Book Designer Meeting

I had a meeting with Emily Macaulay today of ‘Stanley James Press’ to talk through how I might turn my project into the book. This was highly productive and extremely valuable to hear her extensive experience in creating book projects with photographers. I was very pleased to be able to discuss the project with her, as she has worked on some titles that I really enjoy, including Alma Haser’s Cosmic Surgery (Fig: 1), a Limited edition of Sugar Paper Theories (Fig: 2), Simon Robert’s ‘Brexit Lexicon,’ and also Portrait Salon exhibition catalogues, which always bring a unique quality to them over the standard image and caption on page (Fig: 3).

Figure 1: Alma Haser (2015) Spread from ‘Cosmic Surgery’
Figure 2: Jack Latham (2019) Limited Edition ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ box set
Figure 3: Portrait Salon (2015) Portrait Salon 2015 Catalogue

Macaulay, was interested in the project and how I have been considering the published object to be about trace and memory, we spent some tie discussing this and how it might come together as a book. McCauley is keen to understand how I have been putting together the project up until now and her process would then be to look at how formatting would best serve the story. Should we end up working on the book together, it would become a collaborative process over a period of time that could involve both the design and the production of the book.

There is much potential to develop my project in this way and dependent of the economics of the publication – an unfortunate but essential consideration – it could be either a full book, or closer to a zine. I am hoping for something in the middle, akin to the book that I produced with Out of Place.

One of the key questions that I was keen to talk through was the idea of fund raising for the title. This of course depends on the outcome. Cosmic Surgery, for example was funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign but this comes with it’s own pitfalls. Kickstarter expects a fee for its service and according to Macaulay was an extremely intense period of promoting and pushing the project through this platform. Alternatively, there is an opportunity to ‘pre-sale’ the title but that would of course depend on the amount of interest I was able to generate in the book and would also mean that I would need to produce some to show the product that people are buying into. That said, Macaulay did suggest that it was possible to ‘pre-sale’ the idea but that this would need some specific marketing to allow people to get on board without seeing the finished product.

A real positive from the meeting was how Macaulay was very used to working with independent photographers, such as myself and aware of the process of creating a book with varying budgets. Moving forward, I will follow up soon to see if it is possible to create my book designed by Stanley James Press.

Still Life – Objects Re shoot

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).

Figure 2: Phil Hill (February, 2021) St Christopher pendant on flatbed scanner
Figure 3: Phil Hill (March, 2021) St Christopher pendant on neutral background.

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).

Figure 4: Pantone (2021) Pantone swatch for ‘Baby Blue’
Figure 5: Phil Hill & Unknown (May, 2021) Family albumpage on Blue back ground [un-edited]

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.

Figure 7: Phil Hill (May, 2021) ‘Cuttings Book’ from family archive.
Figure 8: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Reverse of a newspaper cutting in family archive.

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.

Bibliography

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.

Book Dummy Construction V3

Building on the V2 book construction, I have started to look at methods of combining some of the more intricate elements of the book, which reference ideas of memory and trace and also working in more text within the main body of the book.

Typewriter

Figure 1: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Typewriter for book text.
Figure 2: Phil Hill (May, 2021) ‘Unreliable Narrator’ title using typewriter.

Focusing on the physicality of the object, I have used a typewriter to create the title and some of the pages containing the quotations I have collected (Fig: 1&2). The typeface is quite small – roughly 12pt – however, I enjoy the link to the material and the way the typed letters look on the page. This also links to ideas of manuscripts that I am aiming to emulate with the publication in this version and also to the novel and the nostalgia associated with typewriters and writing in this format. The typed letters are also a kind of trace left by the act of pressing keys in a way that is different to using a computer and word processing software. However, there is always the option to do this in later editions of the book.

Carbon copy paper

Fugure 3: Phil Hill (May, 2021) blue carbon copy paper in binding of book.
Figure 4: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Writing in pencil on opening page, which could be done with any pressure put onto the sheet.
Figure 5: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Carbon copy of pencil.

I managed to source a blue version of the carbon paper, which is what I have memories of. The blue also highlights the nature of the copied page (Fig: 3). I am considering using this in a couple of ways. At the start of the book, flanked by two blank sheets, which can be used for editions, numbering and signing (Fig: 4). There is potential to scribe onto the top blank page and create a copy of anything written (Fig: 5). Carbon copies are an idea that I came to after listening to Sara Davidman discussing her project ‘Ken. To Be Destroyed’ (2011), in which she found carbon copies of letters sent by her mother – a trace memory of the object letter. This is something that I could apply to my book. The collection of quotes that I am going to put into the book could be typed using letter paper and the copy paper included in the binding (Fig: 6).

Figure 6: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Typed pages ready for future version of book.

The carbon paper is also not fixed and any pressure applied to the page would leave a trace on the opposite page, which creates a book that is always in flux – just as our memory and histories are in flux.

Split pins

Figure 7: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Bound V3 book with brass split pins
Figure 8: Alibaba.com (2021) Book binding screws
Figure 9: Suharu Ogawa (2014) Photo album with screw post binding.

Manuscripts tend to be bound using brass split pins (Fig: 7), I have added some to this version of the book but am finding that they are quickly reaching breaking point when interacting with the book. A future version could instead use a kind of book binding screw (Fig: 8), which is a common feature in portfolios and more importantly, family albums (Fig: 9).

Hard cover

Figure 10: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Hard Cover experiment

Figure 11: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Margin error

I also used this version of the book as an opportunity to continue experimenting with cover options and created a hard cover (Fig: 10). I quickly realised however, that owing to the nature of the binding, my margin was off and cut some of the images and text up (Fig: 11). This also meant that the book no longer opened wide enough to enjoy a double page spread. The hard cover also does not really work in the context of the manuscript idea and its inflexibility reduces the enjoyment of picking it up and leafing through the pages. Bruno Ceschel comments on the experience of interacting with a book: “you will have to take that into consideration: what experience you want to give your readers, and especially how that experience might enhance or be in tune with the content of the book” (2015, p. 494).

There is potential for the hard cover to work, if it was a traditional case binding, however making them myself means that I won’t be able to produce this kind of binding, which will look professional. This kind of material will also push the unit price of the book much higher. I am keen for the experience of the book to be nearer that of a manuscript, or even that of a paperback novel, which denotes the idea of the unreliable narrator in its feel and experience of picking it up and working through the pages.

More of the indexical

Figure 12: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Photogram on fibre based darkroom paper made from acetate overlay.
Figure 13: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Photogram torn and mounted to front cover.

I made a series of acetate sheets that could be used to create photograms in the darkroom. I made a series of fibre-based prints using these and am currently exploring ways that I can incorporate them into the book (12 & 13). The photogram is usually made by placing objects onto the photo sensitive paper blocking the light. This indexical link to the object is another way of exploring ideas of trace and memory. This also brings the physicality of the photograph into the book, that might be lost through the way that the book’s pages will be printed. To extend this idea, I also am considering turning the archive imagery that will be used into small 6×4 glossy prints that could be stuck onto the page instead of printed to reference the family album that I found them in. I could also make some of the same physical cuts that those prints have.

Other Books analysis
Critina De Middel: Afronauts
Figure 14: Cristina De Middel (2012) From’Afronauts’
Figure 15: Cristina De Middel (2012) From ‘Afronauts’

De Middel’s book is a fiction based in some fact. Her book is a reflection of this (Fig: 14) and uses it to build a story through her personal imagery (Setanta Books, 2019). There is a great physicality to the object, which also includes types elements and place these on lined paper that fold out from the central gutter (Fig: 15). I also enjoy the use of illustration with the photographs and there could be potential to include some within my own sequence. In Joerg Colberg’s review of the book he notes: “I had seen photographs from the project on the internet, but I thought that they were just a tad too cute. But then I came across the book, and that made all the difference” (Colberg, 2012) suggesting the way that the book can change the interpretation of a body of work.

Middel’s approach to the series is also worth discussion. In her own words: “it had this fact/fiction game in terms for the documentary value of photography — it’s something real but unbelievable, so if you take pictures of it, you end up with this weird thing, which you don’t know whether to believe or not” (De Middel, 2013). And this really resonates with my own project however, there are some ethical issues that are also worth noting and some that play a role in the development of my work. It could be argued that Middel is mocking or othering in her Afronauts project, something that she rejects, noting the work is more about the perception of Africa that it would be impossible for them to reach the moon: ‘The images are beautiful and the story is pleasant at a first level, but it is built on the fact that nobody believes that Africa will ever reach the moon. It hides a very subtle critique to our position towards the whole continent and our prejudices.’ (Setanta Books, 2019).

Alec Soth: Broken Manual

Figure 16: Alec Soth (2010) ‘Broken Manual’

Soth creates a really engaging object with his book ‘Broken Manual.’ Soth’s book is housed within another book creating elements of secrecy and mystery (Fig: 16). Soth created a character for this book in the form of ‘Lester B Morrison,’ a construction of Soth’s he uses to create further intrigue. In a sense Lester B. Morrison is an unreliable narrator when you realise that it is in fact Soth writing: “I was trying to develop this secret, private language – the way people who’d spent too much time with themselves do” (2020).

Both approaches add something to the images and create a more experiential object that time can be spent and enjoyed. This is something that David Levi Strauss argues for in ‘Photography and Belief,’ which is opposition to the way that we consume images digitally: “Images that appear on the screens of our devices go by in a streaming flow. Individual images are seldom apprehended separately, as a singular trace […]. The images consumed in a flow are seldom dwelled on, so their individual effect is limited” (2020, p. 63).

Next Steps

I am still photographing this project, so the way that the book comes together will inevitable be a reaction to the images that I have to create. That said, after reading Bruno Ceshel’s ‘Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook manual and manifesto’ it is clear that the work can exist in its iterative form and continue to evolve even as I share the work (2015, p. 486), which is also something that Wendy suggested in a previous meeting. I am relatively happy with the way the work is coming together and initial sharing of the project is proving positive, including FT editor Emma Bowket, who found the concept interesting. I plan to create the next version of the book in a more polished form that can be shared with industry professionals for feedback.  

Bibliography

Ceshel, B. & Senior, D., 2015. Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.

Colberg, J., 2012. Review: The Afronauts by Cristina De Middel. [Online] Available at: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2012/07/review_the_afronauts_by_cristina_de_middel/ [Accessed 06 May 2021].

Davidmann, S., 2011. Ken. To Be Destroyed. [Online] Available at: https://www.saradavidmann.com/work#/kentobedestroyed/
[Accessed 07 May 2021].

De Middel, C., 2013. CRISTINA DE MIDDEL: THE AFRONAUTS [Interview] (25 April 2013).

Levi Strauss, D., 2020. Photography and Belief. 1 ed. New York: David Zwirner Books.

Setanta Books, 2019. The Afronauts. [Online] Available at: https://www.setantabooks.com/product/afronauts/
[Accessed 6 May 2021].

Soth, A., 2020. Broken Manual: Alec Soth in Conversation with Aaron Schuman [Interview] (11 August 2020).

On Photobooks

I spent a good amount of time during the MA debating the value of the photobook in terms of a key way to disseminate my work. Photobooks can feel like a limited way of putting work into the world, which is supported by arguments put forward by Simon Norfolk who has suggested that they can be esoteric and only really consumed by other photographers (2019). However, I have since started to consider the photobook as one of a range of ways to disseminate my work, which in part has been inspired by that way that my own small book was distributed and shared, leading to additional ways in which work can be seen (Fig: 1). This in part has been formed from starting to look at the ways that I can use the format over an in-person exhibitions, owing to the pandemic. Martin Parr, one of the biggest proponents of the photobook also notes their significant place for the dissemination of photographic work: “The photobook has been a fundamental means of expression and dissemination for photographers since the earliest practitioners pasted their images onto pages resembling those they would once have filled with sketches” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7).

Figure 1: Phil Hill & Out of Place Books (January, 2021) I hope this finds you safe and well photo book.

The book creates an opportunity for my work to be experienced in a tangible way, even when it has been impossible to do so over the recent months. The physicality of the book also places an enhanced experience of the work for the reader through the materials and the way that the work is presented. Bruno Ceschel expertly provides the basis in which I can now approach my own photobook construction for the project: “The first thing you must do is demystify the idea of the photobook. As soon as you have demolished every single convention about what a photobook should be, you fee yourself to dream up something new, exciting, and most important – completely doable” (2015: 485). It is important to put down my initial reservations about what I thought photobooks represented and consider the ways that I can add value to my project with a physical art object, which can be distributed and shared easily, meaning the experience of the work is not lost through the computer screen. Crucially, Ceschel makes a further point: “The book is a journey, not a destination […] Making a book should be both challenging and fun. It should be an adventure that will make you aware of your own practice, ideas, knowledge and skills” (p. 486). This above all, has been the biggest revelation in the process of the MA and indeed this FMP.

Figure 2: Alma Haser (2015) From ‘Cosmic Surgery’
Figure 3: Alma Haser (2015) from ‘Cosmic Surgery’

Therefore, I am looking at constructing a self-published book in the first instance. One that includes elements of trace and memory and how unreliable these things are. My book should be able to be reproduced easily in potentially different versions. I am considering creating a short run edition of between 5 – 10 highly unique books with an individual hand-made aesthetic and will be a higher end product, much Almar Hasser’s first edition of ‘Cosmic Surgery’ that that contains many more intricate elements than the subsequent editions (Fig: 2&3). I will also do a further edition, which is more easily producible on a larger scale – potentially on demand. Both of these editions, will be able to be produced through the resources that I have available to me. As I work in a Further Education college, I have access to good quality book making materials and printers – albeit with some limitations that I am exploring. There are also a range of art studios, which I can potentially use for elements such as screen printing and letter press etc.

Self Publishing

David Senior notes: “To self publish, to decentralise the production of print media, created a new type of printed object – one in which artists and designers bent the rules, played with conventions of the format, and created new containers for communication” (Ceshel & Senior, 2015: 8-9), which continues to support the idea of experimentation within my project. I have not finished photographing for the project either, so both provide opportunity to continue investigating ways in which to best communicate my ideas.

Figure 5: Lewis Bush (2021) From Bush’s Instagram showing the process of zine making.

My plan is to build a good quality dummy, which can be shared with publishers and also through book dummy awards. The idea that I can also produce other versions of the book quickly and efficiently to a high standard also means that I can share the book with people within the industry that might be interested in the project. I can do this on my own terms and also continue to develop the book as I gain reaction to it, as Ceshel also discusses: “Another thing you can do to free yourself from performance anxiety is to think of your book as being in flux – each time you print, the publication can change” (2015: 486). Lewis Bush also noted this when promoting some later runs of his zine publications (Fig: 5), which embrace the hand made nature of the format and the way that later mistakes can be rectified and does not detract from the professionalism that he brings to his wide range of zine publications.

My project has become one that builds an unusual world for the reader to be taken on a journey through. John Gossage places this kind of world building as a key element for a good photography book project: “firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should function a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what s being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with the content that sustains an ongoing interest” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7). This idea of world building is still ongoing and I will need to consider the ways that the materials and the design of the book add value to this. 

Bibliography

Ceshel, B. & Senior, D., 2015. Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.

Norfolk, S., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers [Interview] (12 June 2019).

Parr, M. & Badger, G., 2004. The Photobook: A History Vol 1. 1 ed. London: Phaidon.

On Diana Markosian

Figure 1: Diana Markosian (2014) Armenia. 2014. This is the closet thing I had to an image of my father. A cut out of him in my mother’s photo album. An empty hole. A reminder of what wasn’t there.

In her work titled ‘Inventing my Father’ Markosian deals with the absence of her father, who exists as only memories and cut out of photographs in her family album (Fig: 1). The work wonderfully puts together archive images and her own photography. I quite like the way that she combines the colour archive with her own black and white imagery (Fig: 2) as if to invert the idea of black and white being of the past – the fade and colour shifts in the archive does that in a really natural way and her images create a visual break to show her own investigations.   

Figure 2: Diana Markosian (2014) Armenia. 2014. I am standing in the courtyard of my father’s home. It’s the same gray, decaying Soviet building I remember as a child. You could say I’ve come home. But that’s not how it feels.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Archive database of image captions for FMP project

I have been working to create captions and text to accompany my images. Initially, I was looking at the idea of describing the image in a literal way and created a database of all of the images that I have photographed and archived myself (Fig: 3). The idea is that my eventual sequence would be as subjective and edited as any of the narratives that I have, or that the reader might have of the work. This could work as a booklet with every caption, numbered, for the reader to work through and find the ones associated with the book. This very much was inspired by Barthes’ famed winter garden image of his mother (1993), which is never seen and may have never existed at all (Photoworks, 2013). This literal description however, may not be working and I actually quite like the way that Markosian has captioned her imagery with a personal reflection about her father (Fig: 4). This could be a way of creating the narrative within my work and potentially I could create a kind of ‘Flash Fiction’ story broken up into the image sequence.

Figure 4: Diana Markosian (2014) Armenia. 2014. When I would ask my mother about him, she would look at me disappointed, “Forget him. He’s gone,” she would say.
Figure 5: Karl Ohiri (2013) from ‘How To Mend A Broken Heart’

Figure 6: Quetzal Maucci (2020) from ‘
Baci, Piccoli Baci, Grandi Baci’

One of the most striking images in Markosian’s series is the cut photographic print (Fig: 1), another example of the ‘Manual Intervention Photographs’ that photographers, such as Karl Ohiri (Fig: 5), and Quetzal Maucci (Fig: 6) have used to great effect in their own series. Markosian notes of the photograph: “For my mom, the solution to forget him was simple. She cut his image out of every photograph in our family album. But those holes made it harder for me to forget him” (2015). This validates an earlier discussion that I had regarding these kinds if images, which create more questions than anything that are conceivably aiming to hide (Fig: xx). I wonder why you would keep the image at all. It would also be worth noting that Markosian’s mother took her and her brother to the US when Markosian was seven, without telling her father where they were going. Presumably, Markosian’s mother took the family albums with her – including all of the images if the father. The object remains precious, even under times that are understandably stressful.


Figure 7: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Discussion the unreliable narrator and manual intervention photographs

Return of the object

There are a number of objects within the archive that I need to consider in terms of the way that they are part of the project.

I have considered the concept of Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) previously, the idea that objects exist in a far more complex way than humans are able to interpret them, as Graham Harmon states: “all of the objects that we experience are merely fictions: simplified models of the far more complex objects that continue to exist when I turn my head away from them, not to mention when I sleep or die” (2018, p. 34). In my own reflections, I considered the way that we view the world in a anthropocentric sense yet objects can exist outside of this, including ideas that ‘agency’ may also evoke the way in which the qualities and characteristics of even inanimate objects may have an impact on the reading of them.

It is a recurring theme in the work that I am reviewing as part of my research. In an anthropological sense, objects in the absence of the person are what can be used to try and understand them. A material culture (Engelke, 2017, pp. 6-7) show all of the items that we collect and hoard to build a picture of the person. Of course, this also has it’s subjective limits and is unreliable.

Bibliography

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

Engelke, M., 2017. Think Like an Anthropologist. London: Pelican Books.

Markosian, D., 2015. Diana Markosian: Inventing my Father. FT Weekend Magazine, 3/4 January, pp. 12-15.

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

Communities and Communication conference reflections

Figure 1: Phil Hill (2021) Conference paper and presentation

I found the experience of delivering a paper on my research to be a really valuable one (Fig: 1). Even though the presentation centered around the photography that I was producing for the last module, the paper that I wrote was written recently and created an opportunity to re-assess some of the research that I have done throughout this MA. It highlighted the areas that remain relevant to my practice and also some of the areas, which I had moved on from but would benefit on a closer re-evaluation for the FMP. For example, Barthes’ concept of the idiorythmic is and area worth applying to my current work – how we have our beliefs but entrench and separate them from each other, even refusing to accept the opinion of others. This is something that I can use for ‘Unreliable Narrator.’ Barthes also spends time discussing the way that a communities sense of self is built on (among other things) what it excludes, but also can choose to keep the expunged close as a way of comparing oneself (2012, p. 81). There are also elements of distance, which Barthes refers to Nietzsche’s ‘Pathos of Distance’ to highlight the way we elevate ourselves above what we wish to expel to create a kind of nobility (p. 132). I made this reference in relation to the way that we distanced ourselves during the pandemic but feel that it could easily refer to the way that we distance ourselves from one another through belief and ideas. I came to this research fairly early in the MA process but quite enjoy the way that its importance changes with the context of the way that I work.

Ross, was also working on delivering a paper at a separate conference, and it was also really valuable to gain peer support in the writing and editing of the presentation.

Figure 2: Phil Hill & Communities & Communication (2021) Online Communities and Communication Conference

Conference takeaways

Keynote speaker, Nichola Twemlow made an interesting observation regarding the young people that she supports through the YMCA. Talking about the value of communities, she noted:

“people can define themselves by the labels they are given”

(2021)

This really resonated with me and the way that I might consider applying class under the project themes. Working at an FE college I can really relate to this statement as the demographic of students that I teach regularly do not believe in themselves and the potential value that they have. For example, the Btec qualification that they study is considered slang for something being second rate – ‘that’s such a Btec xxx.’ It also really resonates with my own personal experiences if growing up within a working class home – the idea that you are not good enough is something that I hear often from my close family and potentially fuel for some of the other beliefs that they hold. Darren Mcgarvey understands this feeling when he discussed the way that the EU referendum argument for remain was based very much in the ‘on average’ benefits that it would have without truly grasping that if you come from a below average (economically) then these are not actually benefits to you (2018).

Twemlow’s statement is a useful method of framing aspects of my project and a way of discussing some of the content that I might include in a final sequence.

Bibliography

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

McGarvey, D., 2018. Poverty Safari. Main market edition ed. London: Picador.

Twemlow, N., 2021. Communities and Communication Conference 2021: Connections. Staffordshire, Staffordshire University.

Book Dummy Construction V2

Continuing the development of my book dummy, I have started to look at ways that I can make a book, which can be mass produced easily. I feel that the outcome should exist somewhere between the accessible and unique limited-edition art object. I intend to create a short-limited edition that includes unique and hand made elements to the book. For example, the use of the carbon copy paper, hand typed, and potentially screen-printed pages. These books could also have an individual unique aspect to the sequence or another part, which supports the unreliable aspects of the project.

Ideas for this could include:

  • Unique sequence for each book
  • Supporting ‘end notes’ that changes the caption information
  • ‘End Notes’ booklet that has captions for more images than are in the publication or the inclusion of additional contact pages to acknowledge the subjectivity of the photographic edit.
  • Limited edition prints included
  • Hand printed elements within the book.
  • If I decide to use elements such as the correspondence paper, this could actually be included
  • Hand torn edges – creating a unique object

Unreliable V2:

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Unreliable narrator book dummy version 2

I was able to access a printer that can create booklets, which makes it quite easy to run off sequences and see how these work in a book form (Fig: 1). The stapled edge also would work similar to the Japanese binding that I looked at previously in terms if the gutter and center margin. Although, I would aim for a higher quality for any final book, this was a useful way of seeing how I could quickly and economically produce a larger run of the book should it be self-published.

I am not sure about the A4 size, as the aspect ratio of the 6X7 format might look better in a 10×8 format. Some of the images within the book, really need the space to breath and I would have to consider the way that some of the image plays a role in the way the book reads.

Courier Type

Figure 2: Howard Kettler (1956) Courier Typeface

As I have been using a physical typewriter, I decided to use a typeface that would still be recognised as such. Courier is a ‘slab serif’ style (Fig: 2), which was created originally as a typewriter font. It’s use in later versions of my book would mean that the style and feel of the type would not be too compromised switching between a hand typed to digital text, albeit with a lost physicality.

Quotations

From conversations that I have started to have with family and others around the project, I have been collecting together quotes that I can use within the sequence so I have attempted to work some of them into this version

Endnotes

Figure 3: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Endnotes accompanying booklet

As an attempt to bring in a bit more of a contextualisation to the work, I have produced an accompanying booklet called ‘endnotes’ (Fig: 3), which creates an opportunity to play with the concept of unreliability by potentially producing different versions to go with the main publication. At the start, I have added a contextualising statement and then followed it by providing caption information via a corresponding number within the main book. Alternatively, I could use the Twin check label idea, which I have linked to ideas of memory, or could create a mini version of the main book that would have images.

Script

Figure 4: Script Studio (2021) Script format for printing out

Following the narrative structures that I am using, I might also work to create the next iteration of the book in the format of how a script is produced (Fig: 4). The format and presentation lends itself to the goals I am aiming for with my book. The size and script format create connotations supporting the unreliable narrator narrative structure. This kind of referencing is also similar to the way that Jack Latham’s ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Fig: 5) is presented as a kind of court evidence document. The format lends itself to a modular approach in the way that it is bound together using brass split pins, which could work as a way of mixing up the sequences. It would also be a relatively economic way of producing multiple copies in preparation for sharing with people interested in disseminating the work. This also means that I can easily create a copy for book awards.

Figure 5: Jack Latham (2015) Cover of Sugar Paper Theories

On Zoe Leonard

Figure 1: Zoe Leonard (1989) Three untitled photographs, taken from airplane windows

Leonard’s work deals with the idea of how we understand the photographic nature of photography. This is important as it really identifies the impact that photography can have on our understanding of the world. Leonard uses this really effectively and in simple terms for the reader, for example in the way that she leaves the border of the negative (Fig: 1), as Fi Churchman points out “as if to remind the viewer – and maybe herself – that these are compositions: the world framed by another’s viewpoint. Put simply, all perspectives are constructs” (Churchman & Leonard, 2018). This really resonates with the way that my own work has developed as I have become interested in the way that the photograph constructs – even place its own inanimate agency from its characteristics. It feeds my idea of how photographer, photography, and photographed elements can be unreliable in the construction, Leonard’s idea of ‘perspectives,’ or as she notes “where you look is only half the picture” (2018).

Now that I have started to consider my project as a way of responding to belief, and to acknowledge that these all may be tenuous – even my own. I am drawn to Leonard’s intentions for her work. My project has developed to also look at the way that elements of class, misinformation, conspiracy, and personal histories are all susceptible to unreliable narration. Leonard echoes this in the way that she says: “I’m consciously making space for the viewer and unfolding a kind of visual and spatial essay for them, in the hope that the viewer responds with their opinions, experiences, emotions. It’s not about trying to convince you of mine [Leonard’s], but to elicit yours” (2018). This is a useful way of thinking about the presentation of the work. I have considered putting together a sequence of the work, which could differ from publication to publication in order to undermine the experience that an individual brings to it, or would it just make it a more personal individualised interpretation of the work? Both would be the case. Wendy suggested that this kind of presentation could work to support the way that we all have a subjectivity when reviewing the family album and I would be aiming to build in this by highlighting the way that photography is a construction.

Bibliography

Churchman, F. & Leonard, Z., 2018. Zoe Leonard in ArtReview. [Online] Available at: https://www.hauserwirth.com/ursula/23142-zoe-leonard-artreview [Accessed 21 April 2021].

Socially Engaged – Mariama Attah

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Garden Incinerator in my Brothers garden
Figure 2: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Garden incinerator in my parents garden

I have reached a point in my project where I really need to consider the way that my photographs are representing the people in the images. There are some areas that have come up, that I have been drawn to in fact. For example, there are aspects to the beliefs that my mother holds, which really feed into the unreliable narrator idea and the way that mis-information proliferates. For example, upon my last visit home, I have noticed more objects around my parents home, such as the garden incinerator’s that both my parents and my brother have (Fig 1 & 2). They use these to burn anything that has an identifying address on instead of garden waste, which is born from some of the conspiracy theories that my mother is particularly interested in. I have not really considered this as part of the unreliable narrator project before however, my family are very much following a great deal of the mis-information and false narratives that exist on the internet, especially around the pandemic and attempts to vaccinate. There are new subtle hints towards this attitude to Covid, which can be seen in the portrait of my brother’s wife and her ‘mask exempt’ badge (Fig: 3).

Figure 3: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Sharon [not yet edited]

I have avoided this part of my family’s character up to now, but feel that it has become quite an important part to potentially include, owing to the nature of the subjects that I am exploring. My initial feelings are that I can potentially leave these aspects in a future sequence with little to no explanation as it drives the unreliable narrator theme through the work, leaving readers to discover these elements in the work. This is my family however, and it is not my intention to draw negative reaction to any of the people included in the work. This is important to me. How do I include them whilst remaining empathetic and respectful for the individual? I don’t believe that anyone who believes that Covid is a conspiracy is coming from a bad place and I also feel that it is actually important to analyse the reasons why they believe it in an open discussion that does not resort to partisan stone throwing. Neuroscientist, Hannah Critchlow notes that our beliefs are constructed to help us understand the world around us, we create the rules in which we see the world operate (2021). Critchlow’s suggestion is that as a way of trying to understand something that is too large to comprehend, such as the make up of the universe or the way that a global pandemic has spread, it is completely natural to gravitate toward religion and other beliefs.  A recent study on the way that ideas and information spreads through the internet found that lies spread much faster than truth, noting “false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it” (Vosoughi, et al., 2018). The challenge is in the way that others might look at and potentially mock those who believe in such theories.

Socially Engaged practice

Collaborative practice might be a way of bridging this. Mariama Attah made a really valuable keynote lecture during adapt on this way of working (2021). Her interest is in overlooked visual culture, which I believe my project falls into. Her discussion centered around the ways that we can share power as photographers and having a collective voice. I need to do more. I have been very focused on understand a narrative from my own perspective and collection images without necessarily talking through the process with my family, apart from the correspondence that I have sent out to my grandmother. I think the lack of response from her has created a certain apprehension in talking to my parents at any length about the project. This is something that I must challenge as it potentially could lead to a problematic end result that does not include those I am photographing.

Attah noted elements of a socially engaged practice (2021):

  • Collaboration
  • Conversation
  • Empathy
  • Acting as an Ally
  • Questioning photography’s history
  • Privilege and Power
  • Advocacy

I now need to look at some of these elements much more closely and investigate whether I am using them faithfully, for example:

Conversation:

I identified this early in in the project but have yet to explore it fully. I have conducted two interviews with distant uncles and also spoken to a cousin who I haven’t seen in 10 years. I must start the process with my mother. I think that I have found this to be too close for me to get past so far, as Marianne Hirsh also noted “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) where the same might be true of any familial exchange I may have with close family members. It remains important to continue working through this the conversations I have with more and more of my family will enable a more empathetic approach, another one of Attah’s socially engaged elements

Advocacy:

Now that I have come across more and more of the extreme views held by members of my family, it creates the question of how much advocacy these ideas should be allowed. The have every right to believe them. They are also an interesting evolution in the idea of the unreliable narrator – but that doesn’t mean that I should include for either of these reasons. It will be important to consider the reaction of others towards them should I choose to include the images, which will be an important part of the conversation, above.

Comparing to others:

Figure 4: Anthony Luvera (2014) ASSISTED SELF-PORTRAIT OF JOE MURRAY

How is my approach comparing to others? Anthony Luvera is a photographer that I have looked at previously during the MA, his approach to community and socially engaged projects is possibly one of the best examples of how this approach can foster a faithful representation of all involved (Fig: 4). His interest in the ethics of photography is something that I keep returning to, as he states “One of the things about any kind of social practice, whether it be within the expanded field of photographic practice, or another art form such as applied theatre, is a tension between the process of working with participants and the products that are created and then circulated to audiences” (Luvera in Homer, 2019) echoing the thoughts of Attah, when she noted “Photography’s history has been about classifying people & object in orders of worth and value” (2021). A key takeaway from my last supervisor meeting with Wendy was an idea of belief, which I feel is a way of creating a respectful approach to the work. Ultimately, I must move forward by conversing with the people in my project to discuss this idea of belief and how best they wish that belief to be represented.

Bibliography

Attah, M., 2021. Adapt 21: Responding Through Curating. Falmouth: Falmouth Flexible.

Critchlow, H., 2021. The Science of Fate. 1 ed. London: Hodder Paperbacks.

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

Luvera, A., 2019. Anthony Luvera – interview: ‘Photography is a way of telling stories about the world’ [Interview] (15 August 2019).

Vosoughi, S., Roy, D. & Aral, S., 2018. The spread of true and false news online. Science, 359(6380), pp. 1146-1151.