We See What We Want to See
The assignment requires two small sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story exploring the nature of documentary.
The chosen theme was sickness and disability and the hope was to look at how society can find this is a difficult subject to look closely at. There was consideration of the popularity of positive mindedness. How it has become somewhat pervasive throughout the last decade and whether using the coping mechanisms of positivity could sometimes be quite dismissive of the reality of some sickness and disability. I wondered if we are sometimes guilty of wanting to avoid difficulty so much that we talk up the positive to the level of an insult. I have in the past been guilty of that style of conversational dismissiveness.
In my notes I document my consideration of shooting through diffusion glass for one of the sets. Eventually text was considered as a relevant addition to the images and the thought of using a medical report from one of my assessments in order to obtain quotes for the text seemed a possibility. The quotes from the report aren’t necessarily an accurate reflection of the transcript of the interview/assessment.
The coursework leading to the assignment gave cause to considering using a colour versus monochrome device as a possibility.
The ideas evolved and the two sets that were shot and finished are:
- colour shot through diffusion glass and finished softly with text
- monochrome without diffusion glass focussing sharply with text
The monochrome set
The above monochrome image shows a subject applying make-up. The eyelashes and the mascara wand are the items within the photograph in sharp focus. The reflected image has been included in the composition though excludes the mascara wand and eyelashes. The circle of the mirror is duplicated in the spot light that was kept within the composition top left. The photograph shows paperwork and a hand holding a pen. It is the nib of the pen and a small area of the paperwork that are in sharp focus. Diagonal lines are made use of in the composition.The bag is held in the hand and the line of the hand and through the handles of the bag extends along the line of the subject’s left leg. There appears to be some tension in the hand. The lighter area of the photograph is, similarly to the make-up image, on the left hand side of the photograph. The subject’s mouth is slightly open and the outside of the mouth is in sharp focus. The lips are along the lines of thirds. The image shows a subject holding a tablet. The tablet is the object that is in sharp focus. The subject is out of focus and the upper area of her head has been left out of the composition. An area of ‘background’ has been left below the tablet so as not to create a sense of the hand holding the tablet being as disjointed from the subject as it might have been if composed differently. This image is the image I wished to present just before the change in set as it includes the text quote, “…work related activity would seem unlikely to result in substantial risk…” and it seemed fitting to close the monochrome set with this particular quote before moving to the more softly focussed / glass diffused colour set.
The colour set
The photograph shows bottles, boxes and containers of various sorts on a kitchen work surface. The exact nature of the contents isn’t readily known as the image like all the colour images is soft focus as per the use of the chosen diffusion glass and the information on the sides of the packets and bottles isn’t easily read.The image shows a subject seated on a settee, wearing pyjamas and large boot style furry slippers. A walking stick is rested across the top of the slippers and forms a diagonal line of tension across the bottom third of the image. The above image shows a female subject who looks tired and not particularly well. She is dressed in a bed jacket style dressing gown, the collar of which is pulled reasonably high onto the lower face. Her hair doesn’t look brushed. The subject isn’t doing anything but is looking away from camera. The focus is soft, as the colour work.
The photograph depicts a female subject sitting at a computer. The image isn’t sharp. The desk has been set as a workstation. Amongst what is visible is an orthopaedic chair, wrist supports, a laptop stand, a additional keyboard and that subject is wearing gloves despite her other attire being a sleeveless pyjama top. The gloves relate to Reynaud’s syndrome. The blown out highlights of the window area have been altered to provide a more pleasing image.
The above image shows a female in bed sleeping. The whole of the image is non-sharp and the colour work is soft. The lines of the bedding and the pyjamas were carefully placed within the composition to create a diagonal that the female is lying upon.
The two sets of images essentially show the same scenario from two different perspectives. Initially the idea for the two sets of images was to look at how difficult it can sometimes be for many in society to truly view sickness and disability. The idea evolved when text was considered as a possible and relevant addition to the imagery. The possibility of adding text seemed to be something that would bring the two sets of images away from the more generalised perspective of society as a whole to the difficulties of evaluation in terms of claiming disability and sickness benefits whilst having been very strongly encouraged to use positivity as a way of dealing with the depression that can ensue from dealing daily with sickness and disability or from other realities.
The different types of documentary photography that might be used for this project were considered and it was decided that art photography was most appropriate. “To its detractors, art photography is elitist, pretentious, irrelevant, self-indulgent and even misleading,” (P7, Soutter, (2013) Why Art Photography?). Yet reportage was unlikely to be achieved and would have seemed blunt and brutal given the communication that was intended. Art photography allows for the construction of the image, the manipulation of the image, and it to be further posed by framing in a blank white background containing quotes. It gave the scope required to communicate the intention that is We See What We Want to See.
There has been a history of disability portrayal within photography being minimal in its volume and at times, especially in charity advertising, condescending to the disabled and even patronising of the nondisabled audience the advertising seeks to elicit money from. Hevey writes that “the body of the subject [in disability imagery] is a vehicle for the illumination of the photographer’s (or, more correctly, the commissioner’s) agenda.” (P112, Hevey, (1992) Creatures Time Forgot Photography and Disability Imagery). He states that for disempowerment to be changed, “the process must begin from the consciousness of the subject, not from that of the photographer” (P113, Ibid). Here I have been able, as a consciously sick and disabled subject and photographer to photograph me, from my perspective to communicate my issues. People see what they want to see.
(Word Count – 381)
Hevey, D, (1992) Creatures Time Forgot Photography and Disability Imagery, Routledge, London.
Soutter, L, (2013) Why Art Photography, Routledge, London and New York