EYV Exercise 5.1 The distance between us

The brief is for this exercise is to ‘find a subject that you have empathy with and take a sequence of shots to explore the distance between you’.

When you review the set to decide upon a select, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame. Be open to the unexpected.

‘Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.’ (Alexia Clorinda, in course notes, p 104)

The concept of multiple points of view, and a relationship between photographer, subject and viewer, is new to me. However, it makes sense that each part of this triangle sees the event of photography from a different perspective. The photographer will have an idea of the image she wants to achieve, the (human) subject will experience the act of being photographed in a particular way, and the viewer of the resulting image will interpret it according to her experiences. They each will have a different experience of the final image, a different point of view.

I am reminded of my interpretation of Sharon Boothroyd’s images , in her exhibition ‘They all say please’, and my observation of one image in particular: ‘There are hundreds of possibilities in this image and I would be very interested to know the artist’s intention, and other students’ interpretation of it.’ Further, I wrote: ‘This exhibition really showed me how individual photographs can tell intricate stories and how there are as many interpretations of an image as their are viewers of it’.

In considering this exercise, and the ‘triangle’ of involvement in the event of photography, I thought first of my own reluctance to be photographed, and to take pictures of people, and thought about how I could express this discomfort in an image, highlighting an emotional distance between photographer and photographer, and emphasising the potential for very different points of view.

My initial ideas included capturing my subject partially hidden, as the photographer is with her camera, suggesting a reluctance to appear in the image. Perhaps the subject could hide his face with a hat, or his hand. I felt in doing this, I would illustrate that individuals do not all appreciate having their picture taken and do not necessarily respond with a smile.

Image 1 – My select

What I intended in this image was to illustrate my subject’s reluctance to having his photograph taken, by using his helmet as a symbol of protection from intrusion by the photographer. I hoped that my capturing him doing something very ordinary, for which a helmet is unnecessary, would emphasise the intrusion. Had I captured him on his motorbike, he still may not have wanted his picture taking, but it would have been far less obvious. My subject here, clearly (I hope) is blocking out the world and suggesting a refusal to cooperate.

When I try to look at this image ‘objectively’, what I immediately observe is how difficult it is to separate what I know of my intention from the viewing experience. However, first, I see a man wearing a crash helmet and goggles while he is reading a magazine. The image is sufficiently incongruous as to make me realise there must be a message or a story. I then see a ‘Moto’ T-shirt, which I assume is significant, but I fail to make a satisfactory link. The fact is that the shirt was not a deliberate choice – my husband just happened to be wearing that particular shirt that day, but it made me think about how significant the details of an image can be. The image leaves me in some confusion but with a fairly clear sense of distance. Had I created a title ‘leave me alone’ (for example), the viewer may have more easily understood the intended message.

I chose this image as my select, not simply because it reflects my intention more than my other images (the brief was to select ‘your best shot’, not the one that matched your idea). I chose it because I felt that in some ways it was more open to an understanding by the viewer, whether it was simply seen as a comic image of a man obsessed with motorbikes, or one who was fed up listening to his wife!

Image 2

Here, I again wanted to show the subject’s face hidden in order to continue my exploration of the different viewpoints of subject and photographer. The expanse of table in the foreground was intended to exaggerate the mental distance between the parties by creating a physical distance. The large scale of the foreground flowers, although not a deliberate decision, appears to diminish the significance of the ‘real’ subject in the image, leaving me, as a viewer, somewhat confused.

Again, I have my subject in the act of doing something very ordinary, emphasising the intrusion into his daily life. As a viewer, although I have some understanding that the staging is deliberate and intended to create a message, I don’t quite get it. As the photographer, I feel it goes some way to reflecting my idea but I think I can understand that this could be seen as a snapshot gone wrong!

Image 3

My intention in image 3 was perhaps more tenuous (ambitious?). However, my husband holds, in front of his face, a small image of my mother. I wanted to suggest the distance between me and my subject by including a suggestion of a ‘generation gap’, and of the ultimate distance in death, as well as the distance implied by the hiding of his face. I wanted to show that my subject did not want to cooperate with the photograph taking and was therefore replacing himself as subject, with another. However, a viewer could not know that my mother was no longer alive and would be unlikely to understand the generation gap analogy since there is no obvious age difference between the two people in this image. It is possible that a viewer would interpret this image as emphasising the framed picture but without understanding why.

At the risk of misunderstanding Robert Bloomfield’s intentions in his image (course notes p103), my interpretation of this image as an examination of the distance between photographer and subject sees an older lady (and therefore an unconventional portrait) looking straight at the camera. The subject’s cooperative and soft gaze, directly at the photographer, shows me that she is complicit in the photography event. She is a part of the process but her smile is not a snapshot smile, it is an indulgent and proud smile, suggesting that she knows the photographer very well. This image shows the subject  as willing and complicit in the event, but conscious of the process.

This exercise was very interesting in highlighting the gap between intention and interpretation. Viewers are not mind-readers and their interpretation of an image may be very different to the intention of the photographer. I am left considering how explicit or cryptic photography should be.

As I practice analysing and interpreting photographs I understand that ‘looking at photographs can be just as imaginative as taking photographs’. (Azoulay 2012 in course notes p 103)

Thanks to my husband, a reluctant photographee.



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