Conclusion and Final Reflection

Conclusion and Final Reflection

I have been well and truly coaxed out of my comfort zone during C&N and feel I have progressed enormously. I had no idea just how much I would learn. I now see differently and am more mindful of my surroundings. I have thoroughly enjoyed the reading and research element of this course, I have learned so much, not just about photography, but also photographers, artists, essayists and philosophy!

The topic I felt ‘most comfortable’ with was assignment 2: ‘Photographing the Unseen’. The subject is very personal to me and one I was able to connect with physically and emotionally. I was able to demonstrate, through photographs, a sense of place and convey a narrative of transcending through time. Creating photographs that speak for themselves, through metaphors and with creative use of my camera, gave me a great sense of achievement. Technically this assignment enabled me to develop camera techniques and attempt to get to grips with Photoshop!

The area which is furthest away from who I want to be as a photographer and the one I felt most uncomfortable with, was without question the self-portrait work. Being an introvert and quite a private person, I really didn’t relish the thought of putting my feelings out there. I will talk to friends and family, perhaps write down how I am feeling, but articulating my emotions in a series of images was a difficult task. I have never considered the medium of photography to explore myself in this way. I was aware that I didn’t need to include myself in the photos – I don’t think I am very photogenic – but I wanted to test it out. I was surprised and pleased with the results. The experimentation and general playing around with my camera and laptop helped me create something unexpected.

The main learning for me was how to read a photograph and add my own interpretation. I found the whole concept of contextualisation and how it can be manipulated quite an eye opener. I feel that experimentation and taking risks has had a huge impact on my confidence with the camera and my creative ability.

The assignment I enjoyed working on the most has to be the final one, constructing an image. This piece of work really stirred my creative juices. I enjoy fiction and escapism and have relished the opportunity to demonstrate this through my images. Using props, costumes, models and metaphors to create images offering conflicting narrative, with an air of mystique and humour was such fun. I also found the research around this module fascinating.

Regarding my personal voice – well I really struggle with this. I’m not convinced I actually require one. To try to fit into a specific pigeon-hole is really not me. I tend to go with the flow, or in the case of photography, it’s what interests or appeals to me at that particular time. It is very early days yet, I am still learning, I am still exploring and experimenting. Each assignment pulls me in a new and different direction. Saying all that, there has been a theme running through C&N, one which I purposefully developed as I progressed through the assignments. Predominantly, the passing of time and memories.

Will I return to these assignments at a later date?  I’m sure I will – in particular the Essay Writing, but to all of them as reference points.

In the coming year I intend to engage and interact more with the OCA community. Distance learning can be a lonely place and the support and encouragement of fellow students and tutors is a comforting thought as I move into Level 2. My Lightroom and Photoshop skills continue to improve, albeit slowly. I will continue to practice with my camera to become competent with all the features. Most importantly I am keen to continue to grow, learn, develop my photography and have fun!

 

 

 

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A5 Tutor feedback and response

 Overall Comments

I commented that I had really enjoyed working on this assignment, having to produce, control and direct the project certainly stirred my creative juices. We spoke about how I have continued to incorporate the theme of the passing of time, using myself and a lifelong friend as ‘models’. It was noted that my planning and preparation was well documented in my Learning Log, but that I need to ensure I capture as much of my research as possible in my notes (not just in my head).

Inventive work! The tableaux-vivants are well constructed and the dresses are both amusing and interesting in the way they work as 2D images within the photograph (montage effect).

 I think currently the idea needs drawing in a little. A fifty-word summary of the essence of your idea will help shape your decision as to whether to use one image, or two (and which). We discussed this during the phone tutorial and I have since pulled together a summary. See final submission here.

Feedback on Assignment
General and specific comments on the Assignment (whether a practical or written assignment)

 Technical and Visual Skills

  • My image demonstrates detailed planning of the set and layout, lighting.
  • Visually, the models dresses give a montage effect – photo on photo.
  • Careful planning of the dress colours against the backdrop offered a good contrast. I explained that I didn’t shoot any close-ups because the surrounding scenery played an important part in the framing.
  • Tutor commented that the ‘friend and foe’ pairings highlight how space changes when friendship is compromised.
  • We discussed the importance of including a contact sheet in my preparation notes to show the full range of photographs I had to select from.

 The final selection needs to be made carefully, Janet, taking into consideration the combined conceptual and qualitative elements of framing, focus, backdrop (esp. sky).

Creativity

  • It was agreed that I had been successful in portraying my intent – combining reality and fantasy/past and present.
  • I feel I have been bold and innovative and have shown evidence of gaining inspiration from a varied range of reading and research.

 A very creative interpretation of your idea. As discussed, you need to show an awareness of the politics of gender identity/representation, as this is implied almost accidentally within the work, albeit not the main intention. Is there a feminist aspect to the work? Did boys’ comics of the same era have pin-on clothes..? Being honest, I had not considered the feminist aspect, I was totally preoccupied with childhood memories and the fun of dressing up (even as an adult!).This has made me more aware of the need to involve and seek the views of others – in particular fellow students. I have now included further research in my blog as well as in the body of my assignment.

 Quality of Outcome

  • I stated that I was very happy with the final images in that they portrayed my intention.
  • I feel the narrative is loaded with symbolism in a conflicting scene and meets the criteria of the brief. – Expand on this in your learning log?
  • We discussed including more of my research material in the body of the assignment to acknowledge wider reading in relation in my subject.

Does the piece have a title? The quote you have selected works very nicely and reminds me of a refrain from the song ‘My Back Pages’, by The Byrds: ‘I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now’. I had decided to use the ‘Alice’ quote for the title because I think it does work and is very fitting.

Consider the ‘liminal’ connotations of the twilight skies, which add to the work’s temporal ambiguity (dusk? or twilight?) Philosophically this kind of sky is connected with notions of an “in between” place of “reality” and another world (or dimension – in this case, another time). Hegel’s ‘Owl of Minerva’ may be of interest if you wish to delve deeper. For my formal assessment submission, I have decided to use two images depicting twilight skies. I have read Peter Davidson’s wonderful book “The Last of the Light” and referred to it in my final submission. I will also look into “Owl of Minerva” with great interest!

As ever, my advice would be, take a step back from the work and try approaching it from the perspective of the ‘objective viewer’; this is your best vantage point for self-critique when making that final image selection. (“What am I looking at? What’s the message here?”) This is more applicable than ever when preparing to submit your work for assessment. Good advice, thank you.

 Coursework
Projects/Exercises

  • I had worked through all the exercises and projects leading in to the assignment.

 Research
We discussed how I should include and capture more of my reading and findings in my Learning Log to show clear links to my work.

  • Research tab: My tutor recommended that I separate out visual and theoretical research study elements for clarity and ease of navigation. Actioned.

For context (sorry – we didn’t discuss this by phone) – a little research on, to show awareness of, the pictorial tradition of ‘tableaux vivants’; i.e. in definition and in contemporary practice (e.g. in the work of Tom Hunter or Jeff Wall). Barthes discusses the tableau-vivant in ‘Camera Lucida’, which you’re already familiar with. I have researched Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson.

Learning Log

  • I have included reflection on the assessment criteria in the assignment submission to tutor.
  • It was noted that I had amended my Blog to include only work for the current Context and Narrative course.
  • I have ‘hidden’ the menus from the side panel to avoid confusion and keep the blog simple.

 Suggested reading/viewing

. Check out feminist artists in relation to representation and identity – links to my assignment. Themes within this, I would suggest for future work, would be masquerade; parody; self-representation.
. The Photographers Gallery – Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s. Particularly Martha      Wilson’s ‘A Portfolio of Models’ and Cindy Sherman’s ‘Bus Riders’. Themes: assumed identity; projected identity; masquerade;
·  Dawn Woolley – “The Substitute” – feminist angle and use of image-within-image.
·  Maria Kapajeva – “Interiors”
·  Erving Goffmann – “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”

Well done, Janet, on completing the course in good time and on having made such progress in your creative thinking along the way. You have developed the personal, conceptual threads, which emerged in your early assignments, to good effect – particularly through your essay and final assignment. Make sure your learning log does justice to your ideas & research.

 

A5 Formal assessment submission

“…but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

final-2

final-1

Introduction

On the approach to my 60th birthday there is something quite comforting reminiscing about my childhood. Lately, I’m hearing songs on the radio that take me back to “eeh, I remember when…”. But, as Alice ponders, when in Wonderland, “I was a different person then”. [1] 

Children easily fall out with each other over the simplest things, but quickly ‘make up’ again. My images portray two worlds, somewhere between the actual and the imagined, abstract yet object. The scene is surreal, overcoloured and amusing, models pose in (oversized, ill-fitting, cut-out) summer dresses, yet there is snow on the ground. In ‘Model of the Psyche’, [2] Carl Jung compares the perception of reality to the eye, implying that we can only see a limited number of things at a given time, likewise our experience of reality. So, what then, is real?  Twilight connotes the boundaries of light and darkness, then/now, child/adult, foe/friend. A familiar place by day surrenders to the mysteries of the night. Philosophically a twilight sky relates to notions of an ‘in between’ place of reality, another world (see Gregory Crewdson), or dimension – in my instance, another time. The space between the friends changes as they ‘make up’ again, connoting brevity of time. The flattened dresses are interesting in the way they work as 2D images – a montage effect, a metaphor for the layers of time. Peter Davidson writes: “As time passes, my student years in the 1970s begin to look like the last, fading decade of a sensibility of twilight”. [3] As the light faded and we finished our photo shoot, I pondered over the fact that ‘it will never be the same again’.

Context

I gained inspiration from the wonderful work of Tim Walker. Walker’s fashion photography is theatrical, bordering on surrealist, every scene is fantastical.  “I think an intense enthusiasm to create a vision you have seen in your head makes you ignore certain obstacles” [4]. In my case the cold Cumbrian winter!

tim_walker_inside_out2002  1c  www.thomastreuhaft.com

Graham Clarke says; We look at a photograph as recording time, as a historical record, whereas invariably it stops time and, in turn, takes its subject out of history. Every photograph, in that sense, has no before or after; it represents only the moment of its own making. [5] My Tableaux Vivants weave past narratives into present places creating ‘before and now’.

My images bring into question how our values change as we grow up, we conform to expectations and lose a little (or a lot) of ourselves in the process. Canadian inspirational speaker, Danielle La Porte asks, “Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” [6] For a child it is acceptable to dress up as adults, fairies, dragons etc; ‘make believe’ becomes reality. Adults are expected to assume maturity, but fancy dress, theatre and film are all acceptable excuses for ‘dressing up’. Nietzsche says we have potential to overcome the barriers imposed upon us, “In every real man, a child is hidden that wants to play.” [7]

My photographs may be viewed in different contexts by others. Here are some additional thoughts and artists I considered.

I am encouraged that I am not alone with my musings in relation to paper dolls! Cindy Sherman’s, Doll Clothes see film clip here explores how identity is constructed and how behaviour and performance shape conceptions of gender. More here.
sherman

My doll clothes are a veneer, an attempt to disguise identity – albeit a thin disguise! Research led me to Erving Goffmann’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” [8] . Goffmann discusses how we perform socially and how our ‘charade’ changes depending on the situation. I note that many photographers who masquerade as others are women – see here. This leads into thoughts on feminism and how women are cast as stereotypes. See Dawn Woolley and Maria Kapajeva.

Martha Wilson’s, A Portfolio of Models [9] explores the ways in which women are defined by society. She focuses on six identities  – goddess, housewife, working girl, professional, earth mother and lesbian. Wilson as the model, modifies her appearance to cast herself as each character.
martha-wilson-2  martha-wilson

Workflow
For full details of my process see  A5 Planning and preparation. But in summary:
Inspiration came from recalling the excitement of receiving my weekly copy of Bunty comic, turning to the back page for the ‘Doll’s Cut-Out Wardrobe’. I was (still am) fascinated by fairy stories and escapism. For the assignment shoot, I enlisted the help of my longstanding friend, Lesley. We were the ‘dolls’ in my photographs.

Day one: We made the ‘clothes’ and prepared the props. I had already spent some time roughly sketching out my ideas and gathering all the materials. I wanted the outfits to suit the era of when I was a young girl, early 60’s.

3b-dress2     3
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I chose mount board to make adult sized ‘cut-out’ clothes. We covered the board in fabric – to replicate making dressing-up clothes, kiddies wax crayons were used for colouring-in the handbag. The dresses were intentionally made to be ill-fitting and childlike. The fastening tabs on the dresses were exaggerated, as was the lipstick daubed on my lips and cheeks!

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Day two: It had snowed overnight! I could have shot the scene indoors, but wanted to stay with my original plan to shoot outdoors with the trees. The snow added to the quirkiness of the scene – posing in summer outfits on a cold winter’s day! I hung some of my clothes from the tree branches to give a sense of a present day wardrobe – influenced by Tim Walker’s fashion images. As the light faded the clothes were less visible, adding to the fading memories theme.

www.thomastreuhaft.com

Tim Walker The Dress/Lamp Tree 2002

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I had carried out a practice run prior to the shoot, so setting up the camera equipment and props was straightforward. I had volunteered my husband David to act as grips and props man because I, as a ‘model’, lacked agility! I tried the camera in self-timer mode, but this proved limiting and lacked spontaneity. It was a bitterly cold afternoon and we needed quick fire shots. David offered to shoot the photographs under my direction, while I concentrated on composition and gestures/poses. The lighting was regularly repositioned to enhance the scene. As the light faded a third (halogen) lamp was introduced.

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Here is a selection of images from the photo shoot.

The two images submitted represent memories of childhood depicted by the comical scene of adults performing as comic book children in a fantasy setting. The passage of time is portrayed in a surreal context utilising the twilight sky as a metaphor coupled with adult/child models, condensing the lengthy transition between childhood and adulthood into an image.

References
1. Carroll, L. (1958). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Children’s Press. London.
2. Jung, C. The Model of the Psyche: Available from: http://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-    jung. [accessed 4th January 2017]
3. Davidson, P. (2015). The Last of the Light. Reaktion Books (1st edition). Scotland.
4. Walker, T. (2013). Tim Walker: A Fashion Fairytale. Available from: www.theguardian.com/fashion/2013/may/24/tim-walker-photographer-fashion. [Accessed 18th December 2016].
5. Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. Oxford University Press. London.
6. La Porte, D. Inspiration. Available from: http://www.daniellelaporte.com. [Accessed 4th January 2017].
7. Nietzsche, F. (1844). Quote available from: angelwithinphotography.wordpress.com. [Accessed 4th January 2017].
8. Goffmann, E. (1990) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Penguin. London.
9. Wilson, M. (2008) A Portfolio of  Models. Available from: www.smith.edu/artmuseum/ collections.

Websites
Sherman, C. Clothes Make the Woman. Available from: http://www.escapeintolife.com [Accessed 18th December 2016]

Fire and Ice – Peter Wollen

Fire and Ice 

In relation to my work for Assignment Four, Blue Chair, my tutor recommended a look at the essay Fire and Ice by Peter Wollen.

Peter Wollen considers time versus tense in photography and cinema. He says; “The lover of photography is fascinated both by the instant and by the past. The moment captured in the image is of near-zero duration and located in an ever-receding ‘then’. At the same time the spectator’s ‘now’, the moment of looking at the image, has no fixed duration. It can be extended as long as fascination lasts. Whereas with film each sequence or image is presented for a predetermined time, then moves on.”

Wollen goes on to describe film as like fire, in that it is constant incessant motion, whereas photography is like ice, a single frozen moment.  He argues however, that his comments are not straightforward or clear-cut.  In order to pursue this line of thought, rather than using the notion of tense, i.e. it happened in the past, it is happening now, or it will happen in the future, he instead talks about aspect.  In a nutshell this means categorising situations as being either states, events or processes. A state is a static situation, something that is unchanging. An event is something of fixed duration, with a start and a finish, and may take place in the past, the present or the future. A process is an ongoing situation involving continuous change.

Wollen goes on to suggest that, based on the sorts of captions commonly used, news photographs signify events, art photographs and most documentary photographs signify states, and that some documentary photographs signify processes. He argues that a minimal narrative contains process, event and state, and that therefore individual still photographs should not be seen as narrative, but rather as elements of narrative.

blue-chair-j-maher

Blue Chair by John Maher

So, does Blue Chair signify a state, an event or a process? The photographer’s intention (I am assuming), was to capture the moment in time (ice) and allow the viewer to contemplate the scene at length – in a way they not could do in reality, because the moment passes quickly as one moves on to the next sight before their eyes. The photograph gives the viewer time and space to reflect on the narrative. Each time I look at Blue Chair I am observing the same scene, it cannot change, the image is frozen in time. Although I do discover new items and objects, which in turn suggest a new story.  But, I know that if I was to travel to visit the scene, it will have changed, it is going through an organic process, constantly changing. Maybe in another ten years the Blue Chair would be unrecognisable. In Wollen’s terms, I see this image as all three elements of narrative: There has been an event – certainly a start, although the finish remains unknown. The State is as one sees it in the photograph, what it denotes. The image is static, unchanging. But, the viewer knows there must be an ongoing process of continuous change at the scene. There is an impermanence (fire).

References
Wollen, P. (1984). ‘Fire and Ice’The Photography Reader. Ed. Liz Wells. (2003) Routledge. London. p 76-78.

Tim Walker

Tim Walker

tim

Born 1970
England

“Everything is contrived; nothing is real. You try to make your own real moments. And then you go home and make sense of it”.

After a three-year BA Honors degree in Photography at Exeter College of Art, Walker was awarded third prize as The Independent Young Photographer of The Year. Walker worked as a freelance photographic assistant in London before moving to New York City as a full-time assistant to fashion and portrait photography Richard Avedon. At the age of 25 he shot his first fashion story for Vogue, and has photographed for the British, Italian, and American editions ever since. Tim Walker’s photographs have entranced the readers of Vogue, month by month, for over a decade. Extravagant staging and romantic motifs characterise his unmistakable style.

“When I was at college, the idea of fashion was more immediate to me, whereas art photography, the depth of it, was a different thing. Storytelling – fanciful storytelling – can only be told through fashion photography. It’s the perfect way to play with fantasy and dreams.” “Even the pictures I was doing at college – a little narrative based on a butterfly catcher, or a chimney sweep – the images were always telling stories. They were all scenarios and moods which I storyboarded and worked through – it’s exactly what I do now.” [1]

p1130192    p1130198

In Tim Walker’s photography nothing is as you might expect. He is an expert in creating fictitious images, conjuring up childlike dreamscapes and dark fantasy worlds with story book narratives. “It’s just innate.” Walker says of his style, pinpointing Albert Lamorisse’s book and film ‘Le Ballon Rouge’ as an early influence. The 1956 short film tells the tale of a boy, played by Lamorisse’s son, and his animate red balloon, capturing the spirit of childhood innocence. In 2009, Tim Walker shot the fragrance campaign for Miss Dior Cherie. The campaign features model Maryna Linchuk, elevated by a cluster of balloons and seemingly suspended over the city of Paris, not unlike the final scene of Le Ballon rouge.

red-balloon-1 red-balloon-2

Walker reminds us that it is perfectly acceptable to escape to a world of dreams, fairy tales and imagination. When I look at his work, I can relate to it and momentarily wish that I had been to that place, I want to step into the frame, into Walker’s wonderland.

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Richard Avedon: Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955.

It is clear that his time working with Richard Avedon has inspired his photography. In the 1957 musical comedy Funny Face, the role of Dick Avery is modelled on photographer Avedon. He was renowned for blending elegant glamour with a fun sense of spontaneity, often bringing fashion photography out of the studio and onto the streets.

One could say that Walker’s work connotes the fleetingness of youth and beauty as his photographs are often rooted in nostalgia. Walker explains “these photographs are rather romantic visions of an England past” His inspiration, he says, comes from his childhood imagination and memories. Reminiscent of a childhood spent dressing up, dragging family heirlooms from the attic to the bottom of the garden to furnish tree-lined ballrooms. [2] But, one senses that the past isn’t merely sentimental for him; it is also political. ‘I’m resisting proceeding without caution,’ he says. ‘Culture and society are moving so quickly that I think we need to ask whether in throwing out the rubbish so readily, there might be a few gems in there that we’re not quite ready to get rid of. Like femininity. Or innocence. Or our sense of wonderment.’ [3]

tim_walker_inside_out2002

Tim Walker: Inside Out 2002

Having studied constructed images or ‘tableaux vivants’ (‘living picture’ in French), for Part five of the course module, I compare American photographer Jeff Wall, to British photographer Tim Walker. Both have become known for collaborating with a team of actors, models, painters, builders and technicians to construct elaborate sets full of ingenious props. Wall’s images often appear as stage sets portraying intense drama, often with an assumed degree of spontaneity. Whereas Walker’s sets are fantastical, he changes the scale of his props, to extremes. For example, a giant-sized doll treads on the toes of the model. Like Wall, his attention to detail is commendable, but it is Walker’s unusual locations, the poses, garments and make-up worn by the models that tell the story – there is expression and emotion. In his wonderful book “Story Teller”, Walker has included two pages from his scrapbook showing the thought process and planning that went into the series. However he does not reveal any further clues as to how the amazing sequences came to life.

imagessketch  like-a-doll-lindsey-wixon-2011  doll

Renowned for his fashion shots on the glossy pages of Vogue magazine, Walker’s work is a mix of fashion and design and takes you to a place that is a visual delight. I am not interested in high-end fashion or which famous designer the label is attached to, but I adore looking at his pictures. I guess that is the hook, it’s what sells the goods, but more importantly it’s what connects his photography with his audience. Fashion photography, unlike fine art or documentary photography, has been classed as commercial, not creative. Its function is to promote the sale of expensive and exclusive high fashion garments. Tim Walker’s beautiful book will not answer the question “Is fashion art?”, but it certainly pushes the boundaries.

References

1. & 2. Walker, T. Tim Walker’s fantasy World. Article by Tilly Macalister-Smith. January 27th 2016. Available from: http://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/creative-class/inside-tim-walkers-fantasy-world %5BAccessed 8th January 2017]
3. Walker, T. Tim Walker’s Thrilling Fashion Photographs Go on Show. Article by By Penny Martin. The Telegraph. September 2012. Available from: http://www.timwalkerphotography.com/articles [Accessed 8th January 2017]

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/tim_walker.html

The Red Balloon/Le Balon Rouge. (Albert Lamorisse, 1956). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWRbCGa2gqY [Accessed 8th January 2017)

 

A4 Formal assessment submission

Blue Chair

John Maher: ‘Blue Chair’ from the series Nobody’s Home. 2011

Mancunian John Maher – ex drummer with the Buzzcocks turned photographer, discovered abandoned croft houses when taking outdoor night-time photographs on the remote Isle of Harris where he now lives. Blue Chair was one of many hauntingly emotive images displayed in his 2015-2016 exhibition ‘Nobody’s Home’.  The remote location of the crofters’ cottages – many of which were built before the roads and are even now only accessible on foot – means they (mostly) lie undisturbed and untroubled by humans. A memorial to past lives.

The image denotes a scene of disruption and abandonment. We are immediately steered to the blue chair via the title of the photograph. In fine condition it takes precedence over the disintegrating dust covered sofa. The viewer attempts to unpick the scene, but the gaze returns to the vacant blue chair. In the book, Camera Lucida, (1) Roland Barthes comments, “the photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been”.  In Maher’s image we know that ‘someone’ has been there, traces remain, but the event has passed.  Other signifiers serve to arouse curiosity.  On the dated coffee table lies a bunch of plastic (or silk) flowers still attached to its foam oasis, but where is the vase? Hanging from an electric cable is a 1997 calendar.  The traditional focal point, the fireplace, has attracted a collection of objects.  Shiny winners’ cup stands upright and proud on the mantelpiece. An ornate mirror hangs intact, serene as it reflects upon the destruction, ready to capture the uneasy expressions of any visitors.

In Camera Lucida Barthes contemplates a photograph of his mother as a child (the Winter Garden Photograph); he proclaims that he cannot reproduce the image because it exists only for him “For you it would be nothing but an indifferent picture….for you no wound”. Barthes, then, argues that for those unconnected to the photograph, it would merely be a visual record. In the case of Blue Chair, does this mean we remain within the limits, showing only a polite and general interest in the photograph (the studium)?  But maybe something in the scene does “shoot out like an arrow and pierce me” (the punctum).

The photograph – in this instance taken with a large format 1960s Sinar Norma plate camera was taken from eye level, using a small depth of field and ‘in close’. It transports the viewer into the heart of the scene.  Artificial lighting was necessary to illuminate the scene, enhancing natural colours and highlighting shape and form.  The image is framed with walls of peeling paper and a collapsing ceiling.

This is a found scene, not staged or constructed, although one may question the ostensibly polished blue chair. Has it been placed there at a later date? Did the photographer introduce it to the scene? Or is it reality “touched up”?  If the truth lies in any of the above, then one must ponder why and what the significance is.

It brings to mind Jeff Wall’s The Destroyed Room 1978, in which his staged scene displays similar disarray. However, the fact that Wall’s image is constructed dissociates it from Maher’s image.  Blue Chair is very real, real in the sense that this was (is) somebody’s home. It cannot be easy for the viewer to glance quickly and then move on, it captures the gaze, forces the viewer to become involved, to deconstruct the scene and possibly weave in their own experiences…contemplating their own lives…perhaps confronting their own absences.

As the eye moves around the image, questions linger. The image taker says, “It felt like the Mary Celeste. Where did they go? Why did they leave everything?” (2). It is about what is left behind, but also what is not there. It connotes a rush of sympathy and compassion, there is a sadness that prevails. The image is alive in a sense – decay, mildew, damp, this is an organic event – the darker side of nature at work. Colour and texture bring life to the discarded belongings, no doubt once of great importance, but now lie hopeless. The punctum for me is the sheer fragility and vulnerability of this ruptured room, now a crumbling shrine to those who once called it home. We know nothing of the history of the dwelling, we don’t approach the image with any prior knowledge. Robert Polidori asks this question of his ‘After the Flood” images “Would our own dwelling quarters look so pathetic…if they were similarly violated and exposed?“(3). This prompts us to take another look, we scan the debris with a forensic eye, seeking familiarity. We consider the sense of security and permanence we attach to our own home and surroundings.  What lies outside the frame? If only the camera were angled more to the right, would we see through the window to the wild landscape beyond? There is a glimmer of daylight on the fading drapes. If we were to wander further in, stepping cautiously over once valued possessions, carefully squeezing through the bright pink painted fairy tale door, would a similar scene confront us? “Curiouser and curiouser! Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)” (4).  Now we are attempting to pluck beauty from despair, romanticise. We are also trespassing.

There are many emotions and memories conveyed in this image – some personal, many are universal. Technically shot to reveal great detail, aesthetically pleasing, yet disturbing. Maher has achieved the paradoxical effect of recording what’s not there, forcing us to contemplate what was there. The absence of presence is strong. The scene is emotive, it provokes poignancy. The image has connotations of the passing of time. David Campany in his essay on ‘Late Photography’ states; “One might easily surmise that photography has of late inherited a major role as an undertaker, summariser or accountant. It turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened totting up the effects of the world’s activity.” (5)

This room, this cottage, is slowly returning to the land as nature reclaims it and the wild Scottish weather will no doubt lend a hand. Under scrutiny one can read the words on the 1997 ‘Coalite’ calendar; “Win! Win! Win! A Caribbean Cruise plus Cash Prizes”. Maybe they did win and never returned home…..


References

1. Barthes, R. (1993) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Vintage Classics,        Penguin. London.
2. Maher, J. Available from: http://www.scottishfield.co.uk/leaving-home-former-buzzcocks-drummer-john-maher-on-the-isle-of-harris (January 2016). [Accessed 4th November 2016].
3. Polidori, R. After the Flood.  Available from: https://ivc.lib.rochester.edu/composing-catastrophe-robert-polidoris-photographs. [Accessed 28th October 2016].
4.Carroll, L. (1865). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Reprinted ed. 1961. The Children’s Press. London & Glasgow.
5. Campany, D. Safety in Numbness. Available from: http://www.davidcampany.com/Safety in Numbness. [Accessed 28th October 2016]

Bibliography
Cottrell, S. Critical Thinking Skills.

Cindy Sherman ‘Doll Clothes’

Doll Clothes

cindy-sherman-1977

sherman

I find Cindy Sherman’s 1975 short film, Doll Clothes, quite amusing and entertaining, a departure from many of her grotesque and exaggerated images. Here in this imaginative approach, the doll comes to life and dresses herself rather than being dressed by the child/owner of the doll. The film starts with a child’s book (made by Sherman). The doll wakes up when the book is opened and she walks to the other side of the book in attempt to find a suitable outfit to wear.

This project has been reviewed by some as a feminine stance: “As the doll finds a dress and goes to the mirror to look at herself, a hand picks her up, strips her of the dress, and places her back to her original position….. The hand can be seen as a way to tell women that feminism comes from a place much bigger than one person and involves all women.” [1]
Another source states it is concerned with voyeurism: What Sherman is cleverly doing in this short film is illustrating the idea that we are said to encounter when we go to the cinema. This idea is the idea that we are watching, or “gazing” at something that we shouldn’t be gazing at. The viewer is put into a male gaze. The doll in the scene doesn’t know that we are watching her, but the camera fixates on her. It gets even worse at the end as a spectator in the room undresses her again after she had reached her goal. [2]

I feel the video suggests that we all start from a clean slate, but are cautioned that we may be influenced or conditioned by society and social media. That the clothes we wear may be status symbols for some – posing for society, while for others they may display a personality, make a statement or stem from nature/nurture. It tells me, quite simply, that one should be free to dress however one wishes, where ever and whoever they are. When discussing Doll Clothes in 2006, Sherman explained, ‘When I was a young teenager, I made little drawings of all my clothes and each Sunday night I would figure out my school outfits for the week’. The human hands that appear in the film, the artist suggests, ‘are like the parent telling the child that she is misbehaving and has to stay in the book’.[3]

With regard to the constructed image, much of Sherman’s photography appears to intentionally deceive, disguise or mask true identity. While most of the other photographers I’ve looked at in this module (Crewdson, Wall and Di Corcia) have a tendency towards a more cinematic approach to their tableaux. In Untitled Film Stills Sherman’s photographs recreate actual scenes from movies, In these performances Sherman uses wigs, make-up, expressions and costumes for her characters. Maybe she is not representing anyone in particular, but rather female stereotypes? In all her work she is both the observer and the observed which does raise the question who is being represented, by whom and for whom?

References
1.https://shadylemons.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/ubu-review-1-cindy-sherman-doll-clothes-1975
2. Schor, G. (2012) Cindy Sherman: The Early Works 1975–1977: Catalogue Raisonné. Hatje Cantz. Vienna.
3. Sherman, C. Why am I in these photos? Available from:  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jul/03/cindy-sherman-interview-retrospective-motivation [accessed 18th December 2016]

Bibliography
Cotton, C. (2009). the photograph as contemporary art. Thames and Hudson Ltd. UK.
Sherman, C.  Untitled Film Stills. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sherman-untitled-film-still-48-p11518 [accessed 4th January 2017]

 

 

A5 Submission to tutor

“…but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

foe2

On the approach to my 60th birthday there is something quite comforting about recalling my childhood memories, going back to happy family times and playtime. There are a number of things that trigger my moments of nostalgia, television programmes, shops full of retro and vintage goods, old photographs, catching up with an old friend.  Lately, I’m hearing songs on the radio that take me back to “eeh, I remember when…”. But, as Alice ponders, when in Wonderland, “I was a different person then”. [1]

I loved dressing up and playing with my dolls. I recall the excitement of receiving my weekly copy of the Bunty comic, turning to the back page for the ‘Doll’s Cut-Out Wardrobe’ then inventing a storyline for the ‘doll’. I was (still am) fascinated by fiction, fairy stories and escapism. I also have a love of nature, trees in particular.  For this final assignment I wanted to combine the two and continue the theme I have been building on throughout the module; specifically the passing of time, nostalgia and childhood memories. My idea stemmed from an earlier exercise, Masquerades, in which we were asked to make a photograph of a childhood memory – on my list of ideas was the cut-out-dolls.

I called on my mantra to; read the briefturn it on its head and play with it, take risks! Graham Clarke comments that; We look at a photograph as recording time, as a historical record, whereas invariably it stops time and, in turn, takes its subject out of history. Every photograph, in that sense, has no before or after; it represents only the moment of its own making. [2] In my constructed image I am weaving past narratives into present places in an attempt to portray ‘before and now’.

As children it is perfectly acceptable to dress up as adults or fairies, or dragons or animals or indeed anything at all. For a child ‘make believe’ becomes reality. As adults we are expected to act with maturity and yet, fancy dress, pantomime, theatre and film are all acceptable excuses for ‘dressing up’. I wrestle with the reason why I am doing this. Is it just for fun – adult play as opposed to child play? Is it to relive my childhood, a longing to be as I was ‘yesterday’? Maybe I am reflecting on the passing of time, or perhaps it is an attempt to mask reality or disguise my identity – albeit a thin disguise!

In his ‘Model of the Psyche’, Carl Jung compares the perception of reality to the eye; we can only see a limited number of things at a given time, likewise our experience of reality. So, what then, is real? My image portrays two worlds, a photograph somewhere between the actual and the imagined, abstract yet object. A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” (Diane Arbus).

My intention is to bring into question how our values change as we grow up, we conform to expectations and maybe lose a little (or a lot) of ourselves in the process. As youngsters we aspire to be ‘grown ups’. In my image the reverse is implied, a yearning to return to, or hold on to, childhood. It connotes nostalgia. The image demands to be read, it evokes a response, the audience must surely ask,”What am I seeing here?” They must create a narrative of their own. As Barthes declares, “The reading of the ‘text’ becomes that of the reader, the author is no longer present.” [3]  

Full details of my process along with photos can be found in the post  A5 Planning and preparation. But in summary;

I enlisted the help of Lesley, my art-loving friend. Having travelled 130 miles to spend the weekend assisting with my project, we only had one opportunity to get it right, whatever the weather! Lesley and I were to be the ‘dolls’. Day one: We made the ‘clothes’ and prepared the props. I had spent quite some time roughly sketching out my ideas and gathering all the materials for the set. I wanted the outfits to suit the era of when I was a young girl, early 60’s.

3b-dress2    4    3

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I chose mount board to make adult sized ‘cut-out-wardrobe’ clothes and a handbag. We covered the board in fabric – to replicate making dressing-up clothes, wax crayons were used for colouring in the handbag. The dresses were intentionally made to be ill-fitting and childlike. The fastening tabs on the dresses were exaggerated, as was the lipstick I daubed on my lips and cheeks.

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My tutor suggested I look up Cindy Sherman’s project. See video clip ‘Doll Clothes’. I had no prior knowledge of this project and was encouraged to discover that I was not alone with my musings in relation to paper dolls! I have written more on Sherman’s project here. I also gained inspiration from the story of Alice in Wonderland and the wonderful work of Tim Walker, examples of his work can be found here.

Day two: It had snowed overnight! I could have shot the scene indoors, but wanted to stay with my original plan to shoot outdoors with the trees. The snow added to the quirkiness of the scene – posing in summer outfits on a cold winter’s day! The only props in the scene not constructed are from nature itself. I hung some of my clothes from the tree branches to give a sense of present day – again influenced by Tim Walker. However as the light faded the clothes were less visible.

www.thomastreuhaft.com

Tim Walker The Dress/Lamp Tree 2002

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I set up the camera equipment and volunteered my husband David to act as grips and props man. This was necessary as the ‘models’ lacked agility. I did try the camera in self-timer mode, but this proved limiting and lacked spontaneity. It was a bitterly cold afternoon and we needed quick fire shots. David offered to shoot the photographs under my direction, all the while I was concentrating on composition, detail and our gesture. The lighting was regularly repositioned to enhance the scene. As the light faded I introduced a third (halogen) lamp.

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dsc_7188Selecting an image to submit was not an easy task. The images taken at dusk (above) created a theatrical aspect, the combination of natural and artificial light offers a more dramatic sense of place. I also toyed with the idea of submitting a pair of images to form the narrative of ‘friend and foe’. Children easily fall out with each other over the simplest things, but then quickly ‘make friends’ again. They are practising for adulthood, just like they are when dressing up.

dsc_7191   friend3

References
1. Carroll, L. (1958). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Children’s Press. London.
2. Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. Oxford University Press. London.
3. Barthes, R. (1993) The Death of the Author: Image Music Text. Fontana Press.

Websites
Arbus, D. Available from: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3279. %5Baccessed 18th December 2016]
Jung, C. The Model of the Psyche: Available from: http://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html   [accessed 4th January 2017]
Sherman, C. Clothes Make the Woman. Available from: http://www.escapeintolife.com [accessed 18th December 2016]

Bibliography
Bunty. (1965 & 1971). Bunty’s Cut-Out Wardrobe.  D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd, London.
Walker, T. (2008). Tim Walker Pictures. te Neues, London.
Walker, T. (2012). Story Teller. Thames & Hudson, London.

Reflection

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills
My equipment set up was quite straightforward with ample room available to manoeuvre the lights and tripod. A high intensity light was angled downwards to emphasise and light up the ground while another light highlighted the trees and models. As daylight faded the lamps and camera settings were adjusted accordingly. My direction pretty much went to plan. I suppose the only aspect that was slightly out of my control (apart from the weather), was the actual shooting – shouting out instructions and guiding the ‘camera man’. Because of the cold we would take around 30 shots then convene in the warmth of the house to review the images. We continued shooting even though the natural light was fading. I had not taken into account the limited daylight hours in December and the time required to alter the camera settings by torch-light!

In terms of composition – there was a lot of ‘suck it and see’, several shoots, retiring back to the house, analysing and then back outside again to try different aspects, poses and lighting angles. I had pre-planned the colours of the dresses to contrast with one another and to stand out in the setting. I didn’t want any close up shots because the surrounding scenery played an important part in the scene.

Quality of Outcome
Considering I had a clear picture in my head of the finished article, there were times when I was spending too much time diverting from my original theme. This was due to my usual excessive amount of reading and viewing other photographer’s work. I got carried away with my imagination and at one stage wanted to include fairies, actual dolls, books and other assorted props! In the 1960’s the image would have most likely been shot in black and white, but the colour is this instance is important, I wanted to highlight the garishness and drama of the theme. I also thank my lovely assistant/model and my technician husband for their co-operation and patience – without them this concept would still be unrealised. I know these results are not achieved without time and patience, therefore my advance planning and preparation was crucial. To re-shoot would mean Lesley having to travel up again at a later date, not an option this side of Christmas. Yes, I could have chosen a different location or setting, but I really wanted to do this as originally planned and I’m delighted with the outcome.

Demonstration of Creativity
The most challenging aspect of the whole assignment has been to choose just one image for the final submission to my tutor. I toyed with the idea of using two images to form a narrative of ‘friend and foe’ (see A5 Planning and preparation notes). Children easily fall out with each other over the simplest things, but then quickly ‘make friends’ again. They are practising for adulthood, just like they are when dressing up.

With regards to a specific artistic intention, while my image is not a convincing scene and certainly not subtle, I feel the narrative is loaded with symbolism with conflicting subjects/scenery all of which make ambiguous suggestions. The photograph displays a paradox in both time and place. I feel I have successfully produced a constructed scene without the need for manipulation in Lightroom or Photoshop – apart from slight adjustments to detail such as contrast and straightening.

Context
I enjoyed working towards this assignment. Having to produce, control and direct the whole thing has really stirred my creative juices. Mostly I researched the work of Tim Walker and Cindy Sherman. While working through the module students were encouraged to research Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson and Nikki Bird in particular. All my findings and comments on these photographers can be viewed under the relevant headings within my blog.

 

 

A5 Planning and preparation

Making it up

Brief: Construct a stand alone image of your choice. Alternatively you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme. The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting etc. Also consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach.

Setting the scene
As I work on assignment five, I am aware I need to create a narrative in a much more contrived way with a focus on detail and use of props – this is a move away from my photography work to date but one I am really excited about. I already have an idea in mind and look forward to developing my concept. I wish to continue the theme I have built on throughout the module; specifically the passing of time, nostalgia and childhood memories.

As a child I loved dressing up and playing with dolls, Mum would make outfits for me and for my dolls. I used to read Judy and Bunty comics and recall the excitement of turning to the back page for the ‘doll’s cut-out wardrobe’. I was interested in fairy stories and escapism (still am). I also have a love of nature, trees in particular. With all these thoughts in mind I immediately knew what I was going to create for my image/s.

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The idea is to introduce a mix of reality and fantasy. I gained some inspiration from the wonderful work of Tim Walker (in particular his Story Teller Book), Cindy Sherman’s Doll Clothes, Alice in Wonderland and of course Bunty comics.

Tim Walker: The Dress/Lamp Tree 2002

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Tim Walker: Christina Carey and apple tree bough. Northumberland, 2008

sherman

Cindy Sherman: Doll Clothes 1977

see video clip here: https://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/196/1041

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Fashion shop display spotted while shopping in Chester.

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Experimenting in the garden at home.

I called on my mantra to; read the brief, turn it on its head and play with it, take risks!  I have enlisted the help of my enthusiastic friend Lesley to be in the scene with me. Lesley and I will be the ‘dolls’. Because we live out in the sticks and Lesley is travelling a 130 miles to spend the weekend here, we have to get it right, whatever the weather! The plan is to make the ‘clothes’ and prepare the props one day and shoot the scene the following day in the garden.

Preparation
I am spending some time roughly sketching out my ideas and gathering all the materials for the set. I want the outfits to suit the era of when I was a young girl, early 60’s. I have looked at old dress patterns and chosen a party dress very similar to one I had for my sixth birthday. Lesley wants to wear a gingham dress. We have chosen our favourite colours.

4        3a-dress1    3b-dress2

Day one: With all the materials gathered we set about making the outfits and chatting about how we would present ourselves.

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I am using mount board to make adult sized ‘cut-out-wardrobe’ clothes and a handbag. I had contemplated using crayons on the board to get the colours and design, but decided to use actual fabric to cover the board – to replicate making dressing-up clothes as a young girl. The fastening tabs will be exaggerated.
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I wanted to use ‘rouge’ on my face as I did as a child, borrowing my Mum’s. But I used lipstick on my lips and cheeks to exaggerate the look. Again using references to Tim Walker’s images and Alice in Wonderland.

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Tim Walker: Soldier, Soldier won’t you marry me? (The Nutcracker) 2008

Alice in Wonderland 2010 (Tim Burton film)

Alice in Wonderland 2010 (Tim Burton film)

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Day two: After putting the finishing touches to the ‘clothes’, we headed outside to arrange the set. It had been snowing overnight! I could have shot the scene indoors, but wanted to stay with my original plan to shoot outdoors near the trees. I also thought the snow added to the quirkiness of the scene – posing in summer outfits on a cold winter’s day. The only props in the scene not constructed by me are from nature itself – trees, grass and the snow on the ground.

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I set up the camera equipment while my husband David acted as grips and props man! This was necessary as the ‘models’ could not bend or move around with any speed. I set the camera on self-timer, but this proved slow and fiddly, so David offered to shoot the photographs under my direction. All the time I was thinking carefully about the detail, gesture and pose.

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It was a very cold day so we had to keep dashing inside and putting coats on in between shoots. Gradually the daylight faded (it goes dark around 3.15 pm here in winter), but we carried on regardless. We had great fun! A few practice shots…..

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Some of the many shots on the day. As you can see daylight was fading fast!

I am toying with the idea of using a pair of images to form the narrative of ‘friend and foe’. Children easily fall out with each other over the simplest things, but then quickly ‘make friends’ again, practising for adulthood, just like when pretending to be grown ups by dressing up.

friend1   foe3

I also like the surrealism of the intense colours in this image.

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See A5 Submission to tutor for the final image/s and commentary.

 

References
Bunty. (1965 & 1971). Bunty’s Cut-Out Wardrobe.  D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd, London.
Carroll, L. (1958). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Children’s Press. London.
Sherman, C. Clothes Make the Woman. Available from: escapeintolife.com
Walker, T. (2008). Tim Walker Pictures. te Neues, London.
Walker, T. (2012). Story Teller. Thames & Hudson, London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise: Recorded conversation

My account of the conversation

The idea of this exercise is to record a conversation, then write my interpretation of the conversation before listening to it and noting the discrepancies.

This exercise was fun. I recorded a conversation between me and two work colleagues during a break. My colleagues didn’t know I was recording! I didn’t get the chance to jot down my interpretation of the conversation until much later that evening.  Even though the conversation felt fresh in my mind, I was amazed how hard it was to recall the detail of what had been said.

Listening back I realised just how much of the conversation I had misinterpreted or assumed. There was more talking than listening and talking over each other – really annoying! I discovered that the informal conversation was spontaneous and random whereas my written conversation was more organized and unstructured.

As a reflection, consider ‘the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process?
The recording process has reminded me how we hear what we want to hear – selective hearing, biased towards information that is of personal interest. I think this also applies to vision which could account for why art is subjective. It also links to memory. Memories are not totally reliable as evidence of truth, as Annette Kuhn states;  “Memories evoked by a photograph do not simply spring out of the image itself, but are generated in an intertext of discourses that shift between past and present, spectator and image, and between all these and cultural contexts, historical moments. In all this, the image figures largely as a trace, a clue: necessary, but not sufficient, to the activity of meaning-making; always signaling somewhere else. “

How can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?
Thinking about how I could transfer my conversation in to a photograph is visually challenging. Also to ensure accuracy of the original event would be extremely difficult. Therefore, as in my written translation of the recorded conversation, interpretation of the event is safer than an attempt to portray a true representation. Many books and films ‘based on a true story’ cover themselves with statements such as “The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this book/production are fictitious”. What I have learnt is that re-enacting a narrative in a constructed photograph doesn’t need to be totally believable, subtle hints and metaphors can be portrayed.