Reflective Thinking: Realising Themes and Messages in my Practice

During my practice, I have recently been contemplating the themes within my work and how I portray a clear message to the audience.  I find that I need to further practice this and initiate more of what I am trying to say to the viewer.  Reviewing my practice so far, I have become interested in lone figures within environments.  My style continues to remain still, quiet, almost in an introverted way; I still intend on maintaining my style of visualising a figure in a space, however I feel I am now at a point where I need to give something else in my imagery.  This week, I have been looking at relevant elements of photography which particular practitioners are well known for.


Annie Lebovitz and the Emotional Connection


Fig 1. Annie Lebovitz. Les Mis Poster. 2013

Amercian portrait photographer Annie Lebovitz works within the advertising industry having worked with magazine companies including Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazine. Lebovitz is famously known for celebrity portraiture in which she has photographed world idols including the late Michael Jackson .  She  has published and exhibited her work in various galleries such as the Washington National Portrait Gallery and other press media internationally.  Following her success in the 1980’s,  she won the Clio Award for her campaign for the American Express card holder series.

Lebovitz derives a style of portraiture that is often dramatic and theatrical; Lebovitz brings an authentic atmosphere to her images in which she uses somewhat dark tones that may convey themes as almost gothic.  For example, her portrait series of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth almost brings a sense of past time.  As Her Majesty poses in luxurious dress complimenting the setting within Buckingham Palace, the scenes may almost be suggestive of revealing a darker side of Royal life.  Lebovitz use of ambient light from the windows shines upon the Queen, however, other areas within the scene are in shadow.  Lebovitz’s Disney portrait series creates a similar visionary as the innocence that is usually represented in the franchise is dramatically changed to something with deeper meaning.  I strongly admire how Lebovitz does this and I find her work emphasises on affecting the viewer emotionally; some of her most recent work such as the advertised image for the 2013 film ‘Les Miserables’ is successful in having the viewer connect with characters and story and she displays both very well.  From the film poster (see above) the viewer can see that Les Mis is a sad film, it involves a story of a child as well as others and also from the facial features (dirt on the face and hair) we are given the impression of a very serious subject (revolution, poverty).  Lebovitz maintains this notion of creating very ‘real’ imagery that shows the audience something in a different perspective and this is what strikes a key element in conveying emotional reaction.


Gregory Crewdson and Narrative

Fig 2. Gregory Crewdson. Ophelia. 2013

Contemporary photographer Gregory Crewdson is known for his cinematic style in which he produces staged scenes within unique suburban locations.  Following his inspiration from viewing the works of Diane Arbus,  Crewdson has followed in the footsteps of other visionaries who create surreal imagery such as William Eccleston. Crewdson has featured work across the world and has featured in galleries including the Guggenheim and the V&A museums in Europe.

Crewdson builds narrative in his work that brings storytelling to a new level in which he often shoots in twilight hours.  Crewdson’s work gives potential references to sci-fi cinema; there is an ethereal vibe brought across that shows neither an event or complete stillness.  The audience is stuck in an in-between moment where we do not know if something has happened yet or if an event has already passed in the image.  There is a slight sense of ambiguity where the viewer is made to analyse the imagery in detail which may lead the audience to finding elements that is suggestive of an occurrence but it is not clear what it is.  Crewdson uses light within his imagery in a delicate way as the scenes often appear quite soft with minor application of direct lights such as lampposts and car lights.  Crewdson creates a sense of drama in his images that is compelling as he explores into areas of privacy, often focusing on fragile relationships between people and also of people being alone with themselves.  The way he uses narrative keeps the viewer guessing as nothing is completely revealed or hidden away, giving us a cinematic quality where there is no beginning or ending but only a middle.  I find Crewdson’s work possesses an alien feel and may echo futuristic cinema from the 1980’s as his work appears neither too modern which could suggest his influences from late 20th century film.


Thomas Demand and Relationships with Space

Fig 3. Thomas Demand.  Office. 1995

Thomas Demand is a contemporary photographer who is known for working with paper materials to construct scenes which appears to show recent human activity within the space.  Gathering his influences and sources from various media, Demand explores the reproduction of temporary environments in which the spaces are destroyed completely after the photograph has been taken.  Following his studies in Germany, Demand has gone on to exhibit large works Europe and the US with shows featured in galleries such as the Venice Biennale.

Demand is clever in how he literally makes his own environments and plays with the idea of creating presence that is not revealed but still providing evidence of it within the space.  Demand does not feature people and focuses on still life and interior/exterior landscapes.  There is an emptiness in his work which can make one feel like they are trespassing and the viewer could even guess the time of day as the lighting gives us awareness that this place is no longer in use at the current moment.  However, Demand still lets us investigate almost in a nosy way.  For example, his imagery of the White House presents the central office from various angles and he also uses the frame within a frame technique where it appears we are peering into an area of the room at an unusual perspective.  His still life images also create this sense of exploring corners of the space as well as the entirety of it in which he views random objects from striking angles.  Demand is experimental with space and places his own stamp on an environment by manipulating it to his visionary creating a relationship between him and and the space as well as the audience.  When considering target audience, I find Demand almost gives the impression that we are location scouting for a space to be used and this draws upon the idea of space that is only used on occasion.


From my findings, I have come to realise new insight into how I can bring elements such as emotion and story more strongly within my work.  Gregory Crewdson is a photographer who I take particular influence from as he is very particular with how he sets up a scene in order to bring across a message or narrative in his photographs.  I am intrigued to experiment myself with the placement of objects or scenery as well as posing the subject and I intend to play with the environment more rather than only use what is already there at a location.  I think this is relevant towards my activities as using these methods during the shooting process will assist in creating a background behind the reasoning of the message or theme.  Concluding this reflection, my next step in my upcoming projects is to initiate further input into setting up a scene such as lighting, set styling and props; furthermore I intend to revisit the exterior environment where I can use a vast amount of space as this will give me more to play with.  Also in review of my own work,  I am currently directing my practice in a sense that explores environments that are not often occupied and act as a space that is ‘In Limbo’.  For example, spaces such as room cupboards and attics which are needed for storage use; these spaces are only used to get something out or put something else in but these are not spaces where you will find people on a regular basis.  I am currently attracted to the idea of placing people in spaces where you would not normally explore as in everyday society, we all congregate in the same typical environments such as shops, schools and work offices.  I am interested in exploring the unordinary act of being present within unoccupied spaces, whether it be walking into the middle of a field or standing inside a very small, unoccupied cloakroom.  Spaces exist for a reason and I intend to investigate how there can be other reasons to use these spaces such as for thinking, being alone or provoking memories.



Artist I White Cube (2015) Gregory Crewdson [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28/11/2015]

Matthew Marks Gallery (2015) Thomas Demand [Online] Available from: [Accessed 27/11/2015]

The Editors (2015) Annie Lebovitz Biography [Online] Available from: [Accessed 27/11/2015]


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