Book Updates

I have been continuing to work with Emily Macaulay of Stanley James Press on my book design. I had sent over a range of the experiments that I had been working on to give a sense of where I was heading with the ideas generation. This has proved to be really valuable as she is able to determine, which of these work on a practical and concept level for the book that I am aiming to produce.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Result of using Carbon Copy paper to copy quote onto paper.

Macaulay really liked the way that I have been using carbon copy paper (Fig: 1), noting: “it feels fragile. I like the marks it creates are different every time. I like that it feels official, like a receipt to prove something happened” (2021) This connects to ideas around trace and memory so this will be a feature for the dummy that we are going to produce. Macaulay has also provided a good amount of insight into some of the images that I will be considering including for the edit. Although she is not an editor, Macaulay made a really valid point about the inclusion, or more importantly, the non-inclusion of certain images as this will create the sense of mystery that I have bee working on with this project. This again links to the conversations that I was having with Karl Ohiri and Paul Sng who also suggested that I can control which parts of this story can be seen and that not everything should necessarily be included (Fig: 2).


Figure 2: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Conversation with Karl Ohiri and Paul Sng

Figure 3: Bryan Schutmaat (2013) Detail of Screw post binding for ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’

Macaulay has taken quite a few of the ideas that I have been playing with. There are lot of links that are being made to the photo album, which is important to the experience of the work. I am aiming for the reader to have a similar experience to how I made my own discoveries of the archive. Screw-post binding was an area that has been suggested as this is how albums are bound. Bryan Schutmaat also uses them for his book ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ (Fig: 3). They have the benefit of allowing for a modular approach to the content, meaning that it could easily have a range of different paper stocks and other mixing of elements within. There is also possibilities of having subtle differences between each book to connect to the unreliable narrator concept.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Photocopied photograph of grandmother over and over. 8 image sequence from 40 images photocopied in total.

Macaulay added a really great idea that I have been spending time experimenting with. We discussed creating an object of memory and trace and I am keen to incorporate this into the physicality of the book. It was suggested by Macaulay that I could photocopy the same image over and over until it begins to degrade. I have made some experiments by using the found image of my grandmother (Fig: 4). I quite like the way that the image has degraded and considered ways that it could appear at multiple points throughout the book’s sequence, gradually being revealed as I discover more information. In preparation for a crit with Dinu Li, I placed them into a sequence of 8 images to show. The response was quite positive and unexpectedly, this was also because of the way that I placed them on the page. The grid layout communicates in the same way that I was considering placing them throughout. It was also suggested that I could use these at the end of the sequence and show them over and over in succession.

Figure 5: Macaulay (2021) Example sun bleached photograph.

Another idea is to incorporate the way that a photograph fades onto the page over time and Macaulay suggested that this could be achieved by making a series of sun-bleached pages (Fig: 5). These are also quite like cyanotype and even photograms so there could be room to include these in some way. Sun-bleaching is also an interesting feature to include as it would naturally continue to age over time. I enjoy the idea that the book will continue to evolve, which is something that I discussed at length with Karl Ohiri (Fig: 2) who made reference to the way that narratives change and evolve after the photograph has been taken.

Figure 6: Phil Hill & Unknown (June, 2021 & 1970s) Cut photograph from album.

Macaulay also suggested that there could be something that sits within the pages of the book, which would be discovered/fall out as the book is being read. This could either be one of the quotes, or a negative. I think that the idea of adding a negative strip of images is an interesting concept so have been working on producing some. My story starts with the cut image (fig: 6) and is about finding the answer to the question why it has been cut. A logical image to ‘find’ might be the full image of the cut picture – the one that I myself found and confirmed that it was my grandmother cut from the photograph. This becomes one of the payoffs in the sequence that could work very well.

Micro Sequence

Figure 7: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Copy set up to copy artwork onto 35mm film.

To do this, I have taken the original scans and then printed them out to then re-photograph them as if copying artwork. This will create a new negative from the image (Fig: 7).

As well as the negative of the full image of my grandmother, I was first considering adding some other arbitrary images from the archive that you would expect to see as part of a negative strip. However, There is an opportunity to work with what Barthes’ referred to as a ‘Micro sequence’ within the wider story (1977: 103). Barthes effectively breaks down the narrative into its constituent parts, point out the grammar and its syntax that provides the structure for the story. He raises some good points, even related to how I am planning to sequence my images: “for example in the portrait. Which readily juxtaposes data concerning civil status and traits of character” (pp. 97-98). Each image in my sequence is providing an important role for the understanding of the wider narrative. In the case of the quote from Barthes, this serves to introduce a character into the story and provide background information on them. The negative contained in the book loosely, serves as one of these ‘Micro Sequences,’ so it is important that the additional images that I select also serve the story.

For this, I went back to the film that the image of my grandmother was found. Analysing what I can see in the images, I can infer that this was at Christmas from the decorations within the setting. There are images also of winter fields that confirm this. Knowing what I know now about this story, provides some context for how my mum in particular must have been feeling at the time that the photograph was taken. This links well to the conversation I had with Ohiri. Only through the intervention of the photograph much later, the innocence of it drops and we can we begin to understand other narratives over what can be visually described by looking at the photograph.

With that in mind, I have taken images from the roll of film and re-sequenced them for this micro sequenced to provide some additional account to what may have been taking place at the time, or at least in the time between the photograph was taken and now:

Figure 8: Unknown (1970s) Scan from complete negative in archive showing Grandmother.

Image 1: The Gran photograph (Fig: 8). I am intending to place the cut photograph early in the sequence of the book as this was the catalyst for the project. I later discovered the full negative when going through the bags of film that my parents keep. This discovery is important and part of the mystery of the narrative that I am presenting. This is the main image to be discovered on the negative strip. I refer to this in the story that I wrote, so it becomes a payoff after reading the story. An interesting detail has appeared after I scanned this image, I notice that there is a Boots film processing envelope on the side table.

Figure 9: Unknown (1970s) Detail of room with picture frames and Christmas decorations.

Image 2: I made a crop of another image on the same film (Fig: 9). This shows details of the house they are sitting in. I am assuming this is the home of my paternal grandparents. There is tinsel around the frames to show that this is winter and Christmas time. The angle could denote an accidental photograph has been made, potentially due to some altercation, or off-hand comment that changed the mood. Conceivably the result of some kind of exchange.

Image 3: I made a blank frame by shooting with the lens cap on, and also variations of this with my hand partially obscuring the frame. This is to continue the feeling of the above image. One accidental frame could be excused, but adding another might subtly hint at this narrative I am constructing.

Figure 10: Unknown (1970s) Winter Landscape from same film.

Image 4: One of the winter landscapes (Fig: 10). This image was on the same film strip and feels quite peaceful compared to the other images. I included this as a way of concluding the micro sequence. Potentially the need to stop on the journey home after the visit.

Upon reading the book, I am keen to give the audience some level of discovery as I had when carrying out the project. I also want to place the narrative throughout the book in a way that you can read and then re-read it to differing conclusions. The construction of the micro sequence creates another opportunity for this.

Figure 11: Phil Hill (July 2021) Film envelope from archive
Figure 12: PhilHill (July, 2021) Film envelope from archive

Additionally, within the archive there were a number of retro film envelopes, with the cliched message ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and ‘all the magic of your memories can be shared with your family and friends by sending them a photograph’ (Fig: 11). On the reverse of this is the message to ‘never cut the negative strips into individual frames’ (Fig: 12). As I have been arching the negatives that I found into sheets, these became redundant. However, instead of throwing them away, I have collected 11 so far, which can be used to contain the copy negative for the micro sequence. This adds an extra level to the narrative, through its language connection to memory making and also the way that commercial film processing used to handle film orders. In addition to this, the inclusion of these envelopes into my book dummies places a direct link to my archive into the object that I am producing. After discussions with Macaulay, she agrees and suggested that future versions could be made using a copied version of this object. This makes the initial dummies much more of a rarity.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Macaulay, E., 2021. Unreliable Narrator Ideas . [PDF]

Conversations with Karl Ohiri and Paul Sng

Karl Ohiri

Figure 1: Karl Ohiri (2013) from ‘How to Mend a Broken Heart.’

I was able to talk with Karl Ohiri about his experiences of working with personal family stories. I was also interested to get some insight into his use of the defaced images from his family archive, which he used for the series ‘How to mend a broken heart’ (Fig: 1).

I asked Karl about his thoughts about why someone would keep a photograph after they defaced it. Ohiri felt that although the memories might still be quite painful, the photograph also still has a resonance. They still have connections for us. At some point there was this perception of happiness for the persons depicted in the, albeit a warped sense of this happiness.

We also discussed how the photograph on its own and outside context is perceived as innocent. This is especially true for the photograph within the family album that is rarely interrogated. The fleeting moments of a casually taken photograph cannot portray the nuance and complexities of the situation and contexts taking place outside of the frame. Additionally, the photograph represents a point in time after which anything is possible. It is only when the physicality of the photograph has been revisited, in the case of defacement, that we are able to gain a sense of something else that has taken place.

As our discussion was over the phone, Ohiri was not able to see the photographs from my archive that I was referencing (although I have sent them over now). He made the point of stating that “I can only visualise these images from my own library images” (2021), which creates a link to the research into the absence of the photograph and the way that we refer to images that we already know (Fig: 2).

Ohiri also made the point of saying that in the event of limited information it can create a void in which we speculate and fill with our own stories. Ohiri’s statement towards the end of our conversation confirmed my own conclusions and it was valuable to hear from someone with experience working with similar themes.


Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Discussing the power of the absent photograph.

Paul Sng

Paul Sng is a documentary filmmaker, currently working on a film about the documentary photographer, Tish Murtha. He also runs a website and social media platform called ‘Invisible Britain,’ which is about telling the stories of under represented individuals in the UK (Fig: 2).

Figure 2: Paul Sng (2021) Homepage of Invisible Britain website

Sng put some important questions to me whilst we were discussing my project: The importance of defining the audience? and why am I telling the story? These are especially important considerations for my project owing to its personal nature. Sng made the point that I do have the right to tell the story, which is something that is supported by Savannah Dodd, who suggests that being so close to the story means that I am best placed to understand the complex narratives and impacts that they are having (2011). However, it might be easy to take things a lot further because of the amount of access that I possess and also the willingness for the persons in the photographs to oblige to what they are being asked to do. I feel this is a continuing dialogue that needs to take place, especially as I see the project being iterative at different stages of its publication. Sng said that my story was compelling and there is something of interest in the work that I am producing. However there it is important to have a good sense of ethics and ensure that there are high levels of trust for all involved (Sng, 2021).

Bibliography

Dodd, S., 2021. The Ethics of Documenting Your Own Family. [Online] Available at: https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/the-ethics-of-documenting-your-own-family-7225ca8bd59a [Accessed 11 June 2021].

Ohiri, K., 2021. Conversation with Karl Ohiri [Interview] (12 July 2021).

Sng, P., 2021. Conversation with Paul Sng [Interview] (13 July 2021).

Narrative Development

To develop my narrative, I felt that it was important to write down my process of discovery. I have found this to be really valuable in considering how the images are going to be sequenced. This account also serves to place me into the story as it creates a chronicle of my journey and discovery. Key feedback has been to develop the initial way that I had been captioning the images, which was considered to be too narrow in terms of how the images are being read. My use of quotes subsequently went very much the other way and created an open reading of the work that left too many questions. This story aims to redress the balance. My intention is to place this towards the end of the book, so that the images and quotes can be looked at first and then the story can be read. This way the viewer can then return to the images and have elements revealed to them that they may have missed on an initial viewing of the work:

The Latchkey Kids

Portfolio Review Reflections

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.

Bibliography

Dyer, G., 2021. Coversation with Geoff Dyer – Falmouth Flexible [Interview] (8 July 2021).

Koenig, S., 2014. Serial. [Sound Recording] (This American Life).

6th Meeting 14/07

Date of Supervision Meeting14/07/21
Start time of Meeting10:00
Length of Meeting in minutes30 mins
Meeting Notes & Action PointsIt was good to catch up with Wendy and go through the progress that I have made with my project. With the latest revelations of the work, it will be important to let this sit and be fully absorbed to see where the work develops. However, I set out to find an answer to a question and have ended up getting an answer so it is now important to see how this works with the work and not let it get too fixed down. Wendy enjoys the openness of the work and this is something that should remain within the edit that I put together. How image and text work together will play a crucial role in this.It was suggested that I take a look at the work of Lisa Barnard and also re-visit Jack Latham’s talk. It was also suggested that I go back and write a new project descriptor to define what my project is now. Themes of redemption and how potential that circle of trauma had been broken leading to how we live today, which I am going to research much more. It is important that I ‘Pull myself back to intentionality.’
I will continue to talk with book designer with the next meeting planned tomorrow and start to document this part of the process. Wendy reminded me that the submission is merely an iteration in which the project can continue to develop
Date of Next Proposed Meeting4/8/21

Output – Exhibtion

During the MA, our cohort German Bight has formed a collective called ‘The Long Exposure,’ which was a response to the first lockdown where we would take turns to share experiences of the pandemic. We have since decided that it would make a good platform to continue collaborating after the MA is finished and have set up a web page in addition to the Instagram profile (Fig: 1).

Figure 1: The Long Exposure (2021) The Long Exposure collective Instagram profile page.

What this means in the short term is we now have a framework to work together and create output for our photographic works.

Landings 2021 – What happened Next?
Figure 2: Phil Hill (July, 2021) What Happened Next? Exhibition logo.

For this year’s Landings exhibition, everyone was asked to form curating teams and create mini exhibitions. TLE came together to create an open call postcard exhibition that would be a way of channeling thoughts, feelings, dreams and actions, journey of the last 15 months into the creation of a new single image that would be submitted and turned into a postcard, which would be printed and shared to create a series of local mini exhibitions.

We were pleased to be selected for Landings and will work on producing the exhibition. I have contributed a logo (Fig: 2) and will continue to support the effort in putting it together.

Four Corners

We also want an opportunity to celebrate our efforts of the last two years and are in the process of creating a group show, which would be held at Four corners gallery in Bethnal Green. As a group we considered a range of locations and have settled on Four Corners because of its position within the London Photography community. Victoria, Tim and I went for a visit over the weekend and were impressed with the space and level of support that they are willing to give us in putting together the exhibition in October.

Although Bethnal Green is slightly outside of an areas that might have a much higher foot fall, because it is a dedicated photographic centre it would have the benefit of being well-known to the photographic community who would be willing to make the journey to the gallery. Additionally, because of its status and also having labyrinth photo lab in the basement means that we would also gain incidental viewing of both the gallery and the lab’s clients visiting during the exhibition.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Four Corners Gallery, Bethnal Green, London.

The space was large and bright, with plenty of room for everyone involved. It also has the opportunity to showcase multi media presentations and a good window display. Personally, having the opportunity to set up and exhibition as a collective allows me to show work in London to people interested in seeing it and potentially commissioning it. As I do not have a great deal of experience in exhibiting and setting up exhibition, this will provide me the platform to mitigate cost and be part of the process supported by my peers.

At the time of our visit, there was an exhibition by ‘PH: The Photography Research Network,’ who are a collective of PHD students creating work around re-considering the photographic medium in contemporary settings: “How must we – understand the connection between photography and people’s ways of life in today’s post-factual world’ (Pasternak, 2021). It was valuable to see an exhibition by a collective to gain a sense of how this work, which is all quite different, sits together in one space (Fig: 3).

Bibliography

Pasternak, G., 2021. Bridging The Distance – PH: The Photography Research Network [Exhibition]. London: Four Corners Gallery.

Project shift – reflections

My project has shifted it focus. Recently, I found out that my grandmother had passed away whilst I have been making this project, in May. She had Lung cancer and I was informed by my cousin who I had reached out early on for my grandmother’s address. My grandmother had given instructions that no one can know what was happening until after she had died, including my mother. Off the back of this revelation, I had resolved the fact that I would never fully know her reasons for the rift with my mother.

This weekend however, I was contacted by my cousin to let me know that they had some photographs for me to give to my family, so I travelled down to the West Country to meet with her and also my aunt, my mum’s sister. She was quite candid about the relationship between my mum and grandmother. What happens stems from their Step-Father, and my aunt catalogued a history of domestic violence perpetrated on all of the family and in particular my gran and my mum. I followed this up with a long conversation with my mum who I have not really spoken to about all of this until now. She essentially confirmed what my aunt was saying but also adding that my grandmother was equally as abusive towards my mum. It has taken a few days to start processing what I was being told. I wondered why it has taken until now to know these things, yet as my mum said to me “how do you tell your children,” which I can understand. Given that they did not speak for over 20 years and that we were children at the time of this break down, I can see how both time and distance meant that the opportunity for this kind of conversation never arose.

The uncovering of these things also gives me some context in which I can understand my mum’s attitudes to certain things, such as the pandemic, and her deep mis-trust of any authority, which is because she was unable to rely and trust those in power, those people who were supposed to safeguard her when she was a child. This is at the root of the project that I am creating here. It is the spectre of this culture of domestic violence that has rippled down through the generations and continues to impact all of us in some way.

Although I will never get to hear her side, and from what my mother has told me, cannot excuse, I can to a certain extent understand my grandmother too. My mother’s biological father left when my aunt was still a baby, according to her, with another woman. This was the early sixties where my gran would have had little means of supporting three very young children. I don’t know the backstory on how she got together with the step-dad but can only imagine that there were few choices afforded to her at that time. The abuse suffered by my mother may in part be channelled from an existence of living in fear herself both physically, emotionally, and economically, but this is speculation as I will never fully know.

For my project now

The impact of my parents’ upbringing would have an effect on my own. It is worth pointing out that although I grew up quite poor, my childhood was quite blissful yet there has always been this sense of connection and identity, which I have been keen to explore here. Ideas of epigenetics is something that I am now going to look at again as it related to the things that we inherit in addition to our DNA. There is also elements of Derrida’s Hauntology (2006) that I will need to review and see how it applies to this new direction. This has all come quite late into the process of the work but is fundamental to the project and important that I give it a faithful representation within the work. Another opportunity to revisit the ethics of what I am doing.

There are a few images within the archive that show the step-dad, who is also now deceased. The idea of the unreliable narrator still applied to the project but with a shift in focus towards ideas around abusive relationships – gaslighting a prime example. I have memories of this man as a child, he was an intimidating figure who had tattoos up each arm and that we used to have to call him granddad, but I somehow knew that was not true. It was always uncomfortable to be around, which I guess reflects the relations between everyone at that time. This is the spectre that I referred to in my initial opening statement for the project. Within my sequence, I could use the images but in an abstracted way to highlight this concept. I also do not wish to create agency for this person. There is also the question of memory and how hazy this can be.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Portrait of grandmother, which was missing from album image. Printed onto letter writing paper.

At the start of the FMP, I made some experiments by re-photographing archive images of my gran and then printing them onto Basildon Bond letter paper (Fig: 1), which created a physicality to them by showing the grain of the image and the paper that the image was printed on. I felt that these worked quite well but as the project progressed, I wasn’t sure how they fit in. Now I have an opportunity to use the technique in order to abstract these images.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Abstracted image from archive
Figure 3: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Abstracted image from archive.

The images from the archive were copied onto a new role of black and white film, which I then printed out onto standard laser jet paper (Fig 2&3). I then photographed the printout using a macro set-up with studio lights to show the grain of the paper. These negatives were then printed in a darkroom onto out-of-date printing paper. Part of the aesthetic of these images was to keep them in line with the faded archive images that I am working with. Some of these produce an outcome that is barely registered on the paper, which adds to the idea of hauntology – the spectre of a person that continues to impact via their actions in the past. The outcome also provides the photographic trace of something that was there connecting to ideas of memory.

Bibliography

Derrida, J., 2006. Spectres of Marx. New York: Routledge Classics.

Peer feedback & Reflections 19/06 – 29/06

The past few weeks have been quite tumultuous for the project. Many ups and downs. It has been a good time to reflect on the progress and consider ways in which I can move forward to a resolution.

I have collected together a great deal of material for the project, which creates the problem of editing. When I see that lots of the images are important, the job of sequencing and pairing down becomes a real challenge. I sought some feedback from my peers and also Cemre who have been very useful is getting me to think about the work in preparation to sequence it.

Ross pointed out the way that the still life objects suggest that I am in the process of unpacking everything as I ‘discover it,’ which is not something that I though of myself but makes sense in the way that I have been approaching these objects. He also noted that some of the images, in particular the house, feels like a scene of crime image (which has since become poignant to the project) and suggesting of something that has happened. Since receiving this feedback from Ross, my project has shifted in this direction owing to new information coming to light – that I intend to elaborate on once I have fully processed it.

Ross seemed to like the way that I was using the text and how it does not point to a particular narrator, which has been the point of the work and I am happy that he had this reading of it. He did point out that there are some consistency issues with the text and this is something others have also suggested to me. A clear area to develop is in the way that these pieces of text come across for the narrative. Colin made the point that I must be the one who is reliable so that I can be unreliable, and it will be in these details in which that will start to make sense.

The captions seemed to be where I am getting the most comments within terms of how the images are being read. When I started looking at the archive, I made the conscious decision to log everything in a database and describe each artifact in what could be seen visually – essentially all of the denoted elements of the photographs. I then added to these descriptions with accompanying information inside square brackets, which are used to add extra information not by the author. This is an extra level of confusion when both the image, the caption, and the brackets are made by me the author of the work. Initially, my intention with the caption was to create the distance suggested by Wayne C. Booth but I am starting to realise that there are better ways of doing this.

As soon as I started to introduce some of the quotes collected along the way, this approach has become a little inconsistent with the rest of the work – too matter of fact. The other challenge I am finding is the literal descriptions are being read in a way that starts to create negative associations or placing judgement on the subject. Ross made special note of this as he pointed out the portrait of my brother (fig: 1) might come across as too judgmental with the inclusion of the caption about his shift work. I was aiming to make connections to ideas of class within the wider body of work but now realise that I really don’t have to do so in an overt way. In our last meeting, Colin also suggested that the sequencing of the quotes will be important to the narrative of the project and I should start to focus on this aspect of it.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Original caption: ‘8132, Matthew, brother [after a shift collecting rubbish], Frome, Somerset, 2021.’

I made a point of speaking with Cemre, who support me on the surfaces and strategies module, she also has great experience producing books. Her feedback was also focussed on the way that I had been using text and how inconsistent it is when looking through the project. As usual, I have a huge amount of ideas that I am unwilling to let go off and as a result the whole project suffers. Cemre made the useful observation that at the moment the project is far too loose, and it was important to get things back under control. It would be important to come to the work as if I was starting it from scratch. The issue with creating early sequences of the work, as I have been doing all along, is that I may lose some important connections with the work by hanging on to image sequences that are actually not really helping the project as a whole. It is vitally important that I go back to the beginning of this and work on the narrative much more. Between colin, Ross, and Cemre I should focus on working on the way that the text elements fit together before sequencing the images.  And of course, the all important ‘living with the work’ comment was made, so I am going to get all of the images on a wall to work through the sequence again.

As I had started working with a book designer, I spoke with Cemre about this process. It was noted that it would be good to get a handle on the sequence and narrative before I meet again with the designer. This was very useful as I had been presenting a patchwork of loose ideas before this. However, I will need to conder how flexible this project will need to be even after I have a dummy designed. On a recent interview with Bryan Schutmaat and Matthew Genitempo (Smith, et al., 2021) they discuss that it is important to have a great set of images that don’t necessarily have to be too structured in terms of the presentation as the publisher will always want to bring something to the outcome of the book. This of course is if I chose to continue pursuing publishers over self-publishing.

A useful takeaway from my discussion with Cemre is that the book will exist longer than other forms of dissemination and I really need to consider this and what it will bring to the project.

I also spoke with Drew who was able to provide some useful insight into the project and how I might start tackling the sequence and narrative. One of the main points of feedback he made was in the way that I need to find something within the process that is valuable to the sequence. If there is no real conclusion it becomes about what I discovered along the way. My project is very much about the journey and not the outcome so this is an area to now focus on.

Crucially, in our discussion Drew reminded me of Barthes’ ‘Image-Music-Text’ chapter on ‘Structural Analysis of Narrative’ (1977: 79-124), which breaks down the process of how a narrative is structured. Although Barthes is referring to literature, there are useful elements to consider in putting together a photographic narrative that I am aiming to apply. For example, it is important to consider what each of my images is saying in terms of what I want to say. Barthes points out: “having described the flower, the botanist is not to get involved in describing the bouquet” (p. 83), which is to suggest that I am effectively shutting down discourse by overly describing within my captions. Each image becomes a sentence in the story and some of the images would be consider longer sentences than others. Time to break down the images into these elements and then bring them back together.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Smith, B., Genitempo, M. & Schutmaat, B., 2021. 155 – Matthew Genitempo & Bryan Schutmaat. [Online]
Available at: https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/genitempo-and-schutmaat