Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to represent something you don’t see.
– Emmet Gowin (1941 – )
The brief asks for “eight images that, individually, have a narrative and convey a specific idea”. I chose to explore the personal, and shared experience, of physical pain, specifically the symptoms and discomfort experienced during a migraine.
‘Surrealism has been regarded as attempting to replicate the world of dreams’. (Wells, 1997 p.220) Rather than reveal dreams I am trying to reveal the nightmare of the various symptoms experienced through the phases of a migraine, the peripateia- from the Greek, meaning ‘dramatic moment’. These phases are Prodromal, Aura, Headache and finally Resolution. I wanted some of the images to extend or appear to extend beyond the frame to show how pain impacts areas beyond the head and affects many aspects of everyday life.
Photographers in the 1970’s had ‘a new kind of concentration on narrative drama…instead of reality…[showed] us things that were felt rather than necessarily seen.’ Wells (1997 cited Robins 1984, p.213). Artists Louise Bourgeois and Edward Kienholz both successfully did this with various bodies of work, my research into these two artists shaped how I considered channeling personal pain into my work. My final pieces will hopefully reflect the surrealist inspiration I took from Daido Moriyama, capturing out of focus images with motion blur, over and under exposure, and John Clang in the way I present my work using mixed media and ripping/cutting/layering several images.
Clicking on an individual thumbnail below will take you to a slideshow of high-resolution images.
- Prodromal #1 & #2 – where everything feels out of focus you can’t concentrate, your head feels heavy and full of cotton-wool.
- Aura #1 & #2 – where people usually have visual problems, such as flashes of light or blind spots, sensitivity to colour, zigzag patterns.
- Headache #1 & #2 – where people experience a pulsating or throbbing pain on one side of the head, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and/or extreme sensitivity to bright light and loud sounds, which can last for four to 72 hours.
- Resolution #1  – when the headache and other symptoms gradually fade away, although you may feel tired for a few days afterwards
I made a conscious effort to display the images as pairs using similar presentational techniques/media but in a manner that they could also be displayed as single images.
Is it documentary?
David Bate stated: Documentary photography hovers between art and journalism, between creative treatment and actuality (2009, p56) and I feel that my body of work sits more towards the art and creative end, but as it informs of a reality for many normal people it also falls within the documentary genre. As Bate also said genres ‘are not fixed;they are mutable.’ (2009, p4) so I feel justified in taking the approach I have.
In studying this section of the coursework I have furthered my knowledge of the surreal and how semiotics within an image can help convey meaning; hopefully the blurring, over and under exposure and use of colours used as signs and symbols help convey my meaning and attempts to steer a narrative within each single image as well as the body of work as a whole.
Evaluating the outcome against the Assessment Criteria:
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
- Materials: Due to the situation in which I was capturing images I found it easier to stick to one lens but used many different materials when completing this assignment.
- Techniques: borrowing ideas from Moriyama and Clang I used different photographic and editing techniques which can be found on my research and development page.
- Observational skills: I carefully selected my subjects dependent on mirrors, busy streets, vibrant colours, lights, patterns and textures.
- Visual awareness: Initially unsure of whether or not to use B&W it became apparent that colour was the way forward given the signs and symbols I wished to present.
- Design and compositional skills: My final images were captured to contain plenty of visual stimulation and confusion, revealing depth and movement in some and a slow energy in others.
Quality of outcome:
- Content: There is only one image that I am not entirely satisfied with and that is Headache #2, but aware of time constraints am leaving as is for the time being. I’m happy that I came up with similar yet different ideas for the ‘pairs’ and that the 8 images are all of very different initial scenes.
- Application of knowledge: Research into the surreal, as well as artists rather than photographers, helped inform the direction of this assignment. Also research into semiotics and narratives was of great help in putting the final 8 images together.
- Presentation in a coherent manner: I strongly believe I’ve presented the final body of work in a coherent manner – as a complete set they carry the narrative of experiencing a migraine yet could be viewed as individual images revealing the different intensity of pain and disorientation suffered.
- Conceptualisation of thoughts and Communication of ideas: I posted my images within several forums and on social media and most people immediately grasp the idea of pain. Their reactions were stronger if this was a shared experience which gave me the confidence to continue with my ideas and I feel they were communicated effectively.
Demonstration of creativity:
- Imagination: Once I embraced the work of Moriyama I allowed my imagination to run riot. Hopefully not too much and that it is ultimately judged to still be within the realms of documentary.
- Experimentation and invention: Not only did I experiment with the way in which I captured the images I also experimented with mixed media and ways of presenting the final set. I’m not sure how inventive some of these experiments were as there may be others who have used similar techniques that I haven’t come across yet.
- Development of personal voice: This assignment allowed me more scope to embrace the creative artistic and creative aspect of photography. I have always thought my orientation was towards the surreal and I thoroughly enjoyed this assignment although not the pressure and time constraints it placed upon me.
- Reflection: completing this assignment made me more willing to take risks with my photography: choosing a photographer whose work I didn’t initially warm to, showed me another approach to capturing images, which I was willing to explore and showed how my own work could be considered as acceptable within the documentary genre.
- Research: I carried out extensive research into both artists and photographers who created surreal bodies of work. I read extensively many of the recommended reference materials, and have attended several galleries to look at contemporary documentary work.
- Critical thinking: semiotics played a part in my decision-making so I re-read sections of Basics creative photography 02: Context and narrative as well as David Bate Photography: The Key Concepts, Liz Wells Photography: A critical introduction as well as many others mentioned on my Research and Exhibitions page.
Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. Edition. Berg Publishers.
Clarke, G. (1997) The photograph: A visual and cultural history. New York: Oxford University Press.
Short, M. (2011) Basics creative photography 02: Context and narrative. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.
Wells, L. (ed.) (1997) Photography: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.