This was a challenge. Two factors helped make progress. The first was interpreting ‘practice’ to mean the project for this module. I had mistakenly taken it to mean my complete practice of photography. Steph enlightened me. Also in a Q&A session Steph made it clear that there are no marks in CRP for any work done prior to this module. This helped and hindered. It helped as it immediately enabled me to remove 1200 words. It hindered as the critical contextualisation of my work for this module grew out of work done in prior modules. Steph suggested instead of deleting it I include it in my CRJ.
Before the MA I was an accomplished landscape and essay photographer with my work in Tuscany being published in the Royal Photographic Society’s Spring Landscape Magazine in 2018. Although aesthetically pleasing I soon confirmed with Jesse Alexander this genre of work was considered academically insignificant, derivative of work done before and adding little to the discipline of Photography.
The Trace of Self
In this approach I took a heightened emotional experience as a trigger to take out my camera and point it at me. I was surprised to find that often the image produced did not show me what I thought I was experiencing. Often at times of deep despair I appeared to be a perfectly functioning human being with little evidence on the surface of what was taking place inside me.
Bertillon in 1893 argued that ‘personality types were revealed by cranial and facial features.’ Individuals were prosecuted or classified as a result of his work. I found my appearance did not reflect my internal state or behaviour. Bertillon work was later supplanted by the fingerprint but his legacy remains in the form of the ‘the mug shot.’
I studied photographers who had success suggesting emotion in their images. A great example is David Heath’s ‘Dialogues with Solitude’ whose images are poignant and simple. I project emotions on to the images and the subjects may not be feeling what I project but I strongly believe that they do.
Vanessa Winship’s work ‘And Time Folds’ crafts the moods and feelings of those who view it. I saw her work beside Dorothea Lange at the Barbican in 2018 and felt emotionally drained at the end of my three hour contemplation of her images. Her work is a show like the best theatre. It draws the viewer in, raises questions that do not have easy answers and is an enriching experience. As in theatre the actors or, in our case, the images play with the thoughts and emotions of her audience.
I realised photography is as much about a performance in the mind of the viewer as it is about capturing a version of reality. Much like theatre the performance can be a portrayal of a truth or can be a metaphor to make some point. I experimented producing images of myself and then considering the impact they would have on a viewer.
This led me to look at practioners’ who brought an element of performance to their work. I saw Elina Brotherus exhibition in PhotoEspaña 2019 in Madrid and met her to talk to. Her work is effective at expressing pain and unhappiness. As she says referring to her work ‘I worked the pain in to a beautiful object that could be looked at detached from myself.’ I asked her which of the many performances on the gallery wall best represented her to which she replied ‘none of them, they are photographs.’
Other photographers influenced me as my practice developed including Jo Spence for her use of self and shock to grab attention with topics usually avoided (her breast cancer shot face on). Nan Golding’s use of her community around her along with performance and Annenke Asseff’s use of self in her home environment. A lot of creative work was inspired by these practitioners and I happily remember my wife laughing a lot as she helped me with some of these shoots.
Spence and Golding got me to push at some of my own boundaries. Photographing myself nude and showing the images was one of these boundaries. I learnt that the boundary was not real and that it was a constraint I put on myself and could as easily remove.
All this work exploring trace of self was the precursor for the decision to explore trace with absence. In my FMP I will incorporate both and use the strengths of each.
Winship, V. (2018) Vanessa Winship. And time folds. [Catalogue of an Exhibition held at the Barbican Art Gallery 22nd June to 2nd September, 2018.] London. Barbican Art Gallery
Heath, D. (2018). Dialogues with Solitude. Premier Edition. Germany. Steidl.
Categories: Coursework IC