Peer Feedback 28/03

I was encouraged to share my project with peers more often. Something that I know but definitely need a constant nudge to ensure that I do it. This is especially necessary whilst producing my current work, which is quite personal to me. I feel I have been keeping it to myself. I shared the same iteration as the portfolio reviews (Fig: 1) with my peers to gain some insight into the work.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Unreliable Narrator portfolio review PDF

Peer Feedback
  • Isabelle: I love the title, the general feel and the variety of the images. I am a bit lost as far as narration goes…maybe some slight hints with some text?

This is a general impression that I am getting at this stage. People enjoy the images but are somewhat lost with the reading of it. At this stage, I am actually ok with this. My project is still in the early stages of development and I have not collected any of the depositions from people within the images yet, so it is understandable that there is little to no context to the images that I presented. I also deliberately didn’t explain any of them to the group in order to see how far the concept would carry at this point.

Interestingly, Isabelle’s feeling of being lost could be useful for the series. The idea of the unreliable narrator could be constructed to continually undermine the perceived reading of the narration. It might be argued however, that my sequence wouldn’t feel completely resolved as result. I do quite like the idea of the reader being unsure of exactly what is happening, although at this point of the work could be because I myself so not quite know or understand what happened.

  • Claire: Phil,  I think these are really good and the title really positions the work – I  definitely get the link between challenging truth of image and family albums.  I think the diary entry points to an event – maybe more of archive material/written words.  

It was good to gain insight from Claire with regards to the title, I think that the idea of unreliable narrator does frame the work in the way that makes you consider it in a certain way. Again, Claire is keen to review more text to contextualise the images, which is fair and an area I am keen to develop as the project progresses.

  • Marcel: Hi Phil, I agree with Isabelle – the title is very good and I like the mood and the sequencing. I see a coherence, but perhaps a short introduction or some some quotes between the images would make it easier accessible.

Marcel supports the other feedback that I received and I agree that an introduction would be beneficial to set up the journey through the sequence of the images. This I would expect to come more towards the end of the project as I consolidate the idea and finalise sequences. However, on the theme of unreliability, I could also create a few of these as the project evolves as a means of undermining and creating confusion – should my project focus more on those elements.

  • Tim: I hadn’t see this before, and I really like it as it is. It comes across well. I know a bit about the project and the family history/story that you have mentioned but not too much. What you are showing at the moment (youthful pictures against current portraits); the small amount of text; made me go back and forth to look for clues and make conjectures. It spoke of distribution; a conflict; uncared for… How to push it forward with just visuals and where (may be) you see yourself in all of this. Can you re-build a history; statements from those that remember; revisiting before the conflict/break… It answers some of your questions. I agree for the moment, hold off on a commentary and push the visual. How much content do you have. The layout is great as you compare the 2 images and work out some connection. May be there are visual stories (archival newspaper etc.) of events that can lead us into interesting thoughts about what has happened. 

Tim’s comments support the direction that I am taking the project so far. My intention should be to build mystery. As I am still in the experimental collecting phase of the project, this construction of the narrative will come later. I quite like the idea of also collecting some archive stories, potentially there are some contextualising events recorded in local newspapers that can support the narrative I intend to create. There may also be some references to my own family in the form of birth/marriages/death announcements. Tim’s feedback is useful as it confirms direction and consolidates what the others are saying.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Flatbed scan of St Christopher Pendant Christening Present

Jonjo: I also had the opportunity to catch up with Jonjo Borrill, from another cohort not currently in the FMP and it was really valuable to get his insight into my project. It also gave me the opportunity to go through its progress with someone who was not familiar with the work. Jonjo was able to make some really useful observations regarding the objects in the archive that I had not considered. For example, the St Christopher pendant’s (Fig: 2) association with being the patron saint of travellers is a kind of metaphor for the journey that I am going on during the process of this project. I felt that the necklace is significant because of how it was gifted to me by my grandmother as a baby however, I have not made the connection to the idea of travel and journey. St Christopher’s are typically given to those about to go travelling to keep you safe on the journey, Jonjo has one himself. Potentially the pendant represents this idea and also part of a collection of sentimental objects that we apply additional meaning to.

Tell another story

One of my plans for this module was to create some work that was informed by the main focus of my research project, yet had more a commercial appeal, with the aim of sending it to commercial clients. At the very start of the MA, I was contacting a number of local community groups to photograph the ways in which they create and connect to the idea of community. My research project has since evolved to become more about my own connection to place. Once the pandemic hit and the lockdown happened, much of these initial connections paused, however I still maintained contact with a local football team who run one of the largest inclusive teams in the country. My plan for this set is to work with the club and see if there are any opportunities for a short story such as this to be published to highlight the spirit of the team and people who support them.

The first shoot was useful to introduce myself to the group and get to know how they work. I wanted to do this primarily before I got into any serious image making. However, as the day progressed, I was encouraged to start making some images.

One of my key areas of development is not showing my work to enough people before trying to get it out into the work and published. I am also not a huge follower of football, so I felt that it was important to get feedback from others. Andrew Findley in my own cohort has been working on his research project on grassroots football, so I asked him for some feedback on my images:

Image 1
Figure 1: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Matthew

I really like the contrast of his face against the trees in the background. I like the focal length and the vantage point although I would choose not to include the goals in the background and the two markers towards the left of the frame. I understand that they say something about time and place but I personally think the football kit is enough of a story. I love his body shape and gesture. His top half tells me he’s a confident young man, almost like Ronaldo. His bottom half really says something about his insecurities, almost trying to ignore them by his folded arms. I’m thinking of a good link between self-consciousness and adolescence. Raising important questions about male body image. Love it” (Findley, 2020).

Andrew makes a great point about how not to over sell the point that we are at a football ground. I guess that this is something that could be hinted at over the whole sequence as opposed to trying to cram in as much football references as possible. This shoot presented a challenge to me and the medium I was using in that it was extremely sunny for an autumn Saturday, which meant that the black and 400 iso film was difficult to get down to a shallow enough depth of field. I did have a set of neutral density filters but the shadows were strong and would have benefitted from being diffused. Ideally, I would have liked to have had the support of an assistant who could have held such things. The sunlight also meant that I had to face a certain way to avoid it, limiting my options for a background. I actually agree with Andrew that the kit is enough and I think that for future shoots I should work more diligently to isolate the subject in this way.

Image 2
Figure 2: Phil Hill (September, 2020) xxx

I like this portrait, the house in the background maybe conflicts a little with the girl’s head. One step to the right of her would have created a clear separation. When I’m taking portraits now I always look to create that clear separation. Although it’s a bit easier for me because I shoot at 24mm which allows more versatility. I also try to avoid shadows on the face where possible. I think I read somewhere that it reduces the objectivity of the photographer. Her gesture is interesting and a bit awkward which again lends itself well to the adolescence stage of someone’s life. I don’t need the shadow to tell me another story if that makes sense. As a set image 2 is fine but image 1 is an absolute banger and I Iove it. (Findley, 2020)

I really like the subject in this image but not too happy about the way it looked for the reasons stated above. Andrew makes a great observation in the clutter of the background. Clearly the shadows are an issue – I even struggle to put these images together because of it but was keen to hear what Andrew had to say. It would be safe to say that many of the images here are unusable from a commercial point of view, which is fine in the knowledge that I would potentially go back and re-shoot. However, if this was a commissioned piece where I had one opportunity to shoot, it would be problematic and potentially rejected for publication. Noting above that I could have used a diffuser, or had an assistant to support wouldn’t be practical for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Covid, and secondly, in order to gain access to shoot the club, I had to provide a CRB check. Instead, I should also have considered the use if flash to be able to stop down and fill in the shadow. It would have created a different feel and aesthetic to the images but ultimately I would have been able to deliver a result.

Image 3
Figure 3: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

There is a lot of space in the foreground although I like the line. I’ve shot similar images but I don’t know if I like my own. My advice would be to get as close as you can. Cemre told me to experiment with cropping these types of images. I think I had some success but I’m not sure how I feel about this type of image as a whole. (Findley, 2020).

My aim here was to try and mix the portraits with some action images, although I am no sport photographer. Cropping is a great idea as at the time I felt that I wanted to get in closer but was limited by the Pentax 6X7’s 105mm lens. Cropping the medium format negative would potentially be acceptable, owing to the size but also it wouldn’t impact the quality of the image itself. Experimenting with different cropping is something worth remembering for any of my future shoots – football or not.

Image 4
Figure 4: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

I love this, it reminds me of PE lessons in school when you had to do a sport that you hated when all you wanted to do is play football. I wish I’d took it and will definitely be stealing this idea in the future. (Findley, 2020).

As I am not an expert in football photography, it is great to hear feedback that Andrew may want to create a similar style of image.

Image 5&6
Figure 5: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

I submitted a similar image in my last WIPP and Cemre criticised me for it. I thought it was as close to poetic as I’ve been and I believed in it. I like the detail, texture and light. Maybe slightly overexposed but I feel that this type of image is good to control the pace of a viewing experience. It’s as vernacular and quiet as football gets and that’s why I like it. (Findley, 2020)

Figure 6: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Everett Rovers

Too obvious, the corner flag is better. It may work without the ball but that’s just a personal thought. This type of shot is too easy for you and I know your voice is far more sophisticated. (Findley, 2020)

Potentially, my inexperience in photographing football is most evident in Figures 5&6 where I have gone straight to the clichés. This is important to understand and consider for any kind of commercial shoot where the expectation would be to look at the subject with a new perspective. Falling into this trap is doubly frustrating as someone who is not familiar with football because there is potential to view it from an outsider’s lens. Andrew is very complimentary and I was drawn to it because I though the grass and the side light would make a great textured image, but I also take the point he raises about Cemre’s critique of the need to move away from this kind of image. Seeing it now, I know that these are both obvious images. Again, from a commercial perspective, this kind of image should be avoided. Having worked as a freelance and editorial photographer, usual practice would be to google search the subject to see what the most common images are, which seems obvious but is a quick initial way to think about avoiding the clichés. I was so focussed on the community aspect of the shoot I failed to think about the obvious and the vernacular nature of football. Something that I clearly need to consider for any images I am making.

Image 7
Figure 7: Phil Hill (September, 2020) Harry

Love it. I’m thinking of Casper from the film Kez. Just think about the shadows on the face although the quality of the photo overpowers the shadow. Love the stains on the shirt and his hair is brilliant. His hands matched his ears in a strange way. Just watch the reflections to the left of him and the white object. My eye is drawn to them but that would be an easy fix. (Findley, 2020)

This is my personal favorite image from the set, even with the strong shadow. I have an alternative, which I quite like too where harry is looking down with less emphasis on the shadow, but the straight into the camera gaze is the better image. I may even include this one in my wider research project with a link to the place he was photographed (ongoing developments pending). I definitely take Andrew’s comments on the distracting highlights, which are the sun hitting some parked car in the background and I have edited this out of a later version of the image.

Loving the black and white, It feels like you are preserving the memories of my past PE lessons in the 90s. I look at Michelle Sank when i’m making portraits, she’s a tidy photographer and is great at isolating subjects often taking a slightly lower vantage point to achieve this. Alex Webb talks of finding a tension that creates a type of peace. That’s my favorite quality about Sank and what I try to achieve. I use a flash to eliminate shadow on faces and having that clean light on the face is important to my practice. It wasn’t initially but is now.

I’m loving Zed Nelson’s portraits at the moment and I think he has a variety of approaches which I like.
(Findley, 2020)

I am wondering whether I have the time to properly develop this story as I create work for my research project. I am keen to continue it however but feel that it deserves a great deal more attention than potentially I am able to give at this stage. This exercise has been incredible valuable however, as it points out the need to share work regularly and with those who have experience with it. I have walked blindly into a number of clichéd images that if done commercially, could have meant the rejection of the set. I must bear this in mind even for the work that I am doing in my research project.

I started to share my work for the first module, which was on the Somerset Carnival circuit. I still believe that this project has some commercial applications and potential to get published. Perhaps it would be beneficial to test the commerciality of my work by creating a better edit of this existing set and sending it out as I intended with the football images. That way I can then return to this set with the developed knowledge to make it a success.

Tell a Story

For this week’s task, I wanted to start testing some ideas in the way that I am developing my sequencing and placement of images together. As I have started to look at the idea of ‘edgelands’ in support of my research into rurality, I also thought it would be good to see how this might be coming through in the reading of my images.

The story

These images are an exploration of the commuter town of Watford, between city and countryside and could be considered one of these ‘edgelands.’ Where does the countryside stop and the urban begin?

Feedback
Jonjo

Having woken up in a drunken stupor in Stanmore on many occasions there is definitely the fray between city and country. I don’t think you necessarily have to answer the question through your work, but raise the question to the audience and offer some answers. The lady and the flower pair well, have you tried the tree stump and the lady before? 

Are there any constructions developing right on the edge of any woodland areas/ views of development?

  • I believe this is the first time that Jonjo would have seen any of my work, owing to the mix of cohorts, so his feedback on my work is quite valuable, having no prior knowledge of the kinds of images that I am making. I was wondering myself whether to provide too much detail in the description of the post as the images themselves should be enough to carry the narrative however, it is a useful note from Jonjo about the need to answer any of the questions. His work posted to this discussion was actually left with little comment to go on in the reading and I also have not seen his work to know his intentions. I quite liked the ambiguity in the sequence, which also provided some snippets into a narrative. Perhaps I don’t need to try and explain away my images; the ambiguity in the reading may actually be a positive to the work. I am still looking at all aspects of edgelands and the idea of construction or development could be quite a good one to explore in the way that the boundary of the edges are always in flux.
Ross

Works really well mate, I especially like the the non human images in this one. I think they have really come along. The image with the layers of brick and concrete that have broken down is really suggestive for me. They are bit more contrasty this time as well I noticed which I also like. 

  • Ross is familiar with my work so it is valuable from a developmental perspective to get his feedback on my work. I am happy to read that the work is showing some progression. I feel that I hit a bit of a dead-end at the start of this module but since getting into the countryside and urban research my work has taken on a new life. He notes the image of the broken bricks, which I quite like too and almost starts to show how this idea of the countryside turning into the urban towns and cities is taking hold. The contrast is an areas of development highlighted to me from the last module and an area that I have been working on improving from both a technical and aesthetic level. It is good to see that this is being reflected in the feedback that I am getting.

I am feeling that I have made some improvements in the sequencing of my work however acknowledge that there is still a great deal of development to be made. I may be relying on the descriptive text to carry my narrative and this is potentially having a detrimental effect on the way I see my non-human images connecting with the portraits. Too much explanation may also have the opposite effect in the accessibility of the work. By telling you what my image is I am shutting out nuance and ambiguity that may lead to multiple interpretation of it.

Photography & Object Orientated Ontology

When discussing Edmond Husserl, Graham Harmon notes how he believes there can be two Berlins: “One of them a content inside the mind and the other an object outside it” (2020: 15). The meaning of this assertion is to suggest that if I were to describe Berlin to you, assuming that you had never been there, it would be different from the one that you might find if you went there yourself. Not necessarily so different that you wouldn’t recognise it as the Berlin I described, but the way that I perceive a place and then describe it will inevitably abstract certain details. I may skip bits less important to me, which you then find crucial to the way that you experience it. I really like chocolate and there was a pretty good chocolate shop by the Brandenburg gate, or the cool northern district where I bought that t-shirt but can’t remember its name – began with an ‘F’ I think. You will experience and remember a different city to me; you may even remember the name of that district. Husserl acknowledges the negligible difference between these two realities as an “absurd notion” (p. 15) however, shows that human perception of the concrete world is a construction of bias and truth, even if that construction describes that same reality.

Harmon is an advocate of Object Orientated Ontology (OOO), which creates agency in the object that is free from how humans perceive it and removes us from being the central focus of interpretation of the world. The described object has its qualities, which can be interpreted in innumerate ways by us and some of these qualities can be abstracted. The object however, remains as it is, regardless of how it is interpreted by us, as Harmon notes, “we abstract certain features from these objects, which exist in their full and unexhausted plenitude quite apart from all our theoretical, perceptual, or practical encounters with them” (2020: 18). Within the sphere of OOO, Berlin would be considered an ‘object’ like any other: “any ‘thing’ is an object, whether living, non-living, artificial, or conceptual”  (Kerr, 2016). Photography is an act of interpreting objects, albeit narrowly, and when considering Husserl photographically, it can be thought of as a third ‘Berlin’ as it also abstracts, leaving out many of the static features that exist in the object.

Figure 1: Micheal Padilla (2020) From ‘Plague Kids: A 21st Century Photo Diary’

The interpretation of the object is based on how it has been photographed: how the apparatus has been programmed, how it has been lit, how it has been composed. The object has its own immutable qualities, yet the interpretation is closely tied to the qualities of the photograph, which can supersede those of the object. I was struck by a recent example of this from one of my peers, Michael Padilla. In his series, ‘Plague Kids,’ he takes the clean colour digital images from a DSLR and prints them onto previously printed-on paper using a laser printer from the 90s, which completely downgrades any of the perceived ‘clean’ quality of the original image (Fig: 1). However, by doing so, he also creates something far superior with greater meaning, even as it is interpreted as degraded. Padilla has taken the abstraction of the photograph one step further by supplanting the qualities of the photograph with its printed outcome, shifting the context – creating a fourth ‘Berlin’ to continue with Husserl’s analogy.

A more common example of this might be in advertising, where the object is photographed in such a way as to accentuate particular qualities attractive to those who are willing to make a purchase. I have also discussed previously, that some of the best photographic works seem to draw attention to the act of photography, which is another way of saying that they also accentuate particular qualities of the photographic process. It is worth noting that photography would also be considered an ‘object’ by OOO, with agency outside the sphere of our interpretation. As Harmon argues, “the external world exists independently of human awareness” (2018: 10).

Figure 2: Phil Hill (August, 2020) PHO703: Surfaces and Strategies work in progress portfolio submission, titled ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’

When considering the impact of OOO on my research project (Fig: 2), the idea of multiple ‘Berlins’ can just as easily be interpreted as multiple ‘Watfords’ (though not as ‘cool’) in a figurative and literal sense of the word. So far, I have suggested that there are four of these interpretations however, as each of us has a unique learned knowledge of the world, it is argued that there are in fact an infinite amount – even as the concrete existence of Watford and the communities that occupy it remain. OOO encourages a way of removing human interpretation from the object’s own agency and creates an opportunity to analyse the impact of the object’s qualities on the way that it is read by us; first consider the object and then the photographic process acting on it.

What I have aimed to do with my project is to consider the perception of these qualities in terms of how they are photographed and how the qualities of the photograph can overcome the qualities of the object photographed – my community. This has become fundamental to the understanding of how I will photograph my community moving forward and also how I connect with it. If I start to think of the community as an object, I can start to identify its qualities and then consider ways in which I can apply the qualities of photography to create my narrative; connecting with the community by drawing attention to my process of photograph. And this is why analogue has become quite important to my practice. The way that we perceive community in its rose-tinted, better-in-the-past bubble, and the way that black and white documentary photographs have shaped this collective understanding are qualities that can be exploited to create my authorship of the presented work – connecting me as the photographer to the community that I am photographing.

Bibliography

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

Harmon, G., 2020. Art and Objects. 1st Paperback ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kerr, D., 2016. What Is Object-Oriented Ontology?. [Online] Available at: https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/the_big_idea/a-guide-to-object-oriented-ontology-art-53690 [Accessed 9 August 2020].

Oral Presentation: Draft

I have started to draft out my oral presentation. The Pecha Kucha method is actually quite freeing in many ways. It makes it a lot easier to piece together the presentation and make edits, for example. Trying to cram in everything that I want to say in 20 seconds per slide is proving to be the biggest challenge, however.

Draft Presentation

I have made a fist draft of my presentation. I think that it is moving in the right direction but unsure at this point if I am covering the learning outcomes. I have spent time discussing my use of black and White and how it creates significance in the image and draws attention to the act of photography. This module, I have spent a great deal of time invested in the development of the aesthetics of my project through how I produce the images.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Draft Oral Presentation for Surfaces and Strategies
Peer feedback on Oral Presentation

I asked my peer group to watch my draft presentation and give me some feedback on any improvements that I could make:

It is excellent, Phil.  But I do feel the pace is slightly too fast.

Isabelle.

Phil -your presentation is v good,  it seems to cover all requirements – it’s a good pace and nice range of images.  It defo keep me engaged.

Claire.

It didn’t feel rushed at all – very clear and good pace. I didn’t check the no of slides or length but it sounded really good. I liked the parts where you talked about having to deal with change.. and also the ref to the sunday supplement printing trad locally! Great thing to link to your zine! I thought it was excellent.

Sioned.

Brilliant job very well done!! HCP does an exhibition called on the fence check it out when you get a min think that that would really work for you. I note your portrait on the fence!!

De.

The only thing I’d suggest is slowing down your speech – it’s too fast to take it all in.

Andy.
Reflection

It’s really great to get such positive feedback on my presentation. I do agree that the pacing of some of the narration of my slides is on the fast side. I have been very keen to get all of the information into the 20 second window per slide that actually it is starting to have a negative impact on the delivery and the ideas being communicated effectively. This is something that I may need to edit down slightly in order to focus on a quality delivery and be assured that the information that is omitted is available in my CRJ.

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.

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.

National Geographic and Me

We did not have subscriptions to National Geographic in my house growing up, however I vividly remember going to the dentist who had piles of the magazine and I would be in awe of how cinematic the world looked. It was these pages that inspired me to want to travel the world and photograph.

Figure 1. Phil Hill & Helen Warrick (March, 2013) National Geographic Traveller.

This week’s task is an interesting one for me as I have shot for the spin-off publication, National Geographic Traveller Magazine (Fig. 1). I have also reflected on this, when we looked at Gaze.

It is worth noting that National Geographic Traveller is primarily about showing beautiful destinations that you might go on holiday as opposed to what its parent publication supposedly stands for. National Geographic Traveller operates and runs features in a similar way to how Conde Nast, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Lonely Planet also publish travel features. One of the key differences is that it comes with the branding associated with National Geographic, including its distinctive yellow border.

As Grundberg Stated “the photographs found in the National Geographic represent the apotheosis of the picturesque” (Grundberg, 1988), and it is through Traveller magazine that it takes this to the most extreme. National Geographic have recently acknowledged a past built on exploitation (Goldberg, 2018) yet still create an aesthetic that undermines the moral high ground that they seek to occupy. For Traveller magazine, they completely ignore this moral standing and only print images of exotic locations to sell holidays. If National Geographic is aesthetics for supposed cultural importance (Lutz & Collins, 1991, p. 134); National Geographic Traveller is purely aesthetics for the sake of exoticism. My assignment for example, was to illustrate an article on Bali, Indonesia that was created off the back of a press junket paid for by the Indonesian tourist board, a common practice in travel editorial but not what you would expect in its parent. When picking up Traveller magazine, the reader looks at that yellow border and distinctive brand logo and would naturally associate this spin-off with all of the mythology that National Geographic is synonymous for. In many ways, franchises and spin-off publications that utilise the coded branding of National Geographic are everything that is wrong with National Geographic.

I am completely complicit in this. I shot the assignment and took the money. Reflecting on this for my oral presentation in Positions and Practice, I questioned my moral and ethical position and how I would photograph the most aesthetically pleasing image whilst also witnessing all of the challenges and the poverty that happened around me. Since then I was listening to Hannah Starkey discuss the challenges of gaze (Starkey, 2019), who equated a rise in male gaze was in part to do with the last recession, creating a culture of lazy advertising. Starkey was talking about the commodification of women, however where this relates to National Geographic and Traveller magazine is how we also commodified the land; sex and exoticism sells. As a freelancer in my twenties around the same time, it was exciting to be paid to travel and photograph as ignorant as I was to the impact that my images have.

Now that this position has been challenged, I hope to move forward in a more engaging way and not occupy the view of the photographer as Ariella Azoulay described as “a male figure roaming around the world and pointing his camera at objects, places, people, and events, as if the world was made for him. He can vanish from people’s worlds in the same way that he appeared in them” (Azoulay, 2016, p. 2).

To test that here, I have selected a recent portrait that I created at the food bank over the road from my home. It might be worth noting that I also spent the afternoon helping out with the aim of gaining the trust of the people that I wanted to photograph (Fig. 2)

Figure 2. Phil Hill (March, 2020) Mark at Elim Foodbank
Bibliography

Azoulay, A., 2016. Photography Consists of Collaboration: Susan Meiselas, Wendy Ewald, and Ariella Azoulay. Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, 01 01, 31(1 91), p. 2.

Goldberg, S., 2018. For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It. [Online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/from-the-editor-race-racism-history/ [Accessed 21 10 2019].

Grundberg, A., 1988. PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; A Quintessentially American View of the World. [Online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/18/arts/photography-view-a-quintessentially-american-view-of-the-world.html [Accessed 4 March 2020].

Hill, P., 2020. Mark from Elim foodbank. [Photo].

Lutz, C. & Collins, J., 1991. The Photograp as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(1), pp. 134 -148.

Starkey, H., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers. Episode 102 – Hannah Starkey [Interview] (3 April 2019).

Warwick, H. & Hill, P., 2013. Free Spirit. National Geographic Traveller (UK), 01 03, pp. 92 – 101.