Project Development | Museum: Performing Temporality


Following my post-industrial photography shoot at STEAM in Swindon, I have decided to pursue a photographic exploration that examines museum media. When inside STEAM, I stumbled across elaborately constructed environments that featured incredibly life-like waxworks that both startled and intrigued me simultaneously. I was drawn in by the extremely detailed and realistic appearance of the models. Initially, I was unsure as to whether these figures were actual people performing or just inanimate constructions which was an extremely unnerving sensation to experience.

It is important to note that this was my first ever encounter with a waxwork model and I (rather naively!) didn’t expect this confrontation with these life-sized encaustic renditions. As a result, I became extremely unsettled and I experienced a very visceral and embodied response to the uncanniness I was now confronted with.

I felt overwhelmed by my innate but panicked response due to the ambiguity of the model’s form, I was repulsed from the situation due to a fear of these static and lifeless (…but incredibly realistic!) models becoming animate. This extremely odd experience caused me to become conflicted by my own visceral responses which drew me closer to the site of conflict to investigate further. Experiencing this in the way I did was incredibly enlightening because today, attention is increasingly scarce and hard to captivate. To be grasped by this museum’s construction shocked and engaged me within what is often regarded as a traditionally sterile environment where most exhibits are housed, preserved and protected behind glass vitrines and rope separators. STEAM’s musicological power invites its viewers to get close to its exhibits and actively interact with the museum space. This is an incredibly effective way of educating and engaging its visitors due to the change and possibility for embodiment or gestured learning/interaction.

Upon closer inspection, I was captivated by the sheer detail and realism these wax sculptured possessed. They contained such fine detail, precision and craftsmanship that an uncanny atmosphere quickly developed. I felt compelled to photograph and isolate particularly realistic areas of the waxworks to illustrate the precision and detail whilst also attempting to convey their near-human appearance especially in terms on mannerisms, body language and pose. These wax sculptures were all constructed with a scene or scenario in mind as an almost historical and narrative based cross-section of time. The models were posed in situations that were linked to Swindon’s national heritage around the railroad industry, these worked to immerse visitors with a historical façade which subsequently crafts and influences the museum experience.

Their almost human-like appearances combine with the sheer detail and pose of the figures generate this oddly uncanny response alongside human recognition and relatability and an innate sense of empathy. The strong tied with humanity and empathy somehow makes these creations relatable in the sense that they look like heartfelt family members, an aunt, uncle and grandfather, most definitely perpetuating a temporal discourse that in conveyed in human appearance and costume again linking with photography’s involvement within documentation, phenology and scientific investigation.

My photography will act to isolate these inanimate objects by photographing particularly realistic areas of the body. This both perpetuates the immersive musicological discourses whilst documenting the immensely realistic appearance of waxwork sculptures, this embodies a delicate tension between emotional and visceral responses and objectification and the uncanny. I feel that my images will encapsulate the juxtaposition between human, empathetic responses triggered by these figures alongside the objectification and uncanny nature within my photography. I intend to photograph my subjects in such a way that my images will embody this uncanny, unsettling and surrealist approach to photography. This act of re-isolation, through the act of photographing, will isolate this inanimate object in a manner that explores the uncanny.

Here are some images from the earlier shoot…

Artist Research:

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman was born January 19th, 1954. Sherman identifies as an American film director/photographer. Her contemporary approach to scene construction creates critical photography that is socially engaging. Photography within the 1970s focused more strongly on exploring social roles, especially feminism and female oppression. Her critical and photographic approach to investigating social relevance works by scene manipulation, hidden identity and stereotyping.

Her photographic convergence between self-portraiture and role play allows for large amounts of control over how the scenes are constructed, relying heavily upon cinematic prop, makeup and mirrors. She focuses strongly, on the topic of narrative photography through the display of caricatures and typical screen media. She is often both the photographer and subject of her images meaning that she can both construct and critique her posed subject simultaneously. Some of her most noteworthy series’ include narrative based photography that appears to mimic film stills due to her methodological approach to photography when re-creating film stills. A large proportion of her works examines B-Movies that all exhibit a particular style and cinematic approach. Sherman is largely concerned with film theory and the ‘Gaze’, representation of women within films in regards the female gender acting out a role of subversion, abjection, and victimisation.

Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall’s photographic style investigates a range of topics, his use of large format cameras allows for highly detailed and stylised photographs. Wall has a keen interest in backlit photography and contemporary art and media. Many of his images are constructed as an experience or a scenario or specific narrative, leaving many of his images open to imagination or interpretation. These posed and constructed scenes give his work an investigative journalist feel with ties to suspending motion or temporality. I looked briefly into Jeff Wall’s work because I particularly admire his approach to constructing scenes, and how his photography performs a narrative or scene in the same way that a museum diorama or tableaux functions to do. I was also intrigued by his style and attitude towards portraiture and the performance of identity.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto is a Japanese photographer that critically investigates discourses that surround the study and illustration of time, nature and embodiment. He became widely involved in photography from the 1970s onwards, covering a wide selection of photographic disciplines and subjects, with strong concern over the future of civilisation, transitioning landscapes as well as lost nations. I am particularly interested in and around his work with dioramas and photographic still lifes. His first dioramic shoot was conducted in 1979, stating that his diorama based photographs are used to represent his own ideologies and beliefs of how nature resides and exists. When photographing constructed dioramas or tableaux, each scene is controlled with artificial lighting, camera trickery, positioning and angle all help to achieve the effects within his images making these dioramic constructions to appear realistic and uncanny in nature, frozen within a historic narrative. Hiroshi uses his photography to examine and experiment with the idea of stationary objects and exhibits acting and performing a particular discourse or narrative. It is intriguing to mention that the dioramas he is photographing we based on real life areas within Washington, the museum curators photographed the real exhibits, taking act parts of the wooded area such as trees and ferns that became preserved and then re-creating the dioramic scenes based on the original documentary based photographs that had been initially taken.

His highly controlled photographic approach creates material and alluded realism within his image. It is interesting to mention the cameras intrinsic ability to document or capture the objective truth, it is interesting how there are multiple layers of deception within both Hiroshi’s images and the dioramas themselves are separated by human intervention; at what degree of separation does an object completely loose its authenticity?. Hiroshi used the technique of re-photography to captivate and reanimate the past within the security of a photograph.

His photographic approach and technique create a highly realistic depiction of the natural world as if the taxidermy figures were re-animate within the natural world. This plays on the idea of immersion, trickery, illusion which juxtaposes the camera’s objective documentation of authenticity. Fitting around Tom Gunning’s ‘Cinema of Attractions’ and the museological power that museums possess.

Both Museums and Photographs have the ability to and do create discourses and circulate information, this is an interesting parallel shared between the two mediums. Both mediums contain intricate layers of representation and meaning. Sugimoto

Sugimoto’s act of re-photographing dioramas recreates this constructed space as both an area of truth whilst also creating realistically alluring divine landscapes and scenarios that appear untouched by mankind giving his images oddly utopian and surrealist undertones.

Robert Clark

Robert Clark is a critically acclaimed photographer that is based in New York. His works and portfolio cover an expansive set of disciplines ranging from landscape, still life, animal/nature and portraiture. I took particular interest in his works around dioramas and constructed landscapes. I also took interest in his approach towards portrait-based photography. As an artist, Clark fits well with my photographic investigation in and around museum spaces with particular reference to Waxworks. Due to his stylised and artistic approach to photographing dioramas and constructed spaces.


Narrative Shoot & Intimate Spaces 2:

Within this week’s lecture and workshop, we learnt in greater detail about narrative photography. To my understanding, narrative photography is pretty much everywhere around us, it’s linked with theories such as ‘The Decisive Moment’ (coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson), it roughly states that the photograph becomes split between immaculate timing and the photographer’s inspiration and ability to capture the moment through the act of photography.(E, Kim. 2010) For example, at the exact point when a skater is frozen in mid-air when landing a parkour type trick.

‘The narratives of the world are numberless. Narrative is first and foremost a prodigious variety of genres, themselves distributed amongst different substances – as though any material were fit to receive man’s stories […] narrative is present in myth, legend, fable, tale, novella, epic, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, mime, painting […] stained glass windows, cinema, comics, news item, conversation. Moreover, under this almost infinite diversity of forms, narrative is present in every age, in every place, in every society; it begins with the very history of mankind and there nowhere is nor has been a people without narrative.

(Barthes, 1997 :79)

Narrative exists within everything and can be communicated in a variety of ways… It can be Personal… [Nan Goldin, 1984], Image and text based… [Duane Michals 1975; Barbara Kruger, 1989], Constructed…[Cindy Sherman, 1970-80s; Jeff Wall, 1990s ], Critiquing truth and authenticity… [Sophie Calle, 2003; Joan Fontcuberta ,1990s ], Found or Archived… [ Patrick McCoy, 2000; John Stezaker, 2006], Juxtapositions and Sequences… [ Tobiaz Zielong, 2003; Wendy Ewald].

I have had a strong interest in wildlife and nature based photography and throughout the year I have run some small passion projects that experiment with photographing wildlife, because of this… I have recently become an opportunistic photographer that lingers within a space in the middle of know where to capture that decisive moment. When a bird takes flight for instance?  I particularly like how Hiroshi Sugimoto describes a photographer as a sort of hunter, waiting for the right time and conditions in which to craft their own masterpiece… I relate to that frame of thinking strongly! Here is a selection of my narrative based photography, that I feel encapsulates the ‘Decisive Moment’…

Wildlife / Narrative Photography…

This week I seized the opportunity to try and experiment with narrative photography and the decisive moment. We went to the centre of Bristol, specifically the area of College Green which is a very busy area that is full of various people ranging from leisure skaters, commuters and students. I took a variety of different images, opportunist by nature here is a selection of images I took within that area. Within many of these public space based images from this shoot, I have decided to blur their faces due to the opportunistic and slightly voyeuristic approach this week, also due to a lack of dialogue and consent. However, this will be at the foremost of my concerns in future shoots.I took particular advantage of the skaters within that area trying to capture that elusive but decisive moment. I also did a further shoot relating to intimate spaces, trying to think in a slightly abstract, open and unconventional way about what an intimate space is and can be. We visited a small and cosy pub that featured timeless aesthetics that have been tarnished over the years by overuse. This space exhibited a strong sense of character and thus for me seemed to be an appropriate illustration of intimate spaces. I began my initial intimate spaces shoot focusing mostly on the bedroom, however, these images, in my opinion, weren’t as successful as ones taken later on in the semester.

We experimented with constructed narrative based intimate spaces. However, I feel that intimate spaces should be natural and uninfluenced, I had conducted initial intimate space shoot in weeks prior, however, I personally felt that these images lacked authenticity and the intimacy that I so required. It was almost as if capturing an intimate space in its natural, untouched and disregarded nature allowed me to truly capture the intimacy shared within that space. It is interesting to mention that, within reason… Any space can be perceived as intimate but this is down to the individual. Spaces can range from toilets, bedrooms, lounges or even on the bus, surely the act of wearing headphones when travelling or immersing oneself into a smartphone is a subtle way of creating personal intimacy by shutting out the world around you and creating your own personal space that is inhabited and experienced by you and you alone? Although capturing that degree of intimacy through the act of photographing required a highly considered photographic approach and method which is something I haven’t fully attempted to achieve yet, maybe a future project perhaps?…

My narrative based shoots and intimate space images make me question… Does shadow, tonality and contrast create a sense of intimacy? I believe it does, I found that within my images, my most successful images relating to intimacy are ones that capture tonal contrast and shadows. For further development within my project, I need to focus on the topic of intimacy when photographing these waxwork models, I feel that camera technique, angle and lighting all work to create intimacy and thus given the inanimate figures a sense of relatability and empathy.

I intend to draw on and explore initial theoretical research that draws on museum media and their power to create and circulate discourses and information. I intend to examine in more detail some of the points raised within these readings. After conducting this initial artist research I have realised that many museums based or waxwork photography often features a black and white style. My intentions are here is to re-edit some of the images I have taken during my visit at STEAM in order to gain an enhanced understanding of why photographers have made the decision to make their museum based images black and white. What effect does making an image black and white have over the appearance, interpretation and authenticity of an image? What is it about images that depict performances that make black and white aesthetics so appropriate within that discipline?

Within the future, I may intend to examine, compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the waxwork figures and photographing actual parts of the human body itself… I could potentially attempt to re-create some of the images I have previously taken, and compare the photographs from the waxworks and images of real people. At this stage in my project, I will broadly explore discourses of surrealism, still life and narrative constructions. Both my images and the waxwork subjects are simultaneously performing roles, roles of information whilst also performing temporality similar to that of photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. I intend to document and preserve my photographic subjects alongside a the preservation of a dying age of museological power, these figures exhibit damage, scuffs and wear and tear, I am exploring material discourses that explore temporality and ageing media.

Here are some images of that day…

Still lifes and Museum Media Photography…

Still life – waxwork museum media…

his approach to phootgraph creates a realisic image of that exibit as if it was present within the natural world, plays with ideas of immersion and trickery, explores themes linked to authenticty of photography and narrative and still life

my project relates to a collection of lost museum display types and a dying out of traditional museuological approaches

using photography to recreate the past and bring the illusion of life to now deceased nature

describes photographers as hunters

most dioramic or wax work photography is b/w


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