Collaborating: James

I asked a colleague to create some images for me to start experimenting with the idea of collaboration with my project. James is an artist so his sense of composition so clear, he is not used to film photography, which was a useful gauge to see if the people that I would work with will be able to create anything that could be used for the project moving forward. I very much like the aesthetic of James’s images in the regard, I think that – selfishly – there is a useful differentiation between my images and those that James took, however moving forward, it may be useful to include more delivery on taking and exposing the image, which would be in turn useful to support the collaboration but also to maintain a sense of me as director.

What I find works quite well with this set is that if the vernacular and perhaps some of the images and views that I might not have considered shooting myself. My initial intention for this experiment was to create responses to James’s images that could either be displayed alongside, or for my own images to take their place. I am wondering whether creating a narrative that merges both my images and those I have asked others to do will create a more interesting narrative.


Representation experimenting

Figure 1. Mark from Elim Foodbank (Hill, 2020).

I have made a recent connection to the food bank over the road from my house. In order to create some images, I have also been volunteering to build relationships with some of the people that attend. I have also handed out some compact point and shoot cameras for some of them to photograph and collaborate with, in a similar way to Anthony Luvera’s approach with his assisted self-portrait series and something that I have mentioned in my post on Martin Parr (Fig. 2). Once I have collected in and processed these images, I will create a full reflection.

Figure 2. Reflection on Martin Parr and Patrick Waterhouse

I created a number of portraits of Mark (Fig. 1), who is a food bank volunteer for nineteen years and also uses the service for himself. Primarily, I wanted to add some portraiture as part of my work I progress portfolio looking at my own community. My technical approach to shooting portraits, has always been to have the camera set to the continuous mode in order to shoot a few frames side-by-side, which was to ensure that I gain a focussed image of my subject. This is a hangover from my freelance practice, where it was crucial that the shot is in focus. This approach creates a number of ‘similars’ that have little variation shot to shot, from which I select the most focussed image (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Unused Portrait of Mark from Elim foodbank. (Hill, 2020).

I am interested in exploring the nature of representation and gaze within a single frame and how this cannot be a full and truthful representation of the subject. This is a further look into the idea as I did when looking at the retouching layer from my evidence shoot film scan (Fig. 4 & 5).

Figure 4. Evidence experiment shoot
Figure 5. Retouching layer from ‘Moth Trap’ (Hill, 2020).

To further explore that here, I have decided to overlay the series of images that I shot of Mark, to consider the idea that in some ways could be more representative of him than a single frame ever could (Fig. 6). That said, the result creates an image where much is lost in the actuality of the subject, even though it is still an indexical trace of Mark, the subject, being present for the photograph. The subtle variants, as exampled in Figure 2, show that Mark was not completely stationary between the shots and there is movement and slight shifts in facial expression. This nuanced series of images shows more of the subjects individual trait and allows them to be more represented in the image. However, it could also be argued that Mark movements are as a result of my direction and not a naturalistic expression of him as a person either.

Figure 6. Overlaid images of Mark. (Hill, 2020)
Figure 7. De-saturated overlaid images of Mark. (Hill, 2020).

I was interested in Uta Barth’s challenge to the reader in the way that she is asking us to consider looking, and the way that we can derive meaning from the image, Barth states “One goes out into the world and points it [the camera] something of beauty, something of importance, a spectacle of some sort” (Barth, 2012) and goes on to note that the subject and meaning can be interpreted as being the same (2012). Barth’s response to this is to remove the reader’s attention on the subject and create an all-encompassing experiential sense of ‘looking.’ John Berger asserted much the same in his use of the term, ‘sight:’ “The explanation, never quite fits the sight” (Berger, 2008, p. 7) where the image of the actual is perhaps too much of an explanation, or a kind of overarching exposition; we are confronted by the assumed meaning of the image because it is presented in its naturalistic format, depicted by the lens.

Figure 8. Ground #42 (Barth, 1994)

Through Barth’s work, emphasis is placed on readers, and reading, Barth actively encourages those to become aware of their reading (Barth, 2012). Barth’s work is about perception, but still indexical. When I photograph a portrait, I almost always set of to photograph with a shallow depth of field to throw the background out of focus, which creates a separation of the subject and the environment. It is this reason that I shoot my images with the continuous mode set. When I look at Barth’s work (Fig. 8), it is almost as if the image was composed to have a person present but has left the scene, leaving the camera to capture the remains. Where I feel this applies to my own work is how Barth’s approach is her visual perception that seems to segue with the concept of social abstraction, or how we disregard the unnecessary details from our lives. For example, the food that we eat is presented packaged and ready – we do not need to understand to process of how this packed item came to be.

At this stage, I want this to be purely an experimentation where I can explore ideas, potentially one that I might come back to at a later date. Currently, this is not something that fits my intent photographing my local community. I have created a naturalistic approach to the shoot so far, the overlaid image, feel out of place and potentially an obvious interpretation of the ideas that I am discussing. It has been useful to explore it however, and I will aim to subtly introduce elements of this into my narrative.

The portrait of Mark (Fig. 1) fits really well into how this is starting to develop from my other shoots and portraits that I have been creating (See Posts), although I am still keen to allow this to continue developing in the same way Todd Hido approaches his ‘Paper Movies’ (Hido, 2014, p. 114) and discusses the need for ambiguity for the reader’s own narrative (p. 28). As I have written previously, I am also interested in the way Snyder and Allen discuss the index (Snyder & Allen, 1975, p. 159) and how I am interpreting this as representation being a consensus of opinion as opposed to a whole truth encompassing the many nuances of individual personality. In essence, for my current work in progress at least, I want my images to be based in the actual as John Berger terms (Berger, 2013, p. 8), and all of my work created so far has been looking at these actualities and the dominant reading of this work should also follow this.


Additional Posts on Representation:
Bibliography

Barth, U., 1994. Ground #42. [Photo].

Barth, U., 2012. Light, Looking: Uta Barth [Interview] (22 March 2012).

Berger, J., 2008. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

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

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

Hill, P., 2020. Mark from Elim foodbank. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Overlaid Portraits of Mark. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Retouching Layer from ‘Moth Trap’. [Photo].

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

PHO702: ‘Evidence’ Experiment

Following from the idea to look at my own home at the centre of the community I live (see post), I have created a series of images in response to the listing of the property after our land lady took the decision to sell the house.

I have written about my reasons for photographing the house previously, however to understand some of the context behind my reasons for conducting the experiment, it is important to note here again that the house is in a state of disrepair and out of our reach in terms of south east property prices, perpetuating the fractured community that I am looking at.

SUMMARY
Don’t miss out on this beautiful two bedroom mid-terrace family home located on Leavesden Road. Throughout the property provides ample living accomadation [sic] and period features. Here at Brown and Merry we strongly advise early viewings to avoid missing out!

DESCRIPTION
Brown and Merry are proud to present this attractive mid terrace, with the benefit of private off street parking to the rear. The property comprises of kitchen/diner and lounge with period features and storage cupboard under stairs, upstairs you will find bathroom with shower cubicle and bath off the landing and two double bedrooms in addition to access to loft. 

The property is located 0.4 miles from Watford Junction Station, and benefits from gas central heating, double glazing and period features.

Call now to avoid disappointment!!

Figure 2. Online description of the property (Rightmove, 2020).

Dominant

The edit of the work has coincided with week 4’s readers and images. Looking at the photographs that the estate agent used (Fig. 1), the dominant reading is to show the home in the best light in order to make the sale for the best price – as you would expect them to do. Our learned knowledge of how an estate agent operates, is in the way that they exaggerate and embellish the facts. We understand this is the way of things, in the same way you do not fully trust someone selling a car, or negotiating your next phone contract yet still take part in the process.

The use of a wide-angle lens in the corner of the rooms creates a sense of space and the images appear on the site in low resolution which has the effect of hiding a multitude of sins. It is the description of the house (Fig. 2) that provides additional context to the images and highlights to the intent of the agent (and by extension the homeowner) stating “Don’t miss out on this beautiful two-bedroom mid-terrace family home” (Rightmove, 2020). Barthes states that speech and text provide the full terms of the informational structure of how we read the image world (Barthes, 1977, p. 38), and here the use of language creates a construction that suggests that the home is in a better state of repair than it is, and the images provided do not necessarily refute this.

Oppositional

This leads to the oppositional reading of the images. Living in the home for 5 years means that I have a clear understanding of the many nuances that this home has. I can look at the description of the “beautiful family home” (2020) alongside the agent images with the ability to look through them to see many issues of the property that would suggest it is vastly overpriced. Additionally, I am most likely viewing them in the room in which they were taken.

My bias is clear. The home has been valued at the very top end of the market currently, outside my own ability to afford it and remain within this community. It is important to understand that I am not suggesting that I live in abject poverty, I do not, but the very nature of living in a long-term rental property that has never been properly maintained means that the condition of the house is vastly lower than if we owned it ourselves. This is in a sense a comment on the rental trap.

Negotiated

A negotiated reading of the images could be from the people viewing the property with the hope of buying it. This is not something that I can confirm, as a renter, I am outside that chain of dialogue. However, if i was to speculate, those interested in the property would view the images online together with the description and consider it a viable home to view. Once viewed, many of the issues would be quickly apparent; the described beautiful home would require a new kitchen, bathroom, windows, secure exterior doors, and so on that at the top end of this price range, represents a larger investment of time and money than the advertisement would suggest.

I made the decision to photograph the poor state of the house as a direct contrast to the way the estate agent would ultimately present it (Fig. 3). This was inspired by Jack Latham’s approach of using police evidence imagery as part of the narrative for ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Fig. 4) and my own experience of working on the Panorama shoot (See post). Here, my ‘evidence’ images represent more of a construction compared to Latham’s use of the police archive, with the agent imagery taking the role of the archive. My intention was to use the aesthetic of the evidence image to play with the dominant reading seen in the agent images. The use of film and black and white encourages the reader to override the agent’s dominant reading and replace it with mine. My oppositional reading becomes the dominant reading in this context.

Figure 4. One of the police archive images from ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Latham, 2019)

To show this in my edit, I have looked at putting the images and text together in a number of ways. Firstly, I wanted to see how my new images would work with the original text of the agent listing in order to subvert the dominant reading described by the agent, in an obvious and confrontational way. I have placed my images first and the text second (Fig 5), however I feel that considering the outcome, it would create more of a shock to the reader if the description id first and then be presented with my oppositional imagery (Fig 6).

Figure 5. Edited ‘evidence’ images left with agent text on the right.
Juxtapositions

Figure 6. Agent images juxtaposed with my ‘evidence’ imagery. [Click to enlarge in gallery]

Personally, I feel that the juxtapositions work better. They are subtler and require more of an examination of the pair together. I present the agent image and then one of my own images which requires the reader to investigate, comparing and contrasting two conflicting views of the room. There is potential to further develop and add some kind of caption to further extend and create a sense of the context and intent that I am aiming to get across.

Using the FSA Hole Punched to ‘Kill’ The images

My last edit was to re-introduce the idea of the ‘killed’ (Taylor, 2017) image that was used by Roy Stryker when rejecting FSA images (See post). I copied one the hole-punches from a rejected FSA image by Arthur Rothstein photograph (Fig. 7) and added it to my evidence imagery of the house (Fig. 8).

Figure 7. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Blue Ribbon No. 2 Mine, one of the largest gopher holes, Williamson County, Illinois (Rothstein, 1939).

This was also to consider the role of the ‘ostracised’ that I have been looking at through the lens of Barthes and his notion that we also need to consider those excluded from society and community in order to understand the functions of it (Barthes, 2012, p. 81).  And Dexter Dias, who suggests that those who cast out members of a community, ultimately leads to a more cohesion (Dias, 2017, p. 124) which is an area that I feel warrants more investigation.

Figure 8. Edited ‘evidence’ images to include FSA hole punches. [Click to enlarge into gallery].

My images represent a view of the property that shows it in a less than positive way. The agent would potentially reject these in their selective view of the home. The hole-punch also adds to the images’ reading by creating a point of focus instantly creating a sense of censorship, which is also from a learned knowledge of the world that we share (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. Parasite movie poster with censorship bar across the eyes (Parasite, 2019).

I am unsure how I am going to move this experiment forward as potentially I have taken this area as far as I can at the moment. These images primarily only really exist for me (Barthes, 1981, p. 73), this is an event that resonates because I am the one who is affected by the sale. If I am to develop this, I would need to consider how these are read by others.

Bibliography

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

Barthes, R., 1981. Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage.

Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism). Translation Edition ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Dias, D., 2017. The Ten Types of Human. 1st Paperback Edition ed. London: Windmill Books.

Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. 2nd ed. London: Here Press.

Parasite. 2019. [Film] Directed by Bong Joon Ho. South Korea: Barunson E&A; CJ E&M Film Financing & Investment Entertainment & Comics; CJ Entertainment; TMS Comics; TMS Entertainment.

Rightmove, 2020. Rightmove: 2 bedroom terraced house for sale. [Online] Available at: https://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-68153202.html [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Rothstein, A., 1939. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Blue Ribbon No. 2 Mine, one of the largest gopher holes, Williamson County, Illinois. [Art] Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

Taylor, A., 2017. Holes Punched Through History. [Online] Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2017/02/holes-punched-through-history/518115/ [Accessed 17 February 2020].