From April to June, I attended an online workshop entitled “Writing Photographs” run by The Photographers Gallery and led by Beverley Carruthers and Wiebke Leister.

What interested me about this course would be the examination of “different strategies used by photographers for making work that intersects across writing and visual art” (The Photographers Gallery, 2021).

There were 4 sessions over 4 weeks, each one 90 minutes, and then a final fifth session, lasting three and a half hours, where participants would present work for a critical response by the lecturers and the other participants.

The 4 main sessions were divided into the following sections:

  1. photographs with embedded text
  2. text alongside photographs
  3. the spoken photograph
  4. photographs in the expanded field

Each session was incredibly dense and invigorating and covered a large range of practice and artists’ work. At the heart of this work and the sum of its parts is the research project ‘Writing Photographs’ that is “looking at the relationship between photography and writing and how photographs are expanded, altered and dissected through text in the gallery context.” (Writing Photographs, 2021)

There was so much that I took from these sessions and that began to feed into my own process and the upcoming installation.

One of the main aspects that I took away from the sessions was that we dived deep into Barthes’ and the in-between-ness (the “Third Meaning” this in-betweenness between two or more discontinuous elements). Photography and Text have their own rules, signifiers and means of communicating and through the sessions, we examined how they could be used together.

Examples include:

Writing Photographs (2021), a screenshot of presentation session 1 © Beverley Carruthers and Wiebke Leister

Writing Photographs (2021), a screenshot of presentation Session 1 © Beverley Carruthers and Wiebke Leister

The other main aspect that I took away, was being introduced to Nancy Newhall’s ‘The Caption, The Mutual Relation of Words/Photographs’. It was this examination of how artists and photographers were using text and photography that was of great interest and sparked my own journey. Whether it was a Title, a Caption, or a Text.

Writing Photographs (2021), a screenshot of presentation Session 2 © Beverley Carruthers and Wiebke Leister

Writing Photographs (2021), a screenshot of presentation Session 1 © Beverley Carruthers and Wiebke Leister

In the third session, we were introduced to the ideas of the voiceover, a recording that would add another additional layer to the work.

Of particular significance was Ascent by Fiona Tan, which presented sourced images of Mount Fuji and placed them against an unrelated story. Link to artists website.

David Campany writes of Tan’s Ascent:

“Ascent takes as its subject Mount Fuji, or more precisely, the shifting representations by which we think we have come to know Mount Fuji. Fiona Tan has made an imaginative journey around the object of her fascination. Mount Fuji is not revealed directly or in its deepest mystery (not even photographs can do that) but it is conjured for us nonetheless. Tan has solicited, sifted and sorted all manner of images and set them in motion. It is not the literal motion of the cinematic image but the figural motion of a ‘photo-film’: a rich weave of associations that are personal, poetic, historical, scientific, anthropological, military, geological, political, literary and artistic. Ascentis a bowl for images, a vortex of images, with Mount Fuji at its centre.” (Campany, 2016)

The installation was beginning to cement itself. Not only would I be creating a moment of photographic work, but the embodiment of the room through written and spoken text.

Each session ended with an exercise based on the session’s focus, and this is the work that was produced:

Session 1

Step 1: Start with two newspaper images with text. Step 2: Swap the text and add it to the other image. Step 3: Cut the images and text down the middle and line them up with each other. Step 4: Rework the text and overlay it onto the images…

 

Session 2

Response to allowing a ‘secret’ of a photograph to be revealed and then presented as text within the photograph.

Session 3

Bring 3 connected images from your own series and create a one-minute voiceover for your own image/s

Questions and Answers to the above Images

 

Final Session

For my final session, and to present for feedback and thoughts, I took three images from my FMP and then began to ask questions about the images. From this moment on, the room, my bedroom, was beginning to speak and find its own voice. From here, I wrote the main piece of text which I would then place in the installation.

Questions

Is this an empty room?

It was my bedroom when I was growing up.

Where has all the furniture gone?

It’s been cleared out – now used as an ironing room.

What is this cat on the windowsill?

A china piggybank, given to me by Auntie Betty and Uncle John.

Are these shelves?

Bookshelves, and I think I put them up.

Where have you been?

Away.

I’ve been waiting.

Am here now, but only visiting.

I think I could do with a refresh?

I think so too, the carpet is 50 years old, and a lick of paint wouldn’t hurt the walls.

What is behind this door?

Somewhere full of memories, childhood play and teenage dreams.

Where have you gone?

Away.

Why don’t you stay anymore?

I have a new life, but you are still with me, inside, and I recall so much of the time I spent here.

Recording Text

A china piggybank, given to me by Auntie Betty and Uncle John.

It was my bedroom when I was growing up.

Is this an empty room?

Am here now, but only visiting.

I think so too, the carpet is 50 years old and a lick of paint wouldn’t hurt the walls.

It’s been cleared out – now used as an ironing room.

Where have you gone?

Away.

Bookshelves, and I think I put them up.

Where has all the furniture gone?

I have a new life, but you are still with me, inside, and I recall so much of the time I spent here.

Am here now, but only visiting.

Somewhere full of memories, childhood play and teenage dreams.

Why don’t you stay anymore?

Random piece of text

A While.

It’s been a while

A while since you visited

Carpets the same

He’s still there upon this window ledge

Waiting to be held by you.

It’s been a while

A while since you slept, but

The bed has gone, I know not why or where?

And the cupboard has been cleared out

Of all that was you.

It’s been a while

Since you drew back these curtains

Looking at the world outside

Before returning to sleep that little bit longer

Before the need to rise and not be late.

It’s been a while

All your books have gone

The shelves remain,

A memory of what you read

Now in the hands of other readers

Or gather dust in another space.

It’s been a while

References

The Photographers Gallery. 2021. Course: Writing Photographs (online). [online] Available at: <https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/course-writing-photographs-online> [Accessed 1 July 2021].

London College of Communication. 2021. Writing Photographs. [online] Available at: <https://www.arts.ac.uk/colleges/london-college-of-communication/research-at-lcc/photography-and-the-contemporary-and-imaginary/writing-photographs> [Accessed 1 July 2021].

Campany, D., 2016. [online] ‘Fiona Tan and the Photo-Filmic’ Available at: <https://davidcampany.com/fiona-tan-ascent/> [Accessed 1 July 2021].

Newhall, N., 1952. [online] ‘The Caption, The Mutual Relation of Words/Photographs’, Aperture.org. Available at: <https://aperture.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/the_caption_NEWHALL.pdf> [Accessed 1 July 2021].

Tan, F., 2021. Ascent – cinema version. [online] Fionatan.nl. Available at: <https://fionatan.nl/project/ascent/> [Accessed 1 July 2021].