Assignment 1: Peer feedback
Approaching requests for feedback, these were the questions that I wanted to gain answers/insight to:
What sense of community (if any) is there in the images?
Is the black and white appropriate?
Should the pictures be manipulated more or less?
Is the selection process valid?
Thoughts on the images selected? Any to remove from selection?
Thoughts on the methodology for taking the photographs
Thoughts on ethics of taking photographs in this way – while people are unaware
Are the pictures interesting?
I have never pushed myself to seek the feedback of peers, usually putting work out there in the form of a submission is difficult enough for me without any added complications. Coming into the documentary course however, I recognised that this issue was something I need to actively address if I wanted to progress with the degree. Eventually, I must be able to share work outside of the cocoon of OCA where even critical comments would be sympathetic. I wanted to use this assignment as a way of pushing myself to share work and to also see how, and if, this would inform and alter what I finally submit. Here are the ways I shared work:
Documentary student hangout:
I had been both encouraged and inspired by fellow students sharing work in the three hangouts held before I had anything myself to show. It is probably accurate that the approaching date for the documentary hangout was a push for me to bring some work together for presentation. (I would be lying however if I did not acknowledge that I considered not attending as a tactic for avoidance.)
I was able to comment on students work more fully and helpfully when they took the time to share in advance, so, it seemed important that this was an approach I took. After going through my selection process (detailed here)
I uploaded 2 albums to Flickr – 83 images representing my long list and 22 as my short list. The decision to upload the long list was last minute and probably emphasises my self doubt, although I rationalised this with thoughts that it would be an interesting side point as to whether any images were chosen from the long list.
Taking the plunge to share the images was undoubtedly a major step change for me and something that I immediately felt both motivated and invigorated by. I am so pleased that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and grateful to the helpful discussion my fellow students offered. Thoughts immediately following the hangout are here.
Ex-UVC cohort feedback:
A core of 6 UVC students (including me) continue to meet via hangouts although most of us have now completed the course and we are all now studying something different. Through the time we studied UVC we built a rapport and I am glad we have decided to continue keeping in contact going forward. I sent out a brief email with links to the work on Flickr and must admit to being disappointed to only receive feedback from one student however, the comments they made were so helpful that this made making the effort to put access this community worthwhile.
I was encouraged that not receiving feedback did not discourage me in any way, this is perhaps due to feeling optimistic following the documentary hangout. I did of course reflect on why feedback was not forthcoming and consider how this may alter my approach in the future. I must confess to rarely commenting on students work when they request feedback, and now that I was in the position of asking for my work to be looked at I suddenly realised how disappointing this is. The other fact I needed to face was that I often do not comment on work if I do not feel I have anything to say or add, and most importantly, if I cannot think of a way to criticise constructively.
The feedback I did receive proved interesting in that many images commented upon were from my long list – this made me reconsider my initial concern that I may be discounting images that were worthy of consideration or even choosing the wrong pictures completely. In the hangout we discussed how some photographers made were poor at making editorial decisions of their work – for instance – William Eggleston whose initial exhibition at MoMA was selected by John Szarkowski (although in Eggleston’s case he may be unwilling rather than unable to edit); Richard Billingham who did not even consider showing his photographs that eventually became ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ until his University lecturers realised their potential; Garry Winogrand who deliberately left rolls of film undeveloped as his interest was in taking pictures above all else.
Development of the selection idea – The Democratic Document:
Continued thoughts about how feedback could influence my selections led me to a further experiment. I posted a request on the OCA student forum, OCA Flickr forum, the documentary group and the mixed group for students to review my long list and choose ten images either by selecting pictures as favourites or commenting upon them – I would then use the images with the most votes as my final selection.
Comments from the OCA forum:
Summary at 23rd May 2017 – 14 replies, 73 views, 5 users
Comments that in my introduction I have already identified the weaknesses in my method and should go back to the full set (rather than the long/short list) and devise a method of inserting chance.
Peter recommended looking at the methods used by John Cage to create compositions. A quick bit of research indicated that Cage used I Ching, the Chinese divination system, as a tool to aid composition using chance.
Pointed out that using black and white is an intervention. I responded with the question that if I had used a film camera with black and white film would this still be the case? Clive stated that since digital cameras deliver colour by default it is less interventionist to use colour images – a point I must agree with.
Clive made an interesting note about a project he completed himself in the 1970s photographing without looking through the lens and also one he did with the first generation of webcams taking random pictures of his street. It was interesting to have this personal response and link to similar approaches taken.
Clive pointed me towards a website that can be used to generate random data https://www.random.org/bytes/ which is an answer to the query I had about how to achieve just this.
Recommended printing the images and playing with them to see what works together – an approach that helps develop the edit beyond the ‘favourite ones.’ A technique Stéphanie uses to aid this is to put on music that has a specific mood which allows her to think differently.
Mentions the photographer David George and that he cannot edit or sequence until he has a title. Like Stéphanie, Sarah-Jane’s projects have soundtracks too. A note of caution was made that the images she indicated were the ones that stood out individually but may have no place in the structure or story I want to tell. An observation was made that many images in the long list manage to look well structured in a modernist way, and that may be something to embrace or discount.
Documentary group comments:
Des not think it is an issue to curate randomness – there is a danger of trying to be too smart and lose the audience.
Going back to the brief, asked me to consider:
Does image x represent community?
Is image x expressing an emotion that was not intended? E.g. voyeurism.
Ultimately the selection needed to be based on whether I wanted my prejudices to be reflected or the community to be shown in a new light and to remember the happy surprises that have occurred through the process of taking the pictures.
Agrees with Bryn but has chosen 10 images anyway.
Sees 2 possibilities:
1. The objective way – chose 10 images from the entire set either randomly or at regular intervals.
2. The subjective way – decide on a story to tell on use this to complete the final selection.
Comments from Flickr:
Again, what is not said is of interest, I can only assume that for reasons mentioned above people did not feel they could comment. I found all of the comments made valuable – especially Peter and Clive’s criticism of the approach and how the request for support does not fit with an attempt to achieve randomness. Partly I think this is due to me not explaining myself fully at the beginning – I should definitely have added that the approach was an experiment. Despite this, I found much to take from the comments that were made – particularly Maurice’s comment which was one of the last I received that encouraged deciding on a story and then using the images to tell it. The images that resonated most with me were those with people in them, particularly those where there is a lone person in the shot. Rather than discounting the idea that I want the images to be some sort of antidote to the negative feelings I have for my area, perhaps I should embrace this. The lone figures could work as a comment on the alienation we are faced with in late capitalist society along with the particular issues of post-industrialisation that affect my area. I had already ordered small prints of the long list to experiment with selection and sequencing (this is approach I have used before that has worked well and I was spurred to revisit following Stéphanie’s comments.)
It seems a shame not to use the data collected through the ‘Democratic Document’ process and this could possibly form an extension of the assignment. Returning to the grid idea, I could combine the selections into sequences of 9 on one page – this would enable comparison to be made between the shots in each sequence along with each of the combined images – it could be interesting to see how these differ and compare.