Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 1, 27th January – 2nd February, 2018

We began the first week with a forum discussing out current practice. I described mine as having two arms:

he first, fed by my interest in portraiture, is in transit, expanding from taking primarily single portrait imagery to creating more environmental or story-telling imagery. This has been largely stimulated by the recent change in my project goal to capturing images exemplifying those involved in scientific research and encouraging the technical innovation. Examples of recent images can be seen in my portfolio http://graham-land.format.com/maportfolio-pri-dec2017, more recent and allied images in my instagram site #graham_photoprojectprojects <replaces previous graham_sight label>. I feel I’ve only just began to understand the human-side of the project and how best to capture and portray the individual and their role in my narrative.

The strength in this new approach is the ability to build on my years of experience at working with, and organising meetings for, this type of individual. Utilising knowledge and contacts from my previous career(s). Until beginning the project in November I had zero experience of walking into a working environment totally unknown to me and then shooting with an individual that I’m generally unfamiliar with. Having to quickly work out the optimum approach to capturing a suitable set of imagery. I also need to be better versed in how to decide the storyline, as well as presenting it as a collection with coherent imagery and narrative.

The second part of my current is much more general and less focussed. My intention is to build on the much closer exposure to other forms of photography that the MA course is giving me. Stimulated only partly by study, the major influenced is probably exposure to others with very different interests and practice. At present I’m generally unhappy with the results from such experimentation, though the odd image can be pleasing.

The other activity in this first week was to provide for discussion a commentary on the inherent characteristics and nature of our individual practice.

Like a number of others I feel my own practice is linked to the views of Szarkowski, who stated that “our faith in the truth of a photograph rests on our belief that the lens is impartial, and will draw the subject as it is”, that a photograph conveying a ‘tangible presence of reality’. In providing a commentary on a particular photographic representation of a room he quotes George Bernard Shaw’s statement (in an article for a photographic magazine); “There is a terrible truthfulness about photography”. My project relies on this belief, using the photograph to portray the reality of my subject’s working environment, as well as something of their own personality.

A key aim of my project is to capture images of a number of different collaborators in different roles, integrating the future usefulness of their purpose into my narrative. Barthes uses the term ”isotopy” to describe the integration of discontinuous elements into a heterogenous, contiguous narrative theme, a very relevant analogy. Going back to Szarkowski, in a book accompanying a later exhibition, he singled out August Sander’s published imagery for it’s effectiveness in portraying a wide swathe of German society. Communicating both the social abstraction of their occupation with the individual soul who was serving it. “His pictures show us two truths simultaneously, and in delicate tension”…

On a more direct plane, Shore, in his chapter on the Depictive Level, talks about the frame defining the photograph for those images where the frame is active. While most of the examples he shows  are not directly relevant to my own project or work I do feel his statement is. The frame is very important, defining the immediate environmental context of the collaborator who’s working life I’m attempting to portray. Similarly Szarkowski talks about the importance of the vantage point in giving the sense of the scene. My recent move to use a wider lens than I’ve used in the past for my environmental portraits is very influenced by the impact that this more unusual perspective can give.

Martin Hand, and those investigators that he quotes, question whether the ubiquitous nature of imagery in our internet enabled age undermines image authenticity, particularly that seen through digital media.  While his slightly long-winded book is primarily focussed on ‘personal’ photography, his comments do have some relevance to my own project; the constant exposure to corporate advertising and other messaging may promote my own audience to question my image’s apparent meaning. Therefore care has to be taken to ensure that the truthfulness, as well as the meaning, of the message that my project is trying to convey is unquestionable. Whether this is best done through accompanying text, or avoiding a corporate/organisational PR look, is something that will need to be assessed.

Szarkowski, in the introduction to his chapter on Detail, talks about the use of detail to provide a narrative. Exemplifying his comments with the use of the photograph of littered, numerous cannon balls portrayed by Roger Fenton in his 23rd April 1855 image of the empty Crimean road named by British Soldiers as ‘The Valley of Death’. However, even with this very famous image there has been some question as to the exact authenticity of the message the detail conveys. There is a second image taken around the same time that shows an empty road and it has been hypothesized that many of the cannon balls in Fenton’s image had actually been moved there prior to collection for artillery re-use. Therefore while the image gives the viewer a good representation of the type and quantity of munition that the Light Brigade faced, it is not an accurate depiction of the battlefield immediately after their charge.

 

REFERENCES

Szarkowski, J (1966) “The Photographer’s Eye”: New York, The Museum of Modern Art (Exhibition catalogue)

Shaw, GB (1909) Article by George Bernard Shaw Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, LVI,

Barthes, R (1977) “Image, Music, Text”, translated by Stephen Heath: London, Fontana Press p.122

Szarkowski, J (1973) “Looking at Photographs – 100 pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art”: New York, Museum of Modern Art (Exhibition Catalogue)

Shore, S (2007) “The Nature of Photographs – A Primer”: New York, Phaidon Press 2nd Edition.

Hand, M (2012) “Ubiquitous Photography”: Cambridge (UK), Polity

Valley of the Shadow of Death (Roger Fenton)’ Wikipeadia, accessed 05-02-18. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_of_the_Shadow_of_Death_(Roger_Fenton)