For accessibility, I made a chronological index of the posts on this CRJ from the PHO705 FMP module. The contents can be accessed here:
As I am making a book project, I am considering the number of images that I should include to properly realise my narrative. Looking at the photobooks of others, I have seen a great variety in the number of photographs present and suggests to me that this should always be based on the subject and the way that they are flowing together. For example, two quite different examples of Rinko Kawauchi’s ‘Illuminance’ (2011) and Pieter Hugo’s ‘kin’ (2015) both contain 80 images, presented very differently.
Kawauchi’s practice explore elements of beauty contained within the banal elements of everyday life and the design of her books actively reflects this, which build on one another to create this sense of luminescence. Nearly all of the book is presented as uncut pages of square diptych’s (Fig: 1&2). 80 images in this format with the occasional single page to break up the pacing becomes experiential upon interacting with it.
Hugo uses differing sized pages, which overlap and create interesting collages of people, environment, and object (Fig: 3). Kin has the same number of images as Kawauchi’s book but feels very different because of the sheer variety of content. Hugo’s book is formed from a long-term project which considers the problematic history of his home, South Africa. The overlapping pages add to this sense of how nuanced and layered everything is once you begin to look closely at it.
Both these books function well in relaying their story to the reader, even within the high number of images that they include. During a discussion with Bryan Schutmaat and Matthew Genitempo, they discussed the photo book and suggested that books with 70 plus images rarely communicate effectively. Schutmaat, who has produced some highly successful books of his own and also run Trespasser Publishing with Genitempo, advocate for a tighter edit of around 40 photographs making for a much more effective narrative (Schutmaat & Genitempo, 2021).
My image sequences
For my project, 40 images is actually a good number to work with. My Unreliable narrator narrative needs to include ambiguity and mystery. It should also consider adding misdirection as a tool to lead the reader through the story but also hint at connections between images that may not necessarily exist. Elements of the sequence do also relate to the story that I wrote. For example, I make reference to the Spanish holiday where everything changed after (Hill, 2021), so I added another cut image from this holiday that was in the archive. I also juxtaposed this image with some discarded bullet casings (Fig: 4), which my brother found metal detecting. The suggestion that this is a kind of smoking gun piece of evidence by placing them together. It is also important to note that the background is different to the blue of the other still life images, to create a link to that change and pace in the written story. This is also after considering the idea of Barthes ‘Micro-Sequences’ within the larger narrative (1977, p. 103).
Effectively, I have designed a narrative presenting a number of options for the reader to form conclusions based on their own inherent bias from the evidential value of the photographed objects and also any of the characters within the sequence that a reader may make connections. Some of which is referenced in the text, and other, which are purposefully not referred to at all although still completely relevant to the project. This is so that the text and images don’t become illustrative of each other. As pointed out by Geoff Dyer this can lead to reducing the narrative potential of either element (2021). Therefore, some of the images are working with the text to reveal elements of the unreliable narration and others are there to suggest that everything is still unreliable and ambiguous enough to create a level of intrigue
I have been very much interested in the mystery, which is built through the image sequence, I feel that I have managed to achieve this here. For example, I included both images of the incinerators (Fig: 5), which feels quite surreal followed by the bag of shredded paper on the next page (Fig: 6). I enjoy the juxtaposition of the bag of paper next to the image of the water fountain placed in the window (Fig: 6) to connect it to the belief system that my family hold. Aesthetically they connect through the materials of the printing paper in different states. I had more images of the fountain however felt that with the placement of both incinerators, it would be better to hint at the superstition aspect of my parents’ beliefs, especially as my project developed. The four images I think work well as another micro sequence in the way that they play with the idea of materials and evidence (shredded paper), fuel for the fire (incinerators), and the image of water to close.
Dear Sarah & Derick [sic],
Thought of you two when I picked this card out – hoping of course this will never happen to you. Hope everything is ok. Give my Brucey a kiss. Weather isn’t too special here worse luck never mind.
Sarah can you tell the man that calls around for Simon’s money that he hasn’t been very well and that the doctor advised him to take a holiday with us. You can tell him that Simon caught whooping cough badly and it was the last minute he had to go with us – on doctors orders. Can you tell him that. Thanks.
Much Love Mum xxx
Figure 7: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Postcard from Archive and transcribed message [right]
I have intentionally added images of objects from the archive to build this mystery. The postcard for example has always intrigued me with its message that feels like it’s trying to convince someone over the normal use for a postcard to talk about the weather, the food, and location whilst on holiday where it begins. The message on this one is suggestive of something else happening in the background (Fig: 7)
I have sought the opinion of others to support my edit, my peers have been really valuable in supporting the sequencing of the work. One of my Peers, Tim Stubbs-Hughes said:
Your FMP is so detailed and you can clearly feel and see the profound journey you have been on, from the initial direction you started with – I can remember back in Feb you talking about and then the discoveries on the way. The photography and text is personal and beautiful. But what really lifts everything is the attention to detail. Not only in the work but how you are intending to present it, either in its book or exhibition format. Great great work.
Followed by Ross Trevail, who suggested that I include my story as it is presented as the intended for the publication:
the images all look really good. Love the new portraits I hadn’t seen before. The only thing I wondered was whether spreading out the Latchkey Kids essay over a few more pages. I found it a lot to look at when over 2 columns. Maybe the writing on the book dummies could be spread over a couple more pages as well to give it a bit of room. It’s great though, really strong work.(Trevail, 2021).
Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.
Dyer, G., 2021. Coversation with Geoff Dyer – Falmouth Flexible [Interview] (8 July 2021).
Hill, P., 2021. The Latchkey Kids. [Online]
Available at: https://philhillphotography.com/sketchbook/2021/07/24/the-latchkey-kids-narrative-development/
[Accessed 24 July 2021].
Hugo, P., 2015. Kin. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.
Kawauchi, R., 2011. Illuminance. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.
Schutmaat, B. & Genitempo, M., 2021. A Small Voice, Conversations with Photographers: 155 – Matthew Genitempo & Bryan Schutmaat [Interview] (26 May 2021).
Stubbs-Hughes, T., 2021. Whatsapp Direct Message. [Online]
Trevail, R., 2021. Whatsapp Direct Message. [Online]
As I move towards the end of the MA, I am considering the amount of submissions that I have made versus the return on many of these. I am considering the important of being able to talk with professionals after the MA is over, especially as I move to get my project published. I have already made an inquiry to Gem Fletcher who is well regraded for her professional mentorship and have suggested that I can arrange an initial meeting in the autumn, ideally before the launch of the Four Corners exhibition to gain insight into how to maximise this opportunity. I have also applied to be a part of the next round of ‘East Meets West’ Masterclasses by Format Festival (Fig: 1), which I feel would be beneficial to continue to develop my practice. I am considering carefully, which opportunities that I apply for as in variably they are pay to play and it will be important to ensure value.
One area that I am keen to continue developing is the way that I write about my work. I feel confident now writing academically, and also as part of the process of my practical work. Where I feel there is areas to improve is the short synopsis that supports my projects acceptance into exhibitions, festivals and other opportunities. For example, I applied for a number of Photo Festivals over the year, with little success. Although, Photo Australia 2022 did take the time to comment that they were impressed with my practice (McCleary, 2021) there is clearly some work to do in order to get my work across the line.
Considering my next steps, I also made an application to the Joan Wakelin Bursary and pitched a project idea that encompasses much of the research and practice that I have done over the past two years (Fig: 2). This will be considering the community of where I am from and where my family still live, considering the ways that they are finding it ever more difficult to live there.
As a subscriber to the British Journal of Photography, I have submitted my project to the International Photography Award and will also be able to submit a series of portraits for the Portrait of Britain Awards.
I have also recently applied to the RAKE Community 2021: Practitioners-in-Residence! opportunity (Fig: 3), which is seeking persons to complete a month research activity and engagement online through their social media platforms and also in collaboration with other participants. I feel that this would be a good opportunity to continue my exploration into the cut photograph that started my FMP project.
McCleary, B., 2021. Photo 2022 Open Call. [Email]
Narrative has always been a key element of my project. The way that the story is told influences how it is going to be read. As Barthes acutely points out when he breaks down what the narrative is: “a hierarchy of instances” (1977: 87), therefore to understand a narrative is not to merely follow the unfolding story (Effectively creating a chronological order of events with my images). It is also to recognise the construction of all of the various elements to create meaning and present the different levels towards its conclusion.
Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Unreliable Narrator – Archive Database spread sheet showing image captions
At the start of the project, I was approaching it in a way that would focus on documenting the evidence that I was discovering. This was clearly a disparate approach as I did not really know what I had in front of me. In order to construct my story, it was important to collect everything together. This came with some of its own challenges in the sense that my catalogue of objects and images, especially from the archive, were captioned in a very descriptive way meaning that I was eroding the ambiguity of the image and the way that it might be individually read (Fig: 1).
However, once I was in the position to know much more about the story I was going to be telling, I was able to reflect on the captions and create something that was personal to the story but ambiguous enough to allow the reader to form their own connections with the work. I worked to edit the captions from the descriptive into the emotive and to be part of the story. I had been collecting quotes from my family as I had been photographing them and was planning to add these within the sequence of the work however, iterations of this edit were becoming confused and it was felt that I need to define the voice of each element, which solidified the decision to lose the descriptive caption (Fig: 2&3). From here, I felt that I could use the quotes as captions but this was still locking down the images with the text and forcing readings of it that should remain open to interpretation.
The more I began to consider ways that I could sequence the images, the more I felt it important to do the same with the quotes too. Although, I have only used a few in the final sequence it was fundamental to the understanding of my narrative that I also consider the same rules for the text. Referring to Barthes narrative analysis, he suggests that each element becomes a ‘micro-sequence’ (p. 103) which I discussed earlier (Fig: 4), forming the larger narrative and this gives me the framework to consider the text and the image are also sequences in their own right before attempting to put them together.
Within the body of the book, the only text will be the title of ‘Unreliable Narrator’ and the following quotes:
- Why do you keep a photograph that wounds so deeply?
- You have to realise that I live a rather strange life at the moment, which one day might change.
- This… is not going to trouble me anymore.
These create one of the micro-sequences, which constructs the whole narrative. Another one being the incidental object of the reproduced negative that I discussed in the book update post (Fig: 4) and also the themselves.
I also reflected on the feedback that I was receiving about the project, which suggested much of the intrigue from the project was from the way that I was talking about the images. I wanted to create an account of my journey of discovery and also add in some personal reflections so wrote a short story. However, I didn’t want the work to become solely about my written text so it has been placed at the end of the work (Fig: 5). This is so that the reader can view the work with little to contextualise it in the first instance. The idea is that a reader’s own bias and way of interpreting the world informs the way that the narrative is understood. After reading the short story, they can then return to the images and see additional connections between the images, or ‘Easter eggs’ that may not have happened on the initial reading. This then I with the understanding that the story is my interpretation of the narrative and could very well be something else entirely if another person wrote it.
As Barthes points out: “A sequence is a logical succession of nuclei bound together by a relation of solidarity” (1977: 101), which is how I have attempted to structure my sequence for this project in the smaller elements that come together.
The question of the Unreliable Narrator remains. Who is the Unreliable Narrator? This depends on the interpretation of the narrative but I consider the way that individuals might draw conclusive ideas of what they think is happening within the sequence of images creates the idea that we are all unreliable especially if after reading the short story, these conclusions might be unfounded.
I considered photography an unreliable narrator, which it still relevant. The camera itself could even be the unreliable narrator. The camera that recorded the image which was then cut, recorded that image in its complete rectangle frame. It has the knowledge of what was in the part of the frame that the audience is unable to know. If the camera could be considered as a form or narrator, merely retelling a story to an audience through visual means then we can consider the impartiality of this narration. Is it impartial? James Wood suggests that within literature omniscience is impossible as the narrative will start to bend around a character, crucially: “wants to merge with that character to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking” (2019, p. 16). How this is relevant to the camera as narrator is the way that its narration would ultimately be impacted by the person using the tool firstly, and then by the way that it records the objects/persons/’characters’ – “Omnicient narration is rarely as omniscient as it seems” (p. 15).
Photographs are constructions in composition and framing, yet can be perceived as record and objective. The cut photograph interrupts this by cropping the photograph further, albeit abruptly. This is effectively no different from the act of framing when the photograph was taken, the key difference is the space in time between the initial framing and the subsequent edit of the photograph. These two points form another one of Barthes micro-sequences: “the sequence opens when one of its terms has solidarity antecedent and closes when another of its terms has no consequent” (1977: 101), which for the reader is where the absence of the photograph causes the questions of what happened to be raised. In Barthes analysis of the narrative there are functions that serve the broader narrative. For example, in the case of the family photograph, the act of taking it serves the function of the collective family record and is something that is universally understood. It’s defacement then impacts this understanding
Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.
Wood, J., 2019. How Fiction Works. Revised Edition ed. London: Vintage.
Earlier in the year I discussed my project and the concepts and research behind it. This was an earlier iteration of the project than it is now but it was really valuable to discuss the work. I always find that these kinds of discussions are really valuable in consolidating my thoughts about the work:
I was also interviewed for an episode of the ‘Togcast’ talking about my experinece as a mature student doing an MA and how that has shaped my practice and my FMP project: https://thetogcast.podbean.com/e/in-focus-photography-in-higher-education/
|Date of Supervision Meeting||4/8/21|
|Start time of Meeting||9|
|Length of Meeting in minutes||30mins|
|Meeting Notes & Action Points||Final meeting with Wendy in which we discussed the progress of the FMP moving towards the final submission. I have written an accompanying story so we discussed how this might sit with the sequence of work. Wendy suggested that I take a look at Philip J Brittan’s ‘Ghosts are Real,’ with a text that is an insert into the book over being bound into it. It is important that my work remains simple and avoids complexity in design. I suggested that the text could be part of the discovery, which could be inside an envelope. Wendy also suggested that I take a look at Roxana Savin’s FMP document to see how her work is presented in the final document|
|Date of Next Proposed Meeting||N/A (Fmp Feedback 7/9)|
I have been continuing to work with Emily Macaulay of Stanley James Press on my book design. I had sent over a range of the experiments that I had been working on to give a sense of where I was heading with the ideas generation. This has proved to be really valuable as she is able to determine, which of these work on a practical and concept level for the book that I am aiming to produce.
Macaulay really liked the way that I have been using carbon copy paper (Fig: 1), noting: “it feels fragile. I like the marks it creates are different every time. I like that it feels official, like a receipt to prove something happened” (2021) This connects to ideas around trace and memory so this will be a feature for the dummy that we are going to produce. Macaulay has also provided a good amount of insight into some of the images that I will be considering including for the edit. Although she is not an editor, Macaulay made a really valid point about the inclusion, or more importantly, the non-inclusion of certain images as this will create the sense of mystery that I have bee working on with this project. This again links to the conversations that I was having with Karl Ohiri and Paul Sng who also suggested that I can control which parts of this story can be seen and that not everything should necessarily be included (Fig: 2).
Macaulay has taken quite a few of the ideas that I have been playing with. There are lot of links that are being made to the photo album, which is important to the experience of the work. I am aiming for the reader to have a similar experience to how I made my own discoveries of the archive. Screw-post binding was an area that has been suggested as this is how albums are bound. Bryan Schutmaat also uses them for his book ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ (Fig: 3). They have the benefit of allowing for a modular approach to the content, meaning that it could easily have a range of different paper stocks and other mixing of elements within. There is also possibilities of having subtle differences between each book to connect to the unreliable narrator concept.
Macaulay added a really great idea that I have been spending time experimenting with. We discussed creating an object of memory and trace and I am keen to incorporate this into the physicality of the book. It was suggested by Macaulay that I could photocopy the same image over and over until it begins to degrade. I have made some experiments by using the found image of my grandmother (Fig: 4). I quite like the way that the image has degraded and considered ways that it could appear at multiple points throughout the book’s sequence, gradually being revealed as I discover more information. In preparation for a crit with Dinu Li, I placed them into a sequence of 8 images to show. The response was quite positive and unexpectedly, this was also because of the way that I placed them on the page. The grid layout communicates in the same way that I was considering placing them throughout. It was also suggested that I could use these at the end of the sequence and show them over and over in succession.
Another idea is to incorporate the way that a photograph fades onto the page over time and Macaulay suggested that this could be achieved by making a series of sun-bleached pages (Fig: 5). These are also quite like cyanotype and even photograms so there could be room to include these in some way. Sun-bleaching is also an interesting feature to include as it would naturally continue to age over time. I enjoy the idea that the book will continue to evolve, which is something that I discussed at length with Karl Ohiri (Fig: 2) who made reference to the way that narratives change and evolve after the photograph has been taken.
Macaulay also suggested that there could be something that sits within the pages of the book, which would be discovered/fall out as the book is being read. This could either be one of the quotes, or a negative. I think that the idea of adding a negative strip of images is an interesting concept so have been working on producing some. My story starts with the cut image (fig: 6) and is about finding the answer to the question why it has been cut. A logical image to ‘find’ might be the full image of the cut picture – the one that I myself found and confirmed that it was my grandmother cut from the photograph. This becomes one of the payoffs in the sequence that could work very well.
To do this, I have taken the original scans and then printed them out to then re-photograph them as if copying artwork. This will create a new negative from the image (Fig: 7).
As well as the negative of the full image of my grandmother, I was first considering adding some other arbitrary images from the archive that you would expect to see as part of a negative strip. However, There is an opportunity to work with what Barthes’ referred to as a ‘Micro sequence’ within the wider story (1977: 103). Barthes effectively breaks down the narrative into its constituent parts, point out the grammar and its syntax that provides the structure for the story. He raises some good points, even related to how I am planning to sequence my images: “for example in the portrait. Which readily juxtaposes data concerning civil status and traits of character” (pp. 97-98). Each image in my sequence is providing an important role for the understanding of the wider narrative. In the case of the quote from Barthes, this serves to introduce a character into the story and provide background information on them. The negative contained in the book loosely, serves as one of these ‘Micro Sequences,’ so it is important that the additional images that I select also serve the story.
For this, I went back to the film that the image of my grandmother was found. Analysing what I can see in the images, I can infer that this was at Christmas from the decorations within the setting. There are images also of winter fields that confirm this. Knowing what I know now about this story, provides some context for how my mum in particular must have been feeling at the time that the photograph was taken. This links well to the conversation I had with Ohiri. Only through the intervention of the photograph much later, the innocence of it drops and we can we begin to understand other narratives over what can be visually described by looking at the photograph.
With that in mind, I have taken images from the roll of film and re-sequenced them for this micro sequenced to provide some additional account to what may have been taking place at the time, or at least in the time between the photograph was taken and now:
Image 1: The Gran photograph (Fig: 8). I am intending to place the cut photograph early in the sequence of the book as this was the catalyst for the project. I later discovered the full negative when going through the bags of film that my parents keep. This discovery is important and part of the mystery of the narrative that I am presenting. This is the main image to be discovered on the negative strip. I refer to this in the story that I wrote, so it becomes a payoff after reading the story. An interesting detail has appeared after I scanned this image, I notice that there is a Boots film processing envelope on the side table.
Image 2: I made a crop of another image on the same film (Fig: 9). This shows details of the house they are sitting in. I am assuming this is the home of my paternal grandparents. There is tinsel around the frames to show that this is winter and Christmas time. The angle could denote an accidental photograph has been made, potentially due to some altercation, or off-hand comment that changed the mood. Conceivably the result of some kind of exchange.
Image 3: I made a blank frame by shooting with the lens cap on, and also variations of this with my hand partially obscuring the frame. This is to continue the feeling of the above image. One accidental frame could be excused, but adding another might subtly hint at this narrative I am constructing.
Image 4: One of the winter landscapes (Fig: 10). This image was on the same film strip and feels quite peaceful compared to the other images. I included this as a way of concluding the micro sequence. Potentially the need to stop on the journey home after the visit.
Upon reading the book, I am keen to give the audience some level of discovery as I had when carrying out the project. I also want to place the narrative throughout the book in a way that you can read and then re-read it to differing conclusions. The construction of the micro sequence creates another opportunity for this.
Additionally, within the archive there were a number of retro film envelopes, with the cliched message ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and ‘all the magic of your memories can be shared with your family and friends by sending them a photograph’ (Fig: 11). On the reverse of this is the message to ‘never cut the negative strips into individual frames’ (Fig: 12). As I have been arching the negatives that I found into sheets, these became redundant. However, instead of throwing them away, I have collected 11 so far, which can be used to contain the copy negative for the micro sequence. This adds an extra level to the narrative, through its language connection to memory making and also the way that commercial film processing used to handle film orders. In addition to this, the inclusion of these envelopes into my book dummies places a direct link to my archive into the object that I am producing. After discussions with Macaulay, she agrees and suggested that future versions could be made using a copied version of this object. This makes the initial dummies much more of a rarity.
Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.
Macaulay, E., 2021. Unreliable Narrator Ideas . [PDF]
I was able to talk with Karl Ohiri about his experiences of working with personal family stories. I was also interested to get some insight into his use of the defaced images from his family archive, which he used for the series ‘How to mend a broken heart’ (Fig: 1).
I asked Karl about his thoughts about why someone would keep a photograph after they defaced it. Ohiri felt that although the memories might still be quite painful, the photograph also still has a resonance. They still have connections for us. At some point there was this perception of happiness for the persons depicted in the, albeit a warped sense of this happiness.
We also discussed how the photograph on its own and outside context is perceived as innocent. This is especially true for the photograph within the family album that is rarely interrogated. The fleeting moments of a casually taken photograph cannot portray the nuance and complexities of the situation and contexts taking place outside of the frame. Additionally, the photograph represents a point in time after which anything is possible. It is only when the physicality of the photograph has been revisited, in the case of defacement, that we are able to gain a sense of something else that has taken place.
As our discussion was over the phone, Ohiri was not able to see the photographs from my archive that I was referencing (although I have sent them over now). He made the point of stating that “I can only visualise these images from my own library images” (2021), which creates a link to the research into the absence of the photograph and the way that we refer to images that we already know (Fig: 2).
Ohiri also made the point of saying that in the event of limited information it can create a void in which we speculate and fill with our own stories. Ohiri’s statement towards the end of our conversation confirmed my own conclusions and it was valuable to hear from someone with experience working with similar themes.
Paul Sng is a documentary filmmaker, currently working on a film about the documentary photographer, Tish Murtha. He also runs a website and social media platform called ‘Invisible Britain,’ which is about telling the stories of under represented individuals in the UK (Fig: 2).
Sng put some important questions to me whilst we were discussing my project: The importance of defining the audience? and why am I telling the story? These are especially important considerations for my project owing to its personal nature. Sng made the point that I do have the right to tell the story, which is something that is supported by Savannah Dodd, who suggests that being so close to the story means that I am best placed to understand the complex narratives and impacts that they are having (2011). However, it might be easy to take things a lot further because of the amount of access that I possess and also the willingness for the persons in the photographs to oblige to what they are being asked to do. I feel this is a continuing dialogue that needs to take place, especially as I see the project being iterative at different stages of its publication. Sng said that my story was compelling and there is something of interest in the work that I am producing. However there it is important to have a good sense of ethics and ensure that there are high levels of trust for all involved (Sng, 2021).
Dodd, S., 2021. The Ethics of Documenting Your Own Family. [Online] Available at: https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/the-ethics-of-documenting-your-own-family-7225ca8bd59a [Accessed 11 June 2021].
Ohiri, K., 2021. Conversation with Karl Ohiri [Interview] (12 July 2021).
Sng, P., 2021. Conversation with Paul Sng [Interview] (13 July 2021).