This will be my second project on the subject of Environmental Portraiture. My first was my Final Major project that culminated in participation in an exhibition in the Millennium Court Arts Centre and contributed to my qualification in photography. On that occasion I produced four large, fine art, colour environmental portrait prints featuring local celebrities. Now I want to continue my work on environmental portraiture, but this time trying to dig a bit deeper.
An environmental portrait should be more than a simple portrait of the subject. It should tell the viewer something more about the subject than what they look like. That could simply amount to telling something about where the subject works or what he does. But a good environmental portrait will do even more than that. It should say something about the personality and passions of the subject. This might indeed be about his or her work, or it might be about their hobbies or interests, beliefs or dreams, habits, social status, likes, dislikes, skills or talents.
The environmental element will place the subject in context. It will often be provided by the setting, although it also might be something as simple as a prop, or a combination of something about the subject and a setting or a prop, for example an amputee at a trackside or a war veteran with his medals. Though it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as this. Simple settings can work very well; the engineer in his workshop, the actor in his dressing room. But it has to be more than an action shot. it also needs to say something about the subject. The photographers job is to use the elements to provide the narrative and context to the viewer.
Nothing is set in stone, and I fear that it might not always be appropriate, but this time I envisage a series of black and white prints. They will set the subject in an environment in which he or she is not only comfortable, but in which they practice their passion. For some this may be their home, for others possibly their workplace or the place where they practice their hobby, sport, social activity or whatever it is that consumes them! It will not necessarily be the person in the act of that consuming passion. In fact it probably won’t be because that just amounts an action shot, but the environment will probably indicate or at least suggest what it is that this person is all about. I want it to be a window into their life, or at least that part of their life.
Light will be all important. This doesn’t mean that all images being lit in the same style. Quite the opposite, the subject and the environment will dictate the light. The light will have to be sympathetic to the subject. Sometimes it may impart a sense of drama, and at other times it should probably almost invisible. Sometimes daylight, sometimes artificial light.
My influences? Certainly for one, W Eugene Smith. Smith was a photojournalist and war correspondent but it is his later work such as his Country Doctor series and his Pittsburgh Project that have grabbed my attention. The sense of drama and humanity contained in his images is outstanding. Portraits by Bill Brandt have also been an influence. His portraits such as Francis Bacon Walking on Primrose Hill and of Tom Stoppard being two great examples. And of course I can’t mention Brandt without also mentioning Brian Griffin, quoted as one of Britain’s most influential portrait photographers. Griffin takes a very contemporary approach to his portraiture and I think his work is fantastic. Perhaps not to draw so heavily on the contemporary element for this project, Griffin’s influence is certainly worth keeping in mind.
It would be great if I could get some characters happy to get involved in this project. If you are interested or know somebody who might be please comment below or use my contact from.
I will post more as the project progresses: