I have become interested in a number of concepts that I am aiming to explore throughout this module. This has in part been inspired by some of the ‘documentary aesthetic’ research that I have been conducting, which had led me to explore the use of black and white film during this module.
I actually have been using a similar set-up during this lock-down period to expose a series of ‘solargraphs’ around my home using pin-hole cameras made from beer cans (Fig: 2), which then have photographic paper placed inside to expose over a long period of time. This was inspired by artist Justin Quinnell who creates these that have exposure times of 6 months or more (Fig: 1). My idea was to record the period of time inside the home (Fig: 3).
The image is built up over time so that you can start to see how the light changes and the rise and fall of the sun tracing over the sky, for example. As a way of showing time, these are really interesting. The photo paper cannot be fixed in the usual way or the image would be ruined, so the paper would continue to expose and eventually turn black, which could be used as a metaphor for the present time, or creating a sense that the photograph itself has a life that begins and ends. At the end of its life, only the digital scan would remain. My primary interest is in portrait photographs, however there are links to be made between this process and how Roland Barthes’ discusses the image: “As if the (terrified) photographer must exert himself to the utmost to keep the photograph from becoming death. But I – already an object, I do not struggle” (Barthes & Wells, 2002, p. 23). In the solargraph , it becomes an object the personifies this decay and is unable to be embalmed as Barthes’ states.
For the week 4 ‘Hands off’ task, I decided to create a pinhole camera to shoot film, which is something I had never done before. I modified a new beer can pinhole, which needed to be lined in order to make it usable for film and to reduce reflection inside the can. Working out the exposure time was quite a challenge but an important one as I only had a few strips of film to play with. The idea of separation and abstraction has been a feature of some of the work that I am producing, which included the barrier created by my windows. I have come back to this at the start of this module by re-photographing them onto film (Fig: 5), so decided to see how I could abstract the view using a different method.
The fstop for my pinhole camera is around 250, which creates a much longer exposure time. In low light it would have meant factoring in reciprocity failure. However, during the day if metering f22 at 1/30th second, my pinhole would need to expose for 8 seconds. The resulting images show the view through my windows, something that I had not done with my other window images, yet they are still abstracted because of the time it took to expose leading to some inevitable movement (Fig: 6).
Could I use this in my research project?
I think that the technique used is not something that I would take into my research project but the idea of abstraction, which creates a separation in the image is an interesting concept to take forward. I feel that even if the image is strictly lens based, indexical and also iconic, it can still be abstracted. Abstracted in the sense that all images are untruths, All images are unable to be true representations. This could then be introduced to my research project subtly as even a digital scan of my photographs is an abstraction of the negative, which is an abstraction of the reality it recorded.
Barthes, R. & Wells, L., 2002. The Photography Reader: Extracts from Camera Lucida. 4 ed. London: Routledge.
Black and white, photographically, could be considered a method of De-privileging human perception from how we perceive the world around us. We do not see the world in black and white, we see in colour, yet this perception of the world is still limited in the wider spectrum that exists. Richard Mosse as an example, utilises infrared camera technology and film to show the world outside our human range of perception (Fig: 1), additionally, Linda Alterwitz created her series ‘signatures of Heat’ by utilising a thermal imaging camera, which seems to have particular resonance now we are living in the ‘new normal’ (Fig: 2). Although I have used film photography a fair amount in my time as a photographer, being old enough to have studied the subject without digital technology having the kind of impact that it does now, I would not comfortably use the medium to produce work that I was invested in as much as the MA. This is very much tied into the ability to check and recheck on the spot until I was able to achieve the result I needed. The more I am shooting with the medium format camera however, the more careful I have become in the setting up and creating of my images, not to say that I still do not make mistakes – some of the images have come back soft, or in the extreme, technical issues have led to losing images.
In terms of viewing the world outside how we perceive it however, Black and white is a more common way of showing us this. Aesthetically we as humans find its look quite pleasing and our collective learned knowledge creates the perception of black and white as ‘art,’ or for more ‘serious’ work, which is born from the collective experience of a history of images presented in black and white; the ubiquity and fame of ‘Migrant Mother’ is a notable example of this, as Sally Stein points out: “often circulated as the centrepiece of the documentary canon” (2020, p. 62), which is despite its problematic approach to the facts surrounding the story and the notorious retouching of the thumb from the frame (Fig: 3). Human perception has in part been shaped by this view of the world even though we do not process the objects within it in this way, these images stay with us and create a collective memory of them.
As I have started to consider the photograph as a kind of object, shooting film creates this in a way that digital does not. The negative is a tangible object and shooting in a 6X7 format also attributes a preciousness to it. I am now acutely aware of each frame shot; each one must be carefully considered as each one costs money to produce. A roll of 120 film cost me between £4.50 – £5 allowing 10 frames per roll of film equaling 50 pence per frame, however factoring in processing and time, this would easily be over a £1 per image. As a process existing outside of my usual comfort zone, it is also an apparatus that I am not used to using either, which links to this week’s consideration of de-privileging the lens. Although I am not rejecting the lens completely, I am moving away from an easier approach to my photography and making it more of a precious object once again; more of a de-privileging the digital sensor and the ease in which I can make my images. These parameters can support a more focused approach to the creation of the work.
Technically, as mentioned earlier, this is not without its challenges. I had a glitch with an early roll of film that resulted in a serious light leak that ruined the majority of that film (Fig: 4). The portraits that I have been seeking in the public space are hard work for me to approach and shoot as it takes a fair amount of pushing myself to approach people, usually a good couple of weeks in each of the modules spent talking myself into taking these pictures to the point where it might just be easier to do something else, which makes any issues with the results doubly frustrating. However, this does create a more personal connection to the work as I become much more invested in all of the steps of the process in order to achieve a good result. People are at the heart of what I am trying to achieve.
Reality as we perceive it, has qualities and characteristics, which are tangible to us, to our senses, and some qualities, which are not tangible but nether-the-less fundamental to our understanding. By de-privileging the human there is an acknowledgment that the object continues to exist regardless of whether the human perceives it or not, Graham Harmon notes: “the infamous claim that the Pharaoh Ramses II cannot have died of tuberculosis, since in ancient Egypt that disease was not yet discovered” (2020, p. 33), which points out to us that it is easy to forget that our human perception is just part of the spectrum of representation and things exist outside of our awareness.
When photographing this reality, I am transferring some of these qualities onto the surface of the digital sensor, or the emulsion of the film. Qualities are transferred into an impression of this concrete world yet, there are also the qualities of the medium that are important to consider, which also have an effect on the way that the object based in the reality is perceived. Black and white seem the most obvious because it strips out information that we as humans are used to using to understand the world. However the object exists in multiple ways it can be perceived, outside the human range of perception, as the examples of Mosse and Alterwitz show. Black and white in these terms is an equally valid representation in that it is equally limited.
It occurred to me that even though I am shooting film, I am still reliant on my DSLR to digitise the negative (mainly because of the lock down it is my only means of scanning, yet the point would remain for other forms of digitisation). The qualities transferred from reality onto the film emulsion are once again transferred onto another apparatus, the digital camera; One apparatus transferring to another apparatus. I made reference to this in an earlier exploration, where I took a negative I invited a friend to shoot for me and I copied it onto another roll of film, which appropriates that image and creates an object that is mine even though I have never been to Barcelona (Fig: 5). The reality of the image that I copied becomes even further removed from the reality that my friend Seb originally photographed.
Flusser notes that: “Aparatuses are black boxes that simulate thinking” (2000, p. 32), so what is the thinking that I am trying to simulate? The first black box is the film camera, which is being used to create a sense of the documentary aesthetic, a sense of the nostalgia, to a connection to a past that is perceived to be in decline. I have aimed to start making this palpable in the current idea of the ‘new normal,’ there might be a longing for the time before the pandemic. Aesthetically, I know that the images will be pleasing to look at, as if they could be from ‘another time’ as was noted of Alys Tomlinson’s Ex-Voto series (Molloy, 2019). There is a pathos in our collective understanding of images made during this time.
If reality has qualities that transfer and become in part replaced by the qualities of the film camera and emulsion, then both of these have certain agency over the representation of the object of that image – this agency then takes a role in shaping how we perceive. Those transferred qualities are then transferred and changed again when the negative becomes digitised and the reality recorded is another step removed. This digital image is a copy of a copy and many of the qualities of the black and white negative have been changed, and in some cases limited by the use of the digital camera. Ironically, some of my choices for using film are because of its opposition to the look of digital imagery but needs to be turned into a digital image in order for it to be useful online.
The second black box is the digital camera I am using to ‘scan’ the negative and has become a necessary part of the process to get my work in front of an audience. This black box is used as a means of translating the simulated thinking of the 1st black box into a usable form, yet it is important to consider the process and chain of qualities that have taken place having been fundamentally changed from the recorded reality, apparatus to apparatus.
Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.
Harmon, G., 2020. Art and Objects. 1st Paperback ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and thne Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.
Molloy, C., 2019. Alys Tomlinson. [Online] Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/alys-tomlinson/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].
This week’s webinar, I put together a contact sheet of images from my recent medium format film shoots, primarily the portraits that I have begun to collect again (Fig: 1). All of the people in these images are taking very locally to where I live on the recreation ground and playing fields nearby. As the lock down is starting to be lifted, I am seeing many more people come together in these spaces and start to enjoy the outdoors and meet up with people they might not have seen for many weeks.
I have been very pleased with how many of these images are starting to come together. After some initial technical challenges with the equipment and getting used to shooting in this way again, I feel that I have managed to take some string images to move forward with my project and it has been quite a nice validation for my new approach, after having to really work up the courage to engage with people and take their photograph.
This was echoed by Cemre during my feedback, who noted that I have some really good portraits to work with when it comes to the next wipp edit and submission. What I am lacking at the moment is the images, which link all of these people together in terms to the space and connection between them. This is fundamental to the work that I am trying to produce. It was also noted that for this kind of work that is completed in the place where the photographer lives is almost always about the photographer as much as it is about the place, which is something that really resonates with me as my intention for the work has always been to explore the idea of my connection to the place that I live. Although Cemre made reference to this as an idea to explore for the idea of community, it is yet to show effectively in my research project; a series of portraits is not enough for a resolved strong submission.
To develop this, I am considering a number of approaches. I made a comment on Andy’s images from this week that he might want to consider keeping a journal to record his thoughts and feelings whilst taking his images so that he could use the text to support the visual. It occurred to me as I was saying this, that this is something that I should also do as a way of showing my personal narrative in the work via my own reflections before, during and after I take my pictures. Additionally, it is something that I could write when I take my daughter to the same spaces; ultimately, I use these places in a similar way to the people that I am photographing so I should be in there somewhere.
It was suggested that I also take a look at Alec Soth’s ‘Broken Manual’ series (Fig: 2). I have been getting quite familiar with his work ‘Songbook’ in relation to this idea of the documentary aesthetic and how it was employed overtly for this series, however I have not taken a wider look at Soth’s other work (during the MA anyway), so this would be useful to start really considering the way that portrait and landscape images can work together and the potential to re-introduce colour at some point. Another really valuable suggestion was to look at Vanessa Winship’s series ‘She Dances on Jackson’ which is a really beautiful blend of portraiture and landscape images that creates a really strong contextualisation of the work (Fig: 3). I aim to read some more into both of these bodies of work and create a reflection on them.
The key takeaway from the webinar was that I need to really start asking the question of what is drawing me to these people, and what is my place within this community? Should I be taking a step back and question why I took this image. Once I have an answer to these questions, I can really start to focus on it.
The idea of non-human photography is an interesting one as at some point in the process there has to have been a human action involved. For example, I was quite taken with Flusser’s assertion that: “The green of a photographed field, for example, is an image of the concept ‘green’, just as it occurs in chemical theory, and the camera (or rather the film inserted into it) is programmed to translate this concept into the image” (2000:43) And the same could be said of how a digital sensor resolves an image according to its programmed values. Each film emulsion and camera sensor has qualities that are unique to them, which have been developed by a human. For example, the way that a Canon camera is able to resolve skin-tones vs the way a Nikon is able to all have a subtle impact in the way that the image is read and albeit highly subtle, a bias can be attributed to these differing programmed values.
For my example, I have chosen this laser scan of the pyramids (Fig:1), which is slowly replacing the use of large format film cameras as a way of recording them. It is a non-lens based technology that is started and then left to conduct multiple scans the object (in this case one of the pyramids of Giza), which is then composited together to form the image. The use of ai and computational modelling is part of the process in creating these images. Arguably more representative than any traditional form of lens based capture as it requires direct contact of the laser to the object in order to create an image vs photographic reflection of light, however a human would have created the technology and the program for it to run.
Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.
I have found the process of zine making a really valuable experience, which has forced me to consider other voices in my own creative process. Working with others means that it is possible to draw on a range of skill sets that are not particular strengths of my own, which results in a much stronger outcome that I might have been able to achieve independently. This was really valuable during the editing and compiling stage of the zine making. I was also able to input some of my other skill sets to support and collaborate in the project, including illustration. In any kind of team project, there is potential for members to become side-lined, however everyone in our zine group was able to contribute something valuable.
At the very start of the week we discussed potential roles for the zine. Tim had a clear experience and background so was made team leader and was able to provide really insightful background on zines, their history and significance. Outside of photography, I was unaware of zines outside of photography. Victoria and Isabelle offered to source and create content, together with Ross who suggested that he could also picture edit, having some experience there. Andy has experience writing so offered to provide some copy and create a short text, which provided the context for the zine’s opening page. This left me to support the design and layout with support from the others.
I wanted to incorporate some illustration to create a zine with a multidisciplinary approach but which maintains it photographic underpinning through the method of remixing images. I also have a fair amount of experience with InDesign so wanted to offer my support there.
We all came up with a range of ideas initially, which were discussed by the group. There were a number of politically and topical ideas, which on balance we decided to move away from owing to the short amount of time in which to do these kinds of subjects’ justice. It was also felt that looking at the current pandemic as a subject was leading to a kind of over saturation of the topic and again in order to really do it justice, some distance would be need together with time. ‘Ginger’ was decided as the subject, in all of the ways that the word might be interpreted. We collectively thought that the process of this week’s task would be the most value, so by focusing on a word, it was a good way to explore the very different ways that it could be represented in a zine format.
The theme created an opportunity to define some of the design features of the zine through the colour scheme, and typeface. Colour theory has an important role to play in semiotics, so this it is important to understand how the colour of our zine would be read by the audience. I utilised colours that are titled ‘ginger’ from the Pantone range (Fig: 1) as it provides a quick way to input the values from these swatches into InDesign and the other Adobe software that we were using, which maintains consistency across the design. Typical for Zines to have a kind of handmade aesthetic, I felt it important that the main text and anything that we wanted to flow through the pages as a narrative would be legible and able to be picked up quickly by the audience. Sans Serif is the obvious choice for this, owing to its legibility and graphic quality. For example, Helvetica is used by a range of governmental organisations because of its authoritative way of conveying information (Helvetica, 2007) such as the government leaflet on Britain’s exit from the EU (Fig: 2). This together with images can have a fundamental impact on the reading and the narrative of the overall message. For ‘Ginger’ I discovered that there was a really great sans serif called ‘f37 ginger’ (Fig: 3), which felt perfect for the project, however this was a commercial typeface, which was cost prohibitive for our purpose. Instead, I settled for an openly available typeface from google called ‘oswald’ that had a similar look to ‘f37 ginger.’
Figure 5: Gareth Cattermole (2019) Ed Sheeran reference image.
Figure 6: Phil Hill (June, 2018) Illustration made using reference photographs
I contributed two main artworks to the zine, the Ed Sheeran illustration and the Binary Ginger page. The Sheeran illustration (Fig: 4) was created by utilising a reference image (Fig: 5) to remix and create an appropriated illustration that can be edited to change the hair colour. This is a process that I have been doing for a number of years through an Instagram account called @hell0_Philip, which I use reference and appropriation to construct images to illustrate emails sent to me (Fig: 6). I had not necessarily considered the practice inherently ‘photographic’ until we started looking at remixed photography and it would not be immediately obvious that they could be considered so, compared to, for example, Cold War Steve who creates photo shopped composites of images in order to create new meaning from them (Fig: 7).
Figure 8: 5 digit binary code to letter conversion table
The binary image is something that I was experimenting with prior to the zine making task as an extension to the Ed Rucha task. I wanted to see if there were any other ways that I could present a body of images and also include additional information about them. To do this, I utilised a 5-digit binary code system of ‘1s’ and ‘0s’ that can be converted back into the alphabet (Fig: 8), for example: 00001 would equal the letter ‘A’ in binary, which can be converted into an image sequence where each image might equal a number ‘1’ and a ‘0’ would be represented by a blank square, or coloured one. For my experiment, I used my blossom images from my Rucha response to spell out the word ‘Covid-19’ in binary as this was the underlying theme to that series (Fig: 9). The challenge then was to differentiate between letter s and numbers, so I created a different version of the image that used red squares to denote numbers, and black squares to denote letters (Fig: 10). I also produced a sourced image version of Rucha’s ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ in binary (Fig, 11), and a less successful version where each ‘0’ was replace with a letter, however this is quite a busy and confusing layout (fig, 12). From these approaches, I created the ‘Ginger’ binary layout using sources images and a binary code that spells the word ‘ginger’ (Fig, 13).
Ginger zine is an A5 booklet that would have a middle fold out section to feature the images of Victoria tasting ginger, which makes an interesting mini-narrative as it is folded out of the main body of the zine.
Helvetica. 2007. [Film] Directed by Guy Hustwit. UK: Veer, Swiss Dots.
PANTONE, 2020. PANTONE 15-1020 TCX. [Online] Available at: https://store.pantone.com/uk/en/colorfinder/index/acfproduct/code/15-1020+TCX [Accessed 22 June 2020].
Vilem Flusser notes that black and white are concepts, which are theoretical and exist only as states of things, although we consider some things in terms of black and white, this does not exist in the real world, only as hypothetical lines in which we draw for certain topics (2000: 42):
“Black and White do not exist, but they ought to exist since, if we could see then world in black and white it would be accessible to logical analysis”
(Flusser, 2000: 42).
The use of black and white in the documentary aesthetic might be a means in which photographers can attempt to answer questions about their subjects, or at least aim to create the space that these subjects might be more readily analysed. The paradox is that when creating work using black and white you are removing a lot of the information from that subject, which can be argued is part of the representation of them. One possible understanding of what Flusser is stating above is that the black and white image simplifies the process of conveying its message as it can be read in terms of its formal qualities other than colour.
I have discussed before that black and white has been used by other contemporary photographer purposefully to convey a sense of nostalgia in the work, and this is a key reason to explore its use during this module. The idea of how we connect to the community is closely tied to the perception, or reality of its decline. Alec Soth has stated that he made the decision to utilise black and white for the book ‘Songbook’ (Fig: 1) owing to how similar images from the 50s, 60s, and 70s all have a particular look and feel owing to the technology that was employed during these decades. Soth notes a post-war sense of wonder of the 1950s which creates “a deeply romanticised version of the past” (Soth in Fuerhelm, 2015). People believe that there is a decline of the community because of their own selective histories today. This tied in quite well to research on the decline of social capital, which also cited the 50s as this coincided with the mass introduction of the television (Putnam, 2000), spending more and more time indoors.
This rose-tinting of a past community that is now lost is partly created because of the images that we consumed in our youth, which is part of a significant shaping of the way that we nostalgically view lots of culture, that was ‘better in my day’ is linked to how our brains develop during the ages of 12 – 22 and the emotional maturing that happens during the same time (Stern, 2014). If you grew up during a time of black and white imagery, some of which have cone to define how we assume documentary and photography to look, then this aesthetic will instantly transport you back to that time: “It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.” (2014).
In the beginning of the medium, all photographs were black and white due to its technical limitations, now this can be a creative choice, as Flusser also argues that colour is even more of an abstraction as it is merely a chemical representation of a colour and not the actual existent one within the concrete world. I wrote about this for an essay I created between the modules, stating ‘what about the choice of different film stocks? What about the nostalgic Kodachrome versus its Fuji equivalent? Each of the constituent ingredients in the film creates an aesthetic synonymous with the brand’ (Hill, 2020: 3), which essentially considers the way that an emulsion of a film, and even that of a camera’s digital sensor is just another interpretation of the world created by a human actor on it; colour according to its design and manufactured values that Flusser then attributes as a kind of concealment of the origin of then subject.
My choice to use black and white is intentional to create a link to a nostalgia perhaps of a life that we had before the outbreak of Covid-19, when we are all being asked to consider a ‘new normal’ as opposed to the life that we were used to before. The sense of longing for the past, especially within the community setting is quite tangible for all of us as we are talking about a time that was only a few months ago. My images, paradoxically, are all taken in our present as to acknowledge a sense of the past that we might learn to go back to.
I recently listened to Alys Tomlinson discuss her ‘Ex-Voto’ series (2020). It was interesting to understand that Tomlinson started her study on the religious site of Lourdes by shooting the series in colour for the first three years of visiting the site. The colour work in itself feels like a well resolved piece of work, however it clearly has a different look and feel to the body of work Ex-Voto even though it was created in the same location (Fig: 3). Tomlinson herself understood the difference as this colour study of Lourdes has its own gallery on her website and is well placed to promote her commercial practice (Fig: 4).
Caroline Molloy also notes the referencing of August Sander in Tomlinson’s portrait work, which something which I have been suggested to consider reviewing in my feedback for the last module and also during my first webinar with Cemre. Molloy makes particular note of the process in which Tomlinson’s work is created, which is in direct opposition to the hustle of what Lourdes is in many ways and seen through Tomlinson’s other work on the site, the portraits of Ex-Voto are considered, and as Molloy points out ‘Not of this time’ (2019), which is another intertextual use of black and white within a project. Tomlinson also utilises a 5X4 camera to slow down the image making and turn the act of photography into a ritual. I found that this resonated with me as I could benefit from slowing my process of images making down, which would ultimately lead to better engagement with my subjects. There is a particular theatre to the way that a photographer uses apparatus to differentiate themselves from a general understanding of photographers. It is worth noting that although a black and white aesthetic gives a sense of the familiar in the visual, when out taking the images, cameras such as 5X4 large format and even medium format film cameras are relatively rare with the assumption that a professional photographer will have some kind of modern DSLR. For me, this provides a talking point and metaphorical ‘foot in the door’ when approaching people to take their photograph. Since I started using a medium format 6X7 camera for example, people have been quite intrigued as to what it is that I have. It is the theatre, which attracts people to be photographed and shows that I can be taken seriously, Joel Meyerowitz also made a note of this when discussing his 8X10 large format portraits shot in Provincetown, where he makes particular reference to this as a kind of performance (Meyerowitz in Perello, 2020).
Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.
Hill, P., 2020. Gettier and the Pyramids. [Online] Available at: https://philhillphotography.com/sketchbook/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Gettier-and-the-Pyramids_Phil_Hill.pdf [Accessed 15 June 2020].
Meyerowitz, J., 2020. The Candid Frame – Episode 500 [Interview] (27 January 2020).
Molloy, C., 2019. Alys Tomlinson. [Online] Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/alys-tomlinson/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].
Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone. 1 ed. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Soth, A., 2015. Brad Feuerhelm of ASX in conversation with Alec Soth [Interview] (4 November 2015).
Stern, M. J., 2014. Neural Nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?. [Online] Available at: https://slate.com/technology/2014/08/musical-nostalgia-the-psychology-and-neuroscience-for-song-preference-and-the-reminiscence-bump.html [Accessed 15 June 2020].
Tomlinson, A., 2020. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – Episode 123: Alys Tomlinson [Interview] (5 February 2020).
I have never really considered many of these terms and how I might fit into them. However, as I think back to my commercial practice, I would regularly work with a team in order to realise a client brief. In terms of a collaborative, though not necessarily in the strictest sense, I have often worked with a writer in order to realise and illustrate elements of that text.
During the MA, I have explored the idea of collaboration much more and during the last module I invited people I had started to build a relationship with and photograph to also photograph themselves using a camera that I provided. Owing to the current situation I have not been able to develop this approach, but I did start to use some of these images for the re-photography task as a way of responding to these images (Fig: 1). This first exploration, I merely gave cameras to individuals with little instruction to see what I would receive in return. I think moving forward, I would be keen to work with the people more closely to discuss how they might want to photograph for their own representation, and my roll could then be to facilitate how they could do this from a technical perspective. In a similar way to how Anthony Luvera approaches collaboration (Fig: 2).
For the work that I have been producing, which are primarily portraits. I would usually contact people I would like to photograph in advance so that I can make my introductions, set out my aims, and build a relationship with the subject and this is more of me seeking to find participants. Sometimes, I would not even use my camera on the first meeting so that we can discuss the project and most importantly how we would work together to take the photograph. I am keen to better represent the subjects that I am photographing and am acutely aware that there is still a heavy bias towards the way that I am setting up and taking my images, which I think is a confidence thing. My approach in this way is very much like how Alys Tomlinson approached her subjects for Ex-Voto (Fig: 3), where she arranged an appointment and then photographed them at a later date.
For this module, I have struggled to approach people in the same way due to the lock-down and the usual channels of contact being on hold for now. I actually find the process of approaching people without an initial introduction, or in the case of me being hired for a job, a reason for being there. However, my challenge has been to approach people coming back together in the open community spaces as the restrictions lift. This method of seeking participants had the potential to become quite a quick exchange as my own reticence to approach might turn into quickly taking the image and walking away. Instead, I have chosen to shoot this module using a medium format film camera to introduce some theater into what I am doing (which breaks the ice), and also slow my process right down so that I have the space to engage with my participant and talk with them (Fig: 4). This still needs developing as I really need to develop an approach that is much more inclusive of the participant to include their voice and a direction that also considers how they want to be represented much more.
A collective is fairly new to me and this week’s zine project will be very good for this area of development. I am fairly used to working independently as a photographer so it will be useful to come together with others that have different ideas to my own.
I have been aiming to compliment my studies by entering a range of competitions and two bursaries during this module. I have aimed to conduct research and really consider my reasons for entering these together with any potential benefit should I be successful. Alys Tomlinson mentions a selective approach when entering awards, and that she actually enters very few of them, noting that many seem to not provide any boost to a photographers’ career even if they win the award (Tomlinson in Smith: 2020). Some of which do feel as though they are designed to collect maximum amout of entry fees for very little in return, however, I have antered a few awards this year to see if my development as a practitioner has made any impact on its resonance for such awards. This is an area that I have always keenly entered but had little in return.
Portrait of Britain
According to the POB website, this award, which is run by The British Journal of Photography is a look at how diverse and varied Britain is, and in the wake of Brexit it has become a very relevant exhibition that explore these themes (Portrait of Britain 2020). As this award aims to consider the political landscape of the UK, it will be interesting to see how it evolves in the aftermath of Covid-19. I actually entered this award before the start of the pandemic with a range of images taken for my Positions and Practice and Informing Contexts WIPP, so wonder if my entries will actually fall out of relevance when the deadline closes on 16/6, as I would imagine that something that is ingrained onto the public conscious would ultimately be reflected in the judging of this exhibition.
Although POB does seek to aask these questions, it does not necessarilly provide the space to create a truly challenging exhibition. Part of the display of this work is through national digital advertising screens (Fig: 1), which on the plus side means that the featured images have the potential to be seen by a broad range of people outside of the traditional white wall exhibitions of other portrait awards, such as The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. This is a huge positive of this exhibition as it creates an opportunity for those who do not normally engage with photography to see some really great examples of portrait work and may then choose to seek more. Taking photography out of the gallery space to engage with communities is a really good thing and should be done much more. However, the challenge is that anything that gets selected cannot be deemed offensive, so any challenging images, and certain subjects would not even be considered for this award, which feels less representative as a true reflection of what Britain looks like as a nation.
Figure 2: Max Fergusson (2020) Statement of Resignation from Portrait of Britain
There are hints of this exhibition aiming to be a contemporary ‘Family of Man’ exhibition, which sought to show the many facets of humanity but essentially was an idealised view of the world created by Edward Steichan, yet continued to ‘other’ cultures that were not european (Tīfentāle 2018). Though POB, does not explicitly seek to ‘other,’ there have been some challenges that have arisen from this award. For example, since I entered this award there has also been a controversy regarding the judging of this award. Initially, the judging panel was made up of 3 men and one female judge, all three men are also white, which does not reflect the diverse country this award is supposed to represent. This was raised back in March by one of the judges, Max Fergusson who has now stepped down as a result of a lack of diversity on the panel (Fig: 2).
My images are still in contention for the award, and although I am unsure on my chances this year, owing to never placing previously and the shift in public consciousness, the controversy does make me question whether it was a good idea to try and be a part. However, the display and broad sharing of the work in public spaces is ultimately a good thing for the medium and also my work, should it get selected.
Kuala Lumpur Portrait Prize
I took the decision to enter this award this year after reading through the Photoshelter guide to competitions, which placed this award as something worthwhile for anyone shooting portraits. As I primarily create work around the portrait, I felt that this would be good place to enter my work. According to the award, it considered itself a ‘significant and vital award’ (Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards – Portrait Prize 2020). This is an award that I have not considered before but feels prestigious enough that any placement in the exhibition would be valuable to my practice.
I have actually entered the Taylor Wessing on and off since it was referred to as the Schweppes Portrait prize. I have always felt like this would be a good award to place an entry into, owing to its reputation and prestige. The exhibition at the Portrait gallery has always been something that I have visited yearly and have followed the careers of many of the photographers who have had their work included. As awards go, this one is one of the very top to have work exhibited as part of.
I have found that it is a very expensive process to take part in, even after the switch to digital submission from the print based entry a couple of years ago. The award does draw its fair share of criticism as some cite its homogenisation through the same year-on-year tropes paraded in the exhibition. And the more that this happens, the more photographers will either shoot for this, or submit images that fit an award, which showed similar images the previous year (O’Hagan 2011).
There seems to be a shift from this in the past couple of years, the 2019 edition felt for me to be more thematic and there seemed to be fewer images overall. I have yet to see the entry call for this years award and wonder if this is because of the current pandemic.
Bursaries have been something that I intended to apply for when I outlined my plans for my research project during Positions and Practice. For ongoing funding I identified these as an area that I should be developing. Writing applications and project pitches is something that I will need to improve on if I am to maintain an art practice after the MA.
To start this process, I created and submitted applications for the following:
I have made an application for the Royal Photographic Societies postgraduate bursary, which seeks to support postgraduate student during their studies. The theme of the application is broad as it is done to the applicant to define the parameters of how the bursary is used. The only real stipulation is that the project must demonstrate specific outcomes. This was useful to consider how to begin creating project proposal’s that developed from my initial one created during the first module.
Eventually, It would make good basis to start considering applying for funding through organisation’s such as the Arts Council.
Grain Projects – Micro Bursary
Grain Projects created a series of small bursaries with the support of Arts Council England to support photographers to create new work during these unprecedented times. This bursary is much more of a themed approach:
“The commissions and bursaries will support photographers and writers to make new work in isolation (at a social distance), reflecting on these times & contributing to creativity and well being. Outcomes will be shared with audiences via our digital platforms. (Health & safety is particularly important, all projects must follow the government guidelines for the lock down and social distancing).We are interested in work that responds to the following themes; Social Distancing, Family, Community, Caring, Togetherness, Relationships, Health & Well being, The Economy, Work, Key Workers”
(Grain Projects 2020)
It was clear to me that I should consider my current situation and ability to create work under these circumstances, which is a process that I was initially having to do for my Informing Contexts WIPP submission. This was a good grounding to really consider my application for this bursary.
Grain created three bursaries: commission, Micro, and writing bursary. I have initially applied for the micro bursary as the commission felt like it was designed with a more established photographer in mind. The micro bursary specifically mentions emerging artist, which is where I would position myself at the moment. The writing bursary is also something that I am considering to apply for as I have become quite interested in writing about photography and the theory of it.
Fergusson, Max. 2020. Instagram. June 8. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.instagram.com/p/CBLC8-uAKiy/.
Grain Projects. 2020. OPEN CALL : 2020 COMMISSIONS & BURSARIES. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://grainphotographyhub.co.uk/portfolio-type/open-call-2020-commissions-bursaries/.
Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards – Portrait Prize. 2020. About. June 13. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.klphotoawards.com/about.
O’Hagan, Sean. 2011. Taylor Wessing portrait prize: another animal, another girl with red hair. November 9. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/nov/09/taylor-wessing-portrait-prize-woodward.
Portrait of Britain. 2020. About Portrait of Britain. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.portraitofbritain.uk/about-the-award/.
Tīfentāle, Alise. 2018. The Family of Man: The Photography Exhibition that Everybody Loves to Hate. July 2. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://fkmagazine.lv/2018/07/02/the-family-of-man-the-photography-exhibition-that-everybody-loves-to-hate/.
Tomlinson, Alys, interview by Ben Smith. 2020. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – Episode 123: Alys Tomlinson (February 5).
I have come into this module with the intention of looking at my research project through the lens of a documentary aesthetic and have been experimenting with this in mind. During the last module my research started to point to the way that photographers, such as Eli Durst and Alec Soth have both used black and white in their work as a way of creating a nostalgia in the images, which is reminiscent of photographs taken in the 50’s and 60’s. Soth purposefully used black and white images in his book ‘Songbook’ (Fig: 1) as a reference to press photographs of the same era. As I am interested in the idea of connection in the work that I am producing on my own community, I felt that it would make an interesting investigation to see if my work would be seen very differently if I was to also shoot using black and white, creating a separation through the medium that I am using.
Black and white film is not something that I am particularly comfortable to shoot as I have been creating my work solely in colour up to this point. This in a sense is a partial remix of my work as I fervently vowed not to shoot film during this MA. Yet, I am keen to explore the idea of how black and white can have an impact on the concepts and aesthetic of my work so it is important to explore it in detail, which includes the use of film photography.
Another reason for exploring black and white film was how it references back to the FSA imagery (Fig: 2), which Sally Stein notes: “is often treated as the quintessential 1930s documentary photography” (2020: 59) and follows its referenced use in the work of Soth and Durst. FSA images, which have also been discussed by Susan Sontag and John Tagg have also been dismissed as essentially propaganda yet continue to shape the way that we view and approach such documentary imagery. This play on the reality in which they supposedly represent interests me, especially when you view the images that were rejected by Roy Stryker by punching a hole through the negative, referred to as ‘Killing’ the photograph. These ‘Killed’ images were rejected when they did not fit the narrative that the FSA project was trying to create, however they still exist in the archive of FSA photography in the library of congress. Lewis Bush used a number of these images for his zine ‘Stryker’ (2017) that seeks to create a narrative of the images in their own right (Fig: 3). In this zine, Bush notes “the black orb created by the punch seems to take on the role of a persistent character, navigating the harsh landscape of depression era America” (p. 28), which feels like a comment on what Geoff Dyer refers to as cultural signifiers that are anonymous characters to signify the dominant reading of the image. For example, in images of the same period, the hat can tell us a lot about the person wearing it, as Dyer states when discussing an image by Dorothea Lange (Fig: 2): “his fedora is in far worse shape than anyone else’s in the picture. He is like a premonition of what is to come. By the end of the decade everyone else will have followed his example of battered resilience” (2007, p. 105). Bush also notes that the holes in the ‘killed images’ offer little answer to why they were so forcibly removed from those deemed acceptable, especially when viewed through the lens of history, only to say that these images were not part of the accepted narrative as edited by Stryker.
Bush also created another Zine inspired by the FSA images, titled ‘Peckham Gothic’ (Bush, 2012), where he applied the aesthetic and style of the FSA images to make the middle classes of Peckham appear as 1930s sharecroppers (Fig: 3&4), with the title of the zine as a nod to the famous ‘American Gothic’ image from the FSA project by Gordon Parks (Fig: 6).
I am interested in what happened to the punched holes; the parts of the image that didn’t even make it into the LOC archive. I shot some film images on 35mm and punched holes in parts that I thought would still make interesting images (Fig: 7). Some of the ‘killed’ images, feel as though the punch itself was not done in a random way, but targeted to crop out a particular part of the image (Fig: xx).
Figure 7: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Hole Punch experiment
The result creates an interesting way to crop an image, one that is another step removed from the initial crop created by the frame of the camera (Fig: 8). I don’t find the punched parts of the images as intriguing as the frames with the black hole present. The idea of this playing its role as a signifier or character in the image is quite powerful, which has been removed when only presented in the form of the circular image. This also feels fairly forced as a concept, when I consider the way that the copied negative compares to this approach. I prefer the way that these concepts are quite subtle, yet create a fundamental impact in the way the image is seen.
Ideas to take forward
What seems to be the underlying thread to the use of this aesthetic in the work of photographers such as Soth and Durst, is the intertextual link to the familiar, and the familiar is what makes then work interesting as it becomes reminiscent of a past that is longed for, even if it never existed in the first place. It would be useful to explore this idea in greater detail and identify the areas of my own research project that could be considered familiar and even a kind of nostalgia for community that is perceived not to exist anymore.
Bush, L., 2012. Peckham Gothic. 1 ed. London: Lewis Bush.
Bush, L., 2017. Stryker. London: Lewis Bush.
Dyer, G., 2007. The Ongoing Moment. 2nd ed. London: Abacus.