‘All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.’
– Susan Sontag
‘All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.’
– Susan Sontag
Several artists have incorporated text into their images, either directly as part of the artwork itself, or as something supplemental. I found Kurt Schwitters Dadaist work appealing. Miss Blanche, I feel, is particularly aesthetically pleasing. (See ‘Text messages’).
Work on the images for Jo-Ana has continued, mainly focusing on how to present the diary extracts upon which the project is based. This aspect of the project’s development has become all consuming.
How do we present text in an image? How do we present text when the text itself is the subject of the image?
Several alternatives have been tried (see ‘Evolution’). In short, though, all these options can be ruled out for very valid reasons, leaving just two possible options for presentation.
First, a square on, evenly lit photograph of the diary page alone.
Second, a still life image composition containing the appropriate diary extract together with various personal effects of the diarist.
The former, I believe, is an overly formal type of presentation most suited to an academic study. It is, I feel, boring and staid. More importantly, though, Jo-Ana is not a series of images about an illness called anorexia. It is, however, a series of images about a girl called Jo who happens to suffer from anorexia before going on to recover.
It is absolutely essential that Jo’s personality is represented in the images. This is Jo’s project as much as it is mine, if not more so. Without Jo’s story, and her willingness to share it, there would be no project.
Strip away the context, strip away the personal effects and the images become devoid of the person, rendering it anonymous. Jo-Ana without the Jo becomes Ana, and we have made one person’s account say nothing about that person, excluding them to focus solely on an illness which has already taken so much.
Including everyday objects is to include the person and the personality. It also gives the viewing audience images which are not only easier to read, but which brings them into Jo’s world. Images which break down the fourth wall. Images which are real because they contain objects which are used by Jo, objects which they probably use or see being used every day. To the viewer, these items bring additional interest. For those with less visual literacy, these everyday objects provide a connection between the artist and the audience via the artwork.
See also: ‘One Man’s Meat …’
‘Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask “how,” while others of a more curious nature will ask “why.” Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.’
– Man Ray
‘A camera alone does not make a picture. To make a picture you need a camera, a photographer and above all a subject. It is the subject that determines the interest of the photograph.’
– Man Ray
… Is Another Man’s Poison.
The premise for my Final Major Project (FMP) is a photographic description of the diary entries made by a female suffering from anorexia.
Jo-Ana visually describes the dissonance recorded as being felt by Joanne as she struggled with the distorted reality and conflicting emotions which arose from her illness.
Images describe key points in Joanne’s life immediately before and during her illness, and into recovery.
Items of food consumed by Joanne are portrayed: from the standard-sized, nutrient rich portions pre-illness, to the sparse, nutrient poor items consumed during the days of her illness and on to the calorie-dense meals of recovery.
Personal possessions depict her interests and suggest the events that happen in her life.
Notes that she writes for herself, together with quotes and images that she finds inspirational show the transition from good health to illness, and back to recovery.
Played out on very small stage, it is the story of what happens when food stops being a friend.
The body of work, then, consists of images which fall into two categories: still life images of the food consumed by Joanne, and images of text extracted from the diaries.
Co-joining the two elements has not been an easy task. Many different methods of presenting the images and the text, either individually or in combination have been tried.
What has become apparent, is the divide in opinion as to how this should be best achieved.
Opinion is dichotomous.
One view is that the diary extracts should be photographed in a formal manner (figure 1).
The alternative view is that the diary extracts should be introduced into the body of work in an informal manner which is in keeping with the still life images of food (figure 2).
The debate surrounding these two alternatives raises an extremely important question.
Whose voice do we wish to hear?
A primary aim of the project is to allow the quiet voice of a former anorexic to be heard.
Consequently, I don’t see the project as a lone venture. Instead I see it as a collaboration. In my view this takes the output of the project away from being a set of thoughts recorded in journals which I describe visually on my own artistic terms, instead transforming it into a body of work in which the participant has some say in how the final images look and are presented.
Discussions between the participant and I have been held regularly throughout the project. As the deadline for the final submission approaches, and images become more refined, these discussions can centre around something more ‘tangible’ than an idea, a concept.
The participant has two issues with regard to the formal presentation of the diary extracts.
Firstly, because she has some visual issues, she finds that light paper on a white background is too harsh and offers little contrast in order for the text to be discerned.
This is a technical issue and could be overcome.
Secondly, the subject does not like the formal presentation. Stating that instead she feels the method, like so much of mental health care in general, removes the person and therefore the personality, reducing everything down to the illness.
She continues by expressing her like for the second, less formal presentation, stating that she feels this adds context to the diary extract in addition to bringing a sense of realism and authenticity.
The more formal method of presentation has been suggested to be best practice and indeed it is the kind of presentation offered by Calle (Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique, 2017) and Collier (Double Marilyn, 2007) (both discussed in ‘Artefacts and Ethics’).
But by who’s authority is this best practice? To me it is one way to photograph text … it doesn’t preclude all other ways as being incorrect.
And this brings us directly to artistic vision or, phrased another way, the vision I hold for the finished work as the photographer. I think it is fundamentally important to produce work you are happy with. The day I have to completely surrender my artistic vision is the day I stop being a photographer. Furthermore, I continue to stand by my earlier comment that the project is a collaboration and as a result all participants have some say over the outcome. That said, something of my unique photographic style should be visible in the final images.
The important point being that I share the subject’s view regarding the two alternative forms of presentation.
The first, more formal presentation I feel is devoid of soul, whilst the second, less formal presentation reveals some of the subject’s personality – it brings a sense of intimacy. It also allows me to produce the images in a creative way. I think the more formal presentation may be suited to a purely academic study. Jo-Ana, however, is not such a study, instead it is a story of a young woman who became ill. It is a story which we wish to make accessible to a non-academic audience. With creativity comes interest, and with interest comes accessibility. Less is often quoted as being more, but then it is the exception which is often quoted as proving the rule. And this is one case where I feel that less isn’t more.
In fact, quite the opposite: a series of images, each featuring a single page of text, each photographed in a very regimented way, I believe is dry and uninviting and therefore less accessible.
Conversely, the additional elements of the less formal presentation add interest and invite viewers. They make the story personal – which is another primary objective for the project.
I think it is important to take a broad view, to keep an open mind. By doing so we are open to experimentation which yields new techniques and allows us to develop as artists both individually and collectively.
Adopting a rigid and inflexible attitude would lead us to lose sight of a primary objective of the project, that of giving voice to the subject.
The arts are by nature very subjective and no work of art has universal appeal. There will always be those who do not connect with my work and this is true for any artist – ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’.
I need, therefore, to concentrate on making my work as appealing, accessible and available as possible to my target audience, rather than worrying about those individuals or groups with whom my work will never connect.
Implementing the less formal presentation for the text images in the body of work may, then, be a risk, but it is one which has been duly considered.
Advisory note – Jo-Ana website, June 2018
The premise for my Final Major Project is the diary entries of a recovered anorexic made before, during and after her battle with the illness.
No single cause for anorexia nervosa has been identified, instead it can usually be attributed to a number of causative factors including genetics, family and societal issues.
Some individuals are more susceptible to visual stimuli than others, for these individuals, images of food or super thin models can trigger an episode of anorexia. For others, discussions which specify a particular weight can be a trigger.
Jo-Ana aims to help raise awareness of this life-threatening disease. It is also one girl’s story of recovery and, for those struggling with anorexia, it is also a message of hope and a clear indication that recovery is possible.
To avoid triggering anorexia in those image sensitive individuals, Jo-Ana will feature an advisory note, indicating that the gallery contains images to which some individuals may be susceptible.
This measure was undertaken on the advice of a nutritional therapist.
Initial evaluation of social media hashtags – effective 04 May 2018.
Subject to ongoing evaluation
Jo-Ana: the diaries of an anorexic visually described in photographs.
This is the premise for my Final Major Project (FMP).
A series of 20 images, each one consisting of a still life of the food consumed by the participant at various stages of the illness, together with a corresponding piece of text extracted from the participant’s diary. Together the 20 images provide a complete narrative of the participant’s illness.
The project builds on previous work by examining an alternative relationship with food.
As a food photographer, my images are not ‘found’. Instead they are contrived. Subjects are photographed with a supporting cast of appropriate props.
Each image contains a story – but this is only one moment in time extracted from a much larger story, a story told by the body of work as a whole.
In order to tell this story, several elements have to be brought together successfully.
In previous projects (Cravings and Carousel) I have used an Excel spreadsheet as a shot list to aid with the development of images (in a similar way to a storyboard). It is a technique I am continuing to employ in the development of images for Jo-Ana.
Fig. 1: Screenshot of Shot List – Sustainable Prospects (December 2017)
Figure 1. shows the finalised shot list for the Carousel project. At this stage of the project, I am not prepared to release the shot list for Jo-Ana and this is for two reasons. Firstly, it is still a work in progress being researched, and secondly, I want to avoid diluting the impact of the final body of work as a result of advance releases.
Highly adaptable, the Excel shot list is an effective way of keeping track of both subjects and props during the asset acquisition phase of a project – especially when dealing with a number of suppliers. It is also an extremely practical way of assigning combinations of resources to an image. I find it helps the flow of photoshoots enormously.
In terms of visual storytelling, two books, Freeman’s The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative, and Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, have been extremely insightful, helping to take storytelling apart in order to identify and examine the constituent parts.
In summary, I think the combination of increasing my knowledge of the visual narrative through the use of appropriate texts, together with the structured yet adaptable means of developing a set of images provided by the shot list proved a seminal point in my photographic career which is observable if one compares the quality of images up to and including module two (pre-use) with the images of subsequent modules (current use).
Time series of test shots for Jo-Ana project covering period 01 February to 08 May 2018.
The series illustrates the development of images in response to ongoing contextual research and tutor/peer review.
Contemporaneous notes of a 1-2-1 tutorial: Dr Wendy McMurdo – Tuesday 08 May 2018, 1000 hrs
Researching and comprehensively documenting Sophie Calle’s Chromatic Diet†1 was recommended. The aim of this research is to further evaluate ways of making the final images for the project.
Laia Abril’s Thinspiration was also discussed as a research point to be evidenced in my CRJ (completed). The aim being to evidence research into the work of other contemporary practitioners – evaluating the methods used to photograph food or perceptions of food.
It was agreed that there are two elements to Jo-Ana as a project: images and text.
With regard to the textual element, it was felt that some extracts worked better than others.
Experimenting with text written on a full page taken from, for example, a reporter’s notebook was suggested. It is believed this will make the text extracts appear more diminutive. Additionally, the text extracts, as they currently stand, appear somewhat contrived.
With regard to TI/040518/11a and 11b, it was felt that the reference to the number of calories consumed helped describe the passage of time (i.e. helped introduce the element of time).
How the arc of time would be described was questioned: where would the series begin, and where would it end?
An Excel spreadsheet is used for the development of images (in a similar way to a storyboard). It was explained that there will be 20 images in the series. Each image will consist of a still life of the food consumed by the participant at various stages of the illness, together with a corresponding piece of text extracted from the participant’s diary. Together the 20 images provide a complete narrative of the participant’s illness.
WM requested an A4 page write up of the image development process to be made available by the next tutorial (15 May) and subsequently included in the CRJ. The aim being to document the process of crafting the narrative and the considerations relating to bringing the elements of image and text together successfully.
Referring back to Sophie Calle’s Chromatic Diet, the use of a tight typology was identified. WM pointed out the value in limiting images (in a series) stylistically, with each image being shot in exactly the same way.
Experimenting with various camera angles was suggested, particular reference was made to taking shots from an overhead point of view.
The most recent test shots show subjects against a white background. WM indicated that this has qualities of ‘almost disappearing’ and ‘being clinical’ which suit the concept well.
The mode of public outcome was discussed as being an online gallery via a dedicated website. Social media (Instagram and Facebook) would be used to drive traffic towards the project website. WM suggested approaching Anna-Maria Pfab with regard to taking over the Flexible Falmouth Instagram account.
The use of hashtags was discussed and it was confirmed that research into appropriate hashtags had been carried out on 04 and 05 May.
Investigating any methods used by Laia Abril to raise awareness of projects via social media channels was encouraged.
WM’s thoughts on test images TI/040518/11a and 11b were requested. It was consequently suggested that the concept is acceptable but ultimately any layout is dependent on how images will be used. It was noted that the format used to integrate image and text in 11a and 11b was the most popular in cohort peer reviews.
With regard to the CRJ, appropriate menu titles for the FMP was discussed. More specifically, the validity of a ‘Coursework’ menu title was questioned. WM agreed that this option was very appropriate for earlier modules where weekly tasks and activities were being journaled. The removal of a specific ‘Coursework’ menu title was suggested, with the ‘Project Development’ menu option being retitled as ‘Project Development (Coursework)’.
Moving forward …
It was agreed that a final decision on how to integrate images and text would be taken at a later date after further experiments (discussed earlier) have been completed.