My aim for Assignment Three, Putting yourself in the Picture, was to create a link between my great-grandfather, Jack Murphy and me using photographs.
I thought it a good idea to look again at the work of Trish Morrissey and Gillian Wearing, as both created new bodies of work inspired by their family photographs. Trish Morrissey played various different roles re-enacting and staging stereotypical family photographs in her series, Seven Years (2001-2004), while Gillian Wearing collaborated with a team to create masks, wigs, and a body suit of her own family members to recreate several family snapshot with herself behind the masks for her series, Album (2003). While both photographers used their autobiographical works to question the reliability of photography as a means of truthfully providing records, my aim is to simply link four generations of my family in a way that is interesting and engaging.
Earlier in the course I came across the work of photographer, Duane Michals. Michals is known for his use of sequential images and text to examine topics such as loss, death and desire, often with a sense of humour. I really like Michal’s work, particularly series such as, Things are Queer (1973), The Young Girl’s Dream (1969) and Grandpa Goes To Heaven (1989). At the time, I made a note that if an opportunity were to arise, I would try and create something inspired by Michals’ work. This assignment presented that opportunity, and the idea of incorporating the old photograph of Jack Murphy into a sequence seemed exciting.
While researching ways of using old and new photographs together, I happened upon the work of photographer, Jim Adams. Adams carefully blends old monochrome landscape photographs into present day colour photographs that he has taken of the same site to create a very interesting juxtaposition of two eras. I saw something similar a few years ago where photographer Sergey Larenkov blended photographs taken during the second world war with the present day scene, bringing the past to life. Another interesting idea was that of photographer Bunny Spice, who poses with a framed portrait photograph held at waist level, effectively moving the position of the head. This seemed more in line with how I wished to introduce the Jack Murphy photograph.
My assignment consists of four photographs, linking my great-grandfather Jack Murphy to me. Each photograph features a different generation of the same bloodline, beginning with Jack, followed by my grandmother, then my father, and finishing with me. Each photograph in the sequence introduces the next generation, revealing the next photograph, in what I believe to be an insightful step backwards through four generations of my family.
A Distant View of Jack Murphy
My sequence begins with the tattered sepia photograph of soldier and baker, Jack Murphy. I had this photograph scanned using a high resolution scanner, and had it printed slightly larger than the original. Framing the photograph, I then re-photographed it making sure to include the frame.
I spent some time searching for a suitable photograph of my deceased grandmother, which would allow for the newly framed photograph of Jack Murphy to be placed on the wall using Photoshop. I then had the newly manipulated photograph of my grandmother printed. At this point, I asked my father to sit at the kitchen table and examine the photograph of his mother, with a cigar box of old photographs open on the table. The idea for this image was in some way influenced by the Larry Sultan photograph of his father reading the newspaper. Sultan’s image has a candid feel to it, and I was hoping my father would seem fixated by what he was doing, and appear either unconcerned or unaware of the camera’s presence.
After photographing my father, I printed the contact sheets and carried out an edit. Having not formatted my camera’s memory card, I was able to display the best image of my father on the camera’s LCD screen. At this point I drafted in the help of my girlfriend to photograph me for my sequence’s final image. I explain my composition requirements with the aid of a few test shots. My final image is the result of our collaboration.
I was a little unsure as to whether or not I should add text to the series. Adding too much could reduce the stepping back effect. I also wanted to leave some level of anonymity, given that although the series is about my family, it is also in ways generic. Finally, I decided that a simple title referencing Jack Murphy would suffice. I believe my series is clear in showing those generations that are deceased from those still living. This is achieved through the use of different photograph formats, as well as how each generation is viewed by the next, i.e. I’m photographing my father and he is visible on the LCD screen, indicating the present moment, while my grandmother and great-grandfather appear within photographs reinforcing the notion of the past. To further reinforce this point, both my grandmother and great-grandfather are looking out at the viewer, while my father and I face the same direction as the viewer, looking at the past.
I found that printing and physically marking contact sheets, makes the editing process a much simpler affair, allowing for increased clarity and justification on edit decision making. Below I’ve included a number of contact sheets of the last two photographs in the sequence. I digitally annotated the contact sheets for the purpose of presentation, although I do prefer to work with hard-copies when carrying out the actual edit.
This reflection begins in a very similar way to my last assignment, in that I lost a lot of time during this section of the course for various reasons. I found plenty of excuses in my everyday life and if I’m honest, I probably didn’t push myself hard enough to do the work. However, once I got down to it, I began to enjoy the course again. I seem to be caught in a cycle of working hard for a time and then having long periods where very little happens. As with all my assignments, I again began with one idea which then changed completely before evolving into the finished article.
Overall, I’m pleased with my submission for the assignment, and I feel that I produced an interesting sequence of images. It was fascinating to discover how old photographs can be used to stimulate new and I hope creative work.
I resolved the issue I had with editing and photograph selection from the previous assignment, and included contact sheets with the assignment, rather than doing this post feedback. I can’t stress enough, the benefits I found in printing and physically mark contact sheets when editing. Decisions can be made with greater clarity, saving time.
This section has again introduced me to an array of fascinating photographers, from those I really liked, such as Francesca Woodman, Nikki S. Lee and Larry Sultan, to those I didn’t like as much, such as Sally Mann and Tierney Gearon. I’m not getting to see as many exhibitions as I have in the past, and will need to make more of an effort going forward.
Updated 13th September 2016
I finally decided how to proceed with this assignment. Researching surrealist photographers, I was drawn to the work of Jerry Uelsmann. Much of his work features floating elements, and since the image of my great-grandfather was photo-shopped onto the image of my grandmother in a very “cut and paste” kind of way, I decided to continue this across the series, and so I photo-shopping each photograph in the series onto the next in line.
While viewing, Untitled II 1980, by Jerry Uelsmann, it occurred to me that I should use a photo cube to present my work. Rather than simply adding the photographs to the photo cube, I thought is a good idea to use the surreal elements from by grandmothers living room. Lining the photo cube with a sample from her wallpaper, in some way I turned the cube into an inside-out room. Placing each of my images into a frame, I was then able to hang each framed photograph on the walls of the cube. The images seem to pop from the walls and although they appear to be obviously photo-shopped, this perhaps raises questions about the authenticity of the ancestry within the images. I included the original photograph of my grandmother, as well a close up of the rose from that same picture in order to further highlight the manipulated and surrealist elements. The images below give the general idea, but presented in a 3 inch cube, the submission takes on a more interesting, novel and kitsch form.
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