Project 3 – Photographing the Unseen

Exercise

All three of these projects are examples of personally driven work but they become universal when we can relate to the feelings they present by visiting our own personal histories.

  • Which of these projects resonates most with you, and why?
  • How do you feel about the loss of authorial control that comes when the viewer projects their own experiences and emotions onto the images you’ve created?

I looked through the three examples of personally driven work and Jodie Taylor’s work with Nostalgia currently resonates with me the most at present (1). 

Whilst I still appreciate the other two projects, with Peter Mansell exploring himself and the impact that his disability has on his life (2) and Dewald Botha exploring what Freedom is and how it is defined (3). Jodie Taylor’s work is something I can currently relate to. 

At this time, I am currently having some building work completed at home, which meant that I had to empty my loft and sort through all the contents after years of placing things up there in no real order and without a thought. Some of the contents consisted of boxes and boxes of old photographs, from my childhood until the present (and some even before I was born). The invocation of nostalgia as I sorted through them, trying to order them in albums, reminded me of specific times, like how I used to enjoy sitting on the garden swing in my grandmother’s garden in the sun, or the time I was diagnosed with measles and my grandfather allowed me to watch the Smurfs, despite the doctor ordering no light or TV. These photos invoked feelings of the love I received from them as a child, a longing to return to that feeling and a sadness that they are no longer around to shower me with that same love. 

The Loss of Authorial Control 

Whilst the photo album from my childhood is narrated in a more straightforward and obvious way. I believe that simply picturing some of these items in photographs would make me feel the same. Although, for someone without prior knowledge of these places or things, interpreting photographs like these, may be harder, unless these objects or places had similar meaning to them. 

In an Article relating to that of literature, Adam Kirsch wrote that the history of literature exemplifies that what an author thought they were doing in their work held no real sovereignty over later readers interpretations. The example of Paradise Lost, a poem from the 17th Century, appeared to change its meaning for readers with the passage of time. He says:  “…one way of defining great literature is that it allows itself to be endlessly reinterpreted” but also states that there must be limits to a texts interpretability. (4) which I agree with. 

It is clear, that when a photograph eludes to some ambiguity in its meaning, there is always going to be room for a viewer to attach their own emotions and experiences to the images. I believe it’s important, as a photographer to, let this go and allow for another’s exploration, especially when a message isn’t immediately obvious. For me, that is part of what art is. When we explore a subject in this way, and allow the narrative to remain loose and unapparent, it should invoke varying feelings in that of the viewer to search within themselves and discover how it makes them feel. If this has happened, then I believe, a series of images could be considered a success. 

Even when there is a more direct and obvious message, there really is no way to control the mind of another. But attempts at steering a viewer down a more specific path, would, perhaps be easier to achieve. The recognition that, the loss of, at least some authorial control is bound to happen and must be accepted and even welcomed by the photographer. 

References: 

  1. Jodie Taylor – Memories of Childhood. 2013 https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/archived/photography-and-nostalgia
  2. Peter Mansell – Paralysis Unseen. 2013. https://petermansell.weebly.com/
  3. Dewald Botha – Ring Road. 2013 https://www.dewaldbotha.net/ring-road.html
  4. Heller, Z & Kirsch, A. Should an Author’s Intentions Matter? NY Times 2015 https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/books/review/should-an-authors-intentions-matter.html