Exercise – The three projects (Mansell, Botha, Taylor) are examples of personally driven work but they become universal when we relate to the feelings they present by visiting our own personal histories. Which of these project 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 have created?
The three projects, each a personal work show the possibility of using photography to explore what is not usually visible. The first of these projects, that of Peter Mansell shows us his experience of living with a disability. Mansell suffered a spinal cord injury at age 20 and has used photography to document his life and his perspective both as someone with a spinal cord injury and as a photographer. His photographic project Check Up seeks to, “demonstrate the social construction of disability” (Mansell, 2011, http://clkpete.weebly.com/2011-check-up.html). It does so by showing the viewer a place that “recognise(s) my needs” (ibid). As someone who is a late-comer to disability by comparison to Mansell, I have spent much of my life oblivious to the true definition of disability. Impairment, is the standard term for a bio-medically defined limitation. Disability is the reality we might find ourselves in when we have an impairment and we need to engage in standard day-to-day activities and yet can’t. It is when we consider the reality of impairment and disability that we may come to see what Mansell’s work is demonstrating.
Mansell’s images are taken from the perspective gained by a wheelchair user. This perspective is of course lower than that used by many photographers and is one of the key communicative devices of the photographs. The compositions are considered, balancing relevant pieces of information through the framing, sometimes allowing space for the viewer, sometimes creating tension. These images have been more emotional for me upon second viewing than I expected. The altered perspective of wheelchair use is something I’m becoming nearly accustomed to. The final image is particularly resonant with me as we see two characters at either side of the photograph – the first character, toward the back of the photograph is standing and the second character closer to us is seated in a mid-wheel drive, electric-wheelchair. The journey from the left of the image toward the back, to the front of the image on the right has been my recent experience. It can sometimes be a very short time to progress the rear of the framing toward the foreground.
Dewald Botha’s project depicts isolation. As a South African living in China Botha found himself an outsider. His experience of photographing locations of the entire inner ring road of the city of Suzhou, “started out as an exploration in the physical object,………. slowly turned into a more complex personal journey of self reflection about displacement and survival,” (Botha, 2013, http://www.dewaldbotha.net/ring-road.html) Botha’s images shows the places along this journey that he’s taken around the ring road that many people probably don’t look at. There is a certain beauty in his photographs provided by the composition, that allows us to see the recession within these landscapes and the light as it falls across the different surfaces. What is isolated and not always validated isn’t necessarily lacking.
Jodie Taylor’s project is a work that deals with nostalgia. Taylor’s images are available to view through the OCA blog. Taylor’s photographs evoke a sense of place that many others may be able to identify with. That she chose to work with 35mm film to create these images seemed fitting. Her compositions take us as viewers towards locations, drawn in along the pathway either delinated by shrubbery or imagine-able through the line of the composition. I have used photography to look at the possibility of memory yet it is when viewing Taylor’s work that I consider most the question of authorial control. We are told that Taylor’s work is nostalgic and that whilst living back in a home she’d grown up in, she considered, “places that form memories from my childhood” (Taylor, 2013, https://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/) and what, “defined me as a child” (ibid). It appears that these memories are positive happy memories and yet when I viewed the first image in the OCA blog my first instinct was to believe that the location was one in which someone might be attacked. The photograph doesn’t necessarily say this; that someone might be attacked there. It has been taken on a sunny day though there is a strong contrast between dark shadows and sunlit ground. That there is graffiti, that can be defined as criminal damage doesn’t have to mean that this is a place where whomever is there fails to fear being seen and can ‘get away’ with anything. And yet still the codified sense of place within me said assault. Taylor is powerless to do anything about what I bring to her personally driven work. If there is a possibility for a sense of the universal in some aspect of the work then there is a possibility that I or another viewer would bring feelings to such a work that would inform a very different possibility of sense of narrative.
Authorial control is not something I perceive as a true reality. My personal experience whilst creating photographs is that not everything can be planned and when not everything can be planned the creation is sometimes, more than or different to, what might have been expected. However at a less philosophical level authorial control can be something that is hard to give up. To put photographic creation into the public domain or to hand it to a tutor, is to put oneself forward to be misunderstood or to need to listen to critique that may be difficult, if the work feels deeply personal. Everyone brings themselves as a viewer to a photograph or artwork. Every photographer who is still at a stage of fairly early development is taking risk in terms of whether they have managed to create photographs that matched their intention. Whilst Mansell, Botha and Taylor are probably much more secure in their work than I have been as yet, I have had, in recent months to feel the difficulty of relinquishing control in order to make, I would hope, some progress. This has caused me to take a philosophical view of authorial control and tell myself there is no such thing as authorial control, to breathe and put my photographs into the public domain as Taylor has and know that all emotional response has validity whatever the author’s intention.
Botha, D, [http://www.dewaldbotha.net/ring-road.html – Last accessed 06/07/2017]
Mansell, P, [http://clkpete.weebly.com/2011-check-up.html – Last accessed 06/07/2017]
Taylor, J via the OCA Blog [https://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ – Last accessed 06/07/2017]