A few things have occurred to me since posting project 5: Evidence last week.
Production values, format and scale
The first was about scale and seeing the images online meant that maybe for this particular outlet the grid typology isn’t such a good approach as the viewers can see enough detail. To really get a sense of the items the viewer needs to be able to stand back and see the items in a grid but then also come up close and view the detail to get a sense of just what they are looking at and consider how they might be used.
In addition the issue of colour v monochrome is key in evoking an orientation of the viewer to the intended meaning of the images and I think the issue of colour makes the images vernacular rather than documentary and so will play on the issue of faux objectivity presented by monochrome values and present them in black and white.
So I began experimenting in monochrome firstly applying a green filter and adjusting brightness levels. I then applied those changes to all the images and then selected those that looked best. I then made some slight adjustments to individual images where either lens vigneting needed adjusting or there were other issues because the green filter didn’t work equally well in every single case. The difference is subtle but noticeable when looking at the tape measure in each photo.
I also changed the order of the images slightly as the items with the rectangular format made my eye follow a pattern in the above typology and I did not want that.
So as noted above there was a little inconsistency in the monochrome treatment of colours – blue mainly – in the photo of the bathroom carpet at the first attempt. So I redeveloped that image resulting in much more consistent result. See below.
The above approach offered the viewer a rather dull vista. Yet medical issues are evoked by gloss, cleanliness (we hope) and so the image did not evoke a sense of medicalization that I wanted alone side the faux documentary values. I therefore moved to present the image in a high key high contrast mode.
The strengths and weaknesses of the approach
If we accept that photography is commonly seen as sitting on a realist/expressionist continuum then this approach is at the far point of realism in that it aims to document items and removing any subjectivity from the photographs. Thus the above images show the items using a consistent approach that allow viewers to get an idea of the size and shape and texture of the items both individual and in relation to each other.
However while the approach offers a superficial sense of objectivity when explored in any depth we can see that the technique is neither objective nor particularly comprehensive in showing the items. For example, the approach taken shows the items in monochrome and out of their context – where they are used and so offers little indication of their purpose and function. Moreover even simple things like light values and contrast can have a massive effect on the evocation.
By adopting this high contrast high key approach the faux documentary/realist values are amplified. Yet unless the viewer has some prior knowledge or access to some text or supplementary images, the images are limited in what they offer as I have provided no labels on context.
I have already mentioned Sultan and Mandel’s Evidence (2003) which is considered to be a seminal foundation for a new conceptual practice whereby “truth”, narrative and authorship are questioned. Others have used a typological approach in ways that highlight the subtleties in difference and approaches. For example, Freidus noted that the approach of ordering photographs in this way is more often associated with science than the arts but then went on to challenge this stance by comparing and contrasting the photographers and their photos (1991). For example, Edward Ruscha’s 26 Gas Stations were enigmatic with an artless and casual snap shot aesthetic. Compare this to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s industrial buildings and structures where the role of culture on functional buildings is very clear to see and the approach straight, or Judy Fiskin’s tiny little bleached out buildings where she detaches the subject matter from its context.
Photography is far from scientific in its representation – it is mechanical but it tampers with our visual senses around colour, tone, texture and perspective just like other art forms do. Typologies work on two fronts: they offer comparisons and reflections of way things are as they are and this photographic approach gives equal weight to the subject an the process and creates with the interplay between them. This leaves us with a paradox in that supposedly objective images are in fact the result of choices and processes that present subject matter in a highly stylised format that give the pretence of being more real, authentic and truer than other approaches. I have shown that this is not necessarily the case.
Yet for all the failings the typological approach has strengths too: we can see things in relation to other items and these associations share a consistency of scale and photographic treatment that help the viewer build up an overarching view of the subject matter otherwise not present. The approach also offers me a good starting point for this journey of exploration, so while I personally prefer the colour typology the high contrast monochrome approach works best in delivering my intended discourse.
I don’t think there is necessarily a final version of this project as the approach taken will depend on factors such as end product eg exhibition or book, context and related imagery. Indeed maybe I should use the three different processed sets to both offer insights into my life and a commentary on the nature of supposed documentary photography….
Sultan L, and Mandel M, (2003) Evidence Available here: http://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=PK908&i=&i2=&CFID=19859062&CFTOKEN=26011589 Accessed on 03/11/2014
Freidus M, Lingwood J, Slemmons R (1991) Typologies: Nine Contemporary Photographers, Newport Harbor Art Museum 1991