Exercise 2.3 – Same model, different background.

I have approached this an an archive exercise, inspired by Harry Callahan’s images of Eleanor in a variety of landscapes over a period of five years. Many of these pictures appear to be figure-in-landscape rather than portrait images, therefore more ‘place’ than ‘identity’ but Eleanor’s presence is essential to the images.

From my archive I have extracted images of my wife, Jan, in landscape settings from three recent trips: the West Country (mainly Dartmoor) in 2016, northern Iceland and the Lake District in 2018. Thumbnail indexes are below, showing the 84 images in my long-list. I have pre-edited by omitting all landscape images where Jan is either not present or too small in frame, and also those which are ‘holiday snap’ direct-address poses with no reference to the landscape.

All of these images contain elements of both ‘identity’ and ‘place’. The ‘place’ is usually obvious; identity perhaps less so. Simply putting Jan into an image might be considered a contrivance. However, these are landscapes that we have positively chosen to visit and I see those choices as part of Jan’s identity. Her position and pose are usually her own choice, and I have selected camera positions that make the compositions work. My posing instructions, if given at all, are limited to ‘open the map a bit more’ or ‘look that way’.

In reviewing similar images, it is interesting to see how the ‘look and feel’ is affected by Jan’s relative size in the frame

… and by whether she is interacting with the landscape or facing the camera in a direct approach.

My selection of five images is based partly on objective and partly on subjective criteria. I omitted the direct approach images and those with Jan’s head turned fully away from the camera. I wanted at least one image from each set (there are three from the Lakes and one each from the other locations) and it was important to see grass and rock for colour and thematic coordination across the final set. Some favourite individual images were omitted, such as this one (which has been successful in camera club competitions when cropped and tweaked)


In the final selection, there are thematic links: all show Jan interacting with rugged landscape; the purple jacket links four of them; the other is linked into the set by the device of reading a map. If the set were to be seen as a single panel, I would display it like this.


The first image is the most contrived, using differential focus to separate Jan from the background, which can still be clearly seen as a snowy fellside on a stormy day. With the correct clothing and equipment, she is able to contemplate, rather than hide from, the weather. This image is primarily about ‘identity’.


The second image is more about ‘place’: the bleak and empty landscape of Iceland in late autumn, with Jan’s role as a small figure-in-landscape being to show the scale and convey a sense of emptiness.


The third image shows the form and size of Ashness Bridge and the force of the stream running through it. In other images taken at the same time, Jan is gazing into the distance toward Derwent Water. In this one, she leans over the parapet to view the water; making a more intimate connection with the landscape and neatly combining ‘identity’ (expressed as her curiosity and interest) with ‘place’.


The fourth image is an interaction between Jan and the wider landscape, through the medium of reading a map.


The fifth image was selected to tie the overall panel together. Jan is a similar size in frame to the first image and is looking to the left, into the panel. By combining a map and the purple jacket in one image, it links the fourth image with the overall panel.


The technical details are standard. The camera is a full-frame DSLR, using a 24-70mm ‘standard zoom’ for four of the images and a 70-200mm (at 115mm) for the Iceland image. All images were cropped slightly for tidiness, retaining a 3:2 aspect ratio and some basic processing was carried out in Adobe Camera Raw. I made global and local adjustments to exposure, contrast and colour vibrance, and some global adjustments to colour temperature in order to better coordinate the images when viewed together.


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