Thursday, 14 November 2013

Discontinuity

I’ll start by thanking all the people who took the trouble to comment on the 5 photos on the previous post associated with this exercise. What strikes me most is in spite of the fairly straightforward nature of some of the images, and the best efforts of technology to give the game away there was still quite a bit of variability in the responses.

So how to analyse/reflect on the outcome. I shall start with:

Individual images

  1. Mum, Dad and me at about 4 months old I suspect. The image – to the best of my knowledge - was taken at Snow Hill in Bath – Dad worked in the civil service, and before getting married I’m pretty sure Mum was a production line worker at Clarke’s shoes. I was unemployed at the time. The factory has long gone, to be replaced by housing. The photographer is unknown  - but I suspect it may have been Dad’s camera as that’s who I caught the bug from. The individual responses all guessed that it was me and my parents, but in the absence of other details assumptions on location and occupation were inevitably made on the basis of limited visual information. Mum’s suit was a confounding factor I think – I suspect it was her wedding suit –  which makes them look rather more well off than they actually were.
  2. My Mulberry brief case. I included this to be a bit enigmatic, but by and large  - probably because of the context those who guessed it’s significant were reasonably close. My summer holiday job before I started uni was at Mulberry, in the design department. This was the original design of one of their better sellers, and was given to me as a gift by the owner at the end of my time there. Someone spotted that the handle had not been used – that’s because it as leather and stretched (the final model had a woven rope/leather handle as I recall). It did indeed go through university with me – and I still have and use it – it has genuine sentimental value to me. I love the ide that the darkening was because it was full of secrets and I had to clutch it tightly all the time.
  3. The black belt – fairly easy to construct a narrative around this – of all my physical possessions the belt is the one of which I am probably most proud (wedding ring excepted) which is silly as it’s just a bit of canvas. I have never washed it – because that would bring bad luck – just about my only superstition. The picture gives no clue to how tired I was – I lost 4 pounds in 3 hours. “Elation, relief and a certain amount of disbelief” was spot on as was “desire to accomplish” in this particular case.
  4. Traction engine – this was a bit of a cheat – it wasn’t really a “significant” event, but it was unforgettable. It belongs to a family friend, and he steamed it up for an afternoon get together so we could all take turns driving it. It was only after the event I remembered that I have a photo of one of my Granddads with his traction engine – which was recorded as his occupation on my Dad’s birth certificate. As several observed it was taken by a non-photographer – my wife. It’s interesting that inclusion in a narrative lends some significance to the image, which is otherwise basically a family snapshot.
  5. Finally – Marion,my wife. Taken in a hotel room on our 30th wedding anniversary. If anyone made the link between the inadvertent caption and the pearls they didn’t mention it. As someone observed it wasn’t a candid – and on that basis I should have removed the card from the bottom right – hey ho! too late now. No real mystery here, but as several people observed the direct gaze suggests a close and equal relationship with the photographer.

Narratives

A couple of responses took the form of narratives, or partial narratives. Given the relatively small number of quotes from my past they were surprisingly close to the truth – although that may reflect the fairly conventional choice of several of the images and the fact that I tell everyone everything. The fact that they reminded someone of a series of photos used to help Alzheimer’s patients with their memory suggests that I did choose a number of universally significant images.There was also a reflection on the result of a request to produce photos of “unhappy” times, which speaks to the same universal significance. I certainly have very little such imagery – maybe a few shots of funeral flowers at most.

Conclusions

First and foremost a different choice of photos would have given me a different life. I’ve just been reading Berger and Mohr “Another way of telling” in which Berger describes photos as quotes taken from a continuum of appearances. By removing the quote from context we create an ambiguity – by association with other quotes we allow a meaning to be created. If I had left out the briefcase, and replaced it with a photo of me collecting unemployment benefit (which I did for 3 days after leaving university) and had replaced the picture of Marion with one of the pair of us decorating our first house – a different story would probably arise.

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