Assignment 2: research

As my Assignment 2 is dealing with Loss, I’ve been looking for examples of other photographers taking on similar projects.

Unsurprisingly, all the projects I found dealt with one particular kind of loss rather than the ‘single image narrative’ construct that this assignment requires, and so each one goes narrow but deep. It’s still been a very useful research exercise though, as it has given me some pointers on the types of scene I could use as part of my own project.

Some of the artists positioned their theme as ‘absence’ rather than ‘loss’, and there is a difference – loss implies a person feeling the emotional state of loss, which is I believe an additional layer on top of ‘absence’, which just means something or someone is not there. Maybe ‘loss’ is ‘absence felt’? In any case, as a concept absence is a close enough cousin of loss that I included these projects too.

Glenna Gordon

Abducted Nigerian School Girls (2014)

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Glenna Gordon

Gordon looked at the much-publicised kidnapping of nearly 300 girls by the Islamic militants Boko Haram in 2014 from their school in Chibok, a remote village in Northern Nigeria. She conveyed the sense of loss by photographing the possessions they left behind – clothes, jewellery, school books.

This taught me that one way of depicting a loss is by traces that are left behind.

Michael Schmidt

Berlin Nach 45 (2005)

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Michael Schmidt

Schmidt took street scenes of Berlin in the 1980s, focusing on the gaps and half-remaining buildings left by bombing, catching a city that hadn’t yet made an effort to rebuild after the war, and wouldn’t until reunification late in the decade. The images are devoid of people, which lends them a calm, contemplative feel, as in so-called ‘aftermath photography’. The overall mood is cold, empty, desolate.

What I took from this is how much the vantage point, focal length and composition can support the intended atmosphere of an image. Schmidt’s images are in the main quite wide shots that carry an almost tangible stillness, allowing the viewer to really soak up the emptiness. I shot my assignment photos as medium distance or quite close shots, but I did try for very straight-on, deadpan composition and framing to keep the images static and calm.  And as a bonus connection, one of my assignment images includes photos taken in Berlin.

Taryn Simon

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters (2011)

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Taryn Simon

Simon’s is an epic work in 18 ‘chapters’, each dealing with a ‘bloodline’ – the living ascendants and descendants of the subject of a particular human story. What I found particularly interesting was its treatment of missing participants in the bloodline – it’s as simple as it is striking, as the ‘family portraits’ section of each story simply has a blank space for people who were not available to photograph (imprisonment, military service, illness etc) – so it’s ‘absence’ more than ‘loss’ but I still found it useful.

The aspect of this that informed my work was to use blank space or emptiness as a signifier for something that isn’t there. It’s the gap where there should be something that conveys the essence of loss. I use this idea in an image where I leave a dining table setting empty to denote a missing family member.

Phil Toledano

When I Was Six (2015)

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Phil Toledano

Toledano made a project about the sister who had died when he was six and she was nine. He had virtually no memories of her, and the family had hardly ever discussed her – then after his parents died he found boxes of photos and belongings, which led to the project. What’s particularly fascinating to me about this is that the subject that he has ‘lost’ isn’t necessarily the obvious one: he didn’t remember his sister, so he’s mourning (or at least analysing the loss of) something else – the absence of her, even as a shared family memory while he was growing up? the loss of a part of his childhood that never happened in real life? is it really about the loss of his parents?

In a – very trite and incomparable – way I am including in my assignment an image that has a literal (denotative) meaning and a more subtle (connotative) meaning: I photographed my receding hairline, so the obvious reading is ‘loss of hair’, but what I really want to get across is what it signifies, which to me is ‘loss of youth / loss of vitality’.

Laura Stevens

Another November (2014)

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Laura Stevens

Stevens used other women to create a semi-autobiographical series depicting the aftermath of a relationship breakup – in her own words, it’s “a photographic narrative based on the experience of losing love” (LensCulture 2014). She chose Parisian women of about her age to act as proxies and staged scenes that conveyed the feelings of having been rejected by a partner.

I had remembered this project from a year or so ago and sought it out again for inspiration. However, I’d decided early on that I didn’t really want people in my images (barring the forehead selfie), as I wanted them to be empty, cool and still. So staging images like Stevens’ didn’t really fit my approach. Interestingly, the one idea that I did like, of a woman dining alone, partly resembles the dining table scene I had already staged when I rediscovered this project – so maybe I was subconsciously thinking of it from my first viewing last year.

There are potentially dozens of others – lots of photographers have dealt with loss as in bereavement in many different ways, and there are a number of projects dealing with the aftermath of wars that could be classed as examinations of loss (the 2014 Tate exhibition and book Conflict-Time-Photography is full of them) – but I wanted to pick out a handful that had some inspirational value, or at least a connection to the kind of thing I already had in mind for my assignment.

Sources

Abducted Nigerian School Girls http://www.glennagordon.com/abducted-nigerian-school-girls/ (accessed 19/05/2016)

Berlin Nach 45 http://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DP185&i=3865210902&i2= (accessed 19/05/2016)

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters http://tarynsimon.com/works/almdd/ (accessed 20/05/2016)

When I Was Six http://www.bjp-online.com/2015/03/phil-toledano-when-i-was-six/ (accessed 20/05/2016)

Another November http://www.laurastevens.co.uk/another-november (accessed 20/05/2016)

Baker, S and Mavlian, S (eds.) (2014) Conflict – Time – Photography. London: Tate.

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