Category Archives: Essays

Images of Sexual Violence (1): Saying Things Kept Silent, Showing Things Kept Hidden.

This article is the first in a series about images of Sexual Violence in photography, photojournalism, documentary and visual art. My own piece, You Did This To Yourself (http://you-did-this-to-yourself.tumblr.com/) figures a response to the issues and examples I raise here.  

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is a story about a young black girl in 1960s America who is sexually abused by her father. It’s beautifully written and painful to read – speaking fearlessly about the realities of poverty, race and gender. It unearths the causes of victimhood and the silence which surrounds and supports the on-going occurrence of sexual violence. How to word something that is kept silent? How to show something that is kept hidden? Morrison writes:

“The novelty, I thought, would be in having this story of female violation revealed from the vantage point of the victims or could-be-victims of rape – the persons no one inquired of (certainly not in 1965); the girls themselves. And since the victim does not have the vocabulary to understand the violence or its context, gullible, vulnerable girlfriends, looking back as the knowing adults they pretended to be in the beginning, would have to do that for her, and would have to fill those silences with their own reflective lives. Thus, the opening provides the stroke that announces something more than a secret shared, but a silence broken, a void filled, an unspeakable thing spoken at last.”

Two things strike me as important here and may prove important in regards to other stories of sexual violence in other mediums:

  1. That bringing words and images to the unspoken and unseen event is a kind of healing and overcoming. Morrison says that with the realising of the story of sexual abuse ‘a void is filled’, a need is met. Similarly, the silence appears as a kind of menacing spell, a thing to be ‘broken’. The relief provided by this break is clear in ‘spoken at last’ – this has been something needed and anticipated for a long time.
  2. That the victim herself does not necessarily have the words: ‘the victim does not have the vocabulary to understand the violence or its context’. This is not to say, the victim is incapable of ever having the vocabulary, but rather her position as victim is defined by not having the words or a voice to speak against what is happening to her.

This makes it clear that to fight against the creation of victims of sexual violence, words and images must be given to those victims with which they can begin to address and describe their suffering and those who cause it. As it will become clear, these words and images are hard to provide or develop in a culture which still struggles to see the complex, various and ubiquitous nature of sexual violence.

In light of this, and to draw our attention to photojournalism, Ariella Azoulay’s essay, “Has Anyone Ever Seen a Photograph of Rape?” sets out an argument for the sheer lack of imagery of sexual violence in the canon of iconic photojournalism (1). Azoulay argues, whilst photographers have brought into the public arena images of many kinds of suffering – genocide, mutilation, violent warfare etc. – images of rape, an act which occurs in much the same context as the other atrocities, are largely absent. This labelling of the blind-spot proves to reveal not only that photographers have mostly failed at documenting rape when it occurs amongst other atrocities (typically during wartime), but their techniques of documenting rape during peacetime are also highly restricted and restricting. This blind-spot, in Azoulay’s analysis, goes on to be seen not just as an historical failure to vision, but also an ongoing inability to envision, born of the inadequacy of social discourses which still cannot recognise the reality of rape.

Azoulay’s questions are then, Why is it we cannot ‘show’ rape in the way that we can show other kinds of torture and bodily suffering? Hint: this might say more about the viewer than the actual event itself. And also – In what ways do these lack of images damage those who might need them – i.e. victims, potential victims and the wider society?

These questions will be explored later. As a first example, ‘Project Unbreakable‘ by Grace Brown is an interesting place to start:

It attempts to do the same thing that Morrison does with her novel, to fill ‘the void’ of silence and bring words and imagery to that which has been kept un-worded and hidden. People who have suffered abuse hold up the words of their abusers, words that were used to silence them. It is one simple gesture of resistance, of refuting the silence that has been put upon them. The phrases are short but they provide a small window into the complex world of abuse and sexual violence. That opening image, ‘I love you’, is especially powerful because it marks the importance of context and the complicated nature of abuse. They signal the way in which abuse can be non-violent – something that must be recognised if these cases are going to reach justice. They also indicate what the victim must struggle with: What if abuse is presented as love? What if you don’t know enough about love to be able to say this abuse is not love? That is certainly the case for Pecola, the abused girl in Morrison’s novel.

Perhaps the technique is a familiar one – photographs of people holding up signs with their personal stories or position on has been used in many other contexts and protests – but here is takes on a special resonance because these are words that have been characterised by the fact that they occur in private. Their power has been because of secrecy, because the abuser persuaded the abusee to never tell, because the abuser invoked shame and fear in the abusee. These signs are an act of placing the shame back on the abuser, of making the public witness what goes on in private. It is one simple way to take the words and turn them around.

The images also make clear, in case there could ever be any doubt, that choosing what to show – the very act of representation – is a fiercely political act. The format and style of that act of showing can make or break the message. These truths are especially raw in the context of a little seen and little understood phenomena which needs vision and recognition in order to overcome its occurrence.

This piece now on the Duckrabbit blog here.

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You can read more about Brown’s project here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/22/project-unbreakable

You can see the ongoing tumblr blog of Brown’s project here: http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/

(1) See : Azoulay, A.  The Civil Contract of Photography, 2008, New York: Zone Books.

Essay: ‘I feel that the photograph either creates my body or mortifies it.’ (Barthes, Camera Lucida.) Muybridge’s Images of Women : the creation of feminine fantasy and the mortification of female reality in the origins of photography.

 

Barthes’ tropes, ‘create’ and ‘mortify’, offer much to the understanding of how the photograph impacts upon the individual body which is its subject, and the bodies which are implied by the subject. Barthes relates these terms to the argument that ‘the photograph is the advent of myself as other,’(Barthes,1980, 12). Barthes’ words are potent because they recognise the damage, in both symbolic and actual terms, that can be inflicted upon this ‘other’ subject through the repeated creation of an ideal or a monstrous figure. The awkward recreation of the self by the photograph was acutely felt by its early subjects. Walter Benjamin describes the early photographer’s studio as ‘a place between execution and representation, between torture chamber and throne room.’ (Benjamin, 1985, 247). Barthes adds to the picture by describing the pseudo-surgical apparatus of the studio photographer which ‘supported and maintained the body in its passage to immobility.’ (1980, 14). Thus in both theory and practice the early days of photography contained an element of dislocating and disturbing bodily recreation that could either elevate or humiliate the subject. In this way, starting with Barthe’s terms, a series of binaries emerge which speak of thought surrounding early photography and which have sustained and developed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries: create/mortify, representation/execution, throne/torture chamber. In short, pleasure/pain, or, more generally life/death. Much work has been done to examine the role of children as early subjects who well fit these antithetic structures, representing both youth and the unstoppable passing of time and so death.1 The photograph for these early consumers hovers achingly between youth captured and youth lost, especially in the case of the popular memento mori photograph. I would like to explore the antitheses which surround 19th century photography not through the figure of the child subject, but through the female subject. The Christian framework in which these 19th century photographers (mostly male) functioned, prepared them to see the female body along the same binaries that had begun to grow out of photographic practice: the female body was desire that led to sin and death. Thus the female body provides an interesting and appropriate metaphor for which to explore the social functions of 19th century photography, as one that occupies the same creative / mortifying space as the studio and the photograph itself. In particular, I will focus upon Muybridge’s representation of women in his work Animal Location, a project which promised to examine even more closely reality through photography and so presents a case to examine the powerful ideologies posed by that, apparently, innocent reality. I will explore the way the photograph can be said to create the subject of woman in the context of the science-spectacle of his photographic endeavour, and the ways in which this recreation can constitute a damage upon the subject. 

In his work, Animal Locomotion, Edweard Muybridge proposes a seemingly scientific study of the female type, amongst many other types. This dealing in types is common to Victorian patterns of thinking, but his particular treatment of the women in these studies, and the aesthetics that he applies to their images, erode at the proposed objectivity and scientific stance of the work.2 Indeed, this speaks much of the interesting cross-over of science and spectacle which fostered the early decades of photographic technology.3 As Keller writes, the cultural climate surrounding Muybridge’s work ‘demanded the real as spectacle’ (2010, 217). This paradox presents some interesting questions but it must also be understood that neither term is discreet. In fact, I would argue, that the ‘real’ of the female body had long been subject to spectacle because of its physically hidden and yet, artistically visible status. Female bodies in the cultural discourse were the stuff of fantasy and myth. Irigary summarises this territory that the female body occupied and the new objectivity that was to be applied to an already non-reality:

 ‘Woman having been misinterpreted, forgotten, variously frozen in show cases, rolled up in metaphors, buried beneath carefully stylized figures, raised up in different idealities, would now become the ‘object’ to be investigated.’ (Irigary, 1985, 144).

 It becomes clear that any proposed study of the female form begins in a troubled and blurred state, probably not recognised by the photographer-scientist who sees as natural the images of women around him and further naturalises those images by presenting the truth through scientific examination of physical movement. These real women, apparently, really support all the fantasy women who have preceded them. There is a wonderful self-defeating contradiction in many of the images which suggest as much. For example, plate 143, entitled, ‘Descending stairs, a cup and saucer in right hand.’, features a model wearing a semi-transparent gown (Brookman, 2010, 298). This gauze defeats the stated scientific purpose of the photograph and makes the measuring board in the background redundant because it blurs the outline of the female form and therefore prevents any proposed measurement. On the other hand, it does not actually cover the woman or hide her naked body from the viewer, in a way that might have suggested the sacrificing of completely accurate scientific discovery to the modesty of the woman pictured. It can only be there as part of an erotic fantasy of the feminine. It supports neither science nor modesty, and exists to tantalise the viewer and to provide him with half-glimpses of both a spectacular science and sex. In fact, it compounds the two as the woman’s body appears as the elusive object of scientific discovery, always threatening to escape the delicate technology and seducing the photographer and the viewer into further queries, discoveries and explorations. The territory of the female body becomes metonymic for scientific discovery and in this way, such discoveries are charged with longing and a desire to see more in ways that are not objective in any sense.

Furthermore, this compounding of the female body and scientific discovery can be seen in the very origins of Muybridge’s project, which suggests that science did not lead to feminine fantasy but that in fact the two concepts occur and develop symbiotically. Whilst Williams, who analyses these images and the fantasies they suppose in her book Hardcore, is comfortable with the idea that scientific discovery turned into a desire to discover the erotic; ‘What began as a scientific impulse to record the “truth” of the body quickly became a powerful fantasy.’ (1999, 41), I would argue that the origins of the project are more complex and intertwined than she supposes. At no point is it clear that scientific discovery is the certain intention of Muybridge’s project, especially when we consider his history as a showman and entertainer. I would argue instead that he provides an increasingly popular scientific aesthetic to a spectacular project which works hard to seduce and titillate the viewer, rather than to add to a body of scientific works. In this way, Muybridge dangerously, and knowingly, purports to tell the truth of women whilst only adding to a long discourse of image fantasies, because this is what his audiences, both male and female, expect and hope to see. His figuring of objective identity is never intended to be such but to appear as such. As Keller says of this scientific gloss, ‘[The photographs] were regularly reordered and otherwise manipulated, resulting in merely the appearance of scientific objectivity.’(Keller, 2010, 224). Such a manoeuvre towards the scientific aesthetic seems likely of a man conscious enough of his public image to alter his name into more unusual forms throughout his life.4 Muybridge’s project managed to create a theatrical show that did not give away its status as fantasy and yet retained the allure of the fantastical, as a reporter for the Photographic News in 1882 makes clear: ‘A new world of sights and wonder was, indeed, opened by photography, which was not less astounding because it was truth itself.’(quoted in Braun, 2010, 226). This claim to truth obscures the theatrical and makes the images rendered by Muybridge particularly powerful and more exciting in the audiences’ minds. William’s link between Muybridge’s work and the 20th century pornographic film holds true under such a dynamic, which, as she argues, offer a similar model of the viewing of sexual pleasure: the pornographic film seeks to show performed sexual pleasure in a way that makes it appear to be authentic and therefore heightens the pleasure of the viewer. Muybridge’s clever application of the scientific status can be seen in the changing titles of plate 73 (Brookman, 2010, 296). In Muybridge’s notebook the images of a naked woman running with her arm covering her face and her hand covering her genitals, is entitled ‘Ashamed’. However, when presented in Animal Locomotion it takes on the title ‘Turning around in surprise and running away.’5 Thus, Muybridge foregrounds the kinetic content and disguises the emotional content of the photograph, but still that emotional content remains. The new title doesn’t seem to describe what is happening in the series – the model’s face is obscured and so we cannot even see a look of surprise, and why the model would need to cover her face and her genitals in order to run, turn and be surprised is unclear. Although we are told that this is merely a chain of actions, we feel that the model is ashamed or something similar, and this is a powerful erotic image which pushes against the surface of scientific objectivity until it ruptures it altogether. This allows the viewer to posit their desire to see as explicitly intellectual and only covertly sexual. Thus the comfort of the viewer is repeatedly privileged and the identity of the woman is repeatedly sacrificed to a fantasy of the feminine. The more truth about the woman these photographs claim to tell, the more they submit her to a fantasy that is nothing of her own making.  

In this way, this fantasy of the feminine prioritises a heterosexual male scientist-voyeur. Indeed, some of Muybridge’s images of women play out the power dynamics of seeing, being seen and exposure in order to further seduce the viewer into a narrative of sexual difference. It has been argued by Williams that these photos construct the notion that Berger describes as, ‘men act and women appear’ (Berger, 1997, 47). Indeed, in some of the photos the women appear to be moving very little. Plate 428 (Brookman, 2010, 281), entitled ‘Inspecting a Slave; White’, presents the case of the exhibition of exhibition in the name of objective inspection or assessment. The series shows one naked woman undressing another woman. This image illustrates a fantasy based around the power games of seeing and being seen which has been further developed by the new motion capturing technology. The woman who is already undressed, seems to be in the powerful position in the drama as she disrobes the other woman, who is presumably the white slave. The act of disrobing another suggests her power over her subject whilst also revealing her powerlessness in relation to the photographer and viewer, who remain clothed in both a literal sense and by the safe divide of lens, camera and projection screen. Muybridge’s audiences no longer have to look at the female figure with the ‘naked eye’, instead the new technology has enhanced the viewer’s position in two ways: one, he is now, as he was when looking at photographs before, free from examination or confrontation when looking, and secondly, it is promised that he will see even more than is available to the naked eye. In this way his sight has become more pervasive and less accountable and therefore more powerful, especially in relation to the subject who has only naked eyes and a naked body and is unable to counter his glance. Thus with this plate, Muybridge exhibits the fantasy of undressing and inspecting those in a less powerful position in a way that makes reference to the viewer’s own position and desire as scientist-voyeur. He has presented us with the spectacle of spectacle as scientific investigation of the body all under the auspices of scientific pursuit of the objective truth. The two female bodies are offered up to the hidden viewer in the same way that the ‘slave’s’ body is offered to the free woman of the drama. Each is examined and seen without chance for objection. The slave has no grounds upon which to resist her master’s inspection and similarly the female form has no grounds to resist inspection and re-viewing by any given viewer once the image is captured in the photograph. Although this is also partly true of any one of Muybridge’s subjects who have agreed to be photographed, male or female, I would argue that the social context of unequal gender structures and the genderised positions of viewer (male) and view (female), alongside the exhibition of the act of inspection, provides a powerful commentary upon the roles defined by the photograph. This imagery and the dynamic that surrounds it, poses the voyeur as powerful, and the exposed, both bodily and photographically, as weak. As can be seen by the break down of scientific purpose in many of his images of women, these roles are most clearly defined and polarised when they are gendered.

In conclusion, Barthes’ terms ‘create’ and ‘mortify’ are useful tropes with which to approach an understanding of the female subject in Muybridge’s work and may also prove useful in regards to other 19th century photographic projects. They can be used to illuminate the political, social and artistic position of the female subject but this understanding must be located within a complex artistic-scientific context. Such a careful location reveals much about the developing status of photography in the 19th century. It can be seen that in some cases, the status of the new medium of photography makes a claim towards the scientific, as opposed to the artful. This claim to reality is key in understanding the particular power of the photograph to create and/or mortify the subject. Whilst Muybridge’s work has the persuasive power of art, it also appears to have the highly-esteemed status of empirical evidence – as Smith says: “The camera will always lie, and the magical status of its deception is different from that of previous mediums.” (Smith, 1998, 4.) This lie should be understood to mean the ‘truth’ of sexual difference in this case, and as such renders the subject far more vulnerable to the ideological discourse surrounding her body. It is also important to understand that this scientific status is not absolute but rather a manipulative piece of theatrical play which excites the viewer and promises to deliver to him or her a sight previously unseen. The scientific desire and the sexual desire to see have been compounded around the body of the female subject in a theatre of science that blurs and combines terms and aesthetics. As such, the photographed science of the woman, is both a symptom and engine for the image discourses which propagated the double-sword of idealisation and enfeeblement. Women were in very real terms stifled and abandoned by this discourse surrounding their bodies which perpetuated their status as property of the patriarch, restricted them to the private sphere and afforded them a narrower range of rights than men. Thus the woman is maintained as subject of but never actor within the public sphere and it is telling that in Muybridge’s photos where we should see the action of his female subjects, instead we see pose. Muybridge’s project stages the unequal dynamic between man and woman, which is epitomised in the unequal dynamic between male photographer and female subject. This staging of inequality may also be true, in varying ways, for other ‘others’ that are exhibited in his work, as Phelan says, ‘…historical inequality makes the contemporary encounter between self and other a meeting of profound romance and deep violence.’ (Phelan, 1993, 4). It is this ‘profound romance’ and ‘deep violence’ which is oddly coupled in these photos of women. Whilst the life of the subject appears to have been captured by the photographer, in fact she has been submitted to a limiting image discourse that pertains to a very real damage upon her body as it is positioned within society.

All writing and research by Madeleine Corcoran, 2011.

 

1 I am thinking especially of Mavor’s work regarding Lewis Caroll’s photographs of children in her book Pleasures Taken.

2 Muybridge’s project also deals wit’h the types of ‘working class man’, ‘young athlete’, ‘black man’, ‘child’, those with illness or disability and co. In each case, the apparently universal subject is handled in a variety of ways and ideologies are put forward about each. Thus, although I wish to examine his depiction of the female type, because it provides a case with which to examine the position of photography and the photographer in Muybridg’e context, I do not wish to suggest that women above all others were subject to the restrictive ideology of type. Indeed, a similar study could be made about many of these ‘others’ – those with dark skin, or those from the working classes, for example – which play a key role in the developing understanding of the social function of a photograph at the time.

3 As discussed by J Pollard in her lecture ‘The Photographer as the Recorder’ at London College of Communication, 19/1/2011

4 See Braun, 2010, 272.

5 As noted by Ibid. 275.

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Bibliography
Primary Texts
Brookman, P. (2010) Eadward Muybridge, London: Tate Publishing.
(1984) The Male and Female Figure in Motion: 60 Classic Photographic Sequences, New York: Dover Publications.
Secondary Texts
Azoulay, A. (2008) The Civil Contract Of Photography, New York: Zone Books.
Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, London: Vintage.
Benjamin, W. (1931) “A Small History of Photography”, in One Way Street and Other Writings, trans. Jephcot,E. & Shorter,K.  (1985), London: Verso, pp.240-57.
Braun, M. “Animal Locomotion”, pp.272 – 283 in Brookman, P. (2010) Eadward Muybridge, London: Tate Publishin
Irigary, L. (trans.1985) Speculum of the Other Woman, New York: Cornell University Press, available from <http://books.google.co.uk/booksid=cZX3HfxO9XkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Ir
igaray&hl=en&ei=Yuy2TeTXHcvP4wb73uUC&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&re
snum=2&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false>  [Accessed 13h April 2011]
Keller, C. (2010) “Magnificent Entertainment: The Spectacular Edweard Muybridge”, pp. 217–228 in Brookman, P. (2010) Eadward Muybridge, London: Tate Publishing.
Mavor, C. (1996) Pleasure Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs, London: I.B.Tauris
Phelan, P. (1993) Unmarked: The Politics of Performance,London: Routledge.
Smith, L. (1998) The Politics of Focus: Women, children and nineteenth-century photography, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Wells, L. (ed.) (2003) The Photography Reader, London: Routledge.
         – Lutz & Collins, 1993, “The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The            Example of National Geographic.” pp.354-374.
       – Sontag, S. 2003, “Photography within the humanities.” pp.59 – 66
Williams, L. (1999) Hardcore: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible, Berkley CAL: California University Press.

An Outing

This is a story in three pictures.

Our guest tutor wasn’t interested in captions but I am. In fact, words and pictures are exactly why I want to get into documentary photography work. Anyway, he gave very clear and useful technical advice, but I think I never want to be the kind of photographer he seems to suppose as the obvious and normative model. I do need to improve my compositional skills so I fully appreciate his advice, but I think it is a bit narrow-minded to say that captions are irrelevant. I’ll explain why:

In my mind, the picture is like a chord being struck. The text is another chord struck at the same time. They can be composed to blend together, support each other or strike out against each other. I’m really excited by the potential here – two parts can mean a lot more than their respective territories or tones. Picture by picture, text by text, something quite complex and melodic can be created. Also, importantly, this process recognises the textual nature of the picture and the pictoral nature of text, and plays with it, saying more with it than if we are to assume a picture is a flat truth or straightforward mark of an event (an ‘index’ if you’re a Barthes fan).
By the ‘textual nature of pictures’ I mean the power a single photo or a group of photos has to tell a many-layered story. In this way, for me, photos beg us to add words, whether we do it in a simple or complicated way, we want to say something, put them with some words. That is not to say the photo is weak as a sign, which seems to be often the assumed implication of such a comment. It is to say, the photo is strong and complex and engaging and that this excites our linguistic capacity. Maybe this will help to show what I mean about the textual nature of pictures: In Andy Grundberg’s introduction to his collection, Crisis of the Real, he writes this of Evans’ American Photographs and Robert Frank’s The Americans

    “The experience Evan’s opus describes is one in which imagery plays a role which can only be displayed as political. The America of American Photographs is governed by the dominion of signs. […] Frank used automobile and the road as metonymic metaphors of the American cultural condition, which he envisioned every bit as pessimistically as postmodernists do today. While not quite as obsessive about commonplace or popular-culture images as Evans, he did conceive of imagery as a text – as a sign system capable of signification.” (Grundberg, Crisis of the Real, 1999, p.16)

In short, Evans’ and Frank’s work constitute persuasive texts that tell a story. They are not just pieces of stuff from the real (straightforward) world, they are told symbols and reported conversations of a potently visual world. Indeed, I would argue that they utilise a quality that runs through the world we live in, and is not uniquely imposed by or invented within the bounds of the photograph – that the world is a constructed story of speaking images and texts; a big telltale landscape. This is a massive area that I do not want to go into too much right now. But I want to say, although it may take an academic, theoretical language to explain it in conscious terms, the world as ‘telltale’ is in fact something everybody works with and responds to everyday, unconsciously and consciously. I mean, why paint your finger nails? Why put a certain postcard on your notice board? Why does you table have a square top and four legs? It’s because of a chain of symbolic decisions and intended meanings, passed on from one person to another, that reveal whose voice is loudest and who gets to shout for the longest – i.e. which cultural and social groups get to dominate the story-telling process which figures out the world.

Yes, it’s Derrida stuff. But anyway, what I’m saying is, let’s not use photography like a blunt instrument when it can be so much more exciting and communicative, when it has a chance to be a medium which reflects upon and even interferes with the very construction of our social existence. Basically, make sure that when you join the conversation you know what noises are coming out of your mouth.

So, here are the same three photos, which on a basic narrative visual level tell the viewer about some rowers practising on the river. I’ve put different captions with each set to see what happens to the meaning. In the first case, these captions come from the Oxford University Rowing Association’s Coxing Handbook and give instructions for a rowing practice outing. In the second case, I’ve applied subjective and more ambivalent captions to see what feelings I could stir up between the image and the caption. I’d like to know what people think of these – does it feel as if the photo is overburdened by the subjective captions? Do the words from the handbook leave the photo a bit blankfaced and dull? (Click on the photos to see the captions well.)

In my mind, in the case of the handbook captioned images, the words turn the photographs into a kind of artefact or object – something you could almost put in a manual or a museum, except the feeling is a bit off – the photographs aren’t quite technical or illustrative enough, and I think this could be an interesting generated feeling.



In the case of the more subjective captions I hope it could be seen that the words are telling more than is available in the image and that the captions have an anonymous, personal voice that is a bit like somebody whispering into your ear. This could potentially colour the image, make it seem a little more melancholy etc. It is more self-consciously about the ambiguous meanings that can be generated in the space between symbols, like the sometimes potent silence in the air when a conversation ends but the two speakers remain.



The guest tutor kept insisting that the photo must illustrate the situation. Which is obviously a totally reasonable instruction for the working photojournalist, the stock photographer or the manual compiler, and I in no way dismiss it as an important part of all imagery – it must tell something. However, I object to the idea that the photo(s) must always tell everything clearly – indeed, I just don’t think they can tell everything clearly. And I think they are a whole lot more interesting when they stop trying to act as some kind of straightforward representation of the ‘reality’ and start interacting with it, reflecting upon it, playing around with it. It’s not that I think the clear representational mode and belief that this is possible does not serve an important purpose, it’s just that personally, I have no desire to serve this purpose myself. I want to get technically and compositionally good so that I don’t miss my shot or fail to communicate in visual terms, but that’s really only the beginning of telling the story – it’s like learning to spell and use grammar. Mostly anyone can get a grip on that stuff with some study. Why leave it there? I want to get the point where I can also write a persuasive and involving story. I am by no means done with my study of the ‘spelling’ and ‘grammar’, but I do feel that these technical skills should be developed in parallel to the reflective and persuasive storytelling capability, and not one after the other, or else we risk obscuring the latter skill altogether and the old charge ‘but anyone can take a photograph’ becomes a fair comment.

p.s. I do not want to veer off into the argument as to how text is pictoral right now, but it is somewhat missing from my discussion. It’s a big area and I don’t want to confuse my emphasis upon the picture being textual. For now can we agree that words at least generate pictures within our minds and help us to visualise things which are not in front of us at that moment? That would be nice, thanks.