Page from my project notebook. James Bellorini, August 2020.

The more I have made work these past few weeks, the more I agree with photographer Helen Levitt who ‘confessed to being inarticulate, and rarely discussed the images she made in the course of her life’ (Campany, 2020 pg. 56). She understood that photographs ‘do not speak for themselves… but their richness is often an effect of their muteness’ (Campany, 2020, pg. 56). I am aware that I am of this way of thinking. The more I make, the more ‘mute’ I feel; disinclined to talk about the work. I prefer a certain ambiguity. Especially at the stage of gestation and creation that I am currently in. To speak about the work too soon limits it for me. Imprisons it. Besides, I like to let those who might view the work find their own meanings in it – if there are any.

But my desire for intellectual distance is not exactly an easy thing to maintain on an M.A. We are expected to appraise, contextualize, and discuss our work constantly. This is one of the reasons I have distanced myself from this aspect of it over the past few weeks. An attempt to preserve the freedom of that generative space without the need to define or analyse the work too soon.

All things must pass however, and yesterday I attended a lecture with photography journalist and writer Tom Seymour. He discussed ways to think about, write, and pitch ideas, stories to editors, magazines, galleries etc.

Akin to many pitching strategies, we were asked to create a six word sentence to describe our projects. I wrote a few during the lecture, basing them on the phrase I’ve been using as a loose generative mantra for a few weeks now: PUNK FOOD OPERA. As follows:

  • Punk feasts on food, operatically.
  • Outsiders eat their heritage, operatically.
  • Outsiders taste their heritage, operatically
  • Outsiders eat history and taste home.
  • Feed on your heritage and belong.
  • Food as portal and power, operatically.

And so on, I guess. Definitely a good test of my own ability to concisely describe what I am up to. Even if none of those above quite hit the mark 100%. Though it’s interesting to note the word ‘operatically’ appears so much. For me, it gives the description it’s meaning. This relates to the way in which my images might be psychological or emotional vignettes.

Tom did mention that avoiding too much bullshit when writing about our work is also a good way to go. So, I’m going to stop now before I end up heading down that route. He also believes that all photographers need to be good writers too. I’m not sure I agree. And I doubt Helen Levitt would. After all we use cameras to attempt to describe our worlds, not words. But I DO believe writers help photographers grow, think, connect.

As David Campany says: ‘It is in the nature of images, all images, to misbehave and exceed meaning in ways that are anarchic, elusive, enigmatic and ambiguous. This is why images are so often accompanied by words that tame and stabilize them. Essentially, however, they remain wild…’ (Campany, 2020, pg. 32).


Campany, D. 2020. On Photographs. London, Thames & Hudson.