I have found it valuable to continue to submit my work for a range of opportunities and helps to focus my work towards a public outcome and find its audience.
Submitting writing has created some valuable opportunies to see how my own research applies to the discourses around photography. For everything that I submit, I have attempted to use part of my current research to create a more robust argument, which I have found really useful in informing my practice and the to support the development of my FMP outcomes
Capture Photography festival based in Vancouver, Canada were seeking submissions to contribute a text for the next edition of the festival in 2022. The submitted text asked for is a sample of writing and would lead to a commissioned text for the festival catalogue. For this submission, I chose to revisit an essay that I originally wrote for a call for papers, for Canadian art journal ‘Esse’ (Fig: 1), which was not selected but received some useful feedback for its development. This was a useful text to look at again and re-write as I was considering the way that some vernacular images are used between family members in a kind of transactional way. This additional attribution to the photograph is something that I am returning to again for the FMP and also it informs the submission for source magazine.
Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2021) Updated Essay for Capture Festival
Source Writing Prize
I took the opportunity to consider in a bit more detail the cut image from my family archive that triggered my FMP project (Fig: 3). In particular, what it is that draws me to this otherwise innocuous image. The text is an extension of a CRJ post that I created (Fig: 4), referencing Barthes’ ‘Winter Garden Photograph’ and the power that the absent photograph still has as a photograph, or in the case of my family photograph, the power of the part that is missing
Off the back of the ‘Communities and Communication conference that I did in April, I was invited to submit my paper for the upcoming conference publication, which is to be in the form of a 6000-word paper on the topics that I was discussing there. Some of the research that informed this discussion, which was around the community of Watford, where I live. Research on ideas around photographic nostalgia are important for my current project as well as community in the form of family.
I have had some success having single images accepted for awards during the MA, for example the Kuala Lumpur Portrait Prize, and 2021 Portrait of Humanity. I am really pleased to be a part of these awards however, I wanted to start focusing on competitions that took series entries as I felt that the narrative of my projects were lost by viewing single images.
Although he is strictly writing about the structure of the written narrative, James Wood in his book ‘How Fiction Works’ provides a strong set of parameters on how to utilise narration within a story (2019). This is useful for me to reflect on as my body of work will be heavily reliant on sequencing a strong narrative that uses a ‘narrator’ effectively.
There are a couple of key takeaways for me in Wood’s discussion on the unreliable narrator. Referring to W.G. Sebald he notes the way that worlds are created in which the rules are already widely known by everyone reading the book, which then leads to an opportunity to undermine this world, these rules, in a way that the reader knows that the narration is unreliable (2019:14). This is also in reference to the way that Barthes highlighted nineteenth century writers who would use common cultural or scientific knowledge as a way of a short cut (p. 16). Photography in a sense creates these shortcuts by the visual language present in the image however it is important not to overlook this fact. My project and photography exist in the world but some elements may not be acceptable to all that view it. I will want to construct a world through the sequence, which at first is familiar but has a number of features that starts to undermine and unravel the accepted rules of the world. I will need to define the rules of my world that I am presenting to you. As Wood puts it: “reliable manipulation” (2019:15) of the narrative to create the sense of the unreliable narrator.
The question for my work is who is going to be the narrator? Will it be me, one of the people photographed, or another character not seen? Wayne C. Booth places an emphasis on the distance between the characters of a narrative and the author (1975: 155). Wood notes: “As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, wants to merge with that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking” (2019, p. 16), which suggests that the distance is created automatically by the reader of the work. I see my role in constructing the world in which the narrator operates, although I am not sure on who will be identified as the ‘narrator,’ I don’t think it will be me and will be created from the quotes that I have been collecting about the work. Perhaps the main reason for me not being considered as narrator, is as Wood notes: “first person narration is generally more reliable than unreliable; and third-person ‘omnicient’ narration is generally more partial than omniscient” (p. 14). For my work of photography, the reader is less able to suspend disbelief of my authorship, which would draw attention to and increase the artifice associated with this construction – leading to a poor execution of the concept. If as Wood is suggesting that the third-person is actually more unreliable and bias, then effectively, the narrator can be made from the text that accompanies the images.
Booth, W. C., 1975. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 11 ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Now that I am starting to get more of a grasp over what exactly I am going to be sequencing a project out of, it is important to come back to review the ethics of my project, it will be important to include those I am photographing in order to create a collaborative approach to the work and also have the consent of those I am photographing. I have spoken about the project with my family, however this is a continuing dialogue to ensure that the reading of the final outcome will be both faithful and respectful to them.
Themes are developing in my work that could be viewed with a kind of othering of my family, which I could be doing as much as anyone looking at the series. Kirsty Mackay noted in an interview with her collective ‘The Other,’ “Photography’s always been very good at portraying victims and not as good at portraying the perpetrators. And if you are looking at poverty, for instance, through a middle-class lens it’s easy to miss out a lot of the nuances and tell a very single sided story” (Mackay, et al., 2021). I am not looking at poverty, but being that my family is working class, the project would inevitably attract some attention in this area. My intention is not to portray my family as victims – they are not. The focus is that there are a number of beliefs, which are formed by the individual, but also by outside influences and that we start to subscribe to the labels that we are given. I have written about this previously after listening to Nichola Twemlow discuss this in relation to her experiences with social work (2021). Mackay et al also discuss this specifically to photography, where they note in particular about those in power applying the labels and also how this starts to shape and effect those given the labels. If someone is photographing you and also telling you the reason is because you are working class, or poor, then how does that start to effect and impact the relationship between photographer and the person being photographed? The portrayal could be misleading (2021). It is crucial that I continually ask myself these questions, even when I am photographing my family and subscribe to some of the labels. I am the one with the camera, so also the one with the power so there needs to be a collaboration as even though I share much of the same experiences as my family this does not mean that I am immune from exploiting them. This again feeds back into Mariamma Attah’s discussion around ideas of socially engaged practice (Fig: 1), where I analysed the key points of this concept and how I can apply them to my project.
As my project is my own family, I am well placed to navigate the nuances that Mackay et al suggest might be missed by a complete outsider. It is also worth noting that this is my story to tell. However, I am still an outsider in the sense that I am the one with the camera looking in. The dialogue is important t have with the people in the project but also with myself. Savannah Dodd discusses this in the article ‘The Ethics of Documenting your own Family,’ which points out the need to not overlook such questions just because they are your own family, as Dodd notes of Amanda Mustard: “It’s a gift to have the perspective and personal experiences that allow access to important stories that may not be told with depth otherwise. But with greater depth comes the need for greater ethical care.” (2021).
Dodd, S., 2021. The Ethics of Documenting Your Own Family. [Online] Available at: https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/the-ethics-of-documenting-your-own-family-7225ca8bd59a [Accessed 11 June 2021].
Mackay, K., O’Brien, K. & Coates, J., 2021. The Other: On class in the industry [Interview] (26 May 2021).
Twemlow, N., 2021. Communities and Communication Conference 2021: Connections. Staffordshire, Staffordshire University.
Now that I am starting to consider ideas around belief in my project I have come to a text by David Levi-Strauss called ‘Photography and Belief’ (Levi Strauss, 2020), which although he is primarily concerned with the idea of evidential belief of the object, the essay sits very well in a number of areas that I am exploring. Chiefly, Levi-Strauss is debating the connection between photographs, memory and belief, starting with the familiar saying “seeing is believing” (2020: 11) and what that actually means in relation to how we experience things through photographs. Much of the book is regarding the most recent shifts in ‘technical images’ – a term coined by Villem Flusser and utilised by Levi-Strauss here (p. 43) – that have led to ‘deepfakes,’ for example, how are we supposed to trust the images that we see? Although the focus of my project is far removed from ideas of Ai and digital fakery, there are links here with the family album, and the images that started off my project (Fig: 1). The images that I have been looking are a kind of self-illusion, edited and disrupted from the original meaning. As Levi-Strauss points out: “Memory, because we remember primarily through images, and we believe what we remember (sometimes to our detriment); sight, because “seeing is believing” (p. 11). Looking at an image that has been defaced, cut, or edited in some destructive way at first disrupts the memory and then starts to prompt the question of why this has happened. Otherwise benign, the idea that a rift of some kind happened here plays heavily on the reading of the ‘edited’ photograph because “seeing is believing” in the object sense. You might not see what was in front of the camera in that part of the image, but you are now acutely aware of what is not.
The missing part of the image plays a significant role here too. In the absence of the object, we are encouraged to fill in the blank space with our own speculation, our own narrative. If we relay on images to form our memories, then potentially, in the absence of one, we are left to fill the void with something from our own personal library, in an abstract sense. The power of photography is demonstrated in the absence of a photograph so in effect seeing is no longer believing. Roland Barthes was acutely aware of this paradoxical statement when presented what is possibly the most famous image that no one has ever seen – The Winter Garden Photograph (1993: 67). This image is described so well in fact, that we are able to envisage it without ever seeing it. For Barthes’ it was punctum, highly personal and as he notes “it exists only for me” (p. 73) refusing to print it within the book and there have been suggestions that the photograph never existed in the first place, Barthes describing a photograph to us as an exercise in the power of photography, or more aptly, the power of our own memories to conjure such imagery. Within this part of Camera Lucida there is even a portrait by French photographer Nadar of his mother (or wife), which could be there to underline Barthes’ point and further serve to trigger the construction of The Winter Garden photograph from our own memory by utilising an image from canon (Fig: 2).
Ultimately, Barthes never needed to print the image at all as it is ubiquitous: “one of the many thousand manifestations of the ordinary” (1993: 73), which is the point of the description – although times have moved on since the publication of Barthes text, we are already familiar with this image from our own archives and the canons of photography that continue to inform memory.
Returning to the context of my family album’s ‘edited’ images, it could have very easily been Barthes’ stadium as I move through the album. They spark a general intrigue seeing members of my family from a different decade to how I remember them, which is especially true of those members who I have not seen for over 20 years. For my mother, the image was punctum, it wounds her. The image in this state has changed meaning as an object removed from the benign and vernacular. It crosses the boundary into punctum for me looking at it as I am able to visibly see the emotional attachment to the photograph.
Barthes, R., 1993. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.
Levi Strauss, D., 2020. Photography and Belief. 1 ed. New York: David Zwirner Books.
Off the back of the Communities and Communication conference that I took part in April (Fig: 1), I was invited to submit my paper for their upcoming publication. I am really please that I am able to submit an academic piece of writing for a university publication as this was one of the goals of the FMP. The paper will be an extension on the presentation that I delivered, with a deadline for submission just after the FMP deadline. I will have my work cut out putting together the writing as I am required to produce a 6000 word paper.
It is giving me the opportunity to revisit in detail a lot of the research that I have been considering throughout the FMP and see new relevance for it for the FMP. In particular, I am forming discussion around the idea of Roland Barthes’ ‘Iddiorrythmy’ (2013) Susan Keller’s Community as an ongoing search between the individual and the community whole (1988), Graham Harmon’s Object Orientated Ontology (2018). I am also able to apply in greater depth the way that I am also looking at photographic memory and nostalgia.
I will be able to apply much of this thought and discussion when I come to write the Critical Review.
Barthes, R., 2013. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.
Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.
I had a meeting with Emily Macaulay today of ‘Stanley James Press’ to talk through how I might turn my project into the book. This was highly productive and extremely valuable to hear her extensive experience in creating book projects with photographers. I was very pleased to be able to discuss the project with her, as she has worked on some titles that I really enjoy, including Alma Haser’s Cosmic Surgery (Fig: 1), a Limited edition of Sugar Paper Theories (Fig: 2), Simon Robert’s ‘Brexit Lexicon,’ and also Portrait Salon exhibition catalogues, which always bring a unique quality to them over the standard image and caption on page (Fig: 3).
Macaulay, was interested in the project and how I have been considering the published object to be about trace and memory, we spent some tie discussing this and how it might come together as a book. McCauley is keen to understand how I have been putting together the project up until now and her process would then be to look at how formatting would best serve the story. Should we end up working on the book together, it would become a collaborative process over a period of time that could involve both the design and the production of the book.
There is much potential to develop my project in this way and dependent of the economics of the publication – an unfortunate but essential consideration – it could be either a full book, or closer to a zine. I am hoping for something in the middle, akin to the book that I produced with Out of Place.
One of the key questions that I was keen to talk through was the idea of fund raising for the title. This of course depends on the outcome. Cosmic Surgery, for example was funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign but this comes with it’s own pitfalls. Kickstarter expects a fee for its service and according to Macaulay was an extremely intense period of promoting and pushing the project through this platform. Alternatively, there is an opportunity to ‘pre-sale’ the title but that would of course depend on the amount of interest I was able to generate in the book and would also mean that I would need to produce some to show the product that people are buying into. That said, Macaulay did suggest that it was possible to ‘pre-sale’ the idea but that this would need some specific marketing to allow people to get on board without seeing the finished product.
A real positive from the meeting was how Macaulay was very used to working with independent photographers, such as myself and aware of the process of creating a book with varying budgets. Moving forward, I will follow up soon to see if it is possible to create my book designed by Stanley James Press.
Figure 1: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Family archive objects re-shoot
I have been waiting for a break in the weather to continue photographing family and also places associated with my project. This has given me the time to reconsider some of the objects that I have been photographing as still life (Fig: 1).
Initially, I made flatbed scans of many of the cuttings and images (Fig: 2), which worked as a starting point to consider what I had within the archive. It was always my plan to treat all of the objects including the photographic prints – the same in terms of how they should be photographed as a still life set up. For this change, I settled on a fairly neutral tone in order for the objects to be viewed in their own right (Fig: 3). Colour theory and the impact that this might have on the image is something that I initially gave little thought too apart from the decision to not use a straight white, which I felt would create far too much contrast, or black, which could lead to the objects becoming lost within the image. After some consideration, I felt that I wanted to bring more of myself into the work even if I am not directly in front of the camera. To do this here, I am referencing some of my own baby objects and christening items and decided to use a light blue background, or a baby blue (fig: 4) as if to signal that this is part of my childhood, albeit subtly. Aesthetically, the blue creates a nice contrast to the faded and high red tones in many of the archive images that I am working with (Fig: 5).
The re shoot was also an opportunity to create a consistent series of images that up until now have been photographed using different methods and techniques, which might become challenging when it comes to the sequence. There is still some work to be done to clean up the consistency between these images in terms of the placement of shadow creating gradients that mean placing some images together might become problematic as a result of not having access to a good infinity curve. I may have to go back and make further re shoots when a sequence is settled.
Colin suggested during the recent group crit that I could aim to be reliable in order to be unreliable. As the author of the work it is important for me to be able to effectively apply the concept of the unreliable narrator in a reliable way – the best authors of literary work, for example, can create a narrative with an unreliable character because the readers trust the author to do so. In my own case, I potentially need to ensure that what you are looking at is technically and aesthetically sound so that the reader might trust that the sequencing is purporting to unreliable narration. As Wayne C. Booth reminds us:
“My subject is the technique of non-didactic fiction, viewed as the art of communicating with readers – the rhetorical resources available to the writer of epic, novel, or short story as he tries, consciously or unconsciously, to impose his fictional world upon the reader”
(1975, p. 1)
I also made some additional discoveries whilst going back through the archive and also some new connections with objects previously I didn’t photograph. For example, My parents used to keep scrap books of cards and other bits considered important – there is one for their wedding, and another two for both me and my brother. One of these books is called ‘Cuttings Book’ (Fig: 6), which resonated with the way that I have started to work with the Manual intervention images – perhaps the parts of the image cut away ended up in this book. Some other interesting discoveries, were in a couple newspaper clippings found in one of the albums, which become more intriguing o the reverse – suggesting a crime of some sort (Fig: 7). I am unsure of how to utilise these in the wider narrative but am becoming more interested in creating a few false turns and dead ends within the sequence to increase the sense of mystery.
Despite much of my attention still wanting to create portraiture and also images of significant place, the objects represent an important development in my approach to the work. I am effectively taking from one archive and creating one of my own, a form of changing narratives through appropriation and selection in order to present what I want to be shown – for my purposes. As Sophie Berrebi notes: “There are no such thing as ‘found objects’, but only objects that are ‘set aside’, selected and re-contextualised” (2014, p. 41). The family album is a form of official state narrative, it is constructed to project the idealised version for others to see (Manual intervention images not withstanding), Berrebi acknowledges this within the way that we also view the ‘document’ or archives of other state narrative, referring to a response to Foucoult by Jacque Le Goff and Pierre Toubert: ‘there is no truthful document’, yet it is also the job of future historians to analyse these archives and as they go on to point out: “to deconstruct, to demolish this montage, to destructure this construction, and analyse the conditions of production of these documents-monuments” (p. 42).
In the images I construct that create new imagery of my own past archive, I am analysing its contents but I am also creating another ‘document-monument,’ which ultimately would need to be de-constructed in the future.
Berrebi, S., 2014. The Shape of Evidence: Contemporary Art and the Document. Amsterdam: Valiz.
Booth, W. C., 1975. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 11 ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Building on the V2 book construction, I have started to look at methods of combining some of the more intricate elements of the book, which reference ideas of memory and trace and also working in more text within the main body of the book.
Focusing on the physicality of the object, I have used a typewriter to create the title and some of the pages containing the quotations I have collected (Fig: 1&2). The typeface is quite small – roughly 12pt – however, I enjoy the link to the material and the way the typed letters look on the page. This also links to ideas of manuscripts that I am aiming to emulate with the publication in this version and also to the novel and the nostalgia associated with typewriters and writing in this format. The typed letters are also a kind of trace left by the act of pressing keys in a way that is different to using a computer and word processing software. However, there is always the option to do this in later editions of the book.
Carbon copy paper
I managed to source a blue version of the carbon paper, which is what I have memories of. The blue also highlights the nature of the copied page (Fig: 3). I am considering using this in a couple of ways. At the start of the book, flanked by two blank sheets, which can be used for editions, numbering and signing (Fig: 4). There is potential to scribe onto the top blank page and create a copy of anything written (Fig: 5). Carbon copies are an idea that I came to after listening to Sara Davidman discussing her project ‘Ken. To Be Destroyed’ (2011), in which she found carbon copies of letters sent by her mother – a trace memory of the object letter. This is something that I could apply to my book. The collection of quotes that I am going to put into the book could be typed using letter paper and the copy paper included in the binding (Fig: 6).
The carbon paper is also not fixed and any pressure applied to the page would leave a trace on the opposite page, which creates a book that is always in flux – just as our memory and histories are in flux.
Manuscripts tend to be bound using brass split pins (Fig: 7), I have added some to this version of the book but am finding that they are quickly reaching breaking point when interacting with the book. A future version could instead use a kind of book binding screw (Fig: 8), which is a common feature in portfolios and more importantly, family albums (Fig: 9).
Figure 10: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Hard Cover experiment
I also used this version of the book as an opportunity to continue experimenting with cover options and created a hard cover (Fig: 10). I quickly realised however, that owing to the nature of the binding, my margin was off and cut some of the images and text up (Fig: 11). This also meant that the book no longer opened wide enough to enjoy a double page spread. The hard cover also does not really work in the context of the manuscript idea and its inflexibility reduces the enjoyment of picking it up and leafing through the pages. Bruno Ceschel comments on the experience of interacting with a book: “you will have to take that into consideration: what experience you want to give your readers, and especially how that experience might enhance or be in tune with the content of the book” (2015, p. 494).
There is potential for the hard cover to work, if it was a traditional case binding, however making them myself means that I won’t be able to produce this kind of binding, which will look professional. This kind of material will also push the unit price of the book much higher. I am keen for the experience of the book to be nearer that of a manuscript, or even that of a paperback novel, which denotes the idea of the unreliable narrator in its feel and experience of picking it up and working through the pages.
More of the indexical
I made a series of acetate sheets that could be used to create photograms in the darkroom. I made a series of fibre-based prints using these and am currently exploring ways that I can incorporate them into the book (12 & 13). The photogram is usually made by placing objects onto the photo sensitive paper blocking the light. This indexical link to the object is another way of exploring ideas of trace and memory. This also brings the physicality of the photograph into the book, that might be lost through the way that the book’s pages will be printed. To extend this idea, I also am considering turning the archive imagery that will be used into small 6×4 glossy prints that could be stuck onto the page instead of printed to reference the family album that I found them in. I could also make some of the same physical cuts that those prints have.
Other Books analysis
Critina De Middel: Afronauts
De Middel’s book is a fiction based in some fact. Her book is a reflection of this (Fig: 14) and uses it to build a story through her personal imagery (Setanta Books, 2019). There is a great physicality to the object, which also includes types elements and place these on lined paper that fold out from the central gutter (Fig: 15). I also enjoy the use of illustration with the photographs and there could be potential to include some within my own sequence. In Joerg Colberg’s review of the book he notes: “I had seen photographs from the project on the internet, but I thought that they were just a tad too cute. But then I came across the book, and that made all the difference” (Colberg, 2012) suggesting the way that the book can change the interpretation of a body of work.
Middel’s approach to the series is also worth discussion. In her own words: “it had this fact/fiction game in terms for the documentary value of photography — it’s something real but unbelievable, so if you take pictures of it, you end up with this weird thing, which you don’t know whether to believe or not” (De Middel, 2013). And this really resonates with my own project however, there are some ethical issues that are also worth noting and some that play a role in the development of my work. It could be argued that Middel is mocking or othering in her Afronauts project, something that she rejects, noting the work is more about the perception of Africa that it would be impossible for them to reach the moon: ‘The images are beautiful and the story is pleasant at a first level, but it is built on the fact that nobody believes that Africa will ever reach the moon. It hides a very subtle critique to our position towards the whole continent and our prejudices.’ (Setanta Books, 2019).
Alec Soth: Broken Manual
Soth creates a really engaging object with his book ‘Broken Manual.’ Soth’s book is housed within another book creating elements of secrecy and mystery (Fig: 16). Soth created a character for this book in the form of ‘Lester B Morrison,’ a construction of Soth’s he uses to create further intrigue. In a sense Lester B. Morrison is an unreliable narrator when you realise that it is in fact Soth writing: “I was trying to develop this secret, private language – the way people who’d spent too much time with themselves do” (2020).
Both approaches add something to the images and create a more experiential object that time can be spent and enjoyed. This is something that David Levi Strauss argues for in ‘Photography and Belief,’ which is opposition to the way that we consume images digitally: “Images that appear on the screens of our devices go by in a streaming flow. Individual images are seldom apprehended separately, as a singular trace […]. The images consumed in a flow are seldom dwelled on, so their individual effect is limited” (2020, p. 63).
I am still photographing this project, so the way that the book comes together will inevitable be a reaction to the images that I have to create. That said, after reading Bruno Ceshel’s ‘Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook manual and manifesto’ it is clear that the work can exist in its iterative form and continue to evolve even as I share the work (2015, p. 486), which is also something that Wendy suggested in a previous meeting. I am relatively happy with the way the work is coming together and initial sharing of the project is proving positive, including FT editor Emma Bowket, who found the concept interesting. I plan to create the next version of the book in a more polished form that can be shared with industry professionals for feedback.
Ceshel, B. & Senior, D., 2015. Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.
Colberg, J., 2012. Review: The Afronauts by Cristina De Middel. [Online] Available at: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2012/07/review_the_afronauts_by_cristina_de_middel/ [Accessed 06 May 2021].
Davidmann, S., 2011. Ken. To Be Destroyed. [Online] Available at: https://www.saradavidmann.com/work#/kentobedestroyed/ [Accessed 07 May 2021].
De Middel, C., 2013. CRISTINA DE MIDDEL: THE AFRONAUTS [Interview] (25 April 2013).
Levi Strauss, D., 2020. Photography and Belief. 1 ed. New York: David Zwirner Books.
Setanta Books, 2019. The Afronauts. [Online] Available at: https://www.setantabooks.com/product/afronauts/ [Accessed 6 May 2021].
Soth, A., 2020. Broken Manual: Alec Soth in Conversation with Aaron Schuman [Interview] (11 August 2020).
I spent a good amount of time during the MA debating the value of the photobook in terms of a key way to disseminate my work. Photobooks can feel like a limited way of putting work into the world, which is supported by arguments put forward by Simon Norfolk who has suggested that they can be esoteric and only really consumed by other photographers (2019). However, I have since started to consider the photobook as one of a range of ways to disseminate my work, which in part has been inspired by that way that my own small book was distributed and shared, leading to additional ways in which work can be seen (Fig: 1). This in part has been formed from starting to look at the ways that I can use the format over an in-person exhibitions, owing to the pandemic. Martin Parr, one of the biggest proponents of the photobook also notes their significant place for the dissemination of photographic work: “The photobook has been a fundamental means of expression and dissemination for photographers since the earliest practitioners pasted their images onto pages resembling those they would once have filled with sketches” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7).
Figure 1: Phil Hill & Out of Place Books (January, 2021) I hope this finds you safe and well photo book.
The book creates an opportunity for my work to be experienced in a tangible way, even when it has been impossible to do so over the recent months. The physicality of the book also places an enhanced experience of the work for the reader through the materials and the way that the work is presented. Bruno Ceschel expertly provides the basis in which I can now approach my own photobook construction for the project: “The first thing you must do is demystify the idea of the photobook. As soon as you have demolished every single convention about what a photobook should be, you fee yourself to dream up something new, exciting, and most important – completely doable” (2015: 485). It is important to put down my initial reservations about what I thought photobooks represented and consider the ways that I can add value to my project with a physical art object, which can be distributed and shared easily, meaning the experience of the work is not lost through the computer screen. Crucially, Ceschel makes a further point: “The book is a journey, not a destination […] Making a book should be both challenging and fun. It should be an adventure that will make you aware of your own practice, ideas, knowledge and skills” (p. 486). This above all, has been the biggest revelation in the process of the MA and indeed this FMP.
Therefore, I am looking at constructing a self-published book in the first instance. One that includes elements of trace and memory and how unreliable these things are. My book should be able to be reproduced easily in potentially different versions. I am considering creating a short run edition of between 5 – 10 highly unique books with an individual hand-made aesthetic and will be a higher end product, much Almar Hasser’s first edition of ‘Cosmic Surgery’ that that contains many more intricate elements than the subsequent editions (Fig: 2&3). I will also do a further edition, which is more easily producible on a larger scale – potentially on demand. Both of these editions, will be able to be produced through the resources that I have available to me. As I work in a Further Education college, I have access to good quality book making materials and printers – albeit with some limitations that I am exploring. There are also a range of art studios, which I can potentially use for elements such as screen printing and letter press etc.
David Senior notes: “To self publish, to decentralise the production of print media, created a new type of printed object – one in which artists and designers bent the rules, played with conventions of the format, and created new containers for communication” (Ceshel & Senior, 2015: 8-9), which continues to support the idea of experimentation within my project. I have not finished photographing for the project either, so both provide opportunity to continue investigating ways in which to best communicate my ideas.
My plan is to build a good quality dummy, which can be shared with publishers and also through book dummy awards. The idea that I can also produce other versions of the book quickly and efficiently to a high standard also means that I can share the book with people within the industry that might be interested in the project. I can do this on my own terms and also continue to develop the book as I gain reaction to it, as Ceshel also discusses: “Another thing you can do to free yourself from performance anxiety is to think of your book as being in flux – each time you print, the publication can change” (2015: 486). Lewis Bush also noted this when promoting some later runs of his zine publications (Fig: 5), which embrace the hand made nature of the format and the way that later mistakes can be rectified and does not detract from the professionalism that he brings to his wide range of zine publications.
My project has become one that builds an unusual world for the reader to be taken on a journey through. John Gossage places this kind of world building as a key element for a good photography book project: “firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should function a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what s being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with the content that sustains an ongoing interest” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7). This idea of world building is still ongoing and I will need to consider the ways that the materials and the design of the book add value to this.
Ceshel, B. & Senior, D., 2015. Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.
Norfolk, S., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers [Interview] (12 June 2019).
Parr, M. & Badger, G., 2004. The Photobook: A History Vol 1. 1 ed. London: Phaidon.