Research Into the Practice of Selfie-Taking in Preparation for Assignment 5 – Documentary

Since a large part of my work for Assignment 5 – Documentary revolves around myself documenting people in the act of taking photos but more specifically selfies, I have decided to conduct some research into the ultra-popular phenomenon of selfie-taking. Obviously there are a lot of selfies taken each day, although it was hard to find information quantifying just how many selfies are taken each day, perhaps because of the multitude that are taken. One source claimed 1 million selfies are taken each day: ‘the 1 million odd selfies taken every day across the world (the average millennial is expected to take 25,700 selfies in his or her lifetime)’ – (Walden, 2016). However, this was back in 2016 and is a rough estimate so numbers may have risen since then. In fact in 2014 another article came to the figure ‘Android users send … 93 million “selfies” every day.’ – (Brandt, 2014). These numbers vary wildly but I came to the conclusion that there are a lot of selfies being taken each day. I have also come to realise, while walking around my home city of London that there are a lot of selfies being taken, as well as the fact that London seemed to be a particularly popular place for selfies.

Upon closer inspection, I was able to find statistics that backed this up, showing that London is indeed the the selfie capital of the world. As of 2014, 14.05% of selfies were taken in London. ‘According to an analysis of millions of social media posts by personalized map maker Suggestme, London is the world’s selfie capital.’ – (Richter, 2014). I feel I have been very privileged to live in London and it has come in handy to take advantage of the city’s selfie capital status for the project I have been commencing for Assignment 5 – Documentary. Because so many people visit and take selfies in London it has allowed me to conceptualise through shooting photographs the project described in Final Development for Assignment 5 – Documentary. It will also have allowed me (with the help of some patience) to get shots of many tourists taking selfies in each hotspot, something that wouldn’t have been as possible in other cities.

One thing that did intrigue me about this data which somewhat quantified the popularity of selfie-taking was what drove people to take them so frequently and with so much enthusiasm. Fellow student Bryn had referenced Grand Turismo to me as a suggestion for reading as he knew I was interested in documenting tourism and selfie-taking for Assignment 5. Photographer Stefano Galli was interested in documenting the same phenomenon but in a different style and in the American West instead of London. Galli used certain similar techniques: ‘To best capture the phenomenon of massive tourism, I chose popular destinations, the ones that would allow me to find the big crowds.’ – (Galli, 2018), however his style was more natural and uncontrived than mine. He documented the tourists using the selfie as a commodity rather than experiencing the spaces they visited. One quote I could really relate to since commencing Assignment 5 was: ‘Where the travel photograph was once a memento of a personal experience it has now become a commodity, replacing the experience itself.’ – (The Leica Camera Blog, 2018). This quote in turn made me think back to a remark by Susan Sontag in On Photography (1977) where she states: ‘by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.’ It would seem that the photographs are now more important than the actual visit to the place. The visit to the place takes more of a peripheral backseat to the tourists.

The act of selfie-taking isn’t without controversy. According to Christoforakos and Diefenbach (2017), they state: ‘The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them’ as the title of their exploration into the psychological implications of selfie-taking. I already agreed with this statement but reading through the abstract of the article there were some interesting comments to back this statement up. ‘Taking, posting, and viewing selfies has become a daily habit for many. At the same time, research revealed that selfies often evoke criticism and disrespect, and are associated with non-authenticity and narcissism.’ – (Christoforakos and Diefenbach, 2017). This directly backs up the title of their article. The two parts to this statement were in turn backed up by ‘self-promotion (promoting one’s strength and abilities) and self-disclosure (revealing one’s feelings for earning sympathy) felt especially positive while takings selfies’ – (Christoforakos and Diefenbach, 2017) for the positive side of selfie-taking. Then for the negative side to taking/viewing selfies they found: ‘participants expressed a distanced attitude toward selfies, with stronger agreement for potential negative consequences (threats to self-esteem, illusionary world) than for positive consequences … and a clear preference (82%) for viewing more usual pictures instead of selfies in social media’ – (Christoforakos and Diefenbach, 2017). I thought this was very insightful research as most people would agree there are positive and negative sides to selfie-culture but probably wouldn’t be able to elucidate as clearly as this to why.

References:

Brandt, R. (2014). Google divulges numbers at I/O: 20 billion texts, 93 million selfies and more. [online] Bizjournals.com. Available at: https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2014/06/25/google-divulges-numbers-at-i-o-20-billion-texts-93.html [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Christoforakos, L. and Diefenbach, S. (2017). The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them. [online] Frontiers in Psychology. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00007/full#B8 [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Galli, S. (2018). Grand Turismo. [online] Stefanogalli.com. Available at: http://stefanogalli.com/albums/grand-turismo/ [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Richter, F. (2014). Infographic: London Is the World’s Selfie Capital. [online] Statista Infographics. Available at: https://www.statista.com/chart/2268/most-popular-cities-for-selfies/ [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 13.

The Leica Camera Blog. (2018). Grand Turismo – The Leica Camera Blog. [online] Available at: http://blog.leica-camera.com/2018/05/04/grand-turismo/?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=Leica_MD [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Walden, C. (2016). We take 1 million selfies every day – but what are they doing to our brains?. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/we-take-1-million-selfies-every-day—but-what-are-they-doing-to/ [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Advertisements

Looking at the Work of Other OCA Students

I have mainly concentrated on the work of photographers unrelated to the OCA, either from independent learning or the suggested documentary-related photographers referenced in the course. However, I have been asked to look at some other OCA students work whose projects are about to reach their intended audience. I would say I was quite looking forward to this project as not only do I get to see some projects which have been produced by fellow students but more importantly, the work is to a standard that enables it to be appreciated by its intended audience.

Not Our Time – Penny Watson (2012)

First of all I looked at a project by Penny Watson entitled Not Our Time (2012). This project was obviously very personal to Penny and I felt the decisions she made in terms of aesthetics and composition allowed this to be reflected in the photographs. I found it very touching and one of the reasons for this was that the majority of the photos were environmental portraits, without losing the intimacy of Penny spending time with her grandmother. Other aesthetic decisions made included minimal post-processing, advising her grandmother not to smile or look at the camera and not employing flash at all. All of this and the fact she shot nearly 400 images for the project enabled her to portray her grandmother in a very convincing manner. One of the questions she posed in her book was: ‘I am intrigued to see whether photographing a family member rather than a stranger affects the images taken and whether any emotional connections are evident.’ – (Watson, 2012). The answer to this was I felt yes, although not directly. For instance there was no eye contact between the grandmother and the camera/Penny (one of Penny’s aesthetic choices). Instead there was a great deal of intimacy in the compositions of the environmental portraits which for me showed how Penny cared for her grandmother. Here Penny allowed the camera to do the talking in a subtle way rather than any direct intervention.

Behind the Scenes – Beth Aston

Beth Aston has sensitively documented her own illness and recovery. I felt the black and white medium worked well, turning the self-portarits into more abstract form and helping to disorient the viewer’s gaze in combination with the unusual camera angles. I thought the images I saw were highly effective in their communication with the viewer of the photographer/subject’s illness, with the considered lighting adding to this vision.

A Dozen Eggs – Harry Pearce (2012)

Another highly personal project involving his siblings, Harry Pearce documented members of his family. I felt this was clever because sometimes photographers overlook photographing something like siblings. I would say it was a project that finds extraordinary in the ordinary and interesting things from the banal. The photographs were again environmental portraits and again (like Penny Watson’s work) it was quite intimate, perhaps reflecting the photographer’s natural kinship with his siblings. By including extracts from the siblings, about random facts that were on their mind, the project was given more context.

Feet – Omar Camilleri (2010)

Who would think (or dare!) to do a project on something as seemingly trivial as feet!? Omar Camilleri managed to capture many different feet in a variety of ways, often in scenarios I wouldn’t have thought of. Some were humorous but many showed the toil of life and the burden that feet take on throughout this toil. I was impressed by the quality of the black and white images. In my opinion the choice of black and white was a good one; it showed off the stark nature of how feet were used as well as isolating them more from their respective backgrounds. Lastly the exhibition itself must have been amazing with massive pavaljuns displayed across streets.

The Dad Project – Briony Campbell

I found this project to be quite harrowing to look at compared to the others so far. It was most similar to me to Penny Watson’s Not Our Time (2012) except it documented moments leading up to and including the death of her father. For me the photography for Briony Campbell was a comfort for her during those times; there were also some happier pictures among the sad ones. I liked the fact not all the pictures were of her dad but some more abstract or of herself. I was glad she used small font for the captions under each photograph because I sort of would have liked if there were no captions at all. I thought the pictures could speak for themselves; however the captions did add context sometimes.

Living on 100th Street – Tanya Ahmed (2010-2011)

I liked the black and white treatment of Living on 100th Street anyway but when I realised that Bruce Davidson used the same treatment for his East 100th Street photos 40+ years prior, I felt this was a nice touch. The images were very good technically and quite a different approach to the other photographers I’ve looked at so far. The majority of the photographs for Living on 100th Street were environmental portraits (like some of the other projects I’ve looked at) but they were much more formal, without seeming staged. I would suggest Tanya Ahmed achieved this by what she called ‘collaborating’ with her subjects. This is something I could learn from, talking with the subjects first as when I tend to photograph people it tends to be quite rushed.

 

My thoughts after looking at the work of other OCA students whose work has reached or is about to reach their intended audience was that I was very inspired. The presentation methods used by some of the students were very imaginative but most of all I was struck by the personalised messages their projects were giving out. This came from generally diligent reactions to their briefs and incisive methods of working which allowed them to engage with their subjects intimately. This has then been reflected on me as the viewer and I would imagine many other viewers of each project.

References:

Ahmed, T. (2010-2011). Tanya Ahmed: Living on 100th Street. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/43594038 [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project – Briony Campbell | Photography & Film. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Camilleri, O. (2010). Feet- Photographic Exhibition. [online] Omar Camilleri. Available at: https://omarcamilleri.com/2010/09/23/feet-photographic-exhibition/ [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Pearce, H. (2012). a dozen eggs: Harry Pearce. [online] Harrypearce.co.uk. Available at: http://harrypearce.co.uk/gallery_515190.html [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Watson, P. (2012). Not Our Time. [online] Marmalade-cafe.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://marmalade-cafe.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/not-our-time.html [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Photographs Inspired by Chris Dorley-Brown and Peter Funch

I had started developing a tripod-based composite approach to some of my landscape photographs, most notably for Photograph 1 – Assignment 5 – Landscape. I was fascinated by the way it was possible to composite people in different places of a scene while using a tripod to maintain the same framing. By adopting such an approach I was able to alter the meaning of the scene in relation to the people it contained as well as between the people themselves (all of them were holding smartphones).

© Johnathan Hall - Photograph 1 - Assignment 5 - Landscape
© Johnathan Hall – Photograph 1 – Assignment 5 – Landscape

As I have been going though the documentary course I have come across many artists. A couple of them I have found employ a similar approach although to varying degrees of people being composited into the final photograph. Peter Funch is on the extreme side where he composites very large numbers of people into the final photograph; often who are similar to one another in their attire. They are similar to each other so the viewer can establish a connection based on juxtaposition of all these people in the same frame. Although much of his work lacks believability, because each image is put together into a single frame there is still a moment of your eyes daring you to believe what you are seeing is not real. This I believe is because we have traditionally always seen photographs as evidence of a reality and I would suggest Peter Funch takes advantage of us not wholly being able to prove otherwise.

© Peter Funch (2008) Memory Lane
© Peter Funch (2008) Memory Lane

On the less extreme side being more photo-realistic is the work of Chris Dorley-Brown. Much of his photographs are based in Hackney and I felt there was something to learn from his dedication to one area, presumably his local area. I don’t have evidence to be certain he used a tripod and composites some of his photographs other than by analysing his photographs. Quite a few of them have people in the scene who are juxtaposed with other people in meaningful manners that I could discern couldn’t be possible without the use of composite work on a tripod. The reason this was important to me was it informs my practice. I could begin to understand how Chris Dorley-Brown had achieved these visually appealing and yet meaningful photographs, almost in the style of a tableau.

© Chris Dorley-Brown (2009) Rio Cinema 2009, Corner of Sandringham Road and Kingsland Road, Hackney, London UK
© Chris Dorley-Brown (2009) Rio Cinema 2009, Corner of Sandringham Road and Kingsland Road, Hackney, London UK

Using the same techniques I had used in Photograph 1 – Assignment 5 – Landscape but looking at the subtle way Chris Dorley-Brown had used similar techniques in his practice, I tried to capture tableau by juxtaposing people with their surroundings but also with each other. Telling a story like Chris Dorley-Brown had managed I found was a much more difficult task than creating a visually appealing photograph for each scene. However, I tried multiple times anyway with varying degrees of success.

© Johnathan Hall - Brick Lane, Shoreditch I
© Johnathan Hall – Brick Lane, Shoreditch I

Choosing suitable locations for the framing of the photographs was more challenging too than I had imagined. I found it was desirable to search for intersections of roads or at least a scene which offered some kind of depth to it so the people didn’t appear superimposed and any potential story was more forthcoming.

© Johnathan Hall - Brick Lane, Shoreditch II
© Johnathan Hall – Brick Lane, Shoreditch II

One photograph in particular I felt was quite convincing in telling a story through a single image as I came across a scene in Green Park, London where couples liked to walk. By patiently waiting I was able to juxtapose various couples holding hands walking in Green Park. This was in the style of Peter Funch in the regard that the people all shared a certain trait (they were all couples) but in my opinion was more photo-realistic like with Chris Dorley-Brown.

© Johnathan Hall - Couples in Green Park
© Johnathan Hall – Couples in Green Park

Going forwards I could see this approach being a useful technique for capturing tourists using their smartphones for selfies at famous landmarks in London (for Assignment 5 – Documentary). The style of these shots would be less photo-realistic, more like Peter Funch’s because you would be unlikely to get lots of people taking selfies simultaneously. Having said that, there are a lot of tourists taking selfies in London!

© Johnathan Hall - Spital Square
© Johnathan Hall – Spital Square
© Johnathan Hall - At My Local Park
© Johnathan Hall – At My Local Park
© Johnathan Hall - Whitecross Street
© Johnathan Hall – Whitecross Street
© Johnathan Hall - Underneath Bridge Beside Waterloo East Station
© Johnathan Hall – Underneath Bridge Beside Waterloo East Station

Cruel and Tender Exhibition

The ‘Photographic ‘truth’’ section of the Cruel and Tender: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph (2003) exhibition’s Teacher’s Pack summed up nicely some notions about truth in photography. It addressed some issues I had been contemplating recently: ‘What we see in a photograph is always the result of a choice the photographer has made as he or she edits and sifts through the world around.’ – (Tate.org.uk, 2003) being a prime example. Documentary photographers can’t on their own cover everything in the world at any one time so of course it is subjective the information they seek and put forwards in their photographs. The way they put forwards this information in the photographs is subjective too. Because each photographer has varying interests and learned experiences in the world they approach photographing it differently. This thought has been conceived by myself before in: Two Levels to Subjectivity?.

It also raised questions over: ‘How can its [the photographic print] flatness ever make a true representation of a complex, three-dimensional scene?’ – (Tate.org.uk, 2003). The Teacher’s Pack didn’t answer this question directly; however it did get me thinking of how the 2-d shape of the photographic print medium could possibly be used to create a 3-d space. My mind wandered to the work of Tom Hunter’s (1993-1994) 3-d model project: \‘The Ghetto\’, street.’. Here he cleverly used 2-d photographs in a 3-d miniature space from the perspective of someone from the outside looking in, which lent perfectly to the photograph’s flatness. It made me wonder about how sculpture and photograph can intertwine and implementing this in my own work.

© Robert Heinecken (1966) Figure Sections/(Multiple Solution Puzzle)
© Robert Heinecken (1966) Figure Sections/(Multiple Solution Puzzle)

I performed a search on a search engine and found the exhibition Photography into Sculpture (1970) in the Museum of Modern Art. One of the first artists I looked at who featured in this exhibition was Robert Heinecken and he used photographs in sculptures which were then seemingly incidentally photographed. I liked the way the photographs were still clearly discernible but yet part of a bigger picture (or puzzle in this case). The puzzle was a sculpture which cleverly had multiple ways for it to be solved or viewed at (or photographed from). This was open to viewer interpretation which I liked and it also made me ponder on whether the artist had intended for the sculpture to be viewed in a certain way when he made it. Therefore the manner the sculpture was photographed (one edge of the sculpture facing towards the viewer so two sides were visible) intrigued me. Obviously in the exhibition you would be able to see the sculpture from all four sides but in the photograph you were more limited which is true of most photographic framing. This goes back to subjectivity in a photograph, the photographer has to make a choice (subconsciously or not) how to frame their subject.

© Fazal Sheikh (1993) Alima Hassan Abdullai and her brother Mahmoud, Somali refugee camp, Mandera, Kenya, 1993, from the series A Camel for the Son
© Fazal Sheikh (1993) Alima Hassan Abdullai and her brother Mahmoud, Somali refugee camp, Mandera, Kenya, 1993, from the series A Camel for the Son

A way to add extra information to inform the viewer is to contextualise the work through the use of text. Many documentary photographers have traditionally used captions or supporting texts for their photographs/projects. Fazal Sheikh takes this a step further by ‘recording all the information concerning the person photographed, time, place and other information, but also in the way he displays and organises the methods of distribution for his books which benefit human rights agencies’. This kind of comprehensive text contextualisation is clearly a conscious decision by the photographer to aid the viewer in their understanding of the photograph/project. I would say this methodology works for certain subjects. The subjects Sheikh decided to commit to for one of his projects in a Somali refugee camp for instance, benefited from this recording of extraneous information other than ‘just’ the photograph. This was because in my opinion the people depicted gained extra status for the reader of the photograph’s gaze. The dignified way the photographs were taken also added credence to the fact the refugees were real people but who had suffered worse than other people.

The Teacher’s Pack compares Fazal Sheikh’s way of working with Martin Parr’s work (like The Last Resort (1983-5)) and I thought this was an apt comparison. Parr often gives less respect to his subjects; photographing them satirically and captioning them minimally. I would suggest both projects work but in different ways. Sheikh treats his subjects respectfully and with dignity and presents them in a serious manner, for the reason it is a serious project. Parr on the other hand lets his photographs speak for themselves, as good humour doesn’t need explaining. There is a more serious edge to the images though as they tend to depict the more rundown sides to the beaches of Brighton in that time.

References:

Heinecken, R. (1966). Figure Sections/(Multiple Solution Puzzle). [Photograph] Retrieved from: https://news.artnet.com/market/aipad-still-beautifully-unsettling-after-all-these-years-10075 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Hunter, T. (1993-94). \‘The Ghetto\’, street.’. [online] Available at: http://www.tomhunter.org/the-ghetto-street-2/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Parr, M (1983-5). The Last Resort. [online] Pro.magnumphotos.com. Available at: http://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2S5RYDYDHEB9 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Photography into Sculpture (1970). The Museum of Modern Art [Exhibition] April 8–July 5, 1970.

Sheikh, F. (1993). Alima Hassan Abdullai and her brother Mahmoud, Somali refugee camp, Mandera, Kenya, 1993, from the series A Camel for the Son. [Photograph] Retrieved from: https://303magazine.com/2017/08/common-ground-dam-fazalsheikh/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Tate.org.uk (2003). Teacher’s Pack – Cruel and Tender: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/6437 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Study Hangout 19/11/2017

Today I attended a study hangout with Anne, Bryn and Michael. We talked about very in depth subjects surrounding the ethics of photography including authentication of photographs as documents, subjectivity in photography related to the myth of objectivity, the death of the author and manipulation of the message. We related these in depth subjects with photography artists; the most prominent of these artists being Sebastião Salgado, closely followed by Don McCullin and then Martin Parr. Michael introduced us to the work of Simon Norfolk briefly who I aim to look at more closely as his work at first glance looked very interesting. I was not sure why our conversation was so theoretical but it may have been something to do with 75% of us having commenced work on the critical review or having just submitted it!

Balloon Vendor in Kabul - 2001 - From the Series: "Forensic Traces of War" © Simon Norfolk
Balloon Vendor in Kabul – 2001 – From the Series: “Forensic Traces of War” © Simon Norfolk

My opinions on the listed subjects were that it is very difficult to authenticate documents like photographs 100% as the viewer can usually interpret the evidence of photography being an indexical medium differently. This is even if supporting documents like text or (to a lesser degree) geotagging are included. I felt objectivity is a myth yet it is still possible to shoot in an objective style. Ultimately all photography is subjective (as even objective photography has its own aesthetic) but I would suggest some photography is more subjective than others. Relating to the death of the author, my stance was that this is true nowadays much more with the proliferation of images and ways of sharing them. Now it is not about who took the photograph but what the photograph depicts. The message of any photograph can be manipulated by means of supporting documents and other context like the photographer’s oeuvre.

We talked about the contrast in transparency of message between Salgado and McCullin where McCullin was very decisive in why he took photographs of war while Salgado’s reasoning seems more layered and less clear. We touched upon how my own critical review was going and I divulged that maybe the topic I’d chosen was proving to be too broad and therefore lacking direction. Finding relevant quotes and supporting work or photographs to back up my particular argument seemed like a way of tackling this.

How to Photograph an Abstract Concept

As I have been studying documentary I have become increasingly aware of the need for a clear brief. This enables more incisive photography in my experience. The reverse I’ve found can also be true – in my recent Assignment 3 – Gentrification in Deptford I was struggling for a clear brief and started using post-conceptualisation as a strategy so that I could just start taking pictures and see what developed from there. However, for my upcoming Assignment 5 – A Personal Project, one of the requirements for the assignment is ‘a methodical approach’. Therefore I could either use post-conceptualisation as a method or do the opposite and produce a clear brief but not somewhere in between.

One area I’ve realised could be improved in my work would be the inclusion of an abstract concept rather than literal concepts in producing a clear brief. With the exception of Assignment 2 – Ephemerality of the Image where I developed the idea of an abstract concept, I have not explored abstract concepts. One essay that really inspired me with regards to abstract concepts particularly for Assignment 2 was Maartje van den Heuvel’s Mirror of Visual Culture. Here I eventually discovered a way of photographing an abstract concept – ephemerality of the image but the process of developing the ideas was quite drawn out.

I decided on a whim to make a search on the internet: “How to photograph an abstract concept” without much hope for inspiring results but was pleasantly surprised a few search results down to find something other than a list of ’20 ways to instantly improve my abstract photography’, which was what the rest of the results seemed to consist of! The search result in question linked to an essay by John Suler called Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche relating to conceptual photography. I found Suler’s essay to be accessible and practical and here were some of the observations I came away with after reading the essay:

I had been thinking about photography in the ‘wrong’ order in my mind at least; writing loose briefs and hoping for something creative to come out of my observations on research conducted. Instead I learned it was preferable to think of a concept in conceptual photography first and think about how this might best be represented as a photograph or set of photographs afterwards. In particular, ‘Photographs also offer a seemingly more real, tangible depiction of concepts that otherwise seem abstract or elusive.’ – (Suler, 2013). Many of my previous projects had been literal concepts so learning that one of photography’s strengths lay in depicting abstract concepts was interesting for me.

One part of Suler’s essay that I had an opinion on was: ‘[conceptual artists] are free to use an idea as the guide in creating a work, rather than being restrained by aesthetic standards about how things are supposed to done. – (Suler, 2013). Although I agreed with this statement on the most part (as opposed to creating just aesthetically-pleasing photographs like in non-conceptual photography), I felt there was an additional side to conceptual photography often being minimalistic and perfunctory in style. As the idea behind the photograph or set of photographs becomes more complex (the conceptual art I’ve come across often is quite complicated in concept), the execution of the photograph almost needs to be simple. This is in order to get across the message as lucidly as possible for a complicated idea. Suler (2013) touches upon this when he remarks ‘The process might be very challenging and creative, especially when dealing with complex or elusive concepts.’ when talking about creating artistic photographs for conceptual art. My response would be the perfunctory approach for the resultant photographs is kind of like a style for complicated concepts, not only to get across the message of the art but also also a deliberate attempt by the artist to signify the art is more important than the photograph.

A photograph’s concept can be translated into an image either specifically or ambiguously. When it is translated ambiguously, viewers tend to project their own meaning or understanding of the concept onto the photo which is what some photographers want according to Suler (2013): ‘The photo presents the container of a general concept or idea, but then people fill that container with their own personal meanings.’ When creating abstract concepts in photographs I would prefer for the viewer to infer meaning but for it to be not too ambiguous so somewhere in the middle. Suler (2013) is of the opinion that for the more specific of these approaches a clear understanding of the concept is desirable before visual communication commences.

As I was more interested in creating images for abstract concepts, it was useful to note from Suler’s essay that he recommended the use of a dictionary, thesaurus and online image search engine to aid the sender of the concept (the photographer) in acquiring a better understanding of the ins and outs of their abstract concept. He also states that ‘Symbols, metaphors, and similes are very useful when designing conceptual photographs.’ – (Suler, 2013) whereby the receiver of the concept (the viewer) could associate signs a photograph may possess in order to gain the sender’s meaning. Therefore if I wanted to create a photograph symbolising entropy of meaning in social media imagery, I could look up the definitions and synonyms for entropy and social media. Then I could see how other people represent entropy or social media in their photographs/images and also think about symbols, metaphors and similes that would be appropriate once I had a more lucid idea of what the concepts entailed.

Lastly, Suler touched upon post-conceptualisation (which I used for Assignment 3 – Gentrification in Deptford) although he used the term ‘reverse engineering’ of the conceptual photograph. Here he basically describes the process I went through with Assignment 3 where I took photographs first and then ‘apply an idea to it’ – (Suler, 2013). While both approaches can be effective I felt the more appropriate strategy of conceptualisation of an idea beforehand would perhaps be better for Assignment 5 where ‘a methodical approach’ was desirable.

References:

Suler, J. (2013). Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche. [online] Truecenterpublishing.com. Available at: http://truecenterpublishing.com/photopsy/conceptual.htm [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].

Van Den Heuvel (2005). Mirror of Visual Culture. Documentary Now! [online] Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/heuvel_discussingdocumentary.pdf [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].

Study Hangout 22/10/2017

Today I attended a study hangout with Miriam and Leonie.

The Hell of Sierra Pelada mines, 1980s - © Sebastiaou Salgado
The Hell of Sierra Pelada mines, 1980s – © Sebastiaou Salgado

It was good to hear their progress and we were at similar stages in the course although Leonie had almost finished Assignment 5. Miriam and I were starting the critical review for Assignment 4. I discussed my ideas for Assignment 4 with the group – the idea of beauty in documentary and whether a really aesthetically-pleasing photograph takes away from the meaning a photograph may be trying to convey. The responses from Leonie and Miriam were very interesting for me, with Leonie comparing the work of Tim Hetherington and Don McCullin’s American soldiers photographs saying that one was rendered completely differently from the other in regards to beauty. Looking at the two photographs side by side I could definitely relate to this observation.

Korengal Valley, Afghanistan - © Tim Hetherington - 2007
Korengal Valley, Afghanistan – © Tim Hetherington – 2007
'The Thousand Yard Stare' - © Don McCullin - 1968
‘The Thousand Yard Stare’ – © Don McCullin – 1968

I used the work of Sebastiaou Salgado as an example of aesthetic beauty with the potential for displacing meaning because his photographs have been typically so beautiful. Miriam countered this point by saying one of Sebastiaou Salgado’s photographs – that of a gold mine (The hell of Serra Pelada mines, 1980s, was the photograph I think she was referring to) means she no longer buys gold but only fair-trade; the photo by Sebastiaou Salgado had made such an impression on her. This could make the case that beauty captures the viewer’s attention with the possibility for meaning to be discovered afterwards in the same image, which should be something to consider when writing my critical review.

Lastly we discussed juggling things like work with the course and how it affects the flow of our studying. Also what our plans were after competing the documentary module and how often it would be helpful to liaise with our tutors in order to improve assignments.

Overall I found the study hangout to be very helpful as always but in particular it did give me some more points of consideration for my critical review.