For the recent round of portfolio reviews I was able to talk with Clare Bottomley, Ant Prothero and Michal Iwanowski. Feedback from pretty much all of the reviewers was focused quite a bit on the way that my images are interacting with the words. In particular, with the way that the intro text is leading the audience into the whole project and how that might actually be giving away too much information about the project too soon. I have also not been giving the audience credit to work out aspects of the work for themselves as well as putting faith in existing knowledge to make connections within the work. I am effectively over explaining and making redundant statements. This is actually a timely reminder to not try and shoehorn too many ideas into it and over indulging the exposition. According to Iwanowski, audiences like to solve these puzzles for themselves, which is a core part of my project. I may end up frustrating them by giving too much away. Prothero concurred with this, suggesting that because the story started before me I could consider placing my own version of events in the middle somewhere. Iwanoski also suggested the opening text should really be the question that started the work and I work to build the answer throughout the sequence.
Another point that Prothero made was the way that at the moment the work feels as though I am telling someone else’s story, asking where do I fit into this work. This starts to take nto account feedback that I have received from my peers and also a conversation that I had with Cemre with the way that my initial image captions were being read as too fixed and impersonal. The way that I create image descriptors akin to how a museum might log an item The challenge with this however, is they interfere with the narrative of the story. During the recent Geoff Dyer talk, he noted the way that images and text work together and potential for redundancy with words illustrating images and images illustrating words (2021). The fixed nature of my descriptive captions also started to create judgement on the images and the way that they were being read, for example I noted that my brother just finished a shift collecting rubbish in his portrait when it is clear to see in the image he was wearing work clothing. When I showed the work to Ross from my cohort, he noted that the caption felt derogatory, which was also supported by Cemre’s reading of the work. To work on this, I have been aiming to use the ambiguity of the quotes that I have been collecting t see how they work with the images and support the narrative arc of the work. This actually works much better within the concept of the Unreliable Narrator.
That said, later editors of the work presented to the reviewers, it was unclear who was ‘narrating,’ which could create intrigue in the work through it’s ambiguity but also continue t frustrate the audience. This might end up becoming too loose, the opposite of the completely fixed version with the descriptive captions. There is a fine line to make here. My aim is to show somehow the answer to the question that I pose at the start and not obfuscate the narrative for the reader of the work in showing the revelations that I have found. Up to quite recently, I had no answer to this question so no real reason to consider this part – some clearing of the ambiguity would be useful. I could also identify all of the characters in this narrative a bit more so that the reader knows who they are. Clare Bottomley was really insightful in providing some further areas of research to explore, including reminding me that Dinu Li has experience with the family archive and produced a book on the topic, so I will aim to attend one of his crits for further developments.
Narrative editing – Audio to the written word
My plan following all of the feedback that I received is to produce a text, which is based on my own experiences of the journey that I have undergone but also to place everything within this narrative in a chronological order of discovery. Even If I go back and edit the text and change the order, I think that it is vital that I get a sense of the overall story as it is now before playing with its sequence. A key takeaway from my feedback was the strength of the way that I tell the story so I will aim to use this as a central core in which to sequence the photographs.
This actually is something that I considered early on, albeit using a different medium, linking back to ideas I had initially around the edited audio elements. It is an idea that still interests me but the learning curve in creating and putting together an edited serial podcast style of audio that I suggested in my proposal. Although I have collected some audio as part of my process, I overestimated the amount of work putting this kind of production would have alongside the other aspects of the project I proposed. However, part of the process of creating a kind of serial audio documentary would require me to write the narrative for either my own narration, or to work out the sequence and edit of the production. This would be similar to how podcast ‘Serial’ is structured, which is described as ‘narrative non-fiction story’ (Koenig, 2014). This format of building and slowly revealing elements of the story for the audience to discover is actually a useful framework for me to write my own narrative for Unreliable Narrator. The way that I write the story provides the opportunity to address much of the feedback that I have received on the project with regards to elements such as the introduction of the characters and the significance of some of the places. It also works to place me into the work as part of the family presented.
The text that I produce would be short, potentially around 1500 to 2000 words, which would be considered a ‘Flash Fiction’ if it were a novel, or novella. A key difference is my story is based in fact and connects to Vanessa Winship’s notion that photography is somewhere between chronicle and fiction.
Dyer, G., 2021. Coversation with Geoff Dyer – Falmouth Flexible [Interview] (8 July 2021).
Koenig, S., 2014. Serial. [Sound Recording] (This American Life).