BEGINNING A PHOTOGRAPHY CLUB WITH TEENAGERS
In my business I am always being asked to think on my feet. So here's the scenario : it’s the beginning of a semester and it’s time for students to select their CAS (Creativity Action Service) activities at Alcanta International IB College, Guangzhou. Essentially after school 'clubs' which students are encouraged to pick three, one representing each category: Creativity , Action and Service. I have volunteered a Photography Club. I am asked to give a short slideshow and introduction to what I hope to achieve over the next five weeks (yes, only five weeks!) to take on the field of” Photography” in all of its diversity and various incarnations with a Creative group of students.
Predictably, on the “taster” evening that follows, I am confronted with a group of restless teenagers, ranging from the very serious, the out-rightly arty, to the "I don't -even- know- why- I -am -here- tonight, I -couldn't -decide -on- anything -else"- types. When I ask the question: "how many of you have brought a camera?" two hands go up among the assembled group of sixteen. A challenging start. "Ok", I say, "who's got a smart phone or tablet with them? "- to which ten more hands go up. Time to think on my feet!
I begin by asking them about their experiences with photography so far and what it is that they are using photography for in their lives. Perhaps, again predictably, it is quickly established that photography to them is about creating an “on - screen presence”. This is a generation which is used to carefully editing and meticulously presenting it’s visual presence on forums such as: ‘Facebook’, ‘Instagram’, ‘Twitter’ and ‘Tumblr’.
These tech-savvy teenagers have become very adept at almost 'misrepresenting' themselves in order to feel together; to fit in to this virtual structure. An edifice which is made up from a selection of in-app rainbow- tinted filters, quick editing presets, selective colour, overlaid text, stickers, banners and gifs, not to mention the ubiquitous comic -book poses, (the two fingers of peace placed alongside the ear being only just the beginning of a whole lingua franca of accepted photographic pose and expression) and all couched within a social network that would make Orwell shudder. How does one even begin to compete with that?
Certainly not through a crusty old presentation on the anatomy of a camera, or 'how to better understand exposure', as an opening gambit? Why bother with that? After all - isn't everyone a photographer anyway? We buy our way into better photography skills, don't we? Budget allowing, if your sophisticated camera or device can decide everything from your shooting mode, the styling and lighting of your subject to your metadata and tagging for you; then why not let it? Wouldn't you rather run your images through the presets on your phone app than footer around on Photoshop? These teenagers exist in a world that cannot and will not wait, even a matter of hours, for the pictorial evidence of their hyper-real lives. So why fight it? If we are going to 'misrepresent' ourselves, I tell them (my later smaller elect group), let’s do it in style; using the lessons of photography, art and design. Let's work with what we've got.
What better way to 'misrepresent' and expand upon the illusory nature of a portrait, than by using a Surreal approach. The Mannerist painter of 14th Century Milan : Guiseppe Arcimboldo, who created fantastic, Surreal, composite heads, using mainly natural objects in his portrait paintings is our starting point for thinking out of the box.
With the emphasis placed upon the styling and lighting prior to shooting, students work in pairs to create a shoot which is an appropriation of Arcimboldo; using a variety of fruit and vegetables to literally dress or disguise the face of the sitter. The studio resembles more a stage for a "Masterchef" competition than a photography space but it's all great fun. A good ice-breaker activity too.
In the following week's session we learned from the lessons of other Surrealists such as painter Rene Magritte and photographer Man Ray. By adopting a different sort of approach to the 'illusion portrait’, students were asked to use” forced perspective” in a photograph, thereby creating an illusion in their shots. Below are some of the edited results which were achieved :
Not only have these initial CAS Photography sessions been fun – but they helped to debunk the myths that you need a big, fancy, expensive camera to be 'better' at photography. Or that you should study the basics first and begin with a core understanding of such things as exposure and metering before even attempting to shoot something and dare to call yourself a 'proper' photographer. Of course these fundamentals are important and as the course continues, we focus upon these building blocks within a series of mini projects that are designed to help students not only take better photographs but find a more unique way of expressing themselves and perhaps representing themselves too.
Tips for taking forced perspective photographs like this:- If possible try to use the smallest aperture possible in order to increase depth of field so everything is in focus.
Find more examples of forced perspective photographs here.