“For the most part, photographs are born from conversations (if they are not conversations themselves); internal or external, with strangers and with close friends. Conversations can be seen as peaks of life or reifications of thought…” – Picbod.org
At the beginning of this lecture, we re-capped on last weeks lecture (which i missed) and a photographer was bought up Richard Renaldi and his series “Touching Strangers”
The series asked strangers to physically interact and pose with one another for a portrait.
These interactions seem normal, for people who know one another but when we discover that they are strangers who have never met before this moment it starts to feel weird and uncomfortable. In some images you can see (only after discovering the truth) that they look slightly uncomfortable, perhaps not the facial expression you are used to seeing when someone is carrying what looks like their sister or younger family member.
What I found interesting about this series is that Renaldi exploits photography’s hamartia and limitations.
A image has massive limitations, the viewer can only see whats inside the frame, we can easily be tricked by a performance without being aware.
This gives me the realisation that photography doesn’t have the evidential appearance that we take for granted and that we have the tendency to accept a photograph for what it appears to be.
Conversations; record and stimuli lecture
The main part of the lecture was focused on an interview with Ben Kerwinkel and his project “A possible Life”
This is a project that had an unusual co-authorship arrangement with the photographer and subject.
The project is based on an undocumented immigrant named Gualbert who was living in Amsterdam.
A Possible Life was created over a 10 year period documenting Gualbert, an illegal immigrant who was both the subject and collaborator.
In the interview Kerwinkle described the process of the collaboration and how he was trusted with Gualbert’s story as there was a danger of him being recognised as an illegal immigrant.
There was a large amount of negotiation between both authors in order to keep the identity of the subject censored which was done by scratching the images or photographing him in shadows concealing his face.
This also included the lack of images of his family, mother, children for their protection. The photographer talked about the relationship between them being tense but grew easier as the project matured, as he gained Kerwinkle’s trust. For the first initial months he visited Gualbert to talk to him without his camera and said that people know what the camera is for, if there is no camera they are less guarded.
I took this on board as it has always intrigued me how a photographer gains a subjects trust when they handle such delicate and intimate stories and details which then have the potential to be published to the world to see. There is no short cut in gaining someones trust in situations like this but i think having a co-author arrangement with the subject would have eased the situation for Gualbert as he still has control over what is included, censored etc. Where in a traditional situation, the photographer holds most of the authority. The email conversations between the two were included within the book showing the desires of both parties, their negations and them finding middle ground to agree on. These emails also included the financial arrangements, as most of Gualbert’s money was to be sent to his family in Niger to support them.
When the book was finished the money was also finished which Gualbert was disappointed with. We sometimes don’t think of the needs of the subject and co authorship balances this, the emails recognises what the subject and the photographer wants from the book.
he didn’t attend the opening night of the exhibition. When he did attend it frightened him perhaps he didn’t visualise what it would be like to have his life on a wall. Although he agreed to many things to be included such as documentation, government documents, family images etc but to walk into a room with himself exposed, it must have been a shock.
The book had french folded pages concealing Kerwinkle’s images inside with the documents, family images on show. I think the french fold style works exceptionally well with this narrative, Kerwinkle is exposing a person behind the documentation or lack of it in Amsterdam. His story is extremely delicate if it weren’t for its censored parts, it would cause detrimental problems for Gaulbert.
This has given me a lot of insight into a photographer’s job of handling people’s stories and how important it is to work with the subject, as well as capturing them, giving them some control over the presentation of their own story.
We also discussed that we can be arrogant and naive as photographers to think that our images will be enough. Which I think is very true, having the subject in an active role within the story telling process benefits the narrative enormously. As a viewer, I feel its more authentic and trustworthy content because I know the subject had some authorship over the images and his story. Its also easy for a photographer to produce images only from their view. I wonder if this changes if a photographer works with their own story?