Assignment 2 is titled ‘single image narratives’ with the brief in the course notes stating: “Produce eight images that, individually, have a narrative and convey a specific idea…Rather than focusing on a theme or activity, work on a concept.” The images for the assignment should be presented on a blog page with thumbnails linking to high resolution images.
Development of approach:
My initial reaction to the assignment brief was to find some way of subverting the notion of single image narratives, this is a term that seems loaded with connotations regarding the nature of photography and suggests a photograph must have a clear, intended message. The polysemous nature of photography and the mediums inherent ambiguity are perhaps the two things that most attract me to the photograph as a means of artistic expression – Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment can only be defined as such because of the moment the shutter was pressed, a shot before or after would be just as decisive in my opinion. Photographs of the banal, the ordinary and the uneventful can be just as powerful as pictures of the extraordinary – even more so if they resonate with our experiences.
The first idea I had was to photograph road side shrines – to me, the fascinating thing about these to is that most observers will have no idea about the circumstances that led to the shrines being placed. By photographing the shrines, a narrative is both suggested and denied as the viewer must try to guess about the events that have led to the commemoration being placed there. Visually, this subject could also offer as a counterpoint to assignment 1 as I could spend time composing each image. I eventually decided against this as a subject (although this is still a project I am pursuing myself) because I felt my second idea of photographing adverts had a more conceptual basis.
Reading the assignment brief immediately reminded me of Barthes rationale in ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ about choosing an advertisement as an example of semiotic analysis. In the essay, he states, “in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional.” (Barthes 1977:33) Appropriation art is something that has interested me since studying UVC and along with Barthes I thought of the precedent of Richard Prince, particularly his cowboy series. Thinking about advertisments I started to consider how I engage and am affected by these myself. I began to experiment taking photographs of bus stip advertisements, and since my natural instinct was to subvert these, tried taking images out of focus as a way of denying the advertisers their intenedd message.
I detail my approach to the assignment below, peer feedback on my initial two ideas is detailed here.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills:
Rather than subject matter, I was driven to experiment with this assignment. My approach was to take images and see where they took me, I focused on reflections, details and photographing through the transparent surfaces of the bus stops. My initial post production experiments led me to increase the saturation of the images which sent the strong, graphic elements of many adverts into overdrive and resulted in a garish quality that I found fitted my scepticism of advertising generally. Photographing at night when the adverts were illuminated emphasised this which I explored to produce consistency. The effect of the bulbs behind the print ads also subtly suggested how the images had been taken and emphasised their materiality. Framing the adverts was difficult in order to keep them straight and tight to the edges of the frame and required a great deal of fine tuning. I used a hotshoe mounted spirit level which worked in keeping the camera level but the advertisement light boxes were not always straight themselves which was difficult. Mistakes only became visible when the images were viewed on the computer and finding that errors had been made was frustrating, especially since some opportunities to reshoot were lost due to the adverts being changed frequently. The images were also prone to reflections from other light sources which I have cloned out in Photoshop.
Quality of outcome:
When thinking about the nature of single image narratives I was immediately drawn to subvert this by rejecting traditional notions of how this can be achieved, for example the decisive moment. Rather than something fleetingly captured, I have chosen a static subject – the narrative value is built into both the intention of the advertiser and the reaction of the viewer. By presenting the image out of focus with a caption that is at odds with the advertisers intended message I am imposing my own narrative intentions and scepticism about advertising. This approach mirrors that of the advertiser in that I am leading the viewer and restricting possible readings. The very criticism I have of the advertisements themselves, that they try to prevent independent analysis, can be levelled at my own work with the danger being that this approach is too heavy handed and rejected by the viewer.
I am unsure how legitimate it is to present a series of colour photographs for the culmination a section entitled the B&W document, although the brief specifies it is not necessary to work in black and white.
Demonstration of creativity:
The creativity of this assignment is best exemplified by my approach rather than the outcome. Taking the idea that advertisements are examples of single image narratives in themselves was my starting point and from that I embarked on
various experiments before arriving at my chosen presentation. It was important to me that the images are united conceptually and stylistically and I decided on this after a period of practice, consideration and review that arrived at a particular way of working. As I have detailed in my section on influences,
the subject matter and approach has many precedents. In the past this would have prevented me from even attempting this project, my ability to see past this and pursue the assignment is a major step forward for me.
The aspect of the brief that requires the assignment to be presented as a web gallery was something I thought a lot about and am disappointed I did not make more of. There is a clear opportunity with the assignment to differentiate from traditional print presentation which I have not capitalised upon, although, the use of a hyperlink as part of the image captioning is perhaps a step towards this.
The coursework for part two is based mainly around traditional modes of commentary expression. My approach for this assignment however is more conceptual and I am concerned this is driven more by a desire to demonstrate my appreciation of this aspect of photography rather than my personal voice. I have a wide set of influences and interests photographically, but I am increasingly more inclined towards photography that is intended to be presented in a gallery setting. However, when I think about the work that affects me most on an emotional level, it is that which is recognisably in the real world and which features people and their stories. I wonder in hindsight how much my desire to challenge the notion of single image narratives in themselves has clouded my approach along with wanting to make something that is different to my first assignment.