Why Black and White?

Vilem Flusser notes that black and white are concepts, which are theoretical and exist only as states of things, although we consider some things in terms of black and white, this does not exist in the real world, only as hypothetical lines in which we draw for certain topics (2000: 42):

“Black and White do not exist, but they ought to exist since, if we could see then world in black and white it would be accessible to logical analysis”

(Flusser, 2000: 42).

The use of black and white in the documentary aesthetic might be a means in which photographers can attempt to answer questions about their subjects, or at least aim to create the space that these subjects might be more readily analysed. The paradox is that when creating work using black and white you are removing a lot of the information from that subject, which can be argued is part of the representation of them. One possible understanding of what Flusser is stating above is that the black and white image simplifies the process of conveying its message as it can be read in terms of its formal qualities other than colour.

Figure 1: Alec Soth (2014) From ‘Songbook’

I have discussed before that black and white has been used by other contemporary photographer purposefully to convey a sense of nostalgia in the work, and this is a key reason to explore its use during this module. The idea of how we connect to the community is closely tied to the perception, or reality of its decline. Alec Soth has stated that he made the decision to utilise black and white for the book ‘Songbook’ (Fig: 1) owing to how similar images from the 50s, 60s, and 70s all have a particular look and feel owing to the technology that was employed during these decades. Soth notes a post-war sense of wonder of the 1950s which creates “a deeply romanticised version of the past” (Soth in Fuerhelm, 2015). People believe that there is a decline of the community because of their own selective histories today. This tied in quite well to research on the decline of social capital, which also cited the 50s as this coincided with the mass introduction of the television (Putnam, 2000), spending more and more time indoors.

This rose-tinting of a past community that is now lost is partly created because of the images that we consumed in our youth, which is part of a significant shaping of the way that we nostalgically view lots of culture, that was ‘better in my day’ is linked to how our brains develop during the ages of 12 – 22 and the emotional maturing that happens during the same time (Stern, 2014). If you grew up during a time of black and white imagery, some of which have cone to define how we assume documentary and photography to look, then this aesthetic will instantly transport you back to that time: “It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.” (2014).

In the beginning of the medium, all photographs were black and white due to its technical limitations, now this can be a creative choice, as Flusser also argues that colour is even more of an abstraction as it is merely a chemical representation of a colour and not the actual existent one within the concrete world. I wrote about this for an essay I created between the modules, stating ‘what about the choice of different film stocks? What about the nostalgic Kodachrome versus its Fuji equivalent? Each of the constituent ingredients in the film creates an aesthetic synonymous with the brand’ (Hill, 2020: 3), which essentially considers the way that an emulsion of a film, and even that of a camera’s digital sensor is just another interpretation of the world created by a human actor on it; colour according to its design and manufactured values that Flusser then attributes as a kind of concealment of the origin of then subject.

My choice to use black and white is intentional to create a link to a nostalgia perhaps of a life that we had before the outbreak of Covid-19, when we are all being asked to consider a ‘new normal’ as opposed to the life that we were used to before. The sense of longing for the past, especially within the community setting is quite tangible for all of us as we are talking about a time that was only a few months ago. My images, paradoxically, are all taken in our present as to acknowledge a sense of the past that we might learn to go back to.

Alys Tomlinson
Alys Tomlinson (2019) Untitled from ‘Ex Voto’
Figure 3: Alys Tomlinson (2019) From ‘Lourdes’

I recently listened to Alys Tomlinson discuss her ‘Ex-Voto’ series (2020). It was interesting to understand that Tomlinson started her study on the religious site of Lourdes by shooting the series in colour for the first three years of visiting the site. The colour work in itself feels like a well resolved piece of work, however it clearly has a different look and feel to the body of work Ex-Voto even though it was created in the same location (Fig: 3). Tomlinson herself understood the difference as this colour study of Lourdes has its own gallery on her website and is well placed to promote her commercial practice (Fig: 4).

Figure 4: Alys Tomlinson (2019) Screen shot of Tomlinson’s ‘Lourdes’ series on her website

Caroline Molloy also notes the referencing of August Sander in Tomlinson’s portrait work, which something which I have been suggested to consider reviewing in my feedback for the last module and also during my first webinar with Cemre. Molloy makes particular note of the process in which Tomlinson’s work is created, which is in direct opposition to the hustle of what Lourdes is in many ways and seen through Tomlinson’s other work on the site, the portraits of Ex-Voto are considered, and as Molloy points out ‘Not of this time’ (2019), which is another intertextual use of black and white within a project. Tomlinson also utilises a 5X4 camera to slow down the image making and turn the act of photography into a ritual. I found that this resonated with me as I could benefit from slowing my process of images making down, which would ultimately lead to better engagement with my subjects. There is a particular theatre to the way that a photographer uses apparatus to differentiate themselves from a general understanding of photographers. It is worth noting that although a black and white aesthetic gives a sense of the familiar in the visual, when out taking the images, cameras such as 5X4 large format and even medium format film cameras are relatively rare with the assumption that a professional photographer will have some kind of modern DSLR. For me, this provides a talking point and metaphorical ‘foot in the door’ when approaching people to take their photograph. Since I started using a medium format 6X7 camera for example, people have been quite intrigued as to what it is that I have. It is the theatre, which attracts people to be photographed and shows that I can be taken seriously, Joel Meyerowitz also made a note of this when discussing his 8X10 large format portraits shot in Provincetown, where he makes particular reference to this as a kind of performance (Meyerowitz in Perello, 2020).

Bibliography

Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.

Hill, P., 2020. Gettier and the Pyramids. [Online] Available at: https://philhillphotography.com/sketchbook/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Gettier-and-the-Pyramids_Phil_Hill.pdf [Accessed 15 June 2020].

Meyerowitz, J., 2020. The Candid Frame – Episode 500 [Interview] (27 January 2020).

Molloy, C., 2019. Alys Tomlinson. [Online] Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/alys-tomlinson/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].

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

Soth, A., 2015. Brad Feuerhelm of ASX in conversation with Alec Soth [Interview] (4 November 2015).

Stern, M. J., 2014. Neural Nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?. [Online] Available at: https://slate.com/technology/2014/08/musical-nostalgia-the-psychology-and-neuroscience-for-song-preference-and-the-reminiscence-bump.html [Accessed 15 June 2020].

Tomlinson, A., 2020. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – Episode 123: Alys Tomlinson [Interview] (5 February 2020).

Collaboration or Participation?

I have never really considered many of these terms and how I might fit into them. However, as I think back to my commercial practice, I would regularly work with a team in order to realise a client brief. In terms of a collaborative, though not necessarily in the strictest sense, I have often worked with a writer in order to realise and illustrate elements of that text.

Figure 1: Phil Hill & Darius Dabrowski (March – June, 2020) ‘Casiobury Park, Watford’

During the MA, I have explored the idea of collaboration much more and during the last module I invited people I had started to build a relationship with and photograph to also photograph themselves using a camera that I provided. Owing to the current situation I have not been able to develop this approach, but I did start to use some of these images for the re-photography task as a way of responding to these images (Fig: 1). This first exploration, I merely gave cameras to individuals with little instruction to see what I would receive in return. I think moving forward, I would be keen to work with the people more closely to discuss how they might want to photograph for their own representation, and my roll could then be to facilitate how they could do this from a technical perspective. In a similar way to how Anthony Luvera approaches collaboration (Fig: 2).

Figure 2: Anthony Luvera (2019) Assisted Self-Portrait of Joe Murray from Residency

For the work that I have been producing, which are primarily portraits. I would usually contact people I would like to photograph in advance so that I can make my introductions, set out my aims, and build a relationship with the subject and this is more of me seeking to find participants. Sometimes, I would not even use my camera on the first meeting so that we can discuss the project and most importantly how we would work together to take the photograph. I am keen to better represent the subjects that I am photographing and am acutely aware that there is still a heavy bias towards the way that I am setting up and taking my images, which I think is a confidence thing. My approach in this way is very much like how Alys Tomlinson approached her subjects for Ex-Voto (Fig: 3), where she arranged an appointment and then photographed them at a later date.

Figure 3: Alys Tomlinson (2019) Unamed from ‘Ex Voto’

For this module, I have struggled to approach people in the same way due to the lock-down and the usual channels of contact being on hold for now. I actually find the process of approaching people without an initial introduction, or in the case of me being hired for a job, a reason for being there. However, my challenge has been to approach people coming back together in the open community spaces as the restrictions lift. This method of seeking participants had the potential to become quite a quick exchange as my own reticence to approach might turn into quickly taking the image and walking away. Instead, I have chosen to shoot this module using a medium format film camera to introduce some theater into what I am doing (which breaks the ice), and also slow my process right down so that I have the space to engage with my participant and talk with them (Fig: 4). This still needs developing as I really need to develop an approach that is much more inclusive of the participant to include their voice and a direction that also considers how they want to be represented much more.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Portrait of Wais at Callowland Recreation Ground

A collective is fairly new to me and this week’s zine project will be very good for this area of development. I am fairly used to working independently as a photographer so it will be useful to come together with others that have different ideas to my own.

Strategies in Entering

I have been aiming to compliment my studies by entering a range of competitions and two bursaries during this module. I have aimed to conduct research and really consider my reasons for entering these together with any potential benefit should I be successful. Alys Tomlinson mentions a selective approach when entering awards, and that she actually enters very few of them, noting that many seem to not provide any boost to a photographers’ career even if they win the award (Tomlinson in Smith: 2020). Some of which do feel as though they are designed to collect maximum amout of entry fees for very little in return, however, I have antered a few awards this year to see if my development as a practitioner has made any impact on its resonance for such awards. This is an area that I have always keenly entered but had little in return.

Awards

Portrait of Britain
Figure 1: Portrait of Britain & Lewis Kahn (2017) One of the selected entries displayed on a digital display

According to the POB website, this award, which is run by The British Journal of Photography is a look at how diverse and varied Britain is, and in the wake of Brexit it has become a very relevant exhibition that explore these themes (Portrait of Britain 2020). As this award aims to consider the political landscape of the UK, it will be interesting to see how it evolves in the aftermath of Covid-19. I actually entered this award before the start of the pandemic with a range of images taken for my Positions and Practice and Informing Contexts WIPP, so wonder if my entries will actually fall out of relevance when the deadline closes on 16/6, as I would imagine that something that is ingrained onto the public conscious would ultimately be reflected in the judging of this exhibition.

Although POB does seek to aask these questions, it does not necessarilly provide the space to create a truly challenging exhibition. Part of the display of this work is through national digital advertising screens (Fig: 1), which on the plus side means that the featured images have the potential to be seen by a broad range of people outside of the traditional white wall exhibitions of other portrait awards, such as The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. This is a huge positive of this exhibition as it creates an opportunity for those who do not normally engage with photography to see some really great examples of portrait work and may then choose to seek more. Taking photography out of the gallery space to engage with communities is a really good thing and should be done much more. However, the challenge is that anything that gets selected cannot be deemed offensive, so any challenging images, and certain subjects would not even be considered for this award, which feels less representative as a true reflection of what Britain looks like as a nation.

Figure 2: Max Fergusson (2020) Statement of Resignation from Portrait of Britain

There are hints of this exhibition aiming to be a contemporary ‘Family of Man’ exhibition, which sought to show the many facets of humanity but essentially was an idealised view of the world created by Edward Steichan, yet continued to ‘other’ cultures that were not european (Tīfentāle 2018). Though POB, does not explicitly seek to ‘other,’ there have been some challenges that have arisen from this award. For example, since I entered this award there has also been a controversy regarding the judging of this award. Initially, the judging panel was made up of 3 men and one female judge, all three men are also white, which does not reflect the diverse country this award is supposed to represent. This was raised back in March by one of the judges, Max Fergusson who has now stepped down as a result of a lack of diversity on the panel (Fig: 2).

My images are still in contention for the award, and although I am unsure on my chances this year, owing to never placing previously and the shift in public consciousness, the controversy does make me question whether it was a good idea to try and be a part. However, the display and broad sharing of the work in public spaces is ultimately a good thing for the medium and also my work, should it get selected.

Kuala Lumpur Portrait Prize
Figure 3: Kuala Lumpur Photoawards (2020) Open Call Banner

I took the decision to enter this award this year after reading through the Photoshelter guide to competitions, which placed this award as something worthwhile for anyone shooting portraits. As I primarily create work around the portrait, I felt that this would be good place to enter my work. According to the award, it considered itself a ‘significant and vital award’ (Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards – Portrait Prize 2020). This is an award that I have not considered before but feels prestigious enough that any placement in the exhibition would be valuable to my practice.

Taylor Wessing
Figure 4: National Portrait Gallery (2019) View of the 2019 Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition.

I have actually entered the Taylor Wessing on and off since it was referred to as the Schweppes Portrait prize. I have always felt like this would be a good award to place an entry into, owing to its reputation and prestige. The exhibition at the Portrait gallery has always been something that I have visited yearly and have followed the careers of many of the photographers who have had their work included. As awards go, this one is one of the very top to have work exhibited as part of.

I have found that it is a very expensive process to take part in, even after the switch to digital submission from the print based entry a couple of years ago. The award does draw its fair share of criticism as some cite its homogenisation through the same year-on-year tropes paraded in the exhibition. And the more that this happens, the more photographers will either shoot for this, or submit images that fit an award, which showed similar images the previous year (O’Hagan 2011).

There seems to be a shift from this in the past couple of years, the 2019 edition felt for me to be more thematic and there seemed to be fewer images overall. I have yet to see the entry call for this years award and wonder if this is because of the current pandemic.

Bursary

Bursaries have been something that I intended to apply for when I outlined my plans for my research project during Positions and Practice. For ongoing funding I identified these as an area that I should be developing. Writing applications and project pitches is something that I will need to improve on if I am to maintain an art practice after the MA.

To start this process, I created and submitted applications for the following:

RPS Postgraduate

I have made an application for the Royal Photographic Societies postgraduate bursary, which seeks to support postgraduate student during their studies. The theme of the application is broad as it is done to the applicant to define the parameters of how the bursary is used. The only real stipulation is that the project must demonstrate specific outcomes. This was useful to consider how to begin creating project proposal’s that developed from my initial one created during the first module.

Eventually, It would make  good basis to start considering applying for funding through organisation’s such as the Arts Council.

Grain Projects – Micro Bursary

Grain Projects created a series of small bursaries with the support of Arts Council England to support photographers to create new work during these unprecedented times. This bursary is much more of a themed approach:

“The commissions and bursaries will support photographers and writers to make new work in isolation (at a social distance), reflecting on these times & contributing to creativity and well being.  Outcomes will be shared with audiences via our digital platforms. (Health & safety is particularly important, all projects must follow the government guidelines for the lock down and social distancing).We are interested in work that responds to the following themes; Social Distancing, Family, Community, Caring, Togetherness, Relationships, Health & Well being, The Economy, Work, Key Workers”

(Grain Projects 2020)

It was clear to me that I should consider my current situation and ability to create work under these circumstances, which is a process that I was initially having to do for my Informing Contexts WIPP submission. This was a good grounding to really consider my application for this bursary.

Grain created three bursaries: commission, Micro, and writing bursary. I have initially applied for the micro bursary as the commission felt like it was designed with a more established photographer in mind. The micro bursary specifically mentions emerging artist, which is where I would position myself at the moment. The writing bursary is also something that I am considering to apply for as I have become quite interested in writing about photography and the theory of it.

Bibliography

Fergusson, Max. 2020. Instagram. June 8. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.instagram.com/p/CBLC8-uAKiy/.

Grain Projects. 2020. OPEN CALL : 2020 COMMISSIONS & BURSARIES. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://grainphotographyhub.co.uk/portfolio-type/open-call-2020-commissions-bursaries/.

Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards – Portrait Prize. 2020. About. June 13. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.klphotoawards.com/about.

O’Hagan, Sean. 2011. Taylor Wessing portrait prize: another animal, another girl with red hair. November 9. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/nov/09/taylor-wessing-portrait-prize-woodward.

Portrait of Britain. 2020. About Portrait of Britain. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.portraitofbritain.uk/about-the-award/.

Tīfentāle, Alise. 2018. The Family of Man: The Photography Exhibition that Everybody Loves to Hate. July 2. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://fkmagazine.lv/2018/07/02/the-family-of-man-the-photography-exhibition-that-everybody-loves-to-hate/.

Tomlinson, Alys, interview by Ben Smith. 2020. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – Episode 123: Alys Tomlinson (February 5).

Exploration in Hole Punches

I have come into this module with the intention of looking at my research project through the lens of a documentary aesthetic and have been experimenting with this in mind. During the last module my research started to point to the way that photographers, such as Eli Durst and Alec Soth have both used black and white in their work as a way of creating a nostalgia in the images, which is reminiscent of photographs taken in the 50’s and 60’s. Soth purposefully used black and white images in his book ‘Songbook’ (Fig: 1) as a reference to press photographs of the same era. As I am interested in the idea of connection in the work that I am producing on my own community, I felt that it would make an interesting investigation to see if my work would be seen very differently if I was to also shoot using black and white, creating a separation through the medium that I am using.

Figure 1: Alec Soth (2014) images from the book ‘Songbook’

Black and white film is not something that I am particularly comfortable to shoot as I have been creating my work solely in colour up to this point. This in a sense is a partial remix of my work as I fervently vowed not to shoot film during this MA. Yet, I am keen to explore the idea of how black and white can have an impact on the concepts and aesthetic of my work so it is important to explore it in detail, which includes the use of film photography.

Figure 2: Dorothea Lange (1933) White Angel Breadline, San Francisco

Another reason for exploring black and white film was how it references back to the FSA imagery (Fig: 2), which Sally Stein notes: “is often treated as the quintessential 1930s documentary photography” (2020: 59) and follows its referenced use in the work of Soth and Durst. FSA images, which have also been discussed by Susan Sontag and John Tagg have also been dismissed as essentially propaganda yet continue to shape the way that we view and approach such documentary imagery. This play on the reality in which they supposedly represent interests me, especially when you view the images that were rejected by Roy Stryker by punching a hole through the negative, referred to as ‘Killing’ the photograph. These ‘Killed’ images were rejected when they did not fit the narrative that the FSA project was trying to create, however they still exist in the archive of FSA photography in the library of congress. Lewis Bush used a number of these images for his zine ‘Stryker’ (2017) that seeks to create a narrative of the images in their own right (Fig: 3). In this zine, Bush notes “the black orb created by the punch seems to take on the role of a persistent character, navigating the harsh landscape  of depression era America” (p. 28), which feels like a comment on what Geoff Dyer refers to as cultural signifiers that are anonymous characters to signify the dominant reading of the image. For example, in images of the same period, the hat can tell us a lot about the person wearing it, as Dyer states when discussing an image by Dorothea Lange (Fig: 2): “his fedora is in far worse shape than anyone else’s in the picture. He is like a premonition of what is to come. By the end of the decade everyone else will have followed his example of battered resilience” (2007, p. 105). Bush also notes that the holes in the ‘killed images’ offer little answer to why they were so forcibly removed from those deemed acceptable, especially when viewed through the lens of history, only to say that these images were not part of the accepted narrative as edited by Stryker.

Figure 3: Lewis Bush (2017) ‘Stryker’ zine
Figure 4: Lewis Bush (2012) ‘Peckham Gothic’ zine
Figure 5: Lewis Bush (2012) Spread from ‘Peckham Gothic’

Bush also created another Zine inspired by the FSA images, titled ‘Peckham Gothic’ (Bush, 2012), where he applied the aesthetic and style of the FSA images to make the middle classes of Peckham appear as 1930s sharecroppers (Fig: 3&4), with the title of the zine as a nod to the famous ‘American Gothic’ image from the FSA project by Gordon Parks (Fig: 6).

Figure 6: Gordon Parks (1942) ‘American Gothic’
Exploration

I am interested in what happened to the punched holes; the parts of the image that didn’t even make it into the LOC archive. I shot some film images on 35mm and punched holes in parts that I thought would still make interesting images (Fig: 7). Some of the ‘killed’ images, feel as though the punch itself was not done in a random way, but targeted to crop out a particular part of the image (Fig: xx).

Figure 7: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Hole Punch experiment

Figure 8: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Hole Punches

The result creates an interesting way to crop an image, one that is another step removed from the initial crop created by the frame of the camera (Fig: 8). I don’t find the punched parts of the images as intriguing as the frames with the black hole present. The idea of this playing its role as a signifier or character in the image is quite powerful, which has been removed when only presented in the form of the circular image. This also feels fairly forced as a concept, when I consider the way that the copied negative compares to this approach. I prefer the way that these concepts are quite subtle, yet create a fundamental impact in the way the image is seen.

Ideas to take forward

What seems to be the underlying thread to the use of this aesthetic in the work of photographers such as Soth and Durst, is the intertextual link to the familiar, and the familiar is what makes then work interesting as it becomes reminiscent of a past that is longed for, even if it never existed in the first place. It would be useful to explore this idea in greater detail and identify the areas of my own research project that could be considered familiar and even a kind of nostalgia for community that is perceived not to exist anymore.

Bibliography

Bush, L., 2012. Peckham Gothic. 1 ed. London: Lewis Bush.

Bush, L., 2017. Stryker. London: Lewis Bush.

Dyer, G., 2007. The Ongoing Moment. 2nd ed. London: Abacus.

Stein, S., 2020. Migrant Mother Migrant Gender. 1 ed. London: Mack.

Place over Time II

Figure 1: Sebastiano Pomata & Phil Hill (May – June, 2020) Seb’s image taken in Barcelona (left) and my appropriated copy (right)
Figure 2: Sebastiano Pomata & Phil Hill (May – June, 2020) Different version of the figure 1 diptych, leaving Seb’s original as scanned.

During the lock down I asked a number of people to start taking pictures of their experiences. My friend Seb, who lives in Barcelona, shot a roll of film for me and mailed it over to process and scan. I am unsure where I want to use these, if at all, for my research project. For this week’s task however, I decided it would be interesting to see how I could appropriate his images. Using a slide copier, I re-photographed his negatives and the processed the film again creating the above diptych image (Fig: 1 & 2).

On the face of it, both of these images appear to be the same, albeit with different exposures. A fairly straightforward copy, however, it can be argued that Seb’s image is once removed from the concrete world as he originally photographed it.  

In my appropriated version, I have further removed the reality by copying the image onto a new roll of film, creating a positive image onto the filmstrip. My copied version is also based on decisions that I have made during the copying process. As a result, I have created an object that is mine, in the form of the new negative.  I have become quite interested in how a photograph can represent its subject and it can be argued that my version is even less representative than the original. Yet, if seen in isolation, would be considered on similar merit to the original it copies.

Not shown here, but during the copying process, I also made selections and edited the order of the images that Seb took, which further decontextualises them.

I am considering taking this idea into my own images to see how I can create a sense of separation through this kind of implicit abstraction.

Figure 3: Sebastiano Pomata & Phil Hill (May – June, 2020) Another appropriated image from Seb’s Barcelona series.

Joywar

To be quite honest, I think my personal reaction would come down to the context and how the use aligned with my own viewpoint. And as I write that, I am aware that an appropriation of my work may not align with my own view, yet provide a valuable meaning for others, which should ultimately be considered.

In my professional practice, I have had images taken and used without permission, which is a different issue. I have also had image used in publication, which were edited in ways that I did not intend them to be – for example, turned black and white, and in one case flipped to suit the layout of the magazine. These were both limited examples, which raised an eyebrow but I did not have too many concerns. I also have a number of images that are available on image libraries, that I have limited control on the usage in most cases, however I differentiate the images that are listed on these sites versus images for my art practice.

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Please note that this top by @georgeatasda is in no way associated with Scamp & Dude. It does sadly feature our slogan 'a Superhero has my back' (even though we own the Trademark) but it is in no way associated with our brand. It’s so upsetting when this happens. ?? For anyone who doesn't know the meaning behind 'a Superhero has my back', I came up with this slogan when recovering from brain surgery in hospital. I was so scared that I wouldn't make it through the surgery and would end up leaving my boys without a mummy. A horribly hard thing to go through, but it was this that inspired me to create a brand that helps children feel more secure when apart from their loved ones. A Superhero certainly had my back and I made it though the surgery and Scamp & Dude launched into @libertylondon 10 months later. ‘A Superhero has my back' is at the heart of our brand and we work so, so hard to give as many kids as possible a Superhero to watch over them. We donate one of our special Superhero Sleep Buddies to a child who has lost a parent or is desperately ill for every one sold. We work with various charities and hospitals including @griefencounter @dontforgetthekidsuk and @greatormondst helping children who need a Superhero to have their back. ⚡️ It’s so hard when this happens, but I’m so grateful to all of our loyal customers who have brought this to our attention, we appreciate your support so much. Jo xx ⚡️❤️⚡️ @scampanddudejo

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Figure 1: Jo Tutchner-Sharp (2018) Instagram post to highlight the appropriation of the slogan.

This does remind me of a couple of times this has occurred and dealt with differently with relation to the art practice. Jo Tutchener-Sharp created a t-shirt design ‘a superhero has my back,’ which was created to raise money in response to a period that she spent in hospital away from her children (Petter, 2018). Asda took the slogan and applied it to a range of products that had nothing to do with raising money for charity. Tutchener-Sharp chose not to pursue legal action against Asda (which would most likely come to nothing against such a large organisation), instead she mobilised her own social media audience (Fig: 1) to highlight what had happened. This quickly went viral and ultimately prompted a response from Asda to resolve it.

Figure: 2 Manny Garcia & Shepard Fairey (2008) The Associated Press objects to the use of a photo of Barack Obama by Mannie Garcia [Left] in a poster by Shepard Fairey [Right].

The ‘Hope’ poster created during Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign is another example of appropriated image being remixed and has been referred to the modern Che Guevara poster, another famous example of image appropriation (Barton, 2008). Manny Garcia took the original image and was represented by Associated press who pursued legal action against the poster’s creator Shepard Fairey. However, Fairey countered the copyright claims with his own legal action, citing ‘Fair Use.’ The case was ultimately settled out of court after Fairey was found to have destroyed evidence that linked the poster to the use of the image. Garcia is said to have been proud of the use of his image in this way but objected to the way that it was used without permission (Kennedy, 2009). The hope poster has gone on to have a life of its own, which is far beyond the intention of Garcia when he took the image as a press photographer.

In the case of Tutchner-Sharp, I do not have anywhere near the audience available to me to create a strong response in the way that she was able to. However, it seemed like a good way to resolve the situation that might have been mired in legal action, which might distract from the original intention of what she was aiming to do.

In the case of the ‘Hope’ poster, I feel that it would have been useful to see the dispute between Fairey and AP achieve a more amicable resolution – an earlier acknowledgement of the appropriation, for example. I think that I would ultimately feel similar to how Garcia did about the use as now the image has entered into our collective conscious in a way that I would never be able to do with my own photography, on my own merit. I would hope that there was a fringe benefit for my own practice that my photography was associated with such a remix.

Bibliography

Barton, L., 2008. Hope – the image that is already an American classic. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/nov/10/barackobama-usa#maincontent [Accessed 8 June 2020].

Kennedy, R., 2009. Artist Sues The A.P. Over Obama Image. [Online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/arts/design/10fair.html [Accessed 8 June 2020].

Petter, O., 2018. CHILDRENSWEAR BRAND ACCUSES ASDA OF ‘RIPPING OFF’ TRADEMARK SLOGAN. [Online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/asda-scamp-and-dude-slogan-rip-off-accusation-trademark-childrenswear-a8223471.html [Accessed 8 June 2020].

Place Over Time

I took a number of approaches to this task and have found it quite useful in thinking about my own practice. I think that I have been doing forms of re-photography in quite a lot of then work that I produce.

Image 1
Figure 1: Phil Hill (April & June, 2020) Light on kitchen floor

This is one of the images submitted for the last module (Fig: 1). Although not exactly the same in terms of composition, the light cast onto the floor creates an interesting contrast between the two images. In terms of the passage of time, the first was taken in April when it was much cooler and the kitchen door was closed, compared to the recreation, where the door was open allowing more of the afternoon light come into the space.

Images 2 & 3
Figure 2: Phil Hill & Darius Dabrowski (March – June, 2020) Casiobury Park, Watford
Figure 3: Phil Hill & Darius Dubrowski (March – June, 2020) Watford Town Center

Again, during Informing contexts, one of my aims was to start collaborating with others (Fig: 2 & 3). I gave out cameras to some of the people that I met in my community in order for them to photograph it from their own perspective. Unfortunately, owing to the pandemic, I was unable to truly resolve and develop that approach so had to shelve it. I decided to use them for this task as it felt like a great way to apply the techniques by way of a collaboration. As my research project is about connection to community and idiorythym, I am interested in how other perceive the same space as me.

Images 4 & 5
Figure 4: Phil Hill (April – June, 2020) Window images
Figure 5: Phil Hill (April – June, 2020) Window Images

The final two images are part of the evolution of my research project as a result of having to adapt to the pandemic (Fig: 4&5). I was happy with the way that these abstract images of the windows in my home turned out, however they are also a reaction to a situation and something that I feel need further development if I am going to utilise it for future work. After reading Vilém Flusser during the break, I was interested in the way that he discusses the surface of the photograph and how it abstracts from reality: “traditional images are abstractions of the first order insofar as they abstract from the concrete world” (2000: 14), so I wanted to take this concept and start to purposefully abstract using different processes, including considering the photograph as an object itself. This is the first exploration in this are – the images on the left have been re-photographed using black and white film, which was pushed 5 stops (100 – 3200) beyond its normal capability to increase grain and reduce the resolution of the final negative. This was a useful task to start exploring these ideas.

Bibliography

Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.

Object Agency – Planning for Surfaces and Strategies

The central focus around which I based my research project was to create a body of work that had portraiture as the main thread running through it. It is where I believed that the strongest stories in photography are; people being at the core of my narrative. Since the outbreak, I have had to evolve this approach and it has forced me to consider different ways of representing the idea of idiorrythym with the community and my connection to it, without people present.

I was fairly happy with the outcomes of the last module’s work in progress portfolio (Fig: 1), however this felt more of a reaction to the situation than of complete intent. There are some clear ideas that came out of the evolved approach together with some concepts that feel like they could have a valuable impact on my project as it moves forward.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2020) Work in Progress portfolio submission for Informing Contexts.

During the break I have been researching the concept of Object Orientated Ontology, which seeks to consider the agency of the object in the sense of how the qualities of the object impact the outcome of the photograph and ultimately how it is read. For example, Barthes’ discusses the mythology applied to wine, especially in French culture, for his essay ‘wine and milk’ (1993: 58-62). In it he creates a metaphor and symbols by which wine is interpreted, consumed and viewed by our learned culture:

“Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention”

(1993: 59)

“Wine is part of society because it provides a basis not only for a morality but also for an environment it is an ornament in the slightest ceremonials of French daily life”

(1993: 60)

Wine for Barthes symbolises quite a lot for French culture and also wider culture. Wine is so crucial to our wider culture that Peter Conrad also included an updated version to discuss the screw-top wine bottle when he created his ‘21st Century Mythologies’ (2014). Much of the way that Barthes’ discusses his mythologies is a way of anthropomorphising the inanimate to create the metaphor, yet these are formed from the qualities of the object and shape the experience of it. Graham Harmon refers to these as sensual qualities (2018), the sun for example is not an object that as humans, we can tangibly verify from its physical qualities, however we are aware of its sensual qualities: the light emitted, the heat it provides.

These qualities also have a fundamental impact on how the photograph is constructed. I can make decisions on how I want to take my photographs, but these are ultimately governed by the sensual qualities of the sun. The time of day to create the most aesthetically pleasing image, also known as the golden hour, is an example of this agency over the photograph. These qualities govern the way that the camera reacts to what it is pointed at.

Areas of exploration during surfaces and strategies

I am aiming to continue exploring the research that I began around the idea of the documentary aesthetic and to extend this by experimenting with the inherent qualities that are inherent in these images, or at least, the qualities that are expected to be seen in these images from our collective awareness of how they should look. These qualities, physical and sensual have important roles in the way that images are read and create impact. As I have started to look at the concept of OOO and how this applies to objects, the art object, and their agency. More specifically, how the photograph is an object in its own right and creates agency.

Initial ideas
FSA Hole Punches:
Figure 2: Paul Carter (1936) Hole punched through – Untitled photo, possibly related to: Tobacco fields devastated by the Connecticut River near Northampton, Massachusetts. Photograph: Library of Congress
  • I have come back to the FSA images a few time during the MA so far, after reading the discussion of Susan Sontag and John Tagg unpick the images as propagandist and complete constructions, with Sontag noting “In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects” (1979: 6), which considers how the photographer acts upon the objects (or subject), however as I have been researching in OOO, those subjects (or objects) can also act on the photographer and the photograph.
  • As I have become interested in a documentary aesthetic, I have been considering how the FSA images have come to define how we expect documentary images to be presented back to us. Sally Stein also noted this in her essay on Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ image, stating: “is often treated as the quintessential 1930s documentary photography” (2020: 59). And goes on to discuss the appropriation of the image, which has little to do with the reality of the situation that she photographed.
  • What really interests me from the vast archive of images was the ones that were ‘killed’ by Roy Stryker by punching holes through them (Fig: 2). I wrote about during the last module and created some experiments based around these, which seemed fairly superficial and I decided to move on fairly quickly so I am keen to look at this again. Instead of creating images that have been ‘Killed’ I want to explore the idea of looking at the punched hole from the image itself. There are many of these ‘killed’ images in the Library of Congress archive, which interests me as although the images were considered rejects, they were still kept for posterity whereas the missing part of these images – the holes – were discarded. Lewis Bush created a zine of this archive (2017), which suggests Stryker’s motives for such a violent rejection was due to any deviation from the official narrative that these images were aiming to portray.
  • The discarded part of the image, which does not fit the narrative, is what intrigues me and really connects to some of my earlier research into the ostracised (Barthes, 2012: 81).
Separation
  • Separation is a theme that has entered into my image making. I want to explore this further by creating separation through image processing. Vilem Flusser discusses that the photographs abstract from reality: “traditional images are abstractions of the first order insofar as they abstract from the concrete world while technical images are abstractions of the third order: They abstract from texts which abstract from traditional images which themselves abstract from the concrete world” (2000: 14), so one of my explorations will be to create levels of abstraction using photographic processes, which is also an area I want to look at in support of the photograph as an object in its own right.
  • Black and White film is a way to begin this. During the module break I began to use film a lot more as I went out on my daily walks. Black and white in itself is an abstraction of the concrete world, and Flusser even highlights the way that black and white infers a theoretical concept into the visual: “Black-and-white photographs embody the magic of theoretical thought since they transform the linear discourse of theory into surfaces. Herein lies their peculiar beauty, which is the beauty of the conceptual universe” (p. 43). Therefore, I want to experiment with its ability to abstract from the concrete and also explore the way it translates the conceptual. Alec Soth used a black and white aesthetic in his series ‘Songbook’ (2014) to reference a nostalgia for such imagery, which the FSA partially created. I also aim to extend this research into black and white use by looking at the work of Alys Tomlinson’s Ex Voto series (Fig: 3) among others.
  • Push processing film beyond its normal working range is something else that I am considering. I have a bulk roll of Fomapan 100 film that I am working through and will shoot some at 3200+ to see how this has an impact on image quality. I have seen people push HP5 to the extremes with interesting result to the grain of the negative, giving an aesthetic similar to that of Fukase’s Ravens (Fig: 4)
Figure 3: Alys Tomlinson (2019) Untitled from ‘Ex Voto
Figure 4: Masahisa Fukase (1986) Image from ‘Ravens’
Bibliography

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

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

Bush, L., 2017. Stryker. London: Lewis Bush.

Conrad, P., 2014. 21st Century Mythologies: Episode 1 – Screw-Top Wine Bottle. London: BBC Radio 4.

Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.

Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.

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

Soth, A., 2014. Songbook. 1 ed. London: Mack.

Stein, S., 2020. Migrant Mother Migrant Gender. 1 ed. London: Mack.

Summary of Progress

My project centers around the idea of connection to community from the idea of idiorrythmic separation, which is how we live together but also separately in our own individual rhythms. Specifically, it is about my own sense of connection to the community where I have lived for the past 6 years but never felt like I truly belonged. The project became more poignant for me during the period of lock down as the exploration of separation and alienation became very real. I aimed to show this by photographing the windows in my home juxtaposed against images that I was able to create in the community. The series is named ‘The Pathos of Distance,’ which is a Nietzsche quote used by Barthes to discuss this idea of iddiorrythm and it seemed to sum up the shared emotional experience of what was happening to communities everywhere.

During the last module, I also started to explore and research the idea of what a documentary photograph is. To support this, I have been looking at the concepts of object orientated ontology (OOO) and Justified True Belief (JTB) as well as how these images are expected to look aesthetically and conceptually. This is what I aim to start exploring during this module.

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