I start by reminding myself there is no absolute reality as much as we would like there to be one. In that sense all realities are constructed. They are constructed in our heads or in the way we interpret what we see, hear, read, touch, smell or taste. For the purposes of this weeks work let’s forget that and assume there is an absolute reality we can refer to which is distinct from one that is constructed. Then let’s consider it photographically.
I will start with my own work. I was blocked at the start of the week. I was unclear about next steps for my project. Stimulating conversations with Sarah, Paul and Steph this week have opened me up, unblocked me and given me a lot of ideas to work on.
In the photography world of constructed reality in photobooks there is a conformity taking place with the standard approach for consistency, coherence, continuity, connection and narrative. Look at David Heath’s Dialogue with Solitudes, Alec Soth Sleeping by the Mississippi, Sally Mann’s A Thousand Crossings and Matthew Brandt’s Lakes and Reservoirs and you will see a formula for the creation of a photobook version of constructed reality. Dissonance, distraction and incoherence is currently not in play. I love all these books by the way but am just making an observation.
When I was blocked I was wondering if my project is now about me, about my wife, about existence, about the death of my wife and wondering what I wanted it to achieve. Unblocking is about it perhaps being about all of these things but unclear about how I might put such an idea together. Out of the conversations two paths appeared. Trace and Face.
Trace came out of a conversation about Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida when he seeks to find a photograph of his mother. He does eventually do so in an image of when she was seven and with her brother. What is annoying or tantalising about this story is he never left us the image to see. I was annoyed but following a conversation with Steph am now intrigued at the power of this absence. This gave rise to the idea of a constructed reality around a trace of someone, in my case, my wife.
Here is a first attempt at a trace of something that might be called ‘A beautiful way to die.’
All the viewer has to go on here is the title ‘A Beautiful Way to Die.’ Who has died? Where did they die? How do these images fit together to create a resolved narrative? Every viewer will make up there own narrative from this set of images and all the narratives will be different. To be a successful piece of photographic work it needs to create interest, curiosity and an element of frustration mixed with a strong desire to resolve. If it holds all of these for a length of time then it is a very successful piece of work.
Going back to Barthes mother I am intrigued with this set in that they are clearly about someone about which we only see a trace. As with Barthes his mother lives on in our minds more powerfully because we never saw the image but followed the trace of his words to create an image in our minds of what she looked like. I have so wanted to check out my own view with the image he found but will never be able to. A masterstroke by him.
Contrast this with another set of images that could be titled ‘A Beautiful Life.’
I can’t tell you how difficult pulling this together was. I experienced such pain….such love….such gratitude for what was. That is the human being in me. The photographer must write here. This is using Face to create a constructed reality of ‘a beautiful life.’ Here it is clear who is being presented and in addition we have the hint that it was a ‘beautiful life.’ For me it was, despite the difficulties and suffering. The question is what story comes across to the viewer? Does it intrigue and challenge in the same way as Trace?
Both sets of constructed realities are covering similar ground. They are about the life and death of my princess. They are about me and my relation to my own life and what has happened recently. They are very different in approach and show the amazing possibilities a photographer has. Neither is the reality as non such exists.
Lots more work to do as I now open up. Just remains to say that there is a link between the two sets of work. One of the images in Face is from the time of the images in Trace. Can you find which one. Of course. What does that do to you and how does it change the stories of Trace or Face for you?