What I see depends on what I bring

At one level, a photograph is a simple thing – it’s just an image. But, at another level it’s a whole different ball game. What I see in a photograph depends on what bring – in terms of my previous experiences and how I probably am feeling at that point in time. Some photographs by their raw emotional content have the power to seemingly transcend the immediate context – they almost forcibly grab you and shake you up. Those photographs, as far as I am concerned, are rare. I can think of a lot of good photographs, but not many that have that powerful emotional pull.

Often, a photograph creates a strong emotional response in me due to the story that goes with it. This is one of the reasons that I like reading documentary work, as it provides a contextual backdrop to more fully understand the image. However, some stories just bore me as I am not interested in them. Whilst others, due to my experiences, beliefs and interests are much more stimulating. Darcy Padilla’s The Julie Project (Now called Family Love) is a very powerful story which gripped me.

This got me thinking recently about my own work. Like most people (I presume), I shoot with a particular idea in mind of how I would like the audience to respond to my work – do they ‘get’ the message that I am seeking to communicate? I have no idea really, unless I talk to people or provide an explanatory text. But, when I do that I have already sought to shape their views and opinions about the work. What might be a more interesting angle to explore is that of not providing an explanatory context, etc. to the work – just putting the images out there and let the viewer make their own minds up about the work. What expectations do they bring and does the work match it in any way?

I like the idea of using the ambiguity in the ‘space’ between my intention for the work and the audience’s expectations as a possible point of exploration. I can try to influence what people think. However, because I don’t know, nor can I know, their previous histories or immediate context, I can’t actually control what they think.

I guess the next thing to do is to explore this idea in a little more depth, and shoot some work or look at the work I have done to build something that reflects this concept.



Swanage in depth

Recently, Simon and I visited Swanage to continue our work on the project. One of the things that was in my mind before I drove down there was ‘what’s this project actually about?’ It’s been one of those projects which is really enjoyable to do, but continually unclear as to what the major themes are, beyond that of colours and contrasts.

Previously, we had spent much of our time photographing around the beach and town centre. This time we concentrated more on the back streets. Walking around what felt like the lesser explored part of the town was fascinating. It also added a whole new dimension to the project – that of depth. There was a strong physical sense of space, but also psychological depth – in terms of town’s character.

The physical depth between the thin strip of beach marks the division between land and sea, this was the most populous part of the town (obviously, especially so in the summer). The backstreets were much quieter, silent even. The streets became elements that defined local identity and character – beyond what is seen in the touristic sea front (as a person who grew up in Cornwall, I am very used to the impact of tourism on communities). What we found was a more subtle and quirky world – the previous post shows two large toy tigers ‘lazing’ on a roof top. We also saw numerous other interesting items. However, at the moment, the films containing the latent images are still stored in my freezer…

I suspect this contrast will be probably the major theme for the work – the contrast between the ‘public’ beach and the more ‘personal’ backstreets, where more subtle ‘off camera’ (as such!) performances are held to be a bit Goffman about it all.

Hopefully, when we return to the town in the summer, we will continue to build up this picture of the town. What’s enjoyable about the project, but also what’s challenging about it, is  it’s exploratory nature. Not quite knowing where it is going to go is part of the fun, but also part of the difficulty. Holding that tension is my challenge…!