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.



Exercise: Goodfellas


We are asked to watch this famous scene from the film Goodfellas (1990) by Martin Scorsese.

What does this scene tell me about the main character?
From the outset I see that he is a formidable man, renowned – but for what is unknown in this clip. He comes across as a bit of a James Bond, a Jack the Lad, keen to impress the lady! He appears easy-going and friendly to all. He gives the impression of being a wealthy businessman. The music accompanying the clip is upbeat and cheery. Yet all the time I watch the scene I have doubts as to how genuine this man is and anticipate something bad is about to happen.

List the ‘clues’ within the scene which point to the above information.

  • Expensive car.
  • Generous with tips.
  • Doesn’t queue for club entry, uses side door.
  • Familiar with behind the scenes layout of club – walks through corridors and the kitchen with confidence and ease.
  • Knows and acknowledges everyone en route.
  • Table is set up specially for him in a prominent position.
  • Champagne is bought for him by another guest.
  • Music is engaging and connects to the unfolding story (narrative).
  • Fast paced filming holds viewers attention.
  • Dark corridors, red club room, shots of faces and expressions suggest a sense of wariness or trouble ahead.

The film clip is constructed to hint at the narrative. This tells us that the viewer relies on what is in front of the camera – props, clothes, location and setting, also colour and sound (in film). So to tell a story in a single photograph is a complex process. In film this is known as ‘mise-en-scene’ literally ‘to put in the scene’.


Exercise: Question for Seller

Nicky Bird – Question for Seller




“Question for Seller originated from my interest in family photographs that appear on eBay. I purchased photographs that no-one else bid for, with the connotation that they were unwanted, and therefore with no significant value. The seller was approached with the question – How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them? Their replies, however brief, are as important as the photographs they are selling – sometimes alluding to a part of a discarded family history, or the everyday, where personal photographs have long since lost their original meaning”.

I struggle to understand and find it very sad that anyone would want to sell family photos on eBay, car boot sales or anywhere else for that matter. For me they are so personal and valuable. Maybe that is because I love old photos and family memories are very important for me (as you will have seen from my assignments). I do accept, that maybe the photographs are the result of a house clearance where no family members or relatives survive. Perhaps photographs are lost during house moves, or as happened to me, stolen during a burglary. The meanings behind the images along with the memories may be lost forever. Nicky Bird says “buying someone’s personal history on eBay raises questions for me”. 

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
I’m not convinced the images gain an elevated status – as in rank or social standing. If the photographer is renowned then they will have added value. The subject matter may appeal to spectators if there is studium – cultural, historical or social interest. If the images trigger questions or emotions (punctum), then for that individual the images become more important. Whether this could be described as elevated is questionable. I feel it could actually weaken their significance, diluting any intimate familial links.

Where does their meaning come from?
The feeling of nostalgia is the common denominator for all the photographs. This makes for a cohesive series, the link being ‘unwanted’. The word ‘unwanted’ can be a powerful word in warming the hearts of the general public. The sellers were all asked the same question and then through her exhibition, Nicky Bird provided the photographs with an audience, their narrative became open for discussion, the images had a voice once again.

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they are now ‘art’?
By auctioning the images – whether one calls them art or not – they become worth something because a (monetary) value has been placed on them. By re-introducing the photographs in an exhibition project, curiosity and interest is aroused. The images and albums were then sold again via an auction, but this time round it was not individual unknown images but whole series promoted by Nicky Bird which gained prominence. The value of the ‘artwork’ in this case was most likely determined by its uniqueness, the buyers of the images, post exhibition are not buying individual images but rather a story, a narrative about the ‘unwanted’. Therefore I feel the value would have increased in both monetary terms and importance.

http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller [accessed 4th December 2016]


Research point: Gregory Crewdson

The brief tells me that Gregory Crewdson’s work is deliberately cinematic in style and makes us lose our sense of reality and become absorbed with the alternative reality we’re faced with. Some regard this as an effective method of image-making, but for others it lacks the subtlety and nuance of Wall and DiCorcia’s work. What do I think?

Firstly I looked at Crewdson’s Twilight series (1998 – 2002). A large-scale tableaux exploring the relationship between the domestic and the fantastical. His images are dark and disturbing, reminding me of psychological thrillers. The London Evening Standard interpreted this series as “Put Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and David Lynch into a blender, add half a pint of water and the diluted swirl that emerges will approximate the photographs of Gregory Crewdson. [1]


Is there is more to his work than aesthetic beauty?
Crewdson’s work is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but not beautiful, more mysterious. It is the cinematic quality, scale and the underlying sense of unease it provokes. Every image appears to offer us a frozen moment of a film, enticing the viewer to consider what comes next, the bigger picture. Crewdson’s attention to detail and meticulous planning involves a huge number of dedicated assistants to set the scene.

Do I think Crewdson succeeds in making his work psychological? What does this mean?
I looked closely at his body of work Cathedral of the Pines (2013-2014). Every image that Crewdson created evokes a feeling that something has just happened or is about to happen. As in a psychological thriller, the lighting and colours add to the mood and atmosphere. This image reminds me of the surreal 1990 television series ‘Twin Peaks’.

crewdson-1So, yes, I do think he succeeds in making his work psychological. His work has no hint of action, his subjects pose stiffly like androids. Crewdson says he looks to produce the sense that there are dark undercurrents just beneath the surface of his images.  Clearly he is producing psychological work.

What is my main goal when making pictures?
I don’t have a single main goal, my goal depends on the style of photography I am working on at the time. Of course that isn’t to say I don’t look for aesthetics and beauty while out and about with my camera. What is important for me is that my images are sufficiently strong enough to cause a reaction and encourage discussion, for me and those viewing my work.

Do I think there is anything wrong with making beauty my main goal? Why or why not?
Whilst I don’t think there is anything wrong with beauty being the main focus in photography, I do think that “beauty” is subjective. I have to ask the question; What is beauty? Personally I find beauty in nature, the viewer may interpret my images differently. If there is a trend for a certain style of photography which has been labelled as aesthetically beautiful, then there is no reason why I would not attempt to emulate this – if only for the practice and experience. I would not make it my main goal because I feel it would restrict my learning and experimentation in the wider sense.

1. Crewdson, G. (2002) Gregory Crewdson: Twilight. Available from: http://www.standard.co.uk/showbiz/gregory-crewdson-twilight-6308808 [Accessed 10th December 2016]