Before going into the veritable banquet of food for thought I gathered from fellow students, I want to capture a few notes on how peer interaction is become a key part of my evolving development process.

In praise of peer interaction

A few days ago I presented my current Assignment 2 work-in-progress to a group of Level 3 students in a video hangout, something a bunch of us get together to do on a fortnightly basis. It’s a diverse group, with a few of us early in Level 3, a couple of people closer to the end of BoW and CS, a few more working their way thorough Sustaining Your Practice and two recent graduates. It’s incredibly useful to get feedback from people who’ve already been through the stages of Level 3 that I haven’t yet, and can frame their feedback from a vantage point that I am yet to attain.

Although I’d been very active online (particularly in the Facebook groups) for a few years now, and had met other students on study visits and other events, up until Level 3 I hadn’t aligned myself to a regular ‘study group’; I observed with a hint of envy the regular regional group meetings that other students attended face-to-face (whilst conceding that if I was really bothered, I’d have set up a Yorkshire study group by now, but haven’t…).

When I started Level 3 a fellow student suggested I ask about joining a L3 Google Hangout run by a very friendly chap by the name of Stan, now an OCA graduate. I joined it a few months ago and there’s a core team of about 6-8 of us that attend most sessions. We generally discuss work-in-progress (although sometimes also provide critiques of completed assignments) and whilst I’m gradually getting more comfortable with it, I confess that to start with I did feel a little vulnerable discussing ongoing experiments with others.

What I’m finding particularly fascinating and insightful is that our discussions don’t only cover feedback on the images itself, but dig deeper into debates around issues relating to photographic practice. The more experienced members of the group often ask thought-provoking questions about (for example) artistic intentions, rationale for particular decisions, positioning the work in the wider contexts of contemporary practice and art history, etc. I am gradually realising that I don’t need to come up with instant answers to these questions (it’s not a test!) and often it’s a case of taking the questions away, absorbing their significance and reflecting upon them with the work that follows.

Specifically at this last session we got onto the subjects of clarity of artistic intention and the use of ambiguity in art – and the potential for tension between the two. This is something that I will spin off into a separate blog post shortly.

Finally, a very practical output of sharing ongoing work is that other students suggest reference materials to research – books, articles, papers, photographers etc. By coincidence one of the group, Stéphanie, had previously used sound waves in a project. I will include a look at this in a wider research post later.

Anyway – onto the feedback itself.

Feedback

Differing opinions on whether ‘plain’ portraits are more successful that the digitally-manipulated ones, though with a lean towards the latter. The style of the manipulation needs to be clearer – while it does resemble a sound wave, it also resembles the kind of standard ‘border style’ filter that you can get in photo editing software (not helped by the fact that these mockups have the same sound file in each).

A couple of people felt that the sound wave concept worked but the top/bottom positioning of the wave shape didn’t. I will look at alternative layout ideas. However, there was a secondary signification to the top/bottom positioning, as I wanted the effect to resemble torn paper – to connote the fragmentary nature of memories. I was pleased to see that at least one person had recognised this intention.

A lesson on presentation: both the plain and the manipulated versions of the mockups are intended to be seen with thick white borders, but this was not clear unless the viewer enlarged each thumbnail (as the white border bled into the white page background). I have updated the original post, and will make this more obvious in further iterations.

Comments were noted about the difference in visual style between the images: backgrounds are a mix of plain and cluttered; expressions are a mix of happy and more contemplative. This is something I need to take into account in future shoots.

The candid portrait construct was discussed, with the comment that no portrait is truly candid if the subject knows that a camera is pointed at them; subjects always pose, even if they don’t think they do (I understand and accept this as I don’t believe that the candid-or-not debate materially affects my communication intent).

The discussion of intent and ambiguity mentioned above was interesting, as comments varied from ‘I’m not sure memory is coming across in these images’ to ‘why not just photograph people remembering things and remove the musical cues that imply what they are remembering’. This apparent paradox/tension between clarity and ambiguity is what I wish to explore in a subsequent blog post.

One finals thought, not from the feedback discussion itself but from subsequent ponderings: whilst I believe I’m getting more focused on what aspects of memory interest me, I don’t think I’m yet very good at articulating it verbally.  The word ‘memory’ can mean many different things to different people in different contexts. The specific linkage of photography and memory is itself subject to certain assumptions, and I need to get much clearer, when I say I want to make photography about memory, what I mean by ‘memory’!

Next steps

  • Continue to develop the second batch, with the visual manipulation
  • Work up additional ideas on representing the sound wave in the images (I have 8-10 current images that I think I can work with)
  • A second shoot at a Musical Memories session before Christmas
  • Research / blog post on intent and ambiguity
  • Research / blog post on narrowing down my thematic interest in memory
  • Further research on other photographers’ work on memory and music (or sound more broadly)