Reflecting on Weeks 11 to 15, FMP

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 …’

Preferred Interpretations, Vagueness and Ambiguity

‘One way to envisage the difference between ‘art’ and ‘documentary’ in photography turns on this relation to language and narrative. In the main, documentary is a closed form, designed to produce preferred interpretations. As such, images are usually combined with some form of anchoring text that steers the viewer/reader in a particular direction. Photographic art, in contrast, typically abjures words, or employs elliptical text, in order to leave the image open to associations and interpretations. For art, vagueness or ambiguity are often the preferred modes.’

Steve Edwards (in Read, 2014)

Reference

Read, Shirley (2014). Exhibiting Photography: A Practical Guide to Displaying Your Work. Oxon: Focal Press

Artistic Ambiguity

‘For the arts generally, critical interpretation is considered an important element of a picture’s validity. Interpretation is harder to pull off than criticism. It is easier to explain what you consider the merits or demerits of a picture than it is to say what you understand about it. The latter involves risk, the risk of being ‘wrong’; yet if you feel something about an image which no one else experiences, this does not make your view foolish. It simply means that your context, your life experiences or your training may have prepared you in a different way than others. Artistic ambiguity is good, leaving room for diversity of viewpoint and creating space for critical appreciation.’

Robert Albright HonFRPS

 

Reference

Albright, Robert (2018). ‘The Logical Next Step’. Journal, May 2018, Volume 158, Number 8, p. 323

Artefacts and Ethics

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.

Contraband_3_Simon

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.

Double Marilyn_Collier

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.

sophie-calle-rachel-monique-56

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.

sophie-calle_english-grey-final2Calle, 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.

 

References

Calle. S. (1999). Double Game. London: Violette Editions

Mannay, Dawn (2016), Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge

Reflecting on Weeks 6 to 10, FMP

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.