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Assignment 5: The Environmental Portrait

This assignment may have gotten the best of me. It had me running all over this town trying to find a subject to capture. In class I discussed I wanted to cover my favorite artist, Donald, who moved here to HP within the last five years from CA which I could not believe was real for a solid year. However, Donald was not in Dallas I later saw on Instagram. For this assignment I shot one ballerina, five store painters, one pianist, one senior portrait photographer, two chefs from which I believe is the best burger in Dallas, Burger House, employees who of which I would like to add were the nicest and most easy going of my subjects, and one failed attempt at capturing a gas station attendant. One thing this project successfully forced me to do: talk to strangers. I didn't want to use a friend of mine or my parents for this project. I wanted to capture someone I had just met while trying to explore this assignment. While I think that I may have been more successful had I covered someone I knew because I would have more choice on location and pose that is ok. This assignment brought challenges such as dealing with people I had never previously interacted with before. Of which, I have come to learn a lot of people will not let you use their face in images you take of them. It opened my eyes to how much trust I put into strangers and how easily I would just have said ok yes take my picture than maybe I should admit. I was faced with awkward interactions, judgement, misunderstanding, and frustration. I can confidently say I only ran into one real altercation which was with the painters. Note to self: when covering people painting- explicitly an entire show room- that parts of the show room may still be wet with paint. I learned this the hard way after holding the door open to talk to the guys- only realizing what I had done when I tried to ween myself from the door frame when I had realized I was stuck on it. Once free I had a black line flowing from the top of my hair, through the side of my face, onto my sweater and silk skirt all the way to my sneakers. It was truly embarassing. However, I have not had this much fun or gotten to meet so many new people in one day. I would do this over and over and over again. Luckily, I was only four blocks from my parents house so I was able to run over right after The Paint Incident of 2023 to try and repair any morsel of dignity I had left. My skirt and sweater will be fine, in case you were wondering, I do not believe there will be any stain. My hair however, still holds its prominent black line throughout of which I have not had time to assist to just yet. Alas, I am a huge fan of this type of image category. This is something I want to challenge myself to do every weekend is create a theme or assignment for myself like this one and see how many people I can cover in varying occupations or interests.

I absolutely love the example you showed us in class and the one that is included on the assignment on Canvas of the man and his piano. I love how it was framed and think it was so interesting. I tried to create a similar kind of interesting framing in my images like that of the painters because although it doesn't show exactly what the environment or object is, you get an idea of it. I really liked this assignment and I like my pictures but the reason I have so many submissions is I never felt like it was perfect, and I am a perfectionist when it comes to my photography so I in full honesty wanted to take even more today but ma not allowing myself. I need to just submit this and I will dive deeper into this when I have more time and more readily available and willing people. I first started my attempt at getting a subject by wandering around Owens Art Center and opening up random doors to see if people were working on anything. That is how I discovered my ballet dancer and my pianist. I did talk to and find other students but they were not interested in being my subject, and that's ok. For the ballet images I struggled with the lighting of my camera in the yellow toned studio. My images kept turning out very grainy and did not exhibit what I was hoping. I included the best one I think I captured regardless of these shortcomings. I also struggled with the shutter speed while that usually hasn't been an issue for me in the last for some reason. Amanda Stone, the senior ballet dancer, kept turning out shaky. With the pianist, she did not want her face included but I thought it made for an interesting perspective getting to see her music sheets and work with her hands. I think had my subject been a little more willing I might been able to get more interesting angles from the piano to make the image a bit more special but having to keep her face covered proved to be a challenge. I noticed when taking these images by focus was strange, it would focus in the middle but not all in the same areas even though nothing was moving. The music sheet is out of focus which is right by her head which is in focus. I think the lighting and clarity proved to be more successful than the ballet image however. I included 3 images of the pianist because in one I like how still she looks, in another like how you can see the music move her with the movement in raising her hand. I also liked the vertical image. I know its not how we talked about framing in class but like I've said previously in my posts I really like more tight kind of images. After my adventure around Owen's Art Center, I moved onto Highland Park Village. I was sure to find some kind of environment here. My first interaction was with a senior portrait photographer taking pictures. I asked if it was ok with her if I could take a few pictures of her taking pictures and she was resistant at first but once I told her I was a photography minor at SMU she agreed. It was hard to take a good picture of her as she was working but considering the high volume of senior portraits having been shot in Highland Park Village I felt it was an appropriate environment to shoot in. I walked around a bit more and to much avail I got many no's. But I did not give up! I found a group of guys painting the storefront of Miron Crosby at Highland Park Village who were more than happy to help especially after I was covered in paint from asking. While they told me I could shoot their pictures they did not want to share their names with me. Of which I hope is ok for this project, I just wanted to respect their wishes which I was a bit surprised for especially after the man at Jack's Burger House said the same thing. I don't know if this is a common thing you have experienced when taking strangers images, but I had not faced this before. I really like the angles I got from shooting the guys painting. I think it shows their environment in a more interesting perspective. They told me they had been there all week painting and probably would be this next week too. Instead of shooting their environment from the tight and claustrophobic store space inside I thought it would make a much more interesting perspective to capture them from the perspective of those who see them but they may not notice that surrounds their environment. I really liked the shadows of the second image (the more vertical one) from these painters pictures. I think it really adds to the image like how I feel like the horizontal images inclusion of the cars below and the building make it more appealing to the eye. I then went to a gas station to take a picture of the gas station attendant but he was not there, and the man working the register was not enthusiastic about being my second choice as a subject so he turned me down. I will say this assignment definitely got me more comfortable with putting myself out there and being told no and not letting it affect me. I haven't had to take pictures like this since I graduated in 2021 and was in The Highlander staff for Highland Park High School's yearbook. I know this is an important lesson to have learned and to practice in journalism because not everyone will want to talk to you or help you out. At last I made it to my last stop, the holy grail, Jack's Burger House. I knew I wanted to try to capture some chef or someone in a kitchen but I didn't know where. I knew Bird Bakery would not let me go back into they kitchen nor would Honor Bar most likely. However, I knew my tried and true- and my favorite burger place since kindergarten- had their kitchen right next to the bar for easy viewing. So I swallowed my pride one more time and walked in and sat at the bar. The guys that work there I have seen at least once a week every year of my life since I was 9 so I know a few of them which I think helped. They agreed and while fighting the urge to put in an order, I think I got the images I was looking for. I envisioned on my way over that there would be a lot of people working in the small kitchen infant of me and I would stand on the stools to get a shot above but there was only 3 guys and they advised against risking a head injury in their presence. However, in one of the images you can see one of the guys watching the tv diagonal of me. I think he was posing and trying to play it cool. I was a bit more surprised I couldn't use their names for this than for the painters but I agreed because I really wanted a picture in that environment. This is a Highland Park staple. It's a place that sponsors our high school football game meals or events and we all grew up going to together. We all wore the t-shirts in elementary school- having the light pink one is what made you "cool" in third grade. I vividly remember it. These are all environments I have grown up in and around and while I have grown they have to. I wanted to capture students who are passionate about their hobbies like I am with photography but honestly I prefer the images I captured of the people elsewhere. While I feel like a lot of the examples were of posed individuals in their respected environments, I like the lack of eye contact and acknowledgement of the camera.

Appologies for such a lengthy entry this week. I guess I felt that I had a lot to say. Loved the assignment.

Practicing for an audition, senior Amanda Stone goes through her routine in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

Behind the counter, an employee of Burger House Hamburgers located on Hilcrest wraps up an order of fries in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

Behind the counter at Burger House Hamburgers, one employee watches the news on a tv while another finishes wraping up an order in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

Through the window of a vacant storefront, a painter takes a break from coating the walls within and gazes outside in Highland Park Village in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

With a steady hand, a painter in a vacant storefront in Highland Park Village in Dallas, Texas uses a steady eye to coat the walls on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

Providing guidence on how to pose, a senior portaits photographer directs her subject infront of a storefront in Highland Park Village in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

Dongni Xie, piano professor at Southern Methodist University, practices by performing a piece at Owen's Fine Arts Center in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

Dongni Xie, piano professor at Southern Methodist University, practices by performing a piece at Owen's Fine Arts Center in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 19, 2023. (Arden Eiland/ SMU)

more xo:

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