What a summer it has been!
A wonderful mixture of teaching, training, exhibitions and getting full steam ahead once again with my Masters.
Over June and July I went along to a short course at The Photographers Gallery London (TPG – a great space if you haven’t already visited). Part of my Masters year 1 review was that I needed to include more critical analysis in my literature review and to develop how photographic theory relates to my practice (yep I was a bit stumped too!). What I have found studying Photography and Sociology at Masters level particularly through research is, I’ve had to develop a quick but intense way of learning. Undertaking a Masters by Research is largely self directed learning (no lectures which is a bonus!) with some elements of knowledge sign-posted to you by your supervisors, both subjects not being my Undergrad focus has also been a nice little challenge. The short course on ‘Photography as artistic research’ came at exactly the right time. Led by Wiebke Leister provided weekly readings specifically on photography and the analysis and criticality to practice. Readings focussed on such visual artists/writers as Dion, Flusser, Barthes, Rose, Richters. These sessions gave me a greater understanding of the artists reasonings behind the projects, not just what they may have appeared to be on face value, using such theories from Berger and Barthes in the ways of seeing, that part of the overall understanding/appreciation of the project was mainly in the eyes of the viewer not the author, sometimes the initial intentions can be misinterpreted, not in a negative way but that ‘art’ can be a very subjective thing and varying interpretations will naturally be made by different people. Hey but isn’t that the fun about it?
The final session provided an opportunity with the group of like minded photographers and photography enthusiasts to critique any projects we were all working on. This is where I took along my Medway Open Studios exhibition work, which was a visual pit stop of where I was with my Masters research.
The work I presented was a mixture of archival family photographs and photographs I had taken either in response to the archive or interpretations of my need to remember my family. These were presented in either large 16×20 black frames, or the majority in 6×4 prints in cardboard frames, assembled on a rope washing line with pegs. I later thought of the washing line as being a private and public domestic item, where the private (items of underwear for example) become public (in the garden), this could be said for the photographs that I presented in that they are private family photographs being display in public, hanging out the laundry for all to see!
I am in the process of finalising my research title which will be on the lines of ‘Personal Loss, Memory and the family’ this will give some context into the following feedback I received from the group:
- they (the photos) aren’t all taken by the same person
- it represents two sides of a family (this was the case of the Main (my maternal side) and Price (my father))
- there are flowers at the start and end of the line (poppies)
- the artist is remembering something
- there are self portraits, and photos of the artist
- there is a strong maritime link
- there is a sequence of growing up along the photographs
- there is a sense of growing up alone in the photographs
- a sense of the artist being alone
- the Facebook screen shot of the ‘missing father’ on fathers day
- a suggestion of removing the frames, to see more of the photographs, and move from domestic to exhibition
- a suggestion of including other members of the family to put this work together, using a red piece of string to represent the umbilical chord connecting the family
- a suggestion of having 3 family photos within one frame to change the aesthetic (move from domestic to exhibition)
This was a great experience to have such critique from peers, especially as I was mid way through my Medway Open Studios 2018 (MOSAF18) exhibition. For the final weekend of MOSAF18 I decided to take the suggestion of the group, and remove the photographs from the frame. I felt a bit strange doing this as I didn’t want the photographs to become misshaped and dented by swinging freely with the peg at the top of the photo. I know I was probably playing it too safe, protecting the photographs from damage, but I later thought this is part of the photographs journey, the photograph as a changing physical object.
MOSAF18 was very similar to that final session at TPG, in that it is always a great experience for visitors to share their thoughts and ideas on your work. Throughout my exhibition I was pleased to see how open visitors were about sharing their experiences of family photography and artefacts following a bereavement. I also appreciated having a small dialogue to accompany the photographs (even if it was just my oral story), the photographs became a platform that opened up that conversation. I was conscious however to not offer up too much information about the photographs when they first arrived as I wanted to get their immediate raw responses. To include some theory here, many of my visitors showed responses to my photograph to that of the ‘Punctum’ (as coined by Barthes), something within the photo that pierced or connected to them and evoked a memory, for example on seeing the photograph of my Grandad, one visitor commented on how the photo ‘reminded her of her father, in that he always wore shirts with high collars and a tie’. I was quite taken in that visitors weren’t afraid to have an emotional response to my work, was this something to do with my home environment, and I wondered would the photographs have evoked a different reaction if I had displayed them in a gallery?
Some visitors searched for something of a ‘Familial Gaze’ (Hirsch), that familiarity in how families are represented within photographs (in contrast to the idealised portrayal of family) for example many could identify with the ‘father and new born’s home coming’ photograph (below) as typical of a familiar scene within a family album. The same visitor appeared to combine both Hirsch and Barthes theories in connecting to the photograph and remarking how her family ‘used to have that fireplace’. Are we automatically making connections (through links to memory) and generate understandings of our life within the act of looking at photographs?
MOSAF18 was a great experience for me, although daunting at the start, and probably was the most nervous I have been for any of my exhibitions, it has been a reaffirming experience. I am proud that private (family) photographs help stimulate conversation about others individual experiences following a bereavement. It is about the stories and the memories of and about those who have died, which can be an emotive subject, but my hope is that it is more about us thinking about our legacy, the symbols, icons, objects and good memories we make now, to be left for others and cherished when we are no longer here. I am also so thankful for those visitors who are interested in being interviewed as part of my research studies next year.
Over a few months before the summer I had the opportunity to do some informal photography teaching within a school. It was such a privilege to share my knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm for photography with young people. It was also a good opportunity to try out ideas for workshops with adults that I am developing this year. The young people loved Sun printing, comic book writing and then acting out their ‘scenes’ with each other then photographing them, chalk drawing scenes and photographing themselves, making a face mosaic’s similar to the Queen project, macro photography, ways of seeing nature (bit of a nod to Berger’s Ways of seeing there!), and working with them to develop their own styles and thoughts about photography. I had many thank you’s from the young people as well as some incredibly sweet conversations with some who ‘really appreciated learning about photography and will carry on taking photo’s’, this really hit home to me as my interest in photography started when I was around 7 or 8 years old.
It was so heart warming to know that my interests have gone full circle this summer in where I am now with my family photography research and leaving legacies, it starts with young people (and adults) having an interest in and being enthused by the possibilities that photography gives us for recording, making memories, remembering stories, rethinking our approach to the world.
What a great start to my Masters, and Nikki Price Photography will still be running in a business sense, but I’ve decided to take a small step back to concentrate on my studies. This choice of course isn’t an immediate concern for me as I’m not directing my time a million miles away from where my passion lies, and I have some smaller projects in the pipeline for 2018.
I’ve realised in writing this blog, that I had two pre-loaded draft blogs on:
- a literature list (in an attempt to encourage myself to write as I go along)
- and a two month review of where I am with my research
I won’t repost the whole blogs but here’s a little flavour for you:
The thing I’ve found with research and reading around a subject you are so passionate about, brings up all kinds of the thoughts and processes. I’ve found myself in a natural ‘rabbit hole’, wanting to keep delving into subjects and getting more and more excited about where it is leading me. I have been writing using good old fashioned paper and pen, and often let my thoughts wander having ‘revelations and ideas’ at times, so I always try to keep my observation journal on me. In many ‘how to’ guides I’ve seen advice like ensure you diarise time to just think, which I think is sound advice!
Great thinking places I’ve found are (I’ve also got Lauren Elkins Flaneuse book waiting in the wings to be read so hoping for some further inspiration):
- on a train -journeys over half an hour are best (great for when I travel to Uni)
- in a cafe – always a bonus for a long lunch
- in the shower -all best ideas are made here aren’t they?
So where am I now?
Three months further into my reading and I feel I’m getting to that research niche in that shadow, my thirst for knowledge and reading is growing, like I commented to my supervisor, ‘I loved that book so much I felt like I inhaled it!’ (speaking of Annette Kuhn’s Family Secrets). I’ve completed my first presentation and was comfortable doing it.
My research (no matter how wide I am reading at the moment) keeps pulling me to: using family photography (memory and narratives) as a means to researching Identity, Belonging, and Loss.
So in photography’s core concept of the ‘Rule of Thirds’ here are my top three (boy this has been hard!) key readings that have made a huge impact on me so far, and would encourage you to read them:
Annette Kuhn (1995) Family Secrets
Taking Autoethonography to the next level with this book, a straight talking 360 degree analysis of the authors family photographs, allowed me to think more about the ‘face value’ of the immediate photograph. This read has enabled me to think more about my childhood photographs, particularly those during my senior school years and to analyse them within the wider social context at that time, and my family unit. Kuhn’s reflection on her school uniform echoed that of my own, mother buying the size up so we ‘would grow into it’ (I’m sure many families consider this!) coming from a single parent family. I was also the first in my family to go to University, and all the expectations and feelings that surrounded this. Kuhn’s father was the photographer and yet it was her mother who was the instigator for the photos of Kuhn in various home made outfits, mirroring a matriarchal perception of mother as the nurturer, time keeper, and recorder of childhood moments. This also ignited my love of concepts of time travel, and awareness of time using photographs to allow us to metaphorically travel/connect with different points of time, Marc Triver notes that ‘a room needs a clock to denote the passing of time’ P185 in Berger’s book;
John Bergers (1967) Understanding a photograph
I read Bergers book at the same time I watched his 1972 BBC series of Ways of seeing. Both have completely transformed not only the way I am thinking about and analysing my own work, but art I see in many places. My connection to of art is greater, taking a 3 minute ‘dedicated’ time to ‘see’ work that I find of particular interest to me, looking deeper into what the artists message was, the context in which it was made, and having that critical reflection. I particularly enjoyed Berger’s diagrams on ‘Memory’ and its ‘non-linear’ way of looking at a photograph, in that recalling memories from photographs although constructed in a very chronological/linear way (in a hard copy of an album Birth through to before Death), the process of understanding/seeing a photograph happens in a very “radially” way “that is to say that an enormous number of associations leading to the same event” (P59). This allowed me to think that a photograph isn’t simply a static moment in time, but an artefact to revisit again and again, to enhance or obtain different meanings from it as Berger says “The appearances of the event photographed implicates other events, It is the energy of these simultaneous connections and cross references which enlarge the circle beyond the dimension of instantaneous information” (p91) i.e. a photograph allows for more interpretation, beyond what you can initially see.
The great thing about Berger’s work is his no-nonsense straight forward talk, and written words, that I find very accessible, de-mystifying the arena of ‘art’.
Roland Barthes (1982) Camera Lucida
Probably the key three things to come out of Barthes Camera Lucida is his analysis of the ‘Winter Garden’ (p63) photograph, the Punctum (p27) and Studium (p28). In his analysis of the Winter Garden, Barthes was searching for his mothers true identity, connecting with who she was before he was born. He suggested that ‘the photograph doesn’t necessarily say what is no longer but only for certain was has been’ (p85), in the case of his mother, she was at the Winter Garden, that is for certain, looking at the concepts of photographs moving across time, this would allow Barthes to now ‘see’ his mother as she was then. Although strange for me to say perhaps from coming from a visual perspective, I found the beautiful thing about his analysis and his connection to the photo was that there was no copy of it for the reader to see, as he notes ‘this photograph only exists for me, for you it would be nothing other than an indifferent picture’ (p73). The Punctum; that something within the photo that pricks your interest, and the Studium; allowing time to contemplate the photo, have been two simple concepts but inspirational ideas.
Along with Berger and Kuhn’s books this has changed the way I am seeing, I have revisited past work and family photographs, to really ‘see’ what is contained within. For Example; my Punctum in this Family photograph is the red coat I am wearing. This photo was in a collection kept by my late father, I didn’t recall the moment it was taken until I saw the photo, and the red coat immediately stood out to me ‘pricking’ my interest, the spending time (studium) to analyse it further.
The Rochester West by-election is coming soon, and I’ve had a number of promotional leaflets through my door for our local parties. Before I put them in the recycling bin, I thought it would be fun to see how the different parties are using photography to promote their candidates. I have tried not to look at their policies or political views or read the content in the leaflets. Instead I have attempted to give a rounded interpretation and analysis of their use of photos.
The Conservative leaflet shows a tilted, informal headshot taken on St Margarets Street. Alan’s stance is slightly turned to the left looking direct at the camera. Although not confrontational, as it might be if he were facing straight on to the camera, he has a relaxed smile. It seems to have been taken on a smart phone, giving a wide frame and low picture quality, he is also slightly out of focus. It does however give a leading line drawing the viewers eye down St Margarets Street, metaphorically enforcing that Rochester is the focus of this campaign.
The off-set fold of the front page invites you to explore the inner content. Inside are a number of posed and informal shots. A mixture of ‘in situ’ or ‘in action’ photos demonstrate the candidate supporting various campaigns in the area. The photos in green spaces suggest Alan is ‘out-and-about’ and active in his local area, however some, for example the photograph of the candidate in the green space with his foot on the white barrier, feel somewhat staged.
The last page shows three further ‘in situ’ photographs of the candidate with a local shop keeper and former candidate for the area. This contrasts with the informal layout of the first page. The catalpa tree photo is perhaps the most relaxed photo with Alan in a traditional male pose standing off centre with his hand in his pockets. This could either be interpreted as being relaxed or disinterested.
Overall the photographs within this leaflet are relaxed and informal and although they connect to build a story of the areas the candidate supports, it feels visually overloaded.
Martin’s front page portrait echoes the informality of the Conservative candidate, this time taken in a green space. Although I would not advise standing straight on to the camera, he has something in his hand, which somehow breaks the barrier, making it seem less confrontational. He is positioned at the centre of the photograph, the leading line is a path in the middle, which similar to the Conservative candidate, leads the viewer’s eye back to central Rochester. He is centred between two trees, nicely avoiding the foliage sprouting out of the top of the head look. Martin has a relaxed and friendly smile. I would surmise this was taken on a smart phone or basic digital camera, on an overcast day, as it slightly out of focus and quite dark. It would have been great to see the photo a bit brighter. Martin appears to be ‘out-and-about’ as he has his Liberal Democrats badge on and the photograph is taken by someone else. It is also good to see a younger candidate. There is one other photo on the page linking to a support campaign, and a stock photo from the Liberal Democrats, suggesting more of the overall aims of the party as opposed to the achievements of the individual for the community, as illustrated on the Conservative leaflet.
Overall, the portrait on this leaflet is the most friendly, relaxed and welcoming, with a smaller number of other photos indicating the wider party views.
The first thing that struck me about the Labour Candidates leaflet is it is well thought out. The front page is dominated by the River Medway with a ‘hero’ shot of Alex looking into the distance. I would suggest this has been taken by a professional photographer, due to the framing and use of depth of field.
This photo reminded me of a promotional leaflet for a theatre production (not dissimilar to the poster for David Tennant in Don Juan in Soho last year). The candidate is the focus of the promotion. Alex appears well groomed, wearing professional dress. I would, however, liked him to make a little more eye contact with the camera. This appears to be from an organised shoot, rather than an ‘out-and-about’ campaign shot.
Overall the photographs in this leaflet are of higher quality that the other candidates, and a case of quality over quantity. However, from the visuals I am unsure from this what campaigns the candidate has supported.
Rob’s portrait is also informal, it appears to have been taken as a ‘selfie’. It has been taken from below which doesn’t result in a very favourable angle, this main photo on the leaflet appears to have been stretched giving a ‘fish eye’ appearance, with a better smaller version on the reverse. The candidate is ‘in situ’ at a polling station, with additional photographs on the reverse indicating some issues the party are supporting locally. As with the Liberal Democrats leaflet there doesn’t appear to be any direct visual link to the achievements of the candidate.
Sonya’s leaflet was the last to arrive. I wasn’t sure whether I would receive one, given the Green’s environmental concerns, however was pleased to see it has been printed on recycled paper. Similar to the Conservative, Liberal and UKIP candidates, her portrait is informal and slightly off centre. She is looking directly down the lens with a slight head tilt and relaxed smile. It appears this has been cropped from a larger photo used on the Green’s website. In the source photo her pose looks stilted, but the crop on the leaflet is much more favourable. The exposure of the photograph is spot on the website, however it hasn’t translated well on the leaflet, which could be due to the paper. As this headshot is the only photograph, like the Labour leaflet, there is little visual information about the campaigns the candidate has supported.
All the leaflets use photography differently their candidates displaying their party colours. Each puts their own twist on their photos, using hero shots, snapshots, informal, ‘selfies’ and ‘out and about’ photos. A leaflet is an easy way for candidates to get across their messages, the photos used create the immediate visual connection with the person behind the campaign. The parties have put forward four white male candidates and one white woman, I would have liked to have seen a bit more diversity.
Given the timescale for this campaign it is understandable why some of the photos may appear rushed, this highlights a need for a quality stock of photos, taken at events and regular organised photoshoots.
Top tips for election candidate photos:
- When possible use a good quality digital camera. A smart phone is great for those ‘out and about’ shots, but not selfies, always ask someone to take it for you.
- Consider using one of the many basic editing software apps to get your smart phone photos just right.
- Take photos in the location you are representing. Even better in a green space, they create and healthy feel and usually have better light.
- Remember to take photographs when your campaigning or supporting events. This will help you to build up a ‘bank’ of stock photos, to use in your promotions and help you tell your story when needed.
- Natural light is a must, most candidates have used outdoor photographs, however ensure you are making the most of your chosen light conditions
- A relaxed genuine smile always brings life to your photos and helps you connect.
- If you are unsure about what pose styles work for you, try them in a mirror. Ask a portrait photographer or search for some tips on the internet.
- Add interest and creativity to your photos by using leading lines and being creative with depth of field.
- Don’t be afraid to play with the layout of your photographs, cropping when necessary. Sometime a badly framed photo can be saved by a good crop.
- Where possible work with a professional photographer whose work you know and like for those quality shoots.