After a bit of time pondering what to do, I realised I had two ideas for Assignment 2. Unable to decide which of them to concentrate on, I wrote to Garry, my tutor:
“I thought it might be interesting to run through the various possible uses of a parental handkerchief, while I was looking at Rodolphe Reiss’s forensic studies of close ups of stains on cloth (backlit, pre-washing, after washing, straightened out after being crumpled etc etc) at the Photographer’s Gallery last month (http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/burden-of-proof). I reckon you could do something around blood, food, snot, crumpling from tying an aide memoire knot, traces of stuff found in a park and carried home wrapped up safely and probably some others. Tears probably leave a salty residue…
“Or, for showing the invisible, it would be fun to play around with the Kuleshov effect and do a series of diptyches. The first would (of course) be a neutral face (possibly my hatmaker’s polystyrene display head, rather than unveiling myself before Part 3) and the second – something to induce a state of mind. Set up shots of things like a half empty (or of course full) glass…
“What do you think – either of them work, or a complete back to the drawing board? I’d definitely like to do something set up/still lifey for this, I think…”
To which Garry replied:
“Both of these are excellent evocative and thoughtful. Reminds me of David Bate’s surrealist work and lots of stuff on traces.
“Kuleshov is also good as both ideas are ‘about something’ or refer to a subject but are also ‘self-referential’ as much about the process of looking/photography making meaning as they are about that subject.
“These really are excellent ideas. Progress them both?”
So – what are the ideas about and what are they trying to get across? There are two ideas in the Assignment Brief:
1: Photographing the Unseen:
Start by doing some reflecting in your learning log. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? List a few examples of things you’re experiencing now or have recently been thinking about. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth or revealing, but it can be if you want. Equally, it might be something as apparently trivial as how you’re going to fit everything into your busy day. At first you may come up with literal examples, but the more you think about them the more those ideas will develop into specific and more original ones.
2: Using Props
This option is about photographing an object to suggest a narrative. Choose between a white shirt and a handkerchief for your object. Once you’ve decided, make a series of 7–10 photographs which tell a story about or including your object. You can make your photographic style anything you like. You may wish to include the prop in all of your series or just some of the images, depending on the narrative.
For Option 1’s list of unseen things, led to plenty of abstract ideas: emotions, states of mind, time, mortality; and it also led to things that were not necessarily visible to the naked eye, but which were able to be revealed by photography: Muybridge’s galloping horse’s hooves and their relation to the ground; x-rays of broken bones; photos taken through a microscope showing an insect’s hairy legs…
The Kuleshev Effect is described on wikipedia as: “a film editing (montage) effect demonstrated by Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s and 1920s. It is a mental phenomenon by which viewers derive more meaning from the interaction of two sequential shots than from a single shot in isolation”
My understanding of it is that Kuleshev created sequences juxtaposing a close up of an actor’s face with it’s expression neutral with more emotionally charged images – showing a feast, an attractive woman, a dead child etc). When shown to an audience, they attributed emotions appropriate to the thing viewed to the actor – hunger for the feast; lust for the attractive woman; grief for the dead child. In other words, the act of juxtaposition had created the emotion, rather than anything the actor was doing; the audience began to create meaning based on its own expectation of what the actor was feeling based on what the actor was supposed to be looking at.
I began listing visualisable emotions, feelings and states of mind that could be treated in this way and quickly stumbled onto the obvious optimism/pessimism opposition of the half-full/half-empty glass. Possibly captioning differently two otherwise identical diptyches…
I tried to think of others: victory and defeat came with possible pov shots of the end of a chess match, with directed beams of light showing the path of the final move (less shit visually than it seems merely written, I hope); then came back to other drink in glass ideas – lemonade in a nicely frosted glass for “hot”; cocoa for “comforted” perhaps, or “sleepy”; champagne for celebration; campari and orange juice (with plenty of ice) for being on holiday somewhere nice and hot and a few others.
I wanted to do this assignment as a very “studio” set (I’d enjoyed the constructed picture exercise in part one and had realised that this is the module that replaces DPP; also, I need to play with artificial lighting more rather than just relying on being able to get good natural light) so I went back to Light: Science and Magic to revisit the stuff on lighting transparent subjects and set about creating both my neutral “looking” shot and then to do a couple of demo glasses, trying out both the black background and the light background methods of shooting clear glass subjects so they didn’t just vanish into disappointing nothingness..
Then I set about making compositing the results into “sketches” of ways to treat the idea, before commiting to either Kuleshev’s or the second idea (forensic examination of a handkerchief).
I also played with the idea of captions, feeling that possibly it was the articulation of the images in time that produced the effect rather than the simple juxtaposition possible with stills.
I’m not sure whether I should have left the background neutral in both (meaning that this pair would have been identical, which certainly would have been more tongue in cheek. Certainly if I was going for different pictures of the glass for the pair, I’d have reversed the colour of the cloth the glass was standing on, giving pessimism a white surface and a black background. I’m also not sure about the suitability of my polystyrene display head for this – she seems more serene than beautiful somehow and even the glasses don’t make her look as if her eyes are open…
But anyway, there was the second option to sketch too. Using props. Specifically a handkerchief. One of the things I’d been thinking about was the way that being the parent of a young child involved a lot of wiping (although less than it did when the child was still in nappies). I’d really liked the display of large prints of evidence from French court cases taken by Rodolphe A. Reiss in the early 1900s which ran along the wall of the Photographer’s Gallery as part of the exhibition Images of Conviction: The Construction of Visual Evidence depicting, among other things, bloodstained handkerchiefs (before and after washing; backlit and lit from the front), handkerchiefs creased from being wound into a garrote. Handkerchiefs. And evidence. Hmmm…
A week of handkerchiefs – snot, blood, food, tears, freshly laundered, creased from having an aide memoire knot tied in it – might be a way to go. I bought a baker’s dozen of white handkerchiefs off amazon and started to think about how to gather different stains (or how to fake them) and how to photograph them. Texture and subtlety of staining would be all.
And then, making tea one Saturday, I cut the tip off the middle finger of my left hand using a mandoline.
I returned from the hospital carefully preserving a piece of gauze I’d been given to further wrap my alarmingly bloody finger while I waited to be seen by the nurse. I had found out how to get copies of the x-ray they’d done of my finger (another fine example of photographing the invisible) which showed that as well as removing a disc of flesh, I’d also taken a nick off the top of the bone.
Once the blood had dried into proper stains, I took the gauze pad and put it on my lightbox. I added in a raking light from the side to capture the texture of the gauze and took some pictures. Possible Assignment 2 (# 2) started to take shape. I wasn’t sure whether the gauze would stand up to washing, giving a second go at capturing a different, more subtle impression of the evidence of my clumsiness, but – even if this didn’t count as a hanky – I certainly had a way of displaying proper handkerchiefs, each with their bit of evidence of my parental status….
But as a result of the chipped fingertip, I’d been given a week’s course of antibiotics, and that’s a different photographic story (the one I’ve decided to follow for assignment 2).
- The Kuleshev effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuleshov_Effect (site accessed 22-iv-16)
- Hunter, Biver and Fuqua – Light: Science and Magic (Focal Press; 4th Edition; 2012)
- Diane Dufour (Ed.) – Images of Conviction: The Construction of Visual Evidence. (Le Bal – Editions Xavier Barral; 2015)