Summary of Progress

My project centers around the idea of connection to community from the idea of idiorrythmic separation, which is how we live together but also separately in our own individual rhythms. Specifically, it is about my own sense of connection to the community where I have lived for the past 6 years but never felt like I truly belonged. The project became more poignant for me during the period of lock down as the exploration of separation and alienation became very real. I aimed to show this by photographing the windows in my home juxtaposed against images that I was able to create in the community. The series is named ‘The Pathos of Distance,’ which is a Nietzsche quote used by Barthes to discuss this idea of iddiorrythm and it seemed to sum up the shared emotional experience of what was happening to communities everywhere.

During the last module, I also started to explore and research the idea of what a documentary photograph is. To support this, I have been looking at the concepts of object orientated ontology (OOO) and Justified True Belief (JTB) as well as how these images are expected to look aesthetically and conceptually. This is what I aim to start exploring during this module.

View galleries:

Gettier and the Pyramids

I have been continuing to consider the documentary aesthetic and authority that exists in the photograph. If all photographs are constructions, can any of them be considered knowledge by using the epistemological definition of ‘Justified True Belief’ (JTB). In an attempt to explore this, I have been aiming to apply this to photographs by also looking at the Gettier problem (1963), which creates the conditions for knowledge, albeit based on a false premise. Additionally, I have also been researching the idea of object orientated ontology (OOO), which states that the art object can be a form of knowledge drawn from its aesthetic qualities (Harmon, 2018).

The research has been useful to define new ways to consider the photograph as a way to represent and document a subject in its raw form before they are approached from a constructivist learned knowledge of the world. I have written an essay, which can be viewed here:

Bibliography

Gettier, E. L., 1963. Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?. Analysis, pp. 121-123.

Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.

Responding to Ruscha

Figure 1: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Response to Ed Ruscha task

I decided to take Ed Rucha’s ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ (1963) as inspiration. It has always been a book that I have enjoyed, having discovered it very early on studying photography.

The images were selected from a number of 35mm film shoots that I have been doing between the modules, which are a departure from what I have been completing for my work in progress (Fig: 1). This was as I am researching to consider the way documentary photography is perceived and see if it could play a role in developing my approach.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Spread from ‘Blossom in the Time of Corona’

I wanted to create a series that first might be perceived in an arbitrary and mundane way through aesthetically pleasing images of trees in blossom (Fig: 2), which then plays on that sense of collected awareness drawn from the context of this happening during the peak of the lock down. Beautiful yet surreal when considering the time in which the images were taken. I have also added a series of double exposures to juxtapose these feelings, which I aimed to show the chaos of the situation without photographing indexical gloves and masks that have appeared en masse (Fig: 3).

Figure 3: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Double Exposure from ‘Blossom in the Time of Corona’

I aimed to use Rucha’s book as a framework to present my own work and to form the basis for the narrative within the images and followed this with the blossom images, which also utilises ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ in the format of the text as a way to provide additional context in the way that the images can be read. The title is also a reference to Ruscha’s book in the graphic style of the typeface and a subtle gradient on the cover to create a sense of the aging and yellowing of the pages that Rucha’s book has been subjected to over the years since its printing (Fig: 4), which is evident in the walk through video of the book (Fig: 5).

Figure 4: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Cover from ‘Blossom in the Time of Corona’
Figure 5: Ed Ruscha (1963) Twentysix Gasoline Stations walk through video
Bibliography

Ruscha, E., 1963. Twentysix Gasoline Stations. 1 ed. Los Angeles: National Excelsior Press.

Reflecting on Practice

Considering the construction of my images and looking at the idea of the indexical and the iconic have be a big influence on my work during this module. I truly believe that without these fundamental lessons I may not have been able to develop and adapt my practice in response to the covid-19 outbreak and lock down. To be able to include both elements of the actual and the conceptual whilst being able to realise the same intent has been revelatory and something that I will continue to include even after things have returned to some kind of normality.

Short Statement of intent

“The Pathos of Distance” explores how we coexist in the same space yet live to our own individual rhythm – the idiorryhtym of separation. It is my idiorrythm to a place where I lived for some time but do not feel connected; a generational sense of tenuous job security and the liminality of the rental trap. However, a separation of community has a tangible meaning for all of us, under the conditions of pandemic and the limits it has placed on our civil liberties. My disconnect is a shared experience and for those with a stake in the community; in order to save it, we must remain distant from it.

Reflection

In order to achieve my intent, I have placed images that would seem aesthetically disparate next to each other in order to portray this separation visually. I started to create my project using an iconic approach in the way that the subjects are recognisable as the subjects; portraits are a resemblance of the subjects and the environmental topology I present in part two are based on the actuality of the objects existence. To contrast this, I created a series of abstracted images that together I hope would create more of a representation of this separation aesthetically and conceptually, as I mention in my critical review, quoting Peter Lamarque “resemblance is not sufficient for representation.” (Lamarque and Olsen, 2004: 347) and the representation in my diptychs can shift into a reading that represents more about me and my connection that it necessarily does of the person in the portrait. Additional meaning of the pairings is also of a broader community in separation as a result of the current pandemic.


Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2020) Peer feedback discussion on early version of portfolio

Figure 2: Phil Hill (February – April, 2020) Experimenting with differing image sizes next to each other.

After reflecting on some peer feedback (Fig. 1) and discussing with Michelle how the work could be displayed, I have decided to present the diptychs as two equally sized imaged next to one another. I experimented with image placement and sizing (Fig. 2) However, the challenge was in the reading of the work, creating more emphasis on either a portrait or one of the windows, which changes the project and reading of the work to be more about one series of images over the other. Equal sizing of the work means that the images will have to be read as equivalent in the meaningful relationship to the sequence of the work as a whole (Fig. 3). In order to achieve this without the viewer of the work becoming tired of the same visual style of the edit, which was mentioned by my peers, I have decided to reduce the amount of images in this part of the project. I also removed some of the cropped portraits (Fig. 4) from the sequence after discussion with Michelle for consistency and how the full body portraits create a kind of topology that is a feature of my work on the whole. This also follows from some of the feedback I have received previously, where my portraits could be better placed within the environment so that a better contextualisation of the subject and who they are can be made in an individual image. By focussing on the full body portraits, there is a greater sense of these individuals as pillars of the communities in the setting where they are part of it.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) Equal sizing of images in diptych.
Figure 4: Phil Hill (March, 2020) Geoff, elim food bank patron

I have also reduced the number of diptych’s in part two. The sequence here is in the aesthetic mirroring of images before the lock down and during. It was challenging to find images that did this effectively and had led to a couple of pairing that could be considered forced (Fig. 5). As a result, I made the decision to remove these from the series to create consistency of impact that the sequence is starting to have.

Figure 5: Phil Hill (March – April) unused diptych from part two.

Graphic elements

I have always been interested in how graphics work with images, which could be as simple as the typeface that is used to caption and preface the visual work. Graphic provide additional meaning and as a result need to be considered carefully as it could have a subtle influence on how the work is read.

Figure 6: Phil Hill (April, 2020) Title and Captions for ‘The Pathos of Distance’ WIPP

For example, I have utilised the typeface ‘Futura’ for the title and caption information in my portfolio (Fig. 6). This san-serif typeface is designed for maximum legibility and is used for well-known brands, such as Volkswagen in their print advertisements (Fig. 7) and notably in the work of Barbara Kruger in reference to these advertisements and mass media uses (Fig. 8). Futura is also part of the ‘Neo-Grotesque’ font family that includes Helvetica, which is commonly used for government information (Fig. 9) owing to its clarity and the perceived authority of the message. In the way that John Tagg discusses how the photograph has been employed the state: “The ‘truth’ of these individual photographs may be said to be a function of several intersecting discourses: that of government departments, that of journalism, more especially documentarism, and that of aesthetics” (Tagg, 1988, p. 173). The same can be argued of how typeface is utilised to create a ‘truth’ and that this might be enhanced when image and text work together, which provides an intertextual link to my research and discussion on the documentary aesthetic and authenticity of images.

Figure 7: Volkswagen (1960) Volkswagen Beetle ‘Lemon’ advert
Figure 8: Barbara Kruger (1995-2000) Untitled (Thinking of you)
Figure 9: UK Government (2016) Cover of the Brexit referendum information leaflet
Bibliography

Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Tagg, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. 1st paperback ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Instagram Collaboration & Dissemination

Figure 1. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Discarded Gloves found during walking (Posted to The Long Exposure)

A few weeks ago, I suggested to the rest of my cohort that a positive way to spend time in this lock down period could be through collaboration and create an Instagram account called ‘The Long Exposure,‘ which we could all use to share images created in isolation (Fig. 1). This also gave me the opportunity to start to engage with audiences and share some of my latest work that is also part of my WIPP and gauge its reaction.

Instagram creates a direct means of dissemination via an accessible platform, which easily puts together images from a similar body of work and share it with an interested audience. This, of course depends on the ability to utilise a number of specific hashtags that direct the work in front of the right people searching for that content. There is an opportunity through platforms such as Instagram to put the work in front of a wider audience than if, for example, it was only to be an exhibition, which would be limited by the time of display and location of the exhibition space together with the demographic of the audience, which might be limited to those already only interested in the arts. Similar could be said of the photobook, which I have discussed previously (Fig. 2).


Figure 2. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Are You Drowning Yet? Discussing audience, social media, and the photo book.

There are many positive to displaying my work on Instagram, however there are a number of challenges too associated with Instagram, and platforms like it. For example, the display of the image is limited by the way that Instagram forces you to upload and present it in the square format that is synonymous with the platform (Fig. 3). There are some that work around this by adding a white border and is also something that I have also adopted with my uploads to the platform (Fig.4). This seems to be used by many creatives as a way of denoting more serious work, which Kat Stoeffel refers to as the “Anti-Filter” (Stoeffel, 2014) and notes of photography blogger and prolific Instagram user, Andy Adams: I’m guessing the trend originated with professional and fine-art photographers, and those who promote their work, like Andy Adams, the editor of online-photography blog FlakPhoto. Since the beginning of the year, Adams has been teasing the art featured on his blog on Instagram, using Photoshop to add the white space necessary to render the photographs in their original dimensions. To him, the rise of the white border implies “photographers of all levels” — i.e., those who can make photographs without their cell phones — are “recognizing Instagram as a powerful tool not just for making but for talking about and sharing photographs.” (Adams in Stoeffel, 2014). Therefore creating a differentiation from the many thousands of images that are uploaded to platform, which are vernacular in their nature and one that signals that this work should be considered instead of consumed.

Figure 3. Phil Hill (December, 2018) Images from my photography Instagram feed before adopting a white border.

Figure 4. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Images from WIPP posted to ‘The Long Exposure’ including a white border.

However, it is the many thousands of uploads that become part of the challenge of using a site such as Instagram, as we have looked at previously, during ‘a sea of images’ (Fig. 5). Any upload is ultimately mired in a deluge of imagery shaped by the algorithms that drive the site and that creates a homogeneous effect, as Lev Manovich informs us: “Different elements of photo culture that throughout 19th and 20th century were separate, now have been combined in a simple platform” (Manovich, 2017), in which he is referring to how of of the technological elements of photography have come together, are more accessible and easier to use for the average user and you can see how this is shaping the similarities in the images posted to the site (Fig. 6), even in the white bordered ‘serious’ work uploaded (Fig. 7).


Figure 5. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Discussion on the ubiquity of images and their value

Figure 6. Insta Repeat (2020) Image from @Insta_Repeat
Figure 7. This Ain’t Art School (2020) Profile aggregating and curating more serious work based on submissions to a hashtag.

During the last module, I produced a zine and postcard set (Fig. 8) to help disseminate the work with the aim of sharing my project with a range of editors. I won’t be able to produce similar under the present lockdown circumstances, so Instagram is one way that my work can be continued to be shared, however I feel that this should be supported through other channels, so not to be too reliant on just one. This would include my own website, where the work can be displayed as I intended. I would also be looking at sharing the work via Linkedin, as the audience for the work is more tailored to industry professionals who might be more inclined to engage with it.

Figure 8. Phil Hill (November, 2019) Zine and Post Card set produced for ‘The Wessex Grand Prix’ project.

Moving forward, I would ultimately want to produce physical materials to share the work. My postcards for ‘The Wessex Grand Prix’ were well received and I would want to replicate this with this more developed work. I also am quite interested in continuing the collaborative approach with my peers, I believe that on the other side of this pandemic, there is an opportunity to curate either an exhibition, or some kind of publication from the images that we have collectively been sharing.

Bibliography

Manovich, L., 2017. Instagram and Contemporary Image. Online: Manovich.net.

Stoeffel, K., 2014. Introducing the Anti-Filter: The Rise of the White Border on Instagram. [Online]
Available at: https://www.thecut.com/2014/04/whats-up-with-these-white-borders-on-instagram.html
[Accessed 22 April 2020].

WIPP Peer Feedback

One of my biggest challenges in the all of the work that I produce is the narrative and sequencing of it and will remain one of the key areas that I need to develop. To support this here, I asked my peers to have a look at my WIPP folio edit so far (Fig. 1)

Figure 1. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Sequence of my WIPP to gain feedback from my peers

Disparate sequence

I have taken the decision to split my project into two parts, this is in part a reaction to how my project has had to change as a result of the pandemic. However, as I have returned to the text of Barthes’ ‘How to live together’ (Barthes, 2012), the idea of separation and distance play a key role in how Barthes’ explores the idea of community. For example, as Barthes’s notes about what Nietzsche says about distance in the ‘Twilight of Shadows’: “The utopian tension that inhabits the idiorrythmic fantasy stems from this: what is desired is a distance that won’t destroy affect (“Pathos of distance”: an excellent expression)” (p. 132), which is a reference to how society tends to be structured in a hierarchy of a low to high order. However, I have interpreted the expression in order to consider my initial intention of my own lack of connection to the community, which translates to a pathos of the way that we all can relate to this feeling of existential anxiety under the conditions of the pandemic and getting used to a new vocabulary, such as “social distancing.”

By breaking up the project into two parts, I can also consider the other Barthesian idea of the idiorrythmic way that we are separate but occupy the same spaces; my project literally has been separated but remains two parts of the same whole. Barthes discusses a ‘distance that won’t destroy affect’ (p. 132), which seems very topical in the way that we have had to change behaviour in order to stem the spread of the virus. Human connectedness has been removed, and we will start to question whether things will return to the way they were before; community had fundamentally changed as a result.

Project Title: The Pathos of Distance

As a result of re-visiting this text, I felt that the expression that Barthes’ refers to from Nietzsche really starts to sum up and start to contextualise what my intent is in relation to the work. It is my distance to the idea of community and it is also the distance that we all share as a result of the behavioural change that has taken place. The pathos of the work is in the way that the images should evoke those feeling connected to this period of social isolation that we are all experiencing at the moment. The connotation of the work once it realised that it was shot during the time of the pandemic should be readily felt, until that it, the context starts to fall away as a result of time. As Sontag reminds us: “the photograph is, as always, an object in a context, this meaning is bound to drain away; that is, the context which shapes whatever immediate – in particular, political – uses the photograph may have inevitably succeeded by contexts in which such uses are weakened and become progressively less relevant” (Sontag, 1979, p. 106).

Peer Feedback

The Pathos of Distance: Part I
Figure 2. Phil Hill (February – April, 2020) Helen, volunteer litter picker & Window #2233

The way that I have been approaching the edit of this work is to place them in a series of diptych that equal weighting to one another (Fig. 2). I felt that each of the images deserved to be read equally throughout the sequence. My reasoning for this is that resizing one image over another would create a different reading of the diptych, albeit subtly. For example, having a full-size portrait next to a smaller window, would start to create a dominant reading of the work that places value on the portrait over the window. As I started to put this work together, it was from the position that I was presenting of before and after the community retreated into the home off the back of the pandemic.

Here, I felt that I was on to something, especially after re-considering the title and re-writing my critical review to take this into account. My project is about distance – idiorrythmic distance in the community and it is also about my distance, so the images and the sequence reflect this. To test it, I decided to ask my peers for some feedback to see if the sequencing was starting to come together:


Phil, for my part, I do not understand the diptychs in the 1st series. It is very static, in my humble opinion. The second series works very well from a visual point of view.

Figure 3. Isabelle Boutriau (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Hey Phil, I think it looks good and I really like the opening sentence. I wondered if you need as many images in the first section? I would consider maybe removing one or two perhaps? I think it might be more impactful. I think the approach is working though I’m both sections.

Figure 4. Ross Trevail (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Great images Phil!  I would reduce the quantity of the first set.  & perhaps work on the size of the images …. some big, some small, maybe place some off centre???

Figure 5. Claire Wilson (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Hi Phil, great set of WIP images. And wonderful opening statement. In the first set, I connect more with the portraits that contain a sense of distance or divide. The wall in image 1 works very well. Set 3 and 5 work less well due to the closeness of the subject. Also, perversely due to the window metaphor on the right I found myself looking for windows in left hand side image, and then wondering what the portrait would be like if shot through that. So, set 1, 4 and 7 seem connected. Knowing a bit about your writing and sense of uncertainty around ‘home’ the second set are incredibly strong, in combinations and the journey I have between them. Set 4 seems the weakest in this, as I am unsure of placement within your personal space, which I feel the others are more closely linked.

Figure 6. Tim Stubbs-Hughes (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Of the four that commented on the work in that current iteration, I feel that the general consensus is the images are working aesthetically. Isabelle commented on how she was finding the series of the first part confusing (Fig. 3), which I think in part is how they are being presented together in the same size, after viewing two or three of these in the same style, it does become static as she states. And this also seemed to be supported by Ross and Claire (Fig. 4&5), who both like the images but felt that there were too much of the same thing, which could lead to a loss of the impact of the images.

This is an important consideration as I have been placing a great deal of value on making sure that the images have equal presence. However, this could be having a detrimental effect on how the sequence is being read as a whole. Therefore, it is important to develop my approach here so that the sequence is broken up visually in order to give the reader space to continue enjoying the narrative without the work becoming tiresome to look at.

I did provide the first sentence from my critical review in order to gauge how well the work was being read and overall, it has worked. Coming back to Isabelle’s comments, I hope that with the edit of the work, this might help her reading of the sequence. It would also be important to create a supporting text to accompany the PDF so that the meaning of the work can be better understood. As the images are being consumed alongside the critical review, Isabelle not having this to fully contextualise the work might have resulted in the way that she was viewing the work. Barthes’ notes that: “Formally, the image illustrated the text (made it clearer); today, the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination. Formerly, there was a reduction from text to image; today, there is amplification from the one to the other” (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). Therefore, my aim with how I wish my dominant reading to populate, is to create an opening paragraph, which sets up the viewing and prepares the reader to consider the elements I am aiming to portray and this is particularly important because of how autobiographical elements of the work is.

Tim on the other hand, knows my work and how I have been contextualising it with text and has started to picture a narrative based on the elements that I have been discussing and writing about throughout this module (Fig. 6). This is a positive and suggests that with the proper contextualising text, the reader of the work will be able to do the same. I take his points about how the portraits are working with the abstracted windows and I think that there is some development that would be beneficial to the series as a whole.

The Pathos of Distance: Part II

Everyone who commented on my work really got on with how I put together the second part, I think due to its more aesthetic quality in how I have set out to create mirrored compositions of the images I shot before the lockdown with those that were constructed afterward. I am quite happy with the way that these images work together.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Trans ed. London: Fontana Press.

Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Developing a Sequence

Figure 1. Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) Cephas, primary school caretaker and Window image.

I have found editing my WIPP quite challenging in create a cohesive narrative that others are able to follow and understand.  I have been quite keen to create a narrative that interlinks all of the elements that I have photographing: My environment, the sale of my house, portraits of people in my community, how we are now living with Covid-19. However, due to the disparate nature of the work the sequencing only truly makes sense to me. Initial editing together, I put together portraits with the abstract windows (Fig. 1), which received a positive initial response from my peers during a webinar, however it was noted during this critique that I might want to explore putting some space and distance between these images to see how they might ready differently. It was also noted that in isolation the meaning of my work was not coming through with the sequence I put forward.

Figure 2. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Darcie colouring during the daily briefing and an empty swing set next to a quote from ‘In Praise of Shadows’
Figure 3. Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) Light reflection onto the kitchen floor and the for sale sign next to the text in the estate listing.

I aimed to develop my approach by incorporating some text to contextualise my images and create a sense of my dominant reading and intent. Here I took elements from my research, for example a quote from the book ‘In Praise of Shadows’ (Tanzinaki, 2001, p. 62), which I felt summed up the need for all of the community to retreat into the home as the Covid-19 crisis developed (Fig. 2) and is an ode to the beauty of domestic aesthetics. I also wanted to create another development in how I used the estate agent text, which aimed to create a link to my own disconnect with the community, owing to the lack of being able to put down roots (Fig. 3), this was originally at the core of my approach to my project, inspired by my research into the idea of social capital, where Robert Putnam states: “Nevertheless, for people as for plants, frequent repotting disrupts root systems. It takes time for a mobile individual to put down roots. As a result, residential stability is strongly associated with civic engagement” (Putnam, 2000, p. 204), my own link to community had been continually disrupted because of regular travel and moving from house share to house share. I also attempted to include a couple of quotes collected from other forms of community: via community social media platform ‘Nextdoor’ (Fig. 4), and a headline from the local Watford Observer Newspaper (Fig. 5), which aimed to bring more of the local community into my sequence and edit. Lastly, I also put the text and quotes onto a muted yellow page, which was to create an intertextual hint at the way leaflets and directories, such as the Yellow Pages display information for the community which they serve.

Figure 4. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Site of a police raid after the discovery of a “Plant Farm” to grow cannabis, which was shared on social media site ‘NextDoor’
Figure 5. Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) construction happening within the community that surrounds my home next to a quote from a Watford Observer article “Watford’s Manhattan” (Collins, 2019),

Again, I found that the initial reaction from my peers was on the whole quite positive, Michelle found however that my approach was still confused, which potentially in part was linked to how she viewed my presentation on my work and the discussion on my intent, which at this stage is potentially not quite synchronous. I started my oral presentation by stating that my project is about community connection and connective decline, which in part is a way of considering the way that I fit into it, or have not fitted in. This is not completely obvious in my presentation yet, which looked at the theory quite heavily. One of the main points of feedback that I have received from my presentation was that I really need to bring the focus of my review back onto my own practice wherever possible and relevant to the theory, or how I actually apply it. Michelle’s feedback was extremely valuable in getting me to consider that I might actually start to create more of a synergy between the way I am explaining my intent and the way that I am showing it through my WIPP.

Additional feedback on the way that I created this layout was that there is potentially too much disparate imagery happing within the context of this WIPP and potentially less is more when it comes to the edit. I had further discussion with Michelle who suggested that I could resolve this by splitting the portfolio and editing two bodies of work and use the mitigating statement to justify the reasoning behind this, which would be the impact that covid-19 has had on the direction of my work.

WIPP Evolution

Figure 6. Phil Hill (February & April, 2020) ‘Clare, volunteer litter picker at Harebreaks wood in Watford’ and ‘Window #2214’

Following from this feedback, I have decided to consider the connection to community again. My original intention was to explore the idea of my connection to community, I wanted to shoot portraits of people within my local community as they exist and operated within the community, which is also linked to the idea of social capital and the relationships that allow it to function (Fig. 6). These are also all of the people that I live idiorythmically, in the same space, the same community, yet are unaware of who they are and what they do, which considers the social abstract.

Figure 6. Phil Hill (February & April, 2020) ‘Helen, volunteer litter picker at Harebreaks wood in Watford’ and ‘Window #2233’
Figure 8. Phil Hill (March – April) ‘Stephen, member of the Watford Deaf Society’ and ‘Window #2082’
Figure 9. Phil Hill (March & April, 2020) ‘Mark at Elim Food Bank’ and ‘Window #2225’

For example, Clare, who volunteers to clear litter from a local woodland (Fig. 7) so that it can be enjoyed by the wider community; when something is discarded, it becomes someone else’s problem, do we ever consider that person that actually comes along to collect it? Stephen, a prominent member of the Watford deaf society (Fig. 8), exists in a hearing world not built for him to easily operate. Mark who has been attending the food bank across the street from my house for the last 19 years and is also a patron (Fig. 9). These examples, are all people who exist within my community, and up until now I was unconcerned with the details of their individual rhythm (Johansen-Stene, et al., 2018, p. 1).

Voyeurism

There is a voyeuristic nature to the portraits that I am presenting here, that until now, I have been unaware of their idiorrhythmic existence and now choose to engage with. With these images, I am still not fully part of the community that I photographing, it is more of a topology of subjects that make the community around me. Potentially, the natural evolution of this work would be to go into greater depth with these subjects to truly understand the sense of community they have and I do not. However, the interruption of Covid-19 has had a fundamental impact on the community and inevitably on my project, yet I do not see this change as detrimental. I have been considering the idiorhythmic and the isolation presents an opportunity to photograph my own individual rhythm. By focussing on my windows, I can continue the voyeuristic connection that is somewhat present in my portraits. In this new edit of the work, I have placed my most abstract window images next to the portraits (Fig. 7,8,9), to create a heightened sense of the voyeuristic. This also serves to place me into the work, potentially resolving the challenge of showing my connection. The abstract series of windows are from my house and are my only connection with the community, my view of the outside world. In essence, this is now my connection to the community. Yet, as a society, we have been asked to stay indoors, which again brings me back to how Barthes view the idea of the rectangle being the most basic form of power (Barthes, 2012, p. 113); they are the homes in which we live and now form the boundaries of our community. The window is another boundary which allows some semblance of contact with the outside but is controlled and measured through the glass that separates the interior from the exterior (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. Phil Hill (April, 2020) View through the living room window

The Pathos of Distance

By placing portraits with the windows, I feel really starts to explore the idea of the idiorrhythmic by showing a glimpse into my subjects’ individual rhythm, albeit disrupted by the intrusion of my direction, or how Susan Sontag stated “photographing people is that you are not intervening in their lives, only visiting them” (Sontag, 1979, p. 42). This disconnect that links to my initial intention is portrayed through this topological visit in which I place an image of an abstracted window because I can no longer engage with the community, even if I wanted to. Barthes’ also places value on distance, which in a reference to Nietzsche termed as “the pathos of distance” (Barthes, 2012, p. 132) and has a particular resonance when we consider the current pandemic. For everyone, this connection of the community has been severed, or at least extremely reduced, so when looking at my windows, there is a sense of this connective decline and pathos that Barthes’ suggests (Fig. 11). So, this is where I can position this sequence, whilst still under the intent of exploring community, even when the image is abstracted.

Figure 11. Phil Hill (April, 2020) View through the rear window

Second Sequence and Plato’s Cave

When planning this module in my project proposal for positions and practice, there was an idea to photograph the environment of community as a way of bridging the gap during the period of building the relationships that I needed to shoot more portraits. From this approach, I have created a significant number of images that created a challenge in terms of the sequencing of the work as a whole. Since the onset of the pandemic however, these images have started to make sense through the sequencing of before and after diptych images (Fig. 12). I have placed images from before the lockdown next to images in the current situation, which create more metaphore than the straight portraits that John Berger would describe as an “actuality” (Berger, 2013, p. 8).

Figure 12. Phil Hill (March & April, 2020) ‘White Washed shop window’ taken before the impact of Covid-19 was known, and ‘Spider Plant on the Bedroom windowsill’ taken just after the lockdown was announced.
Figure 13. Phil Hill (March & April, 2020) ‘Harebreaks community Hub’ and ‘View through the rear window’ sequenced together

For example, I mirrored an image from a local community hub with one of my less abstract window images as aesthetically there were compositional synergies between the images (Fig. 13). Metaphorically, I also considered the allegory of Plato’s cave, in part owing to the opening chapter of On Photography (Sontag, 1979, pp. 3-24), and also after listening to Nick Waplington discuss its use for some of his painting practice (Waplington in Smith, 2019). The exterior is projected onto the interior, albeit abstract and is a sense of the reality that we are becoming accustomed to; will we recognise the world after the lockdown is lifted? And for my project, will we recognise the community in the same way again after being socially distant? Moving forward, there is potential to take these ideas into the post Covid-19 world as we seek to connect all over again.

For Sontag, the allegory of Plato’s cave is linked to the photograph as ‘truth’ and how our reality is shaped by the images that we consume, the images become the shadows projected onto the cave walls: “Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph” (Sontag, 1979, p. 5), which is something that I have been exploring throughout Informing Contexts. I have been interested in experimenting and exploring the idea of how ‘evidential’ my images are to really unpack the way that I construct my images in this way so allowing a more metaphorical approach to play its role.

Figure 14. Phil Hill (February, 2020) ‘Moth Trap’ from a series of ‘evidence’ images I created when we were told our rented house was going to be sold. Created in a documentary aesthetic, which utilises black and white and directional lighting

I have been exploring this based on a documentary aesthetic to create a form of evidence and ‘truth’ where the images are considered authentic and and an actuality, albeit constructed and not a complete ‘truth’ (Fig. 14). Moving forward with the development of this work, I have attempted to use this intertextually; all images are considered ‘authentic’ as Barthes’ suggests: “the important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force” (Barthes, 1981, pp. 88-89). Therefore, as I discussed in a previous development (Fig. 15) there is no need to create the images in that overt documentary aesthetic, which has been employed by Alec Soth and Eli Durst (Fig. 16 & 17), as the evidential element to the images are pre-existent; even when they are constructed, it exists in all of the photographs that I am making.


Figure 15. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Discussion on the ‘Documentary Aesthetic’

Figure 16. Alec Soth (2012) From ‘Songbook’
Figure 17. Eli Durst (2019) from ‘The Community’

I have discussed the idea of existential dread playing a part in the work before, however I think in my previous edits, this has either not come through in how they are read, or it has been so obvious this has not worked either. For this development, I have attempted to create a subtle sequence of the work, which builds on the lessons I have learned during the module. For example, I have placed the image of the for sale sign next to an image of my kitchen floor (Fig. 18), which aesthetically mirrors the shape of the sign in the light projected onto the vinyl tiles and seeks to show that the home is in poor condition and a comment on the rental trap, or current housing crisis. This placement is more subtle than the way that I put these images together in figure 3 and without the text, however they ask more questions and utilise Uta Barth’s idea of ‘experiential looking’ through the removal of this central subject allowing the reader to ascribe their own narrative to the work. I am undecided wether to utilise the text in this current sequence as I fear this may lead to an unsubtle obvious reading of the work once again. However, I am considering a foreword of some kind, which might be in the form of the mitigating statement we have been asked to submit with this WIPP submission.

Figure 18. Phil Hill (March & April) ‘For sale board’ and ‘light on kitchen floor’
Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1981. Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage.

Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism). Translation Edition ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Berger, J., 2013. Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin.

Collins, R., 2019. Watford’s Manhattan should not come as a surprise. [Online] Available at: https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/18115564.watfords-manhattan-not-come-surprise/ [Accessed 12 April 2020].

Johansen-Stene, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2018. Living Together – Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Wetzlar: Verlag.

Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. 1 ed. New York: Simon Schuster Paperbacks.

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Tanzinaki, J., 2001. In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage Books.

Waplington, N., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – 118 Nick Waplington [Interview] (21 November 2019).

Looking at Alec Soth

Figure 1. Alec Soth (2015) in conversation with American Suburb X

I had been avoiding Alec Soth, as I very much like his work and also very familiar with it visually. However, It was mentioned to me that my work has some similarities (albeit i’d argue tenuous), so I decided that it might be good to look at Soth for this task, which has turned out to be a revelation to how I am approaching my own practice. The interview that I am using is a conversation that Soth had with American Suburb X (Soth in ASX, 2015).

Figure 2. Alec Soth (2014) from Songbook.

I found his discussion about the work ‘Songbook’ (Fig. 2) particularly interesting as Soth quickly moves into the way he created this work aesthetically, utilising black and white images with direct flash, which he is mimicking the look of press photography of the 1950s. This is something that resonated with me immediately as I have been writing about a documentary aesthetic, which has been driven by the look of this style of photography from the earliest FSA imagery and also how the look of press photographers, such as Weegee, who Soth also referenced in this interview, which was a nice validation for a post I did earlier in the module (Fig 3). Soth states “the work is referencing another time,” which is how we look at the period of the post war era as a sense of wonder, and how people have a deeply romanticised version of the past. From here Soth also makes reference to community and how there is a sense of loss of it, yet it has never really gone away. I had also been looking at a recent publication by Eli Durst, called ‘The Community’ in which he also creates images using this aesthetic, and seems to also reference another time. I have been discussing this aesthetic in relation to my own work, which is colour, however I don’t think that I have been able to truly resolve the reason why I have not created my work in black and white despite choosing to reference and research a range of black and white photography until listening to this interview. I believe that my work exists on the spectrum of the documentary aesthetic, however unlike Soth and Durst, my project is based on the present, so to use Soth’s conscious referencing to a romanticised past would be confusing and my use of colour makes sense in this context.

Figure 3. Phil Hill (March 30, 2020) Discussion on the ‘Documentary aesthetic.

Soth also referred to a range of his works, which might be aesthetically different but are connected to each other and that every project that he creates is what Soth termed “Stuff that happens in America” but they are also about himself and some of the work is more inward looking than others. I have been struggling to resolve my project in terms of the editing of my work in progress portfolio, owing to a range of disparate imagery. My intention is to look at my connection to community, or lack thereof, which also makes my project a kind of autobiography in where I fit in. It has been useful to re-examine Alec Soth in relation to my own work. I think that in terms of how he resolves the autobiographical elements of his images could prove useful in the editing of my own WIPP.

Another interesting question posed to Soth was regarding his association with Magnum Photos, in what interviewer Brad Feuerhelm termed “the slippery position of being an artist and working with Magnum,” however after all our examination of National Geographic a few weeks ago, the statement of the ‘Magnum Artist’ feels like an oxymoron when considering how we perceive Magnum as a collective of documentary photographers. However, Soth states that Magnum has been misunderstood as being a news agency and confused by some its founding photographers who were closely linked to war photography, citing Robert Capa and Heri Cartier Bresson as “surrealists who exist in the real world,” and I wonder wether this statement sums up what I am aiming to say about this documentary aesthetic, which gives off the assumed authority of veracity but are aesthetic constructions in the same way National Geographic utilises similar tropes in the pursuit of empirical authority and arguments that have been put to the work of Sabastiao Salgado that we looked at a couple of weeks ago.

Bibliography

Durst, E., 2019. The Community. [Online] Available at: http://www.elidurst.com/the-community [Accessed 30 March 2020].

Soth, A., 2014. Songbook. 1 ed. London: Mack.

Soth, A., 2015. Brad Feuerhelm of ASX in conversation with Alec Soth [Interview] (4 November 2015)