On Diana Markosian

Figure 1: Diana Markosian (2014) Armenia. 2014. This is the closet thing I had to an image of my father. A cut out of him in my mother’s photo album. An empty hole. A reminder of what wasn’t there.

In her work titled ‘Inventing my Father’ Markosian deals with the absence of her father, who exists as only memories and cut out of photographs in her family album (Fig: 1). The work wonderfully puts together archive images and her own photography. I quite like the way that she combines the colour archive with her own black and white imagery (Fig: 2) as if to invert the idea of black and white being of the past – the fade and colour shifts in the archive does that in a really natural way and her images create a visual break to show her own investigations.   

Figure 2: Diana Markosian (2014) Armenia. 2014. I am standing in the courtyard of my father’s home. It’s the same gray, decaying Soviet building I remember as a child. You could say I’ve come home. But that’s not how it feels.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Archive database of image captions for FMP project

I have been working to create captions and text to accompany my images. Initially, I was looking at the idea of describing the image in a literal way and created a database of all of the images that I have photographed and archived myself (Fig: 3). The idea is that my eventual sequence would be as subjective and edited as any of the narratives that I have, or that the reader might have of the work. This could work as a booklet with every caption, numbered, for the reader to work through and find the ones associated with the book. This very much was inspired by Barthes’ famed winter garden image of his mother (1993), which is never seen and may have never existed at all (Photoworks, 2013). This literal description however, may not be working and I actually quite like the way that Markosian has captioned her imagery with a personal reflection about her father (Fig: 4). This could be a way of creating the narrative within my work and potentially I could create a kind of ‘Flash Fiction’ story broken up into the image sequence.

Figure 4: Diana Markosian (2014) Armenia. 2014. When I would ask my mother about him, she would look at me disappointed, “Forget him. He’s gone,” she would say.
Figure 5: Karl Ohiri (2013) from ‘How To Mend A Broken Heart’

Figure 6: Quetzal Maucci (2020) from ‘
Baci, Piccoli Baci, Grandi Baci’

One of the most striking images in Markosian’s series is the cut photographic print (Fig: 1), another example of the ‘Manual Intervention Photographs’ that photographers, such as Karl Ohiri (Fig: 5), and Quetzal Maucci (Fig: 6) have used to great effect in their own series. Markosian notes of the photograph: “For my mom, the solution to forget him was simple. She cut his image out of every photograph in our family album. But those holes made it harder for me to forget him” (2015). This validates an earlier discussion that I had regarding these kinds if images, which create more questions than anything that are conceivably aiming to hide (Fig: xx). I wonder why you would keep the image at all. It would also be worth noting that Markosian’s mother took her and her brother to the US when Markosian was seven, without telling her father where they were going. Presumably, Markosian’s mother took the family albums with her – including all of the images if the father. The object remains precious, even under times that are understandably stressful.

Figure 7: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Discussion the unreliable narrator and manual intervention photographs

Return of the object

There are a number of objects within the archive that I need to consider in terms of the way that they are part of the project.

I have considered the concept of Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) previously, the idea that objects exist in a far more complex way than humans are able to interpret them, as Graham Harmon states: “all of the objects that we experience are merely fictions: simplified models of the far more complex objects that continue to exist when I turn my head away from them, not to mention when I sleep or die” (2018, p. 34). In my own reflections, I considered the way that we view the world in a anthropocentric sense yet objects can exist outside of this, including ideas that ‘agency’ may also evoke the way in which the qualities and characteristics of even inanimate objects may have an impact on the reading of them.

It is a recurring theme in the work that I am reviewing as part of my research. In an anthropological sense, objects in the absence of the person are what can be used to try and understand them. A material culture (Engelke, 2017, pp. 6-7) show all of the items that we collect and hoard to build a picture of the person. Of course, this also has it’s subjective limits and is unreliable.


Barthes, R., 1993. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

Engelke, M., 2017. Think Like an Anthropologist. London: Pelican Books.

Markosian, D., 2015. Diana Markosian: Inventing my Father. FT Weekend Magazine, 3/4 January, pp. 12-15.

Photoworks, 2013. The Great Unknown. [Online] Available at: https://photoworks.org.uk/great-unknown/ [Accessed 07 February 2021].

On Zoe Leonard

Figure 1: Zoe Leonard (1989) Three untitled photographs, taken from airplane windows

Leonard’s work deals with the idea of how we understand the photographic nature of photography. This is important as it really identifies the impact that photography can have on our understanding of the world. Leonard uses this really effectively and in simple terms for the reader, for example in the way that she leaves the border of the negative (Fig: 1), as Fi Churchman points out “as if to remind the viewer – and maybe herself – that these are compositions: the world framed by another’s viewpoint. Put simply, all perspectives are constructs” (Churchman & Leonard, 2018). This really resonates with the way that my own work has developed as I have become interested in the way that the photograph constructs – even place its own inanimate agency from its characteristics. It feeds my idea of how photographer, photography, and photographed elements can be unreliable in the construction, Leonard’s idea of ‘perspectives,’ or as she notes “where you look is only half the picture” (2018).

Now that I have started to consider my project as a way of responding to belief, and to acknowledge that these all may be tenuous – even my own. I am drawn to Leonard’s intentions for her work. My project has developed to also look at the way that elements of class, misinformation, conspiracy, and personal histories are all susceptible to unreliable narration. Leonard echoes this in the way that she says: “I’m consciously making space for the viewer and unfolding a kind of visual and spatial essay for them, in the hope that the viewer responds with their opinions, experiences, emotions. It’s not about trying to convince you of mine [Leonard’s], but to elicit yours” (2018). This is a useful way of thinking about the presentation of the work. I have considered putting together a sequence of the work, which could differ from publication to publication in order to undermine the experience that an individual brings to it, or would it just make it a more personal individualised interpretation of the work? Both would be the case. Wendy suggested that this kind of presentation could work to support the way that we all have a subjectivity when reviewing the family album and I would be aiming to build in this by highlighting the way that photography is a construction.


Churchman, F. & Leonard, Z., 2018. Zoe Leonard in ArtReview. [Online] Available at: https://www.hauserwirth.com/ursula/23142-zoe-leonard-artreview [Accessed 21 April 2021].

Chris Killip, The Land and Me

Chris Killip is well known for his social documentary images from his native Isle of Man (Fig: 1) and also those created in the north of England for the seminal book ‘In Flagrante’ (Fig: 2). It was suggested to me that I take a look at his work more closely, owing to the way that he also constructs his landscape images with people occupying the space (Fig: 3).

Figure 1: Chris Killip (197x) Portrait from Killip’s Isle of Man work
Figure 2: Chris Killip (1976) Jarrow Youth from ‘In Flagrante’
Figure 3: Chris Killip (1974) From ‘IN Flagrante’

On researching Killip a little more, it is also worth noting that he got his start in photography by assisting a well-known commercial photographer at the time, giving him a solid grounding in the technique of photography. This supports what Todd Hido asserted that craft is fundamental in being able to realise concepts (2019). Geoffrey Batchen states that Killip was influenced by the work of Paul Strand (Fig: 4) who as Batchen points out “Combined portraits with environments to make a simple statement about man’s symbiotic relationship with the landscape” (Batchen & Killip, 2001, p. 7), which Killip does extremely effectively and essentially what I am aiming to achieve by exploring more of a connection between my own portraits and the land. That said, both the work of Killip and Strand have since become a canon of photographic process, which is very recognisable and I would not aim to emulate this (considering my discussion around my own authorship). Additionally, Killip has also since stated himself that Strand’s approach was to have an honorable intent but a patronising result, which is in part the colonising power of the camera (Smith & Killip, 2018).

Figure 4: Paul Strand (1967) Couple, Rucar, Romania.
Figure 5: Bryan Schutmaat (2018) from ‘Good Gog Damn’

however, it is the link that Killip is able to achieve so effectively, which is where I might discover ways to present this within my own sequences. This link is in the way that the land is treated as a character in its own right, the same as the individual portrait and also the people within the landscape. There is agency in the land in the effect that it has on the people that occupy it, just as the people also impact the land. I have discussed this previously in the way that Bryan Schutmaat also places a similar agency on the place (Fig: 5) and it is in his approach to ‘Good God Damn’ that I find a lot of interest in exploring. The idea that the land is another character feeds quite well into my research into Object Orientated Ontology, which considers all objects have equal agency over the anthropocentric interpretation of them; it is important to treat the land in the same way as the portraits that I make. I can also utilise the tool of the camera to place influence over both the people and the landscape, as this too has the same agency on the objects within the frame.

There is also a question of representation, which I continually ask and Batchen also discussed this in relation to Killip’s work, stating:

“The new photographic moralists tend to dictate that only those from within a community really have the right to represent it. However, it is more generally agreed that good photography stems not from a position of insider privilege, but from having a defined, honest and impassioned point of view”

(2001, p. 6).

Although I have lived in Watford for the last 7 years, I have not felt a great deal on connection to it. Does residing in a place mean that I now how the right to represent it? I wouldn’t consider myself having some great insider knowledge that affords the that right. I make my peace in what Batchen says in the way that my project is evolving into an autobiographical exploration, which is defined and impassioned, whether or not it’s honest remains to be seen

The land as another person, only not there.
Figure 6: Uta Barth (1995) Field #7

It was noted during the last webinar by Andy that I had quite a shallow depth of field happening in many of my initial landscape tests. My response was that I possibly approached the land as I have done any portrait and used the focus as a way to isolate the subject. This led me to consider a way that I might include the land within my work is to treat it as if I were shooting a portrait within the landscape environment, only without the person present – potentially the person is me, or merely a continuation of the portraits that I have been shooting. Uta Barth, of course works with this kind of mindset with her photography (Fig: 6) and notes that her work is about perception and separation from the object being depicted (Barth in Mirlesse, 2012). I am drawn to the idea that Barth’s images are not out of focus as much as there is nothing presently in the field of focus. As my work centres around the portrait, an area of investigation for me is to explore the idea of DOF pointed out by Andy a little further by throwing the focus entirely.

I am also still interested in the impact that the qualities of the image have on the reading of it. After looking at the work of Awoiska van der Molen, I also intend to experiment with long exposure on film and also introduce movement in how Schutmaat utilises it for ‘Good God Damn.’

Me – Experiments with Long Exposure and Movement

I have produced some experiments with me in the frame. I have been hesitant to add myself to the work, insisting that my presence is inherent through the images that I am presenting. However, there is potentially an opportunity to further develop the link between the portraits and the land through my own connection to this place. I made a number of short experiments using to see how this might work, they are also longer exposures with a fair amount of movement as I consider how much of myself I would want to include into the image and the wider series (Fig: 7). Some of these work quite well however could drift into the repetitive and even one or two looking like a ‘big foot’ sighting image! (Fig: 8).

Figure 8: Phil Hill (October 2020) Thrown Focus experiment.

I feel that there is much potential to present a series of images that could be made up of thrown focus, long exposure, movement, or a combination of all of these elements.


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

Batchen, G. & Killip, C., 2001. Chris Killip 55. London: Phaidon.

Hido, T., 2019. Small Voice Podcast 103 – Todd Hido [Interview] 2019.

Smith, B. & Killip, C., 2018. A Small Voice Podcast: Conversations with photographers – 94 Chris Killip. [Online] Available at: https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/chris-killip
[Accessed 13 October 2020].

Starting to consider the metaphysical landscape & looking at: Awoiska Van Der Molen

Identifying that I need to develop my approach to photographing the land to then create better links between people and place, I have started to consider key terms in how I might begin to interact with the land and the way that I photography differently.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Garston Nature reserve, Watford.

Much of my recent research has focused away from an anthropocentric interpretation of the object, or at least acknowledging that the object also has an impact on the way that it can be interpreted by humans. Graham Harmon’s view of an object orientated ontology invites us to consider that “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, natural, cultural, real or fictional” (2018: 6). I have given a considerable amount of attention into the way the inanimate has a fundamental impact on the animate reading, without fully appreciating how the conceptual and the metaphysical can also exist in this space (Fig: 1). It has been useful consider ways that the object exists without anthropocentrism thrust upon it however, ultimately my own interpretation will continue to shape the way that I approach anything. Additionally, the idea of giving everything equal attention as Harmon suggests has clearly not been evident in my work up to this point, leading to the feedback on the need for the metaphorical to be more present in my non-portraits – even referring to these images as non-portraits creates the sense for me and for the reader that they are merely secondary to the people I am photographing.


Roger W. Hepburn notes that any aesthetic appreciation of the landscape can also allow for reflection and more cognitive elements to exist alongside its visual appeal (1996: 191) however, there are also times where representation in art versus the reality of the scene might create dissonance in this appreciation:

“the aesthetic assimilation of human artefacts, industrial objects like pipelines, or a power station on an estuary, or a windfarm on a hilltop – drawing these into the world of his painting […] why is it quite different (for many people) with aesthetic appreciation of nature – revulsion at the slicing of a Down, let us say by a motorway cutting?”

(p. 193)

We seem to value the impact – even when negative – of humans on the landscape as if the art creates space for the aesthetic appreciation of degradation, which in some way might explain the appeal of subjects such the vernacular and the banal.

Wanting to start my exploration in the land within the idea of where the rural becomes urban (Beynon, et al., 2016), I could also start to see how the impact of humans starts to build up and become the city. Of course, the idea of rural has its own human trace and impact, especially in a country like the UK; it is quite a rare thing to discover an area that has be untouched by a human presence – in the south east anyway. Showing how the land changes as you move closer to the more urban elements of this area is something that can be explored in a relative straight forward way, allowing to experiment with methods of recording it. My first shoots therefore will aim to show this change and also the build-up of human traces, which may start to reveal how the community interacts with place.

Awoiska Van Der Molen
Figure 2: Awoiska van der Molen (2014) #245-18.

Awoiska Van Der Molen was suggested in the first webinar with Colin to one of my peers however, I decided to also look up her work and found that it really resonated with me. Molen seems to really utilise the medium of black and white film photography and traditional dark room methods (Fig:2), which is where much of my research led me during the last module; in order to better execute my own research project I felt it important to explore the aspects of the medium that I was using, push its boundaries and embrace its limitations. As I have written before, black and white also provides an established series of readings of a work, it also draws attention to the process of photography, which firmly places the photographer at the centre of the work, something that Molen acknowledges in her process. When referring to her exhibition prints and the “traces that someone was working on it” (Molen in French, 2020), which are formed from the traditional printing process that she uses. This drawing attention to the process of her photography is what separates her work from how Hepburn describes as the “aesthetic appeal” of other works that is without the cognitive recognition or “metaphysical imagination” (1996: 191) that Molen has specifically sought to move away from:

“so I found I was feeling really outside the landscape. Trip after trip this happened, until I decided I had to go deeper. I needed to find something beyond the kind of perspective we have learned from landscape painting and find something more personal”


What is interesting about Molen’s comments is in the idea of learned knowledge from established tropes such as painting. I have been openly referencing how black and white draws from a learned knowledge and aim to continue this to a certain degree however, it is important not to fall into the trap of creating work that is a derivative of what already exists. Looking at Molen’s approach, it is possible to continue using the process in a way that still draws the attention to it but also not being a copy if what already exists. My reference to the documentary canon, should now start to develop into part of the process over full emulation.

Figure 3: Awoiska van der Molen (2014) #212-7.

The approach will need investigating. Do I aim to use the qualities of the camera or the qualities of post-production. Molen uses both at different stages to build her outcome (Fig: 3). Not to emulate (as stated above), I do want to see how each of these methods will have an impact on my work.


Beynon, M., Cawley, A. & Munday, M., 2016. Measuring and Understanding the differences between urban and rural areas, a new approach for planners. Environment and Planning B. Urban Analytics and city Science, 43(6).

Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.

Hepburn, R. W., 1996. Landscape and the Metaphysical Imagination. Environmental Values, 5(3), pp. 191-204.

Molen, A. v. d. M., 2020. Blanco: Silent Landscapes [Interview] 2020.

Looking at Alec Soth

Figure 1. Alec Soth (2015) in conversation with American Suburb X

I had been avoiding Alec Soth, as I very much like his work and also very familiar with it visually. However, It was mentioned to me that my work has some similarities (albeit i’d argue tenuous), so I decided that it might be good to look at Soth for this task, which has turned out to be a revelation to how I am approaching my own practice. The interview that I am using is a conversation that Soth had with American Suburb X (Soth in ASX, 2015).

Figure 2. Alec Soth (2014) from Songbook.

I found his discussion about the work ‘Songbook’ (Fig. 2) particularly interesting as Soth quickly moves into the way he created this work aesthetically, utilising black and white images with direct flash, which he is mimicking the look of press photography of the 1950s. This is something that resonated with me immediately as I have been writing about a documentary aesthetic, which has been driven by the look of this style of photography from the earliest FSA imagery and also how the look of press photographers, such as Weegee, who Soth also referenced in this interview, which was a nice validation for a post I did earlier in the module (Fig 3). Soth states “the work is referencing another time,” which is how we look at the period of the post war era as a sense of wonder, and how people have a deeply romanticised version of the past. From here Soth also makes reference to community and how there is a sense of loss of it, yet it has never really gone away. I had also been looking at a recent publication by Eli Durst, called ‘The Community’ in which he also creates images using this aesthetic, and seems to also reference another time. I have been discussing this aesthetic in relation to my own work, which is colour, however I don’t think that I have been able to truly resolve the reason why I have not created my work in black and white despite choosing to reference and research a range of black and white photography until listening to this interview. I believe that my work exists on the spectrum of the documentary aesthetic, however unlike Soth and Durst, my project is based on the present, so to use Soth’s conscious referencing to a romanticised past would be confusing and my use of colour makes sense in this context.

Figure 3. Phil Hill (March 30, 2020) Discussion on the ‘Documentary aesthetic.

Soth also referred to a range of his works, which might be aesthetically different but are connected to each other and that every project that he creates is what Soth termed “Stuff that happens in America” but they are also about himself and some of the work is more inward looking than others. I have been struggling to resolve my project in terms of the editing of my work in progress portfolio, owing to a range of disparate imagery. My intention is to look at my connection to community, or lack thereof, which also makes my project a kind of autobiography in where I fit in. It has been useful to re-examine Alec Soth in relation to my own work. I think that in terms of how he resolves the autobiographical elements of his images could prove useful in the editing of my own WIPP.

Another interesting question posed to Soth was regarding his association with Magnum Photos, in what interviewer Brad Feuerhelm termed “the slippery position of being an artist and working with Magnum,” however after all our examination of National Geographic a few weeks ago, the statement of the ‘Magnum Artist’ feels like an oxymoron when considering how we perceive Magnum as a collective of documentary photographers. However, Soth states that Magnum has been misunderstood as being a news agency and confused by some its founding photographers who were closely linked to war photography, citing Robert Capa and Heri Cartier Bresson as “surrealists who exist in the real world,” and I wonder wether this statement sums up what I am aiming to say about this documentary aesthetic, which gives off the assumed authority of veracity but are aesthetic constructions in the same way National Geographic utilises similar tropes in the pursuit of empirical authority and arguments that have been put to the work of Sabastiao Salgado that we looked at a couple of weeks ago.


Durst, E., 2019. The Community. [Online] Available at: http://www.elidurst.com/the-community [Accessed 30 March 2020].

Soth, A., 2014. Songbook. 1 ed. London: Mack.

Soth, A., 2015. Brad Feuerhelm of ASX in conversation with Alec Soth [Interview] (4 November 2015)

Martin Parr & Patrick Waterhouse

His images create a grotesqueness in the use of obvious flash. These image are a construction, and the choices made to represent people, objects, and indeed people as objects is unrelenting, anything that the light falls is framed and appears garish in colour, fashion and presumed attitude of the people within then frame. Parr does not shy away from this, and refers to this appearance of the grotesque in his own biography (Parr, n.d.).

Figure 1. Martin Parr (2015) USA. Kentucky Derby. 2015.
Figure 2. Martin Parr (2015) USA. Utah. Salt Lake City. Mr Mac’s. Two Missionary’s trying on their Suits. Matthew Tanner on left and Preston Toone on right.

I find opposition in how I read some of his work, compared to how he describes himself and aims as a photographer. For Parr, to create the work that he does, it seems that it requires distance. Parr is taking his images behind the safety of his camera, in the sense that the flash technique that he employs feels a kind of interrogators spot light pointed at the subject to reveal things about themselves that they might not be prepared to reveal normally (Fig. 1). There is a distance there, there is also an intrusive element to some of his work, even when the subject is complicit, there is a feeling that they may not actually be in on the joke (Fig. 2). Parr states “It’s the quality of the connection you make with the subject which is absolutely key. And there should always be some kind of story behind that, some kind of tension or vulnerability” (Magnum Photos, 2018), Which is an interesting statement as there seems little connection with some of the subjects, although there is always a tension within his work, and I wonder if the vulnerability is in the actual awareness of how his subjects might be represented in the final images; Are they aware that they could be considered ‘Other.’ When I look at this work compared to other similar subject matter, for example how the photographer Nial Mcdiarmid photographs the UK, the difference feels embedded in the empathy towards the cultural coding that his subjects are displaying (Fig. 3); these images feel closer to a collaboration between subject and author over Parr’s images.

Figure 3. Nial McDiarmid (2016) Rob, Merton, South London

I do enjoy much of Martin Parr’s images despite of his confrontational approach; it could be considered a re-balancing of the cultural anthropological images that western culture has taken from others by turning the lens onto our own consumption. There is a use of gaze that confirms and mocks our capitalism – especially throughout the excess of the eighties and the nineties where Parr’s look at the middle and upper classes feels the most relevant, and a necessary foil (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Martin Parr (2011) SWITZERLAND. St Moritz. St Moritz polo world cup on snow. From ‘Luxury’.

I found Parr’s approach a little more challenging when looking at his work for the book ‘No Worries’  (Parr, 2012). The book was created in conjunction with the 2012 FotoFreo festival in Western Australia, where I was living at the time. Parr was invited by the festival to focus his attention and unremitting style onto Australia and create a body of work that would also be exhibited at the festival (Parr, 2012). The work was to “examine the nature of the people, at work and at their leisure in a number of port towns and cities along the coast of Western Australia” (Magnum Photos, 2011). The exhibition that accompanied the work felt unremarkable compared to some of Parr’s earlier work, partly due to the technique that Parr uses didn’t seem to translate to the large format printing owing to his switch from film to digital. The series also felt fairly repetitive and in places forced. It was his images of indigenous Australians that were the most startling. Considering my comments on the re-balance of the anthropological imagery that we are used to seeing in publications such as National Geographic; here it seems to have reverted back the clichéd tropes of inconsiderate representation, together with the subject not even afforded a title (Fig. 5). This mirrors Diane Arbus’s problematic lack if titles in her later works (See Post), with another image also creates the idea of other through the view of indigenous Australians seeking hand outs (Fig. 6). These images read as though it could have been taken in a hurry, and quickly back onto photographing other Australians once more (Fig. 7).

Figure 5. Martin Parr (2011) South Hedland. Garden Centre.
Figure 6. Martin Parr (2011) AUSTRALIA. Broome. Cable Beach. Scratch Football BBQ. From ‘No Worries’.
Figure 7. Martin Parr (2011) Australia. Broome. Cable Beach.

in considering a different approach, I have since come to enjoy the work of Patrick Waterhouse, who has worked with the Walpiri of Central Australia, and sort to collaborate in keeping with the culture and tradition of their culture (Waterhouse, 2019). The persons depicted, restricted the images by traditional painting (Fig. 8). The series was created in part to the way that ethnologists Francis J. Gillen and W. Baldwin Spencer documented Aboriginal groups in Australia at the end of the nineteenth century (Waterhouse, 2018), spurring the myth of exoticism and the way that non-western culture has been portrayed ever since.

Figure 8. Patrick Waterhouse (2019) ‘Various Front and Side Portraits’

This is a continuum and Parr and Waterhouse seem to sit on each end of it in how they have represented. Both photographers use a highly constructed approach and in terms of the hunters and farmers analogy from week 3 (See Post), I would place Parr as Hunter, and Waterhouse as Farmer.

Where do I fall? Again it is somewhere in between these extremes, though much more toward how Waterhouse constructs his images with the Walpiri. I am not, as yet, fully collaborating with my subjects in this way, however, I do not believe that I am polarising the view of the representation of my subjects either.


Magnum Photos, 2011. Feature – No Worries Martin Parr. [Online]
Available at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspxVP3=SearchResult&ALID=2K1HRGQW9DQ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Magnum Photos, 2018. Martin Parr’s Advice to Documentary Photographers. [Online]
Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/martin-parrs-advice-documentary-photographers/ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Mcdiarmid, N., 2016. Rob, Merton, South London. [Photo].

Parr, M., 2011. Australia. Broome. Cable Beach. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2011. AUSTRALIA. Broome. Cable Beach. Scratch Football BBQ. From ‘No Worries’.. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2011. South Hedland. Garden Centre.. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2011. SWITZERLAND. St Moritz. St Moritz polo world cup on snow. From ‘Luxury’. 2011. [Photo] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2012. No Worries. 1 ed. Perth, Western Australia: T&G.

Parr, M., 2012. No Worries. [Photo] (Western Australia Maritime Museum – Part of Fotofreo).

Parr, M., 2015. USA. Kentucky Derby. 2015.. [ Photo ] (Magnum Photos).

Parr, M., 2015. USA. Utah. Salt Lake City. Mr Mac’s. Two Missionary’s trying on their Suits. Matthew Tanner on left and Preston Toone on right. 2015. [Photo] (Magnum).

Parr, M., n.d. Martin Parr: Introduction. [Online] Available at: https://www.martinparr.com/introduction/ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Waterhouse, P., 2018. Various Front and Side Portraits. [Online] Available at: https://patrickwaterhouse.com/archive/selected/restricted-images-front-and-side-portraits/ [Accessed 28 February 2020].

Waterhouse, P., 2019. Restricted Images – Made With the Warlpiri of Central Australia. 1st ed. London: Self Publish Be Happy Editions.

On Diane Arbus

Figure 1. Diane Arbus (1961) Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Connecticut

I have been considering the work of Diane Arbus in relation to my own. Comparisons could be made on the surface level to some of my portraits that I have created up to this point. Am I perusing and creating an ‘otherness’ in the work that I am producing? This is an important question that I should continually ask myself, even after this post is complete.​*​

Figure 2. Diane Arbus (1970 – 71) ‘Untitled (22) 1970-71’
Figure 3.  Bruce Gilden (2015) Betty, from FACE

There is not a lot of detail in what Arbus’s intentions truly were, she was famously aloof in the discussion of her work, and her estate is quite guarded on releasing much of the material she left behind. Arbus’s later images seem to clearly show otherness (Fig. 2) and there is a separation that exists in the language and even the lack of language used to describe them as ‘untitled’ and ‘Freaks.’  Arbus’s own language in relation to her images exacerbates the problematic gaze that we assume she views them: “Most People go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience, Freaks were born with their trauma, they’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats” (2005, p. 38). However, in that statement there seems to be a kind of nobility in which she views the subjects. It is the use if the word ‘freak’ however that creates an uncomfortable tension, if this work was created and described as such now, it would clearly incite a justifiable outrage against the artist, and has been, in the critique of Bruce Gilden’s approach (Fig. 3), who could be considered equivalent of Arbus in the fall out from recent work, as his critics posit similar views of them “so unforgiving and intrusive they dehumanise the subjects” (O’Hagan, 2015). Even when we take into account the context in which these images were taken, which might be viewed as an Ignorant infancy in the evolution on thinking about gaze and its impact, Arbus’s contemporary, Susan Sontag, was particularly critical of Arbus’s approach: “For it is based on distance, privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other” (Sontag, 1979, p. 34). A damning indictment of Arbus, which suggests that even during the period, there was a clear awareness of how problematic her gaze was. Discussions were taking place, albeit considered in other terms, critics such as John Berger discussed aspects of looking and seeing, which is highly relevant to the ways that we view the topic today  (Ways of Seeing, 1972).

Sontag’s view and basis for her critic was that this was based on a kind of punching-down of those deemed other and Arbus’s own affluent background & privilege was front and centre to this view. Arbus sort to destroy her personal history in order to enter the world of her subjects. She deconstructed her life in order to change the detachment that she felt growing up (Goldberg, 2005, p. 42), perhaps creating the conditions for further detachment. Arbus photographed the ‘outsiders’ and was an outsider herself.

Arbus’s gaze was a troubled one, and she was a troubled herself; Her images could be a reflection of this. It is worth considering perhaps whose Gaze is the most enlightened, when context, as Sontag herself suggests, drains away (Sontag, 1979, p. 106). The language and the execution of Arbus’s images were problematic, however, the way that Diane Arbus photographed, what were considered fringe cultures at the time, created a dialogue of what we are allowed to gaze at, taking it to the most extreme. Her images show is that, indeed, these people existed and should be accepted (Goldberg, 2005, p. 37), and although not the answer to the challenge, but the road map to how we view them now. Arbus herself had lifelong relationships with many of the people that she photographed, and would suggest that this meant her intentions were good. We may never know as Diane Arbus is not here to reflect on this work.

Arbus’s work is at one of a spectrum that I don’t feel my images compare (Fig. 4). Arbus talks about her lack of experience with the world, writing that she had never had felt adversity and learning about it was purely an academic exercise (Goldberg, 2005, p. 42). Whereas for me and my practice, my intention was to look at my formative community, one that was deeply working class as was I, and reflected in the culture of the carnivals of the region; are they the kind of carnivals that Arbus photographed? Of course not. My own comparison, and perhaps of my peers, might be that I have been subtler than Arbus as I am now the outsider, having worked to change my demographic, so going back to photograph my old community could be considered a look at the other. However, it is from personal experience, which Arbus did not have, and where I also maintain lifelong friendships with some of the people involved, and who helped me connect with the carnival in the first place.

And moving forward onto my current look at where live now, I can see great poverty, and what might be termed ‘other.’ For example, I aim to connect with a foodbank to explore the idea of how we ostracise some in order to build a community for the majority; pain as Dexter Dias discusses, is a form of social control (Dias, 2017, p. 124). You can cross the street from the house that I live and you will have reached this foodbank; it is part of where I live and a shared experience of the community. Perhaps the bigger question that I should be asking myself is that of my lack of engagement with this place up until now, and why has it taken a photography project to engage with them. And this creates parallels to the critique of Arbus, but also differentiates our approaches – My camera is my passport, yes, but it is not my license to do whatever I want and do whatever I want as Arbus wrote (Sontag, 1979, p. 4), it is my means of meaningful engagement. I see my project now as an autobiographical look of people and place, I must collaborate with those that should self-represent, in a similar way to Anthony Luvera’s Assisted Self-Portraits (Fig. 5), though not without my own imagery; I live here too.

Figure 5. Anthony Luvera (2019) Assisted Self-Portrait of Joe Murray from Residency

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    I will aim to return to this post in the coming weeks and reflect on the work as it evolves.

Arbus, D., 1961. Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Connecticut, 1961. [Photo] (Estate of Diane Arbus).

Arbus, D., 1970-1971. ‘Untitled (22) 1970-71’. [Photo] (Estate of Diane Arbus).

Dias, D., 2017. The Ten Types of Human. 1st paperback ed. London: Penguin Random House.

Gilden, B., 2015. Betty, from FACE.. [Art] (Magnum ).

Goldberg, V., 2005. Light Matters. 1st ed. New York: Aperture.

Hill, P., 2020. Week 5 WD24 Shoot. [Photographs].

Luvera, A., 2019. Assisted Self-Portrait of Joe Murray from Residency. [Photo].

O’Hagan, S., 2015. A latter-day freak show? Bruce Gilden’s extreme portraits are relentlessly cruel. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/aug/19/bruce-gilden-face-street-portraits-photographs-book [Accessed 27 February 2020].

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

Ways of Seeing. 1972. [Film] Directed by Michael Dibb. UK: BBC.