These photographs reflect several different approaches to portraiture – people in their own surroundings, and aspects of myself – made in a unique place, Le Bloc in Paris, which is a large community of artists and squatters. As the Bloc images had to be made over only two days during the workshop, these are a spontaneous response to what was available there – both the inhabitants and the backgrounds. The still life images were constructed from objects found in recycling shops. Each portrait reveals something about the human condition, interconnectedness, and hidden aspects of identity.
Fine art photography
by Joanna Casey (United Kingdom)
I am a photographer based in London. I search for the strange and unusual which is often to be found in everyday life, as well as attempting to express visually the deeper realms of the human psyche. I travel whenever possible because I relish the challenge and the allure of the unfamiliar.
Portfolio from the Fine Art Photography workshop with Roger Ballen, September 2013.
Written review by
ANDREAS J. HIRSCH,
Independent curator, writer and photographer
Two key approaches to this set of images from Joanna Casey come to mind. We can understand it – as her own text seems to indicate – as a portrait-based approach to the environment of Le Bloc in Paris. In this case the people stand at the core of the project and the quality of the portraiture. We can also read it as the exploration of a colourful artistic microcosm and its creators who are at the same time the inhabitants of this world. In this approach colour becomes the key element, different colour climates setting the tone for the worlds of different artists.
The portrait-based approach draws our attention to the qualities of the portraiture as strongest displayed in images numbered 9, 10 and 11. Here the person portraied is at home in her/his world and engaged in a silent dialogue with the artworks in the background. Making this visual dialogue happen and capturing the moods of the creators and their works clearly singles out those three photographs as the strongest in the series. Image number 8 also belongs in this context and shows similar qualities, whereas the connection of the person with the dog to the image in the background is definitely interesting and strong, but – at least it seems that way – more accidental than with the other images.
The use of black&white in this case also sets the image apart from the rest without clear reason, so I would desire this to be in colour like the others. Image 12 would also belong to this group of photographs, but certain aspects also set it somewhat apart: the use of depth of field, which contributes to the special mood of the other photographs, is missing here and also the different lighting makes it less strong than the other three photographs highlighted above.
The colour-based approach points to an interesting problem one has to solve when photographing in such a strongly coloured and intensely designed environment: Not to let yourself be carried away by the colorful designs themselves but develop an autonomous view of that environment, where colour plays a key role, but is not an end in itself. The same applies to found designs or artworks: They are part of the story but not sufficient in itself. An interesting grafitti alone does not make for a good photograph.
To use colour as one aspect of your photography and to work with the different moods it can create, will lead to strong photographs when brought together consistently with light and composition and when put at the service of an overall photographic idea for the project in question. Le Bloc is about colour and at the same time about the people present there and this is where the two approaches converge. Showing Le Bloc through the people seems a good choice of subject to me that rules out any merely descriptive images and concentrates on the soul of the place.
The first four images in the series present a puzzle to me, since they bring in other elements, which are clearly set up, and exclude human beings. They seem to rotate the axis while getting closer to this still life of found objects. They may point to something else that might turn out intersting but I cannot see them getting there and – honestly – do not understand why they should be part of this series and not of another potentially interesting project altogether.
Joanna, your series shows how well you can portray people in their worlds. Follow up on that path while staying closely with your subject and avoid mixing too many different things. A more consistent use of parameters such as depth of field, lighting, composition, etc. will make the photographs even stronger and bring out their interesting qualities. Avoid mixing black&white and colour unless there is a clear conceptual and aesthetic reason for doing so. I would recommend sticking with colour for a project like this.
Surely restricting yourself too much in in formalistic terms is not necessarily the only way to go. Your series "A day at the races" makes that clear. But a strong formal setup can help develop and sell a photographic project as your excellent series "A self-portrait in waste" shows. With portraiture however often those photographs, where the subjects do not look at the camera seem stronger than the ones where they look at you. Concentrate on your strenghts: Work on your communication with people and study the environment, avoid the more conventional views and the descriptive pictures and rather look closer at the person in interaction with its environment, whatever that may be and whereever that may lead you.