FINAL MAJOR PROJECT. WEEK 1.
So this Critical Review of Practice (CRP) was written as part of my final submission for Informing Contexts (my 4th Module), and for which I’ve just received my (positive) marks. It’s worth me putting this here because there are certain things that I want to tease out from this as I move into my Final Major Project process. So, I’m reproducing it here to help me contextualise where I’m coming from, and to be able to reflect on what I want to explore as I move forward. Then I’m going to explore those things more in my practice and in separate blog posts.
- Psychological spaces and how I might represent them photographically.
- Found locations and items.
- Food as symbol of heritage.
- The performative.
With that, onto the CRP:
This cross-genre body of work aims to investigate the nature of belonging in cross-cultural and mixed-heritage people. It combines portraiture, self-portraiture, still-life, and the performative to examine this hybrid experience. This frequently sits at the cross-roads between fact and fiction, one that can be considered as biomythographical in nature (see Appendix 1). I have worked with a series of collaborators from a diverse range of backgrounds. Most recently, I have included myself as a subject to explore the cultural and racial isolation which formed part of my own mixed upbringing.
In Why Art Photography? Lucy Soutter discusses portraiture as ‘oscillating back and forth between notions of fixed and fractured identities… constructed and performed before our very eyes.’ (Soutter, 2018. p.18). I have extended this description to become a foundation of my work by combining genres and attempting to construct narratives through the relationships between images. In this practice I am seeking to ride the oscillation Soutter describes and explore a photographic language of hybridity and otherness.
This language includes repeated tropes such as food, dislocated domestic environments and items, found objects and locations, elements of personal anecdotes from collaborators, and classical myths such as Icarus and The Odyssey. Narrative, fact and fiction, mythology, and cinema all play their part here.
Underlined by Barthes’ examination of the relationship between images and text in his essay The Photographic Message (Barthes, 1961), as well as his ideas on the signifier and the signified in The Death Of The Author (1977), I have not only explored ways in which I can break down the heterogeneity of images and find new meanings in their relationships, but I have attempted to distil narratives through a visual and textual examination of their signified content by, for example, shooting named image sequences.
I can’t find a photographer that explicitly utilizes biomythography to frame their practice, however this body of work sits in relation to that of Zanele Muholi and Tomoko Sawada. Both practitioners use portraiture and self-portraiture to explore identity in relation to history, culture, geography, status, and autobiographical narratives. The elements of performance they present, including seeing themselves as multiple ‘characters’, have been elements I have carried forward. My work also contains conceptual and aesthetic resonances with the constructed realities of the likes of Jeff Wall, Christian Patterson, and Miriam Backstrom (see CRJ 9.2.2020: https://belloriniphoto.blog/2020/02/09/the-trickster-the-narrative/) all of whom explore the boundaries between fiction and reality. These photographic ‘tricksters’ seek to reveal deeper meanings about their subjects through their versions of reality rather than setting out to deliberately deceive. I would plant my work solidly within this approach, using similar photographic forms to reveal the dichotomies of the experience at the heart of my project.
I made aesthetic decisions in this body of work that are distinct from previous work in my practice. Some of these provided stronger outcomes than others. Those that did not work don’t appear in my portfolio, but I discuss them in this review. However, the intention behind all of them was to find visual elements that support my exploration of otherness and hybridity both within the images themselves and in terms of their relationship to each other, especially with the awareness of distilling narrative content in conjunction with Barthes notion of the signified mentioned above.
Square format shooting was an attempt to reduce images to a visual ‘minimum’, focusing more on inherent meaning. I also found shooting this way exposed a compositionally playful aspect to my work. Having less framing space worked to my advantage in terms of storytelling, allowing for greater suggestion of what might lie just beyond the frame, or what ‘cut into’ the image at an unusual point of composition. This format gave my image layouts an added sense of aesthetic balance and a way to give my diverse practice another useful creative limitation. Although I have not used square format exclusively, it is a major element of my work-in-progress portfolio.
The use of projections was an attempt to explore real-time layering of images within a scene, and a way to use images that hadn’t found a place within the project in a new context. Using a cheap digital projector and a fake TV that projected from my mobile phone (images 3 and 7), I found this approach emphasized the sensations of dislocation, worlds within worlds, and added layers of theatricality or narrative to the work.
I used digital manipulation to explore fixed and fractured cultural identities. For example, the left-hand image above was made from blurred self-portraits layered with a graphic representation of my own DNA sequence. Although this was an interesting exercise overall, the approach didn’t fit within my wider practice. The results don’t appear in my portfolio – though that does not mean that I would exclude variations of this in future.
Another extension of my signified research was the decision to see if stripping away colour might provide more narrative cohesion. This was a variation of digital manipulation as I wasn’t shooting in monochrome but converting colour images. Some images worked, some didn’t. Ultimately, however, I realized just how important colour is to the work, especially to add emotional strength or psychological mood to my output. I also did not want to mix colour and monochrome in my portfolio as I felt that would add a layer of visual confusion. For these reasons I ended up not pursuing this approach.
As my work has a strong narrative element, I made much of it with the awareness of how images might relate to each other. This was both internal to this body of work but also with an eye to my final major project in the next module. Consequently diptychs, triptychs, and other forms of layout were a strong thread in my process. Ultimately only diptychs appear in my portfolio as I found resolving narratives in triptychs unsatisfactory (image 12). More successful for me however, in terms of future FMP development, were experiments such as that in image 11 (but not presented in my portfolio). This approach was influenced by the likes of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and John Baldessari as discussed by David Campany in his book Photography and Cinema (2008) – see images 13 & 14. These practitioners utilized striking combinations of image and graphic forms in ‘a kind of para-cinema’ (Campany, 2008, p.65), proposing narratives beyond the reach of images presented heterogeneously. For me, these challenges to the heterogeneity of the single image, and to the presentational ‘norms’ of photographic images in books, monographs etc. provide a sensation of movement and migration which compliments the overarching theme of my project.
It’s also worth noting that I’ve become acutely aware of the ‘found’ in my practice (see CRJ 18.4.2020: https://belloriniphoto.blog/2020/04/18/finding-the-found/. This is more than just objet trouve, although there are strong elements of that, but equally includes found locations, personal documents, and even people. I recognize this as part of the improvisatory way I work and includes the element of chance which I feel keeps a sense of discovery in the project.
Finally, I want to touch on adapting the work during the Covid-19 lockdown. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I had to find new ways to create work that would replace cancelled shoots with contributors and subjects. In any case, part way through the module I got some poor outcomes from a shoot and, as a result, I wanted to increase the performative when working with subjects. As global events overtook me, I realized I had to turn to using myself as a subject to fulfil this. This was both technically and personally challenging. I had to dig deep to find threads that could relate this way of shooting with the wider body of work. Isolation pushed me to establish a connection with my own cultural and racial history (see CRJ 1.4.2020: https://belloriniphoto.blog/2020/04/01/digging-deep/).
DISSEMINATION OF THE WORK
I’ve always seen the work presented as an installation and planned to present some of it as part of Brighton Photo Fringe in October 2020. With this in mind, in February I began initial work with curator Idil Bozkurt. However, due to Covid-19, the future of this is in flux as it is unclear if Photo Fringe will go ahead. If a physical space is not an option, then I am considering making a virtual exhibition online using a platform such as www.artsteps.com. In either case, I would seek to support the work via local radio and submissions to pertinent magazines such as Point.51, Huck, and Aint-Bad.
EVALUATION & LOOKING AHEAD
I made the work with an eye to narrative and the signified as outlined above. This gave me a theoretical framework to hold the diversity of my cross-genre approach. However, this way of working sometimes shows a lack of coherence, a potential pitfall of being as deliberately experimental as I have. This has highlighted the need to be rigorous in my narratives and what I am trying to say with them and, in light of this, it has been important to stand on the strength of my editing skills. This part of my process is so pertinent to the long-term narrative success of the work. And returning to the critical eye of Lucy Soutter, she states that ‘a palpable sense of inquiry’ (Soutter, 2018, p.99) strengthens this kind of approach, as well as the sense that there is ‘an aspect of the self at stake’ (Soutter, 2018, p.103). I have found these statements to be useful guides to challenge my practice whilst making this body of work and, though I feel I have succeeded in my level of inquiry, I am not fully sure what is at stake. Therefore clarifying this, and resolving narratives that might springboard from that clarification, will have to be my focus as I move forward with the next stage of the work and my final major project. It may well be that the genre streams within the work might be better served by separating them into several projects that sit under the same umbrella theme.
I will also need to consider whether I will be able to physically work with my contributors and subjects to the degree of planned engagement I was hoping for if contact with other people is still curtailed by the Covid-19 social distancing measures mobbing forward.
Overall, the developing tropes of my practice – the elements of the performative, the constructed realities, the ‘found’ aspects etc. – have really come to the fore in this work, even if the narrative has been less clear. The main thread of it however has been to communicate what Dr. Steph Cosgrove, in her Constructed Realities coursework video, calls a ‘unified fictional reality’. I have examined the fiction and the reality in this body of work, the next main consideration then is how I can unify them.
A Definition of Biomythography.
Biomythography is a term created by Audre Lourde, radical feminist, lesbian, and woman of color, to describe her 1982 book Zami. A simple definition of biomythography comes from Ted Warburton: “Biomythography is the weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.” It often involves the use of multiple genre of writing, including poetry, fiction, biography, drama, and creative nonfiction. It is a transgressive form of writing, taking the idea of crossing boundaries as the basis of its form. (BioMyth. No date. Available at: https://biomyth.wordpress.com/about/)