Defending My Work – Are Composites Deceptive or Artistic?

The Body of Work module I am studying asks me to defend my work now I am close to finishing it. Probably the aspect of my work I feel will be most likely necessary to defend is the use of composites to paint a picture of Deptford. That is because while I believe them to depict a Deptford that is changing it is still an artistic vision and needs to be portrayed in this way.

Had I taken traditional single frames around Deptford, the work could have been used in a photojournalistic manner but it would also not have met my artistic vision. I decided to use a composite approach to document Deptford for the reason it allowed me to construct a Deptford which reflects better the changes I have observed taking place. Here, I observe Deptford’s people to be the thing holding it together while regeneration is occurring.

WIP - On Friendly Street Looking East Towards Broadway Fields, Deptford, October 2019
Fig. 1 WIP – On Friendly Street Looking East Towards Broadway Fields, Deptford, October 2019

My composites are more selective than traditional photographs because not only do they select the framing of the photograph spatially, they select when elements of the image appear. This latter selective element is related to time as the people do all appear in the frame but at different times. Is this significantly different from how a traditional photograph operates? My answers that it is but the intent of the artist is important too. Specifically, the degree of manipulation (i.e. how many people are composited into the frame and their placement within the frame) can alter the meaning of the composite.

Fig. 2 © Pelle Cass - 'Greenway Crosswalk II' (2015)
Fig. 2 © Pelle Cass – ‘Greenway Crosswalk II’ (2015)

For example, Pelle Cass with Selected People (2008-) (See Fig. 2) uses a composite technique that is presumably very similar to mine but employs it in a much more extreme manner. Many more people are composited into each scene on average than with Reconstructing Deptford. Meanwhile Chris Dorley-Brown with The Corners (2009-17) (See Fig. 3) uses a composite technique similar to Cass’s but in a more realistic manner. My work is much more similar to Dorley-Brown than Cass’s. Arguably, my work and Dorley-Brown’s is more deceptive than Cass’s because it doesn’t make the use of the composite technique explicit. However, I am comfortable that by presenting my work for Reconstructing Deptford in an artistic context rather than a photojournalistic one, it remains ethical. My intent is to convey an artistic point of view about Deptford and its people which the composites help get across.

Fig. 3 © Chris Dorley-Brown - 'Rio Cinema 2009, Corner of Sandringham Road and Kingsland Road, Hackney, London UK' (2009)
Fig. 3 © Chris Dorley-Brown – ‘Rio Cinema 2009, Corner of Sandringham Road and Kingsland Road, Hackney, London UK’ (2009)

If I were to portray the composites to be traditional photographs and presented in a photojournalistic context, that is when their use would become problematic. Therefore I have made it obvious I am utilising a composite technique in the upcoming introduction for my website/book presentation of the project. Incidentally, the anthropomorphic poems that accompany the composite images reinforces that the work is artistic. Admittedly, I hadn’t thought about this when creating the poetry but presenting the images with the poems is for me an appropriate artistic context.

References:

Fig. 1 Hall, J. (2019) WIP – On Friendly Street Looking East Towards Broadway Fields, Deptford, October 2019. [Composite] At: https://johnhallbodyofwork.blog/2019/10/20/wip-1/ (Accessed 14/07/2020).

Fig. 2 Cass, P. (2015) Greenway Crosswalk II. [Composite] At: https://medium.com/tag-tag-tag/feature-selected-people-32d45881bfd0 (Accessed 14/07/2020).

Fig. 3 Dorley-Brown, C. (2009) Rio Cinema 2009, Corner of Sandringham Road and Kingsland Road, Hackney, London UK. [Composite] At: https://www.featureshoot.com/2011/11/london-street-corners-photographed-by-chris-dorley-brown/ (Accessed 14/07/2020).

Cass, P. (2008-10) Selected People I: 2008-2010. At: http://pellecass.com/selected-people-i-2008-2010/1 (Accessed 14/07/2020).

Cass, P. (2011-13) Selected People II: 2011-13. At: http://pellecass.com/selected-people-ii-2011-13/1 (Accessed 14/07/2020).

Cass, P. (2014-16) Selected People: 2014-16. At: http://pellecass.com/selected-people-2014-16/1 (Accessed 14/07/2020).

Cass, P. (2017-) Selected People, NEW: 2017-. At: http://pellecass.com/selected-people-new-2017-/1 (Accessed 14/07/2020).

Dorley-Brown, C. (2009-17) The Corners. At: https://modrex.com/photoworks#/the-corners/ (Accessed 14/07/2020).

4 thoughts on “Defending My Work – Are Composites Deceptive or Artistic?

  1. The meaning – to me, at least – of the number of people on any given street and their proximity to each other has changed since the lockdown and social distancing began. I find it hard to look at any scenes without thinking: is that 2m and why aren’t they wearing masks? Strange times! I think it is quite clear that this is not photojournalism. It has a Truman Show feel that I love.

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    1. Thanks Helen. I see what you mean about looking at my work from a social distancing angle, now I look back I can see what you mean – everyone is socially distant. I think Pelle Cass has reworked some composites he’d already shot. Here, he changes the arrangements of people so they are all socially distant in light of the strange times we are living in. I am glad you referenced the Truman Show in relation to my work because I am a big fan and I feel I took an appropriate step in moving to an artistic context for my work.

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    1. I presume he noticed the pattern that a lot of people were wearing monochrome clothes and so he waited for a while with his camera on a tripod, photographing all the people dressed like this until he had enough material to create the composite! (This is just my educated guess!)

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