C&N Assignment 1 WriteUp
Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story. The aim of the assignment is to help you explore the convincing nature of documentary, even though what the viewer thinks they see may not in fact be true. Try to make both sets equally convincing so that it’s impossible to tell which version of the images is ‘true’.
It might be interesting to consider the project as evidence for a court case. What conflicting stories can you make your images convincingly tell? Would it stand up in court?
Choose a theme and aim for 5–7 images for each set, depending on your idea.
It took me a while to land on a topic for this assignment and after trying two different routes landed upon an approach that gave me the latitude to explore the nature of documentary and how to push it to tell and spin a story using similar images and themes.
At first, I was going to do one of the topics suggested in the assignment notes-creating a social media profile or some mock trial evidence but in the end, went for something similar, but more relevant to where I live. A few months back there was a bi-election in our constituency as the incumbent Tory MP Dame Cheryl Gillan had passed away after a long illness. It was the safest of Tory seats (been Tory since its creation in 1974) with a 16,000 majority and everyone expected a straightforward passing of the baton. However, the Lib Dems threw everything at it, highlighting key issues in the constituency, and achieved a surprise victory with an 8,000 majority.
My theme for the assignment is based on some of the key topics (often created by the parties) from this election-the HS2 railway line, law and order, impact of COVID- as seen or presented from the Tory and Lib Dems perspective. It’s an exploration of how images can be used to ‘sell’ an issue to the electorate.
I used black and white for one set-the Lib Dems- and colour for the Tory set. The reason for this was that it accentuated the differences of both parties but as the Lib Dems message we mostly centred around negative impact and failure, it worked well using black and white as it created a mood and suited the subject matter.
The colour set helped ‘sell’ the positive messages and put a more upbeat spin on how things are in the area.
I did some research online looking up the respective politicians and their views on our constituency, I also looked on social media to get a feel for issues affecting my area and what people were saying about them. This gave me avenues to explore and photograph- I was reminded of the briefs Dorethy Lang got from her FSA boss, Roy Stryker, to get photographs that fitted the story arc he had in mind.
As an exercise, it helped me understand and dig into documentary photography much deeper than I expected. Going out and finding photographs to fit the story was a very different experience than letting the creative process take its course or trying to record the ‘truth’ by taking an objective photograph. I found I really connected with Paul Seawright’s view on something (be it an event or something he saw, read etc) being a catalyst for his projects and his quest to unearth layers of meaning and communicate that through his photography rather than in your face photographs which he sees as quite reductive. I felt in this exercise I was reducing and bending the meaning to a specific message through both the power of the image itself and the use of what Barthes called ‘an anchor’ to control the meaning and message.
With this exercise, I could take a photograph and change its context and meaning by adding a narrative, by converting it to black and white and altering it to create a mood. I felt it was deception and it brought home to me just how susceptible photographs are to that kind of abuse. The staying power of photographs representing the truth has been quite impressive i.e. people’s innate trust of photographs. Even when we suspect that the source and use of a photograph are being somewhat abused, we still are influenced somewhat by what it shows.
This project also put a focus on the ethical aspects of taking photographs and presenting them back to an audience-I felt uncomfortable taking a partisan view and distorting their meaning with intent. It also made me think about images I see every day from different media sources, and the eco-system they live in-weather its the photographer who takes the uimages, the editor who sorts them of the editorial view of the publication -images are malleable and open to both abuse and de-contextulisation.
The photographs themselves are just ‘ok’. The black and white series works best. The images create a mood that combined with the narrative sends a message that all is not well with the Great Missenden and Chesham constituency. HS2 is a big issue here and I think I would like to dig into that deeper and look at the changes it’s making to the landscape, why it drives people to set up protest camps and the resignation that it’s happening and resulting apathy.
In summary, I touched upon some important topics in this exercise including:
- Objectivity v Subjectivity
- The power of photographs as documents of truth-the inherent trust in the medium
- Taking documentary photographs v taking proscribed photographs
- The malleability of photographs & the power of editing-altering a photo and hence its meaning
- Photographs are easily open to abuse
- The power of words combined with photographs -context is everything
Bull, Stephen, 2010, Photography, Oxon, Routledge
Sealy, Mark, 2019, Decolonising the Camera: Photography in Racial Time, London, Lawrence & Wishart
Things Left Unsaid – Paul Seawright in conversation with Donovan Wylie (https://vimeo.com/134925293-accessed 10/08/2021)
Walsh, Lauren, 2019, Conversations on Conflict Photgraphy, Great Britain,Bloomsbury Visual Art