Major Project Proposal

Posted on November 19, 2013

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For assignment one of Your Own Portfolio I am required to submit a brief project proposal for my major project on a single page of A4. Below is my first draft…work still to do:

Aims of the project 

My aim is to explore the history of immigration in London’s East End. I plan to do this through a series of  photographs and associated texts. The images will show present day people/places and the texts historical narratives linked to the subjects depicted. Each image/text combination will in effect form a chronotope – a term which Mikhail Bakhtin used to describe the manner in which literature  (or in my case an image/text combination) represents both time and space.

The photographs  will be a mixture of urban landscapes, building facades, interiors and portraits. I want viewers to be psychologically engaged and to think about the social issues involved. The images and texts will be constructed to create an open dialogue.

Aesthetic Considerations

I am planning to shoot the landscapes in the early morning and at night when there are no people around. My sense is that if there were people in the frame, they would draw the attention of the viewer away from the the subject of the photograph which is the place itself. Shooting in low light will also result in a dramatic and expressive style, which might better invoke a sense of the past. There is an inscription on the sundial of the Jamme Masjid Mosque in Spitalfields  which reads ‘Umbra Sumus’. It is a quotation from Horace and means ‘We are shadows’. It refers to the transient nature of human existence. Perhaps the shadows in my low key images will be read as metaphors for people from the past.

I have yet to finally decide on how I might present the portraits. To a great extent this will depend on  the style which proves successful for the  landscapes as I would want there to be a consistency throughout the series. My thoughts at the moment are that I will continue to use a low key aesthetic (as per the landscapes). I will also aim  to avoid drawing attention to present day clothing, accessories and backgrounds. I want the faces of the portrait subjects to operate as a window into the history of their ancestors. With this in mind it is likely that the portraits will be tightly framed head-shots against a dark background. 

Critical Context

The work  explores the idea of the photograph as a memorial of the past. Barthes, Sonntag and others have all written on this concept. It also raises questions about the whether we can really know the truth of what lies beneath the surface of  a photograph? Can a picture of a landscape, for example, reveal the history of what happened in that particular place?

There are several contemporary documentary photographers whose work is relevant to my project. These include Simon Norfolk, David Gillanders, Richard Misrach and Joel Sternfeld. For the portraits Broomberg and Chanarin’s ‘Mr. Mkhize’s Portrait’ and ‘Ghetto’ will also be useful points of reference with their use of intertwining images and text. I also plan to look again at Zarina Bhimji’s work. She does not use text but adeptly combines sound and images to convey a sense of the past.

My Critical Review, ‘CONTEXT AND MEANING IN DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY – A Comparative Study’, is also highly relevant to this project and will provide insight into the work of other documentary photographers.

Presentation of the Work

In total I expect to present around 20-30 images with supporting texts. I am unclear at the moment how I will show the work. Options range from large-scale gallery prints (the camera platform I am using would enable me to produce high quality 50×40 inch prints) to a slideshow which controls the sequencing of image/text or a combination of these. The key will be to find a way to ensure that when a viewer looks at the photographs they already have the historical context fixed in their minds. The risk of using large prints for example is that these would divert the attention of the viewer away from the associated text. On the other hand I want each photograph to a site for contemplation, which implies that the viewer should be able to take their time. A video/slideshow presentation where the sequencing and timing of viewing is controlled would not work so well in this regard. The trick will be to strike a balance between these two considerations.  

Here are two images with texts as an example of the landscape photograph and text style.

Regents Canal looking south towards Limehouse Basin

©Keith Greenough 2013

Cable Street, looking East from junction with Leman Street, November 2013

©Keith Greenough 2013

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