Francesca Woodman

photo_woodman_francesca_2

Woodman, c. 1977. Self portrait

Francesca Woodman’s images ooze pathos.

To me, her images speak of desperation, of an uncertain mind trying to deal with complex issues and the opposing thoughts that ensue – should they be suppressed, or brought out into the open and tackled head on?

Largely unrecognised in her short lifetime, Francesca committed suicide just after she was first published, she is now regarded as an icon of photography.

Woodman is quite often the subject in her images. Rarely is she fully in the image. But the viewer is forced to ask questions as to why this might be the case. Is she escaping out of the situation, and therefore the image, or into the image from another situation? Her frequent nudity shows vulnerability, and consequently part of her nudity is hidden. But from what is she hiding?

In order to inform, to extend knowledge, something has to be laid bare. Something has to be taken from a place of safety. There has to be a sense of jeopardy.

My first impression of Woodman’s work was one of disarray. This remains the case. Interviewed since her death, Francesca’s father speaks of no one being aware of the developing mental crisis which would claim his daughter’s life.

Jo-Ana is a story of recovery. It is the diaries of an anorexic described in photographs. In reality, the diarist would experience a stomach-churning journey – plummeting to the depths of despair from where could be seen only occasional glimmers of sky-soaring hope.

The purpose of Jo-Ana is to raise awareness by inviting the viewer to ask questions about the subject’s situation.

Some of these questions are quite obvious, for example, the viewer might ask what is happening in the subject’s life to cause the illness?

But we could be much more soul-searching, and ask ourselves, as a society, what is happening in our own lives which means that we so often miss, or disregard, the plight of others? Is it that we don’t see? Or is it that we don’t want to see?

This is an area for further investigation in relation to future projects.

Photobooks and Other Publications

My Books

Morris, 2017. Pilebrary

I am, most certainly, one to embrace technology. Having said that, I feel that nothing can even begin to approach the wonderful experience of reading from a printed book. For me selecting a book, touching it, even smelling it, are as important as the visual interaction of seeing, looking, reading.

Ebooks and the devices which enable them to be read have their place, several textbooks can be loaded on to a reader and make the act of studying on the move, for example, much easier – not least of all because of the reduction in weight which results from not having to transport heavy texts. But still, nothing can replace a physical text.

Books are a thing of beauty. Libraries are palaces of knowledge and mind-expanding entertainment. If printed books should ever come to be totally replaced by electronic forms of media, I think it would be a very sad day for humanity.

The same can be said for printed photographs. Digital images are marvellous things in their own right, and digital media allows for an extended range of expression, the digital artistry facilitated by Photoshop for example.

But what happens when the world of books meets that of the printed photographic image?

I would suggest that under such circumstances, a most popular notion is that of the photobook.

I have previously stated that the intention is for my final project to be in the form of an online gallery. Numerous reasons continue to justify that statement. However, various other ‘surfaces’, or modes of presentation, exist to enable the publishing of photographic anthologies, for making authored photographic work available, to the public, through printed or electronic media. These are referred to in figure 1, which is the output from a brainstorming session.

Publications Brainstorm II_10Aug2017

Figure 1. Publications Brainstorm Output

Consequently, the chosen format for my publication, a means by which I theoretically and practically explore producing a publication, is a photobook.

I feel it is important at this stage to try to determine what it is that distinguishes between a photograph album and a photobook.

What model was used in order to organise the images in a photo album? Were images simply placed into an album in the order in which they were taken? In which case a chronological frame of reference was used, perhaps unwittingly. Can this help us differentiate between the two formats?

Tate.org.uk (2017) defines a photobook accordingly: ‘the photobook is a book of photographs by a photographer that has an overarching theme or follows a storyline’.

Is it really the presence of a narrative in a photobook, and the absence of the same from a photo album, which determines exactly which entity we are looking at?

Whilst it is a good working definition, I don’t think that the situation is so clear cut. Take, for example, our photographs placed into a photo album in the order in which they are taken. These images still tell a story, possibly the story of the photographer’s journey through life, or perhaps the development over time of the subject of the photographs. Such images still provide a trace of something having existed, and it is progressive.

This is currently an exercise to identify questions relating to the process of publishing a photobook.

Some issues are common to all forms of presentation, for example, identifying target audiences, and the sequencing of images.

Again, figure 1 outlines the issues associated with publishing a photobook.

Project work has been subject to a hiatus recently, in practical terms. As a result, a series of images taken during the earlier part of module three have been sequenced in order to produce the dummy publication.

A key task, and a major consumer of time, has been sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’. The platforms for the creation of photobooks are numerous but not equal.

But rather a discourse in what hasn’t worked, focus on what has …

Blurb.co.uk offers an interface which is user friendly, and provides a number of options in terms of output, for example, orientation, type of cover, and paper type. ‘Blurb’ has proven to be a positive experience for me, so far at least.

Currently on order, then, is 1 x landscape 25 x 20 cm, soft cover prototype with 22 pages, to be printed on premium lustre paper of weight 148 g/m2.

I think that the quality of a photobook reflects more on the photographer, who may have only supplied the images and had very little to do with the physical aspect of producing the book, than it does the printer who a major role in this activity.

In terms of photobooks, the printer, who physically makes the book, with images supplied by the photographer, is viewed as remote, almost distant from the process – if given any regard at all, by the viewer.

With regard to outsourced, printed photobooks, price is a reasonable indicator of quality, but it is no cast iron guarantee of a product’s finish – there isn’t a clear correlation between cost and quality.

So, this is a starting point, a point at which to begin the process of photobook publishing. I see it as a dummy run, establishing a formula which can be repeated if successful, but which has parameters which if necessary can be incrementally, individually adjusted in order to reach an acceptable output.

I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product, and determining where we move to next, dependent upon the quality, and how.

Additionally, I am very interested to see how the photobook translates from electronic to printed media? Will any artefacts be created as a result of the conversion process?

What am I taking away from this experience?

Well, I’m starting to ask more probing questions.

Is one format of photobook more popular than any other, for example? If so, what? And upon what is this dependent?

How does format add to or subtract from the narrative? Or the overall viewing experience? What about the other physical characteristics of the book?

What will make my photobook appealing? What will make people ‘reach out’ to my work? I think people want to engage for a few reasons – sharing an interest, which may already be established or which may be new, or sharing knowledge, or both?

How do I want the audience to interact with the book? Do I want them to spend time looking at each image, before moving to the next? Or do I want them to move through the items in sequence before starting the process again? How will reading ahead affect the narrative?

What level of intimacy do I want with the audience? Do I want to tell them everything in images which leave little to be discovered? Or do I use complex, layered images which require the viewer to spend time studying and searching in order to decode?

Photobooks are something which I believe I can successfully incorporate into my offering. A significant amount of information will be gleaned from analysing my prototype publication. Moving forward, this is a body of knowledge I wish to extend.

 

Reference:

Tate.org ca. 2017. Glossary entry: ‘photobook’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/the-photobook (Accessed: Friday 14 July 2017)