When you first start out in photography, and begin using some thought processes to create images, everything becomes a photograph. You notice visual signs you had not before. The way light falls to create shadows, how certain things make defined shapes and all the textures we normally take for granted. Then as you move further into the realms of discourse and deconstruction you begin to struggle. Suddenly nothing is a picture anymore, everything you had seen before has now somehow returned to the realm of mundane. Those pretty pictures you used to make are now becoming redundant due to a lack of substance.

It is easy to begin to dismiss this new found knowledge as pretentious and go running back to your smiling portraits of babies and wide-angle landscapes with a beautiful sky. What’s not so easy is to confront this wall of superiority and attempt to change, to change not only your perception of what a good photograph is but your practice. For me the issue of reverting back to the good old stock photo days was never going to be a problem. Nor was, weather or not I would embrace the critical analysis element of photography once it was shown to me. My biggest problem is relating these influences to my own work. I first started to think of an idea and then load it with individual visual symbols (put A here, B here and C over here) to create an image that could be read and deconstructed. I have since realised that this A B and C approach simply equates to the viewer reading the image as A B and C, therefore making it as mundane as those stock images I shot before. So how do you begin to shoot images that hold more interest than that?

There is no simple answer, if there was and I knew it, I would be shacked up in the south of France living off my Vogue payment cheques. There is however certain ways to approach a topic. I have recently been reading Roland Barths book Camera Lucida, Reflections on Photography and have found it a tome of inspiration. To take one small area of the book as a starting point seems appropriate as I may very well come back to it in later posts.

R Avedon William Casby, Born a slave 1963

R Avedon William Casby, Born a slave 1963

“The mask is meaning insofar as it is absolutely pure” Roland Barths 1980

What does this quotation mean, in what context is Barths applying it, and how can I take it and use it? These are all questions that ran through my head when I read this quotation. Barths is discussing how photography cannot signify meaning without assuming a mask. In the case of Avedon’s portrait above, the mask is not something this man is hiding behind, but the information Avedon has attemptted to display. We see the essence of slavery here all contained within this one face. There is no need for endless shots of black workers in cotton fields, this image holds all that information in a completely different way. This man is who he is and has no need or lust to portray himself any differently, it is that essence that Avedon has latched onto and portrayed so excellently.

So how can I use some of that theory and apply it to my work? For a recent brief I was shooting some self-portraits. I looked some ideas of the mask, things like shadows and reflections, a more literal interpretation of the mask, an actual attempt to hide from the lens. Then I began to delve deeper into this idea of the photographer creating the mask.

FACE

FACE

With this shot I wanted to create something that held the interest of the viewer. I didn’t want people to automatically get what I was saying with the image or in fact ever really get it (without some explanation). I just didn’t want it to be mundane. As an image on it’s own I feel there is something of interest, something not quite right about it.

I won’t explain now what I have done or what exactly isn’t quite right about it, just to see if anyone cares enough to ask in the comments section. If so also please let me know what thoughts, if any it induces.

Anyway I feel that by looking at other peoples work and deconstructing it is all well and good but to become successful we need to start applying these ethics to our own work.