Collection of portraits outside the pop-up studio
Tom Ang
-
Advocate

Intergeneration portraits

19 Apr 2019
Tom Ang
-
Advocate
Image: Tom Ang, Alpha 7 III (A7M3) Collection of portraits outside the pop-up studio

For the last five years, I’ve run a mentoring scheme for keen photographers with Panuku Auckland Development, an organisation of Auckland Council. We gather a group of photographers and give them a brief to shoot a group exhibition in one of Auckland’s premier exhibition spaces - Queens Wharf on the harbour front. The catch is that they have to shoot and curate the show within only six weeks. They also have to learn to work together, cooperate and become a team.

As part of the scheme, I also get to show my work. This year counts as my most successful yet. Central to it being fun, successful, and free of technical problems, was my Sony gear and its integration with software and accessories. Let me share the story and some pictures with you.

Set up

The basic proposition is that my show follows on the theme for the mentorship program. This year the theme was ‘Growth’. I chose to interpret it by portraying two or more generations of a family together: parent/child, aunt/nephew, Gran/grand-child, and so on. I wanted to portray not so much the people’s faces but their relationship, the character of their interaction. 

I turned a vacant container into a pop-up studio. It was painted white inside so all I needed to do was hang a scruffy old sheet as background. A stool and chair were the only props. There was no room for lights so I worked only with daylight.

The rest of the set-up was also technically simple. A Sony Alpha 7R III with Zeiss 50mm F/1.4 FE lens on a tripod with geared head. The camera was linked to my Macbook Pro with a high-speed cable to allow Capture One 11 to capture tethered. At the same time, the video out from the Macbook Pro went into a Sony 4K monitor so the public could see what I was seeing on camera.

I set Capture One to apply a recipe to turn captured images into a film-grained black-and-white image - a look that is pretty close to my memories of Kodak Tri-X. I framed to crop images to square format as I wanted that formality in the portraits.

In operation

My assistant of the day would wander off and ask passing family groups if they wanted a free family portrait. Over the course of 15 days we inveigled over 40 family groups to enter the studio. The session was typically over in three minutes or so. When there are children and infants involved it’s not easy to keep going for longer. Besides, I wanted the relaxed, close family relationships to show. After a few minutes of being posed, people tend to get self-conscious, stiffen up and stare into the camera. 

Shooting tethered greatly enhanced the process (hint: use the high-speed socket). Also, having an effect applied immediately meant that it was easy to select a shot with the ‘client’ supervising. Then I could print it directly to an Epson 8500 without having to export the image. This was a big time saver. While the print churned out, we could get the paperwork of model releases done.

This project took place just before the v.3 firmware update, which is a pity. I worked with open apertures - F/4 was the smallest - so sometimes I did not manage to nail focus. But I prefer an unsharp shot that showed and said something to a sharp shot that is dull. Often, the best images come from people just settling down. This gave me a variety of compositions - from the formal groups to mixed up arrangements - that helped animate the narrative flow of the whole show. 

If you want to see it, Intergeneration Portraits is open 24/7 as it’s outdoors, free to view on the fence running to Shed 10 on Queens Wharf, downtown Auckland. It’s on until end of May 2019.

If you like more writings on photography, and if you’re interested in one-on-one coaching from me, sign up as one of my patrons on my Patreon page .

 

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