Photography: a combination of messages and contexts

INFORMING CONTEXTS – INDIPENDENT REFLECTION

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As Susan Sontag pointed out in her “On Photography”, “The photographer’s intentions do not determine the meaning of the photograph, which will have its own career, blown by the whims and loyalties of the diverse communities that have use for it” (Sontag, 1977).

I think the author wanted to convey the idea that the message is into the photograph itself: it works or it doesn’t; the photographer can’t fully control if its message is perceived and how.

As practitioners, we can only try to better understand the photographic language and improve in making viewers understand what we want to photographically communicate.

I think photographs can always be evaluated as a message until, at least, one observer can give his personal interpretation of what he is looking at. I think that to be relevant to someone a meaning must not be generally considered as socially or culturally “important”, because not all photographers are focused on providing a transfer of meaning: some artists can be more absorbed by an aesthetic ideal, for instance and, in addition, some viewers consider more important the visual language used to create an image or its aesthetic result rather than a conceptual content.

My practice should be placed at the antipode in relation to this position: I am not focusing on post-production or on specific sitters rather than others, I want to portray each individual that wants to be portrayed and I am doing my best in focusing more on contents than on editing. The editing phase and images’ post-production must be simply focused on enhancing the content of my images, the message I am trying to communicate collaborating with my subjects.

So, can my practice be considered as a message? Yes.

What ideas am I trying to disseminate with this message? That a more deep level of communication among people is possible, that my sitters are there to be actually and properly heard and seen as individuals, that empathy is something necessary and a value that should be strengthen in order to better interact with the Society we live in instead of being simply shaped by it, in accordance to a scale of values that tends to avoid individual differences, favouring a sort of emotional and behavioural standardization.

I am not saying that all observers will perceive what I am trying to make them understand because, again, we can’t fully control the message, especially in a Society in which the spectacularization of the pain is the daily routine: I have to quote Sontag again, in this case, when she says “Shock can become familiar, shock can wear off.  Even if it doesn’t one cannot look. People have a means to defend themselves against what is upsetting, one can become habituated to the horror of certain images” (Sontag, 2003). This is why I am not trying to portray anything spectacular but the common human condition, in a simple and clear visual language. I am not trying to use a documentary style or to strike viewers’ attention with the aesthetic of my images, I am trying to make them concentrate on contents, on subjects and their emotions. The potential audience can understand it or not, can feel a sense of empathy or not, because, as Gardner said,  “If the same message and same tactics are being used all the time, then it just becomes wallpaper to a person and makes it far easier to ignore” (Gardner in Williams, 2009), and this is why I am trying to experiment different solutions in order to “touch” my potential audience and make people understand they are observing themselves while observing my photographs, that will have the function of a mirror.

As stated in a previous article, the context of consumption in which my work will be consumed will certainly change the way it will be perceived. As it will be, maybe, easier to properly convey the message during an exhibition in which I can display my contents in a certain way and manage the way in which they will be consumed, that could be impossible in a website or on a Magazine. I can provide indications about how to  proceed, what the best direction to follow might be, but in the case of a website users will, of course, focus on those images that visually appeal them even ignoring some of those parts that will constitute the body of work and in the case of the Magazine, editorial choices can change or even overturn its meaning.

Since the approach to images is different from viewer to viewer, I am combining my photographic work with different visual practices, such as Theatre and Cinema, using their languages and solution to reinforce my stills and to create a path with the aim of visually “educate” the audience: in this way, they will have the chance to observe contents from different perspectives and with different approaches, better understanding what the message and the intent behind my project are.

And what is the main objective? Not to create a body of work with a documentary intent, because, to use Martha Rosler’s words, “Documentary, as we know it, carries (old) information about a group of powerless people, to another group addressed as socially powerful” (Rosler, 1982), but to make viewers understand that they are part of the same powerful group of those sitter: what creates confusion and differences is that lack of active communication about negativity, emotions and psychological problems that I am doing my best to fight.

 

References:

Rosler Martha, Around and Afterthoughts on Documentary Photography, 1982, in Bolton Richard (ed.), 1992, The Contest of Meaning, MIT Press, Cambridge.

Sontag, Susan, On Photography, 1977,  Penguin London.

Sontag, Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003, Penguin London.

Willams Matt, Does Shock Advertising Still Work, in April 24, 2009, Campaign https://goo.gliNJKO

Video Presentation: evaluating my own practice

INFORMING CONTEXTS – INDIPENDENT REFLECTION

This week I’ve been asked to write a reflective note that evaluates my practice in the context of the following Informing Contexts Learning Outcomes:

Critical Contextualisation of Practice: Apply a critical awareness of the diversity of contemporary photographic practice to the development of your own work, and inform your practice through historical, philosophical, ethical and economic contextualisation.

Professional Location of Practice: Establish an understanding of the range of professional contexts for the dissemination and consumption of contemporary photographic practice, and identify opportunities to engage with audiences and markets.

Critical Analysis: Make personal observations and form critical opinions to analyse and appraise your own work, as well as the work of your peers and other practitioners.

Written and Oral Communication Skills: Articulate ideas in a range of formats and contexts, and be able to communicate with different audiences.

“I can hear you now” – Video Presentation, visual and critical contextualisation. ©Dayana Marconi 2017. Copyright for this video belongs solely to Dayana Marconi. Released on Vimeo on 22nd March 2017.

According to the reviews I received from my peers regarding my Video Presentation, I could see that most of them perfectly understood what the project is about and what my aims are. I could observe interest regarding the topic and that the potential of this project is clearly perceived.

I contextualised my practice both critically and visually, providing clear references to position it in the photographic and artistic world.

I included information about my point of view, both professionally and personally speaking, and the work done to position it under historical, philosophical and ethical perspectives, providing also information implying its economical potentialities.

I discussed how this work could be placed in different contexts of consumptions and how it should be “adjusted” to perfectly fit each one of them; clearly, it was a ten-minute presentation, and so I didn’t have the chance to develop each point as I desired.

I provided my peers with personal observations about my work in order to reinforce that inclusive approach that I am conducting, even highlighting its strengths and weakness, analysing how I measure the success of my project.

Since not every peer could understand each passage of my speech, I think I should work more to clarify some points, such as the genuineness of what and who I portray, despite the use of different artistic languages and I should clarify more how all its parts are integrated in a constituted body of work.

I think that the path I am undertaking was clearly pointed out talking about the potential involvement of different professionals and Charities to collaborate together in order to provide a wider perspective that could fit with the viewing and analysis approach of each single person of my potential audience. This step must certainly be further developed, but being an ongoing project the work can’t be done all at once.

Being the video preparatory to  create my Critical Review, I focused on sharing my images mostly and I didn’t take in consideration to share further images about my visual references apart from the ones provided talking about my introductive video and theatrical approach; anyway, I clearly defined them into the speech.

What I must do in relation to my Critical Review, I think, is to develop those parts that were still weak and provide further information about some points maybe not stated clearly enough.

I am pondering to include more images about my visual references in order to provide a more clear and immediate confrontation, but, since from this stage, I believe that is clear that my practice is progressing in time as well as the way I discuss about Photography more broadly.

References:

Marconi Dayana, Vimeo Channel, https://vimeo.com/dayanamarconi

Video Presentation: evaluating peers’ work

INFORMING CONTEXTS – PEER EVALUATION

This week we’ve been asked to evaluate our peers’ video presentations related to their current practice at this stage of this MA Photography at Falmouth. We had to focus on set Critical Review Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria and we had to identify particular strengths and areas of improvement, even providing suggestions.

One of the presentations I assessed, has been created by Jedd Griffin, who’s working on a photographic project constructed around the idea of finding a way to bring the issue of the depleting level of bees around the U.K. due to over farming, climate change and pesticide abuse.

Jedd Griffin, Hand in Steph, Video presentation, released on Jedd Griffin’s Youtube channel on 26th March 2017. ©Jedd Griffin

PROVIDED EVALUATION:

The project is clearly described and even his evolution in time is well defined in each of its steps. It’s interesting to see how the project evolved from the initial images to the last ones and how different they are. I would have added a last image confrontation to make these differences even more clear on a visual level.

Your research is progressing with your photographical experiments, while at the beginning you were simply focused on creating a symbolic image of bees’ body disruption to make viewers understand the effects of pesticides on them, now you are working on different levels and following different paths that perfectly work together. I like the research related to dreams, black and white and colours you made: it gives a further starting point to analyse your practice and to approach it. Your images are now speaking to our subconscious and this has a great impact on your project’s potential. It’s now more “emotional” and this is a language that can reach a broader audience, even those individuals who never thought about this environmental problem before.

I would have insert more critical and visual references, even if I experienced myself how difficult this can be in a ten-minute video, but they would have create a more clear context to help (visually and critically speaking) anyone who is approaching this topic for the first time.

Your first black and white images reminded me Henry Fox Talbot “Botanical specimen: photogenic drawing”, 1839 and it’s interesting to see how you made this approach evolve.

talbot specimen talbotspec2

William Henry Fox Talbot “Botanical specimen: photogenic drawing”, 1839. Image source: https://uk.pinterest.com/explore/henry-fox-talbot/ ©William Henry Fox Talbot

Another potential reference, analysed during these weeks, could be Carol Squires (ed) 2014, “What is a Photograph?”, New York, International Center of Photography.

I’ve been thinking about this reference as you’ve been talking about the use you made of diluted pesticides to analyse their effects on your images, creating a deeper sense of disruption. I think this approach is simply brilliant, because it can make your audience visually understand what the effects of those pesticides are on bees. I think it makes things more clear to observers, even those ones who never approached this topic before.

This approach made me think at the work, presented by Carol Squires into a case study analysed during this Module, of Matthew Brandth, who created landscapes photographs which included bodies of water and then collected the water from those places using it during the developing and fixing phase, by immersing his prints in it and analysing the effects and chemical reactions it had on his images.

If I can provide a suggestion, I would add simple descriptions under your images, like the ones we can find in Science or Natural History  Museums, indicating the type of bee and plant portrayed, with their scientific names, the diluted pesticide used, the effect it has on bees (body disruption, inability to fly, death…): in this way each viewer could understand what effect are on bees and see them on your images at the same time, empathizing more with the topic, I think. A contrast between dreamy images and an “aseptic” description might even have a deeper impact on viewers: you are appealing them with your images, making them approach to the topic in an unusual way, but yet describing something that it’s actually there, that they must clearly understand and that is negatively affecting the environment and, subsequently, our lives.

I would deeper analyse the potential contexts of consumption and how they might affect the understanding of this topic and of your images. Art Galleries only? Would your images fit into a Campaign to sensitise viewers in relation to this topic? Yes? No? Why? How?

Again, I understand that this can’t be clearly stated in ten minutes and that probably you’ve already taken in consideration all these aspects I discussed here, but I see a great potential in this project and I think it could become useful to your audience not only as a piece of art.

 

References:

Brandth Matthew, http://www.artspace.com/matthew_brandt

Fox Talbot H. William, Botanical Specimen, ca.1835, collection record into the MET Museum official website http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283063

Fox Talbot H. William, Botanical Specimen, Images’ sources on Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=William%20Henry%20Fox%20Talbot%20%22Botanical%20Specimen%22&rs=typed&term_meta%5B%5D=William%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=Henry%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=Fox%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=Talbot%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=%22Botanical%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=Specimen%22%7Ctyped

Griffin Jedd, Critical Research Journal http://jeddgriffinphotograp.wixsite.com/jeddgriffin/blog-1

Griffin Jedd, Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6ysK_n5G_J2heI2xyfoXJw

Squires Carol, What is a Photograph?, (ed) 2014, International Center of Photography, New York.

Stephan Annelisa, Re-Picturing Photographic History, Hiroshi Sugimoto preserves and transforms William Henry Fox Talbot’s 175-year-old “photogenic drawings, April 2014 issue on The Iris – Behind the scenes at the Getty website http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/re-picturing-photographic-history/

Visiting a museum: everything other than the artifacts

INFORMING CONTEXTS – INDIPENDENT REFLECTION

A few weeks ago, I visited the Museum of Criminal Anthropology “Cesare Lombroso”, in Turin, Italy.

This Museum, with The Museum of Human Anatomy “Luigi Rolando” and the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, constitute a single Centre managed by the University of Turin and they are the first step in the creation of the “Museum of Mankind” project.

Lombroso Museum, building of Anatomical Institutes in the late 19th, early 20th Century. ©Museo Cesare Lombroso. All rights reserved.

In 1884, Doctor Lombroso participated in the Anthropology display of the Italian General Exhibition with “anomalous skulls, masks, tattoos, photographs of criminals, material evidence, daggers, playing cards… drawings and objects that belonged to or were made by criminals” (Lombroso, 1884) and then, two years later, he left the Chair of Forensic Medicine for that of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Practice and he published his “The Criminal Man”.

Due to several petitions created to close it, taking photographs into the Museum is now forbidden. The petitions have been proposed due to the fact that Lombroso is not commonly considered as “a real scientist” because his theories are evaluated as obsolete and some terms he used are currently seen as racist in our Country, because they often relate criminal tendencies to regionalism. What most of people don’t understand, I think, is that he was born in 1835, an era in which because of “women’s issues” many individuals have been hospitalised. He was a son of his era and his scientific language and research were, of course, related to it. Only because a scientific theory is outdated, it doesn’t mean that all that materials should be hidden or that it wasn’t important for further scientific discoveries and, moreover, closing that Gallery would mean that many artworks made by prisoners and psychiatric patients could get “lost”.

Lombroso Museum, Virtual tour images. ©Museo Cesare Lombroso. All rights reserved.

Anyway, on its official website there is a short video that provides, at least, a general overview of its interior: http://museolombroso.unito.it/index.php/en/visit/virtual

Briefly, entering the Museum, in the first room, decorated like medical buildings in Lombroso’s era, there are two screens in which two men are discussing various topics related to the historical and social contexts in which the collection has been created.

The second area contains all those instruments that the Doctor used for his measurements since he believed that the cranial shape was strictly related to criminal behaviour and madness and it is interesting because it show how he actually realised his Research.

Room three and four, then, contain Lombroso’s collection of remains, skeletons, wax masks of men sentenced to death, bodies of proof used for criminal actions, dresses and pieces of art created by criminals and asylums’ patients and those skulls he used to formulate the Theory of Atavism. This area is the most famous one because its visual and emotional impact. I had the chance to observe other visitors and I could see a mix of fascination and horror in their eyes, but yet I noticed they could not look away from those objects and remains.

From here, all walls are covered in portraits of people affected by what, in that era, were considered different types of madness and portraits of criminals and the following two rooms contain artworks created by some of them. It reminded me of those ancient houses in which many old family portraits are exhibited. In the last two spaces, then, we can see the model of a prison and one of its cells and and only in the final corridor we can find most of written information, related about Lombroso’s theories and their evolution in Science history and about the collection: less than ten panels.

Spaces are arranged to create a sort of circular path that viewers can follow and to show the interior of the building as it might have been when Lombroso was operating. The University of Turin also recreated his office in an effort to provide observers with a historical and interior architecture-related contextualisation.

Rooms are quite small, even claustrophobic in some cases, and spaces are organised mostly in the same way as they were in early 20th Century. The effort to insert new technologies to provide a more interactive experience to visitors is minimum and involve two small areas, only. The main colours are the brown of the wood and the cream of the walls, which remind the colour of all those skulls and bones contained by the main areas. Illumination is mostly artificial and provided by the use of warm-light neon tubes, which give almost a sense of sterility to those spaces.

I didn’t receive any audio guide or leaflets to add information to the few ones shared on the wall-panels that, at the same time, didn’t add anything to what was already available online. English translations were often imprecise and the staff consisted in two people only: one person in the reception area and another one wandering and screaming to visitors that they can’t take photographs of the exhibition. I tried to ask if they had further reading materials to provide, but they just told me they didn’t, without adding any other information about how to find them online or doing an effort to be proactive somehow. There were no catalogues about the Museum, but, at least, reading materials are available online in PDF format.

The website is similarly organised: in its English version some parts are translated and some aren’t and even those translations contain typos and mistakes. I couldn’t find out who created written contents and who translated it, but I easily guessed it was someone related to the University of Turin, since it manages the Museum.

There are no talks or events organised by the Gallery, apart from guided visits and scholastic ones that can’t currently be booked online but by phone only. Even in the Event section of the website, the only informaton I could find were about openings during festivities.

The new museum displays are intended to provide the visitor with conceptual tools to understand how and why this controversial Scientist came to formulate the theory of “Criminal atavism” and what were the errors in his scientific method, but again they failed providing simply generic information and adding nothing but what can be found searching on Google.

Analysing what written by my peers during this week about the exhibitions they had the chance to visit, I immediately noticed how information have been provided and shared in different and more efficient ways in their cases.

For instance, to take in consideration another Museum in Italy, at the ‘Jheronimus Bosch and Venice’ exhibition into the Doge’s Palace in Venice, visited by Jo, there were large panels containing information in each room, containing white texts on a dark surface. This is the only similarity in both Museums (see previous images), since I strongly believe that in Venice those texts were far more informative than the ones I could read in Turin, and probably better translated, too. Those plaques in Venice detailed the name of the artist, the year in which the work was produced, its title and the medium on which the work was produced.

Close to those skulls analysed by Cesare Lombroso for his theoretical research, there were simply papers containing words like UXORICIDE or THIEF. I can easily guess that the important thing, here, was the impact that those skulls should have had on viewers, but most of them had no idea what they were looking at, why and what those words meant in that specific context. They were acting as simple voyeurs, intrigued by something inusual.

We can find even a bigger discrepancy if we compare the information shared by the Museum of Criminal Anthropology and the Royal Cornwall Museum. In this specific case, the exhibition provided detailed A4 leaflets that could be taken away by visitors, correlated to the details on wall-signs and written in the displays. Josie, who visited this exhibition, presumed the creator of the exhibition wrote those contents following “the collation of the historic material and stories” (Purcell, 2017). In relation to their contents, she has been more engaged by the section about postcards sent by couples separated by the war than the general info sheets aimed at a wide audience.

I think it’s a shame that the Museum of Criminal Anthropology is not promoted by main touristic organisations and that it doesn’t organise talks or events to re-enhance its popularity, because it’s important to make people understand what it contains and why it’s been relevant for the development of Anthropology and scientific Research in History.

 

References:

Museum of Criminal Anthropology “Cesare Lombroso” – Website: http://museolombroso.unito.it/index.php/en

Lombroso Cesare, The Criminal man, 2006, Duke University Press, Durham, USA.

Purcell Josephine – CRJ: https://josiepurcellphotographyma.wordpress.com/

Sutherst Jo – CRJ: https://josutherstphotography.wordpress.com/

Independent reflection: a starting point for my oral presentation

INFORMING CONTEXTS – INDIVIDUAL REFLECTION

The project “I can hear you now” started from the idea that we live in a world virtually connected, but, at the same time, people are disconnected among them in the actual one. Relationships and behaviours are influenced by social norms that ask people to be a constant positive role model or not to express  negative emotions. We often communicate with small talks avoiding to deeper analyse each one’s inner self and so what I am trying to do is enhancing that type of communication through a visual experience.

I focused on the act of screaming because it’s considered as a negative act, and so, giving positive connotations to something negative, I might have the chance to transform a non-communicative social habit to a communicative one. Reasons that make screaming liberating are various and they can all be conveyed in a unique action which allows sitters to express their discomfort through a sound able to release negativity and give space to what life has to offer them, avoiding to be glued to their past. This is the concept behind the naming: a way to make this interior process audible to the subject himself and to the audience that will be enabled to better hear and understand others’ “negativity” expressed in a  constructive way.

I started from Doctor Paul Ekman’s studies, which analyse facial micro-expressions to understand those emotions that a subject is trying to communicate or to hide. He focused on the idea that we all facially express emotions in the same way and so, creating a big amount of portraits, I could enable viewers to detect, analyse and understand those similarities in all portrayed subjects and to better interpret what their feelings might have been while those photographs, that freeze a human experience and “portray a portion of reality” (Szarkovski, 1966), to quote John Szarkovski, were taken.

To resume the aim of my research, I am trying to make people facing their souls while observing something expressed by others, because, as Carl Jung stated, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious” (Jung, 1928) and I am doing it by creating visual examples they can confront themselves with, because, to use Albert Einstein’s words “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only way” (Einstein/Van Ekeren, 1988).

As previously discussed in my CRJ, I am trying to create a structure for this project that can be considered more as a visual experience than an exhibition of my work. My aim is to create a path that viewers can follow, to place my work in a similar way to what Daniel Gustav Cramer did with his “Trilogy”, in which Arielle Bier saw “guiding devices, like a trail of breadcrumbs” (Bier, 2014).

Since my desire is to connect different professional fields and different forms of art, I will link still and moving images by the use of different approaches and techniques. I think that the best way to start this kind of interior journey is by portraying the state of non-communication and lack of understanding among people by a “symbolic” introductive video, visually and conceptually referred to David Lynch’s work, which is often surreal and uses oneiric images and suggestive dialogues.

I will focus, then on video-art portraying actors while interpreting themselves through different acting techniques, such as the Silent Scream, revisited also by Ron Fricke 1992 film, Baraka.

The following ideal step would be my video self-portrait in which I show the whole intimate process to the audience, experiencing it by myself. I’ve been inspired by the British artist Matt White’s “Weighless” in the creation of this video, since even if the process I am living there is completely different, the visual solutions he found and his self-hypnosis journey has been an interesting visual reference. In this step, viewers will understand all differences between an acted process and an actual one, starting their interior path to empathise with others.

To connect, then, moving images and stills, I am creating video-montages out of those images of the whole process I’ve been witness of while portraying my subjects. I will require some musicians, then, to recreate those screams in music. I will show them the silent videos and I will ask them to interiorise what they will observe and to use their art to generate an audible scream, similarly to what John Lennon did creating “The Plastic Ono band”, reinterpreting, in music, Doctor Arthur Janov’s ‘Primal Scream’ technique.

A series of contact sheets will be a further passage to connect videos to portraits and they will both photographically exhibit the process itself and provide a further interpretation-key using also long-exposure to portray, like Francesca Woodman did in her “Space2” series, body movements that represent the subjects’ inner selves. Woodman inspired also my Confrontation sheets, the last step to arrive to all those portraits depicting the three main stages of the whole process. In these long-exposure portraits, I compare two different screams made by the same person, to make observers understand that individuals are multifaceted and to enable them to recognise different feelings through corporal movements and facial expressions at the same time.

The last, and main, point of my work will be a series of triptychs portraying sitters before, during and after the act of screaming which recreate, in images, what in a quote, attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer has been stated about the three Stages of Truth: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident” (Shopenhauer, date unknown).

I am considering to create, at the end of the portrait phase, an area related to audience’s active participation to the project. During exhibitions, this could be done by asking viewers to scream and being photographed, so they will have the chance to become an integral part of the whole visual experience. Since this can’t be done in different contexts in which there is no physical participation of people, for instance on printed materials or Magazines or on the website and social media, I am considering to use Instagram to enhance participation by asking people to scream and take a self-portrait with a black and white post-production, while I will share images taken during the exhibitions. Those photographs, then, can be collected all together. This can be considered as the millennial version of what did by the photographer Katy Grannan who placed newspaper adverts asking for “people for portraits”, a project that culminated in her monograph “The Model American.”

Involving different professionals, such as psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, neurologists and artists, I will allow each viewer to approach to this topic, even if his approach is more science-related or if he is more interested in a social contextualization.

If I have to contextualise my practice from a Philosophical perspective, I would say that I am trying to use Photography as a tool for psychological support, to enhance empathy and communication. To quote Roland Barthes, I will use a “manifestation of the ordinary” (Barthes, 1993) to make my photographs existing to each observer in accordance to his own personal experience and using them as transfer of meaning. I will provide some words written by my sitters in their native language, but unrelated to their shots, to create a sort of ambiguity that might enhance interpretation together with the different visual techniques used. I will only guide viewers with images, recreating a path for them and with references and data, but I won’t give a personal interpretation. Even if I am the one who selects photographs that will be insert in triptychs, they will portray the actual, “the real before the photograph” (Barthes, 1993) and so, as the author wrote, “Death of the author frees us from explanation” (Barthes, 1977). It frees us from forcing the viewer to look at a photograph in the same way we do. It generates the opportunity for him to have an intuitive opinion and that is what I am striving to create within my own practice.  What I do care is to push the idea of Photography as not only Art, even if Jonathan Jones would not agree with this concept, but as something useful to individuals and, subsequently, to those Societies they live in.

I opted for an inclusive approach because, ethically, it allows me to portray others while uttering negative emotions becoming part of the process myself. “I can hear you now”, starts from a personal perspective, talks about a personal problem and so it needs my personal participation as sitter. I position myself into the project, avoiding a voyeuristic approach, and this is the same thing I hope viewers will do: I hope they will consider themselves as an integral part of it, observing their inner world while observing others, as a mirror.

Considering Barthes’ idea of the “Channel of transmission”, in this case the context of consumption, I am opting to personalise my work in accordance to the medium that will convey it, because printing-related media and website require different expedients to recreate the path that can easily be recreate during a physical exhibition.

I am currently publishing images from my project on different social media, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and I used some of them also to participate to “Lens Culture 2017 Portrait awards” to analyse their visual impact and better understand what works and what doesn’t and, subsequently, to “adjust” my practice in accordance to different opinions and perspectives, but always in full respect of my sitters, its aim and my photographic approach and style.

At a second stage, I will be interested in involving some Charities in different Countries, asking them to participate to this project by collaborating at its creation or providing places for exhibitions or linking it to some of their projects. I think it may be interesting analysing “I can hear you now” from different points of view, because I think it would be a good visual and artistic support to share information about their work in relation to different themes, such as fighting social isolation, support for people who experience psychological problems or anxiety disorder and it could be even interesting in relation to topics such as rage management and domestic abuse because my images and visual solutions, I think, are versatile enough to fit different contexts of consumption.

To better analyse this point, I am considering to create a Survey to understand how people from different Countries, ages, cultures and genders face the topics behind my research and how they would face my photographs. I want to understand and face the opinion of the largest amount of people I can reach, because I am measuring the success of my work in terms of active participation of viewers, in my ability to represent the diversity of individuals sharing common problems and by the usefulness it will have for audience and sitters, hoping I will experience its benefits myself.

 

References:

Barthes Roland, The rhetoric of image, essay, 1964, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Barthes Roland, Camera Lucida, 1993, Vintage, London.

Barthes Roland, Death of the Author, Image-Music-Text, 1977, Fontana Press, London.

Bier Arielle, Time Travels in Frieze Magazine (16th April 2014)

Cramer Daniel Gustav, Trilogy, 2003-2013 http://www.danielgustavcramer.com/infotxt.html

Ekman Paul, Facial and micro-expressions analysis, http://www.paulekman.com/

Einstein Albert, Quotes, Words for all Occasions by Glenn Van Ekeren, 1988, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, p.234.

Fricke Ron, Baraka, (Silent scream), 1992 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhKu6zRMwJE

Grannan Katy, The model American http://aperture.org/shop/katy-grannan-model-america-book/

Grannan Katy, Boulevard https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/katy-grannan

Janov Arthur, The Primal Scream. Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis, 1977, Abacus, London.

Jung Carl, Contributions to Analytical Psychology, 1928, Kegan & Paul, London, P.340.

Lennon John, Plastic Ono Band, 1970, Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lennon/Plastic_Ono_Band

LensCulture, Contemporary Photography, website https://www.lensculture.com/

Lynch David, Lynchnet, The David Lynch resource, http://www.lynchnet.com/index2.html

Schopenhauer Arthur, 2016, in Melissa Chu’s The three Stages of Truth,  The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melissa-chu/the-3-stages-of-truth-in-_b_11244204.html

Szarkovski John, The Photographer’s eye, 1966, MoMA, NY.

White Matt, Weightless, 2008 http://www.matt-white.org/projects.html

Woodman Francesca, Space², 1975-1978, Providence, Rhode Island http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-space-providence-rhode-island-1975-1978-ar00350

Intent, strategies and ambiguity

INFORMING CONTEXTS – INDIVIDUAL REFLECTION

Since we live in a Society that doesn’t really allow individuals to express their negative emotions in order to relieve them, and in which negative feelings are seen as a sign of weakness and people don’t want to get involved into other people’s problems, my intent is to create a project in which photography serve those individuals and help them to express themselves and being, possibly, heard and understood.

We must clarify two main points: screaming is commonly seen as an act with negative connotations and due to a lack of communication negativity tends to remain unexpressed and non-expressed emotions usually grow inside individuals, who often are unable to manage them by themselves. This might take to serious consequences, too.

My intent is to use photography to challenge this situation, to enhance communication about negative feelings, to make screaming become a liberating and positive act used to create comfort to my subject or a void to be filled with more positive emotions. Moreover, I want to create empathy between subjects and observers and enhance self-analysis.

Roland Barthes says that we live in a world of mythological and social constructions that allow the transfer of meaning only if the system of signs and symbols are shared by the encoder and the decoder.

In my project, as usual in photography in general, the message is the subject, the encoder is the photographer and the decoder is the viewer. To understand the message they must share the portrayed experience and, since I think anyone experimented in his life a negative moment, my images might be easily contextualised and interiorised by the spectators. The topic might be difficult to “digest”, but most of individuals have the potential and the ability to decode the contained message.

Barthes, in his “The rhetoric of image” also points out that accompanying texts provide an “anchorage to the meaning” (Barthes, 1964), because the captions allow to focus on each one’s gaze and understanding, reinforcing the meaning and showing implied concepts.

In my work, words related to my triptychs have this function. Since the main part of my project is focused on portraits structured in three phases, the subject before, while and after screaming in order to show the audience the differences in sitters’ facial expressions and related moods or feelings, I will ask all individuals I will photograph to write one single word that represents what they feel during each step of the process.

In addition, my aim is to create a survey related to the represented topic and to analyse the relations between individuals’ negative emotions and Society, so the audience will have more data to decode the message of my project and to understand the reasons behind it.

I can define my strategy as successful basing my opinion only on my personal experience and on a few feedbacks, this is the one of the key-points I am considering to analyse into my survey: whether if it might work for a broader audience or not, so my considerations will be no longer based on my perspective but on a broader one.

I think that in photography there is always space for ambiguity, because it’s something that leaves the debate about it open. Multiple interpretations are always possible, due to personality, experience and knowledge of the observers. That said, I have to admit that it’s not something related to the medium itself, but to the use the photographer does of it and the interpretation the viewer will give to what he creates.

Referring to Barthes’ ideas again, we can say that there are many photographers that create ambiguous images and embrace the interpretation the observers will give to their photographs: this is true even in my case,somehow.

My aim is to let the audience free to understand and interpret at a personal level the videos, the contact sheets containing the process photographed, the long-exposure images, the portraits in triptychs in order to analyse themselves while analysing my images. They have to provide a personal interpretation in order to make those materials useful for them: they must have an active role. They represent the ultimate decoder.

 

References:

Barthes Roland, The rhetoric of image, essay, 1964, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Challenging Ideologies

INFORMING CONTEXTS – INDIVIDUAL REFLECTION

My practice does not adhere to any specific ideology, due to the fact that it’s linked to different areas of interest, such as psychology, sociology or history, and uses different media, like videos, contact sheets and portraits. It refers to different authors and photographic styles, but it avoids being glued to a single style or idea.

I am following the ideology of photography as an art that portrays negative emotions to make out of it a supporting tool for subjects and observers, but, at the same time, I am challenging this approach by creating a photographic journey from negative to positive.

Edward Honaker, for instance, in his “Depression” project created symbolic self-portraits related to his condition. These images are relevant to my project, but they are different in their intent, since my gaze is not focus on myself only, but on different individuals; they are different in the portrayed topic, because while he is focusing on depression and anxiety, these are simply a personal starting point for my practice due to the fact that I want to focus on negative emotions more broadly and I want to create a path to make my subject release them in order to give space to something else. Even aesthetically Honaker’s photographs are different: while we both use different techniques to create our images, his photos are more elaborated than mines, he creates beauty on an aesthetical level while explaining and showing his idea, I think the beauty is already there, visible in my subjects’ relief. Moreover, while he is experimenting in photography only, I am focusing on different media, including videos and contact sheets.

awereness-raising-depression-self-portraits-edward-honaker-61

Edward Honaker, “Depression”, self-portrait, LA, 2013-2015. ©Edward Honaker.

During an interview for Ignant Magazine, Honaker says about the project: “Mental health disorders are such a taboo topic. If you ever bring it up in conversation, people awkwardly get silent, or try to tell you why it’s not a real problem. When I was in the worst parts of depression, the most helpful thing anyone could have done was to just listen to me – not judging, not trying to find a solution, just listen. I’m hoping that these images will help open up conversation about mental health issues. Everyone is or will be affected by them one way or another, and ignoring them doesn’t make things better” (Honaker, 2015). This proves that the starting point is the same, while the progression becomes different.

I might also follow the same ideology of Katy Grannan, who wanted observers to empathize with her sitters while creating her “Boulevard” project, but, at the same time, I am challenging it due to the path my observers will have to follow, from an introductive and symbolic video to video-art, from contact sheets to photos displayed in triptychs. The difference is also in the use of different techniques and approach. While her project is based on street photography, asking strangers to be portrayed in the street, I look for places in which my sitters might feel comfortable. While her gaze is focused on faces, mine is focused on interiority and faces and facial expressions are simply a medium I use to make viewers understand that while they are observing someone else, they are observing themselves at the same time.

grannan2

Katy Grannan, “Boulevard” monography, street-portrait, Fraenkel Gallery, SF, 2011. ©Fraenkel Gallery.

I am also trying to challenge the classical idea of self-portrait, since in my work I am portraying myself with a video, to introduce my other subjects and to help observers to better understand the images they will see after they will watch that video. As Honaker did, I am not simply portraying my physical person, but my inner self, but while his symbolism is created by how his images are staged, in my case the symbols are in the actions people will see.

Talking about National Geographic images, Elizabeth Edwards explained that they are structured to be accessible and easily understood. But here we are not talking about aesthetically perfect landscapes, we are discussing about imperfect humans. Even if the approach could seem similar in the intent, my project wants to go beyond this. My images are not made by “westerns” for “westerns” portraying “non-westerns”, but are made by a non-perfect individual to portray her inner self and the inner world of other individuals for other individuals, not to satisfy a voyeuristic need of observers, but to include them as integral part.

They are distant from “the aesthetic representation of the far away” (Grundberg, 1988), to use Grundberg’s words: they focus on the actual, even in those cases in which I will use staged videos related to Cinema and Theatre to experiment different approaches to the topic. Even actors will not play a role: they will play themselves using different techniques.

Who could be attracted by my project and by this approach? Lev Manovich said that sometimes “vernacular images have interest to ourselves only: the author” (Manovich, 2016). Since my photographs are representing the vernacular, meaning that they show something related to everyday life, the actual, of course they are interesting to me: the photographer.

But who is the author here? Both the photographer and the subject: we work together, we share an experience and so this work should be interesting for both.

Being a topic open to interpretation, is the author the only author? Observer become authors too, somehow, because they will use their perception and personal experiences, especially if in a context of an exhibition they will accept to become integral part of the project being portrayed and becoming subjects themselves.

If we analyse my practice in this way, we can see a sort of circular system, due to the active collaboration, with the photographer, of subjects and observers, to create a content, to convey a message and to create meaning.

Another difference that can easily be seen confronting my portraits to the National Geographic ones, apart from aesthetic quality, of course, is in facial expressions. As said analyzing the history and the photographic approach of the Magazine, facial expressions is one of the gaze its photographers focus on. They can be friendly or neutral, but they are never hostile or have negative connotations.

In my project the approach is quite the opposite: I focus on negative emotions, I focus on my subjects screaming, I focus of them being voided or relieved. I face negativity or hostility to join the positive, I don’t show what people possibly want to see, I show what they maybe don’t want to face to make it audible, seen, listened, understood.

 

References:

Grannan Katy, Boulevard, February 10, 2016, Interview with Sarah Meister for MoMA, NY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOef03Sy3x0&feature=youtu.be

Grundberg Andy, A quintessentially American view of the world, September 18, 1988, Photography view, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/18/arts/photography-view-a-quintessentially-american-view-of-the-world.html?pagewanted=all

Honaker Edward, Depression, 2013-2015. http://www.edwardhonaker.com/booktwo/

Honaker Edward, Photographer Edward Honaker Documents His Own Depression, September 24, 2015, Interview for Ignant Magazine https://www.ignant.com/2015/09/24/photographer-edward-honaker-documents-his-own-depression/

Horviz David, Mood disorder, February 10, 2016, Interview for MoMA, NY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwxP4R_IKh0

Manovich Lev, Instagram and Contemporary Image, 2016, released online on Lev Manovich official website http://manovich.net/index.php/projects/instagram-and-contemporary-image

Rothemberg Y. Tamar, Presenting America’s World, Strategies of innocence in National Geographic Magazine, 1888-1945, 2016, Routledge, New York.