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Category: P5 C&N – Constructed realities and the fabricated image

Ex – recorded conversation

This exercise (OCA C&N, p122) requires a conversation to be recorded. A written record of that conversation made, without referring to the conversation. Then, the conversation to be listened to for discrepancies between the written record and recording. As a reflection, consider ‘the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures? ‘


The written record and recording are linked in the references below.

Before reflecting on the exercise, I mention that I have considerable experience and knowledge of the reliability of re-enacted narratives, as part of my day-job involves corporate investigations and interviewing employees. It is enough to say that for untrained people, it is very difficult to accurately recall narrative details without assistance. The limitation of the human working memory is generally reckoned to be around 7 items, so without using memory techniques to relocate working memory to longer-term memory our ability to recall is not great.

The main difficulties with reenacted narratives, can be summarised as follows:

  • Selective recall – recall biased towards information that is of personal interest to the witness, either visually or because of preconceptions of events.
  • Restricted point of view – as much as one attempts to consider various perspectives on an event, some are beyond our individual experience or comprehension, or simply outside of our physical point of view. A recalled narrative from the perspective of a single individual alone is necessarily circumspect.
  • Limitation of recall based on memory alone – as discussed above our memories are not always reliable. Further our minds can reinterpret events in an attempt to make sense of them, perhaps creating memories that do not reflect actual events. The frailty of human memory is discussed in the context of art in Joan Gibbon’s book, Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance (see separate post here).

In terms of application to constructed photography: to claim any degree of accurate reflection of original events would be extremely difficult during the course of normal photographic practice. The only potential exception I can think of are recreations of crime-scenes painstakingly made by trained police and forensic officers based on carefully gathered statements from several witnesses with different view points. One should rather recognise constructed photography as an interpretation of events, or even inspired by events, rather than presenting it as a true representation of events. This is perhaps why so many movies carry the caveat ‘The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.’ No matter whether they are inspired by true events, the legal difficulties that can ensue from misrepresentation of true events and life-stories can be serious.

I learned nothing new from this exercise because of my existing experience and knowledge of reenacted events. Though it does remind me of a useful mantra for investigators, ‘believe nothing, check everything’. In the case of photography, the ‘believe nothing’ applies but the desirability to check (if we accept the work as an interpretation of events only) or even the possibility of checking, makes the ‘check everything’ very difficult, or almost impossible.


Recording. Over-dinner conversation with children. Recorded by Andrew Fitzgibbon 21.5.16, on iPhone.


Tvtropes.org [website]. his Is a Work of Fiction. Available from: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThisIsAWorkOfFiction [accessed 22.5.16]

Appendix – written note of recording

This note was made one day after the original recording, without listing to the recording. It was very difficult to recall specific details or quote from the conversation. A few points make more impression of the memory, particularly the humorous or the extraordinary.


The conversation was between me and my two boys, aged 9 and 11. I joined them while they were eating pizza (unable to escape while eating). The older child, N did most of the talking, with the younger one E, chipping in the odd word of wisdom.

A discussion about football, using the new football net and an apparently spectacular shot by N from over 30 yards out that curled into the top-right corner.

On pizza – the merits of sharing a margarita  and pepperoni pizza between them. N says he is not keen on pepperoni (after having picked all the meat from the pizza). I say I thought he liked it. N says he is not just hungry. E pipes in that he is hungry [he always seems to be]. I offer to help N with his pizza.

A day on, the rest of the recorded conversation is somewhat hazy. Though I recall announcing it is finished, as dinner finished. E comments he didn’t realise it was being recorded. I leave them to listen back to the recording and hear laughter from the other room – the mystery and novelty of hearing your own voice recorded.

Archive ideas

The C&N course material instructed me to ‘look online at the Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye series The Fae Richards Photo Archive … The purpose of this fictional archive is to question the truthfulness of the archive and how history is recorded.’

Source: archivesandcreativepractice.com
Source: archivesandcreativepractice.com

Julia Bryan-Wilson’s article provides more information about the work. The photographs form part of a ‘queer archive’ – referencing two groups that have not been well documented in official archives; gay and black. They are a staged reconstruction of the life of the fictional character, Fae Richards, and were used as part of the plot in the film The Watermelon Woman. Dunye explains that she could not find sufficient material in official archives for the purpose of the film, so decided to create a fictional archive.

I’ve recently been reflecting on the archives to which I have ready access:

  • Pre-digital photographs of my own history – from childhood, travelling, marriage.
  • Digital photographs of my own history, accumulated on my computer hard-drive
  • My mother’s collection of old family photographs from her childhood and youth. And any stories she can recall of the people in the photos.

The latter photos have been on my mind – I envisage a project with my mother to digitise them and share them while the memories still remain and in case anything should happen to the only copies of these old images.

At the same time, I’m mindful of the time required to work with these old images; time that would be taken away from my current practice. I perhaps need to enlist the help of my family in the archiving process. To ensure that current work forms an effective archive, and saves time later, I need to have more discipline in my work flow.


Archives and creative practice [website]. Available from: http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/  [accessed 18.5.16]

Bryan-Wilson J & Dunye  C (2013). Imaginary Archives: A Dialogue, Art Journal, 72:2. Available from: http://arthistory.berkeley.edu/pdfs/faculty%20publications/Bryan-Wilson/jbwdunye.pdf [accessed 18.5.16]

Ex – The archive

[Nicky Bird’s] Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:
– Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
– Where does their meaning derive from?
– When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’? (OCA C&N, p118)

The presence of any work in a gallery gives it the status of acceptance by the art establishment and consequently an elevated status to anyone who values the judgement of that gallery. Sontag comments in On Photography about how the placement of photographs created for documentary purposes are elevated to art by their placement in art institutions. Bird’s found photos’ status is certainly elevated from that of unwanted photos on eBay; they would have quite possibly been thrown away had they not been sold, and Bird tells us that she was the only one bidding on the lots.

Source: Belfastexposed.org
Source: Belfastexposed.org

Bird explains in her Photoparley interview that she finds it interesting that the photos have lost their context, information about place, time and people, yet still represent the vernacular ‘family’ and connections might be drawn to contemporary viewers experiences of family. It seems that Bird finds meaning in seeking present-day connections with these old, orphaned photographs; for example through the explanations provided by the seller of how they came by the photos; the ‘question for seller’. Personally, I find similar interest in looking at them as I would of snapshots taken by friends and family – I am not disinterested, but there is a limit to my interest and I would not consider them art; there is generally little skill, quality, intention or craft in their work. In terms of meaning through the concept of orphaned photos and their connection to their present, there seems nothing uniquely interesting in this – we are all human beings and connected in that broad sense across time.

When they are sold their monetary value (and I assume it is monetary value at question as we are discussing an auction website) is possibly negative, after allowing for the cost of Bird’s time and the space occupied in the gallery. Bird doesn’t tell us on her website how much the work sold for – I’m unclear whether this is due to an artistic reason, or if the silence is due to a sense of disappointment; Belfast exposed tell us that the work sold for £205 when auctioned on eBay.

I find a contrast in the value of Question for Seller and the value of Vivian Maier’s archive that was purchased by John Maloof, which is so valuable it has been subject to legal disputes and attracted worldwide attention. I think the difference in value is that Question for Seller is mostly about concept and, in my view, not a particularly interesting one at that. Whereas Maier’s work was, while also comprising historical and orphaned photos, was of high quality. It has substance.


Belfast Exposed [website]. Past exhibition – Question for Seller. Available from: http://www.belfastexposed.org/exhibition/question_for_seller [accessed 16.5.16]

Nicky Bird [website]. Projects – question for seller. Available from: http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ [accessed 16.5.16]

Photoparley [website]. Nicky Bird – Interview. Available from: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/ [accessed 16.5.16]

Vivian Maier [website]. Available from: http://www.vivianmaier.com [accessed 16.5.16]

Research point – Gregory Crewdson

Source: featureshoot.com

‘Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.Watch this YouTube video [www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be] about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below.’

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 21.41.39
Source: gagosian.com

Yes, I think there is more to the work than aesthetic beauty. Grewdson’s images are often surreal; looking at the selection on the website Cincyworldcinema, one with a man laying turf in a living room and another with an outdoor birthing/paddling pool (from the Twilight series). They make us question what is happening in the narrative. In his most recent work, the Catherdral of the Pines, we see works featuring scenes that at once appear everyday, but at the same time abnormal or strange. It is a cinematic quality where details are exaggerated – in the image to the left, the woman is unnaturally tense/rigid and the contrast between the bright light around the window and the dullness inside the room seems unreal, as if aliens are invading.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

The Oxford Dictionary defines psychological as ‘affecting, or arising in the mind; related to the mental and emotional state of a person’. Crewdson succeeds in making his work affect the mind because of the qualities described above – the surreal and the abnormal contained within the seemingly every-day. There is a sense that something unexpected has happened in the narratives; car doors are left open, cars are stopped haphazardly, kitchen sinks over-flow, a mother with her breast showing is lying across her daughter’s lap. The images could be considered disturbing.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

My main goal is for pictures to express something about the world, to tell a story of people or place. I don’t think there is anything wrong with making beauty your main goal, if that is what is important to you and that is what you want to express to your viewers. However, there is an argument to suggest that showing only beauty is one-dimensional or superficial and can become uninteresting or not challenging to the viewer. But, this doesn’t seem to stop the popularity of images of sunsets or semi-naked models on photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and 500px. So perhaps beauty is a worthy goal if popular appeal is what you seek. There is nothing wrong with it, it depends on your objective.

‘While some commentators regard Crewdson’s approach as an effective method of image-making, others it argue it lacks the subtlety and nuance of Wall and DiCorcia’s work.’  In my view Crewdson’s approach is just different, perhaps an evolution that is certainly beyond the financial means of the vast majority of photographers and could not succeed without commercial backing – the economics not only the approach, must be similar to cinema. In fact, Hipes tells us that Crewdson will be producing a movie in 2016, perhaps evolving further into a cinematographer. The difference between the works of the artists is that Crewdson’s makes no pretence of being a reflection of reality; it is cinematic and exaggerated, whereas the works of Wall and DiCorica offer the possibility that they may be showing something that has happened in reality.


Cincyworldcinema [website]. http://www.cincyworldcinema.org/crewdson.php [accessed 27.4.16]

Gagosian [website]. Gregory Crewdson. https://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/gregory-crewdson–january-28-2016 [accessed 27.4.16]

Hipes P (2016). Deadline.com [website].  Photographer Gregory Crewdson Taking Shot At Movie Biz With ‘The Deepest Secret’ & Producer Marc Platt (27 January) . http://deadline.com/2016/01/gregory-crewdson-deepest-secret-movie-marc-platt-1201691754/ [accessed 27.4.16]

Kail E (2016). Featureshoot.com [website]. After 5 years away from the public eye gregory crewdson releases breathtaking new body of work (19 January).  http://www.featureshoot.com/2016/01/after-5-years-away-from-the-public-eye-gregory-crewdson-releases-breathtaking-new-body-of-work/ [accessed 27.4.16]



Ex – setting the scene

In this exercise we are asked to view a short clip from the Martin Scorsese movie, Goodfellas (1990) and comment on what it tells us about the main character and how it tells us.

Money features several times, during gratuitous tipping of people the character encounters, from having his car parked and throughout his back-door route into the night-club. The money is placed firmly in hands. It tells us the man has means, but it also tells us he buys his way in where others must wait in line. A disregard for everyday etiquette.

The character is well-known – people are keen to greet him and shake his hand, they watch him as he move through the scene (gazes directed towards him).

The man is well-dressed in a serious suit – black with a white shirt and his female companion is also well dressed and presented. Clothing shows affluence.

Once they descend the steps, they pass through a door into a long red corridor – it is a deep, almost blood-red. This could signify danger, with the body guards at various points, or passion with the two lovers kissing towards the end of the corridor. There is ambiguity that creates tension.

The couple pass through the kitchens. They are out-of-place but nobody questions them or is surprised to see them. Their abnormality is normal – it is something unsurprising. The absence of gaze suggests that what appears unusual is a regular occurrence – the character has authority to be there.

Once inside the club, the couple unthinkingly jump the queue – they are not expected or expecting to wait. The man has power. He is greeted and a table placed and set up right in front of the stage for him. The guests nearby, welcome him and shake his hand, another sends over a bottle of wine (signifying a gift). There is red light also inside the club, continuing the ambiguity between menace and passion – the deference demonstration of power on one hand, and the beautiful woman at the man’s arm on the other.


www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 [accessed 23.4.16]