I read the Part Three course notes at the very start of the course, then again at the start of working on Assignment 4. I have had in mind its focus on ‘photographic meaning’, and particularly the use of text, throughout the many months of working on Assignment 4.
Now’s the time to refer back to the course handbook and make some comments on my experience and responses to the notes therein.
Photography as a language is a concept that was impressed upon me by my Gesture & Meaning tutor Helen. Paying attention to the ‘visual vocabulary’ of a photograph, or a body of work, or a particular artist, is something that I’ve gradually become accustomed to. Even if I don’t immediately engage with a body of photographic work, I always try to give the artist the benefit of the doubt that there is some significance (or signification) to the work, even if it eludes me as a viewer. I don’t believe all photographic projects, or art of any kind, are inherently ‘puzzles to solve’.
Drilling down the layers of meaning in my A4 work:
- Surface level: it looks as though it is ‘about’ lost gloves (denotative layer)
- Dig deeper: the series is ‘about’ memory lapses
- Deeper still: the series is, to me, ‘about’ my personal concerns about my own failing memory
The course notes suggest checking the definitions of various relevant words (metonym, rhetoric, symbol, connotation etc) and I’m happy that I am familiar with them all; for my essay assignment on the Level 2 Documentary course I wrote specifically about the respective uses of metaphor and metonym in documentary photography.
For the current work I am consciously using a series of connected metaphors concerned with memory to illustrate what would otherwise be unphotographable subjects. As I can’t actually photograph a memory process, I needed to come up with ways of signifying memory processes through visual language.
With the disclaimer that I wouldn’t normally explain the motivation / inspiration / thought processes behind a body of work, but as this is for an academically assessed degree course, I will…
Rather than metaphor being a peripheral aspect of the work or an additional layer of signification, it’s fair to say that metaphor is actually fundamental to the whole concept.
There are two kinds of metaphor in this work:
- Subject level:
- The lost glove as a metaphor for a ‘disremembrance’ (i.e. something forgotten)
- Visual language level:
- Artistic decisions on visual execution that support my intent
During my research for this project I have discovered aspects of the human faculty of memory that I have found truly fascinating, and I wanted to try to embed some of these notions in the work where possible. More details on the ‘how’ can be found in the process blog post.
Put simply, my intent was for the images to ‘resemble memories’ – for the experience of viewing the images to have a sense of remembering a scene, not just looking at a scene.
I wanted to emulate ‘photographing a memory’, and so used a few metaphorical constructs to support this intent:
- A memory is a construct
- a memory is ‘re-membered’ (think of this as an antonym of dis-membered!) from fragments of data held in a network of nodes in the brain
- every time we remember something we piece it back together
- memory is, neurologically speaking, closer to imagination than it is to retrieval
- so my images are partly constructed (original shots rephotographed as projections and digitally manipulated)
- A memory is an interaction of the present and the past
- following on from the above, remembering something is (in largely unidentified ways) affected by, and combined with, the circumstances of the rememberer at that precise moment – location, mood, sensory experiences, the presence of other people etc
- through the use of projected photographs, my images are a combination (or a layering) of past upon present
- in some images the texture of the projection surface is particularly noticeable, to imply a greater degree of ‘interference’ from the present circumstance
- A memory contains varying levels of detail
- in remembering a scene or event, certain details will appear to be clearer and more detailed in the mind of the rememberer, whilst peripheral details seen as less important will be more sketchy, less well-defined
- the combination of projection (which degrades the original image) and overlaying with a sharper version of the glove image is intended to imitate this feature of memory
- A memory can be distorted
- a variety of external factors can intervene between an event and its memory to distort some aspects away from their ‘true’ origin
- some of my images show the original photo projected onto a non-flat surface, creating geometric distortions
Just for the avoidance of doubt: I am NOT expecting viewers to discern all these layers of signification in my artistic decisions! Nor am I treating this as a puzzle that I want viewers to ‘solve’.
I simply wanted to document the thought processes that I went through in developing the visual strategy that I ended up with. The above four metaphors were useful for me in determining an appropriate approach for the visual execution, but if no-one else ever deconstructs the work down to these metaphorical underpinnings, that’s perfectly fine!
A word on metonymy
While the work is primarily built on metaphors, there is an obvious element of metonymy in the use of the glove, which can be taken to signify a hand. The human hand is probably the most expressive body part after the face.
Some of these gloves were chosen for their resemblance to a particular gesture – gripping, pointing, grasping, being trapped, holding on, etc.
In the absence of actual people as subjects, I believe that this kind of allusion to human behaviour might help the viewer relate to the imagery.
Shaw, J. (2017) The Memory Illusion: Remembering, forgetting, and the science of false memory. London: Random House
Whitehead, A. (2008) Memory: a new critical idiom. London: Routledge
Yates, F (1992) The Art of Memory. London: Random House.