Punctum I

12 Jan
Resignation. Self-portrait. 2011.

Fig. 1. Resignation. Self-portrait. 2011.

The old adage states that a picture is worth a thousand words. Certainly photographs have great power – not only as aesthetic images in their own right, but also as items of record and archive. Within a single frame we have a record of a unique moment in time – of a specific location and specific people.

But they are also open to great subjectivity and interpretation, with meaning varying from individual to individual. Ultimately the only opinion on the image that really matters is that of the participants – those being photographed, or who were present at the moment the image was being taken. In turn they may distribute the image further, perhaps accompanied by a note to a loved one, further imbuing the image with specific meanings, and the recipient may place additional meaning on top of the image.

As a visual thinker, and a visual artist (a term I am finally coming to terms with using when regarding myself), photographs are particularly important to me. My vast personal archive – 35mm negatives, prints and digital files of my own work – is supplemented by an archive of photographs relating to my research work, a collection of images from films, made by others unknown to promote their commercial product.

I have images within my archive that I return to again and again. For some it is the pure aesthetic of a situation. For others it is the memory of a place or a person that I wish to recall. And yet others are a stark reminder of events and people I must try not to forget, and the journey made to a better place.

I have made some of my archive available on Facebook (mostly to share with friends) and via Flickr (which seldom contains images of family/friends, and is instead geared towards more neutral ‘work’ work).

A collection of images was removed once, because of the interpretation somebody else chose to give those images, and the inappropriate comments that they felt appropriate to make on them. But deleting an image does not remove a memory, and an interpretation does not necessarily reflect accurately on the truth within an image. I have cried over the loss of images, when compelled to remove something from a social networking site, or when a physical print has been destroyed by someone else. Only I have the right to destroy or alter an image that I have taken. And only I as photographer really know the meaning of any individual image. In the curation of a set of images, or on viewing a body of imagery over a lifetime, assumptions are made, interpretations are spun. It is no different from the English lit student dissecting the possible interpretation and history surrounding a particular written text.

Me, c. 2006.

Fig. 2. Me, c. 2006.

My undergrad professor once said in relation to film criticism that every interpretation was valid – because it is a personal response to the work. But a film as entertainment, is not the same as a photograph as personal record, or a single image taken in 1/80th of a second – a split moment in time, forever captured.

Alongside the assembly of a photo archive comes the redaction of same. As curator one makes choices regarding what to keep or what to make public. I keep all my negatives, and only in the instance of a completely botched photo (utterly blurred, unrecognisable etc) do I delete the digital file. What is the statement one is making. If one chooses a photograph is it because of the people, the place, or some other aesthetic choice? Is there a subconscious message being played out?

Above my desk just now are three photographs – not selected through any deliberate process, but because they became dislodged when going through some files and I posted them above my desk for refiling later. Only they’ve been there a couple of months now. Perhaps somebody else would come in and see them and make assumptions about the coded meaning.

Fig. 3. Hammer House

Fig. 3. Hammer House

The first is a black and white photograph of the exterior of Hammer House in Wardour Street in London, which I took during a visit circa 2006. It isn’t a particularly good photograph, but was taken during one of my earliest visits to the site – a reference point for my ongoing research on Hammer. It helps me feel connected to the work.

The second (not shown) is a polaroid image of me dressed as Santa with my two female helpers sitting on my knees. A fun image taken a couple of Christmases ago while I was helping out with a local charity. Aside from the connection with the charity, I have no other dealings with the others in the photos. We’ve just passed the festive season, so it serves as a reminder of my own part in that, and seeing its a polaroid I am reminded of the explanation I gave to many of the children about the magic photographs – kids today aren’t used to polaroids.

Eg. 3 - c. 2001

Fig. 3 – c. 2001

The third (Fig. 4) is a candid photo taken in a fast food restaurant (probably the McDonalds that used to be on University Road), in circa 2001 while I was an undergrad. I’m facing a girl with long blonde hair – Lucy – the both of us with stupid grins on our faces and playing with cardboard cut-out characters from some tie-in. Perhaps the assumption is that this is a photo of a young ‘couple’, but in fact Lucy was one of my fellow film students and no more than that. For me, it is simply a rare photo of me in my university days, and smiling in the company of friends.

Put together and without explanations I’m not entirely sure what impression they give. Possibly a slightly narcissistic one as two of the images include me as subject rather than image maker. There are other images that exist that project a sense of happiness, fun and general positivity, but which may themselves be isolated moments from otherwise bad days or weeks. I cannot recall what happened either side of the McDonalds image, but in that instant I was evidently in excellent form.

Images and words need reviewed in context, and all projections should be considered within the light of evident bias and agenda – neither of which are necessarily bad things in themselves. While documentary style photographs can display a truth, they do not contain the full objective truth – things and people are cropped out, they don’t always convey the emotions of photographer or subject (which can be utterly at odds with each other).

There is a photo at the start of this entry. Again, not a particularly great image, but a self-portrait which for me is laden with meaning and resonance. I know the full context of date taken, location, and everything else. One can’t help but wonder what other viewers would deduce from it and suggest it says (if indeed it says anything).


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