Week 2 has us looking at how other disciplines and contexts influence and relate to our own practice.
Photography and Forensic Science
One of the things that struck me during this week’s presentations/readings was whether my love of crime dramas/novels, and the way photography can be used for scientific/forensic science applications, is one of the reasons I like images to be “real” and “true”. By these terms, I mean images that have not been set-up or photoshopped to change something fundamental about an image (e.g. removing a person through digital manipulation of the image). I don’t necessarily mean altering exposure levels or colour contrast with photo editing software, although if someone was to digitally change a person’s hair colour, for example, I would not consider that resulting image to be “real” – as it would then show something that never existed.
I am interested in the way photography is used to document, for example, a crime scene, to document evidence of a crime, to record the face of a criminal suspect. Photography can be used in such creative ways and to show the beauty of people and landscapes, it is fascinating that the same practice and techniques can also show awful sides of humanity.
It also strikes me how the line between the two can be blurred. For example some pictures taken in the 1930s-1940s by Weegee I think could be considered crime scene photos (e.g. Body Under Taxi: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/objects/body-under-taxi), but they are not languishing in a police file somewhere – they are held by museums and displayed in exhibitions[i].
There are so many images, particularly in advertising, in the world today that are photoshopped and heavily changed, I now find myself cynically assuming every image is photoshopped. I feel I want my work to be trusted, and I like my work for that reason, because I know I haven’t digitally removed something or added something into an image. I feel I have both creative and scientific tendencies to my personality and I feel possibly that is why I am so drawn to those aspects in photography.
As somewhat of a disclaimer – I am not disparaging or criticising work that has been photoshopped or staged – as long as it is not claimed to be, or portrayed to be, otherwise. For example, there has been discussion recently about the revelations of editing and staging in Steve McCurry’s work[ii]. There are various sides to the argument about whether his actions were right or wrong etc. but I do feel his work that was portrayed to be photojournalistic and has now been confirmed was staged, raises questions on the “truth” of those images, in particular. For me personally I do wonder about work not mentioned in this debate and how much of his work was staged/extensively digitally altered.
In trying to relate this notion of “real” images to my work, I wanted to share this image I took in December last year in Jersey. This wasn’t a set up picture, it wasn’t staged in anyway, and I haven’t photoshopped this image, it was just a natural moment of a seagull at the seaside.
Links for my further reading/reference: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/weegee?all/all/all/all/7 https://fstoppers.com/editorial/case-steve-mccurry-what-truth-photography-129505
Photography and Social Anthropology
I also found myself thinking about photography and its relation to social anthropology this week. I’ve always enjoyed looking at photographs from generations past, showing the way people used to live in comparison to the way people live now. It is fascinating to look at photos from bygone eras as records of how people used to dress, used to interact with one-another – and think about the way different cultures and societies have changed over time, or remained the same.
Something that has fascinated me for a long time is the history of tattooing. It is something that has been carried out in multiple cultures for thousands of years, and for various reasons; from denoting social status to providing protection to the wearer[iii]. This ancient practice has evolved into the tattooing of today – in which many people get tattoos to remind themselves of someone they have lost, or to commemorate a defining moment in their lives. Photography can also be used the same way – people hold on to photos of loved ones that died, they take photographs of weddings, christenings, graduations – important moments they want to remember. I feel the parallel of wanting to record something even though these are two very different methods is thought-provoking.
I also find the photography of tattoos fascinating, as a method of recording such an old yet modern and diverse practice, but also as a way of recording the record. Different societies have different beliefs and traditions regarding tattoos[iv] and being able to capture them as photographs seems to me an incredible way to document that and study the practice – as well as being able to document them for posterity.
Links for my further reading/reference: http://www.apolynesiantattoo.com/polynesian-tattoo-history http://www.mdleaver.com/hardtimes#7 http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/explore-art-and-ideas/artist/1997/mark-adams http://www.thearts.co.nz/artists/mark-adams http://photokunst.com/photographer_detail.php?artist_id=4&collection_id=5
Photography and time
Another aspect from this week’s themes I want to note down is the relationship between photography and time. A comment from one of this week’s presentations was that a defining aspect of photography as a still image is that photographs come with no set viewing time. Unlike moving images which have a set start and stop time, photographs do not impose any such limitation and can be viewed or studied for however long the viewer decides. In this way photographs can be easily revisited perhaps leading to some photos having such a lasting effect on the viewer.
Photographs by their very nature show the past, they show a moment when the cameras shutter opened to capture an instant. When viewing a photograph we are aware we are looking at something that has happened. We can evaluate and consider the subject of the photo from the perspective of it having been in the past. We can take time to really think about it. I like to be able to have the time to think thoughts through in my head and in my own time before verbalising them and I feel photography gives me a tool with which I can think back over things I have seen or experienced.
I want to share this picture I took in some woods near my home. The woods have been there for generations, seemingly unchanging and fixed. For me they represent a quiet constant in a world that moves so fast. I captured this runner as he was going through the woods and looking back at this image I feel it shows a commentary on the way so many of us move quickly through our days without really thinking about it. To quote that 80’s movie classic Ferris Bueller “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.
References [i]https://www.icp.org/exhibitions/weegee-murder-is-my-business [ii]https://petapixel.com/2016/06/07/eyes-afghan-girl-critical-take-steve-mccurry-scandal/ [iii]http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/tattoos-144038580/ [iv]http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/looking-at-the-worlds-tattoos-60545660/?no-ist=&page=1