The first test shoot…

Picture this: you’re in the middle of Storm Arwen. It’s less than 10 degrees, hailing one second and thundering the next. Trees are falling, fences are snapping and trampolines are flying. I’m talking a ‘…we’re not in Kansas anymore’ kind of moment. Then, little old me decides that THIS is the time to test shoot my project.

Not only did I decide to shoot during a storm, but I thought it would be great to try out super weird ideas like STANDING IN A SWIMMING COSTUME IN THE WOODS to see if it was ‘edgy’ (it was not, it was awful, we don’t need to speak of it ever again).

On the serious side, it was super useful to cram all the shooting into one weekend. It made me more determined and (due to the time constraints between the shoot and my deadline) I considered each pose more carefully.

I think my state of mind is also reflected in the images…you can tell that I feel a sort of disconnect to home. But, the viewer should also get the sense that that’s not the whole story, and maybe there is still some connection there.

I’m excited to see where the project goes…

Topic Four: Authorship and Collaboration

I absolutely loved this week!

We were challenged to post a word, poem, headline, sentence, image, or something that could be a starting point to a group project, then find some other people who were interested in similar work and team up.

Something that I plan to research and make work about throughout the next couple of years is the representation of Queer people in photography. I’m Pansexual (but I prefer the term ‘Queer’) and over the last few years, art by and about the queer community has been at the forefront of my interests. My instagram feed is full of ‘camp’ and elaborate images, I watch documentaries about our hardships and successes, I read books about the community and I enjoy programmes like Ru Paul’s Drag Race and TV shows like Feel Good and POSE. It’s been a form of therapy for me I guess (GOD I HATE HOW CORNY THAT SOUNDS, EW!)

The LGBTQIA+ community have been photographed since day dot, and with each decade that passes, the style of photography and attitudes of society are altered. So, I thought that the word ‘identity’ would be a good starting point to a project – it’s so broad! There are a lot of things that contribute to someone’s identity: gender, sexuality, race, what they wear, where they’re from, their interests…

The word ‘identity’, posted alongside Silvia Rosi’s BEAUTIFUL image from their work for converse, sparked a bit of a conversation.

Silvia Rosi

To cut a long story short, I paired up with Maria Uebele (Max) who is an artist interested in female identity, body autonomy and sexual liberation. Though visually our photographic styles are complete opposites, with Max’s images often dark (both visually and psychologically) and mine light, bright and pastel tones, we quickly learned that we shared some photographic interests in terms of themes: body politics, mental health/state of mind, feminism, queer representation. The above image that I posted was taken from a series that gives a platform to queer, black people and although queer representation is important to us (particularly as two people from the LGBTQ+ community), we decided to just focus on our photographic identities for this mini project.

So we sat down, realised how visually different our styles were, panicked a little, then decided that was EXACTLY what we should be focusing on. Our styles are so out of each other’s comfort zones, so why not challenge ourselves to step into each others shoes? Very briefly, our plan was to take some self portraits, some ‘light’ (inspired by my work) and some ‘dark’ (inspired by Max). We really wanted to tap into that idea around ‘authorship’ – with Pinterest culture and social media, we are all taking inspiration from others all the time now. It’s so easy to access other people’s work at the moment that you do have to question ‘is it really their image?’. We figured, why not take it literally and photograph ‘as each other’, per se, and see what we came up with.

When we came back to each other at the end of the day we couldn’t believe how similar our work was to each other! We had both gone so far out of our comfort zones and ended up with really beautiful images that we were proud to show the rest of the group. Though our styles were very similar, there was still a clear authorship to each of our works. Max had their dark flare to their images, including the lit matchstick. Mine were still simple portraits in varied positions.

We finished with a series of 8 images, 4 dark and 4 light (take the connotations of the words dark and light as you will! )

I use Pinterest regularly, sometimes just to inject creativity into my eyes after a day of gruelling repetitive social media…sometimes to get inspiration for a project/piece or to show others a sense of what my images might look like. I think it’s incredibly useful to see the kind of work others are creating and to see how many different versions of the same thing there is – it helps to know whether something is being overdone or not and you can subsequently avoid that! I also like to save posts on instagram and to take inspiration from other artists in the field. I don’t think you can ever stop researching, so those kinds of platforms are incredibly useful when it comes to that side of the brainstorming process.

However, it’s so easy to cross the line between inspiration and plagiarism, especially with the internet at our fingertips!

What a thought-provoking and challenging week…

Topic Three: Reading Photographs

Triggers: violence, wounds

Well, what a productive week!

I was a little hesitant going into this week, I must admit. I previously graduated from BA Photography at University of South Wales and we studied how to read photographs in my first year. So naturally, my brain goes “WHY AM I LEARNING THIS AGAIN?!”

BUT

I’ve actually had some really constructive, interesting and thought-provoking conversations this week. In this week’s workshop, we were challenged to read the below photograph:

Delahaye, L., 2021. Taliban, 2001. [image] Available at: <http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/sullivan/sullivan4-10-1.asp&gt; [Accessed 10 October 2021].

As someone who is not a fan of war photography, I struggled a little bit, but Jesse asked us to view the image in simple terms: what can we see? I listed things like dirt, leaves, mucky socks, footprints, open eyes, blood, dead body, wallet…

Most people saw the same sorts of things but were looking a little deeper, possibly past the basic sense of listing what was there and more the punctum of the image.

In our tutor webinar, I got the chance to discuss an image with some people I hadn’t spoken to before, which was bloomin’ lush! Without context, we were looking at this image in particular (from Cristina Garcia Rodero’s España Oculta: Hidden Spain series):

Bouveresse, C., 2020. Women photographers. Thames & Hudson, p.21.

We all had similar opinions, it was connoting racism – most of us immediately saw the link to the Ku Klux Klan. I saw ‘black and white’ in many senses: the colour of the image, the KKK connotation, the thick black line through the middle of the wall, the black and white dress and conical face coverings, black shoes, one black child and a lighter skinned child. I also saw a great innocence in the image – one child has their finger in their mouth, showing vulnerability and almost suggests a sadness. To me, that was indicative of a parent inflicting their thoughts and beliefs onto their child.

When we were given context to the image, we understood that this was religious dress at a festival in Spain. But, even when looking through the full series, this image could not escape my mind; I couldn’t shake the connotation of racism. Because of that, the series looked extremely dark and sinister to me…I think the photographer must have been aware of the connotations in the images as she was taking them – to photograph in that way you must be aware of how the audience would perceive the images, no?

I really learned this week how individual experiences and circumstances influence the way you view images: social class, race, upbringing, life experiences, location, mental state

It is interesting isn’t it, how images can have so many meanings? But, to indirectly quote John A. Walker, if a photograph has a million meanings then surely it’s meaningless? (A. Walker, 1997)

So, although I would rather not have to look at the Panzani advert ever again (how many times can one look at an image of pasta?), it’s actually done me good to go over the basics of reading images and to see things from other people’s viewpoints and to view some images/bodies of work that I haven’t seen before in such a detailed way. As a master of mindlessly scrolling through instagram, I haven’t properly LOOKED at images in a while – it’s nice to be back at school and being challenged!

Citations:

Delahaye, L., 2021. Taliban, 2001. [image] Available at: <http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/sullivan/sullivan4-10-1.asp&gt; [Accessed 10 October 2021].

Bouveresse, C., 2020. Women photographers. Thames & Hudson, p.21.

A. Walker, J., 1997. Context and meaning in photography. In: J. Evans, ed., The Camera Work Essays. [online] London: Rivers Oram, pp.52-63

Panzani advert (c.1960)http://imagesanalyses.univ-paris1.fr/v4/wp-content/uploads/Publicité-Panzani.jpg

Topic Two: Methods and Meaning

Triggers: Drug abuse, violence, wounds (also includes nudity)

A word to sum up this week? Confused.

I love learning and I love having to dig to understand the meanings of certain metaphors and ideas, and that’s certainly what I had to do this week.

The idea of a ‘concept’ is very easy for me, I love a strong concept! This word was not a problem for me to wrap my head around. Actually, I often get tied up in the concept of my work, which can sometimes stop me from shooting (I’m an over-thinker).

However, the difference between methods and methodologies is so minimal and so blurred, that I have really struggled this week. I tried to explain it to myself whilst looking into the work of Larry Clark for this week’s forum discussion. I posted:

I’ve found it quite difficult to discuss the method and methodologies of this work without discussing the concept. It’s interesting, how Jesse states that the three should not be confused with one another, because that’s exactly what I’ve been confused about this evening!

Larry Clark’s Tulsa documents his and his friends’ lifestyles in the 60s and 70s in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His methods are very simple – his portraits are to be intimate and personal, a documentation of their lives. However, it is clear from the outset that Clark engages in the drug abuse and dangerous acts undertaken in the series, so it makes you wonder whether he even set out with a method at all, or whether his method was to improvise once he, and his friends, were high. I’ve written about this work before, and from various interviews and texts, it’s clear that Clark knows that his life, and that of his friends, was self-destructive and dangerous and his work is very voyeuristic, intrusive and some would say exploitative. I think his intention when making the images, even if he is not sober and therefore possibly not completely conscious of his technique, is that his images should make the viewer uncomfortable. He succeeds.

Clark, L., 2009. Tulsa. New York: Grove Press.

Tutor Webinar:

We were asked to bring some images to our Tutor Webinar this week to discuss our methods in our own work. I chose the below images from my second year or University:

Our brief was set around the National Museum of Wales and being interested in people and the body, I was drawn to the sculptures and statues around the museum. In particular, I noticed a sculpture of the female torso by Sir William Goscombe John which was accompanied by a sign that stated that the artist requested the sculpture to be kept in a glass case “to prevent vulgar hands from mauling it”. Instantly, I thought of sexual harassment – we are walking around every day without being protected in glass cases, being touched without consent, but when it comes to art it has to be protected. WHY? (the concept).

So, the background research centred around that: A deeply uncomfortable and controversial subject. Therefore, to reflect my research, I photographed the models as if they were sculptures. Against a dark and intimate studio background, their bodies were lit to highlight each crevice of their bodies, as if on display at a museum. Each model was asked to pose in an uncomfortable position, the more they bent, the more uncomfortable the viewer would feel. That, I believe, was the method.

I researched into the history of sculpture, materials used, the way subjects would pose for the artist. In addition, I carried out research through a survey, asking people to talk about experiences they’d had of sexual harassment. All of this built the reasoning to my methods. Which, I THINK, is the methodology of the project.

Reflection:

What challenged you?

I was challenged to analyse the way I work, or have worked in the past; to explore the reasoning behind my methods, what methodologies I used to get there, and how they were contributing to the overall concept. It was also challenging trying to understand the distinction between the three terms: concept, method, methodology.

What surprised you?

Did anything surprise me? I don’t think so? It was interesting though, reflecting back on my previous projects with this in mind and seeing how (maybe subconsciously) my artistic decisions were really reflective of my concepts.

What do you feel you learned?

My work is carefully thought out. Even if it’s a quick snap, I think I always think about WHY I’m doing it in that way, WHY it reflects the idea I have in my head, HOW it contributes to the series.

Topic one: Mirrors and Windows

It took me a fair few attempts to wrap my head around this theme. Every time I thought that I had finally understood, I doubted myself and went back to square one. So, I re-watched the presentation, re-read the transcript, re-read the quotes I had noted and re-evaluated my answers to the questions posed to me in the Reflection.

Quite frankly, this was me for the whole of week one:

After many scribbled, barely-able-to-read, handwritten notes, I think I’ve got it.

Here are some of the quotes from the presentation that helped me understand the definitions of Mirrors and Windows:

“Photography —the window —offers us views of the world beyond our own, but it also allows the world a glimpse of the photographer and their own unique perspective on it.” Page 3

My interpretation: it shows us what the photographer sees. Something we may pass everyday without giving a second thought may be something significant for an image maker. We are framing something, like a window, that we feel is worth photographing. In that case, surely every image is a window?

“In metaphorical terms, the photograph is seen either as a mirror —a romantic expression of the photographer’s sensibility as it projects itself on the things and sights of this world; or as a window —through which the exterior world is explored in all its presence and reality.”(SZARKOWSKI, 1978: 2)

My interpretation: so, a mirror is a bit like a window in that it’s something the photographer deems worthy of capturing, but it is more than that – it reflects the state of mind of the photographer or their feelings/emotions at the time. It is their personality or identity being reflected on the image.

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.” Susan Sontag

My interpretation: As someone who photographs people, this resonated with me. I don’t like the word ‘violate’, but I completely agree that photographers show people in a way they don’t see themselves. I often bring out another side to people that they haven’t seen before, I push them into poses they haven’t done before, photograph them with a narrative that is unusual to them. It’s interesting, I suppose this would be the ‘mirror’ analogy?

to summarise, I wrote that photography is:

a window on the world beyond one’s own environment

a mirror, providing others with an insight of one’s own life, feelings and subjective perspective

I think we can go round and round in circles, coming up with different definitions of the analogy of Mirrors and Windows. To me, a window is an honest representation of the world in front of the lens. It is not altered, it is a documentation. But, it is also an insight into someone’s life, it is a window into the mind of the photographer or into the subject being photographed. A form of story-telling between photographer and audience.

The differentiating lines between window and mirror are blurry to me. I think any image is a window AND a mirror into the photographer’s world, no? I’ve come to the conclusion that a mirror projects the photographers thoughts, intents and identity onto the image. An alteration of the scene in the viewfinder. Whereas, a window simply shows what is in front of the lens, a photographer’s honest depiction of the world around them.

Even as I’m writing this I’m confusing myself!

Reflection:

What do you think of the mirror/window analogy? As an image maker, do you identify more closely with one or the other?

It’s interesting to look at my work with this analogy in mind. I think that most of the time, my work is both a mirror and a window. My photography is very honest. I like to tell a story in the images I make and to let the viewer in. A landscape photographer might take an image of the environment in front of the lens as it is, with no alterations, something that is a literal document of the world in front of them. Why then, when a portrait photographer shows their work, is the punctum debated? ‘This person seems sad, this person seems lonely, this person has a story’ (they are, of course valid! But it’s an interesting debate, isn’t it?). Going off this analogy, I think that my work acts as a window into my subject’s life and their story. Having said that, I will often use a colour grade to connote a certain emotion or photograph someone in a way that projects the concept I have in mind. I suppose then, that it must be a mixture of honesty and alteration – a window into the subject’s lives, but also a mirror of them as well as me, the photographer.

An example of my work that is both a mirror and a window:

My project, This is not an idyllic exhibition, focused on the pressures on young people to know their career paths at an early age. We were always asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, but there was a point where that question began increasing the pressure. It is asked over and over again in the hope that one day we have an answer that satisfies the questioner – and if we do have an answer, why is it never enough? When I appealed for models, I had dozens of responses from people my age who felt the exact same way. The work consists of simple portraits of people who knew the concept of the project prior to being photographed. It is most definitely a window into their states of mind, but it definitely has my influence on the images. It needed to be sad and depressing and show our anger and frustration, so my ‘cold’ editing will have mirrored my feelings towards the subject, but also those of the people in the photograph.

Here are some images, as well as a link to the full project: https://www.beccahead.co.uk/this-is-not-an-idyllic-exhibition