The following is a rework of the original submission post tutor review. Changes that have been made are:
- Overly similar images have been substituted.
- The hanging plan has been changed to reflect greater image affinity.
- An objective analysis of image selection has been included.
- Reasoning behind the sequencing and layout of hanging plan has been included.
Within this Assignment I wanted to explore the concept of personal space or rather the invasion of personal space; where personal space is defined as the space surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. This space can be looked upon as a bubble around oneself that expands and contracts depending on the circumstances. Research has shown that there are 4 different distances that we accept. When these distance norms are encroached we have feelings of discomfort, anxiety or even anger.
- Intimate distance for children, lovers, close family members, friends, and pet animals.
- Personal distance for conversations with friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions.
- Social distance is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances.
- Public distance is used for speeches, lectures, and larger audiences.
What I want/hoped to demonstrate (through the use of aperture, focal length and viewpoint ) is how people react when these distance norms are forcibly broken down by circumstances and their space invaded such as on a crowded train. Is it possible to show that we are just accepting because we have now have no other option, or perhaps is there a new order of distances emerging in a modern crowded society?
In terms of process my plan was threefold. Firstly to produce the images in black and white as I felt strong could be distracting.
Secondly to move through the range of apertures and focal lengths to represent the four personal distance spaces. Therefore the intimate space would be represented by a long focal length with a narrow depth of field. This would allow the focus just to be on the subjects without the distraction of a background to demonstrate the closeness and proximity to each other. At the other end of the spectrum a wide angle deep depth of field would be used to illustrate the public space. This would not only demonstrate the vastness of the space people move (or not move) but also give the dimension of depth in a crowded situation.
What would be the limiting factor to my aperture/focal length plan would be the amount of available light. It could be possible that within certain environments (inside a building or down in an Underground station) there would not be enough light and I could have to open up the aperture and lose the depth of field I required. Alternatively using the long focal length with the aperture wide open I would have to slow the speed down beyond the point where camera shake would start to cut in. At slow speeds blur of moving subjects could be a possibility but I would hope that it may add rather than detract from some of the images. A tripod would certainly overcome these issues but unless absolutely necessary I avoided this so to be spontaneous and secondly not to attract attention to myself.
Thirdly another dimension to emphasis these space bubbles is that of view point. The intention for the more personal space shot was to be down at subject level or lower. Again this would further isolate the subjects from any background. For the public spaces the plan was to have a high vantage point looking down onto the crowds. However I did not want to be too square to anything below else it would have lost the full advantage with the depth of field.
Looking at what worked well, what didn’t work so well and improvements future:
Was I happy into the depth of research? Yes
Starting from a point of almost zero subject knowledge and with the amount of reading by comparison I almost feel like an expert in the field of personal space. This background investigation really helped with what I was looking for as subject matter in a scene.
Also what helped here was my correspondence with a number of prominent street photographers on how they would approach such an assignment. These responses are outlined in my research section (https://swissrolly.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/assignment-2-collecting-practitioner-responses/)
This did prove challenging in that while I could plan what I wanted to do with focal point, or aperture for instance, trying to find the right aspect of personal space at the right time did prove quite problematical. Many of the images taken are a cross between grab shots and the decisive moment. If I did not take the picture then, regardless of the camera settings, the moment would have been lost. Without doing an exact count by I would guess that over half of all the pictures taken over the various sessions would be eye level and 50mm lens equivalent.
From a pure technical point of view are the pictures exposed correctly and sharp, level, composed as I wanted them then the answer is yes. On one or two shots where a slow speed was used movement can be seen but this I feel does not detract
Am I happy that I have managed to capture personal space especially so the invasion of personal space? Yes and no
Yes in that I think each photograph demonstrates a different aspect of personal space and have given a detailed comment of how each image achieves this. No in that perhaps being too critical of my own work what I wanted to capture in my mind’s eye was not what I could either find in real life and then if found subsequently capture in the way I had envisioned.
Do I think the series works as a whole? I think so
Why I give a reserved yes is because it comes down to seeing the pictures against the intended backdrop. Without knowing the subject matter the viewer would see 10 horizontally orientated black and white pictures all with the same look and feel giving a sense of rhythm and harmony to the set. Each photo is composed well, technically competent but none are show stoppingly excellent. Once the context is then known the pictures take on a different dimension and then this theme is seen across the whole set tying them together as a cohesive unit.
As highlighted in my research the big issue for me was that I took too long over the assignment. This was a combination of:
- choosing a subject that was difficult to capture (born out by my correspondence with street photographers)
- Took too long over the research e.g. was recommended a book by my tutor (The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard) and read it from end to end. It contained very useful themes and ideas but in hindsight I should have adopted a different reading approach.
- trying to get an image that demonstrated an intrinsically different aspect of space. I did not want the themes to duplicate or repeat and this took time
Key learning for me is that for future assignments I need to re-evaluate how I plan my workload else while enjoyable I will never get the course completed in a reasonable time.
Finally while having to respect to the question to keep the same format throughout (to ensure coherence to the series) I would have liked to introduce a mixed format approach. Due to the nature of some of the aspects of personal space a vertical format or even a square format would have better suited what was being portrayed.
Image Selection Criteria
The images selected each represent a different aspect of personal space however as touched on before the viewer needs to know the context. Although they are good pictures individually and work well as a set it is not until the context made known do they all sit together. Yes it can be argued that that each image should be so strong that the context should be obvious to the viewer. In some cases this is very much true (photojournalism perhaps) while others less so. I have covered the context debate a little in relation to the work of Chloe Dewe Mathews (https://swissrolly.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/conflict-time-photography/)
The images were selected by the following criteria:
- Is it of an acceptable technical quality? (e.g. tone, focus sharpness)
- Is it compositionally pleasing? (e.g. would the viewer feel comfortable viewing)
- Is the composition and subject matter sufficiently different than other images selected (to avoid similar looking images)
- Does the picture work in harmony with others selected? (e.g. does the image draw the viewers attention to the detriment of others?)
- Does it show a unique aspect of personal space compared to other images selected?
- Is there a spread of different focal lengths used?
- Is the format of the image consistent with others selected
For me the most difficult selection was choosing sufficiently different images. While I am happy with the outcome in that they all work as a group they are not necessarily what I consider my ‘best’ photographs however they do all meet the selection criteria.
Hanging Plan Design
The hanging plan design fell into two stages. Firstly the selection of the format and secondly the position of the images within the format.
For me this proved problematical in that in theory there are almost a limitless way in which the images can be presented (horizontal, vertical, linear, random, angled etc). My choice was by the fact I did not want eye running along a series of images trying to pair off or balance. I wanted to break the flow so the eye and stopped and inspected each image in relation to another. It was a way of slowing the viewer eye down and presenting visual barriers. Also I tried to develop the theme of personal space between the images making the distance between each image much further away. While this seemed a good idea the final result disconnected the images from the context as there was visually too much space for the eye to easily cross.
Once the format was decided logic was applied to the position. Again even after ruling out unbalanced compositions there are many ways in which the images can be displayed. My final selection was made on the following criteria
- Left wing balances out right wing.
- Stronger images are in the middle
- Link the middle through a pyramid of open to closed spaces
- Try and develop a visual flow from the cramped conditions of the train which both physically and visually transports you to the other images and back to the train for completion.
My view is I am happy with the result and assists in the visualization of the theme of the assignment.
Final Selected 10 Pictures with Observational Commentary
(Note: all pictures taken on a 1.5x crop factor camera)
1) Museum Queue, Palazzo Chiablese, Turin, Italy
55mm 1/100 sec at f4.5
This images show a queue of people waiting to get into an art exhibition. As the queue was outside there was room to move it can be seen that as the crowd was not forced close together. As a result a gap of personal space has opened up between groups. What can be seen is that the gap has not opened up too much so that the shape of the queue remains and no one could easily push in. Interesting to note the two children at the end appear if they could be strangers with personal space between themselves but they are just getting to know each other. Perhaps during the course of the queuing as they get to know each other the space will close down.
The flat square on view is used to demonstrate the personal space gaps.
2) Re-enactment, Hampton Court, London
26mm 1/13 sec at f4.0
I have put this picture in as a positive antithesis to the invasion of personal space. This one breaks all the rules in that there are a large number of people in a confined space yet they all seem comfortable that they are invading each other’s space. Why is this? My theory is they are all here for the common reason of an enjoyable purpose – to see a re-enactment. They are there for their own enjoyment and they want to see and appreciate what is going on. This can be further seen by the fact that some of the children are to be involved as they have been dressed for audience participation. As everyone is there for the same reason the barriers seem to have broken down. They are concentrating on the show smiling and laughing that any personal space limits have disappeared. What I could not determine was how long this social euphoria would last after the show before people would return back to the spatial norms.
I like this photo because it was shot at a low angle in line with most of the audience and a slow speed because of the low lighting conditions. As a result of a wide aperture, the front few subjects are in focus while the rest fade slowly out of focus emphasising the sense of enjoyment on the foreground subject faces. The slow speed has also added some blurring movement in a few subjects which add some dynamism to the image.
3) Station Platform, Morges, Switzerland
26mm 1/800 sec at f5.0
A square-on shot showing passengers waiting at the station. Initially my image was going to show the large gap between the man on the right and the girl on the left. The third subject arrived and placed herself almost dead centre between the two giving naturally equidistance spacing. Clearly the girl must have (perhaps subconsciously) thought about this as she approached her position to place herself so perfectly. What is interesting is that the man seems to be oblivious of the newcomer yet the other girl (providing it is not just me capturing point in time) seems to have adopted a protective body language stance. I was hoping that another person would come along to see where they would stand in relation to the others but the train arrived and the passengers departed.
4) Underground Train, London
16mm 1/60 sec at f4.0
A crowded underground train shows how all personal space has broken down. Passengers appear to accept this as the need to get to their destination outweighs the need for keeping distance. The lower wide angle shot seems to emphasise the lack of space. Also interesting to note that a number of passengers appeared to have spotted me. I think what has happened is that I am a point of interest to which they can fix their gaze outside the carriage rather than having to look into eyes of their fellow passengers. What I like about this image is that the symmetry adds to closeness and confinement, and the teeth like motif on the door adds to the feeling of the passengers being trapped within their surroundings.
5) Millennium Bridge, London
55mm 1/100 sec at f4.5
An observation here of when all the rules of personal space seem to breakdown to achieve a different goal. I found out that the subject here was a yoga practitioner who was part of a photo shoot for her website. Clearly the lady was not concerned about what people thought or how they would react in seeing her. What I saw was two things relating to passers by (i) intimate space seem to close up between couples when seeing anything strange. Almost an inbuilt safety mechanism had kicked in, and (ii) the lady was given a much wider berth than others in the thong of people crossing the bridge. Therefore it could be concluded that while people did not like being too close in crowds it was accepted because of the situation (the narrowness of the bridge), but when something out of the ordinary happens normal rules of distance are applied.
6) Great Court, British Museum, London
36mm 1/60 sec at f4.5
This image is all about choices. I observed the scene for a good ten minutes in anticipation of what would happen before I took this image.
I saw the couple had set themselves down to chat and or eat. From what I would expect that I had learned about personal space that if someone else came along they would set up their own territory as far away as the could. As expected a lady sat down on the other table and at the end to ensure this was a border so her space only had the potential to be invaded on side. It could be argued that she had to sit somewhere so she randomly selected this seat. Yes that is true but the observation her was that was not the case.
I like this image because you see it from the perspective of someone who may have want to enter this space. The photograph conveys the element of choice
7) Ticket Queue, Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France
55mm 1/100 sec at f4.5
A shot from above shows well the space between people queuing for tickets to enter a museum. This demonstrates the personal space between the couples/parties in the queue but also demonstrates the intimate space between the couples. I would argue that as nobody is in a great rush (as there is not start time unlike a sports event) people are keeping their distance and the queue has not closed up.
8) Tourist Party Outside Santa Croce Church, Piazza Carlo Emanuele II, Turin
210mm 1/80 sec at f6.3
Taken from afar this image shows the conflict between personal space and achieving a goal. The party is a group of tourists who other than perhaps couples have no connection between each other than they are getting ready to go on a guided tour of a church with this being the introduction/briefing before they enter. People have to get close enough to hear the guide but because they are unfamiliar with each other they are trying to leave space between each other. The angle from which the photograph was taken shows this clearly. So why do not the tourists just stand in front on the guide to get the best position to hear? Why leave a large gap? Based on what I have read I would argue that this is a combination of keeping personal space but also what is deemed as the social etiquette of good manners. There are times when these proximity rules break down. People on the autism spectrum generally lack any natural sense of personal space, or alternatively people under the influence of alcohol have these barriers broken down sometimes for better or sometimes for worse. With reference to the picture neither appear to be the case here.
9) Platform, Zürich Flughafen Bahnhof, Switzerland
55mm 1/40 sec at f5.6
With this picture I have tried to capture people ignoring any conception of personal space when they have a specific goal in mind. Here passengers are either rushing to catch the train or get to airport terminal as fast as possible. What is not represented in the picture too well is how people would jostle and push each other to achieve their goal.
I do not feel that this picture adequacy captures what I saw in that how people react. Perhaps a slower exposure that would have represented the motion trail may have served better. In saying that this picture was difficult enough as I was seen as a barrier, and subsequently jostled out of the way.
Again what I did not observe that once the people got on the train how they decided to sit. From observations during taking pictures for this assignment my feeling was each person would seek out a seat ideally with no one else either surrounding or next to them. Therefore the barriers of personal space breakdown with the goal to get on the train yet return the moment when they have achieved this goal.
10) Millennium Bridge, London
16mm 1/100 sec at f5.0
In a way this image is counterpoint to the Underground picture. In that the passengers were almost looking to me as an escape. Here the people crossing the bridge to keep their personal space safe did not want to look at me. Yes they saw I was taking pictures of people passing in front of me, yes they had the opportunity to change course and go around the back of me, but they carried on in a straight line and to protect their space just looked down and carried on going. Perhaps on a sunnier warmer day they may have gone around me but on this very cold late afternoon a straight line was the preferred option.
(Click to enlarge)