Laura Hynd came up with a great provocation when we were discussing some work in my portfolio. I had offered some images to ‘represent’ what goes on below the surface. Here is her provocation.
How to approach this description, to represent…? A word so often used when artists are discovering what their practice is. Do you think there is a way to avoid the use of that word? That the work doesn’t represent, or does not need to represent? It is. You are. The photographs are. Do you need to represent something? A question to ponder perhaps?
This is a photograph.
Does anything more need to be said? I am making images to meet some need. If I try to understand that need I believe it is related to some pain I am suffering and a desire to be in a more homeostatic state than I am. Along with mindfulness, exercise, diet and other activities photography is one of the methods I am using to find a better state of homeostasis than I currently experience.
Aside from photography it would be great to just be. Over the last ten years every six months has been the worst of my life as my wife, Karen, progressed through the horrible decline of health with her secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. I have been very close to suicide on three occasions as a response to the existential crisis I was/am in. I don’t want to die but got in to so much mental and emotional pain that it seemed an attractive way out. My head and emotions are a mess but as a human being I am fighting to hold myself together and to get myself to a better place.
Coming back to photography. The process of searching for ways of ‘representing’ what is going on inside me has been therapeutic. As I look at the images of me and see an organism succeeding at life it reminds me that my problem is thoughts. One way of looking at myself from the outside is that regardless of what I am feeling what the world sees is an active functioning human being.
Why do I want to represent or show the agony within? One answer is HELP! I want the equivalent of going home to mum, telling her what is wrong, her putting her arm around me and that making me feel much better inside. This is consistent with my inability to accept the way the world is. Karen is ill and other than love her there is nothing else I can do. So accept it buddy.
I do know that the photography is an activity that is consuming me and preventing me from filling my head with some horrible thoughts that go nowhere. Perhaps a phase to play with is removing the word represent and see if that takes my images to a different place. Let’s see. This idea interests me.
I did some searching to understand what representation is. I like the flow charts above put together by Alica Acosta . From this I understand my work will have meaning and a form of representation. I can play with reflective, intentional or constructivist representation. Descriptions follow and although referring to language are relevant to a photograph.
Cultural theorist Stuart Hall describes representation as the process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture through the use of language, signs and images which stand for or represent things (Hall, 1997). However, there are several different theories that describe how language is used to represent the world; three of which are outlined above: reflective, intentional and constructionist.
With reflective approach to representation, language is said to function like a mirror; it reflects the true meaning of an object, person, idea or event as it already exists in the world. The Greek word ‘mimesis’ is used for this purpose to describe how language imitates (or “mimics”) nature. Essentially, the reflective theory proposes that language works by simply reflecting or imitating a fixed “truth” that is already present in the real world (Hall, 1997).
The intentional approach argues the opposite, suggesting that the speaker or author of a particular work imposes meaning onto the world through the use of language. Words mean only what their author intends them to mean. This is not to say that authors can go making up their own private languages; communication – the essence of language – depends on shared linguistic conventions and shared codes within a culture. The author’s intended meanings/messages have to follow these rules and conventions in order to be shared and understood (Hall, 1997).
The constructionist approach (sometimes referred to as the constructivist approach) recognizes the social character of language and acknowledges that neither things in themselves nor the individual users of language can fix meaning (Hall, 1997). Meaning is not inherent within an object itself, rather we construct meaning using systems of representation (concepts and signs); I will elaborate upon these systems further in my second model.