Essay BA1a – Informed practice
The academic text given to me at the start of this brief revolved around the photographic theory ‘inside/out’ by Abigail Solomon-Godeau. The text discusses the two perspectives that other practitioners believe. Two main influences for me were Susan Sontag and Martha Rosler. Analysing their views were a starting point for me gaining an understanding of the two perspectives. I began to believe that it is nearly impossible to be an insider of a situation as the photographer is only there to document what is happening and therefore observe the scene (an outsider). The text leads me to explore both views and experiment to see if I was correct or not.
Susan Sontag stated that ‘The camera is a kind of passport that annihilates the moral boundaries and social inhibitions, freeing the photographer from any responsibility toward the people photographed’. I thought about this for a while and agreed with Sontag. I made a connection with the quote to Diane Arbus’ work ‘untitled’ where she photographed the deviants of society. The medium of the camera allows others to see into someone else’s life and allows the viewer to remove any responsibilities towards the people being photographed. This influenced my work especially in my first photo shoot where I shot street photography. In this experiment, I was trying to get people’s ‘passport’ when photographing them, getting close to people that displayed the truth. This was then another area of the text I studied and researched further. Conceptualisation and reality I think differs in every different human on the basis of which they perceive things, based on the past, time and objectivity. Solomon says ‘a truth of appearance… totally escapes the binary of inside/out’ which I agree with. We can assume a photograph is inside/out but we don’t know what exactly the photographer was thinking. A prime example would be war photographers who are there to simply document what they see, however their connection to the war and in some sense become an insider, alters what they photograph, thus alters reality and the truth. Solomon said photography is ‘superficially of surface appearance’. We only see information the photographer presents to us with making a judgement from his perspective and what he has chosen to photograph.
Building on my own understanding of the text and working out the fundamentals of the brief on what to photograph, I decided to contrast my own initial conclusion which is that the insider view is near impossible for the photographer to be in such a position. Soloman states that ‘the possibility that a photographic practice ostensibly premised an insiderness ultimately reveals the very impossibility of such a position in the realm of the visual’. I think that the mechanics of the camera and its obtrusiveness nature makes the ‘insider’ position near impossible. Although that said, the viewer ultimately decides on the position, which is evident when comparing and contrast the works of Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin. Reason for my viewpoint on this is because on page 203, line 24, Soloman says it ‘depends upon your perception, cognation, projection and identification’ which I think an alter significantly in everyone. My response to this point was my photo shoot on documenting the life of a runner from an insider’s perspective. Before taking the photographs, I made a statement of my own saying ‘to be an insider, is to photograph yourself, or from your own visual perspective of a situation you are altering or being part of’. The context of the images I have taken for the insider perspective of running is hard to pin down. The images are a timeline of my run documenting what I saw and what I concentrated on whilst I ran therefore could be seen in a gallery or running (sport related) event. The images in this shoot definitely was from an insider’s perspective displaying what I saw when I ran whilst also communicating the feelings at the time, loneliness, focus and isolation. The research and in-depth understanding of the academic text informed this shoot, without this I wouldn’t have shot the sport in the way I did in this shoot and also the ones to follow on.
Alec Soth has been an influence throughout the brief in the way I photographed my shoots. He also inspired the feelings I wanted to communicate in images that I altered slightly in post-processing. Reducing the contrast, and increasing the shadows I found replicates the feelings of Soth’s work giving my images a simplistic, soft and light feel, where there is a sense of Mystery and freedom. Nike the sportswear brand has also been an influence from a commercial side of view in the way I photograph the sport. Seeing the sport advertised professionally with pictures and also motivational moving images gave me a deeper understanding of the context and how the work I produce could potentially fit into a commercial, editorial context.
In conclusion, is being on the inside really the ‘good’ position as Sontag states and is the outsider position ‘victim photography’ as Martha Rosler believes. I have photographed both positions in the brief to experiment myself and to also make my conclusion stronger with primary evidence. Perhaps the privileged engagement with a subject or personal knowledge is subject to bias leading to a distortion of the truth, affecting the representation of the subject, leaving the viewer to question the validity and authenticity of the photograph (something we frequently assume). Does the outsider position display the truth of a subject? I initially thought this however the photographs I have taken has lead me to question it again. Or is there a third space. An unprocessed liminal space that is in between insider and outsider, which is left to the viewer to decide. The work I have produced has been heavily influenced by these questions I have posed to myself, in which I think I may have answered photographing both sides. The viewer locates objectivity in an image and subjectivity which can differ in everybody… the viewer objectifies the images from the outside based on their interpretation and perception of reality.
Where I am
Throughout my A levels, I have always preferred to work independently which I think is one of many profound reasons why I succeeded in them. I feel that working independently is one of my biggest strengths as I tend to take all the responsibility of a current project/workload, prioritise correctly and have the self-motivation to complete it to the best of my ability. An example to why I think this is one of my strongest personal qualities would be last year where I organised my revision and disciplined myself to get it finished. This quality is not only beneficial to have now but will also be useful if I was to become a freelance photographer in my later life.
Another strength I have is being able to maintain a high level of motivation in whatever I do. Reason for this is because I know where I want to be in the next ten years and I know exactly how to get there. I believe that setting goals that are high but achievable is the best way to make the most out of what you have and very important for your motivational levels. Knowing where I want to be in the coming years and reflecting on where I am now, how I have got here along with the odd coffee, is all the motivation I need to complete tasks and meet deadlines. An example of this quality is again during my A-levels but especially reaching the end where I was working countlessly and revising every hour I had in every day. In the end it paid dividends therefore i know that I have a high level of motivation, as long as I know how to get there and what the final reward is.
One of the biggest weaknesses I have is making decisions. This can be ranging from an everyday decision for example purchasing a packet of crisps to choosing which route to take. This is probably due to the fact I try to weigh up the impact of a decision and calculate which one is the better choice, which in an entrepreneurial sense can be good logic. However delaying a big decision can make me miss out opportunities losing out to competition and achieving my goals. Being indecisive puts me in an allusion that not making a decision allows me to remain safe in my current position, when in actual fact I am standing still which in life you cannot afford to do in order to be successful.
Another area of improvement for me personally could be to improve the ability to get on with people from different backgrounds. This statement sounds shallow of me to say such a thing but I think it is more my self-confidence and never having a relationship with someone who came from a different town, country or class. I have always mixed with people who are like myself and never attempted to broaden my social circles. I think this is an important area to improve because of the power of relationships. They can create popularity, confidence, work and contacts to potential clients.
To become a more decisive decision maker, I need to trust my gut and avoid regret by thinking what could have been behind the other door… to keep putting one foot in front of the other. One strategy to combat the regret of a decision (which is what makes me indecisive) would be to make a journal. Whenever a big decision happens, I could write it down in my journal along with all the reasons why I choose that decision. To help me build relationships with people from different backgrounds I could listen to their stories and understand more about themselves, allowing a friendship to form before judging them. I could also ask them about their culture, their views and make a concerted effort to make a relationship. A method to do this would be simply to be an ally, and build social circles with different people, making continuous effort and conversation with them.