Narrative Development

To develop my narrative, I felt that it was important to write down my process of discovery. I have found this to be really valuable in considering how the images are going to be sequenced. This account also serves to place me into the story as it creates a chronicle of my journey and discovery. Key feedback has been to develop the initial way that I had been captioning the images, which was considered to be too narrow in terms of how the images are being read. My use of quotes subsequently went very much the other way and created an open reading of the work that left too many questions. This story aims to redress the balance. My intention is to place this towards the end of the book, so that the images and quotes can be looked at first and then the story can be read. This way the viewer can then return to the images and have elements revealed to them that they may have missed on an initial viewing of the work:

The Latchkey Kids

Who Narrates?

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

Initial Sequence

Figure 1: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Editing process – initial stages

After placing all of the work on a wall in my house, I found it quite useful to start creating sequencing and pairings of images that work well together (Fig: 1).

Figure 2: Ed Ruscha (1966) Every Building on Sunset Strip book

As the sequence for submission is going to be in the form of the journey narrative, I am keen to have it viewed in a linear way, so have place the work left to right in what could work as an accordion style fold out book. In a similar way to how Ed Rucha’s ‘Every Building on Sunset Strip’ (Fig: 2). I am going to attempt to experiment with this in print form to see how it might work as a physical publication and consider the ways that I might apply the technique later for my FMP. However, I feel that for the WIPP submission, I will possibly resort to creating this digitally to emphasise the reflection and development of my approach to images making.

Narrative Structure breakdown

Figure 3: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Initial sequence using Journey Story Narrative structure

The images in this initial sequence have been placed into the sections of the Christopher Booker’s journey narrative structure (Fig: 3). I have also aimed to take into consideration the metaphor presented in ‘Desert Places’ (Frost, 1936) and how the town shifts between rural and urban.

The Call
Figure 4: Phil Hill (November, 2020) View through kitchen window.

This begins at home (Fig: 4), Frost’s idea of identity and safety. I have used windows before in my submission for informing contexts. During the height of the first lockdown, there was a sense of everything being ‘radioactive,’ yet the home was a sanctuary away from this. The window creates a boundary in which to view this hostile world whilst remaining somewhat protected. There is a sense of wonder by having a viewpoint through the window, low and toward the sky that means the viewer id still curious and intends to want to investigate it.

Figure 5: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Carbenders Park, Watford.

The tree in the houses (Fig: 5) is a link to the rurality that exists all around. Nature existing within the urban environment and the many overlapping elements. This tree, obviously established is potentially older than the housing estate that surrounds it. Perhaps there were many more like it.

Figure 6: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Fire Station, Watford

A more typical sight of Watford and to contrast the tree is the side of the fire station that flanks on of the older pathways cutting through the town (Fig: 6). It’s brick structure showing a level of built up urban environment that exists here.

Figure 7: Phil Hill (October, 2020) St Thomas Church – Disused
Figure 8: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Ryan

An early pairing for this module is the images of the Church and Ryan (Fig: 7&8). Religion has quite a presence in Watford with many bases for churches here. The symbolism of the boarded up church is an interesting one in terms of the narrative, suggesting that there is a need to seek faith or truth. I paired this image with the portrait of Ryan, owing to his tattoo on his arm of silhouetted figures with outstretched arms, or in the crucified position,[1] which could represent another break of faith. I am not aiming to paint an over picture of religion here however, the symbol comes with preconceived notions of faith, truth, identity that feed into the narrative here.

Figure 9: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Brick wall remains near M25

The bricks and the railing are also from the edgelands and make a good reference to the idea of rurality (Weisheit, et al., 1995). In terms of ‘the call’ there is a sense of a breakaway or move away from the present existence.

The Hero’s Companions
Figure 10: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Mark
Figure 11: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Cephas

Here I felt was an opportunity to include some of my portraits. Mark, who is a volunteer at the food bank across the road from my house (Fig: 10), and Cephas who is the caretaker at the school where my wife works (Fig: 11). It is useful to remember that in a journey narrative, the idea of a hero’s companion is to show that the protagonist of the story is not alone in the journey so it is worth acknowledging that within my own community there are people who support it.

The Helpers
Figure 12: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Mum
Figure 13: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Dad holding Dandelions

Here are two images of my parents (Fig: 12). I have included these as a way of considering the idea of connection. The hand holding the dandelions, or weeds is my dad (Fig: 13). In Frost’s poem, weeds are the ‘primitive thing without trace of man’ (Wang, 2013: 2094) and dandelions are also referenced in edgelands: “earth inheriting dandelions might also make their presence felt” (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011: 140). I quite like the connection made between the weeds considered without trace being held by a person. Within the journey story it becomes a parting gesture before the start of the journey and how to regain the connection between people and place.

The Journey
Figure 14: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Pathway running alongside the M25 motorway
Figure 15: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Whippendale Woods
Figure 16: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Broken Tree Swing, Bushey Country Park
Figure 17: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Den, Bushey Country Park

The body of the narrative I have sequenced is the journey itself. Starting with a pathway that leads into the journey (Fig: 14), I have included a sequence of the more rural part of the town which is the main part of my own exploration. Referring to Frost’s metaphor of the woods being the people and the society I sequenced my images to show an upturned tree showing its roots, symbolising disruption (Fig: 15). A broken tree swing (Fig: 16), showing more of a trace of people, and a built den within the woods (Fig: 17), which is another trace and also referenced within ‘edgelands,’ (2011: 41). There is a sense of the shelter and potential to re-build in the sense of finding identity and connection to the place.

Figure 18: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Alistair

I also placed a portrait of Alistair, the fly fisherman holding a Rainbow Trout (Fig: 18). Alistair, come to fish to escape the everyday stresses of life and the fishing can also denote a perseverance to continue on the journey. This image I paired with the tree and the house, which is in the same location providing some context and also linking back to the idea of rurality of nature and urban elements. The image if the trolley on the pathway, which is another reference to a journey.

Figure 19: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Izzy, Callowland Allotment.

I also included another portrait at the end of Izzy in an allotment (Fig: 19), which is another reference to ‘edgelands’ that suggests that allotments are more of a political tool over a beloved pastime of self-sufficiency, noting: “Allotments have been used as a sop to the dispossessed for centuries. The General Enclosure Act OF 1845 took 615,000 acres from the poor and gave them 2,200 acres of allotments in return, just because we love and value allotments should not stop us from seeing that they also represent paternalistic tokenism” (2011: 108).

What I aimed to show with the journey is much more of the pastoral elements suggested by descriptions of Hertfordshire that tend to overlook Watford (Else, et al., 2003: 250). There is a great deal of rural beauty however there are still problematic elements to consider, such as the subtle political tension in the perception of a benign allotment, for example. Or in how a community so tied to the identity of commuting how been uprooted (represented by the tree and the people and society metaphor present in Frost’s ‘Desert Places’) and trying to rebuild (the den). With the fisherman and the person within the allotment there is another opportunity to show the connection to the land and people and this represents a kind of discovery within the journey.

Arrival and Frustration
Figure 20: Phil Hill (November, 2020) North Watford Playing Field

After the journey comes some obstacles to overcome, which was my aim to show here. In ‘Desert Places’ Frost writes: “In a Field, I looked into going past” (1936) and Li Wang suggests the field represents nature, therefore in my sequence it is a way of acknowledging a return to the more urban parts of the town (Fig: 20).

Figure 21: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Obscured Billboard
Figure 22: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Damaged car.

The frustration then, might be a return to the existing environment of Watford, which is built up and overlooked, supported by my selection of the covered billboard (Fig: 21). The crashed car is a way of creating a visual stop, much like what happened to the car itself (Fig: 22). Frustration is evident in the damage done to the car. I also wonder what happened to force the car to stop so suddenly and whatever crashed into the back of it to keep going. The momentum of the narrative has halted in order to confront the next stage of the narrative.

Final Ordeals
Figure 23: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Tom
Figure 24: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Bag of Shredded paper.

Firmly back in the built up areas this section is about confronting those elements. The portrait of Tom (Fig: 23) in mirrors the portrait of Ryan (Fig: 8) to show a return to near the beginning. The bag if shredded paper suggests an unburdening or casting out of items not needed any longer (Fig: 24). There is also an idea of confusion associated with a bag of shredded documents and a curiosity of what they might have been.

Figure 25: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Buddleia bush blocking a pathway
Figure 26: Phil Hill (October, 2020) Roadside memorial.

The image of the Buddleia is blocking a pathway (Fig: 25) yet in edgelands its resilience is associated with hope in the sense that even in a wasteland (2011: 137), they are able to propagate. Phil Barker notes “The experience of being human is intangible. As a result, descriptions of human experience rely heavily on metaphor to convey something of that whole lived experience” (2000: 97) and I have also placed an image of a roadside memorial, which on the surface denotes a death in that location but also death can be considered as a new beginning.

The Goal
Figure 27: Phil Hill (November, 2020) Jess and Darcie

Back to nature. The portrait here is of my wife and daughter (Fig: 27) so there is a sense of personal connection this image. The goal of the series is to find a connection to place therefore the journey narrative is designed to move through all of the ups and downs felt by living in a place that I initially felt no connection but am since starting to make my peace with it.


[1] Which is incidentally from the cover of a Muse album created by Storm Thorgesson who utilises symbolism for many of his most successful covers.

Bibliography

Barker, P., 2000. Working with the metaphor of life and Death. Med Ethics: Medical Humanities, 26(2), pp. 97-102.

Else, D. et al., 2003. Lonely Planet: Britain. 5 ed. Footscray: Lonely Planet Publications.

Farley, P. & Symmonds Roberts, M., 2011. Edgelands – Journeys into England’s true Wilderness. London: Vintage.

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

Wang, L., 2013. An Artistic Analysis on Robert Frost’s Desert Places. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(11), pp. 2092-2097.

Weisheit, D. R. A., Wells, D. L. E. & Falcone, D. D. N., 1995. Crime and Policing in Rural and Small Town America: An overview of the issues, s.l.: National Institute of Justice.

Journey Narrative – Project development

Now that I have placed all of my images on the wall, I have started to look at how they fit into the metaphors of Robert Frost’s ‘Desert Places’ (1936). I quite enjoy the connections forming between the idea of edgelands and a kind of freedom in the detritus that exists there and the way that Frost paints a picture of someone needing to come to terms with themselves and the land.

There are a number of images that fit well into Desert Places metaphor: The open spaces, the weeds & overgrown plants (primitive without trace of people), Stubble in the field (the traces of people), home (Safety and one’s own identity), and the woods (people and society), which fit quite well with the images that I have been producing (Wang, 2013, p. 2094). The poem as a whole has proved to be really beneficial in the way that I select my images for the WIPP. This of course is an ongoing process and once I start to form a more solid narrative I will look at the images that I have identified and see if there are any refinements to make.

Structuring the narrative

With the initial images identified, I am aiming to continue working with the idea of the journey story. Initially, I have been looking at the hero’s journey however, I am thinking that it would be beneficial not to place to rigid of a structure by sticking to each of the 12 steps outlined by Joseph Cambell. I will use a version of this to start thinking about where the images might be placed in a linear way  – or perhaps even considering it part of a loop, as the hero’s journey suggests.

Christopher Booker suggests a structure to the journey story (2004), much like the hero’s journey:

  • The call (to action)
  • The hero’s companions
  • The journey
  • The helpers
  • Arrival and frustration
  • Final ordeals
  • The goal

My intention is to apply the above to the sequence of my images. I will also aim to highlight the metaphor found in Robert Frost’s poem along the way and reference to idea of rurality and edgelands in the way that the countryside and urban elements ebb and flow throughout the work.

Constructed narrative – contrived?

Although I have started to apply the journey structure to the work, there are no real traditional plot elements so to speak. My narrative is to be subtle and will loosely follow this structure, which is contrived and constructed. This is a further departure from the way that I have always thought of photography and is developing into a much stronger approach to the sequence. And this has been valuable, as previously I had based this primarily on aesthetic choices, which is quite subjective.

My aim is that my next WIPP will have a more refined narrative that connects the people and the places through the metaphor and idea that I have been exploring. It will of course still be subjective and ultimately, I still have little control on the reading of the work – if any. This will provide a good starting point as I move into the FMP to test whether I have been able to communicate my ideas more effectively than my last submission, and identify how to apply this to my final project work.

Bibliogrpahy

Booker, C., 2004. The Seven Basic Plots. London: Bloomsbury Continuum.

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

Wang, L., 2013. An Artistic Analysis on Robert Frost’s Desert Places. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(11), pp. 2092-2097.

Project Development, Reflections, Narrative ideas

Figure 1: Phil Hill (October – November, 2020) Research project images for webinar and tutorial.

I have been aiming to continue photographing with a focus on how the landscape images are linking to my portraits. I decided to use this as my point of discussion during the peer webinar and see how the images are being read and also potential ways to take this idea forward (Fig: 1).

During my tutorial with Colin he noted that my images had a sense of the idealistic and romantic about them, which is something that I am keen to pursue. He also noted that I should continue to experiment as I am not quite there yet with how the work is coming across. This is where I started to look at the idea of ‘Edgelands’ (Farley & Symmonds Roberts, 2011) to see if there was a way that I could create better links however, I am still unsure if this is successful.

How I see this developing is through the narrative of the work is in the need to spend some time working on sequencing and my edit; overlooked for the sake of shooting more up until now. Colin essentially said the same as I need a structure in which the project can rest. Furthermore, I should create a narrative for the series even if, as Colin noted, ‘that narrative is wrong.’ This was something that came up again during the peer webinar, where Mike also noted that I should construct a story for the sequence, even if it is a made up.

Narrative ideas

Paper Movies

I like the idea of a constructed narrative utilising the images that I have already created. This is something that Todd Hido advocates, referring to the process as ‘Paper Movies’ (2014, p. 114), where he advocates that “The book can lead you to synthesize ideas and can become your permanent record of a body of work. When you pick up a book, you expect something from it. It has structure: a beginning, a middle, an end” (p. 114). I have previously been quite critical of photo books, owing to their limited audience of single demographics, which is supported by Simon Norfolk’s assertion that they only have appeal within the bubble of photography and is detrimental to the dissemination of that work (2019). However, perhaps I need to re-evaluate my position on this to use the photobook as a tool to create an effective narrative. Once this is resolves, it could provide a launch pad onto other ways to disseminate the work; and this is key to the way that I view the photobook.

In terms of how to approach my sequencing, Hido also notes: “I find it really helpful to work with pictures on paper, little printouts that you can move around on a table or on a wall. I’ve never found a fabulous pairing or a great sequence on a computer screen” (p. 114). I have been told this a few times during the MA, Michelle Sank is a big proponent of ‘living with the work’ for a while. This is something that I have attempted at various stages, however not really left those up for any length of time that could be consider valuable. During the last lockdown, it was also a challenge to print images so I had to become reliant on the screen. Perhaps, this is an area that could create value in the sequence and ultimate narrative of the work, so my intention is to fully ‘live’ with the images and see how they start to form, as Hido notes: “And then all of a sudden you have these chains of pictures that start to show the shape and structure of the story” (p. 114).

Rhythm

One other point that Hido makes with regard to the sequencing of his work is to think about music: “There may be motifs that appear and repeat themselves in different iterations in a long sequence. You can create a rhythm by being consistent from image to image and by paying attention to how the image hang together” (p. 114). Colin also made a similar observation during my tutorial when talking about the rhythm of a good photography book. How to relate this to the sequencing of my work, I am unsure however, feel that once the images are placed on a wall, this is something that will be important to consider.

Journey Narrative

One element that I use in teaching media, is the development of a strong set of defined characteristics that help form a visual image of a character within that story. This also includes the environment, as understanding the characteristics of the world in which a character inhabits will help to understand the way that the character will react to situations and events within that world.

Figure 2: Joseph Campbell (1949) Graphic depicting the ‘hero’s journey’ as studied by Campbell.

There is also the ‘hero’s journey,’ which although is potentially a cliché, could be a useful way to sequence the work and does lend itself very well to narrative construction and mythologies. There are different interpretations of this and the language used for each stage is hackneyed, yet the ideas that they present could be useful and present a method of creating a structured approach to sequencing (Fig: 2).

Additionally, my constructed narrative could also refer to Vladimir Propp’s character theory, which argues that stories are character driven and are the most important draw for audiences (Sampson, 2015) – useful to consider when placing my portraiture into the sequence.

Desert Places – Robert Frost
Figure 3: Robert Frost (1936, p. 44) Desert Places Poem

Earlier in the MA, I briefly looked at the poem of ‘Desert Places’ by Robert Frost (Fig: 3) after reading an analysis of Roland Barthes’ essays ‘How to Live Together’ (2012). It’s not something that I felt really worked at that point of the project however, I am keen to return to it and see if there is any way that it could relate to the work that I am making now.

The poem refers to a person travelling through the countryside on a winter evening who is overcome by feelings of loneliness (Wang, 2013). Li Wang creates a detailed analysis of the poem, referring to the metaphors it creates:

  1. Desert Places. It is the man’s moral and spiritual wildernesses.
  2. Field. It represents nature.
  3. Weed. It is the primitive things without trace of the man.
  4. Stubble. It’s the trace of the man’s presence.
  5. Woods. They are the people and society
  6. Whiteness. Open and empty spaces
  7. Snow. A white blanket that covers everything living.
  8. Blanker. Representing the emptiness that the speaker feels.
  9. Home. It is a place that man can feel safety and finds his own identity there

(Wang, 2013, p. 2094)

Figure 4: Bryan Schutmaat (2019) from ‘Good Goddamn’

Wang suggests that Frost is creating a personification of the landscape and people are essentially in the shadow of nature (2013, p. 2095), which is quite similar to the way that Bryan Schutmaat does the same in his work ‘Good Goddamn’ that gives a real sense of the landscape’s impact on the character awaiting incarceration (Fig: 4). We know very little of the detail of this character other than he is about to go to jail and the journey created by his interaction with the land creates a striking narrative to this series. Wang suggests that the underlying meaning of Frost’s poem is in the realization to the narrator that they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things however, Wang notes:

“If he does not want to live in the world meaninglessly like the nature, he should not have shut himself off to the world and let feelings as loneliness and coldness… run his life”

(p. 2096).

There are links that can be made to the themes and metaphor, which Frost creates. I especially resonate with the idea of the desert place being a moral and spiritual wilderness and how the woods represent people and society. Linking this to the idea of edgelands and rurality, there is potential scope to start creating characters from my existing portraits and also a character out of the land that is acting on them.

There are also links to be drawn to Barthes’ idea of how we exist in the same places but also separately, according to our own individual rhythm – or idiorythmically (2012, p. 132). I have equated Watford to a kind of edgeland town and during the last lockdown, I also felt that Barthes’ idiorythm reflected a general way society needed to remain separate. However, Frost’s Desert Places could be a more apt analogy and I will see how I can create a sequence around some of the themes here – especially as we are now in a new lockdown.

I am going to now focus on sequencing and seeing how my images are working together. The I can identify areas that need additional imagery or work to refine in other areas.

Bibliography

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

Farley, P. & Symmonds Roberts, M., 2011. Edgelands – Journeys into England’s true Wilderness. London: Vintage.

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

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

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

Sampson, R., 2015. Debate: Propp’s Character Conventions In Modern Film. [Online]
Available at: https://www.filminquiry.com/character-conventions-propp/
[Accessed 06 November 2020].

Wang, L., 2013. An Artistic Analysis on Robert Frost’s Desert Places. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(11), pp. 2092-2097.