Assignment 4: response to tutor feedback

I was generally pleased with Russell’s feedback, although he quickly affirmed my concerns that my subject matter was too broad and that the section on Abu Ghraib could yield an essay itself. He suggested that I cut the chapter on Abu Ghraib and expand on discussing photographers such as Simon Norfolk who produce late photography. My initial reaction to this was to agree with the analysis but to go the opposite direction and concentrate on Abu Ghraib rather than engaging in a broader discussion about the development of war photography. With some soak time to reflect I realised this response was based on the fact that at the time I received the feedback I was too close to the material as the Abu Ghraib issue was the subject I initially chose – to remove this from the essay seemed wrong. Rereading however, I found the argument I had built around the development of war photography to be the strongest parts of the essay – in short – Russell was right! This is a good example of sometimes needing to leave a little space between making work and judging what changes to make – sometimes you can be too close to what has been produced and not able to make an objective judgement.

On the positive, I was pleased that Russell found the essay was “detailed” and has an “overall engaging narrative”. He also commented that my research and range of sources drawn upon was strong. In strengthening the essay, he pointed to the notion of the aftermath image as a subject to discuss further, specifically how photographers such as Simon Norfolk capture the past with images of perceived beauty.

Here are my thoughts on some further sources Russell pointed me to explore:

Jesse Alexander: Cyanotypes:

In his artists statement, Alexander explains that he “wanted to take images that were heavily used within the print media at the time, [of] events planned for their visuality.” By using the cyanotype process, which he describes as one of the simplest early photographic processes and a cost effective and accurate way to reproduce documents he found a way to “scrutinize and represent these iconic images”. He found there was also “a discord between the hand-made, and crafted nature of these singular images, made in a process that has now assumed heritage status, and the pixilated, ephemeral quality of these news images.”

I am pleased Russell alerted me to this series as although it may no longer have immediate relevance given my decision to cut the Abu Ghraib section of the essay, this is undoubtedly something I will come back to – especially if the next course I choose is Digital Image and Culture.

Simon Wollen: Fire and Ice:

Although this essay compares the differences in narrative potential between moving and still images, there are some interesting points regarding photography and its relationship to time:

“film is like fire, photography is like ice. Film is all light and shadow, incessant motion, transience flicker…Photography is motionless and frozen, it has the cryogenic power to preserve objects through time without decay. Fire will melt ice, but then the melted ice will put out the fire.”

Here are some other quotes passages form the essay that resonated with me:

“The aesthetic discussion of photography is dominated by the concept of time. Photographs appear as devices for stopping time and preserving fragments of the past, like flies in amber.”

“News photographs are perceived as signifying events. Art photographs and most documentary photographs signify states.”

“The time of photographs themselves is one of stasis. They endure. Hence there is a fit between the photographic image which signifies a state and its own signified, whereas we sense something paradoxical about the photograph which signifies an event, like a frozen tongue of fire.”

The assassination of Osama Bin Laden:

Russell pointed me to the famous picture of President Obama in the incident room at the White House as he watched the operation to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden. This image could provide fascinating insight into photography’s changing relationship with news, truth, reality and control – despite only showing the expressions on the faces of the people in the incident room we are expected to imagine that we too have seen Bin Laden being captured and killed. As Russell points out, this requires us to take the information relayed in the caption at face value and to trust the integrity of what we are being told. The decision never to show the body of Bin Laden – rationalised because it was felt that this could have a negative effect and the image could be used for propaganda purposes – is certainly problematic for those who believe photographic evidence of his demise is required.

I have written about this image previously for Exercise 3-12: Fictional Documents, and revisiting this post I was struck by this comment and how it could possibly be relevant to my essay:

“[The image] is complex and fascinating…an apparent candid document of an historic moment that if we were cynical, could be read as a carefully choreographed presentation of a particular narrative with the undoubted intention to be an aid to the political standing of everyone featured.”

Conflict, Time, Photography: Tate Modern Exhibition:

This exhibition is particularly relevant to the closer investigation of aftermath/late photography as it is curated based upon the time duration between the event and when the image was captured.

Bibliography:

Pantall, C. (2011) Jesse Alexander’s Cyanotypes. Carelessly Curated: Colin Pantall’s Blog. Available at: http://colinpantall.blogspot.com/2011/09/jesse-alexanders-cyanotypes.html [accessed 23rd December 2018]

Souza, P. (2011) The Situation Room – 100 Photographs – The most influential images of all time. Available at: http://100photos.time.com/photos/pete-souza-situation-room [accessed 23rd December 2018]

Wollen, S. (1984) Fire and Ice. Available at: https://thenegativeaffect.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fire-and-ice-1984.pdf [accessed 23rd December 2018]

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