My Authorship – initial images

This is actually a challenging question – worth exploring. How much of my work is influenced to the point of being derivative of others. I have of course taken inspiration from a number of different photographers throughout this MA for example, Alys Tomlinson, Alec Soth and Vanessa Winship. During Landings, my work was complimented by a number of my peers, which is always appreciated, notably, Gem Crichton asked me if I liked the work of Winship, clearly highlighting that the influence of her work is present in mine; potentially there is some work that needs to be done to continue to use these influences in a positive way without my work becoming homage to a practitioner or style.

Caution

In the episode of ‘The Messy Truth’ featuring Alex Coggin on ‘Authorship’ (2019)  this idea was discussed with a key takeaway was the suggestion from Coggin that photographer must be careful what they are consuming in the form of other images, with interviewer Gem Fletcher also noting that too much influence can lead to ‘Career suicide’ (2019). The comment is fairly alarming when I find myself working to develop my workflow and style. However, it is also worth noting that within the same episode both Coggin and Fletcher talk openly about how Coggin’ s own work is visually similar to practitioners, such as Martin Parr, to the extent that his agents have trouble navigating this at times. That said, they do have a point as I am not aiming to emulate another photographer’s style, only take inspiration from and it can be quite easy to get caught up in the kinds of trends that are happening on platform’s such as Instagram, which leads too homogenisation in terms of what we consume and ultimately produce. Clearly, I have work to do in order to resolve this, especially before the start of the FMP.

Commercial attributes

Taking a minute to consider my strengths from a commercial point of view. Attributes, such as the ability to network effectively is not something I have been hugely prolific with and when the opportunity has presented itself, I have not found that I could capitalise on it. Not to say that I am completely unable, as I have been a freelance – more that I work more effectively electronically. Email and I also keep a fairly large mailing list. When I was working as a travel & lifestyle photographer, I was also living in Perth, Western Australia, which has a significantly smaller creative network and easier to stand out and also cut through and market the fact I was based in a region useful to an editor of a European travel publication.

If I was to aim and compete in the UK market, then I feel I would need to develop my confidence in this area a lot more. I don’t rely on full time commercial compensation to survive however, in order to develop my practice, it is in a world that is still competitive and requires work in this area.

Initial images

As I am considering strategies for working with landscapes and bringing these into my broader narrative, my initial explorations vary slightly. I am primarily continuing to look at the idea of where the countryside stops and the urban begins. A useful visual way of showing this initially is where the M25 is, as it provides a useful barrier between what is considered greater London versus everything outside of it. An area worth exploring is the images shot during fog, albeit weather dependent.

During the last webinar with Colin, it was suggested that I could also consider the idea of edgelands and the book by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, which I think would link quite well to my initial research into this area. It was also suggested that I consider the way that create a story and then take control of it. Chris Killip was also suggested as he has stated before about his work in the foreword to In flagrante that: “This book is a fiction about a metaphor” (Roberts, 2009), which is definitely an area of investigation.

I am continuing to produce portraits as part of my work in progress and hope that the current pandemic rules allow for that to continue. My focus is shifting with these onto people that I know, over encounters that I am having in my community – although, I could extend this to people that I have already photographed to see how that relationship is changing.

Sequencing experimentation

I am also wanting to experiment with the placement and sequencing of images together to see how they are working as diptychs. For example, the placement of Ryan next to the disused church is in part because of the window in the Ryan portrait and also the symbolism of his tattoo in relation to the cross on the side of the church

Bibliography

Coggin, A., 2019. The Messy Truth: Alex Coggin on Authorship [Interview] (May 2019).

Roberts, S., 2009. CHRIS KILLIP, IN FLAGRANTE. [Online]
Available at: http://we-english.co.uk/blog/2009/03/03/chris-killip-in-flagrante/
[Accessed 9 October 2020].

Developing a Sequence

Figure 1. Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) Cephas, primary school caretaker and Window image.

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.

Figure 2. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Darcie colouring during the daily briefing and an empty swing set next to a quote from ‘In Praise of Shadows’
Figure 3. Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) Light reflection onto the kitchen floor and the for sale sign next to the text in the estate listing.

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.

Figure 4. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Site of a police raid after the discovery of a “Plant Farm” to grow cannabis, which was shared on social media site ‘NextDoor’
Figure 5. Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) construction happening within the community that surrounds my home next to a quote from a Watford Observer article “Watford’s Manhattan” (Collins, 2019),

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.

WIPP Evolution

Figure 6. Phil Hill (February & April, 2020) ‘Clare, volunteer litter picker at Harebreaks wood in Watford’ and ‘Window #2214’

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.

Figure 6. Phil Hill (February & April, 2020) ‘Helen, volunteer litter picker at Harebreaks wood in Watford’ and ‘Window #2233’
Figure 8. Phil Hill (March – April) ‘Stephen, member of the Watford Deaf Society’ and ‘Window #2082’
Figure 9. Phil Hill (March & April, 2020) ‘Mark at Elim Food Bank’ and ‘Window #2225’

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).

Voyeurism

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).

Figure 10. Phil Hill (April, 2020) View through the living room window

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.

Figure 11. Phil Hill (April, 2020) View through the rear window

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).

Figure 12. Phil Hill (March & April, 2020) ‘White Washed shop window’ taken before the impact of Covid-19 was known, and ‘Spider Plant on the Bedroom windowsill’ taken just after the lockdown was announced.
Figure 13. Phil Hill (March & April, 2020) ‘Harebreaks community Hub’ and ‘View through the rear window’ sequenced together

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.

Figure 14. Phil Hill (February, 2020) ‘Moth Trap’ from a series of ‘evidence’ images I created when we were told our rented house was going to be sold. Created in a documentary aesthetic, which utilises black and white and directional lighting

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.


Figure 15. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Discussion on the ‘Documentary Aesthetic’

Figure 16. Alec Soth (2012) From ‘Songbook’
Figure 17. Eli Durst (2019) from ‘The Community’

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.

Figure 18. Phil Hill (March & April) ‘For sale board’ and ‘light on kitchen floor’
Bibliography

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).