Module Reflections

Photographic Storytelling

In this first session, we explored how a photograph might tell a story, both through the content of the image and the way it is composed. For example John Hilliard’s ‘Cause of Death’ demonstrates that if you crop an image in several different ways, you can change the way it is interpreted. When the viewer considers the title, they immediately start looking for evidence in the image which would tell them what the cause of death actually was, however the meaning drawn could change dramatically from image to image, purely because of the different ways of cropping. This example shows us that we as photographers must really think about how we actually frame an image, or crop it in the process afterwards. Because our choices as photographers can shape the story that is being told in the image, in order to gain control over the story we are telling, we need to be aware and conscious of the choices we make.

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After this we started considering what a story means in the world today, how photographs can be taken and manipulated to tell a very different story. We have moved past the ‘decisive moment’ that Cartier Bresson was renowned for, the photograph as an object can’t be relied on to tell a version of truth and probably never could. We have to recognise that a story told by an image is a subjective version of the event that happened and it is up to us as viewers to make an informed reading from an image. This engaged experience in viewing an image is evident in the digital world, where viewers not only make a reading from an image, but take on the material and produce their own story; often referred to as a ‘meme’.

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These memes evidence an engagement with the images in a very discursive manner, as the viewer is interpreting the story being told and then producing their own version. They would perhaps not be able to use the material in the image to tell another story, without being able to interpret what the original meaning was. This however produces it’s own problems, as without seeing the original, the resultant memes could be misleading and perhaps create an impression that this was the original story all along.

What I have interpreted from this first session, is that both the photographer and the viewer have an important role in the story behind each and every image produced. The photographer must be aware of the choices they make behind the making and the editing of the image. However the viewers of the image also have a responsibility now to draw an informed meaning from an image, we know that there is a chance the photographer has manipulated the image, or chosen to include/exclude an element which could possibly change the meaning. Both sides of the photograph have to acknowledge that they have a responsibility to question the meaning and the making of every image.

 

 

Post-Photography Assignment Brief 

In this session we addressed the project brief and how we could begin to think of ideas related to the assignment. The brief is as follows:

The aim of this module is to enable students to show the transition from a “traditional” photographic supplier to an informed “post-photographic” storyteller.

Start by considering Fred Ritchin’s comment from After Photography;

‘In the digital environment a new kind of photograph emerges, neither mirror nor window but a mosaic. It allows for multiple pathways leading to new avenues of exploration – a hypertext. Like Alice’s mirror, the hypertext photograph can lead to the other side, whether to explore a social situation or to create an image poem. The photograph is no longer a tangible object, a rectangle resembling a painting, but an ephemeral image made of tiles.’

Was he saying that digital images are now all ‘Simulacra’ in the manner that Baudrillard interprets their connection to reality?

Photographs have always been half-truths, so can we use that to our advantage in creating visual poems?

Through a set of 10-15 photographic pieces* you should examine a journey inspired by truth or fiction. This could be an epic adventure like the Life of Pi or the distance from your fingers to the keyboard.

Your images should provoke the reader to interrogate their meaning. The images could be accompanied by text or they could become a pathway through to another screen. The final work should take the audience on a journey, one that leaves them compelled to ask questions about your presented virtual reality.

You are expected to experiment with different approaches and challenge the boundaries of visual photographic expression.

Useful reference material might come in the form of images from social media, magazines, blogs, films, books, music, advertising in all its forms, the family photo album and other practitioners.

We were introduced to a number of works that covered the idea of a journey, from a transformative event like giving birth or participating in death, to tracking the life span of oil from where it all begins to when the oil will eventually run out. Following the presentation we were tasked to make a mind map on the term ‘journey’ and detail what this might mean and how it could be represented through imagery. As a group we discussed topics including:

  • Emotional journeys – from something as complex as a relationships to something simple like listening to a single piece of music
  • Physical journeys – psychically travelling from one location to another, perhaps documenting the scenes and environments when you pass through/by them
  • Mental journeys/transformations – for example when you view a piece of art, there is a version of you before you have viewed the piece, and a version of you after viewing the piece, it may dramatically change your perception of the world
  • Educational journey – this journey is embedded in culture, from primary education to pursuing an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, the pursuit of knowledge
  • The journey of a particular object – for example the mobile phone started out as a huge piece of equipment, then designs got as small as possible, now however the phone is increasing in size again

The temptation with this brief would be to take the idea of the journey and produce a piece of work that is very literal, and although this would ‘tick the box’ of what the brief asks for, the images won’t work to challenge or educate the audience. In the Phonar module I studied in my BA Photography degree, the inspiration behind it was to encourage the photographer/image maker to make meaningful work. We are asked the question ‘what wouldn’t happen, if this work wasn’t made?’ in order to challenge us to pursue an idea that we feel would be a worthwhile cause, and that our audience needs to know about. With this in mind I wanted to make sure that the idea I chose for my response to the brief, would reach beyond the parameter of a simple physical journey from A to B to examine an issue or aspect that I evaluate to be important and meaningful. Following on from this session I have set myself the task of reading Fred Ritchin’s ‘After Photography’ and ‘In Our Own Image’, to remind myself of the ideas Ritchin discusses in relation to post-photography, digital processes and the changing practice of photography. When reading these texts again I want to consider the examples that Fred Ritchin discusses and see how they could relate to the concept of a journey.

 

The Ontology of Photography

In this lecture we were introduced to the idea of the ontology of photography, considering why photography exists, why we engage with it and also how we engage with it. It is extremely hard to pinpoint a reason why photography actually exists, any answers that come to mind are only modes of how we use photography. For example, photography exists because to document memories, actually describes a why people use photography rather than the underlying reason why the practice of photography was invented in order to do so. Andre Bazin wrote an article on the ontology of photography, in which he identified that the reason why photography exists is because the human race desires to document their own representation in the most realist way possible. The motive behind this realistic representation is because individually, we don’t want to be forgotten. We are afraid of what he called ‘the second spiritual death’ in which the memory of us as a person dies because there is nothing left to represent us after our bodies are gone.

We looked at a quote from Bazin that talks about photography in relation to other art practices: ‘All the arts are based on the presence of man, only photography derives an advantage from his absence.’ This quote talks about the evidential presence of the human hand in the act of representation, art such as painting and music. An artist and a musician have to refine and develop their skill levels in order to produce reformed piece of art, however photography is different. You don’t need to be a master of the technology behind the camera, because the machine completes the process of representation for you. The only action you input in the taking a photography is pressing the shutter. Of course in more advanced forms of photography you do more than pressing the shutter button but the concept is still the same. You don’t have any direct influence on the process that is actually happening inside the camera because it is the components of the machine that actually carry out the action of taking a photograph.

In addition to this, photography is problematic because it so clearly represents reality, so much so that we are encouraged to think that what is depicted in a photography is actually reality. We were introduced to the term ‘naive realism’ in relation to this ideology. However we didn’t get a definite definition of what this term describes, this was part of what our weekly task would be. An example of photography’s flawed impression of realism would be the practice of photography referred to as ‘memento mori’, where members of the Victorians would photography the recently deceased as if they were still alive, creating a false representation of life. Of course in the digital age, people are becoming increasingly sceptical of the notion of photography representing the truth due to the notorious examples of photographs being manipulated.

To end the session we were presented with our task:

Think about the concept of naïve realism

Take a photograph that doesn’t show naïve realism

Make a presentation of the images from each group member (6 in total)

This would involve reading up on naive realism and trying to prove this concept wrong in an image. Studying photography for three years in my BA I have already been introduced to many of the debates surrounding photography being considered as evidence, and the idea of photography representing the truth. These debates are mostly centralised around photojournalism and documentary photography, because of the sensitive nature of the content that could be produced. The photographer has a real responsibility to represent the scene in a way that is completely truthful and the subjects in a way that is not heavily exploitative. However the politics of photojournalism could mean that if the mainstream media does not like the way you are representing the more powerful countries, your images might never reach the public. Of course social media and other communicative technology means that the photographer (professional or amateur) has the means of transmitting their content to other people on a potentially mass scale. The idea of photography representing the truth in the commercial genre will perhaps always be problematic because the companies behind the images always have an agenda. Their images are meant to persuade you to desire the product their company makes, and not the products of other companies. This aim is sometimes at the cost of photographic reality, as models are retouched, products are visually altered and reality itself in the commercial world of photography is as free as the world of film in relation to time, space and physics.

 

 

Plato – Two Realms

In this session we were introduced to Plato’s concept: the realm of forms. This theory discusses the idea that the world is split into two realms, the realm of physical objects and the realm of spiritual forms. The realm of physical objects represents, as it would suggest, the physical objects that we as humans can perceive and engage with physically, such as a chair. The realm of spiritual forms describes a series of eternal ideas, that we humans universally recognise and acknowledge as present, even though we can’t technically physically perceive them. These include concepts like love, hate, trust, jealousy and other emotional states of being. Although we can’t actually perceive and identify these concepts, we acknowledge that there are in the the world with us, we often assign physical objects or signs to these concepts in order to be able to engage with them in a physical way. This process is helped along by capitalism, which profits from selling these physical associations, for example the idea that love is sold through using objects and signs including roses, the colour red and hearts.

Like naive realism, this was a new concept to me and it was quite a hard one to come to terms with. As a photographer we are encouraged to try and represent these spiritual forms in the photograph, as it provides depth to the image, beyond just representing an object. When there is meaning behind the photograph, there is a depth to the project that inherently makes the work more interesting. Throughout the three years of my BA Photography course, I have been researching photographers that attempt to represent a wide range of concepts in their images and sometimes attempting to replicate and build on their process in my own work. However when you consider Plato’s realm of forms, it would suggest that these concepts can’t actually be represented through photography, as it would just mean I am assigned a value to the physical objects I am photographing. That combined with the concept of naive realism, would suggest that it is impossible to try and represent these concepts in an image, because photography can’t represent the entirety of reality. Reality is a highly subjective concept based on how we as humans perceive the world, regardless of the fact that the other beings inhabiting the same environment, would perceive reality very differently. Photography only attempts to represent our version of reality and we as photographers can only attempt to represent the reality that we as human beings experience. The concept of naive realism would suggest that no photograph can or ever will represent reality.

At the end of this session we were given the task:

Think about Plato’s concept of the realm of forms

Take an image that represents something from the realm of forms

The response to this task can be seen in the blog post titled Realm of Forms – My Image

 

 

The Impossible Journey

In this session, Paul Smith took us through a series of works along the theme of ‘The Impossible Journey’. I soon established the link to the title of the lecture, because all of the images appeared to be manipulated in some way, to represent a reality that would appear to be impossible. However some of the pieces were so close to reality, but then slightly different in some way that it evoked an uncomfortable feeling, which we later identified to be the experience of seeing the ‘uncanny’. The uncanny is a Freudian notion that suggests when an individual perceives a sight that is close to reality, yet slightly strange of different, that they experience an uncomfortable feeling, which is associated with the feeling that the scene is not quite right/normal. This is a somewhat problematic concept in a social context, because this feeling has been associated in the past with disability and other forms of physical disease, that whilst aren’t dangerous to the individual, can evoke a feeling on unease because they don’t understand the physical condition.

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This series was very effective at evoking the feeling of the uncanny, as the subjects featured in these images at first glance appear to be humans. However something about these images seems a bit strange and when you look closer, you realise that the faces of the humans in these images have been manipulated to resemble a mix between human and animal features. The series has been cleverly titled ‘Manimals’, presumably a combination of the words man and animals however it also appears to reference the word mammal.

 

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I had already previously come across Joan Fontcuberta’s work ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and I appreciated why it had been included in this lecture. Fontcuberta is renowned to have produced a series of work that attempted to create the idea that new animals had been discovered, the work was displayed in a museum, which would make the audience believe that the content in these images is actually true. However this was a piece of fiction, as the titled would suggest, Fontcuberta manipulated these images to make these strange animal combinations. One of the reasons this work is so impressive is because it was in the pre-photoshop era of photography, meaning this work was produced without the aid of digital editing technology.

 

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Loretta Lux’s work is enchanting and serene, but at the same time, eerie and strange. The children in her series of images just don’t appear to be normal, this is because Lux uses digital editing technology to create images that reference portraiture from the art movement romanticism. The colours have been altered to a specific palette, the features of the children have been altered to resemble that of the romantic period of painting and each image is made up of several digital layers.

In this session we were given a task to complete:

1. How would you describe the journey the photographer / artist takes you on?

2. Are there key stopping off points?

3. What do you learn along the way?

4. Can you find an image that inspires?

5. Create and a 10 minute presentation.

 

The response to this task can be seen in the blog post titled: David Thomas Smith – Anthropocene

 

Post Modernism

Post Modernism emerged in the 1960s/1970s alongside other ideology including post-colonialism and feminism. It is a wider set phenomenon in art, photography, literature and popular culture. The key characteristics of post modernism is a reaction against the concept of modernity, which represents the age of enlightenment, through measuring and understanding the world. Modernism proposes the notion that we are in control of the world as individuals, however post modernism is the realisation that we aren’t in control and we can’t understand everything. Early photography is a good example of modernity, as it proposed the idea that it was capturing and representing reality. However concepts such as naive realism and Platos realms deconstruct this idea, meaning that they are examples of post modern ideology. Post modernism is demonstrated in society, in the blurring between high culture and popular culture, the challenging of cemented narratives and challenges what reality actually is. In addition to this, post modernity argues that there is no reality, that everything is just copies of original content because of the saturation of information.

There is a lot I agree with about post modernism, it seems foolish that no one has ever tried to question the reality that systems such as science and religion has laid down. For example scientists were questioning the version of events that religion describes when they investigated the creation of the world. There is also a lot of logic behind ideas such as naive realism and plato’s realm of forms, as concepts like love can’t be seen in evidence as a material object, therefore how do we prove they exist? However I disagree with post modernity claiming that there is no individuality, no original work anymore; because there is constantly new technology being made. Although all ideas could technically be seen as building on previous ideas, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the idea itself is not new. It has meant the creation of something new, despite perhaps being inspired by older knowledge.

 

Storytelling and Digital Narratives

In this session, Sarah Jones introduced us to storytelling and narrative in a digital context. To begin with, we were introduced with a storytelling task that made us try and tell a story in no more or less than six words. These six word stories have become a trend on the social media Twitter, which encourages concise posts through a limit on the amount of characters the poster can use. As a class we were encouraged to make a couple of six word stories, take a picture that represents them and post them on Twitter. I made a couple of six word stories, which can be seen below and then chose a main one to take a picture of, this can also be seen below.

Almost always falling, somehow staying up

Under pressure: my creativity is missing

Feeling sad, chocolate is the cure

I would go running, but meh

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After this Sarah Jones introduced us to the relatively new virtual reality (VR) headsets that work with a smartphone, such as Google Cardboard. All it takes is downloading an app like Vrse or Youtube 360 and one of the VR headsets or cardboard goggles and you can experiment with virtual reality. These VR headsets and goggles are becoming increasingly prominent, with news websites choosing to use them to tell news stories in a more immersive way (click here to see). However the risk of VR becoming popular is that it could deconstruct some of the important reasons why virtual reality is being developed and instead just become a novelty product. Using VR to tell news stories, when VR itself is a novelty, means that the news companies could appear to be trivialising serious humanitarian crises and reducing them to resemble entertainment. The fact that VR is increasingly being worked on in the context of video gaming could contribute to the concept of virtual reality representing entertainment, therefore any ‘real’ moral issues explored using VR could be mistaken for fiction. After the wow-factor of these virtual reality systems had worn off, I started thinking about the ideology surrounding the post-digital movement. The post-digital ideology proposes that when making a project, the creator should consider all the options available to them, including the newest digital technology and the older perhaps forgotten methods from history. Once they have considered all the options available to them, they should decide what is best for the content of their project, not choosing older methods to be retro if the project doesn’t align with this decision and likewise not choosing the new technology just because it is new and exciting. I should definitely take this post-digital ideology into account when creating the response to my post-photography assignment.

 

 

 

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