“Photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation. A photograph is a result of the photographer’s decision that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen.” (Berger 1967: 18)
It is this decision to take or not to take a photograph that fascinates me, and which I am very interested to explore and debate.
On the 7th of September 2019, my father-in-law Alan, married to my mother for over 30 years, passed away. He had been diagnosed with an incurable blood disorder in late 2018 and had been given 3-6 months. He lived for 12 months more.
A large part of 2019 was involved with travelling to the house I grew up in Fleet, visiting them both every few weeks (more as the time for Alan extended) to cook, chat, help around the house. Their life became a routine of carer and being cared for as Alan slept while my mum cared.
During this time, I took a number of informal and off the cuff photographs, not really knowing if I would display them publicly or reflect on them, though I suspect there was a deeper recognition within myself of the journey I was on with my photography and my continuing exploration and relationship of the presence to the world around me.
Photography, my current practice, and what I am interested in, is the observation and recording of what I see and experience. In the late 1980s, I possessed a Nikon 35mm and shot black & white, processing the images and storing away the negatives. This stopped when at drama school, and in my subsequent career as a theatre director and producer, until about 2012 when I bought my first digital camera.
In November 2019, as part of “Reflection” at Conway Hall, I displayed “7 Spice Peking Duck”, clearly indicating in the text that accompanied the four photographs, that this was one of the final meals that myself and my partner cooked for Alan and Mavis at my home in Fleet.
“Every photograph is in fact a means of testing, confirming and constructing a total view of reality. Hence the crucial role of photography in ideological struggle” (Berger 1967: 21).
I would place my current practice within the parameters of personal projects and the exploration of using photography to explore my relationship to the world around me. I continue to explore what photography means to me, how I use it and where and how I want to present my work. At the moment I am mainly taking photographs for myself, exploring street, portrait and personal projects (such as visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and taking portraits and street moments of people who are performing and visiting the festival).
The theatre I directed was all about the way a character “saw” themselves in relation to others and the world. My role as the director was about understanding the playwright’s vision within the play and presenting this as clearly and freely as possible. I focused on the resonance of the actor, the subtlety of the text, of allowing a play to breathe on stage and striving for a communion between the audience and the performance. I feel that I take this process into my work as a photographer, in how I shoot, what I look for when wandering through the streets, how I work when taking portraits or collaborating with others.
In “Understanding a Photograph” Berger talks about the “human choices” that exist behind the taking of a photograph, in the decisions that the photographer goes through as to whether this moment or that moment, this / that angle, the composition, etc.
I feel that I am slowly beginning to ask myself more about the “why” the photograph is of importance. My background within theatre (acting and directing) means that the ideas of presence and resonance within a stage performance is very much present within my thinking, and that added to this are storytelling, narration, dramatic contexts and super-objectives. With this in mind, I would say that narrative, story-telling and juxtaposition play a large part in the work I am creating. I would also say that a large part of my work is opportunistic, random and in a “moment”. Though I would add to this that when working on portraits, or within staged moments, I bring my theatre stagecraft and directing skills to what I am attempting to capture.
I feel my photography over the last year has certainly moved from the single image representing a single moment, into exploring the use of multiple images to tell or show more of the journey, and that the reading I am doing, both generally and specifically about photography and art, are driving this momentum to create larger bodies of work that can also incorporate photography with other art forms. In addition to this, I am interested in bringing into my work alternative printing practices, creating collage, poetic and prose writings and the use of video.
Considering Berger’s “human choices” (Berger, Understanding a Photograph, p18), I would place myself very much in the arena of using photography to witnessing moments of human nature and exploring our environment. That I seek to present human nature and our ideas of society, and that the images I am seeking to create contain pathos, resonance, humour and calmness.
Throughout 2019 I have been mainly focusing on street photography at various moments of the day, with either medium format or 35mm analogue. The images that I have placed in the Critical Research Journal post, I feel that they demonstrate the diversity, breadth and taste of what I am interested in capturing: the observational and documentary nature of my practice, its voyeur aspect (and possible flaneur relationship I have to photography) and that I am seeking to not partake in what is happening before me. That I am looking at a moment to capture which I feel contains resonance and meaning.
What I feel is that I need to further examine the reasons for being interested in photography as an exploration of the world around me.
“Born in 1953 in Paris, Sophie Calle is a writer, a conceptual artist, a photograph, a movie director or even detective.” (Blawick 2020). What fascinates me about Sophie, is the idea of random moments in her life, and how she uses them to explore the world around her.
Calle’s aim is to define a process when working on a specific project or idea. She “creates her own game rules, in order to ‘Make life better’, to give life a structure” (Blawick 2020).
In documenting her mother’s last months she recalls that her mother “liked the camera because she felt that when I was not there, I was there in a way. I know some of her friends were a little shocked, but I didn’t care. She wanted it. I wanted it. My brother was OK with it. But I never thought I would use it. I did it for myself, to look at it and see if she had told me something.” (Jobey 2020)
Calle does not consider herself a photographer: “I usually do photos only when I have a rule of the game,” she says. “I never take them randomly, I don’t walk with a camera. But sometimes, like everybody, I see something — with my phone generally — and I take it. But I never know what to do with these photos because they have no stories behind them.” (Jobey 2020)
“In The Importance of Elsewhere, a new photobook that explores, for the first time, Larkin’s active life as a photographer, we find a much sought after adjunct to Larkin’s provocative verse on the subject of woman and relationships, a lifetime preoccupation for a man often quoted for his misogyny.” (British Photography Journal 2019)
Bradford suggests that “Larkin turned to photography at a time when he was struggling to find his authentic voice as a writer” while Sean O’Hagan in The Observer concludes that “seems to have found, in photography, another altogether less fretful – and perhaps kinder – way of preserving what he experienced.”
I am interested in exploring more about both of these practitioners, the idea of how we think we know them through their work, and utilising their process and critical thinking in my own.
I feel very much in a state of transition as I examine the reasons for my interest in photography and how I want to use the form. I am excited to approach this module, and explore the scope and theories of modernism to post-modernism, the various ‘gazes’ and ideas of self within art and psychology, the proliferation of the photographic image within today’s culture as a representation or ideal of the world.
To this end I will explore three aspects of my practice:
· Critical analysis of my own work in tandem with the module
· Greater writing in both personal expression and the CRJ
· Development of darkroom printing skills
In October 2019, before the “Reflection” exhibition, I went down to Fleet to ask my mother her permission to exhibit the photographs of Alan. She responded by asking
Would anyone be interested to see them?
This has stayed with me and drives me into 2020, and I would be seeking this question of ‘who would be interested’ through the exploration and discussion of the reasons, or reasoning of taking the photograph in the first place.
BBC MEDIA CENTRE. BBC – Through The Lens Of Larkin Gives Unprecedented Insight into Philip Larkin’s Love of Photography – Media Centre. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/through-the-lens-of-larkin. [accessed 26 Jan. 2020].
BERGER, John. and Geoff DYER. Understanding a Photograph. edn. 2013. Penguin Books.
BACHELARD, Gaston, and Maria JOLAS. 1964. The Poetics of Space. edn. 2014. Penguin Classics
BLAWICK, Iwona. 2020. Talking to Strangers. Perotin 2020. [online]. Available at: https://www.perrotin.com/artists/Sophie_Calle/1#text [accessed 26 Jan 2020].
BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. 2015. Philip Larkin, the Auto-Erotic Portrait Photographer Incapable Of Love. British Journal of Photography. 22 Dec. 2015. [online]. Available at: https://www.bjp-online.com/2015/12/philip-larkin-the-auto-erotic-portrait-photographer-incapable-of-love/ [accessed 26 Jan 2020].
JOBEY, Liz. 2020. The rules of the game. The Financial Times Magazine. January 2020. [online]. Available at: https://www.perrotin.com/artists/Sophie_Calle/1/press-review/the-rules-of-the-game-2020-01-10/5572 [accessed 26 Jan 2020]
O’HAGAN, Sean. ‘The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin’s Photographs by Richard Bradford – Review’. The Observer, 15 Nov. 2015. www.theguardian.com. [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/15/importance-of-elsewhere-review-philip-larkin-photogaphs-richard-bradford. [accessed 26 Jan. 2020].
SFMOMA.ORG. 2020. Sophie Calle on becoming an artist SFMOMA 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/watch/sophie-calle-on-becoming-an-artist/?ds_rl=1263130&gclid=Cj0KCQiApaXxBRDNARIsAGFdaB8yfrTnRu-cruyIjmLJhZuDhzF3VabrzYrWeM00Pdwube016MoLp8IaAvIvEALw_wcB. [Accessed 26 Jan 2020].
THE GUARDIAN. 2020. The photography of Philip Larkin – in pictures. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/gallery/2015/nov/24/the-photography-of-philip-larkin-in-pictures. [accessed 26 Jan 2020].