All CRJ posts created for this module in chronological order from earliest to the most recent (38 CRJ posts):
When discussing Edmond Husserl, Graham Harmon notes how he believes there can be two Berlins: “One of them a content inside the mind and the other an object outside it” (2020: 15). The meaning of this assertion is to suggest that if I were to describe Berlin to you, assuming that you had never been there, it would be different from the one that you might find if you went there yourself. Not necessarily so different that you wouldn’t recognise it as the Berlin I described, but the way that I perceive a place and then describe it will inevitably abstract certain details. I may skip bits less important to me, which you then find crucial to the way that you experience it. I really like chocolate and there was a pretty good chocolate shop by the Brandenburg gate, or the cool northern district where I bought that t-shirt but can’t remember its name – began with an ‘F’ I think. You will experience and remember a different city to me; you may even remember the name of that district. Husserl acknowledges the negligible difference between these two realities as an “absurd notion” (p. 15) however, shows that human perception of the concrete world is a construction of bias and truth, even if that construction describes that same reality.
Harmon is an advocate of Object Orientated Ontology (OOO), which creates agency in the object that is free from how humans perceive it and removes us from being the central focus of interpretation of the world. The described object has its qualities, which can be interpreted in innumerate ways by us and some of these qualities can be abstracted. The object however, remains as it is, regardless of how it is interpreted by us, as Harmon notes, “we abstract certain features from these objects, which exist in their full and unexhausted plenitude quite apart from all our theoretical, perceptual, or practical encounters with them” (2020: 18). Within the sphere of OOO, Berlin would be considered an ‘object’ like any other: “any ‘thing’ is an object, whether living, non-living, artificial, or conceptual” (Kerr, 2016). Photography is an act of interpreting objects, albeit narrowly, and when considering Husserl photographically, it can be thought of as a third ‘Berlin’ as it also abstracts, leaving out many of the static features that exist in the object.
The interpretation of the object is based on how it has been photographed: how the apparatus has been programmed, how it has been lit, how it has been composed. The object has its own immutable qualities, yet the interpretation is closely tied to the qualities of the photograph, which can supersede those of the object. I was struck by a recent example of this from one of my peers, Michael Padilla. In his series, ‘Plague Kids,’ he takes the clean colour digital images from a DSLR and prints them onto previously printed-on paper using a laser printer from the 90s, which completely downgrades any of the perceived ‘clean’ quality of the original image (Fig: 1). However, by doing so, he also creates something far superior with greater meaning, even as it is interpreted as degraded. Padilla has taken the abstraction of the photograph one step further by supplanting the qualities of the photograph with its printed outcome, shifting the context – creating a fourth ‘Berlin’ to continue with Husserl’s analogy.
A more common example of this might be in advertising, where the object is photographed in such a way as to accentuate particular qualities attractive to those who are willing to make a purchase. I have also discussed previously, that some of the best photographic works seem to draw attention to the act of photography, which is another way of saying that they also accentuate particular qualities of the photographic process. It is worth noting that photography would also be considered an ‘object’ by OOO, with agency outside the sphere of our interpretation. As Harmon argues, “the external world exists independently of human awareness” (2018: 10).
When considering the impact of OOO on my research project (Fig: 2), the idea of multiple ‘Berlins’ can just as easily be interpreted as multiple ‘Watfords’ (though not as ‘cool’) in a figurative and literal sense of the word. So far, I have suggested that there are four of these interpretations however, as each of us has a unique learned knowledge of the world, it is argued that there are in fact an infinite amount – even as the concrete existence of Watford and the communities that occupy it remain. OOO encourages a way of removing human interpretation from the object’s own agency and creates an opportunity to analyse the impact of the object’s qualities on the way that it is read by us; first consider the object and then the photographic process acting on it.
What I have aimed to do with my project is to consider the perception of these qualities in terms of how they are photographed and how the qualities of the photograph can overcome the qualities of the object photographed – my community. This has become fundamental to the understanding of how I will photograph my community moving forward and also how I connect with it. If I start to think of the community as an object, I can start to identify its qualities and then consider ways in which I can apply the qualities of photography to create my narrative; connecting with the community by drawing attention to my process of photograph. And this is why analogue has become quite important to my practice. The way that we perceive community in its rose-tinted, better-in-the-past bubble, and the way that black and white documentary photographs have shaped this collective understanding are qualities that can be exploited to create my authorship of the presented work – connecting me as the photographer to the community that I am photographing.
Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.
Harmon, G., 2020. Art and Objects. 1st Paperback ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Kerr, D., 2016. What Is Object-Oriented Ontology?. [Online] Available at: https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/the_big_idea/a-guide-to-object-oriented-ontology-art-53690 [Accessed 9 August 2020].
I was fairly confident with how my wipp was looking off the back of the zine design and reception that publication received, however I was still keen to gain feedback on it. During the last webinar, it was noted that I had a couple of similar images in the broken tree stumps (Fig: 1), something that I had overlooked. As soon as this was pointed out to me, it became immediately obvious and really makes it clear the importance of being able to print work out and ‘live’ with it in a tangible form. Something that I am looking forward to being able to do once I can return to my work and use the facilities there. I quickly moved on to create version 2 of my wipp
Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Broken tree stump images. [Left] kept in WIPP [Right] edited out of WIPP
I opened this version with the image of the disused rail link (Fig: 2) and aimed to create a mix of single portrait juxtaposed with a subtle version of the Watford yellow, inspired by Bryan Schutmaat, and also a way of continuing connection to place. I have also created a number of diptych combinations, as they would be seen in a double page spread, for example the image of the youth centre next to the train bridge arch (Fig: 3&4) to consider the commuting connection and potential impact on community, the arches of this train bridge are also quite synonymous with the part of Watford, called Bushey. I don’t think this particular dyptich is working however. Although there are visual similarities in these images in the bricks and the architecture, the individual meaning of the images is lost when going for a mere aesthetic combination of images, so I sought to change this again. I also placed some of the portraits together with details of Watford, however again I felt that the visual impact of some of these portraits is lost when placed with other imagery (Fig: 5 & 6).
Feedback received for this version support some of my own conclusions. Ross noted that the sequence would really benefit from opening with a portrait and on reflection I would agree. My project has always been based around the portrait so feels more logical to start with one of these. It also creates a ‘hook’ to lead you into the work. Ross also mentioned that the last image, which I had left from the design of my zine might be better changed too. The image of Owen is gazing out of the frame and pushes the eye out of the frame (Fig: 7), so it might better to finish with a portrait of a direct gaze, such as Luis (Fig: 8) to really plant you into the narrative, which is something that I have been aiming for.
With this edit, I have decided to utilise more of the yellow juxtaposition next to the single image spreads (Fig: 9). I feel this adds a nice contrast to the black and white as well as bringing the Watford connection through the work. I also consider it a way of carrying you through the narrative and not be confronted by a jarring blank white page, which in turn allows the reader to examine the single image more fully as the eye is directed to focus on the portrait. The yellow also warms the tone of the reading. As discussed before, I have a number of images that reveal an underlying anxiety, yet I do not want the narrative to solely be about this, or at least, I do not want the reader to immediately come to this conclusion, perhaps after one or two viewings of the work to fully understand it. To warm it up also links to the summer months that the work was created. This version feels the most complete to me.
My work in progress portfolio is aiming to be about how people are coming back together as restrictions are lifted. It is also how I continue to consider my own connection to place. Through research into a number of concepts, I also wanted to explore in detail the idea of a documentary aesthetic and how this continues to permeate our collective consciousness of how we assume a documentary image ‘should’ look. Whilst doing so, I also became interested in the idea of drawing attention to the act of photography, which is how I am starting to consider some of the best photographic projects do. This starts to consider my place within the scene (Fig: 1).
This supports some initial research that I made on the concept of ‘gesellschaft,’ (Fig: 2) or the larger more impersonal communities that many of us find ourselves in whilst living in bigger urban and city areas (Keller, 1988: 171-172), and also the idea of community idiorrythmic living together but also separately (Barthes, 2012: 102). These two concepts have been quite crucial in understanding my own feelings towards places as I moved around a lot and now find myself living in Watford, brought here for a job. That sense of connection has never been there, even after meeting my wife and having our daughter here. The town has always felt fairly transient, although this may just be a personal reflection of my own feelings towards the town. Existing outside of London, it serves the capital via its many substantial transport links (Fig: 3).
It became more and more apparent to me during the time creating work for this module that my project was becoming a journey through Watford. An evolving connection is beginning to form in the Images that I am starting to make, which is partly out of the new spaces that I discovered whilst we were on Lock down, this is something that I wanted to reflect in this submission. There is actually a great deal of beauty in the immediate surrounding countryside and even in the numerous wooded areas that permeate the suburban sprawl of Watford. Until now I have viewed the town as the designated ‘Urban District’ that exists just outside of London with no real character of its own other than to serve London; the last place before entering the capital or the first town you enter when leaving. What I have started to discover in the sense of my title for the work ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’ is a new appreciation (UK Government, 2011) for the place that I have lived for the past 7 years.
The work and title is also to acknowledge that a work made during this time, which primary focus is on a community would inevitably draw connections to the current pandemic. Although my initial concept of the work was to engage with people as we come back together, I have not actively sought to directly photograph the evidence of covid – this is something that has been covered effectively by other photographers (see post). However, there does exist a subtle anxiety of a community emerging tentatively in the aftermath of restriction (although again, this is potentially my own reflected feelings towards the subject). I have attempted to show this in my image sequence, for example, the overgrown railway to denote a shutdown transport network – a major contributor to Watford (Fig: 4). The image of the concrete post with the words ‘help me’ written (Fig: 5), a boarded up youth centre – a usual gathering place of a functioning community (Fig: 6). A broken tree at the stump (Fig: 7), which is hugely metaphorical denoting a number of meanings in life and death, existence, and can also be used to show groups or individuals (Wirth, 2015) and in my case could also denote the community. I have also included an image of a dead fox, which is another important metaphor for sly and underlying, and also associated with blending into its surroundings (Smith, 2005), which could be linked to the virus itself. I also want a certain amount of ambiguity in the sequence, even with the above, I understand that viewers of the work will bring their own narratives to its reading, yet have a certain pathos to how that happens. During my last webinar, Ross also pointed out that that there are a number of images that suggest forms of broken down communication, via the messages, the power lines and the railway, which had not occurred to me before but I quite like.
Continuing with the design elements of my zine (Fig: 8), I have made a number of developed changes to the design created for my landings zine. This includes the position of the title text on the cover for legibility and changed the ‘and’ to an ampersand as I felt that it looked graphically better on the cover (Fig: 9). I wanted to maintain the consistency of what I had made for landings with enough differentiation for my WIPP submission.
My work for this module has been about establishing an applied approach to the research that I have undertaken. There is a distinct rhetoric to the way that photographic projects present projects about community, which is steeped in this idea of a ‘Documentary aesthetic,’ and how the language of documentary is bound to the mythology of the grand photo documentaries, such as the FSA. However, even more contemporary photographers have a role to play in shaping how this kind of project is depicted and how we as an audience interprets and reads the work. I have used Alec Soth as an example throughout the module, who acknowledged the specific use of apparatus and language in constructing a documentary image (Soth in Feuerhiem, 2015), and also has an ‘Alec Soth character’ that he will gravitate towards in the work that he creates (Soth in Flectcher, 2020), which perpetuates and continues to shape the collective awareness of how this kind of image is expected to look.
Considering how to start editing my final WIPP submission for Surfaces and Strategies, I am gravitating towards using my Landings zine sequence as a starting point (Fig: 1). However, I have created a number of images since putting this work together and also worked on developing my approach to creating a greater sense of the place that I am photographing within. After considering the work of Bryan Schutmaat recently, I quite liked his use of coloured paper opposite some of his individual images in the book ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ (Fig: 2). As mentioned previously, I am unsure on the idea of a book, yet quite drawn to the connection that I made to the location of Watford through the materials and the colours in my zine (Fig: 3 & 4). Additionally, I felt that the colours on the cover create a striking contrast to the black and white images within, which is potentially at its greatest impact in the linear narrative of a photo book. I am also still developing my sequencing and narrative skills and the book in its linear placement of images, juxtapositions, diptych’s is an ideal place to develop this, especially as it can also be printed out and ‘lived with’ in order to see if the placements and sequencing is working overall. Even if I do not opt for a photo book for the FMP down the line, this is still a valuable exploration to create effective visual narratives.
I still intend to have an online presence for the work and create an updated gallery for my website, which would be different again from the gallery that I put together for Landings. My aim is to extend and develop the existing narrative ideas that were started with the exhibition work. This expanded focus over the zine is to try and create an additional ‘character’ in the place, as Schutmaat does with his work, and to acknowledge that even in the images without people, they still reflect the people that I have depicted in the community that I have depicted them. I also aim to do this through my own subjectivity and the selective and constructed views, inspired by my research into the FSA and documentary aesthetic.
By also building on what I have already created with the zine, it will be presented consistently across the channels that I have already shown portions of the work, which could otherwise be confusing to audiences. And this also incorporates the strong juxtaposition of colour and title text.
Bryan Schutmaat became well known for his series ‘Grays The Mountain Sends’ (Badger, 2017), which is a series of portraits and landscape based on mountain and mining communities in the American West (Fig: 1). The images are quite striking and completely with visual impact. They also seem to me as being quite classic in the style of Ansel Adams (Fig: 2), albeit in colour and they really stand alone in their own right even before you begin to consider the portraiture that Schutmaat presents in this series (Fig: 3). Together though, these images paint a picture of a rugged land and it impact on the people who live there. This series is cinematic, which I always feel is another way of saying that this is typical of American culture and the way that we are used to seeing it delivered through popular culture and learned knowledge of places that we have never been. Schutmaat’s images depict an aesthetic quality of an American dream that does not exist yet people are still compelled to seek it, as argued by Suzanne Keller: “the dream of community, ambiguous and ambivalent though it is, permeates the national past and is an undertone of the present” (Keller, 1988: 173). And this is what I sense Schutmaat is aiming for with ‘Grays the Mountain Sends,’ he is effectively questioning how we understand the US, as Gerry Badger points out, he is part of an emerging group pf American photographers who “have been examining America’s interior myth and realities for a number of years” (2017), moving on to compare the work of Schutmaat to that of Walker Evans by stating that he, as Evans before him are searching for “America profound” (2017), and this again places a clear link back to the FSA.
I really enjoy the grandeur set up by the landscape supported by quite intimate portraits. It is as if the mountain range in Schutmaat’s images is also one of the rugged characters that he is inviting us to study. These images really resonate with me in what I am aiming to achieve with my project. A clear takeaway for my work is Schutmaat’s considered approach to both his portraits and landscapes. He has carefully selected these scenes, which play a strong role in grounding, context, and a clear sense of where this is. Currently, my own landscapes have been far too quick and have been considered filling the gap that moves you from one portrait to another. A clear area of development for me.
According to Schutmaat, this work was inspired by the poetry of Richard Hugo (2014). When listening to Alec Soth taking with Gem Fletcher (2020) he considered that poetry and photography are far too similar to coincide together. Although there are some aspects of his that ring true, however not in the case of ‘Grays the Mountain Sends,’ which comfortably work in unison; this of course is always subjective.
Schutmaat also works effectively with black and white. For his series ‘Good God Damn’ (2017) he created a short series on a character by the name of Kris, during his last days of freedom before going to prison (Fig: 4). Again, Schutmaat beautifully juxtaposes portraits with landscape and details to create a deep and meaningful connection to Kris, even though we understand very little about him or what he has done to warrant incarceration. The images in this series are technically looser (Fig: 5 & 6) than this in ‘Grays’ yet suit the narrative of a man living his last days of freedom. And once again, the landscape images really provide a sense of place, in this case a wintry Texas, and also key insights into the kind of life that Kris leads. Badger notes the crucial role that the Texan landscape plays in this series. As I discussed above, and as Badger also points out, this landscape is one of the characters of this narrative (2017). This is how I must also start to consider place moving forward. I am interested in photographing people, yet it is in the landscape that is the common denominator when focusing in on a community, it is the thing that connects everyone. It is crucial to analyse in greater detail the characteristics of this space that makes it unique to here. That said, the idea of the cinematic in my own work is also quite attractive as I have been gravitating towards a particular aesthetic that has been informed by the quintessential documentary work of the FSA and consumption of the community ideal as a localised ‘American Dream,’ steeped in myth and its unattainable qualities. It is important to consider the constructed nature of all photographs, even those of a documentary nature. To cast the landscape as a character, it is because there is an understanding of the subjective. Knowing which characteristics to accentuate. Moving forward, I aim to also consider which characteristics best suit the way that I am portraying the space to show the character of this community.
Schutmaat also draws attention to his photography in this series, which is something that I have discussed during the module. There is a distinct use of motion blur and grain and a perceived low tech approach in the images, which exposes the means of production in the photographs. When Badger discusses the cast of characters he also included the truck and the rifle (Fig: 7 & 8). I would also argue that Schutmaat is also one of the characters cast in the series, which is plainly shown in the way that he is openly displaying the means in which he is creating his images; Schutmaat is clearly an accomplished technical photographer as seen in his ‘Grays’ series; here he is showing you the strings.
Badger, G., 2017. Bryan Schutmaat Good Goddamn Book review by Gerry Badger. [Online]
Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/bryan-schutmaat/ [Accessed 01 August 2020].
Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.
Schutmaat, B., 2014. Grays the Mountain Send. [Online] Available at: http://www.bryanschutmaat.com/grays [Accessed 1 August 2020].
Schutmaat, B., 2017. Good God Damn. 1 ed. s.l.:Schutmaat.
Soth, A., 2020. The Messy Truth: Alec Soth – On Portraiture [Interview] (23 July 2020).
I came into this module wanting to experiment with my approach to taking images. This was inspired in part during the break between modules when I started to take out a 35mm camera to pass the time. The images from that time are what I used for the week one Ed Rucha task.
Figure 1: Phil Hill (May-June, 2020) Early module images for Work in Progress portfolio submission [Click to Enlarge].
I was unsure if I was going to be able to make my pictures with people again, so I started to create images based on the banal and build up a portrait of the spaces that I encounter during my walks to see if there was a unique vernacular to the area around where I live (Fig: 1). I was keen to explore the ways that I could use black and white film working with a 35mm camera. What I found from the outcomes of these images is that I was drawn to the signs of the pandemic, which populate the landscape, such as gloves, masks, demarcation tape, and chalk signs. All things that are significant under the current circumstances however are quite ubiquitous in many of the projects that contemporary photographers are undertaking. Spencer Murphy, for example has been documenting the ongoing pandemic based in East London and has quite a few images of discarded PPE together with a central focus on people wearing masks (Fig: 2). Peter Dench has also spent a great deal of time looking at the impact of events (Fig: 3). Ultimately, I was not really interested in focusing my project on the impact of Covid-19, finding the images that I was producing were not really exploring the key concepts in my research project – community, connection, and identity.
Moving into the first few weeks of the module, I started my exploration into abstracting the image by push processing the film that I was shooting beyond its normal working range (Fig: 4). I had mixed results from this, ranging from very high contrast images, to kind of grey and not what I was looking for, which was something more like Masahisa Fukase (Fig: 5). I made a fundamental connection in the medium in the way that I approached its use during this time, deciding that there is already a significant level of abstraction inherent in the photograph that is pushed further by the use of black and white (View post). The main challenge was the limiting size of the 35mm negative, which was not producing an effective scan.
I decided to borrow a medium format 6×7 format camera as I wanted to achieve more of a visual impact in my images. Additionally, I was finding it challenging to approach and photograph people again outside of the usual way that I approached making portraits. The theater of the apparatus actually created a means to approach people and engage them in conversation, and ultimately ask for a portrait. Essentially, I was looking for a tool to create the portraits that I wanted to make and found that this was the best method. Even though I spend the majority of my photography seeking out portraits, they do not come naturally to me.
My focus for this module was to start engaging with people coming back together after the strict rules of lock down have been eased, in that sense the project is about covid-19, yet I wanted to focus my attention away from the leftover evidence and objects of covid-19 as mentioned above, fully aware that a project created during the time period would always have connotations and a pathos linked to current events. The spaces that surround where I live became of interest to me as they have been quite empty during the last few months, it was really nice to see them in use again. Photographing people in these spaces felt like a good place to start re-engaging with my community too (Fig: 6). What I found is that I could engage with people and collect portraits for my project.
Figure 6: Phil Hill (June – July, 2020) Portraits taken during Surfaces and Strategies for Work in Progress Portfolio. [Click to Enlarge]
I have been pleased with the portraits that I have so far, the new direction and exploration into black and white, and a documentary aesthetic have been really valuable in focusing in on how I wanted my images to look. As discussed before (see post), my intention is to draw attention to the act of photography, which I feel creates a significance of the images, it also places me into the project, albeit subtly. This I hope starts to consider my own connection to community.
Figure 7: Phil Hill (June-July, 2020) Images showing Watford as a commuting town into London [Click to Enlarge]
What was missing is a sense of place, which provides the context for the project. What connected all of the portraits is something that I have found a challenge. This actually, is the core of my project. I have tried to look at Watford as a place and consider what it is about the place that makes it what it is. Watford is closely tied to its position just outside of London, commuting is part of this character. It is also the border between the city and the country. I have been exploring this through landscapes by considering the things that identify the town as a transport link, such as the railway, and the major highways (Fig: 7). This alone felt superficial as I have become more and more drawn to the green spaces. I am also still working out how t approach the idea of my own connection to this place. After reading Suzanne Keller discuss the idea of community as it relates to the American Dream (Keller, 1988), which was inspired by the way that Vanessa Winship argued that the concept is what most societies aspire to. Keller notes that American society is fundamentally individualistic, which is at odds with how a community functions, noting that there has been a shift away from Gemeinschaft – closer bonds linked to emotion and family, and on to Gesellschaft – impersonal and built on individual gain. Where I see this fitting into my project is the geography of Watford between country and city, is a space where this shift from the personal to the impersonal start to happen (Fig: 8).
Additionally, I have been quite drawn by constructing a cinematic feel to the landscape and the portrait images that play with this idea of connection, by acknowledging Keller’s crucial point, The idealistic community is essentially a myth, yet it does not stop us continuing to seek it. By constructing a landscape set of images, I can then explore identity of the place – potentially you can view my work and not be quite sure if you are actually looking at the UK landscape (Fig: 9). I have specifically worked to photograph my project at set times of the day to create an emotive sense of the cinematic; aiming to present a constructed vision of an ideal that might not exist. As one of my initial ideas was to explore how people within my community are coming back together as the restrictions start to lift, this construction is particularly prescient knowing that we are not out of the woods yet.
Figure 9: Phil Hill (June – July) Landscapes selected to be more ambiguous, cinematic and idealistic. [Click to Enlarge]
Where I believe my WIPP is going is to show an idea of community of my construction. Created by utilising black and white to denote a sense of what it was like before current events, and selected portraits and landscapes, some of which aim to provide a sense of an ideal, some to create context and ground to where I am creating this work in Watford.
Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.