Week 4 focused on how the photography profession is perceived by non-photographers and the influence on the medium of the ever-advancing development of photographic technology. It was interesting to hear the reflections of my classmates, particular those who are working professionally as photographers. The general sense is that the profession is poorly-understood with sometimes only limited knowledge about what a photographer's job actually entails and what it should therefore be worth. There was also a feeling that people see photographers as having an easy life, doing something that any person could do and that this can even feed into the shoddy way that some photographers go about their work. I feel myself somewhat unqualified to offer opinions about this, as I largely identify as being in the 'non-photographer' camp, or at least I did before commencing this course.
My instinct is that photographers are maybe at least partially to blame for how they are perceived by the public. As we've already discussed, imagery is everywhere, the majority of which was created by photographers. As such, their contribution to daily life is vast, and massively under-recognised. It would not be unreasonable to expect the profession to be more forward in highlighting this important role and seeking to receive appropriate consideration accordingly. Maybe part of the problem is the disparate nature of the profession, with there being so many different types of photographers, as well as it being an often solitary practice. These facts don't lend themselves to presenting a united and powerful professional voice, that is capable of making the point that image makers should be valued for the important work that they do.
In my own practice I’ve certainly felt unable to fully own the title of 'photographer'. This may be a result of my other professional role which dominates a large part of my time and thoughts, but is also due to never quite feeling that it was credible for me to claim to be a photographer without devoting all my energies to it full-time. I think it's important to conduct oneself in as professional a manner as possible regardless of where on the photographer's spectrum you may be placed and maybe the fact that there are some people who operate in a less than professional manner partly explains why the profession is so poorly regarded.
With regards to the relentless advance of photographic technology, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the equipment choices available and lose sight of what you're actually trying to achieve, ending up simply consumed by the pursuit of the next piece of equipment that will supposedly help to elevate your work. This is a position I found myself in early in my photography journey, but it’s a false position to my mind, and it’s better to concentrate on honing the craft and using the technology as a tool, rather than seeing the latest camera as an end in itself.
Also this week, following on from the collaborative focus of week 3, I was delighted to produce a small piece of work with a classmate Chris Chucas. It was a rewarding experience that I’ll write about in a separate post.
The research for my project continues, but as I have been admonished this week, I need to 'stop thinking and go shoot!'
This week, the emphasis has been on collaborative practice. This is a new idea for me, having never previously considered myself to be a photographic collaborator. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that there's more to the idea of collaboration than at first appears to be the case. As Daniel Palmer argued in 2013 in A Collaborative Turn in Contemporary Photography? (Photographies, 6:1, 117-125, DOI: 10.1080/17540763.2013.788843)
...photographic images are produced not solely by the lonely eye, or the black box of the camera (or now an interaction with software) but through an engagement with worlds that are collectively produced and experienced.
I have been challenged to reassess my views on the primacy of authorship and what that concept actually means. Is retaining authorship at all costs as important as all that? Is single authorship ultimately a false construct? I'm struck by the idea that authorship actually maybe relates to power, and where the balance of power lies in the production of an image. Photographers do ‘capture’ and ‘frame’ their subjects after all. Maybe also, if this is the case, then ceding this power opens up the possibility of producing images that can have cumulative impact…maybe two (or many) heads are better than one.
The collaborative images produced this week by my classmates were all interesting in arriving at a shared vision that seemed to be more coherent and more unified than might have occurred with just a single author. My own concerns about who would do what in producing the image, or who would claim ‘ownership’ of it once complete seemed to be superseded by more tangible benefits of cooperation and mutual inspiration. Each contributor seemed to have benefitted from the input of their collaborator and was moved to produce something ‘more’ than they might have done if working alone.
Stephen Willats, whose own practice relies heavily on actively donating this authorship role to his subjects reflected on this in his 1983 essay The Camera as an Object of Determinism and as an Agent of Freedom
The divestment of my traditionally given authoritative position in the origination of a photographic image does not lessen its strength but rather, I have found, ensures its pertinence and meaning; for who are better able in the end to present themselves in the reality they inhabit than the subjects.
I am convinced of the potential benefits of collaboration, as either an adjunct to practice or an integral part. Of course, the necessary proportion of collaboration will vary with each practitioner, but this is something I am keen to explore more going forward.
This week’s focus has been on the interdisciplinary nature of photography. It only takes a moment to be overwhelmed by the many areas of personal, professional and intellectual life that are in some way influenced or interacted with by the photographic image or some derivation of it. Photography in an obviously recognisable form is ubiquitous of course, but this week challenged me to consider how it has also seeped into the core of so many other areas of life, and been changed, misrepresented or exploited in both positive and more questionable applications. From medical imaging and its central role in diagnostic and subsequent clinical care, to photo-composites aiming to arrive at a visual mean or archetype of a proclivity or ethnicity, the image has been unwittingly recruited into many roles.
The challenge this week was to consider where these links might particularly relate to one’s own practice. I have been intrigued by the link between photography and memory for some time. I have often felt a subconscious impulse to shoot a particular scene that then seems to gently tug at a thread deep in my memory, unravelling it enough for me to realise that something has been disturbed, without being able to grasp it solidly enough to recall details. Images suggest emotions and imply connections that are sometimes quite unsettling. This link with our psychology is something I want to explore further and is likely to be an ongoing component of my research on this MA.
Some introductory reading in this area threw up some interesting introductory ideas. For example, in Point-and-Shoot Memories: The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour, Linda Henkel (Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 396–402) was able to demonstrate that the act of taking photographs on a museum visit impaired the ability to be able to recall details of the exhibits seen, compared to those who simply observed the exhibits without taking photographs. While Schacter et al. (Psychology and Aging 1997, Vol. 12, No. 2, 203-215) demonstrated that review of photographs could induce false recollections in older people. In Looking at Pictures but Remembering Scenes (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 1992. Vol 18. No 1. 180-191), Intraub et al. discuss how ‘boundary extension’ occurs when we recollect images, leading us to perceive and recollect ‘more’ of a scene than was actually presented in a photograph.
All of these ideas challenged my original notion of photographs triggering memories for me. I’m forced to acknowledge that photographs are not always ‘truthful’ either intrinsically, or in our recollection of them, and the idea that images can induce false memories, which can then become incorporated into our personal histories is intriguing. Another unavoidable conclusion is that the idea of the photograph as ‘evidence’, as being by definition an accurate representation of what was seen, or was present, is not as indisputable as it may first appear. This is an interesting way to consider some recent controversies such as the furore surrounding President Trump’s inauguration photographs (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/22/trump-inauguration-crowd-sean-spicers-claims-versus-the-evidence).
Another strong interdisciplinary connection for me is with photography and music. Music often triggers my ideas, it helps to clear my mind, inspire a creative attitude and helps me connect with the mood of the places I photograph.
An example - This song:
Inspired this image, that I shot back in 2015:
Our Love Comes Back In The Middle Of The Night
There’s a continuum between memory, emotion, imagery and music for me that I aim to understand more as the course progresses, and this week feels like the first step on that journey.
This week I've also learnt that photography has so many potential applications beyond the immediately obvious. There are endless opportunities for collaboration with non-photographic practitioners and across photographic disciplines as long as one is open enough to see the possible connections.
Falmouth university ma photography critical research journal