For the last few days I was working on an idea for Assignment 2 which I posted privately to a small group of other students with whom I have a fortnightly hangout. I wanted to get some feedback before taking the idea further.
As it happens, even before today’s discussion I was going cool on the idea for reasons I’ll summarise at the end of this post.
Before that: first the original request for feedback, then the explanation of the concept and my intent, followed by some interesting feedback from other students.
Original request for feedback
Below is what I asked the other students to comment upon:
Presented without my comment* to elicit yours.
What do you think this image is trying to say?
* My only comment is that I am aware of potential copyright issues around image appropriation, and I’m not looking for contributions regarding copyright law, only comments on what you think the image is about.
The self-selected theme of my Assignment 2 is misremembering. This image is intended to provide an example of one of the ideas I’ve had (other ideas are yet to be worked up into sample images).
The concept here is to take iconic photographs and make changes to them to represent a misremembering of the original. The nature of the changes is intended to mimic the flawed way in which the human mind constructs a memory from fragments of information, e.g.:
- Removing insignificant details
- Simplifying details
- Standardising inconsistencies
In this particular execution, the original Diane Arbus image shows two ‘identical’ twins, but a viewer looking closely will see that there are many differences in expression, pose, small details of clothing (different pattern on tights etc).
The changes I made can be summarised thus:
- The twins are now truly identical as I cloned across details from the right hand twin to the left (face, hand, skirt, tights)
- Simplified the hairbands
- Flattened out creases
- Straightened the ground
So my version was intended to be kind of ‘badly-remembered cover version’, lacking the nuanced details of the source photograph – indeed subverting Arbus’ intended message of non-identicalness.
I presented it here in a frame on a white wall simply to emulate the viewing experience of seeing the image-object in a gallery, rather than just as an inline JPG.
Quite understandably as I provided no context, no-one had identified exactly what my intention was (in presenting the idea more widely I would provide some introductory text and other images in the series to guide the reading). This is fine, as it wasn’t supposed to be a test or a quiz! I was interested in hearing unfiltered interpretations.
Only a few people recognised that the image was manipulated; some thought it was just appropriated and re-presented. This reading is in a sense in line with my intention, in as much as people had sufficient memory gaps regarding the detail of the image as to not notice the changes.
Those that had noticed it had been manipulated felt strongly that the resultant message was much more about the nature of the photographic image (authenticity, objectivity, integrity) than it was about failings in memory. This is fascinating feedback! I can see it now but this is, in relation to my original intention, a negotiated reading.
This feedback (it not coming across as being about memory as such) was not pitched as negative, rather that a couple of people felt that investigating the nature of photography via a concept like this would in fact make for an interesting project.
Why I had started cooling on the idea anyway…
As noted in the intro, before getting this feedback I’d already starting having second thoughts on this idea, as a few disparate threads of thought started knitting together in my mind:
- I saw the Thomas Ruff retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery (review to follow) and realised that this kind of ‘photography about photography‘ can be really very clinical – technically interesting to look at (especially to photography students) but lacking in sufficient emotional connection
- I was listening to a radio programme (Radio 3’s The Verb) celebrating the 50th anniversary of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Will Self opined in some detail on his interpretation of the meaning of the work – he distinguished between “the world saturated by images” and “the world of lived and felt experience” – and this latter phrase really stuck in my mind… I think with this experiment I’ve maybe gone too far down a postmodernist path of using images as subject matter (again, photography about photography) instead of life as subject matter
- The whole concept relies up on viewers having sufficient knowledge of the original works – and that may limit my audience to photography aficionados!
- Thinking ahead to public display of BoW material for SYP, copyright issues could make this troublesome (I knew this upfront but figured if it was a great idea I’d somehow work around it…)
Anyway, between my own doubts and the peer feedback, I came to a decision: I may continue this as a side-project when time permits, but for now I am popping it in a metaphorical desk drawer and looking towards other ideas, more based on my own work.
A fascinating detour though!
Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 by Diane Arbus
The Verb, BBC Radio 3, transmitted 20th October 2017
Debord, G. (1992) The Society of the Spectacle. London: Rebel Press.