For the recent round of portfolio reviews I was able to talk with Clare Bottomley, Ant Prothero and Michal Iwanowski. Feedback from pretty much all of the reviewers was focused quite a bit on the way that my images are interacting with the words. In particular, with the way that the intro text is leading the audience into the whole project and how that might actually be giving away too much information about the project too soon. I have also not been giving the audience credit to work out aspects of the work for themselves as well as putting faith in existing knowledge to make connections within the work. I am effectively over explaining and making redundant statements. This is actually a timely reminder to not try and shoehorn too many ideas into it and over indulging the exposition. According to Iwanowski, audiences like to solve these puzzles for themselves, which is a core part of my project. I may end up frustrating them by giving too much away. Prothero concurred with this, suggesting that because the story started before me I could consider placing my own version of events in the middle somewhere. Iwanoski also suggested the opening text should really be the question that started the work and I work to build the answer throughout the sequence.
Another point that Prothero made was the way that at the moment the work feels as though I am telling someone else’s story, asking where do I fit into this work. This starts to take nto account feedback that I have received from my peers and also a conversation that I had with Cemre with the way that my initial image captions were being read as too fixed and impersonal. The way that I create image descriptors akin to how a museum might log an item The challenge with this however, is they interfere with the narrative of the story. During the recent Geoff Dyer talk, he noted the way that images and text work together and potential for redundancy with words illustrating images and images illustrating words (2021). The fixed nature of my descriptive captions also started to create judgement on the images and the way that they were being read, for example I noted that my brother just finished a shift collecting rubbish in his portrait when it is clear to see in the image he was wearing work clothing. When I showed the work to Ross from my cohort, he noted that the caption felt derogatory, which was also supported by Cemre’s reading of the work. To work on this, I have been aiming to use the ambiguity of the quotes that I have been collecting t see how they work with the images and support the narrative arc of the work. This actually works much better within the concept of the Unreliable Narrator.
That said, later editors of the work presented to the reviewers, it was unclear who was ‘narrating,’ which could create intrigue in the work through it’s ambiguity but also continue t frustrate the audience. This might end up becoming too loose, the opposite of the completely fixed version with the descriptive captions. There is a fine line to make here. My aim is to show somehow the answer to the question that I pose at the start and not obfuscate the narrative for the reader of the work in showing the revelations that I have found. Up to quite recently, I had no answer to this question so no real reason to consider this part – some clearing of the ambiguity would be useful. I could also identify all of the characters in this narrative a bit more so that the reader knows who they are. Clare Bottomley was really insightful in providing some further areas of research to explore, including reminding me that Dinu Li has experience with the family archive and produced a book on the topic, so I will aim to attend one of his crits for further developments.
Narrative editing – Audio to the written word
My plan following all of the feedback that I received is to produce a text, which is based on my own experiences of the journey that I have undergone but also to place everything within this narrative in a chronological order of discovery. Even If I go back and edit the text and change the order, I think that it is vital that I get a sense of the overall story as it is now before playing with its sequence. A key takeaway from my feedback was the strength of the way that I tell the story so I will aim to use this as a central core in which to sequence the photographs.
This actually is something that I considered early on, albeit using a different medium, linking back to ideas I had initially around the edited audio elements. It is an idea that still interests me but the learning curve in creating and putting together an edited serial podcast style of audio that I suggested in my proposal. Although I have collected some audio as part of my process, I overestimated the amount of work putting this kind of production would have alongside the other aspects of the project I proposed. However, part of the process of creating a kind of serial audio documentary would require me to write the narrative for either my own narration, or to work out the sequence and edit of the production. This would be similar to how podcast ‘Serial’ is structured, which is described as ‘narrative non-fiction story’ (Koenig, 2014). This format of building and slowly revealing elements of the story for the audience to discover is actually a useful framework for me to write my own narrative for Unreliable Narrator. The way that I write the story provides the opportunity to address much of the feedback that I have received on the project with regards to elements such as the introduction of the characters and the significance of some of the places. It also works to place me into the work as part of the family presented.
The text that I produce would be short, potentially around 1500 to 2000 words, which would be considered a ‘Flash Fiction’ if it were a novel, or novella. A key difference is my story is based in fact and connects to Vanessa Winship’s notion that photography is somewhere between chronicle and fiction.
Dyer, G., 2021. Coversation with Geoff Dyer – Falmouth Flexible [Interview] (8 July 2021).
Koenig, S., 2014. Serial. [Sound Recording] (This American Life).
Continuing the development of my book dummy, I have started to look at ways that I can make a book, which can be mass produced easily. I feel that the outcome should exist somewhere between the accessible and unique limited-edition art object. I intend to create a short-limited edition that includes unique and hand made elements to the book. For example, the use of the carbon copy paper, hand typed, and potentially screen-printed pages. These books could also have an individual unique aspect to the sequence or another part, which supports the unreliable aspects of the project.
Ideas for this could include:
Unique sequence for each book
Supporting ‘end notes’ that changes the caption information
‘End Notes’ booklet that has captions for more images than are in the publication or the inclusion of additional contact pages to acknowledge the subjectivity of the photographic edit.
Limited edition prints included
Hand printed elements within the book.
If I decide to use elements such as the correspondence paper, this could actually be included
Hand torn edges – creating a unique object
Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Unreliable narrator book dummy version 2
I was able to access a printer that can create booklets, which makes it quite easy to run off sequences and see how these work in a book form (Fig: 1). The stapled edge also would work similar to the Japanese binding that I looked at previously in terms if the gutter and center margin. Although, I would aim for a higher quality for any final book, this was a useful way of seeing how I could quickly and economically produce a larger run of the book should it be self-published.
I am not sure about the A4 size, as the aspect ratio of the 6X7 format might look better in a 10×8 format. Some of the images within the book, really need the space to breath and I would have to consider the way that some of the image plays a role in the way the book reads.
As I have been using a physical typewriter, I decided to use a typeface that would still be recognised as such. Courier is a ‘slab serif’ style (Fig: 2), which was created originally as a typewriter font. It’s use in later versions of my book would mean that the style and feel of the type would not be too compromised switching between a hand typed to digital text, albeit with a lost physicality.
From conversations that I have started to have with family and others around the project, I have been collecting together quotes that I can use within the sequence so I have attempted to work some of them into this version
Figure 3: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Endnotes accompanying booklet
As an attempt to bring in a bit more of a contextualisation to the work, I have produced an accompanying booklet called ‘endnotes’ (Fig: 3), which creates an opportunity to play with the concept of unreliability by potentially producing different versions to go with the main publication. At the start, I have added a contextualising statement and then followed it by providing caption information via a corresponding number within the main book. Alternatively, I could use the Twin check label idea, which I have linked to ideas of memory, or could create a mini version of the main book that would have images.
Following the narrative structures that I am using, I might also work to create the next iteration of the book in the format of how a script is produced (Fig: 4). The format and presentation lends itself to the goals I am aiming for with my book. The size and script format create connotations supporting the unreliable narrator narrative structure. This kind of referencing is also similar to the way that Jack Latham’s ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Fig: 5) is presented as a kind of court evidence document. The format lends itself to a modular approach in the way that it is bound together using brass split pins, which could work as a way of mixing up the sequences. It would also be a relatively economic way of producing multiple copies in preparation for sharing with people interested in disseminating the work. This also means that I can easily create a copy for book awards.
I made the decision to attend two portfolio reviews at this year’s symposium, although I would have loved to have done more, but owning to other commitments I was able to make the two. Wendy suggested that it would be good idea to have my work reviewed by Mariama Attah, as she may find interest in the family archive subject matter that I have been exploring. For my other review, I chose Hannah-Katrina Jedroz, who I felt had a strong practice involving self-initiated projects and explores themes such as place and identity.
It had been a long while since having my work reviewed at a portfolio session. I was slightly apprehensive of the prospect as my project is very new and maybe the focus of the critique may have been on the un-polished nature of the work. However, I found it to be really valuable in terms of advice and feedback on the work. I had some challenges to the way that I am approaching certain areas, which I think was right to point out.
This was a useful review in terms of the commercial applications for our projects. Jedrosz gave great advice to all of the participants, which I also made good notes on. Man of the things that she mentioned I was already aware of, but it is really valuable to have this confirmed and recapped on to ensure that I am always aiming to follow it.
It is important to think about the audience for the work early on as this provides a way of focussing the work.
Mixing up compositional elements of the images is useful in order to continually surprise the viewer of the work whilst looking through your sequence – If they are all the same then the sequence may become stale
Make sure that when you photograph a subject that you photograph lots. Move around in the space and make a great deal of variation in the imagery that you are creating.
This will give you a ‘Box of treats’ to select from when editing the work.
In a commercial sense – is the work ‘click bait’ enough?
Establish the ‘rules’ of the project – giving a structure to follow.
Have a look at the worl of photography. What are the pictures that ‘stop’ me – Referencing Barthes’ ‘punctum’
Feedback on my work
I was curious to understand if there would be any interest in my project, which is quite a personal story, to a wider audience. Jedrosz was very positive in her feedback, stating that there is always interest in a photography project that has an in-built intrigue – ‘Audiences love a mystery.’
My ideas behind narrative structure was also well received and Jedroz commented that the images that I am using felt symbolically good for the project.
An important takeaway was that I really need to show the work to people often and not necessarily aim to solve everything myself. It would be a good idea to find people that would be able to support the development of the project in the same sort of position that a producer might inhabit if this was a moving film work. Identifying collaborators would be useful to talk through the project and ensure that I was sticking to the fundamentals. Collaboration over competition.
An observation that I made earlier on in the MA was to aim not to over explain my images. Many times I have waffled on about what my project is, forgetting the ownership that the reader has on my work – and that I need to remain open to this. Ambiguity, especially for this current work will be really vital to its success.
Attah’s advice and opinion was really valuable again. I found a lot to make notes on during everyone’s presentations.
The design of a book could also take in elements of referencing of the project within its design – for example, different paper weight/stocks, layering
How could you use elements of current trends in visual culture – sometimes playful images are able to articulate bigger ideas/subjects.
It is really important to consider the ethical questions of the work. How much are my subject’s collaborating in the work? Are they collaborators or subjects?
Attah mentioned the idea of ‘Epigenetics’ during the sessions and how we all inherit ‘trauma’ from previous generations. Although this wasn’t feedback on my work, I really resonated with the idea in relation to my topics and this is something that I want to look at closely.
Crucially, Attah questioned the reasons why I was discussing class in relation to this work when effectively, I have benefitted from a social mobility. I wonder if there are elements of me aiming to portray an element of wanting to create authenticity in the work by overtly referencing my class background. Perhaps, I do not need to do this so obviously as ideas of being from a working class background would naturally come through in the exploration of my work. This was one of the biggest takeaways for me as I think that I am trying to shoehorn too many ideas into one body of work when these ideas may present themselves naturally. It may still be important to find a position on this however, but for now the focus should be on the archive and the connection to family.
My project should continue to focus on the way that narrative structure can play its role. Ideas of mystery and intrigue in the investigation will also create an interesting project that will resonate. I aim to continue researching the idea of evidence and perhaps bring in elements of detection and investigation. The underlying concepts of family and connection will also continue and my own class would naturally come through the work without the need to overtly reference it.
After working through a series of versions and some additional justification (Fig: 1) I have settled with a version of my WIPP, which I believe takes on board feedback and also is true to the project that I aiming to present (Fig: 2).
More space to breath.
Key feedback was that my images were too packed in (Fig: 3), so I have sought to space things out so that they can be viewed in isolation and also some together (Fig: 4). This latest iteration continues the linear journey story structure but it is now laid out in a way that the reader can take in at a more subtle pace. I have also created my WIPP in 8×10 format to consider the 6×7 negative’s 5:4 ratio, which feels much more balanced than trying to place my images onto a standard ‘A’ size page.
Statement of Intent
I have now included some text to start the sequence off:
‘More lonely ere’ is a body of work inspired by Robert Frost’s poetry.
Located inside the M25 but not London and within the boundary of Hertfordshire but not the pastoral idyllic of the Home Counties.
This is a between place.
The project is a journey through a separated existence of individual rhythm to evaluate the idea of home and sanctuary; it forges a new relationship with spaces and the people I share them with.
Figure 5: Phil Hill (December, 2020) WIPP opening statement.
The text is a way to frame the project and set the reader off on the journey. I wanted to leave it fairly ambiguous so not to over explain, which has been a challenge of mine. I have placed references to the process, for example:
The title ‘More lonely ere’ translates to ‘More lonely before’ (ere being an old term for ‘before in time’), which suggests that by going on the journey the reader/narrator is less lonely than at the start.
Inspired by Robert Frost’s poetry – not specifically stating the poem ‘Desert Places’ where the title is from (1936: 44). Giving the reader something to discover, should they want.
Located inside the M25 but not London and within the boundary of Hertfordshire but not the pastoral idyllic of the Home Counties. This is a between place – I purposefully left Watford out of the statement of intent to continue the ambiguity and discovery for the reader. There is enough information of the location of the place and I aimed to provide a sense of its ‘in between status’
The last part refers to the personal connection to place that is part of the exploration. The idea of individual rhythm is one that I research from the Roland Barthes’ book ‘How to Live Together’ (Barthes, 2012) in which he considers the way that society lives in the same spaces but according to an ‘idiorrythm’ where we work, eat, sleep in the same towns and cities but rarely interact.
In this latest iteration, I have added a contact sheet of images at the end (Fig: 6) in a similar way to how Jack Latham did in ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ (Fig: 7), which adds some contextualising information for the images. Jane Hilton discussed this in relation to her book ‘Precious’ (Fig: 8), noting that she intended for the reader of the book to have to work for the information about each of the people she photographed (Hilton in Smith, 2016). I have discussed the need to not over explain my reasoning for the narrative structure yet felt that a certain amount of contextualisation once the sequence has been viewed without any text would be an interesting way of creating further intrigue into my process of putting the work together. Here I have attempted to include elements of the narrative structure and also further references to the poem of Robert Frost and the Edgelands that I photographed. I hope that some text would also bring the series further together in the way that I am creating titles for the images based on characterisations of the people and the place.
This WIPP submission has become one of the most contrived and constructed sequences of images that I have created. The evolution from the way that I consider photographed and what they can do has fundamentally changed over the course of this module. One of the biggest takeaways for me, is in the use of narrative structure to construct my stories. This is a key element in the development of my work that I fully intend to carry forward into the FMP.
Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Frost, R., 1936. A Further Range. Transcribed eBook ed. s.l.:Proofreaders Canada.
Hilton, J., 2013. Precious. 1 ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
Hilton, J., 2016. A Small Voice Podcast: Episode 35 [Interview] (April 2016).
Although, I have been enjoying the sequence that I made in combining my portraits and landscapes, I seem to be receiving similar feedback of the differences between my landscapes and my portraits. It was suggested in the last webinar (26/11) that I might consider a sequence of only landscapes as they are stronger, which is Interesting as feedback for the last module was that my portraits were stronger. For Sustainable Prospects, I have created more of a focus on the landscape and potentially gone too far the other way!
The challenge that I have is in my portraits are formally shot and in the landscape but not of the landscape. Colin made reference to Nial Mcdiarmid and how his portraits do essentially the same in that the location is almost irrelevant (fig: 1 & 2). I have referenced Mcdiarmid’s photography before and found his work to be quite influential (even owning Town to Town), however if I consider the lesson from the Messy Truth podcast episode with Alex Coggin (2019), have I been aware of this influence in my consumption of it? This is something that I will need to investigate further.
Are my portraits really that disparate from the rest of the images? Yes and no. I take on board the feedback received from Colin and others and is something that I will need to be aware of moving forward. More can be done to place the people in my portraits into the landscape. I do feel like I have made improvements into this for this module compared to the way that I approached my portraits for the last one. For example, I have aimed to include elements of the location much more into recent works, and have consciously shot some further away to show more of the location (Fig 3 & 4). Colin’s critique is of course based on the formality of my portraits compared to some of the landscape imagery, which is a mixture of formal and less formal compositions. Ross mentioned this when I asked for peer feedback and suggested that it is my formal gaze that creates the strongest images for him. It would be useful to re-evaluate this gaze and see if there are other ways that I can approach the images I make of people, which at the moment is possibly tied to the challenge I find it in approaching and creating them.
When I consider the work of others, there are photographers who combine formal portraits with images of the landscape. For example, Vanessa Winship’s series ‘Georgia Seeds Carried by the Winds’ (2014), which mixes differing levels of formality in the portrait in line with Winship’s signature style (Fig: 5). It is clear that these are people all from the same place however, it could be argued that seen in isolation, each portrait is alienated from the place that it was photographed. With Winship there is a great sense of building the narrative through the sum of its parts as each image individually is as great as the whole.
I have looked at Winship’s work before to try and resolve the disconnect others note of my portraits and landscapes. I like the way that her images suggest a subtle nod to the location that they are taken. I also enjoy the idea of having the reader work for this, which I feel Winship does quite well. The narrative structure that I am applying should also be considered as a sum of parts that includes locations and characters. I have taken this so far but clearly have further to go.
Back to Barthes
If there is a disconnect to be found between the portraits and the landscapes then this can be linked back to some earlier research I did into the way that Roland Barthes discusses the ‘Iddiorythmic’ way that we live together within communities yet each of us according to an individual rhythm (Fig: 6). The idea centers on idiorrhythmic monasticism, where monks would live within the confines of the same compound but leading an individual existence within it. As Barthes notes: “Fantasmically speaking, there’s nothing contradictory about wanting to live alone and wanting to live together” (2012: 4-5). Barthes exploration could be considered a comment on our own contemporary tribalism. Within communities, there is a socially abstract way that we carry out our lives without an awareness of how others around – we place ‘value on distance’ (p. 132).
It is from the analysis of Barthes text ‘How to Live Together’ that I first came across the Robert Frost Poem ‘Desert Places,’ as a metaphor for this separation of individuals from places and other individuals, and potentially from oneself: “The idea that the desert represents an important metaphor that may inspire new ideas in the problems of living together (Stene-Johansen, et al., 2013: 16).
“the rhythm of existence is a result of social formations and economical structures as well as individual choice: we meet at work, in bars, in the theatre, and then go back to our shelters, our apartments” (2013: 16).
My portraits are disparate because of the nature of the communities that we live in. This is reflected in my constructed narrative. My project is a journey, which takes you through the place only to stop consider these character you are normally abstracted from. I am interested in the stopping as much as the continued journey.
One method to resolve this may be to only sequence formal composed portraits with those landscapes considered more formal. The resolution may then be in the treatment of both people and place by me. I have written about how Bryan Schutmaat seems to create a character from the land (Fig: 7). Perhaps when I treat the landscape in the same formal way that I photograph people, it could be considered that my landscape is also another character in my narrative and part of the structure that I have applied. This again is a way of utilising Graham Harmon’s Object Orientated ontology in the way that all objects, animate or inanimate have characteristics that create an influence: “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, non-human, natural, cultural, real or fictional” (2018, p. 9). I will aim to create a new iteration of my wipp that includes the more formal people and places photographed.
Pieter Hugo’s book ‘Kin’ (2015), also mixes the formality and contextualisation of political and personal portraiture with the landscape (Fig: 8). Jean Dykstra notes that “It isn’t clear, for the most part, how, or whether, many of the subjects are related to each other: but this body of work would seem to suggest that their specific relationships are less important than their shared humanity” (2013) that seems to support the observation of Winship’s work of the sum of the parts creating a collective whole. What is clear in both the work of Winship and Hugo and potentially where I need to put the work in, is the defined cultural signifiers that also place a sense of the location on the work. This is a clear area of development for me if it is also not being seen in my images by others.
Hugo uses Text in Kin (Fig: 9), providing snippets of information into the people he has photographed and potentially an area for me to look at. The right title may be all that’s needed to lift the contextualisation and place clear links on the people to the land.
It is also important to respond to the feedback that I am receiving and create an iteration without people. I am keen to share a sequence without portraits to see if they really can exist without images together.
Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Coggin, A., 2019. The Messy Truth: Alex Coggin on Authorship [Interview] (May 2019).
Dykstra, J., 2013. Photograph Magazine – PIETER HUGO: KIN. [Online] Available at: http://photographmag.com/reviews/pieter-hugo-kin/ [Accessed 27 November 2020].
Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.
Hugo, P., 2015. Kin. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.
Stene-Johansen, K., Refsum, C. & Schimanski, 2013. Living Together: Roland Barthes, the Individual and the Community. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.
Winship, V., 2014. GEORGIA SEEDS CARRIED BY THE WIND. [Online] Available at: https://www.vanessawinship.com/gallery.php?ProjectID=175 [Accessed 27 November 2020].
Considering the feedback that I have received for the first iteration of my WIPP (Fig: 1), I wanted to create a title for the work that lends a certain ambiguity to the reading. As the work is in part inspired by the Robert Frost Poem, I looked again at how Bryan Schutmaat titled his work ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ (Fig: 2), which was inspired by the poetry of Richard Hugo. His title is taken from a line in the poem ‘Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg’: “Hatred of the various grays the mountain sends, hatred of the mill, The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls who leave each year for Butte” (1992). Hugo’s poem uses the idea of ‘degrees of gray’ to paint a picture of the ebb and flow of human relationships, which relates to Hugo’s own personal experiences prior to writing this poem (Potts, 2012). For Schutmaat, this is a translation into the relationship between the people and the landscape in his photo series.
A Desert Place vs Between Stars
Initially, I thought about titling this series ‘A Desert Place’ in a direct reference to the poem however, this could be quite obvious so instead I have considered the metaphor within the poem to see if any connections to my work can be made. A phrase that jumps out at me immediately is “Between stars – on stars where no human race is” (Frost, 1936, p. 44). Frost uses this line as a way of contrasting a vastness of space with the narrators own internal desert, which aims to create a kind of hope of putting one’s own personal challenges into a kind of perspective. According to analysis by Li Wang, this comparison “serves to aggrandise the speaker and the importance of his own personal desert” (2013, p. 2095). I can use the line ‘between stars’ as a way of emphasising the in-between nature of my images, or rurality of them. It also references the idea of connection to place.
More lonely ere
Another line from Frost’s poem is: “And lonely as it is, that loneliness Will be more lonely ere” (1936, p. 44). The word ere is a preposition meaning ‘before in time’ and I quite like the idea of naming the series ‘more lonely ere,’ to create a sense of the connection that I am attempting to explore with the sequence. This again is a way of placing me into the series and also an attempt of putting emphasis on the reader being the protagonist on the journey. As Wang also notes:
“It is an archaic word. As we have known that Frost’s language is so simple and ordinary that the common readers can understand it. But this only archaic word appears here to remind us of focusing on what the adjacent sentences want to emphasize. It emphasizes the intensification of mood. The implied rebirth in the necessary melting of the snow and the re-emergence of the field as a real thing is an unassimilated lump of hope”
(2013, p. 2096)
I believe that this provides the best link between the poem, the metaphor and my images. Ultimately, my journey story is an intensification of mood from ‘the call’ at the start through ‘the journey’ and ‘the ordeals,’ toward a resolution and ‘the goal.’ Within the bleakness of some of the images that I am presenting, my aim is that is some kind of hope still, represented in the end of the sequence, and the goal (Fig: 3). The idea of ‘more lonely ere‘ essentially translates to ‘more lonely before,’ as to suggest that the act of completing the journey provides hope for a better relationship with place.
I have taken further inspiration from Robert Frost and used the cover from the book ‘A Further Range’ where ‘Desert Places’ is published as inspiration (Fig: 4). Initially, I sought to emulate the cover but found that I need to develop this further and as I evolved the title, I aim to do the same with the cover. The basic referenced elements are there and I have change the colour to a green as a further reference to rurality and also included a three star symbol between the title and my name to visually represent the in-between element of the title (Fig: 5).
Frost, R., 1936. A Further Range. Transcribed eBook ed. s.l.:Proofreaders Canada.
Hugo, R., 1992. Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo.. Re-Issue ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
Potts, M., 2012. On Richard Hugo’s, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg”. [Online] Available at: https://michaelpotts.livejournal.com/8861.html [Accessed 26 11 2020].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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].
I have found editing my WIPP quite challenging in create a cohesive narrative that others are able to follow and understand. I have been quite keen to create a narrative that interlinks all of the elements that I have photographing: My environment, the sale of my house, portraits of people in my community, how we are now living with Covid-19. However, due to the disparate nature of the work the sequencing only truly makes sense to me. Initial editing together, I put together portraits with the abstract windows (Fig. 1), which received a positive initial response from my peers during a webinar, however it was noted during this critique that I might want to explore putting some space and distance between these images to see how they might ready differently. It was also noted that in isolation the meaning of my work was not coming through with the sequence I put forward.
I aimed to develop my approach by incorporating some text to contextualise my images and create a sense of my dominant reading and intent. Here I took elements from my research, for example a quote from the book ‘In Praise of Shadows’ (Tanzinaki, 2001, p. 62), which I felt summed up the need for all of the community to retreat into the home as the Covid-19 crisis developed (Fig. 2) and is an ode to the beauty of domestic aesthetics. I also wanted to create another development in how I used the estate agent text, which aimed to create a link to my own disconnect with the community, owing to the lack of being able to put down roots (Fig. 3), this was originally at the core of my approach to my project, inspired by my research into the idea of social capital, where Robert Putnam states: “Nevertheless, for people as for plants, frequent repotting disrupts root systems. It takes time for a mobile individual to put down roots. As a result, residential stability is strongly associated with civic engagement” (Putnam, 2000, p. 204), my own link to community had been continually disrupted because of regular travel and moving from house share to house share. I also attempted to include a couple of quotes collected from other forms of community: via community social media platform ‘Nextdoor’ (Fig. 4), and a headline from the local Watford Observer Newspaper (Fig. 5), which aimed to bring more of the local community into my sequence and edit. Lastly, I also put the text and quotes onto a muted yellow page, which was to create an intertextual hint at the way leaflets and directories, such as the Yellow Pages display information for the community which they serve.
Again, I found that the initial reaction from my peers was on the whole quite positive, Michelle found however that my approach was still confused, which potentially in part was linked to how she viewed my presentation on my work and the discussion on my intent, which at this stage is potentially not quite synchronous. I started my oral presentation by stating that my project is about community connection and connective decline, which in part is a way of considering the way that I fit into it, or have not fitted in. This is not completely obvious in my presentation yet, which looked at the theory quite heavily. One of the main points of feedback that I have received from my presentation was that I really need to bring the focus of my review back onto my own practice wherever possible and relevant to the theory, or how I actually apply it. Michelle’s feedback was extremely valuable in getting me to consider that I might actually start to create more of a synergy between the way I am explaining my intent and the way that I am showing it through my WIPP.
Additional feedback on the way that I created this layout was that there is potentially too much disparate imagery happing within the context of this WIPP and potentially less is more when it comes to the edit. I had further discussion with Michelle who suggested that I could resolve this by splitting the portfolio and editing two bodies of work and use the mitigating statement to justify the reasoning behind this, which would be the impact that covid-19 has had on the direction of my work.
Following from this feedback, I have decided to consider the connection to community again. My original intention was to explore the idea of my connection to community, I wanted to shoot portraits of people within my local community as they exist and operated within the community, which is also linked to the idea of social capital and the relationships that allow it to function (Fig. 6). These are also all of the people that I live idiorythmically, in the same space, the same community, yet are unaware of who they are and what they do, which considers the social abstract.
For example, Clare, who volunteers to clear litter from a local woodland (Fig. 7) so that it can be enjoyed by the wider community; when something is discarded, it becomes someone else’s problem, do we ever consider that person that actually comes along to collect it? Stephen, a prominent member of the Watford deaf society (Fig. 8), exists in a hearing world not built for him to easily operate. Mark who has been attending the food bank across the street from my house for the last 19 years and is also a patron (Fig. 9). These examples, are all people who exist within my community, and up until now I was unconcerned with the details of their individual rhythm (Johansen-Stene, et al., 2018, p. 1).
There is a voyeuristic nature to the portraits that I am presenting here, that until now, I have been unaware of their idiorrhythmic existence and now choose to engage with. With these images, I am still not fully part of the community that I photographing, it is more of a topology of subjects that make the community around me. Potentially, the natural evolution of this work would be to go into greater depth with these subjects to truly understand the sense of community they have and I do not. However, the interruption of Covid-19 has had a fundamental impact on the community and inevitably on my project, yet I do not see this change as detrimental. I have been considering the idiorhythmic and the isolation presents an opportunity to photograph my own individual rhythm. By focussing on my windows, I can continue the voyeuristic connection that is somewhat present in my portraits. In this new edit of the work, I have placed my most abstract window images next to the portraits (Fig. 7,8,9), to create a heightened sense of the voyeuristic. This also serves to place me into the work, potentially resolving the challenge of showing my connection. The abstract series of windows are from my house and are my only connection with the community, my view of the outside world. In essence, this is now my connection to the community. Yet, as a society, we have been asked to stay indoors, which again brings me back to how Barthes view the idea of the rectangle being the most basic form of power (Barthes, 2012, p. 113); they are the homes in which we live and now form the boundaries of our community. The window is another boundary which allows some semblance of contact with the outside but is controlled and measured through the glass that separates the interior from the exterior (Fig. 10).
The Pathos of Distance
By placing portraits with the windows, I feel really starts to explore the idea of the idiorrhythmic by showing a glimpse into my subjects’ individual rhythm, albeit disrupted by the intrusion of my direction, or how Susan Sontag stated “photographing people is that you are not intervening in their lives, only visiting them” (Sontag, 1979, p. 42). This disconnect that links to my initial intention is portrayed through this topological visit in which I place an image of an abstracted window because I can no longer engage with the community, even if I wanted to. Barthes’ also places value on distance, which in a reference to Nietzsche termed as “the pathos of distance” (Barthes, 2012, p. 132) and has a particular resonance when we consider the current pandemic. For everyone, this connection of the community has been severed, or at least extremely reduced, so when looking at my windows, there is a sense of this connective decline and pathos that Barthes’ suggests (Fig. 11). So, this is where I can position this sequence, whilst still under the intent of exploring community, even when the image is abstracted.
Second Sequence and Plato’s Cave
When planning this module in my project proposal for positions and practice, there was an idea to photograph the environment of community as a way of bridging the gap during the period of building the relationships that I needed to shoot more portraits. From this approach, I have created a significant number of images that created a challenge in terms of the sequencing of the work as a whole. Since the onset of the pandemic however, these images have started to make sense through the sequencing of before and after diptych images (Fig. 12). I have placed images from before the lockdown next to images in the current situation, which create more metaphore than the straight portraits that John Berger would describe as an “actuality” (Berger, 2013, p. 8).
For example, I mirrored an image from a local community hub with one of my less abstract window images as aesthetically there were compositional synergies between the images (Fig. 13). Metaphorically, I also considered the allegory of Plato’s cave, in part owing to the opening chapter of On Photography (Sontag, 1979, pp. 3-24), and also after listening to Nick Waplington discuss its use for some of his painting practice (Waplington in Smith, 2019). The exterior is projected onto the interior, albeit abstract and is a sense of the reality that we are becoming accustomed to; will we recognise the world after the lockdown is lifted? And for my project, will we recognise the community in the same way again after being socially distant? Moving forward, there is potential to take these ideas into the post Covid-19 world as we seek to connect all over again.
For Sontag, the allegory of Plato’s cave is linked to the photograph as ‘truth’ and how our reality is shaped by the images that we consume, the images become the shadows projected onto the cave walls: “Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph” (Sontag, 1979, p. 5), which is something that I have been exploring throughout Informing Contexts. I have been interested in experimenting and exploring the idea of how ‘evidential’ my images are to really unpack the way that I construct my images in this way so allowing a more metaphorical approach to play its role.
I have been exploring this based on a documentary aesthetic to create a form of evidence and ‘truth’ where the images are considered authentic and and an actuality, albeit constructed and not a complete ‘truth’ (Fig. 14). Moving forward with the development of this work, I have attempted to use this intertextually; all images are considered ‘authentic’ as Barthes’ suggests: “the important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force” (Barthes, 1981, pp. 88-89). Therefore, as I discussed in a previous development (Fig. 15) there is no need to create the images in that overt documentary aesthetic, which has been employed by Alec Soth and Eli Durst (Fig. 16 & 17), as the evidential element to the images are pre-existent; even when they are constructed, it exists in all of the photographs that I am making.
I have discussed the idea of existential dread playing a part in the work before, however I think in my previous edits, this has either not come through in how they are read, or it has been so obvious this has not worked either. For this development, I have attempted to create a subtle sequence of the work, which builds on the lessons I have learned during the module. For example, I have placed the image of the for sale sign next to an image of my kitchen floor (Fig. 18), which aesthetically mirrors the shape of the sign in the light projected onto the vinyl tiles and seeks to show that the home is in poor condition and a comment on the rental trap, or current housing crisis. This placement is more subtle than the way that I put these images together in figure 3 and without the text, however they ask more questions and utilise Uta Barth’s idea of ‘experiential looking’ through the removal of this central subject allowing the reader to ascribe their own narrative to the work. I am undecided wether to utilise the text in this current sequence as I fear this may lead to an unsubtle obvious reading of the work once again. However, I am considering a foreword of some kind, which might be in the form of the mitigating statement we have been asked to submit with this WIPP submission.
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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).