I’ve been working on various lighting techniques within portraiture, particularly outdoors and using multiple light sources. With other experiments I’ve completed thus far using CG and photography, the portraits have been done within a studio lighting context. However, my past experience (and thus, comfort zone) comes in the form of natural light and very interaction based scenarios, where the photos are about the story of the people in the place, not so much the technique and perfection. So it’s been interesting working and shooting within other environments, and how I’ve found various places to have quite distinctly different atmospheres when shooting.

Anyway, I did an interview a few weeks ago with (primarily) advertising photographer John Offenbach, in which I asked him about his experience in using CGI with photography, among other things. In particular, I thought his response to the following question was quite interesting –

How do you think new digital manipulation techniques are changing photography?
‘It’s a big change in approach. I think that on set/location there was more experimentation more discovery before, because you were never really sure what you had. Now there is a tendency to ‘gather the pieces’.

Working recently with the creation of CG environments and then combining them with studio style portraits, this is definitely something I can relate to! There is absolutely something to be said about that spur of the moment interaction with on location shoots. With CG, it seems that there is a need to pre-plan every detail – to, yes, ‘gather the pieces’ – which can very easily result in a disingenuous shooting atmosphere.

It’s interesting, I was thinking about it earlier today, how some people say that photography is like a modern version of painting. That a lot of the rules and ideas behind photography (aesthetically) are very much based on painting.

To me, painting captures the essence of something, while photography captures the instant of something.

But with using CG – when it’s done well – I’ve found there’s this strange dynamic where you can capture both the essence and the instant, which is fascinating.

The tricky part is creating the instant – that spur of the moment natural feeling. It’s weird, like you suddenly need to fabricate the essence in real life in order to capture the instant. Otherwise, the interaction between the real and digital becomes somehow unbelievable.

Just some late night contemplations!

Otto Neurath’s contribution of the ISOTYPE (International System of Typographic Picture Education) system represents an important development in the area of communicative visual design. The success of this system demonstrates the necessity for a means of communication to cross linguistic, cultural, and other barriers – in this case, visual. While Neurath himself was not a graphic designer, much of his work revolved around the study of sociology, and his contribution of the ISOTYPE was a response to the idea that ‘visual methods–even the most careful charts and the most elaborate exhibits–are frequently confusing rather than enlightening, because their elements are unfamiliar’ (Neurath, Visual Education: A New Language).

I feel this thought is largely intriguing also in relation to the familiarity of photography.

To break it down further, the ISOTYPE system is a graphic language that was specifically designed to transcend the boundaries of cultural and language barriers. It is essentially a set of symbols that represent common concepts and send simple messages, which we see and decode near daily in the context of crosswalk signs, etc. It builds on a fundamental human understanding of reality and utilizes simplistic renderings of people completing various activities, where the symbols used are designed with qualities that make them universally understood.

So how does this translate to photography? Especially in light of the recent development of the digital camera, I would argue that the photograph has itself become a universally understood concept.

Because a large percentage of the population are familiar with the concept and process of photography, more specifically because they have personal experience with the medium , they are more likely to interject their own ideas of realism into a given piece of photo realistic visual communication, almost placing themselves within the scenario that the photo was taken. It’s almost as if photography has become its own language of subtly interactive visual communication, the implications of which could be limitless.

Granted, photography has been used as a means of visual communication for years, but if we understood its power as potentially universally understood conversation of sorts, how could we use it more effectively within the broader field of design and communication?

I think the big question is, how can we embrace digital processes within photography while also maintaining this fundamental connection between the viewer, the photograph, and understood reality?

We met up bright and early on the 4th to get things setup and start off for the much anticipated Help-Portrait Belfast event. The amount of people who ended up coming to volunteer – from photographers to hair and makeup artists to people serving tea and coffee and everything in between – was seriously mind blowing. I love how a group of like-minded people can come together to do something so spectacular – to give back in the simplest of ways. To tell stories by listening to stories. To use our skills to bless others.

I had planned to take photos throughout the day and have them all compiled for a nice visual narrative of the day. But it didn’t really work like that. After each photo I took and had printed for someone, I reformatted my memory card. The photos only exist in the printed form – which says volumes in itself I suppose, because it’s not really about the photos. It’s about the conversations that happened because of the photos. It’s kind of a difficult concept to explain if you haven’t experienced it; it really is a shift in thinking about photography.

I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but I believe we ended up with around 7 photographers, 13 volunteers, 2 hair dressers, and 1 makeup artist. I think the final count of photos taken was around 136 (probably around 60 unique people/families). Everything about the event was pushed up a notch from last year – lots of fresh baked goods, tea, and coffee, Christmas carol sing-a-long for the kiddos, hair and makeup beauty stations for the ladies, photos, and of course, lovely conversation for all.

Even bigger, on the same day, thousands of other people around the world were doing the same thing. Global collaboration in all its selflessness and beauty. I am so excited to have been a part of it, and to meet other amazing folks who gave their time and energy and awesome talent. Check out the Flickr pool for behind the scenes photos from other Help-Portrait events around the globe.

Also, check out Russel Pritchard’s Blog for a lovely, better documented recap of the day. And I definitely recommend joining us if you’d like to be involved next year!

Without further adieu, I will break the rules of blog posting and end with a smiley. Because really, I can’t think of a better way to say it than:

Help-Portrait is :)

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