The images below are taken from a series by Gillian Wearing OBE entitled “Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that way what someone else wants you to say”. The photographs were shot between 1992/3. The images show portraits of varying people in South London. Wearing approached subjects in the busy area and asked them to write down what was on their minds. Then, with their permission she photographed them holding the statement.
The complete set of images is made up of over 50 colour photographs and displays a cross section of people in the South London area. The project being shot in the early 1990’s is significant and the photographs show the struggles that the UK were having. One of the statements reads ‘Will Britain get through this recession?’
One of the photographs shows an elderly couple, standing on the curb of a busy street, holding a sign saying ‘I like to be in the country’, while another photograph shows a homeless man bearing the poignant statement: ‘I signed on and they would not give me nothing’. Among the group is one of Wearing’s best known images which depicts a smartly dressed young man with a mild, even complacent, expression holding a sign saying simply, ‘I’m desperate’. In a 1996 interview Wearing described how ‘People are still surprised that someone in a suit could actually admit to anything, especially in the early 1990s, just after the crash I think he was actually shocked by what he had written, which suggests it must have been true. Then he got a bit angry, handed back the piece of paper, and stormed off.’ (Text taken from Tate Gallery Website)
I think Wearing used flash for most of these images as there is usually a hot spot on the subjects’ heads. I would say that she used an F stop of around 5 as the backgrounds are out of focus and the subjects are perfectly sharp, however unlike some of the other artists, the backgrounds are also fairly bright. This suggests that the F stop used was not high. As well as this, she photographed 3/4 length of the subjects as a rule. This is similar to Sian Davey (See previous blog post). I think this brings a level of intimacy to the photos and makes the signs more poignant. Particularly the signs that say things like “I’m desperate” and “Help”.
Originally, I had thought about doing something similar to this for my street photography brief, but instead of asking people’s thoughts, asking their age, name and occupation. I decided against it because I thought this would be more boring. However, when I was photographing in Cardiff for the first time, I asked all of my subjects for that information and I took note of it. I thought I may be able to use it as captions for my images. I also thought that this information may work well because one of my main aims is to see if people fit or challenge their stereotype.
Rineke Dijkstra became known for her series of beach portraits which were shot around the world including places such as Poland and California. The images all have the same set up which makes them work as a set. She uses a high aperture to make the background darker and out of focus, and she uses a flash to make the subject sharp and prominent. As a rule, she photographed people who weren’t too conventionally beautiful.
She used a medium format 5×4 camera to shoot these which could be quite intimidating to the subjects. Because of this, the subjects had to be fairly confident. They also had to be willing to pose for a long time as exposure times may have varied depending on the location of the portrait.
The above image was taken at Hilton Head, California in 1992. This portrait is significant in the series as the girl featured is considered beautiful by American beauty standards of that time. This makes it different to the other photographs which feature less generically beautiful. Dijkstra overheard the girl’s mum say she was too fat to have her picture taken. As a result, Dijkstra asked the girl to come back to the beach the next day to pose for a portrait, and the girl returned visibly more ‘made up’ with styled hair and make up. I think this is interesting because in this case, Dijstra didn’t necessarily chose her subject as she usually did.
This image is also one of her most famous as it has been likened to Botticelli’s painting ‘Venus’. This was more coincidental than intentional, and it’s primarily down to the girl’s pose of a twisted in knee and tilted head:
I really like the darkness of the background in this portrait which has been caused by a high aperture of around 16. Similarly to other portraits taken using flash, I like the effect the flash causes of making the subject seem separated and more contrasted against the darkened background. This is the kind of style I am aiming to re-create in my street photography module.