Photomedia | Project Summary

Project Summary | Quick Recap

Here are a series of bullet points that touch on some of the things that have happened in my project so far…

  • My project originally stemmed from initial research into post-industrial landscapes and national identity. This initial focus on post-industrial landscape photography, leading me to compare and contrast the differing approaches between Bristol and Swindon.  After visiting an industrial landscape in Swindon called STEAM.  I acknowledged the large disparity and diversity in approaches to post-industrial heritage.
  • The first shoot conducted at STEAM was initially for the purpose of documenting and contrasting post-industrialism between Swindon and Bristol, as I was mostly concerned with how post-industrial landscapes/artefacts reflect national identity.
  • Upon entering STEAM, I was confronted by incredibly lifelike waxwork figures, I had an incredibly visceral and embodied response to these, I immediately felt anxious and startled.  When reflecting on this experience after it happened, it soon became clear to me that I had experienced and witnessed ‘the uncanny’ which allowed me to better understand this when conducting theoretical research. The presence of these waxworks figures in my opinion, completely altered my experience of museums that then inspired a project broadly focusing on dying museological practices.
  • I then started to fixate on the innate and natural responses to the confrontation with these uncanny wax imitations. I experienced a great sense and tension of conflict and juxtaposition when shooting my subjects… [My images would later then embody this /experiential tension.]
  • It is important to acknowledge that, before this project properly started, I have visited many museums in the coming weeks due to other commitments relating to my course. So I had developed a diverse and broad understanding/scope of museum media. I visited Cardiff’s Chapter museum, Bristol City Museum, M-Shed and STEAM. It soon became clear that advances in technology are altering the face and experience of museum’s and museological practices, this inspired me to focus on a ‘decaying’/’dying’ museological practice.
  • As I moved throughout the space, I became drawn to these wax figures more and more, becoming fascinated by the realism, detail and texture of these inanimate figurines that were housed within elaborately constructed displays, leading me to experience uncanniness at a very deep level.
  • I felt that STEAM’s museological practices are highly immersive offering an engaging alternative to learning although, I feel that within their structure they captivate and embody a dying museology that is perpetuated by increased technological advances and digitisation movements within the history and heritage sector.
  • It is interesting to mention that I was really taken back by STEAM’s museological approach in the sense that visitors were encouraged to interact with exhibits making the place very stimulating and engaging for people of all ages, sharing a particularly hands-on approach similar to that of Cardiff’s Chapter…
  • In coming weeks I conducted another shoot at STEAM although now with the direct intention of photographing their waxwork figures, I had a clear and honest conception of my own intentions, focusing strongly on detail, hyper-realism, the uncanny and surrealism. Upon my second visit, I also discovered micro-narratives that were centred around particular characters from Swindon’s heritage, featuring workers and people involved in Swindon’s industrial heritage.
  • I feel that my photographic approaches, techniques and methodologies encapsulated the detailed, realistic and the uncanny nature of my subject by isolating particular ‘human-like’ areas of the inanimate. I specifically choose detailed and textured areas of the body such as hands and faces because I felt that these encapsulated the realistic and empathetic nature of my images.
  • I later decided to experiment and playfully re-create my subjects by shooting actual human subjects in a manner that both replicated my existing images and whilst making this human subject appear inanimate, doll-like and uncanny sharing an appearance that mimics the appearance of waxworks in order to playful recreate the relationships and shared tensions between the living and the inanimate. From discovering and experimenting with my images and recreating them, I have discovered that the nature and core of uncanniness lie within the subject’s eyes, slightingly ‘off-ness’ of their likeness provokes a great sense of unease and uncanniness.
  • I investigated and played with ideas around temporality in the sense that I was focusing strongly around the depiction of time and the “expiration of time” and movement. It is important to acknowledge the context of these waxwork images being set in a historic context, frozen in time depicting the echoes of the past. I had learnt through research that these waxworks were constructed in a way that was based on the historical accounts of real people from Swindon. When using a camera, just the act of photographing these imitative subjects within their constructed settings I am reanimating the past and creating the surrealist illusion of suspended motion. I am also experimenting with reality, by photographing my subjects in a way that alludes to truthfulness and authenticity whilst creating an alternative reality within the traces of the past.
  • I am also exploring the struggles and tensions that are present within my images within the context of the uncanny and museological practices and displays. I feel that my photographic images also embody these tensions. I was also interested in the possibility of deep and innate human recognition, are these waxworks realistic enough to inspire emotive and recognition between human visitors.
  • I also used depth of field of immersive waxworks within their surroundings whilst also utilising traditional elements of portraiture photography.
  • Created intimacy by using a telephoto lens to compress the focal plane and to create an illusion intimacy and close proximity whilst also revealing immense detail.
  • Poor lighting and high ISO gave my images a slightly grainy appearance that further perpetuates a sense of authenticity.
  • The chipped and damaged nature of my subjects act to accentuate the aged and worn nature of their existence whilst also subtly communicating the fragility of traditional museological practices
  • My images work well together as a series because it features photographs of both faces and hands which are quite intimate and unique areas of the human identity (personally, and species-specific) It is also important to note that this methodological and theoretical approach allowed me to isolate specific areas of the body in a manner that subtly connotates a sense of intimacy between subject and viewer.
  • Since organising my final image sets and looking at them physically printed on a paper, currently stuck to my bedroom wall, I have noticed various patterns, similarities and trends develop within my final images. Within two of my image sets, the figures are captured as looking up and it is also important to note that within two separate image sets the hands are presented as protruding from the left-hand side of the photography. These odd but broken similarities and symmetries also enhance the sense of uncanniness that is directly communicated through these images.
  • Both of my most fundamental artist influences have directly adopted and appropriated similar techniques in a way that bleeds from my images in a very recognisable way. I have created a photographic series that is bound by various overlapping and dichotomous tensions that exist simultaneously within my images through the use of uncanniness and waxwork figures.
    • Hiroshi Sugimoto – Waxwork, diorama based photography that is concerned with the preservation of a decaying form of museological practices
    • Cindy Sherman – Concerned largely with narrative photography and spatial performances, throughout my project I have playfully recreated narratives within a museum space through practical photographic approaches that capture the presence of the uncanny within wax figures. My images share a similar appearance and aesthetic of Cindy Sherman’s earlier works on film stills (as pointed out by peers!).
  • The presence of grain and image loss within my photography is a direct result of shooting style and conditions, although I feel that this developed my existing tensions between authenticity and artifice. Traditionally, photography was seen as a medium of truth and reality as mentioned by various theorists… […citings from the 2016-2017 photo media module reader…]
    • “Photographs are indexical signs of what they represent because they are caused by the light bouncing off that object leaving traces on photographic paper or film.” (Goddard, B. 2016-2017: 54)
    • “So it is the indexical quality of the photo which acts as its guarantee of truthfulness.” (2016-2017: 54)
    • “[…] but for every photograph existing in the world, the path of certainty: the photograph’s essence is to ratify what it represents […] every photography is a certificate of presence.” (2016-2017: 55)
    • “This is how documentary works… It defies comment; it imposes its meaning. It confronts us the audience, with the empirical evidence of such nature as to render dispute impossible and interpretation superfluous. All emphasis is on the evidence; the facts themselves speak… since just the facts matters, it can be transmitted in any plausible medium… The heart of documentary is not form or style but always content.” (2016-2017: 56)
    • “…one could argue that the conception of photography as a faithful and unmediated transcription of physical appearances (residual traces of the ancient faith notwithstanding) has long since been abandoned.” (2016-2017: 57)
    • “Added to the significance of subject matter on this level of denotation and connotation, and to the significance produced by contextual factors, are those elements supplied through mechanisms internal to the apparatus which also serve to structure meaning. These mechanisms in and of themselves produce certain effects, perhaps the most important on in photography being Barthes “reality effect.”…” (2016-2017: 57)
    • “The camera would provide not the objective facts that were craved by positivism, but accounts of the world in which ‘truth; was achieved through the power of the image-maker.” (2016-2017: 59)
    • “The photographer, on this account, is both gifted with a particular acuity of vision and acts as a kind of ‘exemplary sufferer’ on our behalf: an artist who, in his or her person, becomes a guarantor of the accuracy is not certified by the medium itself, but is only validated through the personal qualities and professional practices of the photographer.” (2016-2017: 59)
    • “The value of the camera was extolled because of the optical and chemical processes of photography were taken to designate a scientifically exploited but ‘natural’ mechanism producing ‘natural’ images whose truth was guaranteed.” (2016-2017: 71)
  • By fragmenting an existing reality and represented an alternative reality whereby subjects are suspended in motion (similarly to Cindy Sherman’s film stills) I am pushing the boundaries between documentary photography and fictional recreations.
  • I have deliberately created a ‘new’ or ‘different’ narrative whereby I have fragmented particular areas of the bodies (hands and faces) from different figures which have worked to recreate a narrative that merges and combines existing quality from my subject to create a ‘new character’. This also further raises issues with authenticity and artifice as well as truthful and alternative realities and readings.
  • ‘Truthful’ realities are linked with the indexical qualities of a photograph… citing the photo media reader 2016-2017 and Charles Saunders Peirce (1906) Photographs are indexical signs of what they represent because they are caused by the light bouncing off that object leaving traces on photographic paper or film.” (2016-2017: 54)
  • I have playfully examined and recreated different senses of reality experimenting with documentary photography and its ties with truth.
  • I am relying upon the indexical qualities of photography to justify and perpetuate ties with authenticity… [Physical photographic traces, Does this validate reality?]“Indexical signs are related to their referents by causality: a fingerprint is an indexical sign of the finger, car tracks in sand are an indexical sign of a car. Photographs are indexical signs of what they represent because they are caused by the light bouncing off that object leaving traces on photographic paper or film.” (2016-2017: 54)“So it is the indexical quality of the photo which acts as its guarantee of truthfulness.” (2016-2017: 54)

Reality: ‘The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them’ (Oxford Dictionary, 2017)

(P168 of Photomedia Reader… )

Realism: “… an attempt to depict a real state of affairs, shows what is really happening, the reality underlying appearances (always negotiable, always political)…”

Critical Realism: “…Critical realism isn’t just about making ‘issues-based’ didactic images. It is about addressing oneself to the problems that representation necessarily entails…”

Naturalism: “…Resembles nature (i.e. the surface appearance of the world) without necessarily attempting to represent the truth of a situation; it seems like a ‘window on the world’. eg. documentary photograph, a perspective drawing.”

Illusionism: “an attempt to construct something which seems real, which represents to us a vivid artifice so that the impossible seems possible, or that which doesn’t exist appears to exist.” – Exactly what I’m doing!

I am blurring the boundaries between inanimate wax figures and live human beings through selective camera techniques. I am also immersing figures within their historically constructed surroundings, creating an illusion of motion, when in reality these are still and completely inanimate figures that have been stationary forever.

Symbolism: “an attempt to communicate through the use of symbols, to use an image or icon to stand for something else (eg. something difficult to depict or invisible, such as electricity, or liberty, or something more complex and bigger than it is possible to represent – such as globalisation, the decline of industry, the evolution of the human species)”

Mapping Project Themes/Ideas

Project Development Piece:

Stemming from an initial interest in exploring post-industrial landscapes and national identity, lead me to a museum called STEAM situated within Swindon. My visit then progressed into a curiosity around visceral responses and audience engagement with wax figurines within museum exhibitions.

An academic text conceptualised my project, critically informing me of theories around surrealism, authenticity, still-life and illusionism (Goddard, B. 2016). ‘Illusionism’ is concerned with the elaborate construction of an object that is seemingly real or the depiction of something that may not actually exist. Influencing my focus on authenticity whilst blurring the boundaries between factuality and bogus realities.

Initially, I was unsure as to whether I could conduct a shoot within STEAM. Although, I had decided that if I was unable to shoot inside it would be possible to revert to my original idea as I had already conducted preliminary shoots.

Originally, I photographed using my Canon 750D with my 18-55mm macro lens. In attempting to combat poor shooting conditions that it would be best to mount my camera on a tripod as to minimise image blur. Later acknowledging that the use of a tripod would be prohibited within this space. An iterative approach to photographing inspired my methodological development, switching my macro lens for my 70-300mm telephoto lens allowed me to capture my subjects from a distance; compressing the focal plane whilst creating crisp, detailed images. When shooting, I also had to account for eventualities such as public interruptions. Remaining mindful of my position when shooting whilst maintaining an awareness of image composition and aesthetics allowed me to overcome this.

Practical and theoretical research allowed me to devise a methodology that captured the uncanny aesthetics of my subject whilst immersing them within their surroundings in an illusionistic manner. Artists such as Cindy Sherman provided inspiration throughout, I could capture and conceal an embodiment of juxtaposition within a photograph by featuring warm, tonal, pleasant and attractive aesthetics that beckon visual consumption whilst capturing an overwhelming sense of repulsion through realistically immersive accounts of the uncanny through waxworks. This conflict became a visceral manifestation within my images. Sherman’s strong focus on narrative and performing spaces captivated my interest, I began taking images that depicted the inanimate subjects in dramatic ways that alluded to a lost sense of narrative that had been suspended in time. Many of my images share an eerily similar appear to Cindy Sherman’s, mimicking the appearance of classic film stills due to camera angles and the subtle presence of image grain, giving my images a timeless and authentic feel.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s strict control over lighting and scene management within his diorama photography largely inspired my photographic practices. He described photography as hunting. I created a considerable amount of distance between myself and my subject, whilst also isolating and honing in on specific areas of the body as to illuminate texture whilst heightening realism. I manipulated the available lighting through camera placement and angle, allowing me to achieve tonality and effective exposure levels thus capturing the uncanniness of my subject. Sugimoto’s images immerse his subject within their constructed backdrop through careful lighting and camera position. I used the same approach when shooting, allowing me to immerse the figures through shallow focus creating an illusion of expired motion. My project has progressed massively, whilst encapsulating various discourses.

Word Count – 548

Favourite Image | Contact Sheet w/ metadata

I made an initial selection of 12 images I that I feel work well to encapsulate my key themes and discourses surrounding the Uncanny, Estrangement, and Narrative.  I have also attached the metadata to each of the images, these images are also in their Raw and unedited format free from any form of retouching or editing. I felt that these images worked well because they capture the uncanniness due to the detail, tone and textures they all reveal. I feel that these compositional structures draw attention to the most intimate and human-like characteristics in a way that strongly addresses the tensions and strains between reality and fantasy and authenticity and artifice.

I began the selection process by deciding on particular images that I feel work well to capture and perpetuate important themes and discourses. Although, I have made some slight adjustments to my final image choices. By analysing some images from my successful shoots, I was able to decide on images that worked well to represent my theoretical conceptions. I began by printing out these images invididually on A4 sheets of paper and physically moving them around and restructuring their layout, allowing me to critically decide upon an optimum structure and image series. It is also interesting that when I printed these images out, I was then able to see a variety of different trends and themes that emerged from my images. My chosen image set is interesting as it is comprised of a selection of images that both depict hands and faces (working to embody the uncanny as to also reveal immense detail, form and textures). It is interesting to acknowledge that these hands and faces aren’t from the same wax figures, I have symbolically recreated my own narrative my mixing and matching different images from different waxworks that work to create the illusion of consistency. Within my final image series, a strong sense of consistency is established through shared lighting and camera techniques. Although these hands and faces come from completely separate figures it is it alluded through composition and final image layout that these hands and figures come from the same models. This is really interesting because not only have I used composition, lighting, colour temperature and aesthetics to achieve a strong sense of consistency among my final image selections. I feel that these images work well to accentuate my project themes and discourses whilst also embodying an authentic sense of consistency that completely embodies the uncanny nature of inanimate object based surrealism.

In reconstructing particular images, I have recreated a different narrative whilst also simultaneously creating an alternative reality whereby these inanimate figures are ‘suspended in time’, acting to preserve the echoes of the past within an image. I also feel that as a set of images these work well together because they share many compositional and methodological techniques that are reliant upon lighting, camera angle and tonality in a way that gives form whilst accentuating detail and provoking thought! I feel that if I had the opportunity, I would print these out onto a large canvas based installation that would feature a similar approach to STEAM in the sense that this installation would also include an audio soundtrack that would help to immerse viewers in the past.

Although I have begun the selection process by picking images I feel worked well with my projects themes, I made some slight adjustments to my final choices deciding on perpetuating particular themes. It is also intriguing to mention that upon viewing my image sets, my colleagues and peers also had very visceral reactions to my images deeming them as “Creepy”, “Terrifying”, “Uncanny” whilst also stating that “there is just something about them that is just really off…” this is exactly what I intended to achieve! It is also very important to acknowledge that another individual stated that my image series looks like image based film stills, similar to that of Cindy Sherman. This is great to here because Cindy Sherman was one of my earliest inspirations!, it is good to know that both my practical methodology and theoretical research is coming through within my final image sets.

Proposed Final Images | Layout…

 


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