Identity

Fidel

Fidel

I have been pondering about the issue of identity for some while now, about how to ‘not’ depict it because of sensitivity issues. The work that I’ve been doing at the ‘Echoes Group’ means that I am engaged with people who have some serious issues all under the umbrella terminology of dementia. Some of these people are integrated into the community whilst others are in-patients at the Warneford hospital. They all come to the sessions to find art based activities to help them become involved with both other people and to engage with activities that might inspire them to feel better about themselves, to communicate, to break the tedium of everyday life.

Liz's hand

Liz’s hand

I’d had the notion to try and find a way to preserve their confidentiality, by not using imagery that portrayed them in any recognisable way, but that had something of them in the picture. My idea before I went on holiday was to use an extreme close up of just a few pixels. In my original concept for the work that did for Gesture and Meaning, I wanted to use film as I felt that by doing so it would add a layer on contextual narrative that would chime with the users of the Group – however I abandoned that idea due to pressure from my tutor to complete the assignment – I did and the feedback was ok. However I did take some film and from one of the scans I produced a deep close up. The version here is one that I have worked on after thinking about things for a while. It is clear that there can be no clue as to who the subject is. It is a scan of fuji 1600 black and white film, scanned at 4800 dpi cropped, enlarged to 40 cm wide, with little or no post processing done. I wondered about whether the monochrome abstraction was warranted, and whether it was a step too far.

During my recent trip to Cuba I wanted to visit the “Museo de la Revolucion” in Havana and saw a very large print of the face of Fidel Castro. The image above is a close up, but not cropped, photograph of the face of Fidel. I think because I have provided his name that viewer’s would be able to recognise the image, but I suspect that for millions of Cubans there would be no need for a titular complement. A half tone image that carries with all sorts of connotations, even I suspect at this level of abstraction, so I became wary that I needed to provide a greater distance between anything remotely recognisable and anything I use to depict these users of the group. However Castro’s image did raise some questions in my mind about identity, and inspired me to think about how I might include actuality if I were to want to depict these people again.

Pat mono

Pat mono

Pat

Pat

Malcolm mono

Malcolm mono

Malcolm

Malcolm

Liz's hand mono

Liz’s hand mono

Liz's hand

Liz’s hand

Liz's eye mono

Liz’s eye mono

Liz's eye

Liz’s eye

Angela's eye mono

Angela’s eye mono

Angela's eye

Angela’s eye

Richard mono

Richard mono

Richard

Richard

These images are all the same size; cropped to be 24 pixels X 42 pixels and then resized to become 40 cm on the longest side to be equivalent to the orginal monochrome film version of Liz’s hand. I’m not sure where this is going! I had considered editing out the user’s faces and implanting, so to speak, an elemental depiction of them as their face – or face and body; I haven’t decided if I’ll go there just at the moment. Or, whether I just use these images as a document/portrait of the users. It might be that I abandon this as a way of subverting the critical need for confidentiality and to detect their presence by their absence in images. Not sure yet, but something to think about…………

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6 thoughts on “Identity

  1. It reminds me a bit of those progs on the TV where the police arrest someone and their face is pixelated to protect their identity!
    The title “gesture and meaning” makes me wonder if it would lend itself to expressing identity by using just their unpixelated hands in some way – it would fit so well with craft based activity. Also ideas about painters “handwriting” comes to mind, that each artist has their own unique way of applying paint, which is fought against by many and an alternative view is that each method of application affects the way the painting comes out and so one chooses one style dependant on what you are conveying rather than on the idea of it being an expression of oneself…somehow identity is caught up with these ideas in art. The other thing that comes to my mind is that some may see dementia as a breakdown of the personality of the person in some way and maybe that could tie in somewhere with this.
    (I’m not sure dementia is that btw, my step-father had it but he was still himself until he died. Although he had vascular dementia which isn’t the same as Alzeimer’s.)

    • There are so many different types of dementia that to try and depict them as a group with a singular abstraction would be to deny them any identity, so I know this isn’t the only way to try and portray them. Most of the ‘users’ are fully compus mentis, only one has ‘lost-it’, so I understand your comment about your father in law. I did think about abstracting hands and did take a series of them – it didn’t get a lot of positive comment from my tutor as it showed ‘too much emphasis on the art and craft” and missing the point of the ‘Echoes Group’.
      Your idea about painters would suggest that their unique signature (of applying paint) is an autograph is some way, which would mean that these images would need ‘my autograph’ when I need a way to provide an individuality to each of the users???

      • I’m not at all one of those artist that wants an autographic kind of mark! What does “gesture and meaning” actually mean then, if gesture isn’t a part of it? I had this notion it involved photographing people who were making gestures that allowed one to understand the narrative involved better? I know nothing about photographing people though (obviously!)

      • Not entirely sure whether the G&M is as you put it. It does deal with the person, the body and issues related to it, there is a description on the OCA web-site somewhere. Gesture is part of it, it’s just there are various ways to make gestures – I haven’t read all the course in any great detail, but the various subjects provide lots of really interesting research which I’m enjoying immensely – the tutor isn’t happy about how quick I am to get work out though…. I want to get to understand more about what I’m getting into, rather than rush through and I can feel a bit of tension arising…

  2. Would each pixellation be enough to still give a sense of them as individuals in their own right? I like Anne’s idea of hands. Also, what if there’s a favourite item each of them always has – a watch, ring etc.

    • Yes, Catherine I suppose that I could redact further and further until I achieved just a tone, which in many ways would be the same as the arbitrary 24 X 42 pixels I used. MMmmm! My project with the group, which starts next week, will focus on an autobiographical piece that will use personal memorabilia – so, yes I agree.

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