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.
Figure 1. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Discarded Gloves found during walking (Posted to The Long Exposure)
A few weeks ago, I suggested to the rest of my cohort that a positive way to spend time in this lock down period could be through collaboration and create an Instagram account called ‘The Long Exposure,‘ which we could all use to share images created in isolation (Fig. 1). This also gave me the opportunity to start to engage with audiences and share some of my latest work that is also part of my WIPP and gauge its reaction.
Instagram creates a direct means of dissemination via an accessible platform, which easily puts together images from a similar body of work and share it with an interested audience. This, of course depends on the ability to utilise a number of specific hashtags that direct the work in front of the right people searching for that content. There is an opportunity through platforms such as Instagram to put the work in front of a wider audience than if, for example, it was only to be an exhibition, which would be limited by the time of display and location of the exhibition space together with the demographic of the audience, which might be limited to those already only interested in the arts. Similar could be said of the photobook, which I have discussed previously (Fig. 2).
There are many positive to displaying my work on Instagram, however there are a number of challenges too associated with Instagram, and platforms like it. For example, the display of the image is limited by the way that Instagram forces you to upload and present it in the square format that is synonymous with the platform (Fig. 3). There are some that work around this by adding a white border and is also something that I have also adopted with my uploads to the platform (Fig.4). This seems to be used by many creatives as a way of denoting more serious work, which Kat Stoeffel refers to as the “Anti-Filter” (Stoeffel, 2014) and notes of photography blogger and prolific Instagram user, Andy Adams: I’m guessing the trend originated with professional and fine-art photographers, and those who promote their work, like Andy Adams, the editor of online-photography blog FlakPhoto. Since the beginning of the year, Adams has been teasing the art featured on his blog on Instagram, using Photoshop to add the white space necessary to render the photographs in their original dimensions. To him, the rise of the white border implies “photographers of all levels” — i.e., those who can make photographs without their cell phones — are “recognizing Instagram as a powerful tool not just for making but for talking about and sharing photographs.” (Adams in Stoeffel, 2014). Therefore creating a differentiation from the many thousands of images that are uploaded to platform, which are vernacular in their nature and one that signals that this work should be considered instead of consumed.
Figure 4. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Images from WIPP posted to ‘The Long Exposure’ including a white border.
However, it is the many thousands of uploads that become part of the challenge of using a site such as Instagram, as we have looked at previously, during ‘a sea of images’ (Fig. 5). Any upload is ultimately mired in a deluge of imagery shaped by the algorithms that drive the site and that creates a homogeneous effect, as Lev Manovich informs us: “Different elements of photo culture that throughout 19th and 20th century were separate, now have been combined in a simple platform” (Manovich, 2017), in which he is referring to how of of the technological elements of photography have come together, are more accessible and easier to use for the average user and you can see how this is shaping the similarities in the images posted to the site (Fig. 6), even in the white bordered ‘serious’ work uploaded (Fig. 7).
During the last module, I produced a zine and postcard set (Fig. 8) to help disseminate the work with the aim of sharing my project with a range of editors. I won’t be able to produce similar under the present lockdown circumstances, so Instagram is one way that my work can be continued to be shared, however I feel that this should be supported through other channels, so not to be too reliant on just one. This would include my own website, where the work can be displayed as I intended. I would also be looking at sharing the work via Linkedin, as the audience for the work is more tailored to industry professionals who might be more inclined to engage with it.
Figure 8. Phil Hill (November, 2019) Zine and Post Card set produced for ‘The Wessex Grand Prix’ project.
Moving forward, I would ultimately want to produce physical materials to share the work. My postcards for ‘The Wessex Grand Prix’ were well received and I would want to replicate this with this more developed work. I also am quite interested in continuing the collaborative approach with my peers, I believe that on the other side of this pandemic, there is an opportunity to curate either an exhibition, or some kind of publication from the images that we have collectively been sharing.
Manovich, L., 2017. Instagram and Contemporary Image. Online: Manovich.net.
Stoeffel, K., 2014. Introducing the Anti-Filter: The Rise of the White Border on Instagram. [Online] Available at: https://www.thecut.com/2014/04/whats-up-with-these-white-borders-on-instagram.html [Accessed 22 April 2020].
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.
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).
I had been avoiding Alec Soth, as I very much like his work and also very familiar with it visually. However, It was mentioned to me that my work has some similarities (albeit i’d argue tenuous), so I decided that it might be good to look at Soth for this task, which has turned out to be a revelation to how I am approaching my own practice. The interview that I am using is a conversation that Soth had with American Suburb X (Soth in ASX, 2015).
I found his discussion about the work ‘Songbook’ (Fig. 2) particularly interesting as Soth quickly moves into the way he created this work aesthetically, utilising black and white images with direct flash, which he is mimicking the look of press photography of the 1950s. This is something that resonated with me immediately as I have been writing about a documentary aesthetic, which has been driven by the look of this style of photography from the earliest FSA imagery and also how the look of press photographers, such as Weegee, who Soth also referenced in this interview, which was a nice validation for a post I did earlier in the module (Fig 3). Soth states “the work is referencing another time,” which is how we look at the period of the post war era as a sense of wonder, and how people have a deeply romanticised version of the past. From here Soth also makes reference to community and how there is a sense of loss of it, yet it has never really gone away. I had also been looking at a recent publication by Eli Durst, called ‘The Community’ in which he also creates images using this aesthetic, and seems to also reference another time. I have been discussing this aesthetic in relation to my own work, which is colour, however I don’t think that I have been able to truly resolve the reason why I have not created my work in black and white despite choosing to reference and research a range of black and white photography until listening to this interview. I believe that my work exists on the spectrum of the documentary aesthetic, however unlike Soth and Durst, my project is based on the present, so to use Soth’s conscious referencing to a romanticised past would be confusing and my use of colour makes sense in this context.
Soth also referred to a range of his works, which might be aesthetically different but are connected to each other and that every project that he creates is what Soth termed “Stuff that happens in America” but they are also about himself and some of the work is more inward looking than others. I have been struggling to resolve my project in terms of the editing of my work in progress portfolio, owing to a range of disparate imagery. My intention is to look at my connection to community, or lack thereof, which also makes my project a kind of autobiography in where I fit in. It has been useful to re-examine Alec Soth in relation to my own work. I think that in terms of how he resolves the autobiographical elements of his images could prove useful in the editing of my own WIPP.
Another interesting question posed to Soth was regarding his association with Magnum Photos, in what interviewer Brad Feuerhelm termed “the slippery position of being an artist and working with Magnum,” however after all our examination of National Geographic a few weeks ago, the statement of the ‘Magnum Artist’ feels like an oxymoron when considering how we perceive Magnum as a collective of documentary photographers. However, Soth states that Magnum has been misunderstood as being a news agency and confused by some its founding photographers who were closely linked to war photography, citing Robert Capa and Heri Cartier Bresson as “surrealists who exist in the real world,” and I wonder wether this statement sums up what I am aiming to say about this documentary aesthetic, which gives off the assumed authority of veracity but are aesthetic constructions in the same way National Geographic utilises similar tropes in the pursuit of empirical authority and arguments that have been put to the work of Sabastiao Salgado that we looked at a couple of weeks ago.
Durst, E., 2019. The Community. [Online] Available at: http://www.elidurst.com/the-community [Accessed 30 March 2020].
Soth, A., 2014. Songbook. 1 ed. London: Mack.
Soth, A., 2015. Brad Feuerhelm of ASX in conversation with Alec Soth [Interview] (4 November 2015)
Figure 1. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Critical Review of Practice Draft presentation
I have put together an initial draft of my critical review of practice into a 10 minute video (Fig. 1). It was a bit rushed putting this together and I would have liked to have recorded the audio a little cleaner. However, I am hoping that the bulk of the review is done and the feedback will inform how to develop.
Feedback & Reflection
Feedback felt generally positive, even though for me the presentation was quite rushed and I really struggled to get it in under the 10-minute limit. As a result, I am talking quite quickly and I think that it is always more challenging to listen over reading with the option to go over the words multiple times. It would be quite easy for me to go into the technical aspects of the presentation itself, which is not necessarily the point of this exercise, although moving forward the technical aspects of the delivery would become more of a priority for a future assessed oral presentation.
“It’s a really interesting presentation with a lot of content to consider. I particularly enjoyed the second half when you moved into discussing the current work. The section on the window as metaphor but also a job you hadn’t got round too and then it being like a broken element in relation to community was a really nice way to link the everyday or mundane with the conceptual. The world being experienced through a window and relating that to both looking out and in was really strong and it was all tied into the current situation. It felt really reflective and analytical and then you placed it into professional spheres for its dissemination which all felt relevant to it. The quotes broke things up and I think you must be meeting all of the learning outcomes clearly. I think the images look really strong as well and they reminded me of John Darwell’s work which I thought you might like. I think they simpler you go the stronger they get. I felt like there might have been too much content perhaps as there was a lot of text and you sounded like you were catching your breath at times and I found the language really academic at the start which I slightly struggled to follow but that could just be me. I enjoyed it when you brought yourself into it more, as at the end.“
Figure 2. Ross Trevail (April, 2020) Feedback on Week 10 forum.
It is fundamental however, that the content of my delivery is articulated well and understood by the person reading the work and considering that I aimed to mirror the structure of my critical review, this is an area of clear development. For example, Ross noted that my presentation was reflective and analytical and that how I am looking at where the work might be viewed particularly strong however, he also commented that he struggled to follow some of the language and I should be focusing more on how I relate to this practice and placing myself into the work more (Fig. 2). And this line of feedback was common throughout the responses that I received as well as during the webinar where Michelle mentioned that I should always be aiming to bring the review back to my own practice.
You’re ideas are obviously really well thought out, and critically and contextually backed up so you’ve signed off well on LO3 and LO5 . For me personally, I just couldn’t follow the language, no matter how much I tried, it became impossible, so I actually only got half way through (sorry ). There’s nothing wrong with this if you audience is academic of course, but for me it was just too much, however I may well not be your target audience by a long shot, and thats ok. So my suggestion would be, I would look at LO6, if your project is purely for academics then you will of signed off on LO6 as you are communicating with your audience, however, if you are wanting the general public to engage with the project then you may want to look at that. The flip side of this is, this IS a critical review, so it is an academic exercise, and the ‘issue’ may well be more with me than you ! 🙂
Figure 3. Bekkie Graham (April, 2020) Feedback from week 10 forum
I did find Bekkie’s response interesting (Fig. 3) as the focus of the feedback seems to be on how the audience is reading the presentation. This is an important consideration and as she states, part of the way in which I am communicating with my audience, which relates to Learning Outcome 6. My assumption of this assignment was that it is an academic report, so I have looked to reflect this in the way I wrote the review and in the way that I articulated my ideas so I am not sure how much weight to put on her comments. Bekkie noted that she stopped watching my presentation half way so potentially missed some vital information that may have led to it being more accessible and easier to understand, which seems to be supported by the others who viewed the whole video. That said, I should work to develop the first half of my review so that the intent is clear right from the very first sentence. It would be easy to disregard Bekkie’s comments after not giving my video the full time, however it is important to understand that if people are unable to follow the content then my work will be hard to decipher and easily dismissed, or that my dominant reading of the work will be misinterpreted.
I have some work to do on my review. The linking of the ideas and the research to my practice needs to be much clearer and I need to work on a concise method of discussing some of the bigger ideas in my project that are inclusive and less esoteric.
The current pandemic certainly has brought difficulties for your project, your portraiture and concept is very strong, so I understand your frustration of not being able to capture any more people in your community. Your sense of community is probably a bit like mine after having done a bunch of globetrotting. That said, I do feel that your work will come together, I really like the dirty windows and the portraits together. Also your images referencing Rinko Kawauchi which you showed in the webinar. Your work will take a shift, and I really feel that it will bring lots of good things to the table, especially ones that you didn’t expect. Your intent is clear, and as Ross has already said your are definitely on track with your learning outcomes.
Figure 4. De Ferrier (April, 2020) Feedback on week 10 forum
Great ideas and concepts contained in your presentation. Am particularly drawn to the connections you are thinking about: yourself within a community; the barriers that exist; alienation; the ‘rectangle’ shape that defines us. I also like the way you are thinking about the end of your project, as seeing the finished article as a book. I am interested to see more about how you fit into this or rather, how you develop within the project, as you push your conceptual work.
Figure 5. Tim Stubbs-Hughes (April, 2020) Feedback from week 10 forum
I am continuing to consider the ways in which to disseminate
my work, which is a continuation of the discussion I had in my post ‘Are you
Drowning Yet?’ and also in my post ‘Hunters and Farmers’
Simon Norfolk’s critique of the photo book is a valid response
to a sometimes esoteric world of photography, however there are photographers
who are able to both create a work in the form of a beautifully presented book
whilst at the same time disseminating that work with a broader audience, or at
least with the people that helped to create the work.
I have been following the work of Schneidermann since the start
of this module, after having the work recommended to me at the end of the last
one. I really connect with the aesthetic of her work, especially ‘I Called her
Lisa Marie’ (Fig. 1), which contrasts Elvis fans of South Wales with images
from Elvis’s home in Memphis and really creates the idea of community formed
through a connection to the culture and music of Elvis Presley and blends
portraiture with environmental imagery, that Schneidermann says “help to breath
between each portrait” (Rosenberg, 2016).
Her commitment to working with communities as well as within
them is something that also resonates with me as I look to work closer with my
own community. For example, her project ‘It’s Called Ffasiwn’ is a collaboration
between Schneidermann, stylist Charlotte James, and the youth clubs of the
South Wales Valleys (Fig. 2), which is referred to as a “fashion-cum-documentary-cum-participatory community project that
challenges the static way the region has been portrayed by the media through
celebrating the creativity of its younger inhabitants” (Wright, 2019). The work seeks to work in
collaboration with the people who live in the South Wales Valley region, one of
the most deprived areas in the UK in order to change the perception of how the
area is represented through images of deprivation left after the decline of the
coal industry in the 1980s.
Although the series is primarily a fashion work, I find the
tools of collaboration a positive way of re-framing the way a culture can be
depicted, which is a kind of decolonisation of the poverty that we
automatically attribute to these areas. The project has been exhibited at the
Martin Parr foundation, which has been set up to focus on work created in the British
Isles, something that I feel my work could aspire to. My own work is
fundamentally about British community and would sit quite comfortable in this
space (Fig. 3). Schneidermann has produced photobooks as part of her work,
however for ‘It’s Called Ffsiwn’ a magazine was produced and was also shared in
the local newspaper to share the work with the community. In this way the work
becomes more inclusive of the people who helped inspire it.
Additionally, for Schneidermann there is also a secondary
market for this work, creating opportunity for wider dissemination.
Schneidermann also completes commissions for publications such as Vogue Italia
(Fig. 4), and continues to utilise the aesthetic of her documentary and
collaborative work by staging many of these shoots within the Welsh Valleys
where she is based. This supports the discussion that I had regarding
publishers such as Hoxton Mini Press who also work in this way in order to
create a larger audience for the work and by extension making then work more
attractive to these publishers to put out into the market place.
If there was to be a critique to this approach however, it
would be in the potential gaze of this kind of imagery; taking advantage of the
people depicted in the images (Fig. 5). However, I don’t believe that this is
Schneidermann intention, who does not operate in the way that traditional
documentary photographers have done in the past; As Sontag points out “The photographer is supertourist an
extension of the anthropologist, visiting natives and bringing back news of
their exotic doings” (Sontag, 1979, p. 42). Schneidermann
is not a tourist in the Welsh Valley, she also lives with the community and
works with them to create this photography, and continues to do so.
secondary market for my work
Now that my project has evolved to include reaction to the current Coronavirus pandemic, it does present an opportunity to disseminate the work in an editorial setting. For example, BBC has already started to create reflections on how the UK has changed as a result of the virus, and illustrating this with stock imagery edited to present a before and after view of how life has changed (Fig. 6). In the weeks during the pandemic there will be inevitably be a range of content produced to help illustrate and understand what is happening and my work would fit very well in this. Especially as my intent is to look at the connections within community and society at large.
Another example could be through a publication, such a Huck magazine, creates themed issues (Fig. 7) for content that could feasibly produce an issue on the impact and outcomes of the pandemic. Huck’s editor Andrea Kurland suggests that in this context it is the story that they are able to put together is just as important as the visuals when considering commissioning a piece of work “start thinking about what that editor would need to turn that into a feature” (Kurland & Creativehub, 2020). It would be good start thinking how my work can exist in these kinds of contexts as they have established audiences and built on the basis that if it is published there must be an inherent quality to the work and worth seeing. However, there is the issue of compromise to consider when pursuing publication in this kind of media. Both of the examples that I have given will have their own editorial guidelines with regard to the kind of work that they publish, and this could also exist in a particular political standpoint (although less so for the BBC), which could have a fundamental impact in the way that my work is read, potentially compromising the intent and dominant reading of my work. An important consideration that could have implications on how I am able to create work in the future.
2018. Teen Activism. Huck Magazine, 15 May.
Kelly, J., Getty & Alamy, 2020. Coronavirus: The month everything changed. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-52066956 [Accessed 31 March 2020].
Kurland, A. & Creativehub, 2020. How to Show
Your Work. London: Printspace Studios.
Rosenberg, D., 2016. Elvis Presley’s Biggest Fans. [Online] Available at: https://slate.com/culture/2016/01/elvis-presley-fans-around-the-world-photographed-by-clementine-schneidermann.html [Accessed 31 March 2020].
Schneidermann, C., 2018. I Called Her Lisa Marie. [Online] Available at: https://www.clementineschneider.com/i-called-her-lisa-marie/cz93s22tomb7f4jbr8radnwqtgxpal [Accessed 31 March 2020].
Schneidermann, C., 2019. For Vogue Italia. [Art]
Schneidermann, C., 2019. Gucci x Vogue Italia. [Art]
Schneidermann, C., 2019. It’s Called Ffasiwn is a collaboration with Charlotte James & youth clubs. [Online] Available at: https://www.clementineschneider.com/ffasiwn-1/lwqc0f3qqhdc4s3fznz34vv6tavez7 [Accessed 31 March 2020].
Schneidermann, C., 2019. It’s Called Ffasywn’. Bristol:
Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London:
Wright, S., 2019. It’s Called Ffasiwn. [Online] Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/clementine-schneidermann-it-s-called-ffasiwn [Accessed 31 March 2020].
Since the need to be inside, there has been a shift in the
way that I have to approach my work.
I had been exploring the idea of the documentary aesthetic after reading John Tagg’s discussion on the subject: “that a photograph can come to stand as evidence, for example, rests not on a natural or existential fact, but on a social, semiotic process” (Tagg, 1988, p. 4). Here Tagg notes that the photographic image as ‘truth’ has become a learned part of our culture, it is a mythology that is underpinned by early documentary photography and the semiotic process being referred to is tied closely to how the images were black and white, such as the FSA photography of the 1930s, of which Tagg notes: “The ‘truth’ of these individual photographs may be said to be a function of several intersecting discourses” (p. 173), where even these early images are not part of some empirical fact but a tool for state and media bias, where Susan Sontag also acknowledges this by stating: “The FSA project, conceived as ‘a pictorial documentation of our rural areas and rural problems’ was unabashedly propagandistic” (Sontag, 1979, p. 62).
Since the start of the module, I have come back to the FSA project multiple times, especially when considering the idea of truth and representation. For example, when photographing my home as ‘Evidence’ to highlight the differences in the imagery and rhetoric of how an estate agent portrays our home, for the sake of our land lady (Fig. 1), and taking this a bit further by utilising the idea of the ‘killed’ image that Roy Stryker applied when rejecting images (Fig. 2). I had also begun to collaborate with others in my community by providing them with a camera and black and white film to create photograph of their own interpretation of community. My thought process behind this experiment, that the images of my collaborators would hold more ‘truth’ in black and white and play with the authenticity of the narrative, and the idea of fractured community and connective decline by placing these more ‘authentic’ images next to my own study of the community (Fig. 3). However, I think that this part of the work definitely needs more development and I have decided to shelve the idea during the lockdown period as I am unable to effectively work in collaboration and properly direct this part of the project. I am however still asking people to collaborate and create work whilst in isolation and may come back to the idea once we have returned to normality.
Eli Durst’s work ‘The Community’ (Durst, 2019) focusses on the community space and through this he seeks to explore American society and how people come together within these spaces. Durst writes of the work “A quintessentially American space that is simultaneously completely mundane and generic, but also deeply charged psychologically as a point of ideological production” (Durst, 2019) and many of the images create a topology of religious iconography (Fig. 4), not least because many of the space that Durst photographs are church basements. Durst creates these images in black and white and with direct flash, and although Durst comments “I quickly realised I was less interested in a documentary-style project and I became more interested in trying to capture strange, ambiguous moments in which one activity can bleed into another” (Angelos, 2019), his conscious application of these techniques, which are a departure from previous work (Fig. 5), creates a sense of the learned documentary aesthetic, in a similar way to the work of Weegee used them (Fig. 6) historically and also blend into the learned knowledge of how a documentary photograph is expected to look. Where I disagree with how Durst seems to disassociate from the documentary aesthetic, his exploration of the subject really starts to consider the mythology of American culture through these spaces and links very well to the writing of Robert Putnam, who discussed the decline of social capital through traditional sources, such as religion, citing a study by Wade Clarke Roof and William McKinney: “Large numbers of young well-educated, middle-class youth … defected from the churches in the late sixties and the seventies … Some joined new religious movements, others sought personal enlightenment through various spiritual therapies and disciplines, but most simply ‘dropped out’ of organised religion all together” (Putnam, 2000, p. 73). Yet the need to congregate continues, and Durst is starting to answer the question of what is replacing religion in these people’s lives, noting “Many need a secular sense of purpose or identity” (Durst, 2019).
I have found it useful to test how my own practice uses the documentary aesthetic and see where I sit on this continuum. Commercially at least, my work sits in the editorial genre, which utilises an inherent documentary aesthetic in the way that the images are primarily used to illustrate writing and provide a visual actuality of the event that has been described in the text; as Barthes’ states: “Formerly, the image illustrated the text (made it clearer); today, the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination” (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). In this space, writing informs the reading of an image to create the meaning for it. So my work is already tied to the notion of photographic ‘truth,’ in what both Barthes is stating and also how Tagg refers to the “naturalistic and the universal being particularly forceful because of photography’s privileged status of the actuality of the events it represents” (Tagg, 1988, p. 160). Understanding this is already present in my work, I don’t feel I need to resort to using black and white as this could become to overt and superfluous to my intent, however my awareness of this has become more of a conscious decision. I also intend to utilise text in my work in progress portfolio to provide additional meaning and reading of my narrative.
Into the domestic
Continuing to develop on the themes identified since the lock down and looking at the work of Clare Gallagher and Rinko Kawauchi, I have spent some time exploring my domestic environment and seeing how I can apply this to my project that looks at community. I have created a mixture of images to test some ideas, some looking at my family, which are my community now (Fig. 7), and then considering my intent, which in part was that of the connective decline within community I started to look at the windows in my home.
The window is the view to the outside world (Fig. 8). Outside is where the community lives. Yet, we are now confined to exist in the inner space of our homes. So if I am not able to go out and photograph the community, then I can aim to photograph my tenuous connection to it; the window. The windows in my home have become an overlooked chore (which actually creates a link to the work of Clare Galagher’s investigation of domestic load), the windows have become incredibly dirty as the result of a busy family life, career, and the distraction of finding a new house to live in after being told that we needed to move out. Now with the lockdown, all we have to connect us to the outside world is through these dirty windows. This supports the intention of my work on multiple levels. Metaphorically, the window is a barrier to the outside, which has become hostile to all of us. The obscured glass creates a view of the existential anxiety and there is the unknown of when we might be able to re-engage socially and with the community once again and it was Rinko Kawauchi who puts this into some context “I believe quietness, fragility and anxiety are included in beauty” (Kawauchi, 2016), creating a series of terms in which to explore the concept of community within the home a remotely.
I have chosen to put the focus onto the glass and the dust and dirt on it (Fig. 9). As a result, the subject beyond the glass in the environment and the street outside of the home are thrown out of focus to heighten the obscured view. This is inspired by Uta Barth’s use of focus to force the reader into a state of investigation and ‘experiential’ looking, who says “I wanted to challenge that by removing the central subject and to look at and think about the background, which ascribes meaning to the subject in an almost subliminal way” (Barth, 2012). There is an expectation that when I photograph a window, that I should photograph what is beyond the window, whereas the window as a barrier is what needed to be highlighted here; I am inside looking out with nothing else to do but investigate the minute details of the domestic.
In Praise of Shadows
When researching the work of Clare Gallagher I was pointed
to an essay she cited (O’Hagan, 2020) by Junichiro
Tanzinaki called ‘In Praise of Shadows’ (Tanizaki, 2001), which has become
quite inspirational in the investigation of my domestic world. In it he goes to
great length in describing the minutia of the many intricacies of the domestic
environment: “The purist may rack his brain over the placement of a single
telephone, hiding it behind the staircase or in the corner of the hallway” (p. 5)
and it is in the intricacy and detail where Tanizki finds this beauty. Where I
feel this truly applies to how I am approaching the image of the window is in
the way that Tanzinaki views dust and grime within the home: “On the contrary,
we begin to enjoy it only when the lustre has worn off, when it has begun to
take on a dark, smoky patina” (p. 18). So then, the window
takes on this level of beauty as the built up layers of dust on the outside
surface reflect the light in an aesthetically pleasing way, feeding into my
idea that the window is the barrier and the metaphor of our isolation; what
Kawauchi says of anxiety creating beauty.
Angelos, A., 2019. Eli Durst captures the strange and unified goings-on in an American church basement. [Online] Available at: https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/eli-durst-the-community-photography-301019 [Accessed 30 March 2020].
Durst, E., 2018. Pinnacle Reality. [Online] Available at: http://www.elidurst.com/pinnacle-realty [Accessed 30 March 2020].
Durst, E., 2019. The Community. [Online] Available at: http://www.elidurst.com/the-community [Accessed 30 March 2020].
Durst, E., 2019. The Community by Eli Durst [Interview]
(18 December 2019).
Felig, A. ‘., 1960. Lost his Horse. [Art].
Hill, P., 2020. Darcie colouring during the daily briefing. [ Photo ].
Hill, P., 2020. Evidence experiment. [ Photo ].
Hill, P., 2020. Kitchen Window. [ Photo ].
Hill, P., 2020. Living room window. [ Photo ].
Hill, P., 2020. Mark, volunteer and patron of Elim foodbank for 19 years. [Photo].
Hill, P., 2020. Rear Window view. [ Photo ].
Kawauchi, R., 2016. In and Out [Interview] 2016.
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].
Petrucci, J. & Hill, P., 2020. concrete road bridge support. [Photo].
Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone. 1 ed. New York:
Simon & Schuster.
Russell, L., 1937. Untitled photo, possibly related
to: Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota. [Art] (Library of
Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London:
Tagg, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays
on Photographies and Histories. 1st paperback ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave
Tanizaki, J., 2001. In Praise of Shadows. London:
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]
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