On Reflection: Week 8, Module Four

‘At this moment in human history, I truly believe that photography is the most universal language on the planet. I think it’s the one language that everyone understands no matter what class they belong to, no matter what education they have, no matter how much money they have, no matter what verbal language they speak — photography is a profoundly rich visual language that is open to all to use and to understand’ (Caspar in Kraft, 2017).

Photography is a visual language: a system of communication using visual elements.

It is a method of visual storytelling in which images replace words, series of images replace sentences, and a body of work provides a narrative.

Photographer’s compose an image, blending light and subject, and exercising choice over colour and timing in the same way that the rules of syntax are used in the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a non-visual language.

Distilling this idea further, it is the way that a photographer combines technical and creative ability. It is more commonly referred to as the photographer’s style and it can be as unique as a fingerprint.

Photography is also about expressing a (particular) way of seeing, it is a way of interacting with the world. There are many aspects involved in developing a photographer’s visual language, but an overriding trend is essential. Intention is needed on the part of the photographer, there has to be a point of departure, and there has to be consistency.

It’s very easy to get sidetracked in the weeks leading up to an assignment submission. Important as they are, assignments are only one portion of the overall, larger picture.

I am happy with progress made regarding the video presentation, still lots to do but progress so far has been very positive.

With regard to the WIP images, again I am happy with the images as they stand. But being happy isn’t the same as being satisfied. There is always room for improvement and I do want to re-shoot.

Pertinently, the more I look at the images, the more I question.

Something that it is easy to lose sight of is the bias that can creep into a body of work as it develops, especially where re-shooting of images is involved. The alternatives are to present an independent enquiry which invites the viewer to form their own questions and then reach their own conclusions, or to present a body of work which imposes an opinion upon the viewer, leaving little opportunity to question. As a photographer, I think it is acceptable to express a personal opinion through one’s project work provided there is justification for having reached that opinion.

I think we need to be aware of the difference between producing art as a form of expression, and producing propaganda.

This is highly relevant to me at the moment with my increasing interest in visual anthropology, and in photography as a tool for social research.

Do photographers have a responsibility not to introduce bias? How far should a photographer go in expressing their personal opinion regarding a subject through their images?

Which brings us back, very nicely, to photography being a visual language, and each photographer having a unique style which expresses how he or she interacts with the world.

 

References:

Kraft, Coralie (2017). ‘Searching for Fluency in the Visual Language of Photography’. Lensculture.com [online]. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/lensculture-editors-searching-for-fluency-in-the-visual-language-of-photography (accessed: Thursday 16 November 2017)

Don McCullin: Beyond Conflict

McCullin 2

McCullin, 1969. Tormented, homeless Irishman, Spitalfields, London

Don McCullin is known for his photojournalist work which captures the underside of society and focuses on the unemployed, the downtrodden and the impoverished. McCullin is, though, most well-known for documenting conflict with his images of the Vietnam War and the conflict in Northern Ireland especially being held in high regard.

What McCullin is perhaps less well known for, however, is still-life photography.

McCullin still life

McCullin, 1992. Still Life in my Garden Shed

Still Life in my Garden Shed (McCullin, 1992) is a superb example of the still life genre.

The image exhibits a wide range of tonal values, from deep black shadows through to highlights, although there is a bias with regard to the frequency with which these feature – the composition restricts shadows to a role of helping to represent form and texture and consequently the image has an overall appearance and therefore feeling of openness, lightness and airiness. Detail is captured not only in the variety of subjects but also in the immediate environment due to significant depth of field, the background is shown in as much detail as the subjects themselves.

Subjects are arranged to give each item equal status. The composition flows through the image as result of the connectedness of the various subjects.

There is a quality of abstractedness associated with this image and this is attributable to the monochrome presentation, which brings a disconnect, which removes the element of time, as much as it attributable to the genre itself.

The surroundings induce a feeling of sombreness which is offset by the vitality and sense of renewal offered by the organic subjects.

Hodgson (2012) suggests that images are not only of something, but are also about something.

McCullin’s image portrays a variety of subjects: mushrooms, berries and fruit together with a jug and an ornament.

The message that this image conveys is about timelessness, it is about stillness, it is about peace, and it is about solitude. Above all else, though, it is about escapism. This image is a firm invitation to the viewer to stop, pause and reflect.

This is certainly an aspect identified by Hamilton (2012) who, writing in The Independent, informs us that ‘for McCullin, still life and landscape were a deliberate sanctuary from the violence and pain of the war reportage for which he is best known’.

It is also something which McCullin himself recognises, in his own words:

‘On the other hand, working for media involves manipulation. I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So, there is guilt in every direction: guilt because I don’t practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself: “I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child.” That’s why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace’ (McCullin in Horvat, 1987).

How do McCullin’s still life images inform my practice?

Whilst each subject in the image is captured exquisitely, the light in McCullin’s image is captured in a very matter of fact way, it is there for a purpose and I feel that that purpose is not to show light as an entity with a presence of its own. This contrasts with the work of Sudek whose images portray light as having a vitality, of having a presence.

Josef-sudek-caravaggio

Josef Sudek, 1956. Still Life after Caravaggio, Variation 1

Light is there to reveal form and texture. It is there to help convey the mood of the scene. It is not invited into the image to convey any emotion of its own.

So much of the appeal in photography, for me, comes back to light. It is an area I want to explore by working in genres in addition to food photography. I want to understand the different types of light, and the different emotions that light can introduce into an image.

 

References:

Hamilton, Adrian (2012). ‘Calling the Shots: Still-life Photography’. Independent.co.uk, 05 March 2012 [online]. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/calling-the-shots-still-life-photography-7536216.html#gallery (accessed Wednesday 15 November 2017)

Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc (accessed 19 February 2017)

Horvat, Frank (1987). ‘Don McCullin’. Horvatland.com [online]. Available at: http://www.horvatland.com/WEB/en/THE80s/PP/ENTRE%20VUES/McCulin/entrevues.htm (accessed: Wednesday 15 November 2017)

On Reflection: Week 7, Module 4

Significant progress this week, mainly with regard to producing images for the forthcoming Work in Progress assignment.

Finding a way in, I have discovered, to be the hardest part …

The value of networking has been made apparent.

Being technically skilled is far from sufficient to make a living as a photographer. It is essential to have good business skills, and good marketing skills.

Businesses which thrive have some diversity in terms of the products and/or services that they offer. They are also skilled at selling the same product or service in different ways.

Advice from an experienced professional has given me valuable insight into how, in practical terms, several revenue streams can be generated by one image.

Social media presents a myriad of opportunities for self-marketing. But are they all appropriate in every case? The informed answer to this has to be a resounding no.

Each social media platform offers unique features, and the merits (and ergo the demerits) of each platform must be assessed in relation to the marketing needs of each individual photographer. In short, the platform must match the portfolio.

A potential collaboration has been discussed. It’s very early stages yet but I am quite excited about talks regarding the use of visual research methods in relation to a PhD in psychology.

The forthcoming week promises to be busy, especially with regard to the logistical aspect of preparing further images for the Work in Progress assignment.

Even with so much to do, I feel that I am not really getting to the heart of anything. I feel as though I have entered the doldrums.

I need greater insight into where I am at the moment. Carrying out a Johari Window analysis in relation to my photography may provide that insight.

Carousel

Red Velvet

Morris, 2017. Untitled #1

Chocolate Gingers

Morris, 2017. Untitled #2

Ready Salted

Morris, 2017. Untitled #3

Coca Cola

Morris, 2017. Untitled #4

Twix

Morris, 2017. Untitled #5

Pork Pie

Morris, 2017. Untitled #6

Carousel is a photographic study of the interrelationship between mental health and diet.

Questioning the role played by diet in contributing to or in alleviating medical conditions, the images represent bi-monthly entries from a journal maintained over a three-year period by a female suffering from anxiety, depression and fibromyalgia.

As the images begin to interrogate the role of nutrition in supporting the pharmacotherapy traditionally used to treat such conditions, the viewer is prompted to ask whether greater emphasis could be placed on nutrition as a means of not only treating mental health disease, but also preventing it.

This is both socially relevant and timely. It has long been held that we ‘are what we eat’. Clinical studies conducted by assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Colombia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Dr Drew Ramsey have now established the link between a nutritionally dense diet and mental wellbeing in addition to showing a correlation between a nutritionally poor diet and mental illness. Results of Dr Ramsey’s studies were presented at the symposium Food and the Brain in May 2016.

Selective focus leads the viewer’s gaze to the main subjects: items of food consumed by the diarist which are shown alongside the pharmaceuticals used to treat her medical conditions. A selection of self-help and recipe books related to the sufferer’s conditions complete the story of an individual struggling to live with debilitating illness. Sheets from a tear-off calendar represent the passage of time.

Constituting my current Work in Progress research project, Carousel is presented in monochrome and results in the slowing down of time, causing the viewer to pause and prolong their gaze.

Colour images can be associated with a particular era due to, for example, a particular type of film or method of post-processing that was en vogue at the time. Presenting images in monochrome removes such associations, bringing a quality of timelessness.

Furthermore, monochrome images accentuate highlights and shadows, a greater tonal range is quickly brought to the viewer’s attention. The resultant chiaroscuro adds a sense of drama which is particularly appropriate to the images of Carousel.

Justification for the use of black and white extends beyond the aesthetic. Working purely in tones enables one to concentrate more fully on other aspects of image-making, for example, lighting and composition in addition to developing a visual narrative.

In terms of aesthetic, images within the Carousel series have been subject to some experimental post-processing. This has not been undertaken simply to be seen to be doing something, but to be seen to be doing something different.

Whilst the use of textures is established in some genres of photography, it is seldom seen in food photography. This makes my use of textures to bring added richness and depth to my images quite unique. Keywords for the successfully integration of layers into images being subtlety, sparingly and appropriately.

On Reflection: Week 6, Module Four

‘Semiology offers a very full box of analytical tools for taking an image apart and tracing how it works in relation to broader systems of meaning’ (Rose, 2016).

I have faced criticism suggesting that I am overly concerned, perhaps preoccupied, with how my images look.

My initial reaction was to question this, to challenge (no one likes criticism): ‘so how the images look isn’t important then?’, ‘if that’s the case, what is important?’

Stepping back and reflecting, perhaps this criticism isn’t as simple as it may appear at face value.

How do I unpack this criticism?

There are two aspects to how an image looks: the technical, and the artistic.

Deconstructing this further, there are two aspects to the artistic component: the composition, and the story.

I think the suggestion being made is that the technical aspect and the composition are favoured at the expense of any meaning.

Distilling this, disparate objects are thrown together without any care for meaning.

Hodgson (2012) suggests that we frequently perceive and discuss images as being “of something” without attempting to consider that images are also “about something”, an idea which links strongly with Barthes concept of the signifier and the signified.

And distilling this idea, images have two parts – what they look like and what they mean.

Key, then, for the continued development of my practice is to understand the ways and means by which I can improve my visual storytelling.

Semiology, alongside content analysis and cultural analytics, is a method of image analysis.

Not without critics, it uses signs as the base unit of reference in order to offer a ‘certain kind of analytical precision’.

Writing in defence of semiology, Rose informs us that ‘human culture is made up of signs, each of which stands for something other than itself, and the people inhabiting culture busy themselves making sense of these signs’.

Arguments against semiology as a method of image analysis include its use of elaborate, theoretical terminology, and its requirement for highly detailed reading which raises questions as to its representativeness and replicability of its analyses.

I want to use this post to think things through, to think aloud in effect. By articulating my thoughts externally, I am forcing myself to clarify, to pin down quite precisely, an issue which needs addressing.

This is a reflection post, so analysis of images will take place elsewhere, but how can I use semiotics to decode images in order to analyse what makes a strong image? How can I use semiotics to improve my visual narrative?

A starting point is to analyse the various elements that are formally recognised as constituting a story.

Semiotic analysis of images is (currently) carried out on images post-capture. Carrying out semiotic analysis on images at the drawing board stage will undoubtedly aid the development of the visual narrative – before and after.

This is an area where, admittedly, I have perhaps been weak in the past. Nevertheless, as my knowledge and understanding of the visual narrative and storyboards has increased, the meaning attached to my images has, I believe, also increased – Cravings and Carousel being offered as examples to support this suggestion.

 

Reference:

Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc (accessed 19 February 2017)

Rose, Gillian (2016). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. London: Sage Publications Limited