Photographing the unseen
Start by doing some reflecting in your learning log. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? List a few examples of things you’re experiencing now or have recently been thinking about. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth or revealing, but it can be if you want. Equally, it might be something as apparently trivial as how you’re going to fit everything into your busy day. At first you may come up with literal examples, but the more you think about them the more those ideas will develop into specific and more original ones.
Make a list of at least seven ideas. Try and keep to things you have a personal interest in or curiosity about. Keep a notebook with you at all times and make notes when ideas strike you as interesting. (This is good practice for all stages of the degree and beyond. Ideas books are something to be revisited time and again for ideas and hints for the photographer you’re becoming.)
Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7–10 images.
Love in the inanimate
‘Accidental death verdict on man who stepped into road’
Brian Robertshaw, 72, a retired market grocer who lived on Scatcherd Lane, was attempting to cross Bruntcliffe Road at 2.30pm on February 25, when he was hit by the 7.5 tonne van. He was taken to Leeds General Infirmary with serious injuries but died five hours later. Recording a verdict of accidental death, Coroner David Hinchliff passed on his personal and belated condolences to Mr Robertshaw’s family.
Morley Observer and Advertiser
22nd September 2004
Context, Preparation and Completion
As mentioned in my blog entry which can be found here: https://johnaorrocacn.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/assignment-2-preperation/ this was a very personal theme to explore. Particularly so I thought for my wife and I didn’t initially discuss it with her until I had made some of the first images. I wanted to see if the project would work before I talked it through with her. When I did discuss it she was comfortable with what I was doing and was supportive of me undertaking this as Assignment 2.
In the spring of 2004 my wife’s father was killed in a road accident. It is painful to lose a parent, but the circumstances of Brian’s death made the loss all the more devastating.
My wife’s parents had divorced in difficult circumstances some years before. There had always been a close father and daughter bond, but the divorce, in which my wife very much sided with her father, strengthened their relationship.
Brian lived alone and his house contained a considerable amount of personal possessions, gathered over a lifetime of interests and activity. His son, my wife’s brother, wanted none of the contents of his house and following his death much went to charity or to an auction house. There were however some personal effects that my wife wanted understandably to keep and we brought these back to our home. All were artefacts that said something about him as a man. Items from the grocers shop he owned and ran for many years, other objects reflected his rich range of interests. A keen birdwatcher all his life he inspired the same interest in his daughter. He was a keen and accomplished musician, a pianist and organist as well as singing as a tenor in the Leeds Festival Chorus with whom he made many recordings and television appearances. He had very many books of which we retained a few poignant examples that had been important to him. He had also sailed in small and large boats in seas near and far. All were elements of his life that are present today in our home in some measure. Almost like an echo of his past in our present.
This disparate collection of ‘things’ have become part of the fabric of our living environment and have gone from being sad reminders of a tragic loss to a positive reminder of his presence in our lives. These objects sit as fixed items in our home and attest to who he was, but more importantly the love for him that exists beyond his passing.
When creating this work, I was very mindful of Stephanie D’Hubert work referenced in the course materials and her reflections on the presence and absence of her mother. There are parallels to this work in my assignment, although I believe my work is fundamentally different. Notably, that for my wife, myself and our daughter, the presence of his possessions has now come to affirm that his presence continues with us. The sense of loss has waned over the years and although still missed there is a love exemplified by a range of inanimate artefacts. This is in contrast to D’Hubert’s sense of loss and absence in her poignant but I think melancholy work.
At the recent OCA symposium: New Pastoral Paradigms-Explorations in Landscape and Self, held in Sheffield, I had a chance to see and hear about John Umney’s work: ‘I Look for Him’, which is an exploration of the artist’s relationship with and memory of his father.
Although a very different and altogether darker relationship with his father, Umney’s description of how he arrived at his finished work was thoroughly engaging and set me thinking about the potential for revealing the unseen in the inanimate. Both Umney and D’Hubert used staged objects to record their ‘unseen’. Umney even spent time with a museum photographer to learn about object placement, position, background and lighting. It was while reflecting on this that my real idea and theme for this assignment came.
The unseen I allude to in this work is not just about the objects, indeed it isn’t the objects in and themselves. Their location in our home is as much about the idea as the artifact itself. The unseen exists in the ideas and thoughts about those objects and their location in our home simultaneously. The exception is perhaps the second image in the set, the binocular and book, because these things are not fixed in location because my wife uses them almost every day. The idea of the unseen in most of the images is however is about the object, its location and the thoughts and memories that are evoked.
All of the images were made using a crop sensor camera (1.5x crop factor) and one of two prime focus lenses. The majority were made with 60mm lens (equating to 90mm on a full Frame camera). A small number were made with a 35mm lens (equating to 53mm on a full frame camera). I chose to use these focal lengths because I wanted to avoid any sense of distortion, I tried to create a ‘visitor in our home’ viewpoint. The images were recorded as RAW files, processed in Lightroom then converted to Jpegs, 1500 pixels on the long side and in Adobe (RGB) colour space. A second set was made ready for sending to a commercial printer as TIFF Files in sRGB colour space and the file size specified by the commercial printer. I used natural light for all the images although weather did not always co-operate. To manage light, I used two separate large silver reflectors to direct natural light and create an even illumination. Placing the reflectors was dictated by a range of light meter readings with a hand held meter and some examination of test image histograms to manage shadows and highlights. More than 250 images were made and successive editing reduced them to the final set. I also left some thinking gaps between making and editing the work.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
The images are well lit and exposed and I used a range of photographic controls to achieve the finished work. As mentioned controlling natural light was an issue and I believe I have created some appropriately lit and balanced colour images. I did this without the use of artificial light or flash. I was keen to retain the sense of natural light in our home. As mentioned above I used silver reflectors to direct and illuminate subject in the scenes. I sought to produce satisfying compositional elements within the parameters of the creative impression I was trying to achieve. I wanted to create a sense of the viewer being in our home environment and I think to a fair degree I achieved this. Composition of the images is simple and I think clean. As I look at the final set though there are some I would revisit if time had permitted. Most notably the 4th which with hindsight is too cluttered. I am also uncertain about the final image but will consider in the light of feedback.
Quality of outcome
The final selection of images I believe demonstrate a degree of technical competence in terms of composition, lighting and colour. Unlike my first assignment I had much greater control in this set of essentially still life studies. It was only the changing quality of the daylight I needed to manage. Although these images were made digitally, I am predominantly a film photographer in my personal work and I use my hand held meter for spot and incident metering with a measure of competence. There is a narrative to the set, but and it is a big but, I remain uncertain about how transparent this is to the viewer, not least because the real quality of the outcome is as much about the thoughts the work evokes rather than what is contained within the frame of each image. For this reason, I retain some uncertainty about the final outcome or impact of this work. Self-doubt runs deep!
Demonstration of creativity
This is the hardest element to self-assess. I worked on this theme over several months and the final images for better or worse are the outcome of a creative reflection around the theme. The challenge is that the images do have personal meaning for me and more particularly my wife. There is a narrative to the images and their order, but they need some description perhaps?
The title of the work, ‘Love in the Inanimate’, followed by the extract from the newspaper about Brian’s death is an attempt to set the context of the work. The first image of the old and now faded canvas of father and daughter taken on a long since passed birdwatching excursion is intended to anchor and make human the subject. The second image, of Brian’s binoculars, the same ones seen in the canvas within the first image, are a permanent presence on our dining table, in a kitchen that looks out over our rural garden. Brian’s faded and scribbled in bird identification book, sits along with the binoculars. Coffee and tea items in the next two images, objects taken from his Yorkshire shop, now are feature’s in his daughter’s kitchen. A shelve of his grocer’s manuals in our lounge, a memory of his work life, his prized ship in a bottle remind of his sailing adventures in distant seas. His silver framed and faded photo of his daughter’s wedding that once lived on top of his piano. The framed river scene behind it, taken by me, recording a place where my wife’s family spent their summer holidays and when her parents divorced, Brian identified this location as a place and time when he was at his happiest. For this reason, it is also the place where my wife and her brother scattered their father ashes. The image holds multiple meaning. His metronome, resting on our mantelpiece, once lived on his piano. This image captures my wife’smemoryfromchildhoodofherfathersettingitgoingeverytimehewalkedpast. Hisdaughterdoesthiseveryonceinawhile, its slow uniform tick an auditory reminder of his memory in our present. The final split image of an antique print Brian acquired on the continental travels of his youth, purposefully presented as partially out of focus and juxtaposed with Sally, his daughter in the background. All the images were carefully selected to tell the story of memory, loss, acceptance and ultimately love found and remembered in the inanimate.
As mentioned this is the hardest area of the assignment to judge and I would welcome advice and guidance of weaving a narrative through my images without a reliance on lengthy text.
This work is firmly located in the ideas of section two of context and narrative and I think my reflection on the topic demonstrates a genuine engagement with the ideas of the brief. On reflection I did spend too much time overthinking the work and I might have better spent some of the time considering the work of a wider range of artist exploring this and similar theme. I also think that I should have started making images sooner in the process. I need to see early images as a drafting process, keeping them in my note/sketch book. I will adopt this process for the next assignment.
This was a challenging assignment that stretched me, not least in the conceptual work required to plan and implement what was a very abstract theme. I think the final execution of the work demonstrates an understanding of the ideas raised in the course materials, but in truth only scratches the journey of recording the unseen. My dilemma is that the work fits the brief for me, but I am uncertain whether others will see it in the same way, others who don’t have the personal proximity to the subject and the ideas. I did consider adding some captions to the images. Looking at the work of others this can be a device to provide context for the viewer. I have been a fan for some time of Paul Seawright’s work and in particular ‘Sectarian Murder’. This is a good example of photographing the unseen. Seawright uses ‘parallel text’ intended to not only provide context but the combination of text and image creates the art. On balance though I decided not to use any more than the introductory text in the work. This strikes me as being at the heart if the challenge for the photographer, how do you make a personal theme relevant to others. I can’t claim to have the answer to this yet! That said, I learned much from this assignment in terms of balancing ideas, managing time and meeting and all be it extended deadline.
Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley
D’Hubert, S. (2013) What Remains, found at: http://www.stephaniedhubert.com/what-remains
Iwanosski, M. (2016) Clear of People: found at:www.michaliwanowski.com/clear-of-people/4577315405 (Accessed August 2016)
Manfred Willman- Das Land Blog Entry at: https://johnaorroca.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/manfred-willmann-das-land/
Orr, J. (2016) In the Lands of Prasutagas – Unpublished Photobook
Seawright, P. (2000) Sectarian Murder, Found at: http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian/ (Accessed September 2016)
Stromberg, G (2013) Unterwegs-Along the Way, found at: http://www.oldbergkunst.format.com/gerhard-stromberg#1Willman, M (Accessed August 2016)
Taylor, J. (2013) Memories of childhood, found at: http://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ (Accessed September 2016)
Umney, J (2015) I Look for Him, found at: http://www.johnumney.co.uk/i-look-for-him.html (accessed August 2016)
New Pastoral Paradigms-Explorations in Landscape and Self- Open College of the Arts Symposium, Sheffield July 2016- Details can
be found at: https://weareoca.com/photography/new-pastoral-paradigms-sheffield/ (Accessed October 2016)
Morley Observer and Advertiser found at: http://www.morleyobserver.co.uk/news/local/accidental-death-verdict-on-man-who- stepped-into-road-1-1487965