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.

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