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).

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