Exercise 1: The Square Mile
In our earliest years we know a patch of ground in a detail we will never know anywhere again – site of discovery and putting names to things – people and places – working with difference and similitude – favourite places, places to avoid – neighbours and their habits, gestures and stories – textures, smells – also of play, imagination, experiment – finding the best location for doing things – creating worlds under our own control, fantasy landscapes. (Professor Mike Pearson)
Make a series of 6–12 photographs in response to this concept. Use this as an opportunity to take a fresh and experimental look at your surroundings. You may wish to re-trace places you know very well, examining how they might have changed; or, particularly if you’re in a new environment, you may wish to use photography to explore your new surroundings and meet some of the people around you.
You may wish to explore the concept of Y Filltir Sgwar further, or you may deviate from this. You may want to focus on architecture and landscape, or you may prefer to photograph the people who you think have an interesting connection to the square mile within which you currently find yourself.
However you choose to approach this exercise, it should communicate something about your identity: your interests, motivations, and your ambitions for your photography. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to respond to this brief, as long as you try to push yourself out of your comfort zone in terms of subject matter. Try out new approaches rather than sticking to what you think you’re most successful at.
Write up to 500 words of reflection on this exercise. If you haven’t done any reflective writing before, read the next section before you start.
My Square Mile
I completed this exercise 15 months ago when I started the EYV module https://morrisgdotorg.wordpress.com/assignments/assignment-no-1-square-miles/a1-reworked-submission/ On that occasion I started with my home and personal life, moved onto that of my neighbours and then to the outskirts of my ‘Square Mile’ which were ‘shrines’ at the ‘Angel of the North.’
I also recently returned to my family home and environments and examined my experiences of abuse in these setting in Context and Narrative. Most of this work in hidden on my learning blog but here are some that were used for development and rejected for the final Assignment No 5. That exercise brought home to me that revisiting the past can have emotional content and is not a distant or neutral experience. It did lead to one of my most powerful series. https://wordpress.com/pages/morrisgabc.wordpress.com
But what about now? I have been reading Jungian theory and thought it might be interesting to map and display some of my inner landscape. In the same way as there is a geographic square mile there is a close space of thought, will and inner psychology (or conflict) that is unseen yet is expressed physically as appearance, word and deed. This too has experiences from childhood and the past. I am not talking about those repressed thoughts and conflicts, which intrude from time to time and which are distant from my inner ‘square mile,’ but those day-to-day internal memories and mental excursions.
2.1. Theory and picture research
Whereas Marx’s ‘big idea’ was to explore labour in terms of social relations, politics and the economy, Freud was the first to map out the ‘unconscious desires’ and inner worlds of people in a unifying theory (D’Alleva, A. 2013). He tells us about ego, neurosis, id and suggests that these concepts also operate on a societal as well as a personal level. There are few examples of Freud applying his ideas to image interpretation but the most notable are his thoughts on ‘The Mona Lisa.’
“Mona Lisa’s famous smile embodies the history of her childhood, simultaneously maternal and boyish, tender and menacing.” (Freud, 1957)
I warm more to the work of Jung and his ideas about personality. “He describes his model of the psyche as; ‘By psyche I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious’, so we use the term ‘psyche’ rather than ‘mind’, since mind is used in common parlance to refer to the aspects of mental functioning which are conscious” (Hopwood, A. 2006). His model includes elements such as psyche, persona, ego, complexes, the collective unconscious, the self, person, the shadow, anima and animus and individuation.
“The origin of the term persona comes from the mask worn by Greek actors in antiquity and denotes the part of the personality which we show to the world. The persona has been called ‘the packaging of the ego’ or the ego’s public relations person, which is on show most of the time. One’s social success depends on having a reasonably well-functioning persona, which is flexible enough to adapt to different situations, and which is a good reflection of the what lies behind it.
The persona grows out of the need in childhood to adapt to the expectations of parents, teachers and peers, and this may well mean that the persona carries traits of personality which are desirable, leaving the opposite, undesirable traits to form part of the shadow.
The shadow carries all the things we do not want to know about ourselves or do not like. The shadow is a complex in the personal unconscious with its roots in the collective unconscious and is the complex most easily accessible to the conscious mind. It often possesses qualities which are opposite from those in the persona, and therefore opposite from those of which we are conscious. Here is the Jungian idea of one aspect of the personality compensating for another: where there is light, there must also be shadow. If the compensatory relationship breaks down, it can result in a shallow personality with little depth and with excessive concern for what other people think about him or her. So while it can be troublesome, and may remain largely unconscious, the shadow is an important aspect of our psyche and part of what gives depth to our personalities. The fascination which the differing, contrasting, or opposing aspects of personality hold for us, is illustrated in such novels as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or The Picture of Dorian Gray.” (Hopwood, A. 2006)
I looked at Freud and Jung in a previous module and tried to contrast persona and ‘hidden’ in a single portrait image, but here I am attracted to showing more of the ‘hidden.’
Laclan (D’Alleva. 2013, P96) is the psychoanalyst who moved Freud’s ideas on creating an alternative trajectory for the development of personality; not oral, anal and phallic but ‘The Real,’ ‘The Imaginary’ and ‘The Symbolic.’ Laclan describes the development of the ego as a ‘Mirror stage’ where the child sees himself in a mirror and someone tells them that ‘this is you. “They identify with this imaginary image of themselves as an ideal ego which is internalised.” Laclan also talks about ‘chains of signifiers’ in the person which refer to aspects of the internal life (of conflict). I was not clear how his work applies to art interpretation despite a section in D’Alleva’s book being devoted to explaining this. He also talks about ‘gaze’ and this is something I will explore in another exercise. Maybe I can make that inner child visible.
Freud has largely been debunked in medical circles and psychoanalytic therapy has been replaced with behavioural intervention which have been proven to be more efficacious. My own training is in Rogerian counselling and motivational interviewing which I use in my work with substance misusers and as a GP. One of the key components of the latter approach is working with ambivalence to nudge people to think about and make changes. The theoretical underpinnings may be in self–determination theory (SDT) which is “a theory of personality development and self–motivated behaviour change. Fundamental to the theory is the principle that people have an innate organisational tendency toward growth, integration of the self, and the resolution of psychological inconsistency” (Markland et al. 2005). I recognise that inner desire to challenge negative thinking and a desire to be mentally composed; I also know about that ambivalence to change. Maybe I can show some of these things.
Michal Zahornacky is a professional fine art photographer from Slovakia. I liked many of his portraits which remained me of the work of Tim Walker (Walker, 2016). Most, but not all of the images are elegant and appear not to have been constructed using Photoshop. I may try to do something similar although I have some ideas for adding text to the images which would need processing.
Oleg Kulik is another artist that piqued by interest in Susan Bright’s ‘Autofocus’ book (Bright, 2010. Pages 186-7). The Alice vs Lolita series is particularly disturbing as the gaze in on an underage girl (Lewis Carroll’s photograph of Alice) and another adolescent girl (Nabokov’s fictitious creation) where both are marked as desirable. Perhaps they represent those unconscious desires that some men struggle with?
Masahisa Fukase’s ‘Solitude of Ravens’: I love this book. I saw some of these images recently in New York which were without any commentary. They were memorable, but only after I returned to the UK discovered the meaning of the images – they illustrate grief after his wife’s death (Gallery, 2016).
“Masahisa Fukase. ‘Solitude of Ravens.’
Brian Gatling is another performer that springs to mind in the distorting effects of mirrors to illustrate the ‘other.’ I was most struck by Brian Catling’s live performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993 which is on Youtube (Catling, B. 1993). I have been thinking about using a mirror to change or distort the face in order to demonstrate something of the inner turmoil which we all experience from time to time.
2.2. Mapping the inner landscape
Over three days I kept a diary of my inner talk and feeling. I then mapped these out using Inspiration Pro. I am sure that other things will come to the fore as I progress, perhaps from my childhood or history.
2.3. Shooting ideas
Here is my list of my thoughts and shooting ideas;
- Fear of death: This has been a growing issue for me as I stack up lots of illnesses due to age. It is something I think about often and while I don’t see death as the end I picture it as a black experience. IDEA – Photo me trying to hold up and off the word ‘DEATH’
- Controlling the mind: I consciously challenge thoughts especially the negative ones; they are only thoughts but sometimes they can affect how I and feel and what I do. I feel in a battle in my mind sometimes, but I believe my mind is being renewed. IDEA – Photo of me, either multiple exposures of head movements or blur or me looking frustrated or fending off bombarding words – a torrent of words.
- Peace and Calm: I have not put this on my map but I meditate in the morning and at night and find that prayer and reflection centers me sometimes I am in touch with the numinous (God). IDEA – Image of hands folded and open and calm.
- Ego/arrogance: IDEA – challenging and aggressive or assertive pose – maybe through red or other colour plastic
- Anxiety and Displacement: IDEA – Shaking hands
- Fear: I have often felt fear in my life and its reaction is frigidity and containment as protection. IDEA – Not sure
- Love and Care: IDEA – embrace or wild abandon image
2.4. Summary of Intention
Title: My psychological ‘Square Mile’
Subtitle: Window into my daily mental and psychological landscape
Short summary: Images that illustrate my inner psychological landscape, including current pre-occupations and past history.
Topic or theme – why? Why not? This is a legitimate interpretation and extension of the brief.
Intention: To show images that move people – that they identify with from the hidden self.
3. A change of tack
Life is unpredictable; something that I had deliberately pushed away into my distant emotional landscape has returned with the force of a tsunami to wipe away many of my immediate concerns. I discovered two days ago that my daughter’s treatment for her lymphoma has not worked and it has spread. We are devastated. I wake up and feel the sun shining on my face then that thought intrudes and accompanies me throughout the day. I want to express this pain.
I have been reading ‘Face: new perspectives in photographic portrait,’ which gives some excellent examples of contemporary portrait photography (Ewing, 2004). The images that spoke to me most were by Claudia Matzko (Ewing, 2006. Page 136).
I like the ambiguity of this image where you can read into it whatever you want; this image speaks to me of pain.
After reading an article today in The Observer today by Sean O’Hagan about ‘digitised’ art photography I was led to some other photographers who can help me find a way to express myself (O’Hagan, 2016).
Spirit is a bone
This series of portraits, which includes Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevic and many other Moscow citizens, were created by a machine: a facial recognition system recently developed in Moscow for public security and border control surveillance. The result is more akin to a digital life mask than a photograph; a three-dimensional facsimile of the face that can be easily rotated and closely scrutinised.
What is significant about this camera is that it is designed to make portraits without the co-operation of the subject; four lenses operating in tandem to generate a full frontal image of the face, ostensibly looking directly into the camera, even if the subject himself is unaware of being photographed.
The system was designed for facial recognition purposes in crowded areas such as subway stations, railroad stations, stadiums, concert halls or other public areas but also for photographing people who would normally resist being photographed. Indeed any subject encountering this type of camera is rendered passive, because no matter which direction he or she looks, the face is always rendered looking forward and stripped bare of shadows, make-up, disguises or even poise.
Co-opting this device, Broomberg & Chanarin have constructed their own taxonomy of portraits in contemporary Russia that rely heavily on the oeuvre of two 20th Century German artists. August Sander produced over 300 portraits of archetypal German workers during the Weimar Republic – from the baker to the philosopher to the revolutionary. His project, to create a comprehensive archive of society, was conceptually and formally rigorous. His subjects are positioned centre frame. Always looking into camera. Always heroic in relation to the lens. But the result, retrospectively viewed through the lens of the 2nd World War becomes unexpectedly melancholic, even sinister.
Sander’s contemporary, Helmar Lerski, also categorised his subjects according to profession. Lerski however rejected the singular, heroic, full body portrait. Instead he insisted on repetitive close-ups that convey a powerful sense of claustrophobia; and always multiple views of the same faces shown from different viewpoints. Unlike Sander’s humanistic approach, Lerski insisted that you could tell nothing from the surface of the skin.
Echoing both Sander’s and Lerski’s projects, Broomberg & Chanarin have made a series of portraits cast according to professions. But their portraits are produced with this new technology, with little if any human interaction. They are low resolution and fragmented. The success of these images are determined by how precisely this machine can identify its subject: the characteristics of the nose, the eyes, the chin, and how these three intersect. Nevertheless they cannot help being portraits of individuals, struggling and often failing to negotiate a civil contract with state power.
I used a white backdrop illuminated by two strobes with a 45 cm square sheet of ground glass. Two metres in front of it was my Nikon D810 on a tripod. I used a 50mm lens but could have used a telephoto lens to compact the image. I decided I would crop the image in Lightroom or Photoshop.
I taped an SD card behind the glass and used Liveview to get a sharp image.
There was a major technical issue about flash from the pop up flash to trigger the two slave SB 900’s (TTL metering with master flash cancelled). I experimented with putting tape over the pop up but this did not work. After some research I discovered that the only way to cancel the needed pop up flash was to have cables from the camera to the flashes i.e. mechanical rather than electronic communication. I thought I could cancel out this unwanted image in Photoshop.
5. Contact sheets and selected images
5.1 Preparatory contacts
5.2 2nd lot of contacts
5.3 3rd lot of contacts
5.4. Initial processed images
These images were processed in PS by increasing the exposure by +75 and reducing the contrast to -17 or thereabouts. I did think about black and white but wanted to show ‘flesh’ as I am ‘flesh and bones.’
I was very happy with the images except that they were spoilt by contact with the glass and marks left on the glass. The more ambiguous ones were best. I shared these images with my friends and they found them to be “powerful” and “disturbing,” but I think that is because they know what is happening in my life. I will shoot them again and show the new ones in my final selections. One of my OCA friends by text questioned the labelling and I discussed it with my OCA peers;
“Morris this is an incredibly evocative and powerful set of images. Your process is so thorough and clear. I think it is a very strong response to the brief. I would prefer the images without individual labels, the title is enough, I found I wanted to have a relationship with the images without the interference of text.
“I don’t think the structure of the exercise or words are important. What is important is that you have bared your emotions through visual art. The words and psychological explanations are not necessary.“I also think titles are unnecessary. Your work doesn’t need any anchorage.” 3 OCA student comments from Facebook OCA Photo 1.
5.5 New shoot
The process was the same as before.
6. Image series and reflections on the psychological ‘Square Mile.’
6.1 Image series: ‘Bad news’
My intention was to illustrate my psychological ‘Square Mile;’ the thoughts and concerns of my hidden emotional landscape, where, like any physical location, lie recent and past experiences and memories.
Recently I learnt that my daughter’s cancer had not responded to treatment. I was distraught and angry with everybody and nobody; this became my dominant internal landscape. I decided to express that pain in a series of self portraits.
Theoretically I was influenced by Jung who talks about the outer ‘persona’ and inner ‘hidden self’ ( Hopwood, 2008). Photographically, I liked a single image of Claudia Matzko’s (‘Voices #2, 20012, Claudia Matko), in the book ‘Face: the new photographic portrait (Ewing, 2004, Page 136). I also liked the distorted images of Brian Catling (Catling, 1993). Another influence in my history was the ‘The Scream’ sculpture by August Rodin and ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, which I have seen in Paris and Oslo (Neret, 2007 Page 60; Munch, 1893). I ‘channelled’ these when posing my photographs; this demonstrates the intertexuality of my work.
I ordered a 45cm by 45 cm piece of ground glass which I taped between two light supports. I place this in front of a white backdrop illuminated by two strobes. Two metres in front of this was my Nikon D810 with a 50mm lens on a tripod. I thought about using a telephoto lens to compact the image but preferred the human scale of the 50mm lens. I decided to crop the image in Lightroom or Photoshop.
I taped an SD card behind the glass and used Liveview to get a sharp image. I posed behind the screen with different gestures such as screaming and covering my face. I used the camera timer to check the image after each photograph.
There was a major technical issue about the pop up flash which triggers the two slave SB 900’s with TTL metering. I experimented with putting tape over the pop up but this did not work. After some research I discovered that the only way to cancel the pop up flash was cables from the camera to the flashes i.e. mechanical rather than electronic communication. I did not have a cable and decided to re-take the images with me posing in the bottom section of screen.
The denotative aspects of the images, what objectively is present, are a head with gestures of face, hands and arms. They are behind a glass screen which makes them unclear. What do these elements mean (connote)? The open-mouthed scream and clenched fists connate frustration, anger and distress. The last image of the series shows a head and shoulders disappearing into the background; I feel less knowing this bad news about my daughter.
The frosted glass for me is about trying to show the unknowable of emotions; ‘In focus, known; out of focus, unknown.'(Ewing, 2004, Page 136). I chose colour images to show ‘flesh’ as we are bodies that feel and suffer. I consulted my OCA peers who helped me decide not to label each image so as to leave them open to interpretation.
My last words goes to Rodin talking about ‘The Scream’ and another of his works ‘The Head of Sorrows’ (1882); “I have always tried to render inner feelings through the mobility of muscles …Without life, art does not exist” (Neret, 2007, Page 60). And life, sometimes, has ‘bad news.’
Freud, S. (1957). Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood. Standard edition of the Collected Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. J. Strachey. London, Hogarth Press. 11.
D’Alleva, A. (2013). Methods and Theories of Art History. London, Laurence King Publishing.
Hopwood, A. (2008). “Jung’s model of the psyche.” Retrieved June 6th, 2016, from http://www.thesap.org.uk/resources/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/jungs-model-psyche/.
Markland, R., Tobin, Rollnick (2005). “Motivational interviewing and self-determination theory.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 24(6): 811-831 http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2005_MarklandRyanTobinRollnick_MotivationalInterviewing.pdf.
Walker, T. (2016). “Tim Walker Photography: Portraits.” Retrieved 1st January, 2016, from http://www.timwalkerphotography.com/portraits#40.
Bright, S. (2010). Autofocus: The self-portrait in contemporary photography. London, Thames and Hudson.
Gallery., M. H. (2016). “Masahisa Fukase. ‘Solitude of Ravens.’ http://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/exhibitions/127/overview/#/artworks_standalone/10108.” Retrieved 8th April, 2016, from http://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/exhibitions/127/overview/#/artworks_standalone/10108.
Face: new perspectives in photographic portrait. William A Ewing, Thames and Hudson, 2004
Sean O’Hagan. 2016. The digital age reshapes our notion of photography. Not everyone is happy … The Guardianonline. Retrieved 6th July, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jul/02/photography-no-longer-just-prints-on-the-wall
Catling, B. (1993). The Return of the Reforgotten, Goldmark Gallery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywh2-ME67Ag
Neret, G. (2007). Page 60. Rodin: sculptures and drawings. Germany, Taschen.
Munch, E. (1893). The Scream. The National Gallery, Oslo.