There’s a question mark in the title. At first I read this assignment as calling for two series of photographs on representing the unseen, to include the white shirt/handkerchief idea in one and the ‘what I’ve been thinking about’ in the other.
Having considered them both and come up with ideas for them I decided to give them both a go and see where it led. Firstly, the unseen.
My reading of this assignment is that it’s broadly about how the intangible can be expressed through photography, via metaphor, allegory, visual analogy and symbolism. In other words how to say something without actually saying it.
Photography has both strength and weakness in this regard; it can be a powerful form of personal expression, producing images which are highly charged for the photographer but at the same time fairly meaningless for the uninitiated viewer. I have commented on this in much the same vein since beginning the course, because although it has not been an academic interest I have been somewhat vexed with assertions made on online publications such as Lenscratch which acclaim what I consider to be (very often) boring photography. Right, got that off my chest, on with the assignment.
A few examples of recent trains of thought:
*My concerns about aging parents
*Offspring life trajectories
*Potential conflict in the far east
*Brexit. Oh dear.
*Contact ‘sports’ and brain injury
*How the university system milks students and parasitic landlords
*How advances in video technology have facilitated the ‘race-to-the-bottom’ in tv content
Those are some of the ideas which occurred to me as a result of the brief. They’re all what you might call ‘negative concerns’, sources of worry and irritation. It would be natural for me to follow them up for this assignment but instead I’m going to make a deliberate swerve and consider some ‘positive concerns’. Photography is most often pressed into service to represent lamentable issues but I wonder if it’s possible to indirectly represent some of life’s more rewarding aspects. I wondered whether I could settle on something less distressing?
Until recently I lived on a sailing boat and travelled along the margins of France Portugal and Spain in a leisurely but careful fashion. Weather was an everyday concern; it could mean the difference between enjoyable sailing and downright uncomfortable endurance, all in a few knots speed and a few degrees direction. Getting weather decisions wrong could be quite literally fatal.
So we learned to live by the wind. It affected everything – it made the halyards rattle on adjacent boats (‘frapping’) and kept us awake. It heaved the boat from side to side in the berth and made walking around tricky. It scared us. As an ally it lifted the yacht and urged it through the water in more or less the desired direction. Sailing downwind in 25 knots the view ahead was exhilarating – but look behind and you see the waves chasing you down in a constant attempt to outrun you. As a treacherous companion it stayed hard on the nose, even through tactical course changes, and made destinations recede into the dark hours.
You can’t see the wind. It’s un-photographable. But its effects are all around, utterly inescapable. Here are some pictures of something which cannot be seen.
I was pretty cold on the shirt idea at first because I kept imagining some disembodied garment cropping up in a variety of predictable settings. I was boring myself before I’d even started. But since starting the course I’ve been challenging myself to take more photographs of people, trying to overcome my innate reluctance to ask anyone to collaborate in my photographic endeavours. I thought I’d have a go at representing the progress of life’s transitions through the medium of the shirt… sounds a bit daft, so naturally I was more or less committed to doing it. Here are the shirt pictures.