Relay in Contemporary Photographic Practice

In 1967, Roland Barthes, penned the terms Anchor and relay in response to defining the different ways of using words with pictures:

Anchor refers to the text that accompanies pictures and is there to control its meaning.

Relay defines the text as equal status with the image.

Two examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice are Sophie Calle’s Take Good Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field.

Sophie Calle – Take good care of yourself


The starting point of the project Take Care of Yourself is an e-mail received by Sophie Calle, from her then boyfriend, ending their relationship:

I received an email telling me it was over.
I didn’t know how to respond.
It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me.
It ended with the words, “Take care of yourself.” and so I did.
I asked 107 women, chosen for their profession or skills, to interpret this letter.
To analyse it, comment on it, dance it, sing it.
Exhaust it. Understand it for me. Answer for me.
It was a way of taking the time to break up.
A way of taking care of myself

This life changing event led Sophie to open an exhibition that was composed of 107 interpretations organised in 5 different sets :

-set 1, 60 textual interpretations and frames
-set 2, Parchments «Moulin du Gue», 6 translations of the letter in braille, morse, binary code, stenogaphy…
-set 3, 40 photographic protraits of singers and actresses
-set 4, 33 small films shot in HD and displayed on small video screens
-set 5, 7 large films shot in HDCam and displayed as two large HD video projections

An interpretation consists of one photographic portrait of each woman, shot by Sophie Calle, as well as the interpretation of each one, that can be either a text or a drawing (framed) ; a song, a dance or a play (a film).

Sophies post modern approach to narrative is evident in the marrying of her photographs and other media.  A clear relay approach has been taken in this project as the accompanying media is as imperative to the narrative as the photographs and visa versa.

For me the genius here is Calle’s insistency that her subjects decide which media they want to use to represent themselves whether it be written word, song or dance.  Are her viewers able to ponder longer at the portraits trying to guess by their appearance what media they can associate with that person?  Are perceptions generally true or are people surprised by the outcome?

Its an incredibly intriguing exhibition with lots of thoughts emanating from the clever use of relay in this postmodern take on contemporary photography.

Sophy Rickett’s – Objects in the Field

Sharon Boothroyd wrote an essay on this project which can be found here: objects in the field in which Rickett discusses how a symbiosis was formed through the prevailing tension between Dr Roderick Willstrop and herself.

Rickett spoke of a high volume of failure before the project took on a different meaning in the tense struggle between scientist and artist.

Again as in Sophie Calle’s work this post modern approach to narrative gave way to a change in shift with regards to the project end.

Different Media Types in Post Modern Relay

I keep a notebook with me at all times ‘Project ideas’.  In it, on the first page is when I first had the idea of using mixed media to increase the power of a story I want to tell.  For many years I’ve been subjected to discrimination because of my West Midlands accent.  The way I realised that my accent was to blame was when I was working for a large corporation in a managerial role  with regional responsibilities.  I was recruited by the Birmingham office so my accent wasn’t so pronounced as everyone spoke the same.  I started to notice that when people from other regions called my mobile they would ask to speak to ‘Sam Cook’ completely dismissing that the black country speaking woman answering the phone could be one of the same.  They would respond with ‘oh’.

Our company intranet was partly to blame.  It held photographs (you know the corporate soulless type) of every manger within the company including me.  I would get comments like, you don’t sound like you look!  The stereotype of a black country girl didn’t fit the corporate world.

This is what gave me the idea of testing viewers perceptions of accents and who they belong to.  For this I would need to photograph people and record their voices.  Here are my brief notes:

notebook project voice

Hopefully, I’ll carry out this project during the remainder of this course.


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