On Reflection: Week 5, FMP

Five weeks down, 25 to go …

5/30 ths

16%

Not so scary.

What makes it intimidating is the speed at which the first five weeks of the 30 allotted for the Final Major Project (FMP) have passed.

Fortunately, progress in that time has been significant.

One aspect of my FMP which has required some lengthy is the style of shot.

It has been suggested that some repetition is creeping into my work. On the basis of this, it was recommended that I study the early still life images of Irving Penn.

I am very open to both of these suggestions.

In the beginning, there was a set of objectives …

One of those objectives was to undertake a photographic exploration of the still life paintings of the old Dutch masters.

With few exceptions, the pronkstilleven†1 of the Dutch golden era are presented in tabletop still life form.

I do have a problem with having come so far only to change direction, I want to stay true to original objectives. Research is vital, being informed is important. But for me, every part of the MA leads to the FMP: all the research, all the images – each phase using the output of the previous phase as a foundation upon which to build. It’s progressive and, whilst there needs to be a discernible improvement throughout the MA, I think it is important to maintain some point of contact with the original intent, some trace to demonstrate the evolution.

‘Of course, you should also have a table upon which to set up your still life. The table may appear time and time again in your paintings, becoming a familiar subject in your art, so choose a table that is aesthetically interesting to you’ (Friel, 2010).

Ultimately, I have to be happy with the work I produce or be happy with the way in which I produce my work.

‘Don’t be afraid of producing work you like, instead of what you think other people will like’ (Simmans, 2018).

So many aspects of my work required development at the start of the MA: technical ability, creativity, visual narrative skills, research skills, critical analysis …

These points alone are, I believe, adequate justification for resolving my FMP and, therefore, my MA by continuing to produce work in a traditional still life style.

I was introduced to visual anthropology in module two of the MA, and to repeat photography in module four – subsequently both have become important to me in terms of photographic practice.

Expanding on this, I think documenting the way we live our lives, producing a record for future generations is important, and I believe repeat photography is an invaluable way of documenting situations which develop over a period of time.

As mentioned above, my visual narrative skills needed considerable work and I have worked hard to improve this aspect of my craft.

I think that resolving my FMP by producing still life images in a traditional style places a greater emphasis on the story itself: the subjects, their composition and the message they carry has to create engagement with the audience.

The visual narrative has to shoulder a greater portion of the weight … no bad thing!

 

Note †1: pronkstilleven – still life

 

Reference:

Friel, Michael (2010). Still Life Painting Atelier: An Introduction to Oil Painting. New York: Watson-Guptil Publications

SIMMANS, XANTHE (2018). ‘Advice on Studying’. Lecture in progress.com [online]. Available at: https://lectureinprogress.com/advice/xanthe-simmans (accessed: 05 March 2018)

They Bloom, They Die

‘Works of art often last forever, or nearly so. But exhibitions themselves, especially gallery exhibitions, are like flowers; they bloom and then they die, then exist only as memories, or pressed in magazines and books.’

– Jerry Saltz (2008)

 

Reference

Saltz, Jerry (2008). ‘The Day the Lights Went On: Dan Flavin’s 1964 breakout show, in meticulous reproduction’. New York Magazine [online]. Available at: http://nymag.com/arts/art/reviews/46424/ (accessed 25 February 2018)

Participation and Alienation

‘Photography, which has so many narcissistic uses, is also a powerful instrument for depersonalizing our relation to the world; and the two uses are complementary. Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate, and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much further away. It offers, in one easy, habit-forming activity, both participation and alienation in our own lives and those of others – allowing us to participate, while confirming alienation’.

– Susan Sontag

Reference

Sontag, Susan (1977). On Photography. London: Penguin Books Limited

Intuition

‘With my photography work I don’t make too many plans, I just have a framework; and then I want my intuition to inspire the work. If you take an overly intellectual approach I feel the work becomes too illustrative and didactic’.

– Ori Gersht (in Read, 2014, p. 53)

Reference

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

FMP Research Strategy

Rose (2010, cited in Mannay 2016) informs us that ‘visual imagery is never innocent; it is always constructed through various practices, technologies and knowledges’.

Mannay (2016) advises:

‘There is a need to adopt a critical approach to reading visual images, one that thinks about the agency of the image, considers the social practices and effects of its viewing, and reflects on the specificity of that viewing by different audiences. As academics we need to question our own readings of images and narratives and in doing so recognise our own ideological commitments and specific ways of knowing.’

Caution, then, is needed in the selection and interpretation of any images used as research data, and in the production of any images resulting from that research, ensuring a true and fair representation of how the groups or individuals being studied perceive their environment – the aim being to evoke an empathic understanding for the alternative ways in which subjects view their world.

Two earlier projects, Cravings and Carousel, have examined alternative relationships with food.

‘Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by restrictive eating and an intense fear of gaining weight. While anorexia is often recognised physically through excessive weight loss, it is a serious mental health problem’ (Mentalhealth.org.uk, 2018).

I want to visually describe the innermost thoughts which characterise this disease and by doing so help raise awareness – informing family and friends of the signs and symptoms which the addictive element of the illness compels anorexics to hide.

In essence, Ana as a Final Major Project will be a way for me to extend my knowledge and understanding, and that of others, through photography.

It is, therefore, my intention to produce a series of images illustrating the world is inhabited by those who suffer from anorexia. What are the factors which trigger anorexia, what factors operate to keep them in their world, and what factors operate to free them?

Importantly, how representative are the images which anorexics consume, seemingly with more enthusiasm than they consume food?

How strongly does the pro-Ana culture feature in the reinforcement of the eating disorder?

Items of food consumed by Marie are portrayed: from the standard-sized nutrient rich portions pre-illness to the sparse, nutrient poor items consumed during the days of her illness before 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 images she finds inspirational show the transition from good health to illness, and to recovery.

Research will draw upon the following sources:

Diaries written by recovered anorexics

The strong subculture is associated with anorexia and eating disorders in general

Laia Abril’s Thinspiration

Images of superthin models, images of anonymous anorexics, images taken of themselves by anorexics – the ubiquitous ‘selfie’

Online blogs and pro-Ana websites.

These can be identified as ‘found materials’.

‘In considering what can be found, and made the subject of social science inquiry, there are a plethora of existing visual and textual sources including print media, film, everyday cultural artefacts, personal communications, advertisements, internet, heritage sites and art works. Found materials position social scientists as image and narrative collectors, who then apply theoretical lenses to interrogate, examine and understand these objects of inquiry’ (Mannay, 2016).

What is the justification for my use of such sources?

Woolf (2015) informs us that western society has a problem – the glorification of eating disorders.

‘Even if you’re not actively looking for encouragement with an eating disorder, even if you avoid the internet altogether, you can’t avoid the overwhelming message of our age, that weight loss is good, weight gain is bad, that thinner (harder, leaner, greener) is better. We live in a hypervisual age, with most of us – especially the young – confronting thousands of images every day. The focus on women’s bodies is intense, in every magazine, website or TV advert, on every billboard and celebrity shot, and in the conversations of friends, mothers and sisters around us.

The effect can be profound, and yet still eating disorders are misunderstood. They are dismissed as a teenage, female condition (although male eating disorders are on the increase) or misrepresented as faddy dieting, body hang-ups, a phase they’ll “grow out of”. In fact, the opposite is true: eating disorders are highly addictive, and self-starvation becomes involuntary.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, more deadly than schizophrenia. One in five anorexics will die, either from physical complications or suicide’.

Wilson et al. (2006, cited in Johnson, 2015) inform us that ‘Pro-eating disorder websites host communities of individuals who engage in disordered eating and use the internet to discuss their activities’.

How prevalent is the use of such websites?

Custers et al (2009, ibid.) found that 12.6% (n = 90) of the girls and 5.9% (n = 42) of the boys from a sample group of 711 children and adolescents (7th, 9th, and 11th) grade had visited pro-anorexia websites.

Furthermore, a separate survey showed that 35.5% of 76 patients who had been treated for eating disorders in an outpatient clinic had visited pro-eating disorder sites (Wilson et al., 2006, cited Johnson, 2015).

There is further justification for using found materials as a data source, rather than generating data through subject participation. Anorexia is an addictive mental illness, and many factors act as triggers, perpetuating the illness: an inadvertent question, or a pertinent question asked inappropriately could trigger.

Furthermore, many anorexics hide their illness – compelled to do so by its addictive element, in some cases the illness is hidden from family and friends for years.

Those that do reach out for help become protected by the rules of patient confidentiality. An established track record of handling research with sensitivity, reverence and discretion is needed before clinicians will even consider approaching patients to volunteer for a research programme.

 

References

Johnson, Hadley A. (2015) I Will Not Eat – A review of the Online Pro-Ana Movement [Online]. New York: Adelphi University. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/I-Will-Not-Eat-A-Review-of-the-Online-Pro-Ana-Move-Johnson/b7a8b83bec0e6df021b83d4696ff8ac49c6819c8 (accessed: 09 February 2018)

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

Mentalhealth.org.uk (2018). ‘Anorexia nervosa’. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/a/anorexia-nervosa (accessed: 30 January 2018)

WOOLF, Emma (2015). ‘How social media is fuelling the worrying rise in eating disorders’. The Telegraph, 04 June 2015 [online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/11649411/How-social-media-is-fuelling-the-worrying-rise-in-eating-disorders.html (accessed: 30 January 2018)

 

Devices, Moments, Contexts and Parameters

Mannay (2016) writes as follows: ‘Prosser (2006, p.17) contends that a photograph does not simply show us how things look, ‘it is an image produced by a mechanical device, at a very specific moment, in a particular context by a person working within a set of personal parameters’.

Reference

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

On Reflection: Week 1, FMP

The beginning of the Final Major Project (FMP) provides an opportunity to reflect on progress since September 2016.

Initial objectives for the MA were as follows:

To explore the knowledge, technology and methods employed by the old Dutch masters to control light, and how the atmosphere and aesthetics of food images are influenced by light and various lighting styles

Research the knowledge relating to the elements of design that was available to the old masters

Rationalising the symbolism used by the masters, evaluating their reasons for its use as well as the sources of their information.

Module two saw this exploration continue but with two project themes: Ten (recording the meals consumed by ten school children on the same March evening) and Junk Food, it began to take on an aspect of visual anthropology.

Module three saw a strong focus on the visual narrative – examining the process of story-telling – and its application in the development of images.

Module four’s Work in Progress, Carousel, built on research from all the preceding modules.

In my view, module four was very successful and positions me strongly for the FMP.

Research (to date) for the FMP has gone well and initial discussions regarding the concept have generated significant interest. Test shots for the project have also proved to be very successful.

How, though, do I move things forward? Does my current work meet the requirement for a critically and professionally informed, resolved body of work?

Clearly, for the FMP, there has to be continued, progressive improvement – but this is true of any artistic output.

A certain ‘punchiness’ is required of the FMP output. How can this be achieved?

I need to explore techniques which take me further away from my comfort zone, for example, by allowing my work to be informed by the early still-life images of Irving Penn.

Is it time to move away from my original objectives?

Recapping, the intention for my project was to explore the knowledge and techniques used by the old Dutch masters, and to use the acquired knowledge to produce a series of food-related still life images.

I want to retain some link to this objective. I also want to remain true to my specialism by including an element of food in my FMP images.

My objective, therefore, is to present my FMP images in still life form. However, I am open-minded with regard to this and intend to explore alternative presentations. It has been suggested that an element of repetition is creeping into my work, I don’t necessarily agree with this suggestion and prefer to take an alternative view, which is that my work is making use of the rephotography technique used in social science and visual anthropological studies.

I think the research into the work of the old Dutch masters, which has brought me so successfully to my present location, is not something to abandon – moreover, it is something to use as a foundation, it is something to build on, for example by exploring the work of Meredith Frampton and how the principles of the verism movement can be applied to my work.

In the main, happy with progress so far.