“Choose a text that has meaning for you… Try to generate visual ideas that communicate something about the text… How would you turn that text into a photograph or a series of photographs?.. When you’ve finished your work, place the photograph or photographs you’ve made with the text, side-by-side.”
I had spent quite a while deciding what type of text I would use. I wasn’t so much concerned initially by what the text was/ said, but more the type/ form of text – would it be a letter, a poem, a statement. While considering this, I was giving some thought to the link between image and text. There is a really interesting article from the first ever issue of Aperture magazine in which Nancy Newhall discusses images and text under the guise of captions – http://aperture.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/the_caption_NEWHALL.pdf – I bought a large anthology of Aperture works, when Minor White was the editor, and its worth a read through if anyone gets a chance.
With this link between text and image in my mind, I was reminded of an article I had read a few years ago, which discussed how teachers can have a perception of a young child starting in their class based only on the name of the child. A Tyler or Archie will be regarded as trouble, while Daisy etc is perceived as nice. This led me to examine this perception of what people are like based on text – not on knowing them, meeting them, talking to them, but instead a listing of words. So, what could I do with this? What grouping of words (I tried to keep it reasonably short, a few lines – I wanted at least to satisfy this part of the course requirement) do we have to describe an individual? A CV maybe, a lonely-hearts advert? These were all interesting to me. A conscious decision we make to describe ourselves in concise forms. Something about the lonely-heart adverts was quite Sophie Calle to me – could I set up a false identity and photograph the people I met. Could I do that? Not now I couldn’t but its a possibility long term.
Instead I chose grave stones. Short concise texts to describe someones life – who they were, what they were, how they were loved. Some even have photographs on them – how do people decide on these photos? Are they the images that best sum up that person? The person at their best? The best for whom? For when? However, I consciously chose headstones without photos – I wanted headstones (relatively new) that gave us some information about the person – a person we never knew, wouldn’t know, who meant something to somebody but not to us. And we didn’t know what they looked like. I was also interested in the way this text was formed. It followed on really from the series I did on street furniture – when things that are generally perceived as looking the same, actually look completely different. So the variation in look (these are all modern gravestones – not classic, gothic crypts – is quite broad, and this is clearly a conscious decision, presumably by the people left behind. What information have people chosen to include on the headstone, what text, what quotes, and how does this relate to the people involved – does it? Does it say anything really about the person it is supposed to? It is going to be with them for hundreds of years (going by the other examples around). Or does it say more about the people left behind who simply went to the funeral directors and picked the item? Can we tell anything about the person by the headstone, by the text, by the shape etc?
So how can I examine this text and the people involved/ not involved? I could contact the people who organised the headstone, talk to them about the dead person, see if the headstone is appropriate. But a) I don’t think I would do that, and b) it doesn’t really interest me. I might as well just get a photograph of these people, and what would it really achieve and c) that could become an absolute mission for this project. My interest though is the link between the people (essentially the image of the person) and the gravestone (including the text – satisfying this brief, but also the shape, colour, layout of the stones). So I decided to take photos of random people, that satisfied the general description of the person on the gravestone (sex/ ethnicity) but were just random people on the street. Would the descriptions on the gravestones be as relevant for them. Was the object that would lie on top of most of us actually be pretty generic. The decision over what text to have, could in fact be for anyone.
I feel this is more of an experiment than a completely rounded project. It has also over the course of the project taken different avenues. I spent 2 mornings on busy high-streets getting photos of random people, but because of unfortunate weather conditions everyone was tucked under hoods or umbrellas. So I decided to use found photos instead. Because I wanted random people I went to a large newsagents and bought a German language magazine, which had ‘celebrities’ in it, but German celebrities, so apart from Boris Becker and Franz Beckenbauer, I knew no one, so considered this to be random enough. But I didn’t like the look and feel of the people – not some slur on the German nation, but more the rather clean, celebrity coiffured look didn’t sit well with the project. So I reverted to using found on-line images. These images have been chosen by doing Google searches for the same name as on the gravestone. Maybe its actually that person – I don’t know. But I like the placing together of objects/ people/ words, and how they are interdependent but also independent – this is a partial quote from the Aperture article.
I am not totally happy with the success of this project – I am not sure it totally covers the brief, nor am I sure it is successful as a group, nor as individual pieces. Certain images have worked for me, and have a poignancy, but this was more luck than judgement. I have placed the person before the gravestone, as a contrived attempt at sympathy. It is of course a false sympathy, as these people aren’t the same people as the gravestones. So I do like that 1+1 not achieving 2 element – and the fact that because we see 2, it doesn’t even mean we had 1+1. This plays on the idea that photography delivers ‘facts’ – what we see is real – and the attempt of this project (my attempt) was to toy with this idea.