I had the pleasure of doing a photo shoot a few weeks back with baritone opera singer Lucio Fersurella while he practiced on a quiet Saturday afternoon in his regular studio near Geneva, Switzerland. Hopefully this will be the first of a few photo sessions that I may put towards a composition later. Here is a small sampling.
It is easy to fall back into old patterns.
I had hoped that by choosing Jungian archetypes for this term focus that I might tap into creativity and get away from a pragmatic approach.
In my tutorial with Patrick Sutherland on November 1st, I realised that I started this project in my usual fashion, producing an outline and mapping it out; seeing it before it is done. This is safe and controlled.
I have since scrapped this first idea that was to be a video composition integrating stills with video. I was going to lead with symbolic images capturing the feminine principle, ease into a series of women’s portraits, then add voice overlay of each person reading a stanza from a Maya Angelou poem. This was to represent the anima archetype. After reflection, I did not feel that it captured the anima archetype and that it could be banal.
This second school term is dedicated to “The Rethink” which requires us to challenge our comfort zones, to try new things in photography and to turn our current practice on its head.
As a departure from my current way of working and from this original proposal, Patrick encouraged me to let go of planned composition. Rather, he wants me to begin by simply producing street photography through emotional engagement. The point: think of how I am approaching it rather than how it may turn out.
Patrick’s process harnesses the journey and it allows me to suspend judgements’ along the way. I need to go with the flow. While, my usual approach focuses on the product rather than the experience. I can see how how limiting my habitual way is for the creative process.
Instead of defining an objective for each day, I will shoot what compels me and not judge my choices. From this stream of consciousness I should find archetypes in the photography, since in theory they are universal to society and should be self-evident. I am combining this with the meditation approach, to channel my subconscious to fuse the images.
Basically, I am diving in and will see what comes. After I produce some work I can see along the way what I can create. It is such a different way for me to work that it makes me uneasy. It is so unformed, so open-ended. I am not photographing to capture a moment, but rather a concept and of how I feel. I have no idea what the final product will look like.
Patrick provided many insights during our tutorial:
- You are going on an interesting journey. I understand the idea of social ideas of femininity and how they are imposed upon people. But, I don’t see the idea of the archetype is in this. If this is where your journey has taken you that is fine, but you have made a departure from your vision of the archetypes.
- Start with a list of archetypes. Can they be reconstructed in a way that works visually? If they can, then you have the starting point of a project. But, if photography is too reductive, than it is not viable.
- You are taking this idea of archetypes and that they are universal – that these are the basic human condition. Anthropologists would question this, but we may see that this is true of all human beings – that the universal condition of being human is linked to the structure of the human consciousness. Can you find these archetypes, these manifestations out on the street? Find them around you in people’s behavior, in advertising, etc. Work in a much less controlled kind of way. The great thing about street photography is that it is completely uncontrolled, it is messy and loose and the opposite of the way you normally approach it. You may find some of these figures are around us all the time; you just have to find a way to recognize them.
- There are quite a number of technical things that you want to do, intercutting into video software. The pictures are responding to the words and audio and to the concept of archetypes. There is a lot to learn and to consider. First make a very rough version technically, an incredibly unpolished version, to learn the basic technology to see the effect it will have on your shooting.
- You need to have some idea of what you are doing, but if you try to visualize the finished product too clearly in your head you may find that you are hugely disappointed with the practicalities. Have a clear sense of how you are trying to do something rather than how it will look like. Then it will evolve and change substantially in the process. Keep it loose.
- The problem with having a particular idea is that it can stop you from seeing things. The meditative approach is a way of taking you away from a rationale way of thinking. You just need to get out on the street and shoot pictures sometimes when you don’t even know why you are shooting something; you just want to take a picture. Don’t over think it. Don’t be literal. I have these ideas in my head and I will see what I see. I don’t even know why I am photographing something.
- It is the nature of Rethink that you will come across brick walls.
- Just enjoy the process of photography without controlling it so much.
And, here are a few early pictures in my process of meditative street photography.
A woman confronting her “Shadow” projection on public transportation.
Animus in his 4th stage – “Hermes”, waiting in the spiritual realm to guide his female conduit.
Anima in her 4th Stage – “Sophia”, availing herself to her male charge to help him find his way.
The Collective Unconscious
Practice assignment Term 2: photo meditation
I am sitting in my own apartment’s living room feeling emotionally neutral, calm, rested and happy. The temperature inside of my apartment is perfect. I feel physically fair, albeit a bit weak and fatigued. I hear cars outside driving in the rain and the voices of people on the sidewalk below, but I can’t figure out what they are saying. I hear my neighbor’s footsteps above me. Birds begin to squawk outside, then a bus goes by. I check the time on my iPhone. Ten minutes to go and I think, “This is hard to do.” I sit back, take a deep breath to relax and I try to allow my thoughts to flow and then release. My emotional neutrality turns to thoughts about my mother and I feel emotion as if she were there with me. It occurs to me, “We carry those we love in our hearts even after they are gone.” I hear more cars, a family outside and a man walking by whistling and I think of how the people on the bus, the family and the man all have a story of their own and are on their way to do something on this gray and storming Sunday. I resist the urge to make to do lists in my head. I try to clear my mind. It does not work. I start to think about what I want to bake this coming week. Then my mother comes back into my thoughts. I feel content. Contentment is the main thing that I feel throughout the twenty minutes.
Our assignment is to sit in a quiet and safe place and meditate with our eyes closed for twenty minutes. Upon opening our eyes, we are to take pictures as inspiration strikes, which can be one picture or one hundred. The idea is to allow the current of subconscious energy to influence our creativity.
Since I could not keep my eyes closed the entire time during the first attempt, I did other sets. It was a good exercise for me both creatively and as a method of stress reduction.
Here is a sampling of what I came up with. You can also view select pictures at this link.
Who comprises The Family of Man today?
More specifically, how may I leverage archetypal images in the 1955 Family of Man exhibit into a visual composition of archetypes today representing our new world?
I am exploring this in the context of our written academic requirements. For the second term now under way, we are required to produce a 2,500-word paper using primary research. This is in addition to our Rethink photography project. We have been given the option of either carving out our own piece of a collective class themed research project or taking on an individualized focus.
I will go it alone to explore the archetypes of The Family of Man exhibit for my paper, since I may focus on this concept for my final photography project requirement for graduation. Therefore, by taking a close look at these issues I can better visualize my Rethink project of the same topic and how it may evolve after.
Since, this paper requires primary research, I would like to speak with multidisciplinary experts to gather their opinions about American and European society’s changes over the years; 1955 versus and until now. These opinions may help me to better understand archetypes in the original Family of Man exhibit and how they have evolved to present day within my own geographic frame of reference.
What would a cultural anthropologist see as the principal changes over the last 58 years through archetypes? How would a sociologist, psychologist, gender and sexual studies expert, cultural and ethnic studies expert, historian, educator, medical doctor, artist, businessperson, politician, or photojournalist see it?
I want to hear what first comes to mind for each person interviewed such as with free association feedback. In other words, I want to hear your philosophic pondering, along with your off-the-cuff insights as an expert. I will provide iconic archetypal images from the original Family of Man exhibit for reflection.
I will not be drawing hard academic conclusions. I will capture the essence of my topic to focus it as a creative endeavour. Art’s subjective nature leaves us all to formulate our own responses to the questions and emotions it conjures. So, even though this study will be injected with expert opinion, the conclusions that I draw will be my own biased, imperfect but personal take to achieve an artistic and photojournalistic vision. Also, realistically speaking, my analysis will translate into a composition, limited geographically and focused to a set of parameters, also defined by what I have access to shoot and to what I will be able to reproduce without copyright restrictions.
My initial take of the supreme difference of then and now is that we have grown into a global community. As mentioned before, The Family of Man was produced in 1955. We now live with porous cultural and economic borders.
I also see changes in the family structure, marriage, the voice and activism of youth, racial diversity across all aspects of society, and more active and visible participation of persons with disability in the workforce and in society at large.
I am at the early stages of defining my academic and photographic projects. I will take this global idea and narrow it to a workable plan. So for both the photography and written piece, I will continue to sharpen my focus of and within archetypes to compartmentalize.
Ultimately, I hope to capture archetypes in an abstract or symbolic way, as well as, intermingling these with tangible images.
The number of archetypes that I finally explore photographically depends on how it goes for the first set that I would like to consider as a test run focusing on one archetype. The first attempt will help me find to my method of approach, possible subjects for shoots, and maybe some documentary archival photography to integrate.
What I do next is strongly influenced by the coaching that I will receive during tutorials, so I do not know how it will evolve. If I choose to expand this assignment for my final project for consideration of graduation, following Rethink, I would then go into more depth.
I am looking for multidisciplinary experts who would be available for an interview and who would not mind being taped. I may want to use parts of the interview for voice overlay to the photography piece.
We each recently received our first term verbal assessment. This is where we review with one of the professors how it went for us and we discuss a bit about expectations for the new term now under way.
The feedback that I received was helpful and I feel that I am on track. We were on the same page and I am excited for the next stage.
In my first term project, I did a standard photo story in book layout format. I produced a sequence of images with text portraying a wheelchair basketball team’s season. I took the viewer through a narrative from beginning to end. It was a linear form.
He said that I essentially achieved my goal with room to grow. I also learned a lot for how I could make it better next time, which is what I had hoped for.
My first term project — Basketball Unlimited
I now want to be more creative, which is also the expectation.
Our new term assignment is called the “Rethink” project. We need to reinvent our approach, getting away from our comfort zones. My images may now be more symbolic or even abstract. I am hoping this will help me to integrate more creativity into my work later on.
During my assessment session, I received encouragement for my Rethink project idea. I will explore Jungian archetypes through photography. I am re-conceptualizing the famous exhibit by Curator Edward Steichen, “The Family of Man”, but of course on a much smaller scale. Steichen’s intention was “to prove, visually, the universality of human experience and photography’s role in its documentation”.
The Family of Man Exhibit
I may be able to expand this idea later into my final major project for graduation, depending on how it goes.
Carl Jung conceived archetypes. They are universal symbols across humanity – in every era, society, country or culture. We may see them in our dreams or know them on a conscious level. They tell us who we are as a person and as a people.
Two examples are ‘anima’ and ‘animus’, which are the feminine and masculine principles. Femininity and masculinity are in us all, regardless of our sex, gender or sexual orientation. These archetypes may take on different cross-cultural meanings and evolve over time. Imagine what it meant to be feminine in America during the 1950’s versus now and how it was and is presented in art and journalism.
Another example is the ‘mother’ archetype. Over time societies have depicted the mother symbolically in a range of ways, both tangible and abstract. There is the Virgin Mary and Mother Nature, or symbols of fertility, along with a range of other representations.
The advertising industry makes masterly use of the emotional appeal of archetypes to manipulate consumerism. Imagine a close-up of an athletic man in black on a mud-ridden motorcycle with the engine roaring, angled and ready to descend a steep and rocky mountain, as masculine branding for a dirt bike.
There are scores of archetypes. I haven’t narrowed down what I want to focus on yet. I would love to hear suggestions.
I will explore a bit with my camera and see what I find as a start. We will have a practice photo assignment soon to help us get going. I am also considering using audio and video with still photography to produce a video compilation. I am not sure how it will all come together in the end. I will decide how I will produce it as I collect the imagery.
There is room for creative exploration. I will need a lot of coaching as I go along. I expect trial and error. We have been told that the learning process is as important as the final product, if not more. I will keep you posted.
As we got older we would sleep later and later on Christmas morning. My four siblings and I, our parents, and any friends who joined us that year would all leisurely get up, find a big box of donuts in the kitchen and slowly gather before the festivities began.
About a month ahead, we would have received a timed agenda in the mail from my mother. This is a Leydorf family tradition that as I was growing up seemed normal to me; but friends of mine have commented that it is not typical. But, my mother was a planner and perhaps it was a way for her to support my father who was and remains a very big fan of a detailed schedule and a plan. And in any case, it played out mellow and as a day of total relaxation and fun. When I saw a few “Christmas agendas” in my family scrapbook, I felt of pang of sadness that I can longer anticipate it in the mail. I did not think much about it when I received them over the years.
One high point for me after we opened some gifts and as we were regrouping before dinner, we would sometimes play a quick a game of hoops at the schoolyard across the street: my dad and I against my brothers Tom and Bill. They would sometimes break into playing like they were the Harlem Globetrotters Basketball Team, trying to spin the basketball on top of their finger while they were considering their free throw shot, dribbling the ball in front and then around their back, probably breaking all kinds of rules of the game, but we would laugh so hard nobody cared.
Another highlight for all of us was our yearly colored group sweatshirt. My mother would pick a different color each year, buying one for each of us and our guests, plus by post, one for every guest who had ever visited us any year in the history of family Christmas’. We would wear our color all day and to the movie theatre later. Our large group would simultaneously stand in domino-like unison to do the wave across the seats before the movie started. I just remember laughing, a lot.
Nobody outside of my family seems to get this sweatshirt tradition. But we loved it. We reveled in our eccentricity. The final year of the sweatshirt was a bit sad for me. My mother said that she officially ran out of colors.
These memories came streaming back to me, by just looking at that photo of us in blue sweatshirts one Christmas morning.
Family and personal albums reveal the truths about ourselves and they portray the people we care about and love the most, like the “attic of people’s hearts”. They tell our family narratives and secrets. And they can give us insights into the fabric our legacy and how this weaves into our own way of being.
Revisit family albums looking for the pictures that stand out the most. Also, check your stories with those of your family members. You may be surprised how your narratives differ for the same picture.
- Why are your eyes drawn to certain pictures first?
- How do they make you feel?
- How does each picture reflect who you are now as a person?
- What dynamics do you see in your relationships with and between your family members?
- How was the album constructed and what does this say about your family?
Here are three pictures that immediately caught my eye as I looked through family albums today. For most, if you click on the image you can see it enlarged since the detail is quite small on some.
My family waiting for me.
My mother’s look of determination at the young age of 16.
The five of us siblings just before bedtime. Our personalities shine through.
Then there was this that may be a bit telling, about me at the time of my birth.
As I casually look through my family albums, I do see some family dynamics and a bit of how I came to be who I am now.
By contemplating where we come from, we may better understand our motivations as photographers, what we shoot, how we shoot it, and why it has meaning to us.
You can learn more about analysing family photos and the field of photo psychology at this link.
As I walked down Haight Ashbury Street in San Francisco, California about four years ago, I was trying out a new camera that I had purchased a while back. It was during a difficult time in my life and I needed to get outside to distract myself. I walked up to a young man sitting on the sidewalk with his friends, playing the guitar for money. After getting his approval, I sat on the sidewalk with him and as we talked I snapped away with my camera. I did not know how to use my Canon DSLR yet, so I put it on automatic controls. Without any thought about technique or lighting, I just did what felt natural to me. His buddies started teasing him because of the attention that I was giving him, which made him a little nervous and he began playing the guitar. I took a few pictures of his friends, before moving on.
I captured about a dozen portraits of homeless or displaced youth within an hour. It felt good to me, like I was reconnecting with something that had been important to me. I studied homelessness during my Masters Degree in Public Administration at San Francisco State University. I wrote my thesis several years ago on barriers preventing homeless children from staying in school in San Francisco. I also toured all of the homeless shelters in San Francisco and many in Alameda County to study the quality of care that these centers provided. I was most interested in what the patrons thought, calling one report, “Listening to the Homeless”.
I am long since away from academic study where I sought to understand and create solutions to homelessness. However, something switched on that day taking me back to face these issues, now differently, through the lens of a camera. I travelled to eleven European and American cities taking portraits of people who needed to ask for money in the street to survive. Some may have been homeless, others displaced in one way or another, all marginalized.
During this process, I discovered photographer Dorothea Lange who photographed people living in poverty during the American depression for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Her photograph “The Migrant Mother” is one of the most recognizable photojournalistic photos in American history. (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b29516)
“This thing called social erosion. I saw it,” she commented during an interview in 1964. “I was active, interested and responsive.” Her images, along with those of her FSA colleagues, are said to have influenced American social reforms of the 50’s and beyond. I was captivated by how she captured the strength and dignity of the people in her images, despite their living conditions. I found her inspirational. She is one of the reasons why I decided to study photojournalism taking me to where I am now, working through my Master of Arts.
This brings me full circle and back to the practice of taking portraits, which was a required assignment during my first school term. After touring cities for two years taking spontaneous portraits without much thought as to practice, I was faced with taking posed portraits.I hit a bottleneck. Taking portraits did not come easy any more. Everything in this genre challenged me: posing the person, lighting, technical quality, etc. How could I spend two years traveling around randomly approaching strangers on the street to take their portrait and then feel paralysis when completing a school assignment?
Partly, I could not focus. My concentration was poor because I lost my mother just before this time. But I also needed to relax and not worry about what others thought. I needed to allow myself to get into flow and see what comes. Most of all, I needed to not judge myself. Of course, practice also helps. After stepping back for a few months and now practicing again, I am starting to enjoy portraiture.
A few of my colleagues kindly posed for portraits. I try to capture the confidence and zen that I once had when I was taking photographs of displaced persons and to have fun with it, be comfortable in the moment and to trust my instincts. I try to not overly control the moment, allowing for the personalities to show while paying attention to technical details to get a good shot right off the bat since I prefer minimal post processing.
I learn as I go along. I want more practice though.