Narrative Sequences

Narrative has always been a key element of my project. The way that the story is told influences how it is going to be read. As Barthes acutely points out when he breaks down what the narrative is: “a hierarchy of instances” (1977: 87), therefore to understand a narrative is not to merely follow the unfolding story (Effectively creating a chronological order of events with my images). It is also to recognise the construction of all of the various elements to create meaning and present the different levels towards its conclusion.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Unreliable Narrator – Archive Database spread sheet showing image captions

At the start of the project, I was approaching it in a way that would focus on documenting the evidence that I was discovering. This was clearly a disparate approach as I did not really know what I had in front of me. In order to construct my story, it was important to collect everything together. This came with some of its own challenges in the sense that my catalogue of objects and images, especially from the archive, were captioned in a very descriptive way meaning that I was eroding the ambiguity of the image and the way that it might be individually read (Fig: 1).

Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Sequencing collected quotes
Figure 3: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Sequencing collected quotes

However, once I was in the position to know much more about the story I was going to be telling, I was able to reflect on the captions and create something that was personal to the story but ambiguous enough to allow the reader to form their own connections with the work. I worked to edit the captions from the descriptive into the emotive and to be part of the story. I had been collecting quotes from my family as I had been photographing them and was planning to add these within the sequence of the work however, iterations of this edit were becoming confused and it was felt that I need to define the voice of each element, which solidified the decision to lose the descriptive caption (Fig: 2&3). From here, I felt that I could use the quotes as captions but this was still locking down the images with the text and forcing readings of it that should remain open to interpretation.

The more I began to consider ways that I could sequence the images, the more I felt it important to do the same with the quotes too. Although, I have only used a few in the final sequence it was fundamental to the understanding of my narrative that I also consider the same rules for the text. Referring to Barthes narrative analysis, he suggests that each element becomes a ‘micro-sequence’ (p. 103) which I discussed earlier (Fig: 4), forming the larger narrative and this gives me the framework to consider the text and the image are also sequences in their own right before attempting to put them together.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Book development post discussing the idea of the micro sequence

Within the body of the book, the only text will be the title of ‘Unreliable Narrator’ and the following quotes:

  • Why do you keep a photograph that wounds so deeply?
  • You have to realise that I live a rather strange life at the moment, which one day might change.
  • This… is not going to trouble me anymore.

These create one of the micro-sequences, which constructs the whole narrative. Another one being the incidental object of the reproduced negative that I discussed in the book update post (Fig: 4) and also the themselves.

Figure 5: Phil Hill (August, 2021) Unreliable Narrator V7 digital dummy showing ‘The Latchkey Kids’ text at the end of the sequence.

I also reflected on the feedback that I was receiving about the project, which suggested much of the intrigue from the project was from the way that I was talking about the images. I wanted to create an account of my journey of discovery and also add in some personal reflections so wrote a short story. However, I didn’t want the work to become solely about my written text so it has been placed at the end of the work (Fig: 5). This is so that the reader can view the work with little to contextualise it in the first instance. The idea is that a reader’s own bias and way of interpreting the world informs the way that the narrative is understood. After reading the short story, they can then return to the images and see additional connections between the images, or ‘Easter eggs’ that may not have happened on the initial reading. This then I with the understanding that the story is my interpretation of the narrative and could very well be something else entirely if another person wrote it.

As Barthes points out: “A sequence is a logical succession of nuclei bound together by a relation of solidarity” (1977: 101), which is how I have attempted to structure my sequence for this project in the smaller elements that come together.

The question of the Unreliable Narrator remains. Who is the Unreliable Narrator? This depends on the interpretation of the narrative but I consider the way that individuals might draw conclusive ideas of what they think is happening within the sequence of images creates the idea that we are all unreliable especially if after reading the short story, these conclusions might be unfounded.

I considered photography an unreliable narrator, which it still relevant. The camera itself could even be the unreliable narrator. The camera that recorded the image which was then cut, recorded that image in its complete rectangle frame. It has the knowledge of what was in the part of the frame that the audience is unable to know. If the camera could be considered as a form or narrator, merely retelling a story to an audience through visual means then we can consider the impartiality of this narration. Is it impartial? James Wood suggests that within literature omniscience is impossible as the narrative will start to bend around a character, crucially: “wants to merge with that character to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking” (2019, p. 16). How this is relevant to the camera as narrator is the way that its narration would ultimately be impacted by the person using the tool firstly, and then by the way that it records the objects/persons/’characters’ – “Omnicient narration is rarely as omniscient as it seems” (p. 15).

Photographs are constructions in composition and framing, yet can be perceived as record and objective. The cut photograph interrupts this by cropping the photograph further, albeit abruptly. This is effectively no different from the act of framing when the photograph was taken, the key difference is the space in time between the initial framing and the subsequent edit of the photograph. These two points form another one of Barthes micro-sequences: “the sequence opens when one of its terms has solidarity antecedent and closes when another of its terms has no consequent” (1977: 101), which for the reader is where the absence of the photograph causes the questions of what happened to be raised. In Barthes analysis of the narrative there are functions that serve the broader narrative. For example, in the case of the family photograph, the act of taking it serves the function of the collective family record and is something that is universally understood. It’s defacement then impacts this understanding


Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Wood, J., 2019. How Fiction Works. Revised Edition ed. London: Vintage.

Book Updates

I have been continuing to work with Emily Macaulay of Stanley James Press on my book design. I had sent over a range of the experiments that I had been working on to give a sense of where I was heading with the ideas generation. This has proved to be really valuable as she is able to determine, which of these work on a practical and concept level for the book that I am aiming to produce.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Result of using Carbon Copy paper to copy quote onto paper.

Macaulay really liked the way that I have been using carbon copy paper (Fig: 1), noting: “it feels fragile. I like the marks it creates are different every time. I like that it feels official, like a receipt to prove something happened” (2021) This connects to ideas around trace and memory so this will be a feature for the dummy that we are going to produce. Macaulay has also provided a good amount of insight into some of the images that I will be considering including for the edit. Although she is not an editor, Macaulay made a really valid point about the inclusion, or more importantly, the non-inclusion of certain images as this will create the sense of mystery that I have bee working on with this project. This again links to the conversations that I was having with Karl Ohiri and Paul Sng who also suggested that I can control which parts of this story can be seen and that not everything should necessarily be included (Fig: 2).

Figure 2: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Conversation with Karl Ohiri and Paul Sng

Figure 3: Bryan Schutmaat (2013) Detail of Screw post binding for ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’

Macaulay has taken quite a few of the ideas that I have been playing with. There are lot of links that are being made to the photo album, which is important to the experience of the work. I am aiming for the reader to have a similar experience to how I made my own discoveries of the archive. Screw-post binding was an area that has been suggested as this is how albums are bound. Bryan Schutmaat also uses them for his book ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ (Fig: 3). They have the benefit of allowing for a modular approach to the content, meaning that it could easily have a range of different paper stocks and other mixing of elements within. There is also possibilities of having subtle differences between each book to connect to the unreliable narrator concept.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Photocopied photograph of grandmother over and over. 8 image sequence from 40 images photocopied in total.

Macaulay added a really great idea that I have been spending time experimenting with. We discussed creating an object of memory and trace and I am keen to incorporate this into the physicality of the book. It was suggested by Macaulay that I could photocopy the same image over and over until it begins to degrade. I have made some experiments by using the found image of my grandmother (Fig: 4). I quite like the way that the image has degraded and considered ways that it could appear at multiple points throughout the book’s sequence, gradually being revealed as I discover more information. In preparation for a crit with Dinu Li, I placed them into a sequence of 8 images to show. The response was quite positive and unexpectedly, this was also because of the way that I placed them on the page. The grid layout communicates in the same way that I was considering placing them throughout. It was also suggested that I could use these at the end of the sequence and show them over and over in succession.

Figure 5: Macaulay (2021) Example sun bleached photograph.

Another idea is to incorporate the way that a photograph fades onto the page over time and Macaulay suggested that this could be achieved by making a series of sun-bleached pages (Fig: 5). These are also quite like cyanotype and even photograms so there could be room to include these in some way. Sun-bleaching is also an interesting feature to include as it would naturally continue to age over time. I enjoy the idea that the book will continue to evolve, which is something that I discussed at length with Karl Ohiri (Fig: 2) who made reference to the way that narratives change and evolve after the photograph has been taken.

Figure 6: Phil Hill & Unknown (June, 2021 & 1970s) Cut photograph from album.

Macaulay also suggested that there could be something that sits within the pages of the book, which would be discovered/fall out as the book is being read. This could either be one of the quotes, or a negative. I think that the idea of adding a negative strip of images is an interesting concept so have been working on producing some. My story starts with the cut image (fig: 6) and is about finding the answer to the question why it has been cut. A logical image to ‘find’ might be the full image of the cut picture – the one that I myself found and confirmed that it was my grandmother cut from the photograph. This becomes one of the payoffs in the sequence that could work very well.

Micro Sequence

Figure 7: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Copy set up to copy artwork onto 35mm film.

To do this, I have taken the original scans and then printed them out to then re-photograph them as if copying artwork. This will create a new negative from the image (Fig: 7).

As well as the negative of the full image of my grandmother, I was first considering adding some other arbitrary images from the archive that you would expect to see as part of a negative strip. However, There is an opportunity to work with what Barthes’ referred to as a ‘Micro sequence’ within the wider story (1977: 103). Barthes effectively breaks down the narrative into its constituent parts, point out the grammar and its syntax that provides the structure for the story. He raises some good points, even related to how I am planning to sequence my images: “for example in the portrait. Which readily juxtaposes data concerning civil status and traits of character” (pp. 97-98). Each image in my sequence is providing an important role for the understanding of the wider narrative. In the case of the quote from Barthes, this serves to introduce a character into the story and provide background information on them. The negative contained in the book loosely, serves as one of these ‘Micro Sequences,’ so it is important that the additional images that I select also serve the story.

For this, I went back to the film that the image of my grandmother was found. Analysing what I can see in the images, I can infer that this was at Christmas from the decorations within the setting. There are images also of winter fields that confirm this. Knowing what I know now about this story, provides some context for how my mum in particular must have been feeling at the time that the photograph was taken. This links well to the conversation I had with Ohiri. Only through the intervention of the photograph much later, the innocence of it drops and we can we begin to understand other narratives over what can be visually described by looking at the photograph.

With that in mind, I have taken images from the roll of film and re-sequenced them for this micro sequenced to provide some additional account to what may have been taking place at the time, or at least in the time between the photograph was taken and now:

Figure 8: Unknown (1970s) Scan from complete negative in archive showing Grandmother.

Image 1: The Gran photograph (Fig: 8). I am intending to place the cut photograph early in the sequence of the book as this was the catalyst for the project. I later discovered the full negative when going through the bags of film that my parents keep. This discovery is important and part of the mystery of the narrative that I am presenting. This is the main image to be discovered on the negative strip. I refer to this in the story that I wrote, so it becomes a payoff after reading the story. An interesting detail has appeared after I scanned this image, I notice that there is a Boots film processing envelope on the side table.

Figure 9: Unknown (1970s) Detail of room with picture frames and Christmas decorations.

Image 2: I made a crop of another image on the same film (Fig: 9). This shows details of the house they are sitting in. I am assuming this is the home of my paternal grandparents. There is tinsel around the frames to show that this is winter and Christmas time. The angle could denote an accidental photograph has been made, potentially due to some altercation, or off-hand comment that changed the mood. Conceivably the result of some kind of exchange.

Image 3: I made a blank frame by shooting with the lens cap on, and also variations of this with my hand partially obscuring the frame. This is to continue the feeling of the above image. One accidental frame could be excused, but adding another might subtly hint at this narrative I am constructing.

Figure 10: Unknown (1970s) Winter Landscape from same film.

Image 4: One of the winter landscapes (Fig: 10). This image was on the same film strip and feels quite peaceful compared to the other images. I included this as a way of concluding the micro sequence. Potentially the need to stop on the journey home after the visit.

Upon reading the book, I am keen to give the audience some level of discovery as I had when carrying out the project. I also want to place the narrative throughout the book in a way that you can read and then re-read it to differing conclusions. The construction of the micro sequence creates another opportunity for this.

Figure 11: Phil Hill (July 2021) Film envelope from archive
Figure 12: PhilHill (July, 2021) Film envelope from archive

Additionally, within the archive there were a number of retro film envelopes, with the cliched message ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and ‘all the magic of your memories can be shared with your family and friends by sending them a photograph’ (Fig: 11). On the reverse of this is the message to ‘never cut the negative strips into individual frames’ (Fig: 12). As I have been arching the negatives that I found into sheets, these became redundant. However, instead of throwing them away, I have collected 11 so far, which can be used to contain the copy negative for the micro sequence. This adds an extra level to the narrative, through its language connection to memory making and also the way that commercial film processing used to handle film orders. In addition to this, the inclusion of these envelopes into my book dummies places a direct link to my archive into the object that I am producing. After discussions with Macaulay, she agrees and suggested that future versions could be made using a copied version of this object. This makes the initial dummies much more of a rarity.


Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Macaulay, E., 2021. Unreliable Narrator Ideas . [PDF]

Conversations with Karl Ohiri and Paul Sng

Karl Ohiri

Figure 1: Karl Ohiri (2013) from ‘How to Mend a Broken Heart.’

I was able to talk with Karl Ohiri about his experiences of working with personal family stories. I was also interested to get some insight into his use of the defaced images from his family archive, which he used for the series ‘How to mend a broken heart’ (Fig: 1).

I asked Karl about his thoughts about why someone would keep a photograph after they defaced it. Ohiri felt that although the memories might still be quite painful, the photograph also still has a resonance. They still have connections for us. At some point there was this perception of happiness for the persons depicted in the, albeit a warped sense of this happiness.

We also discussed how the photograph on its own and outside context is perceived as innocent. This is especially true for the photograph within the family album that is rarely interrogated. The fleeting moments of a casually taken photograph cannot portray the nuance and complexities of the situation and contexts taking place outside of the frame. Additionally, the photograph represents a point in time after which anything is possible. It is only when the physicality of the photograph has been revisited, in the case of defacement, that we are able to gain a sense of something else that has taken place.

As our discussion was over the phone, Ohiri was not able to see the photographs from my archive that I was referencing (although I have sent them over now). He made the point of stating that “I can only visualise these images from my own library images” (2021), which creates a link to the research into the absence of the photograph and the way that we refer to images that we already know (Fig: 2).

Ohiri also made the point of saying that in the event of limited information it can create a void in which we speculate and fill with our own stories. Ohiri’s statement towards the end of our conversation confirmed my own conclusions and it was valuable to hear from someone with experience working with similar themes.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Discussing the power of the absent photograph.

Paul Sng

Paul Sng is a documentary filmmaker, currently working on a film about the documentary photographer, Tish Murtha. He also runs a website and social media platform called ‘Invisible Britain,’ which is about telling the stories of under represented individuals in the UK (Fig: 2).

Figure 2: Paul Sng (2021) Homepage of Invisible Britain website

Sng put some important questions to me whilst we were discussing my project: The importance of defining the audience? and why am I telling the story? These are especially important considerations for my project owing to its personal nature. Sng made the point that I do have the right to tell the story, which is something that is supported by Savannah Dodd, who suggests that being so close to the story means that I am best placed to understand the complex narratives and impacts that they are having (2011). However, it might be easy to take things a lot further because of the amount of access that I possess and also the willingness for the persons in the photographs to oblige to what they are being asked to do. I feel this is a continuing dialogue that needs to take place, especially as I see the project being iterative at different stages of its publication. Sng said that my story was compelling and there is something of interest in the work that I am producing. However there it is important to have a good sense of ethics and ensure that there are high levels of trust for all involved (Sng, 2021).


Dodd, S., 2021. The Ethics of Documenting Your Own Family. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 11 June 2021].

Ohiri, K., 2021. Conversation with Karl Ohiri [Interview] (12 July 2021).

Sng, P., 2021. Conversation with Paul Sng [Interview] (13 July 2021).

Output – Exhibtion

During the MA, our cohort German Bight has formed a collective called ‘The Long Exposure,’ which was a response to the first lockdown where we would take turns to share experiences of the pandemic. We have since decided that it would make a good platform to continue collaborating after the MA is finished and have set up a web page in addition to the Instagram profile (Fig: 1).

Figure 1: The Long Exposure (2021) The Long Exposure collective Instagram profile page.

What this means in the short term is we now have a framework to work together and create output for our photographic works.

Landings 2021 – What happened Next?
Figure 2: Phil Hill (July, 2021) What Happened Next? Exhibition logo.

For this year’s Landings exhibition, everyone was asked to form curating teams and create mini exhibitions. TLE came together to create an open call postcard exhibition that would be a way of channeling thoughts, feelings, dreams and actions, journey of the last 15 months into the creation of a new single image that would be submitted and turned into a postcard, which would be printed and shared to create a series of local mini exhibitions.

We were pleased to be selected for Landings and will work on producing the exhibition. I have contributed a logo (Fig: 2) and will continue to support the effort in putting it together.

Four Corners

We also want an opportunity to celebrate our efforts of the last two years and are in the process of creating a group show, which would be held at Four corners gallery in Bethnal Green. As a group we considered a range of locations and have settled on Four Corners because of its position within the London Photography community. Victoria, Tim and I went for a visit over the weekend and were impressed with the space and level of support that they are willing to give us in putting together the exhibition in October.

Although Bethnal Green is slightly outside of an areas that might have a much higher foot fall, because it is a dedicated photographic centre it would have the benefit of being well-known to the photographic community who would be willing to make the journey to the gallery. Additionally, because of its status and also having labyrinth photo lab in the basement means that we would also gain incidental viewing of both the gallery and the lab’s clients visiting during the exhibition.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Four Corners Gallery, Bethnal Green, London.

The space was large and bright, with plenty of room for everyone involved. It also has the opportunity to showcase multi media presentations and a good window display. Personally, having the opportunity to set up and exhibition as a collective allows me to show work in London to people interested in seeing it and potentially commissioning it. As I do not have a great deal of experience in exhibiting and setting up exhibition, this will provide me the platform to mitigate cost and be part of the process supported by my peers.

At the time of our visit, there was an exhibition by ‘PH: The Photography Research Network,’ who are a collective of PHD students creating work around re-considering the photographic medium in contemporary settings: “How must we – understand the connection between photography and people’s ways of life in today’s post-factual world’ (Pasternak, 2021). It was valuable to see an exhibition by a collective to gain a sense of how this work, which is all quite different, sits together in one space (Fig: 3).


Pasternak, G., 2021. Bridging The Distance – PH: The Photography Research Network [Exhibition]. London: Four Corners Gallery.

Who Narrates?

Although he is strictly writing about the structure of the written narrative, James Wood in his book ‘How Fiction Works’ provides a strong set of parameters on how to utilise narration within a story (2019). This is useful for me to reflect on as my body of work will be heavily reliant on sequencing a strong narrative that uses a ‘narrator’ effectively.

There are a couple of key takeaways for me in Wood’s discussion on the unreliable narrator. Referring to W.G. Sebald he notes the way that worlds are created in which the rules are already widely known by everyone reading the book, which then leads to an opportunity to undermine this world, these rules, in a way that the reader knows that the narration is unreliable (2019:14). This is also in reference to the way that Barthes highlighted nineteenth century writers who would use common cultural or scientific knowledge as a way of a short cut (p. 16). Photography in a sense creates these shortcuts by the visual language present in the image however it is important not to overlook this fact. My project and photography exist in the world but some elements may not be acceptable to all that view it. I will want to construct a world through the sequence, which at first is familiar but has a number of features that starts to undermine and unravel the accepted rules of the world. I will need to define the rules of my world that I am presenting to you. As Wood puts it: “reliable manipulation” (2019:15) of the narrative to create the sense of the unreliable narrator.

The question for my work is who is going to be the narrator? Will it be me, one of the people photographed, or another character not seen? Wayne C. Booth places an emphasis on the distance between the characters of a narrative and the author (1975: 155). Wood notes: “As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, wants to merge with that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking” (2019, p. 16), which suggests that the distance is created automatically by the reader of the work. I see my role in constructing the world in which the narrator operates, although I am not sure on who will be identified as the ‘narrator,’ I don’t think it will be me and will be created from the quotes that I have been collecting about the work. Perhaps the main reason for me not being considered as narrator, is as Wood notes: “first person narration is generally more reliable than unreliable; and third-person ‘omnicient’ narration is generally more partial than omniscient” (p. 14). For my work of photography, the reader is less able to suspend disbelief of my authorship, which would draw attention to and increase the artifice associated with this construction – leading to a poor execution of the concept. If as Wood is suggesting that the third-person is actually more unreliable and bias, then effectively, the narrator can be made from the text that accompanies the images.


Booth, W. C., 1975. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 11 ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Wood, J., 2019. How Fiction Works. Revised Edition ed. London: Vintage.

Photography and Belief II

I have written briefly about photography and belief (Fig: 1) in relation to David Levi-Strauss’ essay (2020). My project is also exploring the subject of belief, so it is important to take some time to reflect on what this means and how it can be represented in the project. Neuroscientist Hannah Critchlow considers this in her book ‘The Science of Fate’ (2021) which looks at a range of scientific studies related to ideas of belief and perception and crosses over very well into my own explorations as well as the philosophical debate within and out of photography on the ways in which we construct our realities.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Writing on belief in photography.

I am interested in the reasons why people chose to believe. In some cases, and most relevant during this pandemic, why a person might choose to believe something that runs contrary to the overwhelming evidence that exists (Fig: 2). Critchlow refers to our brains as being a kind of “belief engine” (2021, p. 131), which will seek out supporting information for belief and ignore anything that appears to contradict this view point. Critchlow suggests that once the belief has been established, then it becomes increasingly difficult to change that mindset, as she notes: “And, given the scale of the brain’s eagerness to assign casual meaning to casual events, it’s easy to see how quickly one could arrive at an erroneous conclusion […] from essentially random occurrences” (p. 137). For example, my families own experience of being working class can feel that the system is stacked against you and by extension that authority and the state is also complicit in this – leading to a mistrust of any kind of authority, and a withdrawal. It is not too difficult to understand a leap from that, to a position that considers the pandemic some kind of extension of this, however misinformed that might be.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Anti Pandemic Newspaper in Parents house.

Critchlow discusses the way that we form belief, which is based on how we construct the world from our experiences, as she notes: “there is no such thing as objective reality” (p. 110). This of course connects to the discussion around photography, for example Susan Sontag’s Opening chapter to ‘On Photography,’ highlighting Plato’s allegory of the cave as a primary way that photography reconstitutes reality, but also the differences between knowledge and belief (1979, pp. 3-26). Photography is unable to present reality, because we are also flawed in presenting reality, as Critchlow states: “I don’t men to suggest that the physical world does not exist, rather that every person on this planet perceives it in a slightly different way. Everyone is living in their own ‘bespoke’ reality” (2021, p. 111). Critchlow’s arguments also seem to suggest links to Graham Harmon’s Object Orientated Ontology (2018), as it seeks to push the de-privileging of human interpretation as the primary factor for understanding the world.

An important takeaway from Critchlow is the way that belief is entrenched, potentially never able to come around to a different point of view. It is how we are able to make sense of the world and each of our brains are hard pressed to give that up: “Future reality starts to mould itself around the belief” (Critchlow, 2021, p. 137). Philosophically, the idea that reality is constructed has only been reinforced on a neurological level and crucially points out that: “our brains are invested in maintaining rather than changing our beliefs” (p. 138).

What is the impact that this has on my project? I am not aiming to change the opinion, or belief of anyone in my family. This would be quite an unethical position in terms of the power structure of me as the photographer. By the same token I am not a passive observer here, this is my family and the interactions that I have with them are always going to be very different to anyone else. I do not hold the same beliefs as my family so part of the project is to put this as one of the central focus of the sequence of the work. We all have a unique interpretation of the world, some of this might be misinformed and misguided, but ultimately who is truly able to make accurate judgement of the world when we are all flawed in the way that Critchlow suggests.


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

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

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

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

Returning to the ethical question

Now that I am starting to get more of a grasp over what exactly I am going to be sequencing a project out of, it is important to come back to review the ethics of my project, it will be important to include those I am photographing in order to create a collaborative approach to the work and also have the consent of those I am photographing. I have spoken about the project with my family, however this is a continuing dialogue to ensure that the reading of the final outcome will be both faithful and respectful to them.

Themes are developing in my work that could be viewed with a kind of othering of my family, which I could be doing as much as anyone looking at the series. Kirsty Mackay noted in an interview with her collective ‘The Other,’ “Photography’s always been very good at portraying victims and not as good at portraying the perpetrators. And if you are looking at poverty, for instance, through a middle-class lens it’s easy to miss out a lot of the nuances and tell a very single sided story” (Mackay, et al., 2021). I am not looking at poverty, but being that my family is working class, the project would inevitably attract some attention in this area. My intention is not to portray my family as victims – they are not. The focus is that there are a number of beliefs, which are formed by the individual, but also by outside influences and that we start to subscribe to the labels that we are given. I have written about this previously after listening to Nichola Twemlow discuss this in relation to her experiences with social work (2021). Mackay et al also discuss this specifically to photography, where they note in particular about those in power applying the labels and also how this starts to shape and effect those given the labels. If someone is photographing you and also telling you the reason is because you are working class, or poor, then how does that start to effect and impact the relationship between photographer and the person being photographed? The portrayal could be misleading (2021). It is crucial that I continually ask myself these questions, even when I am photographing my family and subscribe to some of the labels. I am the one with the camera, so also the one with the power so there needs to be a collaboration as even though I share much of the same experiences as my family this does not mean that I am immune from exploiting them. This again feeds back into Mariamma Attah’s discussion around ideas of socially engaged practice (Fig: 1), where I analysed the key points of this concept and how I can apply them to my project.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Socially Engaged practice analysis

As my project is my own family, I am well placed to navigate the nuances that Mackay et al suggest might be missed by a complete outsider. It is also worth noting that this is my story to tell. However, I am still an outsider in the sense that I am the one with the camera looking in. The dialogue is important t have with the people in the project but also with myself. Savannah Dodd discusses this in the article ‘The Ethics of Documenting your own Family,’ which points out the need to not overlook such questions just because they are your own family, as Dodd notes of Amanda Mustard: “It’s a gift to have the perspective and personal experiences that allow access to important stories that may not be told with depth otherwise. But with greater depth comes the need for greater ethical care.” (2021).


Dodd, S., 2021. The Ethics of Documenting Your Own Family. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 11 June 2021].

Mackay, K., O’Brien, K. & Coates, J., 2021. The Other: On class in the industry [Interview] (26 May 2021).

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

Photography, Belief, and The Winter Garden.

Now that I am starting to consider ideas around belief in my project I have come to a text by David Levi-Strauss called ‘Photography and Belief’ (Levi Strauss, 2020), which although he is primarily concerned with the idea of evidential belief of the object, the essay sits very well in a number of areas that I am exploring. Chiefly, Levi-Strauss is debating the connection between photographs, memory and belief, starting with the familiar saying “seeing is believing” (2020: 11) and what that actually means in relation to how we experience things through photographs. Much of the book is regarding the most recent shifts in ‘technical images’ – a term coined by Villem Flusser and utilised by Levi-Strauss here (p. 43) – that have led to ‘deepfakes,’ for example, how are we supposed to trust the images that we see? Although the focus of my project is far removed from ideas of Ai and digital fakery, there are links here with the family album, and the images that started off my project (Fig: 1). The images that I have been looking are a kind of self-illusion, edited and disrupted from the original meaning. As Levi-Strauss points out: “Memory, because we remember primarily through images, and we believe what we remember (sometimes to our detriment); sight, because “seeing is believing” (p. 11). Looking at an image that has been defaced, cut, or edited in some destructive way at first disrupts the memory and then starts to prompt the question of why this has happened. Otherwise benign, the idea that a rift of some kind happened here plays heavily on the reading of the ‘edited’ photograph because “seeing is believing” in the object sense. You might not see what was in front of the camera in that part of the image, but you are now acutely aware of what is not.

Figure 1: Phil Hill & Unknown (May, 2021/1970s) Spread from family album with ‘edited’ images

The missing part of the image plays a significant role here too. In the absence of the object, we are encouraged to fill in the blank space with our own speculation, our own narrative. If we relay on images to form our memories, then potentially, in the absence of one, we are left to fill the void with something from our own personal library, in an abstract sense. The power of photography is demonstrated in the absence of a photograph so in effect seeing is no longer believing. Roland Barthes was acutely aware of this paradoxical statement when presented what is possibly the most famous image that no one has ever seen – The Winter Garden Photograph (1993: 67). This image is described so well in fact, that we are able to envisage it without ever seeing it. For Barthes’ it was punctum, highly personal and as he notes “it exists only for me” (p. 73) refusing to print it within the book and there have been suggestions that the photograph never existed in the first place, Barthes describing a photograph to us as an exercise in the power of photography, or more aptly, the power of our own memories to conjure such imagery. Within this part of Camera Lucida there is even a portrait by French photographer Nadar of his mother (or wife), which could be there to underline Barthes’ point and further serve to trigger the construction of The Winter Garden photograph from our own memory by utilising an image from canon (Fig: 2).

Figure 2: Nadar (1890) The Artist’s Mother

Ultimately, Barthes never needed to print the image at all as it is ubiquitous: “one of the many thousand manifestations of the ordinary” (1993: 73), which is the point of the description – although times have moved on since the publication of Barthes text, we are already familiar with this image from our own archives and the canons of photography that continue to inform memory.

Returning to the context of my family album’s ‘edited’ images, it could have very easily been Barthes’ stadium as I move through the album. They spark a general intrigue seeing members of my family from a different decade to how I remember them, which is especially true of those members who I have not seen for over 20 years. For my mother, the image was punctum, it wounds her. The image in this state has changed meaning as an object removed from the benign and vernacular. It crosses the boundary into punctum for me looking at it as I am able to visibly see the emotional attachment to the photograph.  


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

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

Book Designer Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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