The topic this week of Critical Theory has been really stimulating and interesting, and has required me to look far more critically at my own work. This has allowed me to refocus and given me new inspiration for what I’m going to do over the next three modules; which is a very good thing as I was feeling a little ‘stuck’.
The presentations I have watched and the articles I’ve read have given me much to think about, and I have been a) considering where I stand in relation to various theories, and b) looking at my own practice, trying to decide where it sits theoretically, and what I can improve in this respect as I develop my future research and output.
Despite the fact that Francis Hodgson (2012, Quality Matters) stated he didn’t believe that photography to be elitist; what he was saying was, in my view, just that. If we are able to create and share a common language when describing quality, that immediately devalues the opinion of anyone who does not have the same vernacular. Additionally, can a set of ‘rules’ define quality, when creativity and invention are not static? There can be no new valued style, form, interpretation or theory unless the definition of quality is refined alongside these progressions.
Reading the newspaper articles by Sally Mann , (in the New York Times, 2015) and Tierney Gearon (in the Guardian, 2001), I was struck by the naivety of the women, who both seemed surprised by the reaction the photographs of their nude children received. Their intentions had been quite different, wishing to capture childhood innocence in family life. However, once the photographs reached the public domain the interpretation altered, allowing the viewer to reach their own conclusions.
In this week’s online forum we were asked to post a picture and describe two different interpretations of it.
This was my contribition:
Photographer Cezar Dezfuli recently won the Taylor Wessing prize for this photograph of a migrant named Sumaila, taken off the Libyan coast last year. He took pictures of all the 118 refugees who had been rescued by a German boat. Dezfuli didn’t realise the poignancy of the expression on Sumaila’s face until he looked back at them all later. He said “There was something about the way he looked into the camera and something in the clothes he was wearing that gave the photo a texture. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it just summed up the story I was trying to tell really well.”
My interpretation 1 – the Guardian’s text over the photo says ‘ Who is the man in the photograph?’
Who is he? Where is he from? Why is he looking so intensely at the camera? What has happened to him? Where is he going? Who is he with ?
My interpretation 2 – the composition of the photograph. The man looks as if has quite literally come straight out of the water, and the way the eyes sit just above the horizon is powerful. The shadow of his head tells us where the sun was. His collar bone is protruding, is he under nourished? He is not smiling. His clothing is dishevelled and dirty. The sea is calm.
The first interpretation questions; the second is factually based, with the composition leading the viewer towards understanding the greater context of the photograph.
In my own practice, my pictures tend to be about something, rather than of something. The difficulty lies in how to allow the viewer to read the picture in the way I have intended; as the meanings I try to embody are not usually transparent. As my work develops, this is something that will need consideration and resolving.
For instance, the above image is one of a series. They are an account of the deconstructions and reconstructions of an old photograph in a frame which I bought last weekend at a flea market for £2. It is not my intention for the viewer to think that this is a photograph of the sum of its parts; but rather what is symbolised by this act of destruction. This small piece of family history was discarded, with responsibility passing to a third party, a stranger, to dispose of. Note the duplicity here – I am at the same time destroying and recreating.
This topic has given me much to think about and has already changed the way I work.