All three of these projects¹ 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?
Jodie Taylor’s Memories of Childhood resonates the most with me for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, all of these works are very personal to the photographers, and in order to resonate with a viewer, there needs to be a connection. This doesn’t mean that the viewer needs to have also experienced the same things, but they must be able to relate to them (the feelings, emotions etc) on some level. Peter Mansell’s work is very engaging. Through his photography we are afforded a very personal glimpse of his life, and what it is to live with his impaired mobility. As able bodied folk, we’ve all wondered how we would cope if we were in Peter’s position. Here he shows us the secret reality, not the “everyday” impression we normally get, and he helps us to understand the emotional as well as physical implications through the use of metaphor. I find Dewald Botha’s work the least engaging. The images are technically very good. Well composed, balanced and lit. They are succinct, and visually they cohere as a set, but, for me they are little more than interesting landscape shots of a lesser seen part of China, with other consistencies (the ever present ring road, an ominous lack of life and vehicles, a distant vanishing point and the low heavy ceiling of the road/bridge above). Without Botha’s explanation however, I would struggle to link the images to his intended meaning. I wonder if this is where the study of Art is flawed. I could take a number of shots of my kitchen in a square format and tell the world that it is a metaphor for “feeling trapped and isolated”, so long as all the doors and windows are shut, there is no one in any of the images and the lighting is dark and moody. Art can be like horoscopes. People will find the meaning they want to, if they believe in it (particularly if you tell them what the meaning is). But don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the images/set, it was just the least engaging of the 3 for me.
Secondly, not being in the same position as Mansell or Botha, I cannot project my own experiences and emotions on to their work. This means that I can only read the images as they intended (which isn’t a bad thing, and I do find them interesting and engaging), but Taylor’s images provide me with a second level of interest. At first glance, I look at the images and try to read them as she intends them to be read. In doing so, they start to fuel my own nostalgia of a happy 80’s childhood. I often had a 35mm film camera as a child, and so not only does the content of the images resonate on a personal level, the format and style of the photographs also take me back. Although I’m projecting my own experiences onto the set, Taylor does not fully loose authorial control, because her images and their meaning remain the basis for the way in which we tap into our own memories.
I am not overly concerned about the loss of authorial control in my own images. Control is exactly that, and it can be applied in varying degrees. it is often the intent of the photographer for the viewer to make their own interpretation of the image. I would be a lot more concerned about it if I had a specific message to communicate i.e. documentary or photojournalistic photography. Likewise, I would be distraught if one of my images were misconstrued completely, and perhaps caused offence where this wasn’t the intention. The same goes in reverse. If the intent was to offend but people missed the point I’d be quite upset. Liker Taylor’s images, those that viewers can interpret in a number of ways provide an extra level of interest, which will make the image more engaging. Surely, in the context of the gallery or photo-book, this cannot be a bad thing for an artist?
¹Boothroyd, S (2014). Coursebook – Photography 1: Context and Narrative, OCA, UK.
Boothroyd, S (2014). Coursebook – Photography 1: Context and Narrative – Appendix – Peter Mansell, Level 3 OCA Student – full interview, OCA, UK.