Making my photos appear staged

My final project is going to consist of a portfolio of photographs taken in the street, some will be completely spontaneous and some will be staged, they will all be displayed alongside each other so the viewer won’t necessarily be able to tell them apart. 

The spontaneous photos won’t require too much planning, as the name suggests they need to be taken very candidly. They will involve me spending time in some of the locations that I have previously outlined, and looking out for interesting street scenes with my phone at hand ready to capture them. The staged photographs will require more planning than the spontaneous photos. A big part of the staged aspect of my project will be attempting to make the photographs look convincingly spontaneous.

Liveness

To help me with making the staged photos appear spontaneous, I decided to read the book ‘Liveness’ by Philip Auslander. Despite the fact that the book is mostly focused on performance in theatre and TV/film, I felt that I would be able to apply some advice from the book into my own project, because essentially, my model will be ‘performing’ for my photographs. 

One such instance would be where Auslander talks about ‘the pleasure of live performance as deriving from interaction with others’ (Auslander, 2008:76). For this, I may try to do some photos where my model is playing music but looking straight into the camera, almost as if he is giving eye contact to the viewer which will hopefully help to create a ‘bond with the performer’ (Auslander, 2008:76) and therefore make the image seem live. 

Another example I thought was quite helpful for my work is where Auslander discusses how in television, ‘events from outside are transmitted into the viewers home’ (Auslander, 2008:16) and how ‘the position of the television viewer relative to the image on the screen was often compared with that of a boxing fan sitting ringside or theatre-goer with the best seat in the house’ (Auslander, 2008:16). This can link to my photography work, in that I will need to consider the angles and directions that I take my photos in, to capture the best possible view of the scene to help make the viewer feel as if they are part of it, and again, add to the liveness. I am going to try and ensure they are all taken at a height that a regular person would be viewing the scene. For this, I will just take them at regular street-level, stood up and holding the camera in front of my face. I would like my photographs to have a sense of liveness to the viewer, almost as if they are really seeing the scenes through my eyes at the time it was captured – that they are in the audience watching a performance by the busker, or walking past him in the street. 

Staged Photo Ideas

Overall, my staged photos are still going to be taken in the street and not a studio, this is so that the staged photographs still look very cohesive alongside the candid street photographs. The staged photographs will all be focusing on a busker, modelled by my partner who is a musician. Here, I have started thinking about some potential photographs that I could capture, thinking about the photographs I have researched in my proposal, by considering the potential locations and by thinking about my findings from the ‘Liveness’ book. 

As stated, my staged photographs will be focusing on a busker so I will definitely be taking multiple photos of him performing, and for some of these I will definitely take inspiration from my findings from the Liveness book and include some photos where he is looking directly into the camera to give a sense of interaction and liveness. 

However, I do not want all of the staged photographs to just be of him performing – I wanted to have a look into doing some photographs depicting the moments of his life both before and after the performance. These may include:

  • Wandering around trying to look for a good busking spot
  • Setting up the guitar
  • Counting how many coins he has received
  • Walking down the street carrying his guitar bag
  • Waiting at the bus stop to go home

I will be capturing some more staged photos in addition to the ones mentioned above, many I am going to figure out on the day of shooting as new ideas will most likely come about when I am on location and already directing the model. 

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

In addition to my findings and thoughts about making my photographs seem spontaneous and having a sense of liveness, I would like to acknowledge the work of Sociologist, Erving Goffman. Goffman has explored the ways in which we all act differently in social situations, depending on the situation and setting. He compares how we present ourselves within social situations to actors in theatrical performances. In particular, Goffman uses the theatrical terms ‘front’ and ‘backstage.’ ‘Front stage refers to actions that are observed by others, […] an example of a front stage would be the difference between how one would behave in a business meeting versus how one behaves at home with family. When Goffman refers to backstage means is how people act when they are relaxed or unobserved.’ (Crossman, 2019). 

In terms of the front stage, Goffman explains how the setting in which an individual is in plays a big part to this ‘performance.’

First, there is the ‘setting’, involving furniture, decor, physical lay-out, and other background items which supply the scenery and stage props for the spate of human action played out before, within, or upon it. A setting tends to stay put, geographically speaking, so that those who would use a particular setting as part of their performance cannot begin their act until they have brought themselves to the appropriate place and must terminate their performance when they leave it. (Goffman, 1956:13)

I found this idea to be interesting for my work, as essentially, when my model is in his ‘setting’ (on the street ready for busking) surrounded by his ‘props’ (such as his guitar and microphone), if I went by this theory, my model will basically already be presenting himself differently in this situation, regardless of any direction by myself. 

Overall, I found Goffman’s concept to be very intriguing. In a sense, there will never be a way to capture a true ‘liveness’ of anyone, even within candid photography because we are all always somehow putting on a performance or act depending on the situation, even if we are simply just walking down the street.

References:

Auslander, P (2008) Liveness performance in a mediated culture. Abingdon: Routledge

Crossman, A (2019) The Meaning and Purpose of the Dramaturgical Perspective. Available online: https://www.thoughtco.com/dramaturgical-perspective-definition-3026261 [Accessed 31/03/22].

Goffman, E (1956) The presentation of self in everyday life. Monograph. University of Edinburgh. Available online: https://monoskop.org/images/1/19/Goffman_Erving_The_Presentation_of_Self_in_Everyday_Life.pdf [Accessed 31/03/22].

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