For my identity project, I want to explore the issue of societal expectations and beauty standards for women. Through my photos, I hope to convey the severity of these so-called beauty standards to viewers and help them realize that our society and our humanity are being engulfed and manipulated. I hope that my photographs can tackle and emphasize this issue by exposing the harsh expectations that women are judged and defined by. I have a few photographers I have in mind for my photographs that I want to draw inspiration from: Jessica Ledwich and Sophie Kietzmann. Ledwich’s series, Monstrous Feminine, particularly captures my attention because of how harshly and disturbingly accurate she exposes our obsession with physical appearance and its relation to the idealized expectations of women. Kietzmann focuses more on breaking free of these standards in her work using a simple but effective studio portrait style.
For my mood board, I collected photos that I thought would be related to my social issue of beauty standards for women. There are several ideas I can do from these pictures alone – for example, I can explore using tape on the model’s face, like the picture on the bottom left, for my first set. I can then decide whether I like the outcome of the first set, and continue to explore the other ideas in the mood board. The plastic packaging picture is an idea I really want to try because I think it connects and expresses my vision very well, but not in a way where it’s straightforward. It leans towards a conceptual portrait style which I had wanted to do as well. I also found the mirror/reflection pictures really interesting, and I will definitely try photographing in a similar style for my future sets.
I have a few photographers I have in mind for my photographs that I want to draw inspiration from: Jessica Ledwich and Sophie Kietzmann. Ledwich is a visual artist and photographer who focuses on contemporary issues, most noticeably female body culture. Her series, Monstrous Feminine, particularly captures my attention because of how harshly and disturbingly accurate she exposes our obsession with physical appearance and its relation to the idealized expectations of women. Her photographs are very conceptual but still manage to achieve her message extremely effectively. Ledwich’s photo below is part of the series, and it shows a woman trying to smooth her legs by using some kind of machine that, instead of actually smoothing, are burning the model’s leg. The picture is disturbing and an uncomfortable reminder to viewers that women go through extreme societal pressure to the extent of putting themselves through pain. Similarly, the picture on the right showcases a woman combing her hair in the washroom, but on the table, there is a “fake” mask. On the right side, a reflection of an unusually red face is shown in the mirror. The composition of this photograph is balanced and the overall color is bright – however, the contrast is still effectively portrayed. The mask serves as an important symbol in the picture, as it hints to the viewers that women are pressured to put on a facade to hide their true selves. I believe her work would help inspire me with my own photographs for this project because of our similar themes and visions.
Sophie Kietzmann and her work also inspire me for my own project because she also focuses on the issue of beauty standards. However, Kietzmann has a slightly different vision than mine because she shows women breaking these beauty standards, whereas I want to highlight how these societal expectations are confining and restricting women. Both images shown below use a simple but aesthetically pleasing composition and background. Kietzmann does this to ensure that viewers recognize immediately who the subjects are by placing an effective contrast between the subject and the background. She captures and emphasizes a sharp focus on the models’ eyes and features that make the photographs stand out. Her style is simple yet intriguing in a way that viewers notice what Kietzmann wants them to notice. Her studio portrait style is something I want to explore in my own project as well.
For my identity project, I want to explore the issue of societal expectations and beauty standards for women. Through my photos, I hope to convey the severity of these so-called beauty standards to viewers and help them realize that our society and our humanity is being engulfed and manipulated. Especially with the dominance of social media, people willingly immerse themselves in a fake yet sadly, brainwashing realm. While the content we mindlessly scroll through every day may not seem to be harmful in any way, our minds soak in everything we see and before we know it, these perfect physiques come together to form the standards we use to measure every other thing. These standards have become particularly hard to adhere to for women, as society has placed impossibly high expectations on women. Because of this, many women unconsciously become brainwashed to believe that attractiveness—defined by a narrow set of boundaries—is the entry ticket (and fee) for contributing to society and being accepted by society. Hence, I hope that my photographs can tackle and emphasize this issue by exposing the harsh expectations that women are judged and defined by.
(click image to zoom in)
In my mindmap, I explored multiple different styles and categories of portrait photography, which I did because I believed it would help me with researching and narrowing it down to something I’m interested in. Thanks to this process of laying out all potential ideas, I was able to narrow it down to studio/conceptual portraiture. I’m particularly interested in trying out conceptual portraits because I love the idea of creating and conveying hidden messages to the viewers through symbolism, colors, and/or composition. Because the category and range of conceptual portrait photography is so wide, I also hope to try incorporating body parts and belongings (no face) into my pictures.
I think a photo can be considered a portrait when emotions and character are shown. A portrait photo should convey and express the personalities and identities of someone or of a group. Portrait photography, contrary to its name, does not always need to be captured in portrait; landscape photos can portray the subject’s identity equally as well, if not even more effectively. Portraits also do not require the presence of the person or people in the image to actually represent their identities – sometimes, a still-life photo that captures the belongings of that person can reveal the character of this person, and thus can be identified as a portrait as well.
Portrait photography really should not have any limitations or standards to determine whether it is “good” or not. Portrait photos can be considered “good” because they really bring out one’s thoughts and identity, whether it be achieved by following the rules or breaking them. Depending on the photographer’s vision and intention, following a certain rule may be beneficial for them to emphasize a characteristic. For example, the photographer could use the rule of thirds and position their subject in a way that makes their eyes the dominant element – this would help achieve that captivating effect as the viewer’s attention fixes on the eyes immediately. A great example of this would be Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl, Sharbat Bibi” (left), as viewers feel like her eyes almost penetrate through them. The sharp focus on the eyes helps emphasize the dominance of the eyes and depicts her emotions, pain, and fear. McCurry follows the rule of placing the eyes on the upper third of the frame. On the other hand, photographers choose to break these rules because doing so, the individual(s) is better and further portrayed. In Jane Brown’s portrait of Sinéad O’Connor (right), she deliberately breaks the rule that subjects need to look directly at the camera. O’Connor is, first of all, looking down rather than at the camera, and secondly, her eyes are placed in the bottom third of the image, breaking the rule of thirds as well. However, the portrait reveals her refusal to accept social norms and her daring character, shown by the cigarette in her ear and the relatively unconventional hair of women.
Selfies are definitely portraits because they are taken by the subject themselves, and so they would know exactly how to present themselves to the viewer. Selfies are another way of saying self-portraits, and so selfies are just another way to express oneself. In fact, many selfies we take today follow the rule of putting one eye in the center of the image, just as many photographers would follow in portrait photography.
There really are no boundaries for what should or shouldn’t be included in portraits – it all depends on what the photographer is trying to communicate about the individual(s) through their work. While we mostly associate portraits with images of people’s upper bodies (including the face), there are so many different choices and other ways to take portrait photography as well. Despite not featuring the subject’s actual face, Anton Corbijn’s photo of John Lee Hooker’s hand is also considered a portrait (left). This portrait seems so “less” yet it reveals so much about how hard Hooker’s life was. Just by simply looking at Hooker’s hand, viewers are able to learn about his character and life, which is exactly the effect of a successful and effective portrait. Moreover, portraits don’t even need any body parts of the subject, in fact, their belongings work just as well. Including belongings and props in the portrait can reveal just as much about a person without the need to actually show their face. For example, Margaret Bourke-White’s “Gandhi and the Spinning Wheel” (right) depicts the extreme significance of the spinning wheel to Gandhi as achieved by the wheel taking up almost half of the frame. The photographer also emphasizes his character by placing the spinning wheel in the foreground in front of Gandhi himself. Hence, there is no definite answer to what should or should not be included in portraits, but anything is allowed as long as it reveals and tells the viewer something about the identity of the subject.
Likewise, portraits can definitely only consist of small details. As with what Corbijn did with Hooker’s hand, presenting only one detail through, for example, a close-up is totally acceptable because the photographer may want to emphasize a particular feature that reveals something about the subject. By filling the frame, photographers can also achieve the effect of enriching the image and connecting with viewers.
I think an abstract representation starts to become a portrait when it clearly reveals something about a person or subject. On the other hand, I think portrait photos become abstract when multiple interpretations can be made by viewers, and the subject becomes less identifiable.
Portraits can be both a single photograph and a sequence of photos. With a single photograph, the photographer can convey and show the subject’s identity powerfully, whereas a sequence of photos allows the photographer to create more of a storyline.
Amsen, Eva. “Your Selfies Have Something in Common with Professional Portraits.”
For my final triptych, I decided to use the above three photos. As hopefully seen, these three all have a similar and consistent blue and grey color going on. These final three photos also have the same “theme” of the repetition of buildings and architectural patterns. While none of these really resembled Andreas Gursky’s nor Dirk Bakker’s style of photography, I really liked how the results turned out and, in the process of creating the three sets, I was able to find my own preference and “style”.
I placed them in this particular order because the first and third pictures focus more on the repetition of geometric elements and straight, converging lines. I felt that the first picture should be placed first because it essentially helps to captivate the viewer’s attention with the symmetrical composition and the strong emphasis on the square-tiled pattern. The line in the middle not only divides the image into two equal halves but also helps create that sense of depth as all the lines and patterns converge at that centerline. However, the bright white rectangular object on the top right of the picture almost throws off this seemingly perfect composition, but I think it’s what helps further intrigue the viewer and is what enhances the overall photograph.
The second picture is almost strikingly opposite to the first one, to a certain extent, because of the almost unexpected fluidity. Unlike the first one which used solid and strong geometric shapes, the second picture had wavy lines in which created a really calming and graceful fluidity that generates this nice contrast to the “rigidness” of the first picture. Rather than having all three pictures presenting geometric repetition, I included the second picture and put it in between the other two pictures because it provides variety and in a way, complements and further accentuates the beauty of repetition, as is exactly what I’d envisioned in my statement.
With the third picture, I thought it was quite similar to the first one in terms of the tiled repetition of the buildings. The reason as to why I placed it last was because I wanted the two geometric pictures to “enclose” the fluid one in the middle. I wanted to guide the viewer through my triptych: the first picture would be the strong “start” as viewers would notice my emphasis on geometric repetition, then they would move onto the second picture with admiring its fluidity, and finally proceeding to the third picture which acts as the nice “wrap-up” that corresponds with the first picture.
Set 3 is personally my favorite set of photos among the others because there are several pictures that are very likely going to be in my final triptych. The theme was mostly consistent in this set, though there is still a large variety and choice I can choose for the final three. As seen from the set (hopefully), I focused on the repetition of elements on buildings, and my photos were highly inspired by Dirk Bakker, as explained in the previous set.
Blue Pictures: I colored a lot of the pictures blue because I felt that most of these blue ones matched my vision and demonstrated the inspiration I derived from Dirk Bakker’s work. Pictures like 7725, 7747, and 7870 turned out very effective in terms of following that theme and formal element of repetition. Within these pictures, and many of the other blue pictures, in fact, the formal elements of line, color, and tone were all prevalent. Almost all of the photos filled the frame, and I believe this further helped emphasize the patterns and repetition, while at the same time also creating a hint of abstraction because they don’t directly present the subject.
Green Pictures: The green pictures were then chosen because I thought that within the blue pictures, these pictures utilized repetition even better and fit with my vision. For instance, picture 7889 was particularly one of my favorites because not only did it manage to achieve a highly similar effect as Bakker’s work, but it also really achieved the expectations I had envisioned for my own work. Like Bakker’s photos, picture 7889 is perfectly compositional and does a very good job of highlighting the use of color, lines, pattern, and tone. The principal colors of this picture are only orange and white, creating a simplistic and aesthetic visual, yet the contrast of the two also somehow enhance the repetition of “boring windows”. The windows of the building clearly make up a nice and neat repetition, and this exactly adheres to my vision statement. The countless windows that seem small from a distance are what ultimately make up the outward appearance of buildings we regularly see, and so my vision of appreciating the small, repetitive elements that build to create the big picture is then achieved as well.
Red Pictures: For this set, I had so many choices from the variety of my photos, and thus, I chose 10 red pictures and couldn’t narrow it down. These red pictures were selected with consideration of which were most possible to end up in the final triptych. Pictures 7743, 7800, and 7810 probably have the most potential in becoming the triptych because I see the most “commonality” in all three photos. This “commonality” is determined by the overall tone and abstraction. All three pictures have a similar blueish and greenish tone that helps to form a sense of unity and harmony. Of course, in addition to tone, the pictures also depict a prevalent use of repetition, but the repetition is captured from unique angles that give it that abstraction. While they emphasize repetition as well, they are very different to the repetition in picture 7889, because rather than windows which are obvious, they present repetition that is relatively not as common. Along with the fact that I filled the frame, it really evokes curiosity on what the repetition exactly is of, once again creating that sense of abstraction. With picture 7800, I really like the way the pole-like object serves as a line that cuts the picture diagonally. This essentially divides the picture in two, yet the tiled pattern in the back almost creates this sense of fluidity and overall makes a clean and simplistic visual, helping to weaken that “separation”. While this doesn’t necessarily follow the style of Bakker’s, I still wanted to include it in the red pictures because it also conveys somewhat of this serene mood that manages to use the formal elements of patterns, lines, and tone at the same time. However, if I decide to actually use this picture in my triptych, I would need to crop out the building in the top right corner because it distracts the viewer’s attention and could very likely disorient the simplicity of the picture.
For set 2, I had originally aimed to focus on the repetition and patterns of buildings or architectural structures, but as seen from this set, my original intent changed during the process. These locations were mostly taken in my compound (exception of the ones taken at school) and since there weren’t “proper” buildings, I wasn’t able to find an extremely prevalent use of patterns.
Blue Images: The blue images I chose out of the set all mainly used some sort of repetition. For instance, images 7520 and 7528 capture the repetition of windows on the houses, and both of them were taken from a side angle, rather than the front angle. Images like 7627 particularly matched my vision and followed the “theme” I had in mind for this set (repetition of buildings). With this particular image (7627), it is quite obvious that I had tried to emulate Dirk Bakker’s style of perfectly compositional architectural photos, and of course his love for emphasized repetition. I really liked the two pictures of the buses because they were taken from a relatively not as common angle, showing an alternative perspective of the aligned buses from a higher angle. While the buses showed repetition, they did not, like many of the other blue images, emphasize the repetition of buildings enough and thus did not follow Bakker’s style as much (which was who I had wanted to follow initially for this set).
Green Images: Out of the blue images, the green images were chosen further based on how much emphasis was put on the repetition of buildings. In this case, as I didn’t have tall buildings/skyscrapers with unique patterns, I tried to redirect my focus on the rows of houses in my compound – those were the ones I colored green. However, these green ones rather leaned towards the style of Angie McMonigal as her work presents detailed and thoughtful perspectives. In my photos, I captured the houses from side angles that were inspired by McMonigal’s use of unique perspectives that illustrate the grandness of visual architectural repetitions.
Red Images: For the red images, I chose them because I believed they best depicted that repetition and pattern “feel” I was going for within set 2. Once again, these two pictures share the common formal element of pattern/repetition, and in a way, the use of color was also prevalent in both. The repetition of windows in the two red pictures is clear, which although I strayed away from the style of Gursky’s work, I think still adheres to my vision statement because the alignment of windows in a descending row helps build that “big picture” I was going for. Though not quite successful, I wanted to convey the message of my vision statement to the viewer, in which I hoped the viewer would learn to recognize that small patterns and things make up the picture we see on a daily basis. Again, like with my first set, I am still not very satisfied with this second set of pictures. In my third and final set, I really hope to actually achieve, or at least somewhat try to feature more of Bakker’s style of photography in my own work. However, it is also much due to the experimental concepts and photos with these two sets that I will be able to narrow down my focus into one: repetition of buildings in the style of Dirk Bakker.
Analysis of Dirk Bakker
Dirk Bakker, from Amsterdam, is a photographer who loves the small details of the city. He manages to turn these details that are so commonly overlooked into playful visuals and aesthetically pleasing patterns. Bakker emphasizes focal elements of color, lines, pattern, and texture through almost perfectly symmetrical composition. With a background in art and graphic design, Bakker further utilizes his previous education and experience to create the mesmerizing abstract patterns and capture the ‘lines of the city’. In fact, he uses his mobile phone to take all of his impressive and grand pictures, yet with such simple equipment, Bakker is still able to achieve his focus and intent of “sharing the beauty of various cities through unique, eye-catching mobile photography”.
Krivaite, Gerda. “Playful Patterns by Dirk Bakker.” Our Culture, 3 Mar. 2021,
ourculturemag.com/2021/03/03/playful-patterns-by-dirk-bakker/. Accessed 11
For set 1, I was essentially experimenting with different “themes” and focuses, and so my photos were all over the place. However, my first set was mainly inspired by Andreas Gursky and his use of repetitive elements (though some of my pictures went a little off track). There were a few similar themes within the first set, for example, the blue-toned pictures that display a repetition of everyday objects.
Blue Images: The blue images of my first set were chosen with having both my vision and Gursky’s focus in mind: repetition. While not all of these blue pictures present a prevalent use of repetition, I’ve selected ones that mostly effectively show some form of repetition or pattern. Of course, for the ones that don’t emphasize pattern or don’t really follow Gursky’s style, I included them as part of the blue selection because I felt like they could offer some new “paths” or directions in which I could further explore and experiment with in set 2.
Green Images: Out of the blue pictures, the ones in green were chosen because they all shared and presented a clear use of repetition, though each picture was extremely different respectively. The green pictures personally didn’t really remind me of Gursky’s photography style/theme as they didn’t achieve that large scale visual effect and that unique use of colors, patterns, textures and lines complementing each other. These green pictures however, were mostly of industrial, handmade objects seen in everyday life, whether it be the cluttered bookshelf in image 01, or the layering flights of staircases in image 09 – this point was similar to that of Gursky’s works.
Red Images: The red images were then chosen from the previously selected green pictures. The two red ones I picked both shared this heavy cold tone and blue white balance. As I had taken them in the same location that had this large window, that tone was easily created. These two red pictures also emphasized the formal elements of repetition and shape. Images 01 and 02 were easily the only two who would “fit” into a triptych because they are both of commonly seen objects in households: a bookshelf and clothing pegs. I think these two red pictures meet my vision and message of “appreciating the small details and objects that build the “big” things that are commonly presented to us”. However, I am not entirely satisfied with them, especially as I have to consider whether they would be in my final triptych, and thus I want to further explore in my next set, hopefully finding a consistent theme/style that would better fit my vision. In set 2, I hope to try and focus on the repetition of architectural structures or the patterns on these structures, just as how Dirk Bakker enjoys how much power patterns and repetition of lines, colors and textures can enhance and bring to his architectural images.