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Reflection Topic 2: methods and Meanings

Prior to the global pandemic, my work was largely about methods and methodology but often lacking in real, in-depth meaning, the concepts and contextualization.

I have concentrated on creating large bodies of work (each project containing a minimum of 20, up to a maximum of 100 images). Although there is often some experimenting with the way I light and frame the work for the first half a dozen of any series, once I have discovered what seems to resonate best I continue to apply that approach to the remaining shoots of each project. Giving the individual images a coherence as part of a bigger “essay.” In order to do this I have occasionally had to discard or re-shoot some of the earlier experiments so they fit in.

In general terms, I have often preferred to shoot “real” people rather than models, and my participants are often not people I have met before arriving at their home. Most of my projects are environmental portraits of one kind or another, as more often than not, in the past, I have photographed people in their dwellings. Another method I have regularly used is text with the majority of my projects to date, including text supplied from my sitters, (exploring whatever the focus of the series may be) in close proximity to their image.

In terms of communicating concepts: I have had a few successes in the last twenty years. For example, in my most recent publication, NAKED TRUTH: PLYMOUTH UNVEILED, I set out to make a positive contribution to body positivity 20 years after exploring the topic in my first book, PLYMOUTH UNVEILED. I purposely recreated the approach I had used earlier, including collaborating on how the participants wanted to pose, using open, flat light (to make myself, as the photographer as absent from the work as possible). As before, I sought out women of different ages (over 18), shapes and ethnicity and asked them to provide a written description about their relationship to their bodies.

My rationale behind spending a year photographing 100 women, (there was to be a follow up book of 100 men), for this project I was able to make a small contribution to the fight against “body fascism” (in which many people judge us by outward appearances only), and, to help individuals hate their bodies and therefore themselves, a little less. In the couple of years since producing the book I have had a number of strangers approach me who have explained they have read the book and it acted as a catalyst by helping them to be kinder towards themselves. Just a few weeks ago, someone stopped me in the street and said my book had “saved her life,” a most humbling experience.

Since lockdown I have vastly increased my knowledge of art history and the history of fine art photography. This has enabled me to contextualize what I want to do and why I want to do it, much earlier in the process and has also led me to pursuing a new strain of portraiture (which may yet come to banish all the rest within my practice), self-portraiture.

Although I have discovered many exciting practitioners whose work has thrilled and inspired me, currently the most interesting are Duane Michals and Lucas Samaras. Both these artists don’t want to capture what is already visible, they want to construct and create images from their minds to share with the world. In Michals case that included presenting images in short sets to convey a narrative and adding explanatory texts to some of his images. Whilst, with Samaras, manipulating the chemicals on the surface of Polaroid prints (when freshly out of the camera) and cutting up images adding more drama to the final photo are examples of both men’s desire to “do it their way.”


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