I was excited to start this module after visiting several galleries and exhibitions over the summer that really got me thinking about the many ways of representing the real, and all the ideological preconceived perceptions there are of “the real”. In particular the very first exhibition I visited, Consumption at the V&A in London, had me musing over just how materialistic we as humans have become. This was specifically apparent in Hong Hao’s My Things. Over the last 12 years, Hao has been scanning in objects that he consumes in his day-to-day life and has collated them to make enormous prints that are awe-inspiring to see first hand. His visual diary of his life was fascinating to see in itself but also had me considering what my own “things” would look like were I to do the piece; and what my sisters “things” would look like and my friends “things” look like- it was all building up, this internationally accessible piece that everyone could relate to and mold to fit their own circumstances. It was this internationally attainable element that began to govern my thoughts and led me into the open arms of Alberto García-Alix.
The Place of no Return surprised me as an exhibition as I was not expecting to engage with it or enjoy it as much as I did. However, I left The Photographers Gallery in London, heavily reflecting upon what I had just seen and experienced. The first point that hit me and related to My Things was the time span the work was produced over. I realised that despite only having 12 weeks for my own project, the essence of years and time was crucial to the success of this piece and that I could not expect viewers to leave feeling as reflective as I was leaving The Place of no Return without this element of time to concrete the credibility of my work. Time seemed to be an important factor in expressing reality for time is something everyone is a part of, there is no escape from the years and therefore no disillusionment about the physicality’s it brings.
The parallel was also clear about the self-involvement with the work, both artists’ own lives were the principal components of the pieces and so instantly the viewer trusted that what they were seeing was “real”. Visual representations of the person whose work they are viewing, over a long period of time couldn’t seem closer to the truth. The notion of trust and honesty that comes from people who have nothing to hide from you meant regardless of whether or not you liked the pieces, the viewer was able to believe the authenticity that came out of the work and regard the images as the truth. It was this notion of time and self-involvement being regarded as the utmost veracity I was initially interested in exploiting.
My first real ideas for this body of work was to con the viewer into believing that what they were seeing was the truth, when in fact it was a fabrication of the truth or a complete manipulation by myself. I wanted to use the term “Documentary Photographer” to give credit to the authenticity of my work and lead people into a false sense of security when viewing my final book. Through the medium of Photoshop or “set up” shots, I wanted to create a book of lies that were not revealed to the viewer until the very end, to exploit their unassuming trust that what they had just viewed was real. After seeing Amirali Ghasemi’s Tehran Remixed: Party Series from the True to Life? exhibition in Birmingham, I was inspired to pursue this idea further. Ghasemi’s work is “an attempt to break through and to experiment with documentary photography and manipulate it in order to tell stories” and that was just the avenue I wanted to go down. I then came across Zilla Van Den Born’s digitally manipulated travel adventure that she shared via social media and this had me considering how real are our lives that we share with the world? We take the truth for granted yet all somehow manipulate what we decide to show the world in return, be it through image filters, colour editing or simply which images we select to upload. I wanted to use these manipulations in my own work.
After researching Trish Morrisey for my presentation I was interested specifically in the album and in particular, intruders of photographs. Dino A. Brugioni’s author of Photo Fakery: The History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation puts into words perfectly what I was visually aspiring to do. The familiar saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is a common phrase thrown about in today’s society as “we all have a tendency to accept all photographs as being true representations of what they depict” (Brugioni, D. 1999). I wanted to create a photo album so personal and “Close to Home” that there would be no question of its authenticity, one that society would find uncomfortable to view due to subconscious ideologies we are all engraved with; I wanted to digitally manipulate my very own wedding album. After using Photoshop to doctor myself into other people’s wedding shots (anonymous couples from Google images) I realised that this would not be a strong enough body of work and so I came to divorce.
And so the idea for “I Do” (as it was known at the beginning), which was gathering in divorced persons thoughts on their failed marriages and ex partners and placing these next to their loved up conventional wedding photographs, was born. I knew that this would mean I would not be using any of my own images for this module which I felt very strongly was the right thing to do. I wanted the raw emotion of genuine wedding photographs, once prized and now discarded or hidden, as I felt this would produce a far stronger and emotional body of work that people could connect with or relate to. Once I had actually tracked down divorced people and finally got them to agree to take part in this, it was much easier gathering quotes than I thought it would be, many were very happy to share their opinions and I would receive near essays from some! However it was proving more difficult gathering in the photographs as many had actually got rid of the evidence so could not submit an image with their reams of words. It took quite a long time to get a substantial amount of words and images combined, as it would not suffice with only a few. Inspired by My Things and The Place of no Return I wanted to make this a universal piece with as many individuals involved as possible ranging over decades of time. I felt this was the only way to produce the strongest body of work possible.
Once I had the images and text in InDesign, I began the lengthy process of trial and error with how to display the information I had collected. I needed to keep the readers engaged for the entirety of the book, which meant having an interesting and interactive layout that would keep the viewer wanting to turn the pages. I couldn’t get trapped into creating another wedding album showing all the happy couples one after another as this would not keep people captivated, which is what my first draft was. It was too dry and characterless with poorly presented text that did not do the honesty of the words justice. I felt I owed it to the people who submitted words on a difficult and personal subject to present it well and uniquely. I chose to use black and white a lot in the book with only a spattering of colour as I felt this would provide the tone I was after of universality and duration of time. It is not an easy subject to represent and so I wanted to fracture the book (i.e. not have a set layout and common alignment for the words and images) as I felt this would visually represent some of the pain and chaos divorce had caused these people and the general disruption to their lives. Perhaps I should have used a few more fractured images like I had on page 23 but I didn’t want to make the fractious approach too obvious through one main technique. I felt the more approaches I used to distort the images, the more universal it would become; no two divorces are the same.
I was very pleased with my final online version of “I Don’t”, after numerous versions I felt the final one represented the message I was trying to get across, that being in love is unpredictable and whilst marriage is represented to us as an absolute, the reality is that they don’t all work out that way. I hoped that as the reader turned the online pages they were keen to see what the next side would bring them, for there was no obvious pattern to the layout or placing of words, as there is no one pattern of marriage. I felt also that the online version brought something that the printed book could not, and that was our need to share our lives online with the world today via social media. Facebook is how many people learn of others successes and failures in relationships and I felt it relevant then that there was an online edition of this book.
Saying that it was very satisfying to hold the final printed copy in my hands and turn the pages like chapters of peoples lives. I was very pleased with the thickness of the pages, they felt durable and strong and pleased with my choice to have a soft cover rather than a hardback. I felt this physically represented the vulnerability of love and marriage and how fragile it can be and yet inside the pages are sturdy and enduring, just as life must continue and human nature prevails. Whilst my decision to have the final paragraph of text on the back cover page is somewhat unconventional, it was deliberately done to represent that there is no conventional marriage or divorce and that this process took courage for the people involved. I felt the sturdiness of the back page cover was a strong and individual place for the text to be, much as the person who submitted those words.
Overall I am very pleased with my final book and blogging process throughout this module, I have much preferred online research than previously using paper sketchbooks! I believe I have created a completely unique one-off book that no person shall ever be able to replicate. For every page of it is personal, from the images and words used to the layout; for every person’s existence and life is unique which requires reflection on the real.