OCA Level 3: Body of Work/Contextual Studies

Author: Michael (Page 1 of 6)

Paul Reas

See: Documentary Blog: Paul Reas


The work of Paul Reas has resonated with me for some time, and considering artists who have explored themes of consumerism, I immediately thought of his series I Can Help (1988). Rod Jones links Reas’ work both visually and thematically with that of Paul Graham, Martin Parr and John Davies who were also concerned in the 1980s with “charting the postmodernist or late capitalist transformation of Britain with varying degrees of detached objectivity, horrified fascination or angry commitment.” (Reas, 1988: 5) However, he sees Reas’ work as going beyond and underneath this to engage with a more “determinative level of reality” using constructed narrative within and between the photographs to overcome the “familiar if limited conventions of liberal humanist documentary photography.” (Reas, 1988: 5)

Reas describes the political drive to make I Can Help in impassioned terms which encapsulate the specific moment in British history when the photographs were made. The neoliberal policies of Thatcher’s Conservative government meant that the 1980s saw deregulation of the banking system meaning credit was easy to come by: “faith in a free market economy and a firm belief in individualism turned British culture from a ‘we’ to a ‘me’ generation.” Easy credit led to a rapid rise in consumer spending and this growth in consumption and the effect it had on changing British culture is Reas’ overriding concern in the series:

“The then new shopping malls, situated on the edge of cities, were the new cathedrals of consumption, and the ‘new’ retail parks,’ with their supermarkets and furniture stores were the parish churches. Shopping and the purchasing of an off-the-shelf lifestyle were becoming new leisure activities.” (Reas, 2018: 110)

Reas’ position is firmly, and overtly, anti-consumerist. It is a position I can identify with, but I Can Help is a work that is very much of it’s time and a response to a rapidly changing political and economic landscape. Consumerism has now firmly become the reality of late capitalist everyday life, not everything about it is negative but its influences are impossible to escape – even taking an anti-consumerist stance show this. I wonder how Reas would approach the subject today (the problem I am wrestling with for my Body of Work) has his position softened or become more entrenched?

Stylistically I Can Help inspires because of the way Reas both adopts and rejects notions of documentary realism to create a series that Val Williams describes as being “constructed from the ‘real.'” and “raw and performative.” (Reas, 2018: 103) Reas exploited the energy and primary colours he witnessed in the supermarkets, fast food restaurants and furniture showrooms he photographed: 

“Meat, red, signs that screamed offers, exhausted patrons, the brightness of flash illuminating scurrying customers – ‘I Can Help’ was brazen and without the irony or the whimsy that Reas had kicked against withing the new British photography of the late 1970s and early 1980s.” (Reas, 2018: 103-4)

Although I stand by my assertion that the world of today is barely recognisable to the one Reas shows, there may be more similarities than I initially thought. At the time of writing Britain is facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis that is likely to have far reaching consequences and could change our relationship to consumerism and consumption forever. This both fascinates, terrifies and fills me with rage – perhaps this feeling similar to those that motivated Reas and I should embrace this and let it feed my work?

© Paul Reas (reproduced with permission)
© Paul Reas (reproduced with permission)
© Paul Reas (reproduced with permission)
© Paul Reas (reproduced with permission)

Links:

Bibliography:

Andreasson, K. (2014) Paul Reas’s best shot: a dad buying army wallpaper for his son. The Guardian, 12th March 2014. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/mar/12/paul-reas-best-shot-dad-army-wallpaper (accessed 22nd April 2018)

Chandler, D. (2014) Paul Reas: Elephant and castle. Photoworks issue 10. At:  https://photoworks.org.uk/paul-reas-new-work/ (accessed 22nd April 2018)

Lubbock, T. (1993) The Broader Picture/The Vision Thing. The Independent 24th April 1993. At: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/the-broader-picture-the-vision-thing-1457297.html (accessed 22nd April 2018)

Reas, P. (1988) I Can Help. Manchester: Cornerhouse publications.

Reas, P. (1993) Flogging a Dead Horse: Heritage Culture and its Role in Post-industrial Britain. Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications.

Reas, P. (2018) Fables of Faubus. London: Gost Books.

Bread: Images/First Shoot

For this first experiment shooting individual slices of bread, I bought 11 white loaves from the supermarket and set about making a number of photographs to see where this could take me. I used a white and black pillow case for the backgrounds and shot handheld aligning the bottom of each slice along the grid line of my camera view finder. Originally I had intended to use a tripod but found positioning each of the slices correctly to achieve consistency difficult. This is something I will need to revisit however if I am to continue with this project as I want to maximise sharpness and detail in each of the shots.

11 loaves of white bread chosen from my local supermarket to photograph

1. White background:

Instantly I dislike being able to see the pattern of the stitching in the background of these and find the shadows distracting. There are also variations in the white balance which effects consistency. This assessment is based on a prejudged idea of wanting the slices of bread to stand out against the background and for this to be plain and lacking in distraction. The downside to this is that the images could appear clinical or sterile. The ‘mistakes’ that I detail above could be a way of negating this and perhaps something that I should not dismiss without consideration. The finished effect will depend entirely on how I choose to present the images.

2. White background – cropped:

Again I feel conflict about whether these are more successful than the images above. My initial though was that they are instantly more impactful, but the more I consider them, the more I start to consider the possibility that allowing the images space to ‘breathe’ could be important. There is also the consideration about how I show variation in sizes of each of the slices which is not evident in these images due to shooting hand held and is further skewed through cropping.

3. Black background:

Presenting the images on a black background is how I imagined they would look before shooting, however, I wanted to experiment with a white background as well to see how the slices of bread looked. These images on a black background here fulfilled my expectations – the tone and texture of the bread is emphasised by the contrasting background which allows the viewer to concentrate on the details of each slice from crust to crumb. The problems of shadows and inconsistent white balance are also negated here.

4. Black background – cropped:

Strangely I find cropping the images here less impactful than the white background – perhaps the lack of distraction with the black background allows the image to ‘breathe’ more as mentioned above.

Initial thoughts on further development:

  • Need to consider how I will be able to shoot using a tripod and ensure consistent composition between each slice for further attempts.
  • Lighting is something I need to think about more. For this initial attempt I used a cheap ring light intended for blogging combined with natural light. If I pursue this project, I envisage photographing many slices of bread which will be impossible to achieve in one shoot as I have here – having a consistent lighting set up will be crucial to achieving consistent results.
  • The eventual presentation of the images is also something to consider – will they be individual or on a grid? Life size or bigger, or even smaller? Again, consistency is the main thing I need to think about.

CS A3: Response to Tutor Feedback

After much wrestling and concern about my direction for CS, I finally seem to be hitting on something I can pursue. It was reassuring to hear in my tutorial that the process I have been going through, and concerns I have, are common for students at this point. It was also good to have confirmation that  focusing on bread as a commodity is an idea that has potential – arriving at this as the subject for my essay and as a conceit to explore the wider topic of consumerism is something that has suddenly given me a sense of purpose and direction. I thought the tutor notes summed this up effectively:

“Bread has long since shifted from a ‘food for the poor’ to something that is fetishised and overlaid with all kinds of class connotations, ones that seem to come through a haze of nostalgia for a pre-mass production era. Looking at how it is marketed, particularly in terms of its photographic representations, with references to the rustic and pastoral, could really help…open everything up.” (Conroy, 2022)

A key point made was that so far I had focused on theory and said very little about visual culture/photography – discussing this needs to be the focus of my essay and will also help with building my argument/thesis. As Andrew pointed out, photography, particularly in the digital age, is an essential tool in the representation of commodities, not only in terms of selling things through advertising and marketing, but also, as something that can challenge and critique.

In summary, a very motivating and focused tutorial that addressed my doubts helped me understand what I need to do to develop my dissertation and realise the ideas I have. It suddenly feels like things are coming together…

BoW A2: Tutor Feedback


Very helpful and motivating tutorial and feedback, Les was encouraging about the various ideas I have for A3 and their potential for development. He did strike a note of caution however that the time for experimentation and making decisions is limited – I need to narrow my focus in order to interrogate my theme of consumerism – essentially discarding elements that are not working.

Here are some further thoughts on comments made:

  • Aesthetic of A2 could prove useful later:

I perhaps have been too quick to think only of the use of the Holga for A2 as a workflow strategy rather than considering if this is a way of working that could be developed further. I like the idea of mixing different outputs, the most obvious of which is digital and analogue, so I should maybe experiment further with this.

  • Cost of living discussion:

Since my tutorial, the rapid increase in the cost of living (inflation, energy costs, petrol/diesel etc.) has become even more topical – if I am interested in trying to make a body of work that responds to the realities of life at this very moment then this is the ideal subject matter. How to do this however is a major consideration – the idea of focusing on commodities (with bread as a starting point) was received well so perhaps this is the way to begin.

  • A personal project about the experience I have working in retail:

This is not something I had really considered until I discussed it with Les, but the more I think about it, the more I think the access/knowledge I have about the realities of working for a large supermarket chain could lead to something that is both personal and meaningful.

Do next:

I plan to experiment with each of the approaches I have detailed in the tutor report as a way of arriving at the project I am going to take for the rest of BoW. It is important not to analyse these too much initially and concentrate on making images and consider which of these have the potential to develop further.

CS: A3 – Introduction and Chapter One (Draft)


Reflection:

Approach and process:

Writing an introduction and a single chapter for A3 is a practical way of making the tackling of the dissertation, but also flawed. I cannot help but consider I would have been better served trying to produce a full first draft rather than concentrate on these two sections, although I also concede that this would have been a daunting undertaking in itself.

My strategy for A3 has been to read, take notes and write in the hope that the position I want to take for this essay will reveal itself – something that has some success and many false starts/dead ends. The subject of consumerism is huge and unwieldy with a great deal of sources to potentially contend with (although many of these are dated which is frustrating.) I have identified three main areas that are potential jumping off points:

  • Commodity fetishism:

I find this idea originating from Marx compelling as it is a neat metaphor for the intangible power of commodities and leads into other concepts that I wish to discuss such as Debord’s Spectacle, Barthes’ notion of myth as well as semiotics, marketing, advertising, identity, ideology and everyday life. I chose to write about this subject first for precisely this reason – hoping it would organically develop onto the other subjects.

  • Semiotics/sign values of consumerism:

One of the comments made about A2 that has really stuck with me is how I will write an essay that incorporates and responds to the visual culture of consumerism rather than something that is a sociological study or has a ‘now for some visual stuff’ chapter. Increasingly I return to the thought that the visual language of consumerism is something that will be a significant cornerstone of my essay. 

For BoW I am currently interrogating various approaches, one of which is the way we encounter images of consumerism in the everyday world. I am interested in exploring the idea that we are both highly visually literate and unconsciously influenced by the huge amounts of visual culture that we are surrounded with and that this has the potential to shape our politics and world view in ways we not overtly aware of.

  • Identity, ideology and everyday life:

How the products we own shape our identities and telegraph this to others advances thoughts about commodity fetishism and has links to ideology and everyday life. These topics have the opportunity to challenge some of the simplistic interpretations of the consumer as mindless and manipulated. My position is that we have much more power as consumers than is commonly recognised while at the same time, one of the realities of late capitalism is that it is impossible to escape consumption as it is so entwined in our everyday life. 

Mark Fisher observed that “not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but…it is…impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (Fisher, 2009:2) This statement rings true because it strikes at the very heart of the issue that despite all that is wrong with the capitalist system, the promise of freedom and the potential for a better life combined with the fear that anything else would be worse is powerful.

Reading and Notetaking:

This is something I am still struggling with although I think I am starting to improve. The problem I have had is trying to be precise with my focus while still not fully understanding what I want to say in my essay which has meant I have needed to read widely and kept falling into the trap of spending time on sources that are interesting but not necessarily relevant. I am acutely aware that time is my greatest obstacle but I have as yet been unable to come up with a way to keep myself on track. It seems trite to mention, but I do so because it is a real obstacle for me, that it has been difficult to get in to the right ‘headspace’ to study. By their very nature, academic texts are often difficult and dare I say dry reads – the reality of life is that it is often difficult to switch off everything else and engage in study. Often I have found myself in the position of sitting down to read and finding my mind wandering and being distracted by external factors – I am not sure that there is a way around this, I simply note that it is a real impact.

Strategies I have started to employ that I hope will help:

  • Subject focus:

As described above, I have tried to focus my research into specific areas/subjects although I suspect these are still too far ranging and require further refinement.

  • Note taking/writing:

Until recently, I have treated reading, note taking and writing as separate processes which I have recognised as a mistake that has cost me a great deal of time. When it has come to writing I have found myself having to reread great sections of work to refamiliarise myself which has frustrated me greatly. Most of the time I am snatching an hour here and there to study which makes keeping momentum an issue. 

To combat both of these issues I have started writing at the same time as I am reading and have found that has immediately helped me understand sources more thoroughly and also help me get to grips with there relevance to what I want to say. Most importantly, this is helping when I come to incorporate these thoughts into the essay.

Thoughts on A3:

I feel (and hope) I am on the cusp of understanding where I want to go with my essay, but not quite there yet. The process of writing A3 has told me more about what not to do rather than resulting in a successful output in itself. For much of the time I have been frustrated that the writing has not come together more cohesively, I wonder if I have been too naïve believing that my direction and central thesis would present itself in an organic way – even now I feel this is all very vague. Perhaps a change of approach is necessary? Maybe I should go back to the drawing board with my hypothesis/essay question in order to set myself stricter boundaries?

I suspect that little, if any, of the work that I am presenting for this assignment will make it into my final draft. This is not something that particularly worries me as I would fully expect the essay to develop extensively from this point. I do need some help/cajoling/strong direction from the assignment tutorial however to push me forward.

A new direction?

As I finish this submission, I have arrived at a potential new direction that could either be the breakthrough I am looking for or a distraction that could take me further off piste. For BoW I am currently exploring different ways I can explore consumer and commodity culture, and have started a project about bread – a ubiquitous, everyday commodity – deceptively simple and full of complex connotations. Bread can be a mass produced loaf from a supermarket or a handmade, artisan sourdough from a craft bakery – either cheap and accessible or expensive and exclusive. Affordability, accessibility and class are all symbolically represented by bread and this could be an effective conceit to explore the topics of consumerism I have already identified while providing a more structured framework for me. The images I am currently working on could also be used to illustrate the essay.

Talking about this idea with my BoW tutor I was pointed towards a short book by Scott Cutler Shershow about bread and since reading the idea keeps coming back to me. This quote demonstrates in ways more eloquent than my own why the concept could have potential:

“bread – which “appears at first sight to be an extremely obvious, trivial thing” – can be shown to be “a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” The reader who has noticed I make this point by repurposing the famous opening lines of Karl Marx’s chapter in Capital on “The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret” may take this as a precaution. For of course it is finally because bread does present itself, quite literally, as the master of so many – the “staff of life,” the ultimate staple commodity, an object marking the very line of survival itself – that bread as either an object or an idea has accumulated such overwhelming symbolic power. This is obviously why the word and image “bread” often signifies value itself, and refers metaphorically either to food in general, or to something like “livelihood,” in expressions such as “breadwinner,” “taking the bread out of his mouth,” and so forth. Similarly, both “bread” and “dough” have been used as slang words for money. And no wonder, because it is precisely in societies like ours, societies radically divided along lines of wealth and poverty, the bread becomes (as Peter Camporesi writes), “a polyvalent object on which life, death and dreams depend…the culminating point and instrument, real and symbolic, of existence itself.” (Shershow, 2016: 3-4)

When I read this passage, it immediately resonated as something I wanted to express myself about consumerism, commodities and how these are entrenched in all of our everyday existence. On the face of it, bread is so simple consisting of flour, yeast, water and salt, and yet, in order to make it truly accessible, many more ingredients must be added so each loaf can achieve consistency through production on an industrial scale and retain freshness on supermarket shelves. To make a true, simple loaf requires time and skill – both of which cost money and drive up cost making these ‘artisan’ loaves only available to those who can afford them and putting them out of reach of many. 

What next?

I feel like I am on the edge of making a breakthrough for CS, but need some help to be pushed in the right direction. Do I start again with the conceit of exploring bread as a way of discussing the wider concerns about consumerism that I am interested in pursuing? Is this an idea that has potential or a distraction? Is it acceptable to produce some visual work myself to illustrate the essay? If I don’t change direction, then how do I proceed from here? How do I bring the aspects of consumerism I have researched so far together as a cohesive argument? What is the question I want to answer?

Finishing this reflection has made me realise more than ever that I have reached a critical point in the course and that I need some help to make sense of where I need to go next. I am frustrated by the many false starts I have had so far while pragmatic that they have been a necessary part of the process and concerned that time to experiment is now at an end. Despite this, I feel a sense of enthusiasm for the bread concept that has been lacking so far and an intuition that this could be the stimulus that helps drive me forward.

Tutorial discussion points:

  • Reading:
    • Any further resource recommendations?
  • How can I refine my research question?
  • Notetaking:
    • Any tips?
  • Bread concept:
    • Does this have potential?

Bibliography:

Fisher, Mark. (2009) Capitalist Realism. Winchester: Zero Books.

Shershow, S.C. (2016) Bread. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. 

Howells and Negreiros: Photography


In their chapter on photography, Howells and Negreiros survey some of the historical developments in responses to photography as an art and the relationship of the medium to reality. The paper contains much useful information and debate, however I found myself strangely disengaged from it. I previously read this when I studied both UVC and documentary and found it useful then, so I am struggling to understand what has changed. Perhaps it is me and my thinking – having extensively considered whether photography is an art (answer = it depends) or the relationship between photography and reality (answer = it is a mixture of truth and fiction) I have explored these topics as much as I want to. That is not to try and suggest that I am an authority on this, far from it, simply that these debates  are not the ones that I find most engaging or relevant to my current practice. I also find myself increasingly engaged with texts that have a strong point of view or argument to make and considering if I am convinced or share the arguments being presented. Despite all of these rambling thoughts, there is much to engage with in the paper, here are some of the quotes that resonated with me:

  • Quote from Bazin’s Ontology of the Photographic Image:
    • “the photograph is like a ‘fingerprint’. It is not the finger itself, but a record of the thing itself made by the thing itself.” (p. 199)
      • A succinct yet deceptively simple metaphor. Anyone can recognise a finger but to truly be able to read the information contained in a fingerprint in a useful way requires specialist knowledge.
  • Mike Weaver – the photograph is like a novel based on a true story. 
    • This quote enigmatically encapsulates the push/pull relationship between photography, reality and truth. It particularly chimes with my thinking as I become more comfortable with being unconcerned about notions of impartiality in my personal work and embrace ideas of authorship and presenting a personal view point. I should research the text quoted further.
      • Photography is “a meeting of the actual and the imaginary, where each adds to, rather  than detracts from, the power of the other. When we view a photograph, we are stimulated by the hallucination and the fact at the same time – and receive the compounded stimulation of both. The effect is doubled, not halved. The relationship between photography and reality is, therefore, a complex one, but it is a complexity that explains the deep and articulate richness of the photographic image.” (p. 200)

Bibliography:

Howells, R. and Negreiros, J. (2012) ‘Photography’ In: Visual Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 183-206

BoW A2: Self Reflection

See:


Background:

I used a methodology of walking/exploration and memory for A1 and I wanted to continue and expand this for A2. I also wanted to continue to experiment with using a film camera as I found the limits that shooting analogue presented appealing – making images this way forced me to work differently, and perhaps most importantly, made me consider my editing choices more closely as I had a smaller amount of images to make my selections from.

Having decided on the subject of consumerism for CS I wanted to investigate what I could find on the high streets of the towns closest to me. I am interested in how the retail environment is in a state of accelerated change with many chains going out of business in recent years. Received wisdom suggests that the high street should be full of empty retail units and I wanted to investigate if this was the case. Rather than using a 35mm camera, I shot the photographs on a Holga ‘toy’ camera. The camera produces extreme lo-fi results – exposure control is minimal, framing is difficult and haphazard and the lens is made of plastic. Yet, the strong vignette, soft focus and scratched negatives create a distinctive aesthetic that I felt would fit my aim of photographing empty shops. I shot in seven locations – Stanley, Consett, Gateshead, Metro Centre, Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland. Despite finding empty shops in each of them, I would not describe any of the places I visited as being defined by this. Choosing to photograph and present only empty shops suggests otherwise, and while I am not attempting to provide a document of impartiality or truth, there is a strong question mark about these images and what they are saying. Focusing on dereliction and decay is something of a photographic cliché, superficial and only gives a partial representation.

Presentation and selection:

Originally I planned to include text as part of the images as a continuation of the strategy I had employed for A1, albeit in a more subtle form. I had the idea of including part of the now closed retailers advertising strategy as a way of drawing attention to the gulf between the hopes and promise of their advertising/brand message of the past and the reality of today. Toys R Us was the stimulus for this – whenever I think of the brand I recall the song from the advert “It’s a magical place/we’re on our way there/with toys in their million all under one roof.” (See here.) The word “magical” superimposed onto the image of the empty and decaying store was a prospect that seemed too good to miss. Unfortunately, when I tried to research advertising from the other retailers I struggled to find the information I needed so had to put this idea to ones side.

Text has been an important part of the last few projects I have made. Having to discount my original idea made me think more about this and wonder what the effect of using no text or captions with the images would be. Despite not imposing text onto the images myself, the signage present on each store front is integral to the reading of each photograph. 

Context:

I approach most projects with a strong idea of the artists that are influencing and informing my work. Here, I was driven by an idea and methodology rather than having any particular artist in mind. In retrospect I can see how similarities with the work of Eugene Atget both in terms of aesthetic and subject matter. The photographs could be classed as documentary, but the use of film and the Holga mean they are no longer straight documentations. (Alternatively the indexical nature of film could be read as more truthful than digital.) As I reviewed the pictures, and also considered work that combined image and text, I was reminded of Martha Rosler’s ‘The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Methods’ and her essay “In, Around and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography)”. In ‘Bowery’, Rosler chooses not to include humans. Jeffries (2021: 33) describes this as a “poignant absence [which] haunts each of Rosler’s shots”. While my images also exclude people, something which accentuates the emptiness of the shops themselves, it does not have the purpose and intent of Rosler. Indeed, what if anything do the images say except there are some signs of dereliction on the high street? While the aesthetic created by the camera and film is initially appealing to me, the more I consider this the less comfortable I am – is this an affectation or even fetishistic?

Thoughts on where I go next:

While the approach I have taken so far of engaging with place with an open mind and allowing ideas to form has served me well so far, this is something I need to develop in a more structured way as I progress my BoW. Now that I know what my subject will be I need to find a way to say something cohesive about this. My instinct is that a critique of capitalism and consumption is too simplistic – I need something more nuanced. I am interested in the state of retail now, but I need to be realistic and not try to be too all encompassing. Rather than branch out further, both geographically and conceptually, perhaps I should narrow my gaze and concentrate on what is closer to home? One of the themes I am exploring in CS is the tension between large, homogenous chains and small, independent retailers. The shops near to me broadly fit the second category and this is perhaps the direction I should take and explore further. 

A3 offers a final opportunity to experiment before committing to a direction for the final two assignments. I have three broad ideas currently:

1. Documentary approach:

Local Retailers:

As I allude to above, I am attracted to the idea of photographing local independent businesses. This could involve a collaboration with the owners, interviewing them to understand more about their business and the place it holds in the community. Text from the interviews could potentially be combined with the photographs to give context and provide a fuller understanding.

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s series ‘Byker Revisited‘ is an inspiration here. For this project, Kontinnen developed her earlier ‘Byker‘ work, a traditional documentary project shot in black and white, collaborating with the people she photographed rather than pointing the camera at what she saw. (This excerpt from the accompanying film ‘Today I’m With You’ (2010) gives a fascinating insight into the process, although it should also be noted that the final decision about image selection ultimately lay with Kontinnen herself, sometimes these were not the shared by the people in them.)

Shop windows:

The working title of ‘shop windows’ refers to an idea I have about photographing retail premises and presenting them in a way to compare and contrast the differences and similarities. The most obvious subject is shop window displays and how they are used to entice shoppers inside. Presenting these as together is a possibility and I am influenced by the work of Penelope Umbrico in this regard. (See ‘Suns from Sunsets from Flickr‘.)

2. Visual Culture approach:

The retail landscape is covered in imagery designed to appeal and influence the shopper, from signage to product packaging. The idea that these stay on the periphery of our perception is something I am interested in and I have made a couple of experiments taking still images from short sections of video I have made while walking around shopping centres. (See here.) I am not sure if this idea has potential, but it is something that keeps coming into my mind so I need to spend some time working further on it to see if it takes me anywhere. 

Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’ is a key influence for this idea, although the enigmatic pronouncements of this text, their opaque nature and the bleak outlook is becoming less appealing to me of late. Researching ethics recently I came across this podcast with Jennifer Good in which she discusses the importance of visual literacy and encountering images in the world:

“[T]he average person is…much more visually literate, than we even realise ourselves…when we encounter photographs, they shape our views in a split second. And all we’re doing when we try to analyse that process is just slowing it down, slowing it down and unpacking something that is already happening [we’re] trying to slow down and account for those very subtle ways in which images impact our politics and our ideas and our consciousness and our movement through the world.”

This notion that we are simultaneously reading visual culture in a sophisticated way while being only semi conscious of the process is fascinating, as is the debate about how much this changes our outlook, if at all. Rephotographing ‘found’ images, such as adverts, transforms them from ephemeral to objects of consideration. An example of recontextualising advertising and drawing attention to the subtext of the imagery is Richard Prince’s ‘Cowboys‘ series. Removing branding from adverts for Marlborough cigarettes, Prince drew attention to the myths of masculinity and the American identity that the adverts used to provide an aspirational lifestyle. Investigating the different types of imagery that are available in the real world could be something to explore further, perhaps presenting together by subject or type.

3. Cost of living/commodities:

Currently there is huge concern and debate about increases to the cost of living and the pressure this will put onto households. I have been wondering if I can make something from this and have been thinking about commodities that can be stripped of their marketing to be photographed. Food is the most obvious example of this, and bread a potential candidate because of the wide variety available and varying cost from mass produced factory loaf to a hand made artisan one. (See here.)

Bibliography:

Jeffries, S. (2021) Everything, All the Time, Everywhere: How We Became Post-Modern. London: Verso.

The Messy Truth: Conversations on Photography (2020) [Podcast] Dr. Jennifer Good – On Ethics. At: https://play.acast.com/s/themessytruth/drjennifergood-onethics (accessed 30th July 2020)

BoW A2: Empty Shops

See:


Shopping centres and high streets were once the focal point of the community, but internet shopping and our 24/7 online culture mean one in five shops in North East England currently stand empty. (Butler, 2021) For this project, I have photographed some of these empty premises using a ‘toy’ Holga camera. The resulting black and white exposures are grainy, scratched and distinctly lo-fi which fits the subject matter, giving a sense of nostalgia and melancholy – potentially both misplaced and projected. 

The speed of the decline of the high street has been accelerated by the Covid pandemic. What, if anything they will become remains uncertain. The vacant, decaying retail units seem to have little chance of being taken over by new tenants – they are an elegy of a time and way of life that is now left in the past.

Bibliography:

Butler, S. (2021) One in seven shops now vacant across the UK. The Guardian, 20th July 2021. At: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jul/30/one-in-seven-shops-now-vacant-across-the-uk/ (accessed 5th August 2021)

Bread (1)

Bread lends itself to this project as there is a wide range of products available, from mass produced to hand made and artisan. The process and cost is highly variable for each loaf and I wondered if this would be evident when photographed. The language used in advertising and marketing is also highly evocative and has potential to be used as accompanying text or captions.

For this first experiment, I took some photographs of individual slices and also made some scans. (The bread I had in the house at the time was white bread with sourdough and multigrain batch.)

Photographs:

Scans:

Further development ideas:

  • Either a plain white or black background could work to remove any distractions.
  • A cloth background over the bread while making scans could help prevent the overexposed areas around the edges of the crust.
  • Lots of different bread slices put together as a grid could work. (Like Penelope Umbrico’s ‘Suns from Sunsets from Flickr‘.)
  • Combining image and text could be an idea, for example, the price of each slice either over the image or as a caption or appropriated text from the packaging in a similar way to Martha Rosler’s ‘The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems‘.
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