MODULE 4: INFORMING CONTEXTS. WEEK 8.

UNTITLED #23 (from ADE & EVAM sequence).
Copyright James Bellorini 2020.

This week, I’ve been digging deeper into my search for authenticity in my practice, inspired by reading Lucy Soutter’s Why Art Photography? and my ongoing research (including a successful project photo-shoot).

The exploration of the space between the fictional and the real has been the basis for my M.A. practice pretty much since day one, and it’s clear that my work now represents this search. Having said that, I have never wanted to lose the definitive core of reality and authenticity in the work, to do so would be to do a disservice to the very real experiences of the collaborators (and myself) who are at the core of my project. The work I’ve been creating has been part of my search for a photographic language that best engages with the tension between what is authentic and fictive and the space between them. This is one of the aspects of this project that has kept the work alive and motivated across an extended period of time. I hope that can be seen throughout my work-in-progress across this M.A.

UNTITLED #7 (from ADE & EVAM sequence).
Copyright James Bellorini 2020.

Reading further into the critical appraisal of authenticity in Soutter’s book has helped me to see that my attempts to resolve the conundrum of a singular visual language may have been something of a self-imposed red-herring.

Recently I have been thinking that my practice was overly diverse. Possibly confusingly so. I have deliberately spread my photographic ‘net’ wide, partly to be as experimental as possible before I need to make decisions for my Final Major Project, but also, more pertinently to this discussion, as a way to find what I believed to be a unifying visual voice. Soutter’s appraisal of authenticity has shown me that I can park that consideration for now.

With direct reference to the book now, she uses a number of practitioners to discuss authenticity including Nan Goldin and Ryan McGinley.

Regarding Goldin’s practice in general (though it’s not easy to separate any discussion about her without reference to her seminal The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency), Soutter says her work is ‘inviting us to test her oeuvre against the idea of authenticity as a project rather than a state to be attained’ (Soutter, 2018, p.91) – my italics. She goes on to say: ‘This model of authenticity is useful because it allows us to assess her project more broadly, allowing for the fact that it may fall down in places, and that certain images may ring false’ (Soutter, 2018, p.91).

Self Portrait in My Blue Bathroom.
Nan Goldin 1991.

Continuing on: ‘It is also commonplace for contemporary photographers to employ a range of disparate visual approaches within the same overarching project, producing an array of mixed messages’ (Soutter, 2018, p.89).

These points are a liberation for me because I’ve been thinking that my diverse approach was problematic but actually, for this project, I now see that it makes some kind of sense: an exemplar of the disorientating, restless nature inherent in the subject matter. And that’s always been a major concern: how do I marry my visual output with the thematic, the psychological, the experiential etc? So this concise critical appraisal by Soutter helps to strengthen my ongoing practice and redefines my faith in my approach.

However, there is something else that she proposes that has made me stop and think. She states that the success of the work of those practitioners who are searching for, and presenting, authenticity in their work is based on ‘a palpable sense of inquiry’ (Soutter 2018 pg 99). She actually uses this in a critique of Ryan McGinley’s practice overall where, as she sees it, his authenticity falls down because it contains ‘style rather than struggle’ (Soutter 2018 pg 99). She goes on to state that, with regard to authenticity in photography: ‘it is vital that there be something at risk, an aspect of the self at stake’ (Soutter, 2018, p.103).

This is a strong statement and makes me reflect on what aspects of the self are at stake for me? What am I risking? I am not sure I can answer that yet. Is it my own disconnection and rootlessness that come as a result of my experience of being a cross-cultural person? Is it that the project work is balanced on a knife-edge of tension between the fictive and the real, that it could easily crumble and fall as much as succeed? Somehow that doesn’t feel like it’s enough still, so inevitably this will be a subject that I come back to in my CRJ. 

Taking all this discussion by Soutter into account, looking at my own practice as it currently stands, there is a defined sense of inquiry. It is partly this urge that has led me to the extensive practice-led research that my work-in-progress across modules has been built on. It’s whirlwind and disorienting nature could well be the seeds of what I’m risking, but that remains to be answered moving forward.

UNTITLED #1 (from ADE & EVAM sequence).
Copyright James Bellorini 2020.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES

  • Soutter, L. 2018. Why Art Photography? Oxford: Routledge