Social Adaptation and Assimilation: Final Selection

My Social Adaptation and Assimilation project reflects the ways migrants from Latvia go through these processes by the example of one family and three members of it.

The idea for the project was born about two years ago when I was dejected feeling that I still didn’t fit new society. The reason was that I always felt like a stranger even in my native country. I’m a mixture of different nationalities and cultures, and when a teenager I’ve heard negative opinions about Latvians, I’ve heard that Russians should go back to Russia, I heard many rude jokes about Jewish… And I was all of that and really confused about my cultural identity, avoided talking about it and felt ‘homeless’ in respect of homeland. It got even more complicated when I moved to UK and was considered as being Polish. Moreover I felt that I couldn’t integrate into local society. But at some point the whole situation turned upside down in my head, I thought that here, in Britain, no-one really cares about my nationality and cultural identity and I can be myself, take the situation into my own hands and participate in the activities that can help me to integrate. Thus also the final idea for my project formed.

The visual style of this project differs from my previous projects. I used to create story telling photographs with a touch of editorial style, but this time, influenced by exhibitions in the Impressions Gallery and at the Format festival (see research folder) I decided to follow current trends and make photographs in some simple visual way. ‘More simple’ was actually harder to do, probably because I tried not to direct my subjects too much, instead I’ve chosen to follow them and sometimes asked to repeat what they were doing. It was even harder to achieve that spontaneity in self-portrsiture, so instead I was selecting my portraits with a sense of self-irony which was probably influenced by works of Jo Spence while I was working on my dissertation.

The photographs are less saturated following one of the trends I learned when attending exhibitions and researching current photography trends. I used it to give the images an  ‘everyday’ look, thus telling that it’s subjects’ everyday reality.


For her maintaining eating habits is an important part of adaptation. I’ve chosen the image of her cooking what’s traditional for her to depict it.

Keeping a bag full of hay in the bedroom to remember scent of childhood is another way for Leonarda to adapt.

Gardening is both adaptation and assimilation in her case because it’s what she liked when living in Latvia, but main source for her inspirations are English gardens. But it’s also about the process of passing her knowledge about plants to her grandson, he’s a great part of her life, so I’ve chosen the image with both of them gardening.

Visiting local parks and gardens is a way of assimilation for Leonarda. I’ve chosen image of her with the willow because it depicts her love to Britain nature.



Me: Volunteering

Probably it is volunteering that makes me feel a part of local society more than anything else. I’m mostly photographing (volunteering) for potentially vulnerable people, so it’s obvious that I didn’t want to depict myself among them to protect their identities. So I decided to make some images of myself getting ready for volunteering, checking and packing my equipment. Moreover the images show some of things that inspire my artistic/photographic practice.

(Outcome 1)

Contact Sheet:


Yuri 1: going to pubs

My research has shown that eating habits are very important in maintaining cultural identity, in particular when it comes to migration. According to statistics  (see research folder), the longer a person lives in the host country, the less often he or she eats ethnic food. In Yuri’s case transition to English eating habits is rather fast.

In Latvia there is a lot of very affordable cafes and restaurants to have a proper meal at, while in West Yorkshire cafes normally serve only light snacks and restaurants are quite expensive, at list for a newcomer. So the question was, where do people eat if not at home? It took some time to figure out that these places are pubs. For Latvia pubs are something quite new, mostly appearing since the country joined EU and tourists from Britain started to come.

Both of us, Yuri and me, thought that pubs are places to have a drink and were really surprised when we decided to risk and order food in a pub for the very first time and it was actually great! We were so happy that we have finally figured out where to eat outside the home!

Since then pubs are most common places for Yuri to meet friends or to have a lunch on his college days. Couple times a month we go to a pub for a pint of delicious beer. Pubs are a part of British culture, social life and eating habits and thus Yuri’s practice of going to pubs is a good example of assimilation.

(Outcome 1)

Contact Sheet:


Anna 03

Please note these are unedited versions of the images.

I always liked animals, dreamed about having a dog or a cat, but never had a chance to have one. But almost two years after I moved to Britain a small kitten appeared in my garden, entered my home and never went away. Just in the right moment when I had a depression because I was missing my country, family, friends and work. The appearance of  the kitten was the first moment when I felt like being at home. That was first step in my adaptation to new place, so now I’m starting to tell my story of assimilation and adaptation with the pictures of my friendship with the cat. By the way I named him Behemoth because he looked like a hippopotamus when a kitten.

Among the chosen photographs I prefer the one I’ve put the first because it shows how relaxed both of us feel when together. I suppose it was this feeling of relaxation caused by the presence of the pet which was the first moment that helped me to get used to new life.

The environment tells a little bit more about me. Roses on the window tell that I like to grow plants, Totoro toy as a clue for my admiration of Studio Ghibly works.

From the technical side I’ve finally  found a way to use Canon Camera Connect with a flash. The application is very useful for taking self-portraits, but doesn’t work with my triggers, however  works with on-camera speedlight, but the direct light is too harsh and there’s no usable surface in the room to reflect the light, so this time I put a silver umbrella onto a light stand, camera on a tripod, speedlight on the camera and facing the umbrella.

(Outcome 1)

Contact sheets:

cat1cs1          cat1cs2          cat1cs3

The 2017 Bradford Sports Awards

(Outcome 3)

Beauty Photography: Sexy Look

Makeup artist: Makala Fairley

Makeup artist’s idea was to create a sexy look. Bright red lips, smokey eyes, lace dress – sounds like a perfect scenario for the complete look, but the first thing that I noticed was that the model  didn’t feel comfortable wearing the look. Here I need to mention that she wasn’t professional model trained to pose. The look was so unwanted for her that during the shoot she even refused to look at the photographs to see how good she was doing. She was trying her best, posing the way I asked her to, but her gaze didn’t meet the requirements of the look, she lacked some confidence in her face and movements. And there’s nothing surprising – she had to create a new personality, totally different from herself in front of the camera.

My first step was to help the model to get used to the camera, so I told her what poses to try and took multiple photographs not really caring about the result.

Next I wanted her to feel more relaxed, so offered her to make some movements instead of posing – to turn from side to side, to toss up her hair and so on. The technical problem was that I needed to focus  and frame very quickly, but after some tries I began to frame during the first movement, to focus during reiteration and to photograph on the second (third etc) reiteration. After these cheerful activities it looked like she got used to the process.

Then I asked her to repeat poses we started with and what I saw through the lens was the actual look we were going for. She looked self-confident and feminine and actually made me believe in the character she was playing.

Here are 2 photographs with similar poses to compare, left one is the 7th frame taken on the day (unedited) and on the right is the 93rd exposure:

Except the difference in retouching (the first is just cropped while the second was edited in a number of layers) you can see model’s reaction to the camera. In the left image the model is smiling, but the smile is strained, she looks tense and a little bit afraid. In the right image she’s comfortable, looks like she’s enjoying the process and creates completed look we were going for.

This session didn’t involve anything new for me from the technical side of view – softboxes and a reflector in front of the model and hard light on the background. Helping a subject to feel comfortable is a standard for me, so the workflow was usual as well. But the change in the model was greater than usual, the role-playing was really convincing successful. Next I plan to pay greater attention to subjects’ reactions to the process and changes in their mood and behavior to get one step closer to understanding how to help a model to become an actor or actress in front of the camera.

(Outcome 2)

Contact sheets:

sexy1          sexy2          sexy3

SP3. 01

My research (see research folder) shows that eating habits are formed by a number of factors, some of them are personal, economical, environmental and cultural. That is especially noticeable in Leonarda’s case. She was growing up in a low-income family in a countryside and is used to grow or gather provision by herself and to prepare food from the most available supplies. Even after she moved to Britain, her eating habits didn’t change a lot, but now it’s not a question of availability, but of personal preferences.

I was photographing Leonarda while she was making several buckets with the sauerkraut with cranberries and apples.

I also photographed her with hay that she keeps in her bedroom. The smell reminds her of childhood when the family used hay to fill pillows. It was economically hard time for the family, but Leonarda remembers it as the happiest time in her life and the smell takes her back to these memories as a powerful tool for triggering them (see research folder).

All these practices are parts of adapting. They also enable maintaining cultural identity.

I also photographed Leonarda’s bedroom window because I’ve noted that it represents some important features. All around her environment there are glitters, shiny objects, things with flower ornaments, real and artificial flowers and images of small charming country houses. Leonarda likes sparkly things since she was young because she associated them with wealth and beauty. She she is fond of flowers because believes that beauty makes world and people better. And the images of country houses are romanticized versions of her childhood home.

(Outcome 01)

Contact sheets:

Leo3-1          Leo3-2

Leonarda test 2

This time I decided to photograph Leonarda outdoors to see if I can maintain narrative without having all her things to arrange the frame. On the other hand I wanted to have context in images, so I came when she was working in the garden preparing it for the next spring. It was a dreary day, so I decided to use a speedlight to highlight Leonarda, to make her look standing out of this gray day because she is so optimistic and active! But she was constantly moving, so instead of a white umbrella this time I used a card as a reflector, respectively the speedlight was placed on the camera. 

While I was photographing, Leonarda was moving compost from the road to the backyard using a spade, a bag and a children skate. 


I’ve chosen this photograph because of Leonarda s pose and facial expression. It depicts how cheerful she is while doing the work that others might consider hard and unpleasant. Her childish-like pose depicts that she takes the work as a game or an adventure.


1 Exposure correction


2 Curves to add contrast


3 Saturation decreased 

4 Vignetting to make the subject stand out of the image

a) gradient fill


b) mask


Final result:



Red Lips Makeup

I was collaborating with a make-up artist to create a series of photographs capturing the same model wearing the same makeup and hairstyle but in different clothes.

One of the dresses she wore was a lace black dress and I wanted her to look sharp and self-confident while wearing the dress. Thus I set high key background creating kind of bright aura around the model. I used beauty dish on the right side as the main light source and an additional soft box on the left side.I directed the model to take strong confident poses.

Makeup artist: Sheila Asante

Next two dresses were glossy so I decided to try turning bowl reflectors towards the model instead of using snoods. I wanted to see glints of light on the dark background that would correspond glossy surface of the dresses. At the same time these lights were directed towards the model and highlighted her from the backside. I used two soft boxes, main on the right side and an additional to fill in the shadows on the left side.

In this way I created two different moods using different lighting techniques. One look is confident and daring, other is soft and intimate. Thus lighting techniques should be considered deliberately because they can alter meaning of a photograph. Lighting should benefit and promote narrative. For me it’s especially important because for my personal project I’m telling a story through narrative portraits.

sh1         sh2        sh3

Retro Look Makeup

When I was collaborating with make-up artists, I saw this model which reminded me a retro girl and remembered an abandoned staircase in the college building. I went to check if it’s still opened and has an old wall with cracked and falling off paint. Fortunately the wall was still there, its colours were matching the makeup, skin, hair and dress colours of the model while abandoned condition of the staircase matched my perception of the look – melancholy for the past. The cracks on the wall act as cracks on photo prints extant from 1920’s.

Make-up artist: Sheila Asante

For my personal project I’m going to take a series of narrative portraits about migrants, I’m aiming to reveal their personalities to a viewer and so I’ll need to place clues into the frame. Thus it is significant to be able to find and choose right environment to place the subject in. A person might look too ordinary or too weird if placed into inappropriate environment and vice versa a photograph might start talking to a viewer if a person, light and environment correspond each other like it happened with this model when she was standing on the staircase.



1 First of all I applied detail correction, dodge and burn layers


2 Then I did some general skin correction

a) surface blur layer


b) high pass layer to bring detail back


c) blend mode – hard light


d) mask to apply these layers to skin only and dropped opacity to maintain natural look


3 Curves to increase contrast


4 Levels to set the lightest point


rl1       rl2