Thoughts about the course Documentary

It is perhaps apposite that at the end of a course one might reflect on what one recorded at the beginning of it, and in this course the question was raised about the nature of Documentary. In my post entitled ‘What is Documentary’ I concluded with a quotation from ‘Transparent Pictures: On the nature of Photographic Realism’ by Kenneth L Walton “And this is, I think, what Walton refers to at the end of his piece. That there is a…”failure to recognize and distinguish between the special kind of seeing which actually occurs and the ordinary kind of seeing which only fictionally takes place, between a viewer’s really seeing something through a photograph and his fictionally seeing something directly. A vague awareness of both, ….,could conceivably tempt one toward the absurdity that the viewer is really in the presence of something.”

Coming blessed or burdened with my personal and professional background I suspect that I have always had a notion of the difference that Walton refers to, but I was, I think, more interested in testing the veracity of the image as opposed to the veracity of intent. A natural Post-Modernist’s cynicism of image’s innocence and purity has been informed by researching the medium’s practitioners – with a distance still to travel – and one which has provided a healthier and much broader perspective of this visual medium under study. Where I think and hope I have moved to is into the purposeful use of fiction to illuminate a truth, and here it has also scaled my ambition. I don’t now expect to reveal a ‘big’ truth; that aspiration needs to be matched by an ego of equal ambition. I think though I want to score stories of much quieter narratives. Investigating smaller particles of life. Fontcuberta’s investigation into the fallacy of photographic truth for example, has been a key revelation along with other artists studied along the way. A document is something that informs, what and how it informs is in the gift of the creator of the text; it’s nuances or otherwise are variables to be manipulated with a purposeful intent whether in an ‘Open’ or ‘Closed’ narrative form.

The course also seems a smaller venture than the other course I have undertaken concurrently with it – Gesture and Meaning – but I feel I have travelled a further distance and ploughed a deeper furrow, more straighter and less deflected.

On average I think I have averaged a visit to a gallery every week, and when I haven’t its because I have been to more than that number, and in that process I have traduced my earlier comprehension of what “Documentary” is and I wonder if that was the purpose of the course, if so it has succeeded. Of equal importance is the development of a cohort of students with whom I can talk regularly with, to confide in, to ask questions and to seek, in some cases, authority in testing margins in the territories that I am researching. I am aware that in Level 3 I will be expected to cultivate a cohort, to find ways to network and to build a professional web as I develop myself from where I am to a fledgling artist in practice. I am also aware that the Thames Valley Group is another vehicle that has allowed me and fellow students to coalesce and filter ideas and I have gained from that greatly; as well as much as meeting practicing artists, Fiona Yaron-Field, Anna Fox, Tom Hunter amongst others as well as tutors for which I am very grateful. I have enjoyed this course immensely and I feel, as I suspect I should do, on a path looking forward to the next phase and thanks in no small part to Sharon.



Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 part III

I remember last year’s DB exhibition and how the arrangement of finalists had affected me, specifically how the impact of one exhibit as it rested by another artist’s work. Probably most affecting was ‘The Afronauts’ by Cristina De Middel next to Bloomberg and Chanarin’s work ‘War Primer 2’.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

I am equally sure that whilst the emotional response was less for me this year, it must surely have an effect on the viewer to have such disparate work on show in such close proximity when the only contextual touchstone is that they have all been proposed to win a prestigious prize in the photographic calendar. Lorna Simpson’s work reminded me of the discussion that took place at the Thames Valley Group’s previous meeting a couple of day’s earlier. Simpson’s view, in my opinion was very ‘female’ a gendered perspective and singular amongst the other practitioners on view at TPG’s annual show. The earlier discussion raised, amongst other subjects to do with feminism and the arts, whether a view could be determined, or determinedly, feminine. Last year’s solo female’s work (one hopes this isn’t a case of tokenism – perhaps I’ll check previous year’s statistics?) ‘The Afronauts’ wasn’t, I think, a particularly gendered set, but I concede my view may be masked by how I felt about the work as a whole.


Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This work didn’t deal with war, as it’s co-companion on the fifth floor Richard Mosse’s work did, the expressed and hidden violence of a land desecrated by men for men; no Lorna’s work was intimate and personal, a look at a life projected through time. Small and needing to viewed at close distance, it had no notion of power, it was a look at how people were with each other, even if the other was, seemingly, the other side of the camera. The subject and the image maker seemed intimately bonded.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This quiet conversation with the viewer (quieter still perhaps after the Congo perils of Mosse’s work) in tender monochrome tones allowed the viewer to consider the relationships that existed for women of colour a half century earlier in the West Coast of America and have those thoughts mediated through a lens today. No less deep because of the apparent leif-motif of the production compared to Mosse’s carcinogenic perspective of riotous colour, but no better because of the proximity to it.

And so to Jochen Lempert:

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Harking back to the recent Thames Valley meeting at which I had decided to air my first attempt at an “Open Work”. This piece had been with me since I created it a month or so earlier – I have written about it here, here and here. I presented these images as I had coded them from a large set of images and I wanted to see if any of the other people present could muster a narrative from them. I have to say that if what I hoped to achieve was even a connection to the image set then I failed; but no matter. The general comment that maybe it was ‘too open’ that I provided no sense of an emotional hook to attach the viewer to, maybe the ‘my narrative’ that I refused to explain was too obscure, or ‘too loose’ to be made liminal for others and that if I had provided, even a sense of a narrative/contextual axis to pivot from it may have worked. I’m not sure, but the experiment taught me some lessons and I am very grateful to the group for indulging me.

And so back to Jochen Lempert’s work. Well the first thing that struck me was the text; there was some and more than I had expected. Whether this was a strategy on behalf of the artist or the gallery I have no idea, but situating text there was. In fact I think the material to accompany this exhibit was considerably greater than any of the other artists, with a handout to title/explain most, if not all the images.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

And whilst the images on the wall had no title or caption, the viewer was allowed the privilege to consider the printed document and edit their way through the imagery. As a strategy for ‘Open Work’ I found that interesting, the images were numbered – which usually predetermines an order – but there was no other indication as to which way, or indeed order, one should contemplate the works on view. On one hand most of these images had, as a common visual theme, the natural world, they were all monochrome and analogue based. As regards my reaction to them as a whole, as a work with an underlying narrative I couldn’t discern one, even with the text. I do think however that I was maybe looking to deeply, or not deep enough and that I need to do some more research into this to be able to connect in a form that is attractive to me.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery


Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery


Making stories about the truth.

reprinted with the kind consent of the artist Anna Fox

“‘There is nothing wrong with avarice as a motive, as long as it doesn’t lead to dishonest or antisocial conduct’. Business 1986” – reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

I’m not sure if Anna Fox said those words at the study visit to UCA, I know I wrote them, but I think she did; either way the notion of a fiction about truth found a resonance with this listener. I have written before about this idea, that to explore truths it is perhaps best accomplished by a narrative held in check by a storyteller.

I continue to think that the conquest of fallacy is best fought not with banners heralding the ‘truth and the light’ but with the muted tones of inference and suggestion, asking questions of the reader and not through the ‘imperative truth’ of ‘the answer’. Anna Fox’s fictions are carefully constructed to elicit inquiries from the reader, to suggest though that they are truths is as far removed from veracity as claiming that they falsehoods. These stories are neither, Fox’s constructions are stories. And the stories do not provide a didactic ordering of the universe, rather suggesting I think, of the lifting of the lids of our prejudices.

Text and image, image and text. Anna Fox’s combinatorial use of these twin illustrators isn’t universal in her work, however I was struck by how the artist described her process. In what appeared to be an identical means to how I constructed the narrative in assignment five – “Dear John”, however text isn’t a major factor in most of her her work, unless it is about the text as in ‘Cockroach Diary

Kareoke night, 2011 - reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

Kareoke night, 2011 – reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

The two nouns that I found myself considering quite often through the talk and for some time after were ‘time’ and ‘construction’. The artist opened her talk describing how time is fundamental to her practice and process and indeed, perhaps to all photographers – I’m now not sure that this precept wouldn’t apply to all artists, but be that as it may. Fox prefers film. And large format film at that. Her choice of medium dictates the speed that she can work at, despite often using a digital medium format camera as back up Fox takes time because of the restrictions of the format (mistakes are costly), and her most recent work exacerbates this stretching of time. Some of her most recent work , a commission from France (Rennes, I think) has the artist constructing images with multiple exposures and stitching them together – ‘joining time together’ – half a dozen or more images stitched together. Each image a construction in itself and then combined to create a story from several episodic instances time. I had a conversation after the event about what value the stitching together brought to the narrative – couldn’t for example, the artist employed more people in the tableau and simply made one construct? I have thought about that a lot, my first thought was that on the face of it there might be no additional narrative value in making half a dozen images with the same ‘cast’; but then I wondered about knowing that they were the same players juxtaposed in various locations on the canvass, providing another layer of context to the narrative. And what I got out of the image may not be what others get out of it, it will, in all likelihood denote/connote something other than my comprehension/feeling for the story.

Another aspect of the talk was something that struck me about how Anna Fox acknowledged her accomplices in the work she produced. There was a determined, albeit natural, desire to acknowledge as many of her assistants/directors/fellows as the work she presented unfolded and I wondered if this wasn’t a particular aspect of this artist, or whether it was a feminine/feminist trait. Either way, it was something that appeared entirely natural as it was often, and something to be remembered. I was particularly interested and impressed by the amount of her work she passed round in published book form and how she emphasised that the presentation of the her work, especially in bound volumes is very important to her.


There was lots to think about and it was a very rewarding trip to UCA.

Last light

I watched the light late yesterday, anticipating it’s movement across an empty dining room; waiting for a time. The room will be filled again soon, the work on the family space is nearing completion, it will no longer echo loudly. The light was much stronger than this when I saw it and decided to make an image of it, by the time I was in position, low down and out of the frame with the window behind me, the light was fading, almost evaporating; the three shafts of light illuminating the back wall were disappearing, I suspected it would be the last light I would be seeing in this way through the west facing room.

I found it restful to sit on the floor and reflect and think about this project, about how I have allowed these to ‘lights’ reveal things about me. It may have helped of course that we have lived here for so long, that my sons can only remember this place as a home before setting up homes for themselves. And after a few minutes another light started to infiltrate the room, I was sitting on the floor, below the window and watched as the light flooded onto the wall.

I made a few images – this ‘full-frame’ being the one that I connected with most. I also filmed the end of the light; handheld and with a rhythm that connects it directly to my breathing, the light fades to the right, I think I will add this to the post when processed. I haven’t connected texts to these images yet, I may not do so.

Tutor feedback Assignment 5

I have taken recent advice and read, re-read and read again the report before making comment, however I can find nothing negative in the note at all. In fact I would go so far as to suggest it was wholly positive.

One after the other

My tutor suggested that I reflect on one aspect of the work which was to look at the differences between the ‘solid’ images – those of the boat, the figure, the skin – and those of the play of light on the walls (or wherever I found it). There was a recognition that these ‘solid’ shots were there because they were important for me on a personal level, that the connotative presence (of these mimetic occurrences) – coupled with the text – provided a stronger sense of a personal narrative. It is true the texts are all extremely personal and this sense of ‘me’ in the work was something my tutor commented on positively, but I realise that I have choices with text and image and the purposeful coupling of them – and, because of the way I presented them, the channeling of narrative discourse.

Monotony of your voice

The work is a set of images and text bound together in a ‘book’ form, I shan’t attempt to deconstruct the edition I sent to my tutor though I shall consider re-making it for assessment. The comment in the report  “…. The more successful ones for me [tutor] were the shadows and light against white walls.  As I saw these repetitions I began to create my own visual stories – much like looking for pictures and stories in the clouds as kids!   The wooden face, the porcelain figure, the glass diamond, the plant, the green leaf (?) and even the skin are all too solid for me.  I want to float in this series and not be directed by colour or recognizable objects.  This is my personal take and you may decide that those objects are important to putting you in the work.  If so I understand that and you could write that up.”

Reading really works

I’m really pleased and somewhat flattered that someone might develop there own sense of narrative from this work – that is exactly what I hoped would happen – from my submission “The position (of the images) in the sequence, together with the ordering of the sequence came about after some lengthy deliberations with all of the images spread over the floor, and they are in the order as set out below. I wanted to suggest connections and then to break them; this is also the reason for the different placements of the text in the frame and the variance of landscape to portrait images, an effort to ask questions both of the viewer and the narrative elements in the images. I suppose the first and last images have a narrative sense that might appear to be obvious (?). I have presented them to my tutor as a sequence of images rather than fifteen individual images. I have attached the prints together and thereby forced ‘connections’ between images and forced, to some extent, the narrative journey of the images – though of course one may start to view the images in any place, but their relatives will always be the same. Whether it works for anyone else but me I’m not sure but I have enjoyed this process immensely and I’m hoping it has legs for the future.”

What does the contrast achieve

Compassion fatigue

Black is the strongest for me

I have now to ready the work for assessment and thank my tutor Sharon Boothroyd who has provided guidance and inspiration (and all the associated texts on this page!), for challenging my reaction to my ‘pretty pictures’ and for helping me to see beyond that dark glass.

Personal Project & Study day, Penarth

Original print and text orientation

We make the Path.

The Study visit to the ffotogallery in Penarth to view the work of two landscape photographers – Paul Gaffney and Michal Iwanowski became more interesting than I thought, or hoped it might be. In another course (Gesture and Meaning) an exercise had me documenting ‘where I live‘ and I stuck rather rigidly to the brief and produced some images; I remember at the time considering how little I was presenting of the environment, it’s people and it’s history.  I had thought at the time, about twelve months ago to re-visit some ‘places’ in the village that are mentioned in the local history group’s archive – and maybe reinterpret some of the photographs from the extensive library. The ‘light’ project which I started some time ago has provided me with an opportunity to develop some of those thoughts and I have turned this into a personal project – here and here. I presented the first prints of this project at the ‘Study day’, as we were encouraged to bring some on-going work to critique and it was suggested that I ‘post’ them here as the project has moved on from those initial thoughts. The presentation in print form is unsuited to digital projection on a screen – even if I enlarge the image for the screen the text, which is a vital component of the work, is diminished beyond recognition – see above; so I have restructured the images to reflect their different circumstance. The original prints were made on A3 Canson Infinity Baryta Satin finish paper – the image size was 32 cms X 21.5 cms and the text printed at 10pts in Cambria body font. The decision to choose that text size was to separate the text from the image somewhat and encourage both a connection with the image at a distance and then with the text close up – neither could be encountered at a similar distance thereby creating a tension. I was also aware that I had provided text to all the images, whereas in another setting – a gallery wall or a book – I could afford either images with no text or text with no images, but since I was presenting individuals images that strategy wouldn’t have worked I felt.

The work on view at the ffotogallery by both artists investigated the notion of a journey, which is what I feel this personal project is all about. Paul Gaffney, whose journey was as much conceptual as it was physical and Michal Iwanowski whose work described the very personal echoes in a land that had been trod by two of his predecessors during WWII. The study visit allowed a great deal of conversation about the twin works and what those works communicated to each of the visitors on the day. My personal readings were mediated both by the intents of the artists but also how the conversation on the day coloured that view. Gaffney, who uses meditation as part of his practice, decided to walk and use the meditative process of walking to lead him to make photographs, whereas Iwanowski wanted to re-tread and retrace the escape that his grandfather and great uncle made on foot from Russia to Poland. Gaffney ‘found’ the title for his work in the poem by Antonio Machado “Traveller, there is no path” …. two lines from the poem:

“Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking.”

This seems a perfect analogy for the work that Gaffney undertook – his intent was to walk for 30Km a day – which was to ‘walk and by that process make some work’ . The gallery was at great pains not to reveal any information about the specifics of where Gaffney walked other than to say it was Southern Europe, in his book he mentions France, Spain and Italy – if I remember correctly. The routes he chose all had reasonable trails and overnight stops, but the process of travel, without seemingly a destination in mind, perhaps only a means to an end, seemed to be the purpose:

“By walking the path is made
And when you look back
You’ll see a road
Never to be trodden again.”

And interpreting this text I saw the images he made as either short term staging posts – in the long journey – or as views to the future. I feel that text anchors to the notion of a sort of carpus diem and a letting go of the past, not wanting it to hold him back, the relentless distancing by the continual monotony of the stride. Gaffney’s reflection came before him and not behind on the 3500 Km journey. Further reading here from Photomonitor.

Iwanowski, on the other hand, purposely had a destination in mind and he carried the past with him as luggage on his journey. Though he never retrod the complete distance, some 2000 Km that his forebears did as a means of escape , there was ample evidence of the echoes of his past haunting the journey he made. This work was all about looking back, maybe to reclaim some form of lost inheritance or even to lay some of it to rest – his Grandfather has passed, though his Great Uncle lives on. I was more immediately moved by these images than I was with Gaffney’s. The conceptualness of Gaffney’s work presented itself as more distant, less emotionally charged than Iwanowski’s. And again text was a key element in the amplification of those emotive charges. Iwanowski didn’t have a lot of text, but those that were available in the room were those taken (and sometimes edited by the artist) from the diary of those two escapees in 1945. This anchorage provided a real sense of the personal in this work, it seemed to charge the images with both the echoes of the past and the artist’s present tense reaction to it.

We were told that Gaffney had provided a very clear set of instructions as to how the images were to be presented, their elevation, their proximity to one another and of course their order. This was then a very prescribed order and, as I have said earlier, no hint as the geographic reference of the images. The spectators to Gaffney’s work were invited to accompany him on a very specific journey, I commented on how certain images provided punctuation marks in the series and when I later looked at this work in two other forms, the book he has made of the work and the artist’s website, I note that there are no two layouts similar. The end image (one of those punctuation marks I noticed early on) was the same for all three layouts, but the images were differently sequenced and that made me think about both what the artist was creating. It seems to me now that his purpose for the differing, very specific excursions, was to illuminate alternate narratives that the artist derived from his investigations – no one journey having primacy over another, just a different way of assimilating the information provided by the imagery from the same expedition. As Foncuberta might say, the truth is not in the image it is in the fiction we create from their association.

Iwanowski’s work didn’t have a prescribed starting point, the viewer could enter the walled space and turn left or right, the book of the work of course has a start and an end, the gallery on the artist’s website equally so, so I found it a trifle confusing that the artist and gallery didn’t prescribe a direction of travel. Nevertheless the singularity of purpose of Iwanowski’s work was seemingly key for me, much as the arbitrary walking of Gaffney had perhaps too many layers to it for me. I wandered around Gaffney’s work trying to find a purpose, I thought I noted an impelling forward looking narrative, but this was somewhat diminished when I saw his other sequences. It was Iwanowski’s work that evoked a connection with my personal project. The text that he used (despite an acknowledgement of some editing) stemmed from the past, a personal reflection that seemed to the artist to find an echo in the images he felt compelled to make along the journey. The ‘light’ series have similarly provoked a response, marking a space that have held a history that was important enough to be recorded textually by someone in the past. I wanted, somehow, to be able to bring those moments from the past to ‘re-surface’ them, make them relevant, or gain some relevance once more. Some of the texts have socio-political references, some are about the trivia of everyday life whilst other reference some of the major cultural changes to the land and the those that peopled it in a time perhaps almost forgotten. What follows is an attempt to display the selection I took to Penarth with the text more accessible to this blog structure:

My loving wife Joane shall have the use of all my Goods and furniture in the Chamber where I now usually lye and alsoe of four pair of Sheets one table cloath one dozen of Napkins two hand towels two Little barrels my second best brass Kettle two pewter dishes six pewter plates the metle pottagepott and Such Other of my Goods and Chattles as She Shall have Occasion for and desire not Exceeding the Value of Forty Shillings and from after the decease of my Said Wife the Said Goods Chattells and furniture to said two Children Joseph and Sarah to be equally divided between the Share and Share alike.

My uncle used to make the fizzy drink. It was a funny machine that he had, it was a funny contraption, more like a treadle. He’d only got one leg and it was something you had to work with a pedal and then you put something into it to colour it or to make it fizz. I can remember when he first used to do it the bottles they had – you’ve seen them bottles where there was like a glass marble you pushed down – it used to be that sort.


The meeting was attended by nearly every labourer in the parish. After the warrant of appointment had been read, William Windus, one of the labourers, desired to know how the Rector and parish officers became trustees of land which was common land. This was explained by reading part of the Enclosure act. A lengthened discussion then took place and several labourers present stated their determination never to pay rent for their allotments nor to quit.

It was an obligation of the parish to provide stocks for anyone who misbehaved. The punishment being usually fixed for a Sunday. The stocks were placed at the corner of Fox Lane so that the prisoners could not only feel the scorn and contempt of people going to church but were made an unhappy target for any missiles which had been brought for the occasion.

There was, however, a lot of illness – the dreaded consumption, diphtheria, scarlet fever, head lice and ringworm were very prevalent. I remember boys wearing skull caps to hide the gentian blue on their heads after being treated for ringworm.

That gentleman, whose colleague as churchwarden I became about nine months before his death, told me that before the inclosure of 1797 he had frequently gone to tithe-cart in Middle Barton field – that is, had collected in waggons the bough-crowned tenth shocks of wheat, cocks of barley, oats, &c.,

29th September 1853. The labourers selected four of themselves to act as a committee with the agent in bringing the business into shape. The meeting which was at one period rather turbulent broke up”. It sounds as if the Peasants revolt had started.

December 14th 1650 a servant girl named Anne Green was hanged for murdering her illegitimate child. After being cut down her body was sent to the Anatomy School, Oxford for cutting up. While there she was resuscitated. In 1651 Anne Green came to live in Steeple Barton where she married and had three children. She died in 1659.

Rapid expansion of the village of Middle Barton began with the sewer being installed. Unfortunately, the Bartons have never been a tourist attraction or considered pretty villages. In October 1955 a reporter from the Oxford Mail after visiting Middle Barton wrote “It was quite the ugliest village I have seen in Oxfordshire, indeed it is the only really ugly village I have seen in Oxfordshire”.

I think I am at a point which tests the limitation of blogging and to render them better for virtual viewing I would need to post on a web-site specifically designed for photographic purposes; but like Gaffney I am no hurry, or as Machado might have it: ‘We make the Path’ by the work we do, the journey we take.

Assignment Five, collecting all the texts and references

One fifteen light

One fifteen light

Looking back, reflecting, on this course I see that all the work has been very personal both in terms of my response to the notion of the document and to the genre of ‘documentary’ and so it perhaps fitting that this final assignment should also be personal.

I have reflected many times about the nature of my own work, how what I have made has felt insubstantial, and maybe how I wanted to create images that were pretty and to some extent the fact that many have found their way to walls persuaded me to that conclusion – but I had no idea what or how I would transfer to making work that I felt had some depth. Actually I am quite happy with the work that I’ve produced for this course, the work with the Gross’ – here and here, the reflection with my mother in that they still have a resonance with me. My thoughts on the ‘industry’ of photo-journalism hasn’t been mitigated through study, perhaps the reverse. I suspect the pivotal point was to look at Jaar’s work in Arles and his use, by non-use, of imagery chimed very loudly with how I felt about the contract between commerce and pain, between capitalism and suffering. Bloomberg and Chanarin, perhaps Norfolk to some extent and others, are the sort of artists that have broadened and informed my initial naïve view of that world.

I started this course with a sense of excitement and that excitement has continued with me. I have explored things that I hadn’t expected to appear on my horizon, it has made me question many things about my attitudes toward a range of issues that had either lain dormant in me or were entirely new conversations. But it is to the expressly personal that I have found myself inexorably drawn, as I veer towards completion of this module I have taken some advice from my tutor to start making images that I enjoy! Well I have always enjoyed making images, but recently I have found that the images I have been making have a greater sense of me and less of a sense of replication in them. The images in assignment five are about me, by me, for me, and whilst I know that (a few) other people will regard them and reinterpret them, coloured by their own life experience, I am content with what they depict.

Listening to Jason Evans’ lecture in Westminster about ‘Nice’ pictures was another turning point, it was when I realized that I could place myself into the frame and not be overly concerned about how ‘deep’ the narrative might be. With assignment five I have tried to deliver imagery that provides a visual engagement, much as Tom Hunter said in his talk about how he uses ‘beauty’ to engage in order to provide the means by which the narrative might be delivered into a conversation with the viewer. I have used the text to try and ‘steer’ the viewer to consider what the combination of text and imagery might mean, and I hope/expect that the viewer might reinterpret using their own life experiences – ‘death of an author’ maybe – but intentionally so. I am also aware that I have contrived fictions from these images, much as Fontcuberta has used a much more radical fictive set of constructions in his Flora and Fauna to position them as factual, I wonder whether these images, anchored with text, will provide ‘new’ fictions and ask questions regarding the viewers history.

The pictures are real, they were there and made present for this assignment. The texts have been collected from my personal archives for this purpose and therefore this set of images are constructed as new fictive testaments and hopefully nice ones at that.

I want to add some words about words. That words are fickle, malleable and transcendent, there can of course be no doubt; however it is perhaps more usual by words that we have bound ourselves to people and places in our lives. The first word, the last word. The contract, the binding. The metaphor, the allusion. These are all cast by the intentional construct of letters. English is one of the densest of languages, with perhaps more words in its alphabet than most if not all other tongues. The depth of spelt lettering comes with it a burden of representation that is, prima facie, the responsibility of the author. The author launches the text in the general or specific direction of travel for the narrative benefit of the reader, for there can be no other reason for writing other than to be read, and in doing so removes the tie to it’s origin. Barthes and others have discussed the ‘Death of the Author’, that a work is cast adrift despite, or perhaps because of, the best intents of the author. The written text becomes interpreted; it can never be precisely what the author intended, for readers thereafter come bounded by their own bane of experience.

Whatever these found words once were, I have of course on reflection reinterpreted; what were specific motives have become other, sometimes less so than before some now more so. These words (that I have archived for their treasurous value) are attached to a point in time, most are in manuscript form – in pencil or ink, in ball point or nib – and they each have resonances because of that, they are inexorable connected to the person who constructed them and at the time of their creation. Transcribing these texts, those letters into a ‘font’ de-contextualizes them immediately, they become something else at once. And so these words which I have entered into a frame that also contains an image, become re-contextualized; the reader is presented with a conundrum that is devised by their own sense of self, not specifically any of my own divination. The words are set-free and, when encountered in a frame with an image, come to illuminate that image in a wholly new and fictive way.

The images though have had a different course to emerge on the page. They are, by most analyses, the product of the past. The framing of these photographs, these personal reflections to an instant in time mediated by the intrusion of light, is a construct of personal history, my history. The images are me, they are self-portraits informed by, amongst many other things, the letters that accompany them. The assembling of image and text that can only have been coupled by the sense of ‘I’ that constructs the frame. The images are more about me than the words perhaps?

The final edit. The images were printed – with the longest side set at 12.5cms and the text at 10pt (the screen representations only work if ‘clicked-on’), I used Canson Baryta, which whilst a beautiful paper also has a stiffness that helps with the viewing (I hope). The position (of the images) in the sequence, together with the ordering of the sequence came about after some lengthy deliberations with all of the images spread over the floor, and they are in the order as set out below. I wanted to suggest connections and then to break them; this is also the reason for the different placements of the text in the frame and the variance of landscape to portrait images, an effort to ask questions both of the viewer and the narrative elements in the images. I suppose the first and last images have a narrative sense that might appear to be obvious (?). I have presented them to my tutor as a sequence of images rather than fifteen individual images. I have attached the prints together and thereby forced ‘connections’ between images and forced, to some extent, the narrative journey of the images – though of course one may start to view the images in any place, but their relatives will always be the same. Whether it works for anyone else but me I’m not sure but I have enjoyed this process immensely and I’m hoping it has legs for the future.