Are you Drowning Yet?

I have written about parts of this topic a couple of times since the start of the MA and I think it is definitely important to really consider the context of how my work is displayed, and the audience of that work:

Photo Books, for example. I absolutely adore them and spend many hours looking at my own small collection. However, I was interested to listen to Simon Norfolk in a recent Small Voice Podcast (Norfolk, 2019), who said that he himself is done with them. His reasoning for this is down to the audience of photobooks, which is almost entirely that of other photographers, and a middle-class demographic of photographers, which can be problematic for a number of reasons. When you consider that many of these books have small print runs of around 150, and can be exceptionally expensive, this can be limiting in the dissemination of the work; for the socially concerned photographer, what you are actually doing is creating esoteric works for other people like yourself which does not bring issues to a wide and diverse audience.

Norfolk’s critique continued, and he also discussed the way that some of the major awards operate to only reward those that are part of the same cliques within the traditional photography world and this kind of self-congratulatory feedback loop will ultimately harm the practice of photography and its relevance.

Figure 1. Simon Norfolk’s Instagram Profile. (Norfolk & Instagram, 2020).

Interestingly, Norfolk cited Instagram as the space where the most current photography is happening and has worked to increase his own audience to around 150,000 followers (Fig. 1). Norfolk also discussed photographers such as Joey L as potentially moving the medium forward in this sphere, yet wouldn’t be considered by the traditional gallery system. Added to this, I also read recently of the TikTok photographer Derek Harris with a 3.6 million fan base (Harris & TikTok, 2020). These two examples are not who you might consider as legitimate photographic artists and social media creates a homogenised view of photography (Fig. 2), yet they draw audiences that clearly cannot be ignored, and to a great extent show that photography still has a large audience, albeit a younger demographic than those who might follow the Photographers Gallery; this could be considered a gateway into other parts of the photographic world. The rise of these photographers is surely a reaction by a generation that only consumes media via an online platform and technologies potentially considering the way we consume imagery archaic and obsolete.

Figure 2. Image from @Insta_Repeat (Anon & Instagram, 2020).

Norfolk’s comments on Joel L were an interesting one however, he stated that he did not really like his work, a statement of which I tend to agree with owing to L’s highly exoticised gaze which is similar to the discussion around the National Geographic gaze we are looking at this week. However, Norfolk did have a great deal of respect for his ability to create an audience, and L’s aesthetics and technical ability can’t be discounted wholly. When I looked up Joey L’s Instagram however, he was actually using his most recent posts to promote his own first photobook, ‘We Came from Fire’ (L, 2019). So, even with L’s large online audience it seems he still places value on the tangible medium, albeit with a much larger print run no doubt.

Continuing this point, Last week’s reading of Bright’s ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, I was struck by her discussion regarding Lisa Lewenz’s ‘Three Mile Island Calendar’ (Bright, 1985) which consciously presented the work using a highly mass produced format playing with the notion of how these images would normally be viewed – primarily in a corporate report setting. This kind of presentation has impact over how you might expect to see a landscape image within its black borders and hung on white walls. To do something similar in a contemporary form of mass production, which ultimately would be using an online platform such as Instagram, the context could quickly drain away (Sontag, 1979, p. 106) as the image gets swallowed up by the countless others uploaded every second.

Where the photo book may hold more resonance with audiences outside of the photography world might be through publishers such as Hoxton Mini Press who will look for secondary markets for the books that they produce. For example, the book ‘One Day Young’ by Jenny Lewis (Lewis, 2015) is a beautiful series of portraits of mothers and their brand new babies, which was bought for me and my wife when my daughter was just born, and I have also seen it for sale in stores such as Oliver Bonas, creating an opportunity for those unaware of photography in the esoteric sense to access it. However, and I consider my editorial print background here, market forces shape the creation of photography for the masses and ultimately leads to its homogenisation, as broad appeal and aesthetics take the place of challenging work, which was certainly the kind of images that I shot for airline and travel magazines. There are advertisers and increasing market share to think about.

Bibliography

Anonymous & Instagram, 2020. Insta_Repeat Instagram Profile. [Online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/insta_repeat/ [Accessed 2 March 2020].

Bright, D., 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlborough Men. Exposure, 23(1), p. Online.

Harris, D. & TikTok, 2020. derrekharris TikTok Profiles. [Online] Available at: https://www.tiktok.com/@derrek.harris [Accessed 2 March 2020].

Lewis, J., 2015. One Day Young. 1 ed. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

L, J., 2019. We Came From Fire. 1 ed. New York: Powerhouse Books.

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

Norfolk, S. & Instagram, 2020. SimonNorfolkStudio Instagram Profile. [Online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/simonnorfolkstudio/ [Accessed 2 March 2020].

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Martin Parr & Patrick Waterhouse

His images create a grotesqueness in the use of obvious flash. These image are a construction, and the choices made to represent people, objects, and indeed people as objects is unrelenting, anything that the light falls is framed and appears garish in colour, fashion and presumed attitude of the people within then frame. Parr does not shy away from this, and refers to this appearance of the grotesque in his own biography (Parr, n.d.).

Figure 1. USA. Kentucky Derby. 2015. (Parr, 2015)
Figure 2. USA. Utah. Salt Lake City. Mr Mac’s. Two Missionary’s trying on their Suits. Matthew Tanner on left and Preston Toone on right. 2015. (Parr, 2015)

I find opposition in how I read some of his work, compared to how he describes himself and aims as a photographer. For Parr, to create the work that he does, it seems that it requires distance. Parr is taking his images behind the safety of his camera, in the sense that the flash technique that he employs feels a kind of interrogators spot light pointed at the subject to reveal things about themselves that they might not be prepared to reveal normally (Fig. 1). There is a distance there, there is also an intrusive element to some of his work, even when the subject is complicit, there is a feeling that they may not actually be in on the joke (Fig. 2). Parr states “It’s the quality of the connection you make with the subject which is absolutely key. And there should always be some kind of story behind that, some kind of tension or vulnerability” (Magnum Photos, 2018), Which is an interesting statement as there seems little connection with some of the subjects, although there is always a tension within his work, and I wonder if the vulnerability is in the actual awareness of how his subjects might be represented in the final images; Are they aware that they could be considered ‘Other.’ When I look at this work compared to other similar subject matter, for example how the photographer Nial Mcdiarmid photographs the UK, the difference feels embedded in the empathy towards the cultural coding that his subjects are displaying (Fig. 3); these images feel closer to a collaboration between subject and author over Parr’s images.

Figure 3. Rob, Merton, South London (Mcdiarmid, 2016)

I do enjoy much of Martin Parr’s images despite of his confrontational approach; it could be considered a re-balancing of the cultural anthropological images that western culture has taken from others by turning the lens onto our own consumption. There is a use of gaze that confirms and mocks our capitalism – especially throughout the excess of the eighties and the nineties where Parr’s look at the middle and upper classes feels the most relevant, and a necessary foil (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. SWITZERLAND. St Moritz. St Moritz polo world cup on snow. From ‘Luxury’. (Parr, 2011)

I found Parr’s approach a little more challenging when looking at his work for the book ‘No Worries’  (Parr, 2012). The book was created in conjunction with the 2012 FotoFreo festival in Western Australia, where I was living at the time. Parr was invited by the festival to focus his attention and unremitting style onto Australia and create a body of work that would also be exhibited at the festival (Parr, 2012). The work was to “examine the nature of the people, at work and at their leisure in a number of port towns and cities along the coast of Western Australia” (Magnum Photos, 2011). The exhibition that accompanied the work felt unremarkable compared to some of Parr’s earlier work, partly due to the technique that Parr uses didn’t seem to translate to the large format printing owing to his switch from film to digital. The series also felt fairly repetitive and in places forced. It was his images of indigenous Australians that were the most startling. Considering my comments on the re-balance of the anthropological imagery that we are used to seeing in publications such as National Geographic; here it seems to have reverted back the clichéd tropes of inconsiderate representation, together with the subject not even afforded a title (Fig. 5). This mirrors Diane Arbus’s problematic lack if titles in her later works (See Post), with another image also creates the idea of other through the view of indigenous Australians seeking hand outs (Fig. 6). These images read as though it could have been taken in a hurry, and quickly back onto photographing other Australians once more (Fig. 7).

Figure 5. South Hedland. Garden Centre. (Parr, 2011)
Figure 6. AUSTRALIA. Broome. Cable Beach. Scratch Football BBQ. From ‘No Worries’. (Parr, 2011).
Figure 7. Australia. Broome. Cable Beach. (Parr, 2011)

in considering a different approach, I have since come to enjoy the work of Patrick Waterhouse, who has worked with the Walpiri of Central Australia, and sort to collaborate in keeping with the culture and tradition of their culture (Waterhouse, 2019). The persons depicted, restricted the images by traditional painting (Fig. 8). The series was created in part to the way that ethnologists Francis J. Gillen and W. Baldwin Spencer documented Aboriginal groups in Australia at the end of the nineteenth century (Waterhouse, 2018), spurring the myth of exoticism and the way that non-western culture has been portrayed ever since.

Figure 8. ‘Various Front and Side Portraits’ (Waterhouse, 2019)

This is a continuum and Parr and Waterhouse seem to sit on each end of it in how they have represented. Both photographers use a highly constructed approach and in terms of the hunters and farmers analogy from week 3 (See Post), I would place Parr as Hunter, and Waterhouse as Farmer.

Where do I fall? Again it is somewhere in between these extremes, though much more toward how Waterhouse constructs his images with the Walpiri. I am not, as yet, fully collaborating with my subjects in this way, however, I do not believe that I am polarising the view of the representation of my subjects either.


Bibliography

Magnum Photos, 2011. Feature – No Worries Martin Parr. [Online]
Available at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspxVP3=SearchResult&ALID=2K1HRGQW9DQ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Magnum Photos, 2018. Martin Parr’s Advice to Documentary Photographers. [Online]
Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/martin-parrs-advice-documentary-photographers/ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Mcdiarmid, N., 2016. Rob, Merton, South London. [Photo].

Parr, M., 2011. Australia. Broome. Cable Beach. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2011. AUSTRALIA. Broome. Cable Beach. Scratch Football BBQ. From ‘No Worries’.. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2011. South Hedland. Garden Centre.. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2011. SWITZERLAND. St Moritz. St Moritz polo world cup on snow. From ‘Luxury’. 2011. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2012. No Worries. 1 ed. Perth, Western Australia: T&G.

Parr, M., 2012. No Worries. [Photo] (Western Australia Maritime Museum – Part of Fotofreo).

Parr, M., 2015. USA. Kentucky Derby. 2015.. [ Photo ] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2015. USA. Utah. Salt Lake City. Mr Mac’s. Two Missionary’s trying on their Suits. Matthew Tanner on left and Preston Toone on right. 2015. [Photo] (Magnum).

Parr, M., n.d. Martin Parr: Introduction. [Online] Available at: https://www.martinparr.com/introduction/ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Waterhouse, P., 2018. Various Front and Side Portraits. [Online] Available at: https://patrickwaterhouse.com/archive/selected/restricted-images-front-and-side-portraits/ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Waterhouse, P., 2019. Restricted Images – Made With the Warlpiri of Central Australia. 1st ed. London: Self Publish Be Happy Editions.

On Diane Arbus

Figure 1. Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Connecticut, 1961. (Arbus, 1961)

I have been considering the work of Diane Arbus in relation to my own. Comparisons could be made on the surface level to some of my portraits that I have created up to this point. Am I perusing and creating an ‘otherness’ in the work that I am producing? This is an important question that I should continually ask myself, even after this post is complete.​*​

Figure 2. ‘Untitled (22) 1970-71’ (Arbus, 1970-1971).
Figure 3.  Betty, from FACE (Gilden, 2015).

There is not a lot of detail in what Arbus’s intentions truly were, she was famously aloof in the discussion of her work, and her estate is quite guarded on releasing much of the material she left behind. Arbus’s later images seem to clearly show otherness (Fig. 2) and there is a separation that exists in the language and even the lack of language used to describe them as ‘untitled’ and ‘Freaks.’  Arbus’s own language in relation to her images exacerbates the problematic gaze that we assume she views them: “Most People go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience, Freaks were born with their trauma, they’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats” (2005, p. 38). However, in that statement there seems to be a kind of nobility in which she views the subjects. It is the use if the word ‘freak’ however that creates an uncomfortable tension, if this work was created and described as such now, it would clearly incite a justifiable outrage against the artist, and has been, in the critique of Bruce Gilden’s approach (Fig. 3), who could be considered equivalent of Arbus in the fall out from recent work, as his critics posit similar views of them “so unforgiving and intrusive they dehumanise the subjects” (O’Hagan, 2015). Even when we take into account the context in which these images were taken, which might be viewed as an Ignorant infancy in the evolution on thinking about gaze and its impact, Arbus’s contemporary, Susan Sontag, was particularly critical of Arbus’s approach: “For it is based on distance, privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other” (Sontag, 1979, p. 34). A damning indictment of Arbus, which suggests that even during the period, there was a clear awareness of how problematic her gaze was. Discussions were taking place, albeit considered in other terms, critics such as John Berger discussed aspects of looking and seeing, which is highly relevant to the ways that we view the topic today  (Ways of Seeing, 1972).

Sontag’s view and basis for her critic was that this was based on a kind of punching-down of those deemed other and Arbus’s own affluent background & privilege was front and centre to this view. Arbus sort to destroy her personal history in order to enter the world of her subjects. She deconstructed her life in order to change the detachment that she felt growing up (Goldberg, 2005, p. 42), perhaps creating the conditions for further detachment. Arbus photographed the ‘outsiders’ and was an outsider herself.

Arbus’s gaze was a troubled one, and she was a troubled herself; Her images could be a reflection of this. It is worth considering perhaps whose Gaze is the most enlightened, when context, as Sontag herself suggests, drains away (Sontag, 1979, p. 106). The language and the execution of Arbus’s images were problematic, however, the way that Diane Arbus photographed, what were considered fringe cultures at the time, created a dialogue of what we are allowed to gaze at, taking it to the most extreme. Her images show is that, indeed, these people existed and should be accepted (Goldberg, 2005, p. 37), and although not the answer to the challenge, but the road map to how we view them now. Arbus herself had lifelong relationships with many of the people that she photographed, and would suggest that this meant her intentions were good. We may never know as Diane Arbus is not here to reflect on this work.

Arbus’s work is at one of a spectrum that I don’t feel my images compare (Fig. 4). Arbus talks about her lack of experience with the world, writing that she had never had felt adversity and learning about it was purely an academic exercise (Goldberg, 2005, p. 42). Whereas for me and my practice, my intention was to look at my formative community, one that was deeply working class as was I, and reflected in the culture of the carnivals of the region; are they the kind of carnivals that Arbus photographed? Of course not. My own comparison, and perhaps of my peers, might be that I have been subtler than Arbus as I am now the outsider, having worked to change my demographic, so going back to photograph my old community could be considered a look at the other. However, it is from personal experience, which Arbus did not have, and where I also maintain lifelong friendships with some of the people involved, and who helped me connect with the carnival in the first place.

And moving forward onto my current look at where live now, I can see great poverty, and what might be termed ‘other.’ For example, I aim to connect with a foodbank to explore the idea of how we ostracise some in order to build a community for the majority; pain as Dexter Dias discusses, is a form of social control (Dias, 2017, p. 124). You can cross the street from the house that I live and you will have reached this foodbank; it is part of where I live and a shared experience of the community. Perhaps the bigger question that I should be asking myself is that of my lack of engagement with this place up until now, and why has it taken a photography project to engage with them. And this creates parallels to the critique of Arbus, but also differentiates our approaches – My camera is my passport, yes, but it is not my license to do whatever I want and do whatever I want as Arbus wrote (Sontag, 1979, p. 4), it is my means of meaningful engagement. I see my project now as an autobiographical look of people and place, I must collaborate with those that should self-represent, in a similar way to Anthony Luvera’s Assisted Self-Portraits (Fig. 5), though not without my own imagery; I live here too.

Figure 5. Assisted Self-Portrait of Joe Murray from Residency (Luvera, 2019).
Footnotes

  1. ​*​
    I will aim to return to this post in the coming weeks and reflect on the work as it evolves.
Bibliography

Arbus, D., 1961. Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Connecticut, 1961. [Photo] (Estate of Diane Arbus).

Arbus, D., 1970-1971. ‘Untitled (22) 1970-71’. [Photo] (Estate of Diane Arbus).

Dias, D., 2017. The Ten Types of Human. 1st paperback ed. London: Penguin Random House.

Gilden, B., 2015. Betty, from FACE.. [Art] (Magnum ).

Goldberg, V., 2005. Light Matters. 1st ed. New York: Aperture.

Hill, P., 2020. Week 5 WD24 Shoot. [Photographs].

Luvera, A., 2019. Assisted Self-Portrait of Joe Murray from Residency. [Photo].

O’Hagan, S., 2015. A latter-day freak show? Bruce Gilden’s extreme portraits are relentlessly cruel. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/aug/19/bruce-gilden-face-street-portraits-photographs-book [Accessed 27 February 2020].

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Ways of Seeing. 1972. [Film] Directed by Michael Dibb. UK: BBC.

PHO702: Shoot Three

Part of my exploration this module has been to look at the environment that would inevitably accompany my portraits. I think that up until now, I have considered these images secondary and transitional in terms of the narrative that takes you from portrait to portrait. As a result, I was unsure of how to begin this process and decided to use a psychogeography approach that we looked at during the previous module, That gave me the route, and for the content, I came across the shooting scripts written for the FSA photographers in Todd Hido’s book ‘On Landscapes, interiors, and the Nude’ (Hido, 2014, p. 123). Additionally, I think there is also a clear influence on the part of the New Topographic style of banal photography, that I have come back to time and time again when shooting this kind of image (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Image taken last summer whilst in Canada. ‘Peterborough Appliances Truck Load Sale. Ontario, Canada.’ (Hill, 2019)

The approach, has been to go out and collect images using the above influences, I have not aimed to focus on anything specific as yet. For this shoot however, I had the benefit of a light that I was happy to shoot with and as I ended up walking past locations from my first shoot 1 (See post). I took the opportunity to re shoot some of my images for comparison (Fig. 4 & 5). Hido discusses his approach to projects where he tends to shoot first and allow the narratives reveal themselves in the editing process (Hido, 2014, p. 114). I have enjoyed following that ethos up to this point, however considering the topics for week 5, I believe there is an opportunity to look at the land in the same way that I have approached finding my portraits and developing my approach to create images to better reflect my intentions. This is an important consideration.

Figure 4. Palm tree from 1st shoot. ‘Palm Tree, Northwestern Avenue’ 25/01/2020 (Hill, 2020).
Figure 5. Re-shot image of the palm tree with better light. ‘Palm Tree, Northwestern Avenue’ 08/02/2020 (Hill, 2020).

Many of the images that I have shot seem to reveal a tendency to focus on the detritus that I come across along my route, for example there were at least 4 fridges​*​ fly-tipped on the streets which although were there and existed I chose to photograph one of them owing to the children’s stickers still on the top door (Fig. 6). This for me was indexical of the family that once owned this appliance, who were seemingly able replace it, they were not apparently in the position to properly dispose of it. Having been left on the pavement denotes a potential poverty of the area, or at least a reduction of civic pride that you might not find in a more gentrified area. My intention on this shoot was not necessarily to highlight the poverty and civic pride of the environment, however part of my look at my local community is my connection to it, especially now I am being forced to move home once again (See post) and makes links back to the writing of Robert Putnam, who discusses how “residential stability is strongly associated with civic engagement” (Putnam, 2000, p. 211). The images of detritus are reflective of the people who live there, though only reflective and not necessarily representative of them as people.

Figure 6. Fridge Freezer left on the pavement. St Albans Road (Hill, 2020).
How can an environment and the land reflect people?

This is the fundamental question that I can ask myself moving forward with the environmental images that I am taking. When considering the gaze in which we all view the world, the reference t the Freudian idea of anthropomorphising the land into something that is feminine, discussed in the body and the land presentation (Alexander, 2020) intrigues me. Where I feel more study is needed for me to recognise the feminine in the landscape, I do see the correlation of how men occupy the world through their rugged pursuits and women are there to be occupied, in the sense of being objectified, which was also a conclusion drawn when John Berger interviewed a group of women in response to an episode of ‘Ways of Seeing’ (1972). An anthropomorphising of the land can be seen in other ways, as we potentially see those reflections and indexical traces of the people living in them, especially within the urban and built up areas in which I am focussing. What people throw away gives away a fair amount of information about the people who occupy a space. As I have mentioned previously, it can also give us clues to how connected they might be within the community; if you are prepared to throw away and leave the discarded where it falls, how proud are you about the place where you live? If others are not challenging this, how worried are they about the cohesiveness of their community? You can in essence look at a picture of a pile of rubbish within the environment, and create a mental image of the person who contributed to it and the socio-economic space in which they occupy.

I have discussed the neutrality of the image a lot over my last few posts. No image is neutral, no gaze can be neutral, and also images of landscapes also cannot be neutral. After reading the text ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’ by Deborah Bright (Bright, 1985) I can see that the land forms part of the cultural myth. For the US, the Landscape is part of the national narrative of overcoming great odds in order to occupy and control their world, with no mention of how this might have been at the expense of the indigenous population. In the tradition of European oil painting, the landscape image was created to denote the spectator owners vast wealth (Ways of Seeing, 1972).

Figure 7. Shooting script for a small town (Stryker, 1939).

I started my project for this module  with the shooting script on photographing the small town (Stryker, 1939) which I found a useful starting topography in seeking out all of the images that might be considered part of the town vernacular. I previously reflected and discussed the use of language in creating the conditions for gaze (see post), and the same could be said of the FSA shooting script that I started with (Fig. 7). The lists were written in order to focus on specific elements of society in order to present them in a way consistent with the goals of the FSA project, that is to say, to show the value of the poorest in American society, albeit not hiding the fact it was an exercise in propaganda: “A pictorial documentation of our rural areas and rural problems (Stryker’s words)” (Sontag, 1979, p. 62). The lists could encourage and exacerbate how we gaze at such problems.

Figure 8. Dog Bone. ‘Near Churchfield Road’ (Hill, 2020).

I enjoy many of the images that I took on this shoot, so the question of where they could sit in the narrative is crucial, as it the representation and also the gaze. If I am focussing on the indexical, then there is much potential to include images such as the dog bone (Fig. 8), this trace that someone was here is useful to understand the diversity of the area when I am unable to photograph everyone who lives here. My dominant reading will change depending on the way that I sequence this work, so I should work to clear up any ambiguity in my intention. Something that I don’t think will happen until the very end of this project.


  1. ​*​
    I could start a project on fridges with some more material.
Bibliography

Alexander, J., 2020. Week 5: The Body and The Land. Falmouth: Falmouth University.

Bright, D., 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlborough Men. Exposure, 23(1), p. Online.

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Hill, P., 2019. ‘Peterborough Appliances Truck Load Sale. Ontario, Canada.’. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Dog bone near Churchfield Road. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Fridge Freezer left out on the pavement. St Albans Road.. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Palm Tree, Northwestern Avenue 08/02. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Palm Tree, Northwestern Avenue 25/01. [Photo].

Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone. 1 ed. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Stryker, R., 1939. Shooting script on the Small Town, Washington DC: Library of Congress.

Ways of Seeing. 1972. [Film] Directed by Michael Dibb. UK: BBC.

Reflecting on Gaze

Systemic Structure of Gaze and its Impact on my Practice
Figure 1. opening spread from the March 2013 ‘National Geographic Traveller’ magazine (Hill & Warrick, 2013).

Many of the texts that we are asked to read have been written pre-Nineties and can be considered in the context of this, however they raise a number of questions of how the dominant male gaze has been established and positioned and should be challenged now. Writers such as Lutz and Collins look at the intersection of gaze (Lutz & Collins, 1991), exampling National Geographic magazine’s problematic approach to representation and gazing at other cultures through the lens if the white European, which was not acknowledged by the publication until the issue of a formal apology 27 years later (Goldberg, 2018). Having created work for the travel spin off National Geographic Traveller (Fig. 1), I question whether I am also guilty of perpetuating a type of colonial gaze with a view of the ‘other’ and the promise of exoticism for a Western audience as the lure of being paid to photograph superseded the awareness for people and culture.

Questions of how we gaze go back even further and overlap questions of representation, with Barthes discussing the view of female novelists in ‘Novels and Children’  (Barthes, 1993, pp. 50-52), which discusses the case of Elle magazine’s introduction of female writes as mothers first and novelists second (1993, p. 50), where their male counterparts are only considered for their literary achievements: “Elle says to women: you are worth just as much as men; and to men: your women will never be anything but women. Man at first seems absent from this double parturition; children and novels alike seem to come by themselves, and to women alone” (1993, p. 51). Barthes wrote this in 1957, which must beg the question of what has realistically changed.

Interestingly for Barthes, there is a predilection to use male pronouns when referring to the photographer, and the person (or for Barthes, the artist, the writer), so even when raising the point of female representation in Elle magazine, Barthes will move on to referring to the next person as he, him. You might be forgiven in thinking that as these are translations from Barthes native French language, which is very gendered by its structure, consisting of masculine and feminine words. However, this in itself could be considered part of a societal construct that puts maleness on a pedestal and everything else aspiring to it, albeit harder to break as a culturally established form of communication.

Barthes is not alone, Walter Benjamin notes: “in principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man-made artefacts could always be imitated by men” (Benjamin, 1968, p. 218), emphasis on the man-made and men, and although the writing of Benjamin is also a translation from German to English in this instance, this writing will have a fundamental impact of those who read the text. Thankfully, Susan Sontag does not rely on this and primarily refers to ‘the photographer’ (Sontag, 1977, p. 117) in her text, which although is a useful neutrality, the assumption could still be of the male, especially given the dominance of the white male photographer. For Barthes and Benjamin and the contextual sphere of influence that they occupied together with other white male writers, and indeed photographers; the photographer is male.

This perhaps is not the total causal reason for the dominance of the patriarchal gaze, however the impact is in creating the systemic baseline in which we gaze. Man traditionally refers to ‘everything’ and can mean both genders: ‘man-kind,’ ‘man-made,’ as in humans, and made by humans for humans, whereas women are distinct and clearly defined in referring to the female, but not male. Men can be generic in the default sense, no need to be highlighted, they​*​ exist. Women are specific and can be singled out. If we are reading that maleness is the default position then the gaze in which we view the world should be that everything else is adherent to it, and subservient to its wills, whims and desires.

Continually being told that the default position is man is massively undermining, as Hannah Starkey points out “How can you be what you cannot see” (Starkey, 2019) as it is crucial that you can see yourself in the role that you aspire to, and specifically for Starkey if you cannot see yourself in the world then why would you aspire to, so it crucial women see other women occupying these roles. For me, it is easy to see myself in the role of the photographer as many of the photographers that I have viewed, the writers that I read, all look and sound as I do. I have to recognise that my gaze has been learned from consuming these texts and other cultural signifiers, potentially built on this air of authority granted to me by all of the men that have preceded. Through reading and seeing this vision of the male photographer, I have had no reason to question it. Which was the case when I photographed for travel and lifestyle with little consideration for how the people were being viewed; it was exciting to be paid to photograph such places.

Figure 2. Portraits from ‘Peterborough Curling Club’ (Hill, 2019).

Within my current practice I have always felt that the most engaging photographic narratives are most effective when they have people as part of the series (fig. 2). I am intrigued by them, I want to gaze at them, which makes me a voyeur. I photograph the things that I am unable to engage with normally and use my camera as a way of entering into these spaces that I would never usually go, in the same way Sontag writes of the camera being the passport that removes any inhibitions (Sontag, 1977, p. 4), I use it to train my gaze onto what intrigues me. I find that photographing strangers is one of the most difficult things to do, yet I am compelled to do it as I am aware that these almost always are the strength of the narrative (Fig. 3). The reciprocal gaze of the subject is something that I have aimed to control in the creation of my work and is what drives it. Many of the subjects I photograph look away and off camera, which I have discussed previously that it reduces the confrontation between the subject and the reader, allowing a wider interpretation of the image (see post). However, feedback on this approach has been that maybe I do this too often. Perhaps it is not the confrontation between subject and reader that is confrontational, but it is in the tension between me and the subject that truly reflects my gaze in the images that I create. My aim in my current practice has been to reduce the ‘otherness’ of the subject in the images through a more collaborative approach, in a sense a shared gaze, one of the author and that of the subject.

Figure 3. Billy Suldisha outside a local barber shop. (Hill, 2020).

Linking back to the example of how male pronouns support the established systems of a learned gaze, I don’t feel I view the world in this way, especially now having more of an awareness of the constructed language that may have impacted on this. However, if I am saying that the people in my work are to make sense of the narrative, then I am objectifying them to a certain extent, even if they are complicit in the creating of my portraits, the reader is not and can create their own reading from a respective gaze. As we have discussed before, no image is neutral, so no gaze can be neutral. When I am gazing, I am comparing myself and a kind of measuring myself against the subject in some way. Not to say that I am considering myself better than, I only want to view the differences in order to better understand them, in an empathetical sense. I hope that my gaze is one of empathy, however I am unsure if I am successful in this hope, which where the importance of a proper dialogue and collaboration is vital to remain aware of how learned behaviour might continue to have an impact.

Footnotes

  1. ​*​
    During a draft of this text, I first wrote ‘we’ instead of ‘they.’ ‘We’ referring to men, because I was writing the post as a male, this was my default response to refer in the first person, whether or not this was an error of which person I should have been writing the text in, it is interesting to recognise this learned behaviour. Only after proof reading the text did I realise that I should perhaps use ‘they.’ It is an ingrained response that continues to shape the discussion. Interestingly, in the introduction presentation to week 5, Jesse notes “Man has always looked” (Alexander, 2020) which perhaps is purposefully done to highlight the perspective of the default male position.
Bibliography

Alexander, J., 2020. Week 5 Introduction: Gazing at Photographs, Falmouth: Falmouth University.

Barthes, R., 1993. Mythologies. 1st Vintage Edition ed. London: Vintage.

Benjamin, W., 1968. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Translation ed. New York: Random House.

Goldberg, S., 2018. For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It. [Online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/from-the-editor-race-racism-history/ [Accessed 3 February 2019].

Hill, P., 2019. Peterborough Curling Club. [Photographs] (N/A).

Hill, P., 2020. Billy Suldisha outside a local Barber Shop. [Photo] (N/A).

Hill, P. & Warrick, H., 2013. Free Spirit. National Geographic Traveller, 1 March, pp. 92-93.

Lutz, C. & Collins, J., 1991. The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(1), pp. 134-149.

Sontag, S., 1977. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Starkey, H., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations With Photographers EP102: Hannah Starkey [Interview] (4 April 2019).

Week 4: Reflection

Figure 1. Dave at Peterborough Curling Club, Ontario, Canada. (Hill, 2019)

Reading the forum this week, I notice that a good number of the feedback given to the images is informed by a pre-existing understanding of the work of my peers. I was aware of the previous work of many of my peers through engaging on the forums and webinars over the last few weeks, plus following many on social media.

I believe that the task was with the aim of removing this knowledge of the work in order to read the image ‘cold,’ which would be useful to understand how a variety of meaning can be drawn from an image where it may be viewed without the context and the understanding of the author’s intent. This is important as it poses the question of whether the communication of the image’s meaning is understood without the supporting documentation that might accompany a piece of work. Also, worth considering Barthes’ removal of the author, which may distort this reading of images (Barthes, 1977, pp. 142-148).

With this in mind, I decided to test the reading of my current portrait practice but realise that many of my peers have seen much of this work already. With the aim of gaining this ‘cold’ reading, I decided to use a portrait taken within the timeframe of this current module and in a similar style to the work that I have intended to shoot for my work in progress portfolio (Fig. 1), however is unrelated to the look at my local community.​*​

Authors might not be that dead after all.

This week, I spent some time looking in detail at Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’ (1977) with the aim of seeing how this could apply to my practice. Barthes suggests that the reading of a work becomes a relationship between the reader of the work and the author, which has a fundamental impact on how that work is read. The background of the author could be prioritised over the message of the work. For example, if I am telling you that my project is about a fractured sense of community, is this being communicated through my images, or are you as a reader attributing this information to the work and changing the meaning of what has actually been presented.

The image that I added to the forum is a portrait of Dave, who is a member of the Peterborough Curling club in Ontario, Canada (Fig 1). What information in the image is actually telling us this? And did the reading of the image support this? One of the most immediate signs in my image of Dave is of the Canadian flag sewn onto his hat with the rest of the image fairly monotone by comparison. Red, I find is a very useful colour to use when composing images as it instantly draws the eye to it. Is the flag a dead giveaway that the subject is Canadian, not necessarily. Fashion items regularly use flags as an accessory, and there are a number of clothing companies that utilise the Canadian flag as part of its brand. Personally, I feel that there are a number of factors that link this image as being taken in North America, and Canada specifically. The Colour tone is typical of this part of the world, but potentially I am only aware of this fact having spent a good amount of time in the country; I purposefully chose to move Dave to the panelled background to increase this feel to the image. Dave is wearing a plaid shirt, which is also typical of a person living in Canada, however this too could be circumstantial and coincidental. Lastly, and most telling, is the name badge, which although not part of the plain of focus, you are able to make out the name and ‘Peterborough Curling’ however this too can be confused as someone living in the UK city of Peterborough. My intention that when these are read together, you are reading a portrait of a Canadian male.

Figure 2. Feedback received on my portrait of Dave (Kurowski, et al., 2020).

The feedback more or less confirmed this (Fig. 2). The name badge and outdoor clothing meant that Dave was assumed to be working outdoors, and that the work was a defining characteristic of who Dave is. In fact, this portrait was taken indoors, however the clothing is necessary as this is a curling club where the ice needs to be kept at a low temperature. Dave is also retired and a member of the club for social and active reasons. Joanna spotted the Canadian flag and made the connection that he is indeed Canadian. Apprehension and annoyance was also a reading of the image, which is fairly accurate. Dave allowed me to take his portrait and even moved to the panelled background, however, he was not there to have his photograph taken, and was keen to continue curling, which can be viewed in some of his expression. However, I quite like this tension in the image and it is one of my favourite images from the curling club shoot. Linking to my initial commentary on pre-existent knowledge of the work, Andy’s feedback was interesting in that he does have an awareness of the kind of work that I produce having helped me out on a shoot for the last module where we have spoken at length about both of our practices. I am happy with Andy’s reading of my work but aware that this could come from a position of being more informed than most. I am interested to understand what he meant by the lack of meaning as this is a clear area of development for me.

‘Death of the Author’ is useful in that the communication needs to be strong enough for the work to stand on its own. Barthes’ requires us to consider that a work can be read in a multitude of ways, and the term ‘reader’ does not mean a physical one, but instead a way of placing the work in a space where all possible readings can be extracted (Seymour, 2017, p. 27). This notion is useful in that we can view a work liberated from authors, who might seek to control how a work is consumed (p. 22). The image of Dave was not necessarily ambiguous enough for an oppositional reading to truly test the nature of my dominant reading, the denoted elements tell enough of a narrative of who Dave is, even if this is not completely accurate.

Removing authors as the primary means in which we consume and read work can be a useful tool of reference to bear in mind how that work is being read and it puts the focus back on the message and not the messenger – for example, in the way that we understand a speech of a political figure (Seymour, 2017, p. 43).

I am not sure that I fully support that you can completely remove authors from the work as they could provide useful understanding of the intent of that work. It is almost impossible to do so anyway, especially in our information driven era where everything can be accessed and re-accessed online, although it could be argued that by virtue of the way images are shared online, they can lose meaning and easily be recontextualized in the form of memes, for example. There are a number of reasons where it is useful to understand the context in which that work was created, which could also include background information of the author. For example, as a way of breaking established hegemony in colonial and male gaze. A number of Barthes’ contemporaries such as Raymond Picard were critical of this approach to Authors, arguing that the historical and context are crucial to understand the work (Seymour, 2017, p. 24). Stanley Fish also discussed the importance of context in how we interpret meaning and an important consideration of this is in the author (p. 57).

It is important to continually assess the spaces left by the author when we look at the work in their absence. It is helpful to view a work with this separation, and a notion discussed by Michel Foucoult in his essay ‘What is an Author’ (Foucoult, 1980). However, Barthes’ himself also notes that the image is used to illustrate written word, we may also need to include some kind of commentary (in the form of words) for it to be fully understood (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). And although text does not necessarily relate to the author, it can be useful for understanding the intent. Therefore, there must be a middle ground in which images should communicate effectively and where the intention can be supported through the dominant reading of the author but not held hostage by it.

Footnotes

  1. ​*​
    Although I am now wondering if this is a factor that should really matter. My project idea is looking at the notion of the fractured community, so a portrait of a small community group in Canada that I shot whilst visiting my wife’s family over the Christmas period may support the narrative of never truly fitting into one place.
Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana Press.

Foucoult, M., 1980. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. New Edition ed. New York: Cornell University Press.

Hill, P., 2019. Dave, Peterborough Curling Club, Ontario, Canada. [Photo]

Kurowski, J. et al., 2020. Week 4 Activity: Viewers Make Meaning (Forum), s.l.: Falmouth University.

Seymour, L., 2017. An Analysis of Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author. London: Routledge.

PHO702: ‘Evidence’ Experiment

Following from the idea to look at my own home at the centre of the community I live (see post), I have created a series of images in response to the listing of the property after our land lady took the decision to sell the house.

I have written about my reasons for photographing the house previously, however to understand some of the context behind my reasons for conducting the experiment, it is important to note here again that the house is in a state of disrepair and out of our reach in terms of south east property prices, perpetuating the fractured community that I am looking at.

SUMMARY
Don’t miss out on this beautiful two bedroom mid-terrace family home located on Leavesden Road. Throughout the property provides ample living accomadation [sic] and period features. Here at Brown and Merry we strongly advise early viewings to avoid missing out!

DESCRIPTION
Brown and Merry are proud to present this attractive mid terrace, with the benefit of private off street parking to the rear. The property comprises of kitchen/diner and lounge with period features and storage cupboard under stairs, upstairs you will find bathroom with shower cubicle and bath off the landing and two double bedrooms in addition to access to loft. 

The property is located 0.4 miles from Watford Junction Station, and benefits from gas central heating, double glazing and period features.

Call now to avoid disappointment!!

Figure 2. Online description of the property (Rightmove, 2020).

Dominant

The edit of the work has coincided with week 4’s readers and images. Looking at the photographs that the estate agent used (Fig. 1), the dominant reading is to show the home in the best light in order to make the sale for the best price – as you would expect them to do. Our learned knowledge of how an estate agent operates, is in the way that they exaggerate and embellish the facts. We understand this is the way of things, in the same way you do not fully trust someone selling a car, or negotiating your next phone contract yet still take part in the process.

The use of a wide-angle lens in the corner of the rooms creates a sense of space and the images appear on the site in low resolution which has the effect of hiding a multitude of sins. It is the description of the house (Fig. 2) that provides additional context to the images and highlights to the intent of the agent (and by extension the homeowner) stating “Don’t miss out on this beautiful two-bedroom mid-terrace family home” (Rightmove, 2020). Barthes states that speech and text provide the full terms of the informational structure of how we read the image world (Barthes, 1977, p. 38), and here the use of language creates a construction that suggests that the home is in a better state of repair than it is, and the images provided do not necessarily refute this.

Oppositional

This leads to the oppositional reading of the images. Living in the home for 5 years means that I have a clear understanding of the many nuances that this home has. I can look at the description of the “beautiful family home” (2020) alongside the agent images with the ability to look through them to see many issues of the property that would suggest it is vastly overpriced. Additionally, I am most likely viewing them in the room in which they were taken.

My bias is clear. The home has been valued at the very top end of the market currently, outside my own ability to afford it and remain within this community. It is important to understand that I am not suggesting that I live in abject poverty, I do not, but the very nature of living in a long-term rental property that has never been properly maintained means that the condition of the house is vastly lower than if we owned it ourselves. This is in a sense a comment on the rental trap.

Negotiated

A negotiated reading of the images could be from the people viewing the property with the hope of buying it. This is not something that I can confirm, as a renter, I am outside that chain of dialogue. However, if i was to speculate, those interested in the property would view the images online together with the description and consider it a viable home to view. Once viewed, many of the issues would be quickly apparent; the described beautiful home would require a new kitchen, bathroom, windows, secure exterior doors, and so on that at the top end of this price range, represents a larger investment of time and money than the advertisement would suggest.

I made the decision to photograph the poor state of the house as a direct contrast to the way the estate agent would ultimately present it (Fig. 3). This was inspired by Jack Latham’s approach of using police evidence imagery as part of the narrative for ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Fig. 4) and my own experience of working on the Panorama shoot (See post). Here, my ‘evidence’ images represent more of a construction compared to Latham’s use of the police archive, with the agent imagery taking the role of the archive. My intention was to use the aesthetic of the evidence image to play with the dominant reading seen in the agent images. The use of film and black and white encourages the reader to override the agent’s dominant reading and replace it with mine. My oppositional reading becomes the dominant reading in this context.

Figure 4. One of the police archive images from ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Latham, 2019)

To show this in my edit, I have looked at putting the images and text together in a number of ways. Firstly, I wanted to see how my new images would work with the original text of the agent listing in order to subvert the dominant reading described by the agent, in an obvious and confrontational way. I have placed my images first and the text second (Fig 5), however I feel that considering the outcome, it would create more of a shock to the reader if the description id first and then be presented with my oppositional imagery (Fig 6).

Figure 5. Edited ‘evidence’ images left with agent text on the right.
Juxtapositions

Figure 6. Agent images juxtaposed with my ‘evidence’ imagery. [Click to enlarge in gallery]

Personally, I feel that the juxtapositions work better. They are subtler and require more of an examination of the pair together. I present the agent image and then one of my own images which requires the reader to investigate, comparing and contrasting two conflicting views of the room. There is potential to further develop and add some kind of caption to further extend and create a sense of the context and intent that I am aiming to get across.

Using the FSA Hole Punched to ‘Kill’ The images

My last edit was to re-introduce the idea of the ‘killed’ (Taylor, 2017) image that was used by Roy Stryker when rejecting FSA images (See post). I copied one the hole-punches from a rejected FSA image by Arthur Rothstein photograph (Fig. 7) and added it to my evidence imagery of the house (Fig. 8).

Figure 7. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Blue Ribbon No. 2 Mine, one of the largest gopher holes, Williamson County, Illinois (Rothstein, 1939).

This was also to consider the role of the ‘ostracised’ that I have been looking at through the lens of Barthes and his notion that we also need to consider those excluded from society and community in order to understand the functions of it (Barthes, 2012, p. 81).  And Dexter Dias, who suggests that those who cast out members of a community, ultimately leads to a more cohesion (Dias, 2017, p. 124) which is an area that I feel warrants more investigation.

Figure 8. Edited ‘evidence’ images to include FSA hole punches. [Click to enlarge into gallery].

My images represent a view of the property that shows it in a less than positive way. The agent would potentially reject these in their selective view of the home. The hole-punch also adds to the images’ reading by creating a point of focus instantly creating a sense of censorship, which is also from a learned knowledge of the world that we share (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. Parasite movie poster with censorship bar across the eyes (Parasite, 2019).

I am unsure how I am going to move this experiment forward as potentially I have taken this area as far as I can at the moment. These images primarily only really exist for me (Barthes, 1981, p. 73), this is an event that resonates because I am the one who is affected by the sale. If I am to develop this, I would need to consider how these are read by others.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana Press.

Barthes, R., 1981. Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage.

Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism). Translation Edition ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Dias, D., 2017. The Ten Types of Human. 1st Paperback Edition ed. London: Windmill Books.

Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. 2nd ed. London: Here Press.

Parasite. 2019. [Film] Directed by Bong Joon Ho. South Korea: Barunson E&A; CJ E&M Film Financing & Investment Entertainment & Comics; CJ Entertainment; TMS Comics; TMS Entertainment.

Rightmove, 2020. Rightmove: 2 bedroom terraced house for sale. [Online] Available at: https://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-68153202.html [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Rothstein, A., 1939. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Blue Ribbon No. 2 Mine, one of the largest gopher holes, Williamson County, Illinois. [Art] Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

Taylor, A., 2017. Holes Punched Through History. [Online] Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2017/02/holes-punched-through-history/518115/ [Accessed 17 February 2020].

PHO702: Shoot Two

Figure 1. Selected images from Harebreaks Wood shoot

Following from my first shoot, I managed to approach a group of litter pickers that were tidying a local woodland area. It was useful to create some portraits and see how they fit in with the series I shot on the initial walk around the area (Fig. 1). For this shoot, I decided to apply some of the feedback that I have received previously regarding placing my subjects within the environment to support the contextualisation of the image (Fig. 2). Some of the images that I have selected have consciously gone for this approach within the edit. I do however like some of the close-up cropped portraits of Helen (Fig. 3) and would potentially consider re-introducing this version of her depend on how my future shoots evolve. As I have a number of portraits with the litter picking group, it could work to include a version without the plastic bag and stick if I was to include an image of one of the other that did.

Harebreaks Wood litter picker
Figure 2. Helen full body portrait placed within the environment.
Figure 3. Helen close up portrait.

Context of how the work is eventually displayed will play a crucial role in this decision. However, for now I have been working with the assumption that this is a form of extended editorial shoot and creating a series of images that would exist online or in a printed supplement of some kind (See post on this). This has the potential to evolve as I move through the recent weeks, I am finding that my notion of how to approach and photograph a project like this requires me to challenge and experiment with different approaches. I also interested in Todd Hido’s approach to creating narrative within his work (See post on Todd Hido) through the shooting and accumulating of images, pairing them, and collecting together sequences to synthesise ideas in what he terms as “Paper movies” (Hido, 2014, p. 114).

Figure 4. Outtake image from Harebreaks wood shoot.

I am aiming to keep a close check on the conditions in which I am photographing this work. The lighting, for me is a crucial tool in the aesthetic quality of this project. This construction is not without its challenges, the recent large storms have led to a series of dull overcast days, and even this shoot was cut short by fast moving weather conditions. What I am finding that is not working at the moment is some of the environment shots (Fig. 4), much like my first attempt (See Shoot 1 Post), I am aiming to show a sympathetic view of this community and the overcast conditions are creating the opposite effect.

Moving forward, I have arranged to visit with a local community group running a food bank and hope to create some portraits there. I have also reached to a local drama society to see if I can collaborate and explore creating some constructed realities to weave into the rest of the narrative.

Bibliography

Hido, T., 2014. On Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Hill, P., 2020. Harebreaks Wood. [Photographs]

Considering the Construction

This week has been a kind of revolution to the way that I have been approaching my project so far. I have been very hung up on the notion that my intent requires me to be photographing without construction or forms of manipulation, because that would result in some sort of ‘breaking the rules.’ However, further reading into the topics of constructed realities has led me to the writing of William J Mitchell, who also presents a direct challenge to this photographic purity and suggests a feeling of being cheated by these kinds of images (Mitchell, 2001, p. 218). This is in part born out of my commercial practice that I should, as Mitchell states: “The transaction of valid reporting, stating, or asserting (Like other speech acts and analogous nonverbal or partially verbal act of communication) is defined by constructive rules” (p. 218). These rules are essentially part of the learned knowledge of the world that we have come to expect, and of course much of this learned knowledge suggests to us that photography is a truth.

Figure 1. Photographer Brian Walski was sacked by the LA Times for editing the top two images together to create the third (Walski, 2003).

Digital imagery has been found wanting in terms of our ability to suspend our disbelief (Fig. 1), yet we still subscribe to it as a reality, merely because it is based in the actual (Berger, 2013, p. 8). Analogue photography is no more a bearer of truth however, and has been susceptible to forgery throughout its history. For example, the removal of dissidents from the image of Lenin speaking at a podium (Fig. 2 & 3). This brings me back to the reflection on the Panorama work that I have written about previously (View Post). The use of analogue technique is completely based on our learned understanding of how we perceive the power of photography and its ability to show ‘truth’ and ‘Evidence’ and the re-photographed images onto film heightened the constructed reality of these images, where John Tagg notes that “the existence of a photograph is no guarantee of a pre-photographic existence” (Tagg, 1988, p. 2) these images should not be considered in anyway evidential, even though the production of that episode was doing everything within its power to make us believe so.

Figure 2.
Vladimir Lenin speaking in Moscow to Red Army soldiers departing for the Polish front, in 1920. Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev, behind, are on the steps to the right (Goldshtien, 1920)
Figure 3.
Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev have been airbrushed out of an image of the same scene (Goldshtien, 1920).

All photography is a construction, that has been established in the past couple of weeks, how does this have an impact on how I view my images, and moving onto my intent?

I have been very precious in how I have been approaching my project so far, identifying myself as closer to the ‘Hunter’ end of the constructed continuum. I recognise however, that this is indeed a continuum and accept that my work is constructed in a variety of ways. I have felt as though I needed to represent the actual (2013, p. 8) within my work, however have considered that as part of my look at the community is to explore my own sense of it being fractured, that this shouldn’t matter as potentially the combination of gradual constructions together with my existing constructed actualities, which I wrote about in my ‘Hunters and Farmers’ Post’ (Wall in Horne, 2012).

Figure 4. Image from ‘The Corners’ by Chris Dorley-Brown (2018).

Previously to starting the MA I was drawn to the approach of Chris Dorley Brown’s series ‘The Corners’ (Dorley Brown, 2018) and his uneasy view of everyday scenes in London (Fig. 4). As you view these images, they are based in the real world, an actuality, and indexical of how people pass through the streets of London which have been referred to as an update of the work that photographer David Granick did in the city between 1960 and 1980 (Dyer, 2018). Of this work though, Dyer also discusses the stillness of the image:

“But there’s a tranced stillness about them: a feeling of being in some kind of fugue state”

(2018)
Figure 5. How the images are constructed. Spread from ‘The Corners’ by Chris Dorley-Brown (2018).

Here Dyer is referring to how we read these images as much as the subjects within them. On closer inspection, the images are a complete construction, which is admitted to in the back of the publication of the images (Fig. 5), made up of a series of multiple exposures, typically 18 to 21 images, and then stitched together, with the resulting composition showing up to an hour (2018).

Dyer’s assessment of the work is that it creates a form of nostalgia, a longing for the past that links this work with the images of Granick, which Chris Dorley Brown also edited into a book. Dyer also notes:

‘Dorley-Brown manipulates his scenes not to manufacture drama or to bunch people into near-collisions but to create a “truthful” picture that “must match the memory of a moment that never occurred.”photographic’

(2018)

This I feel, lives in the learned knowledge of the world that, although the memory that is being referred to is not a real one, it could be an imagined sense of a place that Dorley-Brown is representing here.

Figure 6. Helen from shoot with a group of Litter Pickers (Hill, 2020)
Figure 7. Stephen from shoot with litter pickers (Hill, 2020)

Presently, my work does not inhabit this constructed space, I have approached groups and sort to photograph them in a naturalistic way (Fig. 6 & 7). I have also look to photograph the environment in my local area in a similar naturalistic way. However, this as an approach intrigues me, and I am keen to potentially look at experimenting with this as an approach, albeit holistically. For example, part of my plan is to approach a variety of community groups, one of which could be an amateur dramatic group, what is to stop me casting them within the environment of my community to play a series of characters. I intend to propose this to a group and experiment with creating a series of constructed narratives. These characters could create a fictional memory in a similar way to how Dorley-Brown has constructed his images.

Bibliography

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

Dorley Brown, C., 2018. The Corners. 1 ed. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

Dyer, G., 2018. How to Photograph Eternity. The New York Times Magazine, 24 July, p. Online.

Goldshtein, G., 1920. Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev have been airbrushed out of an image of the same scene.. [Photo] (Tate).

Goldshtein, G., 1920. Vladimir Lenin speaking in Moscow to Red Army soldiers departing for the Polish front, in 1920. Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev, behind, are on the steps to the right. [Photo] (Tate).

Hill, P., 2020. Helen from Harebreaks wood litter pickers. [Photo]

Hill, P., 2020. Stephen from Harebreaks wood litter pickers. [Photo]

Horne, R., 2012. Holly Andres, ‘Farmer’ of Photographs. The Wall Street Journal, 3 February.

Mitchell, W. J., 2001. The Recoonfigured Eye. First MIT Press Paperback ed. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Tagg, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. 1st paperback ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Walski, B., 2003. Iraq. [Photo] (Los Angeles Times).