Vanessa Winship

Vanessa Winship (2008) Schoolgirls from the Borderlands  of Eastern Anatolia
Vanessa Winship (2013) Colleen, Lexington, Kentucky

I am familiar with the imagery that she produced for ‘Sweet Nothings’ (Fig: 1) and also with some of the individual images from ‘She Dances in Jackson’ (Fig: 2) however not the complete series, which I am finding a really interesting place to look and research. Winship’s use of Black and White is a conscious choice and a method, as she puts it ‘showing that the world is, in fact, in colour’ (2015) and I am very drawn to that concept having become interested in the photograph as an object as it feels very much as though the black and white is a method of highlighting not only that our world is colour (at least our perception of it), it is also a way of showing that the world has been photographed. This also ties in quite well with how Vilem Flusser discusses the use of black and white photography as a way of logically analysing the world (Flusser, 2000). Winship’s approach really resonated with me when looking at her work. Her consideration to the subject and the use of a medium specifically designed to slow down the process of taking images, which was something that Alys Tomlinson mentioned when also making the switch to black and white film for her series ‘Ex-Voto’ and cited Winship as influential in taking this approach to her project. Roughly two thirds of the book ‘She Dances on Jackson’ are landscapes, which is interesting for someone who is primarily associated for her portraits. However, when speaking with Ben Smith, Winship notes that the landscapes are as much about people as her portraits are, meaning that these images are a Significant part of any body of work that Winship is creating.  And she goes on to discuss more about this relationship between people and landscapes for an interview with the British Journal of Photography:

“I would like to convey something about fragility, about how both the landscape and the human beings who inhabit it are marked by their history and their place within in it, here and now”

(Winship, 2014)

Winship is also aware of the photograph as a subjective act and considers what she does as a junction between chronicle and fiction, which is a significant acknowledgment of how her works exists with elements of the documentary aesthetic but also constructed in its narrative. I find this the most interesting about her work as she is also making reference to the act of photography and the object of the photograph in her work.

My Project

It feels that any image made during this time, which considers people and community will inevitably be compared to how we are coping and living with covid-19 and the ‘new normal.’ During the last module this was thrust upon my project and I had to react to it. During the period between modules I was still continuing to take images, albeit not really to do with my research project but very much looking at what we all were seeing at the time and what I have since see a number of photographers focus projects on – discarded items of PPE that seem to occupy the landscape around us (Fig: 3). Now that I am back creating work for my research project, I wanted to actively avoid these objects, knowing that as people come to view my work it will be read as being about these concepts and ideas naturally. I can hint at this however, through the title of the work, for example, which considers the power of how image and text work together, as Barthes points out: “Formally, there was a reduction from text to image; today there is amplification from the one to the other” (1977:26).

Figure 3: Spencer Murphy (2020) Discarded glove from ‘Our Bullet Lives Blossom as They Race Towards the Wall’ taken during the recent lock down.

My intention is to call this body of work ‘I hope this finds you safe and well,’ which is a phrase that I have adopted to open correspondence such as emails. This was to adapt the common phrase ‘I hope that this email finds you well,’ the emphasis is on the word ‘safe’ that should resonate with the audience, as the word has come to symbolise this period.

Alec Soth (2004) Venice, Louisiana, 2003, from ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’

Even though I may not be looking for the artifacts of the pandemic to include in my work, I believe that there is still an anxiety in the people and the landscape, which I am aiming to include in the images. My project has inevitably evolved as a result into a kind of post lock down exploration and journey through the landscape, which is starting to consider Watford one of the characters in the narrative as much as any of the portraits might be. It is important to start considering this and had been a key point of my feedback received for the project so far. Essentially, I really need to ground the narrative in the place, much like Alec Soth does with his work ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ (Fig: 4). Soth considers the river a metaphor for the kind of wandering that is present within the book (Soth in Schuman, 2004). Soth also is considering the mythology inherent in this part of the US, connected to the perception of ‘America’ through the culture that we consume, which strikes an interest for me me as there are elements of this through the research into documentary photography and the way that we expect that kind of photography to look based on the documentary canon of images that exist already.

What is Watford then? For me Watford has always felt like a place without a clear identity. Its proximity to London means that a vast majority of people who live here, do so to commute into the city. This same proximity also means that the shear size of London and its cultural content dwarfs anything that might happen within Watford itself. The town is inside the M25 roadway that surrounds Greater London but it is not part of the capital, though it is considers an Urban district. As well as the M25, there are a great number of other significant transport links in the town: Heathrow, Luton, the M1 and the A1 are nearby; the high speed rail link that goes to Euston, the Metropolitan underground station, and the Overground all run from Watford. All of these are designed to speed people away.

Historically, there is also the Grand Union canal running from London to Birmingham and it was the introduction of the canal as well as the railway that led to Watford’s initial rapid growth leading to its establishment of a major printing town (Moorhead, 2014), where the place that I work was once called the Watford college of printing, responsible for training typesetters and printers for the newspaper industry in the UK and also the world and also the production of all government propaganda during WW2. If Watford was to have had an identity it would have potentially been tied to the now defunct printing industry here and also the impact that the education of printers will have had on the printed word. This could of course be an area to consider when creating my own publications.

“Rotary photogravure was a technique which was first used in Watford to reproduce very fine, high quality fine art prints and then it went on to be used to produce colour magazines. All the ladies’ colour magazines, like Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Own, were all printed in Watford, as well as most of the colour supplements for the Sunday newspapers.“

(2014)

From a transport perspective Watford appears to lack its own agency as to get anywhere outside of London or Birmingham for example, you must travel into London first. It is a significant commuter town and has evolved to nurture this as it is one of the main reasons for its success as a town. It is also one of the last places that you could encounter before it is London, between London and Countryside. Surrounding Watford, there are a number of really beautiful parks and natural landscapes, which I have started to really take an interest in. I was struck when reviewing my first images that some of them almost look like they could be North America, a particular resonance for me and my Canadian wife.

Linking back to my use of black and white, its use by Winship and other photographers is a way of drawing attention to the fact that something is being photographed. It could also be that this acknowledgment of the medium in the image is a way to place myself into the narrative, albeit subtly. I am there through the act of photography without having to be in any of the images as a subject. There needs to be a further development in the landscape and really placing Watford as one of the central characters of the project together with the portraits and the use of black and white, which places me as another character.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation ed. New York: Fontana.

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

Moorhead, R., 2014. At one time nearly everyone living in Watford had a job connected to the print industry. Now Dr Caroline Archer has put together an exhibition – 100 Years of Printing Education. She talks to Rosy Moorhead. [Online]
Available at: https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/leisure/localexhibitions/10962647.at-one-time-nearly-everyone-living-in-watford-had-a-job-connected-to-the-print-industry-now-dr-caroline-archer-has-put-together-an-exhibition-100-years-of-printing-education-she-talks-to-
[Accessed 8 July 2020].

Schuman, A. & Soth, A., 2004. The Mississippi: An Interview with Alec Soth. [Online]
Available at: http://seesawmagazine.com/soth_pages/soth_interview.html
[Accessed 8 July 2020].

Winship, V., 2014. Still dancing: Vanessa Winship discusses her work [Interview] (6 August 2014).

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

Starting to Consider: Exhibition

I have started to consider how I want my work to be viewed in the lead up to the Landings exhibition and how it actually provides me with an opportunity to really analyse my online presence and start to create a curated online platform for myself that is much more focused on the kind of photography I am developing during this time.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (2020) Top of website homepage, which uses the WordPress theme ‘Sketch,’ before updating.

My website was initially set up much like my MA blog, utilising WordPress and one of their themes called ‘Sketch’ (Fig: 1), which is also the same theme as this CRJ.​*​ I have always liked the flexibility of the WordPress platform having used the blogging platform for over 10 years, more so after they introduced the portfolio feature for projects. WordPress has a massive community network in terms of support and people creating functionality for it, if there is a custom function that I want to use for my own site, chances are that there is a plugin available. It was also great to find out that Falmouth is keen on it and rolls it out for the CRJ meaning that I had prior experience that I could fall back on. The biggest draw of WordPress of course is that it is primarily free (with some exceptions for functionality and premium features), which creates a powerful tool at entry level.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (2020) Bottom of website homepage displaying WordPress logo and links

The challenge has always been that usually the free options equal some sort of compromise. For example, the need to display the ‘powered by WordPress’ logo at the bottom of the site (Fig: 2), which could be removed with some tinkering of the code, this is quite a challenge for someone like me with little coding knowledge and could lead to a broken website. Although, not the end of the world, this display always felt a little unprofessional. A great number of websites that I have been looking at by other photographers, have a horizontal scrolling feature (Fig: 3), which creates an aesthetically pleasing way to look at a sequenced project, in a similar way to how you might read a narrative in a book. I feel that this is important as it can be a way of establishing an initial way to consume the work as I intended.

Figure 3: Luke Stephenson (2020) Horizontal scrolling gallery feature using the Format platform.

There are a number of sites that offer this kind of portfolio website experience including Format and Squarespace. I have previously used the American based Photoshelter when I was freelancing because it had a really good image proof and delivery function as well as full resolution storage, however even that was limited and would not allow me to do everything that I wanted. These examples are also premium subscription services, which I cannot really justify at this stage. Ultimately there are still going to be the inevitable compromises and it is a case of working out the ones that I willing to accept.

My website, although I updated just before the beginning of the MA, was quite bloated, and now that I am adding galleries for my most recent projects, it was also confused. My website was a platform for promoting my freelance practice as a travel and lifestyle photographer, however this is not something that I have done professionally for a few years (although I do still take on commissions and license work); my practice is evolving into more of an art practice concerned with longer term research projects (Such as the ones conducted during the MA).

It is important for the audience of my work not to be confused with the work that I presenting on my site, even though it is useful to show the types of professional work that I have conducted, as this shows a level of competence and professionalism. It is also important that the form and function of my website also create a framework (or surface) for the effective dissemination and consumption if my work.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (2020) New website homepage featuring a minimalist design, distinctive typeface and horizontal scrolling gallery.
Figure 5: Phil Hill (2020) Horizontal scrolling gallery

After some research, I found a well-designed theme that can be used with WordPress and would effectively display my work and could be rolled out to my website ready for the Landings exhibition at the end of the month (Fig: 4). I have decided to utilise a minimalist design that hides the menu unless clicked on as well as the important horizontal scrolling feature (Fig: 5). The website also adapts well when viewed on a mobile device, which is a fundamental consideration as this is a primary means of viewing. The theme also utilises two different typefaces, which creates an aesthetically pleasing means to display my work and lifts it beyond the ‘sketch’ theme that I had been using (Fig: 6).

Figure 6: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Updated website screen recording for computer browser view [Top] and as viewed on a mobile device [Bottom].

There are still a couple of elements that I would change, for example, there is an automatic numbering of images within galleries that could become distracting to the reader of the work, so I may look into removing this at some point in the future. I have also hide a lot of the content that was on my old site, including tear sheets, and my published work examples, which is something that will be important to create a solution for display.

Landings

Figure 7: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Example of how to utilise a community display board – Before & After

I have been considering how best to display my work for the landings exhibition with the idea of creating a community based display. For example, I quite like the idea of creating a kind of ‘art trail’ approach where the work can be displayed in the places that I took the images. This would create an opportunity for the community to view the work in situ. It also creates a re-tracing of the journey that I was making during the process of creating the work, which would hopefully create meaning and connection to the people and place. There are two ways that I though could work well for this. Firstly, during my walks around the local area that I live, I noticed a number of community boards for displaying local information, one method of display could be to ‘take-over’ these displays and present my portraits (Fig: 7). Secondly, an idea that is more grand in approach could be to display large scale prints in the locations that they were taken that could either be discovered by the people using the facilities, or be part of an art trail (Fig: 8). In addition to these approaches, there is an opportunity to support the display with a small publication or catalogue of the exhibition that includes a map of the art trail. I could also incorporate a workshop where participants could walk the art trail with me and we can discuss community engaged photography projects.

Figure 8: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Digital composite of how a large scale print might look in the location it was created.
Current situation

Owing to the ongoing restrictions, my concern is that these ideas are simply not feasible so my intention is to utilise what I have developed for my online platform with the aim to utilise it in an effective local manner. Now that I have established a professional presence with my updated website, I want to use the landings exhibition as a means of self-marketing as well as the online gallery having the potential to outlast the 7-day exhibition itself. Local community engagement is still important to the work and its dissemination so my intention is to seek local means for disseminating the exhibition as opposed to merely adding a link and some images to Instagram. An example of this could be by utilising the local network within Watford like the community noticeboard ‘Next Door.’ There is also an opportunity to contact ‘Watford BID,’ who promote local events. This might be quite valuable as I could also work with them in the future for such promotion. Having an online gallery in place for a year also creates an opportunity for visitors throughout the 12 months.

My intention is to support my exhibition gallery with potentially a downloadable publication of the work or even a physical version that can be purchased through my website. This is not something that I have done before but am keen to explore, building on the experience of creating zines.

How much you consider the audience when making your work?

This question is something that I think that I have been answering, yet possibly not really in enough detail. People do seem to respond well to my work, however I find it increasingly difficult to ‘break through.’ Potentially, the presentation of my online portfolio could have been a factor as it is fundamental that the work should be presented in a professional way. There of course could be innumerate reasons for the work not cutting through, however it could very well be that I am actually not considering the audience of it. Defining who wants to consume my photography is key to the success of the work.

How much you would allow a curator to influence the reading of your work?

Considering the above, I think it would be important to engage with others who might be more experienced art curation than me. It is important to maintain my intentions and how I wished for the work to be read when I created it. However, it is important to remember that I also do not have exclusive rights over the reading of my work, that is an impossibility. It is also useful to engage with other professionals in the dissemination of the work, primarily because as the artist, I will be very close to the project and may not see the value in particular sequences.

How curators could be useful to your practice?

Vanessa Winship on discussing her first book, stated that although she valued the opportunity and process of making the book, she felt that she was having to compromise more than she would have liked (Winship in Smith, 2015). Experince may have played a part in this leading to a lack of compromise in making the decisions about her own work. I do stand by the need to work with other professionals however, expertise in fields I am not familiar in is ultimately invaluable. For Jack Latham’s ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ exhibition at the Royal Photographic society (Latham, 2019), curator Mark Rawlinson discussed the differences between the exhibition over the book, noting that the linear nature of the book allows only for one way to consume the narrative of the book, whereas the exhibition opens up multiple ways to view and construct a narrative from the work as the audience is freed up to walk around the space and consider the images presented as they see fit. According to Rawlinson the non-linear  conspiratorial narrative of ‘Sugarpaper Theories’ is a particularly good example of how two successful sequences can work (Rawlinson & Latham, 2019). That exhibition did feel like there was a good collaboration happening between Latham and Rawlinson, which led to its ultimate success.


  1. ​*​
    I am considering moving this blog onto the new theme, however I may not do this during the MA. Primarily because I would not want to break anything!
Bibliography

Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. Bristol: Royal Photographic Society.

Rawlinson, M. & Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories Gallery Walk & Talk. Bristol: Royal Photographic Society.

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

Reflecting on Medium and Craft

Figure 1: Phil Hill (June, 2020) unedited portrait of Oliver, which was buckled when loaded for processing – shown by the crescent highlight bottom right of the image.

I am having to really consider the medium I have begun to use for this module. I have identified that I am in need of re-learning the process of shooting and using the medium format full time. For example, since starting to shoot film again, I have encountered a number of technical challenges to overcome whilst processing and scanning at home (in part a challenge related to the current covid-19 lock down). I have buckled film loading (Fig: 1), underdeveloped once, and had an issue with light leaking film backs. Some of this could be attributed to the current pandemic, however I approached the medium with an assumed confidence that I had once used these materials so would be able to run with it again. Therefore, I have decided to go back to some of the basics to better understand this new apparatus that I have started to use to the point of properly keeping film temperatures and specific agitation for the film I am processing.

105mm @ f5.6
105mm @ f16
105mm @ f8
105mm @ f22
105 @ f11

Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Depth of Field test using 105mm lens ranging from f5.6 – f22

One of the main challenges I have had, is some of the images that I have made are soft focus, which is something that I would normally check on location however instead I am making one or two frames of the subject. Depth of field is a very early lesson in learning the technique of photography and something that I aim to utilise in my own portraiture. A sharp subject and shallow depth of field creates effective framing to encourage the viewer of the image to remain looking at the subject, which I have placed value. This is one of the most effective tools to construct a dominant reading of the work subjectively by the photographer. It is also aesthetically pleasing in the way that it abstracts the way that we process information of the world.  Soft or missed focus negates an effective execution of the idea contained in the image, so I felt it fundamental to the execution of the project to re-learn the specifics of the 6×7 apparatus. I have been aiming for a shallow DOF of around f4, however owing to the larger size of the format over my full-frame DSLR, there is a difference in how the DOF translates into the image, which I did not consider myself. Ultimately, there is around a 4 times difference in sizes, which means that a 50mm standard lens size on full frame equals 105mm to cover increased format size. Without trying to get to far into the technicalities of it, what I have not been factoring in is that the 105mm lens will still give the same DOF results regardless of the size of the film, or emulsion; the f4 I have been aiming for is more like f1.0 meaning a significantly smaller amount of headroom to get the shot, especially as a glasses wearer using a camera without dioptre adjustment or autofocus.

These might be considered to be rudimentary and frustrating lessons to have to re-learn, especially studying at a MA level, however it is also really pushing me to consider my craft. As I have come to research the impact that apparatus and the subjective qualities of the materials and medium it is important to understand them as part of the process of creating an effective project. A well-researched and conceptually strong idea also needs to be well-executed which means a deeper understanding of those materials – apparatus is a key part of that execution. It will also be a good idea to better understand the materials of the chosen film emulsion, which will be an important consideration as although subtle, have a fundamental impact on my project.

Abstracting the Image: Aparatus to Aparatus

Figure 1: Richard Mosse (2012) Image from Infra, which utilised an infrared film and camera.
Figure 2: Linda Alterwitz (2013) Image from ‘Signature of Heat’

Black and white, photographically, could be considered a method of De-privileging human perception from how we perceive the world around us. We do not see the world in black and white, we see in colour, yet this perception of the world is still limited in the wider spectrum that exists. Richard Mosse as an example, utilises infrared camera technology and film to show the world outside our human range of perception (Fig: 1), additionally, Linda Alterwitz created her series ‘signatures of Heat’ by utilising a thermal imaging camera, which seems to have particular resonance now we are living in the ‘new normal’ (Fig: 2). Although I have used film photography a fair amount in my time as a photographer, being old enough to have studied the subject without digital technology having the kind of impact that it does now, I would not comfortably use the medium to produce work that I was invested in as much as the MA. This is very much tied into the ability to check and recheck on the spot until I was able to achieve the result I needed. The more I am shooting with the medium format camera however, the more careful I have become in the setting up and creating of my images, not to say that I still do not make mistakes – some of the images have come back soft, or in the extreme, technical issues have led to losing images.

Figure 3: Dorothea Lange (1939) ‘Migrant Mother’ before and after retouching.

In terms of viewing the world outside how we perceive it however, Black and white is a more common way of showing us this. Aesthetically we as humans find its look quite pleasing and our collective learned knowledge creates the perception of black and white as ‘art,’ or for more ‘serious’ work, which is born from the collective experience of a history of images presented in black and white; the ubiquity and fame of ‘Migrant Mother’ is a notable example of this, as Sally Stein points out: “often circulated as the centrepiece of the documentary canon” (2020, p. 62), which is despite its problematic approach to the facts surrounding the story and the notorious retouching of the thumb from the frame (Fig: 3). Human perception has in part been shaped by this view of the world even though we do not process the objects within it in this way, these images stay with us and create a collective memory of them.

As I have started to consider the photograph as a kind of object, shooting film creates this in a way that digital does not. The negative is a tangible object and shooting in a 6X7 format also attributes a preciousness to it. I am now acutely aware of each frame shot; each one must be carefully considered as each one costs money to produce. A roll of 120 film cost me between £4.50 – £5 allowing 10 frames per roll of film equaling 50 pence per frame, however factoring in processing and time, this would easily be over a £1 per image. As a process existing outside of my usual comfort zone, it is also an apparatus that I am not used to using either, which links to this week’s consideration of de-privileging the lens. Although I am not rejecting the lens completely, I am moving away from an easier approach to my photography and making it more of a precious object once again; more of a de-privileging the digital sensor and the ease in which I can make my images. These parameters can support a more focused approach to the creation of the work.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Portrait affected by light leaking into RB67 Film back.

Technically, as mentioned earlier, this is not without its challenges. I had a glitch with an early roll of film that resulted in a serious light leak that ruined the majority of that film (Fig: 4). The portraits that I have been seeking in the public space are hard work for me to approach and shoot as it takes a fair amount of pushing myself to approach people, usually a good couple of weeks in each of the modules spent talking myself into taking these pictures to the point where it might just be easier to do something else, which makes any issues with the results doubly frustrating. However, this does create a more personal connection to the work as I become much more invested in all of the steps of the process in order to achieve a good result. People are at the heart of what I am trying to achieve.

Reality as we perceive it, has qualities and characteristics, which are tangible to us, to our senses, and some qualities, which are not tangible but nether-the-less fundamental to our understanding. By de-privileging the human there is an acknowledgment that the object continues to exist regardless of whether the human perceives it or not, Graham Harmon notes: “the infamous claim that the Pharaoh Ramses II cannot have died of tuberculosis, since in ancient Egypt that disease was not yet discovered”  (2020, p. 33), which points out to us that it is easy to forget that our human perception is just part of the spectrum of representation and things exist outside of our awareness.

When photographing this reality, I am transferring some of these qualities onto the surface of the digital sensor, or the emulsion of the film. Qualities are transferred into an impression of this concrete world yet, there are also the qualities of the medium that are important to consider, which also have an effect on the way that the object based in the reality is perceived. Black and white seem the most obvious because it strips out information that we as humans are used to using to understand the world. However the object exists in multiple ways it can be perceived, outside the human range of perception, as the examples of Mosse and Alterwitz show. Black and white in these terms is an equally valid representation in that it is equally limited.

Figure 5: Sebastiano Pomata & Phil Hill (May, 2020) Negative re-photographed

It occurred to me that even though I am shooting film, I am still reliant on my DSLR to digitise the negative (mainly because of the lock down it is my only means of scanning, yet the point would remain for other forms of digitisation). The qualities transferred from reality onto the film emulsion are once again transferred onto another apparatus, the digital camera; One apparatus transferring to another apparatus. I made reference to this in an earlier exploration, where I took a negative I invited a friend to shoot for me and I copied it onto another roll of film, which appropriates that image and creates an object that is mine even though I have never been to Barcelona (Fig: 5). The reality of the image that I copied becomes even further removed from the reality that my friend Seb originally photographed.

Flusser notes that: “Aparatuses are black boxes that simulate thinking” (2000, p. 32), so what is the thinking that I am trying to simulate? The first black box is the film camera, which is being used to create a sense of the documentary aesthetic, a sense of the nostalgia, to a connection to a past that is perceived to be in decline. I have aimed to start making this palpable in the current idea of the ‘new normal,’ there might be a longing for the time before the pandemic. Aesthetically, I know that the images will be pleasing to look at, as if they could be from ‘another time’ as was noted of Alys Tomlinson’s Ex-Voto series (Molloy, 2019). There is a pathos in our collective understanding of images made during this time.

If reality has qualities that transfer and become in part replaced by the qualities of the film camera and emulsion, then both of these have certain agency over the representation of the object of that image – this agency then takes a role in shaping how we perceive. Those transferred qualities are then transferred and changed again when the negative becomes digitised and the reality recorded is another step removed. This digital image is a copy of a copy and many of the qualities of the black and white negative have been changed, and in some cases limited by the use of the digital camera. Ironically, some of my choices for using film are because of its opposition to the look of digital imagery but needs to be turned into a digital image in order for it to be useful online.

The second black box is the digital camera I am using to ‘scan’ the negative and has become a necessary part of the process to get my work in front of an audience. This black box is used as a means of translating the simulated thinking of the 1st black box into a usable form, yet it is important to consider the process and chain of qualities that have taken place having been fundamentally changed from the recorded reality, apparatus to apparatus.

Bibliography

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

Harmon, G., 2020. Art and Objects. 1st Paperback ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and thne Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.

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

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

PHO703 First Shots

This week’s webinar, I put together a contact sheet of images from my recent medium format film shoots, primarily the portraits that I have begun to collect again (Fig: 1). All of the people in these images are taking very locally to where I live on the recreation ground and playing fields nearby. As the lock down is starting to be lifted, I am seeing many more people come together in these spaces and start to enjoy the outdoors and meet up with people they might not have seen for many weeks.

I have been very pleased with how many of these images are starting to come together. After some initial technical challenges with the equipment and getting used to shooting in this way again, I feel that I have managed to take some string images to move forward with my project and it has been quite a nice validation for my new approach, after having to really work up the courage to engage with people and take their photograph.

This was echoed by Cemre during my feedback, who noted that I have some really good portraits to work with when it comes to the next wipp edit and submission. What I am lacking at the moment is the images, which link all of these people together in terms to the space and connection between them. This is fundamental to the work that I am trying to produce. It was also noted that for this kind of work that is completed in the place where the photographer lives is almost always about the photographer as much as it is about the place, which is something that really resonates with me as my intention for the work has always been to explore the idea of my connection to the place that I live. Although Cemre made reference to this as an idea to explore for the idea of community, it is yet to show effectively in my research project; a series of portraits is not enough for a resolved strong submission.

To develop this, I am considering a number of approaches. I made a comment on Andy’s images from this week that he might want to consider keeping a journal to record his thoughts and feelings whilst taking his images so that he could use the text to support the visual. It occurred to me as I was saying this, that this is something that I should also do as a way of showing my personal narrative in the work via my own reflections before, during and after I take my pictures. Additionally, it is something that I could write when I take my daughter to the same spaces; ultimately, I use these places in a similar way to the people that I am photographing so I should be in there somewhere.

Figure 2: Alec Soth (2010) From ‘Broken Manual’ on Soth’s website

It was suggested that I also take a look at Alec Soth’s ‘Broken Manual’ series (Fig: 2). I have been getting quite familiar with his work ‘Songbook’ in relation to this idea of the documentary aesthetic and how it was employed overtly for this series, however I have not taken a wider look at Soth’s other work (during the MA anyway), so this would be useful to start really considering the way that portrait and landscape images can work together and the potential to re-introduce colour at some point. Another really valuable suggestion was to look at Vanessa Winship’s series ‘She Dances on Jackson’ which is a really beautiful blend of portraiture and landscape images that creates a really strong contextualisation of the work (Fig: 3). I aim to read some more into both of these bodies of work and create a reflection on them.

Figure 3: Vanessa Winship (2013) From She Dances on Jackson

The key takeaway from the webinar was that I need to really start asking the question of what is drawing me to these people, and what is my place within this community? Should I be taking a step back and question why I took this image. Once I have an answer to these questions, I can really start to focus on it.

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).

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.

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.