Showing Not Telling

My photographs in the past have been quite literal; not leaving much to the imagination. In other words telling, not showing. Often I’ve left the text anchor out because I thought it wasn’t necessary. For me if text is there as an anchor it should help inform the viewer, inviting them to dig deeper, without just describing the image. Conversely, if text is there as a relay it should have a rapport with the images, bouncing back reflexively. I feel I am quite an imaginative person and strangely this reflects back to the viewer as not leaving much to the imagination. Perhaps because I have tried to squeeze a lot of information into the image, there isn’t much more room for interpretation.

I honestly have tried to be less literal for this body of work and allow space so that things like signs, symbols and connotations can be inferred in the work by the viewer. I appreciate the subtleties of hidden meanings and how text (or perhaps sound) can suggest to the viewer new interpretations without telling the viewer exactly what the image depicts or what was going through the artist’s mind. I think a subtle approach with text works for images that read well together like in photo essays, where there are signs of a development across the images. Maybe Assignment 1 for Body of Work would work well with text but text as a kind of relay rather than anchor.

Some fellow students’ work reminds me that poetry is a very viable go-between with imagery; in particular Sarah-Jane Field with her latest Assignment 3 work in progress iterations. Two of them can be found here: https://sjflevel3.photo.blog/2020/01/19/bow-a3-dummy-booklet/ and here: https://sjflevel3.photo.blog/2020/01/22/bow-a3-almost-ready-to-submit/. The final version submitted for Assignment 3 can be found here: https://sjflevel3.photo.blog/2020/01/24/bow-assignment-three/. I feel her work shows how text can be used effectively; moreover, the text matches or takes precedence over the images, which I find refreshing. For me this challenges the concept of traditional photography, where image is paramount. Instead Field uses the image as part of the flow of narrative. There is a definite sense of discontinuity in the work, which I found in turn highlights the discontinuity of life or time, traditionally is seen as linear and what makes the cut.

I also looked at Rob Townsend’s (2020) Remembering Forgetting found here:  https://robtownsend.blog/2020/01/07/bow5final/. Here, relay text is integral to his images, as a kind of back and forth correspondence is formed for me when looking at the text and images. He also cleverly integrates the title of the body of work into the piece. Quite often we are presented with massive prints with little thought to text at exhibitions (or the text is located separate from the image, requiring the viewer to search for it). I am becoming more interested in how text can relate to the image. Some examples of these types of exhibitions with huge prints are: https://johnsocadocumentary.wordpress.com/2017/11/06/thomas-ruff-at-the-whitechapel-gallery-photographs-1979-2017/ and https://johnsocadocumentary.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/simon-roberts-merrie-albion-landscape-studies-of-a-small-island-study-visit-10-3-2018/. Arguably the approach of the photographer matters – whether the images are to be viewed singularly or in a sequence.

I have thought about how text relates to my imagery previously. This is evidenced in my initial map-based approach to naming the images for Assignment 2 – Body of Work. Here, I used coordinates from a compass app on my smartphone to locate the images. My reasoning behind this was to invite the viewer to potentially visit those locations to see how they’re changing for themselves. Perhaps in 30 years time if people were to look back at my work they might find certain places have changed dramatically since! There are however, 3 fallacies I can see with this approach. Firstly, it has become apparent to me when reviewing the images’ coordinates on a map that they don’t match up exactly. Therefore if the viewer were to visit the places themselves they might be left wandering around for a while. Also if they were simply to type the coordinates into a map online which is completely feasible, the coordinates again don’t match up exactly. Google Street View uses less precise coordinates than my map (or my compass wasn’t displaying precisely the correct coordinates) so the images from Google Street View don’t correspond that well.

The second problem with a map-based approach is that in my opinion the project should have something to do with a map in the first place. In other words adding coordinate text to each image shouldn’t be an afterthought but instead perhaps a grid or circle could be drawn onto the map from which the images are then derived. I like though the subtlety of adding simple coordinates to the image and largely letting the image speak for itself. Furthermore, an inquisitive viewer could be encouraged to look at how the coordinates match up with a map or Google Street View or even visit the locations themselves. However, I am not too sure if this is relevant when the map shows the points plotted randomly around Deptford – I have been very selective in where I choose to photograph my composites from – see The Logistics of My Project. Also the points on the map seem to err on the Greenwich side of Deptford, my guess is this is because the developments occur on the more affluent side of town. However, this is a guess; it could be the proximity to the stations is desirable or because there were more brownfield sites in that part of Deptford.

Lastly, as my tutor mentioned, if I were to continue with this approach, I would need to indicate which direction the camera was facing when the image was taken. I feel this is an easily rectifiable overlook on my part but one that would add to a map-based approach.

I have begun to think about how else I might use text as an anchor in my images. I don’t think of the project as a photo essay – perhaps the images could be ordered to show different stages of development in Deptford but really they are standalone images/diptychs/grids. Therefore I don’t feel relay would be effective in the series. The alternative strategy I can think of when reading through the course notes is to have text beside the image that suggests to the viewer something about the image or the nature of the project. This isn’t the same as describing each image but rather implying what is hidden. Since time/change is the grand narrative of my project I have come up with some supporting text for each image/diptych/grid where time or change is implemented in the text also.

51º29'2.639N 0º1'23.107W copy
Remains of a Docking Heritage
51º28'42.228N 0º1'36.971W copy
Remnant Arches
WiP - Diptych of 51º28'55.294"N 0º0'52.564"W
The Past is Prime
DSC_6584 copy
Developments for the Few
WiP - 51º28'45.969"N 0º1'0.459"W - Diptych
Change Under Lock and Key
Horizontal Diptych of Composites in the Same Location
The Writing’s on the Wall
WiP - Diptych of 51º28'30.093"N 0º1'33.957"W
Changing of the Guard
WiP - Diptych of 51º28'37.215"N 0º1'16.219"W
Up and Coming
DSC_6123-Edit2-2 copy
Facade Over Time

I feel using text in the way I’ve implemented it here does contribute to the work without necessarily telling the viewer how to read it. Because the general theme is time or change, I’ve been able to reflect this in the text. Borrowing from Rob Townsend’s Remembering Forgetting (2020) project I could see a title for my project being something like Deptford in Time or A Reconstruction of Deptford. Both these titles show time or change is implicit in the work and so act as a kind of back and forth between the title of the project and the image. I quite like the latter title because not only does it suggest change in the area, it hints at the fact I am constructing the image. I am constructing the image through my subjective selection of locations to photograph from as well as through the use of composites.

I may make another post on Showing Not Telling in the future, incorporating the map-based approach to titling the images. Then I would be able to compare the two approaches. In order to do this I will have to make new coordinate readings for the locations so they at least match up with Google Street View and also not forget to make notes on the direction the camera was facing from so the viewer has an idea which way to look.

References:

Field, S-J. (2020) BOW: A3 Almost ready to submit. At: https://sjflevel3.photo.blog/2020/01/22/bow-a3-almost-ready-to-submit/ (Accessed 30/01/2020).

Field, S-J. (2020) BOW: A3 Dummy Booklet. At: https://sjflevel3.photo.blog/2020/01/19/bow-a3-dummy-booklet/ (Accessed 30/01/2020).

Field, S-J. (2020) BOW: Assignment 3. At: https://sjflevel3.photo.blog/2020/01/24/bow-assignment-three/ (Accessed 30/01/2020).

Hall, J. (2017) Thomas Ruff at the Whitechapel Gallery (Photographs 1979-2017). At: https://johnsocadocumentary.wordpress.com/2017/11/06/thomas-ruff-at-the-whitechapel-gallery-photographs-1979-2017/ (Accessed 30/01/2020).

Hall, J. (2018) Simon Roberts – Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island – Study Visit – 10/3/2018. At: https://johnsocadocumentary.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/simon-roberts-merrie-albion-landscape-studies-of-a-small-island-study-visit-10-3-2018/ (Accessed 30/01/2020).

Townsend, R. (2020) Assignment 5: Remembering Forgetting [final]. At: https://robtownsend.blog/2020/01/07/bow5final/ (Accessed 30/01/2020).

6 thoughts on “Showing Not Telling

  1. Thank you for your kind comments on my very unfinished work. The various ways we respond to text and/or image have interested me for some time while doing this degree (maybe almost since TAOP). For instance, I find it fascinating that people use #’s under their images on social media – ostensibly to connect to the network and to be seen, but it’s also a strange tautological habit, I think. I try not to repeat what is in the image – but rather give value to both forms and then ask them to work together and see what happens (sometimes not very much!) I’m glad you wanted to talk about the developing work on your blog though. I hope you find your way with the map co-coordinates. I wonder how the text might feel for you if you tried writing something more personal, linking to the passing of time, rather than trying to link to the images. I think sometimes the connections will find you anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sarah-Jane!

      Thanks for the detailed feedback. I agree about #’s, they are in one way necessary for promotion and as a way to get the work recognised. On the other hand they tend to just describe the image as words, with a # in front of it.

      I’m still undecided about using the map co-ordinates, I think I will know better when I make a blog post using them as titles. Your last comment about writing something personal about the passing of time is very useful. I do have certain impressions about the passing of time, especially in Deptford, although I haven’t tried using them in prose or poetry for this project yet. If I were to do that, I am already wondering whether I would present this as a kind of introduction to the work or strung out amongst the diptychs/grids? Lots to think about!

      Liked by 1 person

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