The Identity Assignment (Portraits)

Charles, Vasa, Minnesota by Alec Soth, 2003
Charles, Vasa, Minnesota by Alec Soth, 2003

Essential Questions:

  • What defines you as a person? Is it: Culture? Personality? History? Gender? Your interests or activities?
  • How can the visual medium of photography be used to represent these aspects of identity?
  • What do you wish to share about yourself? What do you wish to keep private? How much can a photographic portrait show about a person?

Directions for Shooting this Assignment:

  1. With a partner assigned by the teacher, shoot one portrait in the studio. You will photograph them, and they will photograph you. For this image, think about one specific theme in your life (rather than every aspect of your life–that might be impossible to capture in one image!) You need to bring one prop or clothing item that shows a theme in your life. The quality of the light (direction, intensity, hardness or softness, color) can also help express your personality.
  2. With a partner of your choosing, or on your own, shoot a photograph on location, using natural light. You photograph them, they photograph you. Choose a location that says something about you. Other elements you include in the image can give us a visual clue: time of day, props, and of course your expression, gesture or body language. How you shoot can be used to add meaning or emotion: focus, depth of field, freezing or blurring motion, use of light, lens choice and framing. Finally, how you edit and print the image will affect our reading of it (saturation, contrast, color vs. black and white, and so on). You may use your camera’s timer and a tripod to shoot this image by yourself if you choose.
  3. The third photograph should say something about you without you in it. This can be a real challenge! Is it a place? A thing? Something abstract that communicates a mood? Something special to you and your identity? Again, think about how the elements and design of your images communicate both information and emotion.
  4. Remember: the images can be serious or humorous. Either way, they should reflect something essential and important about who you are as a person.
Josef Sudek, “The Poet of Prague,” thinking about photography

Directions for your Blog Post (including the Writing):

  1. Select one or two images from 1,2 and 3 (above) — so one or two portraits taken in the studio, one or two on location, and one that says something about you without you in it.
  2. Do not make a slideshow gallery for this blog post. Instead, you need to post the images in a large size and add your writing about the images under each image (or each pair of images)
  3. Write about your identity, and how you expressed it through these images. One paragraph per image (or pair of images). Look back at the essential questions, at the top of this assignment. What are you showing about yourself in this image? Why did you make the decisions you did as a photographer for these images? What was the experience of making these images like for you? What did you learn about photography and yourself through this project?

Download the lecture / slideshow on Studio Lighting with examples here: