Shoot 1 Planning

I intend to take some of the concepts that we looked at during the last module forward to create a starting structure to my initial shoots whilst I am building the relationships that I need to further develop my ideas. I want to look at my own community much more closely and will use the psychogeography approach to provide a boundary to this first shoot. I will use the postcode area of where I live to provide this, with the intention of staying as close to it as possible and photographing along the way (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Postcode Boundary area to use as a ‘Psychogeography’ for my initial shoot. (Google, 2020).

To support my initial approach, I have also been reading the FSA shooting scripts on a ‘Small Town’ (Stryker, 1939) that provide a very comprehensive list of things that I could potentially photograph and also outlined as good inspiration by Todd Hido (Hido, 2014, p. 123). Although I do not intend to follow the list to the letter, I will use this as a guide and inspiration of areas to consider and look for along the way (Fig. 2).

This is beginning to tie in to a number of my recent reading and investigations, leading me to plan a shoot around the environment of community, having been drawn more a more to the idea of those that are excluded from society. I first started to consider this as an idea after reading what Roland Barthes discussed in ‘How to Live Together’ where he suggests that it is important to consider those that have been excluded by a society. As people group together and form communities, there would inevitably be those that are left out, stating that community can’t exist without integrated rejection  (Barthes, 2012, p. 96). Being ostracized from society is something that I have also come across in ‘Ten Types of Human’ (Dias, 2017) where he discusses that groups that have cast out members often become a closer knit community, however for those that have been ostracized, prospects of survival are limiting (Dias, 2017, p. 127), which is in reference to much of the animal kingdom and for me this concept feels quite libertarian in the sense that we have the ability to take care of those we might seek to ostracize. However, in a counterpoint to Barthes assertions that there is no contradiction that we can live together and separately (Barthes, 2012, pp. 4-5), Dias considers that there might not be a benefit form living together, a ‘dilemma of social life’ (Dias, 2017, p. 107). What I find the most interesting from Dias’s writing is the identification that we, as humans, have an innate need to from tribes, even if this is in essence an irrational behavior, we for groups, sub groups, societies, and all the way up to nations, are all forms of groups in one way or another (Dias, 2017, p. 285). This is fundamental to some of my aims and an area that I wish to explore.

Bibliography

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

Dias, D., 2017. The Ten Types of Human. 1st paperback ed. London: Penguin Random House.

Google Maps, 2020. WD24 Watford Postcode Prefix, Viewed 23 January 2020. Available at: https://goo.gl/maps/AFydFXCLWC6evRJ86

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Stryker, R., 1939. Shooting script on the Small Town, Washington DC: Library of Congress.

Image Transaction

Abstract

What started as an image taken to say thank you became a question about the continuing proliferation of images. Sharing images online transforms the image into a type of currency that seeks to provide validation for both authors and readers, this perpetuates the visual language of established societal norms through placation, morals and covert colonisation as a subtle blackmail. This is a subtle ebb which we are all complicit and must intentionally reconsider and reengage with the way we use images. Where futurity is concerned, it should begin in the unlearning and relearning of visual culture.


The Online Image as Currency

My 2-year-old daughter would receive many gifts over the festive period from my wife’s extended family as we made our annual pilgrimage to visit. “Make sure you take a picture of her wearing it and send it to your aunt.” In fact, all of the gifts that we received would need to be meticulously documented and cataloged so that these photographs could be shared with the donor of the present. Even though, as a photographer myself, I find that to photograph is almost a reflex action, and the ease and enjoyment with which I photograph even the most banal of subjects is a constant draw, I started to consider the value of these images we were being asked to record and what happens to this value once it has been received, once they are within the realm of the pervasiveness and democratization of photography.

The photograph can be thought of as a form of currency – a term that could be used to describe how images are used, and ultimately appropriated and how they inappropriately propose evidence and provide what Roland Barthes termed a certification of presence (Barthes, 1993, p. 87) in that we must provide others with an ongoing, online record of achievement, no matter how menial that might be This is the new accepted normal acknowledging the representative futurity of our present age. Currency as an acceptance of the ubiquity of images and need to show oneself to others. In this description of the image, photography becomes a form of transaction, promising to pay the bearer on demand, though not to be confused with the commercial sense of the term (photographic skills are of course exchanged for their monetary worth). The value I refer to is the emotional and moral exchange that also takes place through the prolific sharing of images. Images that are designed to reduce your own value, images that are designed to reduce the value of others through the intersection of gaze and the intersectionality this creates (Lutz & Collins, 1991, p. 135); Images that provide an emotive moment, one way or the other (Barthes, 1993, p. 27) resonating and lingering with us.

In the digital sphere, the inherent value of photographic images is becoming more and more quantified, albeit in a dilution of quality and recognized through the unattainable view of perfection that exists; the idealistic and fundamentally edited world of our lives, nothing more than a greatest hits compilation, which is part of the performative power of photography and one that is continuing the illusion and the pretence that extends all the way to a covert colonisation of these accepted norms by driving a homogenised globalized commodity sold as the ideal ‘Caucasian beauty’ which was documented by photographer Zed Nelson in his project ‘Love Me’ and published in 2009 (Nelson, 2009). This has been a growing digital entity as newer generations of technology savvy users enter into their online only worlds, but also an ever existing modus operandi unchallenged by the economics that drive and have driven it. 

The recipient of the image who views, is the most important when an image is used as currency, as a transaction. Our lives online are drawn from a tight editing process to seek visual gratification for something that may not even exist, yet we share them and expect acknowledgement for this idealistic life. This is a more readily understandable transaction occurring between the author and the reader of the image (Barthes, 1977, pp. 142-149). This author seeks validation that one has lived; the reader will provide that validation and appropriate the image to suit their own gratification. This is an emotional attribution to the image, one that forms a kind of tangible link to a virtual and devoid online world.

This virtual tangibility can be compared to sporting events – when we root for our team to win, we react in what is known as the ‘spectating brain,’ where we can put ourselves into the role of the athlete on the field and get a real sense of feeling, connection to the sport, and community spirit, without any verbal communication or actual and literal physical link to the act of taking part in the activity (Borreli, 2016). It is something that can be palpably felt through a TV screen, or through the plethora of mobile devices that we interact with daily. This neurological impact has also been attributed to a number of actions wherever emotion is also attached, we start to mirror those feelings after witnessing others perform, which then creates links and other implications in the way we read each other’s emotions and also how we empathize with them (Winerman, 2005, p. 48). 

Through the prolific sharing of images that takes place every single second, we aim to generate a validation and empathy from others. However, it could also be a ‘status quo’ that might need to be maintained through these visual transactions. If an emotional resonance is created from the image, then potentially it can be used as a method of placating others. A subtle politics is at play when used as a method of thanks, a kind of irrational behaviour for sending this kind of image, especially if the gift was not gratefully received, as was the case for items we received for our daughter. Not to be viewed as being ungrateful however, some of the items were not the most appropriate, in terms of the size of clothing or the age range of the toy given. In a reverse of the function of the initial image transaction that I discussed related to the internet, in the thank you scenario, the photograph appeases and validates the donor, and maintains the balance within the family unit. Although in most cases this is far from tenuous, it is a form of obscure blackmail, transmitting deeply held moral values and motives: the photograph becomes both a product and bait (Barthes, 1993, p. 92). The currency of the image is within the context and the a thank you is a punctuation that notes the end of the exchange.

After the transaction has happened, the image becomes essentially meaningless and removed from its intended use: its context now has been completed. The context falls away, however the image does not assume new meaning other than its denoted content, it is redundant and the thing that we photograph has been appropriated (Sontag, 1979, p. 4), in the sense that the image starts to fulfil us, and add value to our lives through the attribution of emotion. In this way the donor is now fulfilled in a way that may not happen through the simple thanks of a text message, letter, or simple email. They are visually stimulated in the knowing that the received gift has been put to good use, they can see this irrefutable ‘evidence’ that forms the tangible link, the emotional connection to object, person and place. These images may regain some of their value over time, re-appropriated by nostalgia and in the context of historical intrigue, however this is of course may only be if these images survive the digital process of capture and storage. Printed images have the power to be cherished in a way that digital images will not, or instead they become the property of data harvesting juggernauts and disappear into the cloud (Prix Pictet, 2019) only to be referenced and used to fine tune algorithms and serve you unattainable perfection once again.

The present image, the image captured in the moment, this image that has been used as thanks, is a perfunctory exchange but there are many images however, that are used to capture and create an intimate family record. These are shared online via ‘big tech’ of course, in an album that we created in the cloud where personal poignancy, and other more candid moments blend together with the thank you transaction becoming part of the nostalgia and ongoing narrative following the beautiful development of our child, familiar to many.

In essence, the thank you image transaction is part of the wider discussion on the complacent proliferation of images. If we view photography as a type of currency, it would be in the form of a traded commodity exchanged for emotional validation, whether positive, or more often than not, a negative one. It is a quiet rage that is provided in the exchange of images for validation, consuming images as we do; it is easy to skip over their value due to the deluge and instant replacement of them, and in the quest for even more images. Our culture encourages it, and capitalism demands it, defining our very freedom on the ability to continue consuming (Sontag, 1979, p. 178). The thank you image is just another part of this plurality that exists in photography. We placate, take more, and validate more, yet the need for more images continues. Perhaps the true resolution of validation comes from not photographing at all, or it is that the value lies within the exchange and the validation and not the image itself which is the medium and not the message (McLuhan, 1967).

Online Image currency is a paradigm of our digital cultural exchanges, which we are currently and knowingly passive. It may be important to unlearn in order to relearn this visual culture and gain true visual literacy, here is where the real validation should sit.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Barthes, R., 1993. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

Barthes, R., 1993. Mythologies. 1st Vintage Edition ed. London: Vintage.

Borreli, L., 2016. Sports Fan Science: How Watching Sports Games Affects The Mind And Body. [Online]  Available at: https://www.medicaldaily.com/mind-and-body-sports-fan-sports-games-388444 [Accessed 12 January 2019].

Lutz, C. & Collins, J., 1991. The Photograph as an intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(1), pp. 134-148.

McLuhan, M., 1967. The Medium is the Massage. Paperback ed. London: Penguin.

Nelson, Z., 2009. Love Me: Introduction. [Online] Available at: https://www.zednelson.com/?LoveMe:text [Accessed 27 January 2020].

Prix Pictet, 2019. A Lens on Sustainability: Consumption. Paris: Prix Pictet.

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

Winerman, L., 2005. The Mind’s Mirror. American Psychological Association , 36(9), p. 48.

Preparing for Informing Contexts: Human Choices

I set out to create a set of images that focussed on one particular community group. The Carnival was a relatively accessible choice for me to look at as I was already familiar with the events, as they were very much part of the yearly calendar growing up. I also knew of a few of the individuals how had good connections within the world of the carnival (Fig. 1). It was this initial connection that had led me to look at the Somerset Carnival circuit, understanding that access is critical in creating the kind of work that I wished to make. 

Figure 1. Mike, Frome Town Crier & key participant in the carnival who is also the step dad to an old school friend of mine. (Hill, 2019)

In terms of the Human choices that I would make during the project, I found that I would have to come to terms with the representation of the people that I was photographing. As I continued to work on the portraits, there would be an initial interaction between me and the subject in the form of an introduction to myself and the aim of what I was trying to do with the image. The initial introduction would also include a quick photograph being taken in a style that they were very used to: a large grin, maybe a thumbs up, or assuming the pose and acting out of the performance of the character that they were dressed as (Fig. 2). This was a result that each subject was quite happy to do and also with the result. The image could also be considered nothing more than the thin layer of performance of the character, not the person I was photographing. I made a conscious decision to pose my subjects in a very straight-on manner, with the hope of making an image that I would in essence have more control over the subjects instinctive reaction, which in turn I would have more ownership. 

Figure 2. Initial reactions from many of the carnival participants. 'Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival.' (Hill, 2019).
Figure 2. Initial reactions from many of the carnival participants. ‘Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival.’ (Hill, 2019).

I have come to understand this is however still a kind of performance, one of my making and choosing. It is one that I am confident creates a successful image and provides a deeper look into the subjects and the culture that they participate. Todd Hido takes this even further through the detailed control of the environment even before the subject enters into it, saying:

“You can have an amazing story to tell but you have to get the setting right”

(Hido, 2014, p.97).

Hido also goes on to discuss that he does this in order to create a situation in which the subject can do something natural within it. Susan Sontag suggests that the photographer projects themselves on to the subject and the skilful photographer has the image pre visualised before the photograph is taken (Sontag, 1979, p.117). I have started to apply this to my practice, however I do have some development to continue in this area. I have found that, one of my key weaknesses in creating environmental portraits is the lack of awareness of what is happening in the background of my images. So concentrated am I on the subject and creating the posed images (Fig. 3). Before starting the MA, I would always tend to isolate my subjects against some kind of ‘clean’ background which although creates an image that I am happy with, and one that I have pre-visualised in many cases, and also go so far as to controlling the environment, as Hido does. This approach does tend to remove the context of the image as it sits within the narrative of the project. I am happy to have this approach challenged and will continue to work on my consideration in placing my subjects within the environment.

Figure 3. Example of an uncontrolled background in an attempt to shoot an environmental portrait. (Hill, 2019).
Figure 3. Example of an uncontrolled background in an attempt to shoot an environmental portrait. (Hill, 2019).

The question of how to pose my subjects within my images came up a number of times during the last module. Paul, for example questioned the looking off camera approach as a very common, and potentially overused method in photographic portraiture at the moment. Where I do not necessarily disagree with his assessment and especially the aversion to smiling in perceived ‘serious’ photographic work, Hannah Starkey (Starkey, 2019) consciously avoids getting her subjects to look directly into the camera suggesting that this can have a real impact in how the reader attributes narrative to the work. Looking away and off into the distance reduces the confrontation within the work and allows the reader to get in between the exchange of author and subject and create their own narrative of the work (Fig. 4&5). 

Figure 4. Looking directly into the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 4. Looking directly into the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 5. Looking off and away from the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 5. Looking off and away from the camera. (Hill, 2019)

More and more now, I am appreciating the interplay between Author, subject, and reader. I am beginning to understand the crucial importance of the reader after reading Roland Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ Essay (Barthed, 1977, p.142 – 149), and how I have limited, if any control of how others interpret and read my work. Even though I do not completely agree that the reader can completely disregard the author of the work, especially in our modern age where so much information exists about the artist of a piece of work. As it impossible for the read to not bring opinion in isolation, it may be impossible to be completely removed from the artist of the work.

Nadav Kander reflects on this, and puts the more emphasis on the reader as ultimately being the author of the work discussing that the interplay between all three key elements is fundamental to the strength of the image through a triangle that exists between Artist, the scene, and the reader (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Illustration depicting Nadav Kander's triangle (Kander, 2019).
Figure 6. Illustration depicting Nadav Kander’s triangle (Kander, 2019).

Moving forward into the new module, I intend to start looking at the environment of community more closely and investigate the infrastructure of how it functions through photographing the architecture, such as meeting halls, and community hubs. This is an initial approach whilst I start to build the relationships needed to introduce portraiture back into the work. I also feel that it will be crucial to my development to focus on the environment and then start to introduce a human element to the images. I am also looking to start exploring my technical and aesthetic choices for my ongoing work. Up until now I have been relying on a style of image making that served me well whilst I was an editorial freelance, however I feel that it is important to challenge and explore moving forward. As I continue to use digital, I may even consider looking at a post production method of applying this aesthetic to my work – The technical choices that I make to my work related to the aesthetics will have a big impact on the context in which that work is read (Short, 2018, p.55).

Bibliography

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

Hido, T., 2014. On Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Hill, P., 2019. Mike Bishop, Town Crier. [Art].

Hill, P., 2019. ‘Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival’. [Art].

Kander, N., 2019. Prix Pictet: A Lens on Sustainability. Photography as Witness [Interview] (5 November 2019).

Short, M., 2018. Context and Narrative. London: Bloomsbury.

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

Starkey, H., 2019. Photography as Witness [Interview] (5 November 2019).