Brief: Choose ONE of the following:
Choose a community that you’re already a part of. It could be your child’s nursery or your regular gym class, but it should be something that takes up a substantial amount of your interest and time.
Create a photographic response to how this group informs who you are as a person. What aspects of this group or community reflect on you? What do you share? How does it function as a mirror reflection of who you are?
Use this opportunity to find out about a community that you don’t know much about and tell their story. Get to know them and talk to them; learn by listening and understanding.
Your aim here is to become an insider. You’re beginning as an outsider so it is important
to choose a group that you can spend a lot of time with. Negotiation skills and respect are intrinsic to working well with your subjects and are invaluable skills for your development as a photographer. Be clear about your intentions and involve your subjects in the process in order to obtain the best results. What window into this world can you access through your role as photographer?
In either case you can create as many pictures as you like but, in your reflective commentary, explain how you arrived at the final edit. The set should be concise and not include repetitive or unnecessary images. Be attentive to this aspect of production. Spend some time researching how other photographers seem to edit series of works. There’s helpful advice on editing and sequencing in Maria Short (2011) Context and Narrative, Lausanne: AVA Publishing.
Some questions to consider are:
- What order should the images be shown in?
- Are there too many repetitive images?
- Do you need to let go of earlier images because the project has changed?
- Are you too close to some of your favourite pictures and they don’t fit the sequence?
- Do you need to re-shoot any for technical reasons?
- Are there any gaps that need to be filled?Send your final series of images to your tutor together with your reflective commentary (500 words) on this assignment.
1. Initial thoughts
I am attracted to doing something difficult but interesting. I work in the substance misuse area but a fter resigning as a director two years ago I have become distant from a growth area which is the peer-support of drug and alcohol users.
2. Initial intention
My intention formed in my mind before taking pictures or conducting any theoretical research. I talked to the directors of the substance misuse service and to the peer-lead of the service and then submitted a proposal to them. This proposal is a good summary of what I want to do.
Proposal: ‘A window on peer support in substance misuse’
Title: ‘A window on Peer support in substance misuse’
Longer title: Helping myself and service users to make photographs that illustrate one or more aspects of the work of peer workers and service users at FCC
Why: I want to explore how service users and I can show recovery photographically. Peer workers and service users might also find the process creative, therapeutic and interesting. I want to use the images for my photographic degree work. FCC may want to use the images for publicity.
Conceptual framework: The theoretical framework is to partially ‘embed’ myself with the work and people and allow the photographic narrative to arise from that.
Methods: I would take part in or attend 2-3 peer activities. I would help peer group participants (workers and service users) to make photographic images which tell their story. There would be some brief advice about how to take photographs. I would take images too.
I would be introduced as a photographer and doctor. We (me, peer leaders and service users) would select a series of images from printed ones, that tell a story about one or more aspects of the work or recovery. It would happen over 2-3 weeks In September or October and is time limited.
The final series of images will be chosen by the people involved. I may also produce an alternative story if my view differs greatly from the group, but I would share that with the group also.
Consent, confidentiality, bias: The directors, service lead and peer work leaders would need to agree to my involvement. My role would be advertised to service users; no individual will be identified if they do not want to be. My status as a doctor in the organisation could be an advantage or disadvantage in the settings I describe, but the key thing for me is transparency of person, intent and final photographic story.
What’s in it for me? This forms part of my Open College of Arts photography degree course. The final images or slide show would appear on my blog and photo website.
What’s in it for FCC?
- A series of peer recovery photographs, or Vimeo slide-show with video intro and maybe music.
- The opportunity for peer workers and service users to learn how to photograph and edit their story – with or without words.
Funding: Self-funding. If you want images enlarged, you can either do it yourself or pay me to do it.
Dr Morris Gallagher (Photographer and doctor)
Artist website: morris-gallagher.format.com
Blog for this project: https://drgsiandp.wordpress.com/ (This is assignment No 3)
3. More theory
3.1 Dialogical and monological
I have been reading Joanna Lowery’s contribution ‘Negotiating Power’ in ‘Face on: photography as social exchange,’ where she talks about dialogical and monological relationships in photography (Durden, Richardson, 2000). She refers to the work of Bakhtin and his concept of ‘monological’ and ‘dialogical’ text which is theoretically very helpful (Bakhtin, 1981). It is Steve Edwards (Edwards, 1990) who has applied these ideas to photographical relations where the studio “could be seen as a monological site par excellence, in contrast with those sites outside the studio where the photographer may have less authority and may have to be more responsive to the self-presentation of the subject:” the dialogical (Page 13, Durden, Richardson, 2000).
What is my realtionship with and feelings about the service users and leaders? Are they exploitative because I am doing this for my degree and the images will be used as advertising for the company that employs the service personnel. I could also be seen as a ‘powerful’ or ‘high status’ person, as a prescribing doctor, as a former director and current opiate substitute medication prescriber. On the flip side I am used to working with drug users with social, mental and emotional problems. I only have an inkling about what this group does. Feedback from the service users in my GP practice say that we treat drug users with respect and listen (Our CQC assessment in March 2016 rated us as outstanding in this area). I may be able to hang back in this new group and listen more than speak but others will have a different perspective on me – am I there to ‘check up on them’ or make ‘judgements’ about their lives?
As far as possible I want to help people to tell their story about recovery and I think that to be successful it needs to be a dialogical relationship. Maybe logging ambivalence in my relationships, like Laurie Anderson, might be appropriate (Page 11, Durden, Richardson, 2000). After I presented my idea to the group leader Michelle I was struck by her story which including trying to obtain custody of her children now that she has recovered from using drugs. There is a wider story here not just about service users but those that provide the service, including me. Maybe there will be more than one story in stepping through this window?
Ed Mark Durden and Craig Richardson. (2000). ‘Face on: photography as social exchange.’ London, Black Dog Publishing Ltd.
Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination Austin, Texas, University of Texas.
Edwards, S. (1990). “The Machine’s Dialogue.” Oxford Art Journal, Oxford University Press 13: 63-76.
3.2 Participatory Photography
This is a genre of photography which speaks to my situation.
Despite variations in how projects are run the basics remain the same – social activists or professional photographers train a group of people (usually kids) in difficult circumstances to use cameras in order to improve their situation. Groups targeted for such projects tend to be marginalised or discriminated against for a variety of reasons, and do not have access to such art based educational opportunities. The objectives for each project vary, with PP being used in many different ways. http://www.rightsexposure.org/the-rights-exposure-project/participatory-photography-jack-of-all-trades-or-master-of-none
One of the key ideas here is ‘advocacy’ where the subject becomes the creator, providing first hand experience of their life. Another key idea is that of having ‘educational objectives’ where photography is offered as a tool for creative work. There are concerns about the extent of involvement of participants as it can be a nominal activity where participants don’t have a say about how their images are edited and used.
I don’t like the idea of “participation”, as it refers most of the time to a participation in the picture-taking, but not in editing, conceiving and presentation processes. I found this participation dangerous from several reasons. It often is practiced in a context in which pictures are produced for a Western public, the “participants” don’t keep track of what happens with their pictures, they rarely edit, and present their photographs as they want. http://www.rightsexposure.org/the-rights-exposure-project/participatory-photography-jack-of-all-trades-or-master-of-none
2015, Participatory Photography – Jack of all trades, master of none? Robert Godden
What is important is that participants are involved in whole photographic process – this brings people to a ‘place of expression’ and that they remain in control of their images.
There is another issue which concerns me, that it is not self-evident that a photograph produced by a service user is a ‘better’ photograph than one I might produce. There is the indexical link to the person (remember Barthes and the photograph of his mother) which is important whatever is shown on the screen or gallery; it is a question of authenticity.
I conceived, completed and handed over a participatory research project for very stable drug users and their carers several years ago. This did achieve its educational goal with three published projects and those skill remain in the local community. In the second project I only helped with analysis skills and in project 3 only made comments on the final report. They don’t involve me anymore! The thing I learnt in that process is it takes time but you can minimise that power gap by surrender your skills and knowledge. Language used is crucial too – we did not use any Powerpoint presentations but video and games.
It is not possible to make this an educational project with longer term benefits as I do not have the time to do this in this next year. I consider it a ‘trial’ for at future project. I need to be clear that ‘we are producing images for the company which reflect their experience of being in recovery.’ I think that focus point will help drive things forward. It is disingenuous to promise something (‘what is your world’ or ‘How to become a photographer’) which I cannot deliver.
Another source of advise was photo voice which produces training and a manual about how to do PP. https://photovoice.org/resources/
http://www.smmgp.org.uk/download/others/other089.pdf – a link to my own participatory research work
The Discourse of Global Compassion: The Audience and Media Reporting of Human Suffering Birgitta Höijer Media and Communication, University of Örebro, Sweden, http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/26/4/513.abstract
Maria Short (2011) Context and Narrative, Lausanne: AVA Publishing. I read this book when doing Context and Narrative module but a re-read was very helpful. I also published a review at https://morrisgabc.wordpress.com/books/context-and-narrative/
Page 168 – “ultimately, the driving force behind the use of context and narrative should be the conceptual approach of the photographer as this will shape and inform the process and intention.”
I agree with this statement. One of my specialist skills is in qualitative observational research which student researchers often think that by just observing you will turn up some ‘nuggets’ of insight. The truth is that observation like chance favours a prepared mind with theoretical knowledge and pre-observation. I am not pinning my participation with one group on any particular theory but it is informed by my values and experience of qualitative research.
5. Group interactions
5.1 First visit
My first 2 hour visit was to a recovery group of drug and alcohol users. I introduced myself when it was my turn to ‘check-in’ when going round the group. I said that I was a doctor and had been asked to produce some images that speak about ‘Recovery’ and ask if they would like to help me to do that.
I also brought three images; of an abandoned house, of me dressed as an NHS nurse, and of a barred window. I stimulated discussion about the feelings and ideas that these images evoked in people in the group. This worked well as people laughed (about the nurse image) and expressed feelings about ‘fear’ and ‘being trapped’ in response to the ‘barred’ and ‘house’ images. I explained the personal significance of these images. I thought that was important as this is such a personal group. I said that this was what I was looking for from them and me. They were very positive. I had no camera as I was listening. I gave them my website address and contact details.
I kept notes in the meeting (with their consent) and can already see potential images in being in the group. For example, this is a large meeting room with chairs round it. Maybe photographing the empty room – with people absent – and text that is positive – will say more than photographing that group. I was struck by how often people said “Well done,” “Fantastic,”You’ve done really well” etc. People also talked about their need for the group as support.
I hope to be able to find individuals who will share their recovery story with me. I am already drawn to the group leader who is very good and a recovering drug user. She is my advocate in this project. I noticed she has ‘Believe’ tattooed on her ankle – I want to photograph her next time in her admin space where she is working. She told me sad things about unresolved access to her children; this seems to be a common feature of recovering drug and alcohol users where there is still healing and restoration. I will spend more time with her.
I also saw a mirror in the toilet from the side which did not show my image. It made me think about this whole assignment which is about the loss and restoration of identity – that is a profound thing.
5.1 Second visit
This time I have gone with a very large Nikon with off camera strobe for myself, and an old Lumix and newer Lumix camera to give to people from the group. The leader has suggested that she manages the giving out of the two small cameras.
I have decided to use the text from a leaflet about how to take a good photo produced by Photovoice (Photovoice, 2106). The ‘Four F’s’ framework is FRAME, FOCUS, FOLLOW THROUGH AND FLASH/LIGHT. The leaflet is too wordy so I have summarised in half of the words;
HOW TO TAKE A GOOD PICTURE – The ‘FOUR F’s’ (My summary)
- FRAME: Choose what you want to be in the picture – and what you don’t want. Think about what story you want to tell.
- FOCUS: Focus with the ‘half-press,’ then take the picture with the ‘full-press.’
- FOLLOW THROUGH: Give time to let the camera take the picture – if you pull away too quickly the image will be blurred
- FLASH/LIGHT: Think about where the light is coming from – you need light to take a picture. Use flash if you need to.
Two of the people in the group were interested in me taking photographs of them and one person took away a camera to take images with. People were more relaxed in talking to me. Here are some selections based on what I wanted to image.
During the meeting someone talked about hope (I am making verbatim notes in the meeting) and that the sun shining through the window was a metaphor for light and hope. I photographed the room with people (who consented to be imaged) and avoided photographing most people in the room, but I was keener to photograph the empty room and will add text to suggest interpretation.
Room 2 has lightening of the room in post production which is closer to what was seen on the day – I want contrast between the light streaming in the room “rays of hope” and the darker room where there are often tears. I like that people are absent but present in what is left behind. There are enough signs and signifiers here to show that this an attended group.
I decided to photograph the leader at their work station. I had noticed last time her foot tattoo ‘Believe.’ This is poignant because Michelle’s children are in care and she ‘believes’ that she will get them back one day now that she is in recovery from cocaine and other drug misuse.
This was a more interesting visit as people were keen to talk to me. One of the participants took a camera away although I am keen for mobile phone images. There were a lot more drug users in this group. They were comfortable with me taking images beforehand and even during the meeting. Perhaps I should have used flash to balance against that strong backlight but we have agreed to meet and photograph again.
One of the most important activities in the 2 hours recovery meeting is having a tea or coffee and a smoke. This is a metaphor for the value the group places on the interaction and group meeting.
One of the features of the rooms is the safety messages about drug overdose and recovery. We can see that the backdrop in Coffee room is plastered with such messages.
The group can be very sad, tense and even funny. It is the people who make that happen.
I am really not sure how much to show to them at this stage and am interested to see what people say to me outside of the group and what images will be returned next week.
5.3 Third visit
This was a very different visit as there were double the amount of people (20+) present and a several people offloaded very personal and family concerns. I reflected back to the group when it was my turn to ‘check in’ about the importance keeping and restoring family relationships. I talked briefly about what I was doing. I have managed to maintain my role as a photographer and not a doctor until this group when a factual question about alcohol treatment was asked which I answered. I thought that it would have been churlish not to speak to the groups need.
At the end of the group I met with Dean whom I had lent a camera a week before. He took me through his images. I was astounded at his collection of images of statues to illustrate his distance from people due to his alcoholism and his later re-connection with his family, other people and this group. He has applied the message that I had given about ‘not being obvious’ and looked for symbols, people and events. We agreed to meet up when I had downloaded his images and put them on my laptop. I was also approached by someone in the recover group whose hobby was photography. We agreed to meet up to look at how he and I might represent recovery. I also had one of the group members say that they had “tried taking photographs, but it’s not for me.”
Photovoice (2016). Reframing the world: The Four F’s. https://photovoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/The-Four-Fs.pdf. Photovoice.org, Photovoice.
6. Taking stock
I have made a few decisions
- I have finished with the group for the moment because I cannot take 2 hours out of my working day any more. The next time I return will be with a some images and a story to discuss.
- In order to reach the deadline for this assignment I will probably submit my story and not theirs.
- The next step is to spend time with the four people who have agreed to work with me; I can probably do this quite quickly as I have got to know them now.
- I will continue to help the service users to show what recovery is and I think that would benefit from more time spent with people over the next several months. I have already indicated this to the group leader and directors.
- I am still working 3-4 days a week and spending the rest of the time in Birmingham where my daughter is ill. I can’t turn things round as quickly as I normally would as I need to be physically present talking with people.
I have a few concerns
- I am not entirely happy with the images that I have shot, except maybe one, and I am not sure how I am going to build up an authentic story. I have ideas and shots but am not convinced by them.
- I have been looking at the notes and exercises in A3-5 and there is an obliqueness about representing the unseen, but doing it is a lot harder
- I have to meet the clients objectives about representing recovery but currently its a lot messier than the ‘positive’ flavour of the word.
- Can I submit for A3 images taken by me and by service users – is this legitimate or even useful?
Back to the spoken word
I have been keeping notes in the three meetings and I went back to look at my notes and reflect on my feelings and the issues raised by them.
Jane (not her real name) sticks in my mind.
“I’m doing crap. My partner came round to see the children. I had to press the panic alarm. I then tried to overdose. I also have to move out in the next couple of days – they are going to send us to a Travel Lodge…coming here keeps me out of my head otherwise I don’t know what I would do…”
I was also struck by the number of people who were abstinent of drugs and alcohol for several years but were still struggling with restoring family relationships. “I went shopping for my daughter’s birthday present yesterday even thought I know that I will not see her. I still struggle with that.”
As Dean suggested the loss of family and restoration of relationships is one of the most important things about recovering. I need to show this and my next step I think is to show some personal stories.
7. Personal stories
I have selected four people to talk to and photograph and one to give a camera to. They want to contribute and are on board with what I (we) am (are) doing.
Person 1: Dean – I will go through the images with him and may even replicate some of them for the submission. I would like to photograph him with the statues and perhaps with his family if they are willing.
Person 2: She wants me to photograph her with her granddaughter – her story is that it is only recently that her daughter has allowed her access to her. It may not be possible to show faces but maybe something relational between them with posture or contact.
Person 3: Michelle the group leader who is excellent in the groups which can be very challenging. The thing that I have picked up here is her loss of access to her children, her distress at that and her tattoo on her foot ‘Believe’ which is about her hope about getting her children back – and much more.
Person 4: Is in recovery and has recently been involved with another service is trying to photograph recovery. I will meet up with him soon.
I also want to image the toilet mirror with the partial person in it – I think that this is a strong idea.
8. Some pertinent research
I have been thinking about Uta Barth and her work and this issue of ambiguity which my tutor calls ‘poetic ambiguity.’ I think this is more an issue with A4 and A5 but needs to be marked here as this is an assignment I am trying to progress now.
Ambiguity, I think, is showing the less obvious so that people can bring their own memories and interpretation of the image into play, and these may be general or specific references. One of the OCA students posted some images for A2 that her tutor said “lacked ambiguity.” I realised that was the case with her first images and mine for A1 and A2. It is a little bit scary to move away from literal representation but also the risk of doing this more is exciting. We will see how things progress in this and the next two assignments.
Stolz, G. (2012). “Uta Barth interviewed by George Stolz. May 2012.”. Retrieved December 7th, 2016, from http://utabarth.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/2012-george-stoltz-interview-2012-galeria-elvira-gonzalez-website.pdf.
Berger, J. (1982). Appearances. Another Way of Telling. J. B. a. J. Mohr. New York, Pantheon Books http://timothyquigley.net/vcs/berger-appearances_illus.pdf.
Ferrier, S. (2016). “Ambiguity of meaning within the photographic image.” Retrieved December 7th, 2016, from http://www.sachaferrier.com/blog/2016/1/10/ambiguity-of-meaning-within-the-photographic-image.
9. A slight change of tack
I had arranged to meet with my service users a few days ago but my daughter was admitted to high dependency with breathing problems due to her cancer. I reviewed what I have already and decided with a few additional judicious images I can represent the key themes within the recovery group – see TABLE 1. I will continue the participatory element another time as my family need me with them in this next few months. I will turn this round and submit in the next few weeks; sometimes ‘good’ enough is just that.
Table 1: Key recovery themes and taken and potential images
|Theme||Images – in the bag or taken|
|Identity||Mirror – to take|
|Restoration of relationships||Dean|
|Community||Coffee – maybe retake|
|Dissonance of hope + emptiness||Positives – empty room|
|The creative word||Words|
|Restoration of relationships||Wobbly people – to take|
|Love||Hand hold – to take|
9.1 Looking at Mirrors
I am interested in the way in which mirrors are used to show identity. Sylvia Plath uses mirrors, candles and moons in her poems to symbolise her “personas’ search for self recognition, especially as the female self (Ghasemi, 2007). Her ideas have their root in psychotherapeutic theory about the persona, hidden self and other aspects of personality. The best known idea is Laclan’s reinterpretation of the Freud that states that we pass through the mirror stage where our ego becomes based on our reflection of the ‘other’ in the mirror which is nurtured or becomes neurotic as we mature.
“The recurrent mirror imagery, ultimately, implies Plath’s preoccupation with the notion of a divided self or the projection of two selves, the true self and an imposed version of self reflected through the mirror, moon, the male gaze, and finally the view of the patriarchal society. Elisabeth Bronfen elaborates on “Plath’s exploration of the oscillation between longing for extinction and transcendence of the self,” asserting that this struggle “translates into fantasies of transformation, of escape from constriction and engulfment, and of flight, where casting off outgrown selves and overused masks lead to naked renewal” (Bronfen 1998:64).
I have not comfortable with the reflected image of myself and would avoid seeing myself as it made me uncomfortable. For me, as for Plath, the mirror poses questions about my inner identity and what I would like to change: which of us is happy with that persona and hidden self? I am pretty comfortable with what is reflected back to me now in the mirror and in self portraits. In my recovery group I have heard many stories about how lives were re-built, often from a major crisis, such as loss of self-worth, employment, family or liberty. This is identity work; loss, acceptance then restoration ego and person. I will to show this but with a partial image of a person in front of a mirror or maybe no person just the reference.
VRÁNKOVÁ, K., KOY, CH. (eds) Dream, Imagination and Reality in Literature. South Bohemian Anglo-American Studies No. 1. České Budějovice: Editio Universitatis Bohemiae Meridionalis, 2007. ISBN 978-80-7394-006-5 Reflections of Self and Other in Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” Imagery Parvin Ghasemi Shiraz University https://www.pf.jcu.cz/stru/katedry/aj/doc/sbaas01-ghasemi.pdf
Bronfen, Elisabeth (1998): Sylvia Plath. Plymouth: Northcote House Publishers.
9.2 More images
I have taken some images at a service station on the M6 that help to illustrate ‘fogginess’ and the coldness of recovery. I carry a small camera with me. They were taken on the way back from seeing my daughter who was very ill and I thought they might apply to this project too.
I also took images in a hospital stairwell (reminded me of the Super Mario game), at a mirror in a toilet (mirror ideas), of a table in a restaurant (hope and optimism) and of some statues. The latter was suggested by one of the group client’s images and talk about isolation and being embraced by his family and the recovery community after stopping drinking. I am aware that the selection of subject here is being driven by the themes I have produced and my feelings about them. Here are some images with annotations.
They were shot with A5 in mind, which is an assignment about anticipatory grief and loss, but they illustrate feelings and statements about recovery here. Is it wise to use them here?
I also took some images of an orange table top in a Japanese restaurant as I though it might say something about optimism in recovery after reading Uta Barth, but maybe there is not enough there.
I decided to involve my OCA peers and solicit their comments, which are on the next tab, before submitting to my tutor.