Category Archives: Assignment 2 Photographing the unseen or Using props

Assignment two (self assessment)

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

For all my images I used a fixed 50mm lens; in a relatively confined interior setting, a wider angle lens would have included too much distracting background matter and I needed to carefully frame the images to include a limited subject. In addition, the portrait lens gave me a maximum aperture of 1.8 to allow sufficient light for the inside setting and allowed me to blur the background in those images where there is a sense of depth. I  wanted the backgrounds to have a less sharp focus in order to concentrate the viewers attention on the words within the images. I used my tripod in all the images.

Visually, I was very much aware of showing, not telling and felt for the first time that I actually ‘created’ and ‘staged’ all the images, rather than seeking out appropriate opportunities, as I have in previous assignments. I felt that this assignment had moved into the realms of creativity when I found myself cutting and gluing knitting patterns around jars of coffee.

I spent a lot of time on planning what type of images I wanted beforehand and took quick photos on my phone first, to roughly determine if I thought they could work, before taking them properly.

I also felt that I engaged with Hurn’s comment that ‘photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else’ (Boothroyd, page 58). I feel that I am aware of my literacy and numeracy skills everyday. I work in a finance office and very much like numbers but I love words and both are a source of satisfaction and pleasure in my life. Illiteracy is something that I can sympathise with but also get annoyed with; annoyed with the standard of education that means that ‘English teenagers are some of the least educated in the developed world’. (Ross, 2017). As such I am aware that this assignment has resulted from an interest of mine which hopefully, one day, may be the start of me being a photographer and not ‘someone who is interested in photography’ (Boothroyd, page 58)

Technically, my tutor, Derek, said of my last assignment, ‘that I am still finding my feet’. I still feel that this is true but I hope I am moving in the right direction.

Quality of outcome

I have used objects in my images to suggest a daily domestic situation. The doll and book for instance is a metaphor for a child’s bedtime and the image, with narrative, is leading a viewer to consider the effect that having an illiterate parent may have on the child’s future.

7 pm ‘It’s too late for a story tonight’

The link between all the images I feel is coherent with close views, narrow depth of field and colour pallette. I have used relay narrative in the form of ‘excuses’ that are often made regarding not being able to read and feel that this adds to the impact of the portrayal of daily life. I think that I have produced a photo story of a subject that I am very interested in that works in delivering a message in a coherent way.

Demonstration of creativity

I had many ideas of subjects that I thought would fulfil the brief and considered them all before deciding on a final one. I also considered and rejected a few ideas regarding my chosen theme before settling on one. To me, this shows how my creativity is developing as I am thinking more around ideas and how to articulate them. I have used images, and narrative in a way that I haven’t done before and I have staged my images, also in a way that I have not previously done. I feel that I have ‘made’ my images rather than taken them.

Context

My images were taken in the context of appreciating and considering what it must be like to find reading difficult, and in the context of  highlighting a serious issue in the UK. I had never really considered the great extent of illiteracy in this country before. As a result of this assignment I think I will be more mindful of reading difficulties. I work in a college and I have had people ask if they can take a form home to complete and I now recognise that this could actually be an excuse for not being able to complete it themselves.

Bibliography

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

Ross, E. (2017). English teenagers ‘are the most illiterate in the developed world’. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/english-teenagers-are-the-most-illiterate-in-the-developed-world-report-reveals-a6841166.html [Accessed 28 Oct. 2017].

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Assignment two, photographing the unseen – final submission

Photographing the unseen

Illiteracy

For this assignment I have chosen the subject of illiteracy. I was surprised to learn that one in five adults in the UK struggles to read and write to the extent that they cannot read a medicine label or use a cheque book. I am fortunate to be literate and numerate, and for this assignment I wanted to consider ordinary daily activities and how life may be affected by not being able to read. Many people try to hide the fact that they cannot read and use excuses when presented with situations where reading is expected. I have combined my images with relay narrative to add context and meaning and to add a sense that real people are living with illiteracy every day.

 

7 am ‘I would rather watch Breakfast News’

 8 am ‘Can you get it?’

9 am ‘I know the way’

10 am ‘I’ve forgotten my glasses’

3 pm ‘I use the eco setting for everything’

5 pm ‘All my recipes are in my head’

7 pm ‘It’s too late for a story tonight’

 

Contact sheets

Contact sheets assignment 2 (lliteracy) annotated final

Assignment 2 Illiteracy idea and how it developed

Photographing the unseen

Illiteracy

My ideas for this illiteracy assignment changed and developed over quite a few weeks until I actually confused myself with the actual message that I wanted to give. I seemed to have too many facets to the project, too many tangents, and the outcome was threatening to become confusing.

Firstly

I spent quite a bit of time considering illiteracy as a theme for the assignment; I read somewhere that one in five adults in the UK struggles to read and write. Personally, I gain much pleasure from being literate and numerate and find it difficult to imagine what life would be like without the skills that I take very much for granted. I am interested in what life would be like if I couldn’t read, but also in the idea of the many different literacies and how none of us are fully literate in all disciplines.

Those who have skills in reading, writing and arithmetic may not understand French or German and they may not be able to read music. And what about technical drawings? Knitting patterns? Sign Language? Morse code? Braille? Mathematical formulae? Photography? All these things are ‘languages’ and all need skills to understand them. I considered portraying the alphabet system as being just one of many forms of communication as well as portraying the life difficulties of being illiterate. I think this is where it became confusing.

I experimented with an idea where I wanted to show how difficult it would be to recognise grocery items and follow a recipe if you couldn’t read any labels. I covered the labels so you couldn’t read them but I chose to cover them with other languages; so I printed out a knitting pattern and braille etc. I hoped to show how hard it must be to not be able to read (by covering the labels) but also to show the importance of other languages (by choosing carefully what to replace the labels with).  I liked the ideas but felt they confused each other so, with a bit of disappointment, ultimately I rejected the idea.

But not before trying it again in a different setting …

However, though I was pleased with my composite skills and thought that this simplified version (with only one alternative language (music), rather than the several included in the food image) worked better, my mind had already moved on to something else.

Secondly

When considering images that may represent illiteracy I thought of the ways in which words have importance and become ‘essential’ to enable a person to function successfully in society. For someone with low reading skills what does the world look like? I considered, not replacing words with music etc. but with blanking out the words altogether. I tested two images, one, by turning the books on a shelf backwards, and two by actually blanking out the words on a road sign. The aim was to imagine a world without words and the blankness that must be experienced when faced with a book title you cannot read, like I would feel if faced with say, an Arabic text.

 

image 1 books

Image 2 road signs

This didn’t quite work either. I felt the road sign to be too clichéd and simple and the bookshelf not very engaging.

Thirdly

Confusion. In my sketch book I have included sheets of music, extracts of knitting patterns,  examples of shorthand, Chinese writing, etc. to show an alternative to English words and try to imagine how it is to be faced with a ‘language’ that you cannot read. I also created a document of text and blacked out the words of three syllables or more (below) because someone with a low reading ability would not easily understand the ‘longer’ words.

Below I have tried to capture the confusion someone may feel when faced with a notice board (in a school, doctors waiting room, etc) by using images of ‘other’ languages, both written and visual.

Finally

I thought about the everyday, like Kaylyn Deveney did with ‘The Day to Day Life of Alfred Hastings’ and decided to take images that actually showed the alphabet but I included narrative to add context and details, like Devaney did. Instead of having a subject like Mr Hastings to add his own comments underneath the images I researched some of the ‘excuses’ that people use to hide their illiteracy and used their types of words to add relay narrative to my images. An example is below.

I know my way’

The closed road map is a symbol to suggest something unread(able) and the caption is a typical excuse that someone may make for not using it. Together the image and the narrative allows a viewer to relate to an everyday activity and the problems illiteracy may present, as well as giving an insight in to a personal response to the difficulty.

I continued in this way and produced seven images for my assignment that work together to create a ‘day in the life’ photo story based on my impression of what it could be like to not be able to read.

Assignment two – photographing the unseen (eight initial ideas and research)

Photographing the unseen; how my assignment developed

What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable?

Tangible subjects can be directly photographed; it is the intangible subjects that may be seen as un-photographable. Physical subjects, like people, buildings, animals and so on, can be captured directly by the camera, as they exist in  a physical sense. However, the non-physical subjects such as nostalgia, dreams, emotions, memories, feelings, time, sensation, and so on, are not necessarily excluded from photography but they do rely on representation in the form of semiotics and metaphors to imply the meaning in the image.

Practitioners that inspired me

Briony Campbell

Briony Campbell’s ‘The Dad Project’ is a photo essay telling the story of the last few months of her father’s life. Love, caring and grief are intangible subjects that Campbell has photographed using symbols and narrative to add context and meaning to her images. One of her images is shown below. Without the caption, the meaning would not be clear. However, when Campbell states …

Sitting in the garden became an event, then a days activity, and eventually a strain that he endured only to comfort us. Or was it to comfort himself? I wondered endlessly, but really there was no difference.

… we can engage with the difficulties of movement that her father endured, we can imagine his family trying to lift him out of bed, getting him settled in the garden and the shared desire to make each other as happy as possible. The image comes to represent a life and feelings, and engages reciprocal feelings in the viewer.

Image by Briony Campbell ‘The Dad Project’

Interestingly, the image below is the only one without a caption. We learn from the previous image that Dad had died. So, this image of nearly nothing but softly focussed flowers needs no further explanation. In fact, the absence of a caption serves to emphasise that there are no words, at a time like the death of a loved one, that can come close to expressing what is felt.

Image by Briony Campbell ‘The Dad Project’

For further research into Campbell’s work see my posts here The Dad Project and here The Dad Project and Country Doctor compared.

Kaylyn Deveney

Kaylyn Deveney’s ‘The Day to Day Life of Alfred Hastings’ is a photo essay taken to show the ordinary aspects of life that are not usually considered worthy of photographing. The photographer has added another dimension to the interpretation of the images by asking the subject of her images (Alfred Hastings) to write the narrative for each image. This shows how he has interpreted her images and shows the viewer an insight into how he sees his life. Below is a link to further research and analysis of this work.

https://adeleslearningblog2.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/kaylyn-deveney/

Other inspirations

I looked at the work of other OCA students and noted some of the subjects that they had covered; experience with dyslexia, blindness, balance, pain and pain relief. I also looked at the news to see topical subjects of the day; mental health, addictions, deprivation,  poverty and sexual abuse. I then took some time to consider other unseen subjects and consolidated my thoughts and ideas in a mind map.

How might you go about portraying ‘the unseen’ using photography?

Photographing  ‘the unseen’ relies on ‘showing’ not ‘telling’ with images that are ‘about’ something rather than ‘of’ something and I am very aware that It is important to be crystal clear about what I intend to say with my images. Going back to my literature days (again) I learned of showing and telling through the works of Jane Austen and can’t help but compare ‘telling’ to tangible photography and ‘showing’ to intangible photography.

In Pride and Prejudice we are shown that Lydia is immature and silly when she comments, of Brighton, ‘that is the place to get husbands’. (Austen, J. 1990). We are not directly told ‘Lydia is silly’ but through her dialogue the reader can work it out. Similarly, in photography, by using visual metaphors and symbols a viewer can work out the meaning of a photograph when the message is not immediately obvious.

With showing, not telling, in mind I hope to portray ‘unseen’ subjects by inferring a subject rather than obviously capturing it.  If I choose ‘illiteracy’ for example. I can perhaps ‘hide’ the labels on supermarket products to show how hard it is to identify the product if you cannot read the label. In this way I can allude to the difficulties of being illiterate.

List a few examples of things you are experiencing or have been thinking about

  1. Working for a living but wishing I could retire early and be a full time student
  2. The good and the bad of getting older
  3. Having too much that I want to do and too little time to do it
  4. How television news is always bad

Make a list of seven ‘unseen’ ideas for assignment two

  1. Illiteracy
  2. Being shortsighted
  3. Stress and mental health
  4. Dreams
  5. A long marriage
  6. Stop the World I want to get off
  7. Getting older
  8. Gendered social codes

Clearly I didn’t want to stop at 7! Seriously, I surprised myself with my list; the more I thought about it the more ideas I had. My first inclination was to chose either ‘illiteracy’ or ‘gendered social codes’. Both these are areas where I have a particularly keen interest but I wanted to explore all of the above ideas before I made a final choice. Below are my responses to the ideas I have had.

Idea 1 (Illiteracy)

I eventually decided on illiteracy as the theme for my assignment so I have included a link to an additional post to show how I developed this idea in to the assignment.

How my illiteracy idea developed

 

Idea 2 (being shortsighted)

I liked the idea of this as it is easy to assume that everyone sees things as you do and poor sight is actually hidden. However, I didn’t think that it provided many opportunities to show images that repeatedly brought something new to the series.

I liked the idea of capturing what it is like to have poor sight. My sight is perfect with my contact lenses but without them I am short sighted to the point that life would be difficult. From the other side of the office I couldn’t even tell if someone was male or female, supermarket shelves would be a blur of colour, I couldn’t see which bus to catch and could definitely not drive my car. I thought it would be interesting to photograph this unseen difficulty by comparing images in and out of focus and the effect that this may have on everyday life. I considered going a whole day without my lenses to help me to experience poor sight in an everyday context in order to inform suitable images.

with contact lenses …

… and without

Idea 3 (stress and mental health)

I saw this article on obsessive-compulsive disorder while looking on line at the BBC news today this is what my OCD looks like and recognised the images as a photo essay and relay narrative in describing the experience of OCD sufferers in a variety of situations; I felt that it would have answered the brief of ‘photographing the unseen’ and I wished that I had thought of it. I don’t have OCD and I am in no way suggesting that what follows is linked in any way, but it put me in mind of how I like very much to be organised and how my life seems to be split into definite ‘pots’ as I call them. So, there is a family and friends ‘pot’, a work ‘pot’, study, yoga, gym, housework, social and leisure ‘pots’ and so on and I am happiest when all my ‘pots’ are ‘full’. This may form the basis of the next assignment of ‘putting yourself in the picture’.

Idea 4 (dreams)

I have enjoyed the poem interpretation exercise which put me in the mind of interpreting dreams through photography. I chose to interpret Kubla Khan and concentrated on a dream like representation due to the fact that Coleridge was in a drug induced dream when he composed the poem. Below is an example of my work on this and a link to my exercise post. I would be interested to return to dreams as a project in the future.

Exercise: Kubla Khan interpreted through imagery

Idea 5 (a long marriage)

A difficult subject to portray through photography. The love and the caring. The laughing and the team work. The knowing everything about someone and being proud of them. The not being able to live without them. When I think of this as a subject it feels like a good idea and something to return to later perhaps.

Idea 6 (stop the World I want to get off)

It seems that contemporary life is hectic. People are tired, stressed, too busy, don’t have time for things, they try to recharge their batteries at the weekend and then it starts again on Monday. I considered this rollercoaster life as a possible subject for this assignment. I thought about an image of a meal being served with too much food overflowing on to the table to represent the overload of ‘having too much on your plate’. It shows how I am trying to think more creatively and metaphorically but a little clichéd perhaps.

Idea 7 (getting older)

Getting older in a world that values youth. I am keen to show older people in a positive light; there are too many negative images out there. I know a lot of older inspiring people such as my aunt and uncle both in their eighties who teach ballroom dancing on cruise ships and have literally danced their way around the world for fifty years. Perhaps in the future I could seek out more people like them and use their images to fulfil a different brief.

Idea 8 (gendered social codes)

This is a subject that made my shortlist. After researching Karen Knorr’s Gentlemen and learning of social codes (the suits, oil paintings, chandeliers, playing cards, etc.) relating to the Gentlemen’s clubs and their members, it made me think of social codes in general and how one ‘learns’ to be masculine or feminine. The codes of gender are so engrained in us as a society that we fail to see them on a daily basis; they are just ‘there’. Hagan said in The Observer, that ‘the trappings of inherited wealth and privilege, alongside the invisible, but strictly defined codes of the British class system, have long provided fertile raw material for photographers’ (Hagan, S. 2017). Crisell described the world portrayed in Gentlemen as a world of  ‘three piece suits’ (Crisell, H. 2017). I would like to portray similar codes in relation to gender rather than in relation to class.

This work on the British Class system and its identifying ‘symbols’ made me consider the  different rules in society for men and women and how we conform to society’s expectations of gender. My idea for the assignment was in relation to the actions, mannerisms and gestures that are typically masculine and adhere to the social codes of masculinity.

I am often aware of the differences between masculine and feminine social behaviour and I am interested in the social construction of gendered behaviours. I am particularly interested in those gestures and actions that , as a woman, I NEVER do. I feel that I have been socially ‘created’ as a woman and I can remember being taught by my mother to be ‘feminine’. 

I made a start on this subject for my assignment and, inspired by the way that Peter Mansell included narrative shown below in his photo-book ‘Paralysis Un-seen’, I prepared one in a similar format.

Peter Mansell ‘Paralysis Un-seen’ (above)

My interpretation of Mansell’s narrative  (above)

I took a few images on my phone as a quick test to see if my ideas would work.

I considered the way that men sit and stand and generally take up more space than women. As a female I would never in a million years sit like my husband does in the right hand image and would never stand with my hands in my pockets either. My ideas surrounding the assignment went on to identify further actions that men do but women don’t (generally). Things like using inside breast pockets (women’s clothing does not have these), wearing a tie, dragging their tee shirts over their heads (see below) and sitting while dangling their arms through their knees. I even tried to sit, while driving, like he sits while driving, with his legs akimbo. Even though I was in the car ON MY OWN I found it near on impossible to sit with my legs apart; not because it was uncomfortable (far from it) but because from being  able to understand, I was always told, ‘close your legs’. A fascinating subject.

 

Implement one of the ideas

I decided on illiteracy, with gendered social codes being a close second. 

Bibliography

Austen, J. (1990) Pride and Prejudice. UK Oxford University Press

Campbell, B. (2017). The Dad Project – Briony Campbell | Photography & Film. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/#BrionyCampbell_0237-1000×667.jpg [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Crisell, H. (2017). Inside London’s Exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/20/t-magazine/art/karen-knorr-photograph-london-gentlemens-clubs.html [Accessed 22 Oct. 2017].

Hagan, S. (2017). Gentlemen by Karen Knorr review – eminently clubbable. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/31/gentlemen-karen-knorr-london-clubs-mocking-rich-powerful [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

KayLynn Deveney Photographer. (2017). The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings. [online] Available at: https://kaylynndeveney.com/the-day-to-day-life-of-albert-hastings [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].