Considering the construction of my images and looking at the idea of the indexical and the iconic have be a big influence on my work during this module. I truly believe that without these fundamental lessons I may not have been able to develop and adapt my practice in response to the covid-19 outbreak and lock down. To be able to include both elements of the actual and the conceptual whilst being able to realise the same intent has been revelatory and something that I will continue to include even after things have returned to some kind of normality.
Short Statement of intent
“The Pathos of Distance” explores how we coexist in the same space yet live to our own individual rhythm – the idiorryhtym of separation. It is my idiorrythm to a place where I lived for some time but do not feel connected; a generational sense of tenuous job security and the liminality of the rental trap. However, a separation of community has a tangible meaning for all of us, under the conditions of pandemic and the limits it has placed on our civil liberties. My disconnect is a shared experience and for those with a stake in the community; in order to save it, we must remain distant from it.
In order to achieve my intent, I have placed images that would seem aesthetically disparate next to each other in order to portray this separation visually. I started to create my project using an iconic approach in the way that the subjects are recognisable as the subjects; portraits are a resemblance of the subjects and the environmental topology I present in part two are based on the actuality of the objects existence. To contrast this, I created a series of abstracted images that together I hope would create more of a representation of this separation aesthetically and conceptually, as I mention in my critical review, quoting Peter Lamarque “resemblance is not sufficient for representation.” (Lamarque and Olsen, 2004: 347) and the representation in my diptychs can shift into a reading that represents more about me and my connection that it necessarily does of the person in the portrait. Additional meaning of the pairings is also of a broader community in separation as a result of the current pandemic.
After reflecting on some peer feedback (Fig. 1) and discussing with Michelle how the work could be displayed, I have decided to present the diptychs as two equally sized imaged next to one another. I experimented with image placement and sizing (Fig. 2) However, the challenge was in the reading of the work, creating more emphasis on either a portrait or one of the windows, which changes the project and reading of the work to be more about one series of images over the other. Equal sizing of the work means that the images will have to be read as equivalent in the meaningful relationship to the sequence of the work as a whole (Fig. 3). In order to achieve this without the viewer of the work becoming tired of the same visual style of the edit, which was mentioned by my peers, I have decided to reduce the amount of images in this part of the project. I also removed some of the cropped portraits (Fig. 4) from the sequence after discussion with Michelle for consistency and how the full body portraits create a kind of topology that is a feature of my work on the whole. This also follows from some of the feedback I have received previously, where my portraits could be better placed within the environment so that a better contextualisation of the subject and who they are can be made in an individual image. By focussing on the full body portraits, there is a greater sense of these individuals as pillars of the communities in the setting where they are part of it.
I have also reduced the number of diptych’s in part two. The sequence here is in the aesthetic mirroring of images before the lock down and during. It was challenging to find images that did this effectively and had led to a couple of pairing that could be considered forced (Fig. 5). As a result, I made the decision to remove these from the series to create consistency of impact that the sequence is starting to have.
I have always been interested in how graphics work with images, which could be as simple as the typeface that is used to caption and preface the visual work. Graphic provide additional meaning and as a result need to be considered carefully as it could have a subtle influence on how the work is read.
Figure 6: Phil Hill (April, 2020) Title and Captions for ‘The Pathos of Distance’ WIPP
For example, I have utilised the typeface ‘Futura’ for the title and caption information in my portfolio (Fig. 6). This san-serif typeface is designed for maximum legibility and is used for well-known brands, such as Volkswagen in their print advertisements (Fig. 7) and notably in the work of Barbara Kruger in reference to these advertisements and mass media uses (Fig. 8). Futura is also part of the ‘Neo-Grotesque’ font family that includes Helvetica, which is commonly used for government information (Fig. 9) owing to its clarity and the perceived authority of the message. In the way that John Tagg discusses how the photograph has been employed the state: “The ‘truth’ of these individual photographs may be said to be a function of several intersecting discourses: that of government departments, that of journalism, more especially documentarism, and that of aesthetics” (Tagg, 1988, p. 173). The same can be argued of how typeface is utilised to create a ‘truth’ and that this might be enhanced when image and text work together, which provides an intertextual link to my research and discussion on the documentary aesthetic and authenticity of images.
Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.
Tagg, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. 1st paperback ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
I have found editing my WIPP quite challenging in create a cohesive narrative that others are able to follow and understand. I have been quite keen to create a narrative that interlinks all of the elements that I have photographing: My environment, the sale of my house, portraits of people in my community, how we are now living with Covid-19. However, due to the disparate nature of the work the sequencing only truly makes sense to me. Initial editing together, I put together portraits with the abstract windows (Fig. 1), which received a positive initial response from my peers during a webinar, however it was noted during this critique that I might want to explore putting some space and distance between these images to see how they might ready differently. It was also noted that in isolation the meaning of my work was not coming through with the sequence I put forward.
I aimed to develop my approach by incorporating some text to contextualise my images and create a sense of my dominant reading and intent. Here I took elements from my research, for example a quote from the book ‘In Praise of Shadows’ (Tanzinaki, 2001, p. 62), which I felt summed up the need for all of the community to retreat into the home as the Covid-19 crisis developed (Fig. 2) and is an ode to the beauty of domestic aesthetics. I also wanted to create another development in how I used the estate agent text, which aimed to create a link to my own disconnect with the community, owing to the lack of being able to put down roots (Fig. 3), this was originally at the core of my approach to my project, inspired by my research into the idea of social capital, where Robert Putnam states: “Nevertheless, for people as for plants, frequent repotting disrupts root systems. It takes time for a mobile individual to put down roots. As a result, residential stability is strongly associated with civic engagement” (Putnam, 2000, p. 204), my own link to community had been continually disrupted because of regular travel and moving from house share to house share. I also attempted to include a couple of quotes collected from other forms of community: via community social media platform ‘Nextdoor’ (Fig. 4), and a headline from the local Watford Observer Newspaper (Fig. 5), which aimed to bring more of the local community into my sequence and edit. Lastly, I also put the text and quotes onto a muted yellow page, which was to create an intertextual hint at the way leaflets and directories, such as the Yellow Pages display information for the community which they serve.
Again, I found that the initial reaction from my peers was on the whole quite positive, Michelle found however that my approach was still confused, which potentially in part was linked to how she viewed my presentation on my work and the discussion on my intent, which at this stage is potentially not quite synchronous. I started my oral presentation by stating that my project is about community connection and connective decline, which in part is a way of considering the way that I fit into it, or have not fitted in. This is not completely obvious in my presentation yet, which looked at the theory quite heavily. One of the main points of feedback that I have received from my presentation was that I really need to bring the focus of my review back onto my own practice wherever possible and relevant to the theory, or how I actually apply it. Michelle’s feedback was extremely valuable in getting me to consider that I might actually start to create more of a synergy between the way I am explaining my intent and the way that I am showing it through my WIPP.
Additional feedback on the way that I created this layout was that there is potentially too much disparate imagery happing within the context of this WIPP and potentially less is more when it comes to the edit. I had further discussion with Michelle who suggested that I could resolve this by splitting the portfolio and editing two bodies of work and use the mitigating statement to justify the reasoning behind this, which would be the impact that covid-19 has had on the direction of my work.
Following from this feedback, I have decided to consider the connection to community again. My original intention was to explore the idea of my connection to community, I wanted to shoot portraits of people within my local community as they exist and operated within the community, which is also linked to the idea of social capital and the relationships that allow it to function (Fig. 6). These are also all of the people that I live idiorythmically, in the same space, the same community, yet are unaware of who they are and what they do, which considers the social abstract.
For example, Clare, who volunteers to clear litter from a local woodland (Fig. 7) so that it can be enjoyed by the wider community; when something is discarded, it becomes someone else’s problem, do we ever consider that person that actually comes along to collect it? Stephen, a prominent member of the Watford deaf society (Fig. 8), exists in a hearing world not built for him to easily operate. Mark who has been attending the food bank across the street from my house for the last 19 years and is also a patron (Fig. 9). These examples, are all people who exist within my community, and up until now I was unconcerned with the details of their individual rhythm (Johansen-Stene, et al., 2018, p. 1).
There is a voyeuristic nature to the portraits that I am presenting here, that until now, I have been unaware of their idiorrhythmic existence and now choose to engage with. With these images, I am still not fully part of the community that I photographing, it is more of a topology of subjects that make the community around me. Potentially, the natural evolution of this work would be to go into greater depth with these subjects to truly understand the sense of community they have and I do not. However, the interruption of Covid-19 has had a fundamental impact on the community and inevitably on my project, yet I do not see this change as detrimental. I have been considering the idiorhythmic and the isolation presents an opportunity to photograph my own individual rhythm. By focussing on my windows, I can continue the voyeuristic connection that is somewhat present in my portraits. In this new edit of the work, I have placed my most abstract window images next to the portraits (Fig. 7,8,9), to create a heightened sense of the voyeuristic. This also serves to place me into the work, potentially resolving the challenge of showing my connection. The abstract series of windows are from my house and are my only connection with the community, my view of the outside world. In essence, this is now my connection to the community. Yet, as a society, we have been asked to stay indoors, which again brings me back to how Barthes view the idea of the rectangle being the most basic form of power (Barthes, 2012, p. 113); they are the homes in which we live and now form the boundaries of our community. The window is another boundary which allows some semblance of contact with the outside but is controlled and measured through the glass that separates the interior from the exterior (Fig. 10).
The Pathos of Distance
By placing portraits with the windows, I feel really starts to explore the idea of the idiorrhythmic by showing a glimpse into my subjects’ individual rhythm, albeit disrupted by the intrusion of my direction, or how Susan Sontag stated “photographing people is that you are not intervening in their lives, only visiting them” (Sontag, 1979, p. 42). This disconnect that links to my initial intention is portrayed through this topological visit in which I place an image of an abstracted window because I can no longer engage with the community, even if I wanted to. Barthes’ also places value on distance, which in a reference to Nietzsche termed as “the pathos of distance” (Barthes, 2012, p. 132) and has a particular resonance when we consider the current pandemic. For everyone, this connection of the community has been severed, or at least extremely reduced, so when looking at my windows, there is a sense of this connective decline and pathos that Barthes’ suggests (Fig. 11). So, this is where I can position this sequence, whilst still under the intent of exploring community, even when the image is abstracted.
Second Sequence and Plato’s Cave
When planning this module in my project proposal for positions and practice, there was an idea to photograph the environment of community as a way of bridging the gap during the period of building the relationships that I needed to shoot more portraits. From this approach, I have created a significant number of images that created a challenge in terms of the sequencing of the work as a whole. Since the onset of the pandemic however, these images have started to make sense through the sequencing of before and after diptych images (Fig. 12). I have placed images from before the lockdown next to images in the current situation, which create more metaphore than the straight portraits that John Berger would describe as an “actuality” (Berger, 2013, p. 8).
For example, I mirrored an image from a local community hub with one of my less abstract window images as aesthetically there were compositional synergies between the images (Fig. 13). Metaphorically, I also considered the allegory of Plato’s cave, in part owing to the opening chapter of On Photography (Sontag, 1979, pp. 3-24), and also after listening to Nick Waplington discuss its use for some of his painting practice (Waplington in Smith, 2019). The exterior is projected onto the interior, albeit abstract and is a sense of the reality that we are becoming accustomed to; will we recognise the world after the lockdown is lifted? And for my project, will we recognise the community in the same way again after being socially distant? Moving forward, there is potential to take these ideas into the post Covid-19 world as we seek to connect all over again.
For Sontag, the allegory of Plato’s cave is linked to the photograph as ‘truth’ and how our reality is shaped by the images that we consume, the images become the shadows projected onto the cave walls: “Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph” (Sontag, 1979, p. 5), which is something that I have been exploring throughout Informing Contexts. I have been interested in experimenting and exploring the idea of how ‘evidential’ my images are to really unpack the way that I construct my images in this way so allowing a more metaphorical approach to play its role.
I have been exploring this based on a documentary aesthetic to create a form of evidence and ‘truth’ where the images are considered authentic and and an actuality, albeit constructed and not a complete ‘truth’ (Fig. 14). Moving forward with the development of this work, I have attempted to use this intertextually; all images are considered ‘authentic’ as Barthes’ suggests: “the important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force” (Barthes, 1981, pp. 88-89). Therefore, as I discussed in a previous development (Fig. 15) there is no need to create the images in that overt documentary aesthetic, which has been employed by Alec Soth and Eli Durst (Fig. 16 & 17), as the evidential element to the images are pre-existent; even when they are constructed, it exists in all of the photographs that I am making.
I have discussed the idea of existential dread playing a part in the work before, however I think in my previous edits, this has either not come through in how they are read, or it has been so obvious this has not worked either. For this development, I have attempted to create a subtle sequence of the work, which builds on the lessons I have learned during the module. For example, I have placed the image of the for sale sign next to an image of my kitchen floor (Fig. 18), which aesthetically mirrors the shape of the sign in the light projected onto the vinyl tiles and seeks to show that the home is in poor condition and a comment on the rental trap, or current housing crisis. This placement is more subtle than the way that I put these images together in figure 3 and without the text, however they ask more questions and utilise Uta Barth’s idea of ‘experiential looking’ through the removal of this central subject allowing the reader to ascribe their own narrative to the work. I am undecided wether to utilise the text in this current sequence as I fear this may lead to an unsubtle obvious reading of the work once again. However, I am considering a foreword of some kind, which might be in the form of the mitigating statement we have been asked to submit with this WIPP submission.
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.
Berger, J., 2013. Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin.
Collins, R., 2019. Watford’s Manhattan should not come as a surprise. [Online] Available at: https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/18115564.watfords-manhattan-not-come-surprise/ [Accessed 12 April 2020].
Johansen-Stene, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2018. Living Together – Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Wetzlar: Verlag.
Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. 1 ed. New York: Simon Schuster Paperbacks.
Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.
Tanzinaki, J., 2001. In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage Books.
Waplington, N., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – 118 Nick Waplington [Interview] (21 November 2019).
My project’s focus was on the idiorrhythmic way
that we live together and also separate lives within our communities; feeling
removed from them (Stene-Johansen, et al., 2018, p. 1). The work was also
partly autobiographical – This is to consider the subjective & objective
aspects of how I also connect and fit in. I live in Watford but have never felt
truly connected to it, from a generational sense of impermanence, liminality,
and transience, which is linked to job security and the rental trap. Watford is
the ideal place to explore this; not quite London, yet within the border of the
M25, it is a well-known commuter town into central London, a form of transient
existence is ingrained in the spaces.
My project aimed to explore this by engaging, collaborating and photographing the groups, communities, and people that live around me (Fig. 1). My focus was on engaging with people and allowing them the space to tell their own stories. However, with the measures put in place to tackle the Coronavirus Pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that our communities are contracting to within our own 4 walls of the home. This puts a spotlight on a socially abstract society, exacerbated by individualism, which is driven by stockpiling, profiteering and hysteria. We are, as a society unconcerned with the details of how it needs to function and our individual impact on others, especially the vulnerable, as we start disassociate our everyday connection to only think for ourselves. Barthes’ iddiorrythms also consider how we as a society impose the rectangle as the most basic form of control, referring to us as the “Civilisation of the Rectangle” (Barthes, 2012, p. 114), it is a shape that does not exist in nature and we forge our societies around this concept; Our homes for example are a collection of rectangle cuboid spaces in which we occupy.
Fundamentally, the intent of my project has not
changed, I’m still looking at my community. With the rise of how we as a
society are dealing with the virus, there is a heightened sense of existential
dread, which in a small way existed already for me and my family throughout
this module; from the sale of our rented home and the fractured sense of connection
to the community, which has only increased by the current crisis. This existential
dread and the community, now within my own home, is the way I could take my
project forward. My community has shrunk into Barthes’ civilisation of the
rectangle, in the form of my house.
To begin exploring new concepts in support of the new approach, I was inspired by Nick Waplington’s discussion on how he is utilising the concept of Plato’s allegory of the cave (Fig. 2), incorporating light and shadow from his studio whilst painting (Waplington, 2019). The allegory states that our senses govern our perception of our reality, and Sontag also uses the allegory in her argument on our consumption of images: “collecting images is collecting the world” (Sontag, 1979, p. 3), which can relate to how we will all rely on the media to provide us with the information and visual stimulus to make sense of the outside world, particularly prevalent at the moment. I also am interested in looking at how the outside world is projected onto my inside one; how this will impact my even smaller community of my wife, daughter and me.
This is a subject explored by Clare Gallagher who has a particular focus on the internal workings of the home in her project ‘Domestic Drift’ (Gallagher, 2020). In this project Gallagher is looking at the domestic environment (Fig. 3) and creates a series of ‘quotidian still lifes’ which ‘are punctuated with tender portraits of her young sons at rest, at play and asleep.’ (O’Hagan, 2020), and is a comment on the everyday workload and under appreciated roles of family life that is primarily fronted by women in society. Gallagher posits “our economic system would simply not function without all this hidden, unpaid labour” (Gallagher in O’Hagan, 2020), which is very much related to some of the research that I have been looking at. However, I would not aim to position myself against Gallagher’s look at gender role intent, although this would surely play a part in the images that I make, should I refocus on my own family. Although we are a fairly balanced household, my wife is a key worker and will play a role continuing to support the community, which means that much of the domestic role will actually be taken up by myself for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the look at the domestic environment feels a natural evolution for my project as I react to the current situation, as will the wider community. There is also a tension to Gallagher’s project that translates easily into what is happening through social isolation and how the community is retreating, distant, and remaining within the home. Hence the existentialism and anxiety that exists in both Gallagher’s work and the reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic (Fig. 4).
Figure 4. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Experimenting with photographing within my home during the pandemic. [Click to enlarge]
Barthes, R., 2012.
How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation
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Gallagher, 2012. From Domestic Drift. [Photo].
Gallagher, C., 2020. Domestic Drift. [Online] Available at: https://www.claregallagher.co.uk/domestic-drift [Accessed 20 March 2020].
Hill, P., 2020. Domestic experiment. [Photo].
Hill, P., 2020. Steve from the Watford Deaf Society and Cephas, caretaker at Beechfield School.. [Photo].
Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics
and thne Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.
O’Hagan, S., 2020. ‘Even dust can be interesting’: the woman who photographs housework. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/05/even-dust-can-be-interesting-clare-gallagher-photographs-housework [Accessed 3 March 2020].
Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London:
Stene-Johansen, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2018.
Living Together: Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Bielefeld:
Waplington, N., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations
with Photographers. 118 – Nick Waplington [Interview] (27 November 2019).
Waplington, N., 2019. From Nick Waplington’s Instagram feed. [Online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8mXEq1nXA3/igshid=tqai269ddwb8 [Accessed 20 March 2020].