One of the decisions I made early on in Sustainable Prospects with regard to my Work in Progress Portfolio was to attempt to add words to my images. This entry will talk about how I have developed my thinking in this regard and some of the challenges and concerns I have had along the way.
During the break after Surfaces and Strategies I researched the writings of Seton Gordon having been given one of his books The Charm of Skye as a present. I found his words (borne out a love of being in the landscape) particularly about The Cuillin very inspiring:
“In the parish of Strath, in the south-west of Skye, a magnificent hill rises straight from the sea. Its name is Blaven, and in grandeur it is not surpassed by the grim peaks of the Cuillin which cluster near it. In height Blaven is just over three thousand feet. Even at midsummer the June snows may crowd thickly upon its dark ledges for days at a time, and in winter the drift is whirled by the north wind high above its gloomy summit.
The majesty of Blaven is accentuated by its aloofness.”
At that time I was considering using his words to describe or contextualise my images but I was concerned about issues around copyright and whether trying to find photographs to “fit” Gordon’s words would restrict and constrain the development of my photographic practice. On balance I believe that was the right conclusion and I feel happier to have tried my hand at writing my own words.
One of the reasons for using my own words was to give a sense of authenticity and direct honesty to the combination of the images and words particularly given the autobiographic nature of my work. If I was not able to explain and write about my own thoughts, emotions and feelings then I couldn’t see how others prose or poetry would help. However, in this context, I did find reviewing the work of Robert Macfarlane and Nan Shepherd helpful in this regard. In both cases their writing was beautiful, meticulous and elegant but it seemed almost too accomplished and styled to accompany my work. Having said that I believe my consideration of their work did allow me to refine my style.
As with the images, I decided that simplicity was the style I favoured and a sense of rawness in my words might not be a bad thing. After all, this was about how the Loch makes me feel, how it enables me to bring some of the ghosts and daemons of my past into consciousness and how I convey that experience to my viewers (and readers). Having said all that I was also keen to avoid directing the viewer in any significant way through my words. My first attempts did exactly that as I sought to describe what they were actually seeing in my work – that to me was patronising and condescending. It was for them as my audience to take their own views and meanings from my work and apply it to their own life experiences as it was appropriate for them. This was about me connecting with my audience in order that they might say – I know that feeling. This was about anchoring my work with the universality of my journey and the related themes they might evoke in others. As I said in my Oral Presentation it is about them “joining me on this journey of reflection and recovery.”
I refined my words as my image choices became clear and I focused on the story threading through the images. My accompanying words became more about my feelings and emotions and my personal journey and how these translated through the images of the reeds and the Loch. For example:
I felt the simpler I made my voice the more authentic and believable my story would be.
As the module progressed and my photographic practice and methodology came together I believe my words gained in their legitimacy through the use of a Photographers Sketchbook where I recorded contemporaneous notes of my thoughts, feelings and emotions. On returning from a shoot I would finalise the words from my Sketchbook and then refine them as I put the over-arching story of the images and my journey together.
I found that the words became as important to me as the images I had made. They had become part of the artwork, and in their presentation of my work in due course, the words would carry equal weight to my photographic work.
So what are my reflections having completed my Work in Progress Portfolio? Well, time will tell, in terms of the feedback I will receive in due course but, here are my thoughts about the pros and cons of adding words to photographic work.
I have enjoyed the experience and developing my photographic practice in this way. It has challenged me in ways I did not expect when I started the course. In the webinar this week some of my fellow students reflected on their struggle with trying to add meaningful and appropriate writing to their images. If nothing else, the process of writing down my thoughts and emotions has encouraged me to be more honest with myself and to really try hard to get in touch with my feelings about those images that haunt me, through the landscape. I do believe that the focus on the Loch and the reeds has enabled me to do this much more effectively than if I had continued my quicker, superficial and more haphazard shooting regimes of previous modules. It has encouraged me to reflect long and hard and slow down my image making in the process. As I said in my Oral Presentation:
“I would need to spend more time looking, thinking and feeling and only then press the shutter.”
For me, the biggest danger is that my words are not seen as relating effectively to the images. This is a difficult issue because I have always been clear that through my imagery and now my words I wish to share my experience of the Road to Elgol. As my Research Proposal made clear:
“In this Research Project I will develop my photographic practice through a personal journey that involves death, darkness, hope and the emergence into light. It will reflect the silence that is always present at the scene of violent crime – the traces of humanity, intensely vulnerable and rendered insignificant by the events and forces around them . . . I will record my experiences and recount them through my images and words and through them will present not only what I saw but my experience of what I saw.”
I move forward into Informing Contexts more confident in my approach and committed to developing my expertise in marrying my images and words together to provide added value and an extra dimension, for others, in viewing my work.