Exploration in Hole Punches

I have come into this module with the intention of looking at my research project through the lens of a documentary aesthetic and have been experimenting with this in mind. During the last module my research started to point to the way that photographers, such as Eli Durst and Alec Soth have both used black and white in their work as a way of creating a nostalgia in the images, which is reminiscent of photographs taken in the 50’s and 60’s. Soth purposefully used black and white images in his book ‘Songbook’ (Fig: 1) as a reference to press photographs of the same era. As I am interested in the idea of connection in the work that I am producing on my own community, I felt that it would make an interesting investigation to see if my work would be seen very differently if I was to also shoot using black and white, creating a separation through the medium that I am using.

Figure 1: Alec Soth (2014) images from the book ‘Songbook’

Black and white film is not something that I am particularly comfortable to shoot as I have been creating my work solely in colour up to this point. This in a sense is a partial remix of my work as I fervently vowed not to shoot film during this MA. Yet, I am keen to explore the idea of how black and white can have an impact on the concepts and aesthetic of my work so it is important to explore it in detail, which includes the use of film photography.

Figure 2: Dorothea Lange (1933) White Angel Breadline, San Francisco

Another reason for exploring black and white film was how it references back to the FSA imagery (Fig: 2), which Sally Stein notes: “is often treated as the quintessential 1930s documentary photography” (2020: 59) and follows its referenced use in the work of Soth and Durst. FSA images, which have also been discussed by Susan Sontag and John Tagg have also been dismissed as essentially propaganda yet continue to shape the way that we view and approach such documentary imagery. This play on the reality in which they supposedly represent interests me, especially when you view the images that were rejected by Roy Stryker by punching a hole through the negative, referred to as ‘Killing’ the photograph. These ‘Killed’ images were rejected when they did not fit the narrative that the FSA project was trying to create, however they still exist in the archive of FSA photography in the library of congress. Lewis Bush used a number of these images for his zine ‘Stryker’ (2017) that seeks to create a narrative of the images in their own right (Fig: 3). In this zine, Bush notes “the black orb created by the punch seems to take on the role of a persistent character, navigating the harsh landscape  of depression era America” (p. 28), which feels like a comment on what Geoff Dyer refers to as cultural signifiers that are anonymous characters to signify the dominant reading of the image. For example, in images of the same period, the hat can tell us a lot about the person wearing it, as Dyer states when discussing an image by Dorothea Lange (Fig: 2): “his fedora is in far worse shape than anyone else’s in the picture. He is like a premonition of what is to come. By the end of the decade everyone else will have followed his example of battered resilience” (2007, p. 105). Bush also notes that the holes in the ‘killed images’ offer little answer to why they were so forcibly removed from those deemed acceptable, especially when viewed through the lens of history, only to say that these images were not part of the accepted narrative as edited by Stryker.

Figure 3: Lewis Bush (2017) ‘Stryker’ zine
Figure 4: Lewis Bush (2012) ‘Peckham Gothic’ zine
Figure 5: Lewis Bush (2012) Spread from ‘Peckham Gothic’

Bush also created another Zine inspired by the FSA images, titled ‘Peckham Gothic’ (Bush, 2012), where he applied the aesthetic and style of the FSA images to make the middle classes of Peckham appear as 1930s sharecroppers (Fig: 3&4), with the title of the zine as a nod to the famous ‘American Gothic’ image from the FSA project by Gordon Parks (Fig: 6).

Figure 6: Gordon Parks (1942) ‘American Gothic’
Exploration

I am interested in what happened to the punched holes; the parts of the image that didn’t even make it into the LOC archive. I shot some film images on 35mm and punched holes in parts that I thought would still make interesting images (Fig: 7). Some of the ‘killed’ images, feel as though the punch itself was not done in a random way, but targeted to crop out a particular part of the image (Fig: xx).

Figure 7: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Hole Punch experiment

Figure 8: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Hole Punches

The result creates an interesting way to crop an image, one that is another step removed from the initial crop created by the frame of the camera (Fig: 8). I don’t find the punched parts of the images as intriguing as the frames with the black hole present. The idea of this playing its role as a signifier or character in the image is quite powerful, which has been removed when only presented in the form of the circular image. This also feels fairly forced as a concept, when I consider the way that the copied negative compares to this approach. I prefer the way that these concepts are quite subtle, yet create a fundamental impact in the way the image is seen.

Ideas to take forward

What seems to be the underlying thread to the use of this aesthetic in the work of photographers such as Soth and Durst, is the intertextual link to the familiar, and the familiar is what makes then work interesting as it becomes reminiscent of a past that is longed for, even if it never existed in the first place. It would be useful to explore this idea in greater detail and identify the areas of my own research project that could be considered familiar and even a kind of nostalgia for community that is perceived not to exist anymore.

Bibliography

Bush, L., 2012. Peckham Gothic. 1 ed. London: Lewis Bush.

Bush, L., 2017. Stryker. London: Lewis Bush.

Dyer, G., 2007. The Ongoing Moment. 2nd ed. London: Abacus.

Stein, S., 2020. Migrant Mother Migrant Gender. 1 ed. London: Mack.

Object Agency – Planning for Surfaces and Strategies

The central focus around which I based my research project was to create a body of work that had portraiture as the main thread running through it. It is where I believed that the strongest stories in photography are; people being at the core of my narrative. Since the outbreak, I have had to evolve this approach and it has forced me to consider different ways of representing the idea of idiorrythym with the community and my connection to it, without people present.

I was fairly happy with the outcomes of the last module’s work in progress portfolio (Fig: 1), however this felt more of a reaction to the situation than of complete intent. There are some clear ideas that came out of the evolved approach together with some concepts that feel like they could have a valuable impact on my project as it moves forward.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2020) Work in Progress portfolio submission for Informing Contexts.

During the break I have been researching the concept of Object Orientated Ontology, which seeks to consider the agency of the object in the sense of how the qualities of the object impact the outcome of the photograph and ultimately how it is read. For example, Barthes’ discusses the mythology applied to wine, especially in French culture, for his essay ‘wine and milk’ (1993: 58-62). In it he creates a metaphor and symbols by which wine is interpreted, consumed and viewed by our learned culture:

“Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention”

(1993: 59)

“Wine is part of society because it provides a basis not only for a morality but also for an environment it is an ornament in the slightest ceremonials of French daily life”

(1993: 60)

Wine for Barthes symbolises quite a lot for French culture and also wider culture. Wine is so crucial to our wider culture that Peter Conrad also included an updated version to discuss the screw-top wine bottle when he created his ‘21st Century Mythologies’ (2014). Much of the way that Barthes’ discusses his mythologies is a way of anthropomorphising the inanimate to create the metaphor, yet these are formed from the qualities of the object and shape the experience of it. Graham Harmon refers to these as sensual qualities (2018), the sun for example is not an object that as humans, we can tangibly verify from its physical qualities, however we are aware of its sensual qualities: the light emitted, the heat it provides.

These qualities also have a fundamental impact on how the photograph is constructed. I can make decisions on how I want to take my photographs, but these are ultimately governed by the sensual qualities of the sun. The time of day to create the most aesthetically pleasing image, also known as the golden hour, is an example of this agency over the photograph. These qualities govern the way that the camera reacts to what it is pointed at.

Areas of exploration during surfaces and strategies

I am aiming to continue exploring the research that I began around the idea of the documentary aesthetic and to extend this by experimenting with the inherent qualities that are inherent in these images, or at least, the qualities that are expected to be seen in these images from our collective awareness of how they should look. These qualities, physical and sensual have important roles in the way that images are read and create impact. As I have started to look at the concept of OOO and how this applies to objects, the art object, and their agency. More specifically, how the photograph is an object in its own right and creates agency.

Initial ideas
FSA Hole Punches:
Figure 2: Paul Carter (1936) Hole punched through – Untitled photo, possibly related to: Tobacco fields devastated by the Connecticut River near Northampton, Massachusetts. Photograph: Library of Congress
  • I have come back to the FSA images a few time during the MA so far, after reading the discussion of Susan Sontag and John Tagg unpick the images as propagandist and complete constructions, with Sontag noting “In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects” (1979: 6), which considers how the photographer acts upon the objects (or subject), however as I have been researching in OOO, those subjects (or objects) can also act on the photographer and the photograph.
  • As I have become interested in a documentary aesthetic, I have been considering how the FSA images have come to define how we expect documentary images to be presented back to us. Sally Stein also noted this in her essay on Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ image, stating: “is often treated as the quintessential 1930s documentary photography” (2020: 59). And goes on to discuss the appropriation of the image, which has little to do with the reality of the situation that she photographed.
  • What really interests me from the vast archive of images was the ones that were ‘killed’ by Roy Stryker by punching holes through them (Fig: 2). I wrote about during the last module and created some experiments based around these, which seemed fairly superficial and I decided to move on fairly quickly so I am keen to look at this again. Instead of creating images that have been ‘Killed’ I want to explore the idea of looking at the punched hole from the image itself. There are many of these ‘killed’ images in the Library of Congress archive, which interests me as although the images were considered rejects, they were still kept for posterity whereas the missing part of these images – the holes – were discarded. Lewis Bush created a zine of this archive (2017), which suggests Stryker’s motives for such a violent rejection was due to any deviation from the official narrative that these images were aiming to portray.
  • The discarded part of the image, which does not fit the narrative, is what intrigues me and really connects to some of my earlier research into the ostracised (Barthes, 2012: 81).
Separation
  • Separation is a theme that has entered into my image making. I want to explore this further by creating separation through image processing. Vilem Flusser discusses that the photographs abstract from reality: “traditional images are abstractions of the first order insofar as they abstract from the concrete world while technical images are abstractions of the third order: They abstract from texts which abstract from traditional images which themselves abstract from the concrete world” (2000: 14), so one of my explorations will be to create levels of abstraction using photographic processes, which is also an area I want to look at in support of the photograph as an object in its own right.
  • Black and White film is a way to begin this. During the module break I began to use film a lot more as I went out on my daily walks. Black and white in itself is an abstraction of the concrete world, and Flusser even highlights the way that black and white infers a theoretical concept into the visual: “Black-and-white photographs embody the magic of theoretical thought since they transform the linear discourse of theory into surfaces. Herein lies their peculiar beauty, which is the beauty of the conceptual universe” (p. 43). Therefore, I want to experiment with its ability to abstract from the concrete and also explore the way it translates the conceptual. Alec Soth used a black and white aesthetic in his series ‘Songbook’ (2014) to reference a nostalgia for such imagery, which the FSA partially created. I also aim to extend this research into black and white use by looking at the work of Alys Tomlinson’s Ex Voto series (Fig: 3) among others.
  • Push processing film beyond its normal working range is something else that I am considering. I have a bulk roll of Fomapan 100 film that I am working through and will shoot some at 3200+ to see how this has an impact on image quality. I have seen people push HP5 to the extremes with interesting result to the grain of the negative, giving an aesthetic similar to that of Fukase’s Ravens (Fig: 4)
Figure 3: Alys Tomlinson (2019) Untitled from ‘Ex Voto
Figure 4: Masahisa Fukase (1986) Image from ‘Ravens’
Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1993. Mythologies. 1st Vintage Edition ed. London: Vintage.

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

Bush, L., 2017. Stryker. London: Lewis Bush.

Conrad, P., 2014. 21st Century Mythologies: Episode 1 – Screw-Top Wine Bottle. London: BBC Radio 4.

Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.

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

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

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

Stein, S., 2020. Migrant Mother Migrant Gender. 1 ed. London: Mack.

Reflecting on Practice

Considering the construction of my images and looking at the idea of the indexical and the iconic have be a big influence on my work during this module. I truly believe that without these fundamental lessons I may not have been able to develop and adapt my practice in response to the covid-19 outbreak and lock down. To be able to include both elements of the actual and the conceptual whilst being able to realise the same intent has been revelatory and something that I will continue to include even after things have returned to some kind of normality.

Short Statement of intent

“The Pathos of Distance” explores how we coexist in the same space yet live to our own individual rhythm – the idiorryhtym of separation. It is my idiorrythm to a place where I lived for some time but do not feel connected; a generational sense of tenuous job security and the liminality of the rental trap. However, a separation of community has a tangible meaning for all of us, under the conditions of pandemic and the limits it has placed on our civil liberties. My disconnect is a shared experience and for those with a stake in the community; in order to save it, we must remain distant from it.

Reflection

In order to achieve my intent, I have placed images that would seem aesthetically disparate next to each other in order to portray this separation visually. I started to create my project using an iconic approach in the way that the subjects are recognisable as the subjects; portraits are a resemblance of the subjects and the environmental topology I present in part two are based on the actuality of the objects existence. To contrast this, I created a series of abstracted images that together I hope would create more of a representation of this separation aesthetically and conceptually, as I mention in my critical review, quoting Peter Lamarque “resemblance is not sufficient for representation.” (Lamarque and Olsen, 2004: 347) and the representation in my diptychs can shift into a reading that represents more about me and my connection that it necessarily does of the person in the portrait. Additional meaning of the pairings is also of a broader community in separation as a result of the current pandemic.


Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2020) Peer feedback discussion on early version of portfolio

Figure 2: Phil Hill (February – April, 2020) Experimenting with differing image sizes next to each other.

After reflecting on some peer feedback (Fig. 1) and discussing with Michelle how the work could be displayed, I have decided to present the diptychs as two equally sized imaged next to one another. I experimented with image placement and sizing (Fig. 2) However, the challenge was in the reading of the work, creating more emphasis on either a portrait or one of the windows, which changes the project and reading of the work to be more about one series of images over the other. Equal sizing of the work means that the images will have to be read as equivalent in the meaningful relationship to the sequence of the work as a whole (Fig. 3). In order to achieve this without the viewer of the work becoming tired of the same visual style of the edit, which was mentioned by my peers, I have decided to reduce the amount of images in this part of the project. I also removed some of the cropped portraits (Fig. 4) from the sequence after discussion with Michelle for consistency and how the full body portraits create a kind of topology that is a feature of my work on the whole. This also follows from some of the feedback I have received previously, where my portraits could be better placed within the environment so that a better contextualisation of the subject and who they are can be made in an individual image. By focussing on the full body portraits, there is a greater sense of these individuals as pillars of the communities in the setting where they are part of it.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (March – April, 2020) Equal sizing of images in diptych.
Figure 4: Phil Hill (March, 2020) Geoff, elim food bank patron

I have also reduced the number of diptych’s in part two. The sequence here is in the aesthetic mirroring of images before the lock down and during. It was challenging to find images that did this effectively and had led to a couple of pairing that could be considered forced (Fig. 5). As a result, I made the decision to remove these from the series to create consistency of impact that the sequence is starting to have.

Figure 5: Phil Hill (March – April) unused diptych from part two.

Graphic elements

I have always been interested in how graphics work with images, which could be as simple as the typeface that is used to caption and preface the visual work. Graphic provide additional meaning and as a result need to be considered carefully as it could have a subtle influence on how the work is read.

Figure 6: Phil Hill (April, 2020) Title and Captions for ‘The Pathos of Distance’ WIPP

For example, I have utilised the typeface ‘Futura’ for the title and caption information in my portfolio (Fig. 6). This san-serif typeface is designed for maximum legibility and is used for well-known brands, such as Volkswagen in their print advertisements (Fig. 7) and notably in the work of Barbara Kruger in reference to these advertisements and mass media uses (Fig. 8). Futura is also part of the ‘Neo-Grotesque’ font family that includes Helvetica, which is commonly used for government information (Fig. 9) owing to its clarity and the perceived authority of the message. In the way that John Tagg discusses how the photograph has been employed the state: “The ‘truth’ of these individual photographs may be said to be a function of several intersecting discourses: that of government departments, that of journalism, more especially documentarism, and that of aesthetics” (Tagg, 1988, p. 173). The same can be argued of how typeface is utilised to create a ‘truth’ and that this might be enhanced when image and text work together, which provides an intertextual link to my research and discussion on the documentary aesthetic and authenticity of images.

Figure 7: Volkswagen (1960) Volkswagen Beetle ‘Lemon’ advert
Figure 8: Barbara Kruger (1995-2000) Untitled (Thinking of you)
Figure 9: UK Government (2016) Cover of the Brexit referendum information leaflet
Bibliography

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

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

WIPP Peer Feedback

One of my biggest challenges in the all of the work that I produce is the narrative and sequencing of it and will remain one of the key areas that I need to develop. To support this here, I asked my peers to have a look at my WIPP folio edit so far (Fig. 1)

Figure 1. Phil Hill (April, 2020) Sequence of my WIPP to gain feedback from my peers

Disparate sequence

I have taken the decision to split my project into two parts, this is in part a reaction to how my project has had to change as a result of the pandemic. However, as I have returned to the text of Barthes’ ‘How to live together’ (Barthes, 2012), the idea of separation and distance play a key role in how Barthes’ explores the idea of community. For example, as Barthes’s notes about what Nietzsche says about distance in the ‘Twilight of Shadows’: “The utopian tension that inhabits the idiorrythmic fantasy stems from this: what is desired is a distance that won’t destroy affect (“Pathos of distance”: an excellent expression)” (p. 132), which is a reference to how society tends to be structured in a hierarchy of a low to high order. However, I have interpreted the expression in order to consider my initial intention of my own lack of connection to the community, which translates to a pathos of the way that we all can relate to this feeling of existential anxiety under the conditions of the pandemic and getting used to a new vocabulary, such as “social distancing.”

By breaking up the project into two parts, I can also consider the other Barthesian idea of the idiorrythmic way that we are separate but occupy the same spaces; my project literally has been separated but remains two parts of the same whole. Barthes discusses a ‘distance that won’t destroy affect’ (p. 132), which seems very topical in the way that we have had to change behaviour in order to stem the spread of the virus. Human connectedness has been removed, and we will start to question whether things will return to the way they were before; community had fundamentally changed as a result.

Project Title: The Pathos of Distance

As a result of re-visiting this text, I felt that the expression that Barthes’ refers to from Nietzsche really starts to sum up and start to contextualise what my intent is in relation to the work. It is my distance to the idea of community and it is also the distance that we all share as a result of the behavioural change that has taken place. The pathos of the work is in the way that the images should evoke those feeling connected to this period of social isolation that we are all experiencing at the moment. The connotation of the work once it realised that it was shot during the time of the pandemic should be readily felt, until that it, the context starts to fall away as a result of time. As Sontag reminds us: “the photograph is, as always, an object in a context, this meaning is bound to drain away; that is, the context which shapes whatever immediate – in particular, political – uses the photograph may have inevitably succeeded by contexts in which such uses are weakened and become progressively less relevant” (Sontag, 1979, p. 106).

Peer Feedback

The Pathos of Distance: Part I
Figure 2. Phil Hill (February – April, 2020) Helen, volunteer litter picker & Window #2233

The way that I have been approaching the edit of this work is to place them in a series of diptych that equal weighting to one another (Fig. 2). I felt that each of the images deserved to be read equally throughout the sequence. My reasoning for this is that resizing one image over another would create a different reading of the diptych, albeit subtly. For example, having a full-size portrait next to a smaller window, would start to create a dominant reading of the work that places value on the portrait over the window. As I started to put this work together, it was from the position that I was presenting of before and after the community retreated into the home off the back of the pandemic.

Here, I felt that I was on to something, especially after re-considering the title and re-writing my critical review to take this into account. My project is about distance – idiorrythmic distance in the community and it is also about my distance, so the images and the sequence reflect this. To test it, I decided to ask my peers for some feedback to see if the sequencing was starting to come together:


Phil, for my part, I do not understand the diptychs in the 1st series. It is very static, in my humble opinion. The second series works very well from a visual point of view.

Figure 3. Isabelle Boutriau (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Hey Phil, I think it looks good and I really like the opening sentence. I wondered if you need as many images in the first section? I would consider maybe removing one or two perhaps? I think it might be more impactful. I think the approach is working though I’m both sections.

Figure 4. Ross Trevail (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Great images Phil!  I would reduce the quantity of the first set.  & perhaps work on the size of the images …. some big, some small, maybe place some off centre???

Figure 5. Claire Wilson (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Hi Phil, great set of WIP images. And wonderful opening statement. In the first set, I connect more with the portraits that contain a sense of distance or divide. The wall in image 1 works very well. Set 3 and 5 work less well due to the closeness of the subject. Also, perversely due to the window metaphor on the right I found myself looking for windows in left hand side image, and then wondering what the portrait would be like if shot through that. So, set 1, 4 and 7 seem connected. Knowing a bit about your writing and sense of uncertainty around ‘home’ the second set are incredibly strong, in combinations and the journey I have between them. Set 4 seems the weakest in this, as I am unsure of placement within your personal space, which I feel the others are more closely linked.

Figure 6. Tim Stubbs-Hughes (April, 2020) Feedback on PDF


Of the four that commented on the work in that current iteration, I feel that the general consensus is the images are working aesthetically. Isabelle commented on how she was finding the series of the first part confusing (Fig. 3), which I think in part is how they are being presented together in the same size, after viewing two or three of these in the same style, it does become static as she states. And this also seemed to be supported by Ross and Claire (Fig. 4&5), who both like the images but felt that there were too much of the same thing, which could lead to a loss of the impact of the images.

This is an important consideration as I have been placing a great deal of value on making sure that the images have equal presence. However, this could be having a detrimental effect on how the sequence is being read as a whole. Therefore, it is important to develop my approach here so that the sequence is broken up visually in order to give the reader space to continue enjoying the narrative without the work becoming tiresome to look at.

I did provide the first sentence from my critical review in order to gauge how well the work was being read and overall, it has worked. Coming back to Isabelle’s comments, I hope that with the edit of the work, this might help her reading of the sequence. It would also be important to create a supporting text to accompany the PDF so that the meaning of the work can be better understood. As the images are being consumed alongside the critical review, Isabelle not having this to fully contextualise the work might have resulted in the way that she was viewing the work. Barthes’ notes that: “Formally, the image illustrated the text (made it clearer); today, the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination. Formerly, there was a reduction from text to image; today, there is amplification from the one to the other” (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). Therefore, my aim with how I wish my dominant reading to populate, is to create an opening paragraph, which sets up the viewing and prepares the reader to consider the elements I am aiming to portray and this is particularly important because of how autobiographical elements of the work is.

Tim on the other hand, knows my work and how I have been contextualising it with text and has started to picture a narrative based on the elements that I have been discussing and writing about throughout this module (Fig. 6). This is a positive and suggests that with the proper contextualising text, the reader of the work will be able to do the same. I take his points about how the portraits are working with the abstracted windows and I think that there is some development that would be beneficial to the series as a whole.

The Pathos of Distance: Part II

Everyone who commented on my work really got on with how I put together the second part, I think due to its more aesthetic quality in how I have set out to create mirrored compositions of the images I shot before the lockdown with those that were constructed afterward. I am quite happy with the way that these images work together.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Trans ed. London: Fontana Press.

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

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

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).

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.

Bibliography

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)

Work in Progress Development

Since the need to be inside, there has been a shift in the way that I have to approach my work.

I had been exploring the idea of the documentary aesthetic after reading John Tagg’s discussion on the subject: “that a photograph can come to stand as evidence, for example, rests not on a natural or existential fact, but on a social, semiotic process” (Tagg, 1988, p. 4). Here Tagg notes that the photographic image as ‘truth’ has become a learned part of our culture, it is a mythology that is underpinned by early documentary photography and the semiotic process being referred to is tied closely to how the images were black and white, such as the FSA photography of the 1930s, of which Tagg notes: “The ‘truth’ of these individual photographs may be said to be a function of several intersecting discourses” (p. 173), where even these early images are not part of some empirical fact but a tool for state and media bias, where Susan Sontag also acknowledges this by stating: “The FSA project, conceived as ‘a pictorial documentation of our rural areas and rural problems’ was unabashedly propagandistic” (Sontag, 1979, p. 62).

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

Since the start of the module, I have come back to the FSA project multiple times, especially when considering the idea of truth and representation. For example, when photographing my home as ‘Evidence’ to highlight the differences in the imagery and rhetoric of how an estate agent portrays our home, for the sake of our land lady (Fig. 1), and taking this a bit further by utilising the idea of the ‘killed’ image that Roy Stryker applied when rejecting images (Fig. 2). I had also begun to collaborate with others in my community by providing them with a camera and black and white film to create photograph of their own interpretation of community. My thought process behind this experiment, that the images of my collaborators would hold more ‘truth’ in black and white and play with the authenticity of the narrative, and the idea of fractured community and connective decline by placing these more ‘authentic’ images next to my own study of the community (Fig. 3). However, I think that this part of the work definitely needs more development and I have decided to shelve the idea during the lockdown period as I am unable to effectively work in collaboration and properly direct this part of the project. I am however still asking people to collaborate and create work whilst in isolation and may come back to the idea once we have returned to normality.

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

Eli Durst’s work ‘The Community’ (Durst, 2019) focusses on the community space and through this he seeks to explore American society and how people come together within these spaces. Durst writes of the work “A quintessentially American space that is simultaneously completely mundane and generic, but also deeply charged psychologically as a point of ideological production” (Durst, 2019) and many of the images create a topology of religious iconography (Fig. 4), not least because many of the space that Durst photographs are church basements. Durst creates these images in black and white and with direct flash, and although Durst comments “I quickly realised I was less interested in a documentary-style project and I became more interested in trying to capture strange, ambiguous moments in which one activity can bleed into another” (Angelos, 2019), his conscious application of these techniques, which are a departure from previous work (Fig. 5), creates a sense of the learned documentary aesthetic, in a similar way to the work of Weegee used them (Fig. 6) historically and also blend into the learned knowledge of how a documentary photograph is expected to look. Where I disagree with how Durst seems to disassociate from the documentary aesthetic, his exploration of the subject really starts to consider the mythology of American culture through these spaces and links very well to the writing of Robert Putnam, who discussed the decline of social capital through traditional sources, such as religion, citing a study by Wade Clarke Roof and William McKinney: “Large numbers of young well-educated, middle-class youth … defected from the churches in the late sixties and the seventies … Some joined new religious movements, others sought personal enlightenment through various spiritual therapies and disciplines, but most simply ‘dropped out’ of organised religion all together” (Putnam, 2000, p. 73). Yet the need to congregate continues, and Durst is starting to answer the question of what is replacing religion in these people’s lives, noting “Many need a secular sense of purpose or identity” (Durst, 2019).

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

I have found it useful to test how my own practice uses the documentary aesthetic and see where I sit on this continuum. Commercially at least, my work sits in the editorial genre, which utilises an inherent documentary aesthetic in the way that the images are primarily used to illustrate writing and provide a visual actuality of the event that has been described in the text; as Barthes’ states: “Formerly, the image illustrated the text (made it clearer); today, the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination” (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). In this space, writing informs the reading of an image to create the meaning for it. So my work is already tied to the notion of photographic ‘truth,’ in what both Barthes is stating and also how Tagg refers to the “naturalistic and the universal being particularly forceful because of photography’s privileged status of the actuality of the events it represents” (Tagg, 1988, p. 160). Understanding this is already present in my work, I don’t feel I need to resort to using black and white as this could become to overt and superfluous to my intent, however my awareness of this has become more of a conscious decision. I also intend to utilise text in my work in progress portfolio to provide additional meaning and reading of my narrative.

Into the domestic environment
Figure 7. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Darcie colouring during the daily briefing

Continuing to develop on the themes identified since the lock down and looking at the work of Clare Gallagher and Rinko Kawauchi, I have spent some time exploring my domestic environment and seeing how I can apply this to my project that looks at community. I have created a mixture of images to test some ideas, some looking at my family, which are my community now (Fig. 7), and then considering my intent, which in part was that of the connective decline within community I started to look at the windows in my home.

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

The window is the view to the outside world (Fig. 8). Outside is where the community lives. Yet, we are now confined to exist in the inner space of our homes. So if I am not able to go out and photograph the community, then I can aim to photograph my tenuous connection to it; the window. The windows in my home have become an overlooked chore (which actually creates a link to the work of Clare Galagher’s investigation of domestic load), the windows have become incredibly dirty as the result of a busy family life, career, and the distraction of finding a new house to live in after being told that we needed to move out. Now with the lockdown, all we have to connect us to the outside world is through these dirty windows. This supports the intention of my work on multiple levels. Metaphorically, the window is a barrier to the outside, which has become hostile to all of us. The obscured glass creates a view of the existential anxiety and there is the unknown of when we might be able to re-engage socially and with the community once again and it was Rinko Kawauchi who puts this into some context “I believe quietness, fragility and anxiety are included in beauty” (Kawauchi, 2016), creating a series of terms in which to explore the concept of community within the home a remotely.

Figure 9. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Kitchen window

I have chosen to put the focus onto the glass and the dust and dirt on it (Fig. 9). As a result, the subject beyond the glass in the environment and the street outside of the home are thrown out of focus to heighten the obscured view. This is inspired by Uta Barth’s use of focus to force the reader into a state of investigation and ‘experiential’ looking, who says “I wanted to challenge that by removing the central subject and to look at and think about the background, which ascribes meaning to the subject in an almost subliminal way” (Barth, 2012). There is an expectation that when I photograph a window, that I should photograph what is beyond the window, whereas the window as a barrier is what needed to be highlighted here; I am inside looking out with nothing else to do but investigate the minute details of the domestic.

In Praise of Shadows

Figure 10. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Rear Window view

When researching the work of Clare Gallagher I was pointed to an essay she cited (O’Hagan, 2020) by Junichiro Tanzinaki called ‘In Praise of Shadows’ (Tanizaki, 2001), which has become quite inspirational in the investigation of my domestic world. In it he goes to great length in describing the minutia of the many intricacies of the domestic environment: “The purist may rack his brain over the placement of a single telephone, hiding it behind the staircase or in the corner of the hallway” (p. 5) and it is in the intricacy and detail where Tanizki finds this beauty. Where I feel this truly applies to how I am approaching the image of the window is in the way that Tanzinaki views dust and grime within the home: “On the contrary, we begin to enjoy it only when the lustre has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina” (p. 18). So then, the window takes on this level of beauty as the built up layers of dust on the outside surface reflect the light in an aesthetically pleasing way, feeding into my idea that the window is the barrier and the metaphor of our isolation; what Kawauchi says of anxiety creating beauty.

Bibliography

Angelos, A., 2019. Eli Durst captures the strange and unified goings-on in an American church basement. [Online] Available at: https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/eli-durst-the-community-photography-301019 [Accessed 30 March 2020].

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

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

Durst, E., 2018. Pinnacle Reality. [Online] Available at: http://www.elidurst.com/pinnacle-realty [Accessed 30 March 2020].

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

Durst, E., 2019. The Community by Eli Durst [Interview] (18 December 2019).

Felig, A. ‘., 1960. Lost his Horse. [Art].

Hill, P., 2020. Darcie colouring during the daily briefing. [ Photo ].

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

Hill, P., 2020. Kitchen Window. [ Photo ].

Hill, P., 2020. Living room window. [ Photo ].

Hill, P., 2020. Mark, volunteer and patron of Elim foodbank for 19 years. [Photo].

Hill, P., 2020. Rear Window view. [ Photo ].

Kawauchi, R., 2016. In and Out [Interview] 2016.

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

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

Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone. 1 ed. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Russell, L., 1937. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota. [Art] (Library of Congress).

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

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

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

Intent vs Pandemic

My project’s focus was on the idiorrhythmic way that we live together and also separate lives within our communities; feeling removed from them (Stene-Johansen, et al., 2018, p. 1). The work was also partly autobiographical – This is to consider the subjective & objective aspects of how I also connect and fit in. I live in Watford but have never felt truly connected to it, from a generational sense of impermanence, liminality, and transience, which is linked to job security and the rental trap. Watford is the ideal place to explore this; not quite London, yet within the border of the M25, it is a well-known commuter town into central London, a form of transient existence is ingrained in the spaces.

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

My project aimed to explore this by engaging, collaborating and photographing the groups, communities, and people that live around me (Fig. 1). My focus was on engaging with people and allowing them the space to tell their own stories. However, with the measures put in place to tackle the Coronavirus Pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that our communities are contracting to within our own 4 walls of the home. This puts a spotlight on a socially abstract society, exacerbated by individualism, which is driven by stockpiling, profiteering and hysteria. We are, as a society unconcerned with the details of how it needs to function and our individual impact on others, especially the vulnerable, as we start disassociate our everyday connection to only think for ourselves. Barthes’ iddiorrythms also consider how we as a society impose the rectangle as the most basic form of control, referring to us as the “Civilisation of the Rectangle” (Barthes, 2012, p. 114), it is a shape that does not exist in nature and we forge our societies around this concept; Our homes for example are a collection of rectangle cuboid spaces in which we occupy.

Fundamentally, the intent of my project has not changed, I’m still looking at my community. With the rise of how we as a society are dealing with the virus, there is a heightened sense of existential dread, which in a small way existed already for me and my family throughout this module; from the sale of our rented home and the fractured sense of connection to the community, which has only increased by the current crisis. This existential dread and the community, now within my own home, is the way I could take my project forward. My community has shrunk into Barthes’ civilisation of the rectangle, in the form of my house.

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

To begin exploring new concepts in support of the new approach, I was inspired by Nick Waplington’s discussion on how he is utilising the concept of Plato’s allegory of the cave (Fig. 2), incorporating light and shadow from his studio whilst painting (Waplington, 2019). The allegory states that our senses govern our perception of our reality, and Sontag also uses the allegory in her argument on our consumption of images: “collecting images is collecting the world” (Sontag, 1979, p. 3), which can relate to how we will all rely on the media to provide us with the information and visual stimulus to make sense of the outside world, particularly prevalent at the moment. I also am interested in looking at how the outside world is projected onto my inside one; how this will impact my even smaller community of my wife, daughter and me.

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

This is a subject explored by Clare Gallagher who has a particular focus on the internal workings of the home in her project ‘Domestic Drift’ (Gallagher, 2020). In this project Gallagher is looking at the domestic environment (Fig. 3) and creates a series of ‘quotidian still lifes’ which ‘are punctuated with tender portraits of her young sons at rest, at play and asleep.’ (O’Hagan, 2020), and is a comment on the everyday workload and under appreciated roles of family life that is primarily fronted by women in society. Gallagher posits “our economic system would simply not function without all this hidden, unpaid labour” (Gallagher in O’Hagan, 2020), which is very much related to some of the research that I have been looking at. However, I would not aim to position myself against Gallagher’s look at gender role intent, although this would surely play a part in the images that I make, should I refocus on my own family. Although we are a fairly balanced household, my wife is a key worker and will play a role continuing to support the community, which means that much of the domestic role will actually be taken up by myself for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the look at the domestic environment feels a natural evolution for my project as I react to the current situation, as will the wider community. There is also a tension to Gallagher’s project that translates easily into what is happening through social isolation and how the community is retreating, distant, and remaining within the home. Hence the existentialism and anxiety that exists in both Gallagher’s work and the reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Experimenting with photographing within my home during the pandemic. [Click to enlarge]

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other People’s Vernacular

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

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

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

Figure 2. James Petrucci (March, 2020) Steps outside Watford Town Hall

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

Figure 3. James Petrucci (March, 2020) Building in Watford

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

Figure 4. Phil Hill & James Petrucci (March, 2020)Layout experimentation for WIPP

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 7. Darius Dabrowski (March, 2020) Somewhere in Cassiobury Park

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

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

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

Figure 8. Darius Dabrowski (March, 2020) Watford Town centre
Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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