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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
- Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude
- Index and the Icon
- Questions of Authenticity
- Considering the Construction
- Reflecting on Gaze
- Further Questions of Representation
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.