One of my biggest challenges in the all of the work that I produce is the narrative and sequencing of it and will remain one of the key areas that I need to develop. To support this here, I asked my peers to have a look at my WIPP folio edit so far (Fig. 1)
Figure 1. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Sequence of my WIPP to gain feedback from my peers
I have taken the decision to split my project into two parts, this is in part a reaction to how my project has had to change as a result of the pandemic. However, as I have returned to the text of Barthes’ ‘How to live together’ (Barthes, 2012), the idea of separation and distance play a key role in how Barthes’ explores the idea of community. For example, as Barthes’s notes about what Nietzsche says about distance in the ‘Twilight of Shadows’: “The utopian tension that inhabits the idiorrythmic fantasy stems from this: what is desired is a distance that won’t destroy affect (“Pathos of distance”: an excellent expression)” (p. 132), which is a reference to how society tends to be structured in a hierarchy of a low to high order. However, I have interpreted the expression in order to consider my initial intention of my own lack of connection to the community, which translates to a pathos of the way that we all can relate to this feeling of existential anxiety under the conditions of the pandemic and getting used to a new vocabulary, such as “social distancing.”
By breaking up the project into two parts, I can also consider the other Barthesian idea of the idiorrythmic way that we are separate but occupy the same spaces; my project literally has been separated but remains two parts of the same whole. Barthes discusses a ‘distance that won’t destroy affect’ (p. 132), which seems very topical in the way that we have had to change behaviour in order to stem the spread of the virus. Human connectedness has been removed, and we will start to question whether things will return to the way they were before; community had fundamentally changed as a result.
Project Title: The Pathos of Distance
As a result of re-visiting this text, I felt that the expression that Barthes’ refers to from Nietzsche really starts to sum up and start to contextualise what my intent is in relation to the work. It is my distance to the idea of community and it is also the distance that we all share as a result of the behavioural change that has taken place. The pathos of the work is in the way that the images should evoke those feeling connected to this period of social isolation that we are all experiencing at the moment. The connotation of the work once it realised that it was shot during the time of the pandemic should be readily felt, until that it, the context starts to fall away as a result of time. As Sontag reminds us: “the photograph is, as always, an object in a context, this meaning is bound to drain away; that is, the context which shapes whatever immediate – in particular, political – uses the photograph may have inevitably succeeded by contexts in which such uses are weakened and become progressively less relevant” (Sontag, 1979, p. 106).
The Pathos of Distance: Part I
The way that I have been approaching the edit of this work is to place them in a series of diptych that equal weighting to one another (Fig. 2). I felt that each of the images deserved to be read equally throughout the sequence. My reasoning for this is that resizing one image over another would create a different reading of the diptych, albeit subtly. For example, having a full-size portrait next to a smaller window, would start to create a dominant reading of the work that places value on the portrait over the window. As I started to put this work together, it was from the position that I was presenting of before and after the community retreated into the home off the back of the pandemic.
Here, I felt that I was on to something, especially after re-considering the title and re-writing my critical review to take this into account. My project is about distance – idiorrythmic distance in the community and it is also about my distance, so the images and the sequence reflect this. To test it, I decided to ask my peers for some feedback to see if the sequencing was starting to come together:
Phil, for my part, I do not understand the diptychs in the 1st series. It is very static, in my humble opinion. The second series works very well from a visual point of view.
Figure 3. Isabelle Boutriau (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF
Hey Phil, I think it looks good and I really like the opening sentence. I wondered if you need as many images in the first section? I would consider maybe removing one or two perhaps? I think it might be more impactful. I think the approach is working though I’m both sections.
Figure 4. Ross Trevail (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF
Great images Phil! I would reduce the quantity of the first set. & perhaps work on the size of the images …. some big, some small, maybe place some off centre???
Figure 5. Claire Wilson (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF
Hi Phil, great set of WIP images. And wonderful opening statement. In the first set, I connect more with the portraits that contain a sense of distance or divide. The wall in image 1 works very well. Set 3 and 5 work less well due to the closeness of the subject. Also, perversely due to the window metaphor on the right I found myself looking for windows in left hand side image, and then wondering what the portrait would be like if shot through that. So, set 1, 4 and 7 seem connected. Knowing a bit about your writing and sense of uncertainty around ‘home’ the second set are incredibly strong, in combinations and the journey I have between them. Set 4 seems the weakest in this, as I am unsure of placement within your personal space, which I feel the others are more closely linked.
Figure 6. Tim Stubbs-Hughes (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF
Of the four that commented on the work in that current iteration, I feel that the general consensus is the images are working aesthetically. Isabelle commented on how she was finding the series of the first part confusing (Fig. 3), which I think in part is how they are being presented together in the same size, after viewing two or three of these in the same style, it does become static as she states. And this also seemed to be supported by Ross and Claire (Fig. 4&5), who both like the images but felt that there were too much of the same thing, which could lead to a loss of the impact of the images.
This is an important consideration as I have been placing a great deal of value on making sure that the images have equal presence. However, this could be having a detrimental effect on how the sequence is being read as a whole. Therefore, it is important to develop my approach here so that the sequence is broken up visually in order to give the reader space to continue enjoying the narrative without the work becoming tiresome to look at.
I did provide the first sentence from my critical review in order to gauge how well the work was being read and overall, it has worked. Coming back to Isabelle’s comments, I hope that with the edit of the work, this might help her reading of the sequence. It would also be important to create a supporting text to accompany the PDF so that the meaning of the work can be better understood. As the images are being consumed alongside the critical review, Isabelle not having this to fully contextualise the work might have resulted in the way that she was viewing the work. Barthes’ notes that: “Formally, the image illustrated the text (made it clearer); today, the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination. Formerly, there was a reduction from text to image; today, there is amplification from the one to the other” (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). Therefore, my aim with how I wish my dominant reading to populate, is to create an opening paragraph, which sets up the viewing and prepares the reader to consider the elements I am aiming to portray and this is particularly important because of how autobiographical elements of the work is.
Tim on the other hand, knows my work and how I have been contextualising it with text and has started to picture a narrative based on the elements that I have been discussing and writing about throughout this module (Fig. 6). This is a positive and suggests that with the proper contextualising text, the reader of the work will be able to do the same. I take his points about how the portraits are working with the abstracted windows and I think that there is some development that would be beneficial to the series as a whole.
The Pathos of Distance: Part II
Everyone who commented on my work really got on with how I put together the second part, I think due to its more aesthetic quality in how I have set out to create mirrored compositions of the images I shot before the lockdown with those that were constructed afterward. I am quite happy with the way that these images work together.
Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Trans ed. London: Fontana Press.
Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.