Welcome to my BA (Hons) Photography learning blog

Context and Narrative

I am a part time student of the Open College of Arts (OCA) and am in my second year of BA (Hons) Photography. My first year was spent studying the ‘Expressing your vision’ module, under the excellent tutorage of Chris Coekin. You can see my work here Expressing your vision May 2016 to May 2017

The second year is  ‘Context and narrative’ and I am just about to start this now, in June 2017. My tutor for this module is Derek Trillo. This blog forms part of my degree submission. I am very excited to be part of this degree programme and am looking forward to progressing and learning during year two.

Assignment - water strip

The image above is from my final assignment of EYV on the beauty of artificial light.

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Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and Deconstruction

Here are a few of my musings on Derrida, deconstruction, translation and interpretation.

These are very difficult concepts but I am determined to get a grasp of them. The terms are not entirely new to me as they formed part of my learning for my literature degree, but they were difficult concepts then and ten years have passed so it is time to refresh my memory.

Deconstruction

Deconstruct: reduce something to its constituent parts; dismantle; dissect.

In order to understand how something has been created, it has to be taken apart before it can be put back together. I understand this to say that if you can examine the myriad small parts that make up an image and have opinions on why they have been used, then you can start to form individual ideas of meaning behind the image. Deconstruction looks at the relationship between an image and its meaning.

Translation and Interpretation  

Because words can be ambiguous we can never know exactly what an author/photographer intended. We can only interpret his or her text/image in keeping with our own experience and viewpoint.

Derrida was concerned with the interpretation of images and not translation. If I think of something being translated I think of a direct translation like ‘It is a nice day’ becomes ‘C’est une belle journée’ in French or ‘es un buen día’ in Spanish. If I were to interpret it though I could consider if it related to the weather and it was ‘nice’ because it was sunny or is it ‘nice’ because it is my birthday, or because I am on holiday? Derrida was concerned with interpretation.

 

Going back (again, sorry,) to my literature days

In writing, because words can be a little ambiguous, we cannot always interpret a text exactly as the author intended.

The last sentence of Great Expectations is, ‘I saw no shadow of another parting from her’ (Dickens, 2002). Does this mean that Pip and Estella live happily ever after never to be parted? or does it mean that she won’t leave him (and hurt him) again as all they will ever be are friends? It could be a traditional happy ending with marriage on the horizon or it could be an acceptance of being ‘friends apart’ (ibid). As Sharon Boothroyd says in the course notes ‘it takes as much effort to read a book as it does to write it’ and this is an example of where the reader has to work hard to interpret the novel. Being a romantic I favour the happy ending but as this ending means something to me, it may well mean something different to the next person.

Derrida expressed ‘the slipperiness and unreliability of language’ (Johnson, 2005) and above is an example of how language is not always black and white in its meaning. Likewise, photographs are also open to interpretation  and essentially, like the author and reader, the photographer and viewer have equal status when assigning meaning to a text or image.

Speaking v writing

When someone speaks and is listened to, there is a reliability and truth behind the communication. The speaker is present at the time the words are heard by the listener so the message is likely to be honest and reliable. However, when someone writes and the writing is read at a later date the writer is not likely to be present at the time of reading. This can lead to differing interpretations to what the author intended.  There is a sense of being removed from the work, because the originator is not present when the work is being interpreted.

Overall

Overall, the message that I take from this school of though is that images are open to interpretation; they cannot be read as an exact ‘science’ and the photographer and viewer both have an equally valid part to play in the interpretation of the image.

 

Bibliography

Boothroyd, S. (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

Dickens, C. (2002). Great expectations. London, England: Penguin.

Johnson, D. (2005). The popular & the canonical. London: Routledge.

Exercise: Elliott Erwitt (page 98)

Look carefully at Erwitt’s image and write some notes about how the subject matter is placed within the frame. How has Erwitt structured this image? What do you think the image is saying? How does the structure contribute to this meaning?

Image by Elliott Erwitt

At first glance we are led to think that the four legs and feet on the left belong to two people. It is only afterwards that we realise that two of the legs belong to a very tall dog. The little dog on the right is almost at ground level and we are made to feel that we are laying on the ground at his height. We see the whole of the little dog but the bigger subjects are cropped at the knees which ensures that we see the dog on the right as the main subject. He is dressed in a coat and hat which gives him a quirky identity and provides an element of humour in the image. The little dog is placed in accordance with the rule of thirds which also gives him a prominent position within the frame and adds to his importance in the image. We can never know whether the Great Dane’s hind legs were included in the original image but any cropping out of the back legs only serves to aid the illusion that they are human legs at first glance. The little dog’s legs are only as high as the lady’s ankles but yet he is the focus of the image, not the larger dog.

I am a dog lover and I can see how this image gives a ‘voice’ to a tiny, perhaps overlooked, little dog. It makes him important. He is important enough to be photographed as a main subject. Perhaps Erwitt was a dog lover and noticed and celebrated all the little ones.

Photographs not used as a means of communication

Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication?

My first thoughts were of  X-rays and passport photographs which are taken to represent something extremely accurately. However what is an X-ray if not a photograph taken to communicate something to a medical professional about the state of someone’s health? and what is a passport if not a photograph taken to communicate a likeness of an individual?

Advertisement images clearly mean to communicate how good a product is. Documentary photography may intend to communicate a social concern, photo essays tell a story, newspaper images tend to persuade, school photographs aim to record family history, family snapshots communicate happy moments in time and provide mementoes of holidays and weddings. Photographs in text books aim to teach, photographs in frames on the mantelpiece aim to initiate nostalgia and a crime scene image is taken to record vital information.

Photography is a visual language with its own grammar and usually has the aim of communicating or expressing something. There is usually a ‘point’ in taking an image.  I am struggling to think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication. Like any form of written communication has something to say, I feel that all images communicate something to someone.

Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur, Humber Street Gallery

Hull, Portrait of a City

I have recently been to see two exhibitions at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull. Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur were asked to explore the culture and creativity of Hull, UK City of Culture. Both exhibitions were displayed in large galleries and each was very different to the other. Colour v black and white being the first thing I noticed and then, familiar v formal. Given the subject matter of documenting Hull’s culture I was interested in the two very different interpretations.

Martin Parr

I have seen some of Parr’s work before, at the Hepworth, Wakefield and I considered his exhibition ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’ in my studies last year, Martin Parr at the Hepworth. I was therefore keen to see more of his work and went to Hull at the end of December 2017 to the Humber Street Gallery. A delightful gallery; small looking from the outside but huge spaces within, and a lovely cup of coffee. As soon as I entered the gallery I recognised the images as Parr’s trademark style. Vibrant colour as always with a touch of humour. Parr’s images were interesting and captivating. I wanted to look at every detail.

Introduction

The Gallery

Parr’s images explored the diverse food and eating culture of Hull giving a ‘fresh perspective on this extraordinary year for the city’ (Hull UK City of Culture 2017, 2018). We see fish and chips, patty butties, specialist supermarkets and gastro pubs which all serve to illustrate the emphasis that is placed on food and social eating in the culture of the  City. The display above was made up of many smaller images in rows in contrast to the main display of larger photographs. Below is a closer view.

Three of Parr’s images

We see not only the social aspects of food but the serving of it and the display of it.

I like the use of red in these images. Red suggests energy and passion and features a lot in these photographs. The eye is drawn to the small red accent in the top image which makes the viewer linger over the dining room for a while. The red clothing in the bottom two images draws attention to the men as being proud and vital in their community.

A favourite image of mine

When I was about ten years old in the seventies my mum used to take my sister and I to a fish and chip restaurant every now and again. We always joked that we wanted ‘bread and butter, buttered on both sides’ as that is exactly what we got after the bread had been stored like this in a warm restaurant for a while.

Hard working and proud

Parr’s images show a culture of hard work surrounding the running of businesses and preparing food.  This photograph epitomises the family dedication to working hard and making a successful living. The humour of the blackboard joke is typical of traditional Yorkshire humour from the past and we get a sense of history from it as well as a sense of mutual respect through the irony. We know that the joke is only a joke.

Presentation

I was very interested in the informal nature of the display of this series. The photographs were aligned close and secured with what appeared to be tacks. The informal presentation complimented the informal feel of the images.

 

Olivia Arthur

I wanted these images to be in colour! My main query was why were they in black and white. One of the Gallery’s volunteers explained that the images had been taken with an old camera and hence the black and white. I have since come across this explanation:

The choice to shoot 5×4 black and white photos was very deliberate on Olivia’s part as a means of slowing her process down and being more careful about the photos she was taking. “I have to change the film after every single shot so it all becomes a bit more considered, and I am really enjoying that at the moment,” (It’s Nice That, 2018)

Arthur’s images explored the city’s youth culture from ‘Elvis impersonators to pet snakes, football, bodybuilders, teenage style, relationships and young families’ (ibid). Arthur’s work was made possible by building relationships with the young people and being invited into their homes to photograph them within their own environments. The result is a series of images that show an honesty and individuality among the portraits of the young Hull residents.

Introduction

 

The Gallery

What was striking about this gallery was the use of white and blue walls. It immediately felt welcoming ans stylish and interesting.

Presentation

I compared this presentation with the informal presentation used by Martin Parr. Parr used ‘tacks’ to secure his non framed images. Arthur uses frames set equidistantly, like you would hang pictures in your home. This gave a more formal feel to the exhibition.

Display

I felt that the white walls and blue walls worked well together and enhanced the display when contrasted with the black frames and the monochrome images. It was very bold and striking.

One image

Above is an image of a young Hull resident, exploring her passion for dancing and set in her own home. We get a sense of personality here, identity and way of life.

Summary

I thoroughly enjoyed these exhibitions. Two very different approaches to the representation of Hull’s culture. It has made me consider topics and presentation and differing viewpoints as well as interpretations and technical differences.

 

Bibliography

 

Hull UK City of Culture 2017. (2018). Hull, Portrait of a City: Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr – Hull UK City of Culture 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.hull2017.co.uk/discover/article/hull-portrait-city-olivia-arthur-martin-parr/ [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].

Humber Street Gallery (2017) Gallery publicity paper (available at the time from the Gallery)

Humber Street Gallery, Press Release

It’s Nice That. (2018). Behind Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr’s show, Hull, Portrait of a City. [online] Available at: https://www.itsnicethat.com/news/olivia-arthur-martin-parrs-hull-portrait-of-a-city-photography-021017 [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].

 

All images were taken on my phone with permission from the very friendly and helpful staff at the Humber Street Gallery.

Learning outcomes (end of part three)

Learning outcomes (end of part three; putting yourself in the picture)

I have benefited a great deal from this part of the course and have enjoyed learning about self portraiture whether autobiographical, masquerading or self absented. I never thought I would say this, but I was looking forward to saying something about myself in assignment three, which is a huge leap forward from my initial shyness at the beginning of my studies.

Creation of images that demonstrate a practical and conceptual understanding of the appropriate use of techniques

Practically, for assignment three, I made use of a makeshift studio in my dining room. This was my first ‘go’ at setting the scene for a shoot in this way. I borrowed a main light that I could use instead of my tungsten house lighting as I didn’t want a warm yellow light. I also borrowed a black backdrop that I sellotaped to the wall and draped over my table. I wanted the box to be positioned identically in each image so I set the box on the backdrop and never moved it throughout the whole shoot. I changed the contents of the box carefully so as not to disturb the positioning. I set the camera on the tripod so that it didn’t move and the result was positional continuity throughout the series. I used a remote control shutter release to avoid moving the camera as I pressed the shutter and so that I could move out of the way to avoid reflections.

Conceptually, I understood that the idea was to say something about myself without showing myself directly. Like Shafran and his series Washing up, I chose everyday objects to say something about myself and used the wooden box to articulate how I feel that my life is made up of very separate compartments that together make up the main areas of my life.

 

Demonstration of an emerging critical awareness and ability to translate ideas into imagery

The exercise on recreating a childhood memory made me think about my idea and how to present it through photography. My idea was around a child’s tea-set that I remember receiving as a very young girl. It has stayed in my memory always as being a happy time and a perfect gift. In thinking how to represent this I considered it firstly in its box, as a gift would be; then I considered whether I should be present in the image, what the positioning of the crockery should be like, the focus, the background and so on and I remember trying to visualise the feeling I had as a girl at the time. The translation of the feeling into the image was tenuous as though it was there in my mind’s eye one minute and gone the next, but the important thing, whether I captured the memory accurately or not, was that I saw the start of being able to visualise an image in response to an idea.

Regarding the assignment, my idea of separate compartments in my life translated to using a physical wooden box to house all the paraphernalia associated with each category.  I felt that this translation of an idea into an image was more accurate and better executed that the childhood memories exercise as I engaged and recognised the idea from the finished photograph more readily.

Conduct research, development and production in response to the themes raised in this course

I have studied the whole of part three and have researched into some of the works of all the practitioners in this section. I feel that I have understood their approaches to portraiture under the categories of autobiographical, masquerades and self absented portraiture. I engaged with self absented portraiture for the assignment and, inspired by Shafran, used domestic items to say something about myself. 

I am very aware now that photographs need to say something and I have learned by studying Elina Brotherus, Graham MacIndoe and Richard Billingham particularly, that autobiographies (Brotherus and MacIndoe) and biographies (Billingham) are not purely the domain of the bookshelf but can be, and are, successfully articulated in images rather than words, as I hope I have proved in my assignment.

 

Show a critical understanding of contemporary imagery in relation to historical practice and theory

Photography is ever evolving and is influenced by works of prior periods whether by incorporating or by rejecting previous ideas and styles; as Modernism rejected the thinking of the Enlightenment, and Realism was challenged by Abstraction. When trying to think of examples to illustrate how contemporary imagery has been influenced by historical theory I wonder if  Francesca Woodman’s images can be likened to Expressionism’s distortion and sense of anxiety, with their surrealist approach that gives a sense of emotional distress. 

Image by Francesca Woodman

 

Additional development

I think I am getting braver and more inclined to take risks. With assignment three I have little idea of how it will be received but I know that I have submitted a series of images that i would never have thought about before and have eventually taken the risk that my EYV tutor encouraged last year.

Assignment three (self assessment)

Putting yourself in the picture

 

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

For all my images I used a 50mm prime lens; a tripod and a remote control shutter release. I initially tried my 55-210mm telephoto lens but the maximum f1.8 aperture of  the fixed lens was more appropriate in domestic lighting. However, I found that in my first set of images f1.8 gave a too narrow depth of field and resulted in the wooden box being blurred at the back of the image, and some of the front items as well. I subsequently reshot the images, increasing to f2 or more in some images; and still more than my zoom lens offered. My final images  do have a very narrow depth of field; for instance, in the ‘housework’ box I like the way that the small writing on the product at the back is out of focus and therefore not a ‘subject’ in itself.

I considered both portrait and landscape orientation for this series but to use portrait the boxes were more appropriately positioned ‘tall’ and I felt that the objects were better displayed horizontally. I therefore decided on a landscape orientation and the boxes were appropriately positioned.

Visually, I wanted all the images to show the boxes in the same position in the frame. So, my camera was placed on a tripod and the box remained in position throughout the shoot. Only the objects inside the box were moved and replaced. This ensured a static positioning of the box in all the images. I found it more difficult than I thought to position the box in the frame so that the margins were equal  but am pleased with the positioning overall. I used a studio light rather than rely on tungsten domestic light and felt that this worked well but it did produce some unwelcome highlights so I diffused the light with some semi opaque fabric. I used the remote control so that I could move away from the camera to avoid my refection being in some of the objects (wine glasses). 

The black backdrop

When I reviewed the images I noticed that the colour of the wooden box varied slightly in one image particularly, and I wasn’t sure why when all the circumstances had been the same throughout.  I corrected this post production to give a uniform series.

Quality of outcome

I feel that I have successfully shown a viewer an insight into my life in a self- absented portrait series. I feel that the images are consistent and coherent with all images being similar, both in arrangement and colour. The narrative is in the form of diary extracts to add meaning to the images and provides the diary context of the brief.

Demonstration of creativity

Through the use of wooden boxes to contain specific items I feel that I have represented, through images, the way that I feel in control of my life when all my own ‘boxes’ are full.

I am finding it useful to keep a record of ideas that I have prior to deciding on a final theme for the assignment. Thinking further around different ideas helps to inform my final choice and provides ideas that I may be able to develop later in the course. For this self portrait series I created the settings for all the images which, only a few months ago, seemed out of my comfort zone. I also used studio lighting, again something that I thought I wouldn’t be doing for a while yet. Creatively, I feel that I have taken a risk this time. I like the images that I have produced but obviously I have some reservation until I build up more confidence.

Context

My images were taken in the context of showing a viewer something about me and my personality. By displaying my own objects you can get an idea of my tastes and lifestyle. By showing my ‘boxes’ a viewer can identify how I spend my time and what is important to me. I feel that this works as a self absented portrait series and together with my diary extracts says much about me.

Assignment three (submission)

My life in boxes

Anyone who knows me knows about my ‘boxes’. As long as I can remember my life has been split into compartments that represent the things that are important to me. So, for instance, I have a ‘family’ box which I only consider to be ‘full’ if I have been seeing friends and relatives regularly. I also have a ‘gym’ box which is only full if I have done cardio twice a week and been for a swim; and a ‘reading’ pot that is full when I have indulged my love of literature. On those occasions that all my boxes are full, I feel at my best. Someone I know had a similar life view to me, but their ‘boxes’ were ‘guitar strings’, and for his life to be in harmony, all his metaphorical guitar strings had to be properly tuned.

I am very interested in how society puts people into neat ‘boxes’ depending on their characteristics, interests and appearance. Nikki S Lee and her work  Projects shows how she integrates with a particular sub culture by adopting their appearance, gestures, mannerisms and language, in order to ‘fit in’.  Endia Beale essentially asks which box her subjects fit into when they present for interview; do they fit the corporate box or not?. My research into these two practitioners encouraged me to consider my own personal ‘boxes’  and how someone could gain an insight into my life and personality through them.

I was further encouraged by Nigel Shafron’s use of everyday items (in his series, Washing-up) and how they can provide a self absented portrait, and I decided to show my own portrait using similar ordinary objects. My final choice of objects is significant. My choice of novels for instance shows my interest in classic literature, my choice of photograph frames perhaps shows a plain, rather than an ornate taste, my choice of trainers perhaps puts me in a particular economic bracket and so on. All these objects come together to form an impression of my personality.

This project is an attempt to articulate visually what is a light-hearted, but long-standing analogy of my approach to life … and together with a diary inspired narrative, I feel puts me in the picture.

My life in boxes

Final assessment presentation

I am aware that by including narrative in the assignment it has been necessary to consider the actual physical presentation of my assignment for future assessment. By submitting the images only, as I have done previously, the narrative would be omitted, so, I am considering:

  • submitting either, a physical diary, in keeping with the brief, with images printed and displayed on one page and handwritten narrative on the opposite side,
  • or I could take photographs of written diary pages (like Anna Fox in her Cockroach Diaries), and submit the narrative photographs as additional images.

 

Contact Sheets

Contact sheets Assignment three (annotated)

 

Assignment three (six initial ideas and inspiration)

Putting yourself in the picture – self portrait

I always have a quick look forward to the next assignment before starting the relevant course exercises and research. This is so that I can have an ‘end’ in sight to help me to shape my learning and help me think around the assignment as I learn from the course. I can therefore let myself get sidetracked, in a structured way, as I come across things that I feel could inspire the assignment.

As part of his feedback from my last assignment my tutor commented that he ‘liked the way that I had lots of ideas and thought through them, without going too far’ if they were impossible to turn into images. I have taken this approach again for assignment three.

Here are some of the ideas that I have noted as potentially inspiring to inform my work on assignment three.

Idea one

The very personal (inspired by Graham MacIndoe)

While thinking around assignment three on self portraits, I read an article in the British Journal of Photography (January 2017, page 70) about Graham MacIndoe and his series Coming Clean. MacIndoe, a portrait photographer from Scotland, developed a ten year heroin addiction, which saw him spending four months in prison. However, he turned his life around, published two books, got taken on by a gallery and became professor at a prestigious university in New York City.

His graphic work Coming Clean  shows his experience of living with a heroin addiction and shows the viewer the realities of such a life. The series shows the grim unkempt environment, the injections, basic facilities, with an unhealthy colour tint to compliment the unhealthy environment. I think this is a brave series. It can be hard to reveal personal things about yourself, particularly unattractive things, and revealing this subject in this way must have required courage and a determination to show real life in the midst of such an addiction.

This series did make me think of documenting a period of my life where I suffered with Emetophobia, and how I avoided all situations that could potentially make me feel, or be, sick. There is an honesty that MacIndoe demonstrates, and a willingness to show himself ‘warts and all’, no attempt at flattery, just as it is; no apology. I admire this, it shows an acceptance and I will bear this in mind for future. I prepared one of my ‘project proposal forms’ for Emetophobia and may come back to this in order to highlight this much hidden phobia. Below is a test image that I took showing how I used to be so afraid if anyone was ill in the bathroom.

I came across this series This is what my OCD looks like  and felt that there were similarities between OCD and Emetophobia and I would be quite interested to articulate my fear of sickness in this way at some point. However, I rejected it here at this stage as I felt that my approach would need to be too similar to my approach to assignment two (Illiteracy) with its  domestic scenes. I wanted to do something quite different this time.

Interview with Graham MacIndoe

 

Idea two 

Presentation ideas, double exposures and long exposures

These two images caught my attention. For, now, all I know is that I like how they look but I cannot see a clear influence to my assignment as yet.

The image below has made me think of taking images with a background that indicates something about my personality; rows of bookshelves, a yoga studio, etc. I could add to this an image of myself (or part of myself) ‘acting’ out that particular aspect of my personality and then combine the images. I may come back to this as a way of presenting images in the future.

The second image has appealed to me partly because I have just taken images (in my extra curricular evening class) with light and long exposures, but mainly I like the way that the face is covered but somehow does not detract from the subject. It actually makes me want to peer in and take a closer look.

 

Idea three 

Portrait without a face (inspired by Hayley Leonard)

Hayley Leonard, Nan’s Hands, 2004

Inspired by Leonard’s image above, I keep returning to this idea of showing a person’s character without showing their face. I am thinking of documenting the main parts of my life using me as a subject but not including my face; and probably only showing my hands. I took these two images of my husband a while ago and was pleased with how they say something about him without showing what he looks like.

Image 1image 2

 

Idea four

Being an identical twin (inspired by Keith Greenough)

I have just researched Keith Greenough’s Iron Man series where he has taken 30 images of himself after competing in running, cycling and swimming events and have understood that this is a form of autobiographical portraiture where he tells us about himself, using himself as the subject. Greenough’s sport is clearly how he defines himself and is central to his life.

Going forward, for my assignment, I can relate to this autobiographical style of portrait and exploration of identity. I thought about myself and tried to identify the ONE thing that defines me the most and that I could portray through images. The first thing that I thought of was being a twin. I have an identical twin sister and she is a presence in my life that I cannot explain. I know what she thinks, I know what she likes, I know what her opinion would be, I actually know what it is like to be her and she knows what it is like to be me. I want to photograph this, if not now, then at some point in the future.

Idea five

Childlessness (inspired by Elina Brotherus)

Having just researched Elina Brotherus and her series Annonciation where she autobiographically examines her long journey through infertility treatment I can empathise with her distress but have to acknowledge that regarding children I am as far removed from her situation as it can get. I am also childless but it is most definitely a voluntary state and not an involuntary one like hers. Society generally doesn’t feel that empathetic towards  voluntarily childless couples as the assumption is that you will have a family and you are selfish if you don’t, and as such, me and my husband are ‘other’ than the norm.

I am thinking of voluntarily childlessness as a possible subject for assignment three but am struggling with the practicalities and ideas surrounding the images. Perhaps I could be shown as disinterested in the presence of a new baby or preferring to walk alone in the park when other mums are pushing swings. Food for thought but (a) I don’t have access to any new babies and (b) photographing children in the park could get me in some trouble with parents. An interesting thought though and quite a ‘taboo’ subject as no one readily admits to being indifferent towards children.

 

 Idea six

Sub cultures, categories and still life (inspired by Nikki S Lee, Endia Beale and Nigel Shafran)

I am very interested in how society puts people into neat ‘boxes’  depending on their characteristics and appearance. Nikki S Lee and her work Projects shows how she integrates with a particular sub culture by adopting their appearance, gestures, mannerisms and language, in order to ‘fit in’. Endia Beale essentially asks which box her subjects fit into when they present for interview (do they fit the corporate box or not?)

I am always aware of stereotyping and of the categories that society adopts in order to sort people into groups. This led me to think of the categories that I personally fit in to. I am a British female, middle aged, a wife, a manager, an employee, a sister, a twin, not a mother,  a student, a home owner, a graduate,  and so on.

This then led me to consider my own personal ‘boxes’ and how someone could gain an insight into my life and personality by knowing what categories make up my life. I do organise my life into metaphorical ‘boxes’ and I am happiest when these ‘boxes’ are full. So, I am happy when my ‘exercise box’ is full and I have been to the gym twice this week, and I am happy when my ‘family box’ is full and I have visited my relatives at the weekend and of course, my ‘study box’ is full when I am on target to reach my photography degree deadlines.

I thought that by representing all these categories, using everyday objects (rather like Nigel Shafran does in his washing up series) I could, through self absented portraiture, put myself in the picture.

 

How I developed idea six into the assignment

I prepared a list of the categories that make up much of my life. Here it is:

  • going to work
  • spending time with family and friends
  • practicing yoga
  • studying BA Photography
  • keeping fit
  • eating healthily
  • reading
  • keeping the house clean and tidy
  • socialising

I liked how Shafran uses the kitchen sink to articulate his daily life and I suspect people are generally interested to see another person’s domestic environment; that’s why reality programmes are so compelling. So, I thought I could use my own items to say something about myself.

I am aware that I separate these things out in my mind and I thought about those everyday items that could represent each section such as trainers, fruit, cleaning products, etc. and thought to display them in boxes to highlight their separateness in my mind. How full or empty each box is has an effect on my well being so I considered juxtaposing a full box with an empty one in each image. However, I felt that it would be confusing to a viewer and decided to approach each image with one box only.

Each box was filled with domestic items that act as symbols for the category being presented. I didn’t want the images to be obvious as I wanted a viewer to have to interpret the boxes. For this reason I rejected something so obvious as this for my ‘family’ box. I wanted to avoid incorporating  words as explanatory text.

I went on to  compile arrangements of objects and arranged them in boxes to represent sub sections of my daily living and I hope that by viewing them you can gain an insight into me and my life.

Bibliography

British Journal of Photography issue 7855 (January 2017)

Anna Fox (cockroach diary)

Cockroach Diary

Anna Fox’s Cockroach Diary includes photographs taken when there was an infestation of cockroaches in her home. The photographs are of the cockroaches themselves and of extracts from her diary, forming a self absented autobiographical portrait series.

The diary is handwritten and not only does it reflect on the state of the infestation but also reveals much about family life at the same time. The extract below has an authenticity about it, the pages are messy with crossings out which compliments the personal and frantic nature of the situation.

Sharon Boothroyd states that the Cockroach Diary became symbolic of the fractured environment, social structures and dysfunctional interpersonal relationships’ in Fox’s life (Boothroyd, S. 2014). We learn of many people in the household which gives us an insight into a busy environment with family and lodgers.

Ostensibly this diary is about an insect infestation but we learn more about the family dynamics. Fox is melodramatic, ‘I am absolutely frantic and threatening to leave home if somebody doesn’t do something about them’ and Kilt a little unsympathetic ‘he likes the roaches anyway’.

Anna Fox Cockroach Diary

Bibliography

Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

Exercise: Nigel Shafran – Washing-up (page 87)

 

Washing-up  

Shafran has produced a self portrait series by photographing his kitchen sink and providing us with narrative to give the viewer an insight into his personal life mainly through describing food and domestic situations.

Did it surprise you that this series was taken by a man? Why?

Not really, no. I know that traditionally women have done the washing up but my personal family experience doesn’t follow the tradition so I don’t think of washing up as gendered particularly.

In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

My first instinct is to say no to this question because we are all capable of taking the same images. However, on reflection I think that perhaps yes it does. We are all subject to the influences of nature and nurture and as such, whether it is right or wrong, boys and girls are likely brought up with differing approaches to life and have different life experiences from being small. I would expect life experience to affect a person’s life view and influence his/her interests, which will ultimately affect the subjects they are interested in portraying through photography.

When looking at the work of Elina Brotherus and her series documenting her experience of IVF and childlessness, I expected the photographer to be a woman. I don’t think I have ever seen or read about a man discussing this subject though he is usually just as involved as her. But, everyone is individual and to say an image will be created differently depending on gender is nonsense. I will concede to gender contributing to the creation of an image though.

What does the series achieve by not including people?

The fact that there are no people forces you to focus on the objects in the scene. Normally if there was a person then your eyes are drawn to him/her first. Without a person there is no distraction away from the objects and the viewer has to piece the items together in some way to form an insight into the absent person’s character. It is like a puzzle to be solved.

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

The Tate has this to say about ‘still life’

‘the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead’ and goes on to add that it, ‘includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on’ (Tate, 2018).

So, regarding Shafran and his series ‘washing up’ the first definition applies to the inanimate subjects seen in and around the kitchen sink in that they don’t move. However, the actual items are not exactly fruit, flowers or wine, rather kettles, taps and plates. The inclusion of food and drink in the still life genre was an acknowledgement of the pleasures of life and the impermanence of those pleasures, which doesn’t really translate to the draining board.

A couple of years ago I did a lot of research into Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and visited the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds to see Vanessa Bell’s still life oil painting ‘Triple Alliance’. The painting shows three domestic objects; a lamp, two glass bottles and a cheque. You can see it here on the left:

 

Bell’s image is not in keeping with the traditional subject matter of still life; there are no flowers and no fruit but it is certainly embraced within the still life genre and alludes to relationships and alliances.* Similarly, there is no traditional arrangement of fruit and flowers in Shafran’s photographs but they show interesting still life compositions that say a lot about the photographer’s lifestyle, family life and the passing of time.

Bibliography

Tate. (2018). Still life – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/still-life [Accessed 9 Jan. 2018].

*some say Bell’s work alludes to the threesome of the relationship between Vanessa, Duncan and Bunny, or to the alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy in the First World War.