OCA Level 3: Body of Work/Contextual Studies

Category: Sketchbook

Experiment with video stills

I have a longing to make something for my BoW that is different to what could be termed ‘traditional’ photography, although I am not even sure what this means or how to articulate it. It is probably easiest to describe this as a desire to make a body of work that is not just a series of single images on a wall or in a book. I have no idea what this will look or be like, and the risks are many, however, I feel a real need to try and express myself in a way that recognises that the language of photography is in a sate of flux as we move from analogue to digital.

A phrase used by recent OCA graduate Sarah-Jane Field keeps circulating in my mind – “post Cartesian”, that is “the journey away from a Cartesian understanding of reality towards one that is networked, non-linear and lively.” (Field, 2020) Sarah-Jane’s work, particularly her L3 submission, is inspiring and original and I need to study it closer and understand better what is meant by terms such as ‘Cartesian’. This paragraph eloquently encapsulates her intentions and provides pointers on a potential way forward:

“my work eschews a monistic and linear view while embracing one that is entangled, multi-directional and polymorphic. It asks what image-making is, was, and is becoming, and although the photograph is definitely a protagonist, it must share the stage with other forms of exteriorisation. In doing so, the collection of expressions and traces on pages and screens are an investigation into the decoding and recoding of reality – and perhaps prompts us to believe we have the wherewithal to make critical and much needed revisions as we (re)discover more about our place within the universe.” (Field, 2020)

Researching CS, a section in Consumption and Everyday Life by Mark Paterson resonated with thoughts I have been having about how I can try to capture the experience of being a consumer. Paterson (2006: 226-7) references Featherstone’s (1991) notion of “the aestheticisation of everyday life” which refers to the rapid flow of signs and images which saturate the fabric of the everyday in contemporary society. In reference to consumption this is important because the selling of commodities relies on an immediate reaction to visual stimuli such as advertising and branding. Lash and Urry (1994) advance this by using the term ‘aesthetic attitude’, which is cultivated by involvement, participation and fragmented looks and characterised by immersion in dreamlike states and immediate pleasure: “Desiring, wishing, or daydreaming often characterises our drifting mode of window-shopping, of mall-going, the fantasies of ownership and of playing with our subjectivity.” (Paterson, 2006: 227)

I had been thinking about how to capture the experience of shopping and these ideas of “fragmented looks” and “dreamlike states” resonated with me and I could immediately imagine this as a coping mechanism against the flood of stimuli we are bombarded with as we shop and explanation about why marketeers need to try so hard to grab our attention. I have experimented in the past with taking images from the hip with my camera set to automatically trip the shutter at set intervals and wondered if capturing video and taking screen shots from this could be a way to advance this idea. (See here) I have also been struck by a practical problem where I was stopped from photographing using my smart phone in the Metro Centre. A letter to the centre management asking for permission to photograph for my body of work was refused with the explanation that the centre is in a period of change – the subtext for this is that there are a lot of empty units which I suspect the owners are sensitive about being portrayed negatively. Perhaps taking some video ‘undercover’ could be a way around this and could also lend an interesting visual twist.

I decided to capture a short sequence of video using my iPhone in my local Tesco to see if this was possible. I am encouraged that this is something that could have potential and is worth pursuing further. Below are a couple of quick examples of collages made, and I can envisage this working well with a large amount of images – something that will also support my exploration of visual overload. I will advance this idea walking and recording a full survey of a shop/shopping centre. This initial video was made at 30fps and I will see what difference capturing at 60fps and 4k will make, I will also make some video with my main camera see what that looks like.

The jaunty angles of the individual images contrasts with the formality of the grid structure. I also like the way the images are blurred in places.
Putting the images together as one long strip gives a feeling of progression/emphasises the experience of shopping but is by its very nature linear.
Here, I have loosely straightened the images and randomly overlayed them. This could have potential – especially if a large amount of images is used. I will explore this more and experiment with alternative/arbitrary aspect ratios/crops and look at ways to blend the images together/overlay in different ways.

Bibliography:

Field, S-J. (2020) End of Module Reflection: CS. At: https://sjflevel3.photo.blog/2020/08/28/contextual-studies-end-of-module-reflection-part-3/ (accessed 24th November 2021)

Paterson, M. (2006) Consumption and Everyday Life. Oxon: Routledge.

Hidden Stanley: Image and Text – Further Experiments

Here are some experiments overlaying text directly onto the photograph:

Red text, Helvetica font, multiply blend mode, 12pt

Red text, Helvetica font, multiply blend mode, 30pt

Red text, Mono 45 Headline font, multiply blend mode, 120pt

White text, Helvetica font, screen blend mode, 12pt

Grey text, Mono 45 Headline, difference blend mode, 120pt

Hidden Stanley: Image and Text experiments

See:


Selecting an image for each of the 7 locations proved a simple process as I had limited myself to choosing from the set of analogue photographs. I liked the lo-fi quality of the Holga, but I did not have a useable image for ‘Sweet Shop Drug Den’ so that was ruled out, leaving me to choose from the images made from the 35mm camera.

I knew from beginning the project that text would be an integral part. I was faced with a number of presentation choices so experimented with the following:

  •  Text
    • Headlines
    • Concise captions
    • Synonyms
  • Text positioning
    • Caption below image
    • Directly onto the image
      • Size and font
      • Colour

Vigilante Paedophile hunters:

Alternative captions:

  • Moment paedophile hunters snared pervert
  • Convicted sex offender facing jail for sending explicit messages to teenage girls
  • Stanley man snared by paedophile hunter

Bus Station Fight:

Alternative captions:

  • Pepper spray used to disperse yobs who attacked police
  • Police mobbed by 100 youths throwing bricks and fireworks
  • Teenagers attack police in town centre disorder
  • 100 feral youths batter cops

Cannabis Farm:

Alternative captions:

  • Two arrested as police raid cannabis farm
  • Drugs raid in South Moor

Picnic Site Dogging:

Alternative captions:

  • Beauty spot sex site
  • Picnic site sex ‘disgusting’
  • Police warn ‘doggers’ of a clampdown

Swingers Club:

Alternative captions:

  • ‘Child’ spotted at swingers’ club turned out to be a short adult woman
  • Calls for sex club yards from school to be closed

Sweet Shop Drug Den:

Alternative captions:

  • Police raid sweet shop and seize stock over suspected drug offences
  • Drugs raid at sweet shop
  • Sweets cleared from shop after police drugs raid
  • Two released under investigation after police swoop on sweet shop in suspected drugs raid

Animal Mass Burial Site:

Alternative captions:

  • Protests gather over animal burial site
  • Limited carcasses dumping to resume

Hidden Stanley: Approach and Development

See:


After arriving at 7 locations that I wanted to photograph and walking the route a couple of times to make images, I began to think about ways I could develop this idea further and if it could have potential for A1. The brief for the first assignment asks that we limit ourselves in some way, either through shooting a set amount of images or using a roll of film. The latter idea appealed to me as I had recently been gifted a 35mm camera – the idea of both shooting on film and the limits this would mean seemed to naturally lend itself to the brief. I also have a Holga camera which has been gathering dust for some time so this seemed like a good opportunity to use this again.

Already I was beginning to formulate a methodology that both extended on my previous strategies of walking, exploring and local knowledge to areas that were outside my comfort zone. My usual approach is to photograph without preconception, take a large number of images and build these into a set through the editing process. Although the development of this project involved walking and photographing locally, having specific locations to photograph and using film, which would naturally mean I would take fewer images than normal, presented key deviations from my usual working practices.

Typically, I struggled to completely limit myself in this exercise by using two cameras – although I did manage to only make images from two walks, despite the temptation to visit the locations more times. Below are some of the resulting photographs:

Stanley Spa:

Vigilante paedophile hunters:

Foot and mouth – Chapman’s Well:

Cannabis Farm:

Sweet shop drug den:

Bus Station Fight:

Causey Arch Dogging:

Hidden Stanley: Inspiration

The raw material for my last assignment for DI&C came from images I took walking the same route for 100 days. The act of walking, looking and thinking was crucial to this project and beginning level 3 I wanted to advance this methodology further. 

An idea came to me about photographing places that were within walking distance of my home that looked nondescript on the surface but had a hidden history. I began to think of stories I had seen in the press as a starting point (inspired by Tom Hunter‘s Living in Hell) and came up with 7 stories. I then used google search to find newspaper articles relating to them:

Stanley Spa:

The Stanley Spa is a former pub converted into a swingers club that has courted controversy over the years. It is somewhere I pass frequently that without local knowledge would seem completely benign, in fact, in all the times I have passed I have not seen anything untoward at all:

Vigilante paedophile hunters:

There are many stories concerning groups such as Dark Justice who use the internet to catch predatory paedophiles. A particular story where a local man was caught at a supermarket as he went there to meet who he thought was an underage girl stuck in my mind. Perhaps it was the fact that my eldest daughter was in her mid teens at the time, or the banality of meeting at a Supermarket combined with the gall to do this in such a public way that made this memorable:

Foot and mouth – Chapman’s Well:

This is the oldest of the stories I thought about, dating back to the foot and mouth crisis of the early 2000s. During that time, a mass cull of animals either affected or at risk of infection took place, one of which was a local area Clapman’s Well that I remember faced local opposition:

Cannabis Farm:

Cannabis farms being found in seemingly innocent residential properties seems to be a regular occurrence, and I approached this story with a general google search rather than by having a specific instance in mind:

Sweet shop drug den:

South Moor is a village just outside of Stanley with a reputation for being quite tough, so when this story broke about a sweet shop being the front for a drug dealing operation there was little surprise and many amused comments made, especially since the police had to seize all of the sweets as they may have been contaminated:

Bus Station fight:

Following a bonfire night fireworks display in 2018, a group of local youths gathered near Stanley bus station and fights broke out when PCSOs tried to move them on. Not sure if this counts as ‘viral’ given it was the end of the month before the story took hold and featured in the national press, but releasing the PCSOs body camera footage and video from camera phones seem to be the changes that meant this story gained interest across the country:

Causey Arch dogging:

Causey Arch is a local beauty spot with woodland walks leading to the world’s oldest surviving single arch railway bridge. The car park is renowned as a meeting place for ‘doggers’, although I could find no recent press articles about this – perhaps the subject is no longer as newsworthy as it once was?

Free School Meals

In January 2021 the subject of free school meals and the Tory mishandling of this hit the news for what seemed like the umpteenth time of the Covid pandemic. However, this time it was different – rather than being about failure of the government to maintain the provision of free school meals during the holidays, quickly followed by an embarrassing U-turn, this scandal featured reports of poor quality and value food parcels being supplied to parents instead of vouchers that could be spent in Supermarkets. (These had been stopped due to a fear they were being misused by some parents and spent on alcohol and cigarettes.) 

I came across the story via a twitter thread written by food writer and anti-poverty activist Jack Monroe. The writing was impassioned, angry and written from a place of personal experience – I quickly shared Jack’s anger at what was happening. There was also something that interested me from a digital/visual cultural point of view – many parents had sent Monroe photographs of the food boxes they had received. This was significant – the ability to make a visual record and provide evidence and then share this to an audience was a demonstration of changing power relationships within image making – these were real people able to make a direct challenge to the government and challenge power directly. Instinctively I saved a random selection of these images without any preconceived idea about what (if anything) I would do with them. 

After a period of a couple of months I kept thinking about the story and the way it was challenged in the days afterward. Despite a public apology by Boris Johnson in Parliament, a narrative emerged refuting the documentary evidence that had been provided – accusations that the images were not accurate representations or that the food parcels were not for the number of days stated abounded. What seemed at first as a powerful example of ordinary people challenging power had been turned into something else – seemingly there had been enough doubt sown to make people question what they had seen and be taken along by narratives that attacked the poor such as they should be grateful for anything they get or that they could not be trusted to spend money responsibly which is why they had to be given food parcels. I decided to make some work that tried to redress this. 

I wanted to incorporate image and text and allude to the language of photographic realism. First I converted the images to black and white and added captions selected from Jack Monroe’s Twitter thread. I also tried to a halftone effect to simulate news print but the low resolution of the images made them difficult to identify so this is not an approach I pursued:

Ill thought through, offensively meagre scraps
There seems to be a prevalent train of thought that if you’re in poverty you should be grateful for anything you can get
People in difficult situations are PEOPLE, no less ‘deserving’ of a good meal than anyone else
The vouchers were a good idea…mouthpieces on Twitter with there own austerity agendas claimed there was widespread misuse. With no evidence
The demonisation of the working class in this country has been in plain sight for years now. Programmes like Benefits Street, Jeremy Kyle, ill fortune as gladiator style entertainment
Because of a noisy few objecting with fabricated v rare examples of abuse of the system…the vouchers, which were a lifeline, have been replaced with a foodbox
Its value at supermarket prices is under a fiver. To replace a £30 voucher
Who is making an absolute fortune out of scamming the poorest and most vulnerable in our society now?
It’s always the people who can afford the least that are asked to bear the biggest burden

I wanted to push the idea of image and text further and literally embed the message contained in the captions onto the images so there could be no doubt about what people were looking at. I added text over the pictures using the Mono 45 Headline font (a bold typeface that I wanted to give the impression of newspaper headlines.) I applied a difference blending mode to the text which gave an interesting effect with the words have an inverted look. I like the way this looks, although some of the text is difficult to read it is still legible – I am undecided as to whether this adds to the overall effect or not:

Next, I experimented bringing all of the images together to show the complete narrative. First, I kept each image at the size they had been when I saved them and arranged in a haphazard fashion:

Next, I applied a grid to the blank canvas to act as a guide and changed the size of each of the images to make them as consistent as possible:

Although I like the different sizes in the first attempt, neither of these really work. Perhaps if I had a set of images that were the same size this would be an approach worth pursuing.

Lastly, I experimented with some layer effects to improve the legibility of the writing. First I applied a subtle drop shadow which helped improve the definition without being too intrusive:

Next, I applied a red colour overlay at 25% opacity – the effect I was going for here was to reference red top, tabloid newspapers with the image/text being in opposition to that sort of simplistic/sensational reporting:

I have been interested in the combination of image and text for some time and this is something that was a major part of my final assignment for my previous course, Digital Image and Culture. I am not sure if this will form part of what I want to make for my BoW, but think this is something I should definitely spend some more time researching and thinking about.


As a final point, unrelated to the experiments made here but relevant to thoughts about digital/social media photography and copyright, I came across this tweet by Twitter user @RoadsideMum who was credited with sending the first, and most widely reproduced image to Jack Monroe which is credited with starting the discussion:

Although my intentions are quite different from any news outlet that has used the image(s) without permission, credit or payment it struck me that I was still complicit in taking the images without credit and wondered what anyone connected with this would think about what I had done. It struck me that this was another example of power relationships that were unequal – copyright laws only work if you have the means to be able to defend them.

Links:

Jack Monroe (@BootstrapCook) Twitter thread

Bibliography:

Blackhall, M. (2021) ‘What am I supposed to make with this!’ Parents on schools’ meagre food parcels. The Guardian, 12th January 2021. At: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/12/what-am-i-supposed-to-make-with-this-uk-parents-on-schools-meagre-food-parcels (accessed 25th March 2021)

Bryant, J. (2021) Give Families Cash, Not Paltry Food Parcels. The Guardian, 14th January 2021. At: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jan/14/give-families-cash-not-paltry-food-parcels (accessed 25th March 2021)

Campbell, L. and Weale, S. (2021) Rashford: something ‘going wrong’ with free school meal deliveries. The Guardian, 12th January 2021. At: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/12/not-good-enough-marcus-rashford-condemns-free-school-meal-packages (accessed 25th March 2021)

Dawson, A. P. (2021) Give families cash to feed their children – there’s overwhelming evidence it works. The Guardian, 16th January 2021. At: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/commentisfree/2021/jan/16/give-families-cash-to-feed-their-children-theres-overwhelming-evidence-it-works (accessed 25th March 2021)

Elgot, J., Weale, S., and Butler, P. (2021) Fresh U-turn over school meals as Labour criticise guidance on parcels. The Guardian, 13th January 2021. At: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/13/fresh-u-turn-over-free-school-meals-as-labour-criticises-guidance-on-parcels (accessed 25th March 2021)

Williams, Z. (2021) Jack Monroe on food poverty and fury: ‘I wake up, look at the news and get angry.’ The Guardian, 16th January 2021. At: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jan/16/jack-monroe-on-food-poverty-and-fury-i-just-wake-up-look-at-the-news-and-get-angry (accessed 25th March 2021)

Automatic Image Making

In the past I have attempted to experiment with chance by making images with my camera set to take photographs automatically at set intervals while I walked about a designated area. (See Documentary A1: Local Communities and DIC A1: One Hour Photo.) Beginning BoW, the only thing I was certain about was that I intended to make work in my local area. My last assignment for DIC (See DIC A5: The Loop) came about organically and through experimentation, and employing a similar methodology based around walking and looking seemed a good way begin. I decided to walk the streets closest to my home with my camera set to take images at intervals as a way of kick starting the course – I finished DIC on a high, feeling ready to make the jump to the final part of the course and enthusiastic about being able to make work about whatever I wanted. Faced with this ‘blank canvas’ however was somewhat daunting – there was so much I could do that I was struggling to decide on what I should do. With this in mind, this exercise was designed to be an attempt to get back into the swing of making images. I doubt that the technique will be something I continue to employ but the process itself seems an important starting point.

Camera settings: Interval 0.5 sec, ISO auto, F8, minimum shutter speed 1/1000 sec.

Conditions: bright, sunny winters day

Images: 4227

Thoughts:

  • I set the interval to 0.5 sec to maximise the chances of a successful image being made. The downside of this however was that 4227 individual photographs are a lot to look through and it is difficult not to feel fatigued doing so. Certainly there were many more misses than potential images, but, either missing something looking through or seeing merit in images that do not deserve it is a real concern.
  • The benefit of this technique is the element of chance and the occasional feeling that I have arrived at an image that I would not have made traditionally. I continue to be seduced by the idea of introducing chance and serendipity into my work.
  • The technique could be developed by pausing at certain points which would also go some way to alleviating problems with framing and focus.
  • I am increasingly concerned about the ethics of this approach – although I try to rationalise this with my belief that this is merely a strategy to make images and therefore legitimate, if I am not confident to stand in the street and make images in the traditional way, looking through the viewfinder, then is it ok for me to do this?
  • Potential development of the idea: the large amount of images that this technique results in could lend itself to making collages in the style of Penelope Umbrico or Mandy Barker where large amounts of similar subjects are brought together.

© 2021 Michael Millmore

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑