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Friday, 8 April 2011

Presenting work

The Father

I have put together a film which starts off with the definitions of Postnatal Depression from the health Professionals point of view. This then goes into the film of the James,the husband of the lady with PND. It is quite uncomfortable viewing at times as he is brutally honest. This then moves into audio of James which is illustrated by a number of abstract photographs and finally moves on to a conclusion interview with James.

Postnatal Depression - The Facts.

This presentation is aimed more at prenatal , postnatal women and their partners and health staff. I would envisage this being used more as a teaching video.

Photographic Album

The photographic album is synonymous with recording pivotal events in our lives. They often record symbolic family times and relationship bonds. The images we put into the album are images that we wish to recall as they are usually happy ones. We wish to hold on to these images emotionally as well as visually. An album  is normally organised to create a chronological  archive of our lives and therefore the narrative.
I am going to randomly spread a number of the abstract photographs on a table and then have an album of happy memories actually inside the photo album as normal. We tend to unconsciously edit out parts of our lives that we would rather not remember, like the bad hairdo or the disasterous nightout, We tend to leave out  the mundane events or the taboos.  Photoalbums can also be used   detect any undercurrents that may have been present that we were not aware of at the time. I am sure many a divorced person has gone back over albums trying to place when things went wrong.

By leaving the abstract photographs depicting the PND consequences on the table there is an indication that this event will not be one that the family will wish to remember. The happy family of the album cannot relate to the  anonymous bodies on the table.

Jo Spence narratives

If we include visual narratives with the usual oral and textual accounts of illness we can improve our social science understanding of illness itself. The visual is often more accessible to people and helps them to have more empathy.

'I Framed My Breast for Posterity'

The collection of photographs by Spencer criticised the way cancer  was not talked about openly and publicised that fact. I believe that this attitude has shifted slightly, but that may be partly due to the work of people like Spence. In the photograph 'Mammogram' and 'I Framed My Breast' there were issues with authenticity as both of these images were staged even though the actual event has indeed taken place. The question then rose, 'what is documentary'.

Documentary photography has always been considered certifiably honest and truthful. The word was first used in 1926 to describe Robert Flaherty's films to distinguish them from Hollywood fiction. In this respect documentary is considered to be truth. Is re-staging an event that has actually happened in order to record it still to be considered to be genuine? In newspapers and TV news stations this would be considered  totally unethical and false reporting, but should  social documentary photography be classified as something that records events to show the social world as it is? Documentary work is now often seen to be between the realms of traditional photographic document and the traditional art photograph. Often the viewer is left to determine their own narrative.

In this project on PND I have had issues with what is permissible or not. I had originally wished to do a piece that was based on fact, a 'true documentary project'. In the end I had to compromise and use a combination of factual - the video pieces, and the staged - some of he photographs that accompany the audio. This came about partly because of my main subjects relapse and therefore lack of true subject. I have tried to use the photographs purely as a way of evoking the feeling from the authentic soundtrack and I hope in this way I have not undermined the project.

As Susan Bright comments
'Contemporary photography has not lost its power to convey information as it did in the past; it has just moved on. Images are now more open to interpretation from the viewer, using ambiguity as their strength rather than an authorial voice dictating meaning.

Jo Spence

Jo Spence makes a very interesting comment about whatever she is about to photograph isn't actually what is going to happen to her.


'It is only the tip of the iceberg because of censorship and self-censorship'.

 I have been conscious through this project of just touching on the outer edges of the problem of PND. This has been for a number of reasons. Firstly the whole taboo aspect of the  condition has made it difficult to get people to talk about  their problems because of a feeling of shame, and also the fact that I am trying to illustrate a condition that I personally have not experienced.
Jo Spence documents her own journey through breast cancer and treatment. She had a desire to represent what was happening to herself and to others by using her camera. Ultimately she wanted to make this experience, the physical and emotional visible to others.
Jo became involved with Rosy Martin and the pair worked on Photo therapy. Jo  often recorded her observations of what was happening to her and around her, and found this very therapeutic. It allowed 
her to feel more involved and in  control as she shows her growing dissatisfaction with conventionally medicine and the NHS. The photographs she has taken are brutally honest and it takes a huge amount of courage to take such photographs, but due to this her photographs are enormously successful. Normally we take photographs of ourselves and edit them down to represent us in the best of lights or to fit into some group that we would like to think of ourselves being part of. H

Sunday, 27 March 2011


It is not possible to embark on a subject of this nature without considering the ethics behind it. Is it helpful to those who are suffering this condition to advertise this suffering in bold technicolour or are we creating something that is purely voyeuristic?
Susan Sontag argues in her book, 'Regarding the Pain of Others', states that the reaction to human suffering can range from voyeurism or indifference to sympathy. She believes that sympathy can be a negative reaction as it can lead to passivity and apathy. It can dull the senses and lead to a lack of response. She believes that if we feel sympathy we can make ourselves believe that we are not part of anything uncomfortable and so we are not accomplices. in our culture of being the spectator we are no longer shocked by anything we see.
She is talking about images of war in this instance but the ethics behind any kind of images of suffering are the same.
Sontag believes that it is not so much overexposure to such images that makes us more immune to them but the nature in which such images are use in television. This lack of attention and concentration caused by constant channel hopping ensures that we never give enough time to any one image.Our senses therefore become impaired. She believes that to have any impact images have to be displayed in context with a caption so that the viewer can awaken the correct responses.
I think that parts of this particular essay come across as quite condescending to the general public at large. It suggests that we believe that if we show feelings of sympathy we will be absolved of any guilt and we will therefore not attempt to help. This is a very simplistic view. In many instances of human suffering we are not able to change things in any way eg. a death or natural disaster, but it does not stop us feeling immense sympathy for those that have been affected.
 I can however agree that we have become slightly desensitised to images on television due to the fleeting glimpses that we have of these images of horror, but also due to overexposure that we have. I also think that she makes  a valid  point that if we have mass sympathy there is more possibility of changing things.

I have been conscious during this project of not overstepping the mark and sensationalising this medical condition or exploiting the people involved. I hope that having the interviews with the Medical professionals brings a certain gravitas to the project. There has to be a fine balance of reporting and illustrating the condition in an interesting manner without making it something that it is not.
I hope that by presenting this photographic project to a wider audience that it will be informative to the extent that it may help someone now or at a later point in their lives recognise the symptoms of PND. I also hope that by increasing awareness of this condition it may help to get people talking about it and make it less of a taboo subject, make sufferers feel less alone. Photographs and film can be powerful mediums of education not just voyeuristic pieces.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Family Photograph

We retain memories of our past  lives in fragments, through our photographs. In the Victorian times the photograph would have depicted a very stern group of people in stiff, upright, controlled positions. This was partly to do with the fact that long exposure times required the subjects to remain completely still during the duration of the exposure, but also because there was a certain gravity about having your image recorded.

The stereotypical family portrait often follows the same rules of grouping as we see in this Gainsborough painting, painted in 1784. Family images are often taken to show unity, maybe a record of happy times, an important event. This particular portrait portrays harmony, difference, the social standing of the family. The new baby is the centre of the painting been shown off proudly. The father is leaning against the chair, slightly detached from the group.
Snapshot photography allows for a more relaxed depiction of family life. There can now be more spontaneity and therefore the images produced appear more relaxed, however there may be a subconscious effort nowadays to create a favourable reflection of domestic life. Snapshots can mirror family life as we would wish it to be. We can edit our lives to be as we would wish to remember them.

Dorothea Lange   Ronald Barthes

Barthes notes that the fleeting nature of the moment captured on film combined with informed ways of thinking and looking at things,  plus the limited knowledge of the specific content content and reason for taking the photograph all combine to make us very unreliable witnesses.
To make sense of other peoples photographs we have to read the photographic and cultural codes.
Family pictures may appear as just  a social document but on closer examination it may be possible to see many different layers of scandal or trauma underneath.
In Liz Wells book; Photography: A Critical Introduction, there is a wonderful montage of photographs called
Eve, Karen and Nick. It looks at first light like your  average family set up with mother, father and baby enjoying normal family day to day existence. The mother,Father and child are in fact all disabled and the parents are no longer together as a family but are still active parents to the child.It would have been virtually impossible to surmise this fact from the photograph itself with out additional knowledge.

Migrant mother - Dorothea Lange
The family has also always been the perfect channel for the expression of social angst. Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother,was taken during the Depression in 1936. It was taken when she was working on a project for the Farm Security Association(FSA).  This was a most iconic photograph of a mother and child and was a reworking in a way of Madonna and Child. This particular photograph has been contextualised and used in many different ways since. The close cropping of the image creates an even greater feeling of unity, protection and feminine nurturing. It became a contentious image due to the fact that it was a documentary photograph that had been retouched. In the original photograph the mothers thumb was evident in the right hand corner of the photograph and the image has also been cropped from the this way the photograph is no longer a true representation of reality.The image has been tampered with.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Fatherhood and Feminism

Fatherhood has received increasing attention in social policy, social scientific writings, medical and public health literature and forums. There are many debates nowadays about how to raise our children,our rights and responsibilities. In contemporary western societies men often see fatherhood as a way of expressing their nurturing instincts that their own fathers were unable to do in their generation. This often shows itself by taking on equal parenting roles.This 'new man' theory is seen by some to challenge the traditional notions of masculinity, especially those of a different generation but there is evidence that such fathering creates a 'strength' to families.This shift in parenting partly came about due to the second wave feminism movement in the 1970's  and due to the recession at this time. This led  in part to a reduction in the size of families and  huge numbers of mothers returning to the workforce after having children.Men used to be thought of as the providers for families but this is at odds with the number of women who go back to work after childbirth and the number of women who in fact are the higher earners in the relationship. With this and the fact that their are many more separations and divorces than ever before the role of the father has altered more than in any other generation.

Fathers Rights Groups

Fathers Rights groups have evolved in recent years and they have taken up the fatherless family arguments to rail against what they see as harsh demands of 'radical feminism' and to request greater access to their children.These fathers are also concerned that their is a move away from the nuclear family where there are two biological parents of different genders.
With many more marriages and partnerships failing nowadays the role of the father, and the importance of his involvement in childrearing has been highlighted.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Father

The Key

During this period of recovery David  would notice that his wife would appear almost back to normal then would suddenly pull out of any involvement with family life again. This he discovered was caused by his wife storing medication then taking it all at one time. There was a real risk of overdosing and so David has had to resort to wearing a key around his neck to prevent his wife having access to the medicine cabinet.

  On one side of the room stood a large pile of brightly coloured plastic toys which were at odds with the  dark brown leather sofa  on the other side of the room which was free from clutter,  devoid of colour, lacking any personal touches. In the corner stood a guitar. James sat hunched at the edge of the sofa tightly clutching a cup of coffee and recalled his experiences. He often paused, taking a deep breath in  to compose himself when memories became too vivid. He very rarely referred to his wife by name.

James s Story

His wife had a normal delivery but did not sleep well before the birth and afterwards she was breastfeeding and so was up through the night. She showed the usual signs of depression but everyone thought it was just baby-blues and that it would eventually go away. There appeared to be constant rows and tensions in the house. Two months down the line however she just walked out one day and took the baby with her to her parents home where she stayed for a number of months. James was devastated but he had a six year old son to look after and so had to try and carry on a life with as much normality as possible.  He managed to keep working and  rearranged his working hours to fit around school times. Life became a juggling act of looking after his son, working and trying to keep his marriage together. His young son seemed to be coping with the situation of his mother being away. He had not been witness to the arguments but the teachers picked up on the fact that he has stopped talking about his Mum and had effectively tried to block her out. He was encouraged from then on to bring her into the conversation  as much as possible and to keep her within the family grouping. Luckily the baby would be too young to be directly affected.

I had sat behind the camera and just nodded encouragements from time to time during the filming of the piece. It was extremely difficult not to get involved and commiserate with him as his story unfurled. He came across as very sincere and articulate. He obviously loves his wife and family very much but he has been pushed to the very edge of despair. I do think that many men would have walked out on the situation long before reaching this point.

I was worried that James may have found the whole experience of recounting everything again too depressing but he actually said that it had been a very cathartic experience.
We arranged to meet the following week to do some more interviews and take some photographs to accompany this piece.

Picking Up the Pieces

Once the medication had stabilised his wife was persuaded to come back to the family home but things did not go back to normal by any manner of means. Family wise depression devastates families. Normal family life is put on hold. It was not possible for James to take the children out to the park for the afternoon or go for a jog. Someone had to be with his wife at all times. His wife wouldn't get out of bed for days on end as she just wanted to hide away from the world in a dark room. She often stayed in her pyjamas for weeks at a time. She became incredibly isolated and insular which had the rebound affect of isolating James and the children too. Post Natal Depression is a subject that is difficult enough for women to discuss but for men it was an even more taboo subject as most people just expected him to pick up the pieces and get on with things. He did not really have anyone that he could talk to about the situation and this again led to tremendous isolation for him.
Normal life had to be built up again very slowly. One day they would get in the car and drive for 5 minutes and eventually they would work up to her actually being able to go into a shop and ask for something. She had to be slowly rebuilt as a person.

The Key

During this period of recovery James  would notice that his wife would appear almost back to normal then would suddenly pull out of any involvement with family life again. This he discovered was caused by his wife storing medication then taking it all at one time. There was a real risk of overdosing and so james has had to resort to wearing a key around his neck to prevent his wife having access to the medicine Relapse
I turned up  as planned to find all the curtains in the house closed and no answer at the door. Unfortunately James s wife has had another major relapse 18 months after her first episode. She had had problems over the Christmas period, but they were resolved fairly quickly. This however is once again full blown depression and will take weeks of treatment if not months to resolve. My heart goes out to them all.
I had hoped to upload the video to the blog but I have found that I would have to upload the video first to youtube or vimeo. I think under the circumstances that James would not want this video to be advertised to such a massive audience due to the very sensitive nature of the recording. Getting the information to a wider audience is one thing but putting your family in the public arena is another . I have decided therefore to use the video in a flash context , more as a voiceover to the images. In this way James 'voice' will still be heard but his family will not be put in the spotlight.