Context & Narrative Introduction

The introduction begins with this quote:-

I think it’s certain that one doesn’t only photograph with the eyes but with all of one’s intelligence
         Brassai (interview with Tony Ray Jones, 1970, quoted in Brittain, p.39)

The Johari window comes to mind as I think on ‘intelligence’ – those elements of personality that are known or unknown, by self or others. Those hidden areas seem the most important to me in terms of creativity and perception/reading of artistic work. How many times as a viewer have I searched for those aspects of the artist that have not been explained? Analysing the work to discover their motivations and emotions. Even more importantly for me have been those occasions where I have surprised myself by what I have produced; wondered what it is that’s been lurking in my sub-conscious and waiting to be revealed.

In discussing ‘context’ the Introduction to Part One states,

It’s also important to be alert to the messages contained in your own images so you don’t transmit unintended meanings or fail to recognise your own visual narrative (p. 14)

Those thoughts, feelings, memories that, somehow or other coalesce into something new are, to me, a most important aspect of the context of work I produce. However, it can sometimes take quite some time before I make sense of some of the images that seem straightforward at the time and yet develop into something else. I’m thinking here of Assignment 5 of TAOP which quite a few other people found very interesting. I revealed something about myself and also to myself. The problem is that I keep wanting to do that and yet it cannot be forced. I have to be open and welcoming, yet patient, and that’s a dissonance that I find frustrating. In the meantime, as advised many times by tutors, I need to keep taking the photographs; somewhat akin to panning for gold.

What follows might be received as random thoughts just wandering along. However, I do think that there are some photographic themes here for me that have been slowly emerging for quite some time and also align themselves with topics being introduced in C&N Introduction.

The Introduction refers us to Eric Kessels and Joachim Schmid. Eric Kessels has a background in advertising and graphic design and is also a collector of vernacular photography. I saw some of his work when I went to the Arles festival with OCA last year and here’s a post I wrote about it.  An installation depicting 24 hours of uploaded Flickr photographs (50,000 that were downloaded and printed) – cascading in piles and Album Beauty an ode to the vanishing era of the photograph album. He has this fascination with discarded amateur photographs – searching for the beauty that might be found within them. Here’s another link to a recent interview with him in Phaidon  and also a very enjoyable You Tube video, here published 19th November 2013, which is an interview by Vogue Italia against the backdrop of his Exhibition rooms. I could have embedded it but it’s 18 minutes long and so probably best for readers to save for later. At the beginning of the interview Kessels says that, having a background in advertising, he views collecting vernacular photographs as a way to find a voice to change the stereotypicality of advertising. He comments that, on average, in that era of the family album families had an average of 7/8 of them. The first when the couple meet and go on holiday together; their wedding; the first baby. This is followed by several which are a total mix of all kinds of years, followed by the final one which is almost a copy of the first – children grown and the couple go on holiday on their own again. Taking pictures of each other in the same places, in front of iconic buildings etc (as proof that they’ve been there).

Here are some other aspects I found interesting:-

  • The family album has an authenticity about it because people had to print the photographs. They worshipped them and stuck them in there.
  • There is something almost private about these albums which were mainly only seen by family and friends. Now the whole world can look at the photographs via the internet.
  • We think in so many images but don’t look at them
  • Many photograph albums are boring, “90% are totally boring”!

Kessels is interested in the mistakes in vernacular photographs, e.g. fingers in front of the lens, and also in what he terms typologies of amateur photographs. For example, usually the man is the photographer and the woman is often ‘planted’ in nature to make her look even more beautiful. The photographs are close-up when the woman is a girl and more in the distance as she grows older. He makes the comment that the photographer is often making pictures of their relationship. Family albums are a form of propaganda the family needs to be perfect and the album is there to promote the happiness of the family – a concept that is very much in line with postmodern thinking and the work done by feminist photographers such as Jo Spence and Gillian Wearing to show more ‘truth’.

Kessels uses these photographs to create new narratives – give them a new life. He saw his Exhibition/installation as an experience/interaction where people could, as it were, walk through a photograph album; “walk through objects in space”. He wanted to give an overview of that period that’s now over. This WeAreOCa post  writes in terms of him ‘embracing the flood’.

Thinking of my own ‘flood’ of inherited photographs I’ve pondered on how I can create new narratives with them, ‘appropriating’ them for my own purposes. My parents didn’t have family albums – just loose photographs in envelopes, often with the negatives. I seem to have continued that habit. The family archive is now in four large boxes – so many photographs and letters. All with a story to tell. They’re mostly posed of course, even as snapshots, but represent the record of an event – a time when people were happy or thinking of someone. There are messages written at the back of some of them.

I have also obtained other photographs – not that many but some through eBay and a couple bought at a Doll Fair that particularly intrigue me. This whole aspect of ‘appropriation’ is something that I initially frowned upon and yet I’ve softened on that. When I walked around the Kessels Exhibition I felt some sorrow at all those lives thrown away somehow. I still do feel that but it’s also tempered by the thought that people obviously didn’t want those images and so maybe it is okay to use them for my own purposes.

Joachim Schmid also works with found photography. There is an interview with him here on WeAreOCA  focussing on his interest in repetitive patterns in snapshots such as food and hands. I have also accessed a fascinating video of Schmid discussing his approach here with Divya Rao Heffley who is the program manager for the Hillman Photography Initiative which is “to create a living laboratory to explore the rapidly changing field of photography and its impact and role in the world”. It investigates “…the lifecycle of images: their creation, transmission, consumption, storage, potential loss, and re-emergence”.

The written summary that accompanies Heffley’s video of Schmid is entitled Photography as Urban Archaeology: The Practice of Joachim Schmid. Schmid talks about his “anti-museum” – a collection of photographic garbage and how you can use your imagination on defaced/damaged, thrown-away photos. He comments on how we all end up taking the same pictures – sunsets, dogs, couples kissing.

Listening to him speak and seeing his animated expressions I began to catch his excitement at his discoveries. Amongst many others, he had a two year project where he walked through seven cities and systematically collected and catalogued every piece of photography he found (Photographic Garbage Survey Project (1996-1997). His partner, Angelika Theuss talks of how in the early days Schmid was always looking down and picking up photographs from the street but he is no longer collecting them now. He has turned to the internet now anad sites such as Flickr (“sifting through the visual detritus of the digital world”) and says he is trying to be more controlled. Schmid described how one day he noticed that someone had photographed the front page of the newspaper when Obama was elected and he began to look for more – finding 100 different photographs. He also collected together a record of 50 shootings “One Day in May”.

Thinking of typologies and repetitions I was also reminded of Geoff Dyer looking at the ‘signature’ styles of professional photographers in his book the Ongoing Moment (2005) – blind people; Arbus and the grotesque ; poor people and the dispossessed; made and unmade beds; benches. It isn’t just amateur photographers who photograph the same things over and over!

Continuing with this theme, I now turn to the beginning of an ongoing investigation into my own photography. Here is a selection from some photographs I made a few days after the house move:-

Possessions packed in boxes. Given the number of years we’ve been married there isn’t that much there in those boxes. I’ve long thought that that I really don’t have all that many possessions that are precious to me. Maybe the odd bit of jewellery that has sentimental value but the main ones are my Nan’s clock that she left to me (still packed away in a box somewhere at the time), and the boxes of photographs.

There is a new space to explore and mould into a home; another view outside.



Somewhere else to walk the dogs and be out in the open; to recognise something familiar in a different space.

There’s something else about these photographs I took as well. I wouldn’t have taken them four years ago. I didn’t intend them to be ‘snapshots’. Yes they are a record of something real but they are more than that. Are they embodying my ‘voice’? What is it that I’m attempting to represent here? What do I want to convey? Can I investigate and analyse myself just as we’re encouraged to do with other photographers and image makers.

I was aiming to capture that sense of something new waiting to emerge from the boxes. I’m interested in patterns. Light and dark; shadow and shade. Other patterns too. How people change the landscape; interact with it. There’s also the temporality of the photographic image – it all looks different now so the above images are history – captured at a moment in time by the eye of the camera. Another question I have been asking myself that certainly fits with Schmid, is “Why do I keep making photographs of the same subjects over and over again”. I go to the local Common (and now I have a choice) every day so why do I have this compulsion to photograph it as well? Is there some trick in my brain that believes I will become the woodland if I keep capturing it; become imbued with its essence – along the lines of native people believing that a camera will capture their soul? There’s much to explore.



Dyer, G. the Ongoing Moment (2005) Canongate Books Ltd (2012), Edinburgh

Websites [all accessed on 6.10.2014]