I was fairly confident with how my wipp was looking off the back of the zine design and reception that publication received, however I was still keen to gain feedback on it. During the last webinar, it was noted that I had a couple of similar images in the broken tree stumps (Fig: 1), something that I had overlooked. As soon as this was pointed out to me, it became immediately obvious and really makes it clear the importance of being able to print work out and ‘live’ with it in a tangible form. Something that I am looking forward to being able to do once I can return to my work and use the facilities there. I quickly moved on to create version 2 of my wipp
Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Broken tree stump images. [Left] kept in WIPP [Right] edited out of WIPP
I opened this version with the image of the disused rail link (Fig: 2) and aimed to create a mix of single portrait juxtaposed with a subtle version of the Watford yellow, inspired by Bryan Schutmaat, and also a way of continuing connection to place. I have also created a number of diptych combinations, as they would be seen in a double page spread, for example the image of the youth centre next to the train bridge arch (Fig: 3&4) to consider the commuting connection and potential impact on community, the arches of this train bridge are also quite synonymous with the part of Watford, called Bushey. I don’t think this particular dyptich is working however. Although there are visual similarities in these images in the bricks and the architecture, the individual meaning of the images is lost when going for a mere aesthetic combination of images, so I sought to change this again. I also placed some of the portraits together with details of Watford, however again I felt that the visual impact of some of these portraits is lost when placed with other imagery (Fig: 5 & 6).
Feedback received for this version support some of my own conclusions. Ross noted that the sequence would really benefit from opening with a portrait and on reflection I would agree. My project has always been based around the portrait so feels more logical to start with one of these. It also creates a ‘hook’ to lead you into the work. Ross also mentioned that the last image, which I had left from the design of my zine might be better changed too. The image of Owen is gazing out of the frame and pushes the eye out of the frame (Fig: 7), so it might better to finish with a portrait of a direct gaze, such as Luis (Fig: 8) to really plant you into the narrative, which is something that I have been aiming for.
With this edit, I have decided to utilise more of the yellow juxtaposition next to the single image spreads (Fig: 9). I feel this adds a nice contrast to the black and white as well as bringing the Watford connection through the work. I also consider it a way of carrying you through the narrative and not be confronted by a jarring blank white page, which in turn allows the reader to examine the single image more fully as the eye is directed to focus on the portrait. The yellow also warms the tone of the reading. As discussed before, I have a number of images that reveal an underlying anxiety, yet I do not want the narrative to solely be about this, or at least, I do not want the reader to immediately come to this conclusion, perhaps after one or two viewings of the work to fully understand it. To warm it up also links to the summer months that the work was created. This version feels the most complete to me.
My work in progress portfolio is aiming to be about how people are coming back together as restrictions are lifted. It is also how I continue to consider my own connection to place. Through research into a number of concepts, I also wanted to explore in detail the idea of a documentary aesthetic and how this continues to permeate our collective consciousness of how we assume a documentary image ‘should’ look. Whilst doing so, I also became interested in the idea of drawing attention to the act of photography, which is how I am starting to consider some of the best photographic projects do. This starts to consider my place within the scene (Fig: 1).
This supports some initial research that I made on the concept of ‘gesellschaft,’ (Fig: 2) or the larger more impersonal communities that many of us find ourselves in whilst living in bigger urban and city areas (Keller, 1988: 171-172), and also the idea of community idiorrythmic living together but also separately (Barthes, 2012: 102). These two concepts have been quite crucial in understanding my own feelings towards places as I moved around a lot and now find myself living in Watford, brought here for a job. That sense of connection has never been there, even after meeting my wife and having our daughter here. The town has always felt fairly transient, although this may just be a personal reflection of my own feelings towards the town. Existing outside of London, it serves the capital via its many substantial transport links (Fig: 3).
It became more and more apparent to me during the time creating work for this module that my project was becoming a journey through Watford. An evolving connection is beginning to form in the Images that I am starting to make, which is partly out of the new spaces that I discovered whilst we were on Lock down, this is something that I wanted to reflect in this submission. There is actually a great deal of beauty in the immediate surrounding countryside and even in the numerous wooded areas that permeate the suburban sprawl of Watford. Until now I have viewed the town as the designated ‘Urban District’ that exists just outside of London with no real character of its own other than to serve London; the last place before entering the capital or the first town you enter when leaving. What I have started to discover in the sense of my title for the work ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’ is a new appreciation (UK Government, 2011) for the place that I have lived for the past 7 years.
The work and title is also to acknowledge that a work made during this time, which primary focus is on a community would inevitably draw connections to the current pandemic. Although my initial concept of the work was to engage with people as we come back together, I have not actively sought to directly photograph the evidence of covid – this is something that has been covered effectively by other photographers (see post). However, there does exist a subtle anxiety of a community emerging tentatively in the aftermath of restriction (although again, this is potentially my own reflected feelings towards the subject). I have attempted to show this in my image sequence, for example, the overgrown railway to denote a shutdown transport network – a major contributor to Watford (Fig: 4). The image of the concrete post with the words ‘help me’ written (Fig: 5), a boarded up youth centre – a usual gathering place of a functioning community (Fig: 6). A broken tree at the stump (Fig: 7), which is hugely metaphorical denoting a number of meanings in life and death, existence, and can also be used to show groups or individuals (Wirth, 2015) and in my case could also denote the community. I have also included an image of a dead fox, which is another important metaphor for sly and underlying, and also associated with blending into its surroundings (Smith, 2005), which could be linked to the virus itself. I also want a certain amount of ambiguity in the sequence, even with the above, I understand that viewers of the work will bring their own narratives to its reading, yet have a certain pathos to how that happens. During my last webinar, Ross also pointed out that that there are a number of images that suggest forms of broken down communication, via the messages, the power lines and the railway, which had not occurred to me before but I quite like.
Continuing with the design elements of my zine (Fig: 8), I have made a number of developed changes to the design created for my landings zine. This includes the position of the title text on the cover for legibility and changed the ‘and’ to an ampersand as I felt that it looked graphically better on the cover (Fig: 9). I wanted to maintain the consistency of what I had made for landings with enough differentiation for my WIPP submission.
My work for this module has been about establishing an applied approach to the research that I have undertaken. There is a distinct rhetoric to the way that photographic projects present projects about community, which is steeped in this idea of a ‘Documentary aesthetic,’ and how the language of documentary is bound to the mythology of the grand photo documentaries, such as the FSA. However, even more contemporary photographers have a role to play in shaping how this kind of project is depicted and how we as an audience interprets and reads the work. I have used Alec Soth as an example throughout the module, who acknowledged the specific use of apparatus and language in constructing a documentary image (Soth in Feuerhiem, 2015), and also has an ‘Alec Soth character’ that he will gravitate towards in the work that he creates (Soth in Flectcher, 2020), which perpetuates and continues to shape the collective awareness of how this kind of image is expected to look.
Considering how to start editing my final WIPP submission for Surfaces and Strategies, I am gravitating towards using my Landings zine sequence as a starting point (Fig: 1). However, I have created a number of images since putting this work together and also worked on developing my approach to creating a greater sense of the place that I am photographing within. After considering the work of Bryan Schutmaat recently, I quite liked his use of coloured paper opposite some of his individual images in the book ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ (Fig: 2). As mentioned previously, I am unsure on the idea of a book, yet quite drawn to the connection that I made to the location of Watford through the materials and the colours in my zine (Fig: 3 & 4). Additionally, I felt that the colours on the cover create a striking contrast to the black and white images within, which is potentially at its greatest impact in the linear narrative of a photo book. I am also still developing my sequencing and narrative skills and the book in its linear placement of images, juxtapositions, diptych’s is an ideal place to develop this, especially as it can also be printed out and ‘lived with’ in order to see if the placements and sequencing is working overall. Even if I do not opt for a photo book for the FMP down the line, this is still a valuable exploration to create effective visual narratives.
I still intend to have an online presence for the work and create an updated gallery for my website, which would be different again from the gallery that I put together for Landings. My aim is to extend and develop the existing narrative ideas that were started with the exhibition work. This expanded focus over the zine is to try and create an additional ‘character’ in the place, as Schutmaat does with his work, and to acknowledge that even in the images without people, they still reflect the people that I have depicted in the community that I have depicted them. I also aim to do this through my own subjectivity and the selective and constructed views, inspired by my research into the FSA and documentary aesthetic.
By also building on what I have already created with the zine, it will be presented consistently across the channels that I have already shown portions of the work, which could otherwise be confusing to audiences. And this also incorporates the strong juxtaposition of colour and title text.
Figure 1: Phil Hill (May-June, 2020) Early module images for Work in Progress portfolio submission [Click to Enlarge].
I was unsure if I was going to be able to make my pictures with people again, so I started to create images based on the banal and build up a portrait of the spaces that I encounter during my walks to see if there was a unique vernacular to the area around where I live (Fig: 1). I was keen to explore the ways that I could use black and white film working with a 35mm camera. What I found from the outcomes of these images is that I was drawn to the signs of the pandemic, which populate the landscape, such as gloves, masks, demarcation tape, and chalk signs. All things that are significant under the current circumstances however are quite ubiquitous in many of the projects that contemporary photographers are undertaking. Spencer Murphy, for example has been documenting the ongoing pandemic based in East London and has quite a few images of discarded PPE together with a central focus on people wearing masks (Fig: 2). Peter Dench has also spent a great deal of time looking at the impact of events (Fig: 3). Ultimately, I was not really interested in focusing my project on the impact of Covid-19, finding the images that I was producing were not really exploring the key concepts in my research project – community, connection, and identity.
Moving into the first few weeks of the module, I started my exploration into abstracting the image by push processing the film that I was shooting beyond its normal working range (Fig: 4). I had mixed results from this, ranging from very high contrast images, to kind of grey and not what I was looking for, which was something more like Masahisa Fukase (Fig: 5). I made a fundamental connection in the medium in the way that I approached its use during this time, deciding that there is already a significant level of abstraction inherent in the photograph that is pushed further by the use of black and white (View post). The main challenge was the limiting size of the 35mm negative, which was not producing an effective scan.
I decided to borrow a medium format 6×7 format camera as I wanted to achieve more of a visual impact in my images. Additionally, I was finding it challenging to approach and photograph people again outside of the usual way that I approached making portraits. The theater of the apparatus actually created a means to approach people and engage them in conversation, and ultimately ask for a portrait. Essentially, I was looking for a tool to create the portraits that I wanted to make and found that this was the best method. Even though I spend the majority of my photography seeking out portraits, they do not come naturally to me.
My focus for this module was to start engaging with people coming back together after the strict rules of lock down have been eased, in that sense the project is about covid-19, yet I wanted to focus my attention away from the leftover evidence and objects of covid-19 as mentioned above, fully aware that a project created during the time period would always have connotations and a pathos linked to current events. The spaces that surround where I live became of interest to me as they have been quite empty during the last few months, it was really nice to see them in use again. Photographing people in these spaces felt like a good place to start re-engaging with my community too (Fig: 6). What I found is that I could engage with people and collect portraits for my project.
Figure 6: Phil Hill (June – July, 2020) Portraits taken during Surfaces and Strategies for Work in Progress Portfolio. [Click to Enlarge]
I have been pleased with the portraits that I have so far, the new direction and exploration into black and white, and a documentary aesthetic have been really valuable in focusing in on how I wanted my images to look. As discussed before (see post), my intention is to draw attention to the act of photography, which I feel creates a significance of the images, it also places me into the project, albeit subtly. This I hope starts to consider my own connection to community.
Figure 7: Phil Hill (June-July, 2020) Images showing Watford as a commuting town into London [Click to Enlarge]
What was missing is a sense of place, which provides the context for the project. What connected all of the portraits is something that I have found a challenge. This actually, is the core of my project. I have tried to look at Watford as a place and consider what it is about the place that makes it what it is. Watford is closely tied to its position just outside of London, commuting is part of this character. It is also the border between the city and the country. I have been exploring this through landscapes by considering the things that identify the town as a transport link, such as the railway, and the major highways (Fig: 7). This alone felt superficial as I have become more and more drawn to the green spaces. I am also still working out how t approach the idea of my own connection to this place. After reading Suzanne Keller discuss the idea of community as it relates to the American Dream (Keller, 1988), which was inspired by the way that Vanessa Winship argued that the concept is what most societies aspire to. Keller notes that American society is fundamentally individualistic, which is at odds with how a community functions, noting that there has been a shift away from Gemeinschaft – closer bonds linked to emotion and family, and on to Gesellschaft – impersonal and built on individual gain. Where I see this fitting into my project is the geography of Watford between country and city, is a space where this shift from the personal to the impersonal start to happen (Fig: 8).
Additionally, I have been quite drawn by constructing a cinematic feel to the landscape and the portrait images that play with this idea of connection, by acknowledging Keller’s crucial point, The idealistic community is essentially a myth, yet it does not stop us continuing to seek it. By constructing a landscape set of images, I can then explore identity of the place – potentially you can view my work and not be quite sure if you are actually looking at the UK landscape (Fig: 9). I have specifically worked to photograph my project at set times of the day to create an emotive sense of the cinematic; aiming to present a constructed vision of an ideal that might not exist. As one of my initial ideas was to explore how people within my community are coming back together as the restrictions start to lift, this construction is particularly prescient knowing that we are not out of the woods yet.
Figure 9: Phil Hill (June – July) Landscapes selected to be more ambiguous, cinematic and idealistic. [Click to Enlarge]
Where I believe my WIPP is going is to show an idea of community of my construction. Created by utilising black and white to denote a sense of what it was like before current events, and selected portraits and landscapes, some of which aim to provide a sense of an ideal, some to create context and ground to where I am creating this work in Watford.
Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.
My project has taken a number of turns throughout the three modules and now for this one I have decided to explore black and white film photography, which creates a big departure from the way that I was photographing my project up until now. This development is how I am starting to move away from a more commercial way of shooting, linked to my comfort zones.
Sequencing is one of my biggest challenges and although I have been putting together a zine in time for Landings, I have not yet started to look at how my work will be edited ready for the next WIPP submission.
Considering formats for publication, I have always quite like the idea of postcard sets as they acknowledge how a reader of the work might create their own narrative from the work. They are quite nice to spread out and do the same as this task. The downside is that the standard postcard is small compared with many books and the quality of the image may be lost in this small format.
I am interested in books as they create a tangible object from the photographed and can be carefully sequenced in a way that the author intended, should that be a primary concern for the project (as opposed to postcards). The challenge with the book is the limitation this might put on the accessibility of the project. Only available to a few people who can afford it and accessing the creation of such a publication where many publishers expect the photographer to contribute to the cost of producing it.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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”
“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”
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.
FSA Hole Punches:
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 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
The Pathos of Distance: Part I
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.
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.