Weeks 8 – Contexts

Week 8 has largely been spent working on my online portfolio to prepare for the upcoming work in progress assignment. Early in the week was the course leader’s discussion on the next two assignments, which was very useful. A lot of questions on changing course during the course with respect to ongoing project work.

Wednesday Brian Griffin gave a presentation on his work, which was fascinating. He discussed his early influences and the image that launched his career. He recounted that on leaving college he was told that if he had not taken a world class image within his first year he would never make, in the 9th month he made the image he needed.

Brian Griffin
Rush Hour London Bridge, London, 1974

A very frank presentation with a lot of insights into his creative process and personal philosophy, although he is rather dismissive of today’s generation of photographers and their work. I cannot say I agree with his view, photography is evolving, it is not a static medium.

Friday we had a peer webinar to look at each other’s portfolio of work in progress and how it was evolving, including thoughts on how to present it for the review assignment. Some very nice work was presented and I had some fresh ideas on how to improve my current work.

The topic of this week was ‘context’ and how the interpretation of an image can change depending on where it is situated. For example, an image that is taken out of a family album and placed in a magazine article discussing working-class homes is re-contextualizing the meaning of the image. To quote John Walker “With each shift of location the photograph is re-contextualized and as the context changes so does the meaning.”

What I found of particular interest was how this applied to photomontage and to what extent meaning could be manipulated. In most cases, the shift in location leads to a change in emphasis of the content in the image rather than a reinterpretation of the content. The exception to this being montage where introducing new or juxtaposing content could radically transform the meaning. This insight caused me to think more comprehensively about my ‘Bring out the dead’ project and how I appropriate parts of Hieronymus Bosche’s Haywain to re-contextualize and associate it with the meat production industry.

The Haywain is a complex triptych and the iconography equally so; the Haywain represents the ephemeral, while those grasping straw or sitting upon it signify greed. The right-hand pane is a version of Hell with the allusion that the haywain is travelling on the road to damnation. I feel these three aspects are equally relevant today and when juxtaposed with imagery of doomed or dead livestock bring into sharp relief, our abuse of animals trapped for their short lives in the meat production industry. Highlighting our diffident attitude towards the consequences of our obsession with meat.

The meaning of an image and how it evolves over time is another aspect to take into consideration. At the moment an image is created, the photographer most likely has an intended meaning in mind which sticks with the image, however assuming the image has a longer circulation and is used or placed in differing contexts than the meaning can evolve. Who is viewing the image and their personal situation, social conditions, beliefs, etc. can all lead to different interpretations and meanings.

I found this quote from the end of the paper by Walker particularly insightful “Context is a troublesome determinant of meaning for artists because so often it lies outside their control“.

With the speed that modern technology can transmit images globally what may have taken years to be re-contextualised can in a matter of hours circle the globe and take on a new meaning.

References

GRIFFIN, Brian. 2020. ‘Rush Hour London Bridge, London, 1974’. Steven Kasher [online]. Available at: http://www.stevenkasher.com/artists/brian-griffin?view=slider#3 [accessed 15 Nov 2020].

EVANS, Jessica. 1997. The Camerawork Essays. London. P 52-63

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