‘If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing’.
– Marc Chagall
‘If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing’.
– Marc Chagall
Taryn Simon’s Contraband (2010) is a series of 1,075 photographs of items seized over the period of one week from passengers and express mail entering the United States via the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site and the U.S. Postal Service International Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York.
Anne Collier’s oeuvre incorporates appropriated images and found objects into still life compositions skilfully photographed against plain white (or black) backgrounds. Collier’s images raise questions concerning gender and power whilst demonstrating her interest in the mass media and popular culture of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
French photographer Sophie Calle employs a heavily investigative approach to produce images which provide a voyeuristic disclosure of the private lives of strangers. Again, the images are reliant upon found objects, The Hotel, is a body of work which Calle describes accordingly:
‘On Monday, February 16, 1981, I was hired as a temporary chambermaid for three weeks in a Venetian hotel. I was assigned twelve bedrooms on the fourth floor. In the course of my cleaning duties, I examined the personal belongings of the hotel guests and observed through details lives which remained unknown to me. On Friday, March 6, the job came to an end’ (Calle, 1999).
The premise for the FMP is a series of still life images based on pertinent diary entries of a former anorexic. The relevance of the aforementioned artists to my practice is, therefore, the approach taken by each in documenting artefacts.
Simon, 2010. Unidentified liquid, hidden in Thermos in satin bedding
Simon’s Unidentified Liquid (2010) is an outstanding image. Pink satin and golden liquid are depicted with a glorious richness, the textile’s fine texture is portrayed exquisitely by the beautiful lighting which also gives the shadows a depth which is almost tangible.
Collier, 2007. Double Marilyn
Double Marilyn (2007) is an antiseptically clean presentation: identical LP album covers are photographed side by side against a simple black and white background, the lighting is exceptionally well-balanced resulting in a subtlety of shadow which is almost total. Despite the no frills approach seemingly taken by Collier which shows the subjects as being what they are – artefacts with a history, it is an aesthetically pleasing image capable of holding the viewer’s gaze.
Calle, 2017. Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique
Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique is the story of Calle’s mother told through extracts from her mother’s diary and family photographs. Items are photographed in a very neutral way – against a crisp, clean background and with diffused lighting producing soft, graduated shadows – the intention being clear, to allow the artefacts to tell their own story devoid of any bias which might result from a more artistic presentation.
Calle, 1979. The Striptease
Many of Calle’s images are accompanied by text written by the photographer in order to expand the narrative. The Striptease (1979) demonstrates the matter of fact yet interesting manner in which Calle successfully combines the two elements of image and text. This is also highly relevant given the premise underpinning my FMP.
How, then, do I present my images? How do I effectively include the essential first-person account into a series of still life images?
There is a valid argument for photographing the actual diaries and the salient entries contained within its pages. As we have seen, this worked very successfully for Simon, Collier and Calle.
There is integrity through authenticity.
However, the participant in my research is reluctant to allow this because the pages of her diaries contain other entries which are not relevant to the project, many of which are sensitive and/or personal in nature. I am privileged to observe the diaries and the entries they contain – it is not a privilege which extends as far as the public domain.
Brady et al posit that ‘once a visual image is created it becomes very difficult to control its use or remove it from the public arena if the participants decide that they no longer want to be represented in a fixed visual trope for ‘time immemorial’’ (Brady and Brown, 2013 cited in Mannay 2016).
This may deal with a participants change of heart after the life of the study, but what of the situations where relevant material is contiguous with sensitive material which should not be shared.
Mannay informs us that ‘where topics are particularly sensitive and where visual images act to represent, and fix, participants for ‘time immemorial’ (Brady and Brown, 2013), researchers need to think carefully about whether this recognition is ethical, both in the moment and beyond the lifetime of the study (Mannay, 2016).
Negotiation is an essential aspect of participatory visual research but there has to be some compromise.
There are two positions, then, on the use of artefacts. It boils down to which ideal one is prepared to compromise. If the original artefact is not used, artistic integrity is compromised. If the original artefact is used, the wishes and trust of the participant are betrayed, compromising professional and personal integrity.
For me the choice is clear.
There is fundamental need to carry out impartial, objective research. As a visual researcher, I have an overriding duty to ensure that the needs of the participant are met: a right to have a voice which is heard whilst anonymity and confidentiality are maintained.
Calle. S. (1999). Double Game. London: Violette Editions
Mannay, Dawn (2016), Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge
Contemporaneous notes of a 1-2-1 tutorial: Dr Wendy McMurdo – Tuesday 24 April 2018, 1000 hrs
Progress to date:
Image making has been adversely affected by circumstances beyond my control (outlined in previous email).
Other activities, for example, obtaining a domain name, website hosting, and website development have progressed further than expected.
Time is built into the project plan for contingencies.
Work has continued on image development.
Work has started on the project descriptor.
As the intention is to tell a particular story through a series of still life images, it is necessary to source and obtain a number of props: with one exception, the necessary assets have now been acquired.
I am not familiar with Adobe Indesign and have, therefore, been taking steps to familiarise myself with the application.
The premise for the FMP is a series of still life images based on pertinent diary entries of a former anorexic. The use of text in images is new to me. It is something I have instinctively felt to be right for this project, but have, nevertheless, questioned it’s use, benefits and appropriateness.
Several artists have incorporated text into their work and research into their work has enabled me to reconcile the use of text within my own practice for the FMP.
A CRJ post will record this research (see ‘Text Messages’).
I have also struggled with a format which successfully showed a still life image with text. Through experimentation I have found a format with which I feel comfortable and which is repeatable and reproducible throughout a series of images.
Moving forward …
As a result of image making being delayed, the plan is to develop a notional timetable of activities for the next month – the intention being to bring the situation back in-line with the project timing plan.
The suggestion is to meet on a weekly basis.
Technical issues have previously been experienced with conferencing software. The proposal is to hold discussions via mobile telephone, having appropriately distributed applicable documentation/images in advance by email.
It was noted that the 1st person account provided by the text element of the FMP images was a vital component supporting the still life element of the images.
Researching the practice of the following photographers was advised:
Additionally, continued documentation of the project with particular reference to the research and image making processes in the CRJ was encouraged.
Dates and times were agreed for future meetings.
†2Anne Collier: http://www.nyphotoreview.com/NYPR_REVS/NYPR_REV2243.html
†3Sophie Calle: http://www.artbook.com/9782365111171.html
Sarah Pickering’s work had relevance for me as I continue to develop images for the FMP. It was interesting as well as informative to hear her speak about the process of image development that she employed during the development of her projects. Referring to Incident, she spoke about the definite vision that she had throughout the project for the finalised work and how she was not prepared to compromise on this vision.
Contemporary practitioners, Laia Abril and Mafalda Rakos, have both carried out photographic examinations of eating disorders. It was interesting to see, in both cases, how they have chosen to present accounts of multiple individuals who have suffered from eating disorders. This contrasts significantly with Jo-Ana which presents the account of one individual.
A further contrast is the way in which both Abril and Rakos have chosen to present the accounts of how eating disorders affect their subjects in a none time-based manner.
Each image represents a single moment in time from each individual’s life. Collectively, these images portray the characteristics of eating disorders which are common to most individuals – what Abril’s Thinspiration and Rakos’ I Want to Disappear present, then, are two generalised portrayals of eating disorders. Jo-Ana, on the other hand shows the effects of an eating disorder on the same individual over a period of time.
One thing that is becoming abundantly clear is that this is going to be a difficult subject to research emotionally. However, for me, that makes it more important that the story is told. These things are often difficult to witness, but those who only witness have the opportunity to walk away – something which is denied to those who suffer from, and have to live with, mental illness and its effects on a daily basis.
There are many possible public outcomes for the exhibition. Primarily Jo-Ana will be presented as an online gallery hosted on a purpose-built website. Beyond this, the project will be presented as a photobook in addition to be offered to schools and colleges where it could help raise awareness of the disease within a susceptible demographic. Additionally, the intention is to produce an audiovisual presentation which will feature on the exhibition website alongside the main gallery of images, giving viewing options to the audience. I am, however, a little concerned at the moment that producing the main images for the FMP has left no time for the audiovisual presentation. Fortunately, some time has been built into project timing plan to allow for delays, bottlenecks and slippages.
UK eating disorder charity Beat provides the following statistics.
People in the UK believed to have an eating disorder
Most common eating disorder
Anorexia – 10%
Bulimia – 40%
EDNOS †1 – 50%
Likelihood of recovery
Research suggests the following:
46% of anorexia patients fully recover
20% remain chronically ill
Similar research into bulimia suggests:
45% make a full recovery
27% improve considerably
23% suffer chronically
According to Australian research, the average duration for anorexia is 8 years, and 5 for bulimia
Both illnesses can become severe and enduring
Support in the early stages of the illness is key to a full recovery
Impact of disease
‘Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness. Bulimia is also associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and those that care for them.’
Note †1: EDNOS – Eating disorder not otherwise specified. This figure include BED – binge eating disorder
Beateatingdisorders.org.uk (2018). ‘Statistics for Journalists’. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorder-statistics (accessed: Friday 23 February 2018)
Continuing to examine alternative relationships with food, the premise for my final major project, Jo-Ana, is a series of still life images which visually describe life with anorexia.
Based on pertinent diary entries made by a female anorexia sufferer, the project presents an opportunity to incorporate text into my images. This is a significant departure from my practice to date. Instinctively feeling this to be right for the project I have, nevertheless, questioned its use, benefits and appropriateness.
Several artists have incorporated text into their practice and research into their work has enabled me to reconcile the use of text within my own practice for the project. It is worth noting that image and text have a considerable history, with mediaeval manuscripts, for example, bringing the two together to establish layered meaning and placing it within the reach of the illiterate. In this sense, images are a democratising phenomenon.
Kurt Schwitters produced work covering several genres including Dadaism and Surrealism.
Miss Blanche (1923) is an example of how, using segments of found text, a Dadaist trait, he allowed his audience to find their own meanings.
Kurt Schwitters, 1923. Miss Blanche
Lorna Simpson’s signature photo-text, which involved the inclusion of short passages of text, often superimposed on the photographs, to introduce new levels of meaning to images.
Lorna Simpson, 1991. Five Day Forecast
Jo Spence combined image and text to protest the illness she suffered and what she perceived as the interventionist way in which her treatment was carried out.
Jo Spence, 1984. How Do Begin to Take Responsibility?
Barbara Kruger’s work involves the addition of text to appropriated images in order to promote thought and discussion relating to contemporary issues.
Barbara Kruger, 1989. Battleground
Gillian Wearing’s I’m Desperate (1992-3) fundamentally depended upon the inclusion of text within the images. Without text, would the images have been anything other than a collection of snapshots of strangers?
Gillian Wearing, 1992-3. I’m Desperate
Relevance to my practice …
Clearly, there are cases where the images should speak for themselves. However, there are also some very good reasons for the use of text within or alongside images.
Text can help to steer the discussion in a particular direction. As photographers don’t we endeavour to do this anyway when we shape light, drawing attention to a specific part of an image and away from other areas through the careful placement of highlights and shadows respectively?
“A photograph, when it stands on its own, potentially has mutilayered meanings … Combined with text or text fragments, various possible meanings contained in a photograph can be orientated to divergent discursive directions.” (Van Gelder and Westgeest, 2011).
Additionally, text can enhance the impact of an image by providing information that, if absent, would fail to convey the intended narrative.
Furthermore, text can elicit discussions which otherwise might not be considered.
Words have agreed, coded meanings. The compositions created by artists are more open to interpretation. When the intention is the reinforcement of a visual narrative through the use of text, the image/text combination requires careful consideration to avoid diluting the message or creating dissonance.
Rosler describes images and text as two ‘descriptive systems’. There is a space between these two systems. Both are unique in terms of the message they can convey and how, and both are also unique in terms of what cannot be said. Together, though, the image/text combination can produce something greater than the sum of the parts. It is this synergy that allows us to fill the space, through interpretation, between the two systems – in effect bridging the gap. And the argument for the text? Well, that gives us a nudge in a certain direction.
Rosler, M. (1974-1975) The bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems [online]. Available at: http://collection.whitney.org/object/8304 (accessed: 18 April 2018)
Van Gelder, H. and Westgeest, H. (2011) Photography theory in historical perspective. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell
‘Photography is an imprint or transfer of the real; it is a photochemically processed trace casually connected to that thing in the world to which it refers in a way parallel to that of fingerprints or footprints or the rings of water that cold glasses leave on tables.’
– Rosalind Krauss (in Van Arsdall, 2015)
Van Arsdall, L. E. (2003). Between Erasure and Exposure: Intermedial Autobiography Since Roland Barthes (published). Los Angeles: The University of California. Available at: https://cloudfront.escholarship.org/dist/prd/content/qt0v69m960/qt0v69m960.pdf (accessed 17 April 2018)
Sara Davidmann (2013). Untitled
The work of artist and photographer Sara Davidmann is based around collaboration with individuals whose self-identity places them into categories other than the polarised female and male. By doing so it questions the relationship that exists between the individual and the state, and is, therefore, an important counter to mass media stereotypes which often misrepresent.
Since 1999 Davidmann has worked collaboratively with London’s queer and transgender communities, recording a time of sweeping social change in relation to gender identity, sexual identity and sexuality. Davidmann’s work continues to focus on the themes of self-representation, transgender relationships, and ‘the family’.
Ken. To be destroyed, tells the story of one individuals transgender identity in 1950’s Britain.
Arising from the discovery of photographs, letters and other miscellaneous papers amongst her mother’s possessions, the project explores the life of Davidmann’s uncle Ken after his wife, Hazel, discovered in 1958 that he was transgender.
The following is an extract from Davidmann’s lecture transcript:
‘In 2011, after our mother Audrey had moved into a nursing home, my brother, sister and I began to clear her house and then we found the archive. Finding this archive was amazing. I had no idea that it existed and I was particularly struck by the correspondence, the letters, between Hazel and Audrey. Hazel was Audrey’s younger sister. Hazel and Ken married in 1954 and then in 1958, Hazel discovered that Ken was transgender. She was shocked and she didn’t know what to think about it, or what she should do. She turned to my mother, Audrey and wrote to her asking for advice. Hazel and Audrey then wrote to each other about this, many times, over the next five years.
Hazel’s letters are really vivid and powerful and Audrey’s responses are supportive and nonjudgemental. I found the letters really moving. I felt as if I got to know my aunt and also my uncle much better than I’d actually known them in life, through these letters. They also brought to life how little was known about transgender people in the 1950s and 1960s. The difficulties that Hazel and Ken faced trying to reconcile the fact that Ken was transgender, with their marriage and with society. There was almost no support available at the time.
By the end of this correspondence in 1963, Hazel seemed to have become reconciled to the fact that Ken was transgender. Just to give you an idea of the amount of letters that went between Audrey and Hazel, the archive contains 93 letters. The letters and papers were found in a brown paper bag and two large brown envelopes. On one of the envelopes Audrey had written ‘Ken, to be destroyed’. On the other envelope she wrote ‘Ken’s letters to Hazel, to be destroyed’, and on the bag, ‘letters from Hazel re Ken’.’
Davidmann used a variety of techniques to produce the work, ranging from analogue to digital photography, from digital image manipulation to alternative imaging methods. For example, one image is of Ken’s head transposed onto Hazel’s body wearing the dress she wore on the day she married Ken. Davidmann suggests that such fictional photographs allow Ken to be seen as a woman in public, something that was not possible during his lifetime.
It should be remembered that in 1950’s Britain, homosexuality was illegal, chemical castration was seen not only as an effective but also civilised method of treating what was regarded as an illness, and societies treatment of homosexuals led to the death by suicide of mathematician Alan Turing.
This, then, is an extremely good point to introduce the relevance of Ken to my work.
A key point of Davidmann’s Ken, and her work in general, is about giving a voice to those groups who are often hidden from, or marginalised by, society.
‘From Hazel’s letters, I learned that Ken had felt very uncomfortable having to present himself as a man. The word that was used was that he felt that he was masquerading as a man, and this led to Ken avoiding being in public places and avoiding social interactions as much as was possible.’
I think the social injustice that arose from ignorance in Ken’s situation is clear.
What is equally clear, based upon my research for Jo-Ana so far, is that anorexia (and other eating disorders) are widely regarded as being a lifestyle choice. One area in which anorexia is not discriminated against, however, is in the way it is regarded, alongside other mental illnesses, as being somehow less ‘real’ because it cannot be seen, because it is intangible, or being a sign of weakness, or as being something of which to be ashamed.
Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, nor something to be ashamed of. Mental illness is no less real because it cannot be seen or touched. And this is just as true for anorexia and all other eating disorders.
Attitudes need to change. The media, which has done so much to promote the cult of being thin whilst stigmatising those who succumb to an eating disorder, many for whom the medias glorification of thinness has been a trigger, needs to be both more accountable and responsible. An industry which exists to inform us, needs itself to become much more informed, certainly where eating disorders and body perception is concerned.
In summary, then, Jo-Ana is about helping to raise public awareness of a life-threatening disease. It is also, however, about challenging public perceptions of an illness that can crush completely those that suffer from it, perceptions which are formed not only by the media, but also social media – stereotypes which are misguided and misrepresentational. Davidmann’s work has been highly influential in the development of Jo-Ana, demonstrating clearly that beautiful imagery can also be deeply thought-provoking.
Davidmann, Sara (2018). ‘Guest Lecture (Publication) – Sara Davidmann’. Lecture to PHO705 17/18 [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/86/pages/guest-lecture-publication-sarah-davidmann?module_item_id=8348 (accessed: Wednesday 14 February 2018)
‘What we think we know is quite often not correct’ (Molloy, 2018)
Guest lecturer Caroline Molloy, photographer and anthropologist, discussed in considerable depth the research methods she employs in her photographic practice.
In terms of data, she indicates the use of photographs, interviews, and filming in addition to ‘going back’ or retracing her steps and asking new questions.
It was fascinating to view still images of her research notebooks, rich with illustrations, sketches and annotations.
Molloy was clear from the outset that the purpose of her work is to challenge assumptions.
Producing participatory works, a key question for Molloy is ‘what difference does it make having me being part of the story?’
This is highly relevant to my final major project as I attempt to carry out objective research.
Mannay (2016) posits that ‘consideration is given to the relationships between participants and researchers, and acknowledge that even when the ‘intrusive presence’ of the researcher steps out of the site of visual data production this leaves a space that is often filled by the ‘intrusive presence’ of others’.
Luttrell and Chalfen suggest that, despite an explosion of participatory media projects, the objective of giving voice has not been achieved, moreover the simultaneous questions of whose voice is being spoken and whose voice is being heard remain unresolved (Luttrell and Chalfen, 2010 cited in Mannay 2016).
Pauwels (2011) suggests that participatory productions place the social scientist in the position of participatory facilitator, and that research is conducted ‘with’ and not ‘on’ participants. I think that, for me, this is the point to take away from Molloy’s presentation – to engage without influencing, to present a true and fair view. In essence, ensuring that conceptual and practical filters which can be applied as a result of pre-knowledge and associated underlying assumptions (Walmsley and Johnson, 2003) are eliminated.
Mannay, Dawn (2016), Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge
Molloy, Caroline (2018). ‘Guest Lecture (Research) – Caroline Molloy’. Lecture to PHO705 17/18 [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/86/pages/guest-lecture-research-caroline-molloy?module_item_id=8346 (accessed: Friday 23 March 2018)
Pauwels, L. (2011), ‘An Integrated Conceptual Framework for Visual Social Research’, in E. Margolis and L. Pauwels (eds) The Sage Handbook of Visual Research methods. London: Sage
Walmsley, J. and Johnson, K. (2003), Inclusive Research with People with Learning Disabilities: Past, Present and Futures. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers