Give us a smile
This assignment was presented as a physical album. You can see a video of the album here: https://vimeo.com/188814698 password smileplease . There are no jpgs for this assignment. Research and introductory posts are as follows, please do have a look at the links for more information:
- Prescribed research from A1 feedback
- Choosing a topic
- Research – photobooth machines and work made with them
- Research – smiles and facial expression
- Choosing how to present the work
I used a photobooth machine as my camera. I wanted to explore the idea of “Give us a smile” – the way that women and girls are frequently asked for smiles, generally by complete strangers. I was encouraged by the feedback I had from friends and their daughters when discussing the idea with them. One friend told me how much she liked photographs that showed her children absorbed in learning, doing, playing, being…. and of how her mother-in-law says every Christmas that the family calendar would be so much nicer “If only the children were smiling more”. Another talked of how boys are often given the right to the full range of emotions and a sympathetic response to each, whereas people just want an unsmiling girl to smile again, regardless of whether or not she wants to or indeed has any reason to. Another talked of “that face”; the one when you know that the shutters are down, the heels are dug in and that no compromise will be brooked.
My brief to the participants was to do whatever they wanted except smile, whilst holding a smile prop. I wanted to get the idea over of being asked for a smile when you really don’t have one for that person, that moment. The brief was harder than expected, I had to re-shoot my daughter’s set because she couldn’t turn her grin off. One friend struggled holding a poker face as two of her children gurned at her from under the curtain. I asked them to wear white, black or grey tops to help give a consistent look and minimise distractions within the image.
I used a photobooth for a number of reasons. I wanted consistency, I wanted that idea of official documentation that you get from a passport photograph, but I also wanted the feel of privacy and freedom that you get from a photobooth, the fact that there’s no visible photographer to interact with or to tell you what to do. Photobooths were the selfie-makers of my generation; for some of the children in these images it was their first, spell-binding time in a Photobooth. All sets except one were taken in the same machine in Sainsbury’s, Devizes. I completely handed over technical control to a camera that could not have its settings changed, but also removed me from the photographic process meaning that all the participants had the same interaction process. Especially for the children, who had completely autonomous control of how they appeared in the images once their parent was on the other side of the curtain. It also meant that theoretically all images had identical framing, light and background.
What went well:
- all participants understood the brief, even the youngest
- they all understood the dichotomy of smiling when you don’t want to
- the photobooth worked well and was a good tool for the job
- I was happy with the images as a set
- I was very happy with the presentation of images as sets in a custom-printed album
- I liked the idea of a rhythm through the images inspired by Hans Eijkelboom The Street and Modern Life and the way he signposts changes in topic. My pattern is much simpler but I am inspired to try more involved and changing sets of three.
- I am stunned by the research potential around both photoboothographers/y and facial expressions.
What didn’t work so well:
- I did one set of images in Victoria Station, London using the same brand and model of machine as the machine in Devizes. The images made had much tighter framing despite it being the same machine, operated in the same way.
- Several of the participants were small enough to need the maximum electronic “seat” height setting, and this resulted in a black line across the bottom of the image.
- The lens was very wide and captured the edge of the curtain in several images. Unfortunately you couldn’t see the curtain in the projected image in the booth.
- I got some lint caught on the first page of the album due to wiping the photos with a cloth that was shedding from the cut edge. I also don’t like the trapped air very much.
- The layout of the printed images made it impossible to cut an even white margin around the prints so I had to trim right onto the image.
- I ended up with too many photographs for the brief, really, but equally I felt that 6 to 10 passport images wouldn’t give the end result I wanted so I went for 9 pages rather than 9 images.
How the series might be improved in the future:
- I have lots of ideas and plans for continuing this work, either with or without the smile prop.
- Find a better photobooth format. I want to try out the more traditional strips of 4, however these are only available in black and white or “vintage” so I would lose the impact of the red smile. They are also half the cost of the format I used.
- Try out a “scrapbook” presentation format in a similar colourway to this – I like the idea of presenting images on a wallpaper style background; and also the black/white/red colour scheme in certain scenes in Amelie. I wanted to do this with the assignment but there were too many images.
- Do some work on a more physical die-cut series. Passport photos are always rectangular – I want to cut some into miniature-style ovals. I also want to explore layered and cut passport photographs, and altered (nail polish and stencils?) Here are a couple of phone shots of ideas for development.
- Try out larger photobooth portraits (the single large photo format) as I think this could be an interesting format to alter.
- Look into getting the images scanned and printed much larger.
It feels like a good start. I am conscious of trying to fit a gallon into a pint pot, there are so many more things I would like to do with this work.