Do Not Forget Me

Now that second year is finished, along with From The Bottom Up, it’s time to start thinking seriously about my photography-based dissertation. As a professional carer, I am constantly inspired by the healthcare sector and am beginning to embrace it as a point of creative innovation; consequentially, my final-year project aims to explore the invisibility and vulnerability of ageing populations, specifically in East Sussex. This project nicely coincides with the 70th anniversary of the struggling National Health Service, a time of celebration but also mourning. The aim of this post is to make sense of my initial thoughts and ideas, drawing upon the works of Geoffrey Batchen to help illustrate the substance and potential of such a project.

Since engaging with voluntary work for Age UK in November, I have become fascinated with what’s been dubbed the ‘loneliness crisis’ amongst elderly people in the United Kingdom. This interest has only been exacerbated by becoming a carer and seeing the plight of these populations on a day-to-day basis. Photographs don many of my clients’ walls, and they often take pride in narrativising each one as I carry out my work. This is always heart-warming – I often wonder whether their portraits will live on in their descendants’ homes in quite the same way.

Geoffrey Batchen’s Suspending Time provides an entry point into thinking about the role of the photograph in preserving something where memory is concerned. Many of the people are work with are living with debilitating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Motor Neurone Disease, liver failure, and more. As I watch the people I care for wither away, I am constantly reminded of life’s fragility. I couldn’t help but smile in agreement when Batchen writes:

‘…photographers take snapshots to allay their own fears about forgetting and being forgotten’

Batchen, 2010: 126

In regards to the project itself, I have a lot to think about and my next step is to start taking photographs and experimenting, as well as to narrow down my focus. One of the works at the UoB Degree Show got me thinking about this, exhibiting an exploration of memory – this work caught my attention in its recreation of a ‘family wall’ with the record player encouraging a nostalgic affect. Although, dare I say, a bit cliche with the wilted flowers, I found this work one of the more modest works in the exhibition – a lot of it seemed rather individualist and self-congratulatory. I also thought about how many explorations of one’s own family I’ve seen, particularly one’s grandparents, in similar ways. There is a notable lack of insight from the perspectives of carers, paid or unpaid, those who are expected to love and care unconditionally and tirelessly yet often receive little in return. In his Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression, developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert writes:

‘There are very few descriptions of the tribulations suffered by carers’

Wolpert, 2006: 10

Moon River (2017), Holly-Rae Louise Barnes

I will continue to write and reflect throughout the coming year. I will also be the official photographer for the Alzheimer’s Society 1940s event in January which we be beneficial to my project, practice, and for my own personal development. My hours are quite demanding so I will write where I can – perhaps the non-existence of a work-life balance in these sectors is precisely why the voices of those within them go so often unheard.

Batchen, G. 2010. Suspending Time. Japan: Izu Photo Museum.

Wolpert, L. 2006. Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression. London: Faber & Faber Ltd.

Looking forward

So today is deadline day. I was toying with the idea of writing a kind of ‘final post’, but decided against this since I want to keep the blog open for further discussion and exploration over the summer and into my final year. Instead, then, I’m going to write a kind of summary of how the project has gone so far, and my plans for the future.

I have learnt a lot about myself during this project, challenging myself in uncomfortable but necessary ways. I know now that I want to continue doing this, building confidence and the conviction to say ‘I deserve to pursue this’. This has lent itself to me deciding to do a photo-based dissertation in my final year, something which I often shrugged off as not ‘academic enough’, that a 10,000-word project would be the only option for me to feel ‘truly achieved’. I’ve thrown that in the bin. I’m a creative, and I’m beginning to accept and embrace that.

In addition, From The Bottom Up has shown me that challenging taboo is my area of artistic interest. Spending weeks squished into toilet cubicles may not be everyone’s ideal way to spend a Saturday, but the practitioner I am now is worlds away from when I began, thanks to these weird and wonderful experiences. Despite some (or many) doubts throughout the project, I have submitted a photobook to print with work that I am proud of. This quote by Nan Goldin that I stumbled across during my research has resonated with me throughout the project, giving me a certain courage of my conviction when faced with doubts:

‘Don’t ask the same questions as everyone else’

Nan Goldin, 2014

 

 

 

Building a presence

I decided to make an Instagram for my photographic work. I can’t believe this didn’t occur to me sooner; I think I got complacent, hanging in an in-between space where my personal Instagram became a melange of the personal and professional. This, of course, isn’t ideal if photography is something I want to pursue. It’s important to keep these separate, to build a dedicated presence.

So, I created @neljadephoto. I was skeptical at first; I felt a wave of unworthiness wash over me as I searched hashtags such as #photography, #urbanphotography, #photobook, and so on. How could I ever live up to these beautiful accounts? Not for the first time during this project, I buried my phone in the corner of the sofa and retreated into a blanket for the rest of the day.

Once I plucked up the courage to upload one of the images from From The Bottom Up, I felt immediately better. I began to receive some positive reception, which was heart-warming. I have felt a notable lack of engagement with other people during this project, perhaps due to the nature of the work itself. Receiving feedback, despite being from a modest group of estranged Instagram followers, gave me a necessary boost in confidence and I began posting more.

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For the most part, feedback was positive. However, I did receive a comment on one of my images which was controversial and prompted a spiral of emotion which I’d like to make sense of here. The image, captured at Royal Pavilion Gardens, shows an example of latrinalia – a phenomenon which I have been exploring as part of the project.

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The image prompted the following response, to which I was instantly horrified at.

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I felt like the worst person in the world, like I had failed as a photographer by capturing this image. Since I had spent previous weeks exploring feminist thought, I had initially been compelled by this toilet graffiti – the notion that a woman could just ‘have sex’ in this way felt powerful to me. Unintentionally, I had given a platform to someone with ‘the mindset of a rapist’. This upset me greatly, and I immediately replied, as shown above.

Upon reflection, though, I don’t think I responded in the right way. Even if this graffiti was written by someone who might seek sex without consent, is it not worth exploring anyway? If toilets are spaces where this kind of expression can take place without surveillance, does this not add to the legitimacy and necessity of such investigation? I think so. My knee-jerk response to being associated with these sensitive subjects had clouded my thought process; I felt personally attacked and wanted to delete the comments. I haven’t, though – such conversation is so needed and, if my work sparks such discussion, then I think I’m doing something right.

To continue inspiring this kind of discussion, I adopted a style in the presentation of my images. I decided to caption each image in the following format: [location of image], [comment informed by research/thought process]. This is demonstrated in the images below. I felt it vital to contextualise my work and to position myself in a certain light, as a photographer wanting to challenge the power of taboo.

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All in all, Instagram has been a useful tool for building my presence and creating an identity as a practitioner. I will continue to use it to exhibit my work, and to make contact with other creatives to inspire and inform my practice.

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Elinor Carucci

Elinor Carucci’s work has been somewhat of an inspiration for me during this project. She isn’t afraid to get up close and personal, and the intimacy of her work is something I aspire to. This was difficult to achieve in my own photography, particularly due to my anxiety about being in compromising or awkward situations. Carruci, however, achieves this effortlessly.

The work that resonated instantly with From The Bottom Up was ‘Menstrual Blood’ (2000). Prior to encountering Carucci, I believe my work was incredibly tame and I was scared to push the boundaries of what is acceptable to photograph. Upon reflection, this hesitation is due to my own conditioning: how far is too far? Being shown this image in class was followed by an epiphanic moment where I realised that I had not been challenging myself enough in my work. Carucci’s challenging of taboo in this way, capturing images that may evoke discomfort – my boyfriend squirmed upon seeing it on my computer screen. ‘Blood in this context’, as he worded it, isn’t normal for men to see. I believe that making lived experience visible in this way is necessary, and tried to channel Carucci in my photography.

Menstrual period, 2000

She also achieves this in more subtle ways (somewhat). Carucci’s exploration of family through her photography is unusual, capturing images such as her Grandfather in the shower, her Father in his underwear, her topless in front of her father, and her and her partner in bed. These are all incredibly intimate moments; the former three are arguably strange themselves – it feels uncomfortable to imagine a daughter capturing these photographs of her male family members. Perhaps not the traditional imagination of family, yet Carucci succeeds in capturing the intimacy of her family life and lived experience. Obviously, families live through different, subjective norms. As a carer, these images hold a particular resonance, since these are scenarios that I see on a daily basis.

And of course, I cannot neglect Carucci’s portrayal of womanhood. Armpit (1995) shows the suggestion of underarm hair, which has come to represent something of female empowerment in recent years. This exploration of womanhood is something I tried to embody in From The Bottom Up: in my own work, it is much more subtle due to the limitations of the spaces I was capturing. Ideally I would’ve loved to create images more in tune with Carucci’s work, but this just wasn’t achievable. Not having subjects to photograph contributed to this difficulty, as well as the nature of the public toilets I was working in.

Armpit, 1995

A selection of images from From The Bottom Up (2018)

Lighting was also an issue; my images are naturally colder and more clinical than Carruci’s work. The vibrant wallpapers and duvet covers also provide contrasting backgrounds at times, which add an unusual atmosphere to the work. This is something that wasn’t feasible to replicate in my own work; the only exception to this was my trip to Vietnam, where one of the ladies’ toilets was painted a vibrant pink.

A snap in one of Vietnam’s toilets

Despite being world’s away from her technical ability, I think that mine and Carucci’s motives are aligned; capturing the mundane, the everyday. I felt encouraged by the existence of such work; I believe a focus on this area of lived experience is absolutely vital to understanding how identities and social norms are produced and reproduced, and translated into the wider world. As Second Wave Feminists say, the personal is political. Carucci communicates this beautifully in her work. I hope to be able to work towards her level in my own practice. Her work is almost comforting, and always makes me smile with its honesty and integrity.

 

Photographs property of Elinor Carucci, unless otherwise stated.

Cruel and Tender: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph

Cruel and Tender has been one of the key compilations of work that has supported and continually inspired my project, From The Bottom Up. Featuring works by a range of acclaimed practitioners, from Diane Arbus and William Eggleston to Robert Frank and Martin Parr, the photobook embodies the idea of reflecting on and challenging social norms. This is emphasised further in the Sponsor’s Foreword:

‘This is an intriguing set of images from the last hundred years. These photographers recorded life in the twentieth century with a disengagement which suggested the title of the exhibition. Seeing these photographs together, I think we can determine universal values and aspirations, despite the decades, continents and beliefs which divide them. In our own challenging times, perhaps this is a reassuring reminder’

Ospel, in Dexter & Weski, 2003: 7

Inelegance in Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces (1972)

I came to particularly appreciate Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces (1972) for its ‘chaos, its absurdity and its endlessness’ (Dexter, in Dexter & Weski, 2003: 17).  His documentation of American life in such an inelegant, honest way evokes something of banality, yet represents a world that is incredibly recognisable (to me, at least). Furthermore, the peculiar angles Shore uses throughout the home, particularly those of head height, brings the viewer into the same domain and further exacerbates this ‘world we all share and recognise’ (ibid), despite the project being acutely ‘American’ and over 40 years old. William Eggleston’s Memphis also encapsulates something of this affect.

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Stephen Shore, American Surfaces. 1972
New York, New York, September-October 1972 1972, printed 2005 by Stephen Shore born 1947
Stephen Shore, American Surfaces. 1972.
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William Eggleston, Memphis. 1970.

I tried to evoke some of this same feeling in my own work, experimenting with flash photography to add this kind of raw inelegance. This was far more challenging that I had anticipated; I have found that public toilets are much more subtle in their exertion of power and the banality of such spaces is both easy and incredibly difficult to capture all at once. Despite excluding this image in From The Bottom Up, I was intrigued by the potential for experimentation in such small, unforgiving spaces and how the use of flash can be used tactically to create a new depth to an image.

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Shared Experience in Paul Graham’s Beyond Caring 1986

Graham’s work also caught my attention in Cruel and Tender and continues to resonate with me for his exploration of public spaces and the assumption of a shared experience. This series positions 1980s Britain in a way that is understandable; as a time of significant unemployment, there is a notable feeling of depression and social isolation which could be said to be emblematic of the time period. Waiting rooms, single mothers with children, and neglected rooms housing interview cubicles contribute to this understanding. Regardless of the reality, the imagination of a Job Centre is arguably what Graham evokes in Beyond Caring. The latter, Interview Cubicles, Hackney DHSS, East London particularly stuck with me. Trying to photograph something in a similar vein with my own project, I admire how Graham has captured the publicness of such ‘private’ booths using a certain angle to hide faces whilst revealing feet. If I were to have included people in my own work, I would’ve liked it to have resembled this frame by Graham in Brighton & Hove’s public toilets.

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Paul Graham, Waiting Room, Poplar DHSS, East London. 1985.
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Paul Graham, Mother and Baby, Highgate DHSS, North London. 1984.
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Paul Graham, Interview Cubicles, Hackney DHSS, East London. 1985.

‘The documentary theme is continued in the structure of the photographic collection as a whole. The reader is presented with a sequence of images that are almost Identical. Unnamed individuals sit slumped in chairs, chins resting upon hands, some heads bowed in newspapers and other heads resting on chests. Babies are strapped, static, into pushchairs. Lights blaze, signage peels, rubbish lingers. These images are repeated throughout the entire collection of pictures to the point that the viewer is overwhelmed with its repetitiveness to the degree that its veracity cannot help but be accepted’

Cole, 2013

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Chanelle Manton, From The Bottom Up. 2018.
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Chanelle Manton, From The Bottom Up. 2018.
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Chanelle Manton, From The Bottom Up. 2018.
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Chanelle Manton, From The Bottom Up. 2018.
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Chanelle Manton, From The Bottom Up. 2018.

I also like how Graham captions his images with the locations of the photographs. This lends itself to a kind of legitimacy; I have embodied in my own photobook using an index at the back to reference the locations where the final images were taken.

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Final Thoughts

As Emma Dexter outlines in Cruel and Tender:

‘By concentrating on the real, the photography in Cruel and Tender opposes itself to any idealising tendency – a tendency that contains a range of inflections and trajectories from romanticism and sentimentality to redemptive qualities such as humour or pathos…it concentrates on the kind of realism that avoids romanticism, sentimentality or nostalgia, in favour of a clear-eyed and dispassionate view’

Dexter, in Dexter & Weski, 2003: 15

I really enjoy this summary of the photobook as I feel I have tried to achieve a similar goal in my own work. Favouring a ‘clear-eyed and dispassionate view’ seems to be an unfamiliar approach in photography, but I believe it is a necessary one. It would have been incredibly easy for me to capture fantastic images of public toilets had I wanted to romanticise them. However, by adopting the kind of approach that Dexter discusses, I feel I have unearthed something far more interesting when you look beyond the images themselves into wider society. This is what I hope to achieve in my future practice and I feel my background in Human Geography gives me a unique perspective to enable me to do so.

 

Sources Used:

Cole, M. 2013. ‘A Reflection on “Beyond Caring” – a photobook by Paul Graham’. [essay online] Available at: http://m-cole.co.uk/essay-reflection-beyond-caring-photo-book-paul-graham/ [Last accessed 13 May 2018]

Dexter, E & Weski, T (eds). 2003. Cruel and Tender: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph. London: Tate Publishing.

 

Reflections: building confidence in practice

The one factor that has been holding me back exponentially during this project is anxiety. I had never intended this to be the case, either. As an inherently private place, I thought I would be safe from having to deal with the feelings when locked within a bathroom stall. This, however, turned out not to be the case. Plus, I began to find that my most interesting images were the ones into the stalls and capturing the more public areas of toilets, not the ones from within the cubicle itself.

I would like to use this space to reflect on a session I had a week or so back, when I took my partner and our best friend along with me. Despite them not being physically with me at the point of capturing my images, I felt a wave of confidence surge through me knowing that they were in the locality. This helped me to shrug off any feelings of self-consciousness and, for the first time on this journey, I felt at ease and justified in my position as a photographer capturing an important phenomenon.

The Ham Sandwich

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I began the session at Brighton Marina, of which I have visited several times throughout the project. This facility has come to be one of my favourites; not just because of the beautiful view of the Marina itself on the approach, but for the seemingly deserted nature of the area itself. This allowed for me to spend a good half-an-hour jumping from cubicle to cubicle, observing and investigating.

I had initially positioned myself against altering any aspect of the toilet itself to ‘protect’ my integrity as a photographer, despite some heated conversations with some peers about whether placing specific items in photographs is an appropriate thing to do or not. Luckily, I didn’t even need to do this. Deciding to take the lid off one of the sanitary bins after being inspired by some of the ‘explicit’ photography of Elinor Carucci, I discovered to my delight a discarded Asda-brand Ham & Cheese sandwich. Not what I had been hoping for, yet even more relevant to my project than I initially thought. After a quick Google search, I learnt that:

‘Ham sandwich’ is often used as a euphemism for a women’s vagina, whilst ‘smoking a ham’ can mean ‘using a small public stall for emptying your bowels / taking a shit and smelling up the entire area’

Urban Dictionary, 2007

This accidental find seemed to increase the complexity of the photograph three-fold; I was grateful that I had found the confidence and conviction (as well as a pair of rubber gloves, of course) to explore sanitary bins in this non-normative way. This leads to my second point of discussion, the male presence.

The Male Presence 

This new-found excitement lent itself to me snapping a fair few photographs outside the cubicles too. The most interestingly of these thematically was, in my opinion, the sexualised nature of some of the objects in the toilet: specifically, the hand-dryer. In my opinion, the way the hand-dryer is designed looks incredibly phallic; to others, it resembles a vagina in the way that it caves in.

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Regardless, I was interested to find this sexualised design and this got me thinking about the male presence in female toilets. I began to see indicators of men being allowed into these spaces intended for women and the overarching assumption that this should merely be accepted as the way things work. Other examples can be seen below; the first image shows a sign stating that facilities will be cleaned by male and female personnel; the second shows a yellow wet-floor sign with a typically male symbol falling over.

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A Woman By Design? 

Something else I observed in my exploration was the design of the toilets to accommodate normative ideas about womanhood and what this means. For example, in the facility at Hove Lagoon Kingsway, there were numerous baby-changing benches, one of which was inside the toilet cubicle itself. This would indicate to me a lack of privacy for the toilet user if they were to have a child with them – perhaps the absence of a second adult to look after the child so the mother can relieve themselves.

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Other examples of this include a toilet-roll holder, which seem to resemble breasts. On a slightly alternative note, this image also draws attention to the needs of women – what happens when there is no toilet paper in the stall? This is something that many of us have undoubtedly experienced, which echoes a report I’ve mentioned in previous entries about woman’s needs being catered to on a 70:30 basis in favour of men (House of Commons, 2008: 18).

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Structural Adjustment 

My final point of discussion for this post is the evidence of changes within public toilets to mirror wider societal shifts and modes of thinking. The first image, which is the final image in my photobook, shows a section of exposed brickwork in one of the dividing cubicle walls. I found this image to be incredibly symbolic of the gradually-changing ways that we view toilets and gender (i.e. with the introduction of gender-neutral toilets – although these haven’t made their way to public facilities yet) as well as female empowerment, challenging patriarchal norms, and shifts in the nature of womanhood and traditional notions of family.

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The latter point is evidenced in the second image of the soap dispenser, with two white people and a black girl/lady holding hands. This arguably speaks to discourses of race and racism. Such examples indicate such shifts and re-emphasis the necessity of projects such as From The Bottom Up in exploring such changes and how these are producing and reproducing social norms and identities.

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Reflections: freak weather and fighting anxiety

This post is a reflection on a session I had on Monday 30th April.

I’ve felt pretty disheartened about my project over the past week or so. The 50mm lens I had been using just didn’t do the job, and my anxieties about taking photographs in such intimate places had rocketed three-fold. I was struggling to capture interesting images and felt a sense of clumsiness fumbling through different f stops and ISOs. All of this, combined with the inadequacy I felt as some of my classmates presented their beautiful photos in our mid-term presentations, led to an inevitable slump. After seeking some advice, I switched to a 35mm lens to combat some of the difficulties I’ve been having.

Waking up to a downpour of rain yesterday , I knew I had been granted the perfect opportunity to snap some more pictures. The weather meant that parts of the wider city were practically abandoned, facilitating a bit more experimentation on my part. Feeling grateful for having a car, I went exploring; my destinations included Norton Road Car Park (Hove) and Brighton Marina.

Norton Road Car Park

Norton Road was an adventure in itself. After finally finding a parking space, I grabbed my kit and got going. It took me about ten minutes to actually find the toilet facilities, and when I did, a large metal gate told me I was unwelcome. The gate was locked; the toilet is not open on weekdays. The notion that nature only calls on weekends and bank holidays is a humorous one; the fact that I didn’t even notice this until looking at the images afterwards is even more so.

Nonetheless, I managed to snap a couple of photographs of the exterior. This was my first time trying out the 35mm; I worked on a higher ISO and lower f/ stop with a wide aperture. This was a quick endeavour since my raincoat was failing at keeping me dry, but I felt pleasantly surprised by the few images I did capture. I feel they embody the themes of my project; power, vulnerability, exclusivity.

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Brighton Marina

A quick drive down the coast brought me to Brighton Marina which, when abandoned by tourists avoiding the rain and unceasing wind, feels like something out of a dystopian novel. I had already been here before for this project, so I wasted no time getting to work.

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This is perhaps my most interesting photograph from Brighton Marina. The lack of life meant I had a bit more time to look around, to explore different angles and more unusual perspectives. Up until now, I had timidly locked myself in and limited myself to what I could make interesting from the safety of a cubicle. This was, of course, mostly my own anxiety playing a part, but my experience yesterday was a new one.

I sat on a toilet and snapped this image, with the door open. I find the image aesthetically pleasing, the symmetry and angles interrupted with the burst of yellow from the wet floor sign. It feels rather clinical and, although it may not look like it, this image was a formative one for me. The risk of someone walking in and seeing me perched on a toilet seat with my camera would have previously crippled me, and this photography wouldn’t have been possible. This time, though, I didn’t let my anxieties command my work; I think it paid off.

I want to continue taking these kinds of images; confident, commanding, and different. This session definitely helped encourage me to keep practising and to keep pushing my boundaries.

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Roni Horn / Her, Her, Her, and Her

Roni Horn’s Her, Her, Her, and Her is a typological photo series, compiled of images of locker rooms in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The notion of typological photography is not something I ever found particularly appealing or interesting until recently. I felt as though this type of work was naturally suited to observing change, having encountered Jo Spence’s photobook (2005) only a few weeks ago. Her work documents her battle with breast cancer and functioned as my only reference point for what typology consists of. It is not, however, all as morbid as I first thought. I was recommended Roni Horn’s work as a focal point for my own photographic project after my mid-term presentation, and would like to reflect on Her, Her, Her, and Her in this post.

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Image courtesy of https://artphotobook.wordpress.com © 2004 Roni Horn, Steidl Publishers

The layout of Horn’s photobook particularly caught my attention. 120 black-and-white images make up the series, each assigned a full-page at a 1:1 aspect ratio. The lack of interruption between the images creates a consistency which appears to replicate the interior architecture of the Icelandic locker rooms themselves: Horn succeeds in evoking the ‘unbroken continuum’, referenced below, using this simple arrangement.

‘Horn was drawn to the building’s locker rooms, which form a seemingly infinite maze of corridors and compartments with white tiles wrapping around every surface to form a single, unbroken continuum akin to a Möbius strip, and peepholes in the doors that produce an uninterrupted network of views.’

Guggenheim (2007)

I had previously dismissed the fact that layout was something I needed to consider for any more than a few minutes. I felt that, for my own project, I would simply alternate between portrait and landscape shots and arrange the images so as to look aesthetically pleasing with an appropriate amount of negative space in between. However, upon studying Horn’s work, I have readjusted my views on the importance of layout.

The book is also elusive; whether this is purposeful or not I cannot be sure. The lack of any kind of foreword or afterword explaining Horn’s intentions or motivations is notable. In my previous post I reflected on Jiehong’s An Era Without Memories, where the photographs were accompanied by lengthy, contextual narrative. This work is almost the polar opposite to Her, Her, Her, and Her. The lack of explanation facilitates a more attentive focus on the images themselves, since there is simply nothing else to look at: once again, Horn has allowed for absolutely no interruption.

‘Horn often uses repetition to examine the relationship between individual and collective identity. Here, she uses it to create an endless labyrinth of gazes and thwarted desire’

Guggenheim (2007)

Although unsure as to whether I will try and replicate Horn’s arrangements, I have definitely become more aware of the importance of layout when presenting photographs in developing a narrative. I will consider this is my own work, and potentially experiment with typology as a form of photography.

 

Sources Used

Guggenheim, 2007. ‘Roni Horn – Her, Her, Her, and Her’ Collection Online. Available online: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/17547 [Last accessed 29 April 2018]

Horn, R. 2004. Her, Her, Her, and Her. [photobook]. Germany: Steidl Dangin

Spence, J. 2005. Beyond the perfect image: photography, subjectivity, antagonism’  [photobook]. Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

Jiang Jiehong / An Era Without Memories

I will be reflecting on professional ones throughout photobooks throughout my practice. This blog post will focus on Jiang Jiehong’s compilation, An Era Without Memories.  The work is divided into four chapters, capturing and documenting the large-scale urban transformation taking place in China.
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Qiulin, C. The Empty City (2012)

Narrative

Themes of memory, identity, and nationhood are evident throughout. I was particularly captivated, however, by the amount of different styles of photography featured. Through a compilation of images including black and white, documentary, natural landscape, and architectural, Jiehong constructs an incredibly interesting and complex narrative. I had previously thought that the most successful photobooks are those which focus on one style of photography, such as Robert Frank’s wonderful black and white History of Photography Series. Jiehong has shown me that there are no limits to creativity, and that innovation, creativity, and thinking differently should be encouraged.

‘Many streets and alleys that were home, many buildings that were the familiar landmarks in mental maps, many street markets that were meeting places – so many triggers to memories – have been bulldozed and replaced with boulevards, covered markets and plazas. Cities have been built in and out of the rubble of buildings. Villages and towns absorbed by cities have been destroyed or changed beyond recognition…This is an era of destroyed memories in urban, but not in rural, China’ (Feuchtwang, in Jiehong, 2015: 10)

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Fudong, Y. Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (2007)
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Yi, Y. A Sunken Homeland, Nanjiao Residential Building, Kaixian (2007)
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Qiulin, C. The Empty City (2012)

Layout

The division of the book into four chapters proves effective for the work within it. Organising the images in this way reinforces the narrative discussed above; this may be a useful method for my own photobook if I am to continue with my exploration of four themes within public toilets – latrinalia, surveillance, acceptance, and being female. This is something I will bear in mind, however I feel the result may be too simplistic if I were to imitate Jiehong’s structure. It is an excellent layout for addressing the complexities of China’s urbanisation, but perhaps not such an appropriate choice for my own work.

One feature I definitely want to incorporate into my own photobook, on the other hand, is the use of text. Jiehong features a foreword and afterword, written by himself, in addition to an introduction by Stephen Feuchtwang. In addition, the images are accompanied by writing throughout, which helps contextualise the work for the reader. For my own photobook, I want to introduce textual elements. Of course, it won’t be to the extent that An Era of Memories goes in narration, but will be a necessary part of my book. By explaining my reasoning and objective for the project, I feel this promotes inclusivity and facilitates the opportunity for learning, something which I always aim to achieve in my work.

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Jiehong, 2015: 7

‘At the core of these photographic representations is not their documentary function but rather the revelation of the individuality and identity of the artists’ (Jiehong, 2015: 6)

 

Sources Used

Jiehong, J. 2015. An Era Without Memories: Chinese Contemporary Photography on Urban Transformation [photobook]. London: Thames & Hudson.

Reflection series: being female at Brighton Pier (4/4)

The final post of this four-part reflection series focuses on being female in public toilets, specifically at Brighton Pier.

I have already discussed my initially disheartening experience in the Brighton Pier female’s toilet in a previous reflection, so I won’t dwell on the epiphanic moment I had whilst staring at the nearby sanitary bin. Instead, I will dive straight in for the final post of this four-part series.

I have never thought about what it means to be a women in a public toilet. As a female, I can expect lengthy queues, groups of girls doing their make-up or gossiping, subsequent damages to self-esteem as they apply their fourteenth layer of foundation, and, more often than not, overflowing sanitary bins. To my delight, Brighton Pier’s bin was seemingly clean and appeared to be at an appropriate capacity.

There is an unsurprising lack of literature on the socio-political significance of the sanitary bin, but a wealth of information on the importance of them. I, too, am unsure at this point as to what I want to say about sanitary bins in women’s toilets, so I will list my thoughts and reflect further as I continue my photographic practice:

  •  Patriarchal constructs around how ‘women are made to feel that menstruation is shameful’ (Muscio, in Clarke, 2017) – ideas around free-bleeding as resistance to using feminine hygiene products
  • A House of Commons report showed that:

    ‘Women take longer to go to the toilet because of “a range of sartorial, biological and functional reasons…Women have more functions than men [and] at any time about a quarter of all women of childbearing age will be menstruating…yet women are catered for on a 50:50 basis, and sometimes on a 70:30 basis in favour of men

    We can speculate, then, whether women’s needs are being met in public toilets, or just a specific type of femininity.

  • Consequential environmental issues; the ‘fatberg’ discourse (Adams, 2018)

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I will continue to explore these ideas, since, as a woman, I feel I should explore notions of femininity and investigate how gender is played out within public toilets. The rise of gender-neutral facilities in Brighton & Hove is exciting and necessary, but I feel as though I can most respectfully enter the gender debate but reflecting on my own experiences.

This image is perhaps my favourite of the entire day. I think the use of negative space is effective, as well as the lack of any colour other than white; I feel as though this implies an expected cleanliness that is simply unrealistic during that time of the month. The bin itself feels somewhat authoritative, too, perhaps due to the existence of shadow and the framing of the image. I will continue to document sanitary bins photographically over the coming weeks.

 

Sources Used:

Adams, T. 2018. ‘London’s fatberg on show: “We thought of pickling it”‘ The Guardian [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/feb/04/fatberg-museum-london-display-pickling-age-waste [Last accessed 24 April 2018]

Clarke, K. 2017. ‘Free the period: Why some women choose to free-bleed’ Life [online] Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/life/wellness/free-the-period-why-some-women-choose-to-free-bleed-1.4015740 [Last accessed 24 April 2018]

House of Commons. 2008. ‘The Provision of Public Toilets’ [report] Available at: https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmcomloc/636/636.pdf [Last accessed 15 April 2018]

 

 

Reflection series: latrinalia at Royal Pavilion Gardens (3/4)

The third of this four-part reflection series focuses on latrinalia (toilet graffiti) in public toilets, specifically Brighton’s Royal Pavilion Gardens.

As one of the few attended public facilities in Brighton & Hove, the toilets at Royal Pavilion Gardens were at the bottom of my list for having latrinalia-covered toilet cubicles. I was rather surprised, then, when I wandered in to find an array of graffitied doors. Unfortunately, the beauty of the Gardens themselves did not translate into the toilets they house. Holding my breath, I got snapping.

By definition, a toilet attendant is a cleaner who maintains and cleans the facilities and ensures that necessary items are kept well stocked. I felt as though there was a certain irony in this, since this particular toilet was the most vandalised and, quite frankly, the most pungent destination I encountered throughout the day – yet the only one with a designated member of staff occupying it. Upon my departure, I heard a mother ask her son: ‘are the men’s toilets as disgusting as the women’s?’. This made me smile – I wondered how anything could be as bad as what I had just experienced. This is not to say the attendant was not doing her job; I watched her don her marigolds and enter each cubicle with the expected amount of hesitation. But, of course, no toilet attendant can control the mess left behind, but can merely clean up what s/he can.

This brings me nicely to my focus for this particular reflection: latrinalia. Toilet graffiti is loaded with socio-political power, and it fascinates me. The notion of having a canvas where one can express what they feel honestly and entirely, with complete anonymity (depending on what they write), is not something that easily achieved anywhere else. Whether intoxicated or entirely sober, the toilet cubicle becomes a space of expression, away from judgemental eyes and censoring forces. This notion is exacerbated by the fact that this was in a women’s facility – I plan to explore feminist theory in this regard throughout the project itself.

Moving forward, Beck (2014) expertly summarises the latrinalia phenomenon:

What makes toilet graffiti special, and worthy of its own entire category, is the uniqueness of the space in which people are writing. Public bathrooms are weird places. There’s a tension to doing private activities in a public space, with only the flimsiest of boundaries hiding some of our culture’s biggest taboos—genitals and bodily functions. Hence all the scatological and sexual prose that latrinalia often consists of: People are just deriving inspiration from their surroundings.

Beck’s description of toilets as unique spaces is what I was trying to evoke in the previous paragraph; latrinalia is a private act carried out in a public place, similar to our bodily functions themselves. As Ferem (2007) argues, toilet stalls are perfect for opinions and expressions to be etched upon, since they are much safer and the person is less likely to get into trouble for it. Beck’s discussion of scatological and sexual prose is also interesting in this way; keep this in mind as we dissect the images I have captured.

From The Bottom Up

I went into the facility a number of times throughout the day in order to observe several different cubicles. The first visit boasted a stall covered in writing that seemed to have been drawn on with paint, or perhaps a very thick pen. The writing featured a list of names traditionally associated with men, including ‘James’, ‘Tobias’, and ‘Isaac’. Other phrases included ‘I Love You’ and ‘I.P.❤’. A comparative study of men and women’s toilets by Pamela Leong showed that the latter were dominated by ‘supportive graffiti and relationship-oriented graffiti’ with an absence of insults. It was also found that 70.8% of latrinalia collected was carried out by women (The Hidden Culture, 2016).

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More evident in the second and third images are references to sex, including phrases such as ‘If you fancy sex, just have it!’ and ‘Tony .H. is sex’. Now I don’t know who Tony H is, or what it means to ‘be sex’, but I do find these comments interesting from a feminist perspective. Discussing sex, from a women’s perspective, is still arguably taboo. As Bambi (2014) writes:

‘We are oppressed to speak about or express our sexuality. We are told that we have the freedom to do so, yet we are deemed less intelligent or classy if we do. Women are placed into two categories – classy and intelligent, or sexual and trashy.’

Does the toilet, then, become a place where we can speak and about express our sexuality in a way that we otherwise cannot? This seems likely. Moreover, although I’m yet to experience evidence of this myself, Leong also found that:

‘Female graffiti contained more scatological content than the men’s graffiti did. Such graffiti included explanations for what caused the artist to defecate (coffee, the campus dining service), references to flatulence, and the obvious: that they were currently on the commode and, in some cases, were in the process of defecating (“Sitting on the toilet Hahahah”)’

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Although these images are not my favourite visually, I am constantly excited by the socio-political elements tied up within latrinalia and notions of privacy. I plan to go back to Royal Pavilion Gardens (on a weekday next time, weekends are far too busy) to capture some more pictures of latrinalia. Now my confidence is starting to increase, I feel I can produce higher quality images with clearer intentions and focal points.

 

Sources Used

Bambi, J. 2014. Sex: Why Still the Taboo for Women? Centrethought [online] Available at: https://centrethought.com/2014/09/29/sex-taboo-for-women/ [Last accessed 24 April 2018]

Beck, J. 2014. ‘Behind the Writing on the Stalls’ The Atlantic [online] Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/behind-the-writing-on-the-stalls/383016/ [Last accessed 24 April 2018]

Ferem, M. 2007. Bathroom Graffiti. New York: Mark Batty Publisher

Leong, P. 2015. ‘What the writing on the (bathroom) wall reveals about sex and culture’ The Conversation [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/what-the-writing-on-the-bathroom-wall-reveals-about-sex-and-culture-39986 [Last accessed 24 April 2018]

 

 

Reflection series: surveillance at Brighton Pier (2/4)

The second of this four-part reflection series focuses on surveillance in public toilets, specifically Brighton Pier.

Following my experience at Wild Park, I wasn’t sure where this project would take me next. I felt unsure about my brief, my focus on latrinalia, nor my stomach’s ability to spend another four hours in pungent toilets. After a trek to the end of Brighton Pier and a lengthy queue, I entered the women’s facility and locked myself in a cubicle.

Once again, I found no evidence of latrinalia of any kind, which cemented my decision that a focus on toilet graffiti alone would not be appropriate. To uphold my integrity as a practitioner, I felt it would be wrong to actively seek out latrinalia for the sake of doing so. With a sigh, I sat on the toilet (fully clothed – the cubicle was far too small to do anything but) and stared at the door for any hint of inspiration.

The lock on the door caught my attention. With a missing screw and a wonky clasp, I got to thinking about the importance of being able to lock a cubicle stall. The ability to be completely alone and safe, to ensure the world is distinct and separate from oneself, is a privilege that I believe is taken for granted. This was especially relevant to my recent toilet experiences during my travels in Vietnam, where many facilities feel more like social spaces than places to defecate.

What happens, then, when a lock is broken or faulty? Or the stalls do not reach from ceiling to floor and offer the potential of prying eyes and ears? I became even more aware of this when I noticed the sounds made by my 700D when I took a picture – the shutter opening and an obnoxious beep. These sounds sent my anxiety rocketing. When alone in a toilet, this isn’t such an issue; when you are surrounded by occupied cubicles, you can’t help but wonder what the person next to you must be wondering. Do they think I’m taking a picture of them? Of myself? I became hyper-aware of this, and was forced to wait for the flush of a toilet or the slam of a door to capture an image. Luckily, the lighting wasn’t so much of an issue on the pier as it was in Wild Park, but I still stood for about ten minutes, waiting for right moment to open the shutter.

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The practical challenges only exacerbated my thoughts on surveillance and privacy. The toilet, by nature, is an intimate and private place. However, by being in a public space, are we truly alone? What power dynamics operate within these spaces, and how does this impact on how we use them? According to Foucault, ‘in modern society, power is dispersed through social institutions…and exists in insidious ways in everyday practices’ (Wells, 2015: 197). Toilets seem to be a place to escape such dispersions of power; yet, anxious about the noises the camera made, I self-disciplined, feeling as though such sounds were wrong or unnatural. My modes of behaviour were indirectly influenced, my ‘freedom of movement and privacy’ infringed (Wells, 2015: 356). Locking the door, then, is not enough to escape power dynamics and feelings of discomfort or unease. I will continue to explore this notion throughout the project.