Reflecting pain via a dream theme is proving to be extremely challenging. I found a spurt of inspiration this evening and am posting a few images for feedback purposes from my classmates. I am definitely going for an abstract theme it would seem – something so out of my comfort zone. The titles are purely working titles at this stage. I may omit them altogether for the assignment.
I’m really struggling with this assignment at the moment. See my initial planning post here. Having been advised by my tutor to take the surrealist route to interpret pain is definitely more difficult than I thought originally. I’m further hampered by the fact that I have taken quite a few images on my new camera but can’t process them in Lightroom as my new camera is not compatible with Lightroom 5 and my computer is not compatible with Lightroom 6, so I’m waiting for a new computer. I have managed to download a few images from the new camera through Nikon Capture, but it doesn’t have the same post-processing finesse that Lightroom does.
I think I’m at the stage where I need some constructive feedback from my fellow students and other photogs, so I’m going to post a few images that I am toying with at the moment. Hopefully I’m on the right track here.
For this exercise we were asked look at three Level 3 students work who explored themes that were not necessarily visible. The students were Peter Mansell with his series on Paralysis, Dewald Botha’s Ring Road and Jodie Taylor’s Memories of Childhood. I could not find Peter’s Level 3 blog – perhaps it was a physical log, but for anyone who is interested in following his work, his MA blog can be seen here.
All three of these projects are examples of personally driven work but they become universal when we can relate to the feelings they present by visiting our own personal histories.
- Which of these projects resonates most with you, and why?
- How do you feel about the loss of authorial control that comes when the viewer projects their own experiences and emotions onto the images you’ve created?
I think the project that resonates the most with me is Jodie Taylor’s Memories of Childhood. My memories of my childhood and youth are very precious to me as I now live in a different country on the other side of the world from where I grew up. The culture in my new country is different although we speak the same language. Our humour and the way we see ourselves differs quite a bit as well. During the twenty years that I have been living in Canada, each and every time I returned to my country of birth I made a point of visiting my old schools, the homes I used to live in, the neighbourhoods to see how much had changed and how much had remained the same. Certain images in Jodie Taylor’s project trigger my own memories and I hear the echoes of the past. The swings in the park: memories of my best friend and I seeing who could swing the highest, who could get level with the cross bar at the top. Taylor’s image of the little alley between two walls brings back memories of playing hide and seek with my friends and even with my children when they were young. Of course her landscape is totally different to what mine was, but because I feel her personal connection it relates to me.
Having just come out of knee surgery and experienced the ‘nuisance’ of immobility for an extremely short while, I can only have the utmost respect and empathy for Peter Mansell and his work. Even so, I am unable to really relate to his experiences. He has very skillfully conveyed his condition and experiences, showing the viewer what it is like to live with such a disability, how complex his life must be.
Dewald Botha’s images are very well composed but feel rather ominous and oppressive to me due to the ever present highway overhead and the thick smog. If this is the impression he wanted to impart to convey his limitations within the Chinese culture and language then I think he has succeeded very well.
I don’t think I would have a problem with the loss of authorial control of my own images. Other viewers’ experiences and emotions will naturally be different to mine and they might read something in my images that I am unaware of myself. It all adds to the richness of the interpretation(s). I think, however, that there is an exception when it comes to photojournalism or documentary images. One would prefer that the viewer’s interpretation be directed in a specific way so that the image is not misconstrued. But realistically people will always put their own spin on an image whether it is an artsy or documentary one.
Botha, Dewald (2012 – 2013). Ring Road [online]. Available from: http://www.dewaldbotha.net/ring-road.html [Accessed 28 August, 2015]
Mansell, Peter. MA Fine Art Digital [online]. Available from: https://anomiepete.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 28 August, 2015]
Taylor, Jodie. Asst 2 – Memories of Childhood [online]. Available from: http://jodietaylorlog.moonfruit.com/asst-2-memories-of-childhood/4575818468 [Accessed 28 August, 2015]
For this exercise we are asked to select a poem and then interpret it through photographs by giving a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.
We are asked to read the poem a few times, making notes of the feelings and ideas that emerge, how we respond to it and what it means to us and the mental images that arise. Then we are to think how to interpret this visually.
After searching high and low for a suitable poem (I haven’t studied poetry since my high school years so I’m woefully out of practise) I settled on Robert Frost’s Leaves Compared with Flowers.
Robert Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet and Pulitzer prize winner for poetry. His initial works were published in England and then only later in America. He experienced lots of grief and loss in his life. His father died of TB when he was 8, his mother died of cancer and his sister was committed to a mental institution where she too later died. Both he and his wife suffered from depression. Four of his children predeceased him, one from cholera, one after child birth, one after giving birth to her own child and one committed suicide.
Leaves Compared with Flowers by Robert Frost
A tree’s leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bar, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.
But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough.
Some giant trees have bloom so small
They might as well have none at all.
Late in life I have come on fern.
Now lichens are due to have their turn.
I bade men tell me which in brief,
Which is fairer, flower or leaf.
They did not have the wit to say,
Leaves by night and flowers by day.
Leaves and bar, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.
Initially what stands out for me visually are the visual prompts of the poem: leaves, bark, fruit, flowers, fern, lichen, giant tree, men, petals and time of day. It is a also poem of opposites – rough/smooth; leaves/petals; flowers/trees; giant trees/lichen. I believe it is about the poet’s experiences in his life that have led him down the road of depression to have an affinity for the darker aspects of his life which are represented in the bark and leaves.
My interpretation of this poem is that it is one of sincerity and disillusionment in mankind and the flowers and leaves are metaphors for people. In the first verse, the reference to ‘put(ing) the right thing to its root/It never will show much flower or fruit’ can be linked to a Biblical reference: Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ). A person’s character depends very much upon his upbringing. A lot of love goes into raising a child (or a tree). The second verse hints at personal experiences, disillusionment has set in. Superficiality in mankind is not a prized attribute. The mad chase for achievement in life (giant trees = today’s yuppies) is followed by simpler needs when one ages (the fern and lichen). And for me this is where the poet’s depression sets in ‘Now lichens are due to have their turn.’ Man is fickle, wavering in opinions, not having the courage of their own convictions. The mood then shifts once more when the poet says ‘Petals I may have once pursued./Leaves are all my darker mood.’ Once he was optimistic and enjoyed the company of frivolous people, but now he is given over to his depression.
Bible Gateway [online]. Available from: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12:33-37 [Accessed 26, 2015]
I identified my topic for Assignment 2 (Photographing the unseen) just shortly after receiving my course materials at the end of April. I had knee replacement surgery looming on the horizon and knowing that I would be mobility challenged for a few months and therefore decided to take “Pain” as my assignment topic as I would be experiencing a lot of it. I would be my own research guinea pig.
Just a few days prior to surgery date I started keeping a diary, jotting down my thoughts and feelings and occurrences that happened during the day. I took this along to the hospital with me and continued the process for quite a while afterwards while recovering at home. As I looked down at my operated leg after removing the dressing one day, my title of my project came to me “60 points of pain”. I had 30 staples in my leg. I identified various objects that I wanted and had photographed and ran this by my tutor. I also mentioned to her that at one stage during my recovery I was experiencing really weird dreams – almost surrealist in nature. She has encouraged me to take this route for my project. This is going to be something totally out of the box for me and will be extremely risky and will leave me feeling very exposed as I will now have to put more of myself physically into the photos than I had initially intended. I do not like photographing myself, but I suppose it will be good practice for Assignment 3.
I’ve identified a few photographers to research: Oscar Gustave Rejlander, Duane Michals, Edmund Teske, Diane Fenster and Grahame Weinbren. I would like to stay away from using Photoshop to create any of my images so this is really going to be a challenge for me. Thank goodness I have a new camera that can make multiple exposures, because I think I will be using that technique quite a bit – something new to learn and experiment with.
We are asked to look up Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field online and investigate the rationale behind the bodies of work and see if we can find any critical responses to them. We are also asked to respond to two statements:
- How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?
- Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio
Stephen Bull (p. 12) describes postmodernism as ‘call(ing) into question the universality and progressiveness of modernist ideas. Offering … a more fragmented worldview, it often focuses on social issues rather than aesthetic ones.’ He goes on to say (p.13) that ‘the focus of postmodernist criticism, is outside the photograph: what is in the image itself is ignored and instead the cultural context in which the image is put to use comes to be considered central.’
I really struggled to find Calle’s Take Care of Yourself online. The Vancouver City library also had no books on Calle and I was not prepared to go out and purchase another book, so my research point on Calle’s project will mainly be my understanding from a few interviews that I have read on this work.
Calle received an email from her boyfriend breaking off their relationship. In closing the email he made the statement ‘take care of yourself’ and this gave birth to Calle’s body of work. After a couple of days she showed the email to her friend and asked how she should reply. Her friend gave her some ideas and from this Calle got the idea to send this cowardly ex-boyfriend’s breakup email to 107 women in a variety of professions, asking their reactions and photographing and filming their responses. Her body of work consists of film as well as photography. A small sample can be see Paula Cooper’s Gallery website. A short video of the work is available on The European Graduate School’s website.
Sophy Rickett’s project, Objects in the Field is just as interesting. In this project she uses the terminology or lexicon of scientists to describe stars (objects) in the sky (field). Her project was made in response to an encounter with Dr Roderick Willstrop, a retired fellow of the Institute of Astronomy and inventor of The Three Mirror telescope. This telescope produces black and white negatives of the night sky using three mirrors instead of two to widen the optical path of light entering the lens and capture more detail. The telescope was used for twelve years and produced about 125 negatives before being converted to a digital telescope. Rickett made prints from the negatives.
How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?
Calle’s project definitely reflects a postmodern approach to narrative. She has used 107 women’s interpretations and their voices and expressions and photographed their written responses to exaggerate this approach. While some of the women might have had similar reactions, their responses in line with their vocations and backgrounds would have had subtle, or not so subtle nuances of different interpretations to this email.
Rickett’s project reflects a dual narrative – that of the photographer and that of the scientist. Although both collaborated on the project, their points of view were totally different.
In the show at Kettle’s Yard, I titled every work, and Dr Willstrop provided captions – so again, there is a sense of these two voices speaking over each other, addressing the same theme, but slightly in opposition.
Part of Rickett’s narrative relates to a time when as a child she was having her eyes tested and her memories of that occasion, which in turn relates back to the optics of the telescope. As well she relates a seemingly unrelated incident of two small boys waving that she fleetingly observed while traveling on a train. Dr Willstrop’s narrative, on the other hand, is very scientific. The full text of Rickett’s narrative can be read on The Photographer’s Gallery website.
Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio
I think including interviews or audio into an image-based project can be very powerful. A beautiful example of this, I think, is Pedro Meyer’s work I Photograph to Remember, which I reviewed two weeks ago. I think one has to be very selective and careful though so as not to have the audio dominate the images. The interview or audio should serve as a complementary role to the images.
Boothroyd, Sharon (2013). Sophy Rickett [online]. Photoparley. Available from: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/sophy-rickett/ [Accessed 23 August, 2015]
Bull, Stephen (2009). Photography. London: Routledge
Chrisafis, Angelique (2007). He loves me not [online]. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art . [Accessed 22 August, 2015]
Johnston, Stephen (2014). Sophy Rickett: Objects in the Field [online]. Inside MHS Oxford. Available from: http://blogs.mhs.ox.ac.uk/insidemhs/sophy-rickett-objects-field/ . [Accessed 23 August, 2015]
Paula Cooper Gallery (2009). Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself. [online]. Available from: http://www.paulacoopergallery.com/exhibitions/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself/installation-views . [Accessed 22 August, 2015]
Sophie Calle. Take Care of Youself. [online]. The European Graduate School [online] Available from: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/sophie-calle/videos/take-care-of-yourself/ . [Accessed 22 August, 2015]
Sophy Rickett. Objects in the Field (2014) [online]. The Photographer’s Gallery. Available from: http://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ . [Accessed 23 August, 2015]
Cut out some pictures form a newspaper and write your own captions.
- How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
- How many meanings can you give to the same picture?
Try the same exercise for both anchoring and relaying. Blog about it.
For this exercise I picked two images from the National Post and another two from the local North Shore News. I covered the caption and tried to create my own comment on the photo before looking at the accompanying caption.
My caption for Fig 01: Bulldozer removes carton boxes illegally dumped on property.
My initial reading of the image in that it is a bulldozer moving cartons is correct, but my context was completely out of whack. The photo accompanied an article on Russia’s president Putin’s embargo on Western food imports. This shipment was only suspected of coming from the European Union. The actual caption is: A bulldozer crushes boxes of cheese outside the Russian southern city of Belgorod, part of “contraband” food seizures in reaction to broad sanctions against Russia. This is a great example of what Roland Barthes refers to as Anchorage. Without this caption supplying the context we would have no idea of the political implications of this image.
At the level the literal image, the text replies … to the question: what is it? The text helps to identify purely and simply the elements of the scene and the scene itself: it is a matter of a denoted description of the image … the caption helps me choose the correct level of perception …
Barthes (1977, p. 39)
My caption for this image: Local Chinese population celebrate the Lantern Festival on the fifteen day of the Lunar year.
Initially I had thought this image represented a lantern festival, but upon looking closely and seeing the origami cranes in the water I was able to discern the proper context for this image (only because I had seen a TV news article on the anniversary of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima the previous night). I then realised that it was a Japanese event and not Chinese as originally thought. This is another example of anchorage.
The actual caption is: Paper lanterns float on the Motoyasu River in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome (background) in Hiroshima on Thursday. Tens of thousands gathered for peace ceremonies in Hiroshima on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing.
… the anchorage may be ideological and indeed this is its principal function; the text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others …
Barthes (1977, p. 40)
Initially I thought this image had something to do with the recent toxic oil spill from one of the tankers anchored just outside the Vancouver harbour. Although contained fairly quickly, the damage to marine life was evident and the oil spill affected Vancouver’s most popular beaches. So my initial caption was: Cleanup crew inspect boom for marine life.
In actual fact the real caption reads: Seymour Salmonid Society volunteers prepared to capture salmon for radio tagging in July. It accompanies a story about an effort to allow thousands of coho and pink salmon and steelhead trout to return to their spawning ground up the Seymour River. The fate of their current spawning ground is at risk due to a massive rock slide that fell into the river canyon blocking the fish’s path. Another example of anchorage.
… anchorage is a control, bearing a responsibility – in the face of the projective power of pictures – for the use of the message.
Barthes (1977, p. 40)
My caption to this image would be Man and his dog. The actual caption that appeared in the Vancouver Sun is: Mark Traverse with his dog, Sid. Neither captions really tell us anything of the story. They are both free to any interpretation. The story is about a Grizzly bear that invaded the Traverse household in the very early hours of the morning. Sid, the dog sounded the alarm by waking his owners with his barking and Traverse shot the bear with his shotgun after the bear lunged at him. Quite a gruesome story, but one would not discern it from the image above. The caption above would be a good example of relay as the caption leaves the interpretation of the image open to the viewer’s experience.
The function of relay is less common (at least as far as the fixed image is concerned); it can be seen particularly in cartoons and comic strips. Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship;
Barthes (1977, p. 41)
Barthes, Roland (1977). Rhetoric of the Image in Image, music, text. London: Fontana Press
Hill, Kevin (2015). Fish rescue planned for Seymour. North Shore News. 7 August, 2015.
Nogi, Kazuhiro /AFP/Getty Images (2015), Refusing to Let Memories Die. National Post Vol 17 No. 229, 7 August, 2015
Rosselkhoznadzor Belgorod/AFP (2015), Putin’s bulldozers destroy mountains of EU food. National Post Vol 17 No. 229. 7 August, 2015
Traverse, Mark (2015). Hungry grizzly killed after entering home of experienced hunter in Kimberley. Vancouver Sun. 10 August, 2015