• Damien Williams

PHO702: Research Project R&D and WiPP

Week 1

I have taken no images now for, well I want to say 2 to 3 weeks but the truth is I do not believe I have taken images that are relevant to me ever! My family photos our the most precious to me but in terms of 'work', the images I create are temporary, phatic, disposable.



Form the series Pain and Gain (2019)



I am resolved to not using any of the work I have used in the past because As a result of this MA I have grown as an artist and wish to enter this phase of my development with no baggage. This presents an issue as so much of week one is about contextualising what I do. What are my practices? I have no practice... at least no evidence of my practice. My last module was a train-wreck, (if I wanted to insult trains and wrecks). So, I am a little lost but I do believe that being lost at this point is not a bad thing. Time will tell, and only if I make a successful portfolio in order to enter the FMP will this lack of fear be proven to be correct.



Fig 1-6


In order to create work with intention I need to understand my intentions. I made work in a reactionary fashion last module and regret it. I know I can produce work in a wide variety of styles, but that doesn’t mean to say that I should.



This will be a slow start to the module. Not least as I am recovering from knee surgery and currently cannot move my leg more than 30° or put any weight on it.


Fig 7. Safe leg

Photographing on crutches is not really an option but when I decide on the work I wish to embark on during this module I will take this all into consideration.



Fig 8. IMG_021 Torn Medial Meniscus - (Mid Procedure)

Figures:

Fig 1- 6: images from last module as a gallery

Fig 7: Safe leg

Fig 8: Arthroscopic image of my torn medial meniscus ligament





Week 2

Still recovering from the surgery and starting to really doubt that I am cut-out for this course/career. The one thing that I do not like doing is talking about myself. I’m comfortable talking about my process but usually that is retrospectively as part of that presentation. I have seen too many “I will… “ presentations as a teacher in school. The artists I respect (in both music and film) seem to simply get on and do what they do and allow other people to talk critically about it afterwards. I understand that they know (mostly) what they are doing and their initial intention. Maybe giving an interview about what they had done in the past, but deep contextualisation in advance of completion…? I am not comfortable in doing this, at this point. This is not what I’m used to. I’m used to what I play musically or the final edit of a short film being the verbose constituent of my context. This mental challenge is impeding my making and building, whilst burdening me with an inhibiting amount of non-constructive doubt. If this was music I would just need to rehearse in order to get back on track and get out of my own head.



Week 3

At the start of this week I reached out to Colin Pantall (my tutor), and within a few short moments he had allowed me to give myself permission to create. I cannot tell you how inspiring it was and how much weight Colin has lifted off my shoulders. Thank. you Colin! I didn’t realise how much negative baggage I was carrying from the last module. I now feel that I can be 'present' and move forward with a clear mind and conscience. Being able to be 'in the moment' is hugely important to my process. I’m allowed to be brave, even though it was me that was stopping this. Which has had a great side-effect as I can now look at the 'trauma' (apologies for the emotive language) of last module truly as a learning experience and finally see the positives, of which there were many, in order to build or to continue to build on who I am as a creative.

I very much ended last module as a photographer again, and I joined this course with the intent to become an artist, more specifically an inter/multidisciplinary artist that uses sound, sequence, and images to express myself. A sense of play is hugely important to me especially within the process of making. Encouraging learning through 'creative play', introspection and exploration is the apotheosis of my teaching technique and philosophy. I wish it to be the same for my artistic practice and expression in future.


Self-Portrait #2nd

Fig 1.


In the webinar this week I shared an abstract from my work over the Christmas holidays. It is a work that plays with light and shadow and is inspired by Kara Walker's work on slavery, specifically how are use of silhouettes.


Fig 2. Fig 3.


This approach and using silhouettes represented how I felt within my current community. I am not considered equally to the middle class white, professionals that I work alongside. However my work is gratefully received in the shadows, which is where my identity also resides. I wish this to be a black and white project that is shot in colour RGB. So I took my image, which is the only image I feel that works, to the webinar and received very positive feedback from it.


Feedback: When contextualised, the common perception was conceptually it is a very powerful image, however how to contextualise it without being there and without over-explaining will be the challenge. Also, how to build a series that doesn't get boring will also be very challenging over the next few weeks.


The image is called “self portrait”. However the self-portrait does not contain me or my physical likeness.


I also really think the impact would be striking in a gallery space. Which is not Kara Walker's current iteration of the work, but as I am in Singapore I cannot imagine (beyond the scale of the task and Covid-19 restrictions) that I would be reaching the audience I am aiming for. By that I mean the type of reception would be largely oppositional... or worse non-existent.

Good News! I have been given the all-clear to extend the movement of my right leg to progress toward 90 degree flexion (still in the leg brace) which constitutes the start of mobility.


Bibliography:

http://www.karawalkerstudio.com


Figures:

Fig 1. Self-Portrait #2nd

Fig 2. and Fig 3. both from The Katastwóf Karavan. (first performed in New Orleans in 2018)






Week 4

As a side project I am looking at Memes, and how they spread and propagate fame and infamy. My self portrait series has a lot of parallels. The fact that I am dealing with black and white, and the fact that my likeness is a virtual likeness relates to the binary nature of the internet and where the fame and infamy of the participants being trolled online. This link isn’t lost on me and may shape how I proceed with playing with the images. I have not shot any new images this week, but I have been processing images from a previous shoot. Re-working a failed image from last module as an experiment.

Fig 1. Fig 2.


The above images were critiqued as being too dramatic and boring in the previous module. I felt they had potential but couldn't articulate why. I am continuing to follow my intuition and 'play' with them. I feel that by adapting the colour to black, there is a commentary starting to emerge. Specifically by keeping the reflection in the original colour. The narrative of identity being different from the legacy of heritage feels stronger. I could adapt this by re-taking them and lighting more in keeping with a still-life (mock window light) from a higher angle. Utilising the same reflective surface underneath and dressing the 'set' with white 'ruffled' fabric. Alternatively, shooting 'passport-style' with the reflective surface behind (and underneath) with the light angled at 45 degrees from the front to bounce the reflection onto the vertical, as a 'spectre' of true identity in the background of the mis-conceived view of the subject (not being seen for who they are now). This is external to the WiPP for this module so I will experiment after the CR is written.


I have been reading a lot about representation and ultimately gaze as part of the course. This is of great interest to me as is decolonisation of photography in general, which has promoted a lot of reflection and introspection on the imagery I produce.

I have put this in the project development section of my CRJ deliberately as these thoughts are having a direct impact on how I am proceeding with the WiPP, even though lots of the initial answers derive from the reading and course-content. I reflect quote a lot so I'm sure there will be plenty to spread around this week.

Some of the considerations I have been making are:


Who am I as a photographer and do my images represent my appearance, my upbringing as a human being, both or neither?

I have the gaze of an expat. Last week after reading about National Geographic I looked at my travel photos and saw more in them than I had previously. I definitely saw the propaganda of the west in there. I even remember aspiring to photograph portraits like Steve McCurry. Reading about the National Geographic gaze has awakened an awareness of my responsibilities as a story teller to convey a truth that is not belittling or images that don't contribute to unconscious division. Being an Expat is an elitist term and existence. I definitely do not fit completely here judging by the institutional prejudice I suffer from. Yet my images support and condone this... I will be more deliberate about how I represent and/or re-present commentary. Does this mean that my identity is present in my work or just re-presentations of the sea of images (sorry, I looked ahead at the title for week 7 and it seemed to fit) I have absorbed?


Who am I as an artist?

The slate is clean at present. This is an opportunity to craft my own unique voice, ideology and philosophy.


How does my work (intended) represent me and my appearance and my upbringing as a human... both or neither?

Which aspects of me as a person is contained within the artist? Well my processing and my humour. So a big part of authenticity in my work will be devoting truth to the process, trusting what appears and then scrutinise from there.


Are the two entities representative of the same? Why/Why not?

No, because as a photographer my skills are the primary interest and driver for creative decisions. I am multi-disciplinary in the way that I think and wish to use image-making as a tool or rather a part of my artistic palette alongside my musical and cognitive facets. So I am aiming to be an artist and create that way.


Should I play with these expectations or should I not?

This will be decided upon on a project-by-project basis


Is there the influence of a non-colonial gaze?

What does that even look like?


How much should I embody/absorb the discomfort of the audience/viewer?

Should I circumvent or circumnavigate it or should I face it head-on and hope that the images gain traction.?


After all, if there is no audience then does the message exist? Ultimately, am I making art for me or for acknowledgement from an audience?



Bibliography:

Nat Geo reading from Uni

Figures:

Fig 1. Blue apple (an experiment with my new PS skills) The blue is a distraction but was practice.

Fig 2. Black apple (this was more in keeping with the exported/contentious item theme. Look at the shadow denoting truth). Not seeing colour?






Week 5

Still no (new) images this week.

I am very comfortable with that because the nature of how I wish to work is abstract. I believe that I need to be able to put my mentality into an 'environment' that is full of certainty in the intent in order to create the work convincingly and authentically. I have however read so much and I feel that this module really has engaged me, or should I say I have engaged it. I am looking broader than portraits, which is new for me. I had an email exchange with Jesse Alexander who’s book Perspectives On Place was mentioned in the webinar last week. I bought the book and quickly reached the realisation that 'place' has now become more than just location for me. The sense of place is also a mental environment for me. I am sure that reading through Jesse‘s book and reading the course presentations this week through simple juxtaposition has blended into a singular concept for me. Jesse was, as always, very generous with his advice and led me to Ingrid Pollard and Stuart Hall. My initial question to Jesse was "What does colonisation look like in topographical and landscape photography?" With just a cursory glance at interviews with Ingrid Pollard my work/process has been encouraged to become even deeper. My work needs to be deeper! This contextual (historical, political and social) awareness is even more important to my practice. This journey is forcing me to understand my role in life. I am questioning everything! This may not seem like it’s part of my project development but it really is. My history as a photographer is that I can operate a camera very well and produce technically well formed images. My issue has been intention and photographing for myself. I am confident that in the correct frame of mind I will be able to produce a few worthwhile images without much technical concern. What I’m looking forward to is getting my set up right and then just exploring and introspecting as an artist using the medium of photography. Almost in the vein of improvising during a jazz performance. Most of that is about mental preparation (more than just physical) before-hand and being completely present in the moment.


I have found the work of Lucy Ridges work 'Waters edge' and have been looking into her process. Abstraction through a theme. Allowing the work to take her to places. It also reminds me of a recommendation from Laura Hynd during the last module of Roni Horn and her topology of water. The significance of what not only the water represents but how the surface was a character of it's own. The parallel of the surface of the water being a transparent skin and skin being the layer that hides what is essentially inside in my project are inverses of each other but poetically in tune with each other. This all helps to free me to immerse (sorry!) myself in the world of abstract representation and evocatively express/connect with the symbolism rather than merely to seek describe my feelings in the images. Connect in a transcendent way similar to how a composer from the expressionist style creates.


[annotated pages from my notability journal: Roni Horn and Lucy Ridges and Laura Hynd (the letting go)]

Fig 1



The audiences interaction with the work is very important to me. I am looking for a reaction that is based on introspection. The amount of easily read images and 'lay narrative readings that happens as a result of the proliferation of 'stories' or 'memes' creates a problem. This is why I am moving into an area of complete discomfort for me. The area of abstracts. Depicting a totally subjective narrative for a different subjective response, while trying to convey a complex emotion message would seem impossible if I wasn't prepared to relinquish some control over the meaning derived. So my intent has to be to cause introspection with a non-conventional language. Which relies on the audience to be able to interpret. Or as Aron Vinegar shares that Edward Ruscha was looking for in his work...

“... a kind of ‘huh?’”

Vinegar remarks further

“to his credit, Ruscha never attempts to convert that ‘Huh?’ Into an ‘Aha!’” (ibid p46)

I'm not sure if that means I am attempting to embody some of the reaction to deadpan photography but I am hoping to achieve some of the curiosity and mystery (derived from a sense of familiarity) that Todd Hido illicit from his work [name].


"Every image is autobiographical in some way" (Hido 20**)

Bibliography:

Perspectives on place:

Ingrid Pollard

Stuart Hall

Lucy Ridges

Laura Hynd "The Letting Go"

Todd Hido

Roni Horn

Vinegar, A. (2010) Ed Ruscha Heidigger, and Deadpan Photography. In: D. Costello and M. Iversen, ed., Photography After Conceptual Art, 1st ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell

Figures:

Todd Hido [citation]

Fig 1



Week 6

This week I'm looking at my old work and reflecting on anything and everything abstract. I have been experimenting in terms of intention by photographing my family. This may see him an odd approach, but I can already feel an improvement in the quality and the narrative coming from the images I have produced. None of which are abstracts at this point, but I was very much present in each moment and not limited by the environment in my head. This is the important component that I wish to practice and develop before I go into making this abstract portfolio. As a musician I very rarely fear a situation and performance, because I’m confident in what I can do and how I approach it. This has always been my aim in photography. I just didn’t think it would come through photographing abstracts.

What is my intention? Well, I can go back to Roland Barthes or was it John Berger (who has said similar during his comparison of music to photography) and his comment


“why that image? why that moment? “ (Barthes, 2000:6)

This is part of my intent. Why? I do not believe that my intent is going to be absolute. I can only commit to an intent on a project by project basis. The intent of this project, (what I want to say) [is] I wish to present a view from the outside. I am on the inside and on the outside and wish people to look around and see if they are part of the force that keeps people on the outside. People near to them. I wish them to look at the people around them and see if they allow the system/establishment to keep them divided.


Bibliography:

Camera Lucida







Week 7


Looking back at what I wrote last week, and linked to my independent reflection in week 3, My concept of a constructive approach is now much more important to my self portrait series. I’m now looking at how the size/scale of the exhibit/object/image will affect the meaning. More importantly how it's scale will make the kind of statement about the community that I’m trying to reach out to. After having a conversation with Colin and the portrait review with Arpita Shah, I now believe that making my self-portrait an object is a much more powerful statement. Initially I was looking to create a series of abstract images that lived in exhibition sized form and were strictly black and white images. Now constructing the approach of making something that renders for a vinyl object, and to be explored at night time lit dramatically is much more freeing. However, it ceases to be simply a self-portrait and now becomes a presentation of self within a modernist view.

Week 7 proper...

I watched an interview with Zanele Muholi. This really inspired me. Their approach as a 'visual activist', a manifesto of sorts, makes their work a 'call to action'. Her work is a statement of either information about or an invitation to join a community. The work they has done for highlighting and supporting the LGBTQI community, whilst trying to create a safe environment for them. Shows that the concept of gaze can be a force for good.

[Look for the video and quote from it as well as cite from it.]

This week I have been on the lookout for exportable items. This is one way that I will vary the images in this very short series. In order to not make an inaccessible series and to move the narrative in a direction closer to what Kara Walker has done, I am considering moving away from complete abstracts. Choosing to silhouette exported goods. Items that have become normalised and non-exotic but are actually almost expat in nature. Taken for what they offer, but not appreciated fully for what they are. I would still photograph them in a way that creates cognitive dissonance, forcing the narrative to be interpreted rather than read, However, this decision comes from the confines of having to create a portfolio for this module rather than images that are fully integral to the series. Arpita mentioned that the harder work the images are to understand, the more finely curated and selective I will have to be.


I agree with Arpita, too many images in this portfolio would be monotonous and the message would potentially be lost. The decision I’m probably going to have to make is whether to produce two parts to my portfolio for this module's submission. My initial feelings are that I will produce a portfolio (of one part) that is only 6-8 images that convey the message. I do not wish to make the same mistake as last time in the last module, where I produced too many similar images that didn’t form a narrative beyond the first 3 or 4. I feel it is better to focus on fewer and the message rather than produce more images for an assessment criteria. The work and the message is too important to dilute it for my own personal gain.

The exportable goods/objects that are more commonly displaced geographically in an abstract silhouette project would seem a strange place to explore sense of place, however, I feel 'place' is hugely biographical or even political in this context. In the portfolio review, I was asked if the objects were important. I believe they are, but I also know that if the objects do not appear as abstracts the meaning is lost and the impact of the sense of displacement is lost. Therefore I do have to figure out whether I stick with simple non-narrative shapes.

Do you have a consideration from the portfolio review?

The overriding consideration from the portfolio review was how to introduce each image. More to the point to be aware of how I lead the audience/viewer through the portfolio. Too much explanation lessens the impact and too little renders the context irrelevant to a degree. There has to be some form of commentary or introduction for the viewer, but words (in the last module) I feel was critical to both my last (work in progress) portfolios success and it’s failure. So as much as I do not wish to use words with the images, it may be that I investigate a simple statement before all of the images, at the start of the portfolio or I’ll look at the title of the whole series. The current working title is displaced shadows.


Bibliography:

Zanele Muholi video

Arpita Shah

Kara Walker


Figures:


Week 8

Do I shoot like a White middle class male, is it just privilege? Do I use the sense of other in the way Diane Arbus does as part reflection of herself or just seeking to form a community with other (during Travel photography)?

(short answer: No to the Diane Arbus question, but it is now an informed intent when I go back to portraiture)


Fig 1 - 13


Does this gaze fulfil my identity or experiences? It shows privilege but does this privilege have any cultural identity attached to it? When I looked through a mass of my images I would have to say no. There were a handful of images throughout the 1000 or more the I scanned through that had that Nat Geo gaze. They stood out... thank goodness! On the disappointing side, my images don't have enough other in them either. That sense of other and empathy that Diane Arbus has in her work. The curiosity and wonder that she inspired with/alongside her participants. I can't wait to make portraits again!


I started to look at this after a conversation with Ore (Ovwerekogba Okonedo) (one of my MA peers) who was very clear that privilege could be 'Black' and that it is important for me and my voice to share that view of privilege. This will be an important voice within what I'm trying to achieve. Especially if I am trying to reach a community.


[Fig 14] [Fig 15]. [Fig 16] [Fig 17]



I found that state of 'flow' and did two shoots this weekend. There were some very particular difficulties. Avoiding repetition in the first was so difficult. So in the second shoot I had to have prepared some prompts as a guide to setting up images. Some of those prompts were conversation snippets that I'd had before.

"You know I don't see you as Black" (Fig 15)

and "I can't breathe!" as a response to George Floyd's death and having been researching Bill Viola and his near death encounter with water as a child (Fig 17)



[Fig 18] [Fig 19]. [Fig 20] [Fig 21]

Here are some images that have been unsuccessful. Some from my selection and others through feedback.


Fig 18 was inspired by the feedback during the Portfolio review where space (outer space) was commented on as a nice aesthetic. I just felt that it was a distraction rather than giving the impression of remoteness.


Fig 19 was very early on, while I was using exported artefacts 'dripping in Whiteness' as the main thrust before I went for silhouettes and abstracts. The peer feedback I received from this image led to me conceptualising a different context for it. Feedback that I am really grateful for as you can get so close to how you 'read' and have 'encoded' your work, that sometimes you miss something very obvious that would be integral to how a 'fresh' viewer may 'receive' the image.


"Your picture could be decoded harshly in terms of symmetry between a Black man and a banana" "It is a contentious issue which requires a huge discussion" (Andrea Taverna)

Fig 20 was in the displaced shadows phase. I was trying to produce something that was about being hidden in Whiteness as I am as an expat. I just found that the image was too discrete.


Fig 21 was slightly influenced by the colour palette of Somnyama Ngonyama. It was an early experiment that I learned from but is poorly executed. The Oreos are too obvious and distracting rather than being islands in the sea of normal. The others for want of a better phrase.



[BTS of set up]


After this I refined my process by abandoning exports and the theme of space because I feel when I get the correct quality of light and the correct object in silhouette the message is so much more powerful if you are not led by the narrative of what the object is. I used Crystals and prisms to create greater abstractions and decided not to limit myself to achieving the image all in camera.


Bill Nichols- Documentary modes

In Colin's webinar we had such an amazing chat about documentary paradigms and what the work should look like. I feel that my process is refining so quickly when I speak to Colin.


This is a possible future direction that I would like to read more about and explore as an overarching structure for my project possibly for the FMP.


Below, I have included a guide (for me) from the Ken Burns Masterclass website as well as reading the Bill Nichols' book.


6 Types of Documentaries

Not all documentaries are the same, and different types of documentaries will require different documentary techniques from the cinematographer. There are six main types of documentary genres.

  1. Poetic mode: A poetic documentary eschews linear continuity in favor of mood, tone, or the juxtaposition of imagery. Since poetic documentaries often have little or no narrative content, the director of photography is often asked to capture highly composed, visually striking images that can tell a story without additional verbal context. Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938) is an example of a poetic documentary that focuses on visuals and artistic style to help reveal an inner truth.

  2. Expository mode: Expository documentaries set up a specific point of view or argument about a subject and often feature “voice of God” style voice-over. For expository documentaries, the cinematographer is responsible for collecting footage that supports and strengthens the spoken argument of the film, including stock footage, archival footage, b-roll, or re-enactments of historical events. The Dust Bowl (2012) is filmmaker Ken Burns’ historical account of the disastrous drought that occurred during the Great Depression. Burns uses photos and facts to supplement the causes and impact of one of the worst droughts to plague North American farmland.

  3. Participatory mode: Participatory documentaries are defined by the interaction between the documentary filmmakers and their subject. Therefore, a cinematographer is equally responsible for capturing the interviewer as he is the interviewee. Participatory documentaries, also known as interactive documentaries, often present the filmmaker’s version of the truth as “the” truth, focusing on direct engagement with subjects and capturing real emotional responses and interactions. Many of the interactions that are captured support the filmmaker’s point of view or prove the film’s intent. Many of Michael Moore’s documentaries, like Bowling for Columbine (2001), are participatory but also blend elements of observational and performative modes.

  4. Observational mode: A style of documentary embraced by the cinema verité movement, observational documentaries attempt to discover the ultimate truth of their subject by acting as a fly-on-the-wall—in other words, observing the subject’s real-life without interrupting. Cinematographers on observational documentaries will often be asked to be as unobtrusive as possible in order to capture their subjects in a raw, unguarded state. An example of this direct cinema type of documentary is Primary (1960), a film chronicling the Wisconsin primary between John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey.

  5. Reflexive mode: Reflexive documentaries focus on the relationship between the filmmaker and the audience. Since the subject matter is often the process of documentary filmmaking itself, a cinematographer will shoot behind-the-scenes style footage of the entire film production process, including editing, interviewing, and post-production. Dziga Vertov’s reflexive documentary Man With a Movie Camera (1929) made history with its actor-less presentation of urban Soviet life.

  6. Performative mode: Performative documentaries focus on the filmmaker’s involvement with their subject, using his or her personal experience or relationship with the subject as a jumping-off point for exploring larger, subjective truths about politics, history, or groups of people. A cinematographer is often asked to capture the documentary production process, as well as intimate footage that illustrates the direct and often personal relationship between filmmaker and subject. Supersize Me (2004) by filmmaker Morgan Spurlock documents his experience eating only McDonald’s fast food for 30 days, chronicling the body issues, health problems, and the ensuing doctor’s visits in an attempt to question the food sold at the famous fast-food chain.

As much as I would like to fit my work into the Poetic and Participatory modes. I feel that to retroactively do this would be the opposite of intent. However, Now that I know about them I would like to spend time intentionally crafting my project in those modes. Especially as I have the scope to be interdisciplinary about how I finally present this in the FMP.


Bibliography:

Bill Nichols

Bill Viola

Diane Arbus and Nat Geo Gaze

Masterclass: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/filmmaker-ken-burnss-top-tips-for-documentary-cinematography#quiz-0

Site accessed March 17th 2021


Figures:

Fig 1: Potato-Head Bali 2016

Fig 2: Phi Phi Island 2018

Fig 3: Bridport 2019

Fig 4: Muscat 2007

Fig 5: Bur Dubai 2015

Fig 6: Ho Chi Minh City 2016

Fig 7: Hoi an 2016

Fig 8: Hoi an 2016

Fig 9: Hoi an 2016

Fig 10: Hoi an 2016

Fig 11: Hoi an 2016

Fig 12: Hoi an 2016

Fig 13: Singapore 2017

Fig 14: Displaced shadows untitled

Fig 15: Displaced shadows incompletely unseen

Fig 16: Displaced shadows Cultural precipice

Fig 17: Displaced shadows I can't breathe

Fig 18: Displaced shadows untitled

Fig 19: Racial slur untitled

Fig 20: Displaced shadows 'on paper'

Fig 21: Displaced shadows Expat v2

Fig 22: Behind the scenes set up





Week 9

The true content of a photograph is invisible for it derives from a play, not with form, but with time. One might argue that photography is as close to music as to painting"
(Berger, 197?:19)