Art lesson resource: Film Noir Photos

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Here is  a recent project I have completed with Year 9 GCSE Photography students based on the theme of Film Noir imagery. Developed from a project created many years ago for the NCFE level 2 course, there are a few essentials needed but basically it is about interpretation of the visual style. The examples presented here were all produced this half term by the students working in teams of 4 or 3 (there are 27 in my class).

What you will need:

  • Ideally DSLR cameras but use what you can
  • Photo editing software, ie. Photoshop
  • Battery torches – even cheap £1 LED ones work well
  • A studio light would be great
  • Black sugar paper and masking tape
  • Costume props: police-style caps, Macintosh coats, long gloves
  • Props: plastic handguns (must be relevant style to 1940s USA), plastic Tommy guns, plastic handcuffs and/or police badges.

Inspiration

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As a starting point we looked at clips from some of the best Noir movies of the ’40s. We used collaborative team methods to identify the key elements common to each of the examples (lighting techniques, good guys, dubious gals, the femme fatale etc). We also looked out for common costume, make-up and hair as well as props. Students went from there to research contemporary artists (and movies) that employ some of the iconography of the 1940s Noir. The mood board above shows that a student has identified Noir ideas in the work of Vandervell and Carr.

Method

Usually in a photography project, I will start students with idea research to get visual prompts for the imagery they will go on to experiment with and develop in their own way. However, the Noir style is quite intuitive once you have the props. It is surprising how many members of staff had a classic Macintosh coat hiding (probably hardly worn) in a cupboard and I sourced three. The handgun props I found at Poundland and even got a Police Set that included a badge and cuffs. Tommy guns were trickier; eventually I got some made in Hong Kong in bright blue and orange that took an age to arrive in the UK; cost just £5 each including p&p. Trilby hats and police-style caps we had in school already from drama performances.

So session one included the smaller teams of 4 wearing/using props in a drama studio and basically improv acting, more accurately ‘acting up’! Cameras were gradually introduced to the teams who were starting to get it. These were photography students after all and didn’t want to be the ‘models’.

After a review of the first shoot, students identified what did or didn’t work the first time. Here we introduced lighting effects. Bringing in their own family torches (and the odd Pringle tube*), we blocked out all the natural light in the studio to get a more developed contrast in tone. Using our two studio lights too and lots of black sugar paper also helped create more abstract tone shapes.

*Empty Pringles tubes with a torch gaffer/duct taped to one end make a makeshift snoot or mini spot-light.

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Sample contact sheet

Contact sheets of the second shoot were compared to inspiration and to a checklist of creative studio techniques. What was missing? How could we develop further using adjustments to light meters, aperture, ISO etc.? What can be done in post-production to create a Noir look and feel?

An in-depth analysis of the projection room sequence from Citizen Kane (1945) helped us to understand how important a range of grey tones can be in obscuring detail. How could we do this without a smoke machine? This informed our next two studio shoots before post-production editing.

Editing

To help develop the Noir style, students used monochrome, spot colour, curve/level adjustments, fog layers and when a neutral back drop had been used, replaced backgrounds. The editing and refining aspect took a number of lessons to get right.

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Specific skills lessons were undertaken on picture planes (creating depth), cutting out around hair and rendering lighting and clouds.

Kids’ Feedback

“Best project so far; really enjoyed the studio sessions especially dressing’ up”

“Made me use my imagination”

“I can’t draw so this is my most creative piece of work as I could imagine being a character in an old film”

“I liked using the lights to make a Noir scene. Not using Photoshop all the time”

Examples

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Top 10 Tips: Art Moderator visits

In an attempt to reflect on best practice for GCSE Art moderator* visits, here is a list of top tips from art/educators around the UK collected via Twitter using the #artmoderatorvisittips.

  1. Extra special choc chip cookies (Prue Leith ones) (Also: A plate of biscuits! via @Mrsartytextiles and Always bloody good biscuits. I also organise lunch for them. Smile lots too via @JoBaker9)
  2. Fresh milk for her/his coffee, not milk/chalk powder
  3. Clear labels on each folder/sketchbook/exhib showing name, candidate no etc.
  4. Rank order by grade separating coursework and exam
  5. Always introduce your Principal/Headteacher; good for them to know there of wider world of arty folk of all varieties (additionally: Shouldn’t heads/principals introduce themselves to the moderator & welcome them to their school. I think that’s important via @pkainsworth)
  6. Do you write comments on the back of all CRFs in the AO boxes? Have some penciled in, some people do, some don’t. Some just add info in the concluding comments bit (via @CreativeNorton)
  7. Don’t pester them! Leave them alone to do what they came to do, undisturbed (via @PennyPrileszky)
  8. Conversation starters: bit of a random one: I wear some of my good quirky irregular choice (shoes) via @Mrsartytextiles and I had Welsh Cakes for GCSE a few wks back. Went down well. Not over indulgent, but hit the spot (via @PennyPrileszky)
  9. Yes to leave them alone but don’t forget to tell them where to find you, and more importantly where to find the staff toilet 🙂 (via @ArtAshHillAcad)
  10. [Insert your advice here – yes, you – what tips would you advise? This needn’t be a list of 10 either!]

 

*Incidentally, an exam art moderator is someone who comes to your school to review a sample of students’ work from coursework and terminal exam. It is often the mental/physical/emotional highlight of an art teacher’s year (other than results day).


 

Pen and Ink demo #teachlearnart

Inspired by the BBC videocasts featuring art and design skills, it struck me what a resource we could share through Twitter showing our students a whole range of skills we employ as art teachers. Why wouldn’t we want our own students to benefit from the skills of others’? Search for the hashtag #teachlearnart and there are already a few videos to use; make your own but be sure to add the hashtag so they can be collated!

Step by step guide

1. Use your phone (for example) to record your skills in production of a demo piece for an art lesson, edit into a movie of 5 minutes or less

2. Upload to YouTube and tag with #teachlearnart

3. Publicise on social sites (like Twitter) so that search engines will track the use of the hashtag

4. That’s it!

Thanks for sharing!

Revision (31/5/14): I have transferred this to an archive/curation of links tagged #teachlearnart to http://teachlearnart.wordpress.com