An essay on an image of my choice
My first reaction
I am reminded of my school days. At eight years old, when Miss Dickinson asked the class to write an essay on ‘my favourite day out and why’ … no problem. At twelve, ‘money is the root of all evil, discuss’ … ok, interesting. If thirty years later, Dr Morrison asked me to write an essay on ‘Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children as an allegory of Indian Independence’ … ok (ish!) but, if anyone ever asked me to write an essay about ‘anything of my choice’ … panic! Same here with choosing an image of my choice for this assignment!
However, my tutor in his feedback to assignment three, gave me some suggestions for choosing the image. He said that:
- I should choose a picture that I feel strongly about as this will be good motivation for research and writing. Mental Health is a subject very much in the forefront of the news right now, given a very high-profile by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, who aim to ‘change the conversation on mental Health’ (Heads together.org.uk, 2018). It is also high-profile at my place of work and indeed Worldwide, in light of Word Mental Health Day on October 10th. I have also suffered from work related stress which can have very similar effects to common mental health problems, tiredness, tearfulness, etc. So, yes, I am very interested in this subject and have therefore chosen to write my essay on Dulcie Wagstaff’s image below.
Dulciewagstaff.co.uk. (2018). Familiar Gardens
The images that I considered, and why, and rejected, and why
Further feedback from my tutor suggested the following:
- Look at many images thinking about what you have to say about them. When I think of the squillions of images to chose from, it is daunting and challenging to chose just one of them and for it to be the ‘right’ one. I started to look at well known images on the internet, through the British Journal of Photography copies that I have, through text books and magazines and started to see them differently as though I am starting to understand the visual language.
- Controversial images would offer two sides to compare. I thought about this image and the controversy surrounding it about the photographer’s obligations to the little girl, the effect his situation had on him, his suicide and the Global message it connotes. The reason this image came to mind is because I have just seen Alfredo Jaar’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park which included his work around this image and Kevin Carter, the photographer.
Alfredo Jaar exhibition at YSP
The vulture and the little girl, 1993. Original title: Struggling Girl.
This image is so disturbing. When I had watched the exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park the four people present at the viewing remained silent long after the film had ended. I rejected this image for the assignment because, well, … I just rejected it.
- a famous image has the advantage of previous comments though there may be less scope to add your own voice.
I considered this image:
Image from (All That’s Interesting, 2018)
I remember seeing this photograph in 2001 of the (then) President Bush receiving news of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center while he was visiting school children in their classroom in Florida. The image denotes, two suited men, a background of child appropriate posters and young schoolchildren in the foreground. The standing man is informing the seated man of something. It is however, virtually impossible to look at this image with no prior knowledge of its subject matter.
The connotation here is of the President listening attentively and remaining calm while receiving grave news. Bush appears to be actively listening and the way that there is a juxtaposition of the seriousness of the subject with the ‘bear on a bike’ image to the right of the President’s head is striking. The gravity of the situation for, not only America, but for the World, contrasted with the children’s ignorance is compelling. We see a serious president looking appropriately calm but troubled at receiving World changing news.
The context however, changes when viewed as a six minute video footage that shows the President’s actions before and after hearing the news.
I now see the President with a passive ‘what now?’ expression where he is left ill at ease, unauthoritative and wondering what to do. A more appropriate reaction would have been for Bush to leave the room immediately to organise, instruct and direct others. In the singular image however, we do not see how inappropriate his passive response is. I rejected the photograph for the assignment as it has been, and will be, discussed ad in finitum, and I would not be able to add anything new.
I also considered this image:
Nan Goldin’s The Hug
The OCA coursework directs us to Sophie Howarth’s Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs, as part of the research point on deconstruction.
The book’s summary mentions Goldin’s image, The Hug (1980). We have already studied some of Goldin’s work so I was interested in this. I liked it and thought it had sufficient analysis potential.
I considered what was denoted – a man’s muscular arm surrounding a woman’s small waist. We see just the man’s arm and the back view of the woman, a dark glamorous dress, a shock of black unruly hair.
The way that the image captures both a passion and a sense of menace interested me and made me consider the way that this had been connoted by Goldin; the stark setting, the faceless people, the shadows and the man’s obvious strength etc. I thought that this image offered scope for analysis and considered it for the assignment but ultimately I rejected it as I didn’t feel strongly about it like I did with the Wagstaff image.
A further consideration was this image
Jeff Wall ‘View from an Apartment’
Jeff Wall’s View from an Apartment
The summary of Sophie Howarth’s Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs, also referred to Jeff Wall’s View from an Apartment. As we have studied Wall previously during this course I was interested in this image. I liked it and thought it had scope for analysis.The setting is a cluttered living room. Two women are involved in domestic activity, ironing and reading; this ordinary life is contrasted with the view outside. My thoughts turn to the traditional private and public spheres of femininity and masculinity. The connotation is that this is a comfortable and casual home life, signified by the ironing board, the television, the seating arrangements, magazines and so on. The couple are comfortable in each other’s company signified by their preoccupation with their individual activities and the reading lady’s slouched position.
I rejected this image again on the grounds that, although I like it and it interests me, and all the minutia of everyday life is fascinating to view and analyse, I do however feel a pull to my first image by Wagstaff and I wanted to chose an image that we had not discussed during the course material.
Another consideration was this image:
I now pronounce you married
McPhate, M. (2018)
When searching for famous photographs I came across this image of Connie Kopelov and Phyllis Siegel celebrating after becoming the first gay couple to be married in Manhattan, New York, in 2011.
Without the context of the wedding, this image could connate a number of scenarios. The building in the background, for me, conjured images of law courts and my immediate reaction was a trial that had gone in one of the women’s favour, or even, God Forbid, a right to die case. I rejected this image as I didn’t think it offered as much scope for analysis as the Wagstaff image.
- a personal image might be more difficult to talk about but more emotionally engaging I didn’t chose to use a personal image as I feel that a subjective view of a photograph is different to an objective view. You cannot distance a personal knowledge of people, or of situations when you are ‘involved’. Take this image for instance, how can I not see what you can never see?
In Barthes’ Camera Lucida he famously omits the photograph of his mother because it would be ‘nothing but an indifferent picture’ (Barthes, 2000, p 73) to any viewer but himself. Same here.
All That’s Interesting. (2018). 50 Influential Photographs That Changed Human History. [online] Available at: http://allthatsinteresting.com/influential-photographs#6 [Accessed 19 Feb. 2018].
Barthes, R. (2000). Camera lucida. London: Vintage.
Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts.
Dulciewagstaff.co.uk. (2018). Familiar Gardens – Dulcie Wagstaff – Photographer. [online] Available at: http://dulciewagstaff.co.uk/Familiar-GardeArtnet.com. (2018).
Familiar Gardens – Dulcie Wagstaff – Photographer. [online] Available at: http://dulciewagstaff.co.uk/Familiar-Gardens [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].
Headstogether.org.uk. (2018). About Heads Together – Heads Together. [online] Available at: https://www.headstogether.org.uk/about-heads-together/ [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
McPhate, M. (2018). Connie Kopelov, of First Same-Sex Couple Legally Married in New York, Dies at 90. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/nyregion/connie-kopelov.html [Accessed 17 Feb. 2018].
People, C. (2018). The vulture and the little girl. [online] Rare Historical Photos. Available at: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/vulture-little-girl/ [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
Tate. (2018). ‘A View from an Apartment’, Jeff Wall, 2004-5 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wall-a-view-from-an-apartment-t12219 [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
The Hug by Nan Goldin on artnet. [online] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/nan-goldin/the-hug-a-ryQOWrmZRB58hoCL4T0lNg2 [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].ns [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].