Image Transaction: One in a Sea of Images

Figure 1. Image taken of Darcie wearing a hat knitted by her aunt, to say thanks. (Hill, 2019).

As I was preparing for Informing contexts, I wrote an essay on a particular type of vernacular image that I was creating around the Christmas period. It was also useful to start the process of applying my readings and thinking about photography. You can view that version of the essay here.

I decided to re-visit and reflect on this piece of writing now that we are half way through this module and I have a better understanding of some of the concepts and discussions.

It was also useful to revisit during this week’s delivery for ‘A sea of Images,’ taking into account elements of the vernacular, and the ubiquity of images.

Abstract

‘What started as an image taken to say thank you became a question about the continuing proliferation of images and family mythology. Sharing images online transforms the image into a type of currency that seeks to provide validation for both authors and readers, this perpetuates the visual language of established societal norms through placation, morals and covert colonisation as a subtle blackmail. This is a subtle ebb which we are all complicit and must intentionally reconsider and reengage with the way we use images. Where futurity is concerned, it should begin in the unlearning and relearning of visual culture.’

View essay below:

Are you Drowning Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on Gaze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 4: Reflection

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

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

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

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

Authors might not be that dead after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering the Construction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2018)

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunters and Farmers

I am not sure that I completely subscribe to the ‘Hunters’ and ‘Farmers’ analogy from Jeff Wall (Wall in Horne, 2012). If all images are constructions, which I do believe, then this is surely a spectrum in which all photographies fall and even within the distinct extremities of the continuum, even the hunters subjectively construct the reality of the actual (Berger, 2013, p.8) , which is based on the real world.

As such, I do not feel wholey comfortable subscribing completely to either title, however, I believe that my work is rooted in this actuality. I do not consciously or emphatically try to deceive with my work, however this is not to assume that what I do is not a construct with every decision that I make creating a version of reality, although naturalistic in its appearance & indexical in its traces, I am starting to appreciate that representation can only be a part of the whole narrative, an informed – if you will – overall opinion of what I am trying to say. If I was to consider which end of the spectrum that my work falls, it would inevitably be on the side of the hunter as I tend to look for the photographs that I want to create in the actual, my work is less about the gradual constructions and more about the constructed actualities. On the face of it, my practice does little to tend to my images over time, however perhaps this ‘tending’ could be through the development of personal style and aesthetics in the way that I approach my image making, it is easier to suspend disbelief when viewing my images because they are based in the real world.

As I reflect on this, I realise that my work on this end of the continuum is still rooted within my own comfort zones of how I take pictures, which is founded on my commercial practice as an editorial photographer. During the presentations, we have been continually asked to consider the importance of the reality of the image to determine meaning (Cosgrove, 2020) so moving forward, it would be good for me to play with this notion and create some work that consciously moves further toward the ‘Farmer’ end of the spectrum.

With this in mind, I am thinking of returning to two areas that I identified in some earlier research, the term idiorrhythmic came up when reading a text by Barthes and the reference to how we can live our separate lives but co-exist within societies and communities, Barthes considers this view non-paradoxical and considers that for a proper Utopian community to function there would be a removal of identifying information to distance ourselves from ‘spaces of Manipulation’ (Barthes, 2012, p.101). I wonder if the people that I am aiming to include in my look at the local community need to be ‘real,’ or could this be part of a constructed reality that plays with this notion of the spaces of manipulation and links to why I chose community as an area of interest for my photography and my fractured sense of connection to the place that I live.

Figure 1. Desert Places by Robert Frost (1936).

Another related area to Barthes notion of living together and apart is through the metaphor of the desert which Barthes uses in his text and also unpacked in the analytical paper of his work ‘Roland Barthes, the individual and the Community’ (Stene-Johansen, et al., 2018), from here links can be made to this kind of monoclastic living balancing isolation and attachment (2018, p.16). Robert Frost’s poem ‘Desert Places’ (Fig. 1) is also referenced here and an area that I wish to explore (Frost, 1936, p.44).

How are my images consumed?

My work has always sat in the printed media category, in that for the majority of my commercial life I have worked as an editorial photographer primarily for the airline publication sector, with other magazines and newspaper imagery too. So far, I have treated the work that I have produced for the MA as a kind of extended editorial shoot with the intention of displaying it in printed media, or its online equivalent. For example, after the last module, I produced a postcard series of the project to be distributed to a range of magazine and online editors (Fig. 2&3) with some interest in the work and a few shares on social media platforms. As is the way with publishing lead times, timing has been an issue for some of the publications that I sent my work, citing that my images of the carnival needed to be published to coincide with the next carnival season in the autumn. My intention here is to follow up in the spring to see if the work can be published later in the year.

Figure 2. Postcard Series created to market ‘The Wessex Grand Prix’ (Hill, 2019).
Figure 3. Postcard cover and graphic for ‘Wessex Grand Prix’ (2019).

The topicality of the project lets it sit comfortably in this editorial category and would be considered professionally as an interesting look at British culture in the southwest region of the UK. The context of any kind of publication would omit much of the intentions that I set out in the creation to the work, in terms of the fractured sense of community that inspired to look again at the Carnival culture.

I have been testing the limit of this view through the submission of the work to dummy book awards, such as the Mack First Book Award (Fig. 4). At this stage, I am not sure whether my work sits comfortably within this category. 

Figure 4. Wessex Grand Prix Book Dummy cover (2019)

Reflecting  on my decision to create a postcard series was primarily from a marketing perspective. In our digital image world, I wanted to let my project stand out from the plethora of emailed submissions that these editors would inevitably receive. Viewing images in an online gallery form can be very linear, as you are bound by the sequence and flow of the gallery in which they are presented with the knowledge that the job of the photo editor is to produce a narrative that fits with the intent and the editorial guidelines of the publication, this could be considered quite limiting to the potential of publication. This presents a slight irony in that the postcard mailer, which traditionally was a primary way of marketing for photographers, allows me to stand out. Presenting my work in a tangible medium also allows it to be laid out in full and viewed in a way that may work better within the context of the editor that I send the work. 

The postcard and the book dummy that I have started to explore also marks a departure in the ways that my work can be consumed, albeit an esoteric one. Simon Norfolk, for example has remarked that the world of the Photo book has become a self-congratulatory loop, where photographers are celebrating other photographers belonging to the same clique, and the same can also be said of the gallery and award system (Norfolk, 2019). Any move into other ways that my images are distributed and consumed should consider the esoteric and have an awareness that any meaning that could be derived from it needs to be viewed by more than a small group of taste makers. 


Bibliography

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

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

Cosgrove, S., 2020. Week 2 Presentation: Is it Really Real?, s.l.: Falmouth.

Frost, R., 1936. A Further Range. Transcribed eBook ed. s.l.:Proofreaders Canada.

Hill, P., 2019. The Wessex Grand Prix. [Photography].

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

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

Stene-Johansen, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2018. Living Together: Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Week 2: The Index and the Icon

Reflection

Everyone seems to want to defend their own reading and interpretation of an image that they have taken, especially their own images, and this includes me and my own images. It is interesting that through the forums this week I have noticed that many of the descriptions of the presented images do not necessarily translate to what I can see in the image. Although, what is being written of the image is indeed what the photographer believes that image to be about, or what did occur at the moment of when that image was captured, it is telling that with this text removed, the image would read differently to me.

Context and meaning are going to fall away from the image, especially over time (Sontag, 1979, p. 106), so it is important to realise that your work will inevitably be read in multiple ways. I do find this somewhat a challenging concept in the present as the temptation and habit of adding a certain amount of attributed information is ever present in the attempt to help others understand my work. I guess, that is the challenge for many practitioners, do we have the confidence to remove all of this attributed reading of our own photography to allow others carte blanche to make their own assumptions and interpretations.

Figure 1. Nadav Kander’s triangle (Kander, 2019).

Authenticity appears to me, bound by context, or at least a viewer’s understanding of context. Representation is bound by the subject’s understanding of the use of the image. Is it for authors to attribute either context, or use without the collaboration of the other two. This is a clear link to the triangle (Fig. 1) that Nadav Kander refers to (Kander, 2019), and the death of the author analysis by Roland Barthes (Barthes, 1977, pp. 142-149).

Where this applies to my own work, I think that I am quite interested in the notion of the photograph as a valuable index of truth (Snyder & Allen, 1975, p. 159). As I have commented in the previous forum, I think that when you consider the definition of representation, it is to take the broad consensus of ideas and opinions which I think is where the photograph can occupy and create authenticity. So it is not a complete evidential and based on all the facts, however there are traces of facts embedded in the image, perpetuated by the notion of its naturalistic appearance (1975, p. 144). This potentially, has more in common with ideology which assumes much about reality and certainly John Berger notes this by stating that photography can play an important role in ideological struggle, in reference to the way media use photography (Berger, 2013, p. 21).

For my work to move forward, I need to consider the indexical nature of my own photographs and perhaps construct images that use this as a means of communication. However, this is potentially something that will be more prevalent during the editing stage of the project.

Countercurrent Podcast

This week, I also listened to an episode of Countercurrent podcast featuring Anthony Luvera discussing his approach to socially engaged photography (Levera, 2020). The subject of representation came up during the discussion and the power balance that exists between the artist and the subject of their art. Traditionally, there have been a number of incidences throughout the history of photography where a particular group or culture has been photographed in a particular way and has led to tropes which has a knock on impact of effecting the way they are represented and even the conversation, political, and societal decisions are affected by these representations. Although not referred to in the podcast, this reminds me of the work that Patrick Waterhouse did when working with the Walpiri of the Northern Territory in Australia (Fig. 2), which was a way of considering, not only the colonial gaze, but also the way anthropological photography was used as a method of reducing the value of cultures other than the white European (Waterhouse, 2019). 

Figure 2. From the book ‘Restricted Images’ by Patrick Waterhouse and the Walpiri (Waterhouse, 2019)

Levera does not believe that the problematic photographic representation can easily be solved and that no photograph is neutral, however we can aim to redress the balance through collaborative practice (2020).

It was also noted that a tension exists between the artist and the subject when any kind of process of working together exists and when circulating this work to audiences.

Index and the Icon

How I use these within my own work has been useful to consider. I believe for the most part my photography uses the iconic, I photograph things that look like what they are supposed to, for the most part.

I consider how this has changed in the present short term (assuming that I continue to focus on the iconic in my work) from the commercial practice, where I would use elements such as photo-blur to get around such things as model releases for people on the street. This also had the added aesthetic quality of creating an atmosphere of a busy urban area. The work that I have been creating for the last module concentrates on what is in front of me, what exists in the real world. Context is a driver of how we can present the icon and the indexical, during the seminar the example of wedding photography was given in that the audience of this work expects to see a certain image of the posed groups. This reminds me of the work of commercial photographer John Keatley who has become well known for how he plays with the notion of the family portrait (Fig. 3), and has even taken it to the extreme of getting actors to pose in the images as him and his wife – although his children are the same (Keatley, 2018). This really plays with the icon and the indexical. Keatley us subverting the shared vocabulary of what we expect to see from a family portrait, an image of the family. However by removing himself from the image he has still created something that exists in the real world, the photograph is of something that exists, it is not a photograph of Keatley, even though he has titled it as such. Keatley has taken the image, could this be considered a trace? There is no truth to this image and the actors that are portraying the artist are arbitrary, however Keatley has had a tangible connection to the construction of the image.

Figure 3. 2018 Keatley Family Portrait (Keatley, 2018).

A photograph is not nuanced in all things that are based in the real world the way that photography is portrayed, It cannot portray all of the subtle variety that exists, it is a blunt snapshot in time of something that existed – A fossil, which is indexical to the thing that existed. What this week has prompted me to look at more is how the environment of community which has now become my focus might be comprised of indexical elements that I could photograph as part of the work. What are the traces of the community that I am photographing over the wandering and photographing anything of interest. Having a clear intention for why I have photographed and included them within a final edit was always one of my aims

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Death of the Author. In: Image, Music, Text. New York: Fontana, pp. 142-149.

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

Kander, N., 2019. Prix Pictet: A Lens on Sustainability. Photography as Witness [Interview] (5 November 2019).

Keatley, J., 2018. Keatley Family 2018. [Online] Available at: https://www.keatleyphoto.com/portraits/keatley-family/ [Accessed 6 February 2020].

Luvera, A., 2020. Countercurrent Podcast: Anthony Luvera in conversation with Roger Kneebone [Interview] (13 January 2020).

Snyder, J. & Allen, N. W., 1975. Photography, Vision, and Representation. Critical Enquiry, 2(1), pp. 143-169.

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

Waterhouse, P., 2019. Restricted Images by Patrick Waterhouse and the Walpiri. 1st ed. London: SPBH Editions.

Week One: Informing Contexts?

I connect with the selective nature of photography that Szarwaski discusses. My images for the last module were very much based in the selectiveness of the moments that I photographed and the images I ultimately selected for my gallery. This was to construct an image that was of my making as opposed to the staged poses that many of my subjects would automatically assume.

It is in the frame, that I also resonated with. I am conscious of many of the things that are allowed into the frame and what is not 

His reference to how photography has never been successful at narrative is interesting to me because I spent a good time last module aiming to develop an effective narrative of my work. This notion of photography and narrative is very much echoed by Lewis Bush however somewhat challenged by Todd Hido, albeit he does not necessarily start with a narrative in mind.

Mostly images seem to be about an exchange of validation or a kind of visual gratification that can never truly be fulfilled. The photographer takes an image for validation, the reader is validated in their interpretation of the image.

Preparing for Informing Contexts: Human Choices

I set out to create a set of images that focussed on one particular community group. The Carnival was a relatively accessible choice for me to look at as I was already familiar with the events, as they were very much part of the yearly calendar growing up. I also knew of a few of the individuals how had good connections within the world of the carnival (Fig. 1). It was this initial connection that had led me to look at the Somerset Carnival circuit, understanding that access is critical in creating the kind of work that I wished to make. 

Figure 1. Mike, Frome Town Crier & key participant in the carnival who is also the step dad to an old school friend of mine. (Hill, 2019)

In terms of the Human choices that I would make during the project, I found that I would have to come to terms with the representation of the people that I was photographing. As I continued to work on the portraits, there would be an initial interaction between me and the subject in the form of an introduction to myself and the aim of what I was trying to do with the image. The initial introduction would also include a quick photograph being taken in a style that they were very used to: a large grin, maybe a thumbs up, or assuming the pose and acting out of the performance of the character that they were dressed as (Fig. 2). This was a result that each subject was quite happy to do and also with the result. The image could also be considered nothing more than the thin layer of performance of the character, not the person I was photographing. I made a conscious decision to pose my subjects in a very straight-on manner, with the hope of making an image that I would in essence have more control over the subjects instinctive reaction, which in turn I would have more ownership. 

Figure 2. Initial reactions from many of the carnival participants. 'Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival.' (Hill, 2019).
Figure 2. Initial reactions from many of the carnival participants. ‘Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival.’ (Hill, 2019).

I have come to understand this is however still a kind of performance, one of my making and choosing. It is one that I am confident creates a successful image and provides a deeper look into the subjects and the culture that they participate. Todd Hido takes this even further through the detailed control of the environment even before the subject enters into it, saying:

“You can have an amazing story to tell but you have to get the setting right”

(Hido, 2014, p.97).

Hido also goes on to discuss that he does this in order to create a situation in which the subject can do something natural within it. Susan Sontag suggests that the photographer projects themselves on to the subject and the skilful photographer has the image pre visualised before the photograph is taken (Sontag, 1979, p.117). I have started to apply this to my practice, however I do have some development to continue in this area. I have found that, one of my key weaknesses in creating environmental portraits is the lack of awareness of what is happening in the background of my images. So concentrated am I on the subject and creating the posed images (Fig. 3). Before starting the MA, I would always tend to isolate my subjects against some kind of ‘clean’ background which although creates an image that I am happy with, and one that I have pre-visualised in many cases, and also go so far as to controlling the environment, as Hido does. This approach does tend to remove the context of the image as it sits within the narrative of the project. I am happy to have this approach challenged and will continue to work on my consideration in placing my subjects within the environment.

Figure 3. Example of an uncontrolled background in an attempt to shoot an environmental portrait. (Hill, 2019).
Figure 3. Example of an uncontrolled background in an attempt to shoot an environmental portrait. (Hill, 2019).

The question of how to pose my subjects within my images came up a number of times during the last module. Paul, for example questioned the looking off camera approach as a very common, and potentially overused method in photographic portraiture at the moment. Where I do not necessarily disagree with his assessment and especially the aversion to smiling in perceived ‘serious’ photographic work, Hannah Starkey (Starkey, 2019) consciously avoids getting her subjects to look directly into the camera suggesting that this can have a real impact in how the reader attributes narrative to the work. Looking away and off into the distance reduces the confrontation within the work and allows the reader to get in between the exchange of author and subject and create their own narrative of the work (Fig. 4&5). 

Figure 4. Looking directly into the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 4. Looking directly into the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 5. Looking off and away from the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 5. Looking off and away from the camera. (Hill, 2019)

More and more now, I am appreciating the interplay between Author, subject, and reader. I am beginning to understand the crucial importance of the reader after reading Roland Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ Essay (Barthed, 1977, p.142 – 149), and how I have limited, if any control of how others interpret and read my work. Even though I do not completely agree that the reader can completely disregard the author of the work, especially in our modern age where so much information exists about the artist of a piece of work. As it impossible for the read to not bring opinion in isolation, it may be impossible to be completely removed from the artist of the work.

Nadav Kander reflects on this, and puts the more emphasis on the reader as ultimately being the author of the work discussing that the interplay between all three key elements is fundamental to the strength of the image through a triangle that exists between Artist, the scene, and the reader (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Illustration depicting Nadav Kander's triangle (Kander, 2019).
Figure 6. Illustration depicting Nadav Kander’s triangle (Kander, 2019).

Moving forward into the new module, I intend to start looking at the environment of community more closely and investigate the infrastructure of how it functions through photographing the architecture, such as meeting halls, and community hubs. This is an initial approach whilst I start to build the relationships needed to introduce portraiture back into the work. I also feel that it will be crucial to my development to focus on the environment and then start to introduce a human element to the images. I am also looking to start exploring my technical and aesthetic choices for my ongoing work. Up until now I have been relying on a style of image making that served me well whilst I was an editorial freelance, however I feel that it is important to challenge and explore moving forward. As I continue to use digital, I may even consider looking at a post production method of applying this aesthetic to my work – The technical choices that I make to my work related to the aesthetics will have a big impact on the context in which that work is read (Short, 2018, p.55).

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Trans ed. London: Fontana pRESS.

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

Hill, P., 2019. Mike Bishop, Town Crier. [Art].

Hill, P., 2019. ‘Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival’. [Art].

Kander, N., 2019. Prix Pictet: A Lens on Sustainability. Photography as Witness [Interview] (5 November 2019).

Short, M., 2018. Context and Narrative. London: Bloomsbury.

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

Starkey, H., 2019. Photography as Witness [Interview] (5 November 2019).