trolleys. I can see why this work was suggested to me, it is exploring identities of a type of person, the images are consistent in their composition, shot from a low viewpoint in a portrait format. 


Jenny Lewis One Day Young

Documenting mothers with a one day young baby. I really enjoyed Jenny's talk at Falmouth, I found it very inspirational and encouraging. I really liked her approach in finding participants - though social media and word of moth. She raised some interesting points regarding sharing the work on social media - whether we should post fresh images or wait in case there is an opportunity to exhibit in a gallery. I personally think that it is good to share work, especially in the early stages in one's career. I do not think that I will be approached for exhibitions any time soon, so if I don't share my work on social media, it will probably not be seen by anyone. Besides, posting the work has raised awareness of my project and helped me to gain more participants.  


Tina Barney Europeans

Documenting Old World elite, exploring different type of person with varied approach to portraiture. I guess in my current project all my portraits are quite uniformal and it is good to look at photographers whose approach is broader. Something to consider for future projects. 


Alessandra Sanguinetti The Adventures of Guille & Belinda

Documenting two adolescent girls. I really love this body of work, though it is more relevant to the work I did before starting my MA, particularly of my Turning of the Sun project. I will refer back to this work in my future projects as I am inerested in a similar subject matter and aesthetic. 


Benjamin McMahon Portraits

An example of varied approach; photographs taken of famous people by the same photographer through different approaches to portraiture. 

Project Development - Shoots 14, 15, 16 & 17 by Lasma Poisa

After taking the striking portrait of Isaac during Momento Disco Valentino (, I knew I wanted to photograph him again on location for my final portfolio. I spotted him again on the train a few weeks later and approached him to exchange our contact details. After few attempts, I finally managed to meet him at Levenshulme train station for a quick shoot on a sunny Saturday morning. 

I am happy with the images we took, yet editing proved to be a bit of a challenge. I had not organised myself very well setting up the camera, which I normally do before each shoot, and devastatingly, I realised I had photographed shoots 14, 15 and 16 in L jpeg instead of raw. This meant that not only editing images would be difficult to make them visually consisted with the others, but also that I would not be able to print these in any great scale if I ever wanted to exhibit. 

I have been approached by Manchester Momentum to exhibit this body of work during a political festival they are organising in October 2018, a great opportunity to show my work in a political context. Unfortunately I will have to see if I can include images from these three shoots due to low res files.   

I photographed Neve in Manchester's Northern Quarter in another quick and successful shoot. We shot in a few different locations and almost every shot looked great as Neve is very photographic and aware of her own image. I would love to photograph her again in a more fashion context as she has got a very strong look as a model. I took a few shots of Neve and Jack together, but I feel that the stronger images are of her alone.

One of my last shoots was with Beth in Whalley Range on a late and wet Sunday afternoon. At the time I wasn't worried about the low light and bright flash contrast as I believed I could balance it out in camera raw postproduction. It wasn't the case as I had shot everything in jpeg so editing was very tricky. I think that images would have been stronger if they were shot raw in a better lighting conditions. Also, I feel that compositionally these are not my strongest images as we were running out of daylight and restricted by location.

My final shoot was in Salford with Florrie. By this point I was quite exhausted from the amount of photoshoots I had done so I was quite pleased that this was the last one, for now anyway. We wondered around the university park and every location we picked looks great in photos. 

I guess on some levels this body of work is not only about the young people that are politically engaged, but also about the place as the locations have been very important in my images. I have picked wide shots with prominent backgrounds that are in focus. The locations include industry, nature and residential areas. They are not always places that one could necessarily identify as Manchester, but they certainly celebrate the city and the youth that will be shaping the future of this place. 

Research / Bieke Deporter by Lasma Poisa

'Bieke Depoorter traveled to the United States, spending the night at the homes ofperfect strangers, whose paths she crossed upon her wanderings. However, as we leaf through the book, it would hardly cross our minds that these people ever had Bieke’s company. They seem utterly oblivious, about to call it a day, as if the photographer has managed to make herself unseen, leaving only her eye behind. In reality, she won their hearts by candidly admitting to her own vulnerability. In turn, they confided in her, and so we watch these fleeting figures forever waving to us, signaling that they are still here, living their lives despite the strife and struggle.'  Text by Maarten Dings 

I discovered Bieke's work a few years ago in a small photography festival in Bruges and loved it immediately. Her name came up as a reference during the Falmouth f2f event in terms of portraiture and photographing strangers. Her photographs are truly striking and somehow feel very intimate and honest. I also think that her own vulnerability comes across in this body of work, which adds another layer to the reading. 

During my MA studies I have become very interested in photographing strangers, a subject that has always intrigued me, yet I always found myself too cowardly to actually do it. Not being able to travel to continue to photograph my family, I was forced to make work in Manchester where I knew very few people. By approaching and photographing strangers over and over again, I have become very comfortable with the dynamic between myself and my sitters. That is probably one of the most valuable things I have learned so far. Yet I would not be so brave to go as far as Bieke Depoorter.  

Project Development - Shoots 12 & 13 by Lasma Poisa

I approached Jack and his girlfriend Neve (shoot 15)  when they sat opposite me on the train on my way back from work. They looked so cool, I really wanted to photograph them if not for this body of work, then for something else. I asked if they, by any chance, supported any political parties; with suspicion they replied - yes, the Labour. I was overjoyed. I told them about my project and they were happy to be involved. We exchanged our contact details and agreed to meet in early April.

I photographed Jack in his hometown Stockport where I picked him up after his Saturday job and we drove around in search for locations. I am really pleased with the outcome of this shoot even if, being late in the day, the flash appears more prominent than in my other images. 

Alice was my first point of contact when I first approached Manchester Momentum in search for participants. She has been instrumental in helping me to find young people to photograph, which was incredibly helpful. This was the third time I photographed Alice during this project and these are definitely the most successful images I have taken of her.  

Project Development - Shoots 9, 10 & 11 by Lasma Poisa

Apart from Labour, I have not heard back from any local political party representatives, members or supporters after contacting them a few weeks ago in search for participants. At this stage I realise that this project has to be about the young Labour supporters. I knew that it would be a challenge to find young Tories or Ukip in Manchester, which is fundamentally Labour, but I have not heard from even one Libdem or Green! I don't want to say that I have given up, but I am not going to waste my efforts with so little time left when I have so many willing participants representing Labour.

I found Shoot 6 quite difficult for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the composition was problematic due to the chosen location - Stockport Viaduct seemed like a great idea for a backdrop, but in reality was nearly impossible to frame successfully. Secondly, I struggled with the lighting as it was a miserable day and the viaduct was casting quite a lot of shadow so exposing correctly was really hard. I feel like the photos are overwhelmingly dirty brick brown, which is a shame, because I really liked working with James and the fam. 

Dan is a candidate for the 2018 election in Offerton. We met by the Stockport town hall (his chosen location) and wondered off from there on. Dan knew his pose - he had obviously practiced posing for photos. It was quite nice to have a more formal approach to the photo as most of my sitters have been quite casual. I prefer the photos with the red tie as it feeds in the red thread going through this project. 

Oscar was really easy to photograph, the shoot didn't take long at all. He had planned his locations, every single one worked really well. We got strong photos really quickly in each location and there was little editing to do. It was quite difficult to pick the final image for the portfolio, but I settled for the one with the residential houses in the background as I felt it worked the best with the other images my portfolio. 

Research/ Robert Ormerod by Lasma Poisa

In his long-term project ‘Political Youth’, Rob Ormerod is looking at young Scottish people (from 16 to end 20s) that are involved in politics. He is interested in the type of person that is attracted by politics, who, ‘despite the current general frustration with politics, believe in their ability to influence society and politics, and who are taking responsibility for shaping the future.’ (The Nomad) He has photographed young people from all political parties and documented related memorabilia as well as spaces where political activity takes place.

This project is an obvious reference for my own work. He actually did photograph political youth in Scotlad, where I only managed to photograph young Labour supporters. Perhaps, my project developed through participation I was getting, subsequently becoming about not-so-mythical youthquake.

I can’t help but feel that Rob’s work is a lot more critical than mine; there is awkwardness and uncertainty in the way he is presenting his sitters and they seem vulnerable because of it.  This body of work is fascinating to look at and it is clear that Rob made very conscious decisions about the kind of ‘look’ he was after.  To me, his portraits are also unnecessarily harsh and intentionally unflattering, yet maybe they are just honest. Whereas I wanted to empower my sitters and portray them in a commanding way, Rob has done almost the opposite.

Research / Travis Hodges by Lasma Poisa

In the recent referendum, majority in Cornwall voted to Leave. In his project Brexit Cornwall, Travis Hodges examines some of the broader issues surrounding the vote. The photographs are accompanied by interviews, facts and statistics, which makes it easier to read the work. I think it is a successful project, perhaps visually images look a little too commercial / reportage style.

It has been suggested that I too should be adding text to my images to contextualise them. I have considered to adding a sentence or two of the reasons why my sitters decided to support Labour party. It may well be something I do in the future, but for now I have decided not to include any text. 

Project Development - Shoots 5, 6, 7 & 8 by Lasma Poisa

For my CRJ I am picking the best photos from each shoot to demonstrate my decision making process behind choosing my edit. I decided not to post contact sheets as there are just too many images and I feel that in this instance it is not about quantity, but quality.

Having worked out the strategy, my photoshoots were quite straight forward from this point on. I photographed Sam in a couple of locations near Manchester Piccadilly Station. Unfortunately it was a very sunny day as I really don't like photographing in the sun due to harsh, contrasting shadows. I decided to use 17-40mm lens with Canon 5DSr, although I decided not to use fill flash for this particular shoot. 

Shoot 6 with Amrit went well, we were wondering around Salford looking for locations that would look good in the photos.  I used the same setup as the shoot before adding a fill flash. For my portfolio I chose the image of Amrit in the field with construction site behind  him as I feel this is the strongest image from the set. The others feel a bit too tight, almost claustrophobic. 

I met Peter at the Whitworth Art Gallery, he wanted to be photographed by a graffiti a few streets down. From the start Peter raised concerns regarding his image appearing on my website or any other social media platforms. Happy to be photographed, he wished for the photos to be private as he was worried to be associated with the Momentum movement and that this could somehow damage his reputation within the party. I explained that the project is not about Momentum and that if I was to photograph him, the images would have to be in a public domain. I also reassured him about the purpose of this work, that my aim was to empower my sitters through photography and portray political youth in a positive light. At the end Peter was very happy with the images.

Irene was my final sitter of that weekend. It was a ridiculously cold Sunday afternoon when we headed to the location in Levenshulme. It was a quick shoot, we didn't experiment much as I was aware that she was getting really cold and I felt responsible for her wellbeing. I managed to get a strong shot within the first few minutes though we tried a few variations of the frame. 

Youthquake by Lasma Poisa

“Youthquake”, defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”, has been selected by Oxford Dictionaries as the 2017 word of the year.
— The Guardian,
jeremy corbyn rainbow horse.jpg

In 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party, a large number of young people got involved in politics for the first time to support him. Before JC only a small percentage of young people voted as there was apathy about any real change regardless of who they voted for. Young people believed that politicians did not have their best interest at heart, yet Corbyn became really popular as he brought hope and was seen as someone they could trust or someone that was human. 

He clearly didn’t want to get into power. He spoke about things he cared about because he had nothing to lose. He just wanted to broaden the debate – and suddenly people felt like someone was being honest for the first time.
— The Guardian,

In 2017 Theresa May delivered a dramatic announcement, a true spectacle with spotlights and hovering helicopters, in which she called for a "snap" election. This action, which contradicted her previous promises, really angered people as they saw it as a sly move to get rid of JC who, continuously demonised in press, was gaining popularity particularly with young people. With endorsements from celebrities and artists, labour mobilised for seven weeks of intense political campaign which didn't bring victory, nonetheless delivered great results.    

JC had turned a youth surge into general election votes by appealing to a generation that came of age during the financial crisis. (The Guardian) The Labour election success was attributed to the insurgence of youth and their collective actions were dubbed as 'youthquake'. (Oxford Dictionaries)

 Independent Magazine statement summarising general consensus of the youth  

Independent Magazine statement summarising general consensus of the youth  

However, in early 2018 the British Election Study announced that 'youthquake' election was a "myth" and that it was not the youth that helped Jeremy Corbyn deliver such good results. This statement diminished the prominence of the movement and didn't sit well with many as it was reminiscent of 'post-truth' soundbites (if we keep saying it, people will start believing it), which is what happened in this case. The analysis of the data gathered in the national face-to-face survey shows that this claim is not only 'thin', but certainly fails to represent the electorate. 

The word ‘apathy’ is thrown at young people when really they feel they are not represented. Jeremy and this manifesto really cut through. Young people saw tuition fees, investment in social care, housing, education – a vision for society that they believed in and that they would benefit from.”(The Guardian)

Research/ Michelle Sank by Lasma Poisa

Michelle Sank is a portraitist working within social documentary genre. Her work explores human condition and examines the issues surrounding identity and social and cultural diversity. She has worked extensively with young people from different social, ethnic and economic backgrounds.

 Within her projects, she looks at people that are related in some way, whether it be place, age, economic background or ideas about beauty. Michelle’s work allows us to observe the ‘type’ of person or even make a judgement about the subject in her photographs, yet the reading of such images may reveal more about the viewer themselves and their cultural awareness than they do about the sitter. Introducing Michelle Sank’s book Becoming (2006), Helen Lucey asks: ‘What is it that I recognize about them and what makes me uncomfortable with certain images? Could it be that certain photographs unconsciously contain dimensions of my own subjectivity that I’d rather not know about?’

When viewing photographs, we read visually and contextualise according to our experiences; when looking at portraits of people from a particular sports culture, for example, I would immediately assume that they are one-dimensional and boring. The photograph is incapable of portraying the multifaceted nature of a human being.

The portraits I have been taking during this module relate closely to Michelle's work. Visually I have taken inspiration in terms of composition and framing; contextually, photographing a ‘type’ of person, I am aware that the viewer will be attaching their own prejudices in reading these images.

Project Development - Shoots 3 & 4 by Lasma Poisa

I had photographed Hannah previously during the Positions & Practice module Micro Project week so I was very excited when she wanted to be part of this project. I was one of the longest shoots I did as we walked around Levenshulme and Highfield Park scouting for locations. The biggest challenge was to get both Greyhounds, Graham and Elsie, to face the camera as they were quite distracted and shy. I also lost quite a few really strong images due to SD card glitch (now only using CF). Despite this, I believe this was one of my strongest shoots and I am very pleased with the images I took. Equipment wise I used Canon 5DSr with a 35mm lens and a fill flash. 

This was the first shoot that I approached with a clear strategy that I used for the rest of the project; I knew what kind of location I was after - urban with elements of nature (quintessentially Manchester when possible) - and how I wanted my sitter to appear. I wanted the pose to be confident and powerful, placing the subject in the centre of the image with the figure large, towering above the horizon. 

‘If photography is essentially about scrutiny and observation, it must also be about the pose, for the pose is the subject’s presentation of his or her identity to the photographer, an act which ensures the preservation of that identity. The old idea that a photograph steals soul dies hard, and not altogether without a cause, because the pose is the subject’s defence is an essential element in the representation of the human figure, the mediating step taken by the sitter to ‘re-present’ his or her interface with the world.’  (Badger, 2010, p. 174)
— The Genius of Photography, Badger, 2010, p. 174

Shoot 4 was a little more challenging due to locations Huw chose as they were quite busy with people, however I am quite pleased with the outcome. After Michelle's suggestion of giving my sitters clearer directions, I asked Huw to consider the clothes he was wearing. He chose a slogan T-shirt of a housing union he is involved in. The red worked really in relation with the Labour party colour scheme. 

These portraits could also be described as performative as I directed the participants to achieve the desired outcome. Through negotiation my sitters performed for the camera, whether they actually felt confident or less so, to convey the message of taking charge, taking ownership of the place and of being in charge of the future. 

Project development - Shoots 1 & 2 by Lasma Poisa

Chames was one of the first people to get in touch to take part in the project. As I was still working out a strategy for the project development, I asked him to pick a location that somehownwas important to him. He chose Cringle Park in Levenshulme, Manchester. Chames had a very confident stance and it transpired in the photos. 

Technically I was using Canon 5D Mk IV with a 35mm lens. I did not use a fill flash for this shoot which I introduced later on in the project. The lens turned out to be optically disappointing and un-sharp, even though aesthetically I liked the slightly wider angle to my usual 50mm lens. I was testing out both landscape and portrait format to see which one worked more succesfully. 

Shoot 2 turned out to be a bit of a disaster. I went to photograph Momentum guys in a house they share in Chorlton, but I run out of memory within the first 5 minutes (which was very embarrassing). To get at least some photos I had to keep deleting less successful shots within the camera.

I struggled composing the photos and didn't feel able to direct my sitters as I just did not know what kind of look I was after, or even, how to visually translate the message I was trying to convey - of the strong political youth.

I used Canon 5D Mk IV with a 35mm lens with a bounce flash, but totally forgot to take any photos in a landscape format. It was not a successful shoot in my opinion, but at least I learned what  I did not want and what did not work. 

Shortly after my first two shoots I had a 1-1 tutorial with Michelle and talking to her really helped me to take this project in the right direction. She helped me see the difference between the two shoots, how successful or un-successful the images were and whether they conveyed the message I was trying to communicate. This was a really important in terms of my decision making process for the future photoshoots. Therefore the landscape photo of Chames in the field determined the aesthetics for the whole body of work. 

Into the Image World by Lasma Poisa

In this weeks material we are looking at the semiotics of advertising images. Within this we can experience three types of reading:

  1. Dominant reading - what the advertiser wants
  2. Oppositional reading - directly conflicts against what the advertiser wants
  3. Negotiated reading - partially confronts or is at least plausible and understandable to us

When exposed to advertising images for a period of time, consumers get used to metaphor and develop a much more sophisticated visual language therefore are more open to Negotiated reading. I remember in Latvia in the early 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union we started to get western adverts on TV and our minds were blown away by all the sparkly, gorgeous, extraordinary products. I remember watching the advert for Mars bar and it was the most desirable, magical and delicious thing I had ever seen. I learned later that it did not look quite as sexy in real life. It didn't taste quite how I had imagined it either. 

I guess we were quite naive and took these advertisements at a face value. An old lady in the neighbouring farm destroyed her Palmolive soap bar with scissors in search for the essential oil she saw being pored in on TV. She didn't find any. 

 Palmolive TV Advert from early 1990s

Palmolive TV Advert from early 1990s

My example of an Oppositional reading is not entirely an advertising image in the traditional sense, but it is the header from The Guardian Facebook page posted during the 2017 General Election. 

The guardian header.jpg

Initially this might look like a straight forward image of a British newspaper portraying the Prime Minister and the opposition leaders. However, on closer observation there are many subtle messages that are being communicated here, whether this is deliberate of a left leaning paper, is unclear. Theresa May in the warm glowing light, holding important Brexit papers, looking calm, controlled and quite large, taking up half of the image. The opposition don't get to have colour or hold important papers in their hands. They are ghostly and much smaller in scale, decreasing depending on their opposition status; blue and cold with awkward expressions, grouped together like the unwanted other they represent. Big Ben is erect, hard and reassuring, glowing warm in the evening sky, even though it is slightly toppling over, so who knows. 

Portrait test shoots & project development by Lasma Poisa

These portraits were photographed early on before having a clear idea or particular strategies to use for this body of work. I am pleased with these aesthetically, the stillness and timelessness in expressionless, blank faces is what I was hoping to convey. I feel that the studio portraits are perhaps stronger than the naturally lit ice cream photo, which stands out from the rest. 

On reflection I became aware of couple of issues.

  • Compositionally my images look very similar. Poses are almost identical, central to the image and facing the same direction. When it comes to strangers, I have not been very creative in asking them to perform in a particular way.
  • Using 35mm full frame in portrait stretches the image making them look squashed in. I had a portfolio review with Michelle Sank and I was suggested using a different aspect ratio to visually create more space around my sitters. Also, I might use 35mm lens instead of 50mm I have been using so far. 
  • I could be more adventurous in creating narratives in my pictures. Perhaps I need to plan my shoots better, coming in with clear ideas rather than improvising in a moment. 

After the f2f event in Falmouth I have come away with much clearer ideas in where to take this project further. I received a lot of great and constructive feedback which I found very helpful. 

  • I should be photographing political youth in all parties, not just young Corbyn supporters. Now it seems like such a no-braner. I have emailed Manchester regional Conservatives, Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP calling for participants. I am hoping to get responses from all. I have also circulated this poster on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 1.39.09 PM.png


  • It was suggested I should photograph young farmers, an idea I like very much and might explore during the next module, but currently would be a logistical nightmare as I am not near any farming communities. 
  • I have to be more considerate with my framing; firstly by changing the aspect ratio of my photos and secondly by considering the edges of my photos. Even though I think I have come a long way in constructing my images, I know I can be hasty when photographing, becoming too excited by the sitter and forgetting about things in the background and around the edges. I need to slow down, look and observe. 
  • I should look at paintings for composition and consider fashion in my photography. I have since visited Manchester Art Gallery and looked at people in paintings, compositions and poses I could translate in my photos. 

Momento Disco Valentino - test shoot by Lasma Poisa


I photographed young Corbyn supporters during Manchester Momentum Valentine Day's Party. I found the nightclub setting difficult due to low lighting, location restrictions and the crowd. I took portraits of few participants, but feel happy only with the one above. Aesthetically I am happy with the composition and the positioning of the sitter in the photo; whilst the other portraits are more formal in their setting, this one is more relaxed and therefore more informal. 

Even though I like a challenge, I learned that in order to achieve the esthetic I'm after, I will need to work 1 to 1 with my sitter. This will allow for a more negotiable relationships and connection between myself and my sitters.

Open Call for Participants by Lasma Poisa

Lasma Poisa advert.jpg

In order to find participants for my project I have created this poster to share on various social networking platforms (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). I have also established a good relationship with the local Momentum members who have circulated this poster widely.

I have decided to focus on millenials born between 1984 and 2004. Millenials are described differently depending on the source - a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century; people born between 1981-1991; those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the new millennium etc. I decided to go with 1884 as that is the year I was born in and 2004 as I would not need sitters' parental consent, besides, it is a nice and round 20 year period.

I have had quite a lot of interest from a broad range of young people from different  Manchester areas and economic backgrounds. However, when it comes to scheduling the actual shoot, quite a few of the potential participants are failing to respond.  

Despite the slow start, I have managed to arrange a few shoots that I will be describing in the following blog posts. 

Constructed Realities by Lasma Poisa

This week we covered constructed approaches to photography looking at photographers such as William Eggleston, Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson and Tom Hunter.

I have always been interested constructed imagery and tableau photography. My own work is staged and performative in nature. I am particularly interested in the crossover between documentary and staged image, similar to Tom Hunter’s work, I feel that my project ‘Turning of the Sun’ is both – documentary and staged.

I love images that carry a narrative and have the potential to develop into something else; the cinematic images that are tense and ambiguous, of impending doom, creating narratives in our minds. I was trying to achieve this in my images during the micro project week in Positions and Practice module and would like to take this further in my future work.

I think that preoccupying oneself with the ‘truth’ of the photography within contemporary art is unnecessary. It is important in reportage photography, but not so much in documentary photography. Tom Hunter’s images are no less real in what they represent only because they are staged.

Jeff Wall’s describes photographers of being either the hunter or the farmer. The hunter tracks down and captures their subject matter as pray. The farmer cultivates, constructs and tends to his image over time. (Wall, in Horne, 2012).

In my photographic practice, I am definitely the farmer. My intention is to invent motives, create narratives and explore the new realities I have created, even when the imagery is subtle in its nature. I don’t find the idea of hunting for the image or the ‘decisive moment’ interesting or exciting, I find that type of photography very masculine.

Visual Research by Lasma Poisa

As part of my research I have looked at photographers who have also engaged strangers in their work, creating portraiture that explores the complicity between photographer and subject. Taking into consideration these different approaches to photographing strangers, I aim to employ similar strategies in my own work.

 Katy Grannan, Sugar Camp Road: Danielle, Vacant Lot, Burleigh Road, New Paltz, NY, 2003

Katy Grannan, Sugar Camp Road: Danielle, Vacant Lot, Burleigh Road, New Paltz, NY, 2003

For her series Sugar Camp Road, Katy Grannan adapted a strategy of posting advertisements in local papers to find her models as she felt uncomfortable approaching strangers on the street. She then photographed her sitters in their chosen locations that were charged with dark histories or illicit activities. All these elements create a tangible tension in Grannan’s otherwise quiet and picturesque photographs.

 Erwin Wurm, Instructions On How To Be Politically Incorrect: Spit In Someone’s Soup, 2003

Erwin Wurm, Instructions On How To Be Politically Incorrect: Spit In Someone’s Soup, 2003

Erwin Wurm’s Instructions on How to Be Politically Incorrect is a body of work that engages strangers (or volunteers as he calls them). In his work, Wurm approaches his sitters by asking the curator to put an advert in the paper calling for the participants to take part in fictitious scenarios, usually in public places, that challenge social norms through performance and absurdity. Wurm describes the process as collaborative as he welcomes and explores ideas from the participants. The final images are playful, yet uncomfortable to view as they challenge our cultural perception of the private boundaries of the body.

 Shizuka Yokomizo, Stranger (10), 1999

Shizuka Yokomizo, Stranger (10), 1999

In contrast, Shizuka Yokomizo in her series Strangers, never actually met her sitters in person. Her strategy was to initially identify suitable locations for her photographs - accessible ground floor windows of domestic buildings that could be photographed from the street. She then sent letters to the inhabitants of the houses inviting them to be photographed at an appointed time in the evening, subsequently getting their consent for being the subject of her voyeurism. The body of work consists of nineteen unsettling portraits of strangers looking out of the window at night in anticipation to be photographed by the unknown photographer.

Is the Photograph 'Really Real'? by Lasma Poisa

The photograph as an object is real. It often represents the real thing, but not necessarily in a realistic way. An image is indexical of the recorded ‘thing’ whether it is obvious or not. Beyond the physicality of the image, it is merely a representation of what was there in front of the lens. Authenticity of this representation is a different question. In documentary photography and news imagery, it is expected that images depict reality as it happened and digitally manipulated images are frowned upon. Yet framing alone manipulates image so there will always be photographer’s choice in how the event was portrayed. For example, these two images are of the same scene photographed from different perspectives (full article here) . They both depict reality.

 Photo: Paul Hansen

Photo: Paul Hansen

 Photo: Nathan Weber

Photo: Nathan Weber

My practice does not directly consider these questions. My work is mostly negotiated and staged, this doesn’t make it any less real, yet it is representational. My recent portrait of Hugo taken in an ice cream café does not ask questions of reality, e.g. ‘Who is Hugo?’ The importance of this photograph instead lies in its concept. Hugo is a complete stranger who has agreed to be photographed by me. We read visual clues from the image, observe the scene and consider the aesthetic of it. The aesthetic of ‘looking real’ in this instance is important as we are more likely to engage with the photograph’s narrative. It makes it relatable.

Hugo icecream small.jpg

'Authentication' and 'Representation' by Lasma Poisa

In Camera Lucida (1980: 89) Roland Barthes states that 'In the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation'.

Barthes was saying that the power of the photograph is that it authenticates something, yet what it represents comes secondary. For example, questioning the truth of Cappa’s ‘Falling Soldier’ didn’t mean that people weren’t actually dying, but the preoccupation with the authenticity of the image portrays the complexity of photography as a medium. Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ depicted another war, yet this symbolic representation didn’t raise the same questions of the authenticity of the events it depicted.  

Personally, I am interested in the meaning of the photograph or what it represents, rather that the actuality or authenticity of the circumstances in which the photograph was taken. We live in a Post-Truth era where people still see photography as authentic despite knowing how easily images can be manipulated. This belief is exactly what recently has helped to spread fake news on the internet.

In my own practice, I chose representation over authentication and digitally manipulate images for greater aesthetic impact.