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Friday, 8 April 2011

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.

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