Self-evaluation of Assignment 2 – Documentary

For me experimenting with another medium other than digital – in this case Instax film – was quite refreshing but the problem was how to take the basic Instax picture and use it to get my point across that the image nowadays is predominantly ephemeral. It took me a while to get used to the Instax film and camera for several reasons. Firstly the film itself used quite a high ISO exclusively (800 to be exact) which was good for lower light but in daylight often struggled to achieve a correctly exposed image. Therefore I found I had to wait for cloud cover or else accept part of the image would be overexposed. Secondly the dynamic range of the film was quite low so the lighting had to be quite even or otherwise the parted of the image would be underexposed while others would be overexposed. In the end I didn’t mind these traits as I felt they added some character to the images and the main subjects were still visible on the photographs. Thirdly, the camera always let out a flash burst, presumably for people shots in dark places where the camera was anticipated to be used. I had to be aware of getting to close to the subject or else the flash would overexpose it. Lastly the film was instant so I only had one shot for certain changing scenes as the film took roughly two minutes to develop before I judge whether the exposure setting had been correct. Once I had gotten accustomed to using the Instax camera I found this last point quite liberating as I was experienced with taking lots of shots from different angles of the same scene in quick succession.

I got my point across that the image nowadays is predominantly ephemeral by making the Instax photographs appear inside an encompassing photograph taken with my DSLR. I chose to use a DSLR for the high image quality and to isolate effectively the Instax photograph from the rest of the encompassing photograph. The effect of this was that while the Instax photograph was undeniably indexical to the scene it reappeared in, things had since changed and so the viewer had to question the meaning of such changes on the overall photograph. I feel I used well people’s natural curiosity to see what the Instax photograph contained by mostly placing it in the middle of the encompassing photograph to draw the eye into the photograph. This is how I would suggest my images worked best at telling a narrative as the encompassing photograph had obviously changed since the Instax photograph was taken so the narrative was clear. In this way the 8 images worked as single-image narratives but also as a whole when put together. I felt technically I could have used a smaller aperture setting on some of the encompassing photograph shots as it wasn’t immediately clear what had since changed.

I was particularly pleased with the way that I managed to present the images when put together in a visually striking manner. Although the brief had simply advised the work to be presented on a blog, I elaborated on this aspect of the brief well and it made the project more coherent. As well as this the Instagram style grid inside an empty picture frame pointed back to the ephemeral manner of the images. I thought the concept of ephemerality of the image was quite complexly visualised in my photographs and so therefore it was important to have a clear rationale and in the blog post with the images, which I felt I achieved. This was further expanded on in the post: Rationale for Assignment 2 – Documentary – Ephemerality of the Image. I thought the images on the whole worked better in black and white because it separated form from content so it was clearer to the viewer what the focus of the photographs were. Also the black and white medium for me reinforced the ‘truth’ factor behind the images as black and white photographs have been accepted as fact for a long time compared to colour.

I would say the project was creative but the picture-in-picture idea was perhaps an obvious and overly direct way of representing my abstract concept. Having said this I felt it was well implemented, especially as I was influenced by the Droste effect in my presentation of my work as a whole. A big plus was the development of my idea – from experimenting with fleeting encounters in ‘Containment’, to the beginnings of taking an instant photo of people who then hold the instant photo and are rephotographed. This culminated with the development of this idea by adapting it to the instant photo showing an altered scene compared to the encompassing photograph.

In terms of context I would suggest I could have researched more concerning similar artists who used pictures-in-picutres as I tended to rely on my assertions derived from Maartje van den Heuvel (2005)’s ‘Mirror of Visual Culture’ essay. Also if I had managed to complete more exercises leading up to the assignment I might have been better prepared for it; so wouldn’t have had to experiment and alter the project quite so much. However, the work I did complete, particularly van den Heuvel’s essay helped me get to a project I was eventually quite satisfied with.

References:

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 3/3/2017].

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Rationale for Assignment 2 – Documentary – Ephemerality of the Image

I had become interested in the idea that photographs could be a mirror of visual culture after reading ‘Mirror of Visual Culture’ by Maartje van den Heuvel (2005). I asserted from van den Heuvel’s essay that it is possible for a photograph to contain properties that mirror photographs in general. One of the properties of photographs, more pertinent nowadays, is ephemerality. Since the advent of digital photography the number of photographs being taken and shared has spiralled upwards dramatically and coincidentally the effective duration of many photographs once shared has decreased. They become forgotten after a few days of being popular on the sharing platforms (even though they are still accessible). A way I foresaw of challenging this notion of ‘ephemerality of the image’ directly was to allow a photographic image to appear in another photograph. The rhetoric behind this was that the photograph represented something of the place it reappeared in and so was indexical to the photograph being taken. As well as this the photograph being taken was indexical to the place. The photograph appearing inside another photograph in the same place the original photograph was taken has been done many times before. However, what set my photographs apart, I believed, were that whatever had taken place in the photographs within photographs had since changed dramatically. In this way the place had been recorded by the photograph as a simulacrum – a copy without an original.

 

Trying Out the Instax Picture-in-Picture Idea 1
Trying Out the Instax Picture-in-Picture Idea 2

Initially I was going to get people like tourists to hold their own picture I’d taken with a ‘Fujifilm Instax Mini 8’ camera in the same place it was taken, from which I would take another picture with my DSLR of them holding the instant photo. The idea behind these images was that the person via the instant photo they were holding proved their presence in that place. I tested this idea out on family members and it worked quite well but when I tried to actually carry out the idea in public spaces with tourists I found it didn’t work so well. It didn’t work well because I wasn’t confident enough to ask the tourists whether they would wait for two minutes for the photo to develop for them to then hold it and pose again. Also I realised that of course not a lot had changed in the time it had taken for the instant photo to develop which meant there wasn’t much point to taking the photographs.

 

Trying Out the Instax Picture-in-Picture Idea with Instax Mini 8 Film

I decided to look closely at what I could change in my project and found that getting the people to hold the instant photograph and posing again wasn’t necessary. Instead I myself could hold the instant photograph and simultaneously photograph a changed scene which assumed a sense of absence in the resultant photograph. Soon after I grasped that the subject of the photograph didn’t have to be a person to reveal change in the city. I was much more comfortable photographing non-human subjects which although not pushing me particularly out of my comfort zone was more practical. I discovered to my tastes the absence of something because it has since changed in this developed idea (with myself holding the instant photos) was more powerful than reconfirming the presence of something (like in the original idea). Furthermore I felt this approach reflected the ephemerality of the image more in line with my assignment brief I’d set myself.

I also decided to use the ‘Fujifilm Instax Mini 8′ camera to give the photographs that appeared within the overall photograph some kind of instant feel to them. As my idea developed I realised that the instantaneity of the film which developed in about two minutes was not strictly necessary anymore. I could have used a much larger, non-instant film or digital camera to document the changes occurring in the city. However I decided to keep using the instant film camera because of the form factor of the images produced by the instant camera. The things I liked about the form factor of the images produced were the size and quality of image. The size was inherent in this kind of instant film camera and I felt added a kind of nostalgic character to the eventual images when the (small) instant photos appeared inside them. The nostalgic character came from the fact that they were so small with distinctive white borders which was indicative of instant photographs. Therefore they didn’t line up very well with the location that were shot in in the eventual photographs but did fit in well with the idea of the tourist culture in London. The quality of the image was quite low but I felt this added further nostalgic character to the images. If I would have taken the photographs appearing in the eventual photographs with a much better quality film and camera, the changing places would have seemed less ephemeral. This further raised questions for the viewer of how the place could be so ephemeral and what implications this might have for the photograph appearing in the place.

The location for each photograph was in the centre of London. I chose this location because with all the tourists and activity in London, the place changes very quickly and so seemed a good location to carry out the project. Also tourists I felt would be the ones using such cameras to document their time in London or another popular tourist destination so my target audience would be able to better relate to the photographs. My target audience was anyone who could relate to the ephemerality of images on social media. Furthermore my target audience was especially people who live in the same city and could associate change in the city occurring quickly too. From my perspective, taking the photographs, I felt like an insider tourist – one who had observed the often obscure ephemeral changes in the city and who wanted to document them in a similar manner.

References:

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 3/3/2017].

Development of My Ideas for Assignment 2 – Documentary

Here are some questions I posed to my tutor and his responses regarding Assignment 2:

Me:

I was interested in brief encounters with strangers in the city street and how then those moments are gone. As a person growing up in a big city like London these fleeting encounters represented something of a feeling of loneliness which I would think I wasn’t alone in feeling. Also they mirrored my own perception of different photographs’ instantaneity as you’re about to take them – one minute they’re there and then they’re just a (semi-permanent) memory. What better way to capture a fleeting moment than with a camera which produces material images that only appear virtually nowadays? One method to visualise these fleeting moments might be through changing light and how that too is transient.

I then read Maartje Van Den Heuvel’s essay: ‘Mirror of Visual Culture’; the part which made the most impression on me was how the media and its images help to create a virtual reality which photographer’s have begun to reflect upon in their work. One potential outcome of this realisation on my part was I could see how transient this virtual world is and yet how prevalent at the same time it has become. This for me is mirrored by the core feature the virtual world is made up of: images – of particular interest for me images including photographs.

By recording the fleeting encounters with my camera in an ephemeral manner I could connate that the image itself was fleeting just like the encounter.

I also noticed while re-reading the brief for Assignment 2 that I would have to submit the assignment on a blog. I began to see a link between the work I might be producing for the assignment and the way it was displayed in the blog format. This link was that both the blog (which is a form of the virtual world and so highly transient) and the photographs (both in form and content) are fleeting in terms of their materiality. One way I could envisage submitting the second assignment in blog format was to rephotograph the photographs taken for the assignment but on a black backdrop so it appears like the photographs are floating in space. The connotations of this could be that the fleeting moment had gone and exists in a vacuum only. Yet here it is, on my blog representing itself as a mirror of visual culture. Where before the image might have appeared in a newspaper/magazine, now the photograph is represented in a vacuum of space. This viewer of the blog could infer loneliness from this which also coincidentally would be the theme for my photographs recording the fleeting encounters.

 Ways to create the photographs themselves – I could carry it out literally and walk by random people in the street and take their picture. However they would be likely to notice me, thereby disrupting the semantics of the image and besides, I wasn’t sure I’d have the guts to carry out this approach. I could photograph their back as they walk away or I could photograph them from the side and create a ‘slice of reality’. This seems like the most plausible approach and maybe with the strongest visual credence.

The last alternative was to actually meet the stranger in the brief encounter in the following way:

  • Go up to people with an Instax camera
  • Ask to photograph them, they get to keep the photo!
  • But in return you get to take a photo of the photo up close with them out of focus in the background.
  • Displayed on a blog this reflects the fleetingness of the photograph and the fleetingness of the media world.

A link to memories with the fleetingness reminding you of lost moments. Also the people out of focus in the background is a reference to this being a memory formed.

I have been carrying out the approach where I photograph my brief encounters with people from the side or their back using lighting which reflects loneliness in my eyes.

I wanted to check with you the last alternative of meeting the stranger and taking their picture with an Instax camera for two reasons:
1. is this not then a constructed photograph?
2. the Instax cameras are quite expensive for me so I wanted to see whether you thought this approach was a constructed photograph before committing to it also.

 

My Tutor:

Ephemerality of digital imagery is interesting as an abstract concept. If you shoot people walking away it will be harder to make a strong image. You’ll rely more on the concept, so it’ll have to be clear.

The Instax idea sounds alright. Yes it’s constructed in a way but you’re encouraged to interrogate documentary in the broadest possible sense. I think you’ll be fine if you include a clear rationale.

 

My Reaction:

From my tutor’s response I was able to identify firstly that the first method of photographing people from the back or side would not be as visually powerful. Secondly and more importantly for me his response confirmed my ‘new’ idea was sound and related back to documentary in his opinion. Furthermore I could now see the real direction my work was leading towards which consisted of ephemerality of the image. In particular I established:

‘By recording the fleeting encounters with my camera in an ephemeral manner I could connate that the image itself was fleeting just like the encounter.’

I would be photographing fleeting encounters carried out using an Instax camera which further reflects the ephemerality of the image. Also I would make sure my project’s rationale was clear so as to back up my somewhat complicated message.

References:

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 3/3/2017].

Notes on ‘Mirror of Visual Culture’ by Maartje Van Den Heuvel

I have just finished reading a very intriguing, introspective (of the art world) essay by Maartje Van Den Heuvel entitled ‘Mirror of Visual Culture‘ and I have written down my notes as I went along.

Van Den Heuvel suggests documentary can still exist in the museum today, though only because documentary today is progressing from the documentary tradition, with photographers and filmmakers finding new ways to approach the genre. She explains this is necessary because the media is becoming ever-more prominent in society and as this increases so does visual literacy. Visual literacy is a way of saying viewers and indeed photographers understand and (produce work for) the world/images around them. This is the case so much so that the photographers have begun creating images based upon the way images are viewed in the context of the media – ‘art is beginning to function more and more as a mirror of visual culture’ – (Van Den  Heuvel, 2005). The implications of that made me think of a kind of meta-image where the image references itself. This was hard for me to imagine producing myself but something which also interested me greatly. Maybe the photographers would do this subtly in the form of visual metaphors. It is also important to remember that the media becoming more prominent in art not only applies to photographers but also filmmakers, advertisers, graphic designers or other image makers.

In ‘Documentary: the Militant Eye Witness’ (the first part of the essay), Van Den Heuvel makes the assertion we are talking about documentary tradition originating with Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine (around 1900) and continuing with photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans with the FSA project (1935-1944). While this documentary tradition was often seen as being realistic and objective, during later years (1970s onwards), these suppositions were usurped by the belief that mostly all documentary was subjective in some way. This coincided with the advent of TVs becoming widely available. Ironically as soon as people became more visually literate they also changed what they used as their ‘window on the world’ to the TV. This was for me yet another paradox of the photograph, other paradoxes including a photograph’s reproducibility and semi-permanence set against how fleeting it is in the first place. Also how photographs connote and denote at the same time and the fact we (now) see photographs everywhere and yet they are essentially transparent objects. I felt at least some of these paradoxes could be related back to how to represent the ‘meta-image’ where the image references itself visually.

 

Van Den Heuvel in ‘Documentary Remix’ implies a lot of the photographers use classic documentary as a base and expand their ideas from there. This is similar I think to what my course is doing, making me look at classic documentary as a starting point and allowing me to form my own personal voice. She also uses a lot of examples of photographers thinking about and producing work approaching documentary in new ways. I aim to look at at a few of the artists she mentions as a lot of their projects sounded compelling.

 

References:

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 3/3/2017].