Putting yourself in the picture – Project 2: Masquerades – Exercise 2

Exercise

Recreate a childhood memory in a photograph. Think carefully about the memory you choose and how you’ll recreate it. You’re free to approach this task in any way you wish.

• Does the memory involve you directly or is it something you witnessed?

• Will you include your adult self in the image (for example, to ‘stand in’ for your childhood self) or will you ask a model to represent you? Or will you be absent from the image altogether? (You’ll look at the work of some artists who have chosen to depict some aspect of their life without including themselves in the image in the next project.)

• Will you try and recreate the memory literally or will you represent it in a more metaphorical way, as you did in Part Two?

• Will you accompany your image with some text?

In your learning log, reflect on the final outcome. How does the photograph resemble your memory? Is it different from what you expected? What does it communicate to the viewer? How? It might be interesting to show your photograph to friends or family members –perhaps someone who was there at the time and someone who wasn’t – and see what the image conveys to them.

I deliberated over this exercise for a considerable time and in the end, couldn’t limit myself to the notion of recreating a specific literal memory. I can be very sentimental and I love nostalgia. For me, childhood memories are all about the Places I grew-up/visited, and the People I knew growing up. I now live at the other side of the country and with the exception of social media, don’t really keep in touch with childhood friends. So, any notions of re-creating a memory based on places or childhood friends were out of the question if I wanted any authenticity. Instead, I opted to recreate a memory based partly on literal events and partly on how I like to remember myself at that time.

Right from the off, I had every intention of using my Son to stand in for my childhood self. Not only because I have a ready-made model in him, but because I like to explore our relationship through photography. Like most fathers, I see a lot of myself in my Son, and I try to raise him on the ideals and values that I was raised on. In essence, our childhoods will be linked by this, despite the technological advances and changing times that define the differences in our childhoods.

Memories: 1986-2015

In the summer of 1986, my Nanna and Grandad gave me my first camera. It was a cheap 110 Film Camera that was very simple to operate. Although I wasn’t immediately enamoured by the act of taking photographs, when I got my first prints back from the lab, I was completely captivated by the results. “I took that!” From that point on, photography has always been an interest. Although the camera only really came out on day-trips or holidays, I remember the feeling of using it. Inevitably, they are fond memories, reminiscent of those last hazy days of the summer holidays when I was full of childhood naivety. Whenever I was on the hunt for subject matter, everything and everyone else seemed non-existent. I was genuinely in a world of my own. After each and every ‘click’ I couldn’t wait to see how the photo would turn out.

Last month my Son turned 3, and at my request, my mum bought him a disposable 35mm camera. My Son is always trying to emulate and copy me, so this was designed as a cheap way to keep his hands off of my rather expensive DSLR. It didn’t last, and I soon had to get him a cheap digital camera to satisfy him. Watching him using that first disposable camera made me nostalgic. He is younger than I was when I got my first camera, but his awe in exploring the environment for subjects, followed by his excitement at seeing the results reminded me of those early days.

Memories: 1986-2015

Memories: 1986-2015

 Concept.

Like all fond memories, I wanted the image to be minimalistic and without unnecessary clutter. I also wanted to capture the nostalgia and thought it important that it not be posed, but caught as a genuine moment in a reportage style. I was keen to capture my Son using his camera without any prompting, but I also wanted to exclude his subject. This is because the subject of my photography when I was young was not really of any significance, it was the act of taking photographs that I wanted to capture. In order to communicate the image as a memory of times gone by, I wanted to create a ‘dreamy’ feel with blown highlights and soft focus. I also wanted a vintage feel to the photo with faded colours, some light leakage and a warm tone. I felt that I could anchor and reinforce the fact that this is essentially a self-absented self-portrait with my title, but decided against this. Instead, the simple title is hopefully enough to generate thought in relay with the image to communicate meaning to the viewer without insulting their intelligence. The wellies, believe it or not, were quite an important element. When I was a kid, I wore wellies everywhere.

I think that the photograph communicates fond memories to the viewer. I also think that it communicates innocence, wonder and intrigue. I believe that the photograph says a lot more about me than I initially intended, as it reveals aspects about my relationship with my son and with photography. It tells the viewer how I use photography to see and explore the world.

Putting yourself in the picture – Project 2: Masquerades – Exercise 1

Exercise

• Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

• Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?

• Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

Nikki S. Lee

Lee’s Projects (1997-2001) series is actually a series of projects which were undertaken over a 4 year period. In each Project, Lee integrates herself into a sub-culture (mainly american, but not entirely), by changing her identity to fit the group. Her integration sometimes takes weeks as she gains access to these groups and becomes a part of them. These sub-cultures range from Korean schoolgirls to Punks, Hispanics, OAP’s, Skateborders, Exotic dancers, Drag queens etc. Lee features in all of the photographs. Although she is responsible for the conceptualisation of these projects, she does not actually take the photographs. Instead, they are taken by other members of the groups on a simple point and shoot camera, which gives the images an authentic feel and sense of realism and truth. They resemble vernacular, everyday snapshots that we are all familiar with.

Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

Due consideration should be given to the artists intent in terms of context before judgements are made by the viewer. Being raised and initially educated in Korea, Lee noticed a change in her identity after studying in America and realised that her identity could fluctuate dependant on who she was with, whether it be family back home or friends in the US. Lee makes it quite clear that the work is about her, and her relationships with the groups, as she explores and questions her own identity in relation to group dynamics. Despite this intent, a second order effect is that the work also becomes about the group identity which we begin to question in relation to stereotypes, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, age and other frames of reference.

Given the snapshot/vernacular aesthetic of the images, it is easy to view the projects as voyeuristic (not in the malicious sense). We get the feeling of looking inward at someone else’s memories, almost like looking through someone else’s family album. We see moments shared by friends that are not constructed but which are real, as far as a photograph can be regarded as depicting what is real. It is only by understanding the context that we know different; that Lee has conceptualised this image, and therefore it is not real, and not voyeuristic, as far as Lee, the main subject is concerned. An element of voyeurism remains in regards the tertiary subjects and their sub-cultures as a whole which we have been observing throughout the project.

Just like the question of voyeurism, the question of exploitation is also a gray area. In one sense, Lee has exploited the people and groups that she infiltrated for her own means. I do not know if they were willing participants in her projects, but I assume not. That said, I do not find any of the images to be derogatory to any of the sub-cultures, and if anything, they are educational, giving us an insight into the group dynamics of sub-cultures that we may not have experienced ourselves. Stereotypes are reinforced throughout the projects but not intentionally, the groups have simply been photographed ‘as is’.

Trish Morrissey

In the series Front (2005-2007), Morrissey photographed families and groups of friends on the beach using a 4×5 camera. In each photograph, she took the place and role of one of the female members (normally the mother), whilst they then operated the camera which had already been carefully set up by Morrissey. Morrissey would usually swap clothes with the woman she was becoming, in order to fit in. The groups and families were strangers to Morrissey, and the work is an exploration of Physical and Psychological boundaries, using the beach and the temporary encampments as metaphors.

Sylvia Westbrook, August 2nd, 2005

From: Front – Sylvia Westbrook, August 2nd, 2005

Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?

Yes I would. In an interview, Morrissey talks about the psychology of asking the groups for their participation. Over time, she learnt who within the group to ask by observing the dynamics and identifying the ‘alpha’ male or female. Being at the beach in summer, people tend to be having a good time, and Morrissey’s proposition and the prospect of taking part could be seen to be exciting or fun. People want to say “Yes”, so when asking the question, Morrissey would refrain from asking “Do you mind if I take your photograph?” to which the reply might be “Yes, I do mind”. Instead, she would ask “Can I take your photograph”?

Morrissey rewarded her subjects with a conventional family portrait (without her in it), a copy of the book and an invite to the exhibition. For me, the prospect of being part of such a project would be quite fascinating, and as an Art student, I would be keen to help an artist.

It can’t have been easy to approach strangers and ask to take the place of a key member of the family. I can understand why a lot of people would have refused. Not everyone ‘gets’ Art. Some may have reservations about the use of their image, or they may be conscious about their appearance. In modern society, there is a suspicion of anyone who points a camera at children who aren’t their own. I expect that wasn’t much of an issue for Morrissey being a) a woman and b) using a large format camera with a professional and traditional appearance, but for many, they simply do not want their children photographed by strangers. For some, it may have been seen as an intrusion or invasion of privacy and may have made them far too uncomfortable. On looking at the first photograph in the series, my first thought was of a film called The hand that rocks the cradle (1992), in which a nanny pushes the mother out and tries to take her place within the family. It is really quite disturbing to see Morrissey with a strangers child who seems so comfortable in her embrace. In fact, one woman even remarked that it was as if she was dead, and had been replaced (about one of Morrissey’s photographs).

Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

Seven Years (2001-2004), is a series that explores the intricate relationships within a family and the telling gestures that we see in the family snapshot. The title refers to the age gap between Morrissey and her older sister who appears alongside her in the photographs. In each photograph, both Morrissey and her sister take on the roles of different characters in fictional scenes that mimic those found in most family albums. For me, the images appear authentic in terms of clothing, props, background etc, but they are just a little too well constructed to be believable as snapshots. I don’t think that this detracts from the purpose of the images because the meaning comes from the people/subjects and the gestures they make whether obvious or subtle. I’m not too sure about the relevance of the author appearing in the work as far as self portraiture is concerned. From what I understand, the scenes are fictional and therefore are not from her own childhood. The explanation could be as simple as the fact that both her and her sister are inexpensive and available models who have a close relationship. There could be deeper relevance but I’m not aware of it.

From: Seven Years - July 22nd 1972

From: Seven Years – July 22nd 1972

The Failed Realist (2011)This is one of those series’ that absolutely requires an explanation in order to gain a proper understanding of the images. without such an explanation, the meaning is so vague that almost all authorial control is lost.

“Between the ages of four to six children are often more verbally than visually articulate.  This means that what they wish to express through mark making is often beyond their physical skill. The psychologist Georges-Henri Luquet (1927/2001) called this The Failed Realist stage – the child’s desire to represent his or her world is hampered by motor, cognitive and graphic obstacles that will be overcome with time, but for the moment, their interpretation is flawed.  These drawings are uncorrupted by representational conventions.  The Romantic artists thought this was a reflection of direct access to the expressive self and strove for a return to this innocence in their own painting.  Later on, painters of the modernist movement, such as Picasso, Miro, and Klee saw the drawings of children with their mixed perspectives and exaggerated features as a pure way of seeing.  Picasso famously said ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child’

This photographic series was made in collaboration with my daughter when she was between the ages of four and five years. Face painting is a rainy day activity that we both enjoy.  Once her motor skills evolved sufficiently well for her to control a paintbrush, she wanted to paint me rather than be painted.  Instead of the usual motifs of butterfly, or flower, she would decide to paint something from her immediate experience – a movie she had just watched, a social event, a right of passage, or a vivid dream.  Beyond the innocence of the child’s intention, more sinister themes such as clowns, carnival and the grotesque are evoked by these mask like paintings.” (www.trishmorrissey.com)

I like the concept behind this project, exploring the expressive and uncorrupted creative ability of a child who cannot yet visually articulate their meaning. The purpose of posing herself in these images is more obvious, given her own position as the artist, author, and now, canvas. What we are also presented with is a direct connection between mother and daughter which makes us question family connections and the way in which we express ourselves.

From: The Failed Realist - Ladybird (2011)

From: The Failed Realist – Ladybird (2011)

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikki_S._Lee [accessed 9/9/15]

http://www.tonkonow.com/lee.html [accessed 9/9/15]

http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/en_uk/show/nikki-s-lee [accessed 9/9/15]

http://cielvariablearchives.org/en/component/content/article/393-stretching-identity-to-fit-the-many-faces-of-nikki-s-lee.html [accessed 9/9/15]

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html [accessed 9/9/15]

http://www.source.ie/audio/Trish_Morrissey/Trish_Morrissey_12.php [accessed 9/9/15]

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104389/ [accessed 9/9/15]

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-sy/workpg-01.html [accessed 9/9/15]

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-tfr/workpg-01.html [accessed 9/9/15]