Physicality of the photograph.

I want to start experimenting with the physicality of the photograph. It is something that I have spoken about and considered in terms of the qualities of the medium inherent already. There have been a number of times where I have looked at this a bit more closely in previous module, yet I don’t think that I have truly considered the impact the my experimentation could have on the surface of the image, in the sense of how mark making and physical manipulation of the image could also be a reflection of the concepts I am aiming to put across.

Wellcome Photography Prize
Figure 1: Phil Hill (December, 2020) 5×4 Portrait of my daughter, Darcie. Developed at 36.5 Degrees and degraded with Fungus.

During the live brief challenges, I came up with a concept for the Oxfam challenge that wasn’t used. I also felt it was better suited to the ‘health in a heating world’ theme of this year’s Wellcome Photography Prize. My concept is based on a change in the way that pathogens may survive at human body temperature:

Synopsis:

When my daughter was born, she was cold. Cold enough for the doctors to suggest keeping her under observation within the hospital ‘special care’ unit and followed by regular checking of temperature. Ever since her temperature is normally recording at 36.5 degrees, which is lower than the average of 37 degrees Celsius for body temperatures. This is a trend that is becoming more and more common with body temperatures steadily dropping over a number of decades and has been linked to the healthcare system taking the place of the human thermal barrier.

Alarmingly, at the same time a fungal infection called Candida Auris, which is suspected to have existed for thousands of years has been attributed to a series of infections in people around the world. This fungal infection is beginning to breech the thermal barrier, where previously it has not normally been able to survive in the human body owing to our relative hot temperature compared to the environment. It has been suggested by Arturo Casadevall, et al (2019) that these fungal infections are effectively being ‘trained’ to survive through a series of consistently hotter days year on year, caused by climate change.

It is thought that there are potentially millions of microbes that exist just below the human thermal barrier, some of which may be able to cause disease. Increased temperatures are evolving the capabilities of microbe through mutation to allow them to survive at higher temperatures, just as modern medicine is effectively lowering ours. The next pandemic may take the form of one of these threats, impacting all of us.

Entry:

For my entry (Fig: 1), I aimed to ustilise elements of the challenges faced by Candida Auris. As I have been using black and white film in my practice and processing it at home, I was able to develop the negative at my daughter at her body temperature. Although this is considered a marginally low temperature for humans, it is extremely hot to process film, speeding up the time and also impacting the emulsion on the negative’s surface.

Figure 2: Seung-Hwan OH (2014) Portrait degraded with bacteria.

I was Inspired by an approach of Korean artist Seung-Hwan OH, who uses bacteria to interact with the image (Fig: 2) creating surreal and abstract portraits that a text on the work by Boraam Han suggests “The visual result of the symbiosis between film matter and organic matter is the conceptual origin of this body of work” (Han & OH, 2014). I aimed to introduce a fungus in the form of mould formed from bread onto the image, which creates the degraded look to the final image. My approach was not to create an image as abstract as OHs, as Darcie is an important part of the image together with the methods I used to degrade it.

The process of making this image has been really valuable in creating the space in the FMP to consider ways that I can interact and intervene with the image that has links to the outcomes and concepts I am aiming to put across.

FMP Experiments:

Considering ways of introducing a physical interaction to the image that relates to the concepts, I have started with an idea of a lack of archive.

During discussions in my second supervisor meeting we spoke about the range of archive based projects. I noted that when I look at my own archive, there is a distinct lack of images present and I as I have mentioned before, this archive effectively ceases in the mid-late 90s as my father’s camera broke and not replaced (until cheap digital cameras made it possible for my dad to buy another). There is also a print album amongst the other images that has had most of its prints removed from the sugar paper pages – a future exploration will be photographing the pages of this album once I have access to a proper studio.

Figure 3: Derek Hill/Phil Hill (Late 80s) Twin Check label over image.

One area of exploration is linked to this idea of memory. I have already identified a number of images that have the ‘Twin-check’ label ingrained onto the image (Fig: 3), which creates link to the process of photography and memory in the way that these numbers are used to match the negative to the person who placed the order. These numbers could become quite important in the development of the work and I am working on some ways that I can include these into my project.

Figure 4: Sebastiano Pomata & Phil Hill (May, 2020) Negative re-photographed

Appropriation of the image is something that I am returning to. During Surfaces and Strategies, I invited others to photograph and then I copied the negatives onto a new roll of film – my film. I felt that this was a kind of appropriation and me taking some kind of ownership over this image (Fig: 4). Although I did not make any of the decisions in taking the original, I did make a series of technical and aesthetic choices to copy the image onto a new film. It can be argued that photographing is a step removed from the reality in which it has been photographed – for me I am only able to see the representation of the reality. I created a further step removed from this reality in the re-photographed version as you are then only seeing a copy of the representation, which I have no connection to – even though I might claim that this version is ‘mine.’ As Walter Benjamin reminds us:

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, it’s unique essence at the place where it happens to be”

(Benjamin, 1968: 220)

To further explore this idea of appropriation and memory, I have started to look at Carbon Transfer Paper used for copying invoices and letters. The idea came from watching the Sara Davidmann guest lecture (2016), where she mentioned all of the carbon copies of correspondence in the archive for ‘Ken, To be destroyed,’ which triggered a memory of my own experiences playing with a carbon copy pad as a child, when I did have a relationship with my grandmother. She had a bureau full of these items and also a typewriter – all things I could consider exploring. Much like the ‘Twin-check’ label, carbon copies of documents are a way of creating a memory of an object, which might usually be associated with being a ‘one off’ prior to digital technology.  

Figure 5: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Negative transferred onto paper using carbon copy paper.

For initial explorations using this material, I have been attempting to transfer a negative onto paper. There is a subtle relief on the surface of a negative; where there are highlights there is no emulsion and where there are shadows there is emulsion present. In this first attempt however, I am only getting an outline of the negative. This does create an interesting image in itself and I quite enjoy the idea of this being a direct impression of the negative as an object and that there is an image on its surface even if you can’t see it in this representation (Fig: 5).

Bibliography

Benjamin, W., 1968. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In: Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, pp. 217-252.

Casadevall, A., Kontoyiannis, D. P. & Robert, V., 2019. On the Emergence of Candida auris: Climate Change, Azoles, Swamps, and Birds. American Society For Microbiology, 10(4), pp. 1-7.

Davidman, S., 2016. Guest Lecture: Sara Davidman. Falmouth: Falmouth Flexible (Falmouth University).

Han, B. & OH, S.-H., 2014. Impermanence_Untitled. [Online] Available at: https://www.seunghwan-oh.com/text1 [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Photography – The Unreliable Narrator.

The idea of the unreliable narrator, or as Wayne C. Booth also describe as being a ‘fallible’ narrator (1975: 157) is usually applied to fiction writing, however it is a fairly apt description of photography when we consider its definitions. Novelist Sarah Pinborough puts it best “story tellers that cannot be trusted” noting:

“we’re all unreliable narrators of our lives who usually have absolute trust in our self-told stories. Any truth is, after all, just a matter of perspective”

(2017)

Truth in photography has been discussed many times and clearly shown to have a slippery grasp on the concept. Yet, we still tend to believe the image as presented, even when the photograph is a step removed from the reality when it was taken. John Berger reminds us: “The photograph is about this actuality” (2013: 8) and it is important to place further emphasis on the statement ‘about this actuality’ as in the image is not the actuality but a description of it and never a full one. When thinking about the ways in which literary critique can also apply to photography, It is also worth considering the links between the novel and the image with a prime example being Jack Kerouac’s introduction to Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ (2014) in which this bastion of the documentary photography genre also sets up the idea that what you are looking at is absolutely a blend of fiction and non-fiction, or as Vanessa Winship describes as “chronicle and fiction” (2015) just as Kerouac does in constructing his partially autobiographical ‘On the Road’ (2000).

Photography is assumed to be more reliable than reading a novel, as you are aware of the book’s construction. Even non-fiction, or autobiographical works of literature are assumed as being embellished, fictionalised, and as Pinborough stated, all about perspective. Booth discusses a distance between the author and the reader of the text and this is created in the use of the narrator within it, whether reliable or not:

“the distance can be on any axis of value. Some successful authors keep most of their characters far ‘away’ in every respect”

(1975: 158)

This distance of the literary narrator in our case is the camera and photography. However, It is much harder for authors of photographs to distance themselves from their narrator to the reader, owing to the direct link of the author clicking the shutter in the same space and time as the thing photographed. It is much harder to separate these things as a reader of the image as the actuality of the object is always present.

This is still a flawed translation of the object. The camera places its qualities on the result – limits of technology, time and light; and human qualities of our own orientation mean that the object photographed can never be resolved in its total existent self. We do our best to interpret the object, and maybe photography is more reliable than other methods but it is still a means of subjective construction telling only one side of the narrative – this limits create an unreliable means of narrating. As Booth also points out: “the author cannot choose to avoid rhetoric; he can only choose the kind of rhetoric he will employ” (p. 149).

Figure 1: Bob Rogers (1956) Robert and Boat.

The reliability of photographs is believed to the point that when a deception occurs, the shock resonates. Within the novel, this is a useful plot device to create intrigue within a narrative. Within photography it is an immutable quality remaining undetected for the most part and once the discovery has been made, the message of the work is irrevocably changed for the reader (p. 158). A good example of this can be seen within the images of photographer Bob Rodger’s father (Fig: 1) standing next to the boat, which is not his. A simple but deceptive image designed to project a certain class and social status to the viewer of the image unaware that he has not the means, yet for Roger’s Father:

“He understood, too, that the photographic image created its own reality: in the world of that image, he was a boat owner … And the picture, created by the ‘objective’ lens, certified the reality of this claim”

(Heiferman, 2012: 239)
Manually intervened
Figure 2: Unknown (1930s) A portrait of Djakhan Abidova, a woman in the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, deliberately damaged as part of an effort to erase her in the nineteen-thirties

After suggesting that photography is an unreliable narrator using Booth’s literary analysis, what about clues left by other unreliable narrators, supposedly to further weaken the case for actuality within the image but instead creates intrigue for the story that they instead want to tell. Photography is an unreliable narrating tool used by us as unreliable narrators of our own stories. What I find really interesting about my own family archive is the way that the photograph has been disrupted to hide one truth but create another from what may have been another innocuous image within the album. Why not remove the whole image from the archive completely? As with images doctored during the time of Stalin (Fig: 2), it feels like a form of control, or as Ingrid Pollard suggests, a state sponsored voice (2021). This idea has come up in my research before: the idea of a state instantly creates thoughts of political powers creating narrative to suit agendas and there are similarities to the way that the family album is collated and images collected together. It is mentioned in ‘Shape of Evidence’ (Berrebi, 2014) of Michel Focault’s discussion on ‘state assembled archives’ (2014, p. 42). A version of the state could be argued to be the family in my own case, and the archive is no less assembled. As Berrebi points out: “there are no such thing as ‘found objects,’ but only objects that are ‘set aside’, selected and re-contextualised” (p. 41), which highlights that everything within the archive is not there by accident – including those images that has been manually intervened. This raises the question of who the album is in fact for? Is it to be front facing for public consumption? Surely, awkward questions would then be raised as to why the image is there. Or, more likely, is the album for private reflection, so that the image can be viewed as a reminder why the expunged are no longer part of the photographic print, linking back to Barthes idea that we wish to hold on to those we expel from our communities as reminders of what we wish not to be (2012, p. 81).

Bibliography

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

Berger, J., 2013. Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin Classics.

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.

Frank, R., 2014. The Americans. Göttingen: Steidl.

Heiferman, M., 2012. Photography Changes. 1st ed. New York: Aperture Foundation.

Kerouac, J., 2000. On the Road. New Edition ed. London: Penguin Classics.

Pinborough, S., 2017. Top 10 unreliable narrators. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/04/top-10-unreliable-narrators-edgar-allan-poe-gillian-flynn [Accessed 17 February 2021].

Pollard, I., 2021. Four Corners talk: Out of the Archive, London: Four Corners.

Winship, V., 2015. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – 082 – Vanessa Winship: “And Time Folds” Special [Interview] (11 September 2015).

2nd Meeting 23/02

Date of Supervision Meeting23/02/21
Start time of Meeting12:30
Length of Meeting in minutes35 minutes
Meeting Notes & Action PointsPositive feedback received for my project proposal and there were a number of suggestions for practitioners and guest lecturers to look at in relation to archive and the family album:
– Pat Martin: most recent edition of Foam magazine
– Tom Seymour: Guest Lecture on sharing work
– Diana Markosia
– Jacque Derrida – Archive Fever
– Zoe Leonard – Fictional Archive
– Sophie Calle – in relation to unreliable narrators
– Sara Davidman

I was encouraged to review a number of the guest lectures and also consider how I might position myself in relation to working with archive and family albums. I also intend to start reaching out to other practitioners to gain feedback on my concepts.
Date of Next Proposed Meeting16/03/21

Belfast Photo submission

Off the back of creating my proposal for FMP, I have used the core ideas and material to present an idea related to my project. I think that if anything, it is really valuable to start considering outputs for the project and although I am not directly considering an exhibition for the work, it would be really beneficial to have it seen in different contexts.

Project submission:

In the absence of memory, all I have is an unreliable narrator.

What happens in the absence of memory or if memory is the construction of an unreliable narrator?

My own family is disparate, uncommunicative, and alienated. The relationship between my mother and her mother is strained to a point where they have not spoken for over 25 years – from when I was a child myself and unable to fully understand why and where. Ever since the narrative has been shaped by those still around to construct it. I look at some of the images within this archive and wonder what happened, as Marianne Hirsch notes: “Perhaps it is the familial look itself that makes it difficult to read this picture which will not reveal any identifiable truth” (1997, p. 104) so I have deliberately sought to utilise images within the archive that have been dismissed as ‘bad’ and those that are less indexical to the romanticised and idealised moments they were supposed to represent. As a link to how the photograph supports building memories, many have a ‘twin check’ label attached or ingrained into the image, which was intended to aid the ‘memory’ of the person processing it. This is to explore different ‘truths’ and highlight the way that family narrative can be unreliable as a basis to construct an individual history. The work is effectively a personal story but one that has elements of universality, exploring the way that we all construct truth and present romanticised versions of oneself.

Bibliography

Hirsch, M., 1997. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory. 2012 Reissue ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Abstraction again

Marianne Hirsch makes a number of interesting observations on personal connection to the family album, which allows me to make a start on this project. Hirsch is looking at an image of her mother and grandmother, finding it challenging to really study it, owing to her connection to the people in it: “Perhaps it is the familial look itself that makes it difficult to read this picture which will not reveal any identifiable truth” (1997, p. 104). Although I don’t think that Hirsch believes that there is an objective truth that can be found within the image as she is quick to remind us that:

“Photographs are exciting and helpful because of their ambiguity, because of the reading they demand, because they do no transparently offer a single truth”

(p. 75)

Hirsch is suggesting that the task of ‘reading’ is made all the more challenging because of the emotional connection to the photograph. This of course is something that I need to seriously consider too, working with my own family archive of images that I have seen many times before and also some of the existing stories that accompany them. Hirsch does offer some insight into this, as when referring to Cindy Sherman use of titles, she notes:

“They refuse to participate in the narrative frameworks with which we are comfortable and instead insist on existing in the space of their production”

(p. 111)
Figure 1: Cindy Sherman (1981) Untitled Film Still #34
Figure 2: Unknown (1970s) Accidental panorama – film wind error

Sherman creates ambiguity by removing any sort of descriptive title for her images, which creates opportunity for audiences to create their own meaning (fig: 1), and whilst I was going through my own family’s archive of images, I have found a series of what would be perceived as ‘mistakes’ – those images that did not make it into the album (Fig: 2). However, although there are plenty of technical errors omitted from the ‘edit,’ there are plenty of images in the album that would still be considered the same: exposure, cropping etc. Not that I am particularly interested in the judging of technical qualities of images in terms of why they make it into a photo album, it does highlight the importance of the content of some images over others. Again, Hirsch offers a reasoning behind this as well:

“Family albums include those images on which family members can agree and which tell a shared story. Pictures that diverge from then communal narrative tend to be discarded as ‘bad’ or ‘unrepresentative’”

(p. 107)
Figure 3: Unknown (1960s) Manual Intervention photograph from family archive.

That said, one of the reasons for my interest in my own archive are the so called ‘manual intervention photographs’ (Maucci, 2020), which Interrupt this shared narrative even further (Fig: 3). It is what is not being shown that becomes even more intriguing than what is readily consumable within then fading albums. This is much like the ‘Winter Garden’ image of Roland Barthes’ mother described by Barthes in Camera Lucida (1993) but never ever seen, and may never have existed at all – perhaps used by Barthes as a tool to show the pervasiveness of the image to supplant memory (Photoworks, 2013). Hirsch uses this as an example to make a point about family secrets, which I feel is incredibly valid (even if the Barthes’ Winter Garden Image never existed):

“Barthes refusal to show us his mother’s picture, are designed to keep family’s secrets and protect it from public scrutiny”

(1997, p. 107)

It shows us that what we don’t see is just as important to those presenting the images as for those reading the images.

There is a real interest in what we choose to exclude. This has appeared in my research before, even from Barthes’ when speaking about the way that we live together within our communities but also very much separately. Barthes’ here perhaps offers a reasoning behind why my own family chose to keep ‘manual intervention photographs’ within the album, knowing that this would lead to further questions: “What’s excluded is included, but retains its status as excluded. It’s the contradictory status of the pariah: rejected and integrated, integrated as a reject” (2012, p. 81). As I am in the early stages of my investigation into my family archive, I have yet to closely look at the reasons why the ‘manual intervention images’ exist. I am interested in the images that have not made the edit but still remain in the print envelopes, so have chosen to focus on these first.

Twin Check
Figure 4: Parrallax Photographic (2021) Twin Check Label for photo processing.
Figure 5: Unknown (1970s) Twin Stamp Label over image.

There have been quite a few images in the archive that are obscured by the label that the processing lab would have attached prior to the film going through the machines (Fig: 4). Interestingly, some of the numbers from what is known as a ‘Twin Check’ label have ingrained themselves onto the first, or last images of the roll of film (Fig:5). I am drawn to these images, they instantly remind me of Hirsch’s comment of Sherman’s image titles – merely referring to the means in which these images are produced. The labels are a direct link to this production. They also provide a direct link to how the production is linked to ideas of memory, Twin check labels are a way of matching up the processed film to the owner of it once it has been processed. Here I have a visual means of highlighting the way that the family album is a poor keeper of memories. I am moving towards this more and more as a way of exploring my core themes. Abstraction and obscure images provide the ambiguity to remove my own personal connections (albeit no fully), and allow multiple readings of them, which is important if I am to construct my own narrative as the project develops.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1993. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

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

Hirsch, M., 1997. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory. 2012 Reissue ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Maucci, Q., 2020. London College of Communication: Family Narratives & Working With Archives. London: London College of Communication.

Photoworks, 2013. The Great Unknown. [Online]Available at: https://photoworks.org.uk/great-unknown/ [Accessed 07 February 2021].

Starting point

What happens in the absence of memory, or if the memory is born from a one sided narrative?

This will be the start of my investigation.

As any family would, I have an archive of images in albums. These were never really displayed around the house I grew up in. If you are to visit my parents now, there are not that many images present. Even within the archive, there are no images from after the mid-nineties. There are practical reasons for this. My dad’s old Russian film camera broke about this time and he could not afford to replace it with newer digital technology. However, even where there are images present, those images of extended family ceased. This was around the time that my parents effectively stopped communicating with them – I don’t know why. There are a number of images within the albums that have been cut as well, suggesting of some kind of family rift that I was too young to understand and never really questioned when reaching adulthood (Fig: 1). Now that I have a family of my own, I am becoming interested in why this has happened and if there are inherent traits that exist as a result.

Objects are an important way of understanding a culture in the absence of first-hand deposition. And this creates a link to my exploration of the photograph as an object in previous modules. What I find intriguing about images that have been cut is the willingness to keep the object that has been so noticeably ‘edited,’ creating a new object of intrigue. The cut print in fact creates more questions about the image where I might have merely flipped past otherwise and is the very reason why I am wanting to investigate it here.  Erik Kessels acknowledges this in his series ‘My Family’, where he notes:

“So we opt for self-censorship, hoping that excluding “bad” images will somehow cause the memories themselves to evaporate. This saddens me, because reflecting on an unpleasant occurrence can give you insight and broaden your perspective. I want images that reflect life in its complexity. Sure, that sounds like a mighty demand, and likely impossible, but let’s give it a go.”

(Kessels, 2016)
Figure 2: F. Kislov (1937) Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Joseph Stalin, and Nikolai Yezhov walking along the banks of the Moscow-Volga Canal, in April, 1937
Figure 3: F. Kislov (1937) Nikolai Yezhov has been removed from the original image.

Kessels refers to the forms of propaganda that exists within the family album (Clark, 2013) and this feels confirmed within my own, where persons have been removed. There of course is a precedent in the removal of undesirables from photographs. Hannah Adrendt discussed the vulnerability of truth (Gessen, 2018), referring to the way that Trotsky had been removed from the official soviet record (Fig: 2 & 3), is there much of a difference between this and my own families removal of ‘undesireables?’ Roland Barthes contextualises this within the idea of community, noting the paradox of exclusion within it: “Perhaps there’s no such thing as a community without an integrated reject” (2012: 81) as if it is important to maintain awareness of what we reject to confirm our positioning. This is potentially the reasoning behind keeping a cut image within the album (Fig: 4) to show that control can be exacted over the undesirable, and to be reminded that they can be removed in some form.

Figure 5: Erik Kessels (2020) ‘Collection of photographs where ‘unwanted’ people got removed from. Instagram post.
Figure 6: Erik Kessels (2020) ‘Collection of photographs where ‘unwanted’ people got removed from. Instagram post.

Kessels also recently shared a series of vernacular images (Kessels, 2020), noticeable in the way that they have been cut (Fig: 5). There appears to be images in this set, which are similar to the ones that I have within my family’s archive. However, there are others in Kessels post (Fig: 6) that might be something else. It was noted during my first peer to peer session that this might in fact be due to someone cutting a print to place that part of the image into a locket, and suggests that there is a positive outcome from the editing of a print.

During the last module, I started to use constructed narratives more openly and applied traditional story telling structure to my sequencing. Within my family archive the narrative is more political through censorship. This is something that I am really keen to explore here and also utilise. My aim will be to construct a new narrative in the absence of one, or as an alternative to the ‘official’ one that has be told to me through the years. In effect, this is a question that exists in all family archive (an indeed photography) – they are deeply constructed, political and steeped in presenting a propagandised view of the family.

Bibliography

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

Clark, T., 2013. The Vanishing Art of the Family Photo Album. [Online]
Available at: https://time.com/3801986/the-vanishing-art-of-the-family-photo-album/
[Accessed 29 January 2020].

Gessen, M., 2018. The Photo Book That Captured How the Soviet Regime Made the Truth Disappear. [Online] Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/the-photo-book-that-captured-how-the-soviet-regime-made-the-truth-disappear [Accessed 29 January 2020].

Kessels, E., 2016. My Family. [Online] Available at: https://www.erikkessels.com/my-family
[Accessed 29 January 2020].

Kessels, E., 2020. Erik Kessels instagram – Collection of photographs where ‘unwanted’ people got removed from. [Online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/CJ0ecdShnVP/
[Accessed 28 January 2020].

1st meeting 26/01

Date of Supervision Meeting26/01/21
Start time of Meeting12:30
Length of Meeting in minutes30
Meeting Notes & Action PointsThis was the first meeting with Wendy and we discussed the content of my pecha kucha presentation. It was suggested that I take a look at the work of Gideon Mendel because of the way that he uses objects in his series ‘Dzhangal’ and also the Jack Latham guest lecture because of the way that he creates a kind of detective story with his approach to projects. Both these photographers work in a documentary way but challenge what it means to produce work like this. 

I should also pay special attention to Anthony Prothero’s case study as there are some similarities to consider in relation to the ideas of reality and fiction that my work has hinted at.

Photographers and writing to look at:

– Ed Clark (Guest Lecture)
– Gideon Mendel (Dzhangal series)
– Dana Lixemburg – Imperial Courts series
– Daniel Blight – An Image of Whiteness

I should also start to consider the ways in which I can share my work and should look at making contact with some relevant organisations. For example: Grain. I should also aim to keep two or three strands to the project open at once, especially owing to the current situation. What is possible to photograph with the current restrictions.
Date of Next Proposed Meeting23/02/21 12:30

Into the FMP

At the very start of the MA, I was intending to explore an idea of community. Initially, this was very much rooted in how I would approach image making commercially: seek an interesting group of people and photograph them. So I set out to photograph the carnival culture of Somerset – of my home town. This led to a quick realisation that I was in effect looking at part of myself. Somerset carnivals are a cultural feature of the region and primarily run and driven by the working class communities of them. For me, coming from one of these working class communities, it was just a part of something that I escaped as I moved away to pursue education and my career. I am from a working class background in a town, which at the time felt like a trap, with low aspirations from my friends and own family. It sounds like a cliché, but I was told many times that the pursuit of my photography was a nice hobby, and I ought to learn a trade. Instead, I used my photography and education to leave and actively worked to disassociate myself from my upbringing – I considered it to be embarrassing to admit that I came from such a background. A clear example of this is my accent has changed. I sound like any generic middle-class Home Counties English person. Compare this to my parents, and that of my brothers, who sound distinctly West Country. My accent has been learned in order to place myself in what Lysney Hanley refers to as the ‘Second Room’:

“The more time you spend in this second room, the way that you use words – the order you put them in, the number of clauses and qualifiers you include in a sentence, even the sounds of the words themselves – begins to change … It involves learning another language entirely, one which places at its centre the act of thinking, and thinking about doing things in the future as opposed to doing them right now.”

(2017: 38)

A large part of discovery throughout the modules has been this realisation that when I refer to things like community, connection and identity, I am effectively wanting to explore them for myself – the work is about me. Subsequent modules shifted focus onto the place that I live now, a place that I have never considered a connection that you might associate with home. Moving away from the place of my upbringing led to a long period of moving around, which created a feeling that I would move again. Watford was a place I moved to by accident and I never intended to stay. In the 7 years that I have lived here however, I met my wife and we have a 3 year old daughter born here. What other signals for being settled down would I need?! My work explored this through an investigation of then place, it centred on the idea of edgelands, which Watford is – between countryside and the expanse of London, but not either of these. A certain liminality exists here in not being one thing or another. This idea links quite well back to this notion of Hanley’s ‘rooms,’ for me I am no longer working class but I am not quite middle class either (only perhaps on paper).

The exploration of community within the town I live and linking to other concepts that bring in place and object have been really valuable for my work. Up to this point however, I do feel that it has been relatively surface in the way that I am presenting a view of community and avoiding the underlying reasons for wanting to explore it. Of course, it is good that the realisation is now, and reflects on the journey and evolution that my photography has undertaken. I have spent some time considering the underlying ideas that have driven my exploration to this point. Ferdinand Tonnies provides a concept of community Gemienschaft (community from close emotional bonds, such as family) and Gesselschaft (community as it is in civil society) (2001). My project has looked at the civil society aand should now progress onto the closer network and emotional connections formed through the idea of family.

The challenge here, and essentially what becomes the root of things, is how disparate my family actually is. Parts of my family have not seen each other for over 20 years or more. They are spread far and uncommunicative. This is at the root of my own personal journey of disconnect and also crossing a class divide. I feel that there is a comment to be made on the idea of family narratives and the way that we construct our history.

Ideas carrying forward
  • Liminality/Edgelands
  • Class – crossing class divides
  • Object orientated ontology
  • Photographs as objects
  • Narrative structures
  • Carmencita/Kodak Grant proposal
Bibliography