MODULE 4: INFORMING CONTEXTS. WEEK 6.

UNTITLED DIPTYCH #15 (from Mother Tongue sequence).
Copyright James Bellorini 2020.

I’m still thinking about the ‘gaze’ of my photography and how that reflects in the wider context of my approach.

Yesterday I went to another meet-up of the Brighton Photo Fringe, as they are now gearing up for the festival in October and I am thinking about showing my Final Major Project as part of it.

from OVER THE EDGE.
Tom Pope (date unknown)

The usual format at these events is an update of the process for becoming an exhibitor at Photo Fringe, followed by a presentation by a practitioner. This time it was the turn of performative photographer/artist Tom Pope. Tom’s work is inventive, playful (literally in much of it, in that he is interested in games that can be photographically recorded in some way), and his thinking behind his practice is so solid.

Tom made the point that, during his M.A. at the RCA a few years ago, he took the opportunity to break down the fundamentals of his practice (an interesting notion in itself), one of which was the idea of the random or chance aspect in his practice. This is pertinent to me because, as I’ve dug deeper into the notion of my photographic gaze and my methodology these past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the nature of improvisation and chance in my work.

Throughout my practice prior to starting this M.A., my work had been rooted in a documentary reportage approach which was frequently (though not exclusively) a response to chance, to time unfolding in front of me without control on my part as photographer. I engaged with this by learning to anticipate, to see points of possible tension or interest unfolding which might make for an interesting image but which may or may not play out as expected. The energy of life, in the context of photography at least, is one of ‘development in time. . . which allows its meaning to be perceived and felt’ (Berger 2013 p. 90). The photographer becomes acutely aware they are separating out moments from that developmental stream but that it is not ours to control. It is prone to chance. As a response we learn powers of instinct or improvisation – to ‘go with the flow’ as it were. We can choose to deliberately engage with chance, with the force of the random.

So, what happens to chance if the work is, as it is in my current practice, more constructed?

Well, now I see that I deliberately create avenues (where possible) for chance to enter. It is the presence of this element that frequently results in my choice of final images to come from an edit.

UNTITLED #2 (from The Synthesis Sequence).
Copyright James Bellorini 2020.

For example, in this recent shoot, where the meal is thought through in advance, the placement of the fork, the vegetables etc are more random, having been dropped into place. Added to that in the second image (below) I had a projector scroll randomly through my recent M.A. images. I had no knowledge of what sequence the images would play, I just knew that I wanted them to be the light source for the arrangement. Images were then chosen for the final edit where an interesting dialogue between these elements were strong.

UNTITLED #1 (from the Synthesis Sequence).
Copyright James Bellorini 2020.

So what does this approach offer me? Why do I do this? I see now that it is a search for a certain authenticity recognisable in the chance element, even in a constructed environment. It gives me the opportunity as a photographer to respond instinctively, with less control. Subsequently it ‘feels’ more genuine to me as I shoot and is usually reflected in the images. I recognise something of this in Jeff Wall’s approach to the versions of reality he photographs. Frequently, and I’ve reflected on this elsewhere in my CRJ, he plans and creates the framework of a scenario within which his collaborators/subjects are free to enact a reality that he can respond to photographically. Tom Pope’s early working methodology has a resonance here in his series Over The Edge, with himself as subject frozen in a chance, albeit absurd, encounter with reality, one that is influenced by the likes of Yves Klein.

I need to remember that I work in a very improvisatory manner, journeying through ideas and leads. As a result, as with all improvisation, sometimes things work, but frequently they don’t. When this happens, the work reaches a sort of semi-fulfilment. That usually means either I need to ditch it and move elsewhere or, more accurately, that revisiting the idea in some way allows the information from that less successful improvisation to inform the new iteration and improve upon it.

Test Diptych.
Copyright James Bellorini 2020.

Even in the process of editing images together to explore the dialogue between them, there is at times a chance element (see this diptych above and the one at the top of this post). Some image pairings are clear from the start, but others start to ‘talk’ only when I begin to play with (once again) a more randomised selection; though this is always with my thematic framework in mind. I like this because new and unexpected relationships are formed in my own work. It keeps me surprised and, importantly, entertained which I think is important for a long-term project.

One other (semi-unrelated) observation, just to close out, is the sense of humour and play, that Tom Pope approaches his work with, is one that I think easily gets overlooked or forgotten in the ‘serious’ world of photography.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES

Berger, J. 1967. Understanding A Photograph. 21st edn. London: Penguin.