What is the Intent of my Photographic Practice? – Developing my Ideas (Week 8)

Last week we were asked to produce a two-minute presentation on our intent in our current photographic practice and to use two images – one successful and one less so – to provide visual examples of our work.  This week I have been refining my thoughts with a view to using these words in my Video Presentation and to inform my Critical Review of Practice.

This body of work focused on the road from Broadford to Elgol on the Isle of Skye uses metaphor through simplification, abstraction and reduction in nature to convey the essence of my experience of my subjects to others. My work is autobiographical and through spending time in the natural world I hope to lay the ghosts of my early photographic career, as a police photographer, to rest. I use photography as a window but also more predominantly as a mirror – reflecting the camera’s gaze back at me and my life experiences – I truly believe the camera looks both ways. Working primarily in black and white and focusing on shape, form and texture, avoiding the distraction of colour, I aim to be authentic in my work – this is my story and monochrome enables me to strip away the elements in order to reveal the real object or essence of my experience.

Successful image of the Lone Tree – Alison Price

This is one of my final images. By choosing to make this image at night I was able to hide the surrounding landscape and distracting elements of the scene to focus only on the tree. By painting the trunk and canopy of the tree with a torch I was able to reveal the fluidity of its fine and delicate structure and in doing so reveal the essence of being a tree in this hostile environment – it is delicate and vulnerable, but also resilient and resistant – this is the essence of the tree that in turn represents my feelings of vulnerability and adversity in life.

Less successful image of the Lone Tree – Alison Price

This image, on the other hand, is less successful. I was trying to give the viewer a sense of the environment in which the tree is located and the sense of calm that can sometimes prevail, but rather than focus on the tree, the image gives a sense of the tourist postcard vernacular – a coloured and picturesque landscape of which the tree is only one element. This is an aesthetic I have been avoiding as both the colour and approach detracts from the key elements of my image making.

In this Work in Progress Portfolio (WIPP) I am experimenting with a range of reductive processes in search of the essence of my experience of the object – whether it be the tree as exemplified here or the Black Cuillin Ridge or the Reeds of Loch Cill Chriosd.  Through light painting, moonlit images and experimenting with Sumi-E photography I am reducing the sensory effects in the image.  While the tree is multi-dimensional, the reeds and the mountain ridge are more naturally reductive.

In Graham Harman’s terms, every object is both a real object (the noumena) and a sensory object (the object of my experience). The real object stimulates real effects and the sensory object provokes sensory effects. Simplification reduces the sensory effects to simplify my experience of the sensory object while reduction reduces the sensory effect such that the real object is exposed or revealed – so it is a deliberate attenuation of aspects of experience to bring the noumena into view.

Next week I shall continue to draft both my script for my Video Presentation and my Critical Review of Practice

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Responses and Responsibility (Week 8)

As part of our reading and reflecting this week we were asked to consider whether and in what ways photographs can persuade and whether in turn we as the viewer are shocked, apathetic or indifferent and why?

Susie Linfield in The Cruel Radience asked:

“Try to imagine, if only for a moment, what your intellectual, political and ethical world would be like if you had never seen a photograph.” (Linfield 2010 p 46)

Of course, images form a significant part of our world and a means of understanding and contextualising events and particularly atrocities. However, they are one form of communicating. Still photographs, the moving image, words (written and spoken), paintings, all help us make sense of the world in which we live. All of these mediums can be used to inform or shock us and potentially to allow us to take a view or action.

Sontag starts her essay Regarding the Pain of Others (2004) by exposing the modern world in which we live:

“Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country is a quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and a half’s worth of those professional, specialised tourists known as journalists.  Wars are now also living room sights and sounds.  Information about what is happening elsewhere, called ‘news’, features conflict and violence – ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ runs the venerable guideline of tabloids and twenty-four hour headline news shows – to which the response is compassion or indignation, or titillation, or approval, as every misery heaves into view.”  Sontag (2004 p 16)

I understand the force of Susan Sontag ‘s  claim that we have become desensitised to horrific imagery such that the stakes have been raised in terms of what is published, not necessarily in the press but more across social media where the editorial and legal controls seem less apparent. However, as individuals we then apply our own filters to either view or not and to research and search out images or not.

Although, I love images and tend to prefer visual imagery to the written word, I do not hold a significant number of images of 9/11 in my mind. My memories revolve around the aeroplanes hitting the buildings and then the aftermath of smoking buildings and dust-covered streets. For me the more poignant images came a number of years later when we visited New York and the memorial gardens. Those were more immediate and personal and laid bare the horrific acts of that day and the tragic human loss.

New York – Alison Price

But, to what extent do we really see the horrors of our world anyway? Over the years, our press has been subject to decisions by the photographer on what to record in the field, editorial and legal controls prior to publication and then a viewing choice by us. In my view, Don McCullin’s images show little of the scenes that he was privy to over many years. He has taken decisions and made judgements about how best to depict what he saw. He has not taken the route of choosing to shock by showing the raw unadulterated images of war but rather to tell some personal stories such as the Shell Shocked US Marine or the context of war through the depiction of grief, sorrow and loss:

Shell Shocked US Marine – Don McCullin

And similarly, Nick Ut’s Napalm Girl had a significant impact during the Vietnam War:

The Napalm Girl – Nick Ut

The reason for the impact of such images is that they have layers of meanings that consciously or sub-consciously influence the viewer and deepen their understanding of the ultimate, horrific reality of war. Gratuitous images such as Todd Maisel’s severed hand (which I do not wish to share here), although claimed a fact of the attack, in my view was not necessary given all the other images he took at the time which told more graphic and intimate stories. Indeed, so decontextualised is the image of the severed hand that it could be representative of any violent event, a war, a plane crash or indeed an industrial accident.

9/11 – Todd Maisel
9/11 – Todd Meisel
9/11 – Todd Meisel

For me, Jonathan Torgovnik’s photograph taken from neighbouring 1 Liberty Plaza on 12 September 2001 told a much stronger story of the impact of the attack on the Twin Towers and the neighbouring district and gives a hint that 11 September started like any other day – people went to work and were in their offices at the time of the attacks.

9/11 – Jonathan Torgovnick

James Nacthwey’s also produced some iconic images of 9/11 and was a believer that images can change history:

9/11 – James Nachtwey
9/11 – James Nachtwey
9/11 – James Nachtwey

Images fuel resistance because they not only report history but also change history. When an image enters our collective consciousness, change becomes possible and inevitable.” (Nachtwey in Ritchin 2013 p 74)

Can photography provoke change?

Susan Sontag was personally very affected by the images of Bergen-Belsen.

“If there was one year when the power of photographs to define, not merely record, the most abominable realities trumped all the complex narratives, surely it was 1945, with the pictures taken in April and early May at Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau in the first days after the camps were liberated, and those taken by Japanese witnesses such as Yosuke Yamahata in the days following the incineration of the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August.” Sontag (2004 p21/22)

My personal view is that images rarely change history or provoke change although they can challenge our thinking. Sometimes they raise the plight, circumstances or event in our collective consciousness for a short while – as was the case with Nilufer Demir’s image of Aylan Kurdi. As Demir herself recalled:

“There was nothing left to do for him. There was nothing left to bring him back to life  . . . There was nothing to do except take his photograph . . . and that is exactly what I did . . . I thought . . . This is the only way I can express the scream of his silent body. ”  (CNN 2015)

In the case of 9/11 I believe that the images by both professional photographers and citizen journalists, along with the moving images and the writings of the time did cause a sea change in the fight against terrorism. The attack on the US shocked the world and led to a concerted and collaborative response that continues to this day. Everything came together – collective opinion, political will, time . . .

Should we censor shocking subject material?

 As I said earlier a large number of images are filtered through the photographer, the editor and the reader. However, in the era of social media access can be gained and images can be circulated much faster and without the rigorous editorial input of legitimate news channels. As adults we can choose whether to access such material but there are issues about the accessibility of images to children who are not in a position to make an informed choice. I do not believe that censorship is necessarily the answer but I do feel that social media platforms should be expected to comply with the editorial and legal framework already in place for other media in the public sphere.

What is the role of aesthetics?

David Campany refers to a move towards an aftermath aesthetic in the context of 9/11 and since – dwelling on traces and fragments of events, empty buildings and streets and an overwhelming sense of disrupted normality.  Indeed, all but one of the images I have chosen to depict the 9/11 events are without people.  For me this aesthetic is compelling in providing a sense of the silence, stillness and disruption after the brutality that led to these scenes.  In my view, the use of style has a part to play in providing imagery that is both sensitive to the time in which the images are made and thought-provoking rather than sensationalist.

Are we desensitised today?

I am not sure we are necessarily desensitised today.  That depends upon on the images we choose to engage with and the extent to which we expose ourselves to them and whether we are willing to enter into the photographer’s frame of reference or, if you prefer, their particular ‘life world’.  ‘Desensitisation’ is a therapeutic approach when dealing with phobias or trauma but that is not what is appropriate here.  It is incorrect, in my view, to use this term when describing the lack of willingness of people to engage with imagery against their will, or where they believe that there is a covert attempt to manipulate their emotions or their feelings.

References

Linfield, S (2010) The Cruel Radiance – Photography and Political Violence, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press

Sontag, S (2004) Regarding the Pain of Others, London, Penguin Group

CNN interview (2015), Photographer describes ‘scream’ of migrant boy’s silent body:  https://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/03/world/dead-migrant-boy-beach-photographer-nilufer-demir/index.html

 

Reflections on Informing Contexts (Week 7)

We have not had any coursework this week in terms of lectures but nonetheless I have been kept busy by reflecting on the feedback I received about my images for the Work in Progress Portfolio (WIPP), considering and drafting a Statement of Intent about my current work and thinking about anchoring quotations that form the basis for the contextualisation of my work in photographic practice.

This thinking will inform both my video presentation (due on 8 April) and thereafter my Critical Review of Practice (due on 29 April) which is intended to confirm and demonstrate that my practice is underpinned from “an informed and reflective position” and that I am able to position my work in historical, cultural and professional contexts.  I am also expected to reflect on my practice and develop a “critical self-awareness” within photography.

This is a daunting task in terms of its coverage and the need to confine my thinking and reflection to around five pages.  I am conscious I need to put pen to paper this week.  I have developed the storyline in my head and now need to commit my narrative to an outline and then start to draft the detail.

I have found in the past that committing my “To Do List” to these pages helps to focus my mind and improve my motivation to achieve them:

  • Produce storyboard for Critical Review of Practice
  • Pull together References for Critical Review of Practice
  • Review CRJ posts for first three weeks of Informing Contexts to remind myself of some of the theory and concepts we were introduced to
  • Read Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything (2018) by Graham Harman
  • Continue drafting slides for my Video Presentation

What is the Intent of my Photographic Practice? (Week 7)

This week we have been asked to produce a two-minute presentation on our intent in our current photographic practice and to use two images – one successful and one less so – to provide visual examples of our work.  After a very helpful tutorial I refined my words as follows:

This body of work uses metaphor through simplification, abstraction and reduction in nature to convey my feelings, emotions and experience of my subjects to others. My work is autobiographical and through spending time in the natural world I hope to lay the ghosts of my early photographic career, as a police photographer, to rest. I use photography as a window but also more predominantly as a mirror – reflecting the camera’s gaze back at me and my life experiences – I truly believe the camera looks both ways. Working primarily in black and white and focusing on shape, form and texture, avoiding the distraction of colour, I aim to be authentic in my work – this is my story and monochrome enables me to strip away the elements in order to reveal the real object or essence of my experience.

Successful image of the Lone Tree – Alison Price

This is one of my final images. By choosing to make this image at night I was able to hide the surrounding landscape and distracting elements of the scene to focus only on the tree. By painting the trunk and canopy of the tree with a torch I was able to reveal its shape, form and texture and give a sense of the essence of being a tree in this hostile environment – it is delicate and vulnerable, but also resilient and resistant – this is the essence of the tree that in turn represents my feelings of vulnerability and adversity in life.

Less successful image of the Lone Tree – Alison Price

This image, on the other hand, is less successful. I was trying to give the viewer a sense of the environment in which the tree is located and the sense of calm that can sometimes prevail, but rather than focus on the tree, the image gives a sense of the tourist postcard vernacular – a coloured and picturesque landscape of which the tree is only one element. This is an aesthetic I have been avoiding as both the colour and approach detracts from the key elements of my image making.

I also produced a panel of images as a slide that my tutor felt was a great way of presenting them:

Next week I shall continue to draft both my script for my Video Presentation and my Critical Review of Practice

Sumi-e Painting and Photography (Week 7)

Quite by chance I became aware of Sumi-e – the Japanese word for black ink painting. In China, using the same materials of brush and ink on paper the emphasis has been on the beauty of each individual stroke of the brush. The Chinese refer to “writing a painting” and “painting a poem.”

This struck a chord with me as I like the simplicity and stripping back of a subject to a few lines and leaving the viewers’ mind to fill in the gaps. This is interesting as I then found out that the earliest practitioners were highly disciplined monks trained in the art of concentration clarity and simplicity. These masters entered a deep contemplative state in order to practice their art and their respect for the Sumi-e demands shaped their aesthetic direction.   Their aim was to capture the subject’s spirit.  Arthur Wesley Dow, an American artist said of this technique:

“The painter . . . put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones, just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt.  Every brush-touch must be fully-charged with meaning and useless detail eliminated.” 

Here are a few Sumi-e paintings:

Example of Sumi-e painting
Example of Sumi-e painting

After conducting some more research I found a photographer who had attempted the technique with a camera – Sumi-e photography – Mikkel Aaland. These are some of his images:

Sumi-e Photography – Mikkel Aaland
Sumi-e Photography – Mikkel Aaland

I have been thinking about how I could experiment with my photographic practice to develop a similar aesthetic in my images, providing glimpses of  the essence and spirit of my subjects.

I like the simplicity of this art form and also the meditative process undertaken to produce the paintings.  I will spend some time thinking and experimenting with my camera and see what emerges. . .

In Search of Photographic Quotations (Week 7)

Our tutor advised that in considering the approach and story for our Critical Review of Practice coursework we find a quotation that encapsulates the essence and intent of our work. So I have been searching for the words . . .

I had a couple of ideas but neither really fulfilled the academic grounding for my work although they perfectly described two aspects of it – wishing to be authentic and to tell MY story and reflecting my belief that images tell as much or more about the person taking the photograph than the subject of the image itself:

“To thine own self be true” (William Shakespeare)

“The camera looks both ways” (Freeman Patterson)

I read The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski early in the module and found his modernist approach and practical assessment of the key elements of photography really helpful in anchoring my focus on composition and framing – largely drilled into me by my police work. I was also aware of his description of the image as not only a window (which, in my view he preferenced) but also a mirror held up to the person that pressed the shutter. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for as I researched the Mirrors and Windows Exhibition of 1978 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the catalogue for the Exhibition Szarkowsi wrote about Alfred Stieglitz and Eugene Atget as representing two creative motives:

My First Quotation:

 “The distance between them [ie Stieglitz and Atget] is to be measured not in terms of the relative force or originality of their work, but in terms of their conceptions of what a photograph is: is it a mirror, reflecting a portrait of the artist who made it, or a window, through which one might better know the world?” Szarkowski (1978)

Stieglitz in Part One of the Exhibition was an example of those devoted to the expressive potential of photographs – mirrors – “a romantic expression of the photographer’s sensibility as it projects itself on the things and sights of this world and Atget, “a window – through which the exterior world is explored in all its presence and reality.” Szarkowski (1978)

Whilst Andy Warhol was found alongside Stieglitz in Part 1, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand were in Part 2 of the Exhibition.

So, mirrors represent the subjective, reflections, expression and the personal, whereas windows were about the objective and were straight, real and public.

We weren’t asked to provide a second or follow up quotation but I think the personal journey of laying the ghosts to rest of my early police career must also be recognised and understood at the beginning of my Critical Review of Practice. For this I turn, without any hesitation to the words of Don McCullin:

My Second Quotation:

 “The reason I am doing these new landscapes . . . is because it is a form of healing. I’m kind of healing myself . . . but you can never run away from what you have seen.”

 At this point I feel I have my anchoring quotations to begin the story of my journey, intent and the contextualisation of my photographic practice. I am now in a position to start drafting the outline of my Critical Review of Practice.

References

 Szarkowski, J (1966) The Photographer’s Eye, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Szarkowski, J (1978) Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960, New York, The Museum of Modern Art

Szarkowski, J (1978) Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960 [Press Release] (accessed at MOMA 21.4.16) – http://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/press_archives/5624/releases/MOMA_1978_0060_56.pdf?2010

Reflections on Informing Contexts and the F2F Event – ‘The Living Image’ (Week 6)

I attended the Face-to-Face Event in Falmouth last week and the workshops, presentations and access to tutors allowed me to focus on my Work in Progress Portfolio (WIPP), start to bring my ideas together for the Critical Review of Practice (CRP) and consider how this will inform my Final Major Project (FMP).

As far as timings are concerned, I will not be returning to the Isle of Skye, where my work is based, until early April. So, after feedback, I now find myself in the situation where I can work on a few images already taken, but my practical work will largely be done after I have drafted my CRP. This is not ideal, as I had hoped to have a draft set of images for the WIPP before I did this. However, I will have some time to experiment with my practice and determine the final subject and image choices.

This week we have further tutorials to discuss these things. So, in order to give some structure to our discussions, I have produced a mind map of my thoughts to date, and how I might contextualise my practice in academic research and photographic practitioner influencers.

What Now? This is MY Story – Alison Price