Exercise: Paul Close

Brief

Go to: http://www.insight-visual.com/paul-exhibition.html and look at Paul Close’s environmental portraits. Analyse his visual style and consider whether the images work as documentary photographs and, if so, why.

Response

Snakebox-Print_22.jpg

Close’s project The Snakebox Odyssey is of particular interest to me at the moment because it works in a genre that I’m considering using for a portraiture assignment (not on Documentary but on Gesture & Meaning), namely environmental portraits.

The theme is that Close asked each subject “Is there one thing that could make your life better?”. In this sense it has echoes of projects before and after, for example Chris de Bode’s work that I looked at earlier in this section, or closer to home The Desire Project by OCA tutor Les Monaghan.

The execution is what makes it interesting. Each subject is both in their natural environment and in a constructed studio setting, through the use of a portable backdrop.

This construct adds a conceptual layer which gives the images more depth than they might otherwise have had: it has the effect of not just (partially) separating the subject from their environment but of presenting each subject as an individual, with personal wants and needs, not just a representation of the group behind them.

This conceptual layer does not, however, prevent them being documentary photography. The messages still get across, and the staging is at least self-evident (and therefore more ‘honest’) rather than covert.

Looping back to the last exercise about the tourist gaze, I see this as an example of how a documentary photographer avoids the clichés of the tourist gaze and does something truly distinctive and original – photographing the previously unphotographed (something of a current fixation of mine…).

Sources

The Snakebox Odyssey http://www.insight-visual.com/paul-exhibition.html (accessed 23/06/2016)

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