How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?
Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio.
Firstly I needed to look in to what the terms modern and postmodern meant as although I had a rough idea, I didn’t feel I knew enough to be able to complete this task.
‘Although many different styles are encompassed by the term, there are certain underlying principles that define modernist art: A rejection of history and conservative values (such as realistic depiction of subjects); innovation and experimentation with form (the shapes, colours and lines that make up the work) with a tendency to abstraction; and an emphasis on materials, techniques and processes.’
‘Postmodernism was a reaction against modernism. Modernism was generally based on idealism and a Utopian vision of human life and society and a belief in progress. It assumed that certain ultimate universal principles or truths such as those formulated by religion or science could be used to understand or explain reality.’
‘Postmodern art drew on philosophy of the mid to late twentieth century, and advocated that individual experience and interpretation of our experience was more concrete than abstract principles. While the modernists championed clarity and simplicity; postmodernism embraced complex and often contradictory layers of meaning.’
The first photographer we were asked to look at was Sophie Calle and her work entitled ‘Take Care of Yourself’. I couldn’t find a compendium of the entire series online and so have had to base my research on the few images and reviews that were available to view. Calles’ partner decided to leave her a note telling her that their relationship was over, and in the last lines there was the text ‘Take Care of Yourself’ and it was from these words that the idea for the project was formed. Calle asked 107 women to read the letter and their individual reactions were photographed, captured on film and their interpretations were encouraged in the form of diagrams, dissections of the text of the letter, crossword puzzles and songs etc. Personally, I find the idea really intriguing and I am also inspired by the images which are all very different in style but all have one element that keeps them in series -the physical letter. I would say that the series ‘Take Care of Yourself’ falls under the post-modern narrative category as there is no singular story line. There are many different avenues for a viewer to explore and make sense of using their own experiences and drawing on the experiences of many others who took part in the work. This makes the work even more intriguing and interactive for the viewer.
The second photographer we were asked to look at was Sophy Rickett and her work entitled ‘Object in the Field’. Rickett began a residency at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge Univeristy in 2011 where an initial interest in the decommissioning of machines led her to meet Dr Willstrop, a retired astronomer physicist who was responsible for the invention of a three-mirror telescope which produced 125 black and white negatives of the universe before being superseded by a digital version in 1991. Rickett reprinted a number of those negatives using the analogue process, altering the tonal ranges and adding her own personal touches. The whole body of work included far more than just the images -each image was titled and captioned with speech and written text taken from both Rickett’s own personal experiences and memories and Dr Willstrop’s research projects, Rickett’s wrote a 2000 word essay accompaniment and a video was produced with a speech overlay of Dr Willstrop reading an extract from the essay.
The end result is a body of work which contradicts the original purpose of the negatives, as evidence of science and fact and reforms them in to a duel-sided work of art that can be considered from many different views. The negatives were abandoned as they are not accurate enough to be used as valid scientific data so Rickett’s work has given them a new purpose and a new lease of life.
In an interview for Photoparley Rickett’s explains that her efforts to allign their very differing practices -that of an artist vs that of a scientist ‘failed’ for the most part due to the obvious differences in how they both think about the work-
I realised how little I knew, how little I understood about his work, and how so much of what I’d done was based on assumption, supposition, instinct; the opposite of everything that Dr Willstrop, as a scientist stood for. -Sophy Rickett for Photoparley
For Rickett photography is an artistic expression, for Willstrop it’s a valuable tool for documenting scientific fact and to back up research. Rickett explains that while the middle ground stays the same (the subject), the interpretation of it, from contrasting viewpoints is entirely different. This refers to the openness of interpretation and places Rickett’s work in the category of postmodern narrative, where the work can be looked at and put in to context by the viewer without the artist having much control over the way the viewer chooses to view it.
Personally I wasn’t particularly interested in the images until I read the accompanying text essay and some of the captions and got a feel for the story. Then, on further inspection I found the images more interesting and magical. Without the text to put them in context they don’t look particularly special, one doesn’t know what they are looking at. I can’t find the video that was part of the installation of Objects in the Field, which is disappointing as I wanted to view it to see what element this added to the whole project.
Cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write your own captions.
How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
How many meanings can you give to the same picture?
Try the same exercise for both anchoring and relaying. Blog about it.
I hadn’t really thought much about how much an image’s accompanying text could manipulate my idea of what I was viewing but after completing this exercise I realise that it is important to be aware of how easy it is to either mislabel something unintentionally or for others to intentionally distort the true meaning in an image so that it is interpreted in a new way – to suit their needs. As Errol Morris sums up perfectly in his interview with The Times:
“Doctored photographs are the least of our worries. If you want to trick someone with a photograph, there are lots of easy ways to do it. You don’t need Photoshop. You don’t need sophisticated digital photo-manipulation. You don’t need a computer. All you need to do is change the caption”. – Errol Morris for The Times
In Roland Barthes’ essay entitled ‘Rhetoric of the Image’, he talks about image text in terms of anchorage and relay.
‘…the text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others; by means of an often subtle dispatching, It remote-controls him towards a meaning chosen in advance.’ -Roland Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image 1967
Simply put Barthes explains that anchorage is a direct and partial answer to the question ‘what is it?’ and that the accompanying text guides the viewer towards specific signs that need to be seen in order to interpret the scene in the intended way and away from other potential signs that might point the viewer to a different overall interpretation of the image.
Examples of anchoring:
Jeremy Corbyn explains excruciating symptoms of his recently contracted syphilis diagnosis
Ex-doctor and leader of Labour party Jeremy Corbyn tries his hand at teaching at Worcester’s leading surgical hospital
A group of young mother’s attend a celebration of fertility at a mosque in Abuja
The 82 blind girls pictured engaging in a new rhythm workshop designed to help them readjust to life without sight
Mayor of Manchester looks down at homeless vagrant in scorn
Andy Burnham enjoys a cup of coffee with his stepson
Examples of relaying:
Without the image the text is pretty redundant, who is the owner of the voice? Who are they talking to and why would their blog be described as ‘preachy’? Without the text the image has no straightforward context -why is the man who looks as though he could be ‘God’ being reprimanded by an angel? And why does he have a laptop? The image can be interpreted in a number of different ways but it certainly isn’t satisfying to view without its annotations and title, for there isn’t enough suggestion as to the context in the imagery itself. In order to test this I found another cartoon which you can see below:
The captions could easily be switched to change the context. Both captions work on either image and either image works with either text which just goes to show how reliant they both are on their counterparts (text to image or image to text) to set the right scene and present the intended message.
Below is another example -without the text the image is simply two vultures inspecting some roadkill. Without the image the text suggests something rather different! And together they make a point about the new social media generation in which users frequently post banal photos of their food and every day life.
I mainly found cartoon examples for relaying but I did find one good example of relaying in the form of photographs:
The above images were presented at the United Nations in 2003 to help justify a war by implying that the Iraqi’s were concealing chemical weapons. However, it was later revealed that the captions were wrong and this shows how easy it is to imply something with use of accompanying text notes on a photograph. The image below is a representation of the same photographs by Daniel Mooney to show how easy it is to mislabel an image and change its context.
Without the text the images would simply be some grainy aerial footage of some buildings and a road or track with vehicles on it. And similarly the captions would be meaningless without some kind of imagery attached to them.
In conclusion, I have learnt that although it is important to look for signs of physical manipulation in the images I see around me, it is also important to remember that a caption does not automatically reveal the truth in an image and it is therefore a good idea to think about who the images intended audience are and what the image and its text might be trying to hide as well as what they are trying to highlight.