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A2 C&N – preparation (ideas)


There are two options for this assignment and I have chosen ‘photographing the unseen’. The literal contradiction between photographing and the unseen grabbed my attention. How could this be interpreted and what ideas could I come up with?

I’ve spent a few weeks reflecting on this and doing some research into other photographers’ work. I’ve started using Evernote to jot down my thoughts in a photo-diary  while on the go (iPhone) and conveniently picking them up later while at my laptop.


I interpret ‘unseen’ in the context of what is normally seen by the naked human eye; a necessary perspective to give the interpretation boundaries. The possibilities are many:

  • Emotions or feelings – these do not exist in the physical world but they can be sensed and signified by the physical appearance of those experiencing the emotion. A smile connotes happiness for example. There are a long list of emotions that could be considered as ideas for a photography project; sadness, fear, love, joy, tiredness and so on. However, arguably there is a direct relation between emotions and their expression physical world – almost literal.
  • Other sense – smells are not seen but experienced through our olfactory system. They have a powerful connection with our memories, a smell can take us back to a distant time when we first experienced it. For example, any time I catch a smell of the ‘Old Spice’ scent, I’m instantly reminded of my grandfather, who’s long passed. There are also shared experiences of smell linked to place; for example coffee shops, the sea, the meat counter, newly cut grass. A potential project would be to photograph subjects that have a strong connection with smell.
  • Other sense – sounds – sound is all around us, with complete silence almost unattainable. It is often paired with vision but one can see but not hear, or hear but not see. Sound is transmitted in wave forms (as is light) but beyond vision. We can only see the effect of sound (vibration) or the subjects generating sound. Ryan Buller does this to great effect by photographing the effect of sound on wet paint (see – https://fstoppers.com/strobe-light/ryan-buller-visualizes-and-photographs-sound-5123 [accessed 24.1.16]). Photography of musicians and music events is pervasive, a popular spectacle. However, this is arguably more representative of a social event or personalities than the sound of music. I have a passion for music and own a number of electric and acoustic guitars, with various accessories. I like the idea of seeking an approach to representing music that falls somewhere between the observation of its physical effects and the straight representation of people making music or concert-going.
  • Beyond visual capability – we are incapable of seeing some physical things because of the limitations of our own eyesight, as explored by the BBC in what are the limits of human vision. For example, a) we have poor night vision, but a camera with a long exposure or high ISO can see things we cannot with the naked eye. b) we cannot see objects that move beyond a certain speed relative to our own position – a speeding bullet, which can be captured by a high-speed camera. Or, c) objects that are too small to see with the naked eye. I saw much of this type photography in the Revelations exhibition (National Media Museum, Bradford). Ed Thomson’s work, Unseen, makes use of infrared photography to show things beyond the spectral range of the naked eye.
  • Out of sight – this includes things that are either behind the scenes of our normal access (eg back-stage) or things that we do not notice because we are either too busy to look, or choose to avert our gazes. Peter Dazeley in his book Unseen London was allowed to access the inside of Big Ben. Mary Allen Mark’s work reveals the unseen street kids (Shapiro S (2002) Available from: http://www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/watch/931B-000-002.html).
  • The has-been – it is possible to recreate the past; either by photographing its reenactment or by subjects that connote the past. Erik Kessel’s work, Unfinished Father, refers to his deceased father’s unfinished work in renovating old cars. Sam Faulkner’s work, Unseen Waterloo, ‘explores how we remember the fallen from a time before photography was invented’, through staged photographs. This approach could be applied to my own deceased father and his collection of carpentry tools I still have – including a saw bench that shows the cuts he made, almost like finger prints.

I’ve chosen ‘music’ as my topic for photographing the unseen because I have a particular long-time interest in music and it is a subject that feels very personal to me. That having been said, there are numerous other potential subjects that are appealing and perhaps could be visited at another time; particularly the representation of my own deceased father through his carpentry tools.

I will work up some specific and detailed ideas for the chosen subject in a separate post.


BBC [website]. What are the limits of human vision. Available from: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150727-what-are-the-limits-of-human-vision [accessed 23.1.16]

Dazeley P (2015). BBC [website]. Unseen London. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-30041983 [accessed 4.1.16]

Faulkner S [website]. Unseen Waterloo. Available from: http://www.samfaulkner.co.uk/UNSEEN-WATERLOO/introduction/1 [accessed 24.1.16]

Phaidon [website]. Why is Eric Kessel’s Dad’s Car up for a photo prize.  Available from: http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/articles/2016/january/07/why-is-erik-kessels-dad-s-car-up-for-a-photo-prize/ [accessed 4.1.16]

Science Museum [website]. Revelations. Available from: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/revelations.aspx [accessed 4.1.16]

Thompson E (2015]. Photoworks [website]. Unseen. Available from: http://photoworks.org.uk/unseen/ [accessed 4.1.16]

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