About the work
[note: this shouldn’t be read as an ‘artist’s statement’ at this stage, as this assignment is a starting point rather than any intended finished work; it is however a summary of my context and intention with this set of images. The reflection on this work and potential ways forward are discussed in Part 2 following the images]
One of the common factors in the work of my own that I’ve been most satisfied with over the years is when I’ve managed to photographically express or evoke an internal emotion, thought process or state of mind.
I am fascinated by the multi-layered interactions between photography and memory – not only the well-trodden metonymic and mnemonic properties of photography but also in the metaphorical aspects: the ways in which photography is similar to memory, or the ways one can use photography to symbolise or even simulate a sense of remembering – or more interestingly for me, its opposite: forgetting.
In a nutshell, what I want to do here is to visually depict forgetting. I want to evoke the sensation of forgetting something you used to know – in particular in these examples, people.
My area of interest is individual rather than collective memory, and so I have used the construct of a set of 24 snapshots from my own archive, each with the presumed focal points – the faces – obscured in some way. The way I really want a viewer to experience the images is as a set of 6×4″ prints in an old-fashioned development lab envelope (as sent to my tutor) – and so the online presentation here is intended to emulate that experience.
I’ll start by clarifying that I went off-piste a tiny bit. The course notes are written assuming that the outputs here will be new photos, and talk a couple of times about ‘getting out’ to take pictures. I chose not to take this too literally. My initial ideas for this first assignment were always about the archive and re-photography, and so my experiments were manipulations and re-contextualisations rather than captured images.
I intentionally did most of this assignment with minimal reference to external influences, as it felt important to go with my gut, at least to start with. I refined the executions through a few iterations (here, here, here and here), in parallel gradually adding research, peer feedback and external influences. These iterations helped me to hone my intended message and mitigate some potential misreadings. In particular I started paying attention to what I call the ‘internal logic’ of the set, discarding ideas that strayed too far outside the parameters of my intended messaging.
It’s worth pointing out that I am mainly experimenting with form at the moment. I am not yet sure what the detailed subject matter of the images might end up as by the time I get to Assignment 5. I am aware that starting with the surface (visual techniques) may seem unorthodox, but this method of ‘working my way into the project’ is helping me so far. I know the general subject matter area – the unreliability of memory – and will work towards a more specific concept over the five assignments.
The genre reading was insightful, as I realised that the work at least partly sits in the area of Fictionalised Autobiography, in as much as I’ve exaggerated my own ageing memory into an imagined space where I forget old faces. In a sense I’m also Responding to the Archive, although as it’s my own archive I’m not sure that’s what this genre description is really intended to cover.
I also feel like the work at least partially qualifies as Conceptual Photography in as much as I’m working outwards from an idea and depicting a psychological phenomenon – the photos aren’t about what they are of.
So I guess the ‘genre’ I’m most attracted to so far is… Genre Hopping.
Taking the work forward
I’m already realising what I would do differently and into what directions I could take this idea. One path would be to use other people’s snapshots instead of my own (so more directly Responding to the Archive), whilst another would be to recreate memories (à la Tableaux Photography) before disrupting the resulting images in some way.
I’m also thinking about different kinds of memory unreliability – completely forgetting is one type, misremembering is another. For Assignment 2 I’ve started thinking up ideas on how a photograph could depict variations of a scene to suggest mis-remembrances.
On a separate note, one of the decisions I’m increasingly thinking about is the more specific subject matter, as in the underlying type(s) of unreliable memory issues that could be depicted photographically.
- Do I wish to continue looking at personal archive memories as in this set? Or do I wish to consider more recent and everyday memory lapses?
- Do I keep it broadly applicable and relatively light in tone – e.g. an examination of general age-related absent-mindedness – or do I attempt something more serious/meaningful and look at a more extreme and specific type of cognitive impairment such as dementia?
I’m conscious that this reflection has descended into a series of questions, so I will close with a reasonably firm directional decision: I am increasingly interested in this whole idea of disrupting the image as part of my intended message. The exact executions are subject to evolution, of course, but I am getting excited about this concept of visually subverting the supposedly indexical quality of the photograph, and making this subversion part of the communication message. I expect this to continue in some form through subsequent assignments.
Reflecting on this assignment with regard to the course criteria:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
Working with existing images is new to me, so I’m learning a lot at the moment. I employed a wide variety of materials and techniques, both physical (in earlier drafts) and digital (in the final assignment) to convey the desired sense of memory loss.
I stretched my design and compositional skills into new directions – for example, deciding where to place defacements on existing images was similar-but-different to deciding where to place elements in the frame. I’m happy that I’ve expanded my skills in this area over this assignment.
Quality of outcome
Some discernment went into exactly which 24 images to choose (from a total of over 20,000!): the photos selected were mostly of friends (some family), and mostly from social celebrations, and were chosen as exemplars of the kind of occasion that one would expect to remember.
I believe that I put sufficient thought into how to present the work in a way consistent with its content and subject matter, as in emulating a pack of 24 snapshots provides appropriate cues that this work is about individual memory.
The content, the presentation format and the visual disruption techniques collectively work together to support my intended concept of an individual suffering from not recognising people.
Demonstration of creativity
This is an area where I believe I have made strides in the last year or so, as towards the end of Level 2 I became more confident in producing visually creative photographic outputs that increasingly feel like a part of my developing personal voice. Here I have applied levels of experimentation that are new to me, and I’m getting excited about the creative possibilities of my ideas.
As conceded in the Reflection section above, I did much of this assignment intentionally in my own little bubble, before wrapping in external context and influences towards the end of the experience. I don’t intend to carry on with this approach and will be absorbing and critiquing external context as I progress through the rest of this module, not least as I am undertaking Contextual Studies in parallel.
Having said that, there are two external points of reference that I can pinpoint as being significant: first of all, Joan Fontcuberta’s Pandora’s Camera, specifically the essay ‘The Invisible Image’, gave me the notion of ‘the latent image’, which set me off experimenting with photographing developing instant film prints – an idea that didn’t actually make it to the end of this assignment but sparked the initial idea of visual disruption. Secondly, a multitude of things I saw at Arles 2017 seemed to seep into my subconscious, some of it making its way all the way to my conscious.
Bate, D. (2016) Photography: The Key Concepts (2nd edn). London: Bloomsbury.
Bright, S. (2010) Autofocus: the Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson.
Casper, J. (ed) (2017) The Best of LensCulture, Vol. 1. Amsterdam: Schilt.
Cotton, C. (2009) The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London: Thames & Hudson.
Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s Camera. London: MACK.
Higgins, J. (2013) Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus: Modern Photography Explained. London: Thames & Hudson.
Vedrine, H. (ed) (2017) Arles 2017 : Les Rencontres de la Photographie. Arles: Actes Sud.
The Materiality of Images https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/video-resources/materiality-images-rachel-smith-lecture (accessed 26/09/2017)