Assignment five · research
- introduction to the theme
- visual experimentation and textual research plus explorations into the notion of conceptual photography and photographers’ work (in brief)
- at this point…first stage research – visual experimentation
1. Introduction · working titles: Liminoid or Dressed to die
Assignment five will explore the theme of liminal experiences. I will look into, via a conceptual exploration, the meaning of what it means to live in transition, drawing inspiration from various photographers that have explored ephemeral and conceptual themes in their work. This theme is so extensive, that I feel that I have enough here to engage in for the rest of my photography career in this life.
The term ‘liminality is not just any concept’ (Thommasen, 2014) it pertains to transition and change, to destruction and restructuring. It arrives into the social and political, anthropological and spiritual arena of studies, not just as a product of ancient tribal folklore. We die, whenever something impacts our lives and forces change, wanted or unwanted. And these types of changes are a part of life, they cannot be avoided. Life seems to consist of ongoing transitions if we look closely enough. Perhaps in reality we are simply all in perpetual liminality from birth to death.
Liminality explains nothing. Liminality is. It happens. It takes place. And human beings react to liminal experiences in different ways. Those ways cannot be easily predicted. (Thommasen, 2014)
In a way in this concept I feel that I have finally found an overarching theme and concept for what really interests me as photographer. It has been a long search.
The idea is to produce a set of images in three acts, much like as in theatre, whereby each act explores a distinct point in a life span and the potential liminal spaces (Bardos in Tibetan buddhist literature) that one might pass through as a ritualised death or letting go into another phase of life, or death itself in the physical and social sense. In general I feel that I need to explore some tension within the work to bring out drama. Such as, the notion of youngsters not passing through into adulthood through a lack of rite of passage…
As such I am interested in this conscious, or unconscious process of transition that happens to people in different degrees in a their lifetime ranging from smooth and unnoticeable to dramatic and life transforming. The modern day equivalents to ‘rites of passage’ are not as visible or obvious as traditional cultures, but non-the-less, the human psyche does go through these portals of change at important times, sometimes in times of crisis.
I aim to use a more conceptual approach, planning each image but leaving a margin of ambiguity in the overall series of images. I am considering incorporating interviews of people talking about liminal experiences, for 1 minute each x 3 people.
2. Photographers that I investigate:
John Hillard: Conceptual artist working in photography since the late 60’s, Hillard explores photography both in terms of his interest in the object of the photograph as well as the dimensions of photography that define the medium itself. Below are two short videos where Hillard discusses his formula and ideas for working:
With the example above, Hillard explores the nature of time and light via series of seventy exposures combinations of shutter and aperture in order to show how light and time function together. Whilst not overtly focused myself on looking at the nature of photography itself as representation I find it useful to look at some ideas by those considered to be conceptual photographers.
Bloomberg and Charin
The archive of Broomberg and Chanarin are interesting to me in their photography. Not unlike Hillard, they question the notion of the nature of conceptual photography. Is conceptual photography a separate category? We have the formal definition as something akin to a genre of practice that emphasises using ideas and that being the priority. According to Chanarin and Broomberg ‘There is no such thing as conceptual photography’. Souter states that all contemporary art photography is conceptual to some extent. (what is conceptual photography part 3, 2012). Nobody seems to be saying that conceptual photography now days is what it was in the 60’s.
As far as Chanarin and Broomberg go, I think that I would consider the work that they did in a war zone highly conceptual, whereby instead of working as traditional embedded photographers (as they were believed to be by the army) they mounted a subversive attack on the very nature and truth of journalistic photography exposing photographic paper in areas where they encountered an event, but without photographing the scenes as such. Their aim was to highlight the degree of censure taking place with the context of military warfare and therefore how little one gets to see, really. Previously having adhered to the more traditional models of photojournalistic practice, Chanarin and Broomberg later made a decisive break with the way of operating to work more in a fine art photography conceptual mode.
Victor Burgin and Ian Wallace in conversation: https://vimeo.com/61977802
Burgin on the other hand gives concrete examples of what is deemed to be conceptual photography placing it in its socio-historical context. Victor Burgin in Conversation with Ian Wallace at the Vancouver art centre in 2014 talks of wanting to give expression to ‘a thought form’ (Burgin, 2014) rather than a geometric or organic form. The idea that the image is not referent to something in the outside world, but rather is derived from within the domain of thought seems to be a complex but more plausible idea and description of what conceptual photography might be.
Liminality and the Modern Living Through the In-Between by Bjørn Thomassen (z-lib.org).pdf an excellent critique and evaluation of Gennep’s thinking and work and my main backdrop study for this project.
Victor Turner, key text for research: Dramas, fields and metaphors…(1974) exploring the notion of liminal spaces and rites of passage.
An important passage from Van Gennep’s work is this:
‘The analysis of ceremonies accompanying an indi-vidual’s life crises” which van Gennep called rites de passage is usually considered to be his unique contribution. He pointed out that, when the activities associated with such ceremonies were examined in terms of their order and content, it was possible to distinguish three major phases: separation (separation), transition (marge), and incorporation (agrégation).’ (Van Gennep, 1909)
3.At this point…experiments (visual)
The Initial ideas that I have had for the first act revolve around birth. I wanted to produce something that resonates with the idea of the Neophyte (the newly arrived and inexperienced). For this section I will be experimenting with one of two archival images. The rest of the images in the series will be mine and shot specifically for the assignment. I want to use a third image for the opening act and as yet am not sure how to proceed with that. It may be that I re-photograph the image in another context.
In these images below I am working towards selecting various that I feel will make sense within the theme. I have been looking to develop a sense in the photos of transition aiming to play with the concept of liminality via a series of suggestions towards transition, change or ambiguity but is some way evoke the process of reflection around the idea of meaningful transition and ritual.
The three act structure
Initially I was considering a five act structure for the images to reflect roughly five different phases of life. However, after discovering and exploring the cinematic and theatre use of the three acts structure, I decided to use this as it fits in better with Van Gennep’s three stage model of: ‘Separation, liminal and incorporation’ (Gennep, 1909). This in turn ties in with my idea of naming the states: Neophyte, Threshold stage and dying act. These are all working subtitles and as yet I have not decided on how I will use them. I want to leave some element of mystery in the whole process, to reflect the ambiguity that goes with the liminal experience.
August up-date 2020
Towards the end of this assignment, I have now changed the title to: The threshold of comfort settled on the presentation in slideshow format. I am always disappointed with this style of presentation but because I wanted subtitles and to break the visual experience into three parts, It seemed the best for digital presentation. I have printed out the images A4 to experiment with other ways of setting the presentation up.
References & images
image 1. Hillard, J. Camara recording its own condition [online] https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hilliard-camera-recording-its-own-condition-7-apertures-10-speeds-2-mirrors-t03116 [accessed, June 2020]
Image 2. Bloomberg and Charin [online] http://Political 1 sheet 19 2010 Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin born 1970, born 1971 Presented anonymously 2012 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P13227 [accessed, June 2020]
Image 3. Burgin, V. What does possession mean to you? [online] https://www.pinterest.com/silencio02/victor-burgin/ [accessed, June 2020]
Image 4. free archival images [online] https://womendeliver.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/35713596412_7b784d85e6_k1.jpg [accessed, June 2020]
Image 5. The three act structure [online] http://www.elementsofcinema.com/screenwriting/three-act-structure/ [accessed, June 2020]
Burgin, V. and Wallace, I. Victor Burgin and Ian Wallace in conversation (2014) https://vimeo.com/61977802 [accessed, July 2020]
Charin and Bloomberg What is conceptual photography part 3 [online] https://www.youtube.com/watchtime_continue=22&v=9TvpxG9fLqo&feature=emb_logo[accessed, June 2020]
Gennep, V. A. The rites of passage (1909)Translated by Monika B. Yizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee, university of Chicago press.
Thomassen, B. Liminality and the Modern, living through the in-between (2014) Ashgate Publishing Co.