Assignment 5: progress

As well as doing a mind map recently to organise my overall thoughts for this presentation, I have been working on a number of other strands in terms of context, structure and key messages – summarised here as a progress update as otherwise it might look like the final assignment arrived fully-formed (far from it).

My tutor is always reminding me that I need to document my working processes as I go along, layering up to the final delivered piece of work. I think this applies to academic assignments like critical reviews and oral presentations as much as photographic ones.

To this end, here are some reasonably structured updates on how I’ve been approaching the assignment.


I’m a huge believer in the importance of a good title – I’ve blogged about this before on previous assignments. I often find that a project really starts clicking into place when I believe I have a title that suits it.

This time around I was looking for a succinct main title – short titles suit audio-visual presentations in my opinion – that could be further clarified with a subtitle.

One of the driving forces behind my attraction to the subject matter is my fascination that one genre of photography is used within another, yet subverts its original intent – a ‘true portrait’ is about the individual, while a ‘documentary portrait’ uses an individual to represent a wider point. The former is defined ‘inside-out’ while the latter is defined ‘outside-in’, if that makes sense. I want to get across this ‘it is but it isn’t a portrait‘ dichotomy.

My planned title for the presentation is:

Portrait Not Portrait

My more descriptive subtitle is in effect my working title so far:

Portraiture as a device in documentary photography


I had originally envisaged a simple three-part structure following the advice of my tutor:

  • History
  • Contemporary practice
  • My own practice

Working on the aforementioned mind map made me realise that there is a need for a short upfront section at the beginning to define my terms. It’s just a couple of slides but it really helps to correctly frame everything that follows. In particular I wanted to clearly present my distinction between a traditional portrait and a documentary portrait, as described above.


I’m increasingly a visual thinker, so as well as doing the mind map I really wanted to make sure I had a presentation format that I felt best served the content. T0 this end, after I’d started my research and brainstorming I mocked up the presentation template that I want to the content to drop into.

My main criteria were:

  • Image-centric
  • Clean and contemporary

So far I am working with the template shown below:

Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 11.13.23.jpg

Seeing the presentation itself take shape in parallel with the content being formed and tweaked is how I work best on things like this. The building up of the presentation in layers, filling in levels of detail iteratively, suits the way my mind works.


Here’s a summary of the planned content of the presentation and the arguments I want to get across.

“What” – definitions

I’m reasonably comfortable with these two slides so far:

  • One defining genres of portraiture and documentary photography
  • One differentiating between a traditional portrait and one used as a documentary device

“Then” – history

In the mind mapping stage I worked out how I want to organise this section – a chronological history seemed inappropriate and potentially overwhelming for five minutes of content, so I think a more useful way of looking at the past is to identify a few categories of documentary portraiture, from a point of view of intent, e.g.:

  • Typology
  • Ethnography
  • Empathetic social documentary
  • Self-expression

This lends itself to map on the types of representation I listed in the definitions section:

  • Metaphor
  • Metonym
  • Narrative device

I also wish to analyse in this section some of the common visual language used in historic documentary portraiture.

I will touch upon some ethical aspects of critical theory (such as the Gaze, the Other etc) but to go too deeply into these could derail the main flow so I need to be careful here.

“Now” – contemporary practice

For consistency I will also look at this from a category point of view, looking at a few different types of documentary portraiture evident among current practitioners.

I want to use this section to highlight some ethical comparisons with how documentary portraiture has been done in the past, in particular ideas around respect for the individual.

I also want to examine the visual language being used by some key contemporary photographers, and how this has evolved from the more straight portraiture employed in the past.

“Me” – my own practice

This is where my recent research has taught me things about my own work that I hadn’t previously recognised. Looking at the different uses of portraiture in documentary and then applying the categorisation retrospectively to my own project archive has been an eye-opener. I am now more aware of how I’ve used people in my projects.

I most often use metonymy, as in using a person to represent a wider group or situation. I very rarely do purely typological projects, however – the use of person as exemplar / archetype is normally in the context of serving a wider narrative rather than being the end in itself. Occasionally I use a portrait as a metaphorical device, and I will include an example or two of this in the presentation.

The research has made me think about how to more consciously use portraiture in projects going forward. It has made me think about the ethical issues around using people as representatives over individuals, and how to mitigate the risks.

Specifically regarding subject matter, I’ve recently realised that a majority of my projects have been one one of two subject themes – which can overlap but are also separable: firstly, social inequality; and secondly, voluntary organisations. Both of these lend themselves to a respectful use of portraiture. I will expand on this a little in the voiceover.


I want the presentation to be very visual. Text should be kept to a minimum. Images and voiceover should carry the majority of the key messages. I’ve been gathering images for the last few weeks and will determine which are best suited to supporting my points per section/slide as I build up draft versions of the presentation. Some examples below:


Last but not least, I’ve been testing out the technology. I’m using Apple’s Keynote presentation app rather than PowerPoint, and I’ve trialled recording a voiceover to match the slides, and exporting the presentation to a video file. Both tests were reasonably successful. My main learning was to get a microphone to plug into my computer, as the sound from the internal mic is distractingly tinny.

Next steps

  • Select example images per section
  • Construct draft slides per section
  • Produce first full draft in next couple of days
  • Refine and publish for comment
  • Finalise for tutor submission

3 thoughts on “Assignment 5: progress

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