Documentary Hangout 8 

Attendance: Bryn, Johnathon, Annie

In preparation for the hangout, I sent an email to students about topics I wished to discuss. Bryn and I have been discussing ways collaboration and discussion can be developed and I was interested in what the others thought as well as wanting to talk to Bryn about it rather than via email. I also wanted to gain some feedback on some ideas for assignment 2 – this was a new step out of comfort zone as I have only previously shown work when I am sure about the direction I am heading rather than something that is in the very initial stages.

Johnathon – feedback for assignment 3

Johnathan had received his tutor feedback which was encouraging, the main point being that it was felt his use of captions were redundant. Talking about his assignment, and viewing the work, provided a great deal of interest as I had gained an understanding of Johnathon’s working process from the inception of his idea to the finished product. Having this insight is an unexpected benefit to the hangout group – it is reassuring to know that Johnathon, who produces very assured work, shares the same anxieties and self doubts that I do. It is also motivating to see how he has worked through these to complete the assignment, particularly how the process has developed organically and then come together in the edit – something I am interested in working on.

Me – Ideas for assignment 2: 

Before the hangout, I posted some images for two ideas I have been pursuing for assignment 2 and asked the group for feedback about whether I should pursue them. I am currently trying not to overthink before I take photographs, my strategy being that theory should follow practice (when discussing his feedback for assignment 3, Johnathon said his tutor used the term ‘post conceptualisation’ in his feedback, something I had read on Johnathon’s blog and then realised when he mentioned it!) I have been experimenting with some approaches for assignment 2 as was keen to gain some feedback about how successful they are as a concept for the assignment brief.

1. Adverts 

During UVC, one of the assignments required the study of advertisements using cultural theory and semiotic analysis. I was influenced in this course

by Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’, a work that seems ever more prescient given the bombardment of imagery we face on a daily basis. I sometimes wonder how effective advertising is, particularly adverts at the side of the road on billboards and in bus stops which must only be viewed fleetingly. I suspect these wash over us and we gain awareness of their messages without consciously thinking about it – for a brand like Coca-Cola maintaining their identity through the promotion of a lifestyle that we seek to share is the most likely goal rather than direct selling. With this in mind, I began to think of ways I could photograph adverts that played on this idea of subliminal influence, somehow subverting the intended message. I experimented with different approaches, such as close-ups that remove context and force the viewer to re-evaluate what they are looking at. (Of course, this approach has already been famously taken by Richard Prince in his Cowboys series – images of Marlborough cigarette adverts that play on notions of the myth of American masculinity through their removal of defining signs and display in a gallery setting)

Another approach I tried was to deliberately take images out of focus, an approach that seemed to work with adverts that had a distinguishable brand:

It was agreed that the Coca-Cola advert was the most successful and I was encouraged to continue with the experiment to see where it may take me. We also discussed the inclusion of text in the image – something I am becoming increasingly interested in, especially in instances where the text confounds and subverts the image (For example, Martha Rosler’s ‘The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems’This idea was encouraged as having potential, I discussed how I might display a message contrary to the positive image the advertisers wish to display. For Coca-Cola, this could be the poor environmental workers’ rights record, especially in the developing world, which is completely at odds with their brand image. A quick search for Subway brought up news stories of accusations they used fake chicken in their sandwiches – their appears to be plenty of material for this approach so the potential appeared to be there.

2. Roadside memorials 

I have been fascinated by the phenomenon of roadside memorials for some time but have held off pursuing them as a subject for a photographic project as they have been pursued by so many photographers they are in danger of being a cliché. This thought would previously have meant I would discount the idea completely, in the spirit of working first and thinking later I decided to pursue the idea and see where it takes me.

For me, the subject fits the brief of single image narratives because the memorial itself undoubtedly contains a story about what has happened. The likelihood, however, is that few will know the reasons why the shrine is in place, and, while we can empathise with the bereavement of the family we cannot really identify with their loss. Thinking about what image to make made me consider the shrines in a similar way to the adverts as they are often seen fleetingly from car windows and more than likely not fully comprehended. My first approach was to photograph using a camera on a tripod in the passenger side of my car and trip the shutter as I passed. For some reason, I chose not to present these images to the group, when I described the process they were all interested and felt this could be a way forward. I think subconsciously I was feeling this approach was too close to assignment 1 and that I needed to do something different. The images I showed were all of the shrine that is nearest to my home and one that also best sums up my interest in pursuing photographing these as a subject. The flowers have been in place for many years, I do not remember what happened to cause them, the flowers are artificial which is a solution to the decay that affects fresh flowers. Despite this, when you get close to the flowers, it is clear they have been there a long time – although this is not something that is evident from the road. The pictures I showed demonstrate experiments in approaches, from close up to showing more of the surroundings to including passing cars in the images. I was interested in whether this was a subject worth pursuing rather than any critique. I deliberately chose a considered style in opposition to my strategy in assignment 1, everyone seemed more interested in the approach I did not show however – this left me to consider the option of showing different shooting techniques and styles together, perhaps as a triptych.

Both of these ideas do not really seem to work in black and white, (my reasons for showing some black and white images for the roadside memorial idea was to test this theory.) I asked the group if they thought it would be legitimate to work in colour for an assignment that ends the B&W document section of the course. Everyone thought this was fine, I am still unsure however and need to consider this more carefully. I have considered the idea that the project could have a side point of exploring the difference between black and white and colour and the effect this has on the viewer and their understanding of the image.

The B&W document discussion: 

I asked a question which stemmed from the Bill Brandt ‘Art of the Document’ exercise and also thoughts about black and white versus colour that stemmed from my explorations toward assignment 2. In the exercise, we are asked why B&W has become a trusted medium – a point that is not directly addressed in the paper itself. I wanted to know if students had come across anything interesting themselves in relation to this question (I had recently read an essay

by Philip Jones-Griffiths, ‘The Curse of Colour’ which I found added an interesting viewpoint.) The consensus was that the question was somewhat redundant today, in many ways choosing black and white can be read as a stylistic choice that is fraught with more difficulty/pretensions than working in colour. In my mind, there was the term ‘fine art’ photography – a phrase I have an issue with as the signpost of the title seems somewhat counter-intuitive and desperate to impress a cultural value upon the work. I asked if others felt that posing this question was meant to be provocative or was more throw away – it seemed to me that the question was a potential rabbit hole to be drawn down, something I am trying to avoid! It was felt that the best course of action was to consider the question and move on. I asked if there were any projects that others felt could prove potential distractions and which they felt did not deserve extended attention (I was thinking about the Gadhafi exercise which requires commenting on a blog post that is now a number of years old with multiple responses – something that I spent a lot of time on but did not feel warranted the effort.) Bryn mentioned another exercise in section 3 that is similar to this, the personal objective from the discussion I gained was to take each exercise as it comes and try harder not to get too involved in them!

The discussion moved onto thoughts about aesthetics, particularly a photographer like Sebastiao Salgado who is criticised for making beautiful images. This is a question that interests me greatly and something I am considering as a subject for my critical essay.

Study group question: 

On the back of mine and Bryn’s experiments with collaboration, I had been thinking more and more about ways to further develop interaction in an attempt to negate the issues inherent in distance learning. I imagine that in a bricks and mortar environment, discussing a subject, essay or book in the classroom would be of enormous benefit, perhaps doing this in a hangout could lead to similar success? We talked about bringing some increased structure to our current hangouts, which is a good idea, however, one of the most important aspects of this time is that the conversations free flowing and I would be worried about stifling this. A separate hangout for some very narrow discussion, in addition to our current hangout, is my preferred idea. My concern, however, and one that is shared by the others, is the question of time – personally to commit to attending a hangout every 3/4 weeks is enough of a challenge without adding to it. My gut feeling is that this is something worth trying to see if it works.

During the discussion, we also touched on how to record these hangouts on our blogs, indeed if this was necessary. My feeling is that the blog is not about sending everything in or trying to impress the assessors, for documentary I am consciously trying to publish more than I have previously but this is more about practising writing and pushing myself to put the work out there. Others mentioned posts I had written previously about our hangouts were useful to them, although Bryn’s description of them as ‘minutes’ suggests a factual tone that I need to balance with my own personal thoughts. For me, this is a good habit to get keep doing – the act of writing helps me to consolidate my thoughts and make things clearer.

Next Hangout scheduled 24th September 2017.

Bibliography: 

Campany, D. (2006) The career of a photographer, the career of a photograph: Bill Brandt’s art of the document. 

Pps 51-61: Barson, T, et al. (2006) Making History: Art and Documentary in Britain from 1929 to now. London: Tate Publishing.

Jones Griffiths, P (2000) The Curse of Colour. 

Pps. 38-42: Stallabrass, J. (ed.) (2013) Documentary. London: Whitechapel art gallery.

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