… 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.