Figure 1: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Family archive objects re-shoot
I have been waiting for a break in the weather to continue photographing family and also places associated with my project. This has given me the time to reconsider some of the objects that I have been photographing as still life (Fig: 1).
Initially, I made flatbed scans of many of the cuttings and images (Fig: 2), which worked as a starting point to consider what I had within the archive. It was always my plan to treat all of the objects including the photographic prints – the same in terms of how they should be photographed as a still life set up. For this change, I settled on a fairly neutral tone in order for the objects to be viewed in their own right (Fig: 3). Colour theory and the impact that this might have on the image is something that I initially gave little thought too apart from the decision to not use a straight white, which I felt would create far too much contrast, or black, which could lead to the objects becoming lost within the image. After some consideration, I felt that I wanted to bring more of myself into the work even if I am not directly in front of the camera. To do this here, I am referencing some of my own baby objects and christening items and decided to use a light blue background, or a baby blue (fig: 4) as if to signal that this is part of my childhood, albeit subtly. Aesthetically, the blue creates a nice contrast to the faded and high red tones in many of the archive images that I am working with (Fig: 5).
The re shoot was also an opportunity to create a consistent series of images that up until now have been photographed using different methods and techniques, which might become challenging when it comes to the sequence. There is still some work to be done to clean up the consistency between these images in terms of the placement of shadow creating gradients that mean placing some images together might become problematic as a result of not having access to a good infinity curve. I may have to go back and make further re shoots when a sequence is settled.
Colin suggested during the recent group crit that I could aim to be reliable in order to be unreliable. As the author of the work it is important for me to be able to effectively apply the concept of the unreliable narrator in a reliable way – the best authors of literary work, for example, can create a narrative with an unreliable character because the readers trust the author to do so. In my own case, I potentially need to ensure that what you are looking at is technically and aesthetically sound so that the reader might trust that the sequencing is purporting to unreliable narration. As Wayne C. Booth reminds us:
“My subject is the technique of non-didactic fiction, viewed as the art of communicating with readers – the rhetorical resources available to the writer of epic, novel, or short story as he tries, consciously or unconsciously, to impose his fictional world upon the reader”(1975, p. 1)
I also made some additional discoveries whilst going back through the archive and also some new connections with objects previously I didn’t photograph. For example, My parents used to keep scrap books of cards and other bits considered important – there is one for their wedding, and another two for both me and my brother. One of these books is called ‘Cuttings Book’ (Fig: 6), which resonated with the way that I have started to work with the Manual intervention images – perhaps the parts of the image cut away ended up in this book. Some other interesting discoveries, were in a couple newspaper clippings found in one of the albums, which become more intriguing o the reverse – suggesting a crime of some sort (Fig: 7). I am unsure of how to utilise these in the wider narrative but am becoming more interested in creating a few false turns and dead ends within the sequence to increase the sense of mystery.
Despite much of my attention still wanting to create portraiture and also images of significant place, the objects represent an important development in my approach to the work. I am effectively taking from one archive and creating one of my own, a form of changing narratives through appropriation and selection in order to present what I want to be shown – for my purposes. As Sophie Berrebi notes: “There are no such thing as ‘found objects’, but only objects that are ‘set aside’, selected and re-contextualised” (2014, p. 41). The family album is a form of official state narrative, it is constructed to project the idealised version for others to see (Manual intervention images not withstanding), Berrebi acknowledges this within the way that we also view the ‘document’ or archives of other state narrative, referring to a response to Foucoult by Jacque Le Goff and Pierre Toubert: ‘there is no truthful document’, yet it is also the job of future historians to analyse these archives and as they go on to point out: “to deconstruct, to demolish this montage, to destructure this construction, and analyse the conditions of production of these documents-monuments” (p. 42).
In the images I construct that create new imagery of my own past archive, I am analysing its contents but I am also creating another ‘document-monument,’ which ultimately would need to be de-constructed in the future.
Berrebi, S., 2014. The Shape of Evidence: Contemporary Art and the Document. Amsterdam: Valiz.
Booth, W. C., 1975. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 11 ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.