Photomedia | Evaluation Draft

Intentions –  

I intended to broadly investigate decaying museological practices through the study of inanimate wax figures. Paying close attention to surrealism; ‘the uncanny’, ‘estrangement’ and ‘the fixed-explosive’  whilst also situating my investigation in realms of narrative, temporality and spatial performances. I wanted to create a photographic ethnography that draws on discourses of authenticity and artifice, the abjection and beauty and the uncanny and the familiar in a manner that raises awareness to the demise of traditional museological practices due to digitisation.

Perceived Audience

Predominantly Western Cultures due to the discourses surrounding my investigation. Targeting ages 18+ including all genders, although it is a culturally specific investigation that will predominantly focus on upper-middle-class Western Cultures. This investigation may appeal, to artists, psychologist or museum curators due to my strong focus on psychological responses to inanimate museum media.

Questions Raised – 

  1. ‘Does the presence of still-life waxwork figurines enhance visitor engagement within a museum space?’
  2. ‘How does the viewer’s trust in photographic authenticity change when presented within constructed or fictitious depictions of ‘reality’?’
  3. ‘What makes ‘something’ uncanny and in what way is this manifested within photography?’ 
  4. ‘Does a viewer’s reception of the uncanny change depending on medium/viewing platform?’ (e.g. Does the act of viewing a waxwork figure through a photographic detract from the uncanny experience more so than viewing one in person?)
  5. ‘Are we potentially overlooking the current state of museum spaces, are they still effectively preserving the past in an engaging way through digital technologies?’
  6. ‘In what way can museum waxworks enhance and reanimate the past?’
  7. ‘How can a photograph preserve and suspend motion and echoes from the past?’

Benefits/Successes – 

  • My decision to focus on museum media was kind of an accident, born from an initial interest in Post-industrial landscapes and national identity. It was at the point when I decided to compare post-industrial Bristol and post-industrial Swindon that I became focused on the Waxwork figures that were housed in STEAM. Upon my visit, the first-hand experience of the uncanny, inspired and fuelled my interest whilst also allowing me to broadened my theoretical research.
  • My theoretical and methodological approaches allowed me to create a set of images that successfully captured a true sense of the uncanny, thus answering some of the questions raised throughout my project allowing me to gain a greater understanding of both museology, photographic truthfulness, surrealist photography and narrative construction.
  • Through this, I was able to create an original project that worked well to illuminate various different discourses and themes such as ‘surrealism’ and ‘narrative photography’, whilst also examining the dichotomous tension that exists within my project. Such as… ‘Authenticity/Artifice’, ‘The Uncanny/Familar’, ‘Performance/Documentation’ etc.
  • Although I started this semester with a great deal of ambiguity and being in the position where I had 2 very separate projects going simultaneously. However, I was able to overcome this at a later stage and catch up on a stage of working where I felt slightly more comfortable despite everything being a massive rush. Even though, this semester has been an incredibly stressful time I have still just about managed to just get on with it (for the most part!).
  • Over the last year, my photographic investigations have developed dramatically. This year has provided me with diverse and essential photographic skills and techniques alongside nurturing the prospect of critical enquiry within my studies. By developing my photographic ability further has allowed me to rethink the camera’s purpose, as a tool of investigation rather than documentation.
  • This photographic investigation and image series successfully reanimated the past whilst creating the illusion of ‘expired motion’ whilst also preserving both my subjects likeness. This images also rose a great amount of awareness towards the demise of traditional museological practices.
  • It was a breakthrough when I decided to pursue museum media and waxwork because although I started this photographic project late, throughout this semester in particular (as a result of other modules) I have spent a lot of time in and around a variety of different museums which really allowed me to get a sense of the diversity of museology practices which led me to my conclusion of digitization being potentially damaging to the traditional museum aesthetics. This also allowed me to cover some theoretical groundwork pretty quickly.
  • My decision to choose waxwork figures worked exceptionally well in a manner that both fully encapsulated surrealist concepts such as the uncanny, estrangement and the fixed explosive whilst also illustrating a vast range of other theoretical frameworks in a process that raised awareness to the fragility of museum media whilst also inviting further consideration of the psychology behind the uncanny.
  • I feel that this production allowed me to create a decent balance between my own theoretical discourses and artist research, which was reflected strongly within my final images which reflected both my production processes and background influences such as artist research. I paid most artist based research around a photographer named Hiroshi Sugimoto who create a set of images that work to reanimate museum dioramas through strict control over lighting and camera position. When shooting my own image, although I was unable to do much in terms of controlling the available light at my location, I was able to control camera placement and angle.  Throughout most of my images, I used a large focal length and small aperture to compress my focal plane in a way creates a shallow depth of field thus immersing these inanimate statues within their elaborately constructed surroundings. This, in turn, allowed me to create a series of images that were very effective in not only capturing ‘the uncanny’ but also worked to create a believable set of images that blurred the boundaries between animate/inanimate and real/fake.
  • A tailored and personalised photographic methodology and technique enabled me to create a really successful set of final images that really captured the true essence of ‘the uncanny’ whilst also illustrating the dichotomous tensions of ‘authenticity/artifice’, ‘abjection/beauty’ and ‘repulsion/attraction’.
  • This photographic series also adopted a tailored methodology that was influenced by artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto and Cindy Sherman. I successfully manipulated my available lighting through selective camera placement in a manner that fully immersed this figures within their surrounding areas. My photography also adopted a particular aesthetic appearance that was similar to that of Cindy Sherman. Firstly, my images seem to share a similar appearance to Sherman in the sense that they look like extracts from a film still. I made the conscious decision to shoot some of these images from a low angle meaning that the figures are pictured looking up from a slightly elevated appearance that gives them a dramatic and life-like appearance.  Another fundamental element is that, whilst my images appear saturated, warm and crisp featuring a very aesthetic atmosphere. However, this is quickly juxtaposed by the oddly uncanny and eerie depiction of the waxwork figures that invite conflicting reactions of familiarity and repulsion. As a result, my photographic series embodies this conflicting juxtaposition in a manner that invites further reflection demanding that time and contemplation are spent; demanding the viewer to spend time in the odd experience.
  • In adopting a similar methodology to Hiroshi Sugimoto, I have successfully reanimated the past through the medium of photography whilst also immersing viewers within many deliberately constructed narratives through image and bodily fragmentation. Re-photography allowed me to suspend my subjects in a sense of ‘motion’, immersing them within their constructed surroundings, this also allowed me to preserve both these aged and damaged wax figures in their current state whilst also preserving and showcasing decaying museological practices.

Limitations/Issues –

  • Due to initial confusion over an original project idea, I spent the beginning of the semester by broadly investigating 2 very different ‘potential’ photographic projects meaning that I had lost a number of weeks in which I could have used as production time, planning or reflective reviewing of my project. As a whole, this put me at a slight disadvantage because I effectively had to play catch up throughout this semester meaning that I didn’t feel like I had given myself enough time to complete the project comfortably but rather it boiled down to a mad rush at the end of the semester.
  • Due to the sheer scale and potential of this project, /I became slightly overambitious with the amount of work I could get done in the time frame I had access too, although, If I had the time to do so I would develop this project even further by… explaining all of the overlapping discourses in much more detail.
  • Shooting in within an institutionalised and public area acted as a slight barrier due to the subsequent interruptions that is attached with on-location shoots. Although, in order to counteract this slightly, I used my large Telephoto Zoom lens which meant that I could shoot from a distance without interrupting anyone else and still get really good images from this as the larger and extended focal lengths worked to compress my focal plane thus creating a shallow depth of field.
  • Again, due to my shooting conditions being inside an institutionalised space with poor available lighting, achieving effective levels of exposure without cranking up my ISO was problematic. Although, I reworked my situation, and this lighting cast dramatic shadows over my subjects in a way that accentuated their form, textures and tonality thus emphasising the effectiveness of their uncanniness.  Poor available lighting also meant that some of my images also featured a small amount of image loss/grain however, I feel that this further communicated my photographic ties with ‘authenticity’ and ‘truthfulness’ due to its ties with historic and manual image processing techniques.

General Comments –

Although, I feel that for the latter, digital technologies can enhance and immerse users within an effective learning experience. I also feel that digital technology has an appropriate space and area in which it can be used. I lean more towards the idea that within museums, digital technology shouldn’t become paramount in creating a ‘tailored’ learning experience because I would argue that these conflicts a museum’s purpose to preserve and display historical artefacts. I feel that when digital technologies are present within museum spaces that flatten and compress a one rich and dynamic space, for my part of going to a museum is seeing actual material artefacts from long ago, not viewing a digital representation translated from a series of 1s and 0s.

 

Draft 1: 

My visual investigation constructed a series of images, inviting critical reflection upon the demise of traditional museology due to digitization through the study of waxwork figures. Paying attention to ‘the uncanny’, ‘estrangement’ and ‘the fixed-explosive’, situating my images within the realms of narrative temporality and spatial performance. Additionally, exploring tensions of authenticity/artifice, abjections/beauty and uncanniness/familiarity. I predominantly address upper-middle-class Western Cultures aged 18+ due to the surrounding discourses; potentially appealing to artist, psychologists or museum curators due to the focus on responses to inanimate museum media.

Throughout my project questions arose:

  1. How does the viewer’s trust in photographic authenticity change when presented with constructed or fictitious depictions of ‘reality’?
  1. What makes something uncanny? How is this manifested within photography?
  1. How do museum waxworks enhance experience and reanimate the past?

This project gave light to these questions. I have constructed a set of images that seem to depict sets of portraits although, upon further inspection reveal uncanny imitations thus challenging the ‘authenticity’ of an image. It became clear that photography can alter perceptions as you are witnessing ‘reality’ through a subjective lens. Shallow focus, selective camera angle and subtle manipulation of light immerses the figures within their elaborate surroundings so that an illusion of motion is preserved whilst reanimating the past within a photograph. Experiencing uncanniness alongside project development led me to determine that uncanniness is provoked by the accuracy of shape, form and proportion of the figures alongside the ambiguity associated with knowing whether something is living or dead. Uncanniness resides within the eyes of the subject, the lack of sharpness, gaze and depth rings innate warning signs upon first inspection.

Shooting inside a museum with poor lighting made achieving effective levels of exposure became problematic, making my images grainy. Although, this communicated a degree of ‘authenticity’ and ‘truthfulness’ due to historic, manual processing techniques. Lighting cast dramatic shadow over my subjects, accentuating form, texture and tonality as to effectively perpetuate uncanniness.

I became overambitious with my own working capacity, due to the potential of my project. If given more time, further examine and discuss overarching discourses in detail.

Academic theory and existing artist methodologies allowed me to create an original set of images that successfully captures a sense of the uncanny, providing greater insight into immersive museology, photographic truth, surrealism and narrative construction. Whilst illuminating dichotomous tensions that manifest within my images.

My methodology was influenced by Hiroshi Sugimoto and Cindy Sherman, these styles were reflective within my photography. Successful manipulation of available lighting and selective camera placement immersed the figurines within their elaborate surroundings. Sharing an aesthetic of Sherman, resembling the appearance of cinematic film stills. Whilst juxtaposing the warm, saturated aesthetics with the uncanny and eerie appearance of figurines; inviting familiarity and repulsion simultaneously. Like Hiroshi Sugimoto, I reanimated the past through re-photography, selective slighting and camera technique in a manner that enclosed the figures within their territory. Allowing me to suspend motion, and preserving and showcasing the uncanny and decaying museological practices.

I successfully created a believable set of images, blurring boundaries between animate/animate whilst inspiring reflection upon decaying museology. Utilizing existing methodologies allowed me to create a set of images, inviting critical reflection upon surrealist photography whilst raising awareness to decaying museological practices.

Word Count – 541


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