Informing Contexts Week 1 Coursework – 01-02-2020
Week 1 Coursework
Photography – The shape shifter.
In the first of the weeks videos we discussed the ideas in Barthes 1977 chapter ‘The photographic message’ (Image Music text) , along with other authors ideas, such as Bate’s & Price who talk about the nature of images, their meaning when viewed in differing contexts, and the way images are absorbed into every aspect of our lives. Some of these texts were written some time ago, so the notion of what they considered to be photographs being everywhere, bares no resemblance to what it is today. Even texts that were written a decade ago, are generally talking of a total different time photographically. Even that short time ago, we could never have foreseen how the world would end up essentially being defined by images in a constant onslaught of them. In module one we were introduced to the idea of when we view a sunset in our minds now, we don’t actually ‘SEE’ a sunset, instead we visualise an image of a sunset, it struck me at the time as a powerful thought, but has taken on a new meaning this week with all the reading I have been doing on this subject.
We looked at Therese Frares’s photograph of David Kirby on his deathbed that was later used by Benton some two years later. The issue here was one of ethics. Whilst Kirby’s family were happy with the usage, Aids groups thought it sent the wrong message, spreading further fear, during a time where fear of Aids was already a very large issue in the public, with much misinformation. Some magazines refused to run the advert, and newspapers like the Sunday times called for a boycott on Benton . Whilst I found this ‘story’ interesting, I felt it wasn’t of direct consequence to my work. I suppose I would of felt much more strongly about it, had I been offended by the image, or the use of it, which I wasn’t at all. I can understand why at the time it was deemed offensive , and taboo, but I feel we live in such a different world now, with such a differing view of HIV and the Aids virus, that we can’t really comprehend what this was like, or at least I, as having only been a very young child then, cannot. There is also the argument here of if we have been desensitised to this evocative type of photography?
I was much more interested, personally, in the Beneton advert, that used the image of a new born baby, umbilical cord still attached , being deemed equally as offensive as an image of someone dying. Not only that, but of it being equally censored. This feeds into my role as a birth worker, and I hold very strong views about images depicting birthing women, the birth space, and the physiological depictions of birth, and in turn newborn babies. I vehemently disagree with any inference of any kind that a baby is offensive or vulgar, or that an umbilical cord could be unsettling. As practitioners, especially on the MA , we are encouraged to be critical, and to discuss these things, but the reason I refused to do a project during the MA on birth photography, is that whilst I acknowledge people will have differing views on the depictions of birth , I refuse to be drawn into a discussion on that. For me, as an artist, as a mother, as a woman, no-ones views are as important as the mothers. Ever. I have no space for the trivial thoughts of others on the subject, because they are not the important parties. Does it matter that this image was used to bring to light the number of babies being born HIV positive, not in the emotional side of the image. A baby is a baby, this baby potentially having HIV is devastating , but not at all connected to some of the words used to depict the sight of a newborn baby or indeed birth in images in general.
I would also question the validity and seriousness in which a photograph can be deemed by the press to be simultaneously , both too offensive to run, and at the same time, win press awards for its merits as an advertisement. That , is nonsensical.
MARTIN LISTER- Images Everywhere = reproduction. Nowhere = shifting nature
We were then asked to consider the context, or contexts, our practice does, or could, operate within. The various ways our practice could be consumed, and if have we have any ideas about how it may be received given the infinity of contexts.
This is a very open ended question, as theoretically any photographers practice could be consumed anywhere, by anyone in our time, because of the internet. A more appropriate question may be, where DO WE SEE our work being consumed, and in what context? For me personally, I aim for my MA work to be consumed by firstly, the parents, family and friends, of home educated children, or in the broader spectrum, by those parties interested in alternative education. This may be parents looking to alternative education as an alternative to mainstream school in the UK or further afield, or it may be families looking into the potential benefits of world schooling. Outside of this I would next look to individuals and groups with an interest in pedagogy , through social , psychological or educational channels. My next area for consumption would be in the art world through book and /or exhibition format, this would be by photographers, critics, gallery owners, and collectors. Via publications, press releases, social media channels, catalogues. In this area, I would also encompass any entries to competitions , or grants that I may submit to in the future, using the body of work. It then isn’t a far jump to imagine that the press would be interested in it, be it in newspapers, or online articles, as they have ran many articles on home education in recent years.
I aim for the work to be consumed via my website, instagram, online educational forums, a travelling exhibition (taking the images out to the groups and people it is about, across the UK) , and finally as a book. Along with the exhibition and book, I foresee the work needing to be on social media channels, and in the press to help promote the works.
Regarding how the work may be received; I would expect on the whole for the alternative education community to receive the work positively , although, I am acutely aware that as a community we can be wary of things like this, as it can, no matter the intentions, draw us into the limelight, which always invariably comes with some negative press. I am hoping this will, however, be minimal, and aim to where possible keep it in spheres where I can limit that kind of reaction, as I must be mindful of the participants in my project. I do think though, having a project sent forth into the world, is a little bit like having a child, eventually, you just have to trust in the process and what will be, will be, you did your best, and have faith. I am leaving myself open to negativity in this project, in the most personal and private aspect of our lives, but we, as a family, are sure and secure in what we do, our children feel strongly about what we do, and, as I say, I plan to consider every option for displaying this work carefully.
Outside of the MA , my work focuses on journeys of motherhood, and is consumed by clients and their family/friends on instagram, facebook, my website, and in the form of albums and prints that they may show people. I also regularly attend birth preparation classes, and breastfeeding support groups, and birth centre open days to show my work to both the birth workers, and potential clients. I have had images and series in newspapers and magazines, and aside from certain tabloids comments sections, the response has always been positive. I am about to have my first exhibition of birth work at a local birthing centre, so the work will also be consumed there by pregnant couples, or couples with new babies, midwives, nurses, doctors , and other medical staff, and I suppose anyone doing work of any kind of the building, or people accompanying pregnant women. My work aims to bring women and birth workers together, strengthening the mothers resolve to birth in whatever way she chooses, that is right for her. My work aims to empower. For some, myself included sometimes, I am sure it brings some feeling of loss or regret over the birth they had as opposed to the one they envisaged, but I think this is far outweighed by the people who find joy and comfort and connection in it.
Our second video of the week we discuss the books and exhibitions of Szarkowski, Shore, and Squires. We were asked to consider the nature of the photographic image today, and what characteristics discussed in the books and video were most relevant to our practice, but also how these could change in time through the contexts in which they are consumed.
In my MA practice so far, I have worked primarily with documentary work, capturing my own, and other families who educate in alternative ways in natural, non staged ways, using natural available light, with little or no interference in the scene from myself.I therefore resonate with Szarkowskis’ notion of subjective seeing, and the photographers choice of selection of what they include from the real world in their frame, what they don’t, and how they time their photographs. I also made note of the photographer’s problem being not only to see the reality before him, but the still ‘invisible picture’ (Szarkowski. 1966) and was drawn to Jarecke’s quote that was shared in the video where he stated “If I don’t make pictures like this, people like my mother will think that war is what we see in the movies.” (in reference to his 1991 image ‘incinerated Iraqi soldier in truck’) . I am not trying to imply that photographing families going about their daily lives, home educating, is as emotionally powerful, or in need of us to sit up and pay attention to as the brutality of war, but there is context here. I am completing this project to show people, who do not know what alternative education really looks like (outside of the extreme religious education, or the hippy parents living off grid personalities that are portrayed often times to far reaching extremes, and incorrectly, by the media ) what an inside everyday view of it is. That people who choose this path, are just like you; they simply chose a different option, for whatever reason, but they are no different to the majority of parents waiting in the playground at 3pm for their children.
In this coming module I am instead choosing to work in a combination of both documentary and tableaux. Szarkowski’s feelings towards narrative images was anything but positive. However shore notes that photographs are not the real world, in which case, one could pose the question, does it make any difference whether you capture an image in a documentary , reportage, or whether you construct a tableaux scene, as, as the photographer, we have already made many choices by the time we take the physical photograph, to say nothing about in the final production. Alongside my documentary images, I aim to utilise tableaux this module to express the reality of what is in my head with regards to alternative education. The scenes will be constructed, but they will be my reality, my families reality.
Of the three books/exhibitions I was least interested in Squires exhibition as it seemed to work predominately in areas of image making that I have never utilised. The content was interesting, her video interview was interesting, but I saw little direct correlation between the exhibition, the questions she posed, the way she attempted to address them, and my own work. I think I found that portion of the video just of less interest in general. Although the images of the glass house becoming a lens in itself was interesting and thought provoking.
EDITED TO AD 10.02.20 . I have since loaned the Squires book ‘What is a photograph’ and read most of it. There were some very interesting parts in the essays, and I felt a much better connection with the work having read about it in depth, and viewed it in the book, rather than just in the module videos and readings.
However, I eventually had to stop reading and skim some, as although it was interesting, I do only have a limited number of hours to allocate to reading , and I felt this wasn’t going to inform my work for this module any more than it had done, and my time would be better spent allocated to reading up on and researching photographers who have worked in spheres I am trying to tackle this module.
THE NATURE OF PHOTOGRAPHS
I found the following quotes from Shore’s book helpful in working through some of his key concepts, and in reference to my own work being able to both dissect past work, and consider possibilities of future work .
“The aim of the book then is not to explore photographic content, but to describe physical and formal attributes of a photographic print that form the tools a photographer uses to define and interpret that content.” (Shore. 2007. pg 12)
“While it is flat, it is not a true plane. The print has a physical dimension.” (Shore. 2007. pg 15)
“By consciously adopting a visual style, a photographer can reference this context and bring these meanings to the reading of the image.” (Shore. 2007. pg 34)
” Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world, and selects a picture.” (Shore . 2007 . 37)
“When three dimensional space is projected monocularly on to a plane, relationships are created that did not exist before the picture was taken. Things in the back of the picture are bought into juxtaposition with things in the front.” (Shore. 2007. pg 42) I likened this whilst reading it, to the architectural design of the Las Vegas strip, where the signs are displayed in a way that makes you think a sign you see in the distance is really close, whereas, once you walk there, you realise the designs of the architecture and signs confused your brain, and it’s actually large distances between them. The design choices essentially make it look like everything was on top of each other , when indeed it is anything but.
“Some photographs are transparent. The viewer is drawn through the surface into the illusion of the image.” (Shore. 2007. pg 46) I love how this connects to the tableaux work I plan on creating this module. I am essentially aiming to create an illusion, so this ‘drawing in’ of the viewer is paramount for these images to work, and work successfully.
Talking of a passive frame, (with the example being a street in an Eggleston photograph, where the street leads to a pine wood), Shore says ”beyond the sub-divisions boundaries, so the photographs structure implies a world continuing beyond it’s edges.” (Shore. 2007. pg 60) It is integral to (the success of my message being translated through) my images, that they do not seem like a closed , boxed off world, this is one of the common misconceptions to do with home educations, and a myth I am not willing to perpetuate, that was are ‘boxed off’ ‘insulated‘ ‘invisible’. This at the moment, is an issue for me to work through. If I take a photographs inside a front room for example HOW do I make that seem like the world doesn’t end with that room?
Shore also talks of the ‘active frame’ (Shore. 2007. pg 62) “The structure of the picture begins with the frame and works inwards.” Whilst wanting to represent the idea of home educators not being trapped inside, or blocked off from society. I, at the same time, will want to establish a way of representing the , (as one student described the words he connected to my images in a forum this week ) “ ….. domestic and internal. The comfortable, secure space, the home in home-schooling. ” How to juxtapose this with the above, is something I will need to work on carefully before committing to any scenes I wish to represent).
“Frozen time : an exposure of a short duration, cutting across the grain of time, generating a new moment.” (Shore 2007. 72)
“My model adjusts to accommodate my perceptions… This modelling adjustment alters, in turn, my perceptions. And so on. It is a dynamic, self-modifying process. It is what an engineer would call a feedback loop. It is a complex, ongoing, spontaneous interaction of observation, understanding, imagination and intention.” (Shore. 2007. pg 132)
Whilst watching this weeks videos the one thing that leapt out at me in regards to my own practice was this quote
“The best photographs always inspire curiosity , rather than satisfy it. I think that this ambiguity is one of the most thrilling aspects of the medium. A photograph is only a minute fragment of an exercise, but quite a precise, detailed and telling fragment And although it might only provide little clues, the photographer is telling us that they are very important clues.” (Aaron Schuman , The missisipi .2004. http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html ) (Links to an external site.)
My whole research project is based around this idea really. I came to the MA knowing I wanted to follow through with a project on alternative education. This has evolved and morphed quite a bit in it’s refinement, but the foundations, the idea has stayed the same . I am photographing my own, and other families that choose to educate their children outside of the mainstream school system, with the purpose of both prompting curiosity, and hoping to answer some of the curiosity that is already there, but from an internal point of view, (rather than from the point of view of the media, something that has been happening on and off in spurts for years, and has influenced most peoples perceptions negatively of what families that educated out of the mainstream school system are like/what they do/what they sound like/ etc etc) . I have been using light within my images to convey my own emotions surrounding our choice to home educate our own children, a message, within the photograph, as well as internal framing and colour to draw attention to certain aspects , & to create narrative .
I like this idea of their being ‘little clues’ within the image that are actually ‘very important clues’ , I’m not sure within my own work, whether these are or will be picked up by people outside of the social sphere that this body of work is about. Certainly, when showing the work to families who are in that sphere they have commented on very different things to people from outside of it. These varying interpretations of the work , depending on the audience viewing it at any given time, and the context it is viewed in that is discussed this week, is pertinent here .
BIBLIOGRAPHY / IMAGES / REFERENCES
Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image Music text. London. Fontana press.
Stephen Shore . 2007. The nature of photographs. London. Phaidon.
Szarkowski, 1966. The photographers eye. New York. Museum of Modern Art:Shore, Stephen
Fig 1, Graham 2019. (Sustainable prospects module)
Fig 2, Graham 2019. (Sustainable prospects module)
Fig 3, Graham 2019. (Sustainable prospects module)
Fig 4, Graham 2019. (Sustainable prospects module)