Photography & Object Orientated Ontology

When discussing Edmond Husserl, Graham Harmon notes how he believes there can be two Berlins: “One of them a content inside the mind and the other an object outside it” (2020: 15). The meaning of this assertion is to suggest that if I were to describe Berlin to you, assuming that you had never been there, it would be different from the one that you might find if you went there yourself. Not necessarily so different that you wouldn’t recognise it as the Berlin I described, but the way that I perceive a place and then describe it will inevitably abstract certain details. I may skip bits less important to me, which you then find crucial to the way that you experience it. I really like chocolate and there was a pretty good chocolate shop by the Brandenburg gate, or the cool northern district where I bought that t-shirt but can’t remember its name – began with an ‘F’ I think. You will experience and remember a different city to me; you may even remember the name of that district. Husserl acknowledges the negligible difference between these two realities as an “absurd notion” (p. 15) however, shows that human perception of the concrete world is a construction of bias and truth, even if that construction describes that same reality.

Harmon is an advocate of Object Orientated Ontology (OOO), which creates agency in the object that is free from how humans perceive it and removes us from being the central focus of interpretation of the world. The described object has its qualities, which can be interpreted in innumerate ways by us and some of these qualities can be abstracted. The object however, remains as it is, regardless of how it is interpreted by us, as Harmon notes, “we abstract certain features from these objects, which exist in their full and unexhausted plenitude quite apart from all our theoretical, perceptual, or practical encounters with them” (2020: 18). Within the sphere of OOO, Berlin would be considered an ‘object’ like any other: “any ‘thing’ is an object, whether living, non-living, artificial, or conceptual”  (Kerr, 2016). Photography is an act of interpreting objects, albeit narrowly, and when considering Husserl photographically, it can be thought of as a third ‘Berlin’ as it also abstracts, leaving out many of the static features that exist in the object.

Figure 1: Micheal Padilla (2020) From ‘Plague Kids: A 21st Century Photo Diary’

The interpretation of the object is based on how it has been photographed: how the apparatus has been programmed, how it has been lit, how it has been composed. The object has its own immutable qualities, yet the interpretation is closely tied to the qualities of the photograph, which can supersede those of the object. I was struck by a recent example of this from one of my peers, Michael Padilla. In his series, ‘Plague Kids,’ he takes the clean colour digital images from a DSLR and prints them onto previously printed-on paper using a laser printer from the 90s, which completely downgrades any of the perceived ‘clean’ quality of the original image (Fig: 1). However, by doing so, he also creates something far superior with greater meaning, even as it is interpreted as degraded. Padilla has taken the abstraction of the photograph one step further by supplanting the qualities of the photograph with its printed outcome, shifting the context – creating a fourth ‘Berlin’ to continue with Husserl’s analogy.

A more common example of this might be in advertising, where the object is photographed in such a way as to accentuate particular qualities attractive to those who are willing to make a purchase. I have also discussed previously, that some of the best photographic works seem to draw attention to the act of photography, which is another way of saying that they also accentuate particular qualities of the photographic process. It is worth noting that photography would also be considered an ‘object’ by OOO, with agency outside the sphere of our interpretation. As Harmon argues, “the external world exists independently of human awareness” (2018: 10).

Figure 2: Phil Hill (August, 2020) PHO703: Surfaces and Strategies work in progress portfolio submission, titled ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’

When considering the impact of OOO on my research project (Fig: 2), the idea of multiple ‘Berlins’ can just as easily be interpreted as multiple ‘Watfords’ (though not as ‘cool’) in a figurative and literal sense of the word. So far, I have suggested that there are four of these interpretations however, as each of us has a unique learned knowledge of the world, it is argued that there are in fact an infinite amount – even as the concrete existence of Watford and the communities that occupy it remain. OOO encourages a way of removing human interpretation from the object’s own agency and creates an opportunity to analyse the impact of the object’s qualities on the way that it is read by us; first consider the object and then the photographic process acting on it.

What I have aimed to do with my project is to consider the perception of these qualities in terms of how they are photographed and how the qualities of the photograph can overcome the qualities of the object photographed – my community. This has become fundamental to the understanding of how I will photograph my community moving forward and also how I connect with it. If I start to think of the community as an object, I can start to identify its qualities and then consider ways in which I can apply the qualities of photography to create my narrative; connecting with the community by drawing attention to my process of photograph. And this is why analogue has become quite important to my practice. The way that we perceive community in its rose-tinted, better-in-the-past bubble, and the way that black and white documentary photographs have shaped this collective understanding are qualities that can be exploited to create my authorship of the presented work – connecting me as the photographer to the community that I am photographing.

Bibliography

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

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

Kerr, D., 2016. What Is Object-Oriented Ontology?. [Online] Available at: https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/the_big_idea/a-guide-to-object-oriented-ontology-art-53690 [Accessed 9 August 2020].

WIPP Peer Feedback

I was fairly confident with how my wipp was looking off the back of the zine design and reception that publication received, however I was still keen to gain feedback on it. During the last webinar, it was noted that I had a couple of similar images in the broken tree stumps (Fig: 1), something that I had overlooked. As soon as this was pointed out to me, it became immediately obvious and really makes it clear the importance of being able to print work out and ‘live’ with it in a tangible form. Something that I am looking forward to being able to do once I can return to my work and use the facilities there. I quickly moved on to create version 2 of my wipp

Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Broken tree stump images. [Left] kept in WIPP [Right] edited out of WIPP

I opened this version with the image of the disused rail link (Fig: 2) and aimed to create a mix of single portrait juxtaposed with a subtle version of the Watford yellow, inspired by Bryan Schutmaat, and also a way of continuing connection to place. I have also created a number of diptych combinations, as they would be seen in a double page spread, for example the image of the youth centre next to the train bridge arch (Fig: 3&4) to consider the commuting connection and potential impact on community, the arches of this train bridge are also quite synonymous with the part of Watford, called Bushey. I don’t think this particular dyptich is working however. Although there are visual similarities in these images in the bricks and the architecture, the individual meaning of the images is lost when going for a mere aesthetic combination of images, so I sought to change this again. I also placed some of the portraits together with details of Watford, however again I felt that the visual impact of some of these portraits is lost when placed with other imagery (Fig: 5 & 6).

Figure 2: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Disused Rail Link.
Figure 3: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Youth Centre
Figure 4: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Oxhey Dell ‘Bushey arches’ train bridge
Figure 5: Phil Hill (July, 2020) KP KT carved into a tree, Oxhey Dell, Watford
Figure 6: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Katie, Beechfield School

Feedback received for this version support some of my own conclusions. Ross noted that the sequence would really benefit from opening with a portrait and on reflection I would agree. My project has always been based around the portrait so feels more logical to start with one of these. It also creates a ‘hook’ to lead you into the work. Ross also mentioned that the last image, which I had left from the design of my zine might be better changed too. The image of Owen is gazing out of the frame and pushes the eye out of the frame (Fig: 7), so it might better to finish with a portrait of a direct gaze, such as Luis (Fig: 8) to really plant you into the narrative, which is something that I have been aiming for.

Figure 7: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Owen, Grove meadow, Watford
Figure 8: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Luis, Beechfield School

With this edit, I have decided to utilise more of the yellow juxtaposition next to the single image spreads (Fig: 9). I feel this adds a nice contrast to the black and white as well as bringing the Watford connection through the work. I also consider it a way of carrying you through the narrative and not be confronted by a jarring blank white page, which in turn allows the reader to examine the single image more fully as the eye is directed to focus on the portrait. The yellow also warms the tone of the reading. As discussed before, I have a number of images that reveal an underlying anxiety, yet I do not want the narrative to solely be about this, or at least, I do not want the reader to immediately come to this conclusion, perhaps after one or two viewings of the work to fully understand it. To warm it up also links to the summer months that the work was created. This version feels the most complete to me.

Figure 9: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Wais, Callowland Rec Ground juxtaposed with yellow toned page.

WIPP Reflection

My work in progress portfolio is aiming to be about how people are coming back together as restrictions are lifted. It is also how I continue to consider my own connection to place. Through research into a number of concepts, I also wanted to explore in detail the idea of a documentary aesthetic and how this continues to permeate our collective consciousness of how we assume a documentary image ‘should’ look. Whilst doing so, I also became interested in the idea of drawing attention to the act of photography, which is how I am starting to consider some of the best photographic projects do. This starts to consider my place within the scene (Fig: 1).


Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Short essay considering the photograph as an object in terms of Object Orientated Ontology and the idea of drawing attention to the act of photography.
Figure 2: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Discussing community, FSA, and the American Dream.

This supports some initial research that I made on the concept of ‘gesellschaft,’ (Fig: 2) or the larger more impersonal communities that many of us find ourselves in whilst living in bigger urban and city areas (Keller, 1988: 171-172), and also the idea of community idiorrythmic living together but also separately (Barthes, 2012: 102). These two concepts have been quite crucial in understanding my own feelings towards places as I moved around a lot and now find myself living in Watford, brought here for a job. That sense of connection has never been there, even after meeting my wife and having our daughter here. The town has always felt fairly transient, although this may just be a personal reflection of my own feelings towards the town. Existing outside of London, it serves the capital via its many substantial transport links (Fig: 3).


Figure 3: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Discussing Vanessa Winship and moving on to analyse Watford as a location for my project on community.

It became more and more apparent to me during the time creating work for this module that my project was becoming a journey through Watford. An evolving connection is beginning to form in the Images that I am starting to make, which is partly out of the new spaces that I discovered whilst we were on Lock down, this is something that I wanted to reflect in this submission. There is actually a great deal of beauty in the immediate surrounding countryside and even in the numerous wooded areas that permeate the suburban sprawl of Watford. Until now I have viewed the town as the designated ‘Urban District’ that exists just outside of London with no real character of its own other than to serve London; the last place before entering the capital or the first town you enter when leaving. What I have started to discover in the sense of my title for the work ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’ is a new appreciation (UK Government, 2011) for the place that I have lived for the past 7 years.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Disused Rail link, Watford.
Figure 6: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Youth Centre, Watford
Figure 5: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Concrete pillar with the word ‘Help Me’ written.
Figure 7: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Broken tree, Cassiobury Park, Watford.

The work and title is also to acknowledge that a work made during this time, which primary focus is on a community would inevitably draw connections to the current pandemic. Although my initial concept of the work was to engage with people as we come back together, I have not actively sought to directly photograph the evidence of covid – this is something that has been covered effectively by other photographers (see post). However, there does exist a subtle anxiety of a community emerging tentatively in the aftermath of restriction (although again, this is potentially my own reflected feelings towards the subject). I have attempted to show this in my image sequence, for example, the overgrown railway to denote a shutdown transport network – a major contributor to Watford (Fig: 4). The image of the concrete post with the words ‘help me’ written (Fig: 5), a boarded up youth centre – a usual gathering place of a functioning community (Fig: 6). A broken tree at the stump (Fig: 7), which is hugely metaphorical denoting a number of meanings in life and death, existence, and can also be used to show groups or individuals (Wirth, 2015) and in my case could also denote the community. I have also included an image of a dead fox, which is another important metaphor for sly and underlying, and also associated with blending into its surroundings (Smith, 2005), which could be linked to the virus itself. I also want a certain amount of ambiguity in the sequence, even with the above, I understand that viewers of the work will bring their own narratives to its reading, yet have a certain pathos to how that happens. During my last webinar, Ross also pointed out that that there are a number of images that suggest forms of broken down communication, via the messages, the power lines and the railway, which had not occurred to me before but I quite like.


Figure 8: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Discussing the design choices for my Landings Zine.

Continuing with the design elements of my zine (Fig: 8), I have made a number of developed changes to the design created for my landings zine. This includes the position of the title text on the cover for legibility and changed the ‘and’ to an ampersand as I felt that it looked graphically better on the cover (Fig: 9). I wanted to maintain the consistency of what I had made for landings with enough differentiation for my WIPP submission.

Figure 9: Phil Hill (August, 2020) Updated cover for wipp submission.

My work for this module has been about establishing an applied approach to the research that I have undertaken. There is a distinct rhetoric to the way that photographic projects present projects about community, which is steeped in this idea of a ‘Documentary aesthetic,’ and how the language of documentary is bound to the mythology of the grand photo documentaries, such as the FSA. However, even more contemporary photographers have a role to play in shaping how this kind of project is depicted and how we as an audience interprets and reads the work. I have used Alec Soth as an example throughout the module, who acknowledged the specific use of apparatus and language in constructing a documentary image (Soth in Feuerhiem, 2015), and also has an ‘Alec Soth character’ that he will gravitate towards in the work that he creates (Soth in Flectcher, 2020), which perpetuates and continues to shape the collective awareness of how this kind of image is expected to look.

WIPP Notes

Considering how to start editing my final WIPP submission for Surfaces and Strategies, I am gravitating towards using my Landings zine sequence as a starting point (Fig: 1). However, I have created a number of images since putting this work together and also worked on developing my approach to creating a greater sense of the place that I am photographing within. After considering the work of Bryan Schutmaat recently, I quite liked his use of coloured paper opposite some of his individual images in the book ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ (Fig: 2). As mentioned previously, I am unsure on the idea of a book, yet quite drawn to the connection that I made to the location of Watford through the materials and the colours in my zine (Fig: 3 & 4). Additionally, I felt that the colours on the cover create a striking contrast to the black and white images within, which is potentially at its greatest impact in the linear narrative of a photo book. I am also still developing my sequencing and narrative skills and the book in its linear placement of images, juxtapositions, diptych’s is an ideal place to develop this, especially as it can also be printed out and ‘lived with’ in order to see if the placements and sequencing is working overall. Even if I do not opt for a photo book for the FMP down the line, this is still a valuable exploration to create effective visual narratives.

Figure 2: Bryan Schutmaat (2014) Spread from ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ with black page opposite image.
Figure 3: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Cover of ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’ zine
Figure 4: Watford Council (1922) Watford coat of arms as seen throughout the town.

I still intend to have an online presence for the work and create an updated gallery for my website, which would be different again from the gallery that I put together for Landings. My aim is to extend and develop the existing narrative ideas that were started with the exhibition work. This expanded focus over the zine is to try and create an additional ‘character’ in the place, as Schutmaat does with his work, and to acknowledge that even in the images without people, they still reflect the people that I have depicted in the community that I have depicted them. I also aim to do this through my own subjectivity and the selective and constructed views, inspired by my research into the FSA and documentary aesthetic.

By also building on what I have already created with the zine, it will be presented consistently across the channels that I have already shown portions of the work, which could otherwise be confusing to audiences. And this also incorporates the strong juxtaposition of colour and title text.

On Bryan Schutmaat

Figure 1: Bryan Schutmaat (2014) Image
Figure 2: Ansel Adams (1949) Cathedral Rocks.

Bryan Schutmaat became well known for his series ‘Grays The Mountain Sends’ (Badger, 2017), which is a series of portraits and landscape based on mountain and mining communities in the American West (Fig: 1). The images are quite striking and completely with visual impact. They also seem to me as being quite classic in the style of Ansel Adams (Fig: 2), albeit in colour and they really stand alone in their own right even before you begin to consider the portraiture that Schutmaat presents in this series (Fig: 3).  Together though, these images paint a picture of a rugged land and it impact on the people who live there. This series is cinematic, which I always feel is another way of saying that this is typical of American culture and the way that we are used to seeing it delivered through popular culture and learned knowledge of places that we have never been. Schutmaat’s images depict an aesthetic quality of an American dream that does not exist yet people are still compelled to seek it, as argued by Suzanne Keller: “the dream of community, ambiguous and ambivalent  though it is, permeates the national past and is an undertone of the present” (Keller, 1988: 173). And this is what I sense Schutmaat is aiming for with ‘Grays the Mountain Sends,’ he is effectively questioning how we understand the US, as Gerry Badger points out, he is part of an emerging group pf American photographers who “have been examining America’s interior myth and realities for a number of years” (2017), moving on to compare the work of Schutmaat to that of Walker Evans by stating that he, as Evans before him are searching for “America profound” (2017), and this again places a clear link back to the FSA.

Figure 3: Bryan Schutmaat (2014) from ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’

I really enjoy the grandeur set up by the landscape supported by quite intimate portraits. It is as if the mountain range in Schutmaat’s images is also one of the rugged characters that he is inviting us to study. These images really resonate with me in what I am aiming to achieve with my project. A clear takeaway for my work is Schutmaat’s considered approach to both his portraits and landscapes. He has carefully selected these scenes, which play a strong role in grounding, context, and a clear sense of where this is. Currently, my own landscapes have been far too quick and have been considered filling the gap that moves you from one portrait to another. A clear area of development for me.

Note:

According to Schutmaat, this work was inspired by the poetry of Richard Hugo (2014). When listening to Alec Soth taking with Gem Fletcher (2020) he considered that poetry and photography are far too similar to coincide together. Although there are some aspects of his that ring true, however not in the case of ‘Grays the Mountain Sends,’ which comfortably work in unison; this of course is always subjective.

Figure 4: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’
Figure 5: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’
Figure 6: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’

Schutmaat also works effectively with black and white. For his series ‘Good God Damn’ (2017) he created a short series on a character by the name of Kris, during his last days of freedom before going to prison (Fig: 4). Again, Schutmaat beautifully juxtaposes portraits with landscape and details to create a deep and meaningful connection to Kris, even though we understand very little about him or what he has done to warrant incarceration. The images in this series are technically looser (Fig: 5 & 6) than this in ‘Grays’ yet suit the narrative of a man living his last days of freedom. And once again, the landscape images really provide a sense of place, in this case a wintry Texas, and also key insights into the kind of life that Kris leads. Badger notes the crucial role that the Texan landscape plays in this series. As I discussed above, and as Badger also points out, this landscape is one of the characters of this narrative (2017). This is how I must also start to consider place moving forward. I am interested in photographing people, yet it is in the landscape that is the common denominator when focusing in on a community, it is the thing that connects everyone. It is crucial to analyse in greater detail the characteristics of this space that makes it unique to here. That said, the idea of the cinematic in my own work is also quite attractive as I have been gravitating towards a particular aesthetic that has been informed by the quintessential documentary work of the FSA and consumption of the community ideal as a localised ‘American Dream,’ steeped in myth and its unattainable qualities. It is important to consider the constructed nature of all photographs, even those of a documentary nature. To cast the landscape as a character, it is because there is an understanding of the subjective. Knowing which characteristics to accentuate. Moving forward, I aim to also consider which characteristics best suit the way that I am portraying the space to show the character of this community.

Figure 7: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’
Figure 8: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’

Schutmaat also draws attention to his photography in this series, which is something that I have discussed during the module. There is a distinct use of motion blur and grain and a perceived low tech approach in the images, which exposes the means of production in the photographs. When Badger discusses the cast of characters he also included the truck and the rifle (Fig: 7 & 8). I would also argue that Schutmaat is also one of the characters cast in the series, which is plainly shown in the way that he is openly displaying the means in which he is creating his images; Schutmaat is clearly an accomplished technical photographer as seen in his ‘Grays’ series; here he is showing you the strings.

Bibliography

Badger, G., 2017. Bryan Schutmaat Good Goddamn Book review by Gerry Badger. [Online]
Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/bryan-schutmaat/ [Accessed 01 August 2020].

Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.

Schutmaat, B., 2014. Grays the Mountain Send. [Online] Available at: http://www.bryanschutmaat.com/grays [Accessed 1 August 2020].

Schutmaat, B., 2017. Good God Damn. 1 ed. s.l.:Schutmaat.

Soth, A., 2020. The Messy Truth: Alec Soth – On Portraiture [Interview] (23 July 2020).

Work in Progress Development

I came into this module wanting to experiment with my approach to taking images. This was inspired in part during the break between modules when I started to take out a 35mm camera to pass the time. The images from that time are what I used for the week one Ed Rucha task.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (May-June, 2020) Early module images for Work in Progress portfolio submission [Click to Enlarge].

I was unsure if I was going to be able to make my pictures with people again, so I started to create images based on the banal and build up a portrait of the spaces that I encounter during my walks to see if there was a unique vernacular to the area around where I live (Fig: 1). I was keen to explore the ways that I could use black and white film working with a 35mm camera. What I found from the outcomes of these images is that I was drawn to the signs of the pandemic, which populate the landscape, such as gloves, masks, demarcation tape, and chalk signs. All things that are significant under the current circumstances however are quite ubiquitous in many of the projects that contemporary photographers are undertaking. Spencer Murphy, for example has been documenting the ongoing pandemic based in East London and has quite a few images of discarded PPE together with a central focus on people wearing masks (Fig: 2). Peter Dench has also spent a great deal of time looking at the impact of events (Fig: 3). Ultimately, I was not really interested in focusing my project on the impact of Covid-19, finding the images that I was producing were not really exploring the key concepts in my research project – community, connection, and identity.

Figure 2: Spencer Murphy (2020) Portrait from ‘Our Bullet Lives Blossom as the Race Towards the Wall’
Figure 3: Peter Dench (2020) Demarcation tape across London.
Figure 4: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Image from iso 100 film push processed at iso 3200.

Moving into the first few weeks of the module, I started my exploration into abstracting the image by push processing the film that I was shooting beyond its normal working range (Fig: 4). I had mixed results from this, ranging from very high contrast images, to kind of grey and not what I was looking for, which was something more like Masahisa Fukase (Fig: 5). I made a fundamental connection in the medium in the way that I approached its use during this time, deciding that there is already a significant level of abstraction inherent in the photograph that is pushed further by the use of black and white (View post). The main challenge was the limiting size of the 35mm negative, which was not producing an effective scan.

Figure 5: Masahisa Fukase (1975 -1986) Image from ‘Ravens’

I decided to borrow a medium format 6×7 format camera as I wanted to achieve more of a visual impact in my images. Additionally, I was finding it challenging to approach and photograph people again outside of the usual way that I approached making portraits. The theater of the apparatus actually created a means to approach people and engage them in conversation, and ultimately ask for a portrait. Essentially, I was looking for a tool to create the portraits that I wanted to make and found that this was the best method. Even though I spend the majority of my photography seeking out portraits, they do not come naturally to me.

My focus for this module was to start engaging with people coming back together after the strict rules of lock down have been eased, in that sense the project is about covid-19, yet I wanted to focus my attention away from the leftover evidence and objects of covid-19 as mentioned above, fully aware that a project created during the time period would always have connotations and a pathos linked to current events. The spaces that surround where I live became of interest to me as they have been quite empty during the last few months, it was really nice to see them in use again. Photographing people in these spaces felt like a good place to start re-engaging with my community too (Fig: 6). What I found is that I could engage with people and collect portraits for my project.

Figure 6: Phil Hill (June – July, 2020) Portraits taken during Surfaces and Strategies for Work in Progress Portfolio. [Click to Enlarge]

I have been pleased with the portraits that I have so far, the new direction and exploration into black and white, and a documentary aesthetic have been really valuable in focusing in on how I wanted my images to look. As discussed before (see post), my intention is to draw attention to the act of photography, which I feel creates a significance of the images, it also places me into the project, albeit subtly. This I hope starts to consider my own connection to community.

Figure 7: Phil Hill (June-July, 2020) Images showing Watford as a commuting town into London [Click to Enlarge]

What was missing is a sense of place, which provides the context for the project. What connected all of the portraits is something that I have found a challenge. This actually, is the core of my project. I have tried to look at Watford as a place and consider what it is about the place that makes it what it is. Watford is closely tied to its position just outside of London, commuting is part of this character. It is also the border between the city and the country. I have been exploring this through landscapes by considering the things that identify the town as a transport link, such as the railway, and the major highways (Fig: 7). This alone felt superficial as I have become more and more drawn to the green spaces. I am also still working out how t approach the idea of my own connection to this place. After reading Suzanne Keller discuss the idea of community as it relates to the American Dream (Keller, 1988), which was inspired by the way that Vanessa Winship argued that the concept is what most societies aspire to. Keller notes that American society is fundamentally individualistic, which is at odds with how a community functions, noting that there has been a shift away from Gemeinschaft – closer bonds linked to emotion and family, and on to Gesellschaft – impersonal and built on individual gain. Where I see this fitting into my project is the geography of Watford between country and city, is a space where this shift from the personal to the impersonal start to happen (Fig: 8).


Figure 8: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Discussing Community ideals and aesthetics.

Additionally, I have been quite drawn by constructing a cinematic feel to the landscape and the portrait images that play with this idea of connection, by acknowledging Keller’s crucial point, The idealistic community is essentially a myth, yet it does not stop us continuing to seek it. By constructing a landscape set of images, I can then explore identity of the place – potentially you can view my work and not be quite sure if you are actually looking at the UK landscape (Fig: 9). I have specifically worked to photograph my project at set times of the day to create an emotive sense of the cinematic; aiming to present a constructed vision of an ideal that might not exist. As one of my initial ideas was to explore how people within my community are coming back together as the restrictions start to lift, this construction is particularly prescient knowing that we are not out of the woods yet.

Figure 9: Phil Hill (June – July) Landscapes selected to be more ambiguous, cinematic and idealistic. [Click to Enlarge]

Where I believe my WIPP is going is to show an idea of community of my construction. Created by utilising black and white to denote a sense of what it was like before current events, and selected portraits and landscapes, some of which aim to provide a sense of an ideal, some to create context and ground to where I am creating this work in Watford.

Bibliography

Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.

Strategies in Marketing my work

Now that I have my zine set up for sale on my website, I am considering a number of options to promote it.

Potentially, I could leave it as is for the duration of the Landings exhibition to see if there is any interest in the publication. This would be reliant on organic sharing of the work, which thus far I have not been successful with. What was the most valuable during the launch if landings was doing the 90 second Instagram Live video with Bekkie, which actually provided me with some great feedback in the comments and I also have since had a few additional followers and messages about the work.

To capitalise on this, I could promote the work through Instagram via a sponsored post that targets an audience interested in such publications. There is a great deal of debate as to whether this is actually worthwhile, some noting that sponsoring a post through Instagram is quite limiting with mixed results (Speer, 2019). Even though, I have only had limited engagement after the Instagram live, this does feel like the most successful way to increase an audience for my work.

That said, I find Instagram useful to share work quickly but it can become more of a time-consuming distraction in the hunt for likes and shares. More and more I am thinking that direct forms of marketing would actually be more effective in putting my work in front of people actually interested in commissioning and licensing images. There is still a lot of value to be had from the platform but other sites, such as Linkedin may actually be a better option as a way of achieving this. However, I am still reliant on a proprietary platform to share and market my work.

Classic mail
Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Preparing to mail copies of my zine.

Another option that I am intending to do is use the zine as a marketing tool and send it directly to editors and other potential audiences (Fig: 1). This has the benefit of cutting out the use of social media platforms, which are noisy and is easy to get swallowed up within the sea of images already present. Sending my zine directly has the benefit of placing a tangible photographic object into the hands of someone who is potentially interested in the images. If they spend all day looking at work on a computer screen it also has the added benefit of a changed experience for the viewer.

It is crucial that I research carefully into which publications to send my zine to, in order to match my work with their output. Editor of Huck Magazine, Andrea Kurland notes that it is important to match the work that you produce with the ethos and values of the magazine you are pitching to and to not create generic pitches that target a large number of publications (Kurland & Creativehub, 2020, p. 32). A focussed approach in sending out fewer higher quality pitches is what I should be doing. Therefore, I have identified 15 publications to send my zines. I will mail these and, which will also contain a cover letter and business card and links to the gallery on my website.

Figure 2: Clementine Schniederman & Le Monde (2018) Feature in Le Monde Magazine.

Clementine Schniederman noted during her guest lecture (2018) that French Newspaper ‘Le Monde’ tend to be interested in British themed stories (Fig: 2), so this will be one of the publications that I send my zine. My project from the view of a media publication could be used to illustrate some kind of editorial, or opinion piece on the current situation. As I am looking at community, connection, and identity, these are all things that have been fundamentally affected by the pandemic. Much of the media will be reporting on the human impact and post-analysing of the event, which is where my work would sit together with supporting copy (Fig: 3).

Figure 3: Spencer Murphy & BBC (2020) ‘Coronavirus: Strange Days in East London’ feature on BBC In Pictures website.

Kurland also discusses the importance of considering how the image will work with the broader context of the publication. You might be more valuable to them if you can also write, or at least be able to supply images together with words, whether your own, or in collaboration with a journalist (2020, p. 32). This makes a lot of sense as the images may be fantastic, but there is nothing to contextualise them.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (2013) Words and Pictures feature for Thai Airways inflight magazine.

I have had some experience with feature writing to accompany my images whilst working as a freelancer, albeit for the travel and lifestyle work that I used to do (Fig: 4). Words in support of my current work is quite a significant difference, although I am aiming to develop this through a number of essays that I have written during and between the modules (Fig: 5). I did produce an editorial style experiment earlier in the module (only posting now because the zine took over), which utilises images created for the last module together with a short article I wrote on the impact of covid-19 whilst trying to find a place to live. I have not taken this any further just yet, but it was valuable to think about how my images can work with words and also how they can co-exist on a magazine-style layout (Fig: 6).


Figure 5: Phil Hill (May – July, 2020) Top and Bottom, two essays written during Surfaces and Strategies.

Figure 6: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Editorial spread exploration using images and text together [click link to download].

Another avenue that I am interested in exploring is sharing my zine with the ‘Self Publish Be Happy’ library, as it states:

“Since issuing an open call in 2010 the library has received over 3,000 self-published books and zines from photographers around the world and become a key resource for academics, researchers and anyone interested in contemporary photography and visual culture. It continues to be open for submissions and anybody can send us their book.”

(2020).

This of course is fairly generic and my zine would get swallowed up into the many others that already exist there, however on a personal level I quite like the idea of sharing my work in this way and it seems much more focussed towards other photographers and artists who are interested in the medium.

Bibliography

Kurland, A. & Creativehub, 2020. How to show your work. 1 ed. London: Printspace Studios LTD.

Schniederman, C., 2018. Guest Lecture, Falmouth Flexible. Falmouth: Falmouth University.

Self Publish Be Happy, 2020. Library. [Online] Available at: http://selfpublishbehappy.com/library/ [Accessed 29 July 2020].

Speer, M., 2019. Promoting Your Instagram Posts: Is It Worth It?. [Online]
Available at: https://medium.com/@realmikespeer/promoting-your-instagram-posts-is-it-worth-it-e80787f59c31 [Accessed 29 July 2020].

Community, an American dream aesthetic, and the persistence of the FSA.

I wasn’t expecting to do as much research into the FSA photographs as I have. Essentially, I dismissed this as work that was studied during my formative photographic education, which was for beginners and then move on. It is a persistent presence in documentary photography however, and referenced continuously by other photographers, either overtly, or as a clear influence in the style of the work. Whilst rediscovering its significance when reading Todd Hido referencing the use of Roy Stryker’s shooting scripts (2014, p. 123), the FSA creates a scaffold in which to construct a photo documentary about people, place and connection to community. The canonical imagery from this work, from photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans have become mythologised works, where the original context has, as Susan Sontag points out: “the photograph is, always, an object bound in a context, this meaning is bound to drain away” (1979, p. 106) after acknowledging that the original purpose of the FSA images was a complete construction of the precise elements to elicit the feeling that these people were in fact poor (p. 6). They have been shown time after time to be falsehoods, yet remain revered as the quintessential documentary representation (Stein, 2020, p. 59) and I see the influence of this body of work in much of the photography that I am researching as part of my project.

Figure 1: Paul Hart (2009 – 2015) ‘West View Farm’ from ‘Farmed’ series.
Figure 2: Dorothea Lange (1938) Tractored Out, Childress County.

For example, I started to look at the work of Paul Hart’s work titled ‘Farmed’ (Fig: 1), which are a striking series of landscapes in black and white that are quite emotive, which reference the FSA imagery through the industrialised farming landscape that he shoots (Fig: 2). Comparisons are even made in the opening essay to that work, where Steven Brown compares Hart’s images to those of Dorothea Lange (Hart & Brown, 2016, p. 5). I have started to consider the landscape much more as a vital part of my narrative. I have already discussed Vanessa Winship’s use of landscape in her series ‘She Dances on Jackson’ (2013), in which two thirds of the work is actually made of landscape images (Fig: 3), however Winship notes that even without the presence of humans in these images, they are still about people. Traces of human impact and existence are ever present, especially in a country like the UK where every square inch of the country has had some kind of impact from Humans living here.

Figure 3: Vanessa Winship (2013) Image from ‘She Dances on Jackson’

I have been especially drawn to the woodland areas that surround Watford, which started last module after I connected with the volunteers of Harebreaks woods near where I live (Fig: 4). I had never been to the woods before and was amazed that such a resource existed without my knowledge. This wood become somewhere that I walked during the lock down and have taken a great number of images. This exploration has extended into this module where I have been aiming to connect with people who have also been using the same spaces and are now coming back together – inspiring the title for this work.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (February, 2020) Helen, volunteer litter picker, Harebreaks wood.

Vanessa Winship talked about her work based in Albania and how the people seemed to have some semblance of the American Dream, where she notes that the idea of the ‘American Dream’ is something that all societies are striving for, or at least, a local version of this (2015). This really resonated in the way that I started to approach some of the landscape images as some of the scenes, especially those with pine trees, feel like they could have been taken in north America somewhere (Fig: 5). The concept of community and the American dream have a deep connection in themselves and have become part of a nostalgia and idealised version of the world that may not even exist so I am keen to continue pushing this look in my images to highlight constructed perceptions of the idealised community and now that I am really focussing in on Watford as a place for this exploration, there are parallels to be drawn in the ultra-suburbia of Watford as the last place before entering the metropolis of London, and also the first non-London town when leaving.

Figure 5: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Meadow by the Grove, just outside of Watford

Treating the American Dream as a conceptual tool in which to explore the idea of community is interesting because part of the idea of that dream is inherently individualistic and draws on Barthes’ idiorrythm (2012); people wish to live in the same space as one another but remain separate. As Suzanne Keller notes:

“American society confronts a paradox, historically, the culture has emphasized the language of individualism, laissez faire, and private property; it has valued the idea of the individual succeeding on his or her own, in the absence of social constraints, prodded by a do-it-yourself, do-your-own-thing philosophy.” And she moves on to point out that “there is no way to go it alone”

(1988, pp. 167-168).

The idealistic package being sold versus the reality of achieving are not compatible with one another.

Keller’s discussions on the American Dream and community are useful, even for my project based in the UK as she outlines some basic principles of community:

“Community is part of the proximate, everyday world, more immediate than the far away society yet larger than the family and primary group, that gives meaning and purpose to one’s life and that also diminishes one’s sense of vulnerability and of being adrift or alone in an anonymous world”

(1988, p. 170).

If all cultures around the world are in search of their own ‘American Dream’ as Winship states, then it is important to understand how this ideal is a flawed concept and will continue to perpetuate the disconnect of an immediate perception of the community, creating a perpetual disdain for what is right here, right now. This is becoming quite revelatory to my own perception of community as I consider whether there is a worthwhile investment in the community where I currently live.

Photography seems like quite a useful way of exploring this. Knowing that the idealistic community is a construction, it is quite easy to construct my images to hold up the ideal as a way of analysing it. I am already doing this with my use of black and white to accentuate the nostalgic elements of the community as others might see it. I have aimed to create my own paradox of nostalgia whilst at the same time photographing the present. By also seeking to create an aesthetic in my work that emulates the look and feel of a North American scene would only further play with the perception of community and the ideal, knowing that these are all constructions in my work.

Keller also outlines a theory of community put forward by Ferdinand Tönnies, the idea of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, which is something that will be useful to look into in greater detail. “Gemeinschaft … human association rooted in traditions and emotional attachment” and “gesellschaft is a very different social formation: larger, specialised, impersonal, and pluralistic”  (1988, p. 171). For Keller, American society has shifted into gesellschaft, which has created this disconnect as we increasingly live in larger and larger communities. Moving forward in my own research, it is important to identify whether my own community values gesellschaft over gemeinschaft. This too, is important to understand in the context of the ongoing pandemic and other socio-political issues that we are facing as a society, such as Brexit. Keller also notes that the shift to a more individualistic, impersonal community comes at the cost of the emotional attachment of gemeinschaft, yet people still seek it and long for it, which supports the way we view community through a nostalgic lens (p. 172). This I feel, is something that I have been aiming to place into my project. My own feeling of disconnect is potentially born from the idea of gesellschaft and I also seek an emotional connection to place. My photography could be a way to do that.

Work in Progress Gallery

Ways of Showing Work

The Creative Hub by the Printspace put together a really useful guide in the different ways to show and promote work (2020). I am going to attempt to analyse these approaches compared to what I have already done and what I could to towards them. My notes are numbered in red.

Budget of £0 – £250Instagram 1Website 2Magazine/Blog Feature 3
Cost:£0£120- £250 per year (if using a template) £0
Time to Launch:1 week1 monthDepends on publisher
Post Launch:7 – 20 hours per week4 hours per weekDependent on the reach of the feature
Getting Noticed:Make interesting content and engage with other users, which will organically build your followingImprove SEO blogging and regularly refreshing content. Link to your site from all from all social accountsShare/Publish the feature on all your social media accounts
Key Tasks:– Making interesting & original content
– Post scheduling
– Engagement with other users
– Domain registration
– Logo & corporate identity design
– Choosing & adapting site template
– Set meta tags & meta descriptions for pages
-Choose SEO friendly URLs
– Find publications that suit your work
– Create press package, email, supply images in correct format
– Ensure your website is working for when people click through
Figure 1: Creative Hub (2020) Table showing different methods of showing work with a budget of £0 – £250
  1. Instagram: Having run an instagram account for quite a few years, I find it quite challenging to maintain the level of consistency and sustained approach to sharing and commenting. I understand that this is important and do maintain my presence on the platform
    • I have found that when i was freelancing that platforms, such as Linkedin are far more valuable for building a focussed interest in my work as i am sharing it with professionals who have a vested interest in seeing what I can do
    • That being said, Instagram feels much more accessible and is an important part of getting my work in front of audiences
  2. Website: My website is a self hosted WordPress site after many years of running template sites, I actually enjoy the flexibility of WordPress. However, consistency in the presentation, although might be considered dull and formulaic, is useful for clients and editors who would easily navigate the work knowing the formula of Squarespace et al.
    • Maintaining my website in this way is flexible but also much more cost effective than using a template site. My running cost for my own site is roughly a third of what Creative hub is suggesting. Not including the recent update to my website that included a custom theme, which was the first time that I invested in a premium version.
    • The downside of running this myself is that I must invest much more time in the setting up and really research SEO techniques (which I still have much to do).
  3. Blogs/Magazines: In addition to the promotional side of sending work to be shared and reviewed. I am also keen to pitch my work for syndication and publication, which would also mean payment to me. This of course, is how I would operate as an editorial freelance. That said, there is an expectation that I would need to share work for free in certain circles in order to generate the interest required for paid opportunity.
    • In order to make my work more valuable to publishers it is also worth creating written work in support of my photography.
    • Also worth considering any secondary markets for the work to make it as accessible as possible outside the usual photographic channels.
Budget of £250 – £1,250Printed Portfolio 4Zine 5Group Exhibition 6
Cost:£300 – 700£500 – 1,250£250 – 1,000
Time to Launch:2 – 4 weeks3 – 6 months2 – 4 months
Post Launch:2 – 4 hours per week4 – 6 hours per week10 – 15 hours per week during show. 5 – 10 hours following up interest after
Getting Noticed:Attending portfolio reviews & festivals. Meetings with agents/ art buyers/creative directors/marketing/creative agenciesHaving a launch. Selling online & getting reviewed blogs/magazinesPromoting the event extensively across social media, press reach-outs, emailing invites, posting out printed invites
Key Tasks:– Confirm edit
– Print test strips
– Choose paper
– Choose presentation method
– Arrange reviews/meetings
– Confirm edit
– Write copy
– Research print/bind methods
– Design layout
– Print/bind final version
– Space hire
– Curate/install
– Private view/refreshments
– PR: marketing/press/social media
Figure 2: Creative Hub (2020) Table showing different methods of showing work with a budget of £250 – £1,250
  1. Printed Portfolio: I am thinking at this stage of the MA, that I am not in a position to have a completed printed portfolio. I am a proponent of a well presented printed portfolio and am keen to pursue this in the future for the FMP.
    • I already own a box for presenting prints, for example (Fig: 1). The argument for allowing readers to construct their own narratives from my work supports this method of printing and presenting work. They are also useful to spread prints out and see how they might work together – An important consideration for clients.
    • I also have a courier case, which is useful to protect the box and send it out to potential clients. This might include: publishers, galleries and other potential audiences for my work without necessarily having to spend the time travelling around myself. The more traditional method of getting work out there.
    • Portfolio reviews can be quite costly and it is really important to only attend those that represent value for money. Better value would be to really research potential clients and buyers of my work and set up meeting with those people instead.
    • A downside of this method is the need to replace prints as they are frequently handled, which would be a concern of a blurb style book and folder style folio, however print sleeves might circumvent this.
    • In terms of what might represent the most value for money in presenting work, this might be the best in time and money spent, over a book dummy for example. it also allows others to see sequences in the work that will work for them.
  2. Zine: I produced a zine collaboratively during the task in week 3 and learned some really valuable lessons in the production and printing. Primarily in the setting up and compromises required. Taking on board these lessons, I have also produced a zine to support my Landings exhibition.
    • What could be quite useful about zines is the ability to make a self published object that I can then sell myself. The main challenges is the initial outlay of this can be quite costly, especially when I do not have the £500 stated by Creativehub above.
    • To truly make a success of self published zines, it would be useful to already have an established audience, which is where platforms like Instagram would be useful.
    • For Landings, I have produced a short run of 20 zines (the minimum required by The Newspaper Club for printing).
    • Even if I do not manage to sell any copies of my zine, they can become a useful promotional tool to send out to potential audiences of my work.
    • I can also submit the zine to the ‘Self Publish be Happy’ library.
  3. Group Exhibition: Not something that I have lots of experience with outside of an academic setting. That said, the Landings 2020 experience will be useful to understand the process and potentially see how disparate bodies of work can be curated together.
    • Additionally, all of the work that I am carrying out towards the creation of my own zines and website updates will support creating promotional material for group shows in the future.
Figure 1: Seawhite (2020) Archival print box
Budget of £1,250 +Solo Exhibition. 7Art Fair. 8Book. 9
Cost:£1000 – 7000£3,500£5000+
Time to Launch:3 – 6 months1 – 3 months6 – 12 months
Post Launch:40 – 60 hours per week during show, 20 hours following up interest after12 hours a day during the show, 20 hours following up interest after8 – 20 hours per week
Getting Noticed:By promoting the event extensively across social media, press reach out and direct emailGood presentation, understanding the type of attendees to the fair, following up diligently on interestHaving a launch, finding stockists, entering book awards, attending publishing fairs, selling online, getting reviews
Key Tasks:– Space hire
– Curate/Install
– Private view/refreshments
-PR: marketing/press/social media
– Create show catalogue
– Set up print sales; online and in the space
– Design & curate the space
– Create catalogue and takeaways for attendees (e.g. postcards)
– Setting up digital capture of details
– Set up point of sale terminals
– Create edit, produce dummy
– Get text written
– Review/critique
– Final edit
– Research printing techniques
– Design
– Promotion
Figure 3: Creative Hub (2020) Table showing different methods of showing work with a budget of £1,250+

This block is potentially a bit beyond me at the moment due to financial and where a solid audience will need to be created in order to justify some of these.

  1. Solo Show: There are opportunities to exhibit work in venues that do not cost as much as this, or would even be free for a percentage of any sales. The compromise would potentially be in the location of such venues however.
    • promotion would inevitably still cost money to produce the materials necessary.
    • Many of the options that have been outlined above might also need to be put in place before I am in a position to be able to put on a solo show.
  2. Art Fair: This is another one that I am fairly new to. It could present a good opportunity to build an audience for my work if the right fair was selected. Quite risky with the budget that CreativeHub suggests.
  3. Book: Book publishing is an interesting one. As I understand it, if you even manage to secure the interest of a publisher, you might still have to put together a substantial investment of money in order to realise the book.
    • There are a number of dummy book awards and Mack’s for example is free to enter.
    • As I work for an FE college, there are a good amount of facilities to help me realise a book dummy should I wish to pursue that in order to keep the costs down
    • Sequencing is vital for the success of the book as it could be easily overlooked.
Bibliography

Creative Hub, 2020. How to Show your Work. London: Printspace Studios Limited.