Create two sets of photographs telling different versions of a story, with the aim of the assignment being to explore the convincing nature of documentary, even though what the viewer thinks they see may not be ‘true’.
Overview Things that affect us
The common subject for this assignment is Things that affect us. This assignment is a semi-autobiographical exploration of factors affecting our lives.
Explores modern life as experienced in a typical provincial town and was originally inspired by documentary photographers such as Stephen Shore and William Eggleston who were recording their interpretations as consumerism and capitalism became increasingly influential in shaping American society.
Aesthetically I took inspiration from Stephen Shore’s work Uncommon Places and the MoMA William Eggleston retrospective exhibition and their work help to shape my thinking and approach, develop my compositional style and encourage my usage of the colour format.
I adopted an outward facing perspective and composed straight images of subjects and themes communicating my interpretation of how we live our lives. The images are a starting point to explore the contrast between image and reality and aspiration and attainment.
Similar to Martha Rosler’s work The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems I decided not to photograph people in this series instead focusing on the structure and props of modern life. This was to create the sense that we as people exist in a controlled environment almost like a giant fish tank and are fundamentally offered a very narrow choice in how we live our lives.
Overall I was trying to evoke a sense of emptiness, superficiality and an ultimate disappointment with modern society.
In contrast series 2 is an inward facing perspective exploring the hidden complexities and tensions within close relationships, which in this case are based on my immediate family. In order to create a more intimate personal feeling I chose to focus the images closer to the rural setting of our home.
The inspiration for this series grew from an exploration of Alessandra Sanguinetti and her work The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their dreams. Sanguinetti’s approach prompted my rethinking of the responsibility to photographing true real time events in order to produce a documentary.
Instead I felt liberated to consider a different a methodology not restricted by what I had seen but instead exploring different possibilities that exist within our very personal relationships.
My objective was to create a more complex and artistic project and this was also inspired by Paul Seawright’s interview where he discussed his own personal approach to creating photographic art. My objective was to further disrupt the image of people living in complete family harmony.
Some compositions were completely candid, some were set up to evoke a sense of what might be possible, others were indexed in memory and helped to build the feeling and atmosphere that I was seeking.
This was about developing a sense of complex mixed messages, hidden truths and tensions communicated through the composition which are a combination of people and view scenes and through the colour presence characterised by a de-saturation and darkness throughout the series and the use of additional clarity added to make some of the detail around the subjects and views stand out more which was designed to add a level of tension.
In part I took inspiration from Chloe Matthews work Shot at Dawn where she successfully evokes a sombre sense of loss in contemporary landscapes of the sites where soldiers were executed for desertion during WWI.
Additional theoretical thinking
As part of this assignment I also sought to consider the theoretical debates which surround documentary and in particular I wanted to explore the argument put forward by Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her 1994 essay ‘inside/out’ which discusses the validity of the usual binary insider/outsider approach to documentary photography.
Solomon-Godeau believes that neither an insider nor an outsider viewpoint can provide anything more than a superficial representation and neither an insider nor outsider view can ever claim to reveal the interior truth about a subject.
Having worked through the development of this assignment I am in complete agreement with Solomon-Godeau in that a documentary cannot ultimately lay any claims to a full and final universal explanation of the truth, even when photographing your own family.
In this assignment both sets offer ‘a certain truth’ but within my own attempts to be objective I felt that there was an inevitable slide towards subjectivity so I will offer Solomon-Godeau’s alternative explanation to the inside/outsider debate, “It may well be that the nature that speaks to our eyes can be plotted neither on the side of inside nor outside but in some liminal and as yet unplotted space between perception and cognition projection and identification.” Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994) essay: ‘inside/outside’. Cited in la Grange, A (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. 9th ed. Abingdon: Focal Press, p130.
Creative development of the assignment theme
I had originally planned to contrast the series by focusing on a theme of my home life in two different locations as I spend time in both Worcestershire and London. I had found a newspaper reporting that a public figure had lied about his whereabouts on the basis that he also regarded his second home as ‘home’.
Starting off down that path I began to feel that the contrast was too obvious and the busy city/quiet town scenario was creatively weak so I decided to continue to explore different options. As my thinking developed I progressed to what I believe was the more interesting idea of an outward perspective looking at a wider societal viewpoint contrasted with an inward, more personal and psychological viewpoint and this I believe functions more successfully as a creative and finished project.
This assignment has resulted in two contrasting series’ of images in aesthetic and thematic terms. The duality and connection and therefore contrast is not immediately obvious but certainly exists and is effectively derived from the common starting point of things that affect us.
In order to create coherence and consistency within both series’ whilst maintaining relevance to my interpretations I followed a common technical plan outlined as follows:
Wide angled lens set at focal lengths ranging from 12-24mm
Colour format throughout
Mid apertures to detail core areas with a blending out of detail into background to create a more artistic aesthetic quality.
Compositions (wherever possible) using space effectively in relation to the atmosphere of the series
Consistency in colour management
Coherence in subject matter and themes
Specific to series 1 omission of people
Specific to series 2 an additional atmospheric dimension was added through a de-saturation and a darkening / blackening to the colouring and use of clarity in post-production.
Eggleston, W (1971), William Eggleston’s Guide. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, (2007).
la Grange, A (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. 9th ed. Abingdon: Focal Press
Chloe Matthews Shot at dawn website can be accessed at http://shotatdawn.photography/work/ (accessed 16/03/16)
More information can be found on Martha Rosler The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems at http://collection.whitney.org/object/8304 (accessed 02/04/16)
Paul Seawright interview can be seen at https://vimeo.com/76940827
http://alessandrasanguinetti.com/index.php/adventures/info/ (accessed 06/03/2016)
Shore, S (1982), Uncommon Places. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.