In the end I have decided against my idea as proposed in Further Development of Assignment 5 – Documentary where I interacted directly with the tourists as I was finding it very stressful asking tourists who were complete strangers whether I could take their picture. I did come up with a method for asking the tourists and introducing myself to them which helped. However, ultimately I felt I was forcing the issue and I envisaged I would be more comfortable with something less direct.
I had already shot one photograph using a less direct method of interaction with the tourists which helped me to make up my mind. Also after conducting more research/looking back on old research on photographers who tackle the subject of tourism I realised this method not only suited me better but also had a good rhetoric behind it. For example I looked back at some research I had conducted on the work of Simon Roberts. Although the main subject of the post was his project We English (2008), I extended this research in the latter part of the post to Sight Sacralization (2016). I was glad I had done this because it enabled me by looking back at this to renew my interest in the performance aspect that tourists (unconsciously or otherwise) undertake while taking pictures/selfies. Another, more recent post looking at the work of Peter Funch in particular was very inspiring retrospectively too.
The method I would be working in for this new direction for Assignment 5 consisted of myself photographing the tourists photographing the landmarks/hotspots but in a manner that made the tourists become as much of a spectacle as the landmarks. To do this I would create composites of multiple images with the same framing, in the style of Peter Funch. The final composites would be composed in such a way that it was obvious picture/selfie taking was the main activity occurring at these hotspots.
The next part to my assignment, which would give the project a much more personal element, was brought about by a discussion with my fellow student Bryn in which I described my struggles conceptualising my fifth assignment to him. He had seen my post on Peter Funch and suggested: ‘I wondered if you had thought about being the performer in front of the camera. Maybe visiting these tourist hotspots at a quiet time. Set up the camera as an interval shot and perform all the selfie and tourist poses before compositing it into a single image.’ While I had already thought of compositing tourists into single images, I hadn’t thought of doing something similar with myself! I took this suggestion on board and came up with a hybrid plan. Firstly I would carry out the assignment as described in my method above and then I would plan to return to the hotspots, retracing the tourists’ footsteps by posing similarly to how they posed in the same scene except all the poses would be performed by me in the follow-up photographs. I would do this early in the morning (when there were no tourists around). Finally I would be looking to combine the two types of photographs for each scene into a diptych which I could see working well together.
I enjoyed reading Liz Wells’ (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction, particularly the first section: Thinking About Photography. This was because it introduced many complex ideas and elaborated on them, without becoming too convoluted. On the other hand, understandably the book became hard to read as it began to delve into many specific debates concerning photography. While I got the reason for this, it would have been nice if the book had remained at a consistent level of readability. Therefore I decided to comment only on the first section as this was the area of the book I gained the most from.
The Photograph as Document
The first area that captured my interest was the part The Photograph as Document where Wells talks in depth and quite thought-provokingly about photographs’ relation to reality. Because of their indexical properties photographs retain a sense of authenticity. Umberto Eco In. Burgin, V. (1982) ‘has commented that the photograph reproduces the conditions of optical perception, but only some of them.’ Eco indicates that although photographs are iconic to their source, they only share some of the characteristics of optical perception associated with seeing.
Some photographers break down this notion of realism associated with photography in their work. For example Peter Funch produces a composite of a scene (with the same framing and therefore remaining a realistic representation) but overlays the scene with different people who appeared in that scene over a period of days or even weeks. This interrupts the indexical properties of the photograph because things are changing in the image world that didn’t change in the real world. All the while Funch plays with our notion of authenticity as the photograph at first glance often seems realistic. Looking closer it becomes obvious that the people overlaid in the scene are too similar to one another in terms of clothing/activity and that the scene is not a realistic rendition after all. Yet because of the established aesthetic conventions employed (landscape compositions), the viewer has to question the authenticity of each photograph. This I believe is where ethics become important.
Clearly the photographs produced by Funch do not represent reality as we know it; rather a kind of satire of it. However, they do document the people who passed through particular scene albeit at different times. The difference then between it being an alternate reality and realistic is the juxtaposition of the various people in the scene with each other. Traditional photojournalists would probably argue on the ethics side that such photographs tamper with the real and are not a ‘true’ representation of a time that has passed as the juxtapositions of the people have changed. They would have a strong case although, as noted earlier, Eco states that only some of the conditions of optical perception are reproduced. Funch has just reduced another of these conditions, perhaps to highlight this disparity of realism in photography. On the other side of the ethical fence artists might appreciate this reduction of the conditions of optical perception as it allows not only the interesting juxtapositions of people but brings into question some of the authority traditional photojournalism has in photography.
Wells acknowledges this kind of debate by attributing it to the realm of digital manipulation (I would assume Funch shot the images contributing towards the composites on a digital camera). ‘in recent years, developments in computer-based image production and the possibilities of digitisation and reworking of the photographic image have increasingly called into question the idea of documentary realism.’ – (Wells, 2009 – pp. 19). What was taken for granted in the past as truth – a photographic representation of reality – is according to Wells increasingly questioned because of ‘digitisation and reworking of the photographic image’. However, she does also allude that: ‘in everyday parlance, photographs are still viewed as realistic.’ – (Wells, 2009 – pp. 19).
I have struggled with the concept of postmodernism in general but reading the section The Postmodern by Wells (2009) – pp. 21-24, I felt I understood much better the crux of its debate. Instead of there being grand, singular works of art, constructed by ‘seers’ of photography with a unique vision for their own work, photography has increasingly become saturated and so originality has been consumed. This has been brought about not only by the ubiquity nowadays of photographs but because the way we see the world (through communications) has become made up by simulacra – copies without originals. I did some research into Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard (1981) where I heard about the term simulacra and used the concept in my second assignment – Ephemerality of the Image.
Because of this it would seem there are a few negative aspects to postmodernism as Wells notes: ‘in the world of the simulacrum what is called into question is the originality of authorship, the uniqueness of the art object and the nature of self-expression.’ – (Wells, 2009 – pp. 23). However, this does not have to be the case as photographers have found ways round this loss of originality. For some like Cindy Sherman with Film Stills (1977-79), it is an opportunity to use traditional, accepted forms of media like 1950/60s Hollywood movies as a base and play upon the viewer’s gaze. As the viewer looks at seemingly authentic documents, interesting narratives are produced when the type of media (is it a photograph or a frame from a movie?) is juxtaposed with its content.
For other artists, they can use the transient nature of mutable forms like photography to experiment with new methods of vision, brought out by technological advancements like digitisation of the image. One example of this would be Joan Fontcuberta with his Orogenesis (2002-2005) series. Here he uses completely computer-generated images. These were created by inputting ‘visual data for contained in famous paintings or pictures of different parts of his anatomy’ – (Fontcuberta and Feustel, 2010), instead of the cartographical information the 3d renderers usually receive. This produced images that look a lot like photographs but ‘The results are these “landscapes without memory.”’ – (Fontcuberta and Feustel, 2010). This plays upon our notions of reality and truthfulness by utilising new technologies.
Eco, U. In. Burgin, V. (1982) Thinking About Photography. London: MacMillan.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!