Assignment 2: ‘The Weaving of Voices’ (Barthes, 1973)
‘There are said to be certain Buddhists whose ascetic practices enable them to see a whole landscape in a bean’ (Barthes, 1973).
This option is about photographing an object to suggest a narrative. Choose between a white shirt and a handkerchief for your object. Once you’ve decided, make a series of 7–10 photographs which tell a story about or including your object. You can make your photographic style anything you like. You may wish to include the prop in all of your series or just some of the images, depending on the narrative. Bear in mind that the story is being alluded to through the use of the prop and its location – and characters should you choose to include them. Draw a storyboard before you start to help you consider the progression of the plot and how you’ll set up the shots. Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7–10 images. Whichever assignment option you choose, send your series to your tutor by the method agreed together with an introduction of around 300 words. You should also send to your tutor the relevant pages of your learning log or blog url.
I finalized my idea to do this project when I was at FotoIstanbul and saw the work of Shadi Ghadirian. Her series titled “Like Everyday” stuck out to me in the hundreds of photos displayed in the photo festival. Essentially she replaced the eyes of covered women with the everyday appliances that they use in the domestic sense. I like the aesthetic quality as well as her idea to shoot them as portraits yet we see no exposed face or body part. I thought it was an interesting work on voice, choice, gender, and society.
Ghadirian, S. Like Everyday (2000)
So I decided to use my students as the subject of this assignment. In Art Photography Now Bill Henson says,’Adolescents have this all-pervading sense of uncertainty and this is riveting for me: they are in such a state of transition’ (Bright, 2011). I am a teacher and this has also been my experience with young people, so I thought it would be interesting to photograph my students. I teach and have my own children in the school system here in Turkey, so the educational system here has been on my mind a lot lately especially when considering the political context. Essentially, in order to get into the universities here, students have to compete with 2 million students and since my students are aiming for the top universities, there are only about 2000 spots open for the top university, just to give an example. Sadly, the exam forces students to memorize questions and the more they memorize, the better they do. So what this means is that starting in grade 11 (17 years of age), they start to give up all of their extracurricular activities and spend a significant amount of their free time in ‘dersanses’ or night cram schools. As one can imagine, this renders them exhausted, disillusioned, and burned out. But they have no choice.
I decided to use a scarf as opposed to the handkerchief because I figured the scarf would lend itself to more creative interactions since there is more fabric to work with, being in a Muslim country, the scarf can be a politically charged object, so I thought it would be more meaningful than a handkerchief. The colour red also has significance as it is the colour of the flag, which has also become a politically charged symbol here in Turkey with the battle between secularists and a more Islamically inclined government. Additionally, ‘traditionally, portraits have used clues or props to tell the viewer more about the viewer’s personality and to give the sitter a context in which to be understood’ (Art Photography Now, 2011) so the use of the same scarf I felt would help to highlight the differences in each student’s experience by the way they fashioned the scarf in relation to themselves.
The process was quite simple. First I got their permission to take their photograph then I told them I was working on a project and that all I wanted them to do was to think about the context they are in at the moment and use the scarf to try and represent what they are experiencing, feeling, etc. They didn’t see each other and I asked them not to talk about it. So I simply took them to a quiet place and took the photographs.
The non-linear narrative
‘In Visual Communication especially, a narrative does not need to work in a linear sense.’ (Short, 2011)
The narrative I have created here is not a classic one that follows a linear path. Maria Short states that ‘a narrative generally consists of a beginning, middle and end. However, a photographic narrative may not necessarily follow this structure, for example it may simply imply what has past or what could happen’ (Short, 2011). I have created mini-narratives (non-verbal), glimpses really, within my verbal narrative of what it is like to be in this school system in this country. The students choice of posing hints at both the present and the future because I feel their reactions to the project are quite telling about how they have dealt with all that is going on in their lives and how they will carry on after this process. Some of them portray a pessimistic view while others have retained their sense of freedom and youth.
The viewer of these images brings a different narrative into the meaning of these photographs. Bright states that ‘the viewer of the photograph then adds his or her experience to it to create another version of its meaning’ (Bright, 2011) so while I have tried to create a narrative here, and the students create another narrative, the images of young people may conjure up a different meaning to anyone looking at it especially when thinking about the context of the photographs.
In a sense, I represent the post-modern ‘unreliable’ narrator since I am only experiencing the system through their narratives but also I am compromised as I have an emotional connection not only to my students, but to my own sons who will be in this system in 6 years time. Therefore the narrative told here is shaped through my lens. My narrative is one of the observer and theirs is one of the participant. Each of these students has a narrative about what it is like to be going through such a grueling experience and the way they decided to use the scarf gives us an insight into their experience. However, I keep in mind that ‘however much we want to capture a person’s true personality with a camera, it just isn’t possible’ (Bright, 2011).
Looking at the three narratives that go into this work, I am reminded of poet Ann Lauterbach’s words. She says, ‘Meanings arise when persons — the reader, the spectator, the audience — engage with this content; meaning occurs in the mind and heart of the person who reads the poem, studies the picture, listens to the sonata… It is important to acknowledge this elastic space of meaning, where what the artist or writer intends and what the reader or spectator apprehends are not necessarily in perfect alignment’ (Lauterbach, 2008). Likewise, Barthes says ‘there are so many readings of the same face’ (Barthes, 1980).
One thing I do have in the back of my mind after reading Camera Lucida is that what the students have done for me is not an authentic rendition of themselves, though I do think the way they chose to be photographed is their projected self and gives insight into how they are dealing with this difficult right of passage in Turkish culture. Having said that, they are still posing and are aware of me as an observer and in a way ‘lend (themselves) to the social game’ (Barthes, 1981). Derrida says in an interview that we shouldn’t ‘feign a naturality which doesn’t exist’ (Derrida, 2002) so I am in no way trying to pretend with these photographs that this is an authentic portrayal of their experience, it is simply them projecting a sense of who they are in this period of time.
Derrida. 2002. DVD
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981. Print.
Derrida. 2002. DVD.
Barthes, Roland et al. S/Z. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974. Print.
Bright, Susan. Art Photography Now. 1st ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. Print.
Lauterbach, A., 2008. The Night Sky:Writings on the Poetic Experience. 1st ed. London: Penguin Books
Shadi Ghadirian, (2000), Like Everyday #1 [ONLINE]. Available at: http://shadighadirian.com/index.php?do=photography&id=11 [Accessed 11 December 2016].
Short, Maria. Context And Narrative. 1st ed. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Academia, 2011.
After my results from EYV, I am feeling a little less confident than I was a few months ago about my work and how I am progressing, but I know as a teacher myself that this is all part of the process of learning, so I will persevere.
Demonstration of technical skills
I feel mostly confident with my ability to compose an image. I think my eye is good in that I am able to see what makes a visually appealing image (to my criteria at least). I still am working on the technical part of photography. I have a lot to learn I know in regards to post-production especially, but I am working on it, I am just not ‘there’ yet.
Quality of Outcome
I think this is a strength. I have a lot of experience in writing and communicating my ideas so I feel that I am able to compose a coherent piece of writing that clearly gets my ideas across. I also think I used the course content well in thinking about the visual narrative and what that means to the different ideas out there in the world of art photography.
Demonstration of Creativity
One of the things I have noticed about my own photography is that I am drawn to a ‘clean’ palette and these photographs definitely have this. Though I know there is a fine balance in finding my own voice and style and doing work that is different. So I see myself as still developing the creative side of my photography. One thing I struggle with is authenticity in my work. Some of the work I see is, to me, contrived, and it doesn’t appeal to me. So for this project I felt that posing was more straightforward and honest in the sense that both me and the subject knew it was an unnatural situation and I make that very clear in my write-up. So what I need to work on is creativity that to me feels and looks authentic–whatever that means.
Again, after the assessment feedback I feel not quite sure about my self-assessment in this realm because I considered it a strength in my work. I spend a lot of time reading books about photography and I feel I use this effectively in my assignments. For this assignment, I took a risk and didn’t create a typical narrative. I did this one because I am a literature teacher so I wanted to try something that was different than the classic plot line but also because in my research I found people talking about the non-linear visual narrative. I am also still navigating my way through the term post-modern and how it applies to my work, so I tried to incorporate some of those ideas into my work. Regardless of the feedback, I have learned a lot research wise, so it has been a meaningful experience.