Photographing the unseen – Case studies

I’ve read through the three case studies of Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha and Jodie Taylor of which I find them all to be inspiring in individual ways.

Peter Mansell

Peter Mansell, paraplegic form the age of 20, talks about how he came about photographing his injuries and subsequent change of life through visual metaphorical perspectives.

This makes me think back to Bryony Campbell’s, The Dad Project where part of her work in that series had an air of reflection rather than reaction.  There are evidential photographs within that series that shaped the narrative but the feelings came through in the more metaphorical images.  One such image on first glance appears to be blood splatter on a hospital floor:

BrionyCampbell milkshakeBryony Campbell, The Dad Project

However, after reading Campbell’s accompanying essay on The Dad Project, it becomes apparent that her dad in his ailing body had dropped his milkshake on the kitchen floor when she was looking after him.  This is a very reflective photograph as she couldn’t bring herself to photograph it straight away and instead quite naturally reacted as a daughter first and picked up the glass and paused to reflect before picking up her camera.

Coming back to Peter Mansell, His work seems to consist of his story but with a large amount of viewer interpretation.  The photo above has the same complication, like a puzzle that needs to be solved.

I’m left wondering how do I get it right?  How do I tell a story that can evoke similar feelings to what these people are producing?

It seems to me that there has to be a background story.  In the case of Peter Mansell, If I didn’t know about his accident before viewing the photographs I wouldn’t have been able to interpret them in the correct context.  So, are they too metaphorical?  How do they strike a balance?  Some photographs form a narrative and others put emotions into the series.  There needs to be a complimentary balance between the two.

I felt inspired by Peter Mansell and how he came to rely on photography as a form of expression which helped him deal with suppressed feelings.  It made me realise that a feeling, especially of the visceral kind can become a narrative if you let it.

Dewald Botha – Ring Road

Unfortunately I felt bored with how baffling this narrative comes across and that may be because I haven’t experienced the same feelings.  I think the photographs are beautiful and I can see how I’m drawn in by the symmetry and uniformity but in tern is preventing me from appreciating the narrative in this series.

Jodie Taylor – Memories of Childhood

This particular case study has my interest immediately.  It’s something I’ve thought of doing many times as the culture in my home town is very different to where I live now.  I find it fascinating that in a short distance life can be so very different so through time into the mix and I’m getting excited.

Jodie Taylor’s ‘Memories of Childhood’ is how I imagined my project to be.  The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I read that she presenting her series in on of those old fashioned photo albums with the sticky plastic coverings.  I have a few of those on my shelf full of photographs I took from the age of 10.  Taylor’s work has evoked a huge feeling of nostalgia in me.

I watched OCA assessor Jesse Alexander’s video critique of Taylor’s work and it becomes apparent that this theme runs throughout all of her work in different formats.  It helps to see what other people are doing and step out of the comfort zone of whats been asked of you.

I’m particularly impressed with the different types of media used to present her work.  It’s very imaginative and relevant which further extends the narrative.

 

This makes me think back to Bryony Campbell’s, The Dad Project where part of her work in that series had an air of reflection rather than reaction.  There are evidential photographs within that series that shaped the narrative but the feelings came through in the more metaphorical images.  One such image on first glance appears to be blood splatter on a hospital floor:

BrionyCampbell milkshakeBryony Campbell, The Dad Project

However, after reading Campbell’s accompanying essay on The Dad Project, it becomes apparent that her dad in his ailing body had dropped his milkshake on the kitchen floor when she was looking after him.  This is a very reflective photograph as she couldn’t bring herself to photograph it straight away and instead quite naturally reacted as a daughter first and picked up the glass and paused to reflect before picking up her camera.

Coming back to Peter Mansell, His work seems to consist of his story but with a large amount of viewer interpretation.  The photo above has the same complication, like a puzzle that needs to be solved.

I’m left wondering how do I get it right?  How do I tell a story that can evoke similar feelings to what these people are producing?

It seems to me that there has to be a background story.  In the case of Peter Mansell, If I didn’t know about his accident before viewing the photographs I wouldn’t have been able to interpret them in the correct context.  So, are they too metaphorical?  How do they strike a balance?  Some photographs form a narrative and others put emotions into the series.  There needs to be a complimentary balance between the two.

I felt inspired by Peter Mansell and how he came to rely on photography as a form of expression which helped him deal with suppressed feelings.  It made me realise that a feeling, especially of the visceral kind can become a narrative if you let it.

Dewald Botha – Ring Road

Unfortunately I felt bored with how baffling this narrative comes across and that may be because I haven’t experienced the same feelings.  I think the photographs are beautiful and I can see how I’m drawn in by the symmetry and uniformity but in tern is preventing me from appreciating the narrative in this series.

Jodie Taylor – Memories of Childhood

This particular case study has my interest immediately.  It’s something I’ve thought of doing many times as the culture in my home town is very different to where I live now.  I find it fascinating that in a short distance life can be so very different so through time into the mix and I’m getting excited.

Jodie Taylor’s ‘Memories of Childhood’ is how I imagined my project to be.  The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I read that she presenting her series in on of those old fashioned photo albums with the sticky plastic coverings.  I have a few of those on my shelf full of photographs I took from the age of 10.  Taylor’s work has evoked a huge feeling of nostalgia in me.

I watched OCA assessor Jesse Alexander’s video critique of Taylor’s work and it becomes apparent that this theme runs throughout all of her work in different formats.  It helps to see what other people are doing and step out of the comfort zone of whats been asked of you.

I’m particularly impressed with the different types of media used to present her work.  It’s very imaginative and relevant which further extends the narrative.

 

Image and Text

My brief was to look for photographs in the newspaper and add text to them with the aim of re-contextualising them.

Photograph 1

hallelula 1 copy

This ladies pose and the huge cross around her neck made me think of worship assembly where preachers cure their congregation members.  By adding the text I’ve given other viewers the same opinion without directly saying where she is.  This is an example of relay.  The lady in the photograph has in reality just found out she’s won tickets to Adele’s concert however this isn’t at all clear without the text.  This photograph can be interpreted in many ways, ‘she lost ten pounds this week!’, ‘winner of singing competition shocked by results’ etc.

Photograph 2

naval officer

Although this seems like a cruel take on the stereotype of naval workers the caption has re-contextualised the image.  Its actually a report on ‘daddy’s home for christmas’ but the interpretation can be controlled via the text.  Another example of Relay.

Photograph 3

 

motorbike copy

This final photograph has been contextualised with the added text.  The photograph is from an advert so keeping in the same topic.  This is an example of anchor, where the text is firmly telling you this is a fast bike and its a Triumph.  Theres no room for ambiguity.  I originally changed the context of this photograph by making it appear to be a getaway vehicle from a crime but instead decided to use it demonstrate an anchor type of narrative.

Duane Michals

An American photographer who makes good use of postmodern narrative by using text in close relation to his photographs.

duanemichals01This Photograph is my proof

In this photograph, Michals has used a postmodern relay narrative and added text underneath.  The addition of the text give more depth into the meaning of the photograph.  The text isn’t very legible in this example however it reads:

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!

The addition of the text tells us more of the story even beyond the photograph.  This photograph has also been given a title which goes some way to giving it narrative but the additional text tells the story further than a moment in time.

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

Sophie-Calle_main_2750540c

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.

Telling a story

Viewing The Dad Project

I tried to approach this exercise with an objective mind as it seemed too close to the bone for comfort.  I lost my dad three years ago and the feelings of grief are still quite raw.  I started to think about how lucky Briony Campbell had been to carry out such an intimate project with her dad and ultimately strengthening their relationship.  In her contextual write up, Campbell talks about not having time to plan properly or reflect on the progress of the project.  She also said when the end came she was only just finding her feet.  I thought how wonderful, you had time to find your feet!  I had a phone call to tell me to get to the hospital immediately.  I lived thirty miles away and after a frantic drive down the M6 I was greeted by a nurse who was apologising to me as she came into view.  So reading Campbells account of her dads illness and eventual death made me envious as I had no part in my dads final moments.

The more I read and the more I saw of ‘the dad project’, the more I understood about how difficult it would have been for campbell to document her dads death (i feel like I need to write dad instead of father!) as there are moments in our lives when can do nothing more than live that moment so to put a camera in front of it must have taken great strength or passion.

Obviously this project left me in tears.  I feel like I’ve been on an incredibly emotional journey thats left me with a heavy heart.

Country Doctor

Another photo essay to review was W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait, ‘Country Doctor’.  During this project Smith shadowed the country doctor Dr. Ernest Ceriani, in Kremmling, America, in 1948 and documented his work.  As Ceriani was the only doctor in a 400 sq mile radius, he had a lot of ground to cover and also became a doctor of all types.

Comparison between the two projects

Similarly to Campbells ‘the dad project’, Smith was able to chronicle the emotions of his subjects, tugging at the heart stings of his viewers.  Where campbells project was centred on one sufferer, Smiths project concentrated on one healer but the effects are the same.  We can sense the pain in both sets of photographs and the day to day struggles of the people involved including the photographers them selves.  They were also very emotive projects and this comes across very strongly for both stories.

Where these projects differ is with the photographer in that one was incredibly subjective (Campbell) whereas Smith had scope to be objective in his motives.  Both projects evoke feelings but whilst Campbell was on the inside, Smith was a stranger looking in.

This indicates to me that you don’t need to be one or the other when documenting emotional stories.  How you get there is a your own journey and the end results should represent that.

An ending without and ending

In campbell’s contextual essay she referred to the project as an ending without an ending.  This is quite difficult to decipher given the fact that the story did have an ending so it must have something to do with the photographer herself.  Whether this means no ending to how she feels about the ending is anyones guess.  From my own personal experience of dealing with death, I always felt that although death is final, life goes on.  Campbell’s journey is still ongoing and maybe the end of her dads life was her beginning.