Five in 5 is a personal photography project to capture the essence of working professionals. 5 people, 5 photographs. Simple. Or is it? In the age of digital cameras, it is easy to click away on auto-setting, without truly thinking what, why or who you’re photographing, in the hope that ‘one’ image may come out right. My project aim is, therefore, for me to go back to the basic principles of photography from where I first started as a boy, reading ‘The Puffin Book of Photography’ – subject – light – situation – environment – moment. 5 elements of photography. 5 in Five.
Jo Jenkins – Behind the 5 Images
Jo Jenkins is a contemporary artist based in Chester. I met her through the Cheshire Artist Network. As I walked across the threshold of her home, her art greeted me in every corner of the house; beautiful large canvasses and prints with patterns, shades, abstracts that defined her artistic style convincingly.
As a photographer, I look at clarity; solidity; form. What surprised me was how Jo sees the world. As I observed one of her large paintings on the stairs wall, she described how there was an horizon of a hill, with the sky above and land below – where at first I only saw abstract shades, large colour patterns. Then, slowly, surely, as she described it more I began to see the hills and visualize the horizon as the image began to take 3 dimensions. So, Monsieur Photographe, light has shape even if abstract.
Jo’s studio is upstairs, with a natural softbox from the large window of the south-facing room that overlooked the Welsh hills. There will be no need for flash today, or so I thought. All around were in-progress canvasses on easels, with a noticeable array of mixed oil-paint swirls on upturned plastic container lids.
Jo showed me her ‘ideas board’. Her colour inspiration comes from her travels on walking holidays, from the Himalayas to Italy; photographs of far flung scenes adorned the pin-board. As I attached the 35mm 1.4G lens and held the viewfinder to my eye to take a basic headshot of Jo, I casually reviewed the bokeh of the ideas board on the camera screen – and then it all became clear to me – in the wide aperture blur, the colours of the post-cards matched her paintings – swatches of pastel colours, light and dark; shapes, horizons, troughs. Note to self – get me my own ideas board and start thinking shades not shapes.
In the corner by the window was an array of the usual paint tubes and brushes that you would expect to be there in an art studio; curiously, though, amongst them was an orderly line of labelled audiocassettes and a paint-splattered cassette player. Jo needs music to paint to. Cassettes have an eminently practical superiority over CDs to a painter, apparently – you can’t smudge an audiocassette ribbon as easily as paint-covered fingers can a CD. Would her auditory mix-tape match the oil-swatches, I thought?
And so to the task – Five in 5. The afternoon Spring sun bathed the room with natural light; it soon became apparent that I needed a fill-flash softbox to balance the contrasty shadows at the back of the room from the natural-light version. Using the 14-24mm at widest angle allowed me to capture Jo in her natural environment, at home in the middle of her canvasses, comfortable in her ‘painting slippers’. This lens can have unforgiving distortion at the slightest tilt, so I was careful to keep an eye on the electronic levels in-camera. Using live-view helped me hold the camera at waist level to give a uniform perspective, plus, it also helped me interact with Jo more easily without my face being hidden from the large square block of the D800.
As I experimented with angles, close-ups, standing-by-the-canvas-‘cos-she’s-a-painter-shots, I realized that Jo needed some space. Her paintings after all are of large abstract landscapes and vistas, so boxing her in didn’t feel right. She and they needed room to breathe, so 14mm was a good choice.
Before we knew it, our time was up and a cup of tea was kindly offered downstairs. We talked about portraiture, Jo showed me a classic book of portraits and we realised together how artists and photographers have a similar mission – to tell a story through our eyes in a standing image. The methodology may be different, but the need is identical.
Which Five in 5?
It’s often quite a task to sift through the loupe viewer to select one’s chosen images; with Jo it was easy – space, swatches, ideas, music.
My key image of Jo is a wide angle shot of her standing in the middle of her art, relaxed, satisfied. This image needed to fill the width of the final image block to give her the necessary space and presence with her paintings. Using the letterbox format I think accentuates this for the viewer; the controlled edge distortion of the left framed painting adds to this dimension.
The second is a key portrait of Jo’s face – showing how the natural light bathes the room, but deliberately in the background an anchor point of where it all starts – the bokeh’d ideas board.
For the remaining images I chose 2 images of the oil swatches; the first because I just liked the composition of the 2 round lids together; the second as it signified the journey from the table of swirls up and into the canvas painting.
The final image was of course the symbolic, audiocassette soldiers at attention, Jo’s indestructible muse.
Five in 5 – thank you Jo.