Interview with a 1 rifles soldier

Below is an informal interview i had with on of the soldiers in 1 Rifles. Towards the end of the interview answering the questions starting to bother him, i could tell that he was beginning to feel quite uncomfortable.. During this i remembered about what Matthew Partington said so i gave him some time to think in between each questions and didn’t rush him. I’m happy with the answers I got and i can tell that the responses are completely honest due to how he reacted. It was quite difficult for me but i’m happy i had the confidence to speak to a soldier as i feel it gives my images much more context and backs them up.

Why did you decide to join the Army?

I wanted to prove to myself that i could cope in certain situations. I feel this is probably one of the main reasons why most people decide to join up. Guys tend to play call of duty and other war games and it makes you think what you would be like in those situations.

How many times have you been out to Afgan and what is your role?

I’ve been out twice, 2 7 months tours so that’s 14 months all together. I help to provide security for locals by patrolling/deliberate operations (strike up, found out information where the enemy are, where they store their weapons etc). We build up relationships with the local community which allows them to trust us which helps us a lot with our job.
What is the atmosphere like when you’re out on tour?

It’s really busy, the work flow is pretty constant it does mainly depend on peoples moods, some people are missing home some people are fine with the whole situation. I quite like it in some respect because it’s a simple life, you go on patrol, go on guard then go to the gym or sleep. It does bore the shit out of me though, that’s one of the worst things about it is the boredom. Day in day out 7 months doing the same thing.

Briefly describe the conditions that you’d have to live in and whether you like or dislike it them

It varies depending on your job out there. Camp Basiten is the size of a small town which has pretty much everything there. Engineers, drivers, mechanics and those type of people stay in that camp. Then there are patrol bases which are quite small, they’re alright they have a TV and electricity usually they’ll have a small tent kitchen. Then you get check points which is basically where the locals live which is disgusting. It’s stinking.

Does the thought of being at war scare you? Did it ever used to worry you and has that changed since you’ve been out?

You don’t know what to expect. I have been scared, not in anticipation but when they have given you a job then they explain to you that you’re going into a really dodgy place then that’s obviously a bit scary.  There’s a saying ‘fear will keep you alive’ so it keeps you on your toes.

Do you think about and miss home often when your in Afgan?

Quite a lot yeh, not to the point that it bothers me because i just have to carry on with my job and what i do. I don’t have much time to think about home.

What do you like and dislike about being part of the Army?

I don’t like being away all the time. We’re always moving around to go on tour, training and to do courses i’m just beginning to get fed up with it.

What I like about it is that it gives you real life experiences. I see normal everyday problems that people have and i just find that these things aren’t a big deal when you’ve seen how people live in other parts of the world. I like how it keeps you fit and gives you a structure to life and stability. I’ve always got income, i have some where to live (camp) and i don’t need to worry about bills etc.

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Graham Clarke – How do we read a photograph?

Today in the reading group we went through Graham Clarkes first chapter of ‘The Photograph’ with Jim. This chapter is mainly Clarke reading a selection of images. The first thing that struck me about this chapter was the fact he named it ‘How do WE read a photograph?” as if he is involving me already and telling me how i read images along with how everyone reads them. I feel that people are all too different to be able to read images in the same way. Clarke begins to talk about how looking at a photograph is quite similar to looking at a text, this then leads him on to reading in a semiotic way, the language of signs. This isn’t a straight forward process at all. Graham looks into every single part of a photograph to create his interpritation, again this is HIS way of reading, the majourity of people who don’t have knowledge on photography wouldn’t care about the meaning of a photograph let alone use this method to achive it.

In terms of the Diane Arbus Identical Twins (above) photograph Clarke mentions that even though straight away the image looks perfectly composed which is enhanced by the twins, it’s actually very different. Graham decoded it section by section, which was the photographers aim. Diane wanted to play with the viewer, she placed the twins a few feet away from the wall, disrupted the composition to create this sense of unbalance which as photographer I read but from an average persons point of view it just seems like a perfect picutre of a set of twins. From just this image we read that a meaning is never fixed. Of course in most photographs there is a dominent or prefered reading but the photographer only has a certain amount of control over how the photograph will be interprited. This then leads me on to think about how people interpiriate images differently and why. The representation changes from person to person, without even realising we are reading an image and basing it upon our personal experieiences or the context it is in. The photographer has full control over what is captured and which image is selected, then theres cropping, editing and even the use of captions change the way we think about a photograph. For example Walker Evans Bethlehem graveyard (below) was took to show a community, how people live, work and die in the same town using the whole foreground and background to tell this story, as a photographer I can see how this message is being delivered but unfortuntatly some people don’t agree with it, it feels as if this town has been forgotten which goes to show the meaning of the photograph is always on the outside rather than within the image.

When Graham Clarke began to decode A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester (below) captured by Diane Arbus i started to disagree with his method of reading photographs. He seemed to literally take everything into account. This is hard to completely disagree or agree with, of course when an image is being looked at there is no stopping someone from reading it in their own way it’s just the fact that Clarke is writing his interpretation as if it was Dianes aim, the ‘true’ represetation which i think can’t be true. These people for all we know could just be having a relaxing day in the sun and at that moment look miserable. How ever much we may read all these small signs, what objects are in the frame, where they are placed, the colours, the compsotion, the body language, no one knows if this was just a second in time or if it was the photographers intention. In conclusion i belive there is a language within photography but it is loose. Rules can be bent, representations can be challenged but overall there is a vague grammer for the viewers to read. I disagree with Clarkes way of reading photographs as i feel the majourity of photographers don’t plan every single aspect within their image and try and create a meaning from it. Using semiotics is an interesting method but it isn’t relevent for a lot of photographs. People will use this to read some images, other photographers will be more open minded and viewers who have no knowledge within photography will unconciously base their interpritation on their personal expereiences and the context its in.

Interviewing

Unfortunately i have chosen to move away from interviewing the soldiers, the responses i was aiming to get would be about life at war, how it makes them feel and their experiences good or bad. After looking into the idea and speaking with Matthew Partington i wouldn’t feel comfortable asking such in depth questions. As i have dropped the interviews i still NEED to connect with these people, talking to the soldiers is a key part of my project. I feel i need to back up my images with something otherwise i would feel as if they are just portraits on a wall, i need something to contextualise them. In the individual tutorial with Nick Bright, we discussed different ways i could connect with my subjects that aren’t through formal interviews. I realised that the most crucial time to speak to these guys is on the day of the shoot. There will be 5+ soldiers in the studio at the time, even though i’m shooting on digital it won’t be a quick shoot, they’ll be chatting, having a laugh and me and Meena will also be getting involved within their conversations. As i’m taking their photographs i want to be able to have the confidence to speak to these people, whether it is about life at war or just being a soldier in general, i think it will be helpful if i got to know my subjects during the shoot. To record this i’m going to be setting up a video camera in the corner of the room. This won’t be used within the final images it will just be for my benefit to look back and see how i communicate with them and how they act in front of the camera. This will then help me to speak to models in the future and it will also be interesting to see how the soldiers react within the studio environment.

I’ve have briefly spoken to Jamie, one of the soldiers i will be shooting. Jamie is a close friend of mine so i feel comfortable in speaking to him about what he does. I have had a informal interview with him and we spoke about what life is like at war. Unfortunately i didn’t make any notes as this conversation wasn’t planned but i have asked him to send me a detailed, paragraph about what life is like out in Afgan and how it makes him feel. I will be uploading this as soon as i get it!

Aliastair Thain – Imperial War Musuem North

“The pictures are simple objective human portraits that are intended to function as meditative works. My aim was to make the viewer think about the nature of conflict, mortality, and the preciousness of these young lives,”

In 2009 Alastair Thain was commissioned to take photographs of the Marines for the Imperial Warm Museum North. The series is an incredibly unique set of portraits in terms of their presentation, all 6 images were printed more than 5 meters high, back to back and exhibited in large glass frames outside the war museum. Shot close up, these are no perfect portraits, Thain took the Marines photographs as soon as they had finished a harsh training session. The method of immediately capturing the subject after an event creates a very dramatic aesthetic for-fulling Alastairs aim of wanting the viewer to become aware of the nature of conflict. Having the portraits printed at a large scale shocks the viewer, not only by the portrait but by the sheer size of it. The size of the images creates a dramatic response itself reflecting the subject in it making one massive impact on the people viewing it. I haven’t seen this series up close but i do agree that the use of presentation does change the way people look and read the photograph, personally i do think that having them printed so tall restricts the viewer of being able to look clearly into the Marines eyes or even the rest of their faces. I believe that creating eye contact between the subject and the viewer creates a much more stronger connection and would make a bigger impact than they do already. Within my project exhibiting my images is a key part to my portraits, i do want to print them large with a lot of detail similar to Thains series but i feel the connection would be stronger if i hung them the same height of an average person.

Test shoots – Digital vs Film

The photographs above are took on digital, i decided to shoot digital and film so i could compare the outcomes in terms of colour and most importantly the detail. I used 3 lights with softboxes, one either side and one in front focusing on the subjects face, an assistant was also holding a white reflector underneath the models to remove the shadows from their heads. This is the layout i will most probably be using for my final shoot. I wanted the photographs to have very simple aesthetics similar to Daniel Lilleys Cadet series, i find that this allows the viewer to concentrate more on the face/uniform without any distractions. The photographs have a sense of coldness towards them, they reflect the aesthetics of metal which connects with this strong and powerful persona we familiarise with soldiers. I do much prefer these images to the previous shoots i did. I want to fully focus on the Soldiers faces, i want viewers to be able to notice just the small scratches they may have got from being at war, tiny details like the length of their hair and facial hair. I want these viewers to be forced into looking straight into these faces and almost feel uncomfortable with how close they are. The previous shoot concentrated more on how their posture changes from being in their uniform to normal clothes, before i wanted to focus more on the fact that these soldiers are just normal people but now I have decided to focus more on their experiences and connecting the viewers with these people, of course there will be a sense of the fact these guys are still just like one of us but i just want to add that extra bit of impact so the viewers are able to feel a similar feeling as to what they have.

Below are the medium format prints.

I do really like the colour in these photographs, i shot these with Portra 400 film which i haven’t used before and i can definitely notice a change in the colour. They have a slightly higher contrast then just Superia film and feel quite softer. I do like these images but when compared with the digital ones they are very quiet and have a lot less impact from the others. I could edit these and try and make them to an aesthetics that relates to the subject but i feel as if the film grain isn’t given them much justice. The digital ones are smooth and quite soft but then the colours and detail completely break that allowing the images to look sharp and precise. Soldiers at war also use digital photography to spot their victim so it would be a nice connection to work in a similar way, it also does reflect the speed and concentration these Soldiers use when their in a war situation.

I’ve just added in a print screen to show the incredible detail the digital images have. After having a workshop today on the Nikon D800s i have decided to use that camera for the final shoot. The D800 shoots massive files which are able to be blown up to A1 without any resizing at all therefore the detail the camera captures is really fine.

1 Rifles

Within The Rifles there are 5 regular battalions. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalion are front line based. Then there is a 4th which is a support company, within these are 4 platoons; reconnaissance, snipers, fire support group and mortars these all aid the rifle battalions. The other being a HQ company that comprises off most of the battalion external attachments (non fighting troops), for example signallers, medics, military drivers, store men, armourers and mechanics.

1st Battalion – Commando Infantry (3 Cdo Bde) – Chepstow

2nd Battalion – Light Role –  Northern Ireland

3rd Battalion – Light Role – Edinburgh

1 Rifles is a light role infantry battalion (light role – Front line soldiers that mainly operate on foot) within 3 Commando Brigade. This Battalion should be approximately 500 strong men. 1 rifles is the Battalion I am going to be photographing.

Thomas Ruff and Steven Pyke

After reading the essay William A. Ewing wrote i wanted to compared 2 different styles of portraits, Thomas Ruff and Steven Pyke.

    

The first thing as a viewer i notice is the amount of detail in the Steven Pyke portrait. There is so much more depth within the photograph and you are able to see every part of the subjects face clearly, even though this photograph is in black and white i still feel it is much stronger in term of aesthetics. Pyke seems to keep in mind the topography of the face when taking photographs of people, i feel he understand the landscape of someone face and the beauty it holds. The use of lighting does enhance this ‘landscape’ and makes each wrinkle and hair stand out and become part of this breathtaking scene. Thomas Ruff on the other hand challenges this thought of topographics of the face by just using simple, even lighting. Everything is lit exactly evenly, the composition is central, there is no depth to his portraits. I feel that Ruff is playing with this physiognomy idea, even though contemporary photograpers don’t agree with this idea Ruff is pushing it that one step further. He is showing that people interpret faces exactly how they would like to whether it be based upon their personal experiences or just using the subjects facial features. Ruff portraits are completely empty and mundane. Before, i wouldn’t be appealed to them in anyway but after reading Ewings article i understand all the different directions portrait photographers take to make images.