MODULE 4: INFORMING CONTEXTS. WEEK 3.
This week’s focus on the constructed realities within photography sees me, in many ways, coming home. Importantly, we are looking at the point where the veracity of photography meets the proposals of fiction. Where the subjective meets the objective and seeks to find a new vision balanced somewhere between the two. It is a place in which I have been steeping myself since the M.A. began for me a year ago. The more I have ventured into my research project, the more I have seen this way of working as being pertinent and supportive to the work (even if I haven’t yet found a resolved visual language). It also completely plays into my own creative history having worked in the theatre and entertainment industries for most of my life before becoming a full-time photographer.
My challenging of the veracity of truth has existed in a search for, as Dr. Steph Cosgrove states in her M.A. course video, a ‘unified fictional reality’. For me, this is both an unknown space discovered in the making of an image and its output, or in the deliberate interplay between images that might suggest other meanings/realities through the relationship between them such as in the diptych below.
This is akin to, for example, Miriam Backstrom’s Ikea sequence (see image below), that seeks a to balance documentary and fiction. Backstrom (who frequently photographs real spaces but with the sensation that they are theatrical constructs) shows photography’s ability to question the veracity of what is being photographed by focusing on the real but ‘fictionalised’ show rooms on display within Ikea shopping outlets. The photograph is the fact, the content is the illusion. Or is it?
This dichotomy continues to fascinate me. I believe this is mainly because, in my commercial practice, I am rarely asked to create work that questions the illusory nature of what I am making images of. Sometimes, but rarely. I wish it wasn’t the case. But the need to document and create representations of my client’s products or offerings (whatever those may be) on the whole tend to need to communicate with clarity to the viewer/audience. There is not much intervention in the way of questioning the reality of what is being photographed, even if at times there might be compositional or technical leeway for creative play.
I’m here to answer a few questions about my practice though, so let me move on to those.
How do I balance fact and fiction in my work?
As can be seen in the images I’ve presented here from my own practice, frequently that balance comes from the use of familiar environments or domesticity within which an illusion of fact is being played out. This balances for me, in a similar way to Jeff Wall’s image Insomnia (below), the physical signs of reality with the psychological and/or perceptual disturbance of them through the ‘deceptive’ elements. For me the most successful images I have made to date follow through with this.
More than that however, the liminal space between fact and fiction supports my thematic investigation into the nature of belonging as experienced by mixed heritage people, third culture kids etc. It is, as I’ve discussed elsewhere in my CRJ, an experience that is both very real and at the same time contains within it the disorientation of the unknown, a disorientation that frequently has the sensation of fiction. As the writer Audre Lorde named it: a biomythography.
Am I, then, a trickster?
A trickster, by definition is someone who deceives people. However, like Lear’s Fool in Shakespeare, frequently that is often to show the ‘deceived’ something about their own nature or actions. They frequently use this approach to disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour.
So whilst my subjective practice sometimes contains elements which might not be 100% truthful to the moment, they are mostly grounded in reality. Therefore, I am involved in deceiving people, but only in order to lead the viewer in a way that they could construct a further fiction within their own mind/imaginations, to connect dots perhaps, and to experience a sensation of biomythographical existence – something which, on the surface might look like the preserve of mixed culture people but which is, I believe, a more universal experience. In this desire I see my practice as akin to someone like Christian Patterson in his seminal work Redheaded Peckerwood. Patterson wanted to bring the real and the fictional together both in terms of image content and physically within the pages of his book (as can be seen in the image below) in order that the viewer would experience something that echoed his own sensations of discovery as he went about, like an archaeologist, unearthing the elements of the true crime that was the inspiration for his project. He discusses this approach in the short video below.
Finally, I think the spine upon which all this hangs ‘deliberate deception’ hangs is narrative, just as it would in a novel or piece of cinema. This is the way that I hope myself as maker can frame the vision of my work for the viewer, and in turn they can construct their own narrative.
REFERENCES and RESOURCES:
Short, Maria. 2011. Context & Narrative. AVA Publishing, South Africa.
TransformerStation. 2014. Christian Patterson Talks About Redheaded Peckerwood. [Exhibition Interview]. Available at: https://youtu.be/VEREs7PRcik