Exercise – ‘Seeing is Believing’

The article Seeing is Believing and the following discussion under the comments was very interesting and a trigger to contemplate again about what our reality is, how we can communicate it and which elements signify as proof of this reality. Jose posted an interview with Slavoj Zizek about the meaning of the reality of the virtual, which clarified many aspects of which I know they were there, but had never given words to. Zizek distinguishes the imaginary virtual, the symbolic virtual and the real virtual and shows how these virtuals are constructed and what makes people define its reality.

His idea of the imaginary virtual talks about the process of subconsciously eliminating elements of what we see and experience and behave as if ‘the whole strata of the other person are not there‘. This concept touches on the questions that I ask myself when creating an image. Which elements do I want to show? what information am I leaving behind? How does the information I give establish the imaginary impression of the reality that is shown in the photograph?

Zizek explains the symbolic virtual by means of the example of Father Christmas. The belief in Father Christmas is attributed to the beliefs and accounts of others, we only have to presuppose an other person to believe. Based on the credibility of the others’ account the belief gets stronger or weaker. The accounts are enforced by visuals, signs and artifacts that all confirm the truth of the reality. The question is whether a photograph would be considered proof of the symbolic virtual that could let it rise to the ‘real virtual’.

In other comments I learnt that photographs are not considered proof in court cases, since they are so easily manipulated. In that sense, I believe that a photograph on its own could never serve as a ‘proof’ on its own. A lot depends on the creator of the image, the circumsntances under which it was made, the goal for which it was made, etc. Eileen noted “I think that human beings have known how to manipulate our reactions to visual stimuli for a very long time.” It is important to know the reasons why photographs are shown and for which audience in order to connect a notion of ‘truth’ to it. As Stan Dickinson notes: ‘Truth lies in the beholding, not in the portraying’.

In order to establish whether a photograph can serve as proof, I think it is important to let some time pass by and find other signs that can establish the fact that is being proven. As Sarah noted, ‘as time goes by, it becomes more believable‘. Even then, reality could turn out to be differently than how it was recorded. Maybe Osama was still alive when they had pronounced him dead and killed later, maybe he is locked up in Guantanomo Bay. Same facts will always remain hidden, but I do think that reality has a way of catching up. It is important to trust in that, especially these days when we are bombarded with ‘alternative facts’

WeAreOCA. (2017). Seeing is Believing – WeAreOCA. [online] Available at: https://weareoca.com/photography/seeing-is-believing/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Slavoj Zizek | The Reality of the Virtual | Full Film. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUTgcYxXlZA [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

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Research Point – Murrell and Hannah Starkey

In Constructed Childhoods Murrell explores the ways in which images surrounding children impact their childhood and notion of self. Morrell’s photos are completely staged and through the use of staged photographs of the child’s imagination or thoughts in the image itself the viewer gets to crawl in the mind of a child and becomes aware of how its surroundings influence the self image and esteem of a child. Because of the placement and juxtaposition of the images with the child in the photo, no words are needed to steer the viewer into interpreting the image in a certain way.

I think this technique works very well, also in a documentary sense. It tackles a complicated idea without giving it words. It opens up the discussion starting with the viewer’s interpretation of only the images, which I think is very strong. If she had photographed the child without the imaginary images in place, captions would have been needed to explain or elaborate on the idea the photographer wanted to bring across. This would have taken the attention away from interpreting the image itself and might have stirred the viewer in a too narrow way when empathising with the child.

Hannah Starkey makes different use of performative elements, her constructed scenes are real, not digitally manipulated, though have a theatrical feel through lighting and the use of mirrors and minimalistic interiors. Starkey’s ideas don’t come across as clearly as Murrell’s, only looking longer at the photographs and together with other work, do themes like feminism, the role of women in society and vulnerability shine through. It takes longer to get it, and I feel it is bordering documentary photography, because it is open to many different interpretations.

Regarding which aspects I would like to use in my own work, I think that initially, I am very attracted to the theatrical feel that both photographers are able to bring about in their work. I am trying to become more aware of how light determines the atmosphere of an image. Besides that, the way the photographs are put into scene, shows how the ‘stage’ can play a very important role in juxtaposing the main idea of the photograph. These are all things to keep in mind and that I would like to work on.

Charley Murrell’s Blog. (2017). About Me. [online] Available at: https://charleymurrell.wordpress.com/about/ [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].

ELEPHANT. (2017). 5 Questions with Hannah Starkey – ELEPHANT. [online] Available at: https://elephantmag.com/5-questions-with-hannah-starkey/ [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].

Performative Documents – Alma Haser and Jeff Wall

Even though the work of both photographers are either completely or almost completely performative, they do come across very differently. Especially Jeff Wall’s work almost looks like real events, even snap shot like, but they are extremely planned and precisely executed. I can see why you could attribute documentary value to his photograph, especially because when looking into his images, and reading about his intentions, there are many social he addresses. However, the captions and information of Haser’s work bring about a much stronger sense of reality, even though the stories might be completely made up. It shows again the importance of captioning and choice of which information to bring across to make it more believable.

I am pondering about the phrase ‘documentary value’. What does this exactly mean, what kind of experience or information should come across in order to add this kind of value? Should the viewer feel more informed, or touched, should the viewer be able to empathise with the subject matter, or broader idea of the work? Should the viewer be able to establish an opinion about the work, or should the work be as objective as possible? The answers to these questions also influence my opion about what I consider valuable documentary photography.

Photography World. (2017). Paper-By Alma Haser. [online] Available at: https://yxiaom.wordpress.com/online-artwork-2/paper-by-alma-haser/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Performative Documents – Hasan and Husain Essop

What interests me about the work of Essop is that they are able to reflect on very universal themes from a very personal framework. Their work came forth out of an internal personal struggle about making art and images and its effects. According to their mother ‘anything you draw that has life, you are going to have to give life to it’. Hasan and Husain have found their way in acknowledging their beliefs and traditions they are grounded in, without discarding their need to express themselves creatively. They put more life in themselves, showing their struggles, the beauties and contradictions of their faith and community they grow up in.

I am very impressed at how their work comes into being. They both think of a theme and image in their mind, share it and converse till they have found a common idea that they execute. Their images are very deliberate and well planned, but do have documentary value because they are such a strong representation of the lives of young muslims who grow up and are attracted to a secular, pop art world.

Vimeo. (2017). Figures & Fictions: Hasan and Husain Essop. [online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/22071316 [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Documentary, Performance and Fictions

Summary of the reader:

Documentary strategies that are both ‘truthful’ and ‘subjective’. Traditional thinking supports the idea that documentary photography are pieces of evidence, or supporting evidence to real stories and events, not choreographed or prompted by the photographer. Is this ever the case? In reconstructing reality, the experienced ‘objectivity’ comes to show. Still the photographs are seen as documentary because the photograph itself is considered real and true. Hunter: Use of fictional elements doesn’t necessary make it less truthful than straight documentary. Hunter purposefully brings in fiction, without undermining its core real foundations.

Interview ‘Under the Influence’:

Hunter’s view on photography and the environment he lived in changed when he started working with large format cameras, from then on he started to look at his neighbourhood in terms of ‘colour and light’, which reveals the beauty and dignity of his subjects. Influenced by Dutch master Vermeer, Hunter realized to portray a dignity in the life of his subjects, who before then had mainly been photographed in a negative, black and white way. Through his work everybody is treated equally, ‘scenes are lifted in the extraordinary’

I like what Hunter says about the work of Vermeer, he touches a snare that I have often felt while photographing in Third World countries: ‘His paintings (Vermeer’s) stand as a testament to a profound understanding of the universality that connects us all as human beings to one another by the small details of every day lives … he lifted the ordinary in the extraordinary.’

Article ‘Think Global, Act Local’:

This article focuses on how Hunter’s work shows that photographers can respond to the world photographically through showing life on a local level. I liked how Hunter explains that through the common notion of beauty, that has been conditioned through the history of art, gravity is added to ordinary scenes and people. This opens up to more understanding and dignity of the people he photographs and helps his viewers to engage more in the scene.

This reminded me a bit of Avedon’s view on his portraits, which he called documentary because of the recognition viewers might feel when seeing his subjects, but I find Hunter’s work much stronger and justifiable documentary photography. He leaves his subjects in their context and lets its viewers engage and identify with them through the use of beauty in light and colour.

BBC. (2017). Tom Hunter, Under the Influence, Under the Influence, The Essay – BBC Radio 3. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zt7ky [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Tomhunter.org. (2017). Think Global, Act Local | Tom Hunter. [online] Available at: http://www.tomhunter.org/think-global-act-local/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].