PHO704: On to My Final Major Project

This is an outline of where I am now with my research project and where I intend to go over the next few months.

My research project began a year ago as a walk through my hometown of Oxford after dark, when the uncanny world of the night comes out to play. It was a largely documentary exercise, almost classic street photography. Researching it has taken me from Steichen, Brandt, Brassaï and classic noir and into the work of William Klein and Robert Frank, and then on to some equally classic work from the 1960s to the 1980s by William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Robert Adams. More recently I have researched contemporary voices such as Thomas Struth, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Todd Hido, Gregory Halpern, Alex Soth, Gerry Johansson, Krass Clement and Ken Schles, with a very important detour into film (Tarkovsky, Lynch). I have looked at such topics as surrealism, the sublime, the uncanny, the eerie and the weird.

Over this module, however, the project has morphed into something completely different. My project is ostensibly still a walk through my hometown, but now it is really a journey into my own unconscious through the portals of where I happen to live. So what I am showing is no longer a famous place called Oxford but a Tarkovskian ‘zone’ of my own imagining. As Calvino’s postmodern novel Invisible Cities made clear, there is no fixed, objective Venice, Oxford, London or Paris out there (Calvino 1997). We each make our own, and we make them anew each time we visit them. Roland Barthes pointed out in The Death of the Author that the idea of an all-powerful creator imposing a canonical version of anything is a fantasy (Barthes 1977). We write our own book, tell our own story, out of the ingredients we find before us.

I intend to continue with this research project. I think its foundations are strong enough and I am finding my own visual language. It has stood up under research, resisted lockdowns and is in a long tradition of photography after dark. I have assembled a reasonable number of images and over winter and spring 2021 I plan to continue photographing this ‘zone’. I will also re-photograph some locations I visited in earlier modules.

My aim is to have 50-70 good, cohesive images to present as a body of work. I will offer these as a conventional photobook, but in addition I will look at other ways of presenting my body of work such as in exhibitions, on websites, through sales of prints and zines and on Instagram. In the longer term combining my work with an audio score, and therefore creating an audio-visual experience, is something I would love to do but that may well lie outside the scope of this degree.

References

BARTHES, Roland. 1977. ‘The Death of the Author’. In Roland BARTHES and Stephen HEATH. 1977. Image Music Text. London: Fontana, 142-148.

CALVINO, Italo. 1997. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.

PHO704 Week 11: Marketing and Objectives

My aim is not to become full-time commercial photographer. However, I would like to become a more professional photographer who can improve his practice using the skills and marketing disciplines of the commercial photography business. I would enjoy doing that and it might also allow me to take on some part-time work (whether paid or not) from time to time.

Instagram
I have covered Instagram already in this CRJ – see here and here.

Website
I need to continue to improve my portfolio site (Crean 2020 A) and boil it down to essentials, as a mini-portfolio that is always up to date. The assumption is that most viewers will pick up my work on Instagram first and only then consider my website.

Marketing
I have had some business cards printed, which is a small start, but I need to present myself as a brand with the focus, consistency and tight control of communications that entails. I need to approach things as if I were running my own business (Barnett 2020, Pritchard 2011).

Photobooks
I would like to become good at producing photobooks. There are several I could produce outside of this degree course. I have just taken one weekend workshop on creating and marketing photobooks with the Self Publish Be Happy group (Self Publish Be Happy 2020) and in a few days I am taking a second one with them that will concentrate more on the internal graphic design and layout of the photobook. The first weekend was very informative (and enjoyable) and has improved my confidence a lot.

Portfolios
It is clear that I need to assemble a proper printed portfolio. For this I need to assemble a bank of printed images that can be sequenced and changed depending on whom one is showing the portfolio to. Ensuring that a portfolio is relevant to the intended purpose is important.

To help with this, I need to apply for some portfolio reviews. The Association of Photographers (I am now a member) and the Photographers’ Gallery in London both offer this service, among others, and over the next few months I will book some slots.

Personal Projects
I have a personal project, Entropias (Crean 2020 B). The purpose of the project is to help me stay fresh and creative, but it is also something I could present as a zine, small book or other venture, either commercially or for charity.

Web Shop
I will be using White Bridge Arts as the brand name of a webshop on an art sales website called society6.com. I have already mentioned this in my CRJ here.  It should be fun.

Others
I usually participate in a joint local photography exhibition each year with ArtWeeks. If there is a proper ArtWeeks in 2021 (unknown at present because of the pandemic) then I will take part.

There are also magazines to approach, other new personal projects to consider, local newspapers, competitions, social media take-overs and so forth. However, I would prefer not to give the impression that I can take a degree and do all that at the same time, because my priorities in life are not those. Becoming a 24/7 photography bore is likely to kill not enhance my creativity.

References

BARNETT, Maximus. 2020. ‘Week 11: A Conversation with Maximus Barnett’. Falmouth Flexible Photography [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-11-presentation-a-conversation-with-maximus-barnett?module_item_id=43431 [accessed 4 Dec 2020].

CREAN, Mark. 2020 A. ‘Portfolio’. Mark Crean [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.myportfolio.com [accessed 8 Aug 2020].

CREAN, Mark. 2020 B. ‘Entropias’. Mark Crean [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.myportfolio.com/entropias [accessed 8 Aug 2020].

PRITCHARD, Lisa. 2011. ‘Marketing and Promotion’. In Lisa PRITCHARD (ed.). Setting up a Successful Photography Business. London: A. & C. Black, 72–86.

SELF PUBLISH BE HAPPY. 2020. ‘Education’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: https://shop.selfpublishbehappy.com/collections/education [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

PHO704: Documentary Modes

Introduction to Documentary by Bill Nichols (Nichols 2017) is about the history and narrative techniques of documentary filmmaking and the most important issues now facing the field.

My interest lies in what Nichols has to say about story and narrative in documentaries. Story and narrative are two different things and are not interchangeable. Put simply, a narrative is how a story is told or demonstrated. The story is all the events, characters and other elements that make up a narrative. (If there is a plot, then the plot will suggest some kind of relationship between the story’s various elements.)

Nichols’ approach is highly schematic. In particular, he identifies seven different documentary modes (Nichols 2017: 22-3):

  • Poetic mode
  • Expository mode
  • Observational mode
  • Participatory mode
  • Reflexive mode
  • Performative mode
  • Interactive mode

Much of the book is concerned with elucidating the differences between these modes. Each mode tends to have typical uses, for example, together with particular goals and ethical issues (Nichols 2017: 156-7). Each mode treats time and space differently, is distinct epistemologically, usually employs a different ‘voice’ and treatment of sound and has a rough equivalent in other media (Nichols 2017: 108-9). The modes may also make use of well-established models such as the investigative report, the travel piece, the poetic, the autobiographical, the history or the testimonial (Nichols 2017: 106-7).

Nichols pays particular attention to ‘voice’ in documentary filmmaking, by which he does not mean the literal spoken word. He explains:

‘The voice of documentary is each film’s specific way of expressing its way of seeing the world. The same topic and perspective on it can be expressed in different ways. … Voice, then, is a question of how the reasoning, analysis, feelings, and values in a documentary become conveyed to us. … Documentary voice is clearly akin to film style’ (Nichols 2017: 50).

This is important, because as Nichols points out, ‘Each voice is unique. This uniqueness stems from the concrete utilization of conventions and models, from techniques and modes, and from the specific pattern of encounter that takes place between filmmaker and subject’ (Nichols 2017: 53).

This sophisticated analysis matters because it is so close to how story and narrative may arise from a portfolio of still images. The techniques are similar – framing, composition, editing, jump cuts, mixed modes of expression and so forth. If a portfolio of images is accompanied by a soundtrack then its treatment would also be similar to the use of sound in various modes of documentary, as would captions. Captions are in fact an important element of ‘voice’ and require careful treatment. They may enhance an image, but equally they may subvert it, change the mode of expression, or spoil a poetic moment.

Where does my research project stand in relation to this? I think it is firmly in Nichols’ poetic mode. Qualities Nichols associates with the poetic mode include ‘Formal abstractions … see the familiar in a fresh way … Expressive … Discontinuous … images that build mood or pattern without full regard for their original proximity … may distort or exaggerate for aesthetic effect … Expressive desire to give new forms and fresh perspectives’ (Nichols 2017: 108).

These qualities do identify my work over this module. However, things are rarely clear cut. Just as documentary filmmakers mix modes in their work, so my research project occasionally strays into other territory. Some images, particularly of deprivation, are observational in their intent. Images of graffiti or signage with an apparent message could be considered expository. And, overall, a strongly personal work could be considered performative because such a work ‘seeks to move its audience into subjective alignment or affinity with its specific perspective on the world’ (Nichols 2017: 152). Whether or not I decide to change this, at least I am now more aware of what I am doing.

I am glad to have found such a detailed analysis. It leaves me with a better idea of where my research project fits in as well as with goals and techniques to concentrate on in the poetic mode. Nothing beats a clear intent. In addition, the work has given me a better understanding of the role of text and captions. These are not afterthought. I am building a ‘voice’ from many components and any one of them can change it.

References

NICHOLS, Bill. 2017. Introduction to Documentary. 3rd edn. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

PHO704: Instagram

Much of this module has been about learning to take a professional and consistent approach to one’s practice, without which it would be difficult to succeed as a commercial photographer. A crucial part of that is professional and consistent marketing and client relations. While I have no wish to become a commercial photographer, professionalism and consistency are valuable and useful disciplines that can be applied to many situations in life, so I am taking these lessons on board.

In connection with that, I have been looking at my Instagram account. At stake is changing it from a typical personal account into a business account and then applying ‘strictly business’ principles to running it. After all, Instagram is thought to have more than 1 billion members, more than 500 million active daily users and a repository of more than 50 billion images (increasing by nearly 1000 each second), and not to mention more than 500,000 active influencers and 75.3 per cent of US businesses with an account on the platform (Omnicore 2020).

In practice structuring a business account is not difficult. There are a lot of online tutorials and advice sheets out there. The best I have found so far is ‘How to Use Instagram for Business: A Practical 6-Step Guide’ by Hootsuite, a company that makes management software for social media accounts (Newberry 2020). There is also a video tutorial from the ever-reliable Sean Tucker (Tucker 2020). To this I can add ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’ (Timehin 2020), an excellent video by Ron Timehin who is now a successful commercial photographer having made his reputation on Instagram. Timehin concentrates more on nuts and bolts such as best-practice hashtagging, the grid of previously posted images, and engagement with others (an often overlooked but crucial factor).

All the advice in the world comes with two key provisos, however. The first is that to succeed on any social media platform one must have a clear focus in a distinct genre or subject area. No one becomes known for being a generalist and commissioning editors will pass you by, since there is no obvious message they can pick up. The second is that one does have to have talent. Put simply, people want great photos, ones with a wow factor in their chosen field.

Very few people have either the discipline or the talent to succeed which is why Instagram and other social media platforms can easily become an unproductive lottery. The statistics alone are overwhelming. I do plan to take a more business-like approach to Instagram but at the same time I do not intend to take it all that seriously. I am not sure that in my case the work required would produce sufficient results.

Besides, there are increasingly serious questions about social media generally as a vehicle for addiction and exploitation – see for example The Social Dilemma (Orlowski 2020) or John Naughton’s newspaper column (Naughton 2020). From a business perspective, it is also possible or even probable that Instagram will start to squeeze business accounts in order to extract more revenue from them – see ‘Will Instagram Business Profile Reach Follow the Same Path as Facebook Pages?’ (Hutchinson 2019). As the article puts it,

‘But really, overall, the main tip is to manage your expectations, and understand that such shifts can, and most likely will be coming. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use Instagram – you definitely should where it’s of benefit. But it’s important to do so in the understanding that any results you see may well be temporary. And as such, you need to establish other avenues, rather than building your foundations on rented land’ (Hutchinson 2019).

And that is the crux of the matter. Building on ‘rented land’ is generally a mug’s game, especially when the landlord is known to be rapacious. I have noticed that some really established fine arts photographers do not participate much on Instagram. Instead, they are known from hashtags and fan accounts, via their agents or galleries, or they run a general studio account. Among examples are Richard Misrach, Tim Walker and Jeff Wall. There is a strong case for saying that Instagram is best treated as a game, and a potentially dangerous game, and that in the long run it may well be better to plant one’s flag well away from ‘rented land’ and the appalling sharks that own it.

References

HUTCHINSON, Andrew. 2019. ‘Will Instagram Business Profile Reach Follow the Same Path as Facebook Pages?’ Social Media Today [online]. Available at: https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/will-instagram-business-profile-reach-follow-the-same-path-as-facebook-page/561617/ [accessed 16 Nov 2020].

NAUGHTON, John. 2020. ‘The Social Dilemma: A Wake-up Call for a World Drunk on Dopamine?’. Guardian, 19 Sep [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/19/the-social-dilemma-a-wake-up-call-for-a-world-drunk-on-dopamine [accessed 18 Nov 2020].

NEWBERRY, Christina. 2019. ‘How to Use Instagram for Business: A Simple 6-Step Guide’. Hootsuite [online]. Available at: https://blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-use-instagram-for-business/ [accessed 16 Nov 2020].

OMNICORE. 2020. ‘Instagram by the Numbers (2020): Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts’. Omnicore [online]. Available at: https://www.omnicoreagency.com/instagram-statistics/ [accessed 17 Nov 2020].

ORLOWSKI, Jeff. 2020. The Social Dilemma [Film]. Netflix. Available at: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81254224 [accessed 17 Nov 2020].

TIMEHIN, Ron. 2020. ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TUCKER, Sean. 2019. ‘Instagram: Straight Talk for Photographers’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUfvHioNs_A&t=964s [accessed 24 Sep 2020].

PHO704 Weeks 7-8: Work in Progress

I have continued to look for images in the manner of Tarkovsky in Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979). That means a ‘Zone’ of alterity and strangeness, using elements such as windows, passages and gaps to suggest portals between modes of consciousness. The idea is to create a story of what it feels like to be there, in that moment, far from one’s usual moorings and in a place that definitely does not resemble most people’s idea of Oxford or of any other popular tourist destination and architectural gem. So I am trying to show my Oxford, not someone else’s, much as Krass Clement photographed his Dublin (British Journal of Photography 2017).

Clicking on an image in the gallery will produce a larger lightbox view.

References

BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. 2017. ‘Wandering through the Irish Capital in Krass Clement’s Dublin’. British Journal of Photography [online]. Available at: https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/11/krass-clement-dublin/ [accessed 4 Nov 2020].

TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1979. Stalker. [Film].

Figures

Figures 1-8. Mark CREAN. 2020. Work in progress. From: Mark Crean. 2020. Silent City. Collection of the author.

PHO704: Images and Sound

I have been looking at the role of sound in photography and as a possible accompaniment to my research project.

I started with the artist and academic Angus Carlyle and his many works involving both photography and sound such as In the Shadow of the Silent Mountain (Carlyle 2015). This led me on to what I might describe as the psycho-geography of sound on websites such as Favourite Sounds (Favourite Sounds 2020) or Soundcities (Soundcities 2020) and even on commercial sites such as Atlas Obscura (Atlas Obscura 2020). I had not realized that mapping places by their sounds was so popular or so rich in possibilities.

Some of the world’s big cities have now been mapped by their myriad of different sounds, with each audio clip geotagged and then inserted into Google Maps. Thus, the viewer can navigate a city by its sounds simply by clicking the star points on a Google street map and listening to the attached clip. This has certainly set me thinking that it would be possible to do that with Oxford. So far as I know, no one yet has sound-mapped Oxford and doing so for me would mean little more than taking a recorder on my photography shoots and geotagging the clips with my smartphone.

However, using sound in this way may be fascinating but it is also a documentary and firmly indexical approach. My research project is not documentary but more poetic and conceptual. Sound, if I used it in my research project, would need to be carefully woven into the images until it had become part of the story and not, as with a documentary approach, offered simply a parallel aural track.

This has led me to consider Andrei Tarkovsky’s very careful use of sound in his films, mainly with the Russian composer Eduard Artemyev. In fact Artemyev’s soundtracks for Tarkovsky’s films are so highly regarded that they have been released as stand-alone albums. There is a fascinating paper by Metin Colak, ‘The Functions of Sound in Tarkovsky’s Films’ (Colak 2013), which suggests how Tarkovsky used sound in his films to reinforce, suggest or subvert the story lines of, among others, Solaris, Stalker and Mirror. A key point is that natural and composed sound is so carefully interleaved that it is sometimes difficult to know whether one is listening to water dripping or to Eduard Artemyev’s score.

It is clear that Tarkovsky treated sound like poetry and used it as delicately:

‘I find music in film most acceptable when it is used like a refrain. When we come across a refrain in poetry we return, already in possession of what we have read, to the first cause which prompted the poet to write the lines originally. The refrain brings us back to our first experience of entering that poetic world, making it immediate and at the same time renewing it …  By using music, it is possible for the director to prompt the emotions of the audience in a particular direction, by widening the range of their perception of the visual image. …  Perception is deepened’ (Tarkvosky 158).

Properly employed, therefore, the sounds we hear in a work of art are ‘the sounds of a person’s interior world’ (Tarkovsky 162). This is where sound and my research project meet.

Misrach Border-Cantos
Fig.1: Richard Misrach 2020. Website landing page for the ’Border Cantos’, a collaboration between Misrach and the composer Guillermo Galindo.

Using sound in this way is both exciting and challenging. It also connects to Mark Fisher’s essay on art of all kinds in connection with the weird and the eerie (Fisher 2016). Fisher covers Tarkovsky but he singles out Brian Eno in connection with sound, particularly Ambient 4: On Land (Eno 1982) which embodies the British landscape. A soundscape that accomplished for a project like mine would be a dream, although soundscapes are not hard to come by. MyNoise, for example, offers 200 different sound generators on a single webpage (myNoise 2020) and the result could easily be inserted into a project.

However, to make images and sound work together artistically is another story. An excellent example is the Border Cantos, a marvellous collaboration between Richard Misrach and the composer Guillermo Galindo (Misrach 2020) using instruments made from discarded items on the US-Mexico border. The result is, again, ‘the sounds of a person’s interior world’ (Tarkovsky 162). It is also a good example of how a traditional fine arts photographer like Misrach is moving into new artistic territory made possible by more sophisticated internet tools..

I do plan to continue thinking about this idea. I suspect it is too complex to be folded into an MA course at a relatively late stage. A soundtrack of poor quality would be worse than none. However, for a post-MA, expanded project I think it could be brilliant. Everything would be deepened and the possibility of an audio-visual display rather than a conventional gallery show would become possible.

References

ATLAS OBSCURA. 2020. ‘Atlas Obscura – Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations’. Atlas Obscura [online]. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/ [accessed 8 Nov 2020].

CARLYLE, Angus. 2015. ‘In the Shadow of the Silent Mountain’. Angus Carlyle [online]. Available at: https://www.anguscarlyle.com/in-the-shadow-of-the-silent-mountain.html [accessed 8 Nov 2020].

COLAK, Metin. 2013. ‘The Functions of Sound in Tarkovsky’s Films’. Paper presented at Audio Technologies for Music and Media international conference,-Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey, 2013. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281837007_The_Functions_of_Sound_in_Tarkovsky’s_Films [accessed 9 Nov 2020].

ENO, Brian. 1982. Ambient 4: On Land [sound recording: CD]. Perf. Brian Eno et al. Rough Trade. Available at: https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/brian-eno/ambient-4-on-land [accessed 2 Oct 2020].

FAVOURITE SOUNDS. 2012. ‘Favourite Sounds’. Favourite Sounds [online]. Available at: https://www.favouritesounds.org/about.php?projectid=55 [accessed 9 Nov 2020].

FISHER, Mark. 2016. The Weird and the Eerie. London: Repeater.

MISRACH, Richard and Guillermo GALINDO. 2020. ‘Border Cantos’. Border Cantos [online]. Available at: http://bordercantos.com/ [accessed 9 Nov 2020].

MYNOISE. 2020. ‘Background Noises • Ambient Sounds’. myNoise [online]. Available at: https://mynoise.net/noiseMachines.php [accessed 10 Nov 2020].

SOUNDCITIES. 2020. ‘Soundcities by Stanza. The Global Soundmaps Project’. Soundcities [online]. Available at: https://www.soundcities.com/ [accessed 10 Nov 2020].

TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1987. Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema. Austin: University of Texas.

Figures

Figure 1. Richard MISRACH, 2020. Website landing page for the ’Border Cantos’. From: Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo. 2020. ‘Border Cantos’. Border Cantos [online]. Available at: http://bordercantos.com/ [accessed 9 Nov 2020].

PHO704: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino published Invisible Cities in 1972. It is a deceptively simple work, in which Marco Polo describes 55 increasingly improbable and fantastical cities to Kublai Khan while it gradually dawns on the reader that in each case Polo is in fact describing his home city, Venice. At the same time it also becomes clear that Polo is describing urban problems such as overcrowding and inequality that have a disturbingly modern rather than medieval ring.

Invisible Cities has turned out to be a highly influential work. It is postmodern in arrangement and poses all the postmodern questions about authority, identity, reality and structure. Even its arrangement is far more complex than first appears. The 55 cities described are grouped into 11 themes and are carefully arranged in a mathematical structure whose inspiration derives from the Oulipo literary circle of which Calvino was a member. Gerry Johansson’s decision to caption his photobook Pontiac by street name as if navigating a geographical matrix is strangely similar (Johansson 2010).

Invisible Cities has inspired many artists. In 2019 Manchester International Festival presented it as performance art involving music, dance, design and visuals (Kenton 2019). However, it is the novel’s influence on photography that really concerns me here. Invisible Cities is saying that reality is what we choose to make of it. There is no objective Venice, Paris, London or New York out there. We each make our own version and we make it anew each time we visit. As Jeanette Winterson wrote in a review of Invisible Cities,

‘Venice is a city you must design and build for yourself. The tourist Venice is a chimera, the historical Venice is a museum. The living Venice is the one where every canal and palazzo and sun-shy square, with its iron well and unlisted church, has been privately mapped. No one can show you Venice. There is no such place. Out of the multiple Venices, none authentic, only you can find the one that has any value. … Imagining Venice is imagining yourself, as Khan discovers – an unsettling exercise, but necessary, perhaps’ (Winterson 2001).

In some ways this knowledge – that reality is our own imagining – is an old as civilization. It is, for example, the opening sentence of the Buddhist Dhammapada: ‘All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind’ (Fronsdal 2005). It is also at the core of Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’ (Barthes 1977). Barthes points out that the idea of an all-powerful creator/author imposing a canonical version of anything is a fantasy (Barthes 1977). We write our own book, tell our own story out of the ingredients we find before us.

This realisation – that what I photograph is my reality and no one else’s – has had an electrifying effect on my practice. It relieves me of the burden of emulating or competing with anyone else, and so it is freeing. Nearly all images have at least some indexical value but at the same time they are also an expression of the mind behind the camera.

In turn this has helped me better to understand the practice of other photographers. One example is Maria Kapajeva’s book You Can Call Him Another Man, about a trove of images she found of her father’s life before she was born – and therefore of a man she both knew and did not know at all (Kapajeva 2018). An image, any image, shows what we both know and do not know. The image is free to acquire new meaning in whoever views it. It is not confined to the dusty reading of an archive.

ken-schles-invisible-city-2014
Fig. 1: Ken Schles 2014. From Invisible City. There is darkness on the edge of town …

A second example is Invisible City by Ken Schles (Schles 2014), a vintage noir journey around the junkie-ridden chaos of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1980s. The whole point of the book, however, is that this is his experience of New York, not yours or mine. As Schles points out,

‘We are solitary creatures situated in a place and point in time that is unique to each of us. The New York City my friends and neighbors knew was different from the NY I experienced. Let’s be honest: we’re all perpetual outsiders to each other’s experience. That’s the tragedy of being human. But we can struggle against that. So there’s possibility as well: we may be locked into our own place and time, but we can share our little revelations, those small realizations of the everyday, and share in whatever knowledge that might bring us or open us to. That’s a very human trait: the attempt to communicate something meaningful. Sharing these other ways of seeing gives us perspective on what each of us experiences’ (Bocchetto 2015).

Sharing our own experience while acknowledging that we are all outsiders to each other’s experience is the common theme here, whether Calvino, Kapajeva or Schles. I think it needs to become an important theme of my practice too.

References

BARTHES, Roland. 1977. ‘The Death of the Author’. In Roland BARTHES and Stephen HEATH. 1977. Image Music Text. London: Fontana, 142:148.

BOCCHETTO, Alex. 2015. ‘Ken Schles on “Invisible City” and “Night Walk”’. AMERICAN SUBURB X [online]. Available at: https://americansuburbx.com/2015/01/interview-ken-schles-on-invisible-city-night-walk-and-existential-impulses.html [accessed 3 Nov 2020].

CALVINO, Italo. 1997. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.

FRONSDAL, Gil. 2005. The Dhammapada: A New Translation. Boston, MA.: Shambhala Publications.

JOHANSSON, Gerry. 2010. ‘Pontiac’. Gerry Johansson [online]. Available at: http://gerryjohansson.com/page2/page37/page37.html [accessed 3 Nov 2020].

KAPAJEVA, Maria. 2018. ‘You Can Call Him Another Man’. Maria Kapajeva [online]. Available at: http://www.mariakapajeva.com/book-to-order/ [accessed 26 Oct 2020].

KENTON, Tristram. 2019. ‘Manchester’s Mythical Makeover: Invisible Cities – Manchester International Festival’. Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/gallery/2019/jul/04/invisible-cities-manchester-international-festival [accessed 29 Oct 2020].

SCHLES, Ken. 2014. Invisible City. New ed. Göttingen: Steidl.

WINTERSON, Jeanette. 2001. ‘Invisible Cities’. Jeanette Winterson [online]. Available at: http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/journalism/invisible-cities/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. Ken SCHLES. 2014. Untitled. From: Ken Schles. 2014. Invisible City. New ed. Göttingen: Steidl.

PHO704 Weeks 5-6: Work in Progress, and Tarkovsky

For my work in progress over the past two weeks I have continued to explore the themes expressed in Tarkovsky’s films Solaris (Tarkovsky 1972) and Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979). These are that one is leaving the normal, everyday world behind and entering a ‘zone’ of alterity and strangeness, in my case in the world of the city after dark. The zone is strange because a full understanding of it is hidden from us. We have no understanding of the agency at work in the zone, or even whether there is one.

In Solaris, the scientists aboard a space station are unable to tell whether the apparently intelligent ocean on the planet of Solaris is trying to help them, hinder them, punish them or simply express itself. The ocean remains a mystery and the indeterminacy of their situation is slowly driving the scientists mad. In Stalker, a similar situation applies but with a further development. Those who reach a special room in the centre of a mysterious Zone whose origins are unclear are given whatever their heart desires. The frightening reality is that we may well be unaware of what we truly but unconsciously desire, and if our deepest desire is given to us that knowledge now made conscious may destroy us. In the film, a stalker called Porcupine reaches the room and is granted money. Soon afterwards, he commits suicide.

Much of Stalker is shot in a half light through frames, doorways and windows or along tunnels. These are all portals and are ideas I need to explore in my practice, but the film asks us to question whether these are portals to another world or in fact to our own unconscious. The film therefore questions not only agency but the whole idea of what we think of as the individual, personality and free will. Once we are parted from our normal, everyday world, we may well discover that these ideas are much more fluid and indeterminate than we suppose. We are all two selves, Tarkovsky suggests: the ego, and something else, something we will never fully understand.

I am currently thinking about how these powerful ideas might affect my research project. They are surely going to affect story and narrative (which are not the same thing). The apparent story of my research project is of the city of Oxford, but the real story is much more likely to be the complicated uncertainty of what it means to be human. There are no certainties, just the eerie mysteries that Tarkovsky so eloquently explored. One question that now arises is that if I do not fully understand myself, how can I ever be more than the classic unreliable narrator of my own story?

Clicking on an image in the gallery will produce a larger, lightbox view.

References

TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1972 Solaris. [Film].

TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1979. Stalker. [Film].

Figures

Figures 1-10. Mark CREAN. 2020. From: Silent City. Collection of the author.

PHO704: Weeks 3-4 Work in Progress

For the moment, my work in progress is taking me to the areas of St Clement’s and West Oxford.

It has been hard to settle this module, but I am finding that things are changing and that a theme (or themes) has emerged.

My reader of Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie (Fisher 2016) is leading me to select images that express something strange or unusual, but not the uncanny in its traditional spooky and noir form. My feeling is that a pure ‘uncanny’ approach has its uses but is too much of a cliche today to make it the only intent in one’s photography. Besides, I looked at the uncanny in a previous module and I would like to progress beyond it.

And in looking for the strange and the unusual, I am slowly detaching from the hard-edged social documentary approach with which I started this whole course. I am now moving more into fiction. This will be the influence of Calvino’s Invisible Cities ( Calvino 1997) which I am reading, but it is also the direction in which I know I need to travel.

Clicking on an image in the gallery will produce a larger, lightbox view.

References

CALVINO, Italo. 1997. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.

FISHER, Mark. 2016. The Weird and the Eerie. London: Repeater.

Figures

Figures 1-10. Mark CREAN. 2020. From: Silent City. Collection of the author.

 

PHO704 Week 3: The Power of the Personal Project

On the strength of the suggestions in Week 3, I have started a modest personal project as a side-work to my FMP. I think this will help me work out some of the ideas in the coursework, as well as help to recapture some of the joie de vivre I felt in photography before I started this course.

My side project is called Entropias (but it is not a replacement for my main research project, Silent City). It is about the moments and the places where everything comes together, then falls apart. In other words it is about entropy which is also the cycle or mandala of life and the changing of the seasons. Something is born, arises, peaks, decays and eventually vanishes into the elements of something new, another turn of the wheel. Entropy can be expressed as energy but we probably understand it as time. Change through time is the only way we can really experience what is otherwise a law of physics.

Here are a few images.

To take this further, I have compared my ideas about Entropias with the excellent suggestions offered by Grant Scott in ‘The Power of the Personal Project’ (Scott 2015), and in particular with his ten steps for creating a successful personal project whether intellectual or emotional (Scott distinguishes between the two):

How to Create a Successful Personal Project

  1. Find your story. Make sure that it is personal to you, that you have a unique voice to tell the story.

I have the story, of birth, change and decay. I can only tell it in my voice. For consistency I am shooting in colour and using a specific cinematic colour palette in post.

  1. 2. Do not be overly ambitious. Be realistic about what you can achieve on the basis of the time and financial commitment you are going to be able to devote to creating the project.

The project is something I can drop in and out of when I have a spare afternoon or come across a telling image (I will use an iPhone for those).

  1. Do your research. Find out if other photographers have tackled the subject you are planning to photograph. Look at how they did it, what the outcomes were, and how it was received. Then ensure that you do not repeat the same approach.

Yes, I will need to do some research for sure.

  1. Build your online community as you are working on the project and keep them informed of its progress with images and information about how you are creating the project and the process you are going through.

When I have enough decent images, I will start posting into an album on Flickr and likely on my portfolio website. I am dropping one or two images into Instagram, too.

  1. Be patient. A worthwhile personal project is not going to come together in a few days or weeks.

This project will likely be done when I realize that it is done. I am setting no deadlines.

  1. Consider using audio and moving images to add both context and additional narrative to your storytelling.

This is very tempting for my FMP but probably too ambitious for a small personal project. Music sparks ideas and associations, however, so this is not to be overlooked.

  1. Research appropriate self-publishing options for your project and engage with the photographers who are already involved with the photo book self-publishing community.

The most likely destination is an accordion-fold booklet or a Blurb-style publication, partly to keep down costs. If I make enough good images in one place (Rousham House and Gardens, for example, which is a very good venue for changing seasons) I could expand my options by approaching them with ideas for something more ambitious.

  1. Try and attend talks and workshops being given by fellow photographers working on personal projects.

Yes, absolutely, but none attended yet on this specific topic.

  1. Consider working with a journalist or writer at some point during the process of creating your project. Inevitably you will require text to accompany your images, or to include in your book, or on your website to provide context and information. This text needs to be as professional as your images, so get a professional to create it.

Not keen on this one. My project is not documentary and involving a writer would make it bigger than I currently want. What matters is to start with something I want to do and believe I can. We’ll see.

  1. Stay true to your vision but be open to your project evolving into unexpected areas. The excitement always lies in the choppy waters.

Yes! I might find telling images not from changing seasons in nature, for example, but from gritty events in a city centre or from quiet domestic moments at home. The important thing is to stay open to new ideas and rich moments, not close down.

(Adapted from Scott, 2015: 108-9)

References

Scott, G. (2015) ‘The Power of the Personal Project’. In Scott GRANT (ed). Professional photography: the new global landscape explained. New York: Focal Press, pp. 82–109. Available at: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/falmouth-ebooks/reader.action?docID=1734212&amp [accessed 7 Oct 2020).

Figures

Figures 1-8. Mark CREAN. 2020. Entropias. Collection of the author.