Assignment 5: authorial considerations

I’ve been thinking about my personal project for what seems like several months now (my earliest recollection of the overall theme is from May and by July I’d settled on this particular idea). Over the last three months in particular I’ve been refining my visualisations of the kinds of photographs I want to make, and I’ve increasingly realised that I have some objectives with this assignment, above and beyond representing the subject matter itself.

Authorship

Probably the most enlightening knowledge I’ve gained on this course has been the extent of authorship in documentary photography – and the opportunities it presents.

Like many people I came from a starting point that (most traditional) documentary photography is, broadly speaking, a reasonably accurate and objective representation of reality. Over the last several months of study I’ve appreciated that all photography has an element of authorship, whether conscious or subconscious. Every decision that the photographer makes before, during and after shooting is subject to their own reflexivity and intent – choice of subject matter, colour palette, vantage point, lighting, focal points, composition decisions, juxtaposition, selection, processing, sequencing, presentation method – everything.

When looking at a photographic body of work as, say, an exhibition or a book it’s very tempting to think that this is the only way this was ever going to turn out. But the photographer made so many decisions during the planning and production of the work that there’s an almost infinite number of variations possible, and is any of them any more or less “true” than any other?

So for this assignment I decided to overtly embrace authorship – to think consciously about what I want to say, and how to make the photographs say it. A (tiny) part of me sees this as being untrue to the spirit of documentary photography but a much bigger part wants to push myself towards this very deliberate authorial approach.

Expressiveness and ambiguity

of livelihood
from Assignment 2, ‘A Hole in the World’

I want to try to be more expressive and less literal than usual in my images for this assignment. Looking back on the three photographic assignments so far on this course, I’ve surprised myself by preferring the more conceptual Assignment 2 to the more mainstream documentary photography of Assignments 1 and 3. There’s something a little more satisfying to me personally in directing the viewer towards an idea that I’m trying to communicate, over and above just presenting events in the world as they happened.

So I want to play more with the “creative treatment” part of John Grierson’s famous description of documentary as “a creative treatment of actuality” (1933). To this end, I’m thinking more consciously about applying principles of semiotics in the images. I got very enthused by the possibilities of this whilst working on my critical review essay on the use of metaphor and metonymy in documentary photography.

I think this explains my over-arching objectives for the assignment, without getting down into the details of the assignment itself, if that makes sense.

Next I’ll do a post going into more detail on the visual concept I have in mind, and how I plan to engineer the images to my chosen authorial standpoint. These two posts together should felt the reader to understand both where I’m coming from and where I’m going with this!

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