Category Archives: 2 Image and Text

Part 2 – Exercise 4 -Personal Histories

Having reviewed the work by the three Level 3 students, it was the work by Peter Mansell which really caught my interest. I think it has been the weeks spent last year visiting my mum in hospital. For a period of about 4 months her world was very much a choice of 3 hospital locations – the Acute hospital where she was first diagnosed, the‘virtual hospital bed’ in the lounge at my parents’ house where she was seen by community nurses and other social care staff, and the Norwich hospice where she finally died. Similarly Peter’s environment is limited in terms of the variety of locations he spends many hours of the day. With mum, each detail of those locations we all learnt thoroughly and intimately down to each sign on the wall, each bell pull, each kitchen ice-cube dispenser. It was the details you looked at each time there was a lull in the conversation. These objects were a resting place for the eyes and brain and I know that revisiting any of them would instantly invoke a mixture of both happy and sad memories now.

I’ve been inspired recently by watching James on ‘The Big Life Fix’. At the time of the BBC2 programme James was 22 years old and terminally ill with Epidemolysis Bullosa, a rare condition which causes his skin to blister, fall off and scar.

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His only release and distraction from the pain was to immerse himself in his photography, but as his condition worsened and his fingers fused together, holding his SLR became impossible. An inventor on The Big Life Fix programme created a way of James controlling the different functions on his Canon via an app on his tablet.

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James was inspirationally upbeat despite his challenges and it really made me think about what I feebly see as restrictions … the weather is not pristine with crystal blue skies, I am in my own country – how can I possibly get inspired with the same old culture of the mundane UK… the possible embarrassment of attempting street photography in your home city and getting spotted lurking around street corners with my big lenses… no convenient herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain behind the house…? Rather pathetic!

It also made me think about the perspective of photographers in wheelchairs and prompted me to go online and see what challenges they would face. I came across an article ‘Bums, tums and torsos, the work of street photographer Adam Summerscale.’ Adam uses a camera mounted to his mobility scooter.

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In the article she wrote about Adam, Hilarie Stelfox explains the issue about perspective:-

‘The world seen from a wheelchair is full of shoulder bags, beer bellies, elbows and children’s faces….. While most of the images are of headless able-bodied adults, just occasionally a disabled person appears in the background, peering through the forest of arms, bodies and bags.’

According to Stelfox, Adam doesn’t want to make disability itself the subject of his work, as another American photographer, Garry Winogrand, did during the 1930s. “He photographed disabled people and used them as a subject,” said Adam, “but I want to do things the other way round – a disabled person photographing able bodied people to invite them into my world.” He would ultimately like to work as a photographer for charities.

Like Adam Summerscale, I think that Peter Mansell is inviting viewers to have an insight into his world. Mansell’s images are more subtle and clearly more focussed on demonstrating to us as the viewer, the banality of the locations which in effect are his ‘waking world’. Conversely, Summerscale’s series is to do with the limitations of his perspective from the height of his camera as he sits in his wheelchair. Summerscale’s images still exude a sense of freedom, whereas in Mansell’s images, the walls that seem to be closing in on him especially during the periods he is hospitalised. He highlights this by photographing the area of carpet where he normally positions his chair. His world is excruciatingly small and he wants us as viewers to get a sense of the claustrophobia of that.

I also empathised with Peter Mansell when he explained ‘In a way it sort of objectified my situation or experience and by so doing released me emotionally’. By using his photography as a conduit for communicating his feelings, his psychological burden was reduced.  Like the old adage ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’, its clear that for some individuals, photography can, through its capacity to act as a communicator, provide comfort, therapy, and distraction from the reality of life.

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 that the simple act of someone looking at your photographs is already a shared experience between you and the viewer. It is inevitable that it will potentially either conjure up memories in them from their own life, or at the very minimum, provide them with a reaction at some basic emotional level, shock, awe, intrigue, sadness, or maybe just plain boredom… these instant emotions will be based on their previous experiences, an image of a sick old man might remind them of a lost grandfather, a particular expression or pose in the subject might remind them of a lost love, street photography may just be silly nonsense to them, portraiture might leave them cold and disinterested. It really is all part of the tapestry of life and the diversity of humanity, and photographs allow us to communicate with each other and to thousands of strangers around the world if we wish. Why would anyone want that not to happen with the images they had taken?

I personally welcome the reaction. I would like someone to have a special memory of a road I’d photographed and tell me about it, (my girly sentimentality in overdrive)… Surely also, the more abstract an image is, the more the photographer is inviting you to interpret it using your own experience. Why leave a story open-ended and expect people not to want to finish it? Surely the more interpretations on an image, the greater number of ‘endings’, the more interesting it is and the longer someone will linger on it, stand in front of it and roll it around their tongue then chew it over before fully digesting it… If you want to add signposts you could use captions with the image. If the information you feel is important, the caption can then lead someone down a particular avenue as opposed to another, but you can never ever really not allow them the freedom to interpret in their own way.

Sources

BBC2 (2016) The Big Life Fix with Simon Reeve. At http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04jyln2. Accessed on 8/1/2017

Stelfox H., (2016) The world from a wheelchair captured by Huddersfield photographer. At http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/world-wheelchair-captured-huddersfield-photographer-12037032 Accessed on 8/1/2017

Part 2 -Kaylynn Deveney – The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings

Kaylynn Deveney captured the daily tasks the elderly Albert Hastings carried out on a daily basis by photographing him in a very tender way: the warmth in their photographer-model relationship is abundantly apparent.  There seems to have been a shared sense of wry humour despite the generation gap. The addition of the captions from Albert recorded in a notebook by Deveney, allow the viewer a sense of his character which makes the images much easier to engage with. It also allows Hastings to project his own voice to the images, and the resulting work is therefore clearly a joint collaboration. I’ve selected a couple of my favourites below:-

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The dominating object in the photograph, the plain brick wall, against Hastings’ lily-white sun-thirsty body, basking on his tropical coloured towel atop the grim grey concrete is delightful in a Marin Parr ‘British eccentricity’ kind of way.

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The image above would probably be unremarkable without Albert’s little quip about the ghost. This is an example of where the caption has really enriched the photograph and made it much more about how Albert could eek a little bit of joy out of everyday objects in his home.

Sources

Deveney, K. (2007) The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings. At https://kaylynndeveney.com/the-day-to-day-life-of-albert-hastings. Accessed on 2/1/2017

Part 2 – Exercise 3 -Network South East

I’ve always loved John Cooper Clarke ever since as a teenager so it was logical for me to look through his catalogue to find a poem that would give me lots of scope for a series of photographs to capture the essence of it… The poem I’ve chosen is ‘Network South East’…

It’s so insubstantial, it swerves on the curves.
The noise of the upholstery batters the nerves.
If you were a passenger day after day
You’d pay to have somebody blow you away.
As I travel these tracks I cannot forgive
How I lose by degrees the incentive to live
Knowing that vengeance will never be mine
That’s what hurts on the misery line.
Hell on Wheels with go-faster stripes.
These passengers here are the tolerant type
I’d like to see them in seven months’ time
When the shatter-proof windows are splattered with slime
And they’ve sacked all the fellas who did the repairs
And shovelled the cheeseburgers off the chairs
From germ-free services smelling of pine
Now it’s travel no-class on the misery line.

John Cooper Clarke

I travelled down to Thetford on the train from Norwich. Thetford station is quite small, just two solitary platforms and even fewer toilets. It is fairly run-down, situated on the mainline to London.  It was a sparkling, sunny, late autumn morning, which didn’t really make the job of photographing a gloomy, depressing train ride, an easy one!

I selected one image per 2 lines of the poem and the results are shown below:-

I decided to focus on details rather than take shots of the whole train carriage and I think this worked better especially given the sunny weather conditions. For example, slide 5 below depicts a folded up train ticket wedged into the wall by some bored traveller; slide 6 below shows an article I found in a free newspaper on the train “Rush Hour Crush” where passengers write rather sad messages to other passengers they want to meet up with…

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Part 2 -Sophy Rickett – Objects in the Field

Compared to the wry life observations which greatly appealed to me within Sophie Calle’s ‘Take Care of Yourself’ artwork, I found Sophy Rickett’s ‘Objects in the Field’ altogether more inaccessible and personally difficult to digest. It could be because of the scientific content and depiction of astronomy-based images which I wouldn’t naturally be drawn to viewing, or the way that the supporting text dissected even the smallest of events (such as her eye test, which I found unnecessarily distracting). Also the final event where the older boy splashes the younger boy by dropping a boulder into the water on the beach, seemed completely disjointed to the main theme and almost indulgent, taking the idea of using an ambiguous postmodernism style to an extreme. I guess I just didn’t feel clever enough to ‘get’ what Sophy was saying and that in itself was frustrating!

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To lay people in astronomy terms, even the title of the work is prohibitory: Camilla Grimaldi explains:-

‘Appropriating the lexicon used by astronomers and astrophysicists that refers to stars as ‘objects’ and to the sky as ‘the field’….’

I did admire how she managed the relationship with the scientist to create an ultimately successful collaboration. She seemed to continuously be seeking common ground to generate the will from Dr Willstrop to continue the project and ignite a shared passion in the face of differing technologies from different eras and different personal ‘vocabulary’.  In her supporting text she explains:-

‘… I think about the dialogue between us – we have the photographic process in common, but some of the language we use to think about our work is not shared’.  (Grimaldi, 2014)

The artist herself also concedes that the collaboration was ultimately satisfying and it is this strand of her work that I find interesting and useful to learn from:-

I really enjoy the dialogue that comes out of the collaborative process, the feeling of being challenged, of finding the right kind of balance. It’s also more fun; I like the camaraderie and the shared ownership; the sense of being in it together’.  (Boothroyd, 2013)

Sources

Grimaldi, G. (2014) Sophie Ricketts: Objects in the Field. At http://www.grimaldigavin.com/article/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field. Accessed at 27/11/2016

Boothroyd, S., (2013) Photoparley. https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/sophy-rickett/ Accessed at 27/11/2016.

Part 2 – Sophie Calle – Take Care of Yourself

news_10597_0Sophie Calle was dumped by email via a ‘hideously self-absorbed message about human emotion’. (Chrisafis, 2007), later seeking analysis of the email from 107 women professionals – including a judge, a markswoman, a chess-player and forensic psychiatrist. Her exhibition presented all their responses in various forms – dance, video, as well as written reports and the original email annotated or corrected down to the minutest placement of a comma. The exhibition included both the returned analyses as well as photographic images of the recipients digesting the letter. It rendered the naval gazing antics of the 4 women in Sex and the City, as pure amateurish child’s play. This took relationship obsession to a whole different level and yet, when reading an article on Calle being interviewed for the Guardian, you cannot fail to have a wry smile when the interviewer interprets the outcome as ‘She feared he might come back seeking a reconciliation, which would have ruined the whole thing’ (Chrisafis, 2007).

Mirroring the variety of responses from the 107 women commissioned to comment, the viewer also is welcomed to digest the artwork in their very own personal way, shaded and coloured by personal perspectives and experiences. Indeed, Calle herself asserts:-

“I don’t want anything from the visitors. They are free to do what they want. I cannot give the rules of the game of the project or give the rules of the game for the visitors of how to take it. It is not anymore my problem. I mean, it is their territory after all, not mine.” (Tateshots, 2007) 

This is what clearly marks the work as ‘postmodern’, as the course materials explain…

Postmodern techniques include the incorporation of fragments of other texts, the use of ambiguous or open-ended plots and unresolved endings, and reduced use of descriptive language. These experimental approaches allow authors to let go of authorship control and major plot lines in preference of stream of consciousness, developing characters and playing with expectations and language. Ultimately they allow the reader to put themselves into the story, with their personal histories and memories playing an important role in how the narrative is read.

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“Take Care of Yourself,” Installation View Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, NY (4/9-5/22/09) Photo: Ellen Wilson

Calle might have fleetingly challenged us to question the ethics of publicizing an email originally destined to be digested by her as the ‘wronged’ half of a once intimate relationship… but you sense that she had no qualms about doing this at the time. In fact I took her side from the start and Clare Harris’ blatant curiosity about the analyses echoed my own sentiments exactly:

“I found myself fascinated by the journey in which an emotional incident that before our eyes has become objectified and neatly dismembered, in a sense, worked through by a sisterhood of supporters, becomes a work of art”. (Harris, 2009)

My personal reaction to the work was very similar to that of Susan Thomson, an art critic, who writes back to Sophie in her blog and reminded me of times spent with friends in my 30s, poring, rather sadly over text messages, our harsh criticisms and exasperation of male spelling and grammar, whilst simultaneously applying a wealth of interpretations to every turn of phrase:-

“I laughed out loud so many times. You pastiche us don’t you, our crazy, romantic ideas, the idea of the female obsessive. So over the top it became funny indeed. And yet, if it weren’t so funny, it might be a little frightening, Sophie. Oh Sophie, we have all been there, obsessing over a phrase uttered by a lover, which we analyse to death. What did that mean, does it have a double meaning, what was the tone of voice etc. etc. Like the most resolute literary critic, we look for hidden clues” (Thomson, 2007)

Some of the critical responses to Calle’s work that I found on-line were similarly  microscopically analysed.. it as almost a relief to come upon a rather poetic yet brief phrase ‘communal disembowelling‘ (Harris, 2009) referring to the overt mass scrutiny of the text of the email which resonated with me as the perfect subtitle for the artwork. Having said that, I rather enjoyed reading the various responses and seeing which ones I could personally relate to.

The rather ultimate two fingers to the erstwhile boyfriend, was the video of the parrot eating the email/letter. I find this highly amusing as I sit here with my partner and his rather moth-eaten pink galah squawking in the corner of our lounge, pondering on the what if’s of life…

Sources

Chrisafis, A. (2007) He loves me not. At https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art Accessed at 26/11/2016

Tateshots. (2007). Venice Biennale: Sophie Calle. At http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/venice-biennale-sophie-calle Accessed at 26/11/2016

Harris, C. (2009). Sophie Calle – Take Care of Yourself.  At https://www.a-n.co.uk/reviews/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself Accessed at 26/11/2016

Thomson, S (2007) Sophie Calle, Take care of yourself, French Pavilion, Venice 2007. At http://susanthomson.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself-2007.html  Accessed at 26/11/2016

Part 2 – Exercise 2 -Anchor and Relay

This exercise required you to cut some pictures from a newspaper and devise some captions, explain how the text contextualises or re-contextualises the image, and explore the meanings given to the photographs.

Over the last week or so I’ve been drawn to the sad story about the 14 year old girl who was dying of cancer and was granted her dying wish to have her body cryogenically frozen. Her father, also suffering with cancer, was initially opposed to her wishes and felt that it was exploitation of the vulnerable and offering false hope to those dying; he later changed his mind during the court case, saying “It was the last and only thing she has asked from me”.

I thought this would be an interesting story to base this exercise on as the photos had to remain fairly innocuous to preserve the anonymity of the young girl and to shield viewers from the reality of the processes involved in cryogenically preserving a body: Essentially blood is drained from the body and replaced with organ-preserving chemicals, then the corpse is lowered head first into liquid nitrogen, suspended upside down, in large tanks along with other preserved bodies. This was clearly not a story that would give way easily to a set of clear, fact-filled, photojournalistic images.

I decided to look at two radically different style of newspapers (on-line) to understand how each would approach the story and what images they would use to illustrate it, if any. I read articles from the Guardian and Daily Mail newspapers. cryogenics

The Guardian added blunt and factual text to the image of the tanks:-
‘The Cryonics Institute uses insulated tanks for the long-term storage of bodies in liquid nitrogen. Photograph: Cryonics Institute/EPA

Looking at this image without any supporting captions or story, the photograph could be open to a wide range of interpretations as to the subject of the story. I would guess at milk vats or cheese-making urns, or something else equally farming or business-orientated, maybe “Brexit to impact the price of milk in supermarkets causing concern among farming communities and consumers alike”….

The Daily Mail conversely, used emotive words right from the headline of the story downwards, paired with multiple images of the cryogenics laboratory. The story headline reads:

“The icy tomb of Britain’s frozen teenager: Pictured for the first time, the -196C cryo-tank where body of 14-year-old cancer girl is hung upside down in a £10 sleeping bag with FIVE other corpses”

The story then starts in typical Daily Mail ‘shock’ style on the lead up to the image of the tanks (I have emboldened the words that go beyond being an ‘anchor’ to the image, but are more divisive, and lend more to a ‘relay’ and particular slant of interpretation to the photograph…

“Inside the 10ft high white fibre-glass vat of liquid nitrogen …. her body is stored upside down, strapped to a wooden plant, wrapped in a sheet and nylon sleeping bag. Alongside her in the tank are five other bodies….. Yesterday I stood next to this frozen grave and shivers ran down my spine. This was the most surreal of cemeteries“..

Just as equally, this image is, on its own, very innocuous, although the added magnification of the batch number on the side of the tank might lead us as a viewer to think that this is more about a scientific issue rather than a farming story:-  Interestingly, the Daily Mail reverts back to a somewhat banal caption actually accompanying the image compared to its previous use of language, but it reverts much more to an ‘anchor’ approach, where the words support what can be seen in the image, with less of a sense of outrage or abhorrence to the story:-

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“Pictured: This tank stores the British teen, known as patient 143 – after she won a high court battle to be cryogenically frozen.”

Other images from the Daily Mail article continue in a similar vein and I’ve included comments against each…

Top Left: “Pictured: A theatre at the Cryogenics Institute showing a table where staff prepare the patients.” This again is largely an ‘anchor’ caption, and the use of the word ‘patients’, whilst on the face of it could be seen as emotive, is actually not in any way as its a factual representation of the name the staff use to call the bodies. I would suggest an alternative caption to someone not knowing the story could be “NHS waiting lists at breaking point but operating theatres underutilised”…

Bottom Left: “Pictured: Columns of filing cabinets keep patients’ vital personal documents safely locked away at the Cryogenics Institute at Michegan, USA.” An alternative headline could be “Black Friday Office Furniture sale at IKEA does not hit target sales…”

Above Right:-“Pictured: A model shows how the equipment at the Cryogenics Institute works”. Again, the caption is in the style of an anchor. Without having read the story I might have interpreted the image as “Local fundraising achieves target to buy life-saving equipment for RNLI”… or something similar..

I suppose in summary no images alone in this story would ultimately make someone thing of Cryogenics, apart from the ones where the logo is clearly shown, or an image of the outside of the laboratory complete with a sign…  It was a good exercise to underline the difficulties press photographers and photojournalists have in covering a story and supporting it with the use of photographs that actually add to the story. There is a sinister somewhat morbid curiosity around these images and this is something which the Mail on Sunday in its article capitalised on. However, when digesting the story, it was the actual narrative of the article that provided all the information.

Sources

Siddique, H. for The Guardian (2016) Cryogenics: Frozen girl’s father says providers exploit the vulnerable At https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/nov/20/cryonics-frozen-girls-father-says-providers-exploit-the-vulnerable  Accessed at 20/11/2016

Adams, S. for the Mail on Sunday (2012) The icy tomb of Britain’s frozen teenager At http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3953068/The-frozen-tomb-Britain-s-frozen-teenager-Pictured-time-196C-cryo-tank-14-year-old-cancer-girl-laid-rest-alongside-FIVE-patients.html#ixzz4QYNl1LCX  Accessed at 20/11/2016