WiP #11 – The Chaos Behind the (Reconstructed) Order

I have decided to make this post partly for fun during lockdown following on from an informative study hangout about Keeping up Momentum (04/04/2020). I have also made it to inform the viewer something of the chaos behind the order in my composites of Deptford.

I did debate making this post because some artists conceal their working process. In fact I have inadvertently been guilty of a lack of transparency for many of the practical aspects of my projects up to the Body of Work module. In some ways I can see that being opaque about practical aspects of a project can be desirable. This is because it can lend to the air of mystery a project may possess or in other cases the practical process might not be as interesting as the theoretical process. I feel that displaying the layer masks I used in my Body of Work images, when combined to form a single mask, convey some of my method for making the final images to the viewer. In my opinion this adds another layer (pun intended!) for the viewer to digest with regards to the project.

When I was attending the Keeping up Momentum study hangout, the OCA tutor who was also kindly attending made a remark that interested me. I wrote this in the my Keeping up Momentum study hangout write-up:

“Bryan made the point about the back of his embroidered photographs showing the subservient chaos that goes into the making. I started to think about perhaps showing all the Photoshop layers and layer masks of my composites as a side post? This would reveal my making process of the composites which I have previously described as detailed without displaying how I make them.” (Hall, 2020).

I feel making my project has been a process and several times I have described the process of making the composites in particular as being painstaking or requiring attention to detail. Yet I haven’t elaborated much about this process. Ironically, the main reason the composite-making process has been labour-intensive is because I wanted the composites to resemble a traditional photograph as much as possible, with only subtle clues to the actual nature of the images. These clues include nearly all people walking across the series caught in a split-step. This adds to the subtle impression of something being slightly not as it seems within the images. In my opinion this is a subconscious sign that can be registered by the viewer based on the fact that it is quite unlikely multiple people per photograph would all be captured mid-step. Other clues include the reflections in the images with window reflections not seeming to match up correctly with the people walking by; something my tutor picked up on.

Funnily enough when combining the layer masks to form a single composited mask, most images look like solid black masks with white blobs where I’ve painted in the linked layer. I think these blobs don’t appear too impressive in terms of skill or reveal that much about the process. This is because I was adamant that I wanted to photograph in overcast weather so the images were consistent, the shadows were more consistent and the people easier to composite in Photoshop. However, it was important to keep the vague blobs feathered so the blend appeared realistic.

One of the images in particular does reflect the skill involved in its respective single composited mask. The image with the young man performing a wheelie also features a two men in orange high visibility wear and one of these men’s layer mask was hard to make for the final composite image. The reason for this was there was a van behind him but in front of the new development. I had to cut the man out in the layer mask so the van didn’t appear in the final image. This was one of the hardest composites to make but I feel the man does add to that image’s composition and it is in fact one of the stronger images of the series. Additionally and inadvertently, it does make the layer mask look more impressive and reveals some of the painstaking attention to detail I have gone to in making some of the composites look realistic!

Example of a Composite for 'Reconstructing Deptford' and the Corresponding Layer Masks Composited I
Example of a Composite for ‘Reconstructing Deptford’ and the Corresponding Layer Masks Composited I

By cutting the van out of the image but leaving the man in the composition I am not only making a selective decision about composition but also altering the pixels to change the meaning of the image. With the van, the image would have been too cluttered and I have been consistent in leaving motor vehicles out of the frames across the series in order to create the impression people and place are the most important aspects of Deptford. I also find the lack of cars more aesthetically pleasing. Omitting the van but leaving in the man raises questions of ethics regarding my being selective about my depiction of reality. I have actively sought out to alter the meaning of the image with both the omission of the van and by including people who were in the same place but at different times. My justification for this is that the images don’t appear in a photojournalistic context. The series doesn’t aim to be an objective mirror for reality. Rather, the images are my subjective impressions of a place which is close to my heart and my poems forming a diegesis with the images back this up.

Here is another example of the composite and its corresponding composited layer masks:

Example of a Composite for 'Reconstructing Deptford' and the Corresponding Layer Masks Composited II
Example of a Composite for ‘Reconstructing Deptford’ and the Corresponding Layer Masks Composited II

I could see the argument that I have deliberately tried to make the composites resemble a traditional photograph as much as possible. This is true but there are (subtle) clues that create tension for the viewer that the composites are not all as they seem (like the people all being frozen in mid-step). I would also explain that the images are composites made up of multiple photographs if someone asked and I will probably include some information referencing this fact when presenting the work. Therefore I feel comfortable presenting this series in an art context.

Here are the other composited layer masks for sake of reference/interest:

Composited Layer Mask I
Composited Layer Mask II
Composited Layer Mask III
Composited Layer Mask IV
Composited Layer Mask V
Composited Layer Mask VI
Composited Layer Mask VII
Composited Layer Mask VIII
Composited Layer Mask IX
Composited Layer Mask X
Composited Layer Mask XI


Hall, J. (2020) Study Hangout 04/04/2020. At: https://johnhallbodyofwork.blog/2020/04/06/study-hangout-04-04-2020/ (Accessed 01/06/2020).

5 thoughts on “WiP #11 – The Chaos Behind the (Reconstructed) Order

  1. I find them really interesting, the process beguiling, the comment on construction fascinating, the honest revelation intriguing, and the layer masks remind me of negatives. Super! This draws me in and gets me thinking


    1. Thanks Sarah-Jane! I’m glad I made the post in the end. Your comments are valuable and interesting to me. Yes, the layer masks remind me of negatives too and I’m pleased it gives something of an insight into my process


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