Assignment 3 · intitial ideas/thoughts
I have adapted my research and plan for the project due to COVID-19. Originally my idea was to base my assignment on the lives of ex-pats living in the costa blanca, examining wether the fantasised utopias that people imagine are really found in actuality in lives in the sun. This has now given way to the project below.
Grierson, the father of documentary defined documentary as the ‘creative treatment of actuality’. ‘The relationship between creativity and actuality has sparked off a century-old debate on how much ‘actuality’ is left after ‘the creative treatment’ has taken place and how the ‘real’ can be presented, if at all.’ (de Jong, 2011.)
The above quote by de Jong is probably one of the most pertinent for modern day documentary practice. How much ‘actuality’ is there in the photography after creative treatment of the subject? And what is the real?
# idea 1. Twenty one days in lock-down. An evocation of life lived within the confines of a space with my partner (who does not usually live with me). The way we lived? (not a bad idea, but would need to bring a edge to it and try to turn it into a story so that that its not a prosaic portrayal of home life)
# idea 2. DECIDED ON:
We have entered a phase or global ‘drama’ that has been lived before by the human race. David S. Jones, M.D., Ph.D. speaks of Charles Rosenberg finding inspiration in the book La pest and crafted a narrative account of how epidemics go through phases of dramatic social unfoldment: firstly there is denial and a scramble to protect the economy whilst offering ourselves assurance that all will be well, secondly we see demands to know how it all began with governments offering moral and mechanistic explanations and thirdly the drama resolves itself with the number of available victims having been ‘consumed’ by the virus. What was most striking about this piece as research is that the part of the discussion which presents the way that this type of situation stresses societies and highlights ‘what really matters’ to people. (Rosenberg cited in: new England journal of medicine, 2020.)
This might be the first time that I have based a semi-fiction series of photos on an current affair happening that is effecting everyone on the planet globally. The idea here, as I’ve researched the issues, is to present a perspective on the virus that is not just to do with the virus per se but to explore the mounting research that the virus (COVID-19) is a symptom of a deeper malady, which is our incessant encroachment on nature, the natural habitats where these viruses live and stay, if they are not disturbed. The fall out of this situation globally and economically is enormous.
The bigger picture goes beyond the the basic fact of the neo-liberal rhetoric and advanced capitalism. Our obsession with pillaging the planet, our greed and restlessness to possess are all dimensions that are being identified as relevant to this current issue of COVID-19. I believe we are seeing a deeper loss of values and meaning in our lives. In my research I will present in outline some of the arguments from the scientific and academic community as to why this view is gathering pace but essentially it should be kept in mind that my project is a questioning about how we are living on the planet, wether this is a valid and sustainable model or not.
I’ll begin this research with talking about the theme and containing this element of investigation to a certain amount of writing as the topic is very large.
My main sources of research are the following:
- David Quammnen: Author of ‘Spillover’ exploring the infection of humanity via animals as a predicament caused by man, and therefore avoidable
- Alanna Shaikh: A global health worker with specific technicality in health systems
- Lucas Foglia: Human nature A series of photos and text by Lucas foglia, photographer exploring the human connection to the natural environment
- AES&F photography collective in their project: ‘Action half life’
- The Wyss foundation: A private foundation run on donations that support the natural environment series written in the guardian ‘The age of extinction’.
- Charles Eisenstein: ‘The coronation’, discussing issues in relation to Coronavirus and the implications for us as a society in terms of our choices of how we continue to live.
This topic, as we will see, is large. My concern in terms of the photography is to open a dialogue and I am aware that I am being ambitious in presenting myself in this way.
‘For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point’ (Eisenstein, 2020.)
Quickly Eisenstein moves towards a positive suggestion that humanity is actually coming together under this current crisis but the deeper underlying issues of the Coronavirus are being highlighted as a social, political, existential and even spiritual problem that needs changing. The suggestion that we are at a breaking point, as he says, could now go either way for us.
This is the topic of my project. As a documentary piece I have decided that I need to work from the basis of the fictional and suggestive rather than attempting to document an objective topic related to the current crisis. Eisenstein goes on to question if, once that we are through with the crisis, wether we might need to undergo some self evaluation to see if really we are willing to make changes or see that the virus is giving humanity a chance to explore the possibility of living another way (2020.)
A surprising number of thinkers are arriving at similar conclusions. Alanna Shaikh who is a global health worker made similar proposals in her TED talk. In discussing the broader implications for the rise of the Coronavirus she presented not a localised issue but rather a global picture that what was taking place was due to man’s insistence on encroaching on territories and wild spaces that should not be touched by him: ‘it’s also about the way we’re pushing into the last wild spaces on our planet’ (Shaikh, 2019.)
In this way we can imagine that the situation we find ourselves in has deeper roots, as Shaikh points out, in our form of living. Not only our form of living but our attitudes and belief systems and value systems that underlie the way that we live are being brought into question.
Many experts recognise that the interaction with our planet perhaps in unethical ways as well as unsustainable ways are leading to problems for humans: ‘Spillover of viruses from animals are a direct result of our actions involving wildlife and their habitat’ (Chrisine, K.J, cited in The Guardian.) However, these are arguments that present a problem from a limited point of view. The argument although valid, is instilled in this case in the selling and farming of wild animals for food. The bigger picture is I believe more essential and more in tune with what Eisenstein presents in his paper as being a choice that we can take that will: […] ‘lead to hell on earth. And some lead to a world more healed and more beautiful than we ever dared believe to be possible’ […] (Eisenstein, 2020)
The question then for my project is how to portray the issue in photographic form as a dialogue in an effective way. According to Campbell, a narrative is something that is often presented post event. At the time of the event itself, you may not see things as you later see them. Producing a narrative on current events must to some extent rest on the past experience: that this is not an isolated incident that is independent of other issues, but part of a past, present and future dialogue that reaches back in time and is simply exerting itself now in this form.
Now I’d like to go on to look at the project from a photographic dimension having established the general theme and context.
Lucas Foglia · human nature
‘Research suggests that time spent outdoors in nature is integral to a life well lived. And yet, humans have impacted (and in some cases destroyed) natural habitats worldwide. A series that investigates the “science” of our relationship to the natural world.’ (Foglia, 2017.)
I am using Foglia as a foundation for my project so as to look at some comparative themes and explore wether these images already say something that I myself want to address. In effect the theme is different. Foglia’s concern is a ‘life lived well’ by communing with and respecting nature.
Whilst my principle concern is not with living closer to nature, I think that Folgia’s work is moving to some extent in the direction that I will work in myself in that the shots will be made outside, in nature and be in relationship to it. Foglia’s images are based around element of human interaction with nature or man’s manipulations of it, creating a changed local environment. His images in the series Human nature are well composed, sometimes with juxtaposed elements and sometimes a little sentimental, in my view. Is he trying to portray a utopian possibility via a mixture of posed and candid nature shots?
Whilst I find the images interesting to look at I feel that he did not address the bigger topic of how the cultural political/climate lends itself to this kind of destruction. The images are focused almost exclusively in the nature shots and man’s interaction with it. As documents, it feels to me that he lightly touches the bigger issues and focuses too much on the aesthetics of the images to impress the audience.
‘First formed as AES Group in 1987 by Arzamasova, Evzovich, and Svyatsky, the collective became AES+F when Fridkes joined in 1995. AES+F work at the intersection of traditional media, photography, video and digital technologies. They define their practice as a kind of “social psychoanalysis” through which they reveal and explore the values, vices and conflicts of contemporary global culture.’ https://aesf.art/page/short_biography/
AES&F are described as ‘the provocative Russian collective’ working in the realms of fantasy by digitally manipulating the images (Bright, 2005.) In their project ‘Action half life’ they depict a fantastic and surreal scene consisting of children with space age weaponry marching through a landscape on a supposed mission of some sort. The images have overtones of violence although the children are dressed in white vests and pumps and are in no way prepared for war. However, this juxtaposing of elements is what makes these images provocative. The work is a parody on star-wars by Lucas. The cultural reference points for the work range form baroque classic painting to star-wars to questioning the nature of modern warfare.
The work is highly imaginative and consists in a predominance of digitised collages allowing them to create scenarios that are provocative and promote, I find questions.
The images are clearly highly staged and have political and social overtones. I like the way that they directly confront the issues that they want to communicate. In the above series they combine a child catalogue modelling genre with war scenes, which strongly juxtaposes the theme and raises curiosity.
My images: Test shots April 2020
Where are we at? I have been making the images for the project and getting feedback from peers and artist friends. This has been extremely useful. On the whole the feedback is positive, that the series does work.
Feedback has been oriented towards:
- Wether the use of text is necessary or not?
- Wether the image of the gun needs something else (one person thought it was the weaker image in the series another said it was a powerful image and well composed)
- Wether text should not be placed separately from the images (I’m tending to agree with this as two people have said that the images work for themselves.
ASF&E Action half life, episode 1. (2005) [online] https://aesf.art/projects/action_half_life/#ahl_episode_1/3 [accessed, April 2020]
Bright, S. Art Photography Now (2005:86) Thames and Hudson
De Jong, W. The creative documentary 
Eisenstein, C. The coronation (2020) [online] https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/ [accessed, April 2020]
Foglia, L. Racheal mud bathing, Virginia (2017) [online] https://www.lensculture.com/articles/lucas-foglia-human-nature [accessed, April 2020]
Foglia, L. Lens culture interview (date not shown) [online] https://www.lensculture.com/articles/lucas-foglia-human-nature [accessed, April 2020]
Jones, S. D. (2020) Charles Rosenberg: History in a Crisis — Lessons for Covid-19, The New England Journal of medicine [online] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2004361 [accessed, April 2020]
Shaikh, A. Coronavirus is our future (date unknown) [online TEDtalk] https://www.ted.com/talks/alanna_shaikh_coronavirus_is_our_future/transcript?language=en [accessed, April 2020]