Course conclusion
This states that the course has looked at some of the current photographic approaches and practices which students should use to expand their horizons. It continues, ‘photography is a language and photographs are there to send a message’ and students should continue to learn the language in reading photographs and in creating them.
It asks some questions,

  • Out of all the topics covered in this course, which felt most comfortable to you?
  • Did you discover anything completely new to you?
    What was it?
  • Which area enabled you to come closest to finding your personal voice?
  • Which area seemed furthest away from who you want to be as a photographer?
  • What were the main things you learnt? Were there any epiphany moments?
  • Will you return to any of the assignments from this course at a later date?
    Did you feel as if you were on the cusp of anything?

Just an aide-memoire, the idioms covered have been:
Part 1 Documentary and truth;
Part 2 combining images and text;
Part 3 self portraiture (3 types – autobiographical, masquerade, self-absented);
Part 4 analysis of photographs;
Part 5 constructs (recycling and distorting reality, creating fictions, deploying archives).

Asg. 2
Asg. 3

It should be borne in mind that the virus restrictions have been in place for much of the course and this has affected my options. That said, I enjoyed Assignment 2, Forbidden Zones (while travel was still allowed) and Assignment 3, Self Portrait (when it wasn’t). I think the main reason for these is that I latched onto subjects that I could engage with creatively.

This is going to cover several of the questions – the really new thing is bookmaking – when my tutor told me to make a zine to elaborate on Asg.3 I was initially reluctant but soon came to love it and, I think, now regard bookmaking as an integral part of my photography.

I enjoy the vernacular but cannot see me making a career out of it and I doubt some of the considerable claims that are made for assemblages of snaps which, to my mind, will rarely amount to anything other that more or less pleasing juxtapositions.

I learned the efficacy of photobooks, a degree of self confidence and the joy of having a positive tutor.

The most significant acquisition was the truth from Sue Sontag that

photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer

Sontag, On Photography, quoted in La Grange, Basic critical theory for photographers, [1, p.37]

I found this thought quite liberating and it has helped me to become more comfortable with my approach.

Asg. 3

I will continue with Asg. 3, Forbidden Zones, firstly because there remains an outstanding Virus Image Deficit, and secondly because it is a promising and challenging project in its own right.

If anything, I am getting closer to cusp of enough confidence to follow my own instincts.

Final Upsumming

In Part 1 we learned that documentary photography is not and never has been objective, as it is always mediated by and filtered through a variety of processes as images make their way from photographer through to audience. Those processes have changed technologically, politically and sociologically over time.
Docphot has lost its role,  replaced by the moving image and 24H rolling news. Professional critics tend to disapprove of the genre.
Reportage, an image or series relating a story, has changed gradually over the last century as technology improvements (speed, then portability and discreteness, then colour) have allowed. Some may criticize the lack of discretion and the paucity of kindness or compassion in the genre as currently practiced.
The undoubted impact of recent digital technology and social media is not really covered. Several decades ago, the tendency for crowds to gather at the site of an accident was described by a government minister at the time [Michael Heseltine] using the phrase I have never forgotten, ‘unfortunate ghouls’. Nowadays, the popular response to any event of significance is to video it with a mobile ‘phone. The minister’s phrase is now ubiquitous.
Attitudes of photographers to the documentary and of its various audiences to photography as an art form changed fundamentally from the 1960s , led by U.S. artists (such as Arbus, Friedlander and Winogrand) and curators (notably Szarkowski). Photographers now tend to actively interpret rather than merely depict or report their subject. Szarkowski’s windows and mirrors epithet is tellingly and warmly apposite.
Photographs have always been subject to manipulation for a variety of reasons ranging from the purely technical (e.g. extracting the greatest detail from an image) to the artistic (e.g. Rejlander’s creations) to the humorous and ultimately to the propagandist. As technology has become more sophisticated, and especially over the last decade, the potential for manipulation has grown to the current deepfake trend. As manipulation has waxed, public faith in the medium’s accuracy or truth has waned.

Part 2 Project 1 concerned the move away from a linear narrative approach and observational storytelling, as produced by W. Eugene Smith. Project 2 covered the inclusion of text with imagery and the increasing occurrence of biographical rather than third-party subjects. Project 3 looked at how this development continued with what might be termed depersonalised biography where the subject does not appear in the photographs but the images depict aspects of their lives.

Within the genres explored in this section of the course, authorial control is at its greatest in an illustrated article, such as used to be published in LIFE magazine, or, for that matter, the in Times Magazine. As photo series have become more directly biographical and then more impressionistic, text has been used in an attempt (amongst other things) to retain this control and this with varying degrees of success. It is the writer’s view that authorial control should be neither desired nor sought.

Autobiographical self-portraiture is the first of three applications of the craft addressed in Part 3. It might be used to illustrate or emphasise an aspect of the artist’s life, sometimes to draw attention to an issue within society and it may have a therapeutic, cathartic intention.
Masquerades, is about dressing up and assuming other personas for a variety of purposes ranging from self-agrandisement to social comment.
In self-absented portraiture the photographers are saying, directly or by extension or by proxy, ‘ this is this the space I inhabit, these are my surroundings, my environment.’

Part 4 – Photography is not a language, whatever the cmat might suggest.
There are aspects of a photograph that most of us can agree on – the objective (maybe physical, maybe representational) aspects; and there are others (probably the more significant) which are personal reactions – the subjective aspects.
When writing about a picture,
look at the objective, denoted, aspects;
find quotes from the artist on the particular work or their general approach;
look for the subjective, connoted, aspects and speculate on how they might be interpreted and why the artist chose to include them;
look at the piece in the wider context of the artists work, how it might relate to other artists and other art forms:
deploy the appropriate technical terms.

And in Part 5 we learned that there is an identifiable group of photographers that specialize in elaborate, often stylized fictional or fictionalised subjects.
Other people’s archives can be recycled for artistic or social ends: if an archive with a particular slant is not available then you can make one.