Figure 1: Phil Hill (October – November, 2020) Research project images for webinar and tutorial.
I have been aiming to continue photographing with a focus on how the landscape images are linking to my portraits. I decided to use this as my point of discussion during the peer webinar and see how the images are being read and also potential ways to take this idea forward (Fig: 1).
During my tutorial with Colin he noted that my images had a sense of the idealistic and romantic about them, which is something that I am keen to pursue. He also noted that I should continue to experiment as I am not quite there yet with how the work is coming across. This is where I started to look at the idea of ‘Edgelands’ (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011) to see if there was a way that I could create better links however, I am still unsure if this is successful.
How I see this developing is through the narrative of the work is in the need to spend some time working on sequencing and my edit; overlooked for the sake of shooting more up until now. Colin essentially said the same as I need a structure in which the project can rest. Furthermore, I should create a narrative for the series even if, as Colin noted, ‘that narrative is wrong.’ This was something that came up again during the peer webinar, where Mike also noted that I should construct a story for the sequence, even if it is a made up.
I like the idea of a constructed narrative utilising the images that I have already created. This is something that Todd Hido advocates, referring to the process as ‘Paper Movies’ (2014, p. 114), where he advocates that “The book can lead you to synthesize ideas and can become your permanent record of a body of work. When you pick up a book, you expect something from it. It has structure: a beginning, a middle, an end” (p. 114). I have previously been quite critical of photo books, owing to their limited audience of single demographics, which is supported by Simon Norfolk’s assertion that they only have appeal within the bubble of photography and is detrimental to the dissemination of that work (2019). However, perhaps I need to re-evaluate my position on this to use the photobook as a tool to create an effective narrative. Once this is resolves, it could provide a launch pad onto other ways to disseminate the work; and this is key to the way that I view the photobook.
In terms of how to approach my sequencing, Hido also notes: “I find it really helpful to work with pictures on paper, little printouts that you can move around on a table or on a wall. I’ve never found a fabulous pairing or a great sequence on a computer screen” (p. 114). I have been told this a few times during the MA, Michelle Sank is a big proponent of ‘living with the work’ for a while. This is something that I have attempted at various stages, however not really left those up for any length of time that could be consider valuable. During the last lockdown, it was also a challenge to print images so I had to become reliant on the screen. Perhaps, this is an area that could create value in the sequence and ultimate narrative of the work, so my intention is to fully ‘live’ with the images and see how they start to form, as Hido notes: “And then all of a sudden you have these chains of pictures that start to show the shape and structure of the story” (p. 114).
One other point that Hido makes with regard to the sequencing of his work is to think about music: “There may be motifs that appear and repeat themselves in different iterations in a long sequence. You can create a rhythm by being consistent from image to image and by paying attention to how the image hang together” (p. 114). Colin also made a similar observation during my tutorial when talking about the rhythm of a good photography book. How to relate this to the sequencing of my work, I am unsure however, feel that once the images are placed on a wall, this is something that will be important to consider.
One element that I use in teaching media, is the development of a strong set of defined characteristics that help form a visual image of a character within that story. This also includes the environment, as understanding the characteristics of the world in which a character inhabits will help to understand the way that the character will react to situations and events within that world.
There is also the ‘hero’s journey,’ which although is potentially a cliché, could be a useful way to sequence the work and does lend itself very well to narrative construction and mythologies. There are different interpretations of this and the language used for each stage is hackneyed, yet the ideas that they present could be useful and present a method of creating a structured approach to sequencing (Fig: 2).
Additionally, my constructed narrative could also refer to Vladimir Propp’s character theory, which argues that stories are character driven and are the most important draw for audiences (Sampson, 2015) – useful to consider when placing my portraiture into the sequence.
Desert Places – Robert Frost
Earlier in the MA, I briefly looked at the poem of ‘Desert Places’ by Robert Frost (Fig: 3) after reading an analysis of Roland Barthes’ essays ‘How to Live Together’ (2012). It’s not something that I felt really worked at that point of the project however, I am keen to return to it and see if there is any way that it could relate to the work that I am making now.
The poem refers to a person travelling through the countryside on a winter evening who is overcome by feelings of loneliness (Wang, 2013). Li Wang creates a detailed analysis of the poem, referring to the metaphors it creates:
- Desert Places. It is the man’s moral and spiritual wildernesses.
- Field. It represents nature.
- Weed. It is the primitive things without trace of the man.
- Stubble. It’s the trace of the man’s presence.
- Woods. They are the people and society
- Whiteness. Open and empty spaces
- Snow. A white blanket that covers everything living.
- Blanker. Representing the emptiness that the speaker feels.
- Home. It is a place that man can feel safety and finds his own identity there
(Wang, 2013, p. 2094)
Wang suggests that Frost is creating a personification of the landscape and people are essentially in the shadow of nature (2013, p. 2095), which is quite similar to the way that Bryan Schutmaat does the same in his work ‘Good Goddamn’ that gives a real sense of the landscape’s impact on the character awaiting incarceration (Fig: 4). We know very little of the detail of this character other than he is about to go to jail and the journey created by his interaction with the land creates a striking narrative to this series. Wang suggests that the underlying meaning of Frost’s poem is in the realization to the narrator that they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things however, Wang notes:
“If he does not want to live in the world meaninglessly like the nature, he should not have shut himself off to the world and let feelings as loneliness and coldness… run his life”(p. 2096).
There are links that can be made to the themes and metaphor, which Frost creates. I especially resonate with the idea of the desert place being a moral and spiritual wilderness and how the woods represent people and society. Linking this to the idea of edgelands and rurality, there is potential scope to start creating characters from my existing portraits and also a character out of the land that is acting on them.
There are also links to be drawn to Barthes’ idea of how we exist in the same places but also separately, according to our own individual rhythm – or idiorythmically (2012, p. 132). I have equated Watford to a kind of edgeland town and during the last lockdown, I also felt that Barthes’ idiorythm reflected a general way society needed to remain separate. However, Frost’s Desert Places could be a more apt analogy and I will see how I can create a sequence around some of the themes here – especially as we are now in a new lockdown.
I am going to now focus on sequencing and seeing how my images are working together. The I can identify areas that need additional imagery or work to refine in other areas.
Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Farley, P. & Symmonds Roberts, M., 2011. Edgelands – Journeys into England’s true Wilderness. London: Vintage.
Frost, R., 1936. A Further Range. Transcribed eBook ed. s.l.:Proofreaders Canada.
Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.
Norfolk, S., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers [Interview] (12 June 2019).
Sampson, R., 2015. Debate: Propp’s Character Conventions In Modern Film. [Online]
Available at: https://www.filminquiry.com/character-conventions-propp/
[Accessed 06 November 2020].
Wang, L., 2013. An Artistic Analysis on Robert Frost’s Desert Places. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(11), pp. 2092-2097.