Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha, Jodie Taylor

Final catch up post, though at least I have some notes to go from on this one.

All three of these practitioners use their camera as a tool. It’s not about making stereotypically beautifully images, more about using the camera to investigate what matters to them in the same way that you might choose to write about something or tell a story. I found that all three resonated with me but for different reasons – the very personal honesty of Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha’s systematic exploration of a ring road in an unfamiliar place and Jodie Taylor’s record of the features of her childhool area, and their appropriate presentation. I had also come across this work on the Foundation course. This time round it is Peter’s work that resonates the most though – his images tell his story. There are no grand vistas, but a record of his everyday, of the tiny details that differentiate his life. He learned about himself whilst enabling others to learn about his life too.

The second part of this exercise is to consider how I feel about the loss of authorial control that occurs once the images are seen by others outside of my own context. On the whole I am positive and excited about it. Other viewers can and will take a far larger range of meaning and significance from my work than I provided to it as input. The feedback that arises can then feed into my work, informing future work. With the benefit of writing this at the end of the course I can see instances of where my work triggered unexpected observations – the reading of A5 as sexual for example, whereas it was intended in more of a still life/historical way. I am learning however to embrace and consider all feedback as obectively as I can manage (which sometimes is not very obectively at all).

Duane Michals

Another catch up post. I think I must have spent most of my time on Part 2 photographing fairies, no wonder my tutor said there were gaps in my blog.

I can’t quite believe that I’ve been ignorant of this work. There’s a delicacy to it. I know from experience that handwriting and photographs are a hard combination to get right but these images are perfect. They manage to give you more information without shutting down your readings. I actually forgot about the exercise (again…) and got lost in the work.

So the question is, is the image proof of a happy liason or is that what we choose to see? I think the answer can be whatever we want. We know that photographs are not proof. If we’re lucky, they might be “proof” of whatever was in front of the camera at the time that the image was made. It feels to me as if the image and its caption is about trying to convince himself that the relationship was indeed happy, at least at that time. It makes me think of how we use words on photos to reassure ourselves, to try to extract a truth from the image that might not actually be there.

As I have the luxury of writing this long after I thought Part 2 was finished, I think of how my Part 3 Self Portrait assignment combines text (via period tracker app screenshots) with mobile phone self portraits. The data was personal to me and allowed the images to carry more meaning, they carried their own context like a hermit crab carries its home.

Part 2 Kaylyn Deveney and Karen Knorr

On checking my blog for assessment I found that some work was missing from Part 2. I add it here. I had viewed the work but for some reason not written it up.

Kaylynn Deveney’s series The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings achieves something remarkable. The images are gentle and thoughtful but it’s not just that – it’s the way that she’s closed the loop by asking Alfred to caption them. Sharon Boothroyd does something similar with the Polaroid “I’d get my feet in” shown in the course notes, and of course Gillian Wearing’s “Signs that say what you want them to say…”  I wonder what would happen if you worked the other way around with the subject taking the picture and the photographer captionning them. It certainly makes me realise that when the same person has control of both the image and the text, there’s a lack of input from anyone else and the possible readings of the work are tightened.

Karen Knorr is someone whose work I still struggle to engage with fully despite the fact that it makes strong points very eloquently. I think it feels very polished, a little cold at the edges, and I know that this is probably the point of the Gentlemen series. Her combination of images and text shows how ingrained the patriarchy was at the time of the work – I know that things have changed a bit since then but I wonder how much. I very much like the method that she has used here and I would be interested to learn more about where the text came from. When I look at this work it reminds me of the Channel 4 documentary when Grayson Perry met Chris Huhne and made a vase that featured patterns inclding Huhne’s head, speed cameras and a penis. It struck me on the documentary that Huhne was quite pleased to be honoured in a pot rather than humbled or pausing to think on his actions. This view is suggested by Perry in a Radio Times piece. (Radio Times 22.10.14)

Grayson laughs. “No, that confidence! I don’t think he has uncertainties. He’s Teflon!” He had wanted this subject particularly because “making the series, from the word go we were looking for differences of race, religion, sex. But I said that I was also interested in the people in charge: middle-class, middle-aged, male – they’re a group too. They hide in a suit and they don’t think they’re an ethnic group but they are. It’s like people who speak RP and think they have no accent. I needed a guy who is all those things but then has a big disrupted moment. Prison!”

I think that Karen shows this approach too – she’s making this “invisible in plain sight” group visible, and her use of text shows how entrenched that group and its attitudes are (or were at the time).



Exercise – three case studies

It was Peter Mansell’s work that resonated the most strongly for me. Firstly, his work made me look at my own domestic space differently. We are all able-bodied here, but his work made me realise how inaccessible our modern home would become if one or more of us lost mobility. It gave me far more of an understanding of the challenges faced day in day out.

I also appreciated reading about how he faced the challenges in his course that are common to so many of us, how we deal with moving from creating “beautiful or spectacular pictures” to making more personal work that really speaks of something that we have to say.

For the second part of the exercise, I am learning to welcome the “loss of authorial control that comes when the viewer projects their own experiences and emotions onto the images you’ve created”. I recognise that sometimes you want the work to say exactly what you have in mind, but I have found on several occasions that people can and will take a far larger range of meaning from my work than I intended, or even imagined possible. This then feeds back into both current and future work, making that more accessible and relevant  too. So yes, I welcome this “loss” because it’s a net gain.

Photographs inspired by a poem

This was a very interesting and worthwhile exercise. I had forgotten how much I enjoy poetry and it was good to read some again. I struggled a bit with choosing a single poem as several spoke to me. The one that spoke loudest was “Inessential Things” by Brian Patten. It’s in an anthology called “The Emergency Poet” by Deborah Alma, which has lived by my bed (the quick reference pile!) since a good friend gave it to me a couple of years back. Here’s a screenshot from her website:

Inessential Things by Brian Patten

You can hear him reading it here:

I started out with quite a few images, but they tended towards the literal. For me, the overarching theme was the relative freedom/simplicity of a cat’s life compared with the complexity of mine (which includes maintaining my cat’s quality of life). I did have images with text in, but I’ve chosen not to use those, I’m making a conscious effort to use less text in my work.

Alma, D (2015) The Emergency Poet, London: Michael O’Mara.

Exercise – Image and text

I did find some overlap in this exercise with EYV – Terry Barrett essay discussed here.  I have worked up this exercise in my sketchbook as all the photographs are currently within copyright and therefore cannot be included on a public blog without permission.

A reader will contextualise an image depending on the adjacent text. Images can be presented supporting a completely different viewpoint to the one that they may have been intended for. The reader has a lot of power here too, the number of possible meanings is limited only by the viewer’s understanding and belief that a caption, and associated photograph, is credible.

This allows me to see how important anchor text is in particular situations, such as advertisements or instructions for examples. I’m also curious about images that rarely include text but still carry a clear message – Ikea assembly instructions for example (though these do carry item codes).

I did feel uneasy about this exercise. Not just about the copyright issues on Getty images, but at the idea of recontextualising news stories that are already pretty unbelievable and not necessarily in a good way. Sunday’s paper gave me the “not-a-coup” in Zimbabwe, sexualised teenage selfies, redacted lists of those women who have alleged harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein, and the increased use of food banks by people in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out.  That said, I find the area of context fascinating and very helpful in crafting my own work so I have found it very useful to investigate the concepts of “anchor” and “relay” text via Barthes.

Notes on Barthes reading and post modern narrative

Note to self – both Rhetoric of the Image and Death of the Author are accessible via my Evernote. Very helpful texts, need to re-read second half of ROTI. Very clear ideas in Rhetoric of the Image on reading an image – text first, then what the image suggests, then what it is actually of.

Key points of post modern narrative:

  1. experimental authors challenged the start/middle/end narrative structure, and the idea of authorship control
  2. examples – Virginia Woolf Stream of Consciousness, she was already doing it, TS Eliot, Zadie Smith
  3. Techniques include: incorporating fragments of other text, use of open-ended plots/unresolved endings (handmaid’s tale Margaret Atwood?), reduced use of descriptive language (viewers can imagine?) Let the reader put themselves into the story with their own context and memories affecting how the story is read.
  4. Barthes and Foucault were “a call to the reader to become less passive in their consumption of literature and art”. Less passive = perceived as less accessible but (Barthes) increases possibilities of interpretation and offers a more enriched and enriching experience to the user.

Summary of p54 course notes.

Briony Campbell “The Dad Project” and W Eugene Smith “The Country Doctor”

Both are intimate works made possible only by trust. W Eugene Smith had to gain the trust not just of the doctor, but also of the community and patients involved. Briony Campbell needed to have the trust of her dad and her family, be comfortable herself with making the work whilst still being there for her dad and addressing her own grief. We learn from the PDF that she found it particularly difficult to talk to her mum about the work and that it inhibited the work that she could make in the early stages.

Country Doctor has a different dynamic – it was made by a photographer with no personal link to the subject, the relationship was comparatively short and carefully nurtured to allow trust. I don’t know if it was a commissioned shoot or if the work was sold to Life after it was made. The Dad Project however has a far more personal view – it was made by Briony, of her dad, who had raised and nurtured her through life. I think the emotional investment and feeling of risk must have been enormous, and you get some idea of this from the Guardian video on the showreel when they both talk about the thought involved in deciding to make the work together. There must also have been discussions in ambulances, in hospitals, at the hospice, and I don’t believe those are easy conversations to have even in palliative care settings.  In Country Doctor Dr Cernier is a constant through the images with a large set of patients, nurses and others passing through the work. We see the occasional mini-series that follows one patient for a sequence of photographs. The Dad Project has a much smaller, tighter, “cast” and that made it more powerful for me. The image with the paramedic with the tear in his eye somehow increases the circle of intimacy rather than decreases it – we see how Briony’s dad touched the lives of those who encountered him. We also see images of Briony too, where she becomes subject as well as photographer. By contrast Country Doctor is rather less about the photographer, showing the relationship between the photographer and the doctor is less important than showing the relationships between the doctor and those around him in each photograph.

Scope and scale were different too. Dr Cernier covered 400 square miles. We see him at surgery, at hospital, in patients’ homes, fishing (very briefly), spending time with his family. The shoot is over 23 days.  Even so it’s something of a snapshot compared to The Dad Project. We learn how Briony made images of herself, then her parents’ home, over seven months between the diagnosis of terminal cancer and starting to make work including her dad. The geographic scope is much smaller and tighter – their home, the hospital, the hospice, the ambulance interior.

Although both stories are intimate, the W Eugene Smith work is far more documentary in its approach. The Dad Project is on a different scale of intimacy and feels far more personal, as if we are sharing emotions with Briony, rather than facts with W Eugene Smith. I found both works very engaging in very different ways and I’m happy that I put the time into this work today. I had previously looked at Phil Toledano’s work about his father, and that had some resonance with Briony’s work in terms of its highly personal nature, yet still almost universally engaging.

“What does she mean by ‘an ending without an ending’?

I think she’s saying that even though her dad physically died, he’s still there with her in the form of memories and the judgement and values that they shared. “In realizing The Dad Project I made a lot of tough decisions. Without my dad, but very much with him.” I think also, because the work has had such a strong identity and presence and now exists in its right, almost independently of both Briony and her dad. He lives on through her work and she can see the relevance that the work has to others.