Assignment 3 A staged photograph – Research and background tests (warning self harm and nudity images)

25th January 2020

Self Harming as Protection

For this assignment we were able to choose one of two areas in which we could shoot, a staged photograph or a narrative sequence.

Self harm as protection seems a contradictory term, how does that work. When my ex use to run after me, to get me, I would run upstairs to my studio, but his sheer strength meant I couldn’t hold the door shut. One day I grabbed a pair of scissors as he entered and pointed them at him as a warning not to come closer, I turned the scissors on myself and he laughed. I said, “If you come a step nearer I will cut myself!” His smirk began to fall and he was hesitant, I took the plunge and cut myself on the lower arm area near my hand and he turned around very fast and left, slamming the front door behind him. This is how my self harming for protection began.

I placed scissors strategically around the house including my bedroom side drawer, as most of the abuse was hidden in the bedroom which was at the opposite side of the house to everyone else so nobody got to hear as much. It kept him away but he used it as an excuse to make me look mentally ill (well I must have been to do this) telling his mum about how I am a self harmer and I was ill and needed professional help but not telling anyone the reason I was doing it which was to keep him away from me.

I took a picture of the last time that I had self harmed, which can be seen below. A week after this is the finale and I had to have him arrested.

Cuts made by light cutting with scissors

To begin the project, I decided I wasn’t too sure on how the lighting should be. In realistic terms I would have the table light on beside me but I was wondering how it would look with the bedroom light on or a flash illuminating the scene. I thought the flash might imitate a split second, the being caught in headlights saying.

The first three images below show the bedside lamp, the following 6 shots show different flash intensities, the 10th image shows a combination of overhead bedroom light and flash and the final two shots show bedroom light only.

Because the bedside lamp highlighted only a specific part of the picture and the remaining was quite dark, I chose to use this method for its atmosphere and the bonus is, this is how the lighting would have been during a threat attack.

I asked my eldest daughter if she would use the shutter release cable and take the photographs of me. I showed her the lighting photographs that had been taken and explained what I was hoping to achieve. I would break and review the images with her discussing things like the exposure and composition and if my facial expressions were coming through to her. In some places I decreased the f-stops so that the images were darker and repeated the shoot but with different settings.

Working out light source and strengths

My next step from here was to begin to take images in different places and of differing body language and facial expressions akin to what would have happened during a threat attack. I also had the drawer open as it would be because I would acquire the scissors and I held the scissors in different positions including a few shots where the scissors lay across my lower arm as if going to begin the act of self harming.

I also altered the cameras height so that when I was in bed it was at my eye level but when I was cowering on the floor I adjusted the tripod so that it was above me, looking down like my ex would have been. However, I was always hiding in bed when he threatened or attacked me in the bedroom so I used creative license for the shots out of the bed.

The contact sheets of these images can be seen below.

Once I had looked through the images, I looked for particular images that grabbed my attention, gave me the feeling of unease and made me look into the image so that there was more focusing on the body and face. I put these five images on their own contact sheet, seen below.

Once these five shots had been chosen as possibilities for my narrative photograph, I converted those that I thought would benefit into black and white images. I then followed this up with further adjustments in levels until I was satisfied with the outcomes, seen below.

From the final adjustment images I chose the three below as ones that I thought were to the point. However, although the first image, ‘Getting Ready’ shows me in bed getting ready for the ex to come into the bedroom after a night out, while I am getting ready to begin to cut myself, you cannot feel the same urgency and fear as in the second image called ‘Call Out’ as I am hidden and so too are my facial expressions.

Getting Ready

In ‘Call Out’ I am on the floor hugging the pillow which is a barrier between me and the outside world. Scissors in one hand and the telephone in the other which I am talking on, trying to contact help in the outside world. Concern and worry is on my face. The second image is not true to life because I would never had been able to make a phone call as he always managed to snatch it out of my hand, wether it was the house phone or my mobile phone and smash them. In the last week when he was arrested he lobbed my new mobile phone three doors away in the back garden so I couldn’t call for help.

However, out of the two photographs the first one is more realistic to the scene that you would have walked into and the high contrast is very dynamic.

Call Out

The last image that I like hasn’t been adjusted. It is in colour as you would have viewed the scene as if you were present at the time. The image is called, ‘Here We Go Again’ and is below:

Here We Go Again

I like the above photograph because of the natural colours which are all very neutral apart from the blue towel flung over the radiator. With this image our eyes are drawn first to the over exposed light area and the miscellaneous contents on the bedside drawers. From here the eyes are drawn down into the open drawer and then up to the hidden, shaded face and hands, and you can make out the distinct handle shapes of the scissors. I chose this one because it is raw and honest. I would often hug the wall, crouch myself against it whether standing, kneeling or sitting in a chair. It was as though gravity had gone haywire and was pulling me to the side and the wall.

Here, as with ‘Call Out’ the camera is positioned above the figure so we get the feeling of the body really crouching. The important facial features, gestures of hands and the details of the scissors are lost in shadow like the person themselves.

I have enjoyed this exercise, a staged photograph and while I have been writing the work up I had thought that to extend this work I could repeat the composition of the images but use the torch and paint with light as in Assignment 2. This means I could be hidden in darkness waiting for the event to arrive and unfold, highlight specific parts of the face and facial expression, the hands and the scissors etc… There would be many compositions that I could experiment with and it is quite exciting as I think of it.


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