Research and analysis: Assignment 5

Research and analysis: Assignment 5

Theoretical and photo research for assignment.

Bibliography and Illustrations: http://wp.me/p5YgoM-lL

First of all I started out with some basic questions for the shooting that I wanted to do. How was I going to connect the sequence to make a story, How could I provoke interest in the viewer to think, what would the resolution look like in the series and does there even need to be one?

I then started thinking about the subjects and the angles that I would use to depict those subjects which I’ll talk about later. Then there were the other questions such as permissions, equipment and practical issues. The equipment that I purchased was a 28mm lens. I have during the course upgraded my camera to a full frame 5D II giving a bit more versatility and depth in the images.

I explored an essay by (Campbell, 2010) where he discussed the issue of narrative in photography. He poses a series of questions which really helped me to direct my thinking and planning of the project which I will list here:

4 elements of narrative:

Exposition
Conflict
Climax
Resolution

Then other considerations:

Time
Spatiality
dramaturgy
Causality
Personification

Then the questions:

What is the story you want to tell?
What is the issue?
Who are the characters?
What is the context?

The story I want to tell is what I have already mentioned above in some detail: that of a loss of values and meaning and distractedness from the search for that. ‘The state we’re in’ is not just a cynical look at modern life but an attempt to portray how it is and how it can change.

The events will be both as it were explicit and connotational. I wanted to show everyday scenes such as purchasing, but then offer a juxtaposition with waste as shown in the scrap yard.

Who are the characters? Mostly the characters are people who are in the places at the time, some I asked permission and some not. There are two staged photos in the series which I wanted to use a model for. Partly because they are more metaphorical and suggestive such as the girl seeing a skull in the mirror and the tunnel.

The context is quite broad, society itself, the everyday situations of life.

These situations in themselves do not represent an obvious loss of values and meaning so how will I approach this? I tried to invest the photos with a certain drama where I could. I used film processing for the images as I wanted to portray this sense of watching or viewing a story as seen in more cinematic narratives. In themselves, seemingly innocuous images but at another level though show how we are taken over by technology and machines, and how in the end, they serve only to be abandoned as the values that they up-hold are short-lived and unsatisfactory. Building a life of convenience, we become slaves to the machines of convenience by placing ourselves in debt to them.

I have taken quite a bit of inspiration from a book by author David Loy (Loy, 2003) Great awakening, buddhist social theory. A passage I quote here is an example of how he writes:

“For us material wellbeing has become increasingly important because of our loss of faith in any other possibility of fulfilment.” David Loy Great awakening – (Loy, 2003:60)

I couldn’t help noticing as I was preparing for the project that it was difficult to research a topic that is evident in some ways but in other ways quite abstract for a lot of people: a loss of values is only possible to see if you have another point of reference. If you are ensconced in worldly activity and aims, it may be that simply there is no notion of higher values or meaning and that it does not even occur to us to think about it. So why and who is this exhibition for. Primarily for those that already have some notion of these other possibilities or at least are perhaps questioning what values they have. The context of display for the physical exhibition will be a meditation centre which also serves as a cultural centre.

So returning to the story that I wanted to tell with this series, it is one of a loss of deeper meaning. However, I did not want to show down and outs in the street or poverty-stricken faces that make people sigh when they look at them. I wanted to show simple daily actions that we are all doing but perhaps not connecting with as an issue or a problem. Modern life is so established and yet many have a deep sense that something somewhere is not quite right.

As I moved from photo to photo I had in my mind where I was trying to go with the series. There needed to be a narrative unfoldment and there needed to be a sense of some drama and perhaps to provoke some questions. Do people look at art and feel that they are provoked to question? This is one of the questions in my mind as yet not fully answered. Or do we just look for more entertainment? What makes an image have impact without necessarily being overly explicit? Should there be something left for the imagination to follow and work with? These are some of the questions that I have been working with over the duration of the course this year.

I had chosen the theme entitled ‘Distracted till death’ which later turned into ‘The state we’re in’. The idea is to explore social collective values and loss of meaning in contemporary life.

I am presenting a series of images that aim to follow a story line through narrative.

The narrative has a some what questioning tone. What have we lost, what are we distracted by (what is that state?) and what is the solution? In order to prepare for the assignment my research took a meandering route through buddhist social theory and the theory of narrative in photography by David Campbell and Robert Hariman. As Hariman says in one of his essays: ‘things speak louder than faces’ (Hariman,2010). Therefore my photos depict a combination of people in situations, doing the things that humans unwittingly do and things that depict the result of that human activity. Later in the sequence there is a change of tone that moves towards something of showing an alternative and then possible resolution; that of which is to go inwards. To get to know oneself from the inside out and therefore be able to reconnect with the value of being human and using this short time each of us has to make positive change. This goes against the grain of an obsession with accumulation and material possession for its own sake.

Theoretical basis for the project.

In the beginning of the famous buddhist text Thousand songs of Milarepa (Chang,1962) the introduction by telling us that modern man is lost. The problem is one of disconnection. Disconnection from the natural world and disconnection from a sense of social responsibility. Mostly,the issue is one of disconnection from deeper values or spiritual values which implies an ethical sense and a sense of acting from wisdom, not ignorance.

The business of talking about loss of meaning is difficult as meaning can have different interpretations and different people place meaning in different ways to the values that they hold. What I am aiming to depict here is that meaning cannot be found in the external world in any lasting and satisfying way. We are troubled by change and we place our meaning on impermanent changing phenomena. This leads us into difficulty, namely, suffering.

We are distracted in the sense of ignoring these facts or simply ignorant to the facts that are in front of us. Habitually we digress and put our energy and attention increasingly into material values-things. Consumption is the new religion and what you have says who you are.

Theoretical and photo research for assignment.

First of all I started out with some basic questions for the shooting that I wanted to do. How was I going to connect the sequence to make a story, How could I provoke interest in the viewer to think, what would the resolution look like in the series and does there even need to be one?

I then started thinking about the subjects and the angles that I would use to depict those subjects which I’ll talk about later. Then there were the other questions such as permissions, equipment and practical issues. The equipment that I purchased was a 28mm lens. I have during the course upgraded my camera to a full frame 5D II giving a bit more versatility and depth in the images.

I explored an essay by David Campbell where he discussed the issue of narrative in photography. He poses a series of questions which really helped me to direct my thinking and planning of the project which I will list here:

Photographers and photos explored

Once again I looked to Duane Michals. I am not following his cinematic style exactly but his use of series and sequence quite often inspired my own vision in some way of what a good photographer can do. I believe Michals does not sell many prints of his own images, I suspect that there are some of those photographers out there that want to communicate a message but perhaps their work is too challenging or progressive. Michals own explorations and inspirations come from some of the more metaphysical artists such as René Margritte and Gorgio de Chirico.

Taryn Simon’s interview: beyond photography (simon,2011)  has also been an inspirations for this assignment. She talks about the process of preparation for her assignments and projects that sometimes take months. I felt a little rushed myself at the prospect of needing to hand in assignment 5 in around 2 months. I could have used perhaps several more. The learning aspect here for me has been the crucial role of preparation and research into the theme. I think that as the course has moved on the role of exploring other photographers has been particularly strong and important.

I did some research into the nature of what people looked like when they are distracted. However, for me these images are only marginally useful as the kind of distractedness and loss of meaning I refer to is more existential rather than just a short-term forgetfulness. The mobile phones and computer images in the sequence are really representative of something of a deeper loss of direction. That we are all so tied up with our devices that we forget what we are really supposed to be doing. It’s a plague and one sees it increasingly throughout the modern world and yet we rejoice. However, of course there is a positive side. They are useful tools. The danger is when as a species we become over identified with things that do not really give us deeper satisfaction and a sense of meaning.

People distracted – part of my research for assignment

Images by Corbis

Fig 1. Car driver  Fig 2. Girls with mobiles

Near the end of the sequence I was keen to include some reference to death. Death being the final decider in our life scheme and plan and the element that we can neither avoid, delay or pay off. It seems important to me in a photo sequence like this to include the theme of death. The cars in the scrap yard are a symbolic gesture of death in material form. It is a depiction of the way death can be seen as sort of discarding of the old and then the following photos are about if you like, renaissance or rebirth into some other possibility. There the series of images attempts to resolve itself with this open-ended image of the tunnel. Coming into light was another theme I wanted to portray.

Photos used for research: Below is an image by Greta stern seen at an exhibition in IVAM Valencia at the end of last year. I have used this as the basis for my penultimate photo of the girl seeing a skull in the mirror. My image is adapted considerably to give quite a different interpretation to that of Stern’s here in her photo which has more to do with oppression of women by men and the dawnings of the feminist movement in Germany. My use of the image is more an appraisal of life in the fact that we are facing death and change.

Analysis of stern’s image:

The image has two main points of focus that are strong i.e. the faces of the protagonists and then the hand takes a place in the image as well. The grasp of the hand is essentially very feminine, the look on the man’s face, somewhat disapproving. The photo is on a single plane and the background is indistinguishable and only really can be seen as a wall or some solid structure. I like this image and in general feel quite drawn to the use of mirrors in photography and reflections as it can set up an interesting dynamic between the main aspect of the photo and offer a space for interpretation.

The woman’s face is of alarm and shock. It’s not what she expects to see and she is reminded of the influence of men in her life in the negative sense of being oppressed or ‘held down’ in some way.

The second image that had an influence on photo 6 of the scrapyard (photo 6 in the sequence) is the one below of the tsunami that devastated the land area seen below. This photo was given as an example of how things might affect us more than faces of found through the above link to no caption needed. with the reference to things speaking louder than faces.

Personally I think the idea of things effecting us more than faces is an interesting one although debatable. It could easily be argued that the face of a distraught person as often seen in photojournalism has a more immediate impact on us emotionally as we register more feeling with people than things.

Analysis of tsunami in Chile image:

The photo is of a tsunami in chile. It is an Aerial view which is a privileged view in the sense that few photographers could get up in a helicopter and shoot such a scene. It belongs to the genre of photojournalism. The scene is one of unbelievable destruction. Houses, cars and factories all in the wrong place. The scene is one of awe-inspiring wonder at the forces of nature. The aerial view shows everything in one plane and the frame is filled from corner to corner. What we see is detail, vast detail of shapes and forms that we recognise as habitation and life, but disorganised. This image gave me ideas for photo 6 in the scrap yard whereby all you see is detail, similar to the image below but not an aerial view. I wanted to include this image to reinforce the idea of waste, which is symbolic of our times. It may have been more efficacious to have put in an image of environmental destruction which would of been apt but I did not want to draw the viewers’ attention explicitly to that theme. Rather what I have been working with is showing that we are somehow lost, in a deeper sense of which the environmental stuff is a part of.

IMG_20160124_123528619_HDR
Figure 3. (stern, 1948-51)

 

Chile-aftermath-aerial-view
Figure 4. Photograph from Chile, Onion magazine cover issue 45, Pisarenko, N.Chile (2009)
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