WIPP Development – sequence conundrum

Although, I have been enjoying the sequence that I made in combining my portraits and landscapes, I seem to be receiving similar feedback of the differences between my landscapes and my portraits. It was suggested in the last webinar (26/11) that I might consider a sequence of only landscapes as they are stronger, which is Interesting as feedback for the last module was that my portraits were stronger. For Sustainable Prospects, I have created more of a focus on the landscape and potentially gone too far the other way!

Figure 1: Nial McDiarmid (2012) Hertford Street, Coventry
Figure 2: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Mum

The challenge that I have is in my portraits are formally shot and in the landscape but not of the landscape. Colin made reference to Nial Mcdiarmid and how his portraits do essentially the same in that the location is almost irrelevant (fig: 1 & 2). I have referenced Mcdiarmid’s photography before and found his work to be quite influential (even owning Town to Town), however if I consider the lesson from the Messy Truth podcast episode with Alex Coggin (2019), have I been aware of this influence in my consumption of it? This is something that I will need to investigate further.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Tom
Figure 4: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Alistair

Are my portraits really that disparate from the rest of the images? Yes and no. I take on board the feedback received from Colin and others and is something that I will need to be aware of moving forward. More can be done to place the people in my portraits into the landscape. I do feel like I have made improvements into this for this module compared to the way that I approached my portraits for the last one. For example, I have aimed to include elements of the location much more into recent works, and have consciously shot some further away to show more of the location (Fig 3 & 4). Colin’s critique is of course based on the formality of my portraits compared to some of the landscape imagery, which is a mixture of formal and less formal compositions. Ross mentioned this when I asked for peer feedback and suggested that it is my formal gaze that creates the strongest images for him. It would be useful to re-evaluate this gaze and see if there are other ways that I can approach the images I make of people, which at the moment is possibly tied to the challenge I find it in approaching and creating them.

Figure 5: Vanessa Winship (2014) images from ‘Georgia Seeds Carried by the Wind’

When I consider the work of others, there are photographers who combine formal portraits with images of the landscape. For example, Vanessa Winship’s series ‘Georgia Seeds Carried by the Winds’ (2014), which mixes differing levels of formality in the portrait in line with Winship’s signature style (Fig: 5). It is clear that these are people all from the same place however, it could be argued that seen in isolation, each portrait is alienated from the place that it was photographed. With Winship there is a great sense of building the narrative through the sum of its parts as each image individually is as great as the whole.

I have looked at Winship’s work before to try and resolve the disconnect others note of my portraits and landscapes. I like the way that her images suggest a subtle nod to the location that they are taken. I also enjoy the idea of having the reader work for this, which I feel Winship does quite well. The narrative structure that I am applying should also be considered as a sum of parts that includes locations and characters. I have taken this so far but clearly have further to go.

Back to Barthes

Figure 6: Phil Hill (February, 2020) Roland Barthes’ ‘How to Live Together’ analysis

If there is a disconnect to be found between the portraits and the landscapes then this can be linked back to some earlier research I did into the way that Roland Barthes discusses the ‘Iddiorythmic’ way that we live together within communities yet each of us according to an individual rhythm (Fig: 6). The idea centers on idiorrhythmic monasticism, where monks would live within the confines of the same compound but leading an individual existence within it. As Barthes notes: “Fantasmically speaking, there’s nothing contradictory about wanting to live alone and wanting to live together” (2012: 4-5). Barthes exploration could be considered a comment on our own contemporary tribalism. Within communities, there is a socially abstract way that we carry out our lives without an awareness of how others around – we place ‘value on distance’ (p. 132).

It is from the analysis of Barthes text ‘How to Live Together’ that I first came across the Robert Frost Poem ‘Desert Places,’ as a metaphor for this separation of individuals from places and other individuals, and potentially from oneself: “The idea that the desert represents an important metaphor that may inspire new ideas in the problems of living together (Stene-Johansen, et al., 2013: 16).

“the rhythm of existence is a result of social formations and economical structures as well as individual choice: we meet at work, in bars, in the theatre, and then go back to our shelters, our apartments” (2013: 16).

My portraits are disparate because of the nature of the communities that we live in. This is reflected in my constructed narrative. My project is a journey, which takes you through the place only to stop consider these character you are normally abstracted from. I am interested in the stopping as much as the continued journey.

Figure 7: Bryan Schutmaat (2015) From ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’

One method to resolve this may be to only sequence formal composed portraits with those landscapes considered more formal. The resolution may then be in the treatment of both people and place by me. I have written about how Bryan Schutmaat seems to create a character from the land (Fig: 7). Perhaps when I treat the landscape in the same formal way that I photograph people, it could be considered that my landscape is also another character in my narrative and part of the structure that I have applied. This again is a way of utilising Graham Harmon’s Object Orientated ontology in the way that all objects, animate or inanimate have characteristics that create an influence: “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, non-human, natural, cultural, real or fictional” (2018, p. 9). I will aim to create a new iteration of my wipp that includes the more formal people and places photographed.

Figure 8: Pieter Hugo (2013) Pieter Hugo, Ann Sallies, who worked for my parents and helped raise their children,  Douglas, 2013.

Pieter Hugo’s book ‘Kin’ (2015), also mixes the formality and contextualisation of political and personal portraiture with the landscape (Fig: 8). Jean Dykstra notes that “It isn’t clear, for the most part, how, or whether, many of the subjects are related to each other: but this body of work would seem to suggest that their specific relationships are less important than their shared humanity” (2013) that seems to support the observation of Winship’s work of the sum of the parts creating a collective whole. What is clear in both the work of Winship and Hugo and potentially where I need to put the work in, is the defined cultural signifiers that also place a sense of the location on the work. This is a clear area of development for me if it is also not being seen in my images by others.

Figure 9: Pieter Hugo (2015) Spread from ‘Kin’

Hugo uses Text in Kin (Fig: 9), providing snippets of information into the people he has photographed and potentially an area for me to look at. The right title may be all that’s needed to lift the contextualisation and place clear links on the people to the land.

Let go?

It is also important to respond to the feedback that I am receiving and create an iteration without people. I am keen to share a sequence without portraits to see if they really can exist without images together.


Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Coggin, A., 2019. The Messy Truth: Alex Coggin on Authorship [Interview] (May 2019).

Dykstra, J., 2013. Photograph Magazine – PIETER HUGO: KIN. [Online]
Available at: http://photographmag.com/reviews/pieter-hugo-kin/
[Accessed 27 November 2020].

Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.

Hugo, P., 2015. Kin. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.

Stene-Johansen, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2013. Living Together: Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Winship, V., 2014. GEORGIA SEEDS CARRIED BY THE WIND. [Online]
Available at: https://www.vanessawinship.com/gallery.php?ProjectID=175
[Accessed 27 November 2020].

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