PHOTOGRAPHING THE UNSEEN Preparatory work for Assignment 2


As Assignment 2 effectively asks me to explore and put into practice the ideas, practices  and concepts introduced in the foregoing Projects and Exercises in Part 2 of the course it seems to me that a useful starting point for my planning of this Assignment 2 would be to briefly review what I have learned.

Part 2 of the C&N course has led me to focus on the portrayal of Narrative in photography. This can take a number of forms including linear storylines where a series of images depict an ongoing event, a series of images which are related only in terms of their subject matter, and the single image which contains a storyline in itself.  Such pictorial narratives might or might not be accompanied by a text or captions which might or might not help to elucidate the intention of the creator. On the other hand, they might merely add to the opacity of their purpose.  Photographic narrative differs from written narrative in a number of ways, but in particular the former is less prescriptive, leaving a great deal of responsibility for understanding and appreciating the work in the hands of the viewer and often leaving them with no certainty at the end as to the meaning intended.  

This is particularly true of postmodern narrative photographic work, where, in common with its literary counterpart, storylines can be open-ended, ambiguous, opaque, lacking in descriptive detail, and open to any number of interpretations.  The aim and purpose of the creator is often obscure and indeed it appears that the creator often has no clear aim or purpose in mind except to create a puzzle for the viewer.  The ordinary man in the street is much better equipped to evaluate and tease out meaning from written words than from visual images unless they have a particular innate or learned skill in doing so, and so he often finds such work impenetrable, obscure or confusing.  

This part of the course also introduces the use of visual metaphor rather than overt pictorial imagery as a means of telling stories or portraying concepts.  This is an approach that can be fraught with difficulty as it would be all too easy to use hackneyed metaphors such as lambs or buds to depict new beginnings or Springtime, lions to depict strength or courage or a clenched fist to portray anger. Equally, there is also a risk that the metaphor could be so obscure or only accessible to those with years of experience that it would not be picked up by the uninitiated – the example of a practised crossword completer who is attuned to the idiosyncracies of the compiler springs to mind.  

Bearing all this in mind I will now consider how I can best incorporate this learning into my work for the Assignment. 

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Assignment 2 gives me two options as follows, namely ‘Photographing the Unseen’ and ‘Using Props’.  The former requires me to choose a subject or theme which might be considered as un-photographable and create a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7 – 10 images to depict the subject or theme.  The latter asks me create a photographic narrative in a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7 – 10 images using either a white handkerchief or a white shirt as a prop.  I am more naturally drawn towards the former and, whereas an inner voice suggests to me that I should therefore do the latter in order to push myself and step out of my comfort zone, in truth both options require me to push myself and step out of my comfort zone so there is nothing lost in tackling option 1.  

I have started, as suggested, by considering a few possible subjects that might fall into the category of ‘unseen’ subject matter and have come up with the following short list : –

Feelings and Emotions  (e.g. worry, love, need, pain, loneliness, joy, fear, anger, hunger, thirst, tiredness, hatred); religion; sustainability; relationships; growth; sound; air; ageing; busy-ness; health; wildness; ecology; the economy; global warming; hot / cold; education; honesty; integrity; belonging; success; failure; power; courage; nostalgia; thought; dreaming; artistic appreciation; creativity; choice; loss; rejection; cruelty.

In order to help me to focus down on the choice of a subject or theme and to give it some weight through finding a personal angle, the text suggests that I list a few examples of things that I have been thinking about or experiencing recently. Here are a few : –

Environmental issues – habitat loss; extinction; global warming; depletion of resources; population growth; the impact of industrial scale agriculture and meat production; pollution; greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government of the Country and world powers – disillusionment with politics and people in power; the damage inflicted by capitalism and consumerism; the dominance of big business interests in the governance of this country and other world powers; fear and uncertainty following Brexit; lack of confidence in the political system; unequal spread of wealth. 

Ageing – loss of mental and physical abilities; sense of time running out and options disappearing; confusion as to how best to spend my remaining years; feelings of inadequacy to do anything meaningful and worthwhile; fear over the challenge of  maintaining an adequate income to enable me to operate effectively in the world.

Artistic creativity and the OCA course – my loss of direction and sense of purpose on this course; my inability to understand and feel empathy with the work of tutors and many fellow students; uncertainty as to my purpose of staying on the course; loss of confidence in the direction that the course is taking me; uncertainty over how I can find a balance between my need to derive an income from my photography whist also finding a higher purpose for it; pressures of other priorities in my life.

Relationships – the complexity and ever changing nature of relationships; relationships with a significant other, with family, with friends and with the wider community; relationship with oneself; relationship with one’s environment; relationship with one’s work or other activities.

Feelings and Emotions – depression; anger; frustration; isolation; elation; connection; empathy; tiredness.

I do not feel drawn to explore my concern over environmental issues in this Assignment as I would want to use a documentary style to address these subjects.  I believe that the use of allusion and metaphor would be too nebulous and opaque a style to adequately deal with the serious reality of such issues and a more factually descriptive documentary style would be more appropriate.  The work of Sebastiao Salgado, and particularly his projects ‘Workers‘, ‘Migrations‘ and  ‘Genesis’, inspires me, and is a style that I would like to work in and develop for this sort of subject.  


Copyright  Sebastiao  Salgado –  from ‘ Genesis’ 

Politics and world powers are subjects that hold all sorts of possibilities for representation in a metaphorical and allusional style, but it would be too easy to fall into the trap of using hackneyed and over-familiar ideas such as bulls and bears, bulldozers, hawks and doves, etc.  I have chosen not to use this area of subject matter as I do not feel inspired by it at present.  Ageing is also a subject area that is heavy with over-worked metaphors such as drooping plants, cracked mud and rough bark, misty landscapes and snow covered trees.  

After much thought I have decided to use this Assignment as a vehicle for exploring relationship as this will not only touch on personal relationship and my related feelings and emotions but also on my relationship with the OCA course.  

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Sebastiao Salgado ‘Genesis’ão-salgado-genesis

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