THOUGHTS ON ASSIGNMENT 1

I have been thinking about the C and N Assignment 1 for several weeks now and have found it very difficult to find any theme that I can get behind with any enthusiasm. I have looked at the work that other students have done for this Assignment and have noted that the range of approaches and ways that the requirements of the Assignment have been met has been wide and varied.  I have also used a number of the tools suggested by the OCA for developing ideas such as mind maps with varying degrees of success.  After considerable thought I have at last come up with a very short list of possibilities which I will discuss briefly to see if it helps me to decide on a way forward.

The Assignment requires me to create two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story, the aim being to explore the convincing nature of documentary even though what the viewer sees might not be true. I am asked to try to make both sets equally convincing so that it is impossible to tell which version of the images is ‘true’. This is along the lines of Akira Kurosawa’s breakthrough film Rashomon produced in 1950 which depicts a violent crime viewed from the different perspectives of 4 individuals who were all present and involved in the action. Each participant brings their own view and mindset to the table and thereby each creates four very different stories of the same event.  For the purposes of this Assignment, however, it is the perception of the viewer and the personal experience and mindset that he / she brings to their viewing that will determine the outcome of the experience.

At first, I considered setting up a series of ‘play acted’ scenarios to depict different angles of a situation but could not think of anyone who I might be able to cajole into fulfilling such a role. Play acting and working with others in such a way is also something that I am uncomfortable with anyway so maybe I didn’t try very hard to engage with this idea. It all felt rather contrived and artificial and l wanted to find something with a bit more weight and purpose to it.

A subject in which I am interested and in which I saw possibilities for this Assignment is  man’s impact on the natural world. Beaches, landscapes and riverscapes can appear to be pristine and beautiful in photographs taken from a distance and designed to attract tourists or grace calendars and postcards, etc. However, if these same environments are photographed more selectively at closer quarters a different truth will emerge of a tainted and threatened world that is far from pristine and in good health.  A photographer working for the local tourist board or wanting to sell his images will select his subjects and the manner in which they are shot to ensure that they appeal to an audience looking for pleasure and/or assured that the locations are beautiful, natural and safe. An environmentalist or health and safety specialist photographing the same locations are more likely to be  framing their shots to tell a different story and to educate, inform or persuade their audience of the need to take action.  

I have carried out some research into the ways that pollution and other man-made impacts on the environment have been represented photographically and most seem to be traditional images of either items of human detritus or polluting slicks in situ where they have been dropped or washed up or blown in the environment, or piles of items or substances collected together from where they were found and massed to demonstrate the scale of the polluting load on a given area.  Sometimes, an image is taken of the direct impact on wildlife such as a seal entangled in netting or a plastic can holder round the neck of a sea bird but this is moving away somewhat from the concept of different depictions of landscape.   I have found little evidence of the use of photo-manipulation or other creative techniques to enhance the messages of the photographs with the exception of the extensive use of HDR to make landscapes appear even more ‘perfect’ and attractive than they might be otherwise.  

Another idea that I have been playing with is the concept of exploring conceptual ‘art’ photography and its validity through taking my own images and reflecting them against photographs of similar themes taken by recognised and respected artists in the conceptual ‘art’ photography field.  Whilst I recognise that this is slightly at variance with the original aim and vision of the Assignment, I believe that it is a valid excursion as it opens up the idea that the viewer’s experience and understanding of an image is influenced to a large extent by his or her preconceptions about the image.  To an uninformed viewer there might be nothing to separate the two images. However, if it is known by the viewer that the photograph has been taken by a ‘serious’ photographer with recognised relevance in the field of ‘art’ photography, and that the image is part of a larger body of work which adds to its relevance and weight, then this is likely to affect the way that the viewer approaches the work and assesses it.  

This theme plays with the idea that there is no such thing as a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ photograph.  They are all just photographs and, as with photographs that are designed to deceive, subvert or persuade, it is down to the subjective eye of the viewer with his background of experience, bias, gullibility, taste and present mindset that will determine the outcome of his viewing experience. The determination of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ when viewing two sets of photographs depicting different takes on the same subject will be as influenced by this subjectivity as the viewing of two sets of photographs of similar themes taken by two different photographers.  

I have no great pull towards one or the other of these ideas but it seems to me that the ‘environmental’ theme is safer and more conventional whilst the ‘conceptual art’ theme is more adventurous and a considerable departure for me.  I will seek the views of my tutor on these ideas before setting out to tackle this Assignment and in the meantime I will continue to explore other approaches.  

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