Notes on Dissemination

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.

Clémentine Schneidermann
Figure 1. From ‘I Called her Lisa Marie’ by Clémentine Schneidermann (Schneidermann, 2018).

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).

Figure 2. From ‘It’s Called Ffasiwn’ by Clementine Schneidermann (Schneidermann, 2019).

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.

Figure 3. ‘It’s Called Ffasiwyn’ exhibition by Clementine Schneidermann at The Martin Parr foundation (Schneidermann, 2019)

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.

Figure 4. Vogue Italia, 2019 by Clementine Schneidermann (Schneidermann, 2019)

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.

Figure 5. Gucci x Vogue Italia, 2019 (Schneidermann, 2019)

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.

Considering the secondary market for my work
Figure 6. From BBC Article ‘ Coronavirus: The month everything changed’ (Kelly, et al. 2020)

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.

Figure 7. Huck Magazine spread from ‘Teen Activism’ issue (Huck Magazine, 2018)

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.

Bibliography

Huck Magazine, 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] (Vogue Italia).

Schneidermann, C., 2019. Gucci x Vogue Italia. [Art] (Vogue Italia).

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: s.n.

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

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].

Work in Progress Development

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).

Figure 1. Evidence experiment. Estate agent vs my images of our rented house (Hill, 2020).
Figure 2. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota by Lee Russell (Russell, 1937).

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.

Figure 3. Mark and one of Jame’s images in a sequence experiment (Hill & Petrucci, 2020)
Eli Durst
Figure 4. From ‘The Community’ by Eli Durst (Durst, 2019)

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).

Figure 5. From ‘Pinnacle Reality’ by Eli Durst (Durst, 2018)
Figure 6. ‘Lost his Horse’ by Weegee (Felig, 1960)
Evolution

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 environment
Figure 7. Darcie colouring during the daily briefing (Hill, 2020)

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.

Windows
Figure 8. Living Room window (Hill, 2020)

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.

Figure 9. Kitchen window (Hill, 2020)

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

Figure 10. Rear Window view (Hill, 2020)

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.

Bibliography

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].

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Barth, U., 2012. Light, Looking: Uta Barth [Interview] (22 March 2012).

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 Congress).

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Tagg, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. 1st paperback ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tanizaki, J., 2001. In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage.

Intent vs Pandemic

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.

Figure 1. Steve from the Watford Deaf Society and Cephas, caretaker at Beechfield School. (Hill, 2020).

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.

Figure 2. Nick Waplington’s studio (Waplington, 2020)

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.

Clare Gallagher
Figure 3. From ‘Domestic Drift’ by Clare Gallagher (Gallagher, 2012).

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. Experimenting with photographing within my home during the pandemic (Hill, 2020). [Click to enlarge]

Bibliography

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

Gallagher, 2012. From Domestic Drift. [Photo].

Gallagher, C., 2020. Domestic Drift. [Online] Available at: https://www.claregallagher.co.uk/domestic-drift [Accessed 20 March 2020].

Hill, P., 2020. Domestic experiment. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Steve from the Watford Deaf Society and Cephas, caretaker at Beechfield School.. [Photo].

Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and thne Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.

O’Hagan, S., 2020. ‘Even dust can be interesting’: the woman who photographs housework. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/05/even-dust-can-be-interesting-clare-gallagher-photographs-housework [Accessed 3 March 2020].

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Stene-Johansen, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2018. Living Together: Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Waplington, N., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers. 118 – Nick Waplington [Interview] (27 November 2019).

Waplington, N., 2019. From Nick Waplington’s Instagram feed. [Online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8mXEq1nXA3/igshid=tqai269ddwb8 [Accessed 20 March 2020].

Other People’s Vernacular

Now that I have processed two of the films I asked others to shoot for me, it is worth looking at how they might fit into the rest of my project and research.

Figure 1. Image of a concrete road bridge support (Petrucci & Hill, 2020).
James

James is a work colleague and who I initially asked to shoot some film for me, partly as an experiment to see how this might work with the other images I am creating (Fig. 1). James is the Fine Art lecturer at the college I teach, so although some of the technical aspects of the images are less than refined, his sense of composition, space, and attention to detail are clear in the resulting images that he shot (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Steps outside Watford Town Hall (Petrucci & Hill, 2020).

The first thing that struck me when I developed these images was a sense of the banal and topographic within some of the subjects that James decided to photograph (Fig. 3). James has shot a series of images on his walking commute to the college where we both work and has placed emphasis on some of the imposing brutalist concrete structures that occupy Watford. This is a vernacular of Watford that I am not sure I will have made the link, or even approached to photograph myself. However vernacular in the sense of the content and not necessarily the aesthetic of the images, which is black and white film; vernacular photography of the everyday seems to now be the domain of smartphone photography.

Figure 3. Building in Watford (Petrucci & Hill, 2020).

The overbearing grey concrete architecture is one of the myriad of reasons why I personally have never felt connected to the place; Watford seems to me never super welcoming as a result, so potentially an area I can personally develop and respond to. Interestingly, James also moved to Watford to work at the college, as I did, so I will discuss with him his feelings towards the town. These are the everyday banal features of the place that we both live.

Figure 4. Layout experimentation for WIPP (Hill & Petrucci)

I made a conscious decision to provide my collaborators with black and white film for this part of the project. For the moment at least, I felt it was important to differentiate the images of persons collaborating with my own imagery and this approach is starting to come together as I explore ways of sequencing the images (Fig. 4). The aesthetic choice of black and white is also an evolution of my initial look at FSA photography and its blanket approach to covering small towns in the US (Fig. 5), which incidentally could encompass working with collaborators in a similar way to Roy Stryker and the FSA photographers. John Tagg considers the aesthetic of the FSA as what was new way to disseminate the message of state: “Mobilising a new means of mass reproduction, the documentary practices of the 1930s, through equally the province of a developing photographic profession, were addressed not only to experts but also specific sectors of a broader lay audience, in a concerted effort to recruit them to the discourse of paternalistic, state directed reform” (Tagg, 1988, p. 12). We collectively understand that the black and white documentary aesthetic is ‘evidential’ and a perceived record of authenticity. For example, when I first introduced myself to the food bank across the road from me, one of the volunteers asked if I was going to be taking the images in black and white because this would seem more fitting of the subject somehow; a learned behaviour that all documentary needs to be in gritty black and white.

Figure 5. Page from an FSA shooting script on a small town (Stryker, 1939)

Black and white photography plays with our learned knowledge of what is truth and evidence in photography, as Tagg goes on to state: “Documentary photography traded on the status of the official document as proof and inscribed relations of power in representation which were structured like those of earlier practices of photo-documentation: both speaking to those with relative power about those positioned as lacking, as the ‘feminised’ other, as passive but pathetic objects capable only of offering themselves up to a benevolent, transcendent gaze” (p. 12). The reference to ‘Documentary photography’ is closely linked to the use of black and white, especially when considering the context in which Tagg is discussing. Giving a camera to people that I collaborate with in some ways rebalances the power that Tagg refers to here; they are able to tell their own story and representation. However, I am aware that by including these images into my own narrative I am creating a constructed ‘legitimacy’ for myself in a number of ways. The black and white aesthetic states ‘documentary’ it also creates a perception of authenticity that readers may engage with more fully that merely viewing my images individually; readers expect to believe the black and white image, and this is supported by its own vernacular and positioning having been taken by the collaborator themselves, essentially providing more proof of its place in the actual and naturalistic, and again Tagg informs us: “it has been argued that this insertion of the ‘natural and universal’ in the photograph is particularly forceful because of photography’s privileged status as a guaranteed witness of the actuality of the events it represents” (p. 160). I use this to my advantage when I sequence my images together with those of my collaborators, and will need to carefully consider how the balance of power as stated by Tagg is influenced in sequencing and if an oppositional reading is developing from this work.

Darius
Figure 6. Cassiobury Park protected tree (Dabrowski & Hill, 2020).

I met Darius at the food bank who is a regular user of the service, and asked him to shoot a roll of film for me, I decided to not give a great deal of instruction just yet, only to go and tell his own story so that we could talk through the images together. When I processed these images, I was surprised to find that the majority of them were shot in Cassiobury Park here in Watford (Fig. 6), Darius has chosen to photograph the picturesque in contrast to James’s view of brutalist concrete (Fig.3). I find this representation of himself interesting and wonder if Darius sought to photograph scenes he thought would fit a picturesque photographic aesthetic (Fig. 7) owing to the average perception of photography which occupies the learnt visual style of publications, such as National Geographic, which I have discussed at length (View Post) and have set the mythological status of the picturesque image.

Figure 7. Somewhere in Cassiobury Park (Dabrowski & Hill, 2020).

The concern here is that Darius’s images is that they are not representative of his story insomuch as they are a projection of what he thinks that I am looking for. The same can be said for James’s series that has sought to look for aesthetic compositions within its banal brutalist look at Watford. This does not however mean that the images do not hold value when I create a sequence of the work. As Perter Lamarque writes of representation: “So to write a story or paint a picture is (usually) to bring into being a new story or picture world. This makes the existence of fictional worlds, unlike that of possible ones, a contingent matter” (Lamarque & Olsen, 2004, p. 354), which clearly puts the new sequence into the realm of the constructed narrative and was always going to be the case as I seek to blend the collaborative narrative together.

The picturesque images that Darius took, were surprising to me because of my assumptions of the life that Darius might lead outside of his visits to the food bank. This was not based on any other information other than my knowledge of Darius and the Food bank and highlights to me that I clearly have some bias in the expectation of what I might see when I processed the images. Looking at Darius’s set, there are some images that could really work with the narrative, for example figure 6 is an iconic view of the well-known protected tree situated in the park and would really provide context to the place I am photographing, where I have yet to shoot this kind of panoramic landscape.

Choosing to sequence my work next to that of my collaborators presents an interesting question about authorship. Logistically speaking, I have asked everyone involved to sign an assignment of copyright agreement to in essence give me ownership over the images to use as part of my project. Lamarque posits that authorship has a relationship to legal rights, which is, as Lamarque suggests, the basis for Foucault’s argument of the author (Lamarque & Olsen, 2004, p. 434). I am appropriating these images, for sure, but my intention is to create a narrative that considers the Barthesian idiorrythmic concept of everyone living separate lives, whilst also living together in the same places: “Where each individual lives according to his own rythym” (Barthes, 2012, p. 178). James and Darius, directed by me, have created a series of images that allow me to view parts of their iddiorrythm, and I aim to contribute mine.

Figure 8. Watford Town centre (Dobrowski & Hill, 2020).
Bibliography

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

Dubrowski, D. & Hill, P., 2020. Cassiobury Park protected tree. [ Photo ].

Dubrowski, D. & Hill, P., 2020. Somewhere in Cassiobury Park. [ Photo ].

Dubrowski, D. & Hill, P., 2020. Watford Town Center. [ Photo ].

Hill, P., 2020. Layout Experimentation: Mark and Concrete support image. [ Photo ].

Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and thne Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Library of Congress, 2011. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Written Records: Selected Documents. [Online] Available at: Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Written Records: Selected Documents [Accessed 11 12 2019].

Petrucci, J. & Hill, P., 2020. Steps outside Watford Town Hall. [ Photo ].

Petrucci, J. & Hill, P., 2020. Building in Watford. [ Photo ].

Petrucci, J. & Hill, P., 2020. concrete road bridge support. [Photo].

Tagg, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. 1st paperback ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Collaborating: James

I asked a colleague to create some images for me to start experimenting with the idea of collaboration with my project. James is an artist so his sense of composition so clear, he is not used to film photography, which was a useful gauge to see if the people that I would work with will be able to create anything that could be used for the project moving forward. I very much like the aesthetic of James’s images in the regard, I think that – selfishly – there is a useful differentiation between my images and those that James took, however moving forward, it may be useful to include more delivery on taking and exposing the image, which would be in turn useful to support the collaboration but also to maintain a sense of me as director.

What I find works quite well with this set is that if the vernacular and perhaps some of the images and views that I might not have considered shooting myself. My initial intention for this experiment was to create responses to James’s images that could either be displayed alongside, or for my own images to take their place. I am wondering whether creating a narrative that merges both my images and those I have asked others to do will create a more interesting narrative.


PHO702: Shoot 4

The images in this contact sheet are from a number of shoots and put together to see if there is any areas that I need to develop further (Fig. 1). Already, I know that I need to continue collecting more portraits so that I have a strong selection to edit down ready for structuring my narrative ready for submission.

I am continuing to experiment with my approach (See posts listed below), however, my intent for this module is to look at applying the ideas, first in a conceptual way and then see how I can apply it to my project looking at the naturalistic and the actual (Berger, 2013, p. 8). Not to say that I won’t be looking at a more conceptual approach for future modules but I am happy with the look and feel of the way my project is coming together and also how the experimentation is starting to have an impact on it.

Figure2. Estate agent image juxtaposed with an image that I took in response.

For example, I intend to bring in elements of the ‘Evidence’ shoot that I did as a reaction to the sale of my house (Fig. 2). I have re shot some of these images in colour, however I still like the aesthetic nature of the black and white images as some kind of perceives further truth to the image. John Tagg discussing Foucault states that ‘truth’ within society has close ties to scientific discourse (Tagg, 1988, p. 172), so we can view the myth of how we place value on, considering and believing photographic evidence and truth, which is linked to how photography was born of scientific discovery with its chemical and technological developments being a wonder of the industrial revolution. The distinct aesthetics of film images interwoven with my colour digital imagery will play with the notion of photographic truth and create an interesting contribution to my narrative, as Jack Latham does with ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Spread from ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ Utilising Jack Latham’s photography and Black and White Police Archive images ( (Latham, 2019) .

To further explore this, I have also been asking some of my subjects to photograph using black and white film. Initially so that I could react and create images inspired by them, however I am considering whether I can also add these into my work to further test the idea of representation, in a subtle manner. Some of my subjects representing themselves. This feels much more collaborative in the way that Anthony Luvera creates assisted self-portraits (Luvera, 2019). I also was interested in Uta Barth’s idea of visual perception and will aim to look at the inclusion of more abstract elements in my work, also supporting the evolution of my look at social capital into more of a social abstraction creating more ambiguity and negate intentional fallacy that is at the core of Peter Lamarques analysis of Barthe’s ‘Death of the Author:’

“Where there is no determinate meaning there is no author” (Lamarque, 2004, p.440)

An interpretation that I gained from Uta Barth, was a sense that the camera’s focus, potentially even her gaze, was on a subject that had yet to enter the scene (See Post). Therefore, having others create images for me takes this concept in a tangential relation to the subject not in front of the scene, but the reader is aware that they are behind the camera, still within the scene, providing some kind of acknowledgement of this has happened in the form of a caption, or supportive text.

Also having others create images, provides a perspective that I may not consider and start to shape the way the project comes together. I also believe that there are links being made to the iddiorythmic, that Barthe’s discussed (Barthes, 2012),​*​ how we live our separate lives within the community together with others also living their separate lives. Resemblance does not equate to representation, as a metaphor has the power to represent without resembling the subject

At the moment, very little of my narrative is likely to make sense to the reader. Partly because, I have not started to put it together.​†​ I am also keen to maintain a certain amount of ambiguity in my work so that the reader is able to create their own interpretation. The project has started to evolve into an autobiographical look at how I fit into the community where I live so I am starting to consider how text will play an important role in creating the dominant reading of the work, whilst much of the work can allow for reader narrative to evolve. For example, there is potential to collect text from my subjects and also add elements of my experiences of engaging with my local community within this body of work.

Other Posts
Footnotes

  1. ​*​
    https://philhillphotography.com/sketchbook/2019/12/12/how-to-live-together-roland-barthes/
  2. ​†​
    And this is in part to continue creating the work organically and form my narrative towards the end in the way that Todd Hido approaches his ‘paper movies’ (Hido, 2014, p. 114), as I have discussed previously.
Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Death of the Author. In: Image, Music, Text. New York: Fontana, pp. 142-149.

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

Berger, J., 2013. Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin Classics.

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

Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. 2nd Edition ed. London: Here Press.

Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and thne Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Luvera, A., 2019. Assisted Self-Portraits. [Photo].

Tagg, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. 1st paperback ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Image Transaction: One in a Sea of Images

Figure 1. Image taken of Darcie wearing a hat knitted by her aunt, to say thanks. (Hill, 2019).

As I was preparing for Informing contexts, I wrote an essay on a particular type of vernacular image that I was creating around the Christmas period. It was also useful to start the process of applying my readings and thinking about photography. You can view that version of the essay here.

I decided to re-visit and reflect on this piece of writing now that we are half way through this module and I have a better understanding of some of the concepts and discussions.

It was also useful to revisit during this week’s delivery for ‘A sea of Images,’ taking into account elements of the vernacular, and the ubiquity of images.

Abstract

‘What started as an image taken to say thank you became a question about the continuing proliferation of images and family mythology. Sharing images online transforms the image into a type of currency that seeks to provide validation for both authors and readers, this perpetuates the visual language of established societal norms through placation, morals and covert colonisation as a subtle blackmail. This is a subtle ebb which we are all complicit and must intentionally reconsider and reengage with the way we use images. Where futurity is concerned, it should begin in the unlearning and relearning of visual culture.’

View essay below:

Representation experimenting

Figure 1. Mark from Elim Foodbank (Hill, 2020).

I have made a recent connection to the food bank over the road from my house. In order to create some images, I have also been volunteering to build relationships with some of the people that attend. I have also handed out some compact point and shoot cameras for some of them to photograph and collaborate with, in a similar way to Anthony Luvera’s approach with his assisted self-portrait series and something that I have mentioned in my post on Martin Parr (Fig. 2). Once I have collected in and processed these images, I will create a full reflection.

Figure 2. Reflection on Martin Parr and Patrick Waterhouse

I created a number of portraits of Mark (Fig. 1), who is a food bank volunteer for nineteen years and also uses the service for himself. Primarily, I wanted to add some portraiture as part of my work I progress portfolio looking at my own community. My technical approach to shooting portraits, has always been to have the camera set to the continuous mode in order to shoot a few frames side-by-side, which was to ensure that I gain a focussed image of my subject. This is a hangover from my freelance practice, where it was crucial that the shot is in focus. This approach creates a number of ‘similars’ that have little variation shot to shot, from which I select the most focussed image (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Unused Portrait of Mark from Elim foodbank. (Hill, 2020).

I am interested in exploring the nature of representation and gaze within a single frame and how this cannot be a full and truthful representation of the subject. This is a further look into the idea as I did when looking at the retouching layer from my evidence shoot film scan (Fig. 4 & 5).

Figure 4. Evidence experiment shoot
Figure 5. Retouching layer from ‘Moth Trap’ (Hill, 2020).

To further explore that here, I have decided to overlay the series of images that I shot of Mark, to consider the idea that in some ways could be more representative of him than a single frame ever could (Fig. 6). That said, the result creates an image where much is lost in the actuality of the subject, even though it is still an indexical trace of Mark, the subject, being present for the photograph. The subtle variants, as exampled in Figure 2, show that Mark was not completely stationary between the shots and there is movement and slight shifts in facial expression. This nuanced series of images shows more of the subjects individual trait and allows them to be more represented in the image. However, it could also be argued that Mark movements are as a result of my direction and not a naturalistic expression of him as a person either.

Figure 6. Overlaid images of Mark. (Hill, 2020)
Figure 7. De-saturated overlaid images of Mark. (Hill, 2020).

I was interested in Uta Barth’s challenge to the reader in the way that she is asking us to consider looking, and the way that we can derive meaning from the image, Barth states “One goes out into the world and points it [the camera] something of beauty, something of importance, a spectacle of some sort” (Barth, 2012) and goes on to note that the subject and meaning can be interpreted as being the same (2012). Barth’s response to this is to remove the reader’s attention on the subject and create an all-encompassing experiential sense of ‘looking.’ John Berger asserted much the same in his use of the term, ‘sight:’ “The explanation, never quite fits the sight” (Berger, 2008, p. 7) where the image of the actual is perhaps too much of an explanation, or a kind of overarching exposition; we are confronted by the assumed meaning of the image because it is presented in its naturalistic format, depicted by the lens.

Figure 8. Ground #42 (Barth, 1994)

Through Barth’s work, emphasis is placed on readers, and reading, Barth actively encourages those to become aware of their reading (Barth, 2012). Barth’s work is about perception, but still indexical. When I photograph a portrait, I almost always set of to photograph with a shallow depth of field to throw the background out of focus, which creates a separation of the subject and the environment. It is this reason that I shoot my images with the continuous mode set. When I look at Barth’s work (Fig. 8), it is almost as if the image was composed to have a person present but has left the scene, leaving the camera to capture the remains. Where I feel this applies to my own work is how Barth’s approach is her visual perception that seems to segue with the concept of social abstraction, or how we disregard the unnecessary details from our lives. For example, the food that we eat is presented packaged and ready – we do not need to understand to process of how this packed item came to be.

At this stage, I want this to be purely an experimentation where I can explore ideas, potentially one that I might come back to at a later date. Currently, this is not something that fits my intent photographing my local community. I have created a naturalistic approach to the shoot so far, the overlaid image, feel out of place and potentially an obvious interpretation of the ideas that I am discussing. It has been useful to explore it however, and I will aim to subtly introduce elements of this into my narrative.

The portrait of Mark (Fig. 1) fits really well into how this is starting to develop from my other shoots and portraits that I have been creating (See Posts), although I am still keen to allow this to continue developing in the same way Todd Hido approaches his ‘Paper Movies’ (Hido, 2014, p. 114) and discusses the need for ambiguity for the reader’s own narrative (p. 28). As I have written previously, I am also interested in the way Snyder and Allen discuss the index (Snyder & Allen, 1975, p. 159) and how I am interpreting this as representation being a consensus of opinion as opposed to a whole truth encompassing the many nuances of individual personality. In essence, for my current work in progress at least, I want my images to be based in the actual as John Berger terms (Berger, 2013, p. 8), and all of my work created so far has been looking at these actualities and the dominant reading of this work should also follow this.


Additional Posts on Representation:
Bibliography

Barth, U., 1994. Ground #42. [Photo].

Barth, U., 2012. Light, Looking: Uta Barth [Interview] (22 March 2012).

Berger, J., 2008. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Berger, J., 2013. Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin Classics.

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

Hill, P., 2020. Mark from Elim foodbank. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Overlaid Portraits of Mark. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Retouching Layer from ‘Moth Trap’. [Photo].

Snyder, J. & Allen, N. W., 1975. Photography, Vision, and Representation. Critical Enquiry, 2(1), pp. 143-169.

National Geographic and Me

We did not have subscriptions to National Geographic in my house growing up, however I vividly remember going to the dentist who had piles of the magazine and I would be in awe of how cinematic the world looked. It was these pages that inspired me to want to travel the world and photograph.

National Geographic Traveller, March 2013 (Warrick & Hill, 2013)

This week’s task is an interesting one for me as I have shot for the spin-off publication, National Geographic Traveller Magazine (Fig. 1). I have also reflected on this, when we looked at Gaze.

It is worth noting that National Geographic Traveller is primarily about showing beautiful destinations that you might go on holiday as opposed to what its parent publication supposedly stands for. National Geographic Traveller operates and runs features in a similar way to how Conde Nast, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Lonely Planet also publish travel features. One of the key differences is that it comes with the branding associated with National Geographic, including its distinctive yellow border.

As Grundberg Stated “the photographs found in the National Geographic represent the apotheosis of the picturesque” (Grundberg, 1988), and it is through Traveller magazine that it takes this to the most extreme. National Geographic have recently acknowledged a past built on exploitation (Goldberg, 2018) yet still create an aesthetic that undermines the moral high ground that they seek to occupy. For Traveller magazine, they completely ignore this moral standing and only print images of exotic locations to sell holidays. If National Geographic is aesthetics for supposed cultural importance (Lutz & Collins, 1991, p. 134); National Geographic Traveller is purely aesthetics for the sake of exoticism. My assignment for example, was to illustrate an article on Bali, Indonesia that was created off the back of a press junket paid for by the Indonesian tourist board, a common practice in travel editorial but not what you would expect in its parent. When picking up Traveller magazine, the reader looks at that yellow border and distinctive brand logo and would naturally associate this spin-off with all of the mythology that National Geographic is synonymous for. In many ways, franchises and spin-off publications that utilise the coded branding of National Geographic are everything that is wrong with National Geographic.

I am completely complicit in this. I shot the assignment and took the money. Reflecting on this for my oral presentation in Positions and Practice, I questioned my moral and ethical position and how I would photograph the most aesthetically pleasing image whilst also witnessing all of the challenges and the poverty that happened around me. Since then I was listening to Hannah Starkey discuss the challenges of gaze (Starkey, 2019), who equated a rise in male gaze was in part to do with the last recession, creating a culture of lazy advertising. Starkey was talking about the commodification of women, however where this relates to National Geographic and Traveller magazine is how we also commodified the land; sex and exoticism sells. As a freelancer in my twenties around the same time, it was exciting to be paid to travel and photograph as ignorant as I was to the impact that my images have.

Now that this position has been challenged, I hope to move forward in a more engaging way and not occupy the view of the photographer as Ariella Azoulay described as “a male figure roaming around the world and pointing his camera at objects, places, people, and events, as if the world was made for him. He can vanish from people’s worlds in the same way that he appeared in them” (Azoulay, 2016, p. 2).

To test that here, I have selected a recent portrait that I created at the food bank over the road from my home. It might be worth noting that I also spent the afternoon helping out with the aim of gaining the trust of the people that I wanted to photograph (Fig. 2)

Figure 2. Mark at Elim Foodbank (Hill, 2020)
Bibliography

Azoulay, A., 2016. Photography Consists of Collaboration: Susan Meiselas, Wendy Ewald, and Ariella Azoulay. Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, 01 01, 31(1 91), p. 2.

Goldberg, S., 2018. For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It. [Online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/from-the-editor-race-racism-history/ [Accessed 21 10 2019].

Grundberg, A., 1988. PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; A Quintessentially American View of the World. [Online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/18/arts/photography-view-a-quintessentially-american-view-of-the-world.html [Accessed 4 March 2020].

Hill, P., 2020. Mark from Elim foodbank. [Photo].

Lutz, C. & Collins, J., 1991. The Photograp as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(1), pp. 134 -148.

Starkey, H., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers. Episode 102 – Hannah Starkey [Interview] (3 April 2019).

Warwick, H. & Hill, P., 2013. Free Spirit. National Geographic Traveller (UK), 01 03, pp. 92 – 101.