Category Archives: Coursework

Exercise 4.5 – Fictional texts: Holly goes off-piste, again

Lately I have been reading King Kong Theory, by Virginie Despentes (2010), which is about how women are still required to conform to what the patriarchy thinks they should be, and any woman who does not accede the stereotypes of Mother or Whore is considered a target for abuse. A glaring example of this in in today’s news – it is reported that Laura Kuenssburg, the BBC Political Reporter has been given a bodyguard to protect her at the Labour Party conference. Various politicos are opining that it is a publicity stunt (though quite why Kuenssburg needs publicity is not clear), but many people have gone public to support her position and vulnerability, which was illustrated by a chorus of hisses at a general election meeting earlier this year. Yvette Cooper, Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have all roundly and loudly condemned the threats, and all three are no strangers to online bullying themselves.

I find this all very dispiriting. In sixty years, have we really moved feminism so little towards the mainstream that people feel it is perfectly ok to vilify and defeminise any woman who appears to be anything other than an unopinionated doormat.

So, in support of Ms Kuenssburg and all the other women who are routinely insulted, bullied, threatened and objectified both online and in real life (have a look at the website the Everyday Sexism Project if you don’t know what I mean) I have put together this series of words and images All the images were taken of a woman by a woman, and about women, for our own entertainment. They are a reflection of the confused stereotyping of women that is so prevalent in modern society.

Symbolism:

  • monochrome and inverted images of the same person – black and white viewpoints; stereotyping
  • gold leaf behind the images – the often unacknowledged/partially hidden value that women offer to society
  • faceless woman –  Everywoman
  • pedestal and wings – angel and demon
  • the words (in set below) – some of the names that women are called to synthesise them as a group, one that is different from men.

I also tried a second idea, as a single series of images without the gold leaf, which is shown below and which I am calling The Dichotomy of Being Female.

two side of woman

Finally, I haven’t a clue if these work, but I had a lot of fun making them. (Also, in an ideal world I would re -photograph the individual gold-leaf images, at a higher f-stop, as they are a little fuzzy around the edges.)

References

Despentes, Virginie (2010 e-edition) King Kong Theory. London: Serpent’s Tail.

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Notes on assignment 4 from the Thames Valley Group

This last week has been very busy and I am only now able to site down and consider the feedback I received on my proposal for assignment 4. I explained the background to the images, my idea of matching them with snippets of old music hall songs. The general consensus was that the story was “tragic” and I might be minimising the shocking effect that having to move out at very short notice to places they were totally unfamiliar with must have had on the care home residents. We agreed that the overall effect should steer well clear of any suggestion of tweeness.

It was suggested that the Artist’s Statement might be all that is needed to accompany the images, and that it should be sufficiently informative to enable the viewer to consider what life at the home might have been before its sudden closure. I think it is time to return to my search for any formal documentation about the care home closure and why it failed its quality assessment so badly that everyone had to be moved out immediately.

Aside from my own work, the was the busiest group meeting I have attended with 15 participants, so the whole day was given over to looking at student’s work. A proper write-up of the day can be seen on the OCASA site at http://www.ocasa.org.uk/index.php/2017/09/21/thames-valley-group-september-2017-meeting-notes/

 

Some thought and a project on Section 4, part 1

The early exercise in Part 4 concern the idea of taking images made by other people and giving them a variety of alternative texts to play with the meaning of the photograph. Rather than using someone else’s work, I have decided instead to use some images I found in a photography book that I purchased online.  Part 2 of the Section asks us to make photographs in response to words, while this one is the converse – using a variety of words to complement images.

Background

Some time ago, I purchased a secondhand copy of the  book The Camera I: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection, by RA Sobieszek and Deborah Irmas. Inside several of the first few pages were eight of what I am told are Polaroid negatives. They had carefully been placed one inside each page spread, in what appears to have been a deliberate way. An example is shown below.

P1640359v2

Obviously, I know absolutely nothing about this girl and why the negatives have been placed so carefully within the pages of a book about self-portraiture, but the negatives fascinate me, and they beg for a story to be constructed around them.

So, these are the images, inverted from the negatives and tidied up a bit. I am not sure which way around they should be, so have made a judgement based on the way they were presented in the book. She is beautiful, isn’t she?

Some of them are not quite in focus, and I am not so keen on no 8. However, all together they are intriguing . Part 2 of this project will look at how I have decided to interpret them

 

First thought for Assignment 4

I have got so much going on at present that it is difficult to keep up with my blog, and I am falling behind. However, after an agonisingly long gestation period for assignment 3, I think this one will be a doddle. I took the photographs I wanted to use back in June and was waiting for the right assignment to use them. They are of an abandoned care home on my street which has been boarded up since 2007.  Since then, the place has gradually been going to rack and ruin, something that has been documented over time by the local urban explorer (Urbex) contingent. I have wanted to visit it for ages, but was nervous of doing so alone, so when my photographer son came to stay, we spent a morning poking around the place and making photos and video clips. Here is one as a taster.

P1610540-Editv2

For the last few days, I have been thinking about how to use some text to add another layer to the images, and last night I found myself singing an old music hall song that my grandmother taught me. Eureka! I am going to combine the images with the words from some songs to give a flavour of happier times at the home, when I imagine the residents gathered around the piano enjoying a singsong.

Finally, I am also wondering about whether to put together a short video of the images, with audio of one of the songs to accompany it.

Research Point 1 – Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image

Works of mass communication all combine, through diverse and diversely successful dialects, the fascination of a nature, that of story, diegesis (narrative), syntagm (an orderly combination of interacting signifiers, e.g. a sentence) and the intelligibility of a culture, withdrawn into a few, discontinuous symbols which men ‘decline’ in the shelter of their living speech. Barthes 1977, 162-3. (the purple words are mine)

panzani-preview

Panzani advert that illustrates Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image.

I’ve written a little before about the idea of anchor and relay in Context & Narrative, but looking back at what I said, it is only the bare bones. I did confirm though that I have read Rhetoric of the Image before. It is a pretty dense piece of writing, which requires full concentration and access to a dictionary and as always, Barthes used twenty abstruse words where five simple ones would do the same job, but I now think I have understood the gist of it.

I will talk relatively briefly about Anchor and Relay, as required for the Research Point, because I think there are more interesting ideas which are explained later in the essay.

Barthes opines that one can combine text and images in two different ways:

  • anchors – where the text  which accompanies an image is directive; it focuses the viewer’s understanding of the image down a particular pathway, thus limiting the image’s potential range of meanings.
  • relays – the text alters or advances the meaning, by adding other possible ways of reading an image. The resulting understanding might still be tied down, but it is much more open to interpretation than the anchoring text.

In the coursework lead-up to this exercise, we are referred to Scott’s break-down of the relationship, which is directional and orientational (both are anchors in Barthes’s terminology) and complementary, which equates to Barthes’ relay. I explained these terms, with examples, here. The notion of relaying text is very popular in current photography, with seemingly unrelated pieces of text co-located with images, in a completely undirected way which requires to viewer to derive his/her own meaning from the pieces. More of this later though.

Barthes then goes on to introduce another semiotic concept – connotive and denotive signs using an advertisement for spaghetti as a springboard for his theories. Connotive refers to the literal part of the image, in this case, a shopping bag which holds a number of cookery ingredients, while the denotive part of the image is the symbolic signs that are held within that image and which are what makes it an advert rather than simply an image of some shopping. He goes into some detail about how these are presented in the image, through signifiers and what they signify. A basic example is the various traffic signs that we see on our roads. The signs are simple but they hold larger messages about particular safety issues we should beware of, such as this below.

no right turn

Here, we “know” that the red circle with a line through it means Don’t Do Something, and the black arrow indicates what that Something is – No Right Turn.

That is simple, but one can apply the same concept to much more complicated situations, particularly when using text alongside an image. Barthes writes that the specific signifiers in an image are underlain by an infinite range of potential signifieds – the meanings that the signified might refer to. The idea that limits those signifieds are each person’s cultural and personal experiences, i.e. those things that lead the person to associate a particular object or sight with a specific idea. Naturally, there are some general ones which are widely understood, such as generic toilet signs, for instance, but surprisingly few are globally understood. With each person’s own experiential assumptions laid on top of this, it is clear that every person who looks at the same image may draw different conclusions about its meaning (See Death of the Author for more on this), and this is why advertising needs to be very general and directive in its signifiers – to avoid misunderstanding of the messages that the seller wants to say.

This is where we return to the idea of anchors and relays, as most usually text is used as an anchor, to tie down/limit/repress the potential signified meanings of the image, as in advertisements. However, by using a piece of text as relay instead, a much more open relationship with the image is produced, allowing and even encouraging the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions about what the artist means, and potentially producing a gap between the words and the image for the viewer to fill in with his/her own interpretation, based on a very personal understanding of the ideas and themes the artist is exploring.

There is considerably more to the article along the lines of how the photograph differs from all other art works as it simply records a scenario, rather than transforming it into a representation of the scene, but that is for another post. In the meantime, the course question asks us how this might help my own creative approach to working with text and images? I am actually quite comfortable with the idea of non-explanatory text alongside images, and my current project on nude photography and the gaze is using it. Fellow student Stefan513593 taught me a new word today which references my thinking about how the project is progressing – ekphrasic – a vivid, often dramatic verbal description of a visual work of art, real or imagined (Wikipedia, 2017), which in the case of my project, involves sewing words which have significant meanings upon the image to subvert our initial understanding of it as a signifier and to question the history behind it.  The current state of that work can be seen in this post here.

More important though is the idea that the connotators within the image are discontinuous, scattered traits, which hint at a lexicon, without detailing the whole of it. Barthes (1977)

diegesis – narrative

References

Barthes, Roland (1977) Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekphrasis (accessed on 20 August 2017)

Barbara Kruger, Sarah Sense and abstract layers of meaning

You know how it is – when something new and specific comes into your mind, then suddenly evidence of that thing seems to be everywhere. I recall that feeling when I was pregnant the first time, and evidence of pregnancy and babies that I had not noticed before suddenly came into sharp focus. I am having the same experience with the idea of Text and Images at present. It’s as if suddenly my eyes have been opened to the significance of something I’ve never thought about before.

The course text refers us to Barbara Kruger, as a photographer who uses advertising conventions to subvert their messages. Her work is political in nature and asks us to question prevailing thinking. Her images fit in well with the current zeitgeist and I notice that she has been using Trump in her work recently, reflecting the so-called “Fake Media” view of him. Her work fits in well with the low-level trolling and poking fun at the new American President which is aimed at needling him into making a fool of himself. (Go, Barbara! I’m right behind you. The man is a menace.)

For example, this image below is brilliant – funny, scathingly truthful and covertly taking a swipe at Trump and his alt-right fans.

Barbara Kruger 2

© Barbara Kruger

There are reminders of the work of other political photographers, such as Peter Kennard, whom I heard lecture back during TAOP. Both use collage and iconic images to make their points in clever, easy to grasp ways.

The interesting thing about Kruger’s work is that she takes a piece of text and pastes it over a seemingly entirely unconnected image, and the result is a space where the viewer has to work to fit the two messages together. The photographer provides clues, but the viewer has to join the dots, as it were. In the image above, we have the following elements:

  • an image of a person, who we assume is Hitler because of the moustache and uniform, although his eyes are covered.
  • two bits of text (well, three really, but the upper two are connected)
  • a message about mind control
  • another message about not believing internet trolls
  • a third message, which sits in the notional gap between text and image (not the physical gap) about Hitler’s use of psychological warfare and disinformation during WW2, and
  • a fourth message (also within the gap) warning people to beware of current re-use of those techniques to direct the population’s thinking via the internet. i.e. don’t believe everything you read on the internet, and attempts to direct our thinking may well be organised and coordinated. The small type point of the “If” at the beginning of the text also implies that the default position is that our minds are controlled, and only clear-thinking people can see above this to the wider point.

All this in one image. It is a very powerful way of making a point quickly that is much more complex to explain in words.

Our coursework text argues that there are three ways an image and some text can be related:

directional – the words are explanatory of the image. One thinks of basic reportage in this category, where the pictures are an illustration of the words, such as this below from today’s BBC website.         Directional text
The image illustrates the words and the words explain the image. I very much doubt whether anyone was commissioned to make the image. It was simply lifted from a stock photo library of happy, smiling girls. (Why is it always girls?)

orientational – the words give some general information about the image, such as the place it was taken, such as this image below, taken from the Landscape Photographer of the Year website. The text explains the location of the image and who it was by.

John Gibbs

complementary – the text and the image together produce a space into which a third idea is placed. Each of the elements has value on its own, but together they produce another idea altogether. That idea relies on the viewer taking enough time to work it out for his/herself, and it is a concept that is currently very popular in Art Photography.

Which brings me to Sarah Sense. I found her work while I was doing research for assignment 3 of Context & Narrative, and was struck by her method of deconstructing and reconstructing images to say something about her mixed heritage roots and in particular some of the symbolism used in basket-weaving by different groups. Yesterday, I returned to it, in relation to my post on Thomas Kellner, and discovered that she has move on since I last looked at her site. An example of her recent work is shown below, and it combines both the physical re-weaving of the image she is known for, but also integrated and external text. It is part of a series called Remember, which along with its predecessor Chocktaw Irish Relation, takes the words of her grandmother’s memoirs and reproduces them both within the image and as accompanying text, both handwritten. (Both can be viewed on her website here). The result gives a sense of her relationship with her grandmother, and their shared heritage through what are on first sight fairly straightforward landscape images. But like the Barbara Kruger image above, once can unpeel the ideas of the image like an onion, to find others beneath them which are more abstract.

Sarah Sense-Remembering

© Sarah Sense, 2016

From a personal standpoint, I am intrigued by the idea that one can use physical layers to produce abstract layers of meaning, and would like to try it out in some of my own work.

More thoughts on subverting the male gaze – NSFW

WARNING – this post contains images of nudity. NSFW

Several of my fellow students have been extremely helpful in sorting out how I should take the idea of working with a feminine or ungendered gaze on the nude male. My thanks to Stephanie, Micahel, Stefan, Kate and Gesa particularly and all the other poeple who have commented here on my blog and on the OCA Photography Students Facebook page – for me, the group feedback is a massive part of my thought distillation process and a part I could not do without. Their comments can mostly be seen under the Comments section in my previous post on the subject. The long and the short of it is that my original photos were actually quite traditional in their style and content, and that I needed to subvert them in some way to bring in the feminist perspective. Returning to my interest in C&N of using thread and cutting to alter images, I have been trying out a few different ideas and there is definitely something that I can work with here.

In the images below, I have firstly stitched the (Google Translated) Chinese word for womanly/obedient across the model’s rear and in the second, I have used a cross stich generator program to pixelate his genitals and then photoshopped the cross stitch colur chart in place of the real thing.

There is much research to do yet, on both the importance of tattoos (w/r to Image 1) and for both on the role of feminine arts such as sewing as acts of subversion to the genreally male-oriented artistic paradigm. (Note to self: look back at the concept of  Subversive Stitching as a political statement)

Additionally, it has been suggested that I consider using Greek or Latin rather than Chinese to stitch words on the model’s body, which would reference the Ancient World’s obsession with sculpting the naked male figure. So much to think about, but I am moving this work onto Preparation for Assignment 4 in Coursework, as I will almost certainly be using it for the Assignment itself.