Week 4: Reflection

Figure 1. Dave at Peterborough Curling Club, Ontario, Canada. (Hill, 2019)

Reading the forum this week, I notice that a good number of the feedback given to the images is informed by a pre-existing understanding of the work of my peers. I was aware of the previous work of many of my peers through engaging on the forums and webinars over the last few weeks, plus following many on social media.

I believe that the task was with the aim of removing this knowledge of the work in order to read the image ‘cold,’ which would be useful to understand how a variety of meaning can be drawn from an image where it may be viewed without the context and the understanding of the author’s intent. This is important as it poses the question of whether the communication of the image’s meaning is understood without the supporting documentation that might accompany a piece of work. Also, worth considering Barthes’ removal of the author, which may distort this reading of images (Barthes, 1977, pp. 142-148).

With this in mind, I decided to test the reading of my current portrait practice but realise that many of my peers have seen much of this work already. With the aim of gaining this ‘cold’ reading, I decided to use a portrait taken within the timeframe of this current module and in a similar style to the work that I have intended to shoot for my work in progress portfolio (Fig. 1), however is unrelated to the look at my local community.​*​

Authors might not be that dead after all.

This week, I spent some time looking in detail at Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’ (1977) with the aim of seeing how this could apply to my practice. Barthes suggests that the reading of a work becomes a relationship between the reader of the work and the author, which has a fundamental impact on how that work is read. The background of the author could be prioritised over the message of the work. For example, if I am telling you that my project is about a fractured sense of community, is this being communicated through my images, or are you as a reader attributing this information to the work and changing the meaning of what has actually been presented.

The image that I added to the forum is a portrait of Dave, who is a member of the Peterborough Curling club in Ontario, Canada (Fig 1). What information in the image is actually telling us this? And did the reading of the image support this? One of the most immediate signs in my image of Dave is of the Canadian flag sewn onto his hat with the rest of the image fairly monotone by comparison. Red, I find is a very useful colour to use when composing images as it instantly draws the eye to it. Is the flag a dead giveaway that the subject is Canadian, not necessarily. Fashion items regularly use flags as an accessory, and there are a number of clothing companies that utilise the Canadian flag as part of its brand. Personally, I feel that there are a number of factors that link this image as being taken in North America, and Canada specifically. The Colour tone is typical of this part of the world, but potentially I am only aware of this fact having spent a good amount of time in the country; I purposefully chose to move Dave to the panelled background to increase this feel to the image. Dave is wearing a plaid shirt, which is also typical of a person living in Canada, however this too could be circumstantial and coincidental. Lastly, and most telling, is the name badge, which although not part of the plain of focus, you are able to make out the name and ‘Peterborough Curling’ however this too can be confused as someone living in the UK city of Peterborough. My intention that when these are read together, you are reading a portrait of a Canadian male.

Figure 2. Feedback received on my portrait of Dave (Kurowski, et al., 2020).

The feedback more or less confirmed this (Fig. 2). The name badge and outdoor clothing meant that Dave was assumed to be working outdoors, and that the work was a defining characteristic of who Dave is. In fact, this portrait was taken indoors, however the clothing is necessary as this is a curling club where the ice needs to be kept at a low temperature. Dave is also retired and a member of the club for social and active reasons. Joanna spotted the Canadian flag and made the connection that he is indeed Canadian. Apprehension and annoyance was also a reading of the image, which is fairly accurate. Dave allowed me to take his portrait and even moved to the panelled background, however, he was not there to have his photograph taken, and was keen to continue curling, which can be viewed in some of his expression. However, I quite like this tension in the image and it is one of my favourite images from the curling club shoot. Linking to my initial commentary on pre-existent knowledge of the work, Andy’s feedback was interesting in that he does have an awareness of the kind of work that I produce having helped me out on a shoot for the last module where we have spoken at length about both of our practices. I am happy with Andy’s reading of my work but aware that this could come from a position of being more informed than most. I am interested to understand what he meant by the lack of meaning as this is a clear area of development for me.

‘Death of the Author’ is useful in that the communication needs to be strong enough for the work to stand on its own. Barthes’ requires us to consider that a work can be read in a multitude of ways, and the term ‘reader’ does not mean a physical one, but instead a way of placing the work in a space where all possible readings can be extracted (Seymour, 2017, p. 27). This notion is useful in that we can view a work liberated from authors, who might seek to control how a work is consumed (p. 22). The image of Dave was not necessarily ambiguous enough for an oppositional reading to truly test the nature of my dominant reading, the denoted elements tell enough of a narrative of who Dave is, even if this is not completely accurate.

Removing authors as the primary means in which we consume and read work can be a useful tool of reference to bear in mind how that work is being read and it puts the focus back on the message and not the messenger – for example, in the way that we understand a speech of a political figure (Seymour, 2017, p. 43).

I am not sure that I fully support that you can completely remove authors from the work as they could provide useful understanding of the intent of that work. It is almost impossible to do so anyway, especially in our information driven era where everything can be accessed and re-accessed online, although it could be argued that by virtue of the way images are shared online, they can lose meaning and easily be recontextualized in the form of memes, for example. There are a number of reasons where it is useful to understand the context in which that work was created, which could also include background information of the author. For example, as a way of breaking established hegemony in colonial and male gaze. A number of Barthes’ contemporaries such as Raymond Picard were critical of this approach to Authors, arguing that the historical and context are crucial to understand the work (Seymour, 2017, p. 24). Stanley Fish also discussed the importance of context in how we interpret meaning and an important consideration of this is in the author (p. 57).

It is important to continually assess the spaces left by the author when we look at the work in their absence. It is helpful to view a work with this separation, and a notion discussed by Michel Foucoult in his essay ‘What is an Author’ (Foucoult, 1980). However, Barthes’ himself also notes that the image is used to illustrate written word, we may also need to include some kind of commentary (in the form of words) for it to be fully understood (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). And although text does not necessarily relate to the author, it can be useful for understanding the intent. Therefore, there must be a middle ground in which images should communicate effectively and where the intention can be supported through the dominant reading of the author but not held hostage by it.


  1. ​*​
    Although I am now wondering if this is a factor that should really matter. My project idea is looking at the notion of the fractured community, so a portrait of a small community group in Canada that I shot whilst visiting my wife’s family over the Christmas period may support the narrative of never truly fitting into one place.
Bibliography

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

Foucoult, M., 1980. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. New Edition ed. New York: Cornell University Press.

Hill, P., 2019. Dave, Peterborough Curling Club, Ontario, Canada. [Photo]

Kurowski, J. et al., 2020. Week 4 Activity: Viewers Make Meaning (Forum), s.l.: Falmouth University.

Seymour, L., 2017. An Analysis of Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author. London: Routledge.

PHO702: ‘Evidence’ Experiment

Following from the idea to look at my own home at the centre of the community I live (see post), I have created a series of images in response to the listing of the property after our land lady took the decision to sell the house.

I have written about my reasons for photographing the house previously, however to understand some of the context behind my reasons for conducting the experiment, it is important to note here again that the house is in a state of disrepair and out of our reach in terms of south east property prices, perpetuating the fractured community that I am looking at.

SUMMARY
Don’t miss out on this beautiful two bedroom mid-terrace family home located on Leavesden Road. Throughout the property provides ample living accomadation [sic] and period features. Here at Brown and Merry we strongly advise early viewings to avoid missing out!

DESCRIPTION
Brown and Merry are proud to present this attractive mid terrace, with the benefit of private off street parking to the rear. The property comprises of kitchen/diner and lounge with period features and storage cupboard under stairs, upstairs you will find bathroom with shower cubicle and bath off the landing and two double bedrooms in addition to access to loft. 

The property is located 0.4 miles from Watford Junction Station, and benefits from gas central heating, double glazing and period features.

Call now to avoid disappointment!!

Figure 2. Online description of the property (Rightmove, 2020).

Dominant

The edit of the work has coincided with week 4’s readers and images. Looking at the photographs that the estate agent used (Fig. 1), the dominant reading is to show the home in the best light in order to make the sale for the best price – as you would expect them to do. Our learned knowledge of how an estate agent operates, is in the way that they exaggerate and embellish the facts. We understand this is the way of things, in the same way you do not fully trust someone selling a car, or negotiating your next phone contract yet still take part in the process.

The use of a wide-angle lens in the corner of the rooms creates a sense of space and the images appear on the site in low resolution which has the effect of hiding a multitude of sins. It is the description of the house (Fig. 2) that provides additional context to the images and highlights to the intent of the agent (and by extension the homeowner) stating “Don’t miss out on this beautiful two-bedroom mid-terrace family home” (Rightmove, 2020). Barthes states that speech and text provide the full terms of the informational structure of how we read the image world (Barthes, 1977, p. 38), and here the use of language creates a construction that suggests that the home is in a better state of repair than it is, and the images provided do not necessarily refute this.

Oppositional

This leads to the oppositional reading of the images. Living in the home for 5 years means that I have a clear understanding of the many nuances that this home has. I can look at the description of the “beautiful family home” (2020) alongside the agent images with the ability to look through them to see many issues of the property that would suggest it is vastly overpriced. Additionally, I am most likely viewing them in the room in which they were taken.

My bias is clear. The home has been valued at the very top end of the market currently, outside my own ability to afford it and remain within this community. It is important to understand that I am not suggesting that I live in abject poverty, I do not, but the very nature of living in a long-term rental property that has never been properly maintained means that the condition of the house is vastly lower than if we owned it ourselves. This is in a sense a comment on the rental trap.

Negotiated

A negotiated reading of the images could be from the people viewing the property with the hope of buying it. This is not something that I can confirm, as a renter, I am outside that chain of dialogue. However, if i was to speculate, those interested in the property would view the images online together with the description and consider it a viable home to view. Once viewed, many of the issues would be quickly apparent; the described beautiful home would require a new kitchen, bathroom, windows, secure exterior doors, and so on that at the top end of this price range, represents a larger investment of time and money than the advertisement would suggest.

I made the decision to photograph the poor state of the house as a direct contrast to the way the estate agent would ultimately present it (Fig. 3). This was inspired by Jack Latham’s approach of using police evidence imagery as part of the narrative for ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Fig. 4) and my own experience of working on the Panorama shoot (See post). Here, my ‘evidence’ images represent more of a construction compared to Latham’s use of the police archive, with the agent imagery taking the role of the archive. My intention was to use the aesthetic of the evidence image to play with the dominant reading seen in the agent images. The use of film and black and white encourages the reader to override the agent’s dominant reading and replace it with mine. My oppositional reading becomes the dominant reading in this context.

Figure 4. One of the police archive images from ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Latham, 2019)

To show this in my edit, I have looked at putting the images and text together in a number of ways. Firstly, I wanted to see how my new images would work with the original text of the agent listing in order to subvert the dominant reading described by the agent, in an obvious and confrontational way. I have placed my images first and the text second (Fig 5), however I feel that considering the outcome, it would create more of a shock to the reader if the description id first and then be presented with my oppositional imagery (Fig 6).

Figure 5. Edited ‘evidence’ images left with agent text on the right.
Juxtapositions

Figure 6. Agent images juxtaposed with my ‘evidence’ imagery. [Click to enlarge in gallery]

Personally, I feel that the juxtapositions work better. They are subtler and require more of an examination of the pair together. I present the agent image and then one of my own images which requires the reader to investigate, comparing and contrasting two conflicting views of the room. There is potential to further develop and add some kind of caption to further extend and create a sense of the context and intent that I am aiming to get across.

Using the FSA Hole Punched to ‘Kill’ The images

My last edit was to re-introduce the idea of the ‘killed’ (Taylor, 2017) image that was used by Roy Stryker when rejecting FSA images (See post). I copied one the hole-punches from a rejected FSA image by Arthur Rothstein photograph (Fig. 7) and added it to my evidence imagery of the house (Fig. 8).

Figure 7. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Blue Ribbon No. 2 Mine, one of the largest gopher holes, Williamson County, Illinois (Rothstein, 1939).

This was also to consider the role of the ‘ostracised’ that I have been looking at through the lens of Barthes and his notion that we also need to consider those excluded from society and community in order to understand the functions of it (Barthes, 2012, p. 81).  And Dexter Dias, who suggests that those who cast out members of a community, ultimately leads to a more cohesion (Dias, 2017, p. 124) which is an area that I feel warrants more investigation.

Figure 8. Edited ‘evidence’ images to include FSA hole punches. [Click to enlarge into gallery].

My images represent a view of the property that shows it in a less than positive way. The agent would potentially reject these in their selective view of the home. The hole-punch also adds to the images’ reading by creating a point of focus instantly creating a sense of censorship, which is also from a learned knowledge of the world that we share (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. Parasite movie poster with censorship bar across the eyes (Parasite, 2019).

I am unsure how I am going to move this experiment forward as potentially I have taken this area as far as I can at the moment. These images primarily only really exist for me (Barthes, 1981, p. 73), this is an event that resonates because I am the one who is affected by the sale. If I am to develop this, I would need to consider how these are read by others.

Bibliography

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

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.

Dias, D., 2017. The Ten Types of Human. 1st Paperback Edition ed. London: Windmill Books.

Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. 2nd ed. London: Here Press.

Parasite. 2019. [Film] Directed by Bong Joon Ho. South Korea: Barunson E&A; CJ E&M Film Financing & Investment Entertainment & Comics; CJ Entertainment; TMS Comics; TMS Entertainment.

Rightmove, 2020. Rightmove: 2 bedroom terraced house for sale. [Online] Available at: https://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-68153202.html [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Rothstein, A., 1939. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Blue Ribbon No. 2 Mine, one of the largest gopher holes, Williamson County, Illinois. [Art] Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

Taylor, A., 2017. Holes Punched Through History. [Online] Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2017/02/holes-punched-through-history/518115/ [Accessed 17 February 2020].

PHO702: Shoot Two

Figure 1. Selected images from Harebreaks Wood shoot

Following from my first shoot, I managed to approach a group of litter pickers that were tidying a local woodland area. It was useful to create some portraits and see how they fit in with the series I shot on the initial walk around the area (Fig. 1). For this shoot, I decided to apply some of the feedback that I have received previously regarding placing my subjects within the environment to support the contextualisation of the image (Fig. 2). Some of the images that I have selected have consciously gone for this approach within the edit. I do however like some of the close-up cropped portraits of Helen (Fig. 3) and would potentially consider re-introducing this version of her depend on how my future shoots evolve. As I have a number of portraits with the litter picking group, it could work to include a version without the plastic bag and stick if I was to include an image of one of the other that did.

Harebreaks Wood litter picker
Figure 2. Helen full body portrait placed within the environment.
Figure 3. Helen close up portrait.

Context of how the work is eventually displayed will play a crucial role in this decision. However, for now I have been working with the assumption that this is a form of extended editorial shoot and creating a series of images that would exist online or in a printed supplement of some kind (See post on this). This has the potential to evolve as I move through the recent weeks, I am finding that my notion of how to approach and photograph a project like this requires me to challenge and experiment with different approaches. I also interested in Todd Hido’s approach to creating narrative within his work (See post on Todd Hido) through the shooting and accumulating of images, pairing them, and collecting together sequences to synthesise ideas in what he terms as “Paper movies” (Hido, 2014, p. 114).

Figure 4. Outtake image from Harebreaks wood shoot.

I am aiming to keep a close check on the conditions in which I am photographing this work. The lighting, for me is a crucial tool in the aesthetic quality of this project. This construction is not without its challenges, the recent large storms have led to a series of dull overcast days, and even this shoot was cut short by fast moving weather conditions. What I am finding that is not working at the moment is some of the environment shots (Fig. 4), much like my first attempt (See Shoot 1 Post), I am aiming to show a sympathetic view of this community and the overcast conditions are creating the opposite effect.

Moving forward, I have arranged to visit with a local community group running a food back and hope to create some portraits there. I have also reached to a local drama society to see if I can collaborate and explore creating some constructed realities to weave into the rest of the narrative.

Bibliography

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

Hill, P., 2020. Harebreaks Wood. [Photographs]

Considering the Construction

This week has been a kind of revolution to the way that I have been approaching my project so far. I have been very hung up on the notion that my intent requires me to be photographing without construction or forms of manipulation, because that would result in some sort of ‘breaking the rules.’ However, further reading into the topics of constructed realities has led me to the writing of William J Mitchell, who also presents a direct challenge to this photographic purity and suggests a feeling of being cheated by these kinds of images (Mitchell, 2001, p. 218). This is in part born out of my commercial practice that I should, as Mitchell states: “The transaction of valid reporting, stating, or asserting (Like other speech acts and analogous nonverbal or partially verbal act of communication) is defined by constructive rules” (p. 218). These rules are essentially part of the learned knowledge of the world that we have come to expect, and of course much of this learned knowledge suggests to us that photography is a truth.

Figure 1. Photographer Brian Walski was sacked by the LA Times for editing the top two images together to create the third (Walski, 2003).

Digital imagery has been found wanting in terms of our ability to suspend our disbelief (Fig. 1), yet we still subscribe to it as a reality, merely because it is based in the actual (Berger, 2013, p. 8). Analogue photography is no more a bearer of truth however, and has been susceptible to forgery throughout its history. For example, the removal of dissidents from the image of Lenin speaking at a podium (Fig. 2 & 3). This brings me back to the reflection on the Panorama work that I have written about previously (View Post). The use of analogue technique is completely based on our learned understanding of how we perceive the power of photography and its ability to show ‘truth’ and ‘Evidence’ and the re-photographed images onto film heightened the constructed reality of these images, where John Tagg notes that “the existence of a photograph is no guarantee of a pre-photographic existence” (Tagg, 1988, p. 2) these images should not be considered in anyway evidential, even though the production of that episode was doing everything within its power to make us believe so.

Figure 2.
Vladimir Lenin speaking in Moscow to Red Army soldiers departing for the Polish front, in 1920. Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev, behind, are on the steps to the right (Goldshtien, 1920)
Figure 3.
Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev have been airbrushed out of an image of the same scene (Goldshtien, 1920).

All photography is a construction, that has been established in the past couple of weeks, how does this have an impact on how I view my images, and moving onto my intent?

I have been very precious in how I have been approaching my project so far, identifying myself as closer to the ‘Hunter’ end of the constructed continuum. I recognise however, that this is indeed a continuum and accept that my work is constructed in a variety of ways. I have felt as though I needed to represent the actual (2013, p. 8) within my work, however have considered that as part of my look at the community is to explore my own sense of it being fractured, that this shouldn’t matter as potentially the combination of gradual constructions together with my existing constructed actualities, which I wrote about in my ‘Hunters and Farmers’ Post’ (Wall in Horne, 2012).

Figure 4. Image from ‘The Corners’ by Chris Dorley-Brown (2018).

Previously to starting the MA I was drawn to the approach of Chris Dorley Brown’s series ‘The Corners’ (Dorley Brown, 2018) and his uneasy view of everyday scenes in London (Fig. 4). As you view these images, they are based in the real world, an actuality, and indexical of how people pass through the streets of London which have been referred to as an update of the work that photographer David Granick did in the city between 1960 and 1980 (Dyer, 2018). Of this work though, Dyer also discusses the stillness of the image:

“But there’s a tranced stillness about them: a feeling of being in some kind of fugue state”

(2018)
Figure 5. How the images are constructed. Spread from ‘The Corners’ by Chris Dorley-Brown (2018).

Here Dyer is referring to how we read these images as much as the subjects within them. On closer inspection, the images are a complete construction, which is admitted to in the back of the publication of the images (Fig. 5), made up of a series of multiple exposures, typically 18 to 21 images, and then stitched together, with the resulting composition showing up to an hour (2018).

Dyer’s assessment of the work is that it creates a form of nostalgia, a longing for the past that links this work with the images of Granick, which Chris Dorley Brown also edited into a book. Dyer also notes:

‘Dorley-Brown manipulates his scenes not to manufacture drama or to bunch people into near-collisions but to create a “truthful” picture that “must match the memory of a moment that never occurred.”photographic’

(2018)

This I feel, lives in the learned knowledge of the world that, although the memory that is being referred to is not a real one, it could be an imagined sense of a place that Dorley-Brown is representing here.

Figure 6. Helen from shoot with a group of Litter Pickers (Hill, 2020)
Figure 7. Stephen from shoot with litter pickers (Hill, 2020)

Presently, my work does not inhabit this constructed space, I have approached groups and sort to photograph them in a naturalistic way (Fig. 6 & 7). I have also look to photograph the environment in my local area in a similar naturalistic way. However, this as an approach intrigues me, and I am keen to potentially look at experimenting with this as an approach, albeit holistically. For example, part of my plan is to approach a variety of community groups, one of which could be an amateur dramatic group, what is to stop me casting them within the environment of my community to play a series of characters. I intend to propose this to a group and experiment with creating a series of constructed narratives. These characters could create a fictional memory in a similar way to how Dorley-Brown has constructed his images.

Bibliography

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

Dorley Brown, C., 2018. The Corners. 1 ed. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

Dyer, G., 2018. How to Photograph Eternity. The New York Times Magazine, 24 July, p. Online.

Goldshtein, G., 1920. Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev have been airbrushed out of an image of the same scene.. [Photo] (Tate).

Goldshtein, G., 1920. Vladimir Lenin speaking in Moscow to Red Army soldiers departing for the Polish front, in 1920. Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev, behind, are on the steps to the right. [Photo] (Tate).

Hill, P., 2020. Helen from Harebreaks wood litter pickers. [Photo]

Hill, P., 2020. Stephen from Harebreaks wood litter pickers. [Photo]

Horne, R., 2012. Holly Andres, ‘Farmer’ of Photographs. The Wall Street Journal, 3 February.

Mitchell, W. J., 2001. The Recoonfigured Eye. First MIT Press Paperback ed. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

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

Walski, B., 2003. Iraq. [Photo] (Los Angeles Times).

Hunters and Farmers

I am not sure that I completely subscribe to the ‘Hunters’ and ‘Farmers’ analogy from Jeff Wall (Wall in Horne, 2012). If all images are constructions, which I do believe, then this is surely a spectrum in which all photographies fall and even within the distinct extremities of the continuum, even the hunters subjectively construct the reality of the actual (Berger, 2013, p.8) , which is based on the real world.

As such, I do not feel wholey comfortable subscribing completely to either title, however, I believe that my work is rooted in this actuality. I do not consciously or emphatically try to deceive with my work, however this is not to assume that what I do is not a construct with every decision that I make creating a version of reality, although naturalistic in its appearance & indexical in its traces, I am starting to appreciate that representation can only be a part of the whole narrative, an informed – if you will – overall opinion of what I am trying to say. If I was to consider which end of the spectrum that my work falls, it would inevitably be on the side of the hunter as I tend to look for the photographs that I want to create in the actual, my work is less about the gradual constructions and more about the constructed actualities. On the face of it, my practice does little to tend to my images over time, however perhaps this ‘tending’ could be through the development of personal style and aesthetics in the way that I approach my image making, it is easier to suspend disbelief when viewing my images because they are based in the real world.

As I reflect on this, I realise that my work on this end of the continuum is still rooted within my own comfort zones of how I take pictures, which is founded on my commercial practice as an editorial photographer. During the presentations, we have been continually asked to consider the importance of the reality of the image to determine meaning (Cosgrove, 2020) so moving forward, it would be good for me to play with this notion and create some work that consciously moves further toward the ‘Farmer’ end of the spectrum.

With this in mind, I am thinking of returning to two areas that I identified in some earlier research, the term idiorrhythmic came up when reading a text by Barthes and the reference to how we can live our separate lives but co-exist within societies and communities, Barthes considers this view non-paradoxical and considers that for a proper Utopian community to function there would be a removal of identifying information to distance ourselves from ‘spaces of Manipulation’ (Barthes, 2012, p.101). I wonder if the people that I am aiming to include in my look at the local community need to be ‘real,’ or could this be part of a constructed reality that plays with this notion of the spaces of manipulation and links to why I chose community as an area of interest for my photography and my fractured sense of connection to the place that I live.

Figure 1. Desert Places by Robert Frost (1936).

Another related area to Barthes notion of living together and apart is through the metaphor of the desert which Barthes uses in his text and also unpacked in the analytical paper of his work ‘Roland Barthes, the individual and the Community’ (Stene-Johansen, et al., 2018), from here links can be made to this kind of monoclastic living balancing isolation and attachment (2018, p.16). Robert Frost’s poem ‘Desert Places’ (Fig. 1) is also referenced here and an area that I wish to explore (Frost, 1936, p.44).

How are my images consumed?

My work has always sat in the printed media category, in that for the majority of my commercial life I have worked as an editorial photographer primarily for the airline publication sector, with other magazines and newspaper imagery too. So far, I have treated the work that I have produced for the MA as a kind of extended editorial shoot with the intention of displaying it in printed media, or its online equivalent. For example, after the last module, I produced a postcard series of the project to be distributed to a range of magazine and online editors (Fig. 2&3) with some interest in the work and a few shares on social media platforms. As is the way with publishing lead times, timing has been an issue for some of the publications that I sent my work, citing that my images of the carnival needed to be published to coincide with the next carnival season in the autumn. My intention here is to follow up in the spring to see if the work can be published later in the year.

Figure 2. Postcard Series created to market ‘The Wessex Grand Prix’ (Hill, 2019).
Figure 3. Postcard cover and graphic for ‘Wessex Grand Prix’ (2019).

The topicality of the project lets it sit comfortably in this editorial category and would be considered professionally as an interesting look at British culture in the southwest region of the UK. The context of any kind of publication would omit much of the intentions that I set out in the creation to the work, in terms of the fractured sense of community that inspired to look again at the Carnival culture.

I have been testing the limit of this view through the submission of the work to dummy book awards, such as the Mack First Book Award (Fig. 4). At this stage, I am not sure whether my work sits comfortably within this category. 

Figure 4. Wessex Grand Prix Book Dummy cover (2019)

Reflecting  on my decision to create a postcard series was primarily from a marketing perspective. In our digital image world, I wanted to let my project stand out from the plethora of emailed submissions that these editors would inevitably receive. Viewing images in an online gallery form can be very linear, as you are bound by the sequence and flow of the gallery in which they are presented with the knowledge that the job of the photo editor is to produce a narrative that fits with the intent and the editorial guidelines of the publication, this could be considered quite limiting to the potential of publication. This presents a slight irony in that the postcard mailer, which traditionally was a primary way of marketing for photographers, allows me to stand out. Presenting my work in a tangible medium also allows it to be laid out in full and viewed in a way that may work better within the context of the editor that I send the work. 

The postcard and the book dummy that I have started to explore also marks a departure in the ways that my work can be consumed, albeit an esoteric one. Simon Norfolk, for example has remarked that the world of the Photo book has become a self-congratulatory loop, where photographers are celebrating other photographers belonging to the same clique, and the same can also be said of the gallery and award system (Norfolk, 2019). Any move into other ways that my images are distributed and consumed should consider the esoteric and have an awareness that any meaning that could be derived from it needs to be viewed by more than a small group of taste makers. 


Bibliography

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

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

Cosgrove, S., 2020. Week 2 Presentation: Is it Really Real?, s.l.: Falmouth.

Frost, R., 1936. A Further Range. Transcribed eBook ed. s.l.:Proofreaders Canada.

Hill, P., 2019. The Wessex Grand Prix. [Photography].

Horne, R., 2012. Holly Andres, ‘Farmer’ of Photographs. The Wall Street Journal, 3 February.

Norfolk, S., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers [Interview] (12 June 2019).

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

Further Questions of Representation

Questions of representation, authenticity, constructions and the photographic nature of photography makes me reflect on a freelance job that I did for an episode of BBC’ Panorama, titled ‘Inside Europe’s Terror Attacks (2016). Within the episode, a series of ‘most wanted’ mugshots are displayed and shown to be developed in a photographic darkroom before being hung up on a clothes line in a row.

Figure 1. Still from the darkroom segment of the ‘Inside Europe’s Terror Attacks’ episode of Panorama (2016).

My role in this production was to turn a series of digital images into ones that could be processed in a darkroom and shown to appear inside a darkroom as the journalist narration happened. To do this, I re-photographed each of the images onto film and prepared a series of prints with the latent image ready for processing during the filming. Incidentally, it is also my hand in the film processing these images (Fig. 1).

The segment plays with our very notion of photography as evidence through our collective awareness and an intertextual referencing of primarily via film and TV (Fig. 2), of how a detective might use the darkroom to illuminate and support an investigation, that lightbulb moment that shows that you have found the smoking gun evidence that will close the case.

Figure 2. Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in the darkroom (Funny Face, 1957).

This episode of the Investigative documentary series really plays to the theatrics and performative nature of photography in showing the images in this way and the perceived authenticity that photographs have, it was heightened here to purposefully exaggerating the characteristics of the photograph and increase the veracity of the moment. This also plays into the notion of digital images being less authentic than those shot using film. The images that were supplied to me to re-photograph were all digital files that were printed digitally using an inkjet printer and then photograph using a copy stand onto 35mm film. Do the images now become more authentic now that they have become analogue? The supplied digital files were in some cases low resolution screen grabs, some of which were also from social media.

In terms of its construction, it seems to have increased the tension of the situation that a digital graphic may not have. Like a punctuated moment away from the expected news style digital visuals that you would expect to see through news gathering services and have become immune to. This feels somewhat real with a heightened sense of urgency that someone needs to catch the people depicted and that they are working hard to do so. It is a fiction, a construction for the sake of the documentary, especially when we consider that the methods on display are completely obsolete and the images would almost certainly be viewed through a computer screen and potentially never reach the point of a tangible print.  There is also the assumption that turning the images into black and white adds an inherent ‘truth’ to what we are viewing.

Bibliography

Funny Face. 1957. [Film] Directed by Stanley Donen. USA: Paramount Pictures.

Panorama: Inside Europe’s Terror Attacks. 2016. [Film] Directed by John O’Kane. UK: BBC Panorama.

PHO702: Shoot One.

Contact Sheets: 25/01/20 & 01/02/20

Following the plan I created to go out and do my first shoot based on a psychogeography route of the postcode of my local area (See Shoot 1 Planning Post). It was an interesting shoot and I managed to create some photographs that would be worth editing together to determine how they work as sets. The weather was very overcast and not what I was hoping to shoot in terms of the lighting, so for the most part, I think that this shoot was a worthwhile fact finding mission to scout out some future locations and develop the work. From my plan, I did also want to start to consider ‘the ostracised’ (Dias, 2018) however feel that this may have been a bit ambitious for the first shoot and will continue to develop this area of enquiry as I feel it could have some significance. It was a useful reference to take the Roy Stryker Shooting script with me to consider some of the images that I was shooting. I will continue to use this as it is a way of creating a taxonomy of what makes up a community environment.

Light is crucial to the way that I want my images to look. Moving forward, I aim to be more selective of the times that I will go out and shoot, weather permitting.

Now that we have had a couple of weeks of delivery of the modules, I am going to create more of a focus on the taxonomical patterns that my local community displays. The idea of the indexicality of what I am shooting is also something that I want to explore in a more intentional way. I am also considering the approach to the portraits within the work. I have had a fairly limited response from people I would like to involve in the project, so am considering an approach based on the week 3 constructions and will explore casting ‘actors’ to play a role in my look at my community which could form a strong link to this sense of a fractured community. Initially, I could approach this in a similar way to how Jack Latham shot subjects unrelated to the events of the Icelandic crime in his book ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (2019).

References

Dias, D., 2018. The Ten Types of Human. 1st Paperback Edition ed. London: Windmill Books.

Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. 2nd Edition ed. London: Here Press.

Questions of Authenticity

I have been quite enthralled by the topic of representation and authenticity during this week’s discussion and webinars. I have been incredibly guilty in the past of considering that what I do is a pure form of truth telling and visual record of the facts, when in actual fact there is no such thing as a neutral image (Luvera, 2020). Authenticity appears to be assumed on the part of the reader merely because the photograph is able to reproduce in a naturalistic manner.

Figure 1. Dawn on Bamburi Beach, Mombasa, Kenya. (Hill, 2010)

Unconsciously, I have always used the notion of representation in my own work. This was very prevalent during the time I was shooting for freelance for travel editorial publications. I would knowingly select and edit out the images that would not present a location in a positive light (Fig. 1), however unaware of the implications of representing an actuality (Berger, 2013, p. 8). As an example, I shot some images of Bamburi Beach in Mombasa, Kenya showing how beautiful the location was however neglecting to also photograph the immense poverty that was sometimes literally outside of my frame (Fig. 2). This has much to do with the context of how these images are consumed however, figure 2 for example was part of a set of images that were used to illustrate a story on illegal mining practices in parts of Kenya (Kivner.

As I discussed earlier for an experimentation into how I might portray community through creating a set of images that utilise a forensic approach due to the upcoming sale of my rented home by my land lady.

Figure 2. Illegal gold miner, Kenya. Image also uploaded to Alamy archive. (Hill, 2010)

My initial plan for this experiment was to photograph all of the negative aspects of the house in which I live and are in a state of disrepair. These images would be in direct contrast to the attempt to gloss over the detrimental view of the house that the estate agents would ultimately take (See Post). I have just started to scan and edit these images to remove the dust that attached itself to the negative during the scanning process. A fairly standard practice for film images. However, this week have raised a number of questions:

Figure 2. Scanned image from medium format negative that has been retouched. ‘Moth Trap’ from my evidence experiment. (Hill, 2020)

In terms of authenticity, a film image is behold as containing more ‘truth’ over digital, which is perceived to be easily manipulated and has caused concern in this regard since its introduction (Cosgrove, 2020). However, the modern workflow process of scanning and digitising negatives creates an even more problematic version of this truth if we still consider it to have more veracity then a digital image. My first scanned image (Fig. 3) required quite a bit of ‘spotting,’ as a result the image that also contains quite a ‘busy’ layer of all of the retouching, healing brush that I used, which poses the question of how much of the original is left, and how much of this naturalistic reproduction can be consider an icon; how much of this image is now indexical.

Figure 3. Retouching layer from ‘Moth Trap’ (Hill, 2020).

To highlight the difference, I have saved a version of the image that only shows the retouching layer against a white background (Fig. 4). This image feels indexical to me, that it is based on the things that existed in the real world but bears no real resemblance to it anymore. Any amount of editing and retouching could be considered in this way.

Bibliography

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

Cosgrove, S., 2020. Week 2 Presentation: Is it Really Real?, s.l.: Falmouth.

Hill, P., 2010. Dawn on Bamburi Beach. Mombasa, Kenya. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2010. Illegal Gold Miner, Kenya. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Moth Trap. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Retouching Layer from ‘Moth Trap’. [Photo].

Kinver, M., 2013. Nations agree on legally binding mercury rules. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21078176 [Accessed 7 February 2020].

Luvera, A., 2020. Countercurrent Podcast: Anthony Luvera in conversation with Roger Kneebone [Interview] (13 January 2020).

Week 2: The Index and the Icon

Reflection

Everyone seems to want to defend their own reading and interpretation of an image that they have taken, especially their own images, and this includes me and my own images. It is interesting that through the forums this week I have noticed that many of the descriptions of the presented images do not necessarily translate to what I can see in the image. Although, what is being written of the image is indeed what the photographer believes that image to be about, or what did occur at the moment of when that image was captured, it is telling that with this text removed, the image would read differently to me.

Context and meaning are going to fall away from the image, especially over time (Sontag, 1979, p. 106), so it is important to realise that your work will inevitably be read in multiple ways. I do find this somewhat a challenging concept in the present as the temptation and habit of adding a certain amount of attributed information is ever present in the attempt to help others understand my work. I guess, that is the challenge for many practitioners, do we have the confidence to remove all of this attributed reading of our own photography to allow others carte blanche to make their own assumptions and interpretations.

Authenticity appears to me, bound by context, or at least a viewer’s understanding of context. Representation is bound by the subject’s understanding of the use of the image. Is it for authors to attribute either context, or use without the collaboration of the other two. This is a clear link to the triangle that Nadav Kander (Kander, 2019) refers to, and the death of the author analysis by Roland Barthes (Barthes, 1977, pp. 142-149).

Where this applies to my own work, I think that I am quite interested in the notion of the photograph as a valuable index of truth (Snyder & Allen, 1975, p. 159). As I have commented in the previous forum, I think that when you consider the definition of representation, it is to take the broad consensus of ideas and opinions which I think is where the photograph can occupy and create authenticity. So it is not a complete evidential and based on all the facts, however there are traces of facts embedded in the image, perpetuated by the notion of its naturalistic appearance (1975, p. 144). This potentially, has more in common with ideology which assumes much about reality and certainly John Berger notes this by stating that photography can play an important role in ideological struggle, in reference to the way media use photography (Berger, 2013, p. 21).

For my work to move forward, I need to consider the indexical nature of my own photographs and perhaps construct images that use this as a means of communication. However, this is potentially something that will be more prevalent during the editing stage of the project.

Countercurrent Podcast

This week, I also listened to an episode of Countercurrent podcast featuring Anthony Luvera discussing his approach to socially engaged photography (Levera, 2020). The subject of representation came up during the discussion and the power balance that exists between the artist and the subject of their art. Traditionally, there have been a number of incidences throughout the history of photography where a particular group or culture has been photographed in a particular way and has led to tropes which has a knock on impact of effecting the way they are represented and even the conversation, political, and societal decisions are affected by these representations. Although not referred to in the podcast, this reminds me of the work that Patrick Waterhouse did when working with the Walpiri of the Northern Territory in Australia (Fig. 1), which was a way of considering, not only the colonial gaze, but also the way anthropological photography was used as a method of reducing the value of cultures other than the white European (Waterhouse, 2019). 

Figure 1. From the book ‘Restricted Images’ by Patrick Waterhouse and the Walpiri (Waterhouse, 2019)

Levera does not believe that the problematic photographic representation can easily be solved and that no photograph is neutral, however we can aim to redress the balance through collaborative practice (2020).

It was also noted that a tension exists between the artist and the subject when any kind of process of working together exists and when circulating this work to audiences.

Index and the Icon

How I use these within my own work has been useful to consider. I believe for the most part my photography uses the iconic, I photograph things that look like what they are supposed to, for the most part.

I consider how this has changed in the present short term (assuming that I continue to focus on the iconic in my work) from the commercial practice, where I would use elements such as photo-blur to get around such things as model releases for people on the street. This also had the added aesthetic quality of creating an atmosphere of a busy urban area. The work that I have been creating for the last module concentrates on what is in front of me, what exists in the real world. Context is a driver of how we can present the icon and the indexical, during the seminar the example of wedding photography was given in that the audience of this work expects to see a certain image of the posed groups. This reminds me of the work of commercial photographer John Keatley who has become well known for how he plays with the notion of the family portrait (Fig. 2), and has even taken it to the extreme of getting actors to pose in the images as him and his wife – although his children are the same (Keatley, 2018). This really plays with the icon and the indexical. Keatley us subverting the shared vocabulary of what we expect to see from a family portrait, an image of the family. However by removing himself from the image he has still created something that exists in the real world, the photograph is of something that exists, it is not a photograph of Keatley, even though he has titled it as such. Keatley has taken the image, could this be considered a trace? There is no truth to this image and the actors that are portraying the artist are arbitrary, however Keatley has had a tangible connection to the construction of the image.

Figure 2. 2018 Keatley Family Portrait (Keatley, 2018).

A photograph is not nuanced in all things that are based in the real world the way that photography is portrayed, It cannot portray all of the subtle variety that exists, it is a blunt snapshot in time of something that existed – A fossil, which is indexical to the thing that existed. What this week has prompted me to look at more is how the environment of community which has now become my focus might be comprised of indexical elements that I could photograph as part of the work. What are the traces of the community that I am photographing over the wandering and photographing anything of interest. Having a clear intention for why I have photographed and included them within a final edit was always one of my aims

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Death of the Author. In: Image, Music, Text. New York: Fontana, pp. 142-149.

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

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

Keatley, J., 2018. Keatley Family 2018. [Online] Available at: https://www.keatleyphoto.com/portraits/keatley-family/ [Accessed 6 February 2020].

Luvera, A., 2020. Countercurrent Podcast: Anthony Luvera in conversation with Roger Kneebone [Interview] (13 January 2020).

Snyder, J. & Allen, N. W., 1975. Photography, Vision, and Representation. Critical Enquiry, 2(1), pp. 143-169.

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

Waterhouse, P., 2019. Restricted Images by Patrick Waterhouse and the Walpiri. 1st ed. London: SPBH Editions.