The time feels right to gather together my critical review of my practice. I hate the phrase ‘it has been done before’ but I understand the point. Other practitioners have tried out every method, explored every type of context, conceptualised subject matter and developed styles and techniques along the way. Where does my work fit within what has gone before.
Inspired by Practitioners that have gone before
A starting point of where I want my work to be is to consider the four books at the top of my current list of favourites. They are David Heath’s Dialogues with Solitudes, Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi, Sally Mann’s One Thousand Crossings and Ivor Prickett’s End of the Caliphate.
What appeals about David Heath’s images is his ability to ‘make sense of the increasing sense of isolation and vulnerability that typified the age’ (TPG, 2019). Alec Soth’s ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi is more about the spirit of wandering and peoples’ dreams than the river itself.’ (BJP, 2017) In Sally Mann’s work I appreciate ‘her obsession with place, family, the past, her love of Southern light, and her willingness to experiment with levels of romance beyond what most late-20th-century artists could tolerate.’ (New York Times, 2018). Ivor Prickett ‘pictures legitimately and compellingly record the experience of being “caught in the crossfire,” whether as a soldier or noncombatant.’ (EoP, 2019).
How can I situate my work amongst these megastars of photography? My body of work for my Masters takes as its subject my personal experiences over the two years 2019 and 2020. My wife, Karen, was chronically ill with Multiple Sclerosis in 2019 and in July took a decision to seek an assisted suicide in January 2020. She died in January. She was the love of my life, my soulmate and was in terrible suffering. I have lived through this period and used my camera to capture a narrative around the experience.
I have often returned to Heath’s images as a way to represent my own isolation and vulnerability. I so often found it difficult in self portraits to represent my inner turmoil. Heath does this so well and I kept asking ‘what has he done?’ Alec Soth enquiry in to dreams with his images relates to the better world of dreams I wanted to create for my ‘princess.’ Sally Mann’s very personal work inspires me as I attempt in this current module to show the experience of my wife’s death in a touching and intimate way. Ivor Prickett relates so much as I equate my own battle of living through my wife’s MS being akin to warfare. In my experience of it no matter what I did it still got worse.
In the current wip portfolio there are no images of me or my wife as there is a conscious effort to explore a trace of experience. This was partly inspired by Roland Barthes’ search for a photograph of his mother. He found one of when she was seven with her brother but we never see the photograph. (Barthes, 1993). The absence of the photograph he is referring to is tantalising. In earlier modules there were images of me in the narrative I was seeking to create. For my FMP decisions still need to be made in the choice of trace versus face.
There are so many other photographers that have caught my attention and inspired my work. They include Jo Spence, Rosie Martin, Elina Brotherus and Cristina Nuñez who all created work in very different ways in the self portrait space. Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, Philip Lorca di Corcia, Sam Taylor Wood, Tom Hunter and Sharon Lockhart have caught my eye for their tableau narrative and performative work. As can be seen in my WIP for Sustainable Prospects above i translated some of my emotional state in to performative works. Work by David Jimenez in Madrid at PhotoEspaña and Philippe Chancel in Arles really moved me and it was hard not to include them in my top four. The visual impact of Mohau Modisakeng in Amsterdam at Unseen and the associated narrative is breathtaking and has made me think deeply about staging. I own and continually look at photobooks by Jimenez, Chancel and Modisakeng.
A Category for my Practice
There are many decisions still to be made before I can finally place my work within a category for my FMP. In the current body of work my intent is to create a visual narrative of me within the context of living with a chronically ill wife over a long period who then sought and went through with an assisted suicide. I am doing this to seek to achieve personal stability into the future through the therapeutic effect of the photographic enquiry in to self. I am also doing it to help others understand my experience. In particular those who may be going through something similar.
The categories of photography touched on by my work so far are narrative, psychological, self portrait, documentary, memoir and emotional. If I could only choose one it would be ‘narrative’.
That was a really interesting process. More to come and this has prompted me to enquire further in to the category my work fits in and further enquire in to my intent.
TPG https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/dave-heath-dialogues-solitudes accessed March 9th, 2020.
BJP https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/11/alec-soth-mississippi/ accessed March 9th, 2020.
New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/29/arts/design/sally-mann-a-thousand-crossings-review-national-gallery.html accessed March 9th, 2020.
The Eye of Photography https://loeildelaphotographie.com/en/ivor-prickett-end-of-the-caliphate/ accessed March 9th, 2020
Barthes, R. Camera Lucid. Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (15 July 1993).
Cotton, C. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. Thames & Hudson Third Edition.