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.


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: [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.


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.


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.


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!!


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


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.


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

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]


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: [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: [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: [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 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.

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

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

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: [Accessed 21 10 2019].

Grundberg, A., 1988. PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; A Quintessentially American View of the World. [Online] Available at: [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.

Week 4: Reflection

Figure 1. Phil Hill (December, 2019) Dave at Peterborough Curling Club, Ontario, Canada.

Reading the forum this week, I notice that a good number of the feedback given to the images is informed by a pre-existing understanding of the work of my peers. I was aware of the previous work of many of my peers through engaging on the forums and webinars over the last few weeks, plus following many on social media.

I believe that the task was with the aim of removing this knowledge of the work in order to read the image ‘cold,’ which would be useful to understand how a variety of meaning can be drawn from an image where it may be viewed without the context and the understanding of the author’s intent. This is important as it poses the question of whether the communication of the image’s meaning is understood without the supporting documentation that might accompany a piece of work. Also, worth considering Barthes’ removal of the author, which may distort this reading of images (Barthes, 1977, pp. 142-148).

With this in mind, I decided to test the reading of my current portrait practice but realise that many of my peers have seen much of this work already. With the aim of gaining this ‘cold’ reading, I decided to use a portrait taken within the timeframe of this current module and in a similar style to the work that I have intended to shoot for my work in progress portfolio (Fig. 1), however is unrelated to the look at my local community.​*​

Authors might not be that dead after all.

This week, I spent some time looking in detail at Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’ (1977) with the aim of seeing how this could apply to my practice. Barthes suggests that the reading of a work becomes a relationship between the reader of the work and the author, which has a fundamental impact on how that work is read. The background of the author could be prioritised over the message of the work. For example, if I am telling you that my project is about a fractured sense of community, is this being communicated through my images, or are you as a reader attributing this information to the work and changing the meaning of what has actually been presented.

The image that I added to the forum is a portrait of Dave, who is a member of the Peterborough Curling club in Ontario, Canada (Fig 1). What information in the image is actually telling us this? And did the reading of the image support this? One of the most immediate signs in my image of Dave is of the Canadian flag sewn onto his hat with the rest of the image fairly monotone by comparison. Red, I find is a very useful colour to use when composing images as it instantly draws the eye to it. Is the flag a dead giveaway that the subject is Canadian, not necessarily. Fashion items regularly use flags as an accessory, and there are a number of clothing companies that utilise the Canadian flag as part of its brand. Personally, I feel that there are a number of factors that link this image as being taken in North America, and Canada specifically. The Colour tone is typical of this part of the world, but potentially I am only aware of this fact having spent a good amount of time in the country; I purposefully chose to move Dave to the panelled background to increase this feel to the image. Dave is wearing a plaid shirt, which is also typical of a person living in Canada, however this too could be circumstantial and coincidental. Lastly, and most telling, is the name badge, which although not part of the plain of focus, you are able to make out the name and ‘Peterborough Curling’ however this too can be confused as someone living in the UK city of Peterborough. My intention that when these are read together, you are reading a portrait of a Canadian male.

Figure 2. Feedback received on my portrait of Dave (Kurowski, et al., 2020).

The feedback more or less confirmed this (Fig. 2). The name badge and outdoor clothing meant that Dave was assumed to be working outdoors, and that the work was a defining characteristic of who Dave is. In fact, this portrait was taken indoors, however the clothing is necessary as this is a curling club where the ice needs to be kept at a low temperature. Dave is also retired and a member of the club for social and active reasons. Joanna spotted the Canadian flag and made the connection that he is indeed Canadian. Apprehension and annoyance was also a reading of the image, which is fairly accurate. Dave allowed me to take his portrait and even moved to the panelled background, however, he was not there to have his photograph taken, and was keen to continue curling, which can be viewed in some of his expression. However, I quite like this tension in the image and it is one of my favourite images from the curling club shoot. Linking to my initial commentary on pre-existent knowledge of the work, Andy’s feedback was interesting in that he does have an awareness of the kind of work that I produce having helped me out on a shoot for the last module where we have spoken at length about both of our practices. I am happy with Andy’s reading of my work but aware that this could come from a position of being more informed than most. I am interested to understand what he meant by the lack of meaning as this is a clear area of development for me.

‘Death of the Author’ is useful in that the communication needs to be strong enough for the work to stand on its own. Barthes’ requires us to consider that a work can be read in a multitude of ways, and the term ‘reader’ does not mean a physical one, but instead a way of placing the work in a space where all possible readings can be extracted (Seymour, 2017, p. 27). This notion is useful in that we can view a work liberated from authors, who might seek to control how a work is consumed (p. 22). The image of Dave was not necessarily ambiguous enough for an oppositional reading to truly test the nature of my dominant reading, the denoted elements tell enough of a narrative of who Dave is, even if this is not completely accurate.

Removing authors as the primary means in which we consume and read work can be a useful tool of reference to bear in mind how that work is being read and it puts the focus back on the message and not the messenger – for example, in the way that we understand a speech of a political figure (Seymour, 2017, p. 43).

I am not sure that I fully support that you can completely remove authors from the work as they could provide useful understanding of the intent of that work. It is almost impossible to do so anyway, especially in our information driven era where everything can be accessed and re-accessed online, although it could be argued that by virtue of the way images are shared online, they can lose meaning and easily be recontextualized in the form of memes, for example. There are a number of reasons where it is useful to understand the context in which that work was created, which could also include background information of the author. For example, as a way of breaking established hegemony in colonial and male gaze. A number of Barthes’ contemporaries such as Raymond Picard were critical of this approach to Authors, arguing that the historical and context are crucial to understand the work (Seymour, 2017, p. 24). Stanley Fish also discussed the importance of context in how we interpret meaning and an important consideration of this is in the author (p. 57).

It is important to continually assess the spaces left by the author when we look at the work in their absence. It is helpful to view a work with this separation, and a notion discussed by Michel Foucoult in his essay ‘What is an Author’ (Foucoult, 1980). However, Barthes’ himself also notes that the image is used to illustrate written word, we may also need to include some kind of commentary (in the form of words) for it to be fully understood (Barthes, 1977, p. 26). And although text does not necessarily relate to the author, it can be useful for understanding the intent. Therefore, there must be a middle ground in which images should communicate effectively and where the intention can be supported through the dominant reading of the author but not held hostage by it.


  1. ​*​
    Although I am now wondering if this is a factor that should really matter. My project idea is looking at the notion of the fractured community, so a portrait of a small community group in Canada that I shot whilst visiting my wife’s family over the Christmas period may support the narrative of never truly fitting into one place.

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

Foucoult, M., 1980. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. New Edition ed. New York: Cornell University Press.

Hill, P., 2019. Dave, Peterborough Curling Club, Ontario, Canada. [Photo]

Kurowski, J. et al., 2020. Week 4 Activity: Viewers Make Meaning (Forum), s.l.: Falmouth University.

Seymour, L., 2017. An Analysis of Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author. London: Routledge.