Wasma Mansour: Single Saudi Women

Wasmour Mansour trained as an architect however employed photography as a tool of research for her PHD which formed the project ‘Single Saudi Women’. This study aimed to explore and depict the concept of segregation between men and women in the Arabic culture; to which Mansour belongs to. Women do not show their faces or release their identity and Mansour wanted to produce portraits of these women, something that required a great amount of trust. However she was keen for the photographs to move away from the sterotype and empower the subject. Mansour worked with what she called the ‘participant’ to determine how they wanted to be represented in the photograph; Jonathan Worth described this as ‘collaborative negotiation’. Her process was semi-structured in that she would meet with the subject, explain the project and then develop on the ideas; she would instigate a question and allow the subject to tell their story. In this project the photographer takes a secondary role and allows the subject to have control; rearranging the power dynamic in the image triad as the subject is usually the weakest person in the photograph. Wasma used a large format camera to take the final photograph but also used Polaroids to work together with the subject in the process of constructing the image. She would receive feedback from the subjects on the photographs and this would contribute to the final visual outcome. In addition to the portraits Mansour took a series of still life images based around personal objects owned by the Saudi women; these were meant to add another definition in the examination of their life. They weren’t meant to be cultural signifiers however some of the choices of object did translate this idea, the most interesting aspect to Mansour was the plastic bags the women chose to put their veils in. This informed another series of images depicting the plastic bags, interestingly enough this body of work received the most commercial interest.

This research project was extremely interesting and completely redefined portrait photography as the photographer took a passive role in the production of the portraits. There are likenesses between Mansour’s work and the work of Anthony Luvera, primarily the project ‘Not Going Shopping’ in which Luvera met with a portion of the ‘queer’ population in Brighton and worked with them to produce assisted self portraits. Both bodies of work have a focus in liberating the subject and giving them the power in the photograph. In a previous Phonar task we discovered how vulnerable it makes us feel to share a story to a group of people even ones we have been studying with for three years let alone a group of strangers, so we must try and empathise with the subject and make them feel safe. As a photographer we do not have the right to tell a subject’s story, so it is up to us to create a comfortable environment and prove to the subject that we will not misrepresent them. This relates to David Campbell’s idea of context informing an image; the subject can provide you with the context which will produce a truthful image in return. The photograph is about personal research therefore we need the context behind the content in order to produce a photograph that examines our subject effectively. However the passive approach to photographing portraits may not suit each photographer or even the project at hand; sometimes the photographer wants to fulfil a vision and the subject; referred to as a ‘model’, is a tool to produce a particular aesthetic. This is particularly the case in fashion, commercial and conceptual photography, in this case the collaborative method could restrict the photographer from getting the image that they want. For Mansour this project was a combination of academic research and visual representation and in terms of our own practise this style would work particularly well for our final major project, where photography not only depicts a subject but examines their situation.

The key concept to take away from this session for me is the act of empowering the subject and giving them control; in a world where seemingly the viewer has become the most powerful part of the image triad it is refreshing to see subjects represented in a manner informed by their own context and this is something I will try to apply in my own work.

All ideas and quotations were taken from the Phonar interview made by Jonathan Worth, to listen to the interview follow the link below:

https://archive.org/details/WasmaMansour

 

David Campbell: Power Narrative and Responsibility

This blog post is a response to the talk given by David Campbell which we listened to in a Phonar session following the ideas introduced by Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes. David Campbell outlines the concept that society understands history as a set series of events, chronologically split into the structure of centuries and eras. However defining this would have been impossible at the time of events for example those involved in the French Revolution didn’t know that this would become a historic series of events; they were just invested in creating change. Based on this idea Campbell introduces the phrase, ‘the event is not what happens, the event is that which can be narrated’ which suggests that without documentation; there is no evidence to say that history happened at all. In photojournalism, events are narrated using text and photography, both of which come together to produce a ‘story’ which will inform the reader. There is great responsibility with the storyteller, this has always been apparent, however with traditional gate keepers of information under threat from the accessibility of information on the internet, this responsibility is more crucial than ever. The concept of story telling and narrative are applicable not only to photojournalism but to all forms of photography; if we want our viewers to believe in our material we need to construct it effectively and truthfully.

Campbell states that narrative is the relationship between the idea of a story and an event, issue or person that you want to record; you as the creator have to make the connection. Robert Capa’s famous quote was “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” however this has been reshaped by practitioner Todd Papageorge, to the phrase, “If your photos aren’t good enough you’re not reading enough”. This new version of the famous quote addresses the need of every photographer to understand what they are photographing; to become familiar with the context. The only knowledge we have of events are those that someone else has narrated to us and this is important to consider when we assume the role of storyteller. Context can be found in different forms, typically it is extensive research and reading however it can also be achieved by living and experiencing which all come together to inform our choices. Campbell stated “the work that sustains itself over time is the work that understands it’s own context”, this outlines the importance of context and how it can either make or break an image. The challenge of context is that it is impossible to tell a story in it’s entirety, there needs to be a stance and in order to do that the teller must make certain inclusions and exclusions and these choices will affect how the story is told. Again we come back to the idea of responsibility; in order to deliver an effective and truthful story we must examine the information and select that which can be construed in an objective manner.

After defining the content and acquiring the context the story must be constructed, this is where narrative is influential. The narration has to be constructed effectively for the concept of the context to be understood. Following the paradigm shift and the introduction of advanced technology into the world of photography and media we can define a difference between the major forms of narrative. Conventional narrative is like that of a book which follows a linear structure and the reader has no choice but to follow the chronological order whereas unconventional narrative is the breaking up of time often seen in movies with ‘flashback’ aspects and in some cases the control is passed over to the reader. There is no right or wrong however it is important to consider the different forms of narrative in relation to the story and it’s context to identify what would suit. Ideas of narrative from literature can be used in reference to photographic storytelling, Campbell explains that moments of “exposition, conflict, climax and resolution” can be identified in almost every story and the conventional starting point of Who, When, Where, Why and How is always going to be useful or applicable. In addition to the structure, part of the narrative is how it is distributed; stories proficient in context, structure and distribution go on to be narrated on a mass scale and as a result are seen as ‘iconic’.

As a photographer, in order to introduce images into the mix we must understand the relationship between the content and the context behind it. Previously in Phonar we explored the multiple sets of data in the digital image; the metadata and the visual data, in this case the visual data must directly reference the perception we want to create. An image that is supported by it’s own context will be strong and in turn can become ‘iconic’ if it is shared on a mass scale for example the image of the ‘Napalm Girl’. Some maintain that this image changed the course of social history and ended the Vietnam War however Campbell observes that this view places an unachievable demand on the image; yes it made a huge social impact however it was the action taken after viewing the image that ended the war. Nevertheless a story built on the foundations of heavily researched context, images that build on this context and a carefully constructed narrative is almost guaranteed to succeed and make a difference in the world. The key concept to take away from this interview is as Campbell stated “if the ideas of context and narrative are better understood there is the capacity for greater change”.

All ideas and quotations were taken from the talk given by David Campbell, to listen to this interview follow the link below:

http://phonar.org/2014/10/professor-david-campbell-on-narrative-power-and-responsibilty/

Fred Ritchin: Bending The Frame

A key concept of the Phonar course is to examine the evolutionary medium that is photography and in Fred Ritchin’s book Bending The Frame (2013) he takes this idea and applies it to the area of photojournalism. Ritchin to some extent represents those who prefer the conventional forms of media having grown up in the time before the paradigm shift from analogue to digital. Our previous module in digital media would have Ritchin named as a ‘digital migrant’, part of the generation that preceded the digital world however have the capacity to function in the field with a developing understanding. Digital natives are the generations that have been born into and grown up in the environment of digital media who are therefore more accustomed to it and can function with minimal effort. It is understandable the digital migrants would be resistant to the introduction of technology especially in relation to the field in which they work so the interview with Ritchin about Bending The Frame was extremely interesting to hear as a digital native.

Ritchin proposed that the point of photography was to be useful in the world, this phrase is directed towards documentary photography and photojournalism however it can be applied to other forms of photography. The original spirit of documentary photography was to expose and inform the public of information that was deemed to be in their interest and there were fewer professional practitioners that were responsible for providing this imagery than there are today. With analogue photography there was little debate that the photograph showed “what is” and although there was some manipulation seen in the dark room these were often obvious and even renamed as ‘composographs’ to indicate the precense of fabrication. With few iconic images seen the readers became collective in their experience of seeing the same material; Ritchin refers to the days where people would feel compelled to discuss news items with each other in communal places such as the subway.

In comparison to this Ritchin explores the nature of photojournalism and documentary photography following the paradigm shift from analogue to digital. Although analogue is still technology the digital era has brought a new wave of tools that have shaped the medium with the main concept being the difference between the photographic print and the digital image. The print would usually be considered as a snapshot, an evidential form of photography that serves a purpose of informing however the digital image is a data visualisation built up of two forms of information; metadata and visual data. It is worth noting that the digital image isn’t bound to the camera as much as the analogue print, with the introduction of editing software such as Photoshop the possibilities of the digital image are endless which in turn leaves it vulnerable to forms of fabrication.

Ritchin stated that the change in photography is like a revolution, some will campaign for change and some will cling to the safety of the past however the real questions lie with the power in photography now; if photographers have the power to distort reality what is stopping them? There have been examinations into the ethics of photojournalism however there are no fundamental rules of ethics that the photojournalist should abide to; the closest perhaps are the guidelines laid down by the National Press Photographers Association. Ritchin summarised the topic of editing by likening the manipulated photograph to a diminished voice; by removing or altering the data in the image the essence and meaning is changed. In the same sense our relationship with the image has changed; the process of seeing has transitioned from print to screen and we are no longer viewers, we are users. In ‘using’ an image we assess the visual information on offer and estimate whether what we are seeing is to our liking and if it is true; however if the population constantly has to question the authenticity of images it generates serious questions as to nature of our modern society.

Of course the transition of photography can also be likened to evolution; instead of endangering analogue methods, digital photography works to advance and innovate the practise. There is a nature of collaboration in creating an image between the subject, photographer and the viewer, Ritchin stated “If you want to change the world you have to describe it differently” and this notion can be applied directly to modern photojournalism. Instead of mourning over a ‘lost era’ we can use the new technology to start making a change in the world, as professional photographers we have the capacity to start producing proactive photography as opposed to simply reacting to an event. The evolutionary nature of photography must be accompanied by those practising it, as Ritchin stated in this interview “we need to build bridges towards the understanding the world rather than waiting for something to react to”.

All ideas and statements were taken from the Phonar interview between founder Jonathan Worth and Professor Fred Ritchin. To listen to the interview follow the link: https://archive.org/details/RitchinBtfInterview

 

Phonar Stories

Our task from the previous week was to tell a story that we hadn’t told anyone before, this could be written, recorded or simply spoken from memory on the day. Today we listened to those stories and Jonathan Worth asked us to consider each story we had heard and write a response. The identity of the story and the author would be kept a secret as it is not my information to give however I can comment and perhaps critique on it.

I heard a vast variety of stories today, some light-hearted and some extremely personal however no matter what the content I want to congratulate and commend everyone for sharing something as the sharing is what is scary. There was a story of bravery, a story of personal acceptance and an incredibly well-written poem but the one story that stood out for me was told through an audio clip. This story must have been extremely hard to tell so I commend its author for their bravery and courage to share this with the class as they didn’t have to. Beginning the story was a fact referencing the rate at which the cells in the body replace themselves over time, this immediately caught the interest of the listener and entice them to listen. The story was not meant to attract pity and certainly wasn’t written that way mostly built up of empowering statements however it also followed a timeline so the listener could track the progression of events. The strong authority of the voice in the recording demanded attention which is reflective of the way that this story deserves attention. But the most effective part for me was the repetition of the fact about replacing cells at the end however it was repeated and applied to the content of the story making it an extremely powerful ending. Overall I think the story was narrated extremely well in terms of writing style and I will always admire the courage of the writer for offering it to the group.

Journey To School

As part of our Summer preparing for third year we were told to ‘bring me a story of your journey to school’, and that was all the direction we were given. I’m assuming this is to preapare us for the format of Phonar where we will be given weekly tasks to complete and the brief could be as loose as this one. It was good to engage with a brief again to try and define what it would mean to me.

I live in a small village and my mum used to walk me to and from school every day, I can remember the route so clearly as visual markers in my head. As most young children do I had an overactive imagination and it was sparked by different stages in the route. With this in mind I wanted to create a set of photos that would match with the memories  that I have of my journey to school.

At first I started thinking I could use Google Maps to take these photographs and I played around with taking screenshots from Google Maps and using some HDR editing however after editing some of the images I felt that this wasn’t suitable for my idea. I knew that to connect with the images and memories I would have to take the photographs myself and relive those memories walking to school. I set out the next day and took my camera with me to try and capture the images I would want to use.

I made a conscious effort to shoot from a lower vantage point, either bending down a bit or holding the camera in line with my waist to try and replicate the view point that I would have seen the journey from as a child. I also included some close up photographs to try and emphasise how vivid but scattered some of the memories are to me; some are complete scenes whereas some of them are just fragments.

I then went home and uploaded the photographs to my laptop to start looking and editing them down to a final number, I settled on ten in the end because it’s a good rounded number and my story would be succinct but still with a sufficient amount of photographs to create the idea of a story. The next step was choosing how to edit them into finished pieces to go in the series; to associate the photographs with the idea of memories I chose to crop them into squares and created a stylised border to replicate that of a polaroid print. Polaroid prints in today’s culture are associated with the idea of memories, perhaps most commonly linked to holidays and parties. In addition to this at the time where the Polaroid camera was first introduced it was  one of the means to capture the memories of the average family.  In addition to this editing I also use some HDR toning to try and manipulate and bring out the detail in these images; I believe that by changing the images slightly they become more like a memory, matching the idea of what we have in our mind rather than reality.

With the images created and edited I then had to match them with memories in my head, and think of a way to put them together in visual form. I decided to use some simple text on the bottom of the images in the bigger part of the border to define the images and link them to each memory in my head. I wouldn’t explain the memory fully however the phrase would instantly remind me of the part of the journey it referred to. Sequencing the images was not hard at all, it simply went in chronological order of when I took the photographs as this was the only way to portray the journey to school properly.

The full set of images can be seen in the gallery however I wanted to provide a bit of incite behind each photograph to read if anyone wanted to know further details; if these photographs were up in an exhibition I would detail the following descriptions on a card with my artist statement. This can be seen below the images:

1. Outside my house there is a pattern of bricks, the ordered layout always made me think of soldiers marching together in harmony and each brick was a footprint.

2. On a green round the corner there grew patches of clovers, I used to scan the ground every day to try and find that lucky four leaf clover, I’m still searching.

3. I’m a superstitious girl and I don’t like treading on any crack or line in the pavement, in this case I used to imagine these cracks were canyons I could fall down.

4. On a short cut there is sandy ground and there were always marks left there for me to track, pretending they were endangered animals that I could save.

5. Not all memories are pleasant, I was once given the fright of my life when I was walking on a low garden wall and the owner of the house shouted out the window, every time I walk past I can still picture her face in the window.

6. There were some walls I could walk on, and I used to pretend I was walking over this great chasm with only a rope to tread on.

7. The pink house always stands out in my mind as a marker to cross the road, perhaps one of the only times I looked up and ahead in the journey before falling back into daydreams.

8. One of my favourite memories was when I used to pretend I was a horse taking each step as a show jump, my mum used to tell me off for running however I had the perfect excuse.

9. There was always one part of the journey I didn’t like and that was walking past the scary alley, something about the shadows made me feel uneasy.

10. The journey would end and the school day begins, I always remembered to meet my mum near the steps to complete the journey.

 

Reflection:

Having almost completed the Phonar module now I felt it was essential to go back and reflect on the first task I completed without knowledge on what the module would be about. My approach and ideology was really quite interesting looking back, I unknowingly referenced Stephen Mayes and the developing experiential form of photography through the concept of the Polaroid. In today’s society Snapchat could be considered as the digital replacement of the Polaroid, facilitated through the instantaneous nature of digital photography. The relationship between the image and memory is something that is really interesting and is a concept we explored when we discussed the nature and narrative of photo albums. Photography fulfils the individual’s need for representation and the preservation of memories however does the ease of photography encourage a certain disregard for capturing and remembering the memories that really matter? In analogue photography the individual would have to prioritise each moment in their life in accordance to importance as there were only a limited number of shots available i a roll of film. In digital photography we have been liberated from this limitation, however has this dismantled the concept of preserving memory in photography? Can the experiential medium of photography still be considered as capturing and keeping memories?